Friday, October 2, 2015

The Quality of Mercy of The Doctor


Poor Davros.  All he really wants is to see one last sunrise...and destroy The Doctor.  The Witch's Familiar, the second part of a two-part story I'm calling Davros' Revenge, goes through the motions one more time.  It isn't just Steven Moffat's tropes of a.) going to a character's childhood (we've seen so far, the childhoods of The Master, The Doctor, Amy, Rory, River, Clara, and now Davros), b.) the idea that 'love' conquers all (the villain really isn't a villain, at least for most of the episode), c.) a far-too-convoluted resolution to the 'the characters really didn't die' business (and the idea that characters don't ever die at all), d.) everyone pretty much being ahead of everyone else and e.) throwing continuity out the window by contradicting something that came before (in this case, something which came decades before and which was already established Canon).

While all of that is already difficult to overlook, the fact that Moffat threw away a really good idea that actually had me intrigued for part of The Witch's Familiar is what makes this another sad, sorry disappointment in Doctor Who history.  No wonder people preferred watching Rugby.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is enraged at Davros (Julian Bleach) has harmed the Doctor's Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).  So enraged that he tosses Davros from his life-support wheelchair (in a style that makes Blofeld's exit in For Your Eyes Only seem subtle) and threatens the Daleks until she is returned.  Clara, meanwhile, is with the transgendered Master (Michelle Gomez), who takes her to the Dalek sewers.  These sewers are also the Dalek graveyards of decaying/insane Daleks, and the ever-crafty transgendered Master gets a Dalek to fall into her trap.  She gets Clara Into the Dalek and pretends to be that Dalek's prisoner. 

Clara discovers what the transgendered Master has known all along: the familiar Dalek cry of "EXTERMINATE!" is really the Daleks reloading their weapons, by channeling their emotion into their guns.  This is why when Clara says "I love you", it comes out "Exterminate". 

Now the Doctor and Davros begin playing a game of cat-and-mouse, but a most curious one.  Davros, on death's door, now has apparently regrets about what he's done.  As he lays dying, he wants to see the sunrise, just once more, with his own eyes, and asks the Doctor if he was "a good man" (the same question the Doctor asked of Clara last year).

The Doctor, moved by compassion, offers a little regenerative energy to Davros to allow him a last glimpse of Skaro's sun.  The Doctor connects himself with the cords that have kept Davros alive and gives a little of his energy, but this was all part of Davros' evil scheme.  He wants to use the Time Lord's regenerative therapy to revive not just himself, but all the Daleks.  The Doctor may be that long-prophesied Time Lord/Dalek hybrid people have been talking about for centuries, which might have been why he ran away from Gallifrey all that long ago.

As a side note, I admit I missed all the episodes between Smith & Jones and The End of Time, but when did this prophesy pop up?  I also missed the episode where we find The Master had a daughter (and in my only snippy remark, wonder if that daughter's name is Kendall or Kylie).

Well, the regenerative energy spreading about and the transgendered Master coming in to save the day, we discover that the Doctor knew of Davros' plans all along.  His energy hasn't just awoken all the Daleks on the surface, but those in the sewers, who now are going to battle the living Daleks. 

It's Night of the Living Daleks!

In the chaos, The Doctor stumbles upon the transgendered Master and that Dalek tottering behind.  The transgendered Master tells the Doctor that Clara is dead and that the Dalek in front of him killed her.  The transgendered Master urges the Doctor to kill this Dalek, who can't tell him she's really Clara!  It is only when the Dalek begs for mercy that he realizes something off.  He tells the Dalek to open up, and out pops Clara.  They flee the crumbling Dalek world in the TARDIS, which wasn't destroyed thanks in part to the Doctor's new sonic spectacles.  The Doctor has one more task to perform: he goes back to the childhood of Davros, and exterminates...the hand-mines, thus giving Little Davros the inspiration to instill a touch of mercy to the Daleks (and which allowed the Clara Dalek not to fire on him). The Mistress is left behind, and now it's off to something else.

Ah, I feel like that lonely voice in the wilderness, because I'm one of the handful that isn't lavishing praise on The Bitch's Familiar.  Yes, I know it's "Witch's", but given The Mistress did say to tell Davros that "the bitch is back"...

The Witch's Familiar delights in going against Canon, of contradicting what has gone before.  In Resurrection of the Daleks, Davros makes very clear that he hasn't installed anything close to mercy.  In fact, if he had it his way, he'd do so only to enhance their killing abilities, not to make them soft in any way.

How now to reconcile a thirty-year-old story with The Bitch's Familiar, which technically speaking takes place long before Resurrection?  One story says no mercy was installed, another says it was.

What is most irritating, galling, infuriating...take your pick, is that Moffat hasn't just contradicted what came before in the Classic Era.  He's contradicted what's come in the Revived Era.  He's contradicted himself and yet no one, certainly not at The Nerdist (the Pravda of Nerddom) has or ever will call him on how he can't even keep consistent with himself. 

If I'm accused of being nitpicky regarding how I hold that Bitch's Familiar contradicts Resurrection of the Daleks, of how I can't go along with change, of romanticizing Classic Who, I offer this piece of evidence of Moffat's inability to keep consistency: Asylum of the Daleks, written by Steven Moffat (the same writer of Davros' Revenge). 

In Asylum, we see and hear very clearly and unequivocally that Oswin was able to say "I am human" in a Dalek voice.  "I am not a Dalek", she is able to say...even though she IS a Dalek.  She is able to say "I'm human".  She is able to say that quite clearly, with no difficulty.  Now, in Witch's Familiar, Clara, the authentic version of the Oswin that was created when she jumped into the Doctor's timestream to save him again and again, CAN'T say "I am not a Dalek" or "I'm human".  Instead, we're suppose to believe that anything the Daleks say regarding such things gets automatically translated into something else.  In this case, saying "I am Clara, I am human" gets changed into "I am a Dalek".

