Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shop Of Little Horror

Prefect SlogThere are times when I wonder whether I've simply grown tired of Doctor Who. Saturday night's instalment, The Idiot's Lantern, was one of those occasions. It was nothing as bad as the Rise Of The Cybermen/Age Of Steel combo that preceded it - it wasn't anywhere near that big a mess. Neither was it as disappointing. How could it be? There was far less at stake here: all this one had to do was entertain. By the end of it though, the best I could say was that I felt it had managed to distract me for 45 minutes, but that was about it. It was okay - no more, no less - and probably, as result, less memorable than the Cyberman two parter.
It started reasonably enough, with Mr Magpie working late in his shop, being addressed directly by the creepy lady on the telly, whereupon lightning-like energy lashes out and grabs a hold of his head. I thought he was going to be sucked into the telly, like John Ritter and Pam Dawber (Mrs Mork!) in the movie Stay Tuned (1992). No, thankfully it didn't go down that unoriginal road. Instead it pootled along its own entirely predictable course like, well, like that motor scooter of the Doctor's.
There were some expectations attached to this one. I have fond memories of The Unquiet Dead from last season, so I was looking forward to another offering from Mark Gatiss. And at least this one did deliver a nice sense of period, along with a great character actor in a key role. In the place of Victorian times, we have the 50s; in place of Simon Callow as Dickens, we have Maureen Lipman as the Wire.
And right there, I have to stop myself because the comparisons fall down. Actually, there are no comparisons. The characters are nowhere near as well-drawn, the period, although nicely realised, is lacking the atmosphere of the previous Gatiss story and Maureen Lipman, although brilliantly creepy to begin with, is hampered by the fact that she's been called upon to play such a generic alien entity with such a rubbish name and then hamstrung by the fact that she's given a stream of tiresome, repetitive pantomime dialogue. She does her best, she really does, but reduced in later scenes to shouts of "I'm hungry!" and "Feed me!", she comes across as a bizarre humaniform Audrey Two from Little Shop Of Horrors.
With that in mind, I'd have welcomed the Doctor and Rose striking into "You'll Be A Dentist" while riding along on that scooter. At least it would have been a surprise.
The one memorable 'shock' moment would have to be the sight of the faceless granny in the upstairs bedroom. But the creepy potential of these 'Faceless Ones' was somehow left underexploited and the thread with the police whisking them all away appeared contrived as a means of justifying the scene in the warehouse where the Doctor is surrounded by all these featureless somebodies. It did offer one bright spot: the nicely played reversal of position between the Doctor and the copper in the interrogation scene, but the thread as a whole beggared belief. When 'Operation Market Stall' rolled into action - in essence, er, rolling a market stall out into the road and closing a gate - I just laughed at the idea that the Doctor had been so easily duped. Especially this Doctor who, by the constraints of the 45 minute rush-a-thon story, is generally obliged to know or work things out a little too easily. As always, if this had occurred within a great story, I'd have probably overlooked it. But because this one only ever rises to the level of 'all right', it throws such flaws into sharper focus.
I think we were supposed to be shocked and horrified by the sight of a faceless Rose, but the unfortunate downside of that moment was that it confirmed, much too far ahead of time, that all these unfortunate 'faceless ones' were going to have their features restored in a miraculous and barely explicable solution. One that was duly delivered. By the time the celebratory street party was underway, I was yawning and waiting for the Next Week... trailer to roll by.
Through all this, there was some okay character stuff, with the family frictions, but that was fairly basic and again predictable and for me, The Unquiet Dead is proof that Mark Gatiss could have done so much better. I hate to say it (because it's getting as repetitive and tiresome as the Wire's "Feed Me, Seymour"-style exhortations) but the story wasn't helped by the fact that it was another one set on Earth. In London, for crying out loud. And this idea of Russell T Davies', of using Earth as an anchor, is rapidly becoming a ball and chain for this incarnation of Doctor Who. What we want is the kind of telly that kept all those people glued to their sets in the early days, and thus so vulnerable to the Wire's attacks. More of this kind of thing, and the Wire is liable to find even this dedicated Doctor Who idiot forgetting to tune in to his lantern one of these weekends.
Still, I am being overly negative there. On balance, so far this series, I've seen three episodes that impressed, three that sucked, and one - this - that was just 'meh'. So at this midway point, the scales are even. And on a more optimistic note, here's hoping for better things in the second half.


Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "I've seen three episodes that impressed, three that sucked, and one - this - that was just 'meh'. "

I agree with you that tIL was at best just OK, but I keep telling myself that after seven episodes of last season, I'd only really enjoyed three (Rose, The Unquiet Dead and Dalek), thought two were unambitious filler (Long Game and End of the World) and thought two were actively bad (Aliens of London and World War III).

So we're not running much worse than this time last year.

Of course, I have no real desire to watch any of last season again whereas in the last week alone I've watched various episodes of Day of the Daleks, Ambassadors of Death (it is good, isn't it :) and Tomb of the Cybermen - and enjoyed them all more than anything from last year.

Stewart M. said...

I was rather unaffected by The Idiot's Lantern as well. There was just something... something that didn't quite agree with me, perhaps. The whole thing just feels completely unremarkable, somehow.

SAF said...

Good to know I'm not alone. ;)

And yeah, I don't think it's any worse than where we were at this point last year. I guess I'd hoped things would have greatly improved this year, with all the kinks ironed out.

And like you, I don't find much of a burning desire to rewatch any of them. I only routinely rewatched them a second time last year for review purposes, whereas this year Ive just settled for the 'first impressions' approach. Whereas I always get a lot out of a 'classic series' rewatch. (Of course that probably has something to do with my impeccable taste in choosing the best ones, but still... ;) )

SAF said...

Oh, and glad you enjoyed Ambassadors, Stuart!

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "Oh, and glad you enjoyed Ambassadors, Stuart!"

I should have know - it's Season 7, how could it go wrong?

I'm a bit more doubting about another of your recommendations I've downloaded - Farscape (with Polish subtitles for some reason). Every review I see of the show seems to mention the Muppets, which is a little odd, I thought.

Still, I only watched Carnivale because of you and Mark M (and that was superb), so I reckon I can put up with Muppets :)

SAF said...

I'm not sure it'll come over well with the Polish subtitles, but... focusing on 'the Muppets' is standard fare for anyone making any reference to "Farscape". The puppetry and animatronics are valid methods of creating alien creatures on screen, most of them are invested with far more character than any CGI creation I've seen on TV (turd on a ceiling anyone?) and they demonstrate at least the same level of inventiveness and imaginative creativity in their designs as we were accustomed to back in the 'good old days' of "Doctor Who". Added to which, there's far more to the show than that.
Against that, it is fair to say the show takes a bit of time to warm up. I didn't get into it until some episodes after the pilot, but even then I could tell it was doing something different, so I stuck with it. Your Mileage May Vary, as they say :)

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "Against that, it is fair to say the show takes a bit of time to warm up"

As a big fan of seventies TV, shows taking a while to warm up isn't a problem, it's a bonus.

The Polish subtitles are a bit of a drag - I might just watch the first half dozen episodes and if it's any good start hinting about Fathers Day presents.

SAF said...

That's a weird thing about subtitles: when you need to read them, they take a bit of concentration to follow; when you don't want to see them, you can't ignore them no matter how hard you try.