Saturday, June 21, 2008

About Midnight

I was thinking of doing that thing where I’d go absolutely gaga championing “episode ten”. You know, saying that while this recent series had its ups and down, the last couple of weeks had been absolute blinders, while the latest one was utterly compelling and absolutely gut wrenching. You can pretty much see where it was going with it, right?

Obviously the inference would be that I was discussing Doctor Who. The reveal, of course, would be that the show in question was actually Battlestar Galactica. But I think I tried that one already, back when the shows were about to start. After finally catching the latest Who episode on iPlayer, I don’t think I could have worked out and carried on a decent pretence anyway. Because, quite frankly, I think my brain is still numb from the experience.

Unconditional love doesn’t wash in the Good Dog kennel. Though the Moffat two-parter was an astonishing piece of storytelling, it doesn’t mean that I’m now a paid-up fan for the series. Everything pretty has to stand by its own merit – although there’s always a little leeway when I’m feeling benevolent – which means Midnight stands and falls on its own merit. And the way I see it, this episode is still tumbling ass over tit, down into a bottomless pit.

I did think that the idea of showing that, without an assistant around to act as a buffer, The Doctor can come across as a self-serving, know-it-all tool. Which makes him sort of like an alien James Cameron. It was great to have an entity that nobody could explain rather than some tired old monster from bygone days. That aside, Midnight appeared to be written by someone who had absolutely no understanding of science fiction and absolutely no respect for science fiction.

A while back I mentioned the Agatha Christie episode and how the appearance of her book, published in the year 5,000,000,000, was simply the icing on an already fucked up cake. Sure, it’s a little throwaway gag, but I found it yanking me right out of the story. The cogs are whirring away and I’m thinking: five billion AD? Why a book and not some slender digital reader? What is literature still doing in the same format? What about the trees to make the paper?

You get something like that and the spell is broken. Like a light sleeper easily awoken, little inconsistencies yank me right out of the story. Of course, funnily enough, the very next week there was a whole library of books – a library the size of a planet, filled with every book every written. But that was fine because the parameters were quickly set up and within them the story made perfect sense.

Here you could begin by asking what kind of name for a planet is Midnight, especially since it’s all diamond shiny? But then that was the least of the barrel load of nonsense that, once tipped out, really stank up the screen. By now I would hope that we all know that science fiction stories still require internal logic. By now I would hope that we all know that people who say things like, “Ah, don’t worry about it! Nothing has to make sense, its just science fiction!” should be dragged away and painfully abused by fire-pissing demons of the underworld.

Let’s just look at the basic scenario here. It’s set on a planet made of diamond where there’s a self-contained holiday resort. Comments so far? How about: if you discover a planet made of diamonds you mine the shit out of it rather than turn it into a holiday destination. That would seem like a plan, but on Midnight the diamonds are “poisoned by the sun” so that nobody can touch them. Also, the sunlight is “exotonic”, which means that it will “destroy any living thing in a split second.” Oh, and there’s no oxygen either.

Remember that scene in Armageddon when Owen Wilson’s character asks what the surface of the asteroid is going to be like? After he’s told about the extreme temperatures, razor-sharp rock and unpredictable gravity, he replies “So, the scariest environment imaginable.” How did this holiday resort, on an irradiated planet, with no atmosphere and direct sunlight that with vaporise you, get Health & Safety certified? And who in their right fucking minds would go there?

The Doctor and Donna, obviously. While Donna sunbathes beneath fifteen foot thick glass, The Doctor is off to see a “sapphire waterfall.” Apparently, an enormous jewel reaches the Cliffs of Oblivion and shatters into sapphires at the edge, falling 100,000 feet into a crystal ravine. Of course it does. I suppose explained that like it should make sense, even though the Cliffs of Oblivion sound like something out of The Princess Bride.

Yet, while the resort looks pretty upscale, why does the caterpillar- tracked transport to the waterfall appear to be so utterly low-rent? Since the windows have to be shielded, meaning there is no view out, why are they travelling by land in the first place, especially since this particular mode of transport takes four hours there and four hours back?

Since it is a business venture, and the passengers are paying, the object of the exercise is to take them to this Diamond Palace to see the waterfall, getting them there and back as quickly as possible, and then get ready for the next party. Why not have shuttles, or even a monorail of some kind, running people back and forth?

Then we get to the passengers themselves. Given that the story is about ordinary people feeding off growing paranoia and giving in to the pressure of the situation, it would help to have ordinary people. Really you want characters like the folk in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, the Rod Serling-scripted episode of The Twilight Zone in which residents of a suburban street start to believe their neighbourhood has been invaded by human-looking aliens.

Instead, aside from a dull scientist who is there to also become an object of ridicule, because it’s just what fuckers who deal in things like science and facts deserve, onto the transport steps the sort of oiks who drag their knuckles around Lakeside or thecentre:mk. Descended from the apes that certainly didn’t touch the monolith, given their default setting seems to be constant arguing, they don’t really have far to go when everyone gets leery and it all kicks off.

With parts of the resort looked like it had been fitted out for a higher class of customer, wouldn’t it have been better if this journey had been taken by a much more civilised group; the sort that would likely include an equivalent of Caldicott and Charters? That way – far from the sort that would start a ruck with, “Did you spill my sherry?” – their descent into primal madness would be that much more frightening.

