MST3K 11×13: Christmas Insanity III: It’s Italy’s Turn

“Can’t believe this is in the Bible!”

The movie: The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, an import that should have been seized by Customs

Now, I don’t consider myself a MST3K buff. I’ve probably watched less than half of the episodes. But I will still say it: I’ve seen the previous two Christmas MSTs, I’ve seen a lot of other episodes, this season included, but this is the first one I’ve seen where I genuinely wondered about the sanity of the people behind the movie.

This is not a logical movie. This is not an illogical movie. Somehow, it exists in a universe separate from logic. It creates, drops, ignores, and distorts its trite storylines and tropes at will. Nobody ever suggests the lawyer try to collect on his bills. In fact, the lawyer ignores his practice to work as a janitor, to earn enough money to pay that rent that’s so outrageous that less than a month’s pay for a janitor and mall Santa in a tiny department store are enough to pay it off. Nobody comments on the idea that someone could buy the North Pole from the Inuit, or out from under Santa, or . . . you get the idea. Mrs. Claus refers to her husband in private as “Santa”, which I guess is standard in these movies but makes just as much sense as referring to your spouse as “CEO” or “Mayor”. The little boy in the snow at the end talks exactly like a 40-year-old man. And on and on.

The intro animation is cute, even if the accompanying song isn’t all that. The Prune song is just, wow. The actors desperately try to make something out of a nothing song there. I got a strong Gene Wilder vibe from the head elf in this bit, go figure.

One thing the movie has going for it is the Dickens-level names . . . except how are we supposed to take a lawyer named Whipple seriously?

As for our riffing heroes and villains, everyone seems to be gelling now. The inventions and host segments are typically just okay, but well-executed, and everyone is their character rather than playing their character. It’s great.

The riffing falls into the category of consistently solid with some highlights. Ragging on the movie’s faults is balanced with more creative input. I, too, am beginning to understand this whole “broke lawyer” thing. And I hope that the lyrics to “Good King Wencelaus” are more easily found online today than when I went looking some years ago.

Push the button: It doesn’t match SC or SCCtM for spectacle, but this is insane and funny enough to go into the Christmas rotation with them both (my favorite is Santa Claus). The host segments just tend to be a little weak.

Next up: the last episode of this season! Will they finish with a bang or a whimper? And when will Netflix announce Season 12?!

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nuWho Season 1 wrap-up

As the first part of a relaunch of a beloved series that had lain fallow for nearly a decade, this season had its work cut out for it. It succeeded by knowing its universe, using the canon and its rules to good advantage, showing a genuine appreciation for the material, and above all by just being really good television. Hopefully the Star Trek: Discovery people have taken notes.

Christopher Eccleston plays a very mercurial Doctor, and I think that’s appropriate. It gives him unpredictability without having to mystify the plot or technology or anything else central to understanding the show. And there should be a level of unpredictability here, to keep new viewers tuned in long enough to fall in love with the show. He’s also a menacing Doctor, physically intimidating, one who is not afraid to throw his full presence or intelligence around when there is need. He gives a strong performance in every single episode, and any worries he might have had about hurting his career never seem to cause him to hold back. I’m glad we got John Hurt for the anniversary special, but I can understand that fans would be anxious for Eccleston to have another turn in the role.

Before this rewatch started, I didn’t get the love for Rose. I figured she was just the first companion, forever to be missed, who apparently had some romantic subtext to get the ‘shipping types excited. After watching the whole season, Billie Piper has won me over. I’m looking forward to her dealing with this new strange person the Doctor has become.

Mickey, as I mentioned in an earlier review, was also just sort of a bit character who popped up in a few episodes I’d seen. Noel Clarke plays him well: not the brightest or most ambitious, so a suitable character to stay behind. But he’s a sound chap (as the British totally still say), and devoted to Rose, so that her rejection of him is painful to watch for his sake. And yet, as we see by the last episode, one can’t entirely blame Rose for leaving him, as she’s far outgrown him.

Jackie started as a bit of an annoyance (intentionally so) and likewise rounded out into a proper character by the end of the season, when her daughter’s life and happiness are on the line and there are no annoying facades to be raised. Full points to Camille Coduri for taking a relatively small role and putting so much life into it.

Jack Harkness . . . I’m still not sold on. He’s likable enough, he just doesn’t feel like he fits as fully in this universe. John Barrowman plays him a little more broadly than the other main and secondary characters, and that might be part of the issue. The other part is that I am simply not the intended audience for The Romantic Antics of Omnisexual Han Solo. And that’s okay. I don’t want him to go away, and he works well enough in his plot threads, I just don’t perk up and lean forward when I see him onscreen.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this season, for me, aside from the characters, is how detailed every episode feels compared to some of the much later series. There are a lot of what I call “wrinkles”: bits of set dressing, throwaway facial expressions, background activity, minor plot curveballs, et cetera that either aren’t necessary to the plot or contort the plot in little ways to make it feel more of a real story, a real world, to draw one in. The music, likewise, shows a lot more effort than in the Matt Smith years. I think Matt Smith’s first season is great (spoilers!), but I can understand people, shall we say, not feeling satisfied with how the program was progressing by that point without regard to whether they liked Smith’s take or not.

