Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Time of the Doctor - "Eleven's hour's over now ... "

The Time of the Doctor (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 7, Story 16 (Overall Series Story #241) | Previous - Next | Index

The Doctor and the Silence defend Christmas.

As much as I loved and was willing to play along with the 50th Anniversary Special, I disliked and was impatient with this Xmas Special. The introduction of Peter Capaldi at the end was about the only thing that worked for me, almost no part of how we got there sits well. Delighted that Capaldi's now the Doctor, the first of a new regeneration cycle, I'm more nervous than ever that we finally got the actor that should be our greatest Doctor, only to have him during the implosion of Moffat-era excess.

Nudity clowning around, sure that can be funny, but here's it's not. The humor at the start of this episode is all wrong-footed. Naked Doctor isn't funny, it's creepy/weird. The turkey not being ready, the Doctor obliviously stating you'd need a time machine to have it ready, it falls flat. The blundering Doctor bringing a Dalek eyestalk aboard an unknown spacecraft as proof of courage, only to have it be a Dalek ship? Forced humor eliciting only a groan. Then forcing it further by having the Doctor next bring Handles, the Cyberhead (at least no organics in it, we're assured), to make the same mistake aboard a Cyberman ship? That's just awful.

And his clothes are holographic.
Worse still, because it's an Xmas Special, it turns out the town on Trenzalore where we get the entirely unsatisfactory return of the crack in the wall, through which the oldest question in the universe is being asked, that town is called Christmas. Christmas is a snowy little hamlet where it's a Victorian-ish Christmas all the time. Groanity-fucking-groan. Remember in "The Snowmen" how unbelievably corny and awful it was that a family crying on Christmas Eve magically turned the malevolent snow into rain and we were all like, WTF? This was worse.

It's in this big mess of cornball the series decides to get itself out of the regeneration dilemma by having Clara get down on her knees and prayerfully ask the Time Lords through the crack to help the Doctor. After centuries of defending Christmas, the aged Matt Smith Doctor ascends to the top of a tower to finally be killed by the Daleks only to have a new regeneration cycle popped in his mouth out of the relocated crack. He uses the burst of regeneration energy to wipe out the Daleks, retreats to the TARDIS, and gets his farewell moment. Relieved of the dodgy age makeup and seeing visions of his past, he gets a goodbye from Amelia Pond before dropping his bow tie and ...

The transition to the Capaldi Doctor happens in the blink of an eye. We learn he doesn't like the color of his new kidneys and doesn't know how to fly the TARDIS. Since we've been conditioned to treat the Doctor's solemn proclamations as lies ("I'll never send you away again," he says and immediately sends Clara away), we should probably expect that his promise to remember every bit of his life was made specifically to communicate that he, in fact, won't. Not knowing how to pilot the TARDIS seems to be the first evidence that starting a new regeneration cycle means the effective start of a new Doctor, ignorant of his own past. (This later proves to be only regeneration-addled confusion, he'll be right again soon.)

Now, that's an interesting direction to take. There's no actor I'd rather see given the opportunity to reinvent the Doctor as someone quite different from what the character's been in the RTD & Moffat years, but I'm not sure having Moffat be in charge of where this is all going to go has us in good hands. If he's decided to dial it back, stop rebooting the universe and treat this a chance to get back to basics, then I'm optimistic, but I'm afraid he's just going to keep piling on the Papal Mainframe Kovarian Chapter ridiculousness.

Stray thoughts:

Does Handles get companion status, since we see him travelling in the TARDIS right from the start of this episode? He stays with the Doctor for all those years in Christmas ... if we consider him a companion, then he probably also has to be considered the one with whom the Doctor spent the most time -- at least in the TV series.

Tasha Lem. Groan. Should we really be introduced to old friends of the Doctor, who are well enough acquainted with him to be able to fly the TARDIS, to have them playing a key role in a story, up to and including being killed and turned into a Dalek puppet, and be expected to have it sit well that they were the equivalent of an ace up the sleeve to be played and discarded in order to keep such a strained plot moving? I'm fine with pulling in characters and giving them a back story with past incarnations, but it's got to handled much more gracefully than this. There's not even an old Virgin novel or Big Finish we can go back to find something out to flesh her out, just what we infer from what we saw.

How are the Time Lords doing things? I thought the tech the Doctors used to save Gallifrey froze them in an instant in time like the paintings we saw in "The Day of the Doctor"?

The laundry list of loose-ends did get some items ticked off. What did Eleven see behind the door in Room 11 where the space minotaur showed everyone their greatest fears? The crack in the wall. What were the Silence? Genetically engineered priests in the Church of the Papal Mainframe. (It's an answer, I'm not sure it's explanatory, but it's an answer.)  I didn't see anything about The Woman though.

The Fairy Tale motif may finally be laid to rest? This Doctor's run started, ended, and had so much of that fairy tale styling in between that I think, while some of it worked quite well, there's enough Grimm and Once Upon A Time on TV that we don't need Doctor Who working in that field as well.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday - Dalek: "Daleks have no concept of elegance." Cyberman: "This is obvious."

Army of Ghosts (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 12 (Overall Series Story #177a)

This is the end of an era. Not the era of show-runner, or of a Doctor, but of a companion. For the first time since Sarah Jane got dropped off at the end of "The Hand of Fear," the departure of a companion feels like transitional moment for the show. (You could make a case of Adric's death having a kind of import -- the series telling us companion status doesn't guarantee your survival; but, I doubt anyone thinks in terms of there being an Adric era.) This time though, it's much more about the departure; the series has never cared about a companion this much before ... and won't again until Amelia Pond comes along. Rose was the first face we saw when the series returned. Heck, she was the name of the first episode, and she's been nearly as important a character as the Doctor himself. If the series is, to varying degrees at different times, a celebration of humanist values, Rose is an integral part of that that. Sure, she was a shopgirl without much of a future who got swept off her feet by a dashing leading man, shown the world and the vastness of her own potential, which sounds like the worst sort of Disney Princess rubbish you'd not want your daughter brainwashed by; however, from that dubious premise, she broke out and, instead of being just a young woman in a creepy relationship with a much older man, became the moral center of the show. Her compassion (on display in every story), humility (identifying with the working class people they encounter in their travels, plumbers at the end of the world and chambermaids in Victorian times), and courage do more than help the Doctor manage his own emotions and interactions with humanity (she'd have been no more than an extension of his character if she were only that) -- they are key factors in her saving the day. From her gymnastics skills being crucial to the resolution in "Rose," to her turn as the Bad Wolf, the Doctor would've been dead without her, and the world overrun by Autons, or Daleks.

She tells us, rather melodramatically, and bit manipulatively, that this is the story of how she died. It's really not. Not only does she live (even though considered dead in her birth universe), she'll be back from her exile to a parallel universe in time. But for now we're allowed plenty of time to say good-bye to her, something the classic series was terrible at, and it feels right.

RTD & co. also manage to wrap the elegiacal elements around the spectacle of hordes of Daleks and hordes of Cybermen returning, and of Torchwood's introduction, in a largely entertaining ripper of a story. Going for over-the-top, sci-fi spectacle isn't one of the show's strengths, but it manages to trot out the excess, then pull the plug and let it run down the drain, as it were, pretty successfully here.

