Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People

One of the best things about Doctor Who is its ability to go absolutely anywhere.  With all of time and space and a character like the Doctor, you never need to see the same story twice, and can continually come up with something brand new like The Doctor's Wife.  It never has to fall into formula.

Of course, sometimes it does, anyway.  Inevitably, every era has its cliches.  William Hartnell had sci-fi revolutions, Patrick Troughton had bases under siege, Jon Pertwee had UNIT / Master stories, Tom Baker had way too many teeth, and so forth.  And that's not always a bad thing.  Troughton's era may just be one base under siege after another, but some of those include The Power of the Daleks, The Web of Fear, and Fury From the Deep.  And none of his base under siege stories are really bad.  That's the advantage of a good formula: you may get repetitive, but you won't get very many duds, either.

The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People repeat themes that New Who has gone over many, many times, most obviously with last season's Silurian episodes.  In fact, other than the monsters being semi-clones, this pretty much is the Silurian story... but with better atmosphere, dialogue, characterizations, makeup, and underlying ideas.  It certainly has its flaws, but it's a good episode in an exceptionally strong season.

The best thing about the story is Matt Smith.  Yet again, he weaves his curious magic through the dialogue, making the Doctor by turns intelligent, authoritative, compassionate, goofy, alien, and, of course, a very old man in a very young man's body.  The second half of the story throws a brilliant wrench into the tale with the Flesh Doctor.  And yes, the experience of two Matt Smiths being Doctorish is every bit as awesome as it sounds.  Smith carries the story through some very rough patches with sublime brilliance.

As for the Doctor himself... well, he's clearly in the midst of some vast plan, but we have no idea what he knows or what he's thinking.  Which is always one of my favorite modes for the Doctor to be in; we see him manipulating not only the new characters, but the companions themselves.  And, of course, we have no idea what he's up to.  The difference here is that even at the end, we only see a glimpse of what he knows and is working toward.  His final act seems oddly callous and cruel, but we're left not really knowing why he's doing what he's doing.  And, after all, he's pulled this sort of thing before.  This is the Eleventh Doctor at his edgiest and most mysterious, and it's a blast to watch.

Rory gets a very strong outing.  Being with the Doctor has pulled Rory's inner strength to the fore, and he shows tremendous bravery and compassion throughout.  He's truly heroic, even when he's being cruelly manipulated.

As for Amy, well... we'll get to that later.

The sets and lighting are incredibly atmospheric, adding a seriously creepy overlay to an already visceral and eerie story.  The Flesh-things look creepy in all the right ways, going from looking totally human to blobs to everything in between.

The Flesh is a fantastic concept.  The story has a strong moral center, but it remembers to treat it with great complexity.  It helps a lot that the characters are nicely defined and superbly played all around.  We get a real sense of who all these people are without spending a lot of time with them.

For about 75 minutes, the story rocks along, full of suspense, shocks, and humor.  Unfortunately, near the end, it gets lost.  There's a cool-looking monster at the close, but it doesn't do anything.  The climax basically consists of running down a single hallway, closing a door, and then arguing about who's going to stay being, even though it's not convincing that anyone needs to stay behind.

What's more annoying about the end is that after treating the Flesh and the idea of sort-of sort-of-not clones with a lot of thought, it goes an easy, unsatisfying route to resolution, not leaving the various moral questions unanswered so much as forgetting it asked them in the first plays.  It doesn't follow through on any of its themes or most of its characterizations.  The story ends on a whimper, rather than a bang.

... the story proper, that is.  After fizzling on its main plot, it goes into the TARDIS where the Doctor and companions discuss the previous adventure, but the Doctor suddenly gets very, very dark, and we get a pair of horrifying twists regarding Amy.  She hasn't had too much to do for most of the story, but the ending is entirely on her.

And it's a doozy of a finale.  The Almost People ends with a stunning cliffhanger... and an incredibly high note, redeeming a very flawed climax.

The great thing about Doctor Who may be that it can go absolutely anywhere, but if it does fall into business-as-usual, it's pretty forgivable if it's done well, with lots of clever ideas and creepiness and character and Doctorishness.  And this one totally pulled that off.


* * *


  • This was written by Matthew Graham, who previously wrote the abysmal "Fear Her".  Now I'm convinced that truly was a tragic fluke.  Graham, consider yourself redeemed. 

Love and Monsters

As much fun as it is to go through action-driven Doctor Who stories, every now and again, it's nice to sit back and see something offbeat and experimental like Love and Monsters, which uses the Doctor as a background character in a romantic tragi-comedy.  And thanks to wonderful characterizations by Marc Warren as Elton Pope and Shirley Henderson as his love Ursula, it works beautifully... for a while.  Watching these two lonely people meet due to their mutual fascination with this mysterious traveler and then fall in love is absolutely charming.  Jackie's presence adds immensely to it; the scene where Elton tries to get information from her is a comic gem.

And then... and then, the monster shows up, and it all falls to pieces.  Partly because he looks like Fat Bastard painted green, and partly because Peter Kay does a Fat Bastard impersonation.  The monster is way too goofy, even for a comic Who story.  It tramples the tragic elements completely, and is too weird for the comic elements to work.

The reason for the Doctor and Rose showing up at the climax is a brilliant laugh, but otherwise, the second half of the story limps to a whimper.  And then it closes on an awful fellatio joke, and adds distasteful to a weak conclusion.

But the experiment of throwing an offbeat character romantic comedy-tragedy into the story?  Total success.  It's when the actual plot comes up that the whole thing derails.  But it's great seeing Doctor Who try something this bizarre and risky.  If only the plot had taken the same risks...


* * ½

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

Something I've talked about several times is the unfortunate default format of the Davies-era show (and, to this point, the Moffat era, though he seems to be moving away from it).  See, for most of Doctor Who's run, the normal story length was four 25-minute episodes, making for stories lasting just over an hour and a half.  And there's a reason that's the right length.  Because Doctor Who is about a madman with a magic box that can take him to any time and any place, and because it's very character-driven, it has a greater burden than most shows: every single story has to succeed at world-building, convincingly transporting us to a brand new time and place.  Every story has to develop a new cast of characters.  And it has to take the time to tell a compelling story.   It's really difficult to cram all that into 45 minutes.  Not impossible, but you are restricted to only one or two compelling characters and a simple plot.  And Doctor Who can be and should be so much more than that.

Which brings up another point, something I've probably hammered too much: this show shouldn't be restricted to Earth.  Not that we should never spend time on Earth, but we have all of time and space.  Earth gets kinda boring after a while.

This isn't to say I dislike the Davies era.  On the whole, I'm very fond of Davies' version of the show.  I think he made it fresh, energetic, exciting, modern, and very dramatic, and gave us several of the finest stories in the show's history.  And what's more, he really didn't give us more than a small handful of duds along the way.  Even the lesser stories in his era were usually more mediocre that truly bad.

That said, Impossible Planet, as a well-structured 90-minute story set on a fantastic landscape, is exactly what I'd been waiting for from the new series when I got to it.  It opens exactly where it's been needed for a season and a half: somewhere not-Earth.  Eighteen stories into the new series, and this is the first time that the Doctor, actually sets foot on somewhere that isn't Earth, or Earth-orbit, or New Earth.  It's truly somewhere new.  And what a spectacular setting!  A station on a planet orbiting inside the event horizon of a black hole...

And now, with modern effects and a little money, it looks absolutely stunning.  The world-building is superb.  It's not only imaginative and well-produced; it has a strong sense of geography, crucial for what turns out to be a base-under-siege story.

And then it one-ups that with the introduction of the Ood.  Not only is it a fantastic makeup job, but they're a genuinely fascinating race.  Here, in their first appearance, they're voluntary slaves, a terrific concept that brings up all sorts of moral dilemmas that the show will later only sort of deal with.  They also bounce very effectively from convincingly friendly to absolutely terrifying.

Next, the Doctor is cut off from the TARDIS - of course - but this time, it seems permanent.  It's not nearly as convincingly just gone like in Frontios where it outright disintegrates in front of the Doctor's eyes, leaving only a hatstand never seen before or since.  I mean, it just fell down a cliff.  No big deal.  But there's a more important difference here: there, after the stunning cliffhanger, Frontios just sorta forgets about the TARDIS disappearing until it shows up at the end.  No discussion, no wondering what's next for our stranded explorers.  Even the Doctor doesn't seem that upset.  Here, though, it actually thinks through what it would mean to the Doctor to really, truly lose the TARDIS.  His discussion with Rose about their future is perfectly written, nailing their relationship.  Rose, of course, talks about settling down, maybe together or something, you know, but the Doctor totally ignores her.  He loves her in his own way, but that's not how things are.  It's a complex relationship, beautifully captured in just a few short lines of dialogue.

