Doctor Who (2005)

Doctor Who (2005) s01e08 – Father’s Day

I went into Father’s Day with high hopes; Joe Ahearne directing, Paul Cornell writing. I remember hearing about the episode (albeit vaguely) when it first aired because I knew Cornell’s comic book writing. So I went into the episode full of goodwill.

It’s all about the obvious kid going and saving their dead parent thing the show somehow pretends isn’t obvious. The episode opens with a flashback to Camille Coduri telling a young version of Billie Piper, played by Julia Joyce, about how her dad died when she was a baby. Then it cuts to this truncated cold open with Piper now asking Christopher Eccleston to take her to her parents’ wedding. Or something. To at least see her dad, played by Shaun Dingwall.

Once Piper’s seen the wedding, she wants to go hold Dingwall’s hand after he’s been hit by a car and is dying. Coduri’s already established Dingwall dies alone and it’s something Coduri’s really sad about her entire life apparently.

Except Piper’s not going there to comfort dying Dingwall, she’s going there to save him, which eventually results in time demons attacking London. The show hasn’t done the “don’t un-kill people” warnings, which has been kind of nice, but the pseudo-rift Piper’s action causes between her and Eccleston is one of the episode’s many fails. There’s a lot of crisis stuff with the cast, as Eccleston and Piper help the eighties folks barricade themselves into a church while Dingwall slowly comes to understand what’s going on.

But there’s also… Eccleston getting to needle Coduri in the past, which doesn’t play, Eccleston being nice to new bride and groom Natalie Jones and Frank Rozelaar-Green, which does play for some reason, in addition to Eccleston being mad at Piper, Piper being weird around Coduri (and Coduri hating Piper), and then the obvious Dingwall and Piper stuff.

It’s packed.

And none of the important threads connect.

The time demon sequence is intense and Dingwall’s excellent, but whatever they thought they were doing, they don’t. It should be a singular and instead it’s pedestrian.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e07 – The Long Game

This first half of this episode is really strong. The second half, not so much. Even after stunt guest star Simon Pegg gets better in the second half it’s not any better. Writer Russell T. Davies doesn’t have a good resolution for the episode’s intrigue and no matter how effectively executed the suspense gets—Brian Grant’s direction is quite good—it has a very soft landing.

Especially thanks to Bruno Langley, who’s back from last episode as Billie Piper’s “love” interest. Given the episode starts with her deciding he’s not a suitable love interest, it’s hard to see why Piper would care if he’s around. Especially after she and Eccleston team back up, meeting future humans—the year 20,000 or something—Christine Adams and Anna Maxwell Martin. Eccleston thinks he knows where they are in the future, but things don’t seem to be just right. Humanity’s not meant to be living in crappy conditions on satellites with data ports built into their brains to broadcast the news or whatever. They’re supposed to be all about the arts.

The most successful plot thread involves Eccleston upset Adams honest care more about her profession and tries to get her to think like a reporter; Adams is good. She and Eccleston have the chemistry Piper and Langley need.

Except then it turns out Langley’s got a subplot of his own, involving second stunt guest star Tamsin Greig, and Langley proves to be just as much of a drag solo as when in a group. The subplot’s entirely predictable and sort of surprisingly well-intentioned but it’s a not executed well. Langley’s either miscast or Davies doesn’t have the story down.

The ending is pretty funny though.

Not the big action-packed resolution—which is visually a fine spectacle, though it does seem like a distraction from the lack of a good story—but the postscript, where it turns out Davies has been building up to a joke most of the episode.

It’s uneven, which is frustrating; it’d have been a lot nicer if it’d been in pieces at the beginning and put itself together for the end instead.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e06 – Dalek

Okay, this one requires some disclaimers. First, when I watched the last episode and saw the preview of this one, I thought it looked terrible. Like, rolling my eyes terrible. Second, I was visually familiar with the Daleks from growing up in the eighties and whatever. I thought they were silly and decidedly not cool.

