Doctor Who #840: Dreamland

"Always count your steps, Saruba Velak. You never know when you might need to escape in a box."
TECHNICAL SPECS: The story is available on DVD. First aired in 6 parts on BBC Red Button service and online Nov.21-26 2009, then on BBC Two whole on Dec.5 2009.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is CG-animated and fights aliens at Area 51.

REVIEW: Doctor is back in animation, and unfortunately, they didn't stick to the 2D style used in The Infinite Quest, various DVD reconstructions of lost episodes and Scream of the Shalka. Who animation had a nice house style going, I thought, and the video game look of Dreamland seems far more ordinary. Don't get me wrong, there are some nice camera angles and lighting cues, but the figures aren't very expressive, and move stiffly. The previous style had the same limitations, but because it was so stylized, it could get away with it. Dreamland seems a victim of its budget, whereas The Infinite Quest (et al.) seemed like it was turning that weakness into a strength. No such problems with the sound design, which is generally strong. You might recognize some guest voices - David Warner as Lord Azlok - or not - if Georgia "The Doctor's Daughter/wife" wasn't credited up top, I wouldn't have spotted her behind Cassie's American accent.

But technical notes aside, how about that story by Sarah Jane Adventures showrunner Phil Ford? Well, aside from the connections to SJA (Prisoner of the Judoon uses the Roswell craft seen here, and the Alliance of Shades shows up later), I've to say I'm impressed at how well Ford captures the 10th Doctor's idiom. Tennant is more entertaining here than he was in The Infinite Quest, or The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, for that matter. Like The Infinite Quest (and in part because it first aired in six parts), Dreamland is heavy on action - the flying saucer/vintage jet fighter dogfight prefigures Victory of the Daleks' - and variety of alien creatures - Greys, robotic Men in Black, bug-eyed monsters and a swarm of insects that travels as a jellyfish-like brain. It helps alleviate the boredom the environments might otherwise have evoked over time.

Despite the good/evil alien split, Ford doesn't make the story's moral landscape black and white. The Greys, nominally "good" and "victims", are intent on genocide and are seen fighting a violent war that seems at odds with their cuteness. The Viperox are nominally "evil", but the Doctor wants to save them because he knows they'll evolve to do some good in the future. Even the U.S. military, who kept a Grey locked up for years and allied with the Viperox to get their hands on a doomsday weapon to kill the Soviets, can be reasoned with. Unfortunately, he doesn't do as well with the temporary companions, Cassie and Jimmy, who are more or less ciphers. And hey, how about giving aliens a different weakness than loud noises? Seems to come up a lot of Phil Ford scripts.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's not my favorite animation style, but the story isn't unpleasant. It may actually be the best of the tenth Doctor's 2009 appearances. I said it!


Craig Oxbrow said...

Aye, loud noises are rather common weaknesses in the Whoniverse - which makes sense in an audio-visual format like TV of course, and especially with a hero whose main form of defence is a thing that makes loud noises. I hadn't noticed the corollary with Phil in particular, though...

Siskoid said...

I guess I just came off the Rakweed episode.


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