Reviews

Something That Matters

Apr
27

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

Wow.  Where do I start?
 
Maybe it's best to back up and explain that in the lead-up to Series Six, especially in the last couple of weeks, I've been doing my desperate best to avoid seeing any spoilers for the series - I've even avoided some of the official BBC news items.  Hopefully this attempt at isolationism will allow me to come to the series with a suitable sense of surprise as new plot points are revealed to the Doctor and his Companions. (If you've already read all the spoilers, you'll probably be able to tell me exactly where I'm going wrong in my analysis and speculations, but please don't.  I really want to find out in my own time, by watching the episodes.)  I have to say, I found plenty of surprises, but even more tantalizing tidbits that could be either clues or red herrings (with Moffat you never know).
 
From the moment in the prequel when Nixon assures his caller that "there are no monsters in the Oval Office" (a beautiful political double entendre that you can apply to your administration of choice), it's clear that we're in for a doozy.  And the action really is pretty much non-stop from the rapid strides of an irate monarch right through to the moment we hear the sting into the credits.
 
As I understand it, one of Moffat's goals was to make the season opener feel more like the finale in scope and drama.  For my money, he's done it.  Surely there has never yet been a single episode so crammed full of quotable (and quite possibly notable, in terms of story arc) quotes.  Some are just plain hilarious (like the exchange when the Doctor's asserts that River's wearing her "'he's hot when he's clever' face"), some are poignant ("We do what the Doctor's friends always do:  what we're told."), and some set off little alarm bells ("You lot.  Thought I'd never get done saving you...").
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When Religion Meets Who

Apr
20

Review of Kinda (#119) - Mara Tales, Part 1

DVD Release Date: 12 Apr 11
Original Air Date: 01 - 09 Feb 1982
Doctor/Companion:   Five, Adric, Tegan Jovanka
Stars:  Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Janet Fielding
Preceding StoryFour to Doomsday (Five, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)
Succeeding StoryThe Visitation (Five, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)

In the UK, Kinda and Snakedance were released together (in March 2011) as a boxed set called Mara Tales.  Due to that fact, not to mention the fast-approaching premiere of Series Six, I've decided to post my reviews of both DVDs together.  It's my hope that that will also allow me to provide a sense of continuity between the two, which comprise the only appearances of the antagonist/creature known as the Mara.

Kinda is all about Story.  There are grand ideas and deeper themes that actually kind of obscure the regular characters.  More than in most cases, the Doctor is swept up in events around him, and things just happen to, rather than because of, him; his presence (unlike Tegan's) is really inconsequential.  That fact alone makes it a rather atypical story, even before considering the aforementioned themes.

Further, the Companion dynamics are a bit odd.  Although this is smack in the middle of Nyssa's time in the TARDIS, she appears for a total of about 3 minutes in the entire story, at the very beginning and end.  The others get separated early in the first episode, leaving Tegan to play her key role in the unfolding drama, while Adric tags along with the Doctor.  When Tegan and Adric finally are reunited, they snark at each other so much you wonder how no blood has yet been shed in the TARDIS.  In fact, it was this exchange - which painted Adric in a particularly poor light, as a self-absorbed ass - that finally gave me a better sense of why so many fans dislike him so thoroughly.

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Mutiny of the Botany

Mar
23

Review of The Seeds of Doom (#85)

DVD Release Date: 08 Mar 11
Original Air Date: 31 Jan - 06 Mar 1976
Doctor/Companion:   Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars:  Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding StoryThe Brain of Morbius (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding StoryThe Masque of Mandragora (Four, Sarah Jane)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes Tom Baker's performances as Four leave me a bit cold.  Not this time.  I can't exactly put my finger on why, but The Seeds of Doom really worked for me.  From the opening moment in the Antarctic (is that Hoth?) to the closing moments where the Doctor and Sarah Jane have a timey-wimey moment, this is a classic, full-on romp.

Obviously, there's personal danger and a threat to the entire planet, but the baddie is amusing (you know he's bad, because he wears his black leather gloves inside, and all the time) and the alien menace is suitably absurd.  Most of the effects used to realize said menace are also pretty good, as Who goes, though the spanner one character uses to bludgeon another was very obviously rubber (spanners aren't generally so wobbly), and I have to admit that the camera-flash-on-a-stick "laser guns" literally made me laugh out loud.

One thing I really enjoyed about this story was the "flash-forward" meta-references, only noticeable from this future perspective.  Several times I was put in mind of other Who episodes (like Midnight, while the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and some of the baddies are holed up, hiding from the Krynoid), and one can't help but draw the parallel with Fargo when the composter is introduced.

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An Eye to the Future

Mar
16

Review of The Ark (#23)

DVD Release Date: 08 Mar 11
Original Air Date: 05 - 26 Mar 1966
Doctor/Companion:   One, Steven Taylor, Dorothea "Dodo" Chaplet
Stars:  William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane
Preceding StoryThe Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve (One, Steven)
Succeeding StoryThe Celestial Toymaker (One, Steven, Dodo)

Although we don't really figure it out until halfway through, The Ark is sort of two stories wrapped into one. Beginning with a rather typical "outsiders bring harmless-to-them germs into a closed population, threatening to wipe out said population" plot, the story soon takes a turn toward more socio-political themes.  Groups are set against each other and make plans of varying degrees of stupidity and brutality.  Obviously, this being Doctor Who, there's also a time-travel twist to the tale (which I won't completely spoil here), but that is primarily clever storytelling rather than a necessary element for plot advancement.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the story, at least on the surface, is the abysmal quality of the monster-of-the-week, which is poor even by Doctor Who's standards (and that's saying quite a lot!).  The actors playing the Monoids could not have been comfortable with body-length rubber sheaths that included huge (clearly visible) zippers up the back, mangy wigs draping down over half their faces, and ping pong balls painted as eyeballs in their mouths.  Every time one of these pathetic critters waddles on set, you can't help but snicker and think about the mechanics of wearing the costume (particularly the moutheyeball - nor does it help to learn that it actually was ping pong balls they used).  Yet somehow, the Monoids manage to fulfill their literary roles in (both parts of) the story relatively well.  Clearly that's a testament to the quality of the tale the writers had to tell.

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It's All About Perspective

Feb
23

Review of The Mutants (#63)

DVD Release Date: 08 Feb 11
Original Air Date: 08 Apr - 13 May 1972
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Jo Grant
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding StoryThe Sea Devils (Three, Jo)
Succeeding StoryThe Time Monster (Three, Jo)

When the Doctor is sent on yet another mission by the Time Lords, he and Jo find themselves on a skybase orbiting the planet Solos.  There, officials of imperial Earth are preparing to grant the natives independence after 500 years, but the Marshal has other ideas.  He wants to make Solos' atmosphere breathable by humans (which it currently isn't), rather than to Solonians (which it currently is).  Due to the experiments he has commissioned, some Solonians are mutating into strange, bug-like creatures - derogatorily nicknamed "Mutts" - which the Marshal believes should be purged from the planet.

I must admit that, from my 21st century American perspective, I saw this story as primarily a commentary on our stewardship of the environment, and to a lesser degree about the treatment of indigenous peoples by colonizing cultures.  However, at the time, especially to a British audience not yet completely out of imperial politics, it would have smacked rather heavily of the British withdrawal from India in 1947, not to mention South Africa or the then-current conflict in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe).  It's interesting to me that this story can play out on so many levels - standard Who story, allegory of imperialism, and allegory of environmental issues - over so many years.  Perhaps that's why I was so surprised at the way a different theme came across.

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