Doctor Who Re-watch: The Idiot’s Lantern

Ah, Mark Gatiss. What variable episodes you write. I always like his period piece Who episodes best, and back in the day I loathed The Idiot’s Lantern. Maybe it was just that the previous two-parter was so, so terrible, but this time around I didn’t actually find the episode that bad. More thoughts from Ben and I on Rose and The Doctor visiting the year of the Queen’s coronation below …

idiots lantern
Ok, ok, I ship this a little … ok … a lot.

Pre-Title Sequence

Ben: The pre-title sequence was rather long this week! There was a lot of scene setting, a man down on his luck and a family discussing getting a tv. And then bam! Mr Magpie is getting his face sucked into the tv by a strange woman with an evil laugh.

Maureen: I feel like people of my Mum’s generation would relate to this opening. After all, they would have been the kids watching with wide-eyed wonder as their disapproving parents watched on.

Grandma to grandson: TV pulls your brains outta your ears.

Re Mr Magpie, I was all OMG HOW GILLIAN ANDERSON IN AMERICAN GODS. Except this came first. Clearly, the producer was watching 😉 Also, there was another pre-title audience wink-wink, nudge-nudge moment from the villain of the week.

The Wire: Are you sitting comfortably? Now. We begin.

The Companion

Ben: Rose is looking quite lovely in the beginning of this episode. I can almost forgive her for calling the Doctor ‘daddio’. Even typing the word makes me shudder.

Maureen: Billie is always gorgeous anyway. But also, I liked the ‘daddio.’ Rose minus other companions just works so much better with The Doctor and you can tell Billie Piper is having the time of her acting life.

Ben: I must sound like a broken record by this point, but Rose gets to actually participate in things this episode! At least until she gets her face sucked off. I particularly liked the Union Jack/Flag bit, and not just because that was a piece of trivia I didn’t know. And! She gets to do some proper detective work of her own! Beginning with spotting the weird electricity coming from the TV, she traces it back to its source and finds out what’s happening before The Doctor! She was quite the interrogator, getting in Mr Magpie’s face like that. It’s a shame that that was the extent of Rose’s contribution until the end of the episode. But on the bright side, her fridging was only temporary?

Maureen: This episode reminded me quite a bit of one of Mark Gatiss’ contributions to Big Finish in the Eighth Doctor range, actually. The 1920s alien invasion story with Orson Welles one. We had detectives, we had interesting companion adventure, we had conspiracy, we had villains manipulating a major human point in history. Compared to previous episodes too, I agree Rose got to do so much more and use her intellect to get to the bottom of the mystery. I didn’t mind the Rose face-wipe as such, though I do think the denouement of the episode was rushed, and the story would have benefited from being a two-parter.

Ben: I wasn’t particularly happy with the advice Rose gave to Tommy at the end of the episode either. Years of abuse shouldn’t be that easy to forget. But I guess they had to have a happy ending for everyone involved.

Maureen: I get what you mean with this, Ben. It felt contrived after how horrible Tommy’s Dad was painted throughout the episode. Sexist AND violent. What a guy. If anything, the Tommy ending just raised more questions for me. Will Tommy grow up to be like his father, and will sustained contact encourage that negative growth, or is Tommy truly shaped by his adventure with Rose and The Doctor and will forgive his father even as he doesn’t endorse who he is?

Ben: Hmmm, from the get go the family dynamic was weird, and then you discover the Dad’s such a piece of work. Eddie is a slimy abusive son-of-a-bitch. Poor Rita is the down-trodden housewife, and their son Tommy rounds out the family. Tommy is trying to do the best he can, considering the circumstances. The actor who played Eddie was actually very good, from the look he gives when his wife starts opening up to The Doctor, to the overwhelming guilt on his face when Tommy is talking about how the police are showing up to take people away and no one knows how they know. This episode was much subtler than the cybermen episodes before it, where everything was big and loud. The line about beating the mummy’s boy out of Tommy was particularly horrific, though. Anyway, it comes as no surprise that Eddy has been ratting everyone out to maintain his reputation and position. Masculinity can be so fragile. It all happened rather quick with Rita kicking her out, perhaps it would have been better stretched across two episodes. Things get a bit more blunt towards the end with the family, with Rita talking about how the Coronation is just the thing to make you forget all your troubles.

Maureen: I actually think that the family drama was the most interesting part of The Idiot’s Lantern. What a disturbing portrait of misogyny and patriotism and cowardice! I agree with Ben that the guy playing Eddie was phenomenal. The alien story of the week wasn’t that interesting in comparison once The Wire’s real intent was revealed.

The Doctor

Ben: Once again, the Doctor demonstrates he never passed his driving test (you will note he ignores the question when Rose asks him that after their little car chase). Landing in London instead of New York is quite a remarkable miss.

Maureen: I’d forgotten how much The Doctor being a bad driver was an on-going New Who joke. I thought the River comments came from Eleven, but now I can really see how that quip was set-up over time. Ten might be a new version of The Doctor, but some things just never change.

Ben: I did like the Doctor’s immediate assessment and subsequent take down of Eddie. In previous episodes, writers have been quite happy to partake in some bullying, fat shaming, and other general nastiness. It’s nice to see they’ve drawn the line somewhere. It’s a shame the Doctor’s bamboozling doesn’t last for long, as Eddie is back to his old ways as soon as he sees the power dynamic inside the house shift away from him and retaliates by knocking The Doctor out.

Maureen: I enjoyed that Rose and Ten bounce off each other in their Eddie put-down. They really lull him into a false sense of calm and then let the insults fly!

Eddie: Don’t mind the wife. She rattles a bit.
Ten: Maybe she should rattle more.

Ten: Do you suggest The Queen does the housework?

Eddie: I am talking.
Ten: And I’m not listening.

Ben: At least The Doctor gets a peek at old Gran before he gets knocked out. And then, after a slightly more successful car chase, he finds out there’s plenty more where Gran came from! The atmosphere in these scenes was spooky, with the faceless people looming ominously around the Doctor. It reminded me a lot of the mannequins from the first episode of New Who.

Maureen: I found it hilarious that The Doctor told Rose to hurry up and follow him, before promptly jumping on his motorbike and leaving her in the dust. My favourite part of the episode was actually Rose telling Eddie, ‘only an idiot hangs a Union Jack upside down,’ before dashing away with a manic grin to have her own adventure. The way The Doctor made zero sense to both Ben and I which did pull the episode’s score quite a way down from what it could have been. A real shame and brings us to …

The Alien of the Week

Ben: An electric alien that can live in tvs and eat peoples faces is a weird concept, that’s for sure! And The Wire gives a good villain speech too! The name ‘the wire’ is a bit dumb, though.

Maureen: I found The Wire to be the weakest part of this episode by far. She transitioned from scary to cheesy quite a few times throughout the episode. For example, the constant ‘feed me’s’ felt OTT, but some of her lines like, ‘goodnight children. Everywhere,’ were genuinely frightening. Then, her back story felt tacked on. I get she was an exile and was trying to win a safe place for herself, but her plan was so villainous I just didn’t sympathize with her at all. The Wire is another reason I think a two-parter would have worked better for this story.

Ben: The reveal of Gran was quite terrifying at least, with faceless Gran bumping around in the attic. I guess this is supposed to be a literal interpretation of the ‘tv makes you brainless’ speech Gran gave in the pre-title sequence.

Maureen: Yes, I found the faceless people sub-plot quite touching and sad. Rose mouthing in the TV, helpless, was brutal. It was The Wire herself who didn’t work for me.

Ben: I didn’t understand how she was defeated at all. If she feeds on the electrical power of the brain, why steal human faces? Or is that just an unfortunate side effect of the feeding process? Also, are millions and millions of people just going to forget the whole faces being sucked into their tv sets during the coronation? People seemed to brush it off remarkably quickly. I have to say, being taped over as your mode of demise was a pretty fitting end to what was at best, a very one note villain.

Maureen: The last ten minutes were really where the episode came unstuck for me. I can cope with one-note villains when there’s so much character drama to admire, but The Doctor’s solution simply confused me. Mr Magpie and Ten climbing the transmission tower was a rather mad-cap and dangerous solution from The Doctor and I’m not sure how The Wire generated the electricity to kill Magpie. As for the VCR hand-wave … my only comment was, ‘wait. what?’

Final Thoughts

Ben: This episode wasn’t amazing, brilliant Doctor Who, but it was better than the Cybermen double feature at least. The episode starts of incredibly strong, and then loses steam as it goes. There were a few wasted scenes, or scenes that went on longer than strictly necessary. But the music was a lot better than last week, and on the whole it was a more enjoyable episode. I just wish Gatiss had had time to flesh everyone out a bit more and then this could have been a good horror themed two-parter. I’m going to give The Idiot’s Lantern 5/10.

