Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who's In A Name?


At long last, the Doctor's true identity will be revealed after nearly a half-century...or will it?  As is the case with all big Steven Moffat episodes, The Name of The Doctor is a misnomer.  We were never going to get the actual name of the Last of the Time Lords (and frankly I really don't care what it is). Anyone who went into The Name of the Doctor thinking that by the end of the episode we were going to hear, "My name is...." is frankly an idiot.   

As a digression, there is something to be said for failing pens.  The pen I was using to taken notes for The Name of the Doctor kept failing to where I just dumped it.  As a result, I was forced to re-watch The Name of the Doctor to give it as fair a viewing as I could.

I'm of two minds when it comes to The Name of the Doctor.  On the one hand, it did something that no other Season/Series Seven episode has done...actually be not-so-bad.  In what it wanted to do (make a season finale that left one in a cliffhanger and answered questions about the season, regardless of the logic of the answer), it did its job.  However, after two viewings I still can't say it was as thrilling as I imagine NuWhovians would imagine it to be, especially if they don't know the history of the series and their point of reference is Rose onwards.  I didn't hate The Name of the Doctor, and I'm too honest an individual to say so merely because I think Moffat, Eleventh Doctor (for now) Matt Smith or Alex Kingston's revolting character River Song are contributing to a free-fall decline of the series.

However, I can't embrace it because it leaves us with more minuses than pluses.

We get an astonishing sequence: current Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) falling through a time vortex of some kind, then interacting in some way with previous Doctors (including one where Clara advises the late William Hartnell's First Doctor about which TARDIS to 'borrow' when he and his granddaughter Susan Foreman run away from Gallifrey).  From there we learn who The Impossible Girl really is...a girl born to save the Doctor!

We then sweep into 1893 London, where we find a way to have Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her lesbian Cockney lover/maid Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their manservant, the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey) in the story.  Here, Madame Vastra is about to ensure that a serial killer be executed when said killer, Clarence DiMarco (Michael Jenn) tells Vastra about 'the Doctor' and his 'greatest secret, one he (the Doctor) will take to the grave'. 

DiMarco (what we in the trades call 'a plot device' since exactly HOW he came to this knowledge we will never learn or really need to...he's just a trigger to set the plot into motion AND a way to shoehorn Vastra & Company into The Name of the Doctor) has valuable information.  With that in mind, Vastra has a conference call via telepathic dream time travel with two other humans (and sadly, recalling Strax from the fun time he was having getting into fights in Glasgow).  The two others are the current Companion Clara (who got a letter mailed to her one hundred and twenty years later...come again?) and the one Strax calls the one with the big head...that would be River Song (who comes in via the TARDIS' memory bank as she is dead at this moment...I think).

Darling, on this show I'M
the center of attention...
In any case, Clarence has given them the coordinates to a specific place, but it isn't until the Great Intelligence/Dr. Simeon from The Snowmen (Richard E. Grant) crashes the conference (having his Whisper Men minions kill Jenny in the process) that we know where the coordinates lead to: Trenzalore.  This is the ONE place the Doctor cannot go, and River slaps everyone back from their sleep.  With  Jenny dead both Vastra and Strax are swept to Trenzalore as bait for the Doctor.

Meanwhile, poor Doctor has been hoodwinked into playing Blind Man's Bluff unaware the kids used this to sneak off.  Clara tells the Doctor all she can remember and he realizes he must go to Trenzalore, where he knows he cannot go.  He cannot go there because that is where his greatest secret is located...it is the location of his tomb.

Well, it's off to Trenzalore to rescue his 'friends'.  He and Clara look upon Trenzalore, which was a sight of a battle where the Doctor met his end, his tomb being the TARDIS grown massive due to its dying.  A telepathic River tells Clara that A.) she is the Doctor's wife (not to be confused with Idris from a similar titled episode), B.) the Doctor can't see or hear her, and C.) that the gravestone marked with her name is really a secret entrance to the tomb.  Just in time to avoid the Whisper Men coming at them.

Within the tomb Strax brings Jenny to life (and I though, 'too bad...I liked her dead') but the Great Intelligence is holding them until the Doctor speaks his name, which will open the tomb.  Clara, meanwhile, starts having all her memories return, including the events of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (all except, of course, the Doctor's name which she read in The History of the Time War).  The Great Intelligence and his Whisper Men minions try so hard to force the Doctor to speak his name, but he will not.  The Whisper Men slowly start killing the others, until the door magically opens. 

River Song, whom no one save Clara can see or hear (we are told), comes to the rescue (as she usually does).  This woman, the only person who knows the Doctor's name (since she made him tell her, probably during some perverse sex act that would have made the Duchess of Windsor blush), spoke it, conveniently off-screen.  Within the TARDIS tomb is what the Doctor calls 'the tracks of my tears' (didn't know the Doctor was a Motown fan).  This is really the Doctor's time-stream: his past/present/future all in one.  What perfect way to destroy the Doctor permanently: just jump into his time-stream and erase all the good work he's done...

...one can read that to be almost symbolic of what Steven Moffat has done to Doctor Who itself, but I digress...

She's 50.  He's 30.
Remember that...

...even if it means destroying yourself.  With that the Great Intelligence goes in and turns every Doctor victory into defeat.  With nothing left for it, Clara herself goes in herself even if it means she will die a million times (but it does offer an explanation as to how she can be in so many places at once).  With the Companion sacrificing herself to save the Doctor (something we've never seen on Doctor Who before...) the Doctor must go into the time-stream itself: a paradox of epic proportions.  River tries to talk him out of it but despite being a hologram he stops her from slapping him, then confesses love and gives her a big kiss.  River asks him to say goodbye like he means it, and then points out that since she's still around, the connection to Clara is still on and thus, Clara is still alive. 

She would tell him how this is possible, but you know..."Spoilers..."

The Doctor jumps in and while Clara recognizes all Eleven of his forms she at first doesn't believe HER Doctor is there.  He is, and then we get the Doctor's real secret, his Great Secret...a shadowy figure whom he says, "I said he was Me.  I never said he was The Doctor."  We end The Name of the Doctor with John Hurt appearing on screen with the title "Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor."

The Name of the Doctor I predict will be the most divisive episode in Doctor Who history.  Not necessarily in terms of quality (those who love NuWho and Moffat's version will worship it as the ultimate in television history, those who despise NuWho and Moffat's version will curse it as the ultimate bastardization of a program in television history).  I think it will forever be the point where Classic Who fans will say the show called Doctor Who is no longer what they know of as Doctor Who, and those who have little to no notion of what came before Rose (such as the NuWho fan I met at the Star Trek Into Darkness midnight showing who had never heard of Romana) will probably use to show that NuWho IS indeed connected to Classic Who.

We got to see the First Doctor guided by Clara as to which TARDIS to take as he began his epic journey to space, they will argue.  Of COURSE NuWho is Doctor Who.  Didn't you see Clara interact somewhat will past Doctors (such as calling out to the Third while he's driving)?

Quick...from what story was that clip taken?

If you can't answer that, then you are a NuWhovian and as far as you're concerned all that came before 2005 is borderline irrelevant.

If you can answer that, then it will make you wonder about continuity. 

I could be nitpicky and argue as to how Clara knows which TARDIS to advise the First Doctor to take (especially since the TARDIS does not like her) or how 'someone' conveniently put in the River Song grave to open up this hereto permanently sealed Tomb of the Doctor (frankly, I think that would be a better title than The Name of the Doctor, but I digress).

I could ask how the Eleventh Doctor never remembered Clara even if he actually met her on Gallifrey and/or other points in time, or how River could be both a hologram and fully flesh at the same time (then again, given that Song is this quasi-divine figure in NuWho lore, I guess anyone conceived by the power of the Holy TARDIS can do anything). 

Did anyone else, like me, wonder if Clara remembered everything, why she could not remember the Doctor's name since she read it already?

Can we not ponder as to how Trenzalore failed to live up to expectations?  I thought this was where "the fall of the Eleventh" would take place, and it was a place where one HAD to answer truthfully any question asked and you could not refuse to answer.  We didn't really have much of a fall for the Eleventh if A.) Matt Smith actually IS the Eleventh, and B.) being within his time-stream is much of a fall.   He also didn't keep to Trenzalore's claims since he constantly refused to give his name, until Deus Ex Machina River comes in to speak it off-camera.

Now that I think on it, how exactly DID River Song open up The Tomb of the Doctor when no one else save Clara could hear her (allegedly)? 

I figure asking exactly why Jenny had to die and die again when everyone can be brought back to life is a silly question, or that the whole 'dead/not dead' thing now has gotten tiresome (what tension is there if they are only temporarily dead).

I could even wonder why the production team opted to use a cliffhanger from Dragonfire where the Seventh Doctor was literally 'hanging over a cliff', given that that particular ending is one of the most derided and mocked in the entire Doctor Who canon.  Then again, I doubt NuWho would even know what I was talking about.

OK, so The Name of the Doctor never bothers to answer anything relevant.  It does what all Moffat/Smith Era stories do: rush through things and give you a lot of spectacle without substance.  Perhaps by now I'm so used to this that even I don't even bother questioning things.

Therefore, in terms of actual story, once we get past other elements, The Name of the Doctor is pretty weak.  In terms of those other elements, The Name of the Doctor is bad.

Grant's performance should be held up as an example of what happens when an actor needs a paycheck and a chance to appear at future Comic-Cons.  He was hamming it up to the Nth power as the Great Intelligence, completing an embarrassing run he started in The Snowmen and throwing his cameo in The Bells of Saint John to boot. 

As a side note, when the Doctor refers to the Time-Stream as 'the tracks of my tears,' the Great Intelligence snapped that we could do with less poetry.  Given that the Whisper Men and the Great Intelligence spoke almost exclusively in rhyme, I find his request for a less poetic turn of phrase highly ironic. 

The Whisper Men are also a flop.  They don't look menacing and they don't do anything scary (unless you count making faces scary).  I've seen pepper pots with plungers that are scarier.  Furthermore, they didn't play much if any role in The Name of the Doctor

The comedy from Starkey's Strax never fits into what is suppose to be the serious nature of the story (it never is funny no matter how Moffat is determined to prove otherwise) and I now realize that I don't hate Alex Kingston...I just hate River Song. 

Really, this you call
Here, she is up to her old tricks, confusing being uppity with being alluring.   Kingston has these mannerisms when playing River Song.  She has a haughty, arrogant tone in her voice when answering anything (even as to how she came to have champagne at the conference call when everyone else was drinking tea), as if answering a simple question was an invitation to screw her. Her eyebrows go up, her body movements become more balletic, as if she is attempting to flirt with her whole figure (rather odd for a character who is suppose to be the Doctor's intellectual equal).  In her efforts to make River Song sexual and desirable, Kingston makes her look almost desperate to find ANYONE to bang her.

River Song may be the only 'intelligent' woman whose whole mannerisms revolve around getting laid.

She makes the character this know-it-all who hides information that might help others because she won't give away 'spoilers'.  Curious that for a character that goes on about how her 'husband' doesn't like endings, she never gives away any of those either.

The character is just so arrogant, snotty, obnoxious, and full of herself.  How do people think she's brilliant and the symbol of the 'strong, independent woman' when her whole existence seems to revolve around a man? 

However, having said all that, if that is how the character is suppose to be then Kingston has done her job and played her accordingly.  Perhaps I've grown softer with age, but by now Kingston's old tricks no longer jar me like they used to.  I'm used to seeing her idea of 'flirtatious' (which are similar to a drunk person hitting on you at Closing Time).  It is what it is, and nothing more.  Moffat wants us to think of the Doctor and River as this great love story, and he will force the issue.  As of now, I'm tired of fighting against this tsunami.  I'll never believe the Doctor would choose River when he could have had Romana or Leela or Sarah Jane, but there it is.         

As I said, many things in The Name of the Doctor didn't work.  However, some did.  It's fortunate though that some of those other elements do save it from being a total disaster and actually perhaps the best Series/Season Seven Doctor Who story.

Chief among them is Matt Smith's performance.  Here, his tears at having to go to Trenzalore were part of a believable and beautiful performance.  He even made me think the Doctor might be passionate about River (an Emmy-winning performance in and of itself to convince people that a 30-year-old man passionately kissing a 50-year-old woman doesn't look almost incestuous).  If anything, it was nice to see Smith not be the aggravatingly idiotic figure his Doctor has been.  You still have the goofy, clueless Doctor around, but fortunately that was in one scene.  Smith was also serious and even heartbreaking, showing somewhere deep, deep, deep inside there may be an actual actor. 