Having now seen Dalek, I can confirm they are decidedly not silly as well as not cool. They’re also a terrifying, phenomenal alien villain race. And astonishingly bad-ass. The episode’s great—going into Christopher Eccleston’s hatred of the Daleks when unexpectedly confronted by one while Billie Piper’s got sympathy for the alien, so there’s a lot of great character development and so on—but it’s also got a series of amazing action sequences with the Dalek. Even on the reduced budget (director Joe Ahearne does a fantastic job, with the same director of photography, Ernest Vincze, who’s light the worst episodes now doing fine), the Dalek attacking soldier after soldier and person after person… it’s also horrifying. So good.

The entire episode. So good. Robert Shearman’s script is outstanding, finding just the right balances with the Dalek stuff–including humor—and stays strong all the way to the finish.

Eccleston and Piper get thrown off course at the start, finding themselves six years in the future—2012—and in a sort of museum of alien objects. American businessman Corey Johnson—imagine a macho version of Mark Zuckerberg, but filtered through 2006 Steve Ballmer–it’s not entirely successful but it’s interesting while it’s not successful and then once Johnson’s working against his own survival, it’s awesome so it’s all fine.

The “it’s all fine” elements include Anna-Louise Plowman not being able to keep her American accent—new Piper love interest Bruno Langley gets to play a Brit even though it’s set in Utah. The show doesn’t seem to have Piper’s romantic life figured—she’s got zero chemistry with Langley and roll her eyes whenever Eccleston jokes with her about it. But it doesn’t matter because once Piper runs into the Dalek, it just gets great.

There are optics to Piper replacing brown-skinned former boyfriend with nerdy White guy Langley but Piper was so chemistry-free with the last one and even more so with Langley… if it was intentional, it was a fail.

Anyway. So good. Eccleston’s amazing, Piper’s great… Nicholas Briggs is awesome as the Dalek.

Dalek aims high and succeeds over and over. Just fantastic stuff.

Writer Shearman, director Ahearne, Eccleston, Piper, Briggs, they do some superior work here.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e05 – World War Three

Digital video in the mid-aughts was still very rough. Around the time World War Three came out, some of the best DV cinematography wasn’t being done in film or television but in art and technical schools, as creatives were figuring out how to best light for the medium.

In other words, I understand why cinematographer Ernest Vincze shoots such an ugly hour of television. I don’t understand Keith Boak’s direction. Like, seriously, an out of focus foreground or background character in crappy DV… But I do get Vincze’s limitations.

The episode is full of them. The aliens go from disquieting giant suits to terrible CGI. You can even see the models reused in different effects shots. Vincze doesn’t even have the budget—or, let’s just say it, ability—to light the composites well. World War Three takes a big swing and a big miss as far as the visuals.

The story’s not much better. Christopher Eccleston resolves the previous episode’s cliffhanger quite perfunctorily and then there’s a lot of chasing—there are aliens chasing Eccleston, aliens chasing Bille Piper and Penelope Wilton (who almost makes the episode worth it), and aliens chasing Piper’s mum, Camille Coduri. Sadly, Coduri teams up with Noel Clarke and they work remotely to help Eccleston save the world.

Coduri’s not great. Her character’s bad but she’s also not great. Clarke’s real bad. So having Coduri around him the whole episode doesn’t help. Though the terrible subplot about Coduri wanting Eccleston to assure her Piper is safe as his companion is all on Coduri. And writer Russell T. Davies. It’s not quite a “Martha” moment but it’s in the same vending machine. Davies’s resolution to the dilemma is an eye roller.

The episode hinges on various deuses ex machina to get to its conclusion, which is sort of an extension of the first episode. It’s kind of a real stinker, thanks primarily to Boak and Clarke; Corduri is collateral damage.

The ending, which resets the stakes to where they were before the two-parter with a little change—oh, also—we find out Piper’s phone accepts incoming calls, which means the entirely twelve months she was missing, neither Corduri or Clarke tried calling her. Like… what.

Anyway. The ending threatens to make things worse, then returns them to the status quo.

