Sunday, May 31, 2015

10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn: Series Two

Hi there, Whovians! Today is another installment of my weekly series of posts looking back over the 10 years of Doctor Who since it was relaunched back in 2005. 

Last week, I ranked the episodes of Series One from worst to first. This week, I do the same for Series Two. There is no scientific basis for any of this analysis, just my own feelings and reactions to these episodes. They're just opinions that I am not prepared to fight to the death to defend. 

As I did last week, I will review two parters as separate episodes. Also I was either too generous with last week's post (5 stars for Rose? All of 2 stars for World War III and Boom Town? Really?) or I'm overcompensating this week (there are some 1 star episodes). Well, I never said this was scientific. Hopefully I will find my rhythm with this project soon. 

Anyway, moving onwards... 

Series Two was a challenging time for Doctor Who. The series had relaunched the previous year to mostly positive acclaim, helped in no small part by Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of the Doctor. But Eccleston opted to move on after only 1 year in the role so it came time to find a new Doctor. 

And what a Doctor they found in David Tennant. Tennant's geek chic 10th Doctor quickly captured fans imaginations and propelled him to the top of a lot of Favorite Doctors lists. But how did David's first year as the Doctor go? At least in my opinion anyway. Let's find out after a lovely picture of the Doctor and Rose.

And let the countdown begin. 


#14  Fear Her *
If you're wondering why this one is at the bottom of the list ahead of...well, you know...this episode is done in by a little thing and one big thing. The little things like the neighborhood where the kids have gone missing seems to be suffering from nothing more than a little bit of tension; given the number of children missing, the whole area should be in some kind of total meltdown and/or lockdown. Seriously, the Doctor and Rose are the only ones checking into this? And the big thing is casting. Chloe Webber is so central to this mystery but the actress portraying her is just not up to the task. I know its just one role in the story but every time Chloe is on screen, it's just so overwhelmingly bad. Bonus points: the TARDIS gets stuck between two dumpsters, Rose saves the day and the Doctor saves the Olympics.

#13  Love & Monsters *   
Ah, this is the one you thought would be at the very bottom of the list, huh? Here's the thing: it's not a bad episode...for about 20 minutes. The idea of people only peripherally aware of the Doctor coming together is a charming idea, made even more so as they find among themselves new friends with a love of ELO. Then the story takes a sinister turn and before its all over, everyone's dead, all because they knew about the Doctor and had bonded over the fact. If the writer and producers had trusted in what they had in the beginning, this may have been a better regarded show. Instead the sweet idea sold to the audience winds up delivering a sour betrayal at the end. 

#12  The Satan Pit *  
The Doctor spends much of the time in a space suit with a helmet while wrestling with a philosophical dilemma. Rose gets some great "take charge" scenes. The bit at the end where she shoots out the rocketship's view port and sends the big bad on his way to oblivion is totally awesome. But despite the Devil himself with an army of murderously deranged Ood, too often I find this story rather boring. Which is interesting because even less happened in Part 1 but...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.  

#11  The Idiot's Lantern **
An alien menace sucking out souls into television sets leaving behind faceless bodies is a conceit worthy of The Twilight Zone. And there a number of lovely touches: the Doctor and Rose on a scooter, the Doctor starting to talk himself out of getting punched in the face only to get punched in the face, the way the Doctor turns the tables on the detectives as he goes from suspect to in charge of the questioning. Still there is something feels a bit empty about the episode. And a real bone of contention: the Doctor's dramatic speech about how nothing was going to stand in his way when he sees Rose as been zapped faceless by the alien. Before now, you were all screwed but now its hurt my girlfriend so I'm going kick this thing's butt! (Maybe not really but it reads like that.)  

#10   Rise of the Cybermen ***
The Doctor, Rose and Mickey wind up in a parallel world where Rose's dad is still alive and so is Mickey's grandmother. The Doctor is against this but who's listening? Besides the Doctor finds himself a mystery that leads to a new group of Cyberman coming to life on this alternate Earth. The revelation of the other world's "Rose" and the Doctor's reaction to it is priceless as is Mickey's meet up with his doppleganger, Rickey. A lot of chess pieces being moved around so this mostly set up but a solid set up for what comes next.  

#09  The Christmas Invasion ***
What? The 10th Doctor's first full episode is no higher than a 9? What am I thinking? Well, there are some good bits: the TARDIS makes a dramatic entrance as it crashes down (seems to be a trend as we'll see with future first stories for new Doctors) and the Doctor's big entrance about 3/4ths of the way into the episode as he confronts the Sykorax is nothing short of awesome. But we spend too much time with the Doctor not being the Doctor; go see the classic series story Castrovalva on how well having your new Doctor laid out most of the time...doesn't work. And the bit when the Doctor sews the seeds of Harriet Jones' downfall? Man, that does not work. Yeah, he looks so bad ass bringing down the Prime Minister with six little words but it makes the Doctor look temperamental and judgmental and maybe just plain old mental. We know Jones may have made the wrong decision to have Torchwood destroy the retreating aliens (I'm not entirely sure she did) but she has been set up as being a very good leader for Great Britain. And the Doctor by himself decides to tear that down to satisfy his (self) righteous indignation. No, not good.

#08  Army of Ghosts ***
The people of Earth are being visited by the ghosts of long lost loved one but the Doctor has to poke it with a stick and yep, they're Cybermen. And the Daleks pop out of a large gold ball for good measure. And in between we get the Doctor in the TARDIS with...Jackie? The Doctor tries to pass her off as Rose but aged due to exposure to the time vortex. The Doctor comes in contact with Torchwood which, for all the buildup all seasons, does not strike me as being that impressive. It really seems like they're UNIT-lite, a vaguely sinister secret agency but with social skills. Overall, it's a fairly enjoyable episode and set up for things to come.

#07  The Impossible Planet ***
As I noted in last week's post, two part episodes are rarely balanced; that is one part is going to be better than the other. This episode sets up The Satan Pit. There's nowhere near the action going in the first part as there is in Part 2 but Part 1 keeps me interested more. The sense of dread and doom is almost palpable as the Doctor and Rose finds themselves trapped on a planet that shouldn't exist. 

#06  Wolf & Claw ***
There's a really cool "Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon" thing with some red robed bald headed monks at the start  of the episode. Then nothing like that ever happens again. Which seems a little weird. Still cool to look at, though. So the Doctor and Rose meet Queen Victoria and take on a werewolf. I'm not sure why I'm rating the episode as high as I am. Well, there are a lot of good bits besides the monk/ninjas or whatever they were. The Doctor using Jamie McCrimmon has an alias, Rose attempting to speak with a Scottish accent (no, no, just don't, no), The Doctor and Rose in a bet to see who can get Queen Victoria to say "we are not amused". 

#05  New Earth ***
I know a lot fans don't rate this so well but I found this to be a solid episode with a lot action, horror, humor and drama. Having reappearances by Cassandra & the Face of Boe from Series One helps with the transition from the 9th Doctor to the 10th. Cassandra's consciousness hopping from Rose's body to the Doctor's and back again gave David Tennant and Billie Piper some wonderfully funny moments. We also see the start of the 10th Doctor's obsession with shops in hospitals and his disdain of cats. All in all, I thought this was a very good showcase to get the 10th Doctor on his way.

#04  Age of Steel ***
The pieces put into place in Rise of the Cybermen come together with some fast paced action sequences and real character development. The Doctor and Mrs. Moore in the tunnels was delightful to watch until Mrs. Moore's untimely end. Rose with the parallel world Pete Tyler infiltrating the Cybermen factory, Pete trying to figure out what the deal is with Rose; their quest meets a tragic end when they find that world's Jackie Tyler has been converted to a Cyberman. But the big surprise...and a much welcome Mickey Smith. Mickey, scared of his shadow when we first met him in Episode One of Series One, now steps up big time: hacking the Cybus computers, overriding the Cybermen, piloting the zepellin to rescue Rose, Pete and the Doctor and opting to stay behind in this world to carry one Ricky's work and take care of of his rediscovered grandmother in a parallel world. 

#03  School Reunion ****
Maybe it's nostalgia that fuels my appreciation for this episode. The plot about using mind controlled school kids to computer hack the secrets of the universe is not as interesting as it could've been. But no one was tuning in to this episode for the plot. No, the draw here is the return of Sarah Jane Smith, the first real tangible connection to the classic series other than the Doctor himself and the blue police box. The progression of Rose and Sarah Jane from animosity to camaraderie ("every man's worst nightmare: the missus and the ex") is fun to witness. Sarah Jane's reaction when she sees the TARDIS for the first time in years is priceless as her realization that the new school teacher, Mr. Smith, is the Doctor. Sarah Jane's frustration with the Doctor for leaving her behind so long ago and never coming back, Rose's worries of being left behind like the Doctor's other companions and the Doctor opening up about why he keeps moving on, all of this and K-9 too is what makes this episode special. 

#02  Doomsday ****
Daleks vs. Cybermen. We could stop there if it was just a matter of watching these classic foes of the Doctor in battle with each other. But they also trash talk each other too! ("You are superior to the Daleks in only one aspect: you are better at dying!" Burn!) And then there's so much other stuff like Parallel Pete Tyler meeting this world's Jackie who really doesn't care how wealthy Pete is. ("How rich?" Well, it doesn't hurt to ask) Or the perky head of Torchwood, choking back tears but she still strides ahead to face her fate as a Cyberman (which comes around to help things a bit later on). But the big change up comes at the end when the Doctor rids the Earth of the Daleks and Cybermen but loses Rose to the parallel world. The sheer drama and pathos as the Doctor burns up a star to bridge the gap between universes just to say goodbye is powerful stuff. And Rose declares she loves the Doctor and the Doctor realizing he may never have this chance again, says "Rose Tyler..." and he's gone. Women were determined that the Doctor was going to tell Rose he loved her and dudes of all ages thought that was just icky.

#01  The Girl In the Fireplace *****
What can be said about this episode that hasn't been said a million times over? If someone is really new to Doctor Who, this episode is at the top of my list as a first time entry point. It travels in space AND time. It has comedy AND drama. It has romance. (Romance, I tells ya!) It has period costuming AND alien robots. Steven Moffat's script covers a lot of bases of what we expect from Doctor and some things we might not. (Did I mention romance?) The plot hinges on a lot of suspended disbelief but who cares? There's a fairy tale vibe to this episode of fantastic action (The Doctor. On a horse. Crashing through a mirror. Need I say more?) and star-crossed affection. (The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour never line up again until he sees her body leaving Versailles for the last time.) If you're not experiencing the feels by the end of this one, then you too may be a wind up clock robot and you just don't have the parts.  


So there's my list ranking of the episodes of Series Two. Next week, Martha Jones joins the Doctor on the TARDIS as we take a look at Series Three of Doctor Who. You may not be surprised at what's at the bottom of the list but may be for what's at the top. I know I surprised myself.  

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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