Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014)

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Oh, well you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. Yes, she doesn’t wanna stand there watch us getting shot, does she? She’d be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”

My apologies for being so behind on these reviews! My plan was to watch and review each of these on Sunday, but boy did that get away from me. Nonetheless, let’s get down to business. Season eight of Doctor Who continues to be pretty awesome, and while there have been a few merely average episodes this season, I’d say it has been the most consistent season since Matt Smith’s season five. So far, my favorite story has been Listen, which was a total surprise to me because I didn’t expect to enjoy it much. So, why am I mentioning this during my review of Kill The Moon? It’s because I didn’t think I’d enjoy Kill The Moon prior to the moment I started actually watching it. I thought something like: “Not only does it have a silly title, but what could the premise possibly be?” and “that child actor is in this…uh oh!” I should do this prior to everything I watch, because BOY was a mistaken.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Our episode begins with Clara speaking on behalf of Courtney Woods, the girl from the previous episode – The Caretaker, attempting to rejoin The Doctor within the Tardis, or to at least clean up the horrible mess she made when she was last there. The Doctor decides to take them up on the offer and go on a “field trip of sorts”. This trip lands them on a one-way suicide mission to The Moon via a re-purposed space shuttle filled to the brim with nuclear warheads. It seems that in 2049 tides got out of hand killing much of the Earth’s population. Not sure what was really going on, the earth somehow decided that it was a great idea to nuke the moon for a chance at survival. It is discovered that the moon is actually a huge egg that is about to hatch, and the moral implications of killing a huge “space baby” for no reason other than fear upsets Clara quite a bit. The Doctor is willing to let this transpire, but he wants no involvement in the decision – leaving it up to Clara, Courtney and The captain of the mission to figure out the fate of the moon – and possibly humanity.

The “monster of the week” for this episode is actually pretty horrifying and should play on anyone with any sort of arachnophobia. There are some truly unsettling things on the moon like the deaths of multiple supporting characters and web-covered corpses strewn about for quick jumps. I’d imagine that this is an episode that would freak little kids out pretty bad, because I recall being horrified by the titular hand in The Hand of Fear, and that was a cheap special effect in comparison to these guys. Not only are the “Spider-germs” pretty menacing in appearance, but their brutality is so inhumane that it’s unsettling. It was sort of silly that they were fought off using Windex and flashlights (it’s revealed that they are evolved bacteria essentially), but I guess other films have done stuff like that to critical success, so I’ll try not to be too cynical.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Thankfully my fears about Ellis George reprising her role as Courtney Woods were not realized. I’m not going to say that she blew me away with her acting ability, or that she was the highlight of the episode, but she at least kept from annoying me. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! Child actors usually get placed in shows like this as the “moody genius kid” or “sassy street-wise kid” and become almost insufferable ten minutes into their first appearance. Courtney is no Wesley Crusher or Adric thankfully, as she doesn’t simply exist to be sassy and spout one-liners or try to make other characters look dumb.

We once again are faced with the question as to whether The Doctor is a good man or not, and this seems like the ultimate iteration of this ongoing theme. Channeling his inner Seventh Doctor, The Doctor seemingly ends up abandoning everyone in order to force them to choose whether or not to blow up the moon. This is sort of similar to that time Sylvester McCoy‘ Doc treated Ace like garbage to get her to loose faith in him in order to defeat the monster in The Curse of Fenric. Peter Capaldi is once again very awesome, and usually straddles the line between being hilarious and terrifying at the drop of a hat.

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Clara once again yells at the Doctor in this story, and while I like the character development I hope this begins to be the end of this theme. The Doctor is a jerk, yes, but we have seen him warming in the last few episodes to a degree that I just want them to be friends now.

I did get sort of irritated when I ventured online to gauge what the general fan consensus to this episode was like. Most seemed to enjoy it, but a loud minority seemed determined to hate it because of the scientific implausibility of the the whole thing. Sure, it’s weird that the moon was revealed to be a giant space egg, but it’s not like Doctor Who is particularly “hard” on the scale of what sort of science fiction it is, it’s always been more of a space opera. But there I was, knee-deep in annoying comments saying “the classic series was ONLY grounded in science!!”. This is laughable, because I can immediately think of TONS of older episodes with laughable science. Hell, my favorite Hartnell episode, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, centers on the premise that the Daleks have somehow made it to Earth because Earth is the only planet with a magnetic core. What followed was a plan that involved hollowing the earth out and flying it around like a spaceship. So any notion that, prior to 2005, Doctor Who was in a similar vein to something like Gravity is, quite frankly, laughable.

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This episode is pretty notable for how amazing it looks, considering I’ve seen big budget films that do a worse job of conveying the lunar surface than this. The episode was under the helm of two newcomers to the show, as it was written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. They are both formerly BAFTA nominated industry veterans, so it seems like a great choice to bring them both on board. Many lunar shots were filmed around a volcanic area in Lanzarote, Spain, which seems like a great stand-in for the actual lunar surface. It’s at least a far cry from the “rock quarry” planets we get used to in many science fiction TV shows.

The story is also pretty intelligently written, seeing that it seems to be a commentary on our penchant to kill anything we don’t like, issues with funding for space travel, and to a lesser degree – abortion. These are all pretty mature themes for a show like this, and I felt that it was handled in such a way that adults can see these sorts of things, and kids will just enjoy the monsters. In the episode, The Doctor reveals that because of the brief re-interest in what happened with the Moon, humanity would be rekindled to travel to the stars, helping them to spread across the universe, and then assures Lundvik that she will now have a real space program to lead. With constant set-backs to manned space travel as of late, I can see Lundvik’s space travels in a very similar vein to how it is now – we don’t travel out of wonder or discovery, but because of the opposite. It’s a pretty epic ending to a Doctor Who episode, and makes me wish a similar thing would happen in real life – minus the apocalyptic tsunamis of course.

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As you can see, I really enjoyed Kill the Moon. I think it’s another one of those episodes, like Listen, that seemed like it was going to be a totally different thing than what it ended up being, and it’s this playfulness with the format of the show that has made me love season 8. In fact, the few times I thought an episode was sort of lame, was when they followed older conventions to a fault. I loved all of the throwbacks to Tom Baker, especially small partial quotes that he was notable for like “Earth isn’t my home” and his use of a Yo-yo as a scientific experiment. The next episode looks amazing,so I’lll end my review here, and hopefully I’ll get caught up before this run of episodes stops!

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Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Should there be a Hollywood Doctor Who movie?

NO.

I guess I’ll elaborate: The recent news of the (now confirmed as bogus) preliminary production on a big theatrical Doctor Who film had me both excited and worried. I’ve seen what happens when a “movie” version of the franchise gets made, and although Peter Cushing Tried his best, those were some “craptacular” films to be honest. The budget was bloated to the point where some guy obviously said “the TV show doesn’t have color, so let’s jack this thing to the brim with so much color that even Liberace will find it garish and unappealing…”

More proof that using garish colors is not better

This combined with a need to “change the story to fit the medium” and other movie-maker B.S. led to a product that didn’t feel like the show it was based on, and somehow seemed “cheaper” than a show that was filmed in a flea infested backlot for the first few years. I know that if I had even seen the movies at the height of “Dalekmania” back in the 60’s I might have loved it, but I’m a jaded Gen X /Gen Y guy and both movies bore the pants off of me. It really doesn’t help that my favorite episode of classic Doctor Who is The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the basis for the second film.

So anyway, there have been rumblings for a few years now that there would be a big budget Doctor Who film at some point. The sheer shock of this sentiment was only made worse when big nerdy websites started suggesting “dream casting” with actors such as Johnny Depp that were somehow in the running to play the Doctor. It seemed that someone had missed the point and we were in line for Depp’s bizarre take on a classic fictional character. “Sweet!” I thought to myself “we’ll get a Tim Burton directed Doctor with a loud cross between a camp homosexual accent and British accent, and insane clothes just to make sure people know he’s eccentric! And maybe Danny Elfman can do the soundtrack!!” This was of course sarcasm as that would be nearly unwatchable.

UGH!

