Sunday, March 31, 2013

Human Nature - Family of Blood

Paul Cornell adapted Human Nature and Family of Blood from his own Virgin New Adventure's novel Human Nature and has done a bloody good job of it with the help of a fantastic cast and a stonking central performance from David Tennant.

Human Nature starts with a zap, slows down as we establish characters and locations and then gradually picks up both pace and atmosphere as we build towards a rather brilliant cliffhanger. I miss a good cliffhanger. Whilst Family of Blood picks up the ball and runs with it pretty damn successfully.

There's more to this story than simply the Doctor v the Family of Blood. There's depth to this. There are meditations on war, on love, on loneliness, on courage, and on death. There are two of the best speeches on and about the Doctor here. Tim Latimer's (Thomas Sangster) "Fire and Ice" speech and Son of Mine/Jeremy Baines's (Harry Lloyd) "Fury of the Time Lord" speech, which are brilliantly delivered.

Then there is John Smith himself. To hide from The Family the Doctor uses a 'chameleon arch' to change himself into a human being called John Smith. The Doctor leaves instructions for Martha to look after him and then, using a rather fetching fob watch, to bring his Time Lordiness back. The process is quite painful from Time Lord to human. We never see the reverse.

What we do see though is some brilliant acting from Tennant as it dawns on John Smith that bringing the Doctor back would mean his death. It echoes the Tenth Doctor's own regeneration in a way. All that is really missing is "I don't want to go." This is Tennant's strongest performance so far as we get to see what it means to be the Doctor and what it means to be human. As Joan Redfearn (Jessica Hynes) says about John Smith in the final few moments: "In the end, he was braver than you." And there's some truth in that. To save a village, to save a world John Smith has to die. And he has to choose to die.

What the Doctor over-looked was that John Smith might fall in love, which he does. With the school matron, Joan Redfearn. Jessica Hynes is wonderful as Joan, especially at the end when John Smith is struggling and the Doctor returns. The scene when the Doctor asks her to come with him right at the end is heartbreaking. (Yes, I admit to further tears)

You also end up feeling sorry for poor old Martha who has been dragged along in the Doctor's wake, forced to play the part of a maid whilst being mocked by brats, racially abused (unpleasantly but rather gently this being Doctor Who) and constantly told off by John Smith (and others) for getting ideas above her station. I'm surprised by the end she doesn't just give the Doctor a whacking great slap and tell him to go do his own thing.

To cut a long blog short this is an exceptional Doctor Who and rather good television drama full stop. There's hardly an off-key performance. The actors playing the Family of Blood are brilliantly sinister with Harry Lloyd (as snotty schoolboy Jeremy Baines), Lauren Wilson (as the little girl Lucy Cartwright/Sister of Mine), Gerard Coran (as Mr.Clark/Father of Mine) and Rebekah Stanton (as Jenny/Mother of Mine). They're all different looking but equally sinister and creepy. Lauren Wilson's dispatch of the Head Master being a particularly nasty moment.

But there's so much to this story. The foreshadowing of World War One in both speeches and in the battle sequence when a bunch of schoolboys goes to war. The Doctor's loneliness and his alienness.

There's also what it means to be human. To be alive. In the end, John Smith was just a story but in the end isn't that what we all are: stories and memories and that part of being human is that creation of self. That there is in all of us the capacity to do great good and great evil. That it is we who decide what we should be both internally and how we are perceived by oth...

Sorry I think I've just gone a bit off the beaten track there.

I like this story. I hope you do too.

And I don't know if I've quite done it justice.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


So first off I've got The Planet of the Evil on the phone and it would like it's plot back thanks. Yes, it says it is aware that you tweaked a bit here and there but credit where credit is due, etc. I then had The Forbidden Planet on the phone pointing out that The Planet of Evil was being a tad hypocritical as it had borrowed stuff too. It's all got rather messy at that point with talk of lawyers so I stepped away and went back to writing the blog instead.

42 is fun enough. It certainly rattles along at a fair old pace, building up the tension nicely and it gives Martha (Freema Agyeman) a bit more to do than usual, especially in the 'rest' bits when she gets to call her Mum.*

There's an attempt to get a Doctor Who monster catchphrase up and running by writer Chris Chibnall in 'Burn With Me' but the story around it isn't quite memorable enough to give it oomph. In fact, 42 suffers from being a bit forgettable.

Even now bits of it are detaching themselves from me like icebergs. The constant corridors, the countdown, the dead and the dying. It's all a bit of a blur.

I remember stuff that irritates me. How does the Doctor survive on the outside of the spaceship? I mean I know he's all Time Lord hero but standing outside a spaceship that is THAT close to a Sun. It supposes he could be protected by the shielding, perhaps it is even mentioned but the fact that I can't even remember is a bit indicative.

I won't quibble at the tension it generates. Certainly, the pseudo-real time aspect of the story (in a nod to 24 perhaps) help it that regard, whilst the aforementioned Martha's Mum moments give us a bit of a breather.

It's just a bit same old same old. A bog-standard Doctor Who plot with better special effects, which I suppose as a fan of the Classic series I shouldn't complain about too much. You could put every Doctor into this story I think and it would work. Obviously, there would be less emotion. Classic Who companions spent a lot less time worrying about their families. If they even had families, which is why despite my slightly mocking tone on occasion I do think New Doctor Who companions generally have a depth to them that Classic Who ones don't. They have a life before the Doctor and - sometimes - you can believe they'll have a life after the Doctor. Classic Doctor Who companions might have the latter but don't often really feel like they had the former.

There's some solid, if unspectacular, performances from the supporting cast, although I found it hard to believe Michelle Collins was the captain of a space cargo ship (but then I bought the idea of Beryl Reid being one in Earthshock so why worry). She does a good enough job and her death is actually rather moving. The rest of the cast do a reasonable job but already I'm finding it hard to remember who was who. I can see the actor's faces but can barely remember their character's names.

Tennant is very fast-talking and confident in this, which makes the Doctor's confession of fear a bit of a show stopper. The Doctor doesn't show fear very often so we know that he's in trouble. Fortunately getting rid of the anti-matt...sorry venting the fuel does the job and the survivors can live happily ever after.

Freema Agyeman is better in this but I'm beginning to find her a less convincing character than Rose. It might be the performance, it might be the writing and it might even be the character brief but I'm just not feeling it. Maybe that will change. Sometimes you have to see the whole curve of a character arc before making a judgment.

The story ends with Martha's Mum, a sinister woman** and mention of Harold Saxon. I sense the seeds of a story arc being sown.

*Don't get me started on Universal Roaming. I may start to foam at the mouth.
**I love the fact that Elize du Toit is actually credited as 'Sinister Woman'. How cool is that? "What parts have you played darling? Hollyoaks blah blah blah...oh and I was 'Sinister Woman' in a couple of episodes of Doctor Who."

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Lazarus Experiment

You know it isn't going to end well for Professor Lazarus* (Mark Gatiss) as soon as he says that line about changing what it means to be human. Like many a Doctor Who scientist with the best intention before him, Professor Lazarus is biting off more than he can chew.

And it doesn't end well, although it does end with a nice little homage to the ending of The Quatermass Experiment as our poor metamorphosing Professor meets his tragic end in the roof of a London Cathedral. Although it's Southwark this time, not St. Pauls. The main difference being that Victor Carroon and his fellow astronauts are innocent victims of a process whereas Professor Lazarus is experimenting on himself. Even at the end, in a wonderfully played conversation between him and the Doctor, the Professor can't let his arrogance go.

The conversation, about immortality, humanity, and death, is the highlight of the episode for me. Tennant makes you really feel the Doctor's loneliness and age, whilst Gatiss makes the Professor's motivations clearer. He's not necessarily evil but he is probably a little bit more than misguided.

Other than that this is a fun enough story without setting the world alight. We get to meet Martha's family again. Martha's mother, Francine (who is played rather brilliantly by Adjoa Andoh), doesn't like the Doctor. You suspect that she is the sort of mother that wouldn't approve of most of Martha's boyfriends. A woman of high standards and expectations. Francine is also given some information by a mysterious man on behalf of Harold Saxon about Doctor, which scares her and makes her try and separate Martha from the Doctor. It's never going to work that. Nothing cements a relationship faster than parental disapproval.

This is the most obvious mention of Harold Saxon so far in Series 3 and I suspect we can expect to hear further from him (he types as if totally ignorant of the rest of the season).**

Martha's sister, Tish (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) seems to be a similar sort of a woman to Martha. Happily getting involved with the Doctor whilst being chased by a large monster that used to be her boss. I'm not sure I'd deal with that as well as Tish, but that's probably why I wouldn't make a good Doctor Who companion. That and all the running.

Her brother, Leo (Reggie Yates), gets the least to do, except getting mildly concussed and providing Martha with a chance to do her (medical) Doctor thing.

Mark Gatiss is rather good as Professor Lazarus.*** His cold dismissal of his wife, Lady Thaw (Thelma Barlow), after his experiment has been a 'success' is one of the nastier moments in Doctor Who being ruthlessly and unpleasantly human.

I've already mentioned David Tennant's rather good in this story, where he gets to be rather old school Doctor-ish. In that sense, this is an old school Doctor Who story. Replace the Tenth Doctor with the Third. Swap Martha for Jo Grant and Martha's family for UNIT and you'd have a rather nifty Pertwee story. The Doctor even reverses the polarity - and makes a joke about how rusty he is at doing it as it's been a while - for heaven's sake.

A good effort, entertaining, old school and with one or two wonderful moments this isn't bad.

*The other person in this story who you know is going to get a bad end is the 'the only danger in here is choking on an olive' woman. Her sarcastic response to the Doctor is effectively her death sentence. That and her inability to actually RUN.

**Look it is impossible to forget everything from future episodes. I try not to let it clog up the reviews of individual stories but for me to pretend I haven't seen them would be rather silly. Sometimes I wish I hadn't. Imagine that. Lots of Doctor Who I'd never seen.

***Ah, the subtle choice of name to indicate something about a character. OK, the Professor doesn't come back from the dead but it is a bit of an obvious fate mark isn't it. If the experiment had been The Lazarus Experiment run by Professor Hastings then I'd have accepted that. Alright, maybe this one complaint is one just for me. [Folds arms in curmudgeonly fashion]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Daleks in Manhattan - The Evolution of the Daleks

The first two-part story of Series 3 rolls out The Daleks, again. It plops them in New York. I think this was supposed to be something of a blockbuster but it doesn't quite work. I suspect we should refer to it as Disappointment of the Daleks going forward.

This isn't entirely the fault of Helen Raynor, who wrote it or James Strong, who directed. It just seems to be one of those stories that in practice doesn't do what it might have been able to do on paper.

Of the two episodes, I think Daleks in Manhattan works best. It does a fine job of getting all its ducks in a row for The Evolution of the Daleks. Unfortunately, then the ducks go off on a drunken rampage.

We meet our main principles. Being Doctor Who some of them will die. Of course. We have Mr. Diagoras (Eric Loren) who has gone from building foreman to Dalek minion; the lover Laszlow (Ryan Carnes) and Tallulah (Miranda Raison); Frank (Andrew Garfield) and Solomon, the voice of - er - wisdom (Hugh Quarshie). Oh and the Pig People. The poor pig people. Of whom Laszlow, kidnapped from the theatre, is one. The Tallulah-Laszlow story is rather sweet but peripheral.

I have to confess to like Tallulah. I know she's a little bit of a cliché but Miranda Raison makes her one of the more vivid of guest characters. In comparison, most of the others fade into the background a little. With the exception of Hugh Quarshie who does a fine job of being the 'good guy in the real world' making Solomon more than just a cipher.

We get to see the Daleks before the Doctor works out they are here, which is nice. There is no point in hiding them because the title gives it away a tad. Helen Raynor fails to take a leaf out of the Terry Nation Big Book of Doctor Who Writing Tips, which would mean their appearance is the end of episode cliffhanger. Instead, our cliffhanger is the first sight of the hybrid Dalek Sec: "I am a human Dalek." he wheezes. Cue titles.

Unfortunately, the hybrid's make-up doesn't really work. It looks too much like a mask, which brings us back to the danger of tentacles in Doctor Who. Even small ones. That puts the whole story a little on the back foot. The whole transformation sequence, from the moment Dalek Sec throws out a vast wave of green guck to absorb Mr. Diagoras (but keeps his suit in almost perfect condition), doesn't quite work for me. It's all a bit silly.

Evolution of the Daleks itself has one brilliant thread running through it and that's the Daleks themselves. Their devious plotting, their secret meetings and their 'not convinced by this' look at the newly hybridized Dalek Sec are brilliant. The Daleks are always at their best when they are at their most devious. And they're the best thing in this episode.

You know Dalek Sec is in trouble and both he and the Doctor seem ignorant of the sly glances and suspicions of the Daleks. The problem is, of course, Dalek Sec is too human (and seems to prefer the human side of his personality to the Dalek one). He's shocked when the Daleks kill Solomon, especially as they've waited kindly for Solomon to finish his speech. He realizes that the Daleks as they are will survive. Nothing more. Nothing less. Dalek Sec wants more. Unfortunately, he's forgotten too much of his own Dalekness to remember what they're like.

The new Human-Dalek hybrids will be without tentacles. They'll be more human, which is really the final plunger in the coffin for Dalek Sec's colleagues who rebel creating an army of Human-Dalek hybrids that are physically human, mentally Dalek. So basically Cybermen without all the armour.

The Doctor, of course, foils this plan. The last Dalek, Dalek Caan, does the emergency temporal transfer thing and escapes. Probably to avoid the Doctor's offer of help. I'm not quite sure why Dalek Caan doesn't shoot the Doctor at this point rather than let him deliver a speech about compassion.

The Tenth Doctor is a little irritating in this story. All death wish, pontificating and shouting. He wins, of course, but at something of a cost. Lots of innocent - and not so innocent - people die in this story. Lots of them. It's rather brutal.

So - putting my best Tennant sad face on - I'm sorry. So sorry. But this isn't great. There are some good ideas in here, some nice performances and some good moments but it doesn't work. Like Fear Her or going back further Battlefield there's a good story in here that didn't quite make it.

I think partly because of the whole Human-Dalek thing. Dalek Sec's just a distraction in the end from the brilliant sneakiness of the actual Daleks (and is hamstrung by a slightly wooden delivery).

If the story had been just the Daleks lurking in the sewers trying to convert humans into Daleks then I think Season 22 would probably want to have a quiet word.  (As might Resurrection of the Daleks).

Anyway onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I love Gridlock.

It seems to slip most people by but I absolutely love it. All the stuff that seems to put bees into people's bonnets, I couldn't care less about. Irish cat person has kittens with humans. Well done them. Elderly, happily married lesbian couples. About bloody time.

These are but petty things.

The reason I love this story is that it is a perfect illustration of why the Doctor (and Doctor Who) is so brilliant...or in the words of Thomas Kincade Brannigan (Ardal O'Hanlon), 'a little bit magnificent'. The Doctor's unwillingness to accept the status quo, to ask the questions that other people won't ask and to look for solutions are all shown in style by the Tenth Doctor in this story. His willingness to risk his own neck for someone - Martha - who he hardly knows is as indicative of the Doctor's magnificence as The Fifth Doctor dying to save Peri. He bought her here. He's going to bring her back.

So with Sonic Screwdriver in hand, he climbs downwards towards Fast Lane where the kidnapped* Martha has found herself. Down in the smoke and the dust, where lurks the unknown. A place where legends tell of disappearing cars (which we've already seen by that point) but what terrible creatures are doing all this...?

Well, bloody hell, it's the Macra. A one-off Doctor Who monster from the Classic Series. De-evolved to be just large and aggressive their appearance is a nice little tidbit for the old school Doctor Who fans. One of those little references which we're allowed to pick up on but probably mean nothing to most of the people watching.

Martha and her captors (who btw are probably the nicest kidnappers the Universe has ever seen), Cheen (Lenora Critchlow) and Milo (Travis Oliver), find themselves in real danger but Martha is confident that the Doctor will think of something. But in the end, as Cheen, points out 'we're relying on a stranger to save us'.

And that may become a very important line.

It is also one of those lines that contain a seed of a deeper truth. Sometimes we do need to trust a stranger to save us. Sometimes a stranger might be the only person who can. (Sorry, I came over all American there for a moment).

But again Martha puts into words what this story is all about: "You've got your faith and your songs. I've got the Doctor." And so do we.

Running parallel to this is Novice Haine's (Anna Hope) and The Face of Boe (Straun Roger - the voice at least). We can tell from the cars that something isn't right about these perpetual traffic jams but it takes Novice Haine to explain what happened and why. Novice Haine's leftover from New Earth doing penance for her sins. As the Doctor realizes she could have left but she stayed and she helped the Face of Boe protect the people of the under-City from catastrophe.

The Face of Boe gets to deliver his big secret, even if it has to be couched in vagueness, as he dies: "You are not alone." He says to the Doctor, but what does that mean. Perhaps we'll find out later.

There's a fantastic little scene at the end where - as the City sings 'Abide With Me' - The Doctor explains to Martha what happened to his people and his planet. Why he lied to her at the beginning of the episode. I love this scene. I'm not sure if it is Tennant's performance or 'Abide With Me'** that does it but I'm afraid I got a little tearful at the end.

Here he is, The Doctor, all alone but still prepared to risk everything for a person he hardly knows and saving the rest of the world in the bargain. How can that not be a little bit magnificent?

Doctor Who: it's bloody brilliant.

*If you've come looking for a blog with a coherent grip on plot details then you're in the wrong place. This is purely post-watching impressions only I'm afraid. If you want to know what happens in a story: watch the story. ;-)

**Abide With Me is a bit of a tear-starter for me. It reminds me of my Mum because it reminds her of her late father. It's a little bit hard to explain why it makes me sniffle but it does. And at the end of this episode...Perhaps it reminds me that I'm not quite as hard-bitten and cynical as I like to pretend.

The Zygon Who Fell To Earth [Eighth Doctor+Lucie Miller]

The Zygon Who Fell To Earth starts off as a reasonably light-hearted story with its slightly camp Zygons and its Doctor and Lucie on a Lake District holiday vibe. But it ends with the Doctor colluding in something that I suspect may be a terrible, terrible mistake.

In the end, it is rather a dark tale but brilliantly told by writer Paul Magrs.

This review may be a tad short as I don't want to give away too much in the way of spoilers and I think this is a story better enjoyed if you come to it fresh. That may be hard to do since it was released five years ago but hell, I'll give it a try.

The Doctor and Lucie have arrived in the Lake District. Intending to meet up with the Wordsworth and Co the TARDIS has dumped them in the 1980s and they find themselves staying with Lucie's Aunty Pat (Lynsey Hardwick), who we last met in Horror of Glam Rock and who it turns out owns a hotel with her husband, Trevor (Steven Pacey, formally Del Tarrant of Blake's 7).

There are rumours of a monster in Grassmere and as we quickly find out that Trevor, who is apparently an ex-folk singer, has secrets of his own. And his past, in the form of Mr. Urquat (Malcolm Stoddard) and Mr. Mims (Tim Brooke-Taylor, formerly of The Goodies), is catching up with him.

Lucie and the Doctor, of course, get involved. There's danger, derring-do, sacrifice, love and heartbreak to follow plus a fine selection of Zygon sound-effects and talk of organic crystallography.

It's well-acted by all concerned, especially Lynsey Hardwick and Steven Pacey, who get to cover the most emotional ground. Tim Brooke-Taylor does a fine line in slightly camp villainy and Katarina Olsson - who hasn't even got a Wikipedia entry for heaven's sake, despite her Big Finish heroics - pops up again.

Sheridan Smith gets to have fun and Paul McGann gets to do a couple of proper Doctor-ish things, which is nice.

I really enjoyed this darkness and all. It's well-paced, well-performed and rather clever. Funny in places and moving in others if you want to dip your toe into Eighth Doctor audio this might not be a bad place to start, even if it does have a call back to The Horror of Glam Rock. You don't have to have heard that to understand the relationships as Aunty Pat does a fine job of explaining them.

Excellent work.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Shakespeare Code

So Martha's second story drops us into London, 1599 as a thank you according to the Doctor. A one-off trip. As they're in London, 1599 then why not drop into the Globe - the original one - and see a Shakespeare play and - indeed - Shakespeare himself.

Of course, being Doctor Who, that can't possibly be the end of it. In the background are three 'witches' aka Carrionites. The Carrionites are another of those races from 'the dawn of time' that no one is sure were 'legend or reality'. It's good the dawn of time. It's always coughing up these new races for the Doctor to go head-to-head with.

The Carrionites have a science-based on words, rather than numbers. Or at least I think that's what they have. There's a lot of talk about the power of words, which is nice. I like it when Doctor Who takes things like words seriously. There's also a lot of buttering up of J.K. Rowling, perhaps in the hope of getting her to write an episode.

Anyway, the Carrionites have manipulated Shakespeare into writing 'Love Labour's Won', which ends with a nice speech designed to summon their sisters from the dark place into which the Eternals - nice bit of Classic Who throwaway there - have banished them. It was Shakespeare's grief at the death of his son, Hamnet, that freed them in the first place.

There's a lot of talk about Shakespeare's genius and I'm not going to knock that. The man clearly was a genius. There are few writers who can open up the human mind and personality quite so perfectly as Shakespeare does in his best plays. Gareth Roberts has some fun with Shakespeare's appearance, with Martha commenting on him 'not looking like his portraits' and with his sexuality. He flirts with both Martha and the Doctor - "57 academics just punched the air" - although he seems much more interested in Martha.

Gladly there's no Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare nonsense. Nothing more irritating than Shakespeare denialists who seem keen to establish that no 'mere' actor could possibly have written such great works. They must surely be the work of an aristocrat. This is just plain snobbery in my opinion. I find it astonishing that some of the people who believe this - Derek Jacobi I'm looking at you - are actors themselves and clearly have a surprisingly low opinion of their own profession.

Sorry about that. Back to Doctor Who.

This is Martha's second story and Freema Agyeman does a fine job asking all the dumb questions - butterflies and grandfathers - that you and I would ask and generally having a fantastic time being in the past. I like the fact that Martha actually comments on the smell. The one thing time travel films and television often overlook in all their keenness to get things accurate is how smelly the past must have been. Seriously. Shakespearean London must have stunk.

Tennent has fun with this too, although I'm not convinced by his shouty-angry bits. I think he struggles occasionally to make them convincing, like Sylvester McCoy. But as I said I like that. The Doctor is always more terrifying when he's quiet - see Matt Smith in The God Complex. Tennant's not always a bad shouty actor but rage is not always his thing.

The Shakespeare Code is the third in a line of what can only be referred to as 'The Celebrity Historical', after Dickens, Queen Victoria and Mme De Pompadour. It's becoming a bit of New Doctor Who trope. And we don't just get Shakespeare, we get a special guest appearance from Queen Elizabeth I at the episodes end. Time travel as OK Magazine.

I like Dean Lennox Kelly's Shakespeare. He's Shakespeare as rock star. Not quite as pretentious as Jim Morrison but chilled out, self-confident and charismatic. Of course no one has a clue what Shakespeare was like in real life. He could have been as dull as an accountant of cliché but you have to assume, based on his writing; the fact that he acted and ran a theatre company that he was a tad more interesting than that. The episode skirts around the issue that I got annoyed with in the Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley Big Finish stories, which is undermining the power of Shakespeare - or Mary Shelley - by making it look like all their ideas were fed to them by the Doctor or their experiences with the Doctor. Fortunately it doesn't quite go that far, although there's a good running joke about Shakespeare stealing lines from the Doctor that are Shakespeare's lines. Or will be.

Again though this was good fun. I've probably taken it far, far too seriously above but I enjoyed it and as I've said before in this blog, as far as I'm concerned the biggest sin that Doctor Who can commit is to be dull and The Shakespeare Code is anything but that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Smith and Jones

Well, that was nothing if not fun.

So it wasn't too taxing on the mind and the plot wasn't one of Doctor Who's most memorable and I suspect some of the science doesn't make much sense but hey ho none of that is the point of Smith and Jones.

The point, of course, is to introduce us to Martha Jones and get her aboard the TARDIS and so it does. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) is a medical student. Not just a medical student though. O no. This being new Doctor Who she's a medical student with a family. A family with complications. What was it Tolstoy said: "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Or to paraphrase, happy families are boring. Unhappy families. Complicated families. They're interesting. Well, if you're in a soap opera. Obviously. If you're in Doctor Who then your complicated family is a set of plot points and/or hostages to fortune.

It seems a bit sudden to jump from the Tylers to the Jones but this is television and we must keep moving onwards. The Doctor has a couple of 'Rose' moments in this episode but he's a lot less mopey that he was in 'The Runaway Bride', which is good.

He does kiss Martha. But that's just a genetic transfer and it means nothing. To the Doctor. Who clearly hasn't learned anything in 900 years. Or doesn't care. Which I hope is not the case. There's a bit of flirty banter (a phrase I hope never to use again) at the end of the episode but Martha's hooked alas.

Which might be a problem going forward. This tendency for New Who Companions to be in love - or lust - with the Doctor may or may not get irritating. We're only on the second one though so let's be generous and wait for a little.

Freema Agyeman does a reasonable job in her first story, which doesn't ask for a huge amount from her. She does enough to make you like her though, which is half the battle. More so in her case, as Rose was - generally - a pretty popular companion. She does a fine job at running after, alongside and (rarely) in front of David Tennant down various hospital corridors, which may turn out to be a more important skill than it looks. Tennant looks like the sort of bugger that can run fast so it must be a hell of a hassle trying to keep him and whoever is running with him in the same frame. Thin as a blinking whippet that lad.

