Thursday, 29 September 2011

Series Two

Continuing the media and public success of series one, Tennant's first year as the Doctor sees him and Rose coming up against all manner of alien nasties from the return of Cassandra, a werewolf, Krillitane, clockwork soldiers, Cybermen, the Wire, Satan himself (!!!), the Absorbaloff, the Isolus and Daleks vs Cybermen!

The regulars -

New Earth written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Hawes

Result: With a slave race being exploited, the villain doing a very bad impression of the companion, a new Doctor making his debut and making a tit out of himself and a scene with a character screaming ‘let me out!’ from inside a plastic cubicle it is heartbreaking to see Davies paying tribute to another classic tale – Time and the Rani! Considering the effects work, the make up and the amount of extras on display it is an oddly cheap looking episode that dodges the dramatic bullet at every turn when what was needed was a sizzling re-instatement of the best of the first series. As a comedy it fails because it isn’t very funny with some arch and embarrassing performances from the leads and as a tragedy it bombs because there is simply no time to give any substance to the situation. It's agonisingly sentimental in places (I always take a sick bucket for the first scenes with the Doctor and Rose) in a way that Doctor Who has never dared to be before and it swaps mature storytelling for a childish tone and overly simplistic solutions. Contradictory to this, the last scene manages to be one of the best moments in the entire Davies era for its stark emotion and you have to wonder what this could have been like had the whole piece been written this powerfully. New Earth reminds me of a dopey puppy that desperately wants to be liked but unfortunately all it deserves is a good kick. There's a much stronger story to be told that ejects all the body swapping frivolities and focuses more on the dark underbelly of the Sisterhood's operation and it's effect on New New York: 4/10

Full Review Here -

Tooth and Claw written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn

Result: When Queen Victoria said she had a taste for supernatural fiction I couldn’t help but nod in agreement and I can still remember the night this was aired and I sat enraptured by a visually stunning and exciting werewolf tale. Russell T. Davies and Euros Lyn work up to the scares, build a tangibly rising atmosphere of terror and seed the show with terrific character vignettes to make Tooth and Claw one of the shining gems of season two. The script in particular seems to be a response to Davies' critics who complain that he writes nothing but kitchen sink drama and fluff and instead he knocks out his tightest piece of writing yet, turning the setting into a conundrum to be puzzled out and utilized to defeat the wolf. As a visual piece it is still one of the most successful episodes of the new series, every shot beautifully considered and edited together with dynamic fluidity. The performances are all top notch with David Tennant really making his mark as the manic, wild eyed Doctor and Pauline Collins producing a sympathetic and resourceful Queen Victoria. Once you strip away all the gloss there is an intelligently rendered tale to be unearthed, one that is happy to put the willies up you. This is a Hinchcliffe horror for the next generation; it's fast, it's sexy, it's scary and it's brilliant entertainment – no wonder a whole new generation fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who: 9/10

Full Review Here -

School Reunion written by Toby Whithouse and directed by James Hawes

Result: With the Doctor investigating a supernatural mystery with an attractive cast of characters, the school setting, witty dialogue and the presence of Anthony Head, Russell T Davies has finally managed to meld Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the way he has mooted ever since the show was brought back. It is just as engaging as Joss Whedon’s opus too, and has the feel of a really good episode that could have sprung from one of the first three seasons. However with the return of Sarah Jane, School Reunion is much more than just a homage to another show, it is a terrific character drama in its own right. It is a furiously paced mystery with some memorable set pieces and a satisfying resolution that is tied into the theme of loss that the series (since the absence of the Time Lords) is exploring. I’m amazed at how much they managed to pack into this one episode without any of it feeling overly rushed; the Doctor gets a number of great moments (his face off with Finch and his temptation at bringing back the Time Lords), Mickey gets to prove his worth once again, there is space for a fabulously oily villain and scenes of icky monsters tearing about the school threatening to snack down on the children. At the heart of the episode though is Elisabeth Sladen’s triumphant return to the series and she sets my heart fluttering whenever she appears. Sarah is still feisty, nosy, nervous and brave - it feels like she has never been away and I love the way she so effortlessly shows the newbies how it should be done. She’s scared when she needs to be, asks the right questions, queries the Doctor’s motives only when absolutely necessary and remains as resourceful as ever. I would have killed for a season with the tenth Doctor and Sarah Jane but I take some comfort in the fact that their paths would cross three times more in the course of the two series. Sladen’s efforts here are rewarded tenfold by the advent of The Sarah Jane Adventures and for that alone I will always be thankful for this episode. Aside from the alienation of Rose, School Reunion ticks most of my boxes and whilst it isn’t perfect (too many irritating kid actors for a start) it does have an awful lot going for it and enough fan pleasing elements to have me punching the air, beaming like a lunatic and blubbing like a baby: 9/10

