Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Banking Crisis of The Doctor


There's an urban myth that says any Doctor Who story with the word 'Time' in the title will be a disaster.  That is not true.  Both the First Doctor story The TIME Meddler and the Third Doctor story The TIME Warrior are recognized as brilliant stories.

That isn't to say this "Curse of 'Time'" isn't without merit.  We've had a good run of bad Time stories:  TIME-Flight, TIMElash, TIME and The Rani, Closing TIME, The TIME of The Doctor.  Each of these is pretty dreadful (Closing Time is on my Worst Doctor Who of All TIME ListThe Time of The Doctor is currently on my revised list alongside Closing Time, and a few listed here will surely join that list in due TIME).

Now we have TIME Heist, and sad to say, the "Curse of TIME" strikes again!

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) busts in on his part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), insisting she go with him rather than on a date (whatever that might be) with Danny Pink (whomever he may be).  Before you can say 'plot contrivance' the TARDIS' exterior phone rings (which is does a lot, having done so in Day of the Doctor and I think The Bells of St. John, meaning it's getting more action now than it has in the past fifty-one years, but I digress).  The Doctor answers, and before you can breathe we're swept into a room with memory worms alongside two figures, the augmented human Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and the mutant human Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner).  They have been given instructions from The Architect to use those memory worms as part of an elaborate (and I do mean ELABORATE) plot to break into the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the universe. 

No, not THAT Architect,
though both Matrix Reloaded makes
as much sense as Time Heist.

Sy and Zorba are there to aid the Doctor and Clara in going into the innermost vault, where Sue and Xanadu will find their motives for breaking into the Fort Knox of the galaxy.  Why Clara and the Doctor are there, well, we're not exactly sure of at the moment.

Facing off against them is Miss Delphox (Keeley Hawes), who will use the Teller, a monster who can detect if someone has guilt on their mind.   The break in continues, and while Miss Delphox thinks she's taken care of the problem, she really hasn't, for our robbers continue heading in, down, all around to find out what they are looking for and why they are there.  There appear to be losses: first Zanzibar appears to sacrifice herself via a disintegrator when they stumble onto the caged Teller, then Sam-I-Am does the same when he distracts the freed Teller to save Clara, choosing to die rather than have his brain melted.

While Psycho managed to get the ball rolling in opening the vaults, The Doctor finds that only one vault though, stubbornly refuses to open, but fortunately solar flares are causing security issues.  He now sees that this isn't a bank heist, but a TIME-TRAVEL HEIST, and The Architect timed it exactly so that they could take advantage of said flares to enter.  Now the Doctor and Clara finally get all the vaults open, and they find what they are looking for, at least in regards to Zuzu and Si: a neophyte circuit that can replace any lost data and reboot any system (so he can have the memories of his family restored) and a mutant suppressor (so that Sandbar won't go all 'Rogue' on people, since with just a touch Zim-Zam takes the form of whoever is touching her).

As a side note, I can see why that would appeal to co-writer/showrunner Steven replicate himself onto others?  Would satisfy his ego, but again I digress.

The Doctor and Clara are themselves captured by Miss Delphox, but their brains aren't melted just yet by the Teller, whom we have learned is...THE LAST OF ITS KIND! (WOW...never heard THAT one before!).  We have to wait for The Director, and see what HE has to say and what HE decides.  Fortunately for them, the guards are really Secondary and Zenida, and their "deaths" really were just ways to teleport somewhere and magically return in time to save the time travelers.  We still haven't got the reason for the Doctor's reason to go into this bank, but now it comes.  He figures out he has to go into Director Karabaxos' personal vault. 

There, they find waiting for them is...MISS DELPHOX!  No, it ISN'T Miss Delphox, it's The Director, only she looks exactly like Miss Delphox!  She's a clone, and the Doctor realizes that The Architect who gave them the instructions at the very beginning is someone the Doctor hates (in a Dream Lord kind of way, I imagine).  We see as the Bank is collapsing that the Doctor gives Director Karabaxos the TARDIS number and to call when she has regrets about her life.  In return, Miss Delphox releases the Teller, who starts taking the Doctor's memories, including the ones he's purposefully wiped.  He now sees that the Teller is NOT the last of his kind, and there's a female Teller in this vault.  Sweeping back to the very beginning, we learn that call to the TARDIS came from an aged Miss Delphox, who wants memory worms to wipe out her regrets. 

As Clara goes off on her date, the Doctor comments to himself, "Robbing a bank?  Beat THAT for a date!"

Call it disinterest, call it apathy, call it disappointment, but for the life of me as I watched Time Heist all I kept wondering is "Why?" and "How?" but most dangerous of all, "Who Cares?"

Who cares about Zumba and Sigh?  Who cares about their motives to get into the bank?  Who cares about their respective families and such?  We didn't get to know them in this rushed episode.  We weren't really even properly introduced to them.  The quick jump to get this story rolling I imagine was co-writer Moffat and Steven Thompson's way of trying a new way to get into the adventure, but all it did was throw us into something with rhyme or reason.   

It might be good to point out that Thompson has been responsible for Curse of the Black Spot and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (which rank at Numbers 5 and 14 of the Worst Doctor Who Stories of All Time Respectively) as well as the vaguely racist Sherlock story The Blind Banker and the absolutely nonsensical The Reichenbach Fall.   In short, Thompson is a dangerous man whenever he takes up his pen: one can be guaranteed his stories will fold in on themselves deliberately and will confuse 'convoluted' for 'complex'.  Pairing him up with Moffat (whose own obsessions with timey-wimey stories is now parody) is a disaster waiting to happen.

Still, back to my original point.  SHOULD I care about people whom I've learned nothing about?  Sorry, despite Murray Gold's music and Thompson/Moffat's pleas, I didn't care what happened to these two simply because I never got anything of interest. 

Not caring about either the characters or their fates is already bad enough, but Time Heist just goes through so many tropes from both Thompson and Moffat that we've seen before it almost plays like a 'greatest misses' episode of both their work and Doctor Who in general. 

That big speech the Doctor gave to the Teller as he was having his memories sucked out of him?

Rings of Akhaton.

The monster just being someone who wanted to find the woman he loved?


The Doctor finding that he hates the Architect...because he WAS the Architect?

A little Amy's Choice, I believe.

The villain turning out to be the head of the operation?

Voyage of the Damned.

Speaking of our 'freak-of-the-weak' (sic), Hawes' Miss Delphox isn't a great threat.  She plays it a bit like she were Madame Kavorian's sister, vamping it up to the Nth degree.  Furthermore, I am calling out Thompson and Moffat for cheating.  Throughout Time Heist Miss Delphox makes it clear the Director is suppose to be a man/male.  Miss Delphox constantly refers to the Director as 'he' or 'him'.  Having it turn out to be a clone of Miss Delphox is unfair to the audience.  It's not deliberate misdirection.  It's a flat-out lie to the audience.  Would it have made much difference if we thought the Director was a woman? 

The story itself is so contradictory.  When the Teller is melting someone's brains, Miss Delphox tells the beings around her that the Teller NEVER makes mistakes.  A little later, we find that the person whose head was shrunk was not the person they were actually looking for (Zorro having managed to disguise them all).  Therefore, we find that the Teller WAS capable of making mistakes.  Is it me, or is anyone else bothered by such inconsistencies?

This leads to other questions, like, hasn't this super-secure bank ever experienced any solar flares and thus knows what to do?  If this is the first mistake the Teller has made, that would still be odd, but if it has made mistakes in the past, why trust it to figure out who's breaking in? 

Why is it necessary for the Doctor to go through all these hoops to get at some memory worms?  Can't he just...get some? 

If he had orchestrated this whole plan, why not just get at this THE FIRST TIME?  Seriously, as I understand it, the Architect broke into the bank in advance of breaking into the bank.


Does the Doctor like playing an odd version of a scavenger hunt?

Why is Clara even necessary in this adventure?

All that in and of itself is already dreadful, but we throw in some more awful, awful bits.  Despite the promises Capaldi's Doctor is almost like Matt Smith's Doctor (never a good thing).  He seems genuinely puzzled about what a 'date' is and why Clara would rather do that than go travel with him (even if it is on a part-time basis).  About the only thing so far that makes Capaldi's Doctor 'dark' is that he is more pragmatic about having characters die (even if here, Moffat cannot resist showing us that Psi and Saibra are actually still alive, another Moffat trope, in fact THE Moffat trope).  Apart from that, it might just as well have had Matt Smith's dimwitted and befuddled Doctor all over Time Heist's script.

As a side note, last week's story where the Doctor wondered why Clara needed three mirrors...that was something that Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor would have said, not a more serious, 'darker' Twelfth Doctor. 

I hate it the transitions from one scene to another, where the visual effects were more important than in having some order or cohesion.  Finally, the music was so unbelievably brain-killing.  From the cutesy 'why go on a date when you can go with me' music to the 'DRAMATIC' music blaring out when the Doctor declares this is a TIME-TRAVEL heist (with thunder to accentuate all this), it just seems Moffat and Company do treat Doctor Who fans as idiots who can't figure things out without music cueing emotions.

However, given some of the NuWhovians I've met, perhaps he's not so far off base.     

The failure of Time Heist has less to do with ineptness (though there's plenty of it) and more with sheer boredom.  A bank break-in should be tense and exciting, but here, it's dull, rushed, and nonsensical. 

In other words, a typical Doctor Who story in the Moffat Era. 


Next Story: The Caretaker

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Monster Under the Bed of The Doctor


While I have the script for Listen and Time Heist, I opted not to read either.  Granted, anything would have been better than the frankly-insulting Robot of SherwoodListen was not an episode I was eager to take on.  I was told by those who had seen it (how is left best unanswered) or read it that it would be highly controversial.  It would divide the fandom.  It would shatter fifty years of continuity.

