Tuesday, May 27, 2008

cookez-vous pronto!

Some people (including my dad and Simon Guerrier, apparently), upon finding an author they like, read all that author’s works one after the other. If possible, I prefer to read more eclectically. I like mixing up my genres and like switching between fiction and nonfiction. (I’ve mentioned before that I am reading one Patrick O’Brian book a year, and while I’ve made significant headway with Rafael Sabatini, there’s still quite a bit of his oeuvre I haven’t touched.) This is why I followed Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End with Percival Christopher Wren’s Beau Geste.

Clarke was an incredibly brilliant man and wrote science fiction which is unlike any other I’ve read. I have to admit, the prologue to Childhood’s End seemed unwieldy and subsequent chapters a bit stiff. Nevertheless, his ideas are amazing in their scope. I can only think of one person, Tolkien, whose imagination was large enough and erudite enough to create an entire world populated by so many different classes of characters and to move between hundreds of years in this world’s creation, with seeming effortlessness. Clarke’s imagination is large enough to encompass not only hundreds of years in Earth’s lifetime, but unimaginably large amounts of space and time in the lives of aliens. Childhood’s End is revelatory and well-nigh impossible to predict. Therefore, I won’t say anything about the plot. Just read it yourself, and I will find more of his books in the future for my own edification.

Much more down-to-earth is P. Christopher Wren’s Beau Geste, which would seem on the surface to resemble his contemporary Sabatini’s adventure books (ostensibly for boys, I gather). Wren is a bit of a shady character who doesn’t need to list his resources for the historical tale, simply because (it is generally believed) he had first-hand knowledge. Wren’s books both romanticized and made reality the French Foreign Legion about which, it must be admitted, I knew nothing before Beau Geste. Behind the guise of a jolly adventure enacted by the three Geste boys, of aristocratic blood but dependent on the charity of their relatives, we actually have a narrative full of grimness and death. The narrative devices for telling the tale are strange: the first part consists of a tall tale told by the irrepressibly French Major de Beaujolais to his English counterpart, George Lawrence. The tale is well-worth the unorthodoxy because it is a mystery worthy of Gaston Leroux’s Yellow Room.

When the second half of the mystery, the disappearance of a jewel called “the Blue Water” from an English drawing room, is related to us by young John Geste, we are drawn in completely. There are romantic love stories, portrayed both between Lawrence and the Gestes’ aunt Patricia, and between John and his cousin Isobel. But the main love story is between the brothers and their comrades. The Foreign Legion is, as Obi-Wan would say, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” but there are also honorable men, unafraid to do their duty though it costs them their lives. Most amusing is the inclusion of two Americans from the Texas Rangers, Buddy and Hank, who are among the funniest and the most admirable characters in the book. They’re both caricatures and entirely believable. “Ses you suffers from oneasy self-insertion, Hank,” went on the little man. “Ain’t inserted nawthen today, Buddy,” replied the giant mildly.

It was curious to read Beau Geste and its pro-gallantry message in the light of “Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood,” though I do think John Smith and the Gestes and co. would get along pretty well. The evocation of North African desert as extremely unpleasant, full of cutthroats and cheap wine, is extremely vivid. And much is made of the state of cafard, literally cockroach, which signifies going mad under the extreme conditions of the desert. There’s a bit of Camus in this, a bit of the Tom Russell song “Blood Oranges.
What will I read next? Wait and see.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- horror of fang rock

4-18-08 "Horror of Fang Rock"

Lord Palmerdale: Are you in charge here?
The Doctor: No, but I’m full of ideas.

I think I liked everything about this story (and that’s saying something). Okay, perhaps the execution of the Rutan as a blob of green dish soap could have been better, but overall I was really impressed. I wonder why Leela’s run was so brief when she and the Doctor have such great chemistry and two of the best stories in all Who-dom (this and "Talons of Weng-Chiang"). Then I see that "The Invisible Enemy" followed this and realize it was an era of great inconsistency.

Obviously I’m hooked from the Edwardian setting. While the lighthouse scenes are obviously not taking place in the fog, the wide shots of the lighthouse are as atmospheric as scenes in "The Time Meddler’ and even look like a Whistler painting. The sound and the claustrophobic, beautifully-staged direction go far in contributing to the mood. In some ways the story is a very simple one, but with a minimum of locations, I think it succeeds well. Obviously are in the realm of the Gothic, and with one of the characters named Harker, we are reminded of Dracula’s arrival at Whitby.

The BBC know how to do costume drama, so all the costumes here are fabulous and accurate. Adelaide’s gown is a costume-lover’s Art Nouveau dream (however, the ‘70s haircuts are not as welcome). It takes rather awhile for the Doctor and Leela to show up. The lighthouse workers are maybe more types than actual characters, but I believe in them. The debate over electricity and oil makes me think that if I ever did a musical parody of the Fourth Doctor’s era, Reuben and Ben would sing a version of the steam/diesel debate from Starlight Express. While we learn all about early 20th century lighthouse mechanics (and, admittedly, I’m a sucker for all of this) Terrance Dicks drops in THE best throwaway line giving the date that I’ve ever heard from Doctor Who. Vince, the youngest lighthouse guy, is rung up on his "phone." "Who’s this? Oh, King Edward, is it? Well, Your Majesty, would you tell our chief lighthouse man to get up here?"

I can no longer keep criticizing Paul Cornell for inventing the ubiquitous monster-vision—they seem to have had it since time immemorial. Suspense is served very well in not revealing the monster for a long, long time. Now we know that Kevin McNally appeared in Doctor Who in "The Twin Dilemma," but Reuben seems to the original blueprint for Gibbs from Pirates of the Caribbean: " t’ain’t natural" is his conclusion about everything (well, the fog, the cold, the appearance of the Doctor and Leela, the "unreliable" electricity).

I rest my case: Leela is the Doctor’s Eliza Doolittle. He dresses her up in an Edwardian boating costume. (To be fair, it’s an absolutely gorgeous outfit.) Leela must be so much fun to write: "You said I would like Brighton. Well, I do not." And what a contrast to Tom Baker in season 17: his comic timing is perfect here and his facial expressions are priceless. Plus, the dialogue is just sparkling—there were so many good lines I had trouble writing fast enough. "A lighthouse with no light." I’m glad to see the Doctor is taking Leela’s instincts more seriously here.

"Small in some ways, big in others" is how the Doctor describes the TARDIS to Vince. I love how Vince regards Leela’s visit as "a treat." When he confesses he talks to seals sometimes, she says, "Seals are animals?" "Well, yes, Miss." "That is stupid." I love how she then strips out of her wet clothes. "I’m no lady." Louise Jameson carries off the belted sweater look extremely well (those trousers seem to fit awfully well for having belonged to Vince).

Reuben thinks that, as foreigners, "you can’t trust none of ‘em." In the spirit of never-show-a-gun-unless-you-plan-to-use-it, The Doctor points out the "Marconi wireless telegraph," which Reuben warns him away from—he’d prefer to use semaphore. "Wireless won’t bring Ben back." "No," says the Doctor in the flat-out funniest moment of the serial. "In England, we have proper burial customs," Reuben explains coldly when Leela asks what a shroud is. "Incontrovertible," says the Doctor, then derides Reuben’s blunt approach: "What are you going to do, clap it in irons?"

With one dead, the story escapes a dull spot by crashing a yacht onto the rocks. The model work is superb. Lord Palmerdale, Adelaide his secretary/fancy woman (depending on who you ask), Colonel Skinflast, and later, Harker their servant. Again, perhaps these four are types, but I think they’re fabulous characters. Adelaide, for example, is an annoying person, but hardly a villain. Palmerdale is a bully and the Colonel ruthless with a sly sense of humor that seems wholly appropriate to his character.

They come in Titanic-style life vests, and James Cameron must concede that Cal must have been inspired by Palmerdale. Palmerdale rages around wanting a drink, even though Vince tells him it’s against light house regulations. The Doctor and Leela carry out their own investigation in secret—the Doctor knows they won’t credit a story about aliens and despairs when Leela points out that they’re aliens—while Reuben is picked off.
The Colonel concedes the Doctor has "an amazing air of authority," and that Leela is "not a bad looker." "Colonel, how long were you in India?" "Long enough to appreciate nature." Adelaide disappears for awhile so Palmerdale and the Colonel can reveal their subterfuge, and not only is it essential to the plot, it makes them more interesting characters. "Besmirch my good name and I’ll sue you for every penny you’ve got." On one hand, it’s terribly melodramatic dialogue—on the other, it’s from the same vein as The Mesmerist, so I don’t mind.

Leela is so cool. She’s the first to find out that fish are dead in the water, that the temperature is truly dropping. When she asks what "furtive" is, the Doctor explains (without a hint of patronization as he would in other stories). "We are not facing an enemy that is bold." When the Doctor feels the danger is real enough to tell squawking Adelaide and the others to stay put in the crew room, Leela takes out her knife: "You will do as the Doctor says or I will cut out your heart." Tom Baker’s expression is wonderful, and for once he is amused, not appalled, at her quickness to violence. Palmerdale tries to bribe Vince to send a telegram, then hides on the railing (which is very detrimental to his health). Adelaide comments that Leela "is tied to him [the Doctor] with a bit of string." (Reminiscent of a line in Jane Eyre, but more probably a My Fair Lady reference.)

Once Adelaide finds out about Palmerdale, she goes into very proscribed hysterics, and Leela slaps her. I laughed. Adelaide is on about her astrologer, which Leela interprets as belief in magic. "It is better to believe in science." The Doctor catches the Colonel’s cigar in the telgraph, and Vince gets electrocuted. Then there were four. Leela has full confidence in the Doctor: "You-are-a-Time-Lord." It’s really funny and sweet. As Leela defends the Colonel and Adelaide from the Reuben-alien, her knife is unfortunately quite ineffective. Adelaide gets killed in a rather dumb manner.

The Doctor has a wonderful staircase confrontation with what we find out is a Rutan (outstanding). Sure, it’s a quick bit of exposition to explain the Rutans’ strategic plans in the war with the Sontarans, but the Doctor is so damn cocky, it’s a delight. "I’ve fixed that, too, oyster-face." After disabling the Rutan for a time with powder and a match, Leela suggests a laser beam. "Leela, that’s a beautiful notion!" Louise Jameson’s face is a light. First, they need diamonds. Conveniently (but believably) Palmerdale was carrying diamonds. The Doctor grabs the largest and throws away the rest. Now, on one hand, this is very characteristic of the Doctor—what does he care about the monetary or prestige value of diamonds? On the other hand, if he’d just put them in his pocket, the Colonel might have lived. The Colonel—in what is indicative of his character—stoops to pick up the diamonds and gets electrocuted by the Rutan. "He who cannot throw away a treasure in need is in fetters," as Tolkien put it.

Fortunately the plan works but the Rutan scout ship is on its way, so the Doctor has to blow it up. Leela gloats over the Rutan’s destruction—"It is fitting to celebrate the death of an enemy"—which the Doctor doesn’t agree with. They escape in time, and Leela momentarily fears blindness when she sees the blast. I forget why they had to explain Leela’s change in eye color; Louise Jameson stopped wearing contacts or something? "Pigment dispersal . . .your eyes have changed color." "What color are they?" "Blue." It’s a truly fitting end to the story: affectionate and tender. The Doctor ends with a poem, and thus ends one of the best Doctor Whos I’ve had the privilege to watch. Despite the bloodbath!

view from the panopticon- terror of the zygons

4/3/08 Terror of the Zygons

Evil spirits don’t destroy oil rigs. –Sarah-Jane Smith

Now this is classic Fourth Doctor stuff. I admit, I never really understood what all the fuss was about as far as the Zygons went (reportedly they’re David Tennant’s favorite old skool monsters, though could that be perhaps because their debut story is set in Scotland?). If location were everything, this story would rock on that virtue alone. Having learned from "The Sontaran Experiment" the importance of filming outside in something other than a gravel quarry, the production team pulls out all the stops to take us to a Scottish manor house, a UNIT base in a Highland village, a moor, a churning sea of oil rigs, and an absolutely inspired underwater base in Loch Ness made of squishing sea-things (I wonder if the Zygons smell like fish?). Here is the Fourth Doctor at the top of his game, Sarah-Jane coming up with half the good ideas, and the Brigadier thrown in for good measure.

