Friday, 30 June 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Dragonfire Part One

Dragonfire is the final story of season 24 of Doctor Who. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel, and Sophie Aldred as Ace. It is the second story of the season to be three parts long, but unlike Delta and the Bannermannys it cuts through the Gordian Knot of how to tell a four-part story in less than four parts by simply having less of a story to begin with.

It starts with a group of mannys who are going to be frozen by some other mannys, but one of them doesn't want to be so he runs away. There is some foreshadowing when Tony Osoba says:
"Leave him. He's in the restricted zone. He's a dead man."
This is quickly proved to be correct when Kane, this story's obvious baddy, comes in and freezes the manny with his bare hands and the manny goes

The TARDIS arrives at Iceworld on the planet Svartos (so "Iceworld" isn't the name of the world then? I don't know what Terry Nation would have to say about that!) and the Doctor and Mel visit a supermarket.

Then they go to a café and meet Savlon Glitz (played by Tony Selby, not to be confused with Tony Osoba), returning from Trial of a Time Lord. He doesn't recognise the Doctor immediately because the Doctor was Colin Baker when he last saw him and is now Sylvester McCoy. There is a funny exchange between Glitz and Mel, which at first glance seems to be a clever way of delivering exposition, but it is even more clever than that because Glitz is being economical with the actualité in this bit so it is not exposition and just a joke after all:
"Fact is, I'm on a mission of highly philanthropic nature."
"What's that?"
"It means it's beneficial to mankind."
"We know what philanthropic means. What's the mission?"

Magenta (Patricia Quinn), one of Kane's hanchmannys, comes to arrest Glitz. She gives him 72 hours to pay the money he owes Kane or else he's off the case they'll take away his spaceship. Mel decides it is time to get on with the plot so gets some exposition from Ace about a dragon living in the caves under Iceworld. This is extremely efficiently accomplished, with Ace's first line of dialogue, before having met or even interacted with Mel or the Doctor, being to mention the dragon unprompted while near Mel. Terry Nation would be proud, and this more than makes up for the Iceworld-not-being-a-world slip up of earlier.

Ace joins up with the Doctor, Mel and Glitz (and starts calling the Doctor "Professor" for no reason straight away) so we have our adventuring party assembled. Glitz even has a treasure map and makes another joke that, this time, also contains an element of truth in it:
"This is the real McCoy, this is. It comes from an unimpeachable source."
"What's that, then?"
"That means it is beyond reproach or question."
"I know what unimpeachable means, bird bath, but what makes you so certain this map's pedigree is twenty four carat?"

Ace called Glitz a "bird bath" lol. This is a deadly insult if you're a cat, though I'm not sure it has the same power if you're a manny. Ace also calls Glitz a "bilgebag" when he doesn't want Mel or Ace to come with them, and she storms off in a huff. Mel goes with her so only the Doctor and Glitz go to look for the Dragon.

There is a homing device in Glitz's map so that Kane and Magenta can monitor where Glitz is. Magenta wants to fly away in Glitz's spaceship but Kane doesn't want her to, so he orders it destroyed. Magenta has the mark of Kane on her, which aside from being an unsubtle reference to the Bible is just there to make Kane seem a bit more sinister than he otherwise would be. Magenta later reverses Kane's order without his knowledge, showing she is a bit of a Starscream.

Ace establishes her character by getting herself fired from her job by pouring a drink on a customer's head, demonstrating she has poor impulse control, and calls Glitz a "div" so she is really quite rude as well. Then Mel gets Ace's implausible backstory about how she is from Earth but
"I was doing this brill experiment to extract nitroglycerine from gelignite, but I think something must have gone wrong. This time storm blows up from nowhere and whisks me up here."
Mew. I don't think that is a real thing, and neither does Professor Cat. He's a real Professor, you know, we don't just call him that for no reason.

