Monthly Archives: September 2012

Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy.

It’s kind of sad when the best thing you can say about an episode is that at least it’s better than the last time they were in the Old West.  Granted, it would not have taken much for that to happen, but the disappointment of “A Town Called Mercy” lies in its valiant but failed attempt at being something more than an average episode.  The show tries to create an interesting moral dilemma to show that the Doctor has once again grown rough around the edges in the absence of his companions, but in the end, an all-too-neat and almost consequence-free ending serves to undermine what might have been a great episode.

Team TARDIS finds themselves in the Old West, faced with a town blockaded by what appears to be a cyborg bounty hunter.  The hunter is searching for an alien doctor, no, not our Doctor for a change, but Kahler Jex, a man responsible for creating the cyborgs via a series of hideous experiments.  Jex is hiding out in the town, having crashed there and offered his more benign services to the primitive townsfolk.  Upon finding out about Jex’s past, the Doctor angrily throws him outside the town’s boundary to be killed by the cyborg.  The town marshal intervenes and is fatally wounded, passing his badge and the responsibility to keep Jex alive to the Doctor.

The Doctor is thus confronted with the moral dilemma of protecting a man he despises; a man who has done horrible things, but also a person who according to the marshal remains a good man at heart.  Along the way we get some interesting pieces of dialogue, from the inevitable comparison to the Doctor’s role in the Time War, to an eminently quotable last sentence from the Marshal (played brilliantly by an underused Ben Browder).

The failure in this story lies in the resolution, which is in the end taken out of the Doctor’s hands.  Jex elects to commit suicide rather than face his attacker, deciding that the cyborg should not carry the weight of even one more death on his hands.  Jex is played by Adrian Scarborough, who attempts to balance the unrepentant war criminal with the one who seeks redemption.  Scarborough gives a memorable performance, but in the end his character leans a bit too close to the light, becoming a man who is indeed worthy of redemption in the end.  The fact that Jex makes the decision for the Doctor undermines all of the questions raised in the story, for in doing so, he absolves the Doctor of any guilt.  The story would have been much more poignant if the Doctor had been forced to make a decision and live with it.

This episode does raise some interesting questions about the Doctor and his dual roles as hero and destroyer of worlds.  There are also some wonderful homage’s to the classic Western, including the oft-repeated gag of the undertaker measuring a man for his coffin.  In the end, however, the story fails to achieve the kind of heights that other morally ambiguous episodes have reached.  Had the creative team decided to push the questions even further and take more risks with the story, then the episode might have found a place among the very best Doctor Who episodes.  Choosing to play it safe, however, leaves us with an episode that feels unfulfilled.
“A Town Called Mercy” gets a (marginal) Three Acorns Out of Five!

 

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Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

With a title like that, did anyone really expect much more than what we got?  This was a terribly fun episode filled with cool moments but lacking in substance and occasionally logic.  The Doctor is still traveling on his own, but still drops in to scoop up the Ponds for an adventure.  This time, however, the Doctor has brought in a gang of assistants in the form of Amy, Rory, a big game hunter named Riddell, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt and last but not least, Rory’s dad, Arthur Weasley. 

Several well known guest stars appear in this episode.  In addition to Mark Williams as Rory’s Dad, we get David Bradley; yet another Harry Potter alumnus who plays a cold and calculating villain named Soloman.  We also get Rupert Graves, aka Inspector LeStrade of “Sherlock” fame, as Riddell the hunter.  There’s also a bunch of dinosaurs.

The story itself is pretty silly and merely an excuse for some occasionally funny character moments.  Both Amy and Rory get to do cool stuff, with Riddell and “Neffi” not always succeeding to make an impression among the crowded cast.  Rory’s dad fares the best among them, although even his moments come across as rushed amid the chaotic action.  The trouble with so many good actors vying for attention is that not everyone gets to shine, and character moments between Rory and his dad are sacrificed in favor of dinosaur/robot chase sequences.  Still, the senior Mr. Williams does a good job of expressing both the wonder and confusion of his son’s travel habits, and the end of the episode features a lovely quiet scene where involving watching the Earth while enjoying a sandwich and a cuppa.

One interesting development in the episode is the Doctor’s dispatching of the villain.  Soloman is a greedy mass murdering, kidnapping thief who deserves his punishment, but it has been a very long time since the Doctor has been this ruthless, and one can’t help but wonder how that bodes for the future.

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” gets Three Acorns out of Five!


Geek Squirrel’s Nutty Review: Asylum of the Daleks

After a very long absence, the time-traveling Time Lord has returned to our homes like that quirky, weird house guest who sometimes makes your life complicated, but never, ever boring.  Last week we were treated to a series of shorts featuring the Doctor’s companions, who, much like the fans, have tried to establish a normal existence in the absence of the Doctor.  And again, like the fans, Amy and Rory’s Doctor-lite existence is punctuated by a few sudden appearances that serve to both stun and confuse them.  It’s much like getting all those sudden news flashes over the past year….you know, the announcement of the new companion, Matt Smith carrying the torch, the Doctor Who tribute that never materialized during the Olympics, the sneaky TARDIS sound during the opening ceremonies…all of those little appearances that just made you want to crave more.

Sadly, Pond Life is not all sunshine and crickets.  Despite the brief addition of their very own Ood (designation Ood Alfred), Amy and Rory appear to be on the outs, and by the last mini-episode they have apparently split up.  The Doctor, returning home like a child back from summer vacation, begins to suspect that all is not well with mummy and daddy-in-law.  Such is the state of affairs when the curtain rises on the Asylum.

There’s brief prequel where the Doctor receives a message from what appears to be a Headless Monk.  The monk communicates in a dream, forcing the Doctor to accept a mission to Skaro, the ancient home of the Daleks. It is there that he encounters a distraught woman who attempts to convince him to rescue her daughter from a Dalek prison camp.  Well surprise, apparently the Daleks have taken a page out of the cyberman/borg playbook, and have started to convert human beings into their mindless agents.  Two more Dalekborgs kidnap Amy and Rory on the same day they finalize their divorce, and just like that, we are swept into the Parliament of the Daleks.

It seems the Doctor’s oldest enemies have a bit of a problem.  Their storage planet of defective models has been breached by a starliner, and since even Daleks won’t fight crazy, they have collected their most deadly adversary and intend to shoot him at the planet so he can turn off the force field that surrounds it, so the Daleks can blast it Death Star style and end their problem.

But wait, there’s more…it seems the sole survivor is a plucky young lass named Oswin, played by *SURPRISE* Jenna Louise Coleman.  Remember that new companion they announced?  Remember that?  Well be prepared to have your mind blown people, because the Grand Moffat has it targeted with a laser set to OMG!!!!

The remainder of the story is filled with action, suspense, and Daleks of every make and model.  Each of the main cast members gets to shine, especially Rory Williams, who survives on his own for several minutes and even gets a bit of flirt action from his eventual successor.  For her part, Oswin displays a confident charm and intelligence that makes you want to root for her from the get-go.

Regrettably, the biggest problem of the episode lies in the circumstances of Amy and Rory’s divorce.  The split between the two is the most traumatic event in the lead-up to the new series, but it is patched up in a few minutes thanks to yet another clever psychological trick by the Doctor.  Amy’s reasons for dumping Rory are based on her experiences at Demon’s Run, which were not only a violation of her body but have also resulted in sterility.  Her inability to have another child, and most likely her feelings of unworthiness, were the reasons for the split.  These are huge problems, and yet they are resolved within a few minutes, completely defusing what could otherwise have been a source of tension throughout the remainder of the series.  In the real world, marital problems are not so easily solved, and having the Doctor come in and fix everything is akin to wish fulfillment.  One could imagine a child of a broken marriage hoping that the Doctor would come and fix his parents, but the real world is never that easy.

Be that as it may, the first episode has definitely accomplished a great deal.  It has, for the first time in a long while, made the Daleks scary again, if only for this one instance.  The idea of faulty, deranged Daleks running around in tunnels, accompanied by human husks that have been turned into their servants, makes for some scary moments.   In the end, however, the human/Dalek hybrids are no more than a different form of cyberman or borg, with the same underlying fear.  The only difference is that rather than being turned into a mindless automaton, their victims retain a level of cold, emotionless personality, unable to remember the things the loved the most.    The biggest and best surprise is Jenna Louise Coleman, who not only manages to prove herself as a worthy successor to Amy and Rory, but whose introduction has given fans a bigger mystery to solve than the identity of River Song.

“Asylum of the Daleks” gets 4 acorns out of 5!