Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Inconsistencies in Tone (in New Doctor Who)

A great actor in need of a better script.

Inconsistencies in Tone (in New Doctor Who)

***Spoiler Alert!***

Face the Raven is presented as a "swan song" for the character of Clara Oswald, without the pay-off of being one. There is a genuinely interesting mystery happening at the first and it sucks the Doctor and us in immediately. Rigsy (a nice young man from last year's strongly written episode Flatline) is now grown up and a daddy to an adorable baby girl. Unfortunately, he's missing an entire day from his memory and discovers a macabre tattoo that acts like a bomb countdown on the back of his neck. He, of course, contacts the Doctor for help. 

After all, that's what characters do on Doctor Who--they look to the Doctor for solutions to their problems. Right?

The Doctor, Clara and Rigsy trace Rigsy's last known whereabouts before his amnesia kicked in and discover all isn't as it appears. The  "alien refugee camp" hidden in plain sight in the middle of London is a very cool setting, and the rag-tag lot of aliens who dwell in its Tudor-like maze of shops are all visualized nicely. Once again, the Doctor encounters the immortal Viking girl Ashildr (Madame Me) and finds she's been doing the dirty work for some unknown villains. The script has a creepy Edgar Allen Poe feel to it up to this point, and it comes complete with ravens that punish capital offenders by stealing their lives away. (Quoth the raven: Nevermore!)

The acting is good, the costuming inventive. The horror set-up seems to be working well--but then everything goes off the rails with a seemingly tacked on "death scene." It just doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the story. In classic Doctor Who, the Doctor solves the mystery and saves the day and rights wrongs, but in this tale he just steps back and allows the "Impossible Girl" Clara to die because she's foolishly traded places with Rigsy and taken his "killer tattoo" as her own. 
What's a stasis chamber for?

What about sticking countdown Clara into the stasis chamber standing which held the apparently dead Janus woman who Rigsy was accused of murdering? What about hopping into the TARDIS and going back in time to stop Clara from acting foolishly or to put her into another stasis-type situation to stop the clock? What about implanting an immortality chip into Clara, the chip Doctor gave to Ashildr to prevent her from dying earlier this season? There are no good explanations for the Doctor's passivity in the situation given other than we're suppose to see Clara die.

As I recall, the Doctor saw Clara as an old woman in the future in the 2014 Christmas special, but she's not going to live this long now because...? In the 50th Anniversary special year, Clara was shown to have lived throughout the Doctor's twelve (thirteen) lives, being there since the day he stole the TARDIS. She seems immortal as Ashildr. She's been a  girl in the future (turned into a Dalek), and she's been a Victorian-era nanny (who also died). But now we the viewers are to take it that Clara is finally dead and gone because they needed to write Jenna Coleman out of the series. That's the only explanation that works really.

The inconsistencies in tone in the new Who series are troublesome. At least the fifth Doctor's companion Adric was written out in a very noble way--he blew up when the spaceship crashed into Earth, saving the lives of others, and there was no logical sci-fi way to bring Adric back after the ship crashed. But Clara Oswald--love her or leave her--has been given a "rebirth" several times in the Moffat era. We're suppose to think she's used up all her nine lives now? 

Nope, doesn't make sense really. So, I suspect we'll see Clara again soon in some other incarnation. It would make the most sense in a fantasy universe, after all, one where heroes have held the power over of life and death on numerous occasions. Or we won't see her again. She's finally as dead as her late boyfriend Danny is, who may or may not be dead, either, if he's a Cyberman. 

Confused? I know I am! Inconsistent plot points abound in Moffat's Doctor Who. Why didn't the script editor check the "series bible" to make sure they all added up?
Let's forget we're all intelligent for a moment, shall we?

The teen-angst, soap opera tone of Clara's drawn-out death scene brings the entire episode down and ruined the first part of it for me. I like science fiction/fantasy adventure because the heroes usually can change the laws of time, physics and life/death itself so the viewers can enjoy a satisfying ending. Sure, the "logic" is made up at times (since we've yet to discover time travelers or travel faster than the speed of light), but at least it's consistent within its own fantasy universe rules. And usually the Doctor's companions have left the TARDIS alive and on their own terms--for instance, Barbara and Ian, Jo Grant, Romana, and Martha Jones.

If the character of the Doctor has the knowledge of time travel and advanced science, then of course he can save Clara by sticking her in a stasis chamber conveniently located in the same room she's standing in when she's "dying." He's not an idiot, is he? But once again, in Face the Raven inconsistencies strike. Clara is no longer the "Impossible Girl" and the Doctor is not quite as clever as one would expect him to be in the situation.

I see why my British husband has stopped watching the new series altogether. He started watching the show when the first Doctor, William Hartnell, was on the air. The charm of the sci-fi/fantasy adventure has been bled away and replaced with dreary inconsistencies of a daytime drama. What could have been an interesting mystery story full of fascinating alien creatures languishes in the end with a downer demise of a controversial character who was never quite one thing or the other. The hero has become yet another soap opera character battered in the seas of angst, unable to engage his brain and come up with a solution when a challenges arises before the next commercial break.

