Sunday, June 29, 2008

Doctor Who - The Stolen Earth

I'm really not sure what to make of this one. I know we were expecting something big, but the sheer scope of this story beggars belief. I can't think of much else on television which would try and get anywhere close to the cinematic and epic quality that this episode presented.

I think my main concern is how understandable it might be to those who have not been diligently watching each and every episode (and Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures). When Doctor Who came back with a blaze of glory in 2005, a lot of effort was put in to try and make sure that everything was explained, even in a sketchy form, so that the Doctor, the two hearts, the TARDIS, the Time Lord ... all the key concepts were reintroduced in a way that viewers could understand and follow. I get the impression that all this is out the window now, and pretty much anything goes.

I think my worries were amplified through the opening scenes, which should have been quick and effective introductions to all the characters. Instead they expected you to just know what was going on.

Following on from last week, the Doctor arrives on Earth but all seems fine. No Bad Wolf anywhere. Even the TARDIS was back to normal. So what was all that about then? Just a dramatic episode ending for no reason, apparently. But then the Earth vanishes, leaving the TARDIS behind. Just the TARDIS. Everything else on Earth, right down to a milkman, his float and bottles of milk, were transported across the galaxy with the planet. So why wasn't the TARDIS?

Meanwhile ... on Earth ... a group of soldiers and a woman recover from the move. We don't really know who they are or what they have to do with anything. There's little in the way of dialogue to try and establish what's happening here. We are expected to know that this is UNIT and ex-companion Martha Jones (who was so out of water all the way through the episode. Not a good performance at all from Freema Ageyman).

In Cardiff, there's some sort of scientific base. Probably Torchwood as that's written on the walls, and some people. We might recognise Captain Jack, but who are the other two? What is Torchwood anyway? Last time we saw them they were running Canary Wharf ... Again, there's no attempt to provide explanations.

In Ealing, a woman and her son inexplicably have a giant supercomputer in their house. Erm. This is Sarah Jane Smith who we might recognise from the School Dinners episode a couple of years ago ...

In Chiswick, Donna's family, Wilf and Sylvia are amazed at the sky. And then that blonde woman from the last episode arrives with a big gun. And we see that there are lots of planets overhead. We're not in Kansas any more ...

So the seeds are sown for a big finale. The Doctor and Donna are puzzled as to where the Earth has gone, so the Doctor heads for the HQ of the Shadow Proclamation - this organisation which every race seems so scared of - and it turns out to be on an impressive asteroid-like space station, populated by female albinos and Judoon! There he figures out that the Earth was moved using something on the same frequency as that used by bees (or something - honestly, if you try to explain this stuff to people they look at you as though you're mad) and he's off with Donna in the TARDIS again to find it. Donna meanwhile seems to hear a heartbeat noise, and one of the albinos comments on there having been something on her back, and how sorry she is for her loss to come ... how do these people know what's going to happen? And if they do, why don't they tell the Doctor or at least warn him! Instead they seem to want him to lead them into war. Of course the Doctor does what any self-respecting Time Lord would. He runs away.

Meanwhile, on Earth, the phones still seem to work which would be impossible unless all the satellites were moved along with the planet, and there are loads of spaceships arriving. It's the Daleks again, up to no good, and they start slaughtering and then rounding up the humans for some reason. We seem to be in a bit of a remake of The Dalek Invasion of Earth here, and there's even a cool red Dalek with a Dalek Emperor-like voice bossing them around. But along with the Daleks (which are totally brilliant ... as are the effects of the battles and the Dalek ship and pretty much everything to do with them), there's mention of the Crucible, harvesting humans and lots more.

Lurking in the background is another figure who seems to be in league with the Daleks but who superbly remains in shadow. And Dalek Caan, the last surviving Dalek, is also present, though broken open and babbling insanely.

On Earth, the problem is that no-one knows where the Doctor is and so as the Daleks attack, so everyone tries to do what they can. Martha makes use of a prototype transporter based on Sontaran technology to escape. The Daleks slaughter anyone who resists, and even Wilf's paintball gun cannot impair their vision (a great fanboy line that). Rose arrives and blasts the Dalek away.

Anyway, more surprises come as ex-Prime Minister Harriet Jones contacts everyone using a sub wave network she built using facilities from the Copper Foundation. This sentient software cleverly seeks out everyone who might be able to contact the Doctor. Though how it does that is anyone's guess. Everyone except Rose, it seems, who gets a bit sulky and feels left out. Mighty convenient that everyone has Web Cams as well (except Rose). The plan is to use everyone's combined resources to send the Doctor's phone number (07700 900 461) into space so he gets the message! What! This is utter tosh. It's also the same plot as last year where, if everyone prayed for the Doctor at the same time, then he'd come back to them. So everyone does this, and the Doctor gets the message and realises that the Medusa Cascade (which is where the bee trail led him) has been timeslipped by one second, hiding all the planets there. So he gets the TARDIS synchronised in time via the weakest CGI in the episode, and joins the Friends of the Doctor conference call.

But the call is hacked by the mysterious individual with the Daleks - it's Davros, lord and creator of the Dalek race ... and that's all the explanation you get! His reveal was badly handled and disappointing. After all the build up, I was expected and wanted either a slow move of his visage from shadow into light. Or some crash close up/zoom affair. Instead we get a sudden full view from a funny angle. Peculiar. The Doctor knows him as he was unable to save him when he was destroyed in the first year of the time war at the gates of Elyssium when he flew into the jaws of the Nightmare Child. All this flows at speed from the Doctor's mouth ... and leaves you reeling. So much information, too much input!!!

Okay, so this Davros character has some connection with the Daleks - he is sitting in a Dalek bottom half after all - and he's cackling and quietly, understated evil and is wonderfully, wonderfully played by Julian Bleach, putting all the other Davroses after the first (played by the late, great Michael Wisher) into the shade.

Their little online conference abandoned, everyone decides to find the Doctor. Sarah Jane rushes off in her car. To where I have no idea. How would she know where to go? Anyway, she encounters a couple of Daleks and instead of running them down, she stops and bursts into tears. This is not the Sarah Jane we know and love (even if you knew who she was in the first place).

Jack repairs his wrist transporter with coordinates obtained from Martha and heads off, leaving Gwen and Ianto to certain death at the suckers of the Daleks. Again, this assumes we know how all these different characters can do these things ...

The Doctor finally arrives on Earth, and sees Rose for the first time since their separation. Cue totally daft and somewhat overlong scene of them running the full length of a road towards each other's arms. But then we knew something would happen ... and a Dalek appears and exterminates the Doctor!!! Jack appears just too late and destroys the Dalek, but the Doctor is dying. So they get him into the TARDIS where Jack knows (not sure how) he can regenerate. Only Rose has actually seen this happen before, but she is being pretty useless and telling him he can't (why?).

And so the Doctor starts to regenerate ... and the credits crash in.

Well wow. Really. Wow. That was one twist I wasn't expecting. But I can't shake the feeling that it's not what it seems. That the Doctor is not going to regenerate. Maybe he will for part of next week, maybe not. Maybe we'll see James MacAvoy or James Nesbit as the Doctor for part of the time? I think there's more to this. There's a lot going on with Donna and the time beetle ... I wondered at one point if she STILL had a beetle on her back and that what we were seeing was just more alternate-universe gubbins. Dalek Caan said 'everlasting death for the most faithful companion', so who is that? Rose? Donna? The TARDIS? Jack? Sarah Jane? Take your pick really.

Or maybe the Doctor really is regenerating and the production team have pulled the perfect blinder on everyone. Fans, press ... everyone.

I can't help shake the feeling that there's a great big red reset switch lurking somewhere. Rose will become Bad Wolf again and turn back time to defeat the Daleks (again) or the Time War will restart and time will be reset as part of that ... or this strange key thing that Martha has will do something to reset everything (using ... I don't know ... Krillitane computations). But it's like last year - way too much has happened that it can really all be left in place at the end ... The Earth is in the wrong place in the Universe for goodness sake!

Reading back through my comments from this week (and indeed last week), it sounds as though I'm not enjoying the show. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I love it to pieces. Watching this episode back was even better. It is epic on a scale undreamed of. The effects are awesome, and the Daleks and Davros are just the best they have been for many many years. I am concerned that the general public won't 'get' this intense level of continuity fest fun which pushes all the right fannish buttons. I lost count of the number of back references in this episode, everything from Crucibles to Medusa Cascades, to bees vanishing ... to the biggies like Judoon, Daleks, Davros, Shadow Proclamation, Rose, Harriet Jones, Dalek Caan ...

And above all, I hope that the next episode doesn't drop the ball. That we don't have a rushed and unsatisfying ending to all this.

As the rubbish and crassly done caption at the end of the episode said: TO BE CONTINUED ...

12 comments:

Matthew said...

