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I:E - The Nearly A Good Episode Affair

Oh, episode three. Lovely, lovely episode three.

Episode three is like the sanctuary. The shining beacon of sanity, in the midst of all the horror. It's also a sad indication of what the show might have been, whilst simultaneously reminding us of what it actually is. Why is episode three so good? In a nutshell, because it's Terrell's story. It shows us what happened in 1944, after he saved the life of one of the crashed aliens. At the same time, however, it advances the story in 1997. Needless to say, these sections of the episode are nowhere near so satisfying.

Lots of humans mill about Terrell's spaceship, once again theorising about whether he and the big swirly are in cahoots. Have we not had enough of this conversation yet? Elsewhere, Reece and Knox spy on Terrell, and wonder if he is who he says he is. Cue a zoom in on Terrell, and a sharp stare into the middle distance. Hello, it must be flashback time - and yes, here we are in London, 1944. This is a Good Thing. For starters Chris Drake hasn't been born yet, so let us stay here for as long as mortally possible. Sadly that's not an option, as visits to 1944 are frustratingly fleeting; indeed this first one merely recaps what we've seen already, in episode one. Since this is only episode three, there's not really been time to forget any of that yet, but I suppose it does help set the scene - or would, if we were allowed to stay in 1944 a little longer. As it is we get only one very brief new scene there, as Terrell attempts to care for his wounded alien. Around him clamour lots of soldiers, all doing that annoying thing of somehow pronouncing 'lieutenant' as 'left-tenant'. What is it with British military types doing that? All of a sudden a senior officer arrives, and whisks the alien away, whilst insisting that he's German. Yes dear, of course he is. Then, in a jarring return to colour, we're zapped back to 1997. But I want to stay in 1944! There's good acting there! There's subtlety and pacing and atmosphere! Damn it, it's nice in 1944! But no. In 1997, some doctor arrives to begin snipping alien implants out of abducted soldiers. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the aliens had given some thought to the possibility of this happening, and as soon as she gets to work, the implant that she's poking incinerates, taking large swathes of brain tissue with it. So that'll be an oops, then.

Oh, and elsewhere, escapee abductee Wingco Friday drives about a bit in a stolen car, up to something sinister for the nDs. Which is nice, as he's played by one of our good actors. He doesn't speak, however, and we just see brief glimpses of him driving somewhere throughout the episode. So, not so good after all, then. Oh well.

Fortunately there's 1944 to save us. Hurrah! Terrell battles to convince the army that the alien is an alien, and not a German; only for us suddenly to not be in 1944 anymore. Hey? What? No! In 1997, Squadron Leader Knox is still insisting that the Russians are behind it all. She's even brought in Extraordinarily Wooden Boffin to help. Help what? She says he's an expert. In what? Alien spacecraft? Russian spacecraft? Unidentifiable technology? Failure to deliver dialogue with anything approaching conviction? At any rate he's there. Oh goody.

In a different bit of the base, meanwhile, Tucker and Drake have hit upon the answer that seems to have eluded everybody else. Namely that if you don't understand the craft, you could always try asking the pilot. Terrell promptly freaks out Tucker by instinctively knowing all about her experiences with the nDs. She asks him what they're after, and in a rare display of plot-related chattiness, he reveals that the nDs treat living tissue as something akin to playdough, and basically like to romp through space playing with life-forms for fun. And then we're back in 1944 again. Stop being so damn piecemeal about it! We discover that the crashed alien has been put in a secret sanitorium, where it's been beaten up, knocked about, and generally mistreated. The newly arrived Terrell plies it with blankets and enthusiasm, and soon has a little pet nurse hanging on his every word. They're really rather sweet together, trying to win their alien over with smiles and a cuteness offensive. Fastforward several weeks, and the three of them are having tea parties and playing at happy families; until a general comes along and orders Terrell to return to his duties if he can't find out any juicy military secrets. Because the alien is obviously a German. Are we really expected to believe that military types are this stupid? We currently have one in 1944 insisting that the aliens are Germans, and one in 1997 insisting that they're Russian. I appreciate that 'alien' isn't most people's first theory, but for goodness sakes, how stupid are we supposed to believe that these people are? They're all senior military figures, too. The lower down ones are the sympathetic ones, and the top brass are all idiots. Hasn't this been done before? About sixteen thousand times? Still, Terrell is wonderful in these scenes, all wide-eyed geekery, and determination to learn. I've always rather wanted Anton Lesser to play the Doctor, and it's scenes like this that remind me why. There he is, so small and slight, representing the last, desperate stand of intelligence against the military machine. I'd love to see him face off against a Dalek. But I digress, mostly because it's 1997 again. And I really think we're in need of a new paragraph.

