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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Doctor Who - "Amy's Choice"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

This episode was penned by Simon Nye, and was his first contribution to the series. This was perhaps the darkest story since Moffat took over, and the premise was no doubt a good one, but since the episode - as the title implies - revolves chiefly around Amy, it didn't fare so well on the Whoscale.

Once again, we find ourselves in the same hole we were in during the Davies era - a companion-driven story, with the antagonist(s) set as a subplot. That is the number one reason this episode did not score higher. What is the deal with Doctor Who revolving around the companions? Is it so hard to write an entire season where the trio, as a TEAM, discover, encounter, and overcome a situation?

This is something that has and always will bother me about the revived series, and for the life of me I cannot see what could possibly be so appealing about it that such a good writer such as Moffat would chose to continue those trends during his reign. No one can argue that by "The End Of The World" during the Davies era, we had already surmised that the series was largely going to focus on Rose, and when "Father's Day" came along, it was practically an international public announcement.

I can honestly say I had trouble scoring this episode. There were so many elements that would have worked fantastic in terms of classic Doctor Who, but once the episode shifted to more or less having Amy decide between The Doctor or Rory, it just killed it.

Yet another thing that just baffles me about the revived series. Why in God's name does every companion have to be emotionally involved with The Doctor???!! Why is the love triangle a necessity in a science fiction series?! To even entertain the notion of a relationship between The Doctor and one of his companions is to invite elements into the story that can serve no purpose other than to distract the focus of the episode from the main plot line.

The episode's intent to focus on Amy caused a tremendous plot error later in the episode; The Dream Lord was a figment out of THE DOCTOR'S imagination, so why was he so hell bent on singling out Amy?! What does that mean? That the Doctor secretly returns Amy's affection for him, and secretly wants her to choose between himself or Rory?

As my readers already know, I'm extremely anti-shaky cam, and this episode is full of it. I'm almost positive that the shaky cam was explicitly used here to further enhance the feeling of being in a "dream," but as I've said before - it's makes the shot look like it was filmed in a hurry, like the cameraman was in hurry to finish so he could take a piss, or because they were five minutes past lunch time, etc. At the very least, it probably makes some viewers with weaker stomachs sea sick....errr...Tee sick. TEE as in "T" - Television!

The setting was ideal for classic Who - the rural village of upper Leadworth, and the initial plot was good - the idea of a darker side of The Doctor forcing the trio to shift back and forth between to realities, each with inherent dangers, and having them choose one. Normally, a respectable Doctor Who writer would have The Doctor work out a solution to the problem, but to fill the absence of originality is the usual substitute - just have the companion save the day instead.

Rory's death causes Amy to make the choice for all of them, saving the day. Why would The Doctor go along with such reckless behavior? What if she was wrong? There was no LOGICAL reason behind the unnecessary risk they take in the van. I say LOGICAL reason - there IS a reason, it's just not logical. The reason being Amy proving her love for Rory to the viewers. What the f**k?! I don't care if they love each other or not! The TARDIS is freezing over, we're being terrorized by Eknodine-infested pensioners, and we still don't have any safe, logical way of determining which is the dream and which is reality! Eh, logic and safety be damned. Let's throw our own lives out the window as well and HOPE we guessed right. That way we can quickly wrap this episode up. Rory is dead now, so there's no love triangle anymore, so no engine to ooze drama, and no real reason to continue further with this story.

Speaking of Rory's death, get out your chalkboard and ckalkstick, because this episode is the first of numerous future episodes where Rory seems to "die," and is later resurrected.

Yet another "quick fix" to an otherwise grim situation was when The Doctor had got cornered in a freezer at a butcher shop. With angry Eknodines on the other side of the door, how can a Time Lord get out of this rut? Easy. Just set your all-purpose sonic screwdriver to the "cause Eknodines to let you pass by them without even a tap on the wrist by simply shooting out a light bulb above them" setting and you're home free! Just point and click!

I've watched this episode several times since it aired, and I've always liked it, but never really realized how distant it was from original Doctor Who until I sat down earlier tonight and watched it with my review goggles on.

