Tuesday, March 8, 2016

TV Review: Doctor Who, Series 9, Part 1

Doctor Who, Series 9, Part 1 created by Sydney Newman and produced by Steven Moffat

After a few seasons of declining writing quality, this series opens with a great scene. A small boy is caught in the midst of a battle. He and a comrade wander into a dirt field where a hand pops up out of the ground and drags the friend down. The boy stands still as more and more hands pop out of the ground. Then the TARDIS shows up and the Doctor gives one of his great speeches about how he's going to save the boy. He asks the boy his name. The panic-stricken child looks up and says, "Davros." Yes, the Davros who creates the Daleks--the Doctor's number one enemy. The Doctor is taken aback and the opening credits start. This is the best opening they've had in years.

Sadly, the two-part episode is full of hits and misses. The Doctor winds up on Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks. The old Davros is dying and wants one last tussle with his arch-nemesis before going. Companion Clara and the female incarnation of The Master (known as Missy) are along for the ride, providing some comic relief and dramatic moments. Dealing with death is a major theme in this series and this episode has some interesting ideas in that department. In other departments, the ideas are not good. The depiction of Dalek civilization is not quite convincing and the Doctor's replacement of the sonic screwdriver with sonic sunglasses is really weak (as is his sudden penchant for playing electric guitar). The actors are great, the writing is sub-par.

Episodes three and four (another two-parter) has a ghost story set in an underwater base. The people on the base found a spaceship with some missing bits and strange writing on the interior. An ethereal figure wanders the halls of the base only during their night cycle, leading them to call it a ghost. That one ghost becomes many as cast members die during the episode. The base is in the middle of a town that was flooded when a dam burst. The Doctor goes back to before the town was flooded to find out more about the spaceship, leaving Clara and some of the base staff to hold off the ghosts. The story reflects more about death but has too many bits that are recycled from other stories, even other Doctor Who episodes (how many isolated bases have been stalked by monsters in Doctor Who? They just did the same thing in the 2014 Christmas episode with Nick Frost as Santa Claus--three episodes prior to this story!). Ho-hum.

The final two-part story has the Doctor granting immortality to a young Viking women in the first episode. In the second episode it's 800 years later and she is a very different, very darker person. She's had to deal with the mortality of everyone else around her and can barely remember (or doesn't want to remember) her days with the Vikings. So the dealing with death theme is present again, though they don't say much original. The monsters in the two episodes are generic baddies with zero depth. So the episodes are dramatically average and the new theme, dealing with death, has apparently already played out.

It's a shame that the writing is so lackluster, because Peter Capaldi is fun as the Doctor and would be great if he had better material to work with. Jenna Coleman as Clara does a fine job but her character is becoming more and more just an extension of the Doctor (e.g., she gives big inspiring speeches to characters or she outthinks bad guys) rather than her own person.

I'm going back to getting classic episodes on DVD from the library until I hear that about some new ideas that aren't bad ones (like the sonic sunglasses) in the new shows.

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