Friday, April 17, 2015

The Doctor's Wife

Dear Gary—
Amy: “How can you leave the universe?”
Doctor: “With enormous difficulty.”
Two things The Doctor’s Wife has going for it from the start: a companionable TARDIS opening and an adventure that doesn’t take place on Earth for a change. I’m liking it. When all is said and done, The Doctor’s Wife is one of the best of the era. It is an intelligent and witty script that doesn’t cheat or manipulate and doesn’t trip over its self-reverential cleverness, a rarity of late. It is pure and simple Doctor Who.
In the nostalgic spirit of the episode, I have to say that it reminds me of two Classic Who serials. The First is The Caves of Androzani. Both Caves and Wife are excellent scripts executed brilliantly by a stellar cast; but I am kept from appreciating either to the degree they deserve by the larger picture of the surrounding seasons. Each is an oasis, but an oasis I can’t fully enjoy. For Caves I have a hard time warming to the Fifth Doctor and Peri, and I am therefore not fully invested in the action. For Wife I have a hard time divorcing it from the dark and dreary path of the season’s arc, even though there are no eye patch ladies and no vacillating pregnancy tests to remind me.
The second Classic serial I am reminded of is Ghost Light. This is partially as a result of the aforementioned arc distraction. Due to my general dislike of the direction the series was taking, the first time I viewed The Doctor’s Wife I did not devote my full attention and was therefore lost for most of it. It seemed a nightmare world inhabited by beings as mad as those occupying Gabriel Chase and making about as much sense. Subsequent viewings have cleared up the plot for me (which cannot be said of Ghost Light), but I can still see similarities between Control and Idris, much to my amusement.
I can now watch this episode as a standalone and can enjoy it as the fine story it is.
The unexpected knock on the TARDIS door in mid flight and the Doctor’s subsequent delight at getting mail set the episode up beautifully. I have never been a fan of the Time Lords from the Classic series, and the guilt laden angst of the Doctor concerning their fate has cast a pall over their memory in New Who. However the Doctor’s joyous reminiscence about his friends of old restores some of the luster to these legendary figures.  Furthermore, the onerous burden the Doctor has felt of late is simplified into a hopeful desire for forgiveness, thus making his discovery of the cupboard full of carelessly discarded Time Lord message boxes all that more tragic. This skillful blending of old and new Who into something of its own is perfect. “I’m a madman with a box, without a box,” is just another example of how the script takes echoes of the past and puts a refreshing twist on them.  I only wish that the series would take a lesson from its example.
Then we get into the heart of the plot. The idea of giving voice and personality to the TARDIS is original and long overdue, and the playfully loving relationship between Suranne Jones as Idris/TARDIS and Matt Smith as the Doctor is exactly what you would expect from this twosome who have been together for seven hundred years. From the Doctor referring to Idris/TARDIS as Sexy to Idris/TARDIS berating the Doctor for pushing not pulling the TARDIS’ doors to both claiming to have ‘stolen’ the other, the pair comfortably fit into their roles as bickering spouses devoted to one another.
The notion that an entity has been luring unsuspecting Time Lords to its “scrap yard at the end of the universe” in order to feed on TARDIS energy and use Time Lord body parts to make patchwork repairs to Uncle and Auntie (shades of The Brain of Morbius) is also intriguing. When the sentient asteroid House learns that there are no more Time Lords or TARDIS’ to salvage, he possess the Doctor’s soulless TARDIS and takes off with Amy and Rory on board.
House’s tormenting of Amy and Rory is also compelling, although I can do without the once-more- into-the-Rory-is-dead-no-he-isn’t breach. However, it is an interesting twist on this Eleventh Doctor trope to have Amy internalizing this fear. House is playing with their senses and on their phobias. Amy can be thoughtlessly cruel towards her husband at times while he loyally trots along after her. House picks up on this dynamic and manifests it in a most un-Rory-like Rory turning on his wife in a dramatically startling way.
Real Rory is ever steadfast, however, and he and Amy eventually make it to the fabulously archived Tenth Doctor control room with the help of Idris/TARDIS. Idris/TARDIS and the Doctor also arrive in their makeshift TARDIS and things end for House rather callously. (“Finish him off, girl.”) The ending in store for the Doctor and Idris/TARDIS, though, is bittersweet.
Idris/TARDIS:  “Alive. I’m alive.”
Doctor: “Alive isn’t sad.”
Idris/TARDIS: “It’s sad when it’s over. I’ll always be here, but this is when we talked.”
And then we have goodbyes and hellos mixed up in whimsical fashion.
Idris/TARDIS: “There’s something I didn’t get to say to you.”
Doctor: “Goodbye?”
Idris/TARDIS: “No, I just wanted to say hello. Hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.”
The Ood is a bit superfluous, but overall this is one of the best of New Who. I don’t even mind the cryptic, “the only water in the forest is the river.” I know it is tying in the tedious arc of the season, but like most of the script, it does it in a bright and novel way that piques the interest.
Alas, my sojourn in this oasis is over, Gary . . .

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Curse of the Black Spot

Dear Gary—
As promised, the Doctor and gang put the little girl and all the unresolved issues of the season’s arc on hold and go off on an adventure. There is a random lady with an eye patch sighting and an indeterminate pregnancy test just to keep the audience aware of the arc, but for the most part The Curse of the Black Spot is one of those stand alone episodes stuck into the season as filler.
“Yo ho ho. Or does nobody actually say that?”
