13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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SMITH AND JONES
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
Buy entire series DVD box set: UK US
Sweet Mother of Mercy backstroking in butterscotch.* How much do we love this episode?
We were worried. After the lacklustre Runaway Bride and the appalling Torchwood, we were very worried indeed. But it’s OK. It’s better than OK. Smith And Jones is an absolute gift.
Dude, it’s all about character. And it’s as simple as this: yay Martha!
It’s not that we didn’t like Rose. Especially at first. But quite a long time before she left her character had fossilised, so we were more than ready to scope out a new companion. The bonus is that as well as being novel Martha is terrific.
It was a bit scary at first, what with the family stuff and all: was Martha just going to be a Rose by another name? (Sorry.) But then we went to the moon. Here at Androzani we had the discussion about why the atmosphere hadn’t blown out the non-airtight windows, and then Martha made the same point. Joy! Rose would have been more likely to produce a herring from her left nostril than to figure that out. And ditto with Martha’s instant conclusion that the presence of a forcefield meant they had limited oxygen. She’s the Sarah Jane to Rose’s Jo Grant: yippee!
She’s brave, of course, and she keeps her head in a crisis when everyone else is scampering hither and yon like a herd of panicked wildebeest. When she has to stop the Judoon, she stops them, even though she’s scared. When she sees the plasmavore standing over Stoker’s body with a straw, she doesn’t stand and scream: she legs it. When she doesn’t know how to work the MRI machine, she looks in the manual. Nice. She’s compassionate, too: when the Doctor’s about to zoom out of Stoker’s office, it’s Martha who stops to close his eyes.
And she might go a bit swoony when the Doctor kisses her (who wouldn’t?), but she’s exercising a healthy amount of scepticism where he’s concerned all the same. At times she may be just a little too sceptical (why does she find it so hard to believe the Doctor’s an alien when she’s surrounded by space rhinos?), but nevertheless, we like her refusal to let the Doctor sweep her instantly off her feet. When he tells her he’s called the Doctor, we love her retort of “As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got to earn that title”, and we love even more the Doctor’s muttered response of “Well, I’d better make a start, then”. We also love her unimpressed response to his revelation that he’s a Time Lord: “Right. Not pompous at all, then.” Hey, it’s about time somebody said it.
The Doctor’s respect for Martha is obvious. There are some wonderful moments in here, both spoken “Good thinking. Brilliant, in fact” and (our favourites) unspoken, where you can see the Doctor registering just how capable Martha is. He’s sizing her up, and he likes what he sees. It’s no surprise at all when she gets the personally-delivered gilt-edged invitation at the end.
It’s not that we want the companion to be able to push the Doctor around. No, no, no. That’s how you end up with disasters like the Fifth Doctor/Tegan relationship. But the Doctor’s exerting himself to impress Martha here not out of weakness and not out of some sort of goopy romantic attraction, but because he thinks she merits it. That bodes well for an interesting working partnership.
So, good companion. But the Doctor’s by no means an also-ran here either. It’s an excellent episode for him.
We don’t think anyone’s ever going to dislodge the Fourth Doctor as our favourite: Tom Baker brought to the part an intrinsically alien quality that we’re mad about and that we can’t see any other actor ever duplicating. Nevertheless, the Tenth Doctor is way up there on the list, and David Tennant impresses us more and more. Interestingly, the Fourth and Tenth Doctors have some of the same strengths and all of the same weaknesses: both are at their most powerful when they’re reining it right back, and both are at their most disappointing when they’re camping it up.
The Fourth Doctor can be killingly funny (“Harry’s only qualified to work on sailors”), but he’s at his least amusing when he’s trying to be: all that unrestrained mugging to the camera in stories like The Ribos Operation is behind-the-sofa stuff. And it’s just the same with the Tenth Doctor: the “Someone has got one hell of a fetish” line is funny, and so’s the delivery of “And again!”, but the foot-shaking scene is just painful. Aside from that one lapse, though, the balance is spot on in Smith And Jones: in fact, the Doctor’s regrettable tendency toward mugging is cunningly exploited for good in his OMG Space Rhinos scene with the plasmavore. Long may it continue.
After a whole series, we’ve got a reasonable idea now of who this Doctor is, and that’s adding a real richness. His noticing the hospital shop in the middle of rhino chaos, and the way he notices it (“Oh, look down there, you’re got a little shop! I like a little shop”) not only harks back to New Earth, giving us some nice continuity, but it’s also utterly Doctorly. So is the easily missed moment when as he and Martha go towards potential danger in Stoker’s office the Doctor pulls Martha back and goes in front. David Tennant’s just so good here. Freema Agyeman does a great job with Martha, but that’s all in the character; with the Doctor, though, so much of what’s best about him is in what David Tennant doesn’t say. It’s a fantastic performance.
Martha good, Doctor good. Anything wrong with them?
With Martha, it’s that bloody family. Not only do we not want to be inflicted with another bunch of Tylers, we so don’t care about the horrendously clichéd Dad runs off with blonde bimbo situation. Why do we have to deal with these people? Why? Why?
And the Doctor? Hmm. As ever, we could do without the name dropping. More importantly, however he reproves Martha for mentioning his tight suit, when he’s trying to lure her into the TARDIS without a doubt he’s flirting. (Incidentally, that shot of him leaning against the TARDIS? Helloooo, nurse!) There’s more zing in those scenes than they managed in thirteen episodes of Torchwood. We couldn’t help enjoying it, so shoot us: we’re only human, even if the Doctor isn’t. That’s the point, though: we don’t actually approve, because it’s way too human. They’re going to have to be very, very careful with this.
And the kiss? Too much, and not well done. They got away with the Doctor kissing Rose by making the Doctor alienesquely oblivious to any romantic connotations, but here he goes out of his way to acknowledge the possibility with the “it means nothing” speech. Along the same lines, we really, really wish he’d get over Rose already. Yes, we know he’s lost everything blah blah blah and Rose was important to him, but that much naked neediness is just a bit too human.
Interlaced with all this character goodness is yer actual plot. And for a classic base under siege story it’s not too bad at all. The mystery, with the electric shocks, the bike couriers and the Doctor appearing out of nowhere, disappearing again then turning up in pyjamas, builds nicely. The transportation of the hospital to the moon is a bit dumb, but it passes. (Before it started the announcer said “Hang on tight for a journey into the unknown with Doctor Who”, to which one of us retorted: “Bollocks to that – it’ll be sodding London again.” Which was true, but at least we got a few hundred thousand kilometres away, even if there was no good reason for it.) Aspects of the plot might be a little on the far-fetched side (the MRI machine? Say… no… more), but it’s always well-paced and entertaining.
The thing’s positively crawling with new aliens. The slabs are inspired: like clowns, motorbike couriers are always scary, and the slabs are a simple, cheap and effective way to exploit that. The plasmavore’s not particularly interesting per se, but Anne Reid does a superb job with it, and we’re grateful for the absence of moohahahaing. (And that, um, sucking scene is genuinely disturbing. Eep.)
And the Judoon? How cute are they? Even though they’re a cross between Sontarans and Vogons and far too heavily influenced by Judge Dredd, we like them a lot. We’re particularly taken by the fact that they’re not villains, just a bunch of cops getting on with their jobs. Their ships are cool, too. And we’re entranced by the squeaky pens.
This year’s Bad Wolf? Obviously, Mr Saxon. And can we just say: do we have to do this every year? Also, does Episode 1 have to be set in a hospital with Earth-animal-alike aliens? Does Episode 2 always have to go back into Earth’s past? We can’t see any reason at all for making things so formulaic. It’s just boring.
Along the same lines, what about the sonic screwdriver? It’s a happy, happy moment when it’s destroyed, and we love the close-up of the Doctor locking the door with, you know, the lock, instead of zapping it as usual. They clearly can’t do without it even for one episode, though, as the Doctor absorbing the X-rays is essentially a Be Your Own Sonic Screwdriver scenario. Since they press the reset button at the end, the whole thing seems pretty pointless: our inescapable conclusion is that Russell T Davies, irked by the moaning of the fans on this particular point, is messin’ with our heads. Bastard.
However, there are some other resonances from the past which are slightly more interesting. No, not the banana milkshake: the John Smith in hospital attended by a companion who’s a doctor is a nice echo of Spearhead From Space. And we insist on reading a reference to Caves Of Androzani into that bit where the Doctor’s carrying Martha, too. Of course, this might all be in our heads, but never mind; in our opinion reality is severely overrated.
Introducing a new companion’s no easy task. But this really, really works. It’s a triumph.
*With apologies to everyone’s favourite dog and rabbity thing, Sam & Max.
MORAL: Never annoy a rhino with a badge.
What are they teaching med students these days? Rule one with a stethoscope: not through clothes!
What are the odds that when looking out a window and suddenly seeing a lunar landscape your immediate thought would be “We’re on the moon” and not “Some moron’s stuck a poster over the window”?
TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION
The shot of lights flickering back on in some rooms of the hospital is probably meant to signify that the emergency generators have kicked in. Unfortunately for this, generators capable of restoring full power and then some (50,000 teslas, remember?) would be vast, and they certainly wouldn’t be in the basement, because they’re an excellent source of carbon monoxide. So where’s the power coming from?
IT’S THE LAW
Okay, the force field is keeping the atmosphere in. But where’s the gravity coming from?
Roy Marsden is brilliant. But calling him Stoker? Yee-ouch!
YOU ARE EXPANDABLE
The shot of the ant-like Judoon marching out of their ships is way impressive, but sadly the ships are totally out of scale with the ships in the shot of the Judoon walking towards the hospital doors.
AND THE WINNER IS
When the slab’s face down in the dirt, all that’s moving is the tab of his zip and all you can hear is a tiny chinking noise. What a fantastic shot.
THAT BEING BECAUSE
Do we detect, in the plasmavore’s clunky explanation that the MRI will only kill people on the side facing the moon, the traces of someone going “Hang on a minute...” and a hasty script emendation?
DIRTY WHITE BOY
As the Doctor’s running along the corridor towards the plasmavore in the MRI suite, the soles of his feet are black with dirt. Later, in the suite, as he picks up his foot to demonstrate his bunions it’s much cleaner.
CAN YOU BELIEVE WE NOTICE THIS STUFF?
We might be wrong about this, but we think the cross on the plasmavore’s hand when she’s in the MRI suite looks different from the cross Rhino Boy made.
“And yet I think laughing on purpose at that darkness.” Yet another alien who’s able to look right into the Doctor’s soul. However do they do it? Still, we guess it saves him on psychiatrists’ bills.
DEAD LIKE ME
So was the Doctor really actually dead, then? Or in some kind of Time Lordy respiratory bypass situation? We’re guessing the latter, since he didn’t regenerate.
PLEASE STOW YOUR TRAY TABLE AND LOCK YOUR SEATS INTO THE UPRIGHT POSITION
How come there’s tons of turbulence all the way to the moon and none at all on the way back?
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
Buy entire series DVD box set: UK US