Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Paceless Ones

As the title sequence ran on this week’s Doctor Who, I was hurriedly putting the finishing touches on Saturday evening dinner so I missed the bit where they flag the title and the writer who was to blame. As the story unfolded with all the haste of a an origami sloth coming undone, I honestly thought it must be the work of Chris Chibnall – you may remember him from episodes such as last year’s Silurian waste of time and space. The Hungry Earth and – the other one. I then mistakenly thought it must be by Matt Jones, the guy who gave us The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit . The clues were there in in that scene where everyone stands around and makes introductions and explains the basic set-up. But turns out this hailed from the pen of Matthew Graham, who previously brought us Fear Her, a dull and unimaginative reworking of Paperhouse, with a silly bit about the Olympics tacked on at the end.

It’s a minor distinction, except it’s Chibnall who I get the impression spells plotting with a double d. Matt Jones' The Impossible Planet does at least build suspense to a terrific three-way cliffhanger – which it then blows in the second half, but never mind. While this has barely enough going on to warrant a single episode let alone two. Seriously, the biggest surprise for me came as I was waiting for the thing to gallop towards some sort of climax, then the end music struck and I suddenly realised this was going to be a two-parter.

I groaned. I actually groaned.

But hey, who knows, maybe this one will buck the more traditional trend of second halves not living up to the first. As I’ve said before, one approach is to make the first part tedious. So far, so promising.

For now, part one was a Chibnall-level case of Drudge Dread. A special brand of horror, with nothing added and all the interest taken away. The Rebel Flesh may have been alive but the story was lifeless. (Compare and contrast with last week’s Gaiman-penned episode!)

Slavishly adhering to the principle of predictability, it managed to be a singularly poor example of something that had been done a hundred times before. I mean, the whole point of doppelgangers in a horror tale is to play with identity, the tension and suspicions (see The Thing) and yet we’re never in any doubt as to Who Goes There? Sure, on top of the horror there’s the mawkish “we’re people too!” cry of the ‘replicants’, but even that’s handled obviously and clumsily. It gave me more cause to suspect Matt Jones' involvement, with the same Impossible Planet-style pat character backgrounds thrown into proceedings in butterfingered expositional manner.

Would sir like any more ham on his fist?

Likewise the way the story revealed the Doppel Doctor like it was meant to be a major shock/revelation, well, if you didn’t see that coming as soon as he touched the liquid plastic in the tank you really need to invest in a pair of One-D glasses. Everything’s telegraphed and there’s never any sense that this story has any secrets hidden up its sleeves.

And I just didn’t buy how readily Rory warmed to Jennifer’s tearful speech *after* her Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl moment in the toilets. That might have worked better the other way around perhaps, the compassion then the horror. Who knows, who cares. Darvill pours in a brilliant performance, but his actions just aren’t convincing, Over the course of a properly paced two-parter there ought to have been room for a credible bond to form between Rory and Jennifer, but it’s far too emphatic here for such a brief acquaintance. Still, I do have to applaud the fact that he’s given a more active role, since I’ve been harping on about that for a while now. And, hey, they haven’t killed him. Yet.

Can’t fault Gillan – can I ever? - although I struggle to recall anything significant Amy Pond did, other than experience another glimpse of eyepatch woman. Which is fine and subtle enough, but the other story-arc stuff – the TARDIS pregnancy scan shtick is really being heavily laboured every week now. Are we to believe the Doctor spends every spare hour in the TARDIS standing in front of that screen and pondering the mystifying readings? Cos, if so, it’s plain dumb. Especially as he appears keen to keep Amy from finding out –the more he stands in front of that screen, the more likely she’s going to spot something over his shoulder, non?

Smith in this episode is also fine, doing his best with some variable material. The jokes are a bit hit-and-miss, as though the writer’s trying too hard to be funny.

The setting, now that I think of it, is the best thing this story has going for it. A beautiful old castle dressed up with CGI. Lovely and full of dark, shadowy passages ideal for all that pointless runaround and nicely incongruous with the, er, acid-mining operations. Huh? Don’t worry about it, they were always mining or drilling for odd resources and what not back in the days of all those Troughton Base-Under-Seige days, so there’s no pressing need for anything to make sense here. I did idly wonder why there was so much urgency to secure protective suits when they didn’t do much for the bloke who fell into the vat at the beginning, but why should we let such incidental questions spoil our enjoyment. Particularly when there’s so little else to be said for this dull escapade.

Honestly, if this is intended as Mr Graham’s homage to Fury From The Deep, say, I’d rather they just gone with the sentient seaweed. There are hints that the eponymous Flesh – the living latex – is something the Doctor’s seen before, and the notion of imprinting a consciousness in plastic inevitably calls to mind the Nestenes and Autons, but I can’t say that the possibility fires me up with any great expectations or anticipation for next week’s installment.

With The Rebel Flesh, I’m certainly not crying “More! More! More!”



iCowboy said...

I have one problem with this (well apart from the silly extend-o-neck sequence)...

...remove every scene with the Doctor from the episode and play it again.

He actually isn't needed in Part 1 at all apart from getting Amy and Rory to the location and adding a spot of exposition.

So why is this a DW episode at all if the main character is about as much use as Jar Jar Binks was to the development of the Star Wars Universe?

SAF said...

Well, he is needed in the sense of producing a Doctor double, but then IMO, the entire story is not needed ;-)

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

Point for the Billy Idol reference!

Coincidentally, now that series five is free on instant Netflix here, I just let the boys watch THE HUNGRY EARTH and COLD BLOOD, and I pretty much thought the same. All the motivations were shallow and rushed.

As per usual, you've nicely bundled the truth of the episode.