Why then didn't Oswin's declarations that she was human not get translated into "I AM a Dalek"?  She was able to state "I AM HUMAN!  I AM NOT A DALEK!" in Asylum of the Daleks, but in Bitch's Familiar, Oswald couldn't do what Oswin could despite Oswald NOT being a Dalek and Oswin BEING a Dalek.

Let's see someone use 'timey-wimey' to explain that!

Look, I'm going to flat-out state something here in counter to those who say such nonsense as "Doctor Who isn't suppose to make sense..." or "Alternate timelines...." or even "It's just a TV show.  Enjoy it and don't think about it".  No program should be excused from making sense, period.  Good sci-fi/fantasy/comic book shows (from Firefly to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Gotham or The Flash) would never so openly, nakedly, and gleefully contradict themselves from season to season the way Doctor Who does.

Imagine for example if Mal Reynolds in one episode quoted the poem Kubla Khan and then another episode he said he'd never heard of it.  If it was for comic effect or in a fit of amnesia, then that at least offers a logical explanation.  However, if Reynolds said "Xanadu? What does Xanadu mean?" a few episodes after he stated, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree...", you'd wonder why the inconsistency.  You might even call Firefly on that.  You might say, "How can he know this poem one episode, then not know it in another without explaining how to reconcile the difference"? 

Doctor Who on the other hand, consistently and constantly gets excused from keeping a procedural narrative, all based on the idea of 'timey-wimey' (that stories don't necessarily follow each other) or that 'time can be rewritten' (meaning things that happened before can be changed from episode to episode at whim).  These two turns of phrases curiously are from The Moff, I believe.

My point is this: in at least two stories, one Classic, one Revived, something was presented that has now been contradicted by Bitch's Familiar.   Quibble about how Davros, who supposedly has met the Doctor in his childhood and was inspired to install a touch of mercy in Daleks, in the future actually complains that his mistake with the Daleks was in making them 'totally ruthless' which precludes any sense of mercy (Resurrection of the Daleks).  However, how can one reconcile that in Asylum of the Daleks, Oswin could state she was 'human' despite being a Dalek, while in Bitch's Familiar Oswald could not state she was 'human' despite not being a Dalek?

One thing to contradict a story NuWhovians don't know or care about.  Another to contradict a story a mere three years old that received similar praise to Bitch's Familiar (in part for being as 'shocking' as Asylum Of The Daleks was).

Riddle me that...      

Another point on logic and consistency.  Even if I accepted the 'alternate timestream' business (which I don't), why didn't The Doctor just zap the hand-mines to begin with rather than have us go through all this?  Further, I find it hard to believe that Davros as an adult would so quickly forget that he's clearly seen the TARDIS and when reencountering the Doctor in other stories (particularly, Genesis of the Daleks), he couldn't put two-and-two together.

Oh, and yes, since The Master had his sex-change, why would The Mistress tell anyone that "the bitch is back" since one figures Davros has never seen The Master as anything but male up to then.

Or is that covered by 'alternate timestreams' too?

If one final thing damns Davros' Revenge, it has to be the sonic sunglasses.  Apart from it being more merchandising junk the BBC will push on eager little fanboys/girls, why...just why?

What was good about The Witch's Familiar?  I found that the idea of a mental battle between Davros and the Doctor is a good idea, and one that did intrigue me.  However, seeing it go off into a 'Davros just needs a good hug' business was not good. 

I find Gomez so irritating as the transgendered Master, less serious as a villain and more as almost an anti-hero (given that it was she who came to get the Doctor out of Davros' plan, begging the question of what would have happened if The Mistress had indeed died.  All a little too convenient, mais oui?  

Certainly I've seen worse episodes, but The Witch's Familiar did not excite me.  The praise heaped on it puzzles me.  I could understand Kyle Anderson's super-enthused review (he at least gets paid to push anything Moffat comes up with to where if Moffat said the Doctor was Sil's father, Anderson would praise "The Moff" for reinventing a villain he'd call 'little-known or remembered'), but honestly, I don't think I saw the same episode everyone else did.

The Bitch is Back...and I wish to Dear Heaven she'd go (and take Moffat with her).

Kyle Anderson gets hooked up to write his reviews
in the same way...


Overall Score for Davros' Revenge: 1/10

Next Episode: Under the Lake

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: The Crimson Horror

Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved. I don't mean liked. I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time. It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode. I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things. I mean give a bona-fide negative review. Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express). Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night.

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required. I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut. What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying. I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 26 of The Nerdist as Whore: The Crimson Horror. My 'translations' are in red.

Oh, Victorian times. They are always something at which the BBC excels.

Oh, Victorian times.  They are almost always the only time in Earth’s history Doctor Who ever visits, even more now with the Pater-nauseating Gang rolling around then.

Period costume drama is like its bread and butter, which is why I always look forward to Victorian episodes of Doctor Who.

So, if a Doctor Who episode were set, say, in Roman times, or during the Scottish wars, or on the Eve of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, you wouldn’t care?

This episode, “The Crimson Horror,” was a good deal different than most such stories in a number for very interesting ways.

They got a genuine acting legend to appear in it: Dame Diana Rigg.  Apart from that, we got a pretty uninteresting story.  No, I take that back: an episode that shows a giant red leech sucking on an old woman's tit MUST be interesting.

I always applaud when chances are taken and can more or less be said to pay off.

I always applaud when 'analytical critics' are on the take and can more or less be said to be paid off.

This is Mark Gatiss’ second episode of the series and, while I was quite critical of “Cold War,”

No, no, I GOT to read that sentence again. 
"and, while I was quite critical of "Cold War"...

Let's pause here for just a moment and use the Wayback Machine to find out just how "quite critical" Kyle Anderson was in regards to Cold War.  The following quotes are directly from his review of that episode, the one he was "quite critical" of.

