DR. WHO: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT…………….???

 

SHORT TAKE:

Disappointing, lackluster reboot of Dr. Who into the first female incarnation of the main character, in a plot that is a routine set up without any real payoff.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone CAN go see this DR. WHO, but…(to use a different interrogative pronoun)…WHY?

LONG TAKE:

I went with an open mind, I really did. After all, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that, contrary to my long held opinion, a good superhero could be made featuring a woman when Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot knocked the socks off me with her powerful but feminine portrait of a righteously heroic super woman.

So it was with high hopes that I went to go see the premiere of the very first show featuring the very first woman Dr Who – that is with the exception of The Curse of Fatal Death, the parody filmed for the charity Comic Relief with Rowen Atkinson who ultimately morphs into Joanne Lumley in 1999.

If you like the cheap waxy chocolate in your Easter basket; if you make your milkshakes out of fat free ice milk; if you prefer plain unsweetened rice cakes for breakfast; if your refreshment of choice is a clear sugar free diet soda (why don't you just drink water?); if your musical taste runs to the elevator music version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" — then this is the Dr Who for you. All promise and little delivery.

SPOILERS

To start with, the pronouns present a challenge, but let’s do this – if I’m referring to Jody Whittaker’s Dr Who it seems fair to use the feminine. BUT if I refer to any previous incarnation, then the masculine grammatical reference should apply.

For those of you NOT familiar with Dr Who, please refer to my previous blog on Dr Who: Twice Upon a Time, which gives a quick "cheat sheet" introduction to the Whovian Universe.

For those of you already familiar with Dr Who, the premise of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, is that the first female Doctor (literally) falls to Earth – and physically – through a train roof, just as the passengers are being terrorized by an energy ball of tentacles. Companions happen upon her and follow like dust motes in the wake of a guppy and they decide to figure out what it is and its connection to another alien with teeth imbedded in its face. Meanwhile, an entire more interesting and better acted subplot involving a missing girl and her murdered brother are brushed aside like so much flotsam and the story drags to a conclusion with manufactured tension and a lead who can not even smile convincingly.

None of this is remotely quality Who.

Even the beginning flies in the face of the basic mechanics of the Who-verse. Everyone knows or suspects strongly that Dr. Who’s TARDIS gets him/her to where they are most needed. From the get go, as explained by Whittaker's Who, the TARDIS was wounded and dematerialized leaving the new Who to the tender ministrations of gravity. So Who's propitious appearance at the train to save the passengers seems more like coincidence than it should.

Next, while the Doctor has shown himself to be physically resilient, and crashing bodily into Earth like a thrown bowling ball is not necessarily the most injurious event he has ever survived, to fall to Earth from near outer space and crash THROUGH a train roof without so much as mussed hair is a bit much for even my considerable suspension of disbelief. 

Tennant, having burst through a skylight in The End of Time Part II looks like he's been on the wrong side of a blender.

And her adaptability to her new body misses SO much. Tennant noticed new teeth immediately before collapsing from the regeneration effort. Matt Smith examined his whole body in a humorous frenzy even as the TARDIS was exploding around him: "Legs! I've still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Oo! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears. Yes. Eyes two. Nose. I've had worse. Chin. [Noting its size]  Blimey. Hair. [presciently] I’m a girl. [feels Adam’s apple] No no. I’m not a girl. [Pulling a lock of hair forward to look at it, grumps] And still not ginger." When River Song morphed from young black teen to middle aged but shapely white woman we got more brilliant acting with Alex Kingston as she admires her own new hair then hollars from the bathroom: "Oh, that’s magnificent! I’m gonna wear lots of jodhpurs!" 

Jody Whittaker's Dr. Who's only comment is "Brilliant" and we're not even sure she's reacting to her new gender. Granted this is a flaw in the writing, but there's no indication from her acting or movements that she is: awed, amazed, dismayed, confused, curious, intrigued, or turned on by the fact that for the first time she is whole new GENDER! When in the past your previous selves have been surprised and dazzled by hair color and teeth size, and another Time Lord by the size of her own booty, you'd THINK a change in your entire sex would merit SOME attention. Even the spoof skit showed Lumley impressed with her new found…upgrades. In The Woman Who Fell to Earth her responses COULD have been tastefully done and REALLY funny. But it was like "Shave and a hair cut…………….." WHERE was the overwhelm? Where was the curiosity?

And her acting is – to put it kindly – bland. To NOT be so kind, she demonstrates all the emoting variations of an indulgent second grade school teacher.

Don't believe me? Let's take a trip down memory lane:

Tennant:

Smith:

Eccleston:  

Hurt:

Capaldi:

Now here's the new Dr Who: Her busy face,  her studious face  her surprised face. Is she afraid to move her eyebrows? Or show any genuine enthusiasm? Or risk looking silly?

Where is the humor? Where is the childlike enthusiasm to which we can all relate? And while, again, this is largely the fault of the script, it's not even that the show takes itself too seriously. I've often told our kids – it's not necessarily WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that makes all the difference. And I can't help but nostalgically wonder how a previous doctor (pick one – ANY one) would have done the reading on these same fairly uninspired lines and what desperately needed, resuscitating life they might have given them.

The writing is mundane and pedestrian. The trailer even features a good example: "I'm The Doctor. When people need help I never refuse." This is not only lazy writing but it is said with all the conviction of a PSA.

There's a scene where she jumps dramatically and dangerously (in Capaldi's slippery ill-fitting dress shoes) from one crane to another about 15 stories off the ground, then simply talks and tosses something to the bad guy to win the day. It would have been far more interesting if she had realized she did not have the upper body strength in the female body she now has, admitted that and worked around it. Realistically she could have done exactly what she ended up doing – talking and tossing – only without the death defying leap. This is just manufactured suspense.

Even the title is not particularly creative, merely a take on an old David Bowie sci fi vehicle The MAN Who Fell to Earth. There's no connection except the paraphrase.

Her companions are ginned up from what looks like the politically correct pool of the week: an elderly white man, married to a caricature of the pushy black woman, with a black teen grandson and a young woman whose last name is Khan who used to be a classmate of the grandson. They are all intimately related to each other yet we are to believe it is all coincidence. It was so unlikely a group of connections that I thought, surely the links must be part of the plot twist. But no, again just lazy writing to avoid having to introduce these characters to each other and endure the arduous task of creatively writing ways and events for them to get to know each other. Yet none of them has any real chemistry with either each other or the Doctor. And when one of them dies…..

SORRY – SPOILER – BUT HONESTLY, "WHO" CARES?

…….I wanted to feel badly about it but the show gave us little emotional investment to spend.

The direction was unremarkable but adequate – sort of like a high end shampoo commercial.

There is no vision. There was no rhyme or reason. Dr. Who started out over a half century ago as Britain's answer to Mr. Wizard – a science show which presented interesting facts in an entertaining way. It has – up to now – held to the tradition of teaching …. something: how to treat your fellow sentient creature, clever ways to solve puzzles, return evil with kindness, self sacrifice to protect the innocent, theories on effects of time travel, how other creatures from entirely different perspectives might react to the human culture, simply – thou shalt not kill. But I got the impression Mr. Chibnall, the show's new writer, has not yet gotten the memo on this one. He wrote a couple of the mini-shorts "The Power of Three" and "Pond Life" as well as some pretty decent other shows: 42, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Cold Blood/Hungry Earth. But being able to pick up a basket of pecans does not mean you have the strength to carry the entire TREE. And carrying a FOREST is what shouldering the work of creatively moving forward with this formerly imaginative show, with more than 50 years of history and backstory demands from WHOever thinks they can captain this ship. Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies, Chibnall is not.

There IS a lot of running, some red herring puzzles and a so-so denoument with forced tension and nothing to learn in the end. We don't even really find out what happens to the person she set out to save. And when the survivor moves in self-defense she chides him: "You shouldn't have done that." We go to an awkward visual cut to somewhere else on the soundstage and that's the last we ever see of him. Huh?

She preposterously builds a new sonic screwdriver out of dust, gizmos and a bag of metal coffee spoons lying around a cluttered human workshop. It might have been vaguely believable if she had used the tech that WAS potentially available from a discarded space "eggshell" but even that McGuffin wasn't utilized. If they are THAT easy to make why doesn't she make LOTS of them? Hand them out like party favors to her companions?

And to top everything else off they went out of their way to dis Christianity. Mostly, Dr Who, like Star Trek, leaves religion alone. But when one of their crew dies, the funeral is held in a church, but the cross beam of the cross behind the altar area is deliberately covered by carefully placed…balloons! Balloons? At a FUNERAL? And why HAVE the funeral in a Christian church if you are going to cover up the primary symbol of that institution unless you: A. Want to go out of your way to thumb your nose at the Christian faith, or B. You don't want to be bothered to think of any place else and you're too cheap to actually take the cross down. So disrespectful or indolent, take your pick.

And the death was stupid ANYway. The character threw themself into a dangerous situation unnecessarily then died clumsily. The death served no real purpose other than to cut the number of companions from four to three. "Thrift, Horatio, thrift." Fewer paychecks I suppose.

There are a zillion other dumb plot decisions: did she really wear that manky suit to the funeral? She doesn't even TRY to negotiate for the captured sister that one of the subplot characters died horribly trying to find. Since when does a Time Lord stick their finger up their nose to determine when they are going to faint? Did Chibnall think this was funny? Why on Earth would someone touch a glowing grid that appears out of nowhere? How DID he get his bike out of the tree? Did she not even CONSIDER her "friends" might be sucked into space with her using her jury rigged spit and bailing wire transporter? Why would she run on a wet crane in slippery dress shoes a couple sizes too big when she could have at least taken them off? What are the chances ALL the companions, randomly found, knew each other already without that fact being a plot point?

It all felt  – as though you were given Peter Davison's celery stalk with no dressing as your entire dinner or you were expected to warm yourself with only a bit of fringe off of Tom Baker's scarf – underdone, incomplete, ill-thought out, unfulfilling and unfinished (kind of like the way we all felt about the actor Christopher Eccleston's career as Dr. Who after he refused to be in the 50th Anniversary Special for no particularly good reason). So watching this Dr. Who I now know how Roger Rabbit felt when Judge Doom knocked on the wall and "inquired": "Shave and a hair cut," and he wasn't allowed to yell "TWO-BITS!"

So finally we are left with yet another interrogative pronoun and a burning question: WHERE is the real Dr. Who?! And will SOMEONE please say "TWO-BITS!"

The Orville – A Delightfully Fresh Change of Pace to the “Star Trek” Universe

 

SHORT TAKE:

Never thought I'd say this but I have come to recommend (tentatively) a TV show by Seth (Ted, 50 Million Ways to Die in the West) MacFarlane. The Orville is a homage to the Star Trek Universe … but only for mature sensibilities. Soaked in mild adult humor it is a charming combination of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest with just a pinch of Saturday Night Live thrown in for a bit of spice. In the honored footsteps of Gene Roddenbury, MacFarlane uses the setting of a space ship in the future to intelligently examine sensitive cultural issues, but takes this trip with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

LONG TAKE:

Ours is a three generation science fiction family – Heinlein, Asimov, EE Doc Smith were read to me as bedtime stories by my Dad.

I introduced my kids to Star Trek. I have been a Star Trek fan my entire life. The first show came out when I was seven years old and I grew up watching the shows in syndication.

I accepted the fact that Star Trek went off the air after 3 years and was excited by the movies.   I was ecstatic when Star Trek: Next Generation appeared and devastated when it was killed at the height of its popularity and in its prime because it became cheaper to syndicate the old shows than create new ones.STNG None of the other Star Trek shows quite hit the bull's eye for me the way STNG did. And the last show to date, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended on the lamest of notes by killing off one of its main characters as a flashback told by an embarrassingly … out of shape Riker. While I enjoy the reboot of Star Trek it  has no TV show to back its alternate universe up…. And it's a long time between movies. *sigh*

So when they said there was going to be a new Star Trek TV show – Star Trek: Discovery – no one anticipated its premiere more than me – or was more disappointed to find out it was to be held hostage by CBS's membership "service"  – like I need to pay for another subscription on top of Amazon, Netflix, Pureflix and Youtube payments.

Then out of nowhere, like a Galaxy class ship to the rescue, appeared an unlikely contender –The Orville – brain child of Seth MacFarlane – positively infamous for his crude humor, liberal attitudes and atheism. Hesitant is a massive understatement to describe my feelings about this project. But the trailer was funny and desperate for anything even close to a Trek fix, I tuned in through Amazon. Shocklingly, I found it good. NOT for kids – this is not your or your father's Star Trek to be sure.

I've seen all four of the shows they have released so far and I've come to the conclusion that THIS is what was REALLY going on aboard all those impressive star ships while Kirk and company presented us with the sanitized version of the events.

And no, it isn't even really part of the Star Trek universe at all. But it follows so closely in those stellar footsteps that thinking of The Orville as Star Trek's little brother is inevitable.

While not part of the Trek universe, everything in The Orville is a Trek echo, but with a slightly different spin. In The Orville universe the ships are part of the Union (And every time  MacFarlane, as Captain Ed Mercer, refers to Union ships, I can't help but wonder if they get overtime. LOL) The aliens are "new" but very familiar. The Orville's Moclus – an all burly-male single-gender planet whose main industry is weapons making

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are very much the Orville's version of Trek's Klingons, only without women. And there's Isaac, from Kaylon-1 – an entire planet of artifical lifeforms whose Greek chorus objective view of the human race is obviously a nod to Trek spock dataVulcans and Data. Then there is the caring but tough female chief medical officer, Dr. Penny Johnson Jerald (Claire Finn – Kassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine),   counterpart to Trek's Dr. Crusher and Alara (Halston Sage) a tough female security officer like Trek's Yar.

potato headOne early sub-plot examined a mainstay topic of our favorite emotionless aliens – humor. Without giving any spoilers, let's just say that there is a more "no holds barred" to their…ahem…Enterprises. The humor is rougher and slightly bawdier but nothing you wouldn't hear in a day to day after hours conversation with close friends. They gossip, they gripe, they insult, they even occasionally threaten each other – and that's just on the bridge.

