Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Angels Take Manhattan

Dear Gary—
I am so sorry, but I just cannot get worked up about the Weeping Angels beyond their introductory story Blink. They are inconsistent as a monster; their powers changing on the whim of the author to suit the purposes of each individual plot. At least in our present adventure they have returned to their original form and send their victims back in time rather than snapping their necks. This is their most unique and intriguing attribute and I wish it would remain constant, but New Who’s timey wimey nature means you never know from serial to serial which Angels will  appear. While the more traditional Angels populate our present story, they have ample opportunities to zap people back but they seem to prefer posing and stalking menacingly rather than actually doing the deed, unless of course the plot calls for it. Plus they have an added power of moving their victims to new locations rather than through time; and again it is at the convenience of the plot which power they utilize. (I won't even get in to the preposterous nature of their battery farm of a hotel.)
The Angels are appropriate to Amy’s farewell appearance; she is the one companion most associated with them; I only wish they were treated with the respect that they deserve based on their Blink credentials.
The Statue of Liberty Angel is the epitome of my complaint. Give me a break. New York City; are you seriously telling me that the Statue of Liberty can make her way through the city that never sleeps with no one noticing? A thousand (at least) eyes are on her at all times. How can she possibly be a danger to anyone if she can’t move unless unseen? This is giving in to the basest of all common denominators. How can I think of the Angels as anything but laughable after that?
The potboiler detective novel conceit provides some entertaining atmosphere, however like so much of Who lately, it is not fully exploited and gets abandoned along the way. It opens with the Raymond Chandler-esque Detective Garner taking a case from the shady Grayle. Garner meets his aged self on his deathbed and finds himself surrounded by the Angels in the seedy hotel that Grayle sends him to. Coming face to face with Angel Liberty on the roof, we never see Garner again. It’s moody and eerie and sets up the tone of the serial perfectly. But that’s it and I’m left wondering.
I’m left wondering when and why Garner was writing this scene out. As it was happening I was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode (my second reference in as many entries) in which the words an author writes come to life. I thought perhaps Garner would be a character trapped in his own book trying to write his way out. But no, Garner is forgotten and it is Melody’s book instead that becomes focal to the plot.
The segue to the Doctor reading aloud in Central Park to Amy and Rory from this very book is clever and the scene amusing. (“Yowzah.”) When Rory and River show up in the pages I am alarmed just as much as Amy and the Doctor. It is a great start to the episode. As it goes along, however, I begin to feel let down. The book that River has written, under the pseudonym Melody Malone, becomes yet another Doctor Who contrivance that helps and hinders on the whim of the author and has no logical reason for existing.
To start our story this book, which River has obviously slipped into the Doctor’s pocket when he wasn’t looking, clues the Doctor and Amy in to Rory’s disappearance and provides the date when they can find him. Now my first thought is, why doesn’t River simply slip the Doctor a note warning him about the Angels and spelling out exactly what they are up to and where they are located? Why the need for this convoluted way of communicating? Except that the Doctor and River like to play these dangerous and exciting games regardless of who gets hurt.
My next thought, since River is determined to write this book, is why doesn’t she simply rewrite history? If the Doctor is so sure that what he reads is bound to come true, why not write a happy ending? Why did she put in those lines about breaking her wrist? Why didn’t she change it to breaking the Angel’s wrist? River is forever bringing up that history can be rewritten—here’s her golden opportunity. But she doesn’t think of it because the author of our piece has fixed her history.
Then I start thinking about why River is in 1938 New York to begin with and why she is posing as a detective. She hasn’t read her book yet; she hasn’t even written it yet. I can understand to some degree her desire to track down Angels, but why the Melody Malone detective guise? I guess because she is River and it is just one of those River whims; however it feels forced to fit the tenor of the story rather than the driving force setting the tone. And from this point the detective motif is dropped and the tale turns into a monster chase.
It is decent enough as a thriller, full of threats and chases and dark corridors; everything that Doctor Who does best. There are paradoxes (River’s book being the biggest) and Blinovitch Limitations galore as the Doctor, River, Amy, and Rory race through those hallways and up and down stairways trying to avoid the Angels. Within this context there is ample room for the emotional departure of Amy and Rory.
Rory teetering on the edge of the roof while Amy tries to talk him down is an especially effective scene. This is their moment; this is the payoff for the endless rounds of does she love him or not; of who has the biggest pull on her heart, the Doctor or Rory; of who loves who more. This is a quiet little pocket of life; the two of them standing alone determining their own fate; staring down death together. And I love it when Doctor Who pokes fun at itself. Rory when Amy asks him if he thinks he’ll come back to life: “When don’t I?” It is a brilliantly funny line delivered with the tragic desperation of the situation. They are rewarded for their leap of faith. The Angel Hotel From Hell disappears and the indestructible couple wake up in the recurring graveyard.
However this is where the episode loses me again. I’ll start with the departures themselves. First Rory and then Amy are whisked back in time by an Angel even though someone is looking directly at that Angel at the time. In Rory’s case Amy is facing it. I suppose she blinks, but given that she knows how these Angels work that is unpardonable. In Amy’s case both the Doctor and River are looking at the thing. How many opportunities have these Angels had to transport any one of our quartet, not only in this serial but in each and every one they have appeared in together, and yet never once do they actually do it until now, in full daylight and with eyes upon them. But that is the least of it.
“You are creating fixed time. I will never be able to see you again.” Rubbish.
First I have to wonder, how many ways are there to create one of these magical fixed points? Seems any one can do it if they really tried. And what does a fixed time have to do with the Doctor not being able to see her again anyway?
Amy and Rory have been sent back in time to live out their lives to a ripe old age (87 and 82 respectively if you can believe their gravestones). But here’s the thing—the Doctor has a time machine. Now the show tries to get around this with some mumbo jumbo about how he can never take the TARDIS back to New York or it would rip the city apart. OK, so materialize in New Jersey and take a bus, a plane, a train, a taxi; rent a car. Amy and Rory, for that matter, could leave the city. They could travel anywhere they want and wait for the Doctor to pick them up.
How about River getting them out of there with her vortex manipulator? (“Less bulky than a TARDIS; a motorbike through traffic.”) She obviously will be able to see them since it is she who tells Amy to write her afterword for the Doctor.
I don’t buy any of it.
The still frame shot of young Amelia looking skyward is sweet and reminiscent of Sarah Jane’s parting shot in The Hand of Fear. However it only serves to remind me of the much more honest nature to that companion parting. At least the Doctor had the courage to admit he was leaving Sarah behind, and that makes it much more heartbreaking than this phony separation.
But goodbyes are never easy, Gary . . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Power of Three

Dear Gary-
The Power of Three is another example of the story being sacrificed to accommodate the season arc. Thus we get “the year of the slow invasion,” which could be a fascinating case study but turns out to be merely a ridiculous conceit in order to get “the time the Doctor came to stay.” All in service to the mini-arc for this half season of Amy and Rory as explicitly stated by Rory: “We have two lives; real life and Doctor life. Except real life doesn’t get much of a look in.”
I don’t mind too much, though. Partly because it doesn’t try to disguise itself as anything other than the blatant excuse to get the Doctor to come out and play in Amy and Rory’s world that it is, and partly because it is great fun.
The slow invasion of cubes that appear scattered throughout the world over night is an intriguing concept; the show just doesn’t care enough to flesh this idea out to give it any meaningful threat or resolution. Short story: the Shakri have decided to do some pest control of Earthlings by sending them a bunch of cubes that sit around doing nothing for a year before they suddenly start doing random and bizarre things like playing the Birdie Song (or as I always knew it, the Chicken Dance) over and over, producing mood swings in people, and taking the pulse of those nearby; after a brief time of this they abruptly shut down; they then begin a countdown starting from seven, and when they reach zero they emit an electrical surge to stop the heart of the closest human. Not the most efficient way to go about an extermination. In fact it’s downright ludicrous.
Also unbelievable is the fact that many of the cubes are still littering the same streets and sidewalks after a year’s time. I guess sanitation crews around the world have gone on an extended strike. This is plain sloppiness on the part of the Doctor Who production team. And after a year of sitting around being boring, the majority of these cubes would have been trashed long ago. There’s not even any variety in size, shape, or color. Nothing to capture humanity’s imagination for longer than a week once their novelty wears off.
The novelty hasn’t worn off for the viewer, however, because while the cubes have remained static our characters have not. The Doctor, Matt Smith’s Doctor in particular, is always hilarious as he tries to cope with mundane life. His frantic attempts to fill even an hour’s time are highly entertaining. The Ponds, meanwhile, resume their everyday lives before being whisked away by the Doctor for an anniversary adventure. Added to this mix are the always enjoyable Brian Williams and the introduction of Kate Stewart, scientific advisor to UNIT and daughter to the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
This is purely a character study, Gary. Forget about the narrative. Forget that the cubes are idiotic and that UNIT basically sits and watches them for an entire year like the rest of the world and never seems to do anything proactive. Instead enjoy their “raucous entrance” and Rory’s response: “There are soldiers all over my house, and I’m in my pants.” (New one on me—‘pants’ as slang for underwear.) Forget that the hospital staff where Rory works never takes note of an unaccompanied child in the hallways for months on end or the disappearance of one of their patients. Forget even that there is this robot child who doesn’t have any substantially justified purpose and forget that this patient is spirited away by some strange looking orderlies for purposes unknown. (Visions of Donna Douglas waking in a Twilight Zone hospital flit through my mind). These are for eerie atmosphere only and have no real connection to the plot.
Rory’s dad is the most earnest in his cube watching, and the most entertaining in doing so. He encapsulates the spirit of the story, making a whole lot of nothing into an amusing 45 minutes. He is just as sincere in his offer to help out at the hospital. His subsequent kidnapping by those strange orderlies serves to get Rory, Amy, and the Doctor aboard the Shakri ship and that seems to be the only reason he is abducted along with a handful of others.
Once on the ship the Doctor pushes a few buttons and the dead people (who are still littering the sidewalks and streets where they first dropped just like the cubes) suddenly pop up, their hearts started once again. Neat and clean, as long as you don’t wonder about the inevitable pilots and bus drivers and heavy equipment operators and doctors in the middle of surgery and a host of others who surely would have died taking out many more with them in the process. Unsuccessful in their attempt to wipe humanity from the galaxy, the Shakri apparently slink away never to try again.
It’s unimportant, though, because as Amy tells us: “So that was the year of the slow invasion, when the Earth got cubed, and the Doctor came to stay. It was also when we realized something the Shakri never understood. What cubed actually means. The power of three.” The power of three of course referring to the Doctor, Amy, and Rory. This was an excuse to explore their relationship, Pond life, and Doctor life; and for the Ponds to finally choose. Because the Ponds are not long for this Doctor Who world and so the show needs to build to the most satisfying emotional impact of their departure.
Along the way we get some nice bonding moments between the Doctor and Amy, and this insightful speech from the Doctor: “I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things. I am running to them before they flare and fade forever.” Of course this would be a thousand times more effective if the Doctor didn’t spend 90% of his time running to this exact corner of this exact country in this exact continent on this exact planet.
I send this out, Gary, from my one corner, hoping that it will run and run and run so far away and will eventually find you in some far flung corner of some far flung galaxy . . .