What about the “Bad Wolf” story arc? Well, it wasn’t really a story arc at all. The structure itself is pretty weak. However, Bad Wolf is a fairly unsettling phrase to have following one around through space and time, and it wasn’t pushed as more than some bit of weird trivia until the last few episodes, so it was executed about as well as could be hoped . . . aside from Rose’s silly sweeping gesture in “The Parting of the Ways”.

It falls to the last episode to properly wrap the season up by itself, then, and it does so in two ways. One is by completing Rose’s character arc, as she takes it upon herself to save the Doctor regardless of cost to sanity and life. The other is by drawing in details from many of the earlier episodes without regard to the “Bad Wolf” meme — “The Empty Child”, “Father’s Day”, “Boom Town”, and naturally “Bad Wolf” off the top of my head. These are alluded to in minor but significant ways, and it’s enough to feel like the season is all coming together properly. Enough to feel like it was worthwhile having the story arc in the first place.

Overall the season was consistently good, except when the Slitheen got involved. As I said in the “World War Three” review, that’s frustrating, because the Slitheen are mostly competent opponents and their visual design is, well, fantastic. And these episodes have good ideas and good bits in them, too. They just have too much stupid bogging them down.

Final scores:
4: (3) The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Parting of the Ways
3.5: (1) Father’s Day (adjusted up)
3: (3) Rose, The End of the World, Dalek
2.5: (1) The Unquiet Dead
2: (2) The Long Game, Bad Wolf
1.5: (2) World War Three (adjusted down), Boom Town
1: (1) Aliens of London

Average rating: 2.69 out of 4
Number of “watch it again” (3-plus) episodes: 8/13
Number of “never again” (sub-2) episodes: 3/13
Number of episodes set in the UK: 8/13

Least favorite episode: Yeah, still “Aliens of London”.
Favorite episode: I will give “The Empty Child” the edge over “The Doctor Dances” if I must choose a single episode. The first one feels like it has a lot more going on and is super-spooky, whereas the second has the beautiful ending.
Worst episode: After rereading my summaries, I will stick with “Aliens of London” being worse than “World War Three”. I could make a list of points about each episode and see which sticks out the worse, but they’re such a bewildering mix of good and idiotic that I will spare myself the headache. If you need a reason: “World War Three” develops Jackie a little and has less obnoxious foley. There, I even used a fancy word, now it’s over and I never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again.
Best episode: Basically the same list as for favorite episode. The Child Dances two-parter stands above everything else. “Parting” is up there, and gets difficulty points for tying the season together, but doesn’t have the plot to match.
Disappointing episode: “The Unquiet Dead” just didn’t deliver all the fun I wanted. It’s partly on me, because sometimes I want ghosts to be ghosts and monsters to be monsters. Let me soak in the supernatural creepiness a while longer before you whip off the mask to show that it was Old Man Alienface the whole time. This show simply is not interested in following that route (see “Vampires of Venice” preview and Capaldi’s haunted house episode). But this episode could also have been a little stronger in the plot.
Surprise episode: “The End of the World”. I don’t like blowing significant bits of the planet up (one reason of many I’ve never liked ID4), but this episode worked hard to win me over. It might get a 3.5 score if I were less chary with half-points.

Things Doctor Who has made scary forever:

  • Mannequins
  • Children wearing gas masks

nuWho 1×13: The Parting of the Ways

Bad Wolf II: Delta Wave Boogaloo!

A Dalek demands that Rose tell them what the Doctor is up to. Naturally, Rose declines, but listening to the Daleks obey the Rule of Three is always fun. “Predict! Pre-Dict! PREDIICT!” Anyway, the TARDIS comes spinning toward the fleet, missiles come hurtling out to greet it, it’s all tense as Rose informs us that the TARDIS has no defenses against this, and then there’s a spectacular explosion. But then we cut to Jack in the TARDIS talking about using the transmat laser gun to generate defenses. And then the Doctor sloooowly materializes the TARDIS around Rose and her jailkeeper Dalek, Jack shoots the jailer before it can do more than singe the interior, and the first item on the Doctor’s list is crossed off.

Jack still doesn’t understand how the Daleks can exist, when they already vanished from all of Creation. The Doctor puts on his angsty face and tells him that the Daleks left their war with the rest of the universe to fight a different war, the Time War. In that war, the Time Lords died but took all the Daleks with them . . . or so he thought. He adds, “I almost thought it was worth it. And now it turns out they died for nothing.”

The Doctor swaggers out to meet the Daleks and engage in his favorite tactic of getting his opponent to tell him everything he needs to know. For once, the Daleks shoot on sight, but the TARDIS’s forcefield stops their shots cold. He tells the Daleks that they fear him, the Oncoming Storm. The deep Dalek voice from last episode offers to tell him everything he needs to know.

Lights go up and it’s the Emperor Dalek, in a big mechanical thing that has logic in its construction but definitely does not conform to Earth sensibilities, so points to the prop department. The Emperor Dalek’s ship got hit by a stray bolt of red protomatter or whatever and fell through the cracks of time, falling, falling, falling, falling . . . . The Doctor tells him to get on with it, and when the Daleks take offense, snaps at them so fiercely that several actually back away from him.

