Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Doctor Who - Back from the Dead

DOCTOR WHO - THE ELEVENTH HOUR

Up there, set up on a big screen see her
Seems to have a nice clean picture
We're all in the back so go now
So much for the echoes...

Stand here! It's got to be the caller round here!
You can't say that I didn't say "Watch out!"
Move! We're gonna push her and the carpet out!
Look to me outta here!


Eleven plus eleven! Eleven plus eleven!
Eleven plus eleven! Eleven plus eleven!
Born to do when I was seven!
Born to do when I was...

Ah. You know what that is? That's me relaxing in sheer relief.

Steven Moffat runs Doctor Who and it's not complete crap. It's not even mildly crap. It's good. I'm happy with it. There are a few niggles, but it seems my fears were completely unfounded. Free of RTD's organized chaos and finally on the same page as everyone else, the Grand Moff tackles the hardest of all things - a pilot episode - and manages to make it work. True, there's a definite whiff of The Girl in the Fireplace to the plot, at least the bits that aren't from Smith & Jones, but there's enough new material for it to seem not complete rehashed leftovers like his last story. There's the usual "repeated catchphrase with deeper significance", the remake of his annual stories, and the "hang on, that mundane detail you haven't noticed is actually horrific", but I guess we're just going to have to suck it up. Just as Holmes had his double acts and RTD had his compulsive lies, Moff has these ticks that have worked in the past and intends to use them again. Only the Doctor's random (and I mean random) use of "timey-wimey" rankles, and he doesn't need the main character to scream "BE AFRAID, DAMMIT!" to create any kind of tension. This is good. Way better than I was expecting, and I doubly boggle at that shit-awful trailer on the hill. It doesn't represent anything to do with the show I've watched... and thank freaking Christ for that.

Probably the only real problem I have is with the opening pre-credits sequence, an almost Inspector Gadget type sequence of the Doctor dangling from the TARDIS as it nearly smashes into Big Ben. Clearly added at the last minute, it manages to simultaneously be a complete waste of time and simply have Matt Smith gurning against green screen while what's left of the old control room gets nuked again and again. Not exactly a decent introduction (that occurs when the story starts properly after the credits). Now, I could just put this down to my differing tastes except for all the fiddly annoyances. Like, for example, the TARDIS isn't on fire when it crashes into an Earth that looks more like the one in Earthshock than the smoggy globe we saw at The End of Time and the Doctor has somehow lost his jacket and fallen out the doors. It's little stuff, but annoyingly easily to fix, if only with stock footage. Maybe in some perverse way Moff is trying to recreate the good old days of Castrovalva or Rescue where nothing matched up properly with the proceeding story.

Then the opening titles. Um... OK. Kinda crap. It's like some mid-90s fan group did it and wrapped it round a genuine episode. Considering it's the same 'TARDIS-spinning-down-tunnel-past-cast-list-and-logo', it would have been easier for them to keep the title sequence of the previous era. And where is the Doctor's face I was promised? Where is the proper logo rather than the one they show here? It's rubbish! And the theme music, while not bad per se, is not remotely memorable. I honestly can't remember what it was, but it did remind me of the theme tune RTD rejected in 04 (I dunno if it is the same one, but they are both slower-paced versions of the music with a wierd heartbeat like pulse... I think.)

Anyway, The Eleventh Hour. It's Easter time and just last year we were trying not to take our own lives about that crap with the bus and the Tritovores. The TARDIS crashlands in the garden of a cute little redhead called Amelia Pond and it quickly becomes clear that we are not watching Doctor Who through the prism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as we had the last five years (not, I hasten to add, that there's anything wrong with that), no, we're watching Doctor Who through the prism of Drop Dead Fred.

And I for one love it.

