Rating: Doctor Who, Season 5

In between seasons 4 and 5 of new-series Doctor Who there is a series of specials starring David Tennant, but our copy of the discs turned out to be defective, so while we wait for a good opportunity to replace them, our rewatching and rating project carries on to season 5.

  1. “The Eleventh Hour” – 3
  2. “The Beast Below” – 3
  3. “Victory of the Daleks” – 4
  4. “The Time of the Angels” – 6
  5. “Flesh and Stone” – 1.5
  6. “The Vampires of Venice” – 2
  7. “Amy’s Choice” – 2
  8. “The Hungry Earth” – 5
  9. “Cold Blood” – 2
  10. “Vincent and the Doctor” – 5
  11. “The Lodger” – 4
  12. “The Pandorica Opens” – 5
  13. “The Big Bang” – 6

The average rating for this season is a rather dismal 3.7, a big come-down from season 4’s 6.9. Nothing rises above a ho-hum 6, and almost half the episodes this season rate less than a 4, which is pretty much our minimal cut-off for ever wanting to see an episode again.

This season of Doctor Who poses one big question, and that question is: what on Earth happened to Stephen Moffat?? Many of our favorite episodes of previous season were written by Moffat: “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” in season 1, “The Girl in the Fireplace” in season 2, “Blink” in season 3, “Silence in the Library” / “The Forest of the Dead” in season 4. All these episodes were intricately-constructed masterpieces in which every piece fit, every tantalizing question had a satisfying answer, and the gee-whizery of the sci-fi was balanced with sensitive emotional stories. We had great expectations for Moffat’s first season a showrunner, and instead we got… this? The writing is clunky, the plots are full of janky bits that don’t fit, the characters are unpleasant, and the whimsy feels forced. We wonder whether the demands of production didn’t leave him time to develop his scripts more fully, or if perhaps the quality of his earlier scripts depended in part on good editing by the previous production team.

The new cast doesn’t improve matters. We don’t care for Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor, which relies too much on surface wackiness and feels emotionally hollow. But even worse is the new companion, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. All credit to Ms. Gillan for her acting, but the character is written as a whiny, self-centered bully. Both of these characters reflect an unappealing turn in Moffat’s writing, also visible in his series Sherlock: the belief that if a person is very clever or otherwise special, they get a pass on basic human decency. That’s a position we can’t get behind.

The lowest-rated episode of this season is “Flesh and Stone,” at 1.5. It’s the second part after the rather decent “The Time of the Angels,” following the Doctor’s adventures with a band of futuristic warrior priests in an underground labyrinth filled with Weeping Angels. The first episode give us a reasonably good set-up which the second just fails to pay off. The momentum built up in the first part sputters out as the second part pays its dues to the season-long “crack in the universe” arc. The Weeping Angels were one of Moffat’s most interesting creations in “Blink,” but they would have been better left alone than recycled for this episode.

The best episodes, both at 6, are “The Time of the Angels” and “The Big Bang.” “The Big Bang” does a better job of delivering the old Moffat magic with a complicated time-woven story about the Doctor and his friends racing to stop the end of the universe that was set off in the previous episode. It has some good moments and finally gives Amy’s Stockholm Syndrome victim boyfriend Rory something to do, but it never quite rises to its potential.

All in all, a real let-down of a season for us, but we know there are other folks out there who feel differently, including fans of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor. What episodes this season did you love (or not)? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Doctor Who season 5 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Doctor Who Fan Video: Series 11 Opening Scene Concept

Excitement over the thirteenth Doctor is ramping up! Here’s a short fan video of how she should begin her tenure:

Doctor Who Series 11 – Episode 1 Opening Scene – The Girl Who Fell From The Stars! by Vlogzy

Maker Vlogzy explains:

“There are many great stories, but none as great as this. This is the story of the girl who fell from the stars. And this is how it begins…

“Without the Tardis and without hope, the Doctor is sent plummeting towards the planet below. The Doctor must come to terms with her new body quickly and escape her incoming demise.

“Here is a concept scene I’ve created for the upcoming debut episode for the Thirteenth Doctor! Just a bit of fun really but actually turned relatively believable. I have this theory in my mind that the Tardis would materialise underneath the Doctor as she’s falling and catches her. I’ve tried to imagine this as best as possible in this video!

“What do you think will happen in episode 1? How will the Doctor get out of this one? Would love to hear your thoughts/theories below!”

Really great job! The sequence could almost be copypasted into canon as-is.

I confess I haven’t even watched all of Capaldi’s Who because the stories couldn’t keep my interest after the eighth season. I hope Jodie Whittaker is given outstanding material to show her acting chops with.

