Doctor Who: So much bigger on the inside

KT here, late but catching up.

DOCTOR WHO:  6.04 “The Doctor’s Wife”

Neil Gaiman has written an episode of Doctor Who, and he has given us a love story.  It’s a love story to the long history of the show itself, and it’s an odd, quirky, deeply touching love story between the Doctor and the TARDIS.

[…of course.  You didn’t really think this was going to be about River Song, did you?  Although the phrase is never mentioned in the episode itself, “the Doctor’s wife” is the only person it possibly could have been.]

At its core, the plot is quite simple:  the Doctor is lured to a sort of sentient asteroid called House, which is somehow outside the universe, so that House can eat the TARDIS and use its energy to get back into the universe where it can continue to feed and generally cause havoc.  It’s the details and the dialogue that make this something special.

For one, House hits on the best possible lure:  the suggestion that there might be other Time Lords left somewhere.  As Amy astutely points out, the Doctor still wants to be forgiven for destroying his people:  he will always come running at the suggestion of Time Lords.  Of course this time it’s just a trick, though it becomes clear that House has met other Time Lords… and destroyed them, using them as spare parts to repair his servants, the sinister but congenial Auntie and Uncle.

There’s also an Ood called Nephew, which is fun for continutity’s sake, but he’s really just a red herring.

We also get to see something of the TARDIS outside the main control room for the first time since… what, the wardrobe scene in “The Christmas Invasion”?  Mostly it’s just corridors, though, where House has Amy and Rory running around like rats in a maze.  We get some cheap thrills out of seeming to kill Rory (again)—as Amy gets separated from him, time seems to pass differently for each of them.  A minute for her, an hour for him; then he turns up as an old man, then as a decaying corpse surrounded by hateful scrawls on the wall.  It’s all in her head, though—and I can easily believe that Amy’s deepest fear is leaving Rory behind.

But the heart of the episode lies with the Doctor and Idris, a poor lost wanderer who has her own self pulled out of her body to be replaced with the consciousness of the TARDIS.  And so, for all the time that they have travelled together, Doctor and TARDIS, this is the time when they talked.

And this talking is possibly the best part.  I love that the newly human TARDIS’s first reaction is to yell for her Thief, and I love the conversation they have about who stole whom.  I love that she too wanted to see the world, and the stern insistance that she has always taken him where he needed to go.  I love the admission that the Doctor thinks his ride is sexy, and her interpretation of this as her name.  I love the way the TARDIS gets flashes of what people are going to say later on, and I love the way Suranne Jones portrays a character who isn’t at all used to being human.  I love that the TARDIS’s reaction to being human is that we, too, are “bigger on the inside.”

As tends to happen, when the writing is extra good, the actors and crew seem to dig a little deeper, too.  One of my favorite moments is just as the TARDIS and the Doctor come across the TARDIS graveyard.  In a rare moment of stillness, the two faces are carefully framed and each expression speaks so clearly:  she mourns her fallen sisters while he can barely contain his glee at finding the best spare parts drawer ever.

In the end, of course the TARDIS can’t be a woman forever, and her return to being herself is a loss and a triumph all at once.  But there’s a sweetness to the ending.  As the Doctor works on the wiring under the TARDIS console wearing a big pair of funny goggles, the atmosphere is of a couple who are closer than ever.  “Where should we take the kids this time?” he asks.  Best thing there is.

Doctor Who: Yo ho ho!

KT doesn’t think pirates actually say that.

DOCTOR WHO: 6.03 “The Curse of the Black Spot”

A pirate ship, a siren, and ominous black spots… that eventually get explained by alien technology?  This is the very model of an early-in-the-season standalone Who episode.

There’s no ambiguity that this is meant to be a Pirate Story in the tradition of Treasure Island or Kidnapped, but because any Who story is part mystery, there’s an element of Ten Little Indians in there, too.  On a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, the pirates are disappearing, one by one, at the hands of a ghostly siren who marks them for death with a black spot.

