Television

Doctor Who (2005) s03e06 – The Lazarus Experiment

What is this show’s problem with companions’ mothers? We briefly met new companion Freema Agyeman’s mom, Adjoa Andoh, in the season premiere and she seemed fine.

Nope.

She’s possibly even more annoying than previous companion’s mom Camille Coduri, which doesn’t even seem possible, but the episode manages it, with mystery dweeb Bertie Carvel warning Andoh against Doctor David Tennant. Even as Tennant is saving the world from literal monsters as well as explicitly saving Andoh’s daughters, both Agyeman and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Not to mention strangely henpecked son Reggie Yates. Tennant saves them all.

But Andoh doesn’t like him because he’s nerdy. Is Andoh okay with Mbatha-Raw’s creep boss, Mark Gatiss, who’s the villain and subject of the episode.

We open with Tennant bringing Agyeman home; she’s not his new companion, so she’s got to go home. And he manages to drop her off just twelve hours after picking her up, showing a far better control of time travel than he ever did with previous companion Billie Piper.

Of course, he’s also about to have conversations with Agyeman, which didn’t happen much with Piper.

Anyway. They see on the news how Gatiss is going to change the course of human history so Tennant decides to stick around.

They go to the presentation and Gatiss makes himself young—he starts in old age makeup—and then turns into a monster and decides to eat everyone. So Tennant has to save the day, while convincing the locals Gatiss is a monster—see, he can change back into his human persona after he feeds.

You think once he saves Andoh the second time she’s going to stop being so one-note but nope.

It’s strange the show had a first time writer—Stephen Greenhorn—handle establishing not just Agyeman’s supporting cast but also some kind of conspiracy against the doctor. Especially such a mediocre one. Greenhorn’s teleplay would do better if Gatiss were better—it’s a little much when he gets a Roy Batty moment just so he can artlessly mug—and Richard Clark’s direction’s fine.

Tennant, Agyeman, and Mbatha-Raw are all great.

And it’s significantly better than most Earth episodes, I suppose. Just imagine how much better it would be if the Andoh stuff weren’t bad and the monster didn’t look like mid-nineties video game CGI.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e05 – Evolution of the Daleks

Last episode I went in pretty hard on the British actors playing Americans but I think I may have emphasized accents too much. Hugh Quarshie’s accent isn’t bad. His performance is bad, his accent is fine. Whereas Andrew Garfield’s accent is bad and his performance is bad.

Though even Garfield seems like a strong supporting player when taking main guest star Eric Loren into account. Loren’s the Dalek-human hybrid. He’s got a head with a single eye and tentacles—short, thick, dreadlock tentacles. He’s pink. He looks like a “Simpsons” or “Futurama” alien. It never looks real, because exposed brain tissue would be a lot real, but it also looks lifeless even if it’s absurd. It’s distractingly bad.

Like, afternoon local access kids’ show bad.

But even as bad as the mask and makeup and whatever… Loren’s performance is eye-widening terrible. Uncomfortably terrible.

You feel bad for the other actors terrible. And the rest of the actors—even Garfield, much less Quarshie—are sympathetic because they’re trapped in this terrible episode.

The episode seems like some kids’ variety show, partially because of the production design, mostly because of James Strong’s direction. Strong doesn’t do good work here. He does better directing than Helen Raynor does writing, but it’s still rather wanting.

The exciting conclusion to the Daleks trying to take over the planet from 1930 New York and somehow continuing the Dalek race. David Tennant very quickly goes from being anti-Dalek to pro-Loren hybrid Dalek, which is terrible for a couple reasons. First, it means more Loren, second it means Tennant’s just part of some other character’s plot line. Will the regular Daleks behave when their leader is getting all human-y?

Freema Agyeman gets to play gal pal to lovesick Miranda Raison, which is a big waste. Also a big waste of Raison, who gets downgraded from her Doctor’s love interest spot from last episode.

I knew this episode would be a slog and, no surprise, a slog.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e04 – Daleks in Manhattan

So… Nicholas Briggs does do the Dalek voices in this episode. He’s been doing all of them, which is weird because the Dalek voices this episode are terrible and so… I figured it was other actors.

But no.

It’s Briggs.

And he’s terrible.

I was waiting for the Daleks to show up—they’re trying to take over 1930 Manhattan, using the Empire State Building’s construction to do something. It’s not particularly interesting, mostly because even with the potentially interesting setting, the episode plays more like a college stage production, where British actors get to try out their American accents while acting in front of green screens.

