Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Monster Mash-Up


Despite constant pleas from her fans, Dame Agatha Christie never had her two most famous characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, meet, let alone work together in a story.  Her reason was quite simple: she said she didn't think either would enjoy it.  When asked why she never had a Poirot/Marple crossover, she replied in her autobiography, "Why should they?". 

"Hercule Poirot, the complete egoist, would not like being taught his business by an elderly spinster lady," she added. Poirot was a professional detective, Marple an amateur one, so they would never truly fit in each other's worlds.

These words should be something Wholockians, who dream of having the TARDIS land in front of 221 B Baker Street and have the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes meet/work together, consider every time they fantasize about a Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover.  

Despite this, the characters did meet in a way.  Dame Margaret Rutherford, who had played Miss Marple in a series of successful films, made a cameo in an adaptation of The ABC Murders with Tony Randall as Poirot.  Even in this quick scene, I think neither really enjoyed their brief encounter.  It wasn't until 1990, during the Agatha Christie centennial celebrations, that Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple finally formally met.  The two actors best known as Poirot and Marple, David Suchet and Joan Hickson, met as the character, and by all accounts got on splendidly.

I mention all this because the two-part season/series finale Doomsday Parts I & II (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday), has two most famous Doctor Who monsters (the Daleks and the Cybermen) finally face off each other after nearly fifty years.   When one thinks longs and hard about this, while this might have pleased NuWho (and I imagine, some Classic fans), for me it was a bit of a wash (not to mention leaving some curious continuity issues), and if it weren't for some of the performances, Doomsday I & II wouldn't have worked. 

The Doctor (David Tennant) and his Companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) come to Earth to see Rose's mum, Jackie (Camille Coduri).  Jackie is delighted that her family reunion will be bigger, seeing as how Jackie's father is coming too.  That surprises Rose, since her grandfather is dead.  Nonetheless, something shows up.  Jackie is convinced it is her late father, and this phenomena is not strange.   Even the soap opera EastEnders gets in on the act, where we see a storyline involving the ghosts in the pub on television.  "Ghosts" have been appearing for two months now throughout the world, in specific intervals.  The Doctor is not convinced of 'the ghosts' and decides to trap one.

Meanwhile, at the infamous Torchwood, they have been conducting nefarious experiments to bring something from another realm to our world, and the Doctor traces the ghosts there.  Torchwood Director Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman) is thrilled to see the Doctor, because now the TARDIS, like all alien technology, can be hers.  "If it's alien, it's ours," she declares.  In Torchwood you also have a strange sphere which does nothing.  We learn that it is a Void ship, which can travel between dimensions.  Jackie, having been mistaken for Rose, is taken with the Doctor, while Rose attempts to investigate on her own.  For once, the psychic paper does not work, but it does lead her to the Void Ship and to, improbable as it sounds, to Mickey (Noel Clarke) whom we last saw in the alternate world fighting Cybermen.  The Cybermen have escaped from their world and Mickey has now gone after them, with a few more surprises in store.

Oh, but this is just the beginning, for not only have the ghosts really turned out to be the Alternate World Cybermen, but that Void Ship has finally been activated.  Just when the Cybermen will all delete and reprogram humans on this world, out of the Void ship come beings that only Rose would recognize...the DALEKS!  That's right, the Daleks vs. the Cybermen in an epic battle royale for galactic domination. 

The Daleks are protecting the Genesis Ark, which is related to the Time Lords and the Time War.  The Cybermen, who prefer homogeny, are at first too busy converting people to really care, but soon both parties investigate the other.  In a Mexican standoff with a horrified Doctor looking on, the Daleks and Cybermen take each others measurements.  The Cybermen propose an alliance, which the Daleks (who recognize them while the Cybermen do not), immediately reject.  "This is not war.  This is pest control," the Daleks inform them.  When the Cybermen tell the Daleks if they can possibly defeat them with four Daleks, they reply that they can defeat the Cybermen with ONE Dalek.

Doesn't seem much of a fair fight, then, does it?

The humans fighting the Cybermen in the alternate world, including Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwell), now come to fight the Cybermen with the Daleks thrown in for good measure.  The Doctor tells them that he was at the Fall of Arcadia, which he will come to terms with somehow (sooner than we imagine).    We learn what the Genesis Ark is: it's a prison ship holding millions of Daleks.  How?  Well, like all Time Lord technology, it's bigger on the inside.  A terrified Jackie, having escaped Cyber-altering (which her counterpart didn't) finds Alternate World Pete and it all becomes confusing for them.  Yvette has been altered, but not enough for her to realize that she still can stop the Cybermen.  The Doctor sends them all through the Void to the alternate world, but Rose won't leave him.  However, as the Daleks and Cybermen are killing each other and humans all over the place, the Doctor and Rose manage to send the Cybermen into the void. 

