The Weekly Checkup: Doctor Who/Torchwood News and Views – August 27, 2011

Let’s face it, there is only one piece of Doctor Who news that matters this week!

DOCTOR WHO IS BACK TONIGHT!!!

Tonight (August 27, 2011), Doctor Who returns to BBC1 and BBC America with “Let’s Kill Hitler.” The is the first of six episodes that make up the second half of Doctor Who Season 6. The other episodes and airing dates are:

8 “Let’s Kill Hitler”
Airs August 27, 2011
Directed by Richard Senior
Written by Steven Moffat

BBC press release says “the TARDIS crash lands in 1930’s Berlin, bringing the Doctor face to face with the greatest war criminal in the Universe. And Hitler.”

Sounds just plain crazy to me, and I can’t wait to see what Moffat has in store for us!  And I genuinely have no idea how this episode continues from the last one.  Is Hitler the one with Melody?  Is Hitler hiding Madame Kovarian?  I guess we all just need to wait just a few more hours to find out.

9 “Night Terrors”
Airs September 3, 2011
Directed by Richard Clark
Written by Mark Gatiss

BBC’s press release on this one says: “The Doctor receives a distress call from the scariest place in the Universe: a child’s bedroom.   Every night George lies awake, terrorised by every fear you can possibly imagine – fears that live in his bedroom cupboard. His parents are getting desperate – George needs a doctor. Fortunately for George, his desperate pleas for help break through the barriers of all time and space and the Doctor makes a house call. But allaying his fears won’t be easy; because George’s monsters are real.”

This might get delayed on BBC America because of Labor Day…that is what they did for Memorial Day. I am hoping I am wrong about that. Between this and the God Complex, it looks like we’re getting a few outright scary episodes this series. I just hope they don’t ruin them with some goofy looking giant monsters like the end of Almost People/Rebel Flesh.

10 “The Girl Who Waited”
Airs September 10, 2011
Directed by Nick Hurran
Written by Tom MacRae

BBC’s press release say: “Amy is trapped in a quarantine facility for victims of an alien plague – a plague that will kill the Doctor in a day – as the time-travelling drama continues. The Doctor can use the TARDIS to smash through time and break in, but then Rory is on his own. He must find Amy and bring her back to the TARDIS before the alien doctors can administer their medicine. Rory is about to encounter a very different side to his wife. Can he rescue Amy before she is killed by kindness?”

I am not sure how any of these episodes tie into the bigger picture, but I am definitely looking forward to this one!  Karen Gillan was a brilliant addition to the Doctor Who  cast, and I have been waiting for another Amy-centric episode since Amy’s Choice in the last season.

11 “The God Complex”
Airs September 17, 2011
Directed by Nick Hurran
Written by Toby Whithouse

Toby Whithouse is one of my favorite Doctor Who writers, and this is another horror story, set in a lethal hotel.

12 “Closing Time”
Airs September 24, 2011
Directed by Steve Hughes
Written by Gareth Roberts

This is a sequel to last year’s “The Lodger” and features the return of the Doctor’s roommate Craig Owens (played by James Corden). It also supposedly features the Cybermen, marking the first time Stephen Moffet has really used them in more than a cameo fashion (they appeared briefly in Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes to War). I wonder if we’ll find out why the Silence’s proto-TARDIS console was in Craig’s attic.

13 “The Wedding of River Song”
Airs October 1, 2011
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Written by Steven Moffat

I don’t know anything about this episode other than the title. I just hope it’s as awesome as The Big Bang, which to me was the perfect end to Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor. I also hope that we finally get a few more answers to everything that has been going on. Last season ended with more questions than answers, and I really don’t want to have to wait until 2012 or 2013 to get all the answers.


Doctor Who Wins Fifth Hugo Award

Doctor Who News is reporting that Doctor Who won a well-deserved Hugo award for the 2010 episodes The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. Two other Doctor Who episodes from last year were up for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Award – A Christmas Carol and Vincent and the Doctor (which was my favorite episode from season 6).

The award is the fourth for Steven Moffat, having previously won for The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink. Last year the award was won by The Waters of Mars written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford.

The Hugo Awards are given every year for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.