"“Cold War” is claustrophobic, tense, and pretty harrowing..."
"Gatiss does a lot of great things in this episode, not the least of which is getting the Ice Warrior out of its bulky armor so that it can scurry around the ceilings and walls of the submarine and slaughter people silently."
"So, in the end, masterful direction with a great monster help solid but uninspired performances in an interesting but ultimately troubled script. Mild “like” from me. It’s an episode I’ll definitely watch again."

Color me cynical, but calling an episode "tense and pretty harrowing" and saying that you'll "definitely watch (Cold War) again" doth not suggest "quite critical" to me.  Then again, I never claim to be an analytical critic, just an honest one. 

I have much less to nitpick this time from a structural point of view.

I got my payola check faster this time than I did when I covered Cold War.

This may be one of his best scripts, actually.

And how could you not love an episode with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax?

I could not love an episode with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax quite easily.  Unlike Andy here, I a.) don't want a series about a lizard and human having sex, and b.) want a show where The Doctor isn't just a guest character.

And a Monty Python reference?

This episode is as logical as a dead parrot.

This is one of the more atypical stories in terms of its structure.

This is one of the worst episodes we've seen in terms of its structure.

We’re introduced to the narrative through the aforementioned Victorian Detective Squad who have been tasked with finding out what happened to a man’s reporter brother in Yorkshire in 1893 (Gatiss’ last episode took place in 1983… coincidence?).

We spend a good twenty-odd minutes on Doctor Who showing just how irrelevant he is on this show.  Gatiss' last episode took place in 1983, and this one in 1893, showing that he made a whole episode out of a typo.  Next episode will take place in 1389, where the Doctor will find himself in the middle of the Battle of Kosovo. 

We see that something horrible has happened to him and his wife at the hands of the sinister Mrs. Gillyflower, played by the excellently wicked Diana Rigg. Rigg can currently be seen as Lady Tyrell on Game of Thrones, and she is killing it.

Rigg is appearing on two shows that appeal to nerds, and I, self-proclaimed King of the Nerds (or at least a Functional Nerd) can see her on both (though it is unclear if I get to see Dame Diana's tits on Game of Thrones).  In truth, Game of Thrones, with its dragons, rapes, and wanton killings, is actually more rational than anything on Doctor Who, but why quibble when the loot's so good?

The brother is all red, which the rather grubby undertaker gleeful calls “The Crimson Horror.” In his eye is the image of the Doctor’s face. Dun, dun, a-dun.

First, the rather grubby undertaker gleefully calls it "The Crimson 'Orror", as Cockneys drop the "H".  Second, what song is he quoting: Chopin's Funeral March or the theme to Dragnet?  He could be quoting Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but all of them sound a bit bizarre considering that he is signaling this is a mystery. 

We then get quite a long sequence of the trio traveling up to Yorkshire and beginning the investigation.

We then get quite a long sequence of the trio traveling up to Yorkshire and beginning the investigation.  I was bored with how this was playing out as some sort of The Lizard & The Lady spinoff, though same-sex bestiality always turns me on.  I can't wait for that 'very special episode' where Jenny finds out she got pregnant with Vastra's Silurian secretions. 

Jenny, being the only human one, tries to infiltrate Mrs. Gillyflower’s fire-and-brimstone sermon about the end of the world and the best being chosen to live in her perfect community of Sweetville, named after her silent partner, Mr. Sweet. Nobody has seen Mr. Sweet, least of all Gillyflower’s daughter, Ada (played by Rigg’s real life daughter, Rachael Stirling), who was blinded by her father many years earlier.

Is it just me, or is Anderson making some sort of awful and insensitive pun about the blind Ada being the least of all able to see Mr. Sweet?  I'm sure Mommie Dearest told her the truth: she keeps Mr. Sweet close to her heart.

We also see that Ada has befriended something she calls “The Monster,” which lives in a locked room and has red arms.

Jenny breaks into the mill and finds it not to be a mill at all, but a place with vats of red liquid. A Clamato factory?

Hardy har-har...

Jenny eventually makes her way to the Monster’s room and unlocks it, revealing… the Doctor! All petrified and red-skinned. I was certainly not expecting that.

Jenny helps him get to a chamber wherein, with the help of the sonic screwdriver (aka magic wand),

Well, at least he admits the sonic screwdriver is indeed now basically a magic wand.  #Progress.

he emerges as good as new, ready to jump around and kiss Jenny, much to her chagrin.

Because she’d much rather make out with a female lizard.

I’m not sure I’m okay with all of this kissing Matt Smith’s been doing lately.

Odd.  It didn't seem to trouble you when Tennant was doing it.

Innocent or not, it’s very bizarre. It appears that he’s been like that for weeks, and now he has to find Clara, which takes us to my favorite section of the episode.

Because it gives me another chance to masturbate to Jenna-Louise Coleman.

The flashback section, in the narrative, speeds its way through showing us things we need to know but don’t really have time to see play out.

Rather than actually pace the episode and try to set things up, Gatiss decided that we needed to rush through important information to get to promoting the Paternoster Gang.  Oh, yes, Anderson has much less to nitpick from a structural point of view.      

It also allows us to guess what’s going on before actually knowing what’s going on.

It also allows us to guess what's going on before actually knowing what's going on.  It's not like audiences need to follow a 'plot'. 

I loved director Saul Metzstein’s choice to make this sequence look like an old film strip, complete with popping and flickering sepia tones.

That is because the audience can't be trusted to figure out we're in Victorian times and we have to have these little gimmicks

There are some terrific little jokes in there, not the least of which being, upon Clara’s acknowledgement that they don’t always go where they set out to go, the Doctor saying it took him ages to get a “Gobby Australian to Heathrow.” This was such an excellent reference to the Fifth Doctor’s rather ridiculously long attempt to take air hostess Tegan back to her job throughout the entirety of Season 19.

