Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown:

Well this is more like it.The major thing to notice here is how genuinely weird and out of step this episode feels. OK, that may sound like stating the bloody obvious, but you don't realise quite how unsettling this episode is, and how unlike it's surrounding stories until you have it in context.Despite knowing that they weren't going to arrive, you still find yourself wondering when the TARDIS crew are going to arrive. (Just imagine how mind-blowing and weird their non-appearance must have seemed if you didn't know that was going to happen). And indeed, there's great racking of the tension, as it takes seven or eight minutes before the Daleks are even mentioned.And I suppose that sums up this episode - tension. Not much happens, but what does is focused, and controlled. Cory is a man on a mission, struggling to stay alive and get his warning out, and we believe it. It's written and played with total conviction. Cory is an instantly likeable character, no nonsense and quite tough. De Souza's voice is pure class in a glass, and one can only wonder why BF haven't dragged him in for a guest slot. It's all taken deeply seriously. I'm beginning to think that the difference between good and bad Who is conviction, and stakes. Belief and focus lend the story weight and gravitas, and the clear sense of threat undercuts the fun with a solid core, making it about something.The story itself is pacey and focused. It's slight, yes, but it doesn't feel padded - Nation manages to use the time to make his two central human's truly believable in a way he never bothered with in the Chase (the first ten minutes or so are pretty much only them, building the character and the tension), and making the encroaching threat believable and scary. There's a terrific sense of menace, and time running out in this episode. The other thing that surprises about this episode is its grimness. The baddies win, the goodies are all defeated, rather nastily. Cory almost certainly believes he has died failing in his mission, and the transformation and violation of Garvey/Lowery is an unpleasant way to go to say the least. The sudden shift in emphasis to ancient Greece for the next episode would probably have thrown all the viewers completely, as there's no obvious indication that this episode is going to be followed up - we end with the Daleks triumphant.Problems - the Vaaga plants are a bit perfunctory, clearly only drafted in to make another threat. And after Garvey dying then awaking, it seems a bit weird we don't see him again.One non-problem problem is that with its gritty, tough feel it doesn't entirely convince as Doctor Who. That's not a bad thing, though. Without the regular's it comes over as an extra, an add-on, and the different tone seems rather appropriate - odd to realise that the essential character and style of the series is defined by the Doctor himself. Marc Cory is a little cold and tough, and as a result so is this episode. The Doctor is warm and lovable, and so is the rest of the series. Whilst I like this episode, I can imagine tiring of an entire series made up of this kind of stuff. But it reminds us of why we love the Doctor. Cory is heroic, but blandly so. The Doctor is a hero.So a one-off without the Doctor that reminds us why we like him, and an unpretentious, simple and tense script that grips us from the start. The concept of a short self contained teaser trailer for the forthcoming epic is great. Excellent stuff.

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