Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

While the novelty of having a title such as X on a(n) X (ex: Snakes on a Plane) would have been more topical in 2006, it does show exactly what we are getting here: a fun “romp” episode that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. With how serious and well-layered the previous episode was, this stands as a stark counter-balance to Asylum of the Daleks with all the “in your face” zaniness that is usually reserved for comedy episodes. I know a lot of fans dislike episodes like this, but I generally like them. As you will see, there is a dark edge here as well, not just fluff.

The plot centers on an unidentified spacecraft that is found to be hurling towards earth, this of course freaks out many Earth-based agencies including the Indian Space Agency. The Doctor is enlisted by the ISA to “take care of it” so that they can stop any sort of crisis with it crashing. The Doctor needs a “Gang” to check it out, so who better to enlist than the legendary Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter named Riddell, and “the Ponds”. They find out that the ship is an ancient Silurian “ark” full of dinosaurs, and fun ensues.

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This episode is notable for introducing a new character – Rory’s father, as played by Mark Williams of Harry potter fame. Brian (Rory’s dad) is sucked into the whole situation completely accidentally, and the first truly humorous scene involves The Doctor’s reaction to his presence. When the Doctor picks up “The Ponds” Brian is helping Rory fix a light bulb just as the Tardis shows up and materialized around all three of them. The Doctor does not in fact notice Brian until way later when they are leaving the Tardis. He assumes some random person walked into the Tardis. It’s never explained how the two don’t seem to have ever met despite the zany antics The Doctor was up to at Amy and Rory’s wedding, but I guess he could have been absent. In The Big Bang, we clearly meet Amy’s parents, but Rory’s family appears to be his siblings or something. I guess it’s a mystery we will never know the answer to!

Another Harry Potter Alumni takes the stage as the villain of the piece – David Bradley as Solomon. As with many Doctor Who villains, Solomon is initially not the antagonist of the piece, but reveals himself in the third act. His initial story is that the problems are all related to the fact that his legs have been mauled by raptors and his “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” of the robot world (as played by the double act –Mitchell & Webb) have been insufficient in helping him out. Once we realize that he wants to capture “Neffy” for his collection we learn the real truth. Solomon is basically a space pirate and has killed all the Silurians on board and a lot of the dinosaurs. He was trying to figure out a way to monetize the dinos before the accident happened, just as the “Gang” shows up.

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What happens next has divided fans of the show, but is not without precedent. The Doctor, realizing how truly evil Solomon is, sets it up so that Solomon is killed by a slew of missiles launched by the ISA. He doesn’t give him a second chance or anything; he basically says “your dead!” and leaves him to his fate. Many internet fans flipped out because of this, partially because many were lead to see the Doctor as a pacifist “space Jesus” up through the first few seasons, but having this view is a mistake. I could list a number of times where the Doctor essentially murders people, but there is no more telling instance than the very first serial of the show. At one point The Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, has to be stopped from smashing a caveman’s skull in with a huge rock simply because he “was slowing them down”. The doctor has a dark side, and being away from companions makes him like this. Hopefully this is a theme further explored!

All in all, I really liked this episode. It isn’t the most intellectual stimulating episode out there, but it’s a fun episode none-the-less. It was great to see some of Rory’s family in a little bit of detail, and Brian was a great character. He was not as cool as Wilf when it comes to family members of companions, but not many are as awesome as that guy! Chris Chibnall has done some mediocre work on Doctor Who in the past, but this episode was pretty good. Maybe fans can look forward to his second episode this season after all!

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Reaction: Doctor Who – Closing Time

Aside from Vincent and the Doctor, The Lodger was easily one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes of season five. Aside from being totally unorthodox in the way it was structured, it was almost like a buddy comedy. I felt that it was one of the better episodes solely based on the face that it showed The Doctor totally at odds with how to act in modern society; it truly brought out his alien nature. Simple mistakes like paying rent with a huge bag of cash may seem like a good idea to The Doctor, but would raise more than a few eyebrows. When it was officially announced that Craig (played by James Corden of Gavin & Stacy fame) would be returning as a “fill-in” companion this year, I was pretty stoked. Not only would a character I liked return, but it was revealed to be a Cybermen episode. And not a Russell T. Davies era “stomping around saying catchphrases Cybermen” episode, but a proper one, complete with Cybermats!

While there are some emotionless metal guys running around, the majority of the episode is centered on The Doctor and his one last attempt at saving the world. It seems that despite knowing that he will die in mere hours, he stops by Craig’s old haunt on some sort of a “farewell tour”. There is an ulterior motive of course, in that he has found some kind of power fluctuations in the area, so the Doctor uses this as an excuse to investigate a bit. What we see is a man on his last legs presumably 200 years after he dropped off Amy and Rory (in his time), trying to cope with his imminent death, and stop the death of one of his friends. Knowing that he basically endangers all that come near him, the Doctor wants Craig to stay away, but seems to only draw him in more.

