Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A small snapshot taken from the Estate's legal investigation
into that whole "electronic gaming" issue.
In the year that has passed since the first instalment of Peter Jackson's misguided trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit hit the screen, I had some very mixed thoughts. Part of me naturally assumed that I simply ought to write off the rest of the films and spare myself. Another told me that, with my expectations as low as they were after "An Unexpected Journey" a healthy dose of spoilers would prepare me enough to allow me to enjoy the second film without becoming excessively frustrated with the changes from the source material. It was in this mindset that I went to see "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and as such I feel as if I am capable of critiquing this film according to various categories. In brief, how does the film succeed as a typical brainless Hollywood CGI-fest action film? It would be enjoyable if it was about forty to sixty minutes shorter. As an adaptation of Professor Tolkien's classic adventure novel? Surprisingly adherent in terms of the plot progression, but needlessly inventive at other times. This is a film infected with the same neoliberal disease which is destroying modern culture year after year. As a prequel to Peter Jackson's earlier works? In this category the film probably fails the most, feeling cartoonish and impressively unrealistic for a fantasy film. So let's do a recap. I saw the film in 3D like last time, but also High Frame Rate, unlike last time. It looked like a pre-rendered video game cutscene. The 3D added nothing apart from perhaps one bit where I thought a large bee was getting awfully close.
Forget about your worries and your strife.
We begin in Bree to explore Thorin's initial encounter with Gandalf, although the first thing we get is a devastatingly unsubtle cameo from Peter Jackson munching a carrot much like in his adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring." But Hitchcock he ain't, and this opening scene is typical of this adaptation's urge to make everything more intense. Thorin's being watched by shady characters and Gandalf actually wants Thorin to round up all the Dwarves and attack the dragon! Does he want them to all get killed? The Arkenstone's McGuffin level has been drastically enhanced from the presentation in the book, however, and apparently Thorin's best bet is to sneak into the mountain and grab it - so that he can command the "Seven Armies of the Dwarves" (presumably a pseudo-reference to the Seven Houses of the source material) and march them all to their deaths at the hands of Smaug and his flame breath of maximum desolation. For this he will need a burglar.
This is how I felt.
So, appropriately enough, we cut to our actual hobbit, Bilbo peering out to see that they're still being chased by Azog the should-be-dead bionic Orc and his warg-riding chums from the end of the previous film. Gandalf, who in these films seems to have developed a habit of constantly saying sinister-sounding double-edged things, advises them to flee to a nearby house, the owner of which will either help or kill them. So off they trot to Beorn's house, where he chases them as a bear and they have to shut the door of his own house in his face. It's nap time for all good Dwarves and Bilbo has a play with his Ring, as we must establish its corruptive properties. Azog's son Bolg, replaced from an interesting red-bearded practical effects design which appeared in early promotional material with a boring CGI appearance shows up to summon Azog and friends to Dol Guldur. In the morning Beorn's all smiles (more or less) although now he too has been given an angsty backstory - apparently his family was tortured and killed by Azog, and only he escaped. They instantly borrow his ponies and vamoose, Beorn shadowing them as a bear. There was a chance here for Beorn and his bear buddies to have an awesome dust-up with some Orcs like in the book (although Bilbo never sees it happen) but sadly it was not to be.
"Legolas, fetch the struts for my eyebrows."
Now in the books upon reaching Mirkwood Gandalf pisses off because he has to meet up with the White Council to attempt to oust Sauron from Dol Guldur, but because the films haven't caught up to that point yet he inexplicably receives a long-range telepathic communication from Galadriel telling him to go to the "High Fells", a made-up location. He promptly does so and the Dwarves get a move on in the opposite direction. As they wander around and around a small Mirkwood set becoming disoriented things get a bit heated, and as every group of protagonists seems to have to do these days all the Dwarves start getting into a shouting and shoving contest with each other. Bilbo climbs a tree for a breath of air, reasonably closely evoking an actual scene from the book although I can state with the conviction of a proper nerd that the butterflies are the wrong colour (they should be black). Back downstairs the Dwarves have been trussed up by giant spiders much like the book, but Bilbo gets a chance to shine and cuts them free with newly-named Sting. Also because we need to further see the Ring's corruption we get to see him stab four or five shades of shit out of an unruly creepy-crawly before Legolas and that lady from Lost show up to help out. Kind of diminishes Bilbo's heroism a bit - they're mostly saved by the malign influence of the Ring and the timely intervention of a popular Elf character from earlier films - but I didn't mind the way they showed Bilbo's horror at his own actions, because his attacks on the spiders do seem rather brutal. Off the Dwarves trot to the halls of the Wood-Elves, Bilbo in invisible pursuit.
Scene Not-Appearing-In-This-Film
In the dungeons of the Elvenking the Dwarves get put under lock and key, although all within spitting distance of each other rather than far apart. Thorin has an interview with Thranduil himself, who is pure ham and cheese and looks like he would get neck pain from the weight of his eyebrows alone. He slithers around like Voldemort and reveals that he has some kind of hidden dragon wound or something. Who knows. He offers to let Thorin go in return for some jewels he's keen on, but our resident Dwarf king in exile is having none of it due to that stupid thing that happened in the prologue of the previous film where Thranduil showed up riding on a moose and then tilted his head when the dragon was attacking, so Thorin too is thrown in the dungeon, although not clapped in irons. Resident made-up-by-the-writers female character du jour Tauriel has a chat with Thranduil where there's some implied classism or racism between the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood and their adopted Sindar rulers, which was an interesting nod to the source material if not an especially accurate one. Thranduil basically doesn't want Tauriel hooking up with Legolas because she's a commoner for all intents and purposes. Tauriel goes and has a chin wag with Kíli, one of our "handsome Dwarves" on board for the benefit of the ladies and their chat is nice enough, if a little cringeworthy, but I'm missing Bilbo.
"It's in the Spirit of Tolkien. We had a seance and everything."
Reappearing, Bilbo nabs the guards' keys straight away and lets the Dwarves go. They all jump in barrels and escape from the cellars into the river somewhat like the book, although now the barrels are open so that they can have a big fight while escaping. Martin Freeman plays all this reasonably well, and some of his physical comedy when he realises he's accidentally left himself behind is amusing, and at this point I was finding everything reasonably engaging. Unfortunately for me, however, the boring Orc pursuers show up again. After the first film I've become deeply sick of the film cutting away to these Orcs speaking their made-up Black Speech. Azog's been in Dol Guldur arguing with Sauron on a podium above a pit like he's Darth Vader and Sauron's the Emperor in Star Wars V. He sends Bolg to go find the Dwarves now because apparently Sauron needs him to sit around in Dol Guldur twiddling his thumbs in preparation for a big war Sauron's supposedly brewing up. What a dick. Anyway after spying on Thranduil's Halls for a bit Bolg's now offing the Elves guarding the outer river-gate, and Kíli gets shot with a poison arrow so we can have a big angst-up over him even though we know he's going to die in the Battle of Five Armies anyway, assuming you've read the book, and you should have. The Dwarves plunge down the river, occasionally in first-person, like the log flume ride, but manage to procure enough weapons from the Orcs to be able to attack their pursuers on the bank while they're in barrels on the water, rarely tipping over and never sinking. This is helped by a bunch of CGI-Elves running around like monkeys jumping off branches and shooting arrows everywhere and a funny bit where Bombur goes kill crazy in his barrel. Eventually, however, the Dwarves get away, despite more and more and more Orcs constantly showing up.
The Lovechild of Thorin and Legolas.
Downriver the Dwarves hitch a ride with Bard the Bowman, who has been adapted as Bard the Bargeman and Bard the Smuggler, a rough-talking, scruffy bad boy dude to add to Thorin, Fíli, Kíli and Legolas as more oestrogen bait to keep the girls watching. I guess all the CGI action is for the blokes, but mostly if by 'bloke' you mean 'easily-pleased culture slave.' Bard floats them down to Lake-town and sneaks them in after much hilarity involving fish and a new character called Alfrid who is basically Wormtongue-lite and a bit where Dwalin climbs out of the toilet. Bard has been rewritten as less of a grump and more of a dangerous "people's hero" who is persona non grata in Lake-town, under close watch from the Master of the city who is played with typical bluster by Steven Fry, in his element wearing pseudo-Renaissance costume and a silly moustache. Thorin's not satisfied with Bard's provision of naff improvised weapons and resolves to break into the local armoury for some proper gear. This plan goes balls-up, however, due to the wounded Kíli, and they get caught and taken to the front of Steven Fry's house, where Thorin gives a big speech about gold. Bard's sussed out that Thorin's the heir of Durin and is probably going to go to Erebor and piss Smaug off so much that he kills them all, so he shows up to confront the Dwarves. The Master sides with Thorin however, seeing a good opportunity to curry popular favour with himself and against Bard, which I thought was a more or less decent compromise of the situation in the book with the film's expansion of Bard's story. We have, however, unfortunately lost focus on Bilbo again, Bard somehow assuming the role of our temporary protagonist as Thorin becomes less sympathetic. In a bit of weird inaccurate fan-wank, we hear about how Bard's ancestor Girion, the Lord of Dale, tried to kill Smaug during his original attack and failed. In this version the Black Arrow isn't Bard's personal weapon but apparently special ammunition for some kind of device called a "Dwarven wind-lance", the last of which is now on top of the Master's house. These are apparently like heat-seeking missiles for dragons, except they do jack.
Peter Jackson's summer home.
The Dwarves all get in a boat to head for the Mountain, Bilbo amusingly appearing in a pointy hat and ear warmers. Kíli's all pale and bordering on the Fellowship-film Frodo infection stage of gasping and moaning, so Thorin leaves him behind to get healed. Fíli sticks with his brother, and we get a nice mention of how Fíli is Thorin's heir, which I liked. Óin stays behind too to look after the situation because he's been turned into the Dwarves' resident healer for some reason and James Nesbitt aka Bofur gets left behind because he's Irish and therefore always drunk. Bilbo and the other Dwarves piss off. One minute they're on the lake, then they're on the slopes, now they're almost at the top of the mountain. We keep getting told that Durin's Day is approaching, which is weird because in the book the Dwarves had forgotten how to calculate it so I don't know how they know it now. Gandalf told the Dwarves to wait for him above the ruins of Dale but Thorin's too cool to wait for Gandalf, whose subplot I forgot to relate. He climbs up some implausible staircase on a New Zealand cliff-face and meets Sylvester McCoy so they can look at some tombs which supposedly belonged to the Nazgûl, one of the more irritating changes from the book. I'll get to that in the changes section. Then they ride off to Dol Guldur, where Gandalf sends Radagast off to get Galadriel and walks into the fortress casting some made-up Harry Potter-esque spell which makes a big light bubble appear which is meant to reveal secret things. It's typical of these films' weird approach to magic, which isn't even consistent with the earlier films. So anyway.
Try not to activate the boulder trap.
Up on t'mountain the light drops and Durin's Day apparently passes. Thorin has a big tanty and throws the key away, the Dwarves immediately abandoning the mission. Only Bilbo remains steadfast, discovering that the last light of Durin's Day is not sunlight but moonlight, discovering the keyhole, which Thorin promptly opens, allowing the Dwarves access to Erebor. Thorin decides to put Bilbo to work and sets him off to fetch the Arkenstone. Bilbo goes down to a hall full of money like an ocean in Scrooge McDuck's wet dream and accidentally wakes up Smaug, voiced by a typecast Benedict Cumberbatch. Bend My Dick Cucumber Patch knows someone's there, but Bilbo pops the Ring on to save his own skin for a bit, except for a point where he freaks out and then takes it off again for no well-explained reason. Smaug doesn't seem to especially care though, because he keeps chatting to him and not roasting him alive, most of his dialogue being a mish-mash of text from the book and made-up guff about Thorin and the Arkenstone and what not. The aspect featuring Smaug using his draconian powers of persuasion to try to turn Bilbo against his friends is only give limited attention, most of it being Smaug getting annoyed about Thorin's impertinence. How does he even know who Thorin is, let alone that he's "Oakenshield"? Does he get a newspaper delivered or something? I could understand him knowing Thrór, who was King when he attacked, but Thrór's grandson?
The Duck of Erebor.
Bilbo ends up narrowly avoiding a singed behind after Smaug loses patience, but Thorin decides to start acting like a prize tool, drawing sword 'pon our valiant hobbit until Smaug shows up in fury. What ensues is an endless runaround as the Dwarves dash hither and thither with their hands in the air trying to escape from the mountain. They find a blocked guard room full of char-grilled hundred year old Dwarven stiffs and Thorin concocts a plan. They flee to the forges where Thorin taunts Smaug so much that his dragon-fire instantly restarts all the foundries in the mountain somehow, and Bombur uses his big fat arse to puff some belows. At this point things really start getting dragged out. There's lots of running around, Bilbo implausibly surviving falling off collapsing masonry, Dwarves assembling makeshift explosives in about five minutes, and absurdity of absurdities, Thorin going into full-on Indiana Jones mode, riding a wheelbarrow along a river of molten gold, swinging on a chain and landing on the incredulous upturned reptilian snout of Smaug himself. I've expressed it briefly here, but it goes forever, especially since we keep cutting away to James Nesbitt floundering about in Lake-town, Bard getting captured and Bolg and his Orcish brethren showing up to harass Bard's kids and the stay-behind Dwarves until Legolas and "Tauriel" arrive to kill them all, apart from Bolg who gets away with Legolas in hot pursuit. Tauriel briefly transforms into film-Arwen to heal Kíli who mumbles some embarrassing things about love and other stuff which bounces off my icy, remorseless heart to put paid to the Lake-town business. Oh, also Steven Fry hits Bard in the face with a big piece of wood, which as we all know is one of Steven Fry's favourite pasttimes.
Bilbo tries to remember to be a good craftsman.
Back in the mountain, the Dwarves pull apart a big mould that is conveniently sitting around in some hallway, revealing a large statue of gold which temporarily enraptures Smaug before melting and covering him in molten metal. Apparently Thorin thought that a fire-breathing dragon would in any way be harmed by having hot metal poured on him. Smaug pops up right as rain and for reasons unknown instead of deep-frying Thorin, Bilbo and friends on the spot elects instead to piss off to Lake-town to exact some revenge by proxy, flapping off into the night and talking to himself. He's gone from a smooth-talking, crafty drake to an idiot who lets himself get covered in liquid gold and doesn't kill the foes right in front of him. Maybe he's read the book and realises Thorin can't snuff it until the next film.
"Production on Series 2 of Vicious was delayed for this?!?"
I forgot about Dol Guldur again! In Dol Guldur, Gandalf gets twatted about the face by Azog's big mace, much like Thorin before him, prior to having a confrontation with Sauron, who is sort of half the big eyeball from the films of The Lord of the Rings and half his armoured form from the prologue to "The Fellowship of the Ring" film. He pins Gandalf to the wall with his dastardly magic and puts him in a cage, but only after a laughably stupid shot where the camera inexplicably zooms over and over again through his head for no apparent reason.
Tears of joy from the toy people.
So anyway Smaug's flapping off to Lake-town to go have a Bard-becue. Bilbo staggers out behind him, covering some pretty considerable ground. As the dragon vanishes into the night, he despairs: "What have we done?" Boom, end titles. That's "The Desolation of Smaug." Is it any good? As I said at the start, if it was shorter. The final sequence in the mountain is way too long and full of absurd theatrics involving Thorin which fail to amuse from my point of view. It starts off well, but loses focus halfway through, not being willing to rely on Bilbo's character arc to carry the film, which in my opinion is a major failing. What's most frustrating, however, is the constant presence of Orcs, wave upon wave, who show up again and again to attack our heroes in various compromised situations in ways that have no bearing on the source material or really much relevance to anything. Why are they so desperate to stop Thorin? Who knows, really. It's boring and repetitive. The action sequence where the Dwarves try rather foolishly to kill Smaug is also tedious. It's all just CGI-fakery and there's no sense of tension or tangible danger. The strongest parts of the film are probably elements of Mirkwood, although the journey through is rushed, and certain bits of Lake-town, along with Bilbo's confrontation with Smaug to a certain extent. Regardless of Martin Freeman's performance - he's much better, naturally, at the comic moments than the serious ones - Bilbo's scenes are consistently the best and most interesting simply because he's the main character, although the film repeatedly forgets this and gets distracted. The filmmakers described a need to give the Dwarves greater characterisation compared to the book, but so much time is devoted to diversions, usually involving Orc-hunts that never happened in The Hobbit, the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings or anywhere else, along with Gandalf's pointless travels, Tauriel and whatever else, that the Dwarves still seem largely to be defined by their collection of silly haircuts. Thorin is boring, Gandalf is wasted, Azog is weirdly fetishized and looks like he's carved from white plastic, Bolg looks crap and Bard spends most of his time staring out windows looking serious when he's not ducking down alleyways looking shifty. Thranduil is ridiculously over-the-top. Legolas is present purely for pointless action. Tauriel is an enigma. If they wanted to bump the story's female presence above zero, why then did they give their one invented female presence a condescending, cliché love story with a Dwarf?
Elvish Magnum.
Even as an ongoing part of a prequel trilogy to Peter Jackson's adaptations to The Lord of the Rings it feels off, relying too much on unconvincing CGI and diverging further from the source material. It feels like if you threw the later, more stylised Harry Potter films really hard at the Indiana Jones tetralogy (yes, it's a tetralogy whether you like it or not) and stretched the end result out over nearly three hours. The action is over the top, many of the effects look dirt cheap apart from Smaug himself who presumably gobbled up most of the budget, and the storyline is full of video-game magic and pointless mystery and suspense. Not only does it feel far removed from Professor Tolkien's own work, it feels pretty far removed from the films of The Lord of the Rings. It's paced better and keeps some of its focus to more or less a superior degree than the first film, but it's still too long and becomes deeply schizophrenic sometime around the middle. Drop almost everything with the Orcs, Gandalf and the Elves, a bit of Bard, and the final silly action sequence in the mountain and you'd have a decent enough film. As it is it feels like Peter Jackson and co were compelled to make it go for so long just to make it seem consistent with the films of The Lord of the Rings. There's an enjoyable adventure piece lurking deep in here somewhere, but just like Benedragon Smaugberbatch you're going to need to shed a whole lot of greedily-hoarded trimming to find it.
My face when people claim that content from The Silmarillion is present.

Story Notes 2 - Some more major changes from the Real Story and the Original Text
1. The Arkenstone Again - This didn't have any kind of magical dwarf-ruling power. It was just a pretty jewel that inspired a great deal of greed.
2. A Chance Meeting - Gandalf didn't go looking for Thorin. Thorin was actually looking for him, and had certainly given up on hearing news of his father by that time. Gandalf didn't suggest Thorin try to attack the mountain, because it would have been a disaster, and as he states in the books, it would have been impossible to gather the Seven Houses of the Dwarves together again anyway. They'd had enough avenging Thrór back in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, which had broken their strength. Throwing soldiers at a dragon wouldn't achieve anything.
3. Queer Lodgings - Beorn and his family were never prisoners of Azog, who was of course long dead by the time of The Hobbit. He actually had a lot of bear friends who may or may not have also been skin-changers with whom he hung out and apparently did bear dances around bonfires. In the end he came to be the Lord of a community of tough Men named after him - the Beornings - so there must have been other folk about. He certainly never chases the Dwarves into his own house, but is rather there in Man-shape when they arrive. The Dwarves' appearance is staggered by Gandalf so that Beorn doesn't become too annoyed. It's a funny scene that was abandoned in the adaptation.
4. Gandalf - In The Hobbit, Gandalf originally left just because Professor Tolkien thought he was too convenient and competent an ally for Bilbo and the Dwarves to have around all the time. He later embellished this such that Gandalf actually disappeared to assist the other members of the White Council in assailing Sauron at Dol Guldur. There is no such place in Middle-earth as the "High Fells" and the Nazgûl were certainly never entombed there because they were un-dead Ringwraiths who had never died, as I stated in my earlier review. The film of "The Fellowship of the Ring" even shows the Nine receiving their Rings of Power prior to Sauron's defeat at the end of the Second Age, which is when they passed into the shadows with him in the book, so how could they have ended up in tombs? It's a pointless contradiction of Professor Tolkien's story which has no reason to exist. Gandalf didn't investigate with Radagast, who didn't do much at all really, and he was never captured in Dol Guldur. By the time of The Hobbit, of course, he had already been there twice. On the second occasion he had received the key and map from Thorin's father Thráin and discerned that the Master of Dol Guldur was none other than Sauron himself. He almost certainly never had a direct confrontation with the Dark Lord while he was there. Sauron also had no intention of starting a war in the North. He was actually planning on abandoning Dol Guldur, at least in person, and returning to Mordor with the intention of destroying his enemies in Gondor.
5. Radagast - Once again, he had nothing to do with these events. He is mentioned exactly once in The Hobbit, by Gandalf to Beorn, who knew him. His use of the word "human" is again inconsistent with Professor Tolkien's explicit terminology ("Men"), a modern idiom also used incorrectly by Saruman in the previous film.
6. Azog - As established, Azog had been dead for nearly one hundred and fifty years by the time of The Hobbit. The idea that he was some kind of special commander for Sauron's armies has no precedent in the books - Sauron's armies were never commanded by wretched slaves like Orcs but high-ranking generals like the Lord of the Nazgûl. In fact in the books the Dwarves rather decisively destroy Azog's realm in the Misty Mountains, in complete contrast to his alleged prowess as a leader in this film. The idea of an Orc being on speaking terms with Sauron himself is equally unlikely in the books. Sauron was a fallen angel created directly by God Himself before time began. Orcs were a bit beneath him.
7. Bolg - The films fail to mention that Bolg is Azog's son. Like Azog, he had nothing directly to do with Sauron or Dol Guldur. He seems to have ruled the Orcs of the Mountains rather from Mount Gundabad, and set out to attack the Dwarves after Smaug's death to try to steal the treasure and avenge the death not of his father but of the Great Goblin, who was slain by Gandalf. He certainly never hunted the Dwarves on the forest river or Lake-town or anywhere else. He would not have even known any details about their journey beyond what little was discovered by the Great Goblin's people.
8. Flies and Spiders - Bilbo saved the Dwarves from the spiders all by himself without Elvish intervention. Thorin is captured by the Elves first, independently of the others, who are only rounded up later. Bilbo actually spends several weeks living invisibly in Thranduil's Halls trying to figure out how to save his companions. They are sealed in barrels upon their escape, and Bilbo actually spends most of the journey not knowing whether he has accidentally drowned his friends. Incidentally, there is an earlier incident in the forest where Bombur falls into an enchanted lake and enters a long, deep sleep during which he must be carried by the others which is entirely omitted in the film.
9. Butterflies - The butterflies are black in the book, not blue. Did I mention this?
10. Thranduil - He is named simply "The Elvenking" in The Hobbit and his son, Legolas, had not been invented when Professor Tolkien wrote that earlier book, although presumably he would have been present. His mistrust of Dwarves dated back to when he lived in Doriath in the First Age, for he was one of the Sindar, Grey-Elves, the folk of King Thingol. The Dwarves of Nogrod slew Thingol for possession of one of the Silmarils. Incidentally, the Dwarves of Nogrod were of an entirely different House to Thorin's people, the Longbeards, and in any event said conflict had transpired over six thousand years earlier. In the books Thranduil has no history with the dragons of the North and certainly had no inexplicable disguised facial scarring, nor is he recorded as having such massive eyebrows or such a camp demeanour. He is, however, still somewhat proud and definitely a bit greedy.
11. Tauriel - This character is purely an invention of the filmmakers and has no precedent in the book. Incidentally, the idea of an Elf-Dwarf romance doesn't really make sense. Elves and Men could marry and reproduce because their differences were spiritual. Physically, they were both human. Dwarves were made by the Vala Aulë before the First Age began in imitation of the idea of Elves and Men and were only granted free will as a favour from Eru, God. They were not really equivalent in the same way and probably couldn't reproduce together, effectively being two different "species." Gimli, of course, admires Galadriel for her beauty in The Lord of the Rings, but that's about the extent of it. In regards to Tauriel being a "lowly Silvan Elf" this reflects the composition of Elven society in both Mirkwood and Lothlórien, where spiritually "higher" Elves from the West ruled over "dark Elves" of the East. The Sindar were Grey Elves of Beleriand in the far West of Middle-earth in the First Age, who never went all the way to the Blessed Realm of the Valar over the Sea but did live in the light of Melian the Maia and the Silmaril during that Age. Thranduil of Mirkwood and Celeborn of Lórien were both of this sort (probably, in Celeborn's case). Silvan Elves (of which Tauriel was meant to be one) were Elves who only travelled West much later and thus never achieved the same level of spiritual enlightenment experienced by the Noldor or even the Sindar, which may explain how they tended to adopt these wiser and more powerful Elves as their leaders. By the Third Age, however, Elves tended not to discriminate based on such matters. That was more typical among some of the haughtier Noldor in the First Age.
12. Bard and the Black Arrow - In the books Bard isn't some kind of local hero but actually a rather unpopular, grumpy local. He is, however, descended from Girion, the old Lord of Dale, whose family escaped Smaug's fire. The Black Arrow was a personal possession of his which he always retrieved after using it for archery, not some contrived Dwarven dragon-killing weapon. His son is correctly named Bain in this film, although it may be mispronounced. In the books, Bain goes on to eventually succeed his father as King of refounded Dale after the death of Smaug. His son, Brand, fought alongside Dáin Ironfoot in the War of the Ring. Bard's never mentioned as having daughters or a dead wife in the book, incidentally. His son might not even have been born by the time of The Hobbit.
13. Lake-town - The character of Alfrid is made up but this is portrayed somewhat accurately. The Master was indeed a greedy, manipulative politician who sponsored Thorin's expedition largely to keep the favour of the citizens rather than any belief that it would succeed. Despite their ignominious arrival by barrel, Thorin and Company were received in honour and hosted in somewhat begrudging comfort by the Master, during which time Bilbo had a cold. The Men of the Lake were descended from the Men of Dale, whose language was represented by Old Norse by Professor Tolkien, and had a common ancestry with the Men of Rohan, so were probably imagined as having a more early-medieval Scandinavian flavour in design and appearance than the sort of Renaissance Muscovite imagery used in the film.
14. On the Doorstep - All thirteen Dwarves travelled to the Mountain. None were left behind and Kíli was certainly not wounded with a "Morgul arrow." The use of such weapons was restricted exclusively to the Nazgûl regardless, not common Orc archers. What effect it would have had on a Dwarf is questionable also, given that they were not affected by dark power in the same way that Men (and Hobbits) were. Such a wound would certainly have been beyond the skill of a rustic Wood-Elf like Tauriel to heal - observe that even in the films it took all the skill of Elrond himself to heal Frodo's wound! The Dwarves were not actually sure of when Durin's Day would occur, and certainly never thought they had missed their chance and gave up. Their journey up the mountain was also significantly more arduous, involving an outer base camp and a pulley system. They camped by the secret door for some time.
15. Not at Home - Bilbo's conversation with Smaug bears some similarity to the books, but the entire sequence featuring the Dwarves leading Smaug on a chase and trying to kill him with molten gold is purely an invention of the film. Incidentally, it was Bilbo who discovered Smaug's weakness: not a scale knocked away by Girion but rather a place where Smaug's underbelly had not become encrusted with jewels. This information was overheard by a thrush, who communicated this information to Bard who knew the tongue of such birds. Sadly such talking animal goodness is omitted in the films. Bilbo kept the Ring on for the entire conversation with Smaug, who did not know who he was or with whom he had come, and attacked Lake-town simply because, like the film, Bilbo let slip the name "barrel rider" in his riddling. As such Smaug thought he was being antagonised and robbed by Dwarves and Lake-men. He failed to discover the Dwarves, however, because they hid themselves inside the secret door after he himself left the mountain. As stated in the review proper, he didn't know what Bilbo was up to and probably didn't know who Thorin was, just that some of his treasure had been stolen.
16. Sources - Not a reference to the film but commentators upon it - there is no material from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales or the drafts, notes and essays published in The History of Middle-earth in these films. The filmmakers do not have the rights to these. They remain with Professor Tolkien's estate, managed by his son Christopher. Everything not derived from The Hobbit itself is either made up or sourced in some fashion from the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings. The reference to "Blue Wizards" in the previous film was skirting dangerous copyright grounds. I only state this in frustration that the padding in these films is somehow Professor Tolkien's fault or, in complete contrast, that it's still faithful to other material - it's not from his other works at all, and what is derived from elsewhere (usually the Appendices, to a very limited extent) has almost entirely been distorted beyond recognition, particular in terms of character positioning and narrative time-frame.
Bilbo witnesses 48 FPS for the first time.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"The Day of the Doctor"

Panic in the cinema.
So here it is, the long awaited Fiftieth Anniversary Special of Doctor Who. In tribute to this we begin, appropriately enough, with the original 60s title sequence, but before the average viewing public to whom Classic Doctor Who occupies an identical cultural space as a 1920s silent film start switching off in droves the intro fades without even getting to the full theme. Now we've switched to black and white footage of a policeman's shadow much like the opening of "An Unearthly Child." Look, the I.M. Foreman junkyard. What's the first thing we're going to see or hear? Billy Hartnell? Susan, Ian and Barbara? Nope, we colourise, see a modern policeman and are treated to Jenna Coleman reciting a quote from Marcus Aurelius. The Coal Hill school, now chaired by Ian, natch, is apparently right next to Totter's Lane these days. So Clara's a teacher now? It's a nice enough quote I suppose, and it's good to have Who referencing a bit of Classical literature. As is always the case with school scenes the bell immediately rings and some wet-looking guy who I fear will turn into a love interest for Clara next series bumbles in to deliver a note from the Doctor. Let's call this guy Rory Mark II, shall we? Clara gets onto a motorbike because she's sassy and cool, drives off to the TARDIS and finds the Doctor inside reading a book about quantum physics because he's a scientist and loves reading about scientific science.
As much as he might not like to admit it.
What follows is an unbelievably cringe-inducingly cheesy back-and-forth between Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, the latter issuing the line "Moon'll do," in particular in a surprisingly stagey way. This is followed by typical big hug times between them before a huge crane picks up the TARDIS. At the Tower of London some cliché dorky girl wearing the Fourth Doctor's scarf as pointless fan service hurries over to Kate Stewart aka the Brigadier's daughter from "The Power of Three." Is Doris her mum? Anyway she has Kate's phone. She also has asthma. Got to know that she's a proper nerd. Turns out the Doctor's calling Kate Stewart from the TARDIS. Apparently he has to use the phone outside the box now, when in the rest of New Who it's always been inside. In fact in "The Empty Child" written by Moffat himself Eccly explicitly states that the phone on the outside isn't real. Regardless, UNIT are bringing in the TARDIS by helicopter for the sake of pointless spectacle. Wouldn't a truck do? And why were they bringing it in if the Doctor himself wasn't there? Then we get the Smith hanging from the TARDIS for no particular reason as they fly over London, along with cinematic titles to show that New Who is all grown up and wearing big boy pants now and is a movie instead of TV.
"City of Death? Never heard of it."
The Doctor jumps off outside the National Gallery. "Why am I saluting?" he asks, saluting UNIT. Don't you love the Doctor constantly referencing his own behaviour? Kate Stewart gives him some letter from Elizabeth I who we might remember a lot of shit jokes being made about in previous New Who eps and the Doctor and Clara head inside. The Doctor tells her about how he used to work at UNIT and they talk a lot of rubbish about jobs and such. Elizabeth I's "credentials" are a big 3D painting of Gallifrey featuring the "fall of Arcadia," an event from the Time War evasively referenced by RTD in the past. Moffat's decided that Arcadia is "Gallifrey's second city" to explain why it looks so much like the Capitol without having to actually be the Capitol. The picture is apparently a "slice of real time, frozen." It makes me think of the bit in "City of Death" where Romana says Gallifreyan paintings are all computer generated, except not. What follows are a bunch of weird cuts to shots of the Doctor's face and him standing alone, before revealing that the painting shows an event at which "the other me" was present, stating that of his past selves "I don't admit to all of them." Why not? We know by now that John Hurt is a secret incarnation between P McG and Eccly. He's admitted openly to numerous people over the course of New Who that he ended the Time War by killing all of the Time Lords and Daleks and besides that he fought in the war generally. So what's the big secret about John Hurt? It's a meaningless thing to keep secret within the narrative of the show, only done to surprise the audience, and as such makes absolutely no sense. He says that as the War Doctor he was "a man with more blood on his hands than any other" but we see absolutely no evidence of that.
Yeah, that's how I felt.
What we do see is the "Last Day of the Time War" which, in complete contradiction of what happened in "The End of Time", features about a bajillion Dalek saucers pwning Gallifrey with lasers like a poor man's Star Wars prequel. It's a cliché, generic sci-fi battle with green and red lights and boring conventional weaponry. No time travel, no weirdness, just lasers and explosions. If Moffat didn't have the money or imagination to do it properly, why did he bother doing it at all? While RTD's completely at fault for inventing the Time War in the first place, he always said that it was better left to the viewers' imaginations, and apparently he was right. Wasn't Gallifrey safe and sound at the "edge" of the War, and wasn't it a war of mutually assured destruction with the Daleks and Time Lords as bad as each other? Weren't we reminded of this as recently as "The Night of the Doctor"? Well not any more, instead it's the Time Lords getting totally victimised, with the Gallifreyans running around screaming while weird flying Dalek things that look like the spy droids from The Empire Strikes Back zoom around blowing shit up. Where's the Time Lords' military hardware? Weren't they meant to have become bad ass mofos? Murray Gold's pouring it on thick, too, just in case we're not aware that bad things are happening. Some soldier with a regional accent sees the Doctor's TARDIS, and John Hurt shows up and asks for his gun. Are we about to see the War Doctor finally kicking some heads in? Blasting Daleks away? Creating a diversion while civilians are ushered to safety, perhaps? Nope, he just stands there shooting words into a wall. What's the point? How is this the "War" Doctor? The Dalek ground forces show up (apparently the infinite number of ships in space weren't enough) and it keeps arduously cutting back to John Hurt shooting this wall like he's bored in Goldeneye 64 and deciding to write his name in bullet pocks. The Daleks detect that the Doctor is close, but before they can do anything about it the TARDIS bursts through the wall, killing all of them somehow. Empty Dalek cases fall to the ground, no mutants visible within them. "What are these words?" one Dalek demands. "Explain! Explain!" He's got a point.
"The mind probe you say?"
In all honesty it's purely meaningless spectacle, the Doctor arbitrarily doing "cool stuff" that serves no purposes besides grandstanding. The Time War itself looks utterly banal, and the Time Lords are presented in a totally uninteresting way. They were repeatedly portrayed as corrupt and incompetent in the Classic Series, but the whole point of "The End of Time" was to show how bad they'd become. There shouldn't be streets of civilians or Blitz-style sirens blaring. It's stock and unimaginative. Speaking of which, in some corridor so primitive it has fans in the ceiling a bunch of Time Lords are discussing their options. The general reveals that the plans of the High Council have already failed, a grudging concession to RTD's storyline. Presumably we're meant to picture Timothy Dalton getting bitch slapped around by electric John Simm. They observe the Doctor's message: "No More." "He's a fool," one Time Lord declares. "No," refutes the other. "He's a mad man." Is there, like, a big book of clichés that Moffat uses to write his scripts? What kind of exchange is that? Supposedly the Daleks, having dealt with Arcadia, are now converging on the Capitol, but a token female Time Lord arrives to reveal that someone has broken into the "Time Vaults" where the "Omega Weapons" are kept. I suppose this is another Classic reference. The Doctor's seized "the Moment," the weapon mentioned in "The End of Time." Surely this means the events of "The End of Time" can't have happened yet, if the Doctor's only just now taking the weapon that they said he already had in the Tennant finale? For an episode so obsessed with its own continuity this one really manages to bollocks things up. The Moment is apparently a "galaxy eater", whatever that means, that is so powerful and arcane that it has a consciousness and will stand in judgement over whomever uses it. I admit that this idea is interesting. As a super-nerdy aside, the events of this episode contradict a much earlier comic which suggested that the Eighth Doctor ended the Time War and the "Moment" was a souped-up version of the D-Mat Gun from "The Invasion of Time."
The TARDIS interior after the next round of budget cuts.
We cut to John Hurt in a desert somewhere. Is he still on Gallifrey? Who knows. He issues a declaration to the Time Lords and the Daleks, apparently for his own benefit given that none of them are around, and goes to a hut in which egregious amounts of the remainder of the episode will be spent. Ditching the Moment out of a big cartoony sack it's revealed to be a goofy-looking steampunk cube with clockwork bits. It doesn't look like a weapon at all, more a contrived prop for a sci-fi TV show that secretly yearns to be the worst kind of high fantasy. Hmm. John Hurt, at least, brings a touch of class to proceedings, but before we can get too comfortable Billie Piper shows up. She starts hamming it skyward, going "Taaaaardis" and dancing back and forth mocking the Doctor saying "No more." It's just embarrassing. Apparently she's taking the form of Rose as "Bad Wolf", for no particular reason given that she's from this Doctor's future. Seriously? I mean, no offence to her, but why is Billie Piper even in this? She's not playing Rose and, spoilers beware, she never interacts with Tennant onscreen or any character who would actually recognise Rose. It's purely New Who fan service. Isn't this the Fiftieth Anniversary? John Hurt declares that he's lost the right to be the Doctor, despite never having done anything onscreen to prove it, and now wishes to end the suffering caused by the Time War. He has no desire to survive, and so the Moment declares that his punishment will be to live on after everyone else has died. This is one idea I actually thought made sense. The Moment argues that he needs to put a bit of thought into the decision. He'll kill the Daleks, but he'll kill "all those children too." Ah. Well here we are, the same old Moffat plot trotted out where children are the be all and end all of character motivation. The Moment decides to show John Hurt the future, opening up a time portal, out of which a fez plops onto the floor. How amusing.
Secret phone built into his face.
Back in the gallery, Kate Stewart restates that the painting is "Elizabeth's credentials." How? What does it prove? How does she even have it? The letter states that the Doctor was appointed the curator of the "Undergallery" where dangerous artworks are locked away. The National Gallery was founded in 1824, over two hundred years after Elizabeth's death. How could there be an "Undergallery" when there was no regular everyday gallery for it to be under? Why does it have such a cheesy name, too? It's sort of like the "Underhenge" from "The Pandorica Opens." As they piss off some knob end in a lab coat gets a mysterious phone call telling him to move the Gallifrey painting, but we cut away to Maxwell Smart style doors sliding from the ceiling to trap the Doctor and Clara in a room with a painting of somebody wearing a yellow-white dress with red hair and a pale face who's supposed to resemble Elizabeth I, and David Tennant. As Smithy goes back into recollection, we cut to a shot of coastline where the words "England 1562" are cornily sitting on the sand.
"It also has a bell on the end, much like m'good self..."
Oh god no, it's David Tennant on a horse. Riding with him is some woman putting on a twee accent and speaking atrocious dialogue to apparently be Elizabeth I. Abandoning any pretence, we see the Tenth Doctor as nothing more than a decadent lothario as he lounges around having a picnic, with Elizabeth and her prominent bosom resting upon him. Tennant reminds Elizabeth that he's not English, which the massive nerd in me contrasts to the Eighth Doctor's agreement with being described as British in the TV Movie. Tennant asks Elizabeth to marry him, to which she agrees, before he gives a long winded speech about how this proves she's a Zygon. He has a machine that goes "ding" which is over described beyond the point of humour. It turns out, however, that in actual fact the horse is a Zygon. It transforms into a big rubbery red alien and comes charging at them. Around this point we get more of the Doctor being blatantly self-referential, describing his own appearance as a "handsome bloke in a tight suit." Is that really plausible? The return of the Zygons was a big deal given that they were something of a fan favourite in classic Tom Baker serial "Terror of the Zygons" after which they were never seen again. At the risk of sounding like an appalling Classic Series apologist, I find them more convincing than these Zygons, who due to advances in costume technology look more detailed but at the same time infinitely more fake than the Zygons from 1975. They are hyperreal and as such implausible. It's similar to an uncanny valley effect, I propose - in trying to make them more convincing they go too far, and it becomes more difficult to suspend disbelief.
"Was it a mistake to not do a non-RTD series? No, no, of course not..."
After declaring that he's "going to need a new horse" David Tennant accosts a rabbit, which is also too hilarious for words, before tracking down Elizabeth and a duplicate Elizabeth. One of them is, of course, a Zygon. Don't they have to string people up in stasis to copy them? We will see that this episode tries to have it both ways. The two Elizabeths argue as I despair, Tennant standing around like a numpty abusing his ding machine before the time portal opens. It's a "tear in the fabric of reality," Tennant declares, regurgitating the same tired descriptions of modern sci-fi. Out falls the fez, Moffat taking immense pleasure in his own inventions.
You know what they say about big faces.
Back in the Undergallery, where apparently there is "art too dangerous for public consumption," whatever that means outside a totalitarian police state, the Smith observes stone dust on the floor, which apparently is important. Desiring an analysis of this dust, he asks Osgood if she has a name: "Yes." I stifle a guilty chuckle as the Smith replies that he's always wanted to "meet someone called Yes." He goes on to tell her that he wants "a report in triplicate with lots of graphs and diagrams and complicated sums" to be delivered to his non-existent desk "ASAP. Pronto. LOL." I repress a smile tinged with self-loathing, Matt Smith finally getting another chance to perform some of the humour that made him so endearing in his first series. Kate gives Osgood her marching orders, and Moffat completely spoils the moment by having Osgood become all asthmatic with excitement as the Doctor winks at her like Barney Stinson replete with "ting" noise, another New Who woman for whom a dominant character trait, much like Elizabeth I, is wanting to play Doctor.
"Yeah, just like that, just like that..."
Moffat continues to constipate over his own exhausted imagery as the Smith procures a fez from a case and Kate shows him and Clara to a painting with broken glass in front. The Doctor observes that the glass has been broken from the inside. The paintings used to feature figures which have now apparently escaped. Before we can go any further, however, a Time Warp opens in the ceiling, something which Smithy seems to "almost remember." He chucks in his fez before leaping in himself, finding himself in the woods with David Tennant, who puts on the fez for the sake of the Tumblr girls. For the billionth time the Doctor pointlessly references his own appearance, the Eleventh Doctor describing the Tenth as "proper skinny" and a "matchstick man," as if his physique is noticeably different from his predecessor's apart from being shorter and having a less conventional face. If I'm going to be perfectly honest, Matt Smith and David Tennant have a nice rapport, and for the most part David Tennant is far more watchable in this than he was in RTD's frivolous era, but it possibly highlights how similar the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors are, especially with the Eleventh Doctor's character degeneration in his later two series. I actually think that the Special might have been improved in some respects had it just been Matt Smith and David Tennant, but again it's possible that they might have merged into a homogenous "New Doctor" blob. We do get some amusing put downs from the Eleventh to the Tenth, accusing Tennant's Doctor of "wearing sandshoes," and telling him "I'm not judging you" after hearing he may have kissed a Zygon, but then the two of them snap on their stupid glasses and look like inseparable bell ends. Both queens run off after kissing Tennant, an image which is worn into the ground by the end of the episode.
Fangirls are coming.
Clara wants to know who Smithy's talking to: "myself", Tennant and Smith amusingly glancing at each other. Kate Stewart pisses off to make a UNIT dating reference joke and we perceive from an ominous silhouette that the Zygons are present in the modern time as well. As Smith cannot remember what happened as Tennant, he accuses Tennant of "not paying enough attention." I think it would have been nice if he'd said "we never remember" or something to that effect, because they never do. In a pointless Pertwee pastiche they both elect to "reverse the polarity" but this doesn't do much until John Hurt arrives, asking "Anyone lose a fez?" Enough with the fez, I think. John Hurt thinks that by their apparent youth Tennant and Smith must be the Doctor's companions. Has he forgotten being Paul McGann and Peter Davison? Accusing himself of having a "mid-life crisis," he amusingly reprimands the two young bucks for their ridiculous ostentation with the sonic screwdriver, reminding them that they're "scientific instruments, not water pistols." Tennant is snide about his "posh gravity," a quality which would drastically improve present Doctors, and I think we're meant to assume that despite having no cachet within the show proper John Hurt is meant to generally represent the style, manner and demeanour of Classic Doctors. Smith calls Tennant "Dick van Dyke" because Doctors must endlessly take the piss out of each other.
"I do think your best role was in Spaceballs."
A bunch of Elizabethan soldiers show up in a deeply tedious fashion to interrupt the Doctor interaction, while back in the present Kate Stewart returns. Is she a Zygon now? I think we're meant to assume so. Hurt wonders why Smithy and Ten-Inch are pointing their screwdrivers at the soldiers, wondering whether they intend to "assemble a cabinet at them," amusing in a way but also Moffat more or less reusing one of his Eccly jokes. Hurt's fine, but he doesn't need to be here. It should be Paul McGann. I'll get to that. Smith wants Clara to scare the soldiers off through the time hole, addressing her as the "Witch of the Well." A reference to recent mediocre horror episode "Hide"? "He means you," Zygon Kate tells Clara pointlessly. Hurt chews Smithy out for using the phrase "timey wimey," something I'd appreciate more if it wasn't Moffat taking the piss out of himself. He also asks Smith if he's capable of speaking without flapping his hands about, further pointless self awareness. Realising that the Tower's the place to be, the Smith demands to be taken to the Tower of London with "sandshoes and granddad." "They're not sandshoes!" Tennant complains. "Yes they are," Hurt retorts, getting to be amusing as far as I'm concerned. In the present, Kate declares with all the plausibility of a caption that she and Clara must travel to "my office: otherwise known as the Tower of London." Sarcasm is not sufficient to handle the clunkiness.
"Wait 'til you see how we did the Skarasen!"
In the dungeon of the Tower the Smith starts scratching a message onto the wall. Tennant suspects that unlike him and Smithy meeting by accident, Hurt arrived expecting to find future selves. Before we can delve deeper, however, we return to the present-day rock dust investigation, where Osgood reveals to an emotionless Irishman, the one who moved the painting earlier, that the dust must be from destroyed statues. The Zygons are hiding where the statues were, not bothering to tidy up after themselves to avoid detection. They accost the two of them, Osgood cowering in the corner reciting "The Doctor will save me." It's one of the most teeth-grindingly awful moments in the episode. The Zygon copies her, once again without stringing her up, and gets tripped up as Osgood escapes. At the Tower, Clara and Zygon Kate enter a cheesy UNIT secret repository with the obnoxiously cliché name of the "Black Archive." It has a mind wipe device to stop the security becoming too familiar with it, but inside it's just a warehouse full of junk like a cut price Raiders of the Lost Ark final scene. The location is supposedly "TARDIS-proofed" to stop the Doctor getting in. Apparently Clara's been there before but had her mind wiped. She's up on the wall with a bunch of stock photos of Classic Series Companions which are meant to be enough to celebrate fifty years of the programme. Once again deciding that it'd much rather just rehash stuff from the last eight years, Zygon Kate shows Clara the vortex manipulator time travel thing belonging to Jack Harkness. She states that it's one of their biggest secrets, knowledge of which must be denied to the Americans especially. Why them in particular? Despite the United Nations name being revoked, isn't UNIT meant to be an international organisation? This episode treats it like a singularly British institution. So is UNIT Torchwood now? At this point it's just a pointless dig at America, Zygon Kate especially denigrating American cinema as indicative of their blinkered attitude towards history. Seems a bit rich in New Who, which is so breathlessly desperate to be a Hollywood film, especially given how shallow this episode's treatment of Elizabeth I is.
I know the feeling.
Zygon Kate gets a message from the dungeons showing what the Doctor was scratching into the wall. It's the code for the vortex manipulator, but everyone reveals themselves to be Zygons. Zygon Kate spews red liquid everywhere before transforming in a rather disturbing composite effect. Clara, however, being the plucky young lady she is, swiftly enters the code and vanishes into the past. Back in the dungeon, John Hurt wants to use the sonic screwdriver to disintegrate the door, but despairs of getting through to the childish Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. "They think their future is real," the Moment informs him. What the hell is that supposed to mean? That sentence doesn't even make sense. We get a nice line from Tennant when the War Doctor tries to refuse to talk about what's happening in his time: "You're not talking about it. There's no one else here." We must, however, revisit the children, as Hurt questions his successors about whether they counted the children who perished at the end of the Time War. Smith, claiming to be now around one thousand two hundred years old, displays the natural extension of his reservations about the matter in episodes dating back as far as "The Beast Below", asking of remembering the numbers of children: "What would be the point?" Tennant's not having any of it, declaring that there were 2.47 billion children on Gallifrey at the moment of its destruction. Hurt is exasperated, telling both of them that he doesn't "know" either of them, but Billie Piper reminds him that they're him in the future: "The man who regrets and the man who forgets." If Eccly had agreed to be in it, what would he have been? The man with Tourette's? They realise, however, that if John Hurt gets a program going to disintegrate the door, it should be done by the time he's become the Smith due to the screwdrivers all having the same software. The Tenth Doctor's screwdriver was destroyed at least twice, and the Eleventh's once, so I find that rather surprising, but apparently the program is complete by the Eleventh Doctor's time, so they prepare to disintegrate the door when Clara bursts in.
Can't do wood or give you a shave either.
"It should have been locked," John Hurt complains, getting to be somewhat amusing again. Before we can get too comfortable, however, Elizabeth I returns too. In the present, Osgood discovers Kate all strung up "Terror of the Zygons" style for duplication. Why haven't they needed to do this at any other time, then? For Osgood, or Elizabeth, or (presumably) the horse? It's never explained. In the 16th Century, Elizabeth I explains that the Zygons lost their world in the Time War, something completely inconsistent with "Terror of the Zygons" in which the aliens were a small group of crashed spacefarers, not an entire race, especially given that we have no evidence of the Zygons as time travellers. The 16th Century is too primitive, however, the Zygons wanting to wait for humanity to become more advanced. Wouldn't that just make them infinitely harder to conquer? The half-arsed excuse is that the Zygons are "used to a certain level of comfort." Well, that makes sense, then. Better to be comfortable than have the conquest of the Earth being incredibly easy. The Zygons are entering the "stasis cube" Gallifreyan paintings to survive until the Earth becomes more advanced. How did they get these paintings? Again, it's never explained. Smith describes them as being like "cup-a-soups," a line that makes me want to bash my head in. Tennant proceeds to have an embarrassing rant at Elizabeth, erroneously accusing her of being a Zygon once again, and declaring her, in his veiled Scottish accent, to have breath that could "shtun a horse." Elizabeth reveals that she assumed the place of the Zygon Commander with implausible aptitude, having stabbed up her impersonator in the forest. The Commander apparently suffered from the same failing as all of its kind, and by kind, Elizabeth declares that she means "men." Moffat once again displays his spectacular incompetence at writing strong female characters, believing that all "strong women" are apparently sex mad and discriminate against the opposite gender. On the other hand, she tells them that at the time the Zygon, like her, had "the body of a weak and feeble woman." It's typical hole-digging from Moffat, whose efforts to be pro-feminist tend to reveal an utterly condescending view of women.
Did you know Time Lords are related to Terileptils?
In order to get the TARDIS back Tennant must marry Elizabeth, which proceeds in a cheap-as-chips-looking ceremony with nothing more than a pavilion, a priest, and Hurt, Smith and Clara in attendance. Obviously given Elizabeth's reputation it's meant to be a secret, but it more just looks like the point where the budget was wearing a bit thin. As Elizabeth vehemently assaults Tennant's lips with her own, Hurt asks Smith "Is there a lot of this in the future?" Doesn't he know? He's already been McGann. Tennant tells Elizabeth that he'll be "right back." What, to deflower her? They high tail it to the TARDIS, where Smithy describes the RTD layout as a grunge phase. The presence of the three of them is apparently causing the "desktop" to "glitch", at which point it transforms into a bizarre hybrid of the Classic Series and RTD era TARDISes, seeming to the trained eye inconsistent as we know that the steampunk McGann TARDIS came in between. Why couldn't it have just turned into the full blown Classic Series TARDIS? Tennant and Smith become wistful about the roundels, or "round things" as they call them, Tennant observing that he has "no idea" what they're for. It's typical of New Who's deeply troubled relationship with its heritage, loving and loathing it in constant tension. Don't we know perfectly well from days of yore that the roundels are for storage and access? And anyway, didn't the 2005 TARDIS have hexagonal equivalents to these? I'm such a nerd. Of all the New Who TARDIS interiors my favourite is the 2010 one, but it doesn't get a look in. It now transforms into the current TARDIS interior. How? It doesn't make any kind of sense that the Tenth Doctor's TARDIS would "compensate" for the Eleventh. In fact the entire thing seems to happen purely so that Tennant can utter the classic Patrick Troughton line from "The Three Doctors": "You've redecorated. I don't like it." It would have more impact if Smith hadn't already used the same line in "Closing Time" which, disturbingly, was an episode broadcast over two years ago as of my writing this. That two-year Series 7 was stupid.
Swish and flick.
In the Black Archive the real Kate and Osgood burst in to confront the Zygons, revealing that there's a five minute nuclear self destruct in the floor to prevent aliens exploiting their goodies. Kate is forced to pointlessly remind us of the Brig that "I'm his daughter." The Eleventh Doctor announces via "space time telegraph" that he's coming in, but the TARDIS can't land due to "alien technology plus human stupidity." Wondering how they can enter, John Hurt is forced to utter the phrase "cup-a-soup," surely a low point of his career, revealing that they can sneak into the archive through the paintings. Seriously, you don't get John Hurt and then have him say "cup-a-soup." So it turns out that the weird phone call that Irish McGilliop got much earlier telling him to move the painting was the Smith so that they could enter the Black Archive. Kate and Zygon Kate shout at each other pointlessly a bit to try to activate and deactivate the nuke, while Osgood cringe-inducingly whines for the Doctor to save them once again. We cut to the three resident Doctors in the Time War painting. How did they get in there? Who knows. They turn around and kill a Dalek with their sonic screwdrivers in total contradiction of what John Hurt said about their functionality earlier. So are they actually in the Time War or is this just a representation? Twentieth Century-sounding air raid sirens blare in the distance just to ram home how comparable this is to real wars. How did this painting come into the possession of the National Gallery? At which point did the Doctors enter it? Who knows. The dead Dalek bursts out of it, followed by the three Doctors striding forth in ludicrous slow motion, which only serves to remind me of the joke in Garth Marenghi where they talk about slow motion being used wherever possible to pad out the runtime. Just to let us know she's there Clara pops out of the painting too. Good thing she didn't get zapped by a Dalek or anything.
"No, I don't know why I'm here either."
The Doctors declare to Kate and Zygon Kate that they can't let them "murder millions to save billions" in overt, heavy-handed parallel with the Time War, stating that the justification for such consequentialist acts is a lie. Tennant and Smith sit next to each other and mirror each other's movement, making the two of them seem less and less distinct. They muck about with the memory wiping thing so that none of the duplicates can tell anymore if they're humans or Zygons, which apparently will force them to broker a peace. "Peace in our time!" Smith gloats. What? So he's implying, by quoting Chamberlain, that there in fact won't be peace? Zygon Osgood hands real Osgood the inhaler, giving away her identity, but it's never followed up on. If the Zygon could replicate her clothes, the scarf, even her glasses, why couldn't it do it with the inhaler? Meanwhile, John Hurt's sitting around having a cup of tea. Who knows what Smith and Tennant are up to. Talking to Clara, he muses that the regret he must feel at using the Moment will contribute to all the good that all his future selves perform as compensation. Clara observes that he can still make a different choice, however, seeing from his eyes that he's "so much yoounger" as her accent slips a touch. Making up his mind, the Moment takes the War Doctor back to the hut. Why is he called the "War Doctor" if he gave up the name of Doctor, incidentally? Shouldn't he call himself the Warrior or something?
Just lie back and think of Gallifrey.
In the hut John Hurt believes that in the end using the Moment is the right thing to do because he'll go on to do good things as Tennant and Smith. She replies that there's still hope as two more TARDISes arrive. I guess they moved Smithy's TARDIS from the National Gallery to the Tower at some point. The two of them reassure the War Doctor that they were wrong to repress his memory, stating that he was still the Doctor the whole time "on the day it wasn't possible to get it right." They offer to push the button with him so he doesn't have to do it alone. Before they can do so, however, Clara starts having a big cry because she never pictured the Smith being the one to do it. The Moment for some reason shows them a vision of the Time War: "It's reality around you." I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, but we see the aftermath of the attack on Arcadia. The Daleks seem to have pissed off and left everyone to their own devices. It's completely unclear to me what's meant to be going on. The Doctors, on Clara's advice, remind themselves of the "promise" of being the Doctor: to be kind, brave, steadfast and all that. The Eleventh Doctor decides that he wants to change history and puts the Moment away. Stating that he has a plan, it somehow occurs to his past selves as well, John Hurt having to ham it up himself as he yells "That is good!" Smith decares that he's been working on this "for centuries" and performs a ludicrous hand gesture to go with it. Tennant tells Clara the plan, sounding utterly mad as he asks "What if the whole planet just disappeared?" This would, he claims, cause the Daleks to all destroy each other in their own crossfire. What? How would that work? How can they expect that every Dalek ship will fire a shot that will hit another Dalek ship? It will look like the two sides wiped each other out, but actually Gallifrey will be safely hidden in stasis in a pocket universe. Basically, it's an excuse for Moffat to bring back the Time Lords.
Violent sexual imagery inbound.
We return to the war room on Gallifrey where the three Doctors appear on screens to reveal their plan. Tennant feels "so grown up" using basic scientific language like "equidistant" and we discover that the hybrid Classic/RTD TARDIS is the War Doctor's. The general complains that the calculations to put Gallifrey in stasis would take hundreds of years, but that's fine because suddenly loads of TARDISes show up. John Guilor does his best Billy Hartnell impersonation as, like "The Name of the Doctor", stock footage of the past Doctors at their consoles appear on the screen. Rather bizarrely we see footage of the Seventh Doctor from both the Classic Series and the TV Movie, so he appears to change his outfit and hairstyle partway through proceedings. How did the First Doctor know to do this? Was the Eleventh Doctor meant to have sent him a message or something? It makes no sense. As the general despairs of the presence of twelve Doctors including the War Doctor, his adjutant replies that there are in fact thirteen Doctors present and, in one of the few genuinely cool moments of the episode, we see a brief shot of the eyes of soon-to-be Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi, which gets me excited because he looks pretty cross and therefore potentially bad ass. I've always thought it would be cool to foreshadow a future Doctor's appearance in an episode so I actually appreciated this bit. Smith and Tennant bust out their catchphrases, which exasperate the War Doctor, who gives his own more suitable battle cry of "Gallifrey Stands!" There's a big explosion and that's it.
Back in the gallery, Smithy and Tennant are wondering about the painting, the three of them not knowing if they succeeded or failed with Gallifrey. They have no idea how the painting got to Britain in the 16th Century, and the issue never gets resolved. Tennant and John Hurt won't remember these events due to the bollocks resolution of the "time streams" being "out of sync" to avoid the events of this episode having any effect on prior episodes. John Hurt's happy to be the Doctor again and pisses off to his TARDIS where he promptly begins regenerating through sheer old age, getting some of the worst final lines of any Doctor: "I hope the ears are a bit less conspicuous this time." He starts regenerating into Christopher Eccleston and it cuts away before we have to endure too much of the awkward effects shot, Eccleston himself refusing to have any involvement with the Special. Smith tells Tennant that he's seen Trenzalore, where he'll die in battle. "I don't wanna go," replies Tennant, and off he pops. It's a pretty lame reference to his actual parting words, but he sells it here better than in his own episode. Alone in the gallery, Clara leaves the Smith with the painting, telling him that an old man, perhaps the curator, was looking for him. Smith muses that he could be a curator.
"They put you in a recording booth with Nick Briggs and you can't get out..."
"You know I really think you might," states a distinctive voice. Holy shit, it's Tom Baker. The episode's one grudging concession to actors who made the show what it is today, at least they got him. Insinuating that he's a future version of the Doctor who has for some reason decided to take a form reminiscent of an elderly Fourth incarnation, he tells Smith that the painting's real title is "Gallifrey Falls No More." This is enough to get Smith thinking that Gallifrey must have survived and that he ought to go looking for it. Tom Baker hams it up a bit and leaves. It's a nice enough scene, I suppose, but short and insubstantial. Tom also looks older and less healthy than he has in footage at events after this special was filmed. To conclude, the Eleventh Doctor narrates a conversation he's had with Clara about dreams, declaring that he now knows what he wants to do: to find his home, to discover his people and his planet. In doing so he walks out of the TARDIS and lines up on a cloud with John Hurt, Tennant and a bunch of stand-ins in costumes nabbed from the Doctor Who Exhibition, which flips around to show the three of them standing in the middle of a line of embarrassing-looking cardboard cutouts of Eccly and the Classic Doctors with good old Billy Hartnell positioned behind in the centre. Amusingly, due to Hurt's presence and Eccleston's absence, the lineup is out of order at the end. They had McGann in to film the prequel, couldn't he at least have contributed to this bit? With that over, the episode mercifully ends.
The proud tradition of every-Doctor photoshoots:
stand-ins and dummies.
So what's good about this episode? If I'm going to be perfectly honest, it's probably one of the better episodes Moffat's written in the past few years, not being pointlessly dark or convoluted. Matt Smith and David Tennant, as I've said, work quite well together and are actually rather pleasant to watch once their two Doctors meet up. Capaldi's cameo is an exciting glance to the future, and Tom's scene is a welcome nod to the past. John Hurt brings a touch of class to proceedings. That's about it, however. The problem with the War Doctor is that he simply doesn't need to exist, and what is most problematic about this story is its superfluity. The Zygon plot is needlessly long-winded and heavy handed as a parallel to other events, which exacerbates the already poor pacing of the episode quite substantially. Elizabeth I is pretty wretchedly portrayed and the new UNIT characters are irritating, especially Osgood. The salvation of Gallifrey is a rushed final act which retcons a huge amount of established New Series background, not just in terms of events but the characterisation of the Time Lords, and as a new direction for the show I'm not sure it's really very interesting. At the end of the day, however, like too many New Who episodes over the last couple of years, it's more mediocre than offensive.
"The Mighty Docs!"
What is most egregious about "The Day of the Doctor", however, is how it acts as a celebration of fifty years of the show. Apart from a bit of stock footage and a few photos, the Zygons and Tom Baker's incredibly brief scene, the Classic Series doesn't get much of a look in despite constituting most of the show's televised history. What the special does seem to want to do is celebrate the last eight years of New Who: we have David Tennant returning, we see what was going on in all the dropped hints about Elizabeth I, Billie Piper comes back for absolutely no reason besides tricking the squee girls into watching the episode expecting Doctor/Rose romance, and the overarching narrative is focused exclusively on the Time War, a plot device RTD invented for the sake of the Doctor's characterisation in the New Series which has nothing to do with the original show whatsoever. The exemplification of this, however, is the creation of the War Doctor character. As I've said, John Hurt does a fine job, and I mean no offence to the man himself, but the character simply does not need to exist. It was all done for the sake of suspense in establishing a plot arc at the end of 2011, and it makes no sense in narrative terms. Given how open the Doctor is about his genocidal actions ending the Time War, something Clara in fact declares in this very episode that he's "always" talking about, a secret incarnation who performed said actions is completely meaningless and unnecessary.
The Time Lord Constructor Fleet.
Whether or not Christopher Eccleston was willing to be involved, to my mind without a doubt one of the starring Doctors in this Anniversary Special should have been Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor. I say that with absolute conviction. It's true to say, I suppose, that the other Classic Doctors are too old to portray their characters onscreen, something Moffat still avoided with Tom Baker's scene as well as with Peter Davsion in "Time Crash", but we've seen in "The Night of the Doctor" that Paul McGann isn't. He's not old or fat, the ladies still fancy him, and he fits perfectly into the gap between Classic and New. There's no need for the War Doctor except that someone at the BBC must have thought that having John Hurt in the Special would sell more cinema tickets. That's the worst thing about "The Day of the Doctor." It only really celebrates fifty years of Doctor Who in a superficial way, revelling rather in the mythology, imagery and celebrity of the New Series. Celebrating the Classic Series was consigned to supplementary material for the sake of not alienating New Who's audience, and to my mind the success or failure of the Anniversary really hinged on the Anniversary Special proper, which in my opinion was simply not good enough as a tribute to the last fifty years. Perhaps it's irrational of me to expect this episode to celebrate a show of which it really isn't a part, but this still strikes me as a bungled opportunity. I think I could forgive it more if at least Paul McGann had been the third Doctor in the episode, and not confined to a brief prequel. That said, in the end it reeks of corporate decision-making, especially in the needless presence of Billie Piper and the casting of relatively large name John Hurt in one of the starring roles. As a device to sell a BBC brand, "The Day of the Doctor" has evidently been a success. As an episode of New Who it's okay, I suppose, but hardly one of the highlights. As a celebration of 50 Years, however, I think it's obnoxiously poor in many respects, a frustrating indication of ever-increasing corporate interests co-opting our culture. I don't blame Moffat for this, or anyone involved, in fact, except for the faceless pen-pushers at the BBC who are responsible for New Who being such a sinister entity, this special episode being the most distressing kind of television by accountancy. Maybe it's just that part of me which wants my naff old interests to be acknowledged and celebrated publicly, shoved in the face of all the shitheads who just swallow up the latest thing that the neoliberal media throws at them with utter disdain, but I'm not convinced that this episode couldn't have been a better celebration. At the end of the day, New Who is about control, conformity, exploitation and manipulation, a complete anathema to its own founding principles. I might be making more of this than I should, and I'm trying to remain optimistic about Capaldi's upcoming tenure, but this episode, focused almost solely on the New Series and merely puppeteering the corpse of the Classic Series around obscenely for the sake of its own profit, I think justifiably bothers me. This review has taken on a far more grim tone than I intended, but that's how I feel: abused, treated with contempt by a show wearing the stolen skin of a long-dead show I love. In this episode the Doctor himself says that he'll "never give up, never give in." That's how I feel. Maybe in that way, somehow, "The Day of the Doctor" succeeds, but it doesn't mean I'm happy about it. The show could be so much better than it is, and only the strange thrill I see at the staring eyes of the Twelfth Doctor is keeping me very enthused about the future, given that the show is so insanely ambivalent about its past.