The Daleks have been abducting humanity’s unwanted outsiders for centuries, coldly pulping their bodies and sifting through the result for the one stray cell in a billion that they deem worthy of developing into a Dalek. But suggesting the result is half-human, as Rose blurts out, is blasphemous, as the Emperor insists he purged everything human from the organic material. The Emperor calls himself a god for creating life from lifelessness, and the Daleks agree. This strikes the Doctor as insanity (because their worldview was oh so wholesome before). The Doctor decides that they all hate themselves for being grown from humanity, and that that hatred makes them even more dangerous. Despite all the Dalek protests, he walks back into the TARDIS, then leans his head against the door as he listens to the hated cries of “EXTERMINATE” outside, evidently mourning the failure and loss of the Time Lords anew.

Back on the Game Station, the Doctor is surprised to find Lynda (Pigtails) still aboard. She says there weren’t enough shuttles to evacuate everyone, and there are still about a hundred people on the station. This includes Rodrick, the Weakest Link winner last episode, who is currently watching people helplessly mill around as he yells for someone to give him his prize money. This is so people who missed last episode won’t mind when he gets his comeuppance for being a Jerk. Earth has responded to the station’s warnings by revoking their broadcast license.

The Emperor-God Dalek sends the fleet to the station, announcing his desire in Earth-religious terms that the Earth be wiped clean for Dalek use. Meanwhile, the Doctor is pulling large showy bundles of wire out of the station’s walls. He plans to send a delta wave at the Dalek fleet to fry their brains. The problem is that it will take him three days, and the fleet will arrive in less than half an hour. No matter: he pulls the last foot of the wire out and grins.

Jack lays out the defense scheme: the station has shielding now, so the Daleks will have to invade in person. He’s super-shielded the top six floors, so the Daleks will have to invade lower and work their way up. He and several others (the Doctor promptly calls dibs on Rose’s assistance) will have to use security’s guns to defend floor 500 as best they can. And yes, it’s dumb of the Daleks to provide humanity with weapons that work against them, but as long as humans are content to kill each other, who cares how they do it?

Lynda gives the Doctor a little farewell speech and handshake. Rose skunk-eyes the whole thing. She’s mollified when Jack gives her a goodbye kiss. Then he gives the Doctor a goodbye kiss and says he’s become braver as a result of meeting the Doctor. Uh, I guess he has? Maybe sorta? He didn’t seem particularly cowardly in “The Empty Child”, just a conman on the make. He doesn’t seem to be Jack the Undying yet, that’s for sure.

Rodrick gets upset when Jack calls for volunteers to fight off the Daleks, insisting that he get to be as big a jerk as possible so that the audience will actively cheer for his death when it comes. Jack gets snippy when only one more person steps forward, telling the rest to head below the Daleks’ likely invasion point and stay quiet. So we know how Rodrick will get himself killed now. It’s all coming together!

Alone with the Doctor, Rose prods the idea of travelling back in time to warn about the Daleks, without much hope. The Doctor confirms that it wouldn’t work, then prods her for any interest in escaping. Rose simply says that, well, he wouldn’t want to escape, then brushes aside the point that she hasn’t asked to escape by saying she’s too good a person to think of leaving. This scene shows how life with the Doctor has changed Rose, as her admiration for the Doctor has led her to become more like him.

The Doctor checks how long it would take the delta wave to reach full functionality and looks despondent. Rose starts to commiserate, but the Doctor jumps up and excitedly kisses her on the forehead (‘shippers cheer), declaring her a genius. He can cross his own timestream and make things go faster. He hustles Rose inside the TARDIS and tells her to hold a switch to disable “the buffers” while he goes back out and checks on things there. He rushes out of the TARDIS and comes to a stop, all his excitement gone, apprehension in its place. He then turns and triggers the TARDIS with his sonic screwdriver. As the TARDIS leaves, “sad-heroic things are happening” music plays and Rose catches fright and tries to get out.

Instead she gets a holographic Christopher Eccleston, who tells her that the real him must see no chance of personal escape and has sent her away to live a good life, with the TARDIS to be allowed to quietly gather dust wherever it lands. Rose starts working the controls, getting frantic once she’s found it’s landed her in her neighborhood, but the levers and switches all clack limply as if they were simple props with nary a foley artist to be found.

Meanwhile, Mickey comes racing around a corner, having heard the TARDIS from several blocks away. His attitude is neither that of a boyfriend, nor of an enemy, but just an associate. Rose hugs him before she can do something un-British like crying in public.

Jack calls up to Floor 500, wanting Rose to read him some data. Probably also simply wanting to talk to her one last time. He catches on that the Doctor sent her out of trouble, then changes the subject to the delta wave. At this point the Dalek Emperor reveals that he took a “spy on the heroes” feat, breaking in to gloat that there is no time to alter the delta wave so that it only kills Daleks. “All things will die . . . by your hand.” And the Doctor, staring at the Emperor on the screen, stares that truth in the face, even as Jack tells us what we could have guessed, that the wave will hit all of Earth.

