Doctor Who Season 7 Postmortem

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.

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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.

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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.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)

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It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home.

Asylum of the Daleks (2012)

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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.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (2012)

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An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction – unless the Doctor can save it, and its impossible cargo… of dinosaurs!

A Town Called Mercy (2012)

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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)

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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)

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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

The Snowmen (2012)

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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 Bells of Saint John (2013)

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The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, 2013, where something deadly is waiting in the wifi.

The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

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The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice!

Cold War (2013)

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On a Russian submarine in 1983, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS materialises.

Hide (2013)

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Something terrifying is hiding in Caliburn House, and the Doctor finds himself part of the ghost hunt.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (2013)

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The TARDIS has crashed, Clara is lost inside, and the Doctor has 30 minutes before his ship explodes!

The Crimson Horror (2013)

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Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire, as bodies are found with their skin a waxy, glowing red…

Nightmare in Silver (2013)

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Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: The perfect theme park day out. And ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection…

The Name of the Doctor (2013)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (2013)

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.

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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.”

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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!

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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!

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I’ve been Catching up on Doctor Who On Amazon, maybe you should as well:

Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part Two [Blu-ray]

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Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver (2013)

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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Since I don’t have cable I watch Doctor Who on Amazon Prime, maybe you should as well!

Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver [HD]

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Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)

I really had no idea what to expect with Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. On one hand you could surmise that the episode may have something similar to the classic Jules Verne story A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the trailer looked more like a scary high-tension episode than an action adventure story. I was surprised to see that this particular episode was something of a horror episode, strange in the fact that it comes right after another horror-based episode in Hide. Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is notable for one reason – we get to see the insides of the little blue box that could. We have seen bits and bobs of the Tardis here and there since the very beginnings of the show, but never have we seen this much of the ship. Even the classic Invasion of Time pales in comparison in terms of Tardis touring. The question is: Was it any good?

I will start out by saying that this episode is one of those that really improves with repeat viewings. For the basis of this review, I watched it twice and liked it a bit more after the initial viewing. You can surmise that I had some problems with the episode if I said “it improves”, and I definitely did. I didn’t hate it, in fact I thought it was pretty good, but it could have been a lot better for reasons I will soon explain. I think my main complaint is that the nature of time travel concepts and cause and effect found within is very chaotic, and to be honest came across as messy. I will not say that it was as incomprehensible as a story like Ghost Light, in which fans have notoriously elevated to being “good” because “complexity” means “smart” but it has its problems.

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The story follows The Doctor and Clara as they come across a large salvage ship piloted by three expert salvagers called The Van Baalens (played by Ashley Walters and Mark Oliver) and their “android” named Tricky (played by Jahvell Hall). This salvage crew captures the Tardis with a powerful magnetic beam wreaking havoc on its internal systems as a result. Not only is she leaking fuel, but the Tardis looks so unsafe that the salvage crew decides to eject it back into space. The Doctor has apparently escaped the ship unscathed and is pretty mad at the salvage crew; it seems that Clara is still trapped somewhere inside.

The Van Baalens were a bit hard to pin down. I love the concept of these three guys traveling around and listening to The Cult whilst gobbling up bits of wrecked ships. Too bad that the characters were pretty unlikable; I know that they weren’t necessarily “good guys” but their decision making skills were horrid (don’t take that part of the ship, the Tardis will try to kill you – takes piece anyway). I also was not a fan of the fact that the two older brothers somehow brainwashed their younger brother (Tricky) into believing that he was an android servant for the simple thrill of bullying him. With character traits like this it’s really hard to feel bad when one of them dies, since he was a jerk anyway.