Perhaps for me, The Name of the Doctor didn't have this great appeal because it built itself so much only to fall so far.  For a season/series finale, especially one that leads up to the 50th Anniversary, the episode did not live up to its own hype.

For NuWhovians, The Name of the Doctor must have been a brilliant homage to the series and a great entrance to the Half-Century Special.  Classic Whovians might wonder what the fuss is all about.   I personally can't blame The Name of the Doctor for being what it ended up being: a season/series finale aimed to answer questions (quibble if you must as to the logic of Clara breaking into a million Claras spread through time and space, it IS an answer), throw in some nods to the Original Series (the cameos from other Doctors via archive footage whose context NuWhovians won't figure out and Classic Whovians might object to), and throw in some thrilling moments (the Doctor dying!  Companions dying!  Big Sets!).  I get it, The Name of the Doctor was suppose to be a big epic. 

That it was...whether it was as good as it could have been is another matter. 

The best description about The Name of the Doctor I can give is that it will be the demarcation line for fans: for most NuWhovians it will be among the greatest episodes ever made; for those who tie the Classic series with the NuWho it will be among the worst episodes ever made.  Me, I find myself falling somewhere in the middle: understanding what it wanted to do, but frustrated, endlessly frustrated, about what it IS doing and HOW it is doing it. 

If the "50th" or "8th" Anniversary Special (depending on your viewpoint) makes a mess of a half-century's continuity in one hour, then Doctor Who will be officially dead to me...


Next Story: The Day of The Doctor

Is this the 'Before' or 'After' picture?

OK, OK, one more...

Certainly no slave to fashion...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hedgewick And The Angry Whovian


Nightmare in Silver was once going to be called The Last Cyberman...promises, promises.  Billed as a triumphant return of one of the most iconic (if befuddling) Doctor Who monsters (befuddling in how often they've been made to look ridiculous...Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 and Closing Time being prime examples), Nightmare in Silver had a lot going for it in terms of ideas.  In terms of execution, Nightmare in Silver is another absolute disaster in a season/series of absolute disasters.  Nightmare in Silver leaves me thoroughly puzzled as to how both my fellow critics and fellow Whovians (particularly NuWhovians who appear to never really question anything and are easily pleased) can continue to insist stories like Nightmare in Silver are actually good, or watchable, or anywhere near as brilliant as other Cybermen stories like Tomb of the Cybermen.    Nightmare in Silver will go down in history as being one of the few Doctor Who stories that quite lives up to its title...it was a nightmare to watch.

In the previous episode, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) was blackmailed by the children in her care, Angie (Eva De Leon Allen) and Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson) to take them on a ride in the time-travelling machine or they were going to tell Daddy.  I suppose The Doctor (Matt Smith) gave in, because he whisks them away to Walt Disney World, they have a great time riding Space Mountain (an experience that frightens the Doctor more than the Daleks), they have their picture taken with Goofy (or as we know him, The Last Time Lord), and the Doctor now declares, "Mouse Ears are cool". 

No, of COURSE this isn't what happens.  That'd be a boring episode and it would also defy one of the hallmarks of NuWho:  it would apply logic to a story.  As would be the case whenever the Doctor aims for something good or fun,  he ends up someplace hideous.  In this case, when he takes Clara and the children to Hedgewick's World of Wonder, the Greatest Show (Case) in the Galaxy, it is a dilapidated, run-down, abandoned wreck.  The kids are unimpressed, and the Doctor is hopping up and down about it because he has a Golden Ticket. 

I'm not kidding...he jumps up and down screaming about his Golden Ticket.

Webley (Jason Watkins), someone who at least is somewhat dressed like Willy Wonka, invites them to shelter from an army group patrolling the place.  He shows them his prize piece of magic: a Cyberman who can play chess.  As the Cybermen have been defeated at the end of the Cyber Wars, this one is just a machine.  Artie plays chess with it and loses, but we soon know why: the thing has a brain, in the form of Porridge (Warwick Davies), a midget in pilot uniform.  While Clara and the kids, after a bit of fun, are ready to go, the Doctor opts not to, seeing these little creatures similar to Cybermats but smaller (Cybermites, anyone)?

Well, we find that the Cybermen in Webley's collection aren't as dead as he thought.  Despite the Doctor's warning Angie wanders off and finds the military unit, who in turn are surprised to discover both that there is a midget running around the joint and a Cyberman!  In a shocking turn of events the Cyberman moves at super-speed and grabs Angie (about one of the few good things the Cybermen have done in their long history).  The Doctor now pledges to save Angie (and later on, Artie, who has also been Cyber-ized).  Clara has been put in charge of the military unit, who now have to take orders from her since they all believe the Doctor (thanks to his psychic paper) is a representative of the missing Emperor.

The Doctor finds the kids and Webley (who has been almost converted to a Borg...I mean, Cyberman) and also finds that they have plans for the Doctor.  With a little powder the Cyber-Planner now infects the Doctor's mind, but the Doctor resists him.  In short, both are living inside his own head except for one small bit of it.  Whoever takes this part will have a majority of the mind and thus rule, so the Doctor challenges the Cyber-Planner (who at least once wishes to be called 'Mr. Clever') to a chess match for ultimate control.

Meanwhile, Clara and the Captain (Tamzin Outhwaite) move to a defensive position at the amusement park's medieval castle.  The Captain wants to detonate a bomb that will implode the planet, but the Doctor gave strict instructions NOT to blow up the planet.  As she is about to do so anyway, a Cyberman manages to knock her off.  Now the Doctor manages to escape (even though he still has Mr. Clever inside him) and make it to the castle to continue the chess game, in turns taunting and teasing Clara about how the Doctor has been pursuing 'the Impossible Girl'.  The Cybermen continue to grow ("They're walking from their tombs," we are informed by Mr. Clever) and begin a siege of the castle.

