Doctor Who: Series 5 Volume 2 (UK - DVD R2)
Who cares? The Wilson Bros are finding it increasingly difficult...
With Matt Smith and Karen Gillan firmly entrenched in front of the camera and Steven Moffat running things behind, Doctor Who had defied the sceptics and embraced a new audience who were initially cautious about seeing another actor step into the role after David Tennant had made such a big impression and drawn in people who wouldn’t ordinarily have watched the show.
Time of the Angels
After winning a temporary victory over the Daleks, the Doctor (Matt Smith) discovers a message written in old Gallifreyan text; the message was from River Song, past (and future) associate of the Doctor, and the message was used to lure the Doctor into rescuing her from a crashing ship—the Byzantium—12,000 years in the past.
On the surface of Alfava Metraxis, the wreck of the starship Byzantium frees its deadly cargo—one of the dreaded Weeping Angels. The Doctor, Amy, River Song and a group of Christian military troops, led by Father Octavian, are the only hope to track down the Weeping Angel before the wrecks’ radiation leak allows the Angel to become strong again, threatening the nearby population. En route through the Maze of the Dead to find the Angel, a sudden horrifying discovery is made that magnifies the problem a thousand-fold…
Steven Moffat’s Blink, which was the ‘Doctor-Lite’ story in series three, was arguably the highlight of a pretty duff series (the only other genuinely great episodes being Human Nature and The Family of Blood, both parts of the same story), was so good and the Weeping Angels were such great adversaries that it was only a matter of time before they returned to Doctor Who.
There in an inescapable feeling that Steven Moffat wanted to do a Doctor Who version of Aliens, and the structure is certainly there; River Song is the Ripley character and the Colonial Marines are transformed into the band of militant clerics, headed by Father Octavian. All head out to a planet infested by creatures which only their reluctant civilian recruit appreciates how dangerous they are. Unexpectedly being surrounded by them, being saved by getting blown into space, drastic final measures—they’re all here.
This was of course tried before in the classic series, specifically at the time when Doctor Who was in its death throes, an attempt was made to emulate Aliens, with the Sylvester McCoy story Dragonfire. The results of this attempt speak for themselves—we watched that story when it was broadcast (we were about fourteen at the time) and we cringed with embarrassment, as they tried to do deliver big-screen suspense on a BBC budget and we could tell that the writing was on the wall for the show at that point. Anyway, it was pleasing to note that whilst there were distinct echoes of James Cameron’s film, they were not a cringe-inducingly blatant as Dragonfire.
Matt Smith finally gets to have a signature moment that all actors who have played the Doctor have had; with William Hartnell, it was his ’one day, I will come back’ speech; Tom Baker, had his ’homo-sapiens’; and Peter Davison talked about ’smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal’… maybe not the last one. Smith gives a passionate, almost seething speech about the dangers of putting him in a trap—it’s just a shame that when this impressive bit of writing and acting was broadcast, many viewers had it ruined by an animated prancing Graham Norton appearing on-screen. We’re relieved to report that there’s no sign of the overpaid pratt on this release.
River Song was a character created by Steven Moffat and she originally appeared in the series four two-parter Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead; unfortunately, the character seems to have changed somewhat and has now moved into areas of Russell T Davies-like smugness and camp. From the ’hello, Sweetie’ message inscribed in High Gallifreyean, to the Bond-like escape from the Byzantine, pretty much everything about River Song screams ‘wrong’ in this story. Actress Alex Kingston seems to be playing her character as though she were in a different show to everyone else, being flamboyant in a story that is driven by tension and dread. There is also a hint as to exactly who River Song actually is in this story; for the character to be so irritating the reveal had better be pretty satisfying—say being the Rani—or we'll be pissed!
The element of the Christian military group is an element which didn’t work for us, as it seems to be high-concept sci-fi put together by use of a pun. These Christian Soldiers really do go onward, and provide proof that religion is the root cause or more and bloodier wars than anything else in history, but they needed a bigger canvas and separate back-story of their own to establish them. After all, the Space Security Service had Mission to the Unknown to set it up for the epic Dalek’s Master Plan, and the same thing would have helped out here. Maybe pointing guns at their critics and waging war against their enemies is the only way the church will silence certain accusations?
Moffat rehashes the ’who turned out the lights?’ element from his series four two-parter (meaning that an alien has taken partial or complete control of someone it has just killed and communicates using the voice of the dead person to sinister effect), as the Angels communicate via poor schmuck Bob, who in the army of clerics is a mere Tommy, with all the simpering of Steve Coogan’s character in Indian in the Cupboard. It works well here, as the soft, harmless disembodied tones of the deceased Bob become an iron fist in the silken glove, delivering disconcerting messages of doom to our heroes whilst never speaking out of place.
The most effective sequence in the episode comes when Amy is trapped inside a military control room with a recorded image of an Angel being played on a loop on the monitor; the image suddenly starts to move and advances on her—with no way of leaving the place, Amy is stuck and she will eventually have to blink at some point (though Karen Gillan spends so much time wide-eyed, she would be safer than the average person in that position). It's a very tense, well-directed and well-edited sequence—if not entirely original, as the name Ringu comes to mind whilst watching it—and it's certainly a scene that scared kids (one of us was watching this episode with our nephews, aged seven and ten, and both of them were getting more than a little rattled during this sequence), so the inclusion of a hide-behind-the-sofa moment is always something to be pleased about.
The cliff-hanger at the end of Time of the Angels was pretty good, but it was screamingly obvious as to how the Doctor was going to get everyone out of the seemingly inescapable situation. Anyone who sat through the early Star Trek: Voyager episode Parallax will be familiar with resisting the urge to scream things at the TV at that point.
We must mention River Song’s observation that the characteristic sound the TARDIS makes when materialising/dematerialising is only due to the Doctor operating it with the brakes on. Frankly, that’s just flippant bollocks that flies in the face of over forty-five years of Doctor Who lore, which reeks of Moffat having a cheap throwaway laugh—so, by following this observation, can we also reason that the Master also flew his TARDIS with the brakes locked on? Bullshit. Let’s hope Moffat hasn’t seen Spaceballs, as the TARDIS will be leaving skid marks round a tight corner next.
Flesh and Stone
Continuing directly on from the end of the last episode, the Doctor, Amy, River Song and the surviving members of the religious army corps find themselves surrounded by a hoard of Weeping Angels, seemingly with no way out.
If there was one serious misstep in Flesh and Stone, it was the decision to show the Angels actually moving. What made them so effective in Blink was that they were not seen in motion—they just changed position without any trace of them moving. The sense of tension was generated by them being seemingly inert, but also being more than capable of being able to move. Sadly, having the Angels move during the climax shatters pretty much everything that Steven Moffat built up with Blink and Time of the Angels.
The concept of the crack in time is augmented here considerably, as it begins to catch up with the Doctor and Amy, larger and more threatening than ever. This highlights one of the things we dislike about Nu-Who, that being the desperate need to thread an entire series together via a linking device, doing a disservice to the viewers whom are perceived as having the attention span of the average gnat.
Oh, speaking of the similarities between this two-part story and a certain James Cameron film, the climax is awfully similar in principle to Aliens, as the adversaries are both defeated by a protective device being disabled and our protagonists holding onto something in order to avoid being whisked off into oblivion. Who fans will also remember that a similar climax was seen at the end of the second series of New-Who ( Doomsday).
The performances are also great, with Smith and Gillan as good as always; we have gone into detail about our thoughts on Alex Kingston and Iain Glen puts in one of his usual solid, dependable turns.
There isn’t much more to say here, as folks get rather annoyed when reviews give away things best left discovered on the viewers’ own, even when they have been broadcast on TV, so let’s make like a towel and press on with the next episode.
Vampires in Venice
With a title clearly ripped off of… sorry we meant inspired by Augusto Caminito’s 1988 film, Vampire in Venice (which, coincidentally, was known as Vampires in Venice on UK television), you know what you are in for as soon as you read the title of this episode.
After gate-crashing Rory's stag-night and whisking him into the TARDIS, the Doctor, Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill) materialise in forteenth century Venice, only to discover that all is not how it should be. A plague has engulfed the area and the Venice's patron, Signora Rosanna Calvierri has put the place under quarantine in a bid to prevent the plague from entering the city. Calvierri runs a prestigious finishing school for young ladies, and after some initial investigation by the trio all the signs point to the school being a cover for a group of vampires, where the young ladies who go in soon become something other than human.
