Mars Attack

Spoilers on ice
Doctor Who: “Empress of Mars”

So a few weeks back, we weren’t allowed a reference to Harry Sullivan, companion for Tom Baker’s first season and the opening of the second, as well as appearing in a later serial, because no one would remember him.

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O2

Spoilers, obviously.

Doctor Who: “Oxygen”

So, almost as if the scriptwriters had been reading my mind (only nine months in advance), the sonic screwdriver is kaputed early in the episode by a rogue zombie in a space suit. This is going to be a pain because there are lots of electronic locks that need to be bypassed — through the equivalent of fiddling around with wires under the dashboard. Also, sensibly, the TARDIS is put out of reach as soon as possible, although you’d think he’d have a remote control by now or a dog whistle.

Zombies in Space wears its structure on its sleeve, with an in-space pre-credits sequence of astronauts outside a ship overlaid with the Doctor quoting Star Trek and explaining how dangerous space is and how you would die if exposed to a vacuum.

Is someone going to be exposed to a vacuum? Does a wooden horse shit in the woods?

Of course, those of us with long memories (or poor repression mechanisms) will recall Five — as I believe the kids call veterinary these days — floating in space with a BMX helmet, using a cricket ball to navigate zero-g in “Four to Doomsday”. But back when Five was Doctoring he was a mere slip of 800 or so, rather than 2000. Maybe he had better lungs.

So the Doctor is using Bill as an outlet for scratching his itchy feet (that’s a metaphor, obviously), much to Margot’s disgust — Margot claims that the Doctor has ordered him to force the Doctor to stay, threatening the opening of the Vault and OMG STORY ARC even though presumably the Vault needs to be opened to deliver a piano and Mexican takeaway. Margot has removed the fluid links to disable the TARDIS, a reference mainly back to the first Dalek serial in late 1963 (Harry who? Medical officer to what?) — but this is clearly not as important a plot device, er, component as he was led to believe.

The Doctor takes Bill and Margot into deep space, the penultimate frontier, to a mining ship putting out a distress call — because “You only see the true face of the Universe, when it’s asking for help” (wasn’t there a similar line in ”Thin Ice”?). You’ll note that later in the episode we see the Doctor not really asking for help — almost as if he doesn’t want us to see his true face. The crew are in the middle of the crisis — their spacesuits are killing them and are occupied by zombie crew members.

The crew are pleasingly interracial and mixed-sex — echoes of Ridley Scott’s Alien — but there’s a foot put wrong when Bill double-takes at Dahh-Ren, species unknown, blue-skinned, and she is schooled in racism. Yeah, after the whitewash comment last week (which is fair comment), a lesbian of colour has to be schooled in racism. There is more to ethnicity than skin colour, of course, but we don’t get much more than him being blue (although he is reasonably knowledgable about his surroundings and useful for info dumping).

But perhaps we should forgive “Oxygen” for this, given its political commentary: oxygen is a commodity to be bought and sold, about the only thing the Conservatives never privatised. As workers, the miners are part of the machinery of capitalism, always already cyborgs, liable to wear out and be replaced. The Company has decided the operation is uneconomic and, without a care for its workers, close down the operation — or rather refit it with new crew. The suits are attacking the crew, in a literal metaphor like the skeleton crew of ”Smile”, but I’m not sure whether the Company wish the crew to be killed (but I don’t suppose they’d lose any sleep). It might be a misinterpretation of the programme (yanno, like the Emojibots in “Smile”).

Interesting, then to compare these two episodes in which machinery evolves a state of consciousness beyond that which is programmed and operates as a kind of slave class taking revenge upon their creators. The machinery’s new consciousness is not allowed to stand by the liberal Doctor, but reprogrammed.

Meanwhile Bill, rather conveniently, is stunned, not dead (beautiful plumage…), as if we’d seriously think she’d been killed off. Although, that rumour about her as single season character makes it more of a possibility. The Doctor helps save her — at the expense of his eyes, although he is evidently able to program a computer system he has never seen before and can’t see now.

No sonic, so just rewrite the DNA, so to speak.

The Doctor stays visually impaired, even if Bill doesn’t stay dead, so it’s time for a group cuddle. It looks as if they are going to keep him like that — perhaps so that Bill can step up to plate (like other Nu Who companions did). A regeneration would resolve it, presumably, but then we are being misled about whether that is sooner rather than later. There is much insistence that this will play into the hands of the prisoner in the STORY ARC. I can’t see it myself.

(sorry. sometimes i can’t help myself)

You slip out of your depth and out of your mind

Doctor Who: “Thin Ice”

So you think that Sarah Dollard — oh.

(Hold on. A female writer on Doctor Who, whatever next? She also did “Face the Raven”.)

So you think that Sarah Dollard has made a smart choice in “Thin Ice”, to have the sonic screwdriver stolen by a street urchin so that it isn’t a convenient plot device to get them out of a scrape. In fact, there are three or four moments in the episode — falling through ice, being stolen again, being blown up — when it could be destroyed, but she can’t help but use it.

Can you say, “Merchandising”?
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Card Sharp

House of Cards (Paul Seed, 1990)

I never saw House of Cards on first broadcast in 1990 — television viewing was limited as a student although I did see Twin Peaks. It had the good fortune to be broadcast just as the Conservative leadership election was underway and we were to leave Thatcherism behind forever. Hooray.

Koff.

So chief whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) is expecting a cabinet post in the aftermath of Thatcher’s successor’s election but is let down. He seeks revenge by deciding to manufacture a scandal that will bring him down and engineer things so that he gets to be the next leader of the conservative party and prime minister.

Here we have a modernisation of various Shakespeare plots — Richard III (although maybe not hugely — do I recall an acting out of the Olivier version?) and Macbeth, with Urquhart’s wife (Diane Fletcher) playing a greater role than in the Michael Dobbs book and clearly being a Lady Macbeth. I suspect there are shades of Iago there, too. Richardson is glorious immoral/amoral and the device of talking to the camera has the self-serving/self-deluding impact of Shakespearean monologues, especially Iago’s.

Of course, the series doesn’t stay with his point of view — it does skip around the other MPs and aides, but more to the point we have a lady journalist, Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), who Urquhart uses to his benefit. It should be noted that all the jobs that women can do, lady journalist seems to scare the dramatic horses least. And she also falls into the thing that so frequently annoys me as cheap drama — sleeping with the story/suspect. You just wouldn’t. You also feel she would be a little less trusting of him.

But there are shenanigans.

Whilst the drama itself feels current — although big desktop computers! dial telephones — the direction by Paul Seed does not. It is of course very talky and there’s distinct telling not showing, but somehow that never stopped The West Wing. There were moments when I thought it a fine radio play.

And then there were the various cuts to rats.

Whatever can that mean?

NO, DON’T TELL ME — THAT WAS IRONY.

Koffs.

Heavy-handed, much?

If LoveFilm sends me the sequels, then I shall write briefly about those. (I did — To Play the King and The Final Cut)