Note: Much like my review of the season 7b finale, this contains spoilers, but why would you be reading this anyway if you haven’t seen it!
So there we have it folks, another season of Doctor Who has finally reached its resting place in The Fields of Trenzalore, and all we have left is the horrible fact that we have to wait months for the 50th anniversary special. This season has had its ups and downs, but it all came together in the end to pave the way for the biggest celebration for science fiction fans all year. I have decided to count both halves of season seven as one for the purposes of this write up as I generally dislike the whole “7a and 7b” stuff. Not being a fan of split seasons is rough when every show seems to be either doing it these days. I will touch on this sort of thing later, for now let’s get on with my analysis of the season. Was it successful? Was it good? What can we look forward to in the 50th anniversary? All of these questions should be answered.
Before we talk about season seven, let’s peer back into the long off time of 2011 and what happened in season six. When we left The Doctor in season six, he had just foiled the plans of a religious order hell-bent on his own destruction. It seems that “The Silence”, the name given to this group, are some of the most comically inept villains in the history of Doctor Who. I say this because they not only botched their own plan no less than three times, but have unintentionally caused the demise of existence a few times as well; all in the name of saving everything from The Doctor! When we first saw them, they had orchestrated a convoluted plot to destroy the Tardis and kill The Doctor resulting in the fragmentation of time itself and the collapse of the universe.
Plan B seemed to involve the creation of River Song, a being designed to kill The Doctor; shame that The Doctor faked his own death. So why were they after him? It seems that they wanted him to never venture to a time traveler graveyard called the Fields of Trenzalore, as his name could destroy the Universe – the very plot of the finale for series seven. If we have really grasped the intentions of “The Silence”, it seems that they were not the villains at all, but went about saving the universe in utterly horrible ways. That is assuming we won’t have a big change-up next year, something Moffat could easily do to mess with us. My hope is that this will be addressed to show their fear of the “John Hurt Doctor” a mysterious possible incarnation of The Doctor, we briefly saw at the end of The Name of The Doctor. Perhaps, he is why all the aliens tried to trap The Doctor in the Pandorica? Maybe he is the nemesis of the Silence? I hope this isn’t left hanging in the end.
From my thrown together synopsis up there, one can gather that series six was very complex and existed as one long storyline from episode to episode. I liked season six, but was not a fan of the slow burn, almost Lost-like nature of the season. I still think it created far more questions than it answered and left the fans with a truckload of presumed plot holes that have been speculated on for years now. I was excited to see the focus shift to a more “one-shot” styled season, a decision that was really hyped up prior to the transmission of Asylum of the Daleks. In a long interview for BBC America, Karen Gillan laid out the nature of the series pretty well:
“This season has been done in a really interesting way with five standalone epic episodes, like a movie a week, all building to the departure of the Ponds! We actually kick-off the season with Amy and Rory’s relationship in a sticky situation; it is less than marital bliss. Those scenes were really interesting to do, she explains, because they created such a different on-screen atmosphere between Amy and Rory, something that the viewers wouldn’t have seen before. That is the good thing about Doctor Who, it gives you the chance to shift the character, and you never know what is going to happen from episode to episode.”
Granted, that synopsis is for the first half of season seven, but the general tone was kept the entire time. Some of the stories would have benefited from either a longer timeslot or a second part, but I don’t think any of them were truly harmed by not being like that.
I mentioned earlier that I hate the new television fad of splitting seasons in half in order to create a ratings boost in the middle of a show’s run. Fans hate it, but networks have to do it nowadays to cling to their old ratings models and get advertising revenue. I could rant about how times are changing, but that’s a topic for another day. There are many good reasons to split seasons. Not only can companies sell half DVD sets and make a tiny bit more money (ex: two 50 dollar sets as opposed to one 75 dollar one), but they can also save money on production, and I feel this is what hurt Doctor Who this year. With huge BBC budget cuts hacking apart their usual expenditures, big shows like Doctor Who had to find some way to avoid a long hiatus or lackluster special effects due to a low budget, and it seemed a split was the best idea. Granted, everyone involved is highly in demand and wanted to work on other projects, so the split season idea seemed to benefit everyone. I’d rather deal with it than to loose Matt Smith of Steven Moffat to other commitments.
That wasn’t the only problem that occurred during season seven behind the scenes. There for a while it seemed like a revolving door of new executive producers was constantly spinning. There has been no reason to believe that anything bad is going on in the shadows, but having people like Piers Wenger and Beth Willis leave after such a short time had to be hard to deal with. Next Caroline skinner left amidst rumors of some sort of backstage fallout between herself and Moffat. She had this to say upon departure:
“I will miss them all enormously, but I’m leaving Doctor Who in fine form, with the new series starting at Easter and the fantastic plans for the 50th Anniversary already underway. I am delighted to be now returning to BBC Drama Production in London as an executive producer, and the new opportunities and projects that will bring.”
Russell T. Davies and his crew of executive producers seemed in there for the long haul, so one has to wonder what the problem is backstage. On a good note, season seven saw some great change-ups and new blood on the writing and directorial front. On the writer’s side, Luther’s Neil Cross was brought in to pen two episodes. I actually enjoyed both immensely,but some fans disliked Rings of Akhaten for it’s different tone. The most notable new director is probably Saul Metzstein,who seemingly directed more than half the new episodes. The new guys aren’t getting all the fun, as I honestly see this season as a real return to form for some long-time contributors. Chris Chibnall has been really hit or miss for me, but he was the star of the first half of the season for me. It seems that he is perfect in doing these short self-contained episodes. Both Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and The Power of Three reveled in the new format and excelled more than anything else he has done for other seasons. Mark Gatiss was another person that really brought out his big guns, somewhat redeeming himself for the Victory of The Daleks. I didn’t hate that episode by any means,but felt Cold War and The Crimson Horror were leagues better and easily his best since season one!
The first half of the season concentrated on the impending departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and consisted of five episodes as well as the 2011 Christmas special. The following is a list of these episodes as well as links to reviews I did during the run. Note: I did not get around to doing three of the episodes at their time of broadcast due to personal time issues, so those will be added later on.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home.
Kidnapped by his oldest foe, the Doctor is forced on an impossible mission – to a place even the Daleks are too terrified to enter… the Asylum.
An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction – unless the Doctor can save it, and its impossible cargo… of dinosaurs!
A Town Called Mercy (2012)
The Doctor gets a Stetson (and a gun!), and finds himself the reluctant Sheriff of a Western town under siege by a relentless cyborg.
The Power of Three (2012)
The Doctor and the Ponds puzzle an unlikely invasion of Earth, as millions of sinister black cubes arrive overnight, almost like presents falling from the sky.
The Angels Take Manhattan (2012)
The Doctor’s heartbreaking farewell to Amy and Rory – a race against time through the streets of Manhattan, as New York’s statues come to life around them.
