Posts Tagged With: asylum of the daleks

Have I Got Whos For You (Disney special)

I seem to have far more doctored images and bad jokes than I generally get round to posting in here. In many ways that’s a good thing – if your content creation ratio outweighs your posting ratio then you usually have a surplus, which is great if there’s a famine round the corner (or in my case, a holiday). But I’m mindful of the fact that there are a number of memes sitting on my hard drive that just haven’t been posted yet. And while it’s good to be in a Seven Years Of Plenty kind of place, I might as well use the downtime between series to catch up a bit.

Today’s batch is – you’ll have seen – all Disney-related, beginning with the news that WALL-E is about to have a very, very bad day.

Elsewhere, the Potts gang are having a lovely time of things, until the Eleventh Doctor drops in.

Here’s a little cutting room floor footage from Aladdin.

Fan theory: a new explanation for the breakdown of Amy and Rory’s marriage.

The Tenth Doctor wonders if this might be a good spot to surreptitiously ditch his new companion.

And the Mulan remake opts to recreate the opening of ‘Day of the Doctor’.

Over in the pridelands, alternate dialogue recorded for The Lion King foreshadows the final words of the Twelfth Doctor.

There are scenes of general dismay when Bill Potts returns home to visit her family.

The cast of Monsters, Inc. watch a video.

“One jump ahead of the Dalek…”

And finally, as news of The Little Mermaid splashes across the internet, the Doctor confesses she’s really not sure about this new aerial.

Poor unfortunate soul.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eggwatch, Part 1

From Comic-Con, San Diego (and retrieved from Den of Geek)…

Of course there is, and we’ve found it.

To be precise, Gareth found it. I was going to do one entry that connected all the threads, right after episode five, but he suggested eking it out, which is probably more sensible. The theme for series seven, as you may have gathered from the title, is eggs.

No, come back. Just bear with me. I know there are threads about lights going out and that this has something to do with the Weeping Angels. I know there’s a whole thing about the Doctor’s dehumanisation, and the moral decisions he gets to make – for good or for evil – in each episode. And yes, I know the wretched Ponds are about to leave and we’re being reminded of it with lots of lingering looks, not-so-subtle dialogue hints and a press conference every…sodding…week about how episode five “is going to make you cry”. (For ref, someone really should tell the BBC’s press department that the more you build all this up, the less effective it’s bound to be. Star Trek Generations made a huge fuss about the death of James Kirk – not once, but twice – and in the end, it really wasn’t a very big deal when it happened.)

But the arc has nothing to do with the Ponds, or the Angels. It’s all about eggs. We will start with ‘Asylum’.

Oh look, it’s a soufflé. Made with eggs. And yes, the Doctor wants to know where Oswin got the milk, but UHT keeps for years. Where on earth did she get the eggs?

Wait a minute, here’s one.

“F…U…N…E…X?”

There we go. That’s where they were all hiding.

“Eggs….”

And then, of course –

I’m jumping the gun a bit with that one, but it goes in here for the sake of narrative cohesion. Coming up next: “DINOSAURS!…on a SPACESHIP!” ‘Dinosaurs on a spaceship’. You can see where we’re going there, can’t you?

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Dalek Bedtime

Because even vicious alien killing machines need a nap.

 

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God is in the detail (i)

“Just for fun, I scanned the script to see how many times the letter K appears. The letter K appears in this script 1,456 times. That’s perfectly divisible by 3.”
“So what’re you saying?”
“What am I saying? KKK appears in this script 486 times!”

(Kit Ramsey, Bowfinger)

You must remember this.

Specifically? It’s that scene in ‘Flesh and Stone’ where the Doctor appears in a jacket that he’d recently lost, in order to reassure Amy that she has to start trusting him. It set the internet buzzing. Many people thought it was nothing but a continuity error. Others – quite sensibly – reasoned that Doctor Who was too intricately produced to allow something so major to slip through unnoticed, and that the presence of the jacket was thus of importance. And, of course, it was, because it’s not the same Doctor: it’s a future occurrence of him, popping back through his own timeline just before he’s wiped from the universe. After ‘Flesh and Stone’, viewers were keen to see if it would happen again, and out-of-time appearances from the Doctor were apparently present throughout the series, if you look.

Arc signposting under Davies was always a fairly clunky affair. It was milked to death in the early part of his reign with the Bad Wolf / Torchwood / Saxon stuff – oh, and (courtesy of Gareth) this:

“What was his final whispered message, Doctor?”
“He said, ‘Maybe A Second Timelord Exists Really.'”
“But what could that mean?!”

The Face of Boe got another token nod right at the end of the third series, of course, thanks to a particularly clumsy dialogue exchange where Jack says “By the way, and as a complete non-sequitur, did I mention that when I was a model, they used to call me THE FACE OF BOE? Just thought I’d bring that up. And I’ll leave the conversation dangling right there“. In 2008 we had series four, and viewers were treated to nine episodes of “There is something on your back” (which wasn’t even true, because it’s only sitting on her back in an alternate timeline), and the cryptic “She is returning”, which presumably should have been followed by “to the dental surgeon”. Moffat has continued the run, with games of spot-Amy’s-crack forming the highlights of many blog discussions for series five, but he’s taken it one step further and left us clues that are not only there for the taking but that we’re actively encouraged to seek out and discover and talk about every week.

Changing viewing habits is a part of it. In the days before video, Doctor Who couldn’t afford to run storylines that demanded a second viewing before you even understood them, let alone picked up on the details. But these days, hardly anyone watches live: in my house we’re all too busy putting the kids to bed on a Saturday. The dependence on TiVo has been exploited to its fullest potential with anything Moffat produces these days – anyone who has seen the end of the second Sherlock series will recall that it climaxes with the apparently impossible, but Moffat has insisted in post-show interviews that ‘the clues are there’, indicating that we should all go back to the DVD rips and scan through until we find them. The same thing occurs in Who, with various things that you don’t always notice first time. I, for one, did not notice the jacket until it was pointed out to me. But again, I missed Rose’s appearance in ‘The Poison Sky’, at least the first time. Perhaps I just don’t pay attention.

The problem is that many of the clues are frankly silly, or obscure. For example, at the end of ‘Night Terrors’, Amy and Rory are reunited with the Doctor, who remarks “Well, here we are again…in the flesh”. At a basic level, this refers to Amy’s transformation into a doll (and back), but given the episode’s original sequencing (it was supposed to occur in the first half of the series just before the Gangers story*) it’s almost certainly a not-so-covert reference to Amy’s abduction by The Silence. Or it could have just been a coincidence. The Silence remark that she has “been here many days” just before the Doctor rescues her in ‘Day of the Moon’, which implies that she was replaced by a Ganger Amy when she was kidnapped by them in the orphanage, and then taken back in time, but the other school of thought was that this happened earlier, before the series even started. The point is you don’t know, so you either run yourself into the ground trying to work it out, or you just dismiss the lot as unnecessary silliness and try and enjoy the show without feeling the need to concentrate on all the hints. The problem is that Moffat has written drama and actively asked us to analyse it for clues he’s inserted – often at the expense of the narrative – and the more we do so, the less sense it makes.

Years ago, there was another drama that was supposedly full of ‘clues’. It was called Twin Peaks, and it did it much better, because it was a murder mystery and the clues, when they arrived, were transparent and important and discussed by the characters rather than left solely for the viewer. There was plenty going on, but there was appropriate pacing (some episodes might even have been called sedate) and – up until the time Laura’s killer was unmasked – there was consistency and momentum. On the other hand, I watched Twin Peaks in my early twenties, when I was a carefree arts student with a multitude of unfilled hours in which I could read through the alt.tv newsgroup digests and plough through the books and rewind and fast-forward through the rented VHS tapes I’d got from Blockbuster. These days, I simply don’t have the time to analyse Who to the extent that the chief writer seems to expect of his would-be-serious viewers. I just want a story. At least with Davies you knew you’d just get that, even if half the time it was dreadful.

Bearing all this in mind, then, here is the opening instalment of a new series: my list of trivial things in the last two episodes THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE IMPORTANT. Some are more trivial than others. BUT THEY WILL ALL TURN OUT TO BE IMPORTANT.

‘Asylum of the Daleks’

Here’s a rotating ballerina from Oswin’s ‘shuttle’. As the shuttle exists in Oswin’s head, this is a particular memory that she’s retained: as such it is clearly IMPORTANT. Presumably when the Doctor meets Clara, when he travels back to Victorian London, she will turn out to be a ballerina.

Right, here’s Amy. In a photoshoot. With the word ‘HATE’ written on one hand. She has ‘LOVE’ written on the other, but it’s the ‘HATE’ we see first. A recurring theme of this series will thus be the Doctor wrestling with his capacity to forgive and redeem versus his ability to destroy without remorse, as epitomised in the closing scenes of ‘Dinosaurs’ where he leaves Solomon to a grisly, missile-up-the-arse fate. Also note that Amy has hair that looks a bit like River Song. This cannot be a coincidence.

Ah. Oswin. And notice what looks like a red flower in her hair. This is clearly significant. Perhaps when the Doctor eventually encounters Clara, she won’t be a ballerina but will be a simple flower-seller who dreams of becoming a ballerina. And I’m no horticulturalist, but doesn’t that flower look rather like a Rose….?

Finally, here’s the Doctor looking at his watch. This is clearly IMPORTANT as he’s obviously waiting for a past occurrence of himself that he knows is already there to finish some kind of technical trickery behind the scenes elsewhere in the Parliament.

—-

‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’

Here’s that broken light. It’s not the bulb. It might be the fitting. But it is clearly IMPORTANT that this light is broken. What did the Weeping Angels do in ‘Blink’ when they wanted to cross the cellar? That’s right, they turned out the lights. Just you wait. You’ll see.

Brian and his balls. He has two golf balls, and we are led to believe that this is so that Chris Chibnall can make a silly joke. But it is obviously significant that he only loses one of them. That second golf ball is going to turn up later in the series at a crucial moment, probably when Rory has had all knowledge of his father wiped from his brain before finding the ball in his pocket, at which point the light bulb will come on – or at least the one in his head.

Queen Nefertiti. Notice that she is wearing headgear that LOOKS A BIT LIKE THE TARDIS. We know that she and Riddell will turn up in a crowd-pleasing walk-on later in the series when the Doctor presumably assembles another band of people we don’t really know in order to do something dazzling, but there’s more to it than that. Could she be another incarnation of the Rani?

Postcards from Brian. Note the one in Rio. WITH A STATUE.

I rest my case.

* Apparently this was done to improve sequencing. ‘Night Terrors’ was considered too similar to ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ in the first half, presumably owing to the fact that as Gareth pointed out, the pirate story has people who are seemingly killed when dragged off somewhere else, in which we think “Oh no!” when Amy and Rory ‘die’, and which ends with a dreary father and son scene. So they moved it next to ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, in which Amy and Rory are miniaturised and menaced by automaton creatures, the Doctor resolves a few parent-child issues and a nasty thing gets shut in the wardrobe.

