Monday, January 31, 2011

"The Stolen Earth"

I think you'd have to be pretty unfamiliar with Doctor Who not to have been fairly certain that Davros was going to come back in the finale for Series 4. He was pretty much the only big bad as yet unrecovered with the possible exception of weird obscure ones like Omega or the Black Guardian and I think it would have been rather anticlimactic if they'd done what they did with Series 1 and 2 and had the Sontarans return from the middle of the series to be the villains. But it's more than just the return of Davros and yet another appearance from the now desperately overused Daleks. It's the point at which RTD's sanity cracks even further and he tries to compose the most full-on balls-to-the-wall three-way crossover imaginable with the plots of Doctor Who, Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures all converging on this one story. Now as objectionable as I find Torchwood and as little as I've seen of SJA I'm not exactly surprised that they brought them in. It would be a little implausible if these three groups all happened to encounter different threats to the Earth at different times and never ran into each other. In fact it's so overblown and ridiculous that I'm surprised they didn't throw the Fifth Doctor in from "Time Crash" just for the hell of it.
Actually that might have been kind of awesome.
Anyway it's incredibly difficult to take any threat to the Earth seriously by this point because we've seen spaceships flying over London in pretty much every series since the show came back and we've had Daleks swarming all over the place in "The Farting of the Ways" and "Doomsday" already, so we know that in the end the Tenth Doctor will come up with some five-second hand-wavey cop-out explanation to save the day and everything else will be fan service set pieces arranged by RTD in the most self-congratulatory fashion imaginable. In fact it's hard not to think of RTD as deeply self-satisfied by this point as he brings back every major companion the Doctor has had in the new series for essentially no reason and comes up with a nonsense technobabble plot to bring them all together.
The Earth's been stolen so the Doctor and Donna head off to the Shadow Proclamation, which according to the Doctor and the nice CGI we get is some kind of intergalactic police force in an awesome space station but in actual fact upon arrival looks like a well-cleaned changing room in an upmarket hotel gym and is apparently populated by about five Judoon and a couple of albinos. The chief albino insists that the Doctor lead the Shadow Proclamation to war, but where's their army? Are the five Judoon meant to take down the Daleks on their own? Apparently there was some cut scene with Adipose and Slitheen and all these rehashed RTD era villains assembling into an army but it was cut for budgetary reasons which is fortunate because it would have been even more self-indulgent than everything else in this story. For this reason I don't understand why they bothered keeping the line about an army in. Besides, what kind of police force would call itself the Shadow Proclamation? It's been seeded since the very first episode of the New Series as a piece of enigmatic purple prose for RTD to chortle over but you'd at least expect it to be something more ethereal and weird. As if a lawkeeping organisation would have such a pompous name.
Meanwhile Harriet Jones who hasn't been seen since "The Christmas Invasion" has developed The Bollocks Network (TM) as part of some elaborate scheme to contact everyone who knows the Doctor. Apparently the system just inexplicably connects to these people without any realistic explanation apart from the fact that it's apparently sentient so we have a big conference call between her, the surviving members of Torchwood, Martha, and the Sarah Jane family made up of Sarah Jane and awkward-because-he-was-grown-by-aliens-in-a-vat-because-it's-an-excuse-for-his-acting teenage son Luke. Harriet Jones chews out the Doctor a bit behind his back which I think is fair enough because he was a bit of a dick to her for no reason and she does the whole thing where she says her name and the person on the other end goes 'Yes I know who you are' which is another piece of appalling self-involved smuggery on the part of RTD. I think it takes the cake when the Daleks say it, which goes even further along the line of making the whole situation seem ridiculous rather than humorous and when former PM Harriet carks it on the wrong end of a Dalek death ray you don't really care. Ianto looks like he's had a few too many cakes because Jack hasn't been telling him he's pretty often enough although they're still trying to do the 'witty eccentric Ianto' thing that spontaneously occurred in Torchwood Series 2, and Gwen as usual is a cypher. Anyway Martha teleports home for essentially no reason because they may as well not have had her in New York in the first place and Rose has a big whinge about how no one's contacting her.
Now by this point the Doctor has discovered a technobabble wave created by the alien bees or something which he rattles off so quickly it's impossible to follow because RTD wants to cover up the fact that it is entirely hand-wavey bollocks and then Harriet Jones uses The Bollocks Network (TM) with Mr Smith the computer and the Torchwood Rift in a case of 'let's make the plot include everyone' so that they can phone-call the Doctor so that he can find them. He realises that the Daleks are hiding everything 'one second out of sync with real time' much like the Sontarans were with the ATMOS back in the first two-parter. What on earth does this mean? Is the same second being played over and over again? Is it a pocket universe? What is it? Hiding something one second in the future makes no sense because as soon as a second passed in the Doctor's present they'd all appear. We're supposed to think it's clever but it makes absolutely no sense and comes across as both pretentious and lazy.
Finally the Doctor arrives and Rose, Captain Jack and Sarah Jane converge on his position, but before he can inevitably run off and make out with Rose he gets brutally shot in one of his hearts by a fearsome Dalek who gets blown up by Jack for his troubles. I must admit I derive a small amount of satisfaction watching the Tenth Doctor get shot by a Dalek but it only contributes to the overall idiocy of this episode because the Doctor starts to regenerate even though we know David Tennant isn't leaving yet.
This one I can say for sure has no message. It's totally devoid of artistic merit. It's a piece of pulp fiction, the televisual equivalent of a motel room paperback, designed to inspire a cheap sense of 'wow factor' into fans with the rehashing of all the companions and the return of Davros and an even cheaper sense of awe with the now incredibly-overused Dalek invasion scenario, scenes of mass panic in the streets and all. RTD claims he wanted to make some kind of payoff for the fans but narratively it's weak and suggests that he's more interested in revelling in his own old ideas than crafting anything particularly meaningful or impressive. In addition, like all these first part's, it's just an extended set-up, and ultimately serves to be nothing more than a massive waste of time playing on hype, shock value and sentimentality, and it only gets worse from here.

"Turn Left"

Doesn't that Asiatic planet at the beginning look interesting? I think so, so it's a shame that it's used purely for the sake of bookends featuring the Doctor while Donna regresses through a clip show of Doctor Who stories where the Doctor isn't present to save the day. Astoundingly self-indulgent and almost completely pointless, the only purpose it serves speculatively is to show what we'd not have too much trouble guessing on our own - which is to say that if the Doctor wasn't around things would probably not be very good. I think this is the point at which RTD started to completely lose it. Probably the biggest indicator of this is the totally unnecessary return of Rose, who runs around being deliberately mysterious and fulfilling tonnes of reverse dramatic irony. Donna has no idea what's going on, but we know full well who this blonde girl is and if 'the darkness' is coming, by the precedent of a couple of previous series it's not exactly difficult to imagine that the danger is going to be in the form of a certain group of people who like to say 'exterminate' a lot.
It's noteworthy that all these horrible things are meant to have happened in the Doctor's absence but there are a lot of creative omissions. For instance, we can appreciate that with the Doctor dead in "The Runaway Bride" there would have been no way for the Master to escape the end of the universe and the Family of Blood would never have come to Earth. But what about the Daleks in 1930s New York? Wouldn't Dalek Sec, or even Dalek Caan and his cronies, been able to build a new race of human Daleks which would have wiped out the planet? What about the Carrionites with Shakespeare? Or the Pyroviles in Pompeii? Wouldn't there have been several opportunites for history to have been erased as well? And why would the Adipose Matron have bothered killing people if there was no one to threaten her into going into full scale production? But RTD doesn't even consider these possibilities because he wants to ram home a message about how if a catastrophe occurred in London then the United Kingdom would apparently degrade into a Dystopian Nightmare World with concentration camps, racial discrimination, rampant unemployment and so on. If the whole of London was wiped out, wouldn't that account for a lot of the space? Wouldn't so many people be killed that there wouldn't actually be many people to relocate? And why on earth would this cause Britain to become like the Third Reich, as Wilf so needlessly points out when the Italians are trucked off? It's obviously just RTD trying to be clever and make thickies who have never had to contemplate these concepts before go "ooh imagine if that happened" because in this era Doctor Who is pandering to morons who've never so much as picked up a book or watched a more intellectual programme which deals with these issues in much greater depth and with significantly improved subtlety and detail.
So Rose shows up and Billie Piper has obviously forgotten how to do a cockney accent in the intervening time between Series 2 and Series 4 because she speaks as if her teeth are too big for her mouth. Apparently she'd forgotten how to play Rose and had to go back and watch some old episodes to jog her memory but she must have just watched "Love & Monsters" or something because the performance isn't exactly very reminiscent. There's a lot of wank where we're supposed to see that she talks and acts like the Doctor now, and a technobabble-tastic UNIT time machine which also shows Donna how she's got some huge scarab on her back that somehow feeds off the life you didn't not not have or something sort of like the Weeping Angels but even more ridiculous and nonsensical. Sylvia Noble has no character development as usual, Wilf aka Bernard Cribbins stands around having a bit of a cry in what feels like a waste of his presence, and the fortune teller aka Chantho without the makeup is incredibly hammy.
So Donna has to die to save the world by forcing herself to Turn Left in the past. How come the Trickster Beetle or whatever it is couldn't just compensate again? The whole 'something on your back' part is more unscientific deliberate-mystery nonsense and all the drama about Donna dying is wasted because we know RTD's too scared to kill her off. She gets hit by a truck, wakes up, and we're burdened with the tiresome phrase 'Bad Wolf' again which apparently means the end of the universe for some reason even though the Doctor doesn't care to elaborate. It's a very cheap examination of a world without the Doctor and the presence of Rose is entirely needless. You can tell RTD thought he was incredibly clever while he was writing this but it comes across as smug and self-congratulatory with all the re-hashed plots and the hammer-blow satire and I can't help but feel that episodes like this, with their forced mystery and engimatic weirdness, were purely designed to drum up hype and provide cheap thrills rather than doing something intelligent. By all means show us a world without the Doctor, but if you turn right please take a more intelligent route than this.


