Sunday, June 25, 2006

Doctor Who - Fear Her

Courtesy Shaun Lyon at www.gallifreyone.comWhat a great title! Shame it doesn't really have much to do with the episode. I can see why people might 'fear' Chloe, but it's not really the overall theme of the piece, which is more to do with being alone than anything else. Overall the episode is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is very nicely done, and the sheer normality of the situation works in its favour. On the other hand there seem to be a lot of missed opportunities here, and an almost palpable sense of holding back. The only CGI work that was obvious here was the animation of Chloe's picture at the start, the little alien flower thing going into Chloe and coming out again, the space pod leaving earth, the attack by the scribble monster and the glowing eyes on the painting in the closet. But then maybe the effects are being used far more subtly in this episode. Perhaps the crowds in the Olympic stadium were all CGI ... maybe the torch flame was ... my point is that these are not apparent to the viewer, and if they are not noticable then they have done a stupendous job. But the sense of things missing is very strong ... more on this later. Fear Her is the story of Chloe Webber, a lonely child who finds a friend in an alien life form. This creature can command energies to trap people, animals and objects in drawings which then are somehow alive and moving and keeping the alien company. I'm really not sure how having a bunch of very annoyed kids on hand stops the alien from feeling lonely - which is the whole point - but maybe we have to skim over that. The Doctor and Rose arrive, looking forward to attending the Olympics - it is 2012 - but get sidetracked into the mystery of the disappearing children. The residents of Dame Kelly Holmes Close in East London seem frightened and concerned, but it takes the Doctor to sense ionic power in the air. Some detective work later, and the Doctor traces the source to Chloe. Her mum, Trish (a fine performance from Nina Sosanya, another actor I recognised from Urban Gothic:, is scared of her and has seen the pictures in her room moving. So the Doctor puts Chloe to sleep and talks to the alien inside her. The scenes here are very eerie with little Chloe's whispered responses as the being Isolus talks to the Doctor, a perfect way to create the tension. What I was less impressed with was the Doctor then knowing everything that there was to know about the alien and its origins. Now I know this has been done before in too many stories, but it always feels a bit of a cop out - it would have been nice if the Doctor perhaps couldn't remember or was vague or something. But all the tension goes because we now know what we're up against. Isolus is lonely and loves Chloe and doesn't want to leave her - even though the Doctor is offering to help. And so the evil wardrobe painting of Chloe's dad comes alive and starts huffing and puffing as Chloe becomes agitated. Trish sings to her and this calms the situation down. These are all nice ideas, but start to become confused. Is it Chloe who is wielding the power or Isolus? Who wants to release the monster? So the Doctor and Rose head off to find Isolus' space pod, but Chloe follows, sees the TARDIS and draws another picture, trapping the Doctor. Rose is on her own, and in some great scenes she deduces where the pod is - drawn to the heat of hot tarmac used to mend the road by Kel (a nice Micky-substitute for Rose) - and grabs a pick axe from Kel's van to unearth the alien pod, which is no bigger than a thumb. But meanwhile Isolus/Chloe decides she needs more companions and so Chloe draws the Olympic crowds, snatching them all into the world of paper. The TV commentator (Huw Edwards) seems most perturbed at this - every man woman and child instantly vanishing from the stadium - but not enough it seems to halt the progression of the torch as this carries on as normal. The cartoon Doctor prompts Rose to the Olympic Torch as a symbol of love, she races to it, throws the space pod in the air, where it has just enough power to get to the torch. Isolus now realises she can escape and so bids farewell to Chloe and leaves. All the picture people are returned at this moment as well, including everyone in the stadium. What? Did I blink and miss something? A moment ago, Isolus wouldn't leave Chloe as she loved her and she was drawing a picture of the whole world to get enough people to keep her company ... now just because her pod is being charged, she leaves without a moment's hesitation, throwing away a week's work. Hmmm. I feel the 45 minute time limit might have something to do with this. Anyway, all seems well. Except that as the drawings are coming back to life, so will the one in the wardrobe and Trish and Chloe are menaced by an unseen cartoon man until they sing together and return everything to normal (it was Chloe's fear that was powering it). These scenes were tremendous in that we didn't see the horror of Chloe's nightmare vision of a father coming to get her - far better this way. But I really felt more could have been made of this whole element. As I mentioned at the start, the effects seemed very lite this week, and I wanted to see more like