Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I'm Sick of Klingons

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was a great show when it wasn't terrible. And one of the ways it was great but secretly also terrible was what it did to the Klingons. In the original series they were defined as brutal, domineering bad guys, but TNG redefined them as being honor-bound warriors, mixing in Viking sagas, samurai, Tolkien's dwarves, and various other, less fortunate stereotypes. This made for good TV, and helped make Worf one of the show's best characters.

But while "Viking saga on a spaceship" is a really cool idea, it doesn't make any sense if you think about it for five seconds. At what point, in their strict regime of carousing, conquering, and stabbing each other in the back, do they study astrophysics? Build engines capable of warping the fabric of space-time? Figure out how to overcome the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? How does a culture that collectively gets up every morning and thinks "Today I'm going to get drunk and hit people with an axe" become a political force spanning star systems?

Worse, the character of Worf became iconic and much-imitated. What was enjoyable the first time around became tedious very quickly. It had become acceptable, even taken for granted, that sci-fi would feature these noble savages with rayguns. Then, of course, Tolkien came back in a big way, and Hairy Muscle Guys Chopping Each Other to Bits became whole genre of film.

It's worth noting that whether this warrior race is seen as good or bad, they are always a simple stereotype assigned to something other. Dwarves in fantasy, dark-skinned aliens in sci-fi. In the real world, such stereotypes always miss the point of the culture in question. The Vikings, the samurai, various tribes of Africans or Native Americans... They were all complex human beings trying to cope with the world they lived in. The stereotypes come from believing whatever propaganda got spread around, lionizing or demonizing the people in question, but always dumbing down, simplifying, ignoring reality.

Parenthetically, I bet the Black Panther movie will not be problematic or embarrassing at all.

Finally, from a writer's point of view, you can't do much with that character type. Only the denial of reality keeps it fun. If you take him(or rarely, her) seriously, there is no avoiding the conclusion that he is dangerously out of touch with reality. Either a macho idiot with no concept of consequences, or a fanatical reactionary who thinks what was good enough for the noble savages is good enough for us. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Doctor Who Review: 1-7 "The Long Game"

Alternate Title: Like I Need a Hole in My Head

Brief Synopsis: Rose loses interest in her new boyfriend when he starts screwing around with the past; Meanwhile, someone's been screwing around with the future.


The Long Game is one of season one's middling episodes. The sets, costumes and effects get the job done but aren't particularly impressive. The story's not bad but it relies on the actors to make it entertaining enough that we don't ask too many questions.

Questions such as: What the heck is the Jagrafess, what is it contributing to the evil plot, and why doesn't anyone notice it until it starts making snarly noises? Who's the editor and how does he sense 'fiction?' Why doesn't anyone think "No one comes back from floor 500... Oh, that's probably because they're dead." Why can't the editor stop Cathica from hacking him? How did the Doctor and Rose get to be "nobody" in the computer? (This last one actually has an answer but it still doesn't make much sense in this episode.)

But having gotten all that off my chest... Russell T. Davies does a good job here of setting up plotlines without letting us see exactly where they're going. Humanity isn't living up to its potential; the poor state of TV is partially to blame. No one's asking questions anymore. Journalism is dead, and free thought along with it - a pointed warning for the 21st century? The ending leaves a lot unresolved but the loose ends will actually matter later on. RTD's plotting is not always going to be this subtle, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Interspersed with all this are scenes of Rose and the Doctor behaving somewhat childishly in order to tease or impress Adam. There are some cute moments, such as Rose showing off knowledge she doesn't actually have and the Doctor making free money with his sonic screwdriver. There is a sense here that all three characters have taken their stupid pills.

Above all, the one part of this episode that demands comment is Adam's cybernetic surgery and subsequent dismissal as companion. The receptionist/nurse who convinces him to go along with it is weirdly seductive and the whole thing is uncomfortable and disturbing. The cybernetic implant itself is more than a little silly. Having a hole in your head would come with certain drawbacks, like, say... Random mosquitos flying into your skull and stinging you in the frontal lobe? The silliness of it makes it hard to believe that anyone would go along with it. "Adam" is supposed to make us think of temptation but his sin here is sheer stupidity.