The platoon can't hold them off much longer as more and more Cybermen come around, but then once Angie and Artie are released thanks to the Doctor outwitting Mr. Clever in chess, we get a 'twist': Porridge IS The Emperor!  The Emperor Porridge then sets the bomb, whisks them away with a few magic words to his floating ship, and blows up the planet.   Clara declines the Emperor's marriage proposal (much to Angie's irritation) and once they are all back all appears to be well...

If anything, Neil Gaiman's screenplay clearly makes references to other Cybermen stories (particularly Tomb of the Cybermen: the emergence of the Cybermen and the actual use of "walking from their tombs" makes it clear he is reminding us of the classic Second Doctor story).  Gaiman also deliberately (and sometimes not) reminds us of other Doctor Who stories.  At certain points in his Death (Chess) Match, Smith calls out "Fantastic" and "Allons-y", the catchphrases of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.  I even think I caught Smith giving a "Hmm" in the style of the First Doctor.

Also, I noticed elements from other stories in Nightmare in Silver.  At one point a Cyberman was able to unleash just his hand on an unsuspecting soldier, which brought to mind the Fourth Doctor story The Hand of Fear.  When the Doctor and 'Mr. Clever' were together and challenged each other to a Death (Chess) Match, it brought to mind another Fourth Doctor story, The Brain of MorbiusThe Tomb of the Cybermen allusions have already been mentioned, and in perhaps the oddest Who reference, the whole 'alien has taken control of my body' bit could have easily come from the Ninth's New Earth (just substitute The Lady Cassandra for Mr. Clever and Chip for Webley).

Of course, there are other references I could mention which I don't think were intended.  As I watched the Doctor and Mr. Clever switch places in their minds (usually by Smith changing his position: one side for the Doctor, the other for Mr. Clever), I could not help think of two films where someone took over another person's body or mind.  One was the Steve Martin film All of Me, where the dead Lilly Tomlin was trapped inside Martin, and the other was Innerspace (where Dennis Quaid has been miniaturized and injected into Martin Short with comic results).  In fact, the similarities to me at least were so clear I expected the Doctor to jump up and shout the Short line, "I'm POSSESSED!"    

I can't be certain, but I don't think I was suppose to picture two somewhat obscure 80s comedies while watching an episode that promised to make the Cybermen scary again...

And here is one of the terrible things within Nightmare in Silver...Matt Smith, or rather Stephen Woolfenden's inability to control his penchant to slip into farce.  There were times when Smith was actually good and menacing as Mr. Clever, but whenever he gave in to making Mr. Clever or the Doctor into an idiot it looks demented.  I can't take the 'villain' or 'threat' seriously if he jumps up on a table and decides to call himself 'Mr. Clever'.  That is something the ELEVENTH Doctor would do, not the Cyber-Planner.  The Cyber-Planner could have been a serious threat, but the decision that he was going to perhaps be infected with the Doctor's goofy delivery and habit of slipping into idiot mode was deadly.

Now, one of the biggest problems with Nightmare in Silver is that no matter how hard everyone tries, one cannot escape this episode without wondering when did Doctor Who decide to rip-off Star Trek.  As much as they may deny it, it is impossible to look on the half-Cyber-Planner/half-Doctor without thinking of the Borg (in particular, Star Trek Voyager's de-assimilated 7 of 9).  It is shocking that either no one noticed this or they did and thought no one else would mention it.  It is even more bizarre since the Cybermen came before the Borg and more likely the latter was inspired by the former.  However, if a Trekker/Trekkie would see Nightmare in Silver they'd call it plagiarism.  Sadly, they would have a point...not a case, but a point.

It isn't just the decision to turn the Doctor into Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek First Contact and it's prequel, Star Trek: The Next Generation's The Best of Both Worlds.  It's so many other things. 

Even the most ebullient reviews for Nightmare in Silver have been tempered in their comments on the two youngsters, and for good reason.  Allen and Johnson were simply awful as Angie and Artie (sounds like a comedy duo).  We've seen bad child acting before, but never a pair so stiff and emotionless that made one want their characters to die.  Allen in particular came off as both blank and annoying, a dumb and easily bored know-it-all who becomes more obnoxious every time she speaks. At one point, she yells to the Cyberman who carried her off, "Put me down.  I hate you."  I was howling with laughter at this bratty little girl talking smack to a Cyberman (and giving a bad line reading to boot). 

Near the end of Nightmare in Silver, she asks why don't they just ask the Emperor to set the bomb, then points to Porridge.  "Am I the only one paying attention to anything around here?" she snidely remarks, pointing out how the coin and the wax figure of the Emperor all look like Porridge.

A digression for a few things.  First, sorry you little be-atch, we're YOU the one told not to wander off...and then you did what, exactly?  Second, it is wildly unfair to ask us to notice something we were never given a chance to see.  The audience never saw the coin in question and got a passing glance at the wax figure (which did not resemble Porridge in any way).  Therefore, how were WE suppose to solve the mystery if we're not given the clues?  Third, if it was so obvious, why didn't you mention the resemblance to Clara or Artie or the Doctor or Captain Alice Ferry?

Johnson as the eager little Artie does us no favors either.  He wasn't an obnoxious brat like his sister, but something just as bad: the 'delightful' little child.  He's suppose to be so enthusiastic and excited about everything, but his sense of wonder soon becomes one that marvels at an electric light.  In short, he comes off more stupid than curious.

As for the other guest stars, Davies did as well as he could with the material he was given.  He gave it his all to give Porridge a sense of regret and loneliness, and the parallels Nightmare in Silver attempted between Porridge and The Doctor, while obvious, were at least played well.  He did his best to make him setting off the bomb far more dramatic than it actually was (given he knew he was going to spirit them all away thanks to another Deus Ex Machina and another time the Doctor really didn't do all that much to stop the situation...what need to solve things yourself if you have the Emperor or River Song or Madame Vastra to bail you out?).

This however, is the first time Clara has a major part to play in the series (or at least the first time I remember her so doing).   She certainly is no longer the frightened girl we heard about in Hide.  This Clara is a brilliant tactician and shoot-'em-up kind of girl.   I rolled with this change in Clara's abilities (a nanny turned generalissima) and it was good to see Coleman behave like a tough and strong female (even if it comes as a stretch given what we've seen before).  I never knew whether Clara could actually do what she did or just 'acted' the part but it was better than we've seen before.

