Doctor Who 9.10 – Face the Raven

Well, let’s get the nitpicky out of the way first. “Face the Raven” was Sarah Dollard’s first Doctor Who script, and it’s extremely good in many respects, but it makes a critical error in basing the big problem around an extremely complicated deathtrap with more rules than a television hour can realistically address. This naturally leads an audience to start questioning “why didn’t they” and “why couldn’t he” instead of dealing with the fictional reality. In a book, this might have worked a lot better, because a novel doesn’t have the clock until the end of the episode ticking. I can imagine somebody like Susanna Clarke providing the full contract between Me and the Quantum Shade in the book’s appendix. So as much as I like this story, there are questions that are never going to be satisfactorily answered; the episode just has to shout “She just can’t, okay?!” and honestly, television should never need to do that.

Wait until we get to episode twelve, though. That mess is nothing but questions.

That said, everything else is really good. Maisie Williams is back as Me, who we last saw in the 17th Century, and she has sprung a trap for the Doctor using his and Clara’s friend Rigsy, who we met in “Flatline” in season eight. I really love the realization of the “trap street.” The Harry Potter films had a couple of similar “hide in plain sight” places that I don’t think were done as well as this, and the occupants of the street, mostly survivors and refugees from various attempted conquests of Earth, remind me of Kate Orman’s novel Return of the Living Dad. Although full credit to Orman: this episode has some amusing familiar faces, but nothing here is as ridiculously lovely as the novel’s poor Auton, cut off from the Nestene Consciousness and stuck forever in the form of a spatula.

It’s a very intense episode that kept our son practically motionless for its full running time, which rarely happens. Clara’s death scene is really amazing and he was absolutely silent. He said afterward “That… kept me on my toes. It wasn’t exciting the way I like it, but I couldn’t guess what was going to happen.” Despite my problems with the script, everybody involved did an outstanding job with the material. My eyes were dry this time, but I have watched it something like eight or nine times, and a little of its power has admittedly been a bit dulled.

Doctor Who 8.9 – Flatline

So last time I was saying how much I enjoyed Jamie Mathieson’s “Mummy on the Orient Express”, and knock me over with a feather, but “Flatline” is even better. It’s completely full of wild and weird ideas, and it pitches these idea so perfectly at the younger members of the audience. The kid was absolutely howling at the Doctor’s strange predicament – beings from a two-dimensional universe, exploring ours, have sucked away the exterior dimensions of the TARDIS – and the scene is done so well that it’s almost like the director and editor knew the precise second for the Doctor to yell about this not being funny to shush the viewers.

Later, of course, the Doctor does his impression of Thing from The Addams Family and the kid was in stitches again.

It’s such a splendid story, and executed incredibly well, with the 2-D monsters being completely horrific and alien. Much of it is set in the tunnels of a railway beneath Bristol, making a nice callback to another Doctor’s similar trip to London’s Underground. This episode introduces Joivan Wade as Rigsy. He returns in season nine, and he’s only in two episodes, but they’re both huge favorites. I could watch this episode night after night. The show hasn’t been this consistently terrific since series five.

And hey! The next episode is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce! He wrote 24 Hour Party People! I love that movie! I bet his Doctor Who story is going to be fabulous!

What We’re Not Watching: Doom Patrol

We’re not watching Doom Patrol for the blog, because this is a family-friendly blog and Doom Patrol is a quite fantastically family unfriendly show. But over the last few weeks, after our eight year-old has gone to bed, we’ve been enjoying the daylights out of it. It may have more four-letter-words, gore, and nudity than anything else we watch – mainly four-letter-words – but it’s pretty honest. If I were in the sort of situations these heroes face, I’d swear about like they do, too.

The original Doom Patrol series was published by DC in the sixties. It was written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Bruno Premiani. DC has revived it several times since, never to any earthshattering sales numbers, but Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s run, from 1989-93, has been a cult classic that has inspired and informed almost every subsequent revamp. It’s one of my all-time favorite runs of any American comic, and I honestly can’t think of any long-form run on any DC property that I enjoy more.

So the television series, which is available to stream on the DC Universe service, cherry-picks characters and situations from the books up through Morrison’s run, and gives them a TV twist. It’s full of kisses to the past and addresses the strange way that certain funnybook characters never seem to age. Timothy Dalton plays a mad scientist who has brought a group of misfits together over the course of several decades. Matt Bomer is a former USAF pilot who had a freak accident in the upper atmosphere, April Bowlby a glamorous fifties film star whose body shifts and blobs and morphs when she isn’t concentrating, and Diane Guerrero is a badly-damaged young woman with multiple personality disorder, only each of these fractious personalities comes with its own power.

And then there’s Cliff Steele, a former race car driver who’s now a brain in a should-be indestructible, clanky robot. Cliff is voiced by Brendan Fraser, who occasionally appears in the flashbacks, some of which are hysterical. The story goes that at the height of his eighties fame, Cliff appeared as himself on a soap opera. The characters dig up that clip online, all washed-out colors and bad tracking, and we can enjoy the all-too brief spectacle of Brendan Fraser playing a character who cannot act. At all.

For a show full of very dark character beats, high stakes, and ugly surprises, Doom Patrol is also amazingly funny. They did a great job balancing the humor, because otherwise this would be a pretty painful show. But it’s so deliciously weird that it’s worth coming back to, because stuff happens in Doom Patrol that doesn’t happen anywhere else. After Dalton is kidnapped by a reality-altering supervillain played by Alan Tudyk – who knows he’s in a TV show and wishes that he was in a better one – an up-and-coming “real” superhero, Cyborg, played by Joivan Wade, arrives to help whip our four oddballs into a fighting force. But Cyborg. who’s used to beating up muggers, didn’t count on the sort of incredibly strange obstacles and situations these four deal with. Phil Morris has a recurring role as Cyborg’s father; always nice to see Phil on TV.

Anyway, the show’s a huge pleasure from start to finish. It really captures the beautiful oddness of Morrison’s run, adapting some incidents – not slavishly – and finding quirky and weird takes on the sort of situations that he might have written in his wonderful series. Diane Guerrero is absolutely captivating in a role that should be barely sympathetic, and Tudyk is having more fun than the law should allow as a villain who is way above these misfits’ weight class.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of chatter about Doom Patrol, and I think only one of my pals watched it (he loved it, happily). But don’t let the show’s low profile prompt you to overlook it! If you’re in the market for fifteen incredibly fun and freaky hours, then DC Universe is definitely worth the subscription for this show. I hope we’ll hear word about a second season in the near future.

We’re going to take a TV break for a few days, but we’ll be back with a classic movie this weekend. See you then!