I really hope Boak takes next episode off. I can’t handle any more Boak right now.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e04 – Aliens of London

Director Keith Boak is back and it’s obvious from go some of the problem with Boak-directed episodes is Boak’s a bad director. Some of the problems are budgetary, but Boak and cinematographer Ernest Vincze even make the non-effects stuff look like bad digital video. There’s an anti-suspense suspense sequence involving sympathetic coroner Naoko Mori, who finds herself trapped in the morgue with an alien. Vincze throws all these goofy lights at her to cover for Boak’s complete inability to direct the sequence.

The episode starts with Christoper Eccleston bringing Billie Piper back to “the present” (meaning Piper’s present) so she can check in with mum Camille Coduri. We immediately discover last episode wasn’t a fluke and Eccleston really can’t control when the TARDIS jumps in time. Later in the episode he does a fairly precise teleportation, so the problem seems to be fourth dimensional, not first through third. It’s kind of obnoxious watching them goof off with the absurdly silly navigation system on the TARDIS—has it been updated since 1963. Is it a series trope? Like the Enterprise crew “spinning” 360 degrees?

Eccleston gets Piper home a year late, after Coduri has given up hope for her safe return and after Piper’s boyfriend, the just-as-charmless-as-last-time Noel Clarke, has been a suspect in her disappearance. Cue drama. Cue more drama once Coduri finds out about Eccleston.

But Piper and Coduri having a showdown isn’t the episode, the episode is an alien spacecraft crash-landing into the Thames. The government response involves a missing Prime Minister, an inquisitive Penelope Wilton (who makes the episode given how bad everything else works), and a flatulent replacement PM, David Verrey. In fact, most of the melodrama hinges on… fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes.

Really bad CG aliens eventually show up and everyone’s in danger. Cue cliffhanger.

It’s occasionally well-acted and Wilton’s a delight, but the bad direction and photography, Clarke being an energy vampire, and so on….

It’s needlessly tiring.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e03 – The Unquiet Dead

So the time and space machine is imprecise? Is that a “Doctor Who” thing? They bumble through the time? Because this episode is supposed to be Billie Piper getting to see nineteenth century Christmas in Naples or someplace but instead they end up in Cardiff (Cardiff gets a lot of deriding this episode); so can Christopher Eccleston just not fly the TARDIS?

Because the viewer already knows they’re not going to Naples because the zombies are in Cardiff. This episode’s about Charles Dickens (a wonderful Simon Callow) getting his proverbial groove back thanks to Eccleston trying to stop a bunch of zombies from doing their thing, as they reincarnate in a funeral parlor run by Alan David and Eve Myles.

There’s a forced twisty plot—writer Mark Gatiss does a low fine job but it’s all about the actors so it doesn’t matter—and nice direction from Euros Lyn. Piper bonds with nineteenth century Myles, who can’t imagine being a lady of the future and whatnot. Myles is great. She can’t help but be overshadowed by Callow, who’s so good as Charles Dickens, Zombie Hunter, they should’ve given him a spin-off.

The problem with the episode’s the finish, when Eccleston and company don’t seem to realize they’re at fault for all the tragedy. Their bad advice. Though it seems much more like Gatiss’s fault.

We get to hear some more about both Piper and Eccleston’s past—she’s got a “big bad wolf” in her personal history (Myles is psychic, which the episode uses well as it builds to a plot point) and Ecclestone’s alien race, The Time Lords, apparently hurt some noncombatants in the Time War, or something.

Piper gets to show some agency but it’s not well-written agency, so it’s a false step.

The first half is much better than the second, though Callow makes it more than worthwhile. Myles is still good, just not good enough—given the material—to hold the thing up. Callow does, however. Overall, it’s fine, if a little pat.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e02 – The End of the World

This episode is so much better than the previous one. So much better. And the only difference, besides setting and it not introducing a new lead character (Billie Piper), is a different director (Euros Lyn). Or maybe writer Russell T. Davies just had much better ideas for this one? Though the special effects are also “better,” quotation marks because it’s a bunch of exterior space shots, which don’t involve the main characters. It’s just pragmatic exposition shots of the sun about to Krypton Earth.