Truth be told, I can see how all that is possible...and so much more!  I didn't hate Listen as much as I was told I would.  I, however, cannot shake the feeling that Steven Moffat, penning yet another Doctor Who, is so besotted with his own ideas that basically what has come before (Classic and NuWho) is entirely irrelevant to him.  As far as he's concerned, Doctor Who began with HIM, with HIS ideas, and we're just suppose to accept that and move along in whatever direction he wishes us to take.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) wonders why there are no 'perfect hiders' and whether or not we are ever truly alone.  How would you know if there is someone with you, all those bumps in the night and creatures under the bed.  The Doctor appears to have gone bonkers, rambling to himself (or perhaps, us the audience) almost incoherently about those dreams about monsters grabbing us when we get out of bed.

Meanwhile, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), the Doctor's first part-time Companion, is on her first date with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a fellow teacher.  The date is a disaster: Clara makes snide remarks about Pink's war past to which he gets rightfully defensive.  He dug wells in the war (I figure Afghanistan, possibly Iraq) and he never gets any good press about that, only about the killing.  In any case, she walks out and goes back to her place only to find the Doctor in her bedroom. 

He figures if her date went well, there would be no reason for her and Danny to be in her bedroom.  Clara tells the Doctor she too has had the dream about the monster under the bed.  With that, The Doctor whisks her off to her past (which she does not want to do) to find the exact moment when she had this dream and see if there really is something there.  He does this by linking her to the TARDIS telepathic link (which is curious given that in earlier episodes the TARDIS makes it clear it doesn't like Clara, but why worry about such things like continuity on Doctor Who?). 

To the Doctor's surprise, they find themselves in the West Country Children's Home in Gloucester.  Perhaps it isn't too much of a surprise, as Clara is temporarily distracted by her mobile (read, cell phone), and a certain maths teacher who might call her.  Here, the Doctor and Clara see a young boy named Pink...Rupert Pink (Remi Gooding).  He is afraid of the dark, and of monsters underneath his bed.  Clara attempts to convince him there are no monsters under the bed, but wouldn't you know it...there actually IS a monster, only it's ON his bed rather than UNDER it.  Clara's Companion, the Doctor, tells Rupert that fear is a superpower, and eventually whatever was under the covers disappears.  To protect Rupert, Clara puts a series of toy soldiers round his bed, with one that Rupert names "Dan the Soldier Man" to be the leader.

Back to Clara's dating life, for she's gone back to find Danny still at the restaurant, for it's been mere seconds from when she left.  A second attempt at a first date also goes disastrously wrong, as Clara calls Danny 'Rupert', and now can't reveal how she came to this information. 

Fortunately, an astronaut comes in unobserved into the restaurant to get her out of this.  This astronaut is Orson Pink (Anderson in a dual-role), who may be a descendant of Danny...and possibly Clara!  He is the first human time traveler, and now he is at the edge of the universe, and is frightened of the sounds from outside.  He has with him a family heirloom: an old toy soldier.  There appears to be something outside, but the Doctor is knocked unconscious when he opens a door that Orson made clear shouldn't be opened.  Clara then whisks everyone away to another place in another time.

Clara hears a child crying in the barn they've landed in, with Orson looking over an unconscious Doctor.  As she climbs up to the bed where the boy is crying, Clara hears two people coming in and quickly hides under the bed; she hears two people, a man and woman, argue about why he keeps coming to this barn and cry so much.  The man argues this child will never get into the Army if he keeps crying.  The woman says he doesn't want to go into the Army, but to the Academy.  "Well, he'll never get into the Academy and be a Time Lord," he replies.

She is on Gallifrey, and the child is THE DOCTOR!  The Doctor suddenly rises and calls to Clara, and his younger version wakes up to see who is calling.  In a fit of panic, Clara grabs the child's leg from under the turn into the mythical monster under the bed.  She coaxes the child to get back in bed and tells him this is all a dream, and offers words of comfort.  In the end, she leaves the child a sign of hope to face his fears...a toy soldier.

Real men don't just WEAR Pink,
real men ARE Pink!

I know many Classic Who fans outraged at what they see as more Moffat meddling in the Canon.  I'm not outraged.  I actually think I'm past caring, and that is one place to start my reflections on Listen.  

Is there something wrong with having Clara become the central character, and more curious, the prime mover of not just listen, but apparently the whole of Doctor Who?  Yes.  We've been through all this before when she was 'The Impossible Girl'.  IF we are to believe NuWho Canon, it was Clara who told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take, and who apparently rescued him again and again through his various incarnations.

Never mind that in The Doctor's Wife, the TARDIS herself said SHE picked the Doctor, or that Clara could not reconcile herself to having a 'new' Doctor despite having served as 'guardian angel' to all the Doctors save the so-called 'War Doctor' (which we'll get into in a bit). 

Now we're in a situation where what had appeared to be settled for fifty years in regards to the Doctor's past (he was a Time Lord from Gallifrey who went to the Academy and scraped by academically) may now suddenly be up-ended on a showrunner's whim (he was destined to join the Gallifreyan Army until Clara, unseen, altered history by inspiring the future Doctor to become the figure he became).  There is frankly something insidious about how Steven Moffat is battering down all that came before him to create a show in his image. 

That isn't the awful part though.  It's Moffat's stubborn insistence that the so-called 'War Doctor' is a really important figure in Canon.  The 'War Doctor' created havoc since his first appearance in Day of The Doctor, for in one instant the chronological system that had worked so well was thrown into confusion and chaos.  We have the bizarre situation of having to go from the Eight Doctor (Paul McGann) to the 'War Doctor' (John Hurt) to the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and pretend we shouldn't call the Doctor between Eight and Nine anything other than 'War'. 

Nonsense, says I.  After Eight goes Nine, which makes Hurt the Ninth Doctor, period.  That idea has become Canon with the more muddled Time of The Doctor, which made Smith's version not the 11th, but the 13th and final regeneration (and it threw the Valeyard, which was suppose to come between the 12th and final regeneration, out the window/under the bus.  OK, the Master said in Trial of A Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe that the Valeyard would come between his 12th and 'final' regeneration, not specifically his 13th regeneration, but given that the Master himself had already exceeded that '12 regeneration' rule Canon had already established, Time Lords could, unless the High Council offered a Time Lord a new regenerative cycle, a Time Lord had 12 regenerations only.  That being said, if Smith was the 13th Doctor/12th regeneration, the Valeyard SHOULD have appeared.  However, that's from Classic Who, which in Steven Moffat's mind is relevant only insofar as it relates to what he does, not to the show itself.  Forgive the digression). 

Now we have Clara coming in to basically guide the Doctor and tell him to not be afraid of the dark.   Even more curious, we have her leaving a family heirloom: that toy soldier.  PLEASE don't tell me that Clara, Orson, AND the Doctor are all related!

That wouldn't just go against Canon.  That would be INSANITY!

In any case, the issue about Canon in Listen is a major one.  There are other issues with Listen.

Once we got the 'astronaut entering the restaurant' bit (which made me wonder, how'd he go unnoticed in a crowded room?), I thought Listen had become another story altogether.  I think it had to do with the fact that we wrapped up one part (visiting little Rupert/Danny...seriously, does Moffat have something against two-parent homes where every Companion that the Doctor visits as a child--Amy, Clara, Danny--pretty much HAS to be an orphan in some way) we went on another story altogether.

Another major issue regards the 'monster' in Rupert's room.  While it's not very visible, the creature appears to be not human.  It looked like a little Sontaran, and it disappeared in a flash of light.  Now, I know 'The Moff' likes to throw little bits in for his series finales.  However, it would be nice to have at least ONE story that works on its own without resorting to trickery.  Furthermore, if we don't get an answer to this alien creature in Rupert's room (and it was alien) we have more proof that Moffat really is making things up as he goes along.   I kept thinking, 'take the damn covers off'. 

We also have a curious discontinuity in Listen.  A mere episode ago, Robin Hood compared himself to The Doctor: a man born in wealth and privilege who takes up the cause of the weak and oppressed.  Now, we have a lonely, perhaps orphan boy (at least one who might live in the Gallifreyan version of an orphanage) who is encouraged by a voice to be brave.  Make up your mind, Moffat: wealthy scion of Gallifrey or poor abandoned child.

Still, there are things to admire in Blink...I mean, Listen.  The Doctor's speech to Rupert about fear being a superpower is a great piece of acting and yes, writing.  "The deep and lovely dark.  We could never see the stars without it," the Doctor tells Clara and Rupert as they turn away from the bed creature.  That is, I grant, a great line.  The acting, particularly by Capaldi, Anderson in a dual role, and Coleman in particular was I thought far and away their best.  Her final moments comforting the Infant Doctor were almost moving, which given how blank and dull both Coleman and Clara have been throughout is in itself reason to celebrate.

Douglas Mackinnon's directing of both the performers and the look and feel of Listen was appropriately atmospheric and spooky (which is what they were going for).  The hushed silences, the low-key score (Murray Gold must have been on Prozac when he wrote the music I imagine), and the lighting were all extremely well-done, so much so that Mackinnon's directing and the acting saved Listen from being a complete wash.

To me, it seemed to be going for Blink Revisited: using one of the five senses to try to scare us.  One would think even a one-trick pony like Moffat would know he can't keep using them and think it's original (the Companion as the central character, an overwhelming sense of foreboding and fear).  Honestly, I wasn't impressed with much of Listen.  I found it atmospheric but hollow.

As for the tearing apart of Canon, well by this point Moffat reminds me of what a former supervisor told me.  "Your job is whatever I say you're job is."  Similarly, good old Stevie will tell all of us, "Canon is whatever I say Canon is". 



Next Episode: Time Heist

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Medieval Times of The Doctor


This is the third and final Doctor Who script that I read (even though I have the next two stories as well).  Perhaps by now a certain weariness has set in, as Robot of Sherwood read as the dumbest of the three.  No surprise that self-professed 'genius' Mark Gatiss was behind this rollicking romp through Merry Olde England, as his output has becomes more and more embarrassing.  I loved The Unquiet Dead and still hold that The Idiot's Lantern was a solid story.  However, nothing excuses the horror that was Cold War, and as for Robot of Sherwood?

