Tag Archives: autons

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

Epic finales have capped the past four and a bit seasons, so it was no surprise that season 5 went all out. In a scene reminiscent of what Russell T Davies probably intended in The Stolen Earth, every single available alien, robot and creature from the past five years gathers together at Stonehenge 102 AD (including, bizarrely, the Silurians, who shouldn’t even be awake at this point) to trap the Doctor in a giant box, thus stopping him from destroying the Universe when his Tardis explodes in the future.

The Universe's largest recorded INTERVENTION meeting.

The Universe’s largest recorded INTERVENTION meeting.

It’s a good twist, because you spend most of the first episode thinking there’s a monster inside the Pandorica, but in fact the monster is the Doctor and all the bad guys are there to save the Universe for a change. It must have taken an incredible amount of planning on their part, though. They had to read a psychic imprint of Amy’s mind to create the trap, ensure the coordinates were written on a painting that would get passed down to River Song, who would find a way to escape prison and bring the Doctor to the right place. Convoluted isn’t the word! You also have to wonder, if keeping the Doctor sealed away for eternity is so important, why make the Pandorica so easy to open again from the outside?

Auton-duplicate Roman Rory, now with sonic screwdriver action.

Auton-duplicate Roman Rory, now with sonic screwdriver action.

The Doctor tells the alien spaceships over Stonehenge to bugger off for a while.

The Doctor tells the alien spaceships over Stonehenge to bugger off for a while.

Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated. With the first episode ending on the most extreme of cliffhangers, the Tardis exploding, the Doctor trapped forever, and the lights in the Universe blinking out of existence, it takes a hell of a job to undo it, but this is one of those occasions where it mostly works satisfyingly, thanks to Steven Moffat’s knack for planning out long-winded and complex plots and believing in the audience enough to keep up with it. Through a series of time jumps, the Doctor sets into motion an elaborate plan to rescue himself and works out how to undo the erasure of the Universe. These sequences are both amusing and clever, not to mention logically consistent (a rarity in a show that supposedly deals with time travel), so it’s a shame that a large part of the climax revolves around, basically, magic.

I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.

I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.

This annoys me, because the story could rely on its use of hard temporal mechanics to sort itself out, but instead descends into wishy-washy metaphor. Erased from existence, the Doctor is brought back into the Universe by the power of memories or love or some such nonsense. How does that make any sense? The mind is not some magical thing that can overcome the laws of physics – either somebody exists in spacetime or they don’t. So now we have a situation where the Tardis was actually blown up, but now it wasn’t because it was undone, except that it still did happen because they remember it and still need to work out who was responsible for it, even though it quite obviously didn’t happen because the Tardis still exists. The Doctor was at the heart of the Big Bang version 2, except he clearly wasn’t because he still exists, and he only exists because Amy and Rory remember him… and so on, and so forth.

It's not quite as bad as "the whole world prays for the Doctor" but it's the same sort of thing.

It’s not quite as bad as “the whole world prays for the Doctor” but it’s the same sort of thing.

Well, whatever issues there are with the plot, I can’t deny that it’s bloody ambitious. I also love how the previous episodes from the season are incorporated into it, with Vincent’s painting passed down through history, and then later with the Doctor revisiting Amy in their previous adventures and finally explaining that weird scene from Flesh and Stone. Amy’s story arc also reaches a conclusion, with the mystery of her vanishing parents solved, the crack in her room being sealed, and Rory coming back into existence in time for their wedding day.

It's hard not to feel a twinge of emotion as the Tardis materialises during the reception, to the words "something old, something new, something borrowed... something blue". Yes, very clever, Steven. How long had you been waiting to write that?

It’s hard not to feel a twinge of emotion as the Tardis materialises during the reception, to the words “something old, something new, something borrowed… something blue”. Yes, very clever, Steven. How long had you been waiting to write that?

I suppose what I liked most about this finale is that all the overblown threat is contained with a minimum of bluster within part 1. After the big incident, the second part is relatively low-key. There’s this wonderful mix of the utterly bleak (all the stars have gone out, the Tardis is burning in the sky for two millennia, and the Earth will soon disappear), the heartwarmingly lovely (Auton-duplicate Rory standing guard over Amy for 2000 years) and the bloody funny (the stuff with the mop and the fez). There was never any doubt that everything would turn out fine in the end, but getting there is a fascinating journey. For that reason, it’s the best season finale of the new series, despite the problems I had with it.

The exploding Tardis painting makes for a lovely piece of wall art.

The exploding Tardis painting makes for a lovely piece of wall art.

I was hoping to have revisited Matt Smith’s entire run before season 8 begins, but as I type this, Peter Capaldi’s debut is just days away, so I’m going to take this opportunity to take a ‘deep breath’, enjoy the new series and come back to this in a little while.

Advertisements

Rose

A lot has happened since I reached the end of my classic Doctor Who marathon. The fiftieth anniversary special filled in some blanks in the dark pages of the Doctor’s history (and the Time War), while the recent Christmas special reset Steven Moffat’s garbled universe into a (hopefully) simpler one. But that’s nothing compared to the nine years that have passed since I first tuned in to watch ‘Rose’, as a curious non-Doctor Who fan.