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Town Called Mercy

Dear Gary—
A Town Called Mercy would be a perfect serial to place on an alien planet. There is no rule that says just because they are going for the Western feel the story has to take place in the American Wild, Wild West. And since most of the townsfolk of Mercy all speak in an odd assortment of accents, none of which belong in the Wild, Wild West much less America, I’m already assuming they are extraterrestrials themselves, and when none of them blinks an eye at the presence of aliens I’m even more convinced. But no, the show has chosen the lazy route.
I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns (despite being my father’s daughter and coming from a clan that mined Zane Grey books for baby names even though they mispronounced many of them; and hang in there, Gary, for a long aside here because now I’m reminiscing; Dad was talking about his Aunt Vannie and her five children—Indiaetta, Nelma [she of Nelma, WI fame], June, Ruth, Ella, and Garland—and he went on to say there were three girls and two boys to which Wayne asked which were the boys; he could see perhaps Garland as a boy’s name, but who was the other; to which Dad replied June and Wayne said, “A boy named June? That’s a girl’s name;” and Dad then said, “not June; Joo’in—J-U-A-N;” after a brief pause Wayne exclaimed, “That’s Juan,” and the car exploded in laughter), and while this is a better stab at the genre than The Gunfighters, I’m not overly impressed. The scenery is lovely; however the atmosphere is wanting, mainly due to the lackluster actors. It’s not just the accents; they can’t even whip up enough enthusiasm for a decent lynch mob. They all stand around waiting for someone (the director perhaps?) to tell them what to do; even the preacher doesn’t do much leading of his flock; and the token saloon girl is merely a sanitized bartender. Other than Isaac, about the only one with any wild west swagger is the Doctor.
These hapless citizens are being held hostage in their town by a cyborg gunslinger and a ring around the town made up of “a load of stones and lumps of wood.” This impenetrable force field of stone and wood not only keeps the townsfolk in but it keeps the Gunslinger out. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have no problem crossing the line though. OK, it’s more of a psychological barrier; someone steps a foot outside the ring and a warning shot is fired. Even still, not one of those 81 souls inside ever took advantage of the cover of night to slip quietly away? And none ever thought of the diversionary tactic that the Doctor employs to escape? No, these are definitely not the rough and tough pioneers of the American frontier. The Gunslinger has a better excuse—he’s reluctant to kill innocents; although he doesn’t seem to have any problem targeting Isaac and Rory for termination when they play decoy for the Doctor.
The Gunslinger has come to this pitiful excuse of a town in search of vengeance against Kahler-Jex, the man who made the Gunslinger into the cyborg killing machine that he is. Because Kahler-Jex has cured their sick and given the town electric lights and heat the citizens are protecting this alien doctor; not one of these pistol packing residents takes it upon himself to save the town by turning Jex over. Although I will give them the benefit of the doubt here; the Marshall has Jex safely stowed away in the jail so I suppose that has deterred anyone from this course of action.
This is the bare bones of the plot; not much going on, really; a set-up for a morality play. It’s interesting enough, I suppose, but I’m getting tired of this constant exploration of who really is the Doctor, how far will he go, what is his breaking point, and how dark is this bad boy. Not to mention the “this is what happens when you travel alone for too long” merry-go-round with his on-again-off-again companions. Especially since his character seems as inconstant as those yo-yo companions recently.
I suppose this could have been mildly interesting if the focus had been on the war crimes aspect between Jex and the Gunslinger. However the primary focus is on how this affects the Doctor and more peripherally his need for companionship.
We already know from the previous serial that the Doctor is capable of murder so it isn’t too shocking when he pulls a gun. Handing Jex over to his executioner is a legitimate solution, and one not too far off from Doctor Nine in Boom Town. The violence and passion with which he forces Jex over the line is different however, and it is interesting that what causes the Doctor to snap is Jex holding up a mirror to him. “There’s rage there, like me,” Jex tells the Doctor. “Guilt, like me. Solitude. Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done.” The Doctor doesn’t like it one bit when his own hypocrisies and failings are spotlighted.
Amy: “You see, this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well, listen to me, Doctor; we can’t be like him. We have to be better than him.”
The purpose of this episode can be found in that single line. That and the “we all carry our prisons with us” spiel. 
I’m sick of stories that are built around themes and arcs and trying to explore the deep, dark crevices of the Doctor’s psyche. Can we please have a standalone adventure that can truly stand on its own two feet? If themes and arcs and Doctor factoids arise organically, fine. Just stop beating us over the head for mercy’s sake.
However Mercy’s fate is in the hands of the Doctor whether I like it or not.
After the Doctor’s tantrum gets Isaac killed he settles down into his protector of the peace role, complete with symbolic star. (“Oh my god; you’re the Marshall.”) In the end it is left to Jex himself to get the Doctor out of this tricky situation. Jex commits suicide for the good of all and the Doctor can direct the now purposeless Gunslinger towards endless guardianship of this nondescript town. Nice; neat; convenient; ho-hum.
As usual, A Town Called Mercy has some amusing moments and interesting ideas; nothing spectacular, but it’s an OK way to spend 45 minutes . . . it you have the time to spare, Gary . . .

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dear Gary—
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is some well meaning, manufactured fun. It has the feel of a bunch of guys sitting around throwing out ‘hey, wouldn’t it be great if . . .’ statements and then assigning one of them to create a story from it all. As one would expect, some of it works and some of it doesn’t.
“This is the gang. I’ve got a gang.” The Doctor’s ‘gang,’ comprised of Ponds and non-Ponds, is an element that is forced. The simple yet potentially deadly mission the Doctor is sent on does not call for a ‘gang,’ yet with only six hours to work with he dashes off to collect this rag-tag team to join in the fun and the danger. “Not really had a gang before,” he says; “it’s new.” (Considering the crowded TARDIS that the Fifth Doctor worked with, not really; but for the present Doctor, OK.) The question is, why does he feel the need for a gang? It’s not properly explored, but my own theory is that the Doctor wants to collect an entourage to deflect the amorous advances of Queen Nefertiti who has stowed away on the TARDIS. It is extremely selfish and reckless, but it is in character for this Doctor. The real answer, though, is that the author thought it would be cool.
The Ponds are a natural fit, and by extension Rory’s dad. The story would have been just fine with this trio, and I would welcome an expanded role for Mark Williams as Brian Williams that this scenario would allow. Instead we have Queen Nefertiti (Neffy) and an anonymous big game hunter by the name of John Riddell joining the crew.
My first thought about these two is that they are both far too clean. They are too polished and freshly starched and made up and creased for their roles in their just off the rack outfits. These are two actors who have spent hours in make-up and wardrobe and not adventurers plucked out of their daily lives. Next I wonder what the Doctor is doing palling around with a man who hunts defenseless creatures for a living. This is not in line with the politically correct Eleventh Doctor, or any recent Doctor for that matter. A gun toting companion is anathema to New Who, even ones working for UNIT. What is the norm for New Who, and unfortunately so, is the depiction of great female historical figures as little more than nymphomaniacs with attitude. Come to think of it, every female companion with the exception of Donna has followed the Doctor on board in large part because of her sex drive. And continuing on this line—so too have most of the male companions who have tagged along panting after the female companions (or in the case of Jack, both the companion and the Doctor). But wouldn’t it be cool, I can just hear the thought spoken in that room full of guys, to have Queen Nefertiti and a macho male sparring in space? And thus we have played out for us a 1950’s idea of romantic banter.
Thankfully Amy is there to balance out these dueling dance partners. Although at times she lapses into the battle of the sexes cliché, for the most part she has a no-nonsense, take charge approach that is refreshing. I also find it refreshing that she and Rory are split apart without either of them pining after, searching for, or worried about the other.
The more relevant and engaging group is that of the Doctor and the two Williamses. The father and son dynamic in particular is fascinating. It is amusing and touching to witness the various aspects of this very human relationship, much more so than the plastic one in our other grouping. The affectionate needling and Rory’s slight embarrassment of his father are typical of many families, and I love how this evolves into some teaching opportunities as Rory accustoms his father to space travel and Brian underscores the practical side of life to Rory. (“What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel?”) Love, concern, and pride round out this bonding journey when Rory breaks out his nursing skills to tend to his father’s wound.  Finally it all culminates in the two piloting the craft to safety (due to the highly impractical navigational system that can only be operated by two people of the same gene pool).
Surprisingly, the germ of an idea that probably led to this grab bag narrative, snakes on a plane . . . I mean dinosaurs on a spaceship . . . is one of the things that works rather well. Not only are the dinosaurs realistically rendered (flashback visions from Invasion of the Dinosaurs), they are convincingly integrated into the plot. The revelation that this is a Silurian ark is enough to explain their presence, but they are also well utilized beyond their gratuitous wow factor. Amy and the other two accidentally wandering into a T Rex nest; pterodactyls on the beach; Tricy chasing a golf ball; providing tension, menace, and amusement in turn.
About that Silurian ark—this is a great way to explain the title and to tie in some of the show’s history (and I have to say—kudos to the fantastical idea of “a spaceship powered by waves”) however . . . .
The Silurians, with dinosaurs aboard, would have taken off when exactly? And our current story is taking place in 2367 AD. So has this ark been drifting about in space for millions of years? And if so, how have the dinosaurs survived for all of that time? Or has the spaceship time traveled? That seems more logical, especially since everybody in the New Who universe has this ability. And if it has time traveled, why were the Silurians looking for another planet? Why not travel forward in time to when the Earth is again inhabitable and then go home? Why go out in space at all? Perhaps it is Solomon’s vehicle which has jumped the Silurian ark ahead in time, but then why was he back in time, and if he was back in time why not just go down to Earth and pick up all the dinosaurs he wanted? He could probably gather up hundreds of eggs—compact, lightweight, easy to transport. Come to think of it, anybody in the New Who universe who has the ability to time travel, which is just about everybody in the New Who universe, could go back and pick up as many eggs as they want, rendering the dinosaurs essentially worthless.
But we are to put all of those questions out of our minds and just focus on the fact that Solomon has hijacked this ark at some point in time and space that is up in the air and is now drifting back to Earth in the year 2367 AD and the Indian Space Agency has called the Doctor in to stop the ship from crashing. He has six hours or the ISA will blow it out of the sky with missiles. Stop asking pesky questions, like why hasn’t Solomon heard any of the messages that the ISA has aimed at the ship?
Solomon. Solomon is an element that doesn’t work. He is thoroughly despicable. While this normally would be a prerequisite for many a villain, it is discordant with the lighthearted tone of the bulk of the episode and starkly contrasted with the rust bucket duo of robots he has as henchmen.
And finally this brings me to the Doctor. The Doctor works; and the Doctor doesn’t work.  For most of the episode the Doctor is as usual funny and brilliant and witty and charming. Until he meets up with Solomon and discerns the true nature of Solomon.
Solomon intimidates the Doctor into repairing his leg by having his robot friends injure Rory’s dad. He then proceeds to demand that Queen Nefertiti be transferred to him and the Doctor allows Neffy to give herself up. He does all of this while knowing full well that with a single flick of his magic sonic screwdriver he could put the rust buckets out of commission thus eliminating Solomon’s threat. But I have come to learn that the magic sonic is a matter of convenience. The Doctor can pull it out, not whenever he would want or when it would be useful, but whenever the author dictates and when it will get him out of a spot that the author can’t think of any other way to resolve. When the author needs the drama to continue, however, the magic sonic remains firmly in pocket.
That isn’t the worst of it, though. Pacifist, politically correct, moralizing, self-righteous Doctor number eleven leaves Solomon to die. Vile though he is, Solomon is a living, sentient being who in essence is executed by the Doctor. The Doctor can forgive and plead for the Master who is responsible for the murder of millions if not billions, but a dinosaur killer deserves no mercy. To be fair, Solomon killed not only Tricy but all of the Silurians on board (not genocide as the Doctor claims, by the way, since we know there are plenty of Silurians to go around); even still this directly contradicts everything the Doctor stands for. Amy shouldn’t feel so bad for killing Eye Patch Lady in an alternate reality it seems. Morality in New Who is an ever shifting, inconstant concept that is dictated by the whims of the author for the greatest dramatic effect.
A grab bag of good and bad. In short, a classic episode of Doctor Who.
Amy and Rory decide enough is enough for a while—“not forever, just a couple of months”—and the writing is on the wall. Amy and Rory have only signed up for half a season. Earlier in the episode Amy was complaining at the length of the Doctor’s absence from their lives, and now they are dictating his absence for a spell. This chopped up life of theirs has got to be wearing (and undoubtedly led to their breakup in the previous story), and I once again have to say that I do not understand why these two continue to torture themselves in this way. Commit or say good-bye.
Amy says at one point of Neffy and Gun Boy, “Are they the new us?” They very well could be, given the nature of companiondom these days. Thankfully they are not; but oh Gary, I am getting rather tired of the yo-yo companion.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Dalek Asylum

Dear Gary—
“Something’s wrong with Amy and Rory, and who’s going to fix it?”
OK, so Amy has become a tarted up pseudo-celebrity rock n’ roll girl and kicked Rory out of the house. That’s out of the blue, unbelievable, and manufactured. And here we go again with the ‘who loves who more’ treadmill.
What’s wrong with Amy and Rory is that they have no clue what marriage is, in large part due to the Doctor. They obviously have zero communication skills and apparently need the thrill of the TARDIS to maintain any kind of marital harmony. So Amy can’t have kids, or I should say any more kids since she has already given birth to Melody only to have the baby stolen from her arms. Countless couples deal with infertility issues and manage to have strong marriages. Their confrontation over their breakup never resolves any of their issues; it is simply the rush of adventure that has thrown them together again; once they are deposited back home I recommend some serious counseling or they will soon be headed for divorce court.
Sorry Gary. I had to get that out of the way so I can now concentrate on the main storyline which is really rather decent. It’s a shame that I am irritated from the start and have an overall sense of discontent with the show of late because it makes it difficult for me to look past, but I’ll try.
Amy and Rory probably could have been dispensed with for this episode, and it is not a little odd and contrived that the Daleks decide to kidnap these two out of the blue just because “it is known the Doctor required companions” (reminiscent of The Five Doctors), but despite my aura of annoyance they do provide some comic relief and a few genuinely sincere Amy/Rory moments.
The Daleks and Soufflé Girl, however, are the real stars of the story.
The opening sequence with the Doctor and Darla on Skaro is haunting and the images we get of this long lost but apparently not lost planet are beautifully rendered. The realization that Darla is a Dalek puppet along with the implications of this Dalek technology is horrifying and lends a new layer of danger to these age-old enemies of the Doctor. Then we are treated to the sight of all of those assorted Daleks and the Dalek Parliament. Next we hear the deafening chorus of “save the Daleks.” (“Well, this is new.”)
And the surprises keep coming; this is the most depth the Daleks have been afforded in a long time.
The Dalek Asylum and Daleks that even the Daleks are afraid of are chilling prospects, and the sight of these  battle-scarred and insane” Daleks, even though dormant, is more frightening than the Parliament full of active Daleks cowering at the thought of even one of their mad brethren escaping. The “eg, eg, eg” refrain as one comes slowly to life and that is mistaken by Rory for ‘egg’ is both funny and spine tingling as it slowly evolves into the familiar and dreaded “exterminate.”
“It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred,” the Dalek Prime Minister offers as explanation to the Doctor for the existence of this asylum, and it makes sense that the Daleks would have this concept of beauty. However I am getting a bit weary of the show’s constant barrage of disparaging images aimed at the Doctor. Deeming the Doctor their Predator  and then adding that it is due to the Doctor’s deep-seated hatred that they continually fail in their attempts to kill him, the Daleks are reiterating concepts of the dark and dangerous nature of the Doctor that the show has been hammering home for some time now. A little of this can be effective, but true to its nature New Who has beaten it into the ground.
“You’re going to fire me at a planet,” the Doctor asks. “That’s your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?” Yeah, that’s their plan alright. Because, deep sigh, the force field surrounding the Asylum can only be turned off from within the Asylum. So this all could have been averted if the Daleks had only lived up to their brilliant reputation and built a control room on Skaro rather than essentially handing the keys of the Asylum over to the inmates. But then this all would have been averted and we wouldn’t have any reason for the episode and so I will overlook this obvious lapse in Dalek judgment.
In addition to the Daleks we have Soufflé Girl, alternatively known as Oswin Oswald, who is a standout in the episode. A self-described genius, Oswin has managed to stay alive and keep her sanity (to all appearances) for roughly a year while stranded in her crashed spaceship at the center of the Dalek Asylum. She listens to Carmen and bakes soufflés while not holding off the insane throngs at her door. Oswin is vivacious and resourceful; cute and charming; brave and vulnerable. Her flirtations with Rory as she guides him to safety are humorous (and OK, I suppose Rory is needed after all, and you can’t very well have Rory without Amy; I just wish they would put all of their stale and forced relationship issues behind them once and for all). She is equally comfortable bantering with the Doctor (gotta love that “Chin Boy”) even as she disables Daleks and hacks into their telepathic web. Her deletion of the Doctor from Dalek lore is brilliant, except for the fact that you just know this will be short lived. As short lived as the Doctor’s supposed death at Lake Silencio. (How is it again that the Daleks know he is still alive to begin our story?)
There is a mystery at the heart of Oswin Oswald, though. A mystery that the Doctor detects from the start. “Soufflés? Against the Daleks? Where’d you get the milk?” It is a question only the Doctor considers important, and when he learns the answer he is devastated. “You dreamed it for yourself because the truth was too terrible,” he tells the girl of soufflés. Slowly the truth dawns on her; she is a Dalek. It is a heartbreaking reveal for the Doctor, for Oswin, and for the audience. She is no longer a human despite her protests; she is a Dalek. But she does protest; she has denied and suppressed; now she fights against it. The part that is still Oswin can yet save the Doctor even as the part that is Dalek stumbles out “eggs . . . stir . . . min . . . ate.”
“Run you clever boy,” the Oswin side of her says, “and remember.” Knowing at this point in the show’s history that the actress, Jenna-Louise Coleman, is to play the role of the Doctor’s next companion, this statement, said directly to the camera, is prophetic. It is enigmatic and intriguing and doesn’t look like it will become the cumbersome burden recent season arcs have been.
A promising start to New Who's seventh season. I just wish, Gary, it didn’t end with the inane question . . .

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Dear Gary—
“I found a spaceman in a field, possibly an angel, but he’s injured and I can’t get his helmet off, so I’m having to take him into town to find a police telephone box.”
Just when I am about to give up on Doctor Who along comes a perfectly charming tale like The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.  This is a Christmas present to the audience, and what better way for Doctor Who to say Merry Christmas than with an actual alien planet, even if it is wrapped up in a WWII era English box.
The forest full of Androzani trees (nice callback) is beautiful, wintery, peaceful; almost magical—the perfect Christmas setting. The ornament drops that form on the trees are elegant in design; the giant wooden king and queen are majestic in appearance; and the sparkling souls fleeing the endangered forest are a dazzling sight.  It is no wonder that Lily first takes it for fairyland.
The Doctor packages up this peaceful world intending to take the Arwell family on the journey of a lifetime. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the denizens of Androzani Major have chosen this time to harvest the trees of this wondrous planet. And unfortunately for the Doctor and the Arwells, young Cyril can’t wait for Christmas morning to open his present.
It is a simple little tale that is told to perfection, and perfect is good enough for us as my dad would say. It might be overly sentimental, but what’s Christmas without sugar plums?
For me what makes it all work is Claire Skinner as the unflappable Madge Arwell. Matt Smith is stellar as ever as the Doctor, the children are solid, and the trio of Androzani Major harvesters are excellent; but it is Madge who lends the exact right tone to the sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary proceedings. She keeps the show on an even keel, never allowing events to careen over the top despite her lack of navigational skills.
It is through Madge that the humor and the pathos breathe. She provides a very real and human element that is not slapstick and that is not maudlin (not to take anything away from slapstick and maudlin—they have their place). Practical yet fanciful, she reminds me of another Christmas mother that any kid would be lucky to have—Melinda Dillon as Mother Parker from A Christmas Story.
“More than female, she’s mum,” the Doctor exclaims when he realizes the solution to the Forest’s predicament is through Madge; “the mother ship.”  
“Funny, isn’t it,” the imperturbable Madge ponders. “One can’t imagine being a forest, then suddenly one can.”
It’s a bumpy ride, but Madge successfully transports the trees, the Doctor, and her family to safety, and all she has to do is think (seems to be a popular cure-all in New Who). Thinking of home, thinking “till it hurts,” visions of her presumed dead husband guide Madge through the Time Vortex. Not only that, she lights the way for her husband in his lost and damaged plane. (Side note, the crashing Reg saying, “I’m sorry, my love,” to his wife’s picture is much more understandable and believable than River saying the exact same line for some inexplicable reason when the TARDIS was exploding and the Pandorica was opening.) “He did it again, Madge,” the Doctor tells her. “He followed you home.” A short cut to Christmas and a happy ending for all. After the dark and heavy tone of recent serials, this is a pleasant change.
Home and family and love and friends are the uplifting themes running through this episode and providing the Christmas miracle ending. They also play nicely into recent events in the Doctor’s life and his resulting loneliness. Desperately trying to fill the empty void within, the Doctor plays Mary Poppins to the bereft Arwell family. It is amusing to watch his attempts to lift their heavy and soon to be heavy hearts with toys and hammocks and lemonade taps. And it is touching as well. “What’s the point in them being happy now,” the Doctor speaks for Madge, “if they’re going to be sad later.” He then replies with, “The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” The Caretaker Doctor, taking care and looking after; all the more poignant knowing that he is covering his own sense of loss and pain.
In the energetic and entertaining opening sequence of the serial as the Doctor barely escapes from the exploding spacecraft (minor quibble in the Doctor murdering all of the aliens aboard, even if they are about to attack the Earth, but that just goes to the extremely inconsistent nature of the show in recent years) we are reminded along with the Doctor that Amy is no longer in the TARDIS; no one, in fact, is in the TARDIS. The Doctor is on his own. Until he meets Madge. As it turns out, Madge is his guardian angel and not the other way around as she imagines.
 “No one should be alone at Christmas,” Mother Christmas Madge tells the Doctor. Through Madge the Doctor is able to face his own tears, and the reunion scene with Amy and Rory is a satisfying way to end.
One of my favorite episodes of New Who, I have very little to say against it. Only one thing I want to mention: “I met the Forest of Cheem once; she fancied me.” This is an extremely insensitive thing for the Doctor to say given the fact that she gave up her life for the Doctor. It is indicative of one of the many things I find distasteful about New Who—cleverness for the sake of being clever at the expense of decency among other things (such as logic or common sense).
But for the sake of Christmas and the overall spirit of the episode, Gary, I will overlook this minor and throwaway flaw and send this out . . .
“Call it an idea echoing among the stars.”

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Wedding of River Song

Dear Gary—
After watching The Wedding of River Song I know exactly how the next season will open—with River waking up to find the Doctor in the shower. That is the only way out. Most of the season, and the entirety of this grand finale, has been a dream. That is the only explanation, because not for one minute do I believe any of it. It is not real. It never would have or could have happened.
But, you say, this is fiction; not just fiction, science fiction. However, I counter, in order for a piece of fiction to get me to suspend my disbelief it must remain true to its own framework. It must set up rules and work within those parameters, no matter how outlandish. Then I can dive right in and say, OK, yeah, this might never happen in the real world, but within the confines of this show I can accept it.
I can’t accept anything that happens in The Wedding of River Song.
It all starts with the fixed point theory that Doctor Who has gone to great lengths to establish. All of history is in flux; an ever-changing canvas of fluctuating colors for the Doctor to dabble in and shape and change and mock to his hearts delight; except for those few and rare instances when the show tells him ‘No!’ Instances that are sacrosanct and untouchable. Instances that must not alter no matter what. OK, this theory has been concocted and rammed down our throats, and in order for The Impossible Astronaut through to The Wedding of River Song to work we must believe this to be true in the Doctor Who Universe and we must further believe that the Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio on April 22, 2011 by the hand of River Song is one such fixed point. We must not only believe that this is a fixed point, but that tampering with this point will result in the collapse of all reality.
OK, I believe that if the show sticks to the concept; except the show doesn’t. At least it hasn’t been consistent with it. The Doctor himself changed one of those precious fixed points back in The Waters of Mars and nothing dire happened. There was some history bending around it, but nothing of drastic consequence. You can argue that this was because Adelaide Brooke compensated by killing herself; she was the center of the fixed point; her death was the crucial factor; therefore she corrected time by her act. OK—there’s your out, Doctor. River cheated fixed history by sparing your life. So commit suicide already and life will resume for everyone with only a slight alteration in their memories. Why put River through the agony of killing you when you can achieve the same result with a simple flick of your own wrist? But I can believe that the Doctor is selfish enough and cruel enough to force River to go through with the Lake Silencio scenario to put things back to rights.
Even accepting that, though, I still have to accept that the Doctor’s death in Utah in 2011 is a fixed point; that it will always happen in every iteration; it has always happened and always will. Except guess what—it doesn’t. There is at least one reality, one universe, one whatever it is, in which River does not kill the Doctor, and that plays out before our eyes in The Wedding of River Song. The death of the Doctor at Lake Silencio on the 22nd of April in the year 2011 is not a fixed point. If it is not a fixed point, the world would therefore not go haywire and none of the events in The Wedding of River Song would take place. Or, if it is in fact a fixed point that has been altered, no amount of compensation will ever put it back to normal. River can kill the Doctor a million times over and there will still be that one time that she didn’t and therefore all of the devastating consequences will continue.
So there you have it, right off the bat I can’t believe anything that is put before me in this episode, and I haven’t even started in on the whole Teselecta cheat.
For most of the episode the Doctor is not the real Doctor but rather Teselecta Doctor (hereinafter referred to as T Doc). My first question is: how and why does T Doc grow a beard? But that is minor compared to some of the mind boggling and complex questions that arise from this. I’ll start with some relatively simple ones like: Is the marriage legal; is River really married to T Doc; or was T Doc standing in as proxy? I have to say that River really threw herself into that man-and-wife kiss even knowing that it was T Doc and not the real Doctor. And how and why would the eye patch work for T Doc, both as a Silent reminder and as a death trap?
The real question, however, is this: Is the fixed point actually the death of T Doc and not the real Doctor? I won’t even get into the time traveling paradox of the fact that the only reason T Doc was on that beach is because the real Doctor was forewarned of his death on that beach and therefore all of the eyewitness accounts and the historical records were referring to T Doc’s death before the real Doctor ever got the bright idea to dress up in a Doctor suit. What I will ask, though, is that if the Doctor knows all along that it is T Doc who dies on that beach (at least during the events of The Wedding of River Song), and if the death of T Doc would put reality back in order (assuming the suicide theory postulated above), why not destroy T Doc and be done with it? I suppose because the Doctor wants the universe to believe he is dead, and he wants the Silence to believe they have succeeded, and so he goes through with the charade.
But now I have to wonder again about this fixed point involving the death of T Doc. Is this universal, hard and fast Law of Fixed Pointiness really concerned with or fooled by a Teselecta? What exactly constitutes a fixed point? What are the criteria? And is it really so easy to manufacture a fixed point as the Silence apparently has done? Is all you need to accomplish this monumental feat simply a still point in time? Does that mean that anything that happens at Lake Silencio becomes a fixed point?  
But wait a minute. The Silence is taking credit for creating this Lake Silencio fixed point, however it is the Doctor who gathers all of the relevant people together on that date and time. The Silence has nothing to do with that. All the Silence does is take advantage of their presence to somehow send a spacesuited River there. How did they know from the beginning that the Doctor would be there? Because it is a fixed point? But it is a fixed point of their own making, or so we are to believe; an artificial fixed point that they manufactured out of—what—sheer luck? They stumbled into it? The only reason the Doctor assembles the cast is because he has been told it is inevitable, and that information came not from The Silence but from bits and pieces that his friends let slip and then from his own investigations. How exactly did the Silence manipulate all of these actions to get the Doctor where he needed to be for their convoluted plan to work?
Too many fundamental questions and the production’s over the top silliness can’t distract me.
It is the very nature of this ridiculousness, in fact, that brings me to my dream conclusion. All of history is happening at once, but it is Doctor specific history; in particular, New Who Doctor specific. Thus we have Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill and Malohkeh and Romans inhabiting this world of River’s creation. And we have key individuals—River, Amy, Rory, Eye Patch Lady, the Doctor—all meeting up despite the fact that some of them at least don’t remember each other from the real world. In fact it is rather fast and loose who remembers what and when. Rory and Churchill don’t remember anything; Amy remembers most of it but not Rory until the last and most dramatic minute; River and EPL and the Doctor remember everything.
As long as I’m talking about memory—can we at last admit that the Silents are idiotic? Oh so cool looking, and what a neat concept, but it just doesn’t work; out of sight out of mind just doesn’t work. People need the eye patches to retain the memory of the Silents; so can somebody please explain to me how it is that Amy takes off her eye patch and abandons Rory to face the oncoming Silents alone only to return to the room she has left to shoot down the Silents that she can’t remember are there?
The Silents. The Silence. Eye Patch Lady. Does any of this make sense? The Silents and EPL are members of The Silence, a religious order dedicated to the principle of concocting elaborate schemes to kill the Doctor when they could have killed him many times over, but then it wouldn’t be a fixed point that really isn’t a fixed point (or is it?) and it wouldn’t be a challenge I guess. A religious order that worships at the altar of the holy NASA spacesuit. (Hey, are these guys affiliated with Leela’s Sevateem tribe? Wouldn’t that be a hoot; all of history is playing out at once; why not the Silence and the Sevateem merging?) A religious order reading from the sacred scrolls of The Ambiguous Future of Trenzalore.
You know what sounds like a fixed point, Gary? This whole first question, Fields of Trenzalore business. It seems that everyone and his uncle has The History of the Universe textbook open before them and knows what is in store, at least as far as the Doctor is concerned.  “On the Fields of Trenzalore,” Blue Dorium Head intones, “at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely, or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered.”
OK, then who is asking it and why? Maybe The Silence should go after the questioner instead.
Maybe the Doctor is the one asking the question. All of the big shiny arrows are pointing to the Doctor as the answerer; maybe he is the one asking the question.
At any rate, what this all boils down to is that The Silence is one elaborate religious order founded on the notion that if and when The Question is asked at some point in the future it should never be answered. Now the Teselecta in Let’s Kill Hitler had no clue what the question could possibly be, even though they were reading from the same history book as everyone else in which the question has apparently already been asked and answered. Just ask any inter-galactic school kid. Blue Head Dorium knows The Question and now, thanks to Blue Head Dorium, the Doctor also knows what The Question is. The First Question. “The oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.”
If the question was posed when the universe was in its embryonic stages, who asked the question; who is continuing to ask the question; who will ask the question; and why? That is the real question. And the answer? Who cares?
What is this? A pass/fail quiz? If the Doctor answers he passes and the Silence fails and vice versa? Will the consequences of the answer being spoken aloud be any more devastating than what is happening to time now as a result of The Silence trying to keep the Doctor silent?
“The question you’ve been running from all your life,” Blue Head Dorium informs the Doctor. And then . . . oh, hidden in plain sight . . . “Doctor Who?” . . . how cool . . . how clever . . . Doctor Who.
Oh please. Who cares? Are we supposed to believe that is The Question? The Question that must never be answered? Doctor Who? Doctor Who Cares. Feet, alright? His name is Feet. Or Thete, or Theta Sigma, or John Smith, whatever.  Asked and answered. Bring back the inane question marks on his vest and be done with it already.
That is my biggest complaint against New Who these days, Gary. It’s self-reverence.
I cannot take this story seriously, but as a collection of random events as concocted in River’s mind I can enjoy it.
Chess to the death: cool. Munching skulls: cool. Blue Head Dorium on his head: funny. The It’s a Wonderful Life, ‘Who loves you, baby’ cry out from the Universe: emotional. Pterodactyls in London: cool. The passing of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart: touching.”It would involve crossing my own time stream; best not:” hilarious. “Rory Williams, the man who dies and dies again:” clever. Amy reflecting on her murder of Eye Patch Lady: moving. Amy’s reaction to the realization that she is the Doctor’s mother-in-law: amusing. The Doctor giving Rory dating advice: comical.
But that is all it is; a collection of cool and clever and funny and emotional scenes.
I’m not even going to ask why the marriage ceremony is necessary. It’s necessary because it is River’s fantasy. I will ask this one last question, though: why is River imprisoned in the 52nd Century when she supposedly kills the Doctor in the 21st? Beyond that, I won’t get into who exactly put her on trial and why her lawyer didn’t bring up the ‘the suit made me do it’ defense; and I won’t get into how exactly she was free to study archeology or why she never ran across the fact that she killed the Doctor in all of her scholarly research into the Doctor.
One last stray thought, though, Gary. It is curious how common time travel has become in the Doctor Who universe. It really makes one wonder why the Doctor made such a fuss about the Time Lord secrets of time travel being discovered back in The Two Doctors. Not to mention the fact that ubiquitous time travel belittles the Doctor. Who needs a blue box anymore?
“I got too big,” the Doctor tells Blue Head Dorium. Doctor Who has gotten too big, Gary. Big and bloated and weighted down.