Sunday, March 11, 2007

Doctor Who "Series Two"

First of all, who's bright idea was it to call this series two- are there only two Doctors? That's a bit of an insult to the long history of Doctor Who- and not even factually correct. So, we're not off to a good beginning. Spoilers ahead!

David Tennant's run as tenth Doctor actually begins in the 2005 Christmas Special where he faces off against Santa-bots and the threat of an alien invasion by the Sycorax. As with many of the episodes, we encumbered by far too much emphasis on Rose Tyler and her family- the Doctor takes a back seat for far too much of the show. Essentially the aliens are threatening to make everyone with A-positive blood commit suicide (don't ask) and the Doctor is eventually forced to fight a sword duel with the leader for the planet. No, I don't get why an advanced alien civilisation capable of interstellar travel and intent on invading the Earth would bother with swords either. In any event, the big series arc of Torchwood (a secret organisation set up to protect Britain from alien menace) begins here- the aliens are about to leave when the British PM has their ship destroyed.

Series Two begins in earnest with the futuristic New Earth. We can't get away from the soap opera vibe here either- although instead of the Tyler family we get a return of some of the aliens from "series one" story The End of the World. There are some great make-up effects for the cat-women nuns- they run a high-tech hospital which is secret infecting people with diseases to find cures for their well-heeled patients. Although there are some great moments, the story could have been superb- the diseased lab rats are released at one point to chase the inhabitants of the hospital and I was expecting some zombie-esque moments but the sense of danger never really takes. It's frustrating- the acting can be great, the FX people have proved they can do good work and yet the writing continues to splutter along. Standards definitely need to rise.

Next up is Tooth and Claw, an episode that was much hyped here before its release. The plot is simple- Queen Victoria is at a remote location in Scotland being menaced by a werewolf and some kung fu monks. There's an obviously expensive Matrix-style slow-mo shot of the monks leaping through the air at one point but it was wasted- the guys they jumped over in the "fight sequence" just turned around. What a lost opportunity- Jon Pertwee's Venusian karate was more convincing that the fight this show delivers.And, yet again, there's no sense of horror or danger from the werewolf at the centre of events. The writers seem to have been more concerned with the origins of Torchwood than with this story- it's the name of the house where events take place. Queen Victoria later banishes the Doctor and creates the organisation to counter otherworldly threats, including the Doctor. They seem to have been asleep at the wheel because there was no sign of them during the Doctor's stay with UNIT to name but one case. An example of continuity forgotten for the sake of their current storylines.

After that we have School Reunion, reuniting the Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith- companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors. The story isn't much to write home about- aliens called Krillitanes have taken over a school and are planning on using the children there as a kind of networked bio-computer in order to crack a code concerning control of the universe. I guess this one is aimed squarely at the schoolkid audience of the show. My biggest beef was with the appearance of the Krillitanes, said to be a war-like race that take on the best physical characteristics of the species they conquer- so quite why they end up looking like spindly bat-people is beyond me. Anyway, it was good for a fan like me to see Sarah Jane back on the show and there was some good rivalry between her and Rose. Like Tooth and Claw though, the show seems to have been more about things other than Doctor Who; there's a Torchwood spin-off series featuring Captain Jack, there's a Sarah Jane Investigates show and an upcoming K9 cartoon (he features here too). It all combines with the emphasis on Rose et al to make me believe that the writers don't actually want to be writing Doctor Who. A fairly mundane episode.

Then comes The Girl In The Fireplace- the best show of the entire season. It's a real stand out for me. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey (who had some nice moments in the previous episode comparing himself to K9) land on an apparently deserted space ship drifting in space. It turns out that there are holes in time on board, opening up at various points in pre-Revolutionary France. Clockwork robots are stalking a girl there and the Doctor tries to find out why, in turn meeting her at various points throughout her life. Of all the shows in this series this was the most mature of them all with some superb scenes. It feels more like a vintage episode- this is the real Doctor Who. Rose is pretty much sidelined in the tale and the tragic relationship between the Doctor and the girl is brilliantly executed. Quite simply, it's fantastic.

After that we have the two parter Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel. The Tardis is thrown into a parallel universe where things are slightly different; and the soap opera antics begin when Rose discovers her father alive and well. By an amazing coincidence his presence is also vital to the plot. A wheelchair-bound man called Lumic is creating the Cybermen in an attempt to take over the world. Unfortunately for him, the Cybermen don't take too well to his orders. There's not too much wrong with this story- aside from the dreadful Tyler family focus. The Cybermen were nicely designed too- keeping the original familiar look with modern lines. As a whole the story was good but nothing lifted it up to the levels of being special. It doesn't really compare to the other Cyberman encounters of previous Doctors.

The Idiot's Lantern was another episode which harks back to DW's glory days- though not quite on par with TGITF. I could imagine Tom Baker's Doctor in a story like this. It concerns London in the build up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. People's faces are mysteriously vanishing and the police are hushing it up- snatching them from their homes and keeping them prisoner. The Doctor and Rose follow the clues to a local TV shop- and an alien presence called the Wire which is harvesting human energy in an attempt to make itself corporeal again. The show had a pretty creepy atmosphere and just the thought of the face-stealing is awful enough to add yet more of a sense of horror. Maureen Lipman is very proper and scary as the Wire and the Doctor's solution to the problem is ingenious. Just goes to show what the creators are capable of when they try.

