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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Rebel Flesh"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

Following the masterpiece by Neil Gaiman, Matthew Graham was up next with a two part story. This would be the second story contributed to the series by Graham - his previous being "Fear Her."

It's not far fetched to say that "The Rebel Flesh" wasn't as brilliant as the previous episode by Gaiman, but it nevertheless was certainly more in line with what Doctor Who traditionally was than the opening two part story. The setting for the episode roughly follows what we would have seen in the original series - a isolated island, and old medieval castle, a group of scientist that aren't dressed in modern day tank tops and cargo khakis. The setting and format, as well as the storyline are really what carried this one though on the Whoscale. However, there were quite a number of things that I frequently noted while watching it.

The biggest drawback for me in this episode was the fact that the initial problem - the solar storm causing the gangers to go walkabout - was rushed through within the first fifteen minutes of the episode. It was actually so rushed that I recall having difficulty understanding what was going on the first time I watched it. Rushing the openig struck me as strange, considering that the story had the breathing room of two episodes. Normally, a two part story can unfold fluently and relatively slow, such as the case of "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances." Once it was established that the gangers were now teeter-tottering between "almost people" and exact duplicates of their originals, the remainder of the episode focused solely on how the originals refuted the existence of self-aware gangers. At the same time, the gangers themselves struggled to accept their new humanity, and were met with rejection from their originals, as well as Amy. 

That brings me to yet another disappointing element in this episode: The TARDIS crew are essentially divided into three camps on the doppleganger issue; The Doctor taking on a neutral role, as well as a peaceful coalition approach, while Amy sides with the originals and Rory defends Jennifer's ganger. 

By this time, I was absolutely fed up with suggestive themes regarding the stability of Amy and Rory's marriage. This issue is completely irrelevant to the series, or any science fiction series for that matter. In Star Wars, Han Solo and Leia slowly began to fall in love with each the other, and Lucas loosely alluded to this over the course of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but it was never so much that the central narrative of Star Wars had to be pushed aside for the sake of the audience finding out whether or not "it would work out." Simply because, that wasn't the issue, and it wasn't important. Not when you've got a platoon of Stormtroopers knocking at your doorstep.

With that said, I question why this continues to be a running theme in Doctor Who, even after it has been established (and then later undermined) numerous times that Amy's love for Rory and Rory's love for Amy is indisputable. The fact that I'm even having to gripe about "relationships" in a review of a science fiction series like Doctor Who is proof that somewhere, the show has gotten side tracked. This is something that shouldn't even be in a review like this.

The original series demonstrated for twenty-six years that you can have both male and female companions in the TARDIS simultaneously without having to incorporate a romantic theme. Jamie was the Second Doctor's companion for his entire run, save for the opening story for the Second Doctor, "The Power of the Daleks." Over the course of those three seasons, numerous female companions came and went, but never was a romantic plotline introduced, and the series did just fine. Some of the greatest stories in the history of the series were during Troughton's run.

The point is, science fiction needs to stick to being just that - science fiction. Any other genre that is introduced into such a series as a recurring sub-plot can serve no other purpose than to dilute the fundamental aim of the series - to appeal to the science fiction community. 

I've ranted about that enough. Yet another minus for this episode was the overuse of incidental music. This is something that I'm very picky about, and it's often one of the revived series' shortcomings. In the world of film, music is a method of invoking an emotional response from the audience by communicating a particular mood, or it can serve to accompany action sequences to amp up the drama. However, it can also serve as a distraction, particularly during dialogue scenes. If the writing is poor, or the actors aren't great, incidental music can be used to as a smokescreen for these things. The actors all looked great, and the story was fair, but it seems that Murray Gold often uses incidental music as a means of keeping the episode from dropping into a "too slow of a pace for the iGens." Many fans who were introduced to Doctor Who in 2005 and have since watched some of the original series have complained that it was "too slow paced" or "boring" to them. Granted, they are partially correct when noting it's slower pace, but the writing was brilliant and so were the actors, so it didn't need a smokescreen. You had to pay close attention to know what was going on, and music during a critical dialogue scene would only disrupt the viewer's concentration.

