Sunday, April 24, 2005

Doctor Who - World War Three

The second part of the story started in Aliens of London, and we pick up where we left the Doctor and co at the end of last week's episode ... the electrification thingy used by the Slitheen doesn't affect the Doctor (as he's not human of course) and instead he jams the ID pass into the throat-device of the revealed Slitheen creature which makes all of them crackle with electricity allowing everyone to escape from their various cliff-hanger predicaments ... quite how this works isn't explained, but the assumption is that all the creatures are perhaps linked together and that if you were to kill one, then the others would also be affected. This is a nice idea, but obviously not correct as when the policeman-Slitheen threatening Jackie (whose name seems to be Welsh ... something like Sic-Fel-Foch) is killed with vinegar, the others don't die as well ... but they do sense that their compatriot has been killed. The plot starts to resolve itself: the Slitheen aren't an alien race invading the world ... they are an alien family (Slitheen is their second name - their first names are fairly unpronouncable and hyphenated - and they come from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius - full marks to Eccleston for pronouncing that one) here to destroy the Earth and then sell it on the black market as chunks of radioactive clinker ... so the Doctor has to stop them of course. To do this, he cunningly traps himself, Rose and Harriet in the cabinet room behind reinforced metal walls with no communication and no way out ... hmm. Perhaps not the best at forethought is the ninth Doctor. It's eventually down to Mickey, Rose's erstwhile boyfriend, to save the day and to text her a picture of one of the monsters on her mobile ... hardly the first thing I'd do if I was intent on escaping from a rampaging green alien. Nevertheless, this outside contact allows the Doctor to talk Mickey through hacking into the UNIT website, which has to be one of the most insecure websites in the world - - just one password allows Mickey to launch a missile to destroy 10 Downing Street. The password is, for some strange reason 'buffalo' and allows access to pretty much everything on the website. I like the way that the site does actually exist, and that the password does work ... even if the missile launching simulation thing there is a little naff. Meanwile, the Slitheen family call in their brothers and sisters (including Group Captain Tennant James of the RAF, Ewen McAllister, Deputy Sectretary for the Scottish Parliament; and Sylvia Delaine, Chairman of the North Sea Boating Club) and make a plea via a television broadcast to the UN to release the codes to launch a nuclear strike on the invading aliens ... all of which is a ruse of course to enable them to use the missiles themselves to secure the destruction of the world. But with Mickey's help the Doctor blows Downing Street and everyone in it sky high with a missile and the day is saved. Luckily, the steel-shutter protected cabinet room is unscathed and the Doctor, Rose and Harriet emerge safely from the crater which is all that remains of Downing Street ... I guess we have to suspend our disbelief a little here and believe that the potential death toll incurred by the Doctor's actions was minimised by the strangely Welsh police officers clearing the entire area with about 10 seconds notice. The Slitheen are presented on screen as both CGI creatures, which leap and bound gracefully after the Doctor, and as costumed actors, who lumber around like ... men in rubber suits. It's a shame that the aspirations of the CGI didn't more closely match the reality of the costumes ... but the overall presentation of the monsters is a good and valiant attempt to do something different and original. The conclusion that the Slitheen can be killed with vinegar is arrived at by the Doctor when he realises that they are a living calcium-based life form, and the one splashed by Jackie and Mickey explodes in an impressive riot of green gunge ... great for Saturday tea time. There are some other areas of light humour here as well ... aside from the farting which continues , there's the female Slitheen's hunt for Rose and Harriet which is disconcertingly like the 'big bad wolf' from the fairy tale (it's that Wolf motif again folks), when attacking the little pigs (and it's therefore interesting that it was a pig that was chosen as the decoy in the first episode). Then there's the final words spoken by the Slitheen as they realise they're about to be blown to smithereens: 'Oh bol ...!' As to what that second word might have been is left to the minds of the viewers ... and I think we can guess at what conclusion the majority might come to in this regard. Overall I found this episode a little hard going. I enjoyed it a lot more on a second