Doctor Who: Dreamland – TV Review
Since November 23rd 1963 audiences have have traveled alongside a single character (in multiple incarnations) through time and space, to visit alien cultures, see astonishing points in human history and experience wobbly sets and laughable dialogue. Yet we have always gone along with it out of a sense of love and fun. Every time the nazi pepperpots showed up we were dutifully scared and cowered obligingly behind our sofas. When the Cybermen showed up wearing cricket gloves chasing a glowing evil statue… we persevered. Hell even when the Doctor himself got out-acted by that guy from Life on Mars and turned into the CGI abomination that was “Dobby the house-Doctor”… we shuffled our feet and politely agreed to ignore it and move on.
2009 however sees the doctor dip his toe tentatively into the murky waters of (no not Mars,) the CGI animated series. Following on from such stirring examples as Reboot, The New Adventures of Captain Scarlett, and Iron Man Armoured adventures, comes the television equivalent of The Clone Wars movie: Doctor Who: Dreamland. Dreamland is a six part story animated by a spin-off company from Britains best loved animation house Cosgrove Hall, the company responsible for great shows like Danger Mouse, Duckula, and even the 2007 show Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest. It features David Tennant as the voice of the Doctor and his real life ladyfriend Georgia Moffett, not playing the role she made famous on screen as the Doctor’s daughter: Jenny, but a generic American diner waitress called Cassie.
Set in Roswell: New Mexico eleven years after the crashed spacecraft arrived, the story is pretty typical Doctor Who fare: A secret invasion of an alien race, some misunderstood good aliens (in this case the archetypical ‘Greys’) and a local army who is a little too gung ho and shooty-happy for the Doc’s liking. Add in a couple of useful short term companions and you have yourself a plot. Or thereabouts. The Doctor saves the day, saves the good-guys and stymies the bad-guys without committing genocide. Its exactly what you expect. What i really didn’t expect however, is the appalling animation!
This is where Dreamland falls flat on it’s cell-shaded wooden-as-fuck ass. It looks utterly awful! The Animation house has put a lot of effort into creating the backgrounds and the vehicles. Most of the locations look fine, albeit a bit sparse… Even the character models don’t look too bad in a stylised, post-Clone-Wars kinda way… But the animation!!! Oh sweet mother of god!!!! Clunky, un-emotive, clockwork marionettes would have it all over these characters! At times they slide around the sets, clearly uninterested in animating actual walk-cycles, and other times they run around bouncily evoking a sense of weightless moon physics!
I hesitate to say it, but i wonder if the animators have even heard the term “motion capture” or even “smoothing your motion paths”? When a character puts his hands up, they go up to exactly where they stop… and lock there. You can SEE the keyframes folks… that’s how bad it is. Tennant’s vocal performance is fine, but when overlaid by a bizarre puppet with plastic looking hair, and poor lip synch it becomes ham fisted and childish. And its even worse with the secondary characters who we have never seen in real life. Their bland lifeless expressions are counterpointed by fairly bland voice acting making them seem even less interesting than the Doctor! The Monsters: The Viperox manage to be only vaguely intimidating, even with the usually awesome as hell David Warner (yes Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman the Animated Series) providing the voice of the Viperox general.
Unfortunately the script writers have fallen back on some now well worn cliches with these baddies and made them generic ALIEN rip-offs, including an unintimidating be-crested Queen who is laying eggs in a cave. (incidentally this aired the same week as an episode of the Clone Wars cartoon which did EXACTLY the same thing! Is it “Aliens” apreciation week and nobody told me?) On an interesting side note, this story is tied into the overall continuity nicely by a couple of references in the Sarah Jane Adventures, including re-using the UFO ship model; a pleasant distraction which still does little to help the overall sense of this being “too rushed”.
There are moments here that feel like great doctor who, and there are aspects of the story that feel like really fun sci-fi (the battle sequence between the “greys” and the Viperox is like a crazy 1970′s funk-synth-pop album cover) but overall the quality lets it all down. Animation is a great vehicle for the Doctor, it allows him greater freedom and more expansive sets and explosions like you have never seen… it needs to be done better though. That is the thing that has shocked me more than anything else; that the BBC would allow this to go out the way that it is! Generally known for making sure that their productions are of a high standard, the Beeb have allowed something that borders onto amateurish be released as a part of the their flagship title! Its utterly baffling!
This one gets a SHITE PLUS from me. It is so sad to see that some of David Tennant’s last outings as the Doctor are so underwhelming.
Have you been to Dreamland? Do you think i’ve been too harsh on the old Beeb on this production? Or am i spot on the money? Feedback and let us know!
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