Saturday, December 11, 2021

Doctor Who Story Number 032: The Underwater Menace


STORY 032: 


Author's Note: I had previously reviewed The Underwater Menace when only one episode was known to exist. After a second episode was rediscovered in 2011 the story was rereleased with photographic stills filling in the still-missing Episodes 1 and 4. This review will replace the original.

The Underwater Menace is a good idea for a Doctor Who story. We have a new Companion in Highlander Jamie McCrimmon and the rich setting of Atlantis. As such, the question is "What went wrong?" as The Underwater Menace is a muddled slog despite some good efforts.

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) along with his Companions Ben (Michael Craze), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jaime (Frazer Hines) find themselves in the city of Atlantis. As the Atlanteans begin preparing to rise from the ocean's depths, there is danger afoot. That danger comes from the crazed mad scientist Zaroff (Joseph First). He has promised to raise the continent to the surface, but to do that he has to destroy the Earth itself.

Polly is forever trying not to be turned into a Fish Person, another product of Zaroff's who serve as de facto slaves. They are needed to harvest the food as Zaroff has never found a proper preservation method, so the Atlanteans food spoils quickly and requires quick harvesting. Jaime and Ben, meanwhile, have to work in the mines but plan to escape along fellow lost travelers Sean (P.G. Stevens) and Jacko (Paul Anil).

It is up to the Doctor and his Companions to stop the crazed Zaroff from destroying the world and Atlantis, with help from Ramo (Tom Watson), a temple priest who believes their story. Will the Doctor manage to save them all?

Given that half of The Underwater Menace is currently lost, perhaps we can cut it some slack. The fact that the BBC as a cost-cutting measure opted to have still pictures versus animated reconstructions also dampen the overall feel of the story. However, the lack of footage (and poor way the BBC went about reconstructing the story) are easy ways to excuse how bad The Underwater Menace ended up being.

At the top of The Underwater Menace's failure is in our villain. Furst's Zaroff does not chew the scenery or even devour the scenery. He demolishes it wholesale in a performance that really fits to the "needs to be seen to be believed" cliche. Coming across like a crazed Paul Lukas his wild overacting is simply astonishing but not in a good way. His intense declaration of "NOTHING IN THE WORLD CAN STOP ME NOW!" at the end of Episode Three is so unhinged as to transcend parody. It's a sad element that this is the last known surviving footage in The Underwater Menace: a crazed, wild-eyed loon screaming at the top of his lungs.

To be fair, that is how Furst played Zaroff from the get-go. Say what you will about his bonkers mad scientist (and no, that isn't a repetition in terms), Furst goes into the role with unhinged abandon. It isn't until Episode Four where he finally sounds slightly less insane. If The Underwater Menace is to be believed, Zaroff was perfectly aware that the Earth's surface was going to be destroyed if he was successful.

He really lived out the REM song It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). He insists that all scientists really aim to destroy the world, opening up the logic of knowing he was OK was dying to blow it all up. That makes his pleas to be saved at the end of Episode Four all the more bizarre. If he has a death wish that has no explanation other than "because I can", why is he so terrified of dying when the waters come rushing in?

There's a great deal in The Underwater Menace that either does not make sense or just flounders (no pun intended). Exactly how does The Doctor know it is Zaroff that has made the Atlantean food? Where and what work of Zaroff does the Doctor know? Why is he dressed up like a Gypsy in an Atlantean market? How is there an Atlantean market?

Add to that what The Underwater Menace did to poor Polly. Forever screaming, she was nearly turned into a Fish Person, abducted, held prisoner and did some more screaming. I think Wills did the best she could but it must have been rather difficult to be relegated and shunted off in such a fashion.

Again, at least to a degree Polly's shoddy treatment is not writer Geoffrey Orme or director Julia Smith's fault. Hines' character of Jamie was added after The Underwater Menace had already been written, so he was hastily added in. That meant relegating the other Companions a bit to the sidelines. It also meant giving Hines lines that probably would have been spoken by either Wills or Craze. None of the actors are to blame for all this, but the end result is sad and jumbled.