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’

Watching ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was, I thought this morning, rather like ordering the mixed starters in a Chinese restaurant. Rather than offering us a coherent narrative, Chris ‘mixed episodes of Torchwood’ Chibnall offered up a platter of random elements which more or less fit together. It was a stark contrast to last week, which at least tried to be consistent (even if it was dull). Chibnall didn’t even try here: there was, instead, a series of comedy vignettes loosely strung together by a frayed piece of string that we might call a plot. It was forty-odd minutes of insanity. And – let’s get this out of the way – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This one was plugged as Snakes on a Plane, without the plane, or the snakes. Such comparisons are inevitable but not really fair: the snakes, in David Ellis’s 2007 misfire, are the whole point of the film, whereas the dinosaurs in this installment of Who, while impressive, are a McGuffin of comparatively little importance. Because what this episode is really about is Rory’s Dad. It had to happen: we’ve had two and a half years of the Ponds managing more or less by themselves, with Amy’s parents resurrected at the end of series five only to vanish into complete obscurity, while her husband hasn’t even got a look-in until now. Credit should go to Moffat for keeping away from the soap opera family sagas that dogged Davies’ run, but perhaps it’s the very absence of detail that’s made me curious: who is Rory’s family? Does he have one? Last night, we sort of found out.

After a madcap opening which saw us go from ancient Egypt to the plains of Africa, which echoed ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and which, I feared, was setting us up for a catastrophic fall from grace, we visit the Ponds. Some time has elapsed since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and Rory’s dad, Brian Pond Williams, is fixing a light bulb, which is something that Rory apparently can’t do himself. Brian’s a gruff, grumpy character quite unlike Arthur Weasley (who, for some reason, I somehow expected him to be playing) – quite stunned to find himself suddenly inside the TARDIS, which has materialised around them all. The Doctor takes everyone into the bowels of a colossal spacecraft “the size of Canada” (which enables them to go from beaches to jungles to grimy steel without worrying about the tone) and immediately jumps on Brian, before getting cross with Rory for bringing him along, much to Rory’s annoyance.

It’s all a bit Byzantium, isn’t it?

No one has time to be grumpy for long, because that’s when the main door opens, and we find out what the vessel is being used for. “Dinosaurs!” exclaims the Doctor. “On a SPACESHIP!” Which would be a wonderful reveal to take us into the opening credits, were it not for the fact that a) it’s the episode title, b) it’s been on all the promotional posters, c) it’s been flogged to death in the press releases.

So much for spoilers. There was at least one surprise in store, although given Chibnall’s Who-related history perhaps we should have seen it coming: the ship is an ark formerly piloted by the Silurians (presumably to escape the disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs, which the Doctor really should remember). Unfortunately, the one Silurian actually present in the episode is visible on camera in a thirty-second pre-recorded video, which we can’t really see properly anyway because Amy is blocking the view, and that’s yer lot. I know that the new Silurians shamelessly rip off V (at least physically; otherwise we’re in chicken and egg territory), but it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated. Perhaps more surprising is the revelation that it’s pronounced ‘sy-loor-ian’, which means I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. At first I thought Amy was bringing a Scottish lilt to things, in the manner of Kevin Lindsay’s mispronunciation of ‘Sontaran’ in ‘The Time Warrior’, but apparently not. Still, I suppose the occasional clanger on my part is to be expected when you do your Who correspondence over the internet.

Make the most of this. There won’t be any more.

There are no Silurians hanging around because, as it turns out, they’ve all been killed by the evil Solomon, who is nursing his injuries in a shuttle hidden in the depths of the ship. Solomon is played with sinister flair by David Bradley, recently seen in Harry Potter.

Specifically –

You can almost hear the phone call.

“David? It’s Keith. Got something. They want you to play an evil trader in Doctor Who. The writer describes it as ‘Half businessman, half Somali pirate’.”
“Sounds fun.”
“There’s a problem: They blew the entire costume budget on CGI and they want you to bring your own outfit. Do you still have the Filch costume?”
“Yes, as it happens. Warner Brothers didn’t want it for the museum. Apparently sadistic caretakers just aren’t glam enough for the displays.”
“Every cloud, though.”

On the other hand…

Well, we could be here all day.

In the absence of any other plan, the gang (as the Doctor refers to them – “It’s new”) – decide to split up and look for clues. It’s not entirely on purpose; an inconvenient teleport zaps Rory, Brian and the Doctor down to Glamorgan, only as it turns out they haven’t actually left the ship – the beach is nothing but an enormous engine, as we discover when the Doctor asks them to dig, and Brian inexplicably (but amusingly) produces a trowel from his pockets, in much the same manner as Mick pulls out salt and pepper from his jacket in The Caretaker. Or, on the other hand –

These scenes are really designed to give the three men a chance to Be Funny together, which – to be fair – they manage quite successfully. Smith seems to have regained his sense of humour after last week, boyishly declaring “I’m going to look at rocks!” before wandering off, although it isn’t long before they’re back and looking at a swanky computer screen.

We have to overlay it like this, of course, to make it really obvious that they’re looking at a screen.

While the Three Stooges are running away from pterodactyls, Amy has the rather tedious job of wandering round the rest of the ship, stumbling across a sleeping dinosaur that can’t be much bigger than a rhino before musing “At best guess, a tyrannosaurus rex”, suggesting that either she doesn’t know her dinosaurs or it was just a really, really small one. Her main role in this episode, however, consists of interacting with the two supporting characters, both of whom are there to provide crucial narrative support at one particular moment, rendering the rest of their appearance entirely pointless.

Riddell. The only Riddell here is ‘What the hell is he doing in this story? Really?’

Amy deals with this by having the two of them argue about gender politics, before drawing their attention to the screen.

There’s something awfully familiar about this.

It really is mind-numbingly tedious. And so is Amy, who seems to have been so drastically rewritten this series it makes me wonder what on earth I saw in her the first place. Last week she was laughing in the face of danger; this week she’s pressing buttons, because apparently that’s the sort of thing the Doctor does. Rarely has Karen Gillan had me looking at my watch, and it isn’t really her fault, but for the first time last night I found myself grateful that we’re facing the imminent departure of the Ponds.

Meanwhile, the Doctor et al. appear to have met a triceratops, which, in This Week’s Funny Moment, slobbers all over Brian.

Which, in turn, calls to mind this little moment of comedy gold.

The triceratops, of course, behaves exactly like a dog, adhering to dinosaur film principle #1: any herbivorous creature must be friendly, sweet and not in the least intimidated by humans. The canine-like behaviour extends to the point that it runs to fetch the golf balls that Brian throws for it. The whole thing is very silly, but it’s hard not to raise a smile when the Doctor, Rory and Brian leap on its back and gallop through the halls of the spaceship, or feel a pang of sadness when Solomon and his robotic cronies subsequently gun it down.

Tally ho, and all that. Apologies for the blurring.

Ah, yes. Those robots. I have no idea what the casting directors were playing at here, but bringing in Mitchell and Webb was a mistake: amusing for one line, when David Mitchell faces down the Doctor and says “We’re very cross with you”, and then swiftly grating. (Besides, if we’re going with hulking monstrosities with silly voices, Suburban Commando got there first.) Reduced to a one-scene cameo with amusing dialogue this could have been another celebrity cameo in the manner of Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride, or Bill Bailey in ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’. As it stands, their pre-recorded patter swiftly becomes tiresome: the robots-behaving-like-children thing ages faster than Sara Kingdom at the end of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, and Mitchell saying “You’re going straight to the naughty step” would have been funny if he hadn’t said more or less exactly the same thing to Webb in the Mac advert campaign.

The ship is still speeding towards Earth, where the military has No Choice But To Shoot It Down, despite the Doctor’s reassurances that everything is OK. The ethical ‘dilemma’ as faced by the Earth is epitomised by the pained look of one particular commander.

Because even Indian people experience angst.

Up on the ship, the Doctor has a plan, but he has time to chat to Amy first and reassure her that he’ll never leave her. “You’ll be there until the end of me,” he promises, to which Amy quips “Or vice versa”. This grants the Doctor the opportunity to give her a Very Serious and Worried Look.

Said look is presumably designed to dangle the prospect of Amy’s death in front of our noses until ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, in which Moffat will reveal that it was all a bluff just before he actually kills Rory.

Speaking of death, the end of the episode sees some dubious moral choices: the Doctor saves the dinosaurs by freeing Solomon’s ship, allowing him to escape, but reversing the signal so that the missiles pursue him instead of the dinosaurs. It’s technically possible for him to escape, just as it was technically possible for Johnny to have escaped at the end of Mad Max, but this is the closest the Doctor’s come to outright murder in a while, and it’s not a comfortable place for him to be. Meanwhile, Riddell the hunter has taken care of the approaching velociraptors – with the help of Amy, who has inexplicably developed fantastic shooting skills in the same manner that washerwomen and market traders develop chorographical skills in musical numbers. This is an excuse for another bit of fancy gunplay, as rather than take a side of the room and stick to it the two embark on a dazzling display of shooting-past-each-other, while finishing – as Gareth pointed out – in the middle of the room, whereas standing right by the door would surely have been the safer option. Riddell is, of course, using tranquilisers, which absolves him of moral responsibility so presumably we won’t feel bad when he heads back to Africa and starts shooting real animals again.

Things have thankfully come on a bit since ‘Invasion’.

Brian gets to be a hero, piloting the ship out of danger with the help of his son, although Chibnall missed a trick here – there was the potential for more banter in the manner of parent-child driving lessons, but instead all we get is Williams shouting “I’M FLYING A SPACESHIP”. Nonetheless, he’s the focus of the nicest scene in the episode, which consists of nothing more than a quiet sandwich lunch (with Thermos) at the open door of the TARDIS, looking out over the Earth. It’s wordless, understated and really rather lovely.

Brian’s experience on the ship, of course, has given him the travel bug, and one of the final images in the episode is Amy and Rory’s kitchen wall, adorned with photoshopped postcards of his excursions. Well, being chased by pterodactyls and getting shot by robots is one way of curing hodophobia. It does rather recall the subplot in Amelie where the titular heroine gets her father out of the house by kidnapping his gnome.

This was cliched, hackneyed and immediately obvious from the moment they first appeared on screen together.

For all its structural issues and inconsistencies, ‘Dinosaurs’ was a riot. It was silly, and outrageous, miscast and occasionally poorly written. It was also very, very hard to dislike (and I wanted to. I really did). Because stories like this need to be fun, in the way that Snakes on a Plane wasn’t. Regular readers here may remember that a couple of months ago I predicted that ‘Dinosaurs’ would be rubbish. And I stand by that, because it was, but it was a fun, silly, highly amusing sort of rubbish, and so in many ways not really rubbish at all. Perhaps it was the Chardonnay, but I enjoyed last night’s Who more than any other I’ve seen since 2010. That can’t be a bad thing.

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Review: ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

WARNING: This review contains more spoilers than an LA street race, so if you don’t want to know the score, look away now.

A few years ago, Russell T Davies was presumably sitting in a Cardiff pub one afternoon with Julie Gardner when they both started to wonder “Who would win if the Daleks met the Cybermen?”.

This, of course, was hardly a new question. The fans have been asking the same thing for many years. It’s right up there with ‘What’s the Master’s backstory?’, ‘Did Jamie survive?’ and ‘What if the Doctor was a woman?’. The result is a slew of fan-fiction, much of it dreary. Similarly, the episode that Davies’ question produced – the ‘Army of Ghosts’ / ‘Doomsday’ two-parter – was third-rate. The answer to the question, of course, was the Daleks, by a long shot, although that’s because the Cybermen – the real Cybermen, I mean, not the parallel universe stormtrooper allegories (memo to Russell: Terry Nation did the ethnic cleansing thing long before you got there) – were never really developed as universe-conquering warriors, at least not to the same extent as the Superior Beings from Skaro.

Fast forward a few years, and one can picture Steven Moffatt in the same pub, perhaps sharing a pint with Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, and one of them coming up with the idea of grouping all the Daleks together, and running that as an episode’s principal gimmick. This would, of course, have the fanboys salivating in their basements: the very idea of an episode that was actively designed to be paused and watched again and again to get all the references! Cue a frame-by-frame analysis of any scene involving a Dalek, frantic Google image searches for reference purposes and then a rush to get it all on your blog before the first episode torrent is online. Moffat has already said that his dramas are designed to have replay value – which is presumably why he feels no guilt about making them as complicated as possible, on the grounds that everyone’s playing back a TiVo recording or watching on iPlayer – making stop-start and hang-on-a-minute-I-thought-the-Doctor-lost-his-jacket-just-rewind-that-a-second moments a regular part of viewing. I’m not really complaining about this: pausing to explain what’s happening is a regular part of my sessions with Josh, and whatever the critics say about it being too complicated, kudos must extend to Moffat for at least not treating us like idiots.

But within hours of last night’s episode, comments of “Foul!” were spreading over the internet. The central premise of ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ – that it features every Dalek ever – was a bit of a waste, really, because from what I’ve been told they were rather hard to spot. I should point out at this juncture that I’m the wrong person to ask about this, because despite my levels of geekery I do have great difficulty telling one Dalek from another, unless one of them happens to be a) made of stone, or b) Power Rangers red. Ask me to talk to you about body shape or colour of the eye stalk, and I’m stumped. So perhaps that’s why I didn’t care that the special weapons Dalek was one of the few recognisable models to make a visible appearance. And to be fair to Moffat, he said that the episode would feature every kind of Dalek; he didn’t specify that we would see them. (“Coming next week,” said Gareth, “the Rani, Sutekh and the entire cast of Cabaret! Outside the building the Doctor was occupying!”) Besides, the central failing of ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ as a Doctor Who episode has nothing to do with the variety (or lack thereof) of Daleks on display. It’s simply that it was crap.

We should probably look at this in context before we go any further. Series openers are seldom the sort of episodes that venture into BAFTA territory. ‘Rose’, for example, was a nice introduction to the show but fails to stand up as an episode in its own right, being full of irritating moments, most of which involve Jackie Tyler. Likewise, ‘New Earth’, the first episode that really breaks in David Tennant, was second-rate (and featured the return of a character we didn’t like much in the first place). ‘Smith and Jones’ was lacklustre and featured unnecessary fawning. ‘Partners in Crime’ was “the children’s episode” (featuring, as it did, a selection of wandering Pilsbury dough monsters) and its sins are therefore excused purely on the grounds of intended audience. ‘The Eleventh Hour’ was great. Nonetheless, the general trend is for the first story of each series to establish the tone, but not necessarily the standard of writing. So from that perspective the fact that I spent most of last night rolling my eyes and checking my phone shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

But still. There’s bad Doctor Who, and then there’s bad Doctor Who. This was, for the most part, bad Doctor Who: and I speak, by the way, as someone who really enjoyed the last Christmas episode. From the opening scene onwards, it’s clear that BBC America have put their stamp on this in a big way to sell it as ‘adult’ drama. Gone (for this week, anyway) are many of the eccentricities which made Smith’s Doctor so likeable. In their place is an awful lot of frowning. In the opening of the six-minute teaser (yes, you read that correctly) the Doctor answers a distress call on Skaro, realising too late that he’s walked into a trap. There is a lot of moody lighting and scowling and some measured, almost introspective mumbling, but it’s no Ashes to Ashes. This is the moodiest I’ve seen the Doctor since ‘The Twin Dilemma’ – indeed, Smith’s performance throughout is as out-of-character as Baker’s in ‘The Seeds of Doom’. I do hope he lightens up a bit; he’s no fun when he’s so miserable.

After the Doctor is captured, we get re-acquainted with the Williamses Ponds – who, it seems, have spent the last few months becoming unacquainted from each other. The prospect of Rory and Amy sitting on the cusp of permanent separation will raise eyebrows for some – it’s all explained later, of course, but Rory has for some time been the lesser of Amy’s loves, and everyone knows it (which would suggest, perhaps that the question that must never be asked should in fact be “If your house was burning down, Amy, and there was only time to save the Doctor or Rory…”). It seems that now enough is enough, and Amy’s called away from a fashion shoot to sign divorce papers, but before you can say “River’s your daughter” they’re spirited away in much the same manner as the Doctor: by a human wearing a Dalek eye stalk.

Talk to the hand, baby.

Seriously. I can only assume that the Daleks have developed this kind of technology very recently, because otherwise why didn’t they use it to conquer the Earth – or destroy the Doctor – yonks ago? No more warships, stolen planets or reality-destroying bombs: just a few covert operatives taking out the world’s leaders, and then watch as anarchy descends, and then swoop in with a couple of drop ships and you have a swift victory. What’s particularly refreshing about these scenes, of course, is that the human assassin that doesn’t know it’s really part robot until stuff protrudes from its skin is something that’s never been done in Doctor Who, even recently. There has to come a point where Moffat runs out of things to self-borrow.

The Doctor and his companions are transported to an enormous chamber that contains a great army of Daleks – the Doctor calls it a ‘parliament’, which would suggest cries of “THE RIGHT HONOURABLE GENTLEMAN WILL CLARIFY HIS ANSWER OR HE WILL BE-” – oh, I don’t need to finish that, do I? One thing that struck me about the idea of Dalek parliament was that Paul Eddington, in his day, would have made a superb Doctor. Conversely, K-9 would have made a fantastic Bernard Woolley, as long as he got to say “AFFIRMATIVE, MINISTER”. In any case, the Doctor gets to meet the Dalek P.M., who informs him that the Daleks require his help: there is a planet full of lost, broken or mad Daleks known as the ‘asylum’, which has been breached by a wrecked spacecraft – a situation that must be contained before everyone else escapes. Basically this could have been explained with one or two Daleks, but getting them all together gave the production team the excuse to do this:

A multitude of CG Daleks.

Which is impressive, even if it’s a little Star Wars.

Anyway, it’s off to the snow. On the surface of the planet, we meet Harvey, who introduces us to the rest of his crew. The exchange (and subsequent twist) are predictable, but you’re itching for them to tweak it just a little:

You see what I mean.

I can’t be bothered to talk about the rest of the plot. It isn’t just that it’s half past five in the morning here and I’ve been up for the past hour working on this review after settling Thomas back to sleep only to find myself fighting insomnia. It’s just not very interesting. Suffice to say that there is running. In slow motion. Which, of course, is the only way to do it when the corridor behind you is full of pyrotechnics that you want to show off.

“When I say run, run!”

Meanwhile, Amy’s in peril, living on borrowed time after she loses the glowing bracelet that’s keeping her from getting infected by the nanites that would turn her into a Dalek slave. This leads to the shot-that-everyone-thought-would-mean-Amy-dies-after-we-saw-it-in-the-trailer –

“I warned her that ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ was shit.”

– or at least that’s clearly what we were supposed to think, until it transpired that this was from the first episode, which kind of takes away any element of surprise. Then, dear God, there’s more running.

You will have gathered that the colour scheme for much of this episode is brown.

Said running is preceded by a supposedly amusing scene where Rory comes across a bunch of broken Daleks in the middle of an underground passage, who are just waking up and can only manage to mumble “Eggs…”. Rory is presumably still thinking about soufflé (we’ll get to that) and realises only too late what they really mean. Unfortunately the Daleks’ catatonia has rendered them incapable of shooting straight, as is evidenced by the fact that Mr Williams Pond manages to avoid blasts from a dozen death rays without batting an eyelid.

“F…U…N…E…X?”

Elsewhere, ‘Asylum’s “heartrending emotional sequence” box gets ticked courtesy of a ‘difficult’ chat between Amy and Rory – who finally voices aloud what we always knew and informs Amy that he loves her more than she loves him, a claim she vigorously denies. It’s difficult to be logical when you’re two steps away from growing an eye stalk, but it’s hard to see sense in Amy’s claim that she’s outdone his Pandorica epoch by giving him up. (Plastic man standing outside in the rain for two millennia? Pah. I THREW YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE BECAUSE I CAN’T HAVE YOUR BABIES!) In what is one of the episode’s better twists, it transpires that the Doctor engineered this whole confrontation so that they could iron out their marital problems. Maybe the answer to the first question is ‘Ruth’. I’d rather have that, of course, than the Doctor prannying about in the TARDIS crying “Doctor Who! Doctor Who! Doctor Who!”.

Oh well.

We’re some 1400 words into this review and I’ve not even mentioned Jenna Louise Coleman yet. That’s largely because you always bookend negative feedback with praise. I opened by implying that however dull the central premise, coming up with a fanboy idea was nothing new. I will close by singling out Coleman’s supporting character as one of the best things I’ve seen in New Who since Sally Sparrow. Oswin Oswald sounds like the name of a villainous financier in a Disney comedy, but instead she’s an entertainment manager who’s crash-landed on the Asylum and has spent the last eleven or twelve months living like a zombie survivor by nailing planks of wood over her door to fend off Daleks, and making bad soufflés. The fact that she’s survived for a year doing this should suggest that something is amiss, as the Doctor notices when he asks her where she got the milk.

The twist, of course, is that Oswin is a Dalek, who entered a fugue state after conversion in order to hide from reality, as we discover when the Doctor finally tracks her down. Unfortunately any effectiveness this scene might have had is undermined by the subsequent “fight it, Oswin, fight it” dialogue in which Oswin, on the verge of exterminating the Doctor, manages to hang on to her humanity for just…long…enough…for the Doctor to…escape…seriously, I know there’s only so many ways you can do the man-machine battle, but it was all I could do stop thinking about Alfred Molina at the end of Spider-Man 2, bellowing “I WILL NOT DIE A MONSTER!”.

It was fairly obvious, really, that Oswin would die, probably revealing herself as somehow non-human (the ultimate hidden Dalek slave, I’d initially thought) in the process: this isn’t 1983, and there’s only room for three in that TARDIS, unless River’s gone for another swim. Despite its clichés, the aforementioned scene in which the Doctor discovers the truth was at least reasonably put together, and refreshing in that having someone wave at you from a space craft hidden inside a robotic shell is something the series hasn’t done at all, ever.

Oswin’s death is a shame, because she has all the best lines, and a quirky spark about her that the episode otherwise lacks. It’s like watching Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs: he lights up the screen, but when he’s gone I fall asleep. Of course, her appearance in any case is mysterious, given that Coleman is playing the next companion, who wasn’t expected to be unveiled before Christmas, leading most people to wonder what the hell Moffat thinks he’s doing. There are, of course, a number of explanations:

1. Oswin’s dead, and will stay dead, and Coleman’s playing a completely different character who may or may not be connected (but probably will be)

2. Oswin’s dead, but the Doctor will encounter her in some form earlier in her life when she’s living under a different name and with no knowledge of the events to come (giving the Doctor and the audience that sense of dramatic irony that’s not a part of the show at all, ever)

3. Oswin will somehow survive the destruction of the planet and become non-Dalek

In the aftermath of the River / Melody saga and the resolution of the Doctor’s death I suppose we needed a new mystery, and despite Moffat’s assurances that there would be no arc this season he obviously wants the fans to have something to deconstruct on the internet. A Time Traveler’s Wife scenario (#2) is precisely what we’ll be anticipating and therefore precisely what probably won’t happen; #1 is more likely but I’m not going to speculate for too long. The one thing I’ve learned with our chief writer over the past couple of years, exemplified perhaps by this episode, is to expect the unexpected. Just don’t necessarily expect that it’ll be any good.

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The Faces of Evil

There’s an article in today’s Guardian (or is it ‘on today’s Guardian’? Or ‘on the Guardian website today’? I never know any more) which has made me cringe.

Look. I know these things are subjective. I know that if you asked ten different people to name their favourite villains you’d get ten different answers depending on whether they were my son’s age (Weeping Angels), or my age (1980s Cybermen) or my father’s age (anything with Hartnell, whom he maintains was the best Doctor, even after almost fifty years). And at least there are a couple of nods to Classic Who, althoughI am baffled (if nonetheless thrilled) by the inclusion of the Zygons, who (despite resembling enormous penises) are a firm favourite in our house, but who only appeared in one serial (and their share of audio dramas and novels, which the Guardian usually chooses to ignore). All the same, the whole article smacks of a homework piece that was scribbled down over breakfast on the Monday it’s due in. You can practically see the milk stains.

Let’s start here.

The Master
“First played by Roger Delgado, he debuted in a 1971 episode called Terror of the Autons. Since then, he’s been played by six different actors, his initial suave demeanour eventually collapsing into theatrical insanity when John Simm (pictured here) took on the role between 2007 and 2010.”

The Master appeared in at least twenty of the Classic Who serials in some form or other – about eight as Delgado and eleven or twelve (depending on how you count) as Ainley. And what do you use for a picture? Bloody John Simm in that bloody tracksuit. (And if we’re nitpicking, ‘Terror of the Autons’ is a serial, not an episode.)

The Silence
“Steven Moffat’s most recent addition to Who mythology (thought by some to be too scary for children) are terrifying not only to look at, but psychologically too. With their ability to erase themselves from the memory of anyone who’s seen them, they have been able to control humans from the shadows. The show’s creators have had fun with this idea. For instance: was the thin, faceless form of the Silence inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Scream – or was he, subconsciously, inspired by them? A brilliant, frightening creation… Wait, was I saying something?”

Oh, please. Spare me. The Grauniad’s relentless fawning to the Silence – who were, as I’ve said before, hyped to death – is one of the reasons I find them so tedious. They were derivative (from Moffat’s own work, no less, and self-borrowing in Who is usually pretty dull) and simply not particularly evil. You might as well embed ‘BBC press release’ as a watermark.

The Beast
“Russell T Davies’s tenure as show-runner didn’t exactly blow minds in terms of new villains – the farting farce of the Slitheen, anyone? But 2006 two-parter The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (written by Matt Jones) changed all that with the introduction of the Beast, an imprisoned demon that claimed to be the basis of the devil as he appeared across all religions. It was a bold idea, and one that dragged the show to much darker places, challenging not only the Doctor’s own faith in logic and reason, but the profound mystery of religious origins in general.”

Which would suggest, perhaps, that you haven’t seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’. Or ‘The Daemons’.

Elsewhere (and again see the comments section) – the Daleks and Davros as separate entries? The Time Lords and the Master? Seriously. Must try harder. See me after physics. (Hmm, physics. Physics. Physics…I hope you’re getting all this down.)

Perhaps lists like this – due to the aforementioned subjectivity – are fundamentally pointless, simply because they’re the opinions of one person (or perhaps a straw poll taken on a Friday afternoon in between games of Angry Birds), rather than a newspaper. And a newspaper’s supposed to give facts or informed opinion from its commentators – but this is just a laundry list, and a rather poor one at that. I know the hype machine needs to keep grinding on with less than a fortnight to go until ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, but perhaps a better use of the Grauniad’s time would be a list of ‘monsters we’d like to see in Doctor Who’. It would at least be fun.

And in which case, you could probably do a lot worse than this…

Enjoy your Sunday.

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Mo Farah running away from things

There are loads of these on the Tumblr page, but for obvious reasons this one goes on here.

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The (Jurassic) Ark In Space

I’m sure Comic Con is great. And I’d love to see San Diego. But I’m glad I wasn’t there for the Q&A I’m going to talk about tonight, because I suspect it would have set my teeth on edge.

A lightly spoiler-ish article on io9 – forwarded to me by Gareth – details the Grand Moffat’s plan for the new series, and on the face of it, the outlook isn’t pretty. As much as I look forward to every new season of Who, hopeful that it’ll in some way eclipse the last in terms of quality – or, perhaps, atone for some of the sins of previous episodes (I’m looking at you, Ms. Raynor) – I think it’s fair to say that this one has me as unexcited about the show’s return in autumn as I’ve ever been.

Let’s start with the trailer.

To anyone under the age of ten or who happened to love Cowboys Vs. Aliens, this is undoubtedly brilliant. To anyone who was watching TV in 1993, or who happens to have seen TV that was made in 1993, it rips off at least two episodes of Red Dwarf. I was one of the few who thought ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ was overrated in the first instance; I have no wish to see it remade by the Doctor Who team. And that’s before we even get to that shot of a Dalek eyestalk, which is in itself oddly reminiscent of Return of the Jedi.

Yes, those Daleks. Moffat assures us that we’ll see

“more Daleks than you’ve ever seen in one place — and every generation of Dalek.” And it looks fantastic, now that the visual effects are just being completed. “Lots and lots and lots of Daleks. All the things you see when you close your eyes.”

Maybe I’m in a minority here, but when I have nightmares about Who, they don’t involve Daleks. They involve reruns of ‘Fear Her’. I’m not frightened by the Daleks; overexposure has rendered me completely indifferent to them. The Daleks are no longer scary, and thus no longer appealing. And there is a glint of fanboyish glee about Moffat’s desire to get the gang together, as if he were a chubby, bespectacled ten-year-old appearing on Blue Peter or The Antiques Roadshow with his collection.

I didn’t even object to the Power Rangers Daleks, despite the cynical (and rather obvious) collect-the-set marketing ploy. It’s just that I don’t trust anyone at the New Who offices to be able to do anything interesting with the Daleks. And making the Daleks interesting is crucial to their success, and the very reason why so many of the post-2005 Dalek episodes have been second / third-rate: include the Nation’s Finest, and you’ve got a clear ratings winner, so there’s no need to actually come up with a story, just a different setting (Daleks in Churchill’s England / depression-era New York / the Black Forest). Chuck in a couple of cries of ‘Exterminate!’, add some trigger-happy military types who don’t know what they’re dealing with and who are certain to meet early and untimely deaths, and you’ve got yourself an episode. I’m not unremittingly nostalgic for Classic Who, but the unfortunate truth is that Dalek stories are lazy, because the last time they did anything genuinely interesting was back in 1988.

Things don’t improve with the second episode of the series which will, apparently, be called ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, which calls to mind obvious (and, one would assume, quite intentional) parallels with Snakes on a Plane. No episode with such a title, you may think, could possibly fail on any level. I’d counter thus:

1. The last time Doctor Who did dinosaurs, they were shit. The story wasn’t, but the dinosaurs were. I know they were on a shoestring, but still. Just saying.

2. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ is written by Chris Chibnall, who also wrote ’42’ and the season 5 Silurian episodes, all of which were shit.

3. Snakes on a Plane is also shit. It’s not even mindless entertainment, fine-if-you-don’t-take-it-seriously, so-bad-it’s-good shit. It’s just shit. Irredeemable shit.

I think that’s enough shit to be going on with, don’t you?

Meanwhile, at an arc level…

How did Moffat come up with the idea that the Doctor’s name was “the first question?” someone asks. “To be honest, it’s been there from a start. He never gives his name. Other Time Lords do, but he doesn’t. Clearly, his name is very important. Only I know why. We actually find out the truth” about the importance of the Doctor’s name.

That Doctor. His refusal to give his name is indeed unique, and categorically unacceptable. I was just discussing the sheer bloody-mindedness of it only the other evening, in the pub with my mates the Rani and the Master. That was before we were interrupted by the Other and the Meddling Monk, who wanted to borrow 20p for the pool table.

Elsewhere:

Someone brings up the idea that the Doctor leaves the brakes (the “blue boringers”) on when he flies the TARDIS — and Moffat notes that River Song was probably winding the Doctor up about that — because you might notice that when she flies the TARDIS, it still makes that same wheezing, groaning materialization noise.

Yawn, the brake-crunching, pull-to-open, needs-six-people-to-fly-it-TARDIS. But here’s a thought – and I voice it aloud despite the fact that it’s going to stomp all over everything I’ve just written. We might, to be honest, be at the stage where we have to stop taking these throwaway remarks seriously and just accept that the continuity of Who is one big mess. As, of course, one would it expect it to be, with a multitude of writers and guest writers and chief writers and script editors, all with their own ideas as to what the show should be, and that’s not to mention the novelisations and comics and BF productions, with inconsistencies and disputed canonicity. Consider, for example, the Doctor’s regeneration limit – established as twelve in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and adjusted accordingly thereafter until, in the SJA ‘Death of the Doctor’ story, it was mentioned by the Eleventh Doctor that “there isn’t one”, a story that was promptly picked up by the Guardian and made into a front page web article for a few hours on a Tuesday evening.

Moffat’s consistently making silly jokes, and while the remarks about the TARDIS brakes have no doubt stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate amongst the engineers who post at Outpost Gallifrey or wherever the fans hang out nowadays, there is nonetheless the strong possibility that he just put it in because he thought it was funny (and it could have been, except it came from River, who is irritating). Similarly, Father Christmas is probably not called Jeff (now that was funny) and the Doctor probably didn’t throw the TARDIS manual into a supernova (although I’m sure the story where he did just that exists somewhere). And yes, the pull-to-open thing in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ was wrong. But that’s the point. Under Moffat’s reign (and, to an extent, Davies’ before it), episode writing is a dialogue, a nod to the fans, an acknowledgement of their presence and – often – a subtle dig at them. Every episode is going to be pulled apart and analysed to death within hours of its transmission, and the writers know it. Such things are thus put in to purposely wind us up, and they succeed.

The truth is that Doctor Who can be whatever the chief writer wants it to be, because it’s transcended continuity. There are certain fundamental ground rules – no true love, no kissing, no beards – but that’s it. The fans have spent years shoehorning and explaining and reconciling continuity, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. For example, Tegan’s appearance in A Fix With Sontarans‘ is non-canon, because the story is non-canon, because it’s a story that occurs within the context of a children’s programme hosted by a chain-smoking northerner in a tracksuit – and the subsequent fanfiction attempts to reconcile Tegan with the Sixth Doctor, while undoubtedly well-meant, were frankly silly.

Besides, the Doctor lies. At least this one does, because that’s how Smith likes to play him and Moffat likes to write him – and ultimately they’re the ones calling the shots. Personally, I’d consider the revelation of the Doctor’s name to be a clear violation of one of the unwritten rules – but they’re myrules, not his. However much I may have whinged this evening, the fact remains that mine is a singular viewpoint, and my own views of what Who ought to be are always going to be different from even the most like-minded friend or colleague or fellow-blogger. Phillip Pullman said that writing isn’t a democracy, and Doctor Who – despite the collective input I mentioned earlier – isn’t really a Jungian collective. It’s whatever the person in charge makes it. The bottom line – and the only question we should really be concerning ourselves with, when all is said and done – is whether or not the creative decisions made at the top make for good television. Because ultimately that’s the only thing that really counts. So perhaps we should be viewing series 7 in that light. Roll on autumn – and bring on the dinosaurs.

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