RTD tries to write a psychological horror. The end. To be fair, there are a few interesting concepts, like the Doctor operating essentially without a companion since Donna's scenes simply bookend the episode, and possession by a mysterious entity. Nonetheless it suffers from that classic RTD problem where he thinks that if you make something mysterious enough you never have to actually explain it and it causes the whole situation to be less enigmatic and more just meaningless. Of course it's also meant to be an examination of how humans operate under pressure but frankly I think if humans still talk and act like this in the presence of the unknown in the distant future then it'll be a rather sorry future indeed.
Of course the people on the bus all turn out to be short-sighted and horrible in the presence of the unknown, gang up on the Doctor, try to kill him and are only saved by one person's convenient realisation of the truth. It piles more on top of the Doctor's "humans are the greatest and worst people ever" thing and it's rather disheartening to see the Tenth Doctor standing there stammering away unable to get a word in or convey any authority like something from a Fifth Doctor nightmare where someone like the Third, Fourth or Sixth Doctor would have had absolute control. It also rather eludicates the uselessness of the Tenth Doctor's hubris and how telling people you're the best the way he does doesn't do much good when you have no means of proving it. The other characters are mostly just cyphers as usual, being supportive or angry or scared wherever the plot dictates with no regard to consistency or individual temperament, and it's a shame to see David Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton the Second Doctor, who played King Peladon in the excellent Third Doctor serial "The Curse of Peladon" and also appeared in "The War Games" have to play the role of the Professor in this, who is just another one of RTD's mannequins.
While the Midnight creature is interesting and the repetition is done extremely well by Lesley Sharp the total lack of any kind of explanation is frustrating rather than enigmatic and the sheer incompetence of the Doctor, incapable of saying anything other than "It's learning" is rather painful to behold. It's also unfortunate that when the time comes for David Tennant to do the repetition sadly he's not nearly as good as Lesley Sharp and the performance isn't nearly as accurate or convincing as hers. Unfortunately all these aspects from the Doctor making him seem more and more human, and seeing him standing there blithering away with no authority or any better understanding than the others depicts him as just another one of the humans who is arbitrarily trying to take charge, not as the Doctor.
If they'd given at least some hint as to how the Midnight entity functions it would have been more effective. As it is, we don't know whether all the melodrama and hamminess from the human passengers is a result of the creature's influence or their own neuroses, and that hampers any point the episode is trying to make by a significant margin. What if the Doctor had discovered that the creature was benign? It would certainly have cast an extremely different light on the humans' reactions, but as it is there is nothing to go on. All this hysteria and aggression is too implausible to believe and unfortunately while it is curious to have a creature which can enter without using the doors and relies on fear the repetition aspect, while well played, feels very much like a gimmick which served as the basis of RTD's idea around which everything else was constructed more or less as an aside. Unfortunately that is the problem which beleaguers so much of this era of Doctor Who. Everything is hell-bent on one hype-focused aspect for drumming up attention to grab audience figures and everything else is slapped together in a way which only approaches being adequate without ever managing to really contribute significantly to a broader artistic whole. It leaves many episodes feeling incomplete and pointless and sadly I have to say the same of "Midnight". While there are a few good ideas in there, they're not developed as well as they could be and it is all too heavy-handed and broadly drawn to be effective, especially with the squabbling passengers.

"Forest of the Dead"

Again, this episode doesn't exactly inspire me either. There's just something a little unimpressive about this two-parter. Maybe it feels like it evokes too much from previous Moffat stories. Maybe there's too much time just spent running around or standing around without doing very much besides slowly killing off the crew members and having River Song be all mysterious about the Doctor's future. There's also a section with Donna in a world where the Doctor's a dream but we know that so there's no real sense of mystery and there's nothing particularly interesting about Donna embarking on the rather slow path of discovery.
The big revelation is of course that the Library is actually the forest where the Vashta Nerada used to live, having been pulped for book pages, and that the people who had disappeared have been uploaded into the computer, which is the living consciousness of Lux's grandfather's youngest daughter. The whole thing with the Vashta Nerada eating people and using their bodies becomes extremely predictable and you know that Donna is going to get teleported out at the end. It really is astoundingly difficult to think of things to say about this episode. I suppose there's the stupidity of the bit where the Doctor's going to save River so he jumps into the gravity tunnel and flies down with River's sonic screwdriver held up like he's Gandalf fighting the Balrog in the opening of the film of The Two Towers and for some reason the device neatly plugs into the computer console so that River can be uploaded with a stereotypical discharge of energy.
I find something rather disturbing about River's 'afterlife' and the thought of being in this weird computer-generated world, which was depicted as being all off and wrong when Donna was present, as some kind of paradise seems kind of conflicted. There's also the fact that CAL brings the old crew back to keep River company even though she never seems to have had any particular affection for them, and she also weirdly starts taking care of Charlotte and the two repeatedly-generated children in the system. I really don't understand the point and I don't see how being a ghost of consciousness in a computer counts as an 'everybody lives' scenario. I actually find it a bit horrible. Why couldn't the Doctor just let her go? Then again if I was the Doctor I would probably look at the diary too, although that again suggests the kind of deterministic view of reality which the show often purports to contradict. One thing I do like is that River says the Doctor opens the TARDIS by snapping his fingers, which he contradicts, and ultimately at the end he does so successfully. It's just kind of a cool image since there's no explanation other than that River said so. There's also something satisfying about River saying that the Tenth Doctor's not the 'proper Doctor' and that he's not really right because I agree with her wholeheartedly.
I suppose this episode says something about the nobility of self-sacrifice and how we should promote life wherever possible even for young sick girls who get turned into computers or time-travelling women who get uploaded into those computers, and that you should take precautions when engaging in grand projects like the Library because you might upset someone inadvertently, as happened with the Vashta Nerada, and that you need to be ugly to understand the world, that you should question your reality and so on but I just can't help feel like this, along with its first part, is a bit of a nothing story. I don't know why; it just doesn't do it for me and inspires nothing more than a sense of apathy. It's kind of a void for me and while it's substantially better than the previous two stories in most aspects I think it loses a great deal of value upon rewatch.

"Silence in the Library"

This episode's a little slow for a Moffat production in my opinion. It probably doesn't drag out to the extent that his Eccly two-parter did back in New Series 1 but it's not that pacey. There's a lot of arbitrarily running around and a lot of arbitrarily standing around having a chin wag but not actually figuring anything out, and there's a lot of cutting away to a really annoying little girl in a sitting room whose identity is a mystery. The CGI of the Library is good to establish a sense of scale but the emptiness feels less like a story decision and more like something budgetary, because in a place so huge devoted solely to books it's hard to imagine that there wouldn't be some uninhabited areas. I also think they could have got someone without a speech impediment to provide the warning message, which when read out in that falsely cheery voice is obviously meant to sound creepy but comes across as more cringe-inducing than anything. While I enjoy the concept of the library and it's nice to be off world again it's not exactly used particularly well either. I mean realistically they could be anywhere.
So the Doctor's got a message on the increasingly annoying psychic paper which I seem to remember him not needing back in the Classic Series and then he and Donna run around a bit before locking themselves into a room where a bunch of cyphers and River Song show up. Now River Song's going to be important in the future so keep an eye on her, but Mr Lux, Dave, Other Dave, Anita and arbitrary short-lived hotty du jour Miss Evangelista are pretty insubstantial and undeveloped, especially the middle three, and because this is a Moffat episode you're expecting horror and you know most of these characters are there to get picked off, which starts with Miss Evangelista, who's death is used to introduce the concept of 'ghosting'.
This is a typical piece of Moffat creepery but it's done reasonably well and it's good to hear the voices repeat the way people often do when they're slowly falling asleep. Of course now we know our villains are the Vashta Nerada, a 'swarm' of aliens who look like shadows and eat people. This doesn't make very much sense and unfortunately isn't explained very well, but you can tell it was just done so that Moffat was preying on the basic fear of the dark. River Song, however, is suitably mysterious, and as she will play a role in future events it does boost this episode by a reasonable margin.
The apparent death of Donna is clearly just for the sake of a cliffhanger and the stumbling space suit zombie repeatedly saying "Hey! Who turned out the lights?" feels like a blatant repetition of "Are you my mummy?" from Moffat's 2005 two-parter which is a little disappointing. There is also something rather unappealing about the library sets and the central round room in which most of the action takes place feels significantly overused by the end of the episode. Unfortunately I just find this one a little dull and like a lot of Moffat episodes I think repeated viewings harm it significantly because the secrets are already known so you're not feeling as confused or intrigued as usual. I like episodes to have more rewatch value, and sometimes the Doctor alone is enough for this, but even Tennant doesn't convey an adequate sense of curiosity about River and the mystery of the situation. I think there's something about the Tenth Doctor in this episode which is restrained, normally a good thing, but in a way that feels kind of lifeless and arbitrary. Sadly it's all just a bit dull, and I must remark that when you've heard the Tenth Doctor say "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" this many times you start to wonder where all this 'genuine emotion' is that people praise him for.