It was a well conceived story, but the companion driven plots were getting beyond old, and the companion saving the day was just plum ridiculous. What makes both of these things such episode killers for me is that NEITHER of them should be in an episode of Doctor Who, if you're going by the rulebook written by Newman, Letts, Holmes, Hinchcliffe, Turner and the rest of the original series production crew. Bottom line is, true Doctor Who fans HATE these kinds of episodes, Mr. Moffat, and they aren't going to start liking them, no matter how cleverly you twist them into a plot. The stories should be antagonist-driven, and should be concluded by the lead role. In this case, it's THE DOCTOR. No matter how you slice it, unless you're going to rename the show, he has, is and forever always will be THE LEAD ROLE. You can't shift another character to the front and still brand it "Doctor Who."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Vampires Of Venice"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

The third writer to contribute to this season was Toby Whithouse, who previously penned the Tenth Doctor episode "School Reunion." As a viewer, I can't be certain if it was Whithouse's writing or the executive decisions of Russell T Davies that turned that episode into such a flop, but under the reign of Steven Moffat, Whithouse's contribution to Doctor Who seems to be singing a different tune. Following in the footsteps of Moffat with the title, Whithouse follows the traditional Doctor Who "The ____ of ____" format. As I recall, this episode was aired relatively the same time as the Twilight craze was in full swing, so it was great to have a vampire story that didn't get wrapped up in all the hype caused by those films and books.

Rory Williams joins the TARDIS crew at the start of this one, showing even further evidence that Moffat was playing the opposite card against the Davies era. He may not have intended it to be the opposite of the Mickey/Rose duo, but it certainly resulted that way. Rather than have Rory volunteer to "see what's out there" at the dismay of Amy, Whithouse and Moffat chose to have The Doctor invite Rory along on his travels as companion to Amy, to keep the two of them together and to permanently cut ties with any Doctor/Amy romance possibilities.

The show once again takes advantage of location shooting in Croatia, standing in here of course for 1580 Venice. This makes for a fantastic classic Who feel. By this time, it was impossible to not see the changes Moffat had made with the series, with "The Vampires Of Venice" being the sixth consecutive episode in the season to score no less than a 7 on the Whoscale.

This episode probably would have tied the previous one with a 9 if not for the CGI overload in the final ten minutes. Flumes of clouds come billowing out of the tower, filling the skies with ominous CGI overcast. The CGI used for the vampires in aquatic form was enough for me. Also, a technical oversight was the fact that the skies were covered in thick overcast, yet Amy was able to reflect a narrow beam of sunlight onto Francesco in alien form to destroy him.

The music was a bit more frequent in this one than some of the previous episodes, but there were times when it sounded much like a piece from Dudley Simpson, namely the scene where The Doctor enters the room and glances into a mirror.

Although I approved of Whithouse writing The Doctor as the hero of the hour and not one of his companions, the final scenes got a little ridiculous - The Doctor climbing the steep rooftop of the tower in the rain to open the steeple and flip a toggle switch.

There were a lot of nods to the original series in this one, some subtle, some obvious. An obvious one was The Doctor flashing his out of date library card, with a mug shot of the First Doctor on it. A more subtle one was how The Doctor befriends a Venetian local, Guido. As the episode progresses, Guido's home serves as a temporary meeting place for The Doctor, Amy, Rory and Guido to discuss further action. For some reason, the Fifth Doctor story "The Visitation" comes to mind. Perhaps it's the mention of plague in this episode.

There was some terrific dialogue in this episode, particularly from The Doctor.

It was also nice to be six episodes into the season and not having set foot in downtown London or Cardiff.

Most of the things I didn't like throughout the first 35 minutes were so insignificant and irrelevant that they don't really need mentioning. The main minus was the CGI-fest near the end. That aside, it was an extremely enjoyable episode, and for the most part felt like solid Doctor Who.

Doctor Who - "Flesh And Stone"

WHOSCALE: 9 out of 10

All I can say about this episode is "Wow!" Moffat once again delivers a magnificent story that fluently continues onward from where the previous episode left off. During the course of this second part, the pacing never feels like it's stepped up to force a resolution. Everything about this episode is rich with classic Who flavor, that it's practically one of the few times where I should have jotted down notes about good points, unlike what I'm accustom to doing - jotting notes of un-Who like moments.

Some of the things that I just wanted to applaud Moffat for in this one:

1) The interior of the Byzantium, with its minimalist design, similar to the Dalek ship in Gatiss' "Victory Of The Daleks."