Troughton, for his part, does appear to come into his own even in the gaudy outfits. He becomes a mix of wizard and schemer, attempting to stop a crazed man while bringing a touch of lightness to things. In Episode Four he says, "I have a plan. It might even work," making the line simultaneously amusing and serious. Troughton does well in this story, balancing the serious and silly very well.

However, he too could not save a script that had so many wheels spinning. The subplot about the Fish People, the miners and the worshipers of the Atlantean god Almo came and went. Important characters like Atlantean maiden Ara (Catherine Howe) came and went to where you forgot about them until they reappeared.

It is curious that despite seeing the wires the Fish People sequence is still on the whole fascinating. I give credit to The Underwater Menace for trying for something unique and visually arresting. The sets, especially at Almo's Temple are also quite impressive even if they reminded me of the First Doctor story The Aztecs.

Ultimately though, silly costumes and especially the theatrical acting push The Underwater Menace down. A lot of potential was lost along with Episodes One and Four. The Underwater Menace is a story that simply did not rise above its negatives. 


Next Story: The Moonbase

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Doctor Who Story 034: The Macra Terror Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (DVD): Various, Various ...

As of this writing no complete surviving episodes from the Second Doctor story The Macra Terror are known to exist. As such, we have the animated reconstruction of the four-part Doctor Who story and while it is unlikely that The Macra Terror will ever be found, the animated version does show that at heart, Doctor Who had a very inventive premise. The Macra Terror opted not to stick with a "pure" reconstruction to make it look as it would have when first broadcast, but instead opened it up to a more creative adaptation that elevates it.

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his Companions Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben (Michael Craze) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) arrive in a seemingly happy and content Colony. The workers are not only happy but are encouraged in their happiness by their Controller, whom they see only via large-screen. Underneath this happy land full of content workers who know The Colony is always right, something sinister lies.

One of the formerly content, Medok (Terence Lodge) insists that there is an evil thing controlling all: The Macra, a name that is verboten in The Colony. The Doctor is the only one of the strangers to think Medok is not either insane or dangerous. His digging for the truth uncovers a shocking terror under the literal bowels of this world, but Ben has fallen under the Controller's control and turns informant and traitor.

As the Doctor, Polly and Jamie keep searching for the truth, with only the ruling Pilot (Peter Jeffrey) as a semi-ally, they must both find the truth while stopping the Security Chief Ola (Gertan Klauber) from stopping them. They discover the truth of what lies beneath: the Macra Terror.

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror Blu-Ray Review|Teleivision @ The ...As we have no surviving episodes and only a few clips from The Macra Terror, it is hard to say how good or bad the performances are given that we have only their voices. However, judging from the voices I would argue that Wills was the weakest, forever whimpering and screaming. I cannot fault Wills alone in all this given that Ian Stuart Black's script gave her nothing to do but whimper and scream.

Much better were Craze and Hines. Craze unfortunately disappears for long stretches but when he is on screen struggling between his subconsciously-induced loyalty to The Colony and his loyalty to the Doctor and his fellow Companions he makes the most of it. Hines is made the action hero, particularly in Episode Three and Four where he must go in the "forbidden area" to find where the mines go down to. Hines is even allowed a brief moment of humor when he has to break out into an impromptu dance to try and get out of something.

One can question why in such a serious moment we had our Highlander break out into a jig but there it is.

Troughton fully owns the part, for his Doctor is a man full of confidence in his own abilities and not afraid of question authority. Despite being the oldest of the cast his character is closest to the feels of the late 1960's, forever making jokes at the leadership's expense. Whether it's answering Polly's inquiry with "Confusion is best left to the experts" or insisting "Bad laws were made to be broken", his Doctor is a rebel.

As he almost merrily destroys the method the Colony uses to subconsciously control the Colony workers, the Doctor tells everyone within earshot, "Better some damage than the loss of willpower".

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror Blu-Ray Review|Teleivision @ The ...The Macra Terror it appears draws heavily from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz in its story of monstrous creatures secretly controlling a seemingly pleasant and benevolent society. The giant face of the Controller whom we find is really a broken old man terrorized into submission by the Macra can be seen as a "Wizard of Oz" type figure. The underground Macra essentially feeding off the controlled Colonists are similar if not exact to the Morlocks in Wells' story.

However, for my mind, The Macra Terror is closer to allegory, or perhaps this is what I got out of it. The benevolent society where "The Colony" and "The Controller" were never questioned, which were seen as the source of all good, where happy music piped in to cheer the joys of working for The Colony seems to be what a state like North Korea or the then-Soviet Union want/wanted their people to think. Like Communist states, the Colony appeared to be a place of joy and bounty when in reality it was a prison.

Those who spoke the name "Macra" were routinely sent to hospital for "correction" and if that failed, off to the pits. Even after Ben clearly sees the Macra and saves Polly from them, he later insists there was nothing there. This is close to a fascist police state with the veneer of happiness.

Granted, I may be drawing too much from the story, but it's hard not to imagine that The Macra Terror may not at least work as allegory on the evils of a seemingly idyllic but in reality a totalitarian state.

Doctor Who - The Macra Terror - GeekChocolate
In terms of animation The Macra Terror outdoes the live-action surviving footage. For example, in the few surviving clips, Polly's ankle is what is attacked by the Macra. The chance for animation allows for a greater and more intense sequence where Polly is literally hanging upside down from the Macra's claws, screaming for her life. There are visually impressive feats, such as when we see through a clear chalkboard as the Doctor works out his calculations.

There are probably one or two questions The Macra Terror does not answer. How do these crab-like creatures communicate? How does Ben's mind control ease off so quickly. It almost feels as if the end came about rather quickly. However, all these are minor points.

I found The Macra Terror quite intelligent and well-animated, with an engaging story that works quite well. Some of the acting was not the best but on the whole there isn't much to be crabby about The Macra Terror.


Next Story: The Faceless Ones

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Woman Who Rang In the New Year: Resolution Review

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This year, Doctor Who opted for a New Year's Day special versus a Christmas Day special. As I understand it, the reason for delaying the special a week was that they'd essentially run out of ideas of how to tie Doctor Who to Christmas.

I think the first part is correct, for Resolution had nothing to do with New Year's. In fact, it had nothing to do, and not even the return of the Daleks could make it worth anyone's time, sober or hung-over.

We start and end with voiceover, we begin in the 9th Century where a massive battle has defeated 'a great evil'. It is cut into three pieces and sent to three far corners: Anuta Island in the Pacific, Siberia in the cold, and Yorkshire because...reasons. Unfortunately the Yorkshire pudding fell flat as he is killed before burying the third piece.

Moving to New Year's Day 2019, archaeologists Lin (Charlotte Richie) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel) are excavating under the Sheffield City Hall when they find the Yorkshire pudding. The seemingly flirtatious couple take the object the bones hold and put it under lights. Said lights revive the third part and manages to summon the other two parts from the South Pacific and Russian tundra to form a whole.

Image result for doctor who resolution (2019)Fortunately The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) along with Her 'fam' Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) are alerted and go there. Unbeknownst to them though, the squid-like creature Lin saw has attached itself to her. Eventually we learn that said creature is a Dalek out of its casing.

It's a mad race to stop Lin/Dalek from ravaging the Earth. We do have to pause every so often to deal with the domestic situation Ryan and Graham face: that of Ryan's father/Graham's stepson Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), who has come to reconcile with his son. Eventually the Doctress defeats the newly-encased Dalek, Aaron, saved from getting sucked into a supernova by Ryan declines a hop on the TARDIS, Lin and Mitch can continue their thwarted romance and The Doctress and Her 'fam' can keep on traveling.

I cannot imagine why Resolution has such high positive reviews. It was worse than bad. It was boring. Chris Chibnall seemed even more determined than usual to double-down on every bad decision he could think of and probably come with a few more to boot.

In particular is what he has done with The Doctor. She isn't 'wacky' but stupid, perpetually stupid. "Hi, Ryan's Dad", she first states when introduced to Aaron. This is something Matt Smith's Doctor would do, with diminishing results. However, for reasons only Chibnall may know he keeps having Her do that. Why can She not call him 'Aaron' or even 'Mr. Sinclair'. She keeps panicking when hearing a doorbell and keeps asking if it's an alarm.