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The Doctor tricks them into going inside, and fakes a self-destruct system to force the Van Baalens into helping him save Clara, and generally comes across as a bit unhinged, even more so than usual! The rest of the episode is basically everyone running around in various corridors and rooms trying to elude the Tradis’s self-preservation systems and make it to her core. Time starts to unravel, and everyone starts seeing weird things like future and past echoes of themselves as well as terrifying radiation zombies with glowing red eyes. These creatures were pretty creepy for the same reason that “The Crooked Man” last week was – you never get a good look at one of them. Until it is explained as to the nature of these beings is, you usually see the shape of one, with eyes ablaze, surrounded by a haze of obscuring “waves”. They had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what these things could have been. I honestly was wondering if he wasn’t housing scarred up refugees from Gallifrey or something, but the real answer was almost as creepy. It seems these were future versions of Clara and the Van Baalens disfigured and driven mad by the energy from the Eye of Harmony, a possible future that is adverted with a stupid plot device.

What really bugged me about this episode was that it involved a “reset button”, and we’re not talking about a figurative one for the purpose of storytelling – an honest to God big red reset button. This trope usually drives me crazy when it’s used this way, and not since the ending of Superman the Movie has it been used in such a silly manner. We saw it at the end of season three to undo The Master’s massacre of the human race, and I hated it then as well. The “reset button” concept is something Russel T. Davies used to employ a lot, I wish it would have stayed with him and not crept into these newer episodes.

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I did enjoy the fact that we got to see things like Clara reading a huge book about the Time War (where she may have seen The Doctor’s name!) and the Eye of Harmony. Little nods to the past such as these usually lead me to “nerding out” even though it reeks of fan service. The special effects for the various Tardis rooms (especially the Eye of Harmony and the Heart) were awesome, and really gives a sense of how massive the whole ship can be. Things like this really helped an episode that could have been pretty mediocre into something special despite its flaws.

Did I love Journey to the Centre of the Tardis? Well, no. The episode was well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but failed a bit with the writing. I’ve loved each episode this half-season so far and having one that “isn’t quite there” is pretty typical (sort of like Curse of the Black Spot), at least this was pretty solid and not terrible. Had they stayed away from things like a giant red reset button, I may have even loved this episode as well. So on a scale of one to ten, with 10 being “woo hoo” and one being “aaargh!” I’d say this one was a “meh” (I should use that as an official rating system…lol). Next week we have Diana Rigg and the Paternoster Gang to look forward to, so can’t wait till Sataurday!

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Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS [HD]

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Doctor Who: Hide (2013)

“It’s ghost time!”

While many Doctor Who episodes are a little bit scary (what else would make all those kids hide behind their sofas?), strict horror-based one are kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you have episodes like The Unquiet Dead that really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to atmosphere and scares, and unfortunately there are episodes like Fear Her. I think that a lot of this comes down to the fact that we will NEVER see a ghost story or monster story where the creature in question is really a paranormal entity, thus making the viewer question it the whole time. It’s kind of like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film; on one hand it’s usually sort of creepy, but on the other one becomes preoccupied with the upcoming “twist ending”. You may be assuming that I’m about to bash Hide based on the above sentiment, that’s where you are wrong – I loved it. Hide take’s everything you thought you knew about these kinds of stories and turns them on their heads.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and there seems to be a paranormal investigation going on in a large haunted mansion. Our two co-stars for the evening are a psychic named Emma Grayling (as played by Jessica Raine, soon to be Verity Lambert in the upcoming Doctor Who historical drama) and Professor Alec Palmer (played by Dougray Scott, known for Mission Impossible II and the recent Day of the Triffids films) as they try to find out the secret behind “The Witch of the Well”. It seems that the Caliburn mansion has been plagued by reports of a horrible spectre for hundreds of years, and since this is 1974, our ghost hunters are using all the latest gizmos to find it. Emma and Palmer are soon joined by The Doctor and Clara, who seem to be there on purpose for once exclaiming “we’re the Ghost Busters!” instead of the usual scenario of not knowing where they are.

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Dougray Scott is one of those actors that I am not really all that familiar with aside from a handful of film and TV roles, but always delivers with his acting. After seeing him in Day of the Triffids and this I can definitely say that he would make an awesome Bernard Quatermass if that franchise ever gets off the ground again. Sadly I cannot say that I am at all familiar with the previous work of Jessica Raine, but she did a fine job here. I’m looking forward to spotting her in the aforementioned historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time, soon to be hitting our airwaves this November.

For the most part, Hide reminds me a LOT of some of the older Big Finish audio dramas that I’ve listened to. I’m not sure why, but the mixture of decent, plausible science, and the moody atmosphere gave me a bit of a throwback to some of the 2001 Paul McGann audios especially. Notice that I said “science” up there when talking about a ghost story? That’s because this episode does have a twist on the origin of the “ghost”, but the reveal isn’t the usual Scooby Doo-esque “it looks like this ghost was really an alien!” Instead we are presented with a cool idea: The Doctor realized that “The Witch of the Well” never moves in ANY picture that is taken of it, so he decides to find out if this could be a fixed point in time. He and Clara board the Tardis and take snapshots throughout the lifespan of the Earth looking for the ghast. Sure enough, it’s there, but it’s not what he expected.

Doctor Who - Series 7B

It seems that the “ghost” is actually an ill-fated time traveler named Hila Tukurian (played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who disappeared after a time flight. Hila has been caught in what The Doctor explains as a “pocket dimension” where thousands of years in our time are mere moments there. This is the reason for the seemingly static shots of the ghost, as Hila is actually running for her life from an unseen enemy. So if Hila isn’t the “villain” of the episode, who is? It seems the unnamed “crooked man” briefly spotted in the final picture is the culprit, and The Doctor must save Hila from him. This “crooked man” is pretty unnerving and harkens back to movies like The Ring. When we do see him, he crawls around in an unnatural manner, his twisted face grimacing in anguish. But the crooked man has a reason for his actions, and it’s not because he’s evil – he’s in love!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying “love saves the day AGAIN!?” The Doctor beat the peg dolls and Cybermen with love last year, and this year he defeated the parasite sun-god of Ahkaten with it as well. Well, this is different. It seems that “The Crooked Man” is angry because his mate is trapped in the “real world” behind a door that The Doctor closes. The Doctor has unwittingly doomed him to the very death that was once going to be Hila’s fate. In a silly twist The Doctor flies in to save the beast, in one of the oddest endings that we’ve ever witnessed as viewers. Some people have complained that this ending was either “out of the blue” or “tacked on”, but I liked it because the Doctor would never let an innocent die if he could save them, no matter how ugly they are.

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If anything was bad about this episode, I think that Hila was not a very well-developed character. Granted, she is the focus for around three-quarters of the whole episode, but just stands there like furniture once she is safe. I almost wish that this episode was a two-parter with the haunting storyline reserved for episode one, and the time travels bits in episode two. Maybe in this arrangement, characters like Hila could have stood out more, but what we do have is more than sufficient.

My favorite bit of this episode was probably the interaction between The Doctor and Clara regarding her mystery. We are starting to see more and more that they really don’t trust each other at all, a fact that was hammered home no less than twice. In the first instance Clara stayed in the Tardis while The Doctor took tons of pictures to see if he could figure out if the ghost was a fixed point in time. We see a montage of sorts involving rapidly changing times from the dawn of the Earth to the very end. This disturbs Clara as The Doctor seems totally unaffected by what they just saw, but she just saw her entire existence pass before her eyes. This makes her realize that The Doctor is not like her and must see all humans as mere ghosts. The second instance is actually the entire reason that this episode happened. It seems that The Doctor tried to find Emma to ask about Clara, noting her strong abilities as an empath. When Emma remarks that “she is a normal girl” this sets him off, she must be a trap or something! Clara also asked Emma about The Doctor where she found out that he has a “ sliver of ice in his heart”; seems like he is still the Dark, brooding Doctor from The Snowmen, and Clara might be the only thing keeping him going.

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All in all, Hide was a fine episode, I’ve enjoyed this season a lot despite the fact that a bunch of other fans seem to be having trouble with it. The intelligent nature of the unorthodox plotting by Neil Cross is a breath of fresh air from the tendency to do “Doctor Who by numbers” that many writers fall victim to. I know some writers want to please the fans at every turn, but taking chances like this is the only way the show can keep going and staying fresh. Cross was the man behind The Rings of Akhaten as well, another unorthodox episode that I enjoyed. “The Crooked Man” was a creepy “villain” proving that less can be more sometimes. He wasn’t as ambiguous as the antagonists in Midnight or Silence in the Library, but he came across just as terrifying. Next week we have a Journey to the Center of the Tardis to look forward to, and it looks like all hell breaks loose in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor.