Smith as I stated earlier had some of his best moments of his entire tenure when he played the Cyber-Planner straight, adding menace and the darkness we've been hearing about for a long time.  However, even when he was the Cyber-Planner he still couldn't stop making the character look stupid.  How to reconcile a villain who calls himself 'Mr. Clever'?  As I also said earlier, when the Doctor hops up and down crying, "I've got my Golden Ticket!" you can't take your lead seriously.  Whenever he indicates the Cyber-Planner is taking over his body moments just look comical, and when he hides behind the chessboard when having to tell Clara the children have been Cybersized it takes away from the seriousness of the situation.

In terms of other matters, I do wish Murray Gold would just stop.  Just stop.  He thinks he has to drown every single moment with music and it just overruns everything, making it too obvious he's trying to over-score the scenes.  Sometimes, silence is golden...Gold...

Speaking of overrunning things, Gaiman's screenplay has much to answer.  In what is suppose to be a shocking moment (as shocking as when a Dalek elevated in the Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks) the usually lumbering Cybermen can super-speed past everyone to grab a screaming Angie (to which all humanity is thankful for).  However, once this twist was finished, they all went back to being the slow-moving creatures we've all known and loved.  Why didn't the rest of the Cyber-Army, whom we figure were similarly 'upgraded' move just as fast?

Maybe because it would kill the plot...

Why didn't Porridge just order Captain Alice to not set the bomb? 
Why didn't Porridge just set the bomb earlier to stop the Cyber-Army and attempt to de-Borg the Doctor in space?
Why did Porridge allow Webley to keep the dead Cybermen around rather than just order them destroyed?
Why did Porridge even go along with working the Cyberman in an abandoned amusement park?
Why is ANYONE left on this abandoned planet (Porridge, Webley, the punishment platoon) if it was abandoned?
If the Cybermen need the children's imagination to upgrade (shades of School Reunion) why didn't they just work surreptitiously to keep bringing children to the World of Wonder and then release their army of the innocent?   

Nightmare in Silver is shocking...shocking in its overall bad acting (save Davies), in its inept and illogical story, in its rip-off of the Borg (who themselves are variations of the Cybermen), in its completely nutty lead character (Mr. Clever...seriously?) and in playing fast and loose with the information we're given (particularly when we're given a 'twist' that the audience would never have evidence to solve).  Nightmare in Silver is lazy and another example of how Doctor Who now has decided that 'anything goes', that it doesn't have to make any sense because the NuWho fans will accept everything without question. 

In summation, Nightmare in Silver is one of the worst Doctor Who episodes not only of this bad season, but perhaps of All Time.

The Doctor is Borg Again...


Next Story: The Name of The Doctor

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What's Red And Dumb All Over?


With The Snowmen, I had commented that it was basically a pilot for the much-wished for Madame Vastra/Jenny spin-off that NuWhovians are clamoring for.  I am not one of those people: I find the Silurian and her lesbian Cockney lover (or wife, in Steven Moffat's delusional world) to be idiotic.  However, given that NuWho now basically caters to those with simple minds, who don't object to plot holes or who believe "you don't apply logic to Doctor Who", I guess same-sex bestiality is something to celebrate.  With The Crimson Horror, what we have is basically an episode of The Lizard and The Lady (as I call the Madame Vastra/Jenny Show) with special guest star The Doctor.  As much as I love Dame Diana Rigg and as good as she and her daughter Rachel Stirling are, The Crimson Horror takes too much away from the main character to make it a true Doctor Who episode, and even goes so far as to make things worse for the leads (but more on that later).

The 'Great Detective' Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) is consulted by a Mr. Thursday (Brendan Patricks) on a most curious case in distant Yorkshire.  Bodies with waxy, glowing, red skin are found in Victorian Yorkshire, among them his brother (Patricks again), and who else but Vastra, her maid/mistress Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Sontaran manservant Strax (Dan Starkey) could go to the North to investigate? (Answer: no one else, because, after all, this Unholy Three are the stars of at least this episode, but I digress).  This is especially vital since in the photograph of the victim's eye is implanted the visage of The Doctor (Matt Smith).  The plan is simple: Jenny will infiltrate Sweetville, the factory/cult founded by Mrs. Gillyflower (Rigg), a religious fanatic (and really, is there any other type) and look around the factory.

Damn it, I'M the Star of This Show...
Jenny goes into Sweetville while Vastra goes to the morgue where the mortician is all too happy (for a price) to have people look upon "the crimson 'orror."  Vastra recognizes the symptoms the victims have encountered before, and Jenny (a good 18 minutes into the episode) makes a shocking discovery.  The "monster" that Mrs. Gillyflower's blinded daughter Ava (Stirling) keeps as her pet/companion is The Doctor!  He is bright red, stiff, and can barely speak.  Jenny rescues him and with the help of his handy-dandy sonic screwdriver he is able to return (24 minutes into the episode) into the goofy Doctor I've come to hate and suffer through.

In a pastiche of old-style cinema (deliberately scratched audio and picture, sepia-tone, jumping picture), the Doctor has a flashback to bring Jenny up to speed.  He and his Companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) had come to Victorian Yorkshire (aiming for London but missing it as is the Doctor's want...if only River Song were there to pilot the TARDIS correctly) and discovered the truth behind "the crimson 'orror."  Mrs. Gillyflower is preparing for Apocalypse, and taking the humans selected and dipping them in the red liquid to preserve them.  Those in the rejected pile (who tend to be on the ugly side) were the ones who got that lovely red tint.  Ada, however, took a shine to the Doctor, who had survived the process because he is not human.  Ada luckily locked him up secretly as 'my monster' gave her a little bit of company (or as much company as a virtually mute red zombie can give a blind spinster). 

Fortunately for everyone, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax rolled around to save the day, otherwise the Doctor would have been permanently sidelined and Clara would have remained in a jar...seriously, she was trapped in a jar.

Now with Vastra/Jenny/Strax to sort it all out, The Doctor need only find Clara (confusing Jenny who saw A Clara die in The Snowmen) and stop the mad Mrs. Gillyflower from TAKING OVER THE WORLD.  Now, how is this mysterious silent partner Mr. Sweet?  Well, Vastra knows that the particular odor from the red liquid is from the Repulsive Red Leech the Silurians encountered when they dominated the planet.  As the Doctor confronts Mrs. Gillyflower, we make the shocking discovery: Mr. Sweet is a giant red leech sucking on her tit!


Despite what she's done to her own daughter, and despite the combined forces of the stars of the show...and The Doctor & Clara, Mrs. Gillyflower is determined to TAKE OVER THE WORLD by wiping out all humanity and start her own master race...I think.  Even more spectacularly, despite falling several feet Mrs. Gillyflower STILL has enough energy to make a plea for forgiveness to her daughter, which is promptly rejected.

After The Doctor deposits Clara back to her own time, she is accosted by the children she's been watching, Angie (Eva De Leon Allen) and Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson), who have discovered that their nanny is a time traveler (thanks to some pictures of Clara from previous adventures available online).  Despite her protests, Clara it appears MUST take the little tykes on a ride on the TARDIS, and is left to solve the puzzle as to why she was photographed in Victorian LONDON when she was only in Victorian Yorkshire... 

I went back and forth on The Crimson Horror a great deal.  I think that the thing that is saving the episode from being among the worst for me is that we have two great actresses in the story...and I'm not referring to McIntosh, Stewart, or Coleman.  I have great personal affection for Diana Rigg (the Best Bond Girl of All Time...screw YOU, Adele and your crappy Skyfall song), and she seems to delight in being evil.  It takes a lot to make me accept (not believe, but accept) that one  has a big red leech sucking on your breasts and not make it look totally idiotic, and to her credit Rigg managed that neat trick.

I have to give credit where credit is due: Stirling manages to outshine her own legendary mother in the first project that they have ever done together.  She is mostly sympathetic as the blinded Ada, who still fears that she will have no one to love and will not be allowed into her mother's predicted Paradise.  I say mostly because sometimes I wondered if she wasn't at least either a little dim or weak to realize what her mother was actually up to.  This is particularly true with regards to the affection she has for her 'monster', where she appears to be less lonely and more in the Annie Wilkes in Misery mode of keeping someone prisoner.

Other than Rigg and Stirling, I found very little to like in The Crimson Horror.  Well, apart from the costumes, but then I'm almost a total sucker for costume pictures (you should have seen me while watching Jane Eyre starring the unofficial love of my life, Mia Wasikowska).  The Crimson Horror does what Doctor Who should most definitely NOT do...make the main character irrelevant.

Jenny'll Fix It...
Let's be honest: the show was about Madame Vastra & Company.  In all The Crimson Horror, if one removed the Doctor and Clara (whom I'd argue was basically already removed given the almost absolutely no importance she played in the episode) and replaced him with any generic character.  Let's say it's just a Professor from a nearby school, or an intrepid reporter.  Let's say that he somehow survived the Crimson Process (I'm sure Mark Gatiss could come up with something), and kept pretty much the same story.  Would we have had anything different in The Crimson Horror?  Sadly, I don't think so. 

In fact, I think that there is something wrong when the main character of a show does not appear until almost half the episode is over.  Even then, that perhaps can be forgiven, if Smith's now-official take on the Doctor as almost this idiot who can't do anything except flash his sonic screwdriver around weren't the one we see.  Doctor Who may be thought of as a 'kid's show', but why does the 30-year-old lead behave as though the main character was 12?

I've seen the sonic screwdriver do some pretty stupid things, and I've seen it used as a Deus Ex Machina far more times than I care to remember, but this is the FIRST TIME I've seen it basically heal the Doctor from something that perhaps with a little forethought he wouldn't have needed to be healed from.  As I watched The Crimson Horror (in horror myself, I might add), I said to myself, "sonic screwdriver heals as well?  My God!"  I sat there, astounded that A.) the titular lead was placed in this position in the first place, and B.) that such an easy way out was granted to him. 

It's not just bad writing (which it certainly is: Gatiss is NO genius).  It's just lazy writing.

Even worse, The Crimson Horror basically makes out that the Doctor was almost WAITING for Jenny/Vastra/Strax to rescue him.  "Just when you think your favorite Victorian chambermaid won't come..." or something to that effect the Doctor tells Jenny when he sees her.  Since when was the Doctor HOPING someone else would come to save the day?  What if Vastra & Company had NEVER come up North?  Did Gatiss ever think of that?  I know it is perhaps odd speculation to think of such things as logic, but this is what I was thinking while watching. 

What if The Lizard & The Lady HADN'T come up?  What then?  The Doctor, who has escaped and defeated Daleks, Cybermen, The Rani, The Master, the Silurians, the Sea Devils, Fenric, even the Myrka in Warriors of the Deep couldn't escape some old lady with a big red leech on her tit!?!

I know Gatiss wanted some shocking twist in that the DOCTOR was the one who was 'the monster', but really the only thing he accomplished was to have shown that on NuWho, we might as well dump the main character and replace him with a Silurian, her lesbian lover, and a Sontaran who is there for comic relief...and have a man faint about three times because all men faint at some point.

One aspect of The Crimson Horror I didn't care for one bit was the Doctor's flashback to bring Jenny (and us) up to speed as to how he got there.  I've never been fond of bits that are too self-conscious of how they look.  Case in point is how the flashback was presented: the sepia tones, scratched picture and soundtrack.  Why are we going through all that?  I know it was director Saul Metzstein's efforts to give Crimson Horror a more distinct/era-appropriate look, but it was more than distracting.  It was pointless.  What would have been so wrong with starting at this point and moving forward, with the Doctor sending a message to Vastra & Company to bring them here (if you really wanted to include them in the episode)?

Finally, what I found really hideous was in how Artie and Angie are shoehorned into the next episode.  Just what we need: two annoying (or dare I call them, meddlesome) kids to take up more time.  I could also point out the logical fallacy of how someone could take pictures inside a secret Soviet submarine or show clear pictures of the Doctor and Clara in a haunted house but then given how I've been asked NOT to apply logic to Doctor Who, why bother? 

Seriously, though, since when are pictures of secret subs so available...even if it IS the Internet?

Now, again I don't want to say that everything in The Crimson Horror was the usual bad Doctor Who stuff.  There were some good parts.  Stirling really gave a great performance (mostly, at times Ada was a bit whiny for my tastes), and it was nice to see Rigg got some of the joke of it all.  "In the wrong hands, that venom could wipe out all life on this planet," the Doctor tells Mrs. Gillyflower.  "Do you know what these are?" she asks while thrusting her hands at him.  "The wrong hands," she all but cackles. 

Somehow, a villain telling The Eleventh Doctor to basically F**K himself delights me.
I've wanted to say that to him for some time now.

I did also laugh when the Doctor, looking at the group about to attack him and Jenny, remarks, "Attack of the Supermodels."  That WAS funny.

Side note: did anyone else wonder how an old lady who fell several stories managed to survive that, and live long enough to continue monologuing...I mean, speaking?  Is it me or is that....A CLICHE?

If it weren't for the fact that it is comedy-heavy (Strax is still stupid, the Doctor more so, men fainting at every turn), had a sadly dumb monster (though Rigg as the villain was great), and had an irrelevant title character and even more irrelevant Companion, The Crimson Horror on the whole made for a good Madame Vastra & Jenny Show episode.

Just get rid of that guy with the bow tie and the tart with him.  They're unnecessary on Doctor Who...


Next Story: Nightmare in Silver    

Thursday, May 2, 2013

TARDIS: That Was Easy


Even in the advert for Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS one can see that Matt Smith's Doctor is not the genius who thought his way out of problems as his predecessors were, but an inept, almost stupid bumbler who somehow manages to sonic screwdriver his way out of difficult situations.  Putting aside the use of one of the most unoriginal title in Who history (wonder where they came up with THAT particular title...) and putting aside that the poster seems to be a take-off of a previous Doctor Who story (the Fifth Doctor story Castrovalva), Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is a bad story: not in a 'it's a fiasco' style of bad but in a 'it just isn't completely thought out and a massive waste overall' style of bad.  While I did find some things to like, the ending...my God, the ENDING...

The Doctor and his newest Companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) are in space and he is concerned that Clara and the TARDIS are not getting along.  Therefore, he gets her to drive the ship and puts it in 'basic mode', which means no shields.  Wouldn't you know it...a group of space scrap salvagers just happens to spot this odd thing floating around and decide to grab it at that precise moment?  The scrappers, the Brothers Van Baalen, think it's just junk but a third scrapper, the android Tricky (Jahvell Hall) senses that this latest object is...alive.

The Doctor magically appears outside the crashed TARDIS, but poor Clara is still inside.  The Doctor then tells them he offers a trade: in exchange for helping rescue Clara, he will let them scrap the TARDIS.  However, NuWho First Rule: The Doctor Lies (I can point out he didn't before the 2005 revival, but it's a waste pointing that out).  He tricks the Van Baalens into the 'salvage of a lifetime'...literally, a lifetime of Clara.  To get them to see his way, he sets the Self-Destruct System: first an hour, then on almost a whim 30 minutes. 

Clara, meanwhile, is left to wander the many corridors of the TARDIS, where she finds the library (or wanders in...I can't believe that in the travels the Doctor would be so unchivalrous as to not show her around the place).  She is also aware that something is after her: a strange monster who is within the TARDIS for reasons unknown.

As she wanders around the TARDIS' massive library she comes across a very important book: The History of the Time War.  While glancing through it, Clara makes a shocking discovery: written within the book is...The Doctor's NAME! She sees it and says, "So THAT'S Who," but we don't have much time to worry about 'spoilers'.  The Space Zombies are a'comin' for her.  We soon find that the TARDIS is defending itself after one of the Van Baalem brothers took a bit of the Architectural Reconstruction System, which is what makes it larger on the inside than the outside.

The TARDIS is also taking steps to fight off the forces against them.  One of them, however, isn't the Self-Destruct.  After realizing that the TARDIS is repeatedly recreating the console room and that they and Clara are in slightly different times the Doctor manages to pull her to his time, he casually informs the Van Baalems that, surprise, there WAS no Self-Destruct Mechanism.  He even stops long enough to congratulate himself on his performance.  However, he does realize we DO have a problem: the Zombies and the TARDIS looks like it's about to go kablooey.

The Doctor knows what the Zombies are but won't tell, and then we find we must go into the center of the TARDIS.  And Clara gets briefly separated from them...again.  She also keeps bumping into previous versions of herself and the Eleventh Doctor, but it's those pesky rips in time.  All this time she is attempting to heal from a burn she got before crashing when she had picked something up and burned her hand, with odd writing on it.

Eventually, we make some shocking discoveries: Tricky is NOT an android, but a human slightly altered and told he was an android by his brothers as a joke and that the zombies are really the burned remains of the Van Baalems...and Clara herself.  They manage to enter into the center of the TARDIS, which is frozen in an effort to stop its destruction.  Finally, the Doctor realizes that there is a rift (or a crack) in time that is causing all this, so if he warns himself and provides a device that can basically reset everything, all will be resolved.  He does so with a grenade-type device where he writes "Big Friendly Button" with the sonic screwdriver and everything was as before...right down to Clara having her memory wiped of what has happened previously, including reading The Name of The Doctor.

Gallifreyan for Deus Ex Machina...

Do you know what damns Journey to the Centre... for me?  The Big Friendly Button, that's what!  We've had some sorry examples of a Deus Ex Machina, some outside force/source that magically appears at the last moment to save the Doctor from the insurmountable crisis.  The wildly overpraised Cold War had the Ice Warrior army sweep in just as Skaldak was about to push the button (neither big or friendly) and save the world.  Other times either River Song or Madame Vastra will show up and fix things for him because the Doctor is basically too stupid to figure anything out himself. 

However, of all the things that Doctor Who has done to provide an easy way out, having the Doctor literally 'push a reset button' ranks as one of the WORST plot devices in the history of the entire franchise.  I was so appalled at how easy it was for him to get out of everything.  It was a cheap way to solve a dilemma, almost to where it would be a parody if it weren't a Canonical story. 

I also point out that in a sense, pushing the reset/restart button is what Journey to the Centre... repeatedly did.  Stephen Thompson (returning for a second go-round after the shockingly bad Curse of the Black Spot...which stubbornly won't shift from its place as one of the worst Doctor Who Stories of All Time--current standing: Num. 4) has now created something nowhere near as atrocious but instead something filled with total ineptness.  The Doctor basically resets things TWICE: besides the "big friendly button" he also basically informs everyone, "No Self-Destruct System...backfire on you, wasn't I so clever and convincing."  There is something appalling about how smug he can be in his manipulativeness.  Yes, the Doctor can use people, but he doesn't delight in emotionally torturing people...or at least he didn't before. 