"The Unicorn and the Wasp"

I can scarcely believe how smug and stuck up its own backside this episode is. It tries to humorously pastiche the whodunnit style crime fiction story whilst at the same time incorporating an alien who, in all seriousness, is nothing more than a giant wasp. I mean, could they have come up with anything less imaginative and less alien than just a much bigger facsimile of an Earth insect? It's pathetic. What's more, it transforms into a human with a waft of purple smoke. The CGI's not bad and it looks reasonably convincing but really, a wasp? Why couldn't it actually have been something alien? There's nothing alien about a giant wasp. I just can't get over how desperately uncreative it is.
Then there's all this stuff with the Doctor and Donna providing grief counselling to Agatha Christie, bigging her up and telling her how great she is and the usual stuff which in many ways feels incredibly evocative of "The Shakespeare Code" and of which we haven't seen the last. Wouldn't it be interesting to see the Doctor having to big up a fictional artist from the future who we'd never heard of? Anyway if you're in the know you're probably aware that Agatha Christie in real life looked like every middle-aged woman from the first half of the twentieth century but in this is played by the steely Fenella Woolgar. She's pretty good but the character is presented as a bit tediously stuffy and the remaining cast of characters are very tiresome. They're obviously meant to parody Cluedo, or Clue if you're American, the board game, which is one of this episode's many incredibly lame jokes, with the professor, the reverend, the old military man, the maid, the young woman, the older woman and so on, and there are the usual sequences of the flashbacks and the denouement et cetera. But you know how when you watch an adaptation of Poirot or Miss Marple or something they go forever and an hour is filled out with all the little details the novels have? Well clearly Gareth Roberts and RTD couldn't think of that much for this one so they cobble some hackneyed nonsense together about a jewel thief and a woman who was impregnated by a giant alien wasp in India.
It's tedious, tries desperately hard to be clever and funny and only succeeds in a way which would seem clever and funny to morons, and the plot is absolutely bunk. The Reverend turns out to be Barbara from the Good Life's half-giant wasp son, and some kids robbing his church activates the "genetic lock", a piece of meaningless technobabble which causes him to turn into a wasp. This for some reason activates a pendant Lady Eddison aka Barbara from the Good Life has which somehow fills out his 'memories' even though he's been on Earth all his life and also somehow connects to his mother, apparently just because she was wearing the pendant at the time, and because she was reading an Agatha Christie novel this inspires the Reverend Wasp to act out a series of murders in the style of such a novel for... some reason. Now this is bad enough in terms of totally implausible nonsense but then because the book was involved somehow this causes Agatha Christie herself to be 'connected' to the pendant and when the Reverend Wasp is drowned this effects her and causes her memory to be unsettled, explaining the great mystery of the ten days in which she famously went missing. The telepathy used in pendants from the land of the giant wasps must be brilliant if it can make people perceive reality as the content of a book being read by another person and somehow connect inexplicably to the author of such a book as well. It's absolutely ridiculous, and it's embarrassing to have to see David Tennant standing there rattling off this huge reel of hokey hand-wavey garbage as if it has any meaning whatsoever.
I'm tired of this thing where the Doctor and his companion meet someone from history and get caught up in stereotypical events and in doing so get all excited to the extent of ignoring the death and horror going on around them and have to be chastised by other people, in this case Agatha Christie herself. Why can't the Doctor show a little more compassion instead of grinning like an idiot and offending people? After they find the Professor's body, Donna just stands there cracking jokes with the Doctor while a dead man is lying on the floor in front of them untended-to. I think what's worst of all is to see Christopher Benjamin, who played Sir Keith in "Inferno" and even more notably Henry Jago in "The Talons of Weng Chiang", playing a role in this dirge of an episode. Couldn't they have got this man, who appeared in two of the best serials of the Seventies, something better?
The murders are atrocious too. If the Reverend kills the Professor while in Wasp Form, why does he use the lead pipe if only for the sake of a cheap joke? And why does the housekeeper stand there like a lemon screaming as the gargoyle on the roof of the house is pushed off incredibly slowly? There's also a pointless reference to the events of "The Unquiet Dead" which was almost definitely inserted by RTD so he could have a self-satisfied chuckle as the episode was aired. This episode is so full of itself it's disgusting and the nonsense technobabble ending and use of the celebrity historical purely for the sake of jokes and pastiche is incredibly frustrating to watch.
Anyway, as the Doctor would well know having met him, Sherlock Holmes is the greatest fictional detective and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the best writer of crime fiction, so there you go.

"The Doctor's Daughter"

I must say that it's incredibly difficult not to watch this episode with a bit of a smirk at certain moments now that David Tennant and Georgia Moffett, who plays the Tenth Doctor's titular daughter in this episode, are engaged and have a kid on the way. Nonetheless I will try to review this story without reading too much into the scenes and try to view the father/daughter relationship from an in-universe perspective. I will, however, still make dodgy comments where appropriate.
Once again we're on an alien planet but almost everyone who matters is human and the main aliens can't talk because they're worried the morons will get scared. Is it really that hard to give us an alien civilisation? They're starting to take the piss by this point with how repetitive it is. Martha is still with us but spends almost the whole episode in the company of semi-mute fish people who all talk like Pom Pom from Homestar Runner called the Hath who have no personality and it seems like she was written into this episode at the last minute. There's also an extended sequence of her stumbling around in what is obviously a quarry and seemingly intentionally falling into quicksand so that her Hath friend has to save her for no reason. Really it only serves as a distraction in an episode which already feels rushed and overloaded with concepts. The Doctor is forced to give a genetic sample which is recombined into a young woman who Donna dubs 'Jenny' and the Doctor has to deal. That's basically the plot. There's some guff about soldiers and two factions fighting a seven day war which they think has lasted for an eternity because their lives are so short but it's so thrown in that if they were going to do this as one episode they would have been better off omitting it entirely and focusing on the daughter aspect.
It's astonishing how melodramatic and fatalistic the Tenth Doctor has become. He refuses to even acknowledge Jenny as a Time Lord because they're a sum of the lost heritage and all this sort of thing instead of attempting to rediscover some of that company he'd been missing for so long. It's revealed that it's because Jenny reminds him of the loss of his original family and how it's a part of him which he says can never come back. This sounds like something you'd say if you were distraught and not thinking clearly and at least Donna says he's wrong but I think she should have called him out on it more. Why does he have to be such a jerk to Jenny? This is the Doctor, the ultimate equal opportunities man, and if anyone deserves a chance surely it would be someone of his own flesh and blood who is struggling with her programming and what is expected of her. You can go on all you like about how the Doctor's trying to protect himself and so on but that doesn't change the fact that for a lot of the time he treats her unfairly. This Doctor is so unpleasant at times it makes it very difficult to respect him as our hero and protagonist.
With tiresome predictability they kill off Jenny at the end, even though the Doctor has asked her to travel with him, and I find this to be a bit of a cheap shot. If they'd really wanted us to treat this character seriously they shouldn't have done the good old Star Trek syndication method or indeed done an exact repeat of what happened with Astrid in "Voyage of the Damned". Indeed I don't mind Jenny's character and while I don't have a problem with Donna I find the idea of the Doctor travelling with a relative to be potentially a much more interesting idea than the normal 'Doctor plus human he runs into' thing.
So while the seven-day war is interesting it's not exactly original and I recall guessing it about fifteen minutes into the first time I watched the episode, and all the soldiery lore and stuff is underdeveloped and should have been omitted, as sadly should have been Martha. In fact what could have been interesting would be if the Doctor arrived alone and Jenny was immediately produced and we could have gone from there. Sadly it's all too rushed, the character of General Cobb is a deeply unimaginative bad military officer, the Tenth Doctor is too unpleasant and they introduce Jenny and kill her off so it all feels like a bit of a waste of time. I think RTD claimed he wanted this to be a big game-changer for the Doctor or something but it never really seemed to work out that way, and while there's something very weird in hindsight about the girlish excited hugs replete with thankyous that Jenny gives the Doctor, along with "Hello Dad" and the cradling her on the ground scene I suppose I can spare Tennant if the seeds of romance were sprouting in the Tenth Doctor's eyes as he looked down on his pretty daughter because he does 'distraught' pretty well up until he starts shouting or crying at which point it usually becomes angsty and melodramatic. I keep forgetting, RTD, at which point did the Doctor cease to be a weary old man or a mysterious stranger and just became a moody teen? Anyway yes it's kind of interesting but it's rushed and you can tell they were so focused on the daughter aspect that they painted everything else in broad strokes. It's passable, but it feels cheap.

"The Poison Sky"

Yawn. This finale isn't bad per se but it's not very interesting. I think the problem with all of these two parters is that realistically they don't have enough content to drag them out for two episodes so they get padded with all this needless bulk. There are long shots of smoke filling various Earth locations and extended scenes of Sylvia and Wilf sitting around in their house and very time-consuming bits of Donna just hanging around in the TARDIS not doing anything, UNIT people sitting around not doing anything, and even the Sontarans essentially just standing around not doing anything. Clone Martha seems to exist for no purpose other than to block Earth's nuclear missiles repeatedly and after taking ages to discover that the Sontarans are trying to convert Earth into a clone world the Doctor grabs some magical device from Rattigan's house and 'ignites' the atmosphere to restore everything to normal within the space of about a minute. Then there's a heartfelt farewell as the Doctor thinks he has to sacrifice himself to defeat the Sontarans but in a way that is somehow meant to involve him achieving his potential Rattigan swaps himself with the Doctor and kills himself to take out the Sontarans instead.
I have a whole load of questions. If the Doctor has reconfigured the atmospheric ingiter to work on 'Sontaran air', how come the Sontarans seem to breathe normally on Earth? Also, if on Earth the igniter just puts a nice carpet of fire along a high altitude which burns up all the noxious gases but doesn't seem to harm the Valiant or the top of the Chrysler building or anything in any significant way, how come it causes the Sontaran Mothership to spectacularly explode so violently that not even debris remains? If the fire just breezes along high up, how does it wipe out the gases which seem to be sitting low to the ground, and how come it doesn't also consume Earth's natural atmosphere? I suppose once you've come up with some kind of impossible thirty-second planetary atmospheric conversion system there's no rational way of explaining it and it can work however you choose but that's not very satisfying.
The Tenth Doctor is far too shouty and indignant, UNIT becomes absurdly obstinate and stupid apart from their deployment of the Valiant, and Rattigan ceases to be interesting and becomes a sort of pseudo-Objectivist nutcase who lies on the floor of his teleporter crying. I really hate how they overuse the word 'clever' as well, as if it's the only term for intelligence. It sounds like school children having a conversation about the smartest kid in the class and it ceases to have any meaning. The presence of Martha is virtually pointless and while the Sontaran ship interior looks pretty cool and is kind of reminiscent of a classic series spaceship set, the section of Donna wandering around and the whole concept of teleporters being deadlocked open and closed is kind of ridiculous; as usual we just have a lot of the Doctor waving his sonic screwdriver magic wand to cause plot points to happen without any real explanation.
As with the first part, I'm not sure what else there is to say. I suppose it's an okay reintroduction for the Sontarans and the battle sequences are pretty nice but the plot is absurdly complicated. Why couldn't the Sontarans just attack, kill everyone and gas the place? Or even just gas the place and let that kill everyone? Why did it need the cars? It reeks of RTD going "Oh I know what'd be funny, car exhausts that actually kill people. You know what? Let's throw the Sontarans in, haven't seen them yet. Helen, you can make it work, right?" and that's that. A lot of the characters feel very arbitrary, especially Martha who spends too long as a clone to even justify her presence in the story beyond fan service, and as usual it has nothing to say. It's watchable but there's just nothing more to it. Sometimes I feel like in this era beyond the finales and building up to the finales they didn't really care.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Sontaran Stratagem"

