Saturday, July 05, 2008

Who'd have thought it?

Warning! Spoiler Alert!

If you haven't seen the finale of this year's season of Doctor Who, look away now. Go and make some tea or groom the parrot or something. Details will be discussed and spoilers will occur.

So, another season passes us by and, on the whole, it wasn't too painful. Back in February I expressed my concerns about the whole Catherine Tate issue. My problem was (and is) that I didn't like the Donna Noble character in The Runaway Bride. And nor did anyone I know. I thought she was a ghastly woman who looked and sounded like horrid Lauren the schoolgirl character from The Catherine Tate Show but a bit older. I was genuinely concerned that the BBC had made a terrible mistake - that it was Bonnie Langford all over again.

Thirteen episodes later, I can't say that I've completely changed my opinion. But I'll admit that I've mellowed a little as Donna did have some good dialogue at times and, just occasionally, all that bolshiness and attitude moved aside and we saw a warmer, more fragile human being. But I wasn't sad to see her go, I'm afraid. Mind you, she could come back. Every other bugger did this season, didn't they?

Before I tear into the series proper, I must first mention Timecrash and the Christmas special Voyage of the Damned. Timecrash was wonderful. Shown as part of the BBC's Children in Need night, it saw Doctor David Tennant meeting Doctor Peter Davison in a witty, clever and very tight script by Steven Moffat. I thought Davison looked pretty good, considering it's more than 20 years since he last wore the celery. There were some lovely moments, like when Tennant explained that he only wore glasses to look smarter because his Davison regeneration had. And the jokes about Davison's hair loss ('So that's why you wore the hat'). Great stuff. I hope you got to see it. In sharp contrast, the curiously misnamed Voyage of the Damned was clumsy, cliched and horrible. I will never forgive the BBC for the scene where the Doctor steers the ludicrous Titanic spacecraft over the be-curlered head of Queen Liz. The special did have the benefit of Kylie but even that couldn't lift the show above mediocre. Maybe if she'd worn those shorts ...

Episode 1 - Partners in Crime - In which the Doctor and Donna are reunited whilst investigating a company that has invented the ultimate weight loss programme; your fat turns into a cuddly little monster and walks away. A nice idea bordering on silliness and a clever exploration of our obsession with weight loss. If someone did offer us a surefire system, would we take it, despite the fact it was untested and secretive? A nicely paced and directed episode. Just one criticism ... why call the aliens (and the company) Adipose when it's such a well-known English word for fat? That said to me that the writer assumed we're all thick and wouldn't know. Shame on you Russell T.

Episode 2 - Fires of Pompeii - A good script from James Moran but a terrible, terrible monster. Dreadful CGI. Donna's best episode without a shadow of a doubt. In forcing the Doctor to rescue the doomed family, Ms Tate flexed some powerful acting muscles and made a great job of it. Some fine performances all round in fact. Again though ... what's with the crappy and obvious alien names? Pyrovillia? Please ...

Episode 3 - Planet of the Ood - An okay episode. Nothing to write home about. Tim McInerney was fun but the giant brain was rubbish. And we all know enough about the processes of evolution and natural selection to know that external brains on cables is just ridiculous. Even for aliens (Read anything by Professor Jack Cohen if you dispute this).

Episode 4 - The Sontaran Strategem - Great to have the little guys back. Excellent prosthetics (so much better than CGI) but why did they all look different if they're a clone race? The whole Rattigan Academy for misanthropic genius nerds seemed entirely surplus to requirements. As if the technically advance Sontarans needed human help ... Moderately good fun and nice to see the return of Martha.

Episode 5 - The Poison Sky - More Sontaran shenanigans. Not too shabby. Reminded me of some of the older classic Doctor Whos from the 1970s. Based on a silly premise yet again. If the Potato Heads are warriors who live for glory and warfare, why poison the 'pathetic humans with their puny weapons'? Why talk of honour when they're gassing women and children? Surely they'd have preferred a good scrap? Sontar-ha! Sontar-ha!

Episode 6 - The Doctor's Daughter - A very nice idea indeed. A war being fought by generation after generation but over a period of just a few weeks. Nice one Stephen Greenhorn. And the fishy beasties were an interesting design. I had high hopes that this episode might have explained the Doctor's relationship with Susan - his 'Granddaughter' from the very earliest episodes of Who. Instead, we got the lovely Jenny, complete with full makeup, clothes and hairdo, being generated from the Doctor's DNA. Undoubtedly a character that will return. Or who will get her own series.

Episode 7 - The Unicorn and the Wasp - Words cannot describe how awful that giant wasp was. And what is it with this series and the complete lack of inventive names? Vespiform? Please ... It was a dodgy script full of historical inaccuracies and a dreadful alien. Rescued only by David Tennant's performance during the poisoning scene, this was easily the series' worst episode. Saying that, it was still better than any episode of The Bionic Woman.

