Archive for June, 2011

Ooze Company

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

almostlogoIn the half-time score for Who’s 2011 season it would appear that it’s Matthew Graham’s Ganger show which has taken the greatest kicking.

Traditional, slow-paced, under-plotted for two parts – The Rebel Flesh/Almost People shares many criticisms with Chris Chibnall’s Silurian episodes of last year, which also featured an arc-building coda involving a disappearing companion. The difference this year is broader though. A split in the season means that Graham’s script has been cast into sharper focus for its perceived failings. As a two-parter alongside the similarly less-loved Curse of the Black Spot we could have a three-to four split of ‘not-good’ versus ‘good’ in the 2011 series so far – not great odds. Additionally, as the remaining stories comprise themselves of another two parter, the mid-season finale and Neil Gaiman’s widely-lauded effort you can see the problem – this year if it’s not The Doctor’s Wife it’s either arc-building, in two parts, or just routine. And personally, I think it’s the arc-building that’s the problem.

My thesis then is that The Almost People isn’t a bad story. There are poor parts, for sure – the most patientest cutest widdle child on a holophone line ever, an abrupt character change in Cleaves that allows for a really unconvincing Noble Sacrifice ™ at the end that just screams “too many castmembers!” and of course the unexpected return of the Lazarus Monster as überGanger Jennifer. It is in places a plod, and its shock last-minute twist stands out not for being the clever bit in the script, but for being the obious equaliser, the hand-up offered by the series showrunner. Why else should we expect a two-episode build up to this when there’s an effective (and equally open) ending behind the Company doors on the mainland. If you want to see how that board meeting might have turned out, stay tuned for A Good man Goes to War, and see the Ganger role in future wartime diplomacy.

In the course of two weeks we’ve had less of a standalone story and more of a distraction from the main event – Amy’s quantum pregnancy, and Eyepatch Lady; so I do feel for Graham’s lot. An ordinary story with some great makeup and good design, some smar casting (ho ho) and a living Rory (we should have known something was up!!) Even Matt Smith’s double act was good – not smug, a little bit tricky with the swapped shoes, and more knowing than at first you might have thought. But it’s not enough, and future DVD box sets will not treat this story as The Exciting One With Gangers, but The One Where The Doctor Melts Amy And The Main Plot Kicks Back In – and after two weeks that just doesn’t seem fair.


Copy Rights

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

rebellogo The main revelation of this rather bleak and confined episode is not that the previously servile, artificially-created duplicates: the ‘Gangers,’ have somehow gained independent thought, but that the equally puppeteered Rory Pond has.  As I’m never slow to point out, he has never been my favourite character, but his devotion to ‘Jennifer’s (other) Body’ and emergent streak of wilfulness has suddenly made him a much more interesting character.  It’s a far more meaningful manning-up than that ‘20-centuries Centurion’ business last year.

Instead of striving to be an ‘other of significance’ to a hugely independent woman (I feel your pain, Rory) he has found a vulnerable and trusting girl who seems to like and even need him.  The catch is, of course that she’s not actually real, but this is a situation that may not be that new to some, either.

But whether Jennifer’s, or anyone else’s, Ganger is actually any less real than their original templates is the crux of this episode.  If it were Star Trek this concept would be blasted home with the subtlety of a phaser set on ‘moralise’.  Instead, we are forced to ponder the dilemma when Jimmy’s wistful recollections of his young son back on Earth are hijacked by his duplicates equally heart-felt sentiments for the same child.  “He’s my son too” says the Ganger simply, without a trace of defensiveness or challenge in his voice.

The opening sequence featuring a man nonchalantly left to die in an acid bath as the result of some playful jostling, loses its horror as we realise that we’ve actually witnessed the death of a manufactured avatar, but then gradually regains it again as these same facsimiles begin to think and feel.

If I may point to another contrast with science fiction television produced on the other side of the Atlantic, a laudable aspect of this episode is that the cast are refreshingly ordinary looking.  With the exception of the radiant Ms Gillan I’d surmise that none of them have been near a catwalk, or are likely to, and this makes them both real and easy to identify with, in both their forms.  Pallid, noseless Ganger-Jennifer may look horrifying as she tries to find the hiding Rory, but the desperation and regret in her eyes are heartbreakingly human.

This series has been an odd beast, so far.  The opening episodes flattered our intelligence and patience, whereas the climax to this episode had been clearly telegraphed from the moment the Doctor first saw the flesh vat.  Despite this, it’s a chilling moment and a violation of the Doctor’s appearance which hasn’t been seen since he got copied by a cactus all those years ago.

Inevitably, the ‘us and them’ situation boils over into Ganger warfare which inexplicably also boils over into a second episode.  It’s good stuff, but I’m not convinced there is really enough mileage left to justify another 45 minutes. But I look forward to being proved wrong.


The Lady of the House

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011


I once sat next to Neil Gaiman in a convention bar. There – that’s disclosure. Okay, it’s not that impressive but even in 1998 the man was becoming a force to be reckoned with. His writing was the first I ever heard of being discussed by adolescent girls in a comics shop – entirely without irony. But I remain undecided about Gaiman; I have three of his books and have finished only one of them, and that was twenty years ago. Love his lifestyle, envy his talent (and his library) though. He’s unconventional as a ‘traditional’ writer roped into doing Who in that he doesn’t come from an easily-defined genre – no sci fi, fantasy or horror, as we’ve had in years gone by, but is pretty much his own man. The closest you might come to pigeonholing him could be, what – magical realism? Fairy tale? The latter of course is very post-RTD new Who. Gaiman’s also a honing great fan of the show, as evidenced in his Confidential, and frankly, who else but a fan would not only feel chuffed putting a TARDIS within a TARDIS within a TARDIS, but also set most of his story in a junkyard, in a quarry? Seriously, why has it taken us this long to get here?

 The Doctor’s Wife is therefore a very obvious love letter to the classic series from an ardent and talented fan. Its dialogue sparkles as good texty dialogue should, it has visuals that look like theyw ere written by the writer, rather than approximated by a wardrobe department. Its very own unique TARDIS console was designed by a viewer, and as befits the writer’s vision for the revived show, it seems entirely fitting that the episode’s producer was once, like the Blue Peter winner, a twelve-year old girl. A miracle of casting, Suranne Jones inhabits the personified TARDIS with nothing to draw on; no precedent exists, not even the rumoured and dreaded rapping lips on the time rotor of past TV Movie Production Hells. Yet it’s an interesting facet to Moffat’s vision that of all the stories Neil Gaiman offered for the series, he opted for the ‘love story’, albeit fitting an incarnation of the Doctor studiously dodging the romantic lead angle ( bar maybe one subplot – I write this having not yet seen A Good Man Goes to War, so any revelations about the good Doctor and bad Professor Song can rest for the mean-time, thanks.) It’s tempered here as being a very ‘masculine’ love story – a man and his vehicle. Jeremy Clarkson could watch this episode and probably get weepy too. The past romantic, hitherto buried under a shuffling and awkward debutante remerges as a very Moffat-ish male parody, emotional over gears and levers and given extra sensitivity by Matt Smith and the aforementioned Gaiman. It’s a lovely, contradictory metamorphosis, and perhaps as well-timed as it could ever be, the Doctor’s wilful surrendering to his ‘better half’ the keys to the family car, as it were; but we know it can’t be as simple or as lovely as that forever.

 I’ve written this far without even mentioning the villainous House, Amy and Rory’s on-going trust and guilt issues manifest in the creature’s nasty games, and as effective as they are they are perfunctory – there’s simply so much going on that while they’re not entirely lost in the plot they are certainly surrounded by a  lot of distractions. Well made as it is though, The Doctor’s Wife is very much replay-Who, a story to be rewound for the little details rather than out of confusion or sheer fangeekery. And of course you want to be able to rewind to the best of these moments, in life as much as fairy stories, because you know that happy endings are rare things indeed.


Pirate Lite

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

A becalmed mix of pirates and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; Curse of the Black Spot gives the impression that it’s run out of wind somewhere towards the end. On the surface it looks great, is performed brilliantly, and from the first “Yo, ho, ho” great lines come thick and fast. But an awareness of time passing seems to creep in, a doldrums of pacing which even another close call with death for Rory can’t alleviate. Of more interest was the Doctor’s hanging back during the resuscitation scene, recalling Eccleston’s tenure when the Doctor often acted as an instrument to bring the best out in others, rather than directly intervening himself.

In years gone by, if a guest actor with the presence and charisma of Hugh Bonneville had appeared on the programme, fans would be immediately touting him as ‘next Doctor’ material. Perceptions of what is required for the programme’s lead have changed, but it is true that Bonneville is probably the best thing about this episode. Barely needing to raise his voice to dominate his scenes – the scenery chews itself for him.

The phantasmagorical Lily Cole is another high point of the episode. Her other-worldly looks – huge eyes and tiny mouth – resemble a character from a Tim Burton animated film, and are enhance by a master class performance of eye acting – which is exactly what models do, I suppose. And she was very scary when turning from green to red – a look which I’m sure is unlikely to ever make it into Cole’s modelling portfolio. I wonder if Rory gave himself away when he describes her as ‘the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen’ – how long will it be now before Amy finds the Pirelli calendar hidden under their bed?

Steven Moffat has stated that the intention was to make this story as ‘piratey’ as possible, cramming in everything from walking the plank, to a mutiny, to a youthful stowaway. In doing so the programme seems to have fallen into the trap which the first Pirates of the Caribbean film so deftly avoided – instead of taking well-worn clichés and moulding them into something fresh, we seem to have ended up with something… well-worn.

There is still much fun to be had in seeing Karen Gillan ‘get her Kiera out’ and Avery surmise some basic functions of the TARDIS consol by using his own experience as Captain of a ship – but his final scene probably sums up this worthy episodes deficiencies. Seated at a spacecraft flight deck and setting course for Sirius, instead of a rousing whoosh and roar we get a feeble camera tilt which gives the impression that Captain Henry Avery is actually piloting a mobility scooter.


Vex and Silents

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

So the gloves are off for 2011. Moffat and team are back juggling the format and more story arcs than ever before with, allegedly, each of the three-to-four regulars getting their own little saga. We the audience have been thrown in the deep end, with a flip-flop of the usual fare of two-part finale – but could anyone really have seen things become this deep so soon? And this dark for a family show?

Doctor Who has changed, and it’s come at a time of weird courtship of the US market, complete with the slightly divisive “I’m Amy Pond…” introductory voice-over. It’s all well and good to assume the audience knows DW, but to then foist the brand-new, high-end and glossy series upon a nation who still think ‘British teeth’ is an adequate punch-line begs the question whether we’re witnessing a fool’s errand in action. But no, remarkably the stunt appears to be working.

The story, though – aliens are already here and have been for centuries, knitting a space suit or something (I’ve seen their fingers, I think that’s why they might have needed a hand with the tricky bits); we’ve got Richard the third in the White House, cowering behind divided curtains, and the Doctor is dead-ish. We’ve also got the issue of Amy’s Condition to ponder over, a golden-handed girl, a possible Lodger link and then, just as you turn around, a strange lady wearing an eye patch. River’s song we must now take as a given, and the Doctor’s death has for the moment been sidelined in a very ‘meta’ way by the TARDIS’ resident jammy dodger, but where the hell do we go from here? It’s merciless TV for a family show, and by this episode’s last ten minutes I was genuinely wondering whether too much has been loaded into this two-parter.

The story, though – well, there is one, sort of. A cheat of a story, really, and a blatant exercise in keeping as many balls in the air as possible with its teasers and lead-ins. The defeat of the Silents is a clever trick, but achieves most of its brilliance by being a plan unfolding not only under the slitted noses of the aliens, but from behind the aforementioned arc-building elements. On the positive side it’s good to see that such an audacious plan actually gives everyone currently holding a blue enveloped invitation to the Doctor’s death something to do – Canton (a great character well cast) included. As core companion it’s fitting that Amy shoulders the greatest burden of the Doctor’s death, and Karen Gillan holds this role down better than last series, but for me the best character beats simply belong to the two more-attuned to the assails of time – the backwards-flowing River and ‘Rory the Roman’. River’s first and last kiss at Stormcage is truly sad stuff – you almost don’t want her story to be undone, as it surely must be at either (or both) ends. Dave tells me he thinks there’s more to Rory’s flit of insecurity than meets the eye – and surely no one would have dropped his Legionnaire backstory on a new audience without very good reason, especially Moffat.

But we wait and see, the story being far from over, and something of a sketch at this stage not unlike its feature President (no historic reinventions or reassessments, this is the Who historical as punchline). Canton really was great though. If the 2011 series wasn’t already about the return of familiar faces then I’d definitely be calling for his return. As it is we can’t know if we’ve truly seen the last of him yet. It’s a much smaller Who universe these days.