 

Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Hide

Hide [HD]

Doctor Who: Cold War (2013)

After The Rings of Akhaten puzzled fans with what is quite possibly the most unconventional (and divisive) episode of modern Doctor Who, this time we have something so conventional it feels almost retro! This is definitely helped by the fact that a returning villain, The Ice Warriors, make their modern era debut in Cold War, and with a make-over to boot. The recipe for tonight’s episode is easy: just take one part classic “base under siege” template, add it to one part Ridley Scott’s Alien then mix it all in a bowl of Hunt for Red October.

The story follows The Doctor and Clara stumbling in on a Cold War era Soviet submarine at the height of tensions with the U.S. The crew is taking part in a routine test to see if they have the testicular fortitude available to nuke everything if the call was ever made to start a nuclear war. It seems that the crew has taken a bit of “extra cargo” in the form of a huge ice block with a presumed mammoth inside. Of course, this isn’t the case, and we have a loose Ice Warrior running around. His name is Grand Marshall Skaldak, and the poor guy thinks that he is the last of his people. In fact, he is utterly devastated that his family, including his daughter, aged to dust by the passage of almost five thousand years in his icy tomb. When faced with losses of that sort combined with his militaristic nature means that he may just cause a nuclear incident because he has nothing to lose.

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First things first, I’d like to discuss the changes made to the ice warrior costume itself. The new costume, as we see with Grand Marshall Skaldak, is a vast improvement on the older suits, without losing the iconic look of the classic series version. Really the only BIG change was the hands, and let’s be honest, most people are happy that they lost their robot claws/Lego guy hands in favor of three-fingered Ninja Turtle-like ones. The problem I always had with the 1960’s iterations are that they looked so much like a guy in an overdone fiberglass and fur suit that I was expecting Godzilla to fight them off. You could tell the actor’s visibility was bad, and the mobility was clunky and slow. The new suits look somehow more maneuverable and more armor-like at the same time despite being obviously made from a less rigid material.

As for one controversial aspect of the episode, I quite enjoyed seeing Skaldak outside of his armor. It seems like I am the only one out there, but the effect wasn’t so bad. Yeah I know his face was computer generated, and that folks are averse to any CGI creatures, but the unusual take on them was interesting. I think many people figured that there would be a random make-up faced dude under there, but what we got was more alien. Let’s be honest if it was just somebody with lizard make-up they would have been too similar to the Silurians.

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Another big plus for me was the guest cast. It was almost refreshing to see a bit of media based on Russian soldiers to escape the almost propaganda-esque portrayal found in most shows. Instead of a crew of militant Stalinists hell-bent on the decimation of the United States, we have a level-headed crew of guys that look like they’d be fun to hang out with. The inclusion of veteran actor (and former audio-only Doctor Who actor) David Warner as professor Grisenko especially stood out. I’m not sure if it was the adorable grandfatherly wacko-vibe (the one that made me love Wilf so much in season 4) or his love for new wave music that I enjoyed so much, but Warner delivered the goods. I’m one of probably four people who have yet to watch the blockbuster show Game of Thrones, but I hear Liam Cunningham is quite good in it. I’m not familiar with him much aside from smaller roles, but if his stint as Captain Zhukov is any indication, he is pretty good.

On a side note while we are discussing the ship’s crew: That the guy that originally released the Ice Warrior from the block of ice was comically inept to such a hilarious degree, I’m amazed that he didn’t inadvertently kill the entire crew long before the Doctor even showed up. He causes the whole catastrophe simply because he couldn’t wait to see the mammoth they found, and took a blowtorch to it like a naughty child on Christmas Eve peeking at their presents.