To summarize, the solar storm causing otherwise lifeless gangers to become self aware was the basis for the STORY. However, rather than spread that over the two episodes, Graham rushed through that to focus on what would be the basis of DRAMA - how the two sides would cope with each other. In the midst of this drama fest would be a torn Rory looking after the safety of a female ganger, all the while making a jealous Amy furious. The basic recipe for a modern day science fiction program. 

Already this story had disappointed on so many levels, and there was still half of it to go. For me, the story was covered in the opening fifteen minutes. What could there possibly be left to tell that would take an additional episode?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Doctor's Wife"

WHOSCALE: 8.9 out of 10

So far, the second season under the reign of Moffat wasn't looking good in terms of staying within the parameters of the original series. Steven Moffat, who had contributed the highest scoring episodes during the Davies era, had thusfar contributed the lowest scoring, with the exception of "Day of the Moon," which still only managed to score a 6.5.

As I mention occasionally, during the off-season I always follow the production of the upcoming series as closely as I can, so that I can get an idea of which direction the new season might be going. In the case of Series 6/Season 32, I had very little to go on other than some location shooting, so I was very much in the dark about it. When the episode title was revealed, I had the same feelings about it as I did towards "The Doctor's Daughter" before it aired. Like then, I couldn't have been more wrong about this one.

In my opinion, this was perhaps the best episode of the season, contributed by none other than Neil Gaiman, who was responsible for writing the film Coraline, which shared the darker tone that Gaiman presented with this episode. 

The episode title was a total red herring - probably aimed at viewers who were already certain for themselves that River Song was indeed the Doctor's wife - because it never delivers on the literal meaning of it, having no marital reference of any kind. The episode brought back many elements from the original series that really made this one stand out while I watched it. 

Gaiman pretty much rolled into a 45 minute episode what fans of the original series had been pining for since the revival in 2005 - a look at the TARDIS interior corridors, a post-Ninth/Tenth Doctor episode that contains a previous control room, a peek into The Doctor's history,  and a story loosely involving Time Lords that weren't lead by James Bond and weren't stark raving mad.

There are so many little things that I noticed about this episode that instantly reminded me of the original series, and as a result it made the viewing experience more enjoyable - especially for someone who is watching through a pair of Phillip Hinchcliffe's spectacles. That's a figure of speech. I don't really have a pair of his glasses, but you get my meaning. If anyone has watched the original series as much as I have - in particular the Fourth Doctor era - they know very well the ambient sound of a proper barren alien world. "The Doctor's Wife" hits the nail right on the head in this regard. The ambient wind sound on the surface of The House was spot on.

The location for the surface shots were perfect, too. I'm not certain where they shot the scenes, I only know that it looks very familiar to the disused quarries that stood in for alien worlds during the original series. I know it's as overused as a Rory death, but it's the only setting that works without having viewers like me compare it to Tatooine, Abydos,  Hoth, Dagobah, or Earth. Earth settings can sometimes slide by - if it's done right. For example, in the Fourth Doctor story "The Androids of Tara," the planet Tara was very much Earth like, but the episode's narrative made to attempt to draw attention to this fact, and so audiences just ignore the likeness and accept it for what it is - Earth standing in for the planet Tara. One thing that perhaps aided in giving the illusion of alien world was that the scenes were filmed at night, under a dark sky. Similar to "Utopia," this was probably to support the fact that the planet was set under a sky with no stars.

The TARDIS corridor scenes were beautiful. The designers went with the minimalist, hexagonal and roundel look, much like the original series, as well as using the same color palette as the First Doctor's TARDIS interior. Bravo! Beautiful, and I sincerely hope this isn't the last we see of them.

The episode also utilizes another minimalist aspect in the department of characters. Apart from Auntie, Uncle, and Nephew, Idris is the only other guest appearance on screen. Michael Sheen's bellowing voice as The House was superb, and fit the character like a glove. 