Next up we have season “7B” concentrating on the adventures of “the impossible girl” Clara Oswin Oswald. This half consists of a further eight episodes as well as the 2012 Christmas special
London, 1892. Snow is trying to evolve, feeding off of the nightmares of a little girl. But the Doctor has given up on saving the world. It is up to a young governess named Clara to convince him, with just one word, to save the day.
The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, 2013, where something deadly is waiting in the wifi.
The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice!
On a Russian submarine in 1983, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS materialises.
Something terrifying is hiding in Caliburn House, and the Doctor finds himself part of the ghost hunt.
The TARDIS has crashed, Clara is lost inside, and the Doctor has 30 minutes before his ship explodes!
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire, as bodies are found with their skin a waxy, glowing red…
Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: The perfect theme park day out. And ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection…
The Doctor has a secret he will take to his grave. And it is discovered…
After the mystery of Amy Pond got wrapped up at the end of season six, it was simply a matter of time before she and her husband Rory were on their ways out of the show. Fans were teased that they were most likely going to die in the episode, however that was usual Steven Moffat teasing. Everyone knows that he speaks in riddles and lies to make the fans believe the total opposite of what is really happening. By the end of The Angels Take Manhattan, we saw the bittersweet ending of the pair. Yes they did die, but they lived a long happy life before that, only without The Doctor. I’m glad the episode was bittersweet as I do not want an honest to God death to occur (like Adric), but an ending that permanently separates the companion from The Doctor is usually the best idea. Returning companions could get old pretty fast if they still make cameos constantly (I’m looking at you Rose Tyler) so having an ending like this complicates things for the better.
The actual characters of Amy and Rory were moved pretty decently as characters. At the beginning of Asylum of the Daleks, we see their relationship has crumbled over the years. Seeing that they have been together for something close to a decade by the time this episode airs, I’d say they had a good run, but were on the verge of divorce. It seems that Amy felt bad due to her experimentation by the Silence to create River Song. Having been made sterile and never able to care for their child, Amy wanted Rory to move on and have a “real family” with someone else.
Fans noticed early on that Amy seemed to love Rory less than he loved her at times, most noticeably when she was throwing herself at The Doctor in season five. This led to a lot of fans disliking her character from the very get-go. I never liked the criticisms that some gave the character as being very selfish, but I have to agree here that she was in season seven. Their reconciliation (and her redemption) comes at their very last episode as Rory is captured by a Weeping Angel and flung into the past. If you recall, the way the Angels feed is to ruin the potential lives of someone by taking them into the past and feeding on what could have been. Amy could have stayed there with The Doctor, but ultimately chose to stay with Rory by sacrificing herself to the Angels.
So how were Amy and Rory as companions? I felt that they were too tied into the plotlines to really breathe as companions at times. In season seven we really got to see them at their best, especially Amy in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Perhaps the multiple season mystery of the couple was a great idea on a drama standpoint, but it was dragged out far too long to have a real spark of chemistry ignite between themselves and The Doctor. They were more successful than Martha, perhaps one of the most tragic companions ever, but pale in comparison to Donna Noble.
Things are looking up with the newest companion Clara. It seems that The Doctor and she already have a spark, and she can stand toe-to-toe with him when it comes to witticisms and one-liners. For reasons of plot, she is a stronger character in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, but seems to regain what we saw before in The Name of the Doctor. This can be directly attributed to the interactions between The Doctor and Clara being hampered due to her status as “The Impossible Girl”. When one has witnessed someone dying and yet coming back, it’s really hard to trust them; and with The Doctor’s ability to attract trouble, I can understand his reluctance to trusting her. Once that barrier is lifted later on in the season it was smooth sailing, and season eight should be amazing if they can keep it up.
Aside from Amy, Rory, and Clara there were a handful of secondary companions that hung around this season. First off, we had Rory’s dad Brian Williams as played by Arthur Weasley himself-Mark Williams. I loved Brian because he was initially the most cynical, lazy person ever. He was content just staying around inside and paying attention to things that don’t matter. Thinking in terms of season four, he was the anti-Wilf! Due to his exposure to the Doctor and traveling around he does change his ways a bit, as Brian began traveling around the world and sending homemade postcards back to Amy and Rory. Most notably, he went to the planet Siluria with the Doctor and the dinosaurs aboard the Silurian Ark. Part of me wishes that Brian stayed around for more than the couple of episodes he was in, but I enjoy older companions for some reason. Season seven also contained a few appearances by The Paternoster Gang, the Victorian sleuth team that I love. I’d never go as far to say that they need a spinoff, but Jenny, Vastra and Strax always entertain me when they grace my TV with their hijinks. I’m especially a big fan of Strax for reasons that I brought up in reviews above.
The theme of the second-half of season seven seemed to be kicking off the run-up to the 50th anniversary. First and foremost, we saw the return of a lot of old foes. The Great Intelligence from the Troughton era was brought back in a very big way; he was the main villain essentially. Granted, he was in a different form than the old classic fans might be used to, but casting both Ian Mckellen and Richard E. Grant for different aspects of the role was a great feat. Grant, as longtime fans will remember, was originally going to be the ninth incarnation of The Doctor via a series of animated “webisodes”. Other retuning foes included The Ice Warriors, last seen in the Pertwee era. This nostalgia and homage was set to a fever pace in the finale, and episode that essentially featured small cameos by ALL of the previous Doctors, something that made me very excited. then we have the reveal of John Hurt as some sort of unseen Doctor, in the most WTF-worthy moment the show has ever seen.
I kid, I kid, I loved the reveal of a possible “missing Doctor” and who can go wrong with such an amazing actor as John Hurt. Ever since I was able to see him in George Orwell’s 1984, I’ve known that he was a great actor. Even in smaller roles like the president in V for Vendetta, he was amazing and chewed the scenery like a master.
I was immensely satisfied with season seven, but I know a lot of fans were not. While long-time fans were mostly thrilled with the majority of the episodes,I noticed a lot of casual fans complaining about various things. These fans should be satisfied with the brief return of Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor this autumn- a pairing that I know most of them enjoyed. If anything, this season was very atypical for Doctor Who, episodes like Akhaten took big chances with the writing and direction, and that put off some people. I know that some UK based newspapers were all “doom and gloom” about ratings, but they seem to not realize that time-shifted ratings, those including non-live viewing via DVR boxes and BBC iPlayer, have been as good as previous seasons. Fans using this as fodder for obnoxious “flame wars” need to get with the times, people don’t watch TV in the same way that they did even a decade ago. In the US rating were up from series six and usually got somewhere around two million viewers – an amazing number considering the small number of folks that have BBC America!
I hope the rotating producers, odd timeslots, and other issues lead to an end to split seasons, or we at least get a FULL 13-14 episode season next year followed by another one after. for a drama to hold it’s audience, ratings, and get new viewers every year is no small feat, it’s time for the BBC to notice this. If that means the end to the Moffat Era, and an exit by Matt Smith in season nine so be it, change is always fresh in a show such as this. We all know that Jenna-Louise Coleman is returning for a newly commissioned eighth season, and that Matt Smith will probably be in it, but that’s just about all we know. I think we have the potential for a real amazing season next year, especially if those Peter Jackson & Doctor Who rumors are true, so here’s to the future,and more importantly the two specials yet to air this year!
- Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (2013) (anamericanviewofbritishsciencefiction.com)
- ‘Doctor Who’ Season 7 Finale Trailer & Prequel: Trenzalore is Here! (screenrant.com)
- It’s a Promise You Make. Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” (tor.com)
- Post-Review – Series Seven of Doctor Who (comparativegeeks.wordpress.com)
- The Problem(s) With Steven Moffat’s Era of Doctor Who (secondstarmedium.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who’s Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill): Get the look (debenhams.com)
- Doctor Who – Next Stop: Trenzalore (televisionwithoutpity.com)
- Mr. Harvey Appreciates DOCTOR WHO’s Good Name (scifi4me.com)
- Doctor Who: The Name Of The Doctor (mikecanex.wordpress.com)
- Why it’s always good to give to charity or how I ended up watching the same episode of Doctor Who three times in a row. (the-fas.com)
Doctor Who season finales have been generally decent throughout the current run, although most of them were getting a bit too epic until Moffat took over as show runner. When you’ve had things escalate from the earth being in peril, to a Cyberman / Dalek war, to The Master decimating everything on up, it seemed that Russell T. Davies was always trying to outdo himself each year. One thing I’ve enjoyed a lot since season five is that this tendency to “popcorn movie” finales has been toned down in favor of slightly more subdued ones. Granted, the universe is usually blinking from existence or something, but at least the Doctor is no longer part of an immense war or similar things. Tonight was at long last the finale for season seven, a season I generally enjoyed despite a feeling of disjointedness all year. Even though The Name of the Doctor seemed low key, there were far more moments where I was literally yelling “holy (expletive)!” at the screen.
First and foremost, I was amazed at the opening scene, one which shows a crew of puzzled technicians called to the scene of a theft. What we soon realize is that this was “the theft”, the one that started it all; this was when the Doctor borrowed the Tardis on Gallifrey! Clara is seen falling through time itself, and says that she has been running throughout his history in order to save him. It was at this point that I was grinning from ear to ear, as the next few minutes are filled with scenes of Clara interacting with all of the “classic” Doctors in various old episodes. This was obviously done with a computer, but there were some real cool things like a colorized William Hartnell in the mix. I know the fiftieth anniversary isn’t until November 23rd, but I think this was the moment that this fact really sank in for me.
The plot for the episode is as follows: An evil scheme is revealed by the Great Intelligence/Doctor Simeon (one again played by Richard E. Grant) to force the Doctor to his final resting place – Trenzalore. The nature of Trenzalore has been a lingering mystery since it was revealed last season, but we find out that it is the place where time travelers are laid to rest. Since Simeon has kidnapped The Doctor’s friends (The Paternoster Gang) The Doctor has to jump into action to save them, and stop Simeon at whatever plan he is concocting. It seems Simeon, flanked by the creepy “whispermen”, wants to open the “Doctor’s Tomb” and destroy the Doctor from existence in a petty act of revenge. He does this by jumping directly into the Doctor’s time stream, and reversing every success he ever had as the protector of the universe. Pretty soon entire planets begin to disappear, as does the people most important to The Doctor. Clara then realizes that the only way to stop him is to also jump into the time stream, at the cost of her own life.
“I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running. Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places. I’m born, I live, I die. And always there’s the Doctor. Always I’m running to save the Doctor. Again and again and again. And he hardly ever hears me, but I’ve always been there right from the very beginning, right from the day he started running.”
This selfless act answers the question of how Clara could have shown up multiple times and died trying to help The Doctor. When entering the portal, she has shattered her existence into millions of fragments all destined to save The Doctor from Dr. Simeon. Moved by her kindness and a little chat with his “timey wimey” wife, River Song, The Doctor decides that he will save Clara for once and leaps into his own timeline. What followed was the most spectacular and yet also infuriating cliffhanger in the history of the show. When he is re-united with Clara, The Doctor tries to divert her attention from a dark figure standing in the bowels of his time stream. This figure is his greatest secret, something the Doctor is both trying to hide and feels ashamed of. The figure turns and it is revealed to be none other than John Hurt (1984, V for Vendetta) as a mysterious forgotten regeneration of himself…..credits roll. The wait until November is going to be excruciating!
My brain is buzzing with speculation that this is an aborted regeneration of The Doctor, perhaps the one that turned rogue during the time war. Fans have often wondered which incarnation that did all the bad things that he feels terrible about all the time, looks like it may be this guy. I love this revelation because we all know what happens when The Doctor loses his grip on “humanity” just a bit. We’ve seen the Dram Lord, Mr. Clever, The Valeyard, and even what happened to the Master, we could finally be getting close to the mystery of the Last Great Time War. I know some fans will get mad that there could be a tangential incarnation of the Doctor out there, but this is not a new thing. I mentioned the Valeyard from Trial of a Time Lord. But don’t forget that there could have been pre-Hartnell era regenerations as seen in The Brain of Morbius!
I also loved how the “name of The Doctor” was not revealed in this episode, as anyone with half a brain cell could figure out. Steven Moffat isn’t as dumb as the folks that decided to reveal the Marvel character Wolverine’s backstory; as it would ruin all the mystery, plus no one would be happy with it. The name was the “password” to his crypt, and he was nearly forced to utter it until River Song whispered it to open the door. The episodes title is actually a play on the fact that he took the name “The Doctor” as an oath to be good and help people, but one of his lives didn’t for some reason. And I’m sure we will find out why in November. While the episode did reveal just about all the mysteries related to Clara, there is a bit of muddled continuity in previous seasons. One has to wonder why The Silence were so keen to stop The Doctor from going to Trenzalore, unless they were actually not bad guys at all and knew he would cause something really bad to happen by showing up. I hope this gets addressed and doesn’t get added to other plot holes related to The Silence from way back in season five.
I absolutely loved this episode, and felt it was easily one of the better season finales. Granted I hated the finale for season three, and a few others felt a bit bloated, but that is saying a lot for me to have liked it so much. The acting was superb, the cameos from “classic” Doctors was really cool, and the finale was amazing. The long wait until November is going to be excruciating; I mean this is almost as bad as the infamous Star Trek cliffhanger from The Best of Both Worlds!