With this story, I think there's a couple different lenses you can use to focus in on it, and RTD's attitudes about Tony Blair and New Labour aren't very far under the surface, but I'm much more comfortable talking about Rose than I am attempting to wade into considerations of English (and Welsh, I suppose) attitudes towards the U.K.'s politics and position in the world. Yvonne Hartman and Torchwood almost certainly say something about how the left in the U.K. feel about their leadership, their hopes and fears for their future, but I'll leave that analysis to the experts. Having just watched "Warriors' Gate" though, Four's commentary on the Tharils leaps to mind as we see how gung-ho Yvonne is restore the glory of crown and country by mucking about with powers her organization doesn't understand: "That's no way to run an empire."

As much respect the series shows Rose in wrapping up her run, it's pretty hard on the rest of humanity. The media takes it on the chin again. Not unfairly. Jackie takes the brunt of some dismissive humor and really is awful for much of the story. She stands in for the vast swatches of society that watch terrible TV and get their news from tools and fools, the gullible and anti-scientific lot that would believe an explanation like "ghosts" for a phenomenon that clearly required concerted investigation rather urgently. (Not sure if there's a bit of a dig at climate change denialism here or if I'm projecting.) Jackie is teased by the Doctor, but really, based on her behavior in general and towards Rose, we can understand why he'd be embarrassed to have history record her as his travelling companion.

Stray observations:

  • Strange to see Martha Not Martha in retrospect. Another example of how we should anticipate casting decisions by combing past episodes for candidates to fill larger roles.
  • When we think of Ten, we often think "Allons-y!" and those 3d glasses, here's where they come in.
  • What's that sarcophagus in we see in Torchwood's warehouse floor? Is that from "Pyramids of Mars"?
  • How exactly did Mickey & Co. follow the Cybermen across the void? And manage to get Mickey a job at Torchwood under a fake name? I know there was an explanation offered, but it went by kind of quick and felt like gloss-over of some wildly improbable stuff that would have had to happen to put all the pieces in place. 

Doomsday (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 13 (Overall Series Story #177b)

The first of this story dragged a little for me, frankly. The implausibility of Mickey working at Torchwood had to be introduced, Jackie was so annoying, the Torchwood stuff and the explanation of the ghost shifts all got sandwiched in with Rose's imminent departure. It's got some tremendously fun moments, but it's setting up the big pay off and that, for me, is what this episode delivered.

Armies of Cybermen and Daleks breaking into our world is great, but what makes it priceless is how they bump up against one another as they seek to establish the foothold from which each plans to conquer the world, and then some. That moment where the Cybermen get smug after the Daleks, in their arrogance, thoughtlessly give away their identity -- the information they were contemptuously refusing to provide -- is marevelous. A bit later, when the Cybermen -- who really are terribly smug, arent' they? -- are so dismissive of Dalek aesthetics, we just know they're not going to be able to ally. (Not now anyways. Later we'll find they can work together against a common enemy ... ) The humor lacing this episode works for me, playing off the grand scale of the invasion(s) and the big emotions of Rose's departure.

The Daleks finally assert their badassery both by deed word. They mow down Cybermen and deliver the verbal riposte that finishes their bickering:
Cyberman: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?
Dalek Sec: Four.
Cyberman: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
Dalek Sec: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek! You are superior in only one respect.
Cyberman: What is that?
Dalek Sec: You are better at dying!
Daleks with names. Ah yes, the Cult of Skaro is introduced here. Not a very exciting development, unfortunately, and one that leads to what I remember being the not-at-all-good two-parter "Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks." (Should be careful, I suppose, since that's one I've only watched the one time and have on the re-watch list coming up. Reserving the right to revise my opinion 'til then.)

Torchwood survives the Battle of Canary Wharf and will play into future stories, as well as going on to being its own show -- not one I'm going to write about though. (The Sarah Jane Adventures stand a better chance of being the spin-off series I turn to for more in-universe things to write about when I'm caught up with the main show. Not ruling out the original novels, Big Finish Audio, or taking up another series entirely ... )  I'd be more upset that Yvonne Hartman ended her life as the Cyberman Who Sheds an Oily Black Tear if it hadn't left the door open for Gemma Redgrave to come aboard as Kate Stewart, a fine bit of casting that's still paying dividends. Still, I wouldn't have minded seeing that character get her come-uppance as an imperialist and having an arc that allowed her to grow into a more nuanced and judicious ally and rival of the Doctor.

And we come to the end of Billie Piper's regular run as Rose on the rocky shores of DÃ¥rlig Ulv-Stranden (which I gather may not exactly translate to "Bad Wolf Beach" as Rose asserts). Ms. Piper plays the scene brilliantly, and our hearts break for her when Ten fades out before he tell her he ... well, we assume he's going to say he loves her, too. "Journey's End" will give her another, happier farewell scene, but for now it really feels like she's removed from the Doctor's universe and their farewell is final.

The mood turns quickly though as Donna Noble makes her surprise debut in the TARDIS, weirdly not ushering in Catherine Tate's run as companion, more a premonition of that, in this strange interlude before Freema Agyeman returns as the cousin of the character she played in part one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

cdogzilla's 2013 Jam Odyssey

cdogzilla's 2013 Jam Odyssey

Year end -- that means it's time for lists and retrospectives. Luckily, thisismyjam makes it easy to round up all the stuff I was re-visiting or discovering this year on the music front ...

 Dive in ...
Click image above to listen on

Yo La Tengo's "Ohm" was my track of the year. The Wildweeds' "No Good to Cry" was the historical jam of the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is Kim Stanley Robinson Our Greatest Political Novelist?

Our Greatest Political Novelist? : The New Yorker:

The Gold Coast (signed)
You could argue that, if I didn’t fundamentally agree with his politics, Robinson’s fiction might seem contrived and didactic to me, the way Ayn Rand’s does if you’re not predisposed toward her brand of enlightened assholism. It’s true he likes to write lectures and speeches, but they’re more engaging than some of Tolstoy’s, who nearly succeeded in stomping my clinging fingers off of “Anna Karenina” with his ruminations on Russian agriculture circa 1870. But I don’t just admire Robinson’s ambitions or agree with his agenda; I’m not recommending his books because they’re good for you. Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite novelists, period.
Stan's not just one of our greatest political novelists, he's one of our greatest novelists of any sort.

Gerry Canavan

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"My Little Ponies were the first to arrive / and woe to any human who collected all five!"

Yo La Tengo, Ira Glass, & Eugene Mirman – “Toymageddon” Video - Stereogum:

No extended holiday run at Maxwell's this year, or ever again, but check out The Bell House upcoming shows for Dec. 12-16, 2013. If that becomes their next annual holiday extravaganza, I'll try to be there next year. (Heads-up, Brooklynites, I may be looking for a couch or guest room sometime next December!)

h/t +Chip Christian

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fear Her - "Nobody else in this entire galaxy's ever even bothered to make edible ball bearings. Genius."

Fear Her (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 11 (Overall Series Story #176)

No ... don't. Don't do that.
Fan consensus is that this one is crap. It is spectacularly stupid. I wouldn't have sat through it again if I hadn't undertaken this project and wasn't thrilled with the idea of trying to find other ways to point out what's bad about it besides what Sandifer says in the post I linked in the previous sentence. So I won't, the criticism is amply covered. I'm not going to try to make a defense of this one though either, except to say it's not as hard to sit through again as I feared it would be.