Has She never heard a doorbell before? Is She that inept?

I cannot take Her seriously when She communicates with a terrorized Lin via a large old-style microphone. Did he or anyone at the Doctor Who production think this was remotely funny?

Image result for doctor who resolution (2019)Even the parts Chibnall imagined were funny were anything but. There's a brief bit where a family finds their Wi-Fi is cut off. "I suppose we'll have to have a conversation," the mother says despairingly. "WHAT?" the two boys reply. This is really, really dumb and nowhere near as funny as Chibnall thinks it is.

We even get some good old virtue signaling and political grandstanding that show Doctor Who has gone way off the deep end when it comes to placating the Social Justice Warrior mob it caters to. There's a 'funny' bit where She cannot get in touch with UNIT because of "financial disputes and subsequent funding withdrawal by the UK's major international partners". Why Chibnall decided Resolution was the best place to put in a snide Brexit comment I don't understand.

In the similar vein, why the Security Guard that Lin is forced to kill offers this strange woman he's never met and whom he should remove from the vicinity that he has a boyfriend is also just sad virtue signaling.

Over and over, Resolution makes the case that Doctor Who just is tired and deciding to be a more woke show with nothing to offer. Perhaps even that could be accepted if not for how bad things are.

"These are my serious tech skillz, and yes that is with a zed", The Doctress tells the Dalek. Not only is that an absurdly stupid statement, but is delivered so badly.
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The plot is a mess, more a Venom/The Mummy ripoff than a serious story mixed in with bad domestic drama that stops the action cold. Moreover, who decided to have voiceover? Why sideline Walsh's Graham for much of the episode? Why did the score pound the 'tension' and slip into a bad 007 parody? Why introduce 'The Order of the Custodians', these fabled protectors of the separate monsters that never played a role in Resolution?

Also, 'Order of the Custodians' sounds like a janitorial union, and the idea that the South Pacific and Siberian custodians did not know what happened to the Sheffield one is laughable.

Personally, I would have preferred Lin and Mitch to be Companions and dump the boring and useless Ryan and Yaz. At least the other two had semblances of a personality.

There is a Resolution that I may keep: I resolve to not watch another Doctor Who episode because now it's just boring and pointless.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Woman Who Won the Battle But Lost the War: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos Review

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We now limp into the series/season finale of Her first season with The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. You would not be faulted in thinking this was going to be a Greek history lesson given the title. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is not so much bad as it is boring, with one ghastly decision after another that pretty much dooms it and calls the continuation of this nightmare into question.

On a mysterious planet, Andinio (Phyllis Logan) is encouraging another of her kind, Delph (Percell Ascott) to create something when a figure starts emerging to them.

Jump to the TARDIS, where The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) receives a distress signal from the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos. Being who She is, She goes and takes Her 'fam': Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) with Her.

Ranskoor Av Kolos, we are told, translates to 'Disintegrater of the Soul', which might have been a better title for this episode but I digress.

Once on the planet, they find Paltraki (Mark Addy), a shell-shocked pilot who was part of a rescue mission. We also see the return of Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley), whom we met in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. "Tim Shaw", mistaken for a god by a devout Andinio and a more reluctant Delph, wants an object Paltraki has in exchange for his crew: a case containing a circular object.

The Doctress now has to stop "Tim Shaw" and Graham, who has sworn revenge for the killing of Grace (which is something he's never mentioned until now, but whatever). We also see that "Tim Shaw" is going to try and conquer Earth and that those globes are actually planets.

As a side note, would this be considered an homage or ripoff of the Fourth Doctor story The Pirate Planet, but whatever.

The Doctress defeats "Tim Shaw"'s plans, Graham finds he's the better man and he and Ryan merely imprison "Tim Shaw" and free Andinio and Delph of the Ux.

Again, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is not so much bad as it boring. There are no stakes to be held, especially with the return of Tzim-Sha.

I felt it then and feel it now that ridiculing "Tim Shaw" in The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a terrible mistake. Mocking the villain defangs him/her, makes him/her less a threat and more a joke. For reasons I cannot fathom Chris Chibnall decided to double-down on "Tim Shaw" and bring him back.

There was no reason to bring him back. You might as well brought back Krasko from Rosa or Robertson from Arachnids in the UK back. They were more menacing despite being foolish. You cannot take a villain seriously if he's already been mocked, and She goes out of Her way to continue mocking "Tim Shaw". Not once would we take him seriously.

Not that we would take Her seriously either. I've given up on Whittaker's take on The Doctor: all 'quirky' and 'wacky' without an ounce of sense to Her. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos showcases why she was all wrong and it has nothing to do with her gender. Whittaker's version of The Doctor goes from 'deadly serious' to fangirl in a switch. One moment She's going to take down "Tim Shaw", then immediately squeal about meeting an Ux.

How can anyone rally around a character that seems dead-set on being brain-dead?

Image result for the battle of ranskoor av kolosThe acting was not strong, though to be fair the actors really did not have much if anything to work with. Guest star Addy I think was miscast as this wounded warrior. He gave it as good a go as possible but his first appearance was nowhere near as tense as he and director Jamie Childs thought. Eventually Paltraki faded in terms of importance to where I forgot he was there.

Also, the name 'Paltraki' does not shake the idea that Chibnall came up with this episode while dining on souvlaki and chugging far too much ouzo.

The main cast was also bad, which is a terrible disappointment. I'm used to seeing Gill and Cole be bad. It's always a contest to see which one of them is worse and here Cole is the clear winner, with his Ryan being so blank and monotone as to be comatose. The disappointment was Walsh, who has been the only good thing on Doctor Who this series/season. His efforts to be the wrath of God fell almost hilariously flat. He never convinced me that he had a mad desire for revenge or was consumed by rage.

Perhaps by this time he was just tired and decided it was not worth the effort to lift the series. Same goes for Segun Akinola's score, which once was subtle and effective but now has gone full-Murray Gold in beating the 'tension' into things. Walsh and Akinola were the polar opposites: one underplaying things, one overdoing things.

As for Whittaker, her scrunchy face acting and wild hysterics are now rote. Maybe a Female Doctor would have worked. Jodie Whittaker however shows that just because you got a woman in the role does not mean that any woman will do.

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was boring. I don't think anything actually happened, and unfortunately this episode was not worth being a series/season finale. It wasn't even worth being a regular episode.


Next Episode: Resolution

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Woman Who Had A Frog In Her Throat: It Takes You Away Review

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It's a sad thing when a talking frog is one of the less silly elements of what is meant as a science fiction/fantasy show, but It Takes You Away has such an awful inconsistent tone that one can only marvel at how comically bad it all is.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) and Her 'fam': Graham (Bradley Walsh), his step-grandson Ryan (Tosin Cole) and hanger-on Yaz (Mandip Gill) are in 2018 Norway (She learns this by eating the grass or dirt, I'm not sure which). No sooner can you say 'Jump' before She gets them on a mysterious adventure.

A rotting old house holds Hanne (Ellie Wallwork), a young blind girl who is afraid of the monsters laying siege. "It takes you away", she cries out. Her father, Erik, moved them to this remote area after his wife Trine's death, but now he has disappeared and Hanne thinks 'they' took him away. Ryan suggests Erik just ran off but the others will help find him.

There's a mirror that does not offer a reflection, which is really a portal to a parallel world. Here, She discovers with Graham and Yaz an antizone, a place that separates two worlds that should not connect. In the antizone is Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs (Kevin Eldon), an alien who guides them for a price. Ribbons puts them in danger with the Flesh Moths, but they end up eating him before they find Erik (Christian Rubek).

They also find Trine (Lisa Stokke), apparently very alive and well. Things grow more complicated when Graham finds Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) also in this universe. This however, is not real, and She realizes they are in a Solitract, a consciousness that affects whatever universe it is in.

As Hanne manages to outwit Ryan, placing them both in danger in the antizone, She realizes this universe will collapse upon itself. It takes courage for Graham and Erik to see their wives are not real, something Hanne realizes immediately as her blindness masks the Solitract's deception. In the end, the Solitract, taking the form of a talking frog, releases the Doctress. Erik, now reunited with Hanne, decides to go back to Oslo and Ryan calls Graham 'Granddad' for the first time ever.

Image result for it takes you away doctor who frogAgain, Ed Hime's script I figure wants desperately to touch on the issues of grief and lost love, but a talking frog? Yes, I know the connection is Grace, who comments that she likes frogs, but the whole thing looks daft and ridiculous. I was laughing uncontrollably at what is meant to be a very serious, somber, moving moment. Whittaker's acting only made things more laughably bad, though to be fair there is probably no way any actor/actress could play a moving farewell scene with a talking tiny frog on a big white chair in a big white space.

That's the entire problem with It Takes You Away: it wants to be a quiet meditation on death, loss, grief and letting go but it keeps piling on the silly to where you can't take it seriously. It's so tonally bonkers as to be thoroughly unhinged.

Yes, the damn talking frog is the nadir of how wildly out-of-tune It Takes You Away is, but let's remember everything connected with "Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs".

The name can't be taken seriously. It's a debate as to which was the sillier part: 'Ribbons' or 'Of the Seven Stomachs'. Tim the Enchanter was more logical.
The character was pointless, attempting to add menace and danger but ending up as time-filler. You could easily have cut "Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs" out of the plot without it affecting anything. You could easily have introduced the Flesh Moths without Ribbons.

Adding to Ribbons' unintended silliness is the literal red light he carries like a balloon. You almost expect everyone to burst out into 99 Red Balloons. When Ryan carries it, you half-expect it to literally 'take him away'.

Image result for it takes you away doctor who frogAbout the only good things in It Takes You Away were Walsh and the showcasing of the parallel worlds. In the latter, the episode did well in visualizing the fake world as light and sunny to the real world's gloom and darkness.

Walsh's performance elevated the episode due in part to his character having an actual motivation: Grace's loss. He mined the exploration of Graham's grief and the shadow hope of finding Grace again. Graham is also the smartest of the Companions: at an earlier point he comments how he always brings a sandwich with him on their journeys, having learned from experience that they might go a long time without food.

Tosin was again totally blank as Ryan, Gill even more so. Whittaker was hopelessly hampered by the script, which is dead-set on shifting The Doctress from wacky to serious without losing the wacky. Her eating the grass, commenting about "The Woolly Rebellion" (a future movement where sheep will overthrow humanity), going on about how She had 7 grandmothers but "Number 5 was my favorite" then adding how Granny 5 "also thought Granny 2 was a secret agent for the Zygons".

Only when She becomes serious, telling a wavering Graham, "It's her or the world. You can't have both" that a rare spark of sense creeps in. Perhaps if Doctor Who had opted to make Her more serious and drop the Matt Smith wackiness we could have been won over to a Female Doctor. However, the show's determination to have Whittaker essentially do a parody imitation of Matt Smith and David Tennant at their worst dooms her.

There is no threat in It Takes You Away. There is no danger. There is a talking frog.

It Takes You Away is an embarrassment to everyone involved and a massive disservice to Bradley Walsh who did a smashing job exploring Graham's grief and loss.


Next Episode: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Woman Who Couldn't Cast A Spell: The Witchfinders Review

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Not since Witchiepoo chased after Freddy the Flute on H.R. Pufnstuf have witches been as both comical and bonkers as The Witchfinders. Ostensibly a historic episode, The Witchfinders seems more concerned with virtue-signaling than being entertaining, let alone good.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) and Her Companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) do not go to Queen Elizabeth I's coronation as intended. Instead, she comes to 1612 Lancashire and a witch-dunking.

Mistress Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran) has condemned Old Mother Twiston (Tricia Kelly) as a witch. If she drowns she's innocent, if she floats she is to be executed. A Jacobean "heads you lose tails I win" bit but the Doctress is there to stop the insanity. Mistress Savage, mistaking Her for the Witchfinder General, takes her to her estate of Bilehurst.

There is something going bump in the night, but the appearance of King James (Alan Cumming) is not helping matters. He too believes there is witchcraft afoot, more so when everyone encounters Old Mother Twiston has risen from the dead. Even her granddaughter Willa (Tilly Steele) seems shocked and wavers on The Doctress being perhaps a witch Herself.