2). The Doctor always at the forefront of the episode, constantly working not only to escape the trailing Weeping Angels, but to work out the implications of the bigger threat - the crack in Amy's bedroom wall that seems to follow them everywhere.

3) The sonic screwdriver gets a plausible use for once, used as a homing signal for Amy via her communicator.

4) Probably one of the most clever uses for a forest location shoot in a long time. An interior greenhouse aboard the Byzantium? Brilliant. When the hatch first opened, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Fourth Doctor story "Nightmare Of Eden."

5) The console design in the Byzantium was very reminiscent of the bulky, blocky consoles used in the original series, complete with toggle switches and round display screens.

6) Moffat thickens the plot to the likeness of molasses when Marco immediately "forgets" who Phillip and Crispin were after they ventured into the blinding light of the crack.

The Doctor was superb in this episode as well, most notably once he and River reached the forward control room, and he yells at her in a fit of frustration about the situation. Moffat also has a knack for leading us viewers to overlooking the obvious. When The Doctor surmises that a complicated time space event can close the crack temporarily, our immediate thoughts are either The Doctor or River Song, who are certainly both complicated events. The notion of the Weeping Angels never crossed my mind. Finally, The Doctor leads the way into the resolution of this story, by hinting to Amy and River that the drained Byzantium would lose its artificial gravity, thus causing the approaching Angels to "fall" into the crack behind them.

The music was once again ideal, subtle and sparingly used. The only exception being the scene when the Angels fall.

The farewell scene between The Doctor and River was done extremely well. No teary goodbyes, but more of a "until next time" attitude, which is quite true in their cases, since they both know from each others' pasts..err..futures... that they will see each other again....err...before this...umm...River apparently sees the Doctor BEFORE the events of the Byzantium when the Pandorica Opens, and she will see him AGAIN when she reaches The Library during the Tenth Doctor story, "Silence In The Library." Got it? Yeah, I know. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.

The only things at all I noticed that seemed unworthy of Whoscale points were the short scene of a teary-eyed Doctor face to face with a doomed Father Octavian, and of course the final scene in Amy's bedroom. However, I do have a different perspective on how Moffat handled that.

During the days of the Davies era, infatuation with the good Doctor was welcomed with open arms, if not encouraged. However, Moffat made it clear in interviews soon after he took of production that there would be no romance between The Doctor and his companion in Series 5/Season 31. In the final scene of this episode, Moffat makes it clear how he was going to handle that subject in this season. The Doctor quickly rejects Amy's advances, and soon swings our attention back to the date The Doctor discovered while scanning the crack on the Byzantium. This revealed that the date the cracks were created were the same day that Amy gets married.

Another masterpiece from Moffat, and thus far his vision for the show was knocking the past five years out of the park when it comes to solid Doctor Who.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Time Of Angels"

WHOSCALE: 8.5 out of 10

Just as Davies wrote the first two parter for Series 1/Season 27, Steven Moffat penned the first for Series 5/Season 31. Most viewers were expecting something like this to happen after Moffat took over production - an episode involving the Weeping Angels and the return of River Song. I certainly expected this, but I never would have guessed that the two would be in the same story. Normally, when multiple major elements like this are crammed into a single story, it often causes the episode itself to suffer in terms of balancing participation from each of them. That certainly wasn't the case with this story. Moffat successfully wrote a story that included the mysterious River Song and the menacing Weeping Angels, without ever sacrificing a second of plot development.

There are several things about this episode's face value that immediately give it a good ranking on the Whoscale. Foremost being the title, which follows the tradition "The ___ of ____" format that was common place during the first four Doctors. Another thing that I applauded Moffat for was resisting the temptation to set up a subplot involving Song. Instead, he incorporates her into the story as a companion to The Doctor, and rather than devote an episode to soapy River/Doctor conversations, the episode continuously stays focused on the problem at hand.

We learn in this story that River Song can write and translate ancient Gallifreyan. I think for most of the fans, this prompted even more questions than it answered about her.

The same location that was used for Bad Wolf Bay is used again, but this time for another planet, which harks back to the days of the original series, where local quarries often stood in for alien worlds.

