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Doctor Who, Season Nine

Doctor Who didn’t have a lot farther to sink after last season, so season nine was almost by definition something of a rebound. With Jenna Coleman having announced beforehand that she’d be leaving the series, many stories seemed to tease her departure by putting Clara in positions where she could be plausibly killed off.

(Much) more – with spoilers – after the jump.

Read on, Macduff! »

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Because I Have Opinions, I’m going to write about this past week’s Doctor Who episode, “Heaven Sent”.

In isolation, the episode instantly became the best of the Peter Capaldi episodes to date. Not that that’s saying a lot, since his run has been extraordinarily weak so far, with only “Under the Lake”/ “Before the Flood” being above average. (Most of last season was completely forgettable.)

What sets this episode apart is that it seems Steven Moffat remember what made his four stories during the Russell T. Davies period among the best of that era: While his stories didn’t always hold up to close scrutiny, they always had a successful emotional resonance and felt true to the characters and situations. But as show runner, Moffat’s stories have lost that emotional resonance and often feel downright manipulative. And his plots have gotten increasingly contrived, and just needlessly complex. While there is some of that here, fundamentally “Heaven Sent” is a simple story which works on an emotional level, relying heavily on Capaldi to pull it off, which he does, in perhaps his best performance in the role to date.

Much more spoilery discussion after the break. No plot summary, though; read the Wikipedia article if you need a refresher.

Read on, Macduff! »

Doctor Who, Season Eight

Welcome to my review of the worst season of Doctor Who since the Colin Baker era. Yes, even worse than last season, which did not have a lot to recommend it.

As usual, I’ll start with my ranking of episodes, from best to worst:

  1. Deep Breath (written by Steven Moffat)
  2. Mummy on the Orient Express (Jamie Mathieson)
  3. Robots of Sherwood (Mark Gatiss)
  4. Last Christmas (Steven Moffat)
  5. Dark Water/Death in Heaven (Steven Moffat)
  6. Time Heist (Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat)
  7. Listen (Steven Moffat)
  8. Flatline (Jamie Mathieson)
  9. The Caretaker (Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat)
  10. Into the Dalek (Phil Ford & Steven Moffat)
  11. In the Forest of the Night (Frank Cottrell Boyce)
  12. Kill the Moon (Peter Harness)

Let’s sum it up this way: I own every season of the new series on DVD – but I don’t plan to buy this one. Frankly there is not a single episode I particularly want to see a second time. The best of the season, “Deep Breath”, is barely more than a run-of-the-mill suspense yarn. And it gets worse from there.

Also as usual, my reviews contain plenty of spoilers, and so I’ll continue after the jump…

Read on, Macduff! »

The Time of the Doctor

I’m hard-pressed to think of a less distinguished, less inspiring, and just plain less-fun final episode for any of the leads of Doctor Who than “The Time of the Doctor”, this year’s Christmas episode and Matt Smith’s swan song as the eleventh Doctor. While the 1996 TV movie was not great, and I’m no fan of “The Caves of Androzani” (a favorite of many fans for reasons I don’t understand), both of them are better than this mess of a story was.

Spoilers after the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

The Day of the Doctor

The 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who was excellent. I could have asked for them to reduce some of the gratuitously cheeseball scenes, but by and large it followed through on its promise of revisiting the Doctor’s darkest day during the Time War quite well.

Spoilers after the cut!

Read on, Macduff! »

Caught Up in the Excitement

I used to think I’d been watching Doctor Who longer than almost everyone in America. Then a friend pointed out to me that the two 1960s movies with Peter Cushing, Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. had been released in the United State, so a lot of science fiction fans from that era were familiar with the character. Oh well! Still, I’ve been watching the series since the Tom Baker episodes aired in Boston in 1976 (I was 7), and I have dim recollections of watching my Dad watch a couple of Jon Pertwee episodes circa 1974, so I’ve probably got a few years on anyone who didn’t see those films in the 60s. As with Star Trek, I spent my pre-teen years watching them over and over and over again; compared to other genre shows of that era, they were clearly the cream of the crop.

The pattern at PBS back then was that they’d throw the shows into rotation, and then after a few years they’d get a few more seasons of the series and add them on. So I watched the hell out of the first four Baker seasons, and then they added the last three. Then in the early 1980s we got cable TV, and I discovered a New Hampshire station that was showing the Peter Davison stories, and they weren’t airing them in their original episodic half-hour format, but were showing them as full stories, which was awesome. The first one I saw was “Kinda”, which all things considered is a pretty crappy introduction to the fifth Doctor, though in hindsight it’s actually a good story which distills the Doctor’s attitude quite well.

By the mid-80s I had largely stopped watching television. Moreover, what I imagine was the BBC’s quixotic attitude towards the series combined with PBS’ cynical approach to premiering new Who episodes during pledge drives made it difficult to see many of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy stories. I found a friend in high school who, it would be fair to say, was a bigger Doctor Who fan than I was, and he had access to bootlegged videotapes of the later stories which we loaned to me. Honestly, I wasn’t missing much; the original series went south in a big way after “The Five Doctors” (people who think “The Caves of Androzani” represent some pinnacle of the series are just wrong – “ham-handed” is how I’d describe it), with the exception of a few of the McCoy episodes.

Still, this was my first experience (other than a convention my Dad took us to to meet Tom Baker which I barely remember) with other Who fans. It was a little weird to realize that there were fans who were more willing and able to get those episodes than I was.

A friend and I watched the 1996 TV-movie when it aired. It was pretty bad, though Paul McGann was good. We watched it again on Friday, after watching “The Night of the Doctor”, and it is a shame McGann didn’t get more of a chance to show his stuff. (There’s a petition to create an eighth Doctor series in the wake of the minis ode.)

I was never into reading any of the spin-off books or listening to any of the audio dramas. I felt like I’d been burned by all the yahoos on USENET in the early 90s earnestly arguing that all the Star Trek novels and such were canon. As far as I’m concerned, if it ain’t in the original medium (video for Trek and who) then it’s just fanfic. I guess there’s a complex set of plots in the novels, but it’s been largely discarded by the new series, so I don’t feel that I missed much.

I was encouraged when I’d heard that the new series was going to be a continuation of the old, and that they were going to treat the TV-movie as part of canon. And it’s been a fun run, though erratic at times, perhaps struggling to reconcile the series of unrelated adventures of the original series with the “larger storyline” demands of modern TV (though most series manage to flub their ongoing storylines). The series also led with its best, as Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor has pretty much overshadowed every other actor in the series.

As Doctor Who has become a worldwide phenomenon it’s been strange for this old fan to see some of the new conventions that have grown up around it. The weirdest for me was been people referring to the Doctors by just their number (“eight”, “ten”, “eleven”). I guess it’s a natural development in these days of texting shorthands. LOL. Also strange is how strongly Doctor Who has become identified with the U.K., since the original series just felt like a science fiction show with a low budget and English accents.

So it’s been a long strange journey, and now we’re heading up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who next Saturday. And despite myself, I’ve been getting just as excited about it as everyone else, following the speculation and all the bits that have been released officially. I worry that I’m too excited: There’s a huge amount of potential in the premise they’ve set up, honestly they could base a whole season around it, but they’ve only got 75 minutes to work through it all. Will it be enough? Will it be ridiculously over-the-top, as the silly season-enders under Russell T. Davies were? We’ll find out.

I’m looking forward to it anyway.

(But I’m secretly hoping they’ve managed to sneak a real surprise into the story. Like a guest appearance by Tom Baker or something.)

A brief spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the last episode of season seven, or the developments since, after the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

Doctor Who, Season Seven

The latest season of Doctor Who is in my view the weakest of the relaunched series. The basic problem is that the scripts were generally quite weak, and failed to follow through on the promise of their premises, or contribute to the ongoing developments in the series.

As usual, my ranking of episodes this season from best to worst:

  • Asylum of the Daleks (written by Steven Moffat)
  • The Name of the Doctor (Moffat)
  • Cold War (Mark Gatiss)
  • Hide (Neil Cross)
  • The Bells of Saint John (Moffat)
  • The Rings of Akhaten (Cross)
  • The Snowmen (Moffat)
  • The Crimson Horror (Gatiss)
  • Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Stephen Thompson)
  • Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Chris Chibnall)
  • The Angels Take Manhattan (Moffat)
  • Nightmare in Silver (Neil Gaiman)
  • The Power of Three (Chibnall)
  • A Town Called Mercy (Toby Whithouse)

(I’m excluding last year’s Christmas special, “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” from the list because I don’t think it’s really part of the season. But if you’re curious I rate it a “shrug”.)

Also as usual, there are spoilers ahead!

Read on, Macduff! »

Why “The Angels Take Manhattan” Doesn’t Work

“The Angels Take Manhattan” was the “mid-season finisher” of season seven of Doctor Who, and the final episode of the series for the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory. But despite having the fan-favorite villains the Weeping Angels, I don’t think the episode was successful, either internally or as a send-off for the pair. For two reasons:

  1. The Angels have passed their expiration date as villains, and
  2. The story fails in its emotional resonance.

My spoilery explanations after the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

Weekend with Friends

We had a busy Labor Day weekend, seeing different friends every day. That sure made it go quickly! Not that it was a bad time, not at all.