viewing, though, and I suspect that watching the entire story in one go would give better results ... for me there was again way too much 'Doctor Soap', as I mentioned in an earlier entry. The material with Rose and Jackie and Mickey (though he redeems himself here from his pretty useless showing in Rose) is somewhat tedious in places, and I really hope that we might have seen the last of Rose's family and the 'domestics' as the Doctor puts it. The ending of the story felt like a final 'goodbye' between the characters, and that's how I'd like it to stay. One piece of dialogue of note here, and as usual it is Billie Piper being brilliant as Rose ... it's the 'You're stuck wiv me ...' line, followed by a silent laugh and a pointing figure at the Doctor ... genius. She's acting Eccleston off the screen most of the time, and is by far the most watchable and consistently entertaining companion ever. I think in summation, the two parter worked, allowing enough time to develop the characters (though the team from UNIT never said a word as far as I remember, and were all killed at the end of the first episode. And what happened to the dishy Dr Sato?) while also developing a decent story with a reasonable twist. There are, however, some tricky questions emerging about the story. Why would an advanced race with space travel and the technology to convert a pig into a sentient creature, let alone being able to impersonate humans by using their hollowed out skins - and come to think of it, why don't the skins rot and decay? - why would such a race need to use Earth's own missiles? Wouldn't they have their own? Or the technology to destroy the Earth themselves? And why pick on the Earth? Wouldn't any of the planets have done? And why bother with all the subterfuge and the nonsense with the pig? If they wanted to terrify humanity, then the Slitheen themselves looked pretty scary in a way that a pig in a space suit doesn't quite match. Never mind. The episodes were jolly good fun, with some neat effects, some scary monsters, and some ideas and concepts way beyond normal television shows. Not to mention the ironic winks at fat-cat politicians and the Weapons of Mass Destruction debates. Next week ... Dalek!!!!

The Claws of Axos

The latest WHO DVD from the BBC is a favourite story of mine: The Claws of Axos, first transmitted in 1971. The DVD is as usual packed with extra goodies. This time there's a tremendous selection of material from a studio tape from the story (this is the material recorded by the cameras in the studio, unedited and with all the retakes and so on intact. This footage is presented with optional captions which explain what is going on, and these are really helpful in understanding and appreciating the reasons for retakes and so on. We get to see a variety of goofs and fluffs, and also the recording of various different parts of the story. Of particular interest is the sequence in the UNIT lorry where the driver is hypnotised by the Master ... recorded in a studio and faked to look like it's all in the lorry ... very effective it is too. There's a mini-documentary about the locations, which is impressive for the time and effort that the makers have gone to in order to duplicate exact camera angles and pans so that the picture can be faded from the original footage to the location today ... very impressive indeed. The tapes of The Claws of Axos were recovered from America and so had to be converted from NTSC back to PAL in order to release them, and there's a very technical documentary about Reverse Standards Conversion here which explains all the gubbins which goes into the process and what they did. The results speak for themselves and the split-screen sections showing the normal conversions verses the RSC conversions highlight the superb quality of the DVD presentation. Unfortunately this little documentary goes a little insane at the end and starts going on about aliens and the like, rather spoiling the technical nature of the rest of it. Interesting too that the man who pioneered Standards Conversion from PAL to NTSC in the first place was a Mr Axon ... The photo gallery contains numerous new shots and is accompanied by some great background and sound effects from the story. There's even a piece with the director, Michael Ferguson, on the story and it's always nice to see the behind the scenes people talking about their work. Oh, the DVD even includes the actual story as well ... so you can watch four episodes of Pertwee mastery at your leisure.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Doctor Who - Aliens of London

