Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Name Of The Doctor

Let’s talk about the DOCTOR WHO Series 7 finale shall we?

No, I’ve not been reviewing anything from the strangely titled Series 7b (THE BELLS OF ST. JOHN to NIGHTMARE IN SILVER), and that’s really (sadly) come down to an enjoyment level. When I used to watch RTD’s DW I was EXCITED to post about it, to talk about it with friends, and gush over what I liked. When Moffat took over in Series 5, I was excited-ish throughout (nothing reaching the levels of my RTD-era love, but excited enough)…My feelings on the entirety of Series 6 are pretty well known (Read: I loathed it more than any whole series since DW came back in 2005). Series 7 has been “meh”. The only truly standout eps for me were Neil Cross’ HIDE, and the Xmas special THE SNOWMEN…everything else could be easily swept under my WHO-rug and forgotten about. It should, therefore, speak volumes that the ONLY thing that’s been able to rouse me out of my review-malaise concerning this show is to pontificate on what I felt was a relatively disjointed and ultimately pointless Finale for Series 7.

THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR, written by showrunner Steven Moffat (a man whom Chris and I used to look upon with wonder for his TV writing), is not a mess persay (at least not like 2011’s A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR), but it’s a straightforward thought essay on the Doctor.


For the 3rd Series finale in a row.

History Check: Series 5 – The Doctor must solve the mystery of the Pandorica (a box designed by his enemies to keep him from his future), and stop the TARDIS from exploding in the future.

Series 6: The Doctor has gotten to big for his britches, and his very “name” has caused an entire religion to be crafted around capturing him, and killing him…to keep him from his future. This time we get the mention of that future in Trenzalore, where the question cannot be asked “Doctor Who?”

Series 7: We go to Trenzalore, and proceed to go through 45-odd minutes of that journey and what happens there.

The issue? That for the third series running the show isn’t about the Doctor saving a planet, or people, or the universe…it’s instead all about the Doctor. Hell, it’s not even really about his companions.

This inward looking Doctor Who is about as far from the original series and mythos as it gets…but it’s also about as far from the storytelling that RTD gave us that you could get.

So we go to Trezalore. Does the “name” of the Doctor get said? Yep. But like all Moffat’s “This will happen, and it will change the Doctor forever!” proclamations…it’s all bullshit, a fake out. The name gets said, by River Song, off-screen. And there is no clever story (as was eluded by David Tennant in the Library when he said to River “there was only one time he COULD tell someone his name”) associated with her knowing of it. She literally found out “Because she badgered him about it”.

You get that? She badgered him about it. A Time Lord…scratch that, the Runaway Time Lord who for over a thousand years has kept the secret of what his name really is…gave in because his (briefly) wife badgered him about it.

Wow. Just wow.

And that’s just for starters.

So, “name” thing aside what happens on Trenzalore? Well, it’s a battlefield. “Sweet!” you say “Tell me more!” Err…well nope. It’s an old battlefield, and is “supposedly” where the Doctor died. His tomb is his TARDIS which is “leaking” it’s bigger onto the outside. So his tomb is a giant TARDIS. Cool. What’s inside? Well this kind of Swirly Light Tree thingie…and it’s basically the remnants of the Time Lord…a map of his life through time leftover as some kind of echo (I guess?).

Enter our villain. The Great Intelligence (a creature from another universe trying to get into ours VIA proxies) in the form of THE SNOWMEN’s Doctor Simeon and his Whispermen (beings that ominously whisper, and who’s powers are the ability to become incorporeal enough to squeeze your heart so you die) has shown up at the Doctor’s Tomb, and wish entrance, and after threatening the Doctor by saying he’ll kill his friends if he doesn’t speak his name and open the door to his tomb. River helps him avoid this, and everyone trundles inside where they find the light tree thingie. Then the villain does the DW Villain equivalent of a filibuster and tells everyone there his plan is to go into the Doctor’s Light Tree and screw up his every success throughout his timeline and thus undo all he has done. This would be really interesting if he had:

A) Not SPELLED OUT his plan to his enemies in the room, like a hackneyed Bond villain.

