Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 3

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As part of my new posting initiative (posting every day in March!), I hope to do more comic reviews on Sundays, so make sure to check back every weekend to see a review of the next chapter. If you have something you think I should check out for this, feel free to drop a comment. Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time for the task at hand – It’s been a while since I took a look at this crossover to end all crossovers brought to us by IDW Comics. Fans have speculated for years as to which cybernetic villain would prevail in a hypothetical battle between Doctor Who’s cybermen or Star Trek’s Borg, and Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared is just what the doctor ordered. Sadly both armies of zombie androids are still on the same side as of issue three, we’ll see how long that lasts!

To recap the story so far, a Star Fleet outpost on Delta IV has been ransacked by The Borg, only they seem to have new upgrades or another race entirely helping them. This is of course The Cybermen from the Doctor Who universe, and for some reason these seemingly parallel dimensions have crossed allowing both villains to team up. It all starts when The Doctor and Amy Pond find their way into what they think is the past, only for it to be revealed as the Holo-deck on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Shenanigans ensue, and just when everyone is starting to get used to each other, The Enterprise itself gets attacked.

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We finally get to see the new Cyber-controller, a vague term given to a myriad of different high-ranking Doctor Who villains that control the Cybermen. This time it is a Cyberman that has Borg implants. One only assumes that this new leader has assumed the roles of both Cyber-Controller and The Hive Queen, which is a  terrifying thought! Captain Jean Luc Picard and crew scour their Star Fleet archives to see if there is any record of so called “Cyber Men” and come up with a few sparse records of contact with the NCC-1701 Enterprise commanded by none other than Captain James T. Kirk.

This scene made me chuckle a bit because it was sort of like Commander Data ran a Google Image Search for “Cybermen” and read off of a Wikipedia page or something. I guess the internet doesn’t change too much in the next few hundred years! This old-school crossover should be no surprise if you saw the awesome cover that this book is sporting. The Doctor collapses in pain as if he is just remembering something – his first encounter with the Star Trek crew!

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The next few pages of flash-backs are pretty fun, and the entire tone of the comic shifts with the new setting. Gone are the painted panels by J.K. Woodward, replaced by vaguely “retro” ones depicting Kirk and Co. battling 1970’s Cybermen alongside The Doctor as portrayed by Tom Baker. I really enjoyed all of the tropes like Kirk trying to fight the Cybermen with his patented “double axe-handle” punch we’ve seen so much in the show. Also quite humorous was Mr. Spock finding out what Jelly babies are.

At the end of this issue, were still not sure what has exactly brought these two world together, but one can assume that some sort of time travel is happening considering The Doctor both remembers his time with Kirk and remembers not remembering it. Perhaps a cyberman slipped dimensions and ended up in Star trek? Who knows right now, but hopefully we’ll find out soon. Perhaps that is the most refreshing thing about Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared – unlike most crossover events, the tone of the book doesn’t seem to be preoccupied with a lead up to some massive battle, but a mystery of how exactly the cross-over even happened.

The  next issue should be pretty awesome considering Guinan knows pretty much everything, it’ll be interesting to see if she knows about Time Lords and Cybermen.

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Who is Karen Gillan Playing in The Guardians of the Galaxy?

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Fans that saw the recently released trailer for Marvel’s new sci-fi/superhero epic, The Guardians of the Galaxy, may or may not have noticed a familiar face. Yup, Doctor Who fans may have noticed an appearance by Amy Pond herself in tons of blue makeup! People unfamiliar with somewhat obscure Marvel Comics characters may have no clue as to who Karen Gillan is actually playing, the significance of said character, and whether she is good or bad. My goal today is to be a little help! Well, she’s definitely a bad guy, perhaps really bad depending on how the script lays her character out!

Before we get rolling, here’s that trailer, just in case anybody has been under a rock all week:

This character is named Nebula, and she is a feared space pirate that has destroyed entire planets in her various battles throughout many of the more  “space-themed” comics Marvel has churned out over the years. At various points, she has claimed to be none other than the very granddaughter of Thanos. Wait, Thanos? Who’s that?

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Remember that guy at the end of the Avengers that smiled at the camera? That’s Thanos. One thing many non-comic fans may be missing is that all of these Marvel Cinematic Universe films are leading up to what I can only assume is a film depicting the famous comic story The Infinity Gauntlet, where big ol’ Mr. T. up there manages to collect a series of gems that give him unlimited power. As of the end of Thor: The Dark World, Thanos has access, through his various minions, to TWO of these six gems. One can only assume that Nebula has been sent to secure the third.