I’ve been Catching up on Doctor Who On Amazon, maybe you should as well:
- Doctor Who, Season 7, Part 2 (slate.com)
- Doctor Who S07 E14: The Name of The Doctor (biffbampop.com)
- Doctor Who Review: The Name of the Doctor (Series 7 Finale) (parttimenerdblog.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who S7 Ep13: The Name of the Doctor (slouchingtowardstv.com)
- Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review) (them0vieblog.com)
- Doctor Who “The Name Of The Doctor” Clara Mystery Solved (lezgetreal.com)
- TV: Doctor Who: “The Name Of The Doctor” (avclub.com)
- Doctor Who rounds off series in style setting up 50th anniversary special (metro.co.uk)
- ‘Doctor Who’ season finale: The Doctor’s name is… (popwatch.ew.com)
- Doctor Who Review: “The Name of the Doctor” (SPOILERS) (nerdist.com)
Remember how the Klingons looked like dudes with bushy eyebrows and brown makeup in the original Star Trek series? Now, think about how they turned up in the films and later TV shows completely altered to have forehead ridges and other changes without any explanation. Detail oriented fans must have had a collective aneurysm that day, as one was lead to believe that fans were supposed to think “just pretend they always looked like this”. Fans made all sorts of theories on these discrepancies, books were written, and the producers had to FINALLY take care of the canonical issues in an episode of Star Trek Enterprise. Red Dwarf is different though; it isn’t one of those shows that always attempts to “clean up” instances of bad continuity between episodes, in fact it pretty much revels in it. In fact, there have been some real champion-level shenanigans placed into episodes. Take the Series VII episode “Ouroboros”, where the writers employ a brain killing paradox wherein Lister is revealed to be his own biological father. The episode we are looking at today can be seen as a sequel of sorts to that episode, as we see Lister struggle with the relationship between himself and his father. Confused yet? Good!
The episode opens with Lister filling out a Father’s day card for himself causing Rimmer great annoyance. It seems that every year he gets totally hammered on cheap booze and writes himself the card, this way he forgets what he wrote. Rimmer, in one of his few profound moments, asks why Lister should even like his father, considering he left him abandoned in a pub with only a rattle and a cardboard box. Lister is visibly shaken by this and feels that his son hasn’t lived up to his expectations. After talking with the ship’s medi-bot, a holographic projection of a doctor, he is given the advice to employ “tough love” on his son.
There are two side plots in the episode, one that is pretty major and one that really isn’t. Getting the small one out of the way first, we have the crew pondering whether the game “Chinese whispers” (called “telephone” here in the U.S.) is racist because it assumes Chinese people can’t spread rumors well. This plot was funny, but completely non-essential to the main storyline. The main secondary plot involved Rimmer and Kryten installing a new computer system to replace Holly. Pree, the new system, is so powerful that it can predict what the crew is going to do. The programming is so good that when asked to fix a number of problems, Pree anticipates that Rimmer would make errors in ordering repairs, and so wreaks havoc on the corridors as he would have unwittingly ordered her to. This escalates as Lister gets drunk and resigns thus rendering their mission “go back to Earth” obsolete – Pree decides to destroy the ship instead.
The part where Lister resigns was awesome, as it was beautifully written despite the fact that it was literally Craig Charles talking to himself. Taking the “tough love” approach to heart, daddy Lister leaves a video for himself. When he watches it he realizes that he is disgusted with his own behavior – he is lazy and has no motivation. Lister orders himself to take responsibility and enroll in classes on the ship to move up in rank, and to get a tooth pulled that he was been putting off. Lister blows “his dad” off only to find a second message that escalates the situation, then a third, and a fourth. It seems that drunk Lister knew he would not do what he asked and took charge by punishing him via throwing his prized guitar outside and other punishments. Lister replies with “ You don’t understand me, and I hate you”, pretty hilarious if you ask me.
The jokes were pretty awesome in this episode. While I grew tired of the running “Chinese Whispers” gag, the payoff was pretty good in the end. My favorite gag was easily Rimmer asking Lister “what’s that whining sound?”(referring to a noise the ship was making), with Lister replying “it’s you, you’re talking!” I was worried that the joke style would be more like seasons VII and VIII, where they relied too much on fart humor and randomness, but this is classic Red Dwarf at its best. I think the small budget and the need for more “talky” episodes because of that lent well to the style of this episode being more “old school”.
My only quibble was possibly the characterization of Pree, seeing as there was a similar episode way back in series two involving a back-up computer called “Queeg”. While he wasn’t as harsh as Pree, and was actually just a prank by Holly to make the crew appreciate him, the similarity is there. I guess I should mention that Pree was played by Rebecca Blackstone, a lesser known American actress who seems to be doing some voice work lately. Not only is she “easy on the eyes”, but she does a good job of being cold and robotic in the role. The only other guest actor was “Medi-bot” as portrayed by Kerry Shale. Known for voice work and some minor roles in film and television, he is an actor that I’ve seen before but haven’t seen enough of.
So there we have it, another solid episode from the cast and crew. One would have thought that would be a little “ring rust” on everyone getting back into the swing of things, but nothing like that seemed evident here. Seeing all these computerized talking heads around the ship like Medibot and Pree made me realize how much I miss the character of Holly, and wish Norman Lovett would bury the hatchet with Doug Naylor and come back. Hell, I’d enjoy a return by Hattie Hayridge even though she only briefly did the role. So there we have it, one of the more complex Red Dwarf episodes – the kind I love!
I bought this Blu-Ray on Amazon, maybe you should as well!
And if you do, use these links, as you are helping this site!
- Red Dwarf X: Trojan (2013) (anamericanviewofbritishsciencefiction.com)
- Watch Red Dwarf 1988 movie online. Full length. Download Red Dwarf 1988 movie. (non1compulsorywatch.wordpress.com)
- News Roundup (24/03/13) (gazpacho-soup.com)
- Review of “Red Dwarf” (ivanidris.net)
- News Roundup (05/05/13) (gazpacho-soup.com)
- Wales Comic Con (dorgris.wordpress.com)
- News Roundup (28/04/13) (gazpacho-soup.com)
- Colony – Rob Grant (dwjjones.wordpress.com)
Neil Gaiman gained many accolades for his last foray into Who-dom, The Doctor’s Wife. These included, but were not limited to, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) and the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. Gaiman had some huge expectations to live up to with his sophomore effort; an uphill battle that many fans would take to heart. All I noticed for the last few weeks was a steamroller of hype leading up to Nightmare in Silver, and I held back. I know that whenever I let hype color my eyes when it comes to TV and film, it always ruins my experience. The ill-fated Brett Ratner film, X-men 3, is a prime example of this, I got far too hyped prior to release and was utterly destroyed by what could have been an average film – to me it was an atrocity on celluloid. Noticing the general lukewarm reception to Nightmare in Silver earlier today, it looks like this over-hype may have happened to a lot of Doctor Who fans. This season seems to be the most divisive season since the McCoy era, some love the episodes and others are complaining endlessly. Let me get this out of the way, Nightmare in Silver is not as good as The Doctor’s wife, but my enjoyment of the episode did not hinge on this; I really liked it despite its flaws.