Skitch Commentary: It’s pretty much becoming a cliché for Doctor Who to win this award each year, but it definitely is well-deserved. Stephen Moffat (and Russell T. Davies before him) and the cast and crew of Doctor Who clearly put a lot of love and respect into the work they do, and it shows on the screen. They are making some brilliant and unique television here, and there is nothing else on TV that gets me as excited as Doctor Who.


Daily Beast’s Interview with Steven Moffat

The Daily Beast ran a terrific interview with Steven Moffat. I was gonna just summarize it, but decided to run it in its entirety. Enjoy. My commentary is at the end.

Doctor Who’s Global Takeover

Once a cult drama, British sci-fi show “Doctor Who” has become a worldwide phenomenon. Jace Lacob sits down with head writer Steven Moffat to discuss the state of the franchise and rumors about the seventh season.

Once a cult series, British sci-fi drama Doctor Who has become a global phenomenon, and new audiences are embracing the 900-year-old alien time traveler—now played by 29-year-old Matt Smith—with alarming passion. (Witness the rock-star welcome Smith and co-star Karen Gillan got at July’s Comic-Con.)

Doctor Who, under head writer Steven Moffat, who replaced Russell T. Davies last season, returns for the second half of its sixth season in the U.S. and the U.K. on Saturday. The Daily Beast sat down with Moffat in Los Angeles to discuss the shocking identity of River Song (Alex Kingston), criticisms of “bad girl” companion Amy Pond (Gillan), and next season.

It was revealed that River Song is the daughter of companions Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill). Is this the solution you had in mind when you first introduced her in “Silence in the Library” back in Season 4?

Not quite…It came about from the most practical reason: I had to have the Doctor in a library…and a bunch of archeologists had to find him and not immediately arrest him for the crime. The psychic paper wouldn’t cover it, so I thought, What if one of the archeologists knows him?…But then I thought, What if one of the archeologists knows him, but he doesn’t know the archeologist? Suddenly, that’s quite cool. What if it’s a woman? What if it’s a woman who flirts with him in a rather proprietary way? Then a whole story explodes in your head…She might be his wife, or a girlfriend, or there’s a romantic attachment there.

When I introduced Amy Pond, it was with the possibility that this could be the mother of River, and that’s why I put the “Pond” in…There was no guarantee that Karen [Gillan] was going to stay or that Alex [Kingston] would come back. It was just a possibility that I kept alive.

What can you tease about the rest of the season, beginning with “Let’s Kill Hitler”?

It’s an absolute cracker…I can’t tease but I can give you some promises. Answers will be given. We’re not playing at really being Lost. You will know what’s really going on on that beach, you will know the truth about River Song, which you don’t know yet…It’s pretty much answer, answer, answer in a way…But by the end of episode 13, new things will have begun…The great thing about the River Song conundrum is that every time you get an answer, it makes you ask another question.

There have been reports of budget cuts being behind the BBC’s decision not to air a full season of Doctor Who during 2012—

Absolute nonsense. First of all, we are airing in 2012. The only thing that’s happening is that we’re moving a bit later…There’s lots of reasons for that that will become clear quite soon…It is certainly not a reduced episode count. Do you think the BBC would really let that happen? With an average audience of 10 million?…Doctor Who‘s international profile is huge. It’s never been more successful. You’re not going to reduce a show like this. The opposite is going to happen, in fact.

Eventually, you and Matt Smith and Karen Gillan will—

Die?

—move on to other things. Do you have an exit strategy for Matt Smith already planned?

In the vaguest terms, I’ve already thought, what would be the last stand? What would be the most heroic way to go? Which I might use when that terrible day comes. But not an exit strategy. I don’t want to think that the stories are finite; I want to feel that they can go on forever.

You’re splitting your time between Doctor Who and Sherlock. How long do you foresee your tenure lasting on this series?

I’ll run out of stamina before I run out of ideas is the absolute truth, because I am living a life without a single day off…So, at a certain point, that may prove to be too much. I’m not feeling that right now. I love doing it. I slightly dread the idea of leaving, to be honest. It would be really hard to feel that the Doctor isn’t mine anymore…That day did come for Russell, and he did say to me, because I was asking how he felt, “I love it as much as I ever have, but I just don’t want to do it anymore.”

