The Pulse: Smith and Jones

Pull up a bar stool and listen in on Gareth and Steve’s unique insights into Series 3, beginning with Smith and Jones

Steve: Well, Gaz me old mate, what did you make of that? I thought it had all the hallmarks (cliches?) of a Russell script-opener, but written with a little more care than his previous two attempts. Rose was a right old mess of introductions, explanations and wafer-thin plot and New Earth was an unholy slice of ill-judged campery.

Gaz: Well, compared to those – it’s a masterpiece! Funny enough though, I didn’t really think about it as a bit of new Who to be dissected on my first viewing; just let it wash gently over me, which given New Earth’s shortcomings in comparison is no bad thing. I did enjoy the conference call device to introduce Martha’s entire family and was quite grateful for the general brevity of storytelling which took us from London to the moon in eight minutes flat. A lot better than the load of smug arse about apple grass and space hospital lobbies that greeted us this time last year.

Steve: Yep, not to mention the stock zombie ending, already done to death in The Unquiet Dead and The Doctor Dances. The Judoon were impressive – I thought their ‘dialogue’ before they got their translators switched on was funny, let’s have some more of that. Maybe in a few years there’ll be degrees in Judoon like Klingon. Or maybe not.

Gaz: MoFoLoCroFoSoFoCro – gah! I did like them actually. For Rhinos in spacesuits they seemed to be remarkably well sketched, motivated, professional and credible.

Steve: He must have a fetish for animals in spacesuits. Remember the little piggie in Aliens of London?

Gaz: Indeed! As for this new lot, you’d have to say after Utd’s recent Champion’s League game in Rome, they look a lot more professional than the Italian Police. The thing is – I’m sure I’ve seen something similar in an old Doctor Who comic strip sometime previous. Ah that’s it – the Star Beast!

I mean you have Who landing in contemporary ‘anyplace Earth’/’anyplace hospital’, meeting a new companion Sharon/Martha and finding the inhabitants menaced by the Wraith Warriors/Judoon – fierce alien warriors who later turn out to be Space Police (of sorts). We later learn they are after a dangerous escaped criminal, but who could it be?

Surely not cute little Beep the Meep/cute little old dear? Oh dear, it is. As the plot progesses, the hospital is ripped from the ground and transported to the Moon/Blackcastle steel works is ripped from the ground and thrown into space and the Doctor incapacitated before Sharon/Martha revives him. Finally the Wraith Warriors/Judoon save the day by apprehending the Meep/apprehending and destroying the little old dear Plasmavore and things get back to normal. Sharon/Martha elects to join the Doctor on his travels and away they go on their merry way… ok, I’ve generalised a bit – but it’s not a million miles away is it?

Steve: You’re right – I read somewhere this week Mr Davies is a lifelong subscriber to DWM so I imagine he has his comic strip favourites. I would have done Tides of Time meself, but then I don’t expect the budget could stretch to the Doctor on a giant rollercoaster going between the legs of a fat Beelzebub… but then again there are some links… Smith and Jones seems to have the Tides of Time geezer Shayde and his brother too – looks like they’ve been struggling for work and settled for the non-speaking roles of two motorcycle couriers.

Steve: Isn’t Star Beast’s Sharon a black companion as well?

Gaz: Funny coincidence, eh? Still we do meet her best school chum and his mum in the Star Beast and both are well sketched in (literally) and motivated cast members – a subject close to your heart I think.

Steve: So – when is Mr Davies going to get families right? Martha is a terrific character so it shows he can pull off individuals, but the creaking stereotype of her father is beyond belief. Basic caricature!

Gaz: Funny thing is, I just felt myself not caring either way. I’m just not sure it was strictly necessary for the plot to introduce the family straight away – especially as compared to Rose’s family there seems to be a lot of issues to deal with, such as mid-life crises and adultery, the anger of a spurned wife, kids acting more adult than their parents, young men coping with unexpectedly becoming fathers. I just don’t see how you can deal with all these issues over a season when over half of your airtime is in the past, future or off-world.

Steve: That is a lot to get through – too much! Sounds like the writer is setting up material for a couple of years then. Is this safety net necessary, though? I can see the validity of some home life to give the way-out plots a human balance for the audience but this seems overcooked.

Gaz: Personally, I wouldn’t have thought so. As you say – it seems a bit of overkill. Personally, I’m surprised that one of Martha’s aunties wasn’t scheduled to have a wisdom tooth out in the hospital just as it zips off to the moon just to heighten the tension.

Steve: But then it would have been called “Tooth and Claw 2”. Good work from the special effects gurus this time out. The spaceships were fantastic and the hospital on the moon well-realised. Did you notice how the Judoon had an easy time walking through the no-grav lunar surface? Bet NASA wouldn’t mind some of that Rhino tech. Surprising how well the power stayed on the hospital too – that’s a damn good back up generator they’ve got.

Gaz: The visuals did look the part to be fair and they certainly made sure all the money was up there on the screen so to speak. Which is funny, as in many aspects the episode was a low budget affair, especially the motorcycle courier heavies and menacing old dear with straw. I hadn’t thought about the Judoon not being weightless though. Morris Barry would have had ‘em straight on the Kirby Wire – no mistake. Perhaps they’re a little heavier than us earthlings?

Steve: I agree with you about the cost-saving – they basically ran around a hospital for 45 minutes with a few exterior reminder shots and, hey presto, you give the illusion of constant off-world action on a budget. I see Murray Gold is up to his old tricks of quality and quantity – it’s like creating finely detailed carvings and then giving them a splash of paint with the thickest brush from his garage. Didn’t think much of his sub-Terminator shash for the Slabs, although his Martha theme is pleasing, if not as good or emotive as Rose’s theme. But then it may be grower and in the end less sentimental.

Gaz: Y’know; I don’t really remember much of the music now to mention it, although the Martha theme is a lot more thoughtful and simple.

Steve: Overall I’m pleased to see a better introduction than previous series, but the true test will come when we see if the audience take to Martha in the same way they did for Rose. Can’t see the ratings holding at 9 million every week, that’s for sure, despite the fact that RTD seasons seem to improve (more-or-less) as they go along.

Gaz: I think it’s fair to say it’s just a little more ordinary by the fact it’s on every year. Overall though, it’s not a bad opener and a decent little jumping off point for any new viewer which can’t be a bad thing. Be interesting to see if the Daleks have the same impact 4th time round…

Steve: I’m happy to give this one a 3 beer rating, what do you think mate? It ain’t no classic, it’s far too vacuous for that, but as an action runaround created mainly for the kids, it more or less fulfils its remit.

Gaz: I’d agree with three foaming treats for this solid, entertaining little piece of telly which, whilst heavy on the action and none too taxing on the mind, managed to pass 50 minutes pleasantly enough. Some good dialogue, nice set pieces with the hospital lift and Judoon moon-walk and a promising opener for Martha Jones. Wonder what comic strip he’ll remake next?

3 Star Tom

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