Well, if Gatiss was aiming for parody: parody of the Errol Flynn classic, parody of the Robin Hood myth, parody of Doctor Who, well then, he's achieved the...saddest parody in television, for few things in Robot of Sherwood would have anyone (except the hopelessly rim-happy Nerdist) think this is anything other than junk, plain and simple.  Try as I might, I could not shake the idea that Gatiss simply doesn't care.

Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) wants to meet one person: Robin Hood.  Never mind that he isn't real.  The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) insists that Robin Hood never existed, but Clara will not be denied.  To placate her, he whisks her on the TARDIS to the appropriate time, and as soon as they exit, they encounter a laughing man in green tights.  That would be Robin Hood himself (Tom Riley of Da Vinci's Demons fame), who delights in merry thievery, especially against his arch-nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller).  The Doctor, insisting that this personage cannot possibly be THE Robin Hood, continues to look for a solution to who and what he and his gang, whom Clara quickly dubs his "Merry Men", really are.

Ye Olde Town Wench...
However, there is evil afoot.  The Sheriff has been stealing from the poor, but curiously the only thing he's interested in is gold.  He also is taking peasants to work at the Castle, including a young girl who is taken against her will.  Robin, meanwhile, laughing his way through life, knows that an archery contest is all a rouse to trap him, but he goes anyway.  As he is about to claim his Golden Arrow, a new contestant enters the picture.  It's the Doctor, determined to make sense out of a seemingly senseless situation.  Tiring of this nonsense, he uses the sonic to blow up the archery contest, and finds robots disguised as knights. 

NOW we're getting somewhere.  Robin, The Doctor, and Clara are all captured and taken to the dungeon, where the first two banter (even though earlier, the Doctor mentions he hates bantering).  The guard takes 'the leader' (obviously Clara) to the Sheriff, who tells her the whole story.  Strange beings from the stars crashed near him, and mistaking him for a leader, they've built up this castle to repair their ship.  They need gold to repair the engines, which is why he takes gold only.  The Sheriff will use the spacemen to take over the world (making him the Medieval version of Blofeld).

The Doctor and Robin, still chained together, eventually escape and discover the ship.  The Doctor keeps insisting Robin is another robot, but Robin denies this, even after seeing various images of him from the ship's memory banks.  The Robot(s) come in, Clara and Robin escape, the Doctor is captured again.  Robin demands to learn the truth about the Doctor, and then after The Doctor leads a successful revolt against the Robot(s) of Sherwood, Robin, laughing gleefully as ever, comes swinging down to fight the Sheriff.

After the Sheriff's defeat, everyone flees the Castle, which by now has unmasked himself as a spaceship determined to go to "The Promised Land" (wow, now THERE'S a shock).  The ship takes off but the Doctor knows they don't have enough gold to power it off the atmosphere and into space.  If only they could find a source with just enough gold...Wait a minute, what about that Golden Arrow, which the Merry Men so helpfully stole earlier.  Of course.  However, seeing as it is flying off into space, how will the arrow reach the spaceship.  By Bow and Arrow, Of COURSE!  Robin's arm was injured in battle, the Doctor won the archery contest by cheating (putting a homing device on his quills), but together, The Doctor, Clara, and Robin can laughingly launch the arrow into the ship, which gives it enough of a surge of power to push it to outer space...where it promptly explodes. 

The Merry Men cheer some more, the Doctor accepts that Robin Hood is indeed a real, historical figure, and Clara is proven right once again.

Personally, I feel Robot of Sherwood was an embarrassment to all concerned.  I figured that the show was going to be awful as soon as I finished reading the script.  However, even if I hadn't read it but came across it on the screen without the benefit of the script, I think I would have felt Robot of Sherwood would be a sad affair.  I know its defenders will say it was all meant to be a romp, a slight and even purposefully silly spectacle, but there is simply so much wrong with it.

Let's mention a few things that I like to think of as 'points of logic'.

When the Doctor lands the TARDIS, he says there are no pretty castles, no damsels in distress, and no Robin Hood, only to be greeted by an arrow landing at the TARDIS' door and a grinning Robin asking if they were calling for him.   Robin must be more than fifty yards away across a running stream.  The Doctor is not shouting but speaking in a normal tone of voice.  How did Robin Hood hear his name so clearly?

In the end, we find that the young girl we met turned out to be Maid Marion herself (Sabrina Bartlett).  If we go STRICTLY by the legends, Marion was the King's Ward (which is why Prince John didn't dare strike against her, for she had Royal Protection).  What then was she doing with this peasant, and wouldn't the Sheriff recognize her?

Why does Clara so quickly believe Robin Hood and not the Doctor about who or what Robin Hood is?  Furthermore, why would Clara honestly believe Robin Hood to be a real, historical figure when she would have been told repeatedly otherwise?  For a schoolteacher, she is rather dim.