In the beginning, it's actually not that bad. I mean, it manages to veer from creepy to whimsical before unleashes the scribble monster and proceeds to faceplant. So, without getting bogged down in how freaking ridiculous the Olympics stuff is, and how poorly the situation of the abused child hosting a lonely alien is handled, let's review the few things that worked and if any of the throwaway lines are worth digging into for trivial purposes.

The TARDIS landing between two blue bins facing the wrong way hit home for me, as my wife, bless her heart, loves nothing so much as to park so close to my car that I can't open my door to get in when I'm heading out to work in the morning. The next time I have to go in through my passenger door, I'll remember how the TARDIS parked them here and just smile.

Not that way, you don't.
Reminiscing about the 1948 London Olympics, the Doctor says, "Last one they had in London was dynamite. Wembley, 1948. I loved it so much, I went back and watched it all over again. Fella carrying the torch. Lovely chap, what was his ... ?" OK, well, here's a start. Who was the final torch bearer for the 1948 Olympics? It was a quarter miler named John Mark. Ahh, you say, John Mark. And that means ... ? Nothing to me. Maybe there's some kind of story around how Mark was chosen, some controversy or bit of intrigue? If so I can't find it.

The Doctor and Rose pass a Shayne Ward poster and Rose quips it must be near future. That went straight over my head, so I looked up Mr. Ward to see if he was real or something like the fake band mentioned in "An Unearthly Child," and learned he won a season of X Factor, which I gather is another of those glammed up karaoke shows. I guess we can smirk a bit at Rose, played by a teen pop idol from a few years past, slagging another manufactured pop star, but I'm not sure there's anything there to warrant anything more than a smirk.

Then there's the bit about the little silver spherical sprinkles I haven't seen in ages but remember having on cupcakes when I was a kid, the edible ball bearings referenced in the title of this post. Haven't seen those in ages. Are those still used on anything? If so are they still rock hard tooth enamel chippers?

When the Doctor is confronted by an angry dad, he pretends to be a cop with his partner: "See, look! I've got a colleague! Lewis." That's got to be an Inspector Morse reference, right?

Finally, as a dog man (that is to say, a guy who prefers dogs to cats in the great animal companion debate), the Doctor's disdain for the cat that goes into a box and draws the short straw in the Schrödinger experiment is another smirk-worthy moment. "No, I'm not really a cat person. Once you've been threatened by one in a nun's wimple, it kind of takes the joy out of it," he tells Rose, referring to their recent adventure on New Earth.

Yeah, it's a clunker, or worse, but at least it had a few things that didn't make me groan. And, luckily, the next two stories are great fun so this one didn't leave a bad taste for long.

Let's Kill Hitler - "Well, she did kill me, and then she used her remaining lives to bring me back. As first dates go, I'd say that was mixed signals."

Let's Kill Hitler (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 6, Episode 8 (Overall Series Story #219)

In which we meet Mels, friend of Amelia Pond and Rory Williams. Mels was, by way of a reminder, the girl who escaped the astronaut suit having been conditioned to kill the Doctor. So she sought out her parents, befriended them, and engineered her opportunity to assasinate him. The Doctor, nearly dead from poison (apparently one more lethal to Time Lords than cyanide) manages to change psychopathic Melody/River's heart. The story of Melody Pond/River Song is nothing if not demented and complex.

The problem with this story, one of them anyways, is the story of River Song is too jumbled up, in my opinion, to be properly untangled in a way that ever feels coherent. Yes, it can be mapped out and we can understand her motivations at points along the way, but she ultimately feels like a stunted character, one defined by her feelings about the Doctor, and how he uses her. He marries her, we're told he he loves her, but it never comes together. Not that I dislike the character, I'm fond of her despite the way the Doctor, and the series, mistreat her. She's the most complex companion, without ever really being a proper companion, and it would have been great to see the Doctor and River travelling together, doing all the things they mention in passing when they compare notes in other stories. Better perhaps to have seen that than the what we did see, at least after her introduction in the Library.

Here's where we are also introduced to the Teselecta, which will turn out to be the hack the Doctor needs to walk away from Lake Silencio -- where we never believed he was going to die. And that's the real problem with this story, that it's the moving of pieces of in a game that we knew was rigged all along. Nobody wants to play a rigged game, except to see how it was rigged. That's a drama that can build and build, but the answer to the riddle of the story can only satisfy for the instant it is recognized, then the whole thing collapses into itself. All the grandiosity and big scenes of Series 6 ultimately fall flat for me because the structure of the season was such that it asked us to walk a hallway where we knew there was a trapdoor, then pretend to be surprised when it opened under us.

Not that this season doesn't deliver some thrills, like the preceding story from which this story picks right up as almost a two-parter. Psychopathic, freshly regenerated River set loose in 1938 Berlin is an audacious move and she gets to shake things up a bit. Telling a bunch of Nazis she was on her way to a gay, gypsy Bar Mitzvah before blasting them with her regeneration energy feels like it could have been an inspiration for Inglorious Basterds. That's some fun stuff.

But with this story picking up from "A Good Man Goes to War" my chief gripe with Series 5 and Series 6 is impossible for me to get around. Consider that the Doctor said this in that story: "No! No! Impossible! It's all running about, sexy fish vampires and blowing up stuff. And Rory wasn't even there at the beginning. Then he was dead, then he didn't exist, then he was plastic. Then I had to reboot the whole universe. Long story. So, technically the first time they were on the Tardis together in this version of reality, was ..." You see what I'm getting at here. Try to make sense of River Song and you've open a can of worms that contains Rory, whose story rivals River's for complexity, and, at the risk of sounding like a dunce, makes it difficult to keep straight what parts of his story were undone and he doesn't know about, or wasn't himself during, or whatever.

"Shut up, Hitler."
Of course time travel stories should be complicated, and I love the idea that the Doctor and River meet at different points in their personal timelines, but that should have been enough; that River is also a baby with a "time head" conditioned by enemies of the Doctor to kill him, is the daughter of his companions, is sort of dead  and stored off in the Library with her expedition mates from that story ... it's just a bit much.

But I've gone off on Moffat's architecting of the series and haven't even got to the bit about how this is the story that uses Hitler as a prop for comedic effect after raising one of the classic time travel paradox questions. Shoving Hitler in a closet and telling him to shut up is funny. The Doctor referencing a brilliant John Cleese (Fawlty Towers-era) moment to Hitler instead of a group German tourists in 1970s Torquay is subtle and appreciated. The Doctor later calls to mind the same bit when he starts flopping his long legs around remniscent of the funny walk Basil used to entertain his guests. But, having the arrival of the Doctor ironically save Hitler's life from the time police operating the Teselecta feels like broad comedy that isn't quite sensitive enough about that resulting in WWII and the Holocaust. Not to say humor can't be brilliant when it's transgressive and tasteless, but this is Doctor Who, not (pulling the the names of comedians that could do this sort of routine well out of a mental hat) Sarah Silverman or Robin Williams. Doctor Who can operate in all kinds of different modes, but I'm not sure that's one it can pull off. Not that trying to be transgressive was what was happening there, that was just more like a careless "wouldn't it be funny if ... ?" moment that should've been thought through a little better.