Gaiman also elected to have The Doctor work with what he had around him to get himself out of an otherwise hopeless predicament - the TARDIS dematerializes in front of him, with Amy and Rory trapped on board. The Doctor is left in an abandoned junkyard full of wrecked TARDISes or TARDI, not sure which the plural is. With the help of Idris, who hold's The Doctor's TARDIS' conscience, The Doctor is able to build a make-shift TARDIS to come save the day. The make shift TARDIS room flying with the exterior exposed reminded me of the Third Doctor story "Inferno," one of my favorites from that season. Gaiman also included an Ood in this episode, which we had not seen since "The End of Time." Moffat improved the look of the Ood without a doubt, with lime green eyes and an orb.

If you're still reading, then you know by now that I have very little to bark at with this one. The only two things for me mainly were yet another Rory death, (we're up to five now!), and the somewhat heart wrenching farewell between The Doctor and Idris at the end. 

The music was much more subtle this time around, although it did get a bit orchestrated at times, for the most part it was dark and subtle. 

Much less use of skaky cam in this one, which was a plus. I failed to mention in my review of "The Curse of the Black Spot" how much shaky cam was used during that episode.

A brilliant episode, and it was certainly a breath of life after sitting through four episodes and having to spend an entire review with nothing positive to say. Hat's off to Mr. Gaiman, and I look forward to other stories he contributes, if he does.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Curse of the Black Spot"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Following the season's opening two part story written by Steven Moffat, show newcomer Stephen Thompson is up to bat. 

Let me get something off my chest first: From this point on, the show will no longer be consider "Doctor Who," but instead called "The Fantasy Adventures of Amy and Rory."

It truly hurts to give this episode such a low score, because having kept up with production the year before, I was aware that much of the filming of this story would be set on a pirate ship. Although it was obvious that BBC did this to coincide with the release of the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, this episodes fundamental plot had tremendous potential to be a great episode of Doctor Who, in much the way the Fifth Doctor story "Enlightenment" was. However, much of that potential was flushed down the proverbial toilet in favor of senseless, mind-numbing drama amperage. When I say drama, I mean drama that isn't a natural result of the story, but is instead "forced" by scenes, music, sound effects, dialogue, etc. that in no form or fashion make their existence in the episode plausible. 

Russell T Davies was notorious for this kind of page-filling gimmick, but I think this episode has to give him a run for his money, in both meaningless drama and plot holes. I'll start with the absolutely pointless scenes that did nothing more than serve as a drama injection:

1) The Dancer (Chris Jarman), is marked by the Siren  the same time Rory does, and both are intoxicated by the Siren's song - which I'll get to in a moment. Both are marked, both intoxicated. Just to show audiences what happens when the Siren contacts a marked individual (since it was deliberately omitted in the pre-title sequence to add mystery), Jarman's character is allowed by all others standing right next to him - even his own shipmates - to just waltz up to the Siren. BAM! Jarman's character vanishes, and now everybody has a look of fright on their face. This sequence was entirely unnecessary, and is not even remotely plausible. It was written to reveal what we didn't see in the pre title sequence, as if that matters. I don't care WHAT the Siren does, what matters is that each time some is marked, they disappear without a trace!

2) The second time this happens, Toby accidentally drops the crown onto the deck. Everyone in the scene knows that the reflections are the method of entrance/exit by the Siren, and yet they all just stand and watch as the crown rolls across the deck and comes to a rest. No one panics until AFTER the Siren appears. What the fudgecake???????!!! That is so mind numbingly stupid that it makes me want to skip to the next episode. What's worse was the whole sequence was done in slow motion, to really pump up the drama factor. To quote Falco Lombardi, "Geez Loweez!"

