Friday, May 28, 2010

Doctor Who - Oh Those CHUDs...


One day it's fine and then it's black
So if you want me off your back
If I go, there will be trouble...
And if I stay, it will be double!

If you say that you are mine
I'll be here till the End of Time
So you gotta let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

The Straight Agenda... it was a joke at first, but I begin to wonder. I mean, not only do we have the stripperific Amy Pond in every episode, there's also a distinct slant to making sure there's a fanciable female in every episode (Prisoner Zero, Liz 10, River Song, Calvari - but not one in Victory of the Daleks. Maybe that's why it fits so badly in this series?) But now that's THREE alien monster armies we've met that just so happen to involve lots of fit teenage girls playing Weeping Angels, vampires and now Silurians! (Don't worry, those reptillian busts are actually venom sacks, which is why female Silurians are the kickass soldiers and the puny males are the gormless strategists.) Is Moffat really as randy a little Scot as we joke, or is it just the contrast after the last few decades of DW being, essentially, controlled by the Gays? RTD, JNT, Gary Russell... has this mindset become so fused with the core of Doctor Who we only notice it by its absence? Certainly, Mad Larry's "Gayest Ever Things In Doctor Who" were thoroughly baffling to me. Apparently Ice Warriors, UNIT and the Master are all screaming benders - but does Terra Alpha, Duke Guiliano and Tegan and Nyssa get a mention?

Oh well, just me waffling.

Chris Chibnall returns to the fold with eagerness one can't help but compare to his "Torchwood? Never heard of it!" attitude of the last year. His brief is to create a quintissential Pertwee story, but the irony is that RTD's been doing that rather a lot of late what with Masters, UNIT, earthbound supporting casts, social commentary and celebrity cameos. Thus Chris is left with a bunch of stereotypical situations Pertwee encountered, robbed of context and falling into the sort of trap many a fan audio has fallen into (yeah, Season 27, I'm yelling at YOU!).

So we have the Doctor, his miniskirted companion and a rather useless but well-intentioned young bruiser arrive in the near-future in a rural Welsh village (The Green Death), which has been cut off from the outside world by an invisible force-wall (The Daemons). What's more, supernatural events are taking place involving the dead that have a mundane-albeit-left-field explanation involving history changing (Day of the Daleks). This is because of the Silurians (just guess) reacting badly to a mining rig drilling into the core of the Earth (Inferno). Desperate and traumatized humans take aliens hostage and visa versa (The Ambassadors of DEATH), and a bunch of likable family folk are hunted in their homes by monsters under the cover of dark (Colony in Space). The idea of peace is raised, mainly so humanity can get its dirty little digits on some alien tech (Claws of Axos) but the Doctor's peace negotiations are stuffed by some stupid humans (The Sea Devils), and finally half of it never happens due to nasty forces from outside time (The Time Monster), but the Doctor's male companion is thoroughly screwed over anyway (Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Plus the whole thing is basically the fault of the Doctor making some rather stupid mistakes (Planet of the Spiders).

Thus, the story is not exactly going to be much more than the sum of its parts. It's not even the epic global warming story everyone prophecized. The Silurians and humans get into conflict again, the Doctor tries to do a deal, is thwarted at the last minute. No doubt new audiences will enjoy it more, rather than us fans who have seen it done elsewhere in books and audios and comic strips, most of which end with Silurians awake and slowly but surely mingling with human civilization. Guess cracks in time must have dealt with the efforts of Sarah, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw then, eh? From the Doctor's unhelpful comments, he's only ever met the reptile people once before. That doesn't even include the Sea Devils!

And the thing is, I've come to the conclusion I don't actually like the Silurians. Not to say they're badly done or anything like that, I just think they - as a race - are overrated arseholes who don't deserve their unique place as "monsters the Doctor feels sorry for". We're told time and time again how honorable and civilized the green bastards are, but I don't recall any evidence to support it in either this story or any other. Check out their first story, where the lizard people strut around shouting "OBEY ME OR I SHALL DESTROY YOU!" at each other, or gloating "I AM THE LEADER NOW!" Not exactly deep or moral, are they? It's not as if that first story was lacking in human characterization: Dr. Lawrence's bitchy "If he spent more time here doing his work than hiding in that cottage writing his book" gives us a whole bitter working relationship in a sentence. We can relate to that. Are we really supposed to emphathize with Morka screaming "I HAVE DESTROYED THEM AND NOW I SHALL DESTROY YOU!" at everyone who looks at him funny.

