Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Doctor Who - Attack of the Graske

Here's an oddity, an interactive Doctor Who adventure featuring the new Doctor, David Tennant. Shown on the BBC's digital 'red button' channel following the transmission of The Christmas Invasion, Attack of the Graske was written by Gareth Roberts and directed with a great deal of flair by Ashley Way. In fact, I admired the direction so much that I kind of hope that Way gets a crack at a proper episode sometime. Especially impressive was the way the camera moved and swooped and the revelation of detail in and around the TARDIS console which has been missing from the TV episodes so far. Back to the plot, and the idea is that you use your freeview remote control (or whatever remote is appropriate) to make on-screen selections at different points in the show. These then dictate which direction the narrative follows ... well that was the idea, but in practice, and in perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the show, it was pretty impossible not to follow the narrative as if you chose the wrong option then the Doctor either did it for you, or nothing significantly different occurred as a result. This was a bit of a wasted opportunity then, though maybe the constraints of budget meant that only a limited number of options could be available ... still, I would have thought that with a little more imagination, they could have come up with something better and more interesting to 'play'. The first puzzle is to decide which one of a family is possessed by an alien ... easy if you happen to be watching the camcorder footage but impossible otherwise. It was Mum for those who want to know such things, but if you get it wrong, no matter as the narrative carries on. Then we meet the Graske, a short fellah with pointy bits on his head. I wonder where the new series would be without Jimmy Vee, unsung hero of the show. From playing the Moxx of Balhoon and the alien Pig, now he's another alien being, a collector of sorts who replaces life forms with Graske replicants in order to take over the planet (or something). We now have to follow the Graske in the TARDIS and choose which controls to operate to do so. Again getting it all wrong changes nothing and we end up in England 1883 and have to follow the Graske's DNA trace to locate him. Getting it wrong makes no difference and we find ourselves with a rather nice street scene of child beggar and other Victorian characters. But the Graske is spotted and captures the beggar before transmatting off again. The Doctor is in hot pursuit and the TARDIS arrives on the planet Griffoth (no idea of the spelling of this, but it sounds right). Three air locks later (the answers are: Symbol 2; '89'; and key '1') and we're into the Graske's storage facility where there are all the life forms it has replaced. The production missed a trick here as aside from the Slitheen, there seem to be no recognisable life forms at all - why not include some old monsters? Or even be mega sneaky and include something from the 2006 season ... or maybe they did. The stored Slitheen is released by a ricocheting blast and chases the Graske around the complex and we now have our final decision to make: do we put the entire place in stasis or return everyone to their rightful place and time? This is the only point where the decision results in a different ending: choosing 'stasis' seems to be wrong as everyone is then trapped and the Graske replicants can continue to spoil Christmas for the family. Choosing 'return' results in a happy ending, the life forms returned and a happy family Christmas. As you make the various choices during the game, the Doctor, in both voice over and in shot has different lines depending on your progress. For example if you correctly spot the Graske hiding on Earth, you get a line about Opera, but if you fail, you get a random comment about liking mangoes. At the end, if you got it all right, the Doctor congratulates you with: 'You were amazing. Might even pick you up one day', wheras if you get things wrong, it's: 'Not good enough ... yet. But you weren't that bad - have another go.' I would rate this as a fun experiment. Something which shows the possibilities of the technology in taking the viewer on an interactive trip. The system seems straightforward and should be convertable for use on a standard DVD, with menu selections taking you to the different sections of the story. The scope of the script seemed a little limited, but perhaps this was itself hamstrung by committees and everpresent budgetary requirements. A shame if this was the case as the concept has a lot of potential which wasn't really realized here. I have no idea for how long this little adventure will be available or if it will find its way onto a DVD at some point in the future. It's worth looking out for as David Tennant is superb, and gives a far better demonstration of his power and charisma, and perhaps what his Doctor will be like, than most of The Christmas Invasion, where he is snoozing in bed as the world goes to pot around him, or confused with regeneration trauma.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Doctor Who - The Christmas Invasion