3) The third pointless scene immediately follows number two. Toby has been marked since he was introduced. After the Siren appears, Toby is allowed to walk to her, his father watching the entire time and The Doctor. Again, no one goes in to "Oh noo!!!!" mode until AFTER Toby has been taken by the Siren. How is this scene believable???!! Captain Avery, who previously showed deep concern for his son, just lets him walk into the Siren's hands? (Literally.)

4) Why was Toby even in this story? His character had absolutely, positively, without any doubt NO PURPOSE. The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that he was there purely for the sake of heightening drama (more). Perhaps the producers think a kid in the episode helps the younger audience relate? Listen noobs, if you need a kid in a show of adults so that you can relate, you don't need to be watching. I grew up with Captain Kirk, Captain Picard, Roj Blake, Kerr Avon and Commander Sinclair. I didn't need a kid in Star Trek to relate with Spock's preference for logic. I didn't need a kid in Blake's 7 to relate with Avon's lack of trust towards others. 

Now on to the plot holes. Oh, brother. This will take a minute. 

1) After it was established that the Siren could only enter through a stable reflection, the remaining crew decide to hole up in the ship's magazine until a storm comes and disrupts the ocean's surface, thus making a stable reflection impossible. There's violent wind and rain, and Rory get's thrown overboard. Unable to swim, apparently. The Doctor elects to release the Siren so that she will save a drowning Rory. To accomplish this, The Doctor opens a barrel of water on deck. So how did the wind, rain, and tossing of the ship not disrupt that reflection as well?

2) Probably the biggest plot hole of the entire episode was when The Doctor, Avery and Amy agree to prick their fingers to lure the Siren out. Still in the storm, the barrel is closed, yet seconds after pricking their fingers, the Siren appears without needing a stable reflection. 

3) Rory was saved by the Siren and placed on life support. While on the system, Rory is conscious, breathing normally and is talking to Amy. In order to breath normally, your lungs must be devoid of any kinds of fluids, particularly ocean water. When the life support is turned off, suddenly Rory jerks into a spasm because all of his breath is gone and he can't breathe. Let's assume the first part is plausible, and the Siren has removed the water from his lungs in order to sustain his life. Why would Rory die when taken off the life support? Now let's assume the latter is correct -  Rory is still on the verge of drowning. How is he breathing normally? How you GET your oxygen can be changed - technology can bypass your nose and mouth to get oxygen to your lungs, but once your lungs are incapacitated, the body has no way to filter the oxygen into the blood stream. Both cannot be true.

4) The same problem as three goes a step further at the close of the episode, where all of Avery's crew are shown to be off life support now, without gasping for air. Granted, most of them had minor cuts, but Toby was described as being deathly ill.

Now that I've got the most notable drawbacks out of the way, I'll touch on a few other things that really brought this episode down. 

The idea of the Siren was great, and I can see why it was necessary to cast a real-life model (Lily Cole) as the part, but her singing was a little to much like what we had just recently sat through in "A Christmas Carol." Once again, the singing is directly tied to the plot, this time as anesthesia. What really made me cringe was just after The Dance is taken, the Siren's singing changes notes to sync with the background music. 
On the subject of music, there was a little too much "Jack Sparrow" towards the end. The opening scene was scored well, but as the episode progressed to a climax, the music became more and more overpowering. 

Another thing that bothered me was how Captain Avery relatively took the place as the companion for this story. 

For those of you keeping up with how many times Rory has died, this episode makes his fourth death since his introduction as a TARDIS member in "The Vampires of Venice:"
Amy's Choice
Cold Blood
Day of the Moon (although he didn't actually get killed)

The final scene where Amy revives Rory was perhaps the hardest for me to watch. Gone With the Wind music, tear-filled eyes, hugs, kisses, lovey dovey Amy and Rory with The Doctor taking a place in the background of the scene. At this point, it was clear to me that once again we were dealing with a season that would chiefly revolve around the companions, and not The Doctor. Just to recap since 2005:

Series 1/Season 27 revolved around Rose, her connection to Bad Wolf, and her ultimately saving the universe from the Daleks.

