Sunday, August 9, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: Cold War

Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved.  I don't mean liked.  I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time.  It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode.  I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things.  I mean give a bona-fide negative review.  Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express).  Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required.  I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut.  What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying.  I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 23 of The Nerdist as Whore: Cold War.  My 'translations' are in red.

Mark Gatiss has always been a Doctor Who writer I find interesting.

Mark Gatiss has always been a Doctor Who writer I find difficult.

He’s clearly a massive, enormous, gigantic fan of the series and has been involved in fandom for decades.

You see, Moff.  I'M a massive, enormous, gigantic fan of the series and have been involved in fandom for decades.  PLEASE LET ME WRITE MY OWN FANFIC INTO CANON TOO!!! Mark Gatiss does!  Why not me?  He too excels in turning fan-fiction into Canon, thus proving that fans should not be in charge.

Oh, did I mention Mark Gatiss is also my boss?

When the show came back in 2005, he was one of the first batch of fanboy writers Russell T. Davies brought on board for the new regime. In fact, Gatiss’ “The Unquiet Dead” was the only non-RTD script for the first 5 weeks of the show and is easily the best of that bunch.

Broken clock...The Unquiet Dead was the bench of the bunch, but what does it say that about the other stories penned by RTD?  Still, is it really a good idea to have fanboys in charge?  We've seen what Doctor Who has become, so putting them as creators of Canon hasn't always been for the good of show. 

Since then, his scripts have been some of the most varied in terms of style and content, but also in terms of quality, unfortunately.

I thought Gatiss' other scripts for The Idiot's Lantern and Night Terrors were really, really bad (which is odd since I, Rick Aragon, actually liked them).  And did I mention how much I HATED Victory of the Daleks?  I mean, come on, I know I lick Gatiss', but even I, most sycophantic of sycophants, couldn't stomach that pile of crap.
With his newest script, “Cold War,” he went back to his horror roots (if you haven’t seen his three-part documentary series about horror movies, you’re really doing yourself a disservice) and gave us an episode that is equal parts Alien and The Hunt for Red October and also sees the return of a favorite classic series enemy race. All that PLUS Duran Duran? Wowzers.

With his newest script, "Cold War," he went back to creating horrors (and as instructed, I plugged another project of yours that fluffs up your ego as to this idea that you, Lord Gatiss, are an intellectual giant) and gave us an episode that rips off from genuine classics as well as rips up a favorite classic series enemy race.  We also got a rather repetitive bit about how yet another alien is 'the last of their kind'.  Seriously, how many times is the Doctor going to run into an alien who happens to be the last of their kind?  Don't these people have like a continuity or script editor to tell them, 'Look, fanboys...this is about the third or fourth time we get a species that is about to be extinct.  Can't you come up with something original, or at least have more than one of their kind?'

The last two episodes of Series 7b have been very sci-fi, but neither were particularly scary.

The last two episodes of Series 7b have been jumbled, chaotic, and have vague pseudo-science (the Doctor rides up on the outside of a building on an anti-gravity motorbike!  The Doctor and Clara cross outer space without need of breathing apparatus!)  I shouldn't be too picky, since I'm on record about thinking a Doctor Who story that doesn't have much in terms of plot isn't a bad thing.  Still, I want to be scared, to hide behind the sofa...because at my age, that's pretty much all I got.

“Cold War” is claustrophobic, tense, and pretty harrowing, as the Doctor and Clara somehow end up on a sinking Soviet nuclear submarine just after some idiot has thawed an Ice Warrior, one of Mars’ battle-hardened race, who happens to be a ruthless war hero who’s been frozen for 5,000 years.

"Cold War" is a mess through and through: cluttered, rushed, and pretty appalling, as the Idiot Doctor and the Star of the Show somehow end up in a cliché: they show up right when the story begins.  Now, I'll grant you that the events from The Waters of Mars are hazy, but exactly how many battle-hardened races are there on Mars?  He says the Ice Warriors are 'one', so that should mean there are more. So the Ice Warrior is frozen for 5,000 years?  Why don't I find that exciting? 

Gatiss does a lot of great things in this episode, not the least of which is getting the Ice Warrior out of its bulky armor so that it can scurry around the ceilings and walls of the submarine and slaughter people silently.

Gatiss does a lot of horrible things in this episode, not the least of which was when he decided he knew better than Bryan Hayles, who created the Ice Warriors.   Gatiss, who happens to pay my bills (as I am his metaphorical rent boy) transformed the Ice Warrior so that it could be scarier than the ones the Classic Who fans knew, because as far as NuWhovians are concerned, Mark Gatiss created the Ice Warriors and can do anything he wants with them. 

