Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Nineteen

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Castrovalva – Sorry, Bidmead, your explanation of a scientific principle has once again gone way over my head, although I do now have an appreciation for the works M. C. Escher. The decision to have reasonably new characters deal with something huge like a change of Doctor (who is then MIA for much of the episode) means they don’t really get a chance to establish themselves, and makes me feel like I’ve had a new main cast thrust on me without getting to know them. We at least got to know the eleventh Doctor and Amy before they established themselves as the new stars. Let’s talk about Tegan: despite who she later becomes, in her early episodes she is quite resourceful; in the previous story we saw her stand up for the oppressed, and she has the take-charge attitude you’d want from someone who may one day have to guide you through a plane crash. Although, I have to take her to task for calling Brisbane uncomplex and cut off from the rest of universe – what nonsense; we even have our own Dalek. Anthony Ainley is, again, much better playing an old man who becomes the Master, rather than the Master himself. Although, it does raise the question, if the Master’s gone to all this trouble to trap/kill the Doctor (at least, I think that’s his motivation) why is he so determined to guide the Doctor through the trauma of regeneration. In any other era, this would be a part of their complicated history of best friends who became enemies, but not so here. The interior of the TARDIS gets a good showing here, with some clever camera trickery managing to make a few wall flats look like a labyrinth. The special effects for realising the recursive occlusion in Castrovalva are not bad for their time, and even today I can’t imagine how they’d realise the idea on Doctor Who’s budget. It wastes too much time with the Doctor out the action, but it isn’t that bad at all. 6/10

Four to Doomsday – Ah, Adric. There’s the whiny, know-it-all, sexist traitor we know and hate. It’s surprising, though, after marathoning the whole series over the past few years, it’s only this one story where Adric is the insufferable prig we all remember. As if to even it out, the Doctor calls him a little idiot, and Tegan knocks him unconscious. The biggest mistake JNT and Eric Saward made was thinking that having the TARDIS crew not get along would be dramatic and interesting, but it just makes it unpleasant. Like Tegan, Ian and Barbara wanted to get back home, and they still managed to find enjoyment and wonder in their travels. Speaking of Tegan; an incredible artist, and fluent in a 35,000-year-old Aboriginal language; is this woman the most talented companion the Doctor’s ever had? Why the heck is she wasting her time being an air stewardess. I don’t know if I’m just imagining it, but I have this idea that the Doctor in space was achieved by Peter Davison sliding around on an office chair. And once that image is in your head, you’ll never get rid of it. ‘Pass the sodium chloride.’ Ugh; as Bill might say, my hair is cringing. The idea that Monarch believes himself to be God, and wants to travel back to the creation of the universe to prove himself right in an interesting motivation for a bad guy. But then nothing he does seems to drive towards this motivation. Why continually travel between Earth and Urbanka? Why take samples of humans? Why only decide to invade on your fifth visit? And why, oh why must I watch the tedious recreationals over and over again? A boring story with a toxic cast of main characters. 3/10

Kinda – Just accept that you won’t understand most of it and enjoy for the big crazy weirdness that it is. I actually like the snake here better than I do in Snakedance – it has the same uncanny valley quality to it that made me absolutely terrified of the Muppets for years. But what does the monster matter in a story that is all about ideas. Tegan trapped in a weird dreamscape where she’s psychologically tortured until she agrees to be possessed is probably one of the worst things a companion has been through. The Kinda are a fascinating culture; the implication is that they’re so far advanced they’ve gone beyond petty industry and colonisation and have reached nirvana. Hindle manages to be a terrifying antagonist (like Rimmer from Red Dwarf, but with even less ability to cope) but at the end, you’re happy that he’s better. ‘You can’t mend people,’ indeed. Laugh of the episode comes from ‘Leave him to the mercy of the trees,’/‘No. Trees have no mercy,’/ *deadpan* ‘Of course, I was forgetting.’ Seeing military man Sanders reduced to a smiling man child is off-putting and creepy. And of course, there’s the greatest companion the Doctor never had, Nerys Hughs as Todd. She is the perfect companion for Peter Davison’s Doctor – asking all the right questions, compassionate, even understanding an alien culture better than the Doctor. And surely, JNT, if you wanted ‘something for the dads,’ Todd’s hot scientist look is much more… appealing than fairy princess Nyssa or Ronald McDonald’s long lost sister Tegan. Every time I watch this story I found myself screaming ‘take her with you’ come the end of part four. Go on, Big Finish, makes some Five/Todd adventures, you know you want to. 10/10

The Visitation – The main cast is so bloated, I can understand why they decided to have just one supporting character. Unfortunately, Richard Mace isn’t really a strong enough character to carry such a burden, and seems to spend most of his time awkwardly reacting to whatever the Doctor and companions are talking about, slowing down the story (e.g. “What are these words you are using”). I don’t know if it’s the writing or the acting, but Mace’s theatrical dialogue never sounds as natural as similar dialogue coming from the mouth of Henry Gordon Jago. Here’s a strange logic circle: Eric Saward wrote The Visitation because he liked stories where the Doctor was responsible for some historical incident; but there weren’t really that many stories like this until Saward did it; BUT this still manages to feel tired and derivative. I can’t stand the confusion in my mind. The local yokels are so quick to blame the Doctor and friends for everything, they might as well have just been under Tereleptil control from the beginning. The historical sets all look very nice; the Tereleptils are terribly pretty, and their animatronic faces are impressive, even if the poor things can’t walk. The line about the sonic screwdriver’s destruction feeling like they’ve killed an old friend is weird in two ways. Not only is just an odd thing for anyone to say, but the Sonic Screwdriver has always been just a tool – it’s not like they killed K9. So, a tin ear for dialogue and obvious pandering to the fans without bothering to understand them. A portent of things to come. 5/10

Black Orchid – It’s an odd thing, this story. It feels more like the kind of adventure that gets mentioned in another story, rather than being a televised story in its own right. I adore Nyssa’s butterfly dress. Can someone make that for me? I’m convinced the TARDIS purposefully seeks out people who look like the Doctor and his friends for a laugh. I was surprised last time I watched, that the first episode is actually quite enjoyable. It’s pure fluff, of course, but when watched in context with all the episodes preceding it, it’s a welcome relief to have an episode of the regulars having fun rather than sniping at each other. It’s a pity that so many stupid things happen in part two; the Doctor telling George that Nyssa isn’t Ann just moments after insisting that he mustn’t found out he’s got the wrong girl; the policeman whose reaction to a transcendental time and space machine is ‘strike me pink’; the Doctor’s belief that having said transcendental time and space machine and being guilty of murder are mutually exclusive. Not intolerable, but below average for a show that’s capable of being so much more imaginative and intelligent. If you’re looking for a good time with your Black Orchid DVD, you’ll be better off turning the commentary on. 4/10

Earthshock – I’m sorry, I just don’t think Doctor Who can be an action film. It’s not just a matter of budget; Doctor Who is just too optimistically whimsical for the kind of gritty atmosphere of action. I’m going to save a lot of my problems with Eric Saward’s approach for a later story, because this is probably the best of ‘the Eric Saward Returning-Monster Massacre Quadrilogy’. And by the best, I mean for everything that goes wrong, there is at least something right to balance it out. For example: I don’t like new Cybermen costumes. The heads are OK, but the bodies… When I was young, my dad always described the Cybermen’s look as ‘men wrapped in tinfoil,’ and yeah, I can see where he’s coming from. The 60s Cybermen looked like they were made of some sort of malleable plastic, but here… I think someone needs to take an iron to them. On the other hand, the androids look really good. I know they’re just people in body stockings with no real design work needed, but the simplicity is really striking. Peter Grimwade does the best he can with a Playschool budget. I still have no idea how they achieved the Cyberman stuck in the door effect, and thanks be to Ti that they turned the lights right down in the caves, because those sets look fantastic. Unfortunately, the plot never quite feels like a coherent whole. Beryl Reid as Doctor Who’s answer to Sigourney Weaver doesn’t really work; I admire the irony, but the script treats her absolutely straight, so all we have a flustered elderly woman clearly struggling with the dialogue. Yet, everyone else seems cast pretty well, with lots of female characters. Tegan and Nyssa spend most of the story stuck in the TARDIS, but Matthew Waterhouse of all people gives a reasonably good performance, managing to be brave but scared when he says goodbye to the Doctor. But really, this is where Season 19 should have ended. Adric’s dead, the Doctor finally gets Tegan back to Heathrow and she leaves, and then the Doctor and Nyssa head off for new adventures. The best of a bad bunch. 6/10

