Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Third Age: Episode One Now Live

The webseries I've been working on for a while is finally live! Check out Episode One of The Third Age, embedded below.

The show has been called "An acid trip in web video form" by Tubefilter, so give it a look, and let me know what you think!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doctor Who: 'The Waters of Mars'

Watching “The Waters of Mars,” it’s hard to believe that it’s been eighteen months since “The Stolen Earth” aired because this episode gets you right back to the mental space of being totally wrapped up in the show. It’s a hard episode, one that gets darker and more intense than most Who episodes to date, and one that does a fantastic job of setting up the themes and conflicts that will presumably play out in the two part special that will close out Tennant’s run as the Doctor.

The previous Who work that this episode was closest to is definitely the recent Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, which had a similar apocalyptic vibe, showing us characters struggling against their situation, and trying hard just to survive a seemingly inevitable doom. The most powerful thing about Children of Earth was the way that the sheer weight of events was made apparent on an individual level across the large, well developed supporting cast. Davies does a great job of figuring out the individual emotional hooks for a large scale conflict, so that scenes that could play as pure spectacle feel very grounded and real.

I think the reason for that is that he always uses genre material to address real emotional issues. A show like V is just doing genre riffs with no sense of any personal investment in the characters or scenario. It’s like they decided, you’ve seen all this before, you know what’s going to happen, so here it is. Compare that show to Children of Earth, which takes a similar scenario, but makes it feel fresh and exciting by emotionally investing in it.

As with all the best episodes of Who, the sense of apocalypse hits on an emotional level, not just an intellectual one, and the visuals and narrative combine to create an emotionally wrought second half of the episode, as the individual story of this episode becomes a stand-in for all the failings we’ve seen over the course of the entire series.

That really becomes clear in the fantastic sequence where the Doctor walks away from the Mars base, abandoning the surviving crew to their fate. He is in the role of observer, watching events, but unable to change them. The call back to the Pompeii episode reminds us of Donna begging him to alter the timeline there, and his insistence that it can’t. And, hanging over this episode again is the fate of Donna, who suffered worse than any companion the Doctor has taken.

At the time, I had some real issues with the way Donna’s story ended, but it’s cast such a long emotional shadow over these specials, I have to commend Davies. It’s still painful to think about, and that’s a testament to what a powerful twist it was. The Doctor’s helplessness at the end of that story drives him here, and is what’s running through his mind when he walks away from the base, fires burning all around him in this red, hellish landscape.

That’s a scene where the visuals contribute so much to the emotion of the scene, we can see the rage the Doctor is feeling made manifest all around him. And, the viewer has a conflict about it too, because we’ve already heard his justification for why they have to die, the sacrifice here sets in motion a series of events that will bring humanity to the stars. But, the Doctor is sick of sacrificing the present for the future, he doesn’t want to compromise and let people die. I’m reminded of Eccleston’s Doctor back in the first season’s “The Doctor Dances” exalting at finally saving everyone. I didn’t really get it then, but in retrospect it’s clear why he’s so happy, because normally people will die on his missions, and he’s powerless to do anything about it.

So, it’s a major, dangerous shift when, at the end of the episode, the Doctor decides to stop obeying the rules of time and sets out to rewrite the time continuum. It’s interesting to see him shift from the idea that he’s the survivor of the time war, to being the winner. Where even the Dalek refuses to mess with a human’s place in the time continuum, the Doctor decides that he has the authority to.

The final moments in the Mars base are staged in a dynamic way, with low shots emphasizing the Doctor’s power, even as flames burn all around him. This leads to the dramatic peak of the episode, the conversation between the Doctor and Adelaide, as he sets out his new mission, and she rebukes him, and decides that history has to complete as planned.

In that moment, we see the Doctor more unhinged than ever before, he’s spent most of these specials depressed at the core, still the guy we saw standing in the rain outside Donna’s house, facing the realization of how alone he is. He’s put on his manic energy, but it felt hollow earlier, and here it crosses the line towards craziness. The Doctor has never seemed so dangerous, and in his vision of an Ood standing in the street, he seems to plunging into insanity. I’m excited to see a Doctor coming to the end of his time, facing the consequences of everything he’s done and struggling to deal with it, struggling to maintain his mind.

When seeing big budget films, I’m often really taken out of the story by CGI, but I forgive it a lot more on this show, and TV in general. I think the reason is a film like 2012 is just about the CGI, it exists as pure spectacle, and in that sense, it’s hollow. But here, if the CGI is less strictly realistic, it’s used in service of the story, so it feels more real and impactful. You’re emotionally engaged and look at it less objectively. I think this episode looked outright great, and the effects were top notch throughout, but even if they weren’t, the story was strong enough to carry them.

Ultimately, I think this was a powerful, intense episode on its own terms, particularly in the second half centering around the dissolution of the base, but it was even more interesting in terms of setting up the Doctor for the final two episodes, and the farewell to David Tennant. Davies has his share of haters out there, but I’m not one. I think he’s done an absolutely amazing job with the series. More than anything else, I love the optimism at the core of it. Hearing the Doctor talk about exploring other worlds and the way that Adelaide will help inspire others to venture out into the stars, it’s powerful because no other show on TV dares to be so blindly optimistic. Yes, terrible things happen along the way, but it’s always in the service of reaching something better, and no other show articulates as well as this one.