Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Caretaker - "Frankly, you should all be in a constant state of panic."

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

Series 8, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #251) | Previous - Next | Index

GIFS via tumblr's I'm the kind of girl who likes to dream a lotGIFS via tumblr's I'm the kind of girl who likes to dream a lotGIFS via tumblr's I'm the kind of girl who likes to dream a lot

Jotted a lot of quick notes while watching the second time through, but for the most part they were things I'd normally tack on to one of these posts in the Stray Thoughts section at the end.  At first, I took this as an indication that while funny, mostly charming, and giving the characters some depth, this story was slight and primarily functional -- the characters need to stand in certain relation to each other for drama that will happen later, so this is the episode that introduces Danny to the Doctor and the Doctor to Danny and gets the whole issue of soldiers out in the open to be dealt with. The Schoolbox Spritzer was just enough of a threat to serve its purpose and was dealt with cursorily. The Doctor needed to be at Coal Hill, so a threat was put nearby. Missy and the Nethersphere have been drifting out of our attention, so the Kotex Grifter dispatches a patrolman to bring them back into focus.

There were comedic scenes that worked quite well, for me at least, and enough nods to the classic series to keep the obsessives satisfied with threads to pull and similarities to analyze. While every episode is guaranteed to be at least one fan's least favorite ever, my sense of the general response to this one is positive; most, myself included, finding it continues the season's run of generally strong outings without an obvious faceplant. While the monster of the week is handily discharged, and the focus is on character, I don't think it's exactly fair to label this one as slight.

A post about the craft of criticism at Siris this week has been lingering at front-of-mind, tapping at me to answer the questions it raises:
If we strip away all irrelevancies, all purely arbitrary and irrational criteria, there is nothing about a work itself that can be assessed except these three things:
(1) Are the ends sought genuinely good?
(2) Are the means appropriate to the end?
(3) Are the means used in a way to achieve the end well?
The difficulty is identifying with confidence the ends of a particular episode of a TV series before the larger story of which it is a part has concluded. We don't generally consider it wise to review novels chapter by chapter before we've got to the end of the book; likewise, until we can locate an episode within the complete story of the series (by which I mean season, not the 50+ year series) we can't really be sure we know the the storyteller/showrunner's ends, in part because we haven't seen justice, or injustice, meted out to all the characters yet.

Brandon goes on to write in his post:
If you cannot identify what the author is trying to do, your opinion about the work is of no importance at all. It does not matter whether you were bored. It does not matter whether you have ideas about how you think it should have been written. It does not matter whether you hated it. It does not matter whether you liked it. If you don't know what the author is doing, or if you've misunderstood what the author is doing, your judgment is about you, and says nothing about the work itself.
So, yes, I can tell you I laughed out loud a few times and we can argue about whether the scene where the Doctor's deep cover operation is revealed to Clara is genuinely funny or not. When the Doctor tells Clara "Deep cover. Deep cover," and shuts the door on her, I laughed. I could go so far as to say, "if you didn't think Capaldi played that perfectly and weren't at least chuckling a little on the inside, then you have no sense of humor." But should you take that as just being about me and my sense of humor? (And for a comedic work, can we ever get from this conception of criticism to a determination whether the means are used well towards achieving an end if we can't agree on what's funny?)

The end of this season (Series 8) as far as I can tell, is to challenge us to think about what it means to be a good person, a hero, and whether the two are necessarily entangled. So anything I have to say about this story, and the others in the season, should be judged, I suppose, in light of whether I'm getting that right. Now, that's not the only end I think Moffat & co. have in mind, but I think it's the primary one.

If that is one of the ends, is it a worthy end?

Yes. I don't think you can go wrong creating entertainment that asks people to interrogate their notions of what it means to be virtuous.

Are the means appropriate to the end? The means: our hero, the Doctor, a grumpy, conflicted alien trying to protect innocent people, but also putting people in harm's way to accomplish his ends; Clara, a teacher, a hero in her own right, who loves the Doctor, but love loves Mr. Pink and has been withholding information, and outright lying when need be, to accomplish her ends; Mr. Pink, who love loves Clara and, now that he's found out about the Doctor, finds he's got to deal with whatever internal conflicts he's got about having been a soldier while reconciling Clara and the Doctor's companionship in light of their adventuring; the presence of agents in the universe that will harm others to accomplish their ends; a mysterious group of agents with extraordinary powers, resources, and unknown ends, but who are presenting themselves to some of those who die around the Doctor's adventuring as a supernatural force that rewards people with a heavenly after-life in the Promised Land; the Doctor Who continuity is a means; the TARDIS itself; the plot of each episode is a means; and, since we're talking about television, each directorial decision, each actor's choice in how to play a scene, each special effect, each editing decision, the use of music, all the myriad decisions that go into making a story for TV on top of what's written in the script, are a means of telling the story.

Yes, generally, to all of the above. It remains to be seen what Missy and the Nethersphere are all about; we may yet throw our hands up at the end and curse Moffat. But, for now, that means feels thematically appropriate.

Do the means achieve the end?

We have to re-frame this, I think, to consider this episode in the context we know it now. The story isn't complete and additional chapters will address the larger ends. The question for this episode is: did it entertain on its own, while maintaining or increasing interest in the larger story (we think) we're being told?

Hmm. I was entertained but, like a joke, do we have any criteria by which we can ever truly say it was entertaining such that we could prove to a person who wasn't that their not being entertained was a failure on their part, not of the story?  Well, I suspect that anyone who wasn't entertained wanted this story to be something other than it was -- perhaps a greater emphasis on the Clorox Twister, it's motivations/programming and the conflict it was engaged in, more people killed, greater peril to the Doctor and the kids at Coal Hill, more pew-pewing and Danny doing acrobatic combat -- and it's hard to see how that would've been a more effective way to set up grudging respect and unresolved conflict between Danny and the Doctor, for instance.

Let's get to the Stray Thoughts and I'll come back and do a massive re-write on this one after the season ends and/or I realize I need to re-think my assumptions about what we're watching:P

  • Love seeing snippets of other adventures and being reminded that the characters are up to more than what we see each week. It makes the DW universe feel bigger and more vibrant.
  • Two teachers, one male one female, a disruptive young lady, and a crankly old man with a TARDIS, sound familiar? The unacknowledged ghost of "An Unearthly Child" haunts this story in strange ways. Young Courtney the disruptive influence is not another Susan, but it sure looks like Twelve may see her that way. If Clara maps to Barbara, she's got a head start on Danny mapping to Ian. 
  • How can the Doctor go to Coal Hill School and show no sign he's given a thought to Susan, Ian, or Barbara? Well, he's Twelve, so we can imagine he's really that focused on what he's doing and is indifferent to his own history here. For us though, isn't it disturbing how it's like "An Unearthly Child" and "Remembrance of the Daleks" never happened for him? (Although, if he meets Ian, and has to explain regeneration, and that he's a Time Lord, and answer awkward questions like, "How did Susan get on after we left her? What do you mean you only saw her again briefly?!") 
  • I'm guessing many of us subtitled this one "Groundskeeper Willie Dresses Like a Ghostbuster"
  • So this bit: the white cop strolls up to two black kids and asks them why they aren't at school. I don't know if it only plays this way in America, but it felt like Ferguson, MO was about to break out in East London. Without checking the filming schedules, I'm sure this must have been in the can before Ferguson, but it was a tense moment. Can't help but wonder if viewers in the U.K. got a similar vibe?  (Twelve later asking Courtney if she didn't need to be off shoplifting somewhere was an uncomfortable moment as well. Again, as an American, I wonder if that just says more about our culture than about about whether that scene wasn't an unfortunate bit of writing.)
  • Twelve's evident delight when he thinks Clara's beau is a guy in a bow-tie with a bit too much jaw and unfortunate hair is borderline twee, but he needed a dash of that, didn't he?  
  • "Artron emissions"? Nerd alert!
  • Samuel Anderson is doing a brilliant job in his portrayal of Danny. "He's your space dad?!" Again, I was laughing. This is, far and away, the best Gareth Roberts has done writing.
  • Danny calling Twelve out as an officer (an aristocrat) and their class conflict worked really well for me. A powerful scene. We don't know Danny's trauma, but here are two former soldiers, as it were, trying to rile each other up and, perhaps, playing with fire by pushing the other to a dark place they might not want to have dredged up. That may have been my favorite scene of the season so far.
  • Twelve whistling "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" while Clara makes some schoolkids clean up a mess they've made. Hah!
  • Couldn't make out what Courtney was saying under her breath to Clara, and didn't pick up "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" meaning anything until second watch. Ozzie = Ms. Oswald ... Squaddie = Mr. Pink ... yeah, I was slow on the uptake there.
  • The scene where Danny tells Clara the Doctor needs to know he's good enough for her carried some paternalist baggage, the old suitor asking the maid's father for her hand, as if she were property. Or, maybe it didn't and Clara is going to do what she wants, with whom, regardless. 
  • So, Courtney is going to get another ride in the TARDIS? Are we sure this is a good idea? I thought Eleven taking Clara's charges on a trip was unwise and didn't sit right. Here I am again thinking this is a child, with a family and a life who is too young to make a decision like whether or not she should go off adventuring through time and space ... but am I applying too much real world thinking to a family show where having a younger character for younger viewers to identify with overrides normal reasoning?
  • I know, I know ... Skovox Blitzer. But I'll forget again in a week and be struggling to remember what it was called. 

What did I miss or get wrong?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kim Stanley Robinson to consult on Red Mars adaptation!

image via wikipedia
Spike TV is adding another original scripted series to its slate, and has partnered with “Game of Thrones” co-executive producer Vince Gerardis to develop “Red Mars,” based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy of novels.
Trying not to get my hopes up. This was supposed to happen on the Sci-Fi Channel with James Cameron attached a few years back. Can't say I'm excited that it's for Spike; but, if Mr. Gerardis can see that it gets as fair an adaptation as Martin's Game of Thrones, then I'll be beyond thrilled.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Dominators - "Just act stupid. Do you think you can manage that? "

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

Season 6, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #44) | Previous - Next | Index

This sums up the experience of watching "The Dominators" as well as anything.
Image via The Nixon Tapes

I watched it beginning to end because that's what I do. If you want to say you've watched every bit of Doctor Who made for TV, you'll have to do the same. If that's not one of your goals, then don't do it.

The things you'll read over and over about this one are: it's boring, it's reactionary, the Quarks were a pathetic attempt by profit-minded writers to cash in on a successor for the Daleks after Terry Nation locked them up in the movies, the Dulcians' garb looks ridiculous, the Dominators' only slightly better. Correct on all counts. So, what else is there to say?

Sandifer: "If I sound pissed off at this story, it's because I am. It is an overt attack on the ethical foundations of Doctor Who. Not only is it an attack on the entire ethos that underlies the Doctor as a character, it's an attempt to twist and pervert the show away from what it is and towards something ugly, cruel, and just plain unpleasant. The sheer sickening stench of this story is enough to turn one off the program entirely. Especially coming off of the long turgid slog of pointless and cynical bases under siege we've seen over the last year."