The Doctor rejects Adam for succumbing to the temptation to use time travel for his own gain. But the Doctor has a magic wand that makes infinite money, so what does he know about it? You might say he's incorruptible, but you might also say that there's not much power left for him to acquire. If Rose was doing her job of keeping the Doctor connected to humanity, she'd point out that it's human nature to want wealth and security, so setting Adam loose in the future with a bottomless credit card was dooming him to failure. It's enough to accuse D9 of sabotaging the little twerp out of jealousy.

That's all troublesome enough but the episode leaves us with the wrongest final scene since D5 unconvincingly failed to rescue a certain whiny companion in the days of the dinosaur. Adam has botched his trial period as companion but the dismissal and scorn he's subjected to are overly cruel, especially considering that D9 specifically ordered him to make mistakes. It's also worrisome given how easy it is to imagine that Adam will be dead in a few months for lack of anyone to do maintenance on his new wetware.


I remember a lot of people online assuming that Adam was going to come back for revenge. He's been treated cruelly by the Doctor and he's got future tech in his brain - Obviously he's not just going to just sit there in 2012 and live a quiet life like the Doctor told him to! I'm still not sure if this is part of RTD's cunning misdirection or just another reason why this storyline was unsatisfying.

The future this time out is dingy and disappointing, which it had to be because they couldn't afford to produce another episode on the scale of The End of the World. But before you have a chance to ask why this future sucks compared to the one we saw before, the Doctor is framing it as a mystery, which makes it compelling. That's damned clever, I've got to admit.

It took me a long time to post this review because it kept coming off as extremely negative, and I wanted to at least grant the episode credit for what it does right. So I want to take a moment to point out that Simon Pegg is so good as the editor that I was never bothered by the many questions that character raises. Suki was also briefly interesting; maybe this episode would have come off better if it had been about them instead of Adam.


Sometimes the Doctor and Rose don't take their adventures seriously, and it can make them seem callous, even sociopathic. They have way too much fun dancing around other peoples' misfortune, treating time travel like a video game. Somewhere down the road this will actually have consequences.

The only other major example of a turncoat companion up to this point is Turlough, the fifth doctor's would-be murderer. D5's companions were all whiny and ill-conceived but Turlough managed to be pretty interesting anyway. The companion of dubious morality is such a fun character type that it's surprisingly rare in the show's history.


First "bad" companion of the new series.

First mindbogglingly dumb mistake made by a companion in the new series - no, not the cyber-surgery, I'm talking about when Rose gives Adam her TARDIS key! If he'd really wanted to make trouble he would've tried to take the time machine for himself.

First time in the history of fiction that someone is given the power to barf ice cubes.


Did the Doctor save the day? / Did the Doctor inspire someone else to save the day? I'll say both because Cathica finished the job but only after having huge doses of common sense poured into her brain by D9.

Surprise Time Lord Super-Power #5: Overriding anonymity. Somehow the Doctor is not just unknown, but reads as a blank to the Editor's computers. If you've read the Dune books you know why this is not effective camouflage.

WTF Factor: Lots of stuff, but mainly the Jagrafess. What is it? What does it do? Why doesn't anyone notice a giant pink thing until it's biting their heads off?

Personal Confuser: Cathica is able to easily out-hack the Editor when the plot allows it. Earlier it seemed as if people connected to the network were completely at his mercy.

Nice person who turns out not to be nice but dies anyway: Suki.

Best scene: Any time the Editor was being gleefully evil.

The Big List
1. The End of the World
2. Aliens of London / World War Three
3. Dalek
4. Rose
5. The Long Game
6. The Unquiet Dead

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sulk in Moonlight

I've been tinkering with an alternate guitar tuning. Here's the first thing to result from that experiment.

(The tuning is E G# E G# A# D#)

Also, check out the drawings I've been posting to twitter.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Doctor Who Review: 1-6 "Dalek"

Alternate Title: I, Dalek

Brief Synopsis: The Doctor meets a soldier who fought on the other side of the war, and they try to kill each other in between talking out their survivor's guilt. Rose brings the compassion and forgiveness.

