Ever get that bloated feeling? Activia is just the thing, apparently. Mm, Bifidus Digestivum. A unique culture designed to slide down smoothly and assist with all the indigestible stuff you somehow managed to swallow.
In the past, I’ve compared New Who to a McDonalds Happy Meal. The Stolen Earth was more like a party bucket. Wings, fries, nuggets, relish, the lot, all cooked according to Colonel Rusty’s secret recipe. All right the recipe’s not that much of a secret after three years, but this was a BIG meal. More than you can eat in one sitting and I’m afraid may lead to some of those problems with the digestion we’ve encountered before.
Usually, I’d refrain from commenting too much on the first episode of a two-parter, but given RTD’s track record for reset switches in these BIG Season Finales of his, I figured I’d best say something at this point, in case next week I’m feeling cheated and left with nothing to do but complain.
Whereas, at this stage, although it’s difficult to be impressed with the predictable audacity, I am at least laughing.
Maybe it’s the altitude. The man has so clearly been on a mission to outdo himself each year and now we are so ludicrously OTT, you can’t help but find it funny. Such energetic fanwank, it’s gone way beyond hitting the ceiling. (And can I just say, because he coined the phrase, I'm pretty sure Craig Hinton would have *loved* it.)
Skipping all the little continuity references and minor in-jokes, I could just make a list of the ingredients thus far: Rose, Martha, Martha's mum, UNIT, Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack and Torchwood, Donna’s family, Harriet Jones former Prime Minister, Daleks, Davros, Judoon, the Shadow Proclamation…
…and I’m sure I’d still be missing some items.
Inevitably I'm reminded of The Five Doctors and its mission to seek out everyone who'd ever been in Doctor Who and cram them into a TV special, managing to make even the most dimensionally transcendental interiors seem crowded. An exercise that went on to inspire a short story of mine, "Balloon Debate" (Short Trips: Companions). In essence, a 5000 word gag. Of course, some people complained about the ending - and quite possibly rightly, because it transpired that the whole thing to a story tapped out by Sarah Jane Smith, but hey, I was obliged to make sure it fitted snugly with continuity. Because, you know, where fans are concerned, you mess with that at your peril. But anyway, in brief, for the purposes of this discussion, you can look on it as a daft joke with a plethora of guest stars and a cheat ending.
Just wait till next week when we get the by now traditional huge reset switch and doubtless those same fans will find some way to reinterpret the cheat as sheer brilliance. Ha!
Still, that aside, I found myself watching The Stolen Earth in a similar light: as one massively, stupidly daft joke. It probably helped that I was pleasantly light-headed on alcohol, but whatever helps, you know. And to be fair, the thing was peppered with great gags, additionally buoyed up by a cracking pace - um, except when, owing to our cast of thousands, we had to stop for reaction shots from Uncle Tom Cobley and all before the plot could actually progress and let us in on what was happening. Five lots of "Oh no!" type gasps before it went all Independence Day on us, and I'm checking the clock.
There were other weak points that cropped up for me through the mirth.
1) The Shadow Proclamation were a bit of a letdown after the build-up: not only easily hoodwinked, but also appearing rather too reliant on the commandeering of the by-all-rights-according-to-them-should-be- non-existent Doctor's TARDIS to facilitate their intervention in the galactic crisis. Hmm.
2) I know it was done for the joke, but I didn't buy that Sarah Jane would submit to fate quite so readily when she first knows it's the Daleks and turns to her adopted son to sob at the fact that he's so young. Like he's already dead. That's not our plucky journalist at work.
3) What was Rose's problem? (Besides looking stupid with a stupidly big gun.) As the Doctor kick-starts another regeneration (more on which in a jiff) she's all, "No! He can't!". She's seen this before and, as I understand it, the Doctor even came through it better-looking. Is she that shallow that she'll now only settle for the David Tennant Doctor? Or is she just terrified that he'll now regenerate into someone she couldn't possibly fancy?
My wife's theory: a cameo guest appearance from Tom Baker as he is now - pile on that fanwank, why not - which would perhaps explain Rose's dread at the prospect, but for the moment I can't figure how Rose would know the result. Whereas I have a niggling dread of my own that we'll get a temporary Doctor, ready to be undone by whatever reset Rusty has in mind for this year! But don't worry, nobody need take any of these seriously - until they happen, natch - because we don't. Part of the fun was just speculating completely madly afterwards as we headed off to the pub (in our defence we had an engagement - we're not like obsessive drinkers or anything!) To be fair, the regeneration - at this stage anyway - was quite a surprise, but in some ways that only served to cast doubts in my mind. Doubts that they'll actually go through with it permanently, for one. However, that said, if it's the genuine article, then this would have to qualify as the best-kept secret in New Who ever. So, points for that.
Anyway, other niggles (and by 'niggles' I mean the usual crap, groan-inducing bits) would be of an essentially similar level. But there were plus points still for Davros, who looked pretty good - you know, as crippled Kaled scientists go - and the wonderfully demented Dalek Kaaaaaaan.
The only trouble is, at this stage it's just hard to be impressed or anything other than amused, but that's a problem based on past performance - quite simply, because we're too familiar with the pattern. What this 'joke' relies on now is a bloody good punchline. A decent resolution and a finale that actually delivers. Rusty can always inflate the balloon, that's a given. But the last thing I want to see next week is said balloon deflating and spluttering haphazardly all over the place with a loud farty noise.
We know the Earth has to be put back where it came from and that's fair enough, but while the story might get away with a return switch, the last thing we want is a reset switch, Undo, DEM or anything of that ilk. Go out with a bang, by all means, just not by popping the balloon.
Or, say, Donna sticking a handy time-beetle on her back to change the timeline and put it all right at the cost of her own life. (Or some other equally sad, sucky alternative that you're free to dream up yourself.)
Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue our crazy speculations: temporary Doctor; dead Donna; dead Jack (*not*-dead Sarah Jane Smith - that's a must); dead Torchwood (please); Harriet Jones former PM not actually dead, so she could yet end up inside a Dalek casing (she did go and taunt them about not understanding anything about humans); guest appearances from the Sontarans, the Master, Tom Baker, the Doctor's Daughter and Tom Pearse's grey mare for the closing ride into the sunset over Widecombe fair; maybe even something that makes me properly sit up and take it all seriously. Anything could happen, but I am persuaded that anything we could come up with would never outdo Colonel Rusty.
Maybe we'd best just stock up on the Activia, just in case. Mmm, now with Bifidus ActiRegularis. Maybe prune flavour, because whichever way this goes down, we could be looking at a meal that's going to sit with us for a long while...