FEZ SEZ – Doctor Who S6 – The Impossible Astronaut

 Ok, apologies, I’ve been off the face of the virtual earth for the last few weeks. I’m determined to catch up with this reviewing lark and both finish my series 5 reviews and post my comments about the ongoing series. I WILL catch up before the end of this 7 episode run. With that in mind, here is my first review for season 6:

The Impossible Astronaut

 

Doctor Who returned with a bang in the first episode of the 2011 series. Not just any bang, but within minutes, a bang of a mysterious astronaut killing the Doctor, before his companions burn his body. The Doctor is dead and gone.

 For the first time since the 2005 re-launch, there has been no change to the principle cast, no regeneration, no new companions to introduce. It should all be very simple and business as usual, right? The adventures continue and the fun goes on.

 Except with Steven Moffat at the helm, that was never going to be the case. Rather than carrying on where the show left off, with Amy and Rory newly married on their honeymoon, and the universe reset and happy, we are pulled through 45 minutes of mystery, set up, and almost a plot, But in a very good way. Free from the burden of introducing new lead characters, Moffat seems to have taken the opportunity to use the time to create the beginnings of a for-now impenetrable story arc. So much information was thrown at us in this first episode, the first of a two-parter, that it is impossible to say what will be revolved next week and what is forming part of the season-long mysteries and perhaps beyond.

From the beginning of the episode, we are thrown off kilter. The companions haven’t been travelling with the Doctor, who has been doing something for a couple of months (or 200 years from his viewpoint). Why? The companions receive letters inviting them toAmerica, where they meet up with the Doctor and River Song, before they all have a picnic and watch the Doctor get shot by an astronaut who walks out of a lake. They go back to a diner where they find the Doctor, alive and well, and apparently 200 years younger than the one that just died. He invited himself to his own death. Again, why? He seemed pretty willing to die, so he didn’t want them to stop it, but he needed them to witness it. I’ve gone cross-eyed. Does that mean there are two TARDIS’s lying around in the desert somewhere? Does this mean, if we assume this mystery will be tied up this year, that we are going to see 200 years worth of adventures in 13 episodes? I doubt it, and my eyes are re-crossed.

Taking this episode to the States adds a whole new dynamic to the show. Everything is bright and colourful and surreal and it all adds to the sense of confusion and disorientation. Whereas last year’s opener The Eleventh Hour was an ode to Britishness, with village ponds and baked beans and fire engines, this is an all out American love-in. We get the deserts, the diners, the WHITE HOUSE, complete with President Nixon and the FBI, and it is very, very cool.

I haven’t too much to say on the plot, because it seems kind of squeezed in between all these revelations, but one thing that is introduced are the new enemies ‘The Silence’ (or Silents?), an alien hinted at all through the 2010 series and finally revealed as a suit wearing grey alien with the ability to make you completely forget them the moment you turn away. Think about it, they could be right behind you and you would never know. Once again, Steven Moffat preys on childhood fears. I just hope that this concept does not go over too many young viewers’ heads, because it’s a fantastic idea, just a tad confusing. In a way, a bit like this episode in general.

What has happened then is that Doctor Who seems to be entering a serial format more familiar with audiences of American shows like Lost or Dexter, where the overriding storylines tend to take precedence over the self-contained episodic stories, and missing a few episodes often leaves a viewer floundering in confusion over missed plotlines. Whether the show goes fully into this format remains to be seen, but I would imagine it would be a step too far for a family show which needs to cater to a fairly wide audience.

For me personally though, I herald this new style for the show. Longer mysteries lead to anticipation, viewer loyalty, immersive and dense storylines, and an overall more rewarding viewer experience. Modern Doctor Who has always contained an overriding season arc, but this seems to be the first time that this has taken a bigger step out into the limelight. Last season seemed to be heading this way with the cracks in time, and hopefully this year will go some way to explaining why they occurred and who caused them. Multi-series mysteries ahoy! I cannot wait to see what the next 12 episodes have to offer and the ride they are going to take us on, however frustrating it may be.

FEZ SEZ: A bold, brash, and mysterious beginning to a new series of Doctor Who with a darker edge certainly peeking through the bright locations.

FEZTASTIC

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Lis Sladen 1948-2011

Just a quick post here to pay respect to the sad passing of Elisabeth Sladen last night.

The actress played Sarah-Jane Smith in both Doctor Who and spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures, and was one of the most popular recurring characters in the show’s history.

She will be missed by fans both young and old.

RIP

Other people have paid tribute more eloquently than I can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13137674

http://www.tom-baker.co.uk/pages/con…asp?PageID=159

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The FEZ SEZ rewatch – 5 – Flesh and Stone

“A forest in a bottle on a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet Amy Pond?”

I’m certainly impressed, Steven.
Flesh and Stone starts with an extremely convenient cliff-hanger-solver (is that a real phrase?) with the Doctor and gang escaping their peril by way of breaking a ‘gravity bubble’ and landing on the ceiling. I’m willing to forgive this as it plays well into the more playful fantastical feel that this series has over the straighter sci-fi of the past.

It also gives the characters (and us) the chance to enter the crashed Byzantium, seemingly setting up the fantastic potential of prowling Weeping Angels tormenting claustrophobic spaceship corridors. Indeed, the Weeping Angels (who of course can only move when not seen) approaching our crew by the light of machine gun fire down a narrow corridor is wonderfully cinematic, ramped up in danger with the Doctor fiddling with the doors, which of course open just in time for the characters to escape.

What we quite brilliantly get instead however, is the unexpected change of scene within minutes to a forest. That’s right, a forest. Made of robotic trees acting as an oxygen laboratory for the ship. And there are Angels. Stalking through forests. Genius.

The fairytale motif continues through what could have been a rather simple ‘A to B while getting picked off’ plotline, but is made so much more watchable and tense due to some superb performances and scripting. Amy’s possesion and creepy countdown is brilliantly done and avoids being contrived as she slips numbers into her conversations.

The enigma that is River Song allows some great banter between herself and the Doctor, and we learn more about her past/his future in this episode. She killed a man? A hero to many? Speculation is rife that this could be the Doctor, but it will take some timey-wimey brilliance to make that possible.

 The episode ends with a rather uncomfortable scene with Amy making a move on the Doctor upon returning to her bedroom the night before her wedding. I almost understand the impulse of it, and the physical comedy is rather brilliant, but it is rather jarring and I prefer to pretend this scene didn’t happen, as the rest of the episode was just perfect.

FEZ SEZ: “A tense, dramatic and satisfying conclusion to this two-parter”

FEZTASTIC

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The FEZ SEZ Rewatch – 4 – The Time of Angels

“Doctor, what do you know of the Weeping Angels?”

Watching things in the wrong order can certainly have it’s disadvantages, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, particularly if this episode – in my first series of Doctor Who – is your introduction to the brilliantly horrifying creatures, the Weeping Angels. I watched this episode glued to the screen, I could not look away, which is handy, because apparantly if I had I may have died. It was upon watching this episode that I was sold on this show last year. Yes, The Eleventh Hour reeled me in with it’s infectious charm, but The Time of Angels made me realise that this really was no silly children’s show. This shit was scary.

The whole thing is just pure sci-fi horror, from the Ring-like angel emerging from the TV screen (seriously, how could a child EVER watch this) to the ‘maze of the dead’ – part Mines of Moria, part Aliens. The concept of a monster equivalent of ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf’ – one that could only move when you looked away – was inspiring to me. I told all my friends what a great and scary episode of television I had just seen, what an ingenious concept. And then someone told me that they had already used the Weeping Angels in season 3′s infamous Blink.

Despite my initial awe of the idea not being present, the quality of this episode does not diminish with repeat viewings. For one thing, now knowing that River Song was also an exisitng character in the show – from Steven Moffat’s last contribution to Russell T Davies’ era, the wonderful Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – makes watching the Doctor’s reunion with her here all the more poignant. The last time they met, she died, and not before mentioning the Crash of the Byzantium that we are now watching. (Although wait a minute, the Doctor says here “we keep meeting in the wrong order”, does this imply he has already met her more than once? My thoughts of a David Tennant/Alex Kingston passing-of-the-screwdriver moment is still very much alive!)

I digress. With the knowledge of also what is to come for our characters in the finale of this series, it is now even more fun trying to dissect River’s clues here. Are they married? What did she do to end up in prison? Why does she take such delight in teasing the Doctor? How can she fly the TARDIS? Alex Kingston is playfully brilliant here, and Matt Smith is wonderfully grumpy. There’s a completely different dynamic here than when we last saw River and The Doctor together, a different clash of personalites. This Doctor certainly seems very spoilerphobic, and does not want to get involved in the adventures of a woman he knows he is still to meet many more times. There is a shift in power and it makes the Doctor uncomfortable. The mystery of River Song has truly begun now she has returned to the show.

But then the real horror begins as we see Amy trapped inside the command ship with an angel slowly advancing from the TV, a four second recording which is now moving. Again though, Amy saves herself when the Doctor cannot, a seemingly common theme in this series.

But there is no time to dawdle as the episode keeps going and our team of companions and military clerics (how fun) enter the catacombs and start their creepy ascent. The way Moffat lays out the threat against them, and then sends the characters headlong directly towards this threat is brilliant, not to mention the terrifying concept of basically playing hide and seek with a weeping angel in a maze full of statues.

If this idea wasn’t chilling enough, the reveal/realisation from the Doctor and River – that the race who built this temple had two heads, and that EVERY statue is infact a dying Angel, is not only excellently revealed – so obvious as it is the second time around – but also scary, really scary. Suddenly the chase is on, Angel Bob is mocking their every move, and all hope is lost. And then the Doctor gives a brilliant little speech, Murray Gold’s score strikes up, and the Doctor does something genius – which we don’t see as the episode ends.

Just a quick word on Matt Smith again here, sorry if I gush praise too much, but his delivery throughout this episode is just amazing. As is the wrtten dialogue, mind – bravo Steven Moffat – but the rambling stream-of-conciousness works so well with Smith and this Doctor, showing both the shambolic nervousness and the brilliant genius of the character.

FEZ SEZ: “A seamless marraige of Steven Moffat’s two most inspired creations in this show, set to a truly terrifying sci-fi horror backdrop. A fantastic beginning to a superb two-part story”

FEZTACULAR

 

 

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The FEZ SEZ rewatch – 3 – Victory of the Daleks

 Victory of the Daleks was easily the biggest target of fan venom last year, mainly down to the divisive new technicolor Dalek design. Does the rest of the story hold up nearly a year on?

Upon rewatch, I was reminded of my main gripe with this episode the first time around: it’s a real waste of potential. The first 10 minutes of this episode, setting up a the dramatic irony of Churchill and the Brits using Daleks (or ‘Ironsides’) as part of the war effort, is very good, but it feels functional, like it has had the life cut and pasted out of it, and could have perhaps worked better given more time to breath, to build up the tension and the frustration because we all KNOW this isn’t going to end well. I understand the need for the 40-odd minute running length, but the pacing of this episode just feels off.

It is genuinely both creepy and funny to watch the Daleks as innocent soldiers. The “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME TEEEEAA” line is inspired, and their eagerness to serve rightly frustrates and frightens The Doctor, who thought they had been wiped out for good. It turns out, of course, that the Daleks had a plan, and were actually luring The Doctor in oder to get his ‘testament’, his voice telling them they are Daleks so that the Progenitor Device they have found will recognise them as Dalek. If a machine sees them as gentically impure, I’m not sure how the word of their enemy really helps, but I guess it’ll do as an explanation. Matt Smith really sells The Doctor’s frustration and anger at the Daleks’ deception. He does quiet anger very very well as well. It is so obvious to The Doctor, and clearly annoying that noone believes him, most worryingly Amy, who seems not to remember The Daleks despite their recent invasion in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, the season’s mystery beginning to weave its way into the storylines more overtly now. Again, I would have liked to have seen this tension play out for a little longer in this episode, building up to The Doctor accidentally giving the Daleks what they want, but I suppose it is kind of in character (and easier to fit into the schedule) if The Doctor goes head on into the argument and blows their cover quickly.

From here on we get a lot of posturing and exposition, and the story does feel somewhat lacking. The Doctor threatens the Daleks with a Jammy Dodger, they transform and stand around resplendant in their new robes. Why not just shoot him? Its all a bit convenient but at least these new Daleks get to introduce themselves before NOT MOVING AT ALL.

As a note on these new Daleks, I don’t really see why it matters. The Daleks haven’t been scary since Christopher Ecclestone’s era anyway, so a few bright colours is not going to tarnish too much in that department. A new design at least freshens them up and the idea of a ranking system could return some interesting developments further down the line.

In the end, they run away, fresh from a silly, but fun for the kids, Anti-Gravity Spitfire attack. The Dcotor decides, again, to save the humans, and the Daleks ‘victory’  in this episode is escaping, an intellectualy victory of knowing The Doctor would try and save the Earth.

But he doesn’t, not really. Once again, Amy steps in, exactly as in the last episode, and offers that bit of humanity The Doctor was lacking, to convince the android Bracewell that he is human. Again, quite how this stops the nuclear bomb inside him detonating is a little fuzzy. It is all Amy really does in this episode, and repeating the trick of The Beast Below is not particularly interesting.

All in all, this episode is a nice idea, but unlike Amy Pond, I remember Journey’s End  and all the other modern Dalek stories, and it just seems too soon for them to be back, even in a cameo like this. I’d like to see them rested for a couple of years at least now, even with this new design.

FEZ SEZ: “A promising premise tarnished by a lack of action and pacing issues, but certainly not as bad as everyone says”

 FEZAPPOINTING

 

Arc Stuff:

  • Amy cannot remember the Dalek invasion, presumably as a result of the cracks erasing time
  • We see another crack at the end of the episode
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The FEZ SEZ Doctor Who rewatch – 2 – The Beast Below

As is customary in the second episode of a series, the Doctor takes his new companion to some far off space and time to impress her. This time they end up on Starship UK in the distant future, and something is being fed bad kids and protesters.

Unfortunately the episode just doesn’t deliver on the promise, not even delivering a coherent storyline. The ideas here are solid and interesting; the genuinely creepy smilers, and the dystopian police state, like a Tory-fuelled nightmare, where despite being given the chance to vote every 5 years the citizens of the ship “choose to forget what they’ve learnt” and live on in ignorance and fear (how very political of you Doctor, and in 2010 election season as well), but that’s all it seems to be, a load of ideas and imagery plastered together with authorial gaffa tape.

The sad thing is, I remember really enjoying this episode first time around. it’s only when watching it back I notice that a lot of it doesn’t really make sense. For example, yes, there’s a voting system, and democracy means the government allow the citizens of Starship UK to view ‘the truth’ about how they are able to fly, later revealed to be the enslavement of a peacful creature known as a ‘star whale’. They are then given the choice to ‘protest’ or ‘forget’. I get this, but how does Amy, thrown into the future in her nightie, then figure out how to record a message to herself before she forgets? Never explained, and then later fed upon by the Doctor when ranting about how Amy had not right to shelter him from making a hard decision.

On top of this, why on Earth are naughty children dropped into a pit as food for the whale? Yes, they are rejected because we find out that the whale is only there for the crying children, but why would the government choose to do this in the first place, except to set up a creepy opening to the episode. Sloppy.

We also meet Liz 10, the Queen of England who recognises The Doctor from her family stories, a nice touch and hark back to previous adventures. Liz 10 is also investigating how the ship is seemingly flying with no engine, and what her government are hiding from her. She makes an interesting side character, albeit a slight box-ticker (ooh, a streetwise black queen!)

We hear from the government (look it’s that guy from The Demon Headmaster!) that they are acting on “the highest authority”, and it transpires that Liz has actually been giving the orders herself, kept alive for 200 years on a ten year loop of investigating, solving and choosing to forget the slavery she authorised for the good of the British public. A good solid twist somewhat signposted on second viewing, but effective nonetheless.

Amy gets to figure out the solution and redeem herself with the Doctor. She sees the somehwat hamfisted parallel with The Doctor that the starwhale is “very old and very kind” and doesn’t get involved until the children cry. The whale is released, and it chooses to stay for the children, just as amy predicted. Clever Amy. A win for humanity that The Doctor had dismissed 10 minutes earlier. It’s the point where the companion ‘earns’ the right to travel with the Doctor which we’ve seen before.

There’s a development here of the much-touted ‘fairytale’ theme of this series. The Eleventh Hour set us up with The Doctor as the imaginary friend of a little girl, who whisks her away the night before her wedding. Her raggedy Doctor. We’ll see this continuing through the series, and here the idea of him as a kind old man, along with the scene in the mouth of the giant whale, and the Amy voiceover of the ‘Beast Below’ poem at the end of the episode keep this lovely imagery going.

Then Winston calls and we’re off for an adventure with the Daleks!

FEZ SEZ: “An enjoyable but ultimately flawed second episode with some nice ideas but no real coherence”

FEZAPPOINTING

 

Arc Stuff I spotted:

  • The big gaping grinning crack at the end, obviously
  • Amy hints at her wedding, but doesn’t admit it
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The FEZ SEZ Doctor Who rewatch – 1 – The Eleventh Hour

To begin my reviewing quest, I’m going to rewatch (mainly for the second time, some for the third or fourth) the last series of Doctor Who. It’s where I started the show, it’s what inspired this blog, and it’s a great way for me to pass time while I contain my excitement for the new series to begin.

I’ll be sticking mainly to reviewing the episodes in the context of their original broadcast, but I’ll also be looking out for things I notice on repeat viewing and things that link to the series’ arc as a whole. On we go…

EPISODE 1 – ‘THE ELEVENTH HOUR’

An introduction to a new Doctor will always need to make a statement. An introduction to a new Doctor following on from possibly the most popular Doctor Who ever needs to make a big statement. All this from a new show-runner taking over from a hugely succesful predecessor? It’s critical.

What The Eleventh Hour does so well is simultaeneously break away into a signature style while reminding loyal viewers that it’s safe to keep watching now David’s gone. It’s still Doctor Who, but not quite as we know it.

In fact, I would say it sticks mainly to the latter. The episode plays like a greatest hits, full of memorable moments and containing flavours of past Russell T Davies openers (hidden prisoner like in Smith and Jones, the regeneration ‘breath’ of Tennant’s entrance The Christmas Invasion) and, perhaps more importantly, nods to Moffat’s own offerings during RTD’s tenure. We get “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” and the “duck!” message straight from Blink, we get the coma patients of An Empty Child/A Doctor Dances, and most overtly we get The Doctor meeting Amelia/Amy across her timeline in the style of The Girl in The Fireplace. Moffat is saying ‘yes, this is the show you’ve all followed for the last 5 years, but remember all those good bits I put in? Expect a whole lot more!’ You may think this is a criticism, but far from it. It’s not derivative, it’s celebratory. A bright start to a brand new era of the show, both old and new.

The opening episode also has to open the show up to a potential new audience, so part of it’s remit is to explain who the hell this man is hanging out of a blue box over London as we begin. I say it does manage this succesfully, mainly because this is the first episode of Doctor Who I sat down and watched fully. It had never interested me before. Yes, I’d caught bits and I knew the gist, I knew the basic history, so that probably helped, but I was hooked to this over my dinner and began following the show soon after, so it definitely did something right. By the end of the episode Moffat has re-established the Doctor as a time-travelling Timelord with a companion and we’re all happy and comfortable.

As a new viewer I therefore didn’t know why Matt Smith was dangling out of the TARDIS at the start of the episode on first viewing. Now of course, I know that it is as a direct result of the regeneration from The End of Time. Not a vitally important piece of knowledge for the casual viewer perhaps, but in retrospect it’s fantastic that the huge emotional turmoil suffered by the Doctor in that episode is immediately contrasted so well with his crash landing in young Amelia’s garden and the brilliantly comedic scene that follows. The emotional shackles are off, new Doctor, new man, and new taste buds.

Within seconds of Matt Smith sparring with Amelia about food he becomes the Doctor. His comic timing is excellent (“Bad Bad Beans!”,”You’re Scottish, fry something!”) and it’s clear that while this new regeneration is working himself out, he’s clearly not weighed down with the emotional baggage of his predecessor. I don’t want to cast judgement on emotional baggage, this IS drama after all, but fresh start, fresh perspective.

Without completely listing everything that happens in this episode, what we get is a fantastic performance from Smith, encompassing the role by both being obviously the Doctor but also completely his own man. He’s nerdy yet charming, self-assured but not completely self-aware, completely the enchanting raggedy Doctor. A very different animal but ultimately recognisable.

The episode’s storyline itself is somewhat forgettable, lots of running around after a shapeshifting alien before tricking it into disguising itself as itself and getting arrested, but it doesn’t really matter. This is about The Doctor and Amy, a new lead character, and a completely different dynamic with a companion he has just met yet already seems to owe so much. He left a little girl waiting for 12 years and then 2 more, and Karen Gillan completely sells the anger and frustration of being let down by her imaginary friend but still finding him impossible to hate.

We are also introduced to the mysterious and all-important crack in the wall,  ‘side-companion’ Rory, and Moffat’s signature use of creepy catchphrases continues with “Silence Will Fall”, which we STILL don’t have a resolution for as we head towards season 6.

By the time Smith has donned his bowtie and walked through the rather cool montage of doctors to firmly introduce himself, I’m sold, and so is Amy Pond, who, despite having to wait ANOTHER two years, agrees to follow the Doctor into the TARDIS, and who can blame her after that introduction?

FEZ SEZ: “A stunning introduction to a new hero. Funny, clever, intruiging and mysterious. Plays like a greatest hits and still feels completely new”

FEZTACULAR

The arc stuff I spotted:

  • “The Doctor in the TARDIS doesn’t know” what causes the cracks…
  • Amy’s parents aren’t there, but that apple looks so fresh…
  • How do you know it’s a duckpond if there’s no ducks?
  • Amy’s GETTING MARRIED!!
  • There’s a shadowy figure in the kitchen, could that be FEZDOC???!!!:-)
  • I won’t lie, after watching this episode about 5 times, I still don’t completely understand which bits with young Amelia are taking place as a result of the cracks or as a result of the Doctor’s Big Bang exploits.
  • “The Pandorica is Open. Silence Will Fall”. It’s begun!
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