When Robin and the Doctor escape the dungeon, they go seeking a blacksmith to break the chains.  Either they managed to get OUT of the castle, go to a village, find a blacksmith, and go back INTO the castle all unseen and in remarkably fast order, or they found a willing blacksmith INSIDE the castle all while avoiding detection.  How ever did they pull THAT off?

We don't even need to go into the impossibility of the arrow made of gold, a far heavier object than a wooden arrow, flying from their vantage point to the spaceship after being launched from a wooden bow.  The golden arrow would have needed the firing power of a cannon to fly so high so fast, and how would the arrow striking the SIDE of the spaceship increase the gold content WITHIN the engine?

The Merry Men cheer when the ship explodes, but the explosion took place outside the Earth's atmosphere.  The ship was already in outer space when it exploded.  How could the Merry Men have seen the explosion from their vantage point?  This wasn't like the Challenger explosion, which took place within the Earth's atmosphere, but out in space, where it would have required a telescope to witness.

Alan-a-dale (Ian Hallard, who happens to be Gatiss' real-life partner), starts singing a song about this latest Robin Hood triumph.  Besides being a bad song, the last line heard before his lute is taken is, "Robin Hood was in a jam".  Granted, I'm no medieval music scholar, but isn't the phrase, 'in a jam', a bit 20th century? That's as likely as a Victorian singing "Jeepers Creepers, where'd you get those peepers?"

Merry, Merry, Quite Contrary...

While all those little things gnawed at me while watching Robot of Sherwood, even if they had all been addressed or corrected, it wouldn't have made for a better or reasonable episode.  The big problem with Robot of Sherwood is that the characters are not 'real'.  I don't mean 'real' in the historical sense (and while I'm willing to say they MIGHT have been based on real people, this group is as real and historic as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table or the Baggins family of The Shire), but 'real' as in they might exist even in 'their world'.  What Robot of Sherwood did was not treat the Nottingham gang as actual, living, breathing beings.  Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe's versions of Robin Hood, as bad as they are, at least attempted to take the premise seriously and create a believable world. 

Robot of Sherwood, conversely, was drawing heavily from the 1938 Errol Flynn classic The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Many times the episode played almost like a spoof of the Flynn flick, more Robin Hood: Men in Tights than any attempt to make the IDEA of 'Robin Hood' a real person.  Riley's laughing, merry-making, egotistical Robin was a parody of what people THINK was the Flynn version.  Yes, Errol Flynn laughed heartily in Adventures of Robin Hood, but he was also serious when the scene called for it.  Riley, on the other hand, never appeared to be serious.  Instead, he played it like the popular (and incorrect) idea of what 'Robin Hood' was, all laughing, all the time.  Maybe it was Riley's intention to be so camp and over-the-top. 

Similarly, the Merry Men were equally stereotypical (if mythical figures could be stereotyped).  If Gatiss had wanted to have some real fun, he would have made Friar Tuck a thin fellow, intellectual, spiritual, but it was much easier to make him the jolly fat friar.  Maybe Alan-a-Dale could have been a lovelorn poet, but no, he had to be this singing fool.  As for both Little John and Will Scarlett, why bother having them there if they served no reason for being there at all?

This isn't to say there wasn't at least ONE good performance, though it wasn't in Coleman's Clara (making goo-goo eyes at Robin) or Capaldi's incessantly disbelieving Doctor (though maybe he couldn't believe he was in this nonsense).  It was Miller's evil Sheriff.  At least he got that he was playing EVIL, so he went all Anthony Ainley-as-the-Master mode of camp evil. 

Gatiss' script also has two bits of dialogue that annoyed me to no end.  The first is when the Sheriff talks of taking over 'this sceptered isle'.  What, was William Shakespeare writing Robin Hood ballads too?  That was already bad enough, but when the Sheriff asks, "Who will rid me of this turbulent Doctor?", I'm surprised none of his robot knights ran off to Canterbury Cathedral to try and kill the Archbishop.

Finally, there were other things that just went wrong.  The plot itself was predictable and clich├ęd.  Clara being mistaken for the leader...didn't see that coming (insert sarcasm).  The crowd being 'shocked' at Robin Hood unmasking himself at the archery contest (insert sarcasm).  The embarrassing 'bantering' as Robin and the Doctor do a metaphorical penis-measuring contest (seriously, this was suppose to be the 'dark' Doctor?).  Clara using her feminine wiles to get information from the!

As a side note, my personal theory is that the cross-shaped laser beams the Robots use to kill people is Gatiss' subtle dig at Christianity (i.e. Christianity Kills), particularly its opposition to both homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  I have no proof of this, but this is just food for thought.

I don't know how 'dark' a Doctor will be if he has to fight a swordsman with SPOONS (which is especially odd since we've seen in past Classic Who episodes where the Doctor can handle himself with a sword extremely well: The Androids of Tara, which in turn was inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda, a particularly good example).  Then again, that was when Doctor Who took even its most outrageous plots seriously, not appear determined to mock everything around them.  The special effects were shockingly cheap-looking to where I thought they were done at the last minute on someone's laptop.

