Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Doctor Who catch-up

Apologies, all. I love writing these reviews, and had hoped I’d be able to keep up with them as consistently as I did last season. However, life intervened – or should I say life was interrupted, by exams. As my final A-Levels grew closer, the notion of disturbing my revision weekly to re-watch and then recap Who grew more and more inadvisable. However, as of this past Friday I am officially finished with school. (Woo!) So you readers have my full attention – that is, for the month and a half before I go off to college. Spoilers for the latest five episodes of Who lie ahead, as does a monumental bitch session…

None of these last five episodes had anything new to say. ‘Planet of the Ood’ was a lazy combination of rehashed ideas from season two two-parter ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ and a condemnation of slavery that feels more condescending than anything else. I’m happy for Who to keep its morality fairly basic, and to let itself be a kids show – but come on, what kid doesn’t know that slavery is bad? The Doctor’s response to Donna asserting the UK doesn’t have slaves anymore – “Who do you think makes your shoes?” – ignores the larger issues of slavery in our time in favour of a glib, unmerited put-down of Donna (and, by extension, the audience). What I find irritating is that ‘Ood’ was, for the most part, nothing more than a mindless, predictable actioner. Yet it ‘confronts’ the theme of slavery seemingly as a means for justifying itself, while never really going beyond a base message of ‘slavery is bad, freedom is good.’ I always felt ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ made the same point just as well, and the Ood weren’t even prominent in that story.

The subsequent two-parter, ‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky’ took on the very difficult task of updating the Sontarans, who were never going to totally work in a modern setting. However, Helen Raynor does a good job of it, acknowledging the Sontarans wacky appearance while also selling them as a credible threat. Inevitably, however, much of the story feels perfunctory rather than thrilling. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of its specifics – although the Martha clone was pretty unnecessary – but nothing really surprising either. Like ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp,’ which I’ll get to later, this was an example of Who leaning too heavily on formula and forgetting to include some surprises. A couple of things I did like: Helen Raynor making us care about Ross in the first part before killing him in the second (a surprisingly moving moment), and Donna's interactions with her family in both parts. The second was a consistent case of simple, understated drama, and was all the more surprising for it. For those scenes alone, I forgive Raynor that wretched two-parter ‘Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.’

So, ‘The Doctor’s Daughter.’ I had a bad feeling about this one from the moment I heard the title. Sure enough, it’s a travesty. A total mess of ideas, resulting in an overstuffed story and a whole load of underdeveloped plot strands. Considering its title, you’d think Stephen Greenhorn’s story would only be focused on only one thing. Yet surprisingly the Doctor’s offspring Jenny, played by Georgia Moffett (did you know she’s Peter Davison’s daughter? and that she’s dating David Tennant? OMG?) was just one of several key elements at play here. There’s an ongoing war between man and Hath. The Hath themselves are a race of mute aliens with whom Martha becomes familiar. Both sides are rushing to reach ‘the Source,’ their creator. In a final twist, this ‘Source’ is revealed to have been built only seven days previous.

Basically it’s all a load of nonsense. The plot is ridiculously convoluted, yet relies on your precise understanding (for instance, the baffling twist about the Source’s build-date). Moffett is let down by the material, which asks little more of her than to look pretty and leap through lasers. The actress herself is charming enough, if occasionally bland. Catherine Tate is somewhat sidelined, but makes a good job of it as usual. It’s Martha who is really abused in this story – first captured by the Hath, then forced to witness one of them drown, and finally dragged across a hellish landscape for her troubles. The intent was undoubtedly to put Martha through the wringer, but it comes across as disturbingly masochistic. What has Martha really done to deserve this? Hopefully the character will be better treated when she returns in the finale.

Lastly, ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp.’ As with the Sontaran two-parter, this one elicited little response from me except ‘been there, done that.’ Again, there was nothing particularly wrong with the story, yet in a way I would have preferred it if there had been. Instead, Gareth Roberts’ script is so carefully judged, so predictably structured and paced that it is barely worth watching at all. Certainly not if you’ve seen Roberts’ last story, ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ another period adventure full of adulation for its historical subject. I hope that soon I can get back to praising Who as wildly as Roberts praises Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

No comments: