Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lead Zeppelin

Prefect SlogWell, that went down a treat. No, wait, it just went down - and not in a good way. After last week's episode climbed to the dizzy heights of mediocrity, the follow-up Age Of Steel managed a nose-dive into the ground, which became something of a race to see whether it could crash spectacularly before the whole thing deflated. Either way, this particular viewer was left to salvage what he could from the wreckage.
To be honest, I'd be hard-pressed to think of anything sufficiently positive to save this sorry shambles. Mickey's departure should have been like a golden light at the end of this two-part tunnel, but by that stage I was so thoroughly dismayed by the whole thing, even that ray of sunshine only managed a dull glimmer. That and the realisation that Mickey, set on a globe-trotting campaign against the Cybermen, was soon to be more widely travelled than the Doctor and Rose. (Next Week: looks like we're headed for... somewhere in the UK, Earth!)
It wasn't that this was the worst Doctor Who episode ever (Timelash? Time And The Rani? Boomtown? You tell me.) It was just that this was such a huge wasted opportunity. This was the Cybermen's big comeback. And it should have been big. Monumental. Event One of this series. Instead, all we got was a load of old Cyber pants.
It started poorly, with the Doctor side-stepping last week's feeble cliffhanger with an even more feeble get-out clause. Even his miraculous deployment of the TARDIS energy crystal might have been redeemed dramatically speaking had he burnt out their only option of escaping this dreary alternative reality. But no - "It'll recharge in 4 hours." Fine, wake me up when it's done.
From there, it went downhill, continuing with a lengthy confinement in the back of a truck for the purposes of some 'vital' plot explanation, interspersed with lots of meaningless metal mayhem, and a convenient Thames-side conference to discuss how to go about defeating the menace, all culminating in a final plummet towards a finale worthy of Independence Day and Stargate SG-1, which may, along with warm woollen mittens etc, be a few of Julie Andrews' Favourite Things, but they're certainly not mine. "Ooh look - an emotional inhibitor chip." "Ooh look, a handy USB port for my mobile phone." I mean, I remember being dissatisfied with the Cybermen's previous Achilles' Heel: their vulnerability to gold was fine enough for the purposes of Revenge Of The Cybermen, but after that it was overused - some would say flogged to death - as subsequent degenerations of Cybermen succumbed to what only amounted to metal fatigue. They just used to show up and blow up. But at least the gold thing was only built in by the writers as a too-convenient plot device. This emotional inhibitor chip override was, on top of that, built in by their creator within the context of the story. Apparently I was mistaken about John Lumic. It really was Trigger in that wheelchair.
I realise the aim here was to make Mickey the hero, but surely there was another way besides coming up with such a dumb resolution? Sorry, but I expected better of a New Series Cyberman story. And what compounds the disappointment here is that we know they were capable of so much better. What a waste.
The Cybermen themselves were only 'scary' when they were standing still - either in the tunnels or staring at Mickey through the fence. Otherwise they were tramping about like a lot of dumb ham-footed robots. (What is it with this need for overly stylised movements? The street-mime Autons from Rose were similarly misjudged.) It didn't help that the Cybermen spoke such electronically treated gibberish, forcing us to concentrate to hear what they were saying, generally to discover that it wasn't much of note. Having their mouths flash lights as they spoke was no help in understanding the dialogue and also had the misfortune of looking A Bit Crap(TM).
The shots of the cyber-surgery and the incinerations might have been more effectively creepy had they not been undermined by all the hard work done by the first part: as they appeared on screen, I couldn't help think back to them operating to the tune of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. Thanks for that, guys.
During that first episode, the writer side of my brain was too busy thinking of ways in which this could have been done better. During this one, that same side of my brain had reached the conclusion that the only way to go was to scrap the thing and rewrite from scratch. Sadly, that's not going to happen. What's done is done. A lot of actors and production crew wasted their time and talent and I'm left with that overwhelming sense of a thoroughly wasted opportunity.
Unfortunately, rather more of New Series Who than is strictly necessary appears to rely on that old mantra used for crossing yourself (and here, to my shame, I'm remembering a quote from Eric Idle in Nuns On The Run): Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch. Essentially, go for a lot of spectacle, throw in some things that are a bit bollocks, give it the big budget treatment and hope to rake in the viewers. Eurovision follows the same philosophy, but it was sad that I actually found that more entertaining than Age Of Steel that evening. (And that included the more compelling mystery of why so many people across Europe voted for Finland - fair enough "The Day Of Rockening" is a priceless lyric, but we can't all share the same sense of humour, surely?) The thing is, we generally get what we expect from Eurovision - but we know that Doctor Who can do so much better.


Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "It wasn't that this was the worst Doctor Who episode ever"

Nope, that would be Boomtown or Timeflight. What this was was dull, pedestrian, lacking in ambition, poorly scripted and badly edited. Boomtown was all of that, plus it has the whole 'My Dinner with Andre' section.

The problem I'm increasingly convinced isn't - as I'd assumed - that the series isn't aimed at the likes of me anymore (although that's part of it) but that the series only works well when there's a really good writer at the helm who knows what he's supposed to be writing or the concept is good enough to sell itself. Otherwise RTD doesn't seem capable of knocking crap scripts into shape (a fact exacerbated by the fact that several of the poorest scripts have been his own) or, less charitably, is thinking 'well it's just for kids' so gaping plots in the internal logic don't matter and mundane hackwork is fine.

How else to explain stuff like last night where just some minor tweaking could have turned it into a much better story - ffs, simply filming the script to 'Spare Parts' would have made it sensational. Most obviously, compare the scene of the newly converted Cyberman last night bleating on contrivedly(?) about her wedding the next day with the genuinely moving similar scene in 'Spare Parts' - surely any writer worth his salt should realise that there's a far greater level of emotional resonance when it's a character you know being converted rather than some stranger with a hastily trowelled on tale of woe in place of a genuine back story.

It was just rubbish and I'm actually surprised at how annoyed I am by that fact today, when yesterday I just shrugged it off and thought it might even have been better than the first instalment. But every so often I remember another stupid bit, or another part where five minutes in the hands of a decent editor could have dramatically tightened things up, and I realise what an opportunity missed this was.

Currently I'm most irritated by the 'delete' cliff-hanger - someone obviously thought the Cybermen needed a catchphrase (expect the Cyber figures with electronic voices mumbling 'Delete' just in time for Christmas) which suggests a total misunderstanding of what Doctor Who is about. Like Louis Marks knocking out 'Day of the Daleks' as an Avengers script, RotC/AoS is Tom McRae writing the Cybermen with only knowledge of the Daleks to use as a generic "Who Monster Template".

Hmm - I was going to write this episode up in my blog, but this comment is longer than most of my posts there :)

SAF said...

Yep to all of that, Stuart. There have been rubbish episodes in the past, but I think there's a lot less excuse now, with everything that's thrown at New Who and with what we've seen can be done. It annoys me too - they must have known what an opportunity they had here before they went and wasted it.

And "Ewe wool be diluted" is not a great Cyber catchphrase, by any stretch of the imagination ;)

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "And "Ewe wool be diluted" is not a great Cyber catchphrase, by any stretch of the imagination "

lol - I spent several minutes trying to thnk of something funny like that to convey the general inaudibility of the Cyber voices and couldn't.

That'll be the writer in you shining through...

SAF said...

Thanks :)

I don't know about that, but I was going to use it as the header for my rant, but went for something pithier. My wife then pointed out that, with all the lights around the front, it was also an L.E.D. Zeppelin. Ahem.

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "My wife then pointed out that, with all the lights around the front, it was also an L.E.D. Zeppelin."

lol - that's even better :)

Stuart Douglas said...

Don't know if you've seen this Simon - an Em Chem ebook. You've hit the torrent big time now, they don't make ebooks out of just everything, you know...

SAF said...

Weird, can't think why anyone would want an e-book of it. Copies are only about 1.99 on Amazon, practically given away ;)

Officially I have to be pissed off about that, of course.