Tuesday 23 February 2010

Bad Wolf

The Doctor is mysteriously transported to a space station in earth's future, where he discovers a society obsessed with deadly reality shows. But who is the mysterious power behind it all?

Bad Wolf can be looked at either as an episode in itself, with its own themes or as part of a two-part Dalek story. I am going to consider it as an individual episode.

Bad Wolf might be described as a satire or parody of reality shows. Certainly a topic worthy of satire, but if this story is attempting satire it is going about it an odd way. By using the real-life trappings of Big Brother and the voices of the presenters of these shows, the story actually celebrates them. This actually makes the violence associated with the fictional shows come across as rather sick and gratuitous.

Frankly, by borrowing Anne Robinson and Trinny and Susannah, RT Davies was indulging in gimmicky ratings grabbing. Why should Dr. Who celebrate such nonsense? Our favorite show has been around since 1963. In thirty years time, will anybody be remembering the Weakest Link?

That said, the designs for the futuristic shows are very good, with the robotic versions of Anne, Trinny and Susannah. But this only brings up that terrible failing of the new series in indulging so much in visuals at the expence of story.

I like the build up of tension, climaxing in the revelation of the Daleks. In this it succeeds where Frontier in Space certainly failed.

I love the fact that the Daleks have flying saucers as they did in Dalek Invasion of Earth! So retro. And for a nice fan reference, the Doctor quotes Abslom Daak the Dalek Killer.

Again, the story triumphs when it comes to anything visual- the Controller is a stunning nod to Metropolis. She is a very well realised and acted.

Christopher Eccleston does well as the Doctor. His concern for Rose is very convincing. I like the way he seems so out of place in the Big Brother house. I am a bit puzzled by the Doctor's comment about 'Bear with Me.' A rather bad entry into the script (Steven Moffatt, please get a script editor).

Billy Piper is quite amazing in the Weakest Link scene, displaying a great range of emotions.

Lynda is ably performed and well realised. Despite her shallowness, the viewer really feels for her and we almost hope that she does become a companion. Her historical explanation for the rise of the reality shows seems a bit out of character, however. I also don't buy the Doctor being so disturbed by it. It is not his fault that people decided to get into televised murder.

Steven Moffatt, please ensure that Captain Jack dies in the next season. This is a childrens' show. It is not appropriate for a character to be flirting and wanting to sleep with every other character. Doctor Who really needs to be cleansed of all this homosexual stuff. I am sure earlier producers of the show would be quite shocked at it.

Saturday 20 February 2010


I am not a big fan of the new series, but I have watched a number of them.

In my opinion the story Dalek is a very mixed bag. In parts excellent, in other parts rather weak.

The main purpose of this story is to introduce Daleks to a generation that has never seen them before and to reintroduce them to generations that have grown rather too familiar with them. In that it succeeds very admirably.

The new Dalek design is fantastic- the glowing eye stalk, the vicious sucker arm, the bronze armour and its fully rotational turret. My only complaint about the visual aspect is that we get a full-frontal view of the organic Dalek inside. The brief glimpse of a slimy tentacled thing that we got in The Daleks was far more effective.

However, even better than the visual revamp is the action of the Daleks. At times the old Daleks were just little tanks being ordered around by Davros. This single Dalek is highly intelligent, it learns, it adapts to its situation and it manipulates. It manipulates the Doctor and it manipulates Rose. The scene where the Dalek wipes out an entire platoon of soldiers by electrifying the sprinkler spray is incredible. We are really made to believe that the Dalek, this one lone Dalek is an unstoppable killing machine.

The Dalek is helpless and imprisoned, the last of its kind. The Doctor challenges its very reason to exist- if a killing machine cannot kill, what is it good for? It may as well die.

Of course, it does not stay helpless and here we have a bit of a problem. It regains its power simply from Rose's touch. Somehow the 'biomass of a time traveller' is all it needs to recover. I don't find this very convincing. Even worse, one touch from Rose is enough for the creature to start 'mutating' and to experience human feelings. Just a little touch? We are back in the realm of dodgy sci-fi misconceptions of mutation and evolution.

Just as the story gives us a terrifying glimpse of the sheer killing capacity and rtuthless intelligence of Daleks, it decides to humanize them and make them an object of pity. This smacks of the kind of sentimentality that we get in Star Trek.

Eccleston puts in a stunning performance as the Doctor. His tension with Van Statten is great, but he shows real darkness in his dealings with the Dalek. Seeing his old enemy brings out his more violent and harsher side. His awareness of the destructive power of the Dalek gives him the conviction necessary to sacrifice Rose. There is the sense that the Doctor has had to become more Dalek-like in order to face and defeat his enemies.

Piper also puts in a great perforance as Rose. Her pity for the Dalek is inspiring, yet the knowing viewer cannot help doubting the power of her love to truly change the Dalek. I particularly liked her initial reaction to the Dalek. She sees it as a poor, lost creature. The fact is that Daleks do look rather cute and a little lovable and seeing Rose's pity for the pepperpot brings this out.

I have mixed feelings on the Van Statten character. It is a bit much to expect us to believe that this man in the near future wields such power that he owns the internet secretly, can depose American presidents at whim and decide their successors, has unlimited access to alien technology and can mind wipe anyone he chooses with the full complicity of the American authorities. Doctor Who has a great tradition of rich and powerful villains. They are an important part of the show's ethos, but this one is just a bit too much. Can't he just be some rich and powerful collector? And if he can get away with mind wiping people, why go to the trouble? Would it not be more convenient to just put a bullet in the back of people who are fired, or bump them off 'accidently'? Nevertheless, although not quite convincing as a three-dimensional character, he is deeply interesting. The Doctor's line about burying the stars exposes his shallowness.

I do object to the extent to which the Doctor and Rose are portrayed as lovers. The new series places just too much emphasis on the relationship between the Doctor and his companions. It takes away far too much of the Doctor's essential alienness.

While on sexual subjects, the line about 'canoodling and spooning' was quite inappropriate in a children's show.

The Time War concept is introduced in this story and is worthy of some comment. The Time War enables the writers to sever the link with the Doctor's Gallifreyan past and remove the need for stories set on Gallifrey. Wisely, the writers do not attempt to recreate the war on screen but leave it to our imagination. My problem with this concept is that it means the Daleks no longer exist as a race in the 21st century. This entails that somehow every Dalek story set after this point never happened (which actually means most of them). This poses a some obvious continuity problems. For instance if the Dalek invasion never took place, why is Susan not still in the TARDIS? Why is the Doctor's own past not threatened by such an incredible change to history. On a more personal level, I think this is unkind to fans. We love the old stories and the implication they may never have happened under the new Doctor Who mythos is like a slap in the face. RT Davis thinks he can just erase continuity because it is a time travel show, but this is too easy. It is not even clear if history can be changed in the Doctor Who mythos. The first Doctor seemed pretty convinced that it could not.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Resurrection of the Daleks

Why did John Nathan Turner have to keep sticking Davros in every Dalek story? His elimination at the end of Genesis of the Daleks was a satisfactory end for his character. I think the need to keep bringing back Davros betrayed a terrible lack of imagination. At least in Rembrance of the Daleks (in my opinion the best story Dr. Who story ever) he only appears briefly.

There are some who defend this story, but I am afraid I hate it.

Not that the production values are poor- the photography is superb, it has some great sets, the costumes are decent enough and the acting from the regulars and some of the guests is excellent. However, it is still a terrible story.

The biggest problem is that the story does not make much sense at all. We start the story with a group of prisoners whose origin is never explained. We move into a Dalek plot that gets more and more complex. What are the Daleks up to? Rescue Davros, cure the Movellan virus, kill the Doctor, conquer the earth, assasinate the gallifreyan High Council? How does Davros get his mind control device? Did he have it while in suspended animation? When did he learn about the Time Lords? How did the Daleks create duplicates of the Doctor's companions?

The Daleks are more sinister and evil than ever, but they are a bit overshadowed by Davros and Lytton. Of course, the Doctor himself gets pretty overshadowed too, in a story in which he does very little (in some good stories like Seeds of Doom, the Doctor does very little, but the key is that those are good stories, not bad ones). Neither does Tegan do very much. She ought to seeing as it is her swansong.

There are too many characters who are not uninteresting, but get killed before we can appreciate them. And there is far too much killing. For a show with an audience that includes a large number of children there simply should not be such an high body count.

Ironically, it must be said that Peter Davison's performance here is one of his best. He is really convicing in a script that does not convince. The Doctor happily sluaghters Daleks, but when he steels himself to kill Davros, he is talked out of it by an opponent who he knows full well he cannot trust.

This story represents everything that was wrong with the Saward-era.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Destiny of the Daleks

This is a story much attacked by fans. It has some faults, but it is still a reasonably good series.

The story begins with Romana's regeneration. A lot of people dislike this scene, but it is funny to see the different possible incaarnations of the new Romana. If Romana's regeneration has not been brought on by a crisis, there seems no reason why she should not be able to select her new form. The costume selected by the new Romana is an excellent choice; a feminised version of trhe Fourth Doctor's garb, thus preparing us for a far more 'doctorish Time Lady.

The Daleks come across as pretty sinister in this story; a key test of a Dalek story's success. I am not sure whether this is helped or hindered by Romana's bursting into tears as she is interrogated. I have to say I found her blubbing hilarious. It seems like a throwback to her performance as the rather delicate Princess Astra. Despite this slip, for the rest of the story she is plucky and resourceful.

The return of Davros was an unfortunate development. His supposed 'death' at the end of Genesis of the Daleks was poignant and brining him back only meant he overshadowed the Daleks. But as he is a great character, it probably made sense at the time. Unfortunately, David Gooderson's performance does not measure up to Michael Wisher's, though he is not helped by a lack of great lines.

Tom Baker's performance is excellent. I particularly like the ruthlessness the Fourth Doctor displays, threatening Davros with a bomb and delaying freeing Davros until after two human slaves have been killed. We would never have seen the Third Doctor behave like this. The 'paper, stone, scissors' bit was a nice touch, if a bit perplexing.

The studio sets are reasonable and although a little wobbly looking at least have ceilings. The human slaves are completely lacking in character, but they at least wear interesting costumes.

Lastly, we can never forget those spangly disco babes, the Movellans! They are so badass! Just a shame they are so easily defeated.

I am a bit uncomfortable with the suggestion of the Daleks as 'robots.' They are not logical computers, they are beings filled with hate and anger.

Friday 5 February 2010

Season 7

The legendary Season 7. I am not a huge fan of Pertwee's Doctor (he comes across to me as too arrogant), but I agree with the generally held view that Season 7 of Doctor Who was amazing. I believe it was a perfect season, and disagree with those who think that it was let down by Ambassadors of Death.

Season 7 very much followed the directions suggested by Season 6 and the late Barry Letts had not yet disastrously introduced some of his own preferred changes to the format.

Having the Doctor stuck on earth could have been disastrous. The show was already losing popularity at the time and could easily have been cancelled at the end of this season. A season of cardboard alien invasions and act-by-numbers mad scientists could have killed the show. Season 7 had an alien invasion and a few mad scientists, but it took these elements and gave them a twist and a dose of realism.

Perhaps the greatest strengh of Doctor Who is its ability to shift its format and to introduce new interpretations of the basic concept. Season 7 is characterised by realism, political themes and the influence of James Bond. On the whole my preference is for the surrealism of the Sylvester McCoy years, yet I do see the realism of Season 7 as a vital part of the show's history.

One of the strongest elements of Season 7 is the Doctor's tense relationship with the Brigadier and UNIT. They need each other, yet they do not always see eye to eye. The Brigadier is portrayed at his best at this point. Rather than a buffoon who provided comic relief, he was here a true leader of men, a man of action. The Doctor might not have always like his methods, but the show treated the Brigadier's security concerns and hawikish methods with respect.

I think Liz Shaw (Caroline John) was a less succesful element of the season. While she was not irritating and childish, like Jo Grant, her replacement, she was just a rather boring companion. I think it was a shame they replaced her with Jo, but I do not think either character was that interesting.

The Season got off to a great start with Spearhead from Space. It was a smart move to delay the apperance of the Doctor and to focus the first part of the story on UNIT, particulary the Brigadier and Liz. This story introduced the realism of the show by taking the old idea of an alien invasion and inserting it into an industrial setting.

The second story, Doctor Who and the Silurians has acquired a reputation of being a little dull. This is sad, as it has a great science fiction concept, great characters, strong dialogue and moral depth. The tension between the Brigadier and the Doctor is explosive in this story. Silurians has been criticised as too long, but I think the story is strong enough and interesting enough to handle this. The Silurians themselves have been criticised as not being developed as a race, yet this is not untypical of Doctor Who monsters and they are only a small group of survivors.

Ambassadors of Death has often been viewed as the weakest story of the season. I disagree. It is long, but it has plenty of action. Here the James Bond element is brought out the most, with a large number of fights and chases. Ambassadors is one of the more unusual Doctor Who story in that it reduces the sci-fi elements to a minimum. The focus is on the human characters. The lack of screen time given to the extraterrestrials serves to heighten the reality of the paranoia expericed by the deranged Carrington. Ambassadors is superb drama.

Inferno is an highly regarded story. It explores environmental themes and the dangers of misguided science. The Doctor's visit to a parallel earth is a fascinating development of the theme of Doctor's tension with UNIT. In the 'mirror world' he meets fascist versions of the Brigadier, Benton and Liz. Perhaps seeing a less moral version of the Brigadier enables the Doctor to better understand the Brigadier's decisions and is what leads to the improved relationship in the next season.

A lot of people dislike the sand-coloured uniforms worn by UNIT in Season 7. Barry Letss particulary disliked them and changed them to more conventional uniforms in the next season. Perhaps the uniforms reflect the clear suggestion in Season 6 that the UNIT stories took place in the near future. I do not know Barry Letts' feelings on the thorny question of UNIT dating, but I think there are hints that the Season 8 stories are more contemporary, while the Season 7 stories are more near future in their style.

Season 7 introduced the Third Doctor's James Bond-like fixation with cars and various methods of transportation. I think in the more serious stories of Season 7 this actually works better than in the light-hearted stories that came after.

Probably the greatest legacy of Season 7 is the establishment of the Doctor's pacifist tendencies. While this adds a moral depth to the show, I feel that it was overdone in the Pertwee years and I am glad that the Fourth Doctor was much more willing to use violence when necessary. Pertwee's Doctor could at times come across as rather sanctimonious.