Saturday 11 May 2024

Space Babies - A Review

Series 14 gets underway with the programme shifting back to its traditional Saturday evening timeslot - or so the non-fan would think. Episodes are now debuting in the middle of the night in the UK (from midnight) to keep Disney+ subscribers in the USA happy. RTD2 has attempted to make light of this - wasting a two page editorial in DWM trying to justify it - but we all know why the timeslot change.
(The "Season One" nonsense is, of course, part of the same issue. We're to ignore all the history to please Disney since it's their first year of the programme - so kowtow to them we must).

If some aspects of broadcast are intended for the new co-producers, then the actual storyline of this opening episode is clearly intended for the youngest members of the audience.
Not only do we have the titular "Space Babies", but the plot revolves around things like snot and soiled nappies - puerile stuff.
We shouldn't expect anything higher from Davies. When it comes to his opening episodes, he always went for light-hearted fluff. They're designed to (re)introduce the Doctor and  / or companion and some of the concepts of the series for newbies.
There may be some darker undertone, setting up the story arc, but it's mostly just a bit of fun.

Unfortunately, Davies elects to deliver his introductions in a most unoriginal manner. Perhaps he thought no-one would remember The End of the World, because he lifts sections of it wholesale. We have virtually identical dialogue - which might have slipped past in different settings. But we get the Doctor and new companion whose name begins with "R" standing at a big window looking down on a planet. The imagery and the words are too familiar. There's also the upgraded phone call to mum, still alive in the past.
As far as the wider history of the series goes, the Doctor delivers a lengthy info-dump to Ruby.
The "stepping on a butterfly" bit comes from Martha's first trip into history.
Ruby thinks about the possibility of the TARDIS enabling her to meet her mother - like Rose with her dead dad in Father's Day.
The Doctor surreptitiously scans Ruby - just as the Doctor did with Amy in Series 5.

For their first proper outing together, the Doctor and Ruby have arrived on a space station which acts as a baby farm. This whole plot bears little thinking about. The planet has abandoned the station for economic reasons, but is happy to let the children exist - until they run out of food and oxygen and presumably perish... It's a really stupid plot, and Davies can't do anything to give it coherent context. He simply has a character claim that the planet is "strange" and leaves it at that.
Why the babies have remained as babies, yet developed in other ways, is also left unexplained. There's no logic to this situation.
In a sub-plot pretty much stolen from Mark Gatiss' Sleep No More, there's a creature roaming around the darkened levels of the station, seen mainly on CCTV monitors. It's known as the Bogeyman to the children and their grown-up nanny Jocelyn and, like the Sandmen, it turns out to be composed of some human organic waste product. The clue here is in the name...
I would rather have seen the creature being a manifestation of the children's fears / imagination, without the toilet humour aspects.

Davies has stated that he has no intention of ignoring developments set in motion by Chibnall. The whole "I'm adopted" shtick is referenced repeatedly.
The idea of the talking babies, even if unoriginal, can be witty and - for the most part - well done. It's a pity they chose to concentrate on Eric so much, as he was the least expressive of the children and the mouth movement simply didn't fit with the rest of his face.
The Bogeyman is a well realised creature, even if its background is silly.

The chemistry between Doctor and Ruby is great, though things are obviously rather rushed here. We really need to see both in more reflective mode to properly judge them. 
Here, the Doctor pretty much brags, Ruby looks and sounds impressed, then the Doctor thinks she's the best companion he's ever, ever had because she does something vaguely brave (despite the fact that all his companions have gone through the exact same cycle, only for him to dump them and move on).
Quite a bit of emotionally manipulative messaging going on, but this seems unavoidable these days.
At the end of the day, Space Babies is never, ever going to be regarded as a classic. It looks good but is  unoriginal and the story is infantile (a Horrible Histories target audience, I suspect) - so a perfect Davies opener. (S**t ending though... Literally).
Treat it as a bit of whimsey and it's fine - but with only 8 episodes this year, I would have expected better of Davies.

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