Sunday, April 24, 2011

Doctor Who S06E00-A Christmas Carol

An intergalactic space liner careens towards certain doom on a cloud covered planet. The only person who can save it is an old man filled with bitterness and a very cold heart. With the lives of 4000 people at stake, it appears that it will not be a Merry Christmas for all. Lucky for the crew of the space liner, two passengers just happen to be a newly married time traveling couple named Amy and Rory and they just happen to be companions of the one man capable of pulling off the ultimate Christmas miracle. Taking a page out of a familiar tale, The Doctor will attempt to revisit and rewrite one man’s history in order to save the present.

For years I thought it was impossible. The Christmas Invasion was the first Doctor Who Christmas Special of the re-launched series and it had always been my favorite of the bunch. That has changed ladies and gentlemen. Steven Moffat deserves a planetary wide round of applause for the work he has done with this particular episode. Not only is he borrowing heavily from a beloved Christmas classic, but he has given it the Doctor Who spin that enables it to have a life outside of its origins: the classic story is still there, this time it’s just in space, involves flying fish and a crazy man in a bowtie.

I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard the rumors about the direction this episode was taking a few months back. Even to not amend the title, thus keeping it “A Christmas Carol” was a bold move and it further heightened my curiosity to see how Moffat would put a scifi spin on the Dickens tale. One of the best moves the creators could have made was casting Sir Michael Gambon (Dumbledore from Harry Potter) in the role of Scrooge…err I mean Kazran. Gambon is one of those veteran English actor who can deliver a powerful, tear jerking performance while also finding ways to make said performance fun to watch. And since he has done a lot of fantasy work in the last few years with Harry Potter, Gambon looks in the zone here on Doctor Who, sparring very well with Matt Smith on screen.

The Doctor’s plan to observe and change a few things about Kazran’s past is a bold move on the part of the Time Lord, who usually finds rewriting history kind of a bad thing (he tried it before in Waters of Mars and that didn’t exactly end well). It makes sense The Doctor would characterize himself The Ghost of Christmas past, considering how old he is it’s kind of a funny joke. The plan seems to work great for a while. The Doctor and young Kazran discover the fish and sharks in the clouds covering the planet and then meet a cryogenically frozen girl named Abigail (played by the beautiful Katherine Jenkins). It all seems so happy, The Doctor, Kazran and Abigail spending several Christmas’s together. But then we get the big revelation about Abigail…and the episode goes from not bad to great.

I’ll be honest, the revelation was one of those bummers that could have easily killed this episode like the downbeat and somber Voyage of the Damned, but Moffat pulls us out of that slope with one last little twist that was my favorite part of the episode. After learning that the woman he has fallen in love with has to die to save the planet, elder, present day Kazran flat out tells The Doctor he will not commit to his plan and save the people. And then little Kazran, a boy full of hopes and dreams, pops out from behind The Doctor and sees the man he is destined to become, old, bitter, cold hearted to a fault. I almost cried during this scene. Gambon pulled it off perfectly and his breakdown in front of his younger self was a stroke of genius. That scene alone elevated this episode above any and all expectations I had.

This episode was not without its Doctor Who cheekiness and excitement. The sequence where little Kazran and The Doctor battle the shark from the clouds was fun and exciting. And, once again, The Doctor had the best line of the episode as he appears falling from a chimney into a fire place, “Ah! Yes! Blimey, sorry! Christmas Eve on a rooftop, saw a chimney, my whole brain just went... "What the hell.” I was cracking up, of course that is what he would do and that is something he would say.

I will say that I was surprised how little of a role Amy and Rory had to play in this episode. Sure they ended up filling the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, but for the most part they were not heavily involved in The Doctor’s adventure. And to tell you the truth it was ok. For a story like this it made sense to have them more in the background. And hey, they’ll have a whole new series of running around to do soon so no need to worry about an Amy and Rory lite story…though I was happy to see Karen Gillan back in the Police Woman outfit, so sexy.

A Christmas Carol is perhaps one of the best episode Doctor Who has ever done. It certainly is the strongest of the Christmas Specials, this one has a far greater Christmas focus than any other one before it. Steven Moffat and Matt Smith’s first Christmas is a success and here’s hoping that this will continue down the line with more Christmas’s to come. It’s just not Christmas anymore without the TARDIS materializing on screen. This was a very good Christmas indeed.

Next Time: Doctor Who returns Easter 2011 (kind of dumb to say since I’m posting this review afterwards, let me try that again). Easter 2011-The Doctor’s gonna need… a SWAT team ready to mobilise, a street map covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammy Dodgers and a fez…fez’s are cool. See ya in April.


Doctor Who S06E01-The Impossible Astronaut

Just a quickie: I know it’s been a while and I no I didn’t post a review at Christmas. It will be on later this week before I review part 2 of this weeks episode. That being said…ALLONS-Y!!!

Amy and Rory Pond along with River Song are summoned to America by The Doctor. After a sunny picnic, the three watch in horror as The Doctor is slain by a mysterious figure in an astronaut suit. Moments later, a younger version of The Doctor appears before them unaware that they just witnessed his demise. Pulling together pieces from their mysterious summons, the time traveling quartet travels to Washington D.C. for a meeting with President Nixon and ex-FBI agent Canton Delaware. The only thing worse than the mission they are about to embark on is the horrific image of The Doctor’s death burned into Amy’s memory…and the mysterious and fearsome suit clad UFO’s stalking their every move.

It’s back baby, it’s back. And what can I say about this first episode of Series 6…well only one three lettered acronym…WTF??????!!!!!

This episode grabbed you from the get go with the reunion of The Doctor, Amy, Rory and River followed by The Doctor getting killed during regeneration thus making him DEAD dead. Then The Doctor showed up just fine, stunning everyone and earning a smack from River. The first fifteen minutes were a lot to take in at once and I’m still trying to piece it all together right now.

Initial shock and bewilderment aside, this was a great episode and a great start to Series 6. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Davrill and Alex Kingston stepped back into their roles as if no time has passed. Each actor and actress has returned with the same fire and feeling of fun that made The Doctor, Amy, Rory and River characters to love to begin with. Matt Smith in particular continues to prove that his astounding performance in Series Five was not a fluke. He continues to impress as The Doctor, once again pulling future and past dualities with the wise old man who accepts his own demise and the highly energetic kid who flies into danger despite the obvious warnings in front of him and around him. And plus, even though I heard it in the trailer at the end of “A Christmas Carol” the line The Doctor says while sitting in the President’s chair, guns pointed at him, still makes me chuckle: “I'm going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilise, a street map covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammy Dodgers and a fez.”

A particular standout in this episode was in the guest star department. You may recognize Mark Sheppard, who played Canton, from other scifi genre shows like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. He has always been a dependable guy and Mark continues to show such evidence here in this episode as the ex-Bureau agent who has an open mind but has a smart aleck wit that makes him so cool. He is one of the few guest stars I’ve seen who has quickly caught onto how the TARDIS works and completely accepting it, at least for now.

The Aliens featured here are being called members of The Silence, the force that blew up the TARDIS and formed the cracks in the universe in Series 5. If these guys really are members of The Silence (is it a race or a conglomerate, I’m still not sure) then boy has The Doctor gone up against the wrong guys. From mind wiping to blowing a woman away Doctor Manhattan Watchmen style, these guys are vicious. It will be all the more intriguing to find out what their endgame is for Earth and The Doctor. And what is up with a child, the little girl calling Richard Nixon, trapped in an astronaut suit that will vaporize The Doctor at some point in the future? I know I’ve said it before and I know I will say it again but even though The Doctor has survived the end of the world, the end of time AND the end of the universe, how the hell is he going to get out of this one.

The Impossible Astronaut was an example of how to present a good setup for something bigger. Steven Moffat has delivered an episode that retains the charm and fun of Doctor Who we’ve come to love since his takeover as Head Writer. But he has also given us plenty of questions to mule over until the following week when we get answers (maybe) to all the questions running through our heads. The death of The Doctor; The Silence; River’s identity; the child in the astronaut suit; this is a lot to deal with all at once. And I think that Steven Moffat and Matt Smith are more than up to the task of delivering in full. It’s just a bummer to realize after watching an episode this good that the series is going to be split into two halves a la Burn Notice. That two-three month wait for more episodes come June is going to be torture.

Next Week: On the run from the FBI and Secret Service, companions covered in black marks, The Doctor with a beard, The Silence, the conclusion? Series Six is just getting started.