I mentioned the Doctor being poisoned by River at the top ... how he is saved from that near-death by River may come into play somewhere down the line as the series has to (apparently, if we are to believe Moffat) work its way around the regeneration limit. Or not.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Warriors' Gate - "Now, unless we work very closely together, we could be caught here until the crack of doom. Oh, what's the use? Could I have one of your pickles?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Warriors' Gate - Details

Season 18, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #114) | Previous - Next | Index

Work hard; vacation hard. I may be at Disney World with the family riding the rides and seeing the sites but, at the end of the day, I still like to turn on some Who and chill while the rest of the clan sleeps. Only sometimes, like last night, I'm tapped out and instead of holding my interest, the story I've chosen has a soporific effect. "Warriors' Gate" may reward close watching, but it certainly doesn't captivate.

Praise for JN-T/Bidmead era usually takes the line that they're trying take on some more advanced themes; so, even if the execution falters, they get points for name checking Jung and making reference to the I-Ching. To the extent this encourages young viewers to go off and look up something they may not have been exposed to before, this is a praiseworthy effort. But a show still needs integrate its ideals with a plot and some character development, or at least interesting characters, in order to work. The question for "Warriors' Gate" is: does it deftly weave its thematic content into an interesting story with engaging characters? The answer, unfortunately, is a reclining viewer drifting off and wondering if, between intermittent dips into subconscious realm, whether what's on the screen is more lousy fx work or the DVD glitching.

Biroc dashes through the void. Luckily it has a floor and air.
After an ersatz world tour at sun-drenched Epcot, the flagging tourist is probably not in the best state of mind or body to sit through a serial with cheap representations of leonine time-sensitive psychic enslaved/slavers trotting through a white void with after-images on a glitchy DVD. I'll have to circle back to this one and give it another go when I'm alert and able to watch it without having to skip scenes due to disc or player failures. Which, this review being a bit timey-wimey, I've now done. Back at home, I popped this one back in for another go. I found myself drifting off during it again ... really need to stop laying down when I feel tired if I'm going to remain alert for these less engaging entries ... but I definitely saw more of it and caught some of the scenes I nodded off during last time. No third watch for this one though ... back to Netflix it goes.

This is the story where Romana leaves at the end to help Biroc free his people. That sounds noble and all, but still left me cold. The classic series was never much concerned with giving companions any kind of meaningful send-off, so that they at least tried to make it seem as if Romana was going off to be a version of the Doctor for E-Space is better than many got or will get. Romana's every bit playing the role of a Doctor-in-training throughout this one, particularly in the scene where she steps out of the TARDIS into the void to measure up the crew of the stranded ship who were out walking around with their mass detector.

What really bugged me though was how unsympathetic the Tharils were for an enslaved species. Having enslaved humans in the past, and now being the enslaved species, there's no point at which I felt like Biroc thought there was a problem with slavery except that it was happening to his people now. Romana's going off to help Biroc free his people left me wondering if, upon succeeding, the Tharils would go right back to building another empire on the backs of other slaves.

The Doctor looks out of sorts for most of the story, but we know Tom Baker was ill and not happy in his final season, so that may be some real-life bleeding through. K-9 is forced to comment on how useless he is perceived to be by the production team before being packed off with Romana. It's another undignified turn for our favorite tin disco dog. Adric is this production team's first companion, but they seem to have even less of an idea what to do with him than they did K-9, which points to the mix of hubris and incompetence that dogs the JN-T era. They wanted to strip away the elements of the series they didn't like and replace them with more complex and dark elements, but without any idea how to execute complexity or what makes "dark" ever "cool". The result is a tone that comes across as sullen and bored with itself. This spin through a spottily realized E-Space to pick up Adric and shed K-9 & Romana ends up a treatment is worse than the illness ever was.

You're one to talk, Adric.

Looking for things to like about this one, I will say the time-shifting is a bit daring and surprising. There's a scene where the Doctor is having a feast with the Tharils just as their human slaves unleashed some robot warriors on them which shifts to the Doctor sitting at the table centuries later that felt like the show telling us, "keep up or your going to get left behind," which I quite liked. (The robots have samurai-inspired helmets and are called 'gundan', so I guess somebody was digging their anime.) In that same scene, after a Tharil is rough with a human serving wench, the Doctor over-fills a goblet of wine before knocking it over angrily. "This is no way to run an empire," he remarks with evident disgust. It was the one moment that felt genuine in this story. (I'm not the first to point out that the Doctor might have expressed that there's never a proper way to run an empire, at least inasmuch as the word implies the acquisition of resources by force and through colonization.)

Visually, the fragment of the wall that contains the Tharil keep (bigger on the inside) and the mirror that allows for jumping through time worked for me. As pointed out in About Time, it all feels a bit like Bonnie Tyler video -- I think they actually mentioned Adam Ant, but I was reminded of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- so it's very much of it's time, if not leading it slightly. But when is Doctor Who not? The depiction of the interior of the slavers' spacecraft, and its crew, is also well done, suggesting a grubby version of the future of space travel befitting the society that would trade in slaves.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Day of the Doctor - "I'm the Oncoming Storm, The Bringer of Darkness ... and you're basically just a rabbit, aren't you?"

The Day of the Doctor (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 7, Story 15 *50th Anniversary Special* (Overall Series Story #240) | Previous - Next | Index

Let's get the gushing out of the way first, because there is gushing to be done. That was so cool. Watched it live on the road back from vacation. Then again at home, still too noisy. And then again. Loved it. Best. Multi-Doctor Story. Ever.

OK, got it? I loved it. As I scan my twitter stream it seems we all loved it.

But we've got to admit some of it was just for show and didn't, strictly speaking, make sense. Even acknowledging that ... still, it's possible to love it nonetheless. As I argued with "The Five Doctors," when it's a celebration woven into a story, it helps to be able to take it all in all for what it is. You can choose to deride the celebratory aspects as dramatic failures, and that's certainly valid critical approach, or you can choose to revel in the celebration while you watch the show. The latter's a more difficult tack to take, because you've got to be of two minds in the process, but I think we can manage.

So, I choose to whoop it up that we saw, even if only in glimpses for most, all thirteen iterations of the Doctor in one story!

And yes, they said "all thirteen ..."

Look at 13. Look at him! He's going to be magnificent.
So let's start there before we go back to gushing about Tom Baker coming back! Because he did!

That "all thirteen" feels significant. It feels more significant than when we were told the Doctor died for realz in "The Impossible Astronaut," which never really felt all that significant because we knew that wasn't the end. This though, this could be setting us up for an ending. Moffat has said (though he may have been taking us for a ride) that he's sticking with the twelve regeneration limit so Capaldi's Doctor would seem to have to be the final incarnation. When the Time Lord High Command General remarks that all thirteen of the Doctor are present, he could have just said "thirteen," the "all" qualifier would seem to indicate he has knowledge that these are indeed all the possible Doctors -- as we would expect if the regeneration limit rule applies to him. Perhaps though we shouldn't assume anyone in the High Command would have that sort of knowledge about the Doctor.

