Sunday, September 27, 2015

Doctor Who--"The Witch's Familiar"

       I braced myself for the second part of the series nine opener to fall short of the premiere's excellent build up. My apprehension was quickly put to rest. “The Witch's Familiar” satisfied on many different levels. This means the episode satisfied the most important aspect—it tied up every loose end well. Add in some nods to both recent and classic episodes while striking the balance between drama and humor, and you have a fine beginning to the series.
       The revelation begins with the revelation Missy teleported Clara and herself to safety prior to be shot by the Daleks. The Doctor is meanwhile preoccupied with Davros. Excluding a brief interlude in which the doctor steals his chair (Heh) and confronts the Daleks over Clara's unknown to him fate, the doctor and Davros discuss the matters of loyalty to their own people, genocide, and, most importantly, compassion. The conversations allude to several stories of the past. The one sticking out most prominently is the homage to Davros' declaration in “Genesis of the Daleks” he desires the power to commit genocide because it would make him a god. The roles are reversed here, as Davros offers the Doctor the chance to destroy the Dalek race by pulling the plug on the life support system funneling energy from the Daleks into him.
       On the outside of the city, Missy comes up with the plan of killing a Dalek and placing Clara inside the shell. This brings to mind Clara’s first appearance when she was a Dalek. We learn quite a bit about Daleks through Clara’s operation of the “tank.” Any emotions expressed by the pilot are verbalized as negative by the Dalek. Negative emotions fire the weapon. Daleks are not supposed to have any emotions other than hatred, by I will let the continuity glitch slide since this set up makes more sense.
       There must be a plot twist coming. We cannot have two old enemies bonding over genocides they have each caused. Davros has actually tricked the doctor into using regenerative energy to revitalize the Daleks and himself. But the Doctor knew this and empowered the decaying Daleks in the sewer to come up. They do, and with a blood lust for revenge. Missy nearly convinces the doctor to kill Dalek Clara until he recognizes the concept of mercy in her. In order for Daleks to recognize the concept of mercy, Davros would have to possess the concept as well, so the doctor travels back to when Davros was a boy trapped by hand mines and saves him. So there is the resolution of the cliffhanger scene.
       “The Witch's Familiar” was highly entertaining. I enjoyed the mix of drama and humor. It is a bit difficult to swallow the risks the doctor took in defeating Davros' plan, but the implausibility did not kill the story for me. Ditto the continuity issues with Daleks and emotions. Daleks have expressed a desire to be shown pity and mercy in the past. But explanations were satisfactory here, so I just went with it. If there was any weak point, it was Missy. She has good chemistry with Clara, but I can only tolerate her obnoxious behavior in small doses. By the end, I was hoping those Daleks surrounding her would exterminate. It is pretty obvious they did not. Missed opportunity, that.
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Doctor Who--"The Magician's Apprentice"

