Thursday, April 26, 2007

Doctor Who - Daleks in Manhattan

Writing about a TV show can be great fun, but strangely, the hardest reviews to pen can be those where you loved the show/book/film and so on. I found this about Daleks in Manhattan. I really enjoyed watching the episode on Saturday, and then I loved it even more on a re-watch. It seems to encapsulate everything in an effective and economic way. Nothing felt rushed, and everything seemed to make sense. And yet there was so much packed into it! So much information and scenes and characters that logic says it should have made no sense, however it did make sense, and was a wonderful slice of Doctor Who.

We open in Manhattan, at the New York Revue, where Tallulah (nicely played by Miranda Raison, although with an annoying 'Sandra Dickinson' type accent) is preparing to go on stage. She is given a white rose by her beau Laszlo (Ryan Carnes), and heads off. Laszlo however hears noises and on exploring, is confronted by a pigman! This is a great little opening sequence, nicely setting the scene and revealing the first monster before the credits run.

It's a day or so after November 1 1930, and the Doctor and Martha arrive at the base of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty island, New York. The Empire State building is still being constructed and the depression is on, leading many man to become unemployed, heading for 'Hooverville', a shantytown set up in Central Park. The Doctor and Martha head there and meet up with a man called Soloman, de facto leader of Hooverville. Soloman is very well played by Hugh Quarshie as a man of peace and common sense, who is not afraid to get his hands dirty as well. In fact, the only real question here is how the Doctor and Martha got from Liberty Island to Central Park! It's about ten miles away from Battery Park at the South of Manhattan Island, and I have no idea if a ferry was running from Liberty Island to Manhattan at that time.

Meanwhile, at the Empire State Building, Mr Diagoras (great name), played in perhaps the weakest performance of the episode by Eric Loren, is overseeing the completion of the structure, but his masters want it finished more quickly. Then, of course, we meet the masters, and given the title of the episode, there was really no point in dragging it out - it's the Daleks - and their first appearance in the art deco lift, flanked by two pigmen is brilliantly handled. Their voices are superb courtesy of Nick Briggs who really manages to breathe life into the creatures. I was reminded throughout by their appearance in The Evil of the Daleks back in 1966 as their talking and scheming was reminiscent of that earlier story. The Daleks want the tower finished, and mention something about a gamma strike being accelerated, and Diagoras says he knows where more workers can be obtained ... Hooverville, where he wants men to clear a ceiling collapse in the sewers. This is actually a little strange: if the Daleks wanted men to finish the building, why does this become wanting men to clear an apparently non-existant sewer collapse (ie men for the Daleks to either turn into pigmen, or to use their intelligence for an as yet unknown purpose). Oh well.

The Doctor and Martha volunteer, along with Soloman and a man named Frank. They all head into the tunnels and follow tunnel number 273. The Doctor finds a green glowing lump of organic matter on the floor which looks for all the world like a Rutan (ref Horror of Fang Rock) and pops it in his pocket to analyse properly later on.

Meanwhile the Daleks/Diagoras want some Dalek base panels affixed to the radio mast on top of the building ... The Daleks are pleased with Diagoras and take him to meet their leader, the black Dalek Sec, in the basement of the building. I wondered why Diagoras pulled his gloves on when meeting Sec. Strange thing to do.

Now some threads start to come together. The Doctor, Martha, Soloman and Frank are chased by pigmen, and all but Frank escape up into the theatre where Tallulah greets them with a gun. It's two weeks after the events of the pre-credits where Laszlo disappeared and as the Doctor cobbles together something to help him analyse the DNA of the organic matter he found in the tunnels, Soloman returns to Hooverville to rouse the men to take up arms and defend themselves. Meanwhile Martha sees an altered Laszlo watching Tallulah in the stage show and gives chase.

Poor Diagoras is to be used as part of Dalek Sec's final experiment and is bodily dragged into Sec's casing by the mutant within - a wonderful image and very well realised on screen.

The Doctor realises that the fundamental DNA sequence of the green blob is 467-989 ... which means the planet of origin of the matter is Skaro - he now knows what he's up against. Daleks!

Martha, Tallulah and the Doctor all head into the sewers again. Martha is captured by pigmen and taken to the Daleks, Tallulah and the Doctor meet Laszlo and realise what he has become - a pigman himself. Tallulah is sent back while the Doctor, Martha and Laszlo join the party of 'intelligent' humans being taken to the Daleks' laboratory - they meet up with Frank in the party as well.

Sec is in trouble. Having 'eaten' Diagoras he has a nasty case of indigestion it seems. There are lots of neat Dalek references dotted around. Words like Dalekanium, Transgenic Laboratory and so on ... but the Doctor (who strangely has not been spotted by the Daleks at this time - usually he would be singled out and sentenced to extermination within seconds of meeting the creatures) tells Martha to ask what's happening as they don't know who she is. She does so, and the Daleks announce that they are bearing witness to a new age, the birth of a Dalek for life outside the shell ...

Sec's casing opens once more, and a humanoid figure staggers out - it is Diagoras, but his head and hands (black gloves and all) have been transformed into a hybrid between human and Dalek. The creature announces in Diagoras' voice that he is their future! This is a brilliant final scene, and I only wish that the Radio Times had not gone and spoiled it for everyone by revealing the monster on the cover! What a waste of a great cliffhanger, and the image could have been used on the following week's magazine anyway. And the voice! What's up with the voice? The creature sounded just like Diagoras and nothing like a Dalek, not even a hint ... not good.

Hopefully next week things will pick up. I have a worry though, that with the Daleks being so good in this episode, that the introduction of a 'Davros' figure will draw the attention away from them, and they will be reduced to mere stooges which is what hampered and made them less of a threat throughout the late seventies and eighties period of the show. Genesis of the Daleks is a true classic, but this is down to a great script and a bravura performance from Michael Wisher as Davros. The Daleks themselves never have much impact in any subsequent story as all the attention is always on Davros (and he became increasingly stereotypical as a ranting character as well). I hope the same won't happen here and that the Sec/Diagoras hybrid has more to do than just take centre stage.

Overall, I really enjoyed the episode. Lots happening, great visuals, good characters, and Daleks which are actually scheming and behaving like Daleks should. It was scary in the sewers, and the Daleks appeared a lot - loads to keep the kids happy. It's not explained how the Daleks survived being drawn into the Void at the end of Doomsday though - we know that Dalek Sec survived (with his convenient time shift), but we never saw the other members of the Cult of Skaro get away. I guess we just have to assume that they did ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Doctor Who - Gridlock

So the worst didn't happen and the football match was not a draw and didn't go to extra time, meaning that Doctor Who was transmitted as scheduled. And everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief.

But what of the episode? A bit of a mish mash really. It's another which seems to be dividing opinion as to whether it is the best yet or whether it is somewhat on the disappointing side. I have to say that for me, it's the disappointing side of the fence that I fall. That's the thing about New Who, it is well made, beautifully shot and directed, with some superb CGI effects and performances, and yet the plots ... oh the plots. But we shall come back to that point later on.

We open with a couple, Ma and Pa as they are identified in the credits, in a car, calling for help as they are attacked. This is a great opening, nicked from too many past Doctor Who adventures to be original (The Sea Devils? Terror of the Zygons?) but it still serves. But why is that couple from the opening credits of Desperate Housewives in a car anyway?

Post credits, and the Doctor decides to take Martha to the far future, to the year 5 Billion and 53, to New Earth, where they arrive in the city of New New York, but in the lower levels which seem to be some sort of deserted slum with drug pushers freely hawking their wares from permanent cabins. However the whole grim scene is given an upbeat and lighthearted feel by the music and is basically the same as in The Long Game where the Cronk burger vendors sell their wares. Not a good message to give to kids I'd have thought. The Doctor and Martha meet a girl who wants to forget her parents. Seems they have gone to the motorway and she's lost them. She gets her 'forget' drug and seems happy with this. However next thing we know, Martha is kidnapped by a man and a woman who want her to make up the numbers in their car. They head off to the motorway with the Doctor in hot pursuit.

