Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Lost Canon of (New) Doctor Who

"Sonic specs" beat out the "sonic screwdriver"?
The Lost Cannon of (New) Doctor Who

***Spoiler Alert! If you haven't seen this episode, you might want to wait to read this.***

We're almost out the door to attend two sci-fi conventions in a row--Archon and ConClave--where we'll be discussing Doctor Who (as well as writing/editing topics) with our fellow fans. I felt I should post my opinions before we left town, so here is my short (but not overly sweet) review of episode two, The Witch's Familiar.

Overall, it's an okay episode for Moffat's writing, but it's nowhere near the quality of his writing in Blink. (Honestly, I don't expect much better from him anymore.) There's nothing very original in the storyline, and there's a lot of padding once again, and the annoying Mary Poppins-clone called Missy is still about, but there's less of her lewd behavior this week and for that I'm grateful. Instead, we see maniacal Missy act sadistically by dangling Clara upside down in the desert of Scaro and sharpening a stick and threatening to eat the school teacher, but no sexual moves were made toward the Daleks that I could detect. (I had a hard time hearing the dialogue this week.) Nasty threats of violence and silly faces... What else is new? (Ho-hum.) 

Did Missy really need to be included in this look into the Doctor's relationship with the Daleks and their creator, Davros? Not really. The two-part story probably would have been much stronger without her childish and nasty/lewd antics and about ten minutes in length total. The story's focus should have leaned more to the Doctor's ongoing dilemma in regard to the Daleks--"Do I commit genocide and rid the universe of them or not?"--and away from the puerile gimmicks of  Michelle Gomez making her now trademark silly faces.

The strongest aspects of the script were the Doctor's confession that he did have compassion and could show mercy to an enemy. Jenna Coleman's character was given a chance to act this out when Clara finds herself imprisoned in a Dalek's casing and mistaken for being one of the ruthless killers. Quite telling is that when you say "I love you" through a Dalek's voicebox the word "Exterminate" comes out instead. That nice touch aside, Moffat throws out the long history of Dalek canon and informs us now that "Daleks never die" but they do turn into melting fudge or what could pass for the inside of a particularly nasty baby diaper whenever they cease to be active and go down to Scaro's "sewers/graveyards". Ugh... yuck! 

For some reason, Moffat can't seem to follow canon with either of the Doctor's most notorious villains, the Cybermen and the Daleks. For fans of the classic series, it can be disconcerting to say the least. The gross bits of oozing "poop-colored" buried Daleks sliming all over the shining metal Dalek casings didn't do much for me personally, and I rather wish the episode had stayed more with the "human" storyline of the Doctor caring for the ailing Davros.

But Peter Capaldi got a chance to shine this week as the Doctor and I sincerely appreciate that. But "sonic Ray Bans"? Really? Not making enough money on the Sonic Screwdriver toys because fans are building their own models? What a not-so-cheap shot at product promotion, BBC!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Crudeness of (New) Doctor Who

 The Crudeness of (New) Doctor Who

Will the Doctor ever play the recorder again?

***Spoiler Alert!*** 
(If you've not seen the first episode yet, you might want to read this later. Just sayin'!)

Last week, I wrote about The Charm of Doctor Who, comparing and contrasting the Doctor’s various personas in the classic series. This week I thought I’d give a short review on the new series' latest episode, The Magician’s Apprentice.

First off, I’m not very clear on the title. The Doctor seemed to have a helper in Bors, but is he really an “apprentice” and is the Doctor a “magician” or just wearing a red lined magician’s jacket? Is Clara to become an “apprentice”? There’s no real hint of that being the case yet, and of course, it’s “to be continued” so we’re forced to watch the next episode to find out. At least we can see that Clara is over her dead boyfriend, Danny, and has moved on with her teaching career while moonlighting for U.N.I.T. on the side. (One wonders whatever happened to Martha Jones and Mickey Smith—aren’t they still working for U.N.I.T.? Perhaps they’d be better agents to contact in these type of situations?)

