DOCTOR WHO: THE CRASH OF THE BYZANTIUM
But, oh, hark! Do you a hear a voice
Like velvet through the night sky?
Do you hear the fickle hand
Of fate at my side?
And all those that god has sinned
With hope in his stride?
And watch out!
Watch for them camouflaged
And crouched in the shadows!
Though they couldn't hold
A candle up to you!
But they stand as tall as you
In broad daylight too!
It's not surprise that Mad Larry Miles has abandoned Doctor Who forever. After all, he considers the showrunner a Scottish antichrist who purposely and vindictively took over the show specifically to make Larry's life hell (he actually FORCED Larry at gunpoint to become a mysanthropic chubby-chasing alcoholic, you know) and even the Faction Paradox fanclub - the hardcore nutters who refer to the show as Evil Renegade - prefer the output to anything Miles has offered up of late.
And then this! 100 minutes of Un-Leaded Hard-Core F-U Larry Fetish Fuel! A horribly young Doctor! A contemporary companion! River Song! Armed soldiers! And worst of all, the monsters of the piece were the Weeping Angels! The villains that Miles was convinced he could "piss in his sleep" who just happen to require large number of teenage girls in underwear and bodypaint! Even Larry couldn't deny that he was being driven mad by envy, and abandoned his blog altogether so he could tweet about stuff that amused him.
And of course the brilliance is that this becomes the first two-part Moff story I like! Let joy be unconfined! He finally comes up trumps - and just when he stops being the guy who drops round on weekends who no one ever critiques his scripts out of hero worship! A coincidence? I think not!
It's a widely-held belief that sequels generally suck and the definite exception to this rule is the film Aliens. And how did they manage that? Well, Alien was - sci-fi-horror trappings aside - a basic slasher film with a bunch of clueless bystanders being hunted by an unstoppable killing machine. The sequel could have simply done the "different cast, same threat" and turned out like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. But what does this sequel do? It's not a bunch of fairly-innocent monster fodder stumbling across the threat, it's a bunch of heavily-armed technologically superior bastard sent there specifically to slaughter every last one of the mofos using the expert testimony of the previous films. And then it's not just one alien, it's thousands of them - and not naive newborn chestbusters, but veterans who work together under their big bad queen. The stakes are raised and all the goalposts shifted!
And maybe that's why Moff has gone for a very Aliens vibe - expect the marines are militant monks, the aliens are the Weeping Angels and Ripley is River Song. Still, it works, doesn't it? And with spaceships full of plants, monsters in caves, illusionary threats, returning aliens, there's a real Season 19 vibe to this. Even in Time-Flight, where arguably the best moment is the Doctor musing Heathrow isn't real because "to be is to be percieved", seems an influence.
The Weeping Angels seemed best left as a one-hit wonder, but Moffat thankfully has something else to say with them, and also surreptituously manages to justify some of the gaps in Blink. Who threw that stone at Sally? The Angels. Why? Apparently they're evil sadistic sons of bitches. Why should we be scared of statues that don't look like Angels? Because Angels don't always look like Angels.
It turns out the gang in Blink were desperate scavengers, barely able to do much beyond eating people's future - but that's why they needed the TARDIS, to supercharge themselves up to full power. And this story begins with one such Angel getting caught in such an explosion and (re)gains some freaky powers - the ability to voodoo any image of itself into another angel; ripping out people's cerebral cortexes to use as a puppet; turning other people into statues; laughing; flying...
When the Doctor rants in part one that the Weeping Angels are the biggest baddest thing ever (apart from the Daleks, natch), it actually feels like he's got reason to be worried unlike with Vashta Nerada where he spent most of the story jumping up and down and screaming at people to be scared. Odd how Moff seems to have two modes when it comes to aliens - either the Doctor's never heard of them or they're the things that give him nightmares...
Some fans actually complained at the sequence where a blinded Amy has to bluff her way past a group of Angels - since, you know, she can't see them, why are they stone? Well, even APART from the Doctor's explanation that the Angels are in a blind panic and working on pure instinct, if you think about it, it's a very loose definition of what turns them to stone. I mean, "observed"? Does that include hearing, smell, knowledge that they're there? It's like people bitching about Churchill not listening to the Doctor in the previous story. They focus on the ONE thing that's explained in the plot and not on the gaping problems around it...
And River Song returns. Moff has revealed... or maybe just admitted... that Silence in the Library was a bit half-arsed from his point of view, what with juggling six different projects all at once, and has determined to do RS justice this time round. Certainly, she seems not half as annoying as she was previously, if only because she is here presented as wild and untrustworthy rather than the "supposed-to-be-intelligent" gormless idiot she becomes. The story doesn't shy from the fact she is a selfish, unreliable bitch who is more trouble than she's worth. It's not so much she is assumed to be the Doctor's wife because of how he treats her, but how she treats him - with a lack of reverence bordering on contempt. This, coupled with the blatant "she's from the future and the Doctor hates knowing the future" business (which she sadistically delights in pointing out at every opportunity), makes her more rounded. As Chris Boucher and Joss Whedon proved, you don't need a character to be likeable, just interesting. And as the Doctor angrilly demonstrates, for someone who's apparently destined to be more important to him than Donna Noble, she's doing a completely shithouse job!