Five Words: Exposit. Exterminate. Elevate. Empathize. Euthanize.


The episode is called "Dalek." What more could you want? Honestly, all it has to do is deliver the gloriously violent title villain and some good scenery-chewing and it gets a free pass. And indeed this one is all about Eccleston and Piper exchanging melodramatic dialogue with a giant pepperpot and that stuff is all golden. Any scene lacking the motorized plunger Nazi shows how weak the episode is otherwise, though. Basically if this episode didn't feature a Dalek as the monster it wouldn't be much good at all.

Capitalist bad guy Van Statten is the standout flaw: A tremendously boring character who's just there to be wrong about everything. A lot of time is spent characterizing him through his amoral, culture-of-ownership style arrogance, but he's too shallow even to qualify as a strawman, because what really are his beliefs? "Internet entrepreneurs deserve to rule the world?" And how did being a patent troll make him ruler of a fascistic empire? Clearly a whole lot else would have to go wrong for this idiot to be dictator-for-life. Worse, whereas a proper bad guy is a foil to the hero, Van Statten and D9 hardly interact at all as characters. They just shout at each other without listening to what the other is saying.

Possibly even less effective than Van Statten is his aide, Diana Goddard, who we're supposed to like because she's less stupid than him and delivers his comeuppance in eye-for-an-eye style at the end. But all that indicates is that she uses power the same way he does and has learned nothing from his example. A cheap Ha-Ha ending for two useless characters.

Enough negativity. The really substantive aspect of "Dalek" is the survivor's guilt theme. If you keep in mind that Daleks are basically sci-fi Nazis, you can easily recognize what a serious vein of drama Mr. Eccleston and Mr. Pepperpot are tapping into. We learn a lot about how much D9's experiences in the time war have changed him, to the extent that he seems emotionally damaged. The Doctor has never been this dark before, and Eccleston makes it engrossing in a way that D1's misanthropy and D6's arrogance can't approach.

I have to point out that a lot of the dialogue here is kinda dumb if you think about it. "You would make a good Dalek" is not a line that a Dalek would ever say, for example. The most complimentary thing a Dalek can say to a non-Dalek is "You're exploitable." But it's still good material for the actors to tear up the screen with. (And maybe absorbing the internet exposed the Dalek to Godwin's Law.)

It's a key plot point that the Dalek is changed by Rose, due to a DNA transfer thingamajig(eyeroll) that immediately makes it start having emotions other than hate and shoutyness. This isn't a bad idea, but it's hampered by the regrettable technobabble, and more importantly, the fact that we don't learn anything about Rose here. A comparison is being drawn between them but really what we see is the Dalek becoming more emotional in a generic kind of way. It isn't well explained why it can't bring itself to kill Rose, nor why Rose would defend it after it went on a killing spree in front of her eyes. The script could easily have given up every scene with Van Statten in order to better develop the idea that the Dalek is bonding with Rose. This kind of thing was done better in the Trek episode "I, Borg," to give an example.

Oh well. In any case it would have made a whole lot more sense if the Dalek had just gotten distracted reading and looking at funny cat videos.


This is an episode that, on the one hand, is a history-maker and a highlight of the first season, but on the other hand doesn't hold up to re-watching too well. The parts of it that aren't good stand out in stark contrast to the parts that are. It's also a bit of a shame, in a way, that this isn't the last ever episode with Daleks. It's a pretty good "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" kind of story for them. Of course, DC kept making Superman stories after that, so... Yeah.


D9 is a lot more eager to kill Daleks than D4 was back on Skaro, but Rose talks him down. D7 was pretty cavalier about committing genocide on them, though, and Ace never called him on it. In the grand scheme of things it looks like the dilemma from Genesis of the Daleks remains unanswered.

Adam Mitchell debuts here and seems like a salvageable guy. There's a scene between him and Rose that we can tell is sweet because the music says so. And maybe he's infected by Van Statten's arrogance and self-interest but the simple fact that he goes to Rose and the Doctor at the end indicates that he knows who the real heroes are.

There's a lot of insight into the Dalek thought process here that's pretty interesting for a long-term fan. Even from the start, this Dalek seems to be capable of some deeper insight than we usually get from the little squidbrains. Presumably being isolated from peer pressure and space Nazi rhetoric will go some way toward freeing up even a Dalek mind. One interesting question to ask as you watch is: How much of what the Dalek says to Rose on their first meeting is just a heartless scheme to get a hit of her DNA?


First new series Dalek with exciting swivel-shooting action.

NOT The First Elevation. They did that in some of the later episodes of the classic series, though without calling quite as much attention to the fact that stairs are a solved problem.

First Time The Plunger Kind of Makes Sense. ("This is Kev the Dalek, he has two plungers. Kev's not very dangerous." -Eddie Izzard)

First mention of the word "regeneration." Note also the question Rose puts to D9, "What the hell are you changing into?" It's a little too subtle to work as foreshadowing, especially if you're new to Doctor Who, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.

First Doctor Getting Seriously Dark. We've seen D9 cross some moral lines, as when he seemingly killed Cassandra in DW 1-2. But in "Dalek" he's holding a gun and ready to use it, which just feels wrong.

First The "L" Word: The Dalek knows that Rose is the woman D9 loves because it scanned her DNA and read the entire internet. It also found out that Kirk loves Spock and human females love sparkly vampires. Odd that in this episode where the Love bombshell is dropped, Rose seems to be sweeter on Adam.


Does the Doctor save the day? No. The Dalek probably would have quietly died if D9 hadn't come to investigate. And Rose was the one who put an end to the conflict.

Does the Doctor inspire someone else to save the day? No. It's not his best showing as far as results are concerned.

Semi-companion: Adam Mitchell.

Nice Person Who Talked to Rose and Died: This is a stretch, but I like this feature so I'm shoehorning it in. Anyways, the one soldier who tries to reason with the Dalek when they're in the stairwell is a nice touch.

WTF Factor: The Dalek x-ray lasergun is conducted like electricity through water, making it officially more confusing than phasers or light-sabers.

Personal Confuser: Being secret owner of the internet doesn't seem like that great of a business deal, and downloading the entire thing isn't much help if you don't also get a good search algorithm. I wonder if the Dalek has its own universal translator or if it just ran it all through Babelfish.

Old Who Reference: The Cyberman head, of course. In any other episode it would have seemed gratuitous but it makes sense here.

No Really, The Last of the Time Lords: Apparently the Doctor would know if there were any other Time Lords left. Even if they were hanging out in a different century or in another dimension. So don't get any ideas. This does help explain why Time Lords always seemed to be able to recognize each other despite changes of appearance.

Interesting little sidenote: The Doctor recognizes the spaceship from Roswell. I wonder if he would know how to drive it, too.

Bad Wolf: It's honestly a little too blatant here, and too pointless a throwaway line as well. In retrospect it seems like a tip-off that the whole Bad Wolf thing is not going to make sense.

Best Scene: The final confrontation.

Most Emotional Moment: This one's pretty harrowing all the way through. Take your pick, but I have to go with the initial reveal of the Dalek.

Funniest: "Hair dryer." I also love when Rose ducks the swiveling Dalek eye-stalk when they're in the elevator. It seems unrehearsed.

The Big List
1. The End of the World
2. Aliens of London / World War Three
3. Dalek
4. Rose
5. The Unquiet Dead

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Doctor Who Review: 1-4 "Aliens of London" and 1-5 "World War Three"

Alternate Title: Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Time Travelers

Brief Synopsis: Rose returns to the present time, more or less. Things get domestic. Meanwhile, an alien invasion is going on but it's not the one you're expecting.

Five Words: Harriet Jones, MP Flydale North.


This is the one with the farting aliens. Which is too bad, because setting that bizarre distraction aside, it's a very good episode. Few Doctor Who plots deliver this many genuinely clever twists alongside meaty character development. Not to mention Harriet Jones, one of the more memorable guest characters in the new series.

