Oct 122015
  October 12, 2015

Last night I was updating my web site (Amazon changed how they do links—not that anyone takes them, but it took out all my pictures—will take forever to fix) and ended up reading my reviews of Jane Austin films. I compare all the Emmas and all the Pride and Prejudices. I loved watching those. Well, I loved watching some of those. A few versions of Pride and Prejudice are fine to skip, but the best are wonderful.

I remember curling up on the couch with Eugie for the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version of P&P. Five hours or so—we sipped wine and it was kind of perfect. Austin is quite clever and there’s a good deal of romance, but even more romance watching it.

As I mention in my reviews, these are not films/series for a single guy to watch alone. These are date movies. Close to the perfect date movies. And it occurred to me I’ll never watch these again. There would be no joy to them. They would also be painful, but I can handle the pain far better than the lack of joy.

This is nothing new, just something else gone.

Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

The top 3rd feels like two groups. About half would fit comfortably with the last section, while the best of the best here really soar. Maybe I should have split this into 5 or 6 posts.

Ten dominates the list, but that is partly due to him being in more episodes than any other Doctor (though it is close with Eleven, and Eleven doesn’t do nearly as well). Nine had only one season and yet has a very good showing in the top, particularly when you look at that soaring section. Evaluating by season, I think season 1 would win, though it’s a tough call, as seasons 2 and 4 both have more episodes in the top 3rd. But then, season 2 also has more in the bottom 3rd.

Lowest 3rd
Middle 3rd

 

#46 The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (S4-E4/E5)

whosontaranTen, Donna, Martha
The return of the classic villain, the Sontarans—another SF warrior & honor race that is horrible at war. A solid episode, but while the previous one, Planet of the Ood, felt like it was a two-parter, this one felt like a single-part ep when seen from a distance. Not enough happens. The genius kid was unnecessary, as was Donna remembering her previous episodes.
Funny that Martha didn’t come into her own until after she was done with the TARDIS.
Doctor: Shrill. Companions: Good. Villains: Good. Plot: Good.

 

#45 Twice Upon a Time (S10-E13)

WhoTwiceUponaTimeTwelve, One, Bill
It leans more on nostalgia than I’d like, but new Who has rarely done it so well, and if that’s the plan, going back to the first Doctor is nice. There really isn’t a plot, although for a while the two Doctors think there is one. This is about two dying Doctors thinking about their past and if they want to go forward. The play between the two of them is good, and the nods toward your racist uncle are funny and relevant. It’s very sentimental, but then the Xmas eps usually are, and this one isn’t cloying. I wouldn’t have tossed Bill in (her ending has been mangled enough), but this is her best appearance since her first, so it worked out.

This ep is usually placed in season 11, but I’m putting it in season 10 as it has the season 10 Doctor, companion, writer, and showrunner, all of which would be changed with season 11.
Doctors: Very Good. Companion: Good. Villain: none. Plot: none.

 

#44 Partners in Crime (S4-E1)

whopartnersTen, Donna
This is a lightweight ep. A good re-introduction to Donna. She is 50% less annoying than as a bride, which still leaves a good deal. Some humor and a desire for adventure counter the annoyance. It leans a bit too far on the juvenile, however, the first meeting between The Doctor and Donna in this ep makes me give a pass to everything else.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: Good. Villain: OK. Plot: Weak.

 

#43 Hell Bent (S9-E12)

HellbentTwelve, Clara
Twelve goes crazy in an attempt to save Clara. I rather like that he flipped out. I wasn’t so fond of Gallifrey. The great civilization of the Time Lords has never been smaller. They could, and should, have done this ep without the Time Lord politics. It made them tiny and unimportant (well, not the first time that’s happened). Clara, however, got a good sendoff.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Very Good. Villain: Weak. Plot: Very Good.

 

#42 School Reunion (S2-E3)

dwschoolTen, Rose, Mickey, Sarah Jane, K9
This one is all about bringing back Sarah Jane Smith, and to a lesser extent (much, much lesser), K9. The story isn’t much, but the character interaction is first-rate. Acted as a pilot for the young kid’s show, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Doctor: Excellent. Companions: Excellent. Villains: OK. Plot: OK.

 

#41 The Doctor’s Daughter (S4-E6)

whodoctorsdaughterTen, Donna, Martha
It gets a couple of points for its meta nature (David Tennant married the actress who played his daughter, who is in real life the daughter of Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor). The fish people are not the greatest creation, but more than made up for by Jenny as well as for the point about what it is to be a soldier. Budget limitations show up. This was an odd ep to bring back Martha as she’s stuck in a side plot that could have been cut.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Good. Villains: OK. Plot: Good.

 

#40 Gridlock (S3-E3)

whogridlockTen, Martha
A surreal episode that works amazingly well for its unreal premise. The people of New New York get on a freeway and just stay on it, forever, moving only yards each day in the dense traffic. It’s also a “save the companion” episode. The many secondary characters are well-drawn and we get the return of a few old ones, giving Whoviens something to dwell on.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: fair to good. Villain: None. Plot: Good, if slight.

 

#39 Let’s Kill Hitler (S6-E8)

LetsKillHitlerEleven, Amy, Rory, River
A combination of a lot of fun and a lot of stupid. So, we have time travelers who just go around and torture people for “justice.” Hmmm. Shouldn’t another group of time travelers be The Doctor’s greatest concern? Ah well, why worry about the problems when you’ve got Rory punching Hitler, River’s numerous assassination attempts, River vs Nazis, and everything with Amy. This may not be the smartest Doctor Who episode, but it is one of the most fun.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Excellent. Villains: Hard to say. Plot: Best not think about it.

 

#38 The End of the World (S1-E2)

whoendofworldNine, Rose
After a first episode that said this show was not going to be like the past, the second episode of modern Who said the opposite. It felt like a kid’s show, a pretty good kid’s show, but a kid’s show. And Rose, who came off as strong and resourceful in the first seems weak, bitchy, and useless here. What’s her problem with aliens? She is the portal character, so who is her attitude supposed to appeal to? However, she does learn, and The Doctor is engaging, the tree woman is a nice addition, there’s a nice mix of humor and tension, there’s plenty of character development, and The Doctor and Rose’s relationship grows.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Comical. Plot: Fair.

 

#37 Human Nature / The Family of Blood (S3-E8/E9)

whofamilyTen, Martha
This two-parter, with The Doctor giving up his personality to avoid a family of hunters, is a favorite among many Who fans, but it doesn’t make my top quarter. Since Headmaster Smith must live an ordinary life, most of Human Nature is very ordinary. His developing relationship is a story, but not an exciting one. Well-acted and believable? Yes. Just not interesting. All of it drags on far too long—they had a 60-minute story and two 42 minute slots to fill. Perhaps if the focus had been the young boy who found the watch—instead of uncomfortably inserting him in so that something happens—the episode would have worked better. This was a chance for Martha to shine, but she doesn’t. She could have been a strong character. She wasn’t.

The Family of Blood improves greatly over Human Nature, and gives us a real sense that The Doctor can be scary.
Doctor: Mixed. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Good. Plot: Good but slow.
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Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

Part 2 of ranking all the Doctor Who episodes, and the main thing to take away from the middle 3rd was how close together they all are. The bottom 3rd had far greater range with some terrible eps and some pretty good ones. These are all good, and I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble swapping them about in the rankings. Yes, 90 is not a winner the way 47 might be, but there is nothing here not worth watching once, or twice, or maybe more. I sound a bit grumpy with these, but only because I’d rather, in reviewing, focus on what should have been better than what is already excellent. The excellent has no need to improve.

The middle section is ruled by Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

 

#94 Face the Raven (S9-E10)

facetheravenTwelve, Clara
A murder mystery, aliens playing at being Harry Potter hidden in London, two returning characters, and Twelve and Clara both in top form—it ought to be great, but it isn’t. The problem is that the mystery doesn’t matter, yet we spend most of 40 minutes focusing on it. The real story is Me and the cost of her actions on our heroes, but very little time is spent on that. Me’s character is so lightly developed that there’s no way to know if she’s supposed to be noble or a villain. The ep could have explored an interesting hidden society, but that was also left underdeveloped. And in general, stories where there is no justice are unsatisfying, so need to be written with great skill, and there’s just not enough skill on hand.
Doctor: Reasonable. Companion: Good. Villain: Uncertain. Plot: Not what it should be.

