Monday, November 16, 2009

Doctor Who no particular date special, November 2009

Well, it was better than the last one. It had a fairly substantial plot, and an opportunity for some acting (from both the lead and the guest stars), and some decent special effects and some references for the old fans to catch. It even attempted some semi-serious hard SF details in its depiction of the near future, with a Mars station that looked like it might work, built at a date when such a thing might well happen. (The chance of keeping NooHoo's future history anywhere near KlassiKoo's skimpy near-future timeline is of course zero, thanks to the passage of time, and the Time War can be safely assumed to have sent waves of borrowed DC Comics cosmic korflu over history.) The attempts at robust logic didn't last long, mind you; we couldn't really expect any sensible depiction of Martian gravity (not on this budget, kid), but when we were told that there were serious mass constraints on what could be shipped to Mars, it was just plain annoying for the station to have big echoing voids and walls that were allegedly made of six feet of steel. (Err, what? I mean, Mars has radiation issues, but six feet of steel?) Nor did the character logic hold up; we had a first human colony on Mars, which suddenly and inexplicably found another (seemingly) human being on its doorstep, and within minutes horrible catastrophic things started happening, and yet after a token comment, nobody tried to blame or interrogate the impossible stranger...

But that was kind of the point. The Radio Times asked rhetorically if this was the scariest Who ever, but it was really just the most Doctor-Who-scary Who that the writers and director could manage - a very, very stock-classical Who plot, in basic, skimpy form. Station in deep space, the Doctor arrives, bad sh*t goes down (thanks to a monster whose nature remained under-explored, but which manifests as a variant on the modern shambling-zombie stereotype, yawn), the Doctor assists the humans as they're picked off one by one; all this was only padded out to an hour by the Doctor's recognition that he couldn't help this time, because this doomed station represented one of those graven-in-stone historic events, and his struggle with what this might really mean to him, particularly in the still-unshaped context of 21st-century NooHoo mythology.

From the start, NooHoo has spent (too) much time attempting ironic deconstructions of 20th-century KlassiKoo tropes; this episode attempted to escalate that deconstruction into actual classical tragic form, with a flawed hero escalating rapidly to Hubris and a flash of blue light as the Nemesis that strikes down his spirit. But what this really meant was just a script that gave David Tenant an excuse to engage in a lot of acting and some wild shifts of supposed motive, and a setup for the two-episode Christmas Special.

Ah yes, the teasers at the end. NooHoo has previously displayed a superhero-comic-style willingness to drag fan-favourite characters back despite having closed them out with loud assertions that they were gone, gone, sealed off by the laws of the multiverse and gone forever, really. Nobody took that claim seriously with regard to the Master, of course; he's just too coolly complete an antagonist for our hero, and there was a hint or two even at the time. But Donna (and her irritating grandpa)? Oh, come on guys; however skimpy the plot logic of her write-out, can't you stand by the integrity of your own closed-loop tragedy, for once? It's not like you had the unbearable pressure of the teen romance fanwank demand that brought back bloody Rose.

Oh, and at the end of the episode, we had a glimpse of an Ood - yes, the wettest alien race in the history of NooHoo or KlassiKoo (wetter by far than this episode's monsters, ho ho). Jeebus. That, after an episode which had mentioned perhaps the most interesting Who-aliens ever, aliens who haven't reappeared in NooHoo. Couldn't we have, say, a Who-New-Space-Opera exploration of the history of Mars, please? A fudge to explain what a high-tech culture was doing there a mere 10,000 years ago and how the same race came to be part of that multi-species commonwealth in the future, plus a CGI treatment of the freeze guns and cryonic technology?

No, of course we can't. Not this year. That would require a bit of cool-headed seriousness. But next year, the show gets a producer who has shown some capacity for seriousness and a real sense of style (even if it also gets an infant Doctor). So I guess I'm hanging in there, for now.


Tim (Kalyr) said...

Not as a good as the Cthulhu on Mars trilogy Kev Dearn ran over three consecutive Stabcons.

Andrew Stevens said...

The Ood look remarkably similar to the Sensorites and Davies actually calls the Oods' home planet "the Oodsphere" to fit it in with "the Sensesphere." I mention all of this purely to point out that the Sensorites were even wetter than the Ood. Well, probably, though even the Sensorites didn't evolve so incompetently as to be holding brains in their hands (just circular feet that they constantly tripped over).