Time-Flight – JNT’s right when he says the memory cheats; here is a story that, much like a Weeping Angel, is best when you’re not watching it. To watch, it’s boring, riddled with plot holes, and looks so cheap you’ll swear The Invasion of Time was Star Wars. But look away and you suddenly find yourself reflecting fondly on the Master’s pointless disguise, the ‘aeroplane wheel’ that is in no way to scale, and the inadvertent campery of the three stooges pilots we’re expected to believe are regularly responsible for people’s lives. Actually, Stapley, Scobie, and Bilton are the best thing about this story. Their immediate puppy-like loyalty to the Doctor is touching to behold. And clearly the Doctor loves them back; when Nyssa pilots the TARDIS, she’s reprimanded for doing something so dangerous, but when Stapley does it, it’s a miracle. As an attempt at beloved one-off characters á la Jago and Litefoot, they’re not bad. It would take too long to go into great detail about everything wrong with this story, so here’s a quickfire list: Adric’s death = ain’t bovvered; the Master’s disguising himself even before the Doctor’s around; the disguise is offensive, though I’m not sure to whom; the set for prehistoric earth is over lit and looks even less realistic than usual; the colour scheme for the episode is apparently ‘grey’; the plasmatons look like bubble bath with legs; Nyssa is psychic, let’s never mention this again; Angela’s acting; the Xeraphon’s back story being delivered in the least engaging monotone info dump imaginable; the Doctor’s unwarranted declaration at the end of part three; the Master being so incompetent but so irritatingly smug you don’t care whether or not the Doctor defeats him, just as long as someone smacks him across his giggling face. Right at the end, Bilton tells the Doctor he told them they’d get home safely, and the Doctor gives a look I am sure is Peter Davison thinking ‘I can’t believe I agreed to appear in this.’ I can’t believe you did either, mate. 2/10

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Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Eighteen

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The Leisure Hive – Everyone makes fun of the overly long pan across Brighton Beach at the beginning of the story, and yes, it deserves making fun of, but there’s more to Lovett Bickford’s directorial crimes than this. Take the scene where Brock is unmasked as a Foamasi. First of all, a second Foamasi appears out of nowhere. Where did he come from? I refuse to believe that he appeared in a cut scene, the episodes are so short they couldn’t have possibly had room to cut anything. The editing is so choppy and confused, it took several rewindings, discussing it with my dad, and checking the TARDIS wiki before I understood what had happened. People in 1980 would have had none of that (alright, yes, there were Dads, but they were a recent invention, and only very wealthy people had one). With everything else feeling so shiny and new, the Foamasi look even worse by comparison. I know they’re meant to be like crickets, but they look like they’re made out of that sequined fabric your mum buys for the school play. Positives: The shot that pans out from the Doctor and Romana on the beach to the star field is very creative, and impressive for its time. A planet rendered inhospitable and its people sterile by a war that lasted three weeks is a beautifully bleak idea. Likewise, the Argolins opening a leisure centre on their dead planet to warn other not to repeat their mistake is a very dignified way for a species to make their departure. The good things in this story make me sad that Chronic Hysteresis Bidmead edited out all the ‘silliness’; there was clearly a good story trying to get out here, but it was stripped away and reclothed in a poor attempt to make hard science cool. 5/10

Meglos – The most lacklustre execution of the science versus religion premise you will ever see. Taking an already clichéd plot, and then making no attempt to innovate or spin a new angle on it is just so disappointing, I found myself growing irritated at the screen. And then there’s the frankly bizarre decision to shelve the winning and charismatic leads and stick them in a plot hole (it’s when a black hole and a plot device collide) for the first episode. These were the writers who nearly wrote in Peter Davison’s Doctor. Even Barbara Wright herself, Jaqueline Hill, can’t rescue me from the boredom. But, never mind; the Savants and the Deon’s squabble isn’t really the focus of the story. Speaking of… Chronic Hysteresis Bidmead, how do muppets that turn into drugs when you electrify them equal silly, but a shapeshifting, megalomaniacal, alien CACTUS doesn’t. To be clear, I don’t mind the fact that we can count a shapeshifting, megalomaniacal, alien cactus among our pantheon of villains (I’m still upset that the villain of The Lodger didn’t turn out to be Meglos); it’s the hypocrisy that annoys me. So… why does Meglos have to possess a human before he can impersonate the Doctor? I suppose I should be glad he does, as the human – he who shall not be named, because the writers never bothered to give him one – is the subject of the only moment of charm in the story: Earthling: “I told the wife I’d be in from work in twenty minutes.”
Doctor: “Well, don’t worry about that. We can get you back before you leave.”
Earthling: “Oh, good.” Smile replaced by comically confused frown. Everyone laughs. Freezeframe ending. Roll credits. I may have made some that up. But when feeling like a cheesy eighties sitcom ending is the highlight of your serial, you know you’re in trouble. 3/10

Full Circle – Friendly reminder that this story was written by an eighteen-year-old. I don’t know how much was Andrew Smith, and how much was Bidmead rewriting, but this is really good. This story has some of the best twists, and one of the best reveals of a twist (“We don’t know how to fly it.”) the show has ever pulled off. Colour me impressed. The Leisure Hive and Meglos feel like false starts – this is where JNT’s grand new vision for the series starts. The location work for this episode is fabulous. I do have one problem with the episode, and that is Adric. No, not because he’s portrayed by someone who can’t act, nor is it the fact that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward clearly can’t stand him. Nor is it even the fact that he kicks off the disturbing trend of having a companion’s family member killed off in their first episode, only for it to never be mentioned again (step forward Nyssa, Tegan, Peri… Howard’s dead, right?) No, my problem is, if you take Adric in isolation, would you ever imagine that this is the society he comes from? Even Matthew Waterhouse on the DVD commentary says there’s something quite odd about this primitive society handing out badges for mathematical excellence. Of course, all of Adric’s subsequent actions make perfect sense if you remember that he’s basically a super evolved spider. I don’t talk about music much, but I want to take this opportunity to say how much I love the scores in this era, particularly Paddy Kingsland’s in this story and the next. There’s something about the music in Seasons 18 and 19 that really evoke the time in which they were made. In fact, barring any arrangement that appeared in Russel T Davies’s era, the arrangement of theme that debuts this series is my favourite. The synthesised sound seems to be making a comeback too; when Humans began with a lake in the woods shrouded in mist, I thought I was watching Full Circle. Even K9 gets his own little tune, complete with comedy whomp whomp when he can’t cross a stream. Stylish and unique. 8/10

State of Decay – What can I say; vampires were always my favourite monsters, and this is a damned fine vampire story. The Three Who Rule are very creepy with their stylised movements and appearances (vote Zargo, for most epic beard in all of Doctor Who). The Wasting, I have decided, is the local name for entropy. This is one of the stories where Adric betrays the Doctor, but it works with his original Artful Dodger brief, plus it’s not like he’s a full time companion yet, he doesn’t owe the Doctor loyalty at this point. Yes, I just defended Adric, I’ll make up for it by pointing out that Matthew Waterhouse couldn’t even walk across the set naturally. I can forgive the obviously fake bats hurled at the Tom Baker and Lalla Ward at the end of Part One, and the unconvincing rubber glove at the climax, for just how many cool visuals there are in this story. I’ve already mentioned the look of the Three, but there’s also the design of the castle; the ground rising and falling with the Great Vampire’s breathing (Yes, Jamie, it is a big one); move aside a few tapestries and the medieval castle turns out to be a futuristic spaceship. There are some delightfully gruesome ideas in this – the exsanguished bodies lining the walls, their blood filling the rocket’s fuel tanks; the heartbeat of the Great Vampire growing louder as the Doctor and Romana descend deeper into the ship; the castle/rocket being used to stake the Great Vampire; the Three Who Rule turning to skeletons, then dust, in seconds; it all makes my inner seven-year-old very happy. 9/10

Warriors’ Gate – I really wish I liked this story more than I do. It is very stylish, and has a visual style that’s never been seen before or since in the show, but it’s just a bit too complicated for me. I know it’s trying to say something, I’m just not entirely sure what it is. It’s like that highbrow piece of film or literature that we all pretend we understand and admire, but secretly most of us are happier with pop culture. Anyway, let me talk about the things I do like. The Tharil’s masks are really impressive – more Cat Nun than Cheetah person. The medieval castle with black and white photographic gardens is really cool. The spaceship set is amazing – I don’t know if it really was as big as it looked on screen or if Paul Joyce just employed some jolly clever direction (I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle). Is the opening shot of this story really much shorter than the opening shot of The Leisure Hive, or is it just more interesting? I’m a bit worried that the  Doctor Who companion with the best wardrobe left without packing a bag, although the Chinese inspired garb she wears in this is pretty fabulous. I do wish the departure wasn’t quite so rushed; it just sort of comes out of nowhere and is over before you even know it. But how perfect is it that Romana bows out to become a Doctor-like figure to the Tharils. Clara did a similar thing, but with her it didn’t feel earned, and Romana has definitely earned her status as the noblest of them all. 7/10

The Keeper of Traken – I’m about to say something astonishing, so brace yourself… Adric isn’t too bad in this story. I know, you’ll find my fan badge on your desk in the morning. Matthew Waterhouse’s acting is just about passable, and I can almost see how the fourth Doctor/Adric dynamic might have worked out. They have almost a teacher/student relationship, that flies out the window as soon as the TARDIS starts filling up and the 47-year-old Tom Baker is replaced with 29-year-old Peter Davison. A couple of things that bugged me, about this story: The Keeper sends the Doctor and Adric down to Traken but doesn’t tell anyone, so nobody trusts them. Then, the Fosters arrest the Doctor and Adric and present them to the Consuls as “The source of the evil.” Um, what proof do they have? I know this is a peaceful society, but surely breaking and entering into public gardens doesn’t qualify as evil? And why when they summon the Keeper doesn’t he say “Melkur’s come to life, and I sent these two to help, BTW he’s behind you,” instead of uselessly crying ‘evil’ like he’s Mermaidman. For an allegedly peaceful society built on people being terrible nice to each other, they turn to murder, false imprisonment, power grabbing, bribery (and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head) pretty quickly. I suspect this story is actually a scathing satire on the idea of a benevolent empire, just nobody remembered to tell the writer. 5/10