Naturally, when the Doctor and his friends show up, they’re determined to be stowaways and are made to walk the plank—until Amy starts waving a cutlass around.  I enjoyed the silliness of this scene.  There’s no attempt to make it look like Amy has hidden fencing skills: she’s clearly flailing around—and succeeding because, it turns out, the pirates are terrified of even the tiniest cut.

After a first hand look at the results, the Doctor concludes that the siren is out for blood.  She’s not, but I do like the way the Doctor is constantly revising his own theories throughout the episode.  Sometimes he does tend to (at least in our eyes, as mere mortals) pull solutions out of thin air, but in this one you see the scientific wheels going round and round in his head as he tosses out an idea that doesn’t fit the evidence and works out something else that does.

We lose the last of the extras while the Doctor is testing hypotheses.  Most of the pirates are shamelessly expendable, and it’s almost comical how little effort anyone puts into keeping them away from the siren—especially compared to the way Amy and the Doctor protect Rory. But that’s neither here nor there. Pirate captain Henry Avery gets a little more depth. From his first shots, everything about the music and the camera angles and his own bearing tell us that he is not someone to mess around with. This is a guy who can handle anything and come out on top.

So naturally, even once he decides not to send the Doctor straight to Davy Jones’ locker, the two are bound to bump heads over who’s in charge.  But once  he discovers there really is a stowaway on board—and his own son at that—the captain starts looking a little more human.  He may be a pirate, but he’s also ashamed to admit that to his boy, who in turn puts on a good show of defending his father’s nobility to the remaining crew.  He’s less of a complete plot device than Jackson Lake’s son, but his constant tubercular coughing does feel like a manipulate grab at the heartstrings.  (Actually, later in the episode someone says typhoid fever, though I don’t really associate coughing fits with that…)

The reason someone has a line like that is that once we get to “and then there were three,” we wind up in the sickbay of an alien ship, where we find Dr. Siren is dutifully caring for all the pirates (plus Rory) she has spirited away.  For a moment, it looks as though we can wake everyone up and go home, but this light romp of an episode at least has the dignity to exact the consequences of this bizarre crossover.  The pirates are left on the space ship to chart new courses in search of new adventures.  (Which would make a hell of a premise for a TV show all on its own, doncha think?)

And though our trio take the TARDIS back to where they’re supposed to be, the show works very hard to convince us that Rory really might die (…again).  But even if you’re quite sure that this show is not nearly that heartless, the sequence isn’t a complete waste of time.  There are a number of moments in this episode where Amy or the Doctor or one of the others offers us a gesture or an expression or a line delivery that—for just a moment—make the episode seem more weighty or more artistic than it is.  In this case it’s Amy’s anguish that reinforces the exact nature of the relationships between our main trio.  Rory may have been feeling neglected last week, but when a crisis strips everything else away, Amy’s passion and determination are really very powerful.

Doctor Who: Your memory is weak.

KT is… wait, where were we?

DOCTOR WHO:  6.02 “Day of the Moon”

Since I’m more than a week late with this one, you might think that the episode made me forget its own existence as soon as I looked away, just like the aliens in the episode could do.  But no, I was just out of town.

That said, the episode itself is structured in a way that feels like you’re missing something—as though, like the characters, something has been wiped out of your memory as soon as it’s happened and you’re not sure how you got from the last place you remember to where you are now.  It’s very disorienting, and led me to feel that the story was somewhat underwritten, although I think there were other factors at work there, too.

For example, there was a lot of focus on the mysterious little girl—whose plotline has not yet been resolved.  And the more we focused on her (and the space suit and Amy’s possible motherhood), the less we were focusing on the Silents, even though they were involved in her story, too.  So although we were repeatedly told that they’d been controlling Earth for millenia and were reminded of the way they were seeded into season 5 as a major menace, the narrative itself seemed to present them as a stepping stone to a more interesting story.

Or at least that’s how I read it—perhaps it’s merely that I was far more interested in the little girl than in the silent aliens.  And perhaps the Silents will show up again later on and prove that a major menace cannot be so easily defeated.

On the other hand, this managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that New Who’s part twos tend to fall into—where part one gets all the interesting set-up and atmosphere. Despite the frenzied opening, we spent a limited amound of time running crazily around corridors and shouting technobabble.  But then, again, the episode left quite a lot still unanswered.

And on the other, other hand, way to reinforce the stereotype that all Americans are gun-crazy cowboys.  Thanks ever so much, BBC, from the bottom of my sarcasm.

Still unresolved are the matter of the Doctor’s death and the identity and whereabouts of the little girl.  The former has been largely shoved under the rug for now, while the latter becomes more tantalizing when a final scene shows her wandering the streets of New York when she… regenerates?  Who is she?

[After the jump: Nixon, Rory, Amy, and River.]
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Doctor Who: I swear on fish fingers and custard

KT makes her return to Raked.

DOCTOR WHO:  6.01 “The Impossible Astronaut”

Showing up at a party to find your friends looking like the original cat who swallowed the canary is bound to put a damper on things—but that’s where we find the Doctor about 10 minutes into this episode.  And sure enough, this is a much more somber season premiere than we’re used to with this show.  It’s also a much bigger story, and, as part one of two, we don’t begin to understand what’s going on yet

Neither does the Doctor, who is not at all used to being deliberately kept in the dark by his own companions.  His complaint that there’s no one around to watch him being brilliant—because they’re all conferring just out of earshot—is comic, but he’s quite serious about his point blank refusal to trust River.  She hasn’t done anything to warrant it today, but the little he and we know about her is pretty dicey. Amy, though, he’ll trust, especially when she swears on fish fingers and custard.

Little does he know, of course, that his friends are trying to follow clues dropped by his future self, who in turn was being more distant and secretive than usual.  He seems to have gathered the three companions and his former self by means of TARDIS-colored invitations, and seems to have the moon landing in  1969 on his mind.

We don’t go straight to the moon, though—if you’re in a story about secrets and trust and time-travel, where else would you go but the Oval Office under Richard Nixon?  Happily, we get a rather more plausible Nixon than the Churchill we got last season.  We also get an ex-FBI man played by the fabulous Mark Sheppard of Firefly and BSG.  (To me, there’s something slightly surreal about hearing his—I believe—real American accent in the midst of British actors when I expect him to sound like Badger, but I’m well aware that this is all in my head.)

The appearance of four people with British accents in the middle of the Oval Office causes plenty of amusing confusion designed to distract us from the fact that we still don’t know what’s going on.  I think one of the more daring aspects of the episode as a whole is that by the end of part one, we don’t yet have any solid idea of what the goal of the story is.  There’s no set destination or group of people who need to be saved (discounting the mysterious girl on the telephone) or crisis that must be averted.  Really, we’re left hanging onto a handful of plot threads, and I can’t begin to tell you where I expect them to end up.

  • There’s that mysterious little girl—assuming she is a little girl—in the astronaut suit who calls Nixon for help in 1969 and later wades out of the water to raygun the Doctor in 2011.
  • There are the Roswell-esque aliens that make you forget them as soon as you look away—or blow you up if you’re too persistent.
  • There’s Amy’s announcement that she’s pregnant.  And if a baby puts a damper on your average sitcom, I can’t imagine ever introducing a baby into a run-for-your-lives show like this.  Will this be the first kid raised in the TARDIS—the first kid stuck in day care while his parents run around with the Doctor?  Or, more likely, is this an early warning that Amy and Rory—the first companions since Rose to get a second season—will be leaving the TARDIS before long?
  • And of course there’s the general puzzle of the Doctor’s death.  Did he really gather his friends together knowing he was going to die? Is there a trick here somewhere, or are we going to have to undo that?  Given that this would keep the show from re-casting the role through regeneration, I can’t believe that this timeline will stick.  Either there’s a trick, or Amy is going to win the “time can be re-written” argument she’s having with River.  It may take us the rest of the season, or at least the rest of the half-season we’re getting this spring* to sort this out.

* Change in the usual schedule: as I understand it, we’re getting seven episodes in the spring and the other six next fall.