Series 2/Season 28 further revolved chiefly around Rose and her growing feelings for the now regenerated- into-heart-throb David Tennant Tenth Doctor, as well as her making a decision to leave Mickey completely.

Series 3/Season 29 was probably the best in this department, focusing mainly on the words of The Face of Boe and the return of The Master. However, in the three part finale, the companion yet again is the one to saved the day.

Series 4/Season 30 introduced a more likeable companion for Whovians in the form of Donna Noble, but again disappoints at the close of the season by having it roughly revolve around Donna's inability to avoid The Doctor, and once more has the companion save the day from the Daleks. When was the last time The Doctor beat the Daleks? Remembrance of the Daleks?

Series 5/Season 31 introduced the Pandorica as the story arc element, but once again much of the season was aimed at exploring the personal relationship between Amy and Rory, Rory's jealousy towards The Doctor, and Amy's inability to choose between the two. In short, a rehash of Series 2/Season 28.

I apologize for this review being so lengthly, but I had a lot to cover. In closing, this episode had the potential to be something equal or greater than "Enlightenment," which is saying a lot, but was lost in the producers continuing effort to make a science fiction television program appeal to EVERYONE. I will never get through saying how foolish this approach is. You're either sci-fi or you're not. You can't be both, and if you try, you're only going to end up gaining half an audience from each genre. Doctor Who was, has, and should always be pure science fiction. If you eliminate the soapy drama, yes - fan girlies and Jersey Shore fans are going to put down the remote and walk away, but in their place will come the Harry Potter fans, the Tron fans, the Trekkies and so on. 

Doctor Who has the capacity to go anywhere, anytime. It should not be restricted by the wants and desires of an audience that get their kicks off two people being in a troubled relationship, love triangles, scandal and sexuality.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Doctor Who - "Day of the Moon"

WHOSCALE: 6.5 out of 10

Once again, Moffat opens the second part to this two part story with a completely different setting and time frame from the last episode's cliffhanger. The first five to ten minutes - like the first half - was tremendously fast paced, mainly focused on bringing viewers up to speed on the events in the last three months (the time we are told as elapsed since the close of "The Impossible Astronaut" and the opening of "Day of the Moon.")

After taking into consideration what all Moffat indicated took place BETWEEN the two episodes, I began thinking to myself, this could have been almost a 10-part story, up there with the likes of "The Daleks' Masterplan" and "The War Games." Had we still been on serial format, that's probably what we would have got. There was so much potential there for a serial, and it's shame that Moffat had to skim over it all in a few brief clips. Even though it was shown that the four members of the TARDIS crew had been separated over the course of the past three months, a series of episodes filling this gap could have easily followed them each in much the same way we followed the TARDIS crew in "The Keys of Marinus," where The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan were separated over different continents on Marinus, eventually reuniting with each other near the end of the story, and it was only a six-part serial.

However, things seem to take a slight upward turn in regards to the Whoscale when Canton and Amy arrive at the orphanage. During this sequence, Moffat turned up the creepiness level, toned down the background music to a Whoscale-friendly level, and slowed the pace down as well. This was of course, short lived. 

Perhaps the most annoying thing Moffat was doing at this point was still toying with the whole "Amy hasn't made up her mind yet" theme. Seriously? We're still on this? "Flesh And Stone," "The Vampires of Venice," "Amy's Choice," and "The Big Bang" have all tinkered with this theme, and it was my understanding that we had resolved this issue at the close of last season with the wedding of Amy and Rory. Yet, in spite of the couple saying their vows, Moffat still seems to get a giggle out of giving fan girlies something to gossip about. Speaking of Amy, one thing I failed to mention in my previous review was how Moffat suddenly dropped this sub-plot on us. A little girl is screaming for help in an old abandoned warehouse - yes, this seems an appropriate time to sit down with The Doctor (NOT RORY, MIND YOU!) and tell him you're PREGNANT. What the fudge?!! Come on, Moffat! That's one of Davies' stunts! You don't have to do it, too. 