Neither of us would know ourselves if we didn’t love Doctor Who. That would be so terrible to lose that…The same was true for David [Tennant]. I had to deal with him during that time, he’s a friend.

How far ahead do you plot your Who stories?

Four pages [Laughs.]

Clearly, you have a season-long arc in mind. Do you look at it as season to season?

[Season to season], because you never know what’s going to happen and you want to be allowed new possibility. I always tend to favor the newer idea…I was saying to my writers, “Don’t think of your next episode yet: you’ll be bored of it by the time you get there…” Obviously, this year I had to think about it a little more carefully, because I knew what we were going to do with River, half of which you’ve already seen. This is the most arc-intensive we’ve ever been and I’m throwing the lever the other way next year.

How would you stack up Amy Pond against her most recent predecessors, i.e., Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble? Did you set out to make her a reaction to any of the Doctor’s most recent companions?

I don’t think you can, because she’s a completely different person. With the Doctor, you might have a certain amount of that, but Amy Pond has never even met those other girls, so why would she be a response to them?…There are always going to be certain commonalities to the people who choose to go through the blue doors, but I think Amy is…in certain respects, one of the trickier ones. Because of her very odd introduction to the Doctor, it took her a long time to trust him. She likes a good time…I keep saying, “bad girl in the TARDIS.” And now you know who her daughter is, and they’re both just bad girls.

Some people have gone so far as to say that Amy is a plot device more than a character.

I never heard it said, so I don’t know how to respond to it…But she isn’t. She actually gets in the way of the plot sometimes. Amy’s tricky—she doesn’t always do what she’s told, she’s not quite as adoring of the Doctor as she ought to be, she’s naughty.

Part of the criticism comes from the fact that Amy is purely defined by her relationships with the men in her life—the Doctor, Rory—as opposed to her predecessors, for whom we saw vibrant, active home lives, aside from any romantic attachments they might have.

We see an active home life for Amy. Her boyfriend and her…I don’t see what’s different there.

Well, any family life for a start. Or life outside of Rory.

We don’t see her mum and dad much…[But] I can’t think of anyone who isn’t defined by their relationships…I think she’s sometimes defined perhaps by her problematic relationships with those people, her slight indecision about who she’s in love with, her willful selfishness at times, and her badness, which I quite like. As I say, “bad girl in the TARDIS.”

How has the dynamic changed within the TARDIS to have a married couple along for the ride?

In very fun and interesting ways…The big thing with the Doctor is that he thinks he’s…intruded for too long. Each time he tries to extricate himself, there’s another complexity that means that he can’t. Suddenly, she’s married. Her husband-to-be is dead, then he’s suddenly back again, he’s on their honeymoon, he’s dating their daughter. It’s complex and that’s what he’s always thinking: when is he going to get his exit? He has an exit strategy for all of these relationships, including Rose, whom he loved so much, because he knows he can’t hang around, he’s going to cause too much damage. In one of the upcoming episodes, he sits in this room and says, “I can’t keep doing this to them.” It’s too much, it’s too deadly.

Should we find that relationship strange, that the Doctor is dating their daughter?

If he is indeed dating their daughter. He seems to have, at least if nothing else, a woman who flirts with him with a wifely confidence. How will that work? I think Rory will probably punch him twice a day: “Hands off both of them!” I don’t think it will bother Amy for a heartbeat because actually she has made a choice. She doesn’t want the Doctor. Or rather, she’s got the Doctor in that way and she would think, “You go, girl. Go get him!”

We had Neil Gaiman’s episode (“The Doctor’s Wife”) this season. Is there anyone else on your dream list to guest-write an episode?

The truth is the less experience they have in television, the more you have to rewrite their script, so that can be tough…All the people who are frequently cited as “you must get an episode from so-and-so” haven’t written a television script. However brilliant his script, I will end up writing 90 percent of it and I don’t have the time…Doctor Who defeats some of the most hardened television professionals ever. I’ve been working in television for a quarter of a century, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

What is the key, then, to a perfect Doctor Who episode?

You have to juggle comedy, you have to juggle adventure, you have to be good with pace: move things really fast and understand that it’s not about working with 50 lines of dialogue but getting the hell on with it. You have to know how to write to savage limitations but make it look like a movie by being very clever and judicious with your sets and your locations and your CGI…I think Doctor Who is a pretty bloody lavish show, but it really is not. It’s an exercise…in clever exploitation of limitations.

Have you seen the American broadcast’s pre-cold open sequence with Amy Pond? How do you feel about that?

I think it’s a bloody good idea. I think it makes it accessible—I know the diehard fans don’t like it…It’s stating the bleeding obvious for them, but for a brand-new audience, that’s a way in. Oh, I see, she’s human, we go in the TARDIS, we get it. It’s strictly for the foreign [broadcast], it’s not on in Britain. We were asked to do it; I wrote it. Actually, the person who said, “I bet everyone else hates it, but I absolutely love it” was Russell…If you don’t like it, ignore it, go and get the tea…It’s the right decision, and I know it’s the right decision because the ratings are 20 percent up. That’s huge.

To what do you attribute that?

If you happen to catch it, it’s a very good show. Even if you don’t understand it, it’s a very good show. The ones we’ve been doing—David’s, Chris [Ecceleston]’s—you watch it and think, that’s bloody good, I’m going to watch it again. There’s been an accumulation of that going on, reaching an incendiary point. The promotion has been really, really useful. And because Doctor Who renews itself every now and then, you can say, “I’ll start with him then. He looks nice. I’ll just pop in and start watching here.” Otherwise, you’re going to have to start watching in 1963, with [William] Hartnell, and that might be a bit of a trauma.

Skitch Commentary: I love the honesty about River Song. Most writers would try and BS it and claim they had known all along.  One thing I have learned over my time GMing RPG’s is to trust my instincts.  I don’t always know exactly where a story is going when I start it, but I know that it will develop properly and in its own time.  Often surprising me in the process.

I am really glad that next season will be more episodic.  Moffat’s epic stories are brilliant, but I do like the “Monster of the Week” stories too.  The Doctor’s Wife and Vincent and the Doctor are definitely among my favorite stories from the last two seasons.

And like Moffat, I have never heard anyone call Amy a plot device.  Amy Pond is a great character!


Torchwood: Miracle Day – Episode 6: “Middle Men” Review

Summary (with assistance from Tardis Index File) : Stuart Owens (Chief Operating Officer of Phicorp, with his secretary Janet) reviews paperwork of Phicorp acquisitions in Phicorp Central, Los Angeles. In the background, we hear reports on the existence of a “45 Club” as people who believe that jumping 45 floors is now the only way to lose consciousness forever.

He calls Zheng Yibao in Shanghai, China to investigate a large land purchase near Shanghai center. Zheng warns that Stuart might not like what he finds, then proceeds into the guarded building on that site. Later, Stuart calls Zheng for a status report, but Zheng reports that he found nothing then proceeds to willingly jump from a tall building.

We find Rex Matheson still speaking into his video camera in San Pedro, reporting what he’s seen. He reports that Category 1 patients are burned, and suggests that “they” will burn “anyone they just don’t like”.

Esther Drummond attempts to call Dr. Juarez on her cell phone, but the call fails to connect. She then investigates Colin Maloney who is acting suspiciously while intimidating his assistant, a soldier named Ralph Coltrane.  Colin plans to “drop” Dr Juarez’s car at Constitution Mall to thwart investigation, then puts the camp on “Lockdown”. Colin tells Esther that Dr. Juarez had left while saying that his camp was “very good indeed.”

At Cowbridge, Gwen Cooper (disguised as a nurse) confronts Dr. Alicia Patel about Gwen’s father Geraint Cooper who has been labeled “Category 1.” Dr. Patel says that “there’s a fine line between category 1 and 2” and that she was following governmental guidelines. Gwen points out that those patients are being burned, and Dr. Patel replies that “it’s the Law.” Gwen accuses Dr. Patel of running a “concentration camp,” of being a coward, and tells her “don’t call yourself a Doctor.” She also tells Dr. Patel that the excuse of “just following orders” does not cut it.  Gwen makes plans with Rhys, who is working as a driver at the camp, to help her father escape.

At a bar in Los Angeles, Jack Harkness tracks down Janet and coerces her into helping him, revealing that he knows she is having an affair with Stuart. He also reveals that Stuart is planning to break it off and have Janet exiled to the Cincinnati branch. This convinces her to help Jack. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and sent to Bengal country.

