Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back to the bad old days

I'm not perfect, you know, and sometimes I change my mind about things. Mushrooms, for instance. Thought they tasted strongly of rot and mould as a boy, came to love them like an (edible) son when I grew up. Same goes for mobile phones - I always said they were utterly pointless, but nowadays I generally find my Razr quite useful.

And so it is with Planet of the Ood. When the episode finished I mentioned online that I thought it was a reasonable, if largely uninspired episode. On a second viewing though, I think that it only just clears the pole-in-the-dirt bar which is Gridlock.

It's actually a return to the bad old days of last year. Lazy, lazy plotting combined with a vague, blind man in a blindfold in a room with no windows stab at alien and the Doctor at his most annoyingly hyperactive yet curiously ineffective.

It was like the first part of the Eccleston season all over again, except without the cement of Eccleston's towering performance.

The Ood were cool, mind, which does raise the standard above such previous low-points as last year's Dalek two-parter. And Tate as Donna, even in a bad script, is better than plastic fantastic Martha, but other than that - nah, I have nothing positive to say.

However, I will say that...
  • The alien planet was basically a backlot with some snow and a couple of dodgy bits of cgi.
  • The supporting characters either existed
    1. to be pricks and then satisfyingly die (the security team and the unpleasant yuppie business types)
    2. to make it look as though the Doctor was doing something, be pricks and then die (that PR woman)
    3. to make it look as though there were thematic layers (the Friends of the Ood guy - really, what was the point of him?) and then die or
    4. to be pricks and then get turned into an Ood (Captain Darling).
  • The biology of the Ood made neither evolutionary nor intuitive sense.
    1. They've evolved hands and opposable thumbs (signs of a need to compete for available resources) but also brains on bits of string (a sign of not thinking your alien race through properly)?
    2. They live on ice planet zebra, apparently, but have also evolved a species component which is an unprotected giant brain with a mouth on top, i.e. where it's not very easy to feed?
    3. If you cut the whole brain in their hand off - 'lobotomise them' according to the dialogue - and then throw those brains in the bin four planetary systems away, it doesn't matter because as soon as you release the giant brain (by flicking a single switch in a shed) everything's OK - and, eh, they're not lobotomised any more?
Or something. Whatever. It doesn't matter - it's only Doctor Who after all.

Not that it really is Doctor Who either. For one episode only (hopefully) it's back to being someone else's show, not the Doctor's. Unlike the Eccleston season though, it's not even the companion's series - in fact, I have no idea who's supposed to he be the hero here. The Ood themselves I suppose. Certainly there was no need for the Doctor to be there. He contributes nothing to the Ood revolt and yet gets told at the end that the wind and the air and the snow and the husky shit will sing of him for ever and ever and ever, amen.

As someone wisely remarked on a mailing list I frequent, hopefully the song the various elements will sing is something along the lines of "thanks for nothing DoctorDonna: you came here, stood about, got locked up, then sodded off having nicked all the glory".

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Blogger TimeWarden said...

Have to disagree with you, Stuart. I thought, that of all 45 episodes since the programme's resurrection, this was closest in spirit to the original show. You may well be right when you say "Certainly there was no need for the Doctor to be there" but then the same can be said for the Time Lord in "Revelation of the Daleks".

8:09 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Actually, several other people who's opinion I trust have disagreed with me too. It's a bit worrying - maybe Rusty's brain destroying mush is starting to have an effect on me!

8:12 am  
Blogger SK said...

I thought it was the best episode so far of the season: that is, it was just dull rather than egregiously bad.

I was though very disappointed by the shift of the Ood from a race that posed an interesting moral dilemma (if a race will die without orders, is it taking advantage of them to use them to do your menial tasks?) to standard slaves-exploited-by-evil-businessmen.

Also Catherine Tate is awful (though not as awful as if she were still playing the character from 'The Runaway Bride', thankfully).

Oh, and the Tim-McInnery-turning-into-an-Ood sequence was just such a bad effect. Did they not realise during the scripting stage that there was no way to realise that properly?

8:37 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "was though very disappointed by the shift of the Ood"

Disappointed, yes - but surprised?

SK: "Catherine Tate is awful"

But...but...she's by a country mile the best thing to come out of Who since Tennant took over. Only the mighty Eccleston beats her in the acting stakes. I think that so far she proven to be Best Companion since Sarah-Jane.

SK: "Tim-McInnery-turning-into-an-Ood sequence was just such a bad effect"

This is very, very true. I thought we'd left that kind of over-ambitious and bad fx back in the 80s.

8:48 am  
Blogger SK said...

I wouldn't call it 'over-ambitious' so much as 'fundamentally ill-conceived'... there's just no way I can think of to go from a human to an Ood that wouldn't look stupid. And what they did doesn't even make sense in story terms -- the drink they're giving Darling makes his hair fall out (because the Ood are bald) but then his skin splits open to reveal the Ood-head, so the state of his scalp is irrelevant!

I still can't see any good in Catherine Tate, I'm afraid. She's toned it down a bit since two Christmases ago, fortunately, but she's still shrill and annoying with her constant whining and that hideous Estuary accent.

But then I never thought Sarah Jane was much cop either. Companionwise, in new Doctor Who, it's got to be Martha before she went all lovesick and sad.

The companion has a raw deal anyway, given most of what that they do is required by the format to be pretty interchangeable (which is why I don't get all this 'Donna is a refreshing change' stuff: she could be replaced by Rose in any episode she's been in pretty straightforwardly. Shouting at the Doctor to save the inhabitants of Pompeii? So Rose.

Anyway, as most of the companion's role is fixed and immutable, the only thing that can distinguish them is their 'thing', some special skill or character quirk. Leela's killing things, Ace's explosives, etc. And so far in the new series only Martha has even had potential for a 'thing' (ie, she's competent). Rose and Donna are both 'modern human of below average intelligence' fulfilling the standard companion-shaped hole with no distinguishing features.

And oh that accent.

9:40 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Maybe it's because I'm Scottish, but every non-Brummie English accent from south of about Leeds sounds the exact same to me, so Donna, Martha and Rose all basically talk in the same voice.

I take your point about the companions generally being interchangeable and thus only being idetifiable by single trait - but Donna's trait is 'being a real adult person' whereas Martha's was 'mooning over the Doctor' (also competent, but the whole 'walking the world saving it' schtick was so out of character that it doesn't count.)

I can't even begin to imagine either Martha as a character or Agyeman as an (painfully limited in comparison) actress speaking Donna's lines as well. Rose slightly more so, but only the shouty bits, not the bits where Donna sounds disappointed in the world or unimpressed by the Doctor.

One last thing - I don't think Donna is intended to be of below average intelligence. She knew Rome was built on seven hills which - and this is possibly an indictment of the education system more than anything else - is a fact that is no longer in common currency.

10:14 am  
Blogger SK said...

She knew Rome was built on seven hills, but she still made the 'TK Maxximus' joke. I stick to my guns.

Okay, Donna's accent is similar to Rose's (Matha's was a bit more refined) but Tate is more screechy and that really doesn't go well with Estuary.

I did say that I meant Martha from the first part of the season, or maybe only Martha-in-concept. 'Last of the Time Lords' so does not count for anything ever and it would have been better for the world if it had never been broadcast.

Donna 'being an adult'? That also I don't see, due to the whining, due to the mooning over the Doctor (okay, not in a romantic way apparently, but adults get jobs: they don't play amateur alien detective to find a guy they met once), and the horrific 'You want to mate?' scene that made me curl up and die inside. She's slightly less of a Tate caricature than she was in 'The Runaway Bride' (thank goodness) but I don't think she's got within a light-year of being a 'real adult person'.

Heck Martha, junior doctor with an actual life and a future and some skills and a sensible rational approach to the things she encountered with the Doctor, was closer to being a 'real adult person' than play-detective, squeal-at-every-supporting-character Donna.

10:24 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

That's an interesting point (and one which reminds me that these kinds of conversations are best done on mailing lists) - is it more realistically adult to (a) have 'a sensible rational approach to the things she encountered with the Doctor' (Martha) or (b) 'squeal-at-every-supporting-character' and play amateur detective to find the *actual definite alien* you met the previous year (Donna)?

I'd say the more realistic reaction is Donna's - you meet a heroic alien who offers to show you the Universe and you would I think obsess over him for quite a long time.

I should say though that Martha as - presumably - laid out on paper prior to casting was probably far more realistic than either the original Martha we got in the first part of the year or bollocks Martha we got after she turned into GI Jane. The actress' lack of range didn't help in that, but I think the mooning, love struck characterisation as written and shown on screen is also a problem.

10:32 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "Actually, several other people who's opinion I trust have disagreed with me too. It's a bit worrying - maybe Rusty's brain destroying mush is starting to have an effect on me!"

This is funny. We're - so far - out of synch this season *but* I find myself nodding in agreement at soooo many of the things you're saying here. I guess the difference of views must then come down to overall impressions rather than the specifics.

(On the topic of supporting characters, you're right *but* much the same sort of accusation could be levelled at the supporting characters in "Fires of Pompeii".)

And interestingly I find that:

SK: "I thought it was the best episode so far of the season: that is, it was just dull rather than egregiously bad."

this chimes more closely with my general impression of the episode.

In other words, an improvement, like I said over on my blog, but let's not get hasty and overstate that :)

12:20 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "is it more realistically adult to (a) have 'a sensible rational approach to the things she encountered with the Doctor' (Martha) or (b) 'squeal-at-every-supporting-character' and play amateur detective to find the *actual definite alien* you met the previous year (Donna)?"

I think it's more likely somewhere in between.

And, on a personal note, preferably some reaction which doesn't involve having to persistently repeat the bleeding obvious loudly three times. Donna has been toned down since Runaway Bride, but it's some measure, I think, of how god-awfully annoying she was then that I still find her intensely grating.

12:24 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "I think it's more likely somewhere in between."

It may be that I'm simply basing this on how I think I would react - and sensible adult rationality is far less likely than my standing squealing with delight at everything that passes in front of me (I'm like that if I go to London, God knows what I'd be like on an alien planet :)

12:32 pm  
Blogger SK said...

Speaking of 'such previous low-points as last year's Dalek two-parter', have you seen who wrote the Sontaran two-parter?

1:11 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "have you seen who wrote the Sontaran two-parter?"

Oh God, don't remind me.

1:23 pm  

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