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I have no idea if they plan on hyping up the possible granddaughter-grandfather relationship between the two, but it would be an interesting way to sneak more info to casual fans about “who that purple dude was”.  Seeing as Benicio Del Toro (The Collector) also appears in TGotG, she may just be a random assassin type character working for him.

I tried to find a video of some sort to show what Nebula has been like in other media, and sadly all I could find was an episode of this mid-90’s Silver Surfer cartoon that coincidentally also stars Drax The Destroyer, a character that also features in TGotG. You can skip to around 3 minutes in to see her.

So there we have it! Nebula could be a VERY big role for Karen Gillan, as playing someone that could feature in more movies might make her a big Hollywood action star. Then again they could kill her off in mere seconds for all I know. That’s what makes speculation fun!

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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 – Storm Warning

I remember being excited to import a copy of the Doctor Who television movie directly from the UK back when I got back into the show back in 2004. I had just purchased a region-less DVD player from China, and wanted to show everyone just how much of a nerd I could truly be. I had heard bad things about this movie, things that gave me absolutely no hope for it whatsoever. The movie could have been worse, but Eric Roberts basically ruined the whole thing for me; a fact that leads me to wish any character he plays in a movie the worst outcome possible. Remember that scene in The Dark Knight when Batman causes Roberts (as Sal Marone) to break both legs?  Tears of pure joy from this guy.

Aside from a few bits of questionable dialog, that weren’t his fault, I have always felt that Paul McGann would have been an awesome Doctor had he been allowed to hang onto the role longer than a 90 minute Television movie. Thankfully all memories of The Doctor being half-human and Eric Roberts in a silly outfit were washed away the moment I booted up Storm Warning from Big Finish. Here is the official Synopsis for Paul McGann’s triumphant return to the Tardis:

October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R1010, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.

Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…

The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.

The Eighth Doctor was definitely an underrated version of the character. Not only did he feel cheerful and somewhat goofy, but he definitely had a romantic and adventurous side; these are traits not really seen for a long while in the television show. The eighth Doctor definitely looked to be more of an Indiana Jones type of character, and that definitely is the case in this revival. I’m a fan of the darker Doctor’s as well, but the wide-eyed swashbuckling, name-dropping, and most importantly – fun Doctor is what I like the most; this could be why I seem to like Matt Smith’s take on the character so much. I did try to get into a few of the BBC Eighth Doctor Books at one point, but found quite a few of them to be depressing, pretentious, and a bit too un-Doctor Who for my liking. I’m glad that the continuity Big Finish has created at this point seems to have nothing to do with those books, as I probably would not have liked them much.

What we see here, is both a re-introduction of The Doctor and the appearance of a new companion. This story does a great job of tackling both tasks, and is as good as Rose in the regard that it does not get bogged down by its own baggage and keeps the story moving. What I mean by this is that we don’t have a long winded passage where we find out what happened to Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, as this is definitely not needed; this was one problem I have had with the newer BBC wales series as the writing tends to have the Doctor constantly talk about his previous companions (Like Rose), and in the case of a character such as Martha Jones, it really hurts the narrative. The new companion in question is Charley Pollard, a tomboy-ish girl that fashions herself to be an “Edwardian Adventurer”. Charley seems to be the perfect foil alternative to many classic female Who companions, and comes across as independent and strong, not just a shrieking character that always gets in trouble (Susan, Mel, etc..)

This drama seems to share a bit with the later Steven Moffat televised episodes of the show in that Charley is shown to be troublesome to time itself in the same way that Amy Pond seems to be. Since the Doctor plucked her from a large scale historical event, (the crashing of the R101), her mere existence afterwards is a paradox and causes him problems from then on. I like this little subplot, as it give any later audio dramas a plot to latch onto, rather than them just being a set of unrelated adventures.

The actual plot of this story involves the doomed flight of the R101 dirigible, and much in the old Doctor Who fashion it is explained that such a catastrophe was somehow caused by aliens and the Doctor was there. We have seen this with the Titanic, The London fires, Pompeii, and basically any other disaster! The aliens in question are the Triskele, which are described as being “dolphin-like” I’m not sure how literally to take the comment as the description given during the play could also describe our typical view of “grey” aliens, but since there are no pictures that I know of, I imagined them as such. This could be my only fault with the play that I could find – there is a lack of descriptive remarks that give an idea of the way that characters and such look. This isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, but I would have liked a few more “that looks like a dolphin” type remarks to solidify any impressions I had gained.

Storm Warning is a great beginning to a new series of Doctor Who dramas and kept me entertained the whole way through. This play has definitely re-kindled my like for the eighth incarnation of The Doctor, minus all the crap from the TV movie. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

TV Review – Review – Doctor Who: The Beast Below

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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!