What I'd ever do to you, mate?

Personally, I don't see why Anderson gets his knickers in a twist over that story arc.  It's not like we haven't had some cringe-inducing ones on NuWho, right?  How many times has the Companion been OH SO IMPORTANT?  How many times has The Doctor COME TO DIE?  And you go off on Tegan?  

Also, the Doctor, in his Yorkshire accent, says “Trouble at mill,” which is almost surely a reference to the opening line of Monty Python‘s famous “Spanish Inquisition” sketch.

Given Doctor Who has become a joke, one wonders why Gatiss would quote from the Spanish Inquisition sketch (though I confess I didn't think of it at the time).   

One joke that I did not like at all was the “Thomas Thomas” kid. I don’t know why that was in there, save the “oh, ha ha” moment, and really took me out of the story for a moment.

It's not funny if you have to explain it. Explain it though, I will.  Thomas Thomas was a joke about the TomTom GPS used in Europe.  Get it: Thomas Thomas was giving Strax directions like TomTom does now, and instead of "Tom Tom", we get the formal "Thomas Thomas".  GROAN! 

It's odd that for a show that people say caters to Americans, whoever heard of TomTom here in the States?  Even if I had gotten the joke, I wouldn't have had "oh, ha ha" moment, more like a "OH DEAR SWEET MOTHER OF MERCY" moment.

I think the idea of turning people into, essentially, living stuffed critters, complete with glass cases, is very creepy.

I scare easy.

Leave it to Gatiss to employ something so insidious for his story.

Leave it to Gatiss to employ something so idiotic for his story.

While the revelation that Mr. Sweet is actually a parasitic creature that secretes paralyzing venom from the Jurassic period is a bit silly, it was explained well enough within the confines of the story.

How they built a rocket ship is totally beyond me, but that, oddly, is something I can overlook.

Oh, my dear Kyle...I get the sense you can overlook a great deal...provided the price is right. Now, is it me, or is that plot exactly like that of the James Bond film Moonraker (which I, Rick Aragon, openly admit to liking.  Guilty pleasure.  No shame)?

Gatiss has the tendency to put too much story into his episodes, thus necessitating the need to move too quickly through resolution.

Gatiss has no editor to trim the fact off his stories.  Therefore, he puts in a lot of set-up leaving no time for resolution (or at least a coherent resolution). 

His setups are almost always amazing, but they fall apart due to lack of time. If each Doctor Who episode were the length of a Sherlock episode, I think he’d be much more at home.

How I long for Wholock (logic be damned).  If maybe he had a two-part story, or maybe if a story were the length of rubbish like Genesis of the Daleks or Caves of Androzani, you know, something B.M.: Before Moffat, we could have something.  However, no one watches that old stuff because it doesn't allow for catchphrases. 

That being said, “The Crimson Horror” gets around a great deal of that, partially through the flashback portion and partially because of not having extraneous characters.

That being said, "The Crimson Horror" gets a around a great deal of that, partially through nonsense and partially because of not having extraneous characters like The Doctor or Clara be a big part of this.

Ada is a great character, and her plight is very relatable.

Kyle Anderson is blind to any faults in Doctor Who, only unlike Ada, his blindness is willful.

Her mother is a nutter and does eventually just become a frothing Bond villain,

Hugo Drax from Moonraker.
His master plan was to kill people on Earth and 
launch spaceships w/a 'master race' to repopulate it.
Glad to know Gatiss is highly original.

but Rigg plays it so well, it doesn’t bug me very much.

Dame Diana Rigg did what she could and played her part so well, though it doesn't bug me very much that an old woman can get tossed off a flight of stairs and still be able to monologue...or have a big red leech sucking on her tit.   

I never dislike seeing Vastra, Jenny, and Strax and it was great to see them take point for the first act of the story, though they do sort of fade away toward the end.

This episode of The Lizard & The Lady got bogged down by the unnecessary character of The Doctor.  What was HE doing on this show, anyway? 

The lack of a spinoff (like Torchwood or Sarah Jane Adventures) this year is lamentable, and I will again state how much I would adore watching a show with those three. Love them to pieces, I do.

Scissor-Sister Indeed.
Prime-Time Family Viewing At Its Finest.

The ending of this episode… Hmm. I’m not particularly looking forward to the kids Clara nannies being part of the next story, and possibly more.

I already know that the next episode is going to suck because these kids are so annoying.

I actually rather liked having a companion whose family dynamic was never really much of the narrative, save the Doctor learning about her folks. Having the two kids find weirdly Photoshopped pictures of Clara and the Doctor (taken when they couldn’t possibly have been) and confront her about it seems out of place. Who needs them?

GREAT!  We're going to be saddled with these meddlesome kids for next week.  Who needs them?  Also, where exactly did these kids get photos taken from a secret Soviet sub?  I know a lot was revealed at the end of the Cold War, but really, with a giant Ice Warrior pounding away, someone was going to run around saying "Cheese"? 
That scene was almost surely a Moffat addition, so I’ll refrain from talking about it too much.

That, my friends, is as close as Kyle Anderson will EVER get to criticizing Steven Moffat.  Let us treasure this very rare moment. 

Suffice to say, “The Crimson Horror” is easily my favorite Gatiss story since “The Unquiet Dead,” and he has more or less redeemed himself for the conceptually fantastic but narratively flawed “Cold War.”

The same "Cold War" that you'd watch again, right?  Is it me, or is there something flat-out odd about watching something that is 'narratively flawed'? 

It’s not a perfect script by any means, but it’s a great deal of fun and has amazing elements to it. This makes me very pleased. More stories like this, please, Mr. Gatiss!
SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!
Next week, we have Neil Gaiman’s return story, “Nightmare in Silver,” which sees the return of the proper universe Cybermen and takes place in a creepy-ass theme park. It’s directed by Stephen Woolfenden, who doesn’t have many directing credits, but was the second-unit director on the last three Harry Potter films as well as the first assistant director on the TV adaptation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere.Also, Warwick Davis is in it! How cool!