So, 1997. Odd things are happening, which leads people to suddenly become very dramatic, in the by now familiar wooden fashion. The humans' toying with Terrell's ship has led to his people trying to contact him, sending everybody on Earth into a blind panic because they're apparently not able to figure out for themselves that messing about with alien technology might have consequences. Eventually Tucker brings Terrell in to deal with it all, before the entire cast self-combusts in a panic. He gets adorably misty-eyed when he explains that the tampering has set off a homing beacon. Hello? Homing beacon? People? The tooth? Do we remember what happened with the last homing beacon? Er... but no, everybody's forgotten about that. Okay then. Anyway, the alien search and rescue team are on their way. Poor sods. They have no idea what they're on their way to. The RAF immediately scramble lots of big machines, because that's worked so well for them so far. Somewhat unfortunately, the search and rescue team don't have a very good aim, and soon need searching and rescuing themselves, as they've managed to crash land into a loch. Nice one. Curious scene where Drake rescues the alien pilot in annoying slo-mo. It's like we're playing cliché bingo.

Back in 1944, Terrell and his pet nurse wander the sanitorium gardens at night. This is such a lovely scene. Why couldn't it all have been like this? In the grip of his own personal tragedy, Terrell is feeling his project with the alien slip away from beneath him. There's nothing he can do against the military machinery, and there's so much else that he can't fight against as well. In the gardens, human patients are being walked late at night, in an attempt to kill them off, to help save their relatives the bother of having to 'care' for them. The pet nurse, who's clearly besotted with an oblivious Terrell, tells him how unpleasant humanity can be to those who are different. "I understand," he tells her, in a scene so filled with subtext that it's really quite beautiful. "I understand most particularly." What life has Terrell led, prior to this point? We see such echoes of his life in the years before that spaceship crashed, and it begs for elaboration. He's the only character in the entire series who has these extra dimensions. Everybody else is just a name, trundling along from a to b. Terrell is the sole person here who has motivations, a past, depth, and such tantalising hints at things we've not seen. Why is he the only character to actually be a character? Why was nobody else given these layers? It's as though the writer, having created him, just couldn't be bothered anymore. Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it.

And back in 1997, our crashed pilot needs medical treatment, which is unfortunate, as I wouldn't trust this lot with a sticking plaster. A nonetheless delighted Terrell chats to it, in a quiet murmur, so that we can't hear whatever alien noises they're making. It soon becomes obvious that it's giving him some terrible news, though. Whatever it is, it causes him to kill the alien, and then sink into a depression. Things are no better for him back in 1944, where he's got himself stuck into the "there's two types of aliens here" argument that had Drake and co all bogged down during episode two. On the other hand, he does get himself a glorious speech about the mindlessness of war, and the way that the military is determined to throw away all chance of learning with the alien. And it really is a lovely speech. Jed Mercurio can write so well. Is the awfulness of this show really just down to the unbelievable naffness of the rest of the cast? I don't think it can be, but something is clearly to blame, because this episode is filled with scenes that would grace any drama. It's baffling. Terrell's not baffled, though. He's determined. Ordered to leave his alien friend, he sets out for a desolate field, and goes about getting himself abducted. Left behind, the alien is put out in the snow and left to die; and, in the future, Terrell finally opens up and tells the truth. He's been keeping quiet to protect his people, but he's just heard that they're all dead. The whole race committed mass suicide to escape the nDs - all save our search and rescue friend, who was waiting for Terrell. Aw. The nDs steal bodies, and corrupt them for their own, violent ends, and the poor, peace-loving aliens no longer wanted to be used in that way. Now Earth stands alone against the nDs.

So, history continues to repeat itself, then. An alien comes to Earth in 1944 to warn humanity of the nDs, only to be shot down, imprisoned, tortured, misunderstood, and not listened to. Then, in 1997, Terrell comes to Earth to warn humanity of the nDs, only to be shot down, imprisoned, tortured, misunderstood, and not listened to. This was Earth's last hope, and they blew it. The nDs are here now, the only possible allies are dead, and there are no defences. Humanity is screwed; mostly because of Chris Drake being a jerk. Which is good. It's a nice note to end on; a nice hint of desperation, and a dark future for the planet. Bye bye episode three. Large chunks of you were wonderful. Sadly it's back to business as usual in episode four though, so farewell subtlety, and so long atmosphere. It's goodbye to something else, as well - but that's for next time. Until then, here are this week's visual aids.

An alien, crash-landed in 1944. All of the aliens are being played by the same person, which I suppose is one way of doing things. It does give them all a rather oddly cloned look, though.

An alien implant, "about a millimetre across", we're told. Except that really doesn't tie in with those forceps, which we've just seen in the doctor's hand. Either she's a giant, or she's operating on a midget, in that case.

Jo Dow gets his weekly line of dialogue, whilst searching for Wingco Friday.

Elsewhere, the main cast stand in a cupboard and talk in dramatic voices. For there are aliens around, you see (or possibly Russians). And there may even be two kinds of aliens (or one kind of Russian). Either way, we'd best discuss this urgently, even though we don't actually have anything to discuss.

In 1944, Terrell and his pet nurse attempt to communicate with the alien.

Who hugs its blanket, and looks sad and wistful.

Wooden boffin manages to switch on part of Terrell's ship. I don't think it's doing anything particularly here, but it's certainly pretty.

Alien tea party!

Obligatory moronic top brass.

Why yes, I am a geek. Isn't it all exciting!

The alien draws a strange symbol on a piece of paper, in an attempt to communicate with Terrell.

Noisy helicopters.

Drake and yet another crashed alien re-enact scenes from Aquamaniac vs Godzilla.

While the good actors share a sweet little scene back in 1944.

The clothes are better back in 1944. Maybe this has something to do with the story being better? You never know.

Terrell chats to his alien friend, and learns that the rest of their people are all gone.

His alien friend clearly didn't want to die without telling Terrell what had happened, and presumably also saying goodbye. Okay, I want a spin-off. The space adventures of Terrell and his alien boyfriend. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

Terrell sends his friend to join the others.

He then stands around being terribly sorrowful and angsty, whilst the rest of the cast demand answers. Yes, for goodness sakes Terrell. You've just lost your entire race, you've killed your best friend because he apparently asked you to, and you're all alone in the universe with your worst nightmare hovering overhead. Buck up and answer some questions, damn it. It's not like you've got anything else on your mind right now.

Back in 1944, Terrell and the alien stare up into space and wonder, whilst the poor lovelorn nurse has to accept that she's fighting a losing battle.

Terrell looks at the symbol drawn for him by the alien. There's nothing he can do to save his new friend, but he figures that he might be able to make amends somehow. He finds an open field -

- and sketches out the symbol in petrol. From where I don't know. It was rationed in those days, and the army supplies would have been kept under close guard, but... never mind. Given some of the other things they're asking me to quietly ignore, I think I can allow them this one as well.

Back in 1997, he agrees to tell the others what's going on. The nDs have been planning to devour Earth for some years, but have accelerated their plans now that they know humanity is aware of them. Basically, Earth is screwed because Chris Drake shot down Terrell.

So it's the end of the world, and it's all your fault, Chris. Now, is that the theme music that I hear beginning? I think we'll call this a cliffhanger, then. Goodbye.


( 2 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Nov. 16th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Based on this review, the plot actually sounds interesting, but like you say, it's all about Terrell and his story that gives this depth. That's a shame. That picture of his dead alien friend is a little gross, so their skin is like egg shells? How did it get cracked? Okay, I'm caught up and I eagerly await the rest of the series. :D
Nov. 16th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
The skull does look like an egg shell, doesn't it. Not a good evolutionary step, I'm thinking! Terrell thumps the alien on the head, which kills it instantly. In the book he explains that there's a pre-brain at the front of the skull, with no pain receptors, so it was a painless way to kill it. He also says that it asked him to do it. In the TV series he doesn't really say much of anything.

As far as your other point goes, the story could have been an interesting one, yes. It's been very, very badly realised, though!
( 2 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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