Even in Warriors of the Deep, Icthar is a total bastard. True, he's better characterized than most of the humans as a paranoid hypocritical scumbag and the only person in the story to try and kill an unarmed opponent of their own free will. Compare this to the Sea Devils in their stories, who show mercy and respect to everyone they face, open negotiations and are willing to accept the fact man has inherited the Earth (it's only when he attacks them do they fight back, give or take some manipulation from the Master).

I think it's summed up best in the comic strip Twilight of the Gods, which shows the story of one Silurian zoo-keeper at the time the lizard folk decide the world is ending. This Silurian is something of an open-minded fellah, but is still a total wanker. He believes the apes are intelligent and have potential so he... tortures them and makes their lives a misery, but arguably not much more than any Victorian workhouse. With the apocalypse nigh, the Silurian gives all the apes their freedom and is amazed when they suddenly repay his kindness by doing all the tricks he's been trying to teach them. The moment his guard is down, the apes Rodney-King gangbash him to death in a typical darkly ironic ending of these strips.

But the Fourth Doctor, who is narrating events, points out with a slight measure of pride that the apes were much more intelligent than they were assumed to be - they knew they weren't being given their freedom as being left to die, and made damn sure they got some payback. This was the first step of mankind's kicking-and-screaming quest to claim the world the Silurians abandoned. We fucking earned the Earth, unlike those no-fist cry-baby pseudosionosaurs!

Thus, it's hard not to get a bit pissed off at these arrogant lizard bastards who dare call us vermin when we've made more of the Earth than THEY ever have, and lived in the place for billennia more than they have. They're bitter exes, shouting "How DARE you get a new boyfriend after me!!" Yes, a race of Ben Chathams. And so, it's hard to feel very sorry for them, especially Alaya the resident Silurian babe we meet for most of the story. She's a death worshipping psychotic fascist with a martyr complex that despises ideas like cooperation or peace - "civilized", don't you know? She spends the whole story determined to die, simply because she knows her death would ruin any negotiations and plunge Earth into an inter species war, even though she damn well knows the Silurians would lose.

Of course, the humans play right into this trap and kill her. But unlike Walker the George W Bush of Evil, or even Mrs. Dawson the bitter widow, this time it's hard to go "oh, what a Greek tragedy!" when things go wrong. A highly-strung housewife has had her son and husband kidnapped presumed dead and her father slowly dying of poison, and the person responsible is swearing to murder them all in a display of orgiastic violence. Are we really supposed to feel angry or ashamed when she snaps and tasers the scaly bitch? Especially when the so-called superior Earth reptile dies from a jolt that wouldn't render a HUMAN unconscious. True, the Doctor's righteous passion at this massive fuck-up is impressive and justified (he has no actual knowledge of what happened, only the wife ruined everything), but does anyone suddenly go "Awww" looking at the unrepentant suicidal killing machine finally dying? And when, of course, her badass big sister finds the body and lets out a mewing noise of absolute despair; very moving love, but you were about to ethnically cleanse the globe BEFORE It Got Personal. There's no moral event horizon here, she was a psychotic bitch before and I for one cheered at her painful death.

For the first time we actually get some nice Silurians, but they are barely a cameo and (oddly enough) both male. One of which being Stephen "Brain the Size of a Planet" Moore, who manages to single-handedly back up any of the Doctor's claims that Homo Reptillia are a race worthy of not blowing the crap out of at the first opportunity. Thankfully he survives the story, but the Silurians are forced to hibernate for a thousand years during which the human characters have to get a proper reception ready (maybe chatting with all the Eocene colonies UNIT are on first name terms with could help?) But yeah, this all smacks of sequel fodder, with unexplained plot threads about Silurian venom causing mutation, the blue grass, and the fact there's a kind of "Silurian UNIT Family" established. Countless other reviewers have thus automatically trashed this story for being too Star Trek, what with rubber-faced aliens arguing with humans around a table about topics like health and immigration for up to FORTY SECONDS AT A TIME. Yes, it would be bog-of-mill-standard stuff for Bitch Janeway and her band of assholes to deal with on Voyager, but it's not exactly usual for Doctor Who, is it? The closest ever got would be some grumbles between Draconians and humans in Frontier in Space or maybe The Sensorites. For the first time ever, negotiations consist of more than the Doctor giving a feeble "let's all be friends" to aliens who aren't interested, as he did to Daleks, Cybermen AND Homo Reptilia in the classic series. Apparently doing something vaguely similar to Star Trek is a crime, but raping and pillaging the Pertwee era is just good business. Christ, I hate fandom.

Meera Syal's in it too, meaning 3/4s of the cast of Goodness Gracious Me have now been in Doctor Who! Meera's very good as the Doctor's substitute companion Nasreem, a freshingly down-to-earth lady free of any real gimmicks, coming across like a kind of Barbara Wright character. She certainly puts Amy in perspective, and by contrast makes her seem almost unlikeable. I say almost because this story does make clear that her "cool" act, with her couldn't-care-less Buffy witticisms are just an act. She's that sort of person who just can't bring herself to do anything but call Rory "clingy" when he assumes she's dead after being sucked into the Earth, even though she is clearly deeply moved. Assume everything she says is a sarcastic cover for her true feelings and she's a lot easier to like, with Ms. Gillan once more proving she's more than just a beautiful body in a borderline illegally-short skirt - as evidenced when Rory dies.

Yes. He dies.


Making a habit of it, really, even down to the 'stupidly-blunder-in-front-of-alien-death-ray-and-spend-last-few-seconds-gibbering-incoherently', though this story does at least give a rationale for his suicidal bravery. Like Arthur Dent, he assumed he'd be safe because he had a destiny.

Trouble is, there's a bloody crack in the wall that is reset-buttoning the universe into submission, and Rory's destiny is not a glorious decade-long love affair with Amy, but to get mown down by a reimagineered Sea Devil blaster. And then deleted from history like he's been caught with his trousers down by the Inquisitor. Still, there's a decent gap between the last story and this for all the novels and comic strips to fit and give Rory's time aboard the TARDIS as much meaning as Captain Jack's ride with the Tenth Doctor and Rose. Odd how they forgot all about him as well... ah, probably coincidence.

And the story ends on a bleakly cheerful note, as Amy cheerfully heads off for another adventure, completely unaware she ever had a fiance that died horribly. Only the Doctor remembers pointy-nosed Rory, and that's not even the worst of it! He's found out what explodes on Amy's once-was wedding day and shatters the universe.

A certain 1960s metropoliton police box.

Oh, as they say, shit.

But there are two lighthearted comedy eps before the Epic Bigness Finale, so don't let it get anyone down. In retrospect, I can't say that these two episodes are bad. Special effects great, acting pitch perfect, costumes and sets, the plot at worst adequate (it would be nice if that stuff about the graves was a bit clearer, or why Marvin the Paranoid Silurian was narrating the story with stuff he shouldn't know), and even the lack of socio-political subtext doesn't bother me. It's just the whole thing's grim and depressing - like every Silurian story SHOULD be, it seems - and worse doesn't end when the credits kick off. It feels like it's the first story of a season rather than one at the end, giving a real case of arc fatigue, especially the fact the next two stories might as well have been shown at the start of the year. Admitting the reset button's been pressed doesn't make it any more enjoyable, Moff!

Yes, it's not a bad story. But I didn't like it.

Next Time: Vincent and the Doctor
"If we're not careful, the net result of our little trip will be the brutal murder of the greatest artist who ever lived!"
Yup, time for the comedy historical to make everyone forget about all the deep crap that brought back the classic series monsters and wrote out the male companion. On the bright side, at least this time there's a reason for everyone to act like he never actually existed...


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