The Doctor and company are just playing; biding time; off on a lark. It’s obvious that is the only reason they have chosen this particular vessel to visit. They can’t even cover their lie very well. “Our sensors picked you up,” the Doctor explains, only to realize that ‘sensors’ is a “problem word.” He can’t get away with technical mumbo jumbo with this crew so he offers up, “My ship automatically, er, noticed-ish that your ship was having some bother.” He is stumbling around for some semblance of a reason for their stowaway status, but neither Captain Avery nor I are buying it. What possible reading could the TARDIS have picked up to indicate the ship is in trouble? His sonic screwdriver doesn’t do wood (except it does do a decent job on a wooden water barrel on deck but I’ll overlook that); I’m sure the TARDIS doesn’t do sailing ships. Even if it did, what would it indicate as ‘some bother?’ That there is no wind and so the ship is stalled in the water? That there is only a skeleton crew aboard? Why would either show up on the TARDIS’ radar? We later learn that there is a distress signal coming from the alien spaceship parked in the same spot but on a different plane, so why didn’t the TARDIS take them there? Why land on an earthly sailing ship that couldn’t possibly be emitting the distress signal?
It’s simple really. The Doctor and Amy and Rory have decided they want to play pirate. This is just an excuse for Amy to dress like a pirate and the Doctor to walk a plank and Rory to . . . well for Rory just to be Rory, which is great; Rory is the saving grace of Who in this stretch.
The Doctor takes his moment on the plank as an opportunity to try out his stand up routine. And Amy has no fear that the Doctor is in any danger; she takes the time to choose a fetching outfit to wear before appearing on deck brandishing a cutlass. What fun they are having with this sanitized gang of brigands.
(Since the Doctor is playing comedian, I’ll offer up one of Dad’s jokes that is apropos of the serial. A little boy dressed up as a pirate for Halloween and went trick-or-treating. At the first door he came to the woman of the house exclaimed, “Oh, how adorable. But where are your buccaneers?” To which the little boy replied in disgust, “Under my buckin’ hat.”)
As my mom would say, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Amy makes the tiniest cut on one of the cowering pirates and a black spot appears on his palm—the cursed black spot. Rory gets a black spot of his own as he tries to come to Amy’s defense. This draws out the green Siren. “One touch of her hand and you’re a dead man.” As proof, the injured pirate disintegrates as he reaches out to the songstress.
What follows is a routine romp. There are some funny bits as the Doctor and Captain Avery compete over who has the bigger ship and Amy tries to keep Rory from being sirened to death. There is another stowaway found (the Captain’s sick son) and there is even an attempt at mutiny (although I don’t know what the rebellious duo is thinking they can accomplish on a stalled boat with no wind and no crew to speak of while being menaced by “a green singing shark in an evening gown,” but what the heck, yo ho ho and all that).
There’s lots of running around below deck while the Doctor tries to figure out what exactly is going on and as he revises his theories multiple times. It’s terribly nice of the singing siren to refrain from popping through any one of the number of reflective surfaces available to her (the brass buttons on Amy’s coat, the cutlass blade, or the shards of glass scattered about to name a few) until such time as the Doctor gets things sorted out in his mind and the plot requires her presence.
The Doctor finally decides to take a chance on his latest hypothesis and he, Avery, and Amy take a huge leap of faith, cutting their fingers to attract the green menace. The trio is transported aboard an alien craft in a parallel plane. At last the Doctor realizes that their ghostly pursuer is actually a medic. However, I have to ask, what kind of doctor is this, holographic or not, who doesn’t know how to heal? She has the knowledge and technology to keep people alive but not to cure them? This isn’t a sick bay so much as a storage facility.
Now we get into the broken record of a Rory is dead/no he’s not plot. Rory is on the point of drowning. The Siren has saved him and hooked him up to life support. It is up to Amy to restore life to him. Why Amy? Because, Rory explains to her, “I know you’ll never give up.” Guess what, Rory? She gives up. After barely a minute of trying she gives up. It is only due to the indestructibleness of Rory and his uncanny ability of springing back to life that he survives.
Let’s not forget Captain Avery, his dying son, and his hijacked crew. There’s a warm and fuzzy ending for you. Father and son reunited, off to explore the universe together in the short time the lad has left. Except the reality is that the Doctor hands a death sentence to the kid and lets loose a pack of ruthless bandits on an unsuspecting universe.
Typhoid fever is treatable. All the Doctor has to do is take the young boy to a modern hospital. Or check the sick bay of the ship they are on—I’m sure there are some antibiotics available, and if not there surely he has some in the TARDIS. The holographic doctor is useless, but Rory is a nurse. There is no reason for Avery’s son to die. But the Doctor lately has no real interest in people other than the momentary thrill they provide him with. He’s done with this lot and impatient to get off on his next adventure; saving the boy would take too much time and trouble.
As for the pirates; nobody bothers to ask them if they want to fly off into the unknown, but then why wouldn’t they? Their treasure is lost but they now have access to a ship that can take them through the stars to treasures untold. They stand staring out into those wide open spaces before them with the gold lust sparkling in their eyes. So many planets to plunder.
The Curse of the Black Spot is an OK adventure with the requisite humor and action, but the Doctor fails on so many levels, I never believe anyone is in any real danger—not even (and especially not) Rory who can survive anything these days—and the human drama is too superficial and generic.
Yo ho ho, Gary . . .

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Day of the Moon

Dear Gary—
Canton: “What the hell’s going on?”
This is why I am beginning to hate New Who.
Amy is running wildly towards a cliff edge. The cliffhanger from the previous serial is forgotten for this new one I guess. The show doesn’t even care enough about that little girl to resolve her shooting. It is three months later and we have absolutely no idea what is going on. Canton lays out a body bag and shoots Amy while chaotic flashbacks from the warehouse flit across the screen. The Doctor is held prisoner in Area 51 and Rory and River are each chased and killed by Canton.
Not to worry, though, because we know they are not really dead (just as we know future Doctor is not really dead). Amy and Rory pop up out of their body bags; apparently Canton used blanks on them. As for River, she does her patented fall backwards from a great height and hope that the Doctor gets the script in time for the TARDIS to catch her in mid flight.
It is all for effect. It is all for the drama and the tension and the action; who cares how this alliance came about or when or why or where they hatched this elaborate scheme. Who cares how the little girl survived the bullet—just brush it aside with a passing “I’m glad I missed” line half way through the episode. It wasn’t a real cliffhanger to begin with.
The body art encapsulates this. It makes for some stunning and eerie visuals, but it has little practicality. At least not in the artistic way they realize it. If they are serious about making marks on themselves as a warning that Silents are present they would choose areas of the body that are immediately visible, not their faces. (Parenthetically, how do they even remember that they have a marking system going on their faces, and then how do they know where exactly on the face to place the next one? Do they carry mirrors with them to get the precise layout? More likely someone else puts the marks on their faces for them. Now I doubt that any Silent would do this. No, the someone who is marking their faces is employed by the Doctor Who make-up department; probably the same someone who did a much more effective job on Toby’s face in The Impossible Planet.) They do mark up their arms and hands, but they don’t use all available space; there is no reason for them to move on to the face other than the wow factor for the audience. It is this growing and deliberate self-awareness of Doctor Who that is slowing eroding the integrity of the show.
The markings also are a highly inaccurate accounting system. Amy sees a Silent and makes a mark. Amy turns away and forgets she saw that Silent. Amy turns back around and makes another mark. How many Silents did Amy see? Multiply that out by, oh let’s be conservative and say one hundred per month, times three months, times three participants (Amy, Rory, River) and now let’s try to predict how many Silents are in the world.
So what have Amy, Rory, and River been doing for three months? Running around the planet making markings on their skin. I hope they’ve been writing this all down someplace that won’t wash away when they shower as a back-up since they don’t yet have the handy recording devices implanted in their hands. The Doctor doesn’t inject them until after their whirlwind tour. It seems like this three months was a dangerous waste of time. They really don’t come back with much information other than that the Silents seem to be everywhere. How does that help them exactly? They still have no clue who these Silents are, where they came from, or what they are up to.
“You were invaded a long time ago. America is occupied,” River says. The Doctor reiterates: “We are not fighting an alien invasion, we’re leading a revolution.”
Why? The Doctor has spent his three months growing a beard. He hasn’t tried communicating with this occupying force. He doesn’t know if they are hostile. If they have been present since the beginning of time, what’s the harm in allowing them to remain? How does he know they are up to no good? How does he know that the 1969 moon shot is their ultimate goal? He has some rather vague message to look up Canton in 1969 (which he is suspicious of from the start and only takes Amy at her fish fingers and custard word) and he leaps to the conclusion that these ever present Silents are building up to some dire threat to humanity after millennia of patience.
The Doctor decides that after all this time the Silents really only wanted to guide the human race towards flying to the moon so that they, the Silents, could utilize a space suit to put a little girl into. The Doctor terms them “super parasites” who utilize the technology of other races. The Silents want a space suit, so they wait around for millions of years implanting post-hypnotic suggestions in people’s minds just so they can get their hands on a NASA suit. But it is not an ordinary spacesuit. It is full of alien technology. Where did the Silents get this advanced technology from? Not from NASA. All they wanted from Earth was the suit; they provided the technology that they obtained elsewhere? They waited around for millions of years on Earth with this technology just to get their hands on a space suit to chuck a little girl into? I’m missing something here.
The Doctor is making some huge assumptions.
Most infuriating is the suggestion that yet again all of the genius and advancement and success of the human race is due to some alien intervention.
Move over Azal, Fendahl, and Scaroth. The Silence has been “standing in the shadows of human history since the very beginning.” All of these aliens working to advance human technology for their own ends really should get together. You’d think with four such powerful aliens on the job the human race would be super beings by this point. Except human beings are apparently such pathetic beings that we need four such powerful aliens to aid us in our progress.
Let’s just look at The Silence. If Silents have been lurking in the shadows, whispering in ears, planting inspiration “since the wheel and the fire,” all working towards NASA it would seem, why wouldn’t they stamp out every Luddite type movement in history? And the Dark Ages? Why did The Silence allow that? Are we to view such moments as a victory for free will? I would also think Silents would have been furiously whispering in the ears of Sir Charles Grover, Mike Yates, and their co-conspirators from Invasion of the Dinosaurs trying to influence them against their plan to return the Earth to a primitive state. All that hard work of The Silence would be wiped out. How did they let that crazy plan go unnoticed?
 And OK, Silents are all around but we forget we have seen them—out of sight, out of mind. But surely if they are present in great numbers there would have been countless times when more than one person had a clear view to warn others or film or write about while maintaining a sight line. Surely Amy is not the first person to snap a picture of one on her phone. There would be multiple depictions and recordings throughout history. (There’s probably a painting of a Silent by Vincent kicking about some dusty attic.) Not to mention, I am sure, a good number of Silent corpses killed by frightened humans. People might forget they killed something, but the bodies would still be there for one and all to stumble over time and time again.
The notion that these creatures have been on Earth since the beginning and have never been outed is beyond ridiculous. It is stupid.
If, however, they have managed to co-exist without notice, then the Doctor’s plan would not work. The skin markings, the recordings, the pictures—none of it would withstand the memory wipe. When they see a marking, how do they remember what it signifies? When their hand flashes, how do they know what it means? When they hear a recording or see a picture, how do they remember it when the recording is over or the picture is out of sight? Is it only the image they forget, but they can remember the concept and the discussing and planning and scheming? I’m sorry, if it is that easy I cannot believe, no matter how super hero our heroes are, that they can achieve what billions of humans living day to day through the millennia with the Silents could not. Not even the clubs and organizations and societies and authorities dedicated to proving that there are aliens amongst us. The skin markings and recordings and pictures are too simple. If they work, the Silents would have been exposed long before now.