This episode was very good for what it was: the fluffy episode towards the series finale that keeps one optimistic before their soul is crushed by the bleak ending we all know we will have. This has been seen in Boom Town, Love & Monsters, and finally The Lodger. I know that all of these episodes are somewhat “love it or hate it” affairs, but I think that Closing Time is one of the better ones. My personal favorite thing about the episode was the Doctor’s revelation that Craig’s son calls himself “Stormageddon” in baby language; I give it weeks before someone actually names their kid that. In the grand scheme of things Closing Time does nothing for the larger picture save a scene with River Song at the very end, but that wasn’t what it was there to do. It was the “palette cleanser” right before the main course, the episode that will hopefully blow us away and finish up some stuff we’ve been getting worked up about for 2 full seasons.

spoiler for next week:

Reaction: Doctor Who – The God Complex

That's my fear door

“Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” “Praise Him!” errr *cough*

“The God Complex” is an odd episode, not in a bad way, but it definitely is different than anything else we’ve seen this season. First and foremost the direction was spot on for an episode that was supposed to make us feel uncomfortable and anxious. With a heavy use of surreal cinematography techniques including dutch angles, quick cuts, overlays of text and more, this almost felt a bit more like something Edgar Wright would have directed than a Doctor Who episode. Not that the story resembled anything like that. The actual plot was strange as well; it seemed to take the best elements from the “Hell scene” in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and crossed them with a bit of The Curse of Fenric, a seventh Doctor Story, chiefly with its use of fear and faith as a motif.

I was really worried that this would devolve into nothing more than a Scooby Doo corridor chase scene in the first act of the episode; but as we got further in, everything got a bit more mature than I was expecting. By “mature” I don’t mean gore and nudity, but complex themes not usually reserved for a family show.

While a lot of sci-fi has a tendency to take digs at religion and faith systems, this episode does it in a far more classy way than shows such as Stargate. Instead of coming across in a patronizing atheistic manner that some sci-fi embodies, we get an episode where the villain literally feeds on faith. Whether that faith be in a person, an idea, or a deity, we learn that most people fall back on faith when faced with our greatest fears in order to get us through. What if this faith is tampered with and everyone is brainwashed to have faith in the very thing that is about to kill them? The creature, a large minotaur-like monster, then finds this rapturous wave of faith for itself and feeds. Body after body falls until the Doctor can figure it out. Confusingly, Rory was shown to be a fatalist in some manner, and was said to have no faith. Since he only lives for himself, we are led to believe that the monster would leave him alone. Wouldn’t he have faith in Amy?

This idea is best played out when we find out that Amy hold all of her faith in the Doctor. He greatest fear is the Doctor abandoning her in some way, and she clings to him for help. Realizing that Amy regards him as some sort of God-like figure he has to make her lose faith in him or she’ll die. This was seen at one other point in Doctor Who history, an eighties episode called the Curse of Fenric. Then it was Ace that the Doctor was forced to mess with, although that instance was far more cruel than what we got tonight. The Doctor could have said something like “I could have saved your baby, but I chose not to”, instead we get the Doctor humbling himself.

All in all this was a good episode, but I will have to watch it again to fully take it in. the unorthodox direction, the weird plot and a few things to ponder make this hard to fully register. I do have some things to ponder for next week:

What exactly did the Doctor see behind his fear door? I assumed it was himself, but could it be someone truly evil?

What does the doctor worship? Amy asks this and the Doctor basically brushes it aside. Was this a random bit of dialogue, or is there importance to it? I feel this may tie in to point one, possibly showing the “big bad” of this season. It may be false hope, but I really want there to be a crazy evil time lord to be the ringleader at the end, and I wonder if this was the seed planted in our heads.

If the Minotaur is related to the Nimons and was seen as a God to some group, did that imply that he was the God of them? It wasn’t really made clear.

TV Review – Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour

In the year leading up to this “re-launch” of Doctor Who, many fans were acting in polar opposites.  On one hand, we had a cult beginning to form around Steven Moffat, the new show runner and head honcho of production.  Fans of his previous work in the series including The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and many other episodes began to see him as some sort of savior- a man who could do no wrong.  Others were being alarmist calling for Moffat’s head after initial casting announcements and the departure of David Tennant.  Now that The Eleventh Hour has aired, is the show in good hands?  In short, the answer is a resounding yes!

A new Doctor, a new Tardis.

Immediately, one can tell that this is not the same vision that former Executive Producer Russell T Davies had for the show.  Much like his previous episodes, Moffat takes care in making his characters and locations seem straight out of some sort of dark fairytale.  In short, the story of this episode is nothing spectacular, but does a wonderful job of establishing a new Doctor, a new companion, and a new style to the show.

I will even go as far to say that this version of Doctor Who seems more in line with the classic show, or at least an evolution thereof.  This especially rings true when thinking of the lighthearted playfulness of some of the classic Tom Baker episodes from the 70′s (especially under the helm of Douglas Adams), a sign that the show didn’t take itself too seriously to not let the fans have a bit of fun every once in a while.  We see nods to this playfulness right from the beginning as we hear a small girl praying by her bedside:

“Dear Santa, thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you but… honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Shy says it’s just an ordinary crack, but I know its not cause at night there’s voices so… please please can you send someone to fix it? Or a policeman, or…”

Amelia trying to satisfy the Doctor’s food cravings.

This crack, as a plot device, furthers Moffat’s plan to make any insignificant inanimate object in my house scary to me.  It seems to pay off as I could feel creeped out by it from the get-go.  Let’s face it, Amelia is having to deal with a crazed lunatic that fell from the sky, crushed her Aunt’s shed, and is demanding food from her, and she is totally unfazed.  As the Doctor says “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”

The Doctor messes up and disappears for 12 years after promising to be right back, only to meet his young friend again as an adult.  Amy now questions whether the Doctor even existed, and was sent to therapy because of her encounter with him.  The theme of this episode seems to be trust, as Amy isn’t sure if she can trust the Doctor.  What follows is a wild romp to stop Earth’s destruction at the hands of the Atraxi, a race of giant eyeball creatures who are looking for an escaped monster called Prisoner Zero.

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A simple thing like a voice mismatched to a person

is made horrifying with Prisoner Zero.

Matt smith breathes new life into the Doctor’s character that I feel was much needed.  Not to knock David Tennant, as he still is one of my favorite incarnations of the Doctor, but I felt that his portrayal started to feel tired towards the end of the 2009 TV specials.  Many have pointed out that Matt Smith has supposedly based his take on everyone’s favorite Timelord on that of the late Patrick Troughton who played the Doctor in his second incarnation.

I can see this to a degree, but can see many mannerisms from a multitude of actors that have played the role.  That’s not to say that Smith’s portrayal is simply a pastiche of previous actors roles, but he obviously wants to pay homage to those who came before.  Smith also brings a lot to the character with the way he talks, his odd appearance, his almost arrogant demenor, and his eccentricities (i.e. licking a shed to date the wood).  Some were worried having an actor so young playing the Doctor, but all of that was put to rest for me as we see him step out from a projection of David Tennant’s face late in the episode; we see that he simply IS the Doctor.

Next up is the sultry adult Amelia Pond, or Amy as she is calling herself these days, as played by Karen Gillan.  Karen portrays Amy as a confident strong female character.  Gone are the days of the female companion that only yells “oh Doctor”, twists her ankle, and gets captured in every episode of the classic series, but Amy even seems different from the modern “unrequited love for the Doctor” companions.

When we first see Amy, she even knocks the Doctor silly with a cricket bat, thus proving that she may be the toughest or at least the strongest willed companion in a while.  Even though Amy is seen to fancy the Doctor a bit, she is by no means smitten with him.  I think this comes into play for two reasons: she’s engaged, and she sees the Doctor as her “imaginary friend” as she saw him as a child.

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The supporting cast, such as Rory here, were great as well.

I feel that Moffat wrote her introduction perfectly, as we don’t have to deal with another “prospective companion has to prove themselves” storyline, as Amelia already did that as a child.  I always dislike when the Doctor is made to not trust his companion, and a situation like Martha Jones was not what I wanted to see.  For those who do not remember, Martha was basically only taken onboard the Tardis so that the Doctor could try to forget about Rose, but was left in the cold about 99% of the time.  The Doctor treated her sort of badly, and didn’t even make her a true companion until half-way through the show.  No wonder the character decided not to stick around.

The only real bad thing I can say about the episode is that the Atraxi and Prisoner Zero were not that compelling as villains, but that seems to be the point.  By concentrating on the building relationship between Amy and the Doctor the episode prepares us for the whole season and the new production style 100% as the story ends.

The Eleventh Hour wasn’t just a good episode; it was a great episode, and possibly one of the best first episodes for a Doctor ever.  Rather than have the Doctor lay around sick all episode or try to kill his companions, we are given a Doctor forced to take on an alien takeover with only his mind, a biff difference from what usually happens.  Through the strong performances by Smith, Gillan, and the supporting cast, I can see that this season will be truly great.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I now leave you with a clip of the new theme as well as a trailer for the season, and yes I loved the new theme!