Posts Tagged With: orphan 55

Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part one)

It’s a good discipline, writing for other sites besides your own. It gives you an awareness of different audiences. Blogs make for a tendency towards self-indulgence; it’s easy to embark on bouts of madcap silliness, unnecessary sidetracking anecdotes that could easily be trimmed; or excessive waffle. None of this is particularly harmful, but when you’re working for someone else – whether paid or unpaid – you generally have to rein it in.

I’ve been writing for The Doctor Who Companion for the last four years, and its predecessor, Kasterborous, for some time before that. It is an eclectic mix of features and analysis, run by a team of writers with diverse views and opinions, united by their love of Doctor Who. My pieces for them tend to be features, exploring particular aspects: for example, what do TARDIS reveals tell us about the companions witnessing them? Is there a case to be made for headcanon? And if the Doctor were a biscuit, what sort would she be? The editor is a thoroughly nice chap, willing to indulge my occasionally ridiculous prose and lengthy discourses, (“I don’t care that it’s long,” he tells me. “The readers can take it. We’re not BuzzFeed.”)

Series reviews work like this: episodes are assigned to individual writers (or we volunteer for them) and published soon after initial broadcast. A few days later, we’ll publish collective reviews from the other writers, three-hundred word summaries of their thoughts and feelings on the story of the week. And it’s a tradition at BoM that I’ll eventually gather them up and reproduce all my contributions in here.

This year’s assembly took a little longer than originally anticipated – the DWC was offline for quite some time in early spring as we rebuilt it, and then all this happened. So it’s been a good few months since ‘The Timeless Children’, which may not be a bad thing because we were all thoroughly sick of the shouting, weren’t we? For some of you, this collection of rambling thoughts will be a chance to revisit and reappraise episodes you haven’t seen in a while; you may find that your opinions have changed. For others, it’ll be a reminder of pointless cameos and tedious plot twists. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to keep your head down over the next week or so, because I’m doing these in batches.

Links to the full write-ups have been provided where they exist, but unfortunately a few articles got lost in the migration process and we’re still trying to get them back. At least you’ll be able to read my contributions, if nothing else. Oh, and as you go through these, you may eventually come to the conclusion that I wasn’t taking this brief entirely seriously. You’d be right. I no longer take Doctor Who seriously; as a consequence, I now find it tremendously fun to watch.

 

Spyfall, Part One

Somewhat awkwardly for an opener, I reviewed this one, so there is no summary. But here’s a paragraph that’s as good a precis as I can provide:

‘I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). Spyfall strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably okay: some people like candy floss.’

DWC write-up

Spyfall, Part Two

‘There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of an ashened, ruined Gallifrey some 10 or 15 minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about its destruction. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the torched citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands, there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking blank and forlorn?

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of Deadly Assassin aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed.

The rest of it is average: Graham is enjoying his laser shoes, while Yaz has apparently forgotten how to be a police officer, having decided that her role this week is to sit in the corner and look helpless while the men get to have all the fun. But the biggest problem with Skyfall Part 2 is that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel 200 years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine – the pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that the only people who tend to listen are stranded in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. There is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.’

DWC write-up

Orphan 55

INT. RAINBOW HOUSE. DAY

[On an unimpressive CRT television, the Rainbow personnel – GEORGE, ZIPPY, BUNGLE and GEOFFREY – are watching the closing credits of Orphan 55.]

GEORGE: Ooh, that was wonderful, Geoffrey! So exciting!

GEOFFREY: Yes, it was, George, wasn’t it?

BUNGLE: Yes! All those aliens and things blowing up! Ka-BOOOOM!!! But I did wonder, Geoffrey –

GEOFFREY: What did you wonder, Bungle?

BUNGLE: Why did the Doctor take everyone with her to go and rescue Benni? Wasn’t it dangerous for them all?

GEOFFREY: Well, I expect it would have been quite dangerous for them to have stayed, wouldn’t it? All those creatures running around trying to gobble them up. I know what you mean, though. I thought they might have put something in about that.

GEORGE: Perhaps we just couldn’t hear it, Geoffrey. They do talk awfully fast, don’t they?

BUNGLE: Yes. Still, at least there weren’t any frogs this time.

ZIPPY: Huh. Well, I thought it was rubbish. All those stupid monsters!

GEOFFREY: Didn’t you find them scary, Zippy? I know George did. [George is clutching at his blanket and whimpering softly.]

ZIPPY: Why would I find them scary when I share a bed with this lot? And the ending was boring.

BUNGLE: It was supposed to be warning us about climate change, Zippy!

ZIPPY: I already know that, Bungle Bonce. I still thought it was silly. Why did they have to go on and on about saving the planet?

GEOFFREY: Well, because it’s important, Zippy! We’ve only got one planet, haven’t we? We’ve all got to work together to take care of it.

ZIPPY: I do take care of it!

GEORGE: Is that why you always throw your crisp packets over the garden wall?

ZIPPY: I don’t!

GEOFFREY [brandishing a selection of cellophane wrappers]: Oh, yes you do. I found three of them there this morning!

ZIPPY: Yes but – well… [He harrumphs and rests his head on a floppy hand.]

BUNGLE: It’s funny, though. I don’t remember seeing Yas this week. What was she doing?

[There is a thoughtful silence, with gratuitous head scratching and chin-rubbing, as the four of them consider this.]

GEOFFREY: Oh well, never mind. I expect she was there somewhere. The Doctor needs to have someone standing around looking gormless.

ZIPPY: Yeah. You’d know about that, Geoffrey.

GEORGE: Oh, Zippy. You’re such a tw*t.

BUNGLE: Well, I do know one thing. I don’t think I’d want to go on holiday to a place like Tranquility Spa.

GEOFFREY: Oh? Why not, Bungle? Are you worried about furry things that look even less realistic than you do?

BUNGLE: No! I haven’t got any swimming shorts that fit me!

ZIPPY: You walk around the house stark naked!

BUNGLE: Well, yes, but I put my pyjamas on at bedtime, don’t I?

GEORGE: That engineer was funny, wasn’t he? His little boy knew much more than him. I felt like that was trying to tell us something, but I can’t really work it out.

BUNGLE: Ooh, Geoffrey! Rod, Jane and Freddie know a song about dysfunctional family relationships, don’t they?

GEOFFREY: Yes, you’re right, Bungle. Do you know, I think I’ve got a cassette somewhere. I’ll see if I can fish it out. But before we listen to it, I think we’d better say goodbye, don’t you? [Through the fourth wall] We’ll see you again soon. Take care of yourselves. Goodbye!

OTHERS: Buh-bye!

DWC write-up

 

Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror

‘I have a question for the floor. Why is it that, whenever Number Thirteen meets anyone famous, it takes half the episode for the penny to drop? Mistaken identity often enhances a narrative, but it jars when the pudding is overegged. Are we really supposed to believe that there isn’t a visual dictionary in the library, or that no one checks the readouts to see when and where they’ve actually landed? It’s happened twice this year, once with Ada Lovelace and once with the pioneering inventor who graced last night’s episode, and on both occasions the audience has been quicker on the uptake than the Doctor – who manages to wander into and escape from the Niagara Falls power station without having a clue that she’s in the presence of the man responsible for building it.

I’m not going to say that’s my only hang-up with this episode – we could also talk about the historical revisionism, the TARDIS crew’s apparent apathy to new wonders and situations and the sub-par villains (honestly, when did Doctor Who monsters get so dull?) but this was, perhaps, the first time this year it’s felt like we were actually watching the show as it used to be, for better or worse. Here’s a litmus test: you remove Whittaker from the equation and you substitute another Doctor and it still works. In this case, it’s quite easy to imagine Tesla happening with Tennant at the helm, perhaps in the company of the perenially clueless Martha. Certainly the story has that vibe to it: a world on the brink of destruction, the tortured nature of misunderstood genius and the hungry prejudice of a placard-carrying mob.

We might question why the Skithra opted for Tesla, rather than someone who’s actually going to understand the technology they’re throwing at him, but this was never really about them: it’s about Tesla and Edison and the rivalry between them. That Tesla is whitewashed while Edison is made something of a pariah should come as no great surprise to anyone, but it’s to Nina Metivier’s credit that she avoids turning the light bulb pioneer into an out-and-out villain: Edison gloats and generally behaves rather selfishly, but he also expresses remorse over the loss of his staff (“These were men with families!”), he doesn’t cut and run, he doesn’t try and sell out Tesla to the villain of the week, and at the end he extends a hand of friendship, even if he’s only following the money. A well-rounded supporting character. In Doctor Who. And there was me thinking we’d left those days behind.’

The DWC writeup is currently missing. We are checking behind the sofa.
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Have I Got Whos For You (Easter Bank Holiday Edition)

“Huh.”

River wasn’t expecting this.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid I will have to ask you to move on.”

“Order 66.”

“…son?”

And in a back garden somewhere in Oxfordshire…

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part two)

I’m sure you’re all reeling from Sunday. I know the internet in general is. It’s been the usual heady mixture of excitement, outrage and fear: How dare they, the haters seem to be asking, how dare they spring another Doctor on us AND SCREW UP THE NUMBERING? Never mind the fact that THERE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE ANY EARLIER DOCTORS THAN HARTNELL BECAUSE HARTNELL, and it could be between Troughton and Pertwee because, you know, we never actually saw that and BESIDES THE TWO DOCTORS, and…oh, look, you get the idea. It’s funny what happens when you set a precedent – there we all were, grumbling about how every Doctor is announced years in advance with a flurry of trumpets, and then all of a sudden Chibnall drops a new one on us out of nowhere and absolutely no one knew it was coming, and now it’s supposedly a disaster. I say be careful what you wish for.

Anyway, while we work on this week’s conspiracy post (and it’s going to be a cracker, you just wait) here’s a little oasis of calm and tranquility, taking the form of a meme roundup from episodes three and four. First –

Having brought Graham his highball, the Doctor asks if she can take off the butler’s uniform.

It must be said: this year’s Love Island looks shit.

Having gone out early, Jodie Whittaker curses to herself when she remembers what day it is.

And somewhere else entirely (or maybe not) the Twelfth Doctor picks up a couple of hitchhikers.

“Yeah, I can take you as far as Canada…”

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God Is In The Detail (12-03)

Greetings, fair traveller. Welcome to Tranquility Spa, a place to relax and unwind and escape from the hubbub and stress of everyday life. We invite you to sit down, take the weight of your feet and catch up with this week’s list of VERY IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that you might have missed while watching the Doctor and her fam run around the scorched Earth. Luckily, I’ve written them all down. You may thank me later.

You’ll recall, fairly early during the episode’s running time, that the intrepid foursome ran out of the main building on Tranquility Spa and found themselves up against a brick wall – or at least a reasonably disguised barrier. To those of us who’d seen The Truman Show, it was familiar territory – and like everything else in the story it erupted at breakneck speed, which meant it was easy to miss what was going on when the Doctor examined that energy wall. Let’s slow down the action and take a closer look.

Believe it or not, this relates to Turlough. Notice the chequered pattern that makes up the slab’s exterior? We may, if we squint, count the Doctors in squares – the top line is Doctors 1-3, while 4-6 and 7-9 appear beneath. This means that the red square right in the middle of the board corresponds with Davison’s Doctor, and thus the portal we can see behind his square is themed around the idea of centres – the Doctor, of course, having visited the centre of the universe during the events of ‘Terminus’. (While we’re talking about red squares, we should also point out that the Eighth Doctor – represented directly beneath the Fifth – visited Red Square in Revolution Man. But of course you all knew that.)

“Yes, that’s all very well,” I can hear you all ask, “but why Turlough?” Well, have a look at this.

Notice the five illuminated markings round the edge? And the 20.5% in the middle? That wasn’t an accident. It stands, unless I’m very much mistaken (and I’m not) for Fifth Doctor, season 20, story 5 – also known as ‘Enlightenment’, in which Turlough faced up to the Black Guardian and redeemed himself, even though Tegan never fully trusted him. This probably all sounds a bit tunous, but lest we forget, the name Turlough comes from the Irish turlach, meaning ‘dry place’ – it’s a village in County Mayo and, more interestingly, a city in California with the zip codes 9538095381 and 95382 – corresponding DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY with the years that Davison (represented by 5) signed the contract, first appeared on screen and then made his debut properly (80, 81 and 82 respectively). Oh, and the 3? The number of stories in the Black Guardian trilogy, of course. Need I point out that Mark Strickson was born in ’59, the reverse of 95? I need not.

The next image may be a little difficult to see close up, but suffice it to say that the cameras that make up its four separate sections are all numbered. Assuming that we can ascribe each number to a separate Doctor – and factoring in that Whittaker is technically the Fourteenth incarnation, if one factors in John Hurt – we can make connections as follows:

Let’s split it up and look for clues. As you can see, the top half of this is to do with zip codes: the numbers at the bottom of each video display each correspond to separate zip codes, creating a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS link to some unannounced (but long-rumoured) content from Big Finish. First up is an untitled Short Trip, narrated by Katie Manning, in which the Third Doctor and Jo visit Maine in 1984 and fall foul of a mysterious alien race wanting to invade Earth via the phone lines. There then follows an upcoming Sixth Doctor adventure in which the TARDIS materialises in nineteenth century Hartford, where they discover the inspiration for Injun Joe was a stranded Sontaran. According to the grapevine it features a sequence where the travellers keep missing Twain by a matter of minutes, prompting the Doctor to quip “And ne’er the Twain shall meet”, to which Peri rolls her eyes.

The bottom half is all about words: you’ll see that these two cameras are focused on the Tropical Vista Zone and the Peaceful Paradise Zone, both of which sound like levels from an abandoned Sonic The Hedgehog title. However, if we are to combine the words ‘Tropical Vista’ and ‘Peaceful Paradise’ and then rearrange the letters, you can see that we get ‘AFAR PLURAL APPOSITE VISIT’, which is a blatant reference to the recently released Thirteenth Doctor comic strip, in which Whittaker’s Doctor has a close enounter with Tennant’s Doctor during the events of ‘Blink’. Am I saying that the Scorched Earth we saw in ‘Orphan 55’ is linked to the unresolved cliffhanger from Class? No, I am not. I leave the dot-joining to you.

Next time: Melanie Brown…

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Review: Orphan 55

My American contacts sometimes tell me they have to watch Doctor Who with subtitles. “It’s the accent,” they insist. “It’s just too thick. We can’t understand what people are saying.” Having dug a little deeper, I’ve determined that the accent is only part of the equation: the real reason, it turns out, is the relentless pace at which dialogue drops out of the air, as if the cast had a sweepstake going to see how quickly Jodie Whittaker could get through a scene. For someone who claims not to have watched a great deal of Doctor Who she certainly knows her Tennant: nobody did caffeine-fuelled exposition quite like he did; at least nobody until now.

Whittaker’s penchant for technobabble almost proves her undoing tonight – “You talk too much”, one supporting character observes, and indeed it is this insistence on explaining everything at breakneck speed that causes the Doctor to drain her oxygen supply at the most inconvenient of moments. But that’s all right, because she’s just bumped into the surprisingly affable Dreg Chief, emerging from the shadows in a heaving mass of muscles and teeth to provide a crucial plot development. The Dregs, you see, are what humanity is destined to become if we don’t get our act together: mindless, permanently enraged half-people, attacking in mobs and incapable of anything resembling coherent language. Is this science fiction, or have they been at a Britain First rally?

‘Orphan 55’ is the tale of what happens when you don’t tell your friends why you’re miserable: having beaten off an unnamed, mostly unseen tentacled monstrosity just before we catch up with them at the story’s opening, the gang elect to take a holiday on Tranquility Spa, which looks rather like a European conference centre with an outdoor pool. Greeted by an unsightly dog (we really are in Spaceballs territory here), the Doctor swiftly finds herself alone and abandoned as her pals go off to explore on their own – and although it’s literally a matter of seconds before trouble starts, Whittaker looks, for a moment, just about as vulnerable and human as we’ve ever seen her. It is a lovely vignette that is over before it’s had the chance to really begin, and its brevity sets the tone for what follows: forty-five minutes of guns and explosions and noble self-sacrificing geriatrics, where ecosystems and corporate structures and scientific principles are all half-discussed, half-shouted in a flurry of exposition while several people run down a darkened corridor or panic over a computer terminal. It’s all horribly confusing in places, and if Ed Hime’s last effort (the atrocious ‘It Takes You Away’) suffered heavily from the complete absence of a plot, his follow-up suffers from having rather too much of one, which presumably means that Chibnall has to invite him back next year to see if he can nail it the third time.

Said plot revolves around the rather excessive security forces populating the facility, not to mention the sudden brownouts, which are enough for the Doctor to smell a rat – or at least a worm, which she yanks from Ryan’s mouth in what is the episode’s funniest sequence. Elsewhere Yas has bumped into a cheerful elderly pair and Graham just wants to lounge on a deckchair in a cardigan like a Kay’s catalogue model, but it isn’t long before the lights go out and the sirens go up, and then there is a gunfight in a corridor and the first of several deaths. Tranquility Spa is an onion of intrigue, hiding layers of revelatory insight, each layer darker and more intriguing than the last, and so the Doctor and her friends leave the safety of the hotel’s gleaming interiors to uncover them all – although it’s a decision that at least three of them will live to regret.

Along the way they run into the usual motley crew of supporting characters. Bella (Gia Re) is a troubled young woman hiding a dull family secret. Vilma (Julia Foster) is a surprisingly spritely pensioner who provides the catalyst for the story’s second act when the Doctor launches a rescue operation to find her kidnapped boyfriend. Nevi (James Buckley) is a middle-aged Oompa Loompa who didn’t realise that Bring Your Child To Work Day was last week; his role is to stand around looking entirely gormless while his son Silas (His Dark Materials’ Lewin Lloyd) does all the thinking. None of these people are very interesting and I have gone to the trouble of writing down their names and who played them in order to give you a handy reference guide, because you will have forgotten every single one of them by Wednesday, if not sooner. You’re welcome.

The second half of ‘Orphan 55’ is pure Terry Nation: there’s a bomb, and someone twists an ankle. The gang split off into factions to try and save themselves from certain death, with lessons learned and familial bonds strengthened at the eleventh hour. That said, I can’t for the life of me remember what Yas was doing: a couple of early scenes aside, Mandip Gill really has been horribly underwritten this series, to the extent that if she had slipped into the crack of erasure that swallowed Rory Williams, not even the audience would notice. It’s a shame, because there is an innocent sweetness to Gill that made her one of the most endearing facets of Whittaker’s first year, and to see her confined to the sidelines in this manner is frustrating, particularly when she’s clearly talented.

All inadequacies aside, it’s at least a lot of fun to watch, and things are breezing along quite well until the last minute and a half, when a dejected crew stand around the TARDIS console wondering if there’s any point to anything. It’s left to their captain to reveal, with all the subtlety of a presidential Tweet, that this apocalyptic future happened because of man’s inhumanity to man – and, what’s more, we can change it. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that generally speaking we can’t: awkward moments in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ aside, Doctor Who is very much a predestination show, the parallel timelines of Back to the Future confined gracefully to the waste bin of unused plot devices, except when it’s really important to the narrative or the writers are simply bored. Or when some suited executive sends down a fax asking them to tone it down so the kids don’t get too scared, because they really want to stay on the right side of Ofcom now the election’s over, and isn’t Greta going to find it all a bit defeatist? Or perhaps Chibnall felt the story needed a rewrite. Or perhaps there was no tinkering at all: perhaps it was simply Hine erecting a soapbox in the TARDIS (which is understandable; Whittaker’s only five foot six). The net result, regardless of its point of origin, is a watered-down environmental message that undoubtedly serves its purpose, assuming that purpose was to send the episode crashing through the floor right at the end of its denoument. “It’s only a possible future,” the Doctor insists, calmly, to which there really ought to be a unilateral cry of ‘Bollocks’.

There was a Guardian thinkpiece this week – I’m not linking to it; it’s ridiculously misguided – that said Doctor Who wasn’t woke; it was more offensive than ever, and proceeded to tell us why (their argument was basically “Token trans characters and the black people died”). At the other end of the scale, I was told this evening that including a climate change message was pandering to the Woke brigade – something I don’t fully understand, as there’s nothing Woke about climate change and there never really has been; it’s simple common sense. I don’t know where we go from there, but if you’re in a place where Doctor Who is offending both sides of the fandom, you’re either getting it colossally right or colossally wrong. I really would like to say it’s the former, but every week it becomes harder to make that call. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of bad decisions this year – it may be Chibnall, it may be someone else, but the net result is a TV programme that’s in danger of losing its identity – at least last year we knew what Doctor Who was, even if it wasn’t something we immediately recognised, and if these last three weeks have proven anything it’s that indulging in transparent fan service is only going to erode whatever identity you were in the process of forging (which is what happened to the last Star Wars film). There is, somewhere underneath, a terrific show in series 12 waiting to get out, but it’s not one we’ve thus far been allowed to see. Instead we’re presented with a glossy, outwardly respectable veneer – a Tranquility Spa of slick marketing videos and idyllic publicity stills and a hype train loaded with goodness – that hides a dark underbelly of something rotten. It’s just a question of how long everyone can survive before the walls cave in.

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