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Jun 19, 2006

Lovely Initially. Nonsense Dénouement. Again.

I was talking to my Dad about this episode before I’d had chance to watch it and he told me that it was the ‘oddest episode of Doctor Who’ he’d ever seen. Having now seen it, I can quite understand what he meant.

It started a bit worryingly. The Lord of the Rings reject doing a Benny Hill chase with the Doctor, Rose and a red bucket (not blue!) in and out of a few doorways. But then it opened out to Elton telling the story. And crucially, that made all the difference, because we saw this action from his point of view and I can fully believe that he’d remember it that way.

I really liked the first thirty minutes or so of this episode. It was a brave attempt at doing something different. I loved the video blog narration with Elton talking straight to camera and telling us of his encounters with the good Doctor. I even thought that the cut scenes of ELO fueled dance numbers worked well in that context. It helped flesh out Elton’s character and give us more of an insight into why he did what he did.

It was also a fascinating attempt at a Doctor Who episode in which the Doctor hardly appeared at all. To have him on the sidelines, just being an observer and not even defeating the bad guy in the end was a really interesting experiment. I’m not saying they should do it every week or anything, but as a one off I think that it worked well. It reminded me of the Babylon 5 episode "A view from the Gallery" where we saw the action played out from the perspective of two maintenance workers. Except that I really liked that entire episode.

And of course there was the added benefit that the Doctor and Rose weren’t at all irritating in this episode. Almost no shouting or smug laughing in the face of danger. So that made a nice change.

Our_new_hero Actually, now that it’s confirmed that Rose will be off shortly I think that Elton should  sign on as the new companion. I really liked that guy, he had the awe and innocence of a new traveller. He was charming in an endearing clumsy way and ultimately did the right thing, both by Jackie and in standing up to Victor Kennedy. I really would like to see more of this man. Get him onboard the TARDIS! The campaign starts here!

The LINDA team was an interesting idea. A group of lonely people coming together initially to talk about mild conspiracy theories but really just becoming a meeting group for the socially deprived. Except Bridget who came down to London every weekend to look for her daughter and yet ended up doing backing vocals and cooking.

And then came Victor Kennedy. Now I wasn’t looking forward to Peter Kay making an appearance this week. I suppose I have too many bad memories of Hale and Pace, Ken Dodd and even John Cleese to make me look forward to an entertainer being cast in a sci-fi program. I let Simon Pegg off because of his obvious love of the genre and the fact that he’s an actor and can therefore, you know, act. Still, Peter Kay wasn’t too bad to begin with. He was slightly mysterious and secretly knowledgeable, so on form for your standard Who villain really. And how did he get hold of the Torchwood files? If he’s that good at infiltration and subterfuge, I really don’t think that he needed a second rate tribute band to help him. I know that we’re still having Torchwood shovelled on a bit thick, but it was nice to see a little continuity running from last season with the mention of a Bad Wolf virus linking up with the coming spin off. I thought that was a nice little touch.

I thought that it was interesting to see how Jackie was coping with ordinary life when she isn’t facing the certain death that a home visit from Rose brings. Although, I did think that her seduction technique left a little to be desired. Generally chucking (possibly French) red wine over somebody doesn’t lead to rumpy pumpy. Not, of course, that I’d know. I drink white.

And then there was another threat to Rose and her mum, albeit in the form of musing on behalf of our new hero. Something along the lines of "How much longer can it be before they suffer the consequences of knowing the Doctor." Things aren’t looking good for the Tyler family. I wish I could be more upset, but they’ll probably deserve it.

This is a first for me - 700 odd words and barely a bad one in there. That’s because there wasn’t anything bad to say about it for a long time. I can’t give you the exact time reference that things went badly, but I can describe what was happening on screen.

Elton and Ursula had just returned to collect her ‘phone and Victor Kennedy was sitting behind his newspaper, hiding the fact that he was in ridiculous make up.

I would say that things spiralled downwards after this, but that’s just too gentle a motion to describe the unstoppable plummet that followed. The Roman Empire collapsed with better grace than this story.

So what went wrong? Where to start.

Let’s start with the monster himself. Okay I know some child with a Blue Peter badge designed it, but come on! There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said - no. How did he change his appearance? Why did he get more northern when he was doing the shaved Guinea Pig impression? Why did he not change back when he heard people coming? How come the heads that were sticking out of his body didn’t talk when he was in his slightly more human disguise? Why or indeed how were Ursula’s glasses absorbed? How the hell can you absorb the life essence of a pair of specs? Why did we have to have yet another fart/backside gag? They’re not funny!

How? Why? There was nothing redeemable about that lump of latex at all. In any way, shape or form. No, no no!

Benny_hillAnd then there was that chase down the street. Why were the streets deserted? How come nobody else noticed a naked, fat, clawed, genitally challenged, Mohawk wearing,  absorbed head sporting and generally unconvincing blob jog down the street slowly so as not to catch his prey? All that was missing was a large breasted, scantily clad blonde and it would have been a dead ringer for a Benny Hill sketch. Again. Twice in one episode is pushing it a bit.

And my old favourite the Sonic Screwdriver. Yet another fascinating new use for the humble tool. This week the good Doctor was able to reactualise (?) the last victim of Mr Blobby by zapping the pavement. Again, this made no sense. Why would it not reclaim the creature himself rather than his latest meal? Assumedly Ursula was still all in there somewhere, but the Doctor was still able to resurrect her head and glasses. Using a screwdriver, even if it is a posh one.

