Monthly Archives: March 2014

Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

Now that the new Daleks are well-established in this series, their appearance has lost its impact. Bringing them back for each season is a mistake in my opinion. But they’re here, the four-strong Cult of Skaro, and this time they’re really the last of their kind. Really really! And to survive, they’re going to have to evolve. This “last of the Daleks” stuff might have had more impact, but knowing they’re going to be dragged back in time and time again after this, it’s hard to care now.

The Cult of Skaro.

The Cult of Skaro.

The most interesting thing about this story is the Daleks’ changing attitude to what it means to survive. As ‘pure’ supreme beings, all they have achieved is their own demise, but is becoming human hybrids a step too far for them? This was touched upon in The Parting of the Ways. Can they still call themselves Daleks if they splice themselves into human form? Conflict within the Dalek community has always been good fun to watch, and here we see Dalek Sec’s loyal brethren question their orders and turn against him.

Dalek Sec. A Dalek in a suit with a New York accent. Oh yes.

Dalek Sec. A Dalek in a suit with a New York accent. Oh yes.

Other than that, I can’t say I enjoyed this very much. The New York setting makes a nice change, but the accents sound awful to my ears. Granted, I’ve not yet been to New York (and not in 1930), but most of the characters sound like they’re putting on stereotypical accents rather than real ones, particularly Tallulah. Admittedly, it’s not as bad as the accents in the 1960s episodes of The Chase or The Gunfighters, but that’s not saying much.

Frank is played by Andrew Garfield. It’s strange to see a (now) big Hollywood star in a bit part on Doctor Who. Thankfully, his American accent has improved significantly since this was made!

Frank is played by Andrew Garfield. It’s strange to see a (now) big Hollywood star in a bit part on Doctor Who. Thankfully, his American accent has improved significantly since this was made!

So much of this story is just boring or silly. The Daleks use slaves to do their work for them. Makes sense, but why turn them into pigs? (They had a better idea in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where they used robo-men, although they weren’t much help either.) The biological engineering necessary to transform humans into pig-men just doesn’t seem worth the end result – an army of conspicuous monsters that can’t blend in. And why pigs again? The Slitheen loved pigs. The Daleks love pigs. Does somebody in the BBC production really fancy some bacon? (See also: the aliens = animals problem.)

Oink, oink!

Oink, oink!

The Daleks’ plan to produce a race of human/Dalek hybrids goes to pot when the Cult of Skaro rebels against Sec. Suddenly, humans can be wholly Dalek by fusing their DNA differently, even though they still look like human (so they’re non-human how, exactly?). And for some reason the Doctor’s DNA can travel through electricity? And gamma rays from the sun arrive in the form of lightning? What? Somebody get the writer a science book, this is just nonsense.

Solomon keeps the peace in the Hooverville shanty town.

Solomon keeps the peace in the Hooverville shanty town.

The Doctor’s “I’m so sorry” routine is getting really old now as well. This time, he also seems to have a death wish, commanding the Daleks to shoot him on two separate occasions (he’s surprised when they don’t, so I don’t think the first time is a bluff) and then getting himself zapped while climbing up the Empire State Building’s spire. That’s not the first time a story has ended with the Doctor climbing up some big thing and being zapped. It’s boring, sorry.

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Gridlock

With all of time and space at his fingertips, why does the Doctor keep coming back to the same places? Particularly when he’s taking his new companion on a trip to same planet and era he took Rose – that’s just going to stir up some uncomfortable memories, surely. It’s New Earth, again. It’s New New York, again. But the city is not thriving anymore and strange things are happening in the slums and beneath the hovercar motorways.

Oh, look, it's the Macra! You might remember these from The Macra Terror, but you probably won't.

Oh, look, it’s the Macra! You might remember these from The Macra Terror, but you probably won’t.

Gridlock is all about traffic jams, and if you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time stuck in a traffic jam, you’ll certainly find a lot here to relate to. It wears it influences on its sleeve – you only have to glance at this dystopian scene to see hints of Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, Judge Dredd, and any sort of sci-fi with oppressed underdwellings and glistening cityscapes towering above. Gridlock is broadly satirical – the idea that you could be stuck in traffic for so long that you could live there is just ridiculous enough to make you think. It’s amusing, and it’s the sort of thing I find appealing in science-fiction, but as soon as you start to analyse it, it stops making much sense.

Must be a Friday night. Traffic's a nightmare!

Must be a Friday night. Traffic’s a nightmare!

