Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Doctor Is In...

Well, thanks to Netflix, I'm finally getting around to a viewing of Doctor Who, Season Two. I had heard a lot about it over the last year from fans and friends alike. Mostly positive things; but I still wasn't certain how I would respond to David Tennant as the latest regeneration of my favorite time lord (following the departure of Christopher Eccleston).

The first episode I watched, "The Christmas Invasion," did little to assuage my fears. In this story, a race of alien invaders called the Sycorax attack Earth on Christmas Day. I won't complain that this is yet another Whovian invasion-of-Earth story (which I once calculated compromises a whopping 26 percent of the original series..) because every Doctor must broach "his" invasion tale in his own way (like every James Bond must go through his paces). Besides, the story was borderline inventive in spots, particularly the aspects regarding alien "blood control" of all A-positive people on Earth. Disappointingly, the Doctor was sidelined for a good part of the tale, still recovering from his latest regeneration. When he did return to full health, it took our hero about five minutes to defeat the straw men Sycorax (who arrive in a very cool and very menacing spaceship). I don't remember the Doctor being quite *that* powerful that he could defeat aliens in such short order.

And frankly, I thought Tennant was a little over-the-top in these climactic scenes. It wasn't all his fault. It was written that way: as though the writers wanted to establish in a very, very brief amount of time that the Doctor was still funny, still charismatic, still smart, still a fighter, still our champion, and on and on. I understand fully and completely the need and desire to accomplish all that with a new lead actor. But I guess the upshot is that I still had some doubts about Tennant as Time Lord. I discussed the episode with my wife Kathryn, who loved it, and I attempted to clarify my feelings. Ultimately, I felt "The Christmas Invasion" was fun, fast-moving (it really moves at a breakneck pace...) but somehow more deliberately and overtly campy than I remember the original Doctor Who series being. I laughed out loud two or three times during the episode, but it was silly humor that undercut the seriousness of the situation at points. I love the scene with the malevolent Christmas Tree on the attack but I'm not convinced it really fits with the Sycorax narrative. It is a great image, and a great scene, however.

The second episode "New Earth," I watched with the same level of anxiety, though I found much more to enjoy and appreciate in this installment. There's a delightful body-switching subplot that is legitimately funny (especially in a scene set in an elevator shaft...), and overall the episode is an interesting (and ingenious...) variation of the Night of the Living Dead ethos. The episode occurs in a futuristic hospital facility on New Earth (in the amusingly-named New, New York City) and involves the age old "science-gone-awry' concept. In this instance, the physicians at the hospital (a race of sentient cat people...) have overreached in their desire to cure human diseases and have created a whole race of "plague people." In short order, these plague people are on the loose and with one gnarly touch, they can infect you with every disease known to man. Again, the pace of the episode is breakneck, the science fiction concepts are strong, and there's a lot of humor. I liked this show a lot; and especially the enigmatic material about the million-year old Face of Boe.

And Tennant was growing on me.

By the end of "Tooth and Claw," the third episode I watched, all my trepidations and reservations had begun to disappear. The series was winning me over. This is a great - even classic - episode. Again, I had what I suppose are snobbish reservations when I saw the preview trailer. A Doctor Who episode about a werewolf? Oh boy! How lame! But this impression was flat-out wrong. The episode (by Russell T. Davies) was brilliant, original and totally inventive, involving a werewolf cult in 1879 that is attempting to replace Queen Victoria and usher in The Empire of the Wolf. I loved the isolated setting (a rural mansion...), admired the discussions about mythology vs. science and history (involving the arrival of the monstrous "werewolf" on Earth), and in particular dug the surprise ending, which I won't reveal here, but which fans of the Royal Family will no doubt enjoy.

The next Who episode was "School Reunion" and by golly, now I'm hooked and absolutely in love with this show. This episode involves the return of two beloved companions from series history, the "tin dog" K-9 and journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) from the early Tom Baker (Fourth Incarnation) years. This episode managed to put an entirely fresh spin on the Doctor/companion relationship and reveal new aspects of it. For perhaps the first time, the audience can understand why the Doctor chooses to live how he does. I must admit, I unexpectedly found myself moved by this story. I may have even shed a tear or two, especially at the end. In terms of story, this tale pits the Doctor against a fascinating enemy called the Krillitane (given human face by Rupert Giles, Anthony Stewart Head), which "assimilates" the best qualities of all the races it conquers. Here, the Krillitane stratagem is beautifully explained, and one senses the Doctor is even tempted at one point, to sign on. At least until dependable (and still gorgeous Sarah Jane) reminds him of the "human" side of the equation. Great stuff. Perhaps it was in this episode that I fully accepted Tennant as the Doctor. When the episode started, I realized I wasn't seeing Tennant anymore, but rather a character I loved. A character with humor, and importantly - history.

I'm looking forward to the next episode, "The Girl in the Fireplace." When do the Cybermen show up? I can't wait.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Theme Song of the Week # 5: Dr. Who (circa 1974)

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 63 Talking Freddy Krueger (Matchbox) (1987)

Have you ever seen a dream walking? Well, if not...he's your boyfriend now.

Yes, this is Matchbox's classic eighteen inch tall sleep demon, Freddy Kreuger, as seen in the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street film series of the mid 1980s and early 1990s (1984 - 1991). This figure whose "arms and legs are poseable" and who comes with a "surface" that is "washable"(!) scared up some benjamins twenty years ago. Yes, it's been that long.

"Each time you pull Freddy's string," the back of the box declares, "..he has a special message just for you." Or, As Freddy puts it himself on the box, "Pull my string to hear me talk and make me pose...IF YOU DARE!" Yikes!

Among Freddy's bon mots should you choose to pull those strings: "Hi, I'm Freddy," "Watch out...Freddy's back," "Welcome to Elm Street," "Let's Be Friends," "Pleasant Dreams" and "Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha." Hmmm. I'm disappointed that he doesn't say some of his more notable movie one-liners such as "I'm Your Boyfriend Now!" or "I'm the Brains and You're The Brawn" or "I don't believe in fairy tales" or "What a Rush!" Ah well...

Historically, I always get a kick out of it when toy makers try to cash in a horror movie craze. After all, horror movies are (or were...) generally rated R and so toys based on them inevitably have the effect of scaring children. When Alien came out in 1979, Kenner released a line of Alien figures and games, and then had to remove them from toy store shelves because little tykes were terrorized and ran out of the store without getting parents to open their wallets. The same thing happened with Freddy Krueger merchandise in the late 1980s. "Pleasant Dreams" is exactly what kids WOULDN'T have after playing with their own Freddy doll. The box stipulates this toy is "not suitable for children under 3 years."

Really? You think? He's a mass murderer, and possible child-molester who slices opens teenagers and then eats their souls. May I suggest a more appropriate ad-line for the box: "Slicing and dicing his way into your children's hearts!"

As for me, I was a misguided teenager finishing up high school during the height of the Freddy craze, so I still have my Talking Freddy Krueger Doll, my Freddy Quick Change from MAXX FX, my Freddy finger-knives glove and a Freddy latex mask. I will soon be terrorizing my 9 month old son with these items. And then I will soon be living on the streets after my wife kicks my ass.