Doctor Who: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”

I can’t even. Just when I thought Doctor Who was starting to get good again, it airs an episode so shitty I can’t even bring myself to summarize it for you. All I have are questions, all of which are ignored by the script. (I’m not even talking about all the ridiculous coincidences in the story, like the Doctor turning off the TARDIS shields for no good reason right at the moment the TARDIS is about to be grabbed by the one thing it really, really needs those shields to prevent.)

Spoilers follow, but trust me, you don’t even want to watch this episode anyway!

First and foremost, how the fuck does the Doctor fall out of the TARDIS when it’s taken on board the salvagers’ ship? What exactly is the toxic substance that is making the TARDIS’ interior so deadly? Isn’t it the exact same substance the Doctor is able to effortlessly vent out of the console room as soon as he regains access to the TARDIS? How are the time zombies (you read that right, and if you’re not rolling your eyes already something is dead inside you) — who are essentially dying, seriously injured, burned up bodies — strong enough to attack people and chase them around the TARDIS? Why do they attack them? (The director, Mat King, cribs a technique from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine by never showing the time zombies in focus, because he knows they look ridiculous!) If the Doctor’s name is such a well-kept and important secret, why do the authors of the book Clara finds in the TARDIS library, The History of the Time War, know it and print it with impunity? (The book could not have been written by the Time Lords themselves. They didn’t survive the Time War to write about it!) Why would the Doctor even allow that?

It is insufferably stupid to have the Doctor set the TARDIS self-destruct mechanism, then admit there is no self-destruct mechanism, then act like a dick about it, and then be all, “Oh shit, the TARDIS really is going to blow up!” But even stupider is Tricky not realizing he’s actually human when he thinks he’s an android. It reminded me of Crayford in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “The Android Invasion,” who thinks he’s been turned into an android by the Kraals who rescued him from a rocket crash, but actually there was no crash and they didn’t turn him into an android. How does he discover this? He lifts his eyepatch and discovers he still has two eyes! It never occurred to him to lift his eyepatch before then! It’s much the same with Tricky. Apparently, he never wonders why he, as an android, is in the family photo with his two brothers and his dad. The whole thing is just shockingly stupid in an episode that is already shockingly stupid to begin with.

And of course the biggest, most pervasive question of the episode is: How come when Doctor Who finally has a plurality of black characters in one episode, they essentially turn out to be thieves and chop-shoppers?

But it’s okay, because in the end none of it happens! That’s right, this is one of those “time travel is magic” episodes where everything gets super shitty and then the Doctor does some timey-wimey bullshit and the entire timeline is changed so that it doesn’t happen. Thank goodness there are no rules to time travel! Except the ones that are occasionally necessary for plot purposes, of course. But when the plot demands there not be any rules, there aren’t. NAILED IT!

“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” is an episode best forgotten in a season that so far, with a couple of exceptions, is best forgotten as well. Much like most of last season. And most of the season before.

I’m growing to hate the fact that Steven Moffat will be the one in charge of the 50th Anniversary special.

Doctor Who: “Hide”

I think “Hide” can best be summed up by what my wife Alexa said after we watched it: “This is the first Doctor Who episode I’ve liked all season.” I liked it, too, and was just as surprised about that as she was. I liked it even more than “Cold War,” which is the only other episode this season that hasn’t made me want to give up on the show entirely. Of course, “Hide” is a haunted house story, so I might be biased.

No spoilers this time, though some may appear in the comments, so proceed there with caution!

As haunted house stories go, it’s a good one. It draws a bit too much from the well of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House — the loud banging noises, the “I’m not holding your hand” gag —  but the spooky atmosphere works. So do the characters of Alec Palmer, the ghost hunter masterfully played by Dougray Scott with understatement and humility, and empathic psychic Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine, keeping up with Dougray Scott quite well). Of course, this being Doctor Who, we know from the start it won’t really be a ghost. While the supernatural does exist in Doctor Who, there always turns out to be a scientific explanation, usually aliens or alien technology. That’s not quite the case here, but I’ve promised no spoilers because this one actually has quite a good solution to its central mystery. A rarity for Doctor Who these days.