There was very little I could find that just turned me off while I was watching it. Perhaps the incidental music, but it was never close to being as bombastic as it was in "Doomsday." If I had to make an comparison, I would say it relatively equaled the use in the Ninth Doctor story "Aliens Of London"

There was so much that I liked about this one, that it probably will always be my favorite from this season. Moffat did a terrific job of side stepping issues that might have come across as being "ripped off" from other forms of science fiction, such as the teleportation of Father Octavian and his Clerics. Moffat also turned up the fright factor of the Angels about ten notches in this one also with decayed, disfigured statues joining the ranks.

The cliffhanger is spot on, pure bred Doctor Who. I recall seeing this one for the first time, and seeing the gravity globe exploding, then having to spend a whole week trying to work out what they could possibly do to get out the corner they were in, and what that exploding globe had to go with it. I was chomping at the bits.

It was refreshing to see The Doctor and River once again working together to piece together a puzzle.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Doctor Who - "Victory Of The Daleks"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

Next up to bat was Mark Gatiss, who coincidentally also wrote the third episode of Davies' first season, "The Unquiet Dead." Gatiss has been known for contributing episodes to the series that were some of the few that could compete with the kind of Whoscale scores that Moffat often got.

By this time, a lot of fans - both new and old - were getting a bit tired of having to deal with Daleks every season. But Moffat placing this in the number three slot as a stand alone episode, with no additional Dalek related stories in the season was a move I felt to again gradually bring audiences out of the Dalek-infested Davies era and into...well, whatever Moffat had planned for us.

Right off the top, the episode scores points with the title. Gatiss stays true to Doctor Who heritage by following the "____ of the Daleks" format. The last Dalek story to follow this format was Helen Raynor's "Evolution Of The Daleks" back in Tennant's second season.

This episode has received quite a lot of negative criticism from fans since it was aired, and has even been occasionally ranked the worst episode of Series 5/Season 31. Being a diehard fan of both the original series and the new, as well as often viewing episodes from a classic Who point of view, I have to wholly disagree with them.

Gatiss harks back to the lost story "Power Of The Daleks" with the Second Doctor, where the Daleks were initially introduced has servants. However, Gatiss' story often felt like it should have been one of those six part serials, and as such was rushed. The pacing of the episode is relatively balanced for the first twenty minutes, but the revelation of the Daleks' true intention, the truth behind Bracewell's relevance to the Daleks all came together a bit quickly, which then set the stage for the next ten minutes of light speed action.

One thing I thought that was terrific was the simplicity of the the Dalek ship this go around. Instead of the CGI backdrop, fire and brimstone appearance, the walls, ceiling, and floor use very mute colors, with touches of tin here and there. It reminded me of the Kaled bunker from the Fourth Doctor story, "Genesis Of The Daleks." Likewise, Gatiss also incorporates three lone Daleks, instead of the Davies style invasion in the millions tactic. This format has and always will work wonders for Dalek and Cybermen stories, as long as the first half is relaying the fact piece by piece that the Daleks (or Cybermen) are in fact "up to something." The story can then slowly play out revealing what that something is, and then having The Doctor cleverly devise a way to out wit and out think them, instead of just pulling a magic lever.

Unfortunately, the final twenty minutes of this episode is where it starts to falter on the Whoscale. Once again we have to sit through a short sequence that looks remarkably similar to a young podracer prodigy from Tatooine destroying a Trade Federation ship. In the case of this episode, it's WWII Spitfires instead of Naboo Starfighters. Speaking of the Spitfires, that was perhaps the least believable part of the entire episode, and I place most the blame on the fact that an in depth Dalek story like this one just doesn't work when crammed into 45 minutes. You get ridiculous time discrepancies like the time it took Bracewell to outfit a squardron of Spitfires with gravity bubble technology and replace their outdated machine guns with laser cannons - about 45 seconds. After further examination, one has to wonder how a combustion engine aircraft is able to fly loop-de-loops and zig zags in free space, with no oxygen to combust, and no air passing over the wings. That's reading a bit deep into the technical side of the physics in that scene, but things like that wouldn't have been overlooked in the original series. In fact, a squadron of Spitfires wouldn't have been anywhere near a Dalek ship - The Doctor would have somehow deactivated the power source himself.