Second thing, the “charming” element of the show seems to have gone for good, replaced by crudeness and lewd behavior. Of course, I'm referring to the scene where Missy (still wearing the Mary Poppins’ outfit) makes an off-color adult remark about the TARDIS and then strokes the Dalek’s “ball” in his “crotch area”. Uh, yeah… That’s pretty much killed any family-friendly rating for the entire series in my opinion, but it’s perhaps what the current show runner wants. After all, if your target audience is seventh grade boys, then why not litter the show with middle school boys’ locker room humor? Heck, you don’t even need to think about pleasing the female viewers or more mature adults in the audience, do you? (And those pesky seven and eight year olds—who said you could stay up late and watch, Doctor Who, huh? Mom, Grandma—get those little ones in bed!)

The best elements of the episode (disconnected as they are) were the fact that Peter Capaldi plays a mean guitar and the opening five minutes with the young boy Davros standing in a battlefield. The Davros-as-a-young-boy scene harkened back to the Tom Baker era when the Fourth Doctor pondered, “Should you kill a race knowing that one day they could become mass murderers?” The Fourth Doctor didn’t commit genocide that day, and you do wonder if that decision ever plagued him later. But after the first five minutes, the big yellow tank (however did the Doctor transport it there?) and the guitar playing (the Doctor gave up tooting the recorder, huh?) took over, and then came the crude comments of the psychopathic Missy on the Dalek's home world which sullied the whole story concept.

Dear ol' Crazy Sue White...

I mean, was the character of Missy even necessary for this story? (No explanations given on why she’s still alive or how the Doctor knows how to contact her to give her his last will and testament.) Couldn’t more emphasis be put on the Doctor and his “decision” with the boy Davros and how he might make right his decision not to commit genocide against the Daleks previously? The Magician’s Apprentice held the kernel of a great story idea, but instead we get stuck with a foul-mouthed middle aged woman dressed as Mary Poppins burning up the screen. Why are women of a “certain age” (I being one of them) to be portrayed as homicidal lunatics with lewd behaviors and horrible taste in clothing? (I don’t own any Edwardian-era purple traveling suits myself. None of my friends do, either.)

Oh, well, at least Clara was shown to be level-headed and not riddled with angst about lying to her soldier boyfriend this time out. She’s a lot less irritating than last year—so far. But why do we need to be stuck with Michelle Gomez’s repetition of her crazy hospital administrator Sue White from Green Wing? Surely she’s got more acting chops than just playing crazy and crude psychopaths?

We’re lucky, however. We get Retro TV,  and this week Retro TV is broadcasting the classic series Jon Pertwee adventure Inferno. Companion Liz Shaw and the scientist Petra Williams are both written as strong, intelligent and independent females who help the Doctor solve the mystery of why it’s so dangerous to frack our planet. (Okay, they’re drilling into the Earth’s crust and not fracking, but it’s similar!) The Third Doctor even time-warps into an alternate reality and meets up with an evil Sergeant Benton and a scarred-face Brigadier in a pirate’s eye patch. Exciting sci-fi adventure with no crude commentary allowed. As long as we have these older episodes available, the charm of Doctor Who lives on.

What do you find "charming" about Doctor Who? Do you find it in the classic series or the newer series? Leave your comments in the comment box below. Thanks!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Charm of Doctor Who

Our wedding cake was the TARDIS, of course!

The Charm of Doctor Who 

 Before the new series of Doctor Who starts up again, I wanted to reflect back on the classic series for a moment. The world’s longest running science fiction/fantasy television show began in November 1963, the same day Kennedy was assassinated. These events live on in our imaginations, albeit for very different reasons. The young president’s death demonstrated the harsh realities of the human condition, while the wandering Doctor and his companions emphasized our capacity to overcome adversity through the use of science, with a splash of courage and derring-do added in for fun. Admit it—sometimes we long for a brief respite from the horrors of the world, a chance to catch our breaths and see the “good guys” win. This much desired escapism the classic series of Doctor Who delivered, and it’s why it continues to strike a chord within its fans. 

The First Doctor’s charmed us with his outwardly crusty mannerisms that hid his inwardly caring nature. London school teachers Barbara and Ian were the perfect foils to reveal how the Doctor wanted to make a difference without being seen as a superhero rushing in at the last moment to save the day. The First Doctor’s true charm was his sense of humility, his sense that he could advise and help others, but, in the end, they needed to solve their own problems and live life on their own terms. After all, he lived his life on his own terms when he took off in the TARDIS, leaving his home world and people behind. Why would he act disrespectfully by telling others what to do? 

The Three Doctors
The Second Doctor charmed us with his sense of endless curiosity. The universe—and its dimensions beyond—was this recorder-playing piper’s playground. He and his companions often found themselves involved in convoluted scenarios on planets they weren’t always welcome on. Ever the stranger, he soon became a trusted confidant to those he helped. In the end, his punishment was to be exiled and his closest friends’ memories of their adventures together—all except their first encounter—were taken away. What could be worse for a “cosmic hobo” than to lose his traveling buddies and their shared escapades? 

The Third Doctor charmed us with his James Bond-like skills of Venusian Aikido and his love of fast cars and boats. Both his crustiness and his caring heart were evident as he scolded the Brigadier and his friends at U.N.I.T. for their tendencies to shoot first and ask questions later. The Third Doctor felt trapped in his exile on Earth, yet didn’t take his frustrations out on his adopted people and planet, doing his best to help humans and aliens to live in peace and harmony. Was it really any surprise to him when they ignored his sage advice? 

The Fourth Doctor
The Fourth Doctor charmed us with his whimsical foresight. You could say he’d be around the block now in his four regenerations, and human beings and their self-defeatist antics didn’t faze him much, even though he often voiced his disappointment in our apparent lack of wisdom. The Fourth Doctor is sometimes seen as a clown in his long scarf, floppy hat with the ever-present bag of jelly babies (sweets) in his pocket, but his strength came in allowing his adversaries to underestimate him. His deep, caring nature and humility, along with the cosmic hobo’s sense of curiosity, drove him to do better, to help out, to become more involved—sometimes as the cost of his own safety. How would it feel to be seen as being something less than you really are, yet all the while you intuit others have come to depend upon you for so much? 

The Fifth Doctor charmed us with his athleticism and his uprightness. His crustiness and world-weariness revealed themselves in his reserved manners and tendency to preach to his young group of companions. But there was never any doubt the Fifth Doctor still cared for the human race—the sacrifice of his own life by giving all of the spider’s poison antidote to his last companion demonstrated his humility and caring. Would anyone expect less of the Doctor? Would the Doctor expect any less of himself? 

The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors
The Sixth Doctor charmed us with his unexpected energy and driven disposition. Time was catching up with the Time Lord, and sometimes his rudeness showed his impatience with the fact that although he had changed, the occupants of the universe hadn’t. They gladly accepted his assistance, but they didn’t give credence to the good he did and often tried to undermine him. The Sixth Doctor continued to care and to serve in spite of his own people’s cruel betrayal by putting him on trial. Misunderstood and ridiculed, was the Doctor growing tired of helping ingrates who couldn’t see the compassionate individual behind his coat of many colors? 

The Seventh Doctor charmed us with his need to put things right. A long life as a wanderer throughout time and space had taught the Doctor that he had an obligation to clean up some of the messes left behind by him and others. Evoking his whimsical side with his question mark umbrella, he was seen as a clown, a role he used to great advantage. Underestimated and reviled, he continued to lend a hand wherever and whenever necessary, expecting and receiving neither honors nor acknowledgment. A hero to the end, was it his simple love of humanity that drove him onward in spite of insurmountable obstacles? 

The past year we’ve enjoyed watching (and re-watching) the remaining episodes from the classic series of Doctor Who. When you consider the great actors, writers and producers who created the series, is it any wonder its genuine charm hasn’t faded over the years? The new series of Doctor Who hasn’t quite lived up to this great wealth of good-feelings generated by the classic series character of the Doctor, alas. We wait to see if “Nu Who” can yet be redeemed, hoping it's not completely devolved into a teenage-oriented soap opera focused on photogenic young companions that doesn’t quite demonstrate the charm of the humble, caring, heroic original Doctor. 

What's your take on classic Doctor Who. Do you think the new series has come close to the charm of the original? Leave your comments in the comment section below. Thank you.
Some of my other essays on Doctor Who include:

Doctor Who: The Last Christmas Special Ever?

Doctor Who vs. Agents of SHIELD: Creating Strong Female Characters
The Death of Doctor Who

I Got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues
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