Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This Modern World about sums it up ...

In the Wake of Paris, Republicans Want You to Remember American Values | The Nation

From the self-aware and sharp to the oblivious and moronic: right wing xenophobes can't seem to admit they love the idea of political correctness, but only when the speech being encouraged is in line with their narrow beliefs. Where "lefty political correctness" is about asking people to treat one another with respect, "righty political correctness" is about enforcing conformance to a specific set of nationalist, Christian theocratic (might as well call it "fascist") values. So you end up with law enforcement openly calling for Christian Sharia:

In America, law enforcement simply can't do this. There's nothing funny about this. That man has to be removed from office.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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The Savages - "There is much work to be done."

The Savages (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 3, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #26) | Previous - Next | Index

The city guards' haberdashery convinces the Doctor this is a truly advanced society.
Bearing in mind my last Hartnell was the execrable "The Celestial Toymaker," you'll understand why I was not eager to queue up a story that had a working title of "The White Savages." Mercifully, this story was only tedious and (probably) not racist (much, anyways).  It has a few slight charms and what is almost certainly a well-intentioned anti-colonialist theme. So, huzzah for that.

If only it were watchable. And, no, I don't think if the original tapes were found it would make a lick of difference.

Steven elects to stay behind and work to broker the peace between the Elders and the Savages. It's a much more dignified departure than Dodo will get in "The War Machines," one that, by the end of this story it hardly seems he deserves. Dodo's the one carrying the load of keeping the plot moving and getting to the bottom of things in the first couple of episodes; Steven, meanwhile, is basically a dick to her the entire time, doubting everything she says and implying she's just flighty bird not worth paying attention to. The show doesn't really hold Steven accountable for his douche-y behavior either. Dodo is basically treated with contempt by all everyone and it's unbecoming.

Hartnell's thunder is a stolen in this one as the actor playing the leader of the Council of Elders gets to imitate him, delightfully, for most of episodes three and four after vampiring the Doctor's juice. (Or, whatever.) That's one of the slight charms I alluded to earlier. The Doctor refusing to leave until he's done something to help the oppressed people is a bright spot. The other, more dubiously, is the for-the-dads, derriere-revealing animal skin worn by the savage Nanina.


  • First story to have a title and episode numbers. Up until this point, all the episodes had names and we've backfilled the names of the stories.
  • The only surprising development in E2 is that the Doctor is captured and the technique used on him rather than Dodo or Steven. Like everything else in this story, it takes for ever for the events to unfold. 
  • Speaking of Dodo being treated with contempt, there's a scene where Steven asks to her give the drained Doctor some of the restorative capsules they used on the savage Tor after he had been sapped of his life force. They are on the only capsules mentioned in the episode and Steven couldn't possibly be referring to anything else. Dodo, she's cluelessly forgotten all about them. That's a character being mocked. It's grating. This story's biggest problem is its pace and we're taking time to make Dodo look like an idiot? Stop it, you guys.
  • At various times during this one, I found myself wishing it more like Star Trek's "The Cloud Minders,"
  • Even the anti-colonialist theme is somewhat undermined in the telling of the story. The savages don't liberate themselves, they're liberated by liberal elitist do-gooders. The Doctor's influence results in the leader of the Elders developing a conscience and issuing a directive to stop exploiting the defenseless. The story of a top-down revolution almost inevitably patronizes the liberated.
  • The planet in this one seems to consist of a small city surrounded by a small band of savages who stay within walking distance of their oppressors because ... ? No effort to go the extra mile here in terms of world-building. 

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia Entry transcript

Sandifer post

Shabogan Graffiti

Wife in Space post
Sue: So, is this story racist or not?
Me: Well, assuming that it’s possible to black-up and not be racist, I’m still not 100 per cent sure.
Sue: But what is it trying to say? Is it that you can be an arsehole regardless of the colour of your skin? Or is he black because he’s the bad guy? Why are all the savages white? It’s got to be intentional.
AV Club review

TV Tropes page

Locations guide

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Face the Raven / Heaven Sent / Hell Bent - "You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge."

Face the Raven - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 10 (Overall Series Story #263a) | Previous - Next | Index

Pop culture has this thing it does, it's been doing for ages, where the hero loses a wife/friend/dog (sometimes, famously, finding the cold corpse of their loved one in the refrigerator) and has an excuse to go berserk. The Revenge Fantasy. It's powerful, fueling the violent imaginings of audiences yearning to slip the ties of civilization and finally lord over everything and everyone that's ever hurt them. (We've all been hurt. We're all susceptible ... )

Powerful and awful -- it is the worst of us, distilled. We drink of it when the pain of remembering the consequences of our stupidity, laziness, selfishness, and our cowardice overwhelms us. It allows us to pretend we can shift accountability for our failings off ourselves and, once externalized, destroy them. We then come out the other side of the ordeal as a battered hero, purified by the fire. It's the ritual of blood sacrifice repackaged as ... Rambo, or whatever. Somebody's got to bleed to death so the hero can pay the devil for the power they need to master themself and their world. (The 80s were chockablock with this crap -- as they had to be in order, considering; but, that's a Noam Chomsky lecture for another day.)

What Doctor Who does in "Face the Raven" is gently, but firmly, show us there are better fantasies. There are other stories we can tell ourselves; stories that can help us learn and prepare to be brave when faced with, among other things, our inevitable mortality.

  • Retcon, that's Torchwood's go-to amnesiac.
  • The Trap Street is a refugee camp. Again we're circling around the dilemmas raised in the Zygon Invasion/Inversion -- in a world where the dispossessed hide to protect themselves, how do we broker the peace within community, and between communities?
  • Was there ever any thought to a Malcolm Tucker tear down for the Doctor's last words to Ashildr before being transported out. I don't imagine so, it would have been the wrong note that spoiled the symphony. But, because of the allure of the revenge fantasy,  we can imagine a dark mirror universe Doctor Who where the show is wholly amoral and it would have pushed all the wrong buttons for profit. In it, Capaldi plays the Doctor with a Van Dyke beard, a scar, and possibly and eye patch and that Doctor verbally eviscerates Ashildr. It would've been wicked. But, wrong. 
  • Last week, I was expecting a Part One. This week I wasn't. Kept hearing the final story was a two-parter, but this had a big ol' To Be Continued on the end of it, so I'm treating as Part One of the Series 9 Finale and have gone back and revised the page where I collect all these things to reflect it. This is, of course, totally arbitrary, but I am -- as nu-Spock might say -- emotionally comprised by tonight's episode and choosing to focus on a trivial matter in this particular moment.
  • This being the first part of a three part story, I was tempted to hold off publishing a post and take the night off to watch Jessica Jones, but if I did what I did with the last multi-parter and waited 'til the story was done, it'd be three weeks before I said anything about this one, and that would've felt like too long, I reckon. Will play it by ear next week, but may not update the rest of this post until after "Hell Bent". 
  • Nicola Bryant made some of us old timers smile with this one: 

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia Entry transcript

Sandifer post
As for the second chunk, what is there to say? Not for the first, but nearly for the last time Capaldi and Coleman are given astonishingly good material, and they do astonishing things with it. Notice the structural cleverness of it: the cliffhanger is identical to The Magician’s Apprentice: Clara’s dead and the Doctor’s trapped. Equally notably, the Doctor and Clara lose for the same reason: they tried to take care of someone, and made a reckless mistake. 
But unlike The Magician’s Apprentice, it is a scene written around Clara. And it is a scene that revolves around who Clara is: a deeply flawed bossy control freak capable of acting with indescribable grace. She lied and manipulated her way to death, like she inevitably would eventually, just as the Doctor inevitably does every couple of seasons. “Why can’t I be like you,” she asks, and there is no good answer. Indeed, she is. She gets a death scene, just like he always does, and it is very much hers, with numerous facets that would not appear in the Doctor’s, or in Rigsy’s, or in Ashildir’s, or in Amy’s. “Let me be brave” is easily the equal of “I don’t want to go” or “you were fantastic, and you know what, so I was I,” or “Hey.” Her conversation with the Doctor, and the things she chooses to say to him and not let him say to her, are astonishing.
Jack's Eruditorum/Shabogan Graffiti post

