Sunday, August 29, 2010

Victory of the Daleks - A Loss for the Viewer

"You are everything I despise. The worst thing in all creation. I've defeated you time and time again, I've defeated you. I've sent you back into the void. I've saved the whole of reality from you. I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks."

The official BBC description from Victory of the Daleks:

The Doctor has been summoned by his old friend Winston Churchill but in the Cabinet War Rooms, far below the streets of blitz-torn London, he finds his oldest enemy waiting for him. The Daleks are back! And can Churchill really be in league with them?

This story has all the ingredients needed to make a fantastic episode. It has deceptively smart Daleks, World War II setting, London, and Winston Churchill. Why do I feel so empty when I watch this? The sets for the bunker in London are amazing. There is some great atmosphere throughout the whole episode. The shot of The Doctor and Amy looking out onto London during World War II is chilling. It is really, really well done.
It doesn’t take long at all for the Daleks to show up. We had the wonderful cliffhanger the week before with Churchill calling the Doctor with the imposing shadow of a Dalek on the wall. Now, once the Doctor is there, we see that the Daleks are fighting the plight of the war and are apparently a creation from some Professor Bracewell. The Doctor sees through this but can’t get anyone to believe him. In a nice nod to The Power of the Daleks, the green war coloured Dalek responds to the Doctor, “I AM YOUR SOLDIER!” It’s actually pretty neat. While the Doctor is trying to convince Churchill what is going on is wrong, there is a wonderful shot of the Doctor aware of a Dalek gliding behind him. These more unique shots are one major improvement on the production previous series. They are very welcome. The problem is the WWII charade does not last very long. The Doctor actually falls right into the Dalek’s hands (so to speak), and identifies them as Daleks. This starts a Progenator, which contains pure Dalek DNA, to percolating on a Dalek spaceship in orbit over the Earth. Now, the Progenator is new, to me, in which thousands existed but now only one had been found. The Daleks that we see in this episode is from a surviving ship from Journey’s End. They needed the Doctor to ID them as Daleks because they are not pure like the DNA in the Progenator and it wouldn’t work. This is where I get confused. The DNA to create the Daleks in Journey’s End came from Davros himself. He is a Kaled but presumably, he would have done whatever he did before to create Dalek DNA from his own DNA. Why is this now pure Dalek DNA? Is it possible that the Daleks had re-engineered their DNA to be the primary DNA for the Dalek species? Thus making Davros’ way of creating Daleks out of date? I thought my friend had a more interesting theory. The Dalek ship that survived was from Parting of the Ways had Daleks engineered with human DNA. That would be a better reason why they were impure.
The New Daleks
I understand why the episode is titled Victory of the Daleks. The story itself is a vehicle to make the Daleks a monster that comes back as a race instead of a few individuals of a dying race that the writers have to create a reason for their return each and every time. I think it is a very smart idea. Although I absolutely adore the Dalek design of the RTD era of Dalek stories, I understand new people in charge have their own vision on how things should look. I think the message becomes a bit muddied and becomes a story only to introduce the new redesigned Daleks. Even worse is that I don’t think the redesign is very successful.
What I think is the biggest problem with the redesign is that it looks out of proportion with everything else. Did you ever play with toys as a child? I did. Say, it was the early 80’s and I was playing with some Star Wars action figures and I needed a monster for them to fight, I would grab whatever looked right but it may not have been the right size but it’s all I had. I look at it a little like that. It also reminds me when the Sontarans returned in The Two Doctors. They were tall. Sontarans are not tall, they are short. That is how they were imagined by Robert Holmes. The new Daleks are too bulky and too big. They are almost bigger than people. They have a bizarre hunchback. I don’t understand the reason for such a dramatic redesign. There is a wonderful extra on the DVD of The Chase where Raymond Cusick, who designed the Daleks back in 1963, travels to Whales to meet the current designers of the series and look at the RTD era Daleks. Like I said, I love that design but Raymond didn’t look too impressed. I would be very interested to see his reaction to the new “Paradigm”.
The one thing leading up to transmission of the episode perplexed me and that was how the Daleks could come up with a story that could explain how Bracewell created them. Then the day of transmission before BBC1 even had a chance to broadcast the episode, the Official Doctor Who web site posted this image:
Talk about a major spoiler and it actually made a huge impact on my enjoyment of the story. Now, the more intelligent readers of this blog may have figured it out by that point but not yours truly. I hope they watch what they post in future. That was a major plot point ruined. I hope not many people saw it.
What about Churchill? I am not sure I like the idea of the Doctor to be available to major historical figures at beck and call. Especially a person like Churchill who was rallying everyone and everything he could to stop, which seemed inevitable, invasion from the Nazis. In my opinion, the Doctor, who has knowledge about everything, should not be in a position to pick and chooses how he helps a figure like Churchill because he knows the future. It just doesn’t seem right to me. Maybe I am taking it too far but it almost cheapens what everyone fought for as Churchill had a friend who knew the future the whole time. Ian McNeice who plays Churchill turns him into a warm loveable old gentleman. Maybe he was a warm loveable gentleman. What was weird was his little, “I’m a cute old man” looks he would give to Amy Pond. Obviously, he was played as a caricature of Churchill but I think it would have been better to stay away from that angle (and character) all together.
To me, it is clear that Mark Gatiss thought really hard about what he wanted to see in a really good Dalek story. It’s all cool stuff I wanted to see in a good Dalek story. Unfortunately, I think the episode could have benefitted from an extra episode to really set up the trap for the Doctor. The story moves too quickly for me and I wanted to see more of WWII. Next Time: The Weeping Angels and River Song return as I take a look at Time of the Angels.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beasts - Buddyboy!

There is a belief held by some fans that all of Nigel Kneale’s works are great. I am about to dispel this notion. My evidence? A little episode of Beasts called Buddyboy! By this time, Nigel Kneale had a long and successful association with television. Obviously I need to mention the Quatermass serials but there was so much more that he had done by this stage. By the 1970’s, Kneale’s relationship with the BBC had soured quite a bit. One of the losses from this relationship was the fourth Quatermass serial but Kneale was looking at other outlets to continue bringing his type of stories to viewers.

In 1975, ATV asked Nigel Kneale to write for their serial Against the Crowd. What he came up with was the play Murrain. The program was very much in the typical style of Kneale’s work where it is left up to the viewer to interpret for themselves what they think is really going on. Nigel Kneale worked with Producer Nick Palmer on this and Kneale was very happy with the results. So much so, talks almost started immediately with ATV to collaborate on more drama. This eventually evolved into the Beasts. As Andy Murray wrote in his viewing notes of the DVD release of Beast, the series would revolve around the theme of “civilized man in conflict with the primal, animal side of existence”. Each of the six episodes would be done in a completely different style and would deal with paranormal activity or some other phenomenon.

Buddyboy TX: 26/10/76

The episode I randomly chose was Buddyboy. The episode plays out as if someone reached into a bag and pulled out random ideas and locations then tried to craft a story out of it:

(reaching into a bag) Hmmmm…. Let’s see, we are going to write a story based around, a theatre that shows porn, some of the theatre staff wants to get into the business of shooting porn movies. Porn Barron wants to expand business and looks to buy bigger place to turn into theatre. Decides to buy old, run down dolphinarium. Oh, wait, it’s haunted. Haunted by the ghost of a dolphin named Buddyboy.

That’s it. I have to give Kneale full credit for taking the most abstract plot elements and try to string them together and create a story. I am not sure what happened with the story and to be honest, after a while I didn’t really care. The story is about Dave, who owns a theatre that shows porn movies, wants to expand his business and has a possible location to look at for expansion. He meets with the current owner Hubbard. Hubbard owned the place which was a dolphinarium. There was an extremely smart yet difficult dolphin called Buddyboy. Buddyboy died mysteriously. Although Hubbard insists of no wrong doing, he is haunted by the clicks and whistle of a dolphin. Hubbard is played by Wolfe Morris. He is quite convincing as a man who is tortured. He looks like he will explode at any moment. He shakes and sweats; his eyes are bulged out and blood shot. I felt myself in pain every time he was on screen!
While Dave is looking at the property, he finds that a young woman named Lucy is squatting in the dolphinarium. Lucy actually was someone who worked with Buddyboy. There is something not quite right about Lucy. She is mystified by Buddyboy, almost worships him and she misses him. Clearly something weird is going on as Hubbard immediately hates the sight of Lucy and the feeling is reciprocated. There is a backstory we never really get about those two. But then, suddenly, we hear the sound of a dolphin whistling and clicking. Very scary……

Eventually, because Hubbard wants to unload the property so badly Dave lowballs him on the price. Not only does Dave get the dolphinarium, he also somehow gets Hubbard’s apartment. Now this is probably explained in the episode but I may have lost interest by this point. I am not sure why Dave also gets the apartment but maybe he is just holding onto it until after Hubbard returns from his trip? As the episode plays out, Dave and Lucy get a lot closer. It certainly has nothing to do with love but more a relationship sprung out of convenience. As they stand in what used to be Hubbard’s bedroom (as they were able to keep all the furniture), they decide to make love which leads to one of the most bizarre sequences of television I have ever seen.

Dave rips off her shirt and brings her to bed. We cut to a close up shot of Dave’s face mimicking the act of having sex but has the most cheesy-pleasured looking smile on his face. Then, we have a close up of Lucy. Her face is very unhappy, almost unsettling. While she is lying there, the shot is overlaid with her back in the dolphinarium. She’s standing in different areas of the set, looking around. We hear the unmistakable sound of Buddyboy. Suddenly, she gets totally into it with Dave and passion ensues. After they are done, she goes to use the bathroom and starts running water to take a bath. The whole time Dave is going on and on about how he wants to expand the business and actually get her into the business in some seedy way. After she doesn’t answer him, Dave goes into the bathroom to check out what’s going on. He opens the door. I swear we were going to see Buddyboy in the bathtub looking back at Dave and that Lucy was Buddyboy the whole time! I had hoped for a big payoff to the last 45 minutes of dullness I had just endured. I wanted Buddyboy to not only be in that bath tub but pissed off. I wanted him to jump out of that tub and beat the shit out of Dave. Give me something interesting! Instead, it was just Lucy and she had drowned in the bath tub.

I have a very strange relationship with the series Beasts. I don’t think it is quite the masterpiece that some think it is but it is by no means bad television. The episode During Barty’s Party is exceptional. Kneale exhibits the same type of writing which made me such a fan of his. A lot of During Barty’s Party is explained to us from actions happening off screen and from the description the visuals are left up to us. It’s very similar to what I said in my article for Quatermass II, especially episodes Five & Six. Unfortunately for Buddyboy, I really have no idea what happened and the episode had no impact on me.

Hubbard said he never harmed Buddyboy, yet Buddyboy fell ill and eventually died. Part of the story is that Buddyboy was an arrogant dolphin and seemed to not like Hubbard. That being said, what happened to Buddyboy and was Hubbard directly involved? Was it the captivity which eventually leads to Buddyboy dying? I also didn’t like how some things were just shoe horned into the script almost for shock value. Early on in the episode, back at the night club/theatre, Dave’s associate Jimmy brings in an Usherette who he thinks would be great if they could start making movies with her. To prove his point, he has the Usherette take of her top and his topless as the camera just sits on that shot. I am not a prude. This just doesn’t feel right and it derails the story a little bit. Is this meant to show how different this world of night clubs is to our “normal” lifestyle? If so, they didn’t do a very good job with it. I know. PRUDE!

I watched this from the Network release of the entire series Beasts. It’s a two disc set and it is presently very nicely. Some of the stuff Network puts out isn’t always the best in terms of encoding but I think Beasts looks fine. Some of the masters tapes may not be in the best shape either and as something like Beasts is not exactly a big seller, I hardly would expect Network to commission any restoration. Though, Network has come through many times in the past for other releases such as Public Eye.

One of my silly fascinations is with Broadcast countdown clocks/slates. A slate is often a countdown clock which networks use as a way to cue the program they are about to air. It is an identifier of the series and the episode which will follow. I love them, think they are neat and have no idea how to explain any of this. I just like them. For a while, whatever they released, Network would leave the countdown clock on the episode on the DVD. It wouldn’t be presented as part of the episode when you would start an episode from the menu but you would know it was there because your DVD counter would not be at zero when the episode started. It would be maybe fifteen to thirty seconds in and all you would need to do is rewind the picture on the DVD and you can see the countdown clock. Here is a picture of it!

All of you who enjoyed Buddyboy, go on, right a comment below and let me know why it is good. What did I miss?

Next Week: I take a look at a series I really enjoy but hardly ever watch. In fact, there are still episodes I have never seen before and I think the one for next week is one of them. I look at The Vicar of Dibley and the apt title Summer especially as that is winding down for us. Also, please check back as I continue to write up my articles on Doctor Who Series Five!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Beast Below - So Far So Good

"I'm the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule!"

The official BBC description from The Beast Below:

The Doctor takes Amy to the distant future, where she finds Britain in space. Starship UK houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home. But as Amy explores, she encounters the terrifying Smilers and learns a deadly truth inside the Voting Booth.
The second episode of Series Five picks up pretty closely where The Eleventh Hour leaves off. Amy, still in her night attire and is floating outside of the TARDIS only with the Doctor holding onto her ankle to stop her flying off into oblivion. It’s a nice change to see the series have some fun. The specials were very heavy with a deep undertone of sadness knowing that David Tennant would be leaving the role. Now, the slate is clean and there is room for more fun.
There is a great scene at the beginning of the episode where the Doctor and Amy are watching Mandy, the little girl, on the TARDIS scanner. This is right after the Doctor explains that they are only observers. As Amy watches Mandy cry on screen, she laments the fact that it must be difficult to watch but not get involved. Suddenly, as Amy is still watching Mandy, the Doctor goes up to Mandy meaning he is outside and the TARDIS has landed. It’s a fun moment and possibly one of my favourite moments from Series Five. Its one small example of what Moffat does really well which is putting unique spins on how to tell the story.
The Beast Below is a pretty good story but I had to admit that I needed to watch it a couple of times in a row to get all of it. I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first. I didn’t think it was a strong as The Eleventh Hour which was written as if the whole Doctor Who franchise depended on its success. To me, where The Beast Below goes a little off is when you think about Liz 10 and how the entire population on Starship UK seems to be unaware of the star whale even though it showed up to Earth at their hour of need. I understand that people voting would hit the forget switch but wouldn’t they forget everything? Wouldn’t they wonder about their existence onboard this ship and never knew they had to flee the Earth?
There are some great things about this story. I think the design is very strong. I like the idea of the classic television motif. The logo for Starship UK is based off a 1960’s version of the BBC logo. The poem girl on the monitor is surrounded by a test card design. Test cards were big on UK television and were used when stations such as the BBC were not on the air. The Smilers are suitably scary. They also look like they are made out of ceramic or porcelain with minute cracks detailing around the joints of their mask. We don’t really know what the Smilers are there for apart from policing but they are quite scary. Out of the 3 faces of the Smilers, I actually think the middle one, the disgusted one, is scariest because it is close to the “smiling” version but there is enough of a difference to be really creepy.
It’s been interesting to listen to the music for this series. Murray Gold is still writing the music but he really has gone out of the way to create a break from the last four series and do something very distinctive for this. The music with Amy floating outside of the TARDIS at the beginning is refreshing and beautiful. I can’t wait for the Series Five soundtrack to be released.
It is clear that Moffat is not a big fan of the NEXT TIME trailers. Each episode is made in a way that gives it very clean break from the episode. One nice touch with The Beast Below is that we get a lead in to the next episode as part of the narrative for this episode. Winston Churchill calls the Doctor and requests him to come over and see him. When he is on the phone with the Doctor, we see the unmistakable silhouette of a Dalek projected on the wall. That is more powerful than any NEXT TIME trailer can possibly be in terms of getting me revved up for the next episode.
NEXT TIME: We travel back to World War II. We meet Winston Churchill and the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Eleventh Hour - An Exciting New Beginning

"I have 20 minutes to save the world and I have a Post Office....and it's shut!"
This is the start of a series of articles I will write on Series Five of Doctor Who. Although I saw all the episodes already, I am going through them again as I view the episodes from the UK vanilla Blu Ray discs.

The official BBC description for The Eleventh Hour:

The Doctor has regenerated into a brand new man, but danger strikes before he can even recover. With the TARDIS wrecked, and the sonic screwdriver destroyed, the new Doctor has just 20 minutes to save the whole world - and only Amy Pond to help him.

The Eleventh Hour could possibly be the most important episode for the series since it came back in 2005. From this episode on, all the key players have changed. Russell T. Davies moved on and Steven Moffat takes over as Executive Producer and Head Writer. We get a new companion played by Karen Gillan named Amy Pond. Perhaps most importantly, Matt Smith takes over the role of Doctor Who from David Tennant. Tennant’s role in Doctor Who’s popularity can not be over looked. He really did raise the profile of the series. While Tennant was the Doctor, the series managed to be number 1 in the ratings a couple of times. Not bad for a series over 45 years old. I wonder what William Hartnell would have thought of that? Anyway, Matt Smith was taking over from a very popular Doctor. His work was cut out for him. (There was no way I could end that sentence without a cliché!)
I was kind of nervous prior to seeing The Eleventh Hour. I was always supportive of the casting of Matt Smith and didn’t care if he was in his twenties. Some said that was too young. What frightened me was the end of The End of Time Part Two. His voice cracked and he was all over the place. I get that the character had just regenerated but I wasn’t a big fan of his first couple of lines. Now, to be fair, the TARDIS was exploding around him with loud crashing sounds and bits of debris flying into his mouth. No one is going to give their best performance under those conditions. Any concerns I had about Smith soon dissolved…..
His first line about apples in The Eleventh Hour was beaming with confidence. When he was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He commanded the screen. I kept watching the episode with a giddy smile on my face thinking this is the future of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is simply brilliant as Doctor Who. He brings a natural eccentricity to the role that I haven’t seen since Tom Baker. I can’t believe my favourite show was lucky enough to get someone like him. A good actor alone does not make a good series. What about the writing?

This is an extremely strong episode to start Series Five. It has great comedic moments but without being silly. There is some good action and good use of the village as its locale. This is a nice change from the last four previous series as those were all set in London or big cities and most locations for Series Five have a more intimate setting. The threat is reasonable in the form of Prisoner Zero. It is someone on the run and the Atraxi are trying to hunt him down and will destroy the Earth rather than let him get away. It’s a threat that seems containable within the period of the episode. I think it was a good idea to not have the new Doctor to suffer from post regenerative symptoms. He does not have amnesia nor does any silly impersonations of previous Doctors. He notes that he’s not done cooking. This really helps get the story moving.
Steven Moffat has put new people behind the camera to give the series a different approach. Adam Smith directs the episode and we start to see shots that we haven’t seen in previous series. The lighting and colour palette for the episode is different and it’s a nice change. Don’t get me wrong, the RTD era episodes are fantastic. They are well produced and look great. It’s just nice to see things changed up. It’s also interesting that Murray Gold still is the composer but he disposes of all of the musical themes he had created over the past 5 years and all new music is used. It’s all very fairy tale in feel which is what Moffat was going for. I was dubious of this approach when I first heard of this but I am now a big fan. I think Murray has created some of the best themes for music in Doctor Who and in this episode I start to miss them. By the time we get to the end of the series, I love the new direction and feel the music has evolved.
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond has a strong debut too. We see the character in two forms. We first meet her as a child going by the name Amelia and then later as a grown up called Amy. Immediately, it is obvious something is different with this character. She is basically alone apart from an Aunt we do not meet. But the big reveal is at the end of the episode, after the TARDIS takes off with Amy on board that we see back into Amy’s room. The camera pans over countless figures and drawing of her childhood imaginary friend, The Raggedy Doctor, and stops on Amy’s wedding dress. She is to be married the next day.
In every first Doctor story, it seems that we have a checklist of what must be accomplished in the story. Here is a list of those items which happen but are not done in the traditional Doctor Who manner because Moffat is creative and wants to do things more creatively:
Meeting the new companion. As mentioned above, we first meet her as a child. She lives 12 years of her life before the Doctor returns. When he does, we find out that he has greatly impacted her life and he is considered as an imaginary friend. The Raggedy Doctor.
Seeing himself for the first time. Instead of looking into mirrors and making comments about noses or ears, it is Prisoner Zero who takes the form of Amelia who is holding hands with the Raggedy Doctor. The Doctor sees this guy and says, “That’s rubbish. Who’s that suppose to be?” Rory responds, “It’s you. You don’t know what you like?” It’s nice levity when the scene is tense.
Picking the Doctor’s new costume. This hasn’t happened in any of the post regeneration stories since the series returned but in the past the Doctor tries on a load of the old Doctor’s costumes. I am not sure why that ever originated but it is unnecessary. Here the Doctor is going to address the Atraxi and wants to be better dressed so he raids a locker room in the hospital to find the appropriate attire. Very reasonable I thought.
Some things I thought the episode fell down on were the effects. It seems to me that the individual episodes of Series Five do not have the same budget as the Specials. I would assume money is tight and some of the effects are just not as good as some others such as the exquisite Waters of Mars. The Atraxi eyeball ships are kind of silly looking as they are big eyeballs surrounding by tin foil. I was also disappointed with some of the continuity. When I say continuity, I don’t mean established story facts, I mean production continuity. For example, in the scene when the Doctor tells the Atraxi to push off when they are meeting on the hospital roof, the TARDIS key starts illuminating as it is finished. The way the scene plays out we get a long shot of the Atraxi taking off and as they do so, the Doctor reaches in his jacket pocket. We then cut to a closer shot of the Doctor, without his hand his jacket pocket suddenly becoming alert and reaching into his jacket pocket to get his key. It’s just sloppy from a production stand point. I found a couple of these in a few episodes this series. The big question is, the hospital badge Rory is wearing has the date he joined as 1990. This is impossible. Is that a mistake or is that intended for something down the road……

Now, as any scarf wearing Doctor Who fan, I need to judge some of the new elements introduced in this episode. These are items that appear in the forthcoming episodes. Here we go:
New Logo: I think the new logo is quite nice. It is a nice departure from the previous version. I wasn’t sure to think of it when I first saw it but now I really like it. Blue is a big part of the new colour scheme and it is very different from the reds that were used a lot in the previous series. I prefer the banner version of the logo opposed to the stack. I was unimpressed when I saw it in the title sequence but I was watching it from heavily compressed avi files. Now that I am watching it from the vanilla Blu Ray, it is very good. It is metallic and reflective from the fiery affects going on around it.

New Title Sequence: It is good. I think the animation is of a higher quality than the previous version. Though, it better be since the previous one was conceived over five years ago. The clouds are very realistic. My only complaint is that it is the same as the previous title sequence just with different graphics. It’s not very original. I wonder if this sequence will be changed when we get the Christmas special or Series Six.

Here is a link to Framestore's web site with the full version of the title sequence. They had very little time to get it together before the start of Series Five. Go here to view title sequence.

New Title Music: It grew on me. It really is a new take on the theme music. I didn’t really care for it at first. The base line is still there but almost non-existent. It also seems like Murray took his inspiration from Dominic Glynn’s Trial of a Time Lord version of the theme. Now, I actually quite like it and often find myself humming it. Not the Doctor Who theme, THAT version of the Doctor Who theme.

New TARDIS Exterior/Interior: The police box is nice and new looking. It looks beautiful in HD. Especially the way that not only the windows light up but so does the FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC sign. The Police Box also sees the return of the St. Johns Ambulance badge. The window frames are white and although I prefer the blue, this does look nice.
The interior is also quite nice. It has shiny copper walls and copper over hangs. The console sits on a completely different level. The only thing I don’t like is console itself. It just fails to impress me. I also think that having 2 levels actually makes the console room look smaller.
The Doctor’s Outfit: That’s more like it. It not only fits Matt’s character of the Doctor, it fit THE character of the Doctor. It is perfect and has no question marks.

I am viewing these episodes from the Vanilla Blu Ray discs. The episode is gorgeous and very clear with an amazing amount of detail. The only thing that sucks is that these episodes, and the episodes on the forthcoming boxset, do not have the NEXT TIME trailers. I don’t really miss them but what we do miss is the trailer at the end of The Eleventh Hour that is a nice preview of what’s to come with a nice voice over from Amy Pond.
Regardless, The Eleventh Hour is a bold confident new start for the next era of Doctor Who. May this era endure for many years to come!

Next Week: On Sunday I will post a small review on the second episode of Series Five, The Beast Below. I never had time to write anything up for Live and Let Die but I will post next week on an episode of the Nigel Kneale classic series Beasts. The episode is Buddyboy!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The End of Time - Part Two

"The final act of your life is murder. But which one of us?"

Please click here for the article on The End of Time Part One.

It’s funny how the NEXT TIME trailer on Doctor Who can make me imagine all sorts of scenarios for how the next episode will play out. It’s also interesting in equal proportion to how the episode actually plays out. The NEXT TIME trailer for The End of Time Part Two had all sorts of ideas floating in my head about how the episode would look and what the storyline was all about.
It looked to me that the Time Lords would return, as they promised at the end of Part One and somehow take the Doctor and put him on some sort of trial. I assumed that The Lord President of the Timelords was speaking directly to the Doctor when he said, “The heartbeat of a Time Lord.” The Doctor is all battered from possibly being interrogated. My imagination was on fire. There is nothing better than one’s own imagination to come up with great ideas.
In reality, the episode didn’t quite reach that potential which is not the fault of the episode. It simply chose to go a different direction than that of my imagination.
The End of Time Part Two obviously picks up where Part One left off. The Master has basically turned everyone on the Earth into him with the exception of Donna, Wilf, the two Vinvocci and of course the Doctor. There is a confrontation between the Doctor and the Master. It’s a really interesting scene because it’s a very heart to heart sort of talk. The Doctor really respects the Master but the Master has the upper hand. Eventually the Doctor escapes with Wilf and the Vinvocci in the Vinvocci spaceship which is hovering above the earth but much more malevolent things are afoot.
The Time Lords are facing the last day of the Time War. They know that they are about to become extinct. The Lord President is adamant that this will not happen. What is slightly disappointing to me is that the Time Lords technically haven’t return. What we are seeing is the past. What the Time Lords will eventually plan will bring us to the present. Even though I say it is disappointing, it only is so to my own imagination. The reasoning of where this scene takes place is perfectly logical. All the scenes set on Gallifrey are beautiful. Everything has a bronze, orangey-red texture to it. It is opulent yet decaying. The opening shots show the same Time Lord Citadel we saw in The Sounds of Drums but this time, it is heavily damaged with destroyed Dalek ships cluttered and strewn about on the surface of Gallifrey. It is clear that everyone fears the Lord President but the reason becomes clear by the end of the episode.
Upon hearing that this is the last day of the Time War, the Lord President wants immediate action on how to stop their destruction. Suddenly an idea presents itself. So simple but so effective.
Ever since the Master returned in The Sound of Drums, he’s had a sound beating in his head that is driving him insane. This was never referred to in the classic series. Now as the Time Lords face final death everything becomes clear as they send the drum beating sound back in time and instill this sound into the Master’s head so he’s had this all of his life. For the fan in me, I really like this because, to me, it means that the Master we knew in the classic series never had this sound. The insinuation is that the Master was more insane than evil partly because of this beating sound in his head.. I think having the Time Lords put this into him and using him for their survival is quite good.
Now with the beat implanted in the Master, who is outside of the time-locked Time War, he is essentially a homing beacon. What makes contact between him and Gallifrey is something very small which can break through, a White Point star which is only found on Gallifrey.
Now with it, the Master can set up the portal between Earth and Gallifrey and bring over the Time Lords with the intention of turning all of them into Master people like he did with everyone on Earth. Meanwhile on the Vinvocci spaceship in orbit above the Earth, the Doctor learns of the plan via the Master boasting to the Doctor on all radio frequencies. The Doctor jumps into action and takes the ship back to Earth. It gets a little dicey here. We see a great combat scene with Wilf taking the role of a fighter pilot while blowing up missiles that are targeted on them. It’s fast paced fun and done extremely well. Now, instead of landing the ship the Doctor jumps out of the ship and ends up free falling about 150 to 200 feet before crashing through the skylight of the Naismith manor and landing in the room with the Master and the Time Lords. I hate to put on my diamond logo Doctor Who T- shirt (which is 2 sizes too small) here but in Logopolis, the Doctor falls a great distance from the Pharos Project radio telescope dish which that alone causes him to regenerate. How can the Doctor survive the crash through glass and another 20 feet here? Now, the Doctor is quite bruised, cut and bloody but the fact he could move at all is simply shocking!
The Doctor stands between The Master and the Timelords. He has a gun that was given to him by Wilf and he is either going to use it on the Master or the Time Lords. Luckily the Vinvocci got off their asses and took the time to finally land their ship so Wilf can join the Doctor. Its unfortunate Wilf didn’t just go home. The Lord President turns all the Master replicas back into human beings. The Time Lords want to bring about the end of time so they can ascend from their physical forms into higher intelligence void of any physical embodiment.
Wilf, trying to help, sees someone trapped in a chamber which has two sides. One person is in the double chamber at a time but to let him out, someone needs to go into the other side hit a button and release them. Wilf does exactly this which releases the one guy but Wilf is now trapped. Someone will have to do the same thing for him at one point. Now, we come to what I think is the defining moment of the Tenth Doctor‘s era. The Doctor needs to decide who he needs to dispose of to stop the Time Lords plan. Everything about this is just wrong for the Doctor’s character yet he has no choice and he needs to make the decision. He has a gun and it looks like his own option is to kill. It may even need to be the Master. This scene chokes me up; it is very tense. It isn’t until he sees the woman on the side with the other Time Lords reveal herself and nods to something that it suddenly becomes clear to the Doctor what to do. He shouts to the Master, “Get out of the way!” and shoots a piece of machinery which starts to reverse the hold the Time Lords has on the Earth. As the Time Lords start to disappear, the Doctor reveals the identity of the Lord President as non other than Rassilon himself probably resurrected like many other Time Lords to fight in the Time War. Rassilon knowing he has lost is quite content taking the Doctor with him until the Master intervenes. The Master starts firing energy bolts on Rassilon as revenge for ruining his life with the sounds of drums beating in his head. It’s a powerful and moving scene which had me cheering for the Master. It is very reminiscent of Return of the Jedi with Darth Vader turning on the Emperor. All the Time Lords and the Master disappear. Gallifrey, which is MUCH bigger than Earth, vanishes from orbit around the Earth. It is over…..
The Doctor is overjoyed. He is still alive. He was told his life would end soon. He was sure this would be a no-win situation. As he is happy and smiling to himself, suddenly he hears four meek knocks on glass. His face loses his grin which turns into a grim realization. We hear the four knocks again and again. I remember the first time I saw this on New Year’s Day 2010, a friend I was watching with gave a sad remorseful oh. We all knew who was knocking. Even though we heard about the four knocks as far back as Planet of the Dead and that a big deal had been made of it, a lot of us completely forgot about it after all the main action was done. Of course, the four knocks were Wilf trapped in the chamber. The Doctor would need to release him but the chambers are overloading with radiation which will kill Wilf if left in there. It will also kill anyone who goes into the other side to release him. The Doctor apparently really does love himself and is furious that Wilf had to go into the chamber. The Doctor is furious that he now has to rescue Wilf and end, at least, this current life. It is raw emotion that I feel is a little out of place. Wilf was trying to help the other man who was trapped in there. So, even if Wilf did not get trapped in the chamber, the Doctor probably would have needed to rescue somebody. When the Doctor releases Wilf, it floods the compartment the Doctor is in. He slumps to the ground and stays there as if dead. Finally, he gets up. He knows its starting, he is starting to regenerate. He is off to get his reward before the change is complete.
The reward is a long sequence where he visits all the people in his (tenth) life who were important to him. This includes Martha and Mickey who are now married, Sarah Jane and Luke, Captain Jack and Verity Newman whose grandmother was The Doctor’s love interest in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. We also see Donna’s wedding in a very sweet scene of the Doctor giving them a lottery ticket bought with money he borrowed from Donna’s deceased father. We also go back to where it started at the Powell Estates in 2005 so the Doctor can visit Rose. He doesn’t mean to actually see her but stays in the shadows. I think they missed a trick when the Doctor says she will have a brilliant year, I wished he told her she was going to have a fantastic year. Finally the regeneration gets going. The Doctor is helped by song from the Ood into the TARDIS and he takes off. As the regeneration kicks in, the tenth Doctor says his final line, “I Don’t Want to Go!” and regenerates and what a regeneration it is. Due to the radiation he was exposed to, the Doctor explodes out energy in a gigantic burst which almost destroys the TARDIS creating huge fires. Part of console room collapses but the change is made and there is a new Doctor.
Truly this was an end of an era. It seemed almost implausible that Tennant would leave. As he stayed in the role, momentum kept building up for him as a star and a fixture on the BBC. When the regeneration finally happened, I doubted we would see Matt Smith but instead see Tennant winking at us and saying “Got you!”

It is interesting that for both Doctor regeneration stories Russell T. Davies wrote, the main villain or monster was not the direct reason for the Doctor regenerating. In Parting of the Ways, it was not the Daleks who caused the Doctor to regenerate, it was saving Rose’s life and removing the vortex from here. For the Tenth Doctor, it similar in that the Time Lords nor the Master were the direct results but more from what happened with Wilf. I kind of like this.
There is something grand and rather epic in scale between this Doctor and this version of the Master facing each other. It seems like both know that neither of them will survive and maybe one of the best pairing of the Doctor and Master in the series history. Maybe it’s because they have been in a story before but not many stories. It almost seems like a re-match.
One thing I wish Russell T. Davies kept in was, according to The Writers Tale: The Final Chapter, the Daleks were meant to appear and create an alliance with the Time Lords. They also did not want to die and we would have seen in essence a Dalek Parliament. I could see Russell making this work. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Russell spoke with new showrunner Steven Moffat if he was planning on using the Daleks in Series Five. Moffat was but didn’t tell Russell he couldn’t use them; at the end of the day Russell didn’t want to steal Moffat’s thunder with there return in Series Five. Fair enough. Ultimately, The End of Time Part Two got massive ratings for BBC1 and ended the Tenth Doctor era on a massively high note.
Next week: A look at Matt Smith’s introductory story The Eleventh Hour, How I Met Matt Smith and a tribute to writer Tom Mankiewicz with a look at the Bond film Live and Let Die.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

