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Reviews By X-alt
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From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
7
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Reviewed By: X-altReview Date: 2/11/16 5:41 pm
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

'The Aztecs' have in common with previous episodes that, like 'Marco Polo' before it, it is an historical episode, and that, like '10,000 BC', it is only four-episode short which, as a result, gives an interesting mixture because, unlike 'Marco Polo', the plot evolves more rapidly, though it is a bit less complex than the aforementioned seven-episode story, and, unlike '10,000 BC', it has a real four-episode plotline, with not so unfamiliar issues at stake. The pivotal ones here are that (a.) a human sacrifice is due to take place and that (b.) Barbara will try to use her powers to prevent it, committing the precise same mistake as settlers had -- or will -- during the colonization of South America, that is, try and civilize the savages to help them get rid of their barbaric rituals: "Human sacrifice is their religion," the Doctor reminded her in episode 2.

In this respect, the story is often praised as the first, in the whole Whoniverse, to have dealt with the problems of changing the course of historic events -- problems which the Doctor raises explicitely when he told Barbara with very meaningful words at the end of episode 1: "History can't be rewritten. Not a line. [...] What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know. Believe me, I know." Her efforts, however, reveal pointless since she fails to prevent the sacrifice of a man who refuses to be denied "honor".

As early as episode 1, called "The Temple of Fear", Barbara is established as one of the leading characters of the story -- it is therefore not surprising that she should appear, along with Susan however, before the Doctor in the introducory scene. The relationship between the two characters -- Barbara and the Doctor -- grows progressively more complex, though pretty much erratic and changing at the same time.

As opposed to Ian, who we learn received training when he took his National Service, or to Susan, unsurprisingly AWOL in in the two middle episodes, Barbara is rapidly presented as the specialist, or at least, an Aztec culture enthusiast. It is a shame though that her knowledge of Aztec culture should limit to a debate over human sacrifice. Yet there is something more that contributes to make the story a good and captivating one: for one thing, unlike the Doctor, she might have been aware (as John Lucarotti probably was when he wrote this story) that offering cocoa to an Aztec woman, as the Doctor did in episode 3, was a way to propose to her.

Most interestingly, the story provides fresh outlook into Aztec society: Autloc is the first Aztec "prototype" whom the time travelers encounter, as opposed to the "butcher", a noun used to characterize Tlotoxl. In fact, though knowledge of Azstec history in the 1960s was not as detailed as it is today, as a result of the revisionist wave of the late 70s-80s, it could be argued Tlotoxl is more the product of story-telling than he is of a mere stereotype, since he has the unpleasant role of the troublemaker, the antagonist, the bad guy. The binary formed by Tlotoxl and Autloc was very common at the time in Doctor Who, and can be found in many episodes.

In this respect, it can be said that it is even characteristic of story-telling as it was in the 1960s and yet it definitely raises matters of interest for contemporary audiences, most notably as a result of the Doctor's "Not a line" speech which we still find in modern episodes (season 30/ series 4 and season 32/ series 6 in particular). Despite the absence of science fiction elements, at least in terms of extraterrestrials, and some stereotypical characters, the overall result is that this four-episode story can be shown to anyone today and remain all the more relevant.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
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Reviewed By: X-altReview Date: 2/5/16 7:44 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

When I first watched season 3, The Ark was one of my personal highlights, "The Dalek's Master Plan" taken aside (of course), because I found the story most compelling and was also really curious about Dodo Chaplet, "The Ark" being her first trip. It is also quite funny, though the precise term is "ironic", to see her compare what she sees to Earth, the fauna being obviously Earth-like (the chameleon, the monitor lizard -- the varan -- the pachyderm). The overall effect is quite destabilizing at first since the first alien thing you see is a Monoid, an alien race that is probably the saddest element about this episode, not only because of its poor haircut, but also because of its evolution and story. But there are other topics in this episode that are interesting: miniturization as a form of punishment. Dodo's chill is also a plot-triggering element, in episode 1 it is used to foster suspense, and is later used, in episode 2, as a plot twist (it becomes a "Plague"), though a very previsible one (at least for modern audiences). Steven also emerges as a thorough time and space travaler: not only does he lecture Dodo at the beginning of the story, before the Doctor appears in fact, he is also the first to directly communicate with the humans in the Ark and to establish basic contextual facts of the story, such as the time and place: the Earth is "dying" and about to be "swallowed" by the Sun.

At the end of episode 2, you even have images recorded by the long-time scanner showing the final moments of our dear blue planet. Steven accordingly deduces that the TARDIS crew has traveled "a million years" into the future (the Doctor confirms a few scene later and establishes that they have traveled "ten million years"). Interestingly, one of the characters establishes that they "left Earth one last time", which surprises Steven. These very words would open a wide field of possibilities for future episodes. Still about Steven, he is also the first medium used to introduce the Monoids, the extraterrestrial race whose story is in many respects identical -- or at least -- close to the Oods in the new series, although (unlike them) their condition as slaves is made less obvious, since they are first introduced as "friends" during the expeditive trial in episode 1 (trial which by the way foreshadows that of the TARDIS crew in episode 2), and eventually evidenced throughout the first two episodes. Moreover, Steven is put to the front of the show during the trial in episode 2. It is he who speaks of the Ark inhabitants' fears "of the unknwon". Aboard the Ark, after Steven's debriefing with one of the Guardian, the Doctor appears in a very dramatic way to ease the fears of the Ark humans. In a manner reminiscing of casual science fiction issues, the crew is confronted to a very divided society, with a group of skeptics who think they have to spread the plague on purpose, and the enthusiasts, embodied by the Commander (interestingly the first to catch Dodo's cold).

While in the first two episodes, the Ark inhabitants knew about the Daleks but had never heard (at least as suggested by the character of the Commander in the first episode) of Noah's Ark, which Dodo first mentioned when the Guardians explained what the purpose of the ship was, that is, to reach Refusis in 700 years, in episodes 3 and 4, the ship is called "the Ark". In the last two episodes, indeed, the story is continued in a very surprising and enjoyable manner: we actually see what happens 700 years later in the last two episodes and a cooler thing is that a Monoid (r)evolution: evolution because they can talk now, and revolution because they seized power. It is also revealed by the Monoid leader that the virus mutated eventually and that the Doctor did not really succeed in curing the fever, that is, undo his own misdeeds. Our first meeting with the Refusians is even more interesting: they are invisible and the Monoid known as "2" becomes even worse than the humans 700 years before for he suggests quite explicitely that the Monoids are determined to get rid of everything that is unlike them.

The line of thought here, as stated by one in the last episode, is that human beings are too blind in their faith to realize that the Monoids will not tolerate their coming on Refusis. Part of the irony here is that the audience knows they are not, except for a few devoted servants. Interesting elements in this respect include the use of invisible aliens, the Refusians, who become the victims of an alien race that used to be silent, and are used a couple of time by the First Doctor as objects of irony ("I haven't seen any") and nuclear diplomacy. All these are at the center of action during episode 4. I thought it was a shame to reveal where the bomb was as early as the first minutes of the episode, knowing that it was precisely at the center of the action. This kind of dramatic irony killed the plot... a little. Perhaps it was seen as a good means to justify how easily Steven came to discover where the bomb was.

A necessary, though unsurprising, addition in order to thicken the plot accordingly, was to shed light on the internal dissent among the Monoids over the colonization of Refusis. The overall effect, however, is that the Monoids appear as stupid strategists as conveyed by their haircut -- it becomes even more so obvious when they start killing each other. The end, however, insists on compromise and avoids the killing of all Monoids ("Unless you learn to live together, there is no future for you on Refusi says one of the natives"), which is, in other words, a proper and decent ending, though not so unusual in Doctor Who. Dodo's clothes, nonetheless, as for Steven's stripped jumper, are probably not the most surprising thing either since the end of episode 4 introduces the "Celestial Toymaker" in a very intriguing manner.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
7
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
6
Replay Rating:
7
Effects Rating:
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Has Prerequisite(s):
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Reviewed By: X-altReview Date: 2/5/16 7:36 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

Here is a severly underrated story which begins as the story of young adults sleeping in a "spooky" crypt, a "pump house": "Well I'm not too keen on the neighbors" is probably the funniest quote in the four-episode story given that comedy is utterly absent from it. In parallel, there's the Gallifrey plot (and the noted presence of Colin Baker). An air of mystery lingers throughout the story and it took me a couple of episodes before I was able to join the two given that a great majority of the plot centers on the Doctor himself, as he reveals himself the only medium for one of his most underrated archenemy to reappear.

Highlights were the return of Time Lords as early as episode 1, and especially Omega -- came as no surprise for me, as evidenced by the costume, the fact that he comes from another "dimension", as well as the overall matter/antimatter intrigue laid out as early as episode 1 (the Doctor, however, is very long to react and identify the creature "bonded" with him) -- and the (short) absence of Tegan, giving Nyssa more screen time (I think she was left in the background in season 19 due to the presence of two other companions with an history -- something quite new for a companion at the time!) as she's the only one to attend to the Doctor when he's in trouble, both in the TARDIS (episode 1, when the "bonding" began) and on Gallifrey, where she pleads for the Doctor's innocence (episode 2) or after his mind was transferred into the Matrix, leaving him helpless and incapacitated (episode 3). Plus, we're not even sure, at least in episode 1, that Tegan will definitely come back given that, during season 19, one of her principal concerns had clearly been to go back home and be sure not to miss her professional interview at the airport she was driving to when she met the Doctor. This has changed in season 20 and she appears eager for adventure (in episode 4 she is even happy to have "got the sack") and plays the role of the leader in the Earthbound plot, especially in episode 2 (she is captured by Omega in episode 3 only to be used in order to "persuade" -- blackmail -- the Doctor).

I must say I found it an excellent episode to begin season 20, and a good episode overall, probably one of Fifth's best in terms of convincing acting and intrigue. An interesting addition to the Whoniverse was probably the introduction of the "Matrix", introduced in episode 1 and recurring throughout the story. We also learn of Leela's marriage to a Gallifreyan. What I liked about this episode is also the characterization of Nyssa, who I thought had been a bit redundant in the previous season, who is seen kicking asses in the two middle episodes... at last! More generally, episodes dealing with the relationship between the Doctor and his people are rare, and often misunderstood (as in New Who's The End of Time). When Zorac declared in episode 2 that "each and every time the Doctor returns to Gallifrey there's violence", an older Time Lord, Councillor Hedin, answers: "Perhaps it is we who should modify our approach".

It is true that the Time Lords had so far left Doctor with almost no initiative ("The War Games", "The Three Doctors" etc.): though deemed not to have been "cooperative" by Castellan in episode 2, using Romana as example, any hooked audience would remember that the first time they heard about the Time Lords was this story in which the Second Doctor is forced to regenerate and sent to Earth, or that the Third Doctor had to bargain with them after the 10th anniversary story to regain the right to travel in time and space, or that they forced him to travel to Skaro in order to destroy the Dalek in season 12 etc. This episode conveys new outlooks for the Time Lords, showing them clearly as dependent on the Doctor -- as they already were in Omega's first episode. A shame that the character of Omega is not properly explored and that he remains a 'baddy', because the existence of a Time Lord castaway in a world of anti-matter is a very interesting theme, though it was far less exploited than in "The Three Doctors".

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From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
7
Plot Rating:
7
Acting Rating:
9
Replay Rating:
7
Effects Rating:
8
Has Prerequisite(s):
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Reviewed By: X-altReview Date: 2/5/16 7:23 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

A quite polemical episode in that the big questions that came out were that (a) why would the Daleks beg the Doctor for help? The Doctor's coming was desgined as a trap and, obviously, he did not really have the choice. Then (b) how on Earth can the Daleks so easily "acquire" the Doctor, Amy and Rory. If you overlook dramatic convenience, the purpose intended was to speed up the intrigue. Then came real continuity questions, questions whose answers either give the impression that you try to justify the writer's laziness or that you are just looking for excuses, such as (c) how is that possible that Skaro was not destroyed -- as seen in "Remembrance of the Daleks"? My guess is that when you destroy a planet, you don't necessarily eradicate it from space. Plus there's the "Skaro = home" theory, as seen in a previous episode of NuWho when the Daleks claimed Earth as "New Skaro". In a sense, Moffat simply exploited a continuity hole... but from a 'literary critic' point of view, he did even more.

The point when watching "Asylum" is that all these questions are not really relevant when it comes to re-introducing the Daleks. Just like Davros, the Daleks return every single time you think they have become extinct. What I liked about this episode is that Moffat has worked -- not only in this episode in particular but in a couple of others -- on aspects of Dalek society which we tend to forget, in the same manner we tend to forget that in every society has their madmen [and madwomen - hinting at Gilbert & Gubar], and their graveyards. For a long time, history was written in relation to great men, or figures (not to say women), and nations. Ever since the 1960s, historiography has taken a new turn, and is now also interested in peripheric areas like asylums and prisons (M. Foucault), as well as graveyards. This episode is the first in a group of some others, and introduce the audience with mad Daleks. The plot twist, our dear Clara, is in this respect the most revealing case in the lot, though the least expected one -- at least for me. Similarly, Amy's delusions are also part of this inquiry leading the audience inside the mind of a Dalek (I mean that's just obvious in retrospect isn't it?).

What must be retained from this digression is the fact that this whole inquiry into Daleks' psyche is probably a means used by Moffat to de-manicheanize the Daleks. I must reckon this episode really caught me, and I liked the prequel too. The fact that the Doctor is given a mission by the Daleks annoyed me at first, for reasons explained above, but I actually believe it to be part of a Dalek's plan to talk the Doctor into doing the dirty work -- whether they are lying about the non-efficiency of their missile or not -- and, hopefully, get him killed. Involving his companions in such a plan is consistent with the Pandorica intrigue of series 5 (season 31), or with the duplicates of Tegan and Turlough in the third episode of "Resurrection of the Daleks" (season 21) so I really overlooked the first six minutes of the episodes (the exposition scene) and the rapidity with which all events took place.

As, finally, for the "soufflé girl" mystery, it is in my opinion probably one of the best ways to introduce a new companion. It must be admitted that such introduction had never been tried before in the live-action franchise and I thought it was well-done (retrospectively of course). Plus, it added to the overall quality of the plot. The characterization of the Ponds is also interesting because it shows how Amy has evolved since she was introduced, turning from a mean girl who liked to tease Rory, to an empathic and devoted adult who likes to tease Rory. Unlike Rose, she certainly did not let go of her boyfriend to match with a human flesh copy of the Doctor... and that's a big difference. Not the best Moffat's episode, but certainly a very novative one. I take discontinuities to be part of what Doctor Who has always been. The real question is: Is it a reason to add even more discontinuities? Well, that's more debatable.

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