 

#93 Nightmare in Silver (S7-E12)

whonightmareEleven, Clara, Annoying children
Gaiman’s a good writer, but you wouldn’t know it from this, although if he was assigned the plot of children at an amusement park and the Doctor fighting himself, there isn’t much he could have done. Why would you write this and not kill the children? Clara doesn’t bring much, but she’s more amusing than the Doctor. The only time Clara worked with children was in The Snowmen, but they just kept trying, and failing.
Doctor: Weak. Companion: Weak. Villains: Weak. Plot: Middling.

 

#92 The Girl Who Died (S9-E5)

dwgirlwhodiedTwelve, Clara
They had a story to tell and didn’t care about sense and character. So, the doctor comes up with an unlikely plan to lead a bunch of villages to defeat an alien invading warrior race. The plan wouldn’t have worked so well if a single alien actually fired his weapon. Or if they bombed the village from space after. But they didn’t for no reason. And villagers will run from overwhelming force, even if they are Vikings. A bit more thought into the script would have done wonders. Maisie Williams was a nice guest star, even if the season ended up doing far less with her than they implied they would.
Doctor: Good. Companion: Dim. Villain: Really dim. Plot: OK if unlikely.

 

#91 The Rings of Akhaten (S7-E7)

whoringsEleven, Clara
The main things this ep establishes is that Clara is going to remain weaker and less fun than her two earlier incarnations. Bad space scooter FX, and the music gets cloying. Not surprising when, once again, love saves the day.
Doctor: OK.  Companion: OK.  Villain: OK.  Plot: OK.

 

#90 The Return of Doctor Mysterio (S10-E0)

WhoReturnofDoctorMysterioTwelve, Nardole
After a twelve-month drought following the spectacular The Husbands of River Song, this is one of the most disappointing moments in Who history. It isn’t a bad episode; it isn’t significant enough. It is emotionally empty. Since superheroes are all the rage, they added a costumed superhero to the Who universe, but they had no idea of what to do with one and nothing to say. There are some lackluster villains and a forgettable story. Twelve is in pretty good form but that’s not enough to make this memorable.
Doctor: OK. Companion: OK. Villain: Weak. Plot: Poor.

 

#89 Oxygen (S10-E5)

whooxygenTwelve, Bill, Nardole
One of the “a few people stuck on a spaceship about to die” eps that Doctor Who loves so much. This is weaker than a majority of the others but is strong for season 10 with an emphasis on theme. The look at capitalism is solid.
Doctor: Good. Companion: Good enough. Villain: Good. Plot: Good.

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Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

We are squarely in Doctor Who season again (yes, that’s an official season of the year), which has not only focused my interest but focused the interest of others who then foolishly ranked all of the episodes. The problem with their rankings was that they were wrong–wrong in that they were not my rankngs. Yes, sometimes it is that simple. So it seemed necessary for me to rank them. This I have done, from worst to best, in three posts (because it is a lot to post). In general, I grouped multipart episodes together.

Naturally, I didn’t go at this as a blank slate since that would make it meaningless. Rather, I have a few positions that greatly determine my rankings. Those are:

  • Writing is the most important.
  • I’m good with Doctor Who being a family show–not so much with it being a kids show. If things get too silly or are directed only at children, my ratings go down.
  • I don’t expect the science to be good, but I do grade down when things completely lose internal consistency or when an episode takes pains to point out something egregiously stupid.
  • The season arcs matter. A bad arc hurts more than a good arc helps.
  • Yes, I think some Doctors were better than others. This is mainly due to versatility of the actor and versatility of the role, plus charisma.
  • Yes, I like some companions better than others. Some never worked (the “Fam”). Some should have worked but never jelled (Martha). Some started poorly but improved (Mickey, Donna). Some started great and fell apart (Clara). Some were perfect (Rose, Amy, Captain Jack). Some were great in so many ways, though scripts or arcs let them down (River). I universally hate all mothers on the show (I think someone had mother-in-law issues).
  • I started watching Doctor Who in 1978 and picked up the earlier ones later. I’ve watched every existent episode except a few from Doctor Seven, many of them multiple times. That makes me an old-time Doctor Who watcher. However, I do not have some of the qualities attributed to those earlier fans. I do not give a pass to horrible FX. I do not give points for the show merely referring to its past. And most importantly, I am not against romance and sexuality. (Original Who was famously asexual. People forget that the  biggest outcry against the 1996 movie was not the half-human line, but rather that The Doctor kissed a woman.)