After two episodes of danger and excitement and far flung times it's something of a disappointment that the Doctor and Rose land up back in contemporary London for this fourth episode. There are some nice ideas here ... the handling of Rose's twelve month departure (rather than the twelve hours the Doctor claims at the start) is well done, although the lack of any credible explanations from Rose to her mum and to the police seemed somewhat strange. I also feel that the Doctor would at least have been strenuously questioned or even arrested by the police as a potential suspect to kidnapping rather than sitting in Rose's mum's flat drinking tea! But after the initial reunions, we are treated to the best piece of effects work I have yet seen ... probably anywhere! A spacecraft comes down low over Rose and the Doctor's heads ... leaking black smoke and on its way to central London. The shots of it flying through the air, as well as the point of view shots are exceptional, and it's initial clipping of a building before taking out the top of the Big Ben clock tower are amazing. I loved this sequence ... it's awe inspiring and breathtaking and blows everything else out of the window. I feel that this sequence sets the standard for the series - the space station in The End of the World was good, but this is awesome. Of course the Doctor's reaction to it ... one of a child setting off to chase the ice cream van ... is likewise very typical of this Doctor, and brings an air of giddy excitement to the whole scene. Some of the ensuing news footage, although well done, did not ring as true as I would have liked - we don't put dramatic music over live reportage news footage in the UK, and the main reporter seemed a little false to me. Good to see Andrew Marr there though as he is an increasingly familiar face on television, and has even been parodied on Dead Ringers. Unfortunately the phone number to contact if you have any information on aliens does not work (it was 08081 570 980 if you're interested). I half expected this to be a number with a recorded message on it about the 'alien invasion'. A shame that this minor element was not carried through. We're then introduced to the main characters in the ensuing drama: the portly politicians Green (he of the chronic flatulence), Blaine and Charles; the nervy Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North); General Askwith (presumably of UNIT although I don't think this was stated); and the nervy secretary Strickland. Something is obviously amiss with the three overweight honourable Members of Parliament as no sooner are they in a room together that they start giggling and laughing and metaphorically rubbing their hands together like Doctor Evil. Unfortunately, we switch back to the emerging soap opera as Rose has to contend with her mum and Mickey, her erstwhile boyfriend, as the Doctor heads off in the TARDIS to do some investigating into the strange alien body retrieved from the wreckage. The lead up to the revelation of this creature is very well handled, and its escape from the morgue seems to be a sly nod to the Doctor Who television movie where the Doctor does the same thing after regenerating. Doctor Sato (played by Naoko Mori) is very good, and everyone plays it dead straight as the alien is revealed to be a somewhat amusing pig in a spacesuit (played by Jimmy Vee - he seems to have drawn the short straw to play alien creatures who end up dead ...) More scary are our portly politicians who seem to have zippers in their foreheads and blue light hidden within - but why do all the lights go out when they unzip? Is one of the aliens perhaps standing by the light switches ready for the unveiling? I guess one explanation could be that the effort of shedding the human skin draws energy from the local power supply, thus causing the lights to fail. It would in part explain the crackling blue energy that is seen as the skins are shed. But then we're back to Doctor Soap and Rose's mum and Mickey enter the TARDIS to the dismay of the Doctor who does not want a 'domestic' ... and nor did I. I can understand in part why the series is focussing on Rose and her family, but these aspects tended to drag everything down for me. I almost wish they hadn't been in the episode and that Rose and the Doctor could have got on with the bigger plot without the weight of human relationships to contend with as well. But then Rose's mum reports the Doctor as another alien and the government are alerted to the fact that the Doctor is there ... so they send what seems like the whole army, including a helecopter, to get him. Back at number 10 Downing Street, we rapidly approach the end-game. Rose, Harriet and Strickland are trapped in an office by Blaine who unzips herself before them ... meanwhile Rose's mum has a visit from a strangely corpulent and flatulent policeman who sheds his skin in her living room ... while the Doctor and all the visiting UNIT officials (none of whom say a word, even to the Doctor) witness the revealing of Askwith (whose body had been taken by the alien previously posing as Charles) before Green starts to electricute them all with something hidden in their ID badges ... ... and cue the closing credit scream and we have our first proper cliff hanger of the series ... but then they go and spoil it all with a 'Next Time' preview ... no, no, no! This was not necessary. Now, having seen that, we all know that the Doctor escapes, more of what the monsters look like and so on. The whole point of a cliff hanger is that you don't know what happens next, and the joy is to wait a week to find out, discussing possible resolutions with friends. I would far rather they had left the 'Next Time' section off this episode altogether. My whole family cheered at the cliffhanger, and then simultaneously erupted in dismay at the 'Next Time' section - this including an 11 year old who hid his eyes during the hunt for the pig-alien in the lab, and who also hid when the Slitheen were unmasked at the end ... great reactions and exactly what was needed from the series. Even my brother's 4-year old son loved the monsters at the end - having been a little bored during the lead up to their revelation. The Slitheen - as they revealed themselves to be - are a classic monster. A brilliant vocal performance (sounding like a belch), great nictitating eyes, some neat squishy sound effects and more impressive CGI as they reveal themselves as powerful, green and large, and somehow hidden within the hollowed out skin of human hosts (there was talk of compression fields and gas exchanges to explain this ... at least they looked far more believable than the Foamasi). So on to next week's episode, where hopefully there'll be more explanations, more monsters and more death and mayhem at number 10 Downing Street. I suspect, however, that we'll have to wait for more explanation of the boy who spray paints 'Bad Wolf' on the side of the TARDIS ...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Cabin Fever

2004's surprise hit horror movie was a little film called Cabin Fever. I've just managed to see it on DVD ... as usual with this sort of film, it's hard to know quite what to expect. Its antecedents would appear to be things like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead and The Blair Witch Project, but it comes over as a ppor relation to these and also somewhat confused in which direction it wants to take. The main problem is the script. The idea is great: an isolated cabin in the woods, and five horny teenagers arrive there intent on partying (three boys, two girls) but then a sick-looking hermit comes calling, and soon the water is infected and the kids start to succumb to a flesh-eating sickness one by one. There's some interesting concepts here: the girl who first gets sick is being fondled by her boyfriend when he discovers that she has blood on her leg ... as her leg is dissolving. The same girl then gets the best make-up effect in the film when we see her eaten-away face at the end. The claustrophobia of the cabin setting starts off well, but then there seem to be hundreds of people within walking distance of the place, so it's perhaps not quite so isolated after all. Then there's the locals - deliberately played as Chainsaw-like sub-intelligent types - who go after the kids once they discover they are sick ... The problem is that the film loses its focus quite quickly. It takes a long time to get going, for the kids to arrive at the cabin and for the loony, infected hermit to vomit blood all over their jeep. Then the sickness starts slowly and takes forever to get anywhere. Finally, when what we really want is for all the kids barring one to have become crazed zombie-types, it doesn't happen. Instead the film veers off into the police coming to take over the situation, a random car ride and collision with a deer, one of the kids being taken to hospital ... and finally an ending snatched straight out of Night of the Living Dead. It's a fun and undemanding watch, and not really scary. There are some nice moments, and some gross outs with vomiting blood and crazed dogs, but overall the the film tends not to hang together coherently in the final half hour or so. It's a shame as the two girls are very watchable (and manage to get their clothes off several times along the way) and the boys are likewise good looking and affable types. Certainly, watching the making-of feature, you get the impression that these folks all had their hearts in the right place, and the homages to the films of the 70s are certainly there. I think what it needed was a firmer hand on the script to make sure the focus remained steady, and perhaps greater attention to the ending - for my money always the most critical part of a film. In summary, it's not a bad little film, but in some ways it's not downright awful enough to be true drunken Friday night hilarity fare, but also it's not quite good enough to stand alongside the classics of the genre.