I for one, having never seen the Sarah Jane Adventures, had no idea what the giant supercomputer thing was, and she has a son?! And are we really expected to believe that in all the time Jack's been on Earth since he left the Doctor, he hasn't once gotten around to trying the precisely 100 possible combinations of two 1 digit numbers on his teleport thingy? And why did he just leave his minions to die in Torchwood, seeing as he knows that they can't kill the Daleks with machine guns, seems a bit callous. Apart from this I loved the episode, loads of action, brilliant effects, and Rose seems to have regained the ability to speak properly. The regeneration at the end I feel will somehow be aborted, we saw the hand in a jar a few times for the first time in ages, so something's going down (Shouldn't Donna have known about his regeneration ability anyway, at the end of the Doctor's Daughter, Martha and the Doctor were wittering on about regeneration, and I find it hard to believe that gobby Donna wouldn't have questioned him about it later). And yeah, I think there'll be a big copout with some sort of reset, which would be a shame, it would be nice if the Earth was somehow moved back, but the events weren't undone, but that won't happen.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you David ....again. Arguably an exciting, fast-paced, polished piece of sci-fi .... but prepare for the rug to be pulled from under us.

1)Tenant can't regenerate because
he is in the Xmas special.( RTD simply MUST be aware that one of the many reasons the "Trial of a Timelord" season didn't work was the subplots all COULDN'T raise suspense as they were past events presented to the audience and the 6th Doctor. Can you see the Beeb promoting a big budget feature length yuletide romp set in, say, the gap between Martha & Donna?

2) We would know by now if they had replaced the Doctor....

(You are a lowly paid BBC dogsbody, in a credit-crunch & the possibility of Auntie radically cutting staff due to arguements over the license fee ... and you're offered, say, a 4 figure sum in a brown envelope by the Sun to spill the beans.....

Bear in mind that JNT couldn't keep secrets in the pre-internet/ mobile phone era ....

3) New Showrunner,New Doctor .... bit of a gamble for the big beast in the weekend tv jungle. Would you like to be known as the one who let a great actor like DT walk away and possbly be known as the person who killed "Who"?

Some odd moments in the episode could relevant, or not.

* Why do we hear Donna's odd ,(twin?), heartbeat ? See Lawrence Miles' blog.

* A bit suspicious that Harriet managed to rig up a secret intergalactic phone network. ( She can't type very well can she?)

* Mr Copper .....Que?

* Why did she check Sarah Jane's address? Is Luke going to get a present of a Pizza ?

* We didn't see Harriet die, did we?

* Am I the only one concerned that one of "Hinge & Bracket" are the head of the police force of the Universe?

* Davros finds it hard to believe that the Timelords failed to survive/ re-enter the Time War when a pepperpot did. I have commented on this topic before. Why did RTD kill off a race that has appeared in around a half a dozen stories .... is it just to bring them back as a suprise ?

* Is Wilf possessed by Uncle Albert from "Only Fools .."?

* Would DT's Doctor have a final speech really consisting of "sorry ... I'm regenerating"?

* Donna may have larvae on her back. What is her vital role? Bear in mind Rose wanted to warn them before Donna visited the fortune-teller, so there must be something going on.

Despite my reservations this was great stuff. Dotty, overcooked but a lot better than the rather thin fare offered so far this series.

I loved Davros but part of me was just relieved it wasn't Paul O'Grady portraying him.

I am desperate to find out what will happen. I may sound like Dalek Khan by Thursday

But I feel we should get the sleeping bag down from the loft, Mr God in the Machine & his partner Miss Reset Button may come round for, another, annual visit.

(RTD, put down the knife..... all is forgiven.... Please don't replace David with Russell Brand ...)

Mark Parmerter, USA said...

I was glad to see your comment at towards the end that you are still in fact enjoyed the show, because having read your recent reviews I was beginning to sense that you were becoming frustrated and disappointed in the show. I think as fans we always risk over-analyzing the show and fogetting to view it as casual viewers do - as pure entertainment. Even when poor writing lets the side down, the show is never less than greatly entertaining - certainly more entertaining than most anything currently on American TV! I look to forward to each week as an opportunity to escape and be entertained, and when the writing rises to the level of absolute and flawless brilliance, I'm even more pleased. Needless to say, the last few weeks have seen some up-and-down writing, but the entertainment factor has been through the roof! I can't wait to see how it all ends, and already feel confident that it will be more satisfying than last year's finale...

Stuart Ian Burns said...