However, she loses her grip and is sucked into the Parallel World.  Somehow the Doctor appears to her, where she informs him that Jackie and Pete are going to give her a brother (I'd rather not know) and that she loves him.  The Doctor loses the temporal power before he can answer, and now he is alone, except for the Bride who suddenly without reason appears in the TARDIS.

I imagine NuWhovians hit all the emotional buttons that Doctor Who 2.0 appears to play like master musicians.  I bet they squealed when the Daleks appeared at the end of Army of Ghosts, and cried their eyes out at Rose's farewell.  I don't blame them: NuWhovians have probably never seen any Dalek stories prior to Dalek, and probably believed that the genesis of the Cybermen was in Rise of the Cybermen Parts 1 & 2, not say something like The Tenth Planet.  Therefore, those pesky little questions of continuity wouldn't be asked by the lemmings NuWho fans have become.

Questions like, "If these Cybermen are from an Alternate Universe, how do the Daleks recognize them?"

Questions like, "If travelling from one Parallel World to Another was so difficult for the Doctor, how has become almost routine for the humans?"  (Was this just a way to throw Clarke into the mix)?

Questions like, "How is it possible for Jackie Tyler, who is at least 38 (by the most generous standard if she had been 19 when Rose was born, with Rose being 19 now), to be pregnant?" (It should be pointed out she was 45 at the time Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 was made). 

In short, Doomsday Parts 1 & 2, after a lot of reflection, didn't hold up for a wide variety of reasons.  I would put the biggest reason that the Daleks were...unnecessary.  The whole story would have worked just fine with just the Cybermen travelling from their world to ours, without having the Daleks anywhere in there.  I actually, again after a lot of thought, thought Doomsday would have been more thrilling if we had made them the exclusive villain.

Russell T Davies, in his script, probably thought having the two face off would thrill fans, and I know many who were.  However, for the casual viewer or one who had never come across either, the whole thing came off as laughable.  How do I know this?  Because I saw it for myself.  I had talked my very reluctant non-Doctor Who fan Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) into watching this 'epic confrontation' after the disaster of Love & Monsters.  When he heard the Dalek tell the Cybermen they could defeat them with ONE Dalek, Fidel burst out laughing.

He simply couldn't take any of it seriously afterwards. 

Even if it had been a tense moment (after two viewings, it still isn't for me), the actual battle between them was such a ridiculous thing.  The Daleks made mincemeat out of the Cybermen, and what is the point of having an 'epic confrontation' between two legendary villains if one is going to be a pushover?  I think Davies favors the Daleks and gave them all the power, cheating us out of what could have been a great confrontation.  Honestly, I don't understand why so many fans think this is good, because the Cybermen weren't all that impressive.

All that 'jumping through parallel worlds' seems equally silly, giving people an easy way in and out of things.

However, credit has to be given where it is due, and the final scene between Rose and the Doctor was beautifully directed and acted.  If Davies did anything right, it was to give NuWhovians what they love: a great excuse to cry their eyes out at a science-fiction show.  I honestly think that there was less crying at Schindler's List or a September 11th memorial than there apparently is in an average Doctor Who 2.0 episode, but that's for another time.

For most of Doomsday Parts 1 & 2, Piper's Rose came off as a bit whiny and clingy, but her final scene with Tennant is indeed quite moving.  Those who were worried that former pop star Piper couldn't deliver the goods have been proven wrong.  She and Tennant made an excellent team, and I can see why NuWhovians both rank Rose as one of the Greatest Companions and why they are so enamored of Rose & The Doctor. 

I don't share their views, but I can understand it. 

Tennant is in top form here.  He is authoritative, whimsical (the 3-D shades not looking as idiotic as they could have), and his genuine sadness at it all show why even Classic Who fans (most of them anyway) think well of Tennant. 

The other cast did well as well.  Coduri's innocence at having her 'father' return and her horror at being pursued, nearly altered by the Cybermen were excellent.  When she and Dingwell reunite, I thought THAT was more emotional than Rose & The Doctor's farewell.  Still not a fan of Clarke or Mickey (for too long he was a wimp, and now he's all action-star), but it wasn't bad.

This episode is important for another reason; as far as I can make out, the first time the Doctor says, "Allon-sy", which would become his catchphrase (for good or ill).   

Ultimately, the acting did Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 immense favors, because for me the story doesn't hold.  I admit that because I don't cry at Doctor Who, and don't get emotional at a character's good-bye, I don't have this passion this two-part story demands I feel.  I look to things like acting, plot, story, character development.  I am not easily impressed by flashing lights and big guest stars.