Actually the real cause of Ace being teleported to Iceworld is explained in the story The Curse of Fenric, but as that was made two years later it leaves Dragonfire looking pretty silly when taken on its own merits. And then there's this exchange of dialogue between Mel and Ace:
"What about your mum and dad?"
"I haven't got no mum and dad. I've never had no mum and dad and I don't want no mum and dad. It's just me, all right?"

This is more interesting, as the double negatives reveal Ace's true feelings about her family - Ace is too well-educated for this not to be a deliberate mistaik. Ace is obviously a prodigy, capable of inventing a new kind of explosive, "nitro nine," while still young enough to be a school student (she later claims to be 18, but I think this is a lie and her first answer - six - is more likely the truth).

Ace uses "nitro nine" to blow some bloody doors off, then shouts her own name in triumph, indicating an almost cat-like level of egotism. Ace and Mel get arrested by Magenta and taken to Kane. Kane wants Ace to join him and become his new henchmanny (it is not clear if he doesn't want Mel to join or if he can only talk to them one at a time in order to seem more sinister), but Ace threatens to blow him up with "nitro nine" so they escape.

They take time off from their escaping for Ace to cast doubt on the existence of the dragon, which means it is time for an instant reversal as they promptly encounter an alien dragon. Mel screams (of course) and Ace makes a face.

This isn't the cliffhanger moment you might expect, but it is one of two cliffhanger situations in a similar line to how Delta and the Bannermannys part one ended. Meanwhile the Doctor has become separated from Glitz and lost in the caves. He decides, for no reason, to dangle himself from the edge of a precipice - a literal cliff hanger! He too makes a face, and that is the point at which we end the episode.

This is... er... how can I put this... not the most promising of starts to a story.

Indeed this is one of the most notoriously bad cliffhangers in all of Doctor Who. While I naturally approve of the self-aware nature of a cliffhanging cliffhanger, the sheer pointlessness of it completely spoils the effect. Sylvester McCoy does what he can to try and salvage the scene by making an "oh noes" face, but the misjudged directing and editing choices in this episode defy belief.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermannys Part Three

"Give me Delta and I will give you... your life."

"Life? What do you know about life, Gavrok? You deal in death! Lies, treachery and murder are your currency. You promise life, but in the end it will be life which defeats you."

"You have said enough. I have traversed time and space to find the Chimeron queen. I will not be defeated."

"As you will. I came here under a white flag and I will leave under that same white flag, and woe betide any man who breaches its integrity. Now step aside, release those prisoners!"

Part three of Delta and the Bannermannys picks up from this exchange, which apart from being well acted (so well worth seeing twice) does a very good job of recapitulating the central conflict of the story - this could be useful for any cats who missed part two due to having sleeps. It is again two minutes before we get back to the cliffhanger point, which is another indication of how short this story is.

Seeing this for the second time, I noticed that the Bannermannys go to obey the Doctor's order without seeing what Gavrok has to say first. This is a subtle way of showing that the Doctor's bluff is working, and that is in fact the case - Gavrok does not shoot them, just menaces them with his pewpewpew gun a bit and then puts a homing beacon on the motorbike because this story evidently hasn't copied Star Wars enough yet.

Ray rescues the Americans when they get left unattended by the Bannermannys, so they can join in on the goodys side for the last part. Time for some chase music:

The Doctor knows there is a homing beacon on his motorbike so gives it to a goat for Gavrok to chase later on.

Billy is getting another lesson in metaphors from the mysterious Welsh manny Goronwy, this time it is bees standing (flying?) for Delta instead of butterflies. Billy steals some of Delta's little manny's noms for himself. It changes him into an alien like Delta, which is a bit convenient but never mind - it would seem churlish to hold such a plot point against Delta and the Bannermannys when it is otherwise such a well put together script.

Gavrok sets a bomb trap at the TARDIS and then goes back to his spaceship to follow the goat. In a clever bit of mirroring, the Doctor sets a trap of his own for Gavrok at Goronwy's house.

The Doctor notices Gavrok's booby trap in time to stop the Americans from falling for it. Meanwhile, Gavrok runs right into the Doctor's trap and him and his Bannermannys end up covered in honey (lol, the Doctor's trap is less lethal but much funnier than Gavrok's) and chased by special effect bees.

Sorry, that isn't a very good picture for illustrating this scene. Here's a better one:

The Doctor is still trying to disarm the trap on the TARDIS when Gavrok's spaceship arrives, so he has to run away and leave the TARDIS still trapped. The Doctor didn't get any sayings wrong in part two, but he manages to fit a couple in this episode.

The Doctor and Billy get shot at by Bannermannys but manage to rig up the holiday camp's speaker to broadcast Delta's little manny's singing, and it defeats the Bannermannys. I didn't think it was that bad.

Gavrok walks into his own trap and gets exploded. Who would have thought that the day would be saved not by the power of love but by the power of bad singing? Delta and the Bannermannys certainly gets points for originality on that score.

Delta and Billy steal the Bannermannys' spaceship and fly away in it, while Goronwy makes the point clear by giving more bee metaphors to the Americans. The plot is finally all wrapped up when the Americans get their satellite back, and then they make confused faces when the TARDIS disappears in front of them. Goronwy also sees the TARDIS leave, and makes a mysterious Welsh face...

Delta and the Bannermannys is an ambitious attempt at telling a new kind of Doctor Who story. Instead of showing or telling us what is happening, a lot of the time the programme gives us an impression of what is going on and leaves our imaginations to fill in the blank spaces.

Here there is a certain resemblance to the technique used in the original Star Wars films, in which the backstory of the clone wars and the destruction of the Jedi is left purposefully vague, conveyed only through a few lines of dialogue from Ben Kenobi, Governor Tarkin and, later, Yoda. This serves to make it much more dramatically powerful than if those events actually appeared in the films themselves, as well as allowing room for surprise twists and revelations about who is related to who.

Delta and the Bannermannys also seems to directly lift several plot points from Star Wars, but it does not copy the storyline* so much as it takes some of the familiar tropes from Star Wars (already 10 years old at the time Delta and the Bannermannys was made) and uses them like a shortpaw way of letting us know who some of these characters are and what they stand for.

(As and aside, some of these tropes were not even original to Star Wars - the heroic princess on the run from the baddys cannot have been a wholly new concept, else how would we have known Princess Leia was a goody when we first saw her even though one of her first actions is to gun down a soldier who has explicitly just set his weapon to stun?)

Perhaps the impressionistic style of Delta and the Bannermannys was arrived at by accident, as the makers experimented with a way of telling a four-part story in only three parts? To me this seems unlikely, since there are so many characters who do not get a traditional introduction: Ken Dodd, the bounty hunter, Billy, Ray, Mr Burton, the Americans and Goronwy - all except Goronwy first appearing in part one, and the last two having no proper reason for being involved in the story that is ever given on screen.

Billy and Delta's romance takes place almost entirely between scenes we see, and it is a vital plot element, yet we spend more time on the aliens making references to the 1950s setting than we do that - I conclude it has to be deliberate. Although I didn't like this after watching part one, now I think it works within the context of the stylised nature of this story - perhaps I was just culture shocked at the time?

In terms of SFX, Delta and the Bannermannys comes between Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers in the amount used, featuring some spaceships (economically, including the one disguised as a bus), plus the bees that seem to be an early attempt at CGI. While obviously not up to the standards of Hollywood movies of the time, and unable to compete with the likes of Back to the Future, The Terminator, or Caravan of Courage, they do the job they were designed for quite satisfactorily.

If Delta and the Bannermannys has any significant flaw, it is the uneven tone that flip flops between comedic and serious moments when maybe it would have been better to pick one and stick with it. Except somehow it makes that work. As a completely serious story, this would not have been good at all - the competing elements and characters (alien princesses and baddys fighting in 1950s Wales, not to mention the inappropriate Americans) would not have meshed together and been impossible to take seriously. On the other paw, an outright comedy could not have successfully featured the dramatic peril presented by Gavrok as an instrument of potential genocide.

Sylvester McCoy does his best work as the Doctor to date, although there are so many minor characters in this story that Mel is sidelined for a lot of it to allow Ray, Billy, Mr Burton, Goronwy and even the Americans each a chance to do stuff. As much as I like Bonnie Langford as Mel, it is a shame that they missed the opportunity of having Mr Burton join as a new Companion here, I think that would have been great.

Delta and the Bannermannys has a long legacy, being one of the most influential TV stories on the 2005 revived series of Doctor Who. Russell T Davies's version would often feature Wales and Welsh characters, as well as borrowing from contemporary sci-fi films and TV shows to create shortcuts to help fit stories into too short timeslots. And, of course, repeatedly misjudging the balance between comedy and drama.

In conclusion, Delta and the Bannermannys somehow works far better holistically than it should have any right to if we were to examine the individual elements of it separately. But does this just mean it is a remarkable one-off, or can this new formula be repeated successfully?

Doctor getting sayings wrong count: 2
(Season running total: 21)

"There's more to this than we can fry."
"All haste and no speed makes Jill a dull girl."

* Luke does not steal Chewbacca's noms to turn himself into a Wookie as far as I remember, though there may be some internets fanfiction in which that does happen. Nor are there two random Americans on Yavin IV looking for their missing moon space station satellite. Princess Leia's singing does save the day at one point, but only in the comics.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermannys Part Two

Because there are only three parts to Delta and the Bannermannys we are now already at the middle of the story! While there are some two-part stories in Doctor Who that are even shorter, three parts is shorter than the great majority, and it is not helped here by having a significant recap of the end of part one - it takes two minutes before we get back to the cliffhanger, as both Mel and the Doctor's separate situations are reprised.

Gavrok blows up the suspicious manny and so saves the Doctor and Ray by mistaik. We never find out who he was, just that he was a bounty hunter. Maybe he got lost while looking for Han Solo?

Delta decides to trust Mel and Billy and tell them what's going on, but not us viewers because for us it cuts to the next scene and the next day, where the Americans have met a mysterious Welsh manny who tells them about butterflies.

At first it seems this has nothing to do with the main story (like the rest of the Americans' plotline), but it turns out this is a metaphor for Delta when we cut back to her finishing telling her story. This is a much more effective and novel way of conveying the situation than if it had been a pure dump of the exposition, which I'm sure is how Terry Nation would have done it!

Naughty Doctor!

When the Doctor and Ray wake up from their sleeps, they tell Mr Burton that the Bannermannys are coming but he doesn't believe them and makes a joke and a skeptical face. Seeing inside the TARDIS convinces him the Doctor is telling the truth. Mr Burton asks to come with the Doctor in the TARDIS - he would have made a great Companion but sadly it is not to be.

Like Billy, and Ray, Mr Burton now takes everything in his stride, with only one scene of self-doubt that is a nice touch. He says
"I am still not sure what I saw in that police box, but I cannot risk my staff for it."
and they start to evacuate all the mannys from the holiday camp.

While looking for Billy and Delta, the Doctor and Ray finally meet the Americans but they soon bounce off them which means the Americans still don't join in the main plot.

The Americans then see Gavrok's spaceship land and they think it is the satellite they are looking for because they are silly. After this there is a change of tone - things get more serious now that the Bannermannys are on the scene. Gavrok captures the Americans but, luckily for them, they don't know anything at all about the plot that Gavrok is interested in so they cannot tell him anything useful. Phew!

Things get even more serious when the Bannermannys blow up the spacebus as it tries to escape from them, and Gavrok captures Mel. Mel tries to be brave and lies about Delta being ded in the hope that it will make Gavrok go away - it nearly works except that Delta arrives right then and there. Oops.

Mr Burton is also brave and allows himself to be captured as well so he can persuade Gavrok not to kill Mel, so they are both prisoners instead. Prisoners? At a holiday site in Wales? That gives me an idea for a TV series, except I think it has been done already...

