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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Thompson’

Well, much in the manner of Time Heist itself, let’s not muck about, and cut straight to the chase: I didn’t hate this episode, but neither did I especially like it either. At the moment I am having to remind myself that Doctor Who is in many ways like a supertanker – once you turn the wheel, it takes a very long time for any course change to become manifest. Thus Matt Smith’s first season is the one most strongly resembling any of David Tennant’s, even as Graham Williams’ first year as producer contains a couple of stories which could conceivably have made it into one overseen by Philip Hinchcliffe.

So in light of this, it’s not really surprising that some of this year’s stories resemble those from recent seasons: any of the more glitzy and lavish futuristic ones, to be honest – I’m thinking of Rings of Akhaten, Gridlock, you know the sort of thing. Nor that the story unfurled at the sort of headlong, manic pace that we were promised the series would be moving away with the new Doctor.

(The problem with my optimistic analysis concerning why this some of this season is less different than advertised is that it’s predicated on the idea that the regime of the show has in fact changed, when arguably it hasn’t: just changing Doctor doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of the general style of the series – you only have to look at the Eccleston and Tennant series, which develop pretty seamlessly, to see that.)

Anyway, there was a lot of running around and spectacle in Time Heist, and to be perfectly honest neither I nor any of the people I’ve spoken to have managed to find any flaws in the plot, but then again I haven’t really found myself inclined to dig too deeply into it. Not surprisingly, there was a definite Sherlock flavour to the plotting this time around, although I do think it suffered a bit from being crammed into a 50-minute timeslot. There was a lot to follow and perhaps not quite enough reasons given as to why we should make the effort.

Still, the episode was not without moments of interest for the more thoughtful onlooker. The roll-call of famous villains rapidly scanned through at one point in the story promises a veritable feast of Easter Eggs – I think I spotted the Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy at one point, but much more interesting was a fleeting appearance by Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer. It would be fun to speculate as to the degree to which this now makes Daak and his various escapades canonical – not very much, I strongly suspect – but if nothing else it’s a nice tribute to the late Steve Moore. Just as long as this doesn’t provoke the Slaves of Kane to re-release their dreadful Daak-themed disco record.

teller

The closing twist concerning two monsters being in love with each other did not do a lot for me, not least because the show already played exactly the same card last year at the end of Hide. One friend of mine has already been rather scornful as to the prospects of Mr and Mrs Teller, given there are only two of them left to rebuild their entire population, but given SF has a long history of this very same trope – to say nothing of the way Doctor Who has indulged in it in the past, too – I’ll let it pass happily. I’m less inclined to overlook the way Mr Teller effectively murdered numerous people for the bank and was completely let off this, but that’s just me: I’m just a bit of a puritan about these things (don’t get me started on Willow from Buffy being given a pass for a horrible, brutal, cold-blooded murder).

And, finally, when the dust settles and people start to give reasoned verdicts on the Moffat era of Doctor Who, I think one of its more unexpected additions to the mythology is its idea of a Doctor who seriously doesn’t like himself. This first really showed up in Amy’s Choice, with the Doctor’s self-hatred made manifest as the Dream Lord – but it’s recurred since then, not least in Time Heist‘s revelation that the Architect whom the Doctor hates so much is really… well, anyway. It’s not quite in the same league as previous episodes built around the Doctor’s various foibles and character flaws, but even so. It would be great to get an episode which didn’t seem to feel the need to qualify his heroism or put him down somehow. Normally I would have said that Gareth Roberts could be relied upon for something like that, but at this point in the year, all bets are off.

 

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If history has proven anything to us, it is not that passive resistance will, ultimately, defeat any army, not that the history books themselves are written by the winners, nor that marching into Russia during a cold snap is probably inadvisable. If history has taught us one thing, it is that doing a story mostly set, and certainly climaxing, inside the TARDIS requires the services of one of Doctor Who’s premier league writers, if it isn’t going to be a waste of everyone’s time.

Get it right and you get The Doctor’s Wife or Amy’s Choice (hey, I like it). Get it wrong and you end up with The Invasion of Time or the McGann telemovie. (You know, I’m really not sure about The Edge of Destruction, given it’s so much the product of another era and sensibility… I’ll be nice, especially as it’s a David Whitaker script, and stick it in the former category.) So the question is, when a flight from Air Who takes off, will Steve Thompson be receiving waitress service up in First alongside Whitaker and Neil Gaiman, or lumped into Cattle Class eating plastic food with Matthew Jacobs?

Well, my own feeling is that Thompson shouldn’t worry unduly about where to put his complimentary gifts, nor expect too much in the way of leg room on this trip. Which is not to say that Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is challenging Rings of Akhaten for the title of dog of the year, just that it’s a story I found it very hard to actually get excited about.

'Bugger, I wanted the cuddly toy.'

‘Bugger, I wanted the cuddly toy.’

For a while it looked all set to be a complete clunker, with what appeared to be some frankly dodgy plot developments and contrivances: particularly the remote control suddenly appearing out of nowhere, and the Doctor’s uncharacteristic threat to blow himself up. I must confess to underestimating Thompson’s ability as a writer and the revelations that one of these was a bluff and the other an element of a more complex plot came as a total and rather welcome surprise.

On the other hand, the subplot about the van Balen brothers throttled credulity beyond any hope of survival: here we are not just in the realms of Crayford’s Eyeball, but surely far beyond it. Someone who thinks he’s an android but is actually human? Does he not shave? Does he not have to sleep? Does he, and I know this is Doctor Who but even so, never feel the urge to visit the gentlemen’s facilities?

Speaking of which, still no sign of the TARDIS loo. I must confess to being rather disappointed that even the depths of the TARDIS appear to have lost their roundels. Maybe I’m a tough audience, but I was hoping for a few more kisses to the past in the nether regions of the Ship. I suppose the appearance of the Eye of Harmony (in yet another new version) qualifies, and there was plenty of new material for people who are interested in the conceptual basis of TARDIS construction and engineering (I myself would never attempt such a thing. Not again, anyway).

And – fairness demands – this story did actually manage to engage my emotions, which is a fairly rare occurrence as you may be able to tell. The prospect of something like the TARDIS being ripped apart in the name of the bottom line struck a chord with me and made me quite angry; perhaps there were too many resonances with what generally happens to wonderful things in the real world nowadays.

However, any assessment of this story has to take into account the resolution of the plot, which is surely one of the most dubious in the series’ history, ranking right up there with – quelle surprise, I don’t think – the telemovie. Using time travel to press a button so the whole thing never happened in the first place? This is a story which never actually happened? There are an infinite number of those, why bother with this particular one?

Possibly I’m being too hard on this aspect of the story, as many other reviewers are actually complimenting the story on the impudence of this element of it. But I don’t think so. The moment Doctor Who starts using time travel as a quick and painless method of short-circuiting crises like this, the whole basis of the series, both dramatically and logically, starts to erode. And despite everything I’ve written here recently, I still don’t want that to happen. In an ideal world I would prescribe a nice long holiday from writing Doctor Who for Steve Thompson: and I suggest he goes there by boat, just to be on the safe side.

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After the ‘giddy narrative leaps’ of the opening two-parter I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Curse of the Black Spot, but my hopes of something a little more coherent were inevitably tempered by the realisation that it would be very strange for Doctor Who to start defaulting into strictly arc- and non-arc-related episodes rather like a modern-day version of The X Files.

Well, after all my complaints and diagrams when talking about the plot of the opener I was ultimately rather pleased by a completely self-contained episode with a proper beginning, middle, and end in the appropriate places. To be honest, by about halfway through, my expectations had sunk rather low – this looked like being a nice-looking but vacuous runaround, and for the story to redeem itself as much as it did in the closing third either demonstrated extremely neat plotting or your correspondent showing a reprehensible lack of faith in the only TV show that ultimately matters.

Some bits of this episode reminded me of stories I first watched as a very small child, which was pleasant, but of course the constraints of a 45-minute timeslot gave rather the impression they were being redone on fast-forward. That said, in its best bits the story had a frenetic one-damn-thing-after-another quality I found rather pleasing and would have been happy to see continue throughout, but sooner or later the story’s nature as a piece of 21st century Who reasserted itself.

I’m talking about the way in which one of the subplots – I’m aware that some readers may not have seen the episode yet, so I’ll attempt to be usefully vague – centred around stuff like parental responsibility. This felt ever so slightly crowbarred in and not really connected to the central thrust of the story, which was the mystery of the siren.

Steve Thompson seems to have done his research on the show just by watching Moffat’s old episodes, as this did seem a bit of a mash-up of some of his favourite tricks and motifs (once again, discretion commands I refrain from going into detail). One of the issues with this kind of plot is that it can be difficult to contrive an appropriate climax, and so it proved here.

The climax consisted mainly of someone emoting while someone else explained in painful detail exactly what was happening for the audience’s benefit, and a third someone was placed in entirely spurious and uninvolving peril. The story for the most part stuck to Robert Holmes’ old dictum that if you go fast enough and are fun enough, people won’t worry too much about holes and missteps along the way – but there’s no substitute for a really good conclusion. As it turned out, once the Doctor solved the central mystery, everything seemed to get a bit strained.

On the whole, though, a decent-ish episode, but I fear I will quickly grow rather sick of repeated references to a) the thing that’s possibly going to happen to the Doctor by the lake b) Amelia Pond’s Schroedinger-esque ‘pregnancy’ and c) Eye Patch Woman, especially when they’re simply reminders of stuff we already know and don’t advance that plot in any meaningful fashion (well… Eye Patch Woman’s repeated appearances are suggestive, to say the least). People who’ve seen the opener will already be thinking about this stuff. People who haven’t will probably just be confused.

Curse of the Black Spot managed to be less impressive than the Astronaut/Moon story on nearly every level, but also, weirdly, much more satisfying. Come on, Steve. You can do both at the same time. And even if you can’t, I’m betting Neil’s prepared to give it a shot…

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