Popular Posts

Monday, February 25, 2013

Doctor Who - "A Good Man Goes To War"

WHOSCALE: 4 out of 10

For those who didn't see this season as it aired, Series 6/Season 32 was divided into to halves; the first half was shown in the spring of 2011, while the second half started in the fall. This episode marked what Moffat described as a "game-changing cliffhanger" for the first half. 

Frequently throughout this season, I have had to re-watch these episodes several times in order to get a confident grasp of what was going on so that I can be assured that I gave it a fair review. With Series 5/Season 31 however, this was not the case. Oddly enough, that season scored higher than any other season so far. Coincidence? Probably not. 

This review will no doubt be extensive, because as the score indicates, there was quite a lot about this episode that just was plain silly. 

Let's start with the title. Having followed the production of the series, this episode was originally to be titled "Demons Run." That title was later changed to "A Good Man Goes To War." Now obviously, the latter is a direct reference to The Doctor, which I constantly gripe about in the resurrection - the original series seldom - if ever - made direct references to the lead characters in episode titles. Perhaps the only exception were "The Two Doctors," "The Three Doctors," and "The Five Doctors." I know I sound like I'm being nit-picky, but the original series established a kind of format for episode titles, often beginning with "The" and following with an element relative to the story's overall plot. (i.e. "The Sunmakers," "The Romans," "The Aztecs," "The Silurians,") Another format that was regularly used was the "___ of the ___" format, or something similar. (i.e. "Talons of Weng-Chiang," "Terror of the Autons," "Seeds of Death.") These titles encompassed the story as a whole, and did not reference one particular element. In the case of the new series, Moffat & Co. frequently title episodes to either deliberately mislead viewers ("The Doctor's Wife," "The Doctor's Daughter," "The Next Doctor,") or they reference something that doesn't remotely relate to the plot of the episode, but more one specific character ("Amy's Choice," "Vincent and the Doctor," "Smith and Jones," "Partners In Crime,") These titles intentionally suggest that the episode is chiefly about the characters referenced, and not about a traditional Doctor Who dilemma, although some of these episodes often do have a great story, they're just mis-titled. "Smith and Jones," for example. The hospital was transported to the Moon, where we were introduced to the Judoon. The title is a reference to The Doctor's often used alias, John Smith and of course Martha's maiden name, Jones. Ironically, there was an 80s western series called "Alias Smith & Jones," that followed the adventures of two outlaws trying to clear their records. Whether or not this was a double reference, I'm not sure. 

The bottom line is, the title of this episode was a reference to one specific element - that of the old tale about why the asteroid is called "Demons Run," and as such was a poor choice. 

The opening sequence of this episode was painful for me to watch. Sequences like that of Rory in Roman attire managing to break into a Cybermen ship, reach the bridge and demand the wherabouts of his wife (as if the Cybermen give a f*** who his wife is, or where she is) shows that the producers take "Doctor Who is intended to be a children's show" literally. Portraying The Doctor, as well as his ordinary human companions as "super bad asses" doesn't give a sense of seriousness at all - it just looks rather silly. Granted, The Doctor is the hero of the series, but not in the Superman, Batman, Chuck Norris or Bruce Willis sense. The Doctor is the hero of the series like Colonel Jack O'Neill is the hero of StarGate SG-1. He's the lead character, and obviously the hero, but not to the point that he looks tremendously superior to the other characters. 

Blowing up a Cybermen ship just to emphasize a question? That's just ridiculous. The Doctor would never do that over something so trivial. I'm not trying to downplay the issue of Amy missing, but why doesn't he just go to the Shadow Proclamation like he did in "The Stolen Earth?" Why would the Cybermen, of all species in the realm of Doctor Who, know anything about Rory's wife? Even IF they had intercepted information about that, why would they make a note of it? It is completely, totally, utterly, IRRELEVANT to the Cybermen and their objectives! Let's not forget the fact that The Doctor as of late has longed to see the ultimate end of the Cybermen, so why doesn't he just blow them all up right then? Since they're so easy to find, apparently. On a side note, the windows behind Rory on the Cybership are the same exact windows that looked out from the flight deck of the ship in "The Curse of the Black Spot."

