Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth / Journey's End

The Stolen Earth

“Rose is coming back. Isn’t that good?”

The sight of a milkman shows us things are about to happen, Survival-style…and then immediately we’re straight into the Big Things Happening. Earth has disappeared! Martha’s back, with UNIT, in the USA! Torchwood! Sarah Jane and Luke. My, even RTD himself is getting a bit irritated with that fanfare of Mr Smith’s.

Things pretty much go on like this, really. More than any other episode this one is constantly “up”. This is what happens when an episode of Doctor Who gets a sugar rush. We get Wilf and Sylvia. Rose! The Shadow Proclamation. Ooh. Thing is, it’s nice to see the Judoon again but the whole Proclamation is a bit disappointing, little more than a “posh name for police”. Still, we learn the truth behind all this season’s missing planets, sort of. “Someone tried to move the Earth once before. Long time ago.” So the Daleks are trying to attract the Doctor’s attention by means of continuity references to The Dalek Invasion of Earth? Well, why not…

The excitement keeps on coming. Davros! Dalek Caan! And he’s utterly doo-lally, courtesy of a particularly great performance by Nick Briggs! Not all bees are aliens, apparently. Good to know. And I love Wilf’s paint gun. “My vision is not impaired!”- this is RTD’s last chance to play with the Daleks and he’s bloody well going to have fun with them. Quite right too. And the Doctor was taken to see the Medusa Cascade when he was “a kid, about 90 years old”.

Things now get serious. Donna has to reassure the Doctor that things are going to be ok. Harriet Jones (yes, we know who she is) heroically sacrifices her life to bring the Doctor to Earth. Rose can’t manage to become anyone’s friend on Space Facebook.

We’re told Davros died in the Time War. The Doctor is devastated to see him again. He’s now played by Julian Bleach, who is fantastic, instantly better than anyone since Michael Wisher. The mask in particular is far superior to anything we’ve seen before, with facial muscles and everything. It seems Dalek Caan managed to get into the Time War, time locked though it was, but at the cost of his mind. And Davros created a whole new race of Daleks from his own cells, Kaled cells, so they’re pure-blooded Aryan Daleks. Urgh. Of course, Dalek Caan predicted all this. In no way will these predictions rebound on the Daleks in an ironic way. Oh no.

We end with the Doctor and Rose running towards each other’s arms, but the Doctor is shot by a passing Dalek. And we end with the ultimate cliffhanger. So who’s he going to regenerate into next week? My money’s on that Simon Cowell fellow.

Journey’s End

“This is a fully-fledged Dalek empire at the height of its powers. They can do anything.”

…Well, well, well. That cliffhanger resolution was simultaneously an inspired work of genius and an utter cheat. Plus the Doctor starts acting vain again. Grr. Still, Mickey and Jackie are back. Yay! And, er, there are no Daleks on Francine’s street, apparently. How convenient.

But… Donna touches the Doctor’s magic hand in a jar and creates some kind of half human “Doc 2”. Er… sorry, but this is silly. Still, at least this presumably gets rid of the hand forever. It was starting to outstay its welcome. After a bit of exposition the two of them take a break from the story for a bit so they can tread water until their next appearance on stage in the final act. Meanwhile, Jack escapes from captivity by cunningly getting himself killed.

Surprisingly, the talk about Donna’s “destiny” sort of works; a human / Time Lord meta-crisis is a big space / time event which sends ripples backwards as well as forwards. It’s also an interesting twist that Davros, confined to the vault, is not in charge and is merely kept around for amusement by his somewhat ungrateful offspring! Also intriguing is Dalek Caan’s insistence that “One of them will die!” This will be followed through, right?

There follows an extremely interesting scene in which Julian Bleach is outstanding. Davros draws together a lot of the thematic threads of this season as the Doctor’s companions start threatening the Daleks with weapons of mass destruction. Who exactly was it that made them like this? Why exactly is it that Martha is working for an ethically dubious military outfit in the first place, for that matter? “The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.” Thing is… genuinely brilliant this exploration of the Doctor’s character though this is, I tend to think it’s based on a misunderstanding of the Doctor’s character that has been growing for a long while, perhaps even since McCoy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s the Doctor would occasionally use guns when he had to, without any qualms. He’s never been a pacifist. He didn’t used to think that weapons were unethical if used in the right cause, merely that they cramped his style. Far cooler to walk around unarmed and defeat the baddies through cleverness and wit. And blow them up at the end, of course.

The Doctor’s perceived ethical faults are thrown into sharp relief by the Daleks’ plans, of course. With the Reality Bomb they intend to destroy the entire universe outside their own little bubble in which they are somehow apparently going to survive, thereby ethnically cleansing the entire universe. Nasty.

Still, Sarah Jane and Davros get a touching little reunion. How nice.

Anyway, Doc 2 and Donna emerge, and Donna saves the universe. I love this bit. Unfortunately the TARDIS towing the Earth back to its rightful position is exactly as silly as people keep saying it is, and these overcrowded TARDIS scenes feel uncomfortably like fanwank. There are some insights here, though- Sarah Jane so misses the point in telling the Doctor that he’s “got the biggest family on Earth” immediately before they all bugger off and leave him alone. Mickey, by now a real action hero, returns to “our” Earth, following Jack and Martha, while Jack and Martha say goodbye with a salute, interestingly in the light of what Davros said earlier. It’s particularly interesting that Jack is trying to persuade Martha to leave UNIT.

And then we have Bad Wolf Bay. I can see the cleverness in how this is done, but I really don’t like it. It’s such a cop out for Rose (who’s been somewhat neglected, inevitably) to settle with a half human ersatz Doctor she knows deep down isn’t the real deal. Yes, it’s clever of RTD to try and tell us that this Doctor is vengeful, as he was when he and Rose first met, and needs Rose to make him into a better person as she did with the real Doctor, but emotionally this feels very wrong to me.

As for Donna, I’m not sure about this either. Yes, it’s sad, but frustratingly so rather than tear-jerkingly so. The character deserved better. She was magnificent.

Still, aside from some unsatisfying character departures and a little too much of a fanwank feel towards the end this is epic Doctor Who at its best. 4/5.

As for the season- better than remembered. It joins four other seasons in joint eighth with exactly 4/5.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Doctor Who: Turn Left

“You’re not gonna make the world any better by shouting at it.”

Right. This is me back. The final push starts now. Still, it looks as though Series Three of The Sarah Jane Adventures won’t be out on DVD till November 1st, so there would have had to have been a hiatus, and it’s all worked out quite well.

Er, that’s the best excuse I can think of, anyway. Back to Turn Left

It’s the pre-titles sequence, and the Doctor and Donna are nosing about on the Planet Of The Ever So Slightly Dodgy Ethnic Stereotypes. Donna sees a fortune teller (ever so slightly dodgy ethnic stereotyping within slightly dodgy ethnic stereotyping?), who seems uncannily similar to our late friend Chantho. Said fortune teller proceeds to use her alien reality-warping powers to force Donna to re-enact scenes from Planet of the Spiders. So that’s what all the “something on your back” foreshadowing was about.

Billie Piper’s name is in the credits. Ooh! And then it’s straight into that old TV sci-fi stand-by; the alternate universe. This is a trope which never fails, although sadly nothing can ever trump the example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which had Evil Willow in it. Mmm… Evil Willow…

The episode is of course all about Donna, and thus reliant on Catherine Tate to put in a good performance. She really comes up trumps; this is probably the finest individual performance of any member of the regular cast in Doctor Who ever, even after Tennant’s stellar performance last episode. It’s also the Doctor-lite story, of course, and by far the most successful, being about the Doctor’s absence in a way no previous example has been.

We get to see a parade of recent episodes, starting with the appearance of the Racnoss star, except that this time Donna has been promoted, and so is both materially more successful- for now- and shallower than she would have been. She isn’t there to stop the Doctor, and so he dies. This is what we alternate history geeks (*cough* Alternatehistory.com *cough*) call the “point of departure” or “POD”, and it’s interesting to consider this story as an example of this sub-genre. Because, on the one hand, the world changes entirely because of one apparently minor decision by an apparently ordinary person, yet there is also an awful lot of convergence as regards the alien invasions. It looks as though the butterfly effect hasn’t spread as far as the Adipose or the planet Sto. It’s a nice touch how the Doctors could-have-been companions (especially Martha) all get noble deaths. Of course, the Master never gives his pocket watch a second thought in this reality! It isn’t Harold Saxon who order’s the destruction of the Racnoss ship, I notice.

Oh, and how come the satellite pictures of the falling Titanic seem to be looking from the ground up? Ahem.

This is a very different Donna, at least on the surface: her reaction to being laid off does not present her in a good light, and she shows no interest in Wilf’s alien obsession. But this is the last point in the story in which she’s relatively untested by adversity. And Sylvia’s casually delivered “To be honest, I’ve given up on you” hits like a punch.

Donna is visited a number of times by a very Doctorish Rose, and her reaction is a little more accepting each time, showing how the hardships she suffers bring out her resourcefulness. Things start to get very dark, giving us a glimpse into the bleak world view that lurks behind RTD’s light touch, as also seen last episode (interesting comment by Nuallain on Midnight about RTD using his last chance to write the sort of crowd-pleasing episode which Moffat has so far had the luxury of writing- we seem to have another example of this here). The inhabitants of radiation-soaked southern England become refugees, France has closed its borders, people are billeted, dozens to a property, in the residential streets of northern cities while the army patrols outside; there’s some kind of “emergency government”; and finally the obvious foreigners, including a rather likeable example of the ever so slightly dodgy ethnic stereotypes, are sent off to “labour camps”. It’s not spelled out for the kids, but Wilf knows exactly what’s going on.

Sylvia, by this point, is quite horribly, cripplingly depressed; Jacqueline King portrays this brilliantly. Her final scene with Donna (“I suppose I’ve always been a disappointment.” “…Yeah…”) is understated and utterly heartbreaking.

It’s clear something is coming; not only is Rose warning of “The Darkness” that’s coming. We seem to have heard this before; a very similar phrasing was used in They Keep Killing Suzie. But far more effective is Wilf’s realisation that the stars are going out. So on we zoom towards the final scenes, with a Rose so Doctorish she might as well start calling herself Romana, a dying TARDIS, and a nice little re-enactment of the mirrors scene from Kinda. Catherine Tate really is sublime here in her delivery of every line- I love her desperate denial of her own certain death. Well, sort of certain. It’s a bit timey-wimey.

Everything returns to normal with Donna’s sacrifice, the Doctor notes all the odd coincidences surrounding Donna’s life, and the phrase “Bad Wolf” suddenly appears everywhere for no obvious reason. That’ll be a season finale coming up, then.

Brilliant. Something that could only be attempted once, so it’s great that it was done well. The amount of fanwank was nicely judged, nice but not excessive, and there was just the right amount of dystopian pessimism. And then there’s Catherine Tate. Wow. Best actress in Doctor Who ever. 5/5.