       I had to blow off some serious dust bunnies and knock down quite a few cobwebs, but my television review blog is up and running again. If you have not been following the drama that has been my life for the last couple years, do not fret. You have not missed anything but a sob story of bad soap opera proportions. You have no interest in such drivel. You want to read about the latest science fiction offerings from the idiot box. I can accommodate. A new series of Doctor Who is a fine motivation.
       It has been a while since I have watched Doctor Who. Life, such that it was, got in the way of finishing up seris eight. I fully intend to review the episodes I have missed up until this point. But there is no way I could hold off on beginning series nine while I reviewed all those. They will eventually show up. Look for them backdated in order somewhere behind this review in the near future.
       Because I have only seen the first two episodes of series eight, Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor is still new to me. He has certainly settled into the role from those first cuple episodes last series. His version echoes classic incarnations of the doctor more than any of the new series. He is more alien, with an air of sinister to him. It is that sinister vibe about him that makes the moral dilemma the doctor faces in 'The Magician's Apprentice” so compelling.
       The episode begins on an alien battlefield upon which a young boy has been trapped by a hand mine. Hand minds are hands will eyes on their palms which grab a victim and drag him under ground. The doctor comes to the boy's rescue—at least until he learns the boy's name is Davros. What action did the doctor take upon discovering the child before him would one day grow up to create the murderous Daleks?
       We do not find out until narly the end of the episode. In the interim, we have the Doctor missing with everyone from Clara, Missy, and UNIT to Davros' minion Colony Starff looking for him.  Missy has been given the doctor's last will and testament, meaning he expects to die within 24 hours. Davros is also dying. He wants to spak to his old enemy a final time. Everyone discovers the doctor inventing rock and roll in medieval Essex. Hr agrees to visit Davros. But the daleks intervene, apparently killing Clara and missy, as well as destroying the TARDIS. It is then revealed the doctor did save davros from the hand mine as a child. Was his compassion a mistake? The doctors appears to think so, as the episode ends with him traveling back to that time on Skaaro and apparently killing Davros himself.
      “The Magician's Apprentice” manages to avoid what might be two weak plot elements. The firt is the obvious parallel to the philosophical question of if you could travel back in time to kill Adolf Hitler as an innocent child before he clead the Third Reich, would you have the ethical right to do so/ The episode skips this by tying the question of saving Davros into the moral dilemma th fourth doctor faced in “Genesis of the Daleks” when he decided he could not commit genocide, even if it was of the Daleks, before they committed their atrocities. The second point is probably more my opinion than anything else, but was anyone else unnerved at Missy attempting to get attention by freezing every airplane over Earth with the possibly intention of ramming them into area where they would do the most damage? Yes, UNIT was only speculating on the plan, but still. Eight days after the fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is not the best time to see such a plot. Your mileage may vary.
       I give high praise to “The Magician's Apprentice.” It had me hooked from the beginning, and kept me on the line until the end in spite of both the Doctor enjoying relatively little screen time and the Daleks taking front and center yet again. I have wanted davros to return as a more menacing villain since his all too brief appearance in the final two episodes of the fourth series. Clara is still one of my favorite new series companions. I like the toucher companions who have not romantic interest in the Doctor. If there is any flaw, it is how annoying Missy is. As I said above, I have not seen most of series eight. Perhaps I will like her more once I have seen the large role she has already played. But for now, she does nothing more than obnoxiously chew up scenery. She is not my cup of tea. But I am lookng forward to part two next week.
Rating: **** (out of 5)      

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Doctor Who--"Into the Dalek"

“Into the Dalek” is Doctor Who meets Fantastic Voyage.  One might question the cheapness of the homage if not for a reference to the film right before a proctologist joke.  It is difficult to decide what to think after such a combo.  I suppose the confusion is appropriate, considering the title character is one confused Dalek himself.  He is actually a good guy nicknamed Rusty by the human military unit that has recovered him.
I have given you enough info above to ascertain the plot.  The Doctor, Clara, and some cannon fodder soldiers are shrunk down and injected into Rusty in order to repair him.  The idea being that, since he is good, Rusty will be a major asset to the war effort.  The Doctor discovers Rusty witnessed a star being born, so he reevaluated his genocidal philosophy.  Odd.  Barbar Streisand has the exact opposite on me.  To each his own, I guess.
The Doctor repairs the damage done to Rusty.  He has obviously never seen his own show before, or he would have known Rusty would revert back to his normal mindset once repaired.  Then he would good go on a killing spree.  Which is exactly what rusty does.  As a bonus, he alerts his fellow Daleks to the humans’ ship so they can join in the carnage.  What fun!
The doctor realizes his error as the body count racks up, so he triggers Rusty’s memory of the star being born, which causes the Dalek to doubt killing is the answer, then gets a look inside the Doctor’s mind, where he decides killing Daleks is a good idea.  Ouch.  The series long question of whether the Doctor is a good man comes into play.  Rusty saw his dark side.  The Doctor’s hatred for the daleks inspires rusty to become the Dalek exterminator.  Clara herself announces she is unsure of whether the doctor is a good man, either.  Insult to injury--Rusty compliments the Doctor on being a good dalek.
Danny Pink is introduced as a recurring character.  He is one of Clara’s teacher colleagues.  He seems to be haunted by some incident involving civilians while serving in Afghanistan.  I am not yet clear on his role, strong hints are he is a potential love interest for Clara.  Another nail in the coffin of doctor/companion romance, one hopes.   The Twelfth Doctor dislikes soldiers more openly than past incarnations.  Will that come into play?
What time period is the fight between humans and Daleks taking place?  Are humans fighting both the Cybermen and Daleks simultaneously?  Such a fight would be way worse than a two front war.
“Into the Dalek” is far better than the premiere episode.  In spite of some similarities between this episode and “Dalek”--a damaged, confused Dalek telling the doctor he would make a good one--the episode is highly unique in terms of where we have seen Daleks in the past.   The special effects are amazing.  Expect to see some cheap, bare bones episodes later in the season to save some cash.  I like the idea the doctor is unsure of himself because of his dark side without a whole lot of the angst, angst, and more angst we have seen in recent series.  Oh, and Missy takes another one to heaven.  I do not think she is the Rani, folks.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Doctor Who--"Deep Breath"

