Well, look at that. We’re a tetralogy, now. Or quadrilogy, if you want to believe those Alien boxsets. It’s the penultimate heaping helping of televisual crap, so get ready.
10. Doctor Who (2005) 2×11 “Fear Her”
Ughhhh, “Fear Her.” The sole reason “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” didn’t make the cut (PIG PEOPLE? A HUMAN-DALEK WEARING SPATS? FUCK RIGHT OFF) is because “Fear Her” is that teeny bit worse. So, the TARDIS has taken David Tennant and Billie Piper to a quiet little English suburb in 2012, just as the Olympics are about to begin. People all around the neighborhood are disappearing because a little girl who’s more or less a hikkomori is trapping them in her crayon drawings because she’s playing host to a lost alien life form.
It’s pretty much as stupid as it sounds. The audience is made aware of who’s behind the disappearances early on, and far, far too much time is spent watching the Doctor and Rose faffing about the neighborhood, talking with uncooperative neighbors and maintenance workers while trying to puzzle out the bleedingly obvious solution to this riddle.
This episode could have been interesting, but the alien possession idea was badly mishandled. It mainly consisted of scenes with David Tennant trying valiantly to retain some level of urgency and sympathy while playing opposite a young actress whose idea of “alien” is apparently speaking in a hoarse whisper agonizingly slowly.
There’s yet another facet to this already-messy story. There’s a horrible demonic drawing in the girl’s closet that’s a representation of her abusive father, and the Doctor helps her confront her fear. It’s something of an extraneous element here. It does provide context for why the girl hides herself away, but it just doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the episode. I think we were supposed to learn a Very Special Lesson from this one, but it kind of got lost amidst everything else.
Even the usually lovely Rose and the Tenth Doctor set my teeth on edge in “Fear Her.” The script takes a wild stab at the sort of witticism and whimsy viewers had come to expect from the characters but it falls flat. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the best way I can describe it is that they were a little too cute about it. It felt like too much winking at the camera for me.
Oh, and the Doctor gets to light the Olympic torch in a cringeworthy, badly CGIed sequence. So enjoy that.
9. Battlestar Galactica 2×14 “Black Market”
So. Battlestar. Rag-tag fleet. Last remnant of humanity. Constantly pursued by Cylons. Naturally, resources are a problem. The idea of there being a black market within the fleet is certainly a logical one, but the episode wrapped around it is just shameful.
President Roslin is concerned that the black market is keeping vital supplies from being distributed fairly through official channels, instead reserving them for the highest bidder only. Okay, fine. The commanding officer of the Battlestar Pegasus seems to be involved somehow. He’s found murdered, and Lee Adama is assigned to get to the bottom of things. Okay, fine.
Also featured in this episode is Lee’s relationship with some hooker over on the leisure ship Cloud 9 and his good-guy affection for her daughter. Neither of which we’ve ever heard of before. He’s so enamored with this lady of the evening and her ill-gotten offspring because Lee is a unique snowflake with a special pain from a past lost love. Which we’ve also never heard of before. Given that Galactica is a character-driven serial drama and this is the twenty-eighth installment, you’d think that might have come up.
The black market ringleader is a big scary black guy because he’s a black guy and it’s a black market and…they’re…both..black….uhm. Yes, well.
He doesn’t like Lee poking around very much. So he sends some goons over to the hooker’s quarters, where she, her daughter, and Lee are beaten up. Hooker and Daughter are captured and taken to Prometheus, the black market hub.
Lee finds the kid and a whole bunch of others locked up in a storage room, waiting to be sold as prostitutes, before confronting Black Guy in his bar. There’s a stand-off and some tough guy posturing and yelling and it’s boring. Finally, Lee shoots Black Guy and decides not to shut down the black market after all, so long as they stop human trafficking and eat their greens.
The best thing about the episode is the commentary, really. I’ll always admire executive producer Ron Moore’s honesty about his projects. Every episode of Battlestar from mid-Season 1 on has a podcast commentary from Moore released a day or two after the episode aired. They’re also on the DVD and BluRay releases. Ron is always very candid and frank, especially when he feels something wasn’t up to snuff, like “Black Market” was.
I love commentaries, and I have a particular affection for very honest commentaries for awful episodes or films. It’s pretty fascinating to have people who were there talk about why certain choices were made, and why they ultimately didn’t work. I love it when people explain their disasters to me.
Part of the problem with “Black Market,” aside from the boredom factor, is feeling like it didn’t really amount to anything. The black market, while a solid concept, never really plays into the story before or since. Neither does Lee’s relationship with the hooker, or his Great Lost Love Pulled From Nowhere.
Galactica is a dark show, but that darkness is derived from the extreme circumstances the characters find themselves in on a regular basis. “Black Market” is just about the only BSG episode I can think of that seems to be grim because that’s what’s expected of the show and not because it makes much sense. It’s like a box to be ticked.
“Black Market” is also largely removed from the core cast aside from Lee. The episode asks that you care about the plight of flat, bland characters you’ve only just met who don’t do a good job of convincing you they matter. You’d have more fun eating wallpaper. All in all, it ends up feeling like a shaggy dog story that didn’t need to be told.