Robot of Sherwood (given there were more, why the singular?) was not even trying to take this seriously.  Rushed, unoriginal, and downright idiotic, it was a waste of everyone's time. 

"The Doctor and Robin Hood locked up in a cell.  Is this seriously the best that you can do?"  Clara tells this to the Doctor and Robin after ordering them both to shut up.  Somehow, I imagine Ian telling his 'husband' Mark the same thing after reading the script.

I leave you with this little query.  Doctor Who, if I understand it, will eventually explain why the 12th Doctor looks exactly like the character Caecilius in The Fires of Pompeii.  Will Doctor Who similarly explain why one of the Robin Hoods from the spaceship's memory banks looks exactly like the 2nd Doctor? 

I think not, because as far as NuWhovians are concerned, anything that took place pre-Rose (save for the 4th Doctor, or rather his image) never happened.  It is as real to them as Robin Hood is to the rest of us...


Next Episode: Listen

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Fantastic Voyage of The Doctor


"Am I a good man?"

This is what the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) asks his part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) in Into the Dalek, to which Clara answers that she doesn't know.  This episode has some great visuals, a strong performance by Capaldi, and at least an interesting premise.  It is unfortunate that in many ways, it evokes other stories, better stories, and that there is a certain repetitiveness to Into the Dalek.  There are also questions of logic which we'll get to in a bit but for now, it is good to see Doctor Who really trying to be darker and grittier.  Note I said 'trying'...

The Doctor rescues Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), about to be killed by an onslaught of Daleks.  Her brother is already dead, and the Doctor thinks he should be thanked, not criticized.  Journey takes the Doctor to her ship, a medical ship that holds a particular patient: a Dalek!  Not only is this Dalek a patient, but now the crew wants the Doctor as a doctor to enter the Dalek to see why the Dalek is...good.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Clara meets Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a former soldier who has created the Coal Hill Cadets, a bit like a Junior ROTC Program for the same school where over 50 years ago, the very first Doctor Who story began.  (A side note: Coal Hill School may be the ONLY acknowledgment of Classic Who the current show will recognize).  There is a suggestion of a past for our dear Mr. Pink, as he sheds a tear when he is asked by students whether he ever killed someone outside war (which makes me wonder if British schools are more lax about hiring than American schools, but I digress).  It appears that Clara and Pinkie find something more than rapport, though Clara is not particularly fond of soldiers.  Never mind, for the Doctor comes to Clara, still carrying the coffee he went for three weeks ago and takes her to the ship, so he can be his 'carer' (as in, she cares so he doesn't have to).

We now, thanks to a molecular nanoscaler, take the Doctor, Clara, Blue, and a few guards and shrink them to allow them to go "into the Dalek", whom the Doctor nicknames "Rusty" to see what ails him.  As they go into the heart of darkness, they see that Rusty is in a bit of shock, having seen 'beauty' in the form of the birth of a star, and finding that no matter how often the Daleks exterminate, resistance to life is futile.  The Doctor, thanks to his handy-dandy sonic screwdriver, fixes the radiation leak which is causing it to go good, but wouldn't you know it: that repair restores it to being a regular Dalek, evil, determined to kill.  Worse, it allows the Dalek fleet to come storming onto the ship.

The Doctor is angry at himself for believing such a thing as a good Dalek was possible, and Clara is angry that he's about to let them all die.  So angry she slaps him, hard.  However, the Doctor thinks there might be a way out: to unlock Rusty's suppressed memories and perhaps get it to return to seeing the beauty of life.  The Doctor's plan involves linking his mind to that of Rusty's, and let it see the glories of the universe.  However, the Dalek doesn't just see that.  He sees the Doctor's hatred for the Daleks, and from the Doctor Rusty learns that all Daleks must be destroyed.  Rusty then goes after the invading Dalek army and defeats them, in the end Rusty tells the Doctor, "I am not a good Dalek.  You are a good Dalek."  Journey wants to join the Doctor but he rejects her, telling her he doesn't like soldiers.  Clara is popped in to having been gone 30 seconds, and she comes out of the cupboard wearing a new outfit and going off with Danny Pink for drinks.

Is it me, or was Into the Dalek a bit of a hodgepodge of other stories?  I don't mean the most obvious influence on Steven Moffat and Phil Ford's screenplay (incidentally the first time there's been joint screenwriters on NuWho since The Waters of Mars, which was also co-written by Ford, that time with then-producer Russell T Davies): Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Voyage.  I mean other Doctor Who stories.  The imagery of a group of Daleks storming a base reminded me of Resurrection of the Daleks, when the Daleks force their way in.  However, in particular I suggest that Into the Dalek looks a bit like a remake of the Ninth Doctor story Dalek

Beat for beat, it's pretty much a repeat, or at least a rehash, of what we've seen before: the 'dark/angry' Doctor encounters a debilitated Dalek, it has human emotions, once awakened it goes on a murderous rampage, and find that the Doctor and the Daleks are if not moral equivalents at least mirror opposites.  Even in the concluding thoughts they seem to be the same: in Dalek, the title character tells the Doctor, "YOU would have made a good Dalek", in Into the Dalek, the title character tells the Doctor, "YOU are a good Dalek".

