Re-Animator (1985)

Written by Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris & Dennis Paoli.  Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft.

Directed by Stuart Gordon

An Empire Picture

Starring:  Bruce Abbot (Daniel Cain); Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West); Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey); David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill); Robert Sampson (Dean Alan Halsey); Al Berry (Dr. Hans Gruber); Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Harrod) & Peter Kent (Melvin the Re-animated Corpse).

 

reanimator-poster            You will never find a fan of horror films that doesn’t have a definite opinion about the films of the 1980’s, usually a positive one.  The 80s, let’s face it, was the decade when the horror film remembered, after the artistic achievements of the 70s, that they were supposed to be fun.  The great horror films of the 70s (The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining and Alien to name but a tiny few) terrified audiences like none had ever done before, but genre fans smile with a wistful look of nostalgia when considering the crazy fun of the 80s films.  It was the era of the film franchise (Halloween, Friday The 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Howling) and words like “slasher” and “splatter” entered the fan vocabulary.  Many of these films turned away from the artiness of their predecessors and some, rather unfortunately, even sacrificed character and plot to deliver state-of-the-art gore effects (at least back then, they were state-of-the-art).  The advent of home video meant that low-budget horror could actually survive in a competitive market because fans could discover new “talent” hiding amongst the more well-known titles at the local video store.  More and more, smaller films were pushing themselves into the mainstream and fringe artists were making memorable films.

One of these films was Re-Animator.

Based ever-so-loosely on a tale by H.P. Lovecraft titled “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” Re-Animator is the story of Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbot), a reanimatorbdcap3clean-cut, hard-working medical student who is in love (and sleeping with) Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the Dean’s daughter.  Into their lives comes Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), an intense and obviously half-mad medical genius who wastes no time getting on the bad side of the college’s most celebrated surgeon, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale).  West considers Dr. Hill a plagiarist (a charge that is eventually proved correct) and close-minded because he teaches that a human brain cannot live past six to twelve minutes after the heart has stopped.  Unwisely, Daniel allows Herbert to room with him (after Herbert gushes over the size of the basement, which we have no doubt he will use to venture into realms where Man in not meant to go) and soon Daniel discovers that the madman has developed a serum that allows him to re-animate dead flesh.  It is safe to say that, from this point onward, nothing goes right for young Daniel Cain; within twenty minutes of screen time, he has all but been drummed out of medical school, has been forbidden from seeing Megan ever again, and is warding off the ferocious blows of the strongest re-animated corpse you ever saw.  And that’s nothing compared to what happens when both Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) and Dr. Hill try to cross the maddened Herbert West.

reanimator3            For years, I resisted watching Re-Animator simply because it fell right smack-dab in the middle of the period of the 80s where horror films were getting cheap and silly, and the illustration on the VHS cover didn’t help things any:  crazed Herbert West holding a syringe aloft while a living, disembodied head in a pan looks on.  In the years before Mystery Science Theater 3000 taught me better, this type of film held no charms for me.  But I misjudged the book by the cover because, although there are some silly moments in the film (some marvelously silly moments), Re-Animator actually wants its audience to take it at face value as an honest-to-goodness horror film and to judge it against the best of its peers.  For the most part, the film succeeds, mostly due to the talent of its actors and the work the script does to flesh them out.  Take the character of Megan Halsey, played with sympathetic charm by Scream Queen Barbara Crampton; here is a character that didn’t have to be much more than the typical blondie who isn’t too bright, trips over her own feet and needs to be saved by the hero.  And while she does get kidnapped at one point and does need to be saved, Megan is far from the usual blondes who get “offed” in horror films.  She’s smart, has good character-defining dialog and displays a wide range of emotions, particularly her conflict reanimator-05when torn between her love for Daniel and her instinctual need to be a good daughter to her father (compare her to the character of Lynda (P.J. Soles) in Halloween (1978), who is a vapid, self-centered air-head who uses the word “Totally” as if it were punctuation). Equally good is Bruce Abbot as Daniel, as decent a guy as you could ever want to meet; his first scene shows him trying desperately hard (and failing) to resuscitate a woman.  “A good doctor knows when to stop,” Doctor Harrod (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) tells him (introducing the theme of the film) but we feel some deep sympathy for a poor medical student who tried and failed to save a life.  These are characters worth rooting for, which is just the thing any decent horror film needs if it’s going to have any sort of a chance of engaging the audience and getting their adrenaline going during the exciting bits.

th (1)            But in order to get to all the exciting bits, we need someone to introduce a bit of conflict into our happy couple’s lives, and that someone is none other than Herbert West, our modern-day Dr. Frankenstein (the story of which Re-Animator is closely related to).  With this one performance, Jeffrey Combs became to Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations what Vincent Price was to Roger Corman’s Poe films.  Combs is brilliant in the part; four-eyed and intelligent without being nerdy, ambitious and driven to the point of near-madness without becoming unlikable (as Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein sometimes is), Herbert West is a would-be hero who can only ever be a villain.  Despite the fact that (if his results are anything to go by) no good can ever come of his experiments, we can’t look upon him like we look at all the other mad scientists that have come before him.  There’s something undeniably charismatic about West; ten minutes with him and, like Daniel, you’re ready to break into the nearest morgue to give his neon-green sludge a try.  It’s odd how our attitudes change during the first two acts of the film; our first trip down to the morgue with the woman Daniel failed to save reinforces our universal fears of death – not only are we going to die someday, but we will be wheeled into a deep-freeze locker like a slab of beef by doctors who are all but numb to our humanity.  thAs we spend more and more time in the morgue with Daniel and Herbert and the more fantastical aspects of the film emerge, we think less about the lost humanity of the dead and more about how maybe… just maybe… Herbert West just might be on to something.  Maybe it will all work out… maybe just one more test… just one more corpse…. just one more jab…. just one more… just one…

reanimator2            Another reason why we can’t truly dislike Herbert is because the script provides him with a perfect foil, Dr. Hill.  Hill has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever; he is pompous without actually having any merits to back up his attitude, he’s plagiarized all his accomplishments from other scientists (and attempts to do the same to West at one point), and is lusting after Megan, his business partner’s daughter (he even lobotomizes the re-animated Dean Halsey – after tricking Megan into giving her permission, the swine – in order to eliminate the last obstacle between the two of them).  This is a guy who doesn’t even let getting beheaded stand in his way.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Hill is the only one of West’s test subjects to come back from the dead relatively unchanged (not counting the fact that he has to carry his own head around); all of West’s other test subjects (Dr. Gruber, Dean Halsey, Rufus the Cat & “Melvin” the corpse) come back in a zombiefied frenzy, flailing about and attacking anything that moves, no matter how soon after death the serum is administered.  Only Dr. Hill seems to have retained all his scruples, at least enough of them so that he can temporarily get the better of West and start putting his plans into action.  True, he seems even more evil than before, but I don’t put this up to a side effect of West’s serum.  More likely it is side effect of having been decapitated, brought back to life and realizing that you literally don’t have anything left to gain by trying to pretend to be a pillar of academic society.  The gloves are quite literally off and Dr. Hill has a trick or two of his own up his sleeve: reanimator his ability to control re-animated corpses after subjecting them to an acid lobotomy.  Of course, Dr. Hill really doesn’t have much of a plan that doesn’t involve getting his mouth on Megan’s flesh; he could probably take over the world with his mind-controlled zombies, but to what end?  Is he really expecting to shamble into the next medical convention, head in hands, and talk about his fantastic new discovery?  From a story point of view, the only reason that Dr. Hill lusts after Megan after his re-animation is because it is the only thing that a decapitated corpse can actually hope to get.

re-animator1 2            And boy, does he get it.  In one of the film’s most controversial sequences, Megan is kidnapped by her zombie father, stripped naked and tied to a morgue slab so that the degenerate head can lick her breasts and eventually get thrust between her legs.  If this were a simple 80’s exploitation horror picture, the moment would be merely tasteless.  But those of you who have read my article on From a Whisper To A Scream will know that even the tasteless, when done right, can have that certain something that marks a fine horror film as a work of great magnitude (there are some things that should never be labeled “art” and Dr. Hill’s head between Megan’s legs is one those things).  Here is Megan, a girl who has been on a horrific roller-coaster ride ever since Herbert West walked through her boyfriend’s door, who has seen her relationship with her boyfriend shattered, her father turned into a zombie, now shoved head-first (Dr. Hill’s head, anyway) into this sexual nightmare.  It’s a moment to recoil, not to laugh as a disembodied head attempts oral sex with our heroine.  Re-Animator has had to answer for this scene, with many viewers saying it is trying to titillate its audience in the worst possible way.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but severed-head-porn doesn’t do it for me.  Megan and Daniel (and to a certain degree, Herbert) are our re-animator-attack-smallheroes, we’ve come through too much with them to abandon Megan’s humanity for a cheap sexist laugh.  It’s a disturbing moment in a film that has been – with guts and gore – trying to disturb us all along (I’ll admit that the zombie cat attacking West was pretty funny… until we saw what that cat’s corpse looked like when they finally killed it again).  And we’re even more disturbed when, just a few minutes after Daniel arrives and unties his girlfriend from the slab, the entire morgue erupts with zombies and Megan is killed.

reanimatorbdcap2_original            It all seems incredibly unnecessary; Dr. Harrod’s warning, “A good doctor knows when to stop,” runs all through this movie (and indeed through any movie involving a mad scientist, from Frankenstein to Strangelove).  Herbert West is unable to stop; his failures (although he would see them as qualified successes) with Dr. Gruber, Rufus the Cat, Melvin and Dean Halsey cannot deter him.  He is hell-bent on seeing his experiments fully succeed, and it leads to his death (until the sequel was announced, of course).  Dr. Hill is even worse; unable to stop even when reduced to a head in a pan like Virginia Leith in 1962’s The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (about another doctor that went too far), he instigates a mad rush of zombies in the hospital as Miskatonic University because he must have West’s secrets and Megan’s clitoris even though he has no real long-term use for either.  And finally, there is Daniel; he carts the freshly strangle Megan into the ER and frantically tries to save her life, but to no avail.  Dr. Harrod doesn’t remind Daniel about what a good doctor knows, maybe because she knows how crushed Daniel is, but she should’ve said something because Daniel, like the others, doesn’t know when to stop.  He has one more thing to try; he’s saved West’s bag from the carnage below and the film freezes just as he is about to inject his dead fiancé with the serum that will let her live again.  Despite the results that West got with every experiment, is there any chance that Daniel will get his true-love back?

That blood-curdling scream we hear after the fade-out suggests otherwise.

Despite its occasional silliness – West getting mauled by the cat and Jeffrey Comb’s wonderfully intense performance in general – Re-Animator is a real horror film that tries and reanimator3dsucceeds to thrill, horrify and gross its audience out.  It is not a simple horror exploitation (the same came not be said of Frankenhooker from five years later, with which it shares some plot elements, but that film was always a comedy first – and not a very good one).  It’s bright lighting scheme and vibrant colors, particularly the green of West’s serum, may make it look like a comedy (no midnight trips to the cemetery here), but it’s main purpose is to scare, which it does admirably.  More than that, it introduced a few new faces to genre film-making such as Combs, Crampton and director Stuart Gordon, who have all continued to produce strong work throughout the years.  And it is always good to have another name sit alongside those of Bava, Corman, Castle, Romero, Argento and Fulchi; Stuart Gordon is the real deal when it comes to horror films and Re-Animator never fails to raise up its rotting head and thrill its audiences one more time.  As for the viewers… well… I guess they just don’t know when to stop…

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  FLATLINE – A Review

tyjtyjt

Written by Jamie Mathieson

Directed by Douglas MacKinnon

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Jovian Wade (Rigsy); Christopher Fairbank (Fenton); Jessica Hayles (PC Forrest); Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) & Michelle Gomez (Missy)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

dw-12_ep9_11932_large            With a title like Flatline, this episode of Doctor Who was almost guaranteed to be a nail-biter and, although the title was a bit misleading, it paid off in spades on its premise:  a gang of aliens from a two-dimensional plane of existence (the flatliners of the title, although the Doctor eventually refers to them as “the boneless” and so shall I) decides to visit Earth and cause a lot of havoc.  It’s a new creature, yet another of quite a group for this series, and an episode such is this depends a lot on their effect on the viewer.  So far, the new creatures introduced for this series has been something of a mixed bag, from the sublime (Time Heist‘s Teller) to the meh (the robot threats from Deep Breath, Robot Of Sherwood, and especially the Skovox Blitzer from The Caretaker).  So how do these new, paper-thin perils measure up?

After a quick prologue that introduces the threat (and all good pre-credit sequences are, by definition, short), Flatline begins Flatline-1024x526with the Doctor having the usual hiccup with the TARDIS navigation circuits and winds up in Bristol, more than a hundred miles from Clara’s lunch date with Danny.  But the TARDIS seems to be losing power and, what’s even more surprising, the outside shell of the TARDIS is shrinking.  While Clara goes off to investigate, the Doctor remains behind to see if he can stabilize the time machine, but he becomes trapped when it further shrinks down to handheld size.  While this amuses Clara immensely, the Doctor is now dependent on her to be his eyes, ears and feet.  After popping the TARDIS in her purse, Clara toddles off with sonic screwdriver and psychic paper in hand to save the day.  She is essentially the Doctor for the length of this adventure and she clearly enjoys the prospect of it; when first meeting Rigsy, a graffiti painter who serving a sentence of community service, she introduces herself as “Doctor Oswald” (the Doctor doesn’t think this is funny at all).  One is reminded of Clara’s smirk in The Crimson Horror when the Doctor absently told her that she was “the boss.”  Despite the fact that she is in contact with the Doctor and he is guiding her, Clara has attained the status of “boss” over the people who find themselves in harm’s way (and when the TARDIS goes into siege mode her communications link with the Doctor fails, making her the sole decision-maker).

Doctor-Who-Flatline-14As monumental as this must be in Clara’s life (and her development as a character), this set of circumstances is nothing new in the world of post-2005 Doctor Who.  Rose (Billie Piper) grew as a character specifically as a result of the times when she had to spring into action when the Doctor wasn’t there (episodes like The Satan Pit, Fear Her, and Doomsday spring to mind).  Likewise Martha (Freema Agyeman) was tasked with saving the entire Earth all on her own in The Last Of The Time Lords (it took her a year, but she did it).  This isn’t even the first time that the Doctor has had to stay in the TARDIS and send a companion out to do the work for him; remember Rory (Arthur Darvill) and his silly “Rory-cam” glasses in The Girl Who Waited (thank goodness the Doctor found a more subtle device for Clara; she would’ve looked stupid in those glasses).   The Master (John Simm) in The Sound Of Drums taunted the Doctor that he “makes people better” and Davros (Julien Bleach) in Journey’s End went one better saying that the Doctor fashioned people into weapons.  While that is a matter of opinion, it’s clear that exposure to the Doctor changes a person and, in the most-satisfying character arcs, makes them ready to tackle the aliens on their own.  It’s especially an important moment for Clara who, now that her “impossible-girl” mystery has been solved, can now be viewed as a normal character who needs to be developed if she’s going to be considered a successful companion.  Her status in the series 8 episodes has been something of a roller-coaster ride; sometimes she’s making the hard decisions (as in Kill The Moon) while other times she just seems to be along for ride (as in Time Heist).  The good news is that, in the last few episodes, the series has been successfully doing what the previous series before it did, building a solid and likable companion that can assist the Doctor without forgetting that the hero of the show is the Doctor himself.  It’s quite a tightrope for the writing staff to tread, and Flatline is a good example of how well the writers are coming along.

As for Flatline’s creatures, they are one of the better additions to the rogues’ gallery.  Unlike the aforementioned Skovox Blitzer killing machine, a clanking quick-draw artist cobbled up Doctor-Who-Flatline-Boneless-750x400for The Caretaker because Daleks have already made an appearance this series, these nasties are down-right menacing.  They’re largely invisible for the bulk of the episode, shimmering on surfaces as they suck you in and turn your central nervous system into a mural, before evolving into the jerking and phasing 3-D image of their victims (something of a tactical blunder on their part – you have a reasonable chance of escaping a creature that you can actually see pursuing you).  What makes them worse is that we have no idea who they are or what they want; the Doctor, true to form, initially balks at the thought of killing them without finding out what they want (Time Heist gave it’s creature a happy ending when the Doctor discovered it was being forced to turn people’s brains into soup because it’s mate was being held hostage).  In fact, the Boneless is yet another of creatures from series 8 that we never find out too much about and probably never will (we never learn what kind of creature was hatched in Kill The Moon and was there even a creature in Listen?).  Flatline is a conceptual blood-brother to what must be the greatest episode featuring an unknowable threat, Midnight.  That episode taught us that, sometimes, the less you know about a creature the more thrilled you are by the inscrutable mystery (notice how the Weeping Angels, so terrifying ??????????????????????????in Blink, lost their punch in subsequent episodes).  Naturally the Doctor is intrigued and wants to discover their motives, but by the end he’s had enough; they’ve nearly killed him and his friends and have avoided even the most rudimentary forms of communication.  I don’t particularly swallow the use of the sonic screwdriver magically sending them back to their own realm in one swift blow (what setting was that, then?), but I realize that the episode had, by that time, run its course and needed to end.  What was more interesting was the Doctor finally having to take the steps that needed to be taken, being sure to place the blame on the invaders and not himself (like the tenth Doctor did so many time before).  I wonder if he truly believes it.

By the episode’s end, Clara is so impressed with her work (and the Doctor’s praise during a moment when he thought that a) she couldn’t hear him and b) dying) that she wants the usually reticent Time Lord to throw her a bone; she wants to hear him say, Doctor-Who-8x09-Flatlinewithout reluctance, that she was a “good Doctor.”  The Doctor, however, has the final word:  “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara.  Goodness had nothing to do with it.”  Upon first hearing, his words are strange; Clara is visibly taken aback.  But it doesn’t take long to put together the pieces of the puzzle that was begun in Deep Breath.  Not long into his tenure, the Doctor asked Clara if she thought of him as a good man and she responded “I… don’t know.”  Later she amended her response to include that the Doctor tried to be good and that was what was important, but the series never fully let that question lie.  Time and again, we’ve been faced with a Doctor whom we’re not completely sure about; just when we think that we recognize him, a cloud seems to fall over his face and we’re forced re-evaluate him again.  That look on his face when the clock-work half-faced man fell to his death seemed to be the look of a stranger.  He is a man who coldly accepted the apparent deaths of his friends while breaking into the Bank of Karabraxos (only to be relieved later on when he discovered the truth), who buggered off to leave Clara to save the Moon-creature pretty much single handed, who talked of having to decide when there were only bad choices to make and who, in this episode, instructed Clara to lie to Fenton’s men to give them hope because “people with hope run faster.”  Maybe the Doctor is afraid that the more like him she becomes, the less like her good self she will be.  Maybe that’s something that Danny, the former soldier, is also afraid of.

Doctor-Who-Flatline-13Divorced from all of that, Flatline is a good story with some exceptional suspense sequences, one good supporting character, Rigsy (Fenton is too nasty to be believable and he’s nothing more than a nastier throwback to Brixton Slade in Voyage Of The Damned, which inspired the wonderful denouement “Of all the people to survive, he’s not the one you would’ve chosen… but if you could choose who lives and who dies… that would make you a monster”), and some really ingenious writing that involved putting the Doctor and Clara in tight spots and finding plausible but brilliant ways of getting them out.  Examples of this includes the Doctor being able to hand Clara the things she needs (from sonic screwdriver to sledgehammers) through the door of the tiny TARDIS, Clara and Rigsy swinging their way to safety from a room crawling with the Boneless via a hanging chair, the Doctor’s hand dragging the TARDIS (like Thing from The Addams’ Family) out of the path of an oncoming train, and the absolutely brilliant move of painting a false door on a wall to trick the Boneless into re-energizing the TARDIS.  Only the aforementioned moment when the Doctor zaps the Boneless back to their realm with the screwdriver seems tacked on but hey, how many inventive plot turns do you want for your buck?  For a transitional episode (Clara still hasn’t paid Doctor-Who-Flatline-Peter-Capaldi1the piper for lying to the two most important men in her life), Flatline is fun, exciting, reasonably easy to follow and leaves us with a stronger and better Clara than what we started with.

Next week, it looks like Danny is finally taking a TARDIS trip and a bunch of school kids are going with our heroes.  Will they be inquisitive and slightly nauseous (like Courtney of Kill The Moon) or just petulant and a pain in arse (like the Maitland kids from Nightmare In Silver)?  Only the timey-wimey will tell.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – A Review

Doctor-Who--Mummy-on-the-Orient-Express_blog_landing_large

Written by Jamie Mathieson

Directed by Paul Wilmshurst

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Frank Skinner (Perkins); David Bamber (Captain Quell); John Sessions (Gus); Daisy Beaumont (Maisie Pitt); Christopher Villiers (Prof. Emil Moorhouse); Janet Henfrey (Mrs. Pitt); Foxes (The Singer) & Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

mummy-on-the-orient-express-1            So here I sit at my computer, an episode of Doctor Who on my mind, a martini at my side… and egg on my face.  In my review of last week’s extravaganza Kill The Moon, I was certain that the Doctor was going it alone on the Orient Express considering his blow-up with Clara last week.  So certain was I that Jenna Coleman was spending this episode on the sidelines (and thrown by her period hairstyle) that I didn’t recognize her as she stepped out of the TARDIS, believing for a half a minute that the Doctor had brought a new friend with him.  It was disconcerting to say the least; here’s Clara, all smiles and dressed to the nines, admitting that it took a few weeks for her to decide that she didn’t really hate him.  With my ears still buzzing from the shock of hearing her voice, I barely got the news that the Doctor’s and Clara’s trip on the interstellar Orient Express was apparently a last hurrah, a way for the two travelers to end their relationship on a wink and a grin, just a simple little pleasure-trip through space on a mock-up of the most famous train in history without any trouble whatsoever.

Don’t you believe it.

Mummy On The Orient Express starts with trouble before the Doctor and Clara arrive; a wealthy dowager, Mrs. Pitt, mysteriously dies.  In the last sixty-six seconds of her life, sheth claims that a mummy, covered in dust and shambling menacingly, is coming towards her but no one else can see it.  It’s the simplest of premises; some murderous creature in on the train and the passengers can’t escape; if they want to live, they have to defeat the creature.  But how can you defeat something that can only be seen sixty-six seconds before it takes your life?  While the plot seems to be a good, old-fashioned romp, it will force Clara (and us with her) to examine the Doctor’s seemingly cold-hearted demeanor… and is it so cold-hearted after all?

doctor-who-season-8-episode-8-mummy-on-the-orient-express-s08e08            To start with, this episode is nothing if not great-looking; the period costumes and sets are suburb and the even the costumes that the Doctor and Clara wear are marvelous (Whovians are well aware that the Doctor rarely changes his own costume to blend in with whatever period he happens to be visiting).  In fact, the look is so good that it is difficult to remember that these passengers are simply dressing up in period clothes to get the full effect of their holiday; you have to remind yourself that these are future humans from colonized planets that are indulging in a little interstellar role-playing (quite like the passengers of the ill-fated starship Titanic from Voyage Of The Damned).  Perkins’ engineer costume is simply for show and Captain Quell’s Lugar is an affectation; the man would probably be more at home with a laser blaster.  Appearances are highly deceiving and the most deceiving is the appearance of the mummy, which Mrs. Pitts first believes is a passenger in fancy dress.  Looking back, it is a massive clue that most viewers will not get on first viewing; this seemingly ancient and mythical beast is nothing more than malfunctioning technology augmenting the long-dead brain of a soldier (and yet again, we are at the mercy of the Doctor’s most-despised advisory:  a soldier, one that can only be defeated by surrendering to it).  Interestingly enough, we are given two soldiers in this episode:  the Mummy (also known as “the Foretold”) and Captain Quell.  The contrast between the two are striking:  the Foretold is a mindless killing machine, stalking mummy-on-the-orient-express-3the weakest victims that it can find, to a fulfill a purpose long-since forgotten while Captain Quell is, like Danny, a war-weary former-warrior who has been hoping to escape the memories of the battlefield in a job entirely unlike his previous duties.  In fact, it’s quite amazing that the Doctor, once he ascertains that Quell was once a soldier, doesn’t treat him with the contempt that he showed to Danny or Journey Blue; if anything, the Doctor is disgusted that Quell has lost the will to fight, something that the Doctor will reawaken in his during his final minute (When the Doctor tells him not to bother firing at the Foretold, Captain Quell says, “Die?  With bullets in my gun?”).  It seems that the Doctor’s need for soldiers can often outweigh his personal feelings for them.

mummy2            Although the Foretold is a marvelous-looking creature and its myths (as espoused by the sadly doomed Professor Moorhouse) fascinate the imagination of the viewer, it unfortunately falls into the category of “Things we’ve seen before only tweaked a bit.”  Malfunctioning technology has, yet again, given us an apparently mythical and seemingly unbeatable creature.  Stripped bare, is the Foretold really any different from the Minotaur from The God Complex?  In that troubled episode, the Doctor and his friends were up against a creature that fed on faith, choosing victims one by one and slowly marching towards them, killing them by draining them of their life force and spurred on by a spaceship that ceased functioning properly centuries before.  Sounds pretty similar, doesn’t it?  What’s worse is that Mummy On The Orient Express introduces those intriguing details, like the sixty-six second time frame, and drops the ball when it finally explains them.  There’s a quick murmuring from Perkins that sounds like “phasing takes about a minute,” but this is never explained.  What is phasing and how is it necessary for the Foretold to do this in order to attack?  This is especially disappointing because, let’s face it, that sixty-six countdown every time the Foretold makes an appearance is intriguing and as suspenseful as Hell.  But every mystery needs a solution, and this one seems strangely vague.

Another mystery that doesn’t get much probing is Gus, the train’s computer, although this seems to be one of those dangling plotlines that, like Missy and the Promised Land, willmummy-on-the-orient-express-2 probably be addressed at a later date (there’s getting to be quite a pile of them, isn’t there?).  As time goes on, I get less and less worried that a head-scratching plot line will not be resolved; indeed, this very episode resolved a small detail from The Big Bang that most regular viewers will probably have forgotten:  on Amy and Rory’s wedding night, the Doctor received a call from someone asking to investigate a mummy of the Orient Express in space.  This was never mentioned again and it was assumed that the Doctor and his newly-wed crew investigated it while the TV cameras weren’t looking (the next episode was A Christmas Carol, which made no mention of the mysterious phone call).  So it’s nice to know that there is some effort from the creative team to address any details that never got an explanation even years ago (maybe we’ll finally find out why a duck pond without ducks in Leadworth is significant),  but I have a  question about Gus as he/it stands:   if his wish is for the Doctor and his scientist colleagues to figure out the Foretold’s nature and defeat it, why does he/it make it so hard for them?  Tricking everyone on board to riding the Orient mummy-on-the-orient-express-4Express makes sense (this is a mission where death is a very real possibility), but why keep the facade going for so long.  All in all, several people die before the Doctor realizes that the decor and many of the passengers are hard-light holograms, revealing a laboratory beneath and forcing Gus to step forward, as it were, and explain the reason they have been gathered.  This seems unlikely, to say the least.  In fact, it seems more likely that Gus (and whoever is behind the computer) is testing the Doctor, seeing just how good he is by pitting him against an ancient curse and then further testing him when it looks like Gus will kill everyone on the train once the Foretold is deactivated.  True, Gus has allowed a few non-scientist passengers on the train (Maisie Pitt, her grandmother and the general staff) so that they can be the Foretold’s first victims, but it all seems to smack heavily of a game of cat-and-mouse.  Maybe I’m just inventing a scenario that will cover what might be a logical flaw in the script, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

This, of course, brings us to the same place that we wind up every week during these little discussions:  The Doctor and Clara. mummy-on-the-orient-express-10 In most reviews, I would address them in separate paragraphs, but the status of their relationship is so crucial to this episode that their individuality takes a back seat.  I’ve already described the shock of seeing the two main characters together after the bitter blow-up that constituted the final act of last week’s Kill The Moon.  I won’t be the first one to express some disappointment that we haven’t been given a least a small taste of the weeks following Clara’s departure:  the Doctor’s loneliness in the TARDIS, Clara unable to keep her mind on her work and off the stars, maybe Danny encouraging her to call the Doctor one more time to end their relationship on a high note.  Well, we didn’t see it, but that may be because when the episode is not showing characters cowering front of an approaching mummy, we are listening to Clara express her feelings for her strange friend.  Her sad smile, which the Doctor comments on and admits confusion as to how she can have two emotions at once, is the key to her feelings:  she loves the Doctor’s heroism but hates his apparent coldness, she loves adventure but hates making the tough decisions, she loves her home life with Danny but loves her unique life in the TARDIS.  In Kill The Moon, Danny sagely told her that she wasn’t finished with the Doctor and Maisie, another conflicted character who feels Doctor-Who-Mummy-on-the-Orient-Expressguilty because the grandmother she wished would die finally did, echoes this; when Clara tells her that you can’t end a relationship on a slammed door, Maisie points out that people do it all the time… except when they can’t.  Clara may hate the way that the Doctor may not always play straight with her – admitting to her that he had a suspicion that their ride on the train would not be just a pleasure trip – but she has to admit to herself that she doesn’t always play straight either; she is just as game for adventure as he is (when the Doctor resists knocking on her door to include her in his investigations, she emerges from her room a moment later, ready for action) and she finds it easy to lie to the two most important men in life to continue her double life.  It seems odd that Clara would resort to lies in the episode’s final minutes – Danny would probably understand Clara’s compulsion to travel and the Doctor probably doesn’t care what Danny thinks.  Maybe this is a hint of the “control-freak” part of Clara’s personality that has often been alluded to:  she wants her two lives separate from each other and this is how she controls it.  What we do know is that Clara finds new appreciation for the Doctor, both in his putting himself up as a sacrifice to the Foretold in Maisie’s place and in his admission that he would have sacrificed the girl and everyone else to stop the creature.  “Sometimes there are no good choices,” he says, “but you still have to choose.”  Heavy is the head that wears that crown.

And so Clara elects to stay with her Time Lord and see more planets.  We have no idea what Danny is going to say when he finds out that she lied to him, but that’s for another mummy-on-the-orient-express-9day.  Things may not end well for the Doctor, Clara and Danny, but that’s what series finales are for, and that’s still five episodes away.  In the end, we’re left with Mummy On The Orient Express, a good, fun episode that had a few story hiccups along the way (nothing that would’ve caused a derailment) and that laid bare the feelings of our two main characters: check out their faces when Clara asks to see more planets… these two need each other and we need them to keep traveling.

No matter the cost.

next-time-mummy-on-the-orient-ex

P.S. – That shot of the Foretold’s fingers reaching through the Doctor’s face was the creepiest moment of the whole series thus far!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  KILL THE MOON – A Review

Kill_the_moon

Written by Peter Harness

Directed by Paul Wilmshurst

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Ellis George (Courtney Woods); Hermione Norris (Lundvik); Tony Osoba (Duke); Phil Nice (Henry) & Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

Doctor-Who-Kill-the-Moon            About halfway through Kill The Moon, the Doctor gets in his TARDIS and leaves Clara, her student Courtney and astronaut Lundvik to solve a world-wide crisis without him, claiming that this is one moment that he cannot force upon the human race; they have to make the decision for themselves.  In response to the sight of the disappearing TARDIS, Lundvik says, for the first time in Doctor Who history, “What a pratt.”  Clara says nothing, but her final scene with the Doctor shows that she was quite possibly thinking the same thing (maybe was even thinking of word that couldn’t be broadcast).  The final judgment on the Doctor’s character, a man who just a few episodes ago asked Clara if he was a good man, is ultimately left up to us, the viewer, and we’re going to have to think long and hard on this question, especially since it seems that Clara is sitting next week’s adventure out.  So what is it that has come between our two heroes and how can it possibly be solved?

After a teasing pre-credit sequence that puts Clara in the heart of the crisis, Kill The Moon starts innocently enough; viewers thof last week’s episode The Caretaker will remember that fifteen year-old Courtney Woods didn’t exactly impress the Doctor with her initial trip in the TARDIS – upchucking on the floor does not a future-companion make.  Clara just wants the Doctor to tell the despondent girl that she’s special but this Doctor is not one for false praise; if Courtney wants to be special, the Doctor is going to make her prove it.  Before anyone can say anything, the Doctor whips Clara and Courtney to the year 2049 and wind up on a shuttle heading for the moon.  There, they learn from the shuttle crew that the moon has been acting strangely for the last decade:  it suddenly has gravity and the tides on Earth rose so high that a portion of the human race perished in flood waters.  Mexican colonists from years before are long dead and it isn’t long before our heroes discover the reason why; deadly spider-like creatures are crawling all over the place!  But is this simply a monster-of-the-week episode?  When the Doctor realizes what the monsters really are, this leads to the episode’s magnificent discovery and to Clara’s and humankind’s terrible choice.

kill_moon_6           Not counting the sequences taking place on modern-day Earth, this episode has two distinct parts:  the scary part and the thought-provoking part.  The creatures crawling on the moon’s surface are scary enough to be a worthy addition to the rogue’s gallery of Doctor Who monsters (eat your heart out, Planet of the Spiders) and thanks to some quick thinking from Courtney with her bottle of Windex (there’s a usage for Windex you didn’t get from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) the Doctor realizes that the creatures are actually bacteria… and bacteria of that size can only mean that the creature that they are crawling on must be enormous.  Then comes the revelation:  the moon is, and has always been, an egg… and something big is hatching out of it.  This truly head-turning revelation – a shocker that actually shocks – is followed up almost immediately by Lundvik’s question, “How do we kill it?”  This is not an entirely unexpected reaction; those who remember the shuttle passengers from Midnight, cut off from civilization and frightened by a creature they cannot possibly understand and who then react by nearly tossing the Doctor out of the shuttle to his death, will have seen this type of situation before.  What we haven’t seen before is the Doctor’s handling of it all:  he removes himself completely from the situation.  I am inclined to believe the Doctor when he said earlier that they were in the middle of a point in history that he cannot clearly see; later on, when the crisis is over, the Doctor takes a few moments to ponder the outcome and realize that allowing the moon-creature to live renews the humans’ previously moribund interest in space exploration.  He isn’t simply lying to Clara just to see what she’ll do.  And I have to agree that the Doctor making this decision for the human race is wrong; the planet Earth needs to earn this moment, needs to see beyond their paranoia and fear, needs to put everything that gives them comfort and security on the craps table and roll the dice.

And the human race blows it.  The inhabitants of the Earth vote to remain locked in a cocoon of fear, despite the fact that they have no idea if the creature emerging from its shell kill-the-moon-promo-pics-6will do them any harm (“That was defense,” we can almost hear Harriet Jones say after giving the order to destroy the retreating Sycorax’s ship in The Christmas Invasion).  To her credit, Courtney protests and not just because setting off the bombs will lead to her own death.  But it is Clara, the one human in the room who has seen more than anyone else on Earth and who understands, just like the Doctor, that life is a right for all creatures, who takes it upon herself to make the decision for the entire planet; at the last moment, she aborts the detonation.  And the events of history duly move forward:  the moon-creature is born and flies away (pausing to thoughtfully lay another egg and give the planet its moon back) and the human race will join the rest of the universe amongst the stars (it is good of writer Peter Harness to set this episode in 2049 since the tragic of events of Captain Adelaide Brooke at Bowie Base One from The Waters Of Mars takes place in 2059 – continuity is maintained).  But this is only because Clara, a teacher, has forced a lesson on all of humanity.  The Doctor has taught her about the value of life in the universe throughout their travels and now she has passed the lesson on to the entire planet.  When the Doctor says to Lundvik, “Shouldn’t you be saying ‘Thank you’,” she pointedly thanks Clara, not the Doctor.  Clara’s student can now move forward and pioneer the space program that she always dreamed of; it’s just a shame that Clara is not exactly in the “it-all-worked-out-in-the-end” mood.

protectedimage            In Deep Breath, Clara thought that the Doctor had abandoned her to torture and death and relied on her faith in him to know that he had her back.  In The Caretaker, Danny warned Clara that the Doctor could push her too far.  Those two moments come back to haunt us in this episode’s final TARDIS sequence.  Clara wants to know exactly why the Doctor abandoned her to make that decision on her own.  The Doctor, not an hour after telling Clara that it’s time to take the training wheels off, is now heaping praise on her and saying that he always knew she would make the right decision, but Clara is having none of it.  She confesses that she nearly allowed the detonation to happen and resents the Doctor for putting her in that position.  Here, we are seeing the angry Clara who bared her claws against Madame Vastra in Deep Breath for suggesting that the only reason she traveled with the Doctor was because she fancied his former, younger-looking face.  It hasn’t escaped my notice that the Doctor has, of late, seemed to hold humanity in some degree of contempt and has been rather flippant with his only human friend, making wise remarks about her height, her looks, and her choice of men.  It hasn’t escaped Clara’s notice either.  Yes, there have been many humans in the last few episodes who have tried the Doctor’s patience (Journey Blue, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Madam Karabraxos, Lundvik and, to a lesser extent, Danny and Courtney) but the occasional exasperation of humankind exhibited by doctor-who-kill-the-moon-3Eccleston, Tennant and Smith has reached a zenith with Capaldi’s Doctor; maybe it’s the writing… or the accent… or the eyebrows… but as of late, Capaldi’s Doctor has been as smug as Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor chiding Peri for being frightened.  But Clara is tired of putting up with it; she points out that the Doctor has made Earth his new home and it is wrong for him to look down on its populace (not to mention that he is lumping her in with all the rest of Earth’s normal, everyday, non-time-traveling  inhabitants).  Before we realize what is happening, Clara is telling the Doctor to push off, quite like she did to Danny during their first, miserable date.  And she sounds like she means it.  Once outside the TARDIS and in the presence of Danny, she vents her frustration but is confronted with the truth that she is not truly finished yet with the Doctor; her frustration may soon ebb, but what will become of the Doctor now that he, as far as he knows, has lost his best friend?  Will next week’s traipse into space be simply a fun-filled and thrilling adventure or will he realize a hole in his existence that remains bare if Clara isn’t there beside him?

kill-the-moon-promo-pics-5            Despite a recent review online that has taken serious umbrage at some of the faux-science taking place on the moon (eggs apparently don’t gain weight – like the moon does – as they reach incubation and the votes of light from the Earth would never be seen by Clara from the moon), and not to mention that it is almost ridiculous that a new-born creature would immediately lay an egg the size of a new moon to maintain status quo (which we don’t even see happening – Courtney describes it happening off-screen like this was a sci-fi television episode from the 1950’s that needed an actor to describe off-screen horrors due to lack of believable effects (“My God… it’s a hundred feet tall… and it has eighty tentacles…!)), Kill The Moon is top-notch Doctor Who, it thrills and forces us to confront difficult questions that, considering the attitudes of its two leads, have no real easy answers.  It also succeeds in its initial endeavor:  the nowhere-near special Courtney Woods earns her stripes as a real potential Doctor Who companion; her best line has her telling Lundvik that she can be the first woman on the new Moon (and did I hear the Doctor say that Courtney will one day be President of the United States?  I guess she was born in America and her parents emigrated when she was young).  This was a thrilling and troubling episode that, ultimately, did what any television episode has to do:  get people tuning in next week.

doctor-who-kill-the-moon-clara-hair-action-shots

            Well, I’ll be there next week and the week after.  What exactly is going to happen next week that might help the Doctor see that he needs to mellow out a bit?  How is Clara going to resolve her feelings for the Doctor and is Danny ever going to go traveling?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  THE CARETAKER – A Review

7113874-low_res-doctor-who-e1411462125118

Written by Stephen Moffat & Gareth Roberts

Directed by Paul Murphy

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink); Ellis George (Courtney Woods); Edward Harrison (Adrian); Nigel Betts (Mr. Armitage) & Michelle Gomez (Missy)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

doctor-clara-caretaker            Back in the days when the Doctor wore a brown pin-stripe suit and shouted “Allonsy,” there was a brilliant two part adventure called Human Nature and The Family of Blood.  In it, the Doctor is forced to change his physiology to mimic that of an ordinary human in order to evade some aliens tracking the Time Lord.  That episode delved into the very real questions of whether the Doctor could not only pass as a human but whether he would’ve rather have had a human’s life.  Since then, there have been several episodes that have had the Doctor trying to meld into the every-day lives of humans.  Produced during Matt Smith’s era, these episodes tended to be more light-hearted than Human Nature.  Two of those episodes, The Lodger and Closing Time (which featured the Doctor deputizing ordinary couch potato Craig Owens (James Corden) as a temporary companion), were written by Gareth Roberts, who is also the co-writer of this week’s episode The Caretaker (with the always-present Stephen Moffat).  And that’s interesting because this means that Roberts is pulling yet another like-minded episode out of his imagination.  The Lodger was a fair and fun episode, featuring the Doctor making a shambles of poor Craig’s life until he shows Craig how to be brave and makes him a more complete man, while Closing Time was good but suffered slightly from “More-Of-The-Same-itis.”  So here we are again, with a new Doctor and companion ready to take on this well-established Doctor Who subgenre.  How did it fare?

The Caretaker begins with a funny montage of the Doctor and Clara having several dangerous adventures intercut with Clara’s poor excuses to Danny why she’s suddenly caretaker1tanned/soaking wet/exhausted.  Clara has quite naturally been putting off telling Danny about her secret life as a time-traveler, but the issue is forced when, after telling Clara that he needs to go under deep-cover for a while, the Doctor turns up at the Coal Hill School where Clara works pretending to be John Smith, the school’s new caretaker.  Clara is naturally thrown for a loop; the children may be in danger from some kind of alien menace and the Doctor won’t tell her what’s going on, insisting that he can take care of it himself.  The episode is stuffed with moments of Clara being comically distracted from her work while she spies the Doctor doing something silly or humanly unlikely and through the entire setup, it is easy to see that the episode is gearing up for the moment when the Doctor and Danny finally learn the truth about each other.

Doctor-Who-Caretaker-Doctor-Clara            These types of episodes are always more about the characters than the story or the alien threat.  Although mostly played for laughs, it is easy to see that Clara is in a tight spot and neither the Doctor’s quirkiness nor Danny’s frustration with Clara’s lies are making it any better for her.  Comedic tension still qualifies as suspense, although it is still difficult to see why Clara has been so reticent to tell the Doctor about Danny.  This whole angle that the Doctor refuses to accept Danny because he was once a soldier stretches the credibility of what we already know about the character; yes, he has had bad experiences with soldiers before (episodes like The Sontaran Stratagem, The Poison Sky, The Doctor’s Daughter and Into The Dalek have made it quite plain, not to mention the rage behind his “Colonel Runaway” speech in A Good Man Goes To War), but one would’ve thought that re-experiencing his efforts to save Gallifrey alongside the War Doctor in The Day Of The Doctor would have given him an insight into the heart of a soldier.  But no, the Doctor persists in treating Danny in a similar way that he (or rather, the Ninth Doctor) treated Mickey, Rose’s boyfriend, during their initial meetings; the Time Lord who persisted in referring to Mickey as “Mickey the Idiot” is now unable to grasp the fact that a former soldier could possibly be a Maths Teacher, continually calling him a “P.E. Teacher” and quipping that those footballs aren’t going to kick themselves.  Or maybe there’s something deeper at the heart of the Doctor’s dislike for Danny:  before learning who Clara’s true boyfriend is, he mistakenly doctor-who-the-caretaker-08believes that she is dating Adrian, a fellow teacher whose hair, face and fashion sense (specifically a bowtie) makes him resemble the Eleventh Doctor.  The Doctor literally beams at the prospect that Clara may have fallen for a surrogate version of himself, unable as he is, in his new form, to show her much affection (the man can’t even take being hugged, for Christ’s sake).  So then the truth is finally revealed and the Doctor is upset that Danny is a Maths teacher because, as he puts it, “I like Maths.”  Is it simply the prospect that Clara might be throwing herself away on a man who isn’t good enough for her, or is it the realization that Clara has moved on from her infatuation with the Eleventh Doctor that has truly got the Doctor’s eyebrows arching furiously.

doctor-who_series-8_episode-6_looking-back-on-the-caretaker_still-1            Danny, for his part, holds his own against the Doctor, acting out the role of a squaddie when the Doctor orders him out of the TARDIS, correctly spotting that the Doctor is not merely a soldier himself, but an officer.  In fact, it might be fair to say that, despite their obvious differences, Clara may have picked up on some of the similarities between Danny and the Doctor:  both were once scared little boys (as Clara witnessed in Listen) who grew up into soldiers traumatized by the battlefield, and are now endeavoring to find a new way to live their lives (the Doctor through traveling in the TARDIS, Danny through teaching Maths).  Is it too much of a leap to say that Clara, still hurting from losing the Eleventh Doctor, may have spotted a few of his traits in Danny while at the same time recognizing that he is a stable force in her otherwise slam-bang life as the Doctor’s companion?  As the episode ends, the Doctor and Danny forge a begrudging understanding of one another (although I must admit that Danny’s world-saving somersault leap over the Skovox Blitzer strains credibility – he might be in great shape, but he’s not a genetically-engineered human like Jenny in The Doctor’s Daughter, who somersaulted through a series of laser beams without a scratch).  Maybe even the Doctor might see Danny as yet another Rory, reluctantly jumping into the fray to make sure the girl he loves is safe (will Danny ever travel on the TARDIS?  That remains to be seen).

With all this character development to contend with, something certainly had to suffer and, like Robert’s own The Lodger and Chris Chibnall’s The Power Of Three (two episodes nt_14_Doctor-Who-The-Caretakerthat have the Doctor attempting to live like a normal human), the downfall of the episode is the threat, specifically the Skovox Blitzer.  It’s a clunky device that has an awful lot of fire-power and is on Earth because… well… of some quick techno babble uttered by the Doctor at one point and then never mentioned again.  What does it want?  Nothing except to kill everything it sees.  So I guess it’s a major threat, although the Doctor dismisses it at one point, saying he can take care of it easy without Clara’s help.  Indeed, the only reason the Doctor makes a such a debacle of his first attempt to rid the machine is because Danny moves one of his devices.  Looking at it, it really adds nothing new the rogue’s gallery of Doctor Who monsters and it’s place in the episode could have been easily taken by a Dalek or a Cyberman (except we’ve already had Daleks this series and Cybermen are coming in the finale).  I guess they had to come up with something and, considering that the episode was more about our three heroes, maybe Roberts and Moffat decided to fudge it a bit this week, but the Skovox Blitzer is such a knock-off of a Dalek that it feels like they weren’t even trying.

Doctor-Who-Caretaker-Skovoz-Blitzer-Danny            And finally we come to the comedy.  The Caretaker is full of little moments at which we can smile and giggle.   The aforementioned opening sequence has Clara revealing that the instrument that the Doctor needs to set them free of their bonds is currently in the pocket of her other jacket… back home.  “Why do you need two jackets?” he asks.  “Was one of them faulty?”  This joke reveals the main thrust of the Doctor’s humor and an odd character trait:  despite his long track record on Earth, the Doctor does not seem to understand humans.  Although the Ninth and Tenth Doctors had their moments of insulting their human companions, they were perfectly capable of understanding their motives and desires, even if they didn’t share them.  The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors (or, in other words, the Doctors of Moffat’s era) seem to have been cast adrift in the sea of humanity without a compass or paddle.  Little things the Eleventh Doctor did, such as not knowing how much rent to give Craig in The Lodger to his constant air-kissing new friends, has given way to the Twelfth Doctor’s not understanding anything about human life whatsoever; bedrooms (“You have a room just for being unconscious in?”), heeled shoes (“You need to reach something off a high shelf?”), books (The Doctor apparently looks for Wally in every book he opens) and every aspect of Clara’s personal life is ripe for a quip revealing that the Doctor just understand what the Hell is going on.  Five episodes since his regeneration, he still seems a bit wonky, which is strange but does gives us some good jokes.  My favorite is when the Doctor is confronted by Coal Hill student Courtney Woods in his office:

Doctor:  “Can’t you read?”

Courtney:  “Yes, I can.  Read what?”

Doctor:  “The sign; it says ‘Keep Out’!”

Courtney:  “No it doesn’t; it says ‘Humans Go Away’.”

Doctor:  “Does it?  [He checks and sees that it does.]  Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign.”

The laughs die down in the second half if the episode, once Clara must tell the truth to both the men in her life about the other.  And Danny’s inevitable question as to why Clara Doctor-Who-The-Caretaker-Claracontinually runs off with the Doctor is answered in the same way that so many other companions have answered it before:  life on the TARDIS is amazing and wonderful.  Of course, some of the other companions had other reasons for flying away in the TARDIS:  Rose and Martha were falling in love with the Doctor while Amy was taking a last fling before her wedding vows and revisiting her childhood imaginary friend.  Now that Clara’s role as the “Impossible Girl” has been fulfilled, does she have any other reason for remaining on the TARDIS crew?  Is she keeping a promise to the Eleventh Doctor to keep Number Twelve safe and befriended?  Is that all going to change now that Danny is in her life?  At the episode’s conclusion, Danny makes Clara give him a promise to not allow the Doctor to push her into anything too dangerous (reminiscent of Rory saying that the Doctor was dangerous because he made people throw themselves into danger because they wanted to impress him) and Clara promises that she will, but can she keep this promise?  This is an episode whose first lines were Clara’s “We’re gonna die out here.”  True, they somehow made it out alive, but how much longer can this go on?  And what’s going to happen on the moon next week?

According to the scuttlebutt, something bad.

 

P.S. – No need to address the “Promised Land” sequence at the end.  All I can say is, this arc better be a good one, because I’m getting sick of the hints.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  TIME HEIST – A Review

tyjtyjt

Written by Stephen Moffat & Stephen Thompson

Directed by Douglas MacKinnon

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Keely Hawes (Ms. Delphox/Madam Karabraxos); Jonathan Bailey (Psi); Pippa Bennett-Warner (Saibra); Trevor Sellers (Mr. Porrima); Ross Mullan (The Teller); Junior Laniyan (The Suited Customer) & Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

Time Heist - 01          Mr. Moffat has teamed up again with one of his regular writers, this time with Stephen Thompson (writer of the awful episode The Curse of The Black Spot and the far better Journey to the Center of the TARDIS) to create the fast-paced Time Heist.  In fact, the episode is so fast-paced that there were times that the viewer was left seemingly in the dust; not only are some important plot points rushed through, but the very structure of the episode demands that few first-time viewers will have much of a handle on the proceedings until the episode’s final minutes.  Thankfully (unlike so many other episodes from the Moffat-era), all the pieces seem to fit into place by the time the final credits roll.

We join the Doctor while he is trying (and failing) to persuade Clara to join him on a random fun trip, oblivious to the fact that she is preparing for Doctor-Who-Time-Heist-Psi-Saibraa date with Danny.  Suddenly, the TARDIS phone rings, an odd thing since no one in the universe (save Clara) could possibly know the Doctor’s number.  Clara warns the Doctor not to answer it, believing that something bad will happen.  The Doctor dismisses this as piffle and picks up the receiver… and suddenly the Doctor and Clara finds themselves in a strange room with two strangers and no memory of how they got there!  The memory worms crawling in front of them solves the mystery of their forgetfulness, but all of them are shocked to hear a recording of their voices claiming to have touched the worms voluntarily.  This is followed by another recording of someone who identifies himself as “the Architect” who gives them the barest of information:  the four of them are currently sitting inside a chamber in the most secure bank in the universe – where the security kills anyone attempting any sort of funny business – and that they have been called upon to rob it.  With a security force pounding at the door and no idea what it is they are supposed to steal, the quartet of merry safe-crackers have no alternative except to follow orders and pierce the strongest vault in history.

uktv-doctor-who-time-heist-07            The jump cut that bridges the moment of the Doctor answering his phone to the moment after the gang have touched their memory worms is a jarring one to say the least; it plops us right down in the middle of the excitement without any buildup whatsoever.  This is naturally exciting… and, on the first viewing, regrettably frustrating.  We are just as disoriented as the Doctor and his companions are at this moment, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.  First of all, there’s two rather odd-looking people sitting at the table and, although the memory worms were established in the episode The Snowmen, their appearance here is equally off-putting.  There’s a hell of a lot of information imparted in this first minute of the heist and viewers, like myself, probably will miss half of it on the first viewing.  Over a period of a few, chaotic minutes, we’re introduced to Psi, a man with a computer in his brain, and Saibra, a woman who can shape-shift into the likeness of anyone she touches.  We are also introduced to Ms. Delphox, an immaculately dressed bank manager who dispenses death with a cheery smile.  It’s all a little hard to take in; a second viewing is crucial to understanding the set up.

Thankfully, once the initial confusion is passed and our characters are allowed a moment to breathe, we start getting a sense of them and come to realize that they are three of the Doctor-Who-Time-Heist-Keeley-Hawesbetter-written supporting characters Doctor Who has had in quite a while.  Pippa Bennett-Warner is wonderful as Saibra, whose genetic shape-shifting has left her separated from the rest of humanity, unable to touch anyone without taking on their image.  Equally good is Jonathan Bailey’s Psi who, despite having a mainframe in his head, has a big heart (he criticizes the Doctor’s detached manner) and shows his concern for Clara’s safety by seemingly sacrificing himself for her.  But best of all is Keely Hawes as Ms. Delphox (and later revealed to also be Madam Karabraxos, the bank director); the torture, humiliation and the death of those who try to cross her leave nary a wrinkle on her exquisite face.  When she calmly watches as a well-dressed man who is apparently up to no good has his brain melted (in a moment of genuine shock for all of us watching at home), she quips that he’s ready for his “close-up,” which means that he’ll be cruelly put on display as a warning to others.  Hawes is reminiscent of other corporate villains that we have seen in the past (Miss Kizlet from The Bells of St. John and Klineman Halpen from Planet of the Ood spring to mind), men and women who would send their grandchildren on a one-way trip to Hell if it meant keeping the shareholders happy.  Hawes does it with such class that we almost forget to hate her; she lights up the screen almost every time she appears.

doctor-who_series-8_episode-5_time-heist_stills-51            Interestingly enough, Moffat and Thompson install a good, underlying theme in the episode that may explain the motivation of Madam Karabraxos’s call to the Doctor at the end of her life.  Regular viewers will be well aware of the Doctor’s epic loneliness (the first thing we see him doing in this episode is trying to convince Clara to drop her plans and go off with him on an adventure), but this sense of loneliness is reinforced in the other characters:  Saibra is unable to touch anyone and Psi was forced to delete some of his memories during an interrogation, leaving him without any sense of friends or family.  Their rewards for taking part in the robbery are items that will cure their loneliness:  a “cure” that will turn Saibra into a normal human and a device that will restore Psi’s memories.  We also find out that the real mission that the gang was sent on was to cure another being’s loneliness:  the creature known as the Teller (the thing that detects guilt and turns brains into mush) allows himself to be controlled by the bank because Madam Karabraxos has imprisoned the creature’s mate in the private vault.  The robbery, as the Doctor says, was really a rescue mission and the reunion of the two creatures is the final act of hope for all the lonely souls in the episode.

This brings us to Madam Karabraxos, who lives in the private vault surrounded by her wealth, seemingly untroubled by her lack of human contact.  We’re told very little about time-heist-psi-clara-saibraher; the only contact she has is with her clones, which she throws into the incinerator whenever they displease her.  This is the woman who apparently calls the Doctor from her deathbed, noticeably NOT surrounded by loved ones praying for her.  Is it too much of a stretch to surmise that, in her lonely last days, she realized that imprisoning the Teller’s mate in order to harness his power was an unforgivable sin?  Sentencing herself to a life of solitude was her own choice; sentencing another creature to that same life is evil beyond words.  Had the Doctor and his gang not arrived, the Teller and his mate would’ve died in the solar storm, never having found each other.  Madam Karabraxos may not be able find companionship in her last hours, but at least she had the good sense to undo a great wrong in her life.  Reuniting a creature with its mate has been done before rather recently on Doctor Who in the episode Hide, where the unnamed horror was revealed in the episode’s closing minute that it was missing it’s mate, stranded in a different plane of existence.  There, it felt tacked on and confused, a further wrinkle to an already confused and convoluted story; here, it feels more organic to the plot and works far better, especially the reveal of the Teller’s mate wrapped in chains and the Doctor placing a hand on it to comfort it.

Doctor-Who-Time-Heist            Of course, we all know that the Doctor, as the last Time Lord in the Universe (even with the knowledge that the other Time Lords are hidden in a pocket universe somewhere), is also the loneliest creature in the universe which is why he needs Clara around who, despite her acceptance of the Doctor’s new face and personality, seems to be pulling away from him more and more as her relationship with Danny becomes more serious.  But as for Clara herself, after last week’s marvelous development of her character in Listen, this week finds Clara falling back into standard companion mode.  There’s no real reason for the Doctor to have taken her to the bank; Saibra and Psi have special abilities that prove them necessary to the completion of the mission while Clara seems to be there only to be threatened by the Teller and rescued (twice) and to try to smooth over the Doctor’s abrasive personality and make excuses for him (something that even Psi points out).  It’s kind of a shame that Moffat and Thompson couldn’t have found something more substantial for her to do (maybe she could have volunteered to have her mind scanned by the Teller in order to access her repressed memories or maybe could have at least made a comment about Madam Karabraxos preferring solitude and life amongst inanimate treasures to trigger her guilt and regret years later).  Next week, it looks like we’ll have more of Clara, facing the comic turmoil of her double life and having to make room for the Doctor at the Coal Hill School; I hope that this will prove to be more of a character defining episode for the bright and shining character that is Clara Oswald.  Only time will tell.

On the whole, Time Heist is exciting and thought-provoking, although its structure and initial pacing can confuse initial viewers (let me get this straight:  the four robbers start in Doctor-Who-Time-Heist1a room that is evidentially on the bank’s property but are later shown entering the bank?  So where did they begin from?  Details like this may not seem important, but any sort of confusion during such a chaotic opening can only lead to frustration).  And to be truthful, it wasn’t too difficult to guess that the Architect was the Doctor himself long before the reveal.  But there is also many moments to treasure in Time Heist:  Psi’s speech before his apparent death, the post-robbery moment on the TARDIS where the four companions share Chinese takeaway and jokes, the Doctor falsely claiming that calories consumed on the TARDIS has no lasting effect (“Of course I’m kidding, it’s a time machine, not a miracle worker”) and the truly shocking effect of a man with his forehead collapsed inward after his brain has been turn to soup (how many kids scurried behind the sofa after that one?).  While not the best this year – Listen still holds that honor – Time Heist takes an old premise and turns it on its head; the crooks are not after gold or fortune, but contact, companionship and, in the case of Madam Karabraxos, redemption.

P.S. – Lose the cheesy wipes; you’re better than that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  LISTEN – A Review

tyjtyjt

Written by Stephen Moffat

Directed by Douglas Mackinnon

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink/Colonel Orson Pink);  Roger Goodman (Reg, the Night Watchman) & Remi Gooding (young Rupert “Danny” Pink)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

            Attention:  We interrupt your normal internet session for a special Whovian gush-fest concerning the 4th episode of the 8th series of Doctor Who entitled “Listen.”  For the next 2,000 words, non-geeks are advised to hold their noses because the musk of praise is going to get a bit thick.

 

Doctor-Who-Listen           Stephen Moffat has had to take a lot of badgering from his fan-base in the last few years, much of it justified.  As a writer, Moffat could do no wrong when Russell T. Davies was running the show; his episodes during that era – The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink, Silence In The Library & Forests Of The Dead have all become classics.  Since taking over the show in 2010, Moffat has provided some good episodes and interesting story arcs, but has also often been the father of plot points that don’t seem to go anywhere, mysteries that are never fully explained, and inconsistent character development.  Since beginning the eighth series, Moffat has been on a good, steady keel, giving us the grand opening episode Deep Breath and one-upping himself with Into The Dalek, co-written with Phil Ford.  After last week’s somewhat disappointing swashbuckler Robot of Sherwood (written by Mark Gatiss, but green-lit by Moffat), I felt that old sinking feeling again, one that I haven’t felt since the Doctor, Amy and Rory went to visit a town called Mercy (and that lasted until the two of them got touched by an angel one last time).  It was with some degree of trepidation that I approached the episode titled Listen.  An hour later, I sat stunned on my sofa with my mouth hanging open; Listen is the best episode of the current series of Doctor Who thus far and one of the best episodes for the program that Moffat has ever written.

The setup for the story is almost too simple for belief:  the Doctor, alone and thinking deep thoughts, postulates an interesting theory – the reason why people speak aloud even listen-hand-bedthough they know they are alone is maybe because they suspect that they’re not alone after all.  He further imagines the existence of a creature that is an expert at hiding, that such a creature would be virtually unknown since it could always resist detection.  He imagines that these are the creatures that surreptitiously move objects around when you’re not looking (on a personal note, I’d like to appeal to the one living in my house to please return the book of stamps it absconded with a week ago).  When the Doctor thinks he’s stumbled onto some actual proof that this creature exists (a message on his chalkboard that he claims not to have written), he decides to find Clara to help him get to the bottom of it all.  Clara is currently finishing up a bad date with Danny Pink, her handsome colleague from the Coal Hill School and isn’t really in the mood to chase down a creature that, for all she knows, the Doctor simply invented out of a whiff of dubious logic.  However, the Doctor insists that the creature is related to the dream that nearly everyone has had where they get out of bed and feel something grabbing their ankle.  He wants to visit the moment Clara had that dream as a child to find out what, if anything, caused it.  As usual, they take a bit of a wrong turn, but the three places that the TARDIS ends up reveal new aspects of our three main characters that we, as an audience, had absolutely no idea we were going to be learning.  Wasn’t this going to be just a simple scary episode?

Doctor-Who-Listen-02            Moffat does a great job luring the audience into the episode, considering that the short and sharp pre-credits sequence (unlike the flabby sequences we’ve been getting during the last few years) is simply the Doctor talking to himself (it certainly doesn’t hurt to open with the visually arresting image of the Doctor meditating on the TARDIS’s roof!).  The Doctor’s reasons for getting Clara involved make perfect sense (something that wasn’t true for the otherwise great Into The Dalek episode); he needs to trace someone’s timeline back to the moment of the monster-under-the-bed nightmare.  It’s a wonderful reversal (and a thwarting of the audience’s expectations) that Clara’s childhood is the only character’s childhood that we don’t get a look at (and considering that the eleventh Doctor already did some time traveling through Clara’s early years makes a further backwards traipse less interesting).  Instead, we’re treated to the childhood fears of our two male characters – Danny and the Doctor.  To a certain degree, Clara’s visit to young Rupert’s (he wasn’t called Danny then) room in the orphanage might be a bit reminiscent of Rose traveling back in time in Father’s Day (2005) and meeting the five year-old version of her future boyfriend Mickey, but the sequence in Rupert’s room is tight, scary and even gives us a glimpse of Clara’s gift with children (after she checks under Rupert’s bed for monsters, she says “You know what is under here… me” before playfully scampering underneath).  We’ll remember this moment later on when Clara finds herself under another child’s bed… and imprints herself on that child’s memory in a way she never intended.

Before we crawl under that other child’s bed with her, it is worth noting the less-than-usual structure this episode presents; by the time the Doctor presses his finger against doctor-who-series-eight-trailer-listen-1Rupert’s forehead, sending him to sleep and bringing his story to an end, regular viewers might start scratching their heads a bit since we’ve had a nice little adventure in the TARDIS which seems to now be over just as we’re getting to the twenty minute mark.  At this point, Clara asks the Doctor to take her back to the scene of her of her disastrous date with Danny just minutes after she walked out on him.  This would be a cute ending to an episode… if there weren’t another twenty minutes to fill.  But the date goes wrong a second time, this time Danny is the one to walk out, and Clara is left with a man in a spacesuit trying to get her attention.  The fact that we are going to find ourselves taking two more unexpected trips in the TARDIS before the final credits roll keeps what might be a jaded fan base on the edge of their seats before they finds themselves behind the sofa.  We may not get to see any of Clara’s childhood in Listen, but there’s a very good chance that we get a glimpse of her distant future when she meets Colonel Orson Pink, Danny’s great-grandson (and hers as well?).  It’s a wonder that Clara’s head doesn’t explode with all the revelations that are paraded in front of her understandably surprised eyes.  And at this point, we believe we’re finally going to find out about these shy creatures that the Doctor seems to have stumbled upon… but no.  We have one more stop to make, and it will break your heart.

doctorwho_listen_4            With the Doctor injured and unconscious (and something apparently trying to get through the TARDIS doors), Clara uses the TARDIS’s telepathic controls to put some space and time between them and the end of the universe.  But she finds herself in a strangely familiar barn and there is a crying child in a bed up in a loft.  Hiding under the bed, she overhears a couple’s conversation that leads her to the realization that the weeping boy is none other than the Doctor.  And if that weren’t planet-shattering enough, the boy starts to get out of bed to investigate the TARDIS and Clara instinctively grabs the child’s ankle, thereby revealing herself to the monster under the Doctor’s bed and the cause of this whole strange affair.  The Impossible Girl has struck again, this time imprinting herself on his life as the great fear of his life.  And this is where Clara’s gift with children (seen with Rupert as well as Merry in The Rings of Ahkaten) comes into play:  drawing on the words that the Doctor used on Rupert to calm him, Clara tells the boy who will become the Oncoming Storm that, while fear may be his constant companion, it will make him strong and good.  It is one of the great touching moments of Doctor Who, one those moments that makes you love this show and its writers for doctorwho_listen_5reaching so deep within themselves and, devoid of cool creatures and sonic screwdrivers, holds a mirror up to our own faces:  we’re afraid to live, afraid to fail, and fear is our constant companion, but if the Doctor can live with his fears (and let’s face it, he’s got a lot to be scared of – have you ever tried to reason with a Dalek?) then maybe we can too.  When Clara impulsively hugs the cringing Doctor a bit later, we not only feel the cementing of their relationship (she was, if only for a moment, the Doctor’s nanny and is now proud of the man that he’s become) but we want to join in.  This episode worked hard to get to that hug and it deserves that moment of affection.

doctor-who-series-eight-trailer-listen-2           On top of all that, this episode has both scares and laughs.  In the laughs department, the Doctor is always quick to express a quizzical quip at Clara’s human foibles (observing her vanity mirror:  “You’ve got three mirrors… why not just turn your head?”) or to express his failure to grasp certain aspects of human culture (he admits that he’s wasted years looking for Wally in books that aren’t part of the Where’s Wally series).  The scenes of suspense are the best we’ve seen in a long time:  the creature on Rupert’s bed, the thing at the spaceship’s door, and the myriad of hands reaching out of the darkness to grasp at lone and shaking ankles all twist the anxiety up and make the viewers’ hearts skip a beat or two.  Most wonderful is when the script leads us to proof of the creatures’ existence only to shortchange us, as when Reg the Night Watchman discovers his mug of coffee missing – apparently stolen by the hidden creatures – only to reveal a moment later that the Doctor has stolen it himself; the Doctor seems to be inventing a few scares for the viewers at home, as if he knew he was being viewed by fans across the globe.

This isn’t a perfect episode.  I was left wondering how a man in an orange spacesuit could wander into a restaurant and attract?????????????????????????????????????? the attention of only one person (Clara) and why Clara was so reluctant to tell the Doctor that she was dating Danny Pink, which would’ve explained all his questions as to why the TARDIS homed in on Rupert and Orson.  And yes, I do realize that there is a similarity between this episode’s concept of “the perfect hiding creature” and the two iconic monsters that Moffat has introduced to the Whoniverse:  the Weeping Angels (which revert into inert stone statues when viewed) and the Silence (which wipe themselves from your memory when you look away from them).  Critical articles of this episode have been barking about how Moffat had already introduced two perfectly good hiding creatures and have taken umbrage at the fact that the episode may not have had any creatures for the Doctor to fight in the first place.  I find all of these points (including the observations concerning the Angels and the Silence) to be perfectly valid nitpicks.  They exist… and they don’t dampen my enjoyment of the episode one iota.  And as for whether there really was a creature under Rupert’s bed sheet or lurking outside Orson’s escape hatch, I prefer to think that there might have been something there, but not necessarily what the Doctor was looking for, but I may be wrong.  Maybe we’ll find out more later on or maybe not; this is one instance of a dangling plotline that I don’t find infuriating (which is not my usual response).  What I walked away from Listen with was a deeper understanding of the Doctor’s character and a positive message for all those children out there watching the show from behind the sofa:  it’s alright to be afraid.

 

So concludes the gush-fest.  We now return you to your regularly-scheduled internet session.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  ROBOT OF SHERWOOD – A Review

Written by Mark Gatiss

Directed by Paul Murphy

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Tom Riley (Robin Hood); Ben Miller (The Sheriff of Nottingham); Ian Hallard (Alan-a-Dale); Trevor Cooper (Friar Tuck); Rusty Goffe (Little John); Joseph Kennedy (Will Scarlet); Roger Aston Griffiths (Quayle) & Sabrina Bartlett (Miss Quayle/Marion)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

imagesCAKBZRAO            And here we are at the first historical episode of series 8 with a logline so simple that it’s a wonder that no one ever thought of it before:  the Doctor meets Robin Hood.  Sure, Robin Hood never existed, but the Daleks don’t exist either and that hasn’t stopped them from making appearance after appearance.  With Robot of Sherwood, we’re given the type of frivolous,  light-hearted episode that we haven’t seen since The Crimson Horror and wasn’t certain was actually possible with this new and sterner Doctor.  And that’s fortunate because, after the darkness of the first two episodes, this show needs a bright and light-hearted romp.  And so we have it… so why am I somewhat disappointed?

Robot of Sherwood begins with Clara already on the TARDIS, like the good old days when companions only rarely, if ever, went home, VB VBand the Doctor asks her where she’d like to go.  Gushing like a teenager, she says she always wanted to meet Robin Hood.  The Doctor is disappointed; Robin Hood doesn’t exist, he insists, but Clara is adamant and off they go to Sherwood Forrest where Robin and his Merry Men makes themselves immediately known.  The Doctor is having none of it; Robin Hood doesn’t exist and he’s going to prove it!  Soon everyone is off to the archery contest that everyone knows is a trap laid by the Sheriff of Nottingham, many arrows are split by other arrows, and the Doctor, Clara and Robin are all thrown into the dungeon, which is perfectly fine with the Doctor because it gives him an opportunity to figure out why the Sheriff’s guards are all robots.

FTHRFTHF            The best portion of the episode is the opening ten to twenty minutes (everything I’ve just described); the setting of Sherwood Forrest is bright and gay (which the Doctor immediately finds troubling – “You ever been to Nottingham?”), there’s lots of good jokes (most of which involve the Doctor trying to prove that the Merry Men are not real) and even a fine opening “sword” fight, with the Doctor using a spoon to ward off Robin’s blows.  Tom Riley is good as Robin Hood and Ben Miller (channeling Anthony Ainsley’s Master) is even better as the villainous Sheriff.  The archery contest is a bit of an old cliché, but it is livened up by the Doctor continuing to one-up Robin (the Doctor later admits that he cheated).  The realization that all is not what it seems – that the knights are actually disguised robots – looks promising (if we forget the fact that the villains for the first two episodes were robots and robot-like Daleks).  But things take a turn for the tedious when our heroes are thrown into the dungeon.

Simply put, the sequences of the Doctor and Robin Hood insulting each other and trying to one-up each other starts off as humorous and becomes deadly dull very quickly.  In theimagesCAB8VFWL dungeon, Robin continually laughs like a Merry Man on standby and the Doctor continually shouts for the guard to move him to another cell.  It seems to go on forever and we are thankful to Clara for telling them both to shut up.  This is followed by more squabbling; both Robin and the Doctor insist they have a plan to escape and want to hear the other’s first (neither of them have anything close to resembling a plan).  Clara, believed to be the ringleader because she is the only one talking sense, is mercifully taken for questioning by the Sheriff, but that unfortunately leaves us alone with these two squabbling old biddies.  It’s with some sense of relief when the scene cuts to Clara and the Sheriff.

imagesCA6YK01A            Mind you, the script does give Clara the choice role; her scenes with the Sheriff in which she goads him into telling his plans without revealing any information herself is choice stuff.  But while Clara makes off with the best part of the script, we are thrust back into the dungeon with the Battling Bickersons, reduced to luring a guard in with a flimsy story and having to drag a stone block out with them when they jointly lose the key (in a very poorly shot moment; a shot of the key tumbling down the pit would’ve worked much better than a sound effect).  This leads us to the other problem with the episodes:  the Doctor, in wanting to prove that Robin Hood cannot possibly exist, leaps completely to the wrong conclusions.  Upon finding the heart of the ship (searching, like the Victorian robots of Deep Breath, for the Promised Land – ah, mustn’t forget that arc, must we?), he is convinced that the ship has created Robin and his men based on the Earth legends of Robin Hood.  He shouts “You’re a robot” continually, only to be finally proved wrong by, of all people, the Sheriff himself (“Why would I create an enemy to fight me,” he asks and the Doctor is forced to admit that such a plan would make no sense).  So the Doctor is wrong throughout most of this episode… and it is annoying as Hell.  Furthermore, we have no idea how wrong he is; the fact he is continually trying to drum into our heads that there is no such thing as Robin Hood and we wantB VBNHFGNV to believe him (he is the star of the show, after all), makes it difficult to walk away from the episode with a clear understanding of who Robin Hood is:  he may be flesh and blood, but is he the real McCoy or has the ship somehow created him out of an ordinary man using the myths in its databanks.  Why is he looking for Maid Marion?  Where did he see her last and where had she got too?  Most Robin Hood legends have Marion being of somewhat noble breeding, but the woman who is eventually revealed to be Marion (or is possibly saddled with the identity) is a commoner, new to Sherwood.  The Doctor is apparently instrumental in getting this peasant, Miss Quayle, to become Marion, but did he somehow recognize her true identity (and if he did, how did he?) or did he convince her to be this Robin’s Marion?  These are all questions that should not be popping up in the episode’s last minutes, as it calls into question everything we’ve seen before and leaves us scratching our heads rather than sitting back with a satisfied smile.

HFTHFG            Robot of Sherwood does have lots going for it:  it is funny in many places, all of the swordfight sequences are masterful, the Doctor’s plan of using the reflective surfaces of gold trays against the robots’ lasers is inspired, and there is a begrudging respect between the two heroes in the episode’s final minutes (beginning when Robin uses a move to defeat the Sheriff that he learned off the Doctor earlier), but there are also questions that must have seemed definitively answered to the production team that, even on a second viewing, leaves the audience guessing.  Robos of Sherwood is fun in its light-heartedness and tries hard, but suffers from the same things that many Matt Smith episodes before it suffered from:  too many quips and too many twists without enough hints to let the audience in on its secrets.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO:  INTO THE DALEK – A Review

tyjtyjt

 

Written by Stephen Moffat & Phil Ford

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Zawe Ashton (Journey Blue); Michael Smiley (Col. Morgan Blue); Lauren dos Santos (Gretchen); Ben Crompton (Ross); Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink); Nicholas Briggs (The Voice of The Daleks) & Michelle Gomez (Missy)

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

Doctor-Who-Into-The-Dalek-Twelfth-Doctor            Well, it didn’t take long for the new Doctor to face a major threat.  Some reviewers have questioned the return of the Daleks in the Doctor’s first post-regeneration episode, saying that this proves that Moffat and company may have felt that the audience would be quicker to accept Capaldi in the TARDIS if they showed him squaring off against his greatest foes.  Maybe there’s some truth to that, but it reveals an almost fatal degree of cynicism on the part of some reviewers.  Every Doctor has to face the Daleks sooner or later and I can definitely say that Into The Dalek is a much better episode than Matt Smith’s first Dalek episode Victory Of The Daleks (2010), where the Daleks spent the first half of the episode serving tea before morphing into a fatter, rainbow-colored gang (a design that went over like a lead balloon and that was quietly dispensed with).  Deep Breath‘s plot was good and entertaining, but doctor-who_series-8_into-the-dalek-7it was hardly world-shattering; any episodes with the Daleks immediately raises the stakes and, while this is great for audience anticipation, it also puts more pressure on the episode.  “This better be good,” I muttered just before the episode began, acknowledging that simply pitting the Doctor against the Daleks is not simply “half the battle.”  Classic creatures make everything twice as hard:  how is this episode going to measure up against all the other Dalek episodes?

into-the-dalek-4           Into The Dalek begins with the Doctor saving the life of a woman soldier, Lt. Journey Blue, who immediately points a gun at him and demands to be taken back to her ship.  The Doctor blithely insists that she asks politely, which she eventually does.  This is an important moment:  the Doctor (like all of his previous incarnation) is not a man who can be bossed around and it says something about the character of Journey Blue (Where do they come up with these names?  Is she another of Amy and Rory’s kidnapped kids?).  Her identity as a war-torn soldier is going to be important later on.  Anyway, The Doctor arrives at Journey’s ship; she is a member of a force that is resisting the scourge of the Daleks and they want the Doctor to take a look at a rather specific patient:  a war-battered dalek so damaged that it has developed a sense of morality – it wants to destroy all the other daleks.  After a quick trip to collect Clara from the Coal Hill School, our heroes allow themselves to be miniaturized so that they can enter the dalek to find out what makes a good dalek tick.

It should be mentioned that not only is the idea of miniaturizing people to enter a body nothing new (the Doctor himself says it would make a great movie, referencingdarkness the science fiction classic Fantastic Voyage (1966)) it isn’t even an original premise for Doctor Who (the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jamison) having been shrunk down and inserted into a body to fight an infection in The Invisible Enemy (1977)).  It’s the concept that the TARDIS team is going into a dalek that makes the premise special.  With a trio of armed guards (red shirts, anyone?) poised to kill the Doctor in case he tries any funny stuff, the quintet get shrunk and dive into the fluid of the Dalek’s eyestalk, one of the episode’s many imaginative moments, in order to get to its brain so that they can… what?  One of the few problems with Into The Dalek is that the Doctor’s mission inside the dalek is never completely clear; is he supposed to study it or repair it?  The act of repairing it only makes the dalek revert to its former psychopathic personality, which everyone should have suspected was at least a possibility (I was certainly expecting it).  It’s only after the newly-repaired dalek starts running amuck that the real mission begins:  force the dalek to remember that it is capable of good.  But does the Doctor succeed?

into_dalek_05            There’s so much in this episode that is worth praise that it is difficult to get your head around it.  There’s the way the Doctor faces off with soldiers pointing guns at him and the type of loopy dialog that we’ve become accustomed to since Tennant was playing the role (“Imagine the worst thing in the universe… now forget it because here it is”).  There’s that wonderful moment when the Doctor says to Journey that her soldier’s solution – blowing up the dalek from within – isn’t the way; the Daleks will always be deadlier soldiers than the humans are and a better way must be found.  Let’s not forget Clara slapping some sense into the Doctor (one of the more realistic-looking slaps I’ve seen in the series, right up there with River’s in The Impossible Astronaut) and Gretchen’s moment of self-sacrifice (“Do something wonderful and name it after me,” she tells the Doctor.)  And let’s face it, the Daleks are still frightening and Into The Dalek has some great, suspenseful battle scenes in its final act:  we can be assured that the Doctor will somehow stop the Daleks, but will there be anyone left to save by the time he does?

In the end, the day is indeed saved  when the dalek (whom the Doctor refers to as “Rusty”) sees the Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks in his mind and, finding it beautiful, doctor-who-into-the-dalek-twelve-would-be-a-good-dalekdecides to fulfill the Doctor’s subconscious will to destroy all the other daleks.  It’s an exciting moment (punctuated by the genuinely funny dalek exclamation, “We are under attack… by a dalek!”), but while the rebels have been saved, the Doctor cannot take any pleasure in the results.  His plan was to make Rusty a truly good creature, to understand the beauty of life and the universe, only to have his worst fears realized.  The man who began the episode by asking Clara if he was a good man has just gotten his answer, and it wasn’t the one he wanted.  “I am not a good dalek,” says Rusty.  “You are a good dalek.”  This recalls the moment in 2005 when the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) spewed verbal bile at what he thought was the last dalek in the universe, only to be told “You would into-the-dalek-1make a good dalek.”  It’s taken nine years (in our time, not the Doctor’s) for him to reach this point and he must find it shattering.  This is why Clara’s final pronouncement of his character, that he tries, is so important:  the Doctor is a good dalek who is trying to be a good man.  He can reign down far more destruction on the universe that any fleet of daleks could, but he’s trying to do what’s right.

At this point, I’d like to admit that I haven’t said much about the introduction of Danny Pink, the former soldier and maths into_dalek_04teacher at the Coal Hill School who is evidently haunted by the killing of a civilian (or possibly many) during the war and who is slated to be Clara’s love-interest.  Samuel Anderson does well with the character – Danny certainly seems to be a nice and sensitive guy – but as he isn’t involved in the main story, there isn’t much to go on and he isn’t even going to be featured in next week’s episode.  No doubt his status as a former soldier will come into play when he finally meets the Doctor, which brings us to the soldier who would not be a companion, Journey Blue.  When introduced, Journey has just lost her beloved brother in battle and is no doubt battle-scarred from the Doctor-Who-802.2-600x400rebels’ long war with the daleks.  Sure she’s going to react to every circumstance like a soldier, pointing her gun and barking orders.  She’s under a lot of pressure and the Doctor’s cavalier attitude to Ross’s death doesn’t help, but you can understand why the Doctor refuses her request to travel with him.  Yes, she did resist her orders and her urge to blow the dalek up, but breaking her training is something that the Doctor is not willing to undertake, no matter how willing she might be to permanently holster her gun.  The Doctor himself is a soldier and you don’t have to be a long-time Doctor Who fan to have gleaned that the Doctor’s aversion to soldiers is motivated by a desire to divorce himself from memories of the Time War.  More than ever, he wants to be a good man instead of a good Dalek (i.e. a soldier) and I believe that Into The Dalek has given us a theme that will be explored as the series matures:  is a soldier only one step away from a dalek and is this new Doctor a good man?  Only eleven more episodes will tell.

into-the-dalek-next-time

But forget about all that:  we’re going to Sherwood Forest next week!  Tally-Ho!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH – A Review

fbdbdfb

Written by Stephen Moffat

Directed by Ben Wheatley

 

Starring:  Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra); Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint); Dan Starkey (Strax); Peter Ferdinando (The Half-Faced Man); Paul Hickey (Inspector Grayson); Michelle Gomez (Missy) & Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor)

 

Here There Be Spoilers.

 

yujytmhgjmh            In the words of Madame Vastra, spoken just prior to start of the marvelous new opening credits, “Here we go again.”  Deep Breath, the first episode of the eighth series of Doctor Who (of the new series, anyway), is a special episode – special in the same way that The Eleventh Hour, The Christmas Invasion, Rose, Time And The Rani and several other episodes before them were special:  they introduce us to a whole new Doctor.  The introductory episodes are always fraught with tension, like Helen Keller traversing a tightrope strewn with banana skins whilst holding back a very big sneeze.  Doctor Who, a show that has remained both running and fresh through five decades by the genius premise that allows a new actor to assume the role every few years, is yet precarious in its existence:  all it takes is a misguided casting decision to bring the adventures of everyone’s favorite Timelord to an abrupt end.  And adding to the tension is that introductory episodes for a new Doctor never show the Doctor at the peak of his abilities; regeneration is a massive strain on the system and usuallyxcvxdffcxv leaves the Doctor wonky and a bit slow on the uptake.  Deep Breath is no exception; here we are, trying to get a sense of what the new Doctor is going to be, and he’s flouncing about, barely able to remember his own name.  These episodes need to be written with care.  We could end up with a Castrovalva, where the Doctor has to be out of commission in a stasis room in order to sort himself out, or The Twin Dilemma, where the Doctor tries to strangle his companion in a fit of post-regeneration psychosis.  For Whovians, this sort of thing is old hat.  It is our job to see behind the weirdness of the post-regeneration lunacy (like seeing past Madame Vastra’s veil) and glean what the new Doctor is going to be.  So… what’s he like?

Let’s save that question for later.  After all, there’s a dinosaur in the Themes to contend with.

imagesCAJE5Z40            Deep Breath begins with the Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny & Strax) and said dinosaur, misplaced as it is in Victorian London.  A dino-cough reveals that the TARDIS has been lodged in its throat and the question of how it got to London is answered, but the real question (there are several moments in this episode when the Doctor calls attention to what the real question is) is what is going to happen when the TARDIS doors open.  When the Doctor emerges, he is as wonky as expected (don’t forget, his last line of dialog in the episode he regenerated in was “Do you happen to know how to fly this thing”):  forgetting everybody’s name, mistaking Strax for Clara (“You’re both of similar height… maybe you should wear labels.”), and apparently flirting with a female dinosaur.  It’s a lot to take in, especially with a Scottish accent (not as thick as Amy’s – thank Heaven for small favors), and as funny as the scene is, we may feel a bit like Clara in our uneasiness that we don’t really know who the Doctor really is.  Our memories of when the Eleventh Doctor was demanding apples, yogurt, bacon and other foodstuff from young Amelia Pond might help us, but what we really need is an adventure to distract us from the oddness and for the Doctor to prove himself in.

The dinosaur apparently spontaneously combusts and the guilt-ridden Doctor (it was his fault, albeit accidentally, that brought the dinosaur to London) takes on the imagesCA8CL1PJcase; there have been other spontaneous combustions in the last month all through London and the Doctor aims to get to the bottom of it… just as soon as he gets some clothes that don’t smell like a Whitechapel prostitute’s feet and figures out his eyebrows.  Like most new-Doctor-introductions, Deep Breath is two stories in one episode:  what the Hell is going on and who the Hell is this guy calling himself the Doctor?  These are the questions asked by Clara, the audience’s surrogate, and it is at this point when we realize that there is a curious thing happening; unlike all of the Doctor’s other companions who witnessed a regeneration (Sarah Jane, Peri and Rose to name only a few), Clara – as the Doctor’s “Impossible Girl” – knows all about regeneration and the Doctor’s former personalities.  She has apparently lived thousands of lives along the Doctor’s time stream and is well-acquainted with the Doctor’s multiple personalities, so it is a bit odd when she asks an offended Madame Vastra “How can we change him back?”  This may be just Clara’s unwillingness to accept that, unlike all the other occasions fgbnfghfgthat she met up with previous Doctors, this time she’s not getting her old Doctor back.  But whatever the reason, this new turn of events gives Jenna Coleman an opportunity like she’s never had before on Doctor Who to explore the character she’s playing.  Clara seems adrift and searching for dry land, intellectually aware that the gray-haired Scot before her is the Doctor and yet emotionally resisting it.  She has many fine moments in this episode, such as her brief argument with Vastra over appearances and when she has to face off with the Half-Faced Man alone and believing that the Doctor has abandoned her.

Another thing that helps Coleman’s performance is the acting style of Peter Capaldi; during her time with the Eleventh Doctor, Coleman and Smith sometimes resembled a comedy-team rather than an alien adventurer and his human sidekick, forever competing in a “who-can-talk-the-fastest” imagesCA55FUUDcontest.  Their sequences in the Martini Restaurant and in the cellar/larder expose a real feeling of communication that barely happened during Smith’s reign.  This may be because Capaldi’s Doctor is so addle-brained during half the episode and Clara is cautiously trying to feel him out, but I hope not.  True, the episode ran longer than an hour and gave the characters more room to breathe and explore each other, but I sincerely hope that things do not revert to the slap-bang, smash-and-dash, what-did-he-just-say style that typified most of Smith’s era (I caught nearly all the dialog and concepts during Tennant’s era on the first viewings).  As for the Doctor himself, I have often found myself as tentative as Clara is whenever I’ve been presented with a new Doctor.  As much as I liked Tennant’s interpretation (he is still my current favorite), it did take me a few episodes to stop thinking of Eccelston as the real Doctor and accept the new guy.  The same thing happened at the beginning of Smith’s era (although it took longer for me).  In Deep Breath, I am presented with a new Doctor, who I must accept if I am ever going to continue enjoying this show.  As good and as earnest as he was, it’s going to take me some time to look in his face and automatically think, “That’s the Doctor.”

fgbfgbf            Thankfully, it takes only about half of an episode for him to shake off his post-regeneration confusion and start acting like the Doctor.  Up to that point, we’ve had some great funny lines concerning mirrors (“Don’t look in that mirror; it’s furious!”), eyebrows (“You could take bottle-tops off with these things!”) and a Scottish accent (“I’m Scottish; I can complain about things now!”).  And while comedy is good, there is nothing better than seeing our old friend take charge of a situation.  This begins the moment we discover that the Doctor did not abandon Clara to torture and death after all, revealing himself to have been hiding plane sight under (ugh!) a face mask of human flesh!  (I never thought I’d see the Doctor reference Hannibal Lecter.)  He fully solidifies when he is confronting the Half-Faced Man while they fly the skies of London with the help of (double ugh!) a human skin balloon!  (The Montgolfier Brothers meets Dr. Mengele; I’m sensing a trend that I hope ends here.)  Here the Doctor is well within his element and we can fully see him and recognize him for the first time as offers the Half-Faced Man a drink in anticipation of having to murder him (“You’re going to need it,” he says.)  His logical debate with the myhhrobot about the nature of individuality and humanity is pure Doctor Who, and also revealing considering that this man of many faces recognizes that his analogy of replacing the parts of a broom until it is no longer the same broom could be applied to himself as well as the robot.  Ultimately, the Doctor must fall back on his own morals:  killing others to survive is wrong and his friends are in immediate danger.  After careful consideration, it makes no difference whether the Doctor pushed the Half-Faced Man out of the escape pod to his death or whether he convinced the robot to jump:  either way, the Doctor is responsible for the humanish robot’s death and that cold look he flashes straight to the viewer shows that he is aware of this.

ghnyth            With the added minutes to the normal running time, we are allowed to explore the lives of the Paternoster Gang more fully, although I suspect that Strax will never be anything more than comic relief.  More interesting is the relationship between Madame Vastra and Jenny; although married (I wonder who performed such a ceremony in Victorian London), it is plain to see that Vastra’s natural disdain for humankind is something that plays out in her relationship with the young girl:  she explains that Jenny plays the role of her servant for the benefit of strangers, prompting Jenny to ask why she performs such duties in private.  A good question that deserves an answer, I think.  Later, Jenny is shown posing for her wife/mistress for what she thinks is a portrait, only to discover that Vastra was working with a crime scene map and simply wanted Jenny there because she “brightens up the room.”  Sure, it’s funny, but if Vastra were a male Silurian, this would be a moment of obvious sexism.  One can only hope that someday, Vastra will learn to see her wife as an equal the way she demands Clara to see the Doctor for what he is, rather than what he looks like.

Clara, like us, needs a little help in accepting the Doctor, something that she gets when, after deciding that she isn’t keen on continuing her travels with this new man, she suddenly gets a call from someone whom the Doctor jokes is her “boyfriend.”  He isn’t far wrong; to Clara’s shock, the imagesCAPD9FRSEleventh Doctor’s voice croaks out of her phone, having placed a “timecall” from Trenzalore prior to his regeneration.  Even the Doctor isn’t too keen on the idea of looking older (odd, considering that he visibly aged into a coot during The Time Of The Doctor), but he reminds Clara that this new, older man is indeed him, that’s he’s scared, and that he needs her more than ever before.  Many reviews have questioned whether bringing Smith back for this one scene was necessary for the episode.  All I can say is that it is definitely necessary for Clara:  despite her constant protests to the contrary, she was beginning to fancy the Doctor (chin and all) and his new face has destroyed those feelings.  If she had immediately accepted him, it would have felt false and forced.  In this moment, Clara has gone from a cute, funny, fast-talking pixie to an actual character with real feelings.  From this point onwards, her growth in the universe that is Doctor Who can begin and hopefully flourish.

imagesCAYPJLGF            The episode does have a few hiccups along the way to this shining moment.  The story is a continuation (or “knockoff,” depending how you feel about it) of Moffat’s second series masterpiece “The Girl In The Fireplace,” where clockwork robots attempt to use human parts to repair machinery.  Here, the added wrinkle is that the robots are using the human parts to repair themselves which, in a way that is never really explained, is making them more human.  It’s quite a good variation of the original idea (where the robots were using human parts to repair their spaceship), but while there are some tense and scary scenes (the scenes where the Doctor and Clara try to leave the Martini Restaurant and where Clara is standing up to the Half-Faced Man are the best) the leader of the bunch, the Half-Face Man, is not incredibly compelling.  He is neither human enough to earn our sympathy nor machine enough to earn our condemnation.  And why, if he is the leader, is he the only one of the robots who has only half a face and why, furthermore, is he the one robot who travels in public when all the other imagesCAQZJ5QKrobots have complete faces and could walk the streets unobserved?  And while it is a good idea for Clara to have the brainstorm of having the Paternoster Gang hold their breaths just when the battle with the robots is turning for the worst, the plot demands that she is unable to figure out how to use the sonic screwdriver to open the hatch to freedom thereby leading to them all being saved by the Doctor.  Sure, the Doctor should be the one to save the day in his first story, but you’d think Clara would have some idea how to use the sonic screwdriver by now.  Speaking of Clara, I would’ve liked to have seen some concrete evidence of her so-called “control-freakism;” the concept was brought up in dialog in the last episode and continues here throughout, but I have no idea what traits of hers are even remotely control-freakish.  And finally we are left with yet another Moffat cliffhanger, Missy in Paradise, that signals the beginning of yet another series-long arc.  Remember when Russell T. Davies was the show-runner and you didn’t realize there was an arc until the last two episodes?  Unlike the Doctor and his companions, some things never change, but enough has changed since the last series to set the fan base on its heels in anticipation of what is to come.  All I know at this point is that there will be a Dalek episode next Saturday and a Cyberman episode to end the series.  Besides that, everything, even the Doctor and Clara, are unknown quantities and that’s just how I like it.  We will tune in for the next few weeks asking “what s this new Doctor going to do and how will Clara react” and we will hopefully be loving every minute of it.  Deep Breath is a good introductory episode, a strong Doctor Who adventure on its own, and a reminder to fans all over not to get too comfortable with their favorite show:  at any point, without any warning, their favorite Timelord can turn… Scottish!

imagesCADSJPY9

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment