Baron Scarpia
16 June 2010 @ 10:35 pm
The original title of this film is Quella Villa in Fondo al Parco, which translates as The House at the End of the Park. Your first suspicion will probably be that it’s yet another Last House on the Left rip-off, but whilst that’s a good guess, it’s wrong.

What else do you suppose it could be? The house is actually in a forest – nowhere near a park – and it has very little to do with the film’s plot, but that’s about par for the course… well, suppose it’s a rip-off of Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery?

No. To be fair, however, I doubt you’d be able to guess in a million years, if only because the plot is so ludicrous. Don’t worry, though, because we get all the plot we’ll need, and indeed all the plot we’re going to get, in the opening scene.

It takes place in a dilapidated room, empty aside from a very small amount of scientific equipment and a number of cages containing rats. We hear a voice over -

I hereby confirm I will present to the next international genetics congress the new hybrid I have developed by introducing the sperm of a rat into the ovum of a monkey. This hybrid has in its teeth and under its nails a very potent poison, one that produces a kind of instantaneous leptospirosis; its bite or scratch will kill a human being in just a few seconds.

You’ve got to hand it to them. Not many films will state outright just how silly they are in the first few seconds. Not only that, but the film makers have now ensured that there is no mystery at all about what the film’s monster is, or where it comes from. But wait, it gets better.

Why would you expect the idiocy to end there?Collapse )
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
05 June 2010 @ 02:04 pm
You would have thought a rather obscure film like this one wouldn’t require a massive introduction, but one of the fascinating things about Night Train Murders is where it originally came from. Its source, if you trace it back far enough, comes from Ingmar Bergman, runs directly through Wes Craven territory and finally ends up as an Italian thriller from 1975. Those of you who know your horror film history will know what I’m talking about, and will expect me to say that Night Train Murders is nothing more than a cheap rip-off of better films.

Well, yes and no.

Read moreCollapse )
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
02 January 2010 @ 10:37 am
How did we ever reach this stage?

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of DVD for film fans. Aside from being technologically inferior, it costs more to produce a VHS tape, meaning that more have to be produced to make a profit. And given the popularity of the format, it sometimes looks as if every film ever made by anyone anywhere in the world will sooner or later crop up in your local HMV. Some films are so bad that you feel like cursing the day DVDs were ever invented, but that would be churlish for anyone interested in the backwaters of cinema. Who would have thought we’d ever reach the day when films ranging from The Godfather to Cannibal Holocaust to Street Trash all get special editions?

So, in a way, this DVD should not be a surprise. 42nd Street Forever isn’t a film. It’s a two hour collection of exploitation film trailers. Yes, the good people at Synapse Films decided there was an audience out there who would actually want to sit down and watch over one hundred and twenty minutes of trailers – trailers for sleaze, sleaze and yet more sleaze.

Sadly enough, one of my friends thought I was one of the target audience, and gave me this as a Christmas present. Even more sadly, he turned out to be right.

(But then, he’s one of the target audience himself. Takes one to know one.)

I admit, I had a blast watching this, often for entirely the wrong reasons. Almost every film advertised looks inept and incompetent, if not on occasion downright dishonest. And for most of the trailers, you can’t imagine seeing anything like them in cinemas today. I haven’t seen much exploitation cinema, and I learnt some valuable lessons that will put me in good stead when I finally film my script.

1) Your film’s title should be direct. I didn’t know before that there really is a film called Women and Bloody Horror.

2) If you want people to see your film, tell them it’s too shocking to watch. The trailer for Corruption states that no women will be allowed to watch the film alone, whilst the makers of Women and Bloody Horror will give your family $2,000 if you die of fright watching it.

3) Pretend your film is educational. Teenage Mother is about… oh, have a guess. All parents should watch the film with their children, says the trailer. Never mind that the trailer also gives us a long, lingering shot of a supposed fifteen-year-old in a bra.

3a) Even better, why not pretend the film is a documentary about other cultures? Then you can be as gratuitously offensive about those weird furriners as you want! Shocking Asia, for example, wants us to believe that the Japanese are all sadistic perverts.

4) Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. If the on-screen title is The Butcher of Binbrook, but the narrator calls the film Necrophagous, who cares?

5) Porn films don’t have to be sexy. It is also to your advantage if you can pretend your softcore flick is the most cultured film in cinema with a straight face. Yes, even when it features couples getting it on in front of really bad rear-screen projections of roller-coasters. Bonus points if the soundtrack is Thus Spake Zarathrustra.

I’m guessing that Panorama Blue did not in fact become a classic.

6) Nobody cares about men dying. It has to be women. Women who have trouble keeping their shirts buttoned. So states The Centerfold Girls.

7) The past is truly another country. Can you imagine a film today being called Boss - um, Boss… Boss Ni…

No. My 21st century sensibilities won’t allow me to write it. Let’s just say it’s a western with a black hero and leave it at that.

8) One of the softcore sex comedies is called Hard Candy. Time has not been kind to this title, as film enthusiasts now will most likely think of the dark psychological horror of the same name about paedophilia. Oops!

8) Winning an award at the Venice Film Festival won’t stop your film looking a bit sleazy, especially if you sell it as ‘Hey! Look how many drugs I was doing a couple of years ago!’ Sorry, Chappaqua.

9) If you’re making a family comedy there are certain words you should never, and I mean never use in the title. The Rape of the Sabines fails this test, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger Moore would now like us to forget all about it.

10) Suspense is overrated. If you’ve made a horror film, it’s perfectly fine for your trailer to show every single death scene – oh, hang on. I already knew that.

11) I have seen a trailer for an Italian sex comedy made by Sergio Martino. It’s called Creampuffs and features nuns. It drove me to drink.

12) Your film’s plot can be about anything at all. If you want to film a story about a couple of under-aged choirboys becoming obsessed with a church-going prostitute, go ahead. (Charlie and the Hooker - if you couldn’t guess, it was filmed in Europe) Or if you want to film a guy without legs and a guy without arms becoming kung-fu masters – well, actually that sounds awesome.

12a) Be aware that some countries are rather more offensive than others. In English, the kung-fu film is called The Crippled Masters. But apparently the French title translates as The Kung-Fu Monsters. Charming.

13) American films actually seem the most dull on the DVD, in general. So my advice is to shoot your film in Italy.

14) Come to think of it, I have decided there is nothing more horrible in the entire world than a sex comedy. Confessions of a Summer Camp Counsellor made me want to bleach my eyeballs.

15) Don’t worry about any kind of subtext whatsoever. If you want to make your heroes gay bikers, then do so. If you then want to make them all transvestites who use women’s toilets – thus alienating the 1970’s audience further – go for it! To be honest, on the evidence of the trailer, I’ve no idea what to make of The Pink Angels

16) No budget? No problem! You can still rip off Star Wars, as Star Crash amply demonstrates. Yes, it is indeed Italian. How did you guess?

17) Once upon a time, people wanted to see Sylvester Stallone naked. I have to admit, I have a lot of difficulty understanding this.

18) If you can base smut on a classic author – say, Stendahl – great! That’s what Walerian Borowczyk did with Behind Covent Walls. At least in the trailer the nuns look like they’re having fun, and the music’s nice.

(Yes, I’m aware that some of Borowczyk’s fans will be incensed with me calling his work ‘smut’. But I suspect a lot of people will try out his films for precisely that reason.)

So, there you have it. My film will be Lesbian Ladyboy Vampires from Sex-Drenched Bangkok, based on the works of Elizabeth Gaskell. Nobody over the age of seventy will be allowed to see it alone, because they may have heart attacks from fright. It will feature nuns. And Roger Moore. Now, who wants to fund it?
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
02 January 2010 @ 10:28 am
One day Stephen King had an idea. He would write about a killer laundry press. Well, let’s face it, King is such a prolific author that it was inevitable he’d be writing about such things at some point.

This story was made into a film, The Mangler. It was directed by Tobe Hooper. To put it mildly, it is not remembered as fondly as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is.

The Mangler 2 has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with laundry presses, Stephen King or Tobe Hooper. Or graduation days, for that matter. This ‘sequel’ only has that name because it wants to coast along on the popularity of the first film… and I thought that sort of marketing had died out with the Italians in the 1980’s. Of course, you just know that the twits who thought that was a good idea would provide a film to match, and they do not disappoint. The Mangler 2 is dreadful, but I actually ended up wishing it had been made by Claudio Fragasso. It would have been just as bad – maybe even worse – but it would have been more fun. The actual culprit to blame is Michael Hamilton Wright, the director/screenwriter. If Mr Hamilton Wright has a signature theme, it appears to be that things happen in his films just because he wants them to, internal logic be damned. The script was probably written some five minutes before he arrived on set.

Jo Newton is a pupil at the Canadian boarding school Royal Collegiate College, a school obviously designed for those with little imagination. Jo is the daughter of a computer industry billionaire, and she has issues with Daddy. At the start of the film we watch her infiltrate her father’s office complex to put a virus into the computer system. Since we have no idea what crimes Daddy is supposed to have committed, we first see her as a whiny, spoilt brat. Her punishment is to… er, it’s to go back to school. As punishments go, Daddy comes off as insanely laidback rather than a familial tyrant.

Back at school, spring break has just ended and the pupils –some of whom are played by actors who are obviously too old to be convincing teenagers – have just come back. Things have changed a little. The school is now fitted with the N2K, Daddy Newton’s gift to his alma mater for a test run before the software goes to the military. The N2K is a computer system that controls absolutely everything – fridges, washing machines, doors, fire sprinklers, security cameras and so on.

On-site IT support? What on-site IT support? The pupils are back for the first time, the system still has a couple of issues, and we see no technicians at any stage at all in the school. Wait, it gets better…

Because of the computer work that still needs to be carried out, the pupils are all immediately carted off on a geography field trip. The five school prefects are kept behind, in order to find out who hacked into the school website to make crude jokes about the headmaster, Mr Bradeen. How will they find the culprit when every other pupil has left school for the field trip? Good question. When one prefect brings it up, Bradeen’s answer is ‘You’re the prefects. You figure it out.’ Thanks for the support, sir!

(Bradeen is played by Lance Henriksen, and he looks mightily pissed off whenever he’s on screen. This is actually in character, but I’d like to think it’s the actor’s entirely justified reaction to being in the film. You can almost hear Henriksen thinking ‘I’ve worked with James Cameron and Wes Craven. What the hell am I doing here?’)

Four of the prefects have dinner in the otherwise deserted canteen, and all of them are drinking PEPSI. The camera keeps their prominent cans of PEPSI in shot whenever possible, and I believe that as a consequence there is a now unemployed Product Placement Manager who weeps into his Kleenex whenever the issue is raised.

I suppose I’d better introduce the group, better known as the cannon fodder. They are, alas, all annoying dimwits – we are told that RCC is the best school in the country, and I now fear for the Canadian education system. Emily is the not-enough-clothes one, Will is the black one, Corey is the most annoying one, and Dan is the ‘sensitive’ one. Dan is played by Will Sanderson, who went on to appear in several Uwe Boll films including House of the Dead. It’s official: Sanderson’s agent is, without a doubt, the worst in the business.

The final prefect is Jo. I’m sure we can all agree that given her history of law-breaking and pointless rebellion, she’d be perfect as a prefect in the best school in the country. She comes along, still whiny as ever, and the students all snipe at each other for no reason. Meanwhile the audience starts wondering when the hell they’re going to die. Less than thirty minutes into a ninety minute film and we just want everyone dead.

Jo storms off to sulk in her room and decides to download a virus onto the school’s computer system. This virus is the Mangler virus, which means that Jo will be directly responsible for the deaths of eight people. If you think she’ll ever get blamed for this, or have to face up to her guilt, I can only say that you haven’t seen enough of these kinds of films.

I sort of envy you.

The N2K, which as I’ve said is being beta-tested for military use, has no anti-virus protection whatsoever. The school mechanic is the first to find this out when the Mangler virus kills him by – by –

Sigh.

You know and I know what’s meant to happen when a supercomputer goes nuts. In 2001 HAL remote controls a piece of machinery to kill one of the astronauts. When the scenario arose in The X Files people were electrocuted and killed in a lift controlled by the computer. The point is the computer wasn’t actually doing anything strange. HAL could control the machinery whether it was insane or not. The X Files computer already controlled the lift; it just decided to use it as a convenient way of killing someone.

In contrast, the Mangler virus makes a bunch of immobile cables wrap together before making them levitate and kill the mechanic with a pair of gardening shears. It’s novel, it’s surprising, and it’s also very boring. Any old serial killer can use gardening shears – what’s the point of introducing a mad supercomputer if it’s not going to do anything any differently?

By the way, gorehounds should note that you’re not going to find much in the way of grue here. (Check out Nelson Goodman instead, and bonus points to you if you get that joke…)

The students are at the swimming pool. Some of them are smoking drugs directly in front of the security cameras. Jo comes back and announces what she’s done, saying that it won’t be traced back to her. However, since she downloaded the virus when ONLY FIVE FLIPPING STUDENTS WERE IN THE SCHOOL it makes the pool of suspects a bit small. The Fatuous Five decide the only course of action is to break into Bradeen’s office and hack into his computer, making it look like someone had sent him an infected email.

Of course, their every move will be recorded by the security cameras, and I can’t see Bradeen being happy when he watches the footage, but if we worried about intelligence we’d be here all night, so let’s move on.

A wheelchair-bound teacher is killed with an axe, but he watches porn so it’s okay. Horror movie morality and all that. For the same reason the school secretary dies, because she’s an alcoholic. (She gets scalped when her hair is caught in an electronic mangle. I kid you not.) Bradeen, being a petty despot, obviously doesn’t make the end credits either. As for the cook, he’s locked in a deep freezer that for some reason requires swipe card access, but as he’s the comic relief he can’t die.

There are no other adults in the school, so that leaves our gormless group of teenagers in the firing line. Will, being black, is the first of them to die. (The film appears to believe that it’s being progressive because strictly speaking Will is not the first victim. However since he’s the first main character to die this is less than convincing. Night of the Living Dead this ain’t.) He’s killed when he’s trapped in a room when the fire sprinkler goes off, spraying scalding hot water onto him. I don’t know why he doesn’t crawl under the desk nearby, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow. I also don’t know why the sprinkler system’s wired up to the school’s boiler.

Corey dies when he crawls under the retractable audience seating in the basketball court. Guess what happens. He does this for no sensible reason, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow.

Emily dies when she is strangled with a computer cable. It’s exceedingly lame, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow.

Dan is the Love Interest, but alas for his life span, he becomes redundant when Jo’s ‘wise-but-hunky’ bodyguard comes calling. This renders Dan expendable, and he dies less than five minutes after the bodyguard turns up. His death involves the school’s electrified fence, which Mr Bradeen earlier informed us is capable of knocking out a three hundred pound gorilla. You don’t even need to touch it to get a shock, you only have to get close.

No, I’ve no idea why a school would have such a fence. Anyway, Dan ends up dying because whilst Jo is yelling at him to get away from the fence, he stands there for no reason until he gets fried. Hey, you have to get a body count somehow.

The climax is between HAL’s idiot brother and Whiny Girl. It generates less tension and thrills than a milk float race. It also features the sentient virus quoting lyrics from a Spice Girls song. Afterwards we have an improbable reconciliation between Whiny Girl and Daddy, and a kicker ending that we really don’t care about.

The Mangler 2 is either one of the most lazy or the most carefully constructed films of 2001. I suppose that if you worked really hard you could come up with a script calculated to appeal to absolutely nobody. The gorehounds will be bored, it’s over an hour before any of the main characters die, the characters aren’t actually characters, the script is devoid of logic, the school is the worst-run in cinematic history, nothing about the N2K computer makes sense and the film is pretty tedious to sit through. If it was carefully constructed, I don’t see how Michael Hamilton Wright could have done better.

But who am I kidding? Hamilton Wright just didn’t care. Which means that neither does the audience.
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
Happpy new year!

And I'll start it by saying that the David Tennant era has now ended. I'm going to save my review of the Tenth Doctor for later, but in short it's not entirely positive. The Tenth Doctor had some great moments, but he was not a great Doctor. It will be interesting to see how Matt Smith copes.

When Eccleston regenerated into Tennant, fans around the world tried to work out what the Tenth Doctor would be like based on ten seconds of footage and a couple of lines of dialogue. Fans are now trying to do the same with Matt Smith... and I'm cautiously positive. Take a look for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lWBiONUfAI&feature=related. If you've not seen the episode (I haven't), the Doctor is slowly dying of radiation poisoning; so slowly that he's the first Doctor ever to get to say goodbye to all his former companions. But he can't put off the inevitable, and the regeneration proper starts at around 6 minutes into the clip.

The new Doctor gets a little bit of dialogue before the episode ends - generally not very good dialogue, though I like the comment on his nose - 'I've had worse.' Smith does as well as he can with it, and I suspect a good deal better than Tennant could. Anyway, roll on the new season, when Smith's trial really begins.
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
20 November 2009 @ 08:17 am
The Doctor lands on Earth, which promptly vanishes. The TARDIS is in the right location, but the planet isn’t. It’s been taken, nowhere to be found in the universe, and nobody knows what’s going on. UNIT, including Martha Jones, will be working overtime, as will Torchwood, headed by Jack Harkness. More informally, the journalist Sarah Jane Smith is trying to work out what happened, whilst Rose Tyler, Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith have come to help the Doctor. If only they could find him; the Doctor has no idea where the planet is now.

Poor old Earth doesn’t even have the distinction of being unique. There are twenty-six other planets that have gone missing, and the Doctor finds out that they’ve been taken to construct some sort of engine. The first question is what this engine could possibly be for, and the second question is who’s constructing it.

The second question is the first to be answered. It’s the Daleks, which is such bad news that I think curling up into a foetal position and drinking oneself into a coma would be a pretty good idea at this point. What’s worse is that the Daleks have come back not only with a Supreme Dalek and hundreds of battleships, but with their creator! Davros is back, and he’s as ruthless and insane as ever.

But don't get your hopes upCollapse )
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
20 November 2009 @ 08:01 am
One day Donna Noble had a choice. She was driving to her new temporary job at HC Clements, and stopped briefly at a junction. If she turned left, she would go to HC Clements, if right, she would go to see someone about a more permanent job. She ultimately turned left and went to HC Clements. Her job would lead her to meet the Doctor that Christmas, as the Rachnos tried to take over the world.

Enter something nasty, something that made her turn right instead. Donna never met the Doctor, meaning that although he defeated the Rachnos, he drowned whilst doing so. An Earth without its Doctor – how bad could it be?

Pretty bloody bad.

Donna doesn’t even have any memories of the Doctor, which means that when a strange blonde woman keeps turning up she doesn’t know what to make of it. But we do; we follow Donna from the Rachnos invasion to the Sontaran attack, as Britain falls under martial law, ‘labour’ camps are set up (ahem) and millions continue to die. At last the blonde woman is able to convince Donna to help, because she knows what was supposed to happen. The Doctor was not supposed to die, and the only person who can help now is Donna…



Turn Left is this season’s Doctor-lite adventure, leaving us all alone with Donna Noble. Fortunately for everyone, the complete and utter misery pervading this adventure means that any attempt at comedy would fall flat, and so Catherine Tate doesn’t have many jokes. And I really do mean complete and utter misery; the only surprise is that the human race survives for so long.

This adventure is so loaded with continuity that you will only fully appreciate how ghastly all its implications are if you’ve been following the last two seasons, preferably three seasons, regularly. If you haven’t… well, don’t start watching here, that’s all I can say. For the rest of us fans, however, it’s fascinating to see what could have happened if the Doctor died. The adventure is such an unusual one that you can’t help but admire the concept. You also feel that Davies set himself a challenge here as well, just as he did for Midnight. With the Doctor gone, who would be left to help? How can past events be arranged to ensure that, for example, the Sontaran attack still fails?

The Rachnos attack isn’t too devastating for the planet because the Doctor stops it at the cost of his life. The next incident – the ‘theft’ of Royal Hope Hospital in Smith and Jones - is more disturbing. Martha Jones dies through oxygen starvation, and whilst that episode’s villain is defeated, saving the Earth from a massacre, Sarah Jane Smith dies in the attempt.

The Titanic from Voyage of the Damned crashes into Buckingham Palace, destroying London and irradiating southern England. Refugees are taken to the north, with several extended families having to share one house (Donna’s family have to sleep in the kitchen). Sixty million Americans die as Miss Foster from Partners in Crime converts them into baby Adipose, and whilst the Torchwood team stop the Sontaran attack, they die as well. Meanwhile, all foreigners in Britain are taken to, er, ‘labour’ camps. All this adds up to such a grim picture that Donna’s final action to correct the time line seems practically inevitable. As Rupert Giles would have said, whatever a universe with the Doctor is like, it has to be better than this.

Davies’s solution to his challenge isn’t totally successful. The Titanic crash should have wiped out all life on the planet – possibly Midshipman Frame was able to do something? – and Davies only concentrates on contemporary events. However, (for example), the Doctor’s death means that the Pyroviles back in The Fires of Pompeii would have wiped out all human life years ago. On the other hand, this is rather nitpicking. I’m content to admire the results this time around, as doing justice to all the plot’s implications would be tedious and not worth the effort. What we get from Davies is a real sucker punch, and one that I’m rather grateful for.

As the episode revolves around Donna we in her company for most of it. The combination of Tate/Davies/comedy does not work well, but the adventure is such a bleak one that comedy is at a minimum. Donna does bellow at times, but becomes increasingly subdued as her situation gets steadily worse. From the sheer of volume of tragedies that fall on top of her and everyone else, it’s difficult not to feel for her.

A major plot point of the adventure is that Rose Tyler returns. I can’t help thinking that Billie Piper seems a little ill for this adventure – she’s noticeably back to normal in the season’s finale – and it’s a bit distracting. On the other hand, it’s amusing to see her finally being ‘the mysterious character’ herself, as opposed to the all-knowing but silent Doctor.

The next adventure is the season finale, in which the Doctor fights the Daleks and wins, and Russell T Davies fights the audience and fails.
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
20 November 2009 @ 07:57 am
Austria is passing a law for civil partnerships, effective from 1 January 2010. Congratulations Austria!
 
 
 
Baron Scarpia
15 November 2009 @ 09:33 pm
(Alright – I couldn’t resist. The Waters of Mars was first shown on television today, and so I’m reviewing it out of sequence. It takes place after the fourth season and after the adventures The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead. I’ve not seen those adventures yet, but… well, The Waters of Mars is such an interesting episode that I’d like to get my thoughts down now.)

The Doctor, still without a companion at the moment, is sightseeing. He lands on Mars and whilst wandering around stumbles upon a colony base, headed by Captain Adelaide Brooke. At first the Doctor is glad to see them, notwithstanding their suspicions on seeing a stranger in their midst. However his pleasure turns into horror when he realises what the mission actually is. It is 23rd November 2059, and this is Earth’s first mission to Mars. They have been there for over a year, and today is the day when every member of the crew dies. Brooke will be hailed as a hero back on Earth, leading to others taking her lead and pushing Earth’s space program further than ever before.

So the Doctor can’t alter anything. He shouldn’t - it’s Pompeii all over again. But he’s still going to see the end come, and it starts very soon after his arrival. Something is possessing members of the crew, something in the water supply. Something that even creates water; water that can seep through ceilings and airlocks, contaminating whatever it touches. Something that would just love to get to Earth, a planet with a surface covered 60% with water.

There’s no choice. The Doctor has to allow events to run their course. Doesn’t he?



The TV listings magazine Radio Times played this up as ‘the scariest Doctor Who ever!’ That might be good advertising; it’s not the most honest, though. First of all, yes, this is one of the ‘horror’ adventures, and it succeeds admirably, but I’m not sure it can claim to be the scariest so easily. The real problem, however, is that it seriously undersells the adventure. If you’re only looking for a frightfest you’re missing half the content. After beating The Fires of Pompeii to death for botching its premise so much, I was amazed to see The Waters of Mars tackle precisely the same issue and pull it off.

The Fires of Pompeii asked why the Doctor couldn’t change history – why, for example, he couldn’t save people from the eruption of Versuvius, or prevent the Second World War. It then proceeded to spend the entire forty-five minutes avoiding having to answer the question. In The Waters of Mars the same situation arises. People are going to die if the Doctor doesn’t help, and because of history he can’t afford to help. (By the way, it’s good to see the problem happen with a future event – as I’ve said before, it’s very rare to see the Doctor refuse to change events in the audience’s own future) However, in Waters the question is (almost) ignored in favour of a different angle. There’s no companion to argue with. There’s just the Doctor, ever conscious that he should leave and not look back. Waters is about the crushing responsibility of knowing that people will die and doing nothing to prevent it.

The style of the episode – horror – is thus perfect for the dilemma. The more horrible the fate of the victims, the more agonising it is when you try to ignore it. In a brilliant scene towards the climax, the Doctor is walking back to the TARDIS in his space suit, which is still rigged up to the communications system. He is thus able to hear three people die, but he must keep walking…

And he can only do it at the last moment. At first he cannot leave the base, as his spacesuit has been confiscated. But by the time it is returned to him, the problems have already started. His natural curiosity won’t allow him to leave until the last possible moment, and neither will his reluctance to abandon the innocent crew. As the remaining survivors run around the central compound, collecting supplies for their ‘lifeboat’ rocket back to Earth, the Doctor stands there, watching them. Watching the monitors as the ex-human creatures try to get in. Not helping, but not leaving either.

One other person knows what’s going to happen. Captain Brooke is not the most easy-going of leaders, but she is brilliant at her job and cares about her team. The Doctor not only admires her for her professional achievements and the example she sets for the human race, but because she is at heart a good person. She also has the same drive as he does to explore the universe. She is someone he can relate to. His respect for her and his inability to keep his mouth shut leads to him dropping too many hints, and she finally gets the truth from him. In order to stop the creatures, Brooke will end up detonating a nuclear bomb under the base.

There are no hysterics, and Brooke is determined to fight, but she never questions the Doctor’s sincerity. She never tells any of the crew, and still tries to get to the rocket. But once she realises there is no other way out, she initiates the detonation procedure without a qualm, even whilst the Doctor finally tries to save the remaining crew members. Why would she prefer to walk to her own death than survive? Ironically, because of the Doctor.

To cushion the blow, the Doctor has told her what her death will lead to. Her death means that Earth will reach out even further into the cosmos, further than she could ever dream. If she does not die, history will be changed. This bit of sympathy means that Brooke knows her fate is fixed; she doesn’t want the Doctor to interfere because she doesn’t want history altered. She knows the law of unintended consequences.

And I’m on her side. Because the Doctor goes mad.

As he walks away from the base, hearing the deaths of the crew, the Doctor decides to fight back, time and history be damned. Donna Noble will get her wish, albeit too late for Pompeii. But what prompts this change of heart? The real answer is that the Doctor is psychologically incapable of letting go. He has to intervene or he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. But he rationalises this in a horrible, horrible way. He claims that he is the last of the Time Lords, so what he says goes. He is able to do anything at all, able to choose who should live and who should die.

That, my friends, is the most terrifying part of the adventure. The Doctor as God - something other Doctors would flee from as fast as they could. It is literally madness, and Brooke recognises it for what it is.

The Doctor rescues her. And then she shoots herself.

She has to. It might not matter where exactly she dies, but she has to die. As it turns out, not only for the sake of the human race, but for the sake of the Doctor. It brings him back to his senses, horrified by what he’s been saying.

One must wonder if Russell T Davies has been taking notes from critics here. I’m not the only one to complain about Davies setting the Doctor up as a god. This seems to be Davies’s response to such accusations, an answer that he would never go the full distance.

The Waters of Mars, then, is not a ‘mere’ horror story. But even if it were, it would be terrific. The monster make-up, with black mouths and cracked skin, is suitably horrible, but the genius is in making water the threat. The creatures are soaked in it, with it constantly pouring out of their cuffs and mouths, and a single drop of it is enough to turn someone. (I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few children were nervous about cleaning their teeth tonight!) Water can also get everywhere, leading to a brilliant moment as it cascades through the ceiling, trapping one of the crew members. In tears as it moves ever closer, her last sight is of a video transmission made by her children – a final remembrance before she transforms.

I’m also fond of the moment when we find out that one drop of water really is sufficient to turn someone. As the crew try to get to the rocket, the victim tells them that they have no choice; they must leave him behind…

There isn’t a single weak link in the cast, and I have to single two people out for praise. The first is Lindsay Duncan. Apparently the Doctor Who team have been trying to get Duncan to appear in the programme for some time, but something has always prevented them. I can only say that it was worth the wait. Duncan gives one of the best performances of a guest star in Doctor Who. Her role is difficult, but wholly successful. You believe in her character, you can see why the Doctor admires her, and when she argues with the Doctor just before her suicide the cold anger is almost tangible.

The second person deserving accolades is David Tennant. A few small moments aside, this is possibly the best performance he’s given yet as the Doctor.

I hope it continues, because the next two episodes are his swansong. The Master is back (hurrah! It’s John Simm, too!), as are Donna and Wilf – looks most promising!




PS – It appears that by 2059 Russia has legalised gay marriage. Congratulations, Russia. In order to fulfil the programme’s prediction, I recommend you draft the law as quickly as possible.
 
 
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Baron Scarpia
The website Good As You has unearthed a fascinating piece of history. In September 1917 the voters in Maine went to the polls once more, this time to grant or deny women the right to vote. Some people apparently voted no even though they didn't understand what the vote was about.

The anti-suffrage crowd was out in force, stoking up support for their archaic and unfair opinions. The pro-suffrage crowd pointed out that there was no good reason not to give women the vote. Newspapers carried adverts calling for equal rights.

And the pro-suffrage side lost, by a far greater margin than the pro-gay side lost last week.

The pro-suffrage side vowed to continue fighting. Two years later, the voters of Maine ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, and women gained the right to vote.

You can see some of the material at http://www.goodasyou.org/good_as_you/2009/11/maine-september-1917.html