Full Review Here -

The Girl in the Fireplace written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Euros Lyn

Result: So much to say about the Doctor in 45 minutes. I think the testament to The Girl in the Fireplace should go to one of my mates who cannot abide Doctor Who and claimed that this, that she happened to have to watch because her little boy is in love with the show, was one of the most beautiful pieces of drama she had ever seen. The overall effect of Fireplace is just dazzling; it is so alive with inventiveness, so radiant in its confidence and the execution courtesy of Euros Lyn results in one of the most attractive looking Doctor Who stories ever. Should Doctor Who be attempting a love story? You might think not but the success (critical reception of this episode was extremely positive) of this episode is a good indicator of why Davies and Moffat have continued with he same approach countless times since. Personally I don't think it has been bettered since (although the split of the Doctor and Rose in Doomsday is very powerful) and it has become a little old hat (especially with the companions) but the accomplishment of The Girl in the Fireplace does at least explain why they have both been chasing its success ever since. Tennant and Myles share sizzling chemistry as is usually the case with off screen lovers who work on screen together (Tom’n’Lalla anybody?) but there really isn’t a performance out of place and this is one of Rose’s high spots in series two despite the fact that she is kept out of the action for the most part. A treat for the senses, this episode will whip up your imagination and your emotions into a giddy frenzy and cements Moffatt’s name as the one to watch: 10/10

Full Review Here -

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel written by Tom MacRae and directed by Graeme Harper

Result: So much lost potential. You've got an accomplished writer and director and the return of an old monster looking snazzier than ever but somewhere along the way the execution of all three doesn’t quite gel. The first episode builds up the reveal of the Cybermen with some aplomb but at the same time concerns itself with some truly excruciating soap operatics surrounding the Tyler clan whilst given the Doctor virtually nothing to do. The second episode has some terrific action sequences and visuals courtesy of a director who is pouring everything he has into the execution but he is working to a truly brainless script that threatens to foil him at every turn, especially at the climax. The whole story is weighed down by irritating flaws (Rose's selfishness, Roger Lloyd-Pack's overwritten character, the early death of the President who is the most interesting character, the retarded ending that sees the Cyber Controller climbing a rope ladder) but you can see glimpses of something much superior (Jackie's venomous outpouring to her 'daughter', the street full of frozen zombies, the terrifying Cyber conversion devices). This would work far better as a 60 minute action adventure tale in our universe, cutting out all of the alternative universe nonsense (including all the material that continues to deteriorate Rose's character) and focussing on the psychology and body horror of being converted. These things are tantalizingly touched upon briefly but as with all Cybermen tales never exploited to the full. The Cybermen return time and again because they are popular but every production team that has utilized them seems afraid to expose the true horror of the creatures in fear of upsetting their teatime audience. I’d give the first episode a 5 and the second episode a 7 so this two parter scores a disappointing: 6/10

Full Review Here -

The Idiot’s Lantern written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Euros Lyn

Result: With credentials like this it is a shame that this episode doesn’t hang together better than it does. Written by one of the League of Gentlemen, directed by one of NuWho’s finest and featuring an evocative location, a villain played by Maureen Lipman and lots of scary bits…but like the two parter that precedes it there is an awkwardness in both the script and the presentation that holds it back from any greatness. The tone is all over place, touching on everything from teen musical (hints of Grease), pure soap opera (the Connelly scenes), horror (the old woman silhouetted in the window), film noir (the shadows and jaunty angles of the interrogation scene), spy movies (the fake market) and finally action adventure (the shallow, hectic conclusion). Rather than focussing on doing one thing well, it left me feeling aimless and unsatisfied as it tried to do too much and delivered so little. On a scene by scene basis it is can be very good (although Lipman is completely wasted in an empty role) but stitching all these genres together is an uncomfortable experience and I remember watching with Simon and our mate Ally when this was transmitted and all of us looking at each other afterwards with looks as blank as the victims. It was like we had gorged ourselves on Chinese but still felt really hungry, full of flavour but leaving you strangely unsatisfied. Rory Jennings is exceptional in his role, though, and he would have made an awesome companion: 5/10

Full Review Here -

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit written by Matt Jones and directed by James Strong


Love & Monsters written by Russell T Davies and directed by Dan Zeff

This story in a nutshell: Are you kidding me?

Mockney Dude: Enchanting how a story that hardly features the Doctor can embody and mythologise him so completely. I love that fans criticise this story for doing exactly what they do, forming fan theories, imagining travelling with him, looking for what he means to us. Love & Monsters reveals the love fandom has for the show and the reception to it from the more militant quarters and reveals the hypocrisy and sheer anal fartitude of some quarters. It holds up a mirror to both the best (the sense of community, the love of the Doctor) and the worst of fandom and I'm sure that is the reason why plenty of people find it an uncomfortable watch - because it doesn't always paint them in a comfortable light. As a parody of a Doctor Who fan this is much more fun than Greatest Show’s Whizzkid because Davies bothered to give his wannabes character and charm whereas The Greatest Show in the Galaxy featured a walking gag who was bumped off once the point had been flogged to death. The scenes showing the Doctor as a spectre in the night, haunting Elton on the day that his mother died is another terrific example of looking at the central character afresh. That is an approach which is exemplified by this episode. It suggests that to be touched by the Doctor means that somebody in your life might be marked. The Absorbaloff wants to taste the Doctor’s experiences and intelligence. I hope he's got a hell of an appetite. I like the menacing idea that if your touch the Doctor’s life, even for a second, things change and sometimes for the worst. What does that say about Rose? There have been portents about her future because of her proximity to the Time Lord but this is the most forceful warning yet. It made you question at the time what Davies had planned for these two. I love the idea of only being able to see snippets of his adventures from afar too such as Elton does in the teaser. It makes his adventures look like one big long joke involving slapstick and monsters. It's an absolute riot. During his stint on the show Davies offered several new perceptions of the Doctor (as a romantic figure, as a man running from his past, as a man who bends the laws of Time to his will) but I think the image of his visiting a little boy at night like a spectre of death might just be my favourite.

Chavvy Chick: We see another side to Rose in Love & Monsters too, through her mother’s eyes. It is particularly useful in Rose’s case since she has become something of a jealous caricature of the character she played in the first season by this stage of series two and seeing how her absence affects Jackie gives us a unique new angle to her character. As much as you might not like how domestic the show became under Davies banner you cannot argue that it afforded a whole new perspective from the companions point of view on the show that had barely been considered before. It might have gotten out of hand come series eight with the companion popping in and out of their domestic lives and the TARDIS but back in the first four years companions were allowed to be companions (ie travelling in the TARDIS full time) with the occasion peek at the emotional consequences of who they have left behind. I love it when she steps out of the TARDIS furious that Elton has upset her mum but seeing how upset he is at losing Ursula she puts her arms around him and comforts him. It’s a wonderfully tender scene, which shows Rose at her best.

Not That One: These Doctor/companion lite episodes have given us some wonderful characters in the shape of Elton Pope, Sally Sparrow and Craig & Sophie all of which I feel are strong enough to hold up their individual episodes and could work as potential companions. Well maybe not Sophie but all the others. Marc Warren is astoundingly good in this episode (and that’s faint praise); he makes Elton sympathetic, funny, sexy, geeky and quite a delight to spend time with. At times he plays the characters more childish characteristics up but that only serves to make him even more sympathetic. He's you and me, sitting at home behind our keyboards and trying to get as close to the Doctor as possible. I think Davies and Warren have pitched the character perfectly, just pathetic enough to feel for him and confident enough to rise above his flaws and fight back. I love his na├»ve innocence that is expressed in how he can hurt the people around him (like Jackie) because he is so obsessed with the Doctor and cannot see that that obsession might have a profound effect on others. His romance with Ursula is played at exactly the right level with the two of them at arms length but desperately involved with each other emotionally and not coming to terms with their feelings until they are almost torn apart for good.. His realisation that he loves Ursula and wants Jackie as a friend leads to spectacular moment of regret where he betrays his friend by not being honest with her. How can you not cheer when he finally stands up to himself and gives Victor a piece of his mind. I could happily spend more time with Elton Pope, especially the way he so outrageously breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience all the time. Imagine a whole season of crazy narrative tricks and addresses to a video camera as Elton joins the TARDIS and records their visits for posterity. It's not such a crazy idea, it worked out fine in Stargate Universe.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The most beautiful sound in the world…’
‘So…we meet at last, LINDA.’
‘Because it’s never me is it?’ – that line should sound selfish but it's devastatingly delivered by Camille Coduri.
‘She tastes like chicken.’
‘The truth is the world is so much stranger than that and so much darker and so much madder and so much better.’