With some cheap crack about haggis we immediately set the scene on an oil rig somewhere off the coast of Scotland. There’s a great explosion, even if it is model work, that is rather negated by naff music. Next we see the Doctor—in tam’o’shanter and a plaid scarf—Harry Sullivan—taking theDoctor’s normal scarf for a spin—and Sarah-Jane Smith—borrowing the Doctor’s hat it looks like, and in a drab but highly appropriate ensemble—hitchhiking the Scottish countryside. They hail a ride from a passing car, and I really wanted to know what the driver thought of them.The Brigadier and Benton are arguing over the landlord of the inn they’ve sequestered playing bagpipes; "If he wants to play his pipes, there’s nothing we can do about it." This reminds me of some of the flavor later in the Seventh Doctor story "Battlefield," the whole thing surely inspired "Tooth and Claw," and later I can see where Stephen Cole got his inspiration for Feast of the Drowned, right down to the dour antagonist. And of course, "Horror of Fang Rock" will follow in a couple of seasons.

Harry, the Doctor, and Sarah are happy to see the Brigadier, though Sarah is highly amused: "What’s that?" "It’s a kilt." He is, after all, "from the Clan Stewart." Their chauffeur looks a lot like Stephen Rea, but he’s the landed gentry who’s not very happy with big oil being there in the first place. "Rather medieval in his notions," remarks Sarah. "He has convictions," the Doctor says vaguely. On the beach, it’s among the loveliest location work I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who, until a body washes up. The Doctor’s a bit reluctant to get involved in the whole thing. "Oil, an emergency! It’s about time the people of this planet learned that dependence on a slimy mineral doesn’t make sense." This is a sentiment echoed in "Planet of Evil," and sadly one we are still grappling with. Forward-thinker, that Doctor. The Brigadier finally convinces the Doctor to help. Harry takes a look at autopsy reports; it’s nice to know he’s good for something. Sarah announces she’ll go and talk to the local people, naturally enough because it’s Sarah.

Huckle, the oil liaison, is either American or Canadian, I think the latter, and disappears part-way through. Oil rigs, according to the Brigadier, look like "three-legged spiders in Wellington boots." Huckle explains this is so they won’t be destroyed. At the time the last one was, there was radio blackout and a calm sea. "It may be calm but it’s never empty," says the Doctor ominously. In fact, the Doctor is enormously quotable in this story, which is rather a nice change. Sarah is meanwhile talking to the landlord, who is superstitious ("I’m the seventh son of a seventh son") and chides her for criticizing his "clan chief." He concedes, "He’s a different man after the oil company" came. Irather like this scene, even if it is a bit superfluous, because it gives Sarah a lot of character development. Her wry humor and cheerful, scientific manner offends the inn keeper as he relates the strange happenings that have been going on in the area for centuries. One man actually disappeared in the 1920s—"he left without paying his bill, did he?" Sarah remarks. "There are ancient mysteries here." Sarah concedes there might be, but gives the title quote.

The dead man on the beach resurrects himself—Doctor Who loves zombies—and Harry sees him collapse. The Duke has already warned UNIT that poachers on his property will be shot, and a game keeper takes aim at Harry and the zombie. He shoots the zombie and then Harry, too! I couldn’t believe it. Harry is found, with a scalp wound, and is taken to UNIT hospital to recover. "The landlord here’s got second sight," Sarah says flippantly, and the innkeeper’s bagpipes immediately cease. Hilarious. "He’s playing a lament for the dead," the Doctor says morosely. While Sarah sits byHarry’s bedside, the Doctor announces, "Teeth are very important things, Mr. Huckle." He surmises that a large monster with big teeth has been taking down the oil rigs. Harry is feverish; Sarah rightly doesn’t trust the cold Scottish nurse. It would be quite frightening to see a Zygon in front of you; presumably that’s why Sarah is cowering in a corner of the decompression chamber when the Doctor finds her. You’d think the Doctor would have learned to jam something in the door, but obviously not, as he’s locked in the chamber with Sarah as the air is pumped out. "What was that?" "I don’t know, but it’s not the air conditioning." Sarah chokes; the Doctor shouts, "Shut up and save yourbreath!" The Zygons with their monster-vision are plotting as they drag Harry off to their underwater base. I can’t understand a word they’re saying; they’re worse than the "Tenth Planet" Cybermen. The underwater shots are pretty great, though. If this were Doctor Who in the noughties, the Doctor would give Sarah mouth-to-mouth; as it is, he does some Tibetan meditating and tenderly wakes her up when Benton comes to the rescue.

The Brigadier is gassed and woken up by the Doctor and Benton. "There are times, Doctor, when you talk absolute nonsense." Huckle finds a sea-bauble. There’s a search for Harry. The Doctor says, "Sarah, stay here." She takes the opportunity to rev up the typewriter—well, she’s a writer—as Harry appears and takes the sea-bauble. But is it really Harry? Well, he shoves Sarah against a wall and runs off, so you would kind of think it wasn’t. She and the soldiers chase after him; Harry—oh, you can tell Ian Marter’s enjoying being evil—corners Sarah with a pitchfork before he falls down a haystack and transforms into a Zygon. Harry’s definitely having a bad day—first he gets shot and then dies. Well, not really, but he is spending most of the story stuck in the underwater base—clearly the writers thought Harry’s character had had his day. Another oil rig destroyed. Sarah suggests, "I think we’re being watched." The Doctor concludes that the sea-bauble is "part artefact, part organic." The Brig suggests machine-gunning the thing that’s attacking the oil rigs. "Machine guns might not be enough," announces the Doctor. He decides he will bring it out himself. "But Doctor, we don’t know how fast it moves!" "It doesn’t know how fast I can move." I never thought I’d see the day when the Doctor was driving a Land Rover, but then I never thought I’d see the day the Doctor used a mobile phone. How times have changed! What follows is a superbly-directed chase scene between theDoctor and a dinosaur. However, the most embarrassing part of the whole serial is the dinosaur. Limitations of budget and ‘70s special effects, I’m afraid. I wonder why the Tenth Doctor hasn’t met dinosaurs yet. They could be great post-Jurassic Park (and we can dream that Donna would get eaten by a T-rex).

If you hadn’t figured out by now that we were at Loch Ness, you’re even less clever than I am. (Despite later assertions that the Borad is the Loch Ness monster; I guess it’s getting pretty crowded under there, since isn’t there a third Doctor Who story that claims to solve the mystery?) The landlord dies a grisly death when he tries to de-bug his bar. The Doctor, the Brigadier, and Sarah pay a call on the Duke, who if you hadn’t figured out by now is the leader of the Zygons—well, you’rethicker even than I am. It’s a Gothic Horror paradise in the library, but this time the Doctor doesn’t start licking things. They argue with the Duke about exploding depth charges in Loch Ness, and he derides their credulity. "I’m not a party to any kind of nonsense," the Doctor announces, soberly. He notes that Loch Ness funnels into the Devil’s Punchbowl which connects to a subterranean river. The Brig admits, "Before I joined UNIT, I was highly skeptical about aliens, too." "It takes all sorts to make a galaxy, Your Grace." The Duke allows the depth charges, and the Doctor tells Sarah to stay behind in the library and try to find out anything that will help them. "Can you stop trying to keep me out of things?!" Of course, Sarah’s in the most danger of anyone, but our plucky heroine does her research—"There is no limit to human credulity, Miss Smith"—and sticks her tongue out at the gamekeeper. She finds her way into the underwater base, and after a rather ridiculously long bout with a door, manages to free Harry. The Doctor and the Brig arrive in time to get them out, butthe Doctor disappears into the underwater base in time for the Zygons to capture him. "Destroying oil rigs is just the beginning."

"Oh, I give up, old girl," says wimpy Harry as he and Sarah try to find more out in the library. They have to walk from the castle to UNIT, which leaves Harry peeved. The Brigadier sends off the depth charges, to which the Doctor says, "Sounds like the Brigadier." The Doctor investigates the Zygon technology—"well, I’m not human, and I’ve seen better." His light-hearted impudence in the face of the Zygon leader Brotan’s unsmiling coldness is a delight to watch. "You like asking questions." Asthe Zygons attack again, the Doctor—painfully—shorts out their radio silence so that the Brig can track them. The Brig get a call from the Prime Minister, who is apparently Margaret Thatcher even though she hadn’t been elected yet. Hmmm. The Doctor is still alive, despite the Zygons concluding otherwise, and he jams the door (at last, somebody did) before getting the human doubles of the shape-shifting Zygons out of the ship.

It blows up with all the Zygons in it except Brotan, who is taking his plan to London (as one does). A giant dinosaur then stalks the streets of London—I wonder if Clive from "Rose" was old enough to see this. Despite the Brig’s claim that "it never happened." Brotan is destroyed, and everyone heads back to UNIT HQ in Scotland. The Doctor and Sarah have an appointment in London to keep—"I can be there five minutes ago!" I’m rather surprised that not only does Harry choose to stay behind, but there is no tearful goodbye. Obviously, he and Sarah expect to see each other again soon, but we know better. The Brig also declines a trip. I think this is one of the better endings. The Duke—the real Duke—asks, "Did you have a round-trip ticket?" "Yes, I believe I did." "You should have got a refund, I thought you were a Scotsman." Being partly Scottish, I resemble that remark. LOL.

I feel I had better come clean. Robert Banks Stewart is responsible for my least favorite Fourth Doctor story, "Seeds of Doom." But now I see why he was hired to write that, because of the success of this story. It doesn’t make me think any better of "Seeds of Doom," but I do feel I owe Robert Banks Stewart an apology.

view from the panopticon- the time meddler

2-12-08 "The Time Meddler"

"And remember, no more monkery! "--The Doctor

I really enjoyed this, too. First Doctor serials have a tendency to move slowly and are noticeable for their staginess, but as long as they’ve got a daring, creative story, I’ll take them over Pertwee Earth-bound days anytime. Has the Meddling Monk ever been re-introduced? A Time Lord before there were Time Lords—and apparently the Doctor leaves him "marooned in 1066." Maybe he ran into Captain Jack eventually.
There’s another great, rather modern teaser as we’re introduced to the monk—Who wears the same type of ring as the Doctor does. He’s also got a wristwatch, which Steven later finds as "proof" that they are not in 1066. In the TARDIS, Steven has somehow managed to get aboard. The Doctor and Vicki are quite happy to see him, though Vicki is given the task of going to find him "some clothes." Can I say that I love Steven? He has poufy hair that I want to touch, but that’s immaterial. He’s fun, he’s lively, he’s intelligent without Ian’s scrupulousness—and now he’s shaved. Vicki, Steven, and the Doctor exit the TARDIS looking very debonair in their cloaks. The Doctor’s assessment of the situation is, "Eleventh century—hmm—Earth." How does he know it’s Earth just by smelling? How can he determine it’s the 11th century before he knows what planet?