Tom Baker as "The Curator"
Now this Curator. Played by Tom Baker (!!) here, the character's name should ring a bell. Or, it should if you've read Summer Falls, because the Doctor has gone by this name before, or will start too soon. Or, didn't at all because Summer Falls is an in-universe book that Clara Oswald and her young charges had read. It got released as a "real" book, sort of a tie-in to the story "The Bells of Saint John." So, what we are to make of a character called 'The Curator' who was a thinly-veiled version of Eleven (Matt Smith's Doctor, who I am still calling Eleven) in the fake book is not an easy thing to parse. But, it can't be coincidence that they bothered to put that book out, call the Doctor by another name in it, and then later bring back Tom Baker to play a character with the same name in the context of being a character who seems to be an iteration of the Doctor, although he can't be due to Capaldi being the last possible incarnation ...

Other things I missed, that simply didn't make sense, and/or stray observations:
  • The Doctor says the actions of the War Doctor on that day "silenced the universe." A hint as to where the Silence come from?
  • I don't mind gaps that leave room for novelists and Big Finish to fill in, but doesn't seem like a strange-shaped hole from the end of the "The Name of the Doctor" to the beginning of "The Day of the Doctor" where Clara's working as a teacher at the Coal Hill School, of all places?
  • What was the thing in the ceiling that made the humans and Zygons forget which they were? [Edit: Oooh, Kate explained it to Clara when they went into the Black Archive. Memory wipes for the workers at the end of every shift. In my defense the first two times I watched I had trouble hearing all the dialogue due to road noise and kids asking questions.]  But I love the idea of setting up the negotiations in this way. Calls to mind Rawls' Original Position -- they've got to hammer out an agreement both sides can live with, knowing they'll be one of the sides when it's done, but not which. We don't need to see the result because we know everyone will get their just desserts. Rawls. Gotta love him.
  • How does this version of Gallifrey's fate reconcile with what we saw in "The End of Time"? (I don't think it does.) Edit: Mr. Murphy helpfully points out internet theorists think the actions of the High Council in "End of Time" were concurrent with the fall of Arcadia. I'll watch "End of Time" again soon to see if that holds up, but it does seem to be what Moffat was hinting at here. 
  • Is the Doctor such a doofus he could really open the door and fall out of his own TARDIS while it's being skylifted across London. (Chuckled at the Derren Brown reference though.)
  • We didn't actually see the War Doctor regenerate into the Eccleston Doctor. Now, I know that Eccleston wasn't coming back to do it, but they could've CGIed it to make him start to look Ecclestonian. Will this be a significant gap? Edit: Again on a tip from Mr. Murphy I watched the eyes during the regeneration and, with the benefit of the big screen, I saw it. Those do look like Eccleston's under the glow.
  • Scarf-wearing daughter of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart has a prettier sister, eh? I guess we'll meet her one day ...
  • Ten (Tennant's Doctor) married Elizabeth I ... so does that make Eleven a bigamist? Or polygamist if we count the Marilyn Monroe marriage? (Do you ever get the sense they are just piling on River Song?)
  • Where was Ten in his timeline? He was travelling alone, but not on his farewell tour? Or was he? Edit: Thanks to Mr. Murphy for pointing out in the comments that folks are honing in on this lining up with the time just before "End of Time" when Ten was travelling alone. He also mentioned at the beginning of "End of Time" that he married Queen Bess -- and that it was a mistake. How he remembers that when he doesn't remember the rest of this story may not make sense though.
  • I'm glad to see that the Silence Will Fall thing will be addressed again, that dangling thread has a been a nuisance. Could this mean we'll also get resolution to the mystery of the woman from "The End of Time"?
  • We saw Capaldi's eyes, know he's the 13th Doctor (including the War Doctor) but didn't get any intimation that the Valeyard will be accounted for. 
  • Billie Piper was fabulous as The Moment as Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf. The way she comes across in interviews it's easy to believe the Rubberbandits were on to something when they goofed on her in passing as a cokehead in their classic track, "Horse Outside," but she's like the second coming of Meryl Streep when it's time to be the Doctor's conscience. Not that John Hurt was a slouch either. Smith and Tennant get most of the headlines and fan love, but Piper, Hurt, and Baker managed to steal the show from the two stars, who did pretty fine jobs themselves. (As an aside, did Tennant look like he was recovering from the flu to anyone else? Maybe his looking a bit green around the gills was meant to suggest this was part of his "End of Time" reward to himself tour?)
  • All this way and I've still not got around to even mentioning the Zygons. So let me get this straight: shapeshifters defeated the security at UNIT's top secret pseudo-Torchwood repository by ... smashing a bunch of statues and throwing sheets over themselves?! Uhhhh ... 
  • Watching in the theater was so worth it. Not only for being able to pay closer attention to detail. Being amongst all the ageing nerds (my people), little kids in fezzes and blazers with their parents, young ladies in TARDIS dresses ... it felt like an event, even though I'm pretty sure we'd all already watched it at least once beforehand. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Night of the Doctor - "I don't suppose there's any need for a Doctor anymore. Make me a warrior."

Minisodes are nothing new but this ... this is taking it to a whole new level.

On the one hand, this was a bold move by Moffat and the production team. We're not talking world peace or solving hunger here, but this is a Doctor Who regeneration and it was released directly to the web. It's not some animated filler, or non-canonical special, this is Paul McGann brought back to the play the Eighth Doctor dying, revived by the Sisterhood of Karn (from the well-loved "The Brain of Morbius"), and choosing to regenerate into a warrior specifically to take up arms to end the Time War. In other words, this is a big f*cking deal to have it posted to YouTube in advance of the 50th anniversary special.

So now we know where "The War Doctor" comes from. But, we still have lots of questions. Not the least of which is, do we now stop calling Eccleston's Doctor the Ninth since he would appear to be the Tenth, and +1 the subsequent Doctors, with all that entails (or doesn't entail)?

Let's let Capaldi's status as the apparent Thirteenth and, possibly?, final incarnation of the Doctor slide for now and see how things play out before venturing a guess. In the meantime though, we can deal some things that could muddy the water. This, like Two's eventual regeneration to Three, isn't quite as straightforward as it might at first appear. This time, instead of being offered a face from the white male stock photo pool, the Doctor is offered chalices that will direct his regeneration to specific type. (The possibility of the Doctor regenerating as a woman is again raised as a possibility, cementing the work Gaiman already did to make that canonically possible.) Unlike the transition from Troughton's Doctor to Pertwee's, we actually see result though, so it would seem to preclude the possibility of their being another regeneration in between or a Season 6b-type scenario.

Doctor no more.
And, unless I'm mistaken, the Doctor that we're shown, only in reflection, is a younger version of the John Hurt Doctor than we saw in "Name of the Doctor." This raises the intriguing possibility that he he's in for a long fight as The War Doctor. This opens up, among other things, the opportunity for the folks at Big Finish to start another range -- a second gift from the current TV production team, who just back-door canonized, at least to a degree, the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audio stories.

Was this too much to jam into less than seven minutes of web video?

Well, yes. Probably.

In a few minutes of his experienced time, the Doctor went from being a determined conscientious objector with regard to fighting in the Time War, to deciding to regenerate in order to engage in and end it. (So, when Eleven ... errrr, Twelve, says the Hurt Doctor is the one who broke the promise in "The Name of the Doctor", doesn't he really mean Eight? This new Nine, the Hurt Doctor, isn't he really just the direct result of Eight's choice and, blameless in his role? It was, after all, the Sisterhood who programmed him and Eight who elected to become him?) Sure, those are an eventful few minutes, what with failing so to save Cass and sort-of-dying in the process ... but still, this feels like it should have been at least a full episode in the current TV format.

For crying out loud, as a blogger, I had it hard enough trying to get the numbers of the stories to line up between the classic and new series just restricting myself to TV stories, now I've got this to try to account for this. Sigh. Do I put a line on my Episode Index page for this? And, if I do, to I put it under the McGann heading? Or under the Matt Smith? Or create a new sub-heading under the Matt Smith heading? No, it's just too much. Like "The Light at the End," -- and any other audio, novel, short story, and comics -- I'm going put this on the blog as a stand alone post and not try to figure out how to line it up with the TV stories. This one is so much more difficult to do that with though, tying in as it does, with a televised story and being so much more consequential and integral to the TV story it prefaces and the series as a whole.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Love & Monsters - "You got me thinking that I'm wasting my time. Don't bring me down."

Love & Monsters (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 10 (Overall Series Story #175)

Hard to imagine an episode that was structured to allow the leads some time off from a busy filming schedule *and* is the one where they used a child fan's contest winning monster could turn out to be any good. The monster, by the way, is the Abzorbaloff. And it is, with apologies to and no fault assigned William Grantham, kind of a rubbish monster. But, y'know, considering a 9-year-old designed it you can credit the imaginative effort. (I wonder if young Mr. Grantham gets to use his Doctor Who credit get credentials at conventions or anything. Here's hoping there're still some dividends being paid for winning the contest. I imagine it might be a bit tough having your entry win only to be slagged by fandom years later. Seems there ought to be a lingering benefit to balance any of that out.) You can make a case for this one not only turning out to be decent, but nearly being one of the better episodes of the new series. I say nearly, because there are a just a few elements that needed to be tweaked to make that happen, but they were also significant elements that getting wrong inevitably resulted in this being far from one of the more successful stories.

That this episode is not a train wreck is a credit to Marc Warren, who carries it as the good-hearted, if somewhat dopey, Elton. No mean feat to lead an episode of Doctor Who when you're not the Doctor, or even a companion. With the exception of Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff, all the supporting ... well, featured, actually ... characters are charming. The Victor Kennedy character is not only not charming, not even in the ooh-I-like-this-villain-despite-its-villainy kind of way. The character is miscast and distracting. He's bad enough that he detracts from good work done by the other actors, even the ones he's got no scenes with. This is one of the best stories for Jackie Tyler. She's fleshed out a bit here, as sympathetic as she's ever been. We'd have been better served if Camille Coduri had been given these scenes in stronger episode.

Scooby Scooby Doo, where are you?
The Doctor, without much to do in this one -- except Scooby-Doo around for fun with Rose at the beginning, then show up at the end to not do much but give the Abzorbaloff's victims an idea they probably should've had much sooner anyways -- at least gets to save Ursula, somewhat improbably into a paving stone. Elton, not knowing its technical name, calls the Doctor's sonic screwdriver a 'magic wand', which may be a hint we should be revisiting the argument over whether Doctor Who is sci-fi, fantasy, fable, or some hybrid genre because the explanation of what he's doing makes no real sense and might as well be an incantation. Ursula in the paving stone sure looks like she belongs in a fairy tale, as if a witch had cast a spell on her. For all the heart this episode has, Billie Piper makes the most of brief screen time to rival Elton as the most compassionate character in the show, comforting Elton when he's down, even though she was cross with him for upsetting her mum.

For an analysis of what it means for the show to crack a joke about Elton and Ursula's love life (when one is a face in a paving stone), see Sandifer.

For an expanded analysis of the same that uses the lens of society's perception of the disabled, see Shabogan Graffiti.

Elton told us it would get scaaaary. It got effed up.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

State of Decay - "There's nothing worse than a peasant with indigestion. Makes them quite rebellious."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - State of Decay - Details

Season 18, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #113) | Previous - Next | Index

via Not Tonight Dalek

When someone says they saw the Doctor Who with the vampires, you probably think of this one first, not "Vampires of Venice." (Hopefully not "Curse of Fenric," anyways.) It's a testament to how memorable this story is that's the case for me, at least. And, that's despite not having watched this one in over twenty years and having watched the Matt Smith vampire story a few times much more recently.

That the Time Lords battled giant space-faring vampires in the distant past, when even Rassilon was young, and defeated them by flying 'bow ships' into their hearts, all sounds pretty epic, but probably doesn't account for why every planet has a vampire mythology unless we make ancient Gallifrey line up historically with fairly recent Earth history. Timeline quibbles are not my cup of tea though, so let's chalk our vampire legends up to something else, or imagine we've got some Turlough-style race memory in our DNA from back when our ancestors were single-celled organisms. The Doctor has heard the legends and is afraid, that's enough to get us off to a good start, the atmosphere and theatrics carry us the rest of the way.

The real rough go here is our new addition from the previous story. Adric awkwardly strut-shambles out of his stowaway hidey-hole in the TARDIS early on and threatens to torpedo the endeavor just by looking like Matthew Waterhouse is trying way too hard to walk and act at the same. Luckily Baker and Ward play well together and the supporting cast is willing to go along with the gothic sci-fi atmosphere -- which here means vamping it up hard core. These vampires are so freaking camp it's hilarious; yet somehow it works.

Miles better than the first E-Space story, this one succeeds against all odds, despite the special effects failures at the end. Dr. Sandifer is spot on when he observes:
... the fact of the matter is that if you watch the stories back to back there are obviously some basic technical things that Pyramids of Mars is solid on that State of Decay isn’t. And this keeps being true of the Nathan-Turner era. With maddening frequency it soars on advanced topics in television production while crashing and burning on the basics.
I happen to love "Pyramids of Mars," one that the more highbrow fan-critics tend to dismiss, favoring the direction the show takes under Nathan-Turner and, more relevantly script editors Bidmead and, later, Cartmel. Now, I started this blogging project with the premise that JN-T ran the show into the ground, mercilessly pounding fandom with shitty synthesizers, cheesy f/x, crappy costumes, terrible make-up, brutal lighting, pretentious writing, and general incompetence at television show production. That's how I remembered it as a fan who watched it in real-time. I'm coming around to an appreciation of what Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy did with what they were handed (was always fond of Davison, but it's actually his star that may be dimming the most as I re-watch his years) and am finding I'm able to look past the gaudy production values failures to tease out the things that were ambitious, and occasionally even successful in those last few years. However, I suspect I'll never be able to sign on to Dr. Sandifer's assessment that it ever soared on advanced topics.

Happily, this one is also #43 in the Shabogan Graffiti series of recent posts presenting moments from the series in bite-sized, almost poetic, bits of Marxist analysis. If I could think of any way to improve on how to pull the thread of criticism of the parasitic ruling classes from this story, I'd make a go of it, but Mr. Graham has it well in hand.

Vampires via The Doctor Who Bar
It's worth noting this isn't a publicity still where the actors were instructed
to pose ridiculously, this is a capture from a scene in the show where the front
and center vampire delivered his evil monologue while his King
and Queen pulled I'm-an-evil-vampire-monarch faces behind him.
Because that's how they roll.

The Ribos Operation - " I get on terribly well with the aristocracy."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Ribos Operation - Details

Season 16, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #98) | Previous - Next | Index

Garron and Unstoffe via An Unearthly Doctor
A Very (Robert) Holmes-ian Pair
There's a brilliant series of posts going on right now at Shabogan Graffiti highlighting fifty moments in the series (#49 is about the value of jethryk) that are particularly open to analysis from a Marxist perspective -- if you're not reading it, you'll probably want to swing by there and check them all out. Go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back ...

Now, if nothing else, you've at least have an idea how proper intellectuals are able to tease fascinating insight out of any piece of entertainment that features the exchange of goods or services by any means. (As opposed to whatever it is I'm doing here.) My point is, it always pays to ask: What's the value of the dingus? Garron reminds me of Sydney Greenstreet, as so many characters of a certain dubious intent but pompous charm portrayed by talented character actors do, hence my mind leaps back to The Maltese Falcon for another example of an object highly valued by groups in competition to acquire it. What the black bird meant to O'Shaughnessy was one thing, to Gutman something similar -- but I don't think he'd turn around and sell it to the highest bidder as soon as he could, and to Spade it was something else entirely; the value he ascribed to the Falcon was never about his own monetary self-interest, he only represented as such to play Gutman, it's value to him was about how the value other people assigned to it allowed him exert influence to order his universe around his moral principles. And that's one reason I love The Maltese Falcon, but I only think "The Ribos Operation" is quite good. (Also, Iain Cuthbertson is good as Garron, but he's no Greenstreet.)

But comparing "The Ribos Operation" to one of the classic pieces of noir film making is only going to get you so far. Apples and oranges. What I'm more interested in is how "The Ribos Operation" works as a Doctor Who story, a Robert Holmes Doctor Who story in particular ... and that it does pretty well. In Garron and Unstoffe you've got a classic pair of Holmes supporting characters propelling the story through their world, the world of grifters chiseling a hunk of wealth off the self-styled upper classes, here embodied by Graff Vynda-K.  (Even the names are well-chosen here, "Graff" calls to mind a sort of Prussian aristocratic militarism that adds depth to the backstory of arrogant tyrant Garron is plotting to bilk.)

I'm less interested in the Key to Time framework around Season 16 than I am the constituent stories, it strikes as a gimmicky way to tie a series of otherwise distinct stories together that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, but it's by no means as ludicrous as the farce that was the Trial that wrapped around Season 23. And, to it's credit, it's the justification for putting Romana I in the TARDIS and that makes it OK in my book. The late Mary Tamm debuts as Romana in a classic pan from the ground up to highlight in 'hey fellas, we got a stunner here'-fashion how gorgeous she is. Tom Baker's reaction, he turns to K-9 as if to see if the robot dog has scanned her and reached the same conclusion with regard to her looks.

Enter Romana via Doctor Who Gifs

Romana's more than looks though, she's an entirely different sort of companion than Leela was before here. There'll be no Henry Higgins-ing around here, she may be inexperienced in the ways of the universe, being fresh out of the academy, but she wastes no time letting the Doctor know she did much better there than he did and knows her way around a TARDIS. Sure, she'll be the damsel-in-distress in the first cliffhanger, so there're somethings that don't change, but just as Leela was a marked contrast from Sarah Jane before here, Romana gets to shake things up and Tamm makes the companion role here own. It's a shame she only stuck around for one season, not that I've got a problem with Lalla Ward's Romana II, I just never got tired of this incarnation.

Baker's in top form as the Doctor here, though I gather a dog got hold of his lip and he looks a bit worse for wear. I wish the Doctor had paired up with Old Binro the Heretic for a while though. Instead it's Unstoffe who gets to give the old scientist some peace before dying. That character and his arc feel a bit tacked on, but balance out the strangely successfully witchery of the Seeker -- which itself seems to be a strange case of the series giving credence to hocus-pocus without giving any scientific, or even pseudo-scientific justification for how she's able to prophesy and clack bones together to track down Unstoffe. Any credit you give Holmes for the Binro character, you've got to turn around and dock him for the mystical nonsense of the Seeker, so the two become a sort of wash. That mush-brained magicky stuff and, to circle back to the beginning, the fundamental incoherence of Garron's strategy with regard to the jethryk undercut the story a bit, but it more that makes up for those flaws in other ways.

Oh, and I almost forgot to remark on how weird it was for Holmes to have Garron remark on how a gadget must be Japanese, and that the mark he sold the Sydney Harbor to was an Arab. Not exactly hard core racism, but these sly little mentions are sore thumbs in a script that doesn't make many other mistakes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit - "All these things I don't believe in, are they real? Speak to me!"

The Impossible Planet (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 8 (Overall Series Story #174a)

It's the classic Base Under Siege premise making a return. But it's fun. This impossible planet, orbiting a black hole, that's a heck of a base. And it's under the siege by, apparently, the freakin' Devil himself. A cool base, a worthy villain, the only other ingredient you need to make a Doctor-Who-Base-Under-Siege story work is an interesting crew working the base; luckily, we've got that here. It helps too that the base looks good. It looks lived in, like a battered base getting rocked by quakes should. The black hole viewed through the skylight when the shielding is effectively realized. All the elements of the production come together well to sell the implausible scenario.

The Ood are introduced here, and they're going to be important to this Doctor's journey, but at this stage we only get to know them as a race that seemingly wants to be in servitude, which is deeply disconcerting. They're referred to as livestock, yet they are intelligent, humanoid, and telepathic. I wish I'd watched "The Sensorites" before re-watching this one to write about it because I gather the Ood are implied to be related to or inspired by the Sensorites in some way. I'll have to circle back to that when I do watch that story for the first time. Cognizant that I may be missing some relevant context, I'm a little off-put by how we're introduced to the Ood. Are we supposed to think of them as a sort of a remora fish species that have glommed on to humanity? Rose and the Doctor are deeply skeptical of their apparent willing subservience, as they should be, so they're role in the society we're shown makes us wonder if something is defective in this human civilization, that they would use an intelligent species as servant class?  The questions are raised here, and Rose's continued questioning of it makes it seem important, or relevant to the story somehow, but the Ood are only used and a convenient group for the Beast to take over to menace the humans.

All the horror movie techniques, flashes of evil, voices that make the characters question their perceptions, intimations of a rising evil, even the camera work ... it's all effectively creepy and comfortably within the tradition of the classic series that those of us who've lived through all the stories this one models itself on, the story beats we experienced before, while it must feel like a different sort of story for those who had only experienced the new series to this point. This, we might be tempted to tell the newly converted to fandom, this gives you an idea what the old series was like, or at least trying to be like without the ability to really pull off. Well, without the romance-y feels.

The Satan Pit (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #174b)

So in a story where the villain is the horned Beast from before Universe, when the question of faith comes up, as a blogger whose main interests apart from Doctor Who are progressivism and secularism, I'm listening hard for the Doctor's answer. Here's the exchange where he explicitly raises the question and has it back to him:
DOCTOR: I didn't ask. Have you got any sort of faith?
IDA: Not really. I was brought up Neo Classic Congregational, because of my mum. She was. My old mum. But no, I never believed.
DOCTOR: Neo Classics, have they got a devil?
IDA: No, not as such. Just er, the things that men do.
DOCTOR: Same thing in the end.
IDA: What about you?
DOCTOR: I believe, I believe I haven't seen everything, I don't know. It's funny, isn't it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I'd believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn't fit my rule. Still, that's why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.
The devil, evil, is bad acts of moral agents, to paraphrase Ida explaining her faith tradition's understanding of the concept. The Doctor goes along with that. Seems fine. No supernatural agency implied or endorsed.

So what about his answer to the question about having faith? I cringed in the brief pause after "I believe ..." but was relieved to hear him say that what he believes is he hasn't seen anything -- that is to say, he doesn't know it all. The "I don't know" implies a brand of agnosticism which leave open the possibility that he could discover that there is a supernatural agent worthy of some sort of worship in which he could believe. What he's seen, as a Time Lord, the entities he's encountered ... I'm surprised he seems to be leaving that door open, but OK, the humility of admitting you don't know everything, and don't know the full scope of what you don't know, that's a reasonable approach to take to questions of faith and epistemology.

What are we to make of his objection to the idea the Beast comes from "before the universe"?  It seems his problem with that is the idea of preceding the universe leads to the possibility of being a causal agent in the creation of the universe. That an entity, a god or gods to use the terminology of the faithful, might exist is an impossibility in his mind. But he also questions his adherence to that rule and he's willing to interrogate his certitude. Again, a reasonable position in general, and especially in the context of this story. That bit about travelling to be proved wrong is a bit surprising, it makes him more of a philosopher than he's shown himself to be. He's not just exploring, he's not just running, he's not just trying to do good ... he's out for deeper understanding and personal growth.

You can also read "To be proved wrong" as an admission that he doesn't have religious faith, but he wants to find a reason to have some, that he wants his rule to be proved wrong so he can believe. He might as well hang Fox Mulder's "I want to believe" poster on the TARDIS wall under that reading. Wanting to believe in something irrational is, let's be frank, the sort of romanticism that makes folks vulnerable to charlatans, confidence men, and authoritarians. A sense of marvel, of wonder, of awe, is a reasonable, even mystical response to the grandeur of the universe, a belief in magical being running the show is, it seems to me, a corruption of that sense of wonder that's the result of intellectual torpidity.

Whether the Beast is from before the universe or not, there's not reason to think it's root of the myth of the Christian, or any other faith tradition's, devil figure. Look, we already know Sutekh is that guy. Or Azal is. Lots of contenders running around for that ur-devil mantle.

Anyways, back to the episode. The Doctor outwits the Beast by putting his faith in Rose. It's one of his leaps of faith, but I like that it's a leap of faith in human capacity. Or, a human's capacity. A sort of humanism in any event. Along the way we've got red-eyed Ood doing horror movie tricks, Toby making us wonder if he's ever not possessed, and as taut and fraught an episode as we've had in a while. We've also got more touching, affectionate moments between Ten and Rose, continuing the build up to the inevitable tear down. But it's cute the way she throws out the idea of them sharing a house when it seems they may not recover the TARDIS. (Too neat the way that just turned up when it was needed, wasn't it?) But at least this story dealt with the implications of the TARDIS possibly being lost or destroyed in a comprehensible way. (Again, I'm reminded how irritating "Frontios" was on that point.) Rose also gives the Doctor a kiss on the faceplate before he descends the mineshaft, they're really becoming quite domestic.

As an aside, this two-parter was written by Matt Jones, who's written for Torchwood and has novels in the Virgin New Adventures line. He also penned the strongest episode of Dirk Gently, the one with the AI that killed in self-defense.

The Idiot's Lantern - "Oh, you know what they say about them. Eddie, you want to beat that out of him."

The Idiot's Lantern (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 2, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #173)

This is an episode I didn't much care for when it aired. I don't think I've watched it again since that first week it was on. The things I remembered it about it were the faceless victims of the 'TV lady', Ten and Rose riding a scooter, the claustrophobic studio/studio lot-bound feeling, and the arsehole dad berating his wife and son. While I still can't say I love this story, I did find myself more engaged it in this time around, and hopeful that I'll be as pleasantly surprised by how well some of the other lesser episodes of Ten's run hold up. "Fear Her", "Love & Monsters", "Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks", "The Lazarus Experiment", and "42", I'm looking at you.

That said, this is still a lesser episode. It still feels claustrophobic. What's more The Wire still doesn't work well as a villain -- the stealing of the faces produces a horrific effect, but makes precious little sense. That we're not really impressed by the The Wire is highlighted by how unmoved we are when Ten gets all rageface and dramatically proclaims "Because now, Detective Inspector Bishop, there is no power on this Earth that can stop me!" we shrug and know that of course he's going to save Rose and the day and that's going to look something like unplugging a TV, maybe with some dramatic sparking, but we never really feel like there's a real peril here. We, generally speaking, because he's the hero and we know that Rose isn't going to be left a faceless zombie in a mid-season story just by the structure of the show, but this one doesn't do anything special to make us feel like their might be some consequences, or that The Wire might have a sympathetic side where we might see it as a complex villain.

Also, The Doctor's terrible pompadour,that's what we call that, right? Whatever it is, it's a distractingly awful look on him.

What does work is the supporting characters. Tommy's family, dealing with Granny's facelessness, the bullying father, the put-upon wife, rise above being stereotypical plot-movers. The tension in the Connolly's marriage, and between Mr. Connolly and is more progressive-minded son, is a bit hokey around the edges, we're forcing that whole dynamic into a single 45 minute episode, but it works well enough to give Mrs. Connolly's decision to pitch him out at the end some weight. Also well enough for us to enjoy The Doctor and Rose giving Mr. Connolly a dose of his own bullying and Rose's persuading Tommy to go after him at the end to try to save their relationship.

That compassionate streak in Rose is what gives this episode the success it manages as a little family drama overlayed with an alien menace. That Tommy can be persuaded to make that effort after what we've seen of his relationship with his dad, that makes him a character with some depth as well. The quote in the title of this post was a line by one of the Connollys' neighbors, an offhand bit of homophobia followed up by Tommy's dad with the line, "That's exactly what I'm going to do." And we believe it. And we believe Tommy, who'd been tweaking his dad by pointing out the hypocrisy of hiding Gran upstairs right under the nose of the oblivious neighbors, knows he's going to catch a beating for his act of defiance against Eddie's authority. These moments provide the depth the rescue this from being forgettable.

Overall, it's not a bad bit of filler, but barely more than just that: filler. If it accomplishes anything, it's another example of Ten and Rose continuing to grow closer through adversity. He's enraged when she's harmed, and they share a tender reunion hug when she's rescued. The aggregation of these little moments ... more to come in two-parter that follows this episode ... lay the groundwork for the heartbreak of their imminent separation. But that's still a little way off ...

Random note: I'll need somebody to explain to me the context for Ten's quip that he's not surprised Jackie is a Cliff Richard fan. I gather Richard must be one of those tremendously popular pop music icons who doesn't age well, or at least not as well as early Elvis. My impression is it's like teasing someone for saying they like The Monkees more than The Beatles. If there's a better way to understand that, feel free to clue me in.

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