For instance, the chain of events that led to this situation would have to be incredibly specific. The entire planet was overcome by a dangerous drug/virus simultaneously, at which point every single hovercar was trapped under the city. Entropy would demand chaos from order, but the gridlock itself is incredibly orderly and everyone seems to accept what’s happening, despite no contact with the upper levels. Why does nobody make a break for it? There’s plenty of room between the cars. Why not fly up a bit higher when the Macra are snapping away at you? These could just be VFX goofs, I suppose. Who plugged the Face of Boe into the system? And was it really only the Doctor who could fix it to get the roof open again? How, biologically-speaking, do an alien cat man and a human woman have kitten children? Why is everybody in New New York British except for the news reporter woman? Who is she anyway?! And so on, and so forth.

Bah, who cares? KITTENS!!!

Bah, who cares? KITTENS!!!

But I don’t really want to pick too much, because you start to lose the interesting aspects of this story. It doesn’t really matter that it’s not believable, it’s just fun to see characters in this bizarre situation and how they react to it. It’s interesting that there’s no villain or malevolent foe in this story, simply a system that has failed. The Macra, previously seen in The Macra Terror, are not responsible for any of this, as far as I can tell, they’re just down in those depths for some reason.

The Face of Boe reaches the end of his long life.

The Face of Boe reaches the end of his long life.

But the most interesting thing about this story is nothing to do with the gridlock itself, but the Face of Boe, who returns for his third and final appearance to finally give the Doctor his dying message… “You. Are. Not. Alone.” Martha demands answers and the Doctor has to go through his “I’m the last of my people” routine again, only this time with some lovely descriptive imagery of Gallifrey. I sense a trust developing between the Doctor and Martha, which is probably why he hasn’t taken her back home yet. There’s a lot more to see and do before things start to get… interesting.

The Shakespeare Code

London, 1599. William Shakespeare. Witches. Although I saw this in 2007, I don’t remember a great deal about it. Having now watched it again, it’s probably because it’s extremely forgettable, or at least similar enough to earlier episodes to get them mixed up in my head. Aliens posing as monsters in Earth’s past, trying to open a rift to let the rest of them through during a theatre performance, while the Doctor meets a famous historical figure… didn’t we do this two seasons ago?

A young William Shakespeare takes the stage at the Globe Theatre.

A young William Shakespeare takes the stage at the Globe Theatre.

Once again, “magic” is simply “advanced science that you can’t understand”, and although words being used as a power is kind of cool conceptually, it’s awfully wishy-washy about how that could possibly work. It’s not like mathematics is magical; it merely represents how we measure the aspects of nature around us. But, I digress; The Shakespeare Code is more concerned with being a bit of fun, and despite some of the gruesome imagery, it does manage to be, with funny winks and nods throughout, although the Doctor and ‘Bill’ exchanging famous quotes does start to grate and the Harry Potter references border on the silly. Still, it’s clearly been written with a reverence of the works of Shakespeare, who ultimately turns out to be the hero that saves the day with the power of words.

This man drowns in the street due to a "voodoo-like" curse.

This man drowns in the street due to a “voodoo-like” curse.

As for Martha, this is her first trip in the Tardis and the Doctor doesn’t treat her as well as he ought to, harshly comparing her to a worse version of Rose at one point. For such a clever man, he often has no tact. As the first non-white companion to feature in the show, one might expect Martha’s presence in Elizabethan England raise more eyebrows than it does, but Doctor Who has a tendency to make the past a mirror of the present, and this London is a progressive metropolis where everyone is welcome. It’s nice, but I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. Then again, previous companions were very rarely called out for being obviously English in foreign countries, unless the plot specifically called for it.

The other Carrionites emerge from their realm.

The other Carrionites emerge from their realm.

Playing with history some more, the Doctor encounters Queen Elizabeth the 1st, who not only recognises the Doctor’s face, but would rather like to have it removed from his body. A baffling mystery at the time, but now we know that he gets engaged to her at some point and presumably disappears, so that’s why she’s not very happy with him. From this we can deduce that ‘The Day of the Doctor’ takes place after this episode, most likely during one of the many periods that the Tenth Doctor roams time and space alone. He just doesn’t know it yet. That’s time travel for you.

Three witches cackle around a cauldron. Hardly original, but maybe that's the point. All the world's a stage.

Three witches cackle around a cauldron. Hardly original, but maybe that’s the point. All the world’s a stage.

The Shakespeare Code gets by on its playful use of history, its humour, charm and its infectious love of words, but falls down with some forgettable villains and a meaninglessly flashy finale. It’s okay, but it’s nothing to write home about (ho, ho!).

Smith and Jones

A platoon of Judoon, on the moon. This is the episode where an entire hospital is whisked away by intergalactic rent-a-cops searching for a shape-shifting Plasmavore. It also introduces the brand new companion for this season, Martha Jones.

