Ernest Vincze

Doctor Who (2005) s02e09 – The Satan Pit

So, the title sort of gives away the big reveal. The Satan Pit refers to the giant hole in the middle of the planet, where they’ve already dug twelve miles down and sent David Tennant and Claire Rushbrook to investigate. She wants to go in the existing pit, as opposed to the tunnel they dug.

Tennant, however, doesn’t really think going into the pit is a good idea. Even if it’s not Satan. But it sure sounds like it’s Satan. What’s his story? Think Star Trek V. Yes, indeed, “Doctor Who” comes along and does Star Trek V almost twenty years later, makes it great, but also shows off what the “Who” franchise can do in contrast to what “Trek” can’t.

But the episode isn’t director James Strong or writer Matt Jones resting on their “gods in need of starships” laurels; it’s not even just a straight “Who” episode, with Tennant dealing with the Devil (or at least trying to convince Rushbrook they really don’t need to go investigate whether or not its Satan in the pit), while Billie Piper leads the humans above as their slave army of Oods turns lethal—the telepathic Oods prove susceptible to Satanic suggestion. So not only is it great Trekkie sci-fi, it’s great sci-fi action, and then there are all these great character arcs. Piper, captain Shaun Parkes, Rushbrook, Tennant—more about him abandoning Piper in their last moments versus fretting over what god needs with a starship (initially), plus Danny Webb as the security chief. It’s just a great episode. And a great two-parter. Definitely the most successful episodes of the series to date.

And it’s still the same technical team, which is a surprise. Strong just knows how to get Ernest Vincze to light better?

Perfect ending too. It all just works out so well.

If only the show can keep up this new momentum… they really do need to stay clear of the plant Earth. “Who” is better at the broad extraterrestrial sci-fi than the earthbound stuff. It also helps giving Piper and Tennant actual character arcs.

So big cheers for writer Jones and director Strong. They finally give Tennant a show deserving of him.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e08 – The Impossible Planet

The Impossible Planet has just what “Who” needs… right now anyway. There’s a new director to the series (James Strong) and a new writer (Matt Jones), and they give the series a push in a better (arguably best so far) direction. Is there going to be any momentum… probably not. “Who,” even the two-parters, is episodic not just in its storytelling but also its making. For whatever reason, Strong’s able to do a lot more with cinematographer Ernest Vincze’s DV lighting and Mike Jones’s editing than anyone else this season or last.

The titular planet has no name in the episode, not even a designation. David Tennant and Billie Piper go bandying about the galaxy and find themselves in some future time at an Earthling research station. The station is on a planet trapped in a black hole’s gravity well but immobile because of a huge power source. The researchers are digging to the core to discover what’s the power.

There’s Claire Rushbrook as the scientist, Shaun Parkes as the acting captain, Danny Webb as the security chief, Will Thorp as the archeologist (they’ve discovered some billion year old civilization), Ronny Jhutti is the tech nerd, and MyAnna Buring is the bosom-y maintenance tech. Because it’s 2006 and they’re still British, after all.

Writer Jones writes distinct characters with enough meat for the actors to flesh them out, with Strong directing the actors, which the show could use a lot more often.

Once Tennant and Piper get oriented—they also discover the humans have a bunch of slaves (called the Ood, who “need” to be slaves so it’s all right, otherwise they’d lemming apparently)—there’s a big earthquake (Impossible Planet quake) because black hole rippling the planet and the TARDIS falls in, stranding Piper and Tennant.

So as they get used to the idea of not just being trapped in a time and place—with Piper a lot more comfortable with the idea of homesteading with Tennant than vice versa—the researchers are just about to get to the core and they’re all about to find out exactly what’s going on. There are various hints—including demonic possession and the Ood acting weird—before it’s clear “Who” is about to try a different take on a very familiar fail of a different sci-fi franchise….

No spoilers (yet), but thank goodness they got the right director for this one.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e05 – Rise of the Cybermen

The cold open of this episode looks pretty bad and the direction on the actors is terrible so I was just waiting to see it was Keith Boak. Then the opening titles rolled and I got a little hopeful upon seeing the writing credit—Tom MacRae, new guy (all the “Who” writers are guys so far), and the show’s done better with new writers than the regular one—then it turned out not to be Boak, but Graeme Harper. Harper and MacRae both being “Who” newbies.

Harper’s direction is fairly bad, with the show once again looking like it’s a soap opera at best. Poor cinematographer Ernest Vincze, who shoots all(?) of the episodes, yet sometimes outside his control it all looks bad.

It’s an alternate universe adventure with David Tennant trying and failing to keep Billie Piper from hunting down alternate universe dad Shaun Dingwall—it’s incredible what a bad character Piper’s become this season. She nearly broke the universe last time she went after Dingwall. Did she learn anything? Nope.

Then there’s Noel Clarke, who’s sad Tennant doesn’t like him more. There’s this whole thing about Tennant only caring about Piper and not even being interested in Clarke’s (unknown before this episode) backstory involving grandmother Mona Hammond, who died in the regular universe. But the show’s established Piper thought she and Tennant were romantically involved or at least interested so what does she want him to do with Clarke? It’s just bad writing, with the bad production values hurting things even more.

Though I guess it’s obvious the episode doesn’t know much show canon because when we find out Clarke’s alter ego is named “Ricky” instead of “Mickey,” no one remembers how Christopher Eccleston called him “Ricky” last season. It’s this great setup and then does nothing.

The villains this episode are the Cybermen, who are back from the original series, only this time they’re run by brilliant megalomaniac businessman Roger Lloyd Pack who wants to be immortal. Lloyd Pack is extremely bad. Like. Extremely.

Towards the end of the episode it appears he’s doing an impression of Sidney Greenstreet in Maltese Falcon but apparently without coordinating with director Harper.

It’s a slog of an episode. So much of one a particularly annoying Camille Coduri doesn’t even rate mention.

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.

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