I leave it up to you whether or not hitting on the same theme (the Doctor harbors murderous rage equal to his archnemesis) shows a show that is slowly running out of ideas (which in its first twenty-six years, it didn't), but in retrospect I wonder whether going over territory already seen is indicative that Doctor Who is now in danger of repeating itself (knowingly or not). 

I cry just a little...

There are also other elements in Into the Dalek that are signs of concern, that this episode was more about adding to a season-long arc rather than a standalone episode.  In what should have been an extremely tense moment, one of shock and horror and sadness, we get thrown into a jolting reminder that we're stuck with another 'teaser' bit about how the season will end.    Gretchen (Laura Dos Santos), a tough soldier about to be killed by the Dalek's antibodies, suddenly finds herself in a cozy tearoom with Missy (Michelle Gomez, and in a side note, with people surnamed Dos Santos and Gomez, Doctor Who may actually have more Hispanics on British television than most American shows.  When was the last time a Latino popped up in The Big Bang Theory?).  Seeing her cheery/nutty Mary Poppins character asking if she'd like some tea may have struck Moffat as genius, but its only effect on me was to take me out of the scene altogether, robbing me of both pathos and tension.

It also is yet another sad example of a running Moffat motif: his inability to kill characters permanently.  I had speculated about this before, but Into the Dalek is yet more proof that The Moff is hopelessly repetitive and frankly a bad writer (Emmy be damned).   What could have been a great and tragic moment turned into a 'what?' moment.

Same goes for Danny Pink's debut.  Oh, a war veteran haunted by the past...what a concept.  Perhaps Ford and Moffat thought that having two soldiers in these parallel worlds, a girl named Blue and a man named Pink, was sly and witty commentary about gender roles: the tough warrior Blue and the tearful ex-warrior Pink (though my mind puts more blame on the latter).  Something about this set-up rubs me the wrong way.  In the same way Sherlockians go into knots trying to make the Richard Brook/Jim Moriarty scenario sensible as part of some bizarre master-plan, I find myself trying to look deeply into this Girl Blue/Boy Pink business.  I cannot shake the idea that there is something more than meets the eye in this Girl Blue/Boy Pink set-up (or it might be that Moffat is simply so full of crap and devoid of ideas he thought this was all shockingly clever).  However, given that he's an ex-soldier, and the Doctor doesn't like soldiers (except for Security Agent Sara Kingdom in The Daleks Master Plan, or UNIT and especially the Brigadier, who was basically his best friend), will there be difficulties ahead as the Doctor/Clara/Danny triangle begins to set in?

Whattaya think?

Another question/comment: will people ever learn to shoot at a Dalek's eyestalk?  Seriously, after fighting Daleks all this time, why doesn't anyone aim for the eye? 

One last question before we go into what did work in Into the Dalek.  What purpose did Clara serve?  I know it was to be the Doctor's 'conscience', which is all well and good, but why did the Doctor feel the need to pick her for this journey?  Couldn't he have popped in to select any other Companion, like Sarah Jane or Rose Tyler or Nyssa, and have them work with him?  Well, perhaps because at this point Clara is the only one who sees the Doctor when she sees his face, but I never got this part-time Companion business where the Doctor picks up Clara, they go for an adventure, then he drops her off home as if nothing ever happened. 

Eye see you...

Now, as for the things that did work in Into the Dalek.  Capaldi, in his first full story away from his predecessor, does go into a darker version, one that isn't as strict about life.  A soldier finds himself surrounded by the Dalek antibodies, and the Doctor throws him something and tells him to swallow it.  He does, but the antibodies still destroy the soldier.  Everyone is shocked and angry.  When the others condemn him when antibodies kill another soldier, he counters by saying, "He was dead already. I was saving us!"  When he finds that the Dalek has tapped into his dark ideas of the Daleks and his hatred for them, Capaldi makes the shock of the Doctor's plan going awry real and almost tragic.  It looks like Peter Capaldi was indeed a good choice for the role, his coldness and more dare I say ruthless nature being extremely strong.

The script also at least has a token acknowledgement that it is a bit of a rip-off.  When the Doctor sees the molecular nanoscaler, he quips, "Fantastic idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist (emphasis mine)". 

Perhaps I'm grasping at straws, but I hope that Journey Blue will come back and will be a full-time Companion.  It would not only be good to have a Companion from the FUTURE (I know Earth Girls are Easy, but do we always have to have them with the Doctor?) but she seems strong, capable, intelligent, and eager...qualities that most NuWho Companions have been lacking.

I'm talking to YOU, River Song!

Into the Dalek had rated a little higher initially, but then as I thought on it other aspects (the repetitive nature of the story, the Missy cameo) all started to push the story down.  Still, on the whole it was much better than I read, and executed much better than I had hoped. 

And as for the question of whether the Doctor is a good man, Clara is unsure, but at least knows he is trying to be one.  Given how she has seen the Doctors in action, how could she have any doubts?


Next Episode: Robot of Sherwood