But then, Doctor Who continues to regard Mankind as the biggest idiots in the universe and this only drives home that point.
The only other possibilities are that The Silence has decided it is time to make their presence known or that there is one Silent who is a traitor. Or how about this? The Doctor is wrong about all of his conclusions regarding these creatures.
“As long as there’s been something in the corner of your eye, or creaking in your house, or breathing under your bed, or voices through a wall.” Doctor Who has sunk to the levels of B horror flicks, and not the fun kind.
Granted, Amy and Canton in the mysterious abandoned orphanage is suitably atmospheric. The graffiti, the flickering lights, the obviously insane caretaker—all set the tone for this house of horrors. The Silent bats hanging from the ceiling are shocking, as is the sight of Amy’s marked face reflected in the window. It is all to great effect, but that is all it is.
A strange woman with an eye patch peering through a panel that disappears; a photograph of Amy with a child she doesn’t recognize; a pregnancy scan that can’t make up its mind; a little girl who appears to regenerate like a Time Lord. These are all unresolved questions in the script designed to get the fan forums in a frenzy.
Now let’s get to the Doctor’s final solution. Well, it’s not a final solution really because it doesn’t resolve the bulk of the questions, but it does hand a neat victory to the Doctor in this skirmish of an episode. And it is brilliant. Fight fire with fire; fight post-hypnotic suggestion with post-hypnotic suggestion. And now I know why the author (not the Silence) chose 1969 as the scene for this showdown. It is oh so very effective. “One giant leap for mankind.” Brilliant.
Of course it relies heavily on luck. “You should kill us all on sight.” That is one Silent who read his script. Good thing the Doctor and Canton read it too or they never would have known to coordinate this elaborate plan.
“You just raised an army against yourself,” the Doctor crows, “and now, for a thousand generations, you’re going to be ordering them to destroy you every day.”
With that the Doctor has exposed himself as the Monster he has become. At this point the show could do one of its famous montages of friends and enemies accusing the Doctor. The Sixth Doctor on trial. Davros taunting the Tenth. But those were nothing. Those were defensible. Then we get into the Eleventh. Let’s see Rory again stating, “It’s not that you make people take risks; it’s that you make them want to impress you.” And now let’s culminate with the Eleventh Doctor turning the human race into executioners.
But it’s OK, you say. They won’t remember they have been killing sentient beings their whole life. It’s the Bloody Liz Ten defense.
Genocide. The ultimate solution.
Just because the Silents have been nudging humanity ever so slowly forward in order to build up the space program so that they could get their hands on a space suit to put a little girl into. Seems a fair punishment.
River as she murders a room full of Silents: “My old fellow didn’t see that, did he? He gets ever so cross.”
Don’t worry, River. The Doctor’s pacifism is only a pose. He pulls it out when he wants to snub authority figures or when he wants to appear noble. He has no problem when his women wield a weapon, at least not the women he really, really cares about (sorry Martha).
Apparently River is one of those women he really, really cares about; or will really, really care about one day. Wibbly wobbly; timey wimey.
And apparently Rory is still uncertain if Amy really, really cares about him. Poor Rory. He deserves better.
When all is said and done: “So, this little girl. It’s all about her. Who was she? Or we could just go off and have some adventures.”
That is Doctor Who laying it out for us, the pattern of the season. It’s all about the little girl, but we’re going to make you wait for it. You’ll have to sit through some adventures first before we get back to her.
Oh Gary . . .

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Impossible Astronaut

Dear Gary—
I well remember the first time I ever saw The Impossible Astronaut. We had just cut cable; my only hesitancy in doing so was the loss of Turner Classic Movies and BBC America, but I was already beginning to lose interest in the New Who thus making the decision easier. I could wait for the DVD to come out before seeing the new season of Doctor Who. Well, Dave found The Impossible Astronaut on line for me prior to that time. I started watching; after ten minutes I turned it off. I had seen enough. I knew exactly what to expect of the season and wasn’t in a hurry to watch. I eventually did resume viewing the episode but I didn’t bother finding any more on line. I waited for the DVD.
The DVD did not disappoint; that is to say it did disappoint by not disappointing; it played out exactly as I feared.
To start, the Doctor is dead. The show had to top the Pandorica peril from last season with something even more dangerous and, as the title explicitly states, impossible.  Something bigger, bolder, braver. (Is it any coincidence that the season opening Christmas episode featured a shark?) What better way than to kill off the Doctor to begin with? There is nothing more deadly than death. But does anybody seriously believe that the Doctor is dead? Not I. This is just another Doctor Who magic trick, one grand illusion, and we’ll have to sit through an entire season to see how it was done. We know they won’t drag out the miraculous memory spell from last season; they are already undermining that wizardry. The “memories are more powerful than you think” mantra from a few short serials ago is countermanded by The Silence and their supernatural memory erasing abilities. Memory is suddenly suspect. That just means there will be another cheat employed by The Great Nothing-Up-His-Sleeve Doctor and his lovely assistant River Song.
I’m bored already.
And I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed from the opening skit. The Doctor is romping his way through history—funny how all of those intentional insertions into history books and movies were never noticed by anyone else. Clive never picked up on them in his Doctor researches; neither did LINDA. Only Amy and Rory. “It’s like he’s being deliberately ridiculous; trying to attract our attention.” It’s the magician’s stand-by diversionary tactic. And it has nothing to do with the adventure at hand. It is meaningless, unless it is going to somehow figure into the larger arc of the season, and I just do not want to have to keep track.
So I will forget it. I will Silence it away.
I won’t get too much into The Silence just yet. For now I will acknowledge that they have a great visual and are sufficiently creepy. The killjoy in the bathroom is scary but inexplicable. He deliberately shows himself to Amy and delivers a message to her even knowing that she will immediately forget it, and the murder is gratuitous. He allows Amy to take his picture, so he obviously has some intention of letting the Doctor in on his and the Silents' presence. I can’t believe he is on the Doctor’s side, so the Silence must have some reason for alerting the Doctor; or they are very stupid. I don’t really remember all of the convolutions of the season, but I am going to hazard a guess and say that this bathroom intruder is setting the Doctor up through Amy somehow. Why he doesn’t appear directly to the Doctor is another matter but I don’t care enough to expend any more thought on the subject.
Convoluted. Contrived. Manufactured. That describes the episode, the season, and the plot as designed by the writer(s), The Silence, and the Doctor. Nothing is straight forward. Nothing is simple. Nothing is realistic. I don’t mind complexity, if it has a reason. I don’t mind calculation, if it makes sense. I don’t even mind manipulation, if it isn’t stupid.
What I really cannot stand is convoluted, contrived, manufactured, complex, calculated, and manipulative—all for the sake of showing off its own brilliance.
“We’re not all going to arrange our own wake and invite ourselves.” The Doctor is, however. The Doctor has invited them all—Amy, Rory, River, Canton Everett Delaware, and even a younger version of himself—to witness his spectacle in the sand.
River slaps him for good reason.
Except River is complicit in this; the magician’s assistant. It is all so clever and convenient, the timey wimey nature of things with the different timelines and different versions of themselves. I’m not sure how much River knows and when she knows, but she knows. On some level she always knows. She knows enough to hold Amy back from stopping what transpires on the beach, and she knows enough to let Amy go when the deed is done. She knows enough to keep Amy from warning the Doctor with the spoiler alert threat even though we all know that there is no danger of holes being ripped in the universe with any of it. It is a game. A show that the Doctor is producing and River is directing.
Why do I keep going, Gary? Because despite my growing disdain for the series it remains watchable. Credit Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill, and Alex Kingston. And to some extent Karen Gillan.
Therefore, when the Doctor bumbles his charming way through the Oval Office I’m entertained. I can even get caught up in the mystery of the little girl and the President. And my heart breaks a little as River explains the “far worse day” that is still in store for her. Rory and River in the tunnels is eerie and atmospheric, and for the moment The Silents are frightening.
The cliffhanger, however, leaves me cold. A little girl is calling for help and Canton is found unconscious; danger is lurking in the dark and abandoned warehouse; hearts are pounding. Amy chooses this moment to tell the Doctor a bit of news that just can’t wait. Does she tell him about The Silence? No. Does she tell him about his impending death? No. She tells him she is pregnant. Not relevant at the moment, Amy. Why is her pregnancy so monumental that the jeopardy they face is inconsequential? She had plenty of time to tell him before. Why now? “I’m pregnant.” Does she expect the Doctor to leave the injured Canton and ignore the frightened pleas of the little girl in order to engage with her in a meaningful discussion about child rearing?
At that vital moment the astronaut appears and the Doctor and Amy suddenly go into molasses mode. The astronaut’s visor opens to reveal the little girl and Amy shoots at her. Abrupt end.
The thing is, Gary, I have no feeling for this little girl. I could not care less that Amy shoots at her. Obviously this is no ordinary child. She is calling the President on a disconnected line and walking around in a space suit that is far too big for her. She is creepy, not pitiful. For all I know she is a hologram left over from the crashed space ship in The Lodger luring the Doctor and Amy to their doom. Go ahead and shoot at her, Amy. It’s an obvious set-up.
I can’t say that I’m on the edge of my seat, Gary. I trudge along because there are some genuinely engaging moments between the actors, but as far as the narrative goes I really don’t care how it will turn out.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Christmas Carol

Dear Gary—
I remember a time when it seemed every sitcom on television had its own version of A Christmas Carol, so much so that with the first whiff of Scrooge I’d change the channel. Then I read the actual story and now I can’t let a December go by without re-reading the book or watching the Alistair Sim film version, although I still have a low tolerance for loose adaptations within the confines of a weekly TV series. I am therefore greatly pleased that Doctor Who’s A Christmas Carol is a refreshing take on Dickens' masterpiece and not a simple retelling. (I have to start, however, by again noting that Alan Rickman and Michael G Scott are the only two people who can get away with cancelling Christmas.)
The Eleventh Doctor has begun using time travel as a tactic, and when confronted with a character who screams Ebenezer during the Yuletide season the Doctor can’t help but use the TARDIS to manipulate events in order to play out the classic tale for his own amusement. He could just as easily use the TARDIS to save the crashing Starliner in any number of ways (or at the very least prevent Amy and Rory from boarding the ship in the first place), but his way is more fun. Risky, yes; dangerous, yes; selfish, yes; but highly entertaining. And very deliberate.
“How are you getting us off here,” Amy asks as the ship she and Rory are spending their honeymoon on careens wildly towards the planet with less than an hour to impact. But the Doctor is enjoying this new planet he has discovered with a Dickensian flair in the air and fish floating in the fog. “Doctor, please don’t get distracted,” Amy pleads; but it’s too late. A light bulb has gone off in the Doctor’s head as he takes inspiration from the hosannas in excelsis.
“Merry Christmas, Kazran Sardick.”
The Doctor abandons Amy and Rory to embark with the young Kazran and the frozen Abigail on an adventure of his making that gives proof to his 'number one fan' status with Dickens.
“Can’t use the TARDIS because it can’t lock on,” he uses as an excuse to put off his faithful companions. Then he proceeds to use the TARDIS to time hop through Kazran’s life rather than back to a time when the TARDIS could lock on to the spaceship, or to a time in the Captain’s life to prevent disaster or relay instructions for her future self. And he skips through Kazran’s personal history in order to shape the youngster’s personality, never bothering to sabotage the machinery or examine its construction for use in aiding the out-of-control craft (love the isomorphic controls gag by the way). It is a circuitous route he takes, but a charming one.
Katherine Jenkins is the perfect sleeping beauty, and the young lovers’ story is sweet as it unfolds in the Doctor’s life-altering rewrite. It is a whimsical fairy tale full of flying fish and sleighs and star-studded Hollywood parties. It is romantic and funny and enchanting and poignant. And it is fascinating to watch as old Kazran’s memories change before his eyes.
However the Doctor’s social experiment starts going awry when Abigail whispers her secret. As young Kazran closes the door of frozen Abigail’s cryochamber, the softening heart of old Kazran hardens up again and the portrait of Abigail on the wall behind him changes back to his frowning father. At this point the Doctor loses interest and becomes impatient to see the results of his handiwork. I guess young adult Kazran is boring without Abigail. Rather than worming the truth out of the younger, the Doctor sends hologram Amy to fit in the Ghost of Christmas Present angle for a while with the elder before he does some Blinovitch Limitation Effect defying feats to bring youngster Kazran face to face with Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come Kazran. (Rose would probably have a few choice words for the Doctor if she knew of his current escapades.)
At last we get to the sad truth about Abigail, although I have to wonder what strange malady this is that leaves her hale and healthy and hardy but with an expiration date. The scene of old Kazran releasing his love for her last day is effectively touching, but again I have to wonder why the rich and powerful Kazran didn’t use his wealth to develop a cure for his dying princess in cold storage. This is where the Doctor and his TARDIS probably could have come in handy as well—scouring the universe for a cure. There is no longer anything that the Doctor cannot do since he has decided to ignore those pesky Time Lord restrictions. But the Doctor isn’t interested in giving them a happy ending; he’s only interested in saving Amy and Rory (now that he’s grown tired of the storybook tale he was writing).  Besides, the bittersweet reunion is a much more fitting conclusion to this fanciful romance.
The song that Abigail sings to save the day is a bit bland but beautifully rendered. “Fish like the singing.” Yes, I can believe that a flying shark would be appeased by it; I can even believe it can align crystals and unlock clouds—whatever that means.
It is a lovely little story that the Doctor has created. It might not have the happy ending Abigail and Kazran would hope for, but as the Doctor advises, “Everything has got to end sometime; otherwise nothing would ever get started.”
I guess that means it’s time for me to end, Gary.
Until I start again . . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Big Bang

Dear Gary—
Never has it been clearer that there is absolutely nothing that the Doctor cannot survive. That of course has been a given all along; the show is called Doctor Who after all and for the show to survive the Doctor must also. But there was always at least some suspense, some anxiety, and some interest in how he would get out of trouble. No longer. Just jog Amy’s memory.
That is a problem and a continuing trend in New Who. With each miraculous success that the writers pull out of the Doctor’s magic hat the stakes are forced higher and higher. The dangers have to be bigger and the predicaments more impossible in order for there to be any sense of tension; but when we know that there is some cheat or trickery or heretofore undisclosed power lurking in the script to save the day there is no longer any apprehension. I have mentioned before that I find magicians boring, and Doctor Who is increasingly becoming nothing more than one giant illusion.
It is also plainly evident that the Doctor has zero interest in restoring Gallifrey. Any grief or guilt he displays over his lost home is a bluff. His admonitions to companions about not breaking those precious laws of time, of never crossing over into one’s own personal timeline to change history—all a cruel joke. If he could go back and change the Time Lord’s fate he would, but he can’t. Hah! It’s a lie and he knows it. If his own life is in danger just watch how many laws he breaks.
As for River’s “spoilers,” well, that’s just a cutesy little game between her and the Doctor to keep things spicy. It’s their version of ‘don’t tell me; I want to work it out for myself.’ It has nothing to do with laws of time. The no spoilers rule only holds for them as long as their own lives are not in danger. No matter how many worlds are devastated or lives lost, as long as the Doctor and his companions are amused, that’s what counts. But when pushed into a corner, boy, just break out those spoilers; tell all.
I’m sorry Gary. I had to get that out of the way. Truth be told, I enjoy The Big Bang. It is funny and clever and entertaining. I just have to watch it as the spectacle it is and forget what it really means for the show as a whole.
I love how it starts with little Amelia Pond and not with any of the three major cliffhangers from the previous episode. It sets the tone of the story perfectly, and little Amelia is always a joy to watch. I do have to laugh, however, at the grave concern her aunt and psychiatrist have over Amelia’s drawings of stars. She’s a little girl for heaven’s sake. I suppose if she drew pictures of unicorns and pink elephants and leprechauns they would be hauling out the straight jacket for her; who knows but that she’ll go off and join the dreaded Lollipop Guild. (And if little Amelia grew up in a world without stars, how does grown up Amy Pond not flinch when she flies amongst the stars with the Doctor?) I also have to keep going back to the fact that even though Amy’s mother and father have been erased from time she retains some sort of memory of them; and I can’t help but wonder how Aunt Sharon thinks she is related to this little girl if her sibling, Amelia’s parent, has been deleted from history. But it all goes to the inconsistent nature of this Crack. Regardless, Amelia is a delight.
Next we get my favorite, Rory: “I could do with a ridiculous miracle about now.” There’s a summary of The Big Bang if I ever heard one.  The Big Bang is one ridiculous miracle after another, perpetrated by the Doctor in a fez and carrying a mop. The Doctor does so much time jumping it’s hard to keep track, but it’s oh so fun to watch as he crisscrosses through his recent adventures setting up the intricate scenario. “OK, kid; this is where it gets complicated” indeed. Of course the only way this elaborate plot can work is if it is helped along the way by some whopping big contrivances and conveniences courtesy of the author. Like how remarkably easy this solitary confinement cell of a Pandorica is to open—especially if you have a sonic screwdriver (“just point and press”) or if you happen to share DNA with the person trapped inside. And how the Pandorica has magical healing powers to restore the “mostly dead” Amy to life. (The Pandorica is Billy Crystal all of a sudden?) The Alliance didn’t think through the plans for this prison very well; maybe during the course of his history hopping the Doctor donned a disguise and went back in time to aid in its construction.
Amy and little Amelia and plastic Rory and River running around after the Doctor(s) in the National Museum. It’s all quite fun. And why not a Dalek? They need a threat, no matter how toothless. Who knows what that death-by-Dalek Doctor is all about, except the Doctor himself; it’s just a game and he’s setting the rules. (So much for the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.) River’s merciless stand off against the decimated Dalek is an effective scene; one of those scenes designed as a stand up and cheer moment. Of course it reveals her callous nature, but who can she show her true colors to if not a dying Dalek?
Speaking of true colors—even as plastic man Rory shows himself to be the most human of them all. “Two thousand years. The boy who waited.” It is confusing, though. I assume that the Rory who finally does marry Amy is real Rory and not the Rory who did wait around through those millennia, but does he somehow retain the memories of plastic Rory? And what of his death by Silurian? Has that been erased as well, yet does he retain the memory? “Memories are more powerful than you think.” I guess so. Oh what the afterlife enthusiasts would do if they ever knew of his existence.
I’m not sure how this whole reboot thing works, either, vis-à-vis Amy’s now you have them now you don’t parents (or more accurately, now you don’t have them now you do). Since she initially grew up with fuzzy half-memories to no memories of these people and now suddenly they are back in her life, does she have made-up memories of them, no memory whatsoever and she has to pretend she knows them, or did they really exist all along in this new world and therefore would Amy’s history with the Doctor be re-written to include them? Except Amy’s history with the Doctor never existed, until that is she remembers. Oh yes, the magic remember spell. “Memories are more powerful than you think.” It’s all according to what she finds written in the script, I guess.
All of this brings me back to The Crack. This whole season has been about this Crack. Well, as it happens, The Crack is a fizzle. It is as wibbly wobbly as the Doctor’s timey wimey. There is no consistency to this Crack. It is as ethereal as a memory. Oh, that’s right, “memories are more powerful than you think.” Memories can reboot the universe. Memories can bring back people who were never born or erased or something. I guess memories are more powerful than The Crack. Memories have done in The Crack.
But The Crack is not A Crack. It is many cracks ripping apart the universe. Cracks of all shapes and sizes. Cracks that can devour history or that can be used as teleports. I think. It really kind of depends upon which serial in this Crack of a season you are watching, or which you choose to remember.
One singular Crack has been following the Doctor and Amy throughout. It is of the same shape, although its size can differ. But this Crack has no intelligence behind it. It is just a crack in the universe, one of many, caused by the exploding TARDIS. So how does it follow the Doctor about? Why does it appear on the unfortunate Star Whale that ran afoul of the Bloody Liz Ten? How does it insert itself into the lock of the TARDIS? Well as it turns out, it is simply because it is written in the pages of the script in order to offer signposts to the viewer that there is a theme and a thread to follow. There is nothing more ominous than that behind the Crack that follows the Doctor about. It is deadly but inanimate.
Worst of all, it remains unresolved. Because we never learn what the true intelligence is behind the exploding TARDIS. Not yet.
Deep sigh; groan; give me strength.
But for now, who cares? The Doctor is dancing at Amy’s wedding.
Sorry, Gary. I know I’m jumping all over the place here. But that’s the very nature of The Big Bang, and of this cracking season. There is no coherency, even though it is deliberately crafted. It is all about the set up, so that we can say, ‘oh, that’s why his jacket is wrong,’ or ‘oh, that’s how he knew that,’ or ‘oh, that’s what he meant by that.’ And it is all about the emotional wallop; about the Roman Centurion guarding the Pandorica through the centuries; about the Doctor’s life rewinding; about “something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue.” And it is about the entertainingly cool bits; about a mop and a fez. (“It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”)
For the standard as set by New Who, The Big Bang is a resounding success. Just don’t pay too close attention, Gary.
Nothing up its sleeve . . .

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Pandorica Opens

Dear Gary—
“The question of the hour is, who’s got the Pandorica? Answer, I do. Next question.  Who’s coming to take it from me? Come on! Look at me. No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn. Oh, and something else. I don’t have anything to lose! So, if you’re sitting up there in your silly little spaceship, with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way. Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing. Let somebody else try first.”
I really have to hand it to New Who. It has the audacity to face down its critics with the most impressive show of hot air it can manage on a limited budget and time crunch. Season finale after season finale it pulls it off; all the spectacle; all the extravaganza.
The Pandorica Opens is the beginning of the most spectacular and most extravagant one yet.
It is in its grand and epic scale that The Pandorica Opens fails, top heavy with trying. However it hides brilliance in its small and quiet moments that lifts the bloated behemoth up by its boot straps and calls it a success.
The opening convoluted, Mission Impossible scenario involving numerous characters and links to past serials in order to deliver a simple message to the Doctor signals the grand and epic nature of the tale. The brief glimpse of Vincent is nice and the exploding TARDIS he creates is beautiful, but it is stretching credulity to think anyone would take it for an urgent communiqué for the Doctor, especially since it has been collecting dust for decades in some hidden attic. But 1941 Winston Churchill sees the interpretation of an encounter with the Doctor from the mind of a mad genius and jumps to the obvious because-it-is-in-the-script conclusion that this is of dire importance and must be placed into the Doctor’s hands immediately, even if the TARDIS redirects his phone call from 1941to the far future of 5145. Why the TARDIS chooses to contact River in prison and several centuries out is another mystery, except that it provides the funny little hallucinogenic lipstick shtick. Then we have Liz Ten, the Blood(drenched)y Queen.  Apparently her body clock is in super slow-mo for this abhorrent monarch to continue her reign in 5145; and now I have to ask how it is that she never noticed this all-important painting in her Royal Collection. And why didn’t River go directly to Winston for the painting; why the need for this rather dicey transfer that calls upon every good luck charm in existence to ensure its survival and its certainty of location? But it is all in service to the grand scheme, and what fun it is. The script isn’t done with the hijinks yet, however. There is a neat little space café bit before we get to the “Hello Sweetie” graffiti. They might as well have scribbled a note in a bottle and flung it out into space. Sooner or later the Doctor would bump into it, as long as the script calls for it, but that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining or grand or epic. And then we wouldn’t get the “you wouldn’t answer your phone” gag. (Sort of Mission Impossible as skewed through the lens of the Zucker/Abrahams team.)