For the most part, the modern Doctor Who has been very good, though the bottom quarter is skippable and contains a few stinkers. So, let’s start with the one that smells the worst. Luckily, it gets better. (And yes, I might seem a bit harsh here, but it is the bottom 3rd.) This section is ruled by Twelve and Thirteen, who have between twice and three-times the eps in it as Ten and Eleven (Nine is never in this section).

 

#142 Kill the Moon (S8-E7)

whokillthemoonTwelve, Clara
The most ill-prepared and dimwitted astronauts in history head to the moon to blow it up and Twelve, Clara, and one of her students (yes, a student) tag along. The moon is an egg for a giant alien and it is gaining mass (because that makes sense). None of the characters come out of this one looking good, but that doesn’t matter when the central point is this stupid. The only positive is that there is very little Clara and Danny faux-romance. Use this episode to argue over which character, The Doctor, Clara, the teenager, or the dim astronaut is the most annoying. If you watch Doctor Who and ask, “Oh, why can’t there be more pointless arguments?” this is your episode.
Doctor: Annoying. Companion: Annoying. Villain: Missing. Plot: Deeply stupid.

 

#141 The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (S11-E10)

battleofranThirteen, Ryan, Yaz, Graham
The problem with big eps that are supposed to prove a point is that sometimes they prove the opposite. This one plays down all the death and pain so as to claim that killing the big bad wasn’t and isn’t the best idea, but it clearly was and still is. And that big bad ends up being strangely wimpy.
Doctor: Weaker. Companions: Eh. Villain: Wimpy. Plot: Underwritten.

 

#140 In the Forest of the Night (S8-E10)

whoforestTwelve, Clara
So who thought it was a good idea to stick a group of school children with the Doctor and have Clara stuck in teacher mode? I suppose it was an attempt to pull in the kid audience, or maybe it was just stupid. The kid-filler was needed as the plot should only have filled about fifteen minutes. It isn’t a bad plot; there just isn’t much to it as there is no adversary or actual problem. So a brief story about intelligent foliage, a fair amount of wasted time, and plenty of bad character development. I didn’t think Danny could be any less interesting. The family ending is saccharine and comes out of nowhere and is just another piece of wrongness.
Doctor: Weak.  Companion: Weaker.  Villain: None.  Plot: OK, but brief.

 

#139 Revolution of the Daleks (S12-E11)

RevolutionThirteen, Ryan, Yaz, Graham, Captian Jack
The return of Captain Jack is wasted, and he’s the only good thing in this episode. The poor plot and poor use of the daleks don’t sink the ep, nor does setting up events and then ignoring them (The Doctor has been in jail for years, and…?), but there’s no getting around the whining. This is the worst appearance by Thirteen, but I hardly noticed how bad she is due to Ryan, Graham, and Yaz sucking the life out of the show. Well, at least two of them are leaving; that’s something.
Doctor: Whiny. Companions: Whiner. Villains: Weak. Plot: Weak.

 

#138 Flux (S13-E1 to E6)

Doctor-Who-Flux-SwarmThirteen, Yaz, Ben
Since two of the six parts of Flux can’t stand on their own, I’m counting it as a single episode, and as that, it doesn’t work. You have to stick the landing, and Flux falls on its face. Too much time is spend on things that don’t matter with the main plot being given far too little time. Characters are undeveloped, motivations are vague or missing, and nothing matters. Yaz finally seems like a character, but she still doesn’t do anything that counts. Major questions are left unanswered and unexplored whereas things of no consequence are explained in detail.
Doctor: OK.  Companions: A bit better.  Villain: Vague.  Plot: Nonsense.

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