The episode digs an even deeper hole by introducing two completely irrelevant characters - The Fat One and the Thin One. So irrelevant, that they aren't even given proper names - just a blatant reference to their sexual preferences. Why in God's name is a gay couple relevant here?! You could have just as easily omitted that detail, and the episode would still have worked seamlessly. 

Yet another character that I question is that of Lorna Bucket, the girl who apparently met The Doctor once before in her childhood in the Gamma Forests. The purpose of this character was two fold; one to provide a bit more hero worship for the viewers watching that have embraced the notion that The Doctor is Superman in a bow tie, and to help close the thread of River Song's true identity, which I'll get to in a moment. My memory is fuzzy on the Tennant years, but I think this may have been done once before. A character is introduced and claims to have met The Doctor previously, only to spend the rest of their lives seeking him. Wait...it's come back to me now. Elton from "Love And Monsters" did that. 

Why do all of the supporting characters in the new series have this overwhelming obsession with The Doctor? It's obvious that the production crew are attempting to create a link between the series and the avid fans of the show. In other words, they're blurring the lines between Doctor Who reality, and that of actual reality. I do not understand why this is necessary. If you need that to relate to the show, how the fudge did you watch "The Prisoner?" 

Moving on. Another element that I found completely distasteful was that of The Doctor raising an army. OK, let's put this in perspective: Amy Pond, a girl who has been The Doctor's companion for less than 2 years, has been abducted since the events of "Day of the Moon." To find and rescue this companion - one who has spent less time in the TARDIS than Jamie - The Doctor blows up a Cybermen ship, and travels throughout the universe recruiting those he's saved in the past so that they can repay their debt to him. First of all, when did The Doctor expect some sort of repayment for what he does? I don't think The Doctor ever felt like the universe "owed him a debt," even though he may have joked about it from time to time. Strangely enough, he only recruits characters as far back as Series 5/Season 31 - The Judoon, the Silurians, the Sontarans, Danny Boy from "Victory of the Daleks," and Captain Avery from "The Curse of the Black Spot." How convenient. The Doctor has faced more menacing odds in the original series, and wiggled his way out of the situation without having to ask a favor from the universe. First he's so bad ass that he can blow up a Cybermen ship to ask a question, then he can't even rescue his companion without raising an army. I could go on for two more days ranting about how out of character this behavior was for The Doctor, so I'll leave it at this. I think I've made my point clear: Raising an army out of previous characters was not the route to go. 

There are other moments that just made me want to face palm. For example, a scene that first shows the Headless Monks is conveniently accompanied by an overhead speaker system saying, "Reminder: It is a level 1 offense to remove the hood of a Headless Monk," or something to that effect. Immediately following this, one of the two gay couple asks aloud, "I wonder why they're called "headless monks? They can't actually be headless." REALLY?! Could you have made it more obvious? The entire audience was quietly wondering this until you wrote this first-year student shit. Now it's OBVIOUS: The Headless Monks are actually HEADLESS. 

Speaking of the Headless Monks, way to rip off Star Wars again by making them look like Sith Lords wielding lightsabers. I know people may call me lame for making that reference, but let's be honest: No matter what you're doing in a series, if you present a weapon that's a glowing sword of any kind, people are immediately going to think "Star Wars." 

By this time, I was getting sick of how River Song always has to be so cryptic with her dialogue. Never a straight answer to anything, and always riddles as answers. "He will rise higher than he's ever risen before, and then he will fall so much further." Damnit, if she feels she can't disclose any information about Demon's Run because of timelines and all that junk, why not just NOT SAY ANYTHING?! Just tell Rory that you can't say anything because it's his future and your past! This kind of crypto-clue talking was nice in "Silence In the Library," and maybe even in "The Time of Angels," but now you're just dragging it out. and it's annoying as hell. 