It’s not that I don’t want something like this to ever happen, it’s just that Hollywood has a habit of jumping onto something popular, raping it for all it’s worth, then dropping it in the gutter if it fails to be the next Avatar. I could come up with one-hundred examples where this has happened, but I’ll run with another UK-based TV show to film conversion: the mid-90’s Bean Movie. I always liked the Mr. Bean episodes that ran on PBS around that time, I guess it had something of a U.S. resurgence then due to HBO frequently running the episodes, and plans were made to create a movie for American Audiences. Suddenly the title character, as played by Rowan Atkinson, was sidelined as the main character and everything was Americanized. There was nothing particularly wrong about the new characters added in, but let’s be honest here, nobody cared about an uptight American family; all they wanted to see was Mr. Bean. It was like watching a high school theater version of a Shakespeare play; the spirit was there, but everything seemed off. The movie did poorly as a result, and thank the lord that a real Mr. Bean movie came out later, one that felt like a continuation of the show.

This is what would happen with Doctor Who. The Hollywood producers would cast aside everything that makes it what it is in favor of trying to make a new audience. Last time I checked this cross-global whitewashing and repackaging has NEVER worked aside from a few Japanese horror films!

Luckily these tweets make me feel better:

(Twitter Images floating around on the net, not sure original source)

“If, and when, the movie happens it will need to star television’s Doctor Who — and there’s only ever one of those at a time. And it would need to come out of the same production operation that makes the series … Doctor Who is a vitally important BBC brand with a huge international audience and not even Hollywood can start this one from scratch. So sorry if there’s been any confusion, but on the plus side it has reminded us all what an exciting prospect this could be.”

Survivors Episode 2 (2008) Reaction

The one thing I find most disturbing about post-apocalyptic television shows and movies is the way the film makers can make a normally crowded area look desolate and destroyed. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is an old William Hartnell serial called The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the second episode featuring the metallic pepper pots, and as a result of their new found popularity, the production team opted for some on-location exterior shooting. This resulted in an incredibly grim look at London after the Daleks enslaved mankind, complete with an abandoned Trafalgar Square and other London Landmarks full of patrolling Daleks. This same unsettling image is done to a fine degree in the second episode of BBCs Survivors, as we finally see some of the aftermath of the plague. As far as one can see, there are emptied shopping centers, urban blight (most likely from a riot), overturned cars, and wreckage strewn about. These kinds of shows really rely on this sort of visual desolation to look good, and Survivors gets an A+.

We do see our first antagonists of this series in a rival group of survivors with different views on how to stay alive. While our star group hope that everyone will play nice and live in happiness, the truth is that situations like this really do bring out the worst in humanity. This opposition group has laid claim to large portions of territory, especially a well-stocked supermarket. When the survivors come across this they are horrified to see people resorting in such a way. After the crazed gasoline thief that ultimately burnt himself so nobody could share with him, and this barbaric lot, I do believe that our main characters have finally realized how life is going to be from here on out.

We also see a side-story of sorts where a woman uses her looks to seduce a man to not only take her in, but to share his enormous warehouse full of supplies with her. He hopes that she will reciprocate with a relationship with him, maybe even a sexual one; sadly, she is just leading him on. She lures him with promises of a worldwide distribution business for their stock, and he buys it whole-sale. I’m not sure if this character ends up being bigger than she is, but I could see them using her to drive a wedge within the survivor ranks.

Once again, the acting in this episode is superb, and a special nod goes to Anthony Flanagan as Dexter, the leader of the aforementioned gang of thugs. From his greasy hair, to his pale complexion, and his evil demeanor, they really couldn’t have picked a better actor for the job. He’s going to be the guy in the show that any sane viewer is going to root for some misfortune to befall. As for the rest of the cast, I do wish a few of the other survivors would get fleshed out a bit more. Anya, Al, and Najid immediately come to mind in this case. As this is only the second episode, I can imagine that this will come with time.

All in all, this was another fine episode of Survivors. Hopefully the show keeps this quality up and doesn’t resort to either a cheap ending like the Hollywood version of I am Legend or a super preachy one either.