Sunday 28 April 2013

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Just as you know a Doctor Who ghost story like the last episode is not going to be terribly scary, you know from the outset that a story set on board the TARDIS is going to be primarily about pointless running down corridors. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS does not fail to deliver on that unwanted expectation.

It must be said that we have seen little of the TARDIS interior beyond the console in the New Series, the only exception being the The Doctor's Wife, with it's bland corridors. The TARDIS interior that we see here is more interesting than that (and possibly more so than the white corridors of the Davison era). Yet it still looks too much like a spaceship. The Invasion of Time TARDIS looked cheap, but it was surreal and surprising. Having the TARDIS look like an old-fashioned hospital is weird enough to work.

It was nice to have some ethnic diversity in an episode. Just a pity the three guest actors were such terrible actors. I don't think the regulars were all that bright here either. There was so little believable emotional reaction in this story. I am at a loss to know just how Clara reacted to her discoveries in this. She shows so little emotion about it. And despite Dr. Who lying to the brothers and threatening to kill them, why do they never seem to show any anger or hostility towards him? Not once did they look like they wanted to punch Dr. Who.

I understand why the zombies were included; they were necessary to create some conflict, seeing as the brothers were too dumbstruck to threaten Dr. Who. However, they weren't terribly interesting. And I have no idea why burn victims would turn into zombies.

The biggest failing of this story is the use of the reset button. It's a lazy cop-out resolution (even if it was set up in the plot and so not a deus ex machina). It also takes away any of the impact (if any, given the lack of emotional reaction on Clara's part) of her discoveries.

We get some more nonsense about the Doctor's name. Since when has the Doctor been all that bothered about his name? He didn't seem to care in Silver Nemesis. Besides, we all know his name is Who. Even if fans close their eyes when the credits roll on every classic episode until JNT.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Klein at the Hairdressers

A fan fiction about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. In my review of UNIT Dominion, I suggested that we need to see more of Klein's ordinary life and suggested we should have a scene where she is in a hairdressing salon. Well I decided to write one!

If she could, Klein might have spent her entire life inside the UNIT laboratory. Not so much because she enjoyed her work, but simply because it tended to occupy most of her thoughts. Nevertheless, there were certain things that you could not do in a laboratory and one of those was getting your hair trimmed. The UNIT HQ being a top secret facility, she could hardly arrange for an hairdresser to visit.

Thus Klein was forced to make occasional visits to the salon in order to keep her helmet-shaped hair in trim. The UNIT scientific adviser had worn her hair in this style for the last twenty years. It was neat and practical. The thought of growing her hair longer or cutting it shorter had not once crossed Klein's mind in the past twenty years.

Klein sighed as she listened to the inane pop song that was being played on the radio.

"I love Kylie Minogue," said the hairdresser, a pretty blond girl of about eighteen years. "I cried my eyes out when she left Neighbours. I wish she and Jason got married in real life."

Klein had never watched Neighbours and had no idea who Jason was.

"I wish I lived in Australia," said the hairdresser.

"I can't say I find it very appealing," replied Klein. Australia sounded like a dreadful place to Klein, a desert land of soap operas, with no culture whatsoever.

"What do you do for a living?" asked the girl.

Klein sighed again. That was the tiresome thing about going to the salon. The hairdressers always assumed you wanted to chat and chat away. Klein's purposes in being there was simply to have her hair trimmed and nothing more. Conversation was irrelevant.

"I'm a scientist," answered Klein.

That was all she could say. As a member of UNIT, Klein had signed the Official Secrets Act. Simply talking for ten minutes about her day to day work would have been enough to land her in prison.

"A scientist!" cried the girl. "I always used to want to be a scientist, but I was never clever enough. Science is so exciting, finding a cure for cancer, inventing time machines and all that."

"I'm afraid my work is not quite so exciting as that," said Klein. She was not altogether sure whether that was a lie or not. She'd never invented a time machine, but she'd studied alien time technology and had met time travellers.

"I used to love watching those old Professor X episodes," said the hairdresser.

"Perhaps you should take some college classes?" suggested Klein.

"Yes, I suppose I could," said the girl.

Klein tried to resist the notion that the girl was fit for no more than styling peoples hair. She reminded herself that the girl could become an astrophysicist with just a little direction. Possibly. Or possibly not.

"What's your name?" asked Klein.

"I'm Debbie," she replied.

Klein could at that point have said "You can call me Elizabeth." However, she generally preferred to be addressed as Dr. Klein by anybody who she had not known for at least ten years. Besides, when people addressed her by her first name, they always ended up calling her Liz. Klein hated few thing more than being called Liz.

"Do you have any grandchildren?" asked Debbie.

Klein's eyes widened in shock at the question.

"Do I really look that old?" she asked.

Debbie went bright red.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to say you looked old. I just wondered if you did. My mother's in her forties and has four grandchildren already..."

When you are in a hole, stop digging. Young people had no manners these days.

"I'm afraid I never had any children, Debbie. I suppose I was always too busy with my work to have a family," said Klein.

"Oh, that's a shame," said Debbie.

Klein frowned at the impertinence.

It had always been difficult for women to get anywhere in the scientific community when they married and had children. Klein had seen dozens of her female colleagues forced to give up high flying careers and fascinating research projects when they married. It seemed such a waste. She had been so glad never to have been in such a position.

But had she lost anything never having children? As she sat in the salon chair, Klein tried to imagine her life with a bunch of children running around. No doubt they would be studious, disciplined and obedient. She tried to run the thought through her mind, but it left her cold. She simply could not generate any excitement at the idea.

What was a husband and children when you could study extraterrestrial life and save the planet from alien invaders?

Debbie switched off the hairdryer.

Klein looked at herself in the mirror. She found herself looking at a woman who was getting old. A woman who had made her choices, choices that could not be undone. But she saw a woman who was proud and confident. A woman who had seen incredible things and done incredible things.

She saw her blonde helmet-shaped hair looking as neat as ever.

"Very efficient work, Debbie," said Klein.

"Thanks, Dr. Klein!"

Sunday 21 April 2013


I can't believe so many reviewers think this story was scary. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman really don't do scared acting very well together. This was rather more Scooby Doo than The Woman in Black. It did not help much that it was broadcast on a sunny spring day and not a dark autumn evening. I am sure the BBC has a reason for broadcasting Doctor Who at this time of year, but it's terrible for creating any sense of atmosphere.

I don't actually think Doctor Who can do a ghost story that is convincingly scary. For the reason that the viewer knows that any ghosts will turn out to be aliens. Ghosts are scary because they are supposedly dead things, they are part of the spirit world; the uncanny. An alien that appears to be a ghost is just banal. When we watch Doctor Who trying to do this genre, we have no need to fear the uncanny and undead because such things don't generally play a part in Doctor Who.

This story has gained a lot of positive reviews and I understand why. It's a story with some depth of characterisation and emotional complexity. There were some very interesting moments such as Clara's reaction to Dr. Who's voyage across time and her interaction with the TARDIS. But I still find it hard to look past the fact that it is an attempt to do a Doctor Who ghost story and unsurprisingly fails at this.

Two elements in particular suffered badly from lack of development. The revelation that the monster was in love did not arise from the plot and felt like it had been tagged on unnecessarily. The beast would have been more effectively left mysterious. Secondly, Hila Tacarian was very underused, quite visibly left standing around towards the end. There was little elaboration on where she had come from or what she would do now that she was stranded in another time.

I think I'm the only person in the world who liked The Rings of Akhaten more than this (my least disliked of this series so far).

Sunday 14 April 2013

Dalek... oh sorry, Cold War

How do you reintroduce an old monster to the new series? You stick one of them in an isolated base. Chain it up as an helpless captive, only to have it escape. Make it so badass that it is unstoppable. Have it open up its armour so that we can all see what it looks like inside. Have it poised to destroy the world, but then have the female companion show compassion towards it and talk it out of killing everybody. That was how the Daleks were reintroduced and Cold War follows exactly the same format. It doesn't exactly feel fresh or original.

The real problem with this story is its utter predictability. You stick an Ice Warrior on a nuclear submarine and you know exactly what is going to happen right from the beginning. The Ice Warrior will try to use the missiles to blow up the world, but will be talked out of it, probably by Dr. Who's female companion.

It does not help that the character's are not terribly interesting. We have the sympathetic captain and the paranoid and bellicose lietenant (in other stories these two character tropes can be switched around). The professor is a rather problematic character. Is he a zoologist? If so, what is he doing on a nuclear submarine? His liking for 80s pop seems designed to anchor the episode to that period in the perception of viewer, but feels very lacking in authenticity. A Soviet nuclear submarine would have it's crew closely monitored for subversive politics. The professor would not have dared to flout such an interest. If he did have a western music with him, I suspect he would be less likely to be listening to the latest chart pop and more likely to be listening to older music like the Beatles. Worst of all, we have the sailor who decides to disobey orders and thaw out the Ice Warrior for no obvious reason.

There has been a lot of debate about whether the cast should have attempted Russian accents. I think that I am more on the side of the viewers who felt they should. The submarine crew did not feel very Russian at all. Sometimes viewers need a bit of help with these things.

Having the Ice Warrior leave its armour was rather interesting and an original idea. However, it seems odd that the species would develop a remote control device for the armour when they ordinarily never get out of it. It also seemed a little gratuitous and underwhelming to show a full view of the creature's face.

Clara's personality continues to slowly develop, but she is not terribly interesting. She still feels very much like a generic, scared but plucky companion, just like Sarah Jane Smith.

One last thing, the Doctor looks totally wrong wearing sunglasses. He looks very Matt Smith in them, but not very Doctorish at all. It was almost as bad as Pertwee in a t-shirt.

Saturday 13 April 2013

The Reign of Terror

There is a very significant conversation at the end of The Reign of Terror. Barbara suggests that they might write a letter to Napoleon explaining the futility of his ambitions. Susan replies that if they had, Napoleon would either fail to read it or conclude its writer was mad. This is the strongest statement in Doctor Who of the immutability of history. When Dr. Who says in The Aztecs that you can't change history, one could always retcon that and argue that he means one should not or must not change history. However, Susan's statement at the end of this serial indicate in the strongest terms that history cannot be changed.

While later writers have moved away from the notion of history's immutability, to some extent it does make sense that history does not normally change in the Whoniverse. When Dr. Who arrives on Dulkis, he says that it is a peaceful planet. He assumes a prior knowledge of events on that planet that have not changed. Likewise, when Romana arrives on Tara, she assumes that the outfit she picks will still be in fashion and that Taran fashions have not changed as a freak result of some temporal interference. Yet the immutability of history does present a dilemma in terms of telling historical Doctor Who stories. We see this particularly in The Reign of Terror, in which the writer ends up simply telling a story about a contrived series of perils in which the characters are placed, with only a very superficial reflection on the historical events.

An Unearthly Child was an historical reflection on the inter-TARDIS power struggles, Marco Polo was an epic about the beautiful grandeur of history and The Aztecs was a cosmic drama centered on the inevitability of history. The Reign of Terror, in contrast to these stories, is a collection of historical set pieces, some dark, some comic. I think the tone is more even than the rather overrated Romans, but it feels more drawn out than that flawed story.

For the most part, The Reign of Terror is lacking in meaningful reflection on the fascinating subject matter it covers. On the surface it might appear to be heavily biased against the French Revolution (being an ultraconservative monarchist, that should not really bother me!). However, the revolutionary side is given its say in Leon, villain though he is. Barbara later offers some sympathy for Leon and his revolutionary comrades. Her comments are interesting because they raise difficulties with the historical Doctor Who genre. Frequently in historicals, the TARDIS crew take sides as a matter of convenience with little regard to the right or wrongs of each party. This self-serving tendency comes across as particularly manipulative in The Time Meddler, where the crew effectively enlist the locals to ensure the conquest of their own nation.

The Reign of Terror is the first story in which we see Dr. Who's mischievous nature coming out. Throughout this serial, he seems to delight in meddling for its own sake. This is facilitated by his impersonating a revolutionary official, the first incident of Dr. Who adopting the guise of a person in authority, something that would become a regular part of his modus operandi.

It is unfortunate that Susan was so ill served by writers, but it in this story that she gets her worst scripting. She spends nearly all of the story either ill or whining and crying. She is so pathetic that she refuses to try to escape the guillotine because she is terrified of rats. Bizarrely, Barbara just accepts this. I'm sure I'm not the only viewer who wants to see Barbara slap the girl and tell her she will die if she doesn't start acting sensibly.

The Reign of Terror is not the most impressive of the Hartnell historicals, but it is a worthy landmark in the development of the show and paved the way for more sophisticated historicals such as The Massacre and The Gun Fighters. It is also the more enjoyable for the fact that here the characters are forced to rely on their wits, while in the current series, every problem is solved with some mysterious piece of technology or just the wave of a the sonic screwdriver.

Sunday 7 April 2013

The Rings of Akhaten

The Rings of Akhaten was as flawed and problematic as any Moffat-Who story, yet I found myself enjoying this episode. It seems like such a long time since I have actually felt any enjoyment in watching Nu-Who.

The episode unfortunately begins with an horrible intro in which Dr. Who is spying on Clara's parents. I'm really bothered by the this development of the Doctor as a stalker. This seems to be one of the worst examples of Moffat's sexism.

Nevertheless, things pick up when we actually go to an alien planet, populated by aliens, with no humans around. This is something that was really badly needed. It is remarkable that so many Nu-Who stories, even under RTD, were set on Earth despite the fact that the TARDIS can go anywhere in the universe. We have seen so little of Dr. Who actually exploring and when we have met future humans, they have tended to dress and act like Twenty-first century British people. Of course, in this episode Dr. Who acts like a cosmic know-it-all as usual, but at least he was showing us something alien.

The Rings of Akhaten was a visual feast, with so many alien creatures and fantastic special effects. While I usually complain about the Murray-Gold music, here it was used to good effect and the role of the singing created a genuinely magical feel. This was a vast improvement on A Christmas Carol, where the musical element seemed tagged on artificially.

Plot-wise, it was a different story, with an unsatisfying resolution, a lack of clear explanation and a lot of sonic screwdriver waving. I suppose that was hardly a surprise, but it did not detract from my genuine enjoyment of the lavish visual and musical elements.

We don't get any real character development for Clara. All we learn about her is that she had a mother who loved her and who died. But were we expecting any?

It was nice to get a reference to Susan.

I'm surprised that this episode has gone down so badly with so many viewers. I thought it was a lot stronger and more enjoyable than the previous episode.