I remember that when I first heard of the return of the Sontarans I was fairly pleased. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Sontarans; I'm not sure why, I just think that in some respects the secondary recurring villains of the Doctor, like the Sontarans, the Silurians and the Ice Warriors, haven't suffered the overexposure which has plagued the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master, and that leaves fresh room for exploration. I suppose it's a shame then that "The Sontaran Stratagem" is little more than a functional story, a post-Third Doctor UNIT runaround that reminds me the most, perhaps not in its favour, of "Battlefield" more than anything. I suppose one of the problems is that instead of developing the character of the Sontarans it makes them a bit silly. Gone are the black uniforms and the rasping voices. Gone is the experimentation and the soldierly outlook. Now they're "warriors" who stand around in their ship doing the haka like the New Zealand All Blacks, wear bright blue uniforms so that children can identify the toys in the shop, talk more or less like normal people and are visibly in the dwarf range of the height spectrum rather than being solid and stocky like they were in the old days. At least they still have the probic vent on the backs of their necks, although it seems like more of an arbitrary weakness than ever. Also, Rattigan asks how they can tell each other apart, and it'd seem a fair question considering that they're meant to be clones, but Staal and Skorr are played by different actors and look nothing alike apart from superficial similarities like those between humans, rendering the point rather redundant.
Anyway the Sontarans are in an alliance with annoying American prodigy Luke Rattigan, who reminds me of a number of people I know. His Academy is, of course, a room full of test tubes and other meaningless scientific apparatus much like Sec's laboratory in the Daleks in New York story. They've developed a technobabble device for removing carbon dioxide from car exhausts which also lets the cars kill people. It's all a great mystery, and as usual this first part is mostly just set up. Nonetheless I think the Sontaran Mothership and the smaller ships look pretty cool and the teleporter isn't bad but I'm not sure why the Sontarans would be hanging around with this arrogant human teenager.
Another aspect of this is that Martha returns. I admit to feeling extremely disappointed when I heard her say "I'm bringing you back to Earth" like it was a good thing. We'd barely managed to escape! We also get to see the new and improved UNIT, sans the Brigadier and virtually anything that made it UNIT in the first place, and the Doctor complains a lot about how much he doesn't like people with guns in a rather needless attack on the people who are meant to be helping him. At least Donna and Martha get along, as was more or less to be expected; it's a welcome relief from the other companion dynamics which will come back to haunt us in the fullness of time. We're also reintroduced to Donna's mother, who is more needlessly unpleasant than ever, and Wilf from "Voyage of the Damned" who has been rewritten as Donna's grandfather in case you hadn't already figured that out from "Partners in Crime". He jumps into the car even though they know the cars are killing everybody and that's it.
Speaking of the cars, there's a bit where the Doctor defeats the car because it's been programmed to do the opposite of everything the Doctor's telling it to do, and so he tells it to drive into the river when it has already been programmed to do so, so it tries to both drive and not drive in at the same time, and because the Doctor apparently lives in some kind of Hannah Barbera universe instead of the logic flaw causing the ATMOS computer to crash it explodes a little bit. What I want to point out in addition to how silly it is to see a computer burst into sparks due to a logic error, sort of like the Cyberman's head exploding in "The Age of Steel", is how ridiculous it is that something would be programmed to do the opposite of everything the Doctor said. Wouldn't it just be programmed to ignore him? What kind of idiot would make a serious device which did the opposite of what people ordered it to do?
Also the Sontarans clone Martha but in the end it's all just set-up. I don't mind seeing the Sontarans come back but it's pretty hard to muster too much enthusiasm for this episode. It just feels so stock; it's watchable but apart from making some vague claims in regards to Rattigan about the difficulties of being intelligent in a world full of the kind of people who enjoy RTD episodes, there's not much to it.

"Planet of the Ood"

So remember how in "The Satan Pit" the Ood went nuts and started killing everybody? Well "Planet of the Ood" is that again. Sure, there are different reasons and the implications are vastly different, but the basic premise is extremely similar. They even get the same red eyes, and apparently the effect of the Beast back on Krop Tor was just coincidentally identical to a common psychic disease among the Ood. So anyway there's a huge slave revolution on the Ood Sphere, Tennant growls a lot even more blatantly than usual, and Lord Percy Percy from Blackadder gets turned into an Ood.
Donna also complains a lot about how she doesn't know what's right and wrong after travelling with the Doctor and that the broader universe is a horrible place and so on. I kind of understand what she means but at the same time I'm not sure what she expected - a long interstellar holiday or something? Ood Sigma tells them that the Ood will sing about them forever and stuff but the more I think about it the more I become pretty sure that the Doctor and Donna didn't do anything. I mean sure the Doctor figured out what was going on and he switched the bombs off at the end as an afterthought but Sigma could have done that himself. Clearly they are friends to the Ood, which is nice, but what about the proper Friends of the Ood, like Dr Ryder? No one seems to care that he is fatally absorbed by the Ood Brain. Ood Sigma was the one who turned Halpen into an Ood as well. The Doctor switched off the telepathic shield but only because Sigma let him, he could have done that too. I'm really not sure what the Doctor and Donna actually do in this episode besides nose around a bit and figure out a bunch of stuff for the benefit of the audience without it really meaning anything plot-wise.
The message is obviously that slavery is bad and humans can do horrible things but I suppose at least the Ood's plan to be free is to kill everybody as well so at least that keeps things reasonably ambiguous, but we're clearly meant to sympathise with the Ood, who have been running around massacring their captors in a rage. Also, when the Brain is released and the Ood stop attacking, how come the guards just stand around and let them form their power circle? They don't know that the Ood are safe; you would expect them to take the chance to gun them down but somehow they just know that it's all over. This apparently extends to all the Ood spread across three galaxies, who have apparently been permitted by their owners to nicely just grab the rockets that delivered them and set a course for home. It's all very hand-wavey at the end. Then Ood Sigma tells the Tenth Doctor that he's going to die, which is nice.
I think Tim McInnerny's Halpen is actually a pretty decent antagonist. He's also quite ambiguous; he obviously doesn't care much for the Ood but he's also stressed and frustrated, and at least he treats Sigma with kindness. He gets a bit hammy at the end but he's at least a bit more interesting than the usual cackling corporate villains with which we're presented in this era. The evil security guard guy is ham and cheese though. I mean, come on, he cracks a whip over a fallen Ood and screams with diabolic glee as he's controlling a giant claw to try to capture the Doctor in the video game segment of this episode, which is a completely pointless bit of time wasting. However I do like that resident PR person Solana betrays the Doctor and Donna to the guards and that she's killed by the Ood. It weaves a slightly richer character tapestry for this episode than usual.
There's some naff pop culture with the Simpsons joke and the Andy Warhol Ood symbols but other than that it isn't too bad. It's disappointing though that once again they go to an alien planet but most of the inhabitants are just humans from the future. Why not have an episode where it's the Doctor with Companion, the Ood as his backup dancers, and some other alien as the evil antagonist, and no humans to be seen? That would probably be too unfamiliar for the thickies to handle, though. It is nice to see them represent how the naturally telepathic Doctor can hear the Ood song and Donna can't, but it's kind of annoying to see the Vulcan Mind Meld return again. I think it's reasonably clever that the Ood have their brains in their hands as well, although you wonder why they don't have some kind of pouch to store them in, but that whole "The Circle Must Be Broken" thing is typical RTD-style mystery for its own sake designed to drum up hype and excitement, much like the prophesies last episode and Sigma's comment about the Doctor's song ending. Nonetheless it's a decent episode, watchable and inoffensive without achieving a great deal. Like the episode before, at least it tries to make a point, even if it is a very common and unchallenging one.

"The Fires of Pompeii"

Remember how the Roman Empire was this funny place basically like now except with aqueducts and lots of words with '-us' on the end? Neither did I! Remember how Doctor Who started off as a semi-educational program with at least some pretense towards maintaining historical accuracy? Neither did they!
Now I suppose I'm not really the target audience for this, because a) I'm not the kind of moron Doctor Who was peddled to in this era, and b) I've done Latin and actually studied the textbooks from which writer James Moran ripped off the names of Caecilius' family, and while it may seem funny to see Peter Capaldi running around hamming it up to the ceiling as Caecilius and Phil Cornwell as one of those famous 'cockney Romans' we hear so much about, I doubt "Up Pompeii" or Mel Brooks' "History of the World Part 1" offers a more stereotypical view of this time. You see I know a thing or two about the period, and life in the Roman Empire was bloody horrible. Corruption and vice were widespread, women had virtually no rights, and slavery was so deeply institutionalised that they outnumbered the citizens by a margin of about twenty to one.
But what the hell, right? It's Doctor Who, and if they want to bowdlerise history (which is pretty much necessary for anything up until the second half of the twentieth century) they can. Just don't blame me for being frustrated from a somewhat more informed point of view. It's like how I complain about the dodgy science in other episodes, which in this one is virtually useless because the science is described so little and is so essentially just magic pretending to be science in the mouth of Tennant that there's no point. Instead in this one I complain about the dodgy history. So anyway Donna puts on a stole but the Doctor calls it a toga for some reason and we find out that people are being converted into molten rock men by other molten rock men who have lost their planet.
Oh, so the plot of every historical story from this era, then? There are a lot of bad historical jokes about the Appian Way and the Doctor saying he's Spartacus and so on and there's plenty of purple prose spouted by various soothsayers and prophetesses around the place. Then the Doctor and Donna climb into the centre of a volcano in spite of the unspeakable heat and have to save the world.
Now even though this episode is mostly a massive waste of time, especially in the prophecy fight that is just designed to dribble out hints about later episodes, the Pyroviles look pretty cool and I suppose it's not too bad to see the Doctor faced with that classic moral dilemma of philosophy - is it ethically superior to act and thus kill a smaller number of people so that a larger number may live, or to do nothing yet let that larger number of people die? Of course this all gets confused with Doctor's explanation about fixed points in time. Apparently he 'just knows' when a point is fixed and when it can change. Isn't it funny how the non-fixed points tend to be in the future of whatever year the episode was first broadcast and the fixed ones tend to be around historical events which exist in popular consciousness? Then the Doctor describes this rather needlessly as the "burden of a Time Lord". I assume that goes in the 'Time Lord related purple prose set' with "The Curse of a Time Lord" and "The Fury of a Time Lord". Now we only need "The Very Eye of a Time Lord" and we'll have the complete package.
The Pyroviles need big computer chips made of rock for some reason but this idea seems to get kind of dropped and you are left with the impression it was done solely for a cheap visual shock, and then the Doctor has to wrangle with his doubts. Of course he chooses to kill all these people because it's that or sacrifice the whole of Earth's future but he's not very happy about it and at least it leaves things open. You have to wonder though, if the Doctor didn't have such affection for Earth, would he make the same choice? It's nice of them to put a bit of philosophy in but we could do with some more which would have been possible if there'd been less of Frankie Howard's Rome. Pompeii is nicely realised in terms of appearance I suppose and all the music sounds like it's been taken from Age of Empires I. Also people should notice that the red-haired Soothsayer is played by none other than the elusive Karen Gillan, who will go on to be important in our future.
It's also good to see Donna call out the Doctor, who is effectively doing his whole "I am ze Ubermensch" thing again, and make him rescue Peter Capaldi and the Cambridge Latin Course (contradicting the storylines in those textbooks, incidentally) so that they can quite literally stand around having a fiddle while Pompeii burns, as it were. Anyway it's quite refreshing to see someone who sticks up to the Doctor, as opposed to Rose's coupley smuggery and, unfortunately, Martha's eventual wet-fishedness. This is another one that isn't as annoying as I remember but a lot of the acting is ham and cheese and the historical inaccuracies really get up my nose. The 'Six Months Later' is particularly excruciating and needless. Nonetheless, at least it tries to have some kind of intellectual discourse, which is better than what we see most of the time.

"Partners in Crime"

In this series opener a good reintroduction to the character of Donna Noble from "The Runaway Bride" is somewhat marred by a stupidly childish plot about people being converted into fat babies. My biggest complaint is probably that the character of the Matron is an unbelievable ham. She walks around delivering scathing comments and dispensing tiny evil smiles like a female villain from a cartoon and there's even a shot where she spins around in a big leather desk chair like she's Blofeld. It isn't funny or menacing, and it's absurd to think that this foster mother would be so horrible. It would provide so much more ambiguity to the story if she was concerned and protective but she's more just needlessly menacing and cruel because RTD believes we should be told what to feel and never think. There's not much more to say about the plot; it's a very strong indicator of everything this era is about when the scientific explanation of how the pills work is muffled for the sake of a joke from the Doctor about being in the film booth. They really don't care about the science in this show at the moment, do they? Let's move onto the characters.
It's good to see so much development from Donna. She was pretty annoying in her first appearance and it's nice that her one experience with the Doctor has caused her to mature significantly. It's also good to see Wilf from the previous episode reintroduced as her grandfather because he's pretty decent quality and will continue to be so for the mercifully short remainder of the Tenth Doctor's tenure. Unfortunately yet again we have the 'horrible old pushy mum' archetype shoved in our faces. Rose had it, Martha had it, and now Donna has it. I'm unsure why RTD couldn't put his hangups and psychological issues away when he wrote this stuff and it makes some elements seem incredibly repetitive by this point.
At least for once we have a completely platonic relationship established between the Doctor and the Companion, something RTD establishes in this story as if it needed to be said and as if somehow the Doctor's constantly getting into romantic mishaps with his friends. I really wish we could have avoided this by preventing the romantic side of the Doctor entirely but as we know now he is suffering immense psychological trauma which has only just caught up to him in the aftermath of the Time War and therefore isn't entirely responsible for his actions. That's still my theory, anyway.
It's also rather tiresome to see the Doctor being all hesitant and laying down the disclaimers before Donna comes aboard. These are all hangups and neuroses with which RTD has burdened the character of the Doctor, and the mistakes the Tenth Doctor has made become increasingly frustrating because of how out of character they are. If the Doctor is so disturbed by his lifestyle, why does he keep going? As it is the way RTD develops the Doctor's character makes his behaviour increasingly inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the show and while it was temporarily interesting to give the Doctor these anxieties about his lifestyle, the only options now are to have the Doctor deal with them, which he refuses to do, or let the Doctor carry himself onwards and downwards into a mess of angst. Surely the Doctor has some new and inventive alien method of coping? Oh wait, didn't the Second Doctor let his family 'sleep in his mind', for instance? Guess they don't care about prior character developments in this instance.
There's not much more to say about Partners in Crime apart from the appearance of Rose. I get the impression she knew Donna by this point, so why didn't she run down the street and tell the Doctor that Davros was building a superweapon capable of destroying all reality? But as usual RTD wants to establish a pretentious sense of mystery to keep the thickies watching. I can't believe he barely managed a full series without Rose. How tiresome.

"Voyage of the Damned"

Wow. This episode's really bad. You know how "Last of the Time Lords" was so bad it made me a bit angry? This episode's bad but in a different way. It's bad in the sense that all the usual RTD hallmarks are there but instead of the insulting badness of the finale just gone this one is simply insipid and bland. Now before I go any further I'd like to make remarks to the effect that I don't have anything personal against RTD. I'm sure Queer as Folk or whatever is perfectly good if you're into that kind of thing. It's obvious that RTD can write people in domestic situations. Just watch Jackie and Mickey in "Rose" to see that. The problem I have with RTD is that he can't write science fiction to save his life, he degraded the artistic integrity and unique imaginitive landscape of Doctor Who by pandering to hype and sentimentality, and in spite of how much he purports to be a fan of the Classic Series he seems to have no grasp of conceptual or character consistency, nor any understanding of what genuinely made the old show special.
All these problems are neatly packaged in "Voyage of the Damned". It's astoundingly unimaginative. Why on earth did he think that a spaceship which looked like the Titanic was in any way interesting? He's finally given us humanoid aliens instead of normal humans but due to the 'Titanic' gimmick they're all dressing and behaving to a significant extent like humans and the difference is virtually negligible. The enemies are blatantly stolen from the infinitely superior, and really quite magnificent, Fourth Doctor serial "The Robots of Death".
Suicidal spaceship captain du jour is Geoffrey Palmer, who gets the Titanic hit by some meteoroids and kills almost everyone, so naturally it's up to the Doctor, his new friend Kylie Minogue, the funeral director from "Revelation of the Daleks", some jerk, two fat people and Meglos' small red cousin to save the day. Small red cactus is used for RTD to make a gay rights statement with all the subtletly of a brick to the face because he's a cyborg and "they can get married now", the fat guy dies and his fat wife kills herself for essentially no reason, and then Kylie Minogue drives off a cliff to kill the random head-in-a-jar bad guy who is the man behind the arbitrarily complicated scheme to ruin his former company. Presumably they don't have insurance companies or investigations on Sto. Really I think RTD doesn't plan these narratives through at all, and just hopes that if the Doctor talks fast enough no one will care how absolutely bunk the plot is. Fortunately I'm a good deal more intelligent than RTD or indeed the Tenth Doctor and it so happens that I notice these things and I must say it really spoils the illusion that I might be watching something anywhere approaching more than awful. Verity Lambert deserved something much better as a memorial; why couldn't they have just shown a favourite Classic Series story of her involvement instead?
There's all this incredibly unnecessary flirting between Doctor Number Ten and Kylie Minogue, and he manages to even cram in two kisses with her. By this point I do believe RTD is taking the piss by an extreme margin because the Doctor shouldn't be spontaneously hooking up with anyone, let alone someone he just met. It's a bit unsettling when the Eighth Doctor does it and in this it just comes across as weird; it's way more sexual/romantic here than it is in the TV Movie.
Also, Kylie acts like she's in an episode of Play School or something; I never knew a side character could be this hammy but she's all wide-eyed and gasping and asking questions in the most textbook curious voice imaginable. It's not helped by the fact that the dialogue is incredibly bland and by-the-numbers 'plucky woman' stuff. She dies and the Doctor's all torn up inside, but fortunately he is able to transform into Tuxedo Jesus and in one of the most needlessly sacriligeous and just plain weird images ever to be seen in the show he 'ascends to heaven' (the bridge of the ship) borne aloft by two Angels. As I keep saying, I'm not in any way religious, but what kind of weird message is openly atheistic RTD displaying by depicting the Doctor as God? Are we supposed to all be kneeling in front of our David Tennant shrines and hoping that a mighty Time Lord from Gallifrey will come and solve all our problems for us? And how are we meant to take this character seriously or consider any threat or problem he may face to be in the slightest bit challenging if we're continuously presented with this image of the Doctor as a divinity?
There are two pieces of redemption. Our two main survivors, besides the Doctor and Alonso "For the sake of a joke" Frame, are Mr. Copper aka Mrs. Bucket's husband from Keeping Up Appearances, and the jerk businessman dude Rickston Slade, who ends up profiting from the destruction. This for a start is nicely dark, and it's a relief for RTD to not let all the good people live, even if the deaths are generally quite stupid. It's also good that Mr. Copper, played by Clive Swift as reliably as ever, tells the Doctor that if he could choose who lived and who died then he would be a monster, not a god. But the Doctor's just used some bollocksy method to grant Kylie Minogue eternal life in the starry sky or something, and you feel like Mr. Copper's meant to represent the kind of critical-thinking people RTD hates because they aren't the braying morons who praise episodes like this piece of trash to the high heavens in spite of how utterly plagiaristic, unsubtle and hyper-sentimental it is. I believe this is because most people these days are too stupid to understand that just because the Doctor has a big cry at the end of every episode and Tennant strides around the TARDIS with a look of constipated anxiety on his face about Rose and the Daleks and the Master and the End of the World and so on doesn't make it artistic or valuable in the slightest.

"Time Crash"

For a multi-Doctor episode, a Children in Need Special and a tale penned by the inimtable Steven Moffat, this is all kinds of wrong. Now I'm afraid that I must confess that the Fifth Doctor is hardly my favourite of the Classics; I don't have any antipathy for him either, he's just not my favourite. But from what I've heard he's Moffat's favourite, so in this story somehow he's the Tenth Doctor's favourite. I have no idea how someone can have a 'favourite' of themselves and it rather serves to fragment the Doctor's identity. I suppose the Second and Third Doctors didn't get along very well either.
So the Doctor crashes the TARDIS and suddenly he's sharing the console room with someone who is played by Peter Davison and wears Edwardian cricket gear but behaves nothing like the Fifth Doctor. I remember the Fifth Doctor being kind of powerless and ineffectual, not some grouchy old man who shouts at people. It's irritating to hear him mention 'LINDA' from "Love & Monsters" and the astounding flippancy with which the Tenth Doctor talks about the Classic Series grates a little.
The Tenth Doctor makes a lot of horrible jokes too, such as about the celery, and his joking about how the Fifth Doctor didn't use the Sonic Screwdriver after it was destroyed in "The Visitation" only serves to remind of how overly-reliant the Tenth Doctor is on his magic wand as a replacement for his wit or intellect. There's a lot of technobabble, and then the Tenth Doctor says that the Fifth Doctor is 'his' Doctor even though they've already established through a quick time paradox that they're the same person. Why doesn't the Fifth Doctor notice that the console room is vastly different and his companions are missing? If different incarnations of the Doctor tend to recognise each other, how come the Fifth takes so long to recognise the Tenth? It's also annoying to see the Tenth Doctor blither on in a cringe-inducing way about how much he loves the Fifth Doctor and models himself on him when so much of that in the Tenth Doctor is mixed in with self-aggrandisement and irritating facetiousness which certainly weren't characteristic of the Fifth Doctor. Even if Davison's role in this sketch had been written properly, it doesn't change the fact that the Fifth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor are virtually nothing alike apart from a handful of superficial visual similarities. How much does Moffat understand Who if he associates the Fifth and Tenth Doctors solely because they both looked young during their tenure and wore trainers?
Moffat dropped the ball on this one and while it's nice to see a Classic Series Doctor appear in the new series, and even though it's just a piece of fluff to raise money, it isn't very funny and it's pretty stupid. Where was the love for P McG?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Last of the Time Lords"

What the hell?
This episode is the pits. It is absolutely the worst conclusion to a Doctor Who story I could possibly imagine; the cheapest, most pointless and unnecessary resolution achievable to the plot established in "Utopia" and "The Sound of Drums". It's not as melodramatic as "Doomsday" but the tedium, the utter ruination of the Master's character and the cop-out of cop-outs for the ending all rub it into the dirt.
First we're given an incredibly tedious opening segment with Martha. She's been "walking the Earth", and we're burdened with absolutely loads of purple prose about the 'atom farms of this place' and the 'nuclear wastes of some other place' and the 'killer chocolate factories of Zanzibar' and all these other nauseatingly romanticised pseudo-poetic notions that RTD loves to ram down our ear-holes. We meet up with Dr Thomas Milligan, a cypher, and Alison Doherty, who makes the appalling joke about the plural of "Des" and inevitably betrays Martha to the Master. But it was all a trick! What an amazing twist...
You see the thing is it's so obvious that RTD will employ a cop-out that you know Martha won't get to use UNIT's magic Time Lord-killing gun. And you know he won't kill Martha because RTD's so scared of killing companions.
So what about the Master? Well he's even more awful than he was in the previous episode. He dances around to Scissor Sisters like a lunatic, sullying the name of a decent band while at the same time sullying Doctor Who a bit by associating it with pop music in a rare case of the elusive 'mutual sully', he rings a bell like a moron for no reason, and he uses his bloody ridiculous 'laser screwdriver' to turn the Doctor into Dobby. How does ageing someone turn them into a gremlin? If the Master's so afraid of/in awe of the Doctor, why does he keep him in a tent with a dog bowl? And why does he keep Martha's family as servants when they're bound to be treacherous? This also proves how useless Jack is again, because he hangs around chained up in the basement doing nothing. Oh, and the Master beats his wife, too, because we weren't already aware that he was a bad guy. It's excessive and ridiculous, and the Master ceases to be even slightly interesting and is just annoying.
So then Martha's plan unfolds. She's been telling everyone about the Doctor! But apparently in this industralised nightmare world people are keeping an eye on Greenwich Mean Time because they all do the same thing simultaneously and stand around like the biggest lemons on the tree in a series of stock footage displays all saying 'Doctor' like planks. Naturally, this causes the Doctor to turn into Super Jesus, because he's tapped into the Archangel Network which the Master was using to hypnotise people... and apparently that lets him fly, rejuvenate himself and deflect lasers with his bare hands. It's another instance, after "The Farting of the Ways", of a case of quite literally god-from-the-machine, and I thought it was the biggest cop-out imaginable. But wait, there's a bigger one!
Captain Jack gets the help of a bunch of soldiers who were completely loyal to the Master a few seconds a go and runs off to recover the TARDIS. He destroys the paradox machine by... firing some bullets at it. How does this work? And this spontaneously not only causes all the murderous Toclafane, since revealed with a predictable "ooh look at us we're horrible" routine to be humans from the future, to disappear, but reverses time. Reversing time apparently means some paper zooming around the room while ducks fly backwards and stuff. But Martha plus family, the Doctor, Captain Jack and Mrs. The Master all remember for some reason. Why? "Eye of the Storm" says the Doctor. What on earth does that mean, RTD? Your characters get certain logic-free bonuses 'because you say so'?
Then Mrs. The Master's domestic abuse case becomes all complicated when she shoots the Master, and there's a deeply homoerotic scene where the Master 'refuses to regenerate' and the Doctor cuddles him on the floor while they give each other teary, smouldering looks like they're about to passionately make out at the end of a long lover's spat. Of course this 'death of the Master' ultimately turns out to be a trick too but it's extremely disturbing to see the Doctor cradling the lifeless body of this murderous maniac in his arms while he has a huge man cry. It's unbelievably melodramatic and makes no sense. Sure, they may be old buddies from Gallifrey and the last of their species but the Master has also just proven himself more than ever to be a murdering nutcase. Does their relationship have any consistency? Apparently not. Then the Doctor gives the Master Darth Vader's funeral from Return of the Jedi, Jack tells them he's the Face of Boe and Martha decides to up shop and quit the TARDIS. Who can blame her? If I'd just been in the stupidest Doctor Who finale to date I'd want to leave too. She also contacts the people from the nonexistent timeline for no reason. And that's it. What a waste of time.
It's amazing to think that this series, which had "Blink", and to a lesser extent "Smith and Jones" and "Human Nature" also has this. It's the pulpiest ending imaginable, full of meaningless spectacle and narrative cheapness with an astounding cop-out for an ending. It's feeble, and while it can't bring Series 3 down the to abyss at the bottom of which Series 2 lies this finale brings it extremely close. It's an utter disappointment and a complete waste of the character of the Master. If you can't bring yourself to definitively change the status quo then you shouldn't, don't give us Doctor Jesus and Reversing Time. It's like a 'what not to do' of storytelling and characterisation and, as I am saying more and more, the only good thing is that the dim light of hope is growing closer the further we progress through this cesspool of an era.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Sound of Drums"

How does an episode start off kind of all right and end in a cringing disaster that makes you want to kill? When it's the first part of a Doctor Who finale written by RTD, of course! We're abruptly returned to London by virtue of Jack's Vortex Manipulator which is apparently more reliable and accurate than the TARDIS in spite of what the Doctor claimed last episode and it turns out that the Master is Prime Minister. As contrived as this scenario is it isn't too bad, and at least having Martha's family kidnapped by the government is a welcome change from the family set-up we experienced with the Tylers. It's also reassuring to see that the Master's talent for hypnotism is still being utilised. But as with all of these set-ups, so much is time wasting.
We see a journalist telling Lucy Saxon, the wife the Master has for some reason, that her husband isn't real. Well we already know that, and all they do is kill the journalist off anyway. We have an incredibly cheesy cartoon-looking bomb strapped to the back of Martha's television for no reason. There's a lot of footage of the Doctor, Jack and Martha striding around miscellaneous parts of suburban London apparently just so that they can have impressive-looking shots of the Doctor and Jack's overcoats billowing out behind them. There's some nice stuff with the Doctor reminscing about Gallifrey, replete with the Citadel and the classic Time Lord robes and so on, but then there's some weird stuff about 8 year old Time Lord children being taken to look into the Time Vortex with the consequence that some of them go mad which seems a bit unhealthy and which the Doctor claims drove the Master insane, which seems a little simplistic in terms of character development. I mean, by all means add things to the mythology but don't alter what we've already seen from the Master.
So let's look at the Master. Good grief. Now sort of like David Tennant, don't get me wrong about John Simm. I liked him in Life on Mars, and that proved he can do the grim and brooding stuff very well. This episode also proves that he can do humorous acting quite well. But why did they choose to give this character to the Master of all people? He's ridiculous. I stated in the "Utopia" review that Derek Jacobi's performance was evocative of Ainley, but John Simm's performance isn't evocative of any Master. It's completely out of character. Delgado's Master was a suave and power-hungry diabolical mastermind. The Beevers/Pratt incarnation was cruel and ruthless, desperate to survive. Ainley's was egomaniacal, self-involved, obsessed with destroying the Doctor. Even Eric Roberts portrayed the Master as a calculating and manipulative genius striving to reclaim his former glory. Every time we saw a sinister and ambitious man, scientific and psychological, striving to bend the universe to his will; a man of vanity and little compassion, but also brooding, serious and introspective to the point of pretension. What do we get with this new version? A flamboyant maniac who listens to pop music and has the sound of drumming in his head.
I can't believe they could have butchered the character of the Master so badly but this version is almost unwatchable in its summation of all the worst excesses of RTD's era. People say Ainley was camp and hammy! He had nothing on Simm's Master! I know Simm was told to make his performance zany because they wanted him to ape the Tenth Doctor's sense of humour but I can't think of a worse idea because that in itself is the most irritating, teeth-grindingly cringeworthy aspect of Tennant's performance. What they should have made was a Masterful Master, one who understood the humour but wasn't laughing, who defeated the Doctor at his own game by not participating. Instead they make him this silly homicidal figure evocative of the Joker but without the contrast of order verus chaos. It's childish and dim-witted and overall painful to watch. There are other things too, like why does the Paradox Machine mean a big cage and some pipes around the TARDIS? How was the Master able to do that much conversion work to the TARDIS but couldn't remove the Doctor's temporal link or whatever it was that meant it could only move between 2007 and one hundred trillion? What is the point of doing 'Americans are idiots'? How does UNIT have a flying aircraft carrier? I didn't realise we were watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Did the Doctor ever really think that the Master couldn't see through the perception filter? And why on Earth does it play that horrid Voodoo Child song? Did RTD come up with the drums thing just so he could play that? And speaking of which, since when did the Master hear drums?
Then the Master gets the Toclafane to kill one tenth of the Earth's population having aged the Doctor by one hundred years with his 'laser screwdriver'. This is a joke so bad I can't believe they had the gall to make it. What on earth was wrong with the Tissue Compression Eliminator? It was the perfect weapon for the Master, killing people and making them minute in stature to reinforce his ego. It's impossible to take the ending seriously because of how absurd Tennant looks in the old man makeup, especially since we already saw him in much better old man makeup in the hypothetical flash forward in "The Family of Blood".
It's completely ridiculous. A bad story is one thing, but this is not only meaningless but takes a big dump all over well-established concepts and characters of the Classic Series and continues the dumbing-down process of Doctor Who into a valueless pop-cultural soup. What were they thinking?


A bit of legit acting talent can go a long way. In spite of being penned by RTD and thus suffering from the usual drawbacks of hammy villains, nonexistent science, totally unimaginative visions of the future and excessive reliance on continuity, "Utopia" is actually a pretty good episode.
To start off we have the return of Captain Jack, who has been busy starring in the abysmal first season of Torchwood. Frankly I can't think of a particularly valid reason for why RTD bothered bringing Jack back in this story; as usual his role is mostly as Second Technician to the Doctor. I think it's an element of fan service and a bit of wankery on the part of RTD to more directly tie in Torchwood, which as you may be aware is a completely cretinous and insulting spin-off to Doctor Who which degrades its parent show by association and which I like to think is non-canonical wherever possible. I also think it's because Captain Jack is another author surrogate for RTD and he just wants to bring him along. I mean I don't really mind Captain Jack; I know some people, especially Classic Series fans, tend to hate him. I think his presence in just a bit pointless. Similarly I know some people, usually New Series fans, hate Martha because they are all in love with Tennant and want to be Rose, but personally I prefer her as well. She's pretty pointless in this episode too. In fact even the Doctor is kind of pointless, because it's all about the Master.
Oops, did I give away that the Master returns in this episode? Well as usual instead of letting us focus on the issue of human survival and the existential quandries of the concept of the End of the Universe we get the return of a big-name villain. So curiously enough in the First Series we see the return of the Daleks, who I believe had the most encounters with the First Doctor, then the Second Series features the revival of the (stupid Parallel Universe) Cybermen, who had the most encounters with the Second Doctor, and now in the Third Series we get the regeneration of the Master, who by far and away had the most encounters with the Third Doctor. Weirdly enough, next series will see the return of the Sontarans, who had the most encounters (but not by very much) with the Fourth Doctor. I really hope that is a coincidence.
Anyway the Master and his human alter ego Professor Yana are performed with aplomb by the truly masterful (pun intended) Sir Derek Jacobi, and both the doddering old man and the raging, arrogant Time Lord are displayed with equal skill. It's very satisfying to see the show get such a good actor, and one with a history in the show's spin-off merch, in to reintroduce a much-loved Classic Series character, and I for one find that his performance is rather evocative of Anthony Ainley. Now as you may know Ainley gets a lot of stick for his Master being a hammy moustachioed villain compared to the sort of suavity and occasionally even anti-heroic character of the original Roger Delgado persona but personally I thought when the scripts were good (so not "Time-Flight", then) he did a good job of portraying the Master as a complete egomaniac, excessively serious, only ever laughing alone, and full of repressed self-hatred at how much he had alienated himself from his old friend, and I think Jacobi evokes a similar feeling. It's interesting that they reprise the Chameleon Arch concept considering "Human Nature" was only a few episodes ago but I suppose it's as good a reason as any for the existence of another Time Lord to be hidden from the Doctor.
One annoying thing about the episode is how poorly-realised the future is. If humanity still exists in the year one hundred trillion, do we really expect them to be wearing Twentieth Century clothes, driving trucks and scrambling into a rocket that looks like it was made from bits of sheet metal bolted together? I think if RTD wants us to believe that "humanity always survives" it'd be nice if they did it in a slightly more futuristic fashion even if civilisation has meant to have degraded as the end approaches. I'm not entirely sure I believe that the heat death of the universe would even mean such a collapse anyway. Wouldn't all these other powerful alien species have found some way to survive? Wouldn't the future be even more glorious and inconceivable than ever? But that would mean RTD having to use his imagination and I think he exhausted that on "They went there because the TARDIS was trying to 'shake' Jack off," which has got to be one of the dumbest explanations for anything ever.
There's a lot of crap from the Doctor about Jack being 'wrong' and how he's prejudiced but it's all a big joke and there's too much of Jack and the Doctor reminiscing needlessly about Rose. There's even a completely pointless clip of Rose from "The Farting of the Ways" and I really wish RTD would move on from this character. This scene is just annoying and it makes me wonder: why didn't the Doctor help Jack? Even the Ninth Doctor? How come RTD's Doctor is a bit of a jerk sometimes? Well anyway we just have to accept that what's done is done and focus on the bad science. How on earth does the radiation in that room dissolve flesh super-quickly but does absolutely no damage to clothing? Why are they flying everyone to Utopia if they're not even sure it exists? What are the Futurekind, and why are they so needlessly ridiculous like the enemies from a bad Eighties episode? There's a lot more RTD deliberate mystery and it's unsatisfying as ever.
All in all though it's pretty good, and big ticks especially to Sir Derek Jacobi for his performance as the Master. Tennant is mostly good too, and if Martha and Jack are needless it's because RTD cares too much about hype and not enough about things outside keeping his own agenda alive.
Still, good to hear Ainley's laugh and a line from Delgado, huh? And now we can add Jacobi to that mighty pantheon? Oh wait, the Master regenerated...