I can't shake off the idea that the Cybermen/Dalek confrontation was both a waste and rather uneventful, even boring.  I didn't get excited by having them meet.  Actually, I wish they hadn't.  In a curious turn, Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 upon first watching, earned an 8, then I found myself thinking that was too high, so down a point it went.  Then I kept thinking, "that Dalek/Cybermen thing just didn't work for me", and thought 7 was too generous. 

In the end Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 was good, not great, and despite its best efforts I hope we never get two villains fighting it out if the results are going to be as weak as this.


Next Episode: The Runaway Bride

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is More Bad Stories Like This


Fear Her has earned a reputation of being not just perhaps the worst NuWho story of all time (in the most recent poll, it ranked 192 out of 200, the lowest revived series episode in the rankings) but perhaps one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time (Classic and NuWho).  I was so appalled by Love & Monsters that I deliberately skipped Fear Her and ended my Doctor Who watching days with Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday), not watching again until at least Waters of Mars.  It is only now, in my efforts to watch every Doctor Who available, that I plunge into the one episode I deliberately skipped.  After watching Fear Her, I concur with the general opinion that it is pretty bad.  Well, perhaps not bad, but terribly weak, trying to find its way in what appears to be a good idea and then getting lost in its call for sentimentality and silliness.

The Doctor (David Tennant) takes Rose (Billie Piper) to London 2012, the opening day of the Olympic Games.  However, there is something evil afoot.  In a neighborhood where the torch will run past, children have been disappearing.  The old neighbor Maeve (Edna Dore) is concerned, but most of the neighborhood isn't too concerned with all this.  About the only parent who doesn't register concern is Trish (Nina Sosanya), who has worries of her own.  Her daughter Chloe (Abisola Agbaje) doesn't want to go outside, doesn't want to do anything other than draw.  She draws the children that have disappeared, which also come to life.  I believe Trish knows that the pictures come to life, because I think one of the pictures she has (that of her late father) has on occasion come to life.

The Doctor and Rose soon trace the disappearances to Chloe, whom we learn has an alien within her, the Isolus.  This is a lonely demon, part of a large group that were separated.  In order to make up for the Isolus' loneliness, she had made Chloe (whom it sensed was lonely too) draw her companions.  However, just as the Doctor is needed most, Chloe draws the Doctor and TARDIS, trapping both in the drawings.  It is now up to Rose to save the day (and apparently the Olympics).  She does so by finding the hottest place around (a filled pothole) that has the Isolus' tiny spaceship.  With the torch coming past, Rose is able to release the Isolus from Chloe and free her and everyone trapped in the pictures.  This includes all those at the Olympic stadium, which the Isolus trapped in a picture.

However, where is the Doctor?  It is at this point that we see that a man with a trenchcoat picks up the Olympic torch and races to the Games.  Now, with things restored, the Doctor and Rose look at the stars.  Rose dreams of perpetual travels with the Doctor, but he senses a storm coming.

After watching Fear Her I don't think it was a horrible episode.  It tries, it tries so terribly, terribly hard to be sentimental and thrilling, but there are so many things wrong with it that it all ends up failing badly.

First, the resolution to this crisis is so quick and silly that it boggles the mind how anyone thought it would resonate.  Oh, look, all the 'villain' needed was just a touch of love.  "Feel the love" I think Rose says as she throws the Isolus' ship into the incoming Olympic torch, and with that, the Isolus is able to leave Chloe.  There was no tension, no excitement, no sense of this having taken up our time.  It all seems too pat, to quick, for us to care.

Second, some of the performances were pretty bad.   I don't know if one can blame Abgaje for being terrible in this story (this as far as I know is her only acting job).  However, as bad as Matthew Graham's script is, Abgaje came across as whiny and obnoxious, someone I couldn't care for.  Same goes for her mother, who was weak and at times slightly dumb (she had one thing to do: watch that Chloe not draw, and she leaves her alone twice!).  Going back to Chloe for a moment, from what I understand the little girl favors her abusive father.

I also wonder whether having a major plot point be the brutal father was a good idea. 

Third, Fear Her has moments that are just embarrassing for all concerned.  Having The Doctor pop up and carry the torch may have been a nice patriotic touch but it only makes Tennant (and the Doctor) look foolish.  Really, what was the point of all that?  I also think that this whole 'love is the answer' bit is silly and trite, having no real reason and making it all a quick resolution

Despite all this, I kept thinking that somewhere in all this there WAS a potential for a good story.  The ideas behind it weren't all that bad, but the execution just didn't pan out.

Looking back at Fear Her, I don't think there was ever a real threat.  Even when we were given something of a threat (the evil father coming back to life), it appeared to be there only to stretch out the story.  I found Fear Her to be instantly forgettable, boring, and not worth our time.  Yes, it's bad.  Not horrible, just bad.

You've been a bad, bad girl... 


Next Story: Doomsday Parts I & II (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday)