Sunday, September 30, 2012

Touched By An Angel


Even before I saw The Angels Take Manhattan, I worried that this story simply had too much for its running time.  You had the farewell of the WILLIAMSES, the return of the Weeping Angels, AND the reemergence of River Song, and all to be done within an hour.  Would all that really build up to not just an emotionally impacting story but also a GOOD one?  After having watched The Angels Take Manhattan, I can say it's strong on atmosphere, short on everything else.

We start with a voice-over (the third straight v.o. in Series/Season Seven after A Town Called Mercy and The Power of Three) where gumshoe Sam Garner (Rob David) is both typing out a Raymond Chandler-type story and investigating a case of 'statues that come to life'.  We find that his investigation leads him to the Winter Quay (which appears to be a run-down hotel), where Garner makes a shocking discovery: he comes face to face with his older self, and the danger of The Weeping Angels.

We now switch to 2012 New York where the Doctor (Matt Smith), and his Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory XYZ (Arthur Darvill) are enjoying a respite in Central Park.  The Doctor in particular is thrilling to a pulpy crime novel with an extraordinary character: a woman described as having "ice in her heart, and a kiss on her lips and a vulnerable side she keeps well hidden"  This character is the Ultimate Femme Fatale, and she's named Melody Malone.

It's at this point I must stop to ask, Is Steven Moffat DELIBERATELY trying to be obvious or does he really think we're all THAT stupid?

In any case, an innocent journey for Rory to get coffee end with a "shocking twist": he is transported to April 3, 1938, where our story-within-a-story, Melody Malone, takes place.  We then get a spoiler...I mean, a surprise:


And there was rejoicing throughout the land...hurray!!!

She greets "Dad" and we're whisked into the home of gangster Mr. Grayle (Mike McShane) who had hired Garner and now had hired River.  She manages to break through the Time Barriers (or something) because A.) she's River Song, who can do anything, or B.) her Vortex Manipulator (a mini-version of the TARDIS) or C.) it is necessary for the plot?  Take a guess.

Eventually the Doctor and Amy break on through to the other side but by now we know that Grayle has an injured Weeping Angel and River actually manages to be scared for once in her life when it grabs her wrist.  We also know that Rory was dumped in the cellar where cherubim are taunting him.

Well, with Melody Malone as their guide, they just can't simply skip ahead but the Chapter Titles will give them clues.  The chapter The Roman in the Cellar tells them where Rory is, but the next two chapters, Death at Winter Quay and Amelia's Last Farewell send the Doctor into a tormented fury.  River does manage to break free of the Angel...and manages to break her wrist to do so.

This inability of River to change the future upsets the Doctor (must be seeing the hero of the show not being as good as the Doctor thought she was), but he cures her by giving up some of his regeneration energy.  River promptly slaps him for being so sentimental.

No time for more 'banter' entre Mr. and Mrs. Song because we've tracked down the Winter Quay.  A rescue goes wrong when Rory and Amy encounter old Rory, who promptly dies.


The Winter Quay is a farm where the Angels harvest their victims and live off them for decades, but if Rory manages to escape he can create a paradox that will destroy the hotel.  How to do that?  By jumping to his death of course.  If he's dead when he's younger, maybe he won't die at the hotel of old age.  Amy, making her choice, jumps with him.  With that, Rory dies again.


Well, we think that all's well and good, but in the cemetery they land in Rory notices a grave that has his name: Rory Arthur Williams (note that it doesn't say Rory Pond, thus invalidating the idea of "the Ponds").  Wouldn't you know it: one Angel survived, and it takes Rory out. 

So Rory dies again, again.


Amy will not let him go, but the Doctor can't do anything for Rory because the book has made things a fixed point in time, which cannot be changed.  With that, Amy literally touches the Angel and she pops to her death.

The Doctor and River go off on the TARDIS: he devastated, she remarkably well considering she's just seen her parents die.  Knowing that River wrote the book (oh God does that sound silly), and gives it to Amy to put in the Doctor's pocket in the future, the Doctor remembers he's taken out the last page (since he doesn't like endings).  Here, in the afterword, along with River's instruction, he goes back to young Amelia Pond, to tell her all about their adventures together.

I think ATM proves one thing: Steven Moffat is by no means the genius he's been promoted to.

In fact, it shows that Moffat is determined to reshape River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) into something that ignores all that has come before (even things from the Moffat reign). 

ATM's biggest problem is River.  Longtime readers know I detest River Song.  They know I think she sucks...everything out of Doctor Who whenever she pops in with her inane "Spoilers" and "Hello, Sweetie".  Her narcissism, her exaggerated sense of brilliance, her coldness, her attempts at wit, her ego with nothing to back it up...

I know now why she is the mirror image of Steven Moffat, but I digress. short her entire existence in all her stories defies understanding.  I have long argued that whenever River appears, she becomes the focus of the story, so much so that everything starts revolving around her (and by consequence, reducing the Doctor to a supporting character on his own show).  In The Angels Take Manhattan, we see this River Complex come again.

WHY is River in this story at all?  Moffat is cheating by starting out with a male voice-over typing out Chapter One: The Dying Detective.  If he had been honest, it would have been River's voice reading us the story.  Moreover, the idea of her writing this story smacks of self-serving aggrandisement.

If she is writing Melody Malone (or if "Melody Malone" is her pseudonym, and a shockingly obvious one at that), then as the author she should know how the story ends.  After all, SHE wrote it.  That being the case, one wonders why her fixation not to give "spoilers" doesn't make the Doctor question how he could "love/be in love", let alone "marry" someone who apparently has no problem seeing her parent die.

Going on further into how River destroyed ATM, when we first see her, she greets Rory with "Hello, Dad," but is never troubled by the fact that her father is being put in great danger.  That's because she is too busy behaving like this alluring femme fatale she believes herself to be to notice anything else.  One might have thought that Moffat or director Nick Hurran might have at one point stopped to say, "this is her father, someone she's met and known, so couldn't you drop the whole 'woman of mystery' act at least for a few moments to appear at least slightly human".  

This wasn't the route they went for.  Instead, Moffat wrote and Hurran directed Kingston to amp the vamp to almost comic proportions, making the proceedings almost a spoof of hard-boiled film noir stories. 

River as a character is never realistic.  She's far too clever.  We've already covered how in previous River-centric stories she could operate the TARDIS better than the Doctor, how she knows more than The Doctor, how the Doctor is wildly in love with her, but now she comes across as far too fearless, keeping up what she imagines to be witty sexually-tinged banter with Grayle and the Doctor, never showing any fear towards Weeping Angels.

It isn't until it takes her wrist that River finally shows genuine fear, which leads one to wonder if her whole appearance prior to that moment was all an act or if she genuinely behaves in this nutty way, strutting around trying to be oh-so-witty.  If Moffat had ever decided to tone down River's perceived perfection, we might have had a character.  As it stands, River is a caricature, and a bad one at that.

It never fails to amaze me how egotistic she is.  At one point she tells Rory that the Doctor couldn't get through the time barrier. “You didn’t come here in the TARDIS. Too many time distortions. It would be like landing a plane in a blizzard. Even I couldn’t do it.”

That one line captures all that's wrong with River Song.  She has just declared (yet again) that she is smarter and better than the title character.  How can one love or care about a character so self-absorbed, so arrogant in her self-proclaimed genius?  But enough about Steven Moffat...

River Song spent so much time being "alluring", being "brilliant", being "the object of desire to all men", that she never learned to be "human".  One looks at all previous Companions, and we see that the best ones (Jo, Sarah Jane, Ace, Rose) were far from perfect.  They weren't subservient to the Doctor, but they still knew they had much to learn.  One can say that Romana started out as highly confident in her intellectual superiority to the Doctor, but over time we saw that she was just merely book-smart, not street-smart, and still needed much to learn.

River Song on the other hand, from the word "go" was presented as this brilliant being who knew more and was sexier than anyone else in past/present/future: Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe put together.  However, her rampaging ego always marks her down as what she really is: a poser, a self-absorbed psychopath who has no soul.  How else to explain her apparent lack of interest that her parents were killed in a book she wrote?

I figure we have other things to cover, but one more point about River Song in ATM.  Why was she here?  Answered questions have never been Moffat's strong suit.   How did she come to investigate the goings-on in 1930s New York?  Why throw in the detective if we're just going to move on to River being the storyteller? 

Now, as time goes by (no pun intended) ATM suffers from more really strange loops.  Let's go with the ending and say that the Doctor really did come back to Amelia after she had waited all night for him to return.  If so, then doesn't that really invalidate all of Series/Season Five from The Eleventh Hour onwards?  After all, it was Amy's anger at being kept waiting and of the Doctor showing up twelve years later that propelled that story along with all of the Amy/Doctor stories. 

She was billed as The Girl Who Waited, but if as we now see at the end of ATM Amelia really didn't wait because the Doctor told her everything that happened to her in the future.  With that being the case, then when he does appear to her in TEH she really has no reason to be upset because she's been told everything (or at least was sent to bed that morning) and thus the entire "girl who waited" business has been just a two-year waste of our time.

Still, let's move on to some positives.  Hurran and Moffat did get one thing right: ATM certainly has a lot of style.  The sets and cinematography all evoke the film noir style they were aiming for (even if it didn't quite gel within the story itself).  Moffat got the gumshoe detective right with the vocal inflections and clothes, so that's a plus. 

However, I'm going to slip back into the bad because The Angels Take Manhattan is eerily similar to a much-praised British miniseries called The Singing Detective.  Dennis Potter's story is also about a person who is "writing a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery" while also going into the story itself.  Isn't that what we have with The Angels Take Manhattan?

In both The Angels Take Manhattan and The Singing Detective, you have someone writing a noir detective story but also finding themselves as characters within the story they are writing.  This came to me when I saw the title of the first chapter typed out.  Granted, it was The Dying Detective rather than The Singing Detective, but when I remembered that the author of the fake novel "The Singing Detective" was dying in the story, the words 'singing' and 'dying' collided within my memory to flash back to Potter's work.

A big problem with ATM is Moffat's heavy-handed way with characters and foreshadowing.  When the Doctor tells Amy, "I don't like endings," we could see the 'symbolism' behind that line from outer space.  Nothing is more irritating than a writer being overt.  One line that stuck out was when Amy asks the Doctor what's going on.  His answer, "I don't know.  We're in New York."

What does that MEAN?  It doesn't make any sense.  Does it mean that things in NYC are unexplainable?  It's a strange line. 

And really, another, "Doctor Who?" line?!  That lost its cleverness eons ago, but there it is again: someone has to ask, "Doctor Who?".  I hate that, I really do.

"When one's in love with an ageless god, who insists on the face of a 12 year old, one does one's best to hide the damage."  That sound lovely, but the Doctor isn't ageless and unless either River had a heart-to-heart with either Amy or the Doctor she wouldn't be privy to such things...unless she looked into their files.  Furthermore, is it me or does it make the Doctor sound a bit like a pedophile? Why CAN'T he see the damage?  He's seen several Companions damaged (Ace wasn't exactly without mommie issues, you know...oh that's right, you don't), so seeing River with a broken arm is really going to shatter him that much (no pun intended)?                            

Finally, with the end of the "Ponds", we will alas bid farewell to the Official Rory Williams Death Count.  Despite the number of times Rory has died on Doctor Who, ATM took the cake. I wonder if Moffat decided that since Rory dying had now become a hopeless joke (the emotional equivalent of 'the sonic screwdriver can fix everything'), he decided to go whole-hog and kill Rory off THREE TIMES.

Note: we have a character die THREE TIMES IN ONE HOUR!

Does anyone else think this isn't just gone past a joke to being downright insane?

THREE TIMES.  Count them.

Death Number One: at the Winter Quay, of old age.

Death Number Two: at the rooftop of the Winter Quay, by jumping off said roof.

Death Number Three: at the cemetery, literally by being touched by a Weeping Angel.

Again, there was a lot thrown into The Angels Take Manhattan.  I have to give credit where it's due: Darvill and Gillan gave strong performances of people who will die together.  The sets, costumes, and cinematography were evocative of the era. 

However, River kills this story: her appearance is irrelevant/superfluous/unnecessary.  A great many plot holes are left unanswered (why can the Angels look at each other now?  how can the Doctor control his regenerative energy? why waste it on River when one figures a simple brace will do? why is the Doctor so passionate about a woman who appears to do nothing but show him up and who really is all wrong for him?).  Also, Rory's wrong.  It was as I feared: simply too much for the weight it tried to carry.

For a farewell episode, The Angels Take Manhattan is a terrible let-down. 

Rory Williams Death Count

In Episode: THREE
Overall: 7.2


Next Story: The Snowmen

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cube Cubed


I don't know whether it is coincidence that The Power of Three involves cubes, which in mathematical terms is Anything to the Third Power (or put another way: the power of three) and/or that it can also refer to the THREE Main Characters (The Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory XYZ) working in tandem (the power of three).   From what I saw, this was addressed at the very end of The Power of Three, a story that has oddly enough, two strikes against it: One, a voice-over narration (something I dislike in general but which we just had in A Town Called Mercy) and Two, nothing of real interest.  So what else can get this episode going?

Amy (Karen Gillan) recounts of the time when the Doctor (Matt Smith) came to stay with them.  We are in July 2012 (which I will prove later), but she and her husband Rory We-Don't-Know-His-Last-Name (Arthur Darvill) are finding living in the real world (as opposed to living The Doctor Life) has some burdens.  They can't make time for family, friends, jobs, what have you.  However, we now have a point in time when the Doctor is forced to go domestic, during The Slow Invasion.

The Whatever-They're-Called don't know the world has awoken to billions and billions of black cubes (a little Carl Sagan deal bit) until informed by Brian Williams...

No, not THAT Brian Williams, American news broadcasters (though I'm sure he probably would have, and it does make me wonder whether a great opportunity was lost by the Doctor Who team by NOT having the NBC Brian Williams pop up, given the cameos by people familiar to the British population), but THIS Brian Williams...

Rory's dad (Mark Williams).  Where there are mysterious black boxes, we are sure to find a man from a mysterious blue box.  That's right, The Doctor's back!

Curiously, it's Brian that comes up with some good ideas about what these boxes could possibly be.  The Doctor is intrigued but not particularly interested until U.N.I.T. (the UNified Intelligence Taskforce, formerly the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) storms into Amy & Rory's home.  U.N.I.T. is headed by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), who has tracked the Doctor to it.

Curious that Torchwood wasn't involved...

These cubes are all around the world, and then they do...nothing.  The Doctor opts to wait and observe, but our hyperactive Time Lord finds all this waiting around dull.  As much as he tries, he can't do it.  This is in sharp contrast to Brian, who is perfectly content to observe the cube, sending e-mails to U.N.I.T. (he pronounces it letter-by-letter as opposed to the usual version which says 'UNIT'), but months go on with nothing happening.

In October there's an engagement party where Amy's asked to be a bridesmaid at a same-sex wedding and she accepts; the fact that Rory is dancing to David Guetta's Titanium (released in December 2011) means it has to be October 2012 at the earliest (though I grant that it can be later).   Rory meanwhile, has decided to accept a full-time nursing position.

Both, it appears, are moving on with their lives.

However, around Christmas time (or Winter Solstice time, take your pick), the cubes finally start doing things, though no one notices people disappearing at the hospital Rory works at and a creepy little girl hanging about.

Now in June circa 2013 the Amy/Rory celebrate their anniversary with a cook-out and a surprise visit by the Doctor.  He takes them to June 26, 1890 and a surprise visit to the newly-opened Savoy Hotel (talk about Stompin' at the Savoy) but we have an unseen adventure.  Back at their anniversary party,  Brian Williams asks the Doctor what of his previous companions.

Some left him, some got left behind, and a few, not many, died.

Bet you NuWhovians couldn't mention those Companions killed off...

Finally, in July (a full year later), the cubes start becoming active: doing everything from checking pulses to playing The Chicken Dance (a hallmark at all weddings, even same-sex weddings I imagine).  Just as soon as they start, they stop.  Why?  Not even Kate Stewart, whom we discover to be the daughter of the Brigadier himself, knows.

Soon, we find that the boxes cause mass heart failures to anyone exposed when they count down to zero, including to one of the Doctor's two hearts.  The signal is traced to Rory's hospital, and best hurry: the creepy orderlies have taken Brian, who just happened to be there.  We find that the Shakri are there to kill a third of the humans before humanity can travel through space.  The Doctor defeats them, and we know what the Shakri don't: the real power of cubes--The Power of Three.
For better or worse perhaps I should resign myself to the idea that Doctor Who is no longer going to be about an alien travelling through time and space with (mostly) humans.  Instead, Doctor Who is about humans who bump into an alien travelling through time and space, go with him for a while, upset their personal and family lives, then get big send-offs.  NuWho is now Companion-centered, not Doctor-centered, and The Power of Three reflects this idea that the Companion is the center of the story. 

There are some things to like in The Power of Three.  Williams is still delightful as Rory's dad (anyone else thinks he might make a good Companion, although he will not be listed as such by me), even if he really isn't integrated into the story.  It might have to do with the fact that writer Chris Chibnall has in The Power of Three merely given us an extended edition of Pond Life, that series of mini-webisodes that touched on the domestic lives of the Williamses when not with the Doctor.       

We see this in how the months appear on the screen.  'June' appears on the grill for example.  I don't know if Chibnall was aiming to repeat himself in The Power of Three, or if director Douglas Mackinnon just accommodated him, but we pretty much have a story less about alien invasion than about the domestic bliss the Companions find away from the Doctor.

In fact, it almost is a case AGAINST travelling with the Doctor and a case as to why the Doctor should just settle on Earth or some other planet and live out his remaining regenerations in quiet retirement.

Can The Power of Three therefore be a case for cancelling Doctor Who?  If travelling with the Doctor is such a disruption in everyone's lives, why then do so?

There really is very little in The Power of Three that holds much interest.  There are some wonderful things (Brian Williams, seeing Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart and seeing HER integrated into the episode well), but like The Doctor, one does wait for SOMETHING to happen. 

Furthermore, because we spend so much time focusing on how the Williamses/Ponds have found a good life away from the Doctor, that when we get to the raison d'etre of the cubes (a planned extermination of humanity) it almost seems an afterthought.  This is why the last few minutes seem so wildly rushed and the resolution (Oh, I'll just reverse everything since the Shakri really weren't here) equally rushed. 

Add to that a weak villain.  The Shakri appear to have wandered away from a Star Wars convention (I thought it was the Emperor Palpatine coming after humans.  Wouldn't it have been great to have had Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship return for revenge?).  The creepy orderlies appeared to be channeling the monsters from The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2 (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) while the little girl reminded me of Fear Her (don't know why since I haven't seen that episode, but for some reason it came to mind). 

In short, it almost seemed that the alien invasion was almost irrelevant, as if it HAD to be there because there has to be some sort of alien threat in Doctor Who

As a side note, I think same-sex marriage (like the one Amy refers to when she tells her female friend it was time she made an honest woman out of her) has lost its shock value.  What would be shocking today would be if there were a heterosexual marriage on television that lasted fifty years and was happy.  That's something you don't see anymore on telly, ain't it?

I will say that Redgrave gave a great performance as the Brig's daughter and that perhaps she will return (even though I'm divided on this idea of introducing characters in one episode just to bring them back later...Captain Jack, River Song, Wilfred Mott, now perhaps Kate Stewart.  It's wearing thin).  Again, Williams was great in his mix of comedy and seriousness (the look on his face when he's wheeled away from the Shakri is priceless).

I've now all but grown to be an anti-Smith partisan.  I don't find his Doctor endearing or goofy.  I find him a prick.

The Power of Three isn't interesting when it comes to the alien menace, and I don't think it was meant to be.  Instead, it is suppose to be about how the Doctor continues to affect his Companions lives after they leave him.    A good story is available somewhere about that.  Of course, once upon a time Doctor Who was about the Doctor, not about his Companions: out one Companion went, in came another, but always travelling with the Doctor.  Nowadays, it's all about Rose and Donna and Amy.

Well, given how much The Power of Three is obsessed with that number (cubed, a third of the population affected by the little black boxes), I aim to accommodate the story. 

Rory Williams Death Count 
In Episode: 0.1 (he appeared dead while on the Shakri ship)
Overall: 4.2


Next Story: The Angels Take Manhattan

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't Shoot, I'm NOT The Doctor


Despite what NuWhovians may think this is NOT the first time Doctor Who has visited an American Wild West setting.  I'm NOT, curiously enough, referring to when the Eleventh Doctor was in Utah for Day of the Moon Part 1 (The Impossible Astronaut).  The very first time the Doctor went to the American West with its cowboys and shoot-outs was when the First Doctor visited Tombstone in The Gunfighters.  That story was one of the worst First Doctor stories if not one of the worst Doctor Who stories, period.  A Town Called Mercy, mercifully, is better than The Gunfighters,  Sadly, it isn't much better.

We first encounter a killing machine that has executed an otherworldly being, but he has one more he must execute: one he calls 'The Doctor'.  As it stands, a being called The Doctor (Matt Smith) arrives in this American West town in 1870 (the dialogue mentions it's been five years since the war, which I presume is the 1861-1865 American Civil War).  He was going to take his Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Last-Name-To-Be-Determined (Arthur Darvill) to see the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos festival (that's Day of the Dead to you 'gringos', a term which Mexicans don't really use but I digress), but instead they come across this strange town where there's a Keep Out sign and a tiny barrier of rocks and tree stumps.  That doesn't stop our travellers, who amble into the local saloon.

Once The Doctor declares himself to be 'the Doctor' and an alien one at that, the townsfolk grab him and throw him out of town to face The Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke).  He IS the Doctor, and he IS an alien.  However, only one person wont let him get killed: the Marshall, Isaac (Ben Browder).  He forces the town to bring the Doctor back because he (and really, the whole town) knows he's not the man the Gunslinger is after.

That dishonor goes to Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarsborough), who crashed upon Earth many years ago.  He not only became the town doctor (bringing a cure for cholera that spared the town), but a bit of an engineer (bringing electricity long before Edison came around).  The town, as ungrateful as ever, would have turned him in except for Isaac's intervention (which is why Jex is in the jailhouse now...a little Johnny Cash there for you). The Gunslinger has kept the city under siege: letting nothing in or out until the alien Doctor is turned over.

At first the Doctor is just going to get the TARDIS and whisk everyone out (being able to talk "Horse" makes things easier), but soon we hit a snag.   He finds Jex's spacecraft and learns his terrible secret: he had created the Gunslinger as part of some super-soldier project, but in the process had killed many of his own people to get it right (why do I suddenly recall The Re-Animator).  The Gunslinger now wants justice from this alien doctor.

What to do, what to do?  At first the Doctor uncharacteristically tries to get Kahler-Jex out of town to be executed, but Isaac jumps in, sacrificing his life for Jex's.  The Gunslinger, now furious, gives the Doctor until noon to turn him over, or he kills everyone.

Yep, The Doctor has until High Noon...

The Doctor dissuades the lynch mob who wants to turn Jex over to the Gunslinger, and comes up with a plan to help him escape.  However, while fleeing a town called Mercy, Jex realizes that he cannot run from his own sins, and allows the spacecraft's self-destruct to complete.  The Gunslinger, now without purpose, is persuaded to stay on in Mercy, where the voice-over that introduced the story tells us that ever since then, A Town Called Mercy has never had a sheriff or police, for they have their own angel that fell from the sky... 

I think the best way to describe A Town Called Mercy is to say it's Robocop meets High Noon meets Frankenstein with a bit of Blade Runner in the mix.   You have the somewhat mad scientist creating a monster that comes after him, but who now follows him into the Wild West.  Here, the Gunslinger lays siege to the town until he is turned over since the Gunslinger cannot hurt innocents.

However, on second viewing (and in a rare turn, I did watch it twice), there were things that didn't hold up.  IF the Gunslinger knew Kohler-Jex was in Mercy, why didn't he just walk into Mercy and take him out?  There was nothing physical to stop him entering Mercy; on the contrary, it was the Gunslinger who was holding the town hostage.  He would shoot at anyone who tried to get out or in, but nothing as far as I could tell prevented him from just riding into town and taking Jex out. 

This is especially true given that Jex, like all those from the planet Kahler, have distinct facial markings.  The Gunslinger would have known which citizen of Mercy would have been the one he was looking for.  Perhaps the fact that Mercy had that anachronistic electric lighting system was what kept the Gunslinger out and I missed that part.  However, the whole 'city under siege' business, while interesting, doesn't appear to hold water. 

I don't begrudge Toby Whithouse for going for a Western-style story, and he has a lot of the elements there (the shoot-out at high noon, the dusty saloon, the undertaker constantly measuring potential clients).  We also have a shockingly relevant score by Murray Gold that sounds like what it is suppose to be: a rip-off of a Ennio Morricone score for a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western.  It's shocking in that it fits into the cliches of a Western, rather than the same music Gold inserts in every Doctor Who story (I'm personally tired of that loud chorus belting out almost every finale).

On the plus side, we see a genuine performance from Smith.  I confess to thinking he was becoming the worst Doctor but in A Town Called Mercy, he really brings out a surprisingly dark and dangerous side to the Doctor: a man who has run out of mercy (how clever...) and will not shrink from tossing the intergalactic version of Dr. Mengele out to get his just desserts.  However, it is Gillan's Amy that brings him back to a sense of mercy (and Isaac's sacrifice just adds to the equation).

That middle section when the Doctor shouts out his desire to see Jex killed (even pulling a gun on him and the townfolks) got me almost to push A Town Called Mercy up in score, and I struggled a bit to keep it there.  Here is where I part company with the prevailing winds that have declared A Town Caleld Mercy to a great episode.

Again and again, there simply was too much comedy that undercut whatever serious themes the story wanted to tackle.  You can't have someone stride up to the bar and ask for 'tea', adding that it had to be the strong stuff ("leave the bag in", I remember the Doctor saying).  Add the business of teh Doctor getting his toothpick stuck in his mouth and you wonder where this is all going.

The business about the Doctor 'talking horse'?  Takes away from anything good.

Amy doing the cliched thing about accidently shooting off the gun...TWICE?  Takes away from anything good.  Personally, I would have liked it if Amy had shot Rory...given him another chance to die.  Also, did anyone think it is a cliche to see the girl can't handle her pistol?

The little girl knocking over something that alerts the gunman that there are people there?  Takes away from anything good. 

Not even obliquely referencing The Gunfighters?  Bad, bad, bad, but typical of our NuWho policy of ignoring almost everything pre-Rose.  In The Fires of Pompeii, at least there was a subtle reference to The Romans, but here, they opted to ignore the past.  I bet there will be more than a few NuWhovians who think this is the FIRST time the Doctor's been to the Wild West.  Yet I digress.

Somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, there is nothing shocking about Jex turning out to be a shady character.  In fact, I was expecting it to give me that twist because then A Town Called Mercy would have been more straighforward without the questions of morality that it asks.  Who is the real villain: Jex for having created the Gunslinger or the Gunslinger for laying siege to the town and wanting to kill Jex sans trial? 

I think a big flaw within A Town Called Mercy is that it all but sidelines the Ponds/Williamses.  Rory in particular has very little to nothing to do with the story, and while Amy is there to be the Doctor's conscious that role could easily have been filled by Isaac.  In a curious turn, a program that has become more Companion-centered than Doctor-centered didn't even NEED Companions.

Speaking of, am I the only one who thinks Isaac, like Riddell and Queen Nefertiti from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship would have made a great Companion?   Again we have the opportunity to have a great clash between a man of the Golden West and an alien from the far future, and again, we kill off one of the best characters in the episode.  Browder did a great job as the morally upright Marshall who will stay loyal to his friend, Doc Jex, the man who did good work in Mercy regardless of his past.  Perhaps if A Town Called Mercy explored more of his time as a Civil War veteran we could have delved more into Isaac's unwavering loyalty, but once again we have to kill someone to make a point. 

I DO wish that the NuWho team would open their minds to having Companions from another time, place or world.

I don't think A Town Called Mercy will rank among the greats because all the comedy bits (which fell flat anyway and were predictable) took away from a surprisingly good opportunity to explore the effect these heady matters of life and death have taken on The Doctor.  While Smith had one good and brief shining moment in the middle of the story, everything else was typical Matt Smith: goofy, silly, and completely dumb.

Sorry Doc, but this town ain't big enough for the two of us...
Rory Williams Death Count
In Episode: Zero
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: The Power of Three

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jurassic Farce


The title Dinosaurs On A Spaceship invites ridicule, making it sound like some B-movie plot.  One has faint images of, perhaps unintentionally, something like Snakes On A Plane.  I imagine that the uniqueness of the scenario comes from mixing the most futuristic of locations (a spaceship) with the most iconic of prehistoric figures (dinosaurs).  DOAS is not as disastrous as it could have been, but that is not a compliment.  It's still on many levels, rather bad and uninteresting, but it does have some quite beautiful moments.

We start with 1334 B.C., Egypt.  The Doctor (Matt Smith) has just saved Egypt, and a grateful (and hot & heavy) Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) wants him...and wants to go with him to wherever he goes, in this case, to the Indian Space Station.  Now we jump from ancient Egypt to futuristic outer space: 2367 A.D. to be exact.  Here, the Doctor is told that there is a spaceship heading towards Earth, and it will be destroyed via missiles in eight hours.  He doesn't like the sound of that, so...

he goes to get big-game hunter Riddell (Rupert Graves) in 1902, then pops over to the Williams' home to get Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill).  Alas, in the excitement the Doctor also collects Brian Williams...

NO, not THAT Brian Williams, but THIS Brian Williams...

who happens to be Rory's dad.  Now with his 'gang' (his words) aboard, we see what the ship has.  It has Dinosaurs On A Spaceship!

As it turns out, the Williams men and the Doctor become separated from Amy, The Queen, and the Hunter.  The elder Williams is angered that he's been swept up into outer space since he is not fond of travel with the exception of golfing.  We quickly learn that this is an abandoned Silurian ship but what and/or why the ship carries nothing but dinosaurs and plant life is a mystery.

We soon figure out why.  The ship was taken over by Solomon (David Bradley) who with his two bickering robots have done a shocking act: they have expelled the Silurians who had been aboard in a systematic act of genocide.  The Doctor is forced to heal Solomon, but now Solomon wants more.  He doesn't just want to keep the dinosaurs as bounty, he holds the group hostage.  Solomon now has a bargain: an exchange of Neffy for all their lives.  Obviously, the Doctor refuses, but also obviously, Neffy gives herself up to spare them. 

The Doctor now learns that the missiles are launched, while Solomon attempts to escape aboard his own craft.  The Doctor manages to rescue Neffy and release Solomon's ship while having the missiles target it.  Her Majesty Queen Nefertiti and Riddell now are on the African plain, enjoying each other's company.  Rory and Amy are back home, marvelling at the many travels Brian takes, including, curiously, to a new world called Siluria.

It is a curious thing in Dinosaurs On A Spaceship that Chris Chibnall's script provides a breathtakingly beautiful moment that actually pushes the story a bit higher than perhaps it should have been.  Chief among them is the sight on the left: Brian Williams, a man who dislikes travel, looking down upon a beautiful Earth whilst drinking a cup of tea and having a sandwich.  Given what kind of man we're told Brian is, it is a precious moment.  In the credit where credit's due department, Saul Mertzstein created a beautiful moment here, and directed some good performances out of the guest stars (less so from the three main cast members).

That, however, really is one of the highpoints of DOAS, but just about everything else in Chibnall's script appears to be redundant of other adventures, and even situations.  Some of the imagery is a rip-off of Jurassic Park.  We have yet ANOTHER woman, and even more coincidentally, another QUEEN who wants to bang the Doctor (we've had Elizabeth I, we've had Elizabeth X, and now Queen Nefertiti who wants to all but rape the Doctor--having already gone through that scenario with Amy Pond.  Why do ALL women appear to want to have sex with the Doctor, especially if it's Matt Smith.  David Tennant I can understand, but Matt Smith as Sex Object?!?).  We get to meet MORE of the Companion's family (we've had Rose's mom, Martha's mom, Donna's granddad, and now Rory's dad.  Enough with the family reunions).  We've had the Doctor collecting a group of disparate people in order to go onto a floating station (River's Secret Part I: A Good Man Goes to War). 

If we go further into the past (something NuWhovians are loath to do) we can see that Dinosaurs On A Spaceship echoes similar stories where a mysterious force has taken over a spacecraft carrying life to another world.  The First Doctor experienced this with The Ark, and the Fourth Doctor experienced something similar with The Ark In Space.   At least the second ark story had some ideas behind it (and a beautiful speech by the Fourth Doctor), but this one was apparently done just for laughs.

And were there some groaners within Chibnall's dialogue.  One of the dinosaurs appeared to have taken a liking to Brian Williams, with the beast suspiciously smelling the elder Williams' crotch area.  The Doctor asks him, "You don't have any vegetable matter in your trousers, do you Brian?"  "Only my balls," Brian responds.  Granted, it's quickly established he meant his GOLF balls, but this is an embarrassing line that was frankly too easy (i.e. too lazy) to go for a cheap laugh.

It's a bit like Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served? talking about her pussy, ain't it?

The whole 'bickering bots' routine was done by two British comics I (and I imagine many Americans) haven't heard of, and even if we had, it would have been worse since it would have been more distracting.  It's a bit like when a Bond villain hires two inept henchmen who bicker with each other.  People MAY have been attempting a bit of a laugh, but none was to be found.

At least the Doctor was conscious that saying, "Take me to your leader," was ridiculously cheap, but it doesn't make it any better.  I actually wrote, 'can it get worse?', and while it could (the Doctor and the Williams men riding a triceratops), at least by the end we did manage some serious moments; those were provided by Bradley's Solomon (who looked a bit like a cross between Mr. Finch from the Harry Potter stories and the Emperor from the Star Wars films).  He was a chilling villain: ruthless, cold-blooded.  Too bad he was apparently killed off, for he would have made a great adversary for a future Doctor Who story.  Still, one never knows...

Speaking of Harry Potter, I'm not well-versed in Potter-lore to know who Mark Williams was in the series, but his Brian Williams was a delight.  This working-class guy who doesn't take great pride in his son but who at the end joins him to fly a spaceship was a knock-out performance.  It's unfortunate the Chibnall was unaware that one of the American networks evening newscasters is also named "Brian Williams", which makes for moments of unintended comedy for American viewers.  However, I confess I LIKE THIS Brian Williams.  When he tells the Doctor off by shouting, "Well, Thank You Arthur C. Clarke," when the Doctor tells him he's not on Earth, there is something delightful in the elder Williams using a genius to ridicule the Doctor.  I think it's because the Doctor at times has become almost this God-like, infallible person, that whenever he meets someone who ISN'T enthralled with him, it makes the moments all the more hilarious.

The other guest stars (and NO, they don't count as Companions just by being in one episode).  Graves was great as the big-game hunter who falls quickly for the fiery Steele's Queen.  One wanted to see MORE of them, and especially when you consider that either or both would make great Companions.  Curiously, this leads to a digression on that subject.

This brings to mind something I read about NuWho Companions.  What do Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, and Amy Pond have in common (apart from the fact that it's a collection of hot women...and Catherine Tate too)?  Take a guess.  Well, Spoilers: they are all 21st Century girls.

The characters of Riddell and Nefertiti bring up something I once read somewhere, and I wish I remembered where.  NuWho has the ability to go throughout time and space, but for some reason the Doctor keeps picking up London chicks (with fiery Scots lass Amy being the exception).  In short, NuWho suffers from a lack of imagination when it comes to Companions.

Let's take a quick look at Classic Who Companions.

The first new Companion to join after An Unearthly Child was a girl from the future (Vicki) quickly following another person from the future (Steven Taylor).  You also had people from history: ancient Greek girl Katerina,  Highlander Jamie, and Victorian child...Victoria.  The Doctor also picked up Australians (Tegan Jovanka) and even, horror of horrors, AMERICANS (Peri Brown, with Dr. Grace Holloway a question mark).  There were humanoids from other worlds (Leela, Adric, Turlough) along with regular Tellurians (Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Ace), but by and large there was a wide variety of Companions from various times and places. 

NuWho doesn't have that.  All good-looking girls (and Catherine Tate) from 21st Century Earth, the U.K., London being a particular haunt.  

Again and again it introduces great potential Companions only to discard them by either death or forgetfulness.  I'd like to see Riddell and Neffy have adventures and romances on their own, and I'd think they'd make great Companions.  I hope that the Doctor Who team will eventually decide to wander either to other worlds or Earth's past for Companions.  The fact that they appear resistant shows to me at least that they don't trust the audience.  They might think, 'oh, the viewer won't accept someone from the Restoration or the Elizabethan Age or someone from India or South Africa could be a Companion'.  I marked about how it was a wasted opportunity for new Companions, but I hope that soon they will see the light and be more inclusive of both alien and historic Companions.

One thing I wasn't too thrilled about was the deus ex machina of there needing to be beings with the same genetic chain to pilot the ship.  It appeared a bit too pat to have Williams elder and junior there to resolve this problem (although it was nice that at least one man in that family told the Doctor, "I'm NOT a Pond").  Now, while this line proves that the peculiar quirk of referring to Rory and Amy as "the Ponds" may be signs of the Doctor's stupidity (and in this case, he IS stupid), it doesn't excuse everyone else from calling them "the Ponds". 

Even NuWhovians should know better.

I do say that having the ship by a Silurian ship is a good twist, completely unexpected, but given that they played almost no part in the story it seemed just a way to HAVE a twist on some kind.  In short, there was no real need: it could have been human or anything else.  The Silurian angle, while welcome, wasn't ultimately important.

I end with this.  My mother is a BIG Indiana Jones fan.  I'm not sure that extends to Harrison Ford since she always refers to him as "Indy", with a girlish squeal when saying "Indy".  When she saw Ford was appearing in something called Cowboys and Aliens, she looked with dismay.  "Indy's been reduced to THIS," she said sadly, commenting that just by the title alone she knew it was going to be stupid.    I can say the same about Dinosaurs On A Spaceship.  The title alone tells us that it's going to be stupid. 

In certain ways no.  Williams' performance, along with Steele and Graves, were excellent.

In certain ways yes.  Smith now irritates me with his frantic, frenetic, insane take on the character.

Some good performances and beautiful imagery save Dinosaurs On A Spaceship from being a disaster.  However, I wouldn't mind if the episode became extinct. 

Rory Williams Death Count

In Episode: Zero
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: A Town Called Mercy

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Doctor's Quite Bizet With Soufflés


You can't have a good Doctor Who story without the Daleks.  Well, actually you CAN have a good Doctor Who story without the Daleks and you can have a bad story with the Daleks, but I digress.   Asylum of the Daleks is the first story of the Seventh Series/Season, and I figure it was felt that it might be a great opening to have the best Doctor Who monsters (sorry, Weeping Angels) be the villains of the opening to the farewell saga of the Williamses...oh, sorry, the Ponds.  As someone who has grown despondent over where Steven Moffat has taken River Song (Formely Known as Doctor Who), I was surprised at how good Asylum of the Daleks was, although curiously, Moffat was not a major part of the story's success.

The opening to AOTD is epic in visual style as anything Doctor Who has attempted.  The Doctor (Matt Smith) has been called to of all places, Skaro, the Daleks' homeworld.  He soon finds it's all a trap, but it is too late and the Daleks have 'acquired' their ultimate nemesis.  We then shift and pick up from the mini-sodes of Pond Life, we find that Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) have done the unthinkable: they have divorced.   Rory in fact has brought the divorce papers with him to her modeling shoot, but as soon as she signs "Williams" as her last name, we find that the 'humans' they are interacting with are actually Dalek machines who have acquired Amelia Pond and Rory Williams.

Now we get to the crux of the matter: the three of them have been brought before the Parliament of the Daleks (which begs the question, which ones are Labor and which ones are Tory) for a special task.  The Dalek Prime Minister asks the Doctor to save the Daleks.  Now there's a twist you didn't see coming.

It seems that the Daleks have locked up all their crazy Daleks on this planet, but now there's been a breach, a strange signal coming from this Asylum.  They don't recognize it, but the Doctor does: it's the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen.  We discover that a spaceship has managed to crash there and that there is a survivor: Oswin (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who has been keeping the Daleks at bay for a year.  All the Daleks are too terrified to go to the Asylum, so they opt for the next best thing: send the Predator (a.k.a. the Doctor) and his Companions to disable the protective shield and thus allow the Daleks to blow up the planet.

With that, they literally plunge in.  As is always the case, the trio have to be separated.  Amy and the Doctor fight off the Daleks and the material that can be used by them (living or dead) while Rory struggles to stay alive.  Both groups are guided by Oswin, who now has an offer: she will deactivate the shield but asks that they get her.  The Doctor goes.

The planet is starting to affect Amy in that those without protection will eventually turn into Daleks.  We also learn of the marital strife in the Williamses marriage: Amy can no longer have children, which is what Rory always wanted.  Rather than let him continue suffering, Amy divorced him to free him.  Of course, we all know they love each other, but enough with the marriage issues.

The Doctor finally locates Oswin, but here we get one more big twist: she is no longer herself, literally.  She could not have survived a whole year on the planet and gotten her supply of eggs and milk for the soufflés she constantly tries to make.  She has already been turned into a Dalek.  At first she doesn't believe it, but it all becomes clear that Oswin is no longer human.  She however, has used her mind to hack into the mainframe, erasing all memory of the Predator/Oncoming Storm from the Daleks.  As a result, when after the Daleks blow up the Asylum the Doctor reappears before them.  They, however, have no idea who he is, hence their asking, "Doctor Who?"

The Doctor drops Amy and Rory off at their home, their marriage restored, and the Doctor flies off in his TARDIS, gleefully calling out, "Doctor Who? Doctor Who?  Doctor Who?"

I'll right off the bat say that if it weren't for all the "Doctor Who?" business at the very end, I would have pushed Asylum of the Daleks to a higher score.  I don't find this constant working of the show's title into a pun clever, but irritating.  As the Great Morrissey once said, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore."  Truth be told, it wasn't all that funny whenever it was used, but because I still have all those "Doctor Who?" reverberating in my mind from The Wedding of River Song, I am more disinclined to embrace it with the manic glee Steven Moffat does.

Just get it out of your system, Steve.

In terms of story, we get quite a few twists, some that work, some that don't.  One thing that is particularly shocking is that Oswin is a Dalek.  That in an of itself isn't a big shock.  On the contrary it's quite logical.  When the Doctor kept asking where did she get the milk for her soufflés he was doing the Doctor thing of pointing out the obvious while still being opaque.   No one (in particular the ever-dim Rory) would notice the fact that Oswin was suppose to be trapped behind a safe chamber from the Daleks

THE BIG SHOCK is that Oswin will be the newest Companion and will take over the Williamses after their departure.  This isn't a spoiler in that it's been announced that Coleman will become the new Who Companion.  We now, thanks to Moffat, have a giant conundrum: a Companion from the future that we first meet on her DEATH (seeing as she was a converted Dalek she was blown up on the Asylum).  As it was pointed out to me, this is the biggest twist in Who history: in a sense, the Doctor's next Companion is a Dalek. 

Now for his next trick, how will someone we already know to be dead be brought back to take her place next to the Doctor aboard the TARDIS?  I don't trust the 'she is someone other than Oswin' vein where it was a double, but if her fate is to be turned into a Dalek, wouldn't she have remembered the Doctor (unless her memory was wiped the same way she wiped it)? 

I smell a timey-wimey rationale.

Let's leave that aside for a moment and turn our attention to the Williams subplot.  One could either go forward with the story of the difficulties within the marriage that are tearing them apart or do what Asylum did: resolve it in one quick "I love you, I love you more" moment.  I wonder if in this case, having them work out their issues over the five stories they have left might have been more realistic than having them resolve everything so quickly.  At times, the marital strife between Amy and Rory seems almost an afterthought.

I will say that I have been highly critical of how Doctor Who ignores its history, but I give Asylum credit in the subtle nods to the past (by having all the Daleks in "Intensive Care" be from previous encounters going all the way to The Daleks' Master Plan), even if they are a bit too subtle.  I'll let that go for now, but somehow I still think the whole thing of 'capturing the Doctor to have them do their dirty work' didn't quite ring true.  If they could do that, why didn't they do it early to kill him? 

Is is just me, or is the 'grabbing his Companions to help in enter and escape a Death Zone' a bit TOO similar to The Five Doctors?  Just substitute Borusa for the Daleks, and Gallifrey for the Asylum, and isn't it pretty much drawing from the same well? 

Just a thought.

In any case, let's move on to the positives.  Nick Hurran creates some simply astonishing visual moments: the opening to Asylum where we sweep into a decimated Skaro is breathtaking in its epic scope.  It looks less like a television program than it does an opening to a feature-length film.  Hurran also keeps the fear factor flowing freely (there's some nice alliteration for you) with his great work with the camera movements and lighting.  The sequence where Rory comes across seemingly dead Daleks is quite frightening in its stillness, and only rises when they first start asking for 'eggs'.  Only Rory would fail to realize they are slowly starting to form their battle-cry.

The overall look for Asylum of the Daleks is breathtaking in its scope and the pacing is quite fast, perhaps though a bit too fast.  That is the unfortunate aspect of hour-long stories: we can't really stop to ask a lot, such as why the Daleks would have human doppelgangers to lure the Doctor and his Companions to go to the Asylum.

Wouldn't it have been easier to give the Doctor a reason to go to the Asylum?  Maybe he must be deceived to go rescue Oswin or the Williamses?  Maybe the Williamses now must rescue the Doctor?  Maybe the trio has to escape the planet with the resurrected Daleks fighting the invasion force of other Daleks: another Dalek civil war (of which, curiously, there's been more than one).

I find that the acting in Asylum is far better than we saw from last series/season.  Darvill for once showed that Rory can actually have a bit of a backbone by showing genuine anger at his now ex-wife, even if that was only one brief moment before resorting back to the 'eternally in love wimp'.  Gillan has to draw great anger at herself when explaining why she 'let Rory go', and she did a good job here as the remarkably terrifying moment when she starts to see her past as her mind starts succumbing to the Daleks conversion methods.  Even Smith, who has been one of the worst things in NuWho, manages to tone down the ridiculousness factor and be more the commanding hero of old (even if he can't resist falling into his old tricks of making the Doctor a bit silly by the end).

I didn't warm up to Coleman: struck me as being too River Song-like in her arrogance and how smart and witty she was suppose to be.  Still, she did a good job once she found herself to be a Dalek (a surprisingly effective montage that should send chills up the spine).    

Again, on the whole if it weren't for some silly moments (yes, in particular the "Doctor Who? Doctor Who" business which is the current fixation of Moffat's, Asylum of the Daleks is a strong story that has twists that aren't outlandish or preposterous and that is filmed brilliantly, with moments of terror and visual arrest that work excellently within the show.

It remains to be seen whether this is an indication of a turn for the better, or a brief moment of lucidity within Moffat's own madness.        

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episode: Zero
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: Dinosaurs On A Spaceship

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pond Scum


For better or worse we now have shifted the focus on Doctor Who from the Doctor himself to the private lives of his Companions.  Normally, I don't care about these little mini-sodes used as teasers for the upcoming season, but Pond Life was different.  Why was it different? 

I think it boils down to one thing: it seems to inadvertently capture everything wrong with Doctor Who today: idiotic comedy, focus away from the central character, and near-obsession with weak characters and inept points of logic. 

Let's just get this out of the way: Pond Life is a misnomer.  There is no such thing as Pond Life.  If one wanted to have a little thing about Pond life, we would have to talk about Amy's parents.  That's because THEY are the real Mr. and Mrs. Pond.  Amelia is a Pond, but damn it, Rory isn't a Pond and he never will be a Pond.

Rory is a Williams.  He was born a Williams and should he ever die and stay dead, he will be marked as Rory Williams, not Rory Pond.  It is a sign of the stupidity of NuWho fans that they constantly refer to them as "the Ponds" when that name belongs only to Amy, not Rory.  It's just a little thing for me to see a character so dismissed that his name isn't used.  Yet, I digress.

On Pond Life, the total running time if put together is about six minutes, we have a brief moment in the course of five months (April through August) where we catch up on our Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Name-To-Be-Determined (Arthur Darvill) as to what they do when the Doctor's away.

April: they get a call from The Doctor (Matt Smith) telling him what he's been up to (such as meeting Mata Hari in a Paris hotel room, apparently for marshmallows) and 'laying some backing vocals' on a rap song.  WHY?  Because someone thought it was funny.

May: the Doctor barges into their bedroom, warning them of impending danger...except he's come too early without telling them anything.

June: they wake up to find an Ood in the loo.

July: The Doctor tells them the Ood accidentally wandered off from the TARDIS, and the Whatever-They're-Called are a bit non-plussed to find the Ood serving as their housekeeper (doing the laundry, making the beds, fixing breakfast).

August: The Doctor calls in, but alas, Rory has left home.   

I think it's this radical shift from the lightness of the first four episodes to the remarkably dark tone of the last that makes Chris Chibnall's writing so odd to say the least.  Every mini-sode prior to August was light, almost idiotically so (nearly a whole minute to set up an 'ood on the loo' joke), that when we do see something apparently tragic (complete with black-and-white footage), it almost seems to come from another story altogether.

It's this reliance on comedy that kills Pond Life completely.  I lose respect for a show that isn't willing to take its characters seriously and instead wants me to laugh at them.  Episode One does that.

Backing vocals?  Seriously? Did a five-year-old find that amusing?  Judging from the looks of it, the Doctor's never seen a naked lady before (and if we go by River Song, perhaps he'd never want to see another naked woman, but I digress).  As if that isn't already bad enough, all the dancing and the backward-baseball cap just sunk the whole thing down.

It's a Series of Uninteresting Events, playing to Smith's manic interpretation of the Doctor as this being who seems completely out of touch with reality.  He isn't aware of women's bodies, or that breaking into people's bedrooms only to leave them uninformed is both vulgar and rude.  There is, curiously enough, something egocentric in the Doctor.  He appears to think the Pond/Williamses are just waiting around for him to pop in and he seems genuinely surprised that they aren't there when he rings their doorbell.

Yes, the Doctor has always been a bit self-centered, but not to this degree.

Ultimately, Pond Life says nothing about the story of Amy and Rory and it doesn't put the Doctor in a good light.  Really, this Pond should be drained. 

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episodes: Zero
Overall: 4.1