Saturday, 17 September 2011

That Doctor Who Thing (Week 4)

So, Week Four of that Doctor Who thing already.

What's that, you say? What happened to Week Three? Well, I'm glad you asked me that, that's a very important question, and....


I think that explains everything.

(The reason for no Week Three was quite simple. I really didn't like the episode, and I am not one for slagging off people's work publicly, really. Not just because it burns bridges, which it does, but because of that hideously complicated dose of writers ethics - I feel that if you had problems with someone else's work on a certain level which could unfairly change others opinions, you mention it to to the writer in private, and don't go airing all the dirty laundry in public. Ok, some do, there will be lots of blogs slagging off all new Who and ordering fatwas on Moffat forever more. Not here. Girl Who Waited got a Zius rating from me - bizarrely though, the actual Zius liked it! - but I fully accept that I am in a minority of one seemingly on that feeling. As Tom Jordan said, I was the only person he knew who was disapproving of the episode, and I was hiding away!

And those who liked it: great! Some fans hate The Moonbase, and I will love it to the bitter end. Someone's Moonbase is another man's Underworld. Enjoy! And those who don't, well, another episode will show up imminently which might suit your tastes more. Three ringed circus analogy.)

Spoilers of a spoiler nature. Some evil person from somewhere, possibly the BBC, leaked interesting stuff, or so I hear, onto the Youtube about next weeks episode. Despite the repeat attempts of a certain nameless person from Wales to floor me with all the salacious details. Not that I'm a spoilerphobe, you see. It's like Evil Under The Sun, which the example used would suggest I shouldn't link to here, as the Wiki entry will have massive spoilers. It's an Agatha Christie though. Great writer, Christie. One of my favourites.

Now, I happened to see the David Suchet Poirot episode of Evil Under The Sun - which has a very young Russell Tovey in it - before I read the book. Very good plot, one of Agatha's nastier crimes.

I read the book the other week. Even now, I was riveted, and there was one moment near the end where, such was the cleverness of her prose, even I doubted I knew who the murderer was, when I KNEW who the murderer was!

If only I hadn't seen the TV episode first, then the enjoyment I got from reading the book would have been even more than it had been. Still great, but would have been greater still.

Some people go to great lengths to remain unspoiled though. Dad tells one anecdote of a time he went to see Titanic at the cinema. I have no doubt of its veracity, for I have no idea why he'd want to make up a story in which he went to see that film. Anyhow, when the iceberg came up on screen, one elderly man turned to another in the row in front of him and said "I don't like the look of this". Much like the people of Dalbeattie didn't like the look of the film.

As for the stereotype of walking out the cinema exclaiming "I can't believe Vader is Luke's father!" and facing throngs of the angry queuing Great British Public. Well, that certainly didn't happen to me after seeing What Lies Beneath. Oh no.

My third and final point is that you can be too careful. Not merely because some of our friends don't get to see Doctor Who on transmission. Not just that careful. Oh no. The other year, when David Tennant was in that Hamlet, which, for the record, neither me or Mandy have seen yet, I got into a lot of bother. For accidentally spoiling Hamlet for another person on Gallifrey Base.

I'd like to think a Statute of Limitations comes with Spoilers at some point, and five hundred years is stretching it, but in case it isn't, well, there's a great bit on an island in The Odyssey you'll love (aye-aye said the Captain, or one aye, to be terribly accurate). And you won't believe the finish to the Jesus section of the Bible, which contains a twist one critic called "Deus Ex Machina" and another called 'the birth of the plot twist'. Though that is being silly. It is, as we all know, in the story of Jacob.

Beware spoilers.

Which shall appear about now.



That isn't the title?

The God Complex

But Creepy Dolls Part 2 works well too, I'd say.

Ventriloquist dolls! They are a cliche in horror, I guess. You know why they are a cliche that keeps coming up? Because they are bloody terrifying. You don't need to be Rod Serling to work that one out. (Incidentally, The Twilight Zone episode in question starred Oscar winning actor Cliff Robertson who sadly died a few days ago.) I don't have automatonphobia, though I know someone who does. You don't need it to realise how creepy the sods are though.

Dead of Night is the best remembered, and most effective use of killer ventriloquist dummies. It used the themes of manipulation, paranoia and some lovely camera work, to drive home the fears around ventriloquist dummies. It's not just that they are dolls. Not that humans can move them about and speak for them, and some ventriloquists are very good at it. It's that they look more human than your average doll, but remain a doll. There are both familiar, yet alien. It creates that uneasy juxtaposition in the mind. The non-human other.

It is currently unknown precisely what causes this phobia. It may be, however, partly due to our own innate expectations of human behavior. We tend to mistrust people who stare blankly, remain quiet or act in ways that we do not consider “normal.” Whether programmed to move or simply standing silent, automatons look but do not behave like humans.

In addition, the level of craftsmanship can vary widely from figure to figure. Today, most look startlingly lifelike, but closer examination shows that they are slightly “off.” Smooth, perfect skin; vacant eyes; and other qualities are shared by automatons but do not perfectly represent human bodies.


RL Stine clearly thought so, bringing back the popular Slappy of the Goosebumps series nine times.

Dead of Night, incidentally, is a great film. Don't just take my word for it. Take the word of Martin Scorsese, who named it 5th in his list of Scariest Horror Films.

Here, they are everywhere. First, they show up as a phobia, a very good thing for them to be. A room full of partying Slappys is quite an unnerving sight, and only in a show like Doctor Who could you get such a bizarre sight. Joe, our first victim, sitting alone, tied up in a dinning room of ventriloquist dolls. The Doctor, trying to help, but in vain. Later the dolls show up time and time again, as background insanity to the increasingly complex plot, then later, seemingly as undertakers for the dead.

It's set in a hotel. A big hotel. One where the rooms change, like a labyrinth. It was originally going to be set in a labyrinth. Setting it in a mundane hotel gave the story an added mundanity to heighten the terrors. It's Twin Peaks syndrome. In the rooms are many things: a clown, Weeping Angels, a disappointed father. Each room contains one individuals nightmare, which the hotel feeds on, until that poor person is fed to the monster.

Weeping Angels have shown up twice before in Doctor Who. Both of those stories are well regarded. Blink in particular holds up very well in a Doctor Who series of sadly diminishing returns. Here, after long debates about what purpose they would serve, it is a 20 second cameo. The nightmare of so many children, merely one insignificant aliens worst nightmare.

Toby Whitehouse has now given us three Doctor Who episodes. School Reunion was well received, but with Tony Head and the returns of Sarah Jane and K9, it was hardly going to be panned. Vampires of Venice exists. It came to my attention that Whitehouse enjoyed getting the 11th episode of the series, as "they tend to be quite dark". The Lodger, Fear Her, Boom Town, dark? I'll give him Utopia - which contains the best ten minutes RTD ever wrote which didn't star Cyril Shaps - and Turn Left. Whitehouse pitched the idea for The God Complex initially for Season 5, but it was too similar to other stories at the time, so we got the vampires instead. The idea of a hotel where every single room is a different persons Purgatory or Hell was visited in an early episode of Being Human, Whitehouse's own highly popular TV show.

But this one had a Minotaur.

Minotaurs are always popular in Doctor Who. We had one in The Mind Robber, which ceased to exist, like everything in that story, once you remembered it was fictional. Yes, Doctor Who was meta, even in the 60s. Of course, the dangers in that story were, for large periods of it, only dangerous if you acted like an eejit for long periods of time and thought the Unicorn was actually going to do you in.

Eejit definition used:

Web definitions
1.(n) Person of limited mental capacity. Complete moron. “That eejit is back on Fair City again”
2.Silly person, normally not used in a derogatory way. "Oh Tom, ya big eejit."…

Glad that's cleared up. Belief in the unbelievable causing the fictional to harm the real is of course a long running idea in horror and folk tales though, but I fear this tangent will take on a life of its own. So minotaurs in Doctor Who.

Then one showed up for a bit of a cameo in the Jon Pertwee classic (not a typo) The Time Monster, played by cult legend David Prowse. Yes, him who was Vader. But their finest moment was yet to come, as in 1979 they appeared in the unforgettable Horns of Nimon. The Nimon, alien minotaurs-in-all-but-name, were fierce opposition for The Doctor in this Story-of-Theseus-in-all-but-name. Once seen, never forgotten.

Reference to Nimon makes a writer contractually obligated to yell out...


And pay homage to the sadly departed Graham Crowden, a man who clearly loved every single second of his time on Doctor Who. Outwith Who, Crowden was a towering actor whose every performance, no matter how small or significant, should be dug out of the archives and admired by people the world over, for we shall never get so eccentric, so intelligent and so heartwarming an actor again. Irreplaceable. (For those who haven't seen beyond Nimon, A Very Peculiar Practice - the spot-on satire on university doctors in which he co-starred with Peter Davison and David Troughton - is a good place to start.)

Nimon is a good place to reference, as we find out this creature is related to the Nimons, in a bit of continuity which had this writer yelling in delight in a way not seen since RTD randomly brought back the Macra. The story is a sort of sequel to Nimon. The Nimon use faith as a weapon for conquest. Here, faith is turned against the owner. Faith is a deeply interpersonal thing, and has many links within Doctor Who. The best example, and most pertinent to tonight's episode, is The Curse of Fenric, where the defence against the vampires in that cracking story is any faith. Not just the old crucifix, that alone is worthless, it's the faith the person has which protects them. So the poor old vicar Nicholas Parsons is done in, yet the Russian soldiers live.

The end of Curse of Fenric is mirrored in tonight's episode. In many ways the stories are parallels. In The God Complex, like in Fenric, the story is a trap into which the companion falls. Her faith of the Doctor winds up being crucial to the stories climax. In both, the Doctor has to break that faith, that seemingly unbreakable faith in the innate goodness of the Doctor, to save the day, but at terrible cost to the relationship between Doctor and companion. There, Ace was in the midst of her development, but the show got cancelled. Here, The Doctor realises the danger he puts the Ponds in, the danger he puts everyone in. The saving of the day is a parting of the ways. We even have the Fang Rock realisation, where The Doctor realises the exact thing he told people to do to survive is the very thing that leads them to their death.

Terrence Dicks once pointed out that Horror of Fang Rock followed the traditional "classic" Doctor Who motif - less than 10 characters, enclosed space, people picked off one by one. (Yes, I am aware Terry doesn't like Fang Rock, but I do.) God Complex is exactly the same. Including The Minotaur, and the regulars, we have eight characters. This gives them all time to breathe and form before we bump them off. Even Joe, who lasts about five minutes, gets a back story. Gambling is his vice and faith, and in about ten sentences we get a picture of a man with automatonphobia, who believes strongly in predetermination, luck, is heavy and collects things. Right away you can paint a picture of the Joes you know.

Howie is the same, his characterisation - CIA conspiracies, insecurities, brave for his failings, consistent in his beliefs but done in by his fatal flaw - belies the small amount of time invested in him. This is economic writing at its highest degree. Where was this Toby Whitehouse during that Vampires of Venice story? People lavished praise on The Girl Who Waited, and it was a step up from the Cybusman debacle of years ago, but this episode was a massive learning curve from even Whitehouse's work of a year ago.

Everyone has their own fear. Except Rory, who has no faith or superstition. The Doctor has one. Very cleverly, they never show us full on what it is. We see the Doctor look into the room, hear the humming of a TARDIS, and hear him say "Ah, of course it would be you", before closing the room door with a sad smile. We didn't need to know further, because we already know. We saw it in Amy's Choice, when the Dream Lord was a manifestation of The Doctor himself. We even saw it foreshadowed with Rita's line about the Doctor's "God Complex", bringing us the kind of title I like best, one that crops up unbeknownst in the story. The Doctor's worst fear is himself.

Rita. Ah, we liked Rita. Sadly, when someone shows up who is blatant companion material, and its not companion changing time, that person winds up a cropper. So calm, processing, intelligent, witty, practical Rita - who you could claim was Martha done properly - had to die. Like Lynda before her. Shame.

Which leaves us with David Walliams, who is not someone whose work I appreciate, but he played his purpose tonight. His character Gibbis gave me flashbacks of Driver Evans from The Web of Fear. The total coward whose first thoughts are "lets give the monster what it wants, then it will let us go." His actions cause the death of at least one character. He is delightfully subservient but nasty character. The idea of a planet full of people which prepares for alien invasion, whose national anthem is "Glory To (Insert Name Here)" is wonderful.

And even he foreshadowed, as he was right. Give the monster what it wanted, and it lets everyone go. It wanted death, foreshadowing a certain other persons death to come. Poetry like clockwork.

I tell you, the script was pure Robert Holmes. We're talking Ribos Operation, Androzani, Carnival of Monsters - the moments when the oft-claimed "Best Who Writer Ever" hit gold. Doctor Who can work with big ideas told small, small ideas told big, and mixtures of the two. Tonight was the mixture, as ideas, both big and small, jigged alongside each other. The story over ran by 2 minutes, but such was the breadth of knowledge and story fitted into that time frame it could have been mistaken for an old school four parter. It's not what time you get, its what you do with it. Here we got a story which was quite simply the best Doctor Who episode made since Steven Moffat took over the show, and possibly since the remake was made, though it is far too early to tell on that front.

Yes, I am very capable of hyperbole, but this is a blog of first impressions. These Who reviews are not like the UEFA Cup ones, where hindsight takes over. In the heat of the moment, I loved it.

Bloody brilliant Doctor Who. Well deserving of its Steve W.





Cybermen in a toy shop? Can't wait. /cybermangeek.