The “Doctor Who” blog is taking the week off

Why, you ask?

Well, if you tuned in to tonight’s episode, then you no doubt noticed that “The Hungry Earth” was Part One of a two-parter, and it’s nearly all set-up for the second half, which is titled “Cold Blood.”

Mind you, it’s a very good setup, but not one that’s really worth writing about on its own. Next week I’ll cover both parts of this story that sees the return of the Silurians or the Eocenes or Homo reptilia or “those lizard chicks with the long tongues” (which is no doubt what some people will eventually refer to them as). In the meantime, if you care to discuss Part One (and Part One only), feel free to carry on as you normally would in the comments section below.

  

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Doctor Who 5.7 – Amy’s Choice

Here we are, more or less mid-season, and as someone who’s recapping this block of episodes week in and out, as well as someone who’s been deconstructing this series for years now, I’m frankly a bit flummoxed by Steven Moffat’s inaugural year. It’s starting to feel as if the season is only going to make total sense once it’s over and done with. Some time ago, long before the season began, Moffat was saying that he wanted the season to be referred to as Season One, rather than Season Five, and that’s starting to make a whole lot more sense. Aside from the occasional references to the past, everything about this year feels as if some kind of reset button has been hit, and yet it remains difficult to watch without bringing the baggage of the last five years into the equation, even though I’m fairly certain Moffat would prefer that we didn’t. I mean, it’s hard to picture a character like Mickey Smith, for instance, fitting into any part of this narrative in any kind of believable manner, and yet you almost want somebody like him to turn up in a scene just to remind you that you’re still watching the same show.

I continue to want to compare this material to stuff from seasons’ past, and yet this nagging feeling keeps telling me that’s just an unfair thing to do. I wonder if Moffat’s even got some kind of grand master plan that extends beyond this block of 13 episodes? None of this means I’m not enjoying the season, just that it’s a much different kind of enjoyment than what I’ve become accustomed to during the Davies years, which began feeling predictable about three years in. Say what you will about this season, but, at least at this stage, it is most certainly not predictable. In some ways watching this season is as disorienting as the predicament in which our heroes find themselves in this week’s episode. As viewers, we’re experiencing a new reality of the series, while we keep thinking back on what we came to know prior to this season’s start. Which is the real “Doctor Who?” The Davies or the Moffat era? Both, or maybe neither? I’ll likely elaborate on all of this further during the final recap of the season.

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Doctor Who 5.6 – The Vampires of Venice

I was sold on “The Vampires of Venice” (not “Vampires in Venice,” which is what I mistakenly called it at the close of last week’s recap) by its beginning – well, its second beginning, since there are two. In the first, we are in Venice of 1580 and Guido (Lucian Msamati) has brought his daughter Isabella (Alisha Bailey) before Signora Rosanna Calvierri (Helen McCrory). He wants for her to be a part of Calvierri’s school, so that she can have a better life. Since we’ve all seen plenty of “Doctor Who” at this point, we know this isn’t going to end well for Isabella, and since we’ve seen the previews we also know that Calvierri, as well as her son, Francesco (Alex Price), are vampires (or are they?). So there’s precious little that’s surprising or of interest about Beginning #1, although the sequence ends with a lovely little smash cut from Isabella screaming to Rory (Arthur Darvill) screaming at his stag party, which is Beginning #2, and the point at which I was won over. The two beginnings are also the jumping off points for what end up being the episode’s A and B plots, but more on that later.

Ah, the stag party! Drunken friends, cardboard cakes and the clichéd sound of “The Stripper” wafting through the proceedings. The Doctor may rescue the human race from all manner of grotesque alien creatures and life threatening situations, but this is the first time he’s rescued a human from this occasion that’s grotesque in an entirely different manner. From the moment Matt Smith pops out of the cake, he’s bloody brilliant, simply because he chooses to play it straight, in what’s a thoroughly absurd setup. Many actors would’ve mugged and tried to add to the already ridiculous situation, but Smith (or perhaps freshman “Who” director Jonny Campbell?) allows the scenario to happen around him, and in the process the joke becomes about five times funnier than it has any right to be. I’ve been trying to figure out for weeks now how to explain precisely what it is about this actor in this iconic role that I find so very appealing, and this scene offers up the best example yet of why this guy is the perfect Doctor for his time. Smith’s very much the anti-Tennant, which isn’t to bag on Tennant, but the series really needed this kind of change coming off Tennant’s tenure, and it’s a decision that’s shaping up to be the best one Steven Moffat made for his inaugural season.

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Doctor Who 5.5 – Flesh and Stone

Now I’d had a little bit to drink – OK, a lot to drink – before I watched “Flesh and Stone,” and when it was over I swore it was the best episode of new “Who” ever. Upon sobering up, I watched it again. It was not the best episode of new “Who” ever…but it was still pretty damn great, and certainly both parts of this story combined make for one helluva sterling example of what makes the new series tick. Indeed, from now on, when I want to turn somebody on to this show, it may very well be through this two-parter.

I’ve written before about my theories of “Who” cliffhangers, which essentially boils down to “the resolve is rarely as good as the hang.” In this case that probably still holds, but Moffat came awfully close to equaling the hang by delivering a way out of an impossible situation that was surprising and fun. I’m not sure it made a whole lot of sense – the destruction of the gravity globe gave them an updraft? They must make this shit up as they go along (of course, how else do you do it?). The shifting of the camera turning around to show the group on ceiling was gorgeous and great little reveal. But the save is short-lived, and the Angels are restoring themselves via the power of the Byzantium. Everybody follows the Doctor into the ship, and once again, the camera has a lot of fun here – the shot of the Doctor standing upright as Amy looks down the hole at him.

Octavian: “Dr. Song, I’ve lost good Clerics today. Do you trust this man?”
River: “I absolutely trust him.”
Octavian: “He’s not some kind of madman then?”
River: (beat) “I absolutely trust him.”

Then the story shifts into an action flick. The Angels attack in the dark in a thrilling, claustrophobic sequence, peppered with further tension between River (Alex Kingston) and Octavian (Iain Glen). What is this woman hiding? It’s within this sequence that we first hear Amy says the number 10. There’s really so much going on in the action arena in this section of the episode that it’d be pointlessly drab to recap it, and yet it’s amazing to watch. Once they discover the forest within the ship, the story pulls back on the action, but not the tension. It just keeps building. The gimmick of Amy counting down heightens, and during the conversation with Angel Bob, the Doctor finally snaps, and gets to the bottom of what’s going on with the countdown, and it appears Amy looks into the eyes of the videotaped Angel for a tad too long in the previous episode. And as if not enough is going on by this point, the crack from Amy’s wall makes another appearance, only this time everyone sees it. Octavian leads the group away from the crack and into the forest while the Doctor stays behind to investigate the crack. While he’s doing so, the Angels mount yet another attack, this time against the Doctor solo. Particularly effective is the shot of the Angel grabbing the Doctor’s jacket. He manages to worm his way out of his jacket while talking to the Angels about the crack and runs off into the forest.

Again, most of this stuff makes for a lousy recap, but it’s so much damn fun to watch. It’s like trying to explain why “Die Hard” is great action movie by telling someone who hasn’t seen it about John McClane tying himself to a fire hose and jumping off a building in his bare feet. There’s no substitute for the real thing, and it’s rather silly to break it all down, because it wasn’t written to be deconstructed – it was written and directed to be a thrill ride. So kudos to Steven Moffat for writing a cracking screenplay that Adam Smith then proceeded to direct the hell out of. With this two-parter, Moffat has really redeemed himself as both a writer and a showrunner. This is the kind of fare I expected from him but wasn’t getting in 5.2 and 5.3. Adding to that, if this is Moffat’s version of the action-packed two-parters that always featured early in the Davies era, then blow me down. This is scads better than stuff like “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Sontaran Strategem.” It’s not that those stories were bad, but they always felt like the bubblegum installments of their seasons, whereas this may also be bubblegum, but it’s bubblegum that keeps its flavor for a long, long time; in the midst of all this action, there’s room for great character development, stellar acting and strong drama. Oh, you know what else is mildly noteworthy? As I understand it, these two episodes were the first of the season that were shot, so it’s fascinating to note how firm a grasp Matt Smith and Karen Gillan had on not only their roles, but also the concept of the series at this early stage in the game. I’d speculate on what it must have been like to work through the lame scripts for “The Beast Below” and “Victory of the Daleks” after shooting fare like this first, but I’d best not. Surely these two actors had the time of their lives while making this season no matter how weak any given script may have been.

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Doctor Who 5.4 – The Time of Angels

After being so thoroughly underwhelmed for the past two weeks, “The Time of Angels” almost leaves me speechless. I wish I could just write, “Man, that was so fuckin’ cool” and be done with it, since anything I’ve got to say isn’t going to make it any cooler. With this episode, we’ve finally gotten to material with major promise – probably even beyond promise, but since it’s only part one of a two-parter, everything could fall apart in the second half. But man oh man, what a setup!

The opening sequence – which begins with a man tripping balls – sets the stage for a whacked-out adventure. He’s been dosed with hallucinogenic lipstick by River Song (Alex Kingston). Was the field he was standing in part of the hallucination, or was it a part of the spaceship Byzantium? Clearly River has been up to something on the ship, but we don’t find out what that is straight up. 12,000 years in the future, the Doctor (Matt Smith) is showing Amy (Karen Gillan) a museum, and pointing out all the objects he’s had in hand in saving, which is really quite funny, and vaguely romantic, but mostly just boastful and stodgy on his part, especially since what Amy really wants to see is an alien planet. They come across an ancient home box on which some Old High Gallifreyan is written – it amusingly says “Hello sweetie.” The Doctor steals the box from the museum, which leads him to a rendezvous with River right outside the Byzantium. River, on the run from powers that be, releases an airlock and flies straight through the waiting, open TARDIS doors, and lands on the Doctor. The Byzantium flies away, and River issues a single order: “Follow that ship!” It’s an exhilarating start and very James Bond-like, directed by Adam Smith with precision and thought, as is the rest of the episode.

The sequence that follows it, set in the TARDIS, is equally entertaining, although on a more intimate level. The bickering back and forth from the Doctor and River is reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana I (Mary Tamm) from the early Key to Time stories, although whereas that relationship was two Time Lords getting to know one another, this one is, at least from River’s POV, rooted in familiarity. One really nice touch that gives me huge giggles is how River hangs her heels on the TARDIS scanner. I love that. Also, the fact that the TARDIS only makes the grinding noise it makes when it materializes because the Doctor leaves the brakes on. Hilarious, as is Smith’s impression of the sound. And of course the blue stabilizers, which the Doctor dubs “blue boringers.” Priceless dialogue here, all the way around.

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