"I used to be John Hurt. Run!"

“I used to be John Hurt. Run!”

I have to admit, at the time, I wasn’t entirely impressed. I was ready for a new sci-fi TV show, and what I got was a briskly-paced run around London with some annoying characters and ‘comedy’ burping bins. Perhaps it’s the legacy I was missing, but coming at it again now, I do appreciate it a lot more (burping bins aside). It’s no easy task to reboot a series like this, having to tick boxes and squeeze a legible plot into 45 minutes. It’s easy to draw parallels with 1970’s Spearhead from Space, another “sort of reboot” (not least of which because this also features the return of the Nestene and Autons), but that had twice the running time to fit everything in. As a result, ‘Rose’ seems a little bit rushed, with the world-ending calamity defeated by a lucky throw of a McGuffin. Yet, despite this, the plot is reasonably sensible and easy to follow, and nicely merges Rose’s story with the Doctor’s, serving as our portal into this strange new world. Generally, I prefer Steven Moffat’s writing to Russell T. Davies’, but compared to some of his recent convoluted plots, this is refreshingly simple.

The Doctor confronts the Nestene consciousness underneath the London Eye.

The Doctor confronts the Nestene consciousness underneath the London Eye.

Following on the from fantastic production values of the TV movie ten years earlier, and despite this being the first Doctor Who production made in widescreen, this does unfortunately look a little bit “BBC kids show” at times, but on the whole it’s a nice-looking production with some decent (if unremarkable) visual effects. The Tardis interior is a bit more coherent than its messy movie incarnation and looks suitably alien, and the new Doctor himself is alien in his own way too, casually disregarding human life, despite his obvious fascination with it. It’s a far cry from the romantic charmer that ‘graced’ the Earth ten years prior, even bluntly deflecting the (frankly, farcical) flirting from Rose’s mum.

This is unfortunately the start of "the sonic screwdriver can do anything the plot requires of it", used here to disable the Auton's arm.

This is unfortunately the start of “the sonic screwdriver can do anything the plot requires of it”, used here to disable the Auton’s arm.

So, this new Doctor is pretty upbeat, cheerfully explaining to Rose how the human race is to be wiped out. There’s a hint of guilt within him, although more on that later. He’s also northern, but lots of planets have a north. His dialogue is necessarily shorter and quippier, the beginning of a trend for the modern era, as the pace of the plot is so brisk now. Those old serials are glacial by comparison.

The mannequins coming to life are just as effective as they were in 1970, albeit somewhat less plausible here (they weren't manufactured as Autons this time).

The mannequins coming to life are just as effective as they were in 1970, albeit somewhat less plausible here (they weren’t manufactured as Autons this time).

Although we get the impression that this Doctor is recently regenerated (see him checking himself out in the mirror), we also learn that he’s been travelling through time and appears in pictures from history. It is possible, although implausible, that he simply hasn’t looked in a mirror until now, but a funner theory is that he zips off through time between disappearing and reappearing at the end of this episode, perhaps as a way to plant evidence of his time-travelling for Rose to discover!

Given the adventures the Doctor has had on Earth with UNIT and Cybermen and Daleks, you'd think Clive would have had a bit more to go on than a handful of dodgy pictures of number Nine.

Given the adventures the Doctor has had on Earth with UNIT and Cybermen and Daleks, you’d think Clive would have had a bit more to go on than a handful of dodgy pictures of number Nine.

I wasn’t much a of a fan of Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal in 2005, but I’m quite prepared to give him another chance now that I have a broader understanding of the character. As for this episode, it had to appeal to new audiences and old alike, freshen the franchise up, inject a bit of (admittedly silly) humour and squeeze an exciting plot into 45 minutes. It’s not perfect, but I can’t honestly think of a better way to kick things off. It’s just a shame consistency isn’t Doctor Who’s strong suit.

Terror of the Autons

Season 8 opens with another Nestene / Autons story, a relatively tightly plotted four episodes written by Robert Holmes again. There is a noticeable difference in style between his stories and the rest – he seems more inclined to break out of the rigid structure of the old 1960s episodes, and his characters are written with more naturalistic dialogue. Even the grumpy old Doctor occasionally makes a joke.

Autons attack! I'm never visiting a fairground ever again.

Autons attack! I’m never visiting a fairground ever again.

Orchestrating the Nestene’s plot to return to Earth and control all our plastic is none other than The Master (the actual Master, this time!), in his first ever appearance. I’m only familiar with the Master from the more recent Doctor Who series, but the character here is similarly evil, devious and cunning. More than that, though, he’s an intellectual equal for the Doctor, and from the looks of things, he’s going to be sticking around for a while. Arguably, the Netene and the Autons aren’t the focus here – there’s still the odd scary moment, like the little troll doll coming to life, or the fake policeman pulling his rubber mask off – they’re just part of the Master’s plot. But this is the sort of focus the series needs to avoid becoming stale, since we’re still stuck on Earth for the time being.