(If this were a Slitheen episode, the solution would be that all the reality TV has degraded humanity’s nervous systems too much to be affected by the wave.)

The Doctor intends to proceed: there are human colonies elsewhere, and wiping out the Daleks properly is more important to the universe. His grim face cracks for a moment as he tells Jack that this is his decision, he owns it, and he would rather people die human than live Dalek. With Rose out of danger, Jack gives the Doctor his blessing.

The Dalek Emperor declares, on his honor as a genocidal megalomaniac, that he had nothing to do with the “Bad Wolf” motif that’s followed the Doctor around. I thought that was supposed to be the Controller’s work? Maybe it will turn out Rose did it . . . somehow. For reasons.

Speaking of Rose, she’s sitting in a restaurant, while her mum and Mickey try to distract her with banal gossip.

“I said to my girlfriend just the other day, ‘Gee, I’ll bet pizza parlors are innnteresting,’ I said, ‘I bet you meet a lot of innnteresting people there,’ and she said, ‘Well, I happen to know a pizza parlor,’ and I said, ‘My stars, does it carry pizza?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Yes, it does,’ and I said, ‘But does it deliver?’ and she said . . .”

Rose gets more and more upset, thinking of the Doctor getting killed five seconds ago, now, millennia in the future, while a sterile ‘rat race’ future stretches before her. Jackie and Mickey try to convince her that it’s okay to live an ordinary, unambitious life, but Rose gets more upset. The Doctor has taught her that she can make a difference, she says, that she should fight for what’s right, and it drives her mad that she cannot. In a final burst of anguish, she runs out the door. Rather than stretch this review out even further, I’ll just note the religious ideas in this scene and leave it at that.

A Rose-less Jack is making do with Lynda (not a euphemism) when the Dalek fleet arrives. I can tell it’s CGI, but it’s pretty okay, especially for a TV budget and a TV screen. These shots are “big finale” stuff right here. Daleks come marching, well floating, out of their ships in dozens of sixteens.

Mickey is telling Rose to forget the Doctor and lead “a proper life” when she spots BAD WOLF chalked on the blacktop, right in front of their bench. There’s also a brick wall that has BAD WOLF repeatedly graffitied along its length. Rose reasons thus: the words are a sort of connection between the present and where the Doctor’s future is, therefore the message is that she can find a connection to get her back to the Doctor. She heads back to the TARDIS, telling Mickey that the ship is telepathic, which means it’s alive and she can talk to it.

This is what it looks like when Fate stops being subtle.

This is actually something I just realized a minute ago: the utter lack of personification of the TARDIS. As far as I know, that trend really only started with Matt Smith’s run. During this season, the TARDIS is just a machine, a machine with a mind of its own to be sure, but a vehicle to get the Doctor places.

Anyway, Rose decides that if she can access the Heart of the TARDIS, she can convince it to override the Doctor’s command. Mickey is afraid she’ll die. Rose accepts that possibility sadly, telling Mickey, “There’s nothing left for me here.” Mickey isn’t happy to hear that, naturally, but accepts her choice.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have landed and Lynda is tracking their movements all by her lonesome. The defenders try to spring a trap, but find the Daleks have disabled everything of that nature. Also, the defenders’ bullets are vaporized by the same sort of shield we saw back in Utah. And then the Daleks start killing them. Their day just keeps getting worse.

But then the Daleks’ day gets worse when they run into Anne Droid, who disintegrates three of them before the next knocks her block off. I’m, uh, not used to seeing the good guys in charge of the minibosses. Anyway, the Daleks then head downwards to achieve the sidequest of EXTERMINATING Rodrick and his dismal band. We don’t actually watch him die after all, just a few seconds of terror and then we cut to poor, sweet Lynda announcing that the deed is done. Oh, and the EXTERMINATION of Earth is proceeding too.

Mickey tries to haul the top off the Heart with a chain attached to his little British car, which must look really weird to any passersby, but the chain finally snaps. Jackie tells Rose to give up, but Rose insists she’ll continue to fight, it’s what Dad would do, and Jackie says no it isn’t, Rose says yes it is and I know because I met him. She tells Jackie about how she was the one who, in the revised timeline, held Pete’s hand as he died. Jackie doesn’t want to hear about it and flees the TARDIS.

Mickey is now trying to keep Rose’s spirits up, wishing for a bigger tow vehicle, when an actual British tow truck-ish thing pulls up with Jackie at the wheel. Jackie tells Rose that she’s right, Pete was nuts enough to keep trying, so go nuts yourself.

Back with the last defenders, Jack says that now would be a good time to aim for the Daleks’ eyestalks, and if the scriptwriters like you they might let you survive getting shot because the shields totally extend inside the station too. The Daleks appear, and it’s hard shooting but eventually one’s eyestalk goes dim. Segue Woman cheers and gets zapped, to which Headset Man goes all “NOOOOOOO” and mercifully stands up and gets himself zapped. Meanwhile, Lynda gets to watch one Dalek blowtorch its way through her bulkhead, then turns around to see a Dalek float up and destroy the window separating her from space. Soon Jack is retreating alone, and the Doctor redoubles his efforts.

