Sunday, May 04, 2008

Smokey days and classic ways


Have just finished watching last night's episode of "Doctor Who", "The Poison Sky", which was also the final chapter of Helen Raynor's two-parter about the Sontarans - the first being last week's "The Sontaran Stratagem". Thus, I'd postponed my review of that other one until both episodes had aired, in order to make this a complete summary of the events - and to get the "big picture" of the whole...séance. Which, in short, must be said to have been rather good indeed. Decent quality, overall, including nice (special) effects, displays of good acting, most of the time, some fancy music (re-using themes from the previous seasons), some very clever turns and with a touch of "size-y dimensions" to it. Actually, one could get the feeling the writer(s) were trying to make a wannabe-series finale out of it; at least, it did hold that epic, dramatic, rounding off the lot atmosphere. Very sinister tone, loads of gunfighting and battles and tears - and sledgehammers.

First and foremost, though, I was surprisingly happy to see Freema Agyeman back on the show, reprising her role as Martha Jones from the last season. She made a slightly different, and on the whole very appealing impression, this time around. It might simply be due to her interacting with Catherine Tate and David Tennant, as a terrific trio, dealing with The Doctor and the other companion on a whole different level - which was a vast improvement from previous episodes with their lack of chemistry, and where and all she did was mope over The Doctor's not falling for her. Trying to be smart and cool and sassy, whilst it in reality didn't work so well at all, she annoyed the heck out of most people, myself included. Bad writing should take most of the blame - in any respect, no guilt applies to Freema, who kept trying her best - and the rest goes to Russel T. Davies for destroying nice prospects and getting stuck with a failing notion. Most of the episodes were wonderful, but the treatment of the Martha character was below par. And, I've always liked Freema as a person, so I felt it was very unfair that they gave her such lousy scripts to act out. Fortunately, this was not the case with the two more recent stories. Here, the dynamic was incredible, with no such flaws and irritating shortcomings to get on one's nerces, and Freema (Martha) really got to shine in her own right; which she deserves, being such a great actress. In addition, her character had changed severly - for the better, then, in my honest opinion - now having grown into a proper Doctor herself, with a new life ahead of her, where she's engaged to her colleague Tom Milligan (another nod to Series 3) and has developed a more complex, progressive personality. All the more likeable. She works for the UNIT organisation, dealing with alien threats and disasters, as arranged by The Doctor; seeing that he is connected to their work, himself, being a former UNIT employee. That is, back in the old days. And referencing heavily to "Old Who" is, as always, a major advantage (and, to be honest, necessity) to any "New Who" episode. Kudos!

The main story goes as follows: Martha (literally) calls the Doctor back to dear ol' Planet Earth to investigate a number of inexplicable deaths, resulting from an übersuspicious technical device being installed in people's cars. It's called ATMOS, and might just scare the living daylights out of all those who've bought a portable GPS system recently. The plot outline is rather brilliant; I, personally, appreciate with all my heart this idea of "harmless" tech devices being used for evil purposes, and ordinary people having to fight against extraordinary opponents under anything-whatsoever-but-ordinary circumstances. It is very common on "DW", and on this particular occasion it worked extremely well. Moreover, it was a drastically altered experience compared to Helen Raynor's last attempt at writing for this show; the Dalek episodes from New York in Series 3, which were total utter rubbish crap. Here, she managed to make far better use of the scary aliens of choice; The Sontarans; a bunch of potato-head clone guys who think war is grand and life's a fight and let's kill all the humas when we're at it. They seek honour, acknowledgement and victory - at all costs. On this particular occasion, their carefully selected weapons were common cars, exhaust gas and poisonous clouds in general. And, when the world goes into crisis and chaos and everything seems dark, pun intended, who else is there to save the day but The Doctor - with or without female crew? The battles took place mainly between UNIT soldiers and Sontaras, whereas The Doctor took care of warfare tactics over the phone. Lots of telephone conversations in these episodes. The Doc also had to manouver Donna out into the field, to do some heavy work, and to save Martha who was captured by The Sontaras and turned into her own clone. I suspect some fanboys squeeled with glee when Freema emerged from the cloning tub; soaked in green, icky goo and little else. I, myself, had trouble concentrating every time UNIT member Ross appeared on screen. All about preferences and perspective, right? Each to suit one's own. Anyways, Raynor's obviously taken a step in the right direction, and thanks to Donna, Donna, Donna and - well - Donna's granddad, her lines worked even better than they possibly should have, too. Catherine Tate is fabulous, might I just stress that, for I sense I haven't done so enough throughout this article, and it surely needs repeated mentioning. In other words, there still remains one major, massive nod of honour - and it goes to miss Tate for her brilliance and her absolutely irresistable performances. We owe you lots and lots, Cathy, now enjoy the rest of the ride and continue to baffle us! This just...seriously makes my day! Donna's final scenes with darling granddad Wilf - along with basically every other scene she was in - increased the viewing pleasure beyond belief, for my sake, and it's such great fun to watch her take on difficult situations in her very own, original, even eccentric manner. Her methods differ from anything you've ever seen on a sci-fi show before. An atypical, effective, no-nonsense kind of woman, and - no doubt - a super temp. A stranger to the genre or not, she's definately brought the joy and wit and charisma back to "Doctor Who", and for that (major achievement) my being grateful shall never cease. She's fa-bu-lous! And she's got the best outfits! Furthermore, Donna seems to get along perfectly with Martha; her new best mate as it were; and the two of them depict a very contrasting relationship to that of Rose and Sarah Jane in Series 2. The latter pair was more in the lines of old and aunty meets young and feisty, yet it did result in a firm, delightful friendship. Generally speaking, old companions meeting "the new ones" generate a lot of excitement, and is a wonderful twist to any episode. And, naturally, the outcomes will differ radically. Rose and Sarah enjoyed a lighter, more emotional and joke-packed adventure, whereas the Sontaran stories were too dark for Martha and Donna to bond in any "easy chats of common stuff" kind of way. I hope to see more of that later, though. As for now, they're buddies, and they share a platonic love for the same man, depending on him and at the same time not afraid to tell him off when the occasion calls for it. For, he needs someone to stop him. And this duo has the guts to do just that. Still, I can't wait for Jack, Rose and said Sarah Jane to return, and add some more genuine affection. Speaking of which, I'd like to go through some pro's and con's from the episodes as a whole; very briefly summing up what affected me and what did not. I loved the uniforms, for one thing, and the whole soldier theme, including Ross the Boss, amazing locations, carcrashes (into water!) and - of course - The Doctor's hatred towards guns. So illogical, so self-contradicting, but amusing nonetheless. And second, there was Donna's family (as mentioned above) making a long-awaited appearance -whooray! - and a suitable explanation as to the whereabouts of Mr. Brig, also known as The Brigadier and a fond artefact from the old series. Martha's leather jacket, the sudden return of The Valiant ship and The Hand in the Jar, the absolutely stunning direction and photography, The Doctor's madman-expressions and unguided, unguarded tour around the prodigy factory, that creepy child genius school. On a different note, I loathed the fake American accents, especially as presented by same child genius (hated the actor too, poor guy, but he was awful), and the abrupt killing of Ross, the chanting, the religious undertones (again! why?!), the overused American anchor woman, the silly short-cut rescue services and the pace. The episodes were way too slow, at times. But it was so wonderful to see proper acting and great dialogue again, it sort of made up for it. And - Donna! DONNA DONNA DONNA! I'm Donna Noble's #1 überfan, hail Catherine Tate!

Ok, good to get that off my chest. Now finally, and last but certainly not least, there's one detail I cannot avoid. Not that I would, either, for it made me infinitely, ridiculously, exuberantly excited. See; there's this girl, this beautiful, blonde girl we all know, who's ended up being the centre of attention again; also becoming the main topic of discussion, over at the WHO-boards, due to yet another tiny, but significant cameo appearance. This time so quick, one might as well have failed to notice. But she was there, for a very brief and shocking moment, before - in the blink of an eye - she was gone. She appeared on a TARDIS-screen very early in the episode and managed to mouth "DOCTOR!!!", and show off an incredibly unfitting hairdo, before she was interrupted and the transmission broke off. Now, I was extremely pleased to see her there, of course, and to have her name on the credits-list, yet I must say that I've already grown a bit tired of these disappearing acts where she turns up only to go away, just as soon as I've gone to unseemly stages of hysteria at the sight of her. Probably because I love her so much and want her to stay, continuously; to remain a lingering figure in the show, not just a pop-up-ghost. At the same time, I have to give the writers some credit, for making something so really big and built-up-to out of her return and, consequently, making the viewer's anticipation almost unbearable. So, let me finish off this review by stating that: no matter how stupid the story seems, and no matter how lousy the acting might be, no matter what bad mood I'm in; the quality of a DW adventure increases by the mile the very moment Billie Piper turns up. And when she's allowed to top an already good episode; by adding massive amounts of tingling suspense in what was only a brief, fleeting moment; it really doesn't get any better. And boy, I love my weekly Who, I really do.

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