Friday, 5 June 2009
Doctor Who: Smith and Jones
Doctor: 'Welcome aboard, Miss Jones.'
For me, 'Smith and Jones' typifies Russell T. Davies' weakness as a writer. There are some really good ideas on offer, but they're wrapped in such poorly thought out story dressing, and contain such bizarrely illogical character beats, that the whole effect somehow gets lost in the fog. This felt like a first draft of a story in need of several rewrites.
Case in point: the Plasmavore. As villains, vampires are a clichéd, but solid foe. But having Florence Finnegan drain her victims using a drinking straw? In purely practical terms, it looked so implausible. It's the sort of thing that would've looked great in a cartoon, but in a live action production looked ridiculous. Ditto the rain falling upwards. I'm not denying that it was a cool effect: but why were the clouds at the top? Even if rain did fall upwards, the droplets would have to come from somewhere, right? It's like Russell T. Davies thought—Oh, you know what would be cool?—and then wrote down the first thing that came into his head without really thinking it through.
Sadly, the episode is full of similarly bizarre examples of 'Oh, the kids would love that' type decisions trumping common sense. The Doctor expelling radiation through his shoe, is another example. Not only was it bafflingly illogical, it also had David Tennant hopping around on one foot like an absolute buffoon. I get that Russell was playing for laughs, but this just isn't that funny an episode. Russell tries to make the Doctor's dialogue zany and effervescent, but it's an attempt which results in too much dialogue going absolutely nowhere ('Come meet my wife').
Oddly enough, virtually all of these things would gone down a storm in sister show, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Younger viewer would've lapped that shit up. But this is Doctor Who, which although catering to a younger fanbase, serves an older demographic too—so this felt like an episode which grossly misunderstood its audience. Add the Judoon's ridiculous way of talking, that they somehow managed to restore the hospital after ripping it up by its foundations, and that the Slabs were leather all the way through, and what you've assembled is a script positively gasping under the weight of its own daftness.
Martha's relatives are another weakness—they're the worst kind of soap opera caricature. The family drama started almost immediately and it never let up. As they currently stand, none of them are likeable. You don't start a season by immediately making us hate our heroines' family. Again, the dialogue between them was supposed to be intelligent and amusing, but it never really rose above the quality of soap opera fan faction.
Martha came across a lot better. I found myself immediately drawn to her, although there were contrivances which made even her introduction less than optimal. Despite the Doctor continuously complimenting her on her brilliance, did she say anything which was genuinely clever? Were any of her deductions so remarkable they they should elicit praise from a time-travelling genius? Granted, Martha did a lot better than the hospitals' other residents—but that's only because the staff/patients at the Royal Hope were a bunch of fucking imbeciles. I don't think I've seen anything as over the top as their reaction to finding themselves on the moon. Not only did they chew on the scenery something rotten, they swallowed it, digested it, and then shat it back out again. It was just embarrassing.
—This isn't Anne Reid's first adventure in the Whoniverse. Twenty years ago, she played Nurse Crane in 'The Curse Of Fenric' (Sylvester McCoy).
—How did the Judoon manage to march in the moon's gravity?
—When the Judoon first entered the hospital, the patients and staff were so terrified that the tried to hide behind chairs so small, they wouldn't have hid a cat.
—It looks as though they intend to continue their 'thread a phrase through the season' ploy, which will no doubt culminate in an entirely expected reveal.
—We had two Mr Saxon references this week: he was mentioned by Morgenstern during the radio broadcast, and there was a Mr Saxon poster in the background later in the episode. I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that Mr Saxon will feature heavily later in the season. I know, it's like I'm like Sherlock bleedin' Holmes.
Martha: "We could die any minute, but all the same, it's beautiful."
Martha: "What else have you got? A laser spanner?"
Doctor: "I did, but it was stolen by Emily Pankhurst. Cheeky Woman."
Doctor: "Oh, she's as clever as me. Almost."
Doctor: "Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden. Except for cheap tricks."
Martha: "For the record, I'm not remotely interested. I only go for humans."