Doctor Who: Halfway out of the dark

KT is here with an entry of the better-late-than-never variety.

DOCTOR WHO:  Christmas special 2010, “A Christmas Carol”

We had an open thread just a few weeks ago about all the shows that have made an episode based on Dicken’s Christmas classic, and here’s another one to add to the list.  Neither the title nor the episode try to hide the fact, and it actually turns out to be perhaps the best Christmas special the show has made to date. *

The adventure takes place on a very steampunk sort of planet when one grumpy old rich man (Michael Gambon, much better here than as Dumbledore) must be persuaded to go out of his way to use his fabulous sky-controlling machine to enable a crashing spaceship to land properly.  The spaceship is a cruise liner sort of ship — and the passenger list happens to include Amy and Rory, who as you’ll remember are on their honeymoon.  The Doctor can’t get onto the ship to help, but he can get to grumpy Kazran Sardick — a name clearly designed to have the same effect as Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Better than that, though, he can get to Kazran Sardick at any age he wants, because naturally a time traveller is the ultimate Ghost of Christmas Past.  Rather than merely reminding Sardick of his past, he actively changes it, and that’s where things get fun.

There are two world-building elements that really help to make this episode special.  One is that fish swim in the clouds — and when it’s foggy, sometimes they come down, too.  Some of them are just little fish that are drawn to street lamps, but where there are little fish, there are always bigger fish too – and sharks.  But if you’re very clever, you can harness that shark and make it pull your carriage across the sky.

The second is the apparently normal practice of keeping people cryogenically frozen as collateral for their families’ loans.  It’s a creepy idea, and we don’t delve too deeply into the moral or psychological implications, but it is where we find our love-interest, Abigail.  Her family may be poor, but she has the rich, golden voice of classical singer Katherine Jenkins.

Part of what I like about the episode is how carefully it’s balanced.  There’s imminent screaming danger, but there’s also cold grimness, and both are countered by the silly joyfulness of the Doctor’s wild Christmas Eve adventures with young Kazran and Abigail — which in turn eventually sours when Kazran figures out that Abigail’s time is running out, one Christmas Eve at a time.  Just as the emotion seems about to go over the top in any direction, we begin to move into a different mood.

A holographic Amy enters briefly as the Ghost of Christmas Present and shows Sardick all the people on the cruise ship who will die unless he acts — and to push the point home, their holographs show up inside the cryogenic freezer. They’re singing, too, oblivious to the danger.

Sardick persists in his crossness, upset that the Doctor has changed his past and unwilling to make any effort for the crashing ship.  This doesn’t seem like a man who will be perturbed by his own lonely grave or by people rejoicing over his death — until the Doctor reveals that he isn’t showing any Christmas Futures to the old Sardick.  He’s brought little boy Sardick to meet his future self, which finally brings the miser to realize how close he’s come to becoming the father he always hated and feared.  It’s the perfect last twist:  it solves the problem and it provides the right amount of original cleverness into the Dickensian framework.

And from there, everything pretty well sorts itself out.  We figure out how to make the ship land, we get some snow for Christmas, and Sardick and Abigail get their last ride in a shark-drawn carriage at long last.  It’s ridiculously silly, and I loved it.  A
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2010 Awards, Part 2

Alright. So you saw the first set, now let’s move on to more! More awards and more reader picks. Once again, if the award has an asterisk, it’s a Reader Pick, with or without my explanation. If they added one, it’s there! If they didn’t, well, that just leaves me to give a reason <malicious laugh>.

So here we go!

The 2010 Awards!
Part 2

Best Guy in a Suit: Neal Caffrey, White Collar. Step aside, Barney. There’s someone else suiting up now, and damn, he looks good.

Best Woman in Heels: Maura Isles, Rizzoli & Isles. This woman sure gets a lot done in four-inch heels and a pressed dress, even when dealing with dead bodies.

* Most Wasted Potential: Glee. It’s true. For a show with a huge fanbase and mad props for creating a new TV genre, they lost their way by focusing on huge guest stars and a big production instead of a cohesive storyline.

Least Necessary Procedural: Law & Order: CSI edition. Oh, is that not a real show? I thought it was. It’s on every night for two hours at least, right? And it airs on every network? Wait, these aren’t all the same show?

Most Ridiculous Premise for a Procedural: Castle. Ok, I know you fans out there must like it, but the idea that a successful novelist gets to spend his time on all these huge cases as a partner of a detective is rather incredible.

Worst Show We’re All Watching: The Office. Where did the funny go? It’s run its course, but we all still watch it. And most of us don’t know why.

Didn’t I Used to Be an Important Character? Award: Alaric, The Vampire Diaries. Well, it’s true, right? Now he’s arm candy, and occasionally says something smart from a book.

Best Vampire Teeth: The Vampire Diaries. With the eyes and the subtle teeth, yes, the vamps in TVD certainly get the prize.

Worst Vampire Teeth: True Blood. I haven’t tried to watch this series, solely because these teeth are so bad and look so fake. Plus, I hear they make a sound when they come out.

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Doctor Who: Come along, Ponds

KT thinks that fezzes are pretty cool.

DOCTOR WHO:  5.13 “The Big Bang”

Naturally, there’s no way this show would pick up directly from last week’s cliffhanger; instead we go back to another character I didn’t expect to see again:  seven-year-old Amelia Pond.  But this time she’s with her aunt and a therapist, who are troubled because Amelia keeps painting a night sky with stars, when everybody knows that stars don’t exist.

That’s not all that’s changed, as a trip to the museum tells us.  We see what seem to be fossilized Daleks (although if you think they won’t be shooting people within fifteen minutes, um, where have you been?).  I was also amused by an Egyptian figure who seems to be standing in a snowdrift, but Amelia is following notes that lead her to the Pandorica — clearly a prized exhibit.  She’s far braver than I would be, and hides behind the stuffed Nile penguins until the museum closes.  Putting her hand on the Pandorica makes it glow and start to open — but surprise!  It isn’t the Doctor.  It’s Amy.

From here on out, the episode gets timey-wimey in the extreme.  (You know, I kind of cringed at “timey-wimey” the first time I saw “Blink,” but it’s ridiculously useful for this show.)  Most of it’s because the Doctor has his hands on River’s vortex manipulator, at least until the Great Big Confusing Reset at the end.

At least at first, it’s great stuff.  I really enjoyed watching the puzzle come together:  Middle-of-the-Episode Doctor comes to help Rory open the Pandorica and swap the Doctor for Amy.  The Doctor is then able to jump forward to the museum to meet up with Amy and Amelia.  (Awfully convenient now that Amy decided to shorten her name!)  Rory prefers to take the long way in order to guard Amy through history (in the process creating a sweet little legend about the centurion who watches over the Pandorica), and shows up at an opportune moment as a museum security guard.  By this point, we’re running from that Dalek, of course.

Rory points out that we’ve now reached Middle-of-the-Episode Doctor, so now we see the earlier scenes from this point of view, and while we’re at it, we see the Doctor set up the clues Amelia followed earlier in the day.  Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, indeed.  But to up the stakes, Later-in-the-Episode Doctor appears, whispers something into the Doctor’s ear and apparently dies.  (Whut.)

Amy and Rory are pretty distressed too, but the Doctor distracts them by pointing out Amelia’s disappearance.  Plotwise, it’s a convenient way to get the child out of harm’s way now that she’s played her part, though the story explanation has to do with the way that time and the universe are now shrinking down to nothing, apparently caused by the TARDIS explosion that Van Gogh painted last week.  Handily, the explosion turns out to be right in front of them:  since all the stars have gone out, what’s this thing burning in the sky?  The TARDIS, with River trapped inside in a ten-second time loop that the Doctor tidily pops into and pulls her out of.  (Say, that vortex manipulator’s a lot more precise than the TARDIS often is, isn’t it?)  So now at least the gang’s all back together.

[After the jump:
the episode takes a left turn.]

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