Episode 8 - Silence in the Library - From the ridiculous to the sublime. Wow. Loved the enigmatic Dr Song and the hint of a future story there. Great script, excellent direction, brilliant acting. Proof if proof were needed that you don't need to spend millions on CGI or men in rubber suits to get us all hiding behind the sofa. More, more, more.

Episode 9 - Forest of the Dead - Why can't all episodes be like this? Maybe under Mr Moffat they will be. Faultlessly clever and witty, wonderfully executed. Perfect, perfect Doctor Who.

Episode 10 - Midnight - I got the feeling that this was Russell T's attempt at writing Twelve Angry Men. Sadly, despite a damnably clever script (that poor woman had to learn everyone else's lines as well as her own - I hope they paid her appropriately), the pacing was awful and I found myself getting quite bored at times. Not something that happens often with the Doctor I must say. And now he's a bit older, doesn't David Troughton look like his dad?

Episode 11 - Turn Left - An excellent intro to the two-part finale with Donna taking part in Sliding Doors with giant alien bugs. Russell T's best episode this season by far. The bug is my only criticism really. How lazy were the designers there? 'We can't be bothered to invent a new species so let's just grab a big beetle off the shelf'. Tut. Tut.

Episode 12 - The Stolen Earth - Davros returns, along with a newly rebuilt pure Dalek race, a never adequately explained 'Supreme Dalek' (?) and the technology to nick planets. This was obviously Russell T's swansong and he did us proud I reckon. He managed to bring back just about every major character from the last four series (bar Jenny) without making them seem like token efforts. And that cliffhanger ... it's all people seemed to talk about all week. Had the BBC pulled a flanker on us? Was the Doctor about to regenerate? I knew the answer (insider info. 'nuff said) but I was still on tenterhooks. A cliffhanger like that is what Doctor Who has been missing for a long time. It's why we all tuned in week after week as kids and wished our lives away impatiently waiting for next Saturday. We miss them with these one-off episodes. But we could still have them instead of teaser trailers. Just look at Sam's 'Oh Boy!' moments at the end of every episode of Quantum Leap. It can be done, BBC.

Episode 13 - Journey's End - After all the excitement of the previous week, the finale seemed almost an anticlimax; Davros's plans to destroy the whole multiverse - except for his beloved pepperpots - were defeated by a curious Donna/Doctor hybrid. Some excellent acting from all concerned and a powerful exploration of the Doctor's effect on those around him. It's hard to find fault with it; the episode wrapped up all the loose ends, gave Rose her own Doctor, explained why the maid in Season One's The Unquiet Dead looked just like Torchwood's Gwen, allowed Davros to escape (of course!), put everyone back where they should be and left the Doctor all alone to smoulder in the TARDIS before the Christmas special. The only truly awful moment was the TARDIS towing the Earth through space. Eek.

So there you have it. A season of highs and lows. The preview for the Christmas special didn't promise much except the return (yawn) of the Cybermen. Is this a budgetary issue? Is it because the costumes already exist? There is a whole canon of Doctor Who adventures to plunder, you know. Forty odd years of it. And some of the books are extraordinarily good and unknown to the majority of the Doctor's vast fanbase. It doesn't always have to be Daleks or Cybermen. There are some marvellous monsters that deserve another go ... the Yeti, the Sea Devils, the Silurians, the Zygons and my personal favourites, the Ice Warriors. And there are scriptwriters out there with great new aliens to introduce to us; original creatures with fascinating biologies more inspired than giant wasps and beetles.

In fact, that's my main criticism of the series - the lack of originality and invention. Doctor Who doesn't have the budget to compete with Hollywood. It never did. Therefore, it has to rely upon strong scripts and outstanding original ideas. At the moment, Steven Moffat's scripts are way ahead of the pack. Just look at Blink last season. Hardly any expensive CGI, virtually no specialist props needed, and yet the best episode of the season by far. And he did the same this year with his two-parter. There was definite promise from newcomer Mr Greenhorn. And Russell T Davies put in a good show as usual, especially with Turn Left.

I understand that we won't be seeing a whole new series next year, just four feature length movies. So let's hope that only the cream of new British writing, directing, production and design makes it to broadcast. Overall grade for this season?

6/10. Must try harder

All images (c) Copyright BBC


Anonymous said...

The Sontarans had to look different...because that's what human minds demand - unless we're dealing with something like the Daleks, where individuality is questionable (or is supposedly so), we need to distinguish between individuals.

Stevyn Colgan said...

You're right, of course. But, if that's the case, why describe them as 'a clone race, grown in their millions'? I realise that's the description we've had since the Jon Pertwee era but they could have explained the differences with some technobabble! A genetic diversity podule or something.

A few years ago I had a tiny input on the film 'The Fifth Element'. A great friend of mine, John Coppinger, was working in the creature workshop and had just finished sculpting about 30 Managlores. Jean-Paul Gaultier (head of costumes for the film) saw their ranks of identical heads and squealed, 'No! No! No! Make them all different! They need difference to have character. Without character I cannot dress them!' So every single Mangalore had to be re-sculpted. I doubt that the audience even noticed on a conscious level ... but I bet they'd have noticed if they'd all looked the same.

Thanks for popping by!

The Factory said...

Didn't you feel that there were too many unexplained bits in the last episode that were just glossed over ? How did Captain Jack survive being shot, why didn't the Earth get sent back with the other planets, how did the Daleks suddenly transport everyone to their control room ?

And what was all that stuff in Nuremburg ??

It seems to me that for every good bit Davies writes, he then seems to counter it with something baffling or silly.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Hi Jed. Yeah, my tongue was firmly in cheek when I mentioned 'technobabble' in my reply to Rodlox. Davies does have a gift for it. And, as you say, for dropping in inexplicable snippets and unexplained ideas (hence my comment about the Supreme Dalek. Who? What? Why? What was Davros thinking?). I hope for better in next year's pseudo-season. And, having watched the trailer again, it looks like we have Victorian Cybermen at Christmas. Hmm. Nuremburg may have been confusing but it was fun seeing the Daleks squawking in German!

Jon M said...

Completely with on the anticlimax bit and then to be told we're having another slice of cybermen (who in the past, as I recall, didn't so much stamp around but were more sneaky and unpleasant...I hope those actors have insured their knee joints). Imagine if the Wirrn came back!!! eeek! But I do like the Ice Warriors!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Jon - The Wirrn! Hahaha! Yet more giant insects! I saw 'The Ark in Space' recently on some satellite channel and laughed my nads off. Those poor insects, shuffling along on their arses while their useless rubber legs just dangled in front. Brilliant! Almost as bad a costume as that pantomime horse - the Myrka - from 'Warriors of the Deep'. Doctor! Behind you!

The Factory said...

And while I think of it (several hours later) don't you think the regeneration thing was a bit of a cheat ? I know it spawned a new Doctor to be Rose's boyfriend, but still !!

And is it me, or is Sarah Jane still very comely. Oh.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Jed - I've just watched it again and, yes, the regeneration thing did feel like a bit of a cheat but it did (a) close the whole Rose/Doctor romance business and (b) got rid of that freaky hand. It worried me that Jack was so fond of it and kept it at Torchwood for a while ...

On the subject of which, how much money do you want to bet on Martha and Mickey joining the new series? It was all too cosy with Jack at the end wasn't it? There was that line ... 'I'm not sure about UNIT these days, there are better things you could be doing'. And, to Mickey ... 'I can't get rid of you'. And, of course, Tosh and Owen are gone ... Hmm.

But my biggest disappointment was the whole 'Shadow Proclamation' business. The Doctor seemed to think that these pale women and their uber-rhinos were somehow the police of the galaxy and he needed to see them; that they were even more powerful than the Time Lords. They tried to seize the TARDIS. But, other than that, they didn't actually do much did they? Or was that all a set up for next year?

And (a) why didn't the TARDIS translate the Judoon speech so the Doctor could understand it? And (b) if the Shadow Proclamation is so advanced, how come when the TARDIS lands, the room is made of breeze blocks?

That's not very Space Age is it?

But Liz Sladen is still foxy, I'll admit. Or is that because I've aged with her? You know you're getting old when you fancy the main characters' mums in soap operas ...

The Factory said...

No, she's just foxy. She's aged like a fine wine, and I'd take her over Rose any day. Right, I shall stop now and go away.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Agreed. Foxy. And did you a spot a certain Mr Morrissey in the Christmas trailer? The same Mr Morrissey who's been touted a lot recently as David Tennant's replacement? Hmm. Of course, with 2 Doctors kicking around, we can have a change of TARDIS pilot and keep Tennant in the series. And is this half Time Lord/Half human Doctor anything to do with all of that Eye of Harmony bollocks in the McGann TV movie? Curse you Russell T! You never seem to tidy up after yourself.

I'm going for a lie down.

Matt said...

Been lurking on your blog for a while- and a great read it is too!

As far as the good Doctor goes, having been in love with this show since 'The Five Faces of Dr Who' season of repeats in 1981, I'm just still glad to see the titles and hear that unmmistakeable theme tune every Saturday night

For most fans, ( do we still say Whovians?) it seemed those days were gone forever. After being starved of home-grown SF during the 90s, I thought the Doctor had been relegated to audio plays and books. Fine works they are too- but it belongs on TV, and having suffered the embarrassment of Sylvester McCoys pratfalls, I can suffer Catherine Tate

Great site, keep up the good work!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Matt - Thank you for lurking. I think. I always wondered what that shadow was by the rhododendron ...

Janet said...

Stevyn, you can see how late I am reading this. I wrote a bit about this topic, too, but NOT in the detail you did.

We agree on one thing. "Blink". Best damn writing on TV in a LONG time - and a piece that still haunts me. I'm creeped out now by statues that would have NEVER bothered me in the past. THAT'S good writing!


Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - The statues watch me too ... eek