Steven is, of course, skeptical about traveling back in time, so when they find a Viking helmet, he suggests it’s a prop. "What else could it be, a space helmet for a cow?" the Doctor quips. Steven is somewhat disappointed to learn, "You can’t take me home?" "Not by any direct route." The Doctor is teased that the TARDIS doesn’t blend in—"Design is completely immaterial!" he grumbles. "If we had landed in the Mutiny it would have dematerialized as a howdah." "A how-what?" "A howdah!" I don’t know why, but the whole exchange is charming. The Doctor’s explanation for why he hasn’t fixed the chameleon circuit (they call it something else here, though) is, "Yes, yes, yes, you do go on!"

Despite actors and staging stuck in the theatre ("Do You Think I’m Saxon?"), there is, I find, great direction. One can’t imagine it in color; the brooding, unsettling atmosphere would be lessened somehow. Edith, the Saxon woman who gives the Doctor mead—"how nice of you!"—looks like she was captured out of "10,000 B.C." The Doctor is very excited to find himself on the eve of the Norman invasion, sighing "the balmy night!" (I thought at first he said "the barmy night!") "It’s a great pity Barbara isn’t here," he says. His trundle up to the monastery gives us one of THE best fake-outs ever, finding a Gramophone playing Gregorian chant. He’s found out by the Monk, however, who gleefully imprisons him (a bit Troughton-esque before Troughton was even in the part!). The Monk makes the Doctor breakfast using a toaster. Outstanding! Is the Monk also unable to leave behind his coke-snorting habits?!

Why does Steven throw himself on one of the Saxons? Is it a macho show intended for Vicki? In general (and this is surprising!) Vicki is the more practical and intelligent of the two. Why such hesitancy for Steven to say, "God be with you" when leaving the Saxons for the monastery? Is this a reference to whatever future he comes from—there’s no belief in religion? I found it quite odd. Meanwhile, after her husband returned to the village, I thought for sure Edith was dead. In fact, she seemed okay aside from some scratches on her forehead—quite un-traumatized. Was she raped? I kind of got that impression.

Wow, did Vikings really look like that? Admittedly my knowledge of the period is pretty poor, but Sven has both the Hapsburg lip and a hairdo I could have sworn had been picked up from Roman depictions of Gauls. No doubt it’s the level of accuracy of "The Aztecs," which is to say, pretty good. The painfully slow sword fight between the Viking scouts and the Saxons is made, perhaps, believable, by Sven and co’s drunkenness. Vicki utters the surprisingly perceptive, "I don’t think we’ve been as clever as we think we have," when the Monk lets slip he’s seen the Doctor. Turns out, of course, she’s right. As the wounded Saxons converge on the monastery, Steven and Vicki think they’re sneaking in, though Steven’s lock-picking skills are indeed helpful. They find the secret tunnel and escape just as the Doctor did (though surely the Monk would know about the tunnel?). The wounded Saxon gets paracetomol (or something) while the Monk goes over his Progress Chart (!).

The Doctor gets an outstanding shot back at the Monk when he holds him from behind claiming to carry "a Winchester ’73, right in the middle of your spinal cord." "A man of violence—I’m surprised at you." (Obviously the Monk hasn’t seen "10,000 B.C." or "Seeds of Doom.") After crawling through a really long tunnel (brings "10th Kingdom" to mind) Steven and Vicki are horrified to find that the tide has washed the TARDIS away. Oh, ye of little faith. They do discover the Monk’s cannon, his attempt to "make things better." Then they crawl back again. Oy. The villagers aren’t taking any more of the Monk’s crap, which at least proves they’re smarter than he gives them credit for. (All in all, they remind me a bit of the Sevateem in "Face of Evil"!)

It’s too bad the Monk’s TARDIS, although supposedly superior to the Doctor’s, doesn’t have the design flair of the Rani’s. There’s a room off to the side that contains "every period and every place" which sounds a bit like the McGann Control Room. Unfortunately all we really get to see of it is some statues. The Monk getting compound interest from a London bank seems a rather sensible option for someone with time-traveling capabilities. (Of course, his TARDIS works.) In something of an anti-climax, the villagers take down the Vikings and the Doctor outwits the Monk. The extras are somewhat less motivated than those in "Utopia."

The Doctor doesn’t seem to realize, in his harsh condemnation of the Monk, what a time meddler he is himself. Obviously the First Doctor has made it clear that the rule is not to try to change the course of history, but he never seems to stick to his intentions, especially later on. Martha seems more worried about it than he does—"What if I kill my grandfather?" "Are you planning on it?" "No." "Then don’t." Perhaps it’s merely that the First Doctor is a bit priggish and, nine regenerations later, he isn’t quite so fussed about it all (didn’t the Tenth Doctor in "Time Crash" say that he pretended to be old when he was young?). "Doctor, it’s more fun my way," announces the Monk, and it’s almost a bit of temptation. Though not nearly as malevolent as the Master, the Monk does demonstrate what the Doctor could easily be. Perhaps the reason the Doctor is so outraged with the Monk is because he sees how similar they are. "He’s utterly irresponsible!" It’s a touch of the Tenth Doctor’s claim "No second chances" (which still leaves me in doubt, seeing as how it was followed by "New Earth") when the Doctor does maroon the Monk, without apparently a second thought.

When Vicki and Steven contemplate a change in history, they summarize what seems to happen at the end of "Last of the Time Lords"—"our memories will change" even though they won’t even be aware of it. It’s a sobering thought. Finally, the tape ran out but at the very end there seemed to be a rather cool imposition of Steven, Vicki, and the Doctor’s faces against a starry background—just because it was the end of the second season or what?

view from the panopticon- the chase

2-7-08 "The Chase"

The Doctor: "Where’s your sense of adventure?"
Ian: "It died a slow, horrible death when those bats came out of the rafters."

I’ve seen this before, but it’s been about five years. I was looking for an excuse to watch a First Doctor story, and after Doctor Who Magazine highlighted "The Chase" I couldn’t resist. DWM asserts that the whole doesn’t outweigh the sum of its parts, but I find it quite entertaining. For sheer breadth of ideas, I think you have to give Terry Nation credit.

I was struck how the beginning "teaser"—with the Daleks announcing they’re going to hunt the Doctor and the TARDIS down through space and time now that they’ve got a time machine—could easily fit into the "teasers" of today. It strikes me that "The Chase" might be considered a series of fan fiction ideas strung together or, in a less positive light, fan wank before there was fan wank. Despite this, I really like most of the ideas they come up with. The Time/Space Visualizer, though as pointed out makes no actual sense whatsoever, is designed quite well for 1965, and really is part of the fun that Doctor Who can be. I realize I wrote earlier that Susan had described the Beatles as "classical," but it’s actually Vicki. Well, watching this, I think they’re practically interchangeable. Their characters serve the same role, which isn’t a very interesting one at that. Maureen O’Brien is doing her best, but she’s wearing a sack and spends the first five minutes being annoying and trying to sexually harass Ian. (Okay. Not really.) Barbara, apparently, spends her down-time in the TARDIS making dresses!

When the T/SV starts working and makes a screeching noise, I thought it was the music! Although the score for "The Chase" is less strange and elevator-muzak-like than that for "The Invasion," is does seem quite jazzy and out of place. Ian’s choice—to see Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address—is surprisingly cosmopolitan. Shakespeare, I’m afraid, looks completely different from the Dean Lennox Kelly version, but I’m sure there’s an explanation for that. Er. The Beatles’ performance is charming, and I really am going to have to solve the mystery of how Ian knows the lyrics to "Ticket to Ride" when he’s been gone from Earth for two years.

Landing on Aridia with its twin suns and vast desert seems to anticipate Tatooine by ten years, which is rather impressive. I find it quite hilarious that the Doctor and Barbara decide to sun-bathe while Ian and Vicki go off to explore! (I guess the Doctor is even more British than we know, enjoying a sunning holiday!) Separation of the companions is inevitable, and while I guess Barbara and the Doctor had to suffer through a sandstorm, at the time it looked like a snowstorm and quite brutal. The Daleks, meanwhile, are suffering from Tourettes which they do throughout the story: "TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! . . . Exterminate! Annihilate! Infiltrate and kill!" etc. (When getting blown up, one even screams, "Am exterminated! Am exterminated!") They do look rather scary when they rise out of the sand! The Maiar aren’t as bad as the monsters from "Dalek Invasion of Earth" but the fact Vicki just sort of stumbles into them is pathetic. The Aridians, meanwhile, are a pantomime race. They seem very ‘60s Star Trek to me, and any attempt to garner them sympathy when they tell the Doctor and Barbara their story is wasted when they decide to hand them over.

I was rather impressed that the Doctor told them, "I don’t want you or your people involved with this dangerous business"—it seems very Doctor-ish. "This isn’t a jumper sale!" the Doctor snaps, rather uncharacteristically (not the snapping part, the content of what he says!). Unfortunately in the escape from the Aridians with help from an unsuspecting Maiar, the editing looks like the film was thrown into a hat and put back together. They did their best, bless them. Vicki, Barbara, Ian, and the Doctor escape to the TARDIS, which is pursued through space by a toaster.

The music for once seems appropriate during the stock shots of New York; "Daleks in Manhattan" indeed. Though this section is quite brief, I still find it quite cute. From the woman with the impressive hat to the greaser with a camera around his neck, it’s a rather clever pastiche of Americana, an ambitious setting to be sure, and the Alabama hick is amusing to the point of being embarrassing. "You’re from Earth?" Barbara asks him. "No, ma’am, I’m from Alabama." On one hand I laugh, on the other I cringe. The Doctor picks up saying, "No, it ain’t," from our disingenuous Southerner ("what is it that he’s meant to have wrote? I mean—written?"). I wonder what happened to the poor guy—was he shipped off to some mental asylum to have a lobotomy? Indeed, he became Steven Taylor!

In the TARDIS the Doctor tries to make a Dalek-repellent machine and asks for use of "a large screwdriver" (we never see it so it could be the sonic screwdriver)! I love the section on the Mary Celeste. Like Barbara, "I love sailing ships." Somehow the claustrophobic setting works perfectly for the camera limitations of the time. I am a bit skeptical that just the sight of the Daleks would send sailors jumping overboard, but it makes as good an explanation as any (and sooo trumps Moffat’s S.S. Pompadour revelation). I can’t believe Vicki hit Ian on the head just after he’d recovered from a head wound on Aridia; I actually laughed out loud.

The next section, in the "haunted house," was just outstanding for me, too, since I guess for a Gothic Horror junkie like me it’s right up my alley. The set reminded me of the castle in "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers," an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, but unless you’ve seen it, there’s no point in explaining why. Truly, the cast (even the Doctor—"I never stay where I’m not wanted") getting nervous amidst the ghouls and creatures was just fun to behold. I loved the Doctor’s explanation about it being a place in the human mind where all the potent nightmares were held—I would have believed it! The "real" explanation is a fun one, too. It’s highly satisfying to see Frankenstein’s monster ripping Daleks to shreds. A bit like the pterodactyl in Torchwood destroying the Cyberwoman. Though much better than that. Poor Vicki, getting left behind!
I have to comment on the sound on the planet Mechanus; the popping sound is just perfect for setting the mood. Even though it may not be as lush as "Planet of Evil," the sets are somehow more convincing than you would have thought they could be. The giant fungoid things look pretty good in black and white—the whole thing reminds me a bit of the Cretaceous sea exhibit where I used to volunteer at the Natural History Museum. I think the Doctor brings the fungoid attack on himself when he stabs at it with his cane! Vicki, separately, gets molested by the fungoid. The Doctor announces "like everything in the universe, there’s a reason for it"—an interesting assertion. Meanwhile Barbara mimes shooting Daleks!

