OK so I’ve not actually hit the target of reviewing the Doctor episodes straight after they’re broadcast, but I’ve had good reason as you’d find out over at the other place. Now that I can get up some level of new routine in the circumstances, then I’m here to catch up. The review of Victory of the Daleks will hopefully be up before the episode scheduled for this weekend.
So having set about the task of establishing himself as the new Doctor in his wonderful debut we look at the second episode of the 11th Doctor’s run.
Having accepted the invitation to accompany the Doctor on his travels, Amy finds herself having left Britain to return to it, this time to the entire island in space. The setting for this already has sinister overtones from the pre-credits sequence where a class ends with a boy being told, by a very menacing looking smiler-type puppet behind a box, he is a very naughty boy and so needs to make his way down the life outside the other children. We are given the impression that the boy is being fed to something nasty beneath the exterior.
Impressing his new companion with the merits of the TARDIS the Doctor and his companion land on the country in space to discover as ever, that things are not what they seem. As they investigate they are being watched by a masked character and her spies. In order to find out things the classic Dr. Who strategem is put into place and the Doctor and his companion split up. Amy allows her curiosity to come across a space where she’s given the opportunity to see what happened to the planet and remember it or forget everything. As she views the video it highlights some big horrors that lead to things being what they were. Understandably she elects to forget everything only to get a message from herself telling her to get the Doctor off the ship.
Just then the Doctor turns up and during the ensuing investigation, he too finds out more about why things are not what they are meant to be choosing to protest, rather than forget everything. So the Doctor and Amy go on to discover that it has to do with a deal that the masked character who turns out to be the Queen. She feels she’s being a vigilante fighting against the system, only to discover she is the one that perpetuates the system with the help of her underlings because of a deal that she had to make with the beast that is below..
There then follows a good moral dilemma set up where the Doctor takes upon himself to decide whether to save the planet but extinguish the last of a kind, or to set free that one-of-a-kind and put in peril those living on the planet. This decision is taken out of his hands by Amy who saves the day by deciphering that actually the beast is not doing what he’s doing under coercion but out of choice.
With the mystery solved and the beginnings of some resolution for the country in space despite some tense moments in their budding relationship the Doctor and his companion move onto new adventures. As they leave, however, we notice a familiar tear on the hull of the floating country in space, familiar in being like the same crack we saw in Amy’s room from the last episode. The new adventure has been hinted when the Doctor receives a call in the TARDIS from none other than Winston Churchill who has something that maybe of interest to him.
You can judge something on its own merits, or in the context of where it fits in the larger picture of its own story or of its similar genre. It’s tricky to just judge something on its own merits, especially something like an episode of Doctor Who. In this reviewer’s case, there’s no such thing as an episode that stands on its own for its own sake. It fits the larger picture of who the Doctor is and what the programme hopes to achieve.
So for example this is the second episode in the Matt Smith run and it’s not always the first episode that counts, it’s the second. It’s like the question of having come up with such a great debut album/single/film, what will your follow up be like. That can sometimes make or break someone’s run. In reality of course when it comes to the Doctor it’s more often seeing them in their second season and see how things go there.
In the case of Smith’s second episode, though, he still does remarkably well in eeking out his own characterisation of the role. He sustains that man of age in a body so young deal very well and shows some of the emotional fragility that has been noticed in the Tennant and Eccleston performances of the last of his kind. There is also a sense in which he doesn’t have a problem charging into the middle of a situation from the start when he lands on the planet and is out before Amy comprehends what’s going on to his take-charge attitude in finding out the gravity of the situation. It’s a fair performance all round, but not as exhilarating as the first, that’s to be expected as he grows slowly but surely his own imprint on the role.
I was watching an episode of a quasi-comedy-quiz show on C4 called You Have Been Watching hosted by Charlie Brooker. The show itself wasn’t that funny although I like Brooker as a host and funny writer/performer. The show highlighted some very good topical links between the whole process of voting to protest or forget it with the current General Election buzz and although I’m sure nothing overt was ever the plan in the writing of it, there are some deeper issues you could draw out of the whole system that plays on more than the moral dilemma of what to do with the last of a species. That was brilliant to show how some things we watch at first actually have more meaning to them than we first give credit.
Back to the episode itself and we were meant to be scared of the so-called Smilers and to an extent I can see how they might frighten someone young. Unlike the Waters of Mars, though, where the water creatures and their transformation was a bit spooky, there was nothing that scary about the Smilers and neither did you get the impression that it was that menacing from any of the characters.
Speaking of characters the notable other players in tis game were not all that significant. Once more the child actors did a splendid job in their role. As for the adults the only role of any note was that of the Elizabeth character. I’m aware that Sophie Okonedo, the actress who played her, has done some beefy parts including being nominated in the part of Tatiana in Hotel Rwanda which got her an Academy Award nomination and also recently did Winnie Mandela in a BBC drama Mrs Mandela. She’s a great actress from what I saw of her, so it was a bit disappointing to not see her given a chance to stretch herself in the part of the monarch who doesn’t know the consequences of her own ‘forget it’ acts. Maybe it wasn’t that demanding of her, but I wasn’t too convinced, although I would have loved it if she could be a recurring character.
This episode was to reinforce Amy’s position as the companion and in this I felt she did OK without being annoying or outstanding. It was strong enough to settle in us the idea of a character who is not so much overwhelmed by the Doctor, even if she is still taken with the actual wonder of time and space travel. That sense of awe is something appealing through her appearance and conducting the whole thing in her night-clothes as well doesn’t seem to bother her. It’s kind of similar to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy thing of Arthur going around in his pyjamas and night gown. Yeah I know it won’t last, but it’s a good piece of continuity. Karen Gillan is more than a competent actress and invests the role with vigour already establishing her sense of feisty in a distinct form from most of her predecessors.
So at the end of this episode I remained hopeful and optimistic about the Doctor that we have seen thus far and look forward to what other adventures await this incarnation.