The TARDIS puts up a fight, but the tow truck is strong enough to pull off the hatch guarding the Heart. Rose gets in position and, with her hair blowing in the Dramatic Wind, the Heart starts beaming glowy light straight into her eyes. The TARDIS takes off. As Rose races to the rescue, Jack announces a 20-second doomsday timer for the Doctor to get his work done. This is another episode where the music stands out, and here it rises tensely to the climax, as everyone converges toward the Doctor. Jack runs out of ammo and gives himself up, and all three Daleks oblige him. The Doctor is surrounded by Daleks just as he finishes his preparations.

He tries to use the threat of the delta wave to ward death off, but the Dalek Emperor tells him, “I want to see you become like me. Hail the Doctor, the Great Exterminator!” Little does he know, eh? But the Fourth Doctor was no genocide, and ultimately, despite the darker tone of this incarnation, the Ninth isn’t either, choosing the title of “coward” over that of “killer”.

The Dalek Emperor declares the Doctor too “heathen” to become a Dalek, so the Doctor gives himself up to extermination. But then the TARDIS materializes behind him, and Rose steps out from a bright glowy interior. She stops a Dalek’s EXTERMINATE beam Vader-style, and declares herself the Bad Wolf: “I create myself.”

Well, in accordance with conservation of plot, Rose did do the Bad Wolf thing herself, and the reasons are that she was sending a message to herself to not give up. The somehow is that, by looking into the Heart of the TARDIS, she looked into the time vortex that the TARDIS travels through, and anyone knows that once you have time powers you can do anything. Then she starts disintegrating the Daleks with Heart-fire Heart-burn. When the Dalek Emperor declares himself immune, she calls him “tiny” and burns his whole ship into nothing.

This could have been a cheap deus ex machina, since the time powers come out of nowhere and neatly wrap up a huge, unsolvable problem just like that, but it isn’t really. The episode has been building up to Rose’s return, with the magnitude of her new powers validated by her selfless attitude, determination, and love for the Doctor. The TARDIS certainly contains great temporal powers, and we saw a hint of weirdness in “Boom Town” when Margaret was given her life to live over again. Overall, it feels like an appropriate, organic extension of the preceding drama, and indeed season. If it is a D.E.M., it’s an earned one.

It also doesn’t actually wrap things up neatly. Rose has chosen to play God, and that power comes with a price: the vortex is burning her up, and the temptation to hold on to the power is too much. The Doctor tells her to stop, that the Daleks are gone, but Rose returns Jack to life and is awestruck at the sight the vortex grants her: everything that was, is, or might be. The Doctor says that’s what he sees too, and offers his help. The tableau changes from Frodo claiming the Ring for himself, to Decker and Ilya at the end of TMP, as the two embrace and kiss. (And the ‘shippers go wild!) The Doctor receives the glowy from Rose, then sets her down and exhales it back into the TARDIS.

Poor Jack gets left behind as the Doctor sets course for points unknown. Rose is foggy about what just happened, and meanwhile the Doctor notices himself glowing in unusual places. He gets a little manic as he breaks it to Rose (and to the ‘shippers as they clean their drinks off their couches): the time vortex dealt a mortal wound to every single cell in his body, so he needs to regenerate (the word is not actually used), and whatever form he takes afterward, life with him will not be the same. Rose is understandably scared about this, especially with phrases like “I’m never gonna see you again” thrown about, but bears up womanfully. The Doctor gets in one last good line and turns into a volcano, and a moment later, he’s David Tennant!

The first thing the Doctor does in his new body is check his teeth, and the second thing is to reassure everyone he’s the same person by saying “Where were we?” and referencing Barcelona from the conversation a few minutes before. In those few seconds, he’s already recognizably the Tenth Doctor.

Christopher Eccleston rides triumphantly off into the sunset, assured of not being forever typecast as the Doctor, and we head off toward our first Christmas episode!

This is largely Eccleston’s episode to shine in, and he does so. His aggressive visit to the Daleks is probably the high point of the Ninth Doctor’s glory (to continue using theological language), and throughout the episode things revolve around his emotions and the very simple, but ultimately fatal, task he must carry out.

Billie Piper also has a lot of acting to do to carry her branch of the plot, and she also delivers. She has to sum up a season-long character arc and do a lot of emoting, often muted expressions of deep feeling. So props to her as well. Everyone else also turns in great performances.

It’s curious to me that (I’m pretty sure) the only hint this season that the Doctor ended the Time War himself comes from the Emperor Dalek here. I had figured that was established from the get-go. It makes for a very different viewpoint on this Doctor.

Further comments on the resolution of the Bad Wolf arc go in the season round-up. As for this episode by itself, it’s fast-paced with big ideas, big action scenes, big stakes, big consequences, big character growth, big emotions, and still has time for quiet moments when they’re needed.

Rating: 4 delta waves of deadly doom

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: If I’m very clever, and I’m more than clever, I’m brilliant, I might just save the world. Or rip it apart.
Rose: I’d go for the first one.
The Doctor: Me too.