Considering the latter stages of the episode acknowledge the dirtiness of the human mind and society, these first fifteen minutes are nice, innocent fun. There's nothing remotely dodgy about a strange man creeping into a house in the middle of the night and spending a disturbing amount of time with a seven-year-old girl. And strange is the word as it seems Moff has, in true RTD tradition, ripped off another one of my ideas in the conception of the Eleventh Doctor. How to sum up this new incarnation?

Bernard Black with a TARDIS would be the quickest way to describe it.

He's rude, loud, clearly insane, unhelpful and has a habit of throwing his food at the ceiling. And he's brilliant. I laughed out loud, something I rarely do at the Doctor's antics. Only the Fourth Doctor playing hopskotch on Gallifrey, the Sixth Doctor's "craggy knob", and the Seventh Doctor continually groping Ray by accident have done more than make me smile. I cackled like a loon at the new bloke who combines some truly burning sarcasm worthy of the mighty Kerr Avon himself while combining physical comedy you don't often see outside of Chris Barrie or Frank Woodley. Whether he's screaming at his breakfast for tasting like shit or stripping off in front of complete strangers, the guy never fails to be funny. And intentional funny too. Considering that other Doctors barely made a scene wearing their predecessor's clothes, I was actually taken aback when he found his new outift, so used was I to seeing him in David Tennant's rags.

The new Doctor is also reassuringly free of angst. No last Time Lord bollocks here, and the closest he gets to maudlin is shutting up briefly when the villain delivers a "you suck" speech at the end with obligatory story arc references, which the Doctor shows absolute no interest in. Yeah, silence will fall, whatevah! Unlike his predecessor who really did worry too much about what random soothsayers would yell at him in passing, this Doctor has impressively lightened up. And his rather RP voice makes it a nice juxtaposition to him using words like "texting", "facebook", "cool" and "sexy" while never, ever becoming the Sparadoc.

And what of Miss Pond? Well, it's an interesting reversal of the RTD years where we basically saw the companion's entire life in a microcosm and then pushed them to the limit for thirteen weeks. We don't actually find out much about the flaxen-haired beauty. She's got a boyfriend, a house, a job and issues with the Doctor. That's pretty much it, but mainly because she's surprisingly secretive for a companion, keeping the Time Lord as much in the dark as she does the not-we humans she lives with. There's also an interesting dynamic in that, having met the Doctor as an impressionable child, she's as in love with him as any companion could be yet also has had 14 years of endless disappointment. Like a lapsed atheist, she believes in the Doctor, she just doesn't quite trust him. She is, basically, what Lucie Miller could have been if they'd had their act together and not ended up with (on her good days) a watered down mutant of Donna and Rose.

The guest cast also threw me. Victor Meldrew's wife! The chick from Goodness Gracious Me who ISN'T the one turning up in the Silurian story! Sir Patrick Moore, still the game self-piss-taker from The Goodies who apparently has a libido to put the Silver Cloak to shame (but, we must note, does not come across as a creepy molestor like June Whitfield so effortlessly managed)! The chick from Peepshow and Beautiful People! And a guest-appearance from Jeff from Coupling (not played by the same actor, but clearly the same character). Pity about the special effects though, as we get surely the LEAST convicing alien spaceship since they tried dangling hubcaps on strings in 1964 - OK, a giant snowflake with a huge eyeball in the middle might be a cool idea, but the end result seems to be something hastily superimposed from Wolfenstein 3D. Oh well, if I judged stories by special effects, I'd be scum, surely?

The story's a straightforward tale of the Doctor on the backfoot, having lost his TARDIS, sonic screwdriver, and also regular control of his body and the blunt reminder he really works better with companions while a shape-shifting alien psychopath with a perception filter (typical Moff, first time he uses this SEM field, he uses it for scares rather than plot contrivance) is on the run from a very heavy-handed extradimensional wetworks team who sound disconcertingly like Tom Baker. There's a couple of nifty continuity references to Castrovalva and Silence in the Library as well as a hugely epic flashback sequence. To the classic series. Does this mean that the Hath and Vashta Nerada have invaded Earth? Ah, who gives a shit! This is an hour of Crowned Awesome, to the point that the inevitable "I AM the New Doctor, bitches!" moment is almost gratuitous. Was it ever in any doubt?