Graham: "I'm very tempted to feel that everything else about the story is so bad it goes all the way round and comes out at good again. The Quarks are so ridiculous they become charming, the Dominators are so extravagantly unpleasant and stupid that they become an unwittingly great pisstake of all fascists (using the term loosely, in the manner of Rik from The Young Ones), the Dulcians are so hilariously rubbish they become endearing, the plot is so aimless and repetitious that it starts to look like a deliberate tactic to make a statement about the futility of all action. So bad it's good? It's almost so bad it's Sartre!"

Looking for a contrarian opinion? Matthew Celestis offers one: "[The Dulcians] A boring bunch of tedious pacifists. True. Which makes it fun to watch them getting slaughtered by the Dominators. Not the most edifying entertainment, but you can't say it makes viewing a dull experience."

I'd argue instead that where it's not dull, it's because Jamie and Cully seem to be having fun picking off the Quarks, and the squabbling between the two Dominators shows a species that calls themselves "Dominators" aren't happy unless they're dominating someone all the time, even if it's one of their own.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time Heist - "You'll be old and full of regret for the things you can't change."

Time Heist - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #250) | Previous - Next | Index

Another pained reaction to being touched?
Image via debatchery

Fond of this episode without loving it, I wonder if any of the little bits that feel like they've got significance actually do, or if the Doctor just twinged his shoulder crawling around vents and that's why he's wincing after Saibra's hug ...

When we think of the heist movie, we are generally looking for a solution to a how question: how will this crew get it done? How will their allegiance to one another hold up once they have the booty? How will they adapt when things, as they invariably do, happen to the carefully laid plan?

"Time Heist" puts a spin on the usual questions and drops us into the heist scenario wondering: Why are they robbing the bank? Who's behind the whole thing? And then it proceeds to answer the questions after the plot beats we associate with the caper drama. On the whole, it works well. It looks great -- though some of the corridor running reminds us of the classic series tricks used to make the same corridor serve as different corridors. Here, instead of numbers on the wall incrementing up, or the camera shooting from the left instead of the right, the corridor instead are lit with different colors. (In this big, gorgeous bank, it feels like we may be spending a little more time than the viewer might prefer looking a plain corridor red, plain corridor blue, and plain corridor yellow.)

The assembling of a team having the skills needed to get the job done feels like an appropriate tip to any number of heist flicks -- the Ocean's movies, for example -- and Clara's choice of a date suit contributes to the a slow motion shot of the crew walking that could be considered a little Reservoir Dogs. These are nods of which I approve.

Image via AV Club
Much like the way "Hide" represented itself as a ghost story, only to turn out to be a different genre, "Time Heist" announces itself as being one sort of story, only pull a little sleight-of-hand and turn out to be another. The Doctor tells us outright: this was a rescue mission. So, once revealed, how do we feel about the rescue mission? Well, we can see why it's important to the Doctor. The Teller is another creature who is (not exactly) the last of its kind, so we can understand the Doctor's heartfelt desire to rescue it from that fate. But ... even though its motivations for serving as the guard dog of the bank is explained by its duty to do whatever it takes to save the last female its species, it still feels like a bit of a cheat that it gets to wander off into the sunset with the lady after, you know, sucking the brains out of a bunch of folks. Criminals, granted ... but this bank is for the super-wealthy, the wealthiest people in the universe in fact, so it's not that much of a stretch to imagine much of that wealth is ill-gotten, and that there might be very good reasons for thieves to try to get at it.

And that, that more than anything, is why I think I don't like this one quite as much as I'd like to ... this is a story produced in an age of historic wealth and income equality, in the wake of a vast, criminal activity by bankers and financiers which (we are told) necessitated massive bailouts of financial institutions in order to prevent a worldwide financial collapse. So, two weeks after a story about Robin Hood that seemed more concerned with getting all metatextual about story-telling and heroism than with addressing rapacious plutocracy, we have a story where the villain is a banker, sitting on her immense fortune, but who suffers pangs of conscience in the end and calls in the Doctor assuage her guilt over abusing two individuals she personally held in bondage.

We're dancing around structural, societal problems that grind swaths of humanity down into lives of struggle and debasement and addressing instead an individuals guilt over unambiguously evil actions directly against other individuals. Lost is the understanding that "white collar" crime and corruption by crisply dressed elites results in violence and suffering on wide scale, and should be dealt with. Crimes of violence by one individual against another individual are easy to prosecute; I want to see the Doctor pursue justice on a scale more appropriate to its sci-fi trappings.

Stray Thoughts:

There's a heist sequence in "The Planet of the Dead", and Davros engineered one of the all-time cosmic heists when he stole the Earth, among other planets, back at the end of Series Four. But those stories aren't really in the heist genre. "Planet" dips its toe into it, and Lady de Souza was the right sort of character, but after the opening, that's all dropped. It was a stretch to even link "The Stolen Earth" the genre at all.

Going back to the classic series, The Key to Time sequence, Season 16, could almost be seen as series of heists, but really only "The Ribos Operation" even comes close to having a heist movie vibe. And not that close, really.

The Doctor hating the Architect has shades of Eleven in "Amy's Choice," so if we weren't already pretty certain the Doctor was the the Architect, his announced hatred of that guy made it a lock.

Again with the cracks about Clara trying to dress up for a date ...

I keep reading how much everyone loves Psi and Saibra and wants to see them again. I get it, but I didn't think either were all *that* interesting. This may be widespread sub-conscious acknowledgment that the novelty is wearing off the Paternoster gang's collection of One Trick Ponies and we want something more, if not from them, than from a new set of recurring characters.

