Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

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 The episode makes fun use of the popular (if slightly out of date) theory that the 9th was annihilated by Celtic tribes in northern Britain.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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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.

The Doctor’s Big Love   Leave a comment

The Verity! Podcast on “The Girl in the Fireplace” brought up an idea that I had never seriously considered in the context of Doctor Who, but which is clearly relevant: polyamory, or the ability to love more than one.

American society is fixedly monogamous. Any type of relationship veering from the man-woman-marriage-children prototype gets a raised eyebrow at best, violent discrimination at worst. “Soul mates” are a trope many people attempt to apply to real life, often with painful results. Yet many people love more than once. The widowed or divorced person who remarries doesn’t (necessarily) stop loving their original partner. A person may love a long string or collection of people, each one different and unique.

It may not have been intentional on the part of either showrunner, but modern Who definitely pushes the boundaries.

In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (and in real life) Reinette is a married woman who is lover to the King. In the story she also falls in love with the Doctor. In her world of eighteenth century France, this is normal, as the Doctor tries to explain to his companions. But it’s also normal in the Doctor’s world. The Doctor loves Rose, but he also loves Sarah Jane. The Doctor marries River, but he also mourns Clara. The Doctor loves the TARDIS, but he equally loves his companions. The Doctor had a family once: does he ever stop loving them?

In a long life one may love many times, or many people all at once. Love for one isn’t diminished by love for another. The Doctor has two hearts and dozens of lifetimes: it seems natural that he would love a lot. It seems natural too that anyone of his courage, compassion, and charm would be easy to love. (All of us have fallen for him, right?) And in this world, can too much love really be a bad thing?

All it takes is a big enough heart(s).

Posted February 11, 2017 by Elisabeth in Commentary, Companions, Piffle, Speculation, Themes and Ideas

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Loss of the Time Lords   1 comment

This has been a tough few days for Doctor Who.

On Friday, the world lost the War Doctor. John Hurt’s career has been long and varied: I suspect, given the depth and breadth of his filmography, that his are the footsteps in which David Tennant has been following. (Not too closely, David, Sir John was married four times!) But it is for this tiny slice of a role that so many of us will remember him.

The War Doctor was conceived in an emergency. Christopher Eccleston had declined to participate in the 50th Anniversary special, and so his Doctor’s experience of the Time War could not be portrayed. According to himself, Stephen Moffat asked, “What if there was an incarnation of the Doctor none of us knew about? And, coincidentally, he was played by the most famous actor in the world?” Hurt was Moffat’s idea of Wilderness Years stunt casting: the Doctor who never was. Also according to Moffat, Hurt was tickled by the opportunity. “So I am properly Doctor Who now. I am a Doctor Who. I can say it?” Clearly he was delighted by the role: one of my favorite anniversary-special accessories was a short video in which he affectionately refers to Matt Smith and David Tennant as “the boys.” As a result, every one of his scenes is magic:

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Yes, even that one.

On Monday, as we reeled, our beloved Twelfth Doctor disclosed his departure. While not surprising, it’s still terribly sad: he still feels so fresh, his tenure so brief, and he’s been such a delight in the role. I had hopes for Chris Chibnall’s powers of persuasion. Yet it was not to be: Capaldi is a film actor first, and not one for lingering television roles. (Film and TV are different worlds: the demands, the shooting schedules, the ongoing commitments of each suit different actors differently.) I will mourn and miss this Doctor, and feel grateful for the three seasons we got. (Will get? Will have gotten? Tenses are funny.)

Which I will watch over and over, as I have the single season my own first Doctor gave me.

Series 11 will be a jolt no matter what: new showrunner, new Doctor, for all we know a new companion. (Please, Pearl, stick with us!) It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before: Moffat’s era began so, and managed a reasonable amount of success. But DW was on an upswing of popularity at that time, new to BBC America and a blazing international audience. Now, if anything it’s plateaued, removed from streaming, with a whole year left fallow between seasons. Capaldi himself expressed misgivings about how his beloved show had been treated by its administrators; does it retain the strength it needs to overcome the trauma of this change?

And what will this change look like?

For years fans have clamored for someone other than a white man in the role. The opportunity here is of course immense, for Chibnall and the BBC. But so is the risk. America demonstrated this past autumn how much it still hates and fears women and people of color. In spite of its Queen is Britain really so different? Will the BBC have the courage to make this kind of statement with the crown jewel of its history?

Somehow I doubt it.

Current fan speculation is not without its bright spots. Richard Ayoade, Miranda Hart, and Olivia Colman make the short list. Other suggestions are more bland and typical. I’m sure we’ll ultimately be surprised, not necessarily unpleasantly, but I don’t expect to be inspired.

My personal one-two are Helen Mirren and Alexander Siddig. Both have the charm, the flair, the gravitas, and the range the Doctor demands. Mirren has expressed how much she’d love the role – and as much as I’d love to see her in it, I can’t help thinking of the statement Siddig would make. Refined and British he may be, but does television have the vision in these times to cast Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi in that most beloved and iconic of British roles?

Star Trek would do it. The play is yours, Doctor Who.