Including future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, who plays a Tennessee(!) youth who encounters the Doctor (David Tennant) and Martha (Freema Agyeman) as they hang out in Hooverville to solve disappearances among the Depression-ravaged residents. Hugh Quarshie plays Black king of melting pot Hooverville, which seems a little… I mean, it seems like it needs to come with citations if they’re going to do it. Because otherwise it seems like it’s painting in some inclusivity where there wasn’t any.

But then there’s not many bars Helen Raynor’s script clears. It’s a fairly bad script. Like, jarring, getting worse as it goes along. The Dalek dialogue seems like it’s just not written with the right ear (in addition to whatever’s going on with Briggs).

The episode introduces another female interest for Tennant—showgirl Miranda Raison, who sounds as New Yawk as Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk gets. So after having all this momentum with Agyeman and Tennant as a team, the episode keeps them together but gives Agyeman a lot less to do.

It’s disappointing. Though the episode looks like it was shot on a camcorder—maybe because there are so many period sets? Like, bigger the production, worse the video “stock”? So it always looks disappointing. Then it just disappoints overall.

The show’s quickly run out of goodwill with the Dalek episodes. They’ve gone from being a gem of a trope to a trope’s trope.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e03 – Gridlock

Really nice direction from Richard Clark this episode; really nice. It’s a strong episode overall, because it’s set out in space in the future, which are usually the best “Who” episodes (so far), but this episode manages to do it with a bunch of regular humans.

Well, not regular humans. 5 billion years removed new humans. This episode is another in the “The Face of Boe” subplot, which started in the first season with the Face of Boe (voiced by Struan Rodger) just appearing in background then figuring in last season (in an episode involving cat person nurse Anna Hope, who appears here again) and it finally gets something of a conclusion here.

But the Boe stuff is overarching—and seemingly for future episodes in at least the season—while the main action has Tennant deciding he’s not dropping off Freema Agyeman yet (with her consent) so they go to the far future and off to another world. Only it’s New Earth, which we didn’t get to see last time and this time it turns out it’s gone all dystopian and people are traveling on the freeway for years to go ten miles to the promised lands of the suburbs.

Pregnant young persons Travis Oliver and Lenora Crichlow kidnap Agyeman so they can get in the three-or-more lanes, which forces a panicking Tennant—he really does bring disaster to those around him—to travel through layers of flying cars. He’s got to drop between cars, which means introducing amusing supporting characters, and he’s got the cars he spends more time in, which means lots of good dystopian melodrama.

There are also kittens.

So it’s a very cute episode in some ways and terrifying in others, as Agyeman and Tennant discover the secrets of the New New York, which involve giant monsters.

Lots of good material for both Agyeman (who realizes the possible consequences of her time-traveling on a whim) and Tennant. And the way writer Russell T. Davies is developing their relationship is rather nice. Agyeman has to figure it all out on her own here, making her much more of a partner.

The thing about Tennant lying to Agyeman about his home planet being destroyed is a little bit of a stretch though. It’s like Tennant’s biggest concern—she’s going to die before he can tell her the truth, not she’s going to die.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e02 – The Shakespeare Code

I was expecting more from The Shakespeare Code. Dean Lennox Kelly’s Shakespeare is rather wanting. The characterization of it all seems more Knight’s Tale than anything historical or original. There are numerous quotations throughout, usually David Tennant making a quip and Kelly saying he’s going to keep it and Tennant (or Freema Agyeman) worrying they gave Kelly the idea. There are more time travel timeline conundrum conversations in this episode than there have been in the previous twenty episodes. “Doctor Who,” we find out, operates on something akin to the Back to the Future model.

It’s one of the numerous shrugs in the episode, along with Kelly’s womanizing Shakespeare setting his sights on Agyeman, excited by her being a Black woman. We’ve also already had the “is it safe for me to be a Black woman here” conversation, which the show blows off awkwardly, especially given it’s about to be an issue with Kelly. Had “Doctor Who” really not had to think about race on the show until 2007? It’s striking since “Star Trek: The Animated Series” dealt with almost the exact same fetishization thing in the seventies.

The story involves witches trying to use Shakespeare’s words to unlock the end times. It’s a “magic is just science you don’t understand” bit of melodrama, with some occasionally rather scary witch sequences.

If Kelly were better and Gareth Roberts’s script were better, director Charlie Palmer might’ve had a winning little horror episode but it doesn’t really work out. It goes too big for the finale—they’re a tad too comfortable with their CGI—but, otherwise, the witch stuff is good. Christina Cole’d be a great villain if the episode didn’t waste so much time with Kelly.

What’s particularly funny about it is painfully the show wants to make Shakespeare cool and he’s really just a bro.

It makes Tennant fawning over him a little odd.

Speaking of fawning… the show name-drops J.K. Rowling quite painfully.

Anyway.

Agyeman and Tennant are fun on her one trip in the TARDIS—she’s not a companion yet—but it’s more of a fail than not.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e01 – Smith and Jones

New only-other-billed actor (but technically not the new companion yet) Freema Agyeman guest starred at the end of last season but is playing a different character here. Thank goodness. Agyeman is a medical resident, so it’s going to be the Doctor and a doctor going forward, which is a lot better than a vague IT tech (her previous role). She’s just trying to go about her very regular day—running into an energetic David Tennant on her way to work—and then finding him again when she’s doing her medical rounds. Only he doesn’t remember her.

Or does he remember her. It’s unclear. We’ve spent the episode setup with Agyeman—meeting her entire supporting cast, in what seems to be the show promising they’re going to be entertaining and not annoying like a certain someone’s supporting cast—and the episode does take a while to shift the narrative distance back to the familiar Tennant one. The much bigger emphasis is on Agyeman. And it’s great.

The show itself seems thrilled to have her. Meanwhile, Tennant’s still sad about Rose going—the episode’s an indeterminate period after the Runaway Bride special—but then the episode’s like, look how much more fun we can have with Agyeman and Tennant than we ever did with Tennant and Billie Piper. Why is Russell T. Davies all of a sudden writing a much stronger female character? Well, basically because it’s the character establishing and it’s a lot easier to establish a stronger female character than to build one up from “shop girl.”

The story’s also great—a bunch of intergalactic mercenaries has transported Agyeman’s hospital (including Tennant) to the moon so they can search it for a rogue alien. Presumably not Tennant. It could also be evil patient Anne Reid, who’s absolutely fantastic. The mercenaries are rhino-faced aliens, which works out awesome (especially the budgetary gymnastics).

Not great special effects but sometimes quite good direction from Charlie Palmer, and a great energy thanks to Agyeman—and to the more fun approach to the action.

Now, hopefully they can keep up the momentum.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e00 – The Runaway Bride

How does the Doctor (this time David Tennant) usually respond to his companion leaving the show for, presumably, their own projects? Does it matter if you inherent your companion from the last Doctor? Have English school teachers been reading themes on this subject for decades now?

I’m vaguely curious about “Who” canon stuff. Not enough to Google. I’m willing to go into it as tabula rosa as possible.

So I didn’t know there was a Christmas episode between seasons two and three and I gave myself a bit of a spoiler for next season (but not worse than the preview at the end of Runaway Bride).

Runaway Bride does not feature a new companion for Tennant, rather a done-in-one sidekick, in this case the Bride (who’s not actually running away), played by Catherine Tate. The episode does not feature any appearances by anyone left behind last season, but it does take place immediately following the climactic events. So Tennant’s in a seriously bad mood this episode. Presumably. Again, we don’t get any idea how he’s experiencing the loss, not really.

But Tate’s the perfect foil for his mourning. We get to see Tennant acting opposite a much fuller performance than usual, getting to see that the Doctor and the guest star chemistry only with the companion. Tennant’s did his best with sidekick slash love interest slash ward slash protege Billie Piper but the show never delivered on the pair’s initial promise.

So it’s an inglorious postscript farewell to Piper.

Like she got her farewell two-parter and it was nice and all but give them a few months and writer Russell T. Davies is showing the promise of a stronger female character opposite Tennant.

Tate and Tennant are great.

The story’s about her getting transwarp beamed from her wedding to the TARDIS. Tennant gets Tate back to groom Don Gilet all right—albeit a little late—and then it turns out there’s a giant star-looking space ship (you know, for Christmas) attacking the Earth and Tennant’s going to need her help to save the world.

Bad villain though. It doesn’t seem to be Sarah Parish’s fault as much the part itself. Parish’s an energy vampire. Might have to do with the special effects too.

But a good, fun episode. The show’s got a much less lethargic tone than it did towards the end of last season, lot more slapstick. Davies has finally decided it should actually be fun instead of pretending to be fun.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e13 – Doomsday

The BBC does market research, don’t they? I’d love to see what their “Doctor Who” market research says as far as target audience. For instance, this episode—the momentous, earth-shattering (literally?) season finale, which will change the Doctor (David Tennant) forever–has the many experienced heroes, including ostensible eccentric space and time genius Tennant, completely flummoxed over an object.

Over a Dalek-shaped object.

It’s like writer Russell T. Davies remained really confused over the beginning of Superman: The Movie into adulthood instead of asking about it when he was… oh, geez, he was fifteen. No, no, not much chance there.

Hopefully he’s just trying for the tween male viewership.

Though it is the first “Doctor Who” to confuse me… I’m still not sure if the Cybermen and the humans team up to fight the Daleks. If so it’s a very short team-up. Maybe it was a coincidence.

Anyway.