the attack by the scribble monster. I'd have loved to have seen some sort of a riff on the classic 'Take on Me' video by AhHa all those years ago, and have seen the Doctor in cartoon land, trying to calm and help cartoon kids cope - sort of Seseme Street on acid. Maybe even some cartoon monsters. But then again I mentioned the book Marianne Dreams last time, which was filmed as Paper House and was on television in the sixties as Escape Into Night (a series that I vividly remember watching). The basic idea of the book is that a child escapes into a fantasy world of drawings, but whatever she draws comes true - sinister megalith-like rocks surround her isolated cottage and move ever closer each night. The series and film were very effective indeed, and perhaps if this episode had gone down that path, then it would have been cited as unoriginal. I still feel that an opportunity was lost to make this episode the one everyone talked about - the one with the cartoon Doctor - rather than ending up as just sort of run of the mill. Anyway, the Olympic runner falls. Anyone know why? His name was Danny Fairweather and he falls over for some reason, but the Doctor is there to pick up the torch and to carry it on to light the Olympic fame, finally giving Isolus enough power to escape Earth and to head back to its brothers and sisters in space. Nice moments, and something which I feel the younger viewers appreciated. So all the kids returned, the Doctor and Rose head for the Olympics ... but ... the Doctor is uneasy. He can sense a storm approaching ... And that's about it. Not a bad episode, but not spectacular either. I liked it more than Love & Monsters but less than most of the others this year. I so hope that the next two weeks bring something special. My initial feeling however is that the inclusion of an EastEnders actress in what seems to be a key role might just be a mistake ...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Doctor Who - Love & Monsters

It is so tempting to do this review/blog in the style of someone from the show, but I'm resisting. I'm also really not sure whether Love & Monsters is either the best thing or the worst thing that Doctor Who has presented. I feel that perhaps it sits in the middle really, as deeply average. Trying so hard to do something new and yet failing on almost every count. What is telling, is that my notes on this episode cover just 4 sides of a secretary's notebook. The Satan Pit for example had 7 sides. I suspect the reason is that this episode has very little plot to speak of, and the absence of plot is made up for with 'comedy' scenes. So we kick off with our hero Elton. Not Elton John (I quite liked the clip of the singer in there though) but another Elton, and as he was the lead, he had to be well played. Marc Warren made a good attempt at this but at times came over as someone from one of the miriad 'teen' shows - many created and directed by Daniel Peacock - which is what this episode most resembled, even down to the group creating a 'band' (most of the Peacock shows feature a group of kids who are in a band and seem to be sub-SClub attempts to fuse teen entertainment with reality TV and pop). So Elton is telling us his story, how he first saw the Doctor in the middle of the night, standing in his front room when he was 3 or 4. We get flashbacks to him when the Nestene Consciousness attacked (2 years ago); when the Slitheen ship crashed in the Thames (12 months later); and when the Sycorax ship appeared over London. My family immediately decided that this was a cheap clips episode that all series seem to do at one point or another - usually without the main cast. And I have to say that I can see the similarities. Anyway, Elton meets up with Ursula having found her blog online about the Doctor, and through her meets Mr Skinner, Bridget and a girl called Bliss. They form a group called LINDA (London Investigation 'n Detective Agency) and start straying from the path of tracking down the Doctor by becoming friends, that is until the mysterious Mr Victor Kennedy arrives. Kennedy puts them back on the track of the Doctor - and this is where the opening sequence of the Doctor and Rose fighting an alien fits in. It's apparently called the Hoix and comes over like a Scooby Do sequence crossed with the Chuckle Brothers with the old 'running across the screen from different doors' gag, and Rose chucking blue or red buckets of liquid over the hapless alien. Very daft. But now the pace slows to a total crawl as Elton meets Jackie and she tries to seduce him. While amusing initially (only the scene in the Laundrette), this was way off beam for the timeslot and the audience and by 27 minutes into the show I was bored. When was something going to happen? Nothing had developed so far and all the talk and flirting and stuff ... sheesh. But then Elton and Ursula confront Kennedy who reveals himself as a green alien which has absorbed their friends. Quick as you like, Ursula is absorbed as well, and the talking faces on the creature's body was very unsettling, as was the revelation that the process was irreversible. Nasty. Especially for poor Bliss who seems to be on the creature's buttock. But now I was starting to see and hear Mike Myer's grotesque creation Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. Especially the line that Ursula tasted of chicken ... So Elton runs, Fat Bastard chases, and we're back in Chuckle Brothers territory with a race through the streets. Until Elton gives up ... the Doctor of course now arrives, but only because Rose wants to give Elton a piece of her mind for harassing her mum! The creature (which seems to like being called an Absorbaloff though that's probably not its name) is identified by Rose as being a bit 'Slitheen' but which comes from the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius, a place called Clom (good comedy value there), and the Doctor encourages those absorbed within to fight against the creature, Elton grabs its cane, smashes it, and it does what most aliens do at the end of an episode written by Russell T Davies, it explodes in green slime. Now we learn that the Doctor was in Elton's house all those years ago because his mother had been killed by an elemental shade which had escaped from the howling halls ... I think I'd assume that a stranger in my house, standing in a room with the corpse of my mother would be cause for intense therepy and probably repression of the memories ... I would not assume that the Doctor was some sort of friend. The sequence of young Elton and his mum on flashback cine film was nice, and the ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky' a fitting piece of music for that sequence. The show should have ended here. But it didn't. Instead we get a coda where the Doctor 'rescues' Ursula by condemming her to live forever, without aging, in a paving slab. Lovely. Does the Doctor never think about the consequences? The quip about Elton and Ursula having a bit of a love life (which I thankfully missed on the first viewing) was totally unneccessary and unwarranted - where are you when we need you Controller of BBC1? The final philosophising from Elton was also a little too much - more foreshadowing that something nasty is going to happen to Rose and Jackie and indeed everyone who touches the Doctor, even a little. So overall, an episode with high comedic value. One which seems so out of place in the series as to be unbelievable, and which takes the art of not having a plot to the extreme. I think for me, this is the season's Boom Town, and it's probably no coincidence that it's in almost the same position in the running order. Can't say I liked it or loathed it really. It's not Doctor Who - the first episode that feels like it's from another series and which just happens to feature the Doctor and Rose as guest stars. Even the X-Files like music encouraged and enhanced that feeling. Next week ... we seem to have a riff on the old favourite children's novel Marianne Dreams, filmed as the superb Paperhouse. I do hope it does something new with the idea and isn't just a retread.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doctor Who - The Satan Pit

One of the problems with cliff hangers is that they can set you up for something which then doesn't deliver. This new series of Who seems to have a problem with this, and the majority of the cliff hangers we get are not really cliff hangers at all, but breaks in the narrative designed to up the ante. We had the 'and with a bound they were free' one at the end of Rise of the Cybermen and now we get something similar here ... all the tension and power of the end of the last episode evaporates. The pit is open. Nothing came out of it. The planet stabilises and the threat mostly goes. This is somewhat disappointing. Furthermore Jefferson's shooting of the Ood seems to have no visible results - if we had seen them dropping then maybe it would have been better. As it is I think we only see one dead Ood a lot later on in one of the service shafts. Given that last episode we witnessed the horrific sight of a dead crew member floating in space, surely seeing some dead monsters lying around would not be a problem? The action is now split. Deep in the planet, the Doctor and Ida wonder how to explore the pit - which is a deep shaft under the hatch, and on the base, Rose and the others head for Ood habitation using maintenance tunnels so that Danny can transmit something to disable the Ood who are all trying to kill them. The Beast gets chatty again and talks to everyone through the Ood, it seems to know all their secrets and lives and even claims that Rose will die in battle very soon. The music in this sequence, and indeed in this whole episode, is much better than previously. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it. It seemed a lot more effective and subdued, underpinning the action rather than competing with it. After the Beast has a go at demoralising everyone, the Doctor retorts with some hope for everyone ... a nice counterpoint and demonstrating well the Doctor's approach to life and humanity. The Doctor and Ida try and return to the surface but the Beast makes the cable break, destroying the capsule under 10 miles of cable (I wonder how big a reel that would have to be). But the Doctor and Ida use the cable and wind it onto another drum in order to lower the Doctor into the pit. Nice idea, but wholly impractical. The cable would be made of steel and be heavy and tangled. I seriously doubt that two people could easily wind it onto another reel for re-use, even if they could find the broken end. Meanwhile the folks in the base are having fun scooting through tunnels as Captain Zack routes the air to follow them around. I'm really not sure that all this was needed as the effort and power needed to constantly flush and fill the sections with air was surely more than just sealing all the non-relevant sections and airating the bits they needed to go through. But if it had been easier then we'd have lost some great tension, as well as Jefferson sacrificing himself. And of course there's the superb moment where Toby turns to the pursuing Ood, and, eyes flashing red, gestures them to keep quiet - he is still posessed! A brilliant moment and very well executed. Our survivors head for the escape rocket and blast off, Rose having to be drugged to stop her staying to wait for the Doctor. Meanwhile the Doctor runs out of cable and decides to drop the rest of the way... a little rash perhaps. But he is safe and falls onto a convenient cushion of air. But why? He finds cave paintings showing the Beast being trapped and two mysterious glowing flasks. Beyond them is the Beast itself - a massive and impressive demon creature shackled and chained in the heart of the planet. This creature cannot speak, it is all might, and the Doctor realises that the intelligence is elsewhere ... on the ship with Rose ... Rose also realises the truth as Toby tells her to keep quiet when she starts to muse on why they are being allowed to escape. It was a shame that the shackled Beast did not speak and was relegated to token monster status. All the great monsters in Doctor Who were memorable because they conversed and spoke and were a little bit more than just a rampaging thing, and this one seemed a waste. It was also all a little obvious. We expected there to be a demon-like beast in the pit and there it was! What happened to trying to surprise the audience with something they were not expecting? I was half expecting the massive creature to be just a guardian, and that the real Beast would be revealed to be Sutekh or some other entity, trapped for all eternity ... but no. But now it gets really complicated with the Doctor trying to figure out what he should do ... should he break the flasks or not? The trap is that if the Beast is freed then the planet falls into the black hole but if he does not break the flasks, then the Beast's intelligence escapes in the rocket. But the Doctor trusts in Rose and so breaks the flasks (I wonder if they were a nod to Fenric in The Curse of Fenric - another all powerful entity/force in the Doctor Who universe). This stops the gravity field and the planet starts to fall into the black hole. The rocket too, and for some reason the Beast manifests through Toby again and gives the game away by ranting, so Rose breaks the window and removes Toby's seatbelt so he is sucked out into space. The Beast in the planet starts to burn (no idea why this happened though it did look good) and the Doctor suddenly finds the TARDIS there. What? How? The TARDIS was in a storeroom thing on the base and fell into a chasm during an earthquake. There was no other debris there, the roof of the cavern was not open to the sky, so how the flip did the TARDIS get there? I could postulate that perhaps the HADS system was working and it moved itself ... So the Doctor uses the TARDIS to rescue Ida before the planet is destroyed and then tows the rocket to safety. All is well, if a little simplistic in the resolution. We never find out who or what the Beast was, where it came from, or even whether it is now destroyed (something that old, powerful and long lived may be able to survive a black hole - after all if it existed before the universe was created, it survived the creation process ...) But this vagiary is nice. Sometimes we don't need everything sorted out for us neatly. Overall this was a crackingly exciting conclusion to the story, and it mostly fitted well with part one. I'd like to watch both episodes together though. I really have no idea why the Beast wanted the Doctor to descend into the pit (breaking the cable and so on to keep him down there) but the inferrence was that there was another power at play here and it was the captors who wanted someone to break the flasks ... but if they wanted this to happen then why bother to chain the Beast at all, why not just send it into the black hole in the first place? I don't know what the business with killing Scooti was all about in part one, nor why the Ood were trying to kill everyone (if everyone died then the Beast's intelligence would never have escaped). But it was a great episode, very well directed and visually stunning and exciting. Very enjoyable. Next week ... Peter Kay, some sort of lizard monster thing, and we're looking for Rose ...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Doctor Who - The Impossible Planet