So Amy's pregnant, then she's not. The she is, then she's not. Then we're lead to believe that it might be The Doctor's, and not Amy's. Oh no, SCANDAL IN THE TARDIS!! Why is this pathetic soap scum in a science fiction television series that's about traveling time and space? Moffat, you can't appeal to EVERYONE. There are people out there who just DON'T LIKE the fantasy sci-fi thing. They like scandal, cheating, heart breaks, heart throbs, relationships rising and falling, and all the drama that comes with it. Those people have Jersey Shore. Those people have The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. You can't make a series set in space appeal to those people, unless you make it Jersey Shore: In Space. Granted, you can do that, but that's not what Doctor Who is about, now is it? If you want to write Doctor Who, then write for the audience that watches because it's Doctor Who, not the audience that's divided on whether it's The Doctor's baby or whether it's Rory's.

Now before some fan girl goes bananas and makes a comment rant, I'm fully aware that Amy's pregnancy played a key role later in the season, but it could have fulfilled that role without needing to be smothered in soapy soap opera.

Amy is once again snatched away from Rory in much the same fashion as she was in last season's "The Hungry Earth."

The episode seemed to spend a lot of time uncovering who the mysterious little girl is, only to address the Silent occupation issue in the last twenty minutes. It was clever how the occupation was resolved, but something about this solution still didn't strike me just right. The Doctor didn't lead the way into this solution. In fact, The Doctor has consistently relied on his companions to take the upper hand, as he has been known to do often since the revival in 2005. This episode is a clear example, where we are left ASSUMING that the humans were able to take care of the Silents. In other words, The Doctor was already leaving before it was confirmed that the Silents were gone. I didn't see the Fourth Doctor doing this. He would have stayed until he was absolutely certain the threat was over. 

River is dropped off back at Stormcage (again), and we learn that the kiss The Doctor and River share in this scene is not only their first, but their last. Be sure to make a mental note of this when you read my review of this season's finale.

In another unusual move for The Doctor, the whole business about the Silents, their purpose, etc. is dropped completely in favor of some unrelated adventures.

In closing, looking back at the two part story as a whole, there was so much of the story told in either flashbacks or montages, that each part felt more like completely independent stand alone episodes. As bad as this sounds, I think it was a complex story that had to be crammed into 90 minutes of screen time, and the end result was a fuster cluck of a mess. Unless Moffat is prepared to change the series back over to serial format, whether it be 45 minute episodes or 25 minute episodes, I don't think a story this complex should be attempted again. If it is, it's going to need no less than three full episodes to itself. Imagine if Russell T Davies had tried to tell the "Last of the Time Lords" trilogy in only two episodes? There's no way he could have effectively squeezed the events of "Utopia" into the opening of "The Sound of Drums."

One final note - the last scene in this episode was probably the most intriguing . The little girl that occupied the space suit is last seen in an alley regenerating, revealing that she is either a Time Lord, or possesses characteristics similar to one.

The opening story came to close, with many questions still left unanswered. It wasn't the best start, and even though we were only two episodes in, it was already looking like Series 5/Season 31 was going to be the golden season since 2005.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Impossible Astronaut"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Following the Christmas special, Steven Moffat penned the opening story to Series 6/Season 32. In addition to this being the official start of the second season under the reign of Moffat, this also marked the first time since 2005 that the arrangement of episodes in a season don't follow the same pattern. Series 1-5/Seasons 27-31 all opened with the first three episodes being single-episode stories, followed by a two-part story, then one or two singles, another two parter, one or two more singles, then a finale two parter. Moffat elected to open this season with a two part story. 

As with the last episode, this one was also a bit difficult for me to score on my Whoscale. However, off the top of my head - after just watching it in a classic Doctor Who frame of mind - I can point out two or three things that I immediately noted. 
One is the pacing of the episode. This is beyond any doubt the fastest paced two part story Moffat has contributed. There was a lot to cover in this episode, such as the blue envelopes, Amy and Rory meeting The Doctor, further information regarding the true identity of River Song, as well a TARDIS full of questions. 