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The way the whole episode was put together was very good. I really enjoyed the script, which is amazing since it was penned by Mark Gatiss. I’m no Gatiss hater by any stretch of the imagination, but he has had troubles for some reason or another doing solid scripts for the new series. I loved The Unquiet Dead, but was let down in most of his other episodes. Cold War contained his old-school sensibility and his attention to historical detail very well, and unlike Victory of the Daleks, it didn’t fall apart in the end. The direction was very well done as well and retained the cinematic feel that Douglas McKinnon got so right in The Power of Three. The claustrophobic feel of all the steamy, drippy submarine corridors and the attention to shadows and darkness gave this episode a nice nod to the Ridley Scott Film Alien.

Cold War is quite possibly the best episode this half of the season so far. Keeping the tense mood and claustrophobic vibe ramped up to eleven was great, as it really helped the “mini-film” nature pop out. Skaldak is a great adversary for the Doctor, and I really hope we see him again at some point. His honor code mixed with his refreshingly real emotions and motives are a nice change for a show usually populated with villains that are evil for the sake of being evil. You really feel for the guy, even though he decides to handle his predicament pretty poorly, but honor wins out in the end. He honestly reminds me of Klingon characters throughout the many Star Trek shows. While they are usually the antagonists of any given story, rarely are they doing any action solely based on bad intentions alone. That’s what makes them so iconic in that universe, and I hope this carries over to Doctor Who. Move over Sontarans, I think the show has rediscovered its resident “Klingons”.

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In closing, I really hope that professor Grisenko is still alive in the modern Doctor Who world and is enjoying the recently re-united Ultravox; hopefully he never gave up hope after they broke up around the same time as the fall of the Soviet Union!

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

“She’s just a girl. How can she be? She can’t be. She is. She can’t be. She’s not possible.”

–The Doctor about Clara

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten is an odd Doctor Who episode. In the first seconds, the show treats us to The Doctor essentially stalking Clara through time. We can assume that he has become completely obsessed with her mystery at this point, especially when he utters the quote that I started this review out with. Most notable of these events, he witnesses her parent’s first meeting a.k.a the origin of that leaf that she keeps tucked away in her journal – a plot point we saw last episode. Back in the 1980’s Clara’s father nearly died when he was struck in the face by a huge leaf in a gust of wind. This freak accident of nature nearly caused him to be hit by a car had it not been for Clara’s mother jumping to the rescue. Aside from the tear-jerking prologue, the episode seemed eerily reminiscent of another second outing for a companion – The Beast Below. I was willing to write it off completely as “fluff” to be quite honest until the final act, a section where we may have witnessed one of Matt Smith’s finest moments for the show.

The Dynamic duo of the Doctor and Clara decide to visit the densely populated rock-strewn rings around the planet Akhaten to show Clara some crazy alien races. This scene plays out a bit like the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars film, in that the make-up department got to go crazy and make a TON of one-off aliens. They realize that they need transport around the asteroid bazaar, so they attempt to secure a space moped with hilarious results. Before The Doctor becomes predictably separated from Clara, we find out an important nugget of information – the Akhaten market doesn’t use hard currency but rather trades in items of sentimental value.

The Queen of Years
The Queen of Years

The Doctor vanishes leaving Clara to get in the middle of a situation involving a runaway queen being stalked by creepy henchmen. This queen is a little girl named Merry, or the “Queen of Years” as she is known by her people, and she is running away from her responsibilities of singing at a ceremony. Clara reassures her that everything will be okay, but doesn’t exactly understand the whole situation. It seems that this planet practices a constant song to keep an ancient evil asleep, and Merry fears that her ruining the song will cause it to wake up. And guess what? It wakes up!

This episode would have been VERY short had the main focus not been the ill-fated ceremony that Merry was so worried about. In an odd turn of events, we get to see the entire “Feast of Offerings”, full of chanting, singing, and kneeling. While this may sound bad to the casual reader, I feel that this saved a somewhat bland episode. This hasn’t been the first time that a heartfelt song has saved an episode in my opinion, as a third season episode called Gridlock hit its climax in a similar manner. The song that was sung was utterly beautiful, and I hope to get it on my iPod as soon as I can.

