Monday, September 24, 2012

Doctor who and the power of the sonic screwdriver

So I seem to be against the critical consensus in much prefering the second and third episodes of Dr Who so far.

Lets look at them a little. Dinosaurs on a spaceship is a good old fashioned romp. Its not an episode where we really need to worry too much about the lives of our protaganists and just enjoy the ride. The dialogue is mostly frothy and fun, and the central premise actually mostly works: a defenceless ark is taken control of by a profiteer. Also, the peril is resolved in a reasonable manner. While the robots are beaten by judicious screwdriver application, it happens after the dr has already encountered them, and its been repeatedly set up that they aren't terribly competent. The Dr then puts the homing device on the spaceship inside the spaceship, and leaves the missile to track it. This is actually a reasonably clever way to solve the problem the characters faced without pulling the solution from absolutely nowhere. Also, all the characters have something to do.

The western episode is all about a moral dilemma, and the doctor becoming too hard. It presents a slightly ambiguous character, and mostly follows the characters deciding whether to sacrifice themselves, ending with him making the decision to end the circle himself. Not a bad bit of musing on revenge and morality, and some good Who. Yes, the gunfight where the doctor used sonic was a bit annoying (at least set up the cyborgs sensitivity to sonic maybe?), but wasn't too plot critical: its implied that the cyborg probably wouldn't have shot the doctor anyway.

Now to the power of three. The concept itself is clever: a slow invasion which draws attention to itself, forcing the doctor to ground himself and examine his relationship with his companions. All fine, or fine enough anyway. But the overarching plot is nonsensical, and obviously nonsensical.

So it transpires that these cubes are there to scan humans, work out their weakness and then kill them. They've been sent by some galactic pest controllers to wipe out life, and are sent out from seven bases across the planet. They do this via giving each human a heart attack. Right.

So, first things first, we currently possess the weapons to eliminate all human life on this planet ourselves. We invented them 60 years ago, so I should imagine that any alien who can teleport stuff on to the earth undetectably could just teleport multiple nuclear weapons too. There is absolutely no explanation why this doesn't happen.

So lets suppose this is just the bad guys standard method which is designed to protect against a more well defended race. Why did they send enough cubes to kill a third of the population? Why not send more?

But ok, the plan would have worked, and the humans couldn't have stopped it (despite the helpful message to dispose of the cubes. Considering they'd spent the last half hour attacking every human on earth, I'd imagine that that wouldn't be a huge issue).

So the doctor works out where a transmission base is, and gets onboard. Already, we know that two droidy things are guarding it, and that they've already defeated Rory and his father. What will they do to the Doctor? Nothing, as it turns out, but there is something else, firing lasers at the doctor! How will the doctor get past the laser firing hologram? By waiting until it stops firing, apparently, and then explains its motives and plans, and then vanishes, leaving the doctor complete access to their systems. WHY? Surely this isn't the first time people have found the transmission centres? Especially as apparently the method of killing can be undone by pressing the reverse button, which is basically what the doctor does!

Even worse, for an episode which tells us that a cube means the power of three, the companions are absolutely not needed here. All that was needed was for the doctor to walk up, wave his magic wand, and the bad guys will give up. Its pathetic.

Sometimes writers for Doctor Who seem to believe that science fiction gets them out of coherent plotting, but it really doesn't. A solution which comes from a magic wand rather than a character ingenuity, or perseverence, or sacrifice, simply won't work with the audience. It can be done right: for instance, in the Master's first appearance in Dr who, we discover he has used psychic beacons to control the population, setting up the Dr turning that on him. The solution was there all along, and theres the lovely mislead of the Master believing that it will be a weapon.

Hide the solution in plain sight, and the audience will feel rewarded when it is revealed. I really think that that screwdriver really, really needs to get broken some time soon, to force the writers to actually think about how to drive their story forwards.


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