The Doctor goes to confront Gavrok under a flag of truce. He interrupts Gavrok while he is having noms, which may make him even grumpier than he normally is. In what is easily Sylvester McCoy's best scene as the Doctor up to this point, he brazens it out with Gavrok and tries to bluff him into releasing his prisoners.

It almost works, and the Doctor, Mr Burton and Mel start to walk away from Gavrok. But at the end the Bannermannys point their pewpewpew guns at them for a cliffhanger!

This is a great episode that starts to pay off some of what the first part was setting up, but it is still tonally uneven in mixing the comedy with the serious bits - even the magnificent dramatic cliffhanger scene has a misjudged moment of comedy as the Doctor, Mr Burton and Mel do a synchronised double-take look back at the Bannermannys, somewhat undermining the carefully built up tension.

Despite that drawback it is still definitely a step up from part one, with the arrival of Gavrok and the Bannermannys on Earth making for a significant escalation of peril, so we have some properly rising action heading in to the final episode.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermannys Part One

Delta and the Bannermannys is the third story of season 24 of Doctor Who. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel. It has the unusual distinction of being only the third ever three-part Doctor Who TV story, and that is counting The Two Doctors from season 22 which had episodes twice as long as normal. So in a way it is the first three-parter since Planet of Giants all the way back in 1964!

The consequence of being three parts long instead of the more usual four is that it has to tell its story much more quickly. This is immediately apparent when the very first scene begins with action! We are straight into a battle, with mannys firing pewpewpew guns at each other and falling off things like they did back in the glory days of HAVOC.

One side is all in black - they are the obvious baddys led by Gavrok - while the other side is green except for Delta who is in white. Because having her in green would have given her one less point of comparison with Princess Leia from Star Wars. All the green mannys get killed - we know this because Gavrok tells us so - and Delta escapes by stealing a spaceship.

The TARDIS arrives but in a completely different scene. The Doctor and Mel are for once expecting trouble when they venture out, so clearly this is just to set up an immediate reversal whereby they instead get good news from Ken Dodd. They have won a holiday.

The Doctor does not look as thrilled as Mel to have won this prize, perhaps because the holiday is on Earth, and they will be going along with a load of aliens disguised as mannys in a spaceship disguised as an old bus. This is quite a clever idea for a spaceship and saves on the special effects budget - it parallels the TARDIS itself both in and out of the narrative.

This is made especially clear in the adjoining scene where we see the TARDIS on Earth in a country scene - except that it is actually a real police box in the 1950s, which is when the main part of the story is set. It is used by two comedy American CIA agents to 'phone the President.

The Doctor decides to travel in the TARDIS so it does not get left behind in space, and as he goes he sees Delta, still trying to escape Gavrok's spaceship, arrive in time to get on the spacebus as well. This means he knows something is going on, although he does not yet know that he is her only hope.

One of the mannys on the bus is suspicious of Delta, but we rapidly move on from this blatant bit of foreshadowing when the bus crashes into an Earth satellite (the one from the Americans' plotline) and they both go out of control.

The Doctor does something technobabbly
"Well, I simply applied the TARDIS vortex drive to generate an antigravity spiral to halt your descent."
in the TARDIS to allow the bus to land safely. Bus, satellite and TARDIS all land in Wales at the Shangri La holiday camp. It is run by Burton (played by Richard Davies who I know from Whoops Apocalypse where he was very funny). He has a doggy!

Billy, a local mechanic, tries to help repair the spacebus's engine, and much comedy is made of a manny from the 1950s being confronted with warp drive technology... lol, actually he just sort of gets on with it, because there isn't time for anything like that in this episode!

The Doctor meets Ray, who is very Welsh, and he gets a saying wrong for the first time since Time and the Rani part four. Although he did not get any sayings wrong at all in Paradise Towers, it seems we have not after all seen the last of that character trait.

