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Moffatism   Leave a comment

I’ve admitted to mixed feelings about Steven Moffat. I think he’s written some of the best and some of the worst episodes in all of New Who. I think he’s put his foot in his mouth on occasion. I also think he’s gotten better – more relaxed, more thoughtful, more humorous in interviews and other interactions with fans. Running this show must be a brutal if exhilarating job, and he’s done at least decently by it.

This interview, shared by Paul Cornell on his blog, shows the latest Moffat. He loves Doctor Who, loves his exhausting, herculean job, mocks himself and his fellow fans, acknowledging their shared passion for the ridiculous. He’s got heart and humor. I’ve never been able to say I like him, and I’m more than ready for a new showrunner, but he’s contributed a great deal to the show. I appreciate his hard work and his point of view, even if I don’t always agree with it.

Good luck, Chris Chibnall.

Posted June 28, 2017 by Elisabeth in Cool Stuff, Writers and Writing

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Eaters of Light and other monsters   Leave a comment

Lady creators are on my mind of late. I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, with a possible third pending later this week. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are heroes of the hour. Rachel Talalay’s third two-part season finale blasts into space next week. And now, I’ve finally spent some time with Rona Munro.

First, “Survival.” The ironically-titled final serial of classic DW is – like much of the rest of DW – a good story marred by questionable effects and costumes. Still, its heart is there. The final line – written not by Munro but by script editor Andrew Cartmel once he learned that the show was definitely not coming back – is a lovely bittersweet conclusion to 26 years of madcap adventure. The influence of Ace on Rose is glaringly apparent. Costar Anthony Ainley and showrunner John Nathan Turner would not live to see the show’s return. Lisa Bowerman, who played furry Karra in blazing heat, returned as Bernice Summerfield for 50-plus (and counting) Big Finish audio stories – a few with Ace and the Seventh Doctor, but most on her own. Rona Munro went on to a full and fruitful career writing stage plays and radio dramas. And now she’s back.

“The Eaters of Light” features a strange segment of history with which I was not previously familiar: the disappearance of the 9th Roman Legion sometime in the second century. The episode makes fun use of the popular (if slightly out of date) theory that the 9th was annihilated by Celtic tribes in northern Britain. The tribes, in this case, had the assistance of an inter-dimensional photon vampire.

(I’m not sure about the physiology of this. There was a bit of hand-waving.)

First of all, I love the bookends of this episode. The Scottish setting (actually Wales according to guest star Rebecca Benson) is brooding and ethereal. The little girl who hears music coming out of the ground sets a creepy stage – and the truth about that music is at turns inspiring and sad.

I also really enjoyed the crows. (We replayed that one bit – it DID say “Master!”) Our neighborhood is full of crows: waking up to cries of “Kar” the following morning made me smile. I’ll certainly never listen to them the same way again. I also enjoy that the Doctor was wrong about them – “They’re not brooding, they’re remembering!”

I did wonder if the non-white Roman soldiers were going to cause a flap among that more annoying segment of fandom. I know very little of history generally, but given how widespread Rome’s impact and influence was, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that their garrisons would include people from all sorts of backgrounds. And if I’m wrong about that, I still think a show that features an inter-dimensional photon vampire can get away with a couple of black Romans. I appreciated that they weren’t both killed right away; I had my doubts after the first one.

The side characters in this episode get some wonderful depth. Of course to the Doctor all humans are children: our lives too short, our experiences too limited. But these “soldiers” are children even to Bill, young people far out of their depth and with a weight of responsibility on their untested shoulders. Together Bill and the Doctor take their hands and help them grow – and in the end, when the Doctor wants to keep holding on, to save them from the burdens of adulthood, Bill and the young people themselves demand that he let them go, to make their music under the hill for eternity.

(Again the precise logistics are mystifying – the Doctor claims his lifespan, his regenerative ability, make him the better choice to guard the gate, but somehow a handful of human soldiers can do the same job? Wave-wave.)

“I can’t promise you won’t die. But I can promise you won’t die in a hole in the ground.”

Other high points are the popcorn distraction and Nardole’s instant adaptation and acceptance into the community. I enjoyed Nardole more this episode than any since the Christmas special. The coming together of enemies as friends and partners is a trope I’ll never get tired of – and the Doctor’s speech on the topic is perfectly on point.

