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Mâvarin and Other Inspirations

A Fantasy Writer's Journal

NuWho Review Redux: The Hungry Earth
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne
Finally catching up to the present in my repost of my GB rate thread reviews. Here are my first thoughts on The Hungry Earth:

Re: Rate / Review "The Hungry Earth"
9/10 from me, because it was better than I thought it could possibly be, pretty much the best possible execution of what it set out to do, given what they had to work with. A few other stories aimed higher and just missed for their nine out of ten. This one aimed a little lower but exceeded expectations, at least for me. YMMV, of course.

I spent part of this week watching the nearly three hour long Pertwee story Doctor Who and the Silurians plus extras, having stalled out at this very story the last time I attempted to continue my personal all-time-Who marathon. Trust me, by comparison, "The Hungry Earth" doesn't drag. Even by current tv standards it doesn't drag. I think perhaps people today are just impatient to get to the payoff, and will inevitably be dissatisfied with a Part One for that reason.

If characters in the current series have sometimes been too sketchy (e.g. Breen the almost-war-widow, most of Father Angelo's clerics), that was not at all a problem here. Each member of the guest cast was quickly but vividly delineated. The only cringeworthy moment was the outbreak of clapping, and since it was meant to be cringeworthy, that's fine. The one character who annoyed me was Ambrose, the mother. I don't suppose it's necessary for me to be especially fond of her, just to believe in her as a realistic character, which I do. I especially liked Eliot's interactions with his dad and the Doctor, and Nasreen Chaudhry's eagerness to jump aboard the TARDIS for a trip down below. And I was horrified to realize that I, like the Doctor, had failed to notice that the kid had not safely returned in time. I think I felt nearly as guilty as the Doctor about that!

It was a lot of fun to see Rory faced with a standard Doctor Who mistaken identity scenario, be momentarily flummoxed, and then mentally shrug and go with it. There wasn't much to Amy's screen time, but what there was worked find for me, although the "shush" line was very Donna.

Speaking of the Doctor, Matt Smith is now firmly entrenched as my second favorite Doctor ever, right behind David Tennant. I see no reason to use one interpretation of the character to criticize the other. Nor do I have a problem with Amy, although she's not my all-time favorite. Not sure which one is my favorite, actually. Similarly, I see no point in hitting Moffat with an RTD stick or vice versa. Some fans seem to filter everyone else's praise or criticism (and their own) through a dualistic view of NuWho, that everything is about who is the showrunner (and to a lesser extent, the star) of the story in question, with the corollary that "if RTD had made this, then..." Not necessarily, and ultimately not a terribly helpful way of looking at each story.

But this one, of course, is more about 1970 than about 2005-2009. As such, it stuck fairly close to its source material, but in a fairly fresh and satisfying way, enlivened by good characters and with nice hints of innovations to come. One of the reasons I put off rewatching Doctor Who and the Silurians for so long is that I found the end rather upsetting and depressing. To give the Doctor another crack at brokering peace between the former and current masters of Earth is a fine idea. Mind you, if it ends up with the same exact result I'll no longer think so! The fact that UNIT isn't around (so far) gives me hope that the Earth Reptiles won't simply be blown up this time.

What was the old story that had black veins (not green) spreading across victims' faces? The Moonbase? The Wheel in Space? That's what the tongue-based infection reminded me of more than The Green Death.

As for the costume and makeup design, it really is beautiful compared to what went before. Given that each population of Eocene creatures (or whatever) that we saw back in the day was a little different, I'm not thrown too much that this is a "different branch" of the family, if not the genus or species. It would have been nice to get a nice third eye in there, courtesy of Neil Gorton and the Mill, but honestly, even losing that nuance we have a design and execution that's 1000 times more believable that the old rubber suit brigade. The old show did amazing things with clumsy rubber suits and caves cobbled together in the studio at the last minute (no, really, they had a big problem with the subcontractor responsible for the cave walls), but it wasn't actually better than modern Who, even at its most iffy. Oh, and the "mining thing" - i.e. the gantries - looked very much the right sort of thing, from my limited perspective. I once visited an old mine works at a ghost town in New Mexico, and it had a tower (designed by Eiffel, no less!) that was similar, albeit less modern and advanced.

I wasn't at all looking forward to this one, but Chibnall, Moffat et al.

On population/staffing issues:

Watch again. When the drill hits the 21km mark on what we assume is late Friday afternoon, there is a reasonable staff there, clipboards and all. Then they all knock off for the weekend and go home to wherever they "commute in" from, as stated in the story. It's also stated that Ambrose presumably delivers meals to people in other villages in the area. That doesn't help in the present situation, because the energy dome cuts these people off from other places nearby.

A few things that bothered me, especially after others pointed them out:

1. The Doctor advises Amy not to struggle, as if this were tv/movie quicksand, and loses Amy into the ground. Meanwhile, a few feet away, Nasreen gets the other guy out of a similar hole with relatively little difficulty. A clumsy bit of plotting, that.

2. I can buy the Doctor failing to keep Elliot from breaking Rule One (Don't wander off) because the Doctor is distracted, doesn't supervise children very often, and generally is spectacularly bad at enforcing Rule One. But Ambrose not having her eye on her son,nd not even noticing at first that he's not in the church when the door closes, is quite a bit harder to swallow.

3. Nasreen does kind of a quick turnaround in her attitude toward the Doctor. I can buy that, but she really needed a character beat in which we see her realizing that the guy with the wile claims is making sense after all.