Friday night we swung by Sports Basement so Debbi could pick up her registration packet for the 5K she was running the next day. While she was there we decided to buy a bocci ball set to play in our back yard.

Then Saturday morning her friend Rachana met us at our place and we drove down to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds for their Color Me Rad 5K race, which is more about getting sprayed with color corn starch than about setting a good time in the race. I just watched them go, and hung out while they were doing the run, watching the color-splashed people cross the finish line (and getting out of the way of the occasion cloud of blue or red corn starch that wafted across the area). The two of them got thoroughly covered and had a great time! Most of it came out in the shower at home, and then we all went to Hobees for brunch.

We ran several errands in the afternoon, and then went over to Susan and Subrata’s place for dinner and gaming in the evening. Subrata and I played a round of Magic, doing a Winchester draft of Innistrad/Dark Ascension/Avacyn Restored, after which he thoroughly crushed me, winning 4 out of 5 games. Sigh.

Sunday we woke up to our 8:30 alarm, and just as we were sitting up to start the day… the power went out.

Debbi went to shower, and I checked on my phone to find that the power was projected to be restored within 2 hours. Still, I was sad because Debbi was going to make me sausage biscuits for breakfast, and I’d been looking forward to it.

Then, as I got ready to go shower myself… the smoke detectors went off.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled around to find the instructions for the alarm. I believe our alarms are all interconnected, and hooked into our electricity, with battery back-ups. This is the first time they’d gone off, but I eventually realized that the alarm was probably triggered by the one in our bedroom, by the steam from the shower. I got the ladder and went up to reset it, and it worked!

But then, 10 minutes after resetting it, it went off again. So I reset it again.

Then the power came back on, an hour earlier than expected. Woo-hoo?

Debbi went to make breakfast, while I waited to see if the alarm would go off again. It didn’t, so I showered and went down for breakfast. Not a good start to the day. But the sausage biscuits were yummy. Later in the day I made some coffee chocolate chip ice cream for us to enjoy later in the week.

In the afternoon we went to visit Chad & Camille, to try to wear out their 3-year-old twins in advance of their trip to Hawaii. Their boy, Dash, was full of energy and trouble-making; I wonder if he was anxious about the trip and was acting out. Who knows. But we had a good time in their swimming pool, and Chad grilled dinner. We brought dessert (from Nothing Bundt Cakes).

On the way home Debbi asked me what I wanted to do that evening, and I said, “I want to watch the new Doctor Who episode.” So we did that. “Asylum of the Daleks” was very good. I had a few nitpicks, but I have a few nitpicks about almost every Doctor Who episode; it’s actually one of Moffat’s stronger Matt Smith stories, and was effectively creepy in its twists and turns. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the season. (I’ve read some fan reviews on-line which really hate the episode, which has me shaking my head. I guess a lot of the vitriol is about the handling of Amy and Rory’s relationship, but I thought it was pretty well done, although perhaps not explored in as much depth as it deserved. Some fans just overthink things, I think. [Not that I’m ever guilty of that!])

Monday we spent the morning cleaning – and Debbi preparing some food – as in the afternoon we had neighbors over for a barbecue. Unfortunately it was quite hot out so we weren’t able to sit on the porch, and ate in the dining room instead (I ventured out onto the porch to grill bison burgers, and the delicious marinated chicken that one couple brought). We ended up with more food as we usually do at these gatherings, but that’s not exactly a bad thing!

After the barbecue we played with our new bocci ball set, and I called my Mom to see how she was doing, and ask her a couple of questions about some mail I’d received for her. But mostly just to chat. She’s still quite happy in her new place, which is a very good thing.

We finally collapsed and spent the evening watching TV and reading. Hard to believe the weekend just flew by, but that’s what happens when you keep busy for most of it!

Doctor Who, Season Six

Steven Moffat’s second season running Doctor Who shared one major characteristic with Russell T. Davies’ second season: Both were not as good as their first seasons. Moffat is overall a much stronger writer than Davies and his story arcs have been more interesting (far fewer Daleks, for one thing), but this season felt like he bit off more than he could chew, setting up a complicated set of plot threads, but the payoff has so far been rather disappointing.

Here’s my ranking of this season’s episodes from favorite to least:

  • The Doctor’s Wife (written by Neil Gaiman)
  • The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (Steven Moffat)
  • The Girl Who Waited (Tom MacRae)
  • The Wedding of River Song (Moffat)
  • A Good Man Goes to War (Moffat)
  • The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People (Matthew Graham)
  • Closing Time (Gareth Roberts)
  • Let’s Kill Hitler (Moffat)
  • The Curse of the Black Spot (Stephen Thompson)
  • The God Complex (Toby Whithouse)
  • Night Terrors (Mark Gatiss)

Spoilers ahoy! Read on, Macduff! »