Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Set the controls for the heart of the sun...

...is probably the crew of the S.S. Pentalion's LEAST ever favourite song (it's by Pink Floyd you know) .Unpleasant associations and all that.Yep, last Saturday's episode of "Who" had an exciting and intriguing premise - the Dr and Martha land on board a freighter which has been mysteriously sabotaged and programmed to crash into the heart of a nearby sun in some 42 minutes. To make matters worse, one of the crew members is possessed by an unknown entity and starts acting very strangely. As Dr Who episodes run to approximately 45 minutes a unique selling point of this episode was that it took place in "real time". (Well, almost. I think the timing did go awry in places and wasn't always "to the clock"). However despite such a promising idea, the delivery didn't work and this has definitely proved to be the worst story of the season so far for me. And here was me saying last time that there hadn't been a bad episode yet!! Spoke too soon, didn't I...

Not that "42" was terrible - far from it - I just found the whole thing relentlessly average. Here was a story with the potential to keep the audience on the edge of their seats - a crew in peril, desperately trying to escape a life and death situation (and how much more life-threatening can you get than being burnt up by the sun!) with a malevolent alien force on board in the guise of a human, killing off the crew one by one. Sound familiar? Rather than being a worthy tribute, "42" came off very much as a poor man's version of "Alien".

One of the problems for me was the lack of tension - when the Dr and Martha first arrive on board the Pentalion and met some of the crew they all seemed very laid back about the fact that they were shortly going to die! There just wasn't a strong enough feeling of panic amongst the characters considering they had less than 42 minutes left to live - let alone stress, terror, fear! In fact, the crew only seemed spurred into taking action by the Dr's arrival and suggestions! Were they incapable of taking the initiative themselves? Throughout the episode there were too many bits when people were standing around talking - e.g. McDonnell speaking about her husband - and one couldn't help thinking "Erm, excuse me, have you got time for this? You're all about to cark it!" I've heard of being calm in the face of a crisis, but really...There was something about the momentum of the plot which just didn't EXCITE enough. It DID get a bit more tense toward the end, with the Dr desperately trying to save Martha and Riley from burning up in the jettisoned pod, and then a bit later Riley and Orin frantically trying to start the auxiliary engines with about a minute to spare, but these scenes came too late.

And I know I'm being a fusspot, but considering that this was a ship just over half an hour away from crashing into the scorching hot sun, shouldn't the crew have been roasting just a bit more? So they covered Michelle Collins and co in some muck and baby oil to give the "sweaty effect" (something my fellow blogger Steve rather liked, particularly with regard to Ms Collins) but it was pretty tame really. They all should have been stripped half naked from the sheer heat (and no, that isn't just my sexual fantasies coming out, besides the only attractive crew member for me was Riley and even he wasn't that gorgeous, not as much as Reggie Yates anyway - but I won't go down that road again...) And given the ship's very, very close proximity to the sun, shouldn't it have been bucking and shaking about all over the place? Logically, in the last few minutes, with impact so close, the ship's systems would have totally broken down and a lot of the craft would have melted/broken up by that point (especially as the heat shields were totally f*cked!) But no - the crew were still able to get away in the nick of time! The stuff of cartoons. Of course, yes, I'm being your regular critical old Cheeser for the one billioneth time, and I know a lot of sci-fi is highly, highly improbable (a police box travelling through time and space anyone? Bigger on the inside than the outside? Get away with you, Vera!) But, still. A little bit of credibility wouldn't go amiss, now would it?

Okay, whilst I'm wittering on like so I might as well continue with a few more gripes! Just a few more, I promise...(It seems to be the style of my reviews really - get the moans out of the way first...) The plot with Martha and Riley trying to open all the password sealed doors - some 29 - to reach the auxillary engines was erm...a little hard to stomach. I mean, would a spacecraft really have such hard-to-crack security? What made this even less believable was Riley's comment that the answers to the questions had been set by a previous crew no longer working on the ship - so how on earth were the current crew meant to know what they were?! This whole idea was obviously meant to up the ante - let's make it as hard as we can for the crew to reach the engines! - but in a very contrived fashion.

What about the the characters and performances? Competent. However I didn't find Ms Collins gutsy or tough enough as the ship's captain, McDonnell. Mind you she did acquit herself at the end by making such a noble sacrifice, jettisoning the possessed Korwin and herself from the airlock - a Ripley-type moment actually - similar to what happens at the end of Alien 3! But overall she was too soapey and Cindy Beale-ish - all of her best dialogues were about her husband which kind of limited her character and she seemed too content to follow the Dr, rather than being a strong decision maker herself. I just didn't believe in her as a ship's captain. Perhaps not entirely Ms C's fault, blame writer Chris Chibnall too! Miaow. Still, this episode was considerably better than the some of the totally cack stories he wrote for the last series of "Torchwood". Double miaow.

The remainder of the crew weren't, I feel, fleshed out enough and didn't get sufficient air time to make them into fully rounded characters. However I do acknowledge this is problematic in 45 minute episodes. One character who stood out from the rest and was allowed some development was Riley - a good, sensitive performance by William Ash. The sub-plot with Martha and Riley opening the doors and then getting jettisoned in the escape pod, whilst contrived, at least allowed for more of a focus on these characters. Martha's realisation that she might never see her family again was quite well done and her phone call to her Mum was a touching moment (although wouldn't/shouldn't she have called the rest of her family too? Bad girl). We also got to find out a bit more about Riley and his loneliness. And nice that Martha assumed he might have had a girlfriend OR boyfriend too. What a modern and forward-thinking girl she is.

But again, considering that the escape pod almost got consumed by the sun why did it look as though Martha and Riley were nice and cool inside? They should have been bloody scorched!

And then there was the evil presence on the ship. It was a nicely unusual twist that the sun itself was possessing people - a living organism that was angry people were using it for fuel - an interesting idea/slant that could have been explored further. The "burn with me" phrase was quite effective and scary too. And the bits where the possessed characters had glowing eyes - including the Dr! - were creepy. If I was a five year old, I'd probably have been petrified.

Another positive aspect of the episode was that it gave the Dr a real chance to shine and prove himself. From the moment the TARDIS landed on the Pentalion, he was at his most decisive and scientific best, going straight into problem-solving mode. As soon as he and Martha arrived the Doc was desperately trying to figure a way out of the situation, brainstorming lots of solutions and ideas. He also proved to be a real hero when saving Martha from burning to death inside the pod (even though again, he really should have been roasted alive when he stepped out of the airlock door. Ah well...) And he was quite convincing when possessed by the sun, showing a rare moment of vulnerability when he told Martha "I'm so scared"!

As for Martha - dare I say I actually found her quite wooden on occasion and a bit annoying at times although as I said her scenes with Riley were quite good. I thought she was a bit mean to Riley at the end though, not really acknowledging his feelings considering that they'd almost died together, but at least she granted him a kiss by way of recompense. Her "very hot" comment was also funny.

Whatever the shortcomings of the story it also can't be denied that there were lots of great visuals. Kudos to director Graeme Harper and the visual/special effects team for that! I thought that Graeme H did a particularly good job with the lighting, making the spaceship look like a proper industrial environment and at least conveying some impression of heat with the orange/red hue on the camera. The engine room set looked a bit crap though. There were some truly memorable shots, particularly the one of the Dr in his spacesuit outside the Pentalion, gazing at the sun, with the fire-like rays of the sun reflecting in the visor of his helmet. Magical stuff.

And meanwhile, events were unfolding back on Earth, involving that suspicious old sour puss Francine Jones. Yes, we thought Martha's Mum was having a perfectly innocent conversation with her daughter on the phone, but no! Her calls were being monitored by a "Sinister Woman" in her lounge. Not the Avon lady or an Anne Summers rep, but an associate of the enigmatic - and as yet, unseen - Mr Saxon. I actually liked the Francine sub-plot more than the spaceship main-plot, even though it didn't take up much screen time.

The whole thing was deliciously sinister, mainly due to the presence of the aforementioned "Sinister Woman" played by Eliza Du Toit, who managed to convey genuine menace in just a few lines: "Thanks for all you're doing, Mrs Jones. Mr Saxon will be VERY grateful." Mmm, very mysterious! (And how I love it when they give minor characters names like that - "Strange Man", "Old Perv", "Drunken Old Dyke", "Abusive ABBA fan" - you get the picture).

So. In a nutshell not a terrible episode - it had a fair amount to redeem it - but not one that I'll be rushing to watch again. I'm looking forward to Human Nature next week though, the first of another two parter. It's written by Paul Cornell, who did such a great job on "Father's Day" in Season One. And it looks like a classy affair, set in England 1913 with the Dr - gasp! - deciding to give up the ways of a Time Lord to become human and - double gasp!! - settling down to marry an Earthwoman, played by Jessica Hynes (Stevenson) of "Spaced" fame! The Doc? Getting hitched?! What will that love-struck creature Martha Jones think about this? Is this the end of the road for the Time Lord? Tune in next time and find out! Dah dah dahhhh!!


  • At 11:21 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    I actually rather enjoyed 42. It was just pure and simple sci-fi without all the soap we've become used to. Well, there was a wee bit...

    I'm looking forward the rest of the episodes. Apart from "Blink" - supposedly this year's doctor-lite episode. Love and Monsters still brings me to tears.

  • At 7:20 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I thought Mr Saxon's cronies looked an awful lot like the Agents from The Matrix. Still at least they weren't fingering their earpieces every five minutes... well, not yet anyway.

    Really looking forward to seeing Jessica Hynes this week...

  • At 6:13 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    RTD lied in "Confidential", after the episode, saying it was the first new "Who" story set entirely on a spaceship. He obviously hasn't watched it 'cos I think it would've been better were that true.

    Luckily, I've never seen Michelle Collins as Cindy Beale so, for me, she didn't bring that baggage with her. The only thing I've seen her in is "Daylight Robbery" which ran for two series on ITV1.

    Don't you think the snivel-fest that is "Father's Day" is but a poor man's version of "Groundhog Day"? And, wouldn't you rather watch "Alien" in preference to that film? I would!

    Tennant does seem more subdued from what I've seen of "Human Nature" but then it was originally a 7th Doctor story so, for starters, he's going to have to learn to be polite! Here's hoping!!

  • At 3:50 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Minge - I thought "42" WAS quite soapey actually, especially with the stuff going on with McDonnell and her husband. Although not excessively so.

    If you liked "Love and Monsters" - last year's doctor-lite story, then hopefully you WILL like "Blink"! It's the one episode for which there seems to have been very little advance publicity, but Stephen Moffat is writing it, and he's done some of the best episodes in the new show to date (I reckon), so that bodes well. And I'm sooo excited about the season finale, I really want to know WHO John Simm is...

    Steve - Ha ha, yes they did look like Matrix dudes. They just needed some shades to go with their suits. I loved Eliza Du Toit - a real icy blonde - and apparently she's back in the final two parter.

    Yes, and I'm very excited about "Human Nature" - only a few hours to go - yay! Really hope it's better than "42".

    Timewarden - My mind has gone blank - which other stories were set entirely on spaceships? Aaah "Four To Doomsday" was one, wasn't it...Any others? Shameful for a so-called Who fan to forget...

    Michelle Collins wasn't bad, just kind of average really. They could have cast someone more appropriate in the role I think. Having said that it was down to the script as well. Chris Chibnall definitely isn't my favourite writer.

    I suppose you could compare "Father's Day" to "Groundhog Day" - never thought of that! And I don't quite get the comparison between the "Groundhog" and "Alien"?!

    Well, as a school teacher I'll guess we'll see the Dr in more genteel, scholarly mode. But then again, remember him in "School Reunion"? Teaching kids but still nutty as a fruitcake! That's why we love the Dr so much! If only all teachers were as funny and crazy as him!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home