These guys could have been so cool...
These guys could have been so cool…

I think I’ll now address my main problem with this episode – “bad guy confusion”. I think the biggest blight of the whole thing is the coolness of the alien guards “The Vigil” and their criminal under-use in the episode. When we first see them, they are hunting Merry through dark corridors using a creepy voice that could stop anyone in their tracks – “MERRY WHEREEEE AREEEE YOOOUUU!” Aside from a few scenes here and there, that’s all we get. The monster confusion doesn’t end there as we have a mummified sleeping monster that we assume is the “big bad” only to have it revealed that he is simply some sort of overseer to the real villain. To be honest I wasn’t sure of the relationship between the two creatures myself. Maybe we can think of “old beef jerky alien” as one of the “Heralds of Galactus” from Marvel comics, as the real villain is of a similar scale – the actual sun of the planet system. Come to find out these people have been blindly sacrificing folks to the “parasite sun god” for a while, only to have The Doctor take a stand and stop the bloodshed.

In a move that pulled at my Gnostic heart strings, The Doctor stands up for the poor people that cower in fear of a being that calls itself a God. He berates the planet-sized memory-eating Demiurge for all he is worth. I honestly think that this was one of the best bits of Doctor Who dialog EVER, and it really changed my mind about this episode.  The Doctor is never short of thunderous monologues, but for some reason this one really stood out to me:

“Okay then. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll tell you a story.

Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgement. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, SACRIFICED themselves, to you! …can you hear them singing?

Oh, you like to think you’re a God. But you’re not a God; you’re just a parasite. Eat now, with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others, you FEED on them, on the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and SORROW!

So.

So…

Come on then… Take mine. Take my memories. But I hope you’ve got a big appetite, because I’ve lived a long life and I’ve seen a few things. I walked away from the last great time war, I marked the passing of the time lords, I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out… Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time no space, just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. And I watched universes freeze and creations burn, I have seen thing you wouldn’t believe, I have lost things you will never understand and I know things; secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on then! Take it! Take it all baby! Have it! You have it all!”

— The Doctor whooping verbal ass

 

All in all, I liked this episode, but for some unorthodox reasons based on my own religious faith and my taste in music. The actual ending where Clara killed the monster with her leaf was a bit “Deus Ex Machina” in my opinion, but that’s nothing new in genre television. The actual script didn’t really have a lot of content to be honest, and it was far too similar to earlier episodes for my tastes. This was of course saved by the special effects, the casting, the music, and the acting by Jenna and Matt. Next week is an episode that could be a contender for my most anticipated episode this year –Cold War!

The most important leaf in the universe!
The most important leaf in the universe!

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

It’s that time of year again! With the turkey-filled memories of a Christmas long gone fading from my mind, and the pitter patter of Easter bunny footsteps upon the grass outside my apartment, there can only be one explanation – New episodes of Doctor Who to watch! I have been pretty excited for this half-season as the previous two episodes starring Jenna-Louise Coleman have been spot on. Asylum of the Daleks was easily my favorite episode in the first half of this season, and the last Christmas special, The Snowmen, was easily my favorite Christmas special of the lot.  I’m not sure if it can be chalked up to Steven Moffat’s writing or the fact that something just “clicks” with Jenna as Clara.

The Bells of St. John is an episode that really breaks no new ground. At its heart, one could honestly chalk it up as being a retread of an earlier Russell T. Davies penned episode Partners in Crime. Both featured the Doctor meeting a companion that he had met once before, both had a somewhat ineffectual villain, and both were set in contemporary London. The difference is that, unlike “Bells”, Partners in Time suffered from being seen as a “romp” episode, a sometimes pejorative term applied to fluffy one-off episodes that have no real substance. I think the main difference here is that this episode is more of a character piece, a slow burn if you will. There isn’t just a ton of running around and shouting, but the foundation to the unraveling mystery of Clara. Who is she? Why has she shown up in different time periods? Why doesn’t she remember the Doctor if her timeline is linear?

