Reviews

Something to Smile About

Apr
26

Review of Smile
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

[Note: It should be "Something to smiley About," but my site doesn't cope well with emoji. Clearly.]


For Bill's first "proper" trip in the TARDIS, she chooses to go to the future, "to see if it's happy." I would have chosen similarly myself (though my reasoning would've been more along the lines of, "to see how long it takes for things to become relatively 'happy' again"), and it's always a pleasure to see another writer's vision of how human history will progress.

This is one of those visions in which the future is smooth and shiny, things neatly ordered and designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Of course, even when everything is shiny on the surface (as it certainly is in "one of Earth's [carefully unnamed] first colonies"), nothing is ever completely happy. Similarly, although there is plenty to love about Smile, there are a few problems, too.

At first glance, the episode is full of lovely things. There's Bill's refreshing perspective, seeing the Doctor and his way of life through unjaundiced eyes. There's the Doctor being a bit on the naughty side, shirking a duty of unknown-to-us magnitude. There's the perfect amount of Nardole (read: hardly any). There's Bill's glorious joy in all the weird ("You're an awesome tutor"). There's the fact that the advance team appears to have been primarily (if not exclusively) of Asian Indian descent (we don't see our first white-person-who-isn't-the-Doctor until more than 2/3 of the way through the episode). There's Bill calling out the possibility of "food sexism" still existing ("Is this bloke utopia?"), and then immediately wondering—upon learning the Doctor has two hearts (why would they read him as two people but put both portions on one plate?)—if he has really high blood pressure. Then there's Bill. And more Bill...

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Time And Relative Ease Of Entry

Apr
19

Review of The Pilot
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

The opening episode of Series Ten is aptly named. The Pilot nominally takes its name from the role a particular character plays, but it could just as easily refer to the introductory nature of the episode. It is, in effect, a "pilot episode" for a new era (the Twelve/Bill era) of the show.

As such, The Pilot is designed as one of those ideal "jumping on" points. While I firmly believe (as I've stated on panels at conventions before) that a good place to start watching Doctor Who is "whichever episode you happen to see," there are a few spots in the show that are designed as easy entry points for new viewers. This is certainly one of them, and I find that to be a feature rather than a flaw.

In particular, I've already seen a few complaints that the episode was boring or simplistic—not at all the whizz-bang kind of opener (or closer) we're used to seeing, especially from Moffat. Terms like "character heavy" appear in these comments as if it were a Bad Thing™ to have stories driven by who people are instead of by what happens to or because of them. I couldn't disagree more with those assessments. Writers know that readers/viewers will follow characters they care about (even if they're antagonists or anti-heroes, as long as we are engaged with them) through hell and back because we want to know what happens to them. All sorts of goofy shit can go on in a plot (even if it makes little/imperfect sense) and retain the audience, as long as the audience cares. (I believe this phenomenon explains both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Moffat era...)

Those commenters aren't wrong about the plot being more straightforward than usual, though. On its surface, anyway, there's just a mystery of a "sci-fi" nature that involves some creepy imagery and a set piece to shoehorn in some Daleks that gets resolved with minimal brain-bending. It introduces the new Companion, sets up her relationship with the Doctor, and finishes with the call to adventure as she steps into the TARDIS for realsies.

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Stomachturn

Mar
22

Review of Mindwarp (#143b)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Oct 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Mysterious Planet (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)

I will admit, dear readers, that I cringed at the thought of needing to rewatch Mindwarp for this review. Parts Five through Eight of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL) have always ranked high in my personal list of regrettable Doctor Who stories, and I'm afraid nothing changed this time around.

There are a few things that stand out in my memory about Mindwarp, no matter how long it's been since my last viewing: the way Peri gets so thoroughly screwed over; Brian Blessed's sheer, scenery-chewing volume; and the return of Sil, perhaps my most hated antagonist ever. None of these key traits serve to recommend the adventure, nor are they improved on repeated viewing.

While I've never particularly cared for Peri, no one deserves the shitty treatment—especially in a farewell appearance—that she gets here*. Even before the Doctor goes off the deep end (and he does, though neither we nor the Doctor himself, as evidenced by his reactions back in the courtroom on Gallifrey, really know why), he is truly horrible to his Companion. The prime example ties into another of my dislikes about Mindwarp: Sil.

Given the way Sil made my skin crawl (and not in a "love to hate" way) in his first appearance, I—like poor Peri—have no desire to be anywhere near him, even narratively. When she discovers Sil is on Thoros Beta with them, and that it is in fact his home planet (a detail the Doctor neglected to mention), she tells the Doctor outright that she wants to leave. Sil tortured her the last time they met, and she has been understandably traumatized by the experience.

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Feel the Power

Feb
22

Review of Power of the Daleks (#30)
DVD Release Date: 24 Jan 17 [Region 1]
Original Air Date: 05 Nov - 10 Dec 1966
Doctor/Companion: Two, Ben Jackson, and Polly Wright
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills
Preceding Story: The Tenth Planet (Two, Ben, Polly)
Succeeding Story: The Highlanders (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)

Although we've had some brilliant windfalls in recent years in terms of recovered "lost" episodes of Doctor Who, there are plenty that are still missing in their entirety. Perhaps the most famous/famously sought-after is Marco Polo, but Patrick Troughton's first serial Power of the Daleks is also high on many peoples' lists.

Perhaps that is the reason that BBC Worldwide took the unusual step of animating all six episodes of Power. While they have previously commissioned animations for missing episodes of stories that are incomplete in the archives, this is (correct me if I'm wrong) the first story to be reconstructed in its entirety with no surviving visual material but a few minutes of clips and stills.

Although the animated reconstruction was released on the BBC Store last November (fifty years to the minute from the original broadcast of its opening episode), a physical version (DVD, rather than digital download or BBC America broadcast) was not made available in the US until late January. Being the obsessive collector I am (and refusing to pay for it twice), I therefore didn't get to see it until just recently.

The story begins with the first-ever regeneration. As a fan fifty years out, it feels oddly portentous watching that moment, even animated (though I still find the original surviving footage more moving). Troughton's skill and the lampshading of the wildly radical concept of the lead character's complete change of not only body but personality through the Companions' reactions to him paved the way for everything that followed.

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A Mysterious Plan

Jan
25

Review of The Mysterious Planet (#143a)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 06 - 27 Sep 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Revelation of the Daleks (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Mindwarp (Six, Peri)

Today I start a new review series, with an arc I've long avoided here. The Trial of a Time Lord (ToaTL) is, depending on who you ask, either a season-long, fourteen-part story or four, two- or four-part stories connected into a season arc. It comprises approximately half of the Sixth Doctors televised tenure in the role, and thus looms larger in my mental landscape than perhaps it should.

So because my reviews over the years have been particularly shy of Sixth Doctor adventures (at least the televised ones), I decided I'd finally tackle ToaTL for the first part of 2017 (with a Dalek breakaway—see what I did there?—for Power in February) before Series Ten begins.

As we begin this season, then, we see the TARDIS being pulled into a large structure in space, and the Doctor steps out—alone—into a darkened hallway. The room he enters is also darkened until, with some vaguely ominous words, someone eventually identified as "the Valeyard"—the person who is to become his major adversary over the coming episodes—reveals that they are in a Time Lord courtroom.

The Doctor is the subject of a hearing to determine whether or not he is truly guilty of "conduct unbecoming of a Time Lord." As part of his protest, the Doctor claims he can't be put on trial because he's Lord President of Gallifrey (Oh, Doctor... You sound unpleasantly like the new POTUS...), but is told that as a result of his neglect for his duties, he's been deposed.

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