Ultimately though, we find that there are otherworldly reasons for these acts of The Devil, ones involving Mistress Savage herself.

Image result for doctor who the witchfindersThe Witchfinders does not know where to find itself. I think there are many factors in this jumble of a story.

Director Sallie Aprahamian and screenwriter Joy Wilkinson seemed more interested in making commentary than on a good old-fashioned horror romp. That would be all right save for the fact that The Witchfinders makes it rather overt that sexism was very strong in 17th Century Britain.

Take this bit from Mistress Savage as she describes to Her the recent troubles that have led to the witch-trials. "I have tried to be a benevolent leader but it is very difficult in these times, especially for a woman". This line not only seems rather forced in but sounds odd given that Mistress Savage is probably old enough to remember the reign of Elizabeth I. It seems doubly strange given that as a woman she seems fine in drowning other women and having a royal appointment.

Perhaps it is not a royal appointment given how King James is so delightfully camp and sexist. He quickly assumes that The Doctress is Graham's assistant because 'no Witchfinder General could be a woman'. One is almost surprised His Majesty didn't literally thump the Doctress with his newly-created Bible.

Perhaps His Majesty is too distracted by the 'Nubian prince' Ryan to take much notice of how he doesn't think a woman can be in charge.

The most obvious bit of lecturing comes when King James and Mistress Savage both conclude She is a witch Herself. An exasperated Doctress comments "Honestly, if I were a bloke I could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending myself".

How soon She forgets...that the Third Doctor was accused of witchcraft in The Daemons. She also claims not being a big believer in Satan despite having met a Satan-like creature in The Satan Pit. The accusation of witchcraft, despite Her protests, has nothing to do with gender. Given the situation and script, a male Doctor would have been equally accused of being a witch.

All these bits suggest that The Witchfinders was leaning more towards messaging than storytelling.

Image result for doctor who the witchfindersPutting that aside, The Witchfinders also faces some other bad decisions. The shifts from deadly serious situations to comedy made things all the more jumbled. Whittaker for example could have played things straight but her inability to take things seriously hampered her. Granted not all that is her fault, but it seems so awful a thing to do with the character of The Doctress.

As she is being held back, with the dramatic music playing, She quickly goes for a comedy bit when asking to retrieve Her psychic paper. It's one thing to keep to the bad tradition of trying to make The Doctor 'quirky'. It's another to make it so deliberate. When talking about the Granny Zombie, She remarks that she has risen "Not to kill her, but to fill her". It's here where She pauses in self-delight. "Oh, check out my rhymes. Poetry under pressure".

Groan inducing.

The nadir is this bit. "I can buy this is the biggest-ever witch-hunt in England. Or I can buy it's an alien mud invasion. But both on the same day? I can't buy that!" Less than it's a woman delivering that line it is Whittaker delivering that line that makes it awful. She's trying too hard to make it comical, which is bad enough, but worse, she's trying to make it comical in what is meant as a serious moment.

It's a bad sign when you don't miss Her when she's off the screen. It's even worse when, even with goofy hat and all, you think Bradley Walsh would have made a better Doctor. Graham seemed to be the only sensible character around: investigating, realizing the dangers all about.

As for the guest cast, I think Cumming's overtly camp manner as King James was a mistake because again you cannot suspend disbelief long enough for him to make James the 'sad and hurt little boy' bit. Finneran was saddled with a weak character as Mistress Savage, and had some unintentional moments of comedy too.

Part of the reason things went witch-crazy involved Mistress Savage cutting down Old Mother Twiston's favorite tree (we discover that they were related). "It was spoiling my view of the hill," she said, giving the same answer Marvin the Martian gave for wanting to blow up the Earth.

I wish The Witchfinders had gone full The Wicker Woman on The Doctress.



Next Episode: It Takes You Away

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Woman Who Went on Amazon: Kerblam! Review

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For better or worse, Doctor Who Series 11 is dead-set on coming up with thoroughly idiotic titles. We've had Arachnids in the UK, The Tsuranga Conundrum and the upcoming The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. However, perhaps none of them are as stupidly titled as Kerblam!, complete with exclamation point. Kerblam! takes messaging to a strange and muddled level, deciding to take both sides and leaving the viewer with more than one eye-rolling moment.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) is thrilled to receive a package from Kerblam, essentially Amazon in Space. The packing slip however has a simple message: "Help Me". With that, She takes her 'fam': Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) to Kerblam's plant on a distant planet.