B) Found some way to close the Doctor’s Light Tree timeline map thingie after he goes into it so no one follows him…because…

C) …seconds after he goes into it, Clara decides to sacrifice herself and follow him in to “correct” all that he screws up. Negating his entire (stupid) plan in seconds.

I’m serious. The Great Intelligence, a villain whom the Second Doctor fought, and who has been tipped as the “big bad” since the Christmas episode and has been pretty much behind all the stuff that’s occurred since then…the creature that you want to see a showdown with…spells out his plan and has it foiled in less time than it would take a Dalek to say “exterminate”. The Whispermen (his lackeys on this plane) had more teeth than he did.

Okay, now let’s leave aside the silly and toothless villain. Let’s deal with Clara’s reveal. It turns out that because she chases The G.I. into the Light Tree she essentially “dies” and “scatters herself” across the Doctor’s Timeline, which is why he keeps meeting her and why she keeps dying and seemingly is resurrected in different times and places. Cool. I can totally buy that, and it’s MUCH less messy than any other Moffat-ism “timey-wimey” thing he’s chucked at us in recent seasons. If it weren’t for the idiocy of the villains it would be a very elegant solution to the “impossible girl” that actually echoes Rose and Bad Wolf.

“So what’s the problem then?” you ask.

Well, it’s in the emotional resonance of her sacrifice. She literally says she will die to save the Doctor from this fate. River actually tells her that she will cease to exist and what is left will be scattered pieces across time saving the Doctor…that the person she is, will no longer be.

Okay great. Gotcha. Poignant, and even though I’m not as emotionally invested in her as I was Rose and Donna, I’m quite fine with that. But the Doctor almost immediately goes into his own timeline (paradox much? But nevermind) to rescue her. He actually breaks the rules of the show…rules which (for example) disallowed two Amy’s, one younger and one older, into the TARDIS at the same time…an arguably WAY lesser paradox than crossing your OWN timeline…to save the girl who just had an emotional scene “rescuing” him. So we decide to steal ANY emotion I had for the scene by reversing it almost right away. That such things are happening on DOCTOR WHO is baffling.

I mean how do you even associate this Moffat-written moment with stuff like “Everybody Lives” from THE DOCTOR DANCES, or Sally Sparrow saying goodbye to a dying old man who moments before was young and hitting on her at the end of BLINK, or even the tear-jerking letter that Madame De Pompador left for Ten in THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE? How? The answer is that you can’t. They don’t even exist in the same universe.

Refer to my old post: Steven Moffat CAN be a brilliant writer…when someone else is in control…but when he’s in control of the show as a whole his writing becomes something unrecognizable.

Lastly we have to talk about John Hurt.

So at the tail end of the ep, when The Doctor goes into his own timeline to rescue Clara from her rescue (don’t get me started on why this doesn’t UN-DO her rescue…) and there are various incarnation of the Doctor walking by her…we see the back of an unrecognizable man staring out into the rain…and he is revealed (quite brashly in text on screen…cause apparently we are all dumb and need it spelled out?) as “The Doctor”…and Eleven says that he’s not really allowed to have that name cause of “what he did.” And Hurt’s version says “I only did what I had to do” Speculate as you will. I’m cool with Hurt playing some lost or evil version of the Doctor’s past (even if it renumbers the Doctors) if only because I’m sure whatever it is, won’t stick. Whatever happens with the character in the 50th Anniversary will be timey-wimey’d out of existence, and things will settle back to the status quo. As far as the reveal is concerned, I like that he was in it, to link the finale up with the 50th…but I REALLY could have done without the big, bolded text on screen. It’s almost like Moffat and Co. were like “See, look what we did! Ain’t we tricksy? What’s going on?! You must watch to find out!”…when in my mind, just having Hurt turn around and deliver his line ominously with no reveal about “what/who” exactly he is and running the credits would have been MUCH better as a cliffhanger-y moment. It’s typical of Moffat’s “tell don’t show” approach to WHO…which is the opposite of good storytelling.

Think David Tennant in years past finale epilogues.

Bride in TARDIS: “What? Whot?! WHAT?!”

The hull of the TITANIC: “What? Whot?! WHAT?!”

…it was always some visual cue, and that’s it. Imagine if RTD had put text on the screen saying “There is a BRIDE in the TARDIS?! What the?!” or “The Hull of the TITANIC? What has the Doctor gotten himself into?!”

But no, instead we get the equivalent of Moffat telling us that our attention spans are SO short that he feels the need to type out on the screen what we are seeing.

Did I like the episode in the end? Yeah, the opening nods to past Doctor’s and the like was fun, if short. The Clara reveal appeased me…if making me realize that for whatever reason Moffat needs to make his companions always be a “mystery” for the Doctor to solve…instead of just letting them be…you know, people. How can Clara grow organically as a character if all we (and the Doctor) are doing is trying to “figure her out” from ep to ep. Sad really. I miss Donna…the temp from Chiswick, and Wilf, her dreamer, stargazing grandpa. Seriously.

I liked it, and it’s SCADS better than last years ridiculous finale…but it’s not remotely close to Series 5 THE PANDORICA OPENS / THE BIG BANG, and isn’t even in the same ballpark as RTD-era finale’s like DOOMSDAY or THE LAST OF THE TIMELORDS.

Lacking doesn’t cover it, and I’m more inclined to talk about what didn’t work for me, if only because what DID work for me in the episode is very little.

And that all makes me sad.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Movie Review: Why Wreck-It Ralph is one of the best animated films in years!

Sometimes when you see a movie on DVD / BluRay (or OnDemand), you sit back afterwards and think to yourself “Damn, I wish I saw that in the theatre! That was SO good!”

WRECK-IT RALPH is not only one of those movies, but probably one of the finest animated movies in recent memory.

One of the things that comes from watching Anime, especially family oriented Anime like Studio Ghibli films, is that the writers refuse to pander to their child audience. Life has heartbreak, life has sacrifice, and life is filled with a myriad of emotions, which can range from blissful happiness to lonely despair. I have always felt that the best family films are the ones that don’t sugar coat those things, but also still find a way to tell them in an interesting way.

WRECK-IT RALPH is a film that begins from a very sad aspect. Ralph is the bad guy in a Donkey-Kong-style arcade game from the 80’s called “Fix-It Felix Jr.” in which he….well, wrecks things for the hero to fix. He lives in a dump, sleeps under a blanket of bricks and for the most part is very lonely and disgruntled with his lot in life. No friends and basically being excluded from the celebratory proceedings of his game on any given day…Ralph goes off in search of a medal that might make HIM the hero for once. Through an arcade game nexus (cleverly designed as a joint outlet that all the games share) where the avatars of different games can interact, he battles his way through a modern combat FPS game called “Hero’s Duty” to get his medal. But on the way back things go awry and he ends up in a candy-based Kart racing game called “Sugar Rush”, and meets up with a game glitch named Vanellope. And that’s where things take off and never stop.

So, why the review title? Well, that’s easy. From the writing, direction, the character design, the setting, the clever video nostalgia in-jokes, the humour, and most of all the heart…this movie has absolutely everything going for it and nearly no stumbles at all.

The jokes are really funny (helped in no small part by perfect voice acting delivery by the likes of Sarah Silverman, and John C. Reilly), and clean. I find that these days comedy films tend to think that “pushing the boundaries of uncouth humour” and “making people laugh” are one and the same. But when a script like WRECK-IT RALPH comes along and can make lines of dialogue hilarious without the need to resort to anything really low-brow, it shows me that this doesn't have to be the case. Both the leads have a verve and rhythm to their witty repartee which was not only refreshing, but actually helps to cast the “boundary pusher” comedies further into the spotlight as “smacking of effort”. WRECK-IT RALPH seems effortless in this regard.

The second thing that will resonate (especially with older viewers) is the video game nostalgia. If you played video games in the 80’s and 90’s there is an absolute plethora of nods to your childhood here. They range from the very present and plot specific (Q-Bert and his pals being homeless but helpful, or a bunch of classic game baddies who attend a support group together, run by the lead ghost from Pac-Man), to the much more obscure easter egg stuff (like graffiti that says “Aerith Lives!”, a reference to FINAL FANTASY VII). There are loads to see and find hidden in the film and none of that ever feels like it is taking away from the story. I happily glanced around during larger crowd scenes to catch references (like the Joust birds, Sonic The Hedgehog, and Street Fighter characters like Blanka and Chun-Li).

Another aspect about it that kind of floored me (if only because I usually key into these things earlier), is that there are multiple plot points that when they are introduced are innocuously a part of the story and don’t seem to be anything further than that. But in the third act a few of them come into play VERY cleverly none of which I was expecting. So I got to be enthralled when they did and not feel like I saw them coming ahead of time.

Lastly I’d like to mention is that the story is absolutely 100% charming, and earns every single emotional beat that is offered up. I found myself getting misty more than once, and smiling like a madman more than once as well. I can’t tell you how wonderful the final act of the films plays out, it’s just well written, acted and presented and you owe it to yourself to watch and find out why.

As entertaining for kids as much as it is for adults, WRECK-IT RALPH is a triumph of filmmaking in a way that not a lot of films GET to be these days. It is allowed to be bright, colourful, whimsical and a whole heck of a lot of fun. In a medium in which audiences are increasingly asking to be wowed on a high level, and who demand every film to blow them away otherwise it was a waste…WRECK-IT RALPH succeeds like old 80’s movies did. It takes a very simple premise, and then expounds upon it in a number of unexpected ways and allows itself to still be high-caliber fun in the process. What you end up with is something I am glad to called one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Doctor Who - Crackpot Theory: Is Clara Oswald actually Romana IV?!

Been a while. What with these sporadic mid-series breaks in the show (don’t get me started), DOCTOR WHO news has been slow to leak out. However, we have had two; count ‘em, two episodes which feature (versions) of the new companion Clara Oswald (played exquisitely by Jenna Louise-Coleman). The first of which was in the Series 7 opener ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS, in which she was the disembodied consciousness of someone who was once called Oswin Oswald (whom had once worked aboard a starship) and had since been mutated and turned into a Dalek…but had no idea what she is and had been placed in the Asylum’s (by presumably the Dalek high Command) “Intensive Care” unit, where the Daleks who survived great battles reside, weaponless. This is where Oswin is, locked in a room on her own. This will be important later in the post. Stay tuned.

The next time we see her is in the most recent Christmas Special THE SNOWMEN. She is now Clara Oswald, Victorian barmaid and secret governess to a wealthy family’s children. With the help of Silurian ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny, and the Sontaran Nursemaid (now Butler) Strax, the Doctor is in hiding, refusing to save the universe any more. Then Clara comes along and mucks things up by getting him involved. She’s quick, she’s clever and nine times out of ten in this episode she is smarter than the Doctor, or at least on par with him mentally. They spar back and forth and it all... sounds very familiar.


During his 4th Incarnation (Tom Baker), The Doctor spends an entire series on a quest for the various pieces to the Key To Time. On this quest (given him by the mysterious White Guardian) he is joined by another Time Lord, one fresh out of the Academy on Gallifrey. Namely, Romanadvoratrelundar (Mary Tamm), or Romana for short (though she prefers Fred). At less than 100 years old she is still a raw recruit, but being a Time Lord she can spar with the Doctor on his level. In fact he’s initially very unsettled by how much she knows. She’s a strong character, and one I really enjoy watching. Now, after the various pieces of the Key To Time are found and then re-dispersed (I’m not telling you why, go watch THE KEY TO TIME), Romana regenerates into Romana II (Lalla Ward). Romana II stays on board with the 4th Doctor for a long time (nearly until his regeneration into the 5th), but when she finally takes her leave, he gives her K-9 and off she goes.

Now that’s where vaguely the TV story of Romana ends. Thankfully the books and Audio drama’s continued her story (most especially in the political drama series from BIG FINISH called GALLIFREY). It turns out that some years after leaving the Doctor, Romana II returned to Gallifrey and ends up as its President. She and K-9 have to jump through a myriad of political hoops and nefarious plans to unseat her for many years.

And that is where some Dark Times occur during which we know very little. We only know that at some point down the line the Lord President becomes Rassilon, and the Time Lords engage in a large scale war across many systems with their most hated enemies the Daleks, in the Last Great Time War. The Doctor (in his Eighth incarnation at this point) sees many things that unsettle him about his own race. Having lived through them being stagnant, unbending, and basically arrogant…he then sees them descending further and further into madness and violence. In the final days of the Time War the Doctor time-locks it so that it doesn’t tear reality itself apart and dooms his own race and planet to eternal torment.

But what happened to Madame President Romana II? Well the books tell us that she regenerated into a third incarnation prior to this, but they never tell us how she lost the presidency, nor what happed to her during the Time War. We know that a Rival Time Lord tried to unseat her and kill her after the Second Great War In Heaven…but Eight stopped this.

The Crackpot theory part is about what I think COULD have happened. What if Romana III objected to the Last Great Time War (having survived the Second War In Heaven, and assassination attempts), and the CIA (the Gallifreyan Celestian Intervention Agency) found a way to unseat her and put Rassilon on the seat. Might she have been imprisoned for her views? What if while in prison (and in the still current locked state of the Time War) she found a way to project herself outwards. Used regeneration energy to get through the Time Lock and offworld into…a passing Starliner perhaps? What if a human aboard that ship was converted into a Time Lord, and the official 4th incarnation of Romana allowing her to escape? Her old body imprisoned on Gallifrey would die, but she would go on in a stolen human body effectively regenerated into a Time Lord. Then travelling back through time and basically BEING these other versions of her new self, on a skipping loop that repeats when she dies. She DID have a TARDIS when we last saw her, so it could be disguised as something very small. What if Oswin Oswald was that human? It would explain both her variations so far (neither of which is the main one we will be introduced to in THE BELLS OF ST. JOHNS on March 30th) being so terribly clever (smart enough to spar with a genius Time Lord who is over a 1000 years old), and seemingly un-phased by the alien nature of the plight of the Doctor against the Snowmen.

I add to this a few nuggets from things we hear in the trailer for the second half of Series 7.

1. She is referred to as the girl twice dead. So she is somehow the same person over and over again even after dying. Sounds like regeneration but the switch is stuck and instead of changing to a DIFFERENT body she’s being given new same ones instead. This could be explained by the fact that Romana needed to steal a human body.

2. The Doctor clearly says, “She’s not possible.” To me this could be a big pointer at the fact that it’s Romana IV…since her being out of the Time War would seem next to impossible. But where Rassilon failed at unlocking the Time War as a whole…perhaps One Time Lord could survive. After all, Dalek Caan rescued Davros from the Crucible and brought him across the Lock barrier. One could interpret the Doctor’s statement as simply being that she’s died twice, how can she exist a third time in the same “look”…but that’s a little too simple for DW in my eyes.

A variation on this theory (which I've seen around), with the same results is based on something talked about in THE SNOWMEN. A specific story about being "born behind Big Ben" and how this accounts for her impeccable sense of time. What if, Romana III wasn't imprisoned, but rather escaped BEFORE the Last Great Time War...but needed to hide. Enter the Chameleon Arch (the Fob Watch) that Time Lords use to hide their identities disguising themselves as human. What if Big Ben is her Fob Watch? And not only that, what happens when a Time Lord disguised as a human VIA a Chameleon Arch dies? Do they regenerate normally? Or is it possible they continue to regenerate but into the same form over and over again since that's the form they took when disguised? She keeps telling the Doctor to "Run" and to "Remember". We know from John Smith and the Master's use of the Fob Watch that little bits of their time lord personality leak out form time to time when disguised. This would explain her smarts, her ease with the decidedly alien events, her seeking out of the Doctor, and her treating him like an old friend. So this is another way that Romana could have survived and become Clara.

So that’s my theory. Clara is not only a Time Lord, but she is the 4th incarnation of the prior Lady President of Gallifrey, whom has travelled with the Doctor before. She is likely some 700 years of age and escaped the Time War. What a boon that would be going into the 50th Anniversary events storywise. The avenues and story aspects that could lead to (including multiple Doctor appearances) begin to boggle. But to be quite honest…I’d just like to see Romana make an appearance in NuWho. She is just such a great character with a lot of depth, and I think she deserves to come back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Doctor Who - Big Finish Audio Adventures - 1.4 Phobos

Eddie Robson (who writes for Big Finish) really does waver up and down in his DOCTOR WHO stories, but they are never bad. Even the lower register ones are quite fun and enjoyable. I started this review off that way because when Robson is on…he’s really on.

We’ve jumped briefly back to Eight and Lucie’s S1 adventures to cover 1.4 PHOBOS, which we missed when I first did these as I’d not had a copy yet.

PHOBOS is really Eddie Robson’s writing firing on all cylinders in the DOCTOR WHO arsenal. It’s got it all, an interesting setting (in this case Mar’s moon Phobos), compelling secondary characters, a creepy set of monsters who are not what they appear, emotions, running, witty banter. It’s all here.

The Doctor and Lucie have arrived at Phobos, which is now the center of an extreme sports phenomenon in the form of a huge stationary wormhole on the surface from which they bungee. But of course not is all it seems and people have begun to disappear.

Seems rather generic yes? Ah, but that is the genius of the episode. For on the surface it is generic, but underneath lays one of the best, albeit darker, stories in the whole first series. For once the villain is properly discovered, the Doctor delves into things to a level that is unexpected not only to said villain, but to those around him and even Lucie herself. It’s one of the darkest moments in the whole of Eight’s adventures, and gave me a chill towards where he heads in the future, up to and including the Time War. I don’t want to give away too much so I won’t tell you more, but sufficed to say that the Doctor owns this episode for sheer brass.

PHOBOS is a really interesting look at what humans seek, what they strive for and why, but most of all what happens when they find more than they bargained for. Like I mentioned above the story has all the hallmarks of a classic DW story, but it will be the final ten minutes that will haunt you and really get under your skin. I loved that feeling, as it’s not really something you often get to see of the Doctor as a character.

Stalwart director Barnaby Edwards ought to be praised for always paying attention to pacing and layout of the episodes he directs…and PHOBOS is especially no different. Give this one a listen, as it is easily the match of the other really standout episodes from Series 1.

NEXT TIME: S2.5 GRAND THEFT COSMOS in which the Doctor and Lucie become embroiled in a heist…but on which side?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doctor Who - Big Finish Audio Adventures - 2.3 Brave New Town

Contrary to his Series 1 outing (IMMORTAL BELOVED), writer Jonathan Clements Series 2 outing BRAVE NEW TOWN didn’t leave me with the same warm fuzzies. This is not to say that it was bad, more than it was just a step down from his previous script, as well as from the two preceding Series 2 stories. Instead of coming in at Great, or Solid, I think it just kind of succeeds by the use of a classic villain in an interesting way...and Is.

Nitty Gritty. The Doctor takes Lucie to a seaside town in 2008, just not the one she thought it was going to be (she was thinking of her home, Blackpool). The town has a few anomalies though. It’s seemingly not by the sea (though it is called Thorington-on-Suffolk), and instead rests at the center of what looks like a dried up lakebed. The people who inhabit the town think it’s Sunday Sept. 1st 1991…everyday. Brian Adams is annoyingly still #1; there is no food, no gas in the cars, and no electricity. So what exactly is going on?

Enter Classic Who villain the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons. More importantly Autons that look and act VERY realistic because instead of merely being remote controlled by the Consciousness, they have a small piece of it inside them.

Now, while the Autons work fine on Audio (something the producers at Big Finish revealed initially being leery about), the telltale arm gun sound is pretty much all you need. It’s about as recognizable as “Exterminate” and “Delete”, so there was really now worry there. However, because of the nature of the tale, one in which these Auton’s don’t really KNOW they are Autons, and aren’t really doing any kind of attacking, they come across as far less scary than they could/should. I get that we are seeing the Audio Drama equivalent of the TV episode DALEK in which we take a Classic villain and put them in a situation that humanizes them…but where DALEK still maintained the scare-factor of the villain, the Autons all but have their teeth removed by being too humanized. So in the end the Doctor is simply working against the connection to the consciousness VIA the control box that gives them orders, and That’s. About. It. If there is anything scary about the episode, I’m not sure what it is. That’s obviously not a prerequisite to a DOCTOR WHO story, but it is nice. My fave thing about DW is the running, and the action, mixed into a good story. There is little of that in BRAVE NEW TOWN.

That’s not to say there is nothing good. It’s a rather compelling mystery to begin with before the Auton’s are introduced. It’s just afterwards that it becomes a bit plodding. Or at least it did for me. McGann, Smith and their co-stars (Adrian Dunbar, Derek Griffiths, Lorna Want and Nick Wilton) all do an admirable job of performing the script, and Lucie especially gets some plum funny lines (“Where does plastic come from?” “Taiwan!”), but overall that’s the only thing I come away with having enjoyed. The tale itself was probably one of the more mundane ones I’ve listened to since I stared the EDA’s.

So all in all, I think my experience with BRAVE NEW TOWN comes down to match the final line by Lucie.

Doctor: I saved a brand new race from certain destruction!
Lucie: With a little help from me.
Doctor: …
Lucie: You’ll never admit it will you? Never in a month of Sunday’s.

So yes, that’s a bad pun on the fact that it’s always Sunday on Thorington, and that’s the final flavour I walk away from this story with. It’s decent enough, but is about as entertaining as a weak pun.

NEXT TIME: We skip 2.4 SKULL OF SOBEK (mostly because I don’t have it yet) and move onto 2.5 GRAND THEFT COSMOS.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Doctor Who - Big Finish Audio Adventures - 2.2 Max Warp

As much as the Series 2 opener (DEAD LONDON) was an irreverent and yet mostly effective (if odd) way to start the 2nd series of Eighth Doctor & Lucie Adventures…the second episode, MAX WARP, makes up for that by being pretty much everything we love about DOCTOR WHO in any medium.

The story begins with the Doctor and Lucie attending a Motor Show. Well, it’s technically a very popular Spaceship Show. If you’ve not already guessed it from the title and that small description, this really is TOP GEAR in space. Strangely, or perhaps not-so-strangely, this premise fits into the DW mythos and story-style like a leather driving glove (yeah, I went there). From the multiple, and varied hosts talking about the newest, sleekest spaceship, to the Doctor behaving like a proper Ship-Enthusiast like a gleeful 12-year old, to Lucie calling it all boys-with-their-toys and making jokes at the Doctor’s expense, this is everything you love about TOP GEAR transferred into DOCTOR WHO.

So where does the intrigue come from in this episode? Well that’s an easy one. The show Max Warp is filming live from the Sirius Inter-G Cruiser Show, which was installed as an event to bring two previously warring worlds (the Varlon Empire and the Kith Oligarchy) together, and is set in a station orbiting nearby. The two hosts, smarmy, sexist Geoffrey Vantage, and spaceship enthusiast, Vantage-whipping boy O’Reilly are seen commenting on their fellow Max Warp member, and hotshot pilot Timbo “The Ferret” just before his ship malfunctions and plows into a nearby moon. The intrigue and investigation (launched, of course by our intrepid Doctor and Lucie), begin in earnest with Lucie attempting to guess whodunit, and the Doctor trying to methodically interview people. Because Timbo was clearly murdered, and the uneasy peace between the Kith and the Varlon is at risk.

Lucie is absolute, 100% pure gold in this episode. Sheridan Smith just nails the comedy in Jonathan Morris’ script. I kept laughing at her comments as she gets most of the plum lines, up to and including her final line (which I won’t spoil for you, but it’s hilarious!). Her verbal sparring with Eight (one of the best bits about their relationship) is in fine form in MAX WARP. Not only do we get Paul McGann doing a proper fanboy excitement about the fastest and the sleekest ship (listing off features like he’s read multiple magazine articles about it), but we also get a wonderfully diverse secondary cast. Graeme Garden is suitably nasty, sexist, and just deliciously horrible (read: hilarious) as Geoffrey Vantage. I seriously could not believe some of his script beats (‘It’s a mans spaceship! Literally fuelled with testosterone! Ladies bring a toothbrush and a spare pair of knickers!’ or ‘Just smile and stick out your bits!’ to Lucie), but I adored how well Lucie sparred with him and put him in his place without him really catching on. Further still to the sexist angle we are given a different, but no more unwanted bit of that with mousy O’Reilly attempting to get Lucie to go to his room with him, and she kind of beats around the bush to let him down easy, but even he doesn’t get it and she has to end up rather sternly telling him “No.” I loved that aspect of the script as it showcases that sometimes even the nicest of guys can say and do the wrong things without realizing they are, and they need to be told they are out of line. It’s an attentive moment that I noticed and enjoyed, because Lucie really does give him a second to realize (and he’s just totally oblivious) before getting more direct with him.

The mystery/motive is fairly well hidden amongst a few red herrings and plot twists, added to by Lucie throwing out suspect after suspect and giving Sherlockian reasons for their guilt. The SpinDroid (a politician’s assistant / crutch) is wonderfully whimsical when he is on scene and sounded suspiciously like the droid from RETURN OF THE JEDI who tells R2 that he “has need for him on the master’s sail barge, and that he’d soon learn some respect”.

The political machinations at work are light, but given gravity due to the instability of the two world governments, and add tension to the proceedings of the investigation.  The whole thing (the event, the crash and the murder) begins to stink of an elaborate scheme and it's up to the Doctor and Lucie to sort out what and why. It's quite satisfying on that end when all is said and done, and that's really all you can ask of a DW mystery. I should not be able to guess the final outcome, and I think in MAX WARP, this is achieved well. But it's more than likely going to be how fun and hilarious this episode is that will sit with you afterwards. It's pure enjoyment for 50 minutes.

The aspect of envy on the part of the Doctor, who adores his stolen TARDIS, towards these super sleek, fast spaceships was palpable and entertaining. It’s always funny to think of it, since the TARDIS really does trump every other mode of transport, but the Doctor can’t help but feel a little envious. But it’s like owning a Smart Tank than can roll through anything and survive (and travel in time and space), but being jealous of a Ferrari, which is shiny, fast and nice looking, but could be ripped through like tin foil (BTTF reference intended).

Big Finish has their first big hit of their second Series with MAX WARP, as entertaining as some of the best from Series 1. The comedy and action are both spot on, and character interaction is tops. I’d ALMOST want to say if you were thinking about giving Series 2 a go and were wondering if it was worthy, that you should put DEAD LONDON off (briefly) and hit up MAX WARP first, as I feel it’s probably more entertaining to the casual listener.

NEXT TIME: The Doctor and Lucie visit a seaside town, in the middle of nowhere in 2008 that is seemingly stuck on a Sunday in 1991 and so are its inhabitants, in BRAVE NEW TOWN.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Doctor Who - Big Finish Audio Adventures - 2.1 Dead London

 The 2nd Series opener for the Eighth Doctor Adventures is a bit of a gamble. We start things off in DEAD LONDON with the Doctor and Lucie Miller separated. Considering how solid their bond was by the end of Series 1, it's quite a bold choice to begin the second Series this way, but it pays off as far as I am concerned. It only pays off though because the story is such a clever spat of time shifting.

Basically this episode drops our TARDIS team into a very strange London where a parking violation in 2008 can earn you a hanging in the 1800's. Time is seemingly shifting around both Lucie and the Doctor, and there are only a few connecting threads that allow the two to sniff out the trail of what is going on. The Doctor, charged with parking the TARDIS in the wrong place, links up with a fellow lawbreaker in Victorian London named Spring-Heeled Sophie. The two eventually find Lucie and attempt to sort out what exactly is going on and why the Judge in one time looks like the chief of police in another time who looks like a hangman in another time. In any other tale it might seem convoluted, but in DOCTOR WHO it's par for the course for our intrepid Time Lord.

The best bit about this opener is the rivalry between Sophie and Lucie. It's only slightly there as Lucie is too proud to actually comment on it aloud (ala Rose Tyler), and instead just tries her very best to trump Sophie in the companion category at every chance. It's incredibly fun to watch as Lucie really does trump Sophie for me...Sophie is interesting, but she just can't match the sassy, strong nature of our companion.

The story in DEAD LONDON is a great little diddy. It's interesting without being over the top. It's got different timelines, scattered characters, and crazy alien connotations. Great voice acting form the guest stars, and a really, solid opener to the series. Is it great exercise in Doctor / Companion relationship and it is really just a good DOCTOR WHO story at the end of things.

There's not much more to say. It's not as good as some of the previous stories in the range, but it certainly is a cool, irreverent choice as an opener for the 2nd Series and for that I applaud Big Finish.

NEXT TIME: Stay tuned for one of the most fun DW Audio Drama's in the EDA range, MAX WARP!


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