Ratings: 2010 series to date:

The Eleventh Hour: 10.
The Beast Below: 8.
Victory of the Daleks: 7 (but should have said 6)
The Time of Angels: 10.
Flesh and Stone: 10.
The Vampires of Venice: 8.
Amy's Choice: 8 (should have said 9)
The Hungry Earth: (should have said 8)

(no subject)
Fried Brain
Re: Rate / Review "Amy's Choice"

I was torn between an 8 and a 9, and now I wish I'd gone with the 9. First off, the episode was beautifully shot, especially the closeups of frozen faces in the TARDIS toward the end. Our lead actors were all terrific, but then I always think so. The mind game stuff and competition between the Doctor and Rory was extremely well done. I didn't suspect the Dream Lord's identity at all (I was leaning toward him being the Master of the Land of Fiction), but it makes perfect sense in retrospect. That line about him being the one who hates the Doctor the most was really effective, the more so when you realize that he was talking about his own self-loathing, the guilt and negativity he manages to hide away inside himself most of the time.

So why did I mark it down? Two things, one totally subjective reason and one plot point that I thought could have been more dramatic. On the former, well, I just didn't care for the murderous alien parasites inside the old people. Nothing really wrong with them as a plot device, it just didn't quite work for me.

And the dramatic weakness? Amy's choice is ultimately between a bleak future without Rory or a "reality" in which she has both Rory and the Doctor. How hard is that to decide? Sure, it must be a little hard to commit to "suicide" to escape that reality, to take that chance, even if that reality is really dreadful. But imagine instead a choice between, for example, dead Rory and dead Doctor, or a wonderful life with one man or the other, but not both. Make it a real wrench; make her work for it. Much more dramatic, wouldn't you say?

Still, the end works well enough, and there's so much that's great in this episode that I probably should not have rounded down my 8.5 out of 10 to an 8, but gone with the 9 instead. Ah, well!


On the use of a dream trope, particularly the "all a dream" status of the TARDIS sequences:

The basic problem with "And then they woke up, and it was all a dream" as a device is that it robs the story of drama and import. If it was just a dream, then presumably there are no consequences to what you've just read or seen, and there is no resolution to the original conflict. The reader or viewer has been, in effect, cheated and lied to. He or she was encouraged to invest intellectually and emotionally in something that wasn't real, and then robbed of a resolution to those thoughts and feelings.

Personally, I really hate that kind of story. The "all a dream" ending ruins Alice in Wonderland for me, and to a lesser extent (partially redeemed by the setup with actors in dual roles) the film version of The Wizard of Oz.

But here was have something altogether different from that. From the first sight of pregnant Amy, we know something is up, because that's not how we left her last week. Within minutes we know for sure that at least one of the situations our characters are experiencing is a dream, so we're not being tricked or cheated. Instead we're invited to play along with both the intellectual puzzle - what is reality and how will the the characters work this out? - and the emotional one involving Amy's relationships with the two men in her life. Really, the best comparison for this story is not with Alice or Oz, but with the Buffy episode "Restless," where the dreamscapes were established as such from the outset, and nevertheless had real world consequences.

The final twist - neither situation is real - can be deduced without becoming annoyingly obvious in the meantime. Clues include the cold star, Amy's recognition that Rory's bucolic village would not satisfy her, and, as he supposedly concedes defeat, the Dream Lord's remark about "fictions" - plural. Moreover, even though we are told not to trust that what see see is real, there are still emotional consequences, and a slight possibility of physical consequences in case we and the characters guessed wrong.

Works for me!



I was probably about twelve, but perhaps younger, when the end of Alice struck me as a cheat, largely because it gets her instantly out of danger from the Queen. Even though I've had The Annotated Alice on my shelves for nearly 30 years, I've never gone back to look at how the story stands up to an adult's understanding and sensibilities. Maybe an adult (particularly a Victorian adult) would immediately see the nonsensical world down the rabbit hole for the dreamscape that it is, and accept Alice's rejection of this reality ("nothing but a pack of cards!") as an acceptable resolution. But really, for a child especially, are hookah-smoking caterpillars and rabbits with fob watches (the White Rabbit is a Time Lord?) that much dreamier than Mr. Toad and friends, or the flying boy with the escaped shadow in a world of pirates, Indians and mermaids? Come to think of it, Peter Pan is implicitly a dream world as well, accessed from a bedroom. But Wendy et al. don't escape from danger simply by waking up.

The idea of suicide as the stated rule for how to escape the dream is an interesting reversal of other dream fiction. For example, in Thurber's "A Friend to Alexander," getting shot by Aaron Burr in a dream is fatal to the dreamer in real life. In the usual order of things, one just needs to stay alive long enough to wake up, which makes the nightmare basically a surreal version of the waking world, in which the danger may or may not be real. Here, the Doctor and friends are explicitly told that their only escape is through death, with the possibility of that death being a real one. That makes the drama less physical and more psychological, and the story is better for it.

On Amy's options:

But see, if that's the case [that Amy choosing between Upper Leadworth and the TARDIS is essentially the same thing as choosing Rory or the Doctor], then the choice she makes undercuts that, because by that point in the story it's not set up for her to make that choice. At that stage, Rory is gone from the Leadworth option. If she chooses Leadworth, then she's got the baby, and nonagenarian killer aliens, and either a quiet life (which she's already expressed dissatisfaction with) or the possibility of climbing back aboard the TARDIS (with a baby? Wouldn't that be interesting!). If she rejects Leadworth, and she's guessed correctly, she's got Rory, and the Doctor, and the freedom of TARDIS travel. She also still has the opportunity, if she survives, of having the baby later.

So the choice is ultimately not between Rory and the Doctor at all. It's between Rory's preferred world, only without Rory to make it bearable, and the Doctor's preferred world with all the goodies: Rory, the Doctor, and freedom. There is no intellectual difficulty at that point, and no incentive to choose Leadworth (since the baby exists as future potential in the TARDIS version). The choice she makes is therefore the only reasonable one.

Even so, she makes that choice for the emotional reason, to be reunited with Rory and in grief over losing him otherwise. Fortunately, Rory catches on that Amy chose the Doctor's preferred reality for Rory's sake. It's not the only possible interpretation of her decision, but he apparently can tell from what little she says and the say she says it that she did it for him. That's the emotional core of the story, at least as far as Amy is concerned. I think her emotional state is perfectly valid for this character in this situation.

For what it's worth, I do think Amy's relationship with Rory and the Doctor is very important to the story, but not the only important aspect of it. The puzzle and the Doctor/Dream Lord stuff are the other two legs of the stool. And although Rory's death does make Amy's choice too easy in the sense that it's not a choice between Rory and the Doctor, with no chance to have both, I'm not all that bothered by this. It has the intended result: it gives her a new appreciation for Rory and reassures Rory himself, while not breaking the format by ending her time in the TARDIS prematurely. That's more important than a clinical Leadworth/TARDIS or simplistic Rory or the Doctor choice.


If heaven enters into Amy's calculations (as the dialogue implies), that's the other part of the same gamble. If Leadworth is real, and she dies, she might see Rory in Heaven. (Let's discount the idea that suicide is often thought to preclude heaven as a destination.) That's a calculation based on consequences (Stay, no Rory, die, maybe Rory) rather than the inherent likeliness of "Upper Leadworth" being real. It's merely adding an extra possibility to the equation:

Option One: Live in Upper Leadworth, Die in the TARDIS
*Chance of being with Rory (alive) - 0%
*Chance of having a baby - 99%
*Chance of traveling with the Doctor - approx 1%
*Chance of seeing Rory in Heaven anytime soon - negligible
*Chance of being with Rory (alive) - 0%
*Chance of having a baby - 0%
*Chance of traveling with the Doctor - 0%
*Chance of seeing Rory in Heaven - presumably good to excellent

Option Two: Die in Upper Leadworth, Live in the TARDIS
*Chance of being with Rory in the TARDIS (and after) - 99%
*Chance of having a baby, eventually - excellent, if desired
*Chance of traveling with the Doctor - approx 99%
*Chance of seeing Rory in Heaven anytime soon - negligible
*Chance of being with Rory (alive) - 0%
*Chance of having a baby - 0%
*Chance of traveling with the Doctor - 0%
*Chance of seeing Rory in Heaven - presumably good to excellent

The incorrect guesses (resulting in death) are the same, so they cancel each other out. Option One gives her the baby, but no Rory for sure, and probably no Doctor (since he's unlikely to let her travel with a baby). Option Two, which Amy chooses, results in her having access to Rory almost for sure, and secondarily the Doctor. Easy, really. Not that she's likely to reason it out in that much detail, but the emotion of the decision leads the same way.


On the consequences for later in the season:

We know the immediate fallout, that Amy's relationship with Rory is strengthened, and they both stay in the TARDIS for now. But we don't know how the developments in the characters' relationships and outlook will play into whatever happens in the season finale.

As I said, I should have given it a 9. Maybe even a 10.

NuWho Review Redux: The Vampires of Venice
Fried Brain
Re: Rate / Review "The Vampires of Venice"

8/10 from me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it certainly didn't have any major flaws as VotDaleks had, but it's not in the very top rank either.

Rory was engaging (no pun intended) and I liked both his broomstick battle and his perceptive critique of the Doctor's effect on companions. Other bits made me cringe a little, though, particularly some of the sex-related banter and innuendo. (This is a personal thing with me, not actually a flaw in the episode itself.) There were a few moments early on when he was cold and not at all humorous, which is believable but somewhat jarring given the tone of his behavior the rest of the time. The character has potential, but I'm not sure he quite gels for me yet.

The other issue I had was with the resolution, with the last female of her species subjecting herself to a particularly gruesome form of suicide rather than try to negotiate with the Doctor for a new start elsewhere. On the other hand, the silly toggle switch at the top of the tower was a fun touch, and didn't bother me a bit.

The term "perception filter" is getting a little overused now, referring to a whole range of effects. In this case it's an illusion, operating in the mind rather than strictly visually. That's a far cry from the usual explanation regarding the TARDIS, TARDIS keys, the pavement above Torchwood and even the possible perception filter (more likely a joke) surrounding the Doctor and River not catching on about the degraded Angels being single-headed two weeks ago. Still, there's no reason there can't be different kinds of perception filters. I just hate to see it become a standard explanation for lots of different things

I'm not sure the vampire lore maps perfectly onto the fish people as explained here, and it's kind of a shame that we've had a handful of vampire variants in televised Doctor Who over the years with no two alike, or even referencing each other on screen. But it was a lot of fun anyway, not really gothic but suitably creepy with the right amount of pathos underneath.

Trogir/Venice makes for a beautiful, historic and intriguing backdrop, and what little CG there is perfectly adequate. Works for me! And three cheers for the First Doctor's library card!



In retrospect I'm sticking with 8, but it's a low 8.

NuWho Review Redux: Flesh and Stone
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne
Re: Rate / Review "Flesh and Stone"

Another 10/10 from me. Matt Smith continues to astonish me with his characterization of the Doctor - he's already managed to leapfrog (or giraffe?) his way into the #2 spot on my personal list of favorite Doctors. Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston are very good also, along with the guest cast, but Matt is the big standout here.

The plot is complex, diverting and virtually flawless. I have a tiny niggle about whether the Angels are looking at each other as they move toward the end, but perhaps they have arranged themselves well enough to prevent this. Each episode has deepened the Angel lore without contradicting what went before, instead adding additional layers of meaning and scariness to what we already knew. Love it.

I also love that a) the Doctor and Amy have finally noticed the Crack, b) the Crack has become more overtly dangerous, and c) that the Doctor uses problem #2, the Crack, to solve problem #1, the Angels.

River was excellent this week, playful but compassionate and competent, and not particularly smug. Her story gets more intriguing with each new revelation, and I think it's great that Moffat plans to tell her whole story. I especially like that the Doctor is not thrown by River's crime or the clear implication about who she probably killed, and now looks forward to future encounters rather than wanting to run away.

Amy's pass at the Doctor is a little shocking, but not out of range of behavior for commitment-shy, "mad, impossible Amy" as we've seen her so far. I half expected for the Doctor or Amy to break into a chorus of "Get Me to the Church on Time," in which Alfie Doolittle fully intends to spend the last night before his marriage behaving much as Amy tries to behave here.

Beyond all that, what I really love here is the way Moffat pays off past bits of continuity while setting up further clues to pay off in the future. I'm still not sure what the duckless duck pond has to do with anything, nor how Amy's marriage causes the Cyberking incident to be undone even before the Doctor meets Amy in his personal timeline, but I look forward to leaning more about both. It's terrific to see Moffat picking up elements from RTD's work (Cyberking, "a complicated even in time and space" - Doctor 10.5) and incorporating them into his storyline now. I always loved when RTD took something that happened years earlier and made it seem an integral part of the overall story. For the Moff to use his enormous time brain to do the same thing with someone else's writing is a surprise and a delight.

I'm quite stressed now, wondering how the story of Amy and Rory will play out over the next few episodes. I can hardly wait!



Sticking with my 10/10 here.

NuWho Review Redux: The Time of Angels
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne
Re: Rate / Review "The Time of Angels"

I watched this three times before rating in case I eventually discovered some reason not to give it a 10. I didn't find one.

My husband called it "Steven Moffat's greatest hits" in terms of recurring story elements, but I would add that those elements were handled in new ways and cranked up to 11. The dead cleric soldiers enticing the next victim were reminiscent of RTD's Cyberized Torchwood staff, by way of Miss Evangelista and the two Daves, but really interesting in the way they were handled, especially Sacred Angel Bob with his apologies and deference. And now we know that the Angels can manipulate a lot more than a basement light bulb, which neatly answers the Moff's self-mockery at Gallifrey two years ago, wondering whether the Angels paid the electric bill at Wester Drumlins. And wow, were the Angels themselves ever ramped up in their power and scariness! I was quite tense throughout, especially for Amy.

I'm not a big fan of River insofar as she's such a smug know-it-all, but she has such style and is so funny that it's easy to forgive her, especially when her bickering with the Doctor leads to such comedy gold as the scene in the TARDIS. (It's worth cheekily messing with the mythology of the show and the TARDIS, just to hear Matt's imitation of the engine wheeze. We can always explain away any discontinuities, and say that River's description of why the TARDIS makes that sound is inaccurate, or that only with this rebuild does the TARDIS gain the ability not to make that sound, or Time Lords generally love that sound and deliberately let it be made. Or something. ) I love that the Doctor isn't keen to hang out with River, who constantly throws him off balance with her knowledge and lack of deference, and that Amy teases him about River and makes him stay.

The payoff is that the Doctor reasserts his superior knowledge at the TARDIS door, putting an end to his failures of the past few weeks both there and at the end. Yes, Amy rescues herself, but that's perfectly all right. She isn't the hero of the day this time; the Doctor is, despite the (still offscreen) deaths. That too is as it should be; the Doctor suffers losses, nearly everywhere he goes, which is what makes the occasional "everybody lives" story stand out. And hooray! Next week the Doctor and Amy finally get to notice the darn crack. I was starting to get really annoyed about their obliviousness to that.

I still have questions about little plot niggles, but unlike in the previous two stories I'm confident that answers exist. When did Amy learn of the Doctor's aversion to being called Sir? I don't recall anything like that in VotD but perhaps I missed it or, more likely, it happened off screen. And I'm not at all sure a spotter's guide is sufficient to solve the timing issues surrounding River's knowledge of the Doctor - but again, I trust that Moffat has worked it though in his head.

And how great were Matt and Karen, right from Day One, shot one of filming? There isn't the slightest hint of hesitance or unfamiliarity with their characters. The Doctor is very much the Doctor as we've come to know him over the past several weeks (and in the decades before that), and Amy is very much Amy.

This is soooo much better than last week, right up there with The Eleventh Hour. Got to be a 10. Got to be. YMMV - it always does, across the spectrum of Doctor Who fandom, but as far as I'm concerned, this is about as good as it gets, an absolutely flawless episode. I'll say it again: hooray!

About River's wibbly wobbly relationship with the Doctor:

Two things:

1. Somewhere in the different interviews around the time of the New York launch, Moffat says that we're going to get River's whole story. I assume he doesn't mean that we will literally see dozens of meetings, but rather how it begins, who she is and what she becomes to him, and possibly the new suit and gift screwdriver encounter.

2. In this week's Confidential, Moffat says that the Doctor's "only had one major encounter" with River before this. I'm guessing that means Ten took her for that Picnic at Asgard during the gap year, but it wasn't a major adventure, more like a date. It seems clear from the way she flipped the pages in SitL that she keeps the diary in her best guess at his timeline, the better to keep track. It's probably easy for her to remember that their adventure on the Planet of Hats was before she went to Zog; but remembering that from his pov he went to Zog and then Shallacatop and then the Planet of Hats requires recordkeeping. Hence the diary.


NuWho Review Redux: Victory of the Daleks
Dalek garden
Re: Rate / Review "Victory of the Daleks"

I need another time through this and more sleep to really settle into an opinion, but I gave it a seven, my lowest rating in a while.

It was great to finally see Technicolor Daleks after all these years, the size and slightly odd shape notwithstanding. Colorful Daleks were the only thing of value in the Cushing films IMO, aside from a certain beloved actor. The khaki Daleks' acceptance that they were themselves inferior and should be exterminated was an interesting twist. Variant Daleks usually don't agree that they are "not pure in their blobbyness." It also wasn't clear what part of the Dalek timeline the khaki Daleks hail from. The Doctor called the ones in Journey's End a fully-fledged empire at the height of its power, whereas here they are described as being hardly better off than the Cult of Skaro in Manhattan.

The interplay between the Doctor and Churchill was good, and it was interesting to see the new Doctor's reaction to the Daleks, although it's odd that he's not conflicted about the morality of attempting Genocide of the Daleks (again), if only London weren't in peril if he did it. The ongoing mystery of the crack and Amy's apparent anachronism was intriguing. I'm more convinced than previously that there is something deeply weird about the denizens of Leadworth.

I was genuinely surprised by the Bracewell reveal, and liked that a lot. I disagree that the Doctor should have dumped him on the Dalek ship for two reasons. 1. He didn't know about the bomb until after he arrived on the spaceship, and did not have time later on. 2. Deactivating or detonating Bracewell would be murder as far as the Doctor was concerned. He was sentient. Bracewell sacrificing himself would be acceptable, albeit cliched. The Doctor effectively killing him would not be.

My husband being all grumpy next to me (he didn't like it much at all) probably affected my own opinion, but even so, several problems with the episode really stand out. The main one, which John pointed out, is the Doctor's ineffectualness in this episode. It feels wrong to have the Doctor fail to save the day two weeks in a row. He didn't even prevent Bracewell's detonation at the end, let alone stop the Daleks. You can get away with something like that about once a season, and even then it won't be completely satisfying. Good for Amy, pitching in to help in a way reminiscent of Rose at her best, but the story's resolution should be in the Doctor's capable hands the vast majority of the time.

I also had real problems with the near-instantaneous rollout of alien science that seemingly only existed on paper until then, getting the Spitfires into space. The whole logic of the gravity bubble didn't work for me, but I could have accepted it as too cool to grump about had they done a better job of selling it. Some flimflam explanation and a word about the tech being already in development would have been helpful here.

Similarly, the concept that Bracewell won't blow up if he thinks like a human didn't make any sense at all. Again, a decent handwave would have helped a lot. I don't insist on anything resembling real science, but even a science fantasy about an alien with two hearts and a traveling box needs a reasonable amount of verisimilitude, just so it doesn't through the viewer out of the narrative.

And finally, the death of Breen's "young man" was clumsy and by the numbers. I realize people die in war movies (and in war), but there was nothing clever or interesting about this cliched subplot. This sort of thing was handled much better in The Curse of Fenric.

Overall, lots to like, but major problems as well. I much prefer Gatiss's previous stories.


On Bracewell's positronic brain and Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

That's how it works in Asimov, and in other people's stories that implicitly or explicitly set robots up to behave along those parameters. Doctor Who does not necessarily fall into that category, however. Even Kettlewell's Robot had only a vague paraphrase of them in his programming (and look how well THAT turned out!)

There is no reason the show can't use the "positronic" term without incorporating the Three Laws into Bracewell's behavior. Indeed, he certainly causes harm to lots of human beings - as long as they're in German planes. In this case, the only implication is that Bracewell has artificial intelligence, filled with, apparently, someone else's memories.

I'[m not disputing, necessarily, that the episode is poorly written. I'm merely saying that the use of the term "positronic" in Doctor Who does not mean that the character with that sort of brain necessarily conforms to standards of behavioral programming set up in short stories by Isaac Asimov. There's plenty to complain about in this episode without insisting that an android with a positronic brain, built by Daleks in a Doctor Who episode, should have conformed to a law about not harming humans that derives from a different author in an entirely different medium.


After further reflection and rewatchings, I would downgrade this one to 6/10.

NuWho Review Redux: The Beast Below
Fried Brain
From my postings on GB:

 "The Beast Below"

I stopped myself from giving this a 9 or 10, and settled on 8.

*Great characters and dialogue
*Packed with ideas and the Doctor being clever
*the villains (such as they are) acting for the perceived greater good instead of random malevolence or a meaningless grab for power.
*Nobody dies. Again. Nice bit of misdirection that the boy's odd reaction isn't him being zombie-fied, merely alarmed about the tentacle behind Mandy.
*Liz 10. Coolest. Monarch. Ever.
*The Doctor angry with both humans and himself, because if he kills the whale's higher faculties "I won't be the Doctor any more."
*Amy saves the day, proves her value, stands up to the Doctor and saves him from himself, all by out-Doctoring the Doctor in her observation and deductions once he's revealed the truth about Liz 10. I was practically shouting at the screen that there had to be a fourth and better option than the ones the Doctor enumerated. Amy being the one to find that option was a pleasant surprise.
*Amy's observation about the Doctor's character, just in general.
*The fact that Amy went with him the night before her wedding, even knowing how terrible he is at showing up on time, is now fully explained. It wasn't a plot hole or poor characterization after all.
*A lead-in to the next story, the sort of thing that used to be done way back in the days of Ian and Barbara(!).

One big negative, one smaller one and a few niggles:
*When was the last time the Doctor claimed never to do anything but observe? 1965? Even with a new companion, he doesn't usually try out that particular massive lie. Not the least because, as here, it's bound to be disproved in about 30 seconds.
*If Scotland, and presumably other countries, left on different spaceships, how did they do so without whales of their own? Either everyone but Britain died, or one or more countries managed to build ships, with engines and everything. Where are they? And if they had sufficient means, why didn't Britain do the same? Did they run out of time, or was it simply more expedient to harness the whale instead?
*Niggle: how does Amy end up outside the TARDIS again, with the doors shut? That seems really hard to work out logistically.
*Niggle: how does Amy know he's really old, especially since she doesn't know he's not human until well into the episode? (He already told her he's from another planet, but I suppose she could have thought he was from some offworld human colony.) He may have told her something during her two hours of offering him food at age 7, but overall the timeline of what she learns and when doesn't quite hang together.

Overall, though, I liked it a lot, and it was just the big, fat transparent lie that really bothered me, and secondarily the thing about the other countries.

No, wait. There is one other thing that bothers me, a lot. The overall story is more than a little redolent of Torchwood: Children of Earth. I really dislike stories that portray humanity in such a negative light. It's only the fact that the people in charge of Starship UK are considerably more benign and a little less ruthless than the government that tried to sacrifice all those children in 21st Century Earth, that they have a certain level of guilt and regret instead of self-serving rationalizations, that makes this more bearable. And it's a testament to the strength of other aspects of the story - Amy's wisdom, the Doctor's kindness, Liz's attempts to protect her people - that humanity's frailty here doesn't ruin the story for me.