A question I would love answered by Moffat is why the story opens with Amy and Rory at home enjoying married life, after he made it clear at the close of "The Big Bang" that Amy and Rory wished to continue traveling with The Doctor even after they were married. He even further indicated this in "A Christmas Carol," where Amy and Rory are on their honeymoon, but still traveling with The Doctor. Even at the close of that episode, neither of them gave any indication that they wished to return to Leadworth. So why were the two of them home? And why was The Doctor off on his own without them? I understand the TECHNICAL reason for it - that if the episode opened with Amy and Rory already aboard the TARDIS, it would have been practically impossible to introduce into the mix a "future" Doctor, which is who Amy and Rory initially meet - a Doctor that is some 200 years older than the one at the close of "A Christmas Carol." Nevertheless, no reason is given in terms of storyline why Amy and Rory are back home. This isn't the behavior of a companion(s). They don't travel with the Doctor, take a vacation, then join back up with him later. When they do leave, it's normally only an episode away from The Doctor meeting a new one, so how was The Doctor able to lollygag about the cosmos for 200 years without a companion? And showing now signs of aging? Yes people, Time Lords DO age normally in each incarnation. The Doctor wasn't born an old, white haired man.

As I'll note as I review later episodes in this season, Moffat was surely working on a story arc that is spanning the entire length of the Eleventh Doctor's era, so some of my questions may be answered further down the road. It's not uncommon for Moffat to tinker with complex paradoxes with this writing, and this season is no exception.

Another thing I noted was a more regular use of shaky cam. In some scenes, it isn't Bourne Supremacy skaky, but it isn't steady. This is most noticeable throughout the entire course of the Arizona scenes, from the picnic beside the lake until Amy, Rory, and River watch Darth Vader....I mean Anakin, no wait...sorry thought I'd flipped over to Return of the Jedi there for a second.

Have I mentioned the pacing? We're only ten minutes into the first episode of a two part story, and already Amy, Rory, River, Canton and The Doctor have received blue envelopes, met in a diner, synced diaries, gone on a picnic by a Lake, seen a Silent, forgot it, an astronaut has walked out of the lake, briefly spoke to The Doctor, KILLED The Doctor before he can regenerate, found  a conveniently placed boat, placed The Doctor's body in it, doused him with gasoline, burned his body in the lake, met back at the diner, and met up with a younger version of The Doctor they just met. Still with me? 

I think it's fair to say that Moffat went just a little too far overboard with twisted plotlines and paradoxes. The first time I watched this, I had no clue whatsoever what was going on. The first ten minutes had me so confused that I couldn't even enjoy it. 

The episode finally slows things down a notch once The Doctor arrives at the Oval Office and meets President Nixon and a younger Canton. The Doctor tracks down where the mysterious phone call is coming from, and off in the TARDIS they go. Even at the warehouse, the pacing is still relatively steady, and doesn't feel rushed. Still tons of shaky cam here, though.

The emotional wreck Amy was at the lake after The Doctor's death made me cringe. WAAAAYYY too much drama there, Moffat. The Doctor is dead, yes. But the vocal soundtrack? Amy sobbing over his body, telling him to wake up? A little over the top, in my opinion.

Perhaps this episode's one saving grace is the Silents themselves. A terrific design, both in nature and appearance. Another that I felt is worth noting is the close ups of The Doctor at the lake while he's talking to the astronaut. The look of those shots - lighting, background - reminded me of classic Who quarry days, so a few points.

Don't get me wrong, it was a brilliant idea, but the audience can't keep up at this pace. If the first episode of a two part story required being rushed this much to squeeze the story into two parts, it should be more than two parts. In my opinion, this first episode could have EASILY been spread over two 45 minute episodes, leaving the second half of the story to be told over two more.

