Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

The Mind Robber   Leave a comment

Fictional characters confronting fictionality is one of my favorite tropes – and this time it wasn’t even Moffat!

For once my husband was in the mood for DW, and the Second Doctor is one of his faves – hence my veering from the Classic timeline. There aren’t many extant Troughton stories left that we haven’t seen, but this was one of them. I remembered it as the story where Frazier Hines got sick and Jamie was played by someone else. (That did happen for one episode – and fortunately in the Land of Fiction you can make that work.)

Overall this is a cracking story. It moves fast for its era with no especially notable padding. The interactions with Gulliver and Rapunzel are great fun – Rapunzel is adorable, and I don’t understand why this is her only television role. I also particularly enjoyed the comic-book superhero from the future: grounding Zoe as a character and legitimizing comics as literature in one fake-muscle-bound stroke. However, neither Jamie nor Zoe is at their best in this story, each having little use for their strengths and both being repeatedly and too easily fooled.

A couple of things confused me as well. The title didn’t click for me at first, though after some thought I managed to put it together – the Doctor’s mind was needed to continue creating the fiction, and could not be got by legitimate means. The intent of the primary villain – to empty the earth via stories? never quite made sense. (The secondary villain’s motivation of looking for a replacement so he could retire worked much better.) And then there was that credit at the end of episode 1: The Master, though no new character had been introduced and the Master himself does not appear until the Third Doctor’s era.

I have never even heard another Master mentioned. In story, the character is more accurately called “the Master brain” or something like that – the alien intelligence that kidnapped the human “Master” for its inexplicable purpose. There is no (apparent) relationship between this Master and the Master. Still, I can’t imagine that fandom hasn’t tried to create one.

The story picks up right where the previous story – “The Dominators,” which I haven’t seen – leaves off. It also ends on a cliffhanger, but as far as I can tell that one does not resolve: the following story, “The Invasion,” begins on the moon, and I recall no reference to a prior story. However I haven’t seen it in some time; perhaps in a few years when I get to this spot in my Classic Who (re)watch, I’ll learn better.

On another note, I don’t usually swing that way but I adore this shot:

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In the #MeToo era it doesn’t look good. There’s no story value in Zoe’s bum no matter how glorious. We get no corroborating up-skirt shot of Jamie. (A disappointment to be sure.) And truthfully, had this been most any other companion – any modern companion for sure, or any more helpless companion such as Victoria, or more thoroughly sexualized character like Leela – it would be nothing less than crass. But something about Zoe makes it work. One, she is rarely sexualized in the series, and rarely less than fully clothed from chin to sole. And two, according to the stories at least, Wendy Padbury was more than able to hold her own on set. The boys’ club of Troughton and Hines was known for practical joking, generally at the expense of their younger female co-stars. (Deborah Watling reportedly had a difficult time on the show for this reason.) But it’s been said that Padbury could give as good as she got, and was undeterred by any juvenile antics.

 

I don’t know what Padbury thinks of the shot, or what her young fans at the time felt. For me, I’m reminded that sexuality can also be empowering for women.* I’m reminded, in spite of her detractors and of course Moffat, of Amy Pond.

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Your mileage may vary.

 

*This is a complex arena, but I have acquaintances who are strippers and burlesque dancers, and they are anything but disempowered by a glorious bum.

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The Beast Below   1 comment

In the wake of the passing of Ursula K. LeGuin, I finally read “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas.” The story has apparently been taught in schools for years and has won many awards. I even own the book it first appeared in, yet I had no recollection of reading it before.

(I read it online but I can no longer find the link. Get it, read it, or risk spoilers to follow.)

It reminded me of “The Beast Below.”

In each case, the good of the many is dependent on the suffering of one. The question “Omelas” asks is, is it worth it? What cost our perfect world? Some deny the child: it would do no good to change things anyway. Some consider the trade worthwhile. Some cherish the sweetness and beauty of their world all the more for knowing its cost. And some few walk away, preferring to face the unknown, to risk pain and suffering themselves, rather than live life bought at such a price.

The citizens of Starship UK face a slightly different scenario. They depend not for their ease but for their very survival on another’s pain. They have the luxury of forgetting. The Doctor struggles to balance millions of lives against the suffering of a single creature. Though he chooses to end the torment and carry those millions more deaths on his conscience, he is saved by the Star Whale itself: freed, it declines to abandon its tormentors, and Starship UK lives.

The Doctor would free that Omelan child in an instant.

I wonder sometimes what the Doctor would really do with our world. He doesn’t step in and change society, though he might inspire some to take it on themselves. He doesn’t end slavery every time, or stop every war. Sometimes, as Gwen speculates in Torchwood: Children of Earth, he turns away in horror. Others, he’ll stop everything to comfort a crying child.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

 

Character arcs   Leave a comment

A friend of mine – who is not a fan – shared some silly list of other characters that should now be feminized in the wake of the latest regeneration. It annoyed me right off, but at first I couldn’t figure out why. How is the Doctor any different from, say, Darth Vader or Frodo (the two examples I remember)? Why does it work for one to change and not the other?

(Of course regeneration is unique to the Doctor, but that’s not it.)

The difference is this: Each of the other characters on the list, as far as I can recall, has an arc. Beginning, ending, done. The song has ended, and the story’s over too.

The Doctor is infinite.

There is no beginning for the Doctor, and no ending. There is no story arc; it’s more of a sine wave, up and down and back to the start again. There’s only one other set of characters that in any way compares: characters born in the middle part of last century and who have ever since been reinvented, rewritten, reimagined, reborn. Those are comic book characters.

And what have those characters done? We have a Latino Spider-man, an Asian Hulk, a Black Captain America.

And Thor is a woman.

The Doctor will be brown one day. Thor will be a man again. Miles Morales could make it to the big screen. Their possibilities are infinite. They are infinite.

Frodo’s story is done, like Rose’s and Bill’s. But the Doctor’s goes on and on and on.

Posted July 17, 2017 by Elisabeth in Commentary

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It takes all kinds   Leave a comment

I’m seeing lots of posts about “now little girls can see themselves as the Doctor” which is totally great btw until they add “instead of the sidekick/arm candy/also-ran/companion” which I think is massively unfair to the companion.

It’s okay to be the companion: to retain your humanity, to expand your mind, to try new things, to have a home and a family, to become better than you know yourself to be. It’s awesome to be the companion.

It’s also awesome to be a genius and a little bit mad, to crave adventure, to always step in when someone needs help, to be alone, to be alien.

It’s not that little girls get to be the Doctor instead of the companion. It’s that they now get to be ALL THE THINGS. Anything they want to be.

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Just as it should be.

Posted July 17, 2017 by Elisabeth in Commentary, Companions

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The Next Doctor   Leave a comment

SO MUCH SPECULATION!

It’s possible the casting is done and an announcement imminent. It’s possible we have months more to wait. The Internet loses its collective marbles at every opportunity. Rumors! Bookies! Fancasts! It’s all really too much.

And yet here I am adding to the noise.

I don’t have a pick. A lot of the names I see would do just fine, if not great. There’s at least a decent chance the winner will turn out to be someone I’ve never heard of. It’s likely that whoever it is will be amazing. Of course there are a few I’d love to see, but I’m perfectly happy to be surprised.

I still believe, however, it can’t be another white man.

It’s been a tough year for decent people. Racism, misogyny, and violence have won hearts and minds on both sides of the pond. But the Doctor represents the opposite of that. He’s about the best humanity has to offer. Right now the best of humanity is taking a pounding. The Doctor has to take a stand.

Wonder Woman has shown us how much the world needs a new kind of hero. We’ve been starved for goodness and love and doing the right thing – not for credit or fame but because it’s right. As much as I love the Marvel universe, only Captain America comes close – and he’s the Aryan ideal of manhood.

It’s time to pass the torch to someone new.

There’s a lot of pressure on Chris Chibnall right now. Taking on a show of this scope and intensity – and a fanbase this raving – is a mad task in any case. Taking on a show about hope in these times, even more so. There’s no safe space to fall back on – it’s only illusion. The only way out is through. The only way home is forward.

It will be an act of courage. It’ll get him in a world of shit. But it’s his only choice. Anything else would be failure on an epic scale. Temptation must be resisted. The new Doctor must represent a new era, one that includes all kinds of people.

I haven’t seen enough of Chibnall to know if he’s man enough for the task. But I know the Doctor is.

Posted July 3, 2017 by Elisabeth in Commentary, Speculation

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Eaters of Light and other monsters   2 comments

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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Pride Goes Before   Leave a comment

It is interesting to note that the three-episode arc of “Tooth and Claw,” “School Reunion,” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” has instigated more of my writing than anything else, anywhere, ever. (For example, this is the 4th post resulting from one conversation about one of the three episodes.) The reason for this I think is how much great character stuff happens in these three stories.

Across this arc we see the best and the worst of Rose. In “Tooth and Claw,” we see her compassion for the frightened maid, and her courage and leadership in helping the women escape the barn. But she’s also at her most callous in this story, provoking the Queen and joking with the Doctor in the face of others’ fear and grief. In “School Reunion” we see her petty jealousy, but we also see her overcome that jealousy for friendship and a unique bond with one of very few women who understands her experience. In “The Girl in the Fireplace,” we see the depths of her compassion and her commitment to help others, as she sets aside any feelings she may have about the Doctor in order to comfort and save Reinette.

This arc sets up Rose’s downfall. Rose spent S1 learning to trust the Doctor and herself, and expanding the boundaries of her own capability. In S2 she’s out to have a good time. She has stopped worrying about the risk, having perhaps too much faith in hers and the Doctor’s abilities. She never considers the real danger posed by the werewolf, and cares too little for Lady Isabel’s loss.

These three episodes are Rose’s last hurrah. Fans on rewatch can see the darkness gathering ahead. I don’t doubt the Doctor sees it too, though he’s happy to ignore it as long as he can. But not until “Rise of the Cybermen,” when she faces finding and losing her family all over again, when she loses Mickey, does Rose begin to understand the cost of her adventures. She’s young enough to think she’s invincible, and that the good times will last forever. After S1 she may even think she’s earned it. The balance of S2 serves as a nasty surprise.

Rose isn’t the only one who gets rearranged this season. “School Reunion” sees the Doctor face the consequences of his lifestyle. It sees Sarah Jane learn to accept what has happened to her, to see the good as well as the bad – setting her up for her own televised Adventures. “Reunion” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” set up Mickey’s final transition from idiot to savior of worlds. None of these characters is ever the same again.

There’s a quote from “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” that feels relevant here:

“Every time you see them happy, you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”

They’re going to be sad later.