Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Doctor's wife or The love of a man for his car

Well I have been banging on for such a long time that we needed more Tardis, and now we get so much more than we could have hoped for. Neil Gaiman the prototypical Who geek turned successful writer went where most of us wanted to, INSIDE THE TARDIS. About bloody time I say, but The Doctor's wife is  more than just a nostalgic trip to Tom Baker and his mates running around an old Victorian hospital, We've been getting wee dollops of candy from the Lord Thy God Steven Moffat, but this is more like it. Can't have been fun for him getting all those e mails and other missives screaming for more Tardis, much like Isaac Asimov when begged for more Daneel Olivaw  stories, he tossed off a 5 page thing for a pulp mag and our reaction was, nice start, but we assumed you were going to write a book. What followed was a string of great books that are asking even more questions long past the cheeky death ( how dare he) of the Sci Fi legend. Like Asimov, Moffat now is prepping us for the big box of Belgian chocolate truffles coming our way.

The Doctor's Wife is a full tilt stand alone story that takes us right past the rooms and reveals the soul of the machine itself. There are some who would accuse Moffat of romanticising the essentially male notion of vehicle love by making the soul of the Tardis a woman. He certainly isn't the first to do this,  in Andromeda the former Hercules flirted with and almost got romantic with the ship's human simile communication's protocol. To be fair , she was fit as .... But this never stopped any man including Kirk or Scotty or the Doctor from resorting to unique and sometimes violent  means to get the result he wanted. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the whole Idris personality, but she does work on a lot of levels and is an alternative explanation why the Doctor has always ended up "Where he needed to be".  Used to be it was the Time lords  letting him off the hook for nicking an old type 40 in exchange for putting out some fires and sometimes saving the bacon of Gallifrey itself.  So can we buy a sort of sentient being half tech  half energy falling for the Doctor so long ago? The romantic in me would love to, but I have never wanted to make love to my bike car or stereo, I may call them "her" but I'm no way romantically involved despite appearances to the contrary. Idris is more the manifestation of the romance novel side of fandom. I'm guilty as charged, I too was well hooked by Rose and would have loved to see them settle down in a quiet corner of Gallifrey and have lots of little Time Lords and Ladies, but such is the world of Doctor Who that even the Daleks were soon rolling their eyes over all of it. Idris as a one off is a brilliant character I loved from the first words she uttered and loved even more as It dawned on me ( about 2 minutes in) , that she was the heart of the Tardis. Her uncanny ability to be as confused and new to emotion as any newly liberated bit of software worked really well, she even took the opportunity few others have the right to, to bollocks him over never reading the instructions. BUT again I keep wondering what that would have been like if Idris was a bloke, a regular guy , a mechanic nerd, techy  type who would have also argued furiously with the Doctor about building the Franken Tardis.

As a story the ep stands out as one of the best stand alone stories you can watch out of order any time in any era and appreciate. It's the kind of territory the nutter crowd ( myself included)  love to delve into. How does the Tardis work? Why does it shudder along so and where ARE the rest of the Time Lords? The planet made of half digested Tardi along with Aunty , Uncle Nephew and Idris was a master stroke of setting. Somewhere in E space there is a malevolent entity that feeds on Time Lords and their machines. I  half expected the junkbots to sing Dare to be Stupid  for a second , but the feeling passed and the place felt like a proper fearsome place where things go to die. For the first time this series, a monster is in fact well scary, it even looks like House ( Michael Sheen)  could have got away with it and gone on to create havoc in N space. I would have loved to see it go off and threaten the Time Lords in the Slo Time envelope around Krikkit. In fact I won't be in the least bit surprised if eventually Gallifrey makes a massive come back  when just that sort of malevolent entity causes the Tardis and co to save the High Council from the shinies. In fact I'll be deeply disappointed if it doesn't happen in this series. But as I pointed out to Keith Telly Topping this last week, TLTG Moffat rarely disappoints.

