Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Doctor Who - Room To Let


I don't need pleasure,
I don't feel pain
If you were to knock me down
I'd just get up again

I wake up every morning
With a smile upon my face
My natural exhuberance
Spils out all over the place

I never let my friends down
I've never made a boob
I'm a glossy magazine
An advert in the tube

I'm the Urban Spaceman, baby,
Here comes the twist
I don't exist!

I was going to begin with a rant about the possible mental problems that Gareth Roberts possesses - I mean, OK, reusing your own material isn't the greatest sin in the world but even Terry Nation at his most unoriginal hackjobiness waited six years before selling us the anti-novelty of Planet of the Daleks! Robert's first episode was based on a comic strip LESS THAN A YEAR OLD. I mean... gah! It reached truly hideous heights with The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, which was an almost word-for-word rewrite of the story it was a sequel to and the only 'new' material stolen from Sapphire and Steel. It boggles the mind! When people claimed Ian Marter had nicked the end of a Bond film for his magnum opus Harry Sullivan's War, the author intelligently defended himself on the grounds he wasn't stupid enough to steal something millions of readers would know. Roberts seemed to suffer the other extreme - even The Unicorn and the Wasp was, in affect, Doctor Vs. Doctor only with some real people in it!

But I should be fair. I liked The Shakespeare Code, even though it is impossible to reconcile with its inspiration A Groatsworth of Wit. I liked The Unicorn and the Wasp. And his first season SJA material was great. It's quite possible I would have liked his original version of Planet of the Dead with Chelonians, space hotels and more exploding spaceships you could wave a metaphor at. As I might have mentioned earlier, Roberts' work turns to warm crap if it's last-minute-panic, and he was clearly given plenty of time to sort this out and has a naturalistic grasp of the regulars that shows you why he's the go-to bloke in books, audio and comic strips. It is an unacknowledged fact he wrote more material for the Doctor and Rose in 2005 than RTD did.

Now, The Lodger was a 2006 comic strip and a bloody good one at that - it put the "characterization" of the TV show to shame and ended with the Doctor getting a dressing down from Mickey the Idiot about the Time Lord's arrogance and snobbery and (brace yourself) the Doctor actually paid attention. No auto-reset like that rubbish season. It was a lovely character piece as Rose's boyfriends finally dealt with the issues they had with each other since day freaking one. It was a nice "take that", much as Jackie's quiet retort in Army of Ghosts ("I've worked in a shop, what's wrong with that?" when Rose goes off about how much better she is than anyone else on the estate), which pointed out that some people are genuinely happy with their lot and not frustrated potential-wasted losers desperate for escape.

This remake sadly lacks this depth, but it's simply that neither the Eleventh Doctor or Craig need to learn this lesson. They simply don't have the friction of the RTD Doctors and Mickey. So, the background of the comic (the Doctor crashes at Mickey's place for a week due to a broken TARDIS and outshines him at absolutely everthing) is cranked up to eleven, as the Bernard Black aspects of the Eleventh Doctor are cranked up to... well, Eleven. If you aren't reminded of Dylan Moran when the Doctor puts a telemarketing client on hold so he can eat a delicious biscuit and TELLS the client this, before blowing him a raspberry and hanging up then you clearly don't know who Dylan Moran is and this entire paragraph is a waste of time.

Fascinatingly, this is exactly the sort of plot I might have expected Simon Nye to pull off - Time Lords Behaving Peculiarly - assuming I thought Nye was a one trick pony unable to come up with anything new. Bit like Roberts. HAH! No, seriously, Gareth, you and I are kindred spirits. I myself put down Kerr Avon, the Fourth Doctor and the Goodies as childhood inspirations. Alas, I don't look like the offspring of their hidous love affair like you do, and I'm not a hugely successful author who comes up with some genuinely hilarious comedic material.

There are so many brilliant moments as the socially not-all-there Doctor tries to go undercover as an ordinary bloke with such ease and subtelty that I'm clearly a liar. I couldn't imagine any other incarnation doing this story, or at least being so entertaining. The First Doctor would have been easily able to bluff his way; the Second probably would have been banned from trying to fix the toaster (and would have to answer awkward questions about why he's sharing his small bed with a butch Scottish teenage boy in a kilt); the Third Doctor would have been horrible company for entirely different reasons; the Fourth would most likely never been in the flat, too busy at art galleries, industrial estates and of course pubs; the Fifth Doctor did it all the time and would have blended into the wall paper; the Sixth Doctor would have gone to a hotel; the Seventh would have sorted it all out in ten minutes; the Eighth would have most likely slept through the story; and the Ninth would have been unable to spend two minutes in the company of these Colchester chavs!

Hell, I'll just list the truly awesome moments of amazing genius that make us wish the Doctor didn't leave the TARDIS yet so glad he did...

1) being mistaken for a drug dealer since he's called The Doctor, carries huge amounts of cash in paper bags and is clearly off his face

2) giving a Pertwee-esque morality speech to the football team before twigging their vows to "destroy the other team" weren't to be taken literally

3) yuppie-kissing everyone in the belief that's how you greet people in 2010

4) impressing everyone with his omelette making skills when he was clearly using a random assortment of leftovers and an egg (which, to be fair, is precisely what an omelete was in 18th century France, which is where the Doctor learnt the trick)

5) promising to let Craig know if he comes home late with a prospective shag... by screaming "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!?" at the top of his voice

6) homaging the shower scene from Spearhead from Space, even down to the nonsense song Pertwee sang

7) some more of that crude-yet-effective reverse psychology on the female guest star

8) using psychic headbutts in lieu of explanations

9) saving Craig's life with a tea bag. From the garbage bin.

10) Deciding all this undercover stuff is a waste of time and asking the pet cat what was happening and getting the entire plot explained to him

James Corden is pretty good as Craig, but as I only know him from Gavin and Stacy (you know, that's where the Prime Minister came from), I can't really comment about the wave of Corden-hatred that swept across the nation. Is he REALLY that bad? Apparently he's an unfunny asshole in real life (slightly evidenced by his turn in Confidential where he tells the same gag over and over again, trying to undermine Matt Smith by saying all his footy skills are CGI), but none of it comes across on screen. And frankly, if someone I was giving an award to started insulting me for my weight in front of an audience, I'd diss them as well - Patrick Stewart or not! Certainly I for one would not complain to Craig returning in Series 6, because no matter how much Moffat tries, he'll always be a better regular than River Song.

The B plot feels a bit Moffaty as well. A spooky voice that lures people upstairs, kills them and steals their voice to lure more people upstairs? Effective, yes, but not exactly what you'd call innovative, is it? The Weeping Angels did it earlier in the series. And there's also the exaggeration of perception filters - OK, I'll buy that one would stop anyone noticing an alien spaceship sitting on a house. But if it makes everyone think the spaceship is PART of the house, well, that's when it stops being a FILTER altogether, right? The origin of the ship is so vague and, with anyone other than Moffat as a showrunner, I'd assume it was an ill-thought out one-off plot device... but it could just be crucial in the season finale.

How Meglos is apparently supposed to fit into this plot, I just don't know.

Would have been awesome to see Matt Smith as cactus man, though.

A nice, happy episode that was clearly designed to have a football-based plot shown on the day the Word Cup began and featuring a celebrity in both. It's an upbeat story, and perhaps the only one since The Eleventh Hour. Don't worry, be happy, thank God you're not Kevin Rudd!

Next Time: "What could you POSSIBLY be?"
It's obviously a Doctor-lite episode, cunning disguise as a clip show! You clever bastard, Moffat!


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