Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fear Her - "Nobody else in this entire galaxy's ever even bothered to make edible ball bearings. Genius."

Fear Her (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 11 (Overall Series Story #176)

No ... don't. Don't do that.
Fan consensus is that this one is crap. It is spectacularly stupid. I wouldn't have sat through it again if I hadn't undertaken this project and wasn't thrilled with the idea of trying to find other ways to point out what's bad about it besides what Sandifer says in the post I linked in the previous sentence. So I won't, the criticism is amply covered. I'm not going to try to make a defense of this one though either, except to say it's not as hard to sit through again as I feared it would be.

In the beginning, it's actually not that bad. I mean, it manages to veer from creepy to whimsical before unleashes the scribble monster and proceeds to faceplant. So, without getting bogged down in how freaking ridiculous the Olympics stuff is, and how poorly the situation of the abused child hosting a lonely alien is handled, let's review the few things that worked and if any of the throwaway lines are worth digging into for trivial purposes.

The TARDIS landing between two blue bins facing the wrong way hit home for me, as my wife, bless her heart, loves nothing so much as to park so close to my car that I can't open my door to get in when I'm heading out to work in the morning. The next time I have to go in through my passenger door, I'll remember how the TARDIS parked them here and just smile.

Not that way, you don't.
Reminiscing about the 1948 London Olympics, the Doctor says, "Last one they had in London was dynamite. Wembley, 1948. I loved it so much, I went back and watched it all over again. Fella carrying the torch. Lovely chap, what was his ... ?" OK, well, here's a start. Who was the final torch bearer for the 1948 Olympics? It was a quarter miler named John Mark. Ahh, you say, John Mark. And that means ... ? Nothing to me. Maybe there's some kind of story around how Mark was chosen, some controversy or bit of intrigue? If so I can't find it.

The Doctor and Rose pass a Shayne Ward poster and Rose quips it must be near future. That went straight over my head, so I looked up Mr. Ward to see if he was real or something like the fake band mentioned in "An Unearthly Child," and learned he won a season of X Factor, which I gather is another of those glammed up karaoke shows. I guess we can smirk a bit at Rose, played by a teen pop idol from a few years past, slagging another manufactured pop star, but I'm not sure there's anything there to warrant anything more than a smirk.

Then there's the bit about the little silver spherical sprinkles I haven't seen in ages but remember having on cupcakes when I was a kid, the edible ball bearings referenced in the title of this post. Haven't seen those in ages. Are those still used on anything? If so are they still rock hard tooth enamel chippers?

When the Doctor is confronted by an angry dad, he pretends to be a cop with his partner: "See, look! I've got a colleague! Lewis." That's got to be an Inspector Morse reference, right?

Finally, as a dog man (that is to say, a guy who prefers dogs to cats in the great animal companion debate), the Doctor's disdain for the cat that goes into a box and draws the short straw in the Schrödinger experiment is another smirk-worthy moment. "No, I'm not really a cat person. Once you've been threatened by one in a nun's wimple, it kind of takes the joy out of it," he tells Rose, referring to their recent adventure on New Earth.

Yeah, it's a clunker, or worse, but at least it had a few things that didn't make me groan. And, luckily, the next two stories are great fun so this one didn't leave a bad taste for long.

Let's Kill Hitler - "Well, she did kill me, and then she used her remaining lives to bring me back. As first dates go, I'd say that was mixed signals."

Let's Kill Hitler (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 6, Episode 8 (Overall Series Story #219)

In which we meet Mels, friend of Amelia Pond and Rory Williams. Mels was, by way of a reminder, the girl who escaped the astronaut suit having been conditioned to kill the Doctor. So she sought out her parents, befriended them, and engineered her opportunity to assasinate him. The Doctor, nearly dead from poison (apparently one more lethal to Time Lords than cyanide) manages to change psychopathic Melody/River's heart. The story of Melody Pond/River Song is nothing if not demented and complex.

The problem with this story, one of them anyways, is the story of River Song is too jumbled up, in my opinion, to be properly untangled in a way that ever feels coherent. Yes, it can be mapped out and we can understand her motivations at points along the way, but she ultimately feels like a stunted character, one defined by her feelings about the Doctor, and how he uses her. He marries her, we're told he he loves her, but it never comes together. Not that I dislike the character, I'm fond of her despite the way the Doctor, and the series, mistreat her. She's the most complex companion, without ever really being a proper companion, and it would have been great to see the Doctor and River travelling together, doing all the things they mention in passing when they compare notes in other stories. Better perhaps to have seen that than the what we did see, at least after her introduction in the Library.

Here's where we are also introduced to the Teselecta, which will turn out to be the hack the Doctor needs to walk away from Lake Silencio -- where we never believed he was going to die. And that's the real problem with this story, that it's the moving of pieces of in a game that we knew was rigged all along. Nobody wants to play a rigged game, except to see how it was rigged. That's a drama that can build and build, but the answer to the riddle of the story can only satisfy for the instant it is recognized, then the whole thing collapses into itself. All the grandiosity and big scenes of Series 6 ultimately fall flat for me because the structure of the season was such that it asked us to walk a hallway where we knew there was a trapdoor, then pretend to be surprised when it opened under us.

Not that this season doesn't deliver some thrills, like the preceding story from which this story picks right up as almost a two-parter. Psychopathic, freshly regenerated River set loose in 1938 Berlin is an audacious move and she gets to shake things up a bit. Telling a bunch of Nazis she was on her way to a gay, gypsy Bar Mitzvah before blasting them with her regeneration energy feels like it could have been an inspiration for Inglorious Basterds. That's some fun stuff.

But with this story picking up from "A Good Man Goes to War" my chief gripe with Series 5 and Series 6 is impossible for me to get around. Consider that the Doctor said this in that story: "No! No! Impossible! It's all running about, sexy fish vampires and blowing up stuff. And Rory wasn't even there at the beginning. Then he was dead, then he didn't exist, then he was plastic. Then I had to reboot the whole universe. Long story. So, technically the first time they were on the Tardis together in this version of reality, was ..." You see what I'm getting at here. Try to make sense of River Song and you've open a can of worms that contains Rory, whose story rivals River's for complexity, and, at the risk of sounding like a dunce, makes it difficult to keep straight what parts of his story were undone and he doesn't know about, or wasn't himself during, or whatever.

"Shut up, Hitler."
Of course time travel stories should be complicated, and I love the idea that the Doctor and River meet at different points in their personal timelines, but that should have been enough; that River is also a baby with a "time head" conditioned by enemies of the Doctor to kill him, is the daughter of his companions, is sort of dead  and stored off in the Library with her expedition mates from that story ... it's just a bit much.

