Sunday, May 10, 2009

Doctor Who - Recent Specials

Finally ... getting some time on a Sunday afternoon to sit down and pen some thoughts about recent Who and other things ... Thanks to those of you who nudged me to see if I was still alive after all this time. I am ... and I'm OK, though there have been some quite dramatic changes in my life since last I blogged. Anyway, onwards and upwards and first on my list of things to catch up with are the two latest Doctor Who specials. We had The Next Doctor at Christmas, and at Easter there was Planet of the Dead. Heading back to Christmas first, and at the time I wasn't sure how to take The Next Doctor. It seemed to be quite a fun romp at times, but scattered through with disjointed elements which didn't seem right. Overall I felt it was certainly one of the weaker Cybermen adventures, with only the very cool black and silver with brain showing variant to elicit much interest - though quite why this CyberLeader was like that is anyone's guess. I liked the setting and the idea of David Morrissy being the Doctor was a nice conceit which unfortunately fell into the Doctor's Daughter school of not being that at all, and all being something else entirely ... a shame really as again, the 'gosh wow' idea of it was better than the actuality. As usual for BBC Drama, the setting was well realised, but I'm not sure that the number of black gentlemen who were seen around could have been correct - at this time in England's history, weren't black men and women menials rather than toffs? Which brings us to Rosita and her perfect Cockney accent, let alone that she's treated as an equal ... hmmm. The Cybershades were frankly rubbish. Eliciting no form of excitement at all and looking like something which had been constructed from the pages of Doctor Who Adventures Magazine (but then perhaps that was the intention, to feature a monster which every child could effectively pretend to be with a sheepskin rug and a cardboard mask ... And why would the Cybermen convert cats and dogs anyway? There are enough people around after all. Then it all goes Oliver with Miss Hartigan's Fagin capturing the kids to work in a factory ... again, not much explanation as to why the kids were used ... why not controlled humans? Why were they needed at all? And of course finally it turns into Transformers and a giant Cyberking rises from the Thames to stomp all over London ... I have no idea what the point was, but it all looked nice if you disengaged your brain. Yes ... different from the other Christmas specials, perhaps not as good as Voyage of the Damned, but better than The Runaway Bride ... But then we get Planet of the Dead. Oh dear. I had high hopes for this, but it turned out that everything we had heard about it was exactly what it was. Recorded in a Dubai which looked like sand dunes in Cornwall, and featuring some woman off EastEnders and The Bionic Woman who acted well but had no clue really, and a race of giant flies who eat excrement, and you start to think that it's all going to hell in a handcart. What niggled me most about this was the lack of plot. The Doctor is on a London bus acting like the loony you try to avoid and wittering on about easter eggs and fiddling with something electronic when the bus is sucked through a space time portal and dumped in the desert. As happens you know ... We then have most of the running time taken up with Doctor on said bus trying to figure out how to get back while another loony on the bus goes on and on about death coming (no love, it's just a swarm of alien stingray things), while on Earth, UNIT has it's hands full as they've inexplicably put Lee Evans in charge of the tech ... Lucky that on board the bus is the Bionic Woman who can't do anything useful really, but who has a gold chalice she just nicked and which is exactly what the Doctor needs to turn the bus into something out of Harry Potter and fly back home again. And that's about it. Obviously co-writer Gareth Roberts has a thing about flying beasties as he's used them in The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp as well as Planet of the Dead. Maybe we should call it Lara Croft on the Planet of the Flies and be done with it as that was really what it seemed to be about. Of course we had to end with the loopy woman going on about something returning and knocking four times ... but then her predictions of death were so way off kilter that if the Doctor has any sense then he'll ignore her. But then again, he's so used to everyone he's ever met suddenly turning up again on a giant Dalek saucer, or at the end of the world, or in a submarine or somewhere equally unlikely, that if I were him, I'd just assume that Rose was coming back for him having worn out her clone Doctor, or that Donna had remembered her past and rather than Wilf have to put up with her whining about that, decides to find the Doctor himself and give him a piece of his mind. I've been hearing the rumours about Tennant's swan song and thinking ... oh no, not again. It's interesting to look back just a couple of years ... I watched a repeat of Army of Ghosts and Doomsday again last week, and I was again reduced to crying my eyes out over the ending. They should have left it there, they really should. The production team seem to have stopped trying in many respects. Now that Doctor Who is rightfully back on top of the schedules, and that it's pulling in more money than ever before in its history through merchandise and overseas sales, it seems like the golden goose cannot be harmed. So the scripts get a little rushed and shoddy, less care is taken over the finer details than in which celebrity casting we can use this time around ... it's all worryingly like the slow decline of the show under John Nathan-Turner, when scripts came second to crowd-pleasing reunions and a wacky opportunity to record in Spain gave us The Two Doctors rather than spending the money on a decent set of scripts and some great ideas. I worry because I care ... I love that Doctor Who is top of the telly pops again, and that my interest in it is seen as being cool and interesting rather than geeky and sad ... but if the scripts aren't cutting the mustard, then the public will turn away quickly and find something else to watch. Primeval perhaps, which has really given Who a run for it's money with this new season. The episode shown along with Planet of the Dead apparently killed off one of the lead characters in a way that was dramatic and effective. Not just for show, or to try and grab viewers (as no-one knew it was going to happen), but in a script that was tense and well thought through. The Who production office has many, many very talented people working in it, and I know they do care ... but complacency has a way of creeping in. I'm glad that Russell T Davies has stood down and that Steven Moffat now needs to prove himself against the mirror of Davies' television juggernaught. This should provide the necessary boost and up the ante for everyone to create not just Doctor Who, but a bigger, bolder, better Doctor Who. Something that amazes and terrifies in the same breath, something which is thought provoking, touches on the human condition, and which works on a number of levels. No pressure then ...

7 comments:

Tiel Messingham said...

As you say: "... I watched a repeat of Army of Ghosts and Doomsday again last week... They should have left it there, they really should. The production team seem to have stopped trying in many respects."

- I'm so glad it's not just me who thinks that.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Wish they turn the series back to a type of anthology where each story is a self contain story. The story arcs should be more subtle and not so overwhelming.

Any thoughts on Matt Smith's casting? I was shocked at first, but now I reckon we'll get a Doctor Who version of Neil gaiman's sandman. Can't decide if this is good or bad.

darnall 42 said...

have to agree with you about the next doctor (especially after watching the series 2 cybermen episodes from the new cybermen collection dvd )

David said...

Matt Smith ... reserving judgement at the moment. He seems *very* young to me and I hope he manages therefore to capture the gravitas and alienness that the Doctor needs ... actors tend to need a little experience behind them to be able to pull that off IMHO though Tom Baker did OK!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, David, but I must point out your use of a hugely annoying phrase that has cropped up in fandom a lot 'spending the money on a decent set of scripts'- are you suggesting that if Russell T. Davies had paid himself more, the story would have been better?

Still, keep up the good work, although I have never forgiven you for saying 'Tomb of the Cybermen' was good! ;)

David said...

re spending the money on decent scripts ... this is more saying that time is money in television and the more time you spend honing and refining then hopefully the better the end product might be.

pigbrainedhomunculus said...

David, for a change I only agree with you a little.
"The Next Doctor" was a gloomy, slight but a really touching story with Dervla Kirwan stealing the episode despite both Davids' sterling performances. Yes, the Cybershades were bad (given their shaggy mane they should be called CyberMATS); yes, the Cyberking looked like a PS2 character but at least the story tried to explore what makes the Doctor special: bravery, sensivity and integrity. Not 2 hearts, flapping his gums about the polarity of neutron flow nor a taste for frockcoats.

"Planet of the Dead" was a fun romp with a spectacularly annoying companion. Lady Shaver, or whatever she was called, had me wanting to build a guillotine due to her smugness and isn't it a bit dodgy that series 1 had the story of a chav becoming a heroine now we have Michelle Ryan espousing privilege and the importance of good breeding.
Okay, the story wasn't meant to be deep nor profound - so let's be fair. But I think the last 3 specials will be darker, deeper and more challenging. Your comments about the conclusion of series 2 are accurate but series 3 was great though the last series was a bit dissapointing. One of most interesting things about Whovians is their constant claims that Who is dead or that the show is going down the tubes!
My concern is that "The Stolen Earth/ Journey's End" was "an evertything but the kitchen sink" tribute to the RTD era... so how will this year's festive 2 parter go then?