This series of Who is just getting better and better. The Impossible Planet was by far the best episode I think I've seen so far ... it cranked up the tension and just oozed effectiveness from every pore. What an enjoyable experience. The TARDIS arrives on a deep space exploration sanctuary where a small crew are trying to keep things together. The planet they are on - which at one point they say is unnamed but then say it's called Kroktor (or something) in the scriptures of Valtino (whatever they are) which translates as 'the bitter pill', and it's in orbit around a black hole designated K37J5. Of course this is impossible, but it's happening, and the debris of the universe is being sucked into the hole around them - including any atmosphere that the planet might have. The people we get to meet - Ida Scott (efficient science officer); Zachary Cross Flane (serious acting captain); Mr Jefferson (cold head of security); Danny Bartock (right-on ethics committee); Toby Zed (uncertain archaeology) and Scooti Manista (cute trainee maintenance) - all seem nice people, but are a little generic. Scooti is apparently 20 years old, and one wonders therefore how long it took for the group to get to this planet, and to then build/construct the complex base that they live in, to set up the drilling and to get 10 miles deep ... maybe they start them young in maintenance. The TARDIS is lost when there's an earthquake and a section of the base is sheared away, and the Doctor and Rose seem trapped there. However the crew are busy drilling down into the planet to try and locate a power source there which they want to tap into. This power source is also keeping a gravity well open which is how they arrived. The gravity in the base seems OK, and also on the surface as Scooti goes out in a space suit to repair something ... why wasn't she blown away or dragged off the surface into the black hole? That gravity must be awfully strong. But now the plot starts to kick in. The computer and the strange Cthulhuian Ood creatures (who speak through their balls! And while we're on that subject, if those ball things are translating for them, how would they know whether the translations were correct or not? Wouldn't they just assume that they were?) start to spout pseudo Biblical phrases like 'The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit and make war with God' and 'He is awake'. Very spooky though. Spookier still is what happens to Toby. While examining some fragments brought up by the drilling, which are covered with runes, he hears whispering behind him and an incredible voice tells him that if he looks around then he is dead. This is Gabriel Woolf ... Doctor Who fans will know his voice well as he was the voice of Sutekh the Destroyer in the 1975 story Pyramids of Mars (and maybe there's a connection here as Sutekh was meant to be Satan as well ... hmm) and his tones are creepy to the extreme. Poor Toby discovers that the runes have transferred to his hands, and then his face is covered with them as he is possessed by the Beast. I was vagely reminded of the Pokemon Jigglypuff which would put its victims to sleep by singing to them and then write all over their faces with black marker pen ... but back to the plot. Toby goes for a wander outside without a space suit and Scooti sees him. Next thing, he's making the window by her break with some sort of power and poor Scooti is sucked out. The first death and very horrible too. But hang on ... if there's no atmosphere, then why weren't Toby and Scooti imploded or exploded or whatever happens to unprotected humans in this circumstance? The drilling stops - they have hit point zero, and so some investigation is in order. Toby is back to normal now, though he is behaving a little Lady Macbeth in checking his hands all the time. But who do they decide to send down? Ida I can believe, she is the science officer after all, but the Doctor? And only these two? Very strange indeed. Why not the archaeologist, or someone from security (wearing a red shirt just to be on the safe side)? There are others on the base after all - we just don't get to see them very much. But no. It's Ida and the Doctor make the trip. And at the bottom? A vast cave, ancient buildings and carvings, and a 30 foot across metal hatch-thing in the ground. For no particular reason, everything now seems to happen at once ... the Ood all go a bit wierd, advancing on people in a threatening way, and using their translator ball to kill a random person ... Toby gets written on again and reveals that he knows Jefferson's secrets before passing on the writing to the Ood who advance menacingly on Rose and the others at the top of the shaft ... the gravity field fails, and the planet starts to fall into the black hole ... and the hatch opens down below. The camera rises from the hole under the hatch and the voice of the beast announces that it is free ... and we crash breathlessly into the closing titles, and with no annoying NEXT WEEK trailer immediately after as well. A brilliant cliff hanger. It's all go, and I can't wait for next week to see how it all resolves itself. I hope and pray that they don't go and spoil it all with something naff ... but we will have to see. Overall a superb episode, spoilt only by some inappropriate music on a couple of occasions (when the initial earthquake happens and also when the Doctor and Ida descend into the shaft) and also the cringe-worthy scenes between the Doctor and Rose as they discuss houses and mortgages. Leave it out guys or get a room as they say.