Doctor Who (2005)

Doctor Who (2005) s03e10 – Blink

Blink is apparently not a backdoor pilot to a “Doctor Who” spin-off where recognizable cast—in this case Carey Mulligan on her way up—interacts with the world of Doctor Who without necessarily having to do a lot of scenes with David Tennant. Or Freema Agyeman, who’s second-billed but feels like she left the show and everything is to pretend she didn’t.

Mulligan is a single young Londoner who takes photographs of sad things because doing so makes her happy who discovers a surprising message from “The Doctor” somewhere there can’t possibly be a message. Especially not one for her.

She gets her pal, Lucy Gaskell, to go look again at the message on the wall—which warns of “weeping angels,” these stone statues all around the abandoned, haunted house Mulligan is investigating. Also investigating is fetching young copper Michael Obiora, who’s got all sorts of chemistry with Mulligan. It’s actually an obscene amount of chemistry and amazing the show’s able to get away with it. Technically speaking, the only thing wrong with the episode is Murray Gold’s music. Hettie Macdonald’s direction is fantastic. She totally gets the episode through the concept episode setup and does an excellent job with the actors. It’s a bummer there’s not a romcom spin-off for Mulligan and Finlay Robertson, who plays Gaskell’s DVD rental shop owning brother. Robertson finds evidence of “The Doctor” on various DVD Easter egg hidden features. It’s a weird way to date the episode.

I wonder what kind of special features this season had as far as Easter eggs. Mind you, Agyeman doesn’t appear in any of those Easter eggs segments, which are Tennant apparently answering unheard questions. It’s quirky but not successful. Especially not given Agyeman’s not around because—we later find out—she’s working in a shop to support Tennant as they’re trapped in the past.

So basically the episode is a “Doctor Who” episode like if they made a “VHS board game,” cut out the interactive parts and threw in footage from a different movie. In this case, Mulligan’s murderous weeping angel statues.

It’s a bunch of randomly excellent pieces baked into an outstanding whole.

Until the jaw-dropping bad end stinger. It’s a disaster.

But mostly a big win for Mulligan, Macdonald, and writer Steven Moffat.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e09 – The Family of Blood

So I thought this episode—wrapping up a two-parter about the Doctor (David Tennant) turning himself into a human so as to avoid some aliens who are hunting him and losing himself in early 1900s England—wasn’t going to get any worse after Tennant, having regained his memory and alien… superpowers (sure, okay), asks his human love interest, Jessica Hynes, who he no longer can feel the same way about, if she’d like to join him on the TARDIS.

In order to have this moment, the episode needs to ignore the following. First, Hynes is an early 20th century racist White woman who has been overtly racist to Freema Agyeman. We don’t get to see Tennant and Agyeman reunite, not really, even though she’s spent two episodes catering to his similarly racist White 20th century man when he didn’t have his memory back and had to keep him (and his lady) alive while he was ready to surrender the secrets of the universe to the bad guys. The human Tennant. Because he was a dipstick.

Second, Hynes has already rejected him in his alien capacity. Not just because Tennant no longer loves her—it was a fairly chemistry-absent love in the first place—but also because we’ve done the “the Doctor’s a violent, cruel guy” actually reveal in this episode. The Doctor is willing to do the violence so others don’t have to… which even figures in with the pre-WWI boys school militarization thing—macho imperial British jingoism in 2007—there’s a lot wrong with this episode and the previous one, it’s just not worth going through all the things. Even if they are fascinatingly dated for their time period.

Third, there’s no impression Tennant has checked with Agyeman about Hynes joining them. Like. Two episodes about Tennant being apathetic to the companion and he’s just as apathetic as before. Even though he remembers everything from the human phase, including Agyeman confessing her love. So he’s intentionally cruel.

But fourth, it doesn’t matter because the episode manages to get worse with the Saving Private Ryan postscript.

It’s a big episode full of bad ideas. Agyeman ends up as dissed a companion as Billie Piper and, even more striking, Tennant’s stopped being enough of a draw on his own.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e08 – Human Nature

I didn’t have a great feeling when I saw Paul Cornell with the writing credit but I forced myself to be hopeful. Plus, Charlie Palmer directing, surely it would be all right. What’s the worst Cornell would do, another overly melodramatic time waster… And, yes, he does do another overly melodramatic time waster only this time he does it while taking away the Doctor and replacing him with a human.

Still David Tennant, which you’d think would make it okay, but strangely… David Tennant playing an early twentieth century racist, sexist, elitist, warmongering British school teacher isn’t as amusing as watching Tennant play the Doctor. Especially not when Freema Agyeman, a Black woman living in a more racist, sexist, and elitist time now too, has all her memories and it’s her job to babysit Tennant until they can go back to their day jobs.

The episode opens with an intentionally confusing sequence—which, frankly, was the ice skates on the Bat boots and is when you toss the script—but we gradually find out Tennant is hiding himself as a human, lost in time, trying to avoid these aliens who are after him. Agyeman’s job is to look after him until the short-lived aliens die off.

It’s all very humane.

Timelorde.

Anyway.

What no one counted on was Tennant falling in love with school nurse Jessica Hynes.

I’m not sure how it played in 2007, but Tennant going back in time as a White man and falling for a White woman who then proceeds to be overtly racist to Agyeman, leading to Tennant backing up Hynes… I mean, there are optics to it. Especially since Agyeman—who, let’s not forget, started this season as a doctor herself—is reduced to mooning over Tennant to fellow maid Rebekah Staton.

Some trivia—Cornell based the teleplay on his Dr. Who novel of the same title (which started as fan fiction so score Paul Cornell, I guess). Also of note is a new producer, Susie Liggat.

Unfortunately, neither Liggat’s producing or Cornell’s writing are very impressive but… at least there seem to be some obvious reasons it’s not good. In addition to it being a rip of the fireplace episode from last season just double-sized.

And Hynes being a chemistry vacuum.

The worst part is it’s a two-parter because it can’t even just be over.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e07 – 42

There have to be TV shows where they unintentionally duplicate episodes. Soap operas, whatever. The same plot must get repeated. Unintentionally. Because it very obviously happens intentionally, such as with 42, which is a riff on a great two-parter from last season, only without anything similarly great.

Like, if you’re going to remake something… don’t remake something great and do a middling job of it. It doesn’t help the supporting cast is wanting. It doesn’t help it’s a horror episode with a director who can’t do horror. Though Graeme Harper’s direction is rather wanting overall.

It also has, maybe, a reveal from a “Star Trek” episode. Maybe. It’s from something—and it was used again in an excellent Mike Carey Barbarella comic—but last season’s original version of 42 was also a riff on something else. Riffing on riffs in genre is fine… just have something to do with it. Writer Chris Chibnall has got zip. Oh, wait, he gives Freema Agyeman a love interest—William Ash—but just a temporary one. I guess Ageyman gets a substantive subplot to herself, leaving David Tennant to deal with the more wanting supporting actors. Ash is at least cute (ish), whereas Tennant’s hanging out with captain Michelle Collins (her ship is falling into the black hole… sun, sorry, sun). Collins is… miscast. The part’s not good, Harper’s direction’s not good, but it does seem like Collins is supposed to be doing something more in the part and it never clicks. It’s peculiar.

Or maybe I was just remembering how good the actors were in the previous version of this episode.

Either way… Collins and Tennant are not magic together or even mildly amusing like Agyeman and Ash.

There’s a do-it-yourself Cyclops (X-Men Cyclops) thing going on with the possessed astronauts. Or whatever they’re called. Doesn’t matter.

It’s a pointless episode but should be a lot better.

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.

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