PO-LICE AND TRAFFIC CON-TROL SYSTEMS ARRE UN-NECESSARY: LIVING IN A DAHHH-LEK PARA-DISE

Sorry (not sorry): for the Heart-burn thing

RIP: Lynda the Pig-tailed. You were too sweet for this world.

nuWho 1×12: Bad Wolf

We quickly recap “The Long Game”, which I never expected to hear about again. But the Doctor’s comment that humanity’s progress should resume is used as a plot hook to propel us another hundred years into the future, where the Doctor wakes up disoriented in a changing room. It’s disorienting for the viewer, too, helped along by the aggressive techno dance soundtrack. A young blonde woman, Pigtailed Rose, rushes over to help him up.

We gather (aided by the subtitles) that the Doctor has been dumped into a garish version of the Big Brother TV show that I thankfully haven’t heard of in years. Also in the room are a black woman wearing loud pink and a man in a bootleg Rolling Stones shirt. He complains that eviction (which we all know is code for “someone’s gonna die”) is just five minutes away, what’s with dropping someone new on them now? Black Rose agrees that if “the rules” keep changing like this, she might just repaint the walls as an act of defiance.

Given that her color scheme is just as loud as the house’s, I’m not sure what kind of threat that is.

“You see that bit of white wall over there? I’ll paint it day-glo green. DAY-GLO! And if you really make me mad, I’ll paint it a blinding yellow, and then deep purple, and then beige on top of that just to really tick everyone off.”

The Doctor is promptly led off to a private room to tell the audience how his day is going. Meanwhile, Real Rose comes to looking into the face of a man who tells her that the android is the Law. I hope it flies around eating frogs, because that sounds more appealing than what I expect from the House O’ Roses. The Weakest Link is as sordid as I care to get in the reality show genre.

Oddly enough, Rose is led onto a Weakest Link set. I honestly did not know that was coming. The android is an Anne-droid with red hair and red eyes and actually says this is The Weakest Link. Either the BBC owns the British version, or the parody laws are very strong across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile Captain Jack Harkness finds himself on Robot Eye for the Omnisexual Guy. The robots in question remove his clothing for the edification of millions of viewers. Jack confidently responds that “your viewing figures just went up.” Not sure how this scenario is supposed to lead to deadly peril, but at least we’re getting a variety of shows.

The Doctor is back in the House, sonicing his surroundings to find a way out. Pigtailed Rose (who claims her true name is Lynda) pesters him to tell her what the viewers think of her. The Doctor pleases her by telling her everyone thinks she’s sweet. Then he remembers how he was captured: a white light emanated from the wall of the TARDIS and sucked everyone in. The inside wall of the TARDIS, while they were in 1300s Japan saving the locals from Cyberkaiju or something. That’s quite a feat, too much of a feat for their abduction to be anything other than deliberate. He looks into a camera screen and delivers the typical Doctor warning.

A man listening in lowers his headset and moves closer to a bank of computers. Like in “The Long Game”, but the operators aren’t zombies. He tries to get a woman’s attention, but she’s busy segueing us back to Rose, who decides she’ll win a trivia game based on popular culture several hundred years into her future. Fortunately, there are enough simple questions that she doesn’t lay a total egg. We learn that Torchwood (who?) became famous and is now destroyed. This cracks Rose up. Headset Man and Segue Woman are concerned by this: “I think she knows.” Headset Man says the Doctor just appeared without explanation: “It’s like the game is running itself.”

The fashion robots have replaced Jack’s white shirt with a different white shirt, and well, that’s about the extent of their ambition thus far. One robot tells Jack he should “do something about that face”, to which Jack agrees that he’s considered cosmetic surgery and cups its crude plastic boobs. Okay then. But just when it seems Jack’s storyline is going smoothly, the other robot reveals that it’s equipped with a chainsaw and a Death Star torture kit.

Speaking of pain, Annedroid is making small talk with Rose. Annedroid burns her by asking how she has money to dye her hair, then asks why she voted for Fitch. Rose says Fitch (who looked distraught when she got a biology question wrong, to let us know who would lose the round) got a few questions wrong, to which Annedroid replies with a bit of venom, “And you’d know about that.” Meanwhile Fitch is starting to blubber, because naturally getting voted out means death here too. Instead of a trapdoor, or even eye lasers, however, Annedroid sticks out her tongue and disintegrates Fitch.

Rose declares that everyone is sick in the head and she won’t play anymore. So the actual weakest player, Broff, breaks down and declares he won’t play anymore, so that Annedroid can shoot him down to railroad Rose back into the plot.

The Doctor is very bored with playing along and impatient to get back to clicking on objects so he can solve the puzzle and escape the room. When Black Rose is evicted, the other two embrace her tearfully while the Doctor flops down on the couch in irritation. “We’re going to get you!” the announcer voice announces gleefully, and soon Black Rose walks into a clean white box and is zapped into powder.

Meanwhile, Headset and Segue mention a rumor that something is concealed “under the transmissions”, possibly something that the Controller can’t see, even though she should see everything. Well, this took a hard U-turn straight back into “The Long Game”. We meet the Controller: a woman with lots of tubes and fiber optic cables coming out of her, her eyes staring at something and nothing, her mouth gibbering uncontrollably. The visual and music combine to be horrific.

The Doctor learns that Big Brother contestants are chosen at random, the winner is happy to escape alive, and nobody (in an admittedly small pool of respondents) seems inclined to question this status quo. But hey, there are only sixty Houses right now because of cutbacks. He sonics a camera to death so that he can be evicted, escape death, and then find Rose.

While the others stare their mortality in the face, Jack has decided that this white tennis outfit just isn’t him. The robots zap that off and announce that they will proceed with the “face-off”. “I think you’d look good with a dog’s head!” one of the robots declares, and they proceed to get more inventive, again with a little venom. Jack shoots both their heads off.

A fairly obvious inference by now is that someone or something blames the Doctor & associates for not sticking around to set things right in “The Long Game”. The temporal teleportation powers remain unexplained.

Rodrick tells Rose he’s keeping her alive so he can beat her in the finals, then says the Bad Wolf Corporation is behind all this Television To Die For. Cue the sad oo-ooo-y music as Rose remembers all the times we’ve seen Bad Wolf crop up, with an overlay of the Time Vortex for spice. We’ve seen all this, we remember enough of it, especially given it was pointed out just last episode. Show us something different, like Pretty Samurai Moon using her Sparkling Bad Wolf Justice Strike against Cyber-Mothra.

The Doctor pumps his fists excitedly on hearing he’s been evicted. The disintegrator powers down, no worries: whatever brought him here wanted him alive. Because nobody ever wants to see an enemy die ironically, or humiliatingly in front of millions . . . but this is standard Doctor Who logic, so we’ll let it go. He breaks out of the Death Room, then tries to break through his fellow occupants’ conditioning so they’ll follow him to safety. Pigtailed Rose obliges.

He recognizes his new environment as Station 5, and humble-brags to Pigtailed Rose that he helped solve a little problem here a century ago. She rattles off all the death-oriented TV shows that Bad Wolf produces and says well, naturally everyone watches them. She finally has enough of the Doctor being strange and wants to know who he is. The Doctor brushes her off with possibly the biggest fib he’s ever told: “All I’m after is a quiet life.” She asks if she can tag along on his travels, he likes the idea, gentle music is playing, and she’s just doomed herself to a gruesome end. The Doctor can afford one chick at a time, Lynda, the production budget isn’t infinite.

The Controller tells Headset to ignore the “no one” contestants wandering around the Satellite’s innards, then tells Segue that she’s not allowed to look inside Archive 6 to figure out what’s going on. Clearly the Controller is in on it.

The Doctor now finds that Earth is super-polluted to death and everyone just passively watches each other die on game shows. Pigtailed Rose tells him that when he shut down the news, society plain fell apart. The Doctor is just a little horrified.

Jack has made a laser rifle and tracked down the Doctor, who is stressing out over a balky computer. He finds evidence of the extra transmission thing, but more importantly they find Rose is facing death from Annedroid. Off they go, while Rose tries desperately to win the final round. She puts up a respectable fight but loses by one point, then starts to lose all her composure. The Doctor comes rushing in, but too late: Rose gets turned to ash as she runs toward him. Well, good thing he’s got a spare after all! Jack starts waving his gun around (not a euphemism), and Security comes in and arrests everyone. The Doctor hardly notices.

He remains blankly silent through the frisking, grilling, and sentencing. But when the last guard turns his back, he signals Jack and the guards are dispatched. Up to Floor 500 they go! Headset tries, but can’t evacuate anybody before an angry time traveler shows up with an angry man with a phaser rifle.

The Doctor points a gun at the Controller and demands answers. The Controller continues to drone on about a solar flare. The Doctor aims at Headset as thanks for offering advice, then scoffs at his fear before tossing him the gun. An amusing bit follows with Headset being very uncertain of what’s expected of him now. Then Jack barges into Archive 6 and finds the TARDIS waiting for him.

Segue tries to get the Doctor to let the staff go free, but the Doctor has no sympathy for the feelings of people who murder hundreds every day, even if they are “just doing their jobs.”

A solar flare causes the room to go eerie blue, and the Controller drops her distant facade to talk to the Doctor. She’s been using the flares to hide her messages to the Doctor so that her “masters” won’t detect them, finally bringing him to her station to speak to him in person. She can’t bring herself to name these masters, who have been ruling Earth from the shadows for centuries. Jack comes in with a demonstration he put together with the TARDIS’s help. He disintegrates Rose 2.0, then reforms her, to demonstrate it’s actually just a transmat beam. Presumably the one that whisks random people away to be the next contestant on The Price Is Death looks different.

The Controller gets zapped away for telling the Doctor Original Rose’s coordinates. The Controller herself finds herself blissfully free of body horror, but surrounded by Daleks. She happily accepts her death, certain that the Doctor will end her tormentors.

