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.

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