setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

If the next Doctor is not a woman, Steven Moffat has done a good job making the people who avoid casting a woman look like massive dicks. That's a little flip but it's true and one of the takeaways from the bittersweet season finale of Doctor Who that aired to-day. If one thinks a bit about the plot, there are a lot of things that don't make sense but the thematic stuff is so good I kind of don't care. "The Doctor Falls" brings a new dimension to the season long focus on mentalities that regard other people as less then human to justify subjugation or murder, the most interesting thread in the episode relating to gender and even gender dysphoria.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I really didn't find John Simm half as annoying as he was under Russell T. Davies, maybe because now he's channelling Delgado and Ainsley so much, but also here he's working as a nice representation of resistance to the idea of a female Doctor along with empathy and femininity in general.

The Master: "Do as she says? Is the future going to be all girl?"

The Doctor: "We can only hope."

This seems a pretty loud and clear way of Moffat saying, yes, the next Doctor ought to be a woman. Moffat also uses Simm's Master to bully Bill (Pearl Mackie) on her gender, the above exchange arising from a subtle reconfiguring of the Cybermen, as a concept, to a socially enforced gender construct. The way Missy (Michelle Gomez) awkwardly apologises to the Master for calling Bill "her" is part of Missy perfectly being placed as the transition point, the people caught in an old fashioned view of gender realising that recognising someone's gender identity is truly more natural than trying to force one on them. Missy really has learned empathy, or gotten back in touch with it.

The episode is both about the experience of not being taken as what one sees oneself as and also about the pain involved in change. It's painful for Missy to face that she's not the Master anymore, it's painful for the Master to contemplate his future, and it's painful for the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to contemplate change again as he begins the process of regeneration.

Capaldi, it needs hardly be said, is magnificent in this episode, in big and small moments. His discomfort when trying to explain to Bill what's happened to her is so nicely layered with sadness and empathy. This episode actually invokes that word and the Doctor even mentions Donald Trump, making it clear that this season long theme has very much been motivated by the world's current political climate. It leads to a really fitting modification of the Third Doctor's phrase, "Where there's life there's hope" to "Where there's tears there's hope."

I loved the fact that Twelve gets to offer someone a jelly baby (he offered one in a cigarette case in his first season, like the Fourth in Face of Evil, but this time he was actually able to say it). I like it because, really, more Doctors should do it, there's no reason it should be so married to the Fourth--the Second was actually the first to do it--and I also liked it because it was like the Doctor taking the line back from Simm's Master who used it in one of his Russell T. Davies episodes.

Nardole (Matt Lucas) had a couple nice moments and his goodbye was good though it mostly made me wish more time had been taken to develop him over the season to earn his protestations about being likely to sell children on the black market.

One could say Bill's resolution is very much like Clara's only taken a step further--like Clara, Bill has died and been reborn and has gone off with another woman to have adventures, only Bill's relationship is explicitly romantic. And really sweet. I wish there'd been more build up of a relationship with Heather (Stephanie Hyam) but her appearance and the role in the resolution was so cool I'm willing to accept it. Now they're both water and, as Heather tells Bill directly, change has become for them something easy and fun.

I wonder if the appearance of David Bradley at the end was prompted by leaked set photos from the Christmas special. It made me curious to see how this unfolds, in any case. Bradley isn't that much like Hartnell but at least he's a good actor.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

Well, it looks like this is the season class and race are going to be issues on Doctor Who, if this week and last are any indication. To-day's episode, "Thin Ice", written by Sarah Dollard, fumbles in a few areas but mostly is an entertaining adventure in a pleasingly novel time and place, 1814 on the frozen Thames. I don't recall another Doctor Who episode in Regency England, actually.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The episode covers a lot of familiar ground. Pearl Mackie continues to impress as Bill and she had the same steps several modern companions have had to take with the Doctor in this episode--the discovery that the Doctor's accustomed to death and has killed people, etc. For this reason it's a bit fitting that Peter Capaldi seems a bit lethargic in this episode; he really seems like a guy having the same day he's had hundreds of times before.

My biggest complaint in the episode has to do with its handling of race. On the one hand, kudos to Sarah Dollard for pointing out England wasn't as white in the 19th century as many portrayals have made it out to be. And kudos for even bringing up the issue. However, though I think it's fine that Bill was apparently unaware slavery wasn't legal in England at the time--many people Bill's age aren't aware of this--it would have been nice if the Doctor had taken a moment to tell her why she was seeing more black people than she thought she would. Especially if the idea was to enlighten viewers who were unaware. Maybe Dollard or someone on the show wanted to avoid making it seem like an educational programme, but since Bill brought up the issue, it would have been a perfectly natural conversation to have. As it is, it seems odd that Bill apparently goes from believing she might be kidnapped at any moment to accepting she won't with no explanation.

Incidentally, I can do some self-promotion here since the issue just so happens to be covered in the new chapter of my web comic, set in 1674. England profited enormously from the slave trade but slavery wasn't technically permitted in England itself for centuries--though slave owners did manage to bring slaves in and out of England--but even this was made illegal in the 18th century. Of course, there was still racism, especially closer to the 19th century, but free black populations in England actually go back pretty far. Though to-day's episode of Doctor Who wasn't being quite so honest in its portrayal of a London populace on the Thames that looked to be at least 30% non-white. This was probably not Sarah Dollard's fault.

I kind of liked how subdued Capaldi was when he delivered the speech about the poor that everyone seemed to think was amazing. It conveyed that the Doctor knew that it really wasn't going to accomplish anything.

The sets looked really nice and I liked the variety of costumes and social classes visible. I suspect they're probably backlot sets used for a variety of shows but the Doctor Who team made good use of them and really made what was probably a small space look convincingly big.

The episode felt a lot like a sequel to the Eleventh Doctor episode "The Beast Below". Maybe that's another reason the Doctor felt like he'd done all this before. It's thanks to the lesson he learned in "The Beast Below", maybe, he didn't immediately kill the monster.
setsuled: (Default)

Finally, a new episode of Doctor Who, the first one, not counting Christmas specials, since 2015. "The Pilot" sees the return of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, the best incarnation of the Doctor since the 2005 relaunch, with a story based on Echo and Narcissus--kind of an odd coincidence not long after I'd read a Sirenia Digest story based on Ovid's tale of Narcissus, the man obsessed with looking at his own reflection, and the nymph who loved him, Echo, who could only speak in repetitions of what another person said. The episode gives us a very sweet version of the story but I would have liked the relationship between Bill and Heather developed more. Though by itself it works well as a sort of metaphor for a longer relationship, the danger of Bill getting attached to the reflection like someone obsessed with a relationship. I'm a bit annoyed that apparently no-one else liked how last season was composed entirely of two part episodes--that was a big improvement to my mind. Oh well.

Of course, another big thing with this new episode, something everyone's really excited about, is the Doctor's new companion--Matt Lucas as Nardole!

Okay, no-one really seems to care one way or another about Nardole. I thought he was a nice, amusing, not too obtrusive presence, there offering some funny reactions to instructions and info. So thumbs up, Matt Lucas.

And I thought Pearl Mackie was really good as Bill. I like how she dresses like a gymnast from the 80s. There's something kind of Mork and Mindy-ish about her attire too.

In addition to the nice reworking of Echo and Narcissus, the reflection thing was of the nicely subtly weird variety. It's kind of become standard, these stories about things that seem slightly off-kilter in the world ending up having an alien explanation, and maybe they are getting a little tired. Though the new companion learning the basic details of the TARDIS and the Doctor also had the feeling of a well worn song and dance at this point, too. I do like Steven Moffat and I liked this episode but I left it feeling, yeah, it's time for some new blood.

It was nice they went to Australia. Though it reminds me, is anything happening with Peter Jackson (I know, he's a Kiwi, not Australian) directing an episode? There was that clip of him with Capaldi and a Dalek and then nothing. What gives?

I like the idea of the Doctor being a university professor for 50 years. I wonder if it's Steven Moffat subtly suggesting that Class isn't canon--I'd be whole heartedly in support of that.


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