But I've gone off on Moffat's architecting of the series and haven't even got to the bit about how this is the story that uses Hitler as a prop for comedic effect after raising one of the classic time travel paradox questions. Shoving Hitler in a closet and telling him to shut up is funny. The Doctor referencing a brilliant John Cleese (Fawlty Towers-era) moment to Hitler instead of a group German tourists in 1970s Torquay is subtle and appreciated. The Doctor later calls to mind the same bit when he starts flopping his long legs around remniscent of the funny walk Basil used to entertain his guests. But, having the arrival of the Doctor ironically save Hitler's life from the time police operating the Teselecta feels like broad comedy that isn't quite sensitive enough about that resulting in WWII and the Holocaust. Not to say humor can't be brilliant when it's transgressive and tasteless, but this is Doctor Who, not (pulling the the names of comedians that could do this sort of routine well out of a mental hat) Sarah Silverman or Robin Williams. Doctor Who can operate in all kinds of different modes, but I'm not sure that's one it can pull off. Not that trying to be transgressive was what was happening there, that was just more like a careless "wouldn't it be funny if ... ?" moment that should've been thought through a little better.

I mentioned the Doctor being poisoned by River at the top ... how he is saved from that near-death by River may come into play somewhere down the line as the series has to (apparently, if we are to believe Moffat) work its way around the regeneration limit. Or not.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Warriors' Gate - "Now, unless we work very closely together, we could be caught here until the crack of doom. Oh, what's the use? Could I have one of your pickles?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Warriors' Gate - Details

Season 18, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #114) | Previous - Next | Index

Work hard; vacation hard. I may be at Disney World with the family riding the rides and seeing the sites but, at the end of the day, I still like to turn on some Who and chill while the rest of the clan sleeps. Only sometimes, like last night, I'm tapped out and instead of holding my interest, the story I've chosen has a soporific effect. "Warriors' Gate" may reward close watching, but it certainly doesn't captivate.

Praise for JN-T/Bidmead era usually takes the line that they're trying take on some more advanced themes; so, even if the execution falters, they get points for name checking Jung and making reference to the I-Ching. To the extent this encourages young viewers to go off and look up something they may not have been exposed to before, this is a praiseworthy effort. But a show still needs integrate its ideals with a plot and some character development, or at least interesting characters, in order to work. The question for "Warriors' Gate" is: does it deftly weave its thematic content into an interesting story with engaging characters? The answer, unfortunately, is a reclining viewer drifting off and wondering if, between intermittent dips into subconscious realm, whether what's on the screen is more lousy fx work or the DVD glitching.

Biroc dashes through the void. Luckily it has a floor and air.
After an ersatz world tour at sun-drenched Epcot, the flagging tourist is probably not in the best state of mind or body to sit through a serial with cheap representations of leonine time-sensitive psychic enslaved/slavers trotting through a white void with after-images on a glitchy DVD. I'll have to circle back to this one and give it another go when I'm alert and able to watch it without having to skip scenes due to disc or player failures. Which, this review being a bit timey-wimey, I've now done. Back at home, I popped this one back in for another go. I found myself drifting off during it again ... really need to stop laying down when I feel tired if I'm going to remain alert for these less engaging entries ... but I definitely saw more of it and caught some of the scenes I nodded off during last time. No third watch for this one though ... back to Netflix it goes.

This is the story where Romana leaves at the end to help Biroc free his people. That sounds noble and all, but still left me cold. The classic series was never much concerned with giving companions any kind of meaningful send-off, so that they at least tried to make it seem as if Romana was going off to be a version of the Doctor for E-Space is better than many got or will get. Romana's every bit playing the role of a Doctor-in-training throughout this one, particularly in the scene where she steps out of the TARDIS into the void to measure up the crew of the stranded ship who were out walking around with their mass detector.

What really bugged me though was how unsympathetic the Tharils were for an enslaved species. Having enslaved humans in the past, and now being the enslaved species, there's no point at which I felt like Biroc thought there was a problem with slavery except that it was happening to his people now. Romana's going off to help Biroc free his people left me wondering if, upon succeeding, the Tharils would go right back to building another empire on the backs of other slaves.

The Doctor looks out of sorts for most of the story, but we know Tom Baker was ill and not happy in his final season, so that may be some real-life bleeding through. K-9 is forced to comment on how useless he is perceived to be by the production team before being packed off with Romana. It's another undignified turn for our favorite tin disco dog. Adric is this production team's first companion, but they seem to have even less of an idea what to do with him than they did K-9, which points to the mix of hubris and incompetence that dogs the JN-T era. They wanted to strip away the elements of the series they didn't like and replace them with more complex and dark elements, but without any idea how to execute complexity or what makes "dark" ever "cool". The result is a tone that comes across as sullen and bored with itself. This spin through a spottily realized E-Space to pick up Adric and shed K-9 & Romana ends up a treatment is worse than the illness ever was.

You're one to talk, Adric.

Looking for things to like about this one, I will say the time-shifting is a bit daring and surprising. There's a scene where the Doctor is having a feast with the Tharils just as their human slaves unleashed some robot warriors on them which shifts to the Doctor sitting at the table centuries later that felt like the show telling us, "keep up or your going to get left behind," which I quite liked. (The robots have samurai-inspired helmets and are called 'gundan', so I guess somebody was digging their anime.) In that same scene, after a Tharil is rough with a human serving wench, the Doctor over-fills a goblet of wine before knocking it over angrily. "This is no way to run an empire," he remarks with evident disgust. It was the one moment that felt genuine in this story. (I'm not the first to point out that the Doctor might have expressed that there's never a proper way to run an empire, at least inasmuch as the word implies the acquisition of resources by force and through colonization.)

Visually, the fragment of the wall that contains the Tharil keep (bigger on the inside) and the mirror that allows for jumping through time worked for me. As pointed out in About Time, it all feels a bit like Bonnie Tyler video -- I think they actually mentioned Adam Ant, but I was reminded of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- so it's very much of it's time, if not leading it slightly. But when is Doctor Who not? The depiction of the interior of the slavers' spacecraft, and its crew, is also well done, suggesting a grubby version of the future of space travel befitting the society that would trade in slaves.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Day of the Doctor - "I'm the Oncoming Storm, The Bringer of Darkness ... and you're basically just a rabbit, aren't you?"

The Day of the Doctor (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 7, Story 15 *50th Anniversary Special* (Overall Series Story #240) | Previous - Next | Index

Let's get the gushing out of the way first, because there is gushing to be done. That was so cool. Watched it live on the road back from vacation. Then again at home, still too noisy. And then again. Loved it. Best. Multi-Doctor Story. Ever.

OK, got it? I loved it. As I scan my twitter stream it seems we all loved it.

But we've got to admit some of it was just for show and didn't, strictly speaking, make sense. Even acknowledging that ... still, it's possible to love it nonetheless. As I argued with "The Five Doctors," when it's a celebration woven into a story, it helps to be able to take it all in all for what it is. You can choose to deride the celebratory aspects as dramatic failures, and that's certainly valid critical approach, or you can choose to revel in the celebration while you watch the show. The latter's a more difficult tack to take, because you've got to be of two minds in the process, but I think we can manage.