Kudos too to Moff for his kicking-into-gear of the story arc, speeding up the usual shennanegans to a speed comparable to the new Robin Hood. The cracks in time are noticed, the Doctor seems to have an inkling what's happening, Amy's amnesia is compared to the (complete lack of) fallout of the Cyberking, Amy's wedding is revealed, the Pandorica is explained (or, at least, why the Doctor didn't give a shit when Prisoner Zero went on and on about it) and the story cliffhangers smoothly into the Venetian Vampire tale. This is coupled with a nice little mention that the Tenth Doctor met RS again between SIL and EOT - presumably brooding about Donna all the while - and also why RS expected him to know who she was but didn't know he was younger than "Babyface".
Points off, however, for a few gags in episode one. Not that they weren't funny, but the gag that the TARDIS only wheezes and groans because the handbrake is left on bugs me for several reasons
a) we see the Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Doctor release the handbrake and there's still noise
b) so, every Time Lord ever also left the brakes on while using the TARDIS?
c) neither the sensible Romana nor Rani ever mentioned this?
The idea that the Doctor "keeps score" by using an asteroid museum as a "trophy room" also annoys, as he has never done anything remotely similar before or since and as an excuse for some repeated gags, they're not THAT impressive, are they?
Not really a criticism... I think... but my brain was clearly working SLIGHTLY too fast for Moffat in this story. When the Doctor notes there is no picture of the Angel in the book, it was instantly obvious to me what was going to happen to the recording - likewise the "doorways" stuff immediately told me what was going to happen to Amy. It got a bit embarrassing since (as I was still smarting from the logic breakdowns of Gatiss) that I mocked the maze for its one-headed statues when they should all look like Zaphod Beeblebrox... only for that to turn out to be a whacking great plot point and the characters were furious with themselves for not spotting it. The cliffhanger was a bit obvious too, since shooting something called a "gravity globe" and then jumping DID hint how to get out of it (mind you, after the dancing Graham Norton, I wasn't entirely sure what the hell was happening anyway...) Apparently there's some malarkey about the Doctor's jacket, but I can't swear to it, and it's not impossible he could have snatched it from some angel at some point, probably stuffing it into his transdimensional pockets at various moments when the plot requires.
It really does boggle the mind to think that this was the first story filmed, given how established the leads are. You wouldn't think they hadn't so much as been on the TARDIS set before this ep, let alone missed the last three stories. The Doctor continues his traditional newborn loss of innocence as he fails to save people, needs to sacrifice himself from the greater good, and discovers another motherfucking story arc infesting his life. His violent mood swings are really quite scary, and am I the only one reminded of Mr. Hyde promising to "take his time" with the K&U soldiers when the Doctor vows to hold the troopers "personally responsible - twice" if anything happens to his friend?
Meanwhile, Amy's own journey continues. Her secrecy gets her in trouble when she refuses to tell anyone what's wrong, she shows more hints of a death wish, and there's a hint that she's gone stark staring bonkers at the end of the story... which, admittedly, begs the question of how sane she was in the first place given her psychiatric history, enjoyment of criminal activities like pick-pocketing, lock-picking and well she must have found out she was good at being a stripper SOMEHOW...
As for the epic finale scene where she tries to jump the Doctor's Time Lord bones was, I'll be blunt, uncomfortable viewing. While it's true the content was no worse than the average sitcom, it was the equivalent of the companion stripping naked and screaming "JUST FUCK ME ALREADY!" at the hero. And not in a Charles Daniels sort of way either. I mean, yes, she's a horny teenager who has fallen in lust with the Doctor, has commitment issues and is very much in the "by-the-ass-crack-of-the-infinite-I-nearly-freaking-died-must-instinctively-reproduce-stat!" mood PLUS this is only after a story that strongly hints he has a sex life...
...still felt wrong though.
I mean, compare to the scene in The Runaway Bride where Lance tells Donna she's so crap at sex he would rather shag a giant spider. A lot more subtle and with a kind of innocent double entendre (one could imagine many parents telling their kids that Donna simply snored loudly), but if anyone can find some other way to describe Amy, sprawled legs akimbo on her bed, huskily begging the Doctor to "sort her out" on the logic that after 907 years the Time Lord must be gagging for a shag... well, frankly, I'd like to hear what this other explanation is.
Thankfully, the Doctor's reaction - a combinination of "this is pedophiliac bestiality" and "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?" - balances it out rather. It certainly ends up more wholesome than the Silver Cloak molesting him en masse. Hmmm. For some reason, my mind's gone a blank after that scene. It's probably fair to say that Matt Smith said "God, I love this job" in rehearsals though, especially when Karen Gillan got a bit TOO frisky (all of this thankfully kept on Confidential for those adult-only DVD extras Spara is always on about).
So yeah, this story was good. It continues the high standards, and has helped reinforce what useless dickheads Mad Larry and Thomas Cookson are in their reactions to the show. I need never be troubled that they were right again. I mean, we actually get to see what the Angels are like when no one's looking...
...and they're not crap.
Oh yeah. Good stuff.
Next: The Vampires of Venice
"Scary pale girls who don't like the sunlight..."
The Doctor's sex therapist skills are put to the test as he takes Amy and Rory to the Venetian renaissance and tries to get her bonking someone who isn't him. This predictably ends up with Amy offering herself as a vestal virgin to a bunch of hot teenage lesbian vampire girls. HAH! Where is your "gay agenda" now, old man?!