Posts Tagged With: ice warriors

Review: The Empress of Mars

I was at primary school with a kid called Steve. We all called him Spud, presumably because his head was unfortunately potato-shaped. He didn’t mind. Steve was a polite, if academically disadvantaged young man, and we were good friends. His parents divorced before we’d finished year 6, which was a bigger deal back in 1988 than it is now. He was a latchkey kid with access to the fridge and borderline unsuitable reading material. It was a different world.

One afternoon we were in the kitchen sharing a Diet Coke when I noticed his father was watching the end of something. The two of us looked round the door of the lounge: an actor, stabbed in the chest, staggering across a platform, evidently milking his death scene for all it was worth. He raised his face to the heavens and bellowed the single line of dialogue my brain recalls from that afternoon: “ODIIIIIINNNNN!!!!”

Thirty years on, I still haven’t seen The Vikings. But Bill has – and I’d be willing to bet that Mark Gatiss has as well. And as it turns out, that isn’t a bad thing.

There are writers who strive to forge ahead – for whom the most important thing is to tell new stories, or find new ways of telling those stories. And then there are writers who take their cue from the past. Gatiss has always struck me as one of those: a man whose Who-related work is rooted in the 1970s, in a self-conscious manner that flits between mind-numbingly tedious and tremendously enjoyable, depending on the episode. The criticism he receives is somewhat mystifying, given that a great deal of it seems to come from the very same component of the fanbase who actively petition for David Tennant’s return: a stilted, insular, nostalgia-driven quadrant, for whom the only way to fix a show that’s well past its prime is to make it exactly the same as it was, which misses the point so drastically I don’t have the willpower to unpack it.

I first learned to love Mark Gatiss around the time ‘The Crimson Horror’ first hit: in a pondering, occasionally tedious series (and in the wake of an absolute clanger of an episode) it was a breath of fresh air, a story that wasn’t ashamed of its legacy and that eschewed self-importance in favour of…well, fun. It’s an underrated commodity. Stories like ‘Robot of Sherwood’ seldom make the top ten, but they’re fun. Sometimes we forget that Doctor Who is supposed to be fun, so consumed are we in telling everyone how important and groundbreaking it is. One of my favourite moments in the Harry Potter series occurs at the end of Goblet of Fire, where Harry finds a convenient use for the blood money he’s earned from the Tri-Wizard tournament, by investing in the Weasley twins’ joke shop business venture. “I don’t want it,” he says, “and I don’t need it. But I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.”

What to say about ‘Empress’? It’s not profound. It makes no real political point, save the kind of digs at the British Empire you typically see on Horrible Histories (a show in which Gatiss has appeared, along with his League of Gentlemen co-stars). It has a lot of stuff about queen and country, including a pleasing Pauline Collins reference. It has an amusing, if fairly derivative cold open – excuse pun – that is enough to draw your interest, even if it does not quite reach the hyperbolic praise that Moffat ascribes to it (“The best pre-titles idea [he’d] ever heard”, according to Doctor Who Magazine, which rather overstates its supposed brilliance). It has a bunch of gung-ho British soldiers speaking an indecipherable language (‘rhino’ is mentioned; I honestly don’t know whether this is colloquially accurate or whether Gatiss is just making this shit up). And it has a new form of squareness gun: it literally folds people up in a sort of fatal compression, useful for packing suitcases. (Gatiss describes this as “a new way of killing people”, suggesting that he’s never read The Twits.)

More to the point, it has Ice Warriors. The throaty voices from ‘Cold War’ are back, but you don’t hear an awful lot of them: there is but one grunt, a tea-brewing local who is mostly silent, leading you to wonder at first whether we’re back in ‘Doctor’s Wife’ territory. The episode is also graced with a brand new Ice Warrior, the titular Empress, frozen in carbonite and equipped with a distinctive, Predator-style helmet that presumably comes with its own feed of 1980s action movies, beamed straight to the eyepiece. She moves a little like Eldrad and growls like Sarah Parish in ‘The Runaway Bride’, with a similar mindset. Not that Iraxxa is irrevocably genocidal, of course – like the most rounded supporting characters her mind can be swayed, although she only listens to reason when Bill pleads with her to stop the fighting. Do we take this as a feminist-tinged political commentary on current foreign policy? If so, would that make Bill Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry or Nia Griffith? Is this a conversation I really shouldn’t have started?

While all this is going on, Nardole is stuck on Earth, in a seemingly malfunctioning TARDIS, which has obviously put its brakes on for a reason, whether the forces implementing it turn out to be internal or external. There’s a certain amount of cast-thinning going on here; Mars is crowded enough and it’s no great secret that Nardole’s presence in the episode was somewhat last minute – we’re back in Nyssa and Jamie territory – so the solution Gatiss (or, come to think of it, most likely Moffat) adopts is to temporarily maroon him. The subsequent appearance by Missy is functional but unnerving, suggesting something else is going on, and the episode’s abrupt conclusion indicates another scene that might have been dropped. It doesn’t work, but one suspects that Gatiss’ hand was forced for the state of the arc.

