Saturday, 27 August 2011

That Doctor Who Thing (Week 1)

SPOILERS WILL SPOIL THINGS IN A SPOILISH WAY AHEAD. BE AFRAID.

I warned you.


So, Doctor Who. It's a TV show. A long running TV show. Think of any TV show and it's be on longer. What's that you say? Coronation Street? Meet the Press? Candid Camera?

Oh ok, it was hyperbole. I admit it, guilty as charged.

But what the show is, unquestionably, is brilliant. This is that use of the word "unquestionable" which means "according to the writers personal tastes, where he gives his own opinion as fact". I'm good at that version of the word. People will argue over what sections of the show are unquestionably brilliant. Maybe the earlier, edgier Hartnell era? The late 60s clowning Troughton? The man of action Pertwee? The intergalactic Tom? (That's not a reference to his Doctor, mind you, Tom Baker actually IS from another world. But that's a state secret.) The vet? The multicoloured man? The manipulator? The blink and you miss him guy in the 90s? The angry Navy guy? The foppish Scot? Or even the new guy?

Well, I'll be honest. All of it is brilliant, in its own way. Just some of it is more brilliant than others.

And some of it... is Underworld. But this blog is a NO UNDERWORLD ZONE. Phew!

What it will have, though, and we have to be careful here are... SPOILERS!


SPOILERS


SPOILING


THINGS


IMMINENTLY


SERIOUSLY




Yeah, any further and I'll unleash any number of spoilers, like how the policeman did it in The ABC Murders, and the brother did it in And Then There Were None. But they wont be made up.











Right, now you only have yourself to blame.



Bloody hell folks, didn't see the Zarbi returning like that!


Right, where were we?

LETS KILL HITLER.

What an interesting notion. Who said that?

Mels, apparently, who shows up 2 minutes into this latest episode of Doctor Who, stolen car, police chasing, gun in hand. The fiendish Scot - Steven Moffat, this is, not Amy Pond - had promised a new companion would show up in Episode 8, and here she was. Michael's first thoughts: Oh dear god.

Thankfully this wasn't a first impression, as we met the girl three years ago. Yes, it was actually River Song, in the regeneration before the one we all know and deal with. There was rumours that the Season 8 companion would be River Song for a whole season about a year ago, so if there was any truth in that, then we DID meet the new companion.

Thank goodness it was River Song and not a Lady Christina de Souza retake, is what I'll say.

So the TARDIS takes off, and we meet Hitler, which caused a big stooshy before transmission on certain parts of certain forums. Tom Spilsbury, editor of the Doctor Who Magazine, even had complaints for having Hitler on the front cover of his magazine, by fans fearing they would be taken for Nazi propaganda lovers, in WH Smiths of all places! (Ignoring in fact that every History magazine in existence either has Hitler or Lincoln on the front cover anyway*, and hardly any Historians have been arrested in WH Smiths for Nazi love.)

*Writer's Hyperbole. Far funner than normal hyperbole.

But you know, last night, I was speaking to my sister Cat, who is the biggest Doctor Who geek I know. (Sorry to everyone else in the running, and thank you for taking part!) At some point in the conversation, which, if rumours of my being a "subversive writer" are true, you can look forward to seeing published in The Sun within the week, I said:

"I would laugh, if, after all this hype, everything we have seen in the trailers - TARDIS crashing through the windows of the Riechstag, Hitler saying "You have saved my life" and Rory punching him - was all we saw of Hitler. The whole title comes from someone randomly saying "Let's Kill Hitler!""

We laughed. A lot.

And then it came true.

Well, they say in humour lies truth.

Yes, after all the Hitler hype, he is in the episode approximately 3 minutes tops, and gets 5 lines. Which is just as well really, we all remember how controversial the portrayal of Nixon was. (For controversial, read: not as one sided as people expected.) Now there's a whole discussion for another time, what parts of history are considered off limits for Doctor Who. Should Hitler be considered off limits? Personally, I think no, because we have a long history of Hitler on TV, and not just with him being treated deadly seriously. Michael Sheard after all made a life time of playing Hitler in everything from Indiana Jones to The Tomorrow People to Grange Hill. Ok, the last one just felt like it. It's what we do: we take terrible things, and make light of them, as a nation. As a world.

But they played it safe anyway, even in the cameo. No grudging respect for the celebrity history figure this time out. Fear from Amy, undisguised loathing from the man of action Rory, and a brilliant mix of anger and confusion from The Doctor (he really doesn't understand humans, ones who allow bad things to happen even less so). Then he gets punched and locked in the cupboard.

Because the story isn't about Hitler. It's about River Song.

Oh, ok. It's actually about four hundred tiny people in a human sized robot (which can shape-shift into anything) which kills war criminals.

But it's actually about River Song. An alternative title could well have been "Genesis of River Song", as the girl who was Mel(ody) regenerates into River (after being shot by Hitler, in a scene which felt straight out of Quantum Leap) and then kills the Doctor. But she can't kill him now as she is going to kill him in Episode 13, which we saw in Episode 1, so she saves him.

Not confusing at all.

After people asked the question: "Why didn't River regenerate in the Library?" we get the answer: because she used up all her regenerations saving the Doctor from incurable poison.

Bloody obvious when you think about it, really. I guess.

The whole Moffat era isn't really about Spoilers. Well, it is, but it isn't. The Spoilers aren't the big things we'd expect, like Daleks v Cybermen or River Song is Melody Pond. Despite them being played up as so. It's sleight of hand. We already know (and man, am I going to look foolish in six weeks here) that River Song kills the Doctor in Episode 13. (But the Doctor will get out of it somehow, as usual - unless Private Eye was RIGHT ALL ALONG!) We know the whats, it's the hows and whys we don't know yet. In some other series of Doctor Who, the Doctor being shot (by River) in Episode 13 would have been the BIG SHOCK MOMENT the series hinged on.

We got it five minutes into the series. It's not the surprise the series is about, its the journey to the surprise. Which might rub people up the wrong way - I understand if this most recent series of Doctor Who isn't someones cup of tea, in the same way I understand why people run away from the Pertwee or the McCoy era, and how I hope people understand why the Tennant era wasn't my favourite in the last fifty years.

But on a personal level, it interests me far more than putting a random word into the script and tie it together in week 13. Which isn't a put down of the "Bad Wolf" effect. Two entirely different ways of storytelling, I just prefer the more recent.


Casting? It was a story of the regulars. Hitler was in it for three minutes as I said, so Albert Welling barely gets any time to make an appearance. (Indeed, he looks less like Hitler than Ian McNiece does as Churchill, but that's being picky) We have some random extras, including our red shirt SS man at the beginning, who serves only to be done in. (And the actor is then required to play a rather wooden robot, so its not fair to judge him on the part!)

The crew of the robot - who look very suspiciously like Gangers! - are a nondescript lot, purely there to add a threat outwith the newly regenerated River trying to kill the Doctor.

So it is down to the TARDIS four. Thankfully, they are on their usual top form. Alex Kingston is growing into the role of River Song, and becomes more enjoyable by the appearance. She is also, as shown in ER, a bloody good actress, and managed to portray Younger River as being different to the Older River we know.

Rory and Amy continue to be what Harry and Sarah would have been if they got married.

And Matt Smith's Doctor is simply fantastic. What a brilliant actor. Who came from nowhere. And he's still young, yet has all the tools. Barring disaster, the man will grow into such a top notch actor, it's quite exciting.


So Lets Kill Hitler. What did we think?

Well, I've never been a fan of ***** ratings. Blame Meltzer.

And percentage ratings would get confusing, especially when people ask me why I rated Night Terrors 1% better than Daleks v Dinosaurs (to spoil Episode 13s title, I'm sure). (Thanks Menny for pointing this one out.)

So I've come up with a sure fire Reference Guide for Doctor Who episodes, inspired by the Lucky Lady Doctor Who thread on Gallifrey Base. Which isn't a plug.

Within this thread we have a variety of posters, and in tribute to some folk who have been very nice to me in the past, I'm going to rate the Doctor Who episodes based on them.

So first off we have Ziusudra. He loves Classic Who, and lots of it. Especially the Golden Era of the Seventies. But...to say he is not fond of New Who is to put it mildly and charitably. He really really doesn't like it. At all.

Then we have Pete, who sort of likes some New Who, but mostly is comme ci comme ca about it.

Next up, McRani - who got mentioned before as a Fulham fan, for his sins - who is usually more optimistic, but isn't as fond of newer Who. Even so, he does like it, sort of.

And finally, Steve W. The most optimistic man in fandom. He loves everything. The show could be The Doctor yawning for 40 minutes then pressing an actual reset button, and he would defend it.

So...
Zius - Rubbish, terrible, or just really really bad.
Pete - Ok, but could have been so much better.
McRani - Pretty good. Not perfect. Could have been improved, but pretty good for what we got.
Steve W - Bloody brilliant top notch Who.

Simple, easy to remember Rating System. I don't foresee using the Zius rating that often - I am a terrible positive person for someone so depressive, after all - but it does good to take precautions.

And with this said, Lets Kill Hitler, on the strength of our TARDIS four, gets a...

McRani.

Which isn't that bad for an "opener".

It was a romp, but a romp in which all the incidental stuff like threats to the universe got put into later episodes, so we could be reminded who our characters, and what the main plot was again.

And in that, it succeeded.