Monday, April 21, 2008

Review of Series 4, Episode 3: "Planet of the Ood"

Well, that was a bit of a mess, wasn't it?

First off, I'm not sure why Russell T. Davies seems to find the Ood design so fascinating - they're basically the cantina band members from Star Wars with mini-Chtulus busting out of their chins. Yeah, they made for interesting wallpaper 2 seasons ago in "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit," but was anyone besides Big Russ begging for a return visit? Even though I wasn't particularly yearning for more Ood, I went into this episode with an open mind; the preview looked intriquing and I was looking forward to seeing The Doctor and Donna's relationship continue to grow. Unfortunately, the best thing about the Ood was taken away from them this episode. That is, when they were first introduced, we were told they were a race that lived only to serve; without orders they would die. Now that's an interesting idea! Perhaps they evolved on a planet where there was another, dominant form of life and the Ood, as a survival strategy, became a "helper" species. Kind of cool, that. Well, guess what? Now we're being told that the Ood really aren't a "basic slave race." They're yet another alien race being used and abused by humans. Yawn. To add insult to injury, The Doctor even says that there is no way a race could have evolved to be helpers and that he should have known better when he first ecountered the Ood. Excuse me, Doc, but I think I've just explained how such a race could have come into existence! Not too difficult to comprehend, really. So, instead of being a slave race, the Ood now appear to be a race of peaceful aliens who carry their brains around in their hands. Yes, in the their hands. Because that would be a real evolutionary advantage and is in no way freakin' stupid. Talk about taking an interesting initial concept for an alien race and completely throwing it away to make a hackneyed social comment like, well, slavery is bad. Thanks, Doctor - I never realized that before.

The episode was set on an ice planet. Why? No reason. The cheap CGI and fake snow did very little to convince me that it was actually cold, so the "ice" was more of a distraction than anything else. I always have to laugh when actors are running around on bits of chopped-up paper spouting lines about how cold it is while sweat runs down their faces. Not to mention that you never once see anyone's breath. Have the makers of this episode actually ever been to cold a place? Wales gets cold enough to have visible breath, right? And what kind of sense does it even make to have the Ood originate on a frozen wasteland? They have no hair/fur and they all seem to wear nothing more that thin jumpsuits. But, I guess a species that evolved to include a brain that they have to carry around in their hands at all times (in the freezing cold, we now know) doesn't have to make any kind of sense whatsoever. Honestly, the setting just seemed like some mandate from the producers. "I know! Let's have an ice planet thrown in there!" And, having now watched the Confidential, I can confirm that that is exactly what happened. Russel T. Davies admits that he gave a list of "ideas" to the writer and asked him to incoporate them. What was on that list? Ood, slavery, ice planet. So, it sounds like we have Big Russ himself to blame for the crappiness of this episode.

So, the overriding concept and the setting both sucked. Was there anything good about the episode? I still like Donna. I thought the scene where she cried over the "native Ood" was nice. (Although why all of the native Ood wear black gloves just like all of the captive Ood makes little sense. I guess the budget didn't include any money for prosthetic Ood hands....) Even the cheesy bad guy - whose name I forget and I don't care enough to look it up - was wearing gloves before he turned into a Ood, which was a ridiculously stupid concept on its own. I was a little creeped out by the actual transformation sequence, though, so good on the special effects people! Oh, and there was a tacked-on chase sequence in the middle of the episode where a giant claw that was being controlled by a way-over-the-top "actor" tried to grab The Doc. What kind of factory would be so inefficient that they'd move all of their crates with one giant claw, anyway? Still, the sequence was kind of fun, if you could overlook the stupidity of the whole thing. It was also fun to see Ayesha Dharker (Queen Jamillia, Queen Amidala's replacement, from Attack of the Clones) pop up in Doctor Who. I'm a geek, I know.

Let's just move on. Maybe next week will be better. Although, I must admit, I am very surprised to see that they're bringing Martha back already. I would prefer more time to develop The Doctor/Donna relationship before throwing other companions in. And, although I did like Martha during her season of Doctor Who, her pointless and boring three-episode stint on Torchwood went a long way toward ruining that good will. At this point, I'd prefer a longer Martha break. Still, we'll see how the Sontaran two-parter works! I'm hoping for the best. At least Martha's bringing UNIT with her, after all, which could be fun. Incidentally, UNIT now appears to stand for "Unified Intelligence Taskforce" instead of "United Nations Intelligence Taskforce" (because the United Nations wasn't keen on having their name used in a sci-fi program, apparently). That's fine, I supposed, but couldn't the producers think of an "N" word to stick in there? "Unified National Intelligence Taskforce" or something?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Review of Series 4, Episode 2: "The Fires of Pompeii"

First off, I'm still digging Donna.  It's great that The Doctor now has a companion who can challenge him.  She's more of an equal than his other recent companions and has no problem telling him when she thinks he's wrong.  Her questioning of him actually drove the plot of this episode, given that The Doctor was ready to cut and run early on when he realized where/when they were.  If Donna hadn't insisted on trying to help the people of Pompeii, the episode would have been a short one!  And how fun was the homage to Mary Poppins?!  (If you didn't catch it, when the mountain first trembles, Caecilius and his family run through around their house catching busts and vases just like the Banks family does in Mary Poppins when their neighbor, Admiral Boom, shoots his canon.)  It was also nice to see the sets from the HBO/BBC TV series Rome again; I kept watching for Titus Pullo in the background.

The plot seemed a little scattered and confusing, but I just kind of let it wash over me and enjoyed it for what it was.  Upon closer examination, I'm not sure the plot really holds together.  For example, the prophets can't see that Vesuvius will erupt in one day because the volcano is not "meant" to erupt thanks to the Pyroviles, who are draining the energy and keeping it from blowing.  (That is, The Doctor and Donna ultimately make Vesuvius erupt to prevent the Pyroviles from taking over the Earth, thereby changing what was "supposed" to happen.)  That's all fine and dandy and plays into the idea that The Doctor can't always change history for the better; in fact, he sometimes has to change history for the worse to prevent a greater disaster from occurring down the line.  However, if Vesuvius was not "meant" to erupt, then how did the prophets gain the ability to see the future in the first place (since this ability was explained as a side effect of a rift in time that resulted from Vesuvius uber-powerful explosion)?  If Vesuvius didn't erupt in the original timeline, there would have been no explosion to create the rift in time that gave the prophets their precognitive powers.  Whew!  My head hurts....

There was another reference to Rose returning (when Lucius tells The Doctor that "she is returning").  Is she this season's Bad Wolf?  Lucius also mentions that Donna has "something on her back."  I'm not sure what that meant.  Any ideas?  Another continuing theme this season seems to be missing/destroyed planets.  Last episode, there was mention that the Adiposian home world had been taken (which is why the Ms. Foster was seeding the children on Earth).  In this episode, the Pyroviles' planet has been taken as well.  So, who or what is taking these planets?  Sontarans?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Richard Dawkins to guest on Doctor Who. Can Romana be far behind?

Russell T. Davies has just announced that Richard Dawkins, the celebrated evolutionary biologist, will guest star as himself in an episode of Doctor Who later this season.  As most Doctor Who fans already know, Dawkins has a couple of associations with the long-running program.  First, he was a close friend of the late Douglas Adams, former script editor of Doctor Who (and, of course, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels).  More importantly, however, Dawkins is married to Lalla Ward (aka Romana II).  Now, not that I'm trying to start any rumors - okay, maybe I am - but if Romana's real-life husband is guest-starring in Doctor Who, can Romana be far behind?  Last we saw the erstwhile Time Lady in the classic series, she had chosen to stay in the parallel universe called E-Space while The Doctor returned to our universe.  Let's see, who else in Doctor Who has been left in a parallel universe recently?  Rose, of course!  Perhaps Romana is in the same parallel universe as Rose and used her Time Lady powers to facilitate Rose's brief return in "Partners in Crime."  Could it be that when Rose returns to our universe on a more permanent basis later this season she'll bring Romana with her?  Obviously, this is all speculation at this point....  But it sure is fun to speculate! 

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review of Story 142: "Timelash"

Two classic Doctor Who stories were released here in the states on DVD last Tuesday -- "The Time Warrior" (starring Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor) and "Timelash" (starring Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor). One of these is considered a classic for introducing the Sontarans and Sarah Jane Smith and the other, well, is not. I decided to jot down my thoughts on the stories separately, starting with the one that is looked upon with derision by much of fandom, "Timelash."

First off, let me just say that "Timelash" does not deserve the horrible reputation that it has gained over the last 20 years. No, it may not be "Pyramids of Mars" or "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," but very few stories are. It's certainly not as bad as every story I've watched from the Sylvester McCoy era. Wow those stories are terrible... Anyway, I quite like Colin Baker as The Doctor. Okay, the opening scene in the TARDIS is nearly unbearable, but I chalk that up to bad dialogue more than to the actors. Nicola Bryant's American accent is as atrocious as usual, but considering how many bad faux English accents the Brits have had to put up with from us Yanks over the years, I just look on her exaggerated pronunciations as a kind of karmic payback. In any case, I like the developing relationship between The Doctor and Peri (which reaches its apex in the next story, "Revelation of the Daleks"). Their friendship is contentious, and prickly, but you can tell there's real affection there as well. They're like siblings who bicker and bitch, but always have each other's backs at the end of the day.

So, aside from the two leads, how is the story? Eh, it's okay. I still have no idea how the doctor deflected the killer missile or why it's implied that The Borad becomes the Loch Ness Monster at the end, but whatever. (By the way, every time I heard the word "Borad" in this story, I mentally pictured Sacha Baron Cohen tormenting drunk frat boys. Is that wrong?) Not everything made sense, but I'm kind of used to that from watching a lot of these things. I did think it was interesting that the story revealed that The Doctor and Jo Grant had visited Karfel long ago in some sort of missing adventure. I bet fanboys (and fangirls) flew into a tizzy back in the day, assuming that they had missed a Jon Pertwee story somewhere along the way. I did enjoy the inclusion of a young and very impressionable H.G. Wells in the story (even if if does cheapen his books a bit to imply that he just stole his ideas for The Time Machine and The Invisible Man from The Doctor). Oh, and the make-up on The Borad was pretty damn good for the time and the budget! He looked quite spooky with his deformed face and flipper hands. Not that the make-up justified keeping him turned around in his chair for the entire first episode Dr. Evil-style, mind you. That was a little over the top.

So, overall, "Timelash" was better than some classic Doctor Who stories and worse than others. It was completely middle of the road, really. I'm not quite sure why so many people hate it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review of Series 4, Episode 1: "Partners in Crime"

I just finished watching the first episode of Series 4 and I am delighted!  What a great start to the season!  "Partners in Crime" was by far the best first episode of any of the new seasons (compared against "Rose," "New Earth," and "Smith and Jones").  Then again, I enjoyed Donna in "The Runaway Bride," so your milage may vary.  While watching the episode I was reminded of an old Looney Tunes cartoon -- partly because of the whimsical musical cues and partly because of the overall comedic tone of the script.  The scene with Donna and The Doctor seeing each other for the first time half way through the episode made me laugh out loud.  Great acting there from both David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  And thank goodness they got the sexual tension issue out of the way right up front.  After three seasons of The Doctor and his companion making lovey-dovey eyes at each other, it will be great to have him travel with just "a mate."  Speaking of great, how excellent was the surprise cameo by Rose at the end?  I didn't see that one coming.  One thing I do see coming (although I could be wrong, of course) is that the Adipose will turn out to be baby Sontarans.  I always wondered what those little clones looked like as children -- and I think Russell T. Davies might be showing us.  Overall, this episode comes highly recommended by me.  I can't wait to see what happens in Pompei.  Besides the volcano, of course.

Doctor What

P.S.  The shout out to "Mad Martha" was a nice touch, too!