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Barking Mad

September 4th, 2012 No comments

My viewing of Doctor Who‘s series 7 premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” was less than ideal. Remnants of Hurricane Isaac tumbled through Illinois that evening, intermittently knocking out my Dish Network signal. (All things considered, my Isaac-related inconvenience doesn’t rate.) The first two times I tried to watch, I missed large chunks of the middle third of the story. Fortunately, the 2am repeat came through fine, and I was able to fill in the blanks.

It made a lot more sense the third time. Though not as much as I would’ve liked.

Producer/writer Steven Moffat has a reputation for writing intricate, clockwork narratives, but for me, becoming showrunner for Doctor Who has thrown him off his game. In his effort to craft “timey-wimey,” paradoxical puzzles, he sometimes forgets the obvious.

To wit, the Daleks had created a planetary asylum for their most insane brethren.* When a crashing starship barreled through the facility’s force field, they were so terrified of the prospect of the inmates’ escape that they shanghaid the Doctor to “save” them.

Where were the only controls for the allegedly impenetrable force field? Inside the asylum. Because that’s what you do when you have a planet full of homicidal geniuses: give them the keys.

This won’t be the only thing that fails a simple test of logic. But more about that in the spoiler section.

However, before I get there, I will say that overall I enjoyed the episode. The scenes aboard the massive Dalek saucer and amidst the snow fields of the asylum planet (shot on location in Spain) gave it a grand feel. The exchange between the Doctor and the Parliament of the Daleks** was fascinating; I appreciate any attempt to make the Daleks more than merely lunatic conquerors. The dialogue crackled, especially that of the new gal, Os– wait…we’ll get to that.

The shout-out to various classic Who episodes were fun, of course, though anyone  hoping for a bit of action with the Special Weapons Dalek had to be disappointed. I liked that “intensive care” was reserved for the Daleks who’d survived their past encounters with the Doctor.***

The dreaded asylum itself seemed more like a haunted house walkthrough. With all of the vintage Daleks on display, I was reminded of my visit to the Doctor Who Experience. The scariest bit didn’t involve the pepperpots at all, it was the scene with the Dalekized zombies who forgot about dying.

Okay, at this point there’s not much I can write about this episode without getting into major spoiler territory. So, if you haven’t seen it, STOP READING NOW.

When Doctor Who was reintroduced in 2005, it centered largely around the lives of decidedly ordinary characters. Rose and her mom Jackie weren’t journalists, scientists or warriors, they were downtrodden women looking forward to little more than a lifetime of fish and chips. They were a safe point of entry for a mainstream audience who might be otherwise turned off by sonic screwdrivers and Cybermen. While the Doctor has claimed that he doesn’t “do domestic,” I think that these down-to-Earth aspects were responsible for much of the reboot’s early success. But the show ultimately wasn’t about their domestic travails; the doings at the Powell Estate were there mostly for contrast.

Much of “Asylum of the Daleks” revolved around the disintegrating marriage of Amy and Rory, the Doctor’s current travelling companions (and his in-laws, but that’s a long story). It was revealed that the reason Amy drove Rory away was because he wanted kids and she had been rendered infertile by the events of the past year (again, long story). So, rather than asking him what he thought about it, she made the decision for him and kicked him out. Speaking as someone who originally wanted kids and who (knowingly) married someone who couldn’t have them and didn’t want them, this gives me another reason to dislike Amy.****

Leaving aside real-life alternatives to infertility–adoption, surrogacy, accepting that you don’t get everything you want and that love is the thing that matters most–there’s the big, blue elephant in the room. The Ponds have a son-in-law with a magic box that can take them anywhere in time and space. Surely there’s a really awesome interspecies gynecological clinic out there somewhere.

The reality inhabited by these characters is one in which you can take a pill to destroy a terminal blood clot. In this very episode, there are “nanogenes” that can rewrite the DNA of any living or dead matter into a cybernetic organism complete with Dalek eyestalk.***** The problems that real-life marrieds have simply don’t apply here, so why are we wasting our time with them?

Now we come to the best thing about this episode, a gal named Oswin. She was played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, who earlier this year had been announced as the new companion that would be introduced in the upcoming Christmas episode. In a display of post-Twitter legerdemain, Moffat managed to keep her early appearance secret until airtime. And Coleman knocked it out of the cricket park in her first outing; fun, flirty and more than just a little bit sexy. Amy who?

Now, it’s unclear whether she was actually playing the companion-to-come here. Given that it turned out that she wasn’t really a smoking hot girl in a tight, red dress with a Carmen fixation,****** rather the maddest Dalek of the asylum, I’m thinking that there’s either some future timey-wimeyness in store, or else the Doctor’s new friend is going to have a hell of a time with stairs. At least she’ll never twist an ankle.

Perhaps we’ll be introduced to her distant ancestor or identical cousin Noswin. I kinda hope not, in that I really liked Oswin as presented. Though it would be awfully depressing to meet her knowing her eventual fate.

I do like where this episode ends, with the memory of the Doctor erased from the Daleks’ collective consciousness. Not only does it continue the idea of the Doctor lying low for a time, it allows for the potential of a different relationship between them when next they meet.

*When the Doctor inquires why the inmates aren’t simply exterminated, he’s told that the Daleks appreciate the divine beauty of their extreme hatred. The Dalek Prime Minister gets in a good dig when he suggests that this is the same reason they’ve never killed the Doctor.

**Really? The Daleks have developed democracy? DO-WE-HAVE-A-QUOR-UM?!?

***Okay, I know that the various reboots of reality have effectively rendered all attempts at reconciling past Doctor Who continuity pointless. But I thought that the Time War had retroactively removed all of the old-school Daleks from the universe. How is that these survivors of Kembel and Spiridon are still around? Not to mention the Dalek homeworld Skaro itself? (Granted, no one ever stated that Skaro was sealed inside the Time War as was the Time Lords’ planet Gallifrey, but it’s a reasonable inference.)

****Message to Amy: 2,000 YEARS WAITING OUTSIDE A BOX TRUMPS EVERYTHING.

*****And for Rassilon’s sake, let’s consider for a moment the ramifications of the Daleks having access to this technology. It’s game over for the rest of the cosmos; all the Daleks need do is seed these devices into the atmosphere of any planet they want to conquer. No exterminations required.

******Another thing that doesn’t make sense: why does everyone else hear Oswin as a woman? Are her delusions audible? And where did the recording of Carmen come from? Not from the Daleks, as it presumably wasn’t in their “pathweb.”

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #38 – 43

December 24th, 2009 No comments

Continuing my marathon retrospective of the past five years of Doctor Who

#38:  “Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways”

There are times that I wish I could resist the temptation of spoilers. Case in point: the two-part finale of the first season, which at first glance appeared to be a silly spoof of reality TV before taking a sharp turn into one of the all-time great cliffhangers.

Kidnapped from the TARDIS in mid-flight, the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack found themselves aboard the Earth-orbiting Gamestation, forced to play deadly analogues of Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not to Wear. The centerpiece of the episode was surely the “Anne Droid,” a robotic version of host/dominatrix Anne Robinson that dismissed losing contestants with a disintegrating ray blast.

You are the weakest link! Goodbye!

One might find it a bit unbelievable that they’re still playing a recognizable version of Big Brother in the year 200,100. On the other hand, how many times have we brought back Family Feud and Let’s Make a Deal?

The Doctor was devastated when it appeared that Rose had fallen victim to the Anne Droid, but soon learned that those “killed” aboard the Gamestation were instead secretly transmatted to a nearby point in open space…where a massive Dalek saucer fleet hung invisibly.

Now, if you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ve already seen the cliffhanger (item #11) in which the Doctor defied the might of a quarter million Daleks. Part two picked up with a daring rescue mission as the Doctor materialized the TARDIS around Rose, then stepped outside to confront the massive Emperor Dalek. The next half hour was thrilling and devastating, with the Doctor’s allies delaying the Daleks’ advance on the upper floors of the Gamestation while the Time Lord sought a means of defeating them.

The final solution involved a literal deus ex machina, with Rose granted temporary omnipotence after the TARDIS charged her with the energy of the Time Vortex. I usually find it a cop-out when a hopeless situation is resolved by someone unexpectedly glowing with cosmic power.* However, on this occasion I felt that there’d at least been sufficient signposting throughout the season that the sudden turn of events didn’t come completely out of nowhere.

And besides, there was a price to pay: the loss of the 9th Doctor. Christopher Eccleston, we barely knew ye.

*It happens more often than you might think.

#39:  “Look! I’ve Even Brought a Straw!”

In “Smith and Jones,” the Doctor raced to uncover a disguised Plasmavore before a squad of brutish Judoon police tore apart Royal Hope Hospital. The fugitive bloodsucker took the form of a sweet, old lady named Florence Finnegan. As if that wasn’t whimsical enough, her death-dealing implement of choice was…a bendy straw.

I might actually see Twilight if Edward armed himself with a bendy straw.

Ah, who am I kidding? Give me an old British woman over a shirtless, sparkly vampire any day.

#40:  Harriet Jones, M.P., Flydale North

Portrayed by Penelope Wilton (Shaun’s mom in Shaun of the Dead), Harriet Jones was a local politician caught up in the crisis when the Slitheen infiltrated Downing Street. Her two most notable traits were level-headedness and an obsessive need to identify herself. (“Harriet Jones, M.P., Flydale North.”)

The Doctor–having knowledge of future events–noted that Jones would soon be elected Prime Minster and oversee a new “Golden Age” for Britain. Indeed, when we next saw Harriet, she was serving in that post. She continued to identify herself (“Harriet Jones, Prime Minister”) even though everyone–including the Sycorax and the Daleks–already knew who she was.

Unfortunately, she did not finish out her term. Destroying the retreating Sycorax spaceship during “The Christmas Invasion,” she was (unfairly, in my book) deposed by an angry Doctor who brought her down by suggesting to her aide that she “look(ed) tired.”*

Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister continued to fight the good fight, commissioning the creation of a “subwave network” to contact the Doctor in an emergency. When the Daleks transmatted the Earth to become a cog in their celestial engine, she helped the Doctor locate the missing planet and was exterminated for her trouble.

*Given that her successor was the Master, this was a poor move on the Doctor’s part.

#41:  Jimmy Vee

Every sci-fi franchise needs a dependable little person to play aliens of shorter stature. For new Who (and spin-0ff The Sarah Jane Adventures), that actor is Jimmy Vee. He’s been the Moxx of Balhoon, the Space Pig and Nathan Slitheen. He’s also made several appearances as the mercenary Graske.

But his most significant role was the red, spiky Bannakaffalatta from “Voyage of the Damned.” One of the passengers aboard a space-going–and similarly doomed–replica of the Titanic, the charming alien successfully hit on a waitress played by Kylie Minogue. That’s pretty fly for a red guy.

Bannakaffalatta met a tragic end aboard the Titanic. The craft was sabotaged and its robotic servants reprogrammed to hunt down the survivors. Revealing himself to be a cyborg–something frowned upon in his society–Bannakaffalatta sacrificed himself by detonating his power core to cripple the angelic, android Hosts.

But as long as there’s a need for aliens with a height of less than four feet, I’m sure that Jimmy Vee will be there.

#42:  Immediate Gratification

This is perhaps more of a Thing I Like About the Internet, but being an American fan of Doctor Who is now sooooooo much more satisfying than it was in the old days.

Back then, it could take years for new episodes to make their way into U.S. broadcast syndication. If you didn’t care to wait, you needed to find someone in England willing to record the series for you, then figure out how to transfer the video from Britain’s PAL format to our own NTSC. As for the rare “missing” episodes, your only recourse was to watch one of the fuzzy, fifteenth-generation VHS tapes circulated by fan clubs.

Fast forward to 2005 when an early version of the premiere episode “Rose” was leaked online before it had even aired in England. Peer-to-peer file transfer meant that U.S. fans had to wait hours instead of years for the latest episode. PAL to NTSC? Fergetabowdit!

“The End of Time” will be on U.S. television only a day after its BBC debut. While that’s not quite a record–1983’s 2oth anniversary special “The Five Doctors” aired on American public TV two days prior to its British premiere–it suggests that for stateside Who fans delayed gratification is history.

#43:  Daleks Über Alles

At least as far back as the 1975 origin story “Genesis of the Daleks” there’s been a metaphorical link between the nasty pepperpots and Nazi Germany. Born in a Hitleresque bunker, the Daleks are proponents of racial purity, even exterminating their own kind for the crime of being not quite Daleky enough.

In the 2008 episode “Journey’s End” the metaphor was driven home in this brief scene set “60 miles outside Nuremberg.”

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #31 – 37

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Part one of “The End of Time” premieres this Friday in England (and Saturday in the U.S.), but first here are seven more things I found notable about Doctor Who.

#31:  “The Girl in the Fireplace”

I’m not at all afraid about Steven Moffat taking over from Russell Davies as Who‘s executive producer. Not only did he create one of my favorite Britcoms (Coupling) and establish his bona fides as a Whovian with his affectionate spoof “The Curse of Fatal Death,” but out of the four stories he’s written for the new series, three of them have been out-of-the-park homers. (Or whatever it is they’d call the equivalent thing in a cricket match.) And while I don’t regard the fourth (“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”) as highly as do other fans, it’s still one of the better stories.

But we’re discussing “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which was hands-down the best episode of season two. In it, the Doctor landed aboard a seemingly abandoned spaceship only to find its clockwork robot crew taking an unhealthy interest in an 18th century girl named Reinette. For reasons which only became clear to the viewer in the story’s final moments, they sought out her brain to serve as a replacement computer for the damaged vessel.

The robots opened several “time windows” to various points in Reinette’s life, and the Doctor soon discovered that the clock moved much more quickly on his side than on hers. First encountering her as a very young girl, his subsequent visits saw her mature into a beautiful woman…the historical figure Madame de Pompadour. The two shared an intimate bond, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Of course, when the Doctor invited Reinette to travel in the TARDIS with him, one knew that it couldn’t end well. (It never does, unless you’re Billie Piper.) Betrayed by time itself, the Doctor’s heart was broken, and mine with it.

#32:  The London Eye

In the episode “Rose,” the Nestene Consciousness used the massive Ferris wheel known as the London Eye to transmit a control signal to its army of Autons. Retroactively, that made it the first Doctor Who location I’ve ridden in!

#33:  The Cult of Skaro

Introduced in the episode “Doomsday,” the Cult of Skaro added a bit of personality to the Dalek menace. Unanswerable to the Dalek hierarchy and given license to further their race by any means, they adopted such unorthodox alien concepts as assigning themselves names.

For their next appearance they holed up in the basement of the Empire State Building, experimenting with Human/Dalek hybrids. The Cult’s leader, Dalek Sec, made the heretical argument that they were not superior to all other races as always had been their presumption. After all, he reasoned, for all their conquests the Daleks had been reduced in number to only four survivors. This did not make him popular around the water cooler.

"Walkies!"

In the ensuing firefight between the Daleks and their demi-human offspring, Sec and two of his followers were killed. The remaining Cult member, Dalek Caan, made repeated attempts to break through the “time lock” that cut off the battles of the Time War from the rest of history. This had the effect of rendering him both insane and precognitive. In the end, he too recognized the deficiencies of his own species and secretly aided the Doctor to defeat the Dalek Empire.

#34:  Extra-Special Effects

In the old days it was said that part of the charm of Doctor Who was the cheapness of its creaking, wooden sets and monsters made of cellophane. Something would be lost by making it look good.

Bullshit.

From snarling CGI werewolves to massive space fleets, the new series has been big on visual spectacle. And while I would never discount the importance of writing and acting to a good slice of British sci-fi, dazzling special effects are a welcome addition.

#35:  The Toclafane

Deadly pawns of the Master during his year-long reign over the Earth, the Toclafane were small, metal spheres outfitted with spikes and laser emitters. Giggling with glee, they killed “because it’s fun.”

As the Master placed as much priority on humiliating and hurting the Doctor as he did taking over the universe, the Toclafane were chosen and named for maximum psychological effect. “Toclafane” was itself the name of a Time Lord myth akin to the Boogeyman. Even more chilling to the Doctor was his realization of the creatures’ true nature: they were the last remnants of the human race itself from the year 100 Trillion. Unable to escape the encroaching darkness of the end of everything, the despairing men and women regressed to childhood and built themselves into cyborg shells. Each Toclafane sphere housed a desiccated human head, fearful, mad and taking pleasure only in death. Creepy stuff.

#36:  Irrational Fears

Doctor Who has long had a mandate to make children deathly afraid of unlikely things: store dummies, puppet dinosaurs, bubble wrap and Colin Baker.

The new series demonstrated its intention to uphold tradition by having a character eaten by a plastic trash bin in its very first episode. Since then, it has caused otherwise well-adjusted children to pee themselves over the following:

  • Shadows
  • Scarecrows
  • Statues
  • Santa
  • Satellite navigation systems
  • Skeletons wearing spacesuits
  • Angels
  • Beetles
  • Water
  • Crayon drawings
  • Gas masks
  • Television sets
  • French fries
  • British comedians
  • Fat people
  • Old ladies
  • People who repeat what you say
  • Billie Piper’s new teeth

#37:  U.N.I.T. Schools the Sontarans

In the two-part story “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky,” the warriors of Sontar used their technology to jam conventional U.N.I.T. weaponry. But with a change of ammunition–and an assist from the aircraft carrier Valiant–U.N.I.T. severely kicked some Sontaran ass.

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #6 – 11

December 10th, 2009 No comments

This is part two of a series celebrating, in no particular order, things I’ve enjoyed about the first five years of the Doctor Who revival.

#6:  “Dalek”

I have the feeling that the writer’s brief for this episode was, “Take everything about the Daleks that people mock, then knock ’em down.” From the Daleks’ alleged inability to navigate stairs to the uselessness of their sink plunger arms, Robert Shearman’s script ably deflated the myths. The lone Dalek, last survivor of the war between his race and the Time Lords, was depicted as cunning, brutal and capable of psychological insight about his greatest enemy, the Doctor.

In returning the Daleks to their preeminent position of galactic menace–and making them a credible threat to the Time Lords–the production team perhaps went too far. New series Daleks are virtually indestructible. As this episode convincingly claimed, a single one could conceivably kill every last person on Earth.

“Dalek” also reestablished that the conquerers weren’t emotionless drones. Rose Tyler found herself sharing an empathic bond with the slimy creature inside the metal shell. She–and we–learned of its self-loathing and constant pain. When the Dalek mutant felt the sun on its body for the first time, one could hardly help being touched.

The episode was absolutely necessary to understanding the true nature of the Daleks, and it set the stage for their full-on return in the final moments of “Bad Wolf.”

#7:  The Bicycle Pump

There had been suggestions in the original series that the TARDIS was a living machine, but the new series took it further. The redesigned central console was formed from a mass of coral that had grown around various found objects serving as in-flight instruments. Some were decidedly low-tech, such as a bell of the type you’d find on a store counter. The most inexplicable, however, was the bicycle pump. Its function remains unexplained–it’s apparently been identified as the “vortex loop control”–but what it does best is make the Doctor look like an utter madman.

#8:  Sarah Jane Smith

Ah, Sarah Jane. Arguably the most beloved of the original series’ many “companions,” Sarah was by turns feisty, vulnerable, capable, flippant, brave and a bit of a screamer. Dumped on a suburban street by the Doctor after he was summoned to his home planet of Gallifrey, Sarah never quite left us, or we her. She reappeared in the sole spin-off of the old show, K-9 & Company, and again in the 20th anniversary episode “The Five Doctors.”

The episode “School Reunion” was not only a huge love letter to the character (and the middle-aged boys who’d been smitten with her), but an object lesson to then-current companion Rose. Rose was by then already becoming far too attached to the Doctor, fantasizing about settling down with him in some galactic backwater and raising Time Tots. Meeting Sarah Jane drove home that she was only the latest of many people to travel in the TARDIS, and that one day she’d be left behind as well.

Elisabeth Sladen still looked great (even if there’s a “for her age” hiding in that sentence) and caused us to fall in love all over again. So popular was her guest appearance that she was at last awarded a successful spin-off series. The Sarah Jane Adventures airs on the BBC’s kids channel, and has recently completed its third season.

#9:  Mercy Hartigan

Old-school Doctor Who didn’t have many female villains. Sure, there was the Rani, as well as Queen Xanxia, Lady Adrasta and Cessair of Diplos. But one of the most prominent was Eldrad, and she turned out to be a dude.

New Who, however, has demonstrated again and again that, like Barbie, girls can do conquer and destroy anything. In just the first four seasons, their wicked ranks have included Lady Cassandra, Blon Fel-Fotch, the Wire, Tess Booberson, the Empress of Racnoss, Florence Finnegan, the Carrionites and Matron Cofelia.

The most recent femme fatale was Mercy Hartigan from the 2008 Christmas special “The Next Doctor.” Mercy’s backstory was deliberately left unclear, though it was subtly implied she’d been a former prostitute. Whatever her actual profession, she was deeply angry at the patriarchal nature of the Victorian Age into which she was born.

She made a stunning appearance at a snowy graveside, disrupting the somber atmosphere with her flaming red dress. The objections of the pallbearers were soon stilled when she loosed her accomplices, the Cybermen, upon them.

In my dreams, she and Tess Booberson team up.

Hartigan aided the invaders in constructing and powering up their massive Cyberking, but was betrayed when they forced her to become its controlling intelligence. In the end, her mind proved too strong and she dominated the Cybermen in turn.

There will be a new race of Cybermen! My Cybermen! Logic and strength combined with fury and passion!

I think it’s too bad she didn’t succeed. The Cybermen have always been second-class Who villains; they’re the ones you call up when the Daleks aren’t available.  I would’ve welcomed a revamped Cyber-race with Hartigan as its “king.”

Which brings us to the next item on this list:

#10:  Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

Because, Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

GIANT STEAMPUNK CYBERMAN!

It’s a Cyberman! Powered by steam! And it’s giant!

GIANT! STEAMPUNK! CYBERMAN!

And if a giant, steampunk Cyberman controlled by an angry ex-whore wasn’t enough, its arms turned into guns!

YOU-MUST-BE-LOOKING-AT-ME! THERE-IS-NO-ONE-ELSE-HERE!

Say it loud! (Because that’s the only way you’ll be heard above the sound of steam-driven pistons!) GIANT STEAMPUNK CYBERMAN!

ASK-FOR-ME-BY-NAME!

#11:  The Doctor Says “No”

I get chills every time I watch this scene, and I’ve watched it a great many times. In the concluding minutes of “Bad Wolf,” the 9th Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) realized that Rose had been spirited away to a hidden Dalek fleet. The Daleks got all up in his grill with their “we will exterminate your companion” smack. Then the Doctor told them what he was going to do. And we learned that there’s nothing the Daleks fear more than a Doctor with “no weapons, no defenses, (and) no plan.”

My Favorite Martians: The Daleks (Last In A Series)

September 4th, 2009 No comments

A friend of mine once told me that the scariest thing about the Daleks is that you can never be certain when they will kill you. It might be the precise instant that you are deemed no longer useful. Or it might be the moment that you piss them off. Or it might be any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. They may will kill you for not being a Dalek. However, if you are a Dalek, they may will kill you for not being Dalek-y enough.

You can be absolutely assured that no matter what you do, you eventually will hear the following two sounds: the high-pitched shriek “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!” followed immediately by the electronic sizzle of a death ray.

The Daleks–introduced in 1963 during the second story arc of the first season of Doctor Who–were a phenomenon created almost entirely by accident. Terry Nation’s script was pushed forward in the production schedule when another planned story was delayed. Nation’s description of the creatures was sketchy, and it was BBC designer Raymond Cusick who gave them their familiar pepper pot shape, their eyestalk and–infamously–their toilet plunger arm.

They were an instant sensation in the U.K. What had been intended as a one-off opponent for the time-travelling Doctor became his nemesis, featuring in numerous sequels and even a couple of spin-off films starring Peter Cushing. There were toys aplenty, and why not? Any kid could imitate a Dalek: just stiffly stick out your arms, shuffle about and scream “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”

What Daleks Are:

  1. The mutated remains of the Kaleds, a humanoid race from the planet Skaro.
  2. Green, tentacled blobs permanently encased in tank-like “travel machines.”
  3. The creations of the brilliant and therefore mad scientist Davros, himself a mutant confined to a motorized wheelchair.
  4. Fanatical believers in racial purity.

What Daleks Aren’t:

  1. Robots. There’s a living creature in there, crippled and in constant pain.
  2. Emotionless. Even the TV show makes that mistake at times. It’s just that all they feel is anger, fear and hatred. And they hate themselves most of all.
  3. Afraid of stairs. Their presumed inability to navigate a set of steps was a joke frequently repeated by British cartoonists and comedians, long since debunked.

Perhaps in response to public perception of the Daleks as being a bit silly, the revitalized Doctor Who series beefed up their capabilities to insane levels. In the episode “Doomsday,” the Daleks get into a pissing match with fellow galactic conquerers the Cybermen. When the Cybermen taunt that there are millions of them, but only four Daleks, their enemies retort that it will only take one Dalek to wipe out the Cyber army. And the truly scary thing is that they’re probably right.

– – –

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back at some of my favorite movie and TV aliens. It was originally meant to be a series of brief posts that I could queue up in advance, but brevity and I are not close friends.

Even Better Than "Pyramids Of Mars"

September 12th, 2008 No comments

Take some kids, a video camera, a cardboard Dalek suit, a bunch of willing exterminat-ees and a bit of post-production magic, and what do you get?

Quite possible the best piece of Doctor Who ever committed to video!

“I’m regenatin! Aaaaaaaaaah!”

And don’t stop watching before you reach “Mr. Happy.”

Good Wolf

June 30th, 2008 No comments

It took a few days, but I appear to have isolated and contained the “Bad Wolf” meme that overwrote my blog last week.

I realize that some of my friends are a couple of episodes behind me in the latest series of Doctor Who, but as that’s surely their fault, I’m pressing on with major spoilers for last Saturday’s show, “The Stolen Earth.”

Turn aside! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Nope, not buying it. Even if there wasn’t fairly good intel that David Tennant has already been seen working on this year’s Christmas special, I don’t believe for a moment that in this spoiler-happy world the BBC could get away with a surprise regeneration. Speculation is that the Doctor’s severed hand (seen, once again, happily bubbling in its jar at the start of the episode) may somehow allow him to override the regeneration process and remain Tennant. Which, as far as I’m concerned, would be a very good thing. I’m not ready to let go of him just yet.

As for the rest of the show: well, it was a bit of a mess. A big, loopy, over-the-top mess. It really was Russell Davies throwing as much shit at the wall as he possibly could, but I was willing to indulge him. A couple of posts back, I referred to it as “Crisis on Infinite Whos,” and that wasn’t far from the mark. It did feel like one of DC Comics’ cyclical house-clearings, in which a legion of heroes come together under a planet-filled sky to keep reality from breaking down.

And I do fear just how much of a house-clearing may be in order. All the arrows are pointing at Catherine Tate’s Donna as being the companion to come to a tragic end, but I dearly hope that isn’t the case. Rose and Martha may have obvious charms, but Donna has become my favorite new-Who co-star.

Besides, Dalek Caan’s prophecy was that death would come to the “most faithful companion,” and that’s open to many possibilities. For one, K-9 hasn’t made an appearance yet. And it could certainly be argued that the TARDIS herself has been the Doctor’s most faithful co-traveler, though if Davies really is clearing house before the new producer takes over, it seems unlikely he’d do away with the show’s central plot device. Besides, Caan didn’t say it was the Doctor’s companion…

And how marvelous was the supporting villainy this week? The new Davros, Julian Bleach, did an excellent job of channeling the late Michael Wisher. (I wonder if the rumor about Ben Kingsley playing the part was ever true?) I loved Sarah Jane’s reaction when she heard his voice; she’s the only one of the current cast who’s ever encountered him before, and she was there during his first appearance.

Even more fun was the mad Dalek Caan himself, gibbering and singing away in his demolished casing. I’ll bet he generated some nightmares.

If there was one bit that struck me as a bit too gratuitous (yes, even more than hundreds of Dalek saucers overrunning the Earth), it was the way that Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister, was shoehorned in. While I was happy to see her again and glad that she was allowed her redemptive moment–though I do wish that she could’ve talked to the Doctor one last time–her contribution to the plot struck me as implausible at best.

And from here it’s full speed ahead to the big finale next Saturday! Worlds will die! Heroes will fall! Captain Jack and Sarah Jane will get it on! Woo!

Crisis on Infinite Whos

June 22nd, 2008 No comments

The fourth series of the revitalized Doctor Who has been arguably the best yet. With the sole exception of one stinker (“The Doctor’s Daughter”), this has been a truly enjoyable run of stories. And while one expects brilliance from writer Steven Moffat’s annual entry (this time he brought us a sentient library and darkness that eats people alive), this year he was topped by show runner Russell T. Davies, who demonstrated why he just received a knighthood by knocking out back-to-back homers.

Spoilers!

First was “Midnight,” in which Doctor Who did The Twilight Zone by stranding the Doctor in a truly helpless situation: aboard a passenger bus on an alien world whose solar radiation is instantly lethal. With windows sealed for protection, the vacationers had no idea what was outside when the vehicle broke down and something began hammering on the outside, desperate to get in. It was a truly terrifying piece of psychological horror as the once-friendly passengers gradually turned into a frightened, murderous mob. The best thing was that it offered few explanations and no easy answers. We knew little more about the malicious alien presence by episode’s end than we did at the start. Prior to “Midnight,” the last time Doctor Who had me wanting to assume the traditional viewing position “behind the sofa” was sometime back in the mid-’70s.

More spoilers!

That was followed by this weekend’s entry, “Turn Left,” in which current companion Donna Noble (who is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine) tasted an alternate reality in which she literally chose a different path and never met the Doctor. In turn, the Doctor was killed, kicking off a horrible It’s a Wonderful Life-style chain of events in which the last two seasons of the show played out with disastrous consequences, including the destruction of London, the deaths of several of the Doctor’s friends, and ultimately (for reasons we don’t yet understand) the end of not only the entire universe but all parallel realities.

Massive, massive spoilers!

All of that leads us to next week’s episode, the first of a two-parter in which Russell T. Davies begins to hand off the reins of the show to a new executive producer, the aforementioned Steven Moffat. And it’s obvious that Davies plans a real blowout.

Two years ago, Davies pulled off what seemed the ultimate fanwank by bringing together armies of the Doctor’s two most implacable foes, the Daleks and the Cybermen, for their first-ever meeting, then making them fight. But that’s nothing compared to what’s in store this time.

Former companions Rose and Martha are coming back, along with the soldiers of U.N.I.T. and the casts of spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Even Harriet freakin’ Jones (M.P., Flydale North) is returning. Throw in the rhinoceros-like Judoon aliens (another favorite of mine), a staggering fleet of Dalek ships, and the first appearance of the Daleks’ creator Davros since 1988!

I don’t know how it’ll all wind up, but suffice to say that I. CANNOT. WAIT.

See for yourself!