Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Smith and Jones"

As much as I am tempted to refer to this episode as "Sniff and Jones" to homage the youtube video of the same name and to criticise the stinkier elements of the plot, I think I'll be unusual and put what's bad about this episode first. There's the "H2O Scoop", which is meaningless technobabble, there's the silliness of a blood-sucking alien drinking blood through a straw, there's the fact that the Judoon are yet another RTD animal-headed anthropomorph race, this time essentially law-enforcing Sontarans with rhino heads, and there's the bit where the Doctor does the diarrhoea dance to expel radiation from his foot. Other than that, and I can't believe I'm saying this but other than that it's not actually too bad.
Of course there's a little bit of Tennant shoutiness but the bit where he pretends to be just an ordinary person to confuse the Plasmavore is very well performed and is a case of 'playing the fool' which reminded me of "City of Death". It's good that the Judoon learn the language when they arrive rather than just coincidentally knowing it and their rockets are kind of cool. The Slabs are okay but they're very cheap and cheerful villains, as is the Plasmavore itself - no weird costumes or special effects. I do, however, enjoy it when there's someone acting against a villain parallel to the Doctor's own investigations, in this case the Judoon, but I think their justice values could have been explored in a lot more detail, as could the motivations of the Plasmavore in regards to the crime for which it was being hunted. I suppose its decent pacing and characters disguise this a bit but unfortunately it's still a problem.
I suppose an important question is what do I think of Martha? I know Martha gets a lot of stick for some reason, probably from scary Rose fangirls who are legitimately besotted with the character of the Tenth Doctor and need to live vicariously through the Doctor/Rose romance. Nonetheless change is an important element of Doctor Who and companions come and go. Martha isn't too bad; I think her most redeeming feature is that she's such a welcome change from Rose, so I imagine I will probably be less happy with her as this rewatch continues but at least it's nice to have someone with a bit of scientific background who asks good questions. Speaking of good questions, we know the air was being kept in by the force field, but what about the gravity and the electricity which was keeping the lights on and such? I suppose the Judoon took care of that too but it would be nice if it was explained. The idea of an overloading MRI frying everyone's brains is a load of crap and to suggest that it could have a range covering the moon and half the Earth is ridiculous, though. The Plasmavore's plan seems to be overly complicated. Was it expecting the Judoon to show up, or not? A lot of explanation falls by the wayside as we introduce the new companion.
It's unfortunate that the Doctor is still seemingly so hung up on Rose, and more and more you want him to recover from this post-Time War loneliness malarkey. It's this kind of emotional difficulty, along with the pop-culture-referencing and the manic shoutiness, which often makes the Tenth Doctor seem too human. Sometimes you don't feel like you're seeing the Doctor; you feel like you're just watching some guy in an overcoat with a magic wand running around picking up chicks, as seems to be the case when he stalks Martha just a little bit at the end. And speaking of magic wands it's a phenomenal relief to see RTD's favourite god-machine, the sonic screwdriver, be destroyed, just as it is especially frustrating that it is rebuilt so soon. Sometimes it's a little too obvious when merchandising plays a role in the composition of certain show elements.
Nonetheless it's a pretty good start to the series and the new companion in the shape of Martha is a welcome relief after Series 2. If RTD had been capable of being this restrained all the time he could have made his era seem a lot less wearisome, and the same can be said about Tennant's performance as the Doctor.

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