“…..were I to invoke logic, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is an extremely enjoyable film. If I were to do a review, that sentence would sum it up nicely. It is such an enjoyable experience with some great dialogue, wonderful effects work and an amazing soundtrack. I just don’t think the cast have ever been any better in their roles and they are never as good again.
In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the whole thing has an atmosphere of getting to know you again. It’s very introductory and kind of nervous. The story takes a back seat to the whole newness of the Star Trek universe. It doesn’t have a lot of urgency to it. I actually really like the film but it is kind of like taking a trip through outer space in real time with people you haven’t seen in a long time. The colours in the Enterprise are often oversaturated with the exception of the bridge. Although the new look Enterprise model is amazing. It’s not surprising at all that a lot of the current reboot take a lot from it’s design. The film cost $46 million dollars to make and it was way too expensive for Paramount. If there was to be a sequel, there would need to be changes.
First change was the removal of Gene Roddenberry as producer and Paramount made him an executive consultant. Next was to bring in a new producer named Harve Bennett. Bennett worked on such programs as The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman and Salvage 1. He was appointed to executive produce the next Star Trek film at Paramount by Michael Eisner and Barry Diller after he told them he could produce the film for a lot less than the first one. He succeeded with doing this by keeping the film to $11 million.
Bennett was unfamiliar with Star Trek and when he knew he was going to produce the second film, he went through all 79 episodes of the original series. He felt that the first film lacked a real physical villain and as he went through the episodes, one stood out. Khan Noonien Singh or known simply as Khan was a character in the original series episode, Space Seed. When getting ready to view the film, I went back to the episode. I don’t think I ever really watched it all the way through before. It’s really interesting as the episode ends, it almost as if it is setting itself up for some kind of sequel. Of course, I am watching all of this in hindsight but I wonder if it had ever crossed the writer’s or Roddenberry’s mind to go back to this character in the original series sometime later? It is a perfect set up.
Bennett brought in Nicholas Meyer to direct the film. Meyer also completed the final drafts of the scripts uncredited. He also had never seen the series and went back to watch as much of it as he could.
The film is quite somber through out. It deals with such themes as growing old, friendship and death. The film begins as The Enterprise is getting a new inexperienced crew under Captain Spock. The old crew will either be moving on or perhaps retiring. During a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru, it appears the Enterprise is under the command of a female Vulcan named Saavik. As this is an exercise, she does very poorly which bothers her. She finds out that the only person to successfully make it through the exercise is Admiral James T. Kirk.
Meanwhile, Chekov is now the first officer on the U.S.S. Reliant. They are working with a group of scientists on a project called Genesis. The Reliant is trying to find an uninhabited planet to test this experiment. They go to what they believe is Ceti Alpha VI and need to check out the surface since they are receiving readings of life signs. Only when Chekov and Captain Terrell are beamed to the planet, Chekov realizes a huge mistake. They find the remains of a spaceship that appears abandoned but is called The Botany Bay. They are not on Ceti Alpha VI; they are on Ceti Alpha V. Before Chekov can get Terrell and himself back to the Reliant, they are stopped by a band of warriors led by an aged Khan. The plot kicks into gear as Khan is able to control Chekov and Terrell through mind control eels. Khan is able to capture the Reliant but Khan is not happy with just escaping; he now sets his sights on revenge on Kirk. The Reliant goes to the Regula I space station where all work on the Genesis project is based. Khan wants this and knows that somehow he can get Kirk through its capture.
Kirk receives and urgent distress message from Dr. Carol Marcus in regards to the Reliant coming to get Genesis from them. Starfleet orders the inexperienced trainee crew of the Enterprise to Regula I as Admiral Kirk takes back command of the ship. Nearby Regula I, the Reliant intercepts the Enterprise and draws her into battle. This is the first time we actually see any of these ships damaged from fighting each other which is kind of shocking. Looking back at the original series, the most we would see is the crew throwing themselves around on the set. Here, we see the physical tearing apart of the ship. We see the bridge and other areas blown apart and people being seriously injured. It is real and it is gruesome. For people who have only seen the original series or the first film, it is shocking. The Enterprise is seriously battered and disabled. Of course, the Enterprise eventually fights back and gets away from the Reliant to make its way to Regula I. No one is left there except Chekov and Terrell. Everyone realizes that the surviving crew members beamed down to an asteroid along with Genesis. Genesis is a devise that can rebuild life. It has three stages. Stage two was completed and stage three was going to be the planet Reliant was looking for as its test subject.
On the asteroid, Kirk and the crew find Carol Marcus and her son David. Carol is more than an old friend of Kirk and David is actually Kirk’s son. Khan knows everything that is going on because he still controls Chekov and Terrell and has been listening to everything. Terrell and Chekov are ordered to kill everyone but they work real hard to resist those orders. Terrell kills himself and Chekov collapses from the pain endured through the Ceti eel in his ear. Khan appears to win as he beams the Genesis device to his ship.
This leads to the final stand off between the two ships. Kirk knows he can not let Khan escape and baits him into following the Enterprise into the Mutura Nebula. In an area of space where communication and visibility are diminished, the two ships play a game of cat and mouse trying to get to other first. Both ships again take a beating but the Enterprise has the upper hand or at least it appears this way. Most of Khan’s crew is dead and the Reliant is heavily damaged. Khan himself is disfigured and dying. He has one last chance which is to detonate Genesis. The Enterprise can’t escape because the warp drive is damaged. To fix the warp drive, someone needs to restore it in a chamber flooded with radiation. Anyone who goes in there will be instantly killed. Spock, who knows the danger, goes into the room and restores the warp engines. The Enterprise escapes just as the device is detonated. Their escape is bittersweet with the sacrifice of Spock’s life.
This is a really good and often very moving film. The relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is so much more natural than it was in The Motion Picture. The theme of growing old is everywhere. Kirk laments growing older and is angry that he is no longer a ship’s captain. For Kirk, it feels like in this film that his life is catching up with him. He knew he had a son but never interfered in David’s life. As he demonstrated with defeating the Kobayashi Maru, he doesn’t like to lose and will go to great lengths to win. With the Kobayashi Maru, he re-programmed the computer so he would win. Now, he is faced with certain death that he is unable to do anything about. The one who saves everyone is Spock and he does it with his life. Even though Kirk wins, for the first time he also loses. As much as I love this film, there are a couple of things which are kind of head scratching WTF moments. The obvious ones to Star Trek fans are when Khan sees Chekov and says, “Now you, I remember. I never forget a face.” Khan, does this include faces you’ve never seen before? Chekov was never in Space Seed as Walter Koenig was not a member of the cast yet. That’s an easy one to explain as it could be written off as anything and there has been some retconnecting to explain how Chekov could have met Khan during unseen moments of the episode. Another is Stage 2 of the Genesis experiment which is done underground in an asteroid and supports life forms such as birds, plants, food. We see this beautiful vast cavern which is the result of Genesis. Further back there is a light source, like a sun beaming light into the cavern. How is that possible? Did it create a small sun in the cavern too? Just as implausible as Genesis creating a new planet in the Mutura Nebula and seemingly also creates a sun which wasn’t there before shining behind the new planet?
My favourite though is after the first great battle between the Reliant and the Enterprise. The bridge is busted up badly but as Kirk turns to the lift he sees Scotty holding what appears to be the lifeless body of one of his cadets. We don’t see this in the theatrical cut of the film but Scotty and this lad are related. Scotty is understandably upset. We then see them all in the sick bay and the boy was still alive for a moment to utter some words to Kirk and then dies. So, why is this interesting to me? Well, Scotty had to take this guy up to the bridge, from engineering probably BYPASSING the sick bay. Plus, although I don’t know the lay out of the ship, I don’t think it is a straight shot from engineering to the bridge. Maybe the boy’s life could have been saved if Scotty wasn’t carrying his body all over the Enterprise and just brought him to sick bay!
I love the soundtrack to this film. James Horner did the scoring and has some incredible themes in it. It’s beautiful and easily my favourite music from all the Star Trek films. It’s so good that it is used again on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Using the same musical theme, it can easily be used as a march, as inspirational or even as conveying sadness and despair. It can evoke all kinds of emotions. I was gutted when it wasn’t used in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Star Trek music in films has been very inconsistent since the third film. I also felt the franchise was lacking a good solid theme which could bind all the films together. They never seemed to want to really put Alexander Courage’s original theme to good use. I thought Horner’s theme would have been that main theme to the films but it was not to be.
I viewed this from the Blu Ray set which was released last year to coincide with the Star Trek reboot film. It is fun to see some detail which I have never seen before. It’s interesting to notice film grain and how it can change shot to shot. The effects, which were done by Industrial Light & Magic, still hold up very well. I love the Enterprise design and the Reliant was just as good. The details of the ships are astounding with multiple layers and textures on the models. Multiple lights beam out from the model onto other areas of the models to accentuate different sections. The effects used for the Mutura Nebula gives off a feeling of beauty and menace as the ships try to out-maneuver each other.
This is probably my favorite Star Trek film. In fact, after watching it I had wondered what would have happened if they never made another Star Trek film after this film. The film ends on a bittersweet note. It’s sad that Spock dies but he did so as a hero. The film also ends with some inspiration. As Kirk, Bones, David, and Carol look out on Genesis building itself; we don’t know what the future holds for them. Judging by their expressions, they don’t know either but they have a future. It would have been nice if it was left at that. I like the all the Star Trek films but this is the final one that really feels like an ensemble cast. In the next one, even though Spock was dead, Kirk learns he is actually alive and needs to bring him to Vulcan. The Star Trek regulars other than the big 3 are from this point on given character moments or “funny” situations which are now almost mandatory in every film. The one that comes to mind immediately is Uhura’s feather dance in Star Trek V. blah. Star Trek II, was an end of an era and is on a higher pedestal than all the other films in the franchise.
Coming soon: I am going to turn my focus to Doctor Who for a couple of weeks. I am going to finish up The End of Time Part Two. Since I have been getting in the Blu Ray discs to series 5, I will be doing short reactions to each of the episodes starting with The Eleventh Hour. And finally, I will post about how I met Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Steven Moffat and how I was lucky enough to have drinks with them in New York City!