Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Have TARDIS Will Travel (Eventually)

Prefect SlogWhat do you know, we finally broke away from Earth's orbit. So where, in last Saturday's episode, The Impossible Planet, did we end up? On a remote frontier base on a, well, an impossible planet, in orbit around a black hole - one of those impressive, swirling cinematic jobs too, that's sucking everything into its dark heart: light, entire star systems, time and apparently the charisma of the Sanctuary Base crew.
But let's be clear on this: it's not their fault. In the early stages of this otherwise really pretty good sf/horror outing, they're all handed such dull explanatory dialogue that even the cast of Alien would have trouble standing out from the scenery. Of course, I say Alien, but really this was all more reminiscent of Event Horizon, and a fairly decent homage too, with the added advantage that this one has a second part and could actually amount to something in the end. Unfortunately, it's fair to say that in the case of The Impossible Planet, it's the early stages that let it down. Not the beginning, that was a good little opener, with some effectively scary critters (reminded me a lot of some B5 aliens) and a nice twist with their translation devices where they turn out not to be scary at all (except, see later). No, what kept me from really getting involved in the action very early on was, well, the fact that there was no action. Presumably feeling constrained - yet again - by the 45-minute episode format, the writer adopts an almost painful tell-don't-show approach. Lifeless exposition is bad enough, worse when it's repeated, as though we the audience need the details drummed into us. And instead of introducing us to the station crew as part of a developing story, they just go ahead and make a round of introductions. Jeez, I think I'd have preferred the Reservoir Dogs approach: slo-mo stroll, freeze frame and add a tag to identify each of the station personnel in turn. For this slow, early explanatory third, I really was thinking of Event Horizon, not so much for the horror or suspense elements, more for the fact that we always felt on the brink of events, rather than actually have something happening.
But, when all that's said, somewhere along the way, this episode actually comes alive and becomes a bit of a doozy. I'm not really sure when it happens, I'd have to watch it again to pin the moment down, if that's at all possible. But the main thing is, it does happen and thankfully we're treated to a superbly handled gallop towards a three-way cliffhanger, wherein the Ood return to being scary (although they are still somewhat hampered by a bloody silly name), the eponymous planet is being sucked into the black hole (where we can hope that the crew might be reuinited with their charisma) and the Doctor and, er, that woman (see, despite the functional introductions, I can't remember her name) are confronted with Satan emerging from the pit. Ooer.
It's also worth noting that the woman's face, when seen through her lighted spacesuit visor during the descent in the elevator, looks incredibly like a skull which, whether by design or accident - surely the former - is a great and wonderfully creepy bit of foreshadowing. Ironic, isn't it, that for the first episode of New Series Doctor Who away from Earth or (allowing for New Earth) an Earthalike, that they filmed the subterranean sequences in a quarry. And those sequences were amazing - a real sense of scale and something epic, and a momentous, forbidding archaeological discovery.
Given how successful the later stages were, I could have wished for an opening fifteeen-to-twenty minutes with much better crafted story development, but in the end, the impressive elements were impressive enough to save it - although of course a lot now hangs on the ability of the second episode to deliver a worthy payoff. So overall, I'm erring on the side of positive on this one, but as with all two-parters, holding off until the closing stretch. The TARDIS has finally travelled, now it just needs to go the extra mile.


Stuart Douglas said...

I didn't mind the exposition at all, because the rest of the episode was just so bloody good. Leaving aside the nostalgia-fest which was School Reunion (and how right you were not to include anything from the new series in your Top 10 :), this is the first episode this season that felt like the author actually had a handle on what makes Doctor Who great as opposed to just alright.

Proper horror, proper aliens and proper jokes (someone should point out to RTD that little asides like 'Walford's best Christmas ever' are the way to put 21st century references into Doctor Who, not wholesale wacky lifts of Big Brother and the like).

Some of the acting was a bit ropey - the lad who plays the DJ in 'Ideal' being by far the worst - and the music, as ever, seemed to loud at times to my increasingly elderly ears, but they're minor complaints in what was a brilliant episode.

Roll on part two - and if it's rubbish, I may cry.

SAF said...

Yeah, shows what a fussy bugger I am - I just couldn't overlook the negatives altogether (although in fairness to me, I gave the actors the benefit of the doubt ;) ) and I just think how much better it might have been for just a bit of a different approach in that first third or so. It's the beginning that "Event Horizon" actually gets right, whereas I'm hoping this will owe nothing to "Event Horizon" in the end stage. If it does, you will be sure to cry rivers. :)

Stuart Douglas said...

I've nver seen 'Event Horizon' and, do you know, I don't think I'll bother now :)