So, I choose to whoop it up that we saw, even if only in glimpses for most, all thirteen iterations of the Doctor in one story!

And yes, they said "all thirteen ..."

Look at 13. Look at him! He's going to be magnificent.
So let's start there before we go back to gushing about Tom Baker coming back! Because he did!

That "all thirteen" feels significant. It feels more significant than when we were told the Doctor died for realz in "The Impossible Astronaut," which never really felt all that significant because we knew that wasn't the end. This though, this could be setting us up for an ending. Moffat has said (though he may have been taking us for a ride) that he's sticking with the twelve regeneration limit so Capaldi's Doctor would seem to have to be the final incarnation. When the Time Lord High Command General remarks that all thirteen of the Doctor are present, he could have just said "thirteen," the "all" qualifier would seem to indicate he has knowledge that these are indeed all the possible Doctors -- as we would expect if the regeneration limit rule applies to him. Perhaps though we shouldn't assume anyone in the High Command would have that sort of knowledge about the Doctor.

Tom Baker as "The Curator"
Now this Curator. Played by Tom Baker (!!) here, the character's name should ring a bell. Or, it should if you've read Summer Falls, because the Doctor has gone by this name before, or will start too soon. Or, didn't at all because Summer Falls is an in-universe book that Clara Oswald and her young charges had read. It got released as a "real" book, sort of a tie-in to the story "The Bells of Saint John." So, what we are to make of a character called 'The Curator' who was a thinly-veiled version of Eleven (Matt Smith's Doctor, who I am still calling Eleven) in the fake book is not an easy thing to parse. But, it can't be coincidence that they bothered to put that book out, call the Doctor by another name in it, and then later bring back Tom Baker to play a character with the same name in the context of being a character who seems to be an iteration of the Doctor, although he can't be due to Capaldi being the last possible incarnation ...

Other things I missed, that simply didn't make sense, and/or stray observations:
  • The Doctor says the actions of the War Doctor on that day "silenced the universe." A hint as to where the Silence come from?
  • I don't mind gaps that leave room for novelists and Big Finish to fill in, but doesn't seem like a strange-shaped hole from the end of the "The Name of the Doctor" to the beginning of "The Day of the Doctor" where Clara's working as a teacher at the Coal Hill School, of all places?
  • What was the thing in the ceiling that made the humans and Zygons forget which they were? [Edit: Oooh, Kate explained it to Clara when they went into the Black Archive. Memory wipes for the workers at the end of every shift. In my defense the first two times I watched I had trouble hearing all the dialogue due to road noise and kids asking questions.]  But I love the idea of setting up the negotiations in this way. Calls to mind Rawls' Original Position -- they've got to hammer out an agreement both sides can live with, knowing they'll be one of the sides when it's done, but not which. We don't need to see the result because we know everyone will get their just desserts. Rawls. Gotta love him.
  • How does this version of Gallifrey's fate reconcile with what we saw in "The End of Time"? (I don't think it does.) Edit: Mr. Murphy helpfully points out internet theorists think the actions of the High Council in "End of Time" were concurrent with the fall of Arcadia. I'll watch "End of Time" again soon to see if that holds up, but it does seem to be what Moffat was hinting at here. 
  • Is the Doctor such a doofus he could really open the door and fall out of his own TARDIS while it's being skylifted across London. (Chuckled at the Derren Brown reference though.)
  • We didn't actually see the War Doctor regenerate into the Eccleston Doctor. Now, I know that Eccleston wasn't coming back to do it, but they could've CGIed it to make him start to look Ecclestonian. Will this be a significant gap? Edit: Again on a tip from Mr. Murphy I watched the eyes during the regeneration and, with the benefit of the big screen, I saw it. Those do look like Eccleston's under the glow.
  • Scarf-wearing daughter of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart has a prettier sister, eh? I guess we'll meet her one day ...
  • Ten (Tennant's Doctor) married Elizabeth I ... so does that make Eleven a bigamist? Or polygamist if we count the Marilyn Monroe marriage? (Do you ever get the sense they are just piling on River Song?)
  • Where was Ten in his timeline? He was travelling alone, but not on his farewell tour? Or was he? Edit: Thanks to Mr. Murphy for pointing out in the comments that folks are honing in on this lining up with the time just before "End of Time" when Ten was travelling alone. He also mentioned at the beginning of "End of Time" that he married Queen Bess -- and that it was a mistake. How he remembers that when he doesn't remember the rest of this story may not make sense though.
  • I'm glad to see that the Silence Will Fall thing will be addressed again, that dangling thread has a been a nuisance. Could this mean we'll also get resolution to the mystery of the woman from "The End of Time"?
  • We saw Capaldi's eyes, know he's the 13th Doctor (including the War Doctor) but didn't get any intimation that the Valeyard will be accounted for. 
  • Billie Piper was fabulous as The Moment as Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf. The way she comes across in interviews it's easy to believe the Rubberbandits were on to something when they goofed on her in passing as a cokehead in their classic track, "Horse Outside," but she's like the second coming of Meryl Streep when it's time to be the Doctor's conscience. Not that John Hurt was a slouch either. Smith and Tennant get most of the headlines and fan love, but Piper, Hurt, and Baker managed to steal the show from the two stars, who did pretty fine jobs themselves. (As an aside, did Tennant look like he was recovering from the flu to anyone else? Maybe his looking a bit green around the gills was meant to suggest this was part of his "End of Time" reward to himself tour?)
  • All this way and I've still not got around to even mentioning the Zygons. So let me get this straight: shapeshifters defeated the security at UNIT's top secret pseudo-Torchwood repository by ... smashing a bunch of statues and throwing sheets over themselves?! Uhhhh ... 
  • Watching in the theater was so worth it. Not only for being able to pay closer attention to detail. Being amongst all the ageing nerds (my people), little kids in fezzes and blazers with their parents, young ladies in TARDIS dresses ... it felt like an event, even though I'm pretty sure we'd all already watched it at least once beforehand. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Night of the Doctor - "I don't suppose there's any need for a Doctor anymore. Make me a warrior."

Minisodes are nothing new but this ... this is taking it to a whole new level.

On the one hand, this was a bold move by Moffat and the production team. We're not talking world peace or solving hunger here, but this is a Doctor Who regeneration and it was released directly to the web. It's not some animated filler, or non-canonical special, this is Paul McGann brought back to the play the Eighth Doctor dying, revived by the Sisterhood of Karn (from the well-loved "The Brain of Morbius"), and choosing to regenerate into a warrior specifically to take up arms to end the Time War. In other words, this is a big f*cking deal to have it posted to YouTube in advance of the 50th anniversary special.

So now we know where "The War Doctor" comes from. But, we still have lots of questions. Not the least of which is, do we now stop calling Eccleston's Doctor the Ninth since he would appear to be the Tenth, and +1 the subsequent Doctors, with all that entails (or doesn't entail)?