As usual, the music was well overdone. 

Yet another bit that makes me want to cringe is when Dorium just waltzes out to greet the pissed off Monks, thinking they will spare him because of previous dealings, even though he's just sold them out to The Doctor. This mindless sequence was done simply to emphasize that the Monks will chop your head off. Thanks Moffat, but we figured that would be the case when we saw them wielding swords. We didn't need to see someone just outright commit suicide to work it out.

Which brings up another dummy mark: Demons Run is occupied by an entire army of Silurian soldiers, but magically, a few Headless Monks (who can't inflict damage except at close quarters) manage to reduce the entire army to that of just Rory, The Doctor and Amy. Even the Sontaran Strax and Bucket are killed. 
Is this even remotely supposed to be believable?

What about how the communications array gets taken out? Seriously? Danny Boy from "Victory of the Daleks?" I thought all the Dalek tech was destroyed in that story? So how does Danny Boy still have space flight capability on his Spitfire? To say nothing about how he managed to get from 1940s WWII torn Earth, to the Demons Run asteroid in the far flung future. 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was that of River Song's identity. Are you telling me that a character who possesses the ability to time travel via a vortex manipulator, has dated androids, knows The Doctor's real name, is a professor of archaeology in the future, has dealt with Weeping Angels more than once, has the ability to regenerate and is in StormCage prison for killing The Doctor is simply Amy and Rory's DAUGHTER?! At this point, I was utterly disgusted with the series. The show had officially become entirely about the supporting characters. It was then that I realized that this entire episode was in fact about Amy and Rory. If you read by blog, or if you watch my YouTube rants, you know that is a total turn off for me as a Doctor Who fan. When you devote a thread that's spanned three seasons to character development in a series that's about traveling through time and space and saving the universe from menaces like The Daleks and The Ice Warriors, you lose all respect from me as a contributing writer.

We're only half way in to Moffat's second season, and already I want him gone. 

So far, this was perhaps the lowest scoring episode of the new series, save for "Love and Monsters." A shame that it had to come from Steven Moffat, of all people.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Doctor Who - "The Almost People"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Considering that in my opinion, the bulk of the story was covered in the first half of the previous episode, it should be no surprise that the second half of this two part story scored lower on the Whoscale. 

Before I go into detail on what costs this episode so many points, I should note that the pacing for this story was a huge issue. I found it frequently difficult to understand what was going on because the dialogue from so many characters was gibberish. For some reason, Moffat seems to think that characters that talk extremely rapidly is "quirky." While this may be true, it should be a trait reserved only for the Doctor, not every character. When you get a room full of characters all conversing and their sentences are garbled because they're speaking so fast, it no longer becomes an appealing quirk, it becomes an irritating annoyance, because I cannot understand them. 

Besides the almost non stop music throughout this entire episode, that is perhaps my biggest complaint. As I stated in my previous review, the initial plot and story was not a bad idea for an episode of Doctor Who. The fact that it was a two parter of course, always yields a few points. However, in spite of the story's two part format -  and having watched this episode several times now since it aired - I still have trouble "keeping up" so to speak with the development of the story.

I think what I'm trying to say is that the episode does not have a very good structured narrative. For me, much of this episode felt like a mess, particularly when pointless elements start getting introduced into the story. For example, the doppleganger of The Doctor had no purpose whatsoever other than to confuse both Amy and the audience. Then we're forced to deal with yet another problem - as if we don't have enough of them already - Amy initially rejects the notion of "two identical Doctors," claiming that she can tell the difference between the two. This is later proven false due to The Doctor switching shoes with his ganger. What's even more ridiculous is that The Doctor claims that the reason he swapped shoes with his ganger was to determine whether or not Amy could truly tell a difference. Who the fudge cares?! 

