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Monday, July 21, 2008

DOCTOR WHO: SERIES FOUR (OF THE NEW STUFF)-Part 2

Episode 3-"Planet of the Ood"

The Doctor and Donna randomly end up in the 42nd century on the frozen world known as the Ood Sphere, home to the Lovecraftian-looking but well-tailored and subservient race the Ood (familiar from series 2's "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit"). There was some question in previous stories featuring them as to whether the Ood were genuinely happy with their servile status and that query is finally answered here, but to say more would give away much of a very good anti-slavery/don't fuck with indigenous species parable. If you, like me, dug the Ood in previous installments, you'll definitely enjoy this story.

Episode 4-"The Sontaran Stratagem"

Among my favorites in the roll call of classic DOCTOR WHO alien species are the Sontarans, a cloned soldier race who revel in intergalactic warfare and live by a strict code of militaristic behavior. Their short stature is due to the high-gravity conditions of their homeworld and along with a martial mindset they boast formidable physical strength and resilience, so they are not a race to be trifled with. And now, thanks to a budget and CGI that the original series did not have the Sontarans can be seen in huge legions for the first time, and that just made me smile from ear to ear.

The Doctor is called back to present-day Earth by former series 3 companion and now UNIT operative Dr. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman, a righteously hot British-accented sistah if ever there was one) to consult on the investigation of 52 mysterious deaths that occurred simultaneously around the globe. The one thing all the deaths have in common is that they took place in cars featuring the supposedly pollution-minimizing ATMOS semi-auto-pilot system, a device created by teen genius Luke Rattigan. Rattigan, after a lifetime of feeling persecuted and ostracized for being clever, has allied with the Sontarans and partnered with General Staal in a hideous plot: nearly every car in the world is equipped with ATMOS, but what the world doesn't know is that the system is primed to give off a mysterious gas when the proper signal is given...

Loads of fun for Sontaran fans, this story also features the great Christopher Ryan as the diminutive Genereal Staal.

General Staal (Christopher Ryan).

You may ask why I consider the casting choice of Christopher Ryan a big deal, but I bet many of you are aware for Ryan for his appearances on ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS as Edina's gay ex-husband, but Ryan is best known here in the States for his indelible role as Mike TheCoolPerson on the '80's Britcom classic THE YOUNG ONES.

The cast of THE YOUNG ONES, with Christopher Ryan being the tiny dude in the middle.

It's an unusual and unexpected bit of casting, but it works thanks to Ryan's superb conviction in the part, coupled with the fact that his short stature is just right for a member of the species he's playing.

Episode 5-"The Poison Sky"

A terrified Donna steels herself to take down a Sontaran guard.

The second half of the Sontaran story, in which all is revealed and much mayhem ensues. A satisfying conclusion that made me crave more fun with the Sontarans.

Episode 6-"The Doctor's Daughter"

The first dud since the wretched "Voyage of the Damned," this feeble entry is nothing more than a blatant attempt at launching a spinoff featuring Jenny (seen above), a young woman instantaneously created from a sample of the Doctor's genetic code during a war between some humans and some fish-dudes (the Hath) on some uninhabitable future world.

The Hath.

The story was lame enough on its own but it stole a gymnastics-trumps-laser-defenses gag from, of all things, JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, and it also drove me crazy how Donna, a character otherwise portrayed as quite intelligent, expects the Doctor to automatically regard Jenny with the warmth and affection one would be expected to lavish upon a child he'd raised from day one. And Martha Jones is also along for the ride, for no good reason other than to befriend a burbling fish-dude who sacrifices himself to save her from certain death in a sinkhole. Oh, and Jenny is played by Georgia Moffett, Daughter of Peter Davison, the cricket-suited fifth Doctor. Repeat after me, kiddies: who fucking cares? You can skip this episode entirely, as it has no real bearing on any of the rest of the season that I can see.

Episode 7-"The Unicorn and the Wasp"

After returning Martha Jones to 2008, the Doctor and Donna weasel their way into an intimate get-together in 1920's England where they meet a young Agatha Christie and find themselves involved in a bizarre murder mystery. The story unfolds in the usual Christie fashion and even has a drawing room bit wherein the Doctor and Christie suss out whodunit and unearth a family secret some forty years old involving the family matriarch and the shocking results of a trip to India in her youth. And with this being an episode of DOCTOR WHO, you can just bet it has something to with a monster/alien...