It's probably unfair, but I still can't imagine why self-confessed Doctor Who fans wouldn't have watched The Sarah Jane Adventures given that it stars an ex-companion and is set in the same universe. The 'it's just for kids' argument doesn't stick either because some stories ('Whatever Happened To Sarah-Jane>' in particular) were as good if not better than a hell of a lot of other material that's born the diamond, Pertwee or taxi-cab logo.

That said, surely the kids who are watching will have known who Luke and Mr Smith are and that's what really counts. They're also savvy enough to realise that if Captain Jack works for Torchwood, that's who he and who the work colleagues are and if they don't then how's it different to the way Martha's new workplace was introduced with all the references to characters from there that no one has seen before? Plus, we've all got to come to terms with the fact that the general public are fans too these days -- and that we didn't witness anything like the kind of back references which turn up in the average soap opera.

Anonymous said...

Mighty AI of 91 also disputes the idea that most people mightn't follow it.

EllieK said...

Hmmm. Well - I am certainly not averse to A Bit Of A Palaver at the end of a series (being, like RTD, a Joss Whedon fan) but I did think this was rather a case of too many cooks... I loved the Daleks, indeed, and Julian Bleach - but how many times must the Doctor kill the sodding things? And how many more flimsy excuses can the writers dig up to resurrect them.
I didn't watch the Sarah Jane Chronicles (or whatever) cos I didn't know they were on, but I will watch them retrospectively if this will help.
I thought there were so many things wrong with this on so many levels - but yep, still enjoyable to watch for the frenetic pace, the events and the 'OMG NO, they didn't just DO that'!! I really wasn't happy with whiny Rose channelling Sarah Connor - she was just never that character.
I could go on but I won't (audience breathes a sigh of relief - just like with The Stolen Earth). One last comment, what does it take to make Freema Agyeman shut her flaming mouth?! Not referring to her talking. rather her 'acting' skills; fear - gaze into the distance with mouth hanging open; surprise - gaze at camera with mouth hanging open; happiness - gaze at DW with mouth hanging open; you get the picture. I expect she spent a fair bit on veneers and wants to get her money's worth by getting them out at every opportunity (bit like my friend with her implants but that's a story for another day!).

simon said...

Well given that it's turned out to be not only the most popular episode of DW ever, but one of the highest scoring pieces of mainstream TV (as opposed to niche shows which tend to get higher AIs due to having fewer casual viewers) ever, I think your fears were more than a little unfounded.

Sam Stone said...

Well - David. I agree with all of this. It was a bit confusing for me as someone who doesn't always remember the old series of Dr Who and or the previous companions (I was way too young to take it all in.) The thing that scares me the most about your blog is this - James Nesbitt... OMG! Please no! If there is any justice in the world. (An Irish Doctor - I ask you?)

Colin White said...

Ah yes the crucible...
That's obviously where the Daleks go to play snooker.
They just remove their suckers from the end of their arms and they have their very own ready made snooker cues. Davros dons a white glove to help with replacing the coloured balls between shots. And the harvested humans are forced to be the audience.
Finally the mystery surrounding the balls on the Daleks' bases is revealed - they are spare snooker balls!
The Doctor regenerates into Steve Davis and thrashes Dalek ‘Hurricane’ Caan at snooker thus saving the universe.
What bigger climax could there be on which to end the series?

Anonymous said...

Hope everything is well David ....
What did you think of the Soap opera/ staff party/ finale?

Mark Parmerter said...

Well...it's been over a week since one of the most highly anticipated episodes of Doctor Who since the return of the series, and no review yet? I know you are a busy fellow, David, but I'm also wondering if you are hesitant to review what you thought was a terrible conclusion to Series Four? I have been able to look past it's few shortcomings and appreciate it for what it was - a wonderful, escapist piece of entertainment. We are always disecting and analyzing, sometimes too much, which leaves little room for simply enjoying being entertained. Just curious what you thought of it all...

Don Klees said...

I think this review rather overstates the point about the production team expecting prior knowledge by viewers. Jack's post-Canary Wharf incarnation of Torchwood was a plot point in last season's "The Sound of Drums," while Martha Jones was seen in multiple episodes earlier in the current season (with UNIT, no less). OK, I'll give you Sarah Jane's "son", but SJS herself is probably better known to current viewers than half the previous TV Doctors. And as far as Davros, I think the Doctor's dialogue with him said as much as was needed for those who haven't seen his earlier appearances. At the very least, the fact that he's a disfigured humanoid in something that looks a lot like the bottom half of a Dalek tells you he's a bad guy. In short, there's very little here that a reasonably regular viewer wouldn't recognize.