I do have one quibble about the metadata for this video, though: calling adult women girls is infantilizing. We’re grown-ass women; ergo, call us women.

Found via File 770.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.


Glimpse of New Doctor Who Logo

The BBC official Doctor Who Twitter account revealed a new photo and the new logo for the new Doctor:

Awesome, aren’t they!? I’m getting chills just looking at them. I’m wondering, however, whether the clip might actually be from the new opening sequence. It’s not like they’ve shied away from changing the credits before.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.


Rating: Doctor Who, season 4

Next up in our rewatch-and-rating project is Doctor Who (new series), season 4. Here’s what we thought:

  1. “Voyage of the Damned” – 7.5
  2. “Partners in Crime” – 9
  3. “The Fires of Pompeii” – 6
  4. “Planet of the Ood” – 6
  5. “The Sontaran Stratagem” – 6
  6. “The Poison Sky” – 5
  7. “The Doctor’s Daughter” – 4
  8. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” – 10
  9. “Silence in the Library” – 10
  10. “Forest of the Dead” – 10
  11. “Midnight” – 9
  12. “Turn Left” – 5
  13. “The Stolen Earth” – 4
  14. “Journey’s End” – 4.5

Season 4 is a brilliant one studded with fantastic episodes. The overall average for the season is an impressive 6.9, and even the lowest-rating episodes of the season are a couple of 4s—no real stinkers this time around. Part of what makes this season so great is the Doctor’s new companion, Donna. After pseudo-girlfriends Rose and Martha (who both had their moments—especially Martha), Donna and the Doctor are just chums traveling time and space, which makes for a fresh dynamic. Catherine Tate puts in a wonderful performance as Donna, letting us see the vulnerability and warmth of heart under her brassy exterior. She and David Tennant also play wonderfully off of one another in their comic scenes. There are also some ingenious episodes this season, making drama and terror out of things as mundane as shadows and repeated words.

The least successful episodes for us were “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Stolen Earth,” both coming in at 4. In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the Doctor gets insta-sorta-cloned to produce a soldier daughter in a bog-standard sci-fi story about two warring races who have forgotten what they were fighting over in the first place. “The Stolen Earth” is the set-up to a two-parter about the Earth (and other planets, including, bafflingly, Clom) disappearing from space as part of a nefarious plot. Most of the episode is spent watching various familiar characters fail to do anything of any particular use. Both of these episodes have a shaggy-dog-story quality to them with an interesting set-up but not much in the way of payoff. Even the return of our beloved Martha in both of these episodes can’t elevate the limp writing.

But that’s okay, because we are spoiled with not one, not two, but three full 10s at the top of the list. First there’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” a delicious romp that brings us Agatha Christie with a giant alien wasp twist. This episode manages the difficult task of snort-guffawing it’s way through all the tropes of the English country house mystery while still creating a powerful emotional story around Christie’s famous disappearance and amnesia. Then there’s “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” a stunning two-parter that poses a complicated mystery with a powerful and satisfying resolution. The Doctor and Donna arrive in a planet-sized library to find it empty of people, but filled with shadows that can kill. After a perilous adventure and the slow unraveling of the library’s secrets, we end with a touching story about the lengths we will go to for the people we love. This episode is also noteworthy for introducing Professor River Song, marvelously played by Alex Kingston. A couple of time-travelers, the Doctor here meets River for the first time, just as she is meeting him for the last time.

Honorable mention goes to “Partners in Crime,” at 9, in which Donna and the Doctor run into each other while investigating the same shady weight-loss company, and “Midnight,” a claustrophobic horror story about a mysterious force copying people’s words.

There are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and you may have different takes on this season’s highs and lows. We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share which episodes of season 4 you loved or didn’t.

Images: Doctor Who season 4 via IMDb; Donna and the Doctor via Send me to the Stars; River Song via Everything is Topsy Turvy!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 3

Time moves ever onwards and so do we. Here’s our take on Doctor Who (new series) season 3:

  1. “The Runaway Bride” – 5.5
  2. “Smith and Jones” – 9.5
  3. “The Shakespeare Code” – 7.5
  4. “Gridlock” – 6
  5. “Daleks in Manhattan” – 6
  6. “Evolution of the Daleks” – 4
  7. “The Lazarus Experiment” – 1
  8. “42” – 10
  9. “Human Nature” – 6
  10. “The Family of Blood” – 7.5
  11. “Blink” – 10
  12. “Utopia” – 4
  13. “The Sound of Drums” – 2.5
  14. “The Last of the Time Lords” – 3

Season 3 is a roller coast ride with some incredible highs, a few real lows, and a lot of good solid episodes in between. The average rating for the season is 5.9, a good showing and a noticeable increase from the previous two seasons, at 5.3. This season brings us Martha, a medical student with a good head on her shoulders and our all-time favorite companion. We also see David Tennant’s acting chops as he gets to play not just the Doctor but also an absent-minded schoolmaster and a murderous sun (yes, a sun). After some wobbly writing in previous seasons, this season gets more of a grip on how to balance the whimsical aspects of the show with its serious side.