Let's let Capaldi's status as the apparent Thirteenth and, possibly?, final incarnation of the Doctor slide for now and see how things play out before venturing a guess. In the meantime though, we can deal some things that could muddy the water. This, like Two's eventual regeneration to Three, isn't quite as straightforward as it might at first appear. This time, instead of being offered a face from the white male stock photo pool, the Doctor is offered chalices that will direct his regeneration to specific type. (The possibility of the Doctor regenerating as a woman is again raised as a possibility, cementing the work Gaiman already did to make that canonically possible.) Unlike the transition from Troughton's Doctor to Pertwee's, we actually see result though, so it would seem to preclude the possibility of their being another regeneration in between or a Season 6b-type scenario.

Doctor no more.
And, unless I'm mistaken, the Doctor that we're shown, only in reflection, is a younger version of the John Hurt Doctor than we saw in "Name of the Doctor." This raises the intriguing possibility that he he's in for a long fight as The War Doctor. This opens up, among other things, the opportunity for the folks at Big Finish to start another range -- a second gift from the current TV production team, who just back-door canonized, at least to a degree, the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audio stories.

Was this too much to jam into less than seven minutes of web video?

Well, yes. Probably.

In a few minutes of his experienced time, the Doctor went from being a determined conscientious objector with regard to fighting in the Time War, to deciding to regenerate in order to engage in and end it. (So, when Eleven ... errrr, Twelve, says the Hurt Doctor is the one who broke the promise in "The Name of the Doctor", doesn't he really mean Eight? This new Nine, the Hurt Doctor, isn't he really just the direct result of Eight's choice and, blameless in his role? It was, after all, the Sisterhood who programmed him and Eight who elected to become him?) Sure, those are an eventful few minutes, what with failing so to save Cass and sort-of-dying in the process ... but still, this feels like it should have been at least a full episode in the current TV format.

For crying out loud, as a blogger, I had it hard enough trying to get the numbers of the stories to line up between the classic and new series just restricting myself to TV stories, now I've got this to try to account for this. Sigh. Do I put a line on my Episode Index page for this? And, if I do, to I put it under the McGann heading? Or under the Matt Smith? Or create a new sub-heading under the Matt Smith heading? No, it's just too much. Like "The Light at the End," -- and any other audio, novel, short story, and comics -- I'm going put this on the blog as a stand alone post and not try to figure out how to line it up with the TV stories. This one is so much more difficult to do that with though, tying in as it does, with a televised story and being so much more consequential and integral to the TV story it prefaces and the series as a whole.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Love & Monsters - "You got me thinking that I'm wasting my time. Don't bring me down."

Love & Monsters (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 10 (Overall Series Story #175)

Hard to imagine an episode that was structured to allow the leads some time off from a busy filming schedule *and* is the one where they used a child fan's contest winning monster could turn out to be any good. The monster, by the way, is the Abzorbaloff. And it is, with apologies to and no fault assigned William Grantham, kind of a rubbish monster. But, y'know, considering a 9-year-old designed it you can credit the imaginative effort. (I wonder if young Mr. Grantham gets to use his Doctor Who credit get credentials at conventions or anything. Here's hoping there're still some dividends being paid for winning the contest. I imagine it might be a bit tough having your entry win only to be slagged by fandom years later. Seems there ought to be a lingering benefit to balance any of that out.) You can make a case for this one not only turning out to be decent, but nearly being one of the better episodes of the new series. I say nearly, because there are a just a few elements that needed to be tweaked to make that happen, but they were also significant elements that getting wrong inevitably resulted in this being far from one of the more successful stories.

That this episode is not a train wreck is a credit to Marc Warren, who carries it as the good-hearted, if somewhat dopey, Elton. No mean feat to lead an episode of Doctor Who when you're not the Doctor, or even a companion. With the exception of Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff, all the supporting ... well, featured, actually ... characters are charming. The Victor Kennedy character is not only not charming, not even in the ooh-I-like-this-villain-despite-its-villainy kind of way. The character is miscast and distracting. He's bad enough that he detracts from good work done by the other actors, even the ones he's got no scenes with. This is one of the best stories for Jackie Tyler. She's fleshed out a bit here, as sympathetic as she's ever been. We'd have been better served if Camille Coduri had been given these scenes in stronger episode.

Scooby Scooby Doo, where are you?
The Doctor, without much to do in this one -- except Scooby-Doo around for fun with Rose at the beginning, then show up at the end to not do much but give the Abzorbaloff's victims an idea they probably should've had much sooner anyways -- at least gets to save Ursula, somewhat improbably into a paving stone. Elton, not knowing its technical name, calls the Doctor's sonic screwdriver a 'magic wand', which may be a hint we should be revisiting the argument over whether Doctor Who is sci-fi, fantasy, fable, or some hybrid genre because the explanation of what he's doing makes no real sense and might as well be an incantation. Ursula in the paving stone sure looks like she belongs in a fairy tale, as if a witch had cast a spell on her. For all the heart this episode has, Billie Piper makes the most of brief screen time to rival Elton as the most compassionate character in the show, comforting Elton when he's down, even though she was cross with him for upsetting her mum.

For an analysis of what it means for the show to crack a joke about Elton and Ursula's love life (when one is a face in a paving stone), see Sandifer.

For an expanded analysis of the same that uses the lens of society's perception of the disabled, see Shabogan Graffiti.

Elton told us it would get scaaaary. It got effed up.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

State of Decay - "There's nothing worse than a peasant with indigestion. Makes them quite rebellious."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - State of Decay - Details

Season 18, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #113) | Previous - Next | Index

via Not Tonight Dalek

When someone says they saw the Doctor Who with the vampires, you probably think of this one first, not "Vampires of Venice." (Hopefully not "Curse of Fenric," anyways.) It's a testament to how memorable this story is that's the case for me, at least. And, that's despite not having watched this one in over twenty years and having watched the Matt Smith vampire story a few times much more recently.

That the Time Lords battled giant space-faring vampires in the distant past, when even Rassilon was young, and defeated them by flying 'bow ships' into their hearts, all sounds pretty epic, but probably doesn't account for why every planet has a vampire mythology unless we make ancient Gallifrey line up historically with fairly recent Earth history. Timeline quibbles are not my cup of tea though, so let's chalk our vampire legends up to something else, or imagine we've got some Turlough-style race memory in our DNA from back when our ancestors were single-celled organisms. The Doctor has heard the legends and is afraid, that's enough to get us off to a good start, the atmosphere and theatrics carry us the rest of the way.

The real rough go here is our new addition from the previous story. Adric awkwardly strut-shambles out of his stowaway hidey-hole in the TARDIS early on and threatens to torpedo the endeavor just by looking like Matthew Waterhouse is trying way too hard to walk and act at the same. Luckily Baker and Ward play well together and the supporting cast is willing to go along with the gothic sci-fi atmosphere -- which here means vamping it up hard core. These vampires are so freaking camp it's hilarious; yet somehow it works.