Maureen: I feel kind of bad for our scores always matching up, but we really do view New Who in a similar way most of the time. I second everything you say. A two-parter would have turned this episode from ordinary to extraordinary. A second script look-in re The Wire would have helped too. Still, I enjoyed the character drama a lot. 5/10 inky stars.

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Doctor Who Re-watch: Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel

Oh, man. Warning to all: I loved this two-parter as a teen when the show first aired, but oh my how the suck fairy visited this two-parter in Ben’s and my re-watch. I was so disappointed by how much I disliked this. On the plus side, I hated Idiot’s Lantern back in the day, and compared to this two-parter, it seemed decent so um … maybe tune back in next week if you are keen for more positive who review love. Anyway, read on if you want to share our pain??? This is a hate watch.

rise of cybermen
Can you tell I’m an evil, mad villain?

The Opening Titles

Ben: The first episode’s pre-title sequence was hammy. It gave me strong ‘overacting villain from a James Bond movie’ vibes. The John Lumic character was chewing the scenery something awful, and I found the music to be very obtrusive. I know that music is used to help encourage the right emotional reaction out of the audience, but I feel like it was being used like a blunt weapon in this instance. The pre-title sequence for Age of Steel was, as usual for multi episode arcs, a recap. And honestly, a much better telling of the events of the previous episode than the episode itself.

Maureen: I have to agree with you, Ben. My only notebook comment re Lumic beyond how irritatingly over-the-top his voice and acting is, was this is an unfortunate representation of disability. But also, it occurred to me later that the cybermen info dump was kinda stupid. Wouldn’t suspense have been so much better if the audience hadn’t known about cybermen involvement till Jackie Tyler? I feel like all the surprise in the episode was undone by the opening sequence.

The Companion/s

Ben: After liking Rose so much last episode, I was disappointed to see she’s back on the treating Mickey like dirt bandwagon.

Maureen: I give up on Rose. She’s a bloody awful companion. Poor Billie Piper getting stuck with her. The Rose/Ten dynamic completely doesn’t work whenever a third party is involved because the writers use this as an excuse for constant bickering, bitchiness and ugly jealousies. It’s sexist. It’s annoying. Stop it, show. God, I’m glad Mickey got a backbone this episode and walked for real. Rose deserved it.

Ben: In AU Britain, Rose wants to go and see her parents, and the Doctor whinges about that without giving a good explanation for why the hell not (in my opinion, at least).

Maureen: Nope. I’m with you, Ben. The whole time Ten whinged I was like, what? Shut-up.

Ben: I mean, Nine agreed to let Rose go into her past and see her real dad before he died, so what’s the harm in Rose visiting her parents in this alternative universe? She doesn’t exist in this universe, after all. Hell, if getting involved in parallel universes is such a big no-no, why did he let Mickey stay at the end of Age of Steel? But at least Rose got to have another awkward one sided flirty conversation with her dad at the party plus another rather unpleasant one with her mum, right?

Maureen: I was really disappointed in the Rose/Pete interactions. Father’s Day set-up a nice dynamic that felt squicky this time around. We get it. Everyone crushes on Rose. Even her Dad.

Ben: I don’t know if we were supposed to like Jackie in this, but I felt nothing for her. She’s supposed to be some fancy rich lady, but her dress doesn’t even fit properly! And she’s just nasty to everyone! You really see her true colours in the exchange she has with Rose at her party. I get that she’s feeling vulnerable because her and Pete have separated, but that was just nasty. So it wasn’t exactly an emotional blow when we discover she’s been turned into a cyberman in Age of Steel.

Maureen: Yeah, I’m not sure what was going on with Jackie in this either. I mean, generally speaking I’m not mad keen on Jackie Tyler, but at least in the real world she has some redeeming qualities. Unless the idea is that she is a nicer person because she brought up human Rose in the real world? Because, ya know, Rose is perfect and without her everyone on this show is incomplete /sarcasm.

Ben: Rose’s Dad is just as bad, but in different ways. He’s a bit of a wet rag, really. The revelation that he was feeding information to the rebels just fell so flat! I don’t know if it’s the writing or the direction in these episodes, but so many of the scenes just felt off. Then poor Mickey was treated like dirt through the entirety of these two episodes.

Maureen: I know right? From the get go Rose and Ten being arseholes to Mickey set my teeth on edge. I thought the Rose/Ten banter was cute too … till I realised it was at Mickey’s expense. And I hated all the times The Doctor got all worried about Rose, but said outright he didn’t have time to care about Mickey. Jaysus. No wonder Mickey went off to do his own thing!

Ben: Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, but Rose’s description of his grandmother as this amazing woman who used to slap him as a boy was uncomfortable.

Maureen: Yeah, what was with that? Rose laughing about it just made me hate her in this two-parter even more than I’d been hating on her previously. Haha domestic abuse. Haha Mickey deserves it. Fuck off, Rose.

Ben: I guess Grandma’s the only family he has left, but … it definitely explains why Mickey puts up with Rose and The Doctor for so long and is kind of disturbing to boot. In another episode this scene might have been touching, but instead it just felt awkward. The music was loud and emotional, Mickey was getting slapped around, and then his grandma treats us to a trope filled information dump. But hey, at least Mickey has some cool new friends now? Who then immediately treat us to another info dump. And then we get to one of the worst parts of these episodes – Mickey and Rickey. I don’t know what it is, Mickey’s actor usually does a fine job, but as soon as Rickey and Mickey are on the screen together it all goes to crap. I found all the scenes with the two of them just awkward. Ricky was just as badly overacted as the villains, in my opinion. And considering his failed rescue of Rose, Pete and The Doctor he’s just about as useful as Mickey too (the most wanted man in London due to unpaid parking tickets). Happily, Ricky is killed off at the start of Age of Steel and Mickey discovers his courage. Mickey gets a proper redemption with the last half hour of this episode – hacking computers, flying zeppelins and generally being a bad ass who’s saving the day. Onwards and upwards, Mickey!

Maureen: For me, Mickey was the saving grace of this dismal two-parter! I wish Noel Clarke had been given a real chance with this character. I think he was pretty shabbily treated by the show.

The Doctor

Maureen: My opinion of The Doctor in this two-parter is pretty basic. Fuck him. Fuck him and the unicorn he rode in on. Fuck him and his Mickey insults. Fuck him and his obsessive Rose protectionism. Fuck him and his sanctimonious lectures to all and sundry. And especially fuck him in the moment when he makes Mickey hold a TARDIS lever and doesn’t tell him to let go, then laughs at Mickey. What a bully.

Ben: Yeah, right off the bat the Doctor is bullying Mickey again. I thought we’d gotten over this stupidity, but no. And then suddenly the TARDIS is dead. This scene felt really weird, the music was loud, and the acting just felt off. And that was just the beginning. Time and time again I had issues with The Doctor in these episodes; he was bossy to Rose, mean to Mickey, and his use of technobabble was especially egregious. All the explanations around the TARDIS and their getting in and out of this parallel universe were dumb. On the bright side, Rose and the Doctor get to go undercover at Jackie’s party, and The Doctor does look rather fetching in a tux. An episode high point.

Maureen: Well, until the next dick move on The Doctor’s part. The Doctor laughing at dog Rose was just the next dick move in a long line of dick moves.

Ben: I didn’t really understand the point of the scene in the tunnels with Angela Price/Mrs Moore. In retrospect, it feels like the only reason we got a proper introduction to her – family, history, motives – was so that her death would have an impact when she was no longer useful to the story.

Maureen: Urgh yes. She was the only interesting character in the whole damn story so of course she had to die (though maybe I only warmed to her coz her name matches Angela Lansbury’s in Bedknobs and Broomsticks). I can spot the trope a mile off and I predicted she would die as soon as she got a back-story.

Ben: I also thoroughly did not enjoy The Doctor’s encounter with Lumic. His speech was very much holier-than-thou. And speaking of ridiculous technological explain-aways, having this advanced mechanical system compatible with Rose’s old flip phone is a level of ridiculous and dumb I don’t even have the words for …

The Alien of the Week

Ben: I didn’t like Mr Lumic as a villain. He felt like a caricature of every Bond villain ever. Is he completely insane? Check. Does he have a dastardly plan to take over the world? Check. Is he good for a dramatic speech and presentation at the drop of a hat? Check. I even had issues with his motive. Clearly the man is physically unwell, so this is a way to extend his life beyond the failings of mortal flesh. But beyond that we didn’t get any exploration of his motives. Similarly, Mr Crane (the Alfred to his John Wayne) was about as stereotypical a British butler as you can get. Of course, we don’t find out anything about his reasons for aligning with Mr Lumic, he is just The Help after all. The arc involving his whole sudden-but-inevitable betrayal of Mr Lumic was, to me, disappointing. Were we to believe that Mr Crane was fine with picking up transients off the street and turning them into cybermen against their will (that scene was also at least 17 different kinds of bad, and then he seemed to thoroughly enjoy putting the newly subservient men through their paces a few scenes later?), knew the fine details of Mr Lumic’s schemes, and that was the best assassination attempt he could muster? Plus it was a dramatic change of mindset from a man who used a song from The Lion King to drown out the sounds of men being torturously transformed into cybermen earlier on. He didn’t even get to give a speech about what Mr Lumic doing was wrong! And again, I constantly found the music obtrusive and distracting.

Maureen: Damn Ben! You just said everything I was gonna say. I’m just gonna pour a glass, sit back and enjoy the hate watch ride … ps: I agree, The Lion Sleeps Tonight scene was shark jumping of the highest order.

Ben: Moving on, the scene where The Doctor and Rose were in the crowd of people as they got their daily download was pretty creepy – everyone frozen in unison, then laughing in unison was creepy. But that is maybe the one good scene in these two episodes.

Maureen: The darkness of this scene reminded me a little of the hive mind suicide jumpers in The Christmas Invasion. Also, this was the only time I actually woke up and started paying attention.

Ben: Alas, after that it was all downhill when it came to scenes involving Mr Lumic’s technology. The revolving arms of blades and general horror that turned people into cybermen was just incredibly stupid. It’s the kind of thing that would be played for laughs in a Scary Movie or something similar. And I really didn’t find the cybermen scary when they were properly introduced at the end of Rise of the Cybermen, their repeated exclamations of “delete! Delete!” just made me feel like they were budget Daleks.

And, just like a James Bond villain, these cybermen have a fatal weakness. Of course the emotional inhibitor would be easily accessible and easy to disable. And of course disabling the emotional inhibitor will make all the cybermen go insane and kill themselves. That’s not a fatal design flaw at all. Speaking of design flaws, Mr Lumic’s final cyber form is what you see when you look up overkill in the dictionary. Anyways, due to some enraging uses of technology the cybermen met a fiery, self destructive end, and I can pretend it never happened.

Maureen: How noisy was that ending? I wrote, ‘what a fire and brimstone ending.’ I was beginning to want to stab my own eyeballs out. But then the episode ended. Thank God.

Final Thoughts

Ben: Look, I hated it. I hated all of it. There were very few redeeming moments, the music was really distracting, Mickey was being treated like crap, there was an over-reliance on technobabble to explain away plot points, and I wasn’t invested in any of the characters or their arcs. Maybe in an alternative universe this episode would have been received better, but I’m giving this Cyberman story a 0/10.

Maureen: At first I came over all nostalgic and was all well Mickey got out of this cluster fuck so I should award a point, but nope. No, I cannot. Because even Mickey’s exit was over the top and a bit shit. Like I’m glad he left, but gosh this wasn’t a well acted or produced episode in which to go out with a bang. Also, I loathe Ten and Rose and want them to fall into a black hole and stay there. I don’t give a damn about Pete or Jackie Tyler. I certainly didn’t give a damn about the two-dimensional cardboard cut-out big bad of the week and his cybermen, toothless pets. 0/10 inky stars

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Doctor Who Re-watch: The Girl in the Fireplace

The second Moffat story for New Who! In which all of his later series themes are laid out for us. Plus bonus The Time Traveller’s Wife riff, a great historical fiction revisionist slant on Madame de Pompadour and the chick who played Beth in Spooks. What’s not to love?

the girl in the fireplace

Image by Tom Newsom (I think).

The pre-title sequence

Maureen: Wow this episode is visually beautiful. Versailles, France, is wonderfully brought to life and we’re back into horror fairy story territory with Reinette telling us her clock on the mantle is broken as she calls for help from The Doctor.

Ben: This episode really opens with a bang doesn’t it! We get screams, panic, talk of love, duty, and a beautiful woman pleading for The Doctor to come and save the day! You gotta hand it to him, Moffat sure knows how to write an intro.

Maureen: Yes, I’ve always admired Moffat for his combination of rug-pulling against expectation and intriguing hooks to his episode openings.

The Companion/s

Ben: Rose and Mickey are definitely on the backburner this episode, but you can really see the formings of Rory and Amy in their pairing. Or at least, Rose and Mickey gave me strong Amy and Rory vibes.

Maureen: I’ll talk about this again later, but I definitely see The Girl in the Fireplace as Moffat’s thesis for his entire approach to New Who. Having said that, I didn’t get an Amy/Rory vibe from Rose/Mickey so much as I got a Reinette being the precurser to Amy vibe. Reinette waits many times for The Doctor, just as Amy did with, ‘you said five minutes.’ I wonder if anyone has written the Reinette/Amy fan fic. I’m there! There are elements of River Song’s relationship with The Doctor in Reinette too. Both pairings love is doomed to tragedy. And the fairy story visuals are here too. But back to Ben …

Ben: I love Rose’s makeup and hair this episode.

Maureen: I liked Rose and Mickey toting guns around.

Ben: I also loved Mickey’s shock that the TARDIS can even translate French.

Maureen: I love Mickey’s TARDIS joy.

Mickey: I got a spaceship on my first go.
Rose: Mickey Smith. Meet the universe.

Ben: Rose and Mickey are really good together, quietly exploring the ship, even if they do find some pretty horrible facts out. And Rose get’s to do something of substance! Her scene with Reinette was particularly sweet. If anyone can relate to what Reinette is going through, it’s Rose.

Reinette: I’m very afraid, but you and I both know Rose … The Doctor is worth the monsters.

Maureen: I liked that we got a Series One Rose this time around too who knows to ask the pertinent question/s. This time, why the aliens want Reinette in particular.

Ben: Onwards to Reinette who really is at this episode’s heart as a companion who never was. The inquisitive child was a great way to introduce this character, in my opinion. Kids and the Doctor in general do well. They can accept things that shouldn’t be much better than adults can. The child actress playing her did a pretty good job, and was suitably terrified at the monster The Doctor found under her bed.

Maureen: Talk about an The Eleventh Hour parallel. Instead of a crack in a child’s wall, it’s a clockwork creature.

Ben: Yep, next time we meet Reinette she’s an adult.

Maureen: Yep, just like Amy …

Ben: And boy does she know how to sweep a Doctor off her feet. What a brain she has too! You can practically see the sparks flying between the two as she steals a kiss from The Doctor. And then we find out her true identity! Madame de Pompadour, future Mistress to the King of France and all around overachiever. It’s hard to imagine who would be the more formidable in that pairing.

Maureen: I’d love some Big Finish spin-off, but what if Reinette met River Song? Also, I googled Madame de Pompadour after viewing this episode and what an interesting woman in real life!

Ben: We get to see snippets of Reinette’s life like her strolling through some magnificent gardens and such. Then, the clockwork robots made another appearance, and we get some more information: the clockwork robots need her, specifically her 37 year old brain, to repair their ship. The Doctor looks through her memories to try and find the answer, and in doing so opens the door for Reinette to look through The Doctor’s memories.

Reinette: Such a lonely boy. Lonely then and lonely now. Dance with me … Doctor who? It’s more than just a secret.

Maureen: I may have killed this episode a little by re-watching it so very much, but it has some beautiful scenes and quotes and the one you mention Ben, was definitely one of them. The scene also reveals another Moffat interest, the real identity of The Doctor and the metaphor of his name. It became a central theme in Series Six and Seven under Moffat. I also loved the throwback to Series One and The Doctor Dances with:

Ten: What did you see?
Reinette: That there comes a time, Time Lord, when every little boy must learn to dance.

I don’t think she was talking just dancing, either!

Ben: At the final clockwork confrontation, Reinette is as fiery as ever, commanding silence of her audience.

Reinette (to the crowd of panicking noblemen and women): Kindly remember that this is Versailles and we are French.

The Doctor saves the day magnificently, but then Reinette goes and saves The Doctor! What an excellent twist.

Maureen: Yes. There was such quiet beauty in Reinette when she tells Ten:

Reinette: So here you are. My lonely angel. Stuck on the slow path with me.

Even now she knows he has a way out and she loves him too much to stop him from going.

Ben: She really is his equal, which makes me all the sadder that in the end she dies before getting to travel with The Doctor. Her final letter absolutely ripped my heart out. I’m not used to this level of tragedy from Doctor Who!

Maureen: Yes, even having viewed this episode many a time, I still felt emotional. *I’m not crying, it’s raining on my face*. And the Rose/Ten exchange killed me too.

Rose: You all right?
Ten: I’m always all right.

What a terribly sad lie!

The Doctor

Ben: The Doctor really gets into things quickly this episode! General Doctoring is dispensed with in the first few minutes, consoles are poked at and the scene is set on a spaceship AND on Versailles. And then appears our Girl in the Fireplace! I actually looked up the reference about August of 1727 and there’s nothing of significance that happened, that we know of at least. Maybe it really was just awful weather that month. Then we get to the first amazingly creepy scene of the episode, when the Doctor notices the ticking noise that shouldn’t be. This scene really reminded me of a scene or two with Mr Are You My Mummy back in season one and is really scary stuff. I loved the quick exchange he and Reinette had before the end of the scene. She might have nightmares with monsters in them, but monsters have nightmares with him in them. That’s the kind of imaginary friend you want as a 7 year old.

Maureen: I also found The Doctor’s response to the clockwork creature interesting. He acknowledges its alien beauty even as some of Nine’s anger shines through, showing that Moffat at least, hasn’t forgotten about The Doctor’s bitter past.

Ten: You’re beautiful. I mean it. You’re gorgeous. It would be a crime to dissemble you, but that won’t stop me.

And then I just loved the scene after The Doctor and Reinette ‘danced’ where Rose and Mickey are surrounded by clockwork aliens with Rose about to get sliced up and a drunk Doctor turns up going on about inventing banana daiquiris early and defeating the clockwork alien by pouring wine into its parts. This version of Ten is one I can really get behind!

Ben: It’s not often the Doctor encounters someone who can hold their own against him and really sweep him off his feet in that way. The measures The Doctor goes to to save Reinette’s life are, I think, a testament to the feelings The Doctor has for her, even though he’s only known her for half an hour. Plus his smarmy “oh yeah? Well I’m the lord of Time” response when introduced to the King of France said a lot. Anywho, breaking the time window was a hell of a way to defeat the clockwork robots, but it came at a cost – there’s no way back. Plus, Rose and Mickey are stuck on the ship, unable to fly the TARDIS without him. Whoops.

Maureen: I personally found Ten riding a horse through a wall into the royal court of Versailles a bit full on, but having said that, it was a bombastic and brash moment that had probably been earnt by the quality of the rest of the episode. I loved The Doctor’s manic expressions as he realised Reinette’s fireplace could return him to his TARDIS and it’s telling that he’d forgotten all about his relationship with Rose in the presence of Reinette.

Ten: Pick a star. Any star.

Alas, he came back for Reinette too late. Time was the boss of him and he’d just missed her death carriage. Ten’s expression as he read Reinette’s letter was truly sad. All of that guilt and loneliness and love was locked up tight, and not even Rose could get Ten to confide in her of his secret pain.

The Alien of the Week

Ben: Clockwork robots! What an excellent concept. The French costumes just add to their terror, quite frankly. And then we get to the real horror when we discover the ship The Doctor and his crew are on is running on human body parts mixed with machinery! A human eye in a surveillance camera, a human heart in the midst of some circuitry. And then the central mystery: why has this spaceship 3000 years in the future punched so many holes in space and time to follow the life of Madame de Pompadour? The grand reveal? The spaceship was damaged, these clockwork robots are repairbots and they used the crew to repair the ship. And Reinette is the last part!

Maureen: In RTD era Who, Moffat doesn’t do straight evil villains. In his Series One two-parter, the aliens were also repairbots of a kind, albeit little microbes that healed all they came in contact with even if their understanding of what was and wasn’t healthy was impaired. Similarly, the clockwork aliens are just trying to make sure their spaceship continues on. Programmed to repair, when they ran out of parts they had to make do with what materials they had available to them … too bad that was their human crew.

Ben: The clockwork aliens meet something of an ignoble end, separated from their ship with no way to wind up their gears again. Scary as they were, it’s hard not to feel sorry for them in the end. And that final moment of the episode when the camera zooms out and you see the name of the ship? The Madame de Pompadour? Why, that’s the cherry on the top of this episode. In the end, just as the clockwork robots had claimed all along, Reinette and the robots were indeed linked.

Maureen: Yes, that was such a clever touch! The ship was named Madame de Pompadour so for fix-it alien types, it made sense that they thought Reinette’s brain could re-boot the ship.

Final Thoughts

Ben: This episode was both wondrous and wondrously sad by the end. Moffat really is incomparable in writing these standalone episodes. This combination of whimsy and horror with a little dash of steampunk is exactly the kind of episode I love from Doctor Who. It’s about as close to a perfect episode as you can get, in my opinion. I’m giving it a 10/10.

Maureen: I’ve re-watched this episode more times than I can count and as a result, its lustre has worn off a little over time. It’s probably my least favourite Moffat episode of RTD era Who. Which given how good his other episodes are, isn’t saying much. I kept teetering between a 9 and a 10, but if I’m honest, this is a pretty wonderful Who episode and the first time someone saw it, I can really see how they’d be blown away. I’m sitting with 10/10 inky stars for now.

Posted in Doctor Who, Genre: Allegory/Fable, Genre: Horror, Genre: Science Fiction, Genre: Speculative Fiction, Genre: Steampunk, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor Who Re-watch: School Reunion

YAY!!! THE SARAH-JANE SMITH MEETS BUFFY GILES EPISODE. IN A SCHOOL. I wonder where Clara and Class got it from? Also, K9. Oh, and Mickey and Rose are somewhere in the episode. Don’t forget them!

school reunion

The Pre-title Sequence

Ben: It’s what’s his face from BBC Merlin! Oh, and Buffy too, I guess. I found this title sequence to be pretty standard fare. It gives you a good idea of what to expect from the episode – a school setting, an evil principal, and The Doctor as a teacher!

Ten: Good morning, class. Are we sitting comfortably?

Maureen: A third wall audience shout-out if ever I heard one! I quite enjoyed The Doctor wearing glasses and teaching kids in suitable frenetic style. I wonder if Clara teaching Jane Austin in the Capaldi era was influenced by this episode?

Giles was seriously ominous.

Mr Finch (upon discovering the student outside his office was an orphan): No one to miss you. You poor child… thing… child.

The Companion/s

Ben: Miserable lunch lady Rose amused me greatly, particularly considering how poorly she treats Sarah-Jane later on in the episode. It’s like karma in advance. Although I do appreciate she got to do some investigating of her own.

Maureen: I thought it was also ironic that Rose escaped a life of chip eating and shitty retail jobs to travel with The Doctor, but in this adventure mundanity still catches her up. At least, Rose figures out something is suss with the chips… especially after a lunch lady is doused in it and an ambulance isn’t called as she screams and screams behind closed blinds! This whole episode reminded me very much of the TV show, Goosebumps, in terms of the ‘horror that’s relatable to young people’ fare. Young, nerdy Miles blowing up the school and the aliens to cheers from his classmates is one such example.

Anyway, Rose was fine to start with this episode, but her jealous swipes at Sarah-Jane over her past relationship with The Doctor can go die in a deep vat of spitting hot oil. Now I’m no longer a teen, Rose’s behavior isn’t relatable. It’s bitchy, needy and shows she defines herself through her romantic and sexual relationships with men. Her digs at other women can fuck right on off. Give it a rest already, RTD!

Ben: Yes, I agree. I understand there’s going to be some turbulence in having an old companion meet a current companion, but this whole ex-girlfriend meeting the new girlfriend-esque bickering is just immature.

Maureen: It’s sexist, thoughtless writing and it can go die in a hole. I suspect the only reason such scenes were includes in School Reunion were to reinforce to the viewer how important and special Rose is and how her and Ten have twu-love to move mountains or some such shit. I was relieved when Sarah-Jane and Rose finally bonded towards the end of the episode, even if their bonding was still in relation to The Doctor.

Ben: Onwards! Poor Mickey is still far too attached to Rose. His realisation that he’s basically the K9 of the Ten/Rose/Mickey trio was apt, considering he ends up being about as useful as K9. And K9 doesn’t make snide remarks about how Rose should lay off the chips if she wants to keep The Doctor…

Maureen: Yeah, that was a low moment from Mickey. Every time he redeems himself, he does or says something petty and jealous to try and win Rose back. Unappealing! Ten and Mickey arguing about Mickey being afraid of dead rats echoed the bickering of Sarah-Jane and Rose and was just as irritating. Stop trying to one-up each other, folks! It’s turning into Doctor Who Eastenders!

Ben: Now, having not watched any of Classic Who I’m not at all familiar with the character of Sarah-Jane Smith, but from the moment she laid eyes on the TARDIS I was invested. The emotional journey she goes through this episode is compelling, to say the least.

Maureen: I’d seen bits of Baker/Sarah-Jane here and there. Sarah-Jane reminded me in this episode of Harriet Jones in how she goes undercover as a journalist to dig up an alien plot. I enjoyed her spunk. When she realises Ten is a Doctor you feel her unresolved trauma and pain.

Sarah-Jane: I waited for you and I thought you’d died. You didn’t come back… did I do something wrong coz you just dumped me? You were my life.

Aside: echoes of Amy Pond? But this speech serves to remind the viewer of the alien danger of The Doctor. He’s alluring, yes, but time marches on and so must he. He ditches Sarah-Jane for Aberdeen, Scotland and doesn’t mention her again (or at least he hasn’t to Rose).

Ben: This reunion has re-opened some old and deep wounds. And this is something we’ve seen before, with The Doctor leaving mess after mess behind after he’s done saving the day. The Doctor really isn’t that great at follow ups. At least Sarah Jane gets the ending she deserves from the start – finally she can move on with her life. She is offered the chance to travel with The Doctor, but instead she’s going to start living for herself.

Maureen: I wasn’t a fan of the ending’s implication that Sarah-Jane is this sexless, love-lorn Doctor fan-girl, but I liked that she said no to further TARDIS travel and like Martha and later Amy decided to stop waiting.

The Doctor

Ben: My first impression of this episode is that if I hear The Doctor say the word ‘physics’ again it’ll be too soon. The second impression I got was how creepy kids who know things they shouldn’t are. Answering physics questions in a deadpan voice is not quite ‘twins playing in a hotel corridor’ levels of creepy, but it’s up there. And then Sarah-Jane Smith comes along and sweeps The Doctor off his feet! It’s not often we get to see The Doctor dumbfounded, but it was well worth it. Their second meeting was just as emotionally charged, but this time they’re on equal footing; this John Smith really is /her/ John smith.

Maureen: This episode showed the beginning of Ten’s real descent into the last of the Time Lord’s lonely God damage. Take this conversation between him and Rose:

Rose Tyler: I’ve been to the year five million, but this, this is really seeing the future- you just leave us behind! Is that what you’re going to do to me?
The Doctor: No. Not you.
Rose Tyler: But, Sarah Jane- you were that close to her once, and now… you never even mention her. Why not?
The Doctor: I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone you…
Rose Tyler: What, Doctor?
The Doctor: You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That’s the curse of the Timelords.

It makes one wonder what The Doctor would have done with Rose had the Series Two finale not happened!

Ben: The Doctor’s confrontation with the leader of the Krillitane, Mr Finch, was quite charged, and then he gives The Doctor the chance to join with him! I guess with the power of this God Maker plus a Time Lord they’ll be able to rule the universe or something.

Maureen: Yeah, I was pretty confused at Mr Finch’s motivations at this point too. My notebook simply says, ‘huh? O.K.’ On the plus side, Anthony Head was great as Mr Finch and delivered his lines so beautifully I didn’t care I couldn’t figure his character out.

Mr Finch: Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence.
Ten: I used to have so much mercy.

Ben: Luckily Sarah-Jane has wise words of wisdom to say about how everything has to move on, and that pain and suffering is part of existing, and The Doctor snaps out of his daydream and smashes a tv screen.

Sarah-Jane: No. The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world, or a relationship… Everything has its time. And everything ends.

It’s all very dramatic and doesn’t make much sense. I’m not entirely sure what this episode was trying to focus on? I definitely think it was a case of biting off more than they can chew. Why not focus on The Doctor struggling with the idea of being in control of this God Maker code? Now that would have been an interesting episode. Anyways this episode ends with the Doctor finally saying a proper goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith and presenting her with a new and improved K9. Shame he didn’t change the voice too. To say K9’s voice grates on the ears is an understatement.

The Alien of the Week

Ben: Even though you know the principal is up to No Good, we’re left with more questions than answers for the first chunk of School Reunion. E.g. Surely you’d find a more secure way to transport a mysterious dangerous substance than a rickety old trolley; why the obsession with the chips? And finally, why are kids frantically mashing keyboards whilst staring blankly at creepy green screens while dramatic music plays in the background? Oh, and why are the kids freakishly smart, I guess.

Maureen: I thought the freakishly smart thing was explained! It was because of what was in the lunch chips! And the kids were mashing keyboards to break the Skasis Paradigm. Because aliens had reasons?

Ben: After some creepy night-time investigating the gang discovers that these mysterious aliens are in fact Krillitanes – an alien race that takes on traits of races they conquer. And they’re doing something to the children in the school! Other than eating them, as we saw in the intro. I had a couple of issues with the evil plot these Krillitane have come up with, particularly how well integrated the Principal is after being on Earth for all of three months? He knows about orphanages and the Sunday Times, and how to successfully make small talk with a journalist. Their nefarious scheme to crack the Skasis Paradigm – the God Maker – didn’t really make sense to me. How exactly are these schoolkids cracking it? All it looks like they’re doing is mashing their keyboards while a weird green screen of technobabble flashes in front of them. Plus, I take issue with the fact that they need kids to do it because they need their imagination. Plenty of adults have great imaginations and pure souls, or whatever else the Doctor thinks they need. And if it was such an easy thing to crack, this code to the universe, surely the Time Lords would have done it ages ago.

Maureen: The Skasis Paradigm thing was so much what?!? A mcguffin if ever I watched one!

Ben: Anyways, the way they’re defeated is very Superman and kryptonite – the aliens have changed their own physiology so much that oil native to their planet is now toxic to them. Sure. And for some reason they explode so violently upon contact with this oil the schoolkids think the school has been blown up and celebrate. It’s a very strange ending.

Maureen: It was a very noisy ending that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, that’s for sure!

Final Thoughts

Ben: Overall, this was a very average episode of Doctor Who. I loved Sarah Jane Smith’s arc, I hated the frenetic keyboard smashing the kids did when they were hacking the universe. But overall it was just a bit too… vague for me. It felt like they came up with the idea of wanting a Sarah Jane episode and then shoehorned the rest to fit. I dunno, maybe the script needed another round of refinement. And less K9. I liked a lot of individual ideas in this episode, but the coming together left a lot to be desired. I’m giving it a 5/10.

Maureen: The overall episode tone reminded me of another RTD penned script in a crime show called Touching Evil. The elements just didn’t come together and whether intentional or otherwise, hints of nastiness bled in the script to make the episode mean. I feel like the same thing happened with School Reunion. Bringing Sarah Jane back was a great idea, but RTD ran into trouble with the Ten/Rose ship and explaining Sarah Jane’s meaning to The Doctor which led to un-neccessary female to female nastiness. And I agree Mr Finch’s plan made little sense. 6/10 inky stars

Posted in Doctor Who, Genre: Horror, Genre: Science Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who Re-Watch: Tooth and Claw

Ah yes. The episode where Torchwood begins. Where Rose spends an episode trying to get Queen Victoria to say she is not amused. Where there’s werewolves and it’s 2006 when the Twilight Saga is huge! Bring it, baby!

tooth and claw

The Pre-Title Sequence

Ben: This was a bit of a different way to start an episode! Completely unlike any other episode so far in New Who, it actually reminded me a lot of BBC Merlin. I don’t think it’s explained how these identical men in orange came to be but watching them fight was pretty cool. And then we end with a mysterious unseen horror in a cage (cue the screaming, please!) It’s good stuff.

Maureen: It was very Robert Downey Jnr Sherlock Holmes, except the first film in that franchise came out 2009! Remember, Doctor Who did it first! It’s a crazy, monk-fighter-filled, out-there opening, and is the sort that can only happen on a sci-fi show like this one.

The Companion/s

Ben: My favourite episodes of Doctor Who are the ones where the companion gets to do something of importance other than look pretty and get rescued from a state of distress.

Maureen: Superficially interrupting Ben to say that I did enjoy Rose’s hair, make-up and costume this episode. It was so early 2000s, I remember the Dolly and Girlfriend magazine ‘how to’ get bleached blonde beach-scrunched hair articles that tried to teach me to get hair looking pretty similar to stars like Billie Piper in this episode.

Ben: Right, well, this episode goes right to the top because Rose gets shit done! Not only does Rose get to make jokes at the Queen’s expense, she also bonds with one of the Help and begins her own investigations.

Maureen: I swear there is a theme with Rose! She is a better companion and character in episodes where she bonds with the help! True, Rose does get kidnapped with most of the Torchwood Institute household –

Ben: Yeah, but she also questions the werewolf, learns its’ motives, and rallies the people trapped with her in an escape attempt. Her questions were intelligent, and I absolutely loved the Bad Wolf callback. The line about Rose burning like the sun, while the werewolf needs the moon is such excellent Doctor Who.

Maureen: I really liked that quote too. I got chills.

Host: Look, inside your eyes, you’ve seen it too!
Rose: Seen what?
Host: The wolf, there’s something of the wolf about you!
Rose: I don’t know what you mean.
Host: You burnt like the sun, but all I require is the moon!

Rose really showed herself to have a back-bone this episode. She literally saw The Captain ripped to shreds by the wolf in front of her eyes, and didn’t lose her head, even as we saw (curtesy of Billie’s acting chops) that Rose was upset and probably more than a wee bit traumatised.

I also quite enjoyed Rose’s interactions with Queen Victoria and The Doctor in trying to get Queen Vic to say her infamous line. Take this exchange for example:

Rose: [after meeting Queen Victoria] I wanted to hear her say, “We are not amused.” Bet you five quid I can get her to say it.
The Doctor: Taking that bet would be an abuse of my responsibilities as a traveller in time.
Rose: Ten quid?
The Doctor: Done.


Queen Victoria: And please excuse the naked girl.
Rose: Sorry.
The Doctor: She’s a feral child. I bought her for sixpence in old London Town. It’s was her or the Elephant Man, so…
Rose: Thinks he’s funny but I’m so not amused.

This is one of the few times The Tenth Doctor and Rose dynamic worked for me, and I think it was down to the light-hearted humerous tone of many of their exchanges as well as the way both helped the other to get to the bottom of the episode’s mystery and save The Queen (Rose was wearing a shirt featuring a crown, after all).

Ben: I was most amused by the presence of Queen Victoria in this episode. She had quite a sensible head on her, which is a refreshing change for characters in Doctor Who. RTD portrayed her quite well as a veritable force of nature, unfazed by the circumstances she’s found herself in. I loved the old English, and her manner of speech; the actress did a stellar job. Nothing showed this better than the speech she gives at dinner about missing her husband, and how she finds tales of the supernatural comforting for it gives her the hope of being able to contact her husband.

Maureen: I loved that speech too. I tried to get it down, but missed 90% of it. It’s not on imdb or Planet Clare either which is a real shame.

Ben: I have to say, Queen Vic handles the unexpected intrusion of the supernatural into her world like a champ. Her declaration that this world where werewolves are real is not her world is not one of denial, but defiance: declaring she’d rather die than have the werewolf bite her. Of course, in the end there’s a bit of ambiguity as to whether or not the wolf did bite her before it met its’ end, but what’s the fun in a clean ending? She does have have what I see as the most sensible response to an encounter with the Doctor: she rewards them and then banishes them, wanting nothing to do with them ever again. Her final speech to the two of them was spine tingling, and foreboding as hell! Plus she got to drop some serious truth bombs on Rose and the Doctor about their attitude to dangerous situations. This is a different Queen Victoria to the one we see at the start of the episode who welcomes tales of the supernatural. She’s seen there’s a bigger, scarier world out there, a world that Great Britain needs defending from. So, she establishes Torchwood to do just that! Harriet Jones would be proud.

Maureen: I know right!?! Harriet and Queen Vic actually have a lot in common as characters who lead Britain. Nice comparison. I loved the bit where she pulled out a gun, Sally Lockhart style, and tells her enemies, ‘the correct form of address is Your Majesty.’ It was very last-stand Harriet Jonesy. I also enjoyed her telling Rose and The Doctor off as she banished them. It was about time someone pointed out to those two they were living a suicide wish.

Queen Victoria: You may think on this also: that I am not amused. Not remotely amused. And henceforth, I banish you.
The Doctor: I’m sorry?
Queen Victoria: I have rewarded you, Sir Doctor. And now you’re exiled from this empire, never to return. I don’t know what you are, the two of you, or where you’re from. But I know that you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death. And I will not allow it. You will leave these shores and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good. And how much longer you may survive this terrible life. Now leave my world. And never return.

The Doctor

Ben: We see again in this episode that The Doctor just cannot drive the TARDIS to save his life, but on the bright side David Tennant gets to use his Scottish accent, which was excellent.

Maureen: He also got to be informed by Rose that he was a big, old punk with a hint of rockabilly which did make me snort-laugh. David Tennant did speak so fast when he spoke to Queen Vic he lost me once or twice, but it’s a minor quibble. This episode, for me, was the first time Ten felt like The Doctor. Aside: it also helped that Tennant looked kind of young and… whispers… hot this episode.

Ben: Hit the decks everyone! Inkashlings just admitted Ten is hot! Anyway, for the first half of the episode he really only does general Doctoring, asking leading questions and generally having a fun time. But once the werewolf appears the fun really starts. I loved the parallel storylines in this episode. As one party (e.g. Rose) is learning about the werewolf and it’s motives by coming face to face with it, so too is the Doctor, but in another scene with Queen Vic. This is repeated in the discovery of the mistletoe. It was a great little trick of storytelling that meant everyone got some great moments of action and reaction. But I digress, back to the story at hand! The Doctor, upon learning the story of the jewel Her Majesty carries, has his Eureka moment of the episode. However, I found his resolution was a bit dumb. Sir Robert’s father and Queen Victoria’s husband, having foreseen this day would come, cut the jewel down to use it as a prism through which to focus moonlight into a weapon to destroy the werewolf? And in the end the jewel doesn’t even fit into the telescope that’s not a telescope, the Doctor just throws it into the moonlight the telescope has beamed onto the floor? And the jewel somehow focuses such a strong beam of moonlight that it physically pushes the werewolf up against the wall? And surely Prince Albert and The Doctor should have filled Queen Victoria in on this little plan of theirs, too. It’s just polite to let the person you’re using as bait in your trap know what’s going on.

Maureen: I wasn’t bothered by the silliness of the plot resolution. It was all very Hound of the Baskervilles atmostpheric and that suited me just fine. I was there for the character drama, not a sensible plot. But also, I’m a bit of a sucker for cursed jewel penny dreadful-esque stories and late night Victorian era hauntings. Finally, the resolution was very Classic era Who with everyone contributing to the werewolf’s defeat. And using books!!!

The Doctor: Books! Best weapons in the world!

The Alien/s of the Week

Ben: I loved this Doctor Who twist on the tale of the werewolf, of an alien life form that inhabits human bodies and moves between them with a bite. The scene between the human form and Rose had great tension, and I particularly enjoyed the scene at dinner of Sir Robert relaying the myth of the wolf that haunts the region. Paired with the head of the religious order doing his Latin chanting in the background it really did remind me of the scene in The Empty Child episodes with the typewriter. It’s a good horror scene, for sure.

RTD really leaned into showing how lethal this werewolf is, with the imperviousness to bullets and the way it cut through Sir Robert and his men like a hot knife through butter, the threat was very real. I did, however, find the scene in the study somewhat redundant; we already knew of the comet and the monastery from the myth Sir Robert relayed at dinner, and of the werewolf’s motives from Rose, so this confirmation felt a bit unnecessary. I had some issues with the special effects used on the werewolf, but I did appreciate they tried to go for a less-is-more approach with it killing people. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way it was defeated, but honestly the rest was so good I can mostly forgive it. Overall, I really enjoyed what they did with the werewolf, but I would have maybe liked to see a bit more about the religious order that formed up around it. Maybe something for a future episode to explore?

Maureen: I do agree with you there, Ben. I was a bit confused about the role of the monks in the story, why they’d formed and when. Otherwise, I didn’t have a problem with the werewolf SFX. It was 2006 and the less-is-more approach meant you didn’t see much of it. The scene with The Captain eaten was actually rather Penny Dreadful before Penny Dreadful existed.

Final Thoughts

Ben: I thoroughly enjoyed this romp of a Doctor Who episode. It started off strong and kept up the good work right through the episode. I enjoyed the reinvention of the myth of the werewolf, I loved Queen Victoria, and I loved that Rose and the other’s got substantial moments to themselves this episode. I had a few issues with the special effects and such, but nothing I can’t forgive. I’m giving it a 9/10.

Maureen: I loved this episode too. I mean, I am a sucker for period piece Who, but even putting that aside there was a lot to love. It was definitely an ensemble episode with some great performances from David Tennant, Billie Piper and the lady playing Queen Victoria. I’m also giving this 9/10 inky stars.

Posted in Doctor Who, Genre: Horror, Genre: Science Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor Who Re-watch: New Earth

Let us launch into the new Doctor’s Series proper with a return of an old foe, an old friend and some ‘interesting’ fan fic style script shenanigans. Again, this is one of those episodes I’ve always remembered from high school. I didn’t like it then and I like it even less now so if you want a love fest review, this post may not be for you. Don’t say I haven’t warned you dear reader choosing to read on…

Can you sense the fan fic yet?

The Pre-Title Sequence

Maureen: Ok, Ok, I may be a softie, but I never get bored of a new Doctor and companions excitement as they navigate the universe. Take this exchange:

Rose: Where are we going?
Ten: Where we’ve never ever been.

Stop right there, RTD. No further hook needed.

Ben: I liked that Mickey and Jackie got a proper goodbye from Rose in this opening! None of this vanishing for a year business again. Although Mickey is back on the loving Rose bandwagon, despite his revelation last season that Rose was bad for him.

Maureen: Ah Mickey. What a wasted companion. I’m so glad Moffat essentially fix it fic’d Mickey through Rory! I found it terribly sad that Jackie walked away from The TARDIS before Mickey did. And I know that this isn’t what RTD intended, but the shot of Ten and Rose in the TARDIS with big grins and The Doctor caressing his console made me more sad rather than exultant.

The Companion

Ben: ‘Cassandra Rose’ is the best incarnation of Rose in my opinion, but only because of Billie’s acting. The Rose at the start of the episode was just horribly sappy and making love heart eyes at the Doctor. Her makeup was full on, and her outfit was pretty booby too, definite fanfic material.

Maureen: I don’t think that the overbearing make-up and the sexy clothing is a problem. I think the issue is that RTD was trying to objectify Rose in this story line. He wanted her to be noticed as an object of lust. I mean, why else have the wet shower scene (which if you are still in doubt about the intention of this scene, also featured bonus wind behind Rose’s billowing hair like she was in a shampoo ad)? But while Rose can be an object of lust, she can’t be overtly sexual, because that detracts from her as the personification of the perfect woman Mary Sue. Perfect women are young virgins, remember? They aren’t allowed to feel sexy and wield that sexuality. Hence why so many people complained about Amy Pond. How dare a companion wear short skirts? (But this is a rant for another post… see my Doctor Who and feminism essays if you’re interested). Anyway, from the episode’s opening where The Doctor and Rose lie in apple grass, I got the impression RTD was trying too hard to force Ten/Rose down the viewer’s throats.

Ben: Really, the whole body-swapping storyline with Cassandra was pretty silly.

Maureen: Come on, it show cased some great acting from both Billie Piper and Zoe Wanamaker, but you have a point. Really the body-swapping was just another excuse to paint Rose for the viewer as someone worthy of earning The Doctor’s love. ‘Cassandra Rose’ even unbuttons Rose’s shirt to showcase Billie’s breasts to the viewer as much as to The Doctor. This actually made me start to feel uncomfortable in terms of the level of male gaze happening on screen.

Ben: Rose was surprisingly mean to Cassandra in their first meeting! I guess considering their prior encounter that makes sense.

Maureen: Yeah, but what is with the trend of Rose being bitchy to any other woman The Doctor comes across? This too is starting to make me uncomfortable. I get Rose is an immature teen, but fuck, she is really needy and jealous and yet the show still paints her as a perfect woman. Just… yuck.

The Doctor

Ben: The Doctor was, I guess, in standard Doctor form this episode? Although I’m not liking how preachy this one is. I know Nine had his moments too, but he was always banging on about how humanity can be so much better than it is. Ten is just holier-than-thou.

Maureen: It’s so weird. Sometimes Ten is great; full of wild zanyness and mad cap schemes (as in most of The Christmas Invasion) and other times he’s this annoying, sanctimonious, mansplainy brat. He was the latter this episode and more’s the pity.

Ben: The scenes with the Duke of Manhattan were pretty funny though, with his overwrought walking disclaimer of an assistant interacting with Ten. And then the foreshadowing with the Face of Boe – that he’ll impart a great secret to The Doctor at the moment of his death was intriguing. But that all ended rather disappointingly too. Boe was literally there to be foreshadow-y. Boo.

But as soon as The Doctor stops having fun wandering around and figures out The Sisters of Plentitude’s plan he gets preachy. This is the same Doctor I hated in The Christmas Invasion, who didn’t like what Harriet Jones did to protect the Earth and punished her for it.

Maureen: I couldn’t agree with you more, Ben! My note on the big reveal scene is ‘ah. Sanctimonious Doctor returns to mansplain to cat lady alien.’ That’s not to say The Sisters of Plentitude were necessarily right to create lab rat humans, but I feel like in reality, the situation was far more nuanced than The Doctor wanted to believe. I felt RTD also copped out badly by scripting that the ‘lab rats’ could understand what had been done to them. Would The Doctor still have been the big hero if they hadn’t understood a thing? Let’s move on…

Ben: Just like with Rose, Cassandra taking over The Doctor’s body was pure fanfic material. Suddenly the Doctor is all slim and foxy and flirting the house down.

Maureen: Ha! I loved the ‘oh baby. I’m beating out a samba,’ line. My note on the line was, ‘how very fifty shades of grey.’

Ben: And then we get to the really, truly awful resolution to the plague-ridden humans. The Doctor soaks himself with intravenous cures for every disease in the galaxy, and somehow through the magic of touch, the lab rat humans manage to spread these cures among themselves without using intravenous methods? At least The Doctor gets to make an emotional speech about saving the day and creating new life and whatnot. Hooray for him.

Maureen: I love the whole intravenous meds thing. I mean how easy would that plot-hole have been to fix? Delete the word intravenous and the episode’s denouement would have been right as rain! Also, I’m going to quote my notes again because they are a bit funny…

Maureen’s notebook: The Doctor disinfects the lab rat humans bathed in a sea of light. The start of Doctor deification? Fuck off! Also, Ten’s speech delivery gets on my tits. He sounds like a mansplaining dick.

Also, re the Face of Boe telling The Doctor that he learnt to look at the universe anew thanks to him, I penned, ‘enough with the deification.’

Ben: The Doctor does do a nice thing by taking Cassandra inhabiting Chip’s dying body back in time to meet the real Cassandra so she can be the last person to tell herself she looks beautiful before dramatically passing away. But to be honest, I though this was just a ploy for Cassandra to take over young Cassandra’s body and live her merry life again. All in all, a very fanfic ending to a fanfic heavy episode.

Maureen: I didn’t mind the ending, but more on that later…

The Alien/s of the Week

Ben: The Sisters of Plentitude started off well; mysterious cat doctors who could treat any illness. And then things took a turn for the worst when The Doctor discovers the Sisters use artificially grown humans as test subjects. I had hoped RTD would go further down the ethics and philosophy road with this story line. Yes, the Sisters have cured the incurable, but at what cost? And these artificial humans, this flesh that they’ve grown, what is it that gives them consciousness? How do they have speech and reasoning if they’ve lived their whole life in isolation? We get a bit of that thanks to Cassandra, when she goes into one of the flesh and realises they just want to be touched, but that’s it.

Maureen: I wonder if this episode would have worked better as a two-parter? That might have given more space to the cat nurses as well as the Cassandra body swap story line? In terms of Cassandra, I’ve always enjoyed Zoe Wanamaker as an actress. She’s great as Ariadne Oliver in Poirot. I especially enjoyed her end scenes, where she got to play a Cassandra with humanity thanks to her Gaimanesque friend, Chip. She is able to tell her younger self she is very beautiful. Also, Zoe can be very funny. I loved her delivery in the below:

Cassandra on Rose: The dirty, blonde assassin!

Final Thoughts

Ben: Look, I hated this episode. It started off strong, if a little fanfic-esque, and then completely went off the rails. The solution was plain bad. For starters, intravenous medication needs to be applied into the veins! It’s not a topical skin cream! Medicine doesn’t work like that! And the fan fic elements were overbearing, Rose didn’t get to do anything of significance, other than act as a vessel for Cassandra, and this new Doctor just isn’t impressing me. It’s a 0/10 for me.

Maureen: Wow, that’s harsher than I’d go. I agree with you, but I think we need to acknowledge how wonderful Billie’s acting was in this. It can’t have been easy playing herself played by someone else played by herself! Zoe Wanamaker is always good value too. Finally, I quite liked the end scene with Cassandra. It’s not enough to salvage the sexist overtones and The Doctor playing the sanctimonious arsehat card though, so it’s a 1/10 inky stars from me.

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Doctor Who Re-watch: The Christmas Invasion

Ah, the infamous Christmas specials of Doctor Who, loved and loathed in equal measure, but this time was the first time. We were innocent and knew not what was coming that first Tennant Christmas when Santas’ and trees and Sycarax came calling…


The Pre-Title Sequence

Ben: Is it bad the main thing I took from this episode is that the Tenth Doctor is just as bad a driver as the Ninth?

Maureen: Dude, you’re fixated!

Ben: Also, I’m a sucker for a scene where they reference the name of the show.

Maureen: Me too, actually. It got a bit much in the Moff years, but in this episode I admit I grinned.

Ben: Jackie ends up providing great comedic moments in this episode (anything else he’s got two of?), and boy does she start off strong! Also, the Doctor and Rose made it back to London in time for Christmas!

Maureen: God, I love the opening for a new Doctor. The long shot of earth, then we dive in close as Murray Gold’s bombastic score plays, the world spinning. Interesting note: both Mickey and Jackie come running the second they hear the TARDIS, like perhaps they’ve held out for its sound…

The Companion/s

Ben: Rose is firing all cylinders from the get go this episode, although to be honest things like checking the Doctor’s heartbeat might have been impressive to Mickey and Jackie, but she really has no idea what she’s doing. A similar moment happened when she was suspicious of the creepy Santas’ at the shops. Clearly, she’s picked some stuff up as the Doctor’s companion, but without him she can only react to events.