As you can probably figure out, Nightmare in Silver is a Cybermen episode. Gaiman said many times in his lead up that he wanted to “make the Cybermen scary again”. This is a tall order because many feel that they haven’t really been scary since the Patrick Troughton era. Unsettling? Yes, but “scary” is hard to pull off with a large metallic dude stomping around shouting “DELETED” and other catchphrases. What we have is an updated version of the original Cybermen; they have evolved long enough that they now strive to “Convert” other creatures aside from just humans. They have become sleeker, employ an updated version of a Cybermat (now called a cybermite and used in partial Conversions), can warp time to teleport briefly, and have removable body parts that act as decoys, drones, and searchers. Is somebody under that table? Just take your hand off and walk it over to them! Is a pesky non-converted person behind you? Swivel your head around like an owl! These upgrades make the Cybermen more of a threat and in that regard scarier in mass. While I would have enjoyed something more disturbing than what we have here, an overpowered and nearly Borg-like version of these guys is pretty hopeless to our heroes.
These upgrades and the general “feel” of the episode was almost exactly like Rob Shearman’s 2005 episode Dalek. In that particular piece we were shown the “upgraded” time war-outfitted Dalek model including some crazy new technology like a force field, swiveling midsection, and the ability to take DNA by touch. In Nightmare in Silver fans are treated to a new Cybermen fresh from an undisclosed “Cyber war” that can do the aforementioned feats of awesomeness like teleportation. It was this little head nod that made me enjoy this episode quite a bit, since I generally like “base under siege” episodes quite a bit.
The plot follows the Doctor, Clara, Angie and Artie (The kids Clara takes care of) as they attempt to visit the best theme park in the universe. If you recall, Clara got blackmailed by Angie and Artie in The Crimson Horror and basically forced The Doctor to let them tag along. When they get there, they realize that the whole park is in ruins after a huge battle with the Cybermen long ago, and a group of world-weary soldiers and con-men are hiding there. The gang runs into a man named Webley (Jason Watkins) who has a surprise – a hollowed out Cyberman that “magically” plays chess against all that would try to defeat it. This is an obvious allusion to the infamous automaton “The Turk” that wowed players such as Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin way back in the eighteenth century. And just like the real Turk machine, this Silver Turk (also the name of a Big Finish audio play with a similar plot) is a fraud. A man named Porridge (Warwick Davis) is actually under there moving the arms and such. This “shell” of the old Cybermen waits until Webley is alone and dumps Cybermites all over the place putting its plan in action. Pretty soon, people are partially converted, the kids get captured, and an army of Cybermen awakens from one of their infamous “Tombs”.
While the villains in this episode are obviously the Cybermen, but their leader is actually none other than The Doctor! During one of the kerfuffles, he is partially converted and his body is taken over by a cyber-consciousness. In a creative twist to a battle of wits, we see the internal battle in The Doctor’s mind played out with amazing shots of Matt Smith talking to himself. Whether you see two opposing versions of his mind arguing in his head, or the quick cut Gollum-esque arguments in the real world, the banter is both hilarious at times and scary at others. “Evil Doctor” the Cyber-Planner is really over the top, and nearly and comically mustache twirling as Mrs. Gillyflower last week. While it should have been cringe-worthy, I liked the scene where The Doctor plastered his “golden ticket”(admission to the theme park) to the circuits on his face and temporarily took complete control of his body, thus utilizing the tried and true Cyberman weakness.
Warwick Davis is awesome in anything he is in, and I really enjoyed him as Porridge here. Whether it is last year’s Life’s Too Short, or the fantasy classic Willow, he is one of those guys that seem pretty under-rated for how good of an actor he is. I know that a lot of that can be chalked up to his height, but those barriers seem to be fading with Davis and Peter Dinklage finally getting some substantial roles. I also felt that Jason Watkins did a fine job in the small amount of the episode he was the focus of, props for his half-Cyberman face. Now that I’ve mentioned the good part of the guest cast, here is the bad – CHILD ACTORS! I’m not usually a fan of child actors because they don’t act like children at all; they act like tiny adults that are smug and douche-y. If you met an adult that was like most characters portrayed by child actors they would get the crap kicked out of them in seconds! There are a few exceptions like Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine, but for every one of her, you have ten Jake Lloyds from The Phantom Menace. To me the kids seemed tacked on, I’d be amazed if they were in the original script, as they felt somewhat superfluous and contrived just to put children in peril. I especially did not like Angie as “know it all kid” characters are the worst. Dear science fiction writers- we do not want young Anakin, Wesley Crusher, Adric, or Boxy in our shows! Thanks, the fans. Oh, I nearly forgot the inept soldier characters, and you will too – nothing memorable about them to be honest.
While the music wasn’t that noteworthy, I will say that I enjoyed the sound design, especially with the new Cyberman voice. While the original 1960’s voice is still the creepiest, the voices in Nightmare in Silver seemed a lot like a cross between the Cybus models and the 1970’s ones. Special effects were decent, if not low-key, in this episode. Certain scenes like the Doctor’s brain were realized in a truly beautiful way – as an energy filled void with a brain glowing behind the Dual Doctors. Other things like the Cybermen teleportation seemed sort of bland, as that scene could have been terrifying had it been done right. I think this season has been a real work in progress on the director side of things, and it shows with some of the choices made like this.
All in all, I enjoyed tonight’s episode and felt it was above average. I think fans will judge it too harshly as many expect a great writer to constantly top themselves each time. People need to realize that Shakespeare himself didn’t make classics all the time; plays like Timon of Athens are a testament to that. This was classic Gaiman faire that fans of Neverwhere and Mirrormask will enjoy. And while it isn’t his best work, it’s still better than anything else on TV.
Since I don’t have cable I watch Doctor Who on Amazon Prime, maybe you should as well!
Also, anything purchased using that link helps this blog out!
- Neil Gaiman Interview: Part One (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
- Doctor Who “Nightmare In Silver” Scary Future Cybermen (lezgetreal.com)
- TV: Doctor Who: “Nightmare In Silver” (avclub.com)
- Doctor Who: Cybermen’s latest upgrade in Nightmare in Silver has all the makings of an awesome trilogy (mirror.co.uk)
- Doctor Who Review: “Nightmare in Silver” (nerdist.com)
- Doctor Who ‘Nightmare in Silver’ – Series 7, episode 12 (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- Neil Gaiman Discusses Rebooting “Doctor Who’s” Cybermen (spinoff.comicbookresources.com)
- ‘Doctor Who’ writer Neil Gaiman: ‘Cybermen are the scariest monsters’ (digitalspy.co.uk)
- Doctor Who S07 E13: Nightmare in Silver (biffbampop.com)
- Gaiman Wants to Make Cybermen “Scary” Again (sliceofscifi.com)
Sometimes I look through my search terms on this blog’s dashboard for clues as to what I should be writing about. While I see utterly terrifying things like “Sophie Aldred latex bodysuit” or “Alexandra Roach Nude” in there occasionally, one that I see quite a lot for some reason is “Do Americans like Red Dwarf?” Well sir or madam, I am very much an American and I LOVE Red Dwarf. The problem with Red Dwarf is that it never really got the big marketing blitz that other UK shows like Downton Abbey or Doctor Who have received. It has fans, but they are fans of a niche show, that many watch on public broadcasting channels or the odd DVD. This is very similar to how Doctor Who used to be over here.
I recall dressing up as the Tom Baker Doctor (it’s in my about page) one Halloween and getting puzzled stares as to who I was supposed to be, Harry Potter was the likely candidate apparently. This was after the 2005 series of Doctor Who launched but “normal people” hadn’t heard of it before, nor did they care as it sounded weird to them. There was even this guy dressed up as Xander from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (a.k.a normal clothes as a costume) giving me crap because my chosen fandom wasn’t as popular as his. I’d love to see his un-costumed face now! Red Dwarf needs a moment like the one fans got when BBC America started airing Doctor Who and actually pushing it, it needs those non-fans to realize it even exists. Until then it’s going to be sort of niche, but it can be the fan’s little secret. Well, that was vaguely on-topic, but you are probably here assuming this is a review of Trojan and not a long-winded anecdote about annoying people making me mad; so here is my review.
While I really enjoyed 2009’s Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, It wasn’t as strong comedy-wise as older seasons, a big problem for what is primarily a comedy show. It looked amazing, had a better story, and was far more dramatic than any previous Red Dwarf season, but something was missing. It could have been the lack of a live audience, the contemporary setting on Earth, or any multitude of reasons; all I knew was that if it came back, I didn’t want another series like it. And here we are sitting in 2013, and I have Red Dwarf X on Blu-Ray sitting on my desk! I know I’m late to the party, as this came out ages ago, but I decided to wait until I could get ahold of the home video release to do reviews, that way I could talk about special features and the like. Some were worried that watching four middle-aged men crack jokes on each other would somehow not make a great show, but nearly twenty seasons of Top Gear can attest to the power of that very set up. Well, minus one guy, unless we count the Stig, he’s sort of like Kryten I guess!
The very first episode back starts with a bang, as we see a bit of Arnold Rimmer’s past, something that we only hear about in previous seasons. We know a lot about Lister’s past failings, dreams, and ambitions, but Rimmer has never really been fleshed out as much. The crew has apparently come closer to human civilization than ever before, as they somehow pick up a transmission from a “home shopping” type channel called The All Droid Mail Order shopping Network. Lister is apparently one of those people that gets hooked on such things, and gets in a seemingly never-ending phone queue for a device called a “stir Master”. The joke here is that Lister is literally on hold for nearly the rest of the entire episode, but his desire to save time stirring tea is immense.
While this is going on, the crew comes across a derelict, and somewhat better equipped, ship called the SS Trojan. Rimmer fiddles around with the ships control rod (which looks like a baby lightsaber) and inadvertently summons a ship carrying a holographic representation of Rimmer’s brother, Howard Rimmer. Arnold does what any brother would do when faced with the impending death of a sibling: he puts off helping so that he can pass his astro-navigation test and become an officer. He wants to do this to show off to Howard, and make him jealous. Once he fails once again, he goes the other direction dressing the Dwarfers like rejects from a Star Trek movie, and pretending to be the crew of the Trojan.
I really enjoyed this section of the episode, because Rimmer trumps his crew up so much to a ridiculous degree despite having ZERO ability to actually use the ship, much less give a simple tour of it. Rimmer insists in talking in a goofy “captain voice” as he smugly belittles his brother and hits on Howard’s crewmate, an android named Sim Crawford. Arnold introduces his “crew” by giving everyone stupid backstories and false names: Kryten becomes “under-privileged” flight coordinator Kryten Krytinski, The Cat is Navigation officer Gerald Hampton, and Lister is made out to be a “Touch T” telepath named David Listerton-Smythe. Despite obvious holes in this plot Howard doesn’t see through it at all. After Crawford reveals that she is, in fact, the villain of the piece and the reason Howard’s crew all died, Howard sacrifices himself to save Arnold, and reveals his secret. He is actually just a lowly vending machine technician and lied about the whole thing to look important. The Space Corps computer system realizes this and posthumously promotes Howard to an officer, and proposes renaming the Red Dwarf the “SS Howard Rimmer” making Arnold VERY jealous.
The first thing that really blew me away in Trojan, was how good the sets looked. Everything is “updated” but not in the same “white rooms and lense flares” way that we got in the recent Star Trek films. There are better computer screens and better lighting, but it still looks like ‘Dwarf. The detail here is amazing, once can really tell that they got a superb set designer that knows how to dress a set for HD in Michael Ralph. Little things like the raised textures on the walls are low key, almost unnoticeable on first viewing, but really make the scenes. I also love the fact that miniatures were used for ship and other exterior shots. I’m not an anti-computer generated effects guy, but let’s face it – Red Dwarf is made on a tight budget, why blow money on CGI? Shows like Hyperdrive fell into that trap of using cheap, unnecessary CGI and I feel that it really hurt certain episodes. It was like realizing that a spaceship on Blakes 7 was actually a hairdryer, except imagine that hairdryer blurry and unfinished! Unless you can make good effects on the cheap, stay with miniatures – they look better!
There really isn’t much of a guest cast to speak of here. Aside from the “The All Droid Mail Order shopping Network” personalities, you really only have two extra cast members. First off is Howard Rimmer as portrayed by Mark Dexter. Dexter is best known for roles in crime dramas like Law and Order UK, Ripper Street and Crusoe, but I was unfamiliar with him as I do not watch those sorts of programs. He was really good here as Arnold’s older brother; one could really imagine him giving out “wedgies” and making Arnold miserable. They chose someone that has similar mannerisms and a look that screams “RIMMER!” Our other guest was Sim Crawford, played by Susan Earl. I was only familiar with Earl from her role in Reggie Perrin, playing a nurse-like character named Sue, and I only remembered that when I checked IMDB. While a good actress, she had her voice changed and such to that of a more robotic nature, so it is hard to pin her down. She does make a pretty funny face at the end, and it made me laugh, so she’s okay in my book.
I mentioned the two of my favorite gags up there, but there really were so many to choose from. I feel that this series sort of pushed jokes too far after Doug Naylor became the sole captain at the helm. Series seven and especially eight were funny, but suffered from jokes that seemed strained at times; everything has balanced out here. All of the main actors take turns stealing scenes from each other, and even small things like the way The Cat walks into a room are made hilarious for some reason. I will say that the dynamic of just four guys works the best for me; I don’t mind Kochanski, but the show is better without her as a character. After being away for so long, you’d imagine that the boys would have trouble “clicking” into place, but that isn’t the case. Right out of the gate, the chemistry is there.
I try not to be one of those fans that clings to any particular “era” of this series as being the ultimate iteration of Red Dwarf, but I do have a distinct liking to series 4-6. One of the real reasons that I enjoyed this episode so much is that it felt right at home in one of those seasons. There is always room for improvement, but this was a solid kick-off to what I hope is a new era in Red Dwarf, it’s been far too long that these guys have been off our screens, hopefully they don’t go away this time. Keep checking back this week, as I plan to review ALL six episodes in the next few days!
If you would like to purchase Red Dwarf X, please check Amazon:
- Let’s Get Out There and Tweet It: Dimension Jump XVII – Sunday (gazpacho-soup.com)
- News Roundup (05/05/13) (gazpacho-soup.com)
- News Roundup (28/04/13) (gazpacho-soup.com)
- Wales Comic Con (dorgris.wordpress.com)
- Colony – Rob Grant (dwjjones.wordpress.com)
- CONVENTION REVIEW: Wales Comic-Con (geeksyndicate.co.uk)
- New life for an old watch – Red Dwarf style! (clickclicksnapsnap.wordpress.com)
- Starting Red Dwarf’s Floor Plan (reddwarfgame.com)
I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVE the Paternoster Gang. You may be wondering why I feel the need to qualify that statement; well, it seems that being a fan of them can be a misstep in the serious high-octane world that is Doctor Who fandom. Every once in a while I mistakenly try to venture into Doctor Who-related message boards, but am utterly underwhelmed by the negativity and cynicism within. I won’t name any forums that I used to frequent, but you can probably figure out which fun vacuum I am speaking of. One of my biggest pet peeves on these sites, are the folks that seem to think (and want to change everyone else’s opinions to agree with the notion) that Steven Moffat has ruined both the Sontarans and the Silurians by having Strax and Lady Vastra be good guys and have a sense of humor; for me, he has helped make the two somewhat stale races more enjoyable.
The humor from Strax alone (big props to Dan Starkey) can easily make an episode for me, but that’s no surprise because I’m a sucker for stories involving a guy from an extreme military background being forced to deal with normal human life. Characters such as Worf from Star Trek the Next Generation easily fit this bill as does Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, but my favorite of all is easily Strax. Case and point, would be his ordeals with the Doctor’s memory worm in The Snowmen, a scene that nearly made me visit the bathroom upon watching. Because of this love of all things Paternoster, I was really excited for this episode, and I wasn’t let down.
Mark Gatiss was quite at home here with his exaggerated pastiche of Victorian London. I have longed to see him write a script that came close to the warped world that was The League of Gentlemen, but got left with a few “hit or miss” episodes instead. The Crimson Horror may not be the same sort of black comedy as League, but it’s every bit as off-kilter and has as many laughs as scares. At this point and time, I think Gatiss has produced the two strongest scripts this season, with Cold War being his other one. This vast improvement shows that he could be a clear contender to take the mantle of Doctor Who show-runner should Steven Moffat decide to step down in the near future – an opinion I did not have during his episode last year.
The story of The Crimson Horror takes a very unorthodox approach by not actually showing The Doctor and Clara until a long time into the episode. In fact, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are the focal point this time around. This isn’t the same idea as when we used to have “Doctor-lite” episodes such as Love and Monsters, but a cool way to tell a story from the middle rather than the beginning. The Parternoster Gang has received an inquiry to investigate a strange illness called the “Crimson Horror”, a terrible ailment that leaves its victims rigid and with bright red skin. The trail leads them to an apocalyptic community in Yorkshire called Sweetville. This town is led by a woman named Mrs. Gillyflower and her “silent” and unseen partner Mr. Sweet. Mrs. Gillyflower preaches that the end times are near and that our moral decay is destroying the world, a fact made more evident by appearance of her daughter Ada, a younger woman disfigured by a beating from her late father.
I mentioned that viewers are left in the dark as to the whereabouts of The Doctor and Clara for quite a while. This is because The Doctor is locked in a dungeon for the beginning of the episode; we hear him mumble and groan unseen while Ada calls him “her monster”. It is not revealed until Jenny discovers him rigid and with sanguine skin that he’s this “monster”. The main reason the Paternoster Gang is trying to figure out the “Crimson Horror” is because of an old urban legend that supposedly reveals a way to see the last thing a dead person sees. We learn that when someone dies, the final image they see is imprinted on their eye, and in the case of one of the victims, the last thing he saw was The Doctor! In hilarious antiquated sepia-toned flashbacks we find out the real story –
The Doctor isn’t the killer, but a victim himself. Clara and The Doctor found out about the problems in Sweetville long before the Paternoster Gang, and infiltrated the same way Jenny has, posing as interested parties. It seems that Mrs. Gillyflower has a preservation process that she is using to “save” folks from the upcoming apocalypse. It seems that she is using the venom from an ancient parasite – this, my friends, is Mr. Sweet, an ugly worm creature. The Doctor isn’t human, so he did not react well to the “treatment” and suffered the same fate as other “rejects”. In fact, had he not been saves by Ada he would have been dumped in the river like other discarded victims.
This episode is both VERY dark, almost grotesque at times, and hilarious. There are tons of little one-liners and quips that make the dialog for me. One of the funniest is when The Doctor brings up his issues with Tegan, a past companion: “Ooh, I once spent helluva long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport!” Like I said above, my favorite scenes were with Strax. One of the best is his interaction with His new flesh and blood GPS sidekick Thomas Thomas (get it! LOL). The way “Tom Tom” saves Strax’s poor horse from execution because of its inability to navigate the streets of Yorkshire was hilarious. We also see Strax getting to FINALLY shoot his gun, an act that he obviously gets a bit too excited for leading to a scolding by Madame Vastra: “Strax, you’re over excited. Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?” I’m not in it for only the jokes, but if there are jokes in Doctor Who, stuff like this is great.
Ada and Mrs. Gillyflower are played by real life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg (of Avengers fame) and Rachael Stirling. Rigg is awesome in her role, and one can see that she simply had fun “chewing the scenery”. Their relationship in the episode is pretty dark and goes against the grain of the ongoing trope of “love saves the day” that we have seen constantly through the last few seasons. Once Ada realizes that her mother lied about her blindness and basically lets it slip that she used her as a test subject for the antidote for the preservation process, Ada is a bit less than happy. Let’s just say that Mrs. Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet are a bit worse for wear at the end.
So there we have it, one of my favorite episodes this year, and my favorite Gatiss script altogether! He seems to have the Paternoster Gang down, and hope that he uses them more often. The episode has a few small plot holes, and a bad guy plot just as silly as The Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but that doesn’t matter – it was pure fun! Next week we have Clara and the Kids she babysits facing the Cybermen, in a script by Neil Gaiman! Saturday can’t come soon enough!
Want a way to watch this episode, but don’t have cable? Maybe Amazon is a good choice, that’s how I watch them at least!