There are film references galore – Bill’s response to strolling around the caverns of Mars is to liken it to the movies she’s seen, which some may seem as irritating but which is really just a reflection of how contemporary culture works. Relatively contemporary culture, anyway – I was going to write that it was a wonder that she didn’t try and Instagram a selfie with Friday, but the truth is that every film on Bill’s list is at over thirty years old, and it is left to the Doctor to drop in a reference to Frozen. This token nod to the millenials aside, the story is, like much of Gatiss’ best work, not so much a product of its time as much as a product of somebody else’s (or, as someone put it on Facebook last night, “Gatiss’ stuff was great when other people wrote it first in the 70s”).

That turns out to work. ‘Empress’ has ‘filler’ stamped all over it, but there is nothing wrong with a decent filler. It doesn’t do anything particularly profound, but it has enough in there to hopefully pique the curiosity of newer fans who have yet to encounter the Ice Warriors properly, without completely destroying anything that was good about the original. Indeed, the appearance of Alpha Centauri, two minutes from the end, was enough to make me jump out of my chair – it is reckless, crowd-pleasing shoehorning, there for no other reason than to appeal to the more experienced fanbase and up the hit counts in the Classic Who groups, but I can live with that, even if most newer fans were probably wondering who on Earth that squeaky-voiced bug-eyed alien was, and why their parents were getting so excited. (At least they have an excuse: the Telegraph, in a review which has subsequently been amended, genuinely thought it was Pauline Collins. I can live with the show being reviewed by non-experts – but seriously, how hard is it to read the credits?)

Some episodes of Doctor Who are destined to set the world alight. Gatiss’ latest will not, but that’s not the end of the world. If its supporting characters could do with a little more depth, that’s a by-product of the forty minute structure (and something which, when Chibnall comes to the table, could do with a serious rethink). The leads acquit themselves more than adequately, even if the Doctor has little to actually do this week except react. And it has Ice Warriors doing Ice Warrior-ish things, in a self-contained narrative that, while popping the odd seam in its bag of containment, manages to just about stay inside it. Profundity can wait: this is fun. Really, what more do you want on a Saturday evening?

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor Who and the Misplaced Consonants (Part Three)

While I put off writing anything that actually has any substance, here are some memes to keep everybody ticking along. The Misplaced Consonants started well and then sort of stopped, so after a six-month hiatus, we’re back with round three. Clicking the category tag for this post will show you the other stuff I’ve done in this thoroughly pointless series.

 

9. The Warm Machines

 

10. Statue of Decay

 

11. The Nice Warriors

 

 

 

12. The Creature from the Spit

Categories: Lost Consonants | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Monster Mash

And you have an earworm now, don’t you?

It’s the season for Christmas TV, which means old favourites get dusted off. In our house, at least when I was a kid, it was always The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins – both of which I’ve written about before – along with Scrooged and at least one of the Herbie films. We’ve had quite a lot of luck with Oz, but just yesterday I was trying to show them why Albert Finney’s musical version of A Christmas Carol is actually worth watching in its entirety, and that if they just go through the scene where Scrooge goes to hell on a loop they’re missing out on the context. It fell on mostly deaf ears. I will try again next December.

Certain things do hold their attention. The other week the boys were watching a Loony Tunes Christmas special in which a cantankerous Daddy Duck was taught the error of his miserly ways by three Christmas spirits, aided by Bugs Bunny. It was top-heavy (there is way, way too much messing around in the department store before the ghosts turn up) and the ending was only vaguely satisfying, but it was enjoyable, largely because there’s a substantial supporting role for Marvin the Martian.

And then I thought – well, they’re basically from the same place, aren’t they?

Marvin_Ice

But why stop there? Why not acknowledge the design roots of the Adipose, for example, and mash one of them with the Pillsbury Doughboy?

Adipose_Dough

And well, let’s just say that Madame Vastra wasn’t always based in Victorian London.

Witch_Vastra

Happy New Year, however you spend it.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative Thinking

I’m in Cambridge with no access to my files, so God is in the Detail will have to wait until next week. Instead, I bring you this leftover from the Orient Express episode.

 

Thomas had a school garden project to complete before half term. If you’ve been here a while you may recall that Joshua had something similar a couple of years back, and that we did it with Lego, and then had the Cybermen trash the place. This time, Emily produced a quite wonderful winter-themed garden in about five minutes flat (winter’s always popular; I blame Frozen) rendered in cotton wool and filled with stuff they’d found out the back, to add a touch of authenticity.

Then I undid all the authenticity by adding a TARDIS.

