TV Review: Doctor Who – Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

Note: I try to keep these as spoiler free as possible to avoid ruining the episodes for folks.

River Song returns for all the fun.

Many people rank Steven Moffat’s Blink as one of the best standalone episodes of Doctor Who.  This is quite a bold statement considering the episode actually contains very little interaction with the Doctor and his companion at the time Martha Jones.  The main draw for many fans was the chilling introduction of a new race of villains called the Weeping Angels, so called because of their resemblance to the creepy cemetery statues of the same name.  Of all of the villains introduced in new Doctor Who, the Weeping Angels are pretty close to the only ones I would consider classic in a strict sense, as most of the others are definitely better for one-time appearances.  This two-parter also features the Weeping Angels, and as such has large shoes to fill.

These episodes also mark the second appearance of a character that many assume is the Doctor’s future wife – River Song.  In fact this episode is foreshadowed in Moffat’s last televised episodes Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead as River Song asks if they have “survived the crash of the Byzantium yet?”  In typical Moffat Style, The Doctor and River have once again met “out of order” of each other, and River is as sassy as ever if not a bit more.  A bit of light is shone on their relationship that almost leads me to believe that simply understanding the character as “the Doctor’s future wife” is far too easy, and is probably a red herring to their true relationship.

A group of military clerics is there to assist including the awesome Father Octavian pictured here.

The story follows the Doctor and Amy as they take a bit of a break from all the adventuring by visiting a museum.  Pretty soon the Doctor discovers an odd artifact amongst all of the other typical museum findings – a flight recorder box with ancient Galiifreyan text written on it.  This prompts the Doctor to do what anyone would do, steal the item from the museum.  The black box, as it turns out, is a set of directions for the Doctor to Find River Song as she is pursued on a large ship called the Byzantium.  The ship crashes and a very sensitive bit of “cargo” is let loose in a cave full of catacombs.

What follows is a two-parter, that I would say is one of the best, scariest episodes since the shows return in 2005.  As with many Moffat episodes, it was very well done.  The Angels are scarier than they were, as they have new abilities due to the unlimited power of the ship that crashed.  This helps take a creepy villain, which would probably only appear in a few episodes, and makes it a villain that will last.

Now you can’t blink, look the angels in the eye, act like you can’t see them, and a laundry list of other things that make them creepy.

There are a lot of things I love about this episode, but talking about them would give far more spoilers than I like to do on this blog, maybe I’ll touch on it in an editorial later on.  Even if the rest of the season sucks, and we look back at this episode, the season would be a classic.

My Rating 5 out of 5

 

Advertisements

TV Review: Doctor Who – Victory of the Daleks

Note: I try to keep these as spoiler free as possible to avoid ruining the episodes for folks.

At the end of The Beast Below we were treated to a plot device that has not been seen for a while in Doctor Who: a scene that leads directly into the next episode.  The scene in question showed a certain Winston Churchill calling the Doctor begging for help, as we see the evil shadow of an old foe about to exterminate Churchill.  As we begin Victory of the Daleks something has changed, Churchill is smug, and seems to think he has the war “in the bag”, all due to a “secret weapon”.

Victory of the Daleks has some bright spots and some rough edges sadly.  First things first, the acting is superb especially with Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill.  Rather than try to emulate Churchill 100%, McNeice grabbed the raw essence of what Churchill was about and ran with it.  In the accompanying episode of Doctor Who Confidential, he basically said he wanted to emulate the tone and demeanor of his speeches, which I think worked well.  Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were also very good, but Smith really shined in this episode.  His wild “these are the Daleks, and they are evil” rants were spot on, and made the Doctor look about as crazy and hateful, as those he was condemning.

Great acting as usual from the cast

The rough edges I spoke of seem to be either due to the editing process or unfinished thoughts in the writing itself.  There are more than a few extraneous subplots going on like a girl that works for Churchill who is worried about her boyfriend, a pilot for the Royal Air Force.  We occasionally see her lamenting on his possible death, and other things that add absolutely nothing to the plot whatsoever.  It almost seems as if this was originally going to be a “two-parter”, and all the padding got removed.  Sometimes Doctor Who adds back stories for side characters and such, but as this character doesn’t really actually speak to the main cast, or reveal her name as far as I can rmemeber, she was pretty much wasted space.

The re-design of the leadership Daleks was cool, and brings a bit of scariness back to the characters.  The old Daleks were modeled after actress Billie Piper’s eyeline, and these are in line with Matt Smith, who is about 70 feet tall.  Because of this added height and deeper voice, these Daleks look to be quite menacing in the future.  Sadly they don’t do too much in this episode aside from taunt the Doctor, which is a shame.  The Daleks do end up with a VERY bright new paint scheme that reminds me of the colors for Star Trek rankings.  Then again I was also wondering if the Daleks were going to form Voltron at some point, so I can see why folks might not like the new direction.