It seems strange for the Daleks to unleash their Doctor robot at this stage, but doubles of the Doctor seem to show up a lot in the show ("Arc of Infinity," for one, and sort of in "Timelash," and sort of in "Revelation of the Daleks," and in "The Face of Evil," etc). Alas, the double for the Doctor here is less excusable than Richard Hurndall in "Five Doctors." "Robot, robot, hmmm?" the real Doctor snaps. The Doctor/robot fight is achieved with the same painful slowness as Ian and Ixta’s fight in "The Aztecs," but as with that, it’s the thought that counts. "I feel pretty exhausted after all that," the Doctor announces. What I would like to see him reflect on a bit more is kind of watching yourself die. Even Mickey did that!

The Mechonoid structure is beautifully conceived, but looks made of sugar icing—"Fantastic!" the Doctor announces; a fantastic model, maybe. The Mechonoids aren’t bad; I really like their way of speaking, although strangely again there seems to be a Moffat antecedent when the Doctor says "they’re programmed to do their own repairs." I found myself loving Steven Taylor. He’s impeccably groomed for having spent two years in solitude and doesn’t slaver over Vicki and Barbara (or Ian, for that matter!). Peter Purves’ acting, I feel, is spot-on. And Hi-Fi the panda! This sort of surrogate relationship rings true to me—think of Tom Hanks and Wilson in Castaway. "Help yourself to a piece of eternity," he tells the travelers. The escape from the roof could, of course, have been done better but overall it’s quite good. (I laughed out loud when Ian reached inside Barbara’s capris to keep her from falling off the wall!)

The rousing machine wars between the Mechonoids and the Daleks must have appealed to the kiddies, but I think it’s quite good. There are a lot of explosions and some Daleks catching on fire. I can’t believe the Doctor shows no remorse about burning up the exquisite city! I love the way the Doctor reacts to Barbara and Ian asking to be taken home. It’s been interesting watching the Doctor’s character here. He is ever the curious explorer, going into Frankenstein’s lab for the sake of inquisitiveness and wandering through the tunnels in Aridia seemingly less than concerned. He tries to fake out the Daleks by announcing he’s the robot. He’s easily irritated, says "hmm" and "my dear boy" more than I ever thought physically possible. He does treat Vicki like she’s a child to be taken care of, but I see him showing slightly more concern for Ian and Barbara than he did earlier on in the show. "Yes, HOME!" Barbara cries. When they accuse him of "aimless" wandering, I wonder how much it hurts the Doctor—he does seem to consider himself an exile. That they can go home and "belong" and he, seemingly, can’t. This really IS the same man who, in 2005 no less, will call up Rose Tyler and seduce her into getting back on board by telling her all the wonders in the universe she’s missing. "You’ve got to let them go, if they want to." He’s lonely, probably more so since Susan left. Poor Doctor.

The slideshow of Ian and Barbara in Trafalgar Square is great. They seem so happy and cuddly; it’s all natural, and the leads play it to a tee. I’ve always been a big believer that they DID get married and live happily ever after. As for the Doctor, it’s rather touching how he says, "I will miss them. Yes, I will miss them . . ."
Overall I enjoy this story probably more than I should. One thing you’ve got to say about 1960s Doctor Who, for all its technical limitations, the big ideas were always there, and they took risks in ways I don’t think we understand anymore. I’m so proud of this show.

view from the panopticon- snakedance

08-27-07 "Snakedance"

Showman: People are amused.
Lon: Are they?
Showman: Generally.

The success of "Kinda" no doubt inspired those in the know to commission Christopher Bailey to write a sequel. Unfortunately, unlike Ben Aaronovitch’s later double-whammy, "Snakedance"’s structure and story aren’t nearly as inventive, though the production values are exceedingly high. In fact, I can’t think of a story with better costumes. Honestly.

I can’t say much for Nyssa here. She lets Tegan run away several times and can’t even steal a key without being caught. She doesn’t even make the moves on research assistant Tala up in the hills while waiting for Diogen. She does make a memorable entrance in a really strange outfit: an almost Victorian top with blue diagonal pinstripes and a jauntily cut skirt, with a clashing colorful stripe pattern, over burgundy shorts and high heels (!). I’m so flabbergasted I don’t know what to say. Neither does the Doctor, apparently: "Well?" "We’re not where we’re supposed to be." Sarah Sutton has gorgeous hair, though, and I can see why some fans get a bit lascivious about her. Tegan, meanwhile, is fitfully dozing in a room that’s way too light for anyone to sleep in it.

Great set for the Federator’s palace. The great costumes start here, with Lon’s mother’s Roman-inspired gown and hairstyle. The script’s a bit blander, with the Federatress (?) telling Lon "how much better life is under the Federation." I try not to think of Star Trek, but it’s hard. We find out that the primitive culture before the Federation "handled live snakes . . . something to do with their religion." Alluding to many cults over the centuries on different continents . . . Then Ambrill walks in with another costume to make me gleeful, this one medieval Russian and fab. He proves a rather good character, even if he does fulfill the usual role of scientific doubter/foil to the Doctor. I like the fact that the Mara seduce him by offering him priceless antiques.
"Please, Tegan, think," the Doctor snaps before deciding "simple hypnosis" will tell him what he needs to know. Strangely, this hypnosis includes something that looks suspiciously like an iPod. I have to wonder at the Doctor’s logic, getting Tegan to wear something that doesn’t let her hear—how long is Tegan really going to put up with that? To be fair, the Doctor’s celery does look a little wilted.

It’s too bad the market scenes could not be filmed on location, instead of in a studio, because with the amount of money they’ve obviously spent on props and costumes, the third component they needed was location. Nevertheless, it looks pretty good overall—quasi-Arabian Nights or Samarkand. We meet the showman, who is quite good, and wearing another exciting Russian-inspired costume. Trumping his costume, however, is Lon’s, which is fabulously futuristic and vaguely piratical 17th century at the same time. There are some quasi-Egyptian pictograms in an unfortunately constructed cave (again, should have gone to location). There are shades of the Seventh Doctor as the Doctor goads Tegan to enter the cave even though he knows it’s causing her emotional distress.

Peter Howell is providing some very end-era Davison music ("Five Doctors" and "Caves of Androzani"). Tegan scares the bejesus out of a phony fortuneteller (who nonetheless has another very good Slavic costume), and Janet Fielding no doubt revels in getting to act evil. Again, I’m a little at a loss as none of the episode endings are preserved, but I suspect that was one of them. It occurs to me, too, that Bailey created Death Eaters before there were Death Eaters with the snake symbol that migrates from Tegan’s arm to Lon’s. Obviously my Phantom obsession will always cause me to comment on mirrors, though the sort of funhouse sequence could have been so much more inspired.

The Federatress gets to don an absolutely gorgeous Tsarina costume in pink with a Russian-style tiara. I’m even impressed with the props that are supposed to be archaeological artifacts (such as the Six Heads of Deception . . . how did they afford this stuff?). Later, when Lon and Ambrill enter the cave, they even have super cool candlesticks that light up. Meanwhile, the Doctor, though generally having not done much of anything this episode, gets himself locked up in, again, a wonderful-looking prison cell! Just as I reflect that, ha ha, he doesn’t have the sonic screwdriver to get him out, Nyssa notes the same thing. She gets thrown in with him, and I find I am as impatient as they are. Too bad they didn’t have Will Turner around to apply leverage to the double-barrel hinges.

How the actor playing Diogen manages to act his way through most of the episode not speaking at all impresses me, as he still comes across trustworthy and likeable. I like his Russian beggar costume too. The only costume I don’t like in the entire thing is Lon’s during the ceremony, which looks like it was made with ‘80s puff paints, sateen, and gold spray-painted cardboard. Oh, I forgot to make a comment about the very ‘80s earring. At least no one ever made Captain Jack wear an earring. I’m amazed that, in the end, no one dies, not even the Showman (which is good, since I liked him). Not even Lon, for all this stupidity, or bumbling Ambrill. Tegan, of course, will be emotionally scarred for life if she isn’t already—I’ve never seen "Mawdryn Undead" all the way through so I don’t know if any time is given for her healing—on to further emotional rape in "Enlightenment." You can sort of tell that Nyssa’s being written out (I’ve never seen "Terminus"), but I think all three are past their prime.

I’m not really afraid of snakes. I handled them a lot when I was younger, so I don’t find them slimy or repulsive. The snake skull sitting on Tegan’s neck is a pretty disconcerting image, but other than that, I can’t say giant Mara inspire me with too much fear. I’m kind of curious what else Bailey had in mind—did he perhaps envision a trilogy? I’m afraid it’s kind of the end of the line for me for awhile . . . I don’t have all of the Black Guardian trilogy nor much of Davison’s last season. I won’t have as much time to watch Doctor Who for awhile. It’s funny, every time I watch a story, I just want to keep watching. I love the show so much. I really hope I can be around for original broadcast of season 4, but if not, I’m lucky to live in a time when new episodes are being written and produced and of such quality.

17-06-07 "Utopia"

"It would seem something new has arrived." --Professor Yana

I was waiting all season for an episode to knock my socks off, and I’ve found it. I suppose a completely detached person could look upon it as nothing special, but I’m afraid fans far and wide, including me, found it immensely exciting. RTD can still write some corkers. And it’s a three-parter! Ye gods!

I have to say I wasn’t paying as much attention to the opening as I should have been since I’d seen it before on Jonathan Ross. That said, it was very cool, especially since I’d just been standing where the Cardiff scenes were filmed. The Doctor’s around to very quickly explain to Martha the existence of the rift in Cardiff, if you missed Torchwood or the first season (2005). Martha’s not exactly thrilled to be going to "Cardiff?!", a "pit stop." The Doctor recaps his previous adventures; Martha notes there was an earthquake in Cardiff "a few years ago." "Was that you?" "That was lifetimes ago," the Doctor says ruefully. "I was a different man back then." Okay, it’s hard not to smile. Meanwhile, in what is probably the best entrance EVER, Captain Jack, fresh from the end of Torchwood (which I still haven’t seen) hitches a ride on the top of the TARDIS. What’s great is that the Doctor sees him coming (well, who could miss him shouting "Doc-TOR!" at the top of his lungs?) and leaves!

Meanwhile, a bunch of bestial creatures, who I’ve heard variously described as Mad Max characters or from H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, are complimented by a rock soundtrack as they look scary and bear their sharpened teeth. I can’t help thinking of the dysfunctional trolls from 10th Kingdom, which decreases their scariness a bit, as well as the cannibals from the Fourth Doctor comic strip, The End of the Line. Then suddenly, Derek Jacobi appears as a bumbling, likeable professor-type (indeed, his name is Professor Yana) who is dressed, curiously enough, in much the same manner as the First Doctor. First tip-off, in my mind at least. Shall I say at this point I had my suspicions that the Professor was the Master, but I couldn’t reconcile that with the fact I knew John Simm was, too. Duh. I don’t know how I managed not to connect the dots on that one, but it was a wonderful surprise anyway!

Getting ahead of myself. The Doctor’s in a panic because the TARDIS is being wrenched into the year 100 trillion. "Not even the Time Lords went this far," he says. How come I don’t believe the Doctor when he says, "We should really, really go"? Perhaps because of his past conduct in "The Satan Pit"? When the TARDIS lands, Martha and the Doctor find themselves in a Welsh quarry in the middle of the freezing night. It isn’t raining yet, but it will be. Jack is lying, apparently dead on the ground. Martha, like the good doctor-in-training that she is, rushes to resuscitate him. The Doctor mutters darkly, "Hello again, and I’m sorry." It’s very Jack that he waits until Martha’s got her mouth on his before waking up. "And who are you?" he asks. "Oh, don’t start," the Doctor says. "I don’t mind," Martha interjects.

I was curious how Jack and the Tenth Doctor were going to react to each other, and it’s nice to see some continuity from the Ninth Doctor. I know not all DW fans like Jack, but I do, and it’s frankly wonderful to see him more like he was at the end of season 1 rather than the gloomy tight-lipped head of Torchwood. It’s his right, of course, to question the Doctor’s motives: "You abandoned me." And it’s very Doctor-ish to react in an "alien" way: "Did I?" But Jack’s not just curious about himself; he brings up Rose’s apparent demise at Canary Wharf. Martha is annoyed to hear about Rose. There’s some rapid-fire explanations going on about how Jack survived once the Doctor abandoned him (his wrist device got him to Earth but he had to live through the 20th century, including World Wars One and Two). I wonder how casual viewers are absorbing this? It’s nice, again, to see the old gadgetry rivalry revived between the two of them: "I’ve got a sports car and you’ve got a space hopper!" the Doctor angrily exclaims when Jack deigns to draw a comparison between the TARDIS and his burnt-out wrist device. Martha’s a bit stunned (you can even read her blog on MySpace about it) that the Doctor leaves people behind—"not if you’re blonde," Jack snipes. Instead of getting angry, the Doctor spouts, "Here we are in the year 100 trillion and you’re busy . . . blogging . . .?!"

And yes, they are in the year 100 trillion. They see a cool abandoned hive-like desert structure. "All the stars have burned up," the Doctor says broodingly. Again, more continuity—"I’m not so sure about you, Jack." Next, a poor harried individual who looks like he came out of 28 Days Later is running for his life from the ‘80s punk cannibals. Our heroes set out to rescue him, and JB can book it. Freema looks like she’s very tired and doesn’t fancy running. In any case, Jack pulls a gun on the cannibals and the Doctor shouts, "Jack, don’t do that!" (That’s my Doctor.) Jack relents and shoots his gun into the air. They manage to escape to a chain-link fenced compound and are exhorted to, "Show me your teeth!" When someone else commences shooting, Jack wants to know why the Doctor stopped him. "He’s not my responsibility."

In the refugee camp, I can’t help being reminded of "Frontios," which, you have to admit, shares quite a bit in common with this. The Doctor comes up with a fab line about human beings being "indomitable." Rakish Jack wants to know how the Doctor "coped" without him. The fact that all the refugees are waiting (hopelessly, it seems) to leave on a space ship reminded me a bit of "Full Circle." Jack, the Doctor, and Martha go off to meet Professor Yana and his assistant Chantho. Chantho, by the way, is a beautiful bug who adds "chan" and "tho" to every sentence, which is really cool. In a very Martha move, I think, Martha gets her to abandon the sentence sequence, which is considered rude. Like the Doctor, she’s the last of her kind. She’s charming, and her devotion to the Professor is familiar to Martha—"I adore him." "But he doesn’t . . .?" "I am happy to serve." Jack thinks she’s charming, too—"Stop it," the Doctor snaps, while Chantho says, "Chan I do not protest tho." The Doctor then puts on his glasses. I didn’t embarrass myself by whistling this time. (He was wearing his brown suit, though, thank goodness.)

Martha is a bit disgusted to find out that Jack has been carrying around the Doctor’s severed hand in a jar—"Chan is this a tradition among your people tho?" Derek Jacobi, meanwhile, proves that he’s adept with technobabble as he and the Doctor discuss how to get the rocket to work. The cannibals, we find out, are the Futurekind—"they are what we will become." Definite shades of Firefly. The Professor’s head rings with drumming sounds, and the Doctor explains that they’re from "hermits united." LOL. Frankly, his hubris in this part of the episode is becoming a bit unbearable. Meanwhile, the music has been ranging from Torchwood-inspired to echoes of "The Face of Boe." The Professor’s genius concoctions for getting the rocket out would not be edible for the gluten-intolerant.

Part of getting the rocket to lift off involves a guy donning a hazardous materials suit and going into an irradiated room (a bit like the fan at the end of "End of the World," but . . . you know . . .). This culminates in some poor guy spontaneously combusting. A very freaky-looking Futurekind infiltrator (who I suspect might show up in the next few eps?) has sabotaged the rocket. The only one who can fix it is Jack who, as we know, can’t die. "Was someone kissing me?" he wants to know. Then a very funny sequence follows in which Jack starts taking his clothes off, even though the Doctor points out the radiation affects skin not clothes. "Well, I look good, though." He does, I have to say that he does.

If you don’t like Jack, I don’t know how much you will like the following tense scene, but for me it was one of the highlights of the episode. The Doctor reveals to Jack that Rose made him immortal. "All that time, you knew?" "The final act of the Time War was life." There’s a short flashback to "Parting of the Ways" and I hope it won’t go on too long otherwise I’ll start crying. There’s something extremely poignant about Jack going to Rose’s estate in the ‘90s. "I watched her growing up." Is the Doctor jealous? What is his feeling? Oooh, it’s better not to know! "Do you wanna die?" the Doctor asks Jack in all seriousness. Jack’s not sure. The Doctor notes that "You’re the only man you’re going to be happy with." "You’re cheeky," Jack says. And oh yeah, Jack does whatever he was meant to do. While dramatically I think this scene succeeds quite well, on a purely titillating level I enjoyed it, ‘cause they both looked damn hot. Ahem.

Yana is suffering more and more from the drums in his head—"I’m always late, always lost." This is where the episode really picks up. The rocket’s about to take off, so is the music, and Martha sees what looks like the same watch from "Human Nature." Suddenly, everything falls into place for this very excited viewer—the Professor is the Master who is hiding out at the end of the universe and has been inhabiting a human body. He’s never opened the watch, however, and Martha’s a bit freaked out. She runs to tell the Doctor. "Does it matter?" The Doctor realizes as soon as we do, in a stunning, exciting sequence that could be really cheesy but is actually quite heart-pounding that "Yana" refers to the last words of the Face of Boe—"you are not alone." Yana opens the watch and becomes the Master. He lets the Futurekind in and scares the bejesus out of Chantho. "As one door closes, another must open . . ."

Chantho tries to shoot the Master but he attacks her instead. I can’t help feeling incredibly sorry for her, since it must be really terrible to have a crush on the Master (!) even if you didn’t know it, and then he kills you! As her dying action, she shoots the Master, but he runs off with the TARDIS! Frantically the Doctor tries to get in. Derek Jacobi regenerates into John Simm—awesome!—who strikes me as a bit hammy in the role. He takes the TARDIS, the Doctor’s hand, and leaves Martha, Jack, and the Doctor stranded. It’s a great cliffhanger! I haven’t been so excited to see another episode in a long time.

view from the panopticon- fear her

12-30-06 "Fear Her"

"I’m being facetious, aren’t I?" --The Doctor

I didn’t exactly expect to like this when I read the premise, but it actually wasn’t a bad episode. Not the shining gold of the season, but better than "Idiot’s Lantern" and certainly better than "Love & Monsters." I think the title’s audacious, and it isn’t your typical monster story either. I just wish it didn’t get so cheesy at the end.

The episode starts off with some strange music which permeates throughout the rest of it. I think I’ve gotten used to it by the end, but it’s kind of a distraction at first. We’re introduced to a fairly normal London street, looking basically contemporary, with a lot of women with baby strollers. There are kids playing soccer on the front lawns, and an elderly woman, Maeve, looking slightly confused. The direction gets very dramatic as we do a complete 360° (actually, several) around her. I can’t decide whether this is too much or just enough to create a level of suspense. Suddenly we see Hugh Grant’s secretary from Love Actually (aka Nina Sosyana) looking worried. A strange figure is watching the street from her house. Maeve admonishes the father of the children playing soccer, "Get ‘em inside!" They’re not safe. The father demurs; he’s watching them, they’re perfectly safe. "It likes it when they’re playing!" Maeve says, in increasingly frightened tones. Upstairs, in the Webbers’ house, the figure is a small girl, drawing. She reproduces the boy across the street perfectly with colored pencils, and then he disappears. We’ve got that she’s captured him by drawing him.

I like this concept. Drawing is something that seems to be a primal human means of expression (cave paintings, for example), and perhaps because I’m an artist the thought of capturing something by drawing it is very interesting. I think the primary reason for drawing is to express, but a secondary one (at least until the invention of photography) was to keep a record of the things around us, people, places, objects. In a sense, keeping a record of them made them our own. So this whole idea that an alien can use energy to capture objects and people from time-space isn’t really that far off from theory. Even though the Eighth Doctor admonishes not to find patterns that aren’t there, I think I’m beginning to see a theme for this season: being trapped. Trapped in TV, trapped by drawing, trapped in a black hole, trapped (forever) in a parallel universe. I don’t know what this means exactly, other than another observation on the Doctor’s aloneness, his being trapped in a sort of solitary confinement. Or I could be reading into it too deeply.

There’s a funny moment where the TARDIS parks and re-parks so that the door can actually be opened (where is this filmed? Again, it looks really familiar). I saw an avatar not too long ago that had a picture of the Tenth Doctor and it said, "Keep the tie." I thought to myself, when does he ever ditch the tie? Bingo. Here. Anyway, as the Doctor and Rose walk out of the TARDIS, Rose notices a poster of Shayne West, who I understand was last year’s X Factor winner? Ha! Like he’s going to be around in 2012. So, the Doctor reveals that they’ve landed in 2012 London for the Olympics, which again may be something of an audacious choice of setting on Mathew Graham’s part. (By the way, when I was in London June 2005 I talked to people on the Tube who didn’t want the Olympics because it was going to cost so much money. It was the opposite in Paris in April 2005; the Parisians really wanted it. So I was shocked when it was announced London had gotten it.) The Doctor waxes nostalgic for past Olympiads, including the very first ancient Greek ones, lauding some athlete’s "legs like pipe cleaners" and then extolling the virtues of cakes with "edible ball bearings" on them. Rose finally gets him to shut up by noticing that the street is very quiet, even though the flags everywhere indicate their gearing up for the Olympic torchbearer to pass through. The Doctor notices it’s unseasonably cold.

They run into Kel, who also appeared in Love Actually (!) who is a council road repairman. He tells Rose that the street’s been "bonkers"; there are missing children posters all over, all of the children missing in the last week or so. There’s a funny smell, too, and the Doctor runs off to the soccer goalpost where the boys were playing before the one disappeared. He leans down and stretches out his hand. "Hmmm," he laughs, "tickles!" The father appears, wondering, "Hey, what’s your game?" The Doctor’s being delightfully facetious: "Snakes and ladders? Er . . . squash?" Rose and Kel run up; the Doctor explains that he’s a policeman and Rose is his new recruit. "She looks less like a cop than you do." The psychic paper does its job, but the father, Maeve, Kel, and other parents, including Mrs. Webber, start arguing amongst themselves. For an amazingly long amount of time. The parents accuse Kel of being somehow responsible for the children’s disappearances, which he of course denies. It isn’t this Doctor’s style to shout, "Oi! A bit o’ hush!" Instead, he puts his finger to his lips, which everyone slowly mimics. It’s a strange sight to see a bunch of adults perpetrating, but if that’s what it takes to get everyone quiet . . .

In a back alley that looks suspiciously like one later used in Torchwood, the Doctor and Rose find more of the weird smell and of residual energy that makes the Doctor’s "manly arm hair" stand up. At the Webbers’, Chloe is drawing and drawing. Her mother gently suggests that she might want to do something else, considering she hasn’t been sleeping very well. Chloe impatiently pushes aside her mother’s concern, saying that she’s busy. "Have you seen the TV?" Mrs. Webber asks brightly. She tries to interest Chloe is the Olympic preparations, but Chloe reiterates that she’s busy and is not to be disturbed. "Unless you want me to draw you, Mum." Mrs. Webber is seriously freaked out, and script writers everywhere take note: there’s hardly anything worse than creepy kids. The boy in Chloe’s drawing is "moaning" for companionship; Chloe begins to draw a cat she sees outside. In the street, Rose notices the cute fluffy cat. The Doctor thinks she’s talking about him—"Thanks, I’m experienced with back-combing"—until he notices the cat too. He scrunches up his face in distaste. "Not really a cat person." Which contradicts a) the Sixth Doctor, who loved cats; b) the Ninth Doctor, who stroked a stray in "Empty Child." But at least he explains it based on the events in "New Earth." The cat disappears into a cardboard box. Chloe admonishes all the captured people in her drawings, "You don’t know what it is to be alone!" Frustrated, she scribbles on her paper.

Rose and the Doctor split up. Rose hears something banging around in a garage (gaaaaiiiiir-AGE). "Not gonna open it," she says. Of course she does open it and gets attacked by a scribbly-monster. The Doctor saves her by zapping it with the sonic screwdriver. (The special effects are done more effectively than you might think.) "You killed it!" "It was never alive." They take it back to the TARDIS to analyze it. It’s graphite. "Like a kid’s scribble," Rose deducts. The Doctor even sexily congratulates her on her deductive reasoning skills. They approach Mrs. Webber, offering their help. She’s at first reluctant, but by use of reverse psychology, they are called in to assist. Mrs. Webber explains that Chloe’s recently lost her father. "I’m sorry to hear that." "You wouldn’t be if you’d known him." One of those kinds of dads, eh? (I’m reminded for some reason of Dear Frankie: "Frankie wasn’t born deaf. It was a gift from his dad.") Mrs. Webber reiterates that Chloe’s good in school, a bright, if somewhat solitary child. "Right now she’s not herself."

Rose excuses herself to the loo, by which she really means Chloe’s room. Chloe’s not in, but her room looks a lot like mine, ie, that there’s stuff all over the walls. Heh. Rose notes this with some astonishment, then gets scared by a rattling closet with a scary devil-man drawing inside. Downstairs, Chloe’s getting food from the fridge. The Doctor introduces himself and admits that he’s "rubbish [at drawing]." He tries to get her to live long and prosper, but she’s ready to go back to drawing. She starts up the stairs when Rose screams. Everyone comes after her, and she explains about the man in the closet. Turns out Chloe’s been dreaming about her father terrorizing her. Mrs. Webber orders the Doctor and Rose out, but the Doctor notes that, "Who’s going to believe you?" other than them.

They go back downstairs, where the Doctor starts randomly eating jam. An alien’s taken control of Chloe and is giving her the power to abduct people from reality. When they get back upstairs, the Doctor does his mind-meld again (and he could get sued for that, I think, my Egypt Centre training getting the best of me). He wants "parley, according to the Shadow Proclamation—"

Jack Sparrow suddenly walks in the room. "Who the hell are you?" the Doctor asks. "Did someone say parley?" Jack Sparrow asks. "Hold on a minute, do I know you?" the Doctor asks. "Don’ think so," Jack Sparrow says meditatively, stroking his moustache. "Is this a wedding? ‘Cause I love weddings." "Can we keep him, Doctor?" Rose asks, looking appreciatively at the pirate. The Doctor scans Jack Sparrow with his sonic screwdriver, who staggers about the room drunkenly. "This can’t be right," says the Doctor. "Someone’s hijacked his fandom and brought him here. Not the first time this’s happened, either." He jabs his finger authoritatively at the writer. "Who gave you permission to insert other characters into this episode review? Did you have too much sugar?" The writer doesn’t reply. "I don’t care if you think this meta-fictional thing is cute. I warn you, if you don’t stop I’m never going to wear my glasses again!" Jack Sparrow disappears. Rose pouts. The Doctor hmphs.

The alien in Chloe Webber doesn’t care about Shadow Proclamations. It loves Chloe Webber and isn’t going anywhere. "You’re lonely, I know," the Doctor says. The alien reveals itself as being an Isolus, a creature with a strong empathic link. The mother of the species produces billions of seed pods. The creatures depend on their strong familial ties to survive through their long maturation phase. "Don’ you get bored?" Rose wants to know. "We play," the creature explains. The Doctor notes that they create worlds for playing. A bit like the Brontës, lonely children too who delighted in their imaginary play on the moors, escape from dreary boarding schools and a cold, paranoid father. This Isolus was separated from its brothers and sisters when its seed-pod crashed on Earth. It was attracted to the heat in Chloe’s window. The Doctor’s sympathetic, but insists "it’s wrong" to inhabit Chloe’s body. The Isolus asserts that it enjoys its host, for Chloe, too, was lonely. Mrs. Webber winces. The Doctor suggests that he’ll find the Isolus’ pod and that’ll allow it to leave Earth and find its family. This is a lot of exposition in a small space, but again, I think the idea’s pretty fresh.

As the Doctor and Rose head back to the TARDIS, Chloe sees the Olympics on TV—someone holds up a Welsh flag!—and decides, of course, that she’s going to capture all of the spectators so she’ll never have to be alone. "It’s desperate to be loved," the Doctor says. Rose is skeptical. No doubt she recalls the Gelth and how the Doctor was wrong and she was right. She remembers how mean kids can be. "I sympathize [with it]," the Doctor says. "But you’ve never had kids," Rose points out. "I was a dad once," he mutters. Rose is like, huh? He doesn’t repeat what he said, but for me it’s the best part of the episode. No one ever mentions Susan anymore, and I hope that little comment made all the teeny-boppers’ heads spin. The Doctor asserts that people alone in the universe "need a hand to hold." He grabs Rose’s hand, though she clarifies she was pointing to something. As they go off to find the pod, Chloe puerilely starts drawing the TARDIS and the Doctor. They disappear. Rose is on her own.

She finds Kel again, who is repairing potholes. She’s not interested in his road-repair manifesto—"put it in a book about tarmac"—but wants to know if anything unusual happened six days before. He recalls filling in a pothole nearby, and Rose takes "the council axe" from "the council van" and starts digging up the pothole. It’s clear that Billie Piper’s not used to handling axes, but she throws herself into the attempt. "What’s that?" Kel wants to know. "It’s a space ship!" Rose gushes. LOL. Chloe has already drawn the entirety of the Olympic crowd. "Thousands of people have just gone," says the bewildered commentator. Is that the Cardiff Millennium Stadium? Hmmm. The music gets way out of control as Rose races to show Chloe the pod. The Isolus isn’t interested. It’s not stopping at the Olympic crowd; the whole world is next. The drawing of the Doctor points to what I guess is the Olympic torch (the Doctor was right; he is rubbish at drawing; I’d totally beat him in Pictionary).

Fortunately the torch-bearer is running through the street right at that moment. Rose throws the pod into the flame, which jump-starts it. The Isolus tells Chloe it loves her and leaves. The world is saved. All the captured people start reappearing. Rose gives her puppy dog face and wonders where the Doctor is.
Unfortunately, since the Isolus had the power to make real people into drawing, it also seems to have the power to make drawings into real people; such is the case with Chloe’s dad, who starts coming down the stairs, monster-under-the-bed-style. Chloe and her mother are trapped in the house. They start singing the Kookabura song and the nightmares go away. Maeve sees Rose on the street and thanks her for her help. But where’s the Doctor go to? Why, he’s carrying the flame to the Olympics. Oh dear. I believe that’s one of the cheesiest things I’ve seen on the show. Anyway, after his Olympic run, the Doctor returns with Rose to watch the fireworks in the sky. She rather naively declares, "We’ll be together forever, don’t you reckon?" The Doctor makes no promises; he’s distracted by an approaching storm . . .

Since I’ve written way too much about this already, I’ll just say it wasn’t a bad episode, but the end was kind of a let-down.

12-29-06 "The Satan Pit"

"That’s why I keep traveling—to be proved wrong." --The Doctor

Usually I’ve noticed that when we’ve had two-parters on the new series, the second episode is always the better of the two—ie, in subsequent viewings, it’s always the more fun to watch. However, I can’t really say in the case of this story which is the better episode—they’re both quite good—making it a very strong story arc. Well-done, Matt Jones.

Taking off right from our cliffhanger, Jefferson opens fire on the attacking Ood and he, Rose, Danny, and Toby escape. They confer with Zach, who has only "a bolt gun with one bolt" to his name. And the Ood are going to break down the doors. Zach tells Mr. Jefferson to enact "Plan Nine." Rose frantically tries to get in touch with the Doctor who, in a very Fourth Doctor-like bit of cheekiness, is silent for awhile, only to pipe up, "No, sorry, I’m fine." The trap door has opened revealing "this . . . chasm." Zach orders Ida and the Doctor to return to the base. Ida acknowledges the order, but then says to the Doctor, "yeah, but what do you think?" The Doctor admires human courage and curiosity ("indomitable . . . indomitable"): ". . . where angels fear to tread . . ." (a nice reference to "Girl in the Fireplace," whether intentional or not). He notes that there’s always "that mad little voice that says go on," which really typifies the Doctor’s character overall. Then he says, "for once in my life I’m going to say retreat." So they get back into the elevator shaft to bring them up. By the way, I really must commend the lighting director in this story. The helmets that Ida and the Doctor wear light their faces beautifully, especially considering the amount of ECUs they get, and yet remain alien and claustrophobic-looking.

Meanwhile, Rose’s compassion gets the better of her yet again, when she prevents Jefferson from nailing Toby. Instead, she comforts him and insists Scooty’s death wasn’t his fault. Meanwhile, something—"It was the Devil"—starts talking through the Ood and at the same time prevents Ida and the Doctor’s ascent. "This is the darkness," it says. I love how the Doctor stands up to the Beast—it’s not that the Doctor isn’t afraid of anything, but he isn’t easily intimidated by rhetoric and superstition. "If you’re the Devil, which one? There have been a lot of religions in the last thousands of years . . ." (including "Church of the Tin Vagabond," though he doesn’t mention the pirate church that worships the great spaghetti monster, which is a shame). "This one knows me," says the Beast, "as I know him, killer of his own kind." I’m glad the Doctor doesn’t let this get to him—"what does ‘before time’ mean?" The Beast next identifies apparently deeply personal summaries about each of the characters, calling Rose "the little lost girl, so far away from home," who will "die in battle." The Doctor tells her not to listen. The crew starts arguing with each other on what to do next. They’re scared. The Doctor—bless him—keeps his head. "He’s playing on very basic fears! . . . The Beast is alone—we’re not."

With the Doctor’s pep talk, Rose motivates the crew to start figuring out how to escape. Zach can operate buttons for the rest of the crew to join him so they can get onto the rocket. The tunnels through which they can go weren’t designed for humans, so they have no oxygen, but Zach can aerate them as they go. They just have to watch out for the Ood. Meanwhile, the cable breaks so the Doctor and Ida are back on the surface. They’re stuck, and they only have a limited oxygen supply. What’s there to do other than investigate the chasm? "Even if it’s the last thing we ever achieve," says courageous Ida. At this point my mom suggests maybe they’ll find the TARDIS. Smart cookie, my mom. Now we get a bunch of corridor-running, with a twist: it’s claustrophobic tunnel-scooting. Murray Gold whips up some exciting, rather Bond-ian music, and as the Ood keep coming, it’s a pretty animated sequence. Zach has to open and shut the doors and aerate, making urgency difficult to come by. There’s still time for a little levity—"Not your best side, Danny," Rose says. Then there’s a shot of Billie Piper’s butt for those who care: "could be worse," says Toby, who’s behind her. When they’re cornered at a tunnel, there’s a bit of juvenile telephone-game-gone-awry, which fortunately ends quickly. This time it’s Mr. Jefferson who gets to make the tried-and-true secondary character sacrifice by fighting off the Ood in order to give the others time to escape. "He saved our lives," Danny says solemnly.

Meanwhile, Ida has lowered the Doctor into the pit via cable. They’ve got a com-link, fortunately, and the Doctor is doing what he does best, talking. He notes that there have been depictions of the horned beast on almost every world, and I’m thrilled he mentions Daemnos and Draconia, two old-skool Doctor Who adventures. "They all had to come from somewhere. Maybe they came from here." "If this is the original," Ida asks, hesitantly, "does that make it real?" I’m glad that the Doctor is neither dismissive nor fearful in his response. Next, the cable runs out, and there’s no way of telling how far down the pit extends. The Doctor wants to keep going; Ida wants to pull him out. "I don’t want to die on my own," she says. In The English Patient, Katharine Clifton writes her last words by dying torchlight, trapped alone in a cave in the desert while her lover tries desperately to get back to her—and I’ve always thought that was one of the most lonely ways to die. Ida and the Doctor are looking at something even bleaker. The Doctor’s response is, "I know," so softly said it reminds you that the Doctor is alone. The "Bad Wolf" theme starts to play, and the Doctor says haltingly, "Tell Rose . . . oh, she knows." This is nice—it’s so much more powerful this way. I’m glad they held back on this particular count. He acknowledges that his faith is in his knowledge of the universe. As he falls into the pit, he admits that there may be possibilities other than the ones he clings to—which is quite a big admission for a Gallifreyan, I think.

With the crew ready to get on board the rocket, Zach contacts Ida. There’s no way to come and collect them. Rose frantically asks what happened to the Doctor. "It’s all right—just go," Ida says. Rose, of course, won’t accept that the Doctor is dead and is not coming back. "You don’t know him! I’m waiting for him . . . just like he would do for me." We know she’s in the right, of course, but it doesn’t look that way to the crew. "I’ve lost too many people," says Zach and has Danny tranquilize her. The Doctor’s fallen face-first to the bottom of the bit, but he no longer needs his helmet because somehow he is breathing air. That’s a stroke of luck. Rose wakes up, strapped into the rocket, and Danny suggests, "We may have a problem passenger." Rose threatens Zach with the bolt gun: "Take me back!" "Or what?" "Or I’ll shoot!" "Would you really? Is that what your Doctor would have wanted?" Rose surrenders. I have to say I think this story has the best music of the season, so far.

Down in the pit, the Doctor figures that Man imprisoned the Beast on the planet. In fact, he comes face-to-face with the Beast—and it all gets a little Middle-Earth from here, down to the (crap CGI) design of the Beast as a Balrog. It’s "a perfect prison." The Doctor realizes that the Beast’s mind has escaped with Toby on the rocket. He’s in a position to break the gravity, thereby pulling the planet and the rocket into the black hole, but to do that he’d have to sacrifice Rose. A bunch of weird camera angles coupled with the ECUs follow, which I find somewhat distracting. The Doctor picks up a big rock, à la "Survival." However, there’s one chink in the Beast’s plan—"that implies she’s a victim. If I believe in anything, I believe in her." (A happy parallel with "Virginia believes in him, and I believe in Virginia," from The 10th Kingdom, though that’s neither here nor there.) The Doctor proceeds to bellow and breaks the gravity hold. The rocket heads for the black hole. On the surface, Ida collapses from oxygen starvation. "What is he doing?" Toby demands, transforming into the Beast. "Go to hell," Rose says, cheesily, as she shoots the bolt gun into the glass of the rocket and releasing Toby into space. One problem: how are they still breathing?

The impact throws the Doctor against . . . the TARDIS! Hooray. The rocket is still heading for the black hole—"at least we stopped him," Rose says. "We’re the first human beings to fall inside a black hole," Zach offers. "This is the good ship TARDIS," the Doctor says and wants to trade Rose for Ida. The TARDIS is towing the rocket out of the black hole (why didn’t he just materialize the TARDIS around the rocket?). The Ood are worth a short obituary, the Doctor mildly regretful that he couldn’t save them. "My people practically invented black holes, actually they did," he says, and that makes me happy, obviously. When Rose arrives, the great music plays and they hug. "Ida—maybe we’ll meet again," he says. "I hope so," she replies. "But Doctor—you two . . . who are you?" "The stuff of legend," he says. Awesome.

A good adventure, and while I’m not keen on the involvement of Satan—as the Doctor hints, we’ve had plenty of Satan stories in the past—I think it worked out. Anyway, it’s a hell of a lot better than the episode that follows.

view from the panopticon- the impossible planet

12-28-06 "The Impossible Planet"

"But at least I’m stuck with you, that’s not so bad." --Rose

I didn’t realize this was a two-parter with "The Satan Pit." It’s shaping up to be a good ‘un. I’m impressed with Matt Jones’ ambition in this story: he’s crammed in a lot of characters, an intriguing set up, and a lot of suspense. Like "Age of Steel," it feels somewhat old-fashioned, in a good way. I sort of get a late-Davison feel from this, like "Resurrection of the Daleks"/ "Frontios." And you know what else it reminds me of? Earth 2. Did you ever see that show? It ran for a couple seasons on Fox, I believe. Humans colonizing a new planet that may or may not already have intelligent life on it, a similar command structure to the one at Century Base, and the same sort of organic, roughing-it sets that you see in this episode. (Plus, it was filmed in New Mexico.) In any case, this story has a completely different flavor from anything we’ve seen thus far (plus, I even like the title).

The TARDIS appears to have indigestion. The Doctor and Rose step out and start laughing, though I don’t really understand why. They’ve landed way out in space, according to the Doctor. And the set is really cool. Someone’s written on the wall, "Welcome to Hell," followed by a bunch of indecipherable writing. If the TARDIS can’t translate it, it must be "impossibly ancient." Uh oh. Next, some aliens appear with sort of squid-like heads, holding glowing orb thingees. The design is classic Doctor Who monster. They start to descend on the Doctor and Rose, chanting, "We must feed," in a cliffhanger so perfect you know it must be a fake-out.

So it is. "We must feed . . . you, if you are hungry." Next, the human occupants of Century Base show up. They’re shocked, shocked and amazed, to see real-live people appear. "That’s us, hooray," the Doctor announces. Meet Zach, acting Captain; Mr. Jefferson, security; Ida, science officer; Danny, budget; Toby, archaeologist; and Scooty, ethics. Like I said, it’s a lot of characters. It’s a testament to the writer and the actors, who are all worth their salt, that the characters manage to be individuals rather than just glomping together as "the crew." The only one I’m not so sure about is Toby, who acts more and more like Turlough in "Enlightenment" as this thing goes on. With a bit of Jedi mind trick magic, the Doctor manages to deflect questions about how he and Rose arrived. The crew’s purpose is explained: they’re investigating a planet that’s somehow in orbit around a black hole. Not only that, it has a gravity funnel that allowed their ship to fly down, like a "roller coaster." There’s an amazing source of energy they’re investigating, but it’s way below the surface, so they have to drill. Ida opens up the viewing dome, and the sight is spectacular. The Doctor and Rose are suitably impressed (actors reacting to green screen, but you don’t think about that at the time because it is a well-integrated scene). "That impossible," declares the Doctor. "Beyond the laws of physics."

It’s nice that we’re putting the science back into science fiction, even if I am pretty poor in understanding that sort of stuff. I’m reminded of the disparity between this and the rather fun "Three Doctors," in which Omega is introduced as the creator of Time Lord mastery over time by harnessing a black hole’s energy—and the funny anti-matter-land wrestling match between Pertwee and Omega’s champion. Anyway, the planet is known as "the Bitter Pill" because it was spit out by an ancient demon, so the stories go. The Doctor puts on his glasses again, and I have to say I’m thrilled how much he wears them in the show. The gift that keeps on giving. Anyway, Rose asks about the squid-faced aliens, who are called the Ood. Her bleedin’ heart flares up as she bristles at their being "a basic slave race." Danny confirms that their only purpose in life is to attend to the needs of others.

While she’s being all S.P.E.W., the Doctor questions why the crew is interested in the power source. "To fuel our empire," says Jefferson. "Or to start a war," the Doctor observes. Toby indicates that it’s been "waiting" to be discovered, and Rose accuses him of being "chief dramatist." The Doctor asks why the crew would take such huge risks to investigate. "Because it was there," says Zach, paraphrasing Hillary. The Doctor wants to know if he can hug him. (Cute! Reminiscent of "The Long Game.") He hugs him, he loves humans so much, and then there’s an earthquake. The Doctor realizes, in an oh-sh*it moment, that the TARDIS was in the section that collapsed. "The TARDIS is gone." Oh gosh, really? Again, for the sake of the episode, we play along. "It’s all I’ve got," he says sadly, "literally." He wants to drill into the planet to get it back; Zach says no. The Doctor looks bleakly numb. "I’ve trapped you here," he says to Rose. There’s no way out, other than with the crew whenever the heck they leave. They hug. The Doctor looks worried up into space.

Ravel’s "Bolero" briefly plays, I’ve no idea why (though Isao Tomita once wrote a version of it that sounded like it belonged on "Seeds of Doom"). Toby is working on deciphering his weird untranslatable gobbledy-gook, and someone keeps whispering his name. He thinks it’s Danny playing a trick on him, but Danny is eating with everyone else. The creepy voice keeps talking to Toby, telling him not to turn around, that he’ll die if he does. (Orpheus in the underworld reference?) Toby wants to know who the heck it is. "I have so many names" (which eerily reminds me of the Doctor, for some reason). Toby finally gets majorly creeped out and turns around. No one is there. But he starts getting the weird symbols all over his skin and his eyes turn red. It’s going a bit overboard for my tastes. Meanwhile, Rose is advised by Scooty to "avoid the green, avoid the blue" at the canteen. She tries to strike up a conversation with the Ood, noting that she was once a dinner lady. "Not that you’re a lady . . . though you might be." The Ood gives the greatest Freudian slip of all time—"The Beast has risen from the Pit"—then slaps its translation orb thingee and amends, "I hope you enjoy your meal."

The Doctor wants to see the black hole again. "I promise I won’t go mad," he tells Ida. "How would you know?" she asks. And he gives this totally cute look. Okay, I’m done. Rose sits down next to him, and for once, her jiggery-pokery phone has no signal. She suggests that the glum Doctor can rebuild the TARDIS. In a brief foray to Eighth Doctor Land, the Doctor says, "They were grown, not built." No, he’ll "have to settle down." They’ll both have to get jobs and live like normal people. He’s terrified of having to get carpet. He hates having to live the settled life—it’s why he left Gallifrey in the first place. "We could share [a house]," Rose suggests. And the Doctor’s like, "ewww, no." So she lets it go. Still, there are worse people to be stuck with. The phone rings and someone tells Rose, "He is awake."

