Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not exterminated

Okay, I've been appalling at updating this blog at all lately, but rumours of its untimely extermination are almost entirely untrue - saw 'The Age of Steel', 'The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit' after my last post, before work commitments meant I missed the remaining episodes of the new series, very regrettably. I did, though, manage to get the first two volumes from Wellington central library on DVD and so caught up with 'Tooth and Claw' and (at last!) 'The Christmas Invasion', both of which I thought were great, 9 ratings. Might actually write about them sometime soon-ish... We'll see. Thanks to all posters for the comments, and who lnows I may even find something more to add here in the forthcoming epoch of the time-space continuum...!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

'School Reunion'

Brief score-only posts here still at this point...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

'Tooth and Claw'

Missed, due to circumstances beyond my control and to my intense frustration!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

'New Earth'

New Doctor Who Series 2

He’s back – and it’s about time. No, I mean it: I’m watching in New Zealand, which means the new series has arrived on screens here just as it finished in the UK – so it’s a whole year since I last saw brand new Doctor Who. Yes, I know there was ‘The Christmas Invasion’. No, I didn’t see it: being otherwise engaged on Christmas Day, coupled with the failure of our VCR to record, meant I missed out – and then I contrived to miss it again when it finally got shown here a week ago (only six and a half months late), so until now my entire experience of the Tenth Doctor has been confined to “Oouhhrr… new teeth. Odd,” and “Barcelona!”, at the end of ‘The Parting of the Ways’ twelve long months ago.

No longer, though; now, I’ve at last seen the Doctor’s latest incarnation in action – and he’s marvellous. David Tennant seems so natural in the role it’s hard to conceive I hadn’t seen him in it before, which I guess is a mixture of his performance, the subconscious knowledge that I was watching his second adventure not his first, and the fact that it’s already been a year since his debut onscreen, plus a couple of months before that since he was named as Christopher Eccleston’s successor – whose own tenure from announcement to regeneration lasted only a year and a half, making the Tenth already seem as much ‘The’ Doctor as the Ninth. Given the brevity of that stint, it’s also logical that Eccleston hadn’t established himself to the extent that a long-term fan, accustomed to these changes, would be disoriented initially in the way that one would have been after say Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker’s reigns, which were lengthy enough almost to erase memories of their predecessors.

All that being said, Tennant’s performance as a whole is spot on – wide-eyed, effervescent, vivacious – and he achieves the transition effortlessly. Unfortunately, some of the material he has to work with is less than brilliant, the character being suddenly shoehorned into periodic outbursts of extreme emotions that all seem forced. These certainly existed in the last series too, but never quite overstepped the boundaries; here, though, isn’t allowed to merely show anger or excitement, he must be Angry or Excited. It’s as if those worst moments from last time have been picked out as ideals rather than borderlines, and used as the basis for Emotional Scenes 101 wherein they are extrapolated and multiplied to unfortunate effect. It’s the Ninth Doctor’s “I am TALKING!” to the Nestene Consciousness in ‘Rose’ – abrupt, but not jarring, and Eccleston has the authority to carry it off – but squared and cubed to form the Tenth’s outbursts against the Rose-stealing Cassandra and the ethically dubious cat-people nurses, which come across more self-righteous than righteous anger. Thus too the ending, where in ‘The Doctor Dances’ we had the corny yet exuberant "Just this once, everybody lives!", here the Doctor drifts around 'doctoring' everyone in sight while radiating such happy-clappy peace and love vibes it would make a Hare Krishna sick. I hate to criticise this - he looks so radiant with joy it's like kicking a puppy in front of Francis of Assisi - but even for someone with as high a capacity for touchy-feely as myself this was too, well, wishy-washy. The trick with the disinfecting lifts was neat, but why di the laying-on of hands cause the myriad diseases to immediately evaporate? Why did the 'lab rat' humans, after a lifetime in cocoons, look (disfiguring pustules aside) so normal? Has Russell T. Davies never seen The Matrix? Okay, they shuffle around like zombies, but otherwise they seem remarkably human - which would stretch credibility if the story was set now, let alone five billion years in the future when 'normal' ought to be unrecognisable to start with. The plot likewise skips just as blithely over the conumdrum of how some are developing speech as do the nurses, whose characters are also underexplored - particularly the sympathetic companion to the Face of Boe, who threatens to be interesting before the second half ignores her. The Face of Boe himself also ends up with surprisingly little to do except allude to an ongoing story arc in a fairly unsubtle manner before vanishing, although this does allow the Doctor the line of the night: "That is enigmatic - that is, that is textbook enigmatic,"!

It's surprising to see Boe and his fellow 'The Emd of the World' alumnus Cassandra reappear; regrettably the Last Human's ability to psychically transfer herself into different bodies means Zoe Wanamaker's delightfully catty performance is reduced to a cameo, and Billie Piper spends most of the story not playing Rose as such - which isn't good when that character has been such an integral part of the new Who's success. On the other hand, she does a great job filtering Cassandra's vocal style and mannerisms through Rose's body, and I can't complain about said body being the focus of much of the transformation... It's a sexy, vampy, bitchy performance - or, I should say, "bit rich-y", as one amusing instance of dialogue cross-cutting would have it. To think, though - all those fans who got hot under the collar about their chaste hero's Eighth-incarnation snogs with Dr. Grace Holloway must be blowing gaskets now, what with the end of the last series (though the kiss with Rose did have a higher purpose) and the latest bout of interspecial tonsil hockey on display here. Anyway, all Cassandra's body-hopping is quite fun, giving Mr. Tennant a chance to camp it up outrageously when the Doctor briefly holds her consciousness, and when she effectively dies in her own arms it is almost affecting in an episode that in general just tries too hard.

I will applaud the producers for effort: the interior special effects are mostly very good, in common with the high standard of the last series. It seems silly to gripe when in this department it clearly blows classic Doctor Who out of any tyoe of water you care to mention, and maybe I'm spoiled by photorealistic movie CGI, but BBC budgets are evdently still a little stretched by exterior effects work - the city backdrop and buzzing aircars stuck out in a way that (to compare with the 'worst' from last time, as above) only Rose swinging from an airship above the Blitz did in the previous series. Still, they're not used to creating alien planets in new Who yet - maybe a good old-fashioned gravel pit is in oder? Mind you, landing on a world that is 'New Earth' is a bit of a cop-out there - although the Doctor's riff on Newnewnewnewnewnew New York" and him being the "New New Doctor" was utterly and infectiously (as it were) charming.

Lots of potential evident then as we get the second new series rolling, but an opening instalment a long way short of greatness - I'll be expecting much better from the episodes to come...!


Friday, March 17, 2006

Still no updates sorry

Err, yes. Somehow haven't found time since move to New Zealand to add any updates, but sometime soon... sometime...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"So where's the rest gone?"

...I hear you cry! Yes, I know I haven't updated this recently - I found I was spending so much time writing about the stories I was cutting great chunks out of the available time I had to actually watch them in...! Figuring that it was silly to watch 100 minutes and then take another 20 or 25 (a whole extra episode's worth) to blog my review, I decided to let things slide here for a bit and concentrate on actually watching the episodes. More reviews will be coming soon, or as soon as I can find time to type them up around moving to New Zealand in sixteen days' time!!

By the way, I'm proud to report that I made it - my 'Survival' bid was a success, reaching that very story in the early hours of Christmas Eve following a heroic effort that involved watching everything from 'The Trial of a Time Lord' onwards in a single gargantuan session broken only by an inadvertent catnap on the sofa during 'The Curse of Fenric'. Finishing 'Survival' at 6:45am on December 24th, I promptly went on to watch the 8th Doctor movie before discovering that I couldn't find tapes or the DVDs of the new series anywhere; deciding that I'd completed my mission within the original spirit of the quest, I went home for Christmas and promptly missed 'The Christmas Invasion' while in London due to my family eating our festive dinner in the evening. Got back to parents' in south Wales after a few days in Norfolk to find that video had failed to record, so missed out again! Now back in Aber, have just started watching the 2005 series again (two episodes so far) courtesy of Tony's DVD and will watch the 10th Doctor's debut after this!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

'Terror of the Zygons'

4 episodes

Marvellous - a strong return to form after the disappointing end to the last series. Once the initial novelty of Tom Baker in a tam o'shanter has worn off, the atmosphere of the Scottish setting is maintained through some great scenery, interesting locals, neat touches (the stag's head bugging device is cool) and wonderful incidental music. Ian Marter shines in his last regular appearance as Harry, turning in a surprisingly intense performance as Sullivan's Zygon double, with the shot of him half-hidden in the barn, one eye staring menacingly up into the camera as he stalks Sarah being particularly memorable. Lis Sladen is as good as usual, showing again here how well she does 'frightened', and the character is as curious and resourceful as ever when exploring the Duke of Forgill's castle. John Woodnutt turns in an excellent triple performance as (briefly) the Duke, the Duke's impersonation by the Zygon Broton, and Broton in his true form. The latter seems to have put some thought into the idea of conquering the Earth, and remains unflappable even in the face of the Doctor's matchless jibe (brilliantly poking fun at the series' own limitations) "Isn't it a bit large for just about the six of you?" - surely one of Doctor Who's greatest ever lines... Even evoking momentary sympathy when he points out that his race can never go home, Broton's death seems almost tawdry as he is shot down by the Brigadier - who at long last has his wish fulfilled to meet an alien menace that isn't impervious to bullets! In UNIT's last proper appearance, Lethbridge-Stewart gets to reclaim a good deal of his old authority, and is as ever backed up capably by Benton; the latter's "Why are you whispering?" exchange with the Doctor after he rescues him and Sarah from the decompression chamber is lovely, as is the Doctor's inducement of a trance in his companion and himself to protect them from its effects.

The design wotk is excellent: the rubbery, suckered Zygon skin makes for great costumes, and their spaceship's correspondingly fleshy controls match up very effectively. The model work of it taking off and in flight is amongst the best I've witnessed to date in the series. Alas the infamous Skarasen lets the side down, being waaaay less than convincing - although the scene where it almost tramples the Doctor on the moor is surprisingly effective. I maintain that the crucial mistake the designers always make with creatures like that is that they make the eyes, though small on the model, too big relative to the scaled-up size of the beast - therefore you get a giant monster that instead of beady reptilian eyes has large and hence cute ones - it's like a huge scaly cyborg puppy, which naturally isn't all that nasty looking! Fortunately the Skarasen's shortcomings were evidently clear to the director, who wisely kept it off camera as much as possible although he was unable to do much about the laughable shot of it rising from the Thames to terrorise London. Fortunately too the best Who is almost benefited by such cheesily bad effects, and the fact the largely blameless beastie is allowed to return happily to Loch Ness at the end is really rather nice of the Doctor and the writers!


Episodes watched: 297
Episodes still to watch: 425

Friday, October 21, 2005

'Revenge of the Cybermen'

4 episodes

Oh dear. After the grandeur of the last adventure, this one brings us back down to Earth with a squelchy bump. Not literally to Earth, mind you - in a neat cost-saving scheme, we see 'The Ark In Space''s marvellous sets reused as the Nerva Beacon, the same (in story) place at a different stage of its history. The crew include Ronald Leigh-Hunt's Commander Stevenson, who comes across rather similar to his Radnor in 'The Seeds of Death' - which, I discovered today in the midst of watching 'Revenge of the Cybermen', I watched just twelve days after the actor's death at the age of 88 - and William Marlowe's likeable Lester; the latter's interesting fact is that he previously appeared as Mailer with the Master in 'The Mind of Evil' and subsequently married Roger Delgado's widow Kismet, who herself provided spider voices in 'Planet of the Spiders'. They also have in their midst a traitor in the form of Jeremy Wilkin's Kellmann, who thanks to the title's massive giveaway is to no-one's surprise revealed to be working for the Doctor's old enemies the Cybermen. It's a little more surprising when later on he's revealed to be a triple-agent working for the inhabitants of the nearby tiny world of Voga, but this is cancelled out by it being correspondingly harder to care by that stage. The Cybermen are coming to destroy Voga, the 'Planet of Gold', as (despite this never having been hinted at before) the metal is their one weakness and the planet is hence a rather large thorn in their collective side. The Vogans are unfortunately such a dull bunch it is hard to care whether they live or die despite the above-average quality of the actors playing the principals. The most arresting feature of their decor is the prominent Celtic-knot-esque design of the circular logo that appears everywhere on Voga, but which is (later) famously known throughout the Whoniverse as the Seal of Rassilon, father figure of the Time Lords - more fun can be had speculating exactly how the Vogans come to be using said design as well as the Gallifreyans (not to mention wondering at which point they'll demolish Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass) than actually watching this story, truth be told...
The singular achievement of the race, who are confined below the surface on a world that seems to be no more than a large comet, is to apparently maintain air and gravity despite the odds astronomical physics would suggest against such circumstances being likely. Ah well, they're still better than the Cybermen, who are uncharacteristically emotional, use Cybermats that need to be hugged to the neck to attack effectively and have as their leader a posing fool who struts across the room with hands on hips in the heat of debate with the Doctor at one point... and, amusingly, whose 'earmuffs' and 'handle' headpiece are distinctively black rather than silver, which has the unfortunate effect of making him look like the Cyber poster boy for Grecian 2000. Actually, scratch that - despite Voga being so ridden with gold they make jewellery, home furnishings and decorations, and even guns out of it, the Cybermen nevertheless launch an attack on the planet (evocatively filmed in Wookey Hole caves, where I had the willies scared out of me on a school outing aged ten) and effortlessly mow down the Vogan soldiers - evidently the formidable natural defences against the Cybermen availed to them have dulled the Vogans' wits to the extent that they didn't think to make their actual bullets out of gold too; a minor but strategically ill-advised oversight... Still, they've got a big rocket to launch in defence - which, comically, is stunt-doubled by a Saturn V in NASA stock footage... Meanwhile, there is a plan to crash the whole beacon into Voga, with a rolling drum of landscape brilliantly standing in for the surface terrain whizzing by the windows.

Feel I can't leave this review without touching on The Discontinuity Guide's expose of a sizeable plot hole - after Sarah is infected by a Cybermat, the Doctor transmats her to expel the toxin from her system as it 'can only transport human tissue' - which leads to the interesting quibble of why it doesn't leave people as naked as the day they were born and totally mangle a travelling Cyberman. Well, sort of interesting. Ah, sod it, I've had enough - I'm outta here.


Episodes watched: 293
Episodes still to watch: 429