The episode gets even more disappointing when Amy once again steps in to save the day, over shadowing the lead character. This sort of thing was getting kind of ridiculous, also. Honestly, why bother to have The Doctor feel his way though an entire episode uncovering clues if his companion can resolve the whole darned thing with a Leadworth education?!

The final ten minutes devotes itself to being entirely heart wrenching and joyous, with a farewell by Churchhill and Bracewell, finally leading The Doctor and Amy back to the TARDIS, who then also pause just outside the doors to reflect on the events of the episode.

The music in the episode was almost a mirror image of the episode's Whoscale. It was often subtle and sparingly used in the opening twenty minutes, and then turned into a piece from John Williams during the Spitfire sequence. It then calms to an emotion invoking piece for the Bracewell bomb deactivation sequence.

Finally, I'll touch on the redesign of the Daleks. This was another item of great criticism after this episode aired. I remember the first time I saw them, and my first thought was "Power Ranger Daleks?" The new design grew on me a bit after I discovered that each color is symbolic, and that each Dalek color is representative of a particular rank or function. For example, the white Dalek is the Supreme Dalek and the blue one is the Scanner/Intelligence officer. I also immediately noted the change in the texture of their exteriors. While the Daleks are meant to be metal, the original series never went to far to hide the fact that they were just plastic. This in the end added to the charm of the series, and at the risk of insulting the production department of the new series, the new Daleks look plastic. To me, that's a good thing. It helps bring back the flavor of the bare bones simplistic style of the original series.

Doctor Who - "The Beast Below"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

After seeing this episode and seeing the final scene leading into the next, it was apparent that one of the things Moffat was NOT changing this season was the format of the opening three episodes. Since the revival in 2005, the opener has been based on modern Earth, with the next two episodes being set in the future and in the past, in alternating order. The Tenth Doctor's opening season was the only exception, with "New Earth" being set in the distant future. However, that season marked the first Christmas special - "The Christmas Invasion" - which was set on modern day Earth.

The out right adversity between Davies' production style and Moffat's production style is once again very evident in this episode. The pacing of the story doesn't ever feel rushed, nor does it seem to just bog down. The story unfolds fluently, and in true Doctor Who style, devotes much of the first half to presenting elements of the story that spike our curiosity, and make us lean in a bit closer to our televisions, ensuring that we don't miss a beat. Moffat has always done well with establishing in depth, concise, plot-hole free mysteries in his Doctor Who episodes. "The Beast Below" is no exception.

The incidental music was much more subtle and more sparingly used in this episode, but I've always thought that Moffat intentionally used more in "The Eleventh Hour" to help transition less-informed viewers through the end of the Davies era into the Moffat era.

Before I get my readers to thinking I'm just kissing up to Moffat, let me point out a few things that contributed to minuses on this episode's Whoscale.

Probably the most bothersome scene was the semi-heart wrenching reflection scene at the end between The Doctor and Amy. The following scene is the two of them scampering off back to the TARDIS, so I felt that Hinchcliffe or JNT would just have omitted that short scene altogether, since it roughly just recapped what most of us had figured out five minutes earlier.

Another point of dislike for me was the fact that The Doctor's role as unsung hero takes a back seat at the climax, and once again it's up to his companion to step in and save the day. The possibility that the Star Whale willingly arrived to save the human race doesn't strike me as one The Doctor would overlook.

Speaking of companions, Moffat did well writing the part of Amy though. Her character shows many qualities in this episode that reflects qualities that original series companions possessed: bravery, initiative, compassion, intelligence, stability under pressure, and for once the companion isn't spelling out every scene so the fan girls will get what's going on. The Doctor's portrayed smart. Amy's portrayed smart, just not Time Lord smart.

That brings me to another plus in this episode - the dialogue. Moffat wrote some terrific one liners that tremendously reflected the quirky persona of the first eight Doctors.

One final plus was the Smilers and the Winders. Definitely the stuff of nightmares for the kids watching, and Moffat choosing to introduce such fantastically creepy villains in his second story proved that there wasn't going to be a "safety blanket" in any of his episodes like Davies had often done with the series to liven things up and to turn the scare factor down a few notches. It was looking like we were going to have the likes of "Blink" for a whole season.

Best classic style scene had to be the meeting between Liz 10 and The Doctor in the corridor. A terrific episode, and definitely spoke a lot about what we could expect from Moffat's vision of Doctor Who in the near future.