Tuesday, 7 April 2015

As bad as television gets...

The antithesis of my post this morning, here are my picks of the worst of television out everything that I have reviewed so far. If you are a sucker for a moan, enjoy!

Nightmare in Silver written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Stephen Woolfenden

This story in a nutshell: The Cybermen are back…

Nutty Professor: One of Gaiman’s advertising promises for his episode was that he wanted to have written a part for Matt Smith that would secure him an BAFTA next year which shows a real confidence in both the lead actor and his own writing. Unfortunately on this occasion neither are quite up to scratch. Gaiman writes a battle of wills between the Doctor and the Cyberplanner that should have tested the Time Lord to his psychological limits (he can’t really do that anyway because Simon Nye pulled that one off in Amy’s Choice when the Doctor butted heads with a far more formidable opponent) but instead what we get is a schizophrenic evaluation of his character which seems to suggest that the Doctor is actually some horribly sexist old letch. In Steven Moffat’s world, maybe, but not mine (there was an interesting note in The Writer’s Tale where RTD notes that Moffat cannot help but write his characters as sexual beings, which might be another reason why he feels a little out of character on occasion during this era). ‘Squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little to tight…ummm.’ Worse, Matt Smith doesn’t seem to be quite up to the task of pulling this acting feat off and the scenes of the two ‘Doctors’ arguing get tedious very quickly but pollutes practically the entire episode. What worried me initially was that I preferred the darker, more menacing Cyberplanner Doctor than the usual goofball that we are travelling the universe with of late. I like my Doctor to have a touch of darkness to him but of late he seems to be channelling Mr Magorium from the Wonder Emporium; all flapping arms, silly tricks and magical twirls of the sonic screwdriver and very little substance. But before long the menacing Doctor starts channelling Angie, all petulance and tantrums. Ban Matt Smith from ever playing his predecessors again, it’sabysmal. The Doctor re-iterates that Clara is a mystery at the end of this episode. Gee, thanks for that, like we haven’t had a reminder in every single installment this year. Get on with resolving it already!

Closed Book: It’s getting beyond a joke with Clara now, and I’m saying that with the hindsight of having watched The Name of the Doctor last Saturday and having born witness to the twist behind her mystery that singularly failed to explain the reason that she has had so little personality and character to this point (I’ll leave the explanation of the actual twist until I get around to reviewing that installment). Who is Clara Oswald? Well it is clear that this version of her character is a shallow vacuous non-entity who is pretty much whatever the writers want her to be on a weekly basis. It really hit home in Nightmare of Silver that the writers are actually as clueless about her identity as we are and are just making it up as they go along. The way that she suddenly turns into some kind of military commander who can handle open warfare with the Cybermen is just taking the piss. There is no sense that this kind of responsibility (the sort of which she would never have experienced before) bothers her or makes her doubt herself, nope she takes to the stage like General Custer and barks orders like she has been doing this all of her life. It wouldn’t matter quite so much if there was some humour to all this, that she got some things wrong. Imagine Donna in this role? She would be hopeless and trip up every five minutes but it would be funny and it would be believable. She’d probably pull through in the end but through luck rather than through judgement. Clara is a little too perfect in my eyes, in a way that makes her blend into the scenery rather than standing out because she is a real person reacting to insane circumstances. If what Neil Gaiman says is true and Clara was originally supposed to the Victorian version from The Snowmen originally then I could imagine this working out much more convincingly (there was something very cheeky and cocksure about that version of Clara from the off) and it would have given a decent reason for the children to be involved in the action. Instead because Moffat’s masterplan insisted on a contemporary Clara to be the Doctor’s assistant (honestly I think that is season 7b’s worst decision) we had to suffer that retarded scene at the end of The Crimson Horror where Angie and Artie blackmail their way into the TARDIS and their hideous involvement in this installment instead (I don’t remember much about the two children in The Snowmen, but I don’t remember them irritating me in the way that these two manage). If I were Clara I would have quit nannying this pair years ago. Bizarrely Clara seems to have no compunction about shooting ordinary looking people with her giant gun. I really thought the twist we were heading towards was that she wasn’t human because at times she barely acts like one. Faced with the prospect of an entire army of Cybermen, Clara barely breaks a sweat. I fail to comprehend how she could cope so straightforwardly with this situation or have any experience of combat on this scale. She simply doesn’t react like an average Joe on the street, which is what she is supposed to be. Going through the whole business of Clara discovering she is the impossible girl again (except handled nowhere near as effectively – in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS she was properly scared at the Doctor’s insinuations, here she just looks a little bored) is treading familiar ground. If they hadn’t reset the events of Journey it wouldn’t have to be awkwardly inserted into a story where it is completely irrelevant. Plus she seems to have conveniently forgotten at the end of the tale and wonders off to her old life with no questions. This arc has just been bizarre, polluting stories with unnecessary information, lacking any significant development, forcing the Doctor and his assistant into a perpetual dance of mystery which ultimately proves to be meaningless and leaving a massive hole where Clara’s personality should be. Not Moffat’s finest hour. Porridge’s marriage proposal isn’t funny or touching or backed up by any great interaction in the episode (she gives him a cup of soup but that’s hardly Romeo & Juliet) – it’s just another bizarre anomaly in an episode full of them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’ve been eliminating yourself from history. You know you could be reconstructed from the hole you’ve left?’

The Good:
  • My favourite moment in this entire story and the only moment that made me sit up and pay attention was the Cyberman that snapped into action and grabbed Webley’s hands and deployed the insidious little Cyber-insects. These sleek little electronic bugs, like slivers of quicksilver, that slip through the ear and attack the brain are the finest innovation in a story that plunders all of it’s best ideas from other stories.

The Bad:

  • Children can be a fantastic asset to stories. Go and read The Famous Five or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or the Harry Potter books or anything written by Roald Dhal…they all feature children in pivotal roles who take us on colourful, imaginative and exciting adventures. The main different between the protagonists in those novels and Angie and Artie (I physically shake when writing their names they are just so abominable) is that they are likable, believable children and if you watch the TV/movie translations of those stories you will notice that they have been cast with that in mind. The only reason for Angie and Artie (but especiallyAngie) to be as obnoxious as they are that I can think of is that it was a deliberate move. I have never met children in my life who are quite as stubborn and insufferable as this. They are taken to one of the most exciting places imaginable (a theme park in space) and instead of revelling in wonder of what has been opened up to them they slouch about, whinging about how bored they are and getting into mischief. Why we are expected to care about the fate of such abhorrent juveniles puzzles me – as soon as they were kidnapped by the Cybermen I actually punched the air with joy. I hoped that the next scene would feature them as converted, emotionless drones because that was infinitely preferable to another round of ‘Put me down! I hate you!’  which has become Simon’s default quote to define everything that has gone with Doctor Who in this mini season. Choice dialogue includes: ‘Your stupid box can’t even get us to the right place!’,‘Magic!’ (said with disdain, of course), ‘It was okay…’ (says Angie of being able to space walk…man this girl is hard to please), ‘How long do we have to stay here?’‘I hate the future, it’s stupid! There’s not even any phone service!’ , ‘I don’t think Clara would like that…’ ‘She’s not our mum!’‘I’m bored!’ , Clara, she’s not my sister, she’s stupid…’ , ‘One day, I’ll be Queen of the universe…’ Think about the children in The Sarah Jane Adventures (Maria, Clyde, Rani and Luke), they were all engaging, well acted, credible characters. I would have thought that during the Moffat’s era (given that he has children himself) that the younger characters would be more engagingly written than during RTDs time (who doesn’t have children) but that has simply not been the case at all. The former seems to edge towards children simply being children where’s Davies seems to work from the starting point that they are young adults. The difference is extraordinary.
  • It might be the most lackadaisical pre-titles sequence since The Doctor’s Daughter and for similar reasons – it feels like the Doctor, Clara and the barely explained children turn up and every element of the plot suddenly comes at them at once. Enter Webley stage left, enter the army stage right and head through a door and there is a Cyberman playing chess. There is no attempt to generate tension or to seed a mystery, it’s an awkward attempt to throw everything at you at once so Gaiman can get on with telling the story. It’s just weird.
  • The idea of setting a Doctor Who story in an abandoned theme park that has decayed is marvellous – like the Bernice Summerfield audio The Grel Escape it should capture a sense of something fun and childish having turned sour. It should have a faded dreams atmosphere all of its own. There are a few faintly unconvincing CGI shots of the park that try and suggest the scale of the planet but I feel as though they could have gone a lot further in driving home the feeling of a candy coated location that has gone off.
  • Let me get this straight, an Emperor of a thousand galaxies (try and get your head around the sheer size of that for a moment and consider how that could have even come about) has decided to take a vacation on a deserted theme park playing chess inside a gutted out Cyberman suit. Erm, why exactly? If it was supposed to be a place to hide away from his responsibilities I can imagine fifty better destinations off the top of my head. He should have tried out the Argolis Leisure Hive, for one.
  • The whole sequence with the Cyberman playing chess was clearly supposed to jar by putting the metallic nasty in an unconventional situation but it doesn’t come off as directed. The Doctor is trying to discover the trick behind the magic rather than letting Artie simply enjoy himself.
  • Listen up current production team because if I have to say it again I may have to switch my allegiances to Warehouse 13 or some other tripe – stop wasting your terrific guest cast on forgettable, underwritten roles! Jason Watkins is a superb actor that I have seen in a wide variety of equally good roles on British television and film. Doctor Who gets hold of him and what do they do? Turn him into a Cyberman, gut him of his ability to emote and write him out halfway through the episode. Unthinkable. Warwick Davis is also a favourite of mine but he provides little more than wallpaper in his poorly written part. The dialogue that he was given after planet exploded made me want to vomit, talk about trying to drive the sentiment home.
  • Where is the Emperor? So asks Tamzin Outhwaite’s Captain. The only other character we meet is Porridge. Ooh, I wonder who the Emperor is then?
  • I think the problem is the lack of time (although in reaction to that I can think of loads of examples where this isn’t the case) but this is another instance in season 7b where the guest characters seem to be entire devoid of personality or presence beyond their general character spec. The Captain is butch and shouty, the Emperor is kindly, Brains is socially awkward and geeky, Angie is a stomp-your-feet-and-have-a-paddy kid, Clara is the standard Doctor Who companion…they are walking ciphers, with no substantial personality to grasp hold of and no sense that they exist outside of this adventure.
  • As far as I am concerned Gaiman has completely failed to understand the core strength behind the idea of the Cybermen. It’s not their super strength or ability to move at the speed of light (why people have been so excited about Cybermen running is beyond me…they are much more effective as a marching presence; relentless, unstoppable and not taking their time because they know they can take you down) or their ability to take over your mind (the Cybermen are taking inspiration from the Mara now?). It’s the body horror that has always been the most chilling aspect, taking hold of a human being and threatening to turn them into machines. And it’s one that the show has been desperate to shy away from ever since the creatures were first invented, with rare occasions such as Tomb of the Cybermen and Attack of the Cybermen where they really drive the concept home vividly. Sticking a light on the side of Artie’s head isn’t enough, if they wanted to really grind in the idea of conversion then both children should have been lost, metal embedded in their faces. Instead it feels like a wave of the sonic screwdriver will be a quick cure all. I’m not keen on the redesign either, they look a little too sleek, almost feminine and they still look like they are laughing off the greatest joke they’ve ever heard. Next time forget the tricks like autonomous hands and heads that swivel and instead capture the real fear of having your identity stolen and your heart replaced by a block of technological ice.
  • I think the scene that summed up my current disdain for the show better than any was that of the military types, Clara and Porridge under attack from the Cybermen. You’ve got a badly executed location, a badly thought out threat coming to seize badly written characters that it is impossible to give a damn about. There doesn’t feel as if there has been any great thought has been put into any of this. Instead of clenching my butt with fear that the Cybermen were coming I was groaning at the reveal that there were twelvety million of them (what is the obsession with huge numbers?), instead being thrilled at this taking place in a fairground attraction I was baffled at how such a location could be so awkwardly translated on screen (filming at a castle feels so mundane when this should have been set in a much weirder, imaginative and dilapidated location) and instead of hiding behind my pillow at the thought of losing these characters to the enemy I was encouraging them to be converted because it might make them a little more interesting. I couldn’t have been more indifferent.
  • Wouldn’t it have been more effective if this had been a smaller squadron of Cybermen and they managed to take control. Giving them these kinds of numbers doesn’t make them an effective force, it means the fact that they lose is embarrassing. It feels like the worst excesses of the RTD era to wake up an entire army of upgraded Cybermen only to wipe them all out a heartbeat later. This could have been a new beginning for the creatures but instead it is as much of a shoulder shrugging reset as Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was. It left me thinking – what was the point?
  • Shoving a bit of gold leaf against his face? Huh? How would that block a mental link?
  • This story features all three of my least favourite plot resolutions in SF because they are easy get-out-clauses rather than actually working out a satisfying and clever conclusion – the random technobabble that saves the day (the Doctor slams some bit of tech against his head and the Cyberplanner is kaput), the teleportation that gets people out of trouble at the last minute and the explosion that rids the heroes of having to deal with the problem. Actually if these quick fix solutions were available from the beginning doesn’t that make Porridge a bit of bastard for not getting everybody out before people started dying?
Result: The trouble with stating categorically that you are going  to ‘make the Cybermen scary again’ is that you better be damn sure of yourself because if you fail to live up to your promise this show has a fan base that will consume you quicker than a boa constructor can swallow a rabbit – fur and all! Poor Neil Gaiman, fresh from the undeniable success of The Doctor’s Wife (of which I am given to understand was primarily the work of Steven Moffat – although I have no proof to back up that claim) and faced with his difficult second album tries to throw everything at the wall in the vein hope that something will stick. Unfortunately it slides to the ground and winds up congealing on the floor in an unpleasant mess. It’s another story I was very much looking forward to watching – Gaiman and the Cybermen was a delicious idea in prospect – and I cannot really explain my disappointment as the story mundanely progressed from one plodding set piece to the next, taking in vacuous, motiveless characters, Cybermen who have been watching too many episodes of Power Rangersand Star Trek, hinging on irritating, unsound twists and wrapping up with three (count them – three!) lazy resolutions to bring the whole thing to ‘was it worth it?’ ending. I remember Simon and I wrestling for the remote throughout to pause and trash the implausible mess that was unfolding before us. Some people have targeted CBBC as a way of criticising this episode, as though it has been watered down for a younger audience. Let me tell you there is nothing wrong about writing for a younger audience and it in no way means you have to gut your writing of all the things that make a good story (a strong plot, interesting characters, imagination, fine dialogue) and even the weaker episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures had better story structure and ingenuity than Nightmare of Silver. I haven’t even spoken about the bizarre use of Clara (this week a military commander of some years service), the most irritating children this side of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but without the humour, the dreary repetitiveness of having Matt Smith argue with himself for half and hour that drags possibly his worst performance out of him and a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the Cybermen scary. It’s one of those rare Doctor Who stories where nothing seems to be working, where the director and the writer seem to coming at the story from entirely different angles. This is the closest I have ever come to giving up on Doctor Who, almost abandoning all hope given the current standard of what the show is producing. It breaks my heart to be slaughtering my favourite show so unapologetically but in order to maintain any level of integrity on the blog I have to say it how I see it. I put off writing this one because I know I am starting to sound like one of those mad ranters on Gallifrey Base but I hope I have at least given my criticism some substance and explanation. Fortunately the week after had enough gold running through it (whilst still being weighed down with some problems) to whet my appetite for more but season eight has try much, much harder than this if the show is going to maintain its position as top dog in the schedules. 

Fight Club written by Chris Carter and directed by Paul Shapiro

What’s it about: You tell me…

Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully are clearly a pair of seasoned agents to not recognise that the agents in hospital are the spitting image of them and that they have worked together for exactly the same amount of time. In an case involving twins. Carter tries to be cute with his dialogue about the doubles not being involved but the whole situation is so retarded that any attempts to miss the obvious and slip in sly gags is like shoving the audiences face into a barrel full of sick. There were rumours that Duchovny and Anderson couldn’t stand the sight of each other by this point and so the climax where they kick the crap out of each other with such ferociousness that they require major treatment might stand as a symbol of their true feelings. It’s a spiteful move on Carter’s part, contributing to the episodes malicious tone.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I got sucked into a storm drain’ – a line so offbeat that it requires some kind of explanation but Carter expects Scully to just go with it. Mulder really spent the better part of a day climbing through the sewers?
‘What does it all mean?’ – note to Carter, don’t pose the question if you are going to give such an inconclusive answer.

Ugh: The whole episode.

The Bad: To put it simply, Kathy Griffin is not an actress. She’s an entertainer. As such she is entirely unsuited to appearing on a show like The X-Files because she exclaims every line as though the audience is just out of reach and reacting with guffaws at her every utterance. She has no screen presence and yet paradoxically has  too much (she’s too loud, too childish, too everything…). The gag (and I use the term as loosely as possible) of a faux Mulder and Scully turning up to investigate the violence that has occurred but being shot as though it really is them doesn’t work because: 1) Steve Kiziak doesn’t quite look like David Duchovny from behind and 2) their voices are so appallingly dubbed over the action. I don’t understand the logic of this sequence – why would the identical twins of Mulder and Scully sound like our Mulder and Scully and how many absurd co-incidences would have to fall into play to have the doubles find each other and end up working together? That you have to experience the fight sequence again but this time with the false Mulder and Scully at each others throat is a further indignity, especially when this is executed in even more of a stilted fashion. This is always where I manage to reach in every previous viewing of this episode. Going forwards, it is all new material and I have never done that with any other episode of any other show. There is zero chemistry between Cobb and Griffin which might have made the unlikely pairing of Betty and Burt work. It’s just weird. It is never actually explained how the convergence of two twins causes such terrible calamities, we are just supposed to accept it. By the conclusion we are watching a boxing match that has spiralled out of all control, where the audience is so hyped on bloodlust that the propinquity of the redheads induces a violent frenzy. The direction is insisting this is funny by the nature of the sitcom performances and jazzy music and yet the outbreak of violence is disgusting…it is so tonally defective I had to wonder if the writer and director had ever met. It’s so atypical from anything The X-Files or television itself has ever done before…and there is a good reason for that. Duchovny probably thought he was onto a good thing getting out at this point.

Pre Titles Sequence: Comic Book Guy Moment:‘Worst Pre-Title Sequence Evah…’ Surely Carter could have concocted a more imaginative scenario than this to expose the nature of the twins. Religious indoctrination turned Reservoir Dogs? It’s not only childish and offensive, it is irritatingly executed (not something I often accuse this show of) with a horrendously cheap and nasty score (read the previous brackets again). When it comes to the two missionaries kicking the shit out of each other until they are covered in blood, I was appalled. It leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth and that is not the way to kick start an episode of The X-Files.

Moment to Watch Out For: Watch the sequence where Scully has to try and remonstrate with Angry Bob and see the point where Anderson gives up trying to act and just wings her performance. This material hasn’t earned the right for her to put any effort into it. She’s about two second away from cracking up at the mess of hysterics this episode has devolved into. 

Result: And so we reach the worst episode of The X-Files, just about edging out First Person Shooter as the most abominable piece of trash this show ever vomited up. It is a piece so far off the mark that you have to wonder how Chris Carter could get it so badly wrong when he has shown of late (How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, Milagro, Closure) that his creative juices are still flowing strongly. Fight Club is trying so hard to be quirky it is literally ramming the tasteless notion down your throat in a sarcastic and violent way. You not only have to watch tedious, badly executed sequences…you have to watch them twice! Double the pain, none of the enjoyment. Either this is the work of sheer exhaustion or the result of somebody complacent in the knowledge that this show is about to come to an end (as Carter thought at the time) and any old garbage can be tossed at the audience to see them through to the finale. Duchovny and Anderson try so hard to capture the magic that happened between them in season six in their scenes but the material is so weak they are fighting a loses battle. The only thing more painful than watching their endeavours is the double performance by Kathy Griffin; so bad that I had all but blocked it from my mind. Why does the proximity of twins cause such devastation? Why the earthquakes? The violence? Why does Mulder fall down a manhole and spend half a day trying to get out the sewers? The most disturbing thing is I’m not even that bothered that none of this is adequately explained. It doesn’t deservean explanation. It’s not even a case of the show not trying to be scary anymore, it isn’t even trying to be clever now. The sad thing is that Fight Club is trying so hard to be funny it misses the point entirely and winds up being tasteless. If you want to see Carter attempting to try his hand at something quirky and succeed then go watch season nine’s Improbable. All I wanted during this experience was for my twin to turn up and try and kill me...

They Keep Killing Suzie written byPaul Tomalin & Dan McCulloch and directed by James Strong

This story in a nutshell: Suzie is back and even worse than ever!

Hunky Hero: John Barrowman looks especially camp hold up his big muscly arms with the gauntlet attached to his hand – I’m not sure how that is possible but early Torchwood always manages to find a way!

Jack’s Crew: It takes Gwen who seems to be the only character this season to have a couple of brain cells at her disposal (no morals mind) that these murders are because of Torchwood and so Torchwood has to do something about them! Jack saying ‘Torchwood’ one last time to set the psycho off again for no reason isn’t clever or funny. Its like he honestly doesn’t give a shit about any of victims. When Gwen calls him on this issue and suggests that he never bothers to get close to anybody or figure out how they might feel about being given access to such incredible technology is valid. They’ve taken a charming, rougish character from Doctor Who and turned him into an arrogant, one dimensional bully. I’d hardly say that is a step in the right direction. Barrowman gives an exceptionally weak performance here, stressing every word as though it was his last and growling and snarling at the oddest of moments.

What is all this nonsense about Ianto and his stopwatch? Because he likes and instrument that measures time does that replace any need for him to display any character? Despite the fact when RTD finally pulls this ridiculous show into shape the Jack/Ianto relationship is one of the better things about it there is no getting around the fact that the very idea of the relationship is insane. Ianto has been set up as the token straight man in this series, he got angry with Jack when he flirted with him earlier in the season and had a nervous breakdown when the love of his life was turned into a Cyberwoman and eating by a pterodactyl (no I’m not joking). He even told Jack he would get his revenge on him for trying to force him to kill her. And now all of a sudden Ianto is bisexual and wants to go down on the very man he was swearing bloody vengeance on a few weeks ago? Are they making this up as they go along? I refuse to believe that everybody in this ludicrous organisation has such loose morals that they can jettison any feelings they might have had for a lost love so quickly and change their sexuality in a heartbeat. Its just more farcical titillation and that might appeal to those who want to use this show as cheap softcore porn but for those of us who think with the brain in our heads it doesn’t make any sense and lacks consistency.

The Good: The massive hole in the back of Suzie’s head is as preposterous as the rest of the episode but it is the one moment when the episode made me smile – it was a touch of black humour that actually worked.

Dreadful Dialogue:
‘If its someone we’ve pissed off that narrows it down to…ooh four or five million!’ ‘And that’s just the humans.’
‘Ee’s got Retcon in his blood!’
‘Hey what if they all become psychotic?’
‘Life knife!’
‘Like you said…I’m the boss!’
‘You’re locked inside your own base!’
‘I’m going to kill you Suzie Costello! Once and for all!’ ‘But would you do that? When there’s a part of me that’s her!’
‘How much more of this do you want?’

The Bad: You know even the pre titles sequence seems unbelievably ropey in these post Children of Earth days – ‘Outside the government, beyond the police…’ – oh fuck off and have a penis reduction cause clearly its going to your head! Hilariously Torchwood turns up in the first scene in their gigantic SUV with big, bold music wearing ray bans and long flowing jackets and parading up to the police in slow motion. I have honestly never seen a more ridiculous, overblown, cartoony bunch of regulars in my entire life. How the actors took this all serious is beyond me. Finding the word Torchwood smeared in blood on the wall by a pair of corpses with their throats slit is a gruesomely memorable image but all the pomp and circumstance around the reveal blunts the moment. The episode should have begun without Torchwood even present, panning across the room slowly, past the bodies and onto the wall to reveal the message. Mind you there is absolutely nothing subtle about the image at all especially when that is pointed out by the police officer ‘your name written their blood…you did this Captain Jack Harkness!’ Get them closed down then, in season one that would be no great loss! An amnesiac pill called ‘Retcon?’ Really? Of all the names at their disposal couldn’t Davies and his team come up with something better than that? All the shitty dialogue about giving ‘the Ressurection gauntlet’ belongs in a school playground. Did this really go through a script editor (‘what about the risen mitten?’)? I’m willing to suggest that the only reason that resurrecting the dead was dabbled in was to upset the devout religious section of the audience and not for any creative purpose. It always seems to be raining in Torchwood, have you ever noticed? Jack suggest that Gwen’s whole life will be packed away and go unnoticed after she dies because she was a part of Torchwood? Why? How could she possibly be any danger after she has died? What about all those assistants of the Doctor’s walking about having witness all kinds of aliens and advanced technology? Why doesn’t the Doctor do the same thing? Oh yeah because he isn’t a complete moron trying to pretend that he is important ‘secret organisation.’ There’s this massive drama about bringing Suzie back to life but she wasn’t exactly scary in the first place…more a mild annoyance but this is Torchwood so WE’VE GOT TO TREAT EVERYTHING SERIOUSLY! I’ve seen Indira Varma in other programmes (she took part in a dramatisation of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and she was astonishing) but saddling her with the character if Suzie gives her nothing to play about with. She’s bloody depressing in the role but unfortunately that’s what the script calls for and with the dreary dialogue she has nothing of interest to say either. Oh look – a nightclub full of hot sweaty kids dancing, how cool! The beefy bloke that goes nuts in the Torchwood cells is beyond funny, what a truly dreadful performance! Owen only discovers that Suzie is leeching life energy from Gwen because he checks the revivals recordings…why exactly? Gah there’s no reason for any of this! Scenes of the police laughing Jack and his idiot staff locked in their own base is such puerile humour I was banging my head on the desk. Suzie suggests that there is ‘nothing, just nothing…’ after death which is about right for Torchwood’s bleak look at life. ‘If words caused the lockdown maybe numbers reverse it! Try the ISBN!’ – what the hell? Where is the logic in that? Where does Jack get his staff from? I’m not sure how but despite being so overblown throughout the race against time conclusion is suddenly underdone and lacks any drama. Putting Eve Myles into daft contact lenses doesn’t convincingly suggest she is being shot in the head slowly. It goes from night to day in about two minutes. Of course Suzie can’t resist giving Gwen a kiss on the lips before she goes because everybody has a gay side in this show! Jack pumping bullets into Suzie is a horrible ending to a horrible episode.

Hang on, hang on, hang on…Suzie set all this up from beginning to end under the assumption that she might die at some point and would need some kind of method to get herself brought back to life? She set up a revenge plan for somebody who she hasn’t even met yet? Argh! This script is such mouldy old dick cheese! Its so badly written it has me physically attacking my keyboard to slate it! Apparently if she dies and doesn’t see Max for three months he becomes a ticking time bomb and her orders kick in…he follows Suzie’s programme and starts killing and the whole chain of events forces them to bring her back from the dead and then she escapes. All so she could kill her abusive father. How does Suzie know that death is such a terrifying concept so she has to set up this bollocks if she hasn’t died yet? Its the most convoluted load of fanny fluff…its so full of holes and implausibilities it isn’t even worth discussing. I give up.

Result: Another season one disaster; a stupid, camp, specious mess of an episode that lacks any conviction or style. Its not a script that follows logical narrative progression but one that takes massive leaps, either ridiculous (bringing someone back from the dead to get the next clue, Suzie’s impossibly brainless plan) or so painfully simple its cringeworthy (the code that stops the Torchwood shutdown is an ISBN of Susie’s favourite book!). The Keep Killing Suzie leaps from one illogical set piece to another, drowning in melodramatic dialogue, abysmal characterisation (don’t get me started on that last scene again), lacking any kind of morality or decency of tone and slick with a depressing, moribund, almost unwatchable atmosphere. I’m not saying it’s not quite the nadir of televised drama (because that’s Cyberwoman) but if you had to point at something and say its as bad as TV gets at the moment my finger would be heading towards this episode. I remember when I first watched this with my hubbie and we were both on the verge of giving up on this terrible show that promised so much and had delivered so little. This was almost the last straw. Had Random Shoes not been as good as it was I doubt I would have continued to have had a relationship with Torchwood. 

Dead Man’s Party written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Whitmore, Jnr

What’s it about: Buffy is back in Sunnydale but things aren’t how she left them…

The Chosen One: I’m the first person to come down hard on Buffy when she is acting selfishly but I’m not sure if there will be another moment in the series where I feel more for the character. Everybody is just horrible to her and it feels entirely unjustified. I simply cannot comprehend why Willow and Xander are so alienated from Buffy who has been missing for three months. Which is whole long she went missing between seasons last year staying with her dad. It would appear that Joyce is the one who is treating her the most casually, trying to slip back into the mother and daughter routine but they have more issues than anybody. Yes Buffy made some bad choices but it bothers me that the Scoobies seem to have forgotten how her life was systematically torn to pieces towards the end of season two. True they don’t know what happened with Angel but even so (but given the fact that the world didn’t end they sure could make a bloody good guess), I would have thought they would have cut her a little slack but this episode sees them giving her a relentless torrent of abuse that feels wildly out of character. I was with Buffy all the way when she decided to pack her bags again and leave – I wanted to be out of there as much as she did with everybody behaving so oddly! I’ve never felt more embarrassed for Buffy (and for Joyce) when her mother lets rip at her in front of her friends after having too much to drink. She thinks that Buffy ran away to punish her for handling the news about her being the Slayer badly. Buffy has been on a downward spiral of misery since Surprise last season and I thought coming home would bring some relief for the character but this is worse than ever with all of her friends having a good kick whilst she’s down.

Ripper: Giles is just about the only character that reacts well to Buffy’s return and he is physically relived by her presence, unable to stop smiling.

Witchy Willow: A lovely intimate dinner where they can all talk their way through their problems becomes a rowdy party full of faceless nobodies – Willow and Xander (like most of this episode) really misjudge this one. Willow seems to be far more interested in listening to the band than talking to Buffy which felt really heartless. When she finally tells Buffy what her problem is – that she is dating a werewolf and studying witchcraft and didn’t have anybody to confide her feelings to – I couldn’t believe that she would alienate Buffy so completely when she has tons of friends around her who would be more than willing to listen. I nearly always love Willow so this episode really took me aback for being a rare case of sending me into a Rosenberg rage.

Gorgeous Geek: The worst interpretation of Xander bar none. He doesn’t quite know how to react to her return and fortunately they are saved from the moment by a particularly savage vampire gracing the scene with his presence. Xander goes from ‘what a great party, everybody must have missed you a lot’ to ‘taking off like you did was incredibly selfish and stupid’ in the space of about five minutes. I’ve always appreciated Xander for being an honest character but here it feels as though he is just putting in his tupenny’s worth because everybody else is. Nicky Brendon is especially awful in this scene, giving line readings as though Xander isenjoying making Buffy suffer. I would have a hard time forgiving him for the spiteful things he said at the party.

Mr Snidey: ‘I have not only eh right but also nearly physical sensation of pleasure…’Snyder doesn’t want Buffy back at Sunnydale High and gets all kinds of tingly feelings in letting her know. He hated Buffy before her stunts in Becoming so I can buy his detestable attitude.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How did you find her?’ ‘I pretty much know the address’ – it doesn’t take that much to impress me!
‘Thanks for stopping by and dying…’ – Buffy’s not-so-touching eulogy for the stray cat that she and Joyce bury.
‘It seems that people I didn’t even know missed me.’
‘Do you like my mask, isn’t it pretty, it raises the dead! Americans.’
‘Time out, Xander. Put yourself in Buffy’s shoes for just a minute. I’m Buffy, freak of nature, right? Naturally I pick a freak for a boyfriend and he turns into Mr Killing Spree which is pretty much my fault…’ – Cordelia tries to empathise with Buffy. Oh dear.

The Bad: Buffy is right that the piece of primitive art that Joyce adorns the house with is ‘angry at the room’, its bloody hideous and she deserves all the destruction that ensues for even contemplating ‘brightening up the place’ with it! And don’t even get me started on the scene of the cat coming back to life and pulling itself out of the mud! Pat is a particularly irritating character (anybody with that sort of enforced cheeriness is hiding something in their closet) and I was pleased when she was killed in action as I couldn’t see recurring potential. Buffy overhears her mother saying that it has been worse since she has come home which is precisely the sort of irritating plot device that I thought had gone out with the arc. Almost as obvious as Joyce making her domestic with Buffy public, screaming at her in front of everybody that she knows – its cringeworthy to endure. The argument where everybody chips in to have a go at Buffy is so loathsome that I cannot believe the show dared to repeat the exercise in season seven (I do think it was pulled off better in that case buts its still desperately unlikable television). The zombies turning up to trash the house is a welcome relief, not because its an improvement to the episode (because its ridiculously camp and overdone) but because the appallingly scripted domestic is brought to an impromptu end. After watching The Walking Dead these camp comedy zombies simply don’t make the grade and there is very little in the way of justification of this subplot. Just a few lines about the mask but no real substance whatsoever. I’m assuming there is no need for secrecy in Sunnydale anymore since this is a very public attack of zombies. It would appear that because Joyce knows about Buffy’s secret lifestyle now there is no need to protect the secrets of the supernatural from the rest of the populace. Spare us from Pat, evil incarnate with her creed of ‘I live, you die…’ After the fight all of the issues seem to have evaporated completely with everybody loving Buffy again because she has saved their lives. I’m shocked at such inadequate characterisation coming after the superlative work last season.

Moment to Watch Out For: The best scene by far is Giles turning nasty with Snyder and being willing to convince him to give her another chance at enrolling back at Sunnydale High. I love it when he gets to show his teeth. Its just rare enough to make an impact each time.

Orchestra: Christophe Beck realises there is no hope for this episode so all the subtlety he was injecting into the show last year goes out the window and he plumps for a hyper dramatic Omen-inspired score as the zombies go on the prowl. 

Result: One of my least favourite Buffy episodes of all time because I know the show is capable of much more than this nonsense. Is this really written by the same Marti Noxon who gave us Surprise, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and I Only Have Eyes For You last year? Dead Man’s Party is full of angry sentiment, poor characterisation, duff monsters and clichéd domestics that wouldn’t be out of place in a poor soap opera. The juxtaposition of the party which turns into a domestic and the zombie attack is too noisy and energetic and it felt like I was being assaulted with too much at once. The show has never felt more like a god awful made for TV American teen genre movie. Buffy has a real issue with kick starting its seasons in an effective way – to my knowledge only seasons one and five and get it right with all the others plumping for something too low key, jarringly game changing or utterly depressing to watch. I prefer to think of season three as starting with Faith, Hope and Mr Trick because that is where the all the arc elements are introduced and the two episodes that come before it a bizarre fever where nobody is behaving in the way that they should. Dead Man’s Party gets us where we need to be (pushing the reset button so everybody is friends again) but takes possibly the most loathsome route possible, tossing in some half baked zombies for good measure. To say this is inadequate television does the term a disservice, I found this far more likely as the alternative dimension story than The Wish. 

Angel One written by Patrick Barry and directed by Michael Rhodes

What’s it about: It’s that hoary old cliché, Planet of the Women…

To Baldly Go: Wesley throws a snowball off of the holodeck which smacks into and soaks Picard’s uniform and he still doesn’t punish him. Wil Wheaton rather brilliantly suggests on his review site that this is a believable exchange between Wesley and the Captain whilst the rest of the episode is an embarrassing farce. Blesshim.

Number One: Riker is such a chest puffing egotist I find it really hard to take him seriously for the most part. Once he lets his beard grow and they start to delve into his character he becomes a far more likable, approachable sort of bloke. It’s clear he doesn’t like being emasculated by women and yet is perfectly happy to be one of their sex slaves if it means getting his end away. His conceited arrogance is so out of control he attributes Troi and Yar’s objections to him wearing the Angel One sex slave costume to the fact that they are jealous that Beata might have a thing for him. For the first time ever Tasha and myself are in agreement – I burst out laughing when Riker walked out of the changing room wearing his silky robes with his huge hairy manly chest exposed (and puffed out, naturally).

Alien Empath: If I was the leader of a planet and had a communication from the flagship of the Federation and their counsellor made the introductions I would probably shoot them from the sky for their impertinence. Mind you it is nice to be able to get Troi away from the Enterprise and engaged in a story where the focus isn’t on her empathic abilities. Its on her gender which is almost as bad – one of these days we will discover that she has a personality beyond her simple character traits (female and Betazoid and a bit wet). I thought that Troi and Riker had history together? Why isn’t that explored as Riker bonks the brains out of this planets leader?

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘How does stimulation of the olfactory nerves effect the enjoyment of sex?’ not only sounds odd coming from Data but caps off an appalling scene that educates the audience about aphrodisiacs.
‘Our library is far too sophisticated for a man to comprehend.’
‘Its not my function to seduce or be seduced by a leader from another world…’
‘How refreshing to have a man who knows what he wants!’ ‘And doesn’t have to be told be a women?’ – this dialogue is beyond offensive.
‘Haven’t you been paying attention Ramsey? You’re scheduled to be executed tomorrow!’

The Good: How nice to have a planet whose initial reaction to the nosy Federation turning up on their doorsteps is to tell them to bugger off! Imagine being in the way of one Worf’s tsunami brewing sneezes?

The Bad: There is the most random sequence of Wesley in the campest ski outfit you have ever seen heading off to a clearly studio bound snowscape on the holodeck. Whilst it is nice to be reminded that women have a better deal in the future than they used to is having such an unsubtle message as ‘planet of the dominant women’ really the best way to go about it? On DS9 and Voyager the message is put across perfectly through some wonderfully strong willed, three dimensional regular characters. By having such a matriarchal society that patronises men so shoddily it merely shows that nothing was learnt from the past mistreatment of women and that they are just as stupid and prejudiced as men can be. Beata is such a pantomime character, strutting about with her hands on her hips in a way that is hard to take seriously. As soon as the Away Team refuses to take the crashed survivors away Beata suddenly (and inexplicably) sentences them all to death. Somebody help me…I’m dying here with yet another appalling revelation that was signposted with a HUGE NEON SIGN twenty minutes earlier in the episode. It really makes the characters look stupid to have them realise so late something that the audience figured out last week and there seems to be an abundance of shocked, slack jawed reactions to these revelations as though they are real Eureka moments. Cathexis was full of such moments and Angel One joins in on the daftness with Beverley Crusher’s agonising ‘it must be the scent that is causing the infection to travel!’ The episode ends with a tedious lecture in sexual politics from Riker (of all people) replacing the usual Prime Directive sermon (which now seems reasonable in comparison) which of course manages to penetrate this society. For a second you think they might go through with the execution and offer some hope of a downbeat ending but the men folk are banished rather than killed. And then there is another hideous comedy final scene. I’m actually getting bored of criticising this show…when does it get good?

Moment to Watch Out For: The only thing more disturbing than seeing Riker’s naked hairy chest all over my 52 inch television…is Picard’s weedy hairy chest! Ugh!

Foreboding: Picard tells Worf to prepare for a trip into the Neutral Zone and mentions the Romulans for the first time in the series. Nice to see them setting up the finale so far in advance.

Result: Looks like Datalore was a flukey touch of genius in this dreary first season. Angel One is basically a planet of militant feminists and if that sounds like it might be leading to an unsubtle morality episode then you wouldn’t be far wrong. I’m sure there is a section of fandom who enjoy watching Riker getting his jollies off with all manner of horny women but unfortunately I find him such a ridiculous masculine stereotype (seeI’m at it now) that I just can’t muster up enthusiasm for his sordid sex life. Its two equally dreary subplots fighting for attention with plenty of hideous dialogue and characters who stand around telling the audience what we have figured out an age back. Angel One is probably a little too naïve to be called offensive but this is another Original Series episode that is dressed up as something new where only Worf’s comedy sneezes and a decent planetary matte painting (so good it was used over and over) make any kind of positive impression. 

Power written by Ben Steed and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: Battle of the sexes…it must be a Ben Steed script.

Anti-Hero: Avon is on the surface of Xenon indulging in his favourite pastime of massacring natives. I find it quite disappointing to see Avon spouting Ben Steed’s usual sexist platitudes regarding women being the weaker species. I always thought he was above all that and merely focused on the strength of the mind. After all it was a woman who managed to best him when he was ultimately caught up with by the Federation. Prepare yourself for some of the most astonishing knocked out acting you will ever see in your life as Avon is bashed over the head with a floating piece of equipment and he stands there, eyes closed, deciding quite how to float gracefully to the ground. Slave may turn out to be his kind of computer after all.

Petty Thief: He keeps telling everyone that he is cleverer than he looks but nobody seems to believe him. I like it when Vila gets a chance to show off his art rather than being used lazily as drunk comic relief.

The Good: Now they have disposed of Dorian it would seem that Scorpio, the base and Soolin are all ripe for the pickings. Ten thousand years advancement destroyed in a day, that is a perfectly reasonable premise and ripe for dramatic pickings. It’s frustrating that gender war is all Steed could come up with.

The Bad: What precisely does the title sequence tell you about the series these days? Well, it seems to indicate that we spend a lot of time rolling around the surface of a planet and then popping off into space before doing a complete 360 and heading back for the planet we just came from. It doesn’t tell you much of anything. Ben Steed is doing his usual bit for female emancipation by ensuring that the fair sex are treated as little more than slaves and tossed lines like ‘don’t just stand there woman, bring ale!’ At least Avon points out Gunn Sar’s blatant sexism. Two factions on one planet, one apparently primitive opposing one apparently sophisticated…haven’t we been here several times before? What a charmer Dicken Ainsworth turns out to be, having his back fat massaged with in an inch of its life, flicking his perfectly shampooed ginger locks about and chomping away on raw and bloody meat. There was no indication that anything was happening elsewhere on Xenon in Rescue but that it was a hidey hole for Dorian and Soolin. Mind you we didn’t really have the chance to explore any further than a few sets by the time we finally reached the planet. To suddenly have this game of Cowboys vs Indians open up feels like they are making it up as they go along. Primitives forcing Avon to fight for his life, what a dreary bunch of old clichés. I know these scripts were prepared in a rush but surely it was a little too soon to fall back on such tired plot devices such as this. Gunn Sar is such an old theatrical ham, glammed up in silver eveningwear as he emerges to take on Avon in combat. I don’t want to suggest that Ben Steed is having trouble trying to give the regulars something to do but having them attempt to puzzle out escape through a door for over half an hour is an obscene waste of their characters. I’m not overtly politically correct but I have to admit that ‘The black woman must win!’ is hardly an appropriate line.

Moment To Watch Out For: Gunn Sar has finally met his match in Dayna. It is about time that somebody slapped this guy around a bit.

Result: Every Blake’s 7 cliché imaginable converges in a hastily written Ben Steed script. That’s bad news because his work is pretty shabby even when he has time to get it right. Lots of ugly location work in what looks like the bleakest quarry of all time, tribes people dressed in furs, poorly executed action sequences and some horrible moments of sexism all conspire to make this one of the least sophisticated episodes that the show put out. What we needed at this stage was an update on the state of the Federation and how it is coming back together post-War and with the loss of the President and instead we are arsing about on the surface of a miserable world whilst am dram performers try and turn SF cliché into Shakespeare. If people rejected the show at this point it is because it seems to have lost its focus. The guest cast are trying their hardest to give this material meaning but the characters are empty and it is struggle to watch them try. We’ll never see any of these people again and our time with them here is hardly thrill a minute. This battle of the sexes has a sting in its tail but that is only that Ben Steed isn’t quite as blatantly sexist as he might first appear and that there is a slim possibility that in a male oriented society the women have the superior intelligence and might win through. Big woo, we’ve seen that time and again with Servalan over the years. It is hardly a blinding revelation. This should have been the episode that introduced us properly to Soolin but in truth she barely appears, vanishing for the length of a bible and then forcing herself on the regulars at the climax. It feels like a waste of an hour. It took me two forceful attempts to get through this one: 2/10

Fair Haven written by Robin Burger and directed by Allan Kroeker

What’s it about: I can’t quite bring myself to say it…

Hepburn-a-Like: At least Quark is honest about the holosuites being a local knocking shop…on Voyager they set them up as walk in sanctuaries and Janeway slips in quietly to create her perfect man and have her wicked way with him. This is the best sort of romance they could think up for Janeway? Not a prolonged, intense affair with Chakotay – which was touted in season two and then quickly abandoned – which could have seen them compromise their command structure and bring some real tension and drama to the show and their relationship. Nope that would be too radical for Voyager. The next best thing would be to bring somebody into the show and watch that relationship develop naturally over time (there have been plenty of potential guest stars that could have fulfilled that role). But that is clearly a step too far as well. Sisko has been exploring a relationship with Kassidy for three seasons now and it would continue to develop until they are married and have a baby together. It’s a refreshingly long term, amiable relationship between two well matched (if occasionally conflicting) adults. The DS9 equivalent would be if Sisko visited Quark’s holosuites every time he needed a wank and had his wicked way with an Orion slave girl on the quiet. It would be tasteless, tacky, offensive and completely soul destroying. This is supposed to be the strong female Captain we have been pining after for so long so why are they writing her as horny, desperate slattern who pines after a technological dildo posing as a bit of rough? We’re off beyond insulting characterisation into some crazy alternative universe…it’s the only way I can justify these decisions. This is practically a re-playing of the same psychology that was flaunted in Pathfinder – people who are so disconnected with reality that they have to revel in a fantasy world and worse…they prefer it. And Janeway is the worst example of the lot, falling in love with somebody who isn’t real because it is easier than trying to connect with somebody who is. When Janeway starts personalising her dildo to her own specifications I was literally speechless. How would this have gone down if it had been Sisko up to the same antics by making modifications to his Orion slave girl? The breasts a little larger, making her more submissive and open her up to a wider range of filthy scenarios – he would be written off as an iniquitous, chauvinistic tosspot! Well I don’t buy that it is any less offensive that a woman should be perfecting a man to take to her bed – we are supposed to be in female emancipated times you know and that means they have to take the same sorts of criticisms as men as well as the good stuff. This is not characterising a strong woman, its sheer tawdriness is quite the reverse and it feels like we have stepped back in time 50 years in that respect. And then to have dirty laundry exposed so publicly by her blow up man? Ugh when Janeway pointed out that Michael Sullivan was exactly her type and they had the same interests I realised she has made a male version of herself! Janeway is literally pleasing herself! Excuse me a moment…bleugh… It took Janeway three days in the holodeck to realise that it is all an illusion (quick thinking there, Kathy).

Tattoo: Oh gross! Chakotay admits to personalising his own holodeck characters as shag tools too! What is wrong with these people? Are none of them capable of findingreal partners? 

Mr Vulcan: Tuvok rushes off to be sick at one point. It’s the first time I have empathised with his character in years.

Spotted Dick: Hohohohohohohohohoho! Even in the holodeck Harry has picked the wrong girl. Hahahahahahaha! That joke just gets better and better and better. I would rather be spanked by Neelix than hear that joke do another round.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We’d lose most of Fair Haven!’ – arggggggggghhhhhh! The ship is in mortal peril, hundreds of lives at stake and Harry ‘they never wrote me with a personality, don’t blame me’ Kim thinks this is the time to remind the Captain that she will be tossing away her stubbly dildo? This line is the epitome of why Voyager cannot work as a series with these people making the creative decisions. Its very utterance is an offensive to anybody with an ounce of intelligence watching the show, to the characters within it and Janeway’s momentary pause was when I finally lost the tiny sliver of respect I still had for the character. To my mind it is the worst line ever uttered in a Star Trek episode (beating the previous winner ‘get the cheese to sickbay!’).
‘Delete the wife!’ – that’s the next worse line in Trek ever. Not bad going for a single episode.
‘I’ve become romantically involved with a hologram…’

The Good: For a moment I thought that Voyager genuinely had abandoned the Delta Quadrant and we had wound up in the real Ireland and this was going to be Miles Edward O’Brien’s homecoming. We could have had the remaining season and a half of Voyager catching up with various TNG and DS9 crewmembers in their respective lives with the real Voyager crew turning up for an obligatory scene about 36 minutes into each episode. Lets be honest…if this is the best they can think up that would be the preferable option. The opening atmospherics are pleasant on the eye I will give them that but the rolling hills backdrop is flatter than Kroll menacing the skies of Delta Magna. And if you don’t know what that means, Google image it.

The Bad: I have to ask he question (and I don’t mean to be racist myself when I do) but are the Irish desperate for acting work? There must be a reason that they allow themselves to be shoehorned into such offensively stereotypical roles like they are in TNG’s Up the Long Ladder and this narrow minded glimpse of Irish life. What is it with these godawful holodeck programmes? Sometimes they strike lucky (Sandrines, Captain Proton) but usually the producers shy away from them rather quickly. It’s the brain achingly dire ones that they seem to spend the most money and time on – that gaudy beach resort turned up in every other episode in season three, the dribblesomely stupid  Lord Burleigh one had a ridiculous amount of money thrown at it…and was more sumptuously realised than half of the planets they visited at the time! And that amounted to nothing! Leonardo da Vinci and Captain Proton were fine in small doses but when they got an episode of their own the show dive bombed simply because they weren’t strong enough to hold up an hour of entertainment. Instead embarrassing technobabble plot devices were shoehorned in to create some false tension. And now we have Fair Haven where Tom Paris has truly excelled himself. A picturesque Irish town that looks a lot like the Paramount backlot dressed up with clover leafs populated full of bromidic, one dimensional ciphers. A setting that is perfect to peddle out the (beyond clichéd) plot of TNG’s Ship in a Bottle of holograms rights. All Irish pubs are drunken, infested piss holes (actually that one might be true…now they have banned smoking most pubs do stink of stale beer and piss) populated by rowdy, cheating men and all landlords are devoutly religious hunks with smouldering looks. Its been my observation (anybody notice how I talk like Odo these days…?) that the human characters on Voyager seem to spend an awful lot of time patronising the alien characters. Tuvok is an unfeeling robot, Neelix is an interfering nomad, Seven is an impolite drone, the Doctor is a fake busybody…that sort of thing (DS9 works far better because it reverses the trend…most of the time the alien characters criticise the human ones which is far more fun and revealing of human nature). Not content with the casual racism that runs rampant on the ship they now extend that gift to the holodeck where Tom mocks an Irish accent and creates a programme that redefines insensitivity. Thank goodness O’Brien didn’t serve on this ship! He would have let those gel packs rot! An open door policy to the holodeck on a ship that has limited reserves? A few weeks ago (Alice) Chakotay was saying that they didn’t have the resources and energy to waste on Tom’s latest hobby…and now all of a sudden they do? Is there an unlimited fuel source on Voyager now that I don’t know about? When there isn’t even internal consistency in the same season what hope do we have? Fintan McKeown has a fair stab at playing the rough and yet sensitive version of Michael but is as wooden as the Marie Celeste as the sophisticated version that Janeway creates. There is even less chemistry between him and Kate Mulgrew than there was between Robert Beltran and Virginia Marsden in Unforgettable – a feat I would have thought impossible. McKeown’s ‘Why did you leave me Katie…’ drunken rant is a new low for season six…I was actually contemplating ending it all rather than continuing with this farce (and doesn’t he sound like the drunken version of Tom in Gimme Gimme Gimme?). With dialogue like ‘don’t you think I’m good enough for her?’ I figured death would be preferable to the enduring pain… Paris as good as walks into Janeway’s Ready Room and asks the Captain ‘do you want me to save your dildo?’ What scares me about all of this is that this isn’t the worst episode of the season.

Moment to Watch Out For: The Doctor gives the Captain a pep talk that she cannot have a relationship with a member of her crew and that she should be treating the holodeck as a rent boy free for all! Has everybody on this ship gone mad? Yes, it wouldn’t be inappropriate for Janeway to have it off with a subordinate…but it would also make good drama. This character demolishing alternative is typical Voyager shunning dramatic possibilities in favour of foolishness. The very fact that this conversation between Janeway and the Doctor exists is a joke and if it had taken place between Bashir and Sisko (that would never happen but go with me here…) which is the equivalent on the sister show I would happily abandon DS9 forever.

Teaser-tastic: The teaser is literally…Tom and Harry visit the pub! We’re in for a rip-roaring adventure!

Fashion Statement: I think Michael is supposed to be an Irish hottie but he does nothing for me.

Anomaly of the Week: Brilliant, as if a dull holodeck episode wasn’t enough its also a dull anomaly episode too! This one causes space sickness! That’s new! Its notinteresting…but I guess they can keep peddling out these anomalies with new side effects every couple of episodes or so.  This one is so forgettable it isn’t even the main plot, it plays second fiddle to Fair Haven.

Result: Umm…I really don’t know what to say. Lost for words would be appropriate. During seasons four and five Voyager has tread the discordant line between producing fiendishly awful and triumphant episodes with an emphasis on the former but with a good enough smattering of the latter to not give up all hope. Season six on the other hand has taken this format to the nth degree and the episodes thus far have really challenged the quality meter by being either the best of the best (Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy/Pathfinder) or the worst of the worst (Alice/Riddles) with very little ground in between (because episodes like The Voyager Conspiracy/One Small Step are completely forgettable). And then we come to Fair Haven. After a riveting adventure in the Alpha Quadrant in Pathfinder this was the chance to prove that things are still razor sharp in the Delta Quadrant…and we end up spending an entire episode watching Janeway personalise her own talking dildo in a mock Irish town. We’ve dropped intoBallykissangel except it is brought to life by a writer who completely misunderstands Irish culture and surrenders to every (and I do mean every) cliché imaginable. Janeway’s characterisation has been on a downward spiral ever since the show began (with just the odd glimpse of salvation about twice a season) but she has never been written for as appallingly as she is here and I hope to goodness she never will be again. Unbelievably this episode spawned a very quick sequel. I can only assume that the town cost a fortune to dress and the producers never saw the rushes of this episode. I can think of numerous episodes this year that could have done with more time to flesh them out and give them space to breathe (Dragons’ Teeth wouldn’t have felt so rushed and Fury might have been comprehensible if it had time to explain its motives, plot devices, sci-fi twists and character perversion) but this abusively meaningless lump of slime is not one of them. Absolutely hideous. 

Spirit Folk written by Bryan Fuller and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Are Janeway and her crew spirit folk with fairy magicks?

Hepburn-a-Like: Things must be pretty quiet in the Delta Quadrant if Janeway is wasting her time explaining away her existence to her holographic sexual aid. Why doesn’t she just shut the damn programme down and get B’Elanna to tweak it? When her talking dildo turns up on the bridge to starts questioning his existence I had given up all hope for this series…this irredeemablybad. If this was DS9 I would be ashamed to watch it.

EMH: Perhaps Reverend Doctor has been sipping at the sacramental wine. I wish had been. The Doctor can’t even pull one over on this town of idiots and so if I were Janeway I would have him restored to his factory settings along with the rest of them. Umm…they can’t close down the programme or delete the characters but the populace from Fair Haven can hypnotise the EMH? I might be accused of not joining in with the fun but I genuinely cannot see any in evidence. Somebody get me out of here.

Brilliant B’Elanna: It would appear that the only character with any common sense this year is B’Elanna. She has pretty much scoffed at every one of the crappy episodes (Alice, Fair Haven…) and now she is balking at the sheer stupidity at them running the holodeck around the clock to indulge the crew and allow them to exploit the joys (I use the term as loosely as it can stretch) of Fair Haven.

Parisian Rogue: Tom Paris gets to drive a vintage motor erratically through the streets of Fair Haven as though he is a (‘Poop! Poop!’) human version of Toad of Toad Hall. To take the parallel to its natural conclusion he pretends he is the heir to an aristocrat and has come into some money. The trouble with that Wind in the Willows analogy is that Toad had bucket loads of personality, charisma and charm and Tom Pairs…welldoesn’t.

Forever Ensign: Now its Harry’s turn to pursue a romance in the holodeck. I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t some defect amongst this crew that means (Tom & B’Elanna aside) that they are completely incapable of finding real lovers and have to resort to these holodeck shags to get by.

Dreadful Dialogue: When Janeway discovers that Fair Haven has been corrupted she orders ‘shut it down!’ Hooray! Common sense at last! ‘…and repair the damaged systems!’ Noooooo!
‘I’ve got a boyfriend that malfunctions…’ – how is this less embarrassing than ‘I’m dating a member of the crew?’
‘The people of Fair Haven might not be real but our feelings towards them are!’ – I cannot believe they are even having this discussion.
‘Just because we’re from different worlds it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends…’ – oh vomit.

The Good: A few seconds of entertainment when Paris and Kim are covered in a net I thought they might both be killed. For a pair of three dimensional characters it would be unthinkable to die in a place as embarrassing as Fair Haven but for this pair it feels just quite appropriate.

The Bad: The next time you think of criticising His Way remember they managed to avoid all of this bollocks with one line – ‘I know what you’re thinking…he has pretty sweet lungs for a light bulb!’ As if the outrageous sexual politics of Fair Haven weren’t enough somebody on the Voyager writing staff suddenly realised that they hadn’t allowed the populace of this mock Irish village to indulge in that drabbest of Trek clichés – holographic sentience! Cue yawnsome scenes of Seamus (still one of the most godawful stereotypes) witnessing Tommy boy committing acts of unholy magic through unnatural means! This is going to be a long hour. When these dreadful Irish caricatures started talking about another Irish town where the potatoes stopped growing and the cows stopped giving milk when a group of spirit folk visited I could hear Ireland cutting off diplomatic relations with America. Fair Haven is a seaside town? Since when? Scene after scene of the ill characterised, underwritten and overplayed villagers of Fair Haven realising that they are being manipulated by the Voyager crew. Why are we wasting our time with nonsensical material like this when there is so much still to be said about Voyager getting home, the crew being reunited with their families and being made to account for their actions and the dramatic notion of returning with an alien (Neelix), a Borg (Seven) and ex Maquis members? I can enjoy episodes like Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Badda Bing Badda Bang in DS9’s last season because for one thing they are genuinely decent episodes but also because the show is devoted to its characters and its central arc and you know that both of them will be dealt with before the series end so they are genuinely pleasing diversions. Unfortunately Voyager has resorted to nothing but diversions in its last two years (pleasing or otherwise) with absolutely no exploration of any of these potentially gripping themes that are waiting unexploited at the core of the series. It makes these idiotic holodeck episodes seem even more vacuous and time wasting than usual. I love how Harry and Tom are so easily duped by Michael and as soon as they both look at the console he gives standard evil stare number six – how can they not feel him glaring them so? How can holodeck characters shoot actual equipment on Voyager…its real and they’re not! Who is thinking up this shit? Torres (the only person on board with a brain cell or two in this episode) suggests cutting the power to the hologrid and deleting the programme when Tom and Harry’s lives have been put in danger and Neelix object because the crew will lose Fair Haven forever. Are you fucking kidding me? Then Janeway says that she would like to find a less drastic solution. Are these supposed to be real people because I refuse to buy into such blatant stupidity. A quick morality lesson, a replay of the events of Who Watches the Watchers (a primitive being given a tour of the ship) and everybody is smiling and laughing and happy again. Oh go fuck yourself Fair Haven…and Spirit Folk too while you’re at it. What a complete waste of my time. Is this really the sort of thing Paramount would rather see Braga and company conjuring up? No wonder the Trek franchise was on borrowed time.

Moment to Watch Out For: Tom Paris follows Harry and turns his fake date into a huge moo cow and Kim shakes his fists at the heaven and screams ‘Tooooom!’ Once again Voyager hits a new low, topping sick’em Alice, dildo programming Janeway and Borg 90210. All we need to pervert the show even more than this is to have Kes return and try and destroy the ship because she thinks she is hard done by. Wait a couple of weeks, you say?

Orchestra: To be fair I did enjoy the Irish jingle that played when Tom pursued Harry and Maggie so that at least counts for 30 seconds of enjoyable material.

Result: We’re back in the unpicturesque town of Fair Haven! Let joy be uncontained! As if things weren’t exciting enough the first time! Two drunken Irish farmers try and convince the rest of the villagers that the crew of Voyager are spirit folk! That’s sure to be a rip-roaring adventure! We’re never going to see the populace of Fair Haven again (lets at least be thankful for that) so what was the point of this appalling excursion into racist cliché? Why would anybody even try and rewrite the plot of TNGs Ship in a Bottle when it was done so well the first time and so badly here? You might understand it if the Fair Haven  holodeck programme was genuinely something worth fighting for (whereas it is by far the least interesting, most patronising one they indulged in…although the beach programme gives it a run for its money) but the sheer idiocy of this crew for not just closing down the holodecks and getting on with something more interesting with new anomalies or space fungus that will make the crew grow two heads baffles me. To say this beyond a joke is a misnomer because it was never funny in the first pace…the thought that this show has wasted 90 minutes of its running time on something this indulgent and empty of meaning or entertainment makes me want to weep. More season six lunacy. 

Father’s Day written by Paul Cornell and directed by Joe Ahearne

This story in a nutshell: Rose is a very naughty girl…

Northern Adventurer: Looking back at series one now is a real curiosity. In many ways the series has never been as exciting as it was in that initial season when everything was new and we lapped every second of screen time. Nothing was taken for granted. In other ways you can see how the series hasn’t quite hit its stride yet but is constantly trying new things to see what sticks. I never had a problem with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor aside from the fact that the actor isn’t a naturally cheerful performer so making him act the goon at times is clearly a painful operation for him. His Doctor is also something of a curio because without the benefit of the Big Finish audios (which the other, shorter run Doctors) all we have to judge him on is his condensed run of episodes. For the most part I thought he acquitted himself very well (and I still maintain that the show needed someone this attention grabbing in the part to capture a large audience) and he plays the darker moments of the season (the bruised man haunted by the Time War) with real aplomb. However, Father’s Day is probably the furthest away from ‘the Doctor’ that I recognise that any actor has ever taken the part (although to be fair it is almost entirely down to Paul Cornell’s script – Eccleston is just performing what he has been given). So much so that I may as well be watching a different show altogether. Running around in his Debenhams jumper, making ridiculous mistakes, indulging in childish melodrama and lacking any ability whatsoever, he’s a complete anathema.

Why the Doctor would ever indulge his companion in taking her back to the site of her fathers death is beyond me. It's inexplicably cruel that he would agree to such a thing and it's soliciting for the most dangerous of consequences. Why he would take her back again (when its clear that she means to intervene this time – it’s the only reason why she would ask to see the events again) is utterly demented. The fact that he has the nerve to blame her for the way events transpire melted my brain. As the ‘designated driver’ he is entirely responsible for everything that occurs in this story and should be clamped for the sheer lunacy of his decisions. I also have a real problem with the Doctor stating ‘I can do anything’ which seems to be as much a declaration to the audience than Rose when that is precisely the sort of nonsense that lead to the drippy hero worship of the character that got way out of hand in later seasons. The way the Doctor scrutinizes Rose observing her father is akin to a scientist studying a lab rat, consciously cruel and dispassionate. It reminds me of McCoy’s Doctor in all the worst ways of which I know Cornell is a big fan. It's strange how pre-2005, the Doctor and his companion never got mistaken for lovers. Now it happens with alarming frequency. For the Doctor to make such a reckless decision and then toss racist remarks at his companion when she exploits the situation doesn’t make him a flawed character, it makes him a complete asswipe. The spat between the Doctor and Rose marks a new low point for Doctor/companion relationships (the previously held title came when Tegan Jovanka was an incumbent of the Ship), they both come across as vindictive, irrational and childish. Its horrible to watch. He stomps off back to the TARDIS like a kid whose had his toys taken away. I think the Doctor telling Jackie off is supposed to be a moment of triumph but she’s only ever been seen as a normal person trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances. Why she should be condemned for that baffles me. The Doctor speaks longingly about the life of dreary chavs heading home in a taxi after a night out on the town – are you having a laugh with me? He’s dreaming of their life? He travels through time and space and righting wrongs! I think it should be the other way around. Some writers (and Cornell is more guilty then others) just love dragging the Doctor down to Earth and flirting with the idea of giving him a ‘normal life.’ What they fail to realise is that they would be reducing the show to that of any other drama (mind you he really proved me wrong in Human Nature in that regard but that was a thrilling one off that can never be repeated). The scene in the church where the Doctor talks down to both baby Rose and adult Rose (‘don’t touch the baby!’) sees Eccleston abandoning his art and playing the role as a hectoring bully. Why should Rose have to say that she’s sorry? And more to the point why doesn’t he apologise for being such a patronising fuckwit? And why does he suddenly start beaming at her like she’s a special needs child and giving her exaggerated reassurance? Have I stepped into a world where suddenly nothing makes sense? This Doctor seems to have a real suicide complex, choosing to give up far more than he chooses to fight (The Unquiet Dead, Dalek, Father’s Day, The Parting of the Ways) and in most other cases getting people to make sacrifices for him. Playing the martyr is touching if it happens once a lifetime but constantly throwing yourself in front of a train loses its impact and begins to feel like giving up. To be fair this is one of the few stories this season where the Doctor doesn’t get somebody else to fight his battles but that is only because he has thrown himself in the path of a Reaper long before the climax, proving how superfluous he is to events. The Doctor being devoured by a Reaper felt like divine retribution for his abhorrent handling – I was actually applauding rather than horrified. And that should never be your natural reaction when the Doctor is seen to be killed. Cornell's characterisation is often praised in this adventure but I think it is about as bad as it gets. 

Chavvy Chick: I love Rose in series one. I thought that Russell T Davies pretty much got her spot on from the outset and I remember falling in love with her more and more right up to The Parting of the Ways. I remember watching the first episode though and fearing that this show (with its focus on the domestic and council estates) was going to turn into Eastenders and by the time we had reached Father’s Day all of my fears were pleasingly allayed. Oh dear. Along comes this script which is so saturated in the crass melodrama and syrupy sweet cloyness that I regularly associate with soap operas it was like I had wandered into an appalling nightmare world where Doctor Who featured a bitching pair of stereotypes (the angry father and the rebellious child) as its main stars. Billie Piper is trying so hard to connect with her audience that she overdoes the honeyed emotion and winds up overdosing them with syrup. Doctor Who is not a naturally introspective show and allowing the companion to indulge quite this much is really harmful to the integrity of both the show and the character. Of course Rose was going to wind up saving her dad. Any sane person would. Pete on the verge of flirting with his own daughter is a grey area that Doctor Who should avoid at all costs. There’s something very nasty about crushing a little girls image of her father, dragging him down from a pedestal and kicking him into the mud. Rose slowly realising that her father isn’t the man she thought him to be but a regular jack the lad who fools about the side and fails to provide for his family makes for loathsome viewing. Oddly the one character beat that felt right was decidedly sexist and old school – Rose actually screams when she sees a Reaper which to me felt like a perfectly natural reaction.

The Tylers: Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong during their wedding is one of the few positive reactions I had to this episode. Can you imagine getting that detail wrong when you are about to be betrothed to your sweetheart? It would cast a doubt over the whole proceedings. Pete was stupid for bring Rose along to the wedding but Jackie’s abrasive attitude bubbling over on someone else’s happy day also feels untrue. Is she so unsubtle that she wouldn’t try and put a poker face on for her friend (that, frankly, would be much more painful viewing but the script plumps for the most obviously melodramatic choice).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m so useless I couldn’t even die properly.’

The Good: Despite myself, the vicar being gobbled up by a Reaper made me chuckle. Pete being given the gift of a few extra hours with his daughter is rather a touching concept. Shame it had to be with them facing imminent death and drowning in tears. Had this been a regular Doctor Who adventure where he had to choose to return to his death afterwards it would have been far more tolerable. And probably much more touching for not straining the emotion to bursting point. Considering some of the nauseating things he has to say, somehow Shaun Dingwell escapes this episode with his dignity intact. He’s quite likable despite the wealth of issues working against him.

The Bad:
  • I was just having a discussion with a friend about Murray Gold’s music last night where I found myself in a position defending his work but watching this episode I don’t know why I bothered. From the outset it's one of the most predictable and corny soundtracks that has been slapped on Doctor Who material. Because this is supposed to be tearing your heart out and stamping on it the piano is omnipresent and the violins are never far away. It makes the soundtracks of the Original Series of Star Trek look subtle in comparison.
  • Rarely is Doctor Who as predictable as this. The dramatic close up on Pete Tyler’s photograph before the credits tells you everything that you need to know about the episode that is about to transpire. Things are going to go very wrong indeed. There’s no element of mystery involved and it is hardly gripping foreshadowing. It's says prepare yourself for 45 minutes worth of overly sentimental soap opera. At least it doesn’t have any pretensions to the contrary.
  • I understand that there is supposed to be a funereal tone to the episode but the look and feel of the scenes in the 70s is really grim. Pastel colours, mundane locations and dreary close ups. It's not particularly pleasant to look at at any point in the episode.
  • Considering that the whole episode is built around the moment where Pete Tyler is mown down by a car the realisation of that moment is awkwardly handled. The approaching car barely seems to be moving and the cut to the vase smashing is badly timed and nowhere near as dramatic as it should be as a metaphor for his body shattering under the impact. With the absence of any blood      (naturally given the shyness of the New Series at this stage), it feels like slap on the wrist rather than ram raid. The POV shots of the Reapers are effective but again the resulting cuts to the shears and the bottle of pop falling to the ground fail to convince. It's strangely ineffective from the same director that packed Dalek full of memorable imagery the previous week and would go on to stage a rivetting Dalek invasion in the two part finale. Pete’s sacrifice at the climax is even more bizarre – the car approaches him at a hell of a lick this time but the director chooses to cut to an overlong reaction shot that fails to take into account that he would have been floored about three seconds earlier. Rather strangely the driver stands there in mute shock whilst the witness to his crime grabs the Doctor's hand and walks into a police box. That strikes me as an odd reaction, you would want to keep tabs on the person who has just witnessed you accidentally murder a man but no-one seems to notice them leaving.
  • The inconsistencies, illogical moments, unexplained mysteries and bizarre choices that make up Father’s Day are a very rare thing - a Doctor Who story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On its most basic level you can see what Paul Cornell is trying to do emotionally (mostly because it is rammed down your throat with irritating frequency) but if you start to pick this script to pieces it unravels as the ill thought out, co-incidence based and horrendously plotted nonsense that it is. For the Doctor to take Rose back to the point of Rose’s fathers death twice is      extremely irresponsible. I refuse to believe that the Doctor ‘knows what he’s doing’ wherever he visits and knows precisely who should be alive and who should die – if that is the case (as seems to be suggested here) then pretty much every reaction to someone’s death he has had in the series to this point has been faked. What rot. Why does the TARDIS turn into a normal police box? Who would have the power to do that and why does saving Pete’s life have that effect? Is it a punishment of the Time Lords for the Doctor’s complete lack of discretion? Why is modern day music pumping through Pete’s car stereo? Where did the first phone call come from? Saying ‘oh something has gone wrong with time’ just doesn’t cut it I'm afraid. You can’t just toss in a load of unexplained mysteries and try and excuse them all with a temporal waffle wave of the hand. It feels like a mass of ‘wouldn't it be cool if…’ moments were tossed about in a pitch meeting and they all made it into the script with no idea of how to explain their presence. The general impression seems to be that because the Time Lords aren't about time has gone good and loopy but surely we would see more evidence of that beyond this story in that case (plus if you want to see how that concept can be done controversially and yet still make logical sense check out the BBC books The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Anachrophobia). Why does the TARDIS key start glowing and form the ship around it? ‘Just leave it be and everything will be fine’ seems to be the explanation. Thanks for that. I don’t understand how two Rose’s can be in the same vicinity as each other and its fine but as soon as they touch the universe explodes – or something. But that stretches beyond this story and into Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and many others. Why is the car going round and round in circles? Who is making that happen? Why is nothing explained adequately? Because we are supposed to be distracted by the heartbreak and drama, that's why. 
  • The characterisation of the guest characters lacks any subtlety as well. You've got the grooms father who constantly reminds his son that he could pull out at any time (as though anybody would behave like that on what is supposed to be the happiest day of their child's life). And then there is the happy couple themselves who in a scene that is trying so hard to melt your heart reveals how they met in the most mundane of circumstances. It's so overemphasised (Cornell exposing his New Adventures roots) it loses any kind of emotional truth and strays into over-sentimentality. Nobody stands out as particularly memorable (I can’t remember any of their names) beyond being sketchy stereotypes.
  • The idea of the Reapers is great - phantom creatures that cauterise wounds in time. They had the potential to be as memorable and far reaching as the Weeping Angels (although if we had to suffer more episodes of this nature…) but something went a amiss in their realisation. Instead of the Doctor Who equivalent of the Dementors from Harry Potter what makes it to the screen is an evidently supplemented effect, unimaginatively derived from a bat and a spider. The fact that their abilities are as obscure as the rest of the story really doesn't help. 
  • Back in the day a decent base under siege story would feature mutant seaweed pouring forth from ventilator grills and filling the set, forcing the characters to cower away as red shirts were consumed by vicious tendrils. It was edge of the seat claustrophobia. Now it is an excuse for a girl to fall in love with her daddy over again and for him to become the hero she always imagined him to be. Oh vomit. This is not a shift in the series’ favour. It's telling that the show never tried to push the weepy drama genre to quite this extent ever again (Davies seemed to learn restraint from this experience). 
  • The Mickey cameo as a kid could have been cute but once again the script overemphasises the moment with ‘God help his girlfriend if he ever gets one.’ It's like subtle implication has been replaced by spade in the face at every turn.
  • ‘I’m your dad, its my job for it to be my fault’ – what an ugly inference. Plus mentions of underage sex for a cheap gag is another no-no. I just don't want Doctor Who making these kind of inferences. Imagine the conversation you would have to have with a child who flagged these points up? 
  • Come the third or forth scene in the church featuring Rose and Pete getting to know each other I was screaming ‘for heavens sake just throw yourself in front of the car and get on with it!’ which probably wasn't the effect that Cornell was going for. It’s the most protracted episode ever, stuffed with sentimental padding. All the weird temporal shit and sequences in church could have been avoided if the Doctor had just grabbed Pete and thrown him in front of the car. It would have been the kindest thing all round, especially on the audience. Suicide has never felt so laboured.
  • Russell T Davies stole the idea of a climax featuring a much loved character tossing themselves in front of a car in order to set reality back on track. Turn Left is the antithesis of Father’s Day, its superlative alter ego.
  • There’s a great deal of relief to Pete finally being run over (again probably not the desired reaction) but it has the adverse effect of pushing the giant Voyager reset button and everything going back to normal. And those endings really bug me. On no level is the plotting of this narrative gratifying. Even down to the replay of the same scene at the beginning with the added bonus of Rose being mentioned. I don’t understand why if she was there that wasn’t the original tale that was spun.
Result: Be careful what you wish for indeed. For me this exposes why so many of the New Adventures simply did not work. It is gimmicky, overly sentimental, illogical and turns the show into a depressing melodrama. Father’s Day isn’t completely without merit because Joe Ahearne is directing and manages to salvage the shoddy script with some stylish directorial flourishes but it's probably the closest the New Series has come to being as far away from what I would want to recognise as Doctor Who (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and Nightmare in Silver are recent examples of abominable adventures but at least they are still recognisably Doctor Who). It’s an ugly, twisted hollow piece of drama that lacks even basic competence in the areas of plotting and character. The show has toyed with episodes that highlight the emotions of the characters since this (Turn Left, The Girl Who Waited) but this is the only time where it has been harmfully detrimental to the story. The dialogue is crass and obvious and it's one of the very few times when both the Doctor and his companion come across as being thoroughly despicable (one who makes really bad choices and projects those mistakes on others and the other who spends far too much time obsessing over herself). I desperately wanted the Doctor to stop getting angry with people for no reason and Rose to stop pouting and staring off into the distance lost in her thoughts…and for them both to get on with something far more interesting. What’s irritating is that this almost convinced me that the New Series had completely perverted Doctor Who and I came close to giving up but in respect of tone, plotting, characterisation and a general sense of adventure the series was about to show you precisely how it should be done in the very next tale. Juxtaposing the two stories simply leaves Father’s Day looking even more inadequate than it already does on its own terms. How this came from the same pen that produced Human Nature/The Family of Blood bewilders me. But then what do I know? I have never had a great relationship with my dad so perhaps I was not the target audience. 

The Emperor’s New Cloak written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler and directed by Levar Burton

What’s it about: Quark, Rom and the Nagus in the alternate universe…

Tasty Terrorist: Where the Indendant used to be a marbled and fascinating character now she is a thoughtless parody of the same character with none of edge that made her so riveting to watch in the first place. She is no longer an unpredictable character who can show mercy on a whim and get her claws out in an instant…nope she walks on screen and points out that she is a lesbian and then murders Brunt simply because that is the sort of thing this character does. Its so appallingly handled I’m surprised the actors didn’t object.

Mr Wolf: The Regent was such a fun character in Shattered Mirror but even he has lost his appeal now. When we first catch up with him he is doing a massive comedy sneeze to camera which is as good of a snapshot of what this episode offers than anything.  Rather than trying to outthink his enemies the Regent starts punching his chair like a child that has been told they have to visit their grandma! Once he has to surrender he picks up his clearly lightweight chair and tosses it about the room! This is beyondembarrassing.

Quirky Counsellor: Ezri the punk lesbian? I’m lost for words…

Community Leader: Quark has been trying to arrange a merger with Ezri for some time now but it looks as though her attentions are starting to turn towards Bashir despite the bribes that he offers to the Divine Exchequer.

Plain and Simple: That description has never been more appropriate! All Garak ever seems to go on about in this universe is his revenge on the Indendant. There is not a single sign that there is anything to this character beyond that goal and every breath he utters is tied to the subject. Its not much for Andy Robinson to get to grips with and the resulting performance is beyond pantomimic because there is nothing else he can do to amuse himself. Having the Ferengi characters winding up Garak with cheap psychology that a four year old could see through is embarrassing and never more so when he actually engages them on this level.

Secret Genius: I have never seen what people say when they complain about Rom…until now. The script compounds his character with a whole new level of stupidity until there comes a point where I was praying for him to shut his mouth and not say anything. There is a world of sophistication from his characterisation in It’s Only a Paper Moon and the buffoon we meet here.  Why is Rom obsessing so much about the differences between our universe and the alternate one and why does he keep harping on about it so much?

Wily Tycoon: Whilst the idea of Zek trying to expand his business portfolio by attempting to exploit the alternative universe is a fun idea nothing that is presented here would suggest that he is the financial genius of repute. Spare me the thought of the Indendant tugging at his ear hairs as he all but cheats on Moogie in her dominatrix presence!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I can’t believe it! Julian just shot Vic Fontaine!’ – things manage to get this desperate and that is only 13 minutes into the story!
‘Have a seat big boy!’
‘You mean no-one can see us? How deliciously deceitful!’ – why does everything the Indendant says have to have a sensual edge?

The Good: Quark and Rom carrying the invisible cloaking device along the corridors of DS9 is the sort of subtle humour that this episode lacks for the most part and takes some skill by the actors to make look convincing and not ridiculous. The gag with the knuckle duster is pretty funny.

The Bad: It seems to me that all you need to do these days is punk up one of the main characters and have them turn up on the station to justify the alternative universe angle. Having Ezri just turn up like Bariel did in Ressurection lacks any of the imagination or the shock value of Crossover. These opening scenes in Quark’s quarters lack any kind of tension or atmosphere and are the epitome of Levar Burton’s dreary static direction. There isn’t even anything original about the Nagus turning up at the beginning of an episode and crying out for help…that was done in Rules of Acquisition and The Magnificent Ferengi too! Even Martok is characterised as an unthinking bully who stomps through cargo bays and threatens the boys. There is no point where this episode hits a single beat of thoughtful characterisation. Vic Fontaine the Rambo-esque android? Are they trying to emulate an episode of Voyager because they are approaching their level of stupidity at this point and possibly exceeding it! Of course Brunt is a nice guy in the alternate universe because he’s such a slime ball in ours. Like everything else it is the most obvious path the writers could have taken. Everybody who is evil (the Indendant) or ambiguous (like Ezri) in this universe has a homosexual leaning – I’m not usually one to moan about this sort of thing but I don’t know if that is the best sort of message to put out in America! They couldn’t even be bothered to whip up some new effects footage for the final scene so they shoehorn in a quick moment from Shattered Mirror instead. Its almost blink and you’ll miss it so I’m not sure why they bothered and re-using old footage so brazenly like this is another example of the slapdash approach to this episode. Oh what a surprise…Leeta is a lesbian too! And a militant manly one at that! A couple of shots fired and the Regent surrenders? Are his defences that lame? After all the Regent has put the Alliance through and they just march him through a cargo bay of cheering Terrans? He should have been executed in the most painful manner possible! It doesn’t feel like a wrap up in any sense of the term but more like ticking off the things that need to be completed with as little effort and intelligence as possible.

Moment to Watch Out For: Get out of town! There is no moment in this episode I would completely endorse. If this section was called ‘Moments to Avoid’ I could fill it up to bursting!

Result: What is this? Unbelievable to think that this was written by the same duo that brought us The Siege of AR-558. How could the alternative universe stories begin on such a high (I rated Crossover a 10 and Through the Looking Glass a 9) and end on such a low? I have never been a huge fan of Levar Burton’s direction but he hits and all new low here and fails to inject any of the fun and frivolity that was necessary to make these kind of episodes work. I fail to comprehend how with a cast this good you can drive such ridiculously broad performances from them to the point where not even Andy Robinson, Jeffrey Combs and Wallace Shawn manage to shine. It seems a shame that they should waste what is the last Ferengi episode and the last alternative universe episode by combining them – neither genre has ever been known for its subtlety and when you try to start a relationship between the two the result is an unbearable pantomime piece that labours the joke. Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler wrote two comic belters last year but this sinks even lower than their season five collaboration (Ferengi Love Songs) without a single line of dialogue worthy of merit. It’s a disappointing end to two of my favourite Trek genres and proves that despite this shows fantastic consistency of quality they are still capable of dropping the ball big time at the most inopportune moments. Loathsome viewing and probably the worst DS9 episode of the entire run but I’m placated by the fact that this is the last bad episode of the show as we enter the incredible second half of season seven. 

Cyberwoman written Chris Chibnall and directed by James Strong

This story in a nutshell: Shit!

The Butler: Kicking off this abysmal piece of television Ianto’s idea of a good night in is to order in a pizza and share it with his half converted Cyber-girlfriend. Until this point Ianto has been a nobody, a bland background smell but here we get to find out about his sordid shenanigans. We were better off not knowing. He blubbers uncontrollably throughout once the Doctor he gets in to examine his pet gets slaughtered and screams ‘its all my fault!’ Of course its your fault you twat! When asked to account for himself Ianto goes on a tirade about clearing up their shit and nobody asking anything about his life – what the hell?This is how you get some attention? Despite trying to murder all of his friends Ianto still tries to reason with Lisa, he holds a gun on his friends and tries to save her! None of this makes any sense! Why is it that if Ianto thinks Jack is such a monster and worse than anything they have banged up in Torchwood that he ends up shagging him in three episodes time? Did they have read throughs and writers conferences? By the end of this episode you really want Ianto to die horribly because all he does is shriek and blubber like a baby, that’s not development. Why do they let Ianto keep working with them after his girlfriend that he sneaked into their workplace besieged them all? Not one second is believable.

Jack’s Crew: Owen is casually sexist, Jack is a bully, Gwen cheats on her husband and Tosh is entirely vacant of personality. No wonder I considered dropping this show halfway through the first season. They’re all horrible and I couldn’t give a damn if any of them survived. This episode features Barrowman at his campest, shouting, over emphasising all of his dialogue and crushing the non-existent tension. Owen and Gwen dry hump and snog in the autopsy bay and Jack takes the opportunity to plant one on Ianto’s lips…this is the Torchwood way of dealing with a crisis! It is banal sexuality; the sort of thing a horny ten year old (and James Herbert) would drop in a story that is completely unnecessary. ‘I was on top of you, I could feel your hard on!’ – oh fuck off!

The Good Stuff: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

The Bad Stuff: The Torchwood crew play basketball in their underground base whilst a Pterodactyl swoops in – who is this show supposed to appeal to? How on Earth did Ianto manage to secrete Lisa into Torchwood without Jack, Tosh and Owen finding out she was down there? It makes them look very stupid. The Cyberwoman costume is horrendous, the daft metal tits and stupid jug handles helmet, it isn’t sexy, practical, scary or hip – it’s dreadfully embarrassing. Are we supposed to feel a connection between Ianto and Lisa? They have no chemistry, their relationship is implausible and the performances are shockingly bad. Lisa attacking the doctor is hardly a great surprise but any tension the director might have achieved is trampled on as the camera zooms away from Lisa’s huge Cyber pants! ‘By removing the weaknesses of humanity!’ – the dialogue is beyond B movie bad! The doctor’s injuries with the metal sticking from his disfigured face is graphically unpleasant – I actually wrote during this scene in my notebook I don’t want to be watching this toss. Has the NuWho Cyberman backstory taken over from the classic series one? The Torchwood crew have never been made to look more inept, trapped in their own base and menaced by one ridiculous looking robot. The scenes of the Pterodactyl making mincemeat out of Cyberbitch with Ianto screaming ‘have some fucking mercy!’ is the worst moment in every show you have ever watched times a million, its dreadful beyond words. You think it cannot get any worse and then the Cyberbabe performs major brain surgery on the pizza delivery girl, obscenely stupid writing and so out of the realms of believability and good taste! ‘When we woke up in the morning a dog was pissing on our tent!’ – that’s the memory Lisa chooses to convince Ianto that she is his girlfriend! The conclusion consists of the torchwood team tearing an innocent bystander to pieces with bullets, which shows the level of mentality here.

The Shallow Bit: I have never known a show with such an attractive cast that are made to seem so ugly but such loathsome characterisation.

Result: Contrasting the first season of Torchwood and the first season of Sarah Jane is very worthwhile because one show is amateurishly childish whilst pretending to be adult and the other is surprisingly mature when it is trying to appeal to children. Cyberwoman demonstrates all my worst imaginings about Torchwood in 45 of the most painful minutes of television I have ever seen. It’s a stupid, illogical, violent, embarrassing, sleaze fest of an episode with no restraint at any point. The script feels as though it has been written by a teenage horny illiterate geek, there is no moment of sophistication or charm or relief. As far as I know this is the only time I will ever give this mark. 

The Dominators written by Norman Ashby and directed by Morris Barry

This story in a nutshell: The cure for insomnia…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Looks like the Doctor is exaggerating his holiday destinations again…he calls Dulkis a perfectly splendid place! Troughton could light up even the dreariest of stories and he truly has his work cut out for him with this story but I did smirk as he grabbed his deckchair, beach ball and fishing net as thought they were all going on holiday! He’s definitely not the Doctor of old, he cannot remember if he checked the radiation levels before leaving the TARDIS. He has intelligent eyes, apparently. I love the shots of the Doctor (not Troughton but they are shot in such a way that you might believe that it was) juggling the bomb and running in the last episode. After five long half hours of enforced inactivity it is great to finally get to see the Doctor doing something.

Who’s the Yahoos: A simple brain with signs of recent rapid learning. ‘Just act stupid Jamie, do you think you can manage that?’ says the Doctor trying to convince the Dominators that they are unintelligent enemies. The test that they are subjected to finally allows for some entertainment as Troughton and Hines get up to some monkey business pretending to be daft apeths arsing about with guns! There is a scene where Jamie leans his head gently on the Doctor’s in the travel capsule and I was struck by the relaxed intimacy between the two actors – this really is the ultimate Doctor Who bromance.

Brainy Beauty: Zoe is used to a sterile and event free life on the Wheel and landing on Dulkis she is confronted with corpses and explosions and it clearly shocks her. She lets out a few belters as the observation post is destroyed by a bunch of Quarks. Zoe tries to rouse her fellow Dulcian prisoners to riot and fight back but she’s wasting her time. As expected, Zoe is still rather prim and proper in this tale, the girl from the Wheel taking her first steps into the universe. It is only when she is confronted with the truly bizarre, illogical events of The Mind Robber that her character really starts to soften and adapt.

The Good Stuff: The have no idea what the Quarks are doing to those adventure seekers but my word it looks nasty - the effect makes it look as if the girl turns into a cardboard cut out and her face melts. Their method of dispatch is clearly much nastier than their appearance. Cully’s ship sure goes up in an impressive gout of flame. On the odd occasion The Dominators offers a really impressive visual like that (such as the tracking shot of the Doctor running with the bomb in episode five) which is highlighted against all the dreary point and shoot direction elsewhere. I really like the groovy screens inside the Dominator ship – when the only thing I can find to praise is the interior design of the most tedious alien race in the universe then a story is in serious trouble. I’m quite fond of the laser guns that blows great flaming holes in the walls. They remind me of similar weaponry seen in The Tomb of the Cybermen. One episode ends with some appalling direction as a set is junked in an explosion but it is the most exciting thing to have happened in an age so it deserves points for that. The sad truth is that the lava pouring towards the TARDIS at the end of story is just about the most attention grabbing moment in the story and that is only there to serve as a cliffhanger lead-in to The Mind Robber.

The Bad Stuff: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the first few seconds of this story except it is a hastily chopped together mixture of poor video graphics and poor model work that gets the season off on precisely the wrong note. Can someone clear up for me if that is instrumental music when the Dominators emerge from their ship or just a discordant sound effect to announce their presence? Cully’s ship looks oddly like a thimble and not a very impressive one at that (can thimbles look impressive?). Was this story filmed at the end of the last season? That must be a reason that it all looks so cheap…the dreadful flat looking quarry backdrop outside the Dominator craft fails to convince on any level. Landing on an atomic testing island should make for the most gripping installment of the series to date but the first episode is so ponderous and unexciting. The Dulcians must be the most soporific race the Doctor has ever encountered, certainly the most relaxed in the face if potential domination and I could help but hope that the Dominators would attack far sooner and torture them horribly just so they would actually emote something other than apathy. After all that (for want of a better word) build up (well, a couple of odd POV shots) the Quarks are singularly unimpressive. Can you think of a duller design of robot than these stompy cuboid cuties with their clumpy feet and rectangular arms? How cheap is having the Troughton and Hines pretending to be stuck to the wall? Rago and Toba are the ultimate married couple in Doctor Who, snapping at each other the slightest issue and getting into more bitch fights than the average gay couple. There is a scene in episode four where they stare at each other discussing mutiny and such is their proximity and intensity I swear they were about to snog each others faces off. You would think it an impossibility to find a location more sleep inducing than the nuclear testing island but then we visit the capital of Dulkis and it’s a bunch of characterless officials debating dreary matters of state with yet more unpersuasive backdrops and some hideous (supposedly opulent  furniture. Cully wonders why he is treated like a child but his juvenile strops hardly encourage people to tackle him with any maturity. I get the impression that the part was supposed to be played by some young, gorgeous slip of a boy which would make the dialogue make a lot more sense (‘Why can’t I be treated as an individual and not as the son of the Director?) but coming from the mouth of the weighty, middle aged Arthur Cox the effect is rather jarring. I have to wonder if the idea was to make the Quarks look so inoffensive that people will simply dismiss them until they are close enough to face blast you to death. Surely the only explanation for these cuddly machines of death. The Quarks recharge by making a lot of noise and waving their arms about...but surely that would drain energy? Even the Quark voices are desperately cute, about as far from the ruthless robots the Dominators want you to think they are. They are precisely the sort of thing that BBC Worldwide would love to see making an appearance in the New Series now (probably on the side of the good guys though) because they are imminently marketable. The Dominators are masters of the ten galaxies…I bet those galaxies are bit embarrassed about that. I wonder of some of those also belong to Porridge from Nightmare of Silver - he owns thousands! It's one of the few stories when you are glad to see the native species subjugated and forced to commit torturous manual labour, just so they feel something. Can you believe the Dulcian council members are still lounging around debating the threat of the Dominators in episode three? I thought it took the Thals a long time to spring into action (the last story to examine the idea of pacifism as a way of life was The Daleks) but this bunch take inactivity to the point of indolent stupidity. If I were the Doctor I would grab Zoe and Jamie and high tail it back to the TARDIS and let them get wiped out. Frankly they don't deserve the Doctor to rescue their asses. Cully struggles with some polystyrene rocks lent to the production team by Star Trek (I jest). One Quark is blown up, his arms shooting off around the quarry and all that are left are his stumpy little legs. I felt quite sorry for him which possibly wasn't the effect the writers were aiming for. So many of the cliff-hangers follow the same pattern that it gets old very fast - the Quarks doing something vaguely unthreatening with a whacking great close up on Toba's smug face. Like all big bullies Toba is fine when things are going his own way and he can intimidate people but as soon as they start to fight back he proves to be a bit of a wimp, often losing himself in a panic attack. I love the Dulcian who says ‘You better make an appointment!’ after Rago storms into their council chamber with a Quark. You just know he is going to be first to whipped. Who thinks this shit up? ‘A Dominator must be obeyed!’ – I bet they all have small cocks, their names, attitude, even their dress sense suggests compensation for something. I cannot believe that they repeat the scene of Rago interrupting Toba about to hurt/kill/torture over and over and over and over…after a while you start to wonder if you have been caught in a Dominator timewarp and all the events are repeating themselves with no way out. The scene of the Doctor running with the bomb in the quarry is clearly not Patrick Troughton. The Dominator ship blows up in an unspectacular model explosion. Five episodes of build up…for that?

The Shallow Bit: What’s up with those huge Dominator shoulder pads? All the men walk around in dresses made out of curtains, which probably should spice things up more than it does. Kando is a welcome touch of beauty in drab looking story. When Zoe gets changed into Dulcian gear it looks like she is wearing silky underwear.Something for the guys at least.

Result: Can The Dominators really be so bad that the writers were justified in disowning it and the producer for lopping off one episode and giving it to the next story? In all honesty, yes and I can’t imagine being forced to sit through another episode of this muck. It's rare to find a Doctor Who story where both the alien menace and the native populace are this mundane and the episodes suffer interminably from some monotonous direction and a general lack of incident and character. Russell T Davies once said that in order for a Doctor Who story to work you need some kind of human connection and this story made up of entirely alien characters (except for Jamie who is from the past and Zoe who is from the future which means there is still some distance between them and the audience) almost seems to set out to prove him right. It's hard to give a flying fuck about the Dulcians because they are so laid back about the whole affair of being subjugated you have to wonder why the Doctor doesn't just hop back into the TARDIS and leave them all to their fate. The Dominators are equally drab, indulging in the same argument over and over again, stalling the plot with their constant bickering. You’ll never see Troughton and Hines working so hard to try and provide the entertainment that is lacking in the scripts and the fact that they manage to provoke a handful of moments that amuse is a testament to their skill given the obstacles they have to overcome. Morris Barry can deliver some dynamic results when he is commited to the story but it feels as though he has given up at this point (in the same way it felt that Chris Clough had come Silver Nemesis - a general feeling of apathy about the whole piece). This is one story that commits every sin you would might imagine sixties television is capable of; cheap sets, drab location work, static performances and a general feeling of greyness to the whole piece. In truth very little of black and white Doctor Who is anywhere near as bad as this - it's something of an anathema, certainly when compared to some of the other gems to come in season six (The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games). The Dominators is a hugely embarrassing opener to a generally great season and easily the weakest second Doctor story: 1/10


Ed Azad said...
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