Miles better than the first E-Space story, this one succeeds against all odds, despite the special effects failures at the end. Dr. Sandifer is spot on when he observes:
... the fact of the matter is that if you watch the stories back to back there are obviously some basic technical things that Pyramids of Mars is solid on that State of Decay isn’t. And this keeps being true of the Nathan-Turner era. With maddening frequency it soars on advanced topics in television production while crashing and burning on the basics.
I happen to love "Pyramids of Mars," one that the more highbrow fan-critics tend to dismiss, favoring the direction the show takes under Nathan-Turner and, more relevantly script editors Bidmead and, later, Cartmel. Now, I started this blogging project with the premise that JN-T ran the show into the ground, mercilessly pounding fandom with shitty synthesizers, cheesy f/x, crappy costumes, terrible make-up, brutal lighting, pretentious writing, and general incompetence at television show production. That's how I remembered it as a fan who watched it in real-time. I'm coming around to an appreciation of what Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy did with what they were handed (was always fond of Davison, but it's actually his star that may be dimming the most as I re-watch his years) and am finding I'm able to look past the gaudy production values failures to tease out the things that were ambitious, and occasionally even successful in those last few years. However, I suspect I'll never be able to sign on to Dr. Sandifer's assessment that it ever soared on advanced topics.

Happily, this one is also #43 in the Shabogan Graffiti series of recent posts presenting moments from the series in bite-sized, almost poetic, bits of Marxist analysis. If I could think of any way to improve on how to pull the thread of criticism of the parasitic ruling classes from this story, I'd make a go of it, but Mr. Graham has it well in hand.

Vampires via The Doctor Who Bar
It's worth noting this isn't a publicity still where the actors were instructed
to pose ridiculously, this is a capture from a scene in the show where the front
and center vampire delivered his evil monologue while his King
and Queen pulled I'm-an-evil-vampire-monarch faces behind him.
Because that's how they roll.

The Ribos Operation - " I get on terribly well with the aristocracy."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Ribos Operation - Details

Season 16, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #98) | Previous - Next | Index

Garron and Unstoffe via An Unearthly Doctor
A Very (Robert) Holmes-ian Pair
There's a brilliant series of posts going on right now at Shabogan Graffiti highlighting fifty moments in the series (#49 is about the value of jethryk) that are particularly open to analysis from a Marxist perspective -- if you're not reading it, you'll probably want to swing by there and check them all out. Go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back ...

Now, if nothing else, you've at least have an idea how proper intellectuals are able to tease fascinating insight out of any piece of entertainment that features the exchange of goods or services by any means. (As opposed to whatever it is I'm doing here.) My point is, it always pays to ask: What's the value of the dingus? Garron reminds me of Sydney Greenstreet, as so many characters of a certain dubious intent but pompous charm portrayed by talented character actors do, hence my mind leaps back to The Maltese Falcon for another example of an object highly valued by groups in competition to acquire it. What the black bird meant to O'Shaughnessy was one thing, to Gutman something similar -- but I don't think he'd turn around and sell it to the highest bidder as soon as he could, and to Spade it was something else entirely; the value he ascribed to the Falcon was never about his own monetary self-interest, he only represented as such to play Gutman, it's value to him was about how the value other people assigned to it allowed him exert influence to order his universe around his moral principles. And that's one reason I love The Maltese Falcon, but I only think "The Ribos Operation" is quite good. (Also, Iain Cuthbertson is good as Garron, but he's no Greenstreet.)

But comparing "The Ribos Operation" to one of the classic pieces of noir film making is only going to get you so far. Apples and oranges. What I'm more interested in is how "The Ribos Operation" works as a Doctor Who story, a Robert Holmes Doctor Who story in particular ... and that it does pretty well. In Garron and Unstoffe you've got a classic pair of Holmes supporting characters propelling the story through their world, the world of grifters chiseling a hunk of wealth off the self-styled upper classes, here embodied by Graff Vynda-K.  (Even the names are well-chosen here, "Graff" calls to mind a sort of Prussian aristocratic militarism that adds depth to the backstory of arrogant tyrant Garron is plotting to bilk.)

I'm less interested in the Key to Time framework around Season 16 than I am the constituent stories, it strikes as a gimmicky way to tie a series of otherwise distinct stories together that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, but it's by no means as ludicrous as the farce that was the Trial that wrapped around Season 23. And, to it's credit, it's the justification for putting Romana I in the TARDIS and that makes it OK in my book. The late Mary Tamm debuts as Romana in a classic pan from the ground up to highlight in 'hey fellas, we got a stunner here'-fashion how gorgeous she is. Tom Baker's reaction, he turns to K-9 as if to see if the robot dog has scanned her and reached the same conclusion with regard to her looks.

Enter Romana via Doctor Who Gifs

Romana's more than looks though, she's an entirely different sort of companion than Leela was before here. There'll be no Henry Higgins-ing around here, she may be inexperienced in the ways of the universe, being fresh out of the academy, but she wastes no time letting the Doctor know she did much better there than he did and knows her way around a TARDIS. Sure, she'll be the damsel-in-distress in the first cliffhanger, so there're somethings that don't change, but just as Leela was a marked contrast from Sarah Jane before here, Romana gets to shake things up and Tamm makes the companion role here own. It's a shame she only stuck around for one season, not that I've got a problem with Lalla Ward's Romana II, I just never got tired of this incarnation.

Baker's in top form as the Doctor here, though I gather a dog got hold of his lip and he looks a bit worse for wear. I wish the Doctor had paired up with Old Binro the Heretic for a while though. Instead it's Unstoffe who gets to give the old scientist some peace before dying. That character and his arc feel a bit tacked on, but balance out the strangely successfully witchery of the Seeker -- which itself seems to be a strange case of the series giving credence to hocus-pocus without giving any scientific, or even pseudo-scientific justification for how she's able to prophesy and clack bones together to track down Unstoffe. Any credit you give Holmes for the Binro character, you've got to turn around and dock him for the mystical nonsense of the Seeker, so the two become a sort of wash. That mush-brained magicky stuff and, to circle back to the beginning, the fundamental incoherence of Garron's strategy with regard to the jethryk undercut the story a bit, but it more that makes up for those flaws in other ways.

Oh, and I almost forgot to remark on how weird it was for Holmes to have Garron remark on how a gadget must be Japanese, and that the mark he sold the Sydney Harbor to was an Arab. Not exactly hard core racism, but these sly little mentions are sore thumbs in a script that doesn't make many other mistakes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit - "All these things I don't believe in, are they real? Speak to me!"

The Impossible Planet (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 8 (Overall Series Story #174a)

It's the classic Base Under Siege premise making a return. But it's fun. This impossible planet, orbiting a black hole, that's a heck of a base. And it's under the siege by, apparently, the freakin' Devil himself. A cool base, a worthy villain, the only other ingredient you need to make a Doctor-Who-Base-Under-Siege story work is an interesting crew working the base; luckily, we've got that here. It helps too that the base looks good. It looks lived in, like a battered base getting rocked by quakes should. The black hole viewed through the skylight when the shielding is effectively realized. All the elements of the production come together well to sell the implausible scenario.

