Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Big Bang

26/6/10 “The Big Bang”
The Doctor: Your girlfriend isn’t more important than the entire universe.

The finale to series 5 (or whatever you want to call it) had the distinction of feeling satisfying yet leaving lots of tantalizing questions unanswered; giving some genuine joyful moments; being small and self-contained and yet very large and complicated in scope. It was chronologically complex yet there was emotion within it, and I think it did review the heart of what makes the Doctor our hero. To do that, though, it had to penetrate our darkest fears. The Vast Toffee, as we have seen, is good at doing that.

After the cliffhanger, we were told to fast forward 1, 894 years to young Amelia Pond in her strange house, praying to Santa Claus at Easter. Instead of being interrupted by the Doctor’s appearance, though, she only noted a gust of wind. Her aunt Sharon criticizes her for drawing a nightscape with stars; only the moon and sun are left in this post-Pandorica timeline. “You know this is all just a story.” Aunt Sharon has the psychiatrist over (at first I wondered if Amy had two aunts, or what was going on, but after being informed who she was by the brother of the actress who played her, it nominally made sense!). “We don’t want her joining these star cults . . .” Very “Silence in the Library,” which is as much a recognition of a theme or a motif as it might be a criticism. A bit like Harry Potter and his first OWL, Amelia receives a flyer passed through the letter slot by a Doctor-ish figure that talks about the Pandorica at an exhibition. It has a Post It with the Doctor’s handwriting in red pen (eagle-eyed viewers will remember these details from “The Lodger”) saying, “Come along, Pond.”

Aunt Sharon takes Amelia to the National Museum (a nice way of acknowledging that it’s the National Museum of Wales that has shown up a lot in locations this series). Among the exhibits are stone Daleks (I think I would have been more shocked and confused had Doctor Who Magazine not spoiled it for me. Finally Amelia sees the Pandorica—someone swipes her drink from behind her—and on the stone is another Post It saying, “Stick around, Pond.” This is a very appealing proposition for kids, I think—secret, mysterious messages meant just for you, encouraging you to stay behind in the cool but slightly spooky atmosphere of a museum . . . I once wondered what Donna did for the hours she spent waiting in the loo during “Partners in Crime”—it resulted in fan fic, and it’s very tempting again to see this spirit replicated in Amelia’s wait. For two seconds I was reminded of “Ghost Light” as the museum seemed to come alive. Amelia tripped over some stuffed penguins and then had the rather astonishing surprise of seeing Amy in the Pandorica greeting her, “Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated.” And all before the opening credits. That’s concise writing and editing!

Then we go back to where we left off, with Auton Rory cradling dead Amy on the Roman field in 102 AD. Rory’s sad little musings might help people to recall what’s going on, but he also said, “Now we’ve never been born. Twice, in my case. . . . You would have laughed at that. . . . I could do with a ridiculous miracle right now.” Little impish flashes of the Doctor, wearing a fez and carrying a mop, interrupt his musings. The Doctor hands him the sonic screwdriver and tells him to get him out of the Pandorica. “Just point and press.” “How do you do that?” The Doctor’s Puck-like behavior makes me recall the “goblin/trickster/warrior” speech from the previous episode, but that doesn’t wash with the part about being imprisoned by a good wizard. Rory dutifully goes to the Pandorica and lets the Doctor out. “You gave me this,” he says. The Doctor still has the screwdriver, though—yet when the two screwdrivers touch, they short themselves out. “Me from the future,” says the Doctor happily. “I’ve got a future, that’s nice.”

Looking around them, they find the Underhenge littered with ash-like statues. “History has collapsed. These are like after-images—fossils in time.” Not sure I buy this, but it’s very picturesque! As for why the Doctor and Rory haven’t been affected by the end of all things, “We’re just the last life to go out.” Rory shows the Doctor Amy’s corpse and wonders if she can be brought back. “You’re a Nestene duplicate.” “But I’m Rory now!” The Doctor seems quite disaffected. “Probably [I could bring her back], if I had the time.” It struck me, upon watching “The Lodger” for the second time, that when the Doctor used reverse psychology to belittle and then goad Sophie, the First Doctor (and perhaps the Seventh) would have just stopped with the cruelty. The Eleventh Doctor’s pattern of cruelty then kindness does seem age-appropriate. Anyway, he has done the same thing here, goading Rory into fury (and getting a punch in the process). “I had to be sure.” Amy’s latent memories of Rory brought back “not just your face but your heart and soul.” They put Amy into the Pandorica. “She’s MOSTLY dead.” A bit Princess Bride? :-D Not sure I buy that the Pandorica can bring Amy back to life any more than I buy that the TARDIS can bring Grace and Chang Lee back . . . any more than I buy the fact the Doctor can “leave her a message for when she wakes” by pressing her forehead! Rory wants to know whether Amy would be safer in the Pandorica if he was guarding her. The Doctor quibbles but eventually agrees that she would. “You’d be conscious every second.” “How could I leave her?”

The Doctor has River’s vortex manipulator so he’s off to make the jumps into the future that enable him to do what we saw in the first few minutes. Moffat has streaks of pure romanticism that surface from time to time; Rory’s “long wait” is one of them. In the Pandorica exhibit, the looped film says, “Throughout 200 years, the Centurion was there, guarding it.” Up until 1941 during the Blitz. The Pandorica survived but since that was the last time the Centurion was seen, “he perished in the fires that night.” The Doctor is sprinting around, leaving his messages for Amelia . . . then Amy and Amelia meeting. Again, really not sure I buy the fact that they can exist at the same time and be able to touch each other and not explode. Yet . . . whatever. “Come along, Ponds,” says the Doctor, taking both Amelias. They are stopped by a stone Dalek coming to life. Again, stretching credulity, but I suppose you needed a simple menace for this sequence, so the Dalek would do. Plus, it’s cool to see Auton vs Dalek when the night watchman shows up . . . and it’s Rory the Auton! “Two thousand years I waited for you!” Very sweet, very romantic reunion.

The Doctor doesn’t understand how Amelia knew to come to the exhibition, so he quickly grabs a flyer to drop off at her letter slot in the near-past, etc. He also swipes the drink from her and returns it to her in the future. “There you go, have a drink.” The Doctor picks up a fez and a mop, thus knowing when to go to the past to give Rory the screwdriver. The fez is ixnayed. Everyone is curious about the Doctor’s short time hops. “Vortex manipulator—very bad for you. I’m trying to give it up.” A future fez-less Doctor next rolls down the steps. “Me from the future . . . yes, yes, of course he’s dead.” This is ominous (and also hard to believe, again!) but the Doctor doesn’t pause and he, Amelia, Amy, and Rory continue their climb to the roof of the museum. I do a little dance because I remember scaffolding going up at the Guildhall in Swansea and having a vague feeling about it being Doctor Who-related but only now do I seem to be vindicated. Anyway, on the roof they see the “Sun” exploding. “It’s the TARDIS . . . that’s what’s been keeping the Earth warm.”

The Doctor thus remembers that River was in the TARDIS and that the TARDIS must have put her in a time loop to keep her alive, at the eye of the storm. “Hi honey, I’m home,” he says, as he rescues her from the time loop and drops her off on the roof with the others. “I dated a Nestene duplicate once,” she says, which sounds very Captain Jack to me. “I wear a fez now,” says the Doctor, though Amy and River take great pleasure in disintegrating the fez. But how will they save the universe? “In theory you could extrapolate the entire universe” based on Amy’s memories and do a “reboot.” “One spark is all we need for the Big Bang 2.” Unfortunately, that’s when the stone Dalek shoots him (dead?). There’s a sequence with River and a gun and the Dalek which is a bit too drawn out for me. “It died,” she tells them later.

In the confusion, the Doctor has managed to crawl back into the Pandorica. “Reality’s collapsing.” By flying the Pandorica into the TARDIS, they can broadcast all the memory cells to all time zones at the same moment. But in return, the Doctor will be forgotten and will never have existed. This, of course, was an ultimate danger hinted at in “Flesh and Stone,” but it’s a pathos-tinged corollary to the fact the Doctor so often goes around saving people who never even knew he was there. “We all wake up where we ought to be,” but he’ll be “trapped in the nether space.” For a moment, I wondered if this was going to be a reboot on the scale that we saw a couple of time in the EDAs. River tells Amy that the Doctor wants to see her before he goes. “He doesn’t know me yet—now he never will.” Very sad!

The Doctor confesses to Amy what he was going to tell her last episode, why he took her with him. “Amy Pond, all alone . . . nothing is ever forgotten.” In exchange for forgetting the Doctor, Amy can remember the parents that were sucked into the crack and forgotten, before “The Eleventh Hour” even started. “You brought Rory back, you can bring them back, too.” There’s a moment of terrific, poignant sadness as the Doctor says, “You won’t need your imaginary friend anymore.”

He flies off in the Pandorica into the TARDIS explosion—yet wakes up on the floor of the TARDIS. “I escaped, then. . . . I can buy a fez.” However, realizing he’s in the TARDIS at the same time as an unseen adventure of his and Amy’s in “Florida in Space,” he thinks he’s “rewinding my time stream.” He’s going to disappear after he goes back to the beginning, when he first met Amy. “Goodbye, Doctor.” I have to say bravo to the eagle-eyed viewers who can feel very proud of themselves for noticing the Doctor’s subtle change of outfit in “Flesh and Stone”—that second speech was more desperate in tone for a reason, as it was the post-Pandorica-into-the-TARDIS timeline. Finally the Doctor goes back to “Amelia’s house when she was seven.” He’s at her bedside. “When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad. . . . We’re all stories in the end.” This is very sad and reminds me of the Second Doctor’s speech to Victoria, about his family living in his memories. The Doctor is disappointed he didn’t get a chance to tell Amy about how he acquired his blue box. “It was the best. I borrowed it, I was always going to take it back.” All his adventures will still be there “in her dreams.” He retreats before she wakes, and walks into the crack before the very beginning . . . “I don’t belong here anymore.”

Granted, this is all kind of a reversal of Human Nature, but to me, it also has more worldly parallels. While Doctor Who was off the air and unpopular, in a way the Doctor only lived on in the minds of the fans who loved it so much, it stayed flesh and blood to them. It’s the same kind of idea about faith and the strength of stories that gave us Floaty Messiah Doctor in “The Last of the Time Lords,” but a bit more personal and subtle. It’s poignant and rather affecting. When Amy awakes in the newly-rewritten 2010 on her wedding day, she cries, “You’re my mum!” even though it quickly dawns on her that she’s had her mum since, well, the day she was born. “And you’re my tiny little dad!” Everyone is preparing for the wedding, of course; yet Amy feels there’s something important she’s forgotten. She asks if Rory feels the same way. “Are you just saying yes because you’re scared of me?”

At the wedding, Amy receives a blank TARDIS book from River and starts crying. “Someone left it for you . . . it’s blank.” Why is she crying? “Because you’re happy, probably.” “No, I’m sad! Why am I sad?” Rory’s a little at a loss to answer this! Then Amy remembers and shouts, “I remember you!” Then the Doctor arrives in his “brand new ancient blue box.” “How did we forget the Doctor?” asks Rory. The Doctor pops out of the TARDIS dressed in very smart top hat and tails. “I’m Amy’s imaginary friend.” He says hello to the “brand new Mr. Pond.” “I only came for the dancing.” Again, I think of Cornell and his Christmas short stories, “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years” and “Deep and Dreamless Sleep,” for the way the Doctor is triumphant and joyously part of the proceedings, yet someone just a bit removed. “The boy who waited,” he says of Rory.

Outside on the way to the TARDIS, he hands River her diary. “You always dance at weddings,” she says. “I didn’t peek,” he replies. “Are you married?” he asks her. “Are you asking?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Was that a yes or yes?” “You’re going to find out very soon now.” (Well, we hope so.) Rory and Amy run out and want to join them in the TARDIS. Strangely, despite Rory’s devotion, Amy still seems to want to get into the Doctor’s pants. “It’s my wedding.” “OUR wedding!” “Space and time isn’t safe . . . the silence is still out there.” And first, “an Egyptian goddess is on the loose in the Orient Express . . . in space.” “I think it’s goodbye.” And it’s goodbye to Leadworth as they all leave in the TARDIS until Christmas. It’ll be a very interesting mix of companions now.

More discerning viewers than I will have a more exhaustive list, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Who was controlling the TARDIS and caused it to explode and is presumably the voice saying “Silence will fall”? Is it the same person who tried to create their own time machine in “The Lodger”? What will become of the Silurians in 3010? Is the Doctor now in his first incarnation again or still on eleven? I’m sure all these questions will be eventually answered, years down the road.

The Pandorica Opens

19/6/10 “The Pandorica Opens”
Impossible things just happen.” –The Doctor

I feel a bit of pity for anyone who decided now was the time to start watching Doctor Who, as they might have been alienated by the first few minutes. Nevertheless, for those who have been following it week by week, it was a nice salute to the entire season and a reminder that up there, the Vast Toffee has it all planned out. Going in chronological order, it starts off with Vincent van Gogh in 1890 having a fit and his Doctor and landlady (?) examining his latest ghastly work. “He’s very ill.” “It’s even worse than his usual rubbish.” The master of suspense, the Vast Toffee keeps us guessing about the painting for the next ten minutes or so. Churchill sees it in 1941—“You’re not supposed to understand it.” He phones up the Time Vortex (interesting, that!) and gets River Song, in prison, in the Stormcage Facility 5145. He’s expecting the Doctor. “You’re phoning the Time Vortex—it doesn’t always work.” In any case, she learns about the painting and uses her Poison Ivy-esque lipstick to escape. She ends up in the Royal Collection, where Queen Elizabeth from “The Beast Below” wonders why she’s there to steal a painting. Four stories have been alluded to in very quick succession, and it’s neatly done.

Maldovarium 5145 (which looks a bit like the Firefly universe, down to River’s exquisite gown) is where she blackmails—well, it looks like the Duke of Manhattan—for a Vortex Manipulator (from the hand of a “handsome Time Agent,” but presumably not Jack unless he gets his arm chopped off in the next series of Torchwood). Presumably she next goes to Planet 1 and graffitis the “oldest cliff face in the universe” with “Hello Sweetie” and some coordinates, as that’s where Amy and the Doctor next go and see the inscription. (The TARDIS being able to translate anything is not strictly true. It didn’t work in “The Impossible Planet.”) The Doctor and Amy follow the coordinates to Earth 102 AD. They see a Roman camp, and Amy announces it was her “favorite topic at school.” A soldier then hails the Doctor as Caesar and brings him to Cleopatra (as one of the soldiers later points out, Cleopatra VII—if that’s the one they mean—should have been long, long dead at this point. I suppose it’s a cute way of referencing things like the Doctor’s conversation in Ghosts of India where Donna wonders how he knows about the interior of Cleopatra’s bed chamber).

Cleopatra is, indeed, River Song, and after showing the Doctor and Amy Vincent’s painting, they ride off to Stonehenge (presumably). (The painting shows the TARDIS exploding in different directions—“it might not be that literal” says River.) It seems that the events of “Time of the Angels” are in River’s future, though that’s quite confusing—hopefully it will be explained a bit more in the finale. In any case, having recently seen “The War Games,” the horseback riding and Roman legions seem like a nice homage (like was said at the Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who launch, Romans are much more the trendy civilization to be seen in Doctor Who; the Greeks haven’t been glimpsed since “The Horns of Nimon”). At the base of Stonehenge is the Pandorica, “a box—a cage—a prison,” a myth and legend and “not real” according to the Doctor. Descending into a tomb-like atmosphere provided Indiana Jones shorthand for suspense (and I did think the Cybermen clips were linked to this tomb bit, for obvious reasons). Like the whole season, we’re left wondering if this is “more than just a fairy tale.”

According to the stories, a “goblin/trickster/warrior—the most feared being in all the cosmos” was trapped “by a good wizard.” Anyone with the McCoy era burned into their brain will think the good wizard was the Doctor (and River even makes the connection), but the Doctor has been known by all the above, so it’s very ambiguous. Is he the villain, the victim, the destroyer, the creator? Amy speculates on the name “Pandorica,” saying it sounds an awful lot like the story of Pandora, which was one of her favorites as a child (details about who Pandora was and hope being left in the box, etc, are not mentioned). Is Amy Pandora? She didn’t open the TARDIS in “The Eleventh Hour,” if memory serves correctly; the Doctor climbed out. The Doctor notices the coincidence, but says, “unless you’re busy, then you ignore coincidence” (similar to what he said in “Boom Town” about Bad Wolf). With Stonehenge as big transmitters telling people to go away, the Doctor wonders who has converged on them. There are Daleks, and Cybermen, and a long list of old enemies—I noted Zygons and Draconians among them. The Doctor wonders how they are going to defeat so many Daleks, bets on the element of surprise, but then talks sense—“that would be a fairly short surprise!” “You have to run,” says River. “Run where?” “Fight, how?!”

The Doctor, rather bafflingly, puts his faith in the contingent of Roman soldiers. He gets “a volunteer” after River goes up to talk to them. I didn’t predict anything else correctly, but I knew the volunteer must be Rory. Amy has decided to ask the Doctor about the diamond ring she found in his pocket earlier. “If something can be remembered,” he says, “it can come back.” This is a nice but elusive statement. There’s a fun bit of Cybermen nonsense—a broken-off arm shooting at the Doctor and Amy and finally electrocuting the Doctor; Amy grappling with a scary Cyberman head that ejects its human skull at her and then tries to eat her with its neck wires/spinal cord and then spits a dart at her to “assimilate her.” The Cybermen has seen a version of Sleepy Hollow and puts its head back on its body. Amy is only saved by Rory the Roman and his gladius (that’s sword-thing to you).

Amy faints before Rory can say anything, but the Doctor, in a Doctor-ish manner, ignores Rory’s reappearance for a bit. “How do you do?” he finally manages. Of all things for Rory to come back as, a Roman soldier is quite satisfying, IMHO. He seems a lot more assured in this guise, and I like him tons more. “How can you be here?” the Doctor asks. “I don’t know.” The Pandorica itself sort of resembles Aztec calendars. Meanwhile, overhead all alien baddies ever are converging in their pretty space ships to confound (yet the Romans don’t seem too confounded). The Doctor makes a Doctor-ish speech to them on top of a stone, shouting at the darkness. It seems a victory for the Doctor and his lack of weapons, his ability to talk people down (the bad-ass-ness of it witnessed in “The Eleventh Hour”). “Something else I don’t have . . . anything to lose!” (This isn’t strictly true! River, Amy, Rory, the TARDIS!!) “Do the smart thing—let somebody else try first.”

Having seemingly successfully driven off the hordes, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory mill around, the Doctor sends River to retrieve the TARDIS. Amy doesn’t remember Rory. “How can she not remember me?” The Doctor explains what happened in “Cold Blood,” how Rory was erased from time, and quite sensibly wants to know what happened from Rory’s perspective. He remembers dying and then woke up, “head full of Roman stuff.” (The fan fic possibilities are endless.) “I thought you’d come back for me,” Rory says with pathos, a bit reminiscent of Captain Jack. “Why am I here?” asks Rory. The Doctor, looking on the bright side, declares it a miracle (with a little hint of “Everybody lives!”).

River is having trouble with the TARDIS and can’t seem to move anywhere other than 26/6/2010. (I love that the TARDIS uses the European dating system!!) She discovers a Roman book where everything is just as it appears in 102 AD (or wherever they really are), discovers Amy’s Legend of Pandora book (alongside the Raggedy Doctor and Amy dolls), and things start to look like Sally Sparrow and her 17 DVDs. Great fodder for my Unsilent Library essay—“they’re all in a book.” She phones up the Doctor at the Pandorica, relaying this information—“Something’s using memories.” Realizing the Romans aren’t garden-variety Romans, she says, “They actually believe their own cover story.” With “The War Games” still in mind, I was thrown off the scent (perhaps intentionally) and wondered if they were like the brainwashed soldiers in the different zones in the War Games. “They used Amy to get close to you.” Massive conspiracies within conspiracies as the Roman start acting very machine-like and I write in my notebook, “Autons?”

They are Autons, which Rory realizes. Unfortunately, he’s got Amy in his arms, who’s crying, because she’s remembered who he is, because she’s remembered the ring (or so she says—I think it’s something else). “Amy, you’ve got to run!” Rory snaps, reverting to Auton-consciousness. That was a great twist, I thought, one I didn’t see coming. Rory the Auton! Surely that means the real Rory is actually gone? Where could the baddies get the memories of Rory if he’d never existed? What is going on? The Doctor would like to know, too, as, like Cyrano de Bergerac (if a little more literally), he’s surrounded by “all his old enemies” (and strangely, the Judoon). River can’t get out of the TARDIS and can’t get out of the time zone. Rory the Auton accidentally shoots Amy (“there are crocodiles”) but I’m afraid it doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional impact because with Rory in and out of the story, it’s easy to believe Amy will be back, or at least explained as something other than what she is. Perhaps, as has been suggested, it’s all still a dream from “Amy’s Choice”? Or maybe the whole series has been a dream of some sort? In any case, I’m no good at making predictions so I have none to make.