- The Crimson Horror: Tomorrow at 6.30pm. (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
- Doctor Who – Synopses (xiscomyst.wordpress.com)
- Movie Posters: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis,Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver (thedrwho.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who: I’ve just seen The Crimson Horror (telegraph.co.uk)
- Matt and Jenna on the Truth about Clara, the Finale and More! (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
- Strax Rejuvenation Announces Increased Focus on Social Media Websites (prweb.com)
- The Crimson Horror (thedrwho.wordpress.com)
- Strax Answers Questions from Children (nerdist.com)
- Doctor Who – The Crimson Horror clip and pics (xiscomyst.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who: Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS – A Review via Den Of Geek (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
“What is a Time Bubble? You can’t see it, of course, but it might help you visualize it to think of a balloon… Supposing some little patch of information – some little patch of history – gets slowed down, and instead of flashing backwards and forwards it floats, gently, as if in a bubble… Supposing you could get into that bubble – that bubble of history – and travel with it. Then you could move forwards and backwards in time at will…”
— One of the many introductions before the episodes
Note: Man, it sure has been a while since I talked about Timeslip! In fact I think I did the review for The Wrong end of Time way back in 2011! This was of course when I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this blog and the quality was pretty poor to be honest. I think I “summed” up the first six episodes of the show in four paragraphs without really saying anything! The original method to my madness involved being as vague as possible so as to not reveal spoilers, and to give things ratings from one to five. The problem with this was that my reviews were not that engaging on an entertainment basis and multiple reviews from the same show started to have similar content and ratings. Also, let’s face it, if somebody is reading a Doctor Who review the day after it airs, they are most likely fans of the show and have already watched it. Back on topic, now! Since I didn’t write a whole lot then, I have expanded this review/synopsis to cover a brief bit of the first Timeslip serial as well just to cover the bases, but will concentrate on the second serial.
As I noted in my earlier review, I had never heard of Timeslip prior to a chance encounter I had with it on Netflix. I used to rent DVDs on there as this was back in the “glory days” before they attempted to mess up their own company. You guys remember that mess? Netflix’s stock crashed because the CEO decided the best course of action was splitting it in two (thankfully shareholders stopped that one!) and doubling the prices. And since I’m off topic, it’s time to reign it back in. I recall scanning through one of their immensely over-specialized genre sections and found Timeslip amongst other cult UK television that I was unfamiliar with. I randomly rented the first serial and was intrigued by the hard science approach to a children’s science fiction show. Most shows like this are basically adventure shows with a dash of science fiction pinched in, but Timeslip is the exact opposite.
The previous serial, The Wrong end of Time, told the story of two kids – a boy named Simon Randall and a girl named Liz Skinner. Simon is traveling with Liz’s parents to keep his mind of off his mother’s recent death. Simon and Liz end up wandering too close to an old decommissioned war-time naval base and get sucked into some sort of time rift. Without warning, they are knee deep in Nazis that want a prototype laser weapon that is housed within the base. It seems that this base was briefly commandeered by Nazi soldiers in 1943. The kids meet up with a younger version of Liz’s father (who worked at the base in 1943) and helped him subvert what could have been a turning point in the war for the wrong side. They beat the Nazis with help from Liz’s psychic mom in the present time and try to go home by going back into the portal. Problem is, instead of returning to St Oswald in their time of 1970, they find themselves in an icy wilderness.
This Icy wasteland is none other than Antarctica in the way off future time of 1990 (LOL). After succumbing to the cold, our young time travelers are rescued by employees of the International Institute for Biological Research, dubbed the “Ice Box”. The head honcho of “The Ice Box” is a man named Morgan C. Devereaux, you can immediately tell that something is not quite right with him as he trusts the computer systems far too much despite numerous errors, and generally acts erratic. He oversees tests on a longevity drug called HA57, something that purports to be a cure for aging and possibly death. The series continues its use of the idea that the kids see past and future versions of people they know in the present in these episodes as well. If you recall, the kids worked alongside a younger version of Liz’s father during World War II, and this time we see them working with a 1990 version of Liz’s mother and even Liz herself! Beth (Liz in the future) has somehow become a heartless, nearly emotionless husk of her former self much to Liz’s horror. From here on, the serial seems to be another look at how people misuse technology, this time dealing with the way that folks trust machines assuming them to be infallible.
My only real quibble (but a big one) with this particular group of episodes is that Liz and Simon have the ability to jump into the future or the present at will using the portal; in fact they do this almost immediately when Liz throws a hysterical fit realizing her mother is there. The first serial saw the kids trapped at Nazi gunpoint, and unable to escape, thus putting them in peril; here any sense of danger is squashed. To me this would be like the show Quantum Leap allowing Sam the ability to return home after each mission, it would kill any drama and make the show bland – and that’s what we got here. This is compounded with the way Charles Traynor becomes some sort of spymaster, talking the kids into leaping back into the portal to find out why Devereaux is there. He wants to know because Traynor knew Devereaux, and he supposedly died in 1969! For how traumatic the time traveling seemed, the kids seem far too excited to leap back into the dangerous situation in Antarctica. I preferred how Traynor and Liz’s parents could oversee the whole thing via telepathic link (as silly as that sounds) than this whole hub world motif.
While the first serial looked pretty decent with the historical World War II setting, and the ability to use existing sets and such, The Time of the Ice Box falls into the same trap a lot of 1970’s science fiction does – it looks cheap and dated by today’s standards. When we first see someone scoop Liz up to take her to safety, the man in question is donning a costume that doesn’t really suggest “really warm coat for Antarctica” it suggests “Ziggy Stardust in a motorcycle helmet”. I try not to pick on stuff like this, but had they just jumped the time frame up to a more distant time, this episode could have been a bit less silly. Interior shots are actually pretty nice, but exterior shots of Antarctica are obviously on a set full of cheesy fake ice blocks and wobbly set pieces that make Doctor Who blush. Thankfully, most of this serial is in black and white due to the color versions being lost like many TV programs of the time. I feel that this sort of ”masks” the garishness of the future clothes to the point where they aren’t so bad. One episode, in fact the only one left in the entire show, is in color and it sadly makes everything wrong with the effects stand out more.
The cast is fairly decent considering that most of the people involved are relatively unknown. Simon is played by Spencer Banks and Liz is portrayed by Cheryl Burfield, neither of which did a whole lot outside of the 1970’s sadly. One of the more prominent actors involved is John Barron (Morgan C. Devereaux), who is most famous for TheFall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, where he played the titular character’s overbearing boss C.J. One of the better casting choices was Mary Preston as “Beth”. Even though the actress that played Liz was over eighteen at the time of filming (the character is fifteen though), one could conceivably see “Beth” being the same person as Liz twenty years later. She really nailed all the mannerisms and such, just with a darker nature.
I enjoyed Timeslip: The Time of the Ice Box, but found it less compelling than the first part. There were some plot issues, and it definitely felt padded out just a tad, but one has to concede that this was a kid’s show. I try not to be too hard on stuff like that if it wasn’t meant for an adult market. I used to work for a gaming website a few years back and was always confused when people reviewed children’s games as if they were designed to compete with the latest Call of Duty game! Despite the garishness, it was nice to see one color episode in the bunch; and while I joked earlier that I was happy these were not in color, it’s actually a shame that they are lost. I wonder where the portal will take Liz and Simon next time? Let’s hope I write about it sooner than two years from now!
If you would like to purchase Timeslip, check this out: