What I Like About Who: No. 5

This is the fifth column in a weekly series from Rob Hull, Figures and More. Check back Mondays for a weekly journey through time and space, or read all of our adventures here

The Thirteenth Doctor is here. She built herself a new Sonic Screwdriver, made some new friends and got a new outfit. Now, it’s time for the rest of the familiar pieces to fall into place—and that starts with the long awaited debut of the new Opening Titles, which are a beautiful throwback to the opening titles from the ‘60s, a sort of psychedelic kaleidoscope that seems to hint at something magical and wondrous on the horizon. These visuals are accompanied, for the first time, by the new arrangement of the legendary theme song by Composer Segun Akinola, which is a wonderful tribute to the original coupled beautifully with modern touches. It is the perfect theme to accompany this Doctor, who is both new and familiar herself.

One thing that I did not mention in last week’s recap, because the episode was set on Earth and took place mostly at night, are the new visuals. This series marks the first use of a new type of camera and a change in the aspect ratio from the familiar 16:3 widescreen to 4:3. Now, I know to most people, that sounds like some technobabble that the Doctor would spout, but the gist of it is: DOCTOR WHO HAS NEVER LOOKED BETTER!

And, now, we are about to find out what that really means. When last we left the Doctor and her friends, they were all floating in the vacuum of deep space. Oops! Fortunately, they don’t all suffocate, because an ENORMOUS spaceship just happens to appear out of thin air next to them. And then, like some freakish carnival game, a massive claw reaches out to grab them. I bet Ryan will never look at one of those machines the same way again. Poor Ryan, they really do seem to be dumping on the poor kid, and it’s only episode two. Anyway, Ryan wakes up to Graham’s face in what is the Doctor Who equivalent of Sickbay. The pilot of the ship explains that she “scooped them” and they are on their way to the “final planet.” That doesn’t sound ominous at all. Also, the Doctor and Yas are missing, but I’m betting not for long.

Angstrom

Look how psychic I am, here’s Yas now. She awakens to some yelling, and—here’s a surprise—the Doctor and the captain of this vessel are getting along well. The Doctor is marvelling at the condition of the vessel, remarking that it should be on Antiques Roadshow. Now, I have to admit, I have never considered the amount of audience crossover between Doctor Who and Antiques Roadshow, but it might be bigger than I think. The pilot is clearly at a loss as to what to do, so the Doctor does what she does best: takes charge. This whole scene is one big classic Doctor moment, and I love it. By the way, the planet they’re all heading for is called Desolation, which makes it sound like a great place for a holiday.

Landing on the planet, the pilot of the ship Graham and Ryan were on goes to survey the area, while they follow. Ryan’s optimism about the fate of Yas and the Doctor is heartwarming. Meanwhile, on the other ship, the Doctor, Yas, and their pilot, discover that their landing is going to be a bumpy one. They crash into the planet, and the Doctor and Yas are reunited with Graham and Ryan. We find out that Epso and Angstrom are the names of the intrepid pilots who have brought them here. And, what’s more, they know—and don’t like—each other. Surprised? Me too, I know. Who would’ve thought? Here, by the way, is a desert planet and this is what I meant by stunning new visuals. For a desolate wasteland, it looks GORGEOUS!

An alarm starts sounding, which is TV speak for “move along.” Graham complains about the sand getting in his eyes, so the Doctor gives him a pair of sunglasses. I have to confess, part of me was, in fact, hoping they were sonic. Don’t @ me. Quick poll: Who would YOU rather borrow sunglasses from: Audrey Hepburn or Pythagoras? Send your responses to robhull@optonline.net and mark it “Who Poll.” I will post the results next week.

There’s a tent out in the middle of the sand and what looks like a torn scrap of clothing—another of the major rules of Doctor Who: NOTHING THAT SEEMS INSIGNIFICANT EVER ACTUALLY IS! Outside, Graham asks why he can understand the language if he’s on an alien planet, and finds out he’s been implanted with a Universal Translator, which he’s a bit cross about. For the record, I’m with Graham on this one. I don’t ever want anyone or anything implanting anything into me without asking first.

The tent is very lavish on the inside, with just a single occupant, Ilun (Art Malik). Ilun, it turns out, is the host and runner of the “Rally of the Twelve Galaxies,” which is basically “Amazing Space-Race,” making Ilun the Phil Keoghan of Doctor Who. “Welcome to Desolation, You are Team No. 1!” In another surprise, it turns out that Epso and Angstrom are the only ones left competing. Their final task is to make it across the water, through the ruins to a site called the Ghost Monument. First one there gets the prize and gets transported off the planet, the loser doesn’t. Now wait a minute, I’m pretty sure that even the loser of the Amazing Race got to go home! The Doctor discovers Ilun and the tent are all a hologram. She muses about spending three weeks as a hologram, and I am begging Titan Comics to find a way to tell that story. There are also ominous warnings about traveling at night (DUH!) and the water. Why does it ALWAYS have to be the water? I bet water did something horribly traumatic to the writers of Doctor Who when they were kids and this is their shot at revenge.

Trying to gather as much information as possible, she asks Ilun to show her the Ghost Monument, and, oh my, doesn’t that look familiar. As most of the sharper readers can probably have guessed by now, the Ghost Monument is, in fact, the TARDIS. It seems to be phasing in and out of time, which is why it appears every 1000 solar cycles. That is a clever bit of writing to fill that plot hole, so thanks Chibbs!

This development gives the group the reason to stay together, and it isn’t long before they find some sort of boat moored at the backs of a river. Though before we get there, the Doctor gives an inspirational speech, the kind that would get me to follow this Doctor to the gates of Hell if she asked. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but it was a really good speech. Venusian Akido makes a return. Oh, and the water is filled with flesh-eating microbes. Of course it is. And, the camera focuses on another piece of “rags.” Think about that, that’s two different camera shots in the episode. I don’t need to tell you what that means. Ryan and Graham use their mechanical knowledge to fix the boat, while dealing with their feelings about Grace. Ryan is still being a bit standoffish toward Graham, and I wonder what the backstory is? Speaking of backstory, we get to hear a little bit of Angstrom’s.

Boat fixed, they all take a lovely riverboat cruise. On the boat, the Doctor still wants to know what happened to the settlers on the planet. Epso tells a story about climbing a tree, and we find out his mother should have been investigated by DCF—as if this is meant to explain why he is the jerk he is today. Angstrom finally opens up, telling Yas that her planet is being systematically cleansed. “Cleansed by who or what?” you should be asking yourself. And, why do they need to tell us that? Yas misses her family, which, of course, means we’ll be meeting them soon.

They make it to the other side of the water, and Epso is going on about his special cigar, which is “self lighting” with a finger snap. They reach the ruins, and the Doctor is asking really good questions to which no one cares about the answers, which is a mistake that I believe is going to come back to haunt them in the next few minutes.

Time for the fun to begin: Epso and Angstrom separate, and Angstrom activates a laser trip wire. Standing on top of the ruins, The Doctor are friends are startled by the sudden appearance of armed robot guards. Epso sees one, shoots it, and that activates the rest. Thanks a lot, Epso. Well, the activating of robot guards in Doctor Who means just one thing: time to run! I have to say, it’s only two episodes in, but Jodie has already got a very strong running game. Impressive looking laser blasts are flying everywhere.

The Doctor goes in the first hole she finds, and it turns out that they have run into the robots’ SHOOTING RANGE. Talk about out of the frying pan. Graham also distressingly notes that the targets are shaped like humans. Ryan picks up a gun, and the Doctor tries to talk her out of it. Of course, she’s right and he’s wrong, the show’s not called “Ryan Who” after all, and we get to find out how high Ryan’s voice can go. The Doctor proves how right she is by generating an EMP pulse and disabling them all. “Brains beat bullets”: that needs to be on a T-shirt ASAP.  

Angstrom finds Epso, who’s been shot, and they all meet up. The Doctor has found the sniper bots’ control center, and she wants answers. Poor Ryan, he has to go down another ladder. Ryan channels Indiana Jones: “Why is it always ladders?” And, where do ladders going down ALWAYS lead to in Doctor Who? That’s right, say it with me, TUNNELS! And these are exactly the sort of bleak, darkened tunnels that you would expect from Doctor Who, complete, as Graham is happy to point out, with scorch marks. I think that is going be Graham’s role this series: point out every hazard or potentially bad situation in every episode. The Doctor uses the Sonic to open some doors, and they find themselves in a series of rooms.