This one gets points for nailing the Agatha Christie flavor and Fenella Woolgar's fun performance as the author, a woman shattered by her husband's infidelities who gets her mojo back with a little help from our time traveling heroes. Also of note are the surrounding characters who end up as suspects: a jewel thief in disguise, a wheelchair-bound and porno-loving Colonel with a secret of his own, a kindly reverend, the gay heir to the house and his servant lover, the alcoholic lady of the house and the creepy butler, all of whom turn in fun performances. And for those of you not up on your British rhyming slang, when the Doctor finds himself poisoned and thrashes about the kitchen requesting items that can counteract the toxin, he stares at the gay servant and bellows "Ginger beer!" The shocked servant says "I beg your pardon?" in response to the Doctor's exclamation, assuming the Doctor had just made reference to his homosexuality, what with "ginger beer" being Cockney rhyming slang for "queer." (Who says this blog isn't cross-culturally educational?)

Great fun, this will even appeal to regular watchers of the PBS series MYSTERY, provided they can accept the fantastical elements.

Agatha Christie (center) and some of the suspects.

More tomorrow!

4 comments:

Pia Guerra said...

I did not know that about the ginger beer reference! Very cool. I'm going to recommend checking out the Confidential episode on this one. There are about 20 direct references to Christie titles throughout the script "Sparkling Cyanide" "Endless Night" "the Secret of Chimneys" etc. A very fun episode.

If you listen to the commentary for the Doctor's Daughter it's mentioned that originally Jenny wasn't supposed to come back and that it was changed to keep the story from being too depressing. But still, a clunktastic clunker. And apparently, Tennant and Ms. Moffat are now dating which is kinda... weird? Creepy?

And I'm still going to disagree about Voyage of the Damned. Granted, not stellar but on a Christmas day, stuffed with turkey and wearing a bright pink cracker crown, it kinda works. But then I was raised on the Irwin Allen movies.

George Mason said...

Great commentary on the new season. I've been a big fan of the new series and like yourself, fell in love with it during the Baker years and had a messy breakup over his subsequent replacements until now. Interestingly enough, Peter Davison was in the BBC WWI era vet series "All Creatures Great and Small". A show my mother was a huge fan of and as a result I have seen more than a few episodes in which he plays the younger brother of the vet practice's owner. It must be his normal personality bleeding through into his characters because his character "Tristan Farnon" was also full of the "preppie biliousness" you so accurately describe from his Doctor days.
I hated the Voyage of the Damned as well, and found the Doctor's daughter pure spinoff fodder, but loved The Planet of the Ood. (Big Lovecraftian fan, so they grabbed my interest from the get go.) I've found the entire new Who series to be far more hit than miss, though the spinoff Torchwood hasn't displayed the same consistency. (red headed stepchild much?)
Oh, one minor correction. Christopher Ryan, (I am a fan of AbFab and own the whole Young Ones series), played Edina's straight, Hollywood residing ex husband. The gay ex was played by Christopher Malcolm. It was excellent to see both of those shows referenced alongside the Doctor. Three of my British faves all in one!
Bunche, keep up the great blogging! Your sense of humor and wit are only eclipsed by your eccentricity!

Bunche said...

Thanks for the kind words, George, and also for the correction. That's what I get for not double-checking my facts and instead relying on booze-and pot-hazy memories of TV from fourteen years ago!

pia guerra said...

There's another Peter Davison show we've been watching called the Last Detective (also shot in Cardiff) which isn't all that bad. The pacing is very slow but the characters are damn charming and is probably why I didn't mind Time Crash as much as you Bunche. I've only seen the 5th Doctor episodes over recent years and yes, many are crap, Tegan is almost as annoying as Peri and Nyssa does fuck all but wait on the TARDIS most of the time but I still like Davison in the role and wish more could have been done with him.

Now Planet of the Ood on the other hand I felt was a namby pamby, touchy feely pile of gooey jello. I like the Ood but wanted to see more than this singing-in-yer-mind-oh-my-god-it's-beautiful stuff. Plus another foreshadowing CLUNK at the end. I wanted that one to be better.