The Friday Docback Revisits DOCTOR WHO Season 7!! A Fuller Review Of 'The Name of the Doctor,' And More!!
[not new news, but the first I’ve heard of it, and I love it. Via...Telegraph]
...with a brief look back at the newly concluded DOCTOR WHO Season/Series 7 - a divisive Season/Series to many fans it seems. Many folks seem to feel the series lost its way this year - but I posit a different scenario which I’ll share with you below. I suspect many people won’t agree with my assessment - and suspect an amount of readers won’t even be open to my conjecture at all, and will deem it 'apologist rubbish.' Whatever the case, hopefully you'll find at least some of it to be 'food for thought'...
More on this shortly. But first...
CATCHING UP: STRAX INTERVIEWED BY KIDS
Missed this when it was issued a few weeks ago.
STRAX ON THE DOCTOR'S GREATEST SECRET
CATCHING UP #2: VASTRA BY WAY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009)
Thanks to MOV for the heads-up...
DOCBACKER HORNORSILK REVIEWS THE PHANTOMS OF THE DEEP BIG FINISH AUDIO
Fourth Doctor Adventures 2.05 Phantoms of the Deep
Written By: Jonathan Morris
Now that televised Doctor Who is over until the anniversary special (and whatever shorts which may or may not be shown before then), we return to the continuing audio adventures of the older Doctors. While they are confined in what can be done in them, because of fixed points in the Doctor’s life which we know will not be overturned in them, this does not mean the audio adventures cannot reshape what we think of the Doctor. There are aspects of his character, as well as with the characterizations of his companions, which come out of these audios which complement what we have seen on screen. Indeed, I feel that there are subtle ties between the audios and the new television series (Dark Eyes, for example, gives a nod to the Time War). I hope one day that the BBC might eventually allow the two over-lap. And, though it probably will not happen, I hope this could actually be the case with 50th anniversary. There are elements of the Big Finish anniversary audio which seem as if they could relate to the television special. Until then, however, it’s time to return to the audio stories, and we will begin with the newest offering of the Fourth Doctor.
The Doctor, Romana and K-9 land at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, surprising the crew of the submarine Erebus, who first think they are seeing things when they see the TARDIS. Among the crew of the Erebus is Dr. Patricia Sawyer, played by Alice Krige, showing once again the kind of guest stars Big Finish gets for their stories.
While the crew of the Erebus try to decide what to do with the Doctor and Romana, they are greeted by “intelligent” squid which warn the submarine to go back and head to the surface. Obviously, they do not. Instead, the submarine continues further until it finds itself under a force field, leaving the Doctor and Patricia Sawyer to swim outside the Erebsus to find out what is creating the force field. To their surprise, they find a hundred year old submarine, still manned by one man, being kept alive by “imps” or “goblins.” What exactly is going on? Who or what are the goblins? What is their purpose?
I’m not really a fan of “ocean stories.” While there is the potential for a lot of fantastic things to be going on underneath the ocean, and so is a fit environment for a base-under-siege or horror tale, I rarely find they live up to such a potential. For the most part, I find such stories tend to be too easy to make, because there are a set number of clichés which come into play. Now, great authors, like Philip K Dick, can play with the clichés and make something unique, often subverting them or parodying them, but here, I don’t see such greatness. The story is ponderous and simplistic, showing one doesn’t have to create an action-oriented story to suffer such a weak execution. This story just feels like filler material, and provides nothing which is not normally found in such filler tales.
Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, John Leeson, Alice Krige and everyone else involved in the story give us unexciting performances. This is a shameful waste of Krige. It would have been nice to use her in a Cyberman based story, though it is understandable why Big Finish did not. Here, her character seems rather generic, as with the story itself. She doesn’t have much to work with, and so doesn’t provide much.
The direction of the tale just helps highlight its rather average nature. It might be me and how I am reading more experience listening to the story to the way the actors portray their characters, but it feels as if everyone was bored in the production of this story. There are a few twists and turns (which, for the sake of anyone wanting to listen to this story, I won’t reveal here), but they didn’t really intrigue me. I felt nothing for the characters of the tale.
I would give this audio a 6 out of 10. I was hoping for something more after the month hiatus with the Fourth Doctor audios. Next month, we are likely to have a much better story, with the return of the Daleks and David Warner as Cuthbert.
DOCTOR WHO SEASON/SERIES 7
Regular readers may recall that last week, the pre-screeners for The Name of the Doctor, the S7 finale, became available late in the game...resulting in a decidedly cursory assessment of the story in this column. I’ll go into that installment a bit more herein, as I think it warrants further attention. Before we do that though, I wanted to posit a notion for Docbackers to mull as we reflect on S7 - and look forward to the show’s 50th Anniversary mega-ep, its Adventures in Space and Time docudrama, its Christmas Special, and Season/Series 8.
It’s easy...very easy...to quickly assail Steven Moffat for the ‘downs’ of this Season/Series - and many have done so loudly and summarily. But television and film production is rarely that clear cut - there’s rarely just one person to blame for quality which doesn’t meet our expectations. In this instance, I’m advancing a concept based on experience gleaned across my many years in and around the TV and film industry. Listeners to the WHOTININNIES podcast may already know where I’m going with this, as it’s been covered there to some extent already. Said notion is:
If we clear our heads and approach the matter objectively, I submit that there’s actually very little fundamentally ‘wrong’ with S7 from a conceptual or storytelling perspective. S7’s relatively self-contained stories have certainly rendered the show more accessible, and paved the way to a narrative tapestry unfettered by the limitations inherent in strongly arcing storylines. Despite this apparent adoption of a more ‘stand alone’ approach to its episodic fare, S7 still managed to masterfully insert a few over-arcing notions which very much influenced the whole...but did this so cleverly and so subtlety that viewers often didn’t track that they were observing meaningful moves. An example: earlier in this Season/Series, many viewers hemmed and hawed about the increasing ‘darkness of the Doctor’ - when the Doctor appeared to be embracing his more primal, vengeful, violent nature. Some said such behavior was wholly out of character for him - I disagree with this statement completely, but that’s a different story. While those incidents seemed awkward and certainly invited speculation regarding the Doctor’s behavior, these ingredients remained beneath the surface of this Season/Series until they were hauled back into the limelight by the Great Intelligence in The Name of the Doctor - the final episode of S7. So, what was once a viewer ‘complaint’ voiced all Series/Season long, ultimately became a pivotal plot point in the endgame...when the Great Intelligence sets out to re-write the Doctor’s history, citing his ‘blood soaked’ behavior as one motivation for doing so.
And then there’s Clara, whose entire existence, it seems, is geared towards her endlessly encountering and saving the Doctor - in his every permutation. The poignance of this conceit can not be overstated - someone whose very purpose for being is more or less defined by potentially endless acts of self-sacrifice in the name of someone else, and the ideals they represent. Sweet, tragic, and filled with pathos...Clara as both a concept and character is helluva notion when you break down her metaphysical implications. Her reveal in The Name of the Doctor puts a new spin onto the time we’ve spent with Clara thus far, and points to intriguing questions and possibilities further down the line. A smooth and brilliant bit of structuring there...which manages to be both ‘stand alone’ in terms of the potency of her reveal, but intricately relevant to the show’s broader picture. Bravo all the way around on this one.
Between the two factors mentioned above, and The Name of the Doctor’s ‘holy shit’ final moments reveal (more on this below) - which both impacts DOCTOR WHO backstory and invariably shapes adventures to come - that’s quite a bit of stealthy ‘macro’ storytelling for a show which, ostensibly, had reverted to a more stand-alone approach. And this also represents some decidedly bold, thoroughly trippy material. With so much going for it, why didn’t DOCTOR WHO feel like t worked as well as it should have this year? The answer, I believe, is both aggravating and breathtakingly simple: there’s a gargantuan difference between the conceptualization and realization. What DOCTOR WHO tried to be...what it wanted to be on paper...simply never made it to screen this year.
I contend that the reason many folks seem to be struggling to embrace the show this go-round is predominantly related to how the episodes themselves were conveyed. Not conceived, but conveyed. When compared to S5 and much of S6 - S7 rarely felt as well-executed or realized as the WHO we’ve come to expect over the past few years. Photographically, the show’s trademarked, consistently high-end photography varied greatly and, sadly, even waned on more than a few occasions. The bold, cinematic aesthetic which Moffat brought to WHO when he climbed on-board often felt, well, more like a lesser-produced TV show than anything we witnessed is S5 or S6. Notably, a bevy of photographers worked on DW this year - as opposed to the few who shot DW in the past. S7’s editing felt looser and not always as strategic and well considered as the rather excellent work previously brought to the show. Direction felt less inspired - a tad more ‘knockoff’ in nature. In short, the PRESENTATION of DW stopped ‘impressing’ - it stopped feeling as special as it used to. A great presentation can often elevate even lesser episodes (I can think of a few STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA episodes which were probably not terribly ‘good’ when all was said and done, but were so well made their shortcomings were more or less painted over) - but this level of sharp presentation was often missing in DW S7.
Is this nitpicking? Some might argue “yes” - as these points are etherial and often go unnoticed by the average viewer. But this wall of often subtle factors very, very much contribute to how we perceive a movie or TV show. In the case of WHO this year, one of the primary complaints voiced by viewers is that they had difficulty ‘connecting’ with the show. Well, every single one of the factors outlined above PROFOUNDLY impacts one’s connection to what is happening on screen. Atmosphere affects how we connect. Tempo of editing affects how we connect. Even a camera angle affects how we connect. To see if this theory holds water, run a test. Take one S7 episode you felt let down by - then imagine it looking better, being more crisply edited, or more intuitively directed. PUNCHIER. Maybe imagine that exact same tale - THE SAME STORY - as made by your favorite filmmaker. Don’t think in terms of the script - just think in terms of the presentation of the same script and how it’s delivered on-screen. I tried this test, and the outcome was rather amazing.
I’m not so sure DW has lost its way - I strongly suspect something else is happening. I’d bet good money that DOCTOR WHO is being slammed by yet-to-be revealed challenges on the production side. Possessing a slight understanding of how BBC and television in general works, my strong hunch is that diminished budgets and the corporate influenced assignment of personnel are probably resulting in forcibly diminished quality control on DW. We’re getting different editors than we’ve had in the past. Different DPs. Different ilks of directors. Different FX houses. And, given how money and politics govern in ‘the biz,’ many of these elements could well be beyond the control of a Steven Moffat, or a Russell T. Davies, or whomever else might fill their shoes. I’ve known more successful TV and film producers than I can count over many years, and I can say this with absolutely certainty: I’ve never met a single TV showrunner or filmmaker who set the bar ‘here’ and then deliberately lowered it, or willingly settled for less. That’s demoralizing as a show executive, and is professional suicide. Hence, I have to believe something else is afoot on DOCTOR WHO...believe that other forces are impacting decisions which affect what we see on-screen and why we see it. Politics and considerations other than Team Moffat. I’ver seen it on other shows (the original STAR TREK, BABYLON 5), I’ve seen it happen with more films than I can recall (even pictures with gargantuan budgets), and we’ll see it happen again and again I’m sure. Business...simply gets in the way. Politics...simply get in the way. ‘Tis a regrettable bi-product of the industry, and shows sometimes take the fall.
To be clear, some straight-up creative decisions HAVE worked against the show this year, all other considerations not withstanding. Nightmare in Silver, for example...which writer Neil Gaiman openly indicated was altered considerably from his vision...felt a long way off from refined in terms of story clarity and script. There are some lovely ideas running throughout it to be sure, but the episode never feels cohesive or even sensible. The Powers That Be may’ve over-promoted, or deployed too much hyperbole, when pimping episodes like Journey to the Center of the TARDIS - resulting in expectations and imaginings which nearly any show would struggle to equal. There’s a delicate balance between saying too much and saying too little, and I think such equilibrium was not attained for the 2013 run. Teasing and mid-directed promotion worked against the show this year, I think. Sometimes, the talk was bigger than the show could deliver under many circumstances...especially under the channeling ones posited above. As a result, how could frustration and disappointment not enter the equation just a little bit?
Which brings us to The Name of the Doctor. The best episode of this Season/Series in terms or overall execution and tone. Was the handling of the Doctor’s name ‘reveal’ a cop-out? Probably - but it was a cop-out I welcomed, as I think certain elements of WHO should never, EVER be revealed (his name, an exterior shot of a completely un-contained TARDIS, etc). That hyper-secret ending...which BBC went through so very much trouble to cloak and protect? I’m not sure it as worth their time or headaches. John Hurt had, himself, had already acknowledged being a Doctor in recent interviews - and other rumors about his Doctor’s nature (his Doctor being one who has been more or less forgotten...or stricken from the records...) had also been in play for some time. It’s an awesome and wonderfully presented moment to be sure...but no more shocking than the pre-mature reveal of Jenna Louise-Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks earlier this Season/Series, a secret which HADN’T been previously alluded to (despite public screenings of that installment) and about which BBC & Co. made considerably less fuss. Sometimes, playing it cool is the best way to not attract attention, or set expectations too high.
Misplaced secrecy efforts not withstanding, TNOTD was a welcome return to the presentational quality WHO had been missing for some time - well-shot by Neville Kidd (The Angels Take Manhattan) and smartly edited by Matthew Canings (LIFE ON MARS, THE FADES).
Kudos to Matt Smith for raising his performance to a new level of both nuance and raw emotion - those around him (Richard E. Grant as Simeon, Neve McIntosh as Vastra, Dan Starkey as Strax, Catrin Stewart as Jenny, Alex Kingston as River, and JLC) all shined more brightly than ever before. Direction by Saul Metzstein’s (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Crimson Horror, The Showmen) is very strong - for my money he’s the best, sharpest, crispest, helmer DW has at the moment, by far. I hope he comes back for more when S8 rolls around.
Gripes? Not so sure I was clear on what happened to the Great Intelligence (which may’ve been a deliberate move), and Clara’s break-neck narration seemed too harried to be effective - and it stressed me out, frankly. Then, of course, there’s that integration of the previous Doctors...there’s no way round it...it could’ve looked much better. Recalling one of the factors I mentioned above - the new FX house. The “little things” mean EVERYTHING on shows and movies, especially ones of this nature.
All in all, though, The Name of the Doctor is a wonderful note for S7 to go out on, and a tremendously compelling set-up for the 50th Anniversary episode to come - and beyond? The concept of a missing Doctor? Perfectly appropriate and a brilliant exploitation of gaps in the established mythos. John Hurt as that Doctor? Equally as badass. What Clara represents for the Doctor and the possibilities now shaping her character? Highly compelling - much to work with there. There’s some tantalizing material poised to come our way in WHO ahead. And, if I am right about Behind-the-Scenes machinations on the show, it is my fervent hope that such obstacles are diminished greatly in the year to come...that challenges are smoothed over...and that DW’s engine is once more able to chug to full steam ahead. Godspeed.
Here’s me knee-jerk ordering of DOCTOR WHO S7 episodes for your consideration. Contrary to numerous assertions, I enjoyed all of this Season/Series very much, although I found the show frequently struggling to land the vibe and tone for which I felt it as reaching (particularly during S7B) - mostly due to the presentational factors mentioned above.
6) Cold War
Even with the aforementioned visual slippage, the Blu-rays look and sound better than you’ll see them in any other home format - highly recommended if you're looking to revisit this part of the Season/Series.
A tremendously enjoyable episode, The Snowmen is critical to this Season in terms of setting-up Clara and the presence of the Great Intelligence, although it is not factored into my list of proper episodes - although it probably should’ve been. Much to like in it - JLC, some lovely fairy tale imagery involving the TARDIS an clouds, and a badass reveal of the new TARDIS interior.
NEXT WEEK: we’ll resume our journey through ‘Classic’ WHO with The Visitation (Davison, Story #119).
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