The Good Stuff: The opening really grabs your attention as you are plonked somewhere in the middle of the story told from the point of view of an outsider. That's the sort of subversion of the norm that you can expect throughout Love & Monsters. I have seen countless Doctor Who monsters, from both the classic and the new series, that look a damn sight less convincing the Hoix. For a monster that has been cobbled together at the last minute it is extraordinarily good. Miles better than the Absorbalof, strangely enough. Is this only the second time we have had farce in Doctor Who of this nature? The Doctor, Rose and the Hoix running about with buckets is every bit is chucklesome as Barbara whooping out loud and attempting to escape the clutches of a very horny in The Romans. I'm not a massive fan of this brand of comedy but when it is pulled off this well it is better to just go with the flow. A whole story in this vein would be too much but as a glimpse into the insane world of the Doctor ('You said red!' 'I said not red!') it works a treat. Russell T. Davies was a genius to recount the Earthbound new Who invasions from the point of view of a civilian, again something that has never been attempted before and it successfully manages to make the timeline since the show returned feel as though it is building up an impressive mythology. The re-enactments of Rose, Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion are inspired, enough to make any fanboy squeal with delight. I especially like Elton's reaction to the Autons smashing through the window. It is very easy to get to know Elton when he is talking directly to us. Davies exposes the joy of meeting new friends through their love of the Doctor and the pain of those friendships being torn apart through the work of one dominant personality. You don't have to have dabbled too long in Doctor Who fandom to understand what he is getting at here. When it comes to capture the essence of humanity there was no finer writer on Doctor Who. He's a great wit too, scripting the scene in the launderette with sharp gags (Elton never had a chance as a spy when Jackie set her lustrous sights on him). It is by far Jackie's best appearance from her time on the show, allowing her to be screamingly funny (the moment she throws the wine over Elton is deliriously naughty and trampish) but giving her a great deal of extra depth and poignancy too (I've already mentioned her reaction to Elton's betrayal but her moment of stillness after speaking to Rose on the phone really hits home, suddenly making her realise how pathetic she is playing around with what is essentially a boy). Her love and loss for her daughter is keenly felt and Elton’s lies cut deep, making for a sharp rush of emotion in what is generally a very funny episode. The thread of Jackie being left behind to cope without her daughter (when it is clear that Rose gives her life meaning) adds a layer of heartbreak to seasons one and two that hasn't been matched since (there was a touch of it in series four but Wilf was only too delighted that his Granddaughter was out amongst the stars). You can imagine fandom diving behind the sofa at the thought of Bliss' face bulging out of the Absorbaloff's arse cheek but that's exactly the sort of naughtiness that I quite admire. It makes me chuckled that Davies made Clom and Raxacoricofallapatorius next-door neighbours, placing his two least loved monsters in the same neighbourhood. It seems like he knew that this Blue Peter competition inspired monster wasn't going to go down very well! It's very sweet that it is friendship that tears the creature apart. I'll take that over the 'love conquers all' nonsense that we've suffered time and again over the past couple of years. The Absorbaloff melts in a slushy puddle of green crap - we haven't seen anything quite this surreal in the show for some time (perhaps since The Collector suffered the same fate in The Sun Makers). Is the living shadow that haunted Elton’s house the first instance of the Vashta Nerada on Earth? Every now and then you have to throw something at the Doctor Who audience that makes them throw their hands up in disgust just to keep them on their toes. A pavement slab giving head is pretty gross but it does make me laugh every time. If you can't get a handle on that, I do understand. I feel for you, but I do understand. The episode ends on a great sentiment that deserves to be repeated (see above).

