Category Archives: Doctor Who

repost: review of “Doctor Who and the Pirates” from Big Finish

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Title: Doctor Who and the Pirates

Produced by: Big Finish

Series: Sixth Doctor and Dr. Evelyn Smythe

Summary: Evelyn arrives unexpectedly at the quarters of one of her former students, Sally, and proceeds, with the Doctor’s help, to tell a story of piratical adventure to the protesting Sally.  With each episode, this story takes another unexpected turn.

Unexpected Thing: Since it includes Gilbert and Sullivan music, I was under the impression that the story would be silly and lightweight.  I should have known better, given Big Finish’s other productions.  I can’t blow this for you, but just have some tissues nearby, ok?

Now, this my first Big Finish download, and I’m glad that I started here.  (Don’t worry if the sixth doc wasn’t your cup of tea on tv; he wasn’t mine, either.  He’s good here, and they make fun of his silly coat.)  I’ve been in love with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas for many years, and the pastiches of their songs are what attacted me to this story in the first place; so, let’s begin with the music…

The compositions here are very, very strong.  Gilbert was a brilliant lyricist, and many writers since have been baffled by trying to update his lyrics.  The production team here did a lovely job within the second and third episodes, with the highlight being Colin Baker’s solo “I am the very model of a Gallafrayian Buccaneer.”  [That one’s getting separated and going with my Chameleon Circuit playlist. 🙂 ]Very clever work, chaps.  The overture (which is actually played at the end) combines the Who theme baseline with several themes and harmonies from a variety of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.  It’s beautiful and worth the price of the download alone.

Another particular bit of loveliness, given my love for words, is the nature of the meta-narrative (these elements are strongest in the first episode, but resonate throughout).  Evelyn is telling the story, but she keeps getting confused and having to go back and change bits.  In addition, we soon learn that she also is hiding something.

If you don’t wish to know any more, go to the Big Finish site and download it now.  http://www.bigfinish.com/43-Doctor-Who-and-The-Pirates

**** Here there be spoilers****

Soon, the story spirls out of control, as Evelyn gets in too far before realising that she can’t escape the story without finishing it, including the parts she doesn’t want to remember.  Only after listening to the entire story does the subtitle (common in G & S works) carry its meaning and impact : The Lass That Lost a Sailor.

Speaking of Young Jem, Doctor Who as a program is rather known for its high body counts, especially of nameless soldiers, guards, and townsfolk.  Just look at Resurrection of the Daleks, for heaven’s sake!  After a while, as viewers, we come to regard these deaths of nameless guys as blasé.  In this story, though, the author writes a very powerful argument against our callous attitude towards the death of extras and minor characters.  The name games that Evelyn plays with the sailors first establish them as fairly interchangable, but this comes to an unexpected fruition in the deaths as the story continues.  Each murder builds in power, until Jem’s death becomes unbearable.  We don’t even hear/ see it, but Jem’s murder forms the crux of the story and lends it heart-breaking strength.  In fact, the tone change as we approach it provides such glaring contrast to earlier episodes that it reveals them to be Evelyn’s attempts to whistle in the dark.  It also gives us a glimpse, perhaps, why the Doctor gallavants with such jocularity around the universe, even though he carries with him the weight of constant death and evil.

Following up on the lessons we and Sally learn as we hear the story, the Doctor’s final scene alone with Sally provides a capstone to the adventure.  It could very easily have descended to preachiness, but it rather neatly side-steps this.  Instead, it just reinforces what we are all thinking, as we muse with Sally.

Overall– a strong story that unexpectedly stayed with me.  I’d definately recommend it for anyone who likes radio drama, G & S, or the Doctor.

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repost: Review of “The Shadow in the North”

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With Doctor Who reappearing on the BBC last week and on BBCAmerica next Saturday [April 17th] with Matt Smith as the new Doctor, I thought it would be appropriate to repost this review.  The movie below now stars 2 DW alumni. 

title: The Shadow in the North

from: PBS Masterpiece Mystery / BBC

based on: “The Sally Lockhart Mysteries”

by Philip Pullman

length: 86 minutes

I was predisposed to enjoy this because I liked Billie Piper as Rose in “Doctor Who” and one of the supporting actors (playing Jim) is Matt Smith, who is to be Doctor # 11. This is a nice opportunity to have them both in the same production. They do, indeed, do nice enough work, though the script is quite weak for Smith’s character. I have also already seen the first film in this series: “The Ruby in the Smoke” That one was ok—reminded me rather of Dickens’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” having an strong set-up and a weak finish (yes, I am aware that Dickens never finished the manuscript, but other authors have), along with a very obvious villain. However, I liked Sally, Jim, and Fredrick enough to keep watching and to look forward to the next one. I actually looked up the novels, but my library didn’t have them.

As for “The Shadow in the North,” it gains points for having a less obvious plot and a more complex group of supporting characters (Alistair MacKinnon & Axel Bellmann, particularly) than its predecessor. Unfortunately, Sally and the other main characters suffer for it—they don’t, frankly, get much to do. Poor Fredrick is reduced to appearing in a variety of unconvincing disguises and then (spoiler music, la la la la la) being killed just as he was getting interesting. The plot moves from clear realism through to the super-natural, though I would have liked to have the final “ghost” scenes better supported. They seem to appear out of nowhere.

(ok, personal rant here, nothing to do personally with Pullman’s work, but I HATE when authors kill off the romantic partners of their strong female characters just as they were about to be happy together. Why?? Why fall back on the idea that happily married/ affianced characters can’t be interesting? Why not let them be together & then work in the relationship’s ups and downs into the story. Diane Mott Davidson has done a lovely job of that. So, why make your main character broken and fragile, especially when the main thrust of the story is not her romantic entanglement, but actually the mysteries or adventures? Edna Buchanan, Patricia Cornwall, Philip Pullman… take note and stop it, already!)

Right, back on track (pun intended)—the idea of the deadly train engine was unusual and chilling, and the final set piece with Sally, when you don’t know what she is planning, is well done.

Overall: worth the watch, but mostly for Piper’s and Smith’s fans. 

For more, see below:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/shadow/

A toast to Who fandom

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dwcast1.jpg image by palaeogothica

Today marks the 46th anniversary of Doctor Who’s premiere on British television, so I thought I’d chronicle for you my introduction into its fandom. 

Though I’ve watched Doctor Who on and off for many years, and I was completely excited when it came back on Sci-Fi Channel, I wasn’t involved in any fandom activities at all.  In fact, I didn’t know there WAS a Doctor Who fandom, really.  The only people I knew who liked it were my siblings and my mom.  My biggest exposure to other people liking the show was during pledge breaks on PBS during Sci-Fi Saturday Nights on WXEL back in the day.

The 4th Doctor was my Doctor.

Buying my ipod last autumn really marked my entry into a huge world that I never knew was there.  While I was discovering podcasts of radio shows I liked, I stumbled across The Whocast.  They were the entry drug.  The discovery that not only were there other people out there who knew about and liked Doctor Who, but there were A Lot of them, was pretty astonding.    After listening to the back catalog of Whocast, I found that I most enjoyed the episodes with Tony, so I then back-tracked to Staggering Stories, and then on their recommendations, over to Tin Dog Podcast and Radio Free Skaro.  I was introduced to Big Finish.  I was now well and truely hooked.  Now The Flashing Blade, The Minute Doctor Who podcast, the Two-Minute Timelord, and Bridging the Rift make the regular rounds on my itunes each week.  There are many, many more people all over the world who contribute their own unique talents and perspectives to the discussion– and how awesome is that!

The really great thing about learning about Doctor Who fandom is finding that it was composed of groups of intelligent, erudite, and entertaining people who use their mutual understanding of the show’s 46 years to frame discussions about literature, art, philosophy, morality, history,  politics, and more [If you ask them, they will deny this, but it is true]. 

Sooner or later, of course, I wanted to be a part of the discussion.  I sent in feedback and began writing my own episode reviews,  and that’s when I learned another important part of this fandom– it’s collaborative.   This isn’t some clique of uber-fans who set themselves high above the plebs– far from it.  They actively encourage more people to come to the party and to play on their playground, and they embrace new fans and old alike.  It’s this inclusive joy that makes being a fan fun. 

  I worked up the bravery last weekend to attend my first real fan-event– a Hurricane Who viewing party of “Waters of Mars” over in Orlando.  I had a fantastic time, and much like the fans I’d met on the podcasts, the people were intelligent, fun, and welcoming.  It was a wonderful experience.

So, today on Doctor Who’s anniversary, I raise a glass to the fans– Thanks for being fan-tastic!

 

 

By Grabthar’s Hat!

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 Ah, all good things (?) must come to an end, and so it is with Tom and Lalla’s visit to the “Leisure Hive.”   Here is part 4’s commentary.  Part 3 is skulking here.
 

When we last visited the Leisure Hive, the Earth businessman had just been unmasked as a reptile to gasps of horror!  (Stella Luna says, “Let me at him!  Migaow!”)

Drats! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it, too...

1. Interesting use of pyramid as viewscreen.

2.  I like the march theme playing behind Son-of-Mine’s rant here.

3. Why is he so terrified of the reptile?  I mean, I share the fear, but dude, get some dignity.

4. Ohh– an imposter!  I see.  Where’s Doctor McCoy when you need him? “Jim, this man is a Klingon!”

5. Ah- a nice twist on the enemy/ non-enemy.

6. You tell him, Chief Inspector!

7. And there goes your plot, regenerator boy!

8. “You don’t cross your bridges until they’re hatched.” 🙂

By Grabthar's Hammer, you will be avenged!

By Grabthar's Hammer, the Ambassador shall be avenged!

 

9. Way to threaten an ambassador of peace there, boyo.

10. Tom is looking mischeivious here.  What is he up to?

11.  By Grabthar’s Hammar, he will be avenged!

12. “We are the army.”  Oh dear.

13. Why is the dawn so crucial to the plan?

14. OK- when your self-appointed leader demands unquestioning obedience AND starts referring to himself in the plural, it’s a bad sign.

15. Reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated.

16. How can she so quickly find the Doctor on her scanner?

17.  Oh just reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and get on with it already!

18. Oh!  Poor Formazi!

19. Does he realize that the mask looks like the “Pyramids of Mars” guy?  Do they have the same hatter?

Pyramids of Mars snazzy hat

20.  Oh dear– their marching looks too much like the Rimmer puppets dancing to the Rimmer song to be taken seriously.

21.  Army of clones is a good idea, though.  Has he met the Sontarians?

22. We do have tons of dramatic eye acting in this episode.

23. Oh, cute little trick!  Lucky Son-of-Mine wore that helmet into the machine, wasn’t it.  Isn’t Tom much taller, though?

24. Useful plot device.  It’s what happens when a non-scientist tries to make clones.  They are always unstable.

25. Where did Romana find his clothes?  umm… never mind.

26. Finnegan, begin again.

27.  Now Son-of-Mine is just a hystrical child throwing a temper tantrum.

28.  Is the poor woman going to have a mustache?  I think they did a Star Trek episode like this.

29. Yes, bring him up properly this time!

30.  Ah– I’m glad to know the Ambassador/ Chief Inspector didn’t get blown up. 

31. Black Guardian: “a galactic hobo with ideas above his station”  Ha!  And no more randomizer.  A nice ending.

 

So, the destruction of the randomizer also brings us to the end of this series of random comments.

Did you enjoy them?  Would you like to see more?  Are they all rubbish?  Drop me a comment.

in which we finally meet the aliens.

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 We’re back with episode 3 of “Leisure Hive”– a classic Tom Baker Doctor Who story.  If you missed episode 2, find it here.

As we rejoin Tom & crew, he had just been turned ancient by the video-effects box.

 

This gives a new meaning to "Old Who."

This gives a new meaning to "Old Who."

 

Away we go, then…

1. A  nice review of previous episode, though repetitive music make it hard to build suspense.

2. Hey– he can’t complain.  He could be Gollum-Doctor.

3. No, duh.  He just came out of the box– of course he hasn’t seen himself!

4. Where does Harden get off giving orders?

5. Son-of-Mine seems inordinately please with himself.  Why?  What devious thing is he planning?

6. Yes, yes, yes.  Sand.  We know!  Being spied on.  We get it.

7. How would he know?  Romana’s the brains.

8. How does Son-Of-Mine intend on wearing that helmet?  It looks solid.

9.  Is Pangorn conspiring with the reptiles?

10. “Dignity.  Always Dignity.”  [See “Singing in the Rain”]

11. Um, as Harden has already proven himself useless, and this is your last hope– that’s a dumb decision, La Presidente.

12. No, No… we’re not part of a conspiricy.  Not at all.  Nothing to see here.  Move along

Move it along.  No alien conspiricies here. 

"Move it along. No alien conspiricies here."

.

13.  With the old make-up, Tom’s eyes are even more powerful.

14.  Cool-looking contract plastic/ paper.

15.  Ah, political plot thickens.

16. OOOh– so this is “The Doctor’s Daughter” all over again but done properly! 

17.  Where did the other “disfigured” mutants go?  They sound interesting.

18.  The Formaci sound like R2D2.  Why isn’t the Tardis translation circuit working?

And so another episode ends with the reveal of the alien– I’m glad that they saved it for so late in the game.

Hi,  here we are.  How are we for time?

Hi, here we are. How are we for time?

Next up, the final episode.  Huzzah!

Video effects of Doom!

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Right, well—to begin, I must say that I’m glad that I’ve already taken the notes on this episode because I just spent the better portion of the afternoon reading “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell (review in a few days), and going back to snarky Doctor Who comments is quite the rugged transition for my brain.

 

So, here we go back to “Leisure Hive” episode two.   For episode one, click here.

 

I dub him Son-of-Mine.

I dub him "Son-of-Mine."

As we view the reprise, ol’ (oh, he really is here, poor fellow) Tom is once again torn asunder by video effects of DOOM.

  1. Wait—reprise made it look like Romana was dragging the scarf!  I thought it was the Doc.
  2. Why does Reptile try to kill Doctor?  What’s his motivation?
  3. Such a cheat—that resolution!
  4. Oh look, ANOTHER Earth shuttle.  This is beginning to feel like Star Cops.
  5. Umm, a strangely directed capture scene.
  6. Just a note—his sonic screwdriver looks almost exactly like the doohickey I used for melting wax when learning pysanka.
  7. Ah, well… yes… have dabbled just a bit in time travel.
  8. Romana is just showing off.
  9. I don’t like Tom’s red coat at all at all.
  10. La Presidente doesn’t seem to mourn her husband all that much.
  11. These reptiles do have a penchant for turning knobs and screwing with machinery.
  12. Ah, now we see how war + hive + death + children all tie together.
  13. Why does anyone trust this scientist?
  14. Also, why does beard-boy (who should be easily identifiable as evil b/c he is wearing a beard in Doctor Who) look so familiar to me?
  15. Oh yeah—of course they ‘ll want to just watch on the viewer.  The Doc will be fine with that.
  16. Aging make-up & acting nicely-done.
  17. WAIT—why did plans for not revealing the deception suddenly change?  Did I miss something?
  18. Claw/ doorway look strangely out of proportion to one another.
  19. Dude!  Green = Death!  Run Away!
  20. Good job showing only bits of the monster.
  21. Poor blind beggar!  Is his prescription really so strong that he can’t even see giant green lizard monsters without his glasses on?
  22. It would be awfully hard to strangle someone with that scarf.
  23. “Arrest the scarf, then.”  Ha!
  24. I like how Romana is a competent teacher here, instead of the silly school-girl she is often dressed as.  Bring back Mary Tamm, I say.
  25. Experiments are boring to watch, especially when done with colored plastic and kool-aid.
  26. Is Son-of-Mine only allowed to speak while standing?  Why does he keep bouncing up and down in his seat?
  27. He is also a bit too gleeful to have found “a test.”  I’m worried.
  28. Oh dear, are we going to melt the Doctor?
  29. Another nice job on the aging make-up; though he does look like a cross between Santa Claus and Rasputin.  An unnerving idea, that.

 

Rasputin + Santa Claus = ol Tom 

Rasputin + Santa Claus = ol' Tom

 

Well, that was a good one.  Lots of plot.  Sufficient corridor running.  Nice aging effects.

Coming soon… part 3… of DOOM!

Leisure Hive pt 1 commentary

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Hi, folks– I’m back with a new commentary for a classic Tom Baker episode.  Tony and Jo! over at the Flashing Blade podcast inspired me to watching it for the first time in order to give them some feedback for their 8th episode.  For the podcast, I condensed my thoughts considerably, but here I offer you my comments unadulterated.  Lucky you. 🙂

So… here we go!

  1. I don’t like Tom’s face in the opening credits.  He looks old, bloated, and bored.
  2. Good grief!  I get it already.  We are on a long, deserted patch of beach.  For goodness sake!
  3. Earphones make snores clearer.
  4. Now that’s just mean!  What’s she done to poor K-9?!
  5. Oh dear– telescope view does not bode well.
  6. Interesting transitions– not sure I like them.
  7. These are very interesting costumes and hair styles.
  8. The meeting does sound like ones that probably happened in BBC boardrooms around this time.
  9. Music does reinforce strange nature of planet.
  10. Interesting how in this season, no one hears the Tardis materialize.
  11. Um.. can one guy sell a whole planet?
  12. There’s an awful lot of exposition happening here along with extraordinarily long landscape pans.
  13. Cool video effects, if quite psychedelic.
  14. Heavy breathing- must be the bad guys.
  15. Interesting idea to cover how another culture dies.
  16. WE GET IT!!! Another ship is landing.  Is this a vital plot point??
  17. Nice to see that the Doctor has forgotten science and is interested in relearning it.
  18. A particularly vicious way to die.
  19. I thought the Doctor said that he doesn’t  do “meeting mothers.”
  20. Doctor does seem delighted to be a “mistake.”
  21. Now is where the psychic paper would have come in handy.
  22. Cute trick with the guard– reminiscent of Sun Maker’s trick.
  23. Very colorful control board– looks like the counter of a candy store.
  24. Red plastic guy = creepy
  25. Nice scarf/ mannequin distraction
  26. Oh no!  Not death by video effects!

 

And that’s that.  Until part two, everyone!