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) has brought Piper to the end of the time, at least as far as time goes for planet Earth; they’re going to watch its destruction some five billion years in the future. It’s a seemingly budgetary choice, with Eccleston teasing Piper with possible stops in the future—but she never gets to get out of the TARDIS (okay, weird thing about “Doctor Who,” the absurd jargon is catchy). Instead, they go way way into the future so they don’t need to do exteriors and instead the action takes place on this spaceship—viewing platform—where a bunch of rich future people (people meaning aliens) have paid to watch the Earth get zapped by an adjusting sun. There’s a lot of exposition about how the future works, but it’s mostly just blather, some of it amusing, some of it diverting, all of it usually amiably delivered by Eccleston.

Eccleston’s a lot better this episode—Piper’s the main improvement, acting-wise, as she goes from a very low middling to fantastic as the weight of the reality she’s experiencing hits her. She’s five billion years in the future. She’s meeting all these alien races—Eccleston calls her a racist in response to her pointing out he had the TARDIS change her brain chemistry to allow her to understand alien languages, so it’s good to see the Doctor’s a man—and the Earth is about to die. Even though everyone she knows is five billion years dead. Though Eccleston does outfit her phone with a new SIM card (taking her off AT&T?), allowing her to call through time and space and talk to mum Camille Coduri.

The main plot, involving sabotage, is rather nicely executed and quite winding. Eccleston gets a love interest—an excellent Yasmin Bannerman—and Piper makes her first alien friend, Beccy Armory, and her first future human enemy, Zoë Wanamaker.

It’s really quite good. If they were all like this episode, I’d be closer to understanding the “Who” enthusiasm.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e01 – Rose

I am not a “Doctor Who” person. I’ve known some “Doctor Who” people, I count good friends as “Doctor Who” people. But there’s no way to talk about this show without prefacing with… I don’t get it. I still don’t get it. It’s like you have to be a certain kind of anglophile. What’s the Venn diagram on “Monty Python” and “Doctor Who”? Then with Quatermass and Hammer.

And this viewing is my second attempt to watch “Doctor Who (2005)” or whatever it’s official designation versus the old “Doctor Who.”

The first time was in 2005, when we were seeing television’s successful mainstreaming of season-long story arcs with “Lost,” “Veronica Mars,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “The Shield.” Basic cable and UPN, oh my. So an awesome new “Doctor Who” was just what, ahem, the Doctor ordered. Do people make Who puns? Is the title itself just a pun? There’s fifty-seven years of “Who” lore. I couldn’t keep track of it as a kid just hearing about the show much less watching it.

This episode is full of puns. It’s full of puns, terrible editing (Mike Jones), and directing (Keith Boak). I remembered where I stopped watching the episode the first time I tried, which was already a significant ask for me because I’m a hard pass on Christopher Eccleston. I think I would’ve tried “Who” after 28 Days Later so I never would’ve been more positive on Eccleston. That oversized jacket thing didn’t age well.

Eccleston’s comic timing is better than sidekick Billie Piper—who’s either going to become Eccleston’s familiar or companion or something; the Doctor’s always got a Watson, or so I remember thinking in my youth (based on second-hand information).

The episode’s about plastic coming to life and trying to take over the planet. It’s more complicated, but basically there are these mannequins chasing and attacking Piper and Eccleston. They look like those B.O.B. dummies. It’d be disquieting if Boak’s direction weren’t bad or if the tone weren’t kind of silly. Campy. Is it supposed to feel campy? But, like, that British campy.

What’s the Venn on “Who” and Benny Hill, or “Who” and “Mr Bean.”

But apparently there’s going to be great acting on this show in later seasons from different actors so I need to stay positive.

Noel Clarke plays Piper’s boyfriend. He’s annoying. Piper’s writing is really thin in what’s essentially a scream queen part so far. Camille Coduri (who’s familiar because she was in two movies I saw when I was twelve, apparently) is okay as Piper’s mom. Not great writing but Coduri’s good. Mark Benton’s great as an in-world “Doctor Who” fanboy.

Also… are the special effects supposed to be bad? 2005 it could’ve been either way. But this episode multiple times feels like a lower rent Terminator 2 just fourteen years of technology later. Like, are they supposed to be silly?

The show’s perplexing.

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