Roman legions and Stonehenge—two more signposts of the serial’s tone. There’s really no other purpose for them. The tie-in with Amy’s memories is an excuse to make it appear as if Amy is the linchpin of the Alliance’s scheme to trap the Doctor, when in reality the Romans have nothing to do with getting the Doctor there. In keeping with the bold bluff of the episode, the Doctor makes the dubious claim that the Romans are “the greatest military machine in the history of the universe.” Nothing comes of this, however. The statement is never put to the test and the fifty volunteers who show up don’t do much more than mill about. One of them fetches Amy a blanket and a couple drag the Doctor into the Pandorica (because Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Terileptils, Slitheen, Chelonians, Dravins, Sycorax, Haemogoths, Zygons, Atraxi, and Draconians wouldn’t get their hands dirty with such a task—leave it to the Nestenes in disguise) and that’s about it. With Stonehenge as the historic backdrop.
With the Roman Autons doing the Alliance’s dirty work there seems little need for the host of Doctor foes, and indeed they do very little other than provide that grand and epic scale to this nostalgia tour. (And is that a Silurian I see? Exactly when did they come out of their self-induced coma?)Their Alliance is unbelievable and their plan laughable. If they were really intent on stopping the TARDIS from cracking the universe the Doctor would be dead. The Doctor’s swaggering “let somebody else try first” challenge would have been met with a billion or more shots aimed at his two hearts. Which one of these races proposed the lifetime incarceration over capital punishment, and how exactly did it get the others to go along?  (And by the way, where was this Alliance the last time the stars were going out?)
However, the devil, as they say, is in the details. Or in this case, the ‘ary angel’ is in the details. (Dad is staying with us for the winter, Gary, and I had to stick in one of his highest compliments—‘you’re gooder than ary angel.’)  Thus, with a room full of Doctor Who villains to pick from, it is the single, dismembered Cyberman who steals the show.
It is Rory, though, who is by far the ariest angel. Rory is dead. Rory is not dead. Rory is dead again. Rory is not dead again. I’m so glad that Rory is indestructible because Rory is the best thing going in Doctor Who these days (these days of the Eleventh Doctor).  Even if he is Nestene Rory. Auton Rory. A Rory is a Rory is a Rory. “Well, I died and turned into a Roman. It’s very distracting.” Long live Rory. Combine Rory with Matt Smith’s Doctor and you have comedy gold; all of the laughs and tears and humor and pathos of human comedy on the subtlest of scales. Delivered by a plastic being and an extraterrestrial.
Of the three devastating cliffhangers, Rory’s is by far the most moving. The reunion between Rory and Amy is touching and Rory’s struggle with his humanity is heartbreaking as his Nestene Consciousness overcomes. As for Amy, does anyone really believe she is dead? Of course not. Amy is not dead. We all know that the show is holding a Doctor Who ace up its sleeve. But the fact that Rory believes Amy is dead, and that he killed her, is tragic.
River’s is the least successful because we really don’t know what the heck is going on. The TARDIS has her trapped and she’s sorry for something only she knows. Presumably the TARDIS is exploding, causing the miserable Crack, but again we are well aware of the Doctor Who sleight of hand at work. Up until this point River has been another highlight. Her dalliance with the Roman legion is gratuitous but enjoyable, and her demonstration of might to the Commander (“you’re all barbarians now”) makes this side track worthwhile. Her exploration of Amy’s house is another shining moment. Again, it is beside the point that Amy loved Roman history and the story of Pandora’s Box (and wouldn’t River recognize Rory and not have to see a picture of Rory and Amy together to realize who he is since she has an as yet untold history with the Doctor/Amy/Rory trio, but never mind), but Alex Kingston makes us believe that River’s discoveries are monumental.
Finally we have the Doctor being dragged into the Pandorica. The absurdity of the concept (of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontaran and the like imprisoning the Doctor rather than killing him) is countered by the upside down nature of it all. The groundwork has been skillfully laid; and all expectations are turned on their head. We are told, “It’s a fairy tale; a legend.” The Pandorica “was built to contain the most feared thing in all the universe.” With Daleks and Cybermen and Sontarans and a horde of alien monsters filling the room, the Pandorica opens with all of the anticipated grandeur only to reveal an empty chamber. The Daleks and Cybermen and Sontarans and the horde of alien monsters are the heroes of our tale; the Doctor is not the good wizard who tricks the hated being into the Pandorica; the Doctor is the “most feared being in all the cosmos” for whom the Pandorica was built.
The Doctor protests; he is their only hope; the universe is in danger of total collapse; without him silence will indeed fall. It is staged; it is ludicrous; it is untenable. But it is effective. Those quiet shining moments justify the overblown nature of the Pandorica, the Alliance, and all. We are on the edge of our seats because we care. We care about Rory and Amy and River and the Doctor. We know it will magically work itself out, but we want to see it happen.
The Pandorica is open, Gary. The Crack is cracking. One more episode to go and it will all be over. Until it starts up again for this treadmill of a generation.