Archive for September, 2011

Spec Savers

Friday, September 30th, 2011

First up, let’s give credit where credit is due. Yes, Neil Gorton’s subtle make-up job was a revelation, the robots were fun, the Tim Burton trees were great and Rory cries, but Karen Gillan owns this episode like no other companion ever has before.

Her exquisite performance as the 57-year-old Amy is the heart and soul of this story – as writer Tom McRae says, Gillan could have performed with marker pen lines on her face, and you’d still have believed it. Every gesture and look conveys betrayed trust and repressed hurt, a once irrepressible young woman now deeply withdrawn and protectively armoured, physically and emotionally. All this and pitching a very difficult age to play, perfectly. A mere seven years older than my own lovely wife, Amy hasn’t become old by any means – just experienced, embittered and toughened by a hard and lonely life forced upon her by a series of stupid mistakes.
Watch again for older Amy’s involuntary reaction to Rory’s fez quip; its entirely convincing that she hasn’t laughed in 36 years, or her surly suspicion when accepting the glasses from him. The weight and sense of wounded dignity to her performance utterly belie Gillan’s true age. And yet, in both guises, she even manages to make the macarena scene work (in Russell T Davies’ time, the song itself would no doubt have blasted over the top of this delicate sequence.)

And speaking of curious hand movements, the handbots were also well executed. At last one of George Lucas’s thankfully unused concepts – having Threepio see through his fingers – is realised. Amy’s ‘Wilson-esque’ pet, an acquired handbot whom she’s named Rory, is a lovely addition. The crude face she’s drawn on him has a smiling mouth, but upturned brows which make him look sad and apologetic – which is perfectly apt.

The scenario created here could never end painlessly, and the Doctor’s choice of resolution is heart-rending. I find it impossible to imagine any other Doctor playing this scene, but perhaps they were just lucky enough never to have to face a dilemma like this one. It’s a situation which provokes thought long afterwards – young Amy is our Amy, but her older self has just as much right to her life. Strong stuff – and quite right too.

The Girl Who Waited isn’t an exciting episode, but will, I hope, form the perfect farewell to Rory and Amy’s tenure on board the TARDIS. Perhaps not chronologically; but after a gift like this, there is surely nowhere else for these characters to go – and nothing else the Doctor can do to them. I think I can sense change in the air, and perhaps it’s about time.


Curious George

Friday, September 30th, 2011


In this modern Who era we are apparently supposed to look for themes, and this year, it’s all about families. Specifically parents and children. Absent fathers, monstrous mothers, enfants terrible.

Mark Gattis’ Night Terrors is a very personal piece. Confessedly part-therapy on the writer’s part and ostensibly framed in the style of (as has been observed elsewhere) a classic British portmanteau horror by the likes of House of Hammer or Amicus, it’s the human element rather than the monstrous which is the main attractor. This is no mean feat – Gattis is an avowed devotee of the portmanteau, as anyone who has seen his recent and very good History of Horror series will know, and to be sure the tropes are on show for this episode – dark rooms, fearful and imaginative children, juvenile toys turned into abhorrent and murderous devices. There’s even a giant eyeball in a drawer to tick the surrealism box (and not an Atraxi spaceship in sight this time). At the story’s heart however is a sense of loneliness and alienation – the cramped and anonymous location of a council flat with its elderly neighbours, a landlord and his dog, each, you would suspect, ‘keeping to themselves’ despite living in close quarter with who knows how many other like individuals. There’s Alex and the little-seen Claire, one of countless millions of couples who bear the heart-breaking frustration and disappointment of remaining childless despite best efforts human and scientific, and the emotional ordeal both bring to a relationship. And then there’s George, the improbable child, an alien who has been with them for… who knows how long?

If there’s one let-down in the story it’s in the Doctor likening George to a cuckoo, when this appears to be far from the case. Unless there’s a heavily-veiled truth that this little boy replaced an already existing child in order to be reared (a truly horrific concept perhaps fitting the earlier portmanteau but surely too strong for the likes of Doctor Who), then it’s really not evident. As it is he’s to all intents and purposes exactly what he appears to be, a child in need of a loving mum and dad. It just so happens that he’s not their biological offspring – and alien element aside, this is neither unnatural nor unusual. Nevertheless, it’s narratively important that George is an unknown, and red herring as it is, for the first three quarters of the story the suspicion must remain on him as a disruptive influence. It can’t all be dolls.

Oh yeah. Dolls and a dollhouse for a little boy? It’s been questioned elsewhere, but I just assumed it was a holdover present from a time when Alex and Claire didn’t have a child, but might have been expecting one of indeterminate gender.

And so the crux is acceptance. A different turn from that in The Also People, which shares its faux-family idea (but little else). The scares on show in Night Terrors are peripheral, even if the threats to Amy and Rory are real (though even Rory gets away with a metatextual “we’re dead – again!”), and in effect what you have here is a Doctor-centric episode with Tegan and Turlough in the ventilation shaft. No bad thing – we need to occasionally see that the Doctor is good with parents as well as with kids, and he’s bang on about puberty being Alex and Claire’s next great challenge. If I was uncharitable I’d say there’s Gattis setting himself up for a sequel (poltergeists, anyone?), but I’d rather believe that this is it for the story of George the alien child. And good enough. A return to form for the new series, and for Gattis.


Unchained Melody

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

If the title of this story had lead us all to expect 45 minutes of our heroes facing off against der Fuhrer, once again we’ve been wrong footed. Admittedly Rory (oh Rory; more on you later) does get to re-enact the first Captain America cover and punch the Nazi rotter, but after a handful of lines Hitler then gets locked in a cupboard for the rest of the episode.

So much for Adolf, this episode is really about River (splendid chap, both of them), neatly filling in some more gaps about her past/future and motivations. As was pointed out by some after A Good man goes to War, we found out who she is, but not what. Let’s Kill Hitler redresses this, and presents us with a thoroughly engaging earlier incarnation: Mels.
Through a series of flashbacks we discover that Amy and Rory’s previously unmentioned lifelong friend has had an interesting relationship with them both, being looked after and occasionally scolded by Amy, and becoming crucial in bringing the Ponds together.
The cornfield scene where we first meet Mels is the perfect introduction to her character, scattering our regulars like ninepins and prophetically drawing a line through the Doctor’s name in a little red corvette. It’s also sequence brimming with the joie de vivre we need to launch back into the second half of this series.
Sadly, we’ve only just met Mels when she dies, accidentally shot by her own intended target. It’s an interesting regeneration but we seem to be skimping on the actual ‘morphs’ these days – odd because the justice robot/Teselecta’s physical transitions are rather lavish – even taking on Alex Kingston’s hair, which is no mean feat. (I wouldn’t complain though, as River’s regenerations apparently also make her temporarily bullet-proof). The Teselecta strand of the plot is utterly surreal no matter which way you look at it, a square jawed captain slouching Kirk-like in a command chair, directing the miniaturised crew of a shape-changing robot on time-travelling missions of utterly pointless sadism.

To avoid giving a narrative of the story, I’ll mention the Direction at this point. This episode is full of great visual flourishes from Amy’s tossed TARDIS model becoming the real thing tumbling through the German skies, to the return of the banana gag from The Doctor Dances in a well-choreographed duel. Notice too how little stories are being told behind the main action – Mels holding her side before anyone realises she’s been shot, and the Doctor absent-mindedly flexing his hand as River’s poison begins to take effect.
There may be even more than meets the eye, too, as the author of this blog has suggested that the Doctor’s curiously-timed change into what appears to be his Pond wedding attire may be significant. He was right about the Time Lord’s costume-anachronism last year (Flesh and Stone), so I’d listen to him – those tails may be telling.

As to whether we can assume that River is reformed now, and how and why she loves the Doctor, perhaps it’ll be explained later. Let’s Kill Hitler is as much fun as the title suggests it will be, but one of the fundamental components of this series continues to disappoint me. I like Amy, I really do, but as sometimes happens in real life; marriage and motherhood have made her a lot less fun. She comes with even more baggage now (and some of it has a rather large nose). With each passing episode I’m becoming more convinced that being entrenched so deeply in the lives of the Ponds is diminishing the Doctor, making his world and potential so much smaller. I don’t think he’s happy about it either – and the sonic screwdriver isn’t going to get us out of this one.