Meanwhile Mel does her best to try to get involved in Delta's plotline, but Delta does not trust easily... at least not until the story requires her to.

Gavrok has met Ken Dodd and finds out from him where the spacebus went, and then he shoots Ken Dodd anyway to show us that he is a properly evil baddy. If you think it was a good thing that Ken Dodd got shot then you may also be a baddy - just because he was an outrageous piece of stunt casting, doesn't mean he didn't deserve to live!

Lots of 1950s things happen to hammer home that this story is set in the 1950s, with references to "rock and roll" and "hula hoops." Billy and Delta begin a romance so lightning quick that it surprised even us cats (definitely a lot less than three minutes), but then there isn't time to develop their characters when there is a dual cliffhanger to build towards.

In the first cliffhanger, Delta's egg hatches and a green alien head is inside. Mel sees it and screams, which is something of an overreaction considering how it is actually really cute and not scary at all. This would have made for a rubbish cliffhanger by itself but fortunately there is another one for the Doctor.

The suspicious manny from earlier uses a space telephone to call Gavrok. The Doctor and Ray overhear him but give away that they are there when the Doctor sneezes (he must have known he needed to get caught for the cliffhanger to work). The suspicious manny has a pewpewpew gun and says he is going to kill them, leading to not so much a crash zoom to their faces as a shot of mild concern to end the episode on...

This is a very fun first episode to the story, but it is lacking in some technical respects. A lot of action is crammed into the 25 minutes and it feels rushed. We meet a lot of characters but none of them are developed - not even Delta or Gavrok. We only know Delta is a goody and Gavrok a baddy because Gavrok is such an obvious baddy that Delta must be good by comparison.

This could be quite clever, in a way, by leaving us viewers to infer motivation and fill in the gaps for ourselves, but that is not how it comes across when the same episode is happy to spend precious minutes repeatedly drawing our attention to the 1950s setting. We get it already! Now move on please.

There are so many characters to be introduced that, when you think about it, none of them actually get to do all that much, not even the Doctor or Mel or Burton's doggy. The two Americans don't even get as far as meeting any of the other characters, and so the only reason they appear in this episode is to give us some exposition while telling each other things they should already know.

Sylvester McCoy seems to have taken a backwards step in his portrayal of the Doctor, making him more like he was in Time and the Rani than how he was in Paradise Towers. He is good in his scene with Ken Dodd, but he really needs to work on his cliffhanger face - he could take some lessons from Colin Baker on that.

Despite these criticisms, the episode never gets boring and it does a good job of establishing the dramatic conflict in time for the next part - the middle act of the story already.

Doctor getting sayings wrong count: 2
(Season running total: 19)

"A stitch in time fills up space."
"There's many a slap twixt cup and lap."

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Cat Election Results: Shock Landslide

The most sensational upset has occurred in this week's Cat Election. It was expected that Larry, the sitting Cat Prime Minister, would once again be returned to his home of 10 Downing Street, London with one vote - the same number of votes that all cats normally get in a Cat Election - and resulting in yet another hung Cat Parliament.

Instead Larry has been overwhelmingly elected with a majority of over 100, as a lot of cats unexpectedly voted for him instead of for themselves. When asked for an explanation as to this unusual behaviour, one cat source said it was "for the lolz."

Now with this massive majority over his opposition, Larry will be able to do whatever he likes. Although most cats will probably carry on ignoring him, because we're cats.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Wouldn't it be terrible if...

Wouldn't it be terrible if Britain was the only country in the world that didn't have nuclear weapons?
That would leave us completely at Gandhi's mercy!

There are over 200 countries in the world according to Richard Osman of Pointless (also Wikipedia), only 9 of which have their words backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!

Of the more than 190 countries whose words are not backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS! only one of them (Japan) has ever been on the receiving end of said nuclear weapons.

So I think Britain would be just fine if it did not have nuclear weapons, since it would not in fact be the only country in the world without them, it would be in the company of the great majority.