The Bad Stuff: The Absorbaloff is a fine idea in theory but I thought we had all but disposed of the idea of men in ridiculous rubber suits. If I were William Grantham I would ask for my money back. It really should have been rendered in CGI with the faces being far more animated and bulging in and out of the layers of fat. The scene where it wobbles after Elton down the street uin a thing is one of the few genuinely rubbish moments in NuWho.

The Shallow Bit: Marc Warren has a cute little chest, you can see why Jackie was so determined to get his kit off. The moment when he changes the light bulb and she admires the V that leads down to his crown jewels might just be the hottest moment in Doctor Who ever.

Result: The most controversial episode of NuWho in what was the most uneven season of the show (until seasons six and seven came along). Make of that what you will. It’s a story that playfully deploys all kind of tricks to keep the audience amused, aroused and enchanted; a non linear plot, narration, montages, flashbacks, character synopsis’, cine footage, drama, laughs, singing, sex, monsters and a kids dream to design a Doctor Who monster and see it brought to life. It defies all expectations and redefines what Doctor Who can be about. It plays by its own rules and effortlessly draws you in to its unique atmosphere. It manages to be the most exquisite love letter to Doctor Who (and Doctor Who fandom) and still upset half of its audience terribly. Not every Doctor Who story could be as incendiary as this one but after the complacency of much of season two (even the highlights have mostly been kisses to the past - gothic horror, Sarah Jane, base under siege) Love & Monsters proved that it was still possible to put a firework up the arse of fandom and give them a short sharp shock of innovation. The fact that some people will claim that it is as good as Doctor Who ever gets and others declare it the worst piece of television to grace their TV screens proves that he certainly got peoples attention and gave the show an injection of innovation. I think the first half of this episode is just about flawless in what it is trying to achieve with some exquisitely drawn characters (of the like we just don't get on the show any more) and a beautifully mounted scenario with people coming together through their love of the Doctor. The second half is more problematical because the Absorbaloff itself is so utterly outrageous (and the realisation could hardly be called a success) but there are still some startling scenes (Jackie confronting Elton, the Doctor at the bottom of the stairs) and some effective emotional nuggets. Marc Warren holds the whole episode together, giving one of the strongest guest performances as Elton. I could 100% believe in his character (because he is effectively me) and my concern and affection for him kept me interested all the way through. One of the most subversive episodes of Doctor Who and one of the riskiest. For the most part, I love it: 9/10

Fear Her written by Matthew Graham and directed by Euros Lyn


Army of Ghosts & Doomsday written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper

Result: A chaotic, climactic, conclusive two parter that sees the Doctor and Rose ripped apart in gripping style. Army of Ghosts is the superior episode because Davies walks the fine line between setting up the plot and playing with some fun concepts and humour and it builds to an unforgettably exciting cliffhanger. Doomsday starts out well but keeps piling on so many elements that it loses itself and surprisingly the relentless action was the least effective element of this busy episode. The Daleks/Cybermen tension grows tired quite quickly (after a superb bitch fight) but the episode redeems itself with the operatic emotional drama of the final ten minutes. Suddenly all that hideous smugness drops away and the Doctor and Rose are real people again, trapped in two different universes and trying to say goodbye through tears. It’s sensitively acted by Tennant and Piper and whilst it was easily past time Rose left us it does see her go out with an emotional wallop. There’s so much that is good here that it’s a shame that it doesn’t quite hold together as well as it should but there are still a wealth of great scenes. Davies seems to have saved up all of his 'wouldn't it be great if...' ides for this finale (phantom Cybermen, secret organisations hiding out in famous landmarks, Daleks vs Cybermen, a Time Lord prison) and the resulting madness is intoxicating. Army of Ghosts would score a 9 and Doomsday a 7 so this two parter ranks: 8/10

Full Review Here -

1 comment:

Michael said...

Loving your reviews! I'm overdoing on Doctor Who in the run up to the 50th Anniversary show... did you review the specials? The Xmas specials are missing so far from the Nu Who reviews, or maybe I haven't found them yet.