“Deep Breath” is the first episode of the eighth series.  It also serves as the first full appearance of Peter capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor.  Capaldi had a cameo in the previous two episodes.  Both appearances were a stark contrast to one another.  In the first, he joined in the effort to save Gallifrey from the Daleks.  We saw only his wild eyes at the time.  No joke, there.  He looked insane.  Capaldi’s next appearance was his regeneration sequence.  It was played for laughs so as not to take away from Matt Smith’s emotional departure.
So which one is the Twelfth doctor most like?  It beats me.  As post-regeneration episodes go, “Deep Breath” is especially manic.  The Twelfth doctor is as unpleasantly weird in his introduction as the sixth doctor was an obnoxious jerk in his.  But at least the Twelfth did not attempt to strangle Clara like poor Peri.  The Twelfth only seemed to abandon her for a time.  But that is enough to nearly destroy the trust between the two.  The trust is already fragile because of his regeneration into an older, stranger Doctor than Clara knew.
I imagine many fans are going to empathize.  There have been a lot of jokes floating around about fan girls leaving the show in droves because they can no longer swoon over David Tennant or Smith.  Did anyone ever swoon over Christopher Eccleston other than Eccleston himself?  I have doubts, but we shall just go with it for the sake of argument.  Now the doctor is some old guy.  Indeed, Capaldi is clearly going to play the character as more alien.  Probably as less of a ladies man with his companions, as well.  In other words, more like the original era Doctors.  It is something we have not seen in the current show.  I an old school fan, so I am interested.  But I am curious how the new generation of fans will react.  Changes come fast when fans are upset.  Recall Freema Agyeman’s short tenure and the disappearance of the Rainbow Daleks.
I have hinted above that while I am cautiously optimistic the Twelfth doctor will be a throwback to the original show, “Deep Breath” is not promising.  For now, I am going to chalk the problem up to regeneration episodes generally being weak.  The doctor is always a little screwy right after changing.  I am going to give Capaldi a chance to impress me with his interpretation.  I hope he does not let me down.
 It does not help that “Deep Breath” is a weak story.  We have seen much of it before.  Clockwork aliens are in Earth’s past stealing organic body parts in order to repair their ship.  After fumbling about confused most of the episode, the Doctor saves his campanions from becoming part of the ship.  In this case, the companions are Clara, Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.   So the episode is a bit crowded, too.  The series villain is introduced at the very end.  It is a woman on the Paradise Planet from “The Girl Who Waited.”  Brace yourselves for a new round of speculation the woman is the Rani.
There are a few good points to “Deep Breath.”  The CGI dinosaur the TARDIS accidentally brings to Victorian England is impressive, though Londoners seem a little two blasé about the whole thing.  They must be terribly jaded by this point.  The Eleventh Doctor cameo that creatively convinces Clara to forgive her mistrust in the new doctor is cleverly done.  It is a nice touch, too.  Jenna Coleman is still hot.  That is always a selling point.  But there is nothing special about “Deep Breath.“  The Twelfth Doctor has not come out the gate running, but I am still curious to see more.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Time of the Doctor"

