Sunday, April 27, 2008

Non-Probic Vent

It being the first of a two-parter, I'm being fair and reserving comment on The Sontaran Stratagem until I've seen the second episode. When I do comment it'll only be one of my mini-reviews anyway, but in the meantime, pardon me while I have a mini-rant.

Now, I realise nostalgia must play a factor, but I do have fond memories of the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier and despite the fact that they were at loggerheads - the scientific versus the military mind - their friendship was a special one. And here we were with the Doctor reunited with UNIT and what I'm seeing played out between David Tennant's Doctor and this brand new UNIT Colonel actually makes me angry.

It's curious and disheartening that New Who rarely provokes anything like such an active response from me - usually it leaves me pretty much in neutral. But when I think of the opportunities in terms of painting a rounded, convincing military character and establishing relations between him and the Doctor, what we got was, if you'll excuse the pun, Major Disappointment.

Poor enough that he's portrayed as a spineless non-entity who obligingly salutes Donna Nobody on demand, far far worse that the Doctor insists he doesn't want the man standing next to him because he's *wearing* a gun. The man hadn't even been given a chance to be a *character* let alone a bit of a bastard, which might at least have earned him the snub. But no, this was entirely based on the fact that the man was in the military and completely disregards the Doctor's previous regard for the Brigadier. This from the Doctor who metes out cruel and unusual punishments on aliens who happen to piss him off, who's just recently caused the deaths of 20,000 people in an effort to save the world and preserve the course of history (and who, but for Donna, wouldn't even have saved a single Roman family), and who wields his sonic screwdriver *like a gun*.

This Doctor is apparently being painted as a Lonely God. And, in case any further evidence were needed, now we have an explanation for the 'Lonely' part. And frankly, I'd grown to dislike the man already, but this was the point where I'd really had enough of him. So, any kids out there whose father happens to be an officer in the military, don't worry, it doesn't mean your daddy's evil. It's just that, no matter how much the script will insist he's 'dazzling' or 'brilliant', this particular Doctor is a self-righteous, sanctimonious prick.

Hopefully next week a Sontaran - or maybe Donna - will slap him around a bit and teach him not to be such an ass.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Apocalypse Then

You know how it is: there you are, working away in your biological warfare lab and whoops! you drop your test tube. A few days later, you travel the globe, getting your passport stamped in all sorts of exotic locales, suddenly you start to feel a bit piquey, then everyone drops dead and before you know it civilisation as we know it is wiped out in the space of a couple of weeks. Bugger.

But you see, I have to make light of it, because the scenario is so utterly chilling. And so dramatically and effectively summed up in the opening credit sequence, that Survivors barely needs a pilot episode to tell us how it all happens. It can cut pretty quickly to the grim post-Apocalyptic business of survival.

We've only just started to watch the series - we're a mere three episodes in - and I'm just hoping our DVD rental people will keep the discs coming promptly because it's, frankly, gripping stuff. And the thing is, I'm trying to recall whether I'd watched any of it before. I don't think so. Where I get a slight buzz of nostalgia is in the opening credits, and I remember it vividly - but I also remember being packed off to bed at that point (I was eight). Good thing too. Because god knows, if I'd been allowed to stay up and watch, here is a show that would surely have given me nightmares. And not the inspiring imagination-sparking type of nightmares Doctor Who used to generate.

The Doctor Who credentials are there, for sure: Terry Nation scripting, Pennant Roberts directing the first episode, Talfryn Thomas giving it some great character actor welly. And that opening sequence that inevitably reminds me of the spread of the alien plague in Doctor Who And The Silurians. Back then, this is what adults got instead of Torchwood, I guess.

If I had one gripe with it, I'd only grumble slightly at the fact that most of the central characters so far appear to be of the crisply spoken RADA set, who will probably maintain their stiff upper lips in the face of world's end but that was a feature of a lot of TV drama back then and in any case they are at least interesting characters, whose survival you find yourself very readily invested in - even Greg (Ian McCulloch) who's so adamant about not wanting to burden himself with responsibility for others. Yeah, you say that now, mate.

By curious coincidence - you know, in the sense of not being a real coincidence at all and just one I'm choosing to see for convenience' sake - we're also at this point three episodes in on the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, that other tale of the last vestiges of humanity struggling to survive in the wake of a man-made Apocalypse. And it's that show, if anything, that gives me a degree of optimism when it comes to the question of a Survivors remake.

I'm not saying it's the model: the two scenarios are universes apart. But the grimness, the harsh choices faced, the blurred lines of morality are suggestive of the sort of things that could be explored more fully, unfettered by the strictures of 70s era broadcasting. As long as the producers remember that the story they're telling would be about the disintegration of society and, like it or not, one of the earliest things out the window would be political correctness.

They might also do well to remember that Survivors managed, as far as I can tell, to convey grimness without (so far) showing us much in the way of gore. Good composition, less decomposition, I suppose.

Thanks to Stuart for, through no fault of his own, inspiring me to finally get on and rent the series.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ood've Thought

A budget alien landscape. A developing sense of mystery. A simple, focused plot. And lots of running around and shooting in an old industrial complex. It's like Doctor Who all over again. All it really needed was a tweak or two here and there: less repetition of the obvious from Donna, more proactive involvement from the Doctor in the resolution, one or two fewer bad actors among the speaking extras and, of course, less Donna. But overall, I felt Planet Of The Ood was an improvement. Like the ad for the Ood at the beginning, I liked it even if it didn't make me want to go out and buy one. But so far, the series is showing a steady upward trend. It'll be a long climb from the quality abyss that was Partners In Crime, but at least it's moving in the right direction.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Resting On Caesar's Laurels

Imagine the scene. Well-to-do head of a Roman household showing off newly purchased "works of art", the wife's worried about the expense, in walks the son clearly suffering from a hangover. At about the same time, two adventuring companions arrive in the household bringing all kinds of upheaval with them. Yes, of course, it's Asterix And The Laurel Wreath, by Goscinny and Uderzo. The "works of art" are Asterix and Obelix themselves and not the TARDIS. It's also fair to point out, it's only a book and therefore can't boast the spectacular CGI of The Fires Of Pompeii, but it's fun and I recommend it thoroughly. As soon as Doctor Who introduced us to its Roman family template, I remembered the scene with fondness after a great many years. Nuff zed.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Other Season 4 Premiere

Thank the gods, there were other things to watch after last night's Doctor Who. And no, I speak not of the BBC's I'd Do Anything, nothing but a fantastic metaphor for all reality TV shows, but of the opening episode of Battlestar Galactica's 4th and final season.
Technically, it started on Friday night in the US. But 'technically' also happened to have a lot to do with how we were able to watch it only a day later. Anyway, I know that to compare BSG with Doctor Who would be to compare two entirely different foodstuffs. On the other hand, watching one after the other is sort of like sitting down to a two-course meal, and we're free to be of the opinion that one course impressed us more than the other. Of course, if you're going to have a Mr Men yoghurt - high in poly-unsatisfacturates - for starters, pretty much anything is going to come off like a real treat. And it was - a hearty meal.
Ironically, after venting - albeit in a limited way, because I no longer feel inclined to waste much breath on the subject - on Doctor Who, I'm conscious that I can't in all fairness discuss BSG in any detail, because there will be plenty who won't have seen it yet. Suffice to say though, the impulse and the desire to discuss it are very much there and that in itself is some measure of the difference in impressions left on me by the two shows.
Now, any season opener comes with its share of inherent goodwill. In other words, if it's a show you've missed, its return is bound to be welcome and you're basically glad to have it back. So I freely confess, that bias was in play. (As it was for Who, despite The Last Of The Time Lords - at least, for the first few minutes.) Against that, by way of balance, season openers come burdened with expectations - and BSG managed to generate a lot of them in its closing third-season episodes - and so there's a lot riding on how they measure up.
So, what is it safe to say? There are answers to burning questions (supplied, if anything, a little too prematurely in the pre-teaser tag-line sequence), there's a wham-bam opening, there are intriguing developments and there are, inevitably, more questions, new mysteries. On the whole, the sense I had was that of having watched a long-awaited mini-movie, one that has properly refuelled my addiction and one that, crucially, delivered on its promise. Just what you want.
Now, there's room for things to go downhill from here, of course there is, but for all that this is one of those blog posts that doesn't tell you much of anything, one of the reasons it's here at all is a need I felt to type something positive. And the mere idea that things could go downhill from here sets BSG a few giant beanstalks above Who.
Still, all is not lost on the Who front. We have Up Pompeii to look forward to next week, and if David Tennant gets to do a Lurcio-style "The Prologue...", that should cheer things up in that quarter. Failing that, we should be having another helping of Battlestar for our main course, so I may not care.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Chewing The Fat

The fat just walks away, apparently. Unfortunately, despite the claims, the gristly bits that are impossible to digest and stick in your teeth will very likely be lodged there forever. I don't think the bad taste left in my mouth after tonight's Doctor Who Season Four premiere will be going away soon. The memory of those lardy Gremlins waving from the mothership window will probably also be with me from now until the day I die.
You know, just like those memorable scenes of old - yes, it's right up there with the Sea Devils rising from the ocean that's stuck with me since childhood. Um, no. No, that's a fond inspirational image, the sort of stuff that fired my childhood imagination. All those Pilsbury Dough Munchkins parading down the street are a horrible, horrible memory that will likely leave a stain.
You'll also remember how the old Doctor Who would have these big organisations that, because of budgetary problems, only had about two guards on the payroll... back then it was perhaps forgiveable, here it's merely laughable. But then, there's no excuse for the utter tripe (ha) that was on display throughout this whole sorry business.
Don't get me wrong, there were some nice touches in the mix. But I feel no inclination to dwell on them even now, because I know those will not be the enduring memories from this experience. Nicest moment for me had to be the scene of the Doctor and Donna mouthing silently to one another through a couple of windows. Naturally, this is a vast improvement on having Catherine Tate shout her way through The Runaway Bride. Such a pity they're going back to allowing her to speak for the rest of the series.
Even a less annoying entirely silent Tate could not have saved this though. The new mangled , could-it-be-any-busier theme sets up an aggravating, negative vibe from the get-go, and after some fairly amusing shenanigans of not quite letting the Doctor and Donna meet, we're into a wholly insubstantial daftfest with a plot that might have gotten away with it in The Sarah Jane Adventures, or whatever more juvenile spin off they come up with for the CBeebies.
Fat generally suggests weight and while I understand that you couldn't do a plot like this with any kind of seriousness, this was so high in fat and yet entirely weight-free, it's something of a miracle in itself. Added to which, there is the touchier issue of whether it actually manages to be offensive to people with real weight problems. Fat is funny, fat people have always been great comedy material - look at Little & Large for goodness sake. Rusty worshippers will defend him heartily on this point and accuse anyone suggesting anything of the kind of making something out of nothing. Irrespective of that 'debate', it was at best an expensive cheap joke and I'd argue that it's Partners In Crime that made something out of nothing. Only, not very much.
Honestly, I wish it would just walk away.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Happy Birthday, Touchstone & Viola

Far be it from me to confine my foolishness to one day in April, least of all the sentimental type. So in the interests of foolish sentimentality, I just felt like posting two pics of our kitties, Touchstone (the handsome fellow in black-and-white) and Viola (the pretty tortoiseshell princess) in rare contemplative and, crucially for photographic purposes, still mode, by way of marking their second birthday. Happy Birthday to them. Non-cat-lovers may find all this nauseating, of course, but believe me when I say it's not the intention. Merely a bonus. :)