Jack finds Stuart and his wife Elizabeth at a restaurant, and Jack confronts Stuart about Phicorp’s involvement in the miracle. Stuart suggests that he is just a Middle Man in all this, and that even Phicorp is just a pawn.  Stuart has been trying to put the pieces together himself the last few years, but keeps findinging himself hitting dead ends. Stuart suggests that this pattern started maybe five years ago.  Stuart also says that he found an Italian document which said, “They have found the Blessing” but he doesn’t know what it means.

Back in San Pedro, Rex attempts to leave the camp but is captured after wandering into a checkpoint. Colin interrogates a handcuffed Rex alone. Rex doesn’t realize Colin in the one who killed Vera, and tries to recruit him to help him. Colin responds by stabbing Rex in the heart with a pen. Ouch!!

Esther finds the interrogation area, but is confronted by Colin. Esther tells Colin that she had just spoken with Dr Juarez (she doesn’t know Juerez was dead). A fight ensues, and Esther goes all Taz on Colin choking him out.  Rex says that she turned Colin into a Category 1, which I thought was a great line. The not-quite-category 1 Colin grabs her and proceeds to return the favor by choking her. Ralph Coltrane arrives and shoots Colin into unconsciousness.

Gwen and Rhys load Gwen’s dad into a truck, then Rhys rams the truck through a gate to escape. Gwen steals some explosives and blows up part of the Cowbridge Camp as a message.  She says, “This is the truth for the whole world to see, we let our governments build concentration camps. They built ovens for people in our names. Now I don’t care if the whole of society bends over and takes this like a dog. I’m saying no.” She sets the camp in flames. While watching in America, Jack laughs and says, “That’s my girl.”

In Venice Beach, Jack congratulates the Torchwood team for getting the word out, though their victory is poisoned when the White House refuses to apologize for the camp and compares the camp to a state of emergency in time of famine or pestilence. Jack says that they need to look at the bigger picture, while they search the internet for “The Truth”.

Gwen arrives at Los Angeles International Airport and is paged to pick up a phone-call for her that says “Lenses.” Gwen puts in her Torchwood contact lenses, and receives the text, “We have your mother. We have your husband. We have your child. Bring us Jack.”

Commentary: One small gripe I have about Miracle Day is that they have introduced a lot of real interesting concepts like Dead is Dead, the Lost Souls, and now the 45 Club, but all quickly faded to the background not to be mentioned afterward. Each of these ideas seems very ripe to follow up on. There is just so much going on in Miracle Day that too many ideas probably should have been cut out entirely instead of just leaving them undeveloped.

Huge kudos to Ernie Hudson. He had such a small role in this episode, but both of his scenes where major highlights in the series. I especially loved his conversation with Jack about what it means to be a Middle Man. As I said last week, John Barrowman hasn’t gotten to do much with this series, but he had some great scenes in the beginning of this episode with Ernie Hudson and Janet.

I also loved how Rex was providing running commentary towards the beginning of the episode. This was a great element and worked really well, until he managed to get himself arrested and stabbed. I really hope that Rex survives once the Miracle is fixed. Mekhi Phifer is a great addition to the Torchwood cast and I hope he is with the series for a long time.

But let’s be real. It was the girls who got the most kick ass moments this week. As soon as Gwen got out of the truck, I said to my wife, “She’s about to go all Gwen on that facility, isn’t she?” I actually cheered when she delivered her speech and the facility blew up behind her. Yeah, it might have been a little cliché, but damn if it wasn’t pretty cool. Shame that in the end it didn’t have as big an impact as it should have.  I have to say, Miracle Day has been a very cynical look at the world.

And Esther finally got to kick a little ass of her own on Colin Maloney.

On the negative side, Marc Vann and Frederick Koehler as Colin Maloney and Ralph Coltrane both had some terrible moments of overacting that bordered on the comical. I am really not sure what the director and actors were thinking in these scenes. I was not expecting Shakespeare here, but this was just plain bad.


I think I hear my little time-headed children calling, so I guess it’s time to wrap up another week of Doctor Who and Torchwood love. It’s been fun as always, see you next time.

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