Epso is being a jerk again, so the Doctor send him to take a nap. Seriously, I’m not making that up. Angstrom doesn’t want to be here either, but the Doctor isn’t giving up without her answers, which is great, because the plot kind of depends on them. Epso apparently, can’t even take a nap without causing problems, because he’s decided to nap right next to another of those apparently “inert” scraps of cloth, and oh wait, it’s not inert, and it’s actually an evil alien creature? Who saw that one coming? I DID! Back in the control center, the Doctor activates the computer and finds a map of the tunnels.

The Doctor goes into the other room, and it’s revelation time. There are markings on the floor, which the Doctor can read. Apparently, the occupants were scientists and they were kidnapped and forced to find new ways of making destruction: poisons weapons and creatures. But, that’s not the really important bit. The really important bit is that the race that did the kidnapping is the STENZA!

Meanwhile, Epso’s nap is about to get rudely interrupted. How many times do I have to say it? BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR! So, now they have to go save him. And here come the killer robots, too, leading to more running, and another ladder for Ryan. The best part: They’re running into Acetylene fields, which smell like garlic. Unfortunately, the creatures, which are called Remnants, are waiting. Their disembodied voices seek to play on their fears. They kill by squeezing. By the way, these voices are properly creepy. Just above a whisper, kind of like Voldemort’s voice in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We also get a helpful science lesson about Acetelyne, again reaffirming Doctor Who’s past as an educational show. By the way, file the “Timeless Child” bit away, you’ll probably need it later. The Doctor is having everyone dig with their feet the whole time, and you’re about to find out why.

The “science class,” the digging, and Epso’s cigar combine beautifully to create an inferno that burns the Remnants, which the Doctor and crew watch from the ditches they have dug themselves. They are now able to crawl out from under the burning Acetelyne and resume their quest. NOTE: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! ACETELYNE IS HIGHLY FLAMMABLE AND VERY DANGEROUS!

With the monsters sorted and the mystery solved, it is literally time for the endgame. They find a tent, but not the TARDIS. The Doctor is very emotional. Epso and Angstrom decide in the end to claim the prize together. Ilun won’t hear of it. But, Epso and Angstrom are VERY persuasive. Ilun takes Epso and Angstrom off the planet, but leaves the Doctor and friends stranded.

The Doctor is heartbroken, but suddenly Yas hears a somewhat familiar sound. Turning around, the Doctor starts to see the TARDIS materialize, and it finally stabilizes.

The Doctor examines the new exterior approvingly, and the TARDIS opens the doors for her. Stepping inside, it is still dark, but we can see the new Geometric patterns on the wall.

Proceeding further toward the console area, the lights come up and we get our first look at the BEAUTIFUL new console room. There is an orange glow and large crystal fingers seem to “feed” energy to  the main crystal on the Time Rotator Column. The console itself is more mechanical and less digital than in previous iterations. But, again, this is the Doctor, and this is her TARDIS, so she knows immediately what levels to pull and what switches to press. The familiar background noise is there and the dematerializing noise is the same one we have come to know and love. It does have a new hourglass on the console that just seems proper. Graham, Ryan, and Yas are all predictably blown away by it, and although none of them use the classic “Bigger on the Inside” line, I’m sure they’re all thinking it.

So, now we finally have the classic paradigm: The Doctor and her friends, in the TARDIS, off for their next adventure. And next week, that adventure will take the Doctor to Alabama in 1955, and a meeting with Rosa Parks. Although the Doctor and friends are going to Alabama in 1955, I will be right here with you next week in 2018 to recap that adventure.


DID WHO KNOW?

  • Killer water was the main theme of The Waters of Mars, one of David Tennant’s final adventures.
  • The Doctor Who theme was created by Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer at the BBC’s Legendary Radiophonic workshop.
  • The Radiophonic Workshop also created the sound effect for the dematerializing and re-materializing of the TARDIS by running a key across a piano wire, and then slowing down the tape of the resulting sound.
  • The new TARDIS was designed by new Production Designer Arwel Wyn Jones, and the console includes a biscuit dispenser that dispenses Custard Creams—Jodie’s favorite!