This is not the cream of the crop. Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) makes no bones about why Ed has been chosen to captain The Orville – because with a new crop of 3,000 new ships to be manned the fleet was spread thin…and Ed was available.

The crew of the Orville are the guys who do the heavy lifting while crews like the Enterprise in Star Trek  go on diplomatic missions and save the universe.

helmsmanThe command crew drink sodas and beer and watch old TV show excerpts while on duty. The First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki mostly recently Bobbi in Agents of Shield)  refers openly to the helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes – Mystery, Alaska and Crimson Tide) as an idiot  – and he will agree. There is an amorphous amorous blob named Yaphit who crassly flirts with the ship's doctor.  First Officer Grayson is also the Captain's ex-wife who cheated on him – an event which, while a source of great regret to both Grayson and Mercer, is the source of a lot of needling by and occasionally unfiltered amusement for the crew.

These are not the dress blues we're used to, but the cargo ship-construction crew. Though everything looks spit and polished, there is a realistic familiarity among these guys which strikes a more homespun note than the tunic tugging Picard. picard maneuverDon't get me wrong – I LOVE the proper Star Trek universe. But these guys just SAY the things we KNOW darned well Kirk or Picard or Scotty or Dr. Crusher or even Data were DYING to say but couldn't – like Captain Mercer to a bigoted and cruely rude Moclus: "Dude, you have been a colassal d*** all friggin' day. Shut the H*** up." It wasn't polite or proper etiquette for a STAR TREK captain, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to applaud and laugh when he said it.

ed and first officer.jpgAnd the storylines follow quintessential threads: examination of other cultures in comparison to our own; time travel paradoxes; stifling tyrannical societies which MUST be exposed with the help of our intrepid heroes……maybe not heroes. More like good natured friends who will follow the rules most of the time because they don't want to get their butts kicked. And The Orville crew manages to clever their way out of problems just like the best of Trek – only with the occasional dose of deliberate silliness thrown in to remind us we are here for a good time. Kind of like Firefly only with more resources and a cleaner ship.

lasersWhile they don't take themselves too seriously, they present the characters and stories with obvious respect and affection for the source concepts. There is humor but fights break out, career making/breaking decisions have to be made, people die and the scenarios have hazard – just like the original ST:TOS – if that was happening at your average family holiday get together.

shootingAnd yes, MacFarlane has a liberal world view which comes out now and again. But I was pleasantly surprised to find he does not use his platfiorm to villify or unfairly castigate points of view he likely doesn't follow…at least not so far. MacFarlane has already begun to delve into hot button issues such as homosexuality and gender orientation but with tact and civility. moclusFor example, the Moclus, the all male planet, has an inevitable male-male couple who procreate by hatching eggs. But because it is another species it is, frankly, not as in your face as the heavy handed presentation of Sulu's "husband" in Star Trek: Beyond.

security officerTo be fair Roddenbury founded the Star Trek universe on the examination of the sensitive social issues of his time: racism, class structure, the hazards of interfering in less technologically developed cultures, the definition of life forms, the inherent dangers in protracted automated warfare, the tyranny of nanny states, the constant struggle with our baser natures. So it would be hypocritical of me to complain if The Orville explores the hot button issues of our times. And I was very pleased to find that MacFarlane is following Roddenbury's example. The Orville so far has reviewed these areas wth a certain dignified grace.

trialOne story in particular dealt with the single-gender society in a way that I believe fairly examined the different sides – a rarity when most liberal agendas include screaming over their conservative opponents instead of debating. The issue of gender identity at birth became a leading topic, and was treated with thoughtful clear headed discussion resulting in the crew uniformly taking the conservative side!

hanger.jpgAll this being said, it is possible Mr. MacFarlane could be luring the mainstream population in to lower the boom and cram yet another politically-correct driven anti-"everything traditional" agenda down the throats of anyone near by. But for the moment Mr. MacFarlane has created an extremely well written show for its genre. Funny, occasionally bawdy, but thoughtful.

And as an added bonus – again no spoilers – but I will note there are a few jaw dropping "A" list guest stars MacFarlane has managed to acquire in just his first 4 shows.

The Orville is a charmingly whimsical combination of Star Trek (mostly, I think, Next Generation era) and Galaxy Quest, with a hint of Dr. Who and a restrained splash of Saturday Night Live. I'll give Seth MacFarlane credit for now and the benefit of the doubt ………… for now. I just hope he doesn't eventually hand us a politically correct disappointment.