8. Enterprise 4×22 “These Are the Voyages”
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re the executive producer of Enterprise and it’s 2005. You’ve just been told that despite a marked improvement in quality over the past couple of years, the general public has zero interest in your show, and at that this season finale will be your last. What do you do? Do you make your best effort to tie up the series’ storylines? Do you try to provide what closure you can for the characters and what little audience you have? Or do you make another Star Trek: The Next Generation episode? If you’re Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the answer is the latter option, unfortunately.
Voyager and Enterprise were both accused at times of adhering to Next Gen‘s formula instead of using their unique premises to deliver a Star Trek experience no other series could provide. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. When I say “These Are the Voyages” is a TNG episode, I mean that it really is.
“These Are the Voyages” isn’t about any of the Enterprise characters, really, nor any of its core concepts. It’s not in any way the culmination of the series. No, this episode is about Next Gen‘s Commander Riker feeling indecisive.
Set during the TNG episode “The Pegasus,” Riker’s former CO, Admiral Pressman, has come aboard the Enterprise-D to hunt down the vessel they had once served on together, Pegasus. Pegasus was home to an experimental (and highly illegal) cloaking device, and it needs to be found before the Romulans get wind of it. Pressman is keeping the reason for the search from Picard, and Riker must decide whether or not to spill the beans. “These Are the Voyages” has Riker using the holodeck to recreate the original Enterprise NX-01 and confide in our regular characters in the hopes of making up his godsdamn mind.
This is just such a weird fuckin’ way to send off the series. Riker’s seeking advice for a dilemma we already saw the resolution of eleven years previously. His holographic recreation doesn’t even pick up where the previous Enterprise episode left off. It jumps us ahead six years, where Riker gets to observe a nonsensical hostage plot involving a recurring character’s offspring, a confrontation leading to a regular character’s death, and the last few moments before Captain Archer walks onstage to deliver a speech at the founding of the Federation. Which we don’t get to hear because Riker is feeling better now. And that’s cool, because it’s not like how the Federation came to be was a focal point of the show or anything.
The Next Generation may have been a much more popular show, but hijacking another program’s finale is just a low blow. What a slap in the face. The regular cast is relegated to little more than a B plot in their own show so Jonathan Frakes can show us why he should no longer wear one-piece clothing. The time skip and the events thereof are jarring and glossed over much too quickly to have much impact beyond aggravation. It doesn’t really matter, since it’s all a holographic simulation anyway.
Writers involved with Enterprise have said that had there been a fifth season, we would have resumed the Enterprise timeline from where we left off prior to “These Are the Voyages,” making the whole exercise even more pointless. They’ve also stated that this episode would have been the finale in either case, not that it’s any less awful. Berman & Braga have gone so far as to refer to this episode as a valentine to the fans. Well, sure, if your idea of a valentine is a giant middle finger followed by a swift kick in the ass.
My advice? Just pretend this doesn’t exist. The previous episodes, “Demons” and “Terra Prime,” are a great two parter with a wonderful villain, interesting ideas, a lot of action, and leaves the characters and the plot at an emotionally satisfying end point. And then there’s the fucked up little appendix known as “These Are the Voyages.”
10. Doctor Who (1963) 2×16 – 21 “The Web Planet”
Yes, you read that right. Episodes sixteen through twenty-one. And no, I’m not cheating. For the uninitiated, Doctor Who‘s first 26 seasons were structured rather differently than the modern incarnation. Instead of NuWho’s usual format of single episodes with the occasional two-parter that may or may not contribute to a season arc, during the classic years, each season was divided into multiple story arcs (with occasional exceptions). These stories ranged anywhere from two episodes up to fourteen, though four and six parters tended to be the most popular.
“The Web Planet” is a six parter, so there’s not much point in me picking on one single episode. They’re all of a piece, and they’re all terrible. We’ve discussed the episode on Lonely Gods, which you can find here. Take a listen if you’d like to hear the doldrums of Season 2 make David Rhinehart and I ever more depressed.
The TARDIS arrives on a desolate, seemingly empty alien world, and after some exploration by the Doctor and his companions, it turns out it’s home to a race of ant-men known as the Zarbi. During the early years of the series, the Daleks had become a huge success with merchandising out the yin-yang, and so more than a few episodes went out of their way to feature aliens and monsters in the hopes of striking gold twice.
They might have succeeded later on with the Cybermen, but the Zarbi just didn’t cut the mustard. Prior to recording the Lonely Gods episode, I received an instant message from Dave in incredulous all-caps:
GIANT ANTS WITH PEOPLE LEGS
They look absolutely fucking ridiculous, even by 1960s standards. The costumes are cumbersome, fiberglass monstrosities, and the poor actors stuck inside them keep bumping into the sets because they can’t fucking see where they’re going.
It turns out these Zarbi aren’t the proper owners of this world. They take orders from the Animus, which does not, unfortunately, allow you to run across the rooftops of Renaissance Italy. It’s this virulent, jellyfish-like organism that’s sucking the life right out of the planet. The planet’s natural inhabitants, a race of equally-stupid looking butterfly men called the Menoptra, have come to reclaim it. And that’s more or less it. The Doctor and his companions try to help the Menoptra against the Zarbi, and then there’s also a race of underground grub people with Cheech Marin accents for no reason.
