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

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