The low point of the season is “The Lazarus Experiment” at a dismal 1, about a rejuvenation device that goes horribly wrong and turns its creator into a bad CGI scorpion thing. There are so many problems with this episode, from laggy pacing to a plot that is nonsensical even by Doctor Who‘s generous standards. Too much time is spent on Dr. Lazarus, a shallow stereotype of a bitter old man that we are apparently meant to find deep and engaging (and of course he’s called Dr. Lazarus—we couldn’t have a character who wants to restore his lost youth not be called Dr. Lazarus, could we?). Even a “reverse the polarity” callback gag can’t save this episode.

At the other end of the scale, there are two absolute standout episodes this season, both rating a full 10. The first is “42,” an intense and emotional thriller about a spaceship under attack by a killer star, whose predicament turns out to be more complex than at first appears. Everything in this episode is at its best: the fast-paced plot that still finds time for Martha to reflect on her time with the Doctor, the guest cast who even in their brief screen time bring life and depth to their space-trucker characters, and the music, which gives us one of the tenth Doctor’s most thrilling themes.

Burn With Me via DoctorWhoInfinity

And then there’s “Blink,” an episode like no other. The Doctor and Matha appear only sporadically in this one, and instead we follow Sally Sparrow as she slowly unravels the mystery of the Weeping Angels. This episode does ingenious things with time travel (a surprising rarity in a show about a time traveler), including messages left on the walls of an old house under peeling wallpaper and a long-distance conversation via DVD Easter egg. It is also a masterful demonstration that you don’t have to have violence or gore to be absolutely terrifying. This is an episode that rewards watching over and over again—just not late at night when you’re alone in the house.

Honorable mention goes to “Smith and Jones,” at 9.5, which introduces Martha with a story about an alien killer hiding in a London hospital—taken to the moon. We see Martha in action as a level-headed problem-solver while David Tennant gets to deliver some goofy comedy.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you have different takes on this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear about it. Let us know which episodes of season 3 you loved or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 3 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 2

We’re continuing to rewatch and rate Doctor Who (new series) with season 2. Here’s how the season looks to us:

  1. “The Christmas Invasion” – 6
  2. “New Earth” – 3.5
  3. “Tooth and Claw” – 9
  4. “School Reunion” – 5
  5. “The Girl in the Fireplace” – 9
  6. “Rise of the Cybermen” – 4
  7. “The Age of Steel” – 4
  8. “The Idiot’s Lantern” – 5
  9. “The Impossible Planet” – 8
  10. “The Satan Pit” – 7
  11. “Love and Monsters” – 4
  12. “Fear Her” – 5
  13. “Army of Ghosts” – 2.5
  14. “Doomsday” – 2

Season 2 carries on much in the same spirit as season 1, with a mix of highs and lows, and ends up with the same average rating, 5.3. David Tennant slides easily into his role as the tenth Doctor, although we found Rose started to wear thin as a companion in this season and by the end of it we weren’t sorry to see the back of her. (In fact, by the end of the season, we were much more excited to see her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey return than to see any more of Rose.)

The low point of the season comes at the very end, with “Doomsday”—the conclusion to a two-part finale in which Cybermen and Daleks fight in the skies over London—coming it at only a 2. Many things dragged this episode down, including the ham-fisted introduction of Torchwood, which had been teased all season long. Worse, coming after some of the well-crafted storytelling in previous episodes, this one chucks out any attempt at story development or narrative logic in favor of Daleks and Cybermen trash talking each other.

By contrast, the best episodes of the season, “Tooth and Claw” and “The Girl in the Fireplace,” both at 9, show off how effective the slow unfolding of complex stories can be. “Tooth and Claw” has Queen Victoria menaced by an alien werewolf in the Scottish highlands while “The Girl in the Fireplace” has Madame de Pompadour menaced by clockwork robots from the future. Although both these episodes involve historical women in danger, neither is a “damsel in distress” story, as both Victoria and Madame de Pompadour get to play active roles in their stories. These episodes also share a pattern of multi-layered plots in which things that seem bizarre and inexplicable at first gradually become clear as pieces of the story fall into place one after another.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 2 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 2 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Why the Doctor Can’t Change the Fate of Krypton

Like you can gather from the season 1 rating post, we’re re-watching Doctor Who. An expected consequence is I’m having bit of a Doctor brain. Case in point: the comic I found funniest in this collection of imaginary text messages between Batman and Superman involved the Doctor.

Texts from Superheroes Krypton Fixed Point

Batman: Why do you always change in a phonebooth?

Superman: I like them. A blue one showed up on Krypton once. My father said it’s where heroes come from.

Batman: Was it bigger on the inside?

Superman: YES! I think my pediatrician owned it. He’s the one who told Jor-El to send me to Earth. He said being the last makes us stronger.

Batman: I’m familiar with The Doctor. I’m surprised he didn’t save Krypton.

The Doctor: Fixed point in time. I am so sorry.

LOLed—and groaned.

Yoinked from Texts from Superheroes, a project of stand-up comedian Andrew Ivimey and Internet comedian Diana McCallum, and part of the From Superheroes Network.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 1

We have continued our rewatching-and-rating project into a series with a bigger fan following: the rebooted Doctor Who that began its broadcast life in 2005. We know that there are a lot of Who fans out there who are passionate about the series and feel strongly about certain episodes and characters. Here’s how we felt about the first season, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion Rose.

  1. “Rose” – 4
  2. “The End of the World” – 4
  3. “The Unquiet Dead” – 4.5
  4. “Aliens of London” – 6
  5. “World War Three” – 6
  6. “Dalek” – 4
  7. “The Long Game” – 4.5
  8. “Father’s Day” – 5.5
  9. “The Empty Child” – 8.5
  10. “The Doctor Dances” – 10
  11. “Boom Town” – 5
  12. “Bad Wolf” – 4
  13. “The Parting of the Ways” – 3

It’s a rocky start to the new show, which is understandable given how much weight this first season had to carry: living up to the nostalgia for the old show while proving that the Doctor Who formula could be made fresh, new, and relevant for a new generation. The average episode rating for this season is 5.3, which is low but decent.

The lowest-rate episode of the season is the finale, “The Parting of the Ways,” in which the Doctor faces off against a Dalek invasion of Earth in the future while Rose desperately tries to get back to him from the present. It rated only a 3 for several reasons. There are pacing and structural issues with the story and its ending relies too much on an almost literal dea ex machina. We find Dalek stories generally weak because the Daleks are flat as characters and overpowered as antagonists.

The standout best episode of the season, though, is “The Doctor Dances” at a full 10. In WWII-era London, the Doctor and Rose deal with both dashing Time Agent-turned-con artist Jack Harkness and a monster that looks like a little boy in a gas mask but who turns those he touches into mindless gas-mask-faced shadows of themselves. As the conclusion to a two-part story after the very strong “The Empty Child,” this episode is full of both sparkling wit, clever sci-fi ideas, and powerful human drama.

This season’s heart (or hearts) are in the right place, even if it doesn’t always deliver. The “dig in the couch cushions and see what you find” special effects budget of the old show was always part of its quirky charm, but the fist season of the new show clearly struggled to live within its means. Not every episode pulled off the right balance of whimsy and pathos. Still, this season did what it needed to: it brought us back the Doctor and the TARDIS and prepared the way for greater adventures to come.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 1 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Series 1 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Stained Glass Dalek

Did you see this amazing stained glass Dalek already?

Jamie Anderson Chris Thompson Stained Glass Dalek Stainley-1050x1050

Producer / director / writer Jamie Anderson worked with designer Chris Thompson to help make the lead and stained glass Dalek a reality. It’s based on a Doctor Who audio drama script by Mike Tucker called Order of the Daleks.

Thompson describes the making-of process:

“My main thought process was to create a “Gothic” Dalek and replace all the flat surfaces with glass designs. My initial sketches had palisades, crowns, spikes and other gothic elements, but we decided to dial a lot of these back for story reasons. In the episode itself these Dalek casings are made by very primitive monks so the focus needed to be on the stained glass and not the metal elements.”

The detailing is absolutely exquisite. There is, of course, more to the design than that—visit Jamie Anderson’s site for the full story and the meaning of some of the elements.

Found via Tor.com.

Image via Jamie Anderson

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.


Third Person

I have to write a biographical paragraph for a conference. Ugh. I hate writing about myself in the third person.

I’m trying to be all

160205Caesarbut feeling more like

160205jonesOh well. It goes with the territory, I guess. I like to think that being awkward about your own accomplishments is one of the tests of being a decent person. (But, then, does congratulating myself on being a decent person mean I’m actually not..? Argh! Why is it so hard?!)

Oh well. That’s my dose of self-pity for the day.

Images: Bust of Caesar, photograph by Andrea Wahra via Wikimedia (Naples; 1st c. BCE; marble) and text from Caesar, Gallic War 1.54, collage by Erik Jensen. Harriet Jones via brittaperry

When the suckage just sucks too much.