...well, yes, it was. But I was wrong and thank Mighty Zarquon for that!

The only bum note has to be a moment (which makes sense in context) where the Doctor berates Jeff for looking up hardcore porn on his laptop and tells him to "Get a girlfriend!" and delete the history folder. This, I think you will agree, is far more disconcerting than any moving statue or clockwork man, but I am left with the following thoughts.

1) Porn has, after all, appeared in Doctor Who before. The Doctor was checking out Vince's dirty postcards in Horror of Fang Rock, and Jago in The Unicorn and the Wasp enjoyed a naughty parchment or two. The fact the Doctor condmens it is also in character, as his philosophy would surely be "Why look at internet jpgs when you could go to Amsterdam and do some REAL debauchery and debasement?!"
2) It's never actually stated that Jeff's looking at porn, just viewing something embarassing that the Doctor reads as proof that Jeff is both heterosexual and single.

Looking back at it, I can only conclude that Jeff was actually checking out Lawrence Miles' blog and the Doctor's disgust and advice for Jeff to find someone else to obsess over is completely correct.

Oh yes, my friends. This is better than my wilder dreams! GOOD THINGS ARE GONNA HAPPEN!

Next Time: "There's a darkness at the heart of the spaceship! Help us, Doctor! You're our only hope!"
Matt Smith broods over joining Gallifrey Base. Graeme's scheme for a Pirate Great Britain goes a wee bit too far! Amy Pond -vs- a Giant Scorpion! How make a new story with props from The Idiot's Lantern! The Planet of the Hoodies! Amy and the Doctor reenact their favorite bits from Red Dwarf: Duct Soup! Amy does her Pauline Hanson ripping off Melissa parody youtube vid! The Doctor in a scene so Buffyish Joss should sue! Oh, can this be anything as good as the last one?!?

4/5

AMY POND DOES HER BRILLIANT ARTHUR DENT IMPERSONATION...
"COURSE, LAST TIME I DID THIS WITH MARTHA JONES. IT WAS BRILLIANT! I LOVE RIPPING OFF COMIC STRIPS FOR THE SHOW, DON'T YOU?"
"I THINK SOMEONE FORGOT TO PUT ON THEIR PANTIES TODAY... GIGGITY!!"
UM... I DUNNO. GOT NOTHING. SOME KIND OF BLADE RUNNER GAG, MAYBE? ...NO?
NOW, I SUPPOSE YOU'RE WONDERING WHY I BROUGHT YOU ALL HERE TONIGHT...
"OOH. AWKWARD. SO, AMY, IF YOU SEE A BLONDE GIRL WITH BIG TEETH HANGING ROUND A SKINNY GUY IN A BLUE SUIT, JUST DENY EVERYTHING OKAY?"
THE MOFFAT YEARS: BRINGING THE BEST ARSES TO DOCTOR WHO!
THE DOCTOR DIDN'T EVEN SUSPECT THAT STONEHENGE WAS BEING INFILTRATED BY THE OGRI UNTIL IT WAS FAR TOO LATE...
TINTIN DIDN'T TAKE MOFFAT'S REJECTION VERY WELL - TOGETHER WITH CAPTAIN HADDOCK AND PROFESSOR CALCULUS' SPACESHIP, VENGEANCE WOULD BE THEIRS!
++IRONIC-HOW-WE-USED-TO-GET-REDESIGNED-EVERY-STORY-BUT-NOWADAYS-ALL-JUST-THE-SAME-HUH?++
THE THIRD PETER CUSHING MOVIE, BIGGLES VERSUS THE DALEKS, WAS NOT A BOX OFFICE HIT, BUT IS FONDLY REMEMBERED BY SOME FANS.
THE TENNANT FANGIRLS REACT BADLY TO THE NEW LINE-UP.
THE ALBUM COVER OF "WHOOPS THERE GOES ANOTHER CONTROL ROOM" BY PANTHEON OF DISCORD.
EGADS! HOT REDHEADS IN BONDAGE! MOFFAT HAS FOUND MY ONE WEAKNESS!
HANG ON, THIS IS JUST THE SALLY LOCKHEART MYSTERIES ALL OVER AGAIN!

