Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Who Knows?"


Playing the seventh incarnation of the Time Lord, Sylvester McCoy contrasted a bumbling buffoon with the mentality of a behind-the-scenes manipulator. Similar to Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor McCoy appears scatty, but becomes focused in extreme situations.

THE official 25th anniversary DOCTOR WHO story, SILVER NEMESIS is a tired and amateurish three-parter that throws together aimless plot threads and characters. Shot entirely on location, the serial sees The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive in 1988 England where Cybermen, a group of neo-Nazis led by Herr de Flores (Anton Diffring), and 17th century sorceress Lady Peinforte (Fiona Walker) all seek to control a statue that is in fact a Gallifreyan super-weapon (a notion similarly explored in REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS). The three components to the statue - a bow, an arrow and the figure itself, made from the living metal Validium - were separated by The Doctor in 1638 and the statue launched into space on an asteroid, to foil Peinforte's initial plan to capture the item. With the Nemesis figure now cash-landed near Windsor Castle, the Time Lord must deal with the sorceress, the Nazis and the Cyber-fleet.

Since their TENTH PLANET induction in 1966, the Cybermen have never fully developed the potential of body horror beginnings, instead the emotionless metal menaces have been generic invaders prone to anger management amid incoherent continuity. They have also become easier and easier to kill; here only a slingshot from Ace is required, and their ray gun aim is frightfully lacking. What should have been a showcase for The Doctor's second greatest foes is cheapened by endless in-jokes (for example, Peinforte's mathematician is played by Leslie French, an actor considered for the First Doctor) and self-gratifying cameos, which include the Courtney Pine Jazz Quartet, Nicholas Courtney, Queen lookalike Mary Reynolds and even golden age Hollywood star Dolorey Gray appears as an American tourist.

Clare Higgins as Ohila in THE NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR. This mini episode sees the return to the screen of The Sisterhood of Karn for the first time since THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS. However, these protectors of the Sacred Flame have been in other areas of the Whoinverse, such as Terence Dicks' novel Warmonger, and Big Finish audio adventures Sisters of the Flame and The Vengeance of Morbius.

Re-launched in 2005, DOCTOR WHO has become embarrassingly smug, saccharine sweet and playfully incomprehensible. In the Classic Era, the Doctor maintained a remoteness; he was an intergalactic Sherlock Holmes, portrayed in a show that strived to be straightforward. In contrast, there is no room to breath in the Modern Era, a visual soap opera which drowns under endless story arcs, overblown scores, and the rushed nature of a 45-minute time slot. Guest star Timothy Dalton expertly described Russell T. Davies's show-running tenure as 2001 one moment, CORONATION STREET the next. Since Steven Moffat took over as head writer and executive producer in 2010, the show has become a brand. The best science fantasy explores the responsibilities and fears of the human race, but Moffat has made DOCTOR WHO a fairy tale; he argues that the programme isn't really sci-fi, rather stories that take place "under children's beds," amid his masturbatory world where he is much cleverer than you are.

On the 14th November 2013 a 7 minute minisode THE NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR was released, acting as a taster, companion piece and revelation to the 50th anniversary celebrations. Written by Moffat and set during the Time War, the short shows the previously unseen last moments of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his artificially-controlled regeneration into the War Doctor (John Hurt). After crashing on Karn, the Doctor is taken in by The Sisterhood and revived; they convince him that there is no way to avoid being a part of the War, and so he subsequently consumes a potion which will ensure his incarnation into a warrior. Second to the unveiling of Hurt as the long-rumoured "unknown, evil Doctor", there was genuine surprise in McGann's dialogue mentioning companions in various Big Finish audio dramas, moving them into canon and marking a rare instance that characters created for licensed product being referenced in a series proper.

 THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR sees the visible return of the Zygons after numerous appearances in print and on audio; previously the body-snatching aliens were included in the Modern era episodes THE PANDORICA OPENS and THE POWER OF THREE, but without being shown in their natural guise.

The official 50th anniversary story THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR followed on the 23rd November - a 75-minute one shot - and was announced and subsequently advertised like The Second Coming. Yet against most expectations it is a triumph, with Moffat delivering giddying references to both WHO eras while maintaining a momentum for the final days of The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) receives a message from the Eleventh Doctor and returns to the TARDIS, which is by royal order airlifted to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Preserved instructions from Elizabeth I are shown to the Doctor, along with a 3-D portrait entitled "No More" or "Gallifrey Falls", and other paintings. It transpires that the shape-shifting Zygons, preserved in old images, are invading. Meanwhile, the War Doctor watches Gallifrey falling to a Dalek invasion, and decides to trigger a weapon of mass destruction - the sentient "galaxy eater" the "Moment" (Billie Piper) - which will destroy both races. The Eleventh Doctor meets the Curator (Tom Baker), and is told that the painting's actual name was "Gallifrey Falls No More", hinting that a plan to freeze Gallifrey had worked, and the Doctor's future involves finding it.

The scenes set in Elizabethan England with the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and a young Elizabeth I under threat from Zygons are a joy, exploding from the TARDIS on a horse - in a TIME BANDITS kind of way - and later declaring his stature to a rabbit. There are several laugh-out-loud moments as the camaraderie increases, but Clara's ever-increasing scope  - even though she has existed at all points in time - seemingly extends to an inspirational power to make even three Doctors pause for thought (another piece that grates are the scenes on Gallifrey, which look like they were shot on an industrial estate). But the future, amazingly, looks bright; dialogue of the Curator seems to suggest that the Doctor will again get a chance to choose his regeneration, as from McGann to Hurt, and not only that, he’ll be able to "revisit a few" if only "the old favourites." 

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