P.S. Both here and on last week's rate thread, I keep seeing people remarking that they would like to raise their rating after watching the episode again. That being the case, it may be worth watching twice before voting, hmm? That's what I always do. That gives the story a lot of time to sink in and your mind time to examine it more, and pick up things you missed on first viewing. You don't get to be first out of the box, but IMO the opinion is worth a little more than a hasty first impression would be.


On Amy and the Doctor not staying all slimy:

You can see Amy finishing her clean-up in Liz 10's chambers.


On seeing the star whale from space:

Aside from the fact that the TARDIS was above Starship UK, so that nothing showed beneath, the Star Whale was probably largely enclosed within the ship until Amy and Liz 10 pushed the button. We are told that the original people built their ship "around it," and that the whale was trapped. Also, if the head were outside the ship earlier in the story, the Doctor and Amy would have been vomited out into space rather than into a corridor. It seems almost certain, therefore, that the whale shifted position quite a bit at the end of the episode, becoming much more visible from space.


On the appearance of a similar creature in Torchwood:

It was being harvested for meat, in an episode called, IIRC, "Meat." I'm not sure they made it a "space whale" or
Star Whale per se, but it was clearly that sort of thing. And yes, there is a thematic similarity between the two stories, IMO.


On the question of how other countries left Earth without star whales of their own:

It's perfectly reasonable to wonder about this plot hole. We're told that by the time the Star Whale came, the other nations of Earth had already left on shops of their own. Presumably they didn't all have star whales, so why couldn't the UK have managed without one? We can rationalize that somehow the UK was technologically backward in that era (more so than every other nation? Really?), or broke, or ignored the warnings until it was too late, or got bogged down in politics. But in the end we really don't know why the UK was driven to exploit the star whale when other nations (probably) were not.

As for the Scottish accent, we're told that Scotland "wanted" its own ship and was therefore not on board Starship UK. Either they avoided the issues that scuppered the UK effort, or they didn't make it off Earth at all. Either way, a Scottish accent would be unusual on Starship UK, if not completely absent except in old recordings.


8 is probably about right for this one. A high 8 though.

NuWho Review Redux: The Eleventh Hour
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne
Continuing the reposting of my comments about recent Doctor Who episodes from the Gallifrey Base rate threads.  If nothing else, these will make the entries easier for me personally to find and reread, or at lease look up my numerical ratings.

The Eleventh Hour: Initial Comments

That was glorious. "Absolute pinnacle" about covers it. So many surprises - I thought with all the trailers and clips we've been spoonfed these last weeks that I'd just about seen the first ten minutes of the episode. Boy was I wrong!

Favorite bits:

* Amelia packing her little suitcase. It was so sad, knowing he would let her down.
* A completely different reading of "What? What? What?" I thought that signature line was gone forever.
* The sequence with the laptop, and preparing Jeff to take over this part of the world-saving.
* Everybody knows of the Doctor through Amy.
* Ordering the Atraxi back and then scaring them by being the Doctor.
* The return of the finger snap.
*"I am a madman with a box."
* All those Doctor and TARDIS icons...and then the wedding dress.

If I had to come up with a niggle, it would be that talking-at-top-speed Matt is harder to understand than talking-at-top-speed David. I hope he slows down just a little as he goes along.

I suspect Ten will always be my favorite Doctor, but Eleven's first story is wonderfully written, wonderfully performed.


On the conversation while eating fish fingers and custard:

This bit of dialogue pays off the whole eating sequence, taking it from the fun of the little girl catering to the stranger's crazy food demands, through an observation about the girl's unflappability, and, chillingly, to the threat that's serious enough to frighten her. Good stuff.


And speaking of fish fingers and custard:

haven't reached YouTube yet, but so far I've found via Google:

http://www.fishincustard.co.uk/home.html - a consulting firm or something that helps business fish deal with their distracting custard stuff so they can concentrate on non-custard stuff. Seems to treat the combo of fish and custard as if it's already an established metaphor. I'm assuming this isn't a fake site like the Torchwood House one etc.

http://www.astray.com/recipes/?show=Fish%20custard - a recipe that, it's claimed, "shows true New England ingenuity."

http://importfood.com/recipes/thaifishcustard.html - receipe that presumably shows true Thai ingenuity. Also http://www.orientmag.com/recipe6.asp - steamed fish and banana custard.

That's before I start hitting all the Doctor Who-related results.

I think I need to go to Safeway now for fish and custard.

The Doctor's "craving" and the eating sequence generally is "a callback to the dialogue between the Doctor and Lazarus over "nibbles." The Doctor seemed to be talking about a need to eat after regeneration. Maybe Ten should have eaten the apple in the dressing gown.

Also, the whole food scene, aside from showcasing the Doctor at his wonkiest, is a great introduction to Amelia. She's capable of going with it, following the outrageous demands of the raggedy Doctor as if determined to find the food he won't spit out, unfazed by it all. This established a rapport between the two characters and adds impact the Doctor's remark about the crack being scary to the otherwise unflappable little girl.

Eight episodes in, I still love this episode. Still a 10.

New Who Review Redux: The End of Time
Fried Brain
David Tennant's swansong as the Doctor, The End of Time, was originally broadcast over Christmas 2009 and New Year's Day 2010 in the UK. I will combine my two reviews in this entry.

On Part One (25 Dec 2009, 11:48 pm):

I had to debate between a 9 and a 10 and ended up with 10. Epic, emotional, intricate, funny in spots, with WTF moments I trust RTD to (mostly) clear up by the end of Part 2. I especially loved the Doctor and Wilf in the cafe, and the way the Master can be more damaged than ever, and yet still share a strong bond of kinship and shared experience with the Doctor.

