Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2007 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – “The Girl in the Fireplace,” DOCTOR WHO

The Doctor Who reboot wins this category for the second year straight in what’s becoming something of a tradition. For its second season, most of the cast stays in place, but the Doctor “regenerates” from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant. I mentioned before that I wasn’t a fan of Eccleston’s performance. Well, I think Tennant is brilliant in the role, and that alone makes this season a significant step up.

Once again, the season received three of the five nominations in this category (it’s received two or three of five in every year of its existence). So, on to the Whominees!   ….sorry….

“School Reunion”: In the present day, the Doctor goes undercover at a school that is brainwashing British children into supercomputers to control the universe. As weird as that sentence sounds, this is a very generic Who plot, and Anthony Stewart Head is somewhat wasted as the alien headmaster. The real attraction here is the return of (the late *sob*) Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a long-running and popular companion of the Doctor from the ‘70s incarnation of the show. This causes all sorts of jealousy between current companion Rose and Sarah Jane and prompts several conversations about exactly why the Doctor abandons his companions every couple of years and never mentions them again. The obvious answer is that actresses/producers want to move on, but this episode manages to use the old conceit to enrich the characters. There really is some good development there, and the reunion is very welcome. It’s too bad the damn monster-of-the-week plot has to get in the way.

“Army of Ghosts”/“Doomsday”: The two-part season finale takes us back to contemporary England, where ghosts start wandering around the planet on a set schedule. The Doctor spends most of the first episode trying to puzzle this out, and runs across a secret government organization called Torchwood. Turns out the ghosts are harbingers of an invasion from another dimension.  Meanwhile, Rose and her mum have some mother/daughter class tension that feels real enough to be a bit annoying.  Then things get really crazy in the second episode. Torchwood comes off as comically evil (and the episode should lose points for inspiring the mediocre-to-bad spin-off as well), and the ending is pretty melodramatic (and it cheats!), but the episodes are pretty fun. Russell T. Davies goes right up to the edge of ridiculousness with his action finale one-upsmanship, but he doesn’t quite go over that edge until season three’s finale.

“The Girl in the Fireplace”: And, once again, the Steven Moffat script for the year wins the big prize. The Doctor finds himself on a brokedown spaceship that is using all of its energies to open a variety of windows into the life of Madame de Pompadour, the intelligent and beautiful mistress of King Louis XV of eighteenth-century France. The ship has clockwork robots that dress as creepy French aristocrats and harass Madame de Pompadour, hiding under her bed and generally acting scary and planning to harvest organs. The Doctor jumps into various parts of her life to save her from them, and she falls in love with him. I thought it might dilute the episode somewhat that Moffat has gone back to the “Doctor meets someone as a child then adult” well a couple of times in his own run on the show, but this episode isn’t about that aspect nearly as much as it is about the Doctor’s loneliness, and the bizarre temporal maze of the spaceship. It’s quirky, fun, and mindbending like all the best Who, but it also manages some character development for the Doctor and some real poignancy.

So, overall, it’s a significant improvement over season one. The production is much more self-assured, and Tennant brings a ton of charisma to the roll, without losing any of the nuances (like the hints of sadness and fury) that Eccleston brought to the character. There are a couple of really terrible episodes: the deadly dull “Idiot’s Lantern” and “Fear Her,” as well as the much-hated “Love and Monsters” (I kind of like it, but it really does have some bizarre/awful moments). These episodes bring it down some, but the rest of the season is quite strong, and having a finale that’s only mostly insane rather than completely bonkers (like seasons three and four) helps to compensate somewhat.

Grades: “School Reunion”  B+
“The Girl in the Fireplace” A
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” A-

         Season 2 Overall  B+

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