By taking the "Self-Destruct System" out of the equation, what little (and I do mean little) sense of urgency was gone.  If the ship isn't going to destroy itself, what then is the rush, the worry of rescuing Clara?  That was already bad enough, but by sending in the "big friendly button" and resetting everything, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS informed us that it was all a big waste of our time.  Not since Pam Ewing woke up to find her husband Bobby in the shower and thus wiped away an entire season's worth of Dallas storylines because 'it was all a dream' have we encountered a more idiotic resolution to a conflict.

To get out of this situation, all he had to do was 'push a button'.  He even had time, amid all the crises going on around him, to write "Big Friendly Button" on it.  I want people to ponder that and wonder why I have been so hard on Series/Season Seven of NuWho.

However, there are other things wrong with Journey to the Centre... For example, the entire subplot of the Van Baalems and the 'android'.  First, why should we care?  Second, how did the Doctor put two and two together (well, on that point, given how Smith has decided HIS Doctor is going to be an idiot, we should be grateful for small favors...).  However, once we get the 'big reveal', what of it?  Why should we care that these two brothers (to whom we're barely introduced) played a mean prank on the third?  There really is no compelling reason for us to bother, and the episode feels the same: once the 'big twist' is exposed, we all but forget about them.

Imagine how much better Journey... could have been if the 'android' had been the compassionate one and the 'humans' were the mechanical ones, or even if we find out that the situation is reversed.  Now THOSE might have been shocking twists.  However, since they didn't opt for either, well, big deal.

The biggest problem Journey... has involves what is suppose to be the Doctor's greatest secret: his name.  For far too long, The Name of the Doctor has been played to be this gigantic secret, something that might shatter the fabric of time itself.  Now we find that his name is easily available to anyone with a library card.

What's my name?
You'll find it in Chapter 26.

Let's go over this shall we?  In the TARDIS' library we have the book The History of The Time War.  Articles are important. If it were A History... then it would suggest a memoir, but since it has the definitive THE History..., it looks like it was written by someone not there.  The real First Question should be "Who wrote the book?"  We have three options: the Doctor himself, someone else, or someone else with the Doctor's cooperation.  If we go for Option A. or C., then the question must be asked, 'why did the Doctor, who harbors this terrible secret about his name, whom he's shared it with allegedly only one person (River Song...guess Susan Foreman never knew her own grandfather's name) write it down in a book that any of his Companions could easily have read?' One doesn't think that Rose, Adam, Captain Jack, Mickey, Martha, Donna, Amy, Rory, River, or Clara didn't have any down-time between adventures.  A little light reading at bedtime, perhaps?  Therefore, the Doctor's Name, appearing so freely in The History of the Time War, was easily accessible to any of them.

However, if we go for Option B., we come up with an even bigger problem.  This book, if published widely across the galaxy, would have required research, and if in that research someone wrote, "The war ended when (John Smith) triggered a device that destroyed Gallifrey" or something like that, then The Name of the Doctor is no secret. 

No matter how one cuts it, by putting in that little bit in Journey..., the entire effort to build up The Name of the Doctor as some massive mystery (which I would have said was never this galaxy-shattering event showrunner Steven Moffat has insisted it must be) has been effectively rendered moot.  How big of a mystery can The Name of the Doctor be if it can be read by anyone with a copy of The History of the Time War?  A producer MUST have thought that out.  He or she could have pointed out, 'No, The Name of the Doctor CAN'T be literally written down in the book because then it wouldn't be a mystery' and ordered the writer to alter the story.  The fact that this did not happen shows that basically everyone is making things up as they go along.

Sadly, the response to this lapse in logic would be "you don't apply logic to Doctor Who", which is a remarkably cheap and easy way to excuse plot holes and discontinuity errors such as The Name of the Doctor being this terrible secret, one that must never be known...which is in a book.  One HAS to apply logic to any program, especially a science-fiction show.  Not doing so is an insult to the audience.

Truth be told, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS IS an insult to the audience: you put the characters in danger only to literally just push a button and everything goes back to the way it was: no one save the Doctor remembers anything and it was just as if it never happened.

In terms of performances there really is very little to note.  Smith still can't make the Doctor into something other than a nitwit, particularly with the sonic screwdriver.  He whips it out almost reflexibly but he seems to use it like I would use my cell phone as a light source.  The interplay between the Van Baalem Brothers is uninteresting, and poor Coleman.  We've had good Companions (Sarah Jane Smith), we've had bad Companions (Mel Bush), but with Clara, we've never had such a dull Companion.  The Doctor described her as 'feisty', but that description seems to be applied to all NuWho Companions.  Each pre-Clara Companion had at least something: working-class Rose, medically-trained Martha, chatterbox Donna, belligerent Amy, wimpy Rory, slutty murderous River.  Clara, however, after five episodes still has nothing.  She's just so blank, and I put that less on Coleman than on the character she plays, who is not interesting in the slightest.

However, there are a few good things in the episode.  Coleman has a good line when she says, "Red flashing light...means something bad," and some of the cinematography, particularly within the TARDIS, is quite beautiful.  I didn't even mind that the same cinematography was deliberate obscure to attempt to make the Time Zombies more frightening.  It didn't quite work but I appreciate the effort.  There were also efforts to note Doctor Who's long past: when the console is opened by one of the Van Baalem brothers we can hear voices from previous Doctors (I instantly recognized Susan's voice, and I think I heard the Fourth Doctor).

Again, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is not a terrible episode compared to some truly horrifying ones.  I'd rather watch it than say, Love & Monsters or Closing Time.   The bad thing about Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is that it is completely forgettable and also introduces a major inconsistency that if not addressed by the series/season finale will forever damn the program as something that doesn't have much thought to it.

Just like the Doctor used a "Big Friendly Button" to change the course of history, I have a "Big Friendly Button" to do the same.  It's called a remote, and I would have used it during Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

It was all a dream...


Next Story: The Crimson Horror