Maureen: I’ve reviewed my notes and I’ve penned and underlined the following: I want Rose’s jacket. But in all seriousness, Rose didn’t do much this episode except whine that The Doctor wasn’t her Doctor. To be fair, this fits with her teen character profile, and RTD probably needed to play this up to make sure the New Who audience accepted Tennant as the new Doctor. More irritating was Rose’s ongoing insistence that she and others were worth nothing without The Doctor:

Mickey: What do we do?
Rose: Nothing. There’s no one to save us.

I get that RTD needed to sell us the enormity of The Doctor saving the day in record time, but it sucked that he chose to do that by making the companions agentless. I mean, has Rose seriously learnt so little from The Doctor she can’t think of anything to do but run away as the apocalypse falls (compare Rose in this episode to Martha in Season Three when she walks around the earth resisting The Master with nothing but a story damn it!).

Ben: She’s had the carpet pulled out from under her fairly dramatically. She goes through a few of the stages of mourning The Doctor; anger, sadness, before finally accepting that he’s gone. The scene where Rose finally broke down paired with the alien ship arriving felt profoundly apocalyptic. And of course, without the Doctor, hiding in the TARDIS makes excellent sense. (Maureen interjection: speak for yourself, Ben)Although you’d need a lot of food to be able to wait out the apocalypse. Unfortunately, for Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor, this is the moment the TARDIS gets taken aboard the Sycorax ship.It is only when The Doctor is behind Rose that she feels she can make her speech to The Sycarax. I did adore Rose’s last ditch attempt to emulate the Doctor and send the Sycorax on their way, it’s a shame it was played as a comedic moment…

Maureen: Yes, she makes her pretty speech, but it’s still The Doctor who saves the day. I know I sound like a whiny brat, but The Doctor as savior trope REALLY annoys me.

Ben: Jackie was one of my favourite characters this episode, taking on the role of comic relief like a champion. Her panicked exchange with the Doctor as she’s trying to figure out what he needs without letting him talk had me giggling something awful. I’m not always a fan of Jackie, but this episode would have been much grimmer without her.

Maureen: I loved that scene too! Who doesn’t enjoy Jackie being told to shut-up by The Doctor. There was Jackie’s proof Ten hadn’t changed all that much from Nine.

Ben: But Harriet Jones was by far my favourite character this episode. From flirting with her right-hand man to dealing with an imminent alien invasion with a no-nonsense, practical approach, Harriet represents some of my favourite elements of Doctor Who. I loved her shutdown of the American President, and that she didn’t place all her hope in The Doctor coming to save the day. As we saw last season with the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, he has a tendency to swan off once he thinks the day has been saved. In short, Harriet is a badass who stands up to terrifying aliens without breaking a sweat.

Maureen: I love Harriet Jones too. I thought she stuck around for way longer and got this sinking feeling in my stomach when I realised where The Christmas Invasion leaves her. She’s wound up leading Britain’s Golden Age, and is calm and professional in the face of alien invasion. I loved the caustic humour in some of her lines:

Harriet Jones: It’s hardly the Queen’s Speech. I’m afraid that’s been cancelled.

Then she finds out the Royal Family are mind-controlled, about to jump off a roof… and Harriet is teleported onto the Sycarax spaceship. She begs them for understanding, yet they show none.

Harriet Jones: Children who need help. Children who need compassion.

What choice does this alien race give her? Surrender and be sold into slavery or die. Let’s be real now… who wouldn’t have made the choice she made at episode’s end?

Ben: Yes, she’s the defender of the human race we deserve, not The Doctor. Yes, she does end up making a public plea for The Doctor to help, but only as an absolute last resort. But then, after that emotional plea she’s immediately back to business, calmly recognising she was being teleported while everyone else was panicking. I also LOVED the “yes, we know who you are” exchange with the Sycorax. What an sublime joke. Unfortunately, things come to a rather enraging end with Harriet. Authorising Torchwood to destroy the Sycorax ship was definitely an aggressive step to take, but it was well reasoned by Harriet. The way the Doctor punished her for this, taking away her Prime Ministership was so ugly, and not at all justified in my opinion.

Maureen: I completely agree. It annoyed me as a teen. It has annoyed me on every subsequent re-watch. It’s the same bullshit that was pulled in Season Eight in Kill The Moon when the story hated on Hermione Norris’ character for choosing killing the moon, despite the fact it was a perfectly reasonable choice to make. Based on the duplicitous and violent way The Sycarax dealt not just with humanity, but with The Doctor and based on The Doctor’s flippant remarks that ‘you’re getting noticed more and more. You better get used to it,’ and that he can’t promise he’ll always be around to protect earth, why on earth shouldn’t Harriet have destroyed the space ship of murderous nut job alients? Or is it just that RTD has an issue with women in power going against the whim of The Doctor?

The Doctor

Ben: Talk about a rough regeneration! All this talk of neural implosions and brain collapse was very dramatic, and all remedied with a cup of tea! (You know, I think I had the same thing a couple of times when I wanted the day off school.) It isn’t until the last twenty minutes of the episode that he actually has his moment. I wonder if it were a scheduling issue?

Maureen: I’m not sure it was. I think it was a way to build up to The Doctor in action reveal and give the audience time to mourn the loss of Nine alongside Rose. Moffat pulls a similar conceit with The Eleventh Hour (albeit more successfully in my opinion).

Ben: Anyways, I did like the scenes of the Doctor discovering who he his in this new body, up to a point. Beyond that it just became silly. I’m perhaps comparing this regeneration to Eleven’s a bit too much, but these scenes of self discovery became a bit much.

Maureen: I was pleasantly surprised actually. It’s no secret that Ten is without a doubt one of my least favourite Doctor’s (and I include Classic Who in that assessment), but I found him quite funny for most of the episode. AND HE QUOTED THE LION KING. AND MENTIONED MEETING ARTHUR DENT. What’s not to love?

Ben: I didn’t at all like the sword fight, and while I did like Ten’s speech about the earth being protected, I think Eleven did it better in his debut episode.

Maureen: Oh yes, me too. Eleven had such a lovely debut though.

Ben: And then we get to the bit I hated about this episode, as The Doctor, enraged at the measures Harriet Jones took to defend the Earth, engineers a petty revenge, setting up Harriet to lose the Prime Ministership. I hated it, especially when it’s been established in earlier episodes that The Doctor can be something of an unreliable protector. For me, this end really brought down what had been an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Maureen: God I hate this ending so very fucking much. From the sword fight on I was reminded of all the reasons why I loathe Ten. He’s an action hero who has a compulsion to save everyone his way or the highway, and the story rewards him for it even when it’s completely unmerited. His dismissal of Harriet is mean and petty and God-like and sanctimonious and white man ego and the only good thing to come out of it is The Master getting the Prime Ministership later because of The Doctor’s shitty decision. Moving on…

The Alien of the Week

Maureen: YOU WANT CHRISTMAS SPECIAL? I’LL GIVE YOU CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, said RTD. That’s not a bad thing this first time round in my opinion. It was a bit silly, I guess, but overall I found the spinning Christmas tree and the Santa reconnaissance aliens and the Christmas dark apocalypse stuff fun and grim AT THE SAME TIME.

Ben: Look, for me, the creepy Santa’s and killer Christmas Tree were a bit much, but once we got past the pilot fish and met the metaphorical shark, the Sycorax, things got much more exciting. Their demands were pretty standard, all your base belong to us material, but what was particularly terrifying was their blood magic. I am curious to see what would have happened if one of the humans being controlled was physically blocked, because all they did was show distraught humans pleading with them to stop. It’s a great way to engineer a hostage situation, and what terrifying visuals it leads to. And their ship! Monstrous. Although it clearly marks them as being on the primitive side when it comes to aliens capable of interstellar travel and teleportation, as does their warlike behaviour and the restrictions of blood control. Despite that, they’re definitely more than humanity can handle. They came to something of a dishonourable end, being shot out of the sky as they’re leaving Earth, but considering their champion tried to cheat in the dual they don’t exactly come across as an honourable species. It is a bit morbid that the final shot of the episode was the people of Earth celebrating Christmas in the falling ash of a destroyed alien ship.


Final Thoughts

Ben: Look, this is a really hard one to rate. Russell T Davies is just so inconsistent with his writing! The first forty minutes were really great, but once The Doctor arrived on the scene things started heading downhill at a fairly rapid pace. The final scenes with the demise of Harriet Jones really reminded me of how they treated Adam at the end of his storyline. Disappointing. I found it really hard to rate this episode, but I think I’m going to give it a 6.

Maureen: I’m with you Ben. I might have ranked this an 8 or 9 for sheer outrageous Whovian fun until Ten turned up for his sword fight and his crappy Harriet (doesn’t she look tired?) takedown. I’m going to go with a 6 too.

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