Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 4: “The Doctor’s Wife”

Well, that was better than last week. It wasn’t great, mind you, but it was pretty okay. Of course, I’m one of those guys who thinks Neil Gaiman hit his creative high point near the end of his run on Sandman and has been heading steadily downhill ever since, so “pretty okay” is about the best I could have reasonably expected.

So what did I like? I liked that the TARDIS assumed her name was “Sexy.” I enjoyed the interactions between the TARDIS and the Doctor in the last half of the episode, especially getting the TARDIS’s perspective on her relationship with the Doctor. The fact that she says that she chose him (and not the other way around) was great. And given that she’s a creature who sees all of time at once, her hints about the future were intriguing and useful, too. They helped Rory get into the second control room, yes, but they also set us up with a mystery for the future. “The only water in the forest is a river,” she says. Hmm. Well, that could be a reference to River Song, obviously, especially since we first met her in the “forest of the dead.” But if the only water in the forest is River, then that doesn’t bode well for Amy “Pond,” does it? The episode had a few funny moments, too, such as the construction and flight of the makeshift TARDIS and the TARDIS’s attraction to Rory.

What didn’t work for me? Well, the sets, costumes, and self-consciously quirky guest actors didn’t connect with me. The entire vibe of the episode reminded me of a Tim Burton movie circa 1998. And that’s not a compliment. Some of the plot didn’t quite gel, either. For example, how did these people get to House in the first place? They were just humans (and an Ood), right? Why did House keep the Ood around at the end, but kill the humans? Where did House get the Time Lord “help boxes,” anyway? Why did House start calling the TARDIS by the name Idris? When did she get that name? And did we really need to see Rory die yet again? This is getting to be a bad joke. Rory’s become the show’s Kenny (from South Park). The talking asteroid thing called to mind those stupid space whales from that not-very-good episode last series, too. Maybe House was a lost space whale? And I can’t say I understand why Steven Moffat, Neil Gaiman, and the rest of the crew seem to think that men want to have sex with the TARDIS. I don’t get the whole let’s-sexualize-machinery thing. But then, I’m not into cars, either.

But my biggest problem with the episode was that the audience knew within the first 3 minutes that the TARDIS has been displaced into the body of the Helena Bonham Carter wannabe, which made the next 15 minutes of the episode (where the supposedly brilliant Doctor catches up with us) rather pointless and painful to sit through. I was twiddling my thumbs through those early scenes, waiting for the Doctor to figure out what we already knew so we could just move on already. Yes, yes, the TARDIS is in the body of a human. That idea isn’t very original or interesting so can we just get past it and move on with the plot? The climax of the episode was decidedly weak, too. The emotion at the end from the Doctor and Rory felt unearned and unwarranted. After all, the TARDIS wasn’t dying; she was just leaving her stolen human body. If those two guys wanted to mourn for anyone, they should have mourned for the poor woman who owned the body originally! (Was that Idris?) I also thought they missed a great opportunity to show us more of the TARDIS’s interior. They finally leave the control room and what do we get to see? Some really lame, “sci-fi” hallways. Whoopee. Where was the churchyard that houses the cloister bell? Where was the library? Where was the oft-mentioned swimming pool, for God’s sake?! The best the production team could muster were some cardboard, hexagonal corridors. And then they started talking about old control rooms and I got excited again. I thought maybe we’d get a glimpse at the original, William Hartnell console. Or maybe Tom Baker’s. But, no. We just got David Tennant’s control room. That’s the opposite of fun.

One last thing – did anyone else catch the reference the Corsair’s gender swapping? Fans have speculated for years about whether or not Time Lords can switch genders. Now that we know they can, could a female Doctor be in the cards?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 3: “The Curse of the Black Spot”

My mom always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, I have committed to blogging about all of the episodes of Doctor Who this season, which means I have to say something about last night’s episode, “The Curse of the Black Spot.”

As I mentioned last week, I didn’t have a good feeling about this story going into it based just on the trailer (and the fact that is seemed like a blatant Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off). I tried to put my preconceived notions aside, though, so I could enjoy the pirate-y thrills and derring-do. I failed – although I think it was less my fault than the episode’s. This episode was just… not good. It actually seemed more like a parody of Doctor Who than an actual episode; it was riddled with the show’s clich├ęs – an alien masquerading as something supernatural, a decidedly low-budget feel, another oh-no-Rory's-dead scene, and a nonsensical plot that didn’t come together in the end. The script was quite bad, actually, riddled with unfunny, attempting-to-be-clever lines for the Doctor and an inadequate character arc for the pirate captain guest star. The acting was no great shakes, either. Even the regulars (Matt Smith included) seemed bored and vaguely embarrassed. Karen Gillan made the least-convincing pirate in history. (Yes, even worse than Keira Knightley.) Honestly, this episode felt like the series was just killing time. They did shoehorn in a reference to the ongoing plot with a brief appearance by Eye Patch Woman, which seemed like a token way of trying to tie this episode to the rest of the series. It didn’t work. And the scene at the end with Amy’s pregnancy scan was almost a copy/paste from last week. So why even bother including it?

As for the plot, it had more holes than a sinking ship. For one thing, why were there a total of only five crewmembers? Even at the end when the full crew gathered on the bridge of their new spaceship? And how did they all manage to walk onto the bridge at the end (including the sick kid)? I thought the “siren” had to keep them in suspended animation or some such nonsense. And is letting a crew of dangerous, bloodthirsty pirates take control of a state-of-the-art spaceship a wise decision on the Doctor’s part? Shouldn’t these guys be in jail for all their raping, murdering, etc.? Now they’re flying around a nuclear reactor with all of space to harass! Speaking of the small crew, why did one of them (the one that the annoying little kid cut with a sword to force him to stay hidden with Amy and Rory) just sort of disappear halfway through the episode, never to be mentioned again? And why would the medical hologram have an “evil, red demon setting,” anyway? And why couldn’t it speak? How does singing act as an anesthetic? Why bother making the dead aliens non-humanoid if you’re then just going to have to explain why the medical hologram looks human? And how did the alien crew die if they had this ingenious medical hologram on board with them? Shouldn’t she have healed their injuries? So many things that didn’t make sense…. And worst of all, I can’t really bring myself to care about the answers.

So, taken on it’s own merits, this episode was bad, bad, bad. It certainly ranks down there with “Fear Her,” “The Lazarus Experiment,” and “Planet of the Ood” as some of the worst of New Who. Watched right after the brilliant season-opening two-parter, though, it seems even worse. After the intriguing start to the season, I wanted more about the ongoing storyline. Or at least an enjoyable one-off. Unfortunately, this episode was neither of those things. Hopefully, Neil Gaiman can right this ship next week. Yes, I just made a sailing analogy while discussing a pirate-themed story. Not very clever, I know – which means it should fit in perfectly with this episode.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 2: "Day of the Moon"

I can't resist; I'm skipping to the end of the episode first.

SPOILERS!

I did not see that coming. So the little girl's a Time Lady? What the hey?! Who is she then? Is she Amy's daughter who was somehow born as a Time Lady because she was conceived in the TARDIS? (I'm assuming Rory is the father. Surely Steven Moffat wouldn't have Amy impregnated by the Doctor.... Would he?) The Doctor's medical scan of Amy at the end of the episode seemed to imply that Amy's fetus is already jumping in and out of time (or in and out of existence), which might be totally normal for Time Lord babies, who knows? Or is the little girl a young River Song, making that shady dame a secret Time Lady all this time? Maybe River was the Rani in a previous form. Or Romana. Or, a little more outlandishly, the little girl could be the Doctor's granddaughter Susan who hasn't been seen since the days of the First Doctor. Or maybe she's the Doctor's cloned "daughter" from a couple of season's past having regenerated from Georgia Moffett into a little girl? Or perhaps she's a combination of these possibilities. Perhaps she's Amy and Rory's TARDIS-conceived Time Lady daughter who just happens to grow up to become the Rani who later reforms and becomes a certain benevolent Doctor Song. Nah. That would be too confusing! There is one other possibility. Perhaps the child is the daughter of River and the Doctor. Remember last week, River also got sick after forgetting the Silents, just like Amy did. Does that mean that River's pregnant, too? We know from the ending that River and the Doctor had been quite intimate in her past (but his future), so if she is pregnant, that'd mean the baby is at least half Time Lord. Hmmm.... In any case, the possibilities have my mind reeling - and have me excited, waiting for answers.

So, aside from the ending, how was this episode? In a word, great! Continuing on from last week, this episode contained even more creepy stuff - Amy, Rory, and River marking on their skin how many times they had seen the Silents, the abandoned orphanage with the ominous warnings (written in blood?), the Silents hanging from the ceiling like bats, the Doctor imprisoned and looking like an unkept crazy person, Amy's disembodied voice begging for help through the communicator, and so on. If I were a kid, I'd have definitely been hiding behind the sofa for this one. I also thought the Doctor's solution to the problem of the Silents (involving a phone camera, Neil Armstrong's boot, and the televised moon landing) was creative and clever - although I am rather surprised that the Doctor would inspire humans to kill off an entire race of aliens, no matter how evil those aliens are. Actually, there was rather a lot of violence in this episode (what with River and the Doctor blasting Silents with guns and screwdrivers), which would probably be the one negative thing about the episode for me.

As with many of Moffat's episodes, the script answered a couple of minor questions but left many of the bigger questions to linger while introducing a few new wrinkles as well. As I mentioned above, we still don't know who the little girl is. And now we have to wonder about her status as a Time Lady, too! And why, exactly, did the Silents need her? And why did their ship look like a TARDIS? Also, we do not learn why the little girl (if that was her in the spacesuit at the start of last week's episode) killed the future Doctor - or why he allowed it to happen. And what was with that lady with the metal eyepatch who peeked at Amy through a peephole in the door and said, "She seems to be dreaming," only to then disappear (along with the peephole)? That was like something from a bizarre art film, and I have no clue where that's going.

Overall, I'd say this is the best opening for a Doctor Who series in the modern era. I'm really digging the scary yet funny tone and the various mysteries have me begging for more. I must admit that I am a little concerned about next week's pirate-themed episode, but I'll go into it with an open mind hoping for the best.