Class and other fun   Leave a comment

Last week we watched the first episode of the new DW spinoff, Class. It was, as I had begun to suspect, more Torchwood than SJA, and also quite well written. The characters are good, the conflict is good, and the Doctor is icing on the alien cake. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Last night my meetup group saw the newly released animated version of “Power of the Daleks” in the theater. I continue to be impressed with the Troughton era. In spite of a slow start, mediocre animation, and 60s cheese, the serial was quite engaging. The story is tight and well paced, never dragging like some classics tend to. The background artwork is beautiful. The Daleks are terrifying as always, but also sneaky and underhanded and occasionally hilarious: this is the first appearance of the serving-Daleks seen in “Victory of the Daleks.” The showing was followed by a brief making-of video featuring Nick Briggs and several members of the animation team, as well as a few from the original. Just as if we’d watched at home on DVD, but bigger. 🙂

We have lots more Doctor coming up this month. Next week the meetup will watch “Boom Town” and “Bad Wolf.” I wasn’t sure about splitting up the series finale, but “Parting of the Ways” will be paired up with “The Christmas Invasion” just in time for the holidays, so I think I can live with it. Then at the end of the month, our local old-school movie theater will be showing “The Invasion of Time” complete with period commercials. We saw “Genesis of the Daleks” there last year, and it was great fun. I haven’t seen “Invasion,” and we’ve seen very little of Leela so far, so we’re definitely looking forward to it.

On the topic of Christmas specials and similar fun, I have mixed feelings about the one upcoming. I was hoping to meet Pearl this holiday, but she will not appear. I was not as thrilled with Nardole as many apparently were, and I wouldn’t have chosen him as a recurring character. I don’t like how guy-heavy the story appears to be. On the other hand I love cheesy superhero stuff, and Christmas specials are always great fun. I’ll go into it with an open mind.

(On that note, I get surveys from the BBC about upcoming events, and I gave them an earful about the testosterone ratio of the holiday special. It was after that, I note, that the nameless young woman began to appear in the promotional material.)

An added bonus, for those who watched Doctor Who: The World Tour: “Doctor Mysterio” is the Spanish name for Doctor Who, and has its own mariachi filk captured on film. 🙂

Posted November 15, 2016 by Elisabeth in Christmas Specials, Classic, Commentary, Events

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The best of New Who   Leave a comment

A while back I considered whether S9 might be my new favorite. The writing, particularly of the first two and last two stories, seemed to reach new levels of depth and richness. The season is not without its flaws, but its best bits stand out brightly.

As my meetup group progresses through S1, for many years uncontested in its top spot, I find little to criticize. While its peaks may not reach the heights S9 achieves, nor does it suffer its slips.

Most recently we watched the first New Who two-parter, “Aliens of London/World War Three.” Best remembered for its farting aliens, the episode did not endure in my mind as anything great. On the rewatch, however, it turns out to be the showcase of some excellent material:

  • The development of Rose’s relationship with Jackie and Mickey, and the grounding of her character
  • The introduction of Harriet Jones, “MP Flydale North”
  • The first New Who appearance of UNIT
  • “Mickey the idiot” saving the world from his home PC
  • The beginning of trust between Mickey and the Doctor
  • The foundation of a friendship between Mickey and Jackie, which endures throughout the RTD era.
  • The Doctor’s confession of the truth behind his adventuring:
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“This is my life, Jackie – it’s not fun, it’s not smart, it’s just standing up and making a decision because nobody else will.”

  • Rose’s courage and quick thinking in the face of death

Even the farting aliens, something I imagine RTD dreamed up to satisfy his internal (and eternal) nine-year-old, have a scientific reason for their ridiculousness: the gas exchange that allows their enormous bodies to fit inside a suit of human skin. Not only that, but the fact of the farting helps the Doctor determine the nature of the enemy in time to save Mickey and Jackie – or in time to help them save themselves. This balance of horror, silliness, and heart is one of Doctor Who‘s strongest features. I can’t find fault with Russell’s choice.

We haven’t rewatched S9 yet, and we’re only a little way into S1. Time will tell if Nine, Rose, and Russell will retain their throne or if Twelve will manage to unseat them.

The Doctor speaks   1 comment

I’ve been seeing bits of this interview all over the place, but I think this is the source:

Capaldi on Newsweek

Diversity makes the article’s headline. Doctor Who is absolutely a show of its time – whatever time that happens to be. Having a companion – and ultimately a Doctor – of color is critical to that expression. I heard a rumor about Rakhee Thakrar making the short list: I’d be thrilled with her, but I’ll be surprised if hers is the only name we hear in the long months ahead before anything becomes official.

(I still think longingly of Alexander Siddig in the Doctor’s role. If Capaldi’s successor isn’t a woman, then I hold out hope for him.)

Capaldi also expresses concern about the BBC’s treatment of its flagship show. Doctor Who does have legs of its own, of course, but even the strongest shows aren’t immune to network abuse. If the air time is constantly tugged around, pushed past the target audience’s bedtime, or otherwise made difficult to follow, eventually people will stop trying. Not everyone has BBC online.

And if all this is connected to the pulling of the show from streaming services? An attempt to use Doctor Who‘s popularity to push the BBC’s own streaming agenda? Then I can’t help but think the entire enterprise doomed to fail.

Finally, Capaldi touches on the possibility of his return for S11. Of course it would be awkward for him to say outright at this stage that he would or wouldn’t be back; suspense like that keeps fans hanging on through the long empty months. But maybe he’s telling the truth, and his mind has yet to be made up. In which case, I’ll be cheering for the persuasive abilities of Chris Chibnall.

Want more from the Doctor’s mouth? Check out The Fan Show‘s latest Doctor double-header: Draw My Life and Capaldi Talks. Enjoy!

Posted March 16, 2016 by Elisabeth in Commentary, Cool Stuff, Speculation, Video

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