Whilst we watched this, both of us became aware that something wasn't right with this story—more than any other episode in this series, Vampires in Venice just didn't grab us from the outset and failed to do so at any point during the story. The key elements in the title seemed to be just that: wild concepts on which to hand a story. Experience teaches writers that you should never come up with the title first, as it ends up being the tail that wags the dog, and Vampires in Venice typifies this.
Vampires have been tackled before in Doctor Who—the Tom Baker era brought State of Decay, which, while far from a masterpiece, the twisting of the legend of the vampire was interesting; Vampires in Venice provides a pretty dull and unengaging reasoning for vampire-like extra-terrestrials. The McCoy era saw Sylv in what was quite possibly the best story of his tenure, The Curse of Fenric, which saw him up against the Haemovores, a race of creatures that were vampiric in nature, yet had an interesting identity of their own. A vampire-like being was also seen in New-Who (the Plasmavore from Smith and Jones), but to much lesser effect.
Writer Toby Whitehouse has given New-Who one of its best episodes, School Reunion, (even if it also included the embarrassingly awful ’shooty-dog-thing’ line), but sadly Vampires in Venice is not in the same league; we just happened to find it leaden, obvious and derivative—ere are other mythical creatures out there and the writers of Doctor Who are smart enough to search them out and write interesting pseudo-scientific stories explaining them away, but the explanation for the vampire-like creatures in this story is pretty poor, and their motivation for being on Earth is even weaker, with a hole in the plot that a whole race of silly aquatic-based life-forms could swim through. The concept of Vampires has been done several times now and they should be allowed to rest in peace. Pass the silver-bladed knife…
There seems to be an emerging trend in Nu-Who to redo the classics, with Tooth and Claw covering the werewolf aspect and Vampires in Venice covering the ol’ bloodsuckers. Following this train of through to the navel-gazing last-stop, redos of Brain of Morbius and Pyramids of Mars are probably on the cards to have Frankenstein and The Mummy to complete the set. Apropos of too much time on hands.
Oh, and can someone please tell Moffat to avoid that tired old cliché of having the Doctor having to scale a building in order to push a button to eliminate a threat to the human race—it's awfully tiresome. It was done in ‘The Idiot's Lantern’ (Alexandra Palace) and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ (the Empire State Building) and it's interesting to see that Vampires in Venice is another duff story to do continue this naff trend.
It's not all bad, though—there's a nice little reference to Doctor Who's past, when the Doctor accidentally whips out a library card that has a photo of the First Doctor (William Hartnell) on it. Such little touches are nice, and as lifelong fans of the show, it’s good that it flies in the face of how RTD tried to ignore the original run to begin with, but they are going a little overboard this series—so far, there have been three, but there are sure to be more during the forthcoming series finale.
There really isn't a hell of a lot more we can say about the picture quality of this release that wasn't said in our review of the previous volume; the anamorphic 1.78:1 image is pretty solid, with a nice level of detail and strong, vibrant colours (when the image hasn't been digitally graded too heavily).
Same again, really—it's plain old Dolby Surround, as they're saving the discrete 5.1 mixes for the series box-set near the end of the year (even more nonsensical is that the vanilla Blu-ray releases have the same 2.0 audio mixes). What is displayed here isn't bad, with some nice occasional directional effects and a fair amount of punch via the LFE. Having watched the HD broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1, it makes us even more annoyed that the individual releases are missing out and paying for inferior product.
Monster Files: 2Entertain continue their ’please buy the vanilla releases—we've even put exclusive extras on them now’ campaign by including another entry from the Monster Files, this time appropriately focusing upon the Weeping Angels. Wanna put money on the next one being about the Silurians...?
Doctor Who series five, volume two] is a mixed bag; Time of the Angels and Flesh and Stone are both very good, but Vampires in Venice was a bit of a damp squib, appropriately enough. Matt Smith is shaping up to be a great Doctor and Karen Gillan is a pretty good companion, too and the fact that the two leads play off each other so well that they can paper over many of the cracks (some as big as the ones in time) that are present in this series.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 5th July 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: The Monster Files
Easter Egg: No
Director: Adam Smith, Jonny Campbell
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Alex Kingston, Iain Glen
Length: 135 minutes
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