Another two-parter follows, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. The show starts off reasonably well as the Doctor and Rose land on an isolated research station (again with the Torchwood references) on the edge of a black hole. A number of humans and some well imagined aliens called Ood are there to discover how the planet can remain in place and not be sucked into the black hole. While they drill down one of the team becomes possessed and the calm Ood become the mindless drones of a Beast. The Doctor goes down to investigate and we're fed the line that the Beast is really the inspiration behind Satan- a part of the story seems to contradict the mythos laid down in The Daemons and I'm not convinced by the producer's arguments about how it fits in. He claims that they were trying to create a Russian doll effect whereby the Daemons were influenced by this thing. I'm calling BS on that one- the Daemons looked like horned demons in that story and they had a long history on our planet too- they were even summoned by a Black Mass. Is he trying to imply that this Beast "influenced" the race of Daemos to look the way they did? Another problem is the explanation about coming before time itself began- the creature is captured on a planet. The Doctor rightly questions this but we're fobbed off with "that's just what you believe". Frankly the writer's seem to have copped out on an explanation for this- time and space and all matter was created at the beginning of our universe; therefore, the planet the creature's on could not have existed before then- time itself hadn't begun so there was no before to speak of. There's no attempt to explain how the planet could have existed "before" the universe began or how it got into the universe. Nonsense. The story itself was reasonable apart from these glaring errors in logic and continuity- the Beast itself was quite well done, apparently inspired by the artwork of Simon Bisley. Evidently they spent most of their FX budget on this because at one point the security officer is seen "shooting" his weapon by shaking it slightly. At least he didn't have to say "bang, bang" too. In summary, big subject matter but mundane execution.

The next episode, Love and Monsters, is something of an oddity. The entire story is told from the perspective of a character played by Marc Warren. I was expecting to dislike this but Warren's performance was excellent- he really carries the show along. He's part of an amateur group investigating the Doctor which turns into a bit of a social club- until the arrival of Victor Kennedy, comedian and actor Peter Kay. He turns them from a happy go lucky group of friends into a real "detective agency", tracking down clues about the Doctor. As the show progresses more and more of the group disappear until it's revealed that Kennedy's really an alien; he wants to "eat" the Doctor. Amazingly enough, the Doctor hardly appears at all during proceedings but the story and acting is good enough that this doesn't seem to matter too much. It's just a nice, fun episode.

Fear Her. Well, kid draws pictures of people and people disappear and become living cartoons in the pictures. Fast forward past this one.

Straight onto the final two-parter, Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. It begins with Rose announcing that it's her final tale, the story of her death. She and the Doctor return to present day Earth and discover that ghosts have become an accepted part of life, appearing at a certain time of day. The Doctor isn't convinced by the apparitions and he investigates, eventually ending up in Torchwood- they are using a breach in time and space as a power source. The ghosts are coming through- only they aren't really ghosts at all, they're Cybermen. The breach itself has been caused by a Void ship, a craft capable of passing between parallel worlds. It's only later that we discover that the ship hasn't been made by the Cybermen- it's Dalek technology (yep, those same Daleks who were destroyed completely in the Time War). Cue a supposedly mammoth battle between the two- actually, it's more of a barrel shoot as the Cybermen are no match at all for Daleks. It turns out that the Cybermen have come from the parallel world from earlier in the series, while the Daleks are a secret cabal of super-Daleks designed to think outside the box. All seems lost until the Doctor finds a way to suck both races into the void between universes and seal the breach forever. Funnily enough the method can suck Daleks out of the air and Cybermen off the street but it's not powerful enough to significantly weaken the grip of a man and young woman- and they are all sucked in neatly through a window. In the end Rose is sucked towards the breach but is saved at the last moment- on the far side, unable to ever return to the Doctor. Did I mention that her mother, father, and Mickey are all there too? Hurrah!

The final two parter was a colossal let down- the much hyped battle between Dalek and Cyberman was a dud and the dread the Dalek's felt at the mere presence of the Doctor strangely didn't manifest itself in a "shoot now talk later" tactic; instead they leave him unharmed to wander around a bit and talk a lot. Whatever happened to "Exterminate"? It didn't feel at any time as if there was ever any real danger to anyone- it was all show and no substance. Perhaps in later series they will keep a few episodes really low budget- maybe let the story do the talking- and save a bit more money for a FX extravaganza that actually impresses. In the old days Doctor Who stories would come in 4 or 6 part 25 minute episodes and at the end of practically every one there would be a bit of a cliffhanger- that's all gone now and the show is the less for it. There's more finger-tapping than nail-biting involved these days.

1 comment:

Bag said...

I always thought Doctor Who was aimed at the teenage years. It doesn't bear up to much scrutiny by anyone with a bit of common sense and logic. In that instance it is a good show. Get's the kids interested in science and space with the baddies always losing their battles to good.

I watch it if I'm there and it is on but don't makea point of watching. It's better than spongebob I can assure you.

Have you see Firefly and Stargate (both shows)?