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June 14, 2008

Swarm in here, or is it just me?

Forest Elves.  I've always hated those bastards.  I'm not talking about those diminutive little indentured servants slaving away in some sweatshop at the North Pole making toys.  I'm talking about those effete creatures from the diseased mind of  J.R.R. Tolkein.  Hated them in the books.  Hated them in the movies. 

"Blasphemy!" you say.  How, you ask, can I possibly feel such contempt for elves?  They're tall and blonde and beautiful and magical!  Their skills at, well, pretty much anything are unmatched in all the realms of dwarves and men!  When they sing, the birds stop to listen!  Criticizing the elves is like criticizing angels from heaven!  They're perfect in every way!

"Blasphemy!" you say.

This is exactly why I hate them, the entitled, superior gits in their gated communities.  I like to think of them as sort of Upper-Middle Class of Middle Earth, but there's nothing "Middle" about them.  Wealthy and powerful and morally pure, beyond reproach in all conceivable ways, they're genuine Übermenschen.  They're even immortal, for fuck's sake.  They're like the sort of aristocratic Aryan people you'd see picnicking in those fascism-evoking Claritin commercials.  It's all so goddamned twee I can still taste it.

And, just for the record, I piss on angels, too.

Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

As you can tell from my previous oh-so-timely review, The Shadow-Nose, which I don't believe anyone read besides the late James P. Coleman, former Governor of Mississippi, and famed Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer, I had rather high hopes for Forest of the Dead.  Stephen Moffat was scripting it!  The first half was a spectacular exercise in building tension.  The characters were wonderful!  The cliffhanger left so many tantalizing questions unanswered.  It was scary as all git-out!  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I hate to say it, but, speaking of blasphemy, I found the episode to be a bit of a crushing disappointment after Silence In The Library.  Oh, it's not to say there weren't a number of nice things I could say about Forest of the Dead, but from the miserable resolution of last week's cliffhanger to the use of a literal deus ex machina in the unnecessary extra ending, the episode couldn't hold a candle to its thrilling predecessor. 

Can't See The Forest for the Trees

It's not so much that I can't see the forest for the trees.  I recognize that Forest of the Dead was veritably pockmarked with witty dialogue, fine performances and clever conceits.  The Mill turned in some stunning work, and Euros Lyn's direction was excellent, as always.  I nominate Alex Kingston for Guest Star of the Month.

However, every time I try to look at the whole forest, I end up walking into a tree.  The branch that stuck me in the eye hardest was the happy ending, which more or less ruined everything for me.  Neil has already run on at length about many of the annoying things about the whole bringing-river-back-from-the-dead cop-out, so I'll let you go read his review for much of that.  My problems with the ending, however, go far beyond the basic concept of bringing River back.  I was also annoyed by the way her resurrection was executed, most notably: the pretentious disembodied narration was enough to make my skin crawl audibly.  It was gravely intoned nonsense like "Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days when the wind stands fair and the doctor comes to call...everybody lives!" that had me thinking of a haughty Cate Blanchett droning on about the history of the One True Ring, the whole unbearable thing culminating in River and her four cohorts ending up in that Claritin commercial I mentioned earlier, and the until-this-point interesting character of River settles into a never-ending domestic nightmare.

Vashta Nada

If there was one true shining light, if you will, of Silence in the Library, the one blindingly bright glowing beacon of brilliance, it was this: the Vashta Nerada.  As an airborne flesh-melting plague, they served their purpose spectacularly in terms of creating an unflinching atmosphere of dread.

No longer much of a credible threat, they spend much of the episode trying ineffectively to gum everyone to death.

"Piranhas of the air" they may be, but in Forest of the Dead Moffat has held them all down and pried out their teeth with a pair of pliers.  No longer much of a credible threat, they spend much of the episode trying ineffectively to gum everyone to death.  From the moment they stop being a mindless swarm and start treating Proper Dave like a Furby, their menace diminishes exponentially.

I'm also tired of the schtick where all the Doctor has to do is say "Hi!  I'm the Doctor!" and all of his enemies cower in fear.  Just one little rant about "you're in the biggest library in the universe...look me up!" (Can they even do that?  How are they going to open the books?  Can they read?  Can they even see? ) and all trillion-plus Vashta Nerada decide it's time for a holiday. Trustworthy little biters, too, as they don't bother to take a nibble even when the Doctor is unconscious or handcuffed to a wall in the basement.  It's the same annoying phenomenon as the alien of the week invariably deciding to postpone his execution whenever he reveals that he knows they're called "Sontaran" or something.  Rose even did it with Daleks in Doomsday.  It's like a fucking "get out of jail free" card

Breeding Discontent

Despite the usual tour de force performance from Catherine Tate, there are a number of things about her imprisonment in the computer that don't quite work for me.  For one thing, I'm tired of the writers of Doctor Who saddling what is supposedly a family drama with their heterosexual agenda.  Think of the children!  Actually, I'm trying not to think of the children.  From the moment she's wheeled into Doctor Moon's sanitarium Donna is apparently intended to be part of some sort of captive breeding program.  Perhaps it's because her sudden retreat into domestic bliss and playparks sounds like my idea of Hell, but the entire virtual reality sequence failed to capture my imagination.  Her whirlwind romance with Lee is unconvincing, and when Lee and Donna are melodramatically torn apart as CAL has her breakdown, Donna vows to find him.  I rather hope that we never see Lee again after their near-miss on the teleport pad, but I fear this is more of that foreshadowing I've heard so much about.  Donna is supposed to travel with the Doctor forever, not run off with some bloke she's managed to fall head-over-heels for in a matter of minutes.

For one thing, I'm tired of the writers of Doctor Who saddling what is supposedly a family drama with their heterosexual agenda.  Think of the children!

Fortunately the Cubist version of Miss Evangelista happens by to do Donna a favor by ruining her sense of domestic bliss.  She looks a couple of orders of magnitude more realistic then the inflatable sex-doll she was in Silence In the Library. While I was rather nonplussed with the comically shallow and ignorant Miss Evangelista in first part of the story, the explanation  offered for why Miss Evangelista Mark II happens to be the Chosen One smells suspiciously of bullshit: "I think my face has been the bigger advantage.  I have the two qualities you require to see absolute truth: I am brilliant and unloved."  Well, I'll be...she was stupid because she was beautiful!

CAL unfortunately leaves dozens of other unanswered questions left hanging about.  I know it seems exciting in Tron, but why does CAL even feel the need to create a virtual suburbia for her wards?  Are the files on my computer mating with each other?  Why doesn't CAL know anything about what she's supposed to be doing as the computer?  Why can she turn her dad off with a meta-remote?  More importantly, why can she do it to Doctor Moon?  Why is Doctor Moon a moon anyway?  Why does the computer think it's a good idea for them to jump around from place to place "like in a dream"?  Do dreams even do this?  How can people interact if they get jumped into the future every time they think "proctologist appointment"?  Why is the virtual world a model of a 20th Century UK suburb if 4022 of the 4023 inmates are space travelers from the far future?  Why exactly does a library have a self-destruct feature anyways?  Moffat's many plot layers are carefully and cleverly organized, but unfortunately on close inspection it doesn't hold together as well as I'd like it to.

Collected Volumes

Murray Gold.  You did so well last week.  We even all said nice things.

How could you do this to us in return?

Okay, maybe I can give you some nice credit of having the incidental music on the Telly change whenver CAL switched channels, and to have that incidental music different from what we're hearing at home...but then again, I'm not even sure if this was your doing.  Unfortunately much of the rest of your score is either bludgeoningly cackhanded or just plain insufferable.  The worst culprit in this second category is the horribly twee music that plays when Donna is rolled out of the ambulance.  Variations on this cringeworthy theme is repeated a number of times during Donna's "integration" and her quickie with Lee.  In the final scenes, however, your heavy-handed score obliterates everything in its path; it reaches particular lows whenever that little bit of willowy vocals creeps in.

What I wouldn't give for a little Silence in the Library.

Epilogue

Despite my misgivings, there are still a number of positive items shelved in Forest of the Dead and maybe some of those items would have buoyed the episode higher if the first part wasn't so bloody spectacular.  It was generally awash with brilliant dialogue; I particularly enjoyed Tennant in Scenery-Chewing Mode discussing hair-dryers and whether screwdrivers work in the dark with Other Dave.  There were also great character moments (the Doctor and Donna discussing being "alright" is very much a highlight.)    Tinting Anita's visor was a clever plot trick so we wouldn't know precisely when she got it (though I can't help but wonder if her woodenness was intended for this purpose as well.)  The running gag about "spoilers" was fun.  The kids questioning their own existence was a nice touch too.

I suppose it's some sort of testament to how good a writer that Moffat actually is that he managed to pull of as good an episode as he did, despite so much of it being utter bollocks.

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