The more I reflect on what I've just watched, the more I find it difficult to even summarize the story in my head. There was too much already going on by the time the Doctor ganger was introduced. Already we had a missing Rory, a missing Jennifer, a missing ganger Jennifer, three or four other gangers running amok and plotting a revolution against the humans. This was more than enough to resolve within the confines of this episode - and that's if you don't count the final ten minutes, which had nothing to do with this story whatsoever. 

Anytime a science fiction story deals with copies, there is always going to be that brief moment of confusion from the audience where they cannot tell which one is the original. Such an example would be the campfire scene in the snow in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, where a shape shifter takes on the form of Kirk, and a fight ensues. A few rolls in the snow later, we're confused on who the real Kirk is. However, the scene soon resolves this with the elimination of the shape shifter. My point is, it's confusing enough to drag out a story with two of every character over two episodes, it's practically mundane when you introduce a copy of a copy, as this episode did with Jennifer. We soon learn that Jennifer has in fact been dead for some time, at that BOTH the Jennifers that were walking around with Rory are gangers. Yet again, what purpose was served by having this element in the story? It served only to confuse the audience even further. 

Since Moffat teased the audience with the death of The Doctor in the season opener "The Impossible Astronaut," it was clear that throughout the remainder of this season, Moffat was leading us on with suggestions at how the incident at the lake could be avoided or circumvented. With "The Curse of the Black Spot," were introduced to a life support system that could sustain a dying person indefinitely. With "The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People," we're introduced to a copy of The Doctor. Naturally, my first thought when seeing this originally was that perhaps The Doctor at the lake was this ganger. However, the ganger dies of course near the end of the episode. 

The resolution of the story in my opinion was a joke. Cleaves' ganger - who for two whole episodes has sworn to wage war against the humans - suddenly decides that there is no point in the war and surrenders. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who is nothing more than a ganger, suddenly possesses the ability to morph into a horrific CGI monster similar to the one in "The Lazarus Experiment." That monster, in turn, was defeated by The Doctor's ganger simply pointing his sonic screwdriver at it, which reveals that it can break down the molecular patterns of the flesh, thus returning the ganger to a puddle of goo. So why not have just done this to the walkabout gangers from onset?!

The problem of having a double for each of the mining crew is quickly resolved by a few convenient acid-related deaths. The scene between the two Jimmys is practically scene for scene ripped from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," where a young Obi-Wan cradles a dying Qui-Gon. The fact that I'm actually finding similarities between a television series about time and space travel and a major motion picture franchise like Star Trek or Star Wars, shows that some, if not all of these modern Doctor Who episodes are well over done. 

Yet one other problem that the entire story touched on, was the fact that the gangers were in limbo between "real human" and "ganger" (hence the title of the episode). This issue is magically resolved after the gangers enter the TARDIS. Apparently, the TARDIS energy stabilized their molecular structure, so they were suddenly human. How convenient. 

It irritates me to my core when a writer is given the breathing room of two episodes, and yet the whole thing gets resolved in the final 10 minutes. It makes you wonder, "what the hell did we just spend the last hour doing?!"

The final sequence in the episode takes place in the TARDIS, and reveals the nature of the Eye Patch Lady that has been visiting Amy as a hallucination. Amy is revealed to be a ganger, which raises my next question. The ganger technology was unique to this time period, so assuming that Amy was copied during the time she was missing in "The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon," (which was in 1969) how did the Silents become aware of this technology? It was a clever twist, but some of these little convenient resolutions feel like they were dreamed up at the last minute - to the point of just seeming ridiculous. To me, the whole "Amy is actually a ganger- a element that we just conveniently introduced" felt more like "this here, for lack of a better idea." 

I wanted to score this episode high, because it had the core of a good Doctor Who story, but like so many others in the new series, it was presented in a fashion that simply does not work for  a show like this.