Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Bow ties are cool" - Doctor Who, Series 5

Spoilers, sweetie? Oh yes, spoilers.

The Eleventh Hour

The Matt Smith era starts with the TARDIS crash-landing in the back yard of young Amelia Pond, who is hearing voices from a crack in her bedroom wall. After an amusing scene in which the newly-regenerated Doctor has the little girl prepare him various foods so he can determine what he likes to eat, he promises he'll be back in five minutes. He misjudges, and it's 12 years to her before he returns. He and the now-adult Amy Pond have 20 minutes to find an escaped alien prisoner for a battleship full of soldiers seeking the prisoner, or the ship destroys the Earth.

Another two years passes for Amy - one hopes this Doctor gets better at aiming the TARDIS - when he returns to ask her to travel with him. She agrees, provided that she be returned before the next day. The camera pans to her closet, where a wedding dress hangs.

Smith's Doctor seems to be playing the role more for laughs than either Tennant (who alternated joking around with being quite serious) or Eccleston. He's very good at the humorous side of the Doctor's personality, but it remains to be seen how he does actual drama. As a bonus, when he steals clothing to wear, part of the outfit includes a bow tie, because "Bow ties are koo-ell," as he puts it.

The crack in the wall will be a recurring theme this series, with the crack appearing in different places in every episode. Other clues about the crack are scattered throughout the series as well.

The Beast Below

Mankind has taken to the stars, and England has its own spaceship. (Naturally, Scotland, to be difficult, has its own ship.) Society seems fairly sinister, with circus-like "Smilers" enforcing the rules. The Doctor notices that the ship does not seem to be powered by engines and goes to investigate. He encounters "Liz 10," who helps him, and is later revealed to be Queen Elizabeth the Tenth. (The royal family seems to have become more racially integrated in the future.) She has been in power since the starship left Earth, centuries ago, though she believes she is only about 50 years old. The group descends into the lowest part of the ship, where in the "Tower of London" the warders explain that the ship is riding on the back of a star whale, the last of its kind, that arrived when the Earth was being destroyed by a solar flare. The humans have been torturing the whale to keep it moving, enraging the Doctor. He believes the only solution is to lobotomize the whale, so it no longer feels pain, though he is loathe to do this. Amy comes up with the better solution: she frees the whale from the device feeding current to its brain and, freed, the whale freely continues to transport the humans on its back. Amy analogizes the whale's behavior - as the last of its kind, it came to the rescue of the humans - to the Doctor's and surmised that the torture wasn't necessary.

Nice development of the relationship between Amy and the Doctor, though the story was a little scatterbrained.

Victory of the Daleks

The Doctor receives a call from Winston Churchill, fighting the Battle of Britain. On the screen, the Doctor sees a Dalek with Churchill and goes to investigate. Churchill is relying on Daleks - who are serving the British - as his secret weapon against the German bombers, and we see an incoming set of planes shot down with the Dalek's weapons. The Daleks were supposedly the invention of a British professor, Edwin Bracewell. When the Doctor identifies the Daleks as his ancient enemy, the Dalek ship above uses the Doctor's "testimony" to prove to a device called the Progenator that these Daleks are "true" Daleks and can authorized the Progenator device to create millions of new Daleks. Professor Bracewell is revealed to be an android. The Doctor uses future technology to soup up three Spitfires in an effort to destroy an energy beam coming from the Dalek ship, as well as the ship itself. They are successful in the first but not the second, as the Daleks activate a device on Professor Bracewell that, if detonated, will destroy the Earth and the Doctor has to use his efforts to de-fuse Bracewell, during which time the Daleks escape.

The series runs hot and cold about changing past events.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

The episode opens with the Doctor and Amy looking through a museum in the far future when the Doctor encounters an out-of-place object that turns out to contain a message from River Song, requesting help. The TARDIS arrives to find a spaceship about to crash, and rescues River just in time. On the planet, River explains that the cargo hold of the ship contained a Weeping Angel, and that the leaking radiation from the ship will make it stronger. With the help of militarized "clerics" from an orbiting ship, the group attempts to find the Angel.

As the group moves through a maze of statuary, they realize that the two-headed natives of the planet were unlikely to create one-headed statues, and thus they are surrounded by dormant Weeping Angels, all absorbing energy needed to revive.

The group arrives in the crashed spaceship. Amy has the image of an Angel in her brain, which is about to kill her, so the Doctor orders her to keep her eyes shut. (I'm not sure why that works, if the image is in her brain.) The crack from Amy's bedroom wall reappears in the spaceship and appears to erase the identities of those who are caught in it. The Doctor says the crack is a rift in time created by a time explosion and can only be closed by a "complicated space-time event" enter it. He removes the ship's gravity field, causing the Angels to fall into the crack. As they disappear from time, the image from Amy's brain also disappears. River and the Doctor determine that the time explosion occurred on June 26, 2010.

Amy and the Doctor return to Amy's house on the night they left. She shows him the wedding dress and tries to seduce him. (Matt Smith is at his best trying to avoid the advances of a beautiful woman.) When he realizes the next day is June 26, he takes Amy away again to buy time.

I love the idea that the Doctor and River are meeting each other in reverse order. When we see her first in "Silence in the Library" it is their last meeting from her perspective but the first from his. She resolutely won't tell him what's to come, cheerfully shouting "Spoilers!" to quiet him. We also learn that the TARDIS doesn't have to make that shrieking noise when it materializes; River points out that the Doctor just doesn't bother to release the brake. Sigh.

The Vampires of Venice

To defuse the tension with Amy, the Doctor crashes Rory's bachelor party and takes him in the TARDIS for a romantic trip with Amy to Venice in 1580. They discover a girls' school that is run by vampires. Amy infiltrates the school but is later captured, to be turned into a vampire. She kicks at the head vampire, who is revealed to be an alien. The aliens fell through a crack in time and plan to use the watery city to re-create their watery planet. As the Doctor stops the plan, the last of the aliens throws herself into the water and accuses the Doctor of exterminating another race.

Hmm, well, better than Twilight?

Amy's Choice

Amy, Rory, and the Doctor alternate between two existences: in one, Amy and Rory have not travelled with the Doctor in five years, and are married and living in Leadworth, with Amy very pregnant. In the other, the three are in a disabled TARDIS, heading toward a "cold star" that will freeze them to death shortly. A man calling himself the Dream Lord appears and tell them that one of the scenarios is false. They must decide which is the false reality and die in it to escape the trap. After Rory is killed in Leadworth, Amy decides that she would rather end her own life if this scenario is the real one rather than be without Rory, so she allows herself to be killed as well. The Dream Lord reappears on the TARDIS to congratulate them and restores power to the TARDIS. The Doctor realizes that this is also a false reality and  destroys the TARDIS, at which point all three wake in the real TARDIS, out of danger. The Doctor says that, because he realized the Dream Lord had power over both scenarios, neither could be real, and that the Dream Lord is actually a manifestation of his own dark side.

The episode had me looking for clues as to which scenario was the "true" one, and it became a clever puzzle. And, of course, Amy made her choice between her two men.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Landing in a small village in 2020 instead of in Rio (allowing Amy to wander through the episode in tiny shorts), the Doctor, Amy, and Rory discover a drilling project that has reached nearly 21 miles down. People start disappearing, and the Doctor discovers that deep below the surface lies a Silurian civilization. The drilling has wakened the military arm of the sleeping Silurians, and three travel to the surface to kill those involved with the drilling operation, which the Silurians see as a threat. One is captured, and the Doctor urges the humans to "display the best of humanity" so that "no one dies today," but one of the women kills their captive while torturing the creature in an effort to find out what happened to her son. The Silurian leader has been awakened and realizes that the two races need to coexist. The military tries to stage a coup, which the leader is able to thwart, sending his people back to sleep for another thousand years.

Back on the surface, relatives of the dead warrior try to kill the Doctor. Rory steps in front of the shot and is killed. The crack in time appears, and Rory is erased from time. The Doctor tells Amy that she can keep his history alive by remembering him, but she can't keep concentrating and forgets him.

I liked the message - when faced with an alien race, shouldn't we all display the best of humanity? - but the story seemed weak, especially for a two-parter.

Vincent and the Doctor

Amy is enjoying Van Gogh paintings when the Doctor sees a monster painted into one. They go to 1890s France to meet Van Gogh, a tortured genius. Together, they kill the monster (which only Van Gogh can see) and try to show Van Gogh how much his art will be valued in the future. Amy thinks this will keep him from committing suicide, but, alas, his demons are too much for him. Still, back at the exhibit, the monster is gone from the painting - and "Sunflowers" is dedicated to Amy.

This was one of the best episodes of the series. I'll admit it was a little cheesy, but the scene in which the Doctor asks the museum curator how Van Gogh is ranked among painters - "Possibly the best ever" - as Van Gogh himself listens with amazement is emotionally powerful.

The Lodger

The Doctor must room with a human to find out what is causing the TARDIS - and Amy inside it - to be stuck in a time loop. The focus is really on the landlord and his girlfriend, who are obviously crazy about one another but won't admit it - until they are forced to do so in order to save the Doctor. A very sweet episode, and very funny. Craig is excellent, and the Doctor's soccer game is priceless. ("Are you any good at football?" "Football? Why, yes, I think I am. Football, now that's the one with the sticks?")

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The big payoff for the season! River Song summons the Doctor to Roman-ruled Britain in 102 A.D., near Stonehenge. The Doctor and Amy find River posing as Cleopatra (!) River shows them a Van Gogh painting she recovered, called "The Pandorica Opens," showing the TARDIS exploding. They travel beneath Stonehenge, where there is a vast chamber and a cube - the Pandorica, thought by the Doctor to be a myth. One of the Roman soldiers helping the group is Rory, a situation inexplicable to both Rory and the Doctor. The Doctor's enemies gather overhead. River tries to use the TARDIS but ends up in Amy's bedroom on June 26, 2010. Exploring Amy's bedroom, River finds a book about Pandora's box and another about Roman soldiers in Britain, and realizes that the Pandorica must be a trap for the Doctor. The Doctor tells her to leave the TARDIS, but River finds herself trapped as the TARDIS starts to explode.

At Stonehenge, the Roman soldiers, including Rory, turn out to be Autons - plastic creatures - and the Doctor is captured. Above ground, Amy finally remembers who Rory is, but his Auton identity is too strong and he kills her. Below ground, various alien species converge on the Doctor and imprison him in the Pandorica, as they believe he is responsible for the cracks in time. As the TARDIS explodes, all of the universe, other than the Earth, fades out.

As Rory mourns over Amy, the Doctor appears (a slightly older version of the Doctor, not imprisoned in the Pandorica, used River's vortex manipulator) and hands Rory his sonic screwdriver, telling him to use it to free the Doctor and place Amy's body in the Pandorica, explaining that the Pandorica will restore Amy with her DNA. (This makes no sense, but we're going with the flow at this point.) The Doctor, now freed, takes the vortex manipulator and travels forward nearly 2,000 years. Rory then guards the Pandorica for all that time protecting Amy until it can be opened again.

In 1996, young Amelia Pond follows clues from the Doctor to the Natural History museum, where she opens the Pandorica, releasing her older self. They are joined by the Doctor and Rory, still standing guard, now as a security guard at the museum. After evading a Dalek in the museum and rescuing River from the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor flies the Pandorica to the TARDIS, creating a second Big Bang as the universe is re-created. The Doctor is outside that universe, however, and his existence starts to fade out.

In 2010, Amy awakens on her wedding day. River has left her River's diary, and though it Amy remembers the Doctor. This brings back the Doctor, who arrives in the TARDIS at Amy and Rory's wedding reception.

Despite some odd lapses in logic, this two-part series of episodes provides a real emotional impact, from Rory's return (Pinocchio-like, does he become a real boy? We presume so.), to his nearly 2,000-year post guarding Amy, to the destruction and recreation of the TARDIS, to the Doctor's sacrifice and return. (One presumes the Doctor knew he could be brought back into the universe, as he told Amy more than once that remembering someone would keep them alive, but he couldn't be sure Amy would do so, having screwed up remembering Rory after his death.) Well done.

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