Logopolis – Why oh why oh why, JNT, did you want to bring back an old companion so there was some continuity with the change of Doctors, when just two stories earlier you wrote out the longtime companion? Imagine if we’d had Romana for Peter Davison’s first series. Why does Nyssa never comment on the fact that her father suddenly looks substantially younger. How does she even recognise him, given then he looks much younger than he ever would have in her lifetime. Sarah Sutton is usually a pretty reliable actor, but her acting when under the control of the Master’s bracelet leaves a lot to be desired (I can only assume someone forgot to tell her that it was only her wrist that was possessed?) Speaking of acting, Janet Fielding is doing the kind of overly motivated children’s TV presenter acting that really gets on my nerves. Just watch her reading of the classic line “Earth? Earth!” She gets better, so I’ll just put this down to first job overenthusiasm. Poor Anthony Ainley. He was so good in The Keeper of Traken, I genuinely forget that it’s him every time I watch. I wish they could have just let him be his own Master (as he eventually does in Survival), rather than have him do… not even a poor man’s Roger Delgado, but a poor man’s memory of Roger Delgado. I have doubts that something like block transfer computation could ever really exist, but at least I came out of the episode understanding what it was, which is more than can be said for tachyonics or I Ching philosophy. How odd that after most of the story is spent on Logopolis, the final episode takes place in… a field by the side of the road. It feels much smaller, but not in a down-to-earth-the-smallest-victories-are-sometimes-the-greatest way, but in a ‘really? A field’ way. And if the Logopolitans could make anything they wanted, why did they choose to replicate a telescope from a comparatively primitive society?  I have a theory about the Watcher, and why we’ve only ever seen him this one regeneration. I think, when the Doctor fell off the tower, he broke his back and was partially paralysed, so couldn’t regenerate unless the Watcher helped him. I also have a theory that the more beloved a Doctor, the worse their regeneration story will be, and sadly, this story backs that theory up. 4/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 7 Recap

Last week, before a cyclone and a family emergency got in the way, I was going to open my recap by crowning Zeke the new queen of Survivor for his ousting of Sandra. But given what happened tonight, and knowing what we know now, it seems a more than a little crass. Ladies and Gentlemen, the King of Survivor, Ezekiel Smith.

I’m not going to sit here and pour vitriol over Jeff Varner, not go in to why what he did was so wrong. I’m sure he’s been eaten away by guilt and regret ever since the event happened, and I have no desire to add more negativity to the situation. Instead I’m going to talk about every single other person in Tribal Council that night, and how proud I was of them.

When the theme of Millenials vs Gen X was announced, I started cringing straight away. I imagined seeing the Millenials – either my own generation or the one immediately above me, depending on what system you use – being portrayed as a bunch of vapid, technology-obsessed slackers. And although there were a few such people (*cough* Kappa Kappa Survivor *cough*), I was heartened to see how many hardworking, intelligent people were on the tribe. Tonight, I was even more proud when Millenial Tribe alum Zeke spoke calmly and graciously, showing forgiveness and comforting the very person who had done him such injury. I always liked Zeke, for his ability to connect with people in the game, and for his habit of wearing Hawaiian shirts and dinosaur boardies. After his behaviour tonight, I like him even more, for his graciousness, his spinning this horrible thing that happened to him into something positive, and his ability as a wordsmith – taking the challenge word ‘metamorphosis’, and applying it to his own personal journey, both as a Survivor player, and as a transgender individual.

I was also gladdened to see how Zeke’s tribemates, after their brief moment of shock, unanimously leapt to his defence. The Transgender community are a group who, it seems, are only recently becoming more visible, and they are a very vulnerable group; the target of politicians’ fear mongering to gain votes, and the victims of hate crimes including murder. Even one of their most iconic spokespeople, Jazz Jennings, has to use a pseudonym to protect herself and her family. And so how wonderful it was to see five people from all walks of life, who have spent the past seventeen days competing against each other, came together to defend another human being. Debbie, unexpectedly, was the voice of reason, being the first to speak up that Zeke’s gender history was a private matter, outside of the game. The notion that transgender people are deceptive, and that they have a duty to tell people about their gender history plagues the community. The fact that all five people, without hesitation, said that, no, Zeke was not duty bound to tell them, and that they weren’t owed an explanation was beautiful to see.

Finally, Jeff Probst handled the situation beautifully, seamlessly stepping down from his role of reality TV host, and becoming the mediator for a group of people after a very ugly confrontation. So many hosts would have manipulated the situation to create drama, pitting people against each other. But Probst had the decency and insight to realise that this moment was bigger than the game, as evidenced by his decision to dispense with the ritual of voting, and allow Varner to remove himself. I’m always impressed with how quick Jeff is to pick up on people’s body language, and ask intuitive questions, but this incident really highlighted just how good he is at reading people and reading a situation, and navigating it with sensitivity and class.

Like Zeke said, it was a shame that it had to come out this way, and I think given the choice, Zeke would have chosen to keep this aspect of his story private, I sincerely hope that Zeke being outed will demystify what it means to be transgender, and whether that can give comfort to someone struggling with their own gender identity, or people like Sarah, who don’t know much about this community in the first place, and in that this chapter in Survivor history will have a positive end.

 

P.S. If it weren’t for what happened at Tribal Council, this recap would totally have been about how awesome Hali was for working out that challenge, and how thrilled I am that things are looking up for Aubrey.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Seventeen

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Destiny of the Daleks – Good Lord, is this story boring. In hindsight, maybe doing a story where 90% of your characters have no emotion wasn’t such a great idea after all. I think the scene of the Daleks exterminating extras might be one of the worst I’ve ever seen – they just stand in a line, wait to be zapped, and then fall into the pile of pillows next to them, all the while not a single emotion crosses their faces. Is this a Two Doctors scenario where they would have to pay the extras more if they actually acted? And have the Daleks ever looked worse than the scene in which a Dalek flails around with its vision impaired while Davros shouts “he’s behind you.” I know one of the charms of Doctor Who is that he sometimes defeats enemies simply by being more fun, but this isn’t fun, this is torture. And since when were Daleks completely logical – they’re driven by hatred and anger; no one is logical when they’re angry. Was even Terry Nation confusing them with the Cybermen? Also, the decision to replace incidental music with the sound of drilling for vast swathes of the story, really doesn’t work in its favour. I’m not the greatest Dudley Simpson fan, but the episode just so bare and feels unfinished without it. Ken Grieve’s direction also seems to be lacking something; it’s odd because there are some shots like the low angle of Davros that look quite nice and unlike anything else at the time, but the whole episode is so overlit, that, again, it feels unfinished. I will say one nice thing about this episode, and that is that Romana crossplaying as the Doctor is adorable. But even the charms of Lalla Ward can’t save this story. 1/10

City of Death – Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous (or the other way around). This story is perfect. It is the best Doctor Who story. .I defy you to find one thing wrong with it. This story is flawless. The music is excellent, Dudley Simpson’s finest score for the series, in my opinion. the direction is superb – the scenes in the café at night look like they could have come out of a film. The acting is pure class – Julian Glover and Katherine Schell ooze so much charm you almost forget that they’re evil, and the Doctor and Romana’s relationship shows the Doctor/companion dynamic at its warmest and wittiest; you don’t even notice that a certain robot dog is missing. Of course, the absolute highlight is the script, so bare with me while I just quote some of my favourite lines: “If you wanted an omelette, I’d expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames and an unconscious chef.”; “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being tortured by someone with cold hands.”; “My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.”/”My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.” Perhaps, when you get right down to it, the resolution (Duggan punches Scaroth) isn’t the cleverest the show’s ever come up with, but it’s been set up so well in the previous four episodes, that I don’t mind. One of only a handful of stories where I feel genuine sadness when it’s over. Exquisite. 10/10

The Creature from the Pit – “We call it… the pit.” My goodness, there are some fabulous moments of hamtastic fun to be had. Romana running rings around the bandits; K9’s continual insistence that he’s not made of tin; Organon finishing the episode by starting his psychic con up all over agin. The jungle set is one of the better ones – it helps that it’s been shot on film (although the backcloths don’t quite manage to convince). There’s a single shot of Erato, where he appears to take up the whole cavern, and he actually looks quite good. It’s just every single other time he appears that he looks like an unconvincing and indecent blob. It’s a pity, despite the moments of fun, that the rest of the story is generally not very good. I find Adrasta and her cohorts more irritating than anything else (if I wanted to see an evil stepmother, I’d have watched Cinderella instead) and the Doctor spends the middle episodes wandering around the pit looking for the plot. Despite Erato having been in the pit for the past however many centuries, today just happens to be the day that they Tythonions avenge him. This story was the first recorded for Lalla Ward and David Brierly as Romana and K9, respectively, and it really shows, with both actors trying their hardest to do a poor man’s imitation of their predecessors. But while Lalla Ward eventually found her own Romana, I don’t think David Brierly ever could capture the charm of John Leeson. If you’re in the right mood, this story can be a lot of fun. You just have to really be in the right mood. 4/10

Nightmare of Eden – This story is criminally underrated: it’s brilliant. For ages it had a reputation as being silly, but it really isn’t. This is Doctor Who’s attempt to tackle drugs – can you think of anything more serious that the show has dealt with. OK yes, it’s done mass murder, but how many of us are going to face the prospect of committing genocide; and there’s the kidnapping arc in series six but the fallout of that was never really dealt with, so I stand by my first statement. I appreciate that Bob Baker didn’t just make Tryst evil; selfish, perhaps, but he ultimately believed what he was doing was for the greater good. On the other hand, the Doctor’s quiet anger, refusing to even look at him as he tells him to go away, is a really powerful moment. The cliffhanger to part two is one of my favourite ever. The first time I saw it, as the Doctor and Romana change all the rules and jump into what had until now seemed like a fancy viewfinder, my reaction was ‘Wow, I can’t wait until to tomorrow night to see the next episode.’ I really like this one. 7/10

The Horns of Nimon – Name one character in this story other than the three regulars who you care the least bit about. I’ve wracked my brain and I can only think of Sezom, that old guy who appears for three scenes in the final episode. And even he apparently used to be a power mad tyrant. You see what you did story – you made me sympathise with Hitler. OK, I’m being silly. But seriously. The tributes are so wet I’m getting trench foot just looking at them; Graham Crowden as Soldeed is still picking bits of scenery out of his teeth; and the Co-Pilot… keeps yelling ‘weakling scum,’ for some reason. If it weren’t for Romana, I don’t think there would be a single thing to enjoy about this. Seriously, she’s awesome: she’s built her own sonic screwdriver (and we know it’s better than the Doctor’s because he tries to steal it); she keeps the Anethans alive for four episodes, and just generally gets on with the business of being the Doctor. 3/10

Shada – OK, I don’t think this is the great unfinished masterpiece that some fans hope it would be. From what was filmed, it’s obvious that the budget was stretched pretty thin by this point. Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies that the Kraags will never be seen by anyone who isn’t a card-carrying obsessive. Men with sheets of cardboard stuck to them was never going to work, was it. In stark contrast to Count Scarlioni’s suave coolness, we have Skagra walking the streets of Cambridge looking like the missing member of ABBA. It’s probably unfair of me to comment on it, seeing as it wouldn’t have been in the original production, but Keff McCulloch’s music is very… Keffy. Did the ‘One lump or two? Sugar?’ joke really need a dramatic sting? OK, bad fan, stop being so negative. Romana is still one of the best companions ever (second only to the fabulous Donna Noble, in my opinion) and the little moment where the Doctor pins a badge on her and they salute each other is adorable. It’s Douglas Addams, so of course the dialogue is going to be witty and delightful, and the plot completely bonkers but utterly charming. If you haven’t already, go out and read the novelisation, because Tom Baker rushing through plot points on the DVD really doesn’t do it justice. A particularly joyful development is the Doctor turning Skagra’s ship into a fan, and Skagra’s ultimate punishment is to watch Doctor Who for all eternity. I’m smiling just writing about it. 7/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Sixteen

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The Ribos Operation – For a long time, I considered this to be my favourite story of all time; it was slightly out of a desire to have an unusual answer, and I’d probably go for the more conventional favourite The Empty Child nowadays, but this is still an absolute corker of an episode.  This is one of the very earliest classic series stories I saw, and I was blown away by just how much I enjoyed it. Robert Holmes’s dialogue for Garroffe spinning his con is just gorgeous and the front he puts on is so charming – I could listen to him all day. Mary Tamm was an astoundingly beautiful woman, and her Romana is super cool in how generally unimpressed she is with the Doctor. Tom Baker is at the top of his game – I like when the Doctor is funny, like when the Graff glove slaps him, so the Doctor grabs the glove and glove-slaps the Graff back; or how his reaction to being locked up is to sit back and enjoy himself while feeding Garron’s ego. It’s almost not worth saying how beautiful the “Brinro was right” scene is, but I’m going to anyway; if I were a time traveller, that is what I’d do – use my knowledge of the future to give people hope, laws of time be damned. The costumes are great, and even the sets look pretty good for being entirely studio bound; I’ll never understand why this story doesn’t get more attention – it’s just perfect. 10/10

The Pirate Planet – I have a confession to make: I don’t like Douglas Adams as much as I wish I did. I think my problem with him is this: the absurdism overshadows the characters. Take the mentiads: a hive mind of telekinetic psychics who never show any emotion. On paper, and bolstered by some Adamsian prose, that could probably be an amusing premise; but bereft of that, all we’re left with are a bunch of actors in robes failing to emote. It doesn’t help matters that this is one of the cheapest looking episodes. It’s as if they realised they could never hope to realise Adams’s mad ideas, and so gave up without even trying. The film inserts don’t match the model shots at all; the mining shaft is clearly a 20th Century earth mining shaft; and the original spanner effect is so awful that they don’t even have it as an option on the DVD. More positively, there’s something very satisfying about the way the Nurse appears as a background character in Part Two, and steadily moves to the foreground until its revealed that she is the real big bad of the piece (a pity the actress can’t act). Also, K9 gets to be a hero and kill the evil shooty parrot thing, and I will always support K9 getting a bigger slice of the action. And the final twist that the planet Calufrax is the segment and its unusual anatomical structure was making everything go wibbly is such a clever way of using the season’s unique arc. I like it enough; I just wish I liked it more. 6/10

(P.S. Did anyone else catch that the Captain’s bluster really was an act? It took me seven viewings to catch that development.)

The Stones of Blood – Romana and the Professor, the Professor and the Doctor, the Doctor and K9, K9 and the Professor; any way you slice it, the pairings of these characters produce beautiful, funny, and heart-warming scenes. The big reveal about Vivian Faye is both brilliant and botched: the Doctor’s line that she isn’t related to the Montcalm family; she is the montcalm family gives me goosebumps; but then the fact that she’s the villain is signposted from the beginning with her archly smug performance, and the fact that she appears next to Romana dressed in her Callieach costume! Don’t the interior sets of de Vries’s mansion look fantastic; it’s hard to believe they are sets, and not a real home. On the other hand, I wonder how David Fisher imagined the Ogri; did he imagine something more anthropomorphic like the Rockbiter from Neverending Story, or did he really envisage growling pillars on wheels, which is what we get. Like the arrival of the pseudo-historical, it must have come as a surprise that what looked like it would be a gothic horror in the tradition that viewers had become accustomed to, suddenly ends up on a spaceship in hyperspace. It’s quite like The Girl in the Fireplace, in that regard. I won’t say that the story totally loses it once it goes into hyperspace, but the latter two episodes are definitely the weaker half. The megara walk (or hover) the thin line between being funny or annoying, and on which side they fall probably depends on your mood. And then to cap it all off, we get two solutions to the problem – the Doctor’s and Romana’s. Although I personally prefer The Ribos Operation, it’s not hard to see why this often comes out highest of the season in polls. 8/10

The Androids of Tara – So it’s a blatant rip-off of The Prisoner of Zenda, which I would normally be annoyed about if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve never heard of The Prisoner of Zenda in any context other than the fact that this rips it off. And the fact that it’s just so much fun. The design of the costumes and sets are beautiful, and even if some fans are annoyed by the illogic of a medieval society with laser guns and androids, I still find the juxtaposition interesting. Maybe it’s a cheat that the issue of finding the segment is got out of the way in the first five minutes, but it was worth doing at least once, and it does give Romana a reason to get involved with the count, plus it shows just how much cooler she is than the Doctor. However, I think the moment where Romana is carried off on the back of Count Grendel’s horse, lamely crying ‘help me’ is the moment the character officially went from unique, resourceful, leading lady to generic damsel. You can almost hear Mary Tamm thinking ‘I won’t be renewing my contract.’ The moment when the android prince turns from a real actor into an obvious mannequin just in time for a spear to lodge in his chest is my absolute favourite special effects fail on the show. And this from the same story that gave us the Taran Wood Beast. Yes it’s mostly fluff, but it’s very nice looking fluff. 8/10

The Power of Kroll – ‘Biggest Monster Ever’. That was the brief for this episode. The show that last season couldn’t portray corridors convincingly is going to attempt to give us the biggest monster ever. To be fair though, Kroll ain’t that bad. There are occasions when the line between the film and the model is obvious, but overall it’s pretty good for its time. The worse effect is the exterior shots the Methane refinery, which never doesn’t look like a model in a tub of water. What I don’t understand is: why they didn’t give the ‘biggest monster ever’ brief to Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who probably would have had a great time with it, and the big-epic-concluding-the-story-arc-season-finale slot to Robert Holmes. Holmes just isn’t suited to this type of story. I said back in The Time Warrior review that Holmes doesn’t write monsters, he writes villains. The villains in this story aren’t bad – Thawn’s scheme is suitably despicable: giving weapons to the Swampies so they’ll attack, giving him reason to wipe them out, and blame the whole things on Sons of Earth, just so he can keep the big bucks rolling in from his methane refinery. But the whole things gets buried under the weight of Kroll turning up a few times every episode to kill off an extra. The rest of the refinery staff are severly lacking in the personality department: Philip Madoc’s palpable irritation at having agreed to the wrong role is the only thing that makes his character (whatever his name was) memorable, and the only reason I care about (the very wet) Dugeen is that he’s played by voice-of-K9, John Leeson. Added to this, the Swampies are the most thoughtless ‘mindless savages’ stereotypes possible. It’s got its strength, and its weaknesses; in the end it all adds up to a very average: 5/10

The Armageddon Factor – What a disappointing end to a pretty consistently strong season. I find it very unsatisfying that after all that, the Doctor just disperses the key. I suppose there was never really anything else they could have done with it, but it’s still such an anticlimax. Graham Williams though the Doctor ought to have a reason for his travelling, hence the quest for the Key to Time this season, and the randomiser next season; but I’ve always thought ‘because it’s fun’ is a good enough excuse – why does anyone travel? Speaking of Graham Williams, he’s made the same mistake he did last season, which is not writing a departure scene for the companion in the hope that he could persuade the actress to stay; resulting in two excellent characters getting a hastily written out-of-character exit, or no farewell at all. On the other hand, seasons 15 and 16 do get very good hooks into the next series, so go figure. I’m glad Lalla Ward got the chance to come back and play a regular, because she doesn’t get much of a chance to show off her acting chops here. The Marshall is quite a good human villain, but the shadow is a disappointing stand-in villain for the black guardian. I get a chortle out of the scene where the Doctor asks Merak why he wants to know where Astra is, to which Merak replies “I love her,” and the Doctor and Romana just go ‘Oh,’ as if the thought had never occurred to them. On the other hand, the moment where Shap pulls a stupid face, gets shot, and does a comedy pratfall, legs akimbo, into the transmat is so bad it has to be seen to be believed. Like all Baker and Martin scripts it’s fall of inventive ideas – K9 defecting, the time loop business – but doesn’t necessarily have the elegance to quite stick the landing. 5/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 4 Recap

What on earth just happened? I watched that scene twice, read several recaps and reviews, and listened to podcasts and exit interviews, and I’m still not sure what happened. I don’t think many of the people who were actually there understood what happened. I am, of course, talking about the most chaotic Tribal Council ever.

But before we get into all that I may as well start at the beginning. The morning after Tribal Coucil sees Debbie and Hali by the well, talking strategy. It’s all looking good for Hali, who appears to have a potential in Debbie, but this just goes to show how terrible I’d be at Survivor, because Debbie is is just telling Hali what she wants to hear. Debbie’s so kooky that I sometimes forget that she’s actually very intelligent.

We then move on to a very strange reward challenge, where each tribe must select two people to compete – one has to balance a ball on an ever increasing pole over a series of obstacles, and the other has to knock down nine targets with sandbags. The challenge itself isn’t that strange, but why are only two people from these tribes of five-six competing. It feels like this was an individual challenge that got brought forward in the season and hastily modified into a team challenge. Why?

Ozzy buys Tavua an early lead, because Ozzy can’t help but be irritatingly proficient at all physical challenges, but any goodwill is lost when Troyzan allows Nuku’s Malcolm to close the gap and overtake him. But unfortunately here comes Brad for Mana knocking down targets like nobody’s business.

And then something very strange indeed happens. A caption appears on the screen saying #coffeeisforclosers. What? Is Survivor trying to get their own hash tag going? And why such a terrible hash tag? Did someone say it in the show? I didn’t hear it, but maybe we get a different edit in Australia. I noticed earlier that an @JeffProbst caption popped up, but is the social media push a new thing this season? I hate when shows try to get their audience involved on social media. It’s like when your aunt tries to be your friend on Facebook.

Anyway, Tavua will go without coffee and biscuits, but they won’t be going hungry. Oh no. Because Super Ozzy just went and caught a huge stingray for them to eat. i wouldn’t imagine you could eat a stingray.  Incidentally, are there marine biologists out there telling the contestants what fish won’t kill you if you eat them? I’ve always wondered.

Meanwhile at Nuku, JT and Malcolm are bro-ing out and discussing a plan to oust Sandra. This is music to my ears, as Sandra’s cockiness is grating – and even worse seems to be the effect that her cockiness is deserved. She did manage to pull together a new alliance in five minutes when it became clear that Tony was a liability; she’s the two-time winner but has survived three out of four tribal councils, including this latest crazy fest; and she appears to be in control over at her tribe, seeing as her pick for the vote, Sierra, is what the rest of the tribe eventually goes for.

At the immunity challenge, Jeff reveals this episode’s big twist. The bottom two tribes will be going to Tribal Council. I’m fairly sure this has been done before, but after the challenge is over, he reveals the other part of the twist: two tribes might be going to Tribal, but only one person will be voted out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The challenge involves four tribe members blindfolded while a fifth guides them to collect bags from water towers filled with Nickelodeon slime. They will then manoeuvre the balls from the bags through a table maze. Tavua seem to be doing the best straight out of the gate, but it ends up being Nuku who move on to the second part of the challenge first.  But it all comes down to the table maze. It’s tight between Tavua and Nuku (with Mana, true to form, flailing way behind), but in the end Tavua win, sending the other two tribes to Tribal Council.

In words that will come back to haunt him, Malcolm says that if there were any challenge to lose this was the one. Nuku are up in the numbers 6-5. It should be easy. New Nuku vote one way, New Mana vote another, and whomever Nuku voted for will be going out. But its not that simple. There’s the chance that someone will flip – Hali might vote with Nuku; Malcolm and JT might band together with Mana to get out Sandra; someone might have an idol. Ah yes, the idol. Tai goes out and finds the idol, via an ‘x’ marks the spot clue. Normally my opinion on idols is the fewer people know about it the better, but in this case, I think Tai was right to make the idol public property for whoever on his tribe will need it.

Tribal Council starts out normally enough, with the two tribes pounding their chests and putting on a show of being two unified fronts. Brad threatens Hali to vote with them or else; she isn’t particularly impressed with his approach, and reminds everyone that it could come down to rocks. Both sides start fighting for Hali’s vote, and then the whispering starts. At first people are just whispering in their seats. Brad Culpepper’s name does the round of the Nuku tribe like he’s the answer in a Chinese whisper. Then Debbie grabs Brad by the head to whisper in his ear and wonder if they’ve switched their vote to him. The whispering seems to die down, as Jeff asks Sierra a question. But the camera’s are on JT asking Malcolm if he should talk to Brad. Then JT gets out of his seat and tells Brad that it’s not him they’re voting for. Then all hell breaks loose. “If that’s how they’re going to play it,” says Hali, who walks over to Sandra and implore the Nukuians to vote Brad. Soon everyone is standing, whispering to each other, huddles are forming, weird aggressive whispers that involve grabbing people by the head with both hands, Jeff nearly falls out of his seat, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria

Jeff declares it’s time to vote, and as Hali goes up – telling Sandra she may regret it – Michaela, who’s been pretty quiet this episode, wonders why Hali didn’t tell them who had the idol. “Nobody got no idol over there,” says Sandra.

But someone did have an idol, and so all Nuku’s votes for Sierra are null and void, and the episode ends with the death of another bromance as Malcolm is voted out.  But the episode doesn’t end there. “JT set us up,” Michaela whispers to Varner as they march crestfallen out Tribal Council.

Next week looks like it will see JT’s in a whole lot of trouble. But the real kick will come in December, when JT will sit by his mailbox, waiting for a certain Christmas card that will never come…

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fifteen

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Horror of Fang Rock – What a strange little beast this is. Much like Philip Hinchcliffe, Graham William’s first story as producer bears all the hallmarks of being part of the old regime. This is one of those stories in the ‘And then there were none’ tradition, where all the characters get picked off one by one – but it feels like a bit cheat that the story has to import more characters in Part Two when it becomes apparent that they’re in danger of running out of cannon fodder. Speaking of the shipwreck, am I the only one who finds the reprise at the beginning of Part Two awkward – it’s overlong, and features a not very convincing model. In fact all the cliff-hangers are a bit odd. There’s the one where there’s a big scream, and then it cuts to Skinsale quite understatedly saying ‘Good Lord’. How odd. On another note, I don’t begrudge the production team wanting to get Leela out of her period frock because it was impractical or uncomfortable – but then her new clothes a) fit perfectly despite supposedly belonging to a man, and b) look like something someone might have been wearing in 1977 anyway. When I first saw images from this story, I thought Louise Jameson just hadn’t put on her costume yet. I’m being quite negative, but this story is highly enjoyable, especially the regulars: the Doctor is at his irascible best (“Gentlemen, I’ve got news for you: this lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead”); Leela gets several moments of shining awesomeness, and slaps the snobby Adelaide for being a hysterical stereotype. Quite right. 7/10

The Invisible Enemy – Oh dear, we’re only two stories into the season and the money’s clearly already run out. I’m not the greatest fan of Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s scripts, but I will love them forever for inventing K9. He’s a sarcastic, know-it-all, dog-shaped computer wearing a tartan collar – what’s not to love! The giant prawn is only as bad as other monsters from the same era; but some of the other effects really let the story down. I’m thinking in particular of the piece of wall that K9 blasts down, that already has a convenient crack in it. And this is probably more an issue of poor continuity, but lest we forget the Titan base appearing wrecked before the asteroids have hit it in the story. On the other hand, the interior of the Doctor’s mind looks quite good. Never mind the Impossible Girl, why did the Doctor never investigate the mystery of all the men he keeps running into that look like Michael Sheard? Is it because he’s not pretty enough? Umm, the Doctor and Leela’s clones just died and no one cared. That’s pretty dark. Also, they died inside the Doctor – doesn’t that mean he should get blood poisoning or something from having a pair of rotting, miniaturised corpses floating about inside him? A pretty average story, hampered by some really bad effects. 4/10

Image of the Fendahl – Easily the weakest of Chris Boucher’s scripts, this story is the definition of a hot mess. It looks beautiful, with some creative direction – the whatever it is’s POV as it approaches the Doctor at the end of part one; the shot of Fendahlman and Colby looking at the skull’s x-ray with the blue from the machine lighting them – and is full of great, spooky atmosphere; but as far as stringing together a coherent story, it’s a complete shambles – going back to the end of part one, does anyone have a clue what’s going on? The Doctor’s stuck, Leela’s sneaking around, there’s a gunshot – what? Like the similarly confusing Ghost Light, there’s actually a pretty simple story going on here – as I understand it, the Fendahl eat people’s life force and they won’t stop eating until everyone and everything is dead. There’s a bit of complication in that they’re gestalt entities, but it’s not really anything too complicated for a Doctor Who fan to grasp. But to understand that, I had to read the TARDIS wiki, because the episode doesn’t explain it very well. Nice to look at, but not much else. 4/10

The Sun Makers – The best story of the season by far. Like the two following stories, it isn’t visually very interesting, consisting as it does mostly of endless peach corridors, but fortunately it has a razor sharp script buoying it along. It’s a script that will never not be relevant, as I suspect that as long as capitalist society exists, there will be big corporations taking advantage of people. I really seem to be harping on about supporting characters a lot lately, but a story really can live or die by its supporting characters – afterall, it’s their worlds we’re dropping into week after week, and they’re the ones whose lives are at stake. Fortunately, we have two excellent proto-companions in the form of Bisham and little Cordo, with Leela playing the role of Doctor to them. The Collector is a magnificent creation, with script, make-up, and performance all coming together to create something horribly memorable. The Gatherer, is also great, hammy fun, and once again Pennant Robert’s habit of casting female actors in male roles is in evidence – its such a little thing, but so few directors bother to do it. I would say that it’s slightly hypocritical using Doctor Who to gripe about paying taxes, when the BBC is paid for by the TV license. But who cares when the result is this much fun. Robert Holmes at his angry best. 8/10

Underworld – The infamous underworld. The RC1 is actually a pretty impressive two story set, and it’s amazing what a bit of redressing and relighting can do to turn it into the P7E. If this were a story set entirely on the ship (e.g. The Robots of Death) they might have been able to make it work; just rearrange a few pieces of wall to give the illusion that it’s bigger than it is.  There must be something I’m missing, but as I understand it the caves were achieved by building models and the COSing them in; in that case, couldn’t they have made the models a bit more interesting to look at, instead of just endless brown? What are the seers exactly? Are they people, are they robots? They take off their ski masks to reveal… another mask that makes them look like three-eyed pigeons? And another bloody thing. I understand the idea that the Doctor’s adventures could form the basis of myths – but how does it happen that the Doctor has an adventure that coincidentally resembles a myth, right down to the character’s names, long after the myth has been told? Underworld might actually have a story, which is more than I can say for The Invasion of Corridors Time but it’s just a rip off of an old legend mashed up with the most basic ‘mad computer thinks it’s a god and oppresses people’ story (which was done much better last season). Add to that how painful this story is to look at, and the fact that no attempt has been made to make me care anything for the guest characters, and you have a recipe for disaster. 2/10

The Invasion of Time – I’m not even going to bother criticising the story for the way it looks, because I understand that it was something outside of the production team’s control; but good Lord is this story dull. In theory, I like the Doctor’s pretending to sell Gallifrey out to alien invaders, but did the Vardans really need such an elaborate scheme to be toppled? Ignoring the fact that they’re portrayed sheets of tinfoil, they don’t really do anything other than be a bit pushy. What were they’re plans once they’d taken over? What was at stake? Sure, they might be placeholder villains, but a) we’re not meant to know that, and b) we spend four episodes i.e. the majority of the story with them. And then the Sontarans show up in what I will concede is a pretty awesome fake out ending, but then they don’t do anything but stomp around corridors and wait for the story to be over. I can see this story being done today, but the Vardans would be dispatched about one third of the way through, then the Sontarans would announce themselves and there would be a big epic battle of brain vs brawn. And then there’s Leela. If she was going to be written out, and they weren’t going to kill her in a blaze of glory, then why didn’t she stay to say, mediate between the outsiders and the Time Lords in the capital, which would link back to her roots as a noble savage but also take advantage of the education she’s gained from the Doctor? I’d even have an easier time believing she was going to stay and marry Rodan, who had a personality like limp spaghetti but at least they spoke to each other, rather than falling for the pretty boy in tight pants who she’s barely shared a word with. And why did K9 the first get written out too? I know it was because they had a new model with a quieter motor, and they didn’t want sad obsessives writing in about how K9 had changed between seasons – but I am a sad obsessive and I can’t tell the difference and I’m actively looking for differences. 3/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 3 Recap

There’s no rest for the wicked because as soon as the previously on Survivor has finished, Jeff is calling the players to “come on in, guys”. Of course, all the old players don’t know what’s going on, but Millenials vs Gen X’s Zeke realises that it can only mean it’s time for a tribe switcheroo. They’re going from two tribes to three, and they look like this:

 

Mana:

  1. Brad
  2. Caleb
  3. Debbie
  4. Hali
  5. Sierra
  6. Tai

Nuku:

  1. Aubrey
  2. JT
  3. Malcolm
  4. Michaela
  5. Sandra
  6. Varner

Tavua:

  1. Andrea
  2. Cirie
  3. Ozzy
  4. Sarah
  5. Troyzan
  6. Zeke

 

 

For those of you playing along at home, this means Caleb and Hali are now in a minority on their new tribe, while Troyzan and JT are lone wolves on their respective tribes.  The new Tabua tribe will have to start from scratch with just the bare minimum of supplies. Fishing gear, cooking pot, a machete, and a small jar of rice, and that’s it.  realising pretty quickly that he’s on the chopping block, Troyzan goes idol hunting, and soon finds… not the idol, but a clue to where to find the idol at the challenge.

Meanwhile, JT shows off the Nuku beach with its trained chickens, bountiful food, and decorative glass balls. JT is trying to make the best of things by turning on his good ol’ boy charm, but he’s already planning on how to get his new tribemates in the middle of the ocean so he can search for idols. However, his extended absence doesn’t go unnoticed by the ex-Mana players. Varner isn’t so worried, saying it doesn’t matter if JT finds an idol, because they still have a five-one majority. No, Varner (or ‘Jeff’ as the credits are calling you). You should be worried if he finds an idol – if he does, and you go to Tribal, you have a one in five chance of going home!

At Mana beach, we find out who was responsible for the interior decorator at Nuku, and surprisingly, it’s Brad Culpepper of all people. It’s certainly looks cosy, as everyone pretends that they are a tight six, when the writing on the wall is that Caleb and Hali are in trouble. Particularly Hali, who doesn’t have a boyfriend in the ex-Nuku four. However, as Brad points out, it could be dangerous to allow Caleb and Tai to stay together; plus there’s the threat of Debbie joining them to form a Khoa-Rong power triumvirate.

After the ad break we return to find the new Nuku planning to catch and slaughter a goat to their great King, er, Queen Sandra. JT goes on a goat hunt never believing in a million years, that he’d actually catch one, but at least wanting to get into his new tribe’s good graces. However, he does, and it’s a tiny baby, while Malcolm has caught its mother. Theirs is then an extended debate where everyone but Sandra wants to let the goats go, but no one is brave enough to say anything. at this point, I am on the edge of the seat hoping that I don’t see ‘the goat version of Bambi’ play out. Luckily, common humanity prevails and the goats are freed! Hooray! Although, it does mean that a chicken gets killed instead, but c’est la vie.

Challenge time! It’s a multi-phase challenge, with three people tied together competing in an obstacle course, and the remaining three working on a puzzle. The idol is hidden under the puzzle table, but Troyzan will have to wait until after the challenge to nab it. Nuku has an early lead, while Mana is struggling in third place. Regardless, it all comes down to the puzzle, the great equaliser. It’s a tight run race between Nuku and Tavua, but ultimately Nuku takes first place. However, the fight for second place is still on, and again it comes right down to the last minute, when Tavua have to go back and correct a mistake. Nonetheless, Tavua claim victory, Troyzan claims his idol, and the curse of the orange buff continues as Mana will have to face Tribal Council.

It looks like it’s between either Hali or Caleb

Now, if I were Hali at this point I would go to Brad and Sierra and subtly sew the seeds of fear regarding Tai and Caleb’s borderline home-erotic relationship, plus point out that they could rope in Debbie, and suggest that they get rid of Tai, seeing as he won’t be as useful in challenges as Caleb, plus he’s so well-liked, plus he’s made it to the final tribal before. That way, if they lose again, she still has room to switch the target to Caleb. And maybe she did do that, but we didn’t see it. in fact, we heard from everyone except Hali. At this point, it’s impossible to tell who of Hali and Caleb will be going home.

Last week I made the inexcusable mistake of not commenting on the unadulterated coolness of the tribal council set.  ‘Pirates’ are clearly the theme of the season, as the whole set looks like a shipwreck, and the voting booth is in a light house.

It still seems unclear who will go home when it comes to Tribal Council, as both Caleb and Hali have to give their arguments for why they should be kept over the other. Caleb’s argument seems to be that he’s a stronger player, while Hali can be easily manipulated. As Hali rightly points out, this is more of a sell for her than it is for him. When it comes to cowboy vs law student, Caleb didn’t stand a chance, and it is he who is out.

So long, Caleb, or as he shall now be known, ‘the Nine Day Survivor.’

Call the Midwife, Series 6 Finale

Few things give me as much joy as Call the Midwife, with its main cast of incredibly perky Mary Poppins-esque nurses and nuns, and it’s weekly exploration of some new facet of human misery.

How time has flown by these past nine weeks. From the power of Sister Julienne’s maternal monologuing single-handedly turn around culturally-ingrained racism, via the mini-arc of Sister Ursula learning to embrace the warm and fuzzy approach of Nonnatus House (remember kids, when you follow the rules, babies die), all the way up to thalidomide part two: dawn of the prosthetic limbs. We’ve tackled issues such as domestic violence, complicated pregnancies, the closure of maternity homes, adoption, mental illness, female genital mutilation, and even vehicular manslaughter. We welcomed new nurse Valerie Dyer; wondered if either Cynthia or Patsy would return to the series full time; and raged against the cruelty of the world as Sister Monica Joan’s TV was taken away.

But enough of the past. Let’s look to the here and now – November/December, 1962.

The episode begins, as all must, with Vanessa Redgrave talking at us in platitudes. I always zone out during these, and just sit back and enjoy the pretty images of squalor instead.

Exciting news; a Family Contraceptive Clinic is coming to Poplar. The FCC asks that women access it via the side door, which is the same way the unmarried mothers come in. Valerie doesn’t understand why everyone can’t just use the front door, but Sister Julienne gently reminds her that women who have sex outside of marriage or for purposes other than procreation are whores who aren’t fit to be seen in decent company.

But Barbara is distracted. She’s received a letter, saying her reverend father has been posted to New Guinea. Sister Monica Joan naturally assumes that she’s worried about cannibals, but Barbara’s more upset because he’ll be gone for three years and won’t be able to conduct her wedding to walking brylcreem dispenser, Tom Hereward.

Violet is fanning herself and looking generally unwell. Uh oh, is this the season finale death that the internet spoilers warned me about? No, it’s just comedy menopause subplot. Our case study of the week, Wilma, walks into the shop. She’s starting a new job now that her children are older. Violet hopes that her plans for a career won’t be jeopardised by an unexpected pregnancy, but Wilma has a plan…

At the FCC, Wilma is being debriefed on her new contraceptive pills. She comments on how they look just like aspirin, and reveals that she’s not planning on telling her husband, who’s desperate for a son. The format of the show means that something has to go wrong, and at this point it’s looking like either an accidental overdose from someone mistaking the pills for aspirin, or domestic violence when her husband finds out.

Back at the clinic, Phyllis has a quiet word with the heavily-pregnant Shelagh about calming the hell down. She urges her to rest, and reminds her that she can choose who of her colleagues will deliver her baby.

Barbara and Tom announce that they will get married during Reverand Gilbert’s stopover in London. But, as Valerie points out for the trailer, that means they have just three weeks to plan the wedding. Oh, what hilarious hijinks will ensue from this set up, I wonder?

As the nurses giggle over wedding dress patterns, Barbara is frets that all the commercial patterns are far too extravagant for her. Everyone’s having a grand time, but Delia looks sad, probably because Patsy is still MIA, and in any case she can’t get married because she’s accidentally fallen in love with someone with the wrong set of genitals.  Silly girl.

Shelagh pops around Nonnatus house to drop off some insulin and announce which of her colleagues she wants pulling a human out of her insides. She chooses Sister Julienne, and Phyllis tries to disguise her hurt.

Barbara shares with Tom a story about begging to go on the carousel at the county fair when she was little, and how it was the first time she realised how poor her father was. Tom says that she’s never told him that story before, and Barbara muses that one day they will have nothing left to share because they will have shared everything, hammering home once again just how terrible the prospect of spending the rest of her life with Tom sounds. Barbara chooses this moment to tell him that she’s going to the family planning clinic so everything will be in hand by the wedding night. Eww.

The first signs of trouble are showing as Wilma experiences a sudden pain in her leg. What could it be?

What’s the worst thing to see when walking into a family planning clinic? A nun? Your boss? How about both, as is the case for poor Barbara. She brings up Phylis’s bad mood to Sister Julienne  who reminds her that in times of great happiness, it is well to remember some may be ploughing a less congenial path. I would quite like to have Sister Julienne just follow me around, dispensing motherly wisdom as required.

The FCC nurse presents Barbara with the most horrific thing I have ever seen and shoves it up inside her. Barbara puts on a brave face, but the moment she gets home, she takes it out. Given the choice between that and having a dozen kids, no wonder so many women became nuns.

At home with the Turner’s, Shelagh says she doesn’t want Dr Turner in the room when she gives birth, because she wants her to be her husband and not her doctor.

Later, Barbara asks Phyllis to be her bridesmaid. Phyllis tells her to choose someone prettier one of her friends, but Barbara says that Phyllis is her friend, and everything she learnt about living with another person, she learnt from her middle-aged roommate. They have a bittersweet conversation about who will help Phyllis with her Spanish vocab once Barbara’s moved out, and I get all teary-eyed. Oh, don’t do it Barbara! Join me and Phyllis and choose a life of spinsterhood!

Wilma shows off the new settee she bought with her paycheck to her husband, Trevor. He’s upset, because his wife’s financial success is emasculating him. At this point I was expecting the episode to go the domestic violence root, but instead it results in spooning. Who knew?

Trixie comes back from a date with her new boyfriend Christopher, a man who smiles so much I can only assume he tortures women in his basement. Christopher wants Trixie to meet his secret daughter, but Trixie isn’t sure. She says she’ll consider it.

Wilma and her Trevor wake up having fallen asleep on the settee. They both have work in the morning. Wilma hurriedly takes two pills and goes to bed.

Meanwhile, Valerie finds Barbara asleep over an unfinished wedding dress. It’s hard going, but Barbara can’t afford to buy one, so she has no choice but to make her own. Or, as she’s decided by morning, to borrow a dress from her sister and splash out on a new hairband for a veil. Luckily, everyone has banded together to raise money for Barbara. Cinderella, you will go to the ball.

Add Phyllis to the list of people I want following me around, for her ability to ward off pushy shop assistants with an imperious stare.

At the most depressing gay bar I’ve ever seen, Delia is drowning her sorrows and pouring out her woes to an unseen barkeep. Someone lays a hand on hers. It’s Patsy! No, it’s just a waitress offering to call her a taxi.

Wilma is looking increasingly unwell and collapses on her new settee. Dr Turner notices a suspicious red patch on her leg and sends her to the hospital where Trixie has been seconded.

Meanwhile, Shelagh’s commenced her labour with her customary Scottish efficiency. She hurries a bewildered Sister Julienne upstairs explaining she’s eaten “a whole packet of pink wafers and the pain’s in [her] lower back.”

At the hospital, it turns out Wilma’s had a pulmonary embolism. They’re going to treat her with medication and perform a tracheotomy. Trixie recommends that Trevor send for his children. It seems there have been a number of cases of women on the pill having blood clots. Of course, when Trixie asks Trevor, he knows nothing about it, and is hurt because she knew how much he wanted a son.

Tom performs last rights on Wilma. Trixie asks for him to wait before letting Wilma’s family in, while she puts some makeup on her, as Trevor had earlier said he didn’t want the children being frightened seeing their mother so sick. While looking for a comb in Wilma’s handbag, she finds the pills. I was unaware that early contraceptive pills caused blood clots. Thank you Call the Midwife, for reading me in another chapter in that hefty tome, ‘Why it Sucks to Have an XX Chromosome.’

Back at the Turner’s, Dr Turner is feeling helpless as he’s kept outside the delivery room while his wife cries out in pain. Sister Julienne suggests Shelagh try singing to calm herself down. Dr Turner joins in, and at this beautiful moment I can’t help but laugh uncontrollably at his attempt. Shelagh asks for him to come in, because they’re such a pair of crazy kids, it’s useless for them to try to be like everyone else. Imagine, a husband in the delivery room. The horror. Finally, Shelagh gives birth to a healthy two week old baby boy. And so begins adopted daughter Angela’s descent in to sociopathy. Just you watch, she’ll be trying drown her brother before the episode’s out.

Wilma is officially dead. Trixie and Tom talk about life, the universe, and how funny it was that time they almost got married. Tom has high hopes for Trixie and Christopher, and assures Trixie that she’s great with kids, as he saw how she was with Wilma’s children.

At last, Barbara’s father arrives, and, like his daughter, he is a suspiciously accent-less Liverpudlian. I was expecting Dave Lister and all I got was Father Brown.

So Trixie finally meets Christopher’s ridiculously named daughter, and almost straight away blows it by opening with a dead bunny story. Luckily, she rescues it at the last minute, and they bond over nail varnish.

Meanwhile Fred and some other locals turn up on Tom’s doorstep, hoping for a booze-up to take him on his stag do. This results in Fred waking up in the garden shed and Tom looking more human than I’ve ever seen him. He’s also won into a fair chunk of cash, thanks to some betting on dogs. I wonder what he’ll spend it on?

It’s the wedding day. It was always going to be a simple wedding for Barbara. After all, as her father said, she finds joy in the little things. So what does this simple girl’s wedding dress look like? I can only describe it as the Snow Queen meets the Ghost of Christmas Past. Truly, it is something to behold.

After the ceremony, Tom has a surprise for Barbara, and no, it’s not the six waving tentacles he keeps hiding under his human skin suit (he’s saving that for the wedding night.) It’s a carousel! Yes, he spent the money he won on a carousel. Not a mortgage down-payment. Not a trust fund of any kind. A carousel. All I can say is I hope he outright bought the damned thing, as it’ll be the only bit of happiness in a life of poverty from now on. But of course, Barbara loves it, and as the music swells and Vanessa Redgrave narrates something about the march of time, we are invited to love it too.

Everyone beams happily, either waving from he carousel or simply watching their loved ones on it. Everyone, that is, but Delia. But then she spies Patsy under the bridge and they kiss and promise to never be apart again, and then rejoin the party before the police can arrest them and their friends in a religious order can shun them for the abomination against nature that is their selfless love for each other. Hooray!

And so ends another series. Next season will be set in 1963, and all I can say is, there had better be Daleks.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fourteen

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The Masque of Mandragora – I spent many years remembering this story as a fairly standard adventure among several more interesting stories. But then the last time I watched it, something strange happened. I found it was actually rather good. By the time the first cliff-hanger rolled around, I was really involved (and this was about my fourth time watching). It’s almost not worth stating at this point, but the BBC are really good at period pieces, and this episode looks beautiful; really convincing renaissance Italy. It also helps that they filmed at Portmeirion, which is a place I just want to run around and play make-believe in. Are Guiliano and Marco the first gay couple in Doctor Who. Or am I just reading too much into Marco’s willingness to be tied up and all sweaty for the sake of his prince… Anyway, they make a cute couple; I’m sure there’s fanart of them somewhere. Oh Sarah, how are you always coincidentally dressed in the perfect attire for whatever era you happen to land in? Speaking of, I don’t think Elisabeth Sladen ever looked more beautiful than she does in the story. And Heironymous’s beard is epic (though the greatest beard in Doctor Who history still goes to Zargo from State of Decay).  It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but can be great fun if you’re willing to get swept up in the adventure. 7/10

The Hand of Fear – Sarah is so creepy and childlike possessed; it helps that she’s decided to dress like a four-year-old today. Incidentally: SARAH WHAT ARE YOU WEARING YOU USED TO BE A SERIOUS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WHAT HAPPENED? Sorry, I try not to dwell on the shallow side of things, but it is the strangest outfit choice this side of Nyssa’s ‘deck-chair’ look in Snakedance. I still haven’t entirely forgiven the Doctor for coldly allowing that nice Dr Carter to fall to his death. This would never happen on David Tennant’s watch. It’s a pity all the balletic subtlety of Judith Paris’s performance is replaced at the last minute by Stephen Thorne playing… Stephen Thorne. I find this story just basically competent, but it must have some impact, as even after forty years, my Aunt, who I don’t think has watched any Doctor Who since the 70s, still remembers ‘Eldrad must live.’ 6/10

The Deadly Assassin – I’m surprised that Hinchcliffe and Holmes decided to bring back the Master, seeing as at this point he was exclusively a product of the Pertwee era, and all the other UNIT characters had been phased out. Plus, he might as well be a totally different character, seeing as Peter Pratt seething in a garbage bag and ping pong balls bears no resemblance to the affably evil Roger Delgado character. Now that we know Time Lords can change the sex and race of their bodies, I think we finally have an explanation for why everyone in this story was an old white man – being an old white man was fashionable at the time (don’t worry Gallifrey, we have something similar). The scariest moment comes in Part 3 when, lost in the nightmarish reality of the matrix, we see… the Doctor’s bare arms! We hardly ever see the Doctor’s arms exposed and it feels wrong somehow. Miscellaneous thoughts: The scrolling text at the beginning of Part 1 reminds me so much of Star Wars, that I’m surprised that this came first; I never fail to laugh at the chalk outline of the deceased president complete with wacky collar; the Panopticon set receives a lot of praise, but all I can think of is a mint aero chocolate bar (if you’ve ever eaten a mint aero, you’ll know what I mean). This story is fine, but I just find it doesn’t quite live up to all the hype. 6/10

The Face of Evil – What a criminally underrated story this is. I think the jungle sets  are everybit as good as the one that get raved about in Planet of Evil; it has a similar aesthetic too, with trees and vines made out of bits of pipes. The first episode ends on a phenomenal cliff-hanger, which must comes as a shock to anyone who doesn’t know it’s coming. The plot overall is pretty intriguing and almost unique, doing the ‘Doctor returns to find his intervention has only made things worse’ decades before Bad Wolf. And of course this is the story that introduces Louise Jameson as Leela, who I think is the strongest actor to ever play a companion. The story does suffer slightly when it moves from the Sevateem to the Tesh, mostly because the Tesh are so robotic it’s hard to not glaze over whenever they’re on screen. Also, I never totally understood how Xoannon was the Sevateem’s god, but they recognised the Doctor as the Evil One, who was apparently Xoannon’s enemy. I guess it’s all to do with the split personality theme. And while there are episodes that fail the Bechdel test much harder than this one does (there is at least one female unspeakng extra in addition to the companion) seeing as we’re supposedly being presented with two races, the fact that they are almost exclusively male does stick out. Not without its faults, but pretty enjoyable nonetheless. 7/10

The Robots of Death – I have to admit I’m not especially enamoured with the crews’ costumes – giant hats and flowing robes seem a trifle impractical for a mining ship – but I like the art deco look of the crews’ quarters on the ships and the design of the robots themselves. D84 is very sweet; part of me wishes that he survived the episode and became a companion, but then I suppose we wouldn’t have had the sassy brilliance of K9. I love Poul as well (mostly thanks to David Collings’s charming performance) and it breaks my heart when he breaks his mind. I hope he recovered after the story’s close. I’ve not even mentioned Pamela Salem who plays a highly competent and likable character in Toos. I love the Doctor’s explanation for how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside – it’s scientifically nonsense, of course, but it has a kind of childlike logic to it. It’s often repeated by the story’s detractors that it’s a whodunit where the identity of the killer is revealed in the title – but that’s not the point. The Doctor identifies the robots as the killers from the beginning; the mystery is who is reprogramming them, and this mystery is handled well. What can I say, I find mystery solving shows strangely comforting (Jonathan Creek, the early episodes of Sherlock) and a Doctor Who murder mystery with a great cast of supporting characters ticks all the boxes for me. 9/10

The Talons of Weng-Chiang – Oh I’ve been dreading this one. The design is beautiful. The acting is phenomenal. The dialogue has the perfect balance of wit and drama. The description of ‘pale eyes’ is so unusual, I try to use it in every short story I write. The whole serial is just dripping with atmosphere. And the villain is played by a white man in yellow face. *Bangs head on desk*. And unlike The Tomb of the Cybermen, I do think the production team at the time should have known better. I’m white, but I try to imagine if I were of Chinese heritage, would be offended by this, like how as a female I’m offended by The Prison in Space, and I think I would be. And while the story doesn’t explicitly state that all Chinese people are evil – and even manages an ironic jab at the way that white people think all Chinese look alike – it does imply it by the fact that the only Chinese people we see are criminals. I think they could have helped their case a lot had they had a sympathetic Chinese character. Maybe Professor Litefoot could have had a Chinese assistant who helped them with the investigation. And you know, cast an actual Chinese actor. Pretty much impossible to mark, so I’m giving it two – 9/10 for production values and story, 2/10 for failing to not include problematic portrayals of race.

Originally published 11 March, 2017