Posts tagged ‘Doctor Who’

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor Revisited

I meant to type this up a long time ago, so here is another belated post that I can finally scratch off my to-do list.  Let’s finish complaining about Peter Capaldi’s first series as the 12th Doctor.

Kill The Moon – I really wanted to like this episode, to the extent that I tried very very hard to ignore the problems with basic physics.  Didn’t work.  This could’ve been an amazingly scary episode, and yes when the li’l beastie jumped on the Doctor I certainly did jump, but the stoopid problems with basic science kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to.

Mummy On The Orient Express – This surprised me.  A lot.  In very good ways.  When I saw the title, I expected I would despise it.  When I saw the synopsis,  I expected I would despise it.  When I saw the “next time” trailer, I downright winced.  But no, this was fantastic!

Flatline – Ditto.  This was a fantastic one-two punch from a writer who has never written for Doctor Who before.  Yowza!  Almost tied with Mummy for the best episode of this series.

In The Forest Of The Night – Yawn.  Major misfire.  Not quite as wincingly bad as Deep Breath, but a major disappointment

Dark Water/Death In Heaven – Oh dear.  An extremely promising opening.  I don’t think I’ve been that stunned at a sudden death in Doctor Who since Earthshock.  Alas, this was no Earthshock.  There is no need to bring back the Master as a woman.  No need whatsoever.  If you need a villainous female Time Lord, bring back the Rani.  Or better yet, let’s please see Romana turn evil.  Oswald’s death was utterly unnecessary, to the point of leaving an extremely bad taste in my mouth.  The mere fact that Moffat is bringing that character back for series 9 tells me he realizes how big of a mistake he made there.  And the so-called “tribute” to the Brigadier was gut-wrenchingly disgusting.  No.  Just no.  Plus … based on what was depicted here, can we assume that every single companion that has died on Earth has been Cyber-ressurected?  Amy?  Rory?  Jamie?!?  Funny thing is, with the recent announcement that this will be shown in cinemas in 3D, I asked my kids if they want to go and … nope.  No interest whatsoever.  This was so bad that they do not want to see it again, at all, not even for the gimmick of big-screen 3D.

Last Christmas – Not bad.  Well … not entirely bad.  Still a few missed opportunities.  Again, another groan out loud when I found out Santa was going to be involved, but Nick Frost sold it to me.  The dream crabs were get-under-your-skin creepy, and I loved the constant playing around with concepts of reality.  And Faye Marsay absolutely rocked!  But my biggest problem (which also relates to the end of Death In Heaven) is how many times are they going to tease Clara leaving?  Originally Jenna Coleman was set to leave the show, and then she wasn’t, and then she was again, and now she’s not again!  Screw that.  I’m tired of Clara.  I would much much rather see her leave for good and have this Doctor take Shona on a trip to go back and pick up Journey Blue.

So overall, some pretty mixed feelings here.  The highs of the series were pretty high, but the lows were pretty low.

My final tally, in order of how much I enjoyed the stories:

1) Mummy On The Orient Express
2) Flatline
3) Time Heist
4) The Caretaker
5) Robot Of Sherwood
6) Into The Dalek
7) Last Christmas
8) Listen
9) Kill The Moon
10) Dark Water/Death In Heaven
11) In The Forest Of The Night
12) Deep Breath

 

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Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor Thus Far

Now that we are halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the 12th Doctor, let’s take a quick look at the six episodes that have aired.

Deep Breath – Deep sigh.  Deep wince.  Deep groan.  This was an overly bloated and amazingly boring series opener.  Easily the worst new Doctor episode since Time And The Rani.  Actually let me think about that for a moment … the TV movie, Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Eleventh Hour … yep, I’d much rather watch any of those than have to watch this again.  It felt like this was 42 minutes of piss-poor story stretched like Cassandra into a 75 minute time slot.  And these Paternoster idiots have long outlived their entertainment value.  Much like The Walking Dead – when I start rooting for the robots to kill the protagonists, there’s a very fundamental problem in the production of the programme.  And this whole “Promised Land” bullshit is already tiring, just one episode into its so-called arc.

Into The Dalek – When I read the synopsis for this episode, I literally groaned.  Out loud.  It sounded horrible.  “Fantastic idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist.”  Imagine how surprised I was by how much I enjoyed it.  Except for the moment when the one chickadee sacrifices herself and pops into the wince-inducing Promised Land.  That one small piece of garbage totally screwed over the pacing of that part of the episode, very much like any of BBC America’s commercial breaks do.  Capaldi’s dialog in this episode, especially in the precredits sequence, sold me on his interpretation of the Doctor.  But why couldn’t he have taken Journey Blue with him?  I think she would’ve been a great companion.

