Monday, August 17, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 14

And now on to season 14 of Doctor Who...

The Masque Of Mandragora: This one is a bit hit-and-miss. On the positive, it's another one of those historical settings that the BBC usually does well (both for the studio shots and the exteriors). The main players here were suitably over-the-top, with the astrologer Hieronymous and the evil Count taking top marks here. On the negative, the plot here is a bit coincidental, with the TARDIS just happening to capture the Helix energy, which just happens to find a suitable religious sect to take over, and so on. The script writer also seems to have run out of things for Sarah Jane to do - she spends the first half of the story captured and hypnotized and much of the last episode dancing or literally standing around in the background waiting for the Doctor to save the day. Still, the Doctor and the bad guys are generally good enough here to carry things along. Three stars.

The Hand Of Fear: Sarah Jane's final story is a definite improvement. Sarah is taken over and hypnotized for the second episode in a row, but at least she gets some things to do this time around while under control. Tom Baker is in good form, as well - for example, his casual attitude in watching the nuclear bombing run that he knows will fail. I also like the mysterious cold opening in the first episode (although I wonder if viewers at the time remembered that four weeks later - it's not like Lost today where we have wiki sites to remind us of everything). The defeat of Eldrad by his race was well-done, but not so much his defeat by the Doctor - tripping him into a chasm with his long scarf (a device also used two episodes in a row). And Sarah's send-off is still suitably sad and amusing. Four stars.

The Deadly Assassin: Yes, I know, I know - what other kind of assassin is there? Still, this is justifiably considered one of the classics, both because it is a creepy and interesting story and because of the job it does in filling in some of the back-story of the Doctor's home world. The whole surreal scene when the Doctor is trapped in the Matrix is very well-done, even if the ultimate plan of the Master is overly complex (why bring the Doctor into play at all? why does he need to actually get his man into the presidency to capture the relics he needed? and why does no one else around know about the relics' true uses?). Don't overthink it - just go with the style and enjoy. Five stars.

The Face Of Evil: After some pretty well-realized stories, it was past time for the show's production limitations to reappear. While the devolved Sevateem outfits are amusing enough ("Oh, I like the hat" the Doctor quips as the high priest dons a giant spacesuit glove on his head), the fact that there are only about three visible on screen at a time (and only one woman) makes the tribe look a bit thin on personnel. The cheap spaceship sets and horrible laser gun effects later in the story aren't any better. The overall idea (the Doctor's previous meddling causes disaster later on) could have been a very devastating storyline, but it really wasn't addressed as fully as it could have been. Considering the Doctor was responsible for everything that had happened, the other characters sure didn't seem too unhappy with him at the end. This really was a missed opportunity for something special. As it is, two stars.

The Robots Of Death: Ahh, this is one of my favorites. The hit-and-miss design work switches back to big hit - yeah, the spaceship corridors are the usually bare-bones, but I love the robot designs, the ship's common areas show some differentiation and thought, and even the goofy hats and makeup for the crew do a good job of showing a civilization that has become decadent and overly-dependent on its robotic underclass. The plot is really just a locked-room mystery, where pretty much the last man standing is the villian. One problem, though: why did he choose to start his robotic revolution on a mining ship in the middle of nowhere? Shouldn't he have started somewhere with, well, with a civilization to overthrow? And it's even a good start for Leela in her first shot as companion. This one's a definite five stars for me.

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang: And it's followed up with an even better five-star effort. Another historical story, which means good production design from the BBC. And even better supporting characters, with the duo of Professor Lightfoot and impresario Henry Gordon Jago being so good they were briefly considered for a spin-off show. Even the theater performances within the show were good - I love Chang's un-PC "one of us is yellow" as the Doctor slips off-stage rather than be skewered by swords during a magic act. Really the only mark against this one is the horrible giant rat - just a lousy special effect. Why did they keep trying it, giant animals never work out on a show of this budget! Five stars, and the best of a great season of shows.

So there you have it - maybe the best overall season of Doctor Who! Next season is inevitably a step down, but we do get to meet a certain robotic canine....

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