It all leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Oh, well, perhaps when we hear the news the series is being moved to a daytime slot (next to the other soap operas) it won't hit us quite so hard.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below. And check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:

Sleep No More
The Zygon Invasion

Saturday, November 21, 2015

More Style Over Substance (on new Doctor Who)

More Style Over Substance (on new Doctor Who)

***Spoiler alert!***

We were out of town this past week, so we didn't get a chance to catch Mark Gatiss' episode Sleep No More until now, so this will be a very short review. One word of caution: if you are looking for images or information about the episode on Google, you'll come across an apparently adult off-Broadway play by the same name. It's definitely not something you'll want your kids to come across.

The Blair Witch or "found footage" set-up and the Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians story line aren't anything new, but the nasty "Sandmen" monsters are pretty cool and the creepy space station is a fun "video game-like" set. Gatiss knows his monsters, and these are the new rivals in scariness for the Weeping Angels, in my opinion. Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor  heroically and mugs it straight to the camera with Colin Baker's intensity along with the mania of Tom Baker's Doctor. Plus, there are lots of nice camera shots for those of us who really enjoy gazing upon Peter's handsome visage. (Sigh!) 

With a nasty monster and with such great footage of Peter Capaldi, one would hope to find this episode a bit more memorable, but it seems to play it by the book and doesn't really venture into any realm of science fiction that hasn't been done before and done well. Probably its saving grace is that Gatiss didn't try to expand the little actual material he had and make it into two episodes. Short and sweet and simplistic, lacking in sophistication or subtlety, the story comes across a bit disjointed at times without any apparent reason behind the logic gaps other than poor script editing. It's a style of writing which seems to be commonplace in the Moffat era and what my author husband has named "The A.D.D. School of New Doctor Who Writing" and why he no longer cares to watch it recently.

Thank heavens Retro-TV is still showing the classic series so he can get his fix. The Jon Pertwee series wound up this past week and Tom Baker's mostly well-written series are awaiting us over the holiday season. A very nice Christmas gift indeed.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Telling Not Showing (on New Doctor Who)

Obviously, the excitement is killing evil Clara. Not.

Telling not Showing (on new Doctor Who)

***Spoiler Alert!***

If you’ve ever taken a writing course, I know you’ll recognize this maxim: Show not tell!

What does this mean to the average person who isn’t a writer or even interested in learning how to write well? Essentially it means what it says—you never tell a story by listing dry facts or endless narration telling the reader/viewer what to think, what is happening, what to feel. Instead, the effective writer shows the story’s characters in motion (in a manner appealing to the senses) and that action imparts the story to the reader/viewer. Face it, it’s more exciting to experience a scene when we see and almost feel something happening where the stakes are high than to simply be told what’s going to happen to the characters if they don’t do such-and-such.

The Zygon Inversion or Inversion of the Zygons (depending on which site you look for pictures for it) gives us a good example of tell not show which my college screenplay writing professor would have given failing marks. After last week’s episode, it’s a true non-event. Sure, we get to see “evil Clara” looking smart with heavier make-up and her hair pulled back, but essentially all she does is walk around, shoot an airplane, stares at the “sleeping Clara” in the pod, zaps one Zygon to turn him “inside out” and…that’s about it. No particularly exotic locations, no big action scenes, no exciting complications of plot. She does her bit as she’s told and very little else.

The last act consists of a lot of talking in a room at UNIT headquarters where evil Clara and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart face off by staring across a table at each other with their hands hovering over a couple of boxes while the Doctor pontificates for several minutes too long.  (Kate miraculously survives her journey home from New Mexico we learn, but, of course, the excitement of her escape takes place off stage. Sigh!) Staring across a table in a dimly lit room—that’s the extent of the climactic action. No huge battles involving the sucker-covered aliens and the brave fighting men and women of UNIT. Nada.

Now, picture this—literally picture this in your mind. What if, instead of having the Doctor harangue evil Clara and Ms. Lethbridge-Stewart for fifteen minutes, he took them in his TARDIS and showed them what life would be like if they started an inter-species war on Earth? He could show them the devastation of another similar world’s conflict or take them backward or forward in time and show them Earth after a devastating war. There could be explosions and battles and lots of colorful images and provocative sounds and smells and other appeals to both the viewers’ and the characters’ senses. Think how well this sort of sense-filled demonstration would illustrate his point without the need for long-winded speeches. Think how exciting this would be for the viewers! (It might have been fun for the actors to perform, too.)

Even the devil showed Jesus from atop the mountain all the riches, the kingdoms and power he’d have if he’d do as the devil asked instead of what God asked. The devil tempted Jesus with food when he was starving, appealing to his senses of smell and taste. Matthew 4:1-11 is a very visceral Bible story, and it makes a lasting impact precisely because it appeals to the senses. Would Jesus passing up all that power, wealth and food have made the same impact on the reader if the devil had simply told Jesus what all he was passing on and hadn’t given Jesus the chance to see and experience what all he was missing? When you experience something it’s much harder to give it up, right? Obviously, the writer Matthew knew this and didn’t let up on the appeal to the senses or action.

I know I looked at the time more than once while the Doctor scolded evil Clara and Lethbridge-Stewart and delivered a diatribe on how naughty they were. I kept wondering how and when an action sequence was going to fit in. After all, in a science fiction adventure television series viewers expect to experience some excitement and action around every corner, especially at the climax. Unfortunately, this episode was “pear shaped” and had no corners to turn. 

No big battles of Zygons vs. humans, instead we were treated to another “Osgood” in the seventh Doctor’s famous question mark knitwear. Cute in a stereotypically nerd girl way.  I think Osgood would make a great companion some day, but only if she actually does something active instead of function merely as a model to push sales of classic Who DVDs to the younger crowd. 

Of course, how well she and other characters function is up to the series’ writers and script editor. Let’s hope they hit the books and study up on how write a stronger script next time.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below. And check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:

The Zygon Invasion

Monday, November 02, 2015

Resurrecting a Classic Who Monster (on New Doctor Who)

Resurrecting a Classic Monster (on New Doctor Who)

***Spoiler Alert!***

You gotta love those suckers! I’ve been a big Zygon fan since the early days, so I had great expectations for The Zygon Invasion. Fortunately, some of those expectations were delivered.
The Zygons have not gone through a “make-over” for the hundredth time like the Cybermen—and for this I’m glad. How can you improve upon a ruddy, sucker-studded, walking-squid-like humanoid creature which can act like a chameleon and become any person you know and trust? You can’t really, can you?  They are Doctor Who monster perfection at its finest.

But you can change their back story a bit, and for this I’m not quite as pleased. The intrepid Osgood in her Classic Who accessories is dead—she was sucked out of an airplane at 30,000 feet. We weren’t very happy about that bit of  wanton cruelty in last season’s episode, and apparently the fans got very vocal and protested her treatment to the BBC. Lo and behold, Osgood’s alive! Or is she? Zygons in classic Who could only change themselves to look like a living human, so is this Osgood the Doctor meets the real thing? She won’t say, but she hints that Zygons aren’t limited by keeping their originals alive to copy anymore, and they are all hybrids now. Hmm, if you take away their Achilles’ heel, you sort of take away the best way the Doctor can conquer them. Perhaps not such a good plotting choice in the dramatic sense, but we’ll see in part two.

The locales this time out are a breath of fresh (desert) air: a fictional ex-Soviet central Asian republic and Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico? Well, if you lived in a dryer part of the world (like I have), you’d probably want to get out and invade the planet eventually, too. So, good marks for settings outside of London, but bad marks for sending the Brigadier’s daughter out on her own. Uh, it’s called “back up." We both couldn’t visualize the Brig ever going anywhere far away from UNIT headquarters without at least his two right hand people—Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates—to watch his back. But Ms. Lethbridge-Stewart doesn’t seem to have much training in tactics, so she goes off to New Mexico alone where, of course, she’s going to be captured by the Zygons. Doh! With all these good women, and all the main UNIT positions are now filled with females, you'd think she could have had picked the cream of the crop to come along with her? (How progressive the U.N. has become! Or are all these actresses cast as intelligent, authority figures to make up for the less-than-feminist characters Moffat has been accused of writing in previous episodes?)

The idea that the Zygons numbered twenty million (whew!) and were allowed to stay on Earth after their last run-in with humanity seems a bit far-fetched as well. Twenty million? Uh, if countries in Europe are currently having conniptions over thousands of refugees pouring across their borders, then how do you think twenty million aliens would be handled and kept quiet throughout the world? Not very well! This logic gap is bigger than the Grand Canyon (to stay with the desert analogies) and needs filling in the second part.

Clara acts particularly acerbic in this episode, and it is revealed at the close why her behavior has been “off." One wonders if this hasn’t been the reason why she’s seemed disconnected from her emotions in earlier episodes, or if this was just tossed in to explain her actions in this particular episode. Either way, a countdown seems to have started for her character. Is her final departure nigh?

Peter Capaldi’s performance is spot on again with his Tom Baker-like Doctor. He’s mischievous yet involved, cautious yet not afraid to take action. The way the story opens, we’re not sure what his relationship with Clara is since she’s not there—she’s not a “Sarah Jane” who lives in the TARDIS between adventures. He’s more of a David Tennant-loner type of Doctor who comes and goes more than stays all the time with his companion. Possibly this is the reason behind his dark character? But why take the airplane when you have a TARDIS, Doctor? Surely you remembered what happened on board to Osgood last time?

Over all, The Zygon Invasion is an enjoyable adventure with a few niggling plot points that don’t take away from its overall entertainment value. We can't wait to see what those sucker-critters get up to next week.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below. And check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:

The Woman Who Lived

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