I also quite liked how they keep the mystery of Clara going, without it being ham-handed like the crack that showed up at the end of every episode in Season 5, or the eyepatch woman showing up randomly in Season 6. I’m interested in finding out what the deal is with Clara, but also dreading the inevitable Moffatisms that will no doubt come into play upon the mystery’s solving. I still think Matt Smith is mugging too much for the camera, though, playing the fool in situations where he should be graver. But I have a strained relationship with the Eleventh Doctor. Sometimes I warm to him, and other times I just roll my eyes.

And now, some good old-fashioned Doctor Who neepery!

This isn’t the first haunted house the Doctor has explored. In the absolutely dreadful 1965 serial “The Chase,” William Hartnell’s First Doctor — along with Ian, Barbara, and Susan replacement Vicki — go on the run from the Daleks’ newly invented time machine and wind up in a variety of locales. One of them is a haunted house occupied by — I shit you not — Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Of course, it turns out they’re merely animatronic robots in a future Earth haunted attraction, but the whole episode is a low point for Doctor Who, even among those first few choppy years.

Much better is the 1989 serial “Ghost Light,” in which Sylvester McCoy’s Eighth Doctor and his companion Ace wind up in a haunted house in London in 1883. I’m not a fan of that many of the Eighth Doctor serials. They tend to be overcomplicated to the point of incomprehensibility, and “Ghost Light” is perhaps the prime example of this. Still, it’s an enjoyable adventure featuring a crashed space ship under a manor house that’s causing all manner of fuss.

There is a reference in “Hide” to a blue crystal from Metebelis 3. This, too, has been mentioned before. Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor would talk about Metebelis 3 all the time, and in the 1973 serial “The Green Death,” he uses a blue crystal from Metebelis 3 as a telepathic tool to defeat the baddies. Then he gives the crystal to his companion Jo Grant as a wedding present. The following season, in 1974’s “Planet of the Spiders,” the Doctor realizes the blue crystal he took from Metebelis 3 is super important to the giant spiders who rule that planet. The spiders decide to invade Earth to get it back. The Doctor eventually goes to Metebelis 3 to defeat the Great One, the leader of the giant spiders, but in doing so his body gets poisoned with radiation. He returns to Earth, to UNIT headquarters. There, in front of Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier, and with the help of K’anpo Rimpoche, a Time Lord hiding on Earth as a Buddhist abbot (!), he regenerates into Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.

Doctor Who: “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a vast improvement over the previous two episodes of Doctor Who, and may be the best episode of the season so far. Faint praise considering this season, I know, but still. “Cold War” does it right where so much of Doctor Who feels like it’s doing it wrong these days.

Warning: Spoilers follow!

First and foremost, “Cold War” is a “monster loose in an enclosed space” story, which it turns out is exactly what Doctor Who has been missing amid all these overly complicated, nearly incomprehensible, Steven Moffat-era plots that fall to pieces under the slightest scrutiny. The setting, a Soviet submarine during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, is perfect, and one we haven’t seen before in Doctor Who. (It’s interesting to see a “historical” episode that takes place during a time when classic Who was on the air.) While the tensions of the times and even between crew members could have been played up a bit more by the script, it’s strength really does stem, ironically, from being a straightforward story with a simple setting.

The addition of a classic monster we haven’t seen before in new Who adds a lot to it as well. I knew we would eventually see an Ice Warrior again once David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor referenced them, albeit obliquely, in “The Waters of Mars.” (Much the same way he referenced Davros obliquely in season three before the creator of the Daleks made an appearance in season four. Which makes me wonder if the Doctor’s similarly oblique reference to his granddaughter Susan in “The Rings of Akhaten” might mean we’ll be seeing her again for the 50th Anniversary.) The use of an Ice Warrior here is a great echo of the Cold War of the setting, both for the pun and for the militaristic mindset of the Ice Warrior himself, who decides that he must be the last of his kind and will therefore launch the sub’s nuclear missiles to go out in a blaze of glory. And for the first time in what feels like ages, the climax plays out perfectly for the story itself, rather than being hobbled by Moffatesque moments of “wouldn’t it be cool if?” (“Wouldn’t it be cool if the sun were actually the monster and it eats stories instead of people?” No, Steven. No, it wouldn’t.)

Special guest star Chancellor Gorkon David Warner is great in the small, gentle role of the rather goofy Professor Grisenko, a scientist aboard the sub who is obsessed with ’80s New Wave acts Ultravox and Duran Duran. (How I loved seeing that old, bulky Walkman clipped to his belt!) Grisenko is one of those character types that have been there since new Who started in 2005, the interesting, charismatic person who winds up sacrificing himself to save others, but amazingly, that’s not how the story plays out. For the first time in a long time, (almost) everyone lives. Given how superior this episode is to what came before, I’m surprised it was written by Mark Gatiss, the man who brought us “The Idiot’s Lantern” and “Victory of the Daleks” (not to mention the absurd “Hounds of Baskerville” episode of Sherlock)!

It’s not all perfect, of course. The Ice Warriors are needlessly retconned into cyborgs whose shell armor is actually mechanical in nature, thereby making them pretty much exactly the same as the Daleks or the Cybermen. As soon as the Ice Warrior slipped out of his armor to sneak around the sub, I knew we were in for an absolutely awful looking CGI creature, and I was right. There’s a needlessly distracting callback to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” during the tense climax. Matt Smith mugs for the camera too much when he really needed to play this one more seriously. The TARDIS disappears as soon as the trouble starts because plot device.

But despite all these nitpicks, it’s not a bad episode. Dare I say, it might even be a good one. If the rest of this season’s episodes follow the example of “Cold War” and keep their stories this straightforward and uncomplicated by Moffatisms, it might just salvage season seven. The next episode looks like it might do just that, too, with the Doctor and Clara exploring a “haunted” house. Sign me up.

And now for some of that Doctor Who neepery you secretly come here for!

The Ice Warriors were never a top-tier villain like the Daleks, the Cybermen, or the Master. I don’t think most fans would even put them on the same tier as the Sontarans or the Silurians, although they did make several appearances through the years. The Ice Warriors first show up in the 1967 serial “The Ice Warriors,” in which Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor foils a Martian invasion of Earth. (The plot is actually strikingly similar to “Cold War,” with frozen Ice Warriors being discovered in the Arctic, getting thawed out, and going all aggressive on everyone when they learn Mars is a dead planet now.) The Ice Warriors returned in the 1969 serial “The Seeds of Death,” where the Second Doctor discovers they’ve taken over the Moonbase and plan to try their invasion again. They didn’t show up again until Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor took the reigns. The 1972 serial “The Curse of Peladon” found the Ice Warriors much evolved and now part of the peaceful Galactic Federation. They even help the Doctor foil a coup against King Peladon. The very last time we saw them, before “Cold War,” was in 1974’s follow-up serial “The Monster of Peladon,” but this time the Doctor encounters a rogue unit of Ice Warriors who are trying to muck things up again. Nearly 40 years later, it’s fun to see them once more, and interesting to see how the show has kept their evolution going.

Hannibal

You can, I think, forgive me for being Hannibal Lectered out since the late ’90s and early ’00s. You see, I’m a huge fan of the films Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. I think Red Dragon, the novel on which Manhunter is based, is one of the greatest procedural thrillers ever written. Its semi-sequel, Silence, ain’t bad as a book, either. As the author responsible for them both, Thomas Harris created one of the greatest modern villains in literary and cinematic history in Hannibal Lecter, and Anthony Hopkins was a freaking revelation in the role in the 1991 film adaptation of Silence.

But after that, things went off the rails. In 1999, Harris published Hannibal, a direct sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Wildly excited for it, I bought the novel in hardcover the day it was released, too early even to get it with a bestseller’s discount. I paid full hardcover price for it. The novel started brilliantly with lushly written, Grand Guignol scenes of Hannibal Lecter in Italy, but soon devolved into a rushed, bare-bones screenplay outline. (Seriously, some of the descriptions in this third-person POV novel even begin with sentences like “We first see the house from outside, then push slowly toward it…” just like in screenplays.) The novel is a mess. The ending isn’t even worth talking about, unless you enjoy it when an author essentially gives his readers the finger for having the nerve to like his work. This novel, too, was turned into a film, and it was almost as bad as the book. Changing the ending, it turned out, wasn’t enough to save it. No wonder Jodie Foster refused to reprise the role of Clarice Starling for it. (Julianne Moore does her best, but no.)

But that wasn’t all. No, the slow degradation of all things Hannibal Lecter continued unabated. In 2002, Red Dragon was needlessly remade as a film for the sole reason of allowing Anthony Hopkins to play Lecter again. (It was Brian Cox who originated the role in Manhunter.) This remake had none of the style of Manhunter, and none of the creepiness of The Silence of the Lambs. It was an exercise in money counting and little else. But it did well, which meant there was even more money to be made, and so Harris published Hannibal Rising in 2005, exploring in detail Lecter’s backstory and all the things that made him like he is, and thereby destroying the last remaining interesting thing about him. I didn’t bother reading it, or seeing the film adaptation with Gaspard Ulliel as a younger Hannibal. I just wasn’t interested anymore. By then, I was truly Hannibal Lectered out.

So you can imagine how shocked I was that I actually really, really liked the pilot episode of Hannibal, the new, if not terribly originally named, prequel series on NBC. Focusing on the uneasy, early-days partnership between FBI special agent Will Graham and official consulting psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, the episode is directed with flourish in a style reminiscent of Manhunter (although instead of relying on “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” they instead make use of some of the musical effects from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon). Hugh Dancy is the best Will Graham since William Peterson in Manhunter (sorry, Edward Norton), playing him as slightly autistic and deeply troubled. His ability to imagine himself not just at the scene of the crime but also in the killer’s shoes is as shocking to him as it is, often, to the viewer as we watch our hero stab or shoot someone to death during these brief interludes. (On the other hand, the weird, glowing pendulum swipe at the start of these interludes is unnecessary and distracting. We get it, it’s not really happening. You don’t need to talk down to us.) Also, Laurence Fishburne does a great job as Jack Crawford, which makes me wonder why he was let go from a similar role on CSI. Ah well, their loss is Hannibal‘s gain. He’s almost as good in the role as Scott Glenn was in Silence.

But of course the success of every Hannibal Lecter story relies on Lecter himself. Here, the role falls to Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen, and he does a pretty good job. It would be tough to top Anthony Hopkins, and it would be just as tough to mimic his performance, so Mikkelsen doesn’t bother. He brings his own brand of cold aloofness to the role, and judging solely from the first episode, it works. I just wish he would tone down the accent. I don’t know how much of it is his own, natural Danish accent and how much is his interpretation of Lecter’s European childhood, but I thought it was thick enough that it got in the way of some of his line readings and would definitely prefer something a bit more subtle.

Color me impressed not only that I’m no longer as Hannibal Lectered out as I thought but I’m actually interested in a prequel TV series where I thought none was necessary. I suppose it’s because there’s more fertile ground to be tilled here than in, say, A&E’s new prequel series Bates Motel, which doesn’t interest me in the least. While Psycho definitely does not need its backstory filled in, there’s a tantalizing blank slate to Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s brief partnership before Graham eventually discovered what Lecter was and put him away. They can do almost anything with this series, go almost anywhere, and in the midst of it they can explore the psyches of two of commercial fiction’s most interesting characters. I’m happy to take the journey with them.

 

 

News & Updates

Search