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Don't turn away....Don't even BLINK!......
on August 18, 2007
The strength of DOCTOR WHO, the new series and the original, has always been change, and change it has. Over forty-years ago the show began with one actor and now we have 10 actors who have portrayed the 900+ Timelord. The first season of the new series ended by changing leads through regeneration, as the 2nd season ended with the "lost" of not only the companion / love interest, but the whole "point-of-view" for the new series: Rose Tyler. Since the PILOT or "ROSE" episode the series has been through her eyes. The viewers could relate to the Human perspective more readily than the sometimes alien POV of the title character. In fact, the series gave up not only Rose, but her family, Mickey Smith, Jackie Tyler; Mum, Pete Tyler ( deceased, sort of) ,all of the anchor characters that added so much emotion to the new series.
Can the series, even one a clever and cool as Dr. Who, survive such change.
The answer is yes, definitely, yes. Although, there is a loss, infact the sense of loss that the viewer feels, is surely an undercurrent of the entire season, starting with the Christmas special or THE RUNAWAY BRIDE, the precursor to the true first episode of the season. Opening right after series two leaves off, the Bride a.k.a Donna Noble played by U.K. comedian Catherine Tate appears in the TARDIS, the Doctor has little time to contemplate his loss before he is literally running for his life again. Like the Christmas Invasion, the special is light-hearted, and introduces a "one-shot" temporary companion (although Donna will be a major-part of season 4). One highlight of the "BRIDE" would be the glorious soundtrack provided by composer Murray Gold, a truly cinematic fully orchestral backdrop that sells some fanboy innovative moments like a CAR CHASE WITH THE TARDIS ( I kid u not, the iconic Call-box is zipping though traffic like something from a 70's cop-show) . Donna sums up the subtle theme as she declines the role of companion, stating that the Doctor needs someone to "stop him from going to far" as he coldly sticks to his assertion of the previous Christmas: "No second chances" while dispatching the Empress and her brood.
In the second story in this set, but the actual season opener, new regular companion MARTHA JONES is introduced in a satisfying start to 2007 in "SMITH and JONES" ( a goof reference to the Doctor's sometimes alias of Dr. John Smith which shows up again in the season, too). An all too different character than Rose, Martha is Medical Student, so she doesn't need the Doctor to rescue her from her life as slacker Rose did, she's smart in a less pop culture way than Rose, more analytical like the Doctor. Like Rose, we meet her family in the episodes opening over several rapid-fire conversations via cellphone. Strange things are afoot at her hospital which eventually ends up on the Moon. More as window dressing, the Jadoon Stormtroopers, beautifully realized alien police are searching for an vampiric alien among the human patients and doctors. Martha and the Doctor immediately develop an enjoyable on screen chemistry, while storytellers cut to the chase and give us two instances of Doctor/Companion kisses, the throwaway nature establishes the preoccupied (with love-lost) tone that the Doctor will regard Martha (unfortunately more like a traditional Dr. Who relationship). The Doctor spells this out saying, "this doesn't mean anything," sadly for Martha, this feeling isn't mutual and leads to choices made by the end of the season. So the Doctor sacrifices himself to flush out the fugitive, while Martha literally breaths her final breath in an attempt to save the Doctor's life, earning herself a non-committal invite to the TARDIS.
The major part of the first half of the 13 show season, 14 with the "Bride" Special (#0) is weak. Smith & Jones (#1) is strong, the Shakespeare Code (#2) is frankly BRILLIANT!
GRIDLOCK (#3) is very good, but the Dalek 2 parter: "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks (#4-5)", NOT SO BRILLIANT, nor is "Lazarius Experiment (#6)" or "42 (#7)" But the final HALF of the season (#8-13) is GOLDEN, leading up to a 3 part finale re-introducing a classic character that will blow you away!!! Away !!!
"SHAKESPEARE CODE", Martha's first trip back in time, they meet the Bard himself and learn the secret of Shakespeare's famous lost play. This was film partly in the real rebuild Globe Theater, so it looks great. As is Dean Kelly's rock-n-roll performance as the renown playwright. This contains some of the best dialogue the series has EVER had, so much so that you much watch it repeatedly to truly appreciate this one ( I played this one to high-schoolers as a follow-up to Hamlet).