“The Time of the Doctor” is Matt smith’s swan song as the Eleventh Doctor.  It appears he is in a big hurry to leave.  Smith displays good acting chops, but he cannot hide his desire to leave the doctor behind for a film career.  He is sporting a wig here because Smith had to shave his head for a film role done during a Wholigan filming hiatus.  But it is not the only fake thing on display in the episode.
There is much ambition here.  The story ties in aspects of the eleventh Doctor’s tenure dating back to the crack in Amy Pond’s wall four years ago.  The Time Lords are seeking to come through, and they eventually do to aid an aged doctor at the end of his regeneration cycle to save a planet named Christmas.
Yes.  The doctor literally saves Chrisrmas in this one.
The Eleventh Doctor’s era has been a sharp turn away from the science fiction past of the series more towards fantasy.  The eleventh doctor is Peter Pan, showing up every now and then to whisk away companions for an adventure in a fantastical land while having them back home in time for tea.  The companions did not even travel with him fulltime any longer, a circumstance which allows for some unfortunate sitcom shenanigans with Clara’s family.  You see, she has invented a boyfriend who will come for Christmas dinner to meet the family.  Guess who must pretend to be the boyfriend?  Hilarity ensues, I suppose.
The Doctor subsequently becomes the defender of the planet from which a my6sterious signal is emitting.  For three hundred years, he serves as protector from various members of his rogues gallery in between repairing toys for the children.  Th4 signal is revealed to be the returning Time Lords.   They have good timing, because they are able to empower the aged doctor to destroy a Dalek armada that has finally lost patience after all these centuries.  The doctor is rewarded with a new regeneration cycle that begins immediately with a change into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor.
 I am not as down on “The Time of the Doctor” as it make sound.  There are some good moments.  The regeneration is the highlight.  I am also fond when writers can weave together story elements from past episodes into a cohesive arc.  That comes from my misspent youth obsessing over comic books.  But there is much to bring the episode down.  The bits with Clara’s family were downright painful.  The ending, aside from dragging out the Daleks yet again, involves the Doctor shooting energy beams everywhere in order to annihilate the enemy fleet.  Since when can he do that?  Is there not some better way to resolve the episode?   Surely there is.  “The Time of the Doctor”  earns a good, but not great score from me.   It is fairly enjoyable, but I got the impression the creative juices ran out making the anniversary episode which aired a month prior.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Doctor Who--"The Day of the Doctor"

 Life has gotten in the way of many things in recent months.   One of the most vitally important is r3eviewing new science fiction offerings.  Hence, this extremely late review for “The Day of the Doctor” and the following episode to be posted next.  All of my old reviews have been moved to this new site.  All new reviews will be posted here with some bit of regularity.  Assuming, of course, life settles down to a manageable disaster as opposed to the chaotic maelstrom I have enjoyed lately,  Pray for me, if you are the praying type.
Speaking of damaged, haunted people, the fiftieth anniversary episode here centers around the never before mentioned War Doctor.  He is the Doctor who--no pin intended--committed the genocide of Daleks and Time Lords  that ended the Time War.  Originally, Christopher Eccleston was to reprise his role as the ninth Doctor.  But Eccleston insisted upon selecting the director for the episode.  He did not get his way, so he bailed.  I think that wound up being for the best.  The War Doctor--no numbering, because he never really got the chance to be  the ’Doctor” in a sense--is played by the great John Hurt with all the guilt-ridden weariness you would expect from one who has snuffed out billions of lives in an instant.  We have already seen how Eccleston plays such emotions.  Hurt has the opportunity to make it new and raw.
“The day of the doctor” also features the return of David Tennant and Billie Piper.  Tennant reprises his role as the Tenth Doctor.  Piper plays a manifestation created by the doomsday weapon the war Doctor plans to use to end the Time War.  Piper is not playing Rose Tyler, per se, but it is interesting the physical appearance of Rose is used to appeal to the War Doctor’s conscience even though he is unfamiliar with her beforehand.  It is handled well enough that I am not disappointed Rose does not make an appearance.
The Daleks are a necessary villain, but the episode also features the Zygons,  Those shape shifting critters have hatched a plot that crosses the centuries from Queen Elizabeth’s England, where we find the Tenth Doctor, into the current day.  If there is a weak aspect to “The Day of the Doctor,” it is the Zygon subplot.  It gives the3 three Doctors a chance to both banter with one another and beat each other up emotionally over their actions in the Time War, its efforts to parallel the destruction of Gallifrey with UNIT’s plan to destroy London as a necessary evil to save the earth falls flat.  The resolution involves making UNIT forget who is whom so they will not set off the nuke.  Okay, but what stops the Zygons from trying again once everyone’s identity has been sorted out?  Three Doctors working together, and that is the best they can do.
 But the main plot of the Tenth and Eleventh returning to aid the War Doctor on the last day of the Time War is excellent.  By calling on all the past Doctors and the Twelfth, they freeze Gallifrey in time rather than destroy it, allowing the Daleks to accidentally wipe each other out.  No one will know Gallifrey has been saved, but there is at least a chance it can be recovered at some point.  The story and its execution is worthy of a fiftieth anniversary special.
 Overall, "The Day of the Doctor” is great.  The resolution of the Zygons’ plan is weak, and made doubly so because it is meant to be compared to the War Doctor’s decision to use a doomsday device himself.  The previous Doctors appear on monitors, which some may find silly, but tom Baker appears in the flesh as a museum curator with some hints he may be the Fourth Doctor himself.   I have always had trouble accepting the return of Doctors who appear much older than at their regenerations, but I shall not pick nits.  Baker’s appearance is a nice touch.  “The Day of the Doctor” is a strong call for fifty more years of Doctor Who.

Ratings: **** (out of 5) 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Name of the Doctor"

“The Name of the Doctor” is the seventh seri4es finale of Doctor Who.  It is also the best series finale since 2006’s ’Doomsday.”  Although it does suffer from the usual too many revelations packed into too short a time, it is really not a uge problem.  I am going to spoil the finale completely, including the cliffhanger ending which leads directly into November’s 50th anniversary special, so if you do not want to know everything, stop reading now. 

The most interesting aspect of the episode, aside from the wild cliffhanger, is the emphasis on the supporting cast.   Clara, river, Vastra, Jenny, and Strax all have major roles to play and are highly entertaining in tem.  Alex Kingston in particular kills it as River.   I like how the character has become less catty as time goes on.  With each subsequent appearance--one figures this is the last--she is more battle scarred and weary.  But all the characters do their thing here. 

Vastra invites the others to a séance-lie meeting because she has discovered from a condemned prisoner in Glasgow the doctor has a dark secret on a planet calle Trenzalore, a place he must never go.  Before they can figure out the secret, the group is attacked by the enormously disturbing looking Whipsermen, who are faceless albinos.  Clara and river escape, but the others are captured.

Clara fins the doctor and informs him of Trenzalore.  He is visibly shaken at the name.  Rightfully so--it is his final resting place.  A time traveler should never visit his own grave, but to save his friens, he must travel to Trenzalore.  Trenzalore is visually stunning.  Ark, fiery, and full o brimstone and obsidian.  It looks like the literal hell.    It feels strangely appropriate considering the Doctor’s often dark past.  His actual tomb is the none dead, skyscraper size TARDIS.

Inside is the Great Intelligence monk eying around in Dr. Simeon’s body.  (*rimshot*)  He forces the TARDIs doors open by threatening the Doctor’s friends and enters.  His plan is to step into the time stream and erase the doctor from history, whih he does.  As the Doctor lay dying, the universe changes around him as his past incarnations are wiped from history. 

Enter Clara, who enters the time stream as well in order to save each incarnation of the doctor.  The glimpses we catch of the past Doctors is a special treat for old school Whovians like me.  I particularly like the scene in which Clara directs the First Doctor, though CGI and dubbing, to take the TARDIS with the screwy navigation because it will be more fun.  The multiple Claras explain why he has appeared throughout the Doctor’s travels and saved him multiple times.

Clara restores the universe proper, and the doctor goes in after her.  In the time stream, they discover the Doctor, played by John Hurt in an unbilled cameo.  This Doctor has committed an unspeakable act that he nonetheless justifies, but “our” Doctor is appalled.  What has he one/  We will have to wait until November to find out.  

I liked “The Name of the Doctor” quite a bit.  We never get to learn the doctor’s real name, but I did not want to do so.  There is a lot of stuff packed in the episode with a large part of it not featuring the Doctor at all.  But it does not feel rushed for the info dump or empty for the lack of Doctor action.  On the contrary, the guest cast is excellent.  The cliffhanger ending truly caps it all off.  I cannot wait until November. 

Rating: **** (out of 5)