Friday, 30 April 2010

The Space Museum

The First Doctor and his companions are in danger of becoming museun exhibits.

The general consensus on this story is that the first episode is brilliant, but after that it becomes a long routine of running down corridors and getting captured. While the story is entertaining enough on a wet afternoon, I can't see much reason to depart from this consensus.

There is a wonderful eerie atmosphere in the first episode. The build-up of peculiar occurences aids this. While the museum is a really dull, featureless looking set, it is portrayed mysteriously enough to generate our interest. The revelation that the TARDIS crew are in danger of becoming exhibits adds intensity to the story.

This is the first Doctor Who (and surpisingly one of the few) stories to explore the complex possibilities of time travel. It appears to be established in the story that the future can be changed.

It is just a bit disappointing that the story fails to deliver a gripping experience. It still has some good elements. The companions have plenty to do throughout the story. In fact, it is Vicky who enables the TARDIS crew to be saved through her aiding the rebels.

The Doctor's interrogation by Governor Lobo is a great scene. Hartnell puts in a great performance here in the triumph of the Doctor's will.

The Moroks are pretty unimpressive. They come across as incompetent and overly bureaucratic, though I think this makes them a little interesting. Governor Lobo's South African accent is a nice touch.

The Xerons are even more dull than the Moroks. Its rather hard to sympathize with them. They come across as a bunch of privately educated pretty boys.

It is interesting how late the pacifist tendency in Doctor Who came in. Back here in the Hartnell era, there was no attempt at a critique of violence in the stories. Here it is Vicky instigating a violent and bloody revolution that wins the day.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Time of the Angels

River Song returns, as do those Weeping Angels.

This is the first of a two-parter. Contemporary Doctor Who could do with more of these. The previous story, Victory of the Daleks demonstrates the problems of squeezing an whole Doctor Who story into one episode.

The story opens in a very James Bond style, with River Song breaking into a vault on a space ship. How she survives after exiting into the vacuum of space, I do not know. She is then picked up by the TARDIS after arranging for the Doctor to pick up a distress call 12,000 years later, a rather elaborate plan.

Things take a decidedly creepy turn as the episode continues. It has a very Aliens feel. However, it also references horror remake, The Ring. You can also feel Tomb of the Cybermen slipping in, though the Second Doctor seemed much more in control of the proceedings in that story. Here the Doctor seems genuinely fearful about the outcome. Tom Baker's line from Horror of Fang Rock about 'I've made a terrible mistake' is referenced in this episode.

Alex Kingston puts in a great performance as River Song. I am not sure I like where the writers have been going with the River Song character, though in this story hints are given that she is not being entirely honest about her identity.

One thing I noticed, River Song is much more sensible than Tegan Jovanka, removing the high heeled shoes instead of running about everywhere in them!

One thing I really don't like about this story and it seems quite common in recent Doctor Who, is a lack of imagination when it comes to sets and costumes. The Doctor and Amy visit a museum in the far-future on an asteroid which is very clearly a medieval English church. Come on, I know cardboard sets look tacky, but at least we know you production guys are trying. A cardboard set can at least look vaguely alien or futuristic, while an English church just looks like an English church. Likewise, the cleric soldiers look just like modern day troops serving in Iraq. Please can the future just look a little bit less like the present?

On the whole, this story is an huge improvement on the last one.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Twin Dilemma

The Doctor has regenerated into a rather more difficult persona. He and Peri must do battle with a big slug.

The first story to feature the newly regenerated Sixth Doctor. I am not a big fan of Peter Davison, so I can't help thinking the change to Colin Baker was more of an improvement than some fans allow. The Sixth Doctor is a much more interesting character, and offers pleasant reminiscences of William Hartnell. That said, Colin Baker does some dreadful overacting in this story and he is a times painful to watch. His attempt to strangle Peri was rather excessive.

I agree with everybody else that Colin Baker's costume is simply awful.

The Twin Dilemma is a bit of a throw-away story. It is more enjoyeable than some fans make out, but it is rather weak and badly plotted. Some of the dialogue is quite poor.

I quite like the Gatropod Mestor, despite claims by fans that he is a terrible monster. I also like the idea of a mythical Gastropod apocalypse. The Jocastan costumes are definitely effective.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Victory of the Daleks

Winston Churchill thinks the Daleks will help Britain win the war. But are they are Trojan horse?

The first Steven Moffat/ Eleventh Doctor to feature the Daleks. I am afraid I am not impressed by this story.

Victory of the Daleks has clearly been influenced by Power of the Daleks, with the Daleks' line 'I am your servant' changed to 'I am your soldier.' Appropriately, Matt Smith puts in a suitably Troughtonish manic performance. Sadly, the rest of this one does not live up to its black and white predecessor.

Too much has been squeezed into this story. It is too hurried as a single episoder. The Doctor does remarkably little.

The portrayal of Winston Churchill is rather cliched. Personally, I don't like the Doctor getting chummy with Winston Churchill. It is wrong to make the Doctor a part of the British establishment. He is not British and he is an eternal renegade or rogue. The Star Wars style Spitfire attack was an horrible piece of nostaligia fetish.

The stopping of the Oblivion bomb in the android was shockingly sentimental. No more of this sort of thing, please.

The new design of the Daleks is interesting. I can't say I object to it. Reminds me a little of the TV21 comics.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Beast Below

The far future looks rather familiar, but who is that black lady with the London accent?

The second story with the Eleventh Doctor is pretty enjoyeable.

Doctor Who has always been good at the surreal stuff and this story has plenty of it, particularly the sinister Smilers. On the other hand though, why does the far future always have to look so much like the Twentieth/ Twenty First century? This is becoming a bit of a New Series cliche. Is our time a kind of blueprint for all future periods? I am starting to feel nostalgic for 60s visions of skin-tight jumpsuits and unfeasibly short dresses.

For the first time, Doctor Who gives us a future British monarch. She is pretty cool, though I would prefer it if she spoke the Queen's English. I do think, though, that when dealing with the far future, the writers avoid being specific about geopolitical entities. One of the few things that Warriors of the Deep got right was to refer to vague 'Western' and 'Eastern' blocks. Just imagine how we would have laughed if that story had referred to the Soviet Union. I think bringing up Scottish devolution was just a bit too knowing.

Some nice dramatic tension with the main characters.

The Star Whale looked pretty cool.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Horror of Fang Rock

The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive at an Edwardian lighthouse where the inhabitants are being menaced by an alien entity.

This story is a great illustration of how effective Doctor Who can be on a low budget. With its claustrophobic setting this story has a very stagey feel, but it still manages to terrify.

This story is very simple. The Doctor and Leela arrive at a foggy lighthouse. A mysterious alien being starts killing both the crew and a group of shipwrecked travellers. The Doctor confronts and defeats the aliens. What makes this simple story work, even on a low budget, is the brilliant script writing and the sterling quality of the acting from both the regulars and guests. Tom Baker was apparently throwing hissy fits throughout the filming, but somehow director Paddy Russell kept him under control sufficently to put in a superb performance.

There is a clever continuity reference, in that it is the only story to feature the Sontarans archenemies, the Rutan, first mentioned in The Time Warrior. Envisioned as a jellyfish-like creature, it looks a bit unconvincing as a green beach ball with ropey tentacles and it is killed rather easily. However, the terror created by the cast enables the story to generate a sense of menace regardless.

The story is clearly inspired by and references the poem, Flannan Isle, concerning mysterious disappearances at a lighthouse. The Doctor quotes the poem at the story's end.

This story is the first to be produced by Graham Williams. It has something of the horror feel of the Hinchcliffe era, nevertheless it thankfully lacks some of the more gratuitous horror and violence that caused so much controversy under Hinchcliffe.

I really dislike the story Pyramids of Mars, finding it much too dark. So it is strange that I really like this story. I think the difference is that in Pyramids of Mars, we are lead too feel much more sympathy for both the cast and the non-regulars. We have the poor chap who sees his brother turned into a servant of Sutekh the Destoyer, gallant Sarah Jane Smith seeing her version of 1980 eradicated and the Doctor tormented by Sutekh's power. In Horror of Fang Rock, all of the non-regular cast die, but we are not lead too feel much sympathy for them. The aristocratic travellers are a rather rotten lot and although the lighthouse are crew are treated with a degree of empathy, old Ben is rather xenophobic. The Doctor shows little concern for the people he is trying to protect. He projects an uncanny distance from the events. As is often said, he was the most alien Doctor. Leela too, shows herself too be equally distant from the viewer in her alienness. She taunts the dying Rutan and threatens Palmerdale with her knife. When she fears she has lost her sight she begs for death. There is something fascinating about the ending with the only survivors of the story being this mysterious alien figure and this savage, brutal woman.

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Eleventh Hour

A new Doctor, a new companion and a creepy, but otherwise uninteresting story.

It was a relief to find I enjoyed this new story and felt that I liked Matt Smith as Doctor.

The first thing I am going to comment on is my usual complaint about recent Doctor Who: Sexy stuff! This is a children's show. With children watching! Do we really need a kissogram in Doctor Who? And do we have to have her staring as Matt Smith takes his clothes off?

I like the way the Doctor is introduced. He is a dreamlike figure who appears to a child and instantly wins her trust. The recent series has tended to make the Doctor too human and realistic. Here we see the Doctor as a magical figure and I love that. The roots of Doctor Who as a children's show are restored (even if this is ruined by having a kissogram in the story).

I like Matt Smith's Doctor. He has consciously tried to echo Patrick Troughton and it shows. The way he dresses, the tenderness he shows towards Amy Pond and his frantic madman antics. Patrick Troughton was probably the best Doctor and its nice to see the immitation in Matt Smith's performance. My only complaint is the way he spits out lines too fast. Dialogue needs to be used more carefully and sparing than this.

Amy Pond is clearly a woman with a troubled past. She seems to be a much stronger character than Rose, Martha and Donna. Karen seems to be a talented actress and we will look forward to seeing more of her.

The story is pretty throw-away, though it has an effective creepiness. The plot seemed pretty unconvincing, so we are not likely to see any change from the kind of atrocious story-writing that has been characteristic of the Russell T Davies years.