Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Review: Doctor Who - S7 Ep 2-4

In preparation for the mid-season finale this Saturday, Steven Moffat's sure-to-be grand 'The Angels Take Manhattan', I've reviewed the three previous episodes in this terrific mini-series of Doctor Who. If I have one major complaint, it's that there are not enough; just five featuring the Ponds and the annual Christmas special in which Jenna-Louise Coleman making her first appearance as the Doctor's companion proper. However, this all should mean we can look forward to a bumper crop of episodes next year, the show's fiftieth anniversary. But enough of the future, let's look to the adventures we've just seen...

                                     Dinosaurs On A Spaceship

After 'Asylum...’s dark opener, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ decides to focus on fun and frivolity – and makes completely the right choice as it certainly is fun. With the title such as it is, how could it not be? You can easily imagine many internally – or perhaps externally, also – squealing upon seeing those words in the opening credits, feeling eight years old again. 

As DOAS is such an ensemble piece its success relies largely on its cast to bring the premise of the Doctor having a gang to life. Thankfully, they’re all rather brilliant. Rupert Graves (Riddell) and Rian Steele (‘Neffy’) give entertaining turns as their respective characters while playing the viscous bounty hunter/space pirate/ murderer Solomon comes easily to David Bradley. However, it’s Mark Williams who shines the most of the guest cast as Rory’s hapless dad, Brian. As in all his roles, Mr Williams makes, er, Mr Williams endearing and you feel you’re not laughing at him but with him.  
On the other hand, while the cast gave it their all, this reviewer felt the script wasn’t quite as refined as usual Who. Personally, not all of the gags worked (perhaps one to many innuendos?) and, although this can be forgiven as there was so much to fit in, the characterisation of Riddell and Neffy was sketchy.  That said, there were some fine moments such as the foreshadowing of Amy and Rory’s exit from the Doctor’s life in that ‘you’ll be there till the end of me’ conversation and that wonderful final scene of Brian eating his lunch while looking at the Earth below; exactly the stuff that’s Doctor Who’s made of.

                                    A Town Called Mercy
While the previous two episodes were dark and twisty-turny or fun and joke-filled, Mercy takes another entirely different direction; it’s a full-blooded western full of death, inner demons and morality. Once again showing the dexterity of Doctor Who. It’s safe to say that no other show on television could tell three such diverse stories in three weeks.
Speaking of westerns, writer Toby Whithouse proves he really knows the genre as he packs in several references to classic western films; from the obvious to the sly (I’m sure the undertaker sequences are inspired by a similar joke in comedy film Carry on Cowboy). If westerns aren’t for you, though, there is much else to enjoy here.  It britstles with wonderful drama that never lets up throughout the forty-five minutes including the parallels between Jex and the Doctor and the Frankenstein-like origins of the Gunslinger. Whithouse also injects a lot of hilarious moments too, especially in the episode’s first half; special mention goes to the ‘she’s called Susan’ gag which should go down as one of Doctor Who’s funniest ever lines.
While the episode is hugely enjoyable it has its faults. My biggest bone to pick with ATCM is how it sadly underuses Amy and Rory; although there’s a great scene where Jex sees Amy as a mother and she is instrumental in brining the Doctor back from over the brink she gets little else to do and Arthur Darvill (as Rory) surely only gets three lines in the entire thing. Seeing as our time with these characters is very limited it would have been nice to see some more of them.
However, as it stands A Town Called Mercy is a sophisticated drama that leaves you lots to think about with some spot-on comedy moments. Also, in contrast to the previous two stories, it’s not afraid to let the action simmer a bit more to tell a perhaps deeper story. While others might not benefit from a slower pace, it certainly works here.
                                         The Power of Three

As the Pond Farwell is just next week, their penultimate adventure needed to be something special, a last hurrah for them before the last day arrives. ‘The Power of Three’ was, of course, something special; a gentle, touching but also very funny episode that is rightly all about our terrific trio of time travellers.
The true strength of this episode is how Chibnall turns up the nostalgia and emotion all the way. The best examples here are of that tremendous scene of the Doctor and Amy talking by the waterside, answering the question perhaps some of us have been wondering this year: ‘why does the Doctor keep coming back for the Ponds?’ Another moment comes courtesy of Brian (oh, why wasn’t Mark Williams’ introduced earlier!) who gives his blessing for his son and daughter-in-law to go off into the universe. On the nostalgic side of things, as a fan, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into. The inclusion of UNIT in any form would have been exciting enough but for it to be led by the legendary Brigadier’s daughter, Kate, adds another level of geek mouth-watering to proceedings. I’m sure many are wishing for a return.
However, while the human side of things is very well done indeed there are problems with the plot. The fab idea of the cubes, that acts as a nice commentary on humanity’s tendency to scavenge,  is used well in the opening half a but when everything suddenly kicks off in the closing minutes it takes no time at all for it to then be sorted out.  The Shakri look great if a little like a Sarah Jane Adventures alien but are/is underused. And what are those gasmask-esque hospital porters about?
Crucially though, despite the nit-picks, this episode flourishes as it shines a new light on the Pond’s relationship with the Doctor and his with them. It’s only fitting that this happened this week right before ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, when the TARDIS lands in New York, and that light will be extinguished forever.  

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