Tennant's fun in this. It's pretty light-hearted most of the time but I like his attempt to look like an ordinary member of the public when he stumbles across Florence Finnegan (Anne Reid) up to no good with the MRI scanner. I could have done without all the Rontgen Radiation silliness myself but we're making a family show here so some childishness might not be entirely in the wrong place. (And if someone out there can tell me how to put an umlaut over the o in Rontgen, I'll be very grateful. There's supposed to be one apparently)

Anne Reid is an astonishingly brilliant actress who is clearly having fun here. Or I hope so. I said that about a film once and it turned out the cast were having an awful time and hated every moment of it. But Anne Reid's appearance, like that of Roy Marsden as Mr. Stoker (Dracula reference ahoy!) is one of those where you think...blimey you've got a fantastic actor here. Can't we give them a better part? Or parts. Anyway, I'm quibbling really because both Reid and Marsden do well with the parts they've got.

Oh and kudos for whoever thought of the straw.

We also meet the 'space rhinos' aka the Judoon. They look great, stomp about impressively but aren't really the villains. It's a nice idea and I like the language. You'd think they'd have a more sophisticated way of marking people than a bloody great marker pen though. Oh, and wouldn't you have thought that knowing they were looking for a Plasmavore they might be aware that she could change to appear human or did the Judoon chief miss a meeting?

But I quibble. I enjoyed this and I'm interested to see how Martha's story develops. I've not said much about her family at this point, although it was nice to see Trevor 'Mindwarp' Laird appear. I always enjoy the rare occasions when an actor who has appeared in Classic Who crops up in New Who. I'll say more about the family as and when they appear.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Runaway Bride

Welcome to the 200th Patient Centurion blog. Alas, not quite the 'special' I'd hoped for, which is my own fault. Maybe for the 250th.

It's The Runaway Bride. Whoop, whoop! The 2006 Christmas Special plus the first New Doctor Who story without Rose Tyler. A new era in a new era.

Rose might not be in The Runaway Bride but the Tenth Doctor is haunted by her throughout this story. Her departure certainly seems to have cut the Doctor to the quick but in these more emotional days, I suppose he can't be seen to get over her instantaneously. She's not Dodo after all.

So for this story, the Tenth Doctor gets a temporary companion, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). Donna is the titular Runaway Bride. Very loud is Donna. Very shouty. It was the loudness of the performance that was to put one or two people off the idea of her return but that was to forget that this was supposed to be a one-off performance.

Still, Catherine Tate is good. She's funny, she does confused exceptionally well and she also does the quiet moments well. The scenes at the end of the episode are brilliantly played with David Tennant. Her horror-struck realization at the Doctor's final solution to the Racnoss problem and her command for the Doctor to 'find someone' because he sometimes needs someone to stop him are both nicely played. But only a fool would think that because Catherine Tate was - at this point - best known for being a comedian that she couldn't act.

David Tennant's good in this too. He gets to run the gamut of Doctorishness from manic to menacing. His cold response to the Empress of the Racnoss and his execution of her children is a reminder that The Doctor is an alien and a powerful one.

Donna says that she scares him and I'm reminded of a scene from a 1995 American film called 'Prophecy', which features angels at war with one another. Christopher Walken plays the Angel Gabriel. It's fab. Anyway, there's a scene in that film where the hero, Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) is talking to Katherine (Virginia Madsen) and says: "Did you ever notice that in the Bible whenever God needed to punish someone...or whenever God needed a killing he sent an Angel. Do you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like...always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an Angel?" And that always reminds me of the Doctor in this story (and as the Time Lord Victorious later.) It is a reminder perhaps, post-Rose, for the viewer of what the Doctor might be capable of without the companionship of humans. That the gap between The Doctor and The Master might not be a big as we sometimes think it is. He's a Gallifreyan after all. He can see the big picture and he's almost certainly got "One wing dipped in blood." But mostly he's on our side, which is good. Imagine what The Doctor must look like to a Dalek or the Empress of the Racnoss?

But that is perhaps to take the whole thing far too seriously, which I'm allowed to do occasionally. It's my blog.

The Empress, who is a fantastic piece of design work, is played with panache by Sarah Parish, who is clearly having lots of fun. It must be nice as an actor to get away from playing human beings and get your teeth into being a giant half-human, half-spider. There's certainly a sense of scale to the Empress, which you don't often get with Doctor Who villains and her ship, a floating star-shaped web, looks great. It gets blown up. As you do.

The Racnoss are one of those 'ancient species' that Doctor Who writers like to bring out every so often. Ones that come from 'the dawn of time' against whom the Time Lords set themselves against. Like the Giant Vampires. Or the Old Ones. And there's some nice scientific gobbledygook about Huon particles and their dangers, which I like. Said quickly enough - and Tennant's the expert speedy speaker in these situations - it almost sounds believable.

So The Runaway Bride is a nice bridge from the old season to the new. It gives the Doctor a bit of post-Rose moping but reminds him of what's out there walking in the dust. Catherine Tate is good and it doesn't get quite as cheesy as some later Christmas specials are inclined to get. There's some darkness here, which I like.

Well worth a watch.

Oh, and I like the TARDIS car chase.

And the Thames is tidal.

And let's not talk about a whole going all the way through to the centre of the Earth's molten core (or whether the Daleks stumbled across the Racnoss ship whilst mining in Bedford) and why Torchwood was digging the hole in the first place because that way madness lies. And why RTD has never heard of Inferno.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Army of Ghosts-Doomsday

That was a pretty good ending to Series Two. Army of Ghosts did a fine job of building up the mystery and it had a series of rolling revelations, culminating in the Daleks that laid the foundations for Doomsday's denouement.

It doesn't escape entirely unscathed: the Ghostbusters 'moment' surely has to be one of the most cringeworthy in the series entire history; there's no real explanation as to how Cyber-Hartman escapes her conditioning to help the Doctor and Rose and nor - unless I missed it - do we get an explanation as to why Pete Tyler knows to arrive at just the right moment to collect Rose. But I'm sure all of these can be explained away.

I do have one major complaint. Whilst Cybermen v Daleks is one of those 'fan' things that we've all wanted to see it doesn't really work here because the Daleks find the Cybermen such a walkover. In the end, they're ghosts to allow the Cybermen reveal to allow the big Dalek ending. They're a McGuffin. They're the Vardans to the Dalek's Sontarans, which is about as insulting a description as I can come up with in Doctor Who terms.

However, it does give the Daleks some dry dismissive dialogue when faced with Cyber threats. I particularly liked: "It is not war. It is pest control."

I also liked the idea of 'The Cult of Skaro'. That the Daleks, to try and win the time war, might lower themselves to letting a small number of them think like their opponents. Perhaps they're descendants of the Doctor's 'human factor' work back in Evil of the Daleks. The fact that they all have names reminds me of Alpha and Beta. Perhaps in their downtown their play at being trains.

Fantastically directed by Graeme Harper (who must go down as one of the great Doctor Who directors) it sweeps along at a pace that means you're grateful for the occasional moment of emotion that slows things down.

We get a number of plotlines twisted together here: the Torchwood Institute is revealed in its full modern glory, headed up by Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman) working loyally for Queen and Country; the alt-Universe Pete Tyler gets to meet 'our' Universe's Jackie Tyler (and I admit I did sniffle a bit at their first meeting together, especially as it was both funny and moving); we get to see Mickey and Jake again and catch-up on their battles against the Cybermen on the alt-Earth. This new Mickey is pretty cool in my humble opinion and as I've said before his story is the quieter arc throughout the first two seasons. As Rose says, she's changed, but so has Mickey.

Which brings me on to the key change: Rose's departure. It's all nicely sign-posted throughout (and has been for the last couple of episodes) and in the end even I, who have been coldly cynical about the way Rose and the Doctor have become so bloody couplely, cried at the end. It always had to end like this sadly because the Doctor 'settling down' with a companion isn't going to happen because it is the end of the series as we know it. Perhaps there would be a market for Mr. and Mrs Doctor Who, a series set on Earth where they've settled down and gone back to work with UNIT. It could be like Pertwee's Season 7 with added kissing.

Anyway I digress. Rose gets a great ending. The Doctor doesn't quite get to say I love you (and I wonder where RTD lost the courage of his convictions on this one). Rose does. It's nicely played by both David Tennant and Billie Piper with excellent support from Camille Coduri (who is bloody brilliant throughout imo), Noel Clarke and Shaun Dingwell. All three do some lovely awkward-discomfort looks at Rose's emotions and there is the rather sweet touch of all three of theme standing there hand-in-hand.

So overall a fine ending to a mixed season. Next up Catherine Tate and 'The Runaway Bride'.

What?! What?!!!! WHAT??!!!!!