The Mind Robber

In with all the excitement of the new series of Who, it can be easy to forget some of the gems that have gone before, and I was delighted to see the release of one of my favourite Troughton adventures, The Mind Robber, on DVD. The Mind Robber is a story that I remember watching when it was first transmitted ... in particular the scene where Zoe is found in the jar (after the riddle: when is a door not a door? When it's ajar.) but also the creepy White Robots which made an eerie creaking sound as they moved. The story is a great blend of SF and fantasy, with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe becoming trapped in the Land of Fiction as the Land's current master wishes to stand down and wants the Doctor to take his place. The first episode is a tour de force, with only the regular cast, a handful of robot costumes salvaged from an old episode of Out of the Unknown and the TARDIS set, the production team crafted something spooky and memorable and which provides an excellent lead in to Peter Ling's story proper which starts with episode two. Of course that Jamie changes his face is well known, but that Frazer Hines' chickenpox came during the recording of this story allowed his absence to be dealt with in a way which is both imaginative and in keeping with the story as a whole. Hamish Wilson provides a great substitute Jamie for an episode though, and it's impressive that he has been tracked down to be interviewed on the DVD and to contribute to the commentary track. Troughton is on exemplary form here, as is Wendy Padbury as Zoe - and her glittery catsuit gets its first outing here as well, something for the older viewers to appreciate. The story rollicks along throwing in schoolchildren, clockwork soldiers, the Medusa, a unicorn and a comic strip hero called the Karkus (and Christopher Robbie who played him is also interviewed in the documentary) until we finally get to meet the master ... and in a neat post-modern way, this isn't the Master, but a master - nothing to do with renegade time lords and tissue compression eliminators at all. The master here is a somewhat doddery old man who is in thrall to the computer. Of course the Doctor manages to save the day and the White Robots are ordered to destroy everything and so they do ... including the computer. It all ends rather rushed, with our heroes standing in a black void wondering what will happen next ... of course next is one of my all time favourite stories, Invasion ... The DVD is, as with all the BBC's vintage Doctor Who releases, packed with extras. There's a rather good 'making of' documentary, and a slightly unusually placed biography feature on Frazer Hines. More surreal is a lengthy sketch from The Basil Brush Show, included, it seems, as it features a yeti monster comprised of hybrid bits of costume from the two Troughton yeti stories ... odd that it appears on this disc, but I'd rather it was here than nowhere. The commentary on the story this time is provided by Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), David Maloney (the director) and Hamish Wilson (Jamie again). All this release serves really to demonstrate how wonderful and versatile Doctor Who always was, and that what the 2005 series is achieving is in no small part to the format and efforts of the earlier generations of the show.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Doctor Who - The Unquiet Dead

Before I start ... here be spoilers. You have been warned. Mark Gatiss' The Unquiet Dead is, for me at least, the best thing I've seen on television for such a long time. The fact that it is also Doctor Who is a massive bonus, and it firmly cements the diversity and effectiveness of the Doctor Who format. So far in the 2005 season we have seen the Doctor and Rose enjoy an adventure on contemporary Earth, and then travel into the far future to witness the destruction of said planet. Now we travel back into the past - the Doctor is aiming for Naples, December 24th 1860 but arrives in Cardiff, 1869, instead. But as usual the TARDIS seems to have chosen this period as no sooner have the Doctor and Rose started enjoying the wintry atmosphere than screams and shouts from a local theatre alert them to the fact that something is up. 'That's more like it!' exclaims the Doctor with familiar enthusiasm and the time travellers are thrown into the mystery of the walking corpses. The handling of the themes of this episode are very cleverly carried out. Gatiss has ensured that there is a high quotient of horror here, and the opening scenes where Mr Redpath is killed by his reanimated 86 year old grandmother are very spooky. As is the shot leading to the opening credits where she walks towards the camera moaning and glowing with internal light. Other moments of terror include where the Gelth manifests behind Gwyneth at the 'seance' and also where the reanimated dead stalk, first Rose in the locked room, and then the Doctor, Rose and Dickens in the morgue. The make up and CGI effects for the zombies is very effective indeed, and evokes a chill down the spine. Mr Sneed's death is unexpected and somewhat brutal, as is his immediate reanimation as a walking corpse ... overall the horrific elements of the story work very well indeed and provide for some impressive moments. Of the cast, all are uniformly superb. From the somewhat bemused Mr Sneed to Gwyneth, and especially to Dickens - a role which Simon Callow plays with relish and which is supremely watchable and enjoyable. Gwyneth has 'the Sight' as Sneed puts it, and can sense the minds of others. This leads to some brilliant performances as Gwyneth senses that Rose has 'come such a long way' before seeing some hidden terror in 'the Darkness ... and the Big Bad Wolf ...' which leaves Rose confused. Gwyneth is a fabulous creation. Simple and yet sensitive ... someone who you feel sorry for, and yet who manages to steal every scene she is in through underplaying the role and simply by being honest and caring to all those she meets. As Rose says at the end: 'She saved the world ... a servant girl no one will ever know.' Callow's Dickens is likewise a masterful creation, being world-weary and depressed at the start, to being given a new infusion of life and joy de vivre at the end. I loved his 'What the Shakespeare's going on?' line (even though it is a little corny), and using him to realise that the Gelth can be drawn from the corpses by filling the house with gas was a nice idea. As for the Gelth ... they seem somewhat underused here, and the twist that they are actually evil was pretty predictable. Interesting that they know about the Time War (referred to in The End of the World) and that they claim that this wiped them out (which would seem to be a blatant lie). Other things I loved about this episode included Rose's leaving the TARDIS for the first time, hesitating to step out into another time, and then leaving a hesitant footprint in the snow ... Rose's accepting 'Okay' when the Doctor tells her that their companion is Charles Dickens (I am growing to love Rose more and more, and her natural asides and almost resigned accepting of what the Doctor explains and shows her are very endearing) ... I even appreciated the small detail of the fallen snow being left behind when the TARDIS dematerialises at the end, being blown in the wind ... it's the small things which make it all so enjoyable and perfect, and I for one really appreciate them. The episode ends with a superb explosion ... a fitting end to a superb story. Generally the lighting and direction throughout has been exemplary. I loved the use of muted colours, and the warm oranges and reds used for the humans compared with the cold blues and violent reds of the Gelf. Moreover, The Unquiet Dead has a good, linear plot which can be easily followed. It doesn't seem too rushed, and everything hangs together perfectly. My only gripe - and this is a very minor comment - is that the Doctor never saw Rose being chloroformed by Sneed and placed in the hearse ... so when he leaves the theatre with Dickens, how does he know she is in the vehicle being driven away? The Unquiet Dead has an excellent plot, and when combined with top-rate acting, some dazzling dialogue, and impressive and atmospheric effects, it is quite the best way to spend 45 minutes that I can think of.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Doctor Who - The End of the World

Before we start ... these reviews are full of spoilers ... so if you don't want to be spoiled, look away now :) From Earth circa 2005 to the far, far future - 5.5/apple/26, according to the Doctor - where he and Rose find themselves on board an observation station - Platform 1 - in space, about to be witness to the final destruction of the Earth as the Sun expands. The End of the World could not really be more different from Rose. From the homely surroundings of familiar London we are plunged into the far future to meet up with alien races aplenty all gathering to be witness to the end of the Earth. In quick succession we are introduced to these creatures: Jabe, Lute and Coffa who are Trees from the Forest of Cheem; The Moxx of Balhoon from the solicitors' firm of Jolco and Jolco; delegates from Financial Family Five - the Adherents of the Repeated Meme; the Brothers Hop Pyleen; Mr and Mrs Pakoo; Cal 'Sparkplug' MacNannovich (who appears to be two beings); Ambassadors from the City State of Binding Light; the face of Boe; and finally Lady Cassandra O'Brien dot Delta Seventeen ... plus of course assorted blue-faced people. I was reminded a little of The Curse of Peladon with its panoply of alien creatures: the Pels, Aggedor, Alpha Centauri, Arcturus and the Martians, but unlike in that earlier story, here we get to learn very little (in fact for the most part it's just their names) about the creatures. Coming off best is Jabe the Tree and Lady Cassandra of the 708 operations, both of who get a fair amount of screen time and, especially in Jabe's case, are very well realised and characterised. Yasmin Bannerman is a wonder and a delight as Jabe. She exudes regal sexuality, and I can well understand why the Doctor seems attracted to her. It is a shame though that she takes the place of Rose as 'surrogate companion' for the best part of the episode, and one wonders why writer Russell T Davies chose to do this, and to give Rose next to nothing to do in this episode. It seems a strange decision this early on in the series to sideline one of your main characters in favour of another, ultimately one-off, character. Billie Piper's Rose shines throughout though, despite her being wandering on her own or trapped in a room for most of the episode. She gets all the best lines from 'I'm talking to a twig!' through to her summation of Lady Cassandra as a 'bitchy trampoline'. I'm not sure how she escapes from the room at the end though - the Doctor had pronounced the doors to be jammed, and yet Rose wanders into the main hall at the conclusion having got out somehow ... maybe, along with the apparent automatic mending of the damaged glass, the doors were repaired as well. However, if the Platform is able to automatically repair itself, I wonder why we need a 'plumber' to perform routine inspections. However if this function was not needed, then we would have missed Beccy Armory's superb and scene-stealing role as Raffalo, surely the cutest blue-faced alien from Crespallion ever to appear. As with Rose, the episode suffers from a need to tell a coherent story in 45 minutes, and it is all very rushed. This is not quite so pronounced here, but there are some areas where the events seem to take precidence over the plot and characterisation. We end up with a series of 'things that happen' rather than a plot. The scenes where the Doctor has to navigate the spinning air conditioning blades is straight out of the Tomb Raider games, and whoever designed this Platform obviously has a wicked sense of humour: placing the computer reset switch on the far side of the blades; making the sun shields - which are the only things keeping the occupants alive - lowerable, and making them able to be lowered from a single depression of a key on a keyboard ... most PCs won't even let you delete a file without confirming the action, so this lack of foresight on the part of the system designers seems somewhat curious. Of course, perhaps this was all a part of the sabotage caused by the spiders, but then they (or their programmer) must have had pretty expert knowledge of how the Platform worked. The effects are magnificent, and I can well appreciate the work that The Mill put into this episode. From the spiders to the external shots of the Platform, to the Sun streaming in, Cassandra, and the ventilator shaft, their work is exemplary and hard to fault. It lends everything a wide and expansive feel, which given the claustrophobic nature of the inside of the Platform is probably a good thing. In other areas, however, there are questions raised. The main aspect is the lashings of continuity (or apparent continuity) that we are handed. I have long advocated that the programme makers don't need to worry about the internal continuity of the series as it's the fans' job to make it all fit together (and also Terrance Dicks' assertion that the definition of continuity is 'as much as you can remember'). However the revelations about Gallifrey having been destroyed, a war that the Time Lords lost, and that the Doctor is now the last Time Lord all come over as being quite significant, and yet no hint of these has ever appeared in the series before. Now I am well aware that these things are part and parcel of the BBC's book range, and yet the books were bought and read by what ... 6 - 10 thousand people at most? Now we have 10 million viewers, and less than 0.1 percent will nod their heads sagely and believe to themselves that this all ties up ... Whatever background the new series is developing for the Doctor, the handling of the relevant scenes by Bannerman and Eccleston was superb, and the single tear falling from the Doctor's eye a masterstroke. I wonder if this is also referring to some underlying plotline for the series as a whole as well, and that as we reach the end, maybe we'll find out more about the war, who it was against, and how the Doctor is faring as the last of his race left alive. It's a nice idea, and proves if nothing else that to the majority of the audience, 'new' continuity can be just as valid as 'existing' continuity as they know nothing about either. Other areas of amusement: the use of the records 'Tainted Love' by Soft Cell and 'Toxic' by Brittany Spears stood out as amusing and perhaps relevant for the audience. Though I hope that they won't cause any challenges in the future with clearance rights for repeats, or date the episode too badly. One final comment: the character of the Doctor. I suspect we're starting to see some depth to him, but he's also not really like the Doctor I know from the series in the past. Would the Doctor ignore the plea of his companion and watch another being die without lifting a finger to try and help? There seemed no reason for the Doctor not to try and help Cassandra at the end, and his just standing and watching comes across as callous when the same end could have been achieved by his not realising that bringing her back to the Platform would result in her death. Likewise when Rose is asking him who he is, he seems to go off into a little sulky tantrum and won't answer her, forcing her to take the moral high ground and extend a hand of peace to him. These isolated incidents concern me a little, as perhaps they send a message to viewers that the Doctor is willing to let people die for no reason, and I feel we need to trust that the Doctor takes action to preserve life where he can, but sometimes fails because the outcomes are perhaps inevitable. This feeling also spills over into Jabe's death, which would have been avoidable if the Doctor had got Rose to help him in the ventilator duct rather than seemingly forgetting all about her. It's this lack of thought which can be seen as callousness which bothered me. Perhaps it can be explained as a by-product of the way the Doctor feels alone and adrift in the universe (as he alludes to at one point) rather than any intrinsic part of his character. Overall, The End of the World is a nice little slice of pure SF. It has some interesting characters, some of which are superbly realised (Jabe, Cassandra) and others which are just hanging as potentials (the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, the Moxx of Balhoon and most of the others). I enjoyed the episode a lot more on a second viewing. First time through it seemed to drag somewhat in the first half, but then picked up as we progressed to the end-game. Compared to Rose it's very different and overall I did enjoy it, but with reservations. But viva la difference ... I think I could have written two reviews of the episode. One wholly positive and one wholly negative ... The End of the World is very different indeed to Rose, and it looks like next week's offering, The Unquiet Dead, is different again ...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More WHO and Eccleston Quits

What a week ... After the total heady excitement that was Rose so we moved into the rest of the week to learn on Wednesday that the BBC have commissioned what they describe as a Doctor Who Christmas Special, and also a second series is on for 2006 ... Wow. I mean ... WOW. But then on Thursday the news breaks that Chris Eccleston won't be continuing as the Doctor for a variety of media speculative reasons ... shame. And then Outpost Gallifrey explodes and Shaun has to shut down the forum for a time because people are apparently getting silly about the whole situation and can't get a sense of perspective on it. Personally I stopped reading the OG threads about the new series ages ago as they seemed to be full of people complaining and talking about such minutae as I could not believe - one person even complained about the 'spinning on Earth' line from Rose as, apparently, the Earth only spins at 1000 miles a second at the Equator and it's different in England ... crikey! Talk about needing to get a grip. But then the whole new series thing ... a Christmas Special ... in which Eccleston will star and which *might* give us a regeneration. But I don't know if I want one. I'd be happy with not seeing it happen. Just start the second season with a new Doctor the same way as this season did. What I'm hoping and praying that they won't do is to make a seasonal episode with all snow and Christmas themes, carols and Santa revealed to be the Master and so on ... yeuch. Not sure I want that at all. Just a great, rollicking episode with loads of thrills, spills and excitement please. Oh, and great monsters. We need more great monsters. But another 13 episodes in 2006 :) That's some announcement. And who plays the Doctor ...? Sheesh, I don't mind. Actors do a job and move on ... that's their lives ... so someone else will come in and then they'll want to move on ... and so on and so on and so on. Oh, and in case you're reading this thinking that you need to complain to the OG forum about the Doctor using up his lives too quickly, here's a bit of dialogue cut from Survival ... recently discovered in a shoe box in the basement of TV Centre in London (honest ... would I lie to you?): *** ACE: But Doctor, if you don't defeat the Master, won't you have to change again ... regenerate? DOCTOR: It's always a possibility Ace. ACE: You can only do that ... what ... twelve times? Can't you? And you're on your seventh body now ... won't this use them up too quickly? DOCTOR: Ah ... Ace ... (THE DOCTOR TAPS THE SIDE OF HIS NOSE) ... Sometimes I can be economical with the truth ... 12 times is just the primary regenerative sequence for a Time Lord ... we can go on forever ... *** So I don't mind if we have 13, 15, 27 or even 150 Doctors ... just as long as they don't all meet up together, along with all their companions, in a haunted and sentient Church with a mysterious bearded Vicar one Christmas ...

Printer Update

So Epson finally managed to get out to me on Tuesday after the Easter hols, and they replaced the entire printer as it had a 'laser fault' - whatever that means. So I am now the proud owner of a spiffy colour laser printer. Expect lots of nice full colour Press Releases for Telos and other colour goodies if you ever write to me or order books :)