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)


As I'm writing this, reports are coming through about incidents in London. I hope it's not as bad as it sounds and I hope everyone comes through the day safely.

To-day's new Doctor Who, "The Lie of the Land", was the first truly bad episode of the season. Written by Toby Whithouse, it comes off as a disjointed version of 1984 modified for current events but without the insight and intellectual process to make such an endeavour worthwhile. Mostly, like so many one off episodes of the new series, it feels like too much crammed into too short a space, but the problem hurt this episode even more then most. Still, it did have some nice elements.

Spoilers after the screenshot.



For one thing, Peter Capaldi looked really good in this episode. I don't like to tell people to smile if they don't want to, I think people should be respected for having feelings other than happiness all the time and they shouldn't be forced to present a lie. But it is true, an honest smile does somehow make people more attractive, and that goes for Capaldi, it seems. I've always liked Capaldi, before he was the Doctor and in his whole tenure as the Doctor, but this is the first time I thought, "What a handsome fellow." I really like that frosted or frayed edge coat.



This scene, where Bill (Pearl Mackie) confronts the Doctor on the propaganda he's been contributing to for the Monks, is one of the main problems in the episode. The Doctor quite convincingly explains to Bill why working with the Monks is a good idea--with a rise of fascist figures like Trump who pursue paths of destruction, having the Monks in charge doesn't sound like it's all bad. Though it doesn't seem like Trump is rounding up and locking up dissenters like the woman at the beginning of the episode--though he has certainly talked about doing it. But after the Doctor made the argument pretty well that the Monks might be a benefit to humankind, it would have been nice for him to provide the counterargument once he'd revealed it as a ruse.



Referring to the psychic manipulations of the Monks as "fake news" also ties the story to current events. Are we to interpret the works of the Monks as one side of fake news or the other? Is it Putin influencing the election or the hysteria promoted by the likes of Huffington Post? Considering the Monks are set up as taking over the world from the fascists through mental manipulation seems to suggest it's meant to be like rigid left-wing ideology, pursuing crusades of identity politics at the cost of finding common ground. Maybe it's a nice thing that the Monks can be interpreted as either one. Mostly I just would have liked something more coherent.



I'm not as sure as I used to be that the Monks are related to the Cybermen somehow. But if they're not, then what is their story? Why do they look like rotting corpses? Did Missy (Michelle Gomez) really encounter them before and, if so, where? And did she learn anything about their origins or motives?



The scenes with Missy certainly were a highlight. Michelle Gomez continues to be a revelation.



It's true, making a people love you is more effective than making them fear you. Look what it did for Bill's mother. It would've been nice if the show had developed the Monks as seductive beings, had made you understand why people might be attracted to order and safety at the cost of free will. Maybe we'll have to wait for Bill's essay.

Twitter Sonnet #999

In lonely human snows the quarry turns.
Robotic barons blast the sort for sport.
Ephemeral revenge Tetsuro learns.
He leaves to find immortal metal's port.
A ticket came in long and tapered hand.
Her yellow willow hair's adrift in black.
In boots and coat he saw then Maetel stand.
Her spinning jewel unwinds the only track.
To Mars where love dissolved before the train.
To ice where irresolution sleeps.
To libraries where conmen stalk the lane.
To empty space where shattered crystal keeps.
And endless planets show an endless need.
All aliens have more than mouths to feed.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


This week's exceptionally existential new Doctor Who, "Extremis", tackled the meaning of individual endeavour in a potentially meaningless world. Last week, the show tackled capitalism and this week has gone on to religion, using the Catholic Church as a context but addressing the more universal function of belief. It turned out to be a really lovely episode and featured possibly the most profound statement ever conceived about Super Mario Brothers.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I was saying to a friend of mine a few months ago, Professor Peter Herman at SDSU, that some piece of dystopian fiction seemed prophetic now that Trump is in office and Professor Herman replied, "Everything bad seems prophetic now." I thought of this watching "Extremis", in the scene where Bill (Peal Mackie) finds the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) sitting alone in the White House Oval Office with the corpse of a president who's just killed himself.



Of course, this whole season of Doctor Who was recorded before last year's U.S. election and even if the makers of the show knew who was going to be president they likely desired to avoid any of the attendant trouble in suggesting someone very like the actual president committed suicide. That's probably why the president on the show resembles neither Trump or Clinton, a nondescript white man with black hair. Though the level of intellectual contemplation suggested as a motive for suicide would also rule out Trump. But the story of a world where the truth can't be known because of the sophistication of the lies that shape apparent reality, paired with a portrayal of the U.S. government, couldn't fail to seem like an apt reflection of current affairs.



Which makes the Doctor's solution all the more resonant, the beautifully delivered concept of virtue without hope--reminding me of the line from Aragorn in Return of the King, about "valour without renown." It would be easy to compare "Extremis" to The Matrix but its idea is much more humanistic than a story about a regular guy who ends up being the Chosen One--in this episode, the Doctor discovers he isn't even really the Doctor, in fact not even a real person, and he presents the argument that it doesn't matter because he's defined by his actions. This is also not an idea new to this story--not new to television or even new to Doctor Who but it was beautifully delivered here. I particularly liked the pairing of it with the Catholic Church, emphasising the nature of the question as being an ancient preoccupation of the human mind worth exploring again and again. The bad times which prompt such questions and make them seem particularly crucial, after all, keep popping up.



I loved how the Doctor's epiphany at the climax came in the form of words spoken to him by Missy (Michelle Gomez) when she was in fact repeating words he'd spoken to her. It's even better because we know she probably doesn't mean them, forcing us to analyse the value in the words themselves--there's no hope she believes in deeds done with promise of "no hope."



The Doctor's blindness was another perfect device for this story, the idea of this blind man trying to read a deadly book called "the truth" being a clever metaphorical portrayal of what the process of seeking truth might be--and Capaldi does such a beautiful job allowing the despair to come through which he's fighting against.



Pearl Mackie continues to be good but this episode particularly drew my attention to Matt Lucas. I knew he could be funny but here he was also excellent delivering some straight forward sincere stuff. His dread approaching the edge of the projectors was great.



And I'm going to make a prediction right now--I think these hooded guys are the Cybermen. It makes sense that they'd be the ones to create a vast simulation of Earth--which isn't too far from the idea of Mondas being an alternate Earth. It looks like they're going to be in next week's episode, too, presumably outside the simulation but I still feel pretty strongly we're seeing Mondasians. To those who don't understand why the original Mondasian Cybermen are scarier, imagine those Cybermen look like this but with a thin cloth mask.
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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