Garden_Who

I’m no good with cotton wool, but I manage in other ways. The week before, Edward and I had gone to the local children’s centre for our weekly play session. On this occasion they’d got out the Stickle Bricks – toys I remember from my childhood and never really liked. The meshing system never works symmetrically, because the interlocking fingers never quite match up, so that if you try and jam a selection of bricks together it just looks uneven (this is impossible to explain, but if you’ve ever done it you’ll know exactly what I mean). What’s more, the gaps between the fingers get filthy, like the teeth of a comb, gripped by small hands who haven’t washed, and eventually they break off completely, leaving ugly edges that don’t stick together nearly as well as they do in the commercials, where bright and shiny children with perfect teeth produce immaculate, intricate models that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern art gallery.

Anyway, we made the best of things, and on this particular morning we built a stickle brick Ice Warrior, and also a Dalek. As you do.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unused Doctor Who Monsters (part two)

Last night, Thomas and I were watching ‘The Web of Fear’. It was episode two, and the yetis were wandering through the London Underground.

Thomas said “Daddy? Is the Abominable Snowman lost?”
“”I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he’s lost in the Underground, yes. But I reckon they’ve been brought here. They’re robots, remember, so the Great Intelligence has probably got plans for them.”
“No, Daddy, the story.”
“Oh, that. Yes.”

With that in mind, here are today’s unused monsters, one of whom has a distinctly wintry theme.

 

 

Categories: Unused Monsters | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Series seven: the contenders

As much fun as it’s been to concentrate almost exclusively on memes, videos and photos since the ‘Snowmen’ review I did at Christmas that just about burned me out, I think I need to get back to some serious writing for this blog. There are a number of things I’ve been mulling over, but it’s a question of tack. To go in and brazenly attack Moffat for the ‘First Question’ obsession is going to be my undoing, because either way I think he’s going to sidestep the issue (more on that later).

Anyway, I’m currently reading this.

51hwvu03l8L__SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU02_

As academic guides go it’s not bad – readable, accessible and fluidly written. There are some decent observations and a nice bit of forewarning by Paul Cornell, who writes in the foreword that “Works like this often get a rough ride from fandom…it still comes as a shock to me that an audience that’s meant to be ready to embrace the future and the alien, when encountering the everyday vocabulary of critical thought, sometimes doesn’t reach for the dictionary, but instead pillories the author for making them feel stupid”.

He’s absolutely right, and we’ll come back to that over the next few weeks, but that wasn’t the quote that stuck out for me. No, what stuck out was this one from Mr Moffat himself, speaking in 2008.

“Time travel is, I think, the magic element of Doctor Who…People witter on about going to other planets – but the magic of Doctor Who is that he travels in time. Travelling in space is just engineering, but travelling in time is witchcraft.

“There has been a tendency to regard his time travelling as just a delivery system…and I think that’s absolutely right and proper 99% of the time, to be honest. I think if you carried on doing tricksy things with time, all the time, then it would get tedious very fast. But now and then, I think it’s a good thing to exploit that…That, I think, is a fun idea – it’s oe that’s got to be rationed, but we could turn it up a bit. A bit more of that would be fun.”

Yes, but Steven, these days THAT’S ALL YOU EVER DO.

We’ve had several trailers for the new series that tell us comparatively little, but among other things we know the following:

1. The Doctor’s going to be facing creatures called the Spoonheads, who are leeching the Wifi signal.

2. The Ice Warriors have been redesigned, a bit.

3. Strax is back.

4. Clara Oswin takes centre stage.

5. “The Doctor’s greatest secret is under threat”.

I have no images of the Spoonheads as they’ll appear in the show, but this is pretty cool.

il_fullxfull_211483765

 

Here are my predictions.

1. The Spoonheads will be visually impressive but colossally forgettable in an episode that’s actually about solidifying the Doctor’s relationship with Clara, and while the kids will love them, there’ll be a lot of sneering on the Guardian TV blogs.

2. The Ice Warriors will be dreadful (because it’s a Gatiss episode, and because he has already used up any token goodwill he might have had by describing them as “iconic”).

3. There will be at least one potato gag, and it still won’t be funny.

4. Clara Oswin will turn out to be Susan Foreman, who will turn out to be Michael Foreman, who will turn out to be Michael Sheen, who will turn out to be Martin Sheen, who will turn out to be Martin Freeman, who will turn out to be Kevin Bacon (because eventually, everything leads back to Kevin Bacon).  

5.  We won’t get to find out the Doctor’s real name. Someone else will, but it’ll be whispered and inaudible to the audience, like Bill Murray’s last words at the end of Lost in Translation. How do I know this? First, because any such revelation would kill the show stone dead (no arguing about this, I’m right), and Moffat knows it. Secondly, because if you look at the press release, what he actually said was that “the Doctor’s greatest secret will at last be revealed”. Crucially, he didn’t say who to. (See my ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ review for another example of this garden path-leading.)

Anyway, stay tuned, gentle reader. Tomorrow – or the day after, depending on when I get round to writing it – I will be detailing exactly why you shouldn’t be listening to me at all…

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: