Sunday, August 31, 2014

Into the Dalek - "He was dead already, I was saving us."

Into the Dalek - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #247) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via I'll go with you

"Dalek" featured a damaged Dalek, "Asylum of the Daleks" as well. "Victory of the Daleks" featured a Dalek who appeared to be a Good Guy. The Doctor's been shrunk in "Planet of Giants" and in "The Armageddon Factor".  The promotional material said: "Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever, he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question, ‘am I a good man?’” That hinted at a "Genesis of the Daleks"-type dilemma.  "Into the Dalek," needed to have something more than a Fantastic Voyage homage grafted on top of all that going for it if it was going to be any good*. Spoilers follow.

It's much more than that. Better than I thought it could be based on what little I knew about it going in. Not perfect, but we're on a good trajectory and Capaldi should have won over any doubters by now.

The thing folks are going to harp on, I suspect, is this Dalek calling this Doctor "a good Dalek." Where Nine was only a Doctor who "would make a good Dalek." Let's not make too much of this. The Doctor isn't a Dalek. Of course, a Dalek is going to find the hatred the Doctor has for the Daleks and run with it. It is a Dalek, after all, and you know what they say about how hammers see every problem and why scorpions sting trusting frogs in the middle of rivers.

Clara drives home the point when she tells the Doctor she "doesn't know". He's trying to be a good man and that's the point. She very easily could have turned his own words back on him and told him that's not the question. The question is: are you trying to do good? If the answer to that is yes, well, then you have your answer.

"Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one ... "
-- Marcus Aurelius
Image via Doctor Who TV
Me, I'm more than twenty years out of college and haven't read Nicomachean Ethics since 1990 so I'm not going to try to sort out how while banging out a late night blog post, but I suspect it's significant that the rebel medical ship is called the Aristotle when this Doctor is concerned with being virtuous (last week he talked about fixing his mistakes) and is out to make a "good Dalek" this week. ("If I can turn one, I can turn them all and save the future," he says.) The end result here, where the Doctor has blown a Dalek's mind only to show it just enough hatred to re-weaponize it -- and we've gotten an earful from Davros before about how the Doctor turns his friends into weapons -- shows he's still no Dalai Lama, but since he turned the Dalek against its own kind, I guess it's meant to be the kind of sad, tainted victory that at least has the virtue of being a victory over evil.

So, what did we learn about Missy? She seems to be making a habit of nabbing the folks (and droids) who died as a result of the Doctor's actions. We didn't see her get the first soldier to die by Dalek antibodies, but she very well may have? At first I thought not, because his body was specifically called out as being the top level of slime in the Dalek's protein pit, where the female soldier who sacrificed herself for the mission looked to go to the Nethersphere in a flash of light. But, Half-Face droid's body was impaled atop Big Ben and he still found himself with Missy, but, if he -- as I suspect -- jumped rather than being pushed, then she may only be taking those who sacrifice themselves? How long as she been doing this, anyways, and how many has she got?  (These questions on top of the questions we already had: who is she, by what means is she doing it, why and to what end, and where is this Nethersphere?) Your guess remains as good or better than mine.

The Dalek and Doctor part of the story turned out to be better than it sounded going in. The Doctor and Clara's relationship continues to be more interesting than, frankly, it ever was when it was Eleven and the Impossible Girl. Clara and Mr. Pink's burgeoning romance started quite well in terms of being watchable rom-com inside a sci-fi action piece (among other things). There's no reason to be surprised Moffat can write competent rom-com, only, I suppose, reason to be surprised he's still doing it all. But, it's fine, Doctor Who is large and contains multitudes.

You know it's great to see DW doing? Weird shit. We don't see enough psychedelic oddity these days like what we got with the nano-Doctor and nano-Clara stepping through the (gelatinous, who knew?) lens of the Dalek's eyestalk. Talk of consciousness expansion leading to personal growth combined with trippy imagery takes us back to shows origins in the Sixties -- in a good way.  Small touches too, like the one shot early on in the TARDIS where the camera is low, under the plane of the console surface, looking up at a lever from Journey's perspective just after her rescue, with the spinning discs above the console ... I don't know if that's Ben Wheatley's direction or the cinematographer's skill (do we even talk about cinematography in the context of TV?), but it's lovely. Mixing elements like those in keeps it visually interesting and it looks fresher than it has for ... a long while?

What didn't quite work? Nano-Doctor speechifying in front of the Dalek's eye was OK, but it looked too much like "Rings of Akhaten" redux. (Mercifully, Capaldi's Doctor is several shades less histrionic and bombastic than Smith's in similar circumstances.) Mr. Pink being a soldier and Clara's line about her not having a rule against soldiers was perhaps a touch heavy-handed after the Doctor refused to let Journey join them. The nanos dried out pretty quick after that slide into the Dalek's internal slime pit.

On re-watch, the thing that actually rankled the most was how Moffat and Ford set out to establish Pink's bona fides as handsome fella all the ladies want and the men admire. The tear that escapes when he answers the student's question about whether he ever killed a "not soldier" works in that moment, but when considered in the context of how he's perceived as a ladykiller it comes across as a manipulative bit of "see what a tortured soul he is". When the lady in the administrative office keeps trying to get some salacious details about his weekend out of him by repeating "I bet you did," or however she phrased it, stopping just short of a Python-esque "wink, wink, nudge, nudge," we cringe for the character if we stop to think what it is the writer is trying to say about her.

Stray Observations:

  • It didn't click during the first watch, but trionic radiation kept ringing a bell ... it's from, or a callback to, "The Talons of Weng Chiang" and the trionic lattice Greel used to locate his time cabinet. 
  • Is it possible for a Dalek to look forlorn? When Rusty heads back to join the Dalek ship, he pauses and looks back over his shoulder ... well, you know spins his stalk slowly ... in a way that feels, if we apply Checkov's Gun Principle, like a sign that we haven't seen the last of him.

* According to Nerdist, Steven Moffat said: If “Deep Breath” was Peter Capaldi’s “Robot” (the first Tom Baker serial; very silly and very not in keeping with the tone of the rest of his first season), then “Into the Dalek” might well be Capaldi’s “The Ark in Space” (Baker’s second story and still in the top five Fourth Doctor serials full stop). But the better analysis might be that "Robot" was Tom Baker brought in to do Jon Pertwee story for Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, while "The Ark in Space" was the first Tom Baker story that we can identify as belonging to Hinchcliffe and Holmes. The shift from Barry Letts to Philip Hinchcliffe made a world of difference between the first two Tom Baker stories. What we've got now is still Moffat's baby so there's no changing of the guard to account for massive tonal changes. Not that there were massive tonal changes to account for. "Into the Dalek" is, like "Ark" was relative to "Robot", better than "Deep Breath", but not by much.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Mutants - "Uniting together to create a new society, a new and richer world. Now, after five hundred years of ... " "Exploitation." "Expert scientific and technical aid, we have steered you to the verge of ... " "Disaster!" "To the verge of independence."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Mutants - Details

Season 9, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #63) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Greyhound One

One of those stories everyone wants to rescue from the dustbin of general opinion. And rightly so. Even io9's rank-them-all post (which gets so much wrong) says it's better than people think, then puts in the below average grouping. Sandifer and Graham both offer high, though mitigated, praise for what it gets right, while acknowledging it gets a few things quite wrong. Sandifer's description of it as a "hot mess" may not sound like high praise, but that (apt) description comes from a place of appreciation.

Me, I like my sci-fi with a big idea, and here it's how the Solonians move through adaptive changes as their planet's 500 year long seasons change, so the mutations are in fact a natural process in the Solons' lifecycle, albeit one disrupted by those meddling Overlords from Earth.

I also like righteous takedowns of apartheid states, such as the Earth empire has instituted here at Solos.

Also a fan of anti-colonial narratives in general.

And, I like when a show isn't afraid to get weird, which this one does. (This is the same writing team that gave us "The Claws of Axos," so we knew going in we were going to get more than a sterile space station set and a fog machine.)

"The Mutants" hits all those buttons. Unfortunately, it also fiddles the Nonsensical Plot Device Widget and the casting is shaky. At six episodes, it also can feel a bit like an endurance challenge. I split up the viewing over a couple nights after realizing I'd started too late and was starting to fade midway through the second episode. Had I been smarter and watched earlier in the evening, I can't for certain whether I'd have had the same issues. (Your mileage may vary.)

Now, WTF kind of mission is this for the Time Lords to be assigning the Doctor? Deliver this package to we're-not-telling-you-who and, by the way, they're not going to know what the heck it is when you give it to them. Gallifrey operates bureaucratic nightmare designed by Robert Holmes. (Terrance Dicks was script editor for Seasons 8 & 9, so some of the blame for how poorly the device of having the Time Lords parse out missions, going back to "Terror of the Autons," is executed must be at least partly his fault.)

What is up with Rick James? (That's not a random aside about funky disco R&B star Rick James, who was playing in the rock band Salt and Pepper in 1972, I mean the actor who played Cotton.) (And, really? The black guy in apartheid/segregation piece is named Cotton?) (And, back to Rick James for a moment, was he Prince before Prince was Prince? An out-sized personality, multi-instrumentalist who could cross genres at will ... ) Early on, he doesn't seem to care about what everyone else is doing. He seem unsure what kind of show he's even in. "Why am I dressed in this get-up? Separate but equal whatchamacllits for the people these what-do-you-call'ems to use? I hope this is some kind of leftist polemic and not a propaganda film for the National Front ... hmm, they're looking at me, I must have a line here ... is it on a cue card somewhere?" I'm not sure if I just got used to his style, or he got better as the story progressed, but by the end his line readings had at least stopped pegging my internal odynometer.

One of my favorite moments is right at the beginning. Jo's hungry so, after a mysterious scaly black giant egg thingy materializes in front of her, she asks if it's lunch. When the Doctor assures her it's not, she asks, as if it still might be something she'd consider eating, whether it's a bomb. How great is Jo? She's just going to roll with it, whatever it is, and don't dare try to keep her out of the adventure of finding out! Unfortunately, she doesn't get another moment the rest of the story where her charm really shines through.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Mind Robber - "Jamie and Zoe realised at last that the Doctor was in fact the most monstrous and cunning villain."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Mind Robber - Details

Season 6, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #45) | Previous - Next | Index

Look, you guys, Wendy Padbury's backside in a sparkly catsuit is not the only reason to watch "The Mind Robber." If it's one of your motivations, well, it'll take a better man than I to pass judgment on you. Seriously though, beyond ...

Image via Flight Through Eternity
... there's plenty makes this one well worth checking out, or revisiting if it's been a while since you've watched it. I'm having trouble remembering what those other, excellent qualities of the thing are ... I probably shouldn't have linked that GIF until I was done writing ...


Let's start with the elements of this story that have resonances through the future history of the series. In some cases, it's probably just accidental but, taken all together, in a narrative that is dancing with the distinctions between fiction and reality, we're left with the feeling a lot of future Who creators were influenced by what they saw here.
  • The name of the villain, the Master, is going to get reused quite a bit in the years following this story.
  • The Master is a penny dreadful writer, who claims to have written the adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway ... a name which we don't have to exert ourselves very hard to link to Captain Jack Harkness.  I say claims because, IRL, the Jack Harkaway stories by Bracebridge Hemyng are out there to be had from Project Gutenberg and probably other sources if you're willing to dig around for them. 
  • The Doctor and Zoe encounter a Minotaur, long before we meet one in "The God Complex."
  • The TARDIS flies apart (or does it?), a state of affairs we'll see again in "Frontios."
  • That's there's a master computer brain behind the whole set up is nothing new, see "The War Machines," and we'll see it again in "Face of Evil." The difference here is the Master Brain is in charge of a fictional world, not the 'real world'. (Although, there is a plan to take over the 'real' Earth revealed at the end.)
  • Writers being reality-shaping creative forces, as the Master is here, calls to mind the power of Shakespeare's words in "The Shakespeare Code"
  • Jamie being replaced by another actor (due to chicken pox) but we've seen plenty of that with different actors playing the Doctor, and even different actors playing the same Doctor (Richard Hurndall), not to mention Romana, Borusa, and the Master (the other Master).
  • The battle of wits between the Master and the Doctor here looks a fair bit like the battle between Four and Morbius. 
  • In Series 8, we've got the Doctor visiting Sherwood - maybe? Remains to be seen ...
You may have noticed I was having some difficulty talking about the real world (our world) and the 'real world' of the fictional Doctor Who universe above. When you're talking about fiction within fiction, but the fiction within the fiction being real world fiction, as opposed to just real in the fictional world the characters in fiction consider their real world, you're making your head wrap itself around concepts we'd normally leave to professional literary critics. Still, it's tremendous fun in this context.

The peril for the Doctor and the companions here is that they could be come fictional inside their universe (or, outside it, technically, in the Land of Fiction). Jamie and Zoe do get trapped in a book and become fictional, although embodied fictional, for a while. The Doctor, in battling the Master, could write himself into the story of the Land, but if he did he'd be rendering himself fictional. It defies us to acknowledge the reality that he is, in fact, fiction. That we accept this fictional character's refusal to become fictional, I think, tells us something fascinating about what the characters we love mean to us, out here, in the real world. The real world being the world we experience via our senses, in our minds -- our minds which perceive and care about fictional things and real things, and are shaped by both.

Sandifer is brilliant on the "The Mind Robber," so it makes sense to quote him at length.

And that's the genius of The Mind Robber. It comes at one of the series' darkest moments - when its formula seems tired, its very ethics seem to be flagging, and when the entire cultural and ideological foundation for it appears to be crumbling the world over. And right in that moment, we get explicit confirmation of something that previously we had only hoped for and suspected. That Doctor Who is an idea that cannot be brought to an end. That there is always another story. Not just because of the flexibility of the premise or because the series has gone on long enough that it's a cultural institution that is always going to be revisited as long as we have well enough recorded history to remember that it ever existed. No. Because the Doctor is every single story there ever was and ever could be, escaped out into the universe, and running loose bringing them into being. 
This is, quite frankly, as powerful an idea as has ever been thought of in fiction. An idea that is far larger than fits in any one person's imagination, even if that imagination is bigger on the inside. Something that, quite apart from anyone's efforts to define it and create it, has taken on a life of its own. A symbol that has real power. A thought that has begun thinking for itself. A dream that no longer needs anyone but itself to dream it.

Stray Thoughts:

Is it as unusual as I think it is to hear the Doctor's internal voice, as we do when he's trying to keep his head straight after Zoe and Jamie have left the TARDIS and gone out into the white void?

The Karkus is an unfortunate name for a superhero, especially one wearing the kind of suit he's wearing, which makes him look a bit like an anatomical dummy used for studying the muscle groups.

Zoe flipping the Karkus around in a lopsided fight may not be Yuen Woo-Ping level action, but it's better than we might have expected.

Image via PeterRabid

#DoctorWho Blog Them All Progress Check

Heading into the holiday weekend, it feels like a good time to check what progress I've made to date in my quest to blog about all the televised Doctor Who stories (plus "Shada" and maybe a few other things).

"Into the Dalek" hasn't broadcast yet, as I write this, so up through "Deep Breath," I make it 246 total stories, of which I've blogged 171 for 69.5% coverage. There are at least four of those I only blurbed and am going give proper write-ups when I get to re-watching them, so the number's a bit overstated. Let's call it 68%.

I'm well on my way! The goalpost keeps moving, but I expect I'll keep on top of the new ones as they come out.

What have I got left by Doctor?

For the Hartnell stories, I've done all the ones that survive in full, and several that were wholly or partly reconstructed. Where I've relied on reconstructions up 'til now, with so many Hartnells and Troughtons missing, I'm going to lean on the Target novelisations a bit to help get through those gaps. I'll watch the reconstructions/listen to the audio as well, but the reviews may end up being more properly thought of as reviews of the books than of what survives of the broadcasts.

For the Troughton era I've got 12 left to cover. "The Mind Robber" is just about go live, so that'll leave me with 11. Almost all reconstructions and novelisations to lean on there; very little left to actually watch as it was broadcast. The discover of a several lost episodes since I started this project leaves me hopeful maybe something else will turn up, but the odds look awful long.

I've got 11 Pertwee stories left, and I started re-watching "Inferno" last night, so that one could be ready to publish by end of the long weekend.

15 Tom Baker stories left. I re-watched "Genesis of the Daleks" a few months ago, fully intending to write about it as soon as I was done, but I got busy, put it off, and then I felt like I waited to long. So, it's gone back into the viewing rotation. Not that I mind watching it again, but I can't afford to double the hours or I'll never finish this!  Well, since DW will probably outlast me, I hope, I'll never get to the point where I'm only writing about the new stuff as it comes out if I let that happen too many times.

6 Peter Davison stories left to cover. So close!

6 Colin Baker stories left as well. I'm dreading a few of them, frankly, so expect the return of the Drunken Blogger when it comes time to do those. "Vengeance on Varos" suffered a fate similar to "Genesis," watched it work/life got in the way and I couldn't make the time strike while the iron was hot. Hmm, "Twin Dilemma" is getting near the top of the Netflix queue ... better make sure the liquor cabinet is stocked.

So far I've only done 4 McCoy stories. The 8 left include "The Curse of Fenric," so which I'm eager to see if I'll come around on, after loathing it on previous watches. It's still sitting with an F grade in my master list, but the internet says I'm nuts and it's brilliant; so, maybe after reading all the Sandifer, Graham, and Wood & Miles I've been plowing through, my grey matter will finally be ready for it?

McGann is all set. That includes "The Night of the Doctor". You know, McGann still looks to be in fine form and now that he's been back once for the web, I wonder if it's a stretch to imagine he might one day appear on TV again in a multi-Doctor story?

Hurt's War Doctor doesn't have a story of his own, but the episodes he's in are all covered.

Eccleston is done. This makes me a little sad. Loved Eccleston's Doctor and wanted years more of him.

Tennant has 15 left, plus the bulk of the rewriting for the xmas specials I glossed over in one post. This is largely going to be smooth sailing.

Smith has 14 left. Some of those are going to be a bit of a drag, but with the the new series stories being about 45 minutes long, as opposed to the longer classic series stories, still expect to make relatively short work of those. Since I started this project during his era, and didn't really settle on a post format at first, and made some crazy guesses about what might be going on, there's probably some rewriting in my future for a few more of those posts as well.

Capaldi, I'm 1-for-1 and rarin' for more.

When I'm all caught up on the classic series, I'm going to go back through, review my grading, and play a little flickchart-style story vs. story to make sure I'm comfortable where I landed on those ones where I wavered on the line between grades.

Thanks again to those of you who have taken the time leave comments and helped share the posts around. I'm always open to criticism and appreciate the opportunity correct mistakes, but am not above wagging my tail for the occasional pat on the head either.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth - "What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Dalek Invasion of Earth - Details

Season 2, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #10) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Reviews

We can roll our eyes at that "What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!" line, but when we do we should remember Matt Smith's Eleven, naked (though not to us), smacking Clara's bottom in front of her parents and granny at Christmas dinner.

This, of course, is a ridiculous place to start a piece about "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" but, in my defense, the Daleks want to hollow out the Earth and drive it about the galaxy wreaking havoc -- the Earth, apparently, being unique in that is it has a magnetic core, a rather strange supposition on the Daleks' part considering the evidence -- so I feel precious little obligation to start from a place that makes any kind of sense.

So, yes, it's classic Classic Series. It's the Daleks brought to Earth, emerging from the Thames, going Full Nazi in a London that, at the time, was only as far removed from actual Nazis threatening it as I am today from Operation Desert Storm. Hardly seems that long ago at all, so one can easily imagine how those images of Daleks in a conquered London would have resonated. This eerily quiet London comes off more than a little like post-war Vienna in The Third Man. Black-and-white is limiting but, as is often noted, it hides some cheapness in the stark contrasts and its more menacing shadows. (What it doesn't hide is that the window panes in the TARDIS prop have fallen out of place, so the first thing we notice is how shabby it is. The indestructible, transdimensional, time and space travelling machine appears to be about to collapse on itself.)

For all it's iconic status as a Dalek epic, the thing I want to talk about is Susan's departure -- the other thing, apart from those famous scenes of Daleks rolling around London landmarks and emerging from the Thames, everyone knows or remembers about this story. (The alternative is talking about Terry Nation's dialogue, examples of which include: the Doctor remarking, "That's near murder. Isn't it?" after Ian describes the scene of someone dumping a dead body into the Thames; and, "We must pit our wits against them and defeat them," before mocking the Daleks who, it's worth noting, have already conquered the Earth, by scolding them with, "Before you attempt to conquer the Earth, you will have to destroy all living matter." One imagines the Daleks rolling their eye-stalks dismissively at this doddering fool.) And the reason I want to talk about it now is because Capaldi's Doctor mentioned in "Deep Breath" that he has made some mistakes and wants to fix that. Surely, never going back to check on Susan  -- let's put aside, for the moment, "The Five Doctors" -- must be one of them. Susan floated like a ghost around the edges of Series 7 (remember Eleven mentioning her in "The Rings of Akhaten,") I thought for a while Clara might be her daughter, and the Doctor has never (really) done anything about finding his granddaughter and any possible descendants he may have as a result of Susan staying on Earth with David.

Susan's departure is the first major cast change and, unfortunately, marks how little regard the production team has, and will have many more times in future, for their departing characters, if not the actors who played them. However, it does show that a major cast member can leave, and be replaced (Vicky arrives in the next story, "The Rescue,") without causing a crisis in viewership. It'll happen a few more times before single most significant departure of an actor from a series in, we might argue, the history of television occurs in "The Tenth Planet."

Her departure also fixes a key structural problem with the show, what Sandifer has dubbed The Problem of Susan. (The other problem with Susan being rather less deserving of a capitalized theory name, it being that Susan was often little more than an annoying -- to borrow another Sandiferism -- peril monkey, forever twisting her ankle, or having such a terrible headache she'd just as soon let the guillotine cure it, and so on.) But, it creates another.

The Doctor delivers one of his more memorable monologues, the famous "One day, I shall come back ..." speech. The one he, presumably, promptly forgets ever giving because he never shows any intent of ever going back. We can make excuses for why he never goes back to visit many other companions, but his own granddaughter? There are other problems with the series, other threads left dangling that aren't the Doctor's fault and we shouldn't necessarily expect Moffat, or subsequent show-runners, to go back and mend, but this is such a cruel oversight, doesn't it have to be one that a Doctor resolved to fix mistakes must address? He can, after all, show up any time after departing, maybe give Susan and David a few months before he pops back in to their timeline? But doesn't he have to do so before he's too far removed himself, before he's lived so much any kind of familial obligation one might expect him to feel has withered away?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

For the rest of her life ...

X-posting from twitter:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blink - "When you say you and the guys, you mean the internet, don't you? "

Blink (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 3, Story 10 (Overall Series Story#190) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via it's completely terrifying but oh so exciting
This is the one we all recommend a newcomer to Doctor Who start with, even today. It's new series, so it won't offput those unaccustomed to the ... ahem .. style of the classic series; it's Tennant, so everybody thinks he's dreamy; it's got a wicked monster, clever and genuinely frightening; moreover, it's got a central character who's a contemporary young lady we can all relate to, so we're not throwing a newbie directly into a discussion about Gallifrey, two hearts, regenerations, season arcs, and companion back story. It's a great entry point for the uninitiated because it succeeds almost like a Twilight Zone story, a 45 minute puzzle with a beginning and an end where you get the mysteries of time travel explained with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff that glosses over all the mess without alienating anyone.

It's an opening in the Whoniverse that stands alone, but hints at how much more there is to discover. And, it's easy to pivot off this and say, "If you liked that, now back up just a bit and watch the two that preceded it ... "

As a result, it's one of the more difficult ones to write about because it's the one we want to say, "No, don't read about it, just watch it and see for yourself ..." Then come back to me after you've mainlined the entire new series and started dipping your toes into the classic series because then we'll really have something to talk about.

With every show I watch, I ask myself what I would've done differently, whether as a director handed the script, the script editor, or as an actor given those lines. Watching it, the only questionable decision I saw was to pile on at the end with the montage of statues over the replay of the Doctor's instruction not to blink ... I found it all together too self-congratulatory. Yes, you did a clever thing and made statues menacing, we get it. After watching it and reading Mr. Graham's take on it (linked below) take, I think a few tweaks could've addressed those scenes played for cute that are actually based on some dodgy ideas about wooing and relationships.

Watching "Deep Breath" the day after watching this one, you really can't help but notice how the Clockwork Men were mashed-up with the Weeping Angels -- holding your breath standing in for staring as a defense mechanism.

Recommended Reading:

"'What I Did On My Christmas Holidays' by Sally Sparrow" - by Steven Moffat for the 2006 Doctor Who Annual

The Image Of An Angel (Blink) - Sandifer sees the Angels for what they are, or we give a Moffat a ton of credit hoping they are.

Blink and you'll miss your chance to get a man - Jack Graham's contrarian take, essential not only for being hard to find about this story, but for being tremendously insightful from a completely different direction than Sandifer.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Deep Breath - "I have the horrible feeling that I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would."

Deep Breath (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #246) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via We Are Groot
Generally speaking, the first story of a newly regenerated Doctor tends to be a creaky affair, loaded down with the baggage of introductions and coping with the upheaval of introducing a main character who's the same character, but different. "The Eleventh Hour" did a lot of things right, including giving Matt's Eleven a moment where he's placed firmly in the lineage. It was a also a reasonably good episode on its own. It's one of the exceptions, I'd argue, that proves the rule, and even it has shortcomings. Ten's debut in "The Christmas Invasion" dragged and was ridiculous. "Rose" was excellent but had the burden of not only introducing a new Doctor and Rose herself, but of re-establishing the series; it had a few pilot-y bits of wonk as well. McGann's Doctor, well, that misfire imploded. Seven's debut in "Time and the Rani" was pretty awful. Six's in "The Twin Dilemma," I have to rely more internet memory, not having watched it since it was new, but I remember disliking it intensely and haven't seen anything like a persuasive defense of it in the meantime. I enjoyed "Castrovalva" but it had a lot of goodwill as being the first regeneration story to come along after I came of viewing age during the Tom Baker years. "Robot" was a Pertwee story with Four finding his feet, which I loved, but I recognize mileage varies wildly and nobody could or would love the Robot CSO effects.

Anyways, the thing to take away here is: no Doctor's first story is, or is going to be, his or her best. What we hope for is validation of the choice of actor, signs of assurance, and potential to be tapped. "Deep Breath" delivers all of that. We know Capaldi and there was, let's face it, no way anything that might have gone wrong, or did go wrong, was going to be his fault. He's too good, too professional, and has demonstrated over the years in a number of roles (for me it begins with his Danny Oldsen in Local Hero) that he cares too much to coast on laurels, phone it in, or do less than his best.

If the way the Doctor Malcom Tuckers that tramp into assessing his cross eyebrows leans on that prior role, I suspect the unleashing of that anger on a tramp, and his trading an object of value for a wrecked old coat that smells of tramp life, sufficiently crosses up the reference and is a sign of a willingness to address Capaldi's fame playfully. It didn't put me off.

Fears about the Doctor suddenly going Christian stoked by that Variety review have subsided. I'm fine with the way "the Promised Land" was dismissed as superstition, and the Promised Land where the control node droid found itself at the end was clearly a scam. So, now we've got to get after who this Missy is who thinks the Doctor loves her (this might not be a good direction, feminist critique-wise), and whether she's the woman at the shop who gave Clara the Doctor's number, and put the advert in the paper.

The moment that sticks with me after two viewings is the Doctor challenging the control node droid to recognize its face in the silver, and the Doctor's visage being reflected on the reverse while he is visibly shaken and the recognition that he doesn't know why he chose the face he did. As he works on preparing the droid to terminate itself, his barbs cut both ways. It may not be the most nuanced technique, but it was effective here. That Moffat goes to the writer's toolbox for reflective doubling/double entendre pretty consistently hasn't, not yet at least, diminished the impact of those scenes where it is deployed in the service of giving his Doctor depth of character.

The broom metaphor is classic philosophy of identity, and it also gets after the Doctor himself, every bit as much as it does the droid, doesn't it? He's been fully replaced so many times over ...

Beginning to end, Capaldi is fantastic. The Matt Smith cameo/call back, which caught me completely off-guard, could't have been aimed more directly at the viewers, could it? Everyone's heart was in the right place, but it felt like a crutch we didn't need. Capaldi is the Doctor. Anyone who isn't convinced, I suspect, just hasn't let go.

The Doctor's a man with a new set regenerations and a long history that includes some mistakes. Any speculation about Missy we might do, any guessing about what the several references to his recognizing his face but not knowing why he chose it might mean, ought to take a back seat to seeing if we can understand what the Doctor thinks his mistakes are, and what he aims to do about them. Besides, my guesses, based on early season stories, where the arcs are going have proved rubbish and I hate being wrong in public, so let's forget about all that, shall we?

I didn't hear anything about searching for Gallifrey and heading the long way home, and am a bit relieved about it; this intention to fix mistakes is the direction I'm most interested in seeing how Moffat guides the series going forward. To my mind, it's the thing he's got to get right.

The new titles: OK. Not sure yet if this new variation of the theme is going to grow on me.

Image via We Are Groot

Recommended Reading: 
Shabogan Graffiti on the return of the Paternoster Gang and the risks of trotting out one-trick ponies to satisfy what may be a dark side of popular demand
A.V. Club Review

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Human Nature / The Family of Blood - "Keeping your head low avoids the mockery of your classmates. But no man should hide himself, don't you think?"

Human Nature (Doctor Who episode) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 3, Story 8 (Overall Series Story #189a) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Does it need saying?

It wasn't that long ago that we'd sat through the "Daleks in Manhattan" / "Evolution of the Daleks" followed by "The Lazarus Experiment". Things were looking pretty dire. "42" splits opinion, but went a long way towards righting the ship. Ten's shabby treatment of Martha Unrequited was working our collective last nerve, her sourpuss mum was unsympathetic, and the season arc was clearly trending towards more revelations about this Saxon character and the machinations of his minions around the Jones family -- an unpromising trend given how unsympathetic and unlikable those characters are, on the whole.

Then, along comes "Human Nature" and, oh boy, now we're really getting somewhere. This is the series in its prime: villains by whom the Doctor is truly imperiled, a brilliant ensemble working together in a compelling story, and one that is putting pieces in place for the larger arc in a manner without detracting from current story being told. So, when "Utopia" come along later, we are rewarded for having loved this one so much, instead of having it be cheapened by later events or shoe-horned into a ta-da montage of loose-ends tied up for convenience's sake.

Nearly everything about this story works. It's structure, the way it opens in what is revealed to be John Smith's dream of the Doctor, but that dream is later picked up as Martha's memory when she has come back to the TARDIS to fend off despair over their situation, is the kind of skillful television storytelling that we expect high-toned drama. Here it is executed in mere genre TV in a way that demolishes the categories. When it wants to be, when it really tries, Doctor Who can be every bit as satisfying as the best TV has to offer.

Now, I've not read Paul Cornell's Human Nature, the novel (of the fanfic) that this was adapted from, but clearly this story benefited from its source material. The Virgin novels are a path I never went down -- I'm a bit of loyalist in the sense preferring the Target novelizations and thinking of everything outside the stories on TV as non-canonical, but perfectly valid as source material to be mined for TV. Case in point, Seven was the Doctor in the novel, so this adaptation had to make sweeping changes. But, the richness of a fully imagined setting, populated with characters having their own internal lives, and the outline of a story that is dramatically sound were a wealth of assets for this adaptation to draw on.

The success of this story and of "Blink," based on a short story, which follows, would seem to be strong arguments for mining the non-canonical material for its best ideas and stories and turning them into stories for the contemporary Doctor.

Freema Agyeman deserves a great deal of credit for her portrayal of Martha here. Martha's unrequited love of the Doctor is a pain point for me when it comes to this season, but Ms. Agyeman does as well as anyone possibly could with what she was given. She is restrained when she needs to be, no telegraphed expressions or movements when John Smith talks about his dream, Martha is fully in the role she was given by the Doctor; Ms. Agyeman is fully in the role of Martha. The worst line in the story is "and it wasn't me," it's just too on the nose, too maudlin. But, it's how her character was written and it's Ms. Agyeman's reading that prevented it from making Martha's character seem to weak and Doctor-centric.

We know that later, Martha's got a long road ahead of her, traversing the Earth after The Master captures the Doctor and unleashes the Toclafane. Her actions here, at the dance especially, when she fulfills the action hero role while John Smith whinges, show she's made of sterner stuff, and can handle the greater challenges in store for her.

Image via rebloggy
Ms. Agyeman also has a tricky job to pull off in the scene where Martha shows up Nurse Redfern by rattling off the bones of the hand. Luckily, we have Jack Graham writing about this already so I can quote him at length here:

But the scene above is great because it actually bucks that very trend [of rewriting history with modern liberal assumptions].  ...[I]n 'Human Nature' / 'Family of Blood' the issues of racism and sexism are not just totally effaced so that we can all get on with having fun.  Joan is a Nice-But-Then character in many ways, but she's also allowed to evince sexist, 'classist' (not a term I'm fond of, but it'll do for now) and racist attitudes.  And this isn't just done so that we self-satisfied modern liberals can feel superior to all those backward numpties in the past.  Joan's attitudes are shown to be contested within the same period by other contemporary characters, most especially Martha's friend and fellow-maid Jenny ...  
Best of all is the fact that Martha answers back angrily, displaying her annoyance unashamedly and eloquently making mincemeat of Joan's thoughtless assumptions.  Okay, Martha could be seen as accepting the onus of having to 'prove herself' to the white woman, which would be problematic... but that isn't how Agyeman and Hynes play it.  Their version of the scene is more like Joan getting a deserved ritual humiliation ...
The scene depicts intersectional prejudice, and from an otherwise deeply sympathetic character, thus nixing the simplistic idea (surprisingly prevalent today, in the wake of partial and piecemeal social changes) that racism and sexism are Big Bad Bogeys that only Bad People do.  It tacitly recognises intersectionality, along with prejudice as structural and socially constructed - something surprisingly rare in pop-culture.  And it also depicts the only way prejudices ever get addressed: by those on the sharp end - the women, people of colour, the 'skivvies' - getting seriously pissed off and talking back. 
Depictions of racial tension in drama is high wire act requiring delicate balance, Redfern and John Smith have to be of the times but not unlikable.  Here's where I think a rant about how being radical doesn't mean your wrong comes in. We make apologies for the 'good guys' in history having terrible ideas about gender politics, class, and race because it's easier than holding people accountable for not being brave enough to challenge wrongs. As if *nobody* could see that bullying someone because you have a superior position in society over them is just plain wrong. That's never the case -- even when it's only the folks taking the abuse who recognize it, as if that's ever been the case. In terms of the drama, Baines and his Hutchinson are free to engage in ugly racial bullying because they're understood to be twats, and we don't need to like them, but it would be far too easy for the writer to give the heroes contemporary liberal values so we wouldn't have to worry about any of the audience not liking them.

If we need to find something clunky, let's roll our eyes at the Doctor tossing a cricket ball to save a baby from a falling piano. He makes a toss that sets off series of events only Rube Goldberg could love, ending with the stroller coming up short of the crash. Would it not have made more sense to simply hit the wheel of the stroller to stop it, while shouting?

The Family of Blood - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 3, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #189b) | Previous - NextIndex

Image via Coffee and Wizards
"Will they thank you?" That was very nearly the quote I chose to title this post with, ultimately deciding to go the one about hiding because it felt more richly ironic. But, Baines/Son of Mine's admonishment of the headmaster is a sterling moment.
ROCASTLE: You speak with someone else's voice, Baines. Who might that be?
BAINES: We are the Family of Blood.
ROCASTLE: Mister Smith said there had been deaths.
BAINES: Yes, sir. And they were good, sir.
ROCASTLE: Well, I warn you, the school is armed.
BAINES: All your little tin soldiers. But tell me, sir, will they thank you?
ROCASTLE: I don't understand.
BAINES: What do you know of history, sir? What do you know of next year?
ROCASTLE: You're not making sense, Baines.
BAINES: 1914, sir. Because the Family has travelled far and wide looking for Mister Smith and, oh, the things we have seen. War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?
ROCASTLE: Don't you forget, boy, I've been a soldier. I was in South Africa. I used my dead mates for sandbags. I fought with the butt of my rifle when the bullets ran out, and I would go back there tomorrow for King and Country!
BAINES: Et cetera, et cetera.* 
When I grade these stories out, "The Family of Blood" comes in a notch lower because I'm a little uncomfortable with the Doctor donning the red poppy for Remembrance Day. It's not that I feel it's inappropriate to honor the sacrifice of those who died in WWI, it's  that it strikes me as the same easy sentimentality American cultural indulges in for Memorial Day -- which is a tacit conceit that war is ever honorable or glorious in some way -- and that chills my blood. We honor the sacrifice, but never hold anyone accountable for what a fucking hash they've made of the world by treating other human beings as inferiors who deserve to be exploited, their land and resources naturally belonging to the colonial power great enough to seize them.

Why, Head Master, why would you go back to South Africa? What were your King and Country asking you to do there? I assume we're talking about the Boer War (or the 'Second Anglo-Boer War,' I guess, depending on who you ask how they're named). That was a war fought, as I understand it, by colonial powers over the control of the region we now now as South Africa's, wealth. So, Head Master, if King and Country asked you to go spill more blood to acquire another gold mine in foreign soil, you would? Of course you would, and as an old man you would ask younger men to go and do it for you. This is the sickening truth of war that is glossed over with tales of heroism and sacrifice, and celebrated with waving flags and solemnized with red poppies.

There's also the aspect of the Doctor that decides to punish the Family by making them immortal, imprisoning them in ways that force them to suffer forever, but also the idea that he goes back every year (whatever that means to a time traveler and eternals) to visit at least one of them. The Family were going to die shortly anyways, which I understand could be seen as not allowing them enough time to pay for what they did, but one imagines there's a way they could have been made to pay for their evil, while also being allowed to die at some point. The Doctor's excessive punishment here looks an awful lot like him taking the punishment that should have been for him -- the punishment he earned by deciding to hide among humans knowing the Family would come looking for him, effectively using the schoolboys, the staff, and the townspeople as human shields -- and doling it multiplied for them to suffer on his behalf. Far from making this Doctor seem like a righteous avenger, it makes him seem like dangerous menace. From this view, a case could be made that he's every bit as much the villain of the piece as the Family.

However, it's asking an awful lot of Doctor Who to expect it to be radically pacifist, righteously socialist, unabashedly secular and atheist, feminist, in short, to embody all the values humanity will ultimately have to embrace to survive as a species while remaining a viable commercial enterprise in a neo-liberal world. Just as we acknowledge Joan Redfern's character flaws without discounting her humanity, we take Doctor Who for what it is and appreciate where the Platonic form shines through, and try to account for the refraction caused by the imperfections in our real world execution of the marketplace of ideas.

* Transcript via The Doctor Who Transcripts

Friday, August 22, 2014

Variety review of Deep Breath alarms ...

After years of speculation, the Doctor unceremoniously outs himself as an atheist in the premiere, though a creepy epilogue suggests the reveal is part of a larger arc for the season. 
That provocative nugget aside, Moffat’s script emphasizes storyline continuity and easing faithful viewers into the regeneration transition ...
Hmm. That doesn't sound like something that needs an arc. If there's an arc, that implies the series attempting to provide a credible alternative to atheism. Not that there's no interesting way to tell a story like that, but there is one particularly uninteresting and way to do so and that would be a crushing blow for this fan ... to finally get Capaldi only to have the series descend into some sort of deism or New Age hokum would be ... ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Just don't go there ...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Sea Devils - "Is there nothing I can say to make you reconsider?" "Nothing." "I'm sorry."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Sea Devils - Details

Season 9, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #62) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who GIFs
We're so used to hearing Tennant's Doctor say "I'm sorry," these days, we might almost forget how ruthless Pertwee's Doctor could be, and how that ruthlessness weighed on him as well. When all is said and done here, the Doctor has once again been on the side of humanity against their planet's reptilian antecedents. When the Sea Devil's leader states his intent to destroy humanity and take back the Earth, the Doctor's simple, "I'm sorry," says it all. He's going to save humanity, and it's going to be bloody hell for the reptiles when it plays out. Perhaps, as Davison's Five famously says after another encounter, "There should have been another way."

If the Pertwee years are polarizing, I'm on the side that cheerleads for them, despite how much they clash with the rest of the series. Would I ever want to see the Doctor stranded on Earth again, without a functioning TARDIS, as much of these years found him? No. However, even if the premise was broken for a while, it was a valuable break, a learning experience, and probably saved the series.

Pertwee is marvelous here. Jo, too! Between the two of them there's motorcycling, hovercraft piloting, and sword fighting (with a pause to nosh a sandwich, The Doctor was hungry for much of this one) and then there's a helicopter, a submarine, a big battle, and some effective location shooting in which all the action takes place.

Even if it makes virtually no sense for the Master to be imprisoned (having been taking into custody at the end of "The Dæmons") in a house with a bunch of swords laying about, so near a secret naval base, under the charge of a witless, easily manipulated buffoon, the fact that he's not revealed as the villain behind the mess in a totally un-surprising twist, as he was in Season 8, is a relief.

The six-part stories typically have pacing problems as the story is stretched or becomes circular, but this is well-crafted by Malcom Hulke. We move from location to location, meeting new characters and only coming back to ones already visited after something has happened. The 'get captured, escape, get re-captured, escape again' formula isn't leaned on quite so heavily here as it often was. The fact they were able to film aboard an actual Royal Navy ship and use the hovercraft goes a long way towards helping avoid the other frequent dissatisfiers that have plagued the show over the years: cheaply dressed sets and heavy reliance on location shooting in disused quarries.

Again, it's worth acknowledging Roger Delgado's brilliant work as The Master. When he's play-acting at being stumped by an un-hypnotisable guard, or playing The Master irritated at his henchman's thick lack of humor when pretends to mistake a children's puppet show for a documentary about an alien species, he's so charming and maniacal, you get the sense he not only wants to destroy humanity because it will prove his superiority over The Doctor, but because of guys like Colonel Trenchard just on principle.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Get your doge coins here ...

Portal Doge || Much Games, Very Wow

Mining for doge just isn't working out on my pc so, short of actually paying for it, faucets seem to be the best available route for getting some in my wallet. The doge faucet sites I've found direct to sites that want a ton of your demographic info (no to mention time) to watch commercials and take surveys which ... well, I don't want doge coins *that* bad.

Luckily, I met +Aaron Clifford (@egoant | on Empire Avenue and found I could pick up 10-20 doge every couple hours playing 'To The Moon' instead of sinking a ton of time into marketing traps with a bunch of hoops to jump through before you can even get a doge out. Ain't no shibe got time for that.

Now, even if I could manage 20 doge each time, the game only pays out once every couple hours, so there's no way to amass a doge fortune here, but it's enough to get a few coins into* and play some ultra-low stakes NL Hold'em.

If anyone knows of any similar games that pay out without requiring any kind of registration or other nonsense, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

* The kludgy UI and instability (haven't a played a tourney yet where I didn't lose connection for a while) are trying my patience. Not sure I'll put any more doge in there ... 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Krotons - "Oh, Doctor, you've got it all wrong."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Krotons - Details

Season 6, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #47) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Love and Liberty
Robert Holmes is going to go on to write some great stories for Doctor Who the twenty years following this story, but you might not have guessed as much from this, his first for the series. Some of the elements are here: a society warped by the self-serving laws of the rulers (usually a powerful alien brought low, trying to get its mojo back), enabled by opportunists who really ought to be struggling for independence instead of settling for lapdog's spoils. We'll see variations on this theme from Holmes several more times. At his best, cracking dialogue and rich characterization are doled out generously, so in addition to the TARDIS crew he introduces memorable characters like Garron & Unstoffe, Jago & Litefoot, Irongron & Bloodaxe, Solon & Condo, and iconic villains like Morbius, Magnus Greel, and Sutekh.

Only Philip Madoc, who'll make his mark later as Solon in "The Brain of Morbius," shines here as the sinister Eelek. The rest of the Gronds are unremarkable, at best. The Krotons are mildly successful from the waist up, but laughable down below. It's a typical of the production values for this story that the Krotons (my son, watching with me, made the same joke I think everyone makes about the Krotons -- he calls them "the Croutons") are basically wrapped in some kind of skirt to hide the actors' legs, as if they either forgot to finish the costumes, or just ran out of money. Likewise the Grond city is one of the worst attempts to sell a bunch tinker toys strewn about as alien architecture you'll find anywhere. First shot of episode one shows an actor reaching behind some sliding panels to receive a note from the Krotons, but one of the panels sticks and doesn't open properly. Compounding that shoddiness, the actor then proceeds to struggle through his lines as if reading them for the first time off cue cards he can barely see.

The highlight scene is the one where Zoe, having aced the Krotons' brain game (it's how they find the smartest Gronds, so they can suck their mental energy to re-crystallize themselves, natch), tries to help the Doctor through it, becoming progressively more exasperated and he gets flustered and makes silly mistakes. Troughton and Padbury have great chemistry and are delightful to watch together. Unfortunately, that's about all you can give as a reason search this one out. Frazer Hines has one lackluster bit of hand-to-hand combat with one of the Grond schmucks, but otherwise doesn't get to do much here except be 'the dumb one' and pull a face when the Krotons observe he is not a "high brain." It's not that this one ever breaks down terribly as a story, it just never rises very high and is let down a little more than usual by the effects and costuming departments.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the only time in the history of the series we hear the Doctor exclaim, "Great jumping gobstoppers, what's that?" We're fortunate no attempt was made to make that a catch-phrase going forward.

For the trivial minded/continuity obsessed, the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) makes its debut here though. We'll see that again in "Cold War."

Monday, August 4, 2014

42 - "Here comes the sun."

42 (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 3, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #188)

Image via Unrepetant Geek Girl
The Doctor has 42 minutes, about the time of Doctor Who episode, conveniently enough, to save Martha, himself, and the crew of a distressed cargo ship plummeting towards the surface of a star. Generally ranked as a middling or worse entry in the long history of DW, this one gets a bum rap.

If you've been reading these posts of mine, you may noticed a recurrent theme of "Dangit. Sandifer, or Graham, has already written the shit out of how to write about DW," but this is one I think Sandifer gets a bit wrong; and, if Graham's written about this story, I haven't seen it. So, let's roll up our sleeves and see if "42" can be redeemed ...

Hubris and missed opportunity are the core of Sandifer's argument against this story. He's onto something, he almost always is, but is it really fair to take "42" to task for not being a Douglas Adams-style take on 24? Sure, I'd like to see that, but not everything with the number 42 in the title should have be an homage to Adams, even if it would've been a brilliant nod to Adams's time with the series and shown admirable ambition.

The real knock here is that the baddie has to be written dumb for the structure to work. "Burn with me," is dark and menacing, but "Put back what you took," would've saved everyone a bunch of precious time. When the entire premise of an episode leans on something be dumber than it needs to be, that's a structural problem which, when all is revealed, retroactively reveals what had been a taut thriller as merely a story stretched thin.

And yet, that flaw doesn't feel as fatal -- perhaps because it only becomes apparent after you've enjoyed the build up, unlike the baffling actions of all the folks in attendance at Lazarus's soiree in the previous story. Even though it's true, as virtually everyone points out, the crew of the ship are largely undistinguished, to the point of being null nodes in a few cases, they're not actively terrible either. The Captain is at least OK, and the bloke Martha gets trapped in the escape pod with is sympathetic. (He is smitten with Martha, which is -- of course -- exactly the expected and correct reaction to meeting a brave, charismatic, intelligent, personable, not-to-mention-gorgeous young woman, if you're an unattached young person who fancies women.) If the structurally and aesthetically similar "The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit" weren't still fresh in mind when "42" came along to cover the same ground somewhat less successfully, I suspect initial critical reaction wouldn't have been so unfavorable to this iteration of the premise.

Image via The Warden's Walk
Oh, and Ten is still being an ass with Martha. When she asks him at the end how he's doing after being infected by the sun virus/consciousness, or whatever you want to call that, she asks with genuine compassion. Does he answer? Nope, he shuts her out and changes the subject. After closing himself emotionally, clearly hurting her feelings in the process, he gives her a TARDIS key instead. It's a fake kindness, a show openness without any real openness behind it. It's just as mean-spirited as the trick he played on her at the beginning of "The Lazarus Experiment."

Why am I inclined towards forgiveness in this instance when I banged on "TLE" so hard? Well, I suppose, ironically, it's the other 'flaw' Sandifer identified: its hubris.

 24 is execrable -- a prolonged ode to the utility of torture produced for a television network that cheerleads for the practice. (Now, I have to admit, I stopped watching regularly when the cougar came along, but it's such a cultural touchstone I kept reading about it and periodically checked in -- though not for the most recent revival. I'll take my lumps if it reversed course somewhere along the way and made it clear torture is only ever the depraved practiced of regime that has forsaken justice. I'm reasonably confident if such a thing had happened it would've made headlines that even a head-down Doctor Who obsessive like myself would've caught wind of.)

Any show with a moral better than 'let's dehumanize one another' that is willing to say, "Sure, we can do 24. Allons-y!" may be showing off, but -- in case I wasn't clear -- f*ck 24. This episode could've been 42 minutes out of couch sitting, "The Power of Three"-style, and it would have had the high ground over 24.

But, it's not couch-sitting, it's the Doctor saying: "Are you certain nothing happened to provoke this? Nobody's working on anything secret? Because it's vital that you tell me." He needs the truth to solve the problem. He's asking for honesty. He knows something's up, that this crew did something -- and really the illegal fusion scoop should've tipped him off sooner -- but, he finally gets at the truth when he gets a good look at the star. (After a truly harrowing separation scene that's brilliantly shot and executed.) He does the work and, ultimately,can guide Martha to the resolution. Without torturing anybody. Even though lives were at stake.

Let that sink in for a moment. He needs the information to save lives, including his own, and more importantly to him, Martha's. He needs the information, he knows the Captain has it -- even if he doesn't come out and say it, he asks because he knows -- he knows and we viewers know from how she bobs and weaves around the questions, that the Captain is hiding something. He needs the truth but it never occurs to him to waterboard anybody for it. This is a pure instance of Ten being a man who never would.

This isn't only Doctor Who saying we can do 24, this is Doctor Who saying we're better than 24 because we know torture is wrong.

Hubris? Maybe. But, it's true.

The Lazarus Experiment - "Really shouldn't take that long just to reverse the polarity. I must be a bit out of practice."

The Lazarus Experiment - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 3, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #187)

Mark Gatiss does acting*
Image via Doctor Who TV
Are there another three consecutive episodes, since the new series started, as lame as the stretch capped off here by "The Lazarus Experiment"? (I think some would go an episode further and say "42" completes the superfecta of weakness, but I actually rather like "42.") "Love & Monsters" and "Fear Her" are bookend by sold stories; Series 6 doesn't do much for me on the whole, but even though it has two-in-a-row clunkers, I think "The Doctor's Wife," "A Good Man Goes to War," and "The God Complex" each prevent a run from forming.

To some extent, the less said about this story the better. But, at the risk of going off on a rant, I'll mention a just three of the things I like least about this story. It's not all that wrong with, but an inclusive list is unnecessary because its problems are so well documented elsewhere.

Right out of the gate, Ten being such an ass to Martha has gotten tired and old -- it was tired and old back in "The Shakespeare Code," so for it still to be a thing at this point in the series is pushing it. Nobody's a fan of Martha's unrequited feelings for the Doctor, but dropping Martha off as if she's done traveling with him and dematerialising is a jerk move, and I'm not sure coming back a moment later makes it any better.

Mark Gatiss is a mixed back when it comes to his overall contributions to DW. I'm quite fond of "The Unquiet Dead,"  a little less so of  "Cold War," and enjoyed "Adventures in Time and Space" -- although the Matt Smith cameo in the last of those was regrettable, if well-intentioned. The rest of his work, not the least his portrayal of Prof. Lazarus here, leaves me cold.

The unforgivable thing with this story though is how the cocktail party guests at the big unveiling clap politely and go back to nattering as if they hadn't just seen an old man rejuvenated ... and all nearly been blown up in the process. "Yes, he appears fifty years younger and nearly killed us all, but have you seen the boy with the crostini?" These British elites take their Keep Calm and Carry On very seriously, one gathers.

Is there anything to like about this episode? Sure, there's the geek service:
TISH: He's a science geek. I should have known. Got to get back to work now. I'll catch up with you later.
DOCTOR: Science geek? What does that mean?
MARTHA: That your obsessively enthusiastic about it.
DOCTOR: Oh, nice. 
So, that's reassuring. The quip about taking too long to reverse the polarity worked for me as well.

The reference to Eliot's "The Hollow Men" feels a bit forced; however, if you told me before first watch only the plot outline and that there'd be an allusion to a famous poem, I'd have said the lazy writer's reference would be to Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night," so I won't let my own failure to recall "The Hollow Men," before Lazarus mentioned Eliot sour me on moment. These sorts of things go over better when they aren't trotted out as opportunities for a character earn kudos for being well-read, but well-read heroes are a good thing.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Amy's Choice - "If you had any more tawdry quirks, you could open up a tawdry quirk shop."

Amy's Choice (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 5, Story 7 (Overall Series Story#212) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Quote Book
The Doctor *really* needs Amy and Rory to sort themselves out. As viewer's we wholeheartedly agree the bizarre love triangle is untenable and, frankly, creepy. So, yes, we needed Amy to make it crystal: Rory's her man. Full stop.

At first it seems like a problem that the Dream Lord has given the characters a choice that the viewer's aren't similarly in doubt about. There's no suspense when you know the Five Years Later Back In Upper Leadworth is a clearly the dream, because gah... Rory's wig.

Let's try not to be distracted by the wig. The awful, awful wig.
Image via Anam Cara
So we know, we clever viewers us, that they're not going to end up in Upper Leadworth, and can only be irritated the longer the choice is drawn out. But, we're not all that clever if we don't recognize the Cold Star simply can't be a thing, because nonsense, so the choice presented them as reality is actually another dream. The quibble here is, there's so much scientific hooey in Doctor Who that we can't rule out the possibility that the show is telling us a cold star radiating cold through the vacuum of space could be a thing.

Moments, moments and quips are what make this one fun to watch, even upon repeat viewing, knowing who the Dream Lord is and that Rory isn't going to die forever. (And knowing now that he is going to die several more times before we're through with him.) Rory whacking an old lad with a plank, cracks like "Let's go out looking like a Peruvian folk band," Elizabeth I only thinking she was the first (naughty!), a bit of punning ("There's a lot at stake," in the butcher's shop), the Doctor and Rory waking up forehead-to-forehead, and we could go on and on ... heck, even that Cold Star looks pretty impressive.

So, who is the  Dream Lord? "Only one person hates me as much as you," the Doctor tells him. This Doctor, he's got all the self-loathing of a wolf in sheep's clothing, so that line's red herring (no, he's not the Master) doesn't fool anyone, we suspect. But it's nicely played. And let's credit Toby Jones for be terrific at embodying the Doctor's imp.

Image via Head Over Feels
And, if you're used to be grumbling about season-long arcs at this point, then you may've been waiting for me to celebrate the respite from sightings of the 'the crack'. Y'know, it turns out I'm fond of this one; it feels like it's going to mid-season churning, but turns out to be a bit a lark and it delivers a some small amount of character development that was desperately needed -- Amy needs to know she loves Rory, that she's not running from marriage because he's not the right guy. They are right for each other, they just ought to have some proper adventures together before they put down roots.

So, on with it ...

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