I’d never seen this curio before, and having finally caught up after eight years, I don’t feel like I’ve been missing out. With the cartoon-y art style rendered in clunky CGI, it felt like I was watching someone else play a computer game. The structure added to this, with the action jumping from place to place every six minutes, featuring such stock levels as the escape from an underground base, the flying saucer chase and the abandoned mine cart.
Luckily the setting was pretty good – I can’t believe it’s taken the show this long to visit Area 51 – and it was fun to hang around with the actual Roswell aliens. But frustratingly, the premise wasn’t done justice by the plot, which had plenty of good ideas but very little drama. It relied too heavily on scenes ending with one of the various baddies turning up unexpectedly, and it seemed like this was the only method used for moving the plot forward.
It also resorted to borrowing a lot of its imagery from elsewhere in popular culture. I’ll forgive the Men In Black, as they’re a phenomenon that predate Men In Black, but the discovery a giant alien queen and her eggs was extremely familiar. They might have got away with it had The Doctor not directly name-checked Aliens five minutes earlier. Then there was the big warehouse full of alien artifacts in crates, from which – just to further add to the video game vibe – The Doctor escapes by sneaking around in an upturned box, like he’s Solid Snake.
(Incidentally, the Cold War Americana setting really reminded me of The Impossible Astronaut, which was still a couple of years away. I bet there’s fan fiction that says the diner in this is Clara’s TARDIS.)
The most disappointing aspect was the two one-off companions, neither of whom had anything approaching a distinctive character – they were purely there as plot devices and nothing more. One was Georgia Moffett, sounding a lot like her mum, whereas the other guy just sounded like he was reading each line off a card one-by-one. There was no shortage of talent in the voice cast – although I didn’t notice until the credits that among them were spin-off legend Lisa Bowerman and Lester Freamon from The Wire – but several flat and dreary performances.
On the plus side, Tennant is pretty good, certainly the most confident of the performances on display. Which as just as well, seeing as by the time this weekend is out, I’ll have reached the end of his tenure…
Today saw the sad news about Deborah Watling. She starred in a run of truly excellent stories, and was part of an iconic TARDIS team. In amongst the sadness, I was pleased to see this clip from Tomb of the Cybermen shared widely on social media; it stood out to me at the time as being particularly special, and it seems more poignant than ever now that neither of the actors are still with us. RIP.