"GRIDLOCK," is a great sci-fi story, in which people are living their lives stuck decades and decades on a skyway traffic jam. The is the 3rd story in the new series history to go to the far-future "New Earth" and the Doctor meets the Face of Boe for the prophesied 3rd and final time. A super concept with great effects and some genuinely moving moments, like the music montage of the stranded freeway drivers connected by faith and song. The Face reveals a secret to the Doctor which tips us off to the season finale.
The DALEKS in MANHATTAN" and "EVOLUTION of the DALEKS" is the Doctor's apology to Martha for showing off taking her to New Earth on the rebound as it were, but overall this 2 part doesn't work. There is some great integration of footage actually shot in modern NYC, reworked to look like the 1920's, but the premise that the sole surviving Daleks (the Cult of Skaro, seen escaping last season's finale) are making not only PIG-Slaves, but the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING itself as part of a plan to recreate their race using humans for materials. There are some good performances all around, but the "Evolution" of the Human-Dalek (both costume and concept), is disappointing and distracting. But, the Art Deco 1930s style Empire State Build does lend itself to that of the Daleks.
Episodes 6 and 7, "The LAZARIUS EXPERIMENT" and "42" are both so derivative of Popular sci-fi that they are unsatisfying when compared to some of the really great shows of the season. LAZARIUS is very much a variation on "the FLY" while "42" with its real time concept ("24" reversed) and spacecraft claustrophobia is like both Impossible Planet of last season and other movies of the genre. But, Dr. Lazarius himself is afforded an excellent performance by Dr. Who writer Mark Gatiss ( of "League of Gentlemen" and "Jekyll").
Again proving that the producers are true fans themselves, episodes 8 and 9, Human Nature and The Family of Blood, are based on a fan favorite Dr. Who Novel (with the 7th Doctor), translating seamlessly to TV. It is a classic story idea, the Doctor becomes Human!! In order to escape a family of aliens ( a concept already borrowed from the novel for season one's Slitheens, an alien surname) the Doctor puts his Timelord identity into a watch, only Martha knows who he is and is put in charge of this secret as he really becomes John Smith, History teacher (of course) of a boys school just before WWI. I can't say enough about the heart-wrenching excellence of this 2 parter. The Doctor falls in love and must make some hard choices. This also sets up things to come in the finale.
Episode 10, "BLINK," happens to be filler, like last seasons "Love and Monsters" in which the regular cast is all but absent in order to shoot another episode simultaneously. Like "Love and Monsters" this episode is a creative triumph, also base on a previously published story. "BLINK" also happens to be the scariest show of the new series history!
In a nutshell, the Doctor is sending messages from the past to "the present" through DVD extras or easter eggs, warning about weeping angel statues that move at you when no one is looking, so don't even blink! Although, no one is killed on screen, not in any conventional sense, this one is still keeping my kids up at night (especially in a city famous for its cemeteries) ! BLINK was written by Steven Moffat, two-time consequtive HUGO winner (both for DR.WHO, series 2 the "GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE" and series one's "EMPTY CHILD." Moffat has next year's Hugo in the bag with BLINK, if his writing in JEKYLL doesn't split the vote (see my review for more on JEKYLL).
The final 3 parter, "UTOPIA", "The SOUND of DRUMS" and "LAST of the TIMELORDS" are perfection. Really. I can say more without revealing too much (although the U.K. press already did that long before the shows aired), but the season is full of clues leading up to this (even in TORCHWOODS final episodes there are clues). Capt. Jack returns for all three of these and there are notable guest appearances such as SIR DEREK JACOBI ( famous for I, Claudius), how great is that!! Also, John Sims (from Life on Mars). The first of these 3 parts, UTOPIA, comes across as a Mad Max deal, don't give up on it, that is just subterfuge! Make plans to watch the three of these back-to-back-to-back, you're not gonna' want to stop.