Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: The Angels Take Manhattan

We all knew this was coming. More than that, given what we knew about the Angels, we all kind of suspected how it would end. But like so many things in life, how you get there is really what’s important. For once, the departure of companions was touching, suspenseful and integral to the story itself. This episode was one of the best written of the series, and given the fact that we’re talking about fifty years of writing here, that’s quite an amazing feat.

It’s been common knowledge that Amy and Rory’s departure would take place in a story involving the Weeping Angels. These time displacing beings are some of the scariest monsters conceived for Doctor Who, but given their ability to shift people backwards in time, it didn’t take much to figure out what the final fate of the Doctor’s beloved companions would be. But what makes this episode special is the getting there. Both Arthur Darvil and Karen Gillan turn in tour-de-force performances. Darvil is especially effective as the brave but still very human Rory, while Gillan touches on every part of her character’s existence…from wife, to mother, to best friend. Matt Smith conveys the gut-wrenching anguish of the Doctor with incredible gravitas. Of all of the characters, Alex Kingston’s River Song is probably the weakest, but even that is still a fantastic performance. River brings context and comfort to the Doctor, reminding him of his need to move on, even as she hints at the pain of being his wife often inflicts upon her.

The script contains some of the best dialogue in the series, giving all of the actors something worthwhile to use for their performances. Even the camera direction is brilliant in places, with the actors staged in ways that lend even more emotion to their scenes. Of all the departures we’ve seen in this show, the farewell of the Ponds is perhaps the best episode in every category.

The Angels Take Manhattan gets Five Acorns out of Five!


Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: The Power of Three

With the Power of Three we are one step closer to the end of Amy and Rory’s journey. And yet, so much of that journey remains undocumented. Amy tells the Doctor that they have spent 10 years of their lives traveling with him, which has not only put them out of synch with the real world, but with their legions of fans as well.

This episode documents the “Year of the Slow Invasion”, when Earth is bombarded by millions of cubes whose only function appears to be as a novelty item. The cubes arrive one day and do nothing…which frustrates the Doctor to no end. He leaves Amy, Rory, and dad Brian to watch the cubes, letting them get on with their lives while he runs off and has adventures on his own. Along the way, the Doctor meets the daughter of an old friend; Kate Stewart, daughter of the Brigadier and now in charge of UNIT.

The story itself is fast-paced to the point of being frenetic. Despite the long incubation period experienced by the characters, the action and cuts give the story a quickened feeling that often leaves the viewer a bit frazzled. That said, there are tons of loveable fan moments. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is ably played by Jemma Redgrave, and Mark Williams is eminently adorable as Brian. The Doctor’s heart-to-heart with Amy about why he spends so much time with the Ponds is honest and touching, and the chemistry between Amy and Rory feels fully developed as they struggle between real life and Doctor life.

My major problem with this episode, and with the season as a whole, is that everything feels so rushed. We know that there are so many adventures that we have not seen, and yet here we are at the end of Amy and Rory’s time, and we end up with a rushed half-season that feels like watching their adventures on fast forward. We don’t get the sense of continuity that we have had with previous companions. Instead we are teased with hints about what we’ve been missing, and as a fan of Amy and Rory I can’t help but feel a bit cheated.

All things being equal, the episode is still one of the best of this season, and probably one of the best of Amy and Rory’s tenure. I only wish we could have gotten a full season with the Ponds; one that did not have a continued storyline and that gave us more of a sense of the amount of time they have really spent with the Doctor. Maybe we will see some flashbacks down the road, but still, I can’t help but feel that we’ve been short changed, and that’s a sad thing to do to one of the best set of companions the series has ever known.

“The Power of Three” gets Three and a Half Acorns out of Five!


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!

 


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!


Geeksquirrel’s Nutty (and Late) Review: Captain America

Well here comes the last Marvel superhero movie before the mega team up that is Avengers. Captain America is the tale of a sickly runt who, in keeping with the fine tradition of fair play and juicing that pervades American sportsmanship, resorts to potentially life-threatening drugs and radiation therapy to get all buff and manly so he can beat up some Nazis.

Well okay, that’s the cynical view of it. Steve Rogers really is just another kid who wants to do his part, but is limited by a body that simply won’t cooperate. Rogers is not the gung ho shoot em all patriot that some would expect. He is eminently likeable from the moment he takes his first beating to his final heroic act.

The problem with Captain America is not the story, which is a fun-filled actioneer in the vein of “The Rocketeer” or the Nazi-Infested Indiana Jones movies. The problem lies with the lead, who unfortunately comes off as somewhat leaden and dull, especially when compared to his future cast mates. Chris Evans is capable of much more (see Scott Pilgrim for one of his best moments) but here he comes up short, and it does not bode well for him when he must share the screen with Chris Helmsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johanssen’s leather catsuit.

Evans is almost overshadowed by the multi-ethnic team of sidekicks that is formed to back up the Captain, and by his co-stars Hayley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones, both of whom appear to carry the kind of charisma that Captain America is supposed to have.

Despite Evans’ substandard performance, the movie is still a fun summer ride. Hugo Weaving turns in another competent performance as the Red Skull, and the special effects are generally well-executed, with the exception of Evans head being pasted onto some poor shlubby dweeb’s body. Evans’ noggin is too big for the poor little guy and he comes off looking like a bobble-head.

I’ll give this one acorn for the story and another for the supporting cast, and a half acorn because I did enjoy it, just not as much as other efforts in the series.

Captain America:The First Avenger gets two and a half acorns out of five.


In Which Rory Continues to be Awesome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xkQkPo7KRU

So there’s the trailer for the last half season of Doctor Who as it premiered at Comic Con.  Lots of  WTF moments there…the Doctor in his tux, Amy Pond going all Samurai on what looks like Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Then there’s River Song with an eye patch looking very much like Madam Kovarian.  Some monsters, cybermen, a big ugly minotaur kind of thing, some quality time between the Doctor and Craig Owens and then…and then…

Rory.  Punches.  Hitler.

Click on the .gif for more Rory Punch Out Action!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Captain America is also out this weekend.  Sure, Captain America did punch out Hitler in a 1940’s comic cover:

Thud

And here’s one of Superman:

GUUUURKK!

….and Daredevil…..

POW!!!!

…and a freakin’ ninja turtle

CHOK!!!!

….and uh….yeah…..

<insert gay porn soundtrack here. Or My Sharona>

The thing is a lot of people have been depicted punching out the worst evil of the 20th century, but you know what?  Rory Williams is just some bloke from Leadworth.  Sure he’s defied death, been plastic and been resurrected more times than bell bottoms, but at his core he’s just an average guy.  I mean, he wasn’t even wearing his Lone Centurion outfit!  No costume, no superpowers, not even a shoe and a BDSM fetish.

Just a punch in a face from your average bloke to the guy who most deserves it.  Awesomeness.