Let’s form Voltron!

I’ll admit that being a huge fan of the Daleks, I was pretty hyped up for this episode, especially after seeing the bits and bobs in the trailer.  With a fairly good writer on board, and a novel idea in the can, I was pretty hyped up for “Victory of the Daleks”, sadly due to this over-anticipation I may have caused myself to be a bit underwhelmed by the end of the whole thing.   Not to say that this was a bad episode, but it was just average in my book, although it served a great purpose in rectifying all the shenanigans from the last few seasons, and will hopefully keep the Daleks alive for a while still.

My rating 3 out of 5

 

TV Review – Review – Doctor Who: The Beast Below

Amy_Space.png picture by spdk1

Showoff!

The Beast Below welcomes The Doctor, Amy, and the audience to Starship UK, a huge chunk of flying rock that may or may not be the literal landmass of Britain, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  Scotland of course wanted its own spaceship, and did not join the others on their trip.  We find out that Earth was under attack by solar flares, so everyone took to the skies.

Right from the get-go we find out that nothing is as it seems: there seems to be no power running Starship UK, and there are ominous fortune telling statues called “Smilers” watching over the population like some sort of steampunk “big brother”.

800px-S5e02promo.jpg picture by spdk1

All is not right on Starship UK

As a second episode, The Beast Below does everything it should do by playing up the relationship between the Doctor and Amy.  We see playfulness as the Doctor “shows off” a bit by dangling Amy outside of the Tardis, and anger as the Doctor nearly decides that Amy’s trip is over towards the end of the episode.  Because of these extremes, this episode is quite emotional, but it seems realistic.  Sometimes older episodes had an “emo” or over the top feeling to them, which rubbed me the wrong way.

The cornerstone of this emotion is Matt Smith who shows he is a great actor and amazing choice for the role.  When confronted with a horrible choice, we see the Doctor lashing out at those around him, which is terrifying and jarring, but not in a bad way.  The Doctor is given a moral dilemma where he basically has to choose between killing and killing, and this does not make him happy.

Liz_Mask.png picture by spdk1

Liz Ten is an odd character

On the technical side of things, this episode seems a bit less polished than the last.  I wasn’t sure if it was the direction being a bit less well realized as The Eleventh Hour, but I feel that it was a major part of it.  This is by no means a bad thing, as I still loved the way it was done.  There was a bit of explanation missing however that made me feel as if a missed opportunity had occurred.

The episode has two sets of related villains called Smilers and Winders.  Smilers are the clockwork fortune telling machine dummies that watch over school children to show whether they are doing good or bad, and Winders are a group of robed men that seem to be sent out by the Smilers when someone is naughty.  I am making assumptions here as it is never truly explained what the Smilers were originally used for, only that they are creepy and show a person if they are doing the right thing.

Donteverdecide-11.png picture by spdk1

“You don’t ever decide what I need to know.”

The secondary cast was pretty good, although a bit one-dimensional in parts which made me think of old sci-fi characters from shows like Buck Rogers.  Liz Ten is a prime example of this as she is not too far removed from a silly Flash Gordon style Space Heroine.  Much like my small criticism of the direction in the episode, this is not by any means a deal breaker, and the supporting cast is still leagues better than most characters I’ve seen in many shows.  I think my main problem lies in that Moffat generally writes fairly memorable side-characters in his scripts, these did not match up.

Amys_message.png picture by spdk1

The “voting booths” are quite topical considering the UK is about to finish up an election.

All in all, I loved The Beast Below and found it to be a nice space opera style romp, with a lot of hard-lined emotion.  We get a chance to see the doctor at his wacky best, but find out that this Doctor is not all fun and games at all times.

My Rating: 4 out of 5

 

TV Review – Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour

In the year leading up to this “re-launch” of Doctor Who, many fans were acting in polar opposites.  On one hand, we had a cult beginning to form around Steven Moffat, the new show runner and head honcho of production.  Fans of his previous work in the series including The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and many other episodes began to see him as some sort of savior- a man who could do no wrong.  Others were being alarmist calling for Moffat’s head after initial casting announcements and the departure of David Tennant.  Now that The Eleventh Hour has aired, is the show in good hands?  In short, the answer is a resounding yes!

A new Doctor, a new Tardis.

Immediately, one can tell that this is not the same vision that former Executive Producer Russell T Davies had for the show.  Much like his previous episodes, Moffat takes care in making his characters and locations seem straight out of some sort of dark fairytale.  In short, the story of this episode is nothing spectacular, but does a wonderful job of establishing a new Doctor, a new companion, and a new style to the show.

I will even go as far to say that this version of Doctor Who seems more in line with the classic show, or at least an evolution thereof.  This especially rings true when thinking of the lighthearted playfulness of some of the classic Tom Baker episodes from the 70’s (especially under the helm of Douglas Adams), a sign that the show didn’t take itself too seriously to not let the fans have a bit of fun every once in a while.  We see nods to this playfulness right from the beginning as we hear a small girl praying by her bedside:

“Dear Santa, thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you but… honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Shy says it’s just an ordinary crack, but I know its not cause at night there’s voices so… please please can you send someone to fix it? Or a policeman, or…”

Amelia trying to satisfy the Doctor’s food cravings.

This crack, as a plot device, furthers Moffat’s plan to make any insignificant inanimate object in my house scary to me.  It seems to pay off as I could feel creeped out by it from the get-go.  Let’s face it, Amelia is having to deal with a crazed lunatic that fell from the sky, crushed her Aunt’s shed, and is demanding food from her, and she is totally unfazed.  As the Doctor says “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”

The Doctor messes up and disappears for 12 years after promising to be right back, only to meet his young friend again as an adult.  Amy now questions whether the Doctor even existed, and was sent to therapy because of her encounter with him.  The theme of this episode seems to be trust, as Amy isn’t sure if she can trust the Doctor.  What follows is a wild romp to stop Earth’s destruction at the hands of the Atraxi, a race of giant eyeball creatures who are looking for an escaped monster called Prisoner Zero.

Doctor-Who-The-Eleventh-Hour-19.jpg picture by spdk1

A simple thing like a voice mismatched to a person

is made horrifying with Prisoner Zero.

Matt smith breathes new life into the Doctor’s character that I feel was much needed.  Not to knock David Tennant, as he still is one of my favorite incarnations of the Doctor, but I felt that his portrayal started to feel tired towards the end of the 2009 TV specials.  Many have pointed out that Matt Smith has supposedly based his take on everyone’s favorite Timelord on that of the late Patrick Troughton who played the Doctor in his second incarnation.

I can see this to a degree, but can see many mannerisms from a multitude of actors that have played the role.  That’s not to say that Smith’s portrayal is simply a pastiche of previous actors roles, but he obviously wants to pay homage to those who came before.  Smith also brings a lot to the character with the way he talks, his odd appearance, his almost arrogant demenor, and his eccentricities (i.e. licking a shed to date the wood).  Some were worried having an actor so young playing the Doctor, but all of that was put to rest for me as we see him step out from a projection of David Tennant’s face late in the episode; we see that he simply IS the Doctor.

Next up is the sultry adult Amelia Pond, or Amy as she is calling herself these days, as played by Karen Gillan.  Karen portrays Amy as a confident strong female character.  Gone are the days of the female companion that only yells “oh Doctor”, twists her ankle, and gets captured in every episode of the classic series, but Amy even seems different from the modern “unrequited love for the Doctor” companions.

When we first see Amy, she even knocks the Doctor silly with a cricket bat, thus proving that she may be the toughest or at least the strongest willed companion in a while.  Even though Amy is seen to fancy the Doctor a bit, she is by no means smitten with him.  I think this comes into play for two reasons: she’s engaged, and she sees the Doctor as her “imaginary friend” as she saw him as a child.

500x_eleventh_hour5.jpg picture by spdk1

The supporting cast, such as Rory here, were great as well.

I feel that Moffat wrote her introduction perfectly, as we don’t have to deal with another “prospective companion has to prove themselves” storyline, as Amelia already did that as a child.  I always dislike when the Doctor is made to not trust his companion, and a situation like Martha Jones was not what I wanted to see.  For those who do not remember, Martha was basically only taken onboard the Tardis so that the Doctor could try to forget about Rose, but was left in the cold about 99% of the time.  The Doctor treated her sort of badly, and didn’t even make her a true companion until half-way through the show.  No wonder the character decided not to stick around.

The only real bad thing I can say about the episode is that the Atraxi and Prisoner Zero were not that compelling as villains, but that seems to be the point.  By concentrating on the building relationship between Amy and the Doctor the episode prepares us for the whole season and the new production style 100% as the story ends.

The Eleventh Hour wasn’t just a good episode; it was a great episode, and possibly one of the best first episodes for a Doctor ever.  Rather than have the Doctor lay around sick all episode or try to kill his companions, we are given a Doctor forced to take on an alien takeover with only his mind, a biff difference from what usually happens.  Through the strong performances by Smith, Gillan, and the supporting cast, I can see that this season will be truly great.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I now leave you with a clip of the new theme as well as a trailer for the season, and yes I loved the new theme!