Besides, we all know he just lost his true love. (actually, he says as much, pretty much right to Rose: "I need my ship! It's all I've got! Literally the only thing!")

Of course, it's not long before things start getting really, really bad.  One of the crew members, Toby, is possessed by an evil entity and starts killing everybody without getting noticed, the Ood go crazy, and the impossible planet seems like it might not be far from doing exactly what it should be doing and going straight into the black hole.  The base under siege elements are excellent.  There's a genuinely sense of escalating terror and reduced spaces.  There's also an excellent sense of geography; you feel like you could draw a map of the base after the story ends.

There's one particularly riveting sequence in The Satan Pit where the surviving characters are forced to crawl through the vents.  It's an old cliche, but it's done brilliantly, particularly in the absolutely chilling shot where Toby suddenly goes from screaming for his victims to help him to silently giving his orders to the Ood.  Great stuff.

Rose is nicely characterized.  She's brave and loyal and pours herself into things, but it's also characteristically narcissistic: all her work to bring together the crew and stuff is solely to save her Doctor.

The crew is all nicely written and superbly acted.  They seem like complete, individual personalities.

And then there's Toby, the possessed.  Will Thorpe's performance is absolutely sensational.  I could site virtually every scene he's in as an example; he's just amazingly creepy.

The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit stand out in nearly every way, with a brilliant setting, strong characterizations, superb acting, and some terrific horror scenes...

... but if Doctor Who was going to take on Satan himself, it would have been nice if its depiction of the Devil had been a little more sophisticated than the version in Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.

I guess you could argue he isn't necessarily the Devil, but building him up like that forces the result to aim pretty high.  For The Devil, this guy's a pretty weak, uninteresting character. I swear, there is a more powerful monster somewhere in every single season of the show -- he isn't anywhere near as compelling or as threatening as villains like Edrad, or the vampires in State of Decay, or even, say, the steampunk Cyber-King thing.  It's a really weak villain.

I mean, he has the power to, what, possess one person? If and only if that one person reads his symbols one too many times? He also influences the Ood, but honestly, that doesn't seem like that big of an accomplishment. The Doctor mentions the Devil who appears in legends throughout the Universe, but on Earth, at least, in many religions and myths, the Devil is the great liar, the master manipulator. In most versions, he's a trickster -- Satan, Loki, Mara -- not just an ordinary monster. The Doctor taking on that challenge, of an evil far trickier and more manipulative than he is, should be fascinating. Instead, it's boring because this villain, for all his build-up, isn't all that powerful by the Doctor's standards, and isn't actually interesting for any other reasons.

Its defeat is the final insult: his plan succeeds, succeeds: he has escaped the unescapable prison, has a ride to an inhabited planet, and tricked the Doctor into a wild goose chase, leaving the Doctor to give his awesome Doctorish monologue to himself.*  The only thing he has to do, literally the only thing, is not tell everyone he's possessing Toby's body.  But no, in one of the most hilarious uses of the Talking Killer Syndrome ever, he turns monstrous and starts ranting and raving.  So, of course, Rose kills him cleverly, and then quips... no, no, you can guess it.  It's not a good quip.  Nothing clever or interesting.  Just the most obvious possible one.

* Clever idea on the writer's part, by the way.  It'd be brilliant if the actual conclusion was satisfying.

And that kills it for me.  I find the villain totally laughable.  More laughable than the Creature From the Pit, or the Menoptra, or, hell, the Optera.   The story will throw out a brilliant scene like the Doctor ruminating on the existence of God, and then has some laughing giant with horns appear, and don't even have the courtesy to give him a good rock-off.
"I'm the Devil, I can do what I want
Whatever I got, I'm gonna flaunt
There's never been a rock-off I've ever lost..."

You know, if the climax wasn't so lame, I'd be a lot more forgiving.  But yeah, he doesn't die because the Doctor is clever, or he falls to his flaws, or anything like that.  He dies because he starts monologuing when that is the single thing that could possibly kill him.

And that's it.  Everything I wanted in a Doctor Who story except one thing, but that one thing is so bad it ruins the whole thing.

But hey, it's not on Earth!


* * ½

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel

The Tenth Planet, we were introduced to a horrific mirror version of humanity, people who had replaced more and more of their bodies with spare parts until they were machines.  They were human but not human.  Their look and voice enhanced this terrifying vision.  They were also intelligent, logical machines who convinced some people to volunteer to become cyberized. 

They never appeared in Doctor Who again.  Later, there were creatures who called themselves the Cybermen and said they came from Mondas, but they weren't the Cybermen.  They were just evil robots.  Cool evil robots, threatening evil robots, fun evil robots, but evil robots.  Never again in the classic series were they the object of such psychological and physical horror as their forebears.

Which isn't to say I don't like the later Cybermen.  I enjoy every Cyber story to some extent except "Revenge", (yes, even Silver Nemesis, at least up to a point) and certainly get some whimsical joy out of them.  But after The Tenth Planet, I was always waiting for a story that really got what made them so original and eerie, and never really found it.

Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel aren't quite the episodes I was waiting for, but they're really, really close, and in a few moments, they do capture excactly what I always wanted out of them.  Oh, they still work on the more common level: they're incredibly dangerous, virtually unstoppable robots.  But in exploring an alternate version of their origin from another universe, it finds some of that inhuman humanity.  We watch humans being led away and forced to take the "upgrades."  We see the horrific saws and tools used to splice the metal into the humans.  There's one especially unnerving scene in the second episode where the Doctor opens up a Cyberman and finds shredded flesh inside.

Also, the tools they use to cut people up?  Excellent.

And the Doctor's actual defeat of the Cybermen powerfully digs to the heart of their mix of human and machine.  It's far and away the most satisfying defeat of the Cybers in the history of the show.

As for their redesign... well, they definitely look slick and big-budget.  Very shiny, very big, very threatening... but totally robotic.  There's no hint of humanity in the design, which sucks out a little bit of the meaning.  They're also really, really loud when they walk, which makes the various scenes when they walk up and surprise the heroes kinda hard to buy.  But on the whole, this is a superb outing for the Cybermen.

And the rest of the episode, you ask?  Well, the production team did one masterstroke: hiring Graeme Harper to direct.  Back in the old show, Harper directed The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks; the former is almost universally considered one of the finest stories ever produced in the show, and the latter is a masterpiece of atmosphere, intensity, and pacing, regardless of whatever flaws the script may possess.  Harper made two of the best-looking, most atmospheric, and most gripping stories in the old show, directing with the kind of energy far ahead of its time.

He's lost none of his touch.  Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel is a superbly made action yarn with overtones of horror, intense, thrilling, and compelling.

As for the story itself, just keep in mind that while not everything is great, it's all done really, really well.  We start Rise of the Cybermen with the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey accidentally traveling into an alternate universe because... I guess because RTD has this belief that every Doctor Who story has to be about planet Earth, and he's gotta bring back the Cybermen with a big introduction, leaving us with an alternate origin story.  Which is fine, except that this alternate universe isn't really all that interesting.  The one other time Doctor Who did the alternate universe thing, we got Inferno, which turned all the companionish characters into the villains (including the Brigadier with an eyepatch), and then went absolutely insane near the end because on an alternate earth, you can do anything you want.  Here, we get... um, blimps.  An alternate universe with blimps everywhere.  Otherwise, nothing too interesting.  The UK has a president instead of the prime minister.  That sort of thing.

Mickey splits from the other two and after meandering a bit, finds that he has a double on this world named Ricky (of course), who is a tough-guy revolutionary. 

Rose, meanwhile, decides she has to look up her father, which means that we get to go through the whole Rose's father thing again.  Eventually, in Age of Steel, it does play out in an unexpected way, but for most of Rise, it just feels like an inferior rehash of Father's Day.  Shaun Dingwall is terrific again, and we do get the great bit where the Doctor and Rose sneak into his place dressed as servants.  We see an alternate Jackie who is... well, she's got all the negative, obnoxious characteristics of regular Jackie, but without the redeeming qualities.

Other than that stuff, this is just earth.  Nothing too imaginative, nothing insanely intense like Inferno.  So, outside of the Cyber stuff itself, the first episode, which is mostly about exploring alternate earth, is really well-made filler.  In what I'm guessing is a nod to some of the old Cyber-stories, they don't actually show up in full until 45 minutes in, which does a good job of building their eventual appearance up but leaves us mostly just waiting for the story to get started. 

There are some really strong performances in there, though.  Villain John Lumic is mostly just ranty on paper, but Roger Lloyd Pack digs his teeth way, way into the scenery and plays him with relish.

His not-entirely-onboard lieutenant, Mr. Crane, is played by Colin Spaul with intelligence and charm, making him a highly enjoyable villainous sidekick. 

Best of all is Helen Griffin as Mrs. Moore, who plays the revolutionaries' hacker, and makes her incredibly human and likable with only a few minutes of screentime.  And also awesome.

Anyway, the first half isn't boring; it doesn't do much inherently interesting, but it's done so well by Harper and his cast that it gets the work done.  And the second half is very cool: dark, shadowy, action-packed fun.  I could probably nitpick all day with minor issues, but the second half really delivers the goods.  The Cybermen go around being threatening, the Doctor gets big speeches, stuff blows up, and so forth.  Even the uninspiring Pete & Jackie subplot from the first episode ultimately plays out in a series of unexpected and compelling ways.  The payoff for Mr. Crane is incredibly satisfying.  And the climax is terrific.

Which is to say, there's a lot wrong with Rise and Age.  But the things it gets right are so good that, personally, I don't care.  It's a fun ride thanks largely to excellent direction by the master of directing Doctor Who.  And it's one of the best Cybermen stories ever, maybe the best.

But somewhere out there, there's still that definitive Cyber-story, one that nails the creepy horror, the awesome action, and the crazed logic throughout, and delivers a truly classic episode.

Till then, though, this'll do.


* * * ½


  • "DELETE!  DELETE!  DELETE!"  Seriously?  That's the Cyber-catchphrase?  Lame.

  • So, since this is Mickey's last regular appearance, I guess now's as good a time as any to discuss him overall.  I have to say, it's rare to see a character turn around so much.  In Rose, he's incredibly annoying.  But the more he was developed, the more likable he became.  And to be honest, by the end of Age of Steel, I wished he would have stayed on.  With him around, it wouldn't matter that Rose never held the Doctor back when he needed it, because Mickey would have filled that spot very nicely.  The three of them as a team would have been great.  Anyway, bravo to Noel Clarke for making the most of his

  • I have mixed feelings about the Doctor's solution to the cliffhanger.  On the one hand, it comes out of nowhere.  There's no reason a subtle line couldn't have been put in the first episode to seed his solution.  On the otherhand, HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AWESOME!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Doctor's Wife

Doctor: I don't know what to do.  I really don't know what to do.
Doctor: That's a new feeling!

Every now and then, an episode will focus on something that's always been present but never really came to the front in the show.  Last year's Amy's Choice explored the Doctor's inner feelings.

The Doctor's Wife explores his relationship with his TARDIS in a delightfully insane way.  Like Amy's Choice, it doesn't have any real revelations, but it's wonderful to hear these things expressed.

Which is to say, spoilers.

The episode's central conceit is ingenious: the soul of the TARDIS is sucked into a human body for certain nefarious purposes.  As played by Suranne Jones, the TARDIS is every bit as eccentric and funny as the Doctor, and with the added fun of discovering a new world of being alive.  It's truly brilliant dialogue from Neil Gaiman, consistently funny, moving, and fascinating, all at the same time, and Jones and Matt Smith play it for every ounce of humor and warmth it's worth.  I'd love to quote every moment of it, but it's honestly best saved for watching the story; I wouldn't want to spoil a moment of the fun.

As for the two companions, Amy and Rory spend much of the story trapped in the corridors of the TARDIS, now controlled by a cruel villain, resulting in a series of exceedingly creepy, atmospheric sequences.

The villain himself and his said nefarious purposes are wildly imaginative and very, very cool, though the 45-minute format smashes them into a very small corner.  Still, the genius of the concept and the wonderful viocework of Michael Sheen make every moment here shine.

He doesn't show his face, so here's the f/x artists being awesome.

And that, to be honest, is my only real complaint about this episode.  Even as it is, it's wonderful.  Every scene and moment shines with pure joy.  But it's just so rushed, so short...  There's only a handful of scenes between the Doctor and the TARDIS, the heart of the episode.  Their final exchange is deeply touching, but with more time spent with her than a few fleeting exchanges, it would have been absolutely heartbreaking and absolutely heartwarming.  The villain is so awesome that his underdeveloped plot doesn't hurt the story, like the Headmaster in School Reunion, but it could have been one of the all-time great villains.  The haunting travels through the corridors are wonderfully creepy, but there's only a few minutes of it before it has to run on to something else.  I love seeing the Ood return, but despite a decent amount of screentime, it seems entirely tangential to the story itself.  Aunt and Uncle are terrific characters, but they aren't around long enough for their fate to have an impact, or, for that matter, for their existence to make sense.

But I can't say anything really bad about anything that actually happens in the story.  It says something about how good this yarn is that I'm giving it my highest rating anyway.  Even compressed and gasping for air, it's a work of beauty and joy, one of the finest stories in the Who canon.

A little more time and space, and it would have been the finest.

But it doesn't stop me from loving every moment of it.

"Thief?  Where's my thief!"


* * * *


  • So, the big question about Rory is this: is his dying in every episode just a (hilarious) running joke, or is it actually going to play out somehow?  I don't mind the former; it's just a random musing on something that might be an arc-thread.
  • Speaking of which, it was fun to see a story where Rory was more important than Amy, because he's awesome, too.  Their scenes are as well-written as the main ones.  There's a lovely little moment where everything gets really, really bad, and Amy asks him to hold her hand.  It's a credit to Karen Gillan that this comes off as bravely facing her fear rather than just fear, and it's an equally great credit to Arthur Darvill that the outwardly meek Rory earns her trust in his strength so fully.  But the best moment in their storyline is when and why the TARDIS sends a telepathic message to Rory.

  • Okay, it was awesome seeing the Eccleston/Tennant TARDIS console again, but you know what would have been even cooler?  Seeing the epic McGann console.  Maybe when they do a multi-Doctor story and bring him in.  Which they have to do.  Have to.
  • This isn't a major criticism, but it occurred to me that, outside of the action scenes, Murray Gold's music was largely superfluous.  His action music is great, but during dialogue scenes, it's just kinda added background noise.  It doesn't hurt anything, so I can't really complain.  But cutting out the music when it doesn't need to be around would give it a much greater impact when it did show up.

    See Rocky for a particularly standout example of this: except for the opening theme, until the last half hour, there's only a few moments of music, and even that's mostly quiet piano solos.  So when it rips out "Gonna Fly Now" for the training montage and the sweeping, exhilarating fight music, it's an absolute knockout that just wouldn't exist if rousing anthems played throughout.

    Again, it's a minor thing, but it crops up in almost every new series episode: Gold writes music for every scene, whether or not they'd be enhanced by background music.  Sometimes it reduces the emotion of the scene by telling us what to feel, and in doing so, simplifying what we feel.  When he goes for big, epic themes or contemplative vocals (or both), he almost always comes up with something pretty awesome, but when he's scoring witty dialgoue, it just comes across as unnecessary.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Curse of the Black Spot

[2011, Season 32 / Series 6, Episode 4]

To continue my comparison of Moffat's Who to the Hinchcliffe/Holmes-era, Curse of the Black Spot fits in very nicely as the second story of the second season of the reign.  Like Season 13's Planet of Evil, Curse of the Black Spot isn't bad, with good atmosphere and performances keeping things highly watchable, but it isn't quite good, and is understandably forgotten in between Zygons and Pyramids of Mars.  Still, hopefully, like Planet of Evil, it's just a temporary lapse, and we'll be back to brilliance next week.  After all, next week is Neil Gaiman.  If I was a girl and not a totally masculine straight guy, that would elicit one hell of a fangirl squee.

Oh, what the hell.  SQUEEEEEE!

(Nobody saw me do that, right?)

... so, Curse of the Black Spot.  It opens with some beautiful shots of a ship in dark, misty waters; spectacular atmosphere and setting from the very beginning, and it holds through to the end.

Unfortunately, the story is a little stuck.  It doesn't really have enough time in 45 minutes to fully develop the characters and setting to make for a truly involving episode or to have any real emotional impact, but there's also not really enough happening plotwise even for 45 minutes.  At 90 minutes, it would have had to come up with an actual plot, with structure and build-up and stuff. (at least, you'd hope it would.  I suppose it could have ended up like Terminus. *shiver*) Outside of Captain Avery and the regulars, character development is nil.  The Captain's kid shows personality and isn't annoying - points to actor Oscar Lloyd - but his relationship with his father, which is the heart of the episode, is thrown out in a very obvious monologue and never really develops further until near the end.  There's a good moment during the storm that shows how strong this could have been, and the ending does work, but only just.

It also doesn't really have the time to deal with the basic dramatic sides of the story.  In particular, both Amy and Toby are directly responsible for the siren taking one of the pirates, but nobody says anything or notices or cares.  There's a lot of drama in that notion, but no time for consequences!  It's Torchwood all over again, if Torchwood had characters who weren't terrible human beings in every conceivable way and stories with good ideas buried underneath, so I guess not like Torchwood at all, but very Chris Chibnall in the whole lack of consequences thing.

On the other hand, there's this scene with Amy and a sword and a pirate hat.

And the CPR finale has no real intensity or suspense.  These scenes are pretty ordinary, and it's rare that they actually develop genuine tension as to whether or not the character will survive, given that the action itself is pretty basic.  The only example of this sort of scene working that jumps right to mind is James Cameron's The Abyss, which dragged it out so long and made it so visceral and intense and such a crucial character moment that it really was a powerful sequence.  Here, it's just... the ending.

As for the regulars, there's nothing astonishing here - Eleven is generally Elevenish.

Pictured: Elevenishness.

Amy is gorgeous, brave, and doesn't always think things through.

Again, Amy, sword, pirate hat.

Rory really loves Amy and gets killed and resurrected (uh... spoiler).

But, like Sarah Jane and Four in Planet of Evil (or, to take a three-person crew, Two, Jamie, and Zoe), they're such a wonderful team, have so much chemistry, and are so well played that they carry even a weak, uninvolving story and making it extremely watchable and even fun at times.

I could put up pictures of this scene all day.

The other element that works well is Captain Avery.  He's the only guest character with any development, and even that isn't too much, but Hugh Bonneville plays every moment to the hilt.  His exchanges with the Doctor probably weren't too much on the page, but Smith and Bonneville make them shine.

Ultimately, the resolution to the story is fairly interesting.  The monster, played by the trio of Lily Cole, Murray Gold, and Special Effects (of whom Cole comes off best, because she just kinda looks like a beautiful but distant sirenish ghost/mermaid thing anyway; Gold's music is effective, but his theme for the creature's singing gets a little repetitive; and the special effects are fine when she isn't hovering, awful when she is), turns out to be something unexpected and intriguing.  Not necessarily a thing that makes sense, but an intriguing thing that doesn't make sense.

More importantly, the band of pirates becomes a band of Space Pirates, and what's more awesome than Space Pirates? (Answer: Harrison Ford as a Space Pirate) With any luck, they'll turn up again.  And with more luck, they'll actually get a little development that time.

The seasonal arc stuff works really well.  Still fascinating, still mysterious, still maddening.

As usual, it's nice between crazy, insane epics to have a fluffy, lighthearted piece like this.  It would just be great if it was a good piece of fluff.  You know, something scary and compelling and memorable that isn't already escaping my memory.  As it is, it's okay, but it's just filler to get to Gaiman.


* * ½

  • I do like the Doctor's "Ignore my previous theories!" running joke.  It's not just a funny joke, but it's really well used, given good variations, and gives the Doctor and Amy both some nice character moments.
  • Best bit: the Doctor telling the pirates to laugh more when they force him to walk the plank.
  • So... plot holes.  This is Doctor Who, and there are always plot holes.  Caves of Androzani probably has plot holes.  So how much I care generally depends on how much I loved the episode.  So given that I kind of enjoyed this but didn't care too much, they bugged me a little.  If the Siren enters through reflections, why doesn't she get in through the shiny sword the kid brandishes?  Why does she sing?  Why does she have such terrible bedside manner?  Why does she take the TARDIS?  How does she take the TARDIS?  Lily Cole is pretty, but make her green and evil-looking and it doesn't paper over things the way it sorta would if she looked like she did in, say, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
  • Good as everyone else is, Arthur Darvill pretty much steals the show, again, something he's astoundingly good at, considering he has to steal it from the brilliant Matt Smith and the beguiling Karen Gillan both of whom have way more material tham him and pulls it off pretty regularly.  Seriously, how does he do that?  If there wasn't a half century of stories before this, they could probably just go ahead and rename the show Nurse Rory Williams and not get too many complaints.  And again, he's stealing it from Matt Smith playing the Doctor.  How is that possible?