Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Well, The Poison Sky certainly fulfilled the promise of last week's episode: a Who story that ambled its way out through the saloon bar doors of the 5 Out Of 10.

Readers who were here last year or who've checked out my blog since may think I'm just being mean to Helen Raynor. Then again, it's possible those readers watched this episode as well.

I mean... yes, it's nice to see an actual Sontaran army. Yes, I'm sure a lot of fans out there believe that simply having UNIT in an episode is in itself some sort of automatic boon. Yes, it was a very pretty explosion. But beneath the engaging visuals and yet more surprising work from Catherine Tate, there lurked a very, very perfunctory story. Not so much "Who by numbers", nor even "Who by join-the-dots", but more of a stick figure standing next to a blue box with an arrow and the word "docter" drawn above it. Everything teenage DW forum members think an episode should look like, with in-jokey references to better stories thrown in in the hope that they'll drag this one up by association.

And then the planet blows up. Well, the Doctor sets light to the atmosphere, at any rate. Now see, when this half-cocked idea was included in the script of Destiny of the Daleks, itself not a well-regarded Who story, the programme makers at least had the decency not to actually have it happen. Sooo... you burn all the poisonous clone food out of the atmosphere, in a fireball that encloses the entire Earth in seconds, but which is apparently extinguished by an inrush of lovely, clean... oxygen-bearing air. Good thing air doesn't support combustion, isn't it? PS - good news, today everyone gets a free meal of roast pigeon! Bad news, tomorrow the ecosystem falls over.

So you somehow remove the noxious stuff from the air but completely fail to do anything about the millions of machines that are generating that noxious stuff in the first place. Then you flip a switch on your Macguffin that turns it from "human air" to "Sontaran air", notwithstanding the fact that we've already seen humans breathing that Sontaran air, and vice versa, and there's been absolutely no indication that there's any difference between them. Except that there must be, because the explosion that left the entire surface of the Earth unravaged blows apart a spaceship that can allegedly withstand nuclear attack. Let's face it, this was just one of those scripts that needed the Doctor to dramatically flip a switch, the Mill to produce a really showy explosion, and the plot to magically resolve itself.

The pinnacle - well, the pothole - of this episode's weakness must surely have been the Doctor's farewell. "Donna - thanks for everything, take care. Martha - you too. Luke - give me two minutes and then sacrifice yourself, OK?" Or were we the only ones who heard that line? This truly was a sleepwalking episode.

But there were some nice moments - the fact that the UNIT colonel didn't piss about when faced with the Sontaran commander was quite pleasing. The prosthetics were good. Visually, as I've said, it was engaging. And needless to say it's still better than a lot of other TV, so it still gets its "average episode" 5 out of 10.

Next week: the Doctor turns out to be Buffy's dad. Who knew? (Shouldn't Torchwood be making that episode?)

Also this weekend - we survived the Fforde Ffiesta! More about that anon. For now, let this suffice:


Ben said...

Egad, I hadn't realised this was the work of Ms Manhattan. Still, shows improvement (not hard).

This made me giggle far too much.

Christopher Pittard said...

"A stick figure standing next to a blue box with an arrow and the word "docter" drawn above it." Dammit Toon, you just succinctly nailed my problem with 75% of nu Who (and made me laugh like a moron). That said, it's a fine irony that while most of the episodes resemble nothing so much as a four page story in an annual, the best episode so far (perhaps - dare I? - ever...) began life as- a four page story in an annual. How chastened I am.