Since this is the first review of this season, I'll make it clear now: Moffat has been my favorite writer, but the criteria of a Doctor Who episode doesn't change, so from now on, I can't show Moffat any mercy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doctor Who - "A Christmas Carol"

WHOSCALE: 3 out of 10

With the close of Series 5/Season 31, it was time for showrunner Steven Moffat to try his writing hand at the one other element of the revived series carried over from the Davies era - a Christmas special. 

I had been keeping close tabs on the production of this episode long before it aired, and both Moffat and Smith commented on the episode prior to it's air date, describing it as "very Christmasy." 

The title of the episode is obviously taken from the Charles Dickens book, which is in a way somewhat ironic, considering that the Ninth Doctor actually met Dickens as he was reading "A Christmas Carol" onstage in "The Unquiet Dead."

Overall, it's no secret to even the most casual viewer what Moffat did with this story - it is essentially Dickens' famous story set on another planet, with certain elements altered or added to give the episode the Narnia-style fantasy tone.

Even as I write this review, I find myself having trouble deciding on a rating that would do the episode justice, but at the same time not contradict the purpose of this review. This review is, after all, a comparison this episode to the likes of the first twenty-six seasons of the series. 

Holiday specials - the Christmas variety in particular - are always a coin toss when it comes to comparing them to traditional Doctor Who. It has always been my firm belief that there is a wrong and a right approach to this type of thing. Unfortunately for Moffat, it pains me to say that this episode is as close to the wrong approach as you can get. I'm speaking in terms of being a Doctor Who episode, of course. Granted, it was a Christmas special, and as such was intended to be just that - an episode filled with Christmas overtones, happy endings, no deaths, no violence, no over the top drama - just a frolicky romp through the snow that kids and adults could watch together on Christmas Day.  

There are elements of this episode that were neat and probably could have served a full-on Doctor Who episode well, such as the fish being able to swim through the fog, but looking back at the last 60 minutes I just watched, it generally feels like I just sat through Moffat's on personal interpretation of Dickens' story, which is what this episode was. There's no room for debate here.

Just for comparison, a decent Christmas Special for this review would be something along the lines of "The Runaway Bride" or "The End of Time." Both stories were set on Christmas, and did contain subtle holiday undertones, but 90 percent of the episodes were solely focused on the issues at hand - The Racnoss and The Master,  respectively. Never did I think I would see the day when I would use RUSSELL T DAVIES AGAINST STEVEN MOFFAT in a comparison, but in the case of Moffat's first special, Davies still holds the most points, by a long shot. To be fair though, Davies' first special was no pageant winner either - "The Christmas Invasion" painfully introduced us to the Tenth Doctor. However, with two three specials under Davies' belt that did reasonably well on the Whoscale, I can only hope that Moffat steps up his game in the future. 

Now that I've bored you to tears ranting about Moffat rehashing an old Christmas tale, I want touch on some of the things in this episode that did some serious damage to it's score. 

Foremost has to be the absolute and total rip off of Abrams' Star Trek film. Shaky cam, a starship bridge, exaggerated lens flares, and a character that could pass for Geordi La Forge. Need I say more? After the special aired, I noted it's likeness to fellow fans, and several fans indicated that this rip off was more than likely done as a mockery of Abrams' film, rather than an attempt to "follow a trend." Nevertheless, this kind of ridiculous kind of film making - the lens flares and shaky cam - has no place in an episode of Doctor Who, mockery or otherwise. 

The other usual deductions were present - overpowering, emotional orchestrated music, complete with a singing of "Silent Night." 

Another was how Abigail's secret was slowly alluded to - it seemed like Moffat wanted the audience believing that she might be pregnant. Maybe that was just me.

There's really nothing else I can say about it in regards to my review. To summarize, Amy and Rory were on a ship, about to crash land into an alien planet (which has a steam-punk appearance and still celebrates Christmas), and in order to prevent this catastrophe, The Doctor takes the longest route available, exercising more time travel in this single episode then the entire previous season put together. 

A great story idea, but it relied far too much on Dickens' original text.