Saturday, 24 September 2011

Closing Time. Review.

Dr Who, Closing Time, Matt Smith and James Corden

The Doctor's rebirth in 2005 began in a department store and, with the irony that only scriptwriters can provide, I suppose it's appropriate that he should spend the last day before his death in one as well.

Already preparing for his predicted demise, the Doctor visits his ex-flatmate Craig (James Corden), only to discover Cybermen are abducting people, for spare parts, from a local department store. Investigating further, the Doctor discovers they're the crew of a ship that crashed to Earth a long time ago and have lain dormant underground until the nearby installation of power cables by the local council has awakened them.

Dr Who, Closing Time, James Corden being threatened by Cybermen

The fact that I can sum up the entire episode in one paragraph says it all about the main problem with Gareth Roberts' Closing Time, which is it simply doesn't have enough plot to go round. With a handful of characters and only two settings, the thing feels very very slow moving and over-protracted. This is especially evident in the section where the Doctor and Craig are menaced in Craig's house by a Cybermat. The truth is the whole section - and every appearance of the Cybermat in the episode - could be removed without anyone noticing anything amiss.

There's also the problem that the set-up requires the Doctor and Craig to keep taking Craig's baby son Alfie into highly dangerous situations, which it's hard to believe they'd ever do. Craig certainly wouldn't and, as the Doctor's in guilt-mode about putting others in danger, it's hard to believe he would either.

But perhaps Closing Time's worst crime is it wastes the Cybermen, using what're supposed to be the Doctor's second deadliest opponents in an episode that's basically a bit of throwaway fluff.

Dr Who, Closing Time, the Doctor captured by the Cybermen

The Cybermen are particularly let down by a weak ending as they just stand around while their plans fall apart around them. All they have to do at the critical moment is switch off the monitor that shows Craig his crying baby but, even when the Doctor's telling them exactly how the emotional response it's creating in Craig is messing up their attempts to Cyberise him, it still doesn't occur to them to do it.

If most of the episode feels throwaway, the one thing that isn't is the significance of its timing. This is the day before the Doctor dies, and we're never allowed to forget it. This is where the episode's main strength comes into play. That strength is Matt Smith as he handles the scenes where he has to contemplate his forthcoming death, and look back at his previous activities. As he's done before, Smith manages to perfectly convey the sense of being an old man in a young man's body while still coming across in other scenes as basically just an overgrown child.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The God Complex. Review

Dr Who, The God Complex, ventriloquists' dummies
It'd appear that sometimes in life the worst thing you can do is open a door. That's why I have a cat-flap fitted, and why I crawl through it every night to preserve my dignity. But I'm not going to let that stop me as, for one night only, Steve Does Dr Who flings open the doorway of Review and leaps, face first, into the Chamber of Opinion.

Looking for yet another holiday, the Doctor, Rory and Amy find themselves in a hotel with a nasty habit of bumping off its "guests". Once the hotel's made each "guest" enter a room that contains his or her darkest fears, they develop a compulsion to worship a resident Minotaur which then comes to kill them.

It turns out the place isn't a hotel at all but an automated space prison for the Minotaur which feeds on people's faith. And now, minor cast members despatched, Amy's next on the hit-list. Is this the end for our plucky heroine and her rather fetchingly decorated fingernails?

Of course it's not. Just as the Minotaur's about to get her, the Doctor kills it by talking Amy out of her long-standing faith in him, thus robbing the creature of its food source.

Deciding he can't keep putting Amy and Rory in such danger, the Doctor then leaves them behind on Earth, with a new home and car he's somehow acquired for them, then sets off to roam the Universe alone.

Dr Who, The God Complex, Gibbis (David Walliams)and Howie

At last, after a string of episodes that've almost worked for me but haven't quite got there, The God Complex is an story that really doesn't have anything for me to complain about. I didn't feel any great emotional involvement for most of it but perhaps in the end I didn't need to. It seems that, provided you play it straight, you can't go wrong with the old Agatha Christie, "Let's kill everyone off one at a time while the protagonist tries to work out what's going on," format but it was well structured, paced and performed, and how can you not love a Minotaur - especially one whose horns scrape the ceiling?

I am a little concerned though at how easy it was for the Doctor to dispel Amy's faith in him. Basically all he had to do was tell her to drop it and she did. I mean, Colin Baker once tried to strangle his assistant. That's the sort of thing that really shakes a companion's faith.

Dr Who, The God Complex, Matt Smith

But is there some significance in the fact that the evidence of this episode is that Rory appears to have no fears and no faith? Is this just one of those things, or will it prove significant? Could it mean there's something about Rory we've not been told? I still keep going back to the end of The Impossible Astronaut where it seemed The Silence had zapped him, only for him to turn up alive and well at the start of Day of the Moon with no explanation for what'd happened in between.

Dr Who, The God Complex, minotaur
I did say the tale created no sense of emotional involvement but that was only true until the final scenes because it'd take a heart of stone not to be touched by the Doctor's farewell to Amy. I've not always warmed to her, I must confess. This is mostly down to often sketchy and inconsistent writing rather than Karen Gillan who can come up with the goods when she's allowed to, but both Matt Smith and Gillan did an excellent job with the scene, and writer Toby Whithouse showed admiral judgement in knowing when to use dialogue and when to let the characters convey their meaning through actions and body language.

So it's farewell to Amy and Rory. They haven't always worked as characters but they've had their moments. And shall we ever see their likes again?

Of course we will. Is there really anyone who believes the Ponds won't be back?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Girl Who Waited. Review.

Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited, Karen Gillan/Amy Pond
Love conquers all, and I love conkers.

Strangely enough, only one of these themes is the subject of Tom MacRae's The Girl Who Waited. I'll leave you to guess which it is.

All concerns about their daughter seemingly permanently forgotten, the Doctor takes Rory and Amy to the 2nd best tourist spot in the universe but, with his usual capacity for landing everyone in trouble, they find themselves in a medical facility for people with a plague that kills its victims within a day.

The idea is that, for the victims, the facility compresses time, allowing them to live an entire lifetime in the twenty four hours they have remaining. Someone might question why the compression doesn't also apply to the plague they're carrying, meaning that, in their own time-line, they'd still only live a day. Seemingly that's not the case, although it's never explained why.

While the facility's automated systems see the Doctor and Rory as visitors, they see Amy as a patient, meaning she's trapped there unless the Doctor and Rory can get her out.

Karen Gillan/Amy Pond, Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited
Unfortunately, thanks the the time compression, by the time the Doctor and Rory get to her, she's aged 36 years, become a genius, is handy with a sword and has a right nark on at being abandoned for all that time.

Now the Doctor and Rory have to make a choice. Do they take the older Amy with them, thus sentencing the younger Amy to decades of being trapped, or do they go back in time and rescue the younger Amy, meaning the older Amy and all she's been through in 36 years'll be wiped out of existence?

Thanks to some baffling Timey-Wimey gobbledygook, involving electric cables and Love, they manage to make both Amys appear in the same time frame, so they can both, in theory, be rescued.

But the TARDIS'll only allow one of them aboard because of the paradox their co-existence is creating, meaning Rory has to make a choice as to which Amy to abandon to her unhappy fate.

White Robot, Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited
With its white sets, white robots and occasionally confusing concepts, there's more than a hint of Patrick Troughton's The Mind Robber about The Girl Who Waited but the story itself's completely different, throwing a focus on Rory and Amy's relationship and its power to overcome decades of separation, resentment and even the laws of time itself.

What probably pleases me most about the episode (apart from the smiley Rory-bot) is it doesn't cop out as I thought it was going to by having the older Amy killed in the slow-motion fight she, Rory and the younger Amy have with the facility's robots, meaning that Rory' forced into a choice over which Amy to abandon. Of course, he chooses the younger model. Whoever thought it was going to be otherwise?

Perhaps the episode's main weakness is that the whole, "Amy and Rory have a love so strong nothing can stand in its way," routine is something that's already over-familiar to the point of tiresomeness and, because Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan never actually come across like a couple in love, isn't something that overly interests me. To a large degree it gets back to the insularity the show's displayed too often in the Moffat era, where everything in the whole universe seems to pale in comparison to the needs and wants of the central characters.

I don't know if I liked this episode or not. It certainly tried to do something different with the format and was clearly classier than last week's outing but, then again, the first three episodes of this mini-season have been so different from each other in concept, tone and execution that it feels like you're watching a totally different show each week, giving a highly disjointed feel to proceedings. It's nice to be surprised but it'd be fun to watch two episodes in  row that actually feel like they're from the same show.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Night Terrors. Review.

Dr Who, Night Terrors, Matt Smith and scary dolls
He might not serve any noticeable purpose in most episodes but sometimes you can't help feeling sorry for Rory Williams. Not only does he have to put up with a scary wife whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression but, in Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, he has to put up with his wife turning into a scary creature whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression. Some days a man just can't win.

Travelling in the TARDIS, the Doctor receives a psychic message from a child called George who's scared of monsters and needs someone to help him.

Well, that's the sort of plea I can ignore and the Doctor can't and so, before you know it, the Doctor's on the tower block where George lives, as Rory, Amy and just about everyone else we meet find themselves trapped in a doll's house, being turned into people-sized dolls.

By the end of the tale, the Doctor, George and the George's father Alex are all trapped in the doll's house and about to suffer the fate that's already befallen Amy.

It seems that George isn't a real child. He's an alien who, cuckoo-like, has entered the life of the childless Alex and his wife but, fearing rejection by them, is sending everyone who scares him to the doll's house in his wardrobe. It would appear that ultimately he's also scared of himself as, at the tale's climax, he even sends himself into it. With the giant dolls closing in on them all, can anything save them now?

Of course it can.

The love of a father can and, happily it's all sorted out when Alex gives George a good hug and declares that he'd never get rid of his "son".

Dr Who, Night Terrors, Daniel Mays and Matt Smith

Maybe I have too short an attention span but I can't help feeling that, with no noticeable threat in sight and Rory and Amy trapped in a mysterious house whose secret's all too obvious, the first twenty four minutes of Night Terrors drags horribly, a feeling not helped by Gatiss' insistence on having characters wandering around talking to themselves. You do wonder why TV writers never notice there's nothing like having characters talking to themselves to totally destroy the illusion that we're watching real people doing real things.

In the 24th minute, things pick up noticeably as, in the doll's house, the people-sized dolls arrive and start doing their thing. Suddenly, from that point on, it's a viable episode, let down only by an ending that's too pat to be convincing. I know fathers have bonds with their children but even so it's hard to believe that, having just discovered his son's an alien who's been manipulating him for eight years, Alex could so easily put that aside and unconditionally accept the boy as his son. Call me heartless but frankly, after a revelation like that, I wouldn't want to approach George with anything less explosive than a shotgun.

I've got to admit my hopes for Night Terrors weren't high. With Victory of the Daleks and The Idiot's Lantern, Mark Gatiss gave us, for my money, two of the worst episodes of Dr Who since the show returned in 2005, leaving me wondering if his far better Unquiet Dead wasn't some kind of fluke. Come to think of it, The Lazarus Experiment, in which Gatiss merely appeared, was also terrible. Sometimes it seems like just having Mark Gatiss connected with an episode, in whatever capacity, is enough to capsize it.

Well, this was definitely better than both Victory and The Idiot's Lantern though not as good as The Unquiet Dead, which filled forty five minutes more comfortably than this did. Like all Mark Gatiss scripts, it tended to be better in theory than in execution and, with its cuckoo-in-the-nest-child and something nasty in the wardrobe, it was hard not to notice parallels with Season Two's Fear Her. But, still, it's hard to go too wrong with scary dolls and scary doll's houses and scary wardrobes, and its mood of determined creepiness at least made a refreshing contrast to last week's sillier fare.

I should also add that, despite my disgraceful knocking of Karen Gillan's occasionally disturbing face, she's excellent in the episode and I still can't help feeling she'd make a better Doctor than assistant.

But, reader, I must make a confession. As we all know, it takes a keen pair of eyes and the finest of minds to be a critic. This must be why I managed to spend the first half of the show thinking that Daniel Mays, who played Alex, was in fact ex-Blue star Antony Costa. How impressed I was with the acting skills of  a man better known for not quite setting Eurovision alight.
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