Robot Of Sherwood – Another one whose synopsis made me groan at first.  I’m tired of the ship-fell-backwards-through-time-and-is-stuck-in-the-past-trying-desperately-to-repair-itself plot (didn’t we just do that two weeks ago?).  The actors playing Robin and the Sheriff were spot on, and this ended up entertaining me far more than I wanted it to.  My only complaint is with the BBC’s stoopid decision to edit the climactic confrontation between Robin and the Sheriff.  There was absolutely no need to trim that bit, and to tell you the truth, I thought cutting it seriously harmed the episode.  (Yes, I’ve seen the original complete sequence and that moment plus the corresponding dialog added a few additional levels to the story that are now missing from the broadcast version.)  Hopefully BBC Worldwide will have the sense to restore that full sequence when they release it on disc.

Listen – This is an odd one, because I downright hated it when I first saw it, to the extent that I was actively trying to figure out various ways of suppressing my forthcoming groaning as I sat down to watch it with my family.  But it turned out – watching it with an audience – I ended up liking it after all.  I think that it helped for all of us to watch it immediately after Robot Of Sherwood, because it’s a nice contrast to the Robin Hood episode.  Capaldi’s pre-credits monologue is wonderful, and the controversial barn sequence wasn’t anywhere nearly as cringeworthy as I first thought it was.  This episode does play to me more like several linked stories rather than one complete story.  In other words, it comes across to me as rather disjointed.  Perhaps one more pass back through the script polisher would’ve cleaned it up a bit?

Time Heist – What a fun episode.  Fun, fun, fun.  This is the first episode of the new series that I had absolutely no problems with.  None whatsoever.  And it still seemed to hold up well on a second viewing.

The Caretaker – I enjoyed this one far far more than I expected to … except for the last few minutes.  I honestly do not give a damn about this Promised Land/Afterlife/Nethersphere arc.  At least they learned their lesson from Into The Dalek and moved this bit to the end of the episode instead of immediately after that character’s death.  That was one of the few problems I had with Into The Dalek and I think it’s the only problem I have with The Caretaker.  The Doctor’s confrontational interactions with Danny Pink were particularly well done, and whistling Pink Floyd was a very nice touch.

Do I like Capaldi’s Doctor?  Yes.  I like the fact that he’s playing the character as more reserved/removed/callous than the previous new Who stars.  I like his snarkiness.  I like his Scottishness.  I’m glad that in The Caretaker we finally get to see him balls out angry; that’s the aspect of the 12th Doctor that I’ve been waiting to see.  “You … are a Time Lord?”  “YES!  And at the moment a RATHER ANGRY ONE!”

Do I like where this series is going?  I’m not sure.  I’ve been pretty impressed with four of the six episodes, but I don’t think I can fully answer this question until I see how the stoopid arc plays out.  So I’m liking most of the footsteps but I don’t know if I like the path they’re walking down.  Which brings me to the next question:

Why do we even NEED a series-long arc in modern Doctor Who?  I don’t believe we do.  The original series only did it twice; once as a lark since they had never done it before and once as commentary on how the BBC was treating the show.

At least Russell T. Davies knew how to do series-long arcs.  Look at “Bad Wolf” in the first series and “Torchwood” in the second – they worked because they were subtle enough to not interfere in the storytelling process for individual episodes.  “Mr Saxon” didn’t quite work out as well (I blame how they wrote John Simm’s characterization of the Master for that – he was panto when he should have been petrifying), but the disappearing planets did.  Three out of four ain’t bad.

What sort of arc did Moffat present us with when he took over?  Cracks and “Silence will fall,” neither of which are satisfactorily resolved by the end of the fifth series.  So the sixth series uses Mrs. Eyepatch to try to clean things up a bit, but they’re still left somewhat hanging until the mad expositionary scramble to tie up loose ends in Matt Smith’s final story.  The seventh series gives us “Impossible Girl.”  Meh.  The only good thing that came out of that was the Zelig-like shoehorning of Jenna-Louise Coleman into scenes of prior Doctors.  Now we’re being slapped in the face with this stoopid Nethersphere bullshit, which almost guarantees that I will end up despising this series’ two-part finale.

When the arc starts to interfere with the process of telling the individual episode stories, it’s time to shitcan the arc.