Great point in this comment by John Peacock on Sandifer's post about this story: "Last week's episode seemed very much to be adhering to dream logic, whereas this weeks was game logic: apart from the movement from level to level collecting things that aid in the task, closing in on the final boss (literally), and at least one elision point was highlighted (They enter a vent and there's an explicit visual effect and they are at the next level). I wonder if this ties in with the sense in Robot of Sherwood that they had materialised in story-space rather than actual medieval England."

"Robot of Sherwood" felt like a conscious nod towards "The Mind Robber" to me, but I saw this one being like "Robot of Sherwood" in that it's another missed opportunity to channel the post-Occupy zeitgeist. (That is the zeitgeist, right? It's not just me?) Having it pointed out that it's also another foray into a narrative logic that calls attention to the story as fiction, as opposed to a realist mode of storytelling forces back to front of mind that moment where Robin tells the Doctor they are each just as real as the other. No, I don't think we're leading towards a reveal that Clara is the Master of the Land of Fiction, but again it feels like that's deliberately being dangled as a possibility to prompt us to at least think about the series in the context of the art of storytelling.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Frontier In Space - "Got a trouble maker, have we?" "That's what I'm in for."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Frontier In Space - Details

Season 10, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #67)

"Frontier In Space" is a six-parter that runs directly into "Planet of the Daleks," also a six-parter. I'm a little concerned about my ability to handle what is, effectively, a twelve part epic in a timely fashion with the way work-life balance is tipping back towards work and my desire to stay on top the Series 8 stories as they come out. Since I mushed "Kinda" and "Snakedance" into one post when they're not quite so closely tied together, at least not in sequence, I leaned towards taking on "Frontier," then putting its write-up on ice until I can get to "Planet of the Daleks" so they could go out together. Watching his right after "Listen" though, I wanted to strike while the iron was still hot, so "Planet" will get its re-watch later and its own post.

What struck me about "Frontier" was, while quite a different beast than "Listen," it is linked thematically, and by a few particulars, in a way that resonated powerfully with the investigation of fear that ran through "Genesis of the Daleks," back through "An Unearthly Child," and into "Listen."

On the surface, "Frontier" could hardly be less like "Listen." The former is a political space opera with Ogrons raiding Human and Draconian ships to drive a wedge between the two uncomfortable allies. The Ogrons, brutish mercenaries we last saw in "Day of the Daleks," are revealed to be in the employ of the Master, who expects to step into the galactic power vacuum he's hoping to create by turning the two empires against one another -- with a little help from his "employers". (The Ogrons are a giveaway, to us if not the Doctor, what force stands behind the Master.) Ogron raiding parties strike all over the galaxy, boarding ships and bursting into government offices. We meet the President of Earth, her belligerent general, the Draconian royal family, political prisoners plotting escape from a lunar penal colony, the colony's corrupt staff, and on and on. The latter is a claustrophobic character piece that tracks the Doctor, Clara, Danny Pink, Orson Pink, and a monster that may or may not even be real, through a handful of locations.

The Master reads "The War of the Worlds"
Image via I Am Not a Politician, I'm a Spy
What they have in common though is an injunction not let fear overrule our better natures. The Master has provided the Ogrons with a device that makes them look to their victims like that which they fear most, so humans think they are being attacked by Draconians, and vice versa. Both sides of the alliance want to keep the peace, but have political realities to manage, and those realities include fearful warmongers in positions of power. Fear is what allows the Master, and the Daleks, to manipulate the powerful empires they seek to displace. The Doctor recognizes this, and with Jo's help -- the Master can't get over on her! -- ultimately helps sustain the alliance and bring the more bellicose members of the two sides into common cause.

Watching "Frontier," there were two times I snapped my finger, pointed at the screen, and thought, 'Moffat had this in mind when writing "Listen"': the first was seeing the Doctor get knocked out and his forehead bloodied -- when it happened in "Listen," I thought, 'we almost never see him actually cut in a scuffle', so when it happened again in "Frontier" it felt like a deliberate repetition; but, I might not have even remembered the thought if the second thing hadn't happened, the Doctor using the TARDIS's telepathic interface on the center console, which Clara uses in "Listen."

Maybe I'm noticing coincidental similarities and it's just my pattern recognition heuristics running hot, but this is a perfect example of what I'd hoped would happen when I decided to do this complete series re-watch non-sequentially, that bouncing back and forth between classic and new series stories would spark recognition of similarities or differences around thematic elements that I might otherwise not recall if fully immersed in one era.

Here's a nifty bit of casting: the news anchor reporting on reaction to another presumed Draconian attack on an Earth cargo ship, he's played by the same actor, Louis Mahoney, who played the aged police officer Sally Sparrow spends a rainy afternoon with in "Blink"!

Image via Doctor Who Randomness

Image via Doctor Who Randomness
A few of the props used in the is production are decidedly unfuturistic looking. The sippy cups used by the prisoners of the lunar penal colony for one. The chairs outfitted with seatbelts for the various space ships look like they came right off the showroom floor of a local furniture gallery.

On sad note, this is the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master. He died in a car crash a few months after this story aired while working on location in Turkey.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Listen - "Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly -- fear can make you kind."

Listen (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #249) | Previous - Next | Index


Image via TURoB

"Fear makes companions of us all," is something the Doctor will say later, as we saw earlier in "An Unearthly Child." But as a young boy, sleeping out in a barn -- a barn he'll come back to full of fear after years of soldiering -- he hears it for the first time from Clara. Yep, Moffat went there.

Listen, that's the sound of the canon opening a crack to admit tiny bit more of the Doctor's past. Moffat has more than dabbled in this arena already, of course, but when Clara showed up all through the Doctor's timeline earlier, we didn't see anything from before the time of the aged Hartnell Doctor, only that moment where he and Susan steal the TARDIS. The introduction of a whole 'nother Doctor between Eight and Nine was shocking, but this feels somewhat more transgressive, the reveal the child in the barn (who won't ever make a Time Lord, one of his caretakers worries) is the Doctor himself is something we've never seen, and never expected to see.

For all the early reviews forecasting freak outs, this one looks to be earning remarkably high approval on GB in the early returns:

As I watched twitter through one eye, squinting to avoid too much spoiler during the British broadcast -- a task I failed at so I won't do that again -- I started catching a lot of discussion about that barn, it's location ("Not on Gallifrey, fools" was the smug commentary I saw by know-it-alls about folks wondering how the TARDIS came back to Gallifrey if it was timelocked ... but I have to confess the know-it-alls are one up on me if they sussed out where besides Gallifrey that barn could be? I was pretty confident in my understanding that barn was on Gallifrey. Will have to scour the wikis and such to double check that ...), if the man and woman were his parents (they sounded more like guardians, as if running a foster home), and speculation about what was under the blanket in young Rupert ("Danny") Pink's bed in the facility he was in. Wish I'd avoided all that. 

Also wish my cable had been in better shape tonight. There were frequent freezes and choppiness in the sound that ruined parts of it. Most annoyingly, the moment in restaurant when Clara made a joke that Danny found not funny. It sounded like a revisit to the uncomfortable moment in "Into the the Dalek" when he was called a lady killer but whatever she said was so garbled I couldn't make it out. Hopefully it'll be running smoother for the replay later ... 

Want to circle back to the parallels between Danny and the Doctor, they're time soldiering, and the Doctor's attitudes towards soldiers, the questions about what, if any monsters there were in this story, and about the likelihood that Clara was Orson Pink's great-grandmother. That's all me speculating along with the crowd. The more important thing to get after though is the way this ties back to the line "Forest of Fear" (AKA, "An Unearthly Child" Episode 3) and reinforces one of the central themes of the series.

What does the episode tell us about fear? Or, more importantly, what does it tell us about what to do with fear? We visited how DW speaks to fear recently in the post about "Genesis of the Daleks," and this story picks that up and runs with, albeit from a different angle. Where "Genesis" was largely about how fear makes the cowardly lash out, "Listen" explores, through Clara, echoing/retro-actively foreshadowing the words of Hartnell's Doctor, the recognition that it's OK to be afraid, to experience fear -- it's what you do with it that matters.

Do you let it twist you into knots of hatred and cowardice (Davros), or do you accept the fear and embrace the fact that everyone "has the same nightmare"? (Even if it's not the exact same nightmare; being grabbed from under the bed is not one I've ever had.) Fear is always with us. Existence is precarious. When we recognize the fear in others, empathize with them, and translate that understanding into compassionate action, we perform the ultimate alchemy: we make progress. The universe is indifferent to us; some of us are cruel to others; but, if enough of us decide to be kind in the face of it all, consciousness wrings justice out of chaos.

This is why I love this show. For more that fifty years it has been arguing that we should face the world with a brave heart.

Now let's wrangle with a few of the questions raised by this story ...

Until someone points me to solid on-screen evidence to indicate otherwise, I'm of the opinion the barn we saw the War Doctor trudge to and meet the Moment was on Gallifrey. Therefore, I think the TARDIS went to that barn on Gallifrey earlier in the Doctor's timeline, before Gallifrey was time locked, and we were seeing the Doctor staying with another family, or in a sort of foster home, as a child. I don't think the voices we heard were those of his parents, so it's not clear to me this story does anything to shed light one way or the other on whether or not the Doctor's canonical revelation in the TV movie that he's half-human remains that: canonical. If the TARDIS can bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey at a point before the Time War, does all his moping about being the Last of the Time Lords make much sense? Does the concept of a Time War make sense at all anyways?

Danny Pink's trauma (was he somehow involved in a war crime, or did his actions a conflict zone result in the death of civilians?) and Clara not wanting to be told about her death are both explicitly showcased again in this story. That is either significant or a red-herring. Or something else. Right?

No Missy, no Heaven this week, at least not that I caught on first watch.

I have no idea why Orson Pink would be wearing an SB6 space suit like Ten in "The Impossible Planet" or Eleven in "Hide"?

Is it a healthy habit for this show to show adults interfering in the lives of children they are going to interact with later, when those children are adults -- sometimes romantically?  Eleven meeting young Amelia Pond, becoming her Raggedy Doctor, then taking her away the night before her wedding is one. Clara comforting young Danny after her first date with older Danny (wibbly-wobbly) and perhaps cementing his soldierly ambitions is another. Clara then doing something similar for the young boy who would become the Doctor is another. As a parent, I'm in the Help Shape the Mind of the Youth business. I'm also in the Get Out of the Way and Let Them Figure Things Out For Themselves business. Criss-crossing timelines can be fun in a time travel story, but what does it say when the author has characters going back in time to influence the development of people instead of, I don't know, changing their minds through conversation?

Recommended reading:
"Fear Makes Companions of Us All (Listen)" at Eruditorum.
A.V. Club Review of Listen

On the difficulty of gaining perspective ...

454 W 23rd St New York, NY 10011—2157
Most forgeries ‘fall out’ after about fifty years or so; in other words, they conform to the popular image of the artist held at the time the fake was made ... Later generations, who see the artist quite differently, distinguish between the ‘true’ appearance of his work and the ideas held about him by an earlier generation of admirers and smugly wonder how their fathers could have been so easily deceived.
—Entry: fakes and forgeries
The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, p. 175, Peter and Linda Murray

By all means, let's single out the undocumented immigrants ...

Illegal aliens are much more of a threat than ISIS - National Immigration Reform |
There has been a great deal of rhetoric from the White House recently on President Obama's alleged commitment to "keeping Americans safe" from the Islamic terror organization known as ISIS. While it remains to be seen whether or not Obama will actually "degrade and defeat" ISIS, it is simply fact that he has sat by and allowed untold numbers of our children to be raped by illegal aliens.
If you're a regular reader, you may be expecting an eye roll and dismissive comment, which are certainly warranted here, but I want to focus on a point of agreement first: the small of undocumented immigrants who are also violent criminals and sexual predators are, as Mr. Gibson has noted, more of a threat to Americans in America minding their own business than ISIL.

Based on the number of Americans who were in America minding their own business when they were attacked, I would like to point out some other groups who pose more of threat to us than ISIL: the police, clergy (especially youth ministers), NFL players, the Palin family, and we could do this all day ...

Arm the teachers, they said, nothing could possibly go wrong, they said ...

This is the Second Week in a Row that an American Teacher Accidentally Shot Themselves at School | NationofChange

Image via (apparent wackadoodle) Pat Dollard
Sixth grade teacher Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery was injured Thursday morning when she accidentally fired her gun in her Utah elementary school bathroom. Authorities believe the bullet accidentally struck a toilet that exploded, causing fragments of the toilet and the bullet to strike her leg and injure her ... But she’s not the only teacher to accidentally fire her gun at school, just since this school year started.

Giles Getting Thumped

"One of these days ... "

" ... you're going to wake up in a coma."

-- Cordelia Chase

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Genesis of the Daleks - "Order the destruction of the incubator section."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Genesis of the Daleks - Details

Season 12, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #78) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Randomness

When we talk about the great seasons of Doctor Who, season 12 comes close to being in the discussion, but no season could have both "The Sontaran Experiment" and "Revenge of the Cybermen" in it and credibly be among the very best. That said, "Genesis of the Daleks" and "The Ark in Space" are two of the classic series' best offerings, so 12 has quite a bit going for it.

My re-watch of "Genesis" happened to fall in the same weekend as the first broadcast of "Into the Dalek," so the two are tightly linked in my mind now. The questions "Can there be a good Dalek?" and "Would it be morally right for the Doctor to destroy all the Daleks before they committed all the atrocities he knows they will?" are tightly coupled, and it seems only fair that the answer to the former could color your decision-making with regard to the latter.

The first question, "Can there be a good Dalek?" is the more interesting one, to my mind. The implication that the Daleks are deprived of sufficient ability to make informed choices about their actions based on their understanding of the universe due to the engineering (by Davros, their creator) of their genetic makeup, as well the engineering of their mechanized components. We see that a Dalek who is not effectively lobotomized by its armor casing alters its actions based on the information it is now able to process. That Dalek, whether informed by the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks, its own satori about life, the universe, and everything, or both, does the Dalek-y thing and is out to exterminate the rest of its own race. So, Twelve (which is what I'm going to call Capaldi's Doctor) went into the Dalek and, after running around it's corridors for a while and mind melding with it, turned it into ... Tom Baker's Doctor in "Genesis".

The second question can never be as interesting because we (real world humans incapable of time travel apart from the garden variety time travel our minds negotiate as entities in the space-time continuum) can never know with the same degree of certainty as the Doctor what the future holds. Even the Doctor, knowing what he knows of the Daleks and the Time War also knows that time can, in fact, be re-written, the universe rebooted, and the evil of the Daleks assuaged, if not eliminated.

"Genesis" is Terry Nation's greatest achievement as a writer for a Doctor Who. (That's not saying all that much, frankly, but it's meant to be praise.) After I watch all of Blake's 7, I'll have a better idea where it stands overall. Generally speaking, the scene that gets all the hype is the moment where Four holds the two wires in his hands that he could put together and destroy the Dalek nursery. He'd ordered Davros to destroy it earlier, so his pangs of conscience here aren't quite as dramatic as they might've been. Tom Baker, plays the scene brilliantly and the fact his misgivings would seem to be only because he's got to do the deed himself instead of ordering someone else to do it don't interfere with the impact.

Rather, it's Davros's moment , his consideration of whether he would, given the chance, unleash a virus that would destroy all other life in the universe, that remains the most dramatically successful. It's a testament to Michael Wisher's talent and the design of Davros himself that his scene of introspection plays so powerfully. There's a direct line from that scene to Davros in "Journey's End," trying to detonate a reality bomb that will take the hypothetical virus to a whole new level. Davros is the most dangerous villain of all: a nihilist. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it's an ethos.

"Into the Dalek"'s Rusty, and the rest of the Daleks we encounter throughout the series  may be essentially what Davros set out to create -- conquerors out to exterminate all non-Dalek life (except when they're not) and preserve their racial purity (except when they waver on that front as well, but exceptions are to prove the rule) -- but they are not evil in the same way as Davros himself.

If we are to understand Davros as a Hitler figure, and the Daleks as Nazis/fascists, then I think it follows that what motivates them is fear. Fear of the Other. Feelings of superiority based on ethnicity reduce to nothing more than fear of people who are not like you. The Daleks are the ultimate expression of a fearful approach to world. Doctor Who is at its very best, it's most useful, and most righteous, when it illustrates that overcoming that fear, approaching the world with openness to new experience from a place of compassion for others, is key to our ability to make moral progress. (This speaks to one of the series's other chief concerns, the consequences of technological advance outpacing our moral progress.)

Season 12 may not be best season, but I'm coming around to suggesting it's the place to start if you're new to Who (Or, #NewToWho, as BBCA would prefer we express it.) "Robot" is far from perfect, but it's Pertwee-era enough to lay the groundwork for a later exploration of that era, introduces Tom Baker so you can grow with him, exposes you to the horrors of misused CSO, and touches on the themes of anti-fascism and madscientistophobia. Some would have you start with classic story, but I think it's better to prepare you for what you're in for. You get the classics as you move into "Ark", skip "Experiment", watch "Genesis", then jump ahead to "Terror of the Zygons". I don't imagine it's possible to stop you seeking out more after that ...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Robot of Sherwood - "Is it so hard to credit? That a man born into wealth and privilege should find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear?"

Robot of Sherwood - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story #3 (Overall Series Story #248) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via show me the stars
As always: spoilers. You've been warned.

Has Doctor Who ever censored/edited itself in light of current events before?  Nobody was shot in the head in any of the episodes of "An Unearthly Child", which debuted in the shadow of the Kennedy assassination, although the Doctor nearly brained Za, the caveman ...

It's worth asking the question: was the edit (removing the scene where the Sheriff is beheaded*) warranted considering the recent beheadings of the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AKA IS, ISIL, ISIS)? It's the age-old "too soon?" question -- because, obviously, we're not going to see an end to beheadings on TV and film forever, so we're clearly in some sensitivity period -- that I think we only need to look at one of this week's other headlines for which to find an answer. Joan Rivers is no longer with us to remind the world that it's never too soon. We can safely assume the scene will be restored when the series makes it to video release, so we probably oughtn't get our noses bent for the slight damage cutting the scene does to the plot.

Another question it might be worth asking is: should shows still do the Robin Hood episode? Are we past peak Robin Hood in 2014? If your first thought of a sci-fi show doing Robin Hood was this:

The Enterprise D crew in "Qpid" via fanpop
 ... then you might've groaned a little when you first saw "Robot of Sherwood" listed as an upcoming episode. In a period of increasing wealth inequality, the legend of Robin Hood is as timely as ever. That said, could this episode have stood a stronger dash of righteous socialist anger at the exploitation of laborers -- that is to say more than Marxism 101 crib notes dotted throughout?

This is a fun, pacy episode; a perfectly acceptable mode for Doctor Who, the light entertainment. It can't be the only mode, or the series risks becoming forgettable. But small-stakes peril, a plot that leaves the rails, and giving history a proper thrashing in the course of mining public domain literary figure/pop culture mainstays is fair play in my book. Think too hard about how the peasants got hold of all those gold plates, why they worked as perfect reflectors, how unlikely it is Clara would get another chance to get interrogated by a cyborg, how that gold arrow was fired from a regular bow, went that high, and made a lick of difference, and you'll just end up realizing you should have been rolling your eyes all the way through the back half of this one, if you weren't already. So, yeah, I think this is one that's going to provoke love/strong dislike responses. (Or, split the difference. Let's cover all the bases.)

Having just watched "The Mind Robber," this bit felt like deliberate reference to that old classic:
"Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end. Goodbye, Doctor. Time Lord of Gallifrey."
"Goodbye, Robin Hood. Earl of Loxley."
"And remember, Doctor, I'm just as real as you are."
Gatiss certainly couldn't have written that without the Land of Fiction in mind, could he have? On re-watch, that "And remember ..." sounded so Clara, and Robin telling the Doctor Clara told him the story of the Doctor, and once she got started she couldn't stop ... If there's a storyteller in the Land of Fiction, it sure sounds like it could be Clara.

Stray Thoughts (enumerated because there are lots this week):

1. No Missy. Instead we get another group of robots looking for the Promised Land, so it appears the droids in "Deep Breath" may have got their destination from these robots, or been looking for the same place themselves, not from Christian mysticism after all.

2a. Watching the previews, when the Doctor pulls out a spoon to duel Robin Hood, I immediately flashed to Basil Fawlty confronting the man he assumed was a hotel inspector about the man's actual profession. SSSSSsssssspppppppooooooooooooons. So, of course I went looking for it and, lo and behold:

2b. Related:

3. "Feck ya, Robin Hud" *snortlaugh*

Image via RocketJohn
4. What's the strongest Doctor Who - Robin Hood connection? It must be the actor who first played the role on TV, our man Patrick Troughton, who -- amazingly -- is shown as Robin Hood in the database of the damaged robot ship:

Image via GoldenAppleGuy

5. The first literary reference to Robin Hood is in Piers Plowman, and I'll pull the quote here because it also makes reference to the Latin name of the Lord's Prayer, which'll be better known to irreligious Whovians as the name of our favorite gang:

6. redditor Planet_PGS asked: "Did anyone else hear the Jon Pertwee 'Hai!' When he karate chopped Robin's arm?" Hell yes, I did! I jumped on the internet to do a quick search and was, as usual, slightly disappointed I never get to point anything out first.  [reddit thread for this ep] Love the reference to the miniscope as well ... Pertwee's Doctor is all over this one. Even the setting and the basic outline of aliens with superior technology crashing on Earth and going to work for a local strongman calls back to Linx and Irongron in "The Time Warrior".

7. All the crosses in this one, whether cross-shaped robot face blasters, or cross shaped openings in dungeon walls that shine upon the Doctor ... all that was missing was choir music to complete the effect. That Clara had all of time to choose from and decided to go see one legendary hero of oppressed, one man who put used preternatural skills to lessen the suffering of the poor ... and she chose Robin Hood was good on her, but this episode leaned hard on the idea that we somehow need heroic figures to carry on, while debunking the idea that figure would be little more than the opiate of the masses. That didn't sit right with me.

8. 1190-ish, puts Clara and Twelve in Sherwood at about the same time Vicki, Ian, and Barbara are in Palestine with their Doctor meeting up with Richard around Palestine in "The Crusade".

* Why do we say "behead" instead of "dehead", I wondered? Found google does this nifty thing now where searching using 'etymology' as the first operator returns a card at the top of the search results, wherein I learned it's because the prefix "be-" here is derived from Old English, not Latin, as I should have surmised on my own. So we have the latinate "decapitate" but it's "be-" that goes with "head" when were talking about taking one off. Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Inferno - "Look, I am not mad, I am not a spy and I'm certainly not a political demonstrator."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Inferno - Details

Season 7, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #54) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Gifs
The Doctor Who writer's guide entry for stretching stories so they cover six episodes is to cycle through capture, escape, re-capture, escape again as many times as needed. "Inferno" is a rather ingenious variation on the technique. Here, the old sci-fi chestnut of the parallel universe with evil twins of the characters we know and love is re-purposed so the story that's been started can basically be retold without boring the viewer because Hey, Look, the Good Guy We Like Is Now an Eye Patch Wearing Bad Guy!

It's inevitable for two long-running series of the same genre, covering roughly the same time period, that there are going to be similarities between episodes and themes. I've hit a little patch of DW / Star Trek parallels with the episodes I've been watching recently. "Into the Dalek," in addition to re-covering some territory DW has covered before, called to mind ST:TNG's "I, Borg". (But, hey, aren't the Borg just amped up, competent Cybermen?)  "Inferno," would seem to owe no less a debt to "Mirror, Mirror". What it lacks in originality though, it makes up for in being solid, UNIT-era, environmentalist comfort food.

Jack Graham posted something recently about DW's obsessions, and watching "Inferno" reminded me of one I think he left out. He writes:
People really don't understand this show at all ... Doctor Who is supposed by some to be the 'triumph of romance and intellect over brute force and cynicism'.  Wrong.  Firstly, much of Doctor Who doesn't even recognise a contradiction between romance and intellect on the one hand, and brute force and cynicism on the other.  Secondly, the show is absolutely obsessed with entropy, commodification, fetishism, cannibalism, humans as meat, etc... and that's without getting into even more overt obsessions like class, sadism and tyranny.
The obsession not mentioned is what we might call a hand-wringer's concern about an amoral pursuit of science. If I said to you I had just watched the one where someone had doggedly pursued some discovery/technological breakthrough so they could attain power without carefully considering the risks, which story might you think I was talking about? "Planet of Giants" ? "Tomb of the Cybermen"? "Dalek"?  "The Lazarus Experiment"? "Robot"? Or, "Inferno"?

Let's look at what happens in this story: the Doctor's attempts to 'break the barrier' while trying to get the TARDIS functioning again result in his sideways hop into the alternate universe, he's driven and insufficiently prudent in pursuit of his goal, much like Stahlman is with his drilling. Stahlman's drilling results in green slime from deep within the Earth turning anyone who touches it into Primords -- for some reason, because they needed some more baddies running around to ratchet up the action, I suppose -- and, rather more seriously, is going to essentially turn the world inside-out.

Now, this all makes very little sense. I'm as concerned about fracking causing earthquakes as the next guy, but the Doctor yelling: "That's the sound of this planet screaming out its rage!" and this drilling operation ending the world in flood of lava is patently ridiculous.

When I say I'm concerned about fracking, as I am about deep sea drilling, and nuclear power plants, I have to admit only the last of those is a personal, near-front-of-mind-fear and that's because I live not very far from a nuclear power station, and we've had tornadoes rip through this area. What strikes me as concerning about fracking and the contamination of groundwater, and the earthquakes, and about the possibility of another Deep Water Horizon, is that the scientists and engineers who develop these techniques, like those who split the atom, generally seem to understand the risks and the need to use the technology judiciously. The risk of pursuing new technology isn't mad scientists trying to rule or the destroy the world with the latest weapon, the risk is that technology developed in the context of neo-liberal capitalist societies will be used amorally and imprudently by oligarchs shielded from the consequences of their actions by their wealth and the legal-governmental structures that have been established to ensure they are never accountable for the suffering they cause.

"Inferno," made as a straight drama instead of a Doctor Who story, would have Sir Keith (Hey, look, it's Christopher Benjamin, who'll later play Henry Gordon Jago to such brilliant effect in "The Talons of Weng Chiang"!) as the hero, and crisis would have been averted when he carefully weighed the concerns of drilling expert Greg Sutton against Stahlman's bluster and dismissal of the evidence of danger. This may be a case of the Doctor being the wrong hero for the story (or, more accurately, not being used correctly for the story he's in) and, as a result, the devastating critique it could have made of capitalist exploitation of the environment ends up as a more ham-handed, less discriminate bit of vaguely ecological propaganda.

That's my long-winded way of saying this was almost the classic some would have you believe it is. It's not quite because it's got its concerns slightly misplaced, and so it goes about solving the problem the wrong way. It delivers lots of great action, a fun twist on the characters, touches of humor, and features a relatively strong cast (Caroline John, John Levene, and Nicholas Courtney shine as their fascist counterparts), so is by no means a failure. Sir Keith and Sutton are not played for fools, so it largely gets them right -- though Sutton's a bit painful to watch as he schmoozes Petra -- the fact that their heroic function falls to the Doctor instead, and he's got a bit of Stahlman's problem just muddles the moral of the story.

Off On A Tangent

What would really happen if we drilled as deep as we could?  Well, there's the Kola Superdeep Borehole to answer that.

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