Genesis of the Cybermen


Review of Spare Parts (#34)
Big Finish Release Date: Jul 2002
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: Neverland (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: ...Ish (Six, Peri)

Years ago when I first became aware of Big Finish and had conversations about which releases were "best," Spare Parts came up again and again. It's thus been on my "to listen" list for ages, though for one reason or another didn't make it into the rotation until now.

Having now heard it, I completely understand why Spare Parts was recommended so highly. It has its pros and cons, as any of the audio adventures do, but what makes it so appealing is the way it adds to the larger tapestry of the Whoniverse—it's the story of how the people of Mondas became the Cybermen, well before the Doctor first encountered those iconic antagonists in his First incarnation in The Tenth Planet.

Any good Cybermen story needs some body horror, and we get it here, though it's not immediate; after all, we need to get to know characters besides the Doctor and Nyssa so that we can be properly appalled when horrible things happen to them. This slow burn adds to the tension as the TARDIS crew struggles with the implications of their actions on the future they know and what they believe, hope, or wish could be changed.


Absurdly Entertaining


Review of The One Doctor (#27)
Big Finish Release Date: Dec 2001
Doctor/Companion: Six and Mel
Stars: Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Primeval (Five, Nyssa)
Succeeding Story: Invaders from Mars (Eight, Charley)

Big Finish (BF) has been really good for characters much maligned for their televised appearances. While Ol' Sixie was the last incarnation to which I warmed (even before BF), Mel is one I've never quite managed to appreciate. Until now.

Last year I got my first taste of BF Mel, and while she didn't instantaneously win me over, I found her a heck of a lot less grating than I'd ever found her on television. This time around, I actually quite liked her. Not only was she clever without being shrill, the dialogue even had her poking a bit of fun at herself: "Believe me, when I'm scared, I'll scream the paint off the walls."

Similarly, Ol' Sixie was always the cleverest person in the room without being pompous or abrasive (as he often was in his televised adventures). He, too, was the butt of a gentle joke from time to time (references to his expanding girth, exercise regimen, and consumption of carrot juice all cropped up), but none of it ever felt mean-spirited or overdone.

All of this made for enjoyable listening when the Doctor and Mel stumble across a distress call from a planet in the Generios system at the "vulgar end of time," where "been there, done that" is pretty much the order of the day. The Doctor himself is legend, as they discover when they realize someone else has been using the Doctor's M.O. to run a scam—though a few things have been lost in translation.


A Song of Comfort


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

Christmas episodes are unusual creatures, trying to be all things to all viewers. There is the expectation that a large number of families, including those who don't regularly watch the show, will be tuning in. Thus, the episode should be easy to follow for those with little or no knowledge of the characters and ongoing storyline(s), and fun and cheerful for those making it part of their holiday celebrations.

At the same time, it has to be satisfying for those of us who follow the show regularly. If it's a complete toss-off, the production team risks alienating its core audience, which is also bad. Thus a Christmas special is a weird hybrid (see what I did there?) of fluff and substance that can be very difficult to execute.

As one might expect, then, there were parts of The Husbands of River Song (THORS—Ha! What an acronym!) that made me really happy and others that made me cringe a little. It's difficult even to generalize which was which. Most of the interpersonal bits were good, though some were not; most of the guest artist bits were pants, though some were not; most of the plot points were eyeroll-y, though some were not. You get the idea: par for the course.

On first viewing, though, I found the good bits outweighed the bad. Moffat's dialog was mostly rich in quotable one-liners, with the occasional battle-of-the-sexes comments that he seems to think are funny (but as far as I'm concerned almost never are). I took the lighthearted feel of a "romp" at face value that first time through, too, which meant that the guest cast (Greg Davies as King Hydroflax, Matt Lucas as Nardole (whom I kept mentally calling Unstoffe at first), and Phillip Rhys as Ramone) were all played at a just-right-for-the-occasion "panto" level of off-the-wall.


Series Nine Retrospective


All through Series Nine, it felt like we were missing key elements of the overall story and wouldn't understand until it all wrapped up in the final episode. That often happens under Moffat's leadership, but this year—to me, anyway—felt particularly arc-heavy. Now that we've got that broader perspective, I wanted to go back and look more carefully at how it might influence our reading of earlier episodes.

The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar

We began on Skaro, bringing Davros, Daleks, and Missy all back on board. As the opening gambit, the first two-parter of the series had to introduce all sorts of ideas without letting on how many of them would come back later. In some cases the recurring elements were glaringly obvious (e.g., the Hybrid); in others it was more subtle (the way the Doctor can come up with a way to "win" and make complex calculations in a tiny fraction of a second). In still others, we got the sense that something might come back, but didn't get hammered over the head with it (the Confession Dial).

Already, too, we got the sense that Clara was nearly ready to fly solo. She's truly "taken the stabilizers off her bike" and acts like a Doctor substitute at UNIT. Rather than the beginning, this is the middle of her arc. Though she will continue to get ever more reckless, she's already short some reck here. Clara is more mature and self-sufficient even than last series, and the fact that her boyfriend is "still dead" (thanks for that, Missy) further reduces her need to give any fucks for her own safety.

Then there's Missy. We've been trained by her previous incarnations to think she would show up again later in any series she crops up in once. Yet after this, she scarpers and only returns in passing mention as the perpetrator of the Doctor/Clara pairing in the first place. (It's so very the Master/Missy's style to try to bring about an apocalypse just to get the Doctor to be her bestie again.) I'm counting that as a pleasant trope subversion.


The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


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

Moffat couldn't kill a character to save his own goddamn life.

He likes to pretend he's ruthless. He tugs heartstrings with near misses and kills off minor or supporting characters, but when it comes down to it, he's simply unable to commit, even when the narrative demands it.

I had to wonder whether he was trolling himself or just trying to cut off naysayers at the pass when he wrote Ashildr's words pointing out the way that the Doctor's actions earlier in the episode had completely undermined the emotional impact of the previous two episodes. "She died for who she was and for who she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad. And it was beautiful. And it is over. We have no right to change who she was." And yet that's exactly what Moffat does.

It has become something of an in-joke in fandom that you don't have to worry when a character seems to die, because they'll just come back at some point (I still haven't ruled out a Danny Pink return). I don't think anyone was completely destroyed by Clara's death in Face the Raven because (a) we've become inured to Companion death (hers, even! Versions of her have already died in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen!) and (b) we were all waiting for the end of the series for exactly this reason. There's no "just this once" to Moffat's "everybody lives!"



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