8 comments:

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Damn, just wrote my review and you actually reminded me of the bit that was missing - the "NEXT TIME' bit where I write odd summaries of the trailers. And then you did it.

Unusually, I seem to be more enthusiastic than you, but we're pretty much on the same page.

I think you may have left an 'Ogri' off one of the caption jokes as well..

Youth of Australia said...

Damn, just wrote my review and you actually reminded me of the bit that was missing - the "NEXT TIME' bit where I write odd summaries of the trailers. And then you did it.
Oh. Well. Oops.

Unusually, I seem to be more enthusiastic than you, but we're pretty much on the same page.
It's a nice place to be!

I think you may have left an 'Ogri' off one of the caption jokes as well..
Bugger! You're right!

BTW, I got a package today from "SM Har" of Wyong. That was YOU, right? Caught the first ep of SGU and delighted it maintained the standard of the previous episodes. I expecting Rush to turn out to be the king of the fish people, though...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

It's a nice place to be!

Yeah, I know. In my circle it's been heartily embraced. It's a change not to be going "Yeah.. well... that bit was cool..." as we were for a lot of last year..

Your hyperbole really tickled me when you talked about "This time last year we were contemplating taking our own lives over the crap with the bus." lol. Definitely wouldn't go that far, but there's a lot of truth there...

BTW, I got a package today from "SM Har" of Wyong. That was YOU, right?

Lol, yes my mum had some stuff to do at the post office so I got her to send it. And she's impressed you managed to read that much of her signature.

Caught the first ep of SGU and delighted it maintained the standard of the previous episodes.

Well, I'm afraid that's the only ep on there because, amazingly, they've only just come back from break. Though my Stargate-loving friend tells me this is what they do every year.

Most of the disc is taken up with Fringe, a show I mentioned to you a while back.

I expecting Rush to turn out to be the king of the fish people, though...

Me too! It diminished his badassery a little to find out he was an impotent prisoner, but he more than made up with that through his brain-over-brawns escape in which he also performed his first 100% unambiguously heroic act. FULL FIST!

Rush could yet be the new Avon..

"King of the Fish People" was interesting phrasing, though. Were you seeing Carlyle shouting "Untrue!" at his underlings?

Youth of Australia said...

Yeah, I know. In my circle it's been heartily embraced. It's a change not to be going "Yeah.. well... that bit was cool..." as we were for a lot of last year..
I agree. About the only story to come so close was WOM. It's been a long time...

Your hyperbole really tickled me when you talked about "This time last year we were contemplating taking our own lives over the crap with the bus." lol. Definitely wouldn't go that far, but there's a lot of truth there...
Well, last year I nearly died in the Easter Bunny outfit. Surviving that for Planet of the Dead didn't seem worth the hassle...

Lol,
Phew. I'm going "Wyong? I don't know anyone there. I know no SM Har! And I don't recognize the handwriting. Plus the Dinky Note Pad saying NADIA TE RANGI 12 WILKINSON AVE BIRMINGHAM GARDEN 2297 suggests this could be a wrong number..."

And she's impressed you managed to read that much of her signature.
Well, she's got very nice cursive...

Well, I'm afraid that's the only ep on there because, amazingly, they've only just come back from break. Though my Stargate-loving friend tells me this is what they do every year.
Oh, so this is a second series rather than the next half of the first one?

Most of the disc is taken up with Fringe, a show I mentioned to you a while back.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to checking that out.

Me too! It diminished his badassery a little to find out he was an impotent prisoner, but he more than made up with that through his brain-over-brawns escape in which he also performed his first 100% unambiguously heroic act. FULL FIST!
Yeah! STRANGLE THE PICENE BASTARD!

Rush could yet be the new Avon..
Well, now he's been in this he just needs a B7 script worthy of him.

"King of the Fish People" was interesting phrasing, though.
Yeah, looking back at it... do the blue fish-headed dudes have a name. Or do we call them The Hath Only Not Retarded?

Were you seeing Carlyle shouting "Untrue!" at his underlings?
Well, maybe at Young...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

I agree. About the only story to come so close was WOM. It's been a long time...

And WOM was strangely underwhelming. I guess the problem was that it really wasn't much of a special considering the story's scope.

.. the gap year was a terrible concept, wasn't it?

Well, last year I nearly died in the Easter Bunny outfit.

Oh, right. This year's was more.. comfortable? As in, less life-threatening?

Plus the Dinky Note Pad saying NADIA TE RANGI 12 WILKINSON AVE BIRMINGHAM GARDEN 2297 suggests this could be a wrong number..."

Erm.. okay that 50% was. My mum didn't realise each CD case had an address attached. So if you could mail that one on to Ms Te Rangi it would be greatly appreciated.

Yours is the case with one disc in it, which is "SGU Dr Who A2A FRINGE" IIRC...

You can take any eps you might want from them first, I guess..

Oh, so this is a second series rather than the next half of the first one?

No, it is the second half of the first series. But they have a four-month gap DURING their seasons. I find it really weird. Oddly enough, in America they've even released the SGU 'Half season boxset'.

Yeah, looking back at it... do the blue fish-headed dudes have a name. Or do we call them The Hath Only Not Retarded?

At the moment we can call them whatever we want. No name yet, but you'd think they'd have one soon..

Well, maybe at Young...

And with good reason!

Youth of Australia said...

And WOM was strangely underwhelming.
Maybe down to the "part one of three" aspect...

.. the gap year was a terrible concept, wasn't it?
I know. Amazingly enough, I blogged on the subject back in 07.

Oh, right. This year's was more.. comfortable? As in, less life-threatening?
Oh yeah. The old one was full of rubber, so it was literally being buried, blind and drowning in your own sweat. This one was big and hollow like it should be.

Erm.. okay that 50% was. My mum didn't realise each CD case had an address attached. So if you could mail that one on to Ms Te Rangi it would be greatly appreciated.
Cool, will do tomorrow.

Yours is the case with one disc in it, which is "SGU Dr Who A2A FRINGE" IIRC...
Ah, right. I thought you were sending me extra Fringe and Dollhouse.

No, it is the second half of the first series. But they have a four-month gap DURING their seasons. I find it really weird. Oddly enough, in America they've even released the SGU 'Half season boxset'.
Bloody hell. That's up there in the pointless stakes as "three episodes of Vicar of Dibley on one DVD".

At the moment we can call them whatever we want. No name yet, but you'd think they'd have one soon..
Then I shall call them...
Sentrassi!

And with good reason!
Always with good reason. In a very Avon way, Rush comes off slightly better because at least he's honest about how much of an asshole he is.

Miles Reid said...

Well, Rush is one of the shows better characters (which... isn't that hard) and it was pretty badass to see him just take down that fish guy with his bare hands in some sort of beserker rage.

My best friend and I disagree about whether or not SG-U is actually any good, he hates it because he only really likes Eli (he's pretty much a nerd shut-in, strange, back in school- I WAS the nerd shut-in) and none of the other characters. Me, I like it because of the simple fact that apart from Rush, no-one knows what the fuck they're doing. In Western SF shows, especially American SF shows, the main characters are usually highly trained members of a paramilitary organisation or in some way possessed of basic training. The incompetence actually equals... dare I say it... drama. This is what Star Trek Voyager should've been like.

Youth of Australia said...

Agree with you 100% there, Miles.