Next week, we have Neil Gaiman's return story, "Nightmare in Silver," which I PRAY will be better than this Victorian freak show.  It's being directed by someone who worked on the last three Harry Potter films and who knows Gaiman personally.  Also, the guy from Willow is in it!  Well, with credits like THOSE...


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Lost Boy of The Doctor

STORY 258:  

You foolish Whovians. Who has bewitched you?  Perhaps that is apropos given that the second part of this two-part story is titled The Witch's Familiar.  However, that's for another time.  Right now we are discussing The Magician's Apprentice, the ninth season/series opening episode of Doctor Who.  A lot of people, even Classic Whovians (for the record, I don't find the term offensive or horrible), are in thrall of The Magician's Apprentice.  OLD SCHOOL DALEKS!  TOM BAKER (VIA ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE)!  DAVROS!

However, it takes more than a few nods to the past to get me pumped up and forget that I'm watching something that leaves much to be desired. 

There's a war going on, and in that war is a little boy trapped on the battlefield.  He finds himself trapped in a hand-mine field (a field where hands with eyes on the palms reach out from the ground and drag you down).  In comes The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) who offers to help the boy, even throwing him his sonic screwdriver to help him out of this dangerous situation.  The Doctor asks the boy his name. 

It is Davros, who will create the Daleks, the greatest Doctor Who antagonists of all.

The Doctor disappears, and he disappears for quiet a bit of The Magician's Apprentice.  In the interim, a snake-like being named Colony Sarff (Jamie Reed-Quarrel) is now searching for "THE DOC-TORR", with the cryptic message, "Davros knows.  Davros remembers".  Still, the Doctor cannot be found.  Davros, dying, tells his Boba Fett to go seek the Doctor's friends.

We then go to present-day Earth, where the Doctor's part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) spots something strange in the air during her class (where she tells her students that Jane Austen was a great kisser...obligatory gay reference, check).  The planes are all frozen in the air, the pilots incommunicado.   Clara rushes to UNIT HQ, where for reasons the story doesn't state Clara, public school teacher, gives orders to UNIT head Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) who does as she's told.

One thing Kate doesn't do is mention who her father is, so perhaps that deserves a point in itself.

I ain't Missy you at all...

Anyway, the maker of all this mischief is Missy (Michelle Gomez).  I honestly don't know whether to refer to Missy as a transgender version of The Master, but in any case, there she is, taunting UNIT (complete with a 'boing' sound effect when her head digitally pops out from the screen).  Missy tells them she wants Clara to meet with Missy somewhere.

In a little plaza Missy tells Clara that Missy has possession of The Doctor's Confession Dial, the Time Lord equivalent of a last will and testament.  Of course Missy would have it, since Missy is the Doctor's best friend (never mind that the Third Doctor referred to The Master as "my greatest enemy" in Terror of the Autons if memory serves correct). This dial was given to Missy on the eve of the Doctor's final day. Missy now needs Clara's help in finding The Doctor, and with a little help from UNIT, track him to 1138 A.D.

Ah, ye olde England (in a rarity, they opted for a time period in British history that wasn't either Victorian or the Blitz).  The Doctor is going to do battle with ax-man/follower Bors (Daniel Hoffman-Gill), but he's going to do it his way.  That way is to enter the arena on a tank while shredding some mean electric guitar.  The Doctor is in a particularly frenetic turn: not only does it not bother him that there's a tank in medieval Britain, but he's managed to introduce the word 'dude' into the lexicon.  Well, wouldn't you know it: Colony Sarff finds the Doctor by following Missy & Clara, and now demands that the Doctor return with him to meet Davros one more time.  The Doctor declaring Davros his greatest enemy takes Missy by surprise, and despite his insistence Missy and Clara insist on going with the Doctor and Colony Sarff.

Missy and Clara are locked up, and the Doctor meets a dying Davros (Julian Bleach).  He reminds the Doctor that he left Davros to die on that field, and insists that the Doctor admit that compassion is wrong.  Missy and Clara, and the Doctor who is watching them, discover they are not on a space station, but on Skaro, the lost-and-found-and-lost-and-refound Dalek homeworld.  Missy attempts to bargain with the Daleks, saying Missy could be of great help in using the Doctor's TARDIS (which they have procured from their agent Bors, a Dalek clone) rather than destroy the TARDIS.  No dice: Missy is 'exterminated'.  So is Clara, and the Doctor somehow ends up back at the hand-minefield.  Little Davros asks if he's going to rescue him.  No, says the Doctor.  He's come to 'exterminate'.

Reflecting audience attitude...
After watching The Magician's Apprentice, a few words came to mind.


I am going to be quite clear here to all those insisting The Magician's Apprentice is some sort of television miracle.


The Doctor is dying...again.  Wasn't the whole of Season/Series Six all about how the Doctor was going to die at Lake Silencio? Then there was Season/Series Seven, all about how the Doctor was going to die on Trenzalore. Now, I'm suppose to believe that The Doctor is going to face his mortality yet again.

He's now going to really, REALLY die because he gave his Confession Dial to Missy, which I guess means that when he was going to die at Lake Silencio he knew he wasn't going to die, and when he was at Trenzalore he knew he wasn't going to die there either.  After all, this Confession Dial didn't play a part in either of his previous deaths.

Then there's the issue of Missy and Clara getting exterminated.  Call me cynical, but by now death on Doctor Who is such a non-event that there simply is no sadness, no excitement, no suspense...nothing, really.  It's now rote, routine, repetitive.  Death is a joke on Doctor Who.  My Rory Williams Death Count has him dying SEVEN times. 

And for the record, it isn't just Steven Moffat who once again rewrites Doctor Who Canon to suit his own ideas (and suggests that he thinks he invented it all).  Death (And How to Avoid It) was present in the Russell T Davies era.  It just didn't become a full-on comedy routine (and a tired one at that) until Moffat got to over (show) run Doctor Who.

Take a look at the exchange between Clara and Missy.  Missy bitchily asks Clara if her boyfriend is still dead.  Clara tells her coldly that her boyfriend (Danny Pink) is still dead. 

As a side note, I tweeted to my favorite bete noire, Kyle Anderson of The Nerdist, about how Orson Pink being possible if Danny was killed off in Dark Water/Death in Heaven.  Here's the exchange:

Kyle Anderson (@FunctionalNerd): I showed my girlfriend "Listen" in anticipation for the Fathom Event this week. Her first words after it was over: "That was confusing."
My Reply: @FunctionalNerd: If Orson Pink is Clara/Danny descendant, how's that possible since Danny's dead & we've no sign Clara's pregnant?
His response to me: @RXCafeTX: Time can be rewritten. Or Danny isn't dead. Or Orson isn't Danny and Clara's descendant. Lots of things.

Sorry, oh Analytical Critic Anderson.  Danny is Most Sincerely Dead.  Either that, or we're going to come up with something more outlandish (like another Twitter suggestion that Orson isn't Danny & Clara's descendant, but THE DOCTOR'S!  Oh sure, why not...anything goes). 

One last point on death.  I note with disgust that Missy is back, and Missy is not dead 'because death is for other people'.  I think that's as close to an explanation as to how Missy bounded back for another go-round.  Given it's Moffat, perhaps we should be thrilled that we got something of a rationale to the irrational.
Well, as it stands this "Death Is NOT The Final Answer" bit has gotten just so awfully trite and dull.  However, there's something else in The Magician's Apprentice that made me think, "Hold on, I'm not buying this".


It has to do with the sonic screwdriver.  Let's just go along with Moffat's plot and say, Little Davros had himself a sonic screwdriver ALL THESE CENTURIES.  Am I suppose to believe that not once did he ever try to figure out what this thing this old guy gave him was?  Davros has had quite a few encounters with The Doctor, and my Spidey-sense tells me that Davros must have known of The Doctor's sonic screwdriver.  I know that one grows more senile as they get older, but somehow, the idea that Davros, brilliant mad scientist, had this sonic screwdriver just lying about and only now, as he lays dying, does he put two and two together is really just stupid.

His curiosity about the strange object that allowed him to escape the hand-minefield must have overtaken him at one point or another in his long existence.  Therefore, this whole "I've had this in my attic and only now do I remember that the Doctor brought me to this state" plotline is just so inept that it makes me wonder why so many people think it's brilliant.

Also, I kept wondering why at the conclusion of the episode The Doctor wouldn't rather attempt to reform Davros into a good being rather than the evil figure he grew to.  Why run off if you have a golden opportunity to save Davros and train him in the right way? 

Just a thought.

There was just so much wrong with The Magician's Apprentice apart from the overall story.  Granted, at least even those who loved it concede that the "Doctor Hendrix" moment was embarrassing.  It takes away from whatever seriousness we're asked to give the episode if your main character is so willing to make a fool out of himself.  Whom was he playing Oh, Pretty Woman to, I wonder (and shudder)? Another awful thing is Murray Gold's penchant for overscoring.  My goodness, does he get instructions to fill EVERY SINGLE MOMENT with music?  I've heard operas that have less music in them than the typical Doctor Who episode.

And before I forget...that damn "BOING" sound effect when Missy's head pops out.  NO, NO, NO.  That was bad, kids.  Just bad in every way possible.  Moffat and director Hettie MacDonald should be taken to task for such idiotic blundering.

Now, let's go into the few good things in The Magician's Apprentice.  First, Peter Capaldi.  One knows he is so above the material, but he gives it his all to convey the anger and sadness and almost devil-may-care attitude of a man re-facing death.  I thought that by the end, he couldn't muster enough interest to keep me interested.  Bleach was excellent as Davros (though I sometimes found him hard to understand).  As illegitimate as I consider the whole concept of Missy, Gomez is committed to making Missy into a full-on crazy-ass...

Coleman still makes for the most blank and uninteresting Companion (and given her competition, that says enough).  Her performance is already bad, but again, why is CLARA OSWALD in charge of UNIT?

One thing I did like that apparently most didn't was Colony Sarff.  Yes, his speaking came across as a parody of a Doctor Who villain, but apart from that I thought the Snake-Man visually was well-done and a good idea.  I admit that when he came apart, I was surprised.

As this is a two-part story, I can't give a full score until next week.  However, for this part, I, like my bete noire Kyle Anderson, am a bit of a broken record.  He with his enthusiastic praise, me with unenthusiastic disdain.  We've seen all this before, and after finishing The Magician's Apprentice, I can say that I really don't care what happens next.  I just don't.

As the Great Oscar-Winner Bob Dylan said, "I used to care, but Things Have Changed". Steven Moffat has changed them, but about the only thing he doesn't change is his writing.   If it's broke, why fix it?


Next Episode: The Witch's Familiar

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved. I don't mean liked. I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time. It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode. I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things. I mean give a bona-fide negative review. Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express). Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night.

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required. I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut. What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying. I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 25 of The Nerdist as Whore: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. My 'translations' are in red.

In 1978, there was a six-part Doctor Who story featuring the Fourth Doctor called “The Invasion of Time,” in which the final two episodes took place within the bowels of the TARDIS itself, which was really shot in a disused hospital.

Is it me, or is there something just a bit odd in saying that there is a Doctor Who 'featuring' the Fourth Doctor?  I mean, he's the main character.  You'd think he'd be more than 'featured'. Also, while it's nice to be told the actual location shoot for The Invasion of Time, are such details really necessary?  Or is Anderson just showing off how much he got out of Wikipedia?  Just a thought.