They soon split up and investigate on three different tracks. Yaz is on the main floor with Dan (Lee Mack), who has a we know he'll soon bite the dust. Ryan and She are in the packing section where they meet eager and chipper Kira (Claudia Jessie). Graham, unceremoniously selected for 'Premium Maintenance' aka Janitorial, finds Charlie (Leo Flanagan).

It's clear that Kira and Charlie are quite fond of each other. It's also clear that there's nefarious business going on. Who sent for help and what are the roles of both Head of Humans Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh) and Mr. Slade (Callum Dixon)? The truth comes out with more deaths, deadly bubble wrap and the unmasking of the only person capable of such evil.

Here's a hint: it's a straight white male.

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Wrong Mr. Slate
Kerblam! has a very curious tone, simultaneously anti and pro-big business. Whether writer Pete McTighe intended it that way or not is unclear, but my guess is that he meant Kerblam! to bash the Amazon-type business model that is increasing profit at the expense of labor via automation. Kerblam! mentions that only 10% of the workforce is human and Charlie's motivation in his killing spree is to cause customers to blame the Delivery Bots so as to force more human workers.

Leaving aside the economic issues, Charlie's actual dastardly plot ends up making Kerblam! pro-big business rather than anti-big business. Charlie is probably a People Power Protest Movement member though that is not overtly stated as I remember it. Once word gets out that the Bots were framed, I don't think his group or ideology will get much support. Moreover, the fact that Charlie seems curiously undisturbed by the fact that he is going to kill humans and has been killing humans does not suggest he actually cares about humans.

I also should mention that the method of murder via popping bubble wrap is to me laughable. I know many Doctor Who fans express terror at the thought, but since I don't pop bubble wrap I would not be assassinated.

Kerblam! also deals in awful cliches and even makes a very odd suggestion about Her. The new group is told that climbing on the conveyors is grounds for immediate termination. What are the odds therefore that at some point they will climb on the conveyors?

Image result for kerblamWhen they do, Charlie falling off while attempting to high-five Ryan should go down as one of Doctor Who's most cringeworthy moments.

This setup in Kerblam! is one I found extremely curious. The company examines each humanoid and places him/her according to the machine's results for level of abilities. The Doctress uses Her sonic to switch places with Graham by changing their results. While She is sent to Packages, Graham is sent to Maintenance.

Therefore, if She had stayed where the machine had placed them, the machine found that She has the intellectual and dexterous level of a janitor. Again, leaving aside the rather snobbish suggestion that janitors/maintenance men are dumb the idea that She is somehow that low says more than perhaps Doctor Who wants to.

Personally, not only do I find it a pretty apt description but one that could have been played for laughs.

I actually thought well of the guest cast. Claudia Jessie reminded me a bit of Heather Burns' performance as "Miss Rhode Island" in Miss Congeniality, a generally sweet and upbeat person. It's a pity that Kerblam! decided to kerblam her. The scenes between Jessie and Flanagan were quite endearing even if we were not allowed a happy ending. Flanagan to be fair also managed to mostly switch between the sweet Charlie and the crazed human rights activist.

Kerblam! manages to do something I genuinely thought impossible: make Ryan more boring than Yaz. Following last week's Demons of the Punjab this is the second time Tosin Cole appeared so remote and almost incapable of acting. His line delivery is more robotic than the Delivery Bots.

Bradley Walsh is still the best thing about this series to where you wish he at least were the only Companion travelling with Her. Whittaker continues doing scrunchy-faces and bringing in the fez only reminds us that her portrayal of The Doctress is essentially a Matt Smith parody.

The fez does not suit Her and reminds us that protests to the contrary, She is not The Doctor.

Kerblam! has nothing going for it. It isn't clever or funny or witty or insightful.

I don't want it, so I won't Kerblam! it.


Next Episode: The Witchfinders