Zach tells Danny to go investigate the Ood. Rose wants to know how the Ood communicate amongst themselves. They’re "low-level empaths," staying on basic 5. The Doctor notes that they’re up to basic 30, meaning they’re screaming—or something is screaming at them. Rose tells Danny about the Freudian slip. He’s singularly unimpressed: "an odd Ood." When he says that "they’re so stupid," I’m reminded of my time on the farm in Shropshire when I was told the exact same thing about sheep. Anyway, while the Ood are starting to act up, Scooty goes to find Toby. He isn’t in his room, and one of the doors has been opened, but the computer won’t identify who walked out of it. It says that no one’s taken out a spaceship. Then she notices that Toby is outside in the anti-gravity, anti-oxygen, lack of atmosphere surface, laughing. It’s a strangely beautiful moment, augmented by music that seems lifted from Loreena McKennitt’s The Book of Secrets (when Murray Gold is good, he’s really good). But when Scooty realizes that Toby is beckoning her out into the void, she resists. He breaks the glass, and she goes whooshing out into space. The Doctor discovers her body floating around. It’s pretty horrifying.

Drilling’s stopped at the same moment as they seal off the breach. Ida is going to go investigate, and the Doctor insists that he go, too. "This is breaking every single protocol," Zach says. But he trusts the Doctor, doesn’t he? The Doctor and Ida take the shaft down to the drill site—the integration between set and FX is really good—but before he goes, Rose kisses his helmet. That’s to get him back for saying he doesn’t want to live with her, nyeh. Zach tells Rose to get off the com—"Breathing’s good," she tells the Doctor. When Ida and the Doctor land, in their garish orange Firefly-reminiscent space suits, Ida throws a "gravity globe," and the FX continue to be amazing. Danny’s getting a little nervous about the Ood, who have stood up and keep repeating "He is awake." "You’re a big boy, Danny," Zach says. "Think you can take being stared at?" The Doctor and Ida have found a big circular thingee—"tell Toby we think we’ve found his civilization"—which the Doctor thinks is a trap door. The Ood get to Basic 100, which means they should be dead, and start descending on the crew. Not a bad cliffhanger.

This is more of a plot summary than a review, though in this, plot seems to be all. It’s tightly-written and so far enjoyable.

view from the panopticon- survival

9-8-06 "Survival"

Ace: "People don’t just vanish."
The Doctor: "You did."

I probably should have saved this for the end, since, in a way, it is the end—or was, for a long time. It’s the last TV serial of Doctor Who broadcast before an absence of sixteen years (and let’s all have a big laugh about the ironic title). I’d forgotten how much I liked this. It’s really quite a good story, for the first two episodes . . . the third one is something of an anti-climax and leaves us with a lot of loose ends, even if the series was to go on from this point.

The way this story opens reminds me so much of "Father’s Day," down to the Reaper-vision (in this case, Kitling-vision) that I’d be really surprised if Paul Cornell wasn’t influenced by it. One very nice thing about this story is that it takes place almost entirely outside, and seeing the streets of Perivale (which, I understand, is in West London) is almost as refreshing as the brutal landscape of the Cheetah People planet. I think by this time the show had gone to video-tape, and it shows in the clearer, less stilted picture as well as the ability to film more places. Humans getting hunted by aliens is not a new concept, but when combined with the cat angle, the Master, and the ‘sploding planet, I think it’s quite cool.

Though the first episode is rather heavy on Sergeant Patterson, there are some nice touches that say to me that Rona Munro is a clever writer. The tone of it is both eerie and light-hearted, bouncing between the people of the town getting kidnapped and the Doctor rather ridiculously sitting around trying to lure cats with canned food. Speaking of which, the entire scene with the store employees is quite good. It’s written to sound casual while relaying a lot of information about the tone, and filmically it’s quite good, too. I think it’s great that the two store keepers argue about cat food brands and then "an aftershave ad," leaving the Doctor to exclaim, "cheese, ah yes." Finally, the story the one store keeper tells the other about lions and running shoes works quite well. Was it intentional to get the "keep the rubbish off the streets" in one of shots? If so, it was clever. There’s even a poster for CATS. After Ace’s friend said, "He’s dead or gone to Birmingham," I thought for sure they were going to do the "aren’t they the same thing?" pot shot. Alas. (Not that I have anything against Birmingham!)

Speaking of Sergeant Patterson, he belongs to the brand of tiresome characters who are very macho and by-the-book and tend to get in the Doctor’s way (which he does, a lot!). Julian Holloway doesn’t really bring anything special to the part, and he’s even ungrateful when the Doctor and Ace bring him safely back to Perivale ("I had a blackout"). But I don’t think he’s malicious, and I don’t think he should have gotten killed by Midge. He even gets a nice pot shot off at the Doctor, "You’re not in the best of shape yourself" (au contraire. The Doctor gets to juggle, ride a horse, climb on narrow things, etc.). As for the other supporting characters . . . well, really, do any of them bear mentioning? They fulfill their roles of running around and being killed or riding around in hot, heavy Cheetah costumes quite adequately.

The main thing that lessens the strength of the third episode is its reliance on Midge. Will Barton is just not up to the task of making such a role believable. Part of the problem is the absurdness of the already testosterone-soaked gym rats following him around on a motorcycle (I thought we’d had done with the motorcycle in "Delta and the Bannermen") while he dresses like someone who should have been at the Tylers’ wedding. That the Master relies upon him to get off the planet is understandable; why he continues to use him back on Earth doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The entire confrontation on Horseden Hill is kind of rubbishy, though it gives Sophie Aldred a chance to cry and does create a nice scene with her and Karra (so the Cheetah People were once humanoid?).

The Doctor has changed a lot since "Time and the Rani" (as he should!). I love that he tells Patterson, "oh, do shut up." It’s also somewhat his fault that Ace gets captured in the first place because she tries to talk to him, and he’d rather obsess over cat food: "Quiet, Ace, I’m concentrating." His attempts to keep everyone calm (last seen by me in "Frontios") are thwarted again as everyone goes running around the Cheetah People planet despite his exhortations to the contrary. I love that when Ace asks, "How long have I been away?" he says, "You’ve been away as long as you think you have." That’s a very Seventh Doctor answer. There are some nice moments with Ace, when he pulls her away from the primitive pull of the planet, and the disgust on Sylvester McCoy’s face when the Master is communing with his more animalistic side speaks volumes. I also like when Patterson says, "I wouldn’t want to be that [meaning Ace’s] age again, would you?" the Doctor replies, darkly, "I can’t remember—it was too long ago." There’s only a little of the shouting-overacting going on, when he blusters after Ace, "I’ll find you!" and the "if we fight like animals, we die like animals!!" speech at the end. Though the sentiment is admirable, and I like to see the Doctor being almost pushed over the edge of animalism. Oh, and his last speech—‘Somewhere out there . . ."—is one of my absolute favorites from the program, and a more than adequate way to say goodbye to Doctor Who as we knew it.

I don’t know that much about Ace, because I’ve never seen "Dragonfire" and only saw "Ghost Light" partway through (I hated it at the time, but I’m almost convinced to buy the DVD and try again). But what I do know has made me respect and like her, though I wish we could have seen her character arc continue after this. I might even venture to say she’s one of my favorite companions. I don’t like the fact that she’s obsessed with explosives, but I like that she can take care of herself, and her relationship with the Doctor is one of those deep friendships that I like to see on the show. Still, like Rose, she’s a typical teenager in a lot of ways. When Patterson recognizes her, she feigns ignorance—"The police let you off with a warning." This story shows off her determination and physical toughness (she convinces the otherwise terrified Perivalians on the planet to try to fight back against the Cheetahs), while showing something in her I’m not sure we’ve seen before—compassion. The connection to Karra is a strange one, but I think even before the planet begins to pull on her, Ace pulls the injured creature of out of the water where it could drown. Unfortunately, like most companions, she has to fall down while running. Ah well. Ace can also be quite funny. "Do you know any nice people?" she asks the Doctor, after he describes the Master. She also says that in open combat, "you’d [the Doctor] wipe the floor with him [the Master]." Oh! I never talk about Ace’s outfits, do I? Well, at least she’s not wearing high heels. When Sophie Aldred’s wearing her bulky coat, you don’t really get the notion that she’s particularly good-looking; however, without it, I understand what John Sessions was getting at when he prank-called Sylvester McCoy and called Ace "dishy."

To tell you the truth, the reason I decided to watch this instead of "Arc of Infinity" (which I wanted to watch because a) it has Colin Baker in The Maxil Show, b) it’s in Amsterdam) or another Tom Baker, was because last night I had a dream about Anthony Ainley! Which was very odd. In any case, I’ve only seen one Delgado story so Ainley is the Master I’m most familiar with, and while I think he tends to get a little ridiculous in "Planet of Fire" and "Mark of the Rani" (which I don’t think was his fault per se), I think the Master is well-used here. First of all, he’s ditched the black velvet outfit for something a little more in line with the suit he was seen in during "Planet of Fire," and it’s quite good, almost African big-game hunter-like, no doubt intentionally so. (Kudos to Ken Trew, costume designer.) I also think it isn’t terribly obvious that it’s the Master controlling the Kitlings, by clever use of shadow, until the end of the first episode. What’s really scary about the Master this time around is that if he, a twisted Time Lord but a Time Lord nonetheless, can succumb to the planet, where’s the hope for the Doctor, for Ace, for the rest of us? Will we all be vulnerable to our grosser animal instincts or will we, like the Doctor, be able to control them? Previously the Master’s seemed a little pathetic; when he insists, "I control them [the Cheetah People]," I don’t know that he believes that any more than we do. Ainley convinces in this respect by going all out in the service of appearing insane: "This place bewitches you." And for once, his obsessive revenge on the Doctor makes sense: if he’s deteriorating mentally, his baser instincts are bound to come out. So, will the Master be back in the new series? I sincerely hope so. Terrance Dicks in The Eight Doctors explained how the Master eased the effects of the planet while at the same time becoming the snake-thing we see in the telemovie. I think most people underrate the Eric Roberts Master; I find him quite hilarious. But what kind of new Master would we see? I have no idea.

From the first serial, "Unearthly Child," a lot has been made about coming home or finding home in Doctor Who. When Ace comes home to the "boredom capital of the world," it’s an interesting observation that most of her friends have disappeared. It’s funny, to me, how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The great companion experiment of the early 1980s, three companions and the Doctor, worked for awhile and then fizzled out, leaving us with the Peri/Sixth Doctor partnership and the Ace/Seventh Doctor partnership. The one-companion formula seems to be the prevailing one now and for the foreseeable future (watch me eat my words later). The reason I mention it is because Ace in some ways resembles Rose (or the other way around). When Sergeant Patterson tells Ace, "Your mum had you listed as a missing person . . . it would have only taken ten pence to make a call," it’s easy to see the connection. In 1989, Doctor Who was prepared to explore the real-world consequences of companions—though Ace is quite a bit less attached to her family than Rose is.

I can see that the program had at least some money while filming this. First of all, the horses must have cost, and they’ve got trained riders. Filming and props for the Cheetah People planet weren’t run of the mill, either. I guess if Sabrina the Teenage Witch can get away with fake-looking black cats, I won’t be too hard on the puppet or animatronic close-ups for the black cats (not to mention the cat "carcasses" killed by the Kitlings). I’m surprised at how much I like the music, provided by Dominic Glynn. There’s a guitar riff that sounds suspiciously like it belongs in Jesus Christ Superstar, but since I am too fond of ALW anyway, it works for me. There are also some cues that sound like Japanese flutes, and some acoustic guitar that belongs in Seville in "The Two Doctors." Unusual, and quite a bit different from the synthesizer madness of "Time and the Rani."