Attacked by the plastic telephone cable, the Doctor makes the now obligatory face.

Attacked by the plastic telephone cable, the Doctor makes the now obligatory face.

Doctor Who continues to have big ideas – alien invasion, deadly plastic sculptures, armed forces having shootouts and saving the country from a genocidal Time Lord – but budget cuts are becoming more apparent. We still don’t see inside the Doctor’s Tardis, and the Master’s Tardis only ever appears as a caravan! UNIT seems to ditch the jeeps for this story, and instead the Brigadier and his troops drive around in a little car. It’s quite amusing, actually. Elsewhere, bluegreen backdrops are used extensively, sometimes in place of actual sets. It’s fine, it’s just noticeably more dated than something like Spearhead from Space, which should always look good due to how it was shot.

To alert him of the Master's arrival, an inexplicably tiny Time Lord materialises in front of the Doctor. With a bowler hat. What?!

To alert him of the Master’s arrival, an inexplicably tiny Time Lord materialises in front of the Doctor. With a bowler hat. What?!

So, apparently, Liz Shaw left. I didn’t realise she wasn’t returning. I don’t have much to say about her as she wasn’t in it for long, but I liked that she was clever enough to keep up with the Doctor and take initiative herself. By contrast, the Doctor’s new assistant, Jo, is just there to look pretty and get kidnapped. An unfortunate downgrade, but I will give her a chance.

The Master poses as a businessman, using the highly inconspicuous alias, Colonel Masters.

The Master poses as a businessman, using the highly inconspicuous alias, Colonel Masters.

I like The Master. He’s the villain the show needs, and he’s a pleasure to watch. Granted, he does look like magician crossed with General Zod, but given he has the power of hypnosis, this seems entirely appropriate. I’ll be interested to see what his inclusion brings to the show going forward.

Spearhead from Space

Holy crap, the Tardis is BLUE?!!

No, but seriously, Doctor Who appearing in colour for the first time already takes some adjusting to, but more so because this one is shot entirely on film. There appears to be few, if any, studio sets used at all – everything is shot either outdoors or in real buildings. The difference this makes to the look (and sound) of the this show is absolutely stark. It feels like a ‘movie version’ of a TV show.

The Doctor collapses outside the Tardis after arriving on Earth.

The Doctor collapses outside the Tardis after arriving on Earth.

I’m just as interested in aspects of filmmaking as I am the stories themselves, so I could ramble on about this and that until I’m blue in the Tardis. Before this, the show did use film and location shooting, increasingly so as it went on, but the studio video recordings made up the bulk of the episodes. Shooting on film, without the studio environment, changes the style of filmmaking too. While the old show would play out like a stage play, this is more naturalistic, less melodramatic, more tightly edited, more cinematic. But it does mean we don’t get to see the Tardis interior this time. It’s a really strange effect – simultaneously expensive- and cheap-looking.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Liz Shaw visit the Doctor in hospital.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Liz Shaw visit the Doctor in hospital.

This fresh new start for Doctor Who also brings with it a new Doctor, now played by Jon Pertwee. Although the Time Lords erased some of his memories before stranding him on Earth, he is still essentially the same character. He still has Troughton’s deep voice (now with a bit of a lisp, mind) but he’s a little more laid back. Still clever and cunning, but he seems to have more of a sense of humour. Some of his lines are pretty funny, like when he’s admiring his new face’s flexible eyebrows. The acting is, again, more naturalistic, less dramatic. I think I could grow to like this incarnation.

The Doctor borrows some clothes, and a rather fetching hat.

The Doctor borrows some clothes, and a rather fetching hat.

Still, not everything has changed. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart returns, still heading up UNIT. Coincidentally, the Doctor winds up in his custody and is instrumental in stopping an Auton invasion, with help from Liz Shaw, who I assume is going to be whatever equivalent to a travelling companion this series has. I really have no idea where this is going, if anywhere, but I’m okay with the change. On the basis of this story, Doctor Who can be grounded on Earth and still involve alien invasions, sinister plots, science-fiction concepts and a few scares to go along with it. Plastic duplicate people? Cool! Shop mannequins coming to life? Brilliant! Global threat on a local scale. It works here. Can it keep working? That remains to be seen.

Ooh-arr, no sir, I ain't seen no glowing meteorites around these parts.

Ooh-arr, no sir, I ain’t seen no glowing meteorites around these parts.

Noteworthy mention: the extent of the Doctor’s alienness is explicitly confirmed for the first time when the hospital X-rays him and discovers he has two hearts, non-human blood, and irregular heartbeat and brain wave patterns. I was wondering when that would first come up, and now I know. He also adopts the John Smith name again, seemingly long-term.

The Autons attack!

The Autons attack!

This was a good, fun and fresh four episodes of Doctor Who, a whole new style for a whole new decade. Let the adventures continue!