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When we last saw the Doctor in The Snowmen, he was a broken man. He had just lost the two most important people in his life and he wanted be alone and unbothered. With his heart hardening in a similar manner to how he appeared in the very first episode nearly 50 years ago, it took Clara’s appearance to give him new purpose. The task of unraveling her mystery and protecting her. This episode opens with the Doctor in quiet contemplation in a Cumbrian monastery. It seems that he has spent a Loooong time (Long enough that legends have built up around him, wait I thought he didn’t want that!) pondering those very same aforementioned questions. We are alerted to the fact that the “Bells of Saint John” are ringing, a clever way to describe the phone on his Tardis ringing, you know the same Tardis that has a “St. John’s ambulance” sticker on it. On the other end is coincidentally Clara asking for tech support to log onto the internet.  It seems that “some lady” gave Clara his number if she ever needed help. Curiouser, and Curiouser….

Long story short: The Doctor finds Clara and they fight off a threat by a group housed in a newer London landmark called “The Shard”. This villain is only heard in voice for the majority of the episode, and is known simply as “The Client” by the group of renegade IT professionals it employs.  They send out their robotic “Spoonheads” as walking Wi-Fi waypoints and wreak havoc. Their plan has a very Idiot Lantern vibe to it, but instead of feeding on TV viewers, the client wants to digitize human souls and use them as slaves and presumably food. In a shocking twist we find out that the villain is actually none other than The Great Intelligence, a classic villain that we last saw at Christmas time as played by Richard E. Grant.

While I know I will be crucified by all the David Tennant fans out there, but I think Matt Smith is slowly becoming my favorite Doctor. To me, he is on the verge of almost “perfecting” the role of the Doctor; just the right amount of darkness, wit, curiosity and even intelligence. He honestly reminds me of a weird conglomeration of the traits found in the Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton Doctors – both favorites of mine.

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John was a solid, if not somewhat low-key episode. Both Smith and Coleman have done a great job with their respective characters carrying an episode that was not hinged on spectacle like most season openers. If this episode, and the trailer for the other upcoming episodes, is any indication of the season’s quality; I feel that this season will be great.

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Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

While the novelty of having a title such as X on a(n) X (ex: Snakes on a Plane) would have been more topical in 2006, it does show exactly what we are getting here: a fun “romp” episode that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. With how serious and well-layered the previous episode was, this stands as a stark counter-balance to Asylum of the Daleks with all the “in your face” zaniness that is usually reserved for comedy episodes. I know a lot of fans dislike episodes like this, but I generally like them. As you will see, there is a dark edge here as well, not just fluff.

The plot centers on an unidentified spacecraft that is found to be hurling towards earth, this of course freaks out many Earth-based agencies including the Indian Space Agency. The Doctor is enlisted by the ISA to “take care of it” so that they can stop any sort of crisis with it crashing. The Doctor needs a “Gang” to check it out, so who better to enlist than the legendary Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter named Riddell, and “the Ponds”. They find out that the ship is an ancient Silurian “ark” full of dinosaurs, and fun ensues.

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This episode is notable for introducing a new character – Rory’s father, as played by Mark Williams of Harry potter fame. Brian (Rory’s dad) is sucked into the whole situation completely accidentally, and the first truly humorous scene involves The Doctor’s reaction to his presence. When the Doctor picks up “The Ponds” Brian is helping Rory fix a light bulb just as the Tardis shows up and materialized around all three of them. The Doctor does not in fact notice Brian until way later when they are leaving the Tardis. He assumes some random person walked into the Tardis. It’s never explained how the two don’t seem to have ever met despite the zany antics The Doctor was up to at Amy and Rory’s wedding, but I guess he could have been absent. In The Big Bang, we clearly meet Amy’s parents, but Rory’s family appears to be his siblings or something. I guess it’s a mystery we will never know the answer to!

Another Harry Potter Alumni takes the stage as the villain of the piece – David Bradley as Solomon. As with many Doctor Who villains, Solomon is initially not the antagonist of the piece, but reveals himself in the third act. His initial story is that the problems are all related to the fact that his legs have been mauled by raptors and his “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” of the robot world (as played by the double act –Mitchell & Webb) have been insufficient in helping him out. Once we realize that he wants to capture “Neffy” for his collection we learn the real truth. Solomon is basically a space pirate and has killed all the Silurians on board and a lot of the dinosaurs. He was trying to figure out a way to monetize the dinos before the accident happened, just as the “Gang” shows up.

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What happens next has divided fans of the show, but is not without precedent. The Doctor, realizing how truly evil Solomon is, sets it up so that Solomon is killed by a slew of missiles launched by the ISA. He doesn’t give him a second chance or anything; he basically says “your dead!” and leaves him to his fate. Many internet fans flipped out because of this, partially because many were lead to see the Doctor as a pacifist “space Jesus” up through the first few seasons, but having this view is a mistake. I could list a number of times where the Doctor essentially murders people, but there is no more telling instance than the very first serial of the show. At one point The Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, has to be stopped from smashing a caveman’s skull in with a huge rock simply because he “was slowing them down”. The doctor has a dark side, and being away from companions makes him like this. Hopefully this is a theme further explored!

All in all, I really liked this episode. It isn’t the most intellectual stimulating episode out there, but it’s a fun episode none-the-less. It was great to see some of Rory’s family in a little bit of detail, and Brian was a great character. He was not as cool as Wilf when it comes to family members of companions, but not many are as awesome as that guy! Chris Chibnall has done some mediocre work on Doctor Who in the past, but this episode was pretty good. Maybe fans can look forward to his second episode this season after all!

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Asylum of the Daleks

If there is one thing that the Daleks have been for the past 50 years, it’s inconsistent. Sometimes Daleks are intelligent, other times they are simply idiotic. Sometimes they are evil, other times they are comical. And the most important: sometimes they are scary, other times they are lame.

Despite my fondness for them firmly placing them above any other Doctor Who villain, it really depends on who the writer is on how these guys are used. Episodes like 2005’s Dalek are instant classics in the minds of many fans, while others such as Daleks In Manhattan come off as camp as a sequined cape. I was surprised to realize that this was showrunner Steven Moffat’s first real foray into these armored squid guys, and for the most part he really nailed it. If anything, he has found that a way to make a monster scary again is to wound it, or drive it crazy. The headless Cyberman armor in The Pandorica Opens is a fine example of this, and in this episode we have an asylum full of the Dalek equivalents.

First thing first, I had no idea that Jenna Louise Coleman was going to be in this episode. For the first time in a VERY long time we had an actual surprise that wasn’t ruined by a big UK newspaper or a questionable write-up in a magazine. Her appearance is a two edged sword though, as I really enjoyed her character, but this is probably not the same character that later shows up later on. Without outright spoiling my reasons for those that have not seen the episode, let’s just say that if it is her – Moffat will have to unleash the “timey wimey” on the show to achieve this.

This episode had it all for fans of older Dalek episodes. Returning, is a human slave class lead by the Daleks, minus the stupid speech pattern that the robomen had, or those dumb helmets from the Davison era. We had a glimmer of the many factions within the Dalek Empire including a new “parliament of the Daleks”. While this was a bit Star Wars-esque (galactic senate anyone?) it achieved a reasonable way to have thousands of Daleks in a room at once. Those thousands of Daleks were very impressive, but failed on one regard. The promise of “Every Dalek Ever Made” wasn’t an outright lie, but one had to play “Where’s Waldo” to see most of them. There was a special weapons model, and a 1960’s model in there from what I could see, but they weren’t features quite as prominently as I had hoped. I bet somebody with far too much free time has spotted them all, but I’m too lazy for that.

All in all, I really liked this episode; it had everything I like about Moffat scripts: mystery, surprises, horror, and a dash of humor. This season, despite how short it this half is, seems to be more up my alley than the previous Christmas episode, and holds the “blockbuster” status teased in the lead-up.