...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Day 3261: DOCTOR WHO: Dweeb Land


GOOD NEWS: "The Sarah Jane Adventures" and "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" show that adding a Dr David to your mix adds a COOL MILLION to your viewing figures!

BAD NEWS: this suggests the interest in Red Button cartoons SANS David Tennant is probably NIL!

Daddy has a go at explaining "Dreamland":

Hmmm. Ever so slightly it would've been nice if this "red button treat" had been on before "The Waters of Mars".

It's not that it's bad as such… no, actually it is that it's bad… no, that's unfair, it looks dreadful, but actually… anyway, it breaks the mood.

"Waters" ramped up the tension to "nearly-unbearable" in preparation for the jolly Christmas Armageddon of "The End of Time" and then they toss in this lightweight B-movie themed romp. And then they make it look like… that!

Phil Ford, the writer here, has worked on the Sarah Jane Adventures and, of course, shared the writer credit with Russell for "The Waters of Mars" (which is ironic given my complaint about the juxtaposition of the two stories), but he first came to our attention for writing most of (and most of the good episodes of) the CG Captain Scarlet, so he really ought to be the man best suited to this. But, I guess, he just assumed that the animation would be up to Captain Scarlet's standards. Which, sadly, it's not.

Animation can be the sweetest of mediums, even for Doctor Who: the re-animated "The Invasion", say, is stylish, atmospheric, moody and perfectly captures the whole "Ipcress File-ness" of the dastardly spy sub-plot in the opening episodes. In contrast, "Dreamland" with its gaudily painted stick-figures and sub-Thunderbirds puppet-walk movement is constantly dragging you out of the moment, subtracting from the voice acting.

Tennant (as a voice) is on excellent form. He's an alumnus of Big Finish so he ought to know the drill, but he manages to gabble most of the exposition out both in character and, more importantly, clearly to hear. Tragically, his digital avatar has less emotional range than a Smash Martian: going from wide-eyed boggling to wider-eyed boggling, with occasional leaning slightly forwards for emphasis.

David Warner always adds gloss to a production and this is no exception; his cynical, two-faced Lord Azlok makes for a decent opponent, even if he looks like a super battle droid wearing Nute Gunray's hat (and then goes the full "Attack of the Clones" and flies like a Geonosian bug creature!). And do his googly eyes really have to make that squeaky noise every time he does his CGI blink?

There's also a lovely appearance by Lisa Bowerman (Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield) as a grey alien with a charming touch of world-weary scepticism that nicely counters the Doctor's sugar-rush enthusiasm. Their scenes together inside the set of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (oh come on, weren't you hoping they'd knock over the Ark of the Covenant?) are among the episodes best moments, and their "crate escape" is genuine Doctor Who gold.

Sadly the multi-talented Georgia Moffett and fellow companion Tim Hower as Cassie and Jimmy are completely wasted. Their characters have almost no character, in fact almost no dialogue to establish one beyond "ooh, I'm a Native American" and "ooh, I wear bobby-sox". And it hardly seemed worth Clark Peters ("The Wire's" Lester Freeman) turning up for the tiny role of Night Eagle or "granddad exposition" as you might as well call him.

The plot amounts to the fairly basic invasion-of-Earth nonsense with a large dash of Aliens added (how obvious did the Viperox Queen and all her little eggs have to be?) but it's overlaid with a warm-hearted wash of homage to all those Fifties American clichés: from flying saucers to Men in Black (who are Robots, no less) to secret military bases where you get strapped to the operating table to have your mind erased by the evil mind gas.

(Minor quibble though: why does the room with the mind-wiping gas have ventilation ducts that lead back into the rest of the base? And, given that it does why does anyone in Area 51 remember who they are???)

One nice touch is that the flying saucer – the Roswell flying saucer – matches, inside and out, the one seen in The Sarah Jane Adventures "Prisoner of the Judoon"… and so it should since the one appearing in Sarah Jane was allegedly modelled on the US Air Force' plans for the Roswell saucer. (Although sadly no one says: "oi, the milometer's gone missing!" – see "Dalek", for why!)

Combined into a single 45-minute narrative, "Dreamland" suffers from a couple of "hang on have I missed a bit" moments where clearly "events have moved on" between mini-episodes (the most glaring being the jump between the opening in the diner and the "second" episode, ironically combined into the double-length episode one, where the Doctor and chums encounter their first Viperox).

The real shame though is that all this has been done before – and rather better – in the 1994 New Adventure "First Frontier" by David A McIntee.

In fact, the conflict between the aggressive, warlike Viperox and the technologically advanced grey aliens depicted here is remarkably similar to "First Frontier's" back-story (or rather foreshadowed fore-story) of the war between the aggressive, warlike Veltrochni (a species allegedly resembling a cross between a Predator and a Klingon) and the technologically advanced Tzun (who are your basic grey Roswell alien).

The fall of the Tzun Confederacy, dated to 2172, is, incidentally, one of my favourite bits of clever retro-continuity in the Doctor Who universe – it's what allows the humans to have space for their Empire to expand into. Sadly, recent TV episodes – "Last of the Time Lords" in particular – seem to suggest that there's a rather more mundane Galactic Traffic Patrol – or possibly the Shadow Proclamation – keeping an eye on the Earth instead.

So, with its sunny setting and devil-may-care Doctor this is much closer in appearance and tone to the sandcastle nonsense of "Planet of the Dead" than the emotional intensity of "The Waters of Mars" and we'd have been more "in the mood" for this cartoon Doctor earlier in the year. Plus it could have tided us over the huge-seeming gap, rather than very nearly feeling like it's getting in the way of our sprint to the finish.

Next Time (again): Christmas Day. Two part festive episode. Return of character thought long-dead… Are we sure this isn't going to be set in Walford?…


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