Ah and yes about the interiors, more hints as to where things are, The Ponds get a new  bedroom and the old control room gets jettisoned. But what a spectacular tease. White corridors with the usual circle panels. Next time  doors too please, but still worth the film to see Rory , yet again , be killed. This time even though  you knew it was probably a massive mind game, you let yourself be drawn in. It's classic Doctor Who where a monster or evil thing mentally abuse the audience for a bit. The Master was an erm... master of this sort of thing. The safest place in the universe suddenly and not for the first time becomes the last place you want to be. Kept us on the seat of our pants till the end. Neil Gaiman really delivered in terms of dialogue and concepts. Some say there are no new ideas just the way you combine the old ones, and it's true, but what Gaiman did was a loving carefully crafted old fashion psycho thriller when the sets were made of foam and  the words had to carry much farther than most writers allow for now.

Special mention has to go to the well fit actress that plays Idris. Suranne Jones, Karen MacDonald for a few years on Corrie who annoyed me no end, but here she was brilliant, sexy and classy. A performance that oozed with the reflection of crazy the Doctor had  patted, caressed and beaten into her/it  for years. If you're going to play a one off and that one off is the human personification of the Tardis, you better do it well. Steve MacDonald's ex wife did that, I just hope they don't make the mistake of bringing Idris back, that would be wrong for so many reasons, not least of which  would be that it would cheapen the character.

The follow up bit of fun of the best ever Doctor Who Confidential on BBC 3 was a proper treat. A trip into the history of the Tardis complete with old clips and set pieces designed to bring you to the point of tears it was so moving. Seeing all those clips with several incarnations of the Doctor cursing . loving and otherwise talking to the Tardis over the years made me feel like we'd lost something along the way recently, and that made me very sad, but I suspect it's also a message from the powers that be that the Doctor we wanted is back and no one is apologising for it.Having Neil Gaiman narrate bits of script walking through the set had it's moments as well, less so for me as performance but proof I wasn't wrong for my own script writing style and methods, shows what a load of isolated old farts know.  Any road... I liked it and so will you if you missed it.

Moldova, my pick to win
All in all, not a bad day that started with football and ended with Eurovision and a not so last place nul points performance by Blue. Was tarnished slightly by the fact that super eedjits Jedward pipped Blue for a slightly higher placing, but then again Eurovision, the song contest good taste forgot, is not known for appealing to people who listen to the Undertones. I suppose it's an improvement that a song that is a direct rip off  of Snow Patrol won. Could have been worse, could have been Belgium and the acapella  tone deafs. Thank you Doug Morris for this factoid, The Damned offered and were refused as representatives for this great nation. Would have made Lordi look silly. If there was any justice, Moldova would have won. And if you love great music, I urge you not for the last time, to listen to Beat Surrender every Saturday night on BBC Radio Newcastle, hosted by the most excellent Nick Roberts and Doug Morris when when Nick is off filming a wedding for the big Radio One big weekend foofera, don't ask , I don't know why either. Jamie Wilkinson pops in to sub as well but not as often as he used to. And of course listen again, just look for Beat Surrender.

Need to get a few things off my chest too.  First up is the BBC history literature thing, The Viking Sagas, was supposed to be the telling of how the sagas were written and even offered up the hope of significant segments being read in some logical manner that would lead one to want more. Instead Janina Ramirez, wet behind the ears romance novelist and bad interviewer  reacted in  patently prepared sequences to information she already knew, then repeated  with great surprise as if the previous speaker had been talking in old Norse.I had to turn it off after 20 minute it was that painful. I thought you needed more than just being a former Goth Chic to get commissioned for a real BBC 4 programme? Shame on the BBC, such a great chance to tell an exciting story wasted on this not ready for telly grad student Dan Snow wanna be.

Next is the returned Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of crisps. BBC 3's flagship youth comedy from 10 years ago, still has the feel of the original , but seems a bit tired and is running out of ideas. Stripped  of it's most manic residents, Runcorn feels more like the party after the party. You keep expecting something good to happen and it almost does, and then falls short of the template set in the first few series. Tim Claypole is cheaply outed as " a gay" for no apparent reason but cloying drama worthy of Corrie. It would have been much funnier if we'd have met Helena first and found out she was a post op ex trany, but no they just let him blurt it out. His nymphomaniac sister is a poor replacement for Crazy Louise and while not without some merit, just barely earns her spot in the cast.  Having watched the other series I feel the need to watch this and even enjoyed it enough to sit through the full 30 minutes, but it's not nearly as good as it used to be. If you are a fan,  watch; if not, pass on it. I'd hate for you to think this was the best it ever got.

Next week promises a lot of new beginnings and the start of football free land in those mystery months they stuck in between May and the end of August. I'm told by the currently builder infested Keith Telly Topping to not despair as there are all kinds of things on the way and we still have lots of Doctor Who to come. So relax and enjoy the break by taking in the sun should  it deem to come out.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Curse of the Black Spot: Homicidal mermaid on the loose

And for those of you who endured the last few minutes with a mechanical hare, the Italian cheese is Asiago and Gulliver's travels was the oldest in the list. Just how dim do you have to be to need to think and debate on questions like these? Good thing they go the question about theme parks or the poor bunny would have had to wait till next week. Honestly , this thing still hasn't been put out of it's misery?

Small price to pay for the best sci fi show in the world  yes? Maybe not, but the credits did roll and Doctor Who opened up with a shot of the good ship Errol Flynn. If they missed a pirate cliché in the first 5 minutes, I must have blinked. Then Amy did her best impression of every girl's fantasy from Pirates of the Caribbean. As it turns out, the only reason she even remotely scared the weather beaten veterans of years at sea, was their fear of getting  hurt  even just a wee bit. Any other time they would have laughed and muttered  something along the lines of "Now there lass, you could hurt yerself with that". But the aforementioned homicidal mermaid was culling crew with cuts of any kind and letting them know their number was up with a black spot, and that had put rather a damper on basic sword play so fancy footwork was the order of the day. Now maybe I've gotten a tad cynical in my dotage, but I'm prepared to forgive a lot if the result is a ripping good  yarn.

There I did it, I used a piraty word. Argh, I did it again.  Avast ye land lubbers! That's all I got, I'm empty now, rest of the review will be in English or that close approximation to English I use most of the time. I mention this because I'm happy to see the script , while not avoiding the cliché pile up, did steer clear of the awful dialogue that normally crops up in such outings. There were a few moments you could almost believe it was a darker episode of Master and Commander, complete with miniaturized ship and cabins, then there plopped in the middle of the floor was a pile of gems gold and coins bringing us right back into Errol Flynn land. I suppose it was fun to watch  but mostly harmless. The watery tart gave us a few scares, Captain Avery  had a few tender words with his son the stowaway. Yes he was hiding in a barrel.  Then the crew or what was left of it was washed away or zapped by the murderous mermaid with half the ep still to go.  Oh whatever will they do? Doc, Cpt. Henry Avery and Amy get taken as well. Did I mention, they killed Rory again, poor poor man. So where was I?  Oh yes,  if ye can't beat em, don't think they're all dead and join em.

In fairness the previously lethal Siren now is the, albeit misguided, but good Emergency Medical Hologram. A bit less brutal than the empty child but still unused to human physiology. Turns out no one was dead, just in suspended animation. Nice one that. Just when we were forgetting about the whole space angle, along comes a space ship from another dimension. Frankly I was wondering when the rest of the universe in all it's splendour and diversity was going to stick it's nose into the series. Matt Smith even started to talk like just maybe the people he's meeting aren't all up to speed on the lingo and tech. Now all we need is a bit more sarcasm and the comparisons with Tom Baker can start. A good start tonight and the multiverse traffic jams in space and time are a touch of proper sci fi .  Loved the bit where the Pirate captain was looking for the things he knows all ships should have; a compass, a sail and a rudder. 

As stories go, it did touch on all the places it needed to, the heart strings of father and son, hero worship , expectations and disappointment. Amy and Rory are couple of the year what with the continuing saga of how much they mean to each other. The elements of classic Greek literature and seafaring stories worked well and the exposition for those who missed it wasn't at all heavy handed. Where the Curse of the Black Spot worked best was the dynamic between the the two captains when comparing ships and especially when it turned out our Doctor's Tardis was rubbish after all. Professional envy carries well over alleged tech  advances and it was nice to see.

Line of the show had to be:

I'm confused. 

Well it's a big club. We should get t-shirts.

Could be the theme for the entire series for all we know , but cracking line. I'll have one please. So not the best ep but hardly the worst. I was glad to watch it, it was fun to and I was entertained despite the never in doubt "will Rory die, mouth to mouth scene". If you read last week's review , you know that I'm finding it hard to buy into any real danger being all that serious, after last week and the fact it's only the 3rd ep in the series. Which does bring us to the Easter eggs dropped in rather cutely in two spots. Fist we have the panel in space and time that slides open to reveal a ginger eye patched lass ( yarr) who tells Amy to be calm,, get it becalm... as in a ship not moving .. Anyroad, this woman could only be some kind of person in a Time Lord vehicle in the past, future present of the Doctor who feels she can do that sort of thing to Amy and cares enough to.  .Add to that the apparent line by Matt Smith in the Next week teaser, " There's a living Time Lord out there!", things can only get more exciting than they already are. Personally, I'm wondering why it took so long to even get around to the rest of the Time Lords. It's not really Doctor Who without them. Speaking of regular service, it's nice to know where the kitchen is, that there are at least three toilets on board the Tardis and that Rory and Amy have a room as well. Maybe even one day we'll see them too! Nearly forgot, the Positive negative reading is proof to me that the Doctor's fate is not written in stone, it can change just like Amy being pregnant or not will be one of the signals to us as to how this whole arc ends up.

 Doctor Who chugs along  happily pissing off the nay sayers and entertaining the rest of us. I like the return to the slightly camp,oblivious, mildly mad Cambridge professor otherwise known as Tom Baker.  Matt Smith doesn't and shouldn't play him as aloof as Baker ( though the "take the silly guns away" talk came close) because despite being the amalgam of all the Doctors who came before, he is still his own incarnation. At the end of the 45 minutes I was smiling and wondering and looking forward to next week. That my friends are sure signs of a job well done.

As for the future, the mounting evidence indicates we're in for a fun ride that I suspect will still not entirely answer the questions swirling around River and Amy by series end. We will I suspect have at least one or two stops on Gallifrey proper and Rassilon will put in an appearance before being sectioned for a few more millennia. If you read and take seriously the drippings in the gutter press, we will even see The Master come back for a story. Would be a waste no to have him back, he was one of the reasons I loved watching the first go around. Master stories are deeply personal and give the Doctor the hardest time, so bring on DCI Sam Tyler. Steven Moffat may have bit off more than he can chew with Sherlock AND Who, but I think in the end he'll get it right. If you missed anything , watch the ep here or go to the homepage of  Doctor Who because you can.

My beloved Toon won a hard match 2-1 , Doctor Who was a pleasant way to spend 45 minute in front of the telly. Saturdays don't get any better than this. Laters all, time to make a bit of food, and watch MOTD.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Day of the Moon (part 2): Still confused but I'm ok with that.

I'm still wondering about a few's beyond ratings, it's an event, a cathartic break with the tension building since first we met River Song. All together now... I'm confused and I'm ok with that. Last Saturday's Doctor Who was less an exercise in telling a one off story and more pushing the envelope of the River Doctor arc along. If anything the whole The Silence thing was more of a damp squib. From it we got some great lines about Tricky Dickie and some brilliant banter between the Doctor and River. What we didn't get was a memorable alien story like we might have got in Arc in Space or Kroll in the Key to Time arc. I would even venture to say that The Silence were about as scary as the Zarbi ( giant ants)  in The Web Planet, if anything , they were boring wallpaper to the real star of the story, that being the three big clues dropped in our laps by Moffat. 

Least scary monsters since the Silurians?
The Silence fail on several levels, not least of which, convincing scary monsters. Why I ask you if we can see them  and then promptly forget them, do they even need to zap us? Compared to other aliens resident to Earth, such as the Silurians, The Silence seem to be some benign growth with us "Since the wheel and fire". So what precisely have they done to us???? Such horrible things as make us advance our science at a steady pace, presumably things we would have done eventually with or without them. Made us fight terrible wars? Surely also something we don't need help with. So frankly as threats to the Human race, hardly up there with the octopi from space that use our children as some kind of narcotic.  Then there's the costume, Men in Black with Greys faces???  We don't remember them, why even dress? And if they wear clothes, why not the original space suits from when we discovered fire? Lastly the way our Doctor dispatched the things was so predictable I sussed it a few minutes in, well actually when Amy took the snap on her mobile. All he needed was to get the injured Grey to say that stuff about how we should shoot them all on sight. Again WHY??? To be honest, if the worst they are guilty of is Hitler, George Bush ( either one), Margaret Thatcher and big oil, then I'll take that  as the price for getting the tech we needed to get to the Moon, penicillin, and telly. To quote the People's Front for the Liberation of Judea, " What have the Romans ever done for us besides..." The Silence were rubbish and window dressing. An epic fail to use the parlance of some people much younger than me. 

So what was so great about Day of the Moon? Clearly it wasn't about saving the Earth from two dimensional paper cut out monsters hardly capable of scaring a 3 year old. And if we're honest the sense of jeopardy you got from seeing Gandalf  "die" in the film was present from part one through to part two, even the body bags didn't bother me half as much as they should have. I never once for a second believed the Doctor was in any real danger or dead. I am assuming The Moff will find a way to pull the fat out of the fire, as I suspect were most of us watching. In a bit of a ham fisted way, he's asked to us to wonder about a few things, set us some tasks to solve between  now and end of term. Professor Moffat was so busy laying the ground work for the series finale he forgot to write a story that puts in danger and makes us climb behind the setee. Why was there a lot " Three months later" stuff? It seemed  a little half baked and poorly thought out. For example, where was the scene when they figured out Amy had a picture, they could see them  but would forget them when they turned away? Somebody please get the deleted scenes file. Where it worked was where we needed to sort future present and past Amys, Doctors and Rivers. If we string the clues dropped along the way in the order they actually happened ( in relation to linear time), we will know who the Time Lady regenerating at the end was, who was in the space suit when future Doctor was killed in a potential and still avoidable string of events  and of course who the hell River Song is and why she's travelling in the opposite direction the Doctor is. 

Which begs the questions.Where is River's Tardis? Is it the future version of the current Tardis?Can a Time Lord or Lady be in fact travelling on an opposite time line from another Gallifrean?  Wouldn't it be more a case of bumping into each other in a disjointed series of times in the past and future? Besides you can only regenerate in a string from first to last regeneration. Any way you slice it, even time travel has rules and we can't ignore them. So the answer is obviously staring us in the face if we could only clear the excess growth in the way. This at very least screams a Gallifrey ep or three. OOOO Time Lords again !  About bloody time. Quick question folks, Matt Smith in full beard. Neanderthal much?  Personally I'm glad he shaved.

Another high point, however tiny detail it is to some, was the use, if only in our imaginations, of the store room and the Tardis swimming pool to save River ( see Gandalf remark earlier). Finally Moffat is reopening the set design budget and preparing us to see the long neglected interior of the ship that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I know, I know, endless corridors at BBC centre, disused buildings and the occasional potted plant, while a Sontaran chases our heroes for what seems like  20 minutes but is in fact at least two 30 minute segments. It wasn't all bad if you recall; we had Peri's bedroom, Peri in bed, Peri wet in her room, in fact everybody else's rooms... the zero room, other control rooms, clothes closets, the heart of the Tardis where the bells toll, so many places, so many dangers, so many laughs. Being stuck in the front room was getting boring and it looks like all that is about to change.We hope.

Who is she?
I won't bother even trying to sort out the threads in my head or prove my theories right now, I will just sit back and enjoy the show as it does the striptease that will finally answer the questions that grow ever more strident in their asking. "It's all right, it's quite all right, I'm Dying, but I can fix that  ". I do however wish for one thing, if we are going to treat the weekly ep as less important than the overall arc of the series, I would hope the monsters and dangers are a bit more compelling than The Silence or having River chuck herself off the  top floor of a building to her "death". Moffat can have done better and I expect  more of an effort from here on in.  Here's hoping the pirates aren't little more than "Carry on sailing".  Still confused but expecting to enjoy the ride if the stories avoid the predictable radio serial cliffhangers you know the hero will get out of no matter how ridiculous. Holy Fake shark on your leg Batman! How ever will we get out if this pickle? 

Join us next week same Doc channel at the same Doc time! This time Pirates. Can't wait? See the new trailer for The Curse of the Black Spot on the official BBC site.