doctor who: approaching the finale

I love the internet and the people who post things on it. Thanks to these diligent souls I’m now ahead of the Sci-Fi Channel and all the way up through episode 11 of seas 4 of Dr. Who (“Turn Left”).

I’m a fan of the new series now, even though I still think it’s only intermittently good. The first episode this season I thoroughly enjoyed was “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” and the two-parter that’s currently airing (“Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”) was even better. And then there was “Midnight,” which looked like it would be a stinker and ended up a slice of modern drama Sartre might have appreciated. It’s hard to believe this is the team behind that dopey “Adipose” stuff and the episode where the Empire State Building was architected by Daleks.

And I have to admit, I’ve really come to appreciate Donna. What she lacked initially in charm and youthful beauty compared to Rose and Martha she’s made up in character and sheer force of personality. The other two seem pretty shallow now in comparison. I don’t know who the companion’s going to be next season, but I find myself kind of hoping it’s not Rose again. I’d settle for someone new, but the bar has been raised.

The melodrama and scale of the finale are going to be a bit of a drag — you get desensitized to the whole world being at stake, ALL THE TIME. But I still can’t wait to see what happens. And thanks to the internet and my indifference to video quality, I’ll have to wait less than a week.

doctor who: evolution of the daleks

Funny how all it takes is one dog of a two-parter like this to puncture my swelling enthusiasm for this show. You’d think they could knock those out of the park, since they have the equivalent of four of the old-school episodes to develop the story and don’t have to rush it out in 45 minutes, but I guess when it’s as full of dumb, far-fetched ideas as this one, it doesn’t matter how long you have.

I can’t fault the ambition: it takes balls for an English company to do a story set in Manhattan in the 1930s. The accents weren’t as awful as I thought they’d be, though the boy from Tennessee couldn’t even stay consistent and Solomon was so obviously not a New Yorker.

But the plot was dopey from the start. Why pigs? Why not just docile humans? I guess the answer is that they were test runs for Dalek Sec’s transformation, but I never bought that any Dalek would ever do something like that, and I certainly never bought the resulting alteration of his personality. It just seems like a story idea someone thought would be cool, not one that made a lick of sense.

I mean, remember, they won the “Time War,” right? It wiped out most of them, but their main obstacle to survival is the Doctor. It’s not that they’re “not human enough.” Obviously I don’t agree with the Dalek philosophy, but there’s no way Sec’s experiment would advance it. We’d have to believe he had some secret motivation, but as far as I can see none was offered.

Fortunately this story did contain one element I like about the new season: every episode so far has featured at least a cameo by a super cute guy. They seem to either die or be turned into pigs pretty quickly, though, which kind of takes the fun away. And the story also contained almost all the elements I hate about the new series:

1. The Doctor’s magic wand sonic screwdriver. On the one hand, it makes sense for a guy like him to carry around a universal tool, a sort of super-Swiss-Army-knife. On the other, it doesn’t make sense that he can do freaking ANYTHING with it. It’s far more omnipotent than it was in the old series, and even then they destroyed it so that the Doctor would have to solve problems with his wits like everyone else. The thing needs limitations, badly.

2. Science that seems more like magic, which I guess is the same problem. The Daleks’ “genetic” techniques; gamma radiation delivered as a lightning strike (did I miss something there?); the Doctor’s ability to rig up a DNA testing machine out of some stage lights and the inside of a 1930s portable radio; it’s all, not to put too fine a point on it, pure bullshit. Of course the old show was never about hard SF either but at least they usually tried to make it seem vaguely possible. It’s obvious this lot just care about telling a fanciful story, which is good on some levels but when the motivations don’t make sense either, what’s the point?

3. The Doctor’s nigh-invulnerability. So far this season he’s had his blood drained (through a straw…don’t get me started), nearly asphyxiated, been voodooed by space witches (DON’T get me started), and now electrocuted by an obviously lethal dose of gamma radiation (see #2), and he just seems to get up and keep going with no explanation at all. In the past he would have mumbled something about a respiratory bypass system, or he would have freaking regenerated, but something tells me this Doctor could have survived a fall off the Empire State Building with nothing but a single tear falling on his cheek to revive him. Kind of relieves the tension when you know your main character can survive anything.

4. Martha mooning over the Doctor. Somehow it seemed natural with Rose; she seemed to have a few boundaries, or something. Martha’s fallen for him with one kiss and they’re hammering the romantic tension way too hard. So far I haven’t seen much about her that’s remarkable, and her family isn’t really in the picture so she doesn’t even have that dimension to keep her interesting.

I don’t know if I’m going to keep the DVD set I ordered. I certainly never want to watch this story again.

the new who review

I’ll probably end up posting more commentary on encyclops.com soon, but okay, okay, I finally have warmed to the new Dr. Who.

I still think the plotting has a tendency toward great setups with incredibly stupid endings, but I’ve really begun to enjoy it. I’ve gotten through the first two seasons now and am a few episodes into the third, all of which I liked so much (except for some seriously uncalled-for scenery-chewing by the Racnoss Empress) that I’ve ordered the third season from Amazon rather than watching borrowed copies. I’ll probably get the other two eventually.

I miss Rose, and I miss the characters associated with her, Jackie, Mickey, and even her alternate-universe dad. I thought the romance angle was questionable at first but it got to the point where I didn’t mind at all and kind of liked it. I wasn’t sure how I’d warm to Martha, but so far she’s just fine, if a little nondescript. She carries on the fine-booty tradition from Rose, too, which was never part of the appeal of the show for me before (well, almost never).

I can see why people liked Chris Eccleston. He was entertaining, and he didn’t look like an explosion in a fabric store, which must have helped to broaden the show’s appeal along with the slightly improved effects budget. And when he said he was gonna fuck somebody up, you believed he meant it. This was really a new thing for the Doctor, who in the past usually seemed to get through everything by the skin of his teeth. He carried off that “alien” quality well, and the edge we’d never associated with the character before.

I guess what bothered me about him was that he just didn’t quite seem like the same guy, even taking into account his post-traumatic stress. His leather-jacket-and-jeans outfit seemed more like the production team’s choice than the Doctor’s. His catchphrase “Fantastic!” really wasn’t. Something about him just didn’t fit. He could have been the Doctor’s little brother, maybe, but not quite the Doctor I grew up watching. It wasn’t too jarring; any sufficiently nerdy fan (me, for instance) could easily justify all of the choices made. But it distanced me a bit from the show — that and some of the lamer stories.

Some of the second season stories seemed even lamer, which killed my interest in the show for a while despite the fact that the new Doctor, David Tennant, was in my opinion perfect casting. In place of the catchphrase, we now had a motormouth comedian, which at first seemed corny but quickly became endearing, and his look and manner seemed a lot more the Doctor to me. But the great setup / weak ending thing was driving me nuts.

The finale to the second season was probably what hooked me again, though. It’s hard to believe any Doctor Who writing team could have pulled off a story with Daleks and Cybermen, but they did, and even though there’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in the resolution (and along the way: you mean to tell me that there were Cybermen and Daleks all over the world and we didn’t see them shoot anyone outside the Torchwood building?), it’s entertaining enough that I just didn’t care.

And it didn’t hurt that over the course of the season, Tennant just kept shining. I’m not ready to say I like him even better than Tom Baker. But I’m getting there.

So here’s hoping the strong (if perennially implausible) stories that started off this season continued; otherwise I’m going to be very disappointed in my reinvestment in one of my biggest, geekiest childhood obsessions.