Tuesday, January 06, 2009

In the Court of the Cyber-King

Tsk tsk, three months since my last blogging. And now we're in 2009, the year when - if all goes according to plan - we'll be emigrating to New Zealand, which isn't likely to make the blogging any more frequent.

No review of the year this time, since I haven't been keeping track of books, films etc as much as I could have, but there is time to look back at some of the last fortnight's television.

Doctor Who - The Next Doctor
Rising from the depths, thirty stories high, Mechzilla! (Da-dum!) Mechzilla! (Da-dum!) ...and Mechzooooookyyyyy, la la la la la la laaa... Having a giant steam-powered robot stomping all over Victorian London ought to make this the best bit of Christmas TV ever - AND YET.

The story itself was quite solid, and there was relatively little corn, which is a mercy. No sparkly Kylie dust this year. David Morrissey was hardly natural enough to be a convincing Doctor, but he was right for his character, and his story hung together neatly and unfolded well. Dervla Kirwan's character, Miss Hartigan, was a lot more vague - a fun villain, but there wasn't really much sense of where she'd come from, barring a few oblique references to sexual abuse. She seemed to have been born fully formed as a sidekick for the Cybermen. Velile Tschabalala's sidekick character was a bit half-drawn as well - I couldn't remember a thing she'd done in the episode even minutes after watching it. Nothing much to say about David Tennant, who turned in another sound performance.

Nice to see the Cybermen again, but what was the point of the Cybershades? Apparently they're the Cybermats for the new generation, but back in the day there was always a reason for having the Cybermats in a story. The Cybershades seemed to exist only to give the viewers (and the Doctors) something new to goggle at. The novelty wore off pretty quickly. You could say the same about the Cyber-King, of course (what exactly were the Cybermen planning to do with it?), but it had the advantage that it actually looked good. Besides, I always have time to spare for city-stomping giant mecha.

The resolution was where it went a bit wrong. Not the Doctor using the second-hand Dalek McGuffin to zap the Cyber-King back into the void - that was set up and used entirely fairly. But before that... It seems there is but one approved way of dealing with Cybermen in the new series, and that's to give them back their empathy. This worked fine in the Age of Steel two-parter, with a bit of head-clutching and Cyber-jiving, a lovely shot of a Cyberman pawing at his reflection, and only one Cyberman's head gratuitously and hilariously exploding. But as soon as Miss Hartigan got the treatment, she and all her Cyber-minions magically evaporated into coloured puffs of mist. What the Mighty Troughton was that all about? And in any case, hadn't she retained control of her own mind? All the Doctor did was "break the Cyber connection" - in which case, how/why did the Cybermen evaporate? I feel like clutching my head and doing the Cyber-boogie just thinking about it. And then, at last, the corn.

You know, if the Morrissey un-Doctor had, for example, clambered up the Cyber-King's foot and jammed in his un-sonic screwdriver, we could have had both Doctors involved in the plot resolution and a reason for the Cyber-King to trip over that didn't involve the mysterious sublimating properties of guilt. Yes, I've committed the cardinal sin of trying to outwrite the episode as shown. There were ways RTD could have written that ending without recourse to sucking, that's all I'm saying.

A couple of minor questions about the Cybermen, arising from the fact that these were once again the parallel universe Cybus versions. How did they get hold of footage of all the previous Doctors? (Did they perhaps pinch that from the Daleks too?) And regarding the Cyber-King - the Doctor recognises it as a "Dreadnought-class" battleship, but the only spacefaring Cybermen he's seen have been the home-grown versions, so:
  • How did the Cybus Cybermen get hold of it?
  • Since when, and why, do the Cybermen build their ships in the form of giant Cybermen?
  • Why do they build them out of primitive clockwork?
  • It seemed as though these were fragments of previous drafts bobbing to the surface of the story, overlooked by the editing coastguards.

    On the whole, not a bad effort - entertaining and, barring the dodgy ending, pretty robust. Worth a 7-ish, certainly on a par with last year's Christmas special. Rewatchable, but not immediately - I might happily watch a repeat in a year or so. But hopefully I'll be in another country by then.
    Yikes, I might not see Matt Smith's Doctor in action for years! Well, that's what second-hand Internet scuttlebutt is for.

    AKA "Lukey the Vampire Slayer", in which an athletic teenager struggling at school is told by a shadowy man called Rupert from the other side of the Atlantic that he's been chosen to defend humanity against an endless parade of demons. Hmm, interesting premise - how on earth did the writing team workshop it?

    You've got to let pass the first episode of a new series, of course, but the early signs are mixed. Neither the love interest nor "Mina Harker" are up to the sparky bickering the script requires of them. (I've only just realised that Mina was the chief witch in the Shakespeare episode of Doctor Who - I'll have to try not to hold that against her.) (EDIT: As I've since discovered, oh no she wasn't. Bit of a resemblance, but my memory was at fault. She was, however, the nurse character in Survivors.) Philip Glenister's American accent is already the stuff of legend, to the extent that they could make it the monster in a later episode of the series. Surely we've taken enough revenge for Dick Van Dyke now? Too early to say how the waxed-chested hero will pan out.

    Calling the demons "freaks" is a bit insensitive to us freaks, as is the hard line the first episode takes against them, but this is in line with the Buffy model, and we may confidently expect Luke to fall for a sympathetic female demon called Angela before the series is out. The handling of the Dracula references is actually one of the episode's two strong points, even if Luke is apparently descended from the Hugh Jackman superhero version of Van Helsing rather than Bram Stoker's version. The other strong point is Mackenzie Crook's quirky ivory-nosed villain, so it's a shame - and a surprise, given his prominence in the pre-show publicity - that they've already killed him off. Presumably they'll find some way to bring him back for the series finale, if not sooner. Perhaps it'll be like the end of Flash Gordon, with some sinister cackling and a gloved hand picking Crook's nose. Sorry, picking up Crook's nose. Couldn't resist.

    Plenty of ominous hints about Daddy Van Helsing's "accident", which are bound to pop up again in later episodes. Of course, we all know where they're going with this - a final episode confrontation with an evil demon version of Daddy VH. They've already broken out the Star Wars quotes, so it's not too much of a leap to expect "I am your father, Luke". Maybe they'll even bypass the Angela storyline and go straight for the family connection.

    Next week, Richard Wilson turns up. 5 points if he says "Are you my mummy?", minus 5 for "I don't believe it!"

    Also next week, another series of Dancing On Ice! Yikes! The routines get more complicated and more dangerous every year, as evidenced by the injuries sustained - this year there's already been a news item about one contestant splitting open his face in a fall, and the series hasn't even started yet. It's only a matter of time before we arrive at "The Ice-Dancing Man", in which criminals (and an action hero convicted of a crime he didn't commit, etc) have to run a gauntlet of in-house skating assassins to survive and win. I'm thinking Torvill and Dean armed with all the accessories from the inevitable "props" week, with all their edges sharpened. Yes, even the table.


    Darrel Manuel said...

    Toon's Alive!!!

    Well, obviously, I knew that, 'cause I got a text from you over Christmas. (Thanks by the way.)

    As for Christmas Doctor Who, I thought it was OK, though it had the usual RTD problems, though this probably isn't the place to get into them.

    That said, I will defend one little thing you picked on, in that I'm sure the Doctor said the Cybermen probably got the Infostamp about him from the Daleks in the Void. (Though this does give me slightly odd image of this supposed hell between the Universes in which various alien races are holding the equivalent of a car boot sale.)

    And having defended it, I will no pick on something you didn't mention, which was how on Earth did the CyberKing rise up out of the Thames like that? Or did I miss something, and the Thames in the DW universe is 30 stories deep?

    And come to that, why were they using children to give their engine a kick-start? They must have had a better power source. The one that let Infostamps blow up Cyberheads for a start. Would have made their plan a lot simpler. They wouldn't have needed to kill all those people at that funeral for a start.

    But that's enough for now, or else I'll go on all day.

    John Toon said...

    I wonder if the Void swap-meet is run by the same people who run that Robot Santa stall out past Mars.