The Doctor explains to Headset and Segue that “someone’s been playing a long game,” someone behind the Jagrafess and Annedroid, someone waiting patiently until the end of the series to air this sequel. Continuing the layers upon layers theme, he finds that the main extra signal cloaks something hovering over Earth. Disabling it, he finds an entire fleet of half a million Illuminati! Er, Daleks. They call him up and demand he stay out, because look at our hostage. The Doctor simply says no. It quickly becomes an angry no as the Doctor’s hackles raise at the reappearance of his hated enemy.

The Doctor signs off, and the Daleks announce that this means war. The episode ends with random Daleks floating off of the floor as dozens more crowd into the shot.

I expected this to be a message episode, a harsh send-up of reality shows. In fact, I put this episode off partly because I half-expected to be beaten about the head with it. But no — the Doctor even shares a warm memory with Lynda about an ursine reality show. There are a few ideas touched upon — unintended consequences, news is important, maybe people are the sheepiest sheep ever after all — but none dominate.

This is a good enough episode, it just doesn’t stand out for me, and the subject matter isn’t something I find fun. I’ll round down, but I may regret it.

Special mention to the occasionally startling camera work, and to the actress playing Lynda (Pigtails). She manages to convey, just here and there, that there is an undercurrent of, well, sweetness within while still being just another conditioned member of this dystopia. And perhaps that is the best takeaway for this episode. Sometimes dystopias don’t contain total wrecks of people, and rarely do they contain heroic people who valiantly fight just the way we think heroes should fight, their flame unquenched beneath a layer of grimness and dirt. The true tragedy of a dystopia is the untapped potential for good, and for better, in its downtrodden citizens.

Rating: 2 nonexistent gardeners

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: I said no.
Dalek: What is the meaning of this negative?
Doctor: It means no.
Dalek: But she will be destroyed!
Doctor: No, ’cause this is what I’m going to do. I’m gonna rescue her. I’m gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m gonna save the Earth. And then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
Dalek: But you have no weapons. No defences. No plan.
Doctor: Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death.

Supplementary favorite dialogue: The Doctor: Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what reality television is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I’m going to end it for you, one way or another.

Silliest future name: Broff. He died as he was named: pitifully. Nope, it’s Strood. There must have been a fad in the next few hundred years where people started naming their babies after food.

One wonders: whether The Weakest Link is the new standardized test to which schools feel obligated to teach?

My electronica ’70s cover band is named: Crosbie Lynda and Strood, except we’re never going to cover “Judy Blue Eyes” because the goal of a band should not be to put audiences to sleep. Actually, nobody would want to be Strood, so scrap the whole idea.

MST3K 11×12: Cirque du Soverybad

“Hey, wasn’t there a talking chimp in this movie?”

The movie: Carnival Magic, which sounds like it’s one of those old B&W shorts they riffed in previous seasons. If only it were so short!

This is it. This is exactly the kind of quality I expect from movies with titles like Because of Winn-Dixie. I avoid that kind of DVD cover like the plague, because in my head it plays out just this painfully. This is trying so hard to combine the “warm-hearted movie where someone comes in and fixes everything up” genre with the “mischievous animal comes in and terrorizes unlikeable people and IT’S FUNNY” genre. This isn’t even Beethoven. It’s obnoxious and unfunny and at the end when everybody gets SOOO upset over the obnoxious monkey it feels like a Mary Sue.

Urgh, this season features a lot of awful movies! But anyway, what about the riffing?

Well, it’s pretty good. “Al Adamson is the name Alan Smithee uses when he doesn’t want his name to appear on the film.” “Oh! And out of the trailer! This carnival really is magic!” “But their remains nourished this mighty oak.” “So when does the death part come?” “I’m sitcom mad.” There are a lot of good one-liners and good momentum.

The flavored sweat “invention” is dumb and gross enough to be worthy of Forrester and Frank. The host segments are just plain fun, with a send-up of the movie’s premise, the police codes thing, Mark Hamill, and Kinga declaring that Jonah is “completely at my mercy, and that’s what I need in a husband.” And then they have a nice little die-cut parade at the end to wind things down.

However, at this point I’ve realized a problem with this season. Look at the host segments. I feel like it’s nearly always Crow, Jonah, Tom, left to right, with Gypsy mainly hanging out in the left third of the screen. That’s sort of the de facto order in prior seasons, yes, but there just doesn’t feel like there’s much variety in staging. Everyone finds their spots and sticks to them. (As counterexamples from this season, consider the fashion show where the bots stay put but Jonah comes in from off-screen in different outfits, or when Crow made a bunch of Toms early on. From previous seasons, there are the Ingrid Bergman sketch, Tom and Crow refueling in The Starfighters, and, well, one bot or the other headed off screen fairly often.) As a result, the host segments sort of have a cumulative feeling of sterility. Doubtless this is partly because the new puppeteers need to learn their craft, but when Netflix finally orders a new season (*cough cough*), I’d like to see more motion, to make the set feel less stagey and more lived-in.

One last comment: Having just watched Werewolf before this one, my eye was caught by the credits: Stewart, Segal, Reynolds. As in Warwilf, these names aren’t attached to famous people either.

Push the button: Not a favorite-favorite, but this is a strong installment of the show.

Next time: the bonus Christmas episode! I hope it’s as wacky as Santa Claus and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.