The Doctor and Martha stand on a balcony, looking at the moon's surface. Martha had an identical twin cousin (erm...?) who died in the Canary Wharf attack.

The Doctor and Martha stand on a balcony, looking at the moon’s surface. Martha had an identical twin cousin (erm…?) who died in the Canary Wharf attack.

A medical student with a dysfunctional family straight out of Eastenders, Martha meets the Doctor by chance while he’s investigating the strange electrical activity surrounding the hospital (and posing as a patient, John Smith). It’s interesting that the Doctor claims he wants to travel alone, but when he picks a ‘new recruit’, we get a sense of how his selection process works. Martha’s instincts impress the Doctor. While everyone else is running around like headless chickens, Martha asks intelligent questions and sees things that others miss. She keeps a level head, even in the face of ridiculous events, and clicks with the Doctor straight away. In this sense, she’s not unlike Rose, although the Doctor makes it clear she is not her replacement.

Martha steps into the Tardis for the first time and we have to go through the whole "bigger on the inside routine". That never gets old, right?

Martha steps into the Tardis for the first time and we have to go through the whole “bigger on the inside routine”. That never gets old, right?

Smith and Jones depicts the planet Earth as just another insignificant orb in a vast universe of alien politics. I like the way it’s outside of Judoon jurisdiction, so they have to teleport a chunk of it to the neutral territory of the moon in order to conduct their search. The Judoon aren’t good or evil, they’re just soldiers for hire, logical but mindless, similar to the Sontarans (although less obsessed with the mechanics of war). Rhino-like in appearance, their commander is a striking presence (with fully animated features), but confirms a lack of originality in Doctor Who’s alien designs. We’ve had trees, pigs, spiders and now space-rhinos. It’s a zoo out there, apparently.

The Judoon commander scans the humans for signs of non-humanness.

The Judoon commander scans the humans for signs of non-humanness.

Despite everything going on in this episode, it does a lot with very little. It’s all set in a hospital (with the odd bit of green screen showing the moon’s surface), most of the Judoon are helmeted, the Plasmavore’s leathery henchman don leather jackets and motorcycle helmets, and the Plasmavore herself is in the form of an elderly woman who uses a plastic straw to drain her victims’ blood. This works on the basis that ordinary things are more scary than exotic ones – monsters hidden in plain sight.

Despite getting a straw in the neck vein, the Doctor doesn't appear to have any visible injury afterwards.

Despite getting a straw in the neck vein, the Doctor doesn’t appear to have any visible injury afterwards.

I enjoyed Smith and Jones; as an introduction to the new season and new companion, it ticks all the right boxes, whisks along at an exciting pace, and has a fun time-travel party trick to catch on a repeat viewing. I have a few issues with it, though: firstly, any possibility of humans being ignorant of alien life is well and truly up the spout now, surely, and yet life seems to go on as normal anyway. Secondly, I find it hard to believe that even an alien would be able to create a such a ridiculously deadly magnetic weapon capable of killing half the life on Earth… using an MRI machine. Did we really need that extra peril? (And where is the hospital’s power coming from, anyway?) Finally, and this is something that will manifest gradually, but the romantic tension has already been set up between Martha and the Doctor, and they only met each other earlier that day. Give it a rest; the Doctor should be a grumpy weirdo, not a sex object! Finally, at one point, the Doctor breaks his sonic screwdriver. “What a great excuse to finally get rid of it”, I thought – until ten minutes later when he’s made himself a new one.

The Runaway Bride

‘Tis the season to be… invaded, apparently. Earth doesn’t have much luck at Christmas, having narrowly escaped the Sycorax the previous year and now under attack from a Racnoss Empress’s spaceship and her legions of spidery children buried deep within the heart of the planet. The Doctor doesn’t get a tea break either, as this story follows directly on from the season 2 finale, and a mysterious bride has materialised aboard the Tardis. Which is impossible! Except where ancient ‘huon particles’ are involved. Right.

The robo-Santas' services must be cheap for any passing would-be alien invaders to hire.

The robo-Santas’ services must be cheap for any passing would-be alien invaders to hire.

Donna is… well, Catherine Tate. Almost exactly as excruciating as you might imagine. I say “almost” because, when she’s not blustering and yelling and being obnoxious, she’s sort of okay. If nothing else, she’s completely down-to-Earth, less concerned with the impossible things happening around her than she is by her own life and love. She has no idea about the Sycorax invading last year (she had a hangover), and no idea about the Cybermen and Daleks battling it out over Earth (she was scuba diving in Spain), which is pretty funny actually, and it sums up humanity in the new series of Doctor Who quite nicely – oblivious, ignorant, self-absorbed.

The Doctor and Donna infiltrate the secret facility where the huon particles are being manufactured.

The Doctor and Donna infiltrate the secret facility where the huon particles are being manufactured.

I’ll have more to say about Donna in season 4, but for now, it’s noteworthy that she’s not a Rose replacement. This isn’t a doe-eyed young potential love interest. Donna is her own person, here for her own reasons, and is not afraid of bossing the Doctor around. After fifty years of Doctor Who, a new companion doesn’t seem like a significant event, but bear in mind this was the first change of supporting cast since the show’s revival. Rose was Doctor Who for a large part of this new audience, and now that focus has to change. Thankfully, David Tennant plays a strong enough role to carry it, whomever he’s paired with. Donna tells the Doctor he needs somebody to stop him from doing terrible things, and as we’ve seen and will continue to see, that much is true.

Donna makes a leap of faith.

Donna makes a leap of faith.

As this is a Christmas special, it has a bigger budget to play with. This has produced some impressive sequences such as the Tardis chasing the taxi along the motorway and the formation of the Earth from bits of rock in space. The Empress’s make-up and prosthetics are similarly-impressive. The whole planet may be in danger again, but the collateral damage is isolated to a small area of London (the residents of which will probably dismiss the spaceship as a Christmas themed stunt). The order for the tanks to fire on the ship comes from Prime Minister Saxon, who will be very important in the next season, but for now is just some subtle foreshadowing.

The Racnoss Empress. It is mandatory for all spider-like species to be called "rac-something".

The Racnoss Empress. It is mandatory for all spider-like species to be called “rac-something”.

The Runaway Bride hasn’t improved with age, but it’s not terrible either. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure that successfully introduces a new companion without feeling too contrived. It’s good-humoured but with some emotional moments too. There is, however, far too much use of the sonic screwdriver. I know that it’s shorthand for “move the plot along”, but it’s overused now. The villain is striking, but never evolves beyond a carnivorous monster with a disregard for life. Her origins speak of darker times in the ancient universe, and the beginnings of the Earth itself. Like anything else, though, this is brushed off and will likely be forgotten about. For Donna Noble, life goes on… until they meet again.

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

“This is the story of how I died”, lies Rose, in a narration that immediately demands attention. This is the season finale, the last regular appearance of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler and, as expected, a typically overblown finale that throws in everything but the kitchen sink.

An army of Cybermen emerges from the dimensional rift at the Canary Wharf branch of Torchwood.

An army of Cybermen emerges from the dimensional rift at the Canary Wharf branch of Torchwood.

I guess the problem is that none of it is really surprising. Torchwood is supposed to be a revelation, but even at the time this episode was first aired, it wasn’t. It had been namedropped and teased throughout the entire season (without subtlety, this is no “Bad Wolf”) and we’d already seen what they were capable of in the Christmas episode. So when we finally meet the Torchwood bunch, the only new thing we learn is that they’re all complete morons with more money than sense, commanded by the deplorable Yvonne, and operating some of the worst security systems imaginable (staff have training against psychic paper but electronic locks don’t? What?). The Cybermen reveal could have been amazing, but it’s spoiled by showing them earlier on (not to mention in last week’s preview). It’s only really the Daleks turning up that has an impact, but that’s mitigated by a sense of “oh bloody hell, not these again”. Thankfully, these are a rogue sect with a somewhat interesting story behind them, and their skirmishes with the Cybermen are exactly as magnificent as you would hope.

Daleks and Cybermen battle it out, with humans caught in the middle. "Delete!", "exterminate!", "delete!", "exterminate!"

Daleks and Cybermen battle it out, with humans caught in the middle. “Delete!”, “exterminate!”, “delete!”, “exterminate!”

Being a Russell T. Davies script, naturally the entire world is in peril without carefully considering the repercussions of the situation. We’re instead treated to the cliché of news reports around the world showing famous landmarks, pop culture references (lolz, ghosts on Eastenders), Rose’s mum tagging along, the Doctor being his usual ‘wacky’ self, and the necessity of a big magic reset button that sucks all the bad guys away from every single country in the world within a matter of seconds. What about the ones indoors? Still, it’s probably best to just enjoy the spectacle while it lasts and not think too much about it.

The Time War was rather less effective than first thought. Millions of Daleks were still trapped in a Genesis Ark, sealed with a void ship, floating endlessly in the space between dimensions. Basically the equivalent of finding money down the side of the sofa.

The Time War was rather less effective than first thought. Millions of Daleks were still trapped in a Genesis Ark, sealed with a void ship, floating endlessly in the space between dimensions. Basically the equivalent of finding money down the side of the sofa.

As ever, Davies does his best work when dealing with human drama, and it doesn’t get much more dramatic than Rose being forced to leave the Doctor. Now, I could whine about overly dramatic big goodbyes with tears and sad music, unlike in the old days where companions would just leave when they felt like it, but the fact of the matter is that Rose’s relationship with the Doctor is different from all of them. Such is her love for him that she would give up ever seeing her own mother again, and it seems clear to me (and to a legion of fangirls, if Google images is any indication) that the Doctor feels the same way in return. This necessitates the creation of the ‘void’ and a sealed off universe for Rose to live with her reunited family, a final goodbye for the Doctor and Rose with no hope of them ever seeing each other again. If you need closure, that’s the way to do it. I mean, it’s not like they’d ever bring her back in some awfully contrived situation, is it? Erm.

Separated by the fabric of reality itself, Rose grieves as she is permanently cut-off from the Doctor. Forever. Yes, forever! No, I'm not listening, la-la-la-laaaa!!

Separated by the fabric of reality itself, Rose grieves as she is permanently cut-off from the Doctor. Forever. Yes, forever! No, I’m not listening, la-la-la-laaaa!!

So, mixed feelings about this finale. On the one hand, at least it actually feels like a finale that has been earned, laying the groundwork throughout the second season (Torchwood, Cybermen, Pete Tyler, parallel universes), with a good cliffhanger, some good action and a sweet final farewell. On the other hand, it just feels too big for its boots at times – contrived, overblown, pushing the peril to ridiculous levels, always trying to top the previous effort. We’re not at the point where the Doctor tows the entire planet through space or where all of the known universe is going to explode, but it’s set a damaging precedent already.

Oh look, Catherine Tate is in the Tardis in a wedding dress…

What?

What?!

WHAT?!

Fear Her

On a quiet suburban street, a little girl is drawing people and making them disappear. This is a monster story where the ‘monster’ is a girl’s imagination… except the girl is actually a lonely alien who has stolen her body. Er, yeah, okay.

The Doctor uses his mind meld to talk to the Isolus inside Chloe. Coincidentally, in this episode, he also does the Vulcan salute.

The Doctor uses his mind meld to talk to the Isolus inside Chloe. Coincidentally, in this episode, he also does the Vulcan salute.

In short, it’s not very good, but there is a degree of merit in this story. The idea of ‘monsters’ being misunderstood creatures rather than purely evil beings has been a defining characteristic of some of Doctor Who’s more imaginative episodes; however it’s simplistically handled here and all of it through clumsy exposition. It’s up to the Doctor to tediously explain what’s happening, who the alien is, why it’s so lonely, what it wants, and so on. The performance of the girl is not up to the task, unfortunately.

Chloe draws the Doctor and his Tardis. Oh noes!

Chloe draws the Doctor and his Tardis. Oh noes!

The performances are awful across the board; it’s as if the Doctor and Rose have dropped into a cheap soap opera. From the prophetic old woman, pulled straight from the book of clichés, to parents whose only reaction to losing their children is to sound a bit annoyed. The girl’s mother, Trish, who is supposed to be conveying fear over her child, barely shows it and comes across emotionally detached and negligent. Instead, most of the characterisation is projected onto her by the Doctor and Rose, telling her what she must be feeling. Between them, they carry the entire story, and their chemistry and jokes are just about strong enough to hold it.

Rose is attacked by a scribble.

Rose is attacked by a scribble.

The only other remarkable thing is the 2012 setting at the London olympic games, although it’s almost irrelevant to the plot. Using the torch as an ‘icon of love’ (and warmth) is schmaltzy as hell and the Doctor running up to light the torch at the end is even worse. Obviously, now that 2012 has been and gone, David Tennant did not run up and light the torch during the opening ceremony – as that would have singlehandedly redeemed this in my eyes!

Even the torch is wrong! Failed predictions all round.

Even the torch is wrong! Failed predictions all round.

The episode has a creepy tone: pictures that move in the corner of your eye, monsters living in your closet, the silhouette of the girl at the window from outside… it’s pulling from well-worn tropes at every turn, but doesn’t have much style of its own. Kids might find it more unsettling, particularly, the shadowy ‘daddy monster’ figure at the end, but, for me, it’s too broad and doesn’t quite work. Unfortunately, it takes the peril too far with the ridiculous moment when the whole stadium of people disappears, as if the story can’t possibly work on an intimate level, so instead the whole world has to be in danger yet again. Is this going to be explained to the public as another publicity stunt? I tell you what, Torchwood has got its work cut out for it.