Instead, nothing seemed to be taken into consideration. Does anybody give Russell The Doughnut notes? Some of the exposition sounded like rebuttals to what some people may have observed in the initial draft. With this sort of nonsense let through unchecked rather than sitting down and reconfiguring the whole thing, I would have loved to be at the table read to see who rolled their eyes and tried not to descend into giggles.

As I said at the beginning, the idea of the Doctor without a companion coming across as a complete cock and an unexplained entity was pretty good. Unfortunately, the execution was completely and utterly fucking awful. Hell, they might as well have made an episode of Holby City where a surgeon turns up for work on a camel that’s painted blue, then, during a heart transplant operation he replaces the dodgy ticker with a cheese and pickle sandwich.


At 6:35 pm, Blogger Ian said...

Like you, I caught up with the episode on IPlayer (earlier today). I have no excuse, knowing in advance it was going to be another Russel T Davies effort, other than a generally enthusiastic review on Simon May's talk show with the actress who played Sky made me think I ought to give it a shot.

It's some measure of how awful RTD's episodes are that I found most of the episode alright. My expectations were low so I wasn't distracted by all the flaws you mention.

But I did get REALLY angry at the way yet again Billy Bunter wrote himself into a corner and then came out with completely irrational nonsense where any good work done on characterisation previously was completely undone just to try and get some kind of cop-out ending.

So we have an air stewardess who's the first to want to murder the alien stranger, who's the least friendly, and most fearful person on the ship... who then decides to sacrifice herself to destroy the alien and save everybody else. FFS... give me a break. Why does the man do it? Why does he keep writing himself into situations he then realises he has no sensible way of getting out of?

I really must make a point of NOT watching any more in the series as we're now into the usual pompous RTD "build up over the last 3 episodes into something big" nonsense. That'll be Billie Piper and the return of CGI daleks then! Yawnerama.

At 7:36 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Well, that was the thing, folk had been saying it was a really good episode, otherwise I would have spent the forty-odd minutes more profitably – like sitting and staring at the wall. Obviously it was about keeping costs down, so they’d have more money to spunk over whatever over-the-top nonsense is splashed across the screen for the finale.

There were those two great story elements and they rolled up into a great big pile of useless old bollocks. I was thinking of watching the Doctor Who Confidential episode to catch what utter crap the cast and crew had to say about it, but I couldn’t really see the point.

Oh, and the bit where the miserable trolley-dolly grabs the possessed woman, opens the hatch and they just stand there while she counts to six.... What the fuck? Wouldn’t the creature try and fight it?

Ah, who cares. But I’ve got to say, the promo for Top Gear where Hamster suggests they have tigers racing badgers makes more sense than the utter drivel Bunter is allowed to get away with.

At 12:32 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Doesn't it also highlight one of the fundamental problems with the British way of doing things, which is that standards yo-yo wildly up and down from one week to the next depending on which writer's got the gig?

Regarding the Honourable Sir Russell T Davies OBE, the problem isn't that he's a useless hack.

These days almost everyone in the business falls into that category.

The problem is that we're constantly being told that he's 'spectacularly talented' and that every piece of crap he's produced since Chucklevision has been a masterpiece of dramatic art.

Everytime I read anything about the guy, my bullshit detector goes straight to Defcon 5.

He may not be the worst screenwriter who's ever lived, but he is, without any doubt at all, the most overrated.

At 5:53 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, I think it’s rather unfair to say that television writing is bad across the board.

I think one aspect in the erratic dipping and diving in the quality of Doctor Who is because, whereas pretty much every other homemade drama is set in either one location or a certain arena, like a hospital or police station, or even MI5, with this show they can go here, there, and everywhere.

After all, the only real constant are the main couple of characters. Off they go meeting new people as they stumble into different situations.

It reminds me of those dreadful American sci-fi/fantasy dramas of the early 1970s, like The Fantastic Journey or even the TV version of Logan’s Run, or even Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel from the late 19060s. Looking back, they were complete rubbish too.

There’s also Stargate SG-I, which I think is the longest-running American SF series, clocking in at ten seasons before they knocked it on the head. I’ve already said I thought it was pretty much like the old UNIT being given the TARDIS.

The few episodes I saw from the first season were seriously dodgy as fuck. However, after a couple of years, when I checked back in again, the show wasn’t that bad because they were concentrating on the characters rather than the colourful decorations.

What needs to bellowed again and again at programme makers who think it’s simply about weird settings and strange monsters is that, unless you’re aiming for an audience that is brain-damaged or in a fugue state... YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT ABOUT THE FUCKING CHARACTERS, STUPID!!!

I don’t get how Dame Russell suddenly came to wield this amount of power, unless it was because of him bringing back a show that was completely and utterly shit in its original final stretch and finding it an audience.

You’re right about the yo-yoing standards. The only excuse is because of who is in charge. Obviously there isn’t anyone with the nads to stand up and tell him that his episodes are a big pile of shitty shit in the whole lot.

Maybe if he concentrated more on the stories rather than the shameless self-promotion things would be better. Carrying on this way, the only person who’ll be telling him he’s ace and skill is the mirror on the wall. Hopefully, by then, the regime change will really make a difference.

At 11:24 pm, Blogger qrter said...

I've always enjoyed it when people say Davies has "resurrected" Who, or even "saved it".

No he hasn't, he took superficial bits from the original and then made something else out of them, something that actually hasn't got a lot to do with the original concept, but just enough to frustrate people who liked the original or like good writing in general.

At 11:36 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I've always said that it was evident, from that very first episode four years back, that old Russell was actually making his own poopy version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rather than Who.


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