AV Club review
Clara comforts the Doctor not because her death is unimportant relative to his pain but because she wants her death to mean something, and she refuses to let him insult her memory by using her death as a motivator for vengeance. It’s the same reason she refuses to let Rigsy feel guilt over her death, and, in its way, why she stops talking to Ashildr the moment the mayor admits that there’s nothing she can do. Clara restricts her focus to what matters to her, and above all she wants to die right, just as Danny did. That’s a fine thing to aspire to, at least in the context of her available options, and she admits she would like the Doctor to find it in himself to be at least a little proud of her as she goes out to face the raven. 
“Face The Raven” isn’t quite perfect, but it’s damn close, and it’s hard to imagine a finer exit episode for a companion (notwithstanding the fact that I’m still a little dubious that this is Clara’s actual exit, but what the hey).
Vulture review
This recap could easily finish off with a full transcript of everything said between the two old friends. It’s drenched in heart wrenching emotion and rock-like strength. Make no mistake – it’s heavy and sad and moving and punches most of the right buttons, and if it’s all of those things, why does it feel so incomplete? Ultimately “Face the Raven” is a story that proposes so many questions it can’t help but feel unfinished at the close.
iO9 review
I’m pretty curious to see what happens next here—I guess it all revolves around what’s on the Doctor’s “Confession Dial,” plus the identity of whoever Ashildr made that deal with. (Again, guessing Missy and/or the Daleks.) And just who/what the Hybrid is. But most of all, I’m curious to see exactly how, or whether, the show can pay off this latest and darkest iteration of the motif of the Doctor’s hubris and obsession with his own mythos leading to suffering and death.
TV Tropes page

Locations guide

Heaven Sent - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 11 (Overall Series Story #263b) | Previous - Next | Index

Thought we'd gotten away from fairy tales? Not so much. The wise shepherd boy from the Brothers Grimm isn't the hero in this tale though; Moffat fractures the story-within-a-story about a the bird coming along to sharpen its beak on a mountain once every hundred years by making the Doctor the bird. When he says he'll never, ever stop ... well, he means it. In this story, the hero is clever, but it's his willingness to simply grind it out, to live through the pain every damned day in pursuit of his goal, that makes him capable of heroic feats.

The logic of the plot is fairy tale logic, which is to say, no real logic at all -- and that's a bit frustrating, it detracts from an otherwise amazing hour of television. (The confession dial is what? The diamond wall doesn't reset because why?) Like virtually every other Moffat-era episode, there's fuel here for the haters. And, like virtually every other Moffat-era episode, there's something here for those willing to go along from the ride.  If nothing else, there's Peter Capaldi carrying the hour -- with only a small assist from Jenna Coleman, whose Clara is not back, exactly, just around in the sense that the character will always be there -- in a way it's difficult to imagine any of the prior actors who've played the role being able to anchor it. (My opinion of Capaldi's formidable skill are no secret, but even the folks who didn't like the episode almost universally seem to be in agreement that Capaldi continues to nail it. There's nothing not to like about how he plays the role.)

So, the Hybrid thing ... apparently that's Moffat doubling down on the 1996 TV movie's controversial, lamentable decision to reveal that the Doctor is half human on his mother's side. I say "reveal," but I guess "retcon" works there, too. Let's see how it plays out before leaping to conclusions. Instead, let's play the "What Is This Episode A Hybrid Of?" game. My crack at it: "The Deadly Assassin" (the Doctor pursued through a surreal hellscape) crossed with the disposable, scienti-magically produced duplicates of The Prestige.

Odds and Ends:

Here's the relevant bit from the fairy tale excerpted:

How long before Randall Munroe works out how big the ocean that castle was in the middle of had to be to accommodate a billion plus years-worth of Doctor skulls?

With fascism on the rise here in the States, little digs like: "It's dictatorship for inadequates. Or, to put it another way, it's dictatorship," are more welcome than, ideally, they ought to be. Not that gardening ever seemed like a dictatorial pursuit to me. But now, I'll watch gardening enthusiasts more closely ...

Don't suppose we'll get Timothy Dalton back as Rassilon again next week?

Additional Resources:

Hell Bent - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 12 (Overall Series Story #263c) | Previous - Next | Index

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