Christmas Days will never be the same again! For the first time since 1965 we have an episode of Doctor Who transmitted on Christmas Day, but more than this ... it was on the front cover of the Radio Times, the same with several other listings magazines and it was the pick of the day for just about everyone. But was it any good? Back in 1965, the production team chose to make that week's episode a bit of a jokey runaround, nothing too stressful for people to follow and with a few references to other shows thrown in for good measure. This time around though, things were a little different, although there were some that were the same. For a start, this was the first 'proper' episode to feature David Tennant as the new Doctor. I am convinced though that the brief sequence for Children in Need was planned all along - there's no way that the production team could seriously have considered leaping from the end of The Parting of the Ways to the start of The Christmas Invasion ... there's an obvious gaping hole there that needed to be filled. So we kick off with Jackie Tyler (who I am disliking as a character the more I see of her) and Mickey hearing the TARDIS arrive - and it must make one heck of a noise. Strange how no-one else seemed to hear it. The TARDIS appears and, in an impressive tour de force of effects, bashes around a few buildings and rubbish bins as it lands. And then there's our new Doctor. Breathless and confused he promptly collapses and is taken back to Jackie's to spend most of the episode in bed. Meanwhile the plot (what there is of it) starts to kick in and we learn about the Guinivere Space Programme and the probe which is approaching Mars. However it bumps into a huge rock-like spacecraft and is captured. It's a little strange to think that the folks on Earth who were tracking the probe didn't notice a pigging great spacecraft out in the vicinity of Mars ... and why was it there in the first place? No explanations are coming, making this episode a little light on logic. Back on Earth, Rose, Mickey and Jackie are menaced by apparently robot Santas armed with deadly musical instruments and then by a remote controlled spinning Christmas tree! Very eerie scenes, and the tree in particular is quite scary. I can see many kids frightened by their own household trees now ... but what was all this about? These Santas, they came from the spaceship, so how long had the Sycorax been monitoring Earth to be able to replicate the robots (if that's what they were) and to understand the customs of Christmastime and musical instruments (I can't see the Sycorax leader playing trumpet himself). And why were Rose and Mickey targetted? The Doctor suggests it's because he's leaking energy (why?) but it would have taken the Sycorax weeks if not months to arrive on Earth after the Doctor got there and they appeared to be there already. Oh well ... maybe we're not meant to think too hard about this after a heavy dinner. With the large spacecraft on its way to Earth, Prime Minister Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale East) is in attendance at a UNIT operations centre apparently sited at the Tower of London. It's a shame that, when a ton of continuity references have already been dropped (for example that Martians look different, the UNIT logos, regeneration, the TARDIS translating languages) they didn't go the whole hog and have a Brigadier there as well ... But they can see the spaceship and so can Mickey with his super-laptop and ability to tap into secure government websites - wouldn't they have changed their passwords from when the Doctor told Mickey how to get on in Aliens of London? And then we get Torchwood crowbarred into the plot ... what? Another top secret organisation ... what's wrong with UNIT all of a sudden? Oh well ... The big ship arrives and I liked the touch of the Big Ben clock tower being repaired. The invaders seem to have some mystery power and cause loads of people to get hypnotically drawn to stand on high places. These scenes were very effective. I especially liked the woman trying to stop her kids - reminiscent of the scenes in The Lord of the Rings where the children are made to fight. But all these people have 'A+' type blood and the plot strands start to come together - there was some 'A+' blood on the Martian probe ... what? Actual blood? I thought in space travel every ounce was critical and so to include a tub of blood for no apparent reason seems a little strange. Why not give the chemical composition or have a picture of the DNA complex instead? Anyway, as the Sycorax have the blood, they can somehow control a third of the Earth's population. I guess we can be thankful that it wasn't a sample of type 'O' blood. So Harriet and her goons are teleported up to the ship where the alien leader has no trouble understanding them, but they need translation software to understand him. Two of the aides are killed with a funky electric lasso (neat death effects here), and the Aliens transmit messages that no-one can understand to the Earth. But then Rose and Mickey get the Doctor into the TARDIS and, thankfully leaving the annoying Jackie behind, conveniently get themselves teleported to the spaceship as the creatures detect the TARDIS' alien technology. So why did they bother with Harriet at all then? When Rose arrives she tries to get the Sycorax to leave, but they laugh at her cobbled together continuity-fest of a speech ... but then the humans realise that they can understand the Sycoraxic language and we all cheer as the Doctor appears, a hero in pyjamas. Tennant is brilliant here. His 'Hello big fellah' is superb as his is totally taking control of the situation and running rings around everyone else. He presses the big glowy button which will send the controlled humans to their doom but it doesn't work - it's like voodoo he explains and people's survival instincts are too strong ... but voodoo only works because the subjects know about it and fear it and believe it will work. You can't control masses of people you've never met at a distance in the same way. Oh well - it was nice and dramatic anyway. But then the Doctor (aka Luke Skywalker) challenges the Sycorax leader (aka Darth Vader) to a duel and they're off with swords flashing (and while we're here, why didn't the electric whip work on the Doctor?) The problem now is that the Doctor doesn't seem to have any plan past fighting the alien. He heads out onto the surface of the asteriod/spaceship thing and they fight some more. Then Darth (sorry, the Sycorax leader) cuts the Doctor's hand off ... but surprise ... the Doctor can grow a new one. I groaned at this. Cop out and silly I thought. What was the point of it? It seemed to serve no real part to the plot. And of course it had been done in Star Wars. The Doctor wins the fight and spares the alien's life. But then kills him with no emotion when he rushes at him. No. Not a very Doctory thing to do. Far better that the Doctor bends over to pick up something, or to straighten his shoe or something, and the alien trips over him and falls, but to have the Doctor actually kill him - I don't know. It reminded me of the conclusion to The End of the World where the Doctor kills Cassandra. I still feel that the Doctor needs to be a hero to all people, and that should include not taking the life of anyone who pisses him off. So the Doctor wins the day and the aliens leave Earth. I liked the comment about the Doctor being very 'Arthur Dent' - a reference to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. However the plot is not yet over. The mysterious Torchwood let Harriet know they're ready, and she authorises them to fire. Immense bolts of power converge and blast the fleeing ship into oblivion. And the Doctor is well upset. In scenes harkening back to Doctor Who and the Silurians, the Doctor realises that maybe Harriet Jones is the real monster here and so chooses to set the wheels of change in motion with six words ('Don't you think she looks tired?'). I can't fully recall the end of World War III, but I thought that Jones' tenure as Prime Minister was hailed as a triumph for peace and prosperity. Maybe that squares with this, but maybe not. As the story plays out, the Doctor chooses his new clothes from an impressive TARDIS wardrobe. I liked seeing this - new parts of the TARDIS are always welcome even though we don't have much understanding of the layout of the inside of the TARDIS at the moment. But again, given the huge number of continuity references which have gone before, and given that it is now almost traditional, why were there no previous Doctor's costumes on display here? A shame. Still, I liked the Doctor's glasses - rather ugly black-rimmed affairs which make him look even more like gangly singer Jarvis Cocker. Overall I liked The Christmas Invasion. It showed a lot of the weaknesses in Russell T Davies' own writing though - a reliance on set pieces rather than a coherent plot, and way too many continuity references to be entirely self contained. Even the review in The Times picked up on the continuity, and so if it's apparent to general viewers then in my mind that's not a good thing. The story was fun, the aliens suitably nasty (even if we had little idea what they wanted or why they had come to Earth - this seemed to be to put half the population into slavery ... but doing what? And why only half? Or was it the Doctor they wanted? And where did those robot Santas come from?), and the Doctor totally brilliant (except when he was wasted lying in bed for ages). I think the future for David Tennant is very bright indeed. And Doctor Who would seem to be on a roll - the trailer for next season looked very promising indeed. But I hope they see the light and reduce the appearances of Jackie, and try and keep all that soap opera-ey kitchen sink drama in the background. Oh, and cut back on the continuity as well (fat chance with K9, Sarah Jane Smith and the Cybermen reappearing next year). I'd give this probably a 7 or 8 out of ten. Not as superlative as episodes like The Unquiet Dead, Dalek or The Empty Child, but not as disappointing as Aliens of London or The Long Game. EDITED 29/12/05 TO ADD: A friend has just pointed out that there are apparently old costumes in the Doctor's wardrobe. Here's his email:
Hi David, great review! But you'll want to watch the wardrobe scene again, because you missed some stuff. Not only are there definitely old Doctor outfits visible in the room, but the Mill have confirmed there's at least one thing there from every previous Doctor. Some stuff we've caught on screen grabs include Sylv's umbrella, the First Doctor's gold column thing from his console room, Davison's hat and standing mirror from 'Castrovalva', C. Baker's coat (very hard to see), and perhaps most amazingly, an exact - and I mean exact down to the colors of the stripes - replica of Steven's pullover from 'The Celestial Toymaker'! Lots of people went nuts when they caught that one.
I never spotted these as I was looking for Doctors costumes (ie long scarf, cricketting outfit and so on) rather than anything else. Still, good on the production team for making the effort.

Spamming of My Blog

Just so that folks know, a company seems to have taken a liking to my blog and has been spamming me with random comments advertising their wares on nearly all of my posts - another 30 or so arrived over Christmas. I'm therefore moderating all the comments for the moment and any genuine ones just might get deleted due to the volume I'm having to wade through. I've emailed them to ask them to stop and if they don't then I'll report them to their ISP and to anyone else I can find who is associated with them. Not amused.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Children In Need Special

Whoo hoo ... some more new Doctor Who ... and a first proper look at the new tenth Doctor in the form of David Tennant. As usual at this time of year, the Children In Need charity fundraiser brings in all manner of stars of stage and screen to raise money, and for the third time, Doctor Who formed a significant part of the proceedings. This was an untitled 5 minute or so piece which took place immediately following the ending of The Parting Of The Ways, and introduced David Tennant as the newly regenerated Doctor, discussing the event with Rose in the TARDIS as he headed first for Barcelona and then for Rose's home on Earth. The piece was beautifully written and performed, and ran the gamut from whimsy to excitement with ease. Tennant was superb as the Doctor, wringing gravitas and humour from the situation and flashing the most winning smile since Tom Baker travelled the universe in his scarf and hat. There wasn't much time for plot, but as the Cloister Bell tolled (in a really nice touch to the original series) the Doctor announced that his regeneration was failing and the TARDIS hurtled towards a new adventure on Earth on Christmas Day ... I can't wait.