Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Knock knock...

A local TV station’s marathon of the first half of Doctor Who series six prompted me to get around to my promised commentary, so now is my chance for a review of each of the full 13 episodes. (I have brazenly copied the format of the reviews from SFX magazine.) Ratings are out of a possible 'five stars’.
Oh, and yes, spoilers...

The Impossible Astronaut  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Toby Haynes)
The future Doctor calls Amy, Rory, River Song and his past self to witness his death, and to 1969 to investigate the matter of President Nixon getting mysterious calls from a child.

The first episode of the new series launched us into the next set of adventures thick and fast, with a bit of all the things that make the show work at its best: a playful mix of ideas, adventure, a touch of horror, and humour. It had a more cinematic, less claustrophobic look, was witty as ever, and had great villains. A new character, FBI agent Canton Delaware (Mark Sheppard) is introduced and is well realised. As part one of a two part story, it was difficult to judge its weaknesses, as a lot would depend on how things resolved (or not) after part two. Even at the time, however, I hated the over-dramatic slow motion scene at the end.
Rating: 4 out of five.
Particularly enjoyed: character interactions, pace and intrigue, and the look.
Shame about: the rushed-seeming cliff-hanger ending.
Best comback: President Nixon: "You were my second choice for this, Mr. Delaware."
Canton Delaware: "That's okay. You were my second choice for president. Mr. Nixon."

Day of the Moon  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Toby Haynes)
The team, including agent Delaware, investigate the Silence, the aliens who have surreptitiously taken over the world. The Doctor turns their power of post-hypnotic suggestion against them.

The second part of the opening story starts, unexpectedly, three months after the first. There’s a great pre-credits sequence, and plenty more excellent visuals and set pieces. It resolves the immediate threat (of the memory wiping aliens running the world) satisfactorily, while leaving most of the other plot threads dangling intriguingly. Overall, this two-parter gets the new series off to a good start, while also demonstrating Moffat’s main flaw as a showrunner: over-ambition. The Silence were here for all of human history? That raises a number of issues, including the implications for all the other Doctor adventures that happened on Earth while presumably ultimately under the control of the Silence. And really: the Silence orchestrated the Moon expedition because they needed a spacesuit? Really?
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the visuals and set pieces; the sequence in the TARDIS where the Doctor demonstrates the use of the hand implants.
Shame about: Moffat overreaching in the construction.
Line: Amy Pond : [tied to a chair] "Is this really important flirting? Because I feel like I should be higher on the list right now."

The Curse of the Black Spot  (Writer: Stephen Thompson, Director: Jeremy Webb)
Doctor, Amy and Rory appear on a 17th century pirate ship, where a magical Siren entrances and then disintegrates anyone with even a slight injury or illness.

The most underrated episode of the series. Black Spot had a vaguely Scooby Doo plot, whereby the ostensibly magical threat turned out to have a rational (in context of the DW universe) explanation after all. I liked the way I was wondering where the story was going, and by the end it had smuggled in some interesting science fictional and philosophical concepts. 
Rating: 3.5
Particularly enjoyed: The critique of the Doctor’s usually near infallible powers of induction.
Shame about: The unnecessarily cheesy ‘Pirate Amy’ and other shinnanigan’s at the beginning.
Line: The Doctor: "I suppose laughing like that is in the job description."

The Doctor’s Wife  (Writer: Neil Gaiman, Director: Richard Clark)
The team travel to some kind of rift ‘outside the universe’ to answer what appears to be a distress call from a time lord. A sentient planetoid being with a taste for TARDIS energy hijacks the TARDIS, with Amy and Rory in it, when it finds out that the Doctor and his TARDIS are the last of their kind.

Gaiman writes Doctor Who like Moffat on valium. His episode is similar to a Moffat story: it’s witty and reasonably ambitious, but calmer, less kinetic, less frenetic. In some ways less ambitious and brazen than the opening two-parter, but more polished, with fewer faults. The TARDIS personified was a risky idea, handled well. 
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: The portrayal of the TARDIS in the human form of Idris (played by Suranne Jones).
Shame that: The Deus ex (or should that be in) machina climax was a bit average: not bad, but probably the weakest part of the episode.
Line: Idris: "Biting's excellent! It's like kissing. Only there's a winner."

The Rebel Flesh  (Writer: Matthew Graham, Director: Julian Simpson)
The team visit an island on earth in the 22nd century struck by solar storms, where humans are accessing and pumping a valuable type of acid. They work safely due to using remote controlled ‘Gangers’ of themselves, made of a replicating fluid, to do the dangerous work. After a particularly violent storm, the Gangers gain an independent existence.

This episode, along with its second part, The Almost People, I enjoyed a little more on second viewing. The “what makes something human?” is a theme sf is well suited to examining. But, perhaps because that theme has been done so often, and sometimes so well (eg the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or movie version Blade Runner) this competently made two-parter felt rather stock-standard, and spending two episodes on this one idea felt unnecessary. Also, the ease with which one incident caused complete distrust and war between the two groups seemed contrived.
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed: Nothing especially, but it held up to a second viewing better than I expected.
Shame about: the excessive foreshadowing of the cliff-hanger ending.
Line: The Doctor: "I've got to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose. {he stops} I never thought I'd have to say that again."

The Almost People  (Writer: Matthew Graham, Director: Julian Simpson)
Wherein we learn that the Almost People aren’t almost people, but people.

Basically same thoughts as for the previous. I had problems with the incongruities between the personalities of the ganger in comparison to the person they were based on, but the second viewing helped explain some of that
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed: again, nothing stands out much – good performances all round though, especially Raquel Cassidy as Cleaves.
Shame about: the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ cliff-hanger.
Line: Amy: "Okay. Well I'm glad you solved the problem of confusing."

A Good Man Goes to War  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Peter Hoar)
The Doctor calls in some debts and raises an army to rescue Amy from Madame Korvarian’s forces and The Order of the Headless Monks.

A classic example of what I like least about Moffat’s writing on the series in particular. I liked the episodes episode's segments just swell - that is, the set pieces, sequences and story brushes – and the dialogue, and the characters. Nevertheless, the whole was less than the sum of its parts. It felt rushed. I’d like to have seen more of some of the characters (most of whom were throwaways for the story) and the ideas. For example, the idea of the Doctor calling in a number of debts collected over the last couple of series was great, but ultimately felt rather wasted here.
Rating: 3.5 3
Particularly enjoyed: The support cast, especially the Sontaran nurse and Silurian crimefighter Madame Vastra and her human assistent.
Shame about: the throw-a-way nature.
Line: "We're the Thin Fat Gay married Anglican Marines. Why would we need names as well?"

Showrunner Steven Moffat decided to split the sixth series of the new Doctor Who into two parts: the first of seven episodes with a cliff-hanger, then six more episodes. I don’t think that experiment was successful in itself – it added little beyond the need for a slightly contrived mid-season cliffhanger. I hope that the next season of 14 episodes is played in consecutive weeks. Anyway, I have not yet had a second watch of part two of the series, so my thoughts below are based on the single viewing.

Let’s Kill Hitler  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Richard Senior)
The Doctor, Amy, Rory, and their friend Mels, interupt a chameleon robot run by miniature humans from the future trying to kill Hitler. Then things get a bit nutty.

Yeah, it’s that kind of episode; it has all the hallmarks of the sort of thing I was just complaining about with regards to Moffat’s staccato storytelling. But I didn’t complain too loud, and this is why. I wouldn’t quite give it the perfect ‘five star’ rating SFX gave it, but I thought it was a very good episode. Again, good ideas and great set pieces are thrown at the audience in a cavalier fashion, and it mostly works. I’d have to watch it again to figure out the differences that make this episode so much more complete than episode 7.
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the messing with expectations of where the episode is going, in a way that works.
Shame about: somewhat overwrought climax with Doctor ‘dying’ again. Though it does explain why River Song doesn’t have any regenerations, I suppose.
Line: "Welcome. You are unauthorized. Your death will now be implemented. You will experience a tingling sensation and then death. Remain calm while your life is extracted."

Night Terrors  (Writer: Mark Gatiss, Director: Richard Clark)
The Doctor seeks to help solve the mystery of the 8-year-old boy in a council estate with perpetual fear of monsters in his bedroom. Meanwhile, Amy and Rory explore the building only to be chased by life-sized peg dolls.

As with Gatiss’ previous episode, last season’s Victory of the Daleks, I was surprised how cheesy this ended up. Apart from that, it was a perfectly serviceable episode, without much to remark upon as being especially good or bad.
Rating: 3
Particularly enjoyed:  The look and atmosphere.
Shame about: Somewhat soppy resolution.
Line: Doctor: "That's what it's called. Pantophobia. Not fear of pants though, if that's what you're thinking. It's the fear of everything. Including pants, I suppose. In that case... Sorry. go on..."

The Girl Who Waited  (Writer: Tom MacRae, Director: Nick Hurran)
The team attempt to have a nice holiday, but due to an unforeseen medical emergency, Amy gets separated and caught in an accelerated time stream. When the Doctor and Rory get to rescue her, she’s 36 years older, and really, really cranky.

Black Spot is the most underrated episode of the season, and this is the most overrated. Largely well received by fans and critics alike, I found it mostly annoying and kind of depressing. (I mean really, hadn’t Amy gone through enough already?) The resolution has an unsatisfying re-set feel about it.
Rating: 2.5
Particularly enjoyed: It started off very, very well. MacRae can write, and had an initially intriguing idea.
Shame about: That they expanded that idea to make “the girl who waited” notion even more literal than it was.
Dialogue: "Will you be visiting long?"
Rory: "Good question. Bit sinister. What's the answer to not get us killed?"

The God Complex  (Writer: Toby Whithouse, Director: Nick Hurran)
A Minotaur-like beast chases Amy, Rory, the Doctor and some other captives around a Hotel-like environment.

The best stand-alone episode of series six along with The Doctor’s Wife, it works on pretty much every level, and is a marked improvement over Whithouse’s season five outing (The Vampires of Venice). Okay, once AGAIN the relationship between the leads, especially Amy and the Doctor comes to the forefront of the story – an aspect of this series I’m critical of – but at least it’s done with relative subtlety.
Rating: 3.5
Particularly enjoyed: the overall balance of Doctor Who traits.
Shame about: again making an internal relationship matter fundamental to the story, furthering the sense that this series has been too angsty/soapy.
Line: Gibbis: "I'm in town planning. We're lining all the highways with trees so invading forces can march in the shade."

Closing Time  (Writer: Gareth Roberts, Director: Steve Hughes)
Believing he’s about to die (as per the first episode of this series), the Doctor pays what’s intended to be a quick visit to his friend Craig, and incidentally runs into a problem with the Cybermen.

I’m a fan of the first appearance of James Corban as Craig, in Doctor Who series 5 ‘The Lodger’. So I was looking forward to this reprise, especially as the season could do with a little light relief at this point. While most of the episode was okay, I’m not a fan of introducing the baby factor as a complication to domestic situations, and the way they defeat the Cybermen was hokey. After a second viewing of The Lodger I realised it was a better episode than I’d given it credit for, and the ending worked a lot better than I had originally assessed. Not so with Closing Time. I’m afraid this one really is a ‘meh’ episode.
Rating: 2
Particularly enjoyed: The Relationship between the doctor and Craig still worked well.
Shame about: the baby; the turning into soppy nonsense.
Dialogue: The Doctor: "Oh, you've redecorated! I don't like it."
Craig: "It's a different house. We moved."

The Wedding of River Song  (Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: Jeremy Webb)
Time is stuck and reality on the verge of disintegrating because River Song won’t accept the ‘fixed point in time’ at which she kills the Doctor. In this melange of time, the final confrontation with Madame Kovarian and the Silence takes place.

A largely, but not entirely, satisfying conclusion to the arc Moffat had developed this season.
The In medias res construction worked well, it was appropriately fast paced and epic feeling, and had nice “little resolutions” such as Amy getting revenge on Koravian. The explanation of how the Doctor survived his own death was serviceable, but a long way from inspired
Rating: 4
Particularly enjoyed: the character interaction, such as the Doctor & eye-patch Amy.
Shame about: the overstating that occurred earlier in the series (off screen also) of the ‘real’ death of the Doctor.
Dialogue: The Doctor: "And they want me dead?"
Maldovar: "No, not really. They just don't want you to remain alive."

1 comment:

alex-ness said...

A magnificent review, makes me wish to go watch.