Saturday 6 October 2012

Doctor Who: Angels, Slow Invasions, Cowboys and Dinosaurs

Due to the wibbly-wobbly nature of spacetime, I'm having to write my thoughts on the last 4 (!) Doctor Who episodes after last Saturday's season break... and in reverse order. And all this without the aid of a vortex manipulator...
The Angels Take Manhattan is the Doctor's latest encounter with the scary statuary as well as the much-hyped end of the line for the Ponds. As with the majority of Steven Moffatt's episodes this story boasts some twisty-turny storytelling, a ton of great dialogue and a plot that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. It is, however, very spooky in a Raymond-Chandler-meets-MR- James kind of way ( those cherubs! ), with some lovely location work in the Big Apple and a creepy new twist to the Angels' modus operandi. The regular cast all give fine, committed performances ( especially Arthur Darvill who is vastly underrated in my opinion ) as the characters struggle to keep their quirky family unit together, only to fail at the last hurdle. The Ponds may have outstayed their welcome but I'm still going to miss them, and the final scene, returning to young Amelia sitting on her suitcase in her garden, waiting for the Doctor, is a lovely touch.

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties ( or authentic New York pretzels )

Further back in time, The Power Of Three also focuses on Amy and Rory and their house guest, a certain Time Lord. The world awakes one day to find countless millions of seemingly-harmless small black cubes dotting the landscapes and doing... nothing. The Doctor and UNIT ( represented by Jemma Redgrave ) are convinced that these cubes are part of an alien invasion but they'll have to wait a whole year to find out what's really going on. This is a low-key episode, in the vein of the two "Lodger" episodes, which wrings much humour out of the Doctor's awkwardness and frustration as he has to deal with domestic situations and an unusually ( for him ) linear procession of time. When the plot finally kicks in the episode loses its appeal as Steven Berkoff overacts as the personification of the alien threat, too many loose ends are left dangling and the hasty solution to the invasion is disappointing. But a beautiful little scene between Matt Smith and Karen Gillan makes it all worthwhile as the Doctor tries to tell Amy how he feels about her, all the while knowing that they are drifting apart. Sob!

Three Out Of Five Bow Ties ( or Rubik's Cubes )

A Town Called Mercy is Doctor Who's first attempt at a Western since The Gunfighters, the infamously feeble, studio-bound retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corral from way back in 1966. This is a very different kettle of fish ( or fistful of dollars ) even though plenty of iconic Western tropes are present and correct: there's a shootout at High Noon, all heads turn and the piano goes silent as the Doctor strides into the Saloon etc. etc.
Script writer Toby Whithouse imbues this potentially simplistic story ( alien cyborg terrorises small Western town ) with a streak of darkness and an investigation of the Doctor's morality. Upon learning that the town's doctor ( the excellent Adrian Scarborough ) is actually an alien war criminal, "our" Doctor effectively throws him to the wolves by hauling him  past the town's boundary to leave him at the mercy of the avenging cyborg. On this occasion it's Amy who is the voice of conscience ( but... anyone remember Madam Kovarian...? ) who has to reign in the Doctor's anger. While I enjoy seeing Matt Smith's Doctor cutting loose now and then, it has all been done before.
I must confess this is the only episode of this half-series that I've only watched the once. I'll have to watch it again and revisit that town called Mercy with its beautiful
( Spanish ) landscapes and its horse called Susan...

Three Out Of Five Bow Ties ( or Stetsons )

And as we finish our journey back in time, towards the Dalek Asylum, we materialise in a spaceship containing dinosaurs... and robots... and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt... and a lot of innuendo. Yep, it's Motherfudgin' Dinosaurs On A Motherfudgin' Spaceship.
The title alone clued me in that this one would be Fun with a capital F, and it definitely is. While I can appreciate the grim and gritty side of Who, I'm also a sucker for the lighter, camper stories  -  I'm a big fan of the much-derided Love & Monsters for instance  -  and this one ticks all the boxes, with its action, daft humour, cool spaceships... and did I mention motherfudgin' dinosaurs?
The Doctor assembles a gang to help him stop the titular spacecraft plummeting to Earth, including the Ponds, the previously-mentioned African Queen ( no, not the boat ), big-game hunter Riddell and Rory's dad, Brian, played by the wonderful Mark Williams.
The only seemingly sour note in the episode was the Doctor's decision to leave the excellent-as-ever David Bradley's villain, Solomon, in a doomed spaceship, with no escape. He had been built up as a cold -hearted, mass-murdering bastard, but the Doctor's actions seemed jarring in such a "romp" of a story. And have been hotly debated amongst the blogging classes. However, on thinking about it... the Doctor's killed with impunity many, many times in the past, hasn't he? Countless "monsters" and aliens have been dispatched with no public outcry because, well, they're monsters and aliens, aren't they? No harm done there. The 7th Doc tricked Davros into blowing up a whole planet once, after all. Even in recent years the Doctor calmly watched Cassandra die ( twice ) and dropped the Sycorax leader on to London from a great height. So, he's not always cute and fluffy, is he? And, he's not always necessarily in the right...

Phew! Heavy, maaaan! Anyway, I'm giving this:

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties ( or dinosaur eggs )


M. D. Jackson said...

Yeah, I'm in agreement with you about all of these. Rory really was an under appreciated character and Darvil is under appreciated as an actor for playing him. I'd like to see Darvil get a really good role in something else to shake off Rory.

And you didn't mention the other guest actor in A Town Called Mercy -- Ben Browder! I'm a huge Farscape fan so seeing him on Doctor Who was a real thrill for me.

And now, as usual, I can't wait till Christmas. Forget pressies and Santa -- it's all about Who!

Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

I didn't mention Ben Browder because he didn't make a big impression on me, unfortunately :-(
And Farscape always seemed like Muppets In Space...

I'm definitely looking forward to the Christmas Who - featuring the wonderful Richard E Grant and the return of the lovely Jenna...


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