Before_she_was_a_paving_slabAnd then there’s the fact that her head is alive and stuck in a paving slab. We are asked to believe that this man has some kind of love life with a head in a paving slab. I  find that very difficult to swallow.

I was so disappointed at the end of it all. Such a promising, brave, different build up and than that. It was totally and utterly rubbish beyond the realms of rubbish-ness. That’s got to up there with the worst moments of Doctor Who, ever.

I’ve decided to make a quick checklist of what no to do if one is faced with writing/producing/being involved in Dr Who. Never, ever do this sort of thing again.

1. Don’t let Russell T Davies write it. Ask for his creative input, then shoo him out the door.

2. Don’t ask children to design the monster. If you do that, then you’re going to get crap monsters.

3. Don’t have any more jokes about bodily functions. Ever. They aren’t funny.

4. Stop using the Sonic Screwdriver as some kind of universal cure-all. It’s not a magic wand. It’s a screwdriver.

5. Do not cast vaguely famous, pop culture people simply because they happen to be inflicting their 15 minutes on us at an appropriate time. Cast actors, it’s what they’re trained for. It’s all they’re trained for but at least it’s a purpose of sorts.

6. Do not, and this is so very important, put even one homage to crap sexist seventies ‘comedians’ into the programme. They weren’t funny then and age has not improved them. What’s next? A Bernard Manning beast? At least that would save on the fat suit and prosthetics.

7. Finally and most importantly. If you do screen this episode again (and that must be a big if) just stop it when Ursula goes back for her ‘phone. Tell people that there’s been a technical fault and play musak for 20 minutes. Trust me, it will be a much better episode that way.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

No, No, No! That’s not the way to do it. Bad BBC. Must try harder.

Much, much harder.

Comments

Good review - I agree with just about all of it. A better final 20 minutes or so might have redeemed it.

I wondered about the glasses too - and the sonic screwdriver? Clearly a 'do-it-all' model.

>And then there’s the fact that her head is alive and >stuck in a paving slab. We are asked to believe that >this man has some kind of love life with a head in a >paving slab. I find that very difficult to swallow.

RTD seems to think that the soapy relationship aspects of the new programme make it more accessible to women. If that's his intention he's really messed up with this one, hasn't he? What sort of attitude to women is suggested by this ending? The Doctor bought her back for me, she has no self-determination, no freedom, no mobility, but hey she still gives pretty good head! Did no one in the production team turn around and say "look we have to change this ending; it's so-o-o wrong!"? I mean talk about objectifying women; this one actually is an object; and this is supposedly better than letting her die with dignity.

The sexist seventies comedian you refer to? Do you mean Peter Kay (who isn't Seventies, and really isn't that sexist) or do you mean Robin Asquith who Elton Pope strongly resembled (plot wise at least) during the scenes with Jackie - "Confessions of a Trainspotter"?

To be scrupulously pragmatic, how many women has RTD ever had it off with? :)

Anyone else think Elton resembles what Vislor Turlough would have become if he'd spent another ten years stranded on Earth?

"If he’s that good at infiltration and subterfuge, I really don’t think that he needed a second rate tribute band to help him."
Because he's creepy and can't touch people. You can get away with creepy in government agencies but not with your average person.


"And then there’s the fact that her head is alive and stuck in a paving slab. We are asked to believe that this man has some kind of love life with a head in a paving slab. I find that very difficult to swallow."
So does she.

Who actually sat down and worked out how large the head would have to be? Is RTD admitting he's hung like a gnat?

It's hard to find a review that matches my feelings EXACTLY, but here it is!

Also, when Moaning Mertle tells Elton (no, not that one) not to speculate on their sex life, who else completely ignored that and went 'Ew!'?

I can't lie. I laughed. Sorry guys.

Anyway, what exactly are you getting at
"To be scrupulously pragmatic, how many women has RTD ever had it off with?"
here?

And I think Vislor Turlough would have started gleefully lopping off humans' heads if he'd spent another 10 WEEKs on Earth..

As another afficionado of sci-fi might say

worst.episode.ever.

I agree with Jon's review, most of the episode could have been forgiven as a fun diversion after the darkness of The Satan Pit, but as soon as that bastard love child of Fungus the Bogeyman and Bubbles deVere appeared on screen any chance of that went totally down the bog.

"As another afficionado of sci-fi might say worst.episode.ever."

Any self-respecting fan I've ever met strives as hard as they can NOT to be this guy, though.

While no one wants to be "comic book guy" surely it stands to reason that there must be a worst story ever, I mean if quality is in anyway quantifiable (which of course is where my argument falls down, because it isn't). This episode seems to have done worse in fan polls (on boards I've seen) than any other episode in the entire course of the new series, so in one way that this can be quantified (the validity of which is, I grant you, open to debate) it can be said to be the "worst episode ever" of the new series at any rate. There may well have been worse episodes in the old series - season 24 alone had 4 close contenders. In fact the scene with the Absorbaloff running after Elton down the alley in broad daylight bought me right back to those cringworthy mid-eighties episodes - for some people who loved that era I suppose that counts as nostalgia.

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