So, what is my personal order of preference for these six episodes?  Rating them based upon which ones entertained me the most:

1) Time Heist
2) The Caretaker
3) Robot Of Sherwood
4) Into The Dalek
5) Listen
12) Deep Breath

It will be interesting to look back on this post six weeks from now, after the finale airs.

 

Doctor Who: The Season Thus Far

The first half of Doctor Who series 6 (or series 32, depending on how you count it) aired over the past few weeks.  The supposed game-changing mid-series cliffhanger finale aired June 4th in the UK and June 11th in the US of A.

I love Doctor Who.  I love Matt Smith as the Doctor.  I love Steven Moffat.  But … I’m not so sure all three of these ingredients work together.  I love garlic, I love caramel, and I love beer, but the thought of a garlic caramel beer doesn’t exactly excite me.  I’ve decided that, as far as Doctor Who is concerned, I like Steven Moffat a whole lot better as an occasional writer than as a showrunner.  The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl In The Fireplace, and Blink were fantastic examples of what Doctor Who can do in terms of storytelling.  But lately?  Eh … the best episodes of the Steven Moffat era have not been written by Moffat.

Here we go ….

The Impossible Astronaut:  The Incomprehensible Script.

Day Of The Moon:  Day I Stopped Caring.  Is it my imagination or was all that Utah location filming totally wasted?

The Curse Of The Black Spot:  Is there any connection between The Curse Of The Black [blank] and pirates?  Honestly, I liked Robert Urich’s The Ice Pirates a whole hell of a lot better than I liked this episode, and I absolutely despised The Ice Pirates when I first saw it.  So the threat is essentially the manifestation of a technologically advanced emergency medical system that tries to treat humans but does not know how to cure them?  I liked this episode a lot better when it was called The Empty Child.

The Doctor’s Wife:  Holy hell in a handbasket … thank you very much, Neil Gaiman … this is the highlight of this series thus far and quite possibly one of the BEST things this show has *EVER* done …

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People:  A very nice throwback to the old show’s “base under siege” formula.  Matthew Graham more than apologises for his insipid Fear Her.  Now if only The Almost People was the end of this run, cuz that cliffhanger was far far more of a game-changer than the overhyped episode that followed.

A Good Man Goes To War:  A good friend of mine described this as A Good Script Is Hard To Find, or A Good Man Wouldn’t Do This To His Friends.  My response to that was A Good Man Takes A Hot Steaming Crap All Over Something I’ve Loved For Seventy-Eight Percent Of My Life.

Sigh … for the first time since the Sylvester McCoy era, I’m seriously wondering whether or not I’m going to bother watching the rest of the series when it airs in the fall.

Moffat is failing as a showrunner.  His last good script was Matt Smith’s first, The Eleventh Hour.  But The Eleventh Hour does not hold a candle to the other highlights of his era, Amy’s Choice, Vincent And The Doctor, The Lodger, and The Doctor’s Wife, none of which were written by Moffat.

Sigh … I love Doctor Who enough that I am compelled to keep watching it … but Steven Moffat needs to know that there are still a few Sylvester McCoy episodes that I have never seen.

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

Elisabeth Sladen died today.  Unless you’re a fan of British sci-fi, you probably don’t know that name.  But she was, along with Tom Baker and Ian Marter, an iconic part of my childhood.

Elisabeth Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who and its spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.  She was the one constant in the tumultuous period at the end of the Third Doctor’s time and the beginning of the Fourth Doctor’s oh so long reign.  As good as she was playing up against Jon Pertwee, she & Ian Marter positively glowed alongside Tom Baker.  Tom Baker’s first series is one of the balls-out best full series of Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee was always my favorite Doctor, but Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith was always my favorite companion on the show.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet both of them at a Doctor Who convention in Chicago in the early ’80s.  I distinctly remember having to push myself to work up the courage to tell her how beautiful I thought she was, since I knew I’d never have another chance to do so.  Here I was, a starstruck crush-ridden teenager telling her that.  She seemed touched, though … little did I know she had literally just gotten off a long trans-Atlantic flight and came straight to the theatre.  She felt tired, she felt worn out, she felt anything but beautiful … until I said those words and her wonderful smile lit up her face.

I still have the picture of her and Tom Baker that she signed.  Time has not been kind to it.  They used felt-tip pens rather than Sharpies to sign their autographs there, so the ink is slowly deteriorating along with the photo.  But I can still make it out: “To Robert Love Elisabeth Sladen.”  That was an amazingly happy day for me.

From what I see online, Doctor Who fandom is stunned.  She kept her battle with cancer out of the publicity machine.  With Nicholas Courtney, a lot of us knew he was ill.  With Lis, few of us did.

I’ve yet to watch all of her Sarah Jane Adventures episodes, so at least I have that to look forward to.  The BBC commissioned a fifth series of that, but I’m not sure how far the production got before her death.  Interestingly enough, what was the title of the final story of the fourth series?  “Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.”

There’s not enough beer in my world right now …..

The BBC’s announcement.

Digital Spy’s obituary.

R.I.P. Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

I can’t stop crying.

Nicholas Courtney was 81.  I know he had been having health problems lately.  He was as old as my dad.  But somehow I always thought Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart would always be around.

I discovered Doctor Who in the mid-70s, when Chicago’s PBS station started showing episodes starring Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor.  This was during the time period when our beloved Time Lord was exiled to Earth and working as scientific advisor to UNIT.  The commanding officer in charge of UNIT in the U.K. was the Brigadier, played by Nicholas Courtney.

I grew up watching Doctor Who.  As much as I loved every actor’s interpretation of the role, my favorite was always the Doctor I started with.  The ensemble during this time has been referred to as “the UNIT family,” and the show has rarely ever been able to recapture that chemistry.  Jon Pertwee will always be my Doctor, Katy Manning’s Jo Grant will always be his companion, and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier will always be there, appropriately frustrated and flustered (flustrated?) by the Time Lord’s antics.

I can’t type anything else right now.  No … wait … one last thing: I miss you, Brigadier.

Nicholas Courtney, ‘Doctor Who’  actor, dies at 81

Programs Vs. Programmes

Two things inspired this far-too-long post. The first is a comment that a friend of mine made in response to my comments about The Cape. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he’s pleased by how little stupidity comes out of his television because he never turns it on. The second is a question that my son asked me, which I’ll get to further below.

A little background first. My kids watch a lot of British television programmes. And it all started with Doctor Who.

I grew up watching a lot of British television. Thank you, PBS. Back in the ’70s, PBS was my main source of edutainment — Sesame Street, The Electric Company, ZOOM, etc. And then two things blew open the doors of my TV-viewing mind.

The Doctor and Jo Grant walked in on the Doctor and Jo Grant …

“This won’t do at all! We can’t have two of us running about.”

… and a dissatisfied Mr. Praline tried to return a parrot to a pet shop:

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!”

PBS introduced me to Doctor Who and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and I’ve never been quite the same since. Those were my gateway drugs for British drama and comedy. Doctor Who led to Upstairs Downstairs, I Claudius, Danger UXB and other BBC dramas repackaged under the Masterpiece Theatre banner. Monty Python’s Flying Circus led to Ripping Yarns, Fawlty Towers, The Two Ronnies, and Dave Allen At Large.

I ended up watching so much British television as a kid that one of the first things my first dorm roommate in college asked me was, “Are you British?” Nope, born and bred in the Windy City. But then again, he got into college on a wrestling scholarship, so he wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Even in my childhood viewing habits, I started to notice a difference. Episode by episode, I enjoyed the British series a whole lot more than what I was seeing produced by American studios. There appeared to be an ephemerally higher level of quality running through the majority of the British programmes I watched that was lacking from most (but, to be fair, not all) of the American programs I watched. The occasional American episode would hit that level of quality, but they were fewer and further between compared to what I was seeing on PBS.

This was really driven home by failed attempts to adapt British programmes for the mainstream American viewing audience. My father was a big fan of All In The Family. Thus, I got to know and appreciate Bea Arthur as a comedienne through her work on Maude. When I heard she had a new series called Amanda’s, I eagerly tuned in. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was watching an adaptation of a Fawlty Towers episode, with some dialog sections lifted literally word-for-word out of the original script. Only … it was exceedingly poorly done. The characterizations weren’t there. The comic timing wasn’t there. It was godawfully painful to watch. Which is rather appropriate considering CBS tried again with John Larroquette in the ’90s in the aptly-titled Payne. That didn’t last either, for many of the same reasons.

Some more recent failures? The BBC’s amazingly engaging Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets became ABC’s amazingly dismal Defying Gravity. But I think I’ve ranted enough about that one already. And we can also blame ABC for having the gall to try to produce an American version of the BBC’s brilliant Life On Mars. The less said about that, the better. And nobody in our family holds out any hope for SyFy’s new version of the BBC’s Being Human.

All In The Family, however, is an example of a British adaptation that actually worked. All In The Family was a groundbreaking American sitcom that worked so well I never knew it was an American version of Till Death Do Us Part until many many years later. But this level of success in crossing the pond seems to be a rarity.

Another comparison that comes to mind is how our different entertainment sources treat the same subject matter. Let’s take, for example, a disaster story involving a volcanic eruption. In 1997, Hollywood produced Volcano and Dante’s Peak. (Yes, I know, these are movies, not television programs, but bear with me here.) Volcano was just plain stoopid. Dante’s Peak was somewhat more accurate scientifically, but was still full of dippy characters and unrealistic action sequences. Eight years later, the BBC airs Supervolcano, which was well-written, well-acted, scientifically down-to-earth, and (as my boys both admitted) downright scary.

Or nuclear war. ABC hyped The Day After as something nobody should watch alone, so I did. In a darkened dorm room. I thought it alternated between being dead boring and unintentionally hilarious. The single moment that came close to getting under my skin was the few minutes they spent depicting the bombs going off. That, and Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz saying to the other talking heads (Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, William F. Buckley) in the post-miniseries discussion, “The only reason we have for keeping nuclear weapons is to see to it that they are not used.” The very next year, the BBC unleashed Threads on the world. Threads scared the hell out of me. Just thinking about it still gives me a shiver up and down my spine as I type this. And recently, I finally saw The War Game, which the BBC essentially shelved for 20 years. Shivers, again.

In 2005, Doctor Who came back on the air. I had tried to get my kids interested in that programme for years. My daughter never could stomach the low (compared to today) production values of the old classic Doctor Who episodes. As much as my boys liked Daleks, they could take it or leave it. The programme’s 2005 regeneration, however, sucked all of them in. By the time the third episode ended, they were die-hard fans. I still remember how angry my daughter was when Christopher Eccleston left the programme; she absolutely hated David Tennant. As Tennant’s first season progressed, she started to adore him as the Doctor. Then when Tennant left the programme, she was angry again and absolutely hated Matt Smith. Now, after having seen Smith’s first season, she adores him. It’s so refreshing to see her experience what I experienced decades ago with Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Peter Davison.

In 2009, in anticipation of David Tennant ending his reign as the Doctor, we had our own BBCish Christmas. Doctor Who: The End Of Time, Nan’s Christmas Carol, The Gruffalo, The Turn Of The Screw, and Doctor Who-based episodes of QI and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I also sat the kids down to show them Ghostwatch, which is a style of program that I haven’t seen done well since NBC’s Special Bulletin in 1983.

Around this time, my son asked me a question that I couldn’t answer: “Dada, why is British television so much better than American television?”

In addition to the titles I’ve already mentioned, my kids love Red Dwarf and Primeval. My boys love Sapphire & Steel. My daughter loves Coupling. My wife loves Blackadder. I love Blake’s 7. Shoutouts to Occupation, The Stone Tape, Karaoke/Cold Lazarus, Jekyll, Edge Of Darkness (Bob Peck can kick Mel Gibson’s ass any day of the week), Dead Set, and Sherlock.

That’s not to say that I think 100% of British programmes are 100% fantastic. I was less than impressed with the recent BBC adaptations of The Day Of The Triffids and The First Men In The Moon. I never could really see why people thought Benny Hill was funny. As fun as Space: 1999 was, it had more than its fair share of dumb moments, as has my beloved Doctor Who. The new Survivors was an unnecessary remake, but it was engaging enough to be watchable. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy loses a lot in its translation from radio serial to television, but it’s still funny (and significantly better than the big-budget film adaptation). I can’t help thinking the average level of quality of British programmes appears to be significantly higher than the average level of quality of American programs.

So I’m going to open this up … why is British television so much better than American television? Or is that just a fallacy on my part? Does it have to do with the the BBC being funded by license fees and American television being funded by blatant consumerism? Does it have to do with cultural differences relating to how the viewing public expects to be entertained? Are British producers shooting for a higher lowest common denominator than American producers? Or is it some sort of cultural or perceptual filter, where only the better British programmes are making their way across the pond? (That may have been true in the ’70s & ’80s, but given how ubiquitous the internet and torrents are today, I see that as being unlikely.)

How should I answer my son’s question?

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Quite possibly the best episode of Doctor Who. Ever. And this coming from someone who has watched the show lovingly since 1976.

“Halfway out of the dark …..”