Archive for November 2014

Killing Hitler   1 comment

My memory of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ was that it was terrible. Mostly because of River. And upon rewatch, that much remains true. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ is terrible.

It’s also amazing.

I had entirely forgotten about the Tesselecta, which is ridiculous given that it’s practically the one redeeming feature of the entire storyline. It’s a great sci-fi concept, gorgeously and humorously executed – ‘powered by miniature cross people’ – with an absolutely delightful recurrence at the end of the season. Everyone aboard the thing is great. The antibodies are a bit silly, but since the episode establishes that the machinery is not at peak in any case, it works.

The acting is also amazing. Karen Gillan as both Amy and terrifying ‘Terminator 2’ Tesselecta Amy is spectacular. Alex Kingston is a joy to watch even when the lines she delivers tear the last remains of a wonderful character to bloody shreds. And Rory is amazing in every way – even to the point of acknowledging the ridiculousness of how amazing he is. ‘It’s been that sort of day.’

While I despise Mels, the growing-up scenes are kind of cute – especially the ‘penny drops’ scene. Mostly however that’s due to Amy/Amelia and Rory. It’s also kind of cute the way it shows Amy and Rory ‘raising’ their daughter, even if the entire concept is completely stupid.

It remains, however, that brainwashed psychopath murderer River is a terrible idea and a terrible character. I hate it. All of her agency, everything that made her interesting as a character is torn away in favor of propping up the Doctor. Worse, she’s weight- and size-obsessed, as she never is anywhere else. This obsession, and her sudden sexualization, even if in keeping with the character under the circumstances, is disgusting coming from Moffat’s pen. It’s the largest single piece of DW-related evidence so far that the man is a lecherous old creep who should not be allowed anywhere near television for children humans.

Obviously this episode bothered me. It’s too bad, because like I said it’s also great, but the ick sticks while the good stuff fades away. Next time I watch I’ll try to remember to skip over River’s scenes: no matter how wonderful Alex Kingston is, the ravaging of her character contaminates the entire story.

Posted November 29, 2014 by Elisabeth in Season 6, The Great Re-Watch

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More Clara/Christmas thoughts   Leave a comment

Still wondering what’s in store for the holiday special.

A few episodes back, Missy commented on having ‘chosen [Clara] well.’ We are reminded that Clara got the Doctor’s number from ‘the woman in the shop.’ (Side questions: how did the Master get this number? From Madame Karabraxos? Elsewhere?) It’s strongly implied that Missy was the woman. It’s also implied that she placed the personal ad that brought the two back together in ‘Deep Breath.’ But why would she choose Clara? What is her game? And why Clara?

The theory that Clara is dying might explain it. If the Master knows that she is sick and cannot be cured, she might enjoy watching the Doctor watch her slowly die, knowing all the while he is powerless to help her. She might, being bananas, enjoy the Doctor’s drawn-out pain. She might be attempting to remind the Doctor that no human can take the place of a Time Lord in another Time Lord’s hearts.

This would require a minor reversal on the part of the Master, but we’ve already seen that. Missy says explicitly that she wants her friend back – in spite of her previous incarnation’s refusal to travel with him. Of course that Master had another (master) plan, and he knew it would hurt the Doctor to watch him die. (Frakking sadist.) It would require some pretty convoluted planning and forethought, but that’s the Master all over. She has tricked him into taking on – and growing to love – a companion whose time is already nearly up, a companion for whom he can do nothing to ease her way or give her a better life.

(Of course, Clara knows better – he’s already done that much for her.)

Maybe Missy thinks that this companion will cure him of lesser beings for life.

Well, she IS bananas.

Posted November 25, 2014 by Elisabeth in Christmas Specials, Season 8, Speculation

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The Web of Fear   Leave a comment

This is one of two stories that were ‘found’ late last year and made available for streaming and on DVD early this year. Any fan knows how most of Doctor Who‘s early episodes went missing after video tapes were reused and films destroyed, standard practice for the BBC at the time. Many of them have now been recovered. This one and ‘Enemy of the World’ were found at a Nigerian television station, which had failed to return the films to the BBC for destruction as they were required to do.

Yay for disobeying contract terms.

Since they were released last winter, I’ve been wanting to see them, and lately having been hooked up with a friend’s Hulu Plus, we finally got our chance. We picked ‘Web of Fear’ first, because it features the introduction of one of our favorite characters of all time, then-Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

‘The Web of Fear’ holds up brilliantly. It’s scary and exciting, and maintains its quick pacing over all 6 episodes, in spite of the back-and-forth corridor action so common to the classic era. The Second Doctor is wonderfully iconic: compassionate and caring toward his friends, brilliant, inclusive, self-deprecating, expressive, and warm. His influence on Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is clear. Companion Jamie McCrimmon is a joy to watch: courageous, stout-hearted, always ready to jump in, disdainful of cowards, protective of his friends. Victoria is a little hard to stomach, being one of the more screamy and useless companions of all time, but it’s all forgivable: she’s just a kid, she’s sweet, and she does try. Like many classic companions, she didn’t ask to be there, but joined the TARDIS crew after Daleks killed her family. And she’s the one who recognizes Travers first. Still, I suspect few other incarnations of the Doctor would have had much patience for her.

This serial features one of my favorite feminist moments of classic DW: a soldier, attempting to flirt with Anne Travers, succeeding at being monumentally creepy and disgusting and unsurprisingly failing to turn her head, asks her what a girl like her is doing in a ‘job like this.’ Her response is one for the ages:

“When I was a little girl, I thought I’d like to be a scientist, and so I became a scientist.”

1968, boys and girls.

‘Web of Fear’ is also known for creating trouble with the London Underground. The production team asked permission to film in Underground tunnels and stations. They were denied, and so they built sets. The sets were so good that they were accused of breaking into the Underground and filming without permission. The sets really are very good; unlike so much of classic Who, they are quite difficult to distinguish from reality. Tracks and platforms, cabling, maps, tiles, even advertisements all blend seamlessly into the background, calling no more attention to themselves than a backdrop of trees in an outdoor shoot. Nothing about them gives away the sound stage.

Episode 3 of the serial is still missing, and was reconstructed using the soundtrack and an ever-changing set of stills from the shoot. It’s very easy to follow and the imagination quickly fills in any gaps. Unfortunately the Brigadier’s – that is, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart’s – first appearance is also missing. Unless you count his boot, late in Episode 2, which is actually someone else’s.

Actor Nicholas Courtney, now much-beloved for his characterization of the Brig, was originally supposed to play someone else: Captain Knight, who dies before the end of the serial. Instead, the actor cast as the Colonel backed out and Courtney was offered the role. A moment of history almost didn’t happen. Fans give credit to Courtney for the character’s recurrence; a lesser performance might not have captured writers’ imaginations as he did. As it is, even in 2014, with the actor long dead, the character keeps making his influence known.

‘Web of Fear’ contains some great continuity stuff. The Yeti and the Great Intelligence appeared previously in 1967’s ‘The Abominable Snowmen.’ Professor Travers, also appearing in that episode, is played by Jack Watling, father of Deborah Watling who plays Victoria. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe seek out Travers and his daughter Anne again in ‘The Invasion,’ also from 1968, but end up with Anne’s friend Isobel Watkins and her uncle instead. The Doctor’s failure to destroy the Great Intelligence, due to Jamie’s overzealous rescue attempt, paves the way for its return in ‘The Snowmen’ in 2012 and ‘The Bells of St. John’ in 2013.

All in all, great fun television that holds up well even after 45 years, great historical moments, and the Second Doctor at his brilliant, bumbling best.

Posted November 24, 2014 by Elisabeth in Classic

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The Doctor’s friends   Leave a comment

I realize it bothers me when the Doctor has friends we don’t know about.

Most of the time when the Doctor meets an interesting side character, it’s someone who’s already there when he lands and has a reason for being there: Jabe, Lynda, Nasreen, even Captain Jack. Vincent van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie are all found in situ. Only in a few cases, interesting people are plucked out of their natural setting and plopped into the Doctor’s story rather than the other way round.

‘Demons Run’ is the story that’s on my mind, but ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ also qualifies. I really like these characters, but I wanted more – not a detailed backstory, just something a little less handwavey, a little more than ‘wouldn’t this be cool.’ I guess it’s supposed to be mysterious, to imply that the Doctor has a busy off-screen life, but instead it just comes off as lazy.

I also for some reason don’t like Moffat’s bring-everyone-together episodes, and I’m not sure why. Vincent’s inclusion in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ bothers me, though Captain Avery’s appearance in ‘Demons Run’ doesn’t. I adore every minute of ‘Journey’s End,’ with all of RTD’s companions in one place, but the Moffat variants don’t have the same appeal. They just seem so random. In ‘Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,’ every character has a reason to be doing what they’re doing, based on what they’ve done before. In contrast, Vincent has no reason, and Vastra and Jenny have no ‘before.’ Avery’s appearance is somewhat more comparable to Martha’s and Sarah Jane’s: he’s just flying around out there, getting to know the cosmos, and he owes the Doctor his ship and his son’s life, so why wouldn’t he come when the Doctor calls?

The others just seem gratuitous. ‘Pandorica/Big Bang’ and ‘Demons Run’ feel like writers throwing all their toys in a heap without bothering to construct a story to put them there. ‘Demons Run’ and ‘Dinosaurs’ feel like writers trying to create mystery without bothering to actually create mystery. Davies threw all his toys in a heap in ‘Journey’s End,’ but he gave them a damn good reason. Even the ‘End of Time’ denouement, sappy as it may be, is rooted in motivations already familiar to the audience. The stories satisfy, and no one – viewer or character – is left hanging.

 

Posted November 19, 2014 by Elisabeth in Companions, Guest stars

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Demons Run et al   Leave a comment

This episode suffers from serious meh.

Like ‘Pandorica,’ it’s an epic monster-fest, with all the armies the Doctor has supposedly frightened rising up against him. This time, though, it’s an army we’ve barely heard of, with weird religious motifs. I don’t buy the Doctor as a great warrior. I don’t enjoy episodes that revolve around him in this way.

I do enjoy the introduction of the Paternoster Gang, and the return of the pirates. I like the idea of River Song being Melody Pond, but not the execution. I think I’d prefer her as a more distant relation, with a more independent back story. I like the moment of Rory meeting his daughter.

However, pregnancy storylines suck, because then you’re stuck with a baby. What can you do with a baby besides sit home and feed it and change it and rock it to sleep? I suppose you can turn it into a weapon, if you skip all the messy bits. It’s very Angel – Connor stolen away to return as a mega-creep. That storyline was terrible, and so is this one. Even Alex Kingston can’t quite sell it.

Once again, I’m not looking forward to what comes. We have resolution, more or less, to River’s story, and we all know how that goes. However we also have a few non-mythology episodes that I don’t much remember. I suppose at the least I can look forward to those. Also, the introduction of the Tessalecta is cool. Four episodes out of six with (potentially) minimal eye-rolling.

We’ll see how that goes.

Posted November 16, 2014 by Elisabeth in Season 6, The Great Re-Watch

Almost People, but not quite   Leave a comment

Here we have another pair of perfectly excellent episodes of Doctor Who, and a creepy, introspective story about what it is to be human. The Doctor is beyond wonderful in this: clever in a number of ways, emotional, almost uncharacteristically forward-thinking. Rory gets to shine as well, showing compassion, strength, and a powerful sense of justice. Raquel Cassidy’s Cleaves is a wonderful side character, and there’s also ‘Have a drink, Chris’ Marshall Lancaster, much beloved from Life on Mars. Writer Matthew Graham was previously responsible for the oft-panned ‘Fear Her,’ another episode where the Doctor’s compassion takes center stage, and unsurprisingly quite a lot of Life on Mars.

On this pass I was strongly reminded of Nick Harkaway’s ‘Gone-Away World,’ another story in which SPOILERS two beings struggle over the same life. I loved that story a lot, and I have a lot more appreciation for this one now too.

A semi-downside is the continuation of the pregnancy storyline, which I still despise but have to admit is handled really well. The setup and twists are quite excellent. I do hate how the Doctor keeps telling Amy to breathe. It’s icky. He’s got no business participating in this aspect of her life. I wish Moffat hadn’t done it, and I hope to hell he’s not doing it again now.

Still, bastard’s got me looking forward to the next episode.

Posted November 16, 2014 by Elisabeth in Season 6, The Great Re-Watch

The Doctor’s Wife   Leave a comment

This episode is almost perfect.

The contrast here between a ‘fine’ episode and a spectacular one is stark. ‘Black Spot’ is serviceable. It keeps audiences reasonably entertained for a week. It’s also a little ho-hum. A little ordinary. A little bit blah.

This one isn’t.

It’s not just Neil Gaiman, although that helps, but there are other wonderful episodes which he didn’t write (and a rather less-wonderful one that he did). It’s more than that. It’s the idea: boy meets box. It’s the delightful banter between them. It’s the roller-coaster of feelings: the Doctor’s hope, rage, terror, grief, joy, and grief again. It’s the timey-wimey ‘Tenses are funny’ bits of conversation out of order. It’s everyone getting to be extra human. Rory, the nurse, lets it get to him. Being alive: it’s sad when it’s over. And I just wanted to say hello.

I adore it.

There a couple of slightly off moments. Amy’s repeated grief over Rory is starting to get silly. How many times has he not-died in the last season plus? It’s getting hard to buy. And the Doctor’s excitement over the TARDIS being, specifically, a woman, is a bit uncomfortable. I suppose I could read it as woman=person=walking talking fellow being, but in context with a Doctor who doesn’t know how to talk to girls and a showrunner who enjoys making fun of male-female relations, it’s awkward. Same with the biting kissing thing. Funny I guess, but in a slightly off kind of way.

There’s also the more subtle question of who Idris was before. A life was taken to make room for the TARDIS, and no one mourns her. I suppose the same could be said for the rest of House’s crew, but I feel particularly for Idris. Her body served a lovely purpose; someone should have thought to thank her.

Still, in all it’s almost perfect.

With reference to season 7: Moffat decided, in ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ that Clara picked the TARDIS for him. In my headcanon, that never happened. The TARDIS chose him, and he chose her. There was no third party. No one retconns Neil Gaiman. The tale of a boy and his box told here is perfect, and nothing can change it.

So there.

“I wanted to see the Universe, so I stole a Time Lord and ran away.”

Okay, not quite done. The suggestion that a Time Lord can change genders, in reference to the Corsair, is made canon here. It’s not a large thing but arguably important. Also, Rory the nurse gets to be a nurse, and not for the first time. RTD’s doctors – Martha, Owen – tended to panic when faced with a medical situation, or at least overreact. (Additional misuse of CPR to be found in ‘Utopia.’) Rory the nurse maintains his calm, looks out for his patient, and always lets it get to him.

Say hello.

This story affected me quite a bit the first time I saw it, while I was still suffering from an RTD-era hangover. I was charmed by the way she called him her thief. I was captivated by the idea that her love for him was large enough to encompass all his companions and all his love for them. Here’s what happened:

To my thief

I didn’t mean to do it
honestly, I wasn’t jealous
didn’t mean to lose your favorite friend.
I know I didn’t take you
where you wanted
though always
where you were needed, there you were.
I did my best
to get you back to her
honestly I did
how I cried to see your tears.
When I fell through that crack
all I knew
was you alone could save that world.
I never imagined
that I’d opened a trap
through which your love would fall
never to be recovered.
Forgive me, my thief
let me soothe you
the only way I can
taking you ever farther
ever faster
into danger
into peril
which only you can overcome.

(originally posted here)

Posted November 15, 2014 by Elisabeth in Season 6, The Great Re-Watch