This is the episode that shows us that Rose's backstory and supporting cast are going to be crucial elements of season one. And while they'll be revisited from time to time, such as during the finale, the bulk of the drama really plays out here. Rose comes home and discovers that her adventures come at the cost of neglecting her loved ones, and the Doctor has to admit that he can't guarantee the safety of his companions. It's a big statement too for the show itself, that we're going to be seeing this more realistic take on responsibility and consequences in New Who.

The downside to this story is, of course, the villains, who are not particularly frightening or amusing and show glaring consistency problems between animatronics and CGI. They aren't without their interesting aspects, to be fair. The head-zippers and discarded skin-suits are one way in which the Slitheen's cartoonishness is very effective, a delightfully lunatic kind of horror. There's also the classy confrontation between Margaret and the Doctor which fully merits said villain's return later on.

But it really just comes down to the farting, doesn't it? Fat people farting a lot, that's what you take away from these episodes. It's even a clever idea that big aliens could be squeezing down into rotund human disguises, but the script just won't stop hammering the FART JOKE button.


I really had forgotten how good this episode was. So much of season one's essential character drama is packed into this two-parter that you could just watch this and The Parting of the Ways and you'd get virtually all of the impact of the finale.

Harriet Jones is a tremendously likeable character, but also a very naive model of a perfect politician. She's from a small town. Polite but insistent about doing the right thing. Cares about her constituents and empathizes with them on a person-to-person basis. Smart and proper but she knows how to have fun("Pass it to the left"). Ushers in a new golden age. She's practically a walking campaign promise. The idea that she's going to be a revolutionary figure in politics seems far-fetched given that she is the image of the leader we want rather than the leader we need. Anyways, there wouldn't be any reason for me to mention this if she wasn't going to return in a more ambiguous role.

It was really fun to relive the excitement of the UNIT alert when the Doctor's name comes up on the screen. It's a nice, subtle nod to the show's long history, and it keeps the plot moving along effectively too.

By the way, when the Doctor is figuring out who Harriet Jones is, it reminds me of a future episode where he senses his memories changing to reflect altered history. I doubt that was the intent, but it's fun to make that connection.


D9 and Rose's relationship is defined about as clearly here as it's ever going to be. According to Rose the Doctor is better and more important than a boyfriend. Rose's inability to explain this to Mickey and Jackie is poignant and makes perfect sense.

Mickey is still getting picked on, not just by the Doctor but also by the script which uses him for comic relief. At the same time, he makes a much better impression this time and even though he turns down the offer to become a true companion it's clear that he's more than the close-minded buffoon he appeared to be in the first episode. By any fair analysis he passes the companion test in World War Three and his lack of TARDIS experience is just a technicality.

Jackie is at her best here, challenging D9 with no respect for Time Lords or saving the world. Her question to the Doctor cuts right through his self-image and brings up the responsibilities he doesn't like to admit he has. She remains a likeable character throughout her appearances in future episodes but is never again as significant, even when acting as more of an official companion.

It's a nice moment for D9 when he grieves for the pig which is, after all, just a pig. I wonder how much the Doctor's ethics would have in common with Peter Singer's... Depends who's writing the episode, I suppose. Anyway, I get annoyed by aliens that are just humanoids with animal heads(a lazy cop-out that Doctor Who is quite capable of resorting to) and this is a clever subversion of the trope.


First multi-part story for the new series.

First hammer repair job on the TARDIS.

First Trinity Wells, dramatic American newsreader.

First Harriet Jones' incessant introductions.


Does the Doctor save the day? Yeah, pretty much. Earth would've been toasted and sold off as radioactive scrap to aliens without his intervention, and D9 gets plenty of good hero bits. When he comes up with the vinegar bomb idea it's a great scene that we'll see played out in different ways in the future - The Doctor trapped in a room and armed only with facts.

Does the Doctor inspire someone else to save the day? Partially. He gets Jackie and Mickey on his side enough that they'll push the button for him.