I was wracking my brains trying to figure out what was the Pandorica and the only answer I could think of was the Doctor! So it’s appropriate that “an alliance” of his enemies (rather like a Roger Langridge comic) seal him in some kind of torture chamber (though they all say it’s just to prevent him from using the TARDIS to create the crack and destroy the universe). It feels a bit like poor Eight destroying Gallifrey in The Gallifrey Chronicles . . . and there’s no trailer for next time, so let’s see them get out of that one!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Lodger (SPOILER)

12/6/10 “The Lodger
They call me the Doctor. I don’t know why. I call me the Doctor, too. –The Doctor

I was familiar with the Gareth Roberts comic of the same name from Doctor Who Magazine because I read it, but I have to admit the title (because of its Ripper association in my mind) had a sinister ring. I seem to be the only one who didn’t like “Vincent and the Doctor,” so while in general I am a Gareth Roberts fan, I was prepared to go either way on this. I don’t know how it would stand up to repeated viewings, but in the first instance it was charming, funny, very natural, and showed (I think) the spark that the producers saw in Matt Smith when they cast him and the rest of us, feeling loyal, trusted their judgment but ultimately weren’t quite sure. Production-wise, it must have been a popular episode because the settings are few (the TARDIS, the residential building, the park, the call centre), the cast list quite small (in general, this season has focused on fewer characters with intensity), and the wheeze so tremendously simple. Yet, I find it all works well.

Very little has carried over, story-wise, from the comic, other than the general premise (the Doctor sharing a flat with an ordinary bloke, trying to be ordinary but just being terrific and weird and causing the normal bloke much angst). The sci fi element is highly creepy but in the end, rather easily defeatable (and I don’t mind that). In the comic, poor, underused Mickey was the ordinary bloke, who had emotional baggage of his own; in the episode, he was intensely likeable Craig. The setting is nominally Colchester (though a street in Cardiff serves the purpose just as well). There’s a very short introduction in which Star Wars¬-like music plays, the Doctor gets dumped onto the turf, and “One day later,” the quiet block of residential houses where the Doctor landed conceals a sinister secret. A passing nerd hears from the intercom, “I need your help, there’s been an accident.” I think it’s both optimistic and depressing that people are shown to stop to help. It means the inevitable: there are still good people willing to stop and help strangers, but their concern being rewarded by death (and a mildew stain on the ceiling) is quite depressing. (Still, I suppose, dozens of people could have walked away from the plea for help, we just don’t see them onscreen because the pacing in this story is impeccable.)

Psycho music and flickering lights (all rather similar in mood to “The Eleventh Hour”) see the nerd to his doom as he goes up the flight of stairs at number 79. As he disappears, Sophie, Craig’s “friend who’s a girl,” uses her set of keys to come into his flat and greets him. “Who lives there again?” They’re in for a night of “pizza, booze, and telly” (admittedly, if you hadn’t been watching the promo material, you wouldn’t up to this point know who Sophie is). “That’s your mission in life: find me a man,” Sophie says, dispelling all confusion on that point (and letting us know that Craig is looking for a flatmate). I wonder if there’s any significance to the things on Craig’s fridge (since later the crack appears behind the fridge): there’s a flyer for a Van Gogh exhibition, a post box magnet, a donut (I think) and the old skool magnetic letters in rainbow shades. (Words, words, words.) When Sophie is reluctantly called away, the buzzer rings and Craig, seeing it as his chance to tell her how he feels about her, charges toward the door. “I love you!” he cries, to the amused Doctor who is on his doorstep. “That’s good, because I’m your new lodger.”

The Doctor, in his imitable style, barges in on Craig. He isn’t a “young professional,” he’s an “ancient amateur.” This is the first of a long string of amusing one-liners in rapid-fire fashion. He hands Craig a brown carrier bag of money (“have some rent. Don’t spend it all on sweets—unless you like sweets. I like sweets”). The Doctor gives Craig a hilariously effete pair of kisses—“that’s how we greet these days?” Craig, while not entirely agreeing, allows the Doctor to the flat including “his” room. In order to credentials, he shows his NHS and NI numbers and references (including one from the Archbishop of Canterbury). Somewhat reluctantly, Craig agrees. He starts telling the Doctor about his life working at a call centre, how he has a management plan for it but because he just mans the phones he’s not allowed any input. “Why am I telling you all this?” he sputters. “I have one of those faces,” the Doctor says. Ha! “Has anyone ever told you you’re a bit weird?” In response, the Doctor is faintly critical of Craig’s lifestyle—he doesn’t want to go on holiday, move anywhere, do much out of the ordinary. “You’re starting to look like it [the sofa].” After the Doctor has whipped up Craig an unlikely but delicious meal, the Doctor starts questioning him about the flat.

Then Craig tells him, “We have an arrangement.” The Doctor doesn’t get this (it’s wonderful to have the Doctor so delightfully obtuse in such matters, it tallies with his refusal of Amy earlier). “You know, if you want to bring a girlfriend or . . . boyfriend around . . .” The Doctor finally thinks of a way to make this plain, by shouting, “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!” LOL. He retreats to his room while Craig phones up Sophie. “What if he’s a dealer?” Sophie wonders, putting the Doctor’s strange lack of name together with the sack of disposable income. Meanwhile, the Doctor is talking to Amy on an earpiece. It’s very strange, but we usually get a “Doctor-lite” story round about here in the lineup, and this is actually the “companion-lite” story—Craig has become the companion, in a sense, and Amy isn’t really missed, I find (then again, I’m not lusting over her so perhaps it is worth grounding the story and giving some urgency to it by cutting back and forth with her in the TARDIS). The thing’s falling down around her, and the Doctor has gone down to Earth to try to fix whatever’s interfering with the TARDIS and causing such a bad reaction. It’s “locked in a materialization loop.” Craig, however, can’t hear any of this conversation—“anyone listening would hear absolute gibberish”—and because Craig already thinks the Doctor’s weird, he doesn’t mind. The Doctor asks Amy for advice on passing as a human being. “You’re just going to be snide,” he snaps when Amy just makes fun of him. Then there’s a “localized time loop” after the Doctor has tried to defend the bow tie. So, there are problems.

The next morning, the Doctor is merrily in the shower, recalling Pertwee in “Spearhead from Space” for all intents and purposes. “How long are you going to be in there?” asks a perturbed Craig. In his wonderment, Craig starts up the stairs to the sinister flat above. The Doctor catches him after falling down in the bathroom and grabbing the curtain, throwing a towel around himself, and clutching Craig’s electric toothbrush instead of the sonic screwdriver, but Craig is all right and more than a little embarrassed by the Doctor’s behavior. It’s compounded when a confused Sophie shows up. This is a very funny sequence (for me it would have been distracting had it been Tennant, but it’s just slapstick and silly and yay!). “You didn’t tell me he was gorgeous,” Sophie mutters.

Craig is inviting the Doctor to come along with him and Sophie to a “pub league,” ie where pub friends play football. It suddenly dawned on me why this episode was in the running at the time it was: it’s the World Cup, stupid. But as an idea, it works wonderfully. I was just thinking, in the midst of British World Cup mania, you wouldn’t catch Hartnell playing football. Yet with Matt Smith, who as we all know used to play football, the Doctor completely solidifies his place as a football-obsessed child’s hero, and loses no credibility for the Rest of Us, because it’s perfectly in keeping with the story (from what I recall of the comic, the Doctor played football in that as well). The idea, of course, is that poor Craig gets shown up because the lackadaisical Doctor is brilliant at “footie,” has captured the accolades of Craig’s friends and sympathy of Sophie, and Craig now feels bits of his life being stolen away by the Doctor who, despite himself, he likes. Rough.

There’s a wonderful moment as one of Craig’s friends wants the Doctor to “annihilate” the other team next time, which the Doctor misinterprets and refuses with towering anti-violent zeal! As the Doctor works with Amy to secure the TARDIS, Craig asks for some alone time with Sophie. They are too British and too polite to insist the Doctor leaves them be. So the Doctor makes conversation with Sophie and finds out her secret dream is to work with animals at an orangutan sanctuary. “You’re going to stay secure and a little bit miserable for the rest of your life?” The Doctor may be sincere in this, but they interpret it as reverse psychology. “Are you going to live with monkeys now?” Sophie has renewed direction, qualifications or not, but Craig is sad about losing his friend (and love of his life). He makes the mistake of touching the mildew stain from upstairs and gets very sick. The Doctor brings him breakfast—“that’s . . . normal”—and saves his life the next morning, with a combination of tea and compost! “Got to excite the tannin molecules . . .!” (Tannin does have astringent properties, just one of the many reasons tea is good for you!) There’s a nice tender moment as the Doctor cares for Craig—“you’re important . . .”

Later Craig realizes he’s been in bed ‘til midday, he has an important meeting at work, so he struggles in to the call centre, where the Doctor is doing his job! This is very funny because I read a great Short Trips short story where the Fifth Doctor had an inspired conversation with a call centre telemarketer, and now he’s on the other end of it! He makes a client hold so he can eat a biscuit. “I’ve never worked in a place like this . . . well, I’ve never worked anywhere!” Craig is very upset and takes a peek into the Doctor’s room, which of course is not a room but a homemade . . . well, something like a wibbly wobbly timey wimey detector. Craig tells the Doctor to pack his bags. “What have I done?” “Everybody loves you!” But they’re both missing the point; Sophie, following the sinister plea for help, has gone upstairs and vanished. The Doctor cracks his head on Craig’s, initiating some kind of mind meld (Tennant had a much less comic and more sensual way of doing this!), which gets Craig up to speed but also gives us yet another peek of the previous ten actors to play the part! Where is all this going? The Doctor has gotten “psychic help from a cat” to spy on above stairs. “There is no upstairs,” he tells Craig, who’s been blinded by a perception filter all these months. “The time engine is the flat!”

They race up to save Sophie, see the rather awe-inspiring set for this time/space ship (again, where is this going?), and meet the “emergency crash program,” drawing in human pilots until it finds the right one. It’s the kind of appalling behavior without malice that reminds one of the Clockwork Robots of “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The Doctor quickly sums up for Sophie’s benefit—“I have questions”—and then asks Craig to overcome his fears and try to become the ship’s next candidate. “Concentrate on why you want to stay!” Craig shouts out his love for Sophie, who immediately responds, “I love you, too, you idiot!” “For God’s sake, kiss the girl!” shouts the Doctor, who is echoed by Amy. It works, the ship goes away, they run downstairs, there is no upstairs flat, Craig is amazed that the perception filter caused passersby not to see.

It’s interesting that this story makes being a homebody an acceptable and rightful life-path, while caricatured in people like Mickey and Rory, it’s always seemed the less impressive option (well, because the Doctor ran away from home, for better or worse). Sophie and Craig have well and truly “spoiled their friendship.” There is bittersweetness to the Doctor’s departure after Craig tells him to keep his set of keys, rather like Paul Cornell’s “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years.” And speaking of bittersweet, with the last flourish of time travel, Amy finds in the Doctor’s pocket Rory’s ring, without knowing what it is. I sense we’re on a collision course!

Vincent and the Doctor (SPOILERS)

5/6/10 “Vincent and the Doctor
I know how it will end—it will not end well. –Vincent van Gogh

I was told by my French teacher in 1998 that we were to pronounce “van Gogh” as “van Go” because that was the Dutch pronunciation, while the foofy art world favored pronunciation of “van Goff” was only how the French pronounced it. Whether this is actually the case (see the Wikipedia entry for discussion), the fact that characters in this story persisted in using “van Goff” slightly nettled me, which is how I felt about the episode in general. I was quite looking forward to it, and while I’m pleased to have a historical episode set in France with something of the tone of “The Shakespeare Code,” who would have guessed that Richard Curtis + historical comedy/drama=disaster? Okay, it wasn’t a disaster . . . only a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

The teaser was set in the wheat fields around Arles. I was prepared to be rather impressed that Doctor Who had filmed in the Musée d’Orsay, until I was told it was actually the Millennium Centre. I have fond memories of my trip to the Musée d’Orsay in 1998, which created a nostalgia furthered by the first scenes of the story. The Doctor takes Amy to the Musée d’Orsay in a gentle homage to “City of Death,” with Bill Nighy filling in, after a fashion, for the John Cleese character. I like Bill Nighy, and his character provided a cute, if lightweight, diversion as the Doctor and Amy meandered through the galleries. “Why are you being so nice to me?” asks Amy. “You take me to Arcadia” (presumably before the Fall), “the Trojan Gardens . . .” Something must be up. “I was joking,” she says, with some misgivings. “Why aren’t you?” Of course, the audience recalls Rory’s erasure from last week, so Amy’s poignant ignorance is felt equally by us and the Doctor. Amy is a van Gogh fan, apparently, and in regarding The Church at Auvers, they discover a strange, alien face at the window of the church (churches showing up as settings a lot in recent Doctor Who). The Doctor accosts the Bill Nighy character to find out when the painting was painted, compliments him on his bow tie, and declares, “Art can wait!”

With the benefit of their time machine, the Doctor and Amy are able to go back to 1890, Arles (I presume). I have the feeling that if this was a story from the olden days with four parts, the mystery of the face at the window would have been drawn out longer. Matt Smith’s Doctor does, like his predecessor, seem to demonstrate a proclivity for mad dashing about, so this approach within the new format works. The alley the TARDIS lands in looks suitably Provençal, and the production team has been at pains to recreate the Café Terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles as well as the mode of dress straight out of the Musée l’Arlesienne. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on van Gogh—I studied his life and work superficially in high school—but I have been to Arles, which was probably my favorite city in southern France. With that mind, Richard Curtis has assembled an “impression” (how appropriate) of van Gogh’s life in 1890, which means it isn’t wholly correct (you wouldn’t have drama if it was documentary-style, anyway!). Bedroom in Arles recreated exactly in van Gogh’s bedroom when Amy and the Doctor get there gives real aesthetic value to the story, but I’ve walked past the house where that room is situated, and it’s in the middle of Arles, not in a ramshackle farm cottage on the outskirts—to complain about that is to nitpick, yet I’m almost tempted to argue it does have subtle bearing. In any case, I’m prepared to let minor, minor details like that slide. What did perturb me slightly was the shorthand for letting the audience know van Gogh was isolated and considered eccentric by his neighbors. As far as I know, no one ever stoned him. I understand that establishing van Gogh’s character quickly to younger viewers might have meant not mincing words, but that was just sloppy storytelling, in my opinion.

The tone is right, however, I feel, when the Doctor and Amy meet van Gogh trying to pay for drinks in the Café on the Place du Forum with one of his paintings. The management is unimpressed and, with characteristic pride, van Gogh refuses to accept the Doctor’s offer of a drink. He is, however, more kindly inclined to Amy’s offer to share a bottle of wine. Getting down to talking, van Gogh asks the Doctor, “Your accent—are you from Holland like me?” I thought this was a good way of addressing an ongoing conundrum on British TV/radio—representing regional accents from non-English-speaking countries in English. In such a case, van Gogh having a Scottish accent seems perfectly acceptable. The dialogue here, in contrast to the reservations I expressed earlier, flows well and conveys a lot of what we need to know rapidly, namely that van Gogh is tired of his brother Theo sending lots of doctors to look after him. All artists, I think, can sympathize with him when he says of his art, “I know it’s terrible. It’s the best I can do.”

A local woman is found mauled to death, the mad old Dutchman is blamed, and so he retreats with the Doctor and Amy in tow. “Where are you staying tonight?” he asks them. “You’re very kind,” the Doctor replies, inviting himself and Amy to the farmhouse (which reminded me more of Cézanne’s studio, up to a point, as did the landscape we see later in the film—Aix-en-Provence). I was surprised by the inviting fire van Gogh has made (I would have suspected him to be the epitome of starving artist at this point in his career after his break with Gaughin, but I could be wrong). The Doctor and Amy are appalled with the casual way van Gogh treats his canvases. Van Gogh is eager to share his artistic philosophy with his new friends. “It’s color that holds the key. I can hear the colors!” I find the Doctor’s reaction to this exuberance quite unfair—surely in his Fourth incarnation he would be acting at least as barmy. “A nice calming tea? Chamomile?” the Doctor suggests instead of coffee. The Doctor’s reaction to van Gogh’s sudden evacuation into the garden with a pitchfork is similarly un-Doctor-ish. “He’s having some kind of fit.”

While van Gogh fights the invisible monster, there is a gentle satirization on artists as the visionaries, the ones who can see the dawn before everyone else can. Van Gogh drives the monster away, pretty much without the help of the Doctor or Amy, and then the Doctor rather improbably sets out to fight a creature he can’t see. He first asks van Gogh to draw a picture of what the monster looks like. The Doctor tells them he will return very quickly. Curtis supplies some good one liners such as the kind for which he is famed—the Doctor returns instantly with, “Not that fast . . . but P-R-E-T-T-Y fast.” He makes a quick trip to the TARDIS in an inventive moment where he retrieves some sci fi nonsense in the form of a machine that identifies species based on representation. This is enjoyable because the typewriter on the console actually gets to do something: identifies the Doctor in his Hartnell incarnation (the second time this series—just a bit of fun or otherwise meaningful?). The machine can’t identify the creature from van Gogh’s drawing. “This would never have happened with Gainsborough!”

He has a scary moment walking back from the TARDIS pursued by the mystery invisible monster, then runs into Amy. “Sorry, I got bored.” Ah, we should never touch our idols, as Gustave Flaubert once said. The Doctor’s glimpse of the creature, however, has helped him identify it as an “ugly, abandoned Graphias.” Amy has somehow found a bunch of sunflowers which she gives to van Gogh. “They’re not my favorite,” he says. “But they are a challenge.” Despite what the Doctor just said about his preference for Gainsborough, he still calls van Gogh, “the greatest artist who ever lived!” He’s mindful of not getting van Gogh killed in the church as they pursue the Graphias. As he goes to ask van Gogh to come alone, van Gogh is having an episode of depression. “Everyone always leaves,” he says (a sentiment the Doctor, at least according to what he’s said so far, would agree with). The painter is upset, and the Doctor’s response fairly inept. Unfortunately, Murray Gold just lets the strings go, destroying any poignancy for the scene and replacing it with high melodrama.

When the Doctor and Amy set out for the church, however, van Gogh has recovered and is in better spirits. It’s interesting that he has become the Ood Sigma of the moment, giving riddles and prophecies regarding the Doctor’s and Amy’s futures and “auras” (for lack of a better term). They wait as van Gogh sets up his easel in front of the church (we get shown the sharp stakes of the easel in a clear case of “don’t show a gun unless you plan to use it”). “I remember Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel,” the Doctor moans. “And Picasso!” “Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly and in the right order?” Very funny and reminiscent of the Doctor from “City of Death.”

When van Gogh spots the Graphias in the window, the Doctor wants to go in alone, armed with his confidence, the identification machine, and the sonic screwdriver. “Sonic never fails.” When Amy dashes in after him despite his explicit instruction for her to stay put, van Gogh gushes, “I love you!” Inside the church is a stone carving of St Michael and the dragon (the whole interior reminds me of a museum of Roman bric-a-bracque in Avignon housed in a 16th-century church, so well-done). I had thought for a long time that the monster of this episode was going to turn out to be the Tarasque, a local legend from the south of France (so much ingrained that it became part of the village culture and there was even a ceremonial model of one in the Musée l’Arlesienne. I was wrong, unfortunately, though it they had used the Tarasque it would have furthered the monster/outcast imagery we see hammered home later.

With Amy and van Gogh helping, the Doctor’s attempts to subdue the Graphias with the sonic are useless. “In fact, he seems to rather enjoy it.” Eventually they are trapped in a room with it. The Doctor slips up and says, “Amy, Rory—” The Doctor underlines the similarities between the Graphias and himself—“I also don’t belong on this planet”—and then lets the other shoe drop. (May I say for once I did decide halfway through the episode that the creature was blind, as that would be wonderful irony.) Rather pointlessly, in my opinion, van Gogh accidentally stabs the poor Graphias and it dies, telling the Doctor it’s “afraid.” I know Jamie didn’t think much of the monster design, but I for once liked it, it was ugly and distinctive! I felt really quite sad about the needless death.

Next we go to les Alycamps, the grove of the cypresses, in a stylish but lightweight evocation of Starry Night—“complex magic of nature” (I’ll admit, the art-lover in me quite enjoyed it). I thought surely this would be the end of the rather short-winded story, but FAR FROM IT. Pulling off circus playbills pasted to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Amy rather thoughtlessly decide to take van Gogh into the TARDIS (an honor not afforded Shakespeare or Dickens, I might add, though by default H G Wells did get the privilege). They have a fun time showing van Gogh what the TARDIS can do. “It plays soothing music!” “That’s ketchup and that’s mustard!” Then they all walk into the Musée d’Orsay in 2010, and the episode officially jumps the shark, in my opinion, as annoying pop music plays.

The Doctor asks Bill Nighy’s character, while van Gogh is within earshot but not visible, to recite his opinion of van Gogh’s artistic achievements and contributions to the art world. Van Gogh, naturally, finds this quite hard to take. It is nice to think that poor, unappreciated and reviled van Gogh could be the catalyst and beneficiary of a representation of suffering=art=ecstasy=validation, though you really have to wonder why the same kindness couldn’t have been afforded for Dickens at the very least (as both men were to die very swiftly in their own timelines after their encounters with the Doctor). “This changes everything!” van Gogh exclaims as he returns (willingly!) to the TARDIS and to his own time. It’s cute that his attraction to Amy mirrors that of Shakespeare to Martha (Amy is a mite more sympathetic to van Gogh, though she draws the line at marriage and lots of children). “I’m not really the marrying kind.”

Having returned him, Amy races back to the Musée d’Orsay, expecting to find the last year of van Gogh’s life alive with renewed ambition and works of art to prove it. “Time can be rewritten.” Unsurprisingly, the results are less than she expected. “We didn’t make a difference at all.” While the Doctor talks in saccharinely transparent terms to convince her that they did make a difference, much more efficiently, Amy finds a dedication in the sunflower painting to her. She reflects that if they did have kids, “they’d have very very red hair. The ultimate ginger.”

As a person who writes historical fiction, I can honestly say I have difficulty writing science fiction even though I enjoy watching and reading it. In hindsight, I’m not sure Richard Curtis was the right person to write this story. Visually and in terms of emotions, the story matches the expressionistic fervor of the artist, but it feels like an odd blip for Doctor Who.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The War Games

30/5/10 “The War Games
It is a fact, Jamie, that I tend to get involved. –The Doctor

A ten-part extravaganza in black and white that nevertheless stands the test of time as one of the strongest, most vivid Doctor Who stories ever made, full of adventure and a bravado performance from Patrick Troughton, and a complex meeting of minds between the historical and sci fi. The wheeze is superb, but it’s a tribute to the writers and to the commitment of the production team that, like so many multi-part stories, it doesn’t retread the same ground over and over.

The first part is one of the purest examples of Doctor Who done well and possibly the strongest episode in the bunch (you do have to hit the viewers with a good opener, a lesson well-taught in “The War Games”). The last story to be filmed in black and white, it’s atmospheric, especially for this episode, though it does cause some problems later on! It has a striking title sequence, not repeated (though it’s sort of similar to the one for “Inferno”). The wilderness upon which the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land could be anywhere, but the Doctor thinks it might be Earth. It’s nice to see that the companions are warmly and competently dressed—it would be hard to imagine Zoe going around in a mini-skirt through all the enemy lines. The Doctor has to explain what barbed wire is to Jamie, naturally enough; with a huge burst of explosions, the Doctor begins to fear “we’re in the middle of one of the most terrible times on the planet Earth.” During their wanderings, they are met by a woman ambulance driver, who’s later introduced to them as Lady Jennifer Buckingham. “I shouldn’t stay around here if I were you,” she says, though enemy fire eventually forces the Doctor and the companions to seek refuge in the ambulance, which is then commandeered by German soldiers. It is quickly recovered by Lieutenant Carstairs, and the whole group heads toward the British army base. (I wonder if modern viewers would have to be spoon-fed the background here, or whether Jennifer’s remark “I was heading for Ypres” and the uniforms would be enough.) There are some great specimens of vintage cars to round out the realism. But few are better equipped to play out WWI than the BBC.

As explosions rack the British army base, the Doctor has to explain to Jamie about “trench warfare.” “What are they fighting for?” Jamie very sensibly asks (it’s interesting that WWII was not chosen to be shown on screen; just over twenty years old, it was probably still too sensitive a setting). Of course, in such a situation the Doctor and Zoe are accused of being spies and Jamie, because of his “regimental uniform,” of being a deserter. When Zoe is told of the impropriety of “a young woman” being on the front lines, she points out that Jennifer is there—she, however, is “on duty.” As the Doctor and companions are sent to the chateau outpost to see General Smythe, Jennifer says, “They didn’t look like spies.” “They seldom do,” says Lieutenant Carstairs. “Memory’s a funny thing out here.” Neither of them can remember when they came to war and neither of them can remember what the date is. As to why they haven’t mentioned this “shell shock” or “amnesia,” “Haven’t liked to—one feels so stupid.” They speculate, naturally enough, that “could it be some kind of new gas?”

At the chateau, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are subjected to a kangaroo court under General Smythe. “The whole area is under martial law,” but the trial they receive is hardly fair. However, no one seems to be able to resist Smythe’s Jedi mind trick (aka the specs of doom)—inspiration for the Master’s prevalent hypnotism, not even the basically decent Jennifer and Carstairs. The Doctor gets more frustrated, Jamie more flustered, and Zoe more dumbfounded. “If you’re not going to allow them to answer, what’s the use?” “There is no right of appeal!” It is decided Jamie will be put in military prison until his regiment can reclaim him, Zoe faces a prison sentence, and the Doctor is to be executed at dawn. Smythe also has a filing cabinet/TARDIS in his room. Jennifer kindly asks for Zoe to stay with her in the chateau and be looked after instead of being put in a prison cell, which is eventually agreed to. Daring Zoe uses this as an opportunity to try to rescue her friends; at night she sneaks out into General Smythe’s office and discovers his video screen. She finds the keys to the cell, though, and is just about to break the Doctor out when Captain Ransom returns. The Doctor is about to go to the firing squad, and there’s nothing Zoe can do about it! The first cliffhanger is a doozy, a perfect inspiration for the one in “Caves of Androzani,” no doubt about it.

I really like the music for “The War Games”—there’s a familiar, semi-orchestral theme for the alien warmongers themselves, while the rest of the score is for the most part unobtrusive and not overly sci-fi. The Doctor doesn’t get shot in episode two (obviously) because the firing squad has to retreat. In the confusion, Zoe and the Doctor escape. They try to set Jamie free, but before they can get to him, a Red Coat is thrown into the cell with him. There’s a wonderful conversation between the two. “What year to you think it is?” Apparently the Red Coat is from the same time as Jamie, and improbably, the two unite against a common enemy to escape. The Doctor and Zoe end up in the military prison just as Jamie and the Red Coat are escaping, and it’s wonderful to see the Doctor (almost successfully) bluff his way through. “How dare you TREAT ME LIKE THIS?!!” he blusters at the prison official. “I’m the examiner from the War Office!” When the warden asks to see his credentials, the pre-psychic paper Doctor bristles, “You add insult to injury!!” I really like this, because, the Doctor, seeing that his first approach to keep quiet and stay unobtrusive, and his second approach, to simply tell the truth, didn’t work, has taken a different tack. You should never underestimate the Doctor.

Finally, with the unfortunate Red Coat shot and Jamie recaptured, the Doctor demands to speak to “the prisoner.” He wonderfully covers for Jamie’s well-meaning dullness. “Doctor--?” “We’ll get you a doctor if you need one!” Just as the warden begins to get suspicious, Zoe once again comes to the rescue by hitting him on the head with a potted plant! “I’m sorry, but there didn’t seem to be any other way!” They make their way back to the chateau, where Carstairs and Jennifer are still ruminating on their trial. “He made up his mind they were guilty.” “The General wanted that man to be shot—why?” Hanging around, they want to know from Ransom where the General has gone. We know that Smythe has hypnotized Ransom to say that the General has been called away. “Does he often disappear like this?” The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe forge useful alliances with Carstairs and Jennifer as they return to the chateau—Carstairs makes a big leap of faith to trust the Doctor. They are both swayed when they follow Zoe into the General’s room and, after breaking through the “perception filter” (more or less), the two are able to see the alien view screen. However, they have to turn it off quickly, because if they can see into it, someone can see them.

Jennifer, like Zoe, scores a brilliant move while she distracts Ransom; poor man just wants someone to listen to how difficult his bureaucratic job is. However, when she misleads him into leaving for another post because, she says, General Smythe is there, she damages her credibility, so she and Carstairs must join the Doctor and the companions in the ambulance as they make a run for it. Smythe is onto them and wants to blow them up before they reach No Man’s Land; Ransom has a quick twinge of conscience—“use artillery on an ambulance?”—before his conditioning takes over. There’s some wonderful location work as the ambulance “disappears” into the fog as it crosses from one war zone into the next. This is another cracking cliffhanger. Some tense and well-edited footage of Romans racing a chariot into battle is intercut with the ambulance stalling, and without much in the way of weapons, it looks like the TARDIS crew aren’t going to stand a chance . . .

Carstairs and Jennifer are flabbergasted when, as they back the ambulance up, they disappear into the fog and arrive back in 1917. “Lots of impossible things happen when you pass through time.” Without much recourse, they head back to the chateau, tie up Ransom, and try to get to the bottom of things. They are curious about the safe in Smythe’s room. “The only way to get in that is to blow it up!” “Oh, really? That’s a good idea,” says the Doctor. Carstairs finds an incendiary but the Doctor seems remarkably cavalier about employing it, much to Jamie and Carstairs’ dismay. Inside they find the map of the time zones which corroborates the Doctor’s theory and shows us we’re in for a merry ride. They have to escape the chateau, though, and end up on the run before being captured by Germans. (Why are the Germans speaking German? The TARDIS seems to translate other things, though not the French of another character later on. Surely the SIDRATs would do the same, too?) The Germans are all rather pantomime, though it’s very interesting when the Doctor tries to persuade one of them, Lucke, with his sonic screwdriver. As Jamie B pointed out, it’s one of the few times the screwdriver has actually screwed and unscrewed, in this case, the screws on a pistol! It nearly works, but then Lucke’s superior brainwashes him. “We’ve got lots of tricks like that!” says the Doctor, before they leg it!

Elsewhere, where the likes of Smythe are running this show, we get to meet the War Chief, who is a Ras al Ghul wannabe for no apparent reason. As we go on, the sets and design of the base from which the Aliens work becomes one of the weakest points of the whole story. As someone recently said in relation to Blake’s 7, making things futuristic is surely the best way to date them: we are set firmly within the time this serial was made, and the influence of all things Bond shows. The psychadelia reaches a peak with the interrogation (?) room with its Prisoner/ “Tomb of the Cybermen” décor. Nevertheless, that isn’t reason to doubt or dislike Edward Brayshaw’s performance. His nemesis is the Security Chief, played in true Nyder-before-Nyder style by James Bree. “They’re very loyal to each other in times of stress” is one of the plus points of humans, according to the Aliens.

