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July 02, 2008

So Long, and Thanks for all the Pollen

Scattered around the world and disconnected from each other, Earth's greatest heroes independently investigate a dark and terrible occurrence. Ultimately, their common history and common cause draw them together to combat a threat from the past that has become dangerously present.

Yawn.

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth

DoctorbyeAm I talking about The Stolen Earth, or am I talking about the first issue of the new Titans comic book series, written by Judd Winick and featuring the popular characters from George Perez and Marv Wolman’s New Teen Titans comic? The first issue of the new series features such former Teen Titans as Nightwing, Donna Troy, Beast Boy, and Cyborg independently attacked and they have to come together to discuss what’s going on and what to do about it.

Or perhaps I’m referring to one of the many other times that a variation on the same trope has been used: everywhere from The Five Doctors to the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring to the meeting between Kaito Nakamura and Angela Petrelli in the first episode of season two of Heroes. It boils down to the idea that the old guard have all seen the signs and now have to get together to discuss what's happening. It’s not an inherently boring device, but it is rather hackneyed, and so it’s not really adequate to drive an episode. Which is exactly what’s happening here.

Cohesion? Check. Coherence? Errr... quick! distract the audience! Penelope Wilton! Adjoa Andoh! Richard effing Dawkins!

It’s a little different here, because many of these characters haven’t met each other. For the first time, Matha Jones, Ianto Jones and Harriet Jones can talk to one another. And nifty as that idea sounds, am I really supposed to care? Turn Left drew from the program's recent past to give it the momentum it needed, to a certain degree of success. The Stolen Earth broadens its focus by drawing from the spin-offs that aired during that time, and it does so in a cheap, lazy, and boring fashion. I'm all for building a cohesive, coherent universe. Cohesion? Check. Coherence? Errr... quick! distract the audience! Penelope Wilton! Adjoa Andoh! Richard effing Dawkins! Because that's the tactic that's used here, and if the Appreciation Index is any indication, it works marvelously. Which, of course, it doesn't (perhaps there's a reason that no such thing exists in America). As much as I love The Sarah Jane Adventures, and as much as I've come to like Ianto and Gwen, why even bother enlisting them for this show when we know that they won't undergo any significant level of development, and they don't even really interact with each other (aside form Jack and Sarah Jane, who are both Doctor Who characters in any case)? Why bring these characters in at all if they're only going to be used as crew on the good ship Exposition, captained by a nonsensical version of Harriet Jones, who gets none of her well-deserved face time with the Doctor?

Why did they pay all of these actors to show up and deliver a couple lines of exposition when we're gearing toward a finale that should be powered by the triple threat of David Tenant, Billie Piper, and Catherine Tate? After a Donna-Lite and a Doctor-Lite episode, why on Poosh can't the two of them get more than a couple moments of screen time together? If Rose is so important, why can't we see her do more than point her gun at looters and complain about not being involved enough? Again, why bother to bring back Billie Piper if you're not going to put her to any amount of use? I was especially disappointed by her absence because Piper gave a much better performance in this episode. She actually seemed like Rose and not like a lame version of the Doctor.

It turns out The Shadow ProclamationTM is simply a bunch of Judoon and albinos who are rooming with an army of Jango Fett clones.

Dalekcaan I'm getting carried away with my criticism, I know. This wasn't a bad episode of television. It was pretty good. I liked a lot of the little past references to things like Calufrax and The Dalek Invasion of Earth. And the screen time between the Doctor and Davros was great, for what little it was. But it should have been so much better. I usually love episode twelve. I loved Bad Wolf. I loved Army of Ghosts. I loved The Sound of Drums. All of those worked because they had developed out of plot points that had been seeded throughout their respective series. Well, The Stolen Earth does that too. It just does so in a shitty way. The bees? What the hell? Come on! I was half expecting someone the Douglas Adams reference I made in the title of this review to show up in the episode. The fact that Donna didn't instantly pick up on the bee thing when the Doctor asked her about odd phenomena is really flipping stupid. She remembered Pyrovilia, but not the bees? Hardly likely, What would have made sense would have been if the Doctor had asked her about phenomena on Earth and she stared at him,  like he was some sot of idiot. "What?" the Doctor asks in that David Tennant-y sort of way. "The bees, Einstein!" she shouts. But no. And then there's the revelation of the Shadow ProclamationTM, which it turns out is simply a bunch of Judoon and albinos who are rooming with an army of Jango Fett clones. There's no culmination of any real kind, just the lame wrap-up of these meaningless threads.

Threads that, ultimately, have nothing to do with Davros or the Daleks in particular, which is why they fail so miserably. There was absolutely no buildup to Davros whatsoever. He merely shows up. Series Three built to the final revelation of the Master with a focus on Mr. Saxon and a variety of hints toward the fact that another Time Lord existed and how he might have hidden. Not so, here! Davros and the Daleks are tacked onto the end. And the star villains of the episode, the masterfully-portrayed Davros and the delightfully creepy Dalek Caan, are, like Tennant, Tate, and Piper, not given their well-deserved screen time. Davros's return is completely underwhelming despite the near-perfect design and portrayal of the character.

And let's make sure Sarah Jane steers clear of that hand or any other severed hands. Eldrad Must Live, remember?

Exterminate In case it hasn't been clear, I'm going to boil my opinion of this episode down to a couple of sentences. We were promised "big." And in Doctor Who, that should mean "bigger on thie inside," but this isn't big, it's bloated. It's just a lot of flashy outside stuff and no substance. And how could I possibly end this review without talking about the biggest thing in the episode: the regeneration? It's fake. It's faker than fake. If you read the news, you know it's fake, and it you watched the episode you know it's fake because they would give David Tenant a far better send-off than this. There's almost no question in my mind that David Tenant will stay on as the Doctor at least through the Christmas special, and the fact that the Doctor's hand will be involved is almost undeniably involved. Russell simply won't let us forget it's around. And let's make sure Sarah Jane steers clear of that hand or any other severed hands. Eldrad Must Live, remember? Anyhow, the only question that remains about David Tennant's "regeneration" is the nature of the fake. We're not getting a regeneration, but we had better be getting something worth watching.

I honestly think I would have enjoyed this episode far more if there had been anything surprising at all in it. But I knew about all of the guest appearances. And I had heard the set report of Captain Jack carrying the Doctor into the TARDIS after a Dalek extermination. I can hardly imagine the thrill I would have gotten watching this episode if all of the cameos had been complete surprises to me. But you can't keep a secret in television anymore. From here on out, however, I'm resolving to steer clear of spoilers as much as I possibly can. Since I live in a country whose media isn't as obsessed with this show as I am, maybe it won't be so hard.

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