Aside from the character stuff, all of which I loved (well, except for the ER claim), what really impressed me was the way it all fits with everything we've seen from Rose on, and to a lesser extent all the way back to An Unearthly Child. The Doctor has always had a difficult relationship with his own people, and now we see a Lord President every bit as corrupt as past Gallifreyan villains. In "The Parting of the Ways," Rose spoke of the distant future as happening right now, and here the Ood speak of time in much the same way. In "Last of the Time Lords," the Master spoke of the combination of human and Time Lord, a new Gallifrey and a new Time Lord empire. It was hard to see any such things in his Toclafane scheme, but now we can deduce that he was being manipulated by the High Council, somehow. Donna's special relationship with the Doctor finds its echo as Wilf reconnects with him in her place. We finally see who (besides Tracie Simpson) picked up the ring. We learn what the four beats represent, aside from the bass line of Ron Grainer's theme. We find out more or less definitively why the Doctor didn't regenerate at the beginning of "Turn Left," which just leaves us with the Seventh Doctor's demise to explain away. It's all clicking into place, and yet, there are parts of the saga that RTD admits he did not plan from the beginning, much as it seems that way now.

The one thing I might have knocked off a point for and didn't was the Master's new energy bolt ability and the whole resurrection potion thing. It seems a little beyond the pale for a Time Lord. Yet this is a character who survived numerous certain death situations with no explanation, who stole the body of poor Tremas, who was infected by the cheetah planet, who existed briefly as a gooey snake creature, and who was deliberately brought back from -- where did the TARDIS version of the Eye of Harmony lead? The Matrix? the Time Vortex? -- to fight a Time War, and apparently to engineer Gallifrey's return. I'm not sure where the limits are to believability for a character with such an extreme history of transformations and unlikely resurrections. A few words were thrown in to explain it, sort of, and I'm prepared to let it slide. It's worth it to see John Simm's extraordinary performance of the Master as he goes over the edge, plummeting much deeper into Crazytown than before.

Oh, and I hated the repeated claim that Obama was somehow going to fix the world's economy with a single speech. Having endured a year of greed and ignorance and worthless compromise getting in the way of the President's campaign promises, I just found that bit rather painful.

I have a strong suspicion about the identity of Wilf's mysterious contact. Please let it be the one major character RTD hasn't brought back yet - and I don't mean the Rani!

On President Obama's appearance as a character:

I wasn't bothered by the Obama appearance per se. The Queen has appeared, why not Obama? What irritated me was the actor's lack of resemblance, even from the back and with face obscured. Also, it would have been nice if his name were pronounced correctly by all of the characters, particularly Trinity Wells.

More than that, it bugged me that several characters expected an American President to fix the world's economy with a single speech. Save the world from the Daleks or the Sycorax? That can be done in a day or two, if you're the cleverest alien in the Universe and have the right friends. Instantly fix unemployment, homelessness, housing markets, the credit market, etc., which presumably requires widespread and systematic change on the part of real people and institutions? That's a very different kettle of credit cards.

That's probably the satirical point, of course, that some people credit certain charismatic politicians with the miraculous ability to fix the world's problems. But from this side of the pond, where different people demonize those same politicians, such a depiction feels painfully ironic. And this holds true whether the politician in question is Obama or Palin or President Summers, former VP to Winters.


On the variance between actual plot resolutions and the ones anticipated by fans (1 Jan 2010, 2:46 am):
From time to time I find myself obsessing about some trailer or cliffhanger, e.g. "How could the Doctor see Jack and dematerialize anyway?" or "How does RTD get away having the Doctor regenerate when David Tennant has further appearances to make?" or indeed "Who is the woman in white?" If the story when it aired fit the one in my head too closely, I think I'd be disappointed. I want RTD, the Moff et al. to do something clever, something I didn't think of.

I suspect, however, that some fans want the opposite. Confronted with a cliffhanger, they apply their knowledge of the show and personal preferences to come up with a particular scenario they want. If that's what the show then provides, then well and good. The fan's cleverness is validated, the preference satisfied. Anything else feels "wrong." This is not the version of Doctor Who they signed up for, the optimal Doctor Who they've constructed for themselves. Therefore it's rubbish - no plot, all spectacle, too much science, not enough science, or whatever it is that offends their sensibilities. My husband tonight mentioned that on another site fans complained that there was too much running in EoT. Too much running? In Doctor Who? Isn't that a defining characteristic of the entire 1963 to present series? It seems a bit late to start complaining about that now!

BBC America is running the Tenth Doctor's stories back to back at the moment, and we had Tooth and Claw on earlier. Queen Victoria declares angrily that "This is not my world," despite the evidence of her eyes, and later banishes the Doctor and Rose from her empire and her world. I guess a queen might think she can get away with that. If the real world doesn't match the one in her head, she can order the world to change. The rest of us don't have that luxury. It's not up to us to dictate what Doctor Who should be, or what the optimal Doctor Who is. Our choice is whether to judge the show based on what it is, and appreciate its variability, or to judge it based on how closely it resembles the version of the show we've built up in our own heads.

For me that's an easy choice. Like Jon [Blum], I have occasional reservations about some plot point or character detail; but overall I'm pleased to be surprised, episode after episode.


On Part Two (2 Jan 2010, 4:05 am):

I don't think I'm quite ready to decide how much I love this. I gave it a 9, but I could easily have gone for 10, just as last time I gave it a 10 but almost went with 9.

There isn't anything here I don't like, with the possible exception of the rescue-down-stairs. There's nothing inherently wrong with lightening the mood for a moment with a bit of slapstick, but it wasn't to my taste.

The other night I wrote that this show should be judged on its own merits, not on how well it conforms to the movie in your head. Implicit in that is the idea that it's better for the show to surprise than for it to meet expectations. Well, RTD surprised me, with Rassilon returning from the deep past, a fact revealed in a single throwaway line; in our mysterious Woman in White not being identified; in the Master helping to save the Universe and not being the source of the life-ending knocking; in Martha marrying Mickey; the tribute from Ood Sigma; and in the purpose of the Doctor's farewell tour, as foreshadowed by all those set reports last spring. I truly thought the banging on the barrels was the knocking, so Wilf tapping the glass was a major surprise for me. (Too bad I already submitted a trivia question on Facebook that says the Master knocked four times. Oops!)

Beyond that, some parts were flat-out wonderful, such as the Doctor trying to convince the Master that he doesn't need to own the Universe, and their mutual pondering of how their lives have been affected by the noise in the Master's head. Wilf and the Doctor were fantastic together on the spaceship, and I loved Wilf for trying to spare the Doctor from making the fatal rescue. Donna finally gets married for real, and her dead father inadvertently solves her ongoing money issue with the Doctor's help. Lovely!

Oh, and no reboot or reset. Hooray!

Yeah, I love it. I don't have any serious issues with a single moment of it, although I do wonder why the regeneration was so destructive. Was it the radiation? The effect of the delay as the Tenth Doctor made his final rounds? I don't know. Maybe I don't have to know.

No, wait. There is one little niggle. The Eleventh Doctor's first moments were uncomfortably similar to Ten's, with the inventory of body parts, forgetting "something important" and near-delight at the TARDIS in crash mode. Yes, the Doctor pretty much always checks himself out after regeneration, but I thought the actual monologue here was a little derivative. That surprises me, because Steven Moffat (I assume he wrote the end bit) is a highly original writer, most of the time. Still, Matt Smith was a lot of fun to watch, particularly the way he moved those amazingly expressive fingers.

I guess the few niggles I've mentioned are why, if I have to quantify it, it's only a 9 for me. Your mileage, as always, may vary. And probably does.


On the drumming in the Masters head as a viable retcon (3 Jan 2010, 4:19 am):

Both Yana and the Simm-Master mentioned that the drums have been getting louder and louder recently. Presumably it was easier to cope a few centuries back, when it was a minor background noise, than it is now, when it is designed to force the Master to act on it. Ever had problems with a song stuck in your head? I don't know about you, but for me it can be a real problem sometimes. (Also tinnitus.) If my mind is engaged elsewhere, it's not so bad, but other times it can be very annoying and distracting. Imagine Delgado being afflicted with a relatively benign level of the sound in his head, Ainley with substantially more, and Simm with it turned up to eleven. No wonder it's practically all he thinks about these days, whereas in the old days he didn't consider it worth mentioning. Not when we were listening in, anyway!

Comparing the Tenth Doctor's farewell tour before regenerating with past regeneration delays (5 Jan 2010, 5:14 pm):

There was some discussion earlier comparing the long-delayed regeneration here with the one in Planet of the Spiders. My Target novelization is out of reach behind a stack of boxes, but I watched the end of the aired story last night. Just before the TARDIS materializes in the Doctor's lab at UNIT, Sarah Jane remarks that it's been three weeks since the Doctor disappeared. Assuming it didn't take more than a day or so to get to the cave of crystals on Metebelis 3, The Doctor spent nearly three weeks dying of severe radiation poisoning (or something along those lines). Or did he? The Third Doctor may only have been "lost in the Time Vortex" for a day or so of his personal time, even though three weeks passed back at UNIT. We don't really know how much time he spent not regenerating, or why he needed a little push from K'Anpo to get things moving again.

In the present story, the Doctor makes seven or eight stops that we know about (including the visit to Geoff Noble, and probably another stop to check lottery results) before his difficulties become so great that he can hardly walk. None of those encounters take more than a few minutes on screen, but let's assume there's a certain amount of set up time - researching when a visit to Martha and Mickey will do the most good, tracking Jack down, etc. Even with all that, it probably doesn't take more than a day or so of his personal time for him to do all that stuff. Given the lag time in Planet of the Spiders, that doesn't seem unreasonable.



I'm a little surprised to see that I didn't give either part of The End of Time a ten, considering how much I loved it then, and how many times I've watched it since. Still, I think it's the right rating. This may be one of my favorite stories, because certain scenes are astonishingly good and emotionally satisfying; and yet The End of Time has its flaws, enough to prevent a "perfect" rating.

And that's enough for tonight. Next time: "The Eleventh Hour."


New Who Review Redux: Dreamland
Fried Brain
My harshest review since Gallifrey Base set up shop last summer was for "Dreamland," an animated story originally aired in one twelve minute episodes followed by a series of six minute ones. Here was my reaction:

I only gave it a 5 (out of 10), I'm afraid, which is by far the worst rating I would give any Tenth Doctor story to date. Not that I expected it to be great, given the medium, but The Infinite Quest was far better.

The backgrounds in Dreamland were very nice and atmospheric, but the character designs were annoyingly crude, and even worse when they moved. At times the sound seemed a little off, so that DT didn't quite sound like the Doctor.

There was a long argument/discussion in the Waters of Mars thread about how much characterization the Bowie Base crew got. In Dreamland there was far less. Maybe I'd pick up more upon rewatching, but as it is I know next to nothing about the two companions du jour. Again, this is partly due to the limitations of the format, with all those short episodes - but here, too, The Infinite Quest was more effective in making characters interesting in the space of a few minutes.

Good stuff - I liked the kitchen sink approach of including lots of the old American sf cliches - the gray aliens, the MIB, helicopters, Area 51, Roswell, etc. There were some fun lines of dialogue, and I approve of the Doctor refusing to allow genocide, and saying the the Russians "are nice." Considering what's going on in the character's life immediately before and after this story, the Doctor's dismissive response when his life was threatened was nicely underplayed.

But overall, there doesn't seem to be much meat to this story. Maybe there was no room for meat. I'll just have to wait for Christmas, and the next heaping helping of Doctor Who goodness.


Now: unusually for me, I haven't rewatched this. I'm not even sure where we might have a copy of it to watch. I'd really like to like it, because it's Doctor Who and I respect the writer, director and actors behind it. More likely, though, the pacing and the visuals will always get in the way of my appreciation.