It’s very much like Ridley Scott’s Alien, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

It's a total rip-off of Ridley Scott's Alien, but if I don't care about a story having a 'plot', you really think I'll care that I'm getting a remake in all but name?  Besides, I'm paid to cover up for the Doctor Who production crew, so I have to go along with this.

He also creates the tension of a world on the brink of “mutually-assured destruction” which perpetually haunted those of us living in the decade.

He also took a page from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, where "mutually-assured destruction" was also something to be scared of.  Now, while I grew up in the 80s, to be honest I was never scared of The Bomb.  Part of it was because I was too young to really comprehend the seriousness of it all, but a big part of it was because I didn't obsess over it. 

So, while I enjoyed the horror element and the war element, I think overall the script was a bit rushed and had too much going on that wasn’t developed properly.

Dare I smell a whiff of a criticism?  I make special note of the word 'overall', which indicates 'as a whole of the episode'.  What are the odds that despite all this, Kyle Anderson will end up liking this episode?

In Gatiss’ previous story, the almost-universally derided “Victory of the Daleks,”


there isn’t nearly enough time for things to play out in any real semblance of sequence. While “Cold War” isn’t that rushed, likely because there was less going on, there are interesting things that get brought up that aren’t paid off in a satisfying way.

While "Cold War" wasn't as crappy as "Victory of the Daleks", it was crap nonetheless.  I think it has to do with the fact that Gatiss had to get through so much in a short amount of time, so we didn't have much of a sense of actual tension or interest.  Oh, did I mention that the Ice Warrior is "The Last of His Kind"?  How many times are they going to use that trope to push the narrative?

The biggest example of this is the character of Lieutenant Stepashin, who is eager to be the one to end the world, or at least heat up the Cold War a bit. He is at odds a couple of times early on with Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham), who is a much more level-headed individual.

Is it me, or was a bit reminiscent of Crimson Tide?  Great movie.  You can't go wrong with Gene Hackman or Denzel Washington, really.  Someone get Gene Hackman a Kennedy Center Honor or Lifetime Achievement Award Oscar. 

Their dynamic was set up to be adversarial throughout, and one could imagine a scenario wherein even if Skaldak decides not to blow up the Earth, Stepashin might try to do it himself.

The idea of the two Soviets in conflict, with the Doctor caught in the middle, is actually a better story than the one we got.  Point for Anderson.

However, in the scene where Skaldak gets the drop on Stepashin, he tries to strike up an alliance with the Ice Warrior (an interesting idea), but then he’s just dead the next time we see him (or his feet). His whole storyline, if one can even call it that, existed to be the catalyst for the conflict and to be the one to inform Skaldak about the nuclear weapons on board. He is a completely unresolved character.

Oh, look.  Mark Gatiss started something and then forgot all about that story thread.  Now there's a shock!

I also have an objection to the way Gatiss felt the need to tack on the bit with Skaldak’s daughter, which just gets the briefest of mentions initially, just so Clara could then pipe up at the climax and mention that, of the billions of people who would die because of the nuke, daughters would be among them.

Here we go again with another 'Love Conquers All' routine Doctor Who has turned into a joke of a joke.  How often will villains be defeated to an appeal to their sensitive side?  No wonder these guys think Iran is a legitimate democracy that one can do business with rather than a genocidal-bent theocracy determined to finish what Hitler started.  It be nice to not have a story where essentially, they 'blew 'em up with love'.  Rings of Akhaten, The Snowmen, Closing Time... is it me or are villains just things in need of a hug?  

I feel like the Doctor was doing a pretty great job of attempting to appeal to Skaldak’s merciful side. Even Clara’s mention of him not killing the professor would have been enough, but she has to have this little speech (reminiscent of Amy’s speech in “Victory” which prevents the robot-bomb-guy from exploding) simply because Gatiss needs something for her to do in the climax.

Mark Gatiss repeated himself, and not in the best way possible.  Gatiss doesn't know what to do with female characters, does he? 

It was very lazy, I felt.

Broken clock.

Speaking of lazy, what a weird way to introduce the leads, who think they’re going to Vegas.

You're right, Kyle.  That was a weird way to introduce the leads.  We haven't had bizarre, even downright stupid ways for them to make an appearance before on this version of Doctor Who, right?  Ever, right?

Just, boom, now we’re on a Russian submarine in 1983. Then, just as suddenly, the TARDIS disappears. The eventual reason for this is pretty thin. It was very clear that they just needed a reason for there not to be a TARDIS on board so that the Doctor couldn’t just leave, or even take everybody on board the sub to safety. This happens a lot, but I didn’t care for this particular interpretation of it.

Plot contrivances aren't things I normally criticize (as if I actually criticize anything on Doctor Who), but this was too stupid even for me. 

Maybe I sound harsh on Mark Gatiss’ writing, but I think it’s because I like him as a dude so much.

I'm not even going to go there.  I'd love to, but I'm just not going there.

I find him endlessly fascinating to listen to on retrospectives of the show,

I find him to be the executive producer of the promotional shows my Little Boss Chris Hardwick hosts...

and I think he’s the perfect choice to write the upcoming docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time,

...and know that this An Adventure in Space and Time is already the Citizen Kane of Television (with the possible exception of things like The Beatles on Ed Sullivan) even if I haven't seen it at this point yet...

but his work on the series since “The Unquiet Dead” has been very hit and miss, usually within the same episode.

...but his work on the series since "The Unquiet Dead" has been confused, rushed, and repetitive, usually within the same episode.

In Series 2, he wrote “The Idiot’s Lantern,” which took place in 1953 and concerns TVs which remove people’s minds and faces.

That sounds like an allegory of NuWho fans to me. 

It was all right, but very hokey.

It was corny.

His next script was the aforementioned “Victory of the Daleks,” which should have been amazing, given its inclusion of Daleks and Winston Churchill, but suffered from the reasons listed above.

"Victory of the Daleks" was crap.  It was so awful even I, who gets paid to go past metaphorically kissing Gatiss' ass into downright sucking on it, couldn't get behind the episode. 

His script in Series 6, “Night Terrors,” was mostly good, but suffered from another hokey, heart-stringy ending. And now this one, which should have been his best one yet.

Mark Gatiss is a one-trick pony, doing the same thing over and over again in different settings.  Just like he ruined the Daleks with Victory of the Crap (Anderson's title, not mine), he's ruined the Ice Warriors with this one.  I didn't even mention that Ice Warriors 2.0 don't even whisper or extend the "S" sound.  And both of you call yourselves Doctor Who fans? 

I’d say it’s probably tied with “Night Terrors” for a very low number two.

What does that mean?  A very low Number Two in terms of score (like my score of 2/10) or low Number Two as in "it's the Second Greatest Mark Gatiss Doctor Who Story of All Time"?  What a rubbish review this is turning out to be.   

He has another script coming up this year, the Hammer-inspired story, “The Crimson Terror,” about which I know nothing. But given his love of Hammer and of period drama and horror, I’m hoping it’s a return to his “Unquiet” form.

He has another script coming up this year, and I hope to God that it will be good for once.

The cast did fine.

The cast did what they could.

I didn’t love either Clara or the Doctor in this one, though it had nothing to do with the performances.

I'll never criticize Matt Smith, and how could I go after Jenna-Louise Coleman since I masturbate to her? 

Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones) and David Warner (of many things, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze) are both great, though I wasn’t really sure why the professor behaved the way he did.

Is it me, or should I worry that Anderson highlighted the fact that someone was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as a POSITIVE?

He’s an old guy who likes music. Were there old Russian guys who were that laid back?

I have no idea. Part of me wonders if the professor wasn’t written to be a younger man, but when they found out they could get David Warner, they jumped on it.

I think David Warner was miscast.

If the episode works at all, and I think I did ultimately enjoy myself,


it’s due to Douglas Mackinnon’s excellent direction. He stole the show completely.

The director stole the show.  Think on that for a moment. 

It’s very difficult to work in such tight quarters and still make it cinematic. I thought this was handled incredibly well, especially with the water and the lack of light and the low ceiling and all the rest of it.

Broken clock strikes again.

The design of the Ice Warrior itself was quite lovely.

Yes, Ice Warriors are suppose to be lovely.

The updated look of the battle armor was new enough to make sense but samey enough to remind us who the Ice Warriors were in their ’60s and ’70s appearances.


The look of the out-of-armor Ice Warrior was interesting.

The look of the out-of-armor Ice Warrior was appalling.

I’d have liked to see a shot of his whole body as his arms were very thin, but his head was about the size of something that would fit in the helmet. Cool idea, overall.

This was a bastardization of the Ice Warriors.

So, in the end, masterful direction with a great monster help solid but uninspired performances in an interesting but ultimately troubled script.

So, in the end, despite being a bad episode, I was pleased enough to overlook everything about it and call it a masterpiece.

Mild “like” from me. It’s an episode I’ll definitely watch again.
SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!

I'm intellectually dishonest but contractually obligated to like anything Mark Gatiss pulls out of his ass. 
Next week’s episode, “Hide,” written by Neil Cross and directed by Jamie Payne, looks pretty terrifying. If “Cold War” represents the time-tested approach to the show, “Hide” looks like a complete departure. Very excited for it.

Seriously, dude.  You get excited for almost every episode that is coming up.  Aren't you ever in a 'this one doesn't look too good' mood?