Semi-Companion: Jackie, Mickey, and Harriet Jones.

WTF Factor: Farts!

Not All That Nice Person Who Talked to Harriet And Died: Indra Ganesh, the humbly named junior secretary. He gets a "Sorry" for his trouble.

TARDIS Facts: Aliens of London and The Unquiet Dead both bring up a classic TARDIS bug/feature - it takes you to the most exciting place and time within a certain range of where you were actually trying to go.

Personal Confuser: Mickey gains access to military weapons in a scene that is hardly any less absurd than an Eddie Izzard comedy routine: "Hacking into Pentagon computer... Double-click on YES."

Surprise Time Lord Super-Power #2: Instant Charisma. The Doctor hardly has to say a single sentence before he's taken charge of the soldiers, which is perfectly in character, really. Some prior Doctors(D2, D5 and D7 in particular) would be less assertive and just wait for the soldiers to figure out who the alpha male is. But you just know all the Doctors can do this when they want to.

Surprise Time Lord Super-Power #3: Electricity Resistance. For all that the cliffhanger built up the electric shock trap, the Doctor didn't have that much trouble with it.

Surprise Time Lord Super-Power #4: Weaponized Technobabble. Okay, it's not technically a super-power, but it's still surprisingly useful. I wonder if he doesn't use this power more often than we realize.

The Big List
1. The End of the World
2. Aliens of London / World War Three
3. Rose
4. The Unquiet Dead

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Doctor Who Review: 1-3 "The Unquiet Dead"


Alternate Title: These Zombies Are Just Gas-tly!

Brief Synopsis: Rose and the Doctor visit Charles Dickens in Cardiff and find out that ghosts are made of gas.

Five Words: Bad science versus bad faith.


This one's enjoyable but it's a big step down from the previous episode. The bad guys are lame and the plot doesn't hold together. Let's start with the Gelth. Sometimes they are zombies. New Who gets a lot of mileage out of zombie-like monsters, but plain old zombies seem so unimaginative compared to Autons or people with gas masks or patients suffering from every disease in the universe. Then the Gelth become gas-ghosts, still boring but with an added level of not-making-sense. Then they're angels, which almost works, but of course they're really demons, which is unbelievably boring.

Then there's Charles Dickens, who just doesn't fit in. There's a point where the Doctor says "We might need you," and of course, they do. They need the addled mind of the elderly Dickens to think that turning up the gas is going to be bad for the aliens who are made of gas, which somehow turns out to be right.

A lot of the plotting is just stuff happening at random - the zombie showing up at the Dickens reading, Rose getting caught by Sneed - and weird shifts of character like the Doctor suddenly trusting Sneed and the Gelth who together were doing a good job of killing Rose only moments earlier.

The biggest problem, though, has to do with the treatment of the overall themes of faith and betrayal, and the inconsistent behavior of the characters. It's most painful when the Doctor is chiding Dickens for being skeptical, which seems radically out of character. While one must at some point believe in ghosts and zombies if they present themselves, as big a science nerd as the Doctor should be supportive of healthy skepticism, especially when it comes to ghosts and seances in Dickens's time.

The Doctor is also remarkably stupid to trust the Gelth. They want to "stand tall and feel the sunlight." Which is presumably why they kill people? Like they almost did to Rose? Which is why Rose is justifiably mistrusting of them, and ends up being completely right about everything(excepting maybe the value of corpses). There's an attempt to justify the Doctor's behavior by pushing his Time War guilt buttons, and it is certainly possible for him to be arrogant and to make mistakes, but in this case he's just being a doofus the whole time and it's painful to watch.

Rose reasons that this can't happen because it would change the future, which seems fair, but the Doctor says "time is in flux" and apparently this means it's okay to meddle with history. This is a lampshading exercise that new Who will rely on regularly, and with some success; here it completely fails to address Rose's point that bringing alien zombies to Earth in the 1800s would have enormous consequences. But maybe the Doctor already knows what we will see for ourselves before too long: Humans immediately repress any memories they acquire of alien invasions.

In the end there's a reversal where faith in angels ends up being a horrible trap but given that we like Gwyneth and want the Doctor to be right, it comes as a disappointment. And then Gwyneth is hanging on after death, animated but still conscious, and maybe this is some kind of miracle? But Gwyneth was wrong about faith, and the Doctor was wrong about trust, and Dickens was wrong about skepticism... The idea may have been to sow mystery and ambiguity but it just comes across as a meaningless series of events where reason and faith are equally likely to be wrong and the Doctor will happily play Jenga with history as long as "time is in flux."


I remember being annoyed with this episode the first time I watched it, and revisiting it for this review let me figure out why. Still, it was the first episode my girlfriend watched with me, and that turned out well, so happy ending there.

Another little gripe that I noticed this time was the overuse of false color. This has become a pet peeve of mine in movies and TV. Night-time scenes are drenched in blue and the interiors are equally awash in oranges and browns. It's unconvincing and hard on the eyes.


This is the first in what will be a recurring cycle of jaunts to the past to meet a historical guest star. In that context it makes a little bit more sense than it did to me upon my first viewing, when I was perplexed by the selection of Charles Dickens and 19th century Wales to be featured in New Who's first episode set in the past. Later seasons will show what they can do with a historical set piece when they haven't blown the budget on sci-fi extravaganza already.

A reference to Rose's dead father gets worked in ratherly cleverly, and Bad Wolf gets its first real call-out, referred to specifically as the BIG Bad Wolf, driving home the Little Red Riding Hood symbolism which... I guess makes just as little sense as anything else about the whole Bad wolf thing.

Gwyneth is so charming and well-played in this episode that it makes Torchwood that much more disappointing. More of this sentiment to follow, I'm sure!


First Shamelessly Cliche Opening. It's saved somewhat by Mister Sneed's weary "Oh no..." as he responds to the blood-curdling scream.

First Christmas Episode. Out of season.

First strong hints of Rose/D9 romance. Practically flirting.

First I'm Sorry. Not be confused with I'm So Sorry.

First non-subliminal Bad Wolf.

First The Rift in Cardiff.

First TARDIS accuracy problem for the new series. We also find out that there are other rooms, though we'll never find out how one gets to them.

Does the Doctor save the day in this one? No.
Does the Doctor inspire somebody else to save the day? Not really. He antagonizes Dickens the whole time but the rescue comes from Dickens's own courage and resourcefulness.
Does the Doctor even do good in this one? Kind of a mixed bag. He solves the outbreak of zombie-ism but it comes at a high price.

Best Scene: Rose's chat with Gwyneth.

Best Joke: Rose's rhetorical question about horror movies ending up in morgues as opposed to gazebos.

Cheesiest: The minute the Gelth get what they want, they turn red and get skull-faces and scary monster voices. Any point the episode might have made about misjudging alien life forms goes right out the window when the aliens turn out to perfectly conform to human expectations of what evil looks like.

Semi-Companion: Charles Dickens

Nice Person Who Talks to Rose and Dies: Gwyneth

WTF Factor: Spirits - I mean, disembodied aliens, can manifest in our world if there's gas. Also, they can move around as gas at will, but increasing the amount of gas makes it so they can't move anymore. Even though it's the medium they're able to move in... Oh, nevermind.

Quick, Suspend Your Disbelief: That's sure some fake snow Rose is setting her foot into in close-up.

And of course, the Big Rating List:
1. The End of the World
2. Rose
3. The Unquiet Dead

Monday, May 24, 2010

Doctor Who Review: 1-2 "The End of the World"


Brief synopsis: The Doctor takes Rose to the future in order to show off how far special effects have come since 1989. Rose meets a bitchy trampoline and the Earth gets destroyed.

Five Words: Hitchhiker's Guide to Doctor Who.

Introductions: Cassandra, The Face of Boe, Psychic Paper, Magic Cellphone


The first episode, Rose, was just a warm-up for this. Russell T. Davies mixes the formula and characters of Doctor Who with the fun-loving absurdism of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, noting that the best possible way to kick off a sci-fi serial is to destroy the Earth. Davies, of course, doesn't have to commit to it for the rest of his series the way Adams (mostly) did, but it still sends the same message: Forget this dull little place you call home. We're going places.

There's a lot of great character moments in this one. Rose's attack of culture shock is well-done and very believable. She's interesting and relatable throughout the episode, a good sign for things to come. The best bit for the Doctor is not any of the grim, melancholy foreshadowing stuff - it's when he smiles as he says "That's not supposed to happen."

There are a few flaws. Rose doesn't have much to do during the climax. Jabe is killed by a Legend of Zelda puzzle. Cassandra is about as threatening as a pop tart. But none of this impedes the momentum of the story. To put it simply, if you aren't hooked after this, you're watching the wrong show. This is the episode that sets the standard and the tone for the season, and to some extent for the entire show. The plot's a little flimsy, but the performances, effects, sets and costumes are all dynamite.


The psychic paper shows up for the first time here. It's essentially the social engineering version of the sonic screwdriver, and that's just cool. If anything, it deserves to get used more often than it does. I'm sure you can open at least as many doors with psychic paper, and you can do a lot of other interesting things with it too.

The bit at the end, when the Doctor and Rose go back to the present time and have that quiet little moment of fear, mourning and fast food - that may be the all-time best scene in Doctor Who. The high sci-fi future and everything that happened there is made all the more poignant by the sudden return to normality.


This episode takes a moment to explain the language issue - that is, why do all the aliens in the universe speak English - which as far as I know has never been addressed on Doctor Who before. And thankfully, it's a good and beautiful example of how to work a nerdy explanation into your story. Unlike, say, George Lucas, who chooses stupid things to explain and wastes your time doing it, here Russell T. Davies quickly informs us that the TARDIS has a universal translator that works by remote, further adding: It's a psychic thing, don't worry about it. Which Rose does, of course, which is great because it moves the plot ahead and justifies the explanation being in the episode. Perfect exposition. Gold star.

Although Doctor Who has always used time travel chiefly as an excuse to change settings every episode rather than for its more complex storytelling possibilities, there are hints in this episode that the new series is going to at least raise some questions from time to time. "Five billion years later," Rose muses, "my mum's dead." That kind of unnerving realization brings the whole story to life, more even than costumes and effects.


First hints of D9's Enormous Angst. Yeah, there was a reference to the time war when he was talking to the Nestene Consciousness but he didn't really have time to brood about it then.

First Last of the Time Lords, and maybe also the first verification that this is really a continuation of the series and not a reboot.

First instance of a computer scan taking just long enough to provide a touching moment.

First questionable use of a pop song.

First instance of the Doctor having all kinds of fun and then being sad at the end because people died.

First heart-string plucking use of Rose's theme.


Does the Doctor save the day in this one? Yes. Good ass-kicking episode for D9. He saves Rose and most of the aliens on Platform One, and takes down the villain rather gruesomely while he's at it.

Semi-Companion: Jabe

Nice Person Who Talks to Rose and Dies: Rafallo

Best Scenes: "She's dead now" and the ending.

Best joke: The iPod that plays classical music.

Most emotional: Rose's theme.

WTF Factor: 5.5/Apple/26 is the first time in the series you can just about hear Russell laughing at you because he knows that you know that there is no possible justification for making an actor say anything that weird.

Woeful Cliche: The Countdown of Death, although I can't complain too much because it actually makes sense in the story. It's used about as well as it could be, too - It starts up before there's any danger, and of course we know it's going to be a Countdown Of Death, but the Doctor and Rose don't know that, which is good tension-building stuff.

Personal Confuser: The Steward's computer has a "Kill Me Horribly" button. Shouldn't there be a little window that pops up to ask "Are you sure?"

Surprise Time Lord Super Power #1: Bullet Time. I like that he takes a little moment of Zen to do it. And really, if you call yourself a Time Lord it shouldn't be any big deal to shift your perception of time.

And the Big Episode Rating List:

1. The End of the World
2. Rose