“The Web Planet” seems to be doing its absolute best to make enjoying it as difficult as possible. I applaud Doctor Who for trying something as ambitious as this when TV was in its infancy, but in this case their reach exceeded their grasp. The story is an overlong, slow as molasses revolution tale. The biggest strength these episodes had was the rapport between the Doctor and his three companions, but we don’t get a whole lot of it. Everyone is quickly separated and stuck with an annoying alien doing almost nothing at all besides wandering ever so lethargically around rocky sets. The ineptitude on display is staggering. It makes you want to grab the writer by his shoulders and shake him violently until his nose bleeds. HOW CAN YOU WRITE SIX SCRIPTS WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS?
All the creatures look awful, and they sound awful too. The Zarbi make this incessant, high-pitched bleating not unlike a toy laser gun, and the Menoptra, presumably in the interest of sounding otherworldly, speak in a high, sing-song cadence so their dialogue takes twice as long to say while they sway to and fro serenely. Even the fight scenes are awful; the Zarbi are so dopey they’re unbelievable as a physical threat, and the Menoptra move as though they’re swimming through Jell-O.
In addition to all this, the directorial choices are utterly baffling. Christopher Martin, enthusiastic and gay though he was, got a little carried away and decided to smear the camera lenses with Vaseline to simulate an alien atmosphere.
Great, now instead of an irritating mess, I have a blurry irritating mess to look at. And this story is three hours, people! I’ve never been so glad to see the credits roll.
6. Lost 3×09 “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Lost is back, and even worse than “Fire + Water,” if you can believe it. This time it’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” an awful episode on its own, and even worse when you consider the promotion around it.
The week before, we got “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” by all accounts an excellent episode, and a bright spot in the interminable Let’s-Keep-the-Characters-in-Cages-While-Nothing-Happens section of the third season. Naturally, ABC cut together an intense-looking trailer for “Stranger.” Next week….The answers to three of Lost’s greatest mysteries WILL! BE! REVEALED! intoned the gravelly-voiced announcer. Sounds good, right? Wrong. I realize that sometimes promotion requires misleading the audience to a certain degree, but this borders on outright lies.
Let’s see, now. What answers did we actually get?
- What Jack’s Thai tattoos say.
- Where the kids and flight attendant taken by the Others are.
“Stranger” is yet another Jack-centric episode, which is unfortunate given how much of the second and third seasons he spends being an insufferable shitbag. In flashbacks, we see that he’s gone to Thailand to “find himself,” be condescending to the locals, fly kites, and do other fun White Guy on Vacation activities. He’s taken to banging a mysterious Thai lady, played by Bai Ling. She’s an absolutely abysmal actress who enjoys ruining anything she’s in, and we’ll see her again on the final part of this list.
Anyway, Bai Ling apparently has a secret job, and she won’t tell Jack what it is. Because he is the world’s biggest dickweed, he gets drunk in a Bangkok alleyway in the middle of the night and follows her around. He discovers that she has a secret superpower – she gives people tattoos! Well, that’s not quite the extent of it. Bai Ling can supposedly see who a person is at their core and marks them accordingly.
Jack wants some sweet tats to impress the ladyboys he met in that alley, but Bai Ling tells him it’s not for outsiders. He gets really pissy and aggressive until she just gives him a tattoo to shut him up. The tattoo says, like it’s some deep character revelation, he walks among us, but he is not one of us.
WELL NO FUCKING SHIT LADY. THAT’S WHAT A TOURIST IS. I guess Jack’s just lucky she didn’t tattoo I am a huge rectum right on his stupid forehead.
The saving grace of these flashbacks is that when Bai Ling’s brother (or pimp? I’m not totally clear on that) finds out Jack got ink done and he and his posse kick the crap out of him.
Oh, there is justice in the world.
On the present-day Island, Jack spends the entire episode locked in a fucking cage making strange faces, breathing heavily, and shouting. The children and flight attendant mentioned above are present for roughly thirty seconds, just long enough to let the audience know that after being kidnapped, they realized living in custard-colored bungalows beats shitting into a coconut shell every morning. Then they’re gone just as quickly. Whoopee.
Juliet’s in trouble with the other Others for helping Kate and Sawyer escape. She’s brought to the Sheriff of Otherville, who’s built up to be this imposing new source of authority and a significant member of their hierarchy. Guess what? The sheriff’s never seen again. Ever. I think the producers claim she was killed off screen at some point. Great. Well worth our time.
The sheriff wants to have Juliet killed, but Jack screams some more, and makes deals with Ben, and they decide to just brand her with what appears to be a marijuana leaf, and the whole affair is never brought up again either. The sum total of forward momentum from this episode could have been conveyed in about ten minutes.
That’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” to a tee, though. Writers trying to convince the audience that the pile of crap they made to fill 45 minutes is significant and meaningful, only none of it will ever mean anything at all.
Come back next time for the fifth and final part, entries 5-1!
Did your favorite show do something awful? Let us know in the comments.