In the “American Civil War Zone” 1862, the ambulance runs out of petrol, and the companions make their way on foot to a barn. I have to personally say I love that “The War Games” tries to give us the Civil War; few subsequent stories have ever done anything American, and there’s so much in our history that would be great to explore (I’m sure it’s mostly down to cost). Even if the accents are a bit dodgy and it becomes difficult to tell Johnny Rebs from Yanks because of the black and white, they do a very good job, overall. The barn is a hotbed of activity; the companions see a SIDRAT dematerialize and out come Southern troops. The Doctor goes inside the machine to investigate, Zoe following, and as soldiers return to the barn, they disappear, leaving a worried Carstairs, Jennifer, and Jamie. That’s a good enough cliffhanger for me!

In episode four, we follow the Doctor and Zoe arriving on the Aliens’ base. The Doctor’s knowledge of the machine piques Zoe’s interest; “there is an answer to that, but I hope . . .” The Doctor trails off, not wanting to implicate himself. Wandering around, the Doctor and Zoe put on ridiculous disguises and try to join in “the university.” Vernon Dobtcheff, a multi-lingual actor with an amazingly diverse CV, and a wonderfully distinctive voice, gives some grounding to all this hou-hah as the Scientist who lectures the class on how to condition the humans. “We only have 5% non-success rates with the conversions.” There’s something incredibly sinister about classes being taught and attended with the purpose of brainwashing “lesser” species into killing each other in experimental wars (without yet knowing the end goal of all this). I think these days we’d get hit over the head with all the amoral subtextuality, but because the action is quick and this bit is disguised exposition, it works really well on multiple levels. Plus, the Scientist, as we see during his interactions with the Doctor, is almost likeable. He’s trying to do his job.

Meanwhile, Jennifer and Jamie are bounced back and forth between Confederate and Union soldiers as to which side they’re on. Tied up and left in the barn by the Northern soldiers, a group of Rebs come along and free them. “Just like those Yankees to tie up a lady.” However, because of the intervention of the Alien commanders, the Confederates quickly turn against Jamie and Jennifer. They are rescued once again by a character I thought was from the Northern black volunteer regiment of the Civil War, but could really be from any of the time zones (and as Jamie B pointed out, the accent was all over the place!). There’s a wonderful moment when the Alien tries his Jedi mind tricks on Harper, and he replies, “Sorry, Captain, that stuff doesn’t work on us.” Harper’s group of resistance fighters causes a mêlée, and different characters get scattered. Poor Carstairs gets captured. Jamie, impressively, unhorses a Union office and takes his horse. There is a variety of Civil War skirmishes that are quite effective if a bit confusing!

Carstairs is brought into the classroom where the Doctor and Zoe are hiding. The Scientist asks him what he sees—“a room filled with a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo.” When the guards are brought in, I feel that 1960s Bond hang up washing over me: they’re the kind of S&M minions that would fill Captain Jack with mirth. Demonstrating a new reconditioning machine, the Scientist brainwashes Carstairs. “Objects that are beyond their comprehension they will not see.” The Doctor barges in and starts asking questions, being both a meddlesome student and a show-off. “Will you leave the apparatus alone?” In the end, the Scientist is grateful to “one of the students who was extremely helpful to me.” The Doctor has been absorbing information and sabotaging the machine at the same time, though he and Zoe have to slip away when the reconditioned Carstairs points them out as spies. Zoe gets separated from the Doctor and ends up in the landing bay, Carstairs pointing a revolver at her. Will he fight against his brainwashing? . . .

There’s a rather stilted fight between the resistance group and the brainwashed; Russell, one of the leaders of the group and who is a younger version of my character Shrike, comes to the rescue. Jennifer and Jamie have a time convincing the resistance leaders about the SIDRATs and the base where they came from, but eventually they realize all the resistance groups must band together. Jennifer stays behind to go nurse somewhere (such a shame, she was a good character), and Jamie, Russell, and the others mount an attack via SIDRAT.

We’re roaring through these episodes, as Zoe and the Doctor get away from Carstairs and are reunited. They’re separated eventually, again, though the Doctor ends up with the Scientist and with a bit of buttering up, they seem quite pally. “I would consider it a great honor if I could just stand and watch [you work].” Zoe has been subjected by the Security Chief to something like the mind probe, though her answers intrigue him and stimulate his worst suspicions. She repeats over and over again that she is from the 21st century, not one of the times on the planet. The Doctor eventually gets the upper hand and has the Scientist put in the machine. “Hoist by his own petard!” Mercifully, the Doctor uses the machine to un-recondition (!) Carstairs’ memory, and he quickly turns to the side of right. (How does this work? The mind isn’t a blank VHS you can record over again and again—how does the Doctor, or the scientists, for that matter, achieve such precision? Are there maybe side effects, mental breakdowns, that no one knows about? It seems a very complicated business that the Aliens’ technology, presumably, has made very easy to implement in such a careless manner.)

The antagonism between the War Chief and the Security Chief is palpable. The Security Chief is suspicious of the War Chief, who is a Time Lord and not of his race. “We have given you every facility . . . the War Chief is the only one who understands [space time technology]—who else could know? One of his own people . . .” Thus is the Doctor outed, at least in the Security Chief’s suspicions, as a Time Lord. Meanwhile, Jamie et al are walking straight into a trap. When they emerge in the landing bay, they are quickly shot down by the S&M guards, apparently dead.

They aren’t dead, only stunned; they need to be interrogated and re-processed. More than that, the Security Chief wants to question them to see who is authentic and to try to implicate his rival, the War Chief. The War Chief cautions him not to denounce to the War Lord the Doctor of being a Time Lord accomplice with “no proof.” The Doctor hides in some wardrobes; Carstairs demonstrates his good marksmanship. Characters are running all over the Alien base as security erodes. “They’ve possibly discovered he’s [Jamie] never been processed.” Once the Doctor meets up with the resistance leaders, he tries to talk them out of a sudden attack. “They have rather sophisticated weapons—you wouldn’t stand a chance.” Back in the barn, (!) the Alien taken prisoner by the resistance fighters uses the monocle of doom on David Troughton. Carstairs, Jamie, and the Doctor hide out in one of the SIDRATS—“these things are impregnable against outside attacks”—but the War Chief has a cunning way to get them out. “Activate the dimensional control.” They are 30 seconds away from being crushed!

This is a really good cliffhanger because it seems a really impossible situation, and there isn’t a deus ex machina to get them out of it! Interestingly, the teaser at the beginning has been re-shot from the one that was used at the episode ending. The Doctor comes out of the SIDRAT, surrendering to the War Chief: “I won’t have my friends ill-treated!” The Doctor stalls for time as the War Chief demands Carstairs and Jamie exit the SIDRAT—in the end, he wonderfully outwits them by throwing a smoke bomb. They all escape, hooray! Both the Security Chief and the War Chief are a bit embarrassed and angry at this point, and it sucketh for them as the War Lord has arrived from the Home Planet. As the Doctor and companions steal a SIDRAT, the Doctor says, “I confused the controls.” “Just like the TARDIS, eh?” says Jamie.

Unfortunately they dematerialize in the Roman zone again, and those Romans apparently have nothing better to do than wait all day for someone to arrive so they can charge at them. This is a real pity, as when the Romans appeared in episode two, I thought we were going to get a really interesting historical encounter. However, I can understand in practical terms why they remained ideas rather than speaking characters. But I was teased with their presence not once, but twice!

The War Lord, played very un-Welsh by Philip Madoc, who is quite cold and calculating, as you would expect of the person responsible for this intergalactic rumpus. He is annoyed by the petty bickering between the War Chief and the Security Chief: “You have a choice: cooperate or be replaced.” He is mindful of the War Chief’s position: “You have shown us how to operate these machines but not how to construct them.” The Doctor is then brought in as a prisoner. “You’ve caused me a great deal of trouble.” “Good!!” snaps the Doctor. “You’re simply being malicious!” When he manages to get away to the 1917 chateau, along with a stolen processing machine, Zoe once again has presence of mind to cover the com link. With the use of the processing machine, the Doctor can slowly convert all the prisoners the resistance takes to their side.

“Use the conventional forces,” the War Chief advises rather than the Security Chief’s plan to blow everything up. In the chateau, the resistance forces, at the Doctor’s behest, hold off the brainwashed troops, long enough for the Doctor to “I’ve set a time zone barrier around the chateau,” meaning the brainwashed masses won’t be able to get through—only the resistance fighters who can come and go as they please. It’s a masterstroke on the Doctor’s part, and all of this is fired with enthusiasm and excitement, leading up to another good cliffhanger. Mounting a raid on the chateau via SIDRAT, the Security Chief supervises the kidnapping of the Doctor and the removal of the processing machine. Though, as both Jamie B and the online continuity guide pointed out, why wouldn’t they take the opportunity, when they’re in a strong position, to destroy the time zone barrier as well? The resistance leaders were pretty powerless against the S&M guards, so it would have been the time to strike. The only explanation I can come up with, and it’s a weak one, is that the incompetent Security Chief, rattled by his ineptitude so far in front of the War Lord, prefers the safest route rather than the best.

Episode eight sees the Doctor magnificently and calmly fighting the Security Chief’s interrogation with a Zen-like quality that foresees the Third Doctor’s. The War Chief arrives, angrily berating the Security Chief’s use of force: “Are you trying to kill him?” The War Chief finagles an interrogation session alone, where we learn more about the Doctor’s past than we have in the past six years of the show. “I have nothing to say to you,” he says to his fellow Time Lord renegade. It is fascinating to me that the first members of the Doctor’s race who we see onscreen before 1971 are both renegades and defectors like the Doctor, who are always drawing parallels between themselves and him, which he is very insistent to brush off. He is not like them; methinks the Doctor doth protest too much? Certainly it puts one in mind of the Dream Lord in “Amy’s Choice”—deep down, the Doctor must be aware of the similarities, at least superficially, and I’m sure it causes him angst. “I had every right to leave [Gallifrey] . . . I had reasons of my own” (what they were have, mercifully, remained clouded in mystery every since). “We are two of a kind.” “No objective can justify such slaughter!” When questioned why they have used humans in their experiments, the War Chief’s response rings true to the self-critical attitude seen in Series 1/5/31: “Man is the most vicious species of all.” “That’s not true!” For his part, the War Chief sees his motives as “purely peace.” The idea is to learn from the experiment of the humans in their destruction of the many and toughening of the few to put together a blueprint for universal domination, on the macro level. (It brought to mind “Warriors of Kudlak.”)

A distraught and worried Jamie, Zoe, Carstairs, and Russell fall into exhausted slumber, but it’s quickly shattered by the arrival of Pancho Villa (I’m not joking) played with a panto Italian accent! Are we meant, then, to ascribe Villa’s guerrilla warfare in the Mexican Revolution to his experience in the War Games? Villa is the most irascible of all the resistance leaders, unimpressed by Zoe’s take-charge attitude (“for such a little woman your mouth is too big!”). Eventually, aided by Jamie, she convinced Villa to cooperate and they spread the word amongst the resistance leaders in all the different time zones (though Jamie B pointed out, how are the Romans able to phone them?). Carstairs is manning the telephone, this time, along with Russell (he cottons on to telephone operation quite quickly considering he probably has not seen one before).

The Security Chief is suspicious of the War Chief: “we cannot trust him.” The War Chief wants the Doctor, as one of his race, to ally with him against the Aliens; once the Aliens think they have won, the War Chief wants to double-cross them. It’s interesting that, with all the fighting between different national/ideological groups amongst the humans, it’s still species distrust that fuels the enmity between the Aliens and the Time Lords. In order to prove his loyalty, the War Lord wants the Doctor to deliver his friends into a trap. “A nice neat package for us to dispose of.” This the Doctor does, to Zoe and Jamie’s utter despair and horror when they are lured into an ambush in the landing area. This makes another good cliffhanger.

The Doctor’s captured friends taken away, he confronts the War Chief for putting him into this position. “We need each other,” says the War Chief. The Doctor is very canny and asks the War Chief how he managed to get around the decay rate of such-constructed TARDISes. “That particular thing is impossible to solve.” “It’s my TARDIS you’re after!!” cries the Doctor. (If the Doctor hadn’t shown up on the planet, how would the War Chief have solved his particular difficulty? Did he really have a hand in bringing the Doctor into the War Games?) Unimpressed by the Doctor, the War Lord orders, “you will adjust the machine and process your friends.”

While poor Jamie and Zoe have been pleading with the resistance leaders—“the Doctor wouldn’t betray us”—their friends are baying for the Doctor’s blood. The Doctor nearly gets killed when the Security Chief leaves him (because the petty-minded man wants the Doctor dead in a way that causes him the least amount of effort) with the bloodthirsty and betrayed resistance leaders. He is just able to prevent his murder and try to explain himself. “I had to! They were going to drop the neutron bomb!” Patrick Troughton is truly versatile, going from jovial and friendly to towering rage to keening despair in a matter of seconds. The Doctor pretends to process his friends, which works up to a point. However, the paranoid Security Chief has recorded the Doctor and the War Chief’s conversation and uses it to implicate the War Chief. Anarchy breaks loose as the resistance fighters fight back. “Did you really think I’d take place in this disgusting travesty?” asks the Doctor as the Aliens’ forces scatter. The War Chief gets to shoot the Security Chief—“it was a personal debt I had to settle.” He makes a brief alliance with the resistance while trying to convince the Doctor to join him. When this fails, he escapes, only to be killed by the War Lord.

The Doctor has made a decision: he can’t deal with this gigantic mess without help. “What’s that, Doctor?” “It’s a box, Jamie.” “I know that, Doctor!” The Doctor uses his trippy box to contact the Time Lords about the situation. “We’ll leave the Time Lords to deal with him [the War Lord].” But the Doctor prefers to make like a tree and leaf before the Time Lords show up. He tries to get Jamie and Zoe to follow him into the TARDIS. “For once, Jamie, do as you’re told!!!” They aren’t able to make it in time, though, because the Time Lords have already arrived . . .

Episode ten is the only one I thought that could have benefited from being shorter. I think it would have been better to cut ten altogether and streamline the sequence with the Time Lords so that it fit into the end of episode nine. It all seems like too much anti-climax after the end of the triumphant episode nine. The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie try to fend off the influence of the Time Lords, but still end up on the Doctor’s “planet” (not called Gallifrey yet). When questioned why he stole the TARDIS, the Doctor says miserably, “I was bored. We hardly ever use our great power.” When he tells them he’s going to be punished, Zoe cries, “But you helped people!” Trying one more escape attempt, the Doctor is stopped by the Time Lords and told, “Your travels are over, Doctor.”

In the Time Lord court, the Doctor is prepared to give evidence against the War Lord. “Their [the humans] lives were squandered.” When asked to defend himself, the War Lord firstly is silent, but when goaded to speak—“is your plea that the ends justify the means?” The Doctor can, at least, feel as though he has been instrumental in putting a stop to the situation. The War Lord makes one last desperate break for it in the Doctor’s TARDIS—“I don’t even know where your home planet is!”—but the War Lord is recaptured. The sentence is grim indeed: “it will be as though you never existed.” Does this go for the War Lord’s planet as well? That’s (presumably) an entire race wiped out? Is the solution worse than the problem?? In any case, it’s all very reminiscent of season 1/5/31 and its effacing of memory.

The Doctor is as frustrated as me by the Time Lords’ attitude; “you’re above criticism, aren’t you?” Jamie and Zoe wish to say goodbye to the Doctor. “You’ve become attached to him?” The goodbyes are quite quick by today’s standards, perfunctory even, but I don’t know that Jamie and Zoe understand exactly what’s going to happen to them. I still think it’s incredibly sad, though! “They’ll forget me, won’t they?” The Doctor watches as Zoe returns to the Wheel in Space and Jamie returns to 1745 Culloden. I didn’t realize before that the memory of the Doctor hasn’t been wiped from Zoe’s (and presumably Jamie’s) mind entirely—she will remember the adventure of “The Wheel in Space” but all the time-traveling with the Doctor after that is gone. “I thought I’d forgotten something important . . .” Zoe murmurs. This is slightly less traumatic in light of The Glorious Revolution where Jamie is forced by the Time Lords to remember his time with the Doctor in order to fix a time paradox, and at the end refuses to take back his stolen memories.

The Doctor next is forced to regenerate and will be exiled to Earth. The sequence with him refusing different visages is funny—“you can’t just change my appearance without consulting me!” but goes on too long and the end is very weak. I suppose there wasn’t much more they could give us than the Doctor spinning off into space gurning, but it does feel very vague, especially at the end of such a strongly plotted and dynamic story as “The War Games.”

Cold Blood (SPOILERS)

29/5/10 “Cold Blood
Preferred it when I didn’t know, to be honest. --Amy

I was cautiously optimistic after “The Hungry Earth,” but “Cold Blood” left me, well, cold. Maybe that’s unfair considering I wanted both more of the same and something unpredictable instead of color-in-the-lines and connect-the-dots. “The Hungry Earth”’s non-cliffhanger picked up right where it began, with the Doctor and Nasreen in the reptile base. “It’s enormous and deserted”—they quickly discover that most of the homo reptilia must be dormant.

Meanwhile, the scientist Silurian is about to dissect Amy. Surely this would be more efficacious if she were stripped rather than making the incision through her clothes? That would have sent male viewers into a tizzy, but I think the logic stands. No one can fault Amy’s resourcefulness, however, when she picks the scientist’s pocket before Mo’s disbelieving eyes and is able to free herself while the scientist is distracted. She and Mo escape. They find reptiles in suspended animation and take their guns, while Mo is bereft to find Elliot in a death-like pall. “He’s still alive,” says Amy, to keep him from flipping his lid. They vow to escape and come back to free Elliot.

Perhaps I should now mention what I didn’t last week, in that I’m not a big fan of either the design, makeup, or costumes of the new Silurians. The design of the costumes seems completely out of left field, as if they were found in a trunk from 1966’s Star Trek. The makeup is similarly jarring. Surely, you say, it’s got to be better than the painfully obvious rubber suits the actors had to wear in the 1970s. But I don’t think so. I realize that, in making the story and the morals accessible to all (including young children who will be watching), Chibnall wanted to emphasize similarities and go for user-friendly “aliens” instead of the clunky remnants from before Doctor Who was cool. Gone is the third eye, the wobbly voices, the stiff execution—instead there is a poisonous tongue, gene strands, warrior classes, making the reptiles more anthropomorphized. (And it’s fair to reinvent since this is a different species than the Third and Fifth Doctor encountered; that is made clear.) But I feel, due to the relative short length of time in which to tell the story (half as much as the original Silurians had), the shorthand created by the new design plus the transparency of the script (in my opinion) has made this story really dull.

The Doctor and Nasreen are taken by Restak, the commander, to the scientists. They want to decontaminate him but he successfully alerts them to the fact he’s not human. “Not got any celery, have you?” As the Doctor tries to work out the plot, he sees the different functional classes in the reptilian society—there’s always a military, isn’t there?”

Rory, on the surface, gives a neat exposition when Ambrose accuses him of lying and pretending to be a policeman. Tony is not well, Ambrose is furious that the aliens have her son and husband and have poisoned her father, and Rory is frustrated his nurse skills haven’t been called into action. I was really hoping Tony was going to transform into a human/Silurian hybrid which might cause some end to the hostilities between the two races, but that was a red herring and only fodder to feed Ambrose’s hatred. She’s “only protecting her own”—as Alaya says, she has the most to lose. No one’s surprised that she kills Alaya, even if it’s accidental (surely the title refers to her murder as much as the literal cold blood of the reptiles); no one’s surprised that she creates the final peril of the story. I find her pathetic as a character, and I have very little sympathy for her, even though intellectually I understand her motives; emotionally she didn’t appeal to me at all and I found it very difficult to accept her actions. They kept pulling me out of the story and ruined the continuity of it for me.

Restak wants to execute the Doctor and Nasreen. She and the scientist, Malohkeh, take them to their “court,” a lovely expanse with a definite resemblance to Cardiff’s Temple of Peace. Amy makes a brave but eventually fruitless rescue attempt with Mo; I was a bit disappointed that, despite Amy’s clear decisiveness in escaping from the scientist’s lab, her rescue attempt went wrong so quickly, but I guess that’s all part of the formula. The Doctor explains what’s going on, and Restak initiates contact with the surface. She wants Alaya “released immediately unharmed,” which is going to be a problem since Ambrose has just killed her. Eldane, who looks like he’s wearing a Baptist minister’s choir robes, intervenes before Restak can kill “the apes.” He outranks her and therefore the Doctor has the chance to intercede. “Are you authorized to negotiate on behalf of humanity?” The Doctor puts forward Nasreen and Amy to do this, despite their doubts on their diplomatic abilities. Nasreen makes a good diplomat, though it looks like Amy spends most of the negotiations asleep!

The Doctor has a speech about fixed points in time and has high hopes for negotiations going somewhere productive. “This is an opportunity.” Much as I wanted to believe the Silurians and humans could come to an agreement, I knew it was all a pipe dream and was a bit impatient with their dangling empty promises in front of us. Mo and the Doctor go after poor Elliot. Malohkeh has “taken samples of the young” in order to understand human growth and development. Elliot is unharmed and awakes in his father’s arms. “We’re in the center of the Earth and there are lizard-men” brings him quickly up to speed.

Rory, Ambrose, and Tony are to bring Alaya to the court. Horrified Rory thinks it best to bring back Alaya’s body, even though it will cause chaos and mistrust. Restak kills Malohkeh because he stands in the way of her cause; in a manner of speaking, it’s like history repeating itself. The scientist Silurian in the 1970 adventure was killed because of his willingness to work toward cooperation between “the apes” and the reptiles. How cheated and frustrated the Doctor must feel when Rory, Tony, and Ambrose bring down the dead Alaya, while Eldane looks on in horror, while Mo’s face shows shock and disgust, when Ambrose reveals the drill is going to obliterate the oxygen in the reptiles’ habitat; surely he must, too, feel some sympathy for the bereft Restak who thinks this all the more reason to destroy the violent, vengeful, deceitful humans. The Doctor worked so hard in his Third regeneration to make the humans and Silurians allies. He couldn’t make it work then, because of the Young Silurian’s sabotage and the Brigadier’s blowing up of the base. I much rather would have seen the Ninth Doctor here confront the factions. The Eleventh Doctor gives everyone a slap on the wrist and a tongue-lashing, but it’s secondary to escaping from the immediate danger of a) Restak’s troops; b) the drill. Both this and “The Beast Below” have painted a very black picture of humanity, which is surely deserved, but in combination with the ending of the episode makes one frustrated and well-nigh suicidal.

The sonic screwdriver is the get-out-of-jail-free card as the Doctor uses it to short-out the Silurian guns in order that the humans can escape and regroup. He quickly puts together a beam to destroy the drill but it will also destroy the tunnel network so that has to be evacuated. Eldane has the clever idea of setting up an automatic fumigation system that will drive the warrior reptiles back to their suspended animation. This works well, and Amy, Rory, Mo, Ambrose, and the Doctor are able to escape. Tony has to stay behind because there is no cure for his venom, except one that the Silurians might find themselves; Nasreen elects to stay, as well. She’s already blown up “her life’s work” so she might as well stay with her love. This is one of the few bright spots as when the reptiles wake in 1,000 years, it will be interesting to see what has become of Tony and Nasreen. I still maintain she would have made a good companion, though!

Ambrose, Mo, and Elliot are carted into the TARDIS, but the Doctor, Amy, and Rory stop and notice the crack that has followed them. The Doctor is annoyed because everyone seems to know what it is except him; he reaches inside it with a handkerchief to pull out a bit of “shrapnel.” The very very driven Restak makes a last appearance long enough to shoot Rory, who jumps in front of the Doctor. I feel quite betrayed by this, as so much time has been spent getting Rory in and out of the TARDIS. He’s not my favorite companion by any stretch of the imagination, but such a demise, especially after “Amy’s Choice” seems a cheap shot, worthy of a lot of shows but not Doctor Who. Jamie reckons he’s coming back, which might make this a bit more bearable. Not only does he die, he gets effaced from memory. This is what happened to Donna’s romance in “Forest of the Dead”; this is what happened to Donna’s memory. Why this emphasis on erasure of memory? It’s emotionally upsetting and in combination with the earlier critique of humankind, hurts.

It’s not even allowed to be the focus of the end of the episode because the loose ends are retied with the return to 2020. If I hadn’t just seen “The Silurians” I might have been more forgiving of this episode, but I found it dull in places and painful in others, which isn’t my idea of a good Doctor Who.

Terror of the Autons

24/5/10 “Terror of the Autons
“I like being childish.” --The Doctor

Robert Holmes was certainly a genius in many respects, and one of those was in creating fear from everyday objects and really going in for the kill, much like the Vast Toffee does today (and perhaps even surpassing him). This is a fairly well-crafted story, quite disturbing in many aspects, and while the Master’s menace is conveyed by Roger Delgado’s performance, the Master himself seems a bit . . . declawed. From the beginning, it seems like he’s more interested in playing games with the Doctor than doing anything meglomaniacal or psychopathic. It isn’t as good as “Spearhead from Space,” but as sequels go, it gives the Autons a continued ability to intimidate.

Although the story tries to take advantage of its setting at the circus (we get to see some elephants and lions, for example), it falls into stereotype and could have been both creepier and more atmospheric if it had used the setting a bit more creatively. (That said, it didn’t need to ramp up the creepy factor like “From Out of the Rain” did.) It’s very interesting that the Master makes his first appearance in the circus, however, as it was either Russell T Davies or Murray Gold who remarked in the notes to the soundtrack for series 3 that the Master always had a sideshow side to his character, hence why “The Master Vainglorious” sounds rather circus-like. The first thing we know of him is that he has a horsebox that sounds like the TARDIS. He introduces himself to Rossini, the showman, as “I’m usually referred to as the Master.” “Oh yes?” “Quite universally.” We don’t find out until a bit later—and through a rather clumsy method of exposition—that he’s a Time Lord, though I suppose people must have suspected. I wonder what people DID think in 1971? You realize right away that, whoever the Master is, he’s not nice.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is tinkering away. This story also introduces Jo Grant, Dr. Liz Shaw’s successor. Jo Grant is very much based on Katy Manning’s natural character, methinks, and no one makes any effort to disguise her. The Doctor mistakes her for the tea lady and goes into a tizzy even though she’s “a fully qualified [UNIT] agent” (um, how?). When his experiment catches on fire, Jo does the sensible thing and extinguishes it, for which she gets the infamous epithet, “Look what you’ve done, you ham-fisted bun vendor!” “I’m your new assistant!” she announces, forever changing the name from “companion” to “assistant” (for better or worse). Jo is, in this scene, wearing one of her more sensible outfits, and I actually like the choker.

“I want someone with the same qualifications [as Liz Shaw],” the Doctor rants at the Brigadier. “UNIT’s not the place for trainees,” says the Doctor, and though the Brigadier agrees, he admits that Jo has relatives in high places. This says a lot about UNIT, Jo, and the Doctor—he feels they’re foisting off the noob on him, the Brigadier feels he has to grease the oils of the system by returning favors, and Jo probably has a complex that she’s not good enough because she’s been riding on the coattails of others’ success. She certainly doesn’t improve her ditzy image later on in the story—it’s the introduction of Mike Yates, too, and while the two flirt a bit, he mostly gently takes the mick out of her.

Meanwhile, Autons are being produced in a plastics factory (again), this time under the auspice of the Master, and one of the Time Lords comes floating through the air (is he in a TARDIS or isn’t he?) to annoy the Doctor. “You look quite ridiculous in those clothes,” the Doctor justly says. “If you’ve come here to be rude . . .” The Time Lord has come to gloat a bit but also to warn the Doctor that the Master has landed on the planet and is going to make trouble for him. The Time Lord thinks the Doctor is meddlesome but nothing compared to the Master: “your hearts are in the right places.” “He’s an unimaginative plodder!” snaps the Doctor. When the Time Lord points out that the Master did better than the Doctor in school, the Doctor says, “I was a late developer.” This conversation has done more to humanize the Doctor’s mysterious background than the previous eight years of the show put together! I’m not sure that I like it, to be honest, but it’s all in the spirit of that era of Doctor Who, like it or lump it. I’m just disappointed that the Doctor couldn’t have conveyed to us the information about the Master via some other means—they even talk on the phone to each other later (albeit briefly).

Speaking of the Master, he uses the tissue decompressor for the first time in this story, too. He’s recruited a human stooge, Rex Farrell (who I’m reliably informed later plays Davros) who he’s used the power of his hypnotism to full effect on. There’s minor conflict in the shape of Rex’s dad who used to run the factory; he’s the sort of man who wouldn’t be taken in by psychic paper. Unfortunately, another of Farrell’s colleagues is sucked into a plastic sofa that “looks like a black pudding.” As Jamie quite rightly said, it’s pretty disturbing (much more so than Mickey being eaten by the wheelie bin!). There’s a brief moment of danger when Jo is hypnotized by the Master into carrying a bomb back into UNIT (where does she put all those keys?).

Jo is totally made a victim by the Master’s hypnotism, although we have realized it could happen to anybody. “Schizoid association,” the Doctor tells the UNIT staff as Jo appears to fall into a traumatic trance. “The Master can completely control the human mind.” Notice that he said “human”—that seems an odd place to specify. As Jo recovers and the Doctor tries to direct plodding UNIT into finding the Master, Farrell Snr. is forced by the Master to take home a troll doll—“disgusting object” he quite correctly calls it. I dislike the troll as much as Mrs. Farrell does, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I expected the doll’s strangling of Farrell Snr. to be an episode cliffhanger (though it was poorly staged it was still quite effective) but I guess his death is a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately Mrs Farrell’s acting as she later tells the Doctor and Jo what happened leaves something to be desired! As the Doctor and the boys go out to play at the circus, Jo is annoyed at being left behind. “You all just tell me to keep out of the way.”

At the circus, the Doctor meets Rossini. He wants to know how much the Master has bribed him. “Gentlemen don’t discuss money.” “Gentlemen don’t discuss anything else.” Rossini uses his “Strong Man” to keep the Doctor prisoner. At first I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised as the Doctor started to engage the Strong Man (played by the same actor who played Toberman) in conversation, but that quickly went nowhere. The Doctor and Jo ended the episode “almost being lynched” by those nasty circus people!

The rest of episode 3 is really quite superb with a full-fledged Auton shoot out. The Doctor tells the bewildered UNIT soldiers that Autons can’t be killed by bullets, so they make a hasty getaway. Jo takes the Doctor to task for being ungrateful to the Brigadier for saving his life. “You’re quite right, Jo. I’ll apologize later if I have the time.” The Doctor has taken advantage of being inside the horsebox/TARDIS to remove some components and gets upset when they won’t make his TARDIS fly. Although Jo accuses him of being childish, you have to admire his tenacity—I identify with this stubborn streak of the Doctor’s.

The Master, the Autons, and Robert Holmes bring in the creepy by engineering a plot for thousands of Britons to die as plastic daffodils will smother them. Mike Yates is about to make Jo cocoa with the Doctor’s Bunsen burner but is caught in the act (!). “You might have been right, Doctor,” says the grudging Brigadier, who wanted to try to blow things up. “I usually am.” The Doctor outwits the Master, of course, and no one gets smothered by daffodils; the Master escapes, however, leaving Rex as his very literal fall guy. The Doctor feels certain the Master will return because he’s trapped him on Earth with a stolen component from his TARDIS. Too much of a good thing . . .!