The episode’s less about the (limited budget) invasion of the planet Earth from extra-dimensional aliens and more about getting the pieces in order for a cast change. But what kind of cast change… even though the episode still has Billie Piper narrating her last adventure, there are always possibilities.

Wait, wrong franchise.

We also learn it’s been three years since Piper and Tennant left Noel Clarke in an alternate reality where he could feign macho convincingly. It was like four or six episodes ago? The second half of season two has a three year present action. Is there a chart for the timelines? It’s like the show’s made for rerunning out of order.

Shaun Dingwall’s back because the alternate universe is back but he’s a drag in the alternate universe and continues to be a drag this episode.

Piper gets to face off with some Daleks.

Then there’s the big finale, which is effective and surprising and then Davies keeps beating the stick against it until you’re just relieved when it’s all finally over, who cares the casualties.

And then there’s an immediate setup for the next season.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e12 – Army of Ghosts

One Earth episode without Camille Coduri was clearly too much so she doesn’t just appear in this one, she also pretends to be daughter Rose (Billie Piper) and play companion to David Tennant. Coduri and Tennant don’t grate as sharply as one might’ve feared (hard to imagine her and Christopher Eccleston stuck together so much for an episode subplot)….

But I’m forgetting the most important part—the episode opens with Piper narrating. This story is the last one she’s ever going to tell (not really, because there’s a cliffhanger, so she’s referring to a two-part story). During the resulting flashback montage, Eccleston shows up for about two seconds (and not his face); does all “Who” ignore previous Doctors or is it just with Eccleston? If so, rather inglorious.

After the intro montage and narration setup, Tennant and Piper go to present-day Earth so Piper can visit Coduri and get her laundry done. Sleeping arrangements and laundry facilities on the TARDIS… are they ever discussed?

Right away, Tennant and Piper know something’s wrong because the Earth is now visited on a regular basis by ghosts. Investigating leads them to the mysterious Torchwood Institute, run by a game but too thinly written Tracy Ann Oberman, who are actually causing the ghosts by punching holes in the universe or something.

Doesn’t matter. What matters is Tennant knows they’re not ghosts—doesn’t say how he knows, “Who”’s de facto atheist, after all—and he tries to get Oberman to knock it off and do some investigating.

Unfortunately, we—the audience—know the Cybermen are back as they’ve slowly been taking over Oberman’s staff, principally Freema Agyeman and Hadley Fraser, who are conspiring to do something. Will Tennant be able to save the day, even though he’s got Coduri at his side so Piper can investigate on her own?

Not sure, because it’s a cliffhanger. It’s also a bit of old home week for Piper, because the Cybermen aren’t the only ones back from another dimension….

Noel Clarke’s back, playing tough again.

Clarke’s not good tough, but he’s a lot better tough than whiney.

Better than I was expecting direction from Graeme Harper, on par writing from Russell T. Davies (on par for Russell T. Davies, I mean).

The bookend is annoying and the cliffhanger reveal’s a trope.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e11 – Fear Her

For an Earth episode, especially one with a strangely disjointed narrative with dueling MacGuffins, Fear Her is okay. There’s not a very high bar for the Earth episodes so getting to see David Tennant and Billie Piper doing an ad for the 2012 Olympics in London. They show up—six years into Piper’s future—to watch the games, but land of a street where kids have been disappearing lately.

It’s a bit of a race to see who’s going to take the lead on the investigation—Tennant or Piper, as she’s finally coming into her own (again)—and we quickly learn there’s something weird going on with (only Black kid on the block) Abisola Agbaje. By we in this case, I mean the audience, because we find out right away Agbaje is vanishing kids and turning them into living drawings or something, while her mom, Nina Sosanya, doesn’t want to see there’s a problem.

But it also doesn’t take Piper and Tennant much time to figure it out either. And once they do, the episode kind of spins its wheels but in a fairly nice way. Tennant’s good with the family drama and Piper’s effective worrying about the missing kids.

And Euros Lyn’s directing so when the episode gets around to putting Agbaje in danger, it’s well-executed danger.

The big twist is… fine. It’s not actually a big twist and the show can’t figure out a way to pretend otherwise. Then writer Matthew Graham (an experienced TV writer and show creator—the great “Life on Mars”) just does some wonky fan service, Anglophilia thing. Before some padding with Tennant and Piper being such great pals because just as Piper feels like they’re going to be a great team forever… Tennant feels a great disturbance—and fears something terrible is going to happen.

Then we get the very spoiler-y preview of the season finale.

Again, it’s a qualified okay episode—it’s an Earth episode without the bad stuff but also without any of the good stuff in the actual good Earth episodes. It’s nice getting Tennant and Piper just doing a regular adventure.

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