Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Yes Men written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The Doctor, Jamie, Polly and Ben arrive on New Houston, an Earth colony in the Fourth Sector, which the Doctor previously saved from an alien invasion. He wishes to pay his respects to his late friend Meg Carvossa, but something is not quite right with New Houston’s subservient robots...

Giddy Aunt: The Doctor is attempting to show his young friends how to operate the TARDIS in the case of an emergency but he knows it is only basic manoeuvres. Can the Doctor be described as any old riffraff? Polly considers the Doctor to be quite a gentleman. It's unusual for the second Doctor to begin an adventure looking to catch up with an old friend. He always felt like such a cosmic hippy, tripping from one adventure to another that actively seeking out old friends feels like an anathema. The death of his friend gives him a fine excuse to engage with the story though, pulling up his chequered trousers and playing the role of detective. And I enjoyed the idea of Meg being an old friend of the first Doctor and not being able to recognise the second. He suggests he wouldn't know how to cause trouble whilst his eyes glitter with mischief. The idea of him trying to stand tall and imposing with the army of robots around him is amusing, it's something that Troughton's Doctor could never aspire to. Ben and Jamie expect the Doctor to join the Yes Men revolution but he was never one to behave in a predictable way. His young male companions way is 'you're with us or against us' but the Doctor is far more complex than that.

Able Seaman: I've discussed Elliot Chapman elsewhere but since this is his debut it is worth mentioning again just how vivid he is as Ben Jackson, a very strong re-casting. Ben is happy to take advantage of the Yes Men and to enjoy the sort of luxuries they are willing to bestow on humanity.

Dolly Bird: Polly knows better than to ask if they have landed somewhere safe because that never happens. Can you think of anything more sixties than Polly getting her groove on in a hover car? Polly is never short of ideas in her adventures but they are rarely described as brilliant. Polly Cocktail, eat your heart out.

Yahoos: Subverting the usual robot/human relationships, Jamie is forced to live the life of a slave in the underground artificial world.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'What's a Mim?' 'Very clever, very cross alien sponges' 'What's a sponge?'
'Governments don't win elections, they lose them.'
'Tell them to eat their nuts and bolts so they grow up big and strong.'

Great Ideas: Simon Guerrier is world building from the off, creating a vivid world in relatively little time. Central information bank, electronic eyes watching everything, rules regulating everything, yes men catering to your every whim. The parallel to the Voc robots in the season fourteen classic are there to see, especially the calm, calculating voices. Our sympathies are instantly with the Yes Men because they are treated with such casual violence by Harriet just to prove a point. A hidden city under the ground, buildings stretching as far as the eye can see but encapsulated by a roof that happens to be street level. An automated city populated by Yes Men. There are even families, the young developed automatically by technology so they have the appearance of growing up. It has a parody of a class structure, copied but not quite understood. Only one thousandth of the population is being recorded...because only one thousandth of the population exists. That's why the streets are so empty. After what happened in the war with the Mim they had so little left but they had hope, they were going to rebuild the world. The Earth Empire was going to send supplies but it wasn't enough, not with the resources already stretched. So they faked the numbers to feed the people, to rebuild the city. That's how it started anyway.

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS buffering through space, footsteps, ticking clock, trudging through water, rainfall, the Battle of Culloden.

Isn't it Odd: Whilst the first episode is by no means boring, there is a lackadaisical pace to how it unfolds that means that it is hard to get too worked up over it. Perhaps it is because we are dealing with a mechanical city populated by mechanical men but there is a sense of artificiality about the environment that is hard to feel any great passion for. The intention of the Yes Men here isn't to conquer but to be allowed a society of their own. It's an interesting, less exciting approach to the same ideals as The Robots of Death but with nobody being in danger equals a narrative that never dices with death. And that makes it entirely intellectual and worthy. Meg Carvossa's downfall comes at her own hands, it's satisfying that she is responsible for her own downfall but she was stupid to reveal quite so much of her plans in a world that records everything.

Standout Scene: I shall have to call Simon Guerrier the Surprise King. Of all the writers for Big Finish I believe he has the most talent for sneaking up behind you with a shock and presenting it in a way that genuinely thrills. I didn't see the end of episode two coming a mile off and it certainly had me eager to start the next episode to discover the fallout of the surprise unveiling. And despite not being delivered in a particularly dramatic fashion, the cliffhanger at the climax of episode three is deliciously surreal (at least in conception). 

Result: 'The robots don't want to fight you! They just want you to be nicer!' And therein lies the problem... An unusual tale, both for the season four crew and because it comes from the pen of Simon Guerrier. The Yes Men flaunts an interesting premise and an intriguing location...a far cry from the comic strip fun that this crew experienced throughout much of their time together. And yet it fails to do anything particularly interesting with these ideas, despite some arresting imagery and that does surprise me because if there is an author that can get to the heart of a good idea and explore it in surprising ways then Guerrier is usually your man. It feels like the extended length of the Early Adventures is working against him rather than for him, the extra time taken up with extended dialogue scenes that fail to be about anything. Sometimes brevity forces a writer to get to the nub of the matter with much greater clarity. As a murder mystery it fails to grip (although there is one great surprise in the middle of the tale) because there is relatively little human interest. Agatha Christie understood that only too well...to tell a riveting murder mystery you have to put psychology at the heart of the story and that is a difficult thing to do in a tale populated by automatons. Compensating for some faults are the season four TARDIS crew, entertaining by their very nature and well captured by Guerrier. Ultimately there are two forms of revolution in this story (a political one and a class one) but they are both done with such politeness that the excitement levels are somewhere around a lecture on plumbing or advanced paint drying. It isn't a massacre that caused mass population control, it was really good accountancy. That sort of thing. Lisa Bowerman directs but if her name wasn't on the cover I would question that fact because it lacks the urgency I have come to expect from her. The Yes Men isn't appalling, it passes the time but I can't pretend at any point (except at the midway point) that I was eager to continue. Sad but true, this would have made an excellent companion chronicle told from Ben's point of view but the extended length and full cast nature affords too much scope. Scope it does not fulfil: 5/10

7 comments:

Lisa said...

Hello Joe
I know you are busy and have no time to answer comments, but I very much would like to know your thoughts on the next DW producer.Do you think he will be better than Moffat? Will be get back the good characterisation of ol' Russell T? Will he create companions instead of ciphers?
Since there is no forum (That I know of) where to ponder with you this matters, I write to you here. I'm genuinely interested in knowing your point of view on this matter
Best wishes

Joe Ford said...

Hi Lisa, I am so sorry to take so long to reply. Chibnall...I'm not at all sure. Creatively I'm a little worried because I don't think he is the most ambitious of writers and I genuinely think it is time for a non fan to take charge - look how well it worked with Hinchcliffe. Chibnall will forever regret sniffing at Trial of a Time Lord on television. However I think becase of the back lash against the annuncement that people are going in with low expectations so I have a feeling that his first season at least will be greeted with some praise. Because I have seen him deliver some of the best and the worst of Torchwood, I have the impression this might be a very up and down era. As for companions...I can never say. I thought Moffat would create fantastic companions but looking back on Amy and Clara I rate them very little. Let's hope the stories service the characters and not the characters service the stories, which has plagued the entirety of the Moffat era. Looking at this from a business point of view I can completely understand why Chibnall has been chosen. He created Broadchurch, which regardless of what you think of the second year was a phenomenon in its first year. I can see why the BBC might want to piece of the pie. I think this is going to be a terribly interesting era, with lots to talk about. Bring it on.

Lisa said...

Thank you for answering, I share much of your views on this wonderful show and I'm also a bit worried about the next showrunner. I don't watch Torchwood but the episode with the cyberwoman with tits has very bad press. I'll take your word on that he has produced the best episodes of Torchwood. I only wish he isn't as obsessed with sex as Moffat and that he is able to bring some decent companions and original stories without being so up in his own arse as Moff was.

Tango said...

For Oho Doc: I think the opposite. A non-fan would have no idea how to run / develop the series and only please the viewers to copy movies, as Hinchcliffe did with the Hammer films (In fact, what story in his era it feels original and not a copy of movie?). Robert Holmes was the one who saved the series from falling into satire of movies. I trust Chibnall, looks more like a casual fan a fanboy and the only writer who really care about the Ponds: His video "P.S." It is a winner for me.(If you were wrong about Clara and Danny about being "a storm of sex" in "Into The Dalek review", you could also go wrong about Chibnall )

Lisa: I've seen more sexual references in an animated series for children nineties in the Moffat was, until the innuendos of Cap Jack Harkness sound dirtier, not to mention New Adventures books. When Capaldi arrived, all that disappeared and why the series is so boring. If it were not for Missy I would have canceled the series, and I'm not the only one who thinks the same here. The Ponds are good companions, like the secondary characters in the Eleventh Doctor era.

Lisa said...

Tango: the beauty of Doctor Who is that every fan can have different opinions and tastes ;)
I'm rather traditionalist regarding sex in it. I don't.main sex in movies and series but you have it everywhere, Doctor Who.is about wonder and fantasy and time travel and planets and defeating villains and all the flirty innuendos just bored me. I was utterly grateful that all that disappeared when Capaldi arrived
If people watch Doctor Who only for that maybe it's not the kind of show they should watch
Out there there are a ton of TV shows that tackle sex and relationships

Tango said...

To Lisa: "is about wonder and fantasy and time travel and planets and defeating villains" that used to be in the Eleventh Doctor era, and that all disappears when Capaldi arrived because the focus on Clara-Who.
Even Doc Oho mentions that he enjoy more "The Husbands of River Song" that all Series 9 because finally showed mature romantic side Capaldi. Before that it was just a false and generic interaction with Clara.

dark said...

Moffat out please! I preferd that universe where nobody was safe, where the magic cosmic badger wouldn't pop up to resurrect anyone who died, where daleks actually shot people, bad things happened and the doctor had real evil to fight, and where that half of the population with two x chromosomes weren't all aggressive, exhibitionist,s elf obsessed scuzbags.
Russel certainly had his problems but he didn't make me actively give up on tv Who the way Moffat has done, and at least he knew how to write characters you cared about.

At the moment I'm still holding to the view there are ten doctors, the eighth doctor fought the time war and nothing else exists, though given what Bf have done with River song in first Doom coalition and then her own series which even made me! respect the character and care what happened to her (mostly by removing all the insane flirty irritating moffatness and just making her a compitant caring human being), I might be having to change that opinion at some point.

Either way, Moffat had already over stayed his welcome in season 5 when he repainted the dalekssilly colours, rewrote history to make everything previously not happen,turned the doctor into a children's cartoon, and made his assistant into a s/xual predator who thought it was fine to cheat on her husband, or forse herself on the Doctor.

At this point a concussed hampster would be better than moffat.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the yes men (resisting urge to make comment about all those who kept expecting Moffat to resolve his plot holes).

I agree completely with Jo here. great location, nice acting, interesting premise, but what the heck happened to the story? I did rather enjoy the scottish robots and the revolution though, and the fact that where in Doctor who most robots tend to be a little human, the Yes men certainly weren't. I love the idea of the robots enslaving humans not because they're particularly evil, just because it's what they sort of think they should be doing, in fact in general the robots here felt very very robotic, the main problem was so did the few human characters we saw. If there had been more people in the city and a few more humans to get into trouble with this rather whacky robot revolution rather than leaving the only human plot to the slightly ponderous politics, this could've been a great story, as it is it feels a bit of a swing and a miss, albeit not a horribly unpleasant miss, just a slightly off, below average story.

I'm now really! waiting for that awesome Ben Jackson story. I'm sure it's in there,but none of the early adventures have delivered thus far, still I'll wait and see sinse as there wasn't a character in the companion chronicles who didn't recieve their due, I'm sure we'll get a story that does Ben justice somewhere along the line,e which would be great.