Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Doctor Who - Smith and Jones

It's a platoon of Judoon on the moon ... I wonder whether the whole episode came from that rhyming sentence. If it did, then hopefully Russell T Davies will write more like that as it certainly worked for me.

Anticipation was high waiting for the third series. With two brilliant seasons of Doctor Who behind us, weathering a change of Doctor in the middle and the reinvention of the Cybermen along the way, what would the third series of stories bring, especially as Billie Piper's Rose was no longer with the show?

I needn't have worried. Smith and Jones was a superb opener. A crowd pleaser at every level, Davies' script shone with witty one liners and action, a really cool monster, and of course the introduction of a new companion.

In some respects, I found the opening of Smith and Jones reminiscent of the start of Rose, with the new girl - here, Martha Jones, medical student - and her family/affairs being introduced in a snappy shorthand style which is very attractive. This also introduces Martha as very much a 2000's girl, reliant on her mobile phone to stay in touch, and talking with everyone simultaneously while juggling her job and family relationships effortlessly. She also quite a fox, easy on the eye and very natural on-screen.

Martha, quite literally, bumps into the Doctor, who brandishes his tie saying, 'See ...?' before he disappears off into the crowds. Strange ... but actually totally brilliant by the time the episode ends.

Martha is a student at the Royal Hope Hospital which stands on the bank of the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament. Interesting to see that the river is back ... last we saw, it, and most of the North Sea had apparently been drained down a hole under the Thames Barrier ... Anyway, the hospital is being plagued with static electricity, or plasmacoils as the Doctor later puts it, and is also being visited by a couple of Zovirax men. I had to laugh when I first saw these chaps, and commented that it was the Zovirax lady. For those not in the UK, Zovirax is a brand of cold sore cream, and the advertising features an attractive lady who wears black leather and an all-black motorcycle helmet when riding her bike to work, but then she keeps the helmet on all day (including while swimming and doing yoga classes) because she is embarrassed by the state of her lips. Anyway, I was doubly amused when Martha later described these characters as being from 'planet Zovirax' - brilliant!

Also in the hospital is a little old lady called Miss Finnegan who seems to be salt deficient, and a cheeky patient called Doctor John Smith who is there for unspecified reasons ... Before long, it starts raining outside, and in a superb piece of scripting which picks up on the mobile phone theme from before, Martha and her sister realise something is wrong as it is just raining on the hospital ... and then the rain starts falling upwards! Next thing we know, the hospital is on the moon!

Wow! That's how to use CGI. From the hole where the hospital used to be on Earth to the building standing isolated on the moon ... an awesome set of visuals for the episode. Effective and elegant in their simplicity. There follows Martha meeting up with the Doctor properly - he knew there was something up - and an explanation about Martha's cousin working at Canary Wharf and not being seen since the business with the Cybermen. I was glad they got this out the way quickly though so we can move onto the next highlight, the arrival of the Judoon.

More mindblowing effects as the ships arrive and disgorge their troops. But aren't they noisy? I thought there was a vacuum in space and sound didn't travel. However we can perhaps forgive this and imagine that maybe the moon has a very small atmosphere (actually, it doesn't), that some sound does travel on the surface. Or maybe it's transmitted through the rock underfoot ... or something ...

As the Judoon Cyber-stomp their way to the hospital, we discover that the sweet little old lady is actually a blood-sucking plasmavore. A very creepy performance from Anne Reid who gives it her all in a part which seemed strangely curtailed. I loved the business with the straw as well ... adds a sort of macabre twist to it all. And kudos for naming the hopsital administrator Mr Stoker ... nice touch.

The Judoon are very effective. As storm troops they are reminiscent of the Sontarans, but really look quite different. I liked the idea of the rhino heads, and the voices were a brilliant vocalisation by the every-reliable Nick Briggs. They did remind me of the Mangalores from the film The Fifth Element though. I also appreciated the bit where they first speak an alien language and then have to assimilate the language of the natives. The idea of them cataloguing everyone and then marking them with a marker-pen cross was hilarious. I can't wait for kids to start doing the same to their friends.

So ... what's actually going on? Well the Judoon are trying to locate the Plasmavore who killed the child princess of Padraval Regency Nine. To do this, they have used an H2O scoop (do what?) to move the hospital from the Earth to the moon, as the Judoon have no jurisdiction on the Earth and the moon is neutral territory. So there's lots of running about and exitement as the Doctor and Martha work out who the Plasmavore is, and how to stop her. The Doctor ends up allowing her to suck and assimilate his own blood so that she doesn't register as human to the Judoon. This would seem to be a risky approach as if the Doctor loses all his blood, then doesn't he die? Or at least regenerate? And what's all the stuff about the CAT scanner being modified to fry the brains of everyone in a 250,000 mile radius, but somehow a flimsy screen can protect the Plasmavore? A bit of a mcguffin methinks and something to add a little more tension to the ending as the oxygen runs out in the hospital, the Judoon leave having killed the Plasmavore and her remaining attendant Slab (Mr Zovirax), and the Doctor seems to be dead.

Of course it all ends happily, with the hospital returned to Earth, everyone saved (except for the poor soul who hit a Judoon over the head with a vase - he was disintegrated for his trouble) and Martha able to attend her family party. Of course it's back to a random episode of EastEnders as the family has a huge row leaving Martha standing on her own. But the Doctor is there and he invites her back to his TARDIS. These scenes are lovely, and I thought that the miming of the Doctor to Martha's '... but it's bigger on the inside' was simply inspired. We also find out what the Doctor and Martha's brief meeting at the start was all about ... a cracking idea and very well executed.

Overall I can't fault Smith and Jones. Sure, there are a few inconsistencies in there (water in the Thames, sound on the moon) but the episode rocked along at a good pace, the introductions were well handled, the action superb, the effects awesome, and the monsters nice and scary. A tremendous opening episode for the series, and perhaps the best of the opening episodes to date, hitting all the right notes and setting things up well for the next twelve weeks.

We even had the first mentions of Mr Saxon for the season. First from the intern Oliver Morganstern when he mentioned that the Judoon proved Mr Saxon right: we're not alone in the universe; and then another 'Vote Saxon' poster seen in the alleyway at the end.

Next week: The Globe Theatre, witches, a somewhat hip Shakespeare ... looks good.


Anonymous said...

It may have seemed a bit risky for the Doctor to allow his blood to be sucked out and sure older viewers knew he wouldn't die or regenerate. But my 5 year old daughter was on the edge of her seat and cheered when Martha bought him back to life.
This is what makes Doctor Who so great it works on so many levels for so many people.

hexacontium said...

I wasn't really worried about the Thames being filled with water, after all, it's a river that is supplied with water from a spring somewhere. Hmm... it should be possible to calculate how long it would take to fill the huge hole to the Earth's centre with water (assuming good heat insolation ;), most data needed is available online, but I just think that the holes created by the explosives were simply repaired.