Since then, while portions of the ship’s massive interior have been seen or mentioned, the full impact of what’s actually inside the Doctor’s space and time machine had yet to be visualized, until this week, of course.

Of course.

Steve Thompson’s “Journey to the Center (or Centre) of the TARDIS” did exactly what it said on the tin, and even gave voice to some of Clara’s (and the audience’s) concerns or confusion about what might be going on.

It was full of wonder, mystery, suspense, and awe.

It was full of crap, nonsense, idiocy, and shocking ineptitude.

More than a few times I said “holy shit!” out loud to the nobody in my apartment with me. Is this the same guy who wrote “Curse of the Black Spot?”

More than a few times I said, "Oh, Sweet Mother of Mercy!".  I can't believe the same guy who wrote "Curse of the Black Spot" was given ANOTHER Doctor Who script.   In answer to your query, yes, I CAN believe it was the same guy, because both stories were CRAP!   

This episode is absolutely wonderful.

This review is absolutely disgusting.  I seriously question whether Anderson was drunk when a.) he watched Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, b.) he reviewed it, and c.) now.  I might go so far as to question his sanity, but why beat a dead horse?

There’s so much going on for something that’s essentially limited to one location (albeit an infinite one).

It's rushed, like a lot of Doctor Who episodes nowadays, even if it takes place essentially in one location.

We learn a lot about what kinds of things are in the TARDIS, we learn a little about the Doctor before it gets bled from Clara’s memory, there are monsters that are explained incredibly well,

there is a family drama (which is probably the weakest link in the episode),

Semi-broken clock: while the family drama was a really weak part of the episode, by no means was it the worst part.  Want a hint about what really WAS the worst part?  Well, try this on for size...

Without finishing Anderson's review, do you think he'll mention the "Big Friendly Button" and how stupid that all was?  Let's find out...

and we finally, again, get to see the swimming pool, which has been spoken about forever and was only seen once in the aforementioned “Invasion of Time.” This is an episode written by someone who clearly loves and respects the history of the show, but also knows how to weave drama specific to the current regime.

This is turning out to be not just Anderson's most lap-doggish review, but also his most laugh-inducing.  Even I, long a critic of Kyle Anderson AS critic (analytical critic's mind my tuckus), am aghast at how thick he pours it on for this one.   

I’d expected a lot of references, but I didn’t expect so much revelation.

I'd expected a good episode, but I didn't expect that Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS could be demanding a place among the Worst Doctor Who Episodes of All Time.

While trying to get the TARDIS and Clara to get along, the Doctor puts the ship in basic mode, which leaves it wide open to a trio of scrap dealers to try to salvage. This does not do the TARDIS any favors and causes a pretty catastrophic engine leak. Clara gets lost somewhere in the ship and the Doctor tricks the three junkers into helping him find her. There are also very creepy ash-covered people with red eyes, you know, in case things weren’t tense enough.

As Clara makes her way from room to room, she passes an observatory and the pool before hiding in the massive library.

Maybe, if Clara ever bothered to stay on the TARDIS full-time rather than just get dropped off at the end of every adventure, she'd have time to wander around the TARDIS.  Given she hasn't bothered to do so, I wonder whether she even cares to see anything of the TARDIS outside the console.  No wonder the TARDIS doesn't like her. 

In this library are volumes of the “Encyclopaedia Gallifreya” as well as a book about the Time War. Yeah. Just a book containing everything we’ve ever wanted to know about the most catastrophic event in the entire Doctor Who universe. Clara seems to have found something of interest (she says, “So that’s who,” which probably refers to the Doctor’s name which she later claims to have learned), but she gets distracted by impending death.

OK, let's stop here for just a moment.  So in this massive library, Clara conveniently finds the Encyclopedia Gallifreya and The History of The Time War. Given that the Doctor is the only known survivor of the Time War (at great personal cost, I might add), who actually wrote this tome?  Who could verify the facts about this war if there are no witnesses save The Doctor (and as far as I know, he's not granting interviews)?  If the Doctor's name is such a big mystery that he entrusts it to only River Song (Rassilon knows theory, the sexual techniques she learned in a Chinese brothel), who else would be privy to this information to include it in a book that I figure has been published in many worlds?  It isn't like there is only one copy of The History of The Time War, is there?  If there isn't, then somebody, somewhere, not only knows The Doctor's name, but actually wrote it into a book that would be seen by perhaps millions of beings.  Further, given the Doctor has a copy of this book, why would he so willingly let a book that contains his greatest secret exist out there?  

I'm not for book-burning, but why would he not take any steps from stopping this information to leak out? Now, if The History of the Time War wasn't written by someone else (say, Professor Song), then the Doctor himself wrote it, or at the very least, agreed to be part of it.  I can see it now, "Oh, let me include in a book anyone can get their hands on, my greatest secret: my name, for all to read".

Leaving aside the convenience of Clara finding that information so quickly, why do we have to have another "Doctor Who"? joke in this.  If no one thinks "So that's who?" isn't a pun, then that person just isn't paying attention.    

The Doctor and the scrappers also come across a room with the various circuitries that the TARDIS has at her disposal to make anything mechanical. This proves too enticing to pass up for the leader and most reprehensible of the scrapping brothers (who makes their little brother think he’s a machine for fun!?!? What a wanker!) and he takes a piece of it. The TARDIS responds by creating a labyrinth that not even the Doctor can get through.

There are so many great concepts in this story.

Among them, a human too stupid to not know he wasn't a robot and the Big Friendly Button that serves as the most obscene deus ex machina in Doctor Who history. 

One being that the Doctor and Clara are in the same space but slightly off in terms of time, like a light switch. Another is the way time overlaps itself the closer they get to the leak.

Timey-wimey, timey-wimey, timey-wimey...

They see echoes of what they’ve done and, we later find out, echoes of what hasn’t happened yet.

The Ghosts of Doctors Past and Future.

We also get to see the Eye of Harmony itself, which gives the TARDIS its time travel power. It is pretty amazing. A quantum-locked sun nearly going supernova; it’s really a wonder they don’t burn up immediately.

Finally, the biggest and best surprise to me in this episode is that the Doctor finally confronts Clara with what he knows about her.

Well, they had to justify the running time somehow.

It was bound to occur sooner or later, but honestly, I had expected later. She’s very confused but doesn’t get bent out of shape or too freaked out about it. In fact, when the Doctor says once everything is back to normal that she’ll probably forget everything, she expresses how much she’d rather that not happen. She’s such an interesting, well-rounded, and complex character.

I feel like Clara is a real person, albeit a mysterious one, and not just a personality with plot attached like I sometimes felt Amy was.

This is of course assuming that Amy or Clara had personalities to begin with.  And as for the idea that Clara, "The Impossible Girl" is not a plot device, oh, perish the THOUGHT!  Wherever did you get an idea like THAT, Kyle?

And, to be a broken record yet again, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith are the best.

And, to be a pathetic ass-licker yet again, I masturbate to Jenna-Louise Coleman.  Anderson might masturbate to Matt Smith for all I know, but I'm not one to judge.  After all, in the history of Doctor Who, there has never been a Doctor/Companion team that has worked as well as Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. 


The. Frigging. Best. I’m constantly impressed by how well they play off each other.

Yes, Smith and Coleman are The. Frigging.  Best.  We've never been impressed by another Doctor/Companion team, ever.

I hope Clara sticks around for a good long while.

I hope Clara continues to be the center of my sex fantasies.

I really don’t know what to make of Steve Thompson as a writer.

I do: pretty crappy.

So far, between this show and Sherlock, he’s written four episodes that have aired. He wrote “The Blind Banker” in series one of Sherlock, which is fine, but is easily the weak link of those three episodes.

You forgot to mention, 'racist', Kyle.  Racist.  Unless you think Asians really are like that in real life: all heavily-accented 'dragon lady' spies or delightful victims. 

Next, he wrote “The Curse of the Black Spot,” which was boring, poorly paced, and obvious.

"Back to the matter at hand, “The Curse of the Black Spot” felt very much like a diversion, probably purposely so.  It certainly was not a bad episode, in fact I even enjoyed watching it on second viewing, but it was kind of just a bit of fluff to hold us over until next week when we get to see Neil Gaiman’s episode, something I’ve been looking forward to for two years now."

Direct quote from Anderson's own review for The Curse of the Black Spot.

Google Never Forgets, Kyle.  Amazing, ain't it?  An episode he 'enjoyed watching on a second viewing' now is 'boring, poorly paced, and obvious'.   

If Series 6 of Doctor Who represents Moffat’s weakest year so far (which I think it does), then that episode is the weakest of that.

Sorry to disagree here, kid, but didn't Series 6 also have Closing Time in the mix?  You really think Curse of the Black Spot was worse than "I blew 'em up with love"?

Then, Thompson turned it way around for “The Reichenbach Fall,” which ended the second series of Sherlock, and which was absolutely excellent.

The Reichenbach Fall was rubbish from start to finish.  I know it got a lot of praise, but that damn thing has so many plot holes and idiotic turns it makes my head spin to think how people can go on about it being so brilliant.

Now he writes this, about which I can’t say enough good things.

Now he writes this, about which I can't get paid fast enough to say good things about. 

You’re baffling, Mr. Thompson. I don’t really know what to make of you.

I may not get Mr. Thompson, but I know exactly what to make of you, Mr. Anderson.

You're a tool.
You're a fraud.
You're a sycophant.
You're a disgrace to real reviewers/critics.
You're a hopeless, shameless lackey.

All of which I don't mind, really, so long as you're up-front about it.

So very much to chew on in this episode, but overall, I loved it.
SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!

The direction by Who newcomer Mat King was excellent and made the various hallway sets feel like they were part of a massive network of corridors in an infinite ship. The look of the exploding engine room was also very spooky and cool. Really, the only thing I didn’t think worked was the relationship story of the three brothers.

Oh, THAT didn't work, but the Big Friendly Button did?

It wasn’t awful, it just didn’t need to be there, especially when there was so much else going on in the episode. I’d have been perfectly happy if they didn’t have the brother-is-a-not-android storyline.

I'd have been perfectly happy if they didn't broadcast this episode altogether, but we can't always get what we want.

Minor nitpick, though. Otherwise, great job, everyone!

About the only nitpicks you know.  Otherwise, lousy job, Anderson!

I could also talk about all of the many references to things, but the BBC has gone ahead and listed them all very nicely for you.

Next week, we go back to Victoriana with Mark Gatiss’ “The Crimson Horror,” featuring Strax, Jenny, and Vastra as well as guest stars Diana Rigg and her real-life daughter Rachael Stirling.

Oh, damn...ANOTHER story where the Paternoster Gang is shoehorned in because Doctor Who can't find anything else to do.  Now they have to drag TWO generations into this, including Dame Diana Rigg. 

Mr. Gatiss loves gothic horror,

I would have thought he'd prefer emo, but that's for another time...

so what I hope we get from him is a story with limited plot contrivances.

He has director Saul Metzstein, who’s done a lot of great episodes this series, at the helm, so it could definitely be a cracker.

I bet Kyle Anderson will give The Crimson Horror another positive review, bringing a total of 21 or 22 out of 26 positive reviews.  Let's leave aside that most reviews for Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS were negative.  We can almost always trust our buddy Kyle to be ebullient...or drunk...or insane...or handsomely paid-off...or maybe a combination of all of them. 

And the answer to our question: NO, he never did mention the Big Friendly Button.
Wonder why...