It is with the kind of smug satisfaction that normally only someone like RTD could accomplish that I can firmly state that those in the know regard "Blink" as one of the best episodes of this era despite the fact that the Tenth Doctor scarcely appears. It's quite curious to realise that in spite of its premise, Doctor Who very rarely does time travel/time paradox stories and that the last time it was done, in "Father's Day", it involved something as totally absurd as ridiculous, needless monsters showing up to "cleanse the wound" or whatever.
Although he would go on to do the opposite, Moffat shows off a very deterministic view of time travel in this story, which is to say that even by travelling in time you are only fulfilling time - events and places in time are all interconnected and dependent on each other. The cleverness makes this episode continually satisfying to watch, with the sudden old ages of Cathy Nightingale and Billy Shipton, the idea of the Doctor being 'stuck' in 1969 (but Martha's not all old in 2007 or something so surely we know they escaped?) and the conversation between Sally and the Doctor using time travel, a future encounter and a DVD player. It does rather suggest that free will is an illusion, contrary to the Third Doctor's remarks in "Inferno", but nonetheless it provides an interesting example of what you can accomplish through a bit of time travel. Now we know all that 'part of events' crap in earlier Doctor Who stories was just because no one else could be bothered thinking out the consequences of reversing causality.
The Weeping Angels are very effective as well, and I remember the very first time I watched this episode being incredibly pleased about the use of the term "quantum lock". At last there was finally an element of real science in the explanation of an episode. It's good that just as Sally and Larry never see the Angels move nor do we, and I think just in general it's interesting to have a creature that can only exist when it's not under observation. It is ridiculous, though, that they feed off "potential energy". Potential energy isn't a time-related concept, that's not what 'potential' means in that context, it's just energy which could be released by an object due to some force or reaction. Also apparently the Angels zap you back in time and then sneak into your house and eat all the dinners you should have had, or something, consuming the 'energy of the days you never had' which is complete nonsense. Unfortunately this little piece of silly RTD-esque magic thinking spoils the tone a little, as do some of the cringeworthy moments from DI Billy Shipton and Larry without pants but other than that it's pretty good. Sally Sparrow comes across as incredibly pretentious but I think she's meant to be and in spite of the fact that Moffat's clearly having a bit of a dig at the Internet generation with Larry he comes across as a good-natured sort.
I'm not quite sure why the Angels were in the house besides wanting to be spooky, or why they threw a rock at Sally early in the story, or how they manage to get the TARDIS from a heavily-populated urban centre out to the countryside unobserved but a lot of these things are glossed over for narrative convenience. Fortunately the relative cleverness of the plot makes up for most of it and although I can't help wonder why Billy for instance let himself be a stooge for the Doctor to live out the rest of his life in his personal past you can generally accept most of the logical steps. In fact it's so acceptable that the Doctor's hand-wavy timey-wimey explanation is totally unnecessary. It'd be better in the context of this story to say it's a line where you can, with the right means, jump back and forward. Unfortunately there are so many conflicting depictions of time travel in this series - the "cul-de-sac reality" of "Father's Day", the "Back to the Future effect" of "The Shakespeare Code" and the non-sequential determinism of this one that I suppose you have to accept the slightly odd "fixed and unfixed points in time" explanation.
Nonetheless this episode is, yes, without a doubt the absolute best episode of the Tennant era and in all probability the entire RTD era, and in combination with "Smith and Jones" and the good elements of the "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" two-parter definitely elevates this series of the Tenth Doctor above the others by a significant margin. You see I've come back from the future of these reviews and I've seen what I will write about the next series...

"The Family of Blood"

What's wrong with "The Family of Blood"? For a start, it does everything that "Human Nature" already did so many elements of it feel rather redundant. Secondly, it has a lot of nonsense in it that rather diminishes the seriousness of the story.
While it's good to see John Smith bumbling around like an idiot while Martha tries somewhat ineptly to save the day his angst-ridden complaining about how he has to end his own life and resume being the Doctor seems somewhat inconsistent with how foggy he is about his past and his lack of a substantial identity. I don't think I would see it as death so much as the reclamation of a whole lot of knowledge and memory you had been denied for a long time, and the replacement of some rather insubstantial fabricated experiences. Then there's the rather jarring contrast between the character of John Smith and that of the Tenth Doctor and I'm reminded of how irritatingly flippant and frustratingly smug this particular incarnation of the Time Lord can be.
It's a rather effective image to show schoolboys mowing down straw men with machine guns while hymns play solemnly in the background but wasn't this point more or less already made in the previous episode? We've been presented with prior examination of the dehumanising nature of warfare and it seems a little superfluous. Another quibble I have is this: if the Family's natural form is a gas, how come they have a spaceship with physical controls? How do they operate it when they're not possessing people?
The concept of stealing a Time Lord's lives is essentially a meaningless plot contrivance and often the weird hamminess of the Family grates a bit and makes them seem like arbitrary villains but it is kind of satisfying to see Son of Mine barking insults at the stuffy, pompous principal for some reason. I think they probably could have done without the others, especially considering the absurdity of the ending. How does the Doctor grant the Family these unending lives? Through magic? Apparently so. The Doctor's a wizard now. He can just make people immortal somehow. What on Earth does this mean? How does throwing Mother of Mine into a 'collapsing galaxy' cause her to live forever? How does he trap Daughter of Mine in 'every mirror'? It's more magic thinking and its melodramatic ridiculousness substantially spoils the tone of the ending. I feel sorry for Joan and to be honest I can't entirely blame her in considering John Smith to be a better man than the Doctor. At the same time you have to think, did he really have a choice? He would have been killed by the Family anyway if he hadn't opened the watch and resumed his true identity. And while it's nice to see John Smith calling out the Doctor on his mannerisms and his alien nature, such as not considering the possiblity of human romance, at least it does re-establish that the Doctor's not meant to be a lover.
This again makes me quibble over the idea of Martha being in love with the Doctor. I suppose if a handsome stranger turned up and showed you the wonders of time and space which altered your entire perspective of reality you might have a bit of trouble not developing something of an unhealthy affection for and reliance upon him but as much as the unrequited aspect is relatively unexplored it does feel like a bit of a retread of the Doctor/Rose ground.
There's also the issue of Tim Latimer, who hangs around like a bad smell doing absolutely bugger all besides being a bit mysterious and opening the watch a few times to irritate the Family. I'm really not sure what the point of his character was besides to steal the watch so that the story could be dragged out over two episodes. There's an absolutely cringe-inducing moment where he rattles off this incredibly purple obviously-by-RTD-not-Cornell speech about how the Doctor's the heart of this and the centre of that and the alpha and omega and Jesus' slightly better cousin and so on and it pushes things a bit too far. One thing I grow tired of is characters running around praising the Tenth Doctor to the ends of the Earth because it certainly doesn't match the way he often behaves onscreen and it's almost as if RTD knows his Doctor is a bit of a jerk so he needs his supporting characters to dribble out these nauseatingly sycophantic descriptions of him at the drop of a hat so that the idiots in the audience think everything's wonderful in spite of the evidence of their own senses. That's reinforced by Son-of-Mine's waffle about the "fury of a Time Lord" at the end and how he was "being kind". I can't stand this image of the Doctor as some kind of cross between Jehovah and The Incredible Hulk - powerful and benevolent, but you don't want to make him angry. He may be a Time Lord but he's still just some guy who does the right thing when no one else will, he's not god. It's interesting to give the Doctor a Dark Side but not when that makes him some kind of stern parent of all life in the universe administering punishments because he's disappointed. We've already seen how RTD misrepresents the Doctor as this sort of Nietzschean Superman who is the ultimate authority in the universe and it's incredibly damaging to the Doctor as the ultimate anti-authoritarian and liberal.
As an example, instead of all these speeches and further application of RTD's beloved 'tell don't show' philosophy, why not have a story where the Doctor turned up in a place where the legends about his actions had caused people to think of him as a deity and he had to deal with the consequences? It's a pretty rough idea but it could be a good deal more interesting than just have everyone including the Doctor himself bang on about how powerful and amazing and dreadful he was without actually exploring the issue.
That's the problem with "The Family of Blood". What it does well, we've already seen. What it does badly is some of the most arrogant characterisation and unscientific, blatantly magical plotting the revived series has ever depicted. Are we supposed to hold the Tenth Doctor in the same awe, RTD? Because after seeing the way other characters act towards him and the way he treats them I don't feel much more than contempt.

"Human Nature"

If this episode reveals anything to me, it's these two things: Firstly, David Tennant is a great actor. Just watch him in this and you'll see that his performance as John Smith is very, very watchable. Secondly, the Tenth Doctor is crap. This story was adapted by its author Paul Cornell from his Seventh Doctor novel of the same name and it's interesting to see how a more mature literary outlook effects the composition. Now the Seventh Doctor gets a lot of stick from some people for one reason or another but unless you're stupid you know he's actually pretty bad ass. I think if he went on the run and turned himself into a human you'd miss him. The Tenth Doctor, on the other hand, turns himself into a human and I couldn't be happier. He's so much more restrained. His quirkiness is so much more subtle. He comes across as intellectual, and curious, if a little absent-minded. It's just as unbelievably refreshing a change of pace as it is when Rose was put on a bus to Reverse World and we got Martha instead.
Martha's a bit different. There's some good stuff with her abiding the casual racism and class discrimination which was still rife in the Edwardian period and her visit to the TARDIS manages to be simultaneously touching and deeply disturbing as we view her memories of the Doctor's agonizing transformation. On the other hand there are some pretty jarring bits when she breaks character to try to warn the Doctor and you wonder how she's not getting the whole 'he needs the watch to become a Time Lord again' thing.
There's some other weirdness, like psychic wunderkind du jour Tim Latimer and the Family of Blood using scarecrow henchmen for absolutely no reason besides enforcing an arbitrary creepiness-and-mystery factor which comes across as a little forced. It may seem banal of me but there's something I don't entirely mind about watching John Smith and Daisy from Spaced tottering around the English countryside having polite conversations even if the whole romance thing is a bit tired and predictable. The Edwardian atmosphere is excellently established, however, and the shadow of the First World War lying over everything is well-displayed, especially through the machine-gun scene.
The Family themselves are suitably menacing and their danger is established well through the powerful opening. The creepy stare of Son of Mine is particularly good although somehow I think Father/Husband of Mine should have lost his accent upon possession. It may be a lot of set-up but it's good for establishing a completely different side of the Doctor and even though I feel like there's going to be a lot more for me to say in my review of the next episode it's certainly one of the highlights of the series. It's a highlight because of the lack of the Tenth Doctor. You got that?