The denouement with Missy remains a mystery. I still don’t buy that she’s going to turn good, whatever the Doctor does. I think she’s fooling him on some level. But I also think she’s maybe going through something a little unexpected. Perhaps she’s really experiencing remorse or compassion in ways she thought herself safe from. Perhaps if not a full shift, she may still make a small one.

Husband and I expect her to sacrifice herself for the Doctor or a companion in the finale. (Will we see that regeneration – a new Master? or will it be a surprise for next time?)

Or will it be John Simm! When I first heard that he would return, I thought it unlikely; when I learned it was true, I realized we’ve had many multi-Doctor stories but never a multi-Master one, and how much fun would that be? We don’t know how the Master got from Simm to Gomez, or whether there were any versions in between, Simm’s Master having been sent back to the Time War with Rassilon in “The End of Time.”

On a related note, Derek Jacobi is returning as the Master for Big Finish. And in further speculation, there is the theory that in honor of Missy’s sacrifice the Doctor will next regenerate into a woman.

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PS   Leave a comment

MISSY.

Is she genuinely remorseful? I doubt it. Can she make a lasting change? Ditto. She will give the Doctor what he wants, right up until the moment she is free. Will she make an unexpected choice, in opposition to herself for once?

Quite possibly.

Gomez is magic under any circumstances. I’m heartbroken she won’t return after this series. I can’t wait to see her chew scenery with John Simm. When this is all over I’m rewatching every Green Wing and DW scene of hers in a row.

Every little thing…

Posted June 7, 2017 by Elisabeth in Guest stars, Piffle

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The Pyramid and the Lie   Leave a comment

The two make an intriguing pair: the low and the high of the season so far. “Pyramid” suffers from that variety of plausibility problem that Peter Harness is about to become known for. Eggs that gain mass as they grow? Spidery single-celled organisms? Biological laboratories with timed ventilation that can’t be turned off? Not to mention obscure Middle Eastern/near Asian locales not remotely real enough to believe in.

(It’s the same country, Turmezistan, that Harness created for “The Zygon Invasion.” It doesn’t work any better here.)

I did enjoy the setup, the end of the world already in motion. I really liked the scientist Erica. As Whithouse did in “Under the Lake,” here Moffat/Harness introduce a character who is different – and whose difference has zero impact on their competence or their humanity. I wish Erica had returned in “Lie.”

However I had serious questions about the resolution of this episode. The Doctor unable to cure himself is already a stretch. The combination lock with no tactile element pushes things further. But the lack of a video component in the sonic sunglasses takes things right over the edge. There is no way he can’t transmit an image of that lock to Bill’s phone. There is no reason a) the lab should vent to the outside under any circumstances whatsoever, b) the Doctor should be unable to get himself out of this particular mess, or c) Bill should decide that giving over to the Monks is the best option. I like that Pearl gets to stretch emotionally here, but I wish she had better motivation.

(My husband points out that like his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor can do anything – as long as it’s plot-convenient. Otherwise he suddenly can’t.)

And then Toby Whithouse returns, with one of his strongest episodes and definitely one of the strongest of this season so far. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, so full of fake news and fake history it’s hard for even the toughest to resist. The Monks’ world is beautifully depicted. The turncoat Doctor so close to believable, it’s no wonder Bill loses her faith. And there’s nothing better than imaginary Mum saving the day. I loved it. I start to wish that Whithouse instead of Chibnall were taking over next year. His stories just keep getting better.

Mark Gatiss’ episode next week looks simply delightful. “The Empress of Mars” brings to mind classic Edgar Rice Burroughs, Empress of the Racnoss, Kage Baker. The Empress herself may be the first female Ice Warrior we’ve seen. I look forward to meeting her.

“In extremis”   4 comments

def: in an extremely difficult situation, at the point of death

River makes a point: Virtue is only virtue in extremis. A good man is only as good as the choices he makes under the worst possible circumstances. The Doctor, she declares, is such a man: give him the worst, and invariably he delivers his best.

The episode is on the surface a silly one, full of Grand Moff gestures and contrived crises. In spite of this it manages to be genuinely captivating, with surprising hidden layers. What would any of us do with our backs against a wall? Would our best selves shine? Or would our base humanity, our natural drive to survive at all costs, overwhelm our intentions?

I’m not entirely sure how the episode showcases this. I suppose the threat of Missy’s execution might be considered extremis, though Michelle Gomez pleading and promising is some of the least believable dialogue I have ever encountered. The Doctor being faced with a deadly document – one he dare not ask anyone else to read to him – while blind might also be considered an extreme situation. Still I feel like the Doctor has been in graver circumstances. Davros in control of a reality bomb? Clara’s life in Missy’s hands? The choice to end humanity or let the Daleks enslave them? Somehow these cases feel more extreme – or more believably extreme – than the Master’s impending death (been there) or some strange video-game version of reality.

However, the story isn’t finished yet. We shall see what next week has to offer.

Posted May 24, 2017 by Elisabeth in Season 10, Themes and Ideas

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About Time   Leave a comment

How has it taken me so long to write about Season 10? Life intervened, as it does at times, interfering with anticipation and delight, as well as writing time. But as a third of the series passes and dust begins to settle, I can finally put my thoughts to words.

The Story So Far:

Bill! Her appearance, much like Rose’s in many ways, is magic. I like when the Doctor finds brilliance in unlooked for places: the “dinner lady,” the non-student who surreptitiously attends every lecture she can. I like her quirky turn of thought and phrase, and her imaginative relationship with her mother. I worry for her courage. She runs for the Doctor when things get weird, pushes him away rather than look bad before her mates, chooses – or would choose, if the Doctor gave choices – to return to the TARDIS rather than search for survivors in a station full of zombie space suits. I don’t begrudge her fearfulness – who among us wouldn’t share it? – but most companions have by their fourth story saved the Doctor at least twice.

She does, however, show appropriate wonder and excitement at visiting new worlds, and she asks interesting questions. I appreciate that.

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The Doctor: I like the parallels to with Reg/Chronotis, the sometime Time Lord from “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” or possibly “Shada.” The Doctor with an office is a fun first. His choice of job – lecturing on whatever he feels like – seems entirely appropriate, and his choice of Bill seems like the end of a long enjoyable-but-dull streak in his life. It seems he may have been collecting dust, and now he’s ready to shake it off again.

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I’m not sure about the thing in the vault as a season arc. Moffat is so much less successful with these than he’d like to be.

Alien companion Nardole is a mixed bag. He was funny in “The Pilot” but since has shown an annoying tendency to nag. The gentle prodding he employed in “Dr. Mysterio” has given way to full-on shrew. I hope he reverts soon.

The settings have been delightful. The writing has been great. We’ve been to past, present, and future, visited alien worlds and the edge of town. The season so far may lack the fireworks of Season 9, but it’s good fun Doctor Who and I’m ready for more.

Next week: the return of Missy!

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Posted May 19, 2017 by Elisabeth in Season 10

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It’s official:   Leave a comment

All 26 seasons of Classic Doctor Who are now streaming.

It’s about what we expected: the BBC launching their own streaming service and making it the exclusive home of Doctor Who. It’s been in the works ever since they pulled the show from other streaming services. It took them long enough; I wonder if the wait had the desired effect, if desperate fans are buying the service, or if they’ve all given up by now.

Me, I’m buying it.

I’ve known about the service for a while. My sister is buying it for the infinite supply of Midsomer Murders and similar cozy fare. I was holding out for DW – and I told them so in one of their many surveys. Now – although I think it was the plan all along, and not a result of my pestering – I’ve got what I wanted.

Several informational articles mention 20 episodes for which Britbox could not secure the rights. From my research it appears that these are some of the lesser known Dalek episodes – “Genesis of the Daleks” is available, “Day of the Daleks” featuring the Third Doctor is not. The Nation estate strikes again?

Of course the missing episodes are not available, nor the newly-released animated “Power of the Daleks.” However the found stories “Enemy of the World” and “Web of Fear” are there, including Web’s animated third episode.

More, I expect, is to come.

Posted April 6, 2017 by Elisabeth in Piffle