The Ood are introduced here, and they're going to be important to this Doctor's journey, but at this stage we only get to know them as a race that seemingly wants to be in servitude, which is deeply disconcerting. They're referred to as livestock, yet they are intelligent, humanoid, and telepathic. I wish I'd watched "The Sensorites" before re-watching this one to write about it because I gather the Ood are implied to be related to or inspired by the Sensorites in some way. I'll have to circle back to that when I do watch that story for the first time. Cognizant that I may be missing some relevant context, I'm a little off-put by how we're introduced to the Ood. Are we supposed to think of them as a sort of a remora fish species that have glommed on to humanity? Rose and the Doctor are deeply skeptical of their apparent willing subservience, as they should be, so they're role in the society we're shown makes us wonder if something is defective in this human civilization, that they would use an intelligent species as servant class?  The questions are raised here, and Rose's continued questioning of it makes it seem important, or relevant to the story somehow, but the Ood are only used and a convenient group for the Beast to take over to menace the humans.

All the horror movie techniques, flashes of evil, voices that make the characters question their perceptions, intimations of a rising evil, even the camera work ... it's all effectively creepy and comfortably within the tradition of the classic series that those of us who've lived through all the stories this one models itself on, the story beats we experienced before, while it must feel like a different sort of story for those who had only experienced the new series to this point. This, we might be tempted to tell the newly converted to fandom, this gives you an idea what the old series was like, or at least trying to be like without the ability to really pull off. Well, without the romance-y feels.

The Satan Pit (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #174b)

So in a story where the villain is the horned Beast from before Universe, when the question of faith comes up, as a blogger whose main interests apart from Doctor Who are progressivism and secularism, I'm listening hard for the Doctor's answer. Here's the exchange where he explicitly raises the question and has it back to him:
DOCTOR: I didn't ask. Have you got any sort of faith?
IDA: Not really. I was brought up Neo Classic Congregational, because of my mum. She was. My old mum. But no, I never believed.
DOCTOR: Neo Classics, have they got a devil?
IDA: No, not as such. Just er, the things that men do.
DOCTOR: Same thing in the end.
IDA: What about you?
DOCTOR: I believe, I believe I haven't seen everything, I don't know. It's funny, isn't it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I'd believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn't fit my rule. Still, that's why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.
The devil, evil, is bad acts of moral agents, to paraphrase Ida explaining her faith tradition's understanding of the concept. The Doctor goes along with that. Seems fine. No supernatural agency implied or endorsed.

So what about his answer to the question about having faith? I cringed in the brief pause after "I believe ..." but was relieved to hear him say that what he believes is he hasn't seen anything -- that is to say, he doesn't know it all. The "I don't know" implies a brand of agnosticism which leave open the possibility that he could discover that there is a supernatural agent worthy of some sort of worship in which he could believe. What he's seen, as a Time Lord, the entities he's encountered ... I'm surprised he seems to be leaving that door open, but OK, the humility of admitting you don't know everything, and don't know the full scope of what you don't know, that's a reasonable approach to take to questions of faith and epistemology.

What are we to make of his objection to the idea the Beast comes from "before the universe"?  It seems his problem with that is the idea of preceding the universe leads to the possibility of being a causal agent in the creation of the universe. That an entity, a god or gods to use the terminology of the faithful, might exist is an impossibility in his mind. But he also questions his adherence to that rule and he's willing to interrogate his certitude. Again, a reasonable position in general, and especially in the context of this story. That bit about travelling to be proved wrong is a bit surprising, it makes him more of a philosopher than he's shown himself to be. He's not just exploring, he's not just running, he's not just trying to do good ... he's out for deeper understanding and personal growth.

You can also read "To be proved wrong" as an admission that he doesn't have religious faith, but he wants to find a reason to have some, that he wants his rule to be proved wrong so he can believe. He might as well hang Fox Mulder's "I want to believe" poster on the TARDIS wall under that reading. Wanting to believe in something irrational is, let's be frank, the sort of romanticism that makes folks vulnerable to charlatans, confidence men, and authoritarians. A sense of marvel, of wonder, of awe, is a reasonable, even mystical response to the grandeur of the universe, a belief in magical being running the show is, it seems to me, a corruption of that sense of wonder that's the result of intellectual torpidity.

Whether the Beast is from before the universe or not, there's not reason to think it's root of the myth of the Christian, or any other faith tradition's, devil figure. Look, we already know Sutekh is that guy. Or Azal is. Lots of contenders running around for that ur-devil mantle.

Anyways, back to the episode. The Doctor outwits the Beast by putting his faith in Rose. It's one of his leaps of faith, but I like that it's a leap of faith in human capacity. Or, a human's capacity. A sort of humanism in any event. Along the way we've got red-eyed Ood doing horror movie tricks, Toby making us wonder if he's ever not possessed, and as taut and fraught an episode as we've had in a while. We've also got more touching, affectionate moments between Ten and Rose, continuing the build up to the inevitable tear down. But it's cute the way she throws out the idea of them sharing a house when it seems they may not recover the TARDIS. (Too neat the way that just turned up when it was needed, wasn't it?) But at least this story dealt with the implications of the TARDIS possibly being lost or destroyed in a comprehensible way. (Again, I'm reminded how irritating "Frontios" was on that point.) Rose also gives the Doctor a kiss on the faceplate before he descends the mineshaft, they're really becoming quite domestic.

As an aside, this two-parter was written by Matt Jones, who's written for Torchwood and has novels in the Virgin New Adventures line. He also penned the strongest episode of Dirk Gently, the one with the AI that killed in self-defense.

The Idiot's Lantern - "Oh, you know what they say about them. Eddie, you want to beat that out of him."

The Idiot's Lantern (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #173)

This is an episode I didn't much care for when it aired. I don't think I've watched it again since that first week it was on. The things I remembered it about it were the faceless victims of the 'TV lady', Ten and Rose riding a scooter, the claustrophobic studio/studio lot-bound feeling, and the arsehole dad berating his wife and son. While I still can't say I love this story, I did find myself more engaged it in this time around, and hopeful that I'll be as pleasantly surprised by how well some of the other lesser episodes of Ten's run hold up. "Fear Her", "Love & Monsters", "Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks", "The Lazarus Experiment", and "42", I'm looking at you.

That said, this is still a lesser episode. It still feels claustrophobic. What's more The Wire still doesn't work well as a villain -- the stealing of the faces produces a horrific effect, but makes precious little sense. That we're not really impressed by the The Wire is highlighted by how unmoved we are when Ten gets all rageface and dramatically proclaims "Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me!" we shrug and know that of course he's going to save Rose and the day and that's going to look something like unplugging a TV, maybe with some dramatic sparking, but we never really feel like there's a real peril here. We, generally speaking, because he's the hero and we know that Rose isn't going to be left a faceless zombie in a mid-season story just by the structure of the show, but this one doesn't do anything special to make us feel like their might be some consequences, or that The Wire might have a sympathetic side where we might see it as a complex villain.

Also, The Doctor's terrible pompadour,that's what we call that, right? Whatever it is, it's a distractingly awful look on him.

What does work is the supporting characters. Tommy's family, dealing with Granny's facelessness, the bullying father, the put-upon wife, rise above being stereotypical plot-movers. The tension in the Connolly's marriage, and between Mr. Connolly and is more progressive-minded son, is a bit hokey around the edges, we're forcing that whole dynamic into a single 45 minute episode, but it works well enough to give Mrs. Connolly's decision to pitch him out at the end some weight. Also well enough for us to enjoy The Doctor and Rose giving Mr. Connolly a dose of his own bullying and Rose's persuading Tommy to go after him at the end to try to save their relationship.

That compassionate streak in Rose is what gives this episode the success it manages as a little family drama overlayed with an alien menace. That Tommy can be persuaded to make that effort after what we've seen of his relationship with his dad, that makes him a character with some depth as well. The quote in the title of this post was a line by one of the Connollys' neighbors, an offhand bit of homophobia followed up by Tommy's dad with the line, "That's exactly what I'm going to do." And we believe it. And we believe Tommy, who'd been tweaking his dad by pointing out the hypocrisy of hiding Gran upstairs right under the nose of the oblivious neighbors, knows he's going to catch a beating for his act of defiance against Eddie's authority. These moments provide the depth the rescue this from being forgettable.

Overall, it's not a bad bit of filler, but barely more than just that: filler. If it accomplishes anything, it's another example of Ten and Rose continuing to grow closer through adversity. He's enraged when she's harmed, and they share a tender reunion hug when she's rescued. The aggregation of these little moments ... more to come in two-parter that follows this episode ... lay the groundwork for the heartbreak of their imminent separation. But that's still a little way off ...

Random note: I'll need somebody to explain to me the context for Ten's quip that he's not surprised Jackie is a Cliff Richard fan. I gather Richard must be one of those tremendously popular pop music icons who doesn't age well, or at least not as well as early Elvis. My impression is it's like teasing someone for saying they like The Monkees more than The Beatles. If there's a better way to understand that, feel free to clue me in.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Invasion - "I think those crazy kids have gone off to the sewers to get photographs of the Cybermen."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Invasion - Details

Series 6, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #46) | Previous - Next | Index

Cybermen take London.
(Gallifrey Wizard has great GIFs for this story ...)
It's a Third Doctor / UNIT story starring the Second Doctor. And, despite being overlong by at least two, if not more, episodes, one that works fairly well. For a Cybermen story, and one that produced one of the iconic images of the series -- the Cybermen emerging from the sewers, St. Paul's Cathedral in the background -- it's feels Cyber-lite. Apart from the striking visuals, the star baddies are by-the-numbers here; any monster-of-the-week could've easily been substituted in without really having to change much of anything. So, yes, it's a story where the Cybermen are world-threatening invasion force, but the asymmetrical face of evil in this one is really Tobias Vaughn ... and his sadistic, yet comically inept, henchman Packer.

Zoe pulls a James T. Kirk and blows up a pesky computer with verbal trickery.
There are two main lines of conversation I think it'd be fun to have around this one: the first around how producers and script editors define the eras of the show at least as much, if not more than, the actors who play the Doctors; and, not to put to fine a point on it, what the appropriate tack to take is on how to discuss how sexy, and sexist?, this story is. I'm not sure if this one sets the record for how many times we see a beautiful young woman's panties in Doctor Who, not to mention the amount of gams on display, buy you can't help but notice that when Zoe befriends Isobel and starts modelling for her, the "for the dads" service pegs the meter.

Let's get a couple of other observational notes out of the way before circling back to those though. Hey look, there's Edward Burnham warming up for his turn as Prof. Kettlewell in "Robot" playing Prof. Watkins. His hair is less full-on Mad Scientist in this one, but he's also significantly less mad in this one. It is, of course, always a pleasure to see Nicholas Courtney outside of the Pertwee era -- not that it's not a pleasure there, it's just there you expect it. Before and after those years it's a bit of an added bonus.

Patrick Troughton gets to show off some action chops in this one as well, the scene where he runs and jumps while explosions go off all around him is a wonderful showcase for his Chaplin-esque physicality.

You have to tip your cap to the budget-minded writer who made it plausible for the same set to be used for both of Vaughn's offices. "Uniformity, duplication. My whole empire is based on that principle. The very essence of business efficiency." That's a few quid saved that could've been spent on a bit more fabric for Isobel's skirt. Perish the thought.

This one's also via Doctor Who Mind Robber.
Because you can't have too much Isobel and Zoe.
Have to admit I thought it striking that every young woman who appears in these old episodes also seemed to have a credit in some British horror movie of the period ... Hammer fare with names like Vampyros Lesbos, or Coven of Blood, or some such thing that pretty much guaranteed to feature beautiful girls getting their kits off in some horrific context. The temptation might be to chalk it up to sexism of the era, but that'd be pretending it's be hard to find Jenna Louise Coleman with her kit off, or Billie Piper, or, apparently soon, Karen Gillan. It may not be in horror movies quite as commonly as it was back in the day, but it's got to be hard to make an argument that, in terms of substantive roles for women, it's gotten much better for today's ladies. It's especially clear it's still much harder for the ladies to keep their clothes on than the fellas. I guess that's why you get ladies singing about wanting to see some non-Hodor dong on Game of Thrones. If the dads get a look at Zoe's and Isobel's knickers, why don't the ladies get a peak up Jamie's kilt? (For all the upskirt in this one, it's telling how carefully Jamie's scenes on ladders were shot to prevent us seeing more of Frazer Hines's under-the-kilt than your average hetman would've been able tolerate.) Because patriarchy, I suppose.

But back to this being, essentially, a Pertwee-era UNIT story with Troughton's Doctor. I've divided up my page for keeping track of all these posts by the actor playing the Doctor because it's one easy way to make them easier to find. But it may not be the best way to do it. The About Time writers address this at length, and Sandifer does as well, but it's worth noting that the feel of the show, the sense of what it's all about, is much more easily conveyed by identifying it as a Letts, Hinchcliffe, Williams, or a JN-T, etc. than it is by calling it a Tom Baker or a Peter Davison story, for instance. You can also make distinctions based on who was in charge of the scripts. So what we've got here is the production team behind the end of the Troughton era trying out a new direction for the show, and the relative success of this story setting up the Earthbound UNIT stories of the Letts/Dicks era. Mad Scientists and alien invasions, as Terrance Dicks relates being somewhat troubled to realize, being pretty much the only stories you can tell with premise.

"The Invasion" then ends up being one of the most influential stories in the run of the series, its success cementing the decision to lock down the format with the Doctor's exile to earth and the disabling of the TARDIS. I'm a fan of the Pertwee/UNIT era, though I wouldn't want the Doctor exiled in the present day (or 10 minutes in the future, whatever those UNIT stories were relative to their broadcast time period) again, so I don't mind how that all played out; however, I suspect those who don't like the UNIT stories don't care for this one for being the one that planted the seed.

First Control Field #Ingress

Ingress Intel Map

It's small. It won't last long. It took way longer than it should've to finally make one; but, I finally established my first control field.

True story: I talked Mrs. C-Dog into helping me out yesterday and set her up to play as well. While capturing an inconveniently placed portal in downtown, we parked in the lot of a small business, probably looking lost or suspicious when the owner came out and asked if he could help us. "No thanks, we'll be out of here in just a minute," I said. He asks if we're looking for a geocache and I tell him, no, it's probably a bit nerdier than that. "Yeah," my wife says, by way of explanation, "we're doing something weird."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel - "You will perish under maximum deletion."

Rise of the Cybermen (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #172a)

It's not called a Charged Vacuum Emboitment this time, but having just watched "Full Circle" it sure felt like we were getting kicked into E-Space again at the beginning of this story. Unlike "Full Circle" though, where we gained a companion fans cruelly abused, this story sets us up to lose (for a while) a companion people generally liked, who was being somewhat cruelly treated by his fellow travelers. Mickey's quite the sad sack at the start of this one, made to feel left out by the Doctor and Rose -- who are so full of themselves and each other, their exclusion of Mickey is downright heartless. Tennant plays to it as well, making it clear that the Doctor, if not Rose, realizes what they're doing to Mickey.

The thing is though, Mickey needs to stop feeling sorry for himself and get on with it. Luckily, he'll meet Ricky soon enough. (That name's a nice touch and another dig at the Mickey character, remember all the times he was called "Ricky" by the Doctor.)

The accidental slip into the parallel universe apparently kills the TARDIS and, while not as poorly played as when the TARDIS was apparently destroyed in "Frontios," it's barely more than an acknowledgment. "There's nothing to fix. She's perished. The last Tardis in the universe. Extinct," the Doctor says morosely. OK, that seems like a good place to start. Then it's off to explore with hardly a care in the alternate world. At least this time they're not in the far future on a planet being bombarded with meteors with the straggling remnants of humanity struggling for survival. But, still. You'd think the death of the TARDIS would be a bit more of devastating blow to all of them.

Mickey's geek background as a comics/sc-fi fan serve him well here, he knows how to wrap his head around parallel universes, even if he seems to think it ought to be a cakewalk to get home. The Doctor sets him straight about this and backdoors in a lot more power and knowledge for the Time Lords by explaining that it used to be easy, back when his people were in control and you could pop between realities and be home in time for tea. Which, given they could already go anywhere in time and space in this universe, seems like an extraordinarily generous extra bit of power for the author of this one to have granted them. (Nothing from the TV series I can think of offhand hints at that ability to hop between realities, though I'm sure if we dig through the novels and audios we're bound to find something about it.)

In this universe, the origin of the Cybermen takes a decidedly "Genesis of the Daleks"-type turn, introducing us to Lumic, who's more than a little Davros-ish, though placed in the context of being a wealthy magnate in zeppelin-filled alterna-Britain. (I detected more than a little Sydney-Greenstreet-as-Kasper-Gutman in Roger Loyd-Pack's portrayal of Lumic; but, I'm about as obsessive about The Maltese Falcon as I am Doctor Who, so take that cum grano salis.)  These Cybermen then take on a bit of the Daleks' cachet by extension, seemingly being the Cybermen in this universe which may, or may not, have Daleks of its own. (There is a Torchwood though, so that hints at the possibility of it also containing a version of the Doctor and all that entails ... )

But that's all sort of abstract, where the rubber hits the road for Rose and Mickey is in the existence of an alternate Tyler family (sans a [human] Rose equivalent) with a Pete. So the emotional groundwork laid by "Father's Day" gets built upon. A bit of humor thrown in as well as we get to meet this universe's canine Rose, and see the Doctor's inability to restrain a laugh at that. Mickey, too, gets a chance to meet a lost relative, but not for long once he's mistaken for Ricky by his alternate's mates. Much of the emotional punch in this story comes from the desire to belong to a family -- whether it's Mickey not fitting in the TARDIS and wanting to care for his gran, or Rose wanting to see her father again.

While we're drawn in on an emotional level by the exploration of the desire to feel accepted as part of family, and our nerd sensors are beeping as we look for parallels to "Genesis", we're also looking at a world where bluetooth sporting humanity is fed information by corporate interests (shades of "The Long Game" & "Bad Wolf") and prompted to reflect on how unhealthy the lack of an effective free press is for a society.

A richly layered story builds to a proper cliffhanger as Lumic's Cybermen go on the move, crashing Jackie's birthday party, zapping the President, and it looking like it might be the dawn of The Age of Steel ...

The Age of Steel (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 6 (Overall Series Story#172b)

The Scooby gang (that's Ricky's posse of so-called Preachers, preaching the truth you can't get from this universe's version of the lamestream media) arrive just in time to save the fleeing party guests and now we're in a full-on Resist the Occupation story. Rose's story splits off from the Doctor's here as she and Pete try to inflitrate a Cyber-processing plant to rescue Jackie, the Doctor will get a sort of temporary companion in Mrs. Moore, who becomes the heart of this episode), and Mickey will replace Ricky and team up with Jake to do some hacking inside Lumic's zeppelin.

The Doctor and Moore's trip through the air tunnels is the most tense, nail-biting scene the revived series has presented up to this point. Probably not until "Blink" will we get this level of suspense again. Creeping past the dorman Cybers is bad enough, but once they start activating ... this is one I wouldn't blame anyone for watching from behind the sofa. Moore and the Doctor also are the team that encounters the Cyber with it's emotions un-suppressed, and we again get to hear Ten say his poignant "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." As the kids on the internet say, Oh, the feels. But really, it's touching. And the realization that the emotional inhibitor is the key to defeating these Cybers make the scene more than just an excuse for the Doctor to be moved, and moving.

Always looking for an excuse to have Rose hang from a balloon, it's Mickey and Jake that sweep in zeppelin-style after foiling Lumic's Cyber army and save the re-united Doctor, Pete, and Rose. (Mrs. Moore, tragically, didn't make it ...) The tools Lumic used to enslave humanity, it turned out, were able to be used by the oppressed to regain their freedom with a bit of hacking. Hard not to see this story through the lens of Wikileaks and Snowden with the benefit of hindsight. We'd better hope the internet remains open and the signals can get through whatever barriers governments and corporations try to use to wall in the truths we need to know. As long as people committed to the truth and shining a light in the dark places have a way to get the information out, we'll have a way to fight back against the Murdoch's ... errr ... Lumic's, I mean, of the world.

Oh, nearly forgot, there's a brilliant piece on the Cybermen and the Borg up over at Shabogan Graffiti. Highly recommended reading.

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