The couple, Milo and Cheen, nicely played by Travis Oliver and Leonora Crichlow, explain to Martha that they need to get to the 'Fast Lane' which is at the bottom of the motorway which is otherwise choked with cars and pollution and fumes. They're headed for Brooklyn and it will take them 6 years to travel the 10 miles there.

Meanwhile the Doctor also gets to the motorway and is taken into a car by a cat person called Thomas Kincaid Brannigan, played in a nice cameo by Ardel O'Hanlon. Brannigan and his wife, the human Valerie, have a family of kittens and have been travelling for 12 years and have crossed just 5 miles in that time.

Hold on. Woah. All this is very nice, and the visuals are stunning, but let's just think about this for a moment. 12 years to travel 5 miles? Why not just walk? Who in their right mind would spend their life in a car on a motorway? You just wouldn't bother! Moreover this simply does not make sense with revelations later on in the plot ... And how can a union between a cat person and a human result in feline kittens? And presumably Valerie and Brannigan handled the birth all by themselves?

So Brannigan tries to help the Doctor find the car that Martha is in, and so he asks a couple of elderly lesbians called Alice and May, who also happen to be car-spotters. With their help they identify the right car. But how does Alice or May (I'm not sure which is which) know how many cars joined at which junction? She shouldn't be able to see them for the smog, and in any case presumably their car is somewhere else entirely in the melee. If the information is from the computer, then why can't Brannigan access it directly? And even if she could somehow see the cars, how does she know how many people are in each? Nice idea, but it just doesn't hold up.

The Doctor meanwhile realises that there are no police or authorities in the traffic jam, and that all the cars are basically on their own. So how does Milo get authority to go down to the Fast Lane so quickly then? Someone must be working the systems to make that happen. And if you can do that when you have three or more people in a car, then why doesn't Brannigan do the same as they have 'kittens' in the back and thus more than three people ... why would you choose to stay put if you could go to a lane where you might actually reach your destination in your lifetime? Speaking of which, presumably some of the cars have corpses in where the occupants have died ... what happens to them then?

Then we get a tedious bit of hymn-singing for no good reason. This slowed the pace right down and I was starting to drum my fingers. Too many unanswered questions and vast plot holes here. Lots of style but very little substance. Something obviously needs to happen so the Doctor decides to go down by jumping from car to car. Nice idea and effectively done, with lots of little cameos from various people from naturists to white and red people to a couple of oriental teenagers.

Meanwhile Martha, Milo and Cheem have made it to the Fast Lane, but another car, apparently driven by a woman in a badly fitting dog mask called Javil (I think), wants them to get out the way as something is down there. This is the first instance in New Who of a bad looking make-up job. I wonder what they were thinking of? It looked so fake and it's a blessing it wasn't on screen for too long.

So the Doctor arrives at the lowest level of the jam and from a car driven by a bowler-hatted man, creates a pulse which clears the smog and pollution to enable him to see what lurks at the bottom of the tunnel. It's giant crabs snapping at the air and any passing cars - Macra! According to the Doctor, the Macra were the scourge of the Galaxy, feeding on gas and using humans as slaves. However this was billions of years ago and so these Macra have somehow devolved.

But if the Macra feed off the gas, then why are they trying to catch the passing cars? And when Martha's car turns all its power off, and is left alone by the creatures, where exactly is it? Is it parked somewhere? If so, why not turn the power on every so often to replenish the air? None of this is explained.

Okay ... time for some explanation at least. The Face of Boe who is in the upper city, has sent Novice Hame to find the Doctor which she does by jumping from car to car ... now the chances of her actually finding him by this method are millions to one against, so how does she do it? And she has a teleport to bring him back but only enough power for one trip ... all sounds very convenient. The Doctor then learns that the city above is dead apart from the Face and Hame. Everyone has been killed by an airborne virus which wiped the population out in 7 minutes some 24 years before. They just had time to shut all the cars in the motorway thus saving the occupants from death...

But hang on ... what about the drug vendors, Cheem and Milo, Brannigan and Valerie? They all joined the motorway less than 24 years ago. Why weren't they all killed by the virus then? And if they can join the motorway, it can't be sealed off. So why are all the exits to it sealed? And if there's no power to open the motorway without the Doctor's intervention, then why waste power on things like Sally Calypso and pointless police 'on hold' messages? And there must be some systems operating as the access request to use the Fast Lane still works. It's all so fragile on logic.

The Face of Boe gives the last of his energy to allow the Doctor to open the hatches above the motorway and to allow all the cars to fly up and out - I assume he also disabled all the limiters on the cars which prevented them from changing lanes or flying out of formation - I have never seen such a well behaved traffic jam in my life! But why couldn't Hame do this? All the Doctor seemed to do was to connect up some wires and pull a lever ...

The Doctor tells Martha to come to the Senate building - like she would know where that was! - and she arrives in time for the Face of Boe to die, but not before telling the Doctor his great secret ... that the Doctor is not the last of the Time Lords and that he is not alone. Gosh.

And that's about it really. Way, way too many holes to hold together rationally at all. The Macra were a nice idea but very throwaway, adding nothing to the skeletal plot and being just a nice kiss to the past.

But what a crying shame when the whole thing could have been far more integrated. How about this for starters ...

The Macra, as established in The Macra Terror, have an intelligent leader which infiltrates a colony and using hypnosis and mind control, makes the humans do its bidding to generate gas so it can survive. So when Martha's car stopped at the lower level, the group leave it to try and find another way out. Cue lots of creeping through dark tunnels, chased by giant crabs and the like - resulting in tension and excitement and kids hiding behind sofas. Meanwhile the Doctor discovers that the Macra are behind Sally Calypso and the other messages, controlling the motorway and sending cars down to be snapped up by the young Macra at the base who like some meat with their gas. The whole traffic jam is being kept down there by the Macra to provide the pollution for the creatures to breed and survive. So the Doctor defeats the Macra Controller up above, and Martha and the others find a way out down below, or maybe switch on the air vents or something so that the pollution can escape - thus showing Martha's inginuity and making the Doctor realise that he may need her in the future.

This uses the same basic set-up, but is an actual story to go with the characters and the situation that is in place. It doesn't need much tweaking for this to be done and yet instead we get something which is fundamentally forgettable and which puts all the focus on the wrong things for a 45 minute story to work - namely the Doctor and Martha's relationship and the whole, ultimately dreary at this point, business with Hame and the Face of Boe (and I know this is meant to be significant for later in the season, but this could still have all been included, but better integrated into a good, solid story rather than feeling like tacked onto the end).

It's such a shame when everything else is so right, that a coherent plot could not have been developed to wrap it all up in. As it is, I wonder how this 'story' will be remembered in years to come - certainly my brother could not remember what it was all about a few days later, and his 6 year old son was fidgety and bored for most of it ...

Next week: 'They always survive while I lose everything.' The Daleks are back!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Summer's Here

I was going to blog today on yesterday's episode of Doctor Who ... unfortunately I'm in a bad way today. Summer is here and so my hay fever has kicked into overdrive today and I have a muzzy head, am sneezing all over the place, eyes itching, throat irritated and generally feeling like rubbish. Add to this a nasty ulcer on the side of my tongue at the back which paralyses it and makes it sooooo painful to talk, swallow and eat and I am really not in the mood for anything much. It's also hot ... really hot for the time of year. I think the weather people said 80 degrees or something today and it's only mid-April. I really dread to think what the Summer will be like if it's this hot already. And no, I don't live in Spain or Florida or India or anywhere you might expect it to be warm at this time of year, but plain old London, England. So as my concentration span is like that of a gnat at the moment, and I'm feeling like death warmed up, I think I'll leave the blogging on Who until tomorrow when hopefully the antihistamines will take effect and I'll be feeling better. I have been taking them all week, but every year I get one day where nothing will touch the allergies and it looks like today is my day of hell for 2007. Went out this morning and got some Anabesol liquid for the ulcer - at least it deadens it and allows me to eat in a relatively pain-free manner - and I think I need to find the cheapest place for Loretadine this afternoon ... maybe a trip to the local big Tescos is in order. At least it's air conditioned in there :) David

Monday, April 09, 2007

Doctor Who - The Shakespeare Code

I can't decide whether I loved The Shakespeare Code or not ... I know that may seem strange, but like Love & Monsters I've just got a feeling that it may split the audience. I have heard people saying they were disappointed by it, and others raving ... well I wasn't disappointed, and there are certainly some things to rave about ...

We're in London in 1599 and there are witches abroad (no, not in France ... in London!). These are classic stock witches. Ugly, hook-nosed, and they cackle a lot. And one of them is just so drop dead cute and stunning ... That would be Lilith when not in witch mode, and actress Christina Cole is bloomin marvellous. She has presence and really seems to enjoy herself. The other two, imaginatively named Doomfinger and Bloodtide, are really just there as cyphers for Lilith and we never see them as anything other than hideous crones.

The Doctor and Martha arrive ... and the immediate problem is that no-one seems to notice them. Not a single person looks at them, wonders about their modern clothes, or the fact that the TARDIS has just materialised apparently in the middle of a busy street ... it all seems strange somehow. The Doctor decides to go to the Globe to watch a bit of Shakespeare and it seems that Love's Labour's Lost is playing. At the end, Martha calls for the Author, a cry which is apparently taken up by the rest of the audience, and the Doctor muses that this is where the tradition started - but why did the chap who looked a bit like Edmund Blackadder standing by Martha not even glance at her before he took up the cry? Again, seemed strange.

So conveniently Will Shakespeare was backstage and comes out to take the applause and to announce - prompted by Lilith - that his next play will be Love's Labour's Won. Another problem - the Globe is completely packed, and yet Lilith has what appears to be a royal box all to herself ... yet she works as a servant at the Inn ... so she has access to money and priviledge to get the box (via various witchy means I guess), and yet no-one spots her or questions that she is also a servant? Seemed strange.

Later, at the Elephant Inn - I would have expected this to have been the Anchor (which is closest to the Globe), or possibly The George ... never heard of The Elephant! - the Doctor and Martha meet Shakespeare and Will is quite taken with Martha's beauty. A nice touch here is when Martha starts to speak mock-Shakespeare to Will, and the Doctor tells her not to, very reminiscent of the similar scene in Tooth and Claw where Rose starts to speak mock-Scottish. Will is also not fooled by the psychic paper ...

Enter the Master of the Revels who will shut the play down as it has not gone through his office for approval. Lilith is not happy with this at all, and so snips a piece of the Master's hair and, using it with a little voodoo-type doll, causes him to drown in the street. This is a very effective sequence, and quite scary. Unfortunately the editing makes it look as though the actor just has a mouthful of water which he spits on each shot, rather, as revealed in the Confidential episode, being a complex rig of piping which means he can constantly spew water ... shame the effect wasn't better realised in the edit. But then Martha knows his name - Mr Lynley - even though he never gave it and no-one else mentions it on-screen. Historical pointer here ... according to Wikipedia, the Master of the Revels from 1579 until 1610 was a man named Edmund Tylney.

So now the witches put the next stage of their plan into action, and using a potion, control Shakespeare to write the last lines of his new play so as to perform a summoning spell. This is a nice scene, and I liked the puppet used to control Will a lot. At the end of it, Lilith kills the landlady, Dolly Bailey, and escapes on a broomstick! Talk about ostentatious. The Doctor, Martha and Will decide to visit the Globe as the Doctor is suspicious of the 14-sidedness of the building and feels there is a connection there ... all to do with the power of words. They go visit the architect, Peter Streete, who has been driven mad and is in Bedlam (which Martha, strangely, hasn't heard of). In the real world, the Globe opened in Autumn 1599, and was designed by Peter Street (without a final 'e'). However Street also designed and built the Fortune Theatre in 1600, so he was neither mad nor killed in 1599. Has history been changed? Was the Fortune Theatre therefore never constructed?

The Doctor uses a sort of Vulcan mind-meld on Peter and gets him to admit that the Globe was built to the witches' design and not his. Also that the witches were in All Hallows Street in London. But then Doomfinger appears and kills Streete. The Doctor figures out that she is a Carrionite and she vanishes in pain when named. The Doctor realises that this is all a plot to allow the Carrionites back to Earth, and that the right words spoken in the Globe will achieve this.

This does lead me to wonder why all the fuss then? As the words were given to Shakespeare by Lilith, and as the Carrionite witches can transport themselves anywhere, why don't they just go to the Globe one night and speak the words themselves?

The race is on. Shakespeare returns to the Globe and tries to stop the play, but the witches are there with their little voodoo doll of him and he is knocked unconcious. The Doctor and Martha go to All Hallows Street to try and stop the Carrionites, but Lilith is waiting for them. She takes some of the Doctor's hair and using another doll (or DNA replicator as he identifies it) stops one of his hearts. He recovers and with Martha races off back to the Globe. I loved the sequence here where Lilith mock-seduces the Doctor - I wonder how tempted the production team were to add in a snog between them - and then flies backwards out the window to hover in mid-air. Very effective indeed.

The three witches cackle as the play reaches its conclusion and the Carrionites are summoned. They appear in a spiral, floaty things which look nothing like the three witches ... strange and more like the Dementors from Harry Potter. The Doctor revives Will and tells him to reverse the spell, to improvise words to stop the summoning. Shakespeare does this (with a little help from the Doctor on some coordinates) and the creatures are returned to the crystal globe in which they were trapped, along with Lilith, Doomfinger and Bloodtide. The audience applauds, thinking that the performance was all special effects. Surely this would have been noted at the time by diarists? Another piece of historical fudging perhaps ...

Anyway, it's all over, and Will tries for a last time to seduce Martha (she rejects him as his breath smells), and the Doctor takes the witches' globe to store in an attic in the TARDIS. But then Queen Elisabeth I arrives, and, much to the Doctor's suprise, recognises him and denounces him. He and Martha race for the TARDIS and away before she can carry out her threat of beheading him. This is a lovely and unexpected cameo from Angela Pleasance, well known film actress and daughter of horror-film great Donald Pleasance.

The cast as a whole is worthy of special plaudits. Dean Lennox Kelly's Shakespeare is really rather good, if being perhaps a little too modern and with-it. I mentioned Christina Cole before, stunningly superb as Lilith as well as being totally gorgeous and watchable. The other cast members were all equally good in their own right, each giving convincing and believable performances.

I loved the music as well. For once, Murray Gold has not swamped the visuals and dialogue with way too much, and the subtle cadences and choral arrangements for the Carrionites was brilliant and complimentary to the story. The CGI was also good, except that there is one distant shot of the Globe where the river Thames is no-where in sight! The original Globe was not on the bank of the Thames as the current version is, but back a couple of streets, even so, the river should have been in shot. The Carrionites were puzzling. Were they all like the witches? Or like the floaty things? They can change their appearance from hag-like women to beautiful ladies, so maybe the floaty things are their true form? The CGI of them was okay, but I would have perhaps liked to have seen more of them.

Overall, as I said at the start, I found much to enjoy in The Shakespeare Code, and not very much to fault - and on the whole the problems are with historical fact, which can perhaps be glossed over for the sake of the production - and generally speaking it's a great little tale. Very reminiscent of Tooth and Claw I thought.

Next week seems to be back to the future and New New York for Ardel O'Hanlan as a cat-man, lots of flying cars and something nasty in the sewers ...

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.