Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Cyber Attack of The Doctor



STORY 275.2: THE DOCTOR FALLS

Well, perhaps a better title would have been The Masters Fall, since for some reason the last two people to play our renegade Time Lord were the de facto stars of The Doctor Falls.  Our last episode of Series/Season Ten was like so many Season/Series finales of Doctor Who: big, overblown, with mad Masters, flying Cybermen, and crying Cybermen.

Maybe in retrospect, it should have been called Death in Heaven Revisited.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is holding off regeneration as much and as long as he can, because in the end he'd rather not change.  Before all that, though, The Doctor, along with his Companion Nardole (Matt Lucas) and his late Companion-now-Cyberman Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) have moved up to higher levels aboard the ship carrying humans.  It was a daring escape from The Master (John Simm) and his regenerated form, The Mistress (Michelle Gomez), better known as Missy. 

It was a strange escape as Nardole comes to the rescue from the invading Cybermen army.  They are programmed to go after all humans, so the Masters will be immune, or so they think.  The Doctor, however, during the confusion from last episode, has instead issued new programming: to go after all those with two hearts.  With that, all their lives are at risk. 

It looks like Missy is struggling between being reformed and being her old transgendered self, as she literally knocks it off with 'the ex'.  Now at least temporarily away from the Cybermen, the Doctor and Nardole are awaiting them to come up.  Bill, however, still sees herself as human, even though she is a Mondasian Cyberman, whose appearance terrifies the children.

It is a race to get to the TARDIS and hopefully save the children, but no easy task as The Master continues to play at a long game.

Why The Doctor and Nardole, or any of the few adults with the children don't bother to lock up the Master/Mistress but keep the harmless Bill shut up in a barn we will never know.


It's now time for a battle between the survivors and the evolving Cybermen, but still Mass-Miss can't let go of being evil, or so it appears.  The Mistress can't remember any of this even though technically it should be in her/his past, something to do with their timelines being out of sync.

How that wasn't a problem for the Second and Third Doctors to remember in The Five Doctors when they had met before in The Three Doctors is something that, again, we will never know.

The Mistress decides that she will be good, and that means killing The Master.  She stabs him in the back, which will cause him to regenerate, ostensibly to her.  The Master, not to be outdone, shoots The Mistress in the back with his laser screwdriver in full force, which means she will not regenerate and thus, it's the End of The Mass-Miss.

As a side note, maybe it should get a point just for that.

The Doctor gets Nardole to spirit the children to safety and manages to defeat the incoming Cybermen, but at the cost of his life.  Cyber-Bill saves him, and now finds herself reunited with Heather (Stephanie Hyam), the lesbian puddle she first encountered in The Pilot.  Bill's tears have brought them together, and now Bill is like Heather.  They go off together to travel the stars, taking the time to place the Doctor in the TARDIS.

The Doctor continues to suppress his regeneration, but he can't hold it off forever.  Perhaps he might not have to, as a strange figure emerges from the snow.  The Doctor tells the figure he's The Doctor, but the figure dismisses it.  "You may be A Doctor, but I'm THE Doctor.  The original, you might say," to reveal none other than the First Doctor (David Bradley).


Now, I find the appearance of The First Doctor to be most amusing, but not perhaps in the way one might think.  Bradley played William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space, about the creation of Doctor Who.  I would find it endlessly amusing if Capaldi's Doctor ended up on the Doctor Who set in 1963-66 and discovered that he was talking to William Hartnell, not The First Doctor, and he discovers that a whole show was built around him without his knowledge.

That way, we could have Bradley playing Hartnell playing The First Doctor rather than having Bradley play The First Doctor.  Otherwise, you can't explain to me why Bradley wasn't hired to play the First Doctor and have other actors play the Second and Third Doctors (I think Sean Pertwee would have been keen on playing his father's most famous role as a tribute) in The Day of The Doctor, making it a genuine 50th Anniversary Special rather than the Eighth Anniversary fest it ended up being.

No case can now be made to have not included any of the Doctors in The Day of The Doctor apart from Tennant, and especially having created that abomination known as "The War Doctor".  I'm going to go on a bit of a rant against those called The Nerds on a Couch, who lectured me about how my not accepting "The War Doctor" and calling him The Real Ninth Doctor was wrong because, parroting The Doctor Falls' writer Steven Moffat, 'he didn't call himself The Doctor, hence he somehow doesn't count in the numerical order'.

Fine, have it their own way, but it doesn't mean I have to accept it.

Leaving that aside, The Doctor Falls is more nonsense that passes for genius. 



A lot we've seen before: The Master created the Cybermen, Cybermen who can fly.  Even the Mondasian Cybermen, who exhibited no aviator abilities in their debut story, The Tenth Planet, now can rocket through various levels of the spaceship.

One Cyberman, however, can resist being made into a virtual machine.  Last time, it was the dopey Danny Pink crying to save Clara.  This time it's the not-dopey Bill Potts, who still gets to live a life with Heather, whom she didn't even date if I remember correctly.

As a side note, does anyone else think that it's kind of cruel to Bill's long-suffering foster mother to never see Bill again?  Bill didn't even have the courage to come out to her non-blood relative.

That ending, which I'm sure made many a NuWhovian cry, is also reminiscent of last series/season's ending Hell Bent, where Clara, one heartbeat away from death, got to travel the universe in her own makeshift TARDIS with the immortal Me. 

It's as if Moffat can't be bothered to come up with anything truly original.  He essentially plagiarizes himself, and everyone applauds him for it.

My sense is that Simm is just there for decorative purposes, as The Master really doesn't do much apart from dance with himself and perform the oddest version of suicide.  For a nice chunk of The Doctor Falls, he isn't even the main foil.  That would be Gomez' Mistress, who sadly never convinced me she even struggled to be good.

It's a curious thing, isn't it: how The Doctors and The Masters really never changed.  The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were pretty much the same, and The Master/Mistress were too.  There didn't seem to be much point to either in the end.


It's good to know that Pearl Mackie will go down as one of Doctor Who's better Companions.  I'd say that she might be among the best NuWho Companions, her mix of strength, intelligence, and vulnerability a welcome tonic from the bossy know-it-alls Amy and Clara. 

It's also good to know that Peter Capaldi will go down as one of Doctor Who's better Doctors, and both were far better than some of the sorry material they had to work with.  Capaldi's performance in The Doctor Falls also was excellent: his mix of intelligence, regret, hope, fear, and anger all combined to make him a strong figure but one who still was struggling to do good against almost impossible odds.

A lot seemed anticlimactic: Heather just popping up to whisk Bill away, the Masters killing each other, The Doctor able to suppress his regeneration for days on end (which makes me wonder how he managed that, but I leave it up to other people to explain such things).

I also leave it up to other people to explain whether The Doctor Falls somehow alters The Tenth Planet, or if a lot of The Doctor Falls was a repeat or variation of other Series/Season finales. 

As I look at The Doctor Falls, all I can say is 'he can't get up'.

2/10

Next Episode: The Doctors

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Master Plans of The Doctor


STORY 275.1: WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME

As we wrap up the final series/season of Peter Capaldi's turn as The Doctor, World Enough and Time informs us of a few things.

The Doctor's name may indeed be 'Doctor Who'.
The Doctor may have once been a woman.
Steven Moffat essentially created the Cybermen.

And those are just a few tasty tidbits from World Enough and Time, a reminder of two things: that when Doctor Who slides, it slides hard, and the Steven Moffat created everything: the Daleks, the Master, and now the Cybermen.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) wants to give The Mistress aka Missy (Michelle Gomez) a chance to be a good girl.  This chance comes when he sends her, along with his Companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) to respond to a distress signal on a ship.  Missy being Missy, she can't get things quite right.  She pops out of the TARDIS saying, "Hello, I'm Doctor Who", then proceeds to insult Bill and Nardole by calling them among other things, "Thing One and The Other One" and "Exposition and Comic Relief".

In fairness, that is what Bill and Nardole are, but is it wise to draw so obvious a point?

This ship is attempting to pull out of a black hole.  Things, however, are not going well in that the back of the ship is going at a faster rate than the the front of the ship, where they are at.  That is why it appears that there are thousands of people there when the original crew was only fifty.  Those now coming to the top are coming after humans, but none of them nor Jorj (Oliver Lansley) are human.

Bill is though, and Jorj shoots her dead, as humans are the ones the others are after.  Bill, however, is revived and repaired and even upgraded into a rudimentary Cyberman, with only the chest device. As time goes by faster for her than for The Doctor, The Mistress, and Nardole, she watches them figure things out while she works for and with Razor, a cleaner with a vaguely Russian or Slavic accent.

Bill also sees that many of the 'patients' at the Hospital are in terrible agony but not quite human.  She can hear them on their machines calling out 'Pain' and 'Kill me'.  She pushes on, waiting for The Doctor to rescue her.


All the more the pity, for we find that Bill is in much greater danger than she or any of them can imagine.  It revolves around Operation Exodus, the efforts to escape from the dangers of the lower levels.

Razor, far from being a friend, turns out to be a foe, and a dangerous one at that.  By the time everyone else reaches the bottom, we find that Razor is actually The Master (John Simm), returned from I haven't the foggiest notion.

The Master and The Mistress: Together Again At Last...For the Very First Time.  Missy tried to change, but found it was simply too hard to do so.  She joins forces with 'the ex', and now they are in cahoots, leaving the Doctor and Nardole shocked.  Even more shocking is when they find themselves facing a Mondasian Cyberman, and that that Mondasian Cyberman is none other than Bill Potts transformed.

Bill-in-Cyberman form holds out her hand, saying "I waited for you", before we see a tear slide down from outside her.

How World Enough and Time and the second part of this two-part finale, The Doctor Falls, squares with the story of the Mondas Cybermen from the First Doctor story The Tenth Planet remains to be seen.  However, my sense is that Moffat clearly wanted to connect the Cybermen to himself.  The line the Master says about witnessing 'the Genesis of the Cybermen' just struck me as very odd.

It struck me also as very self-serving, attempting to connect the distant past to the present through Moffat.  It was Moffat who came up with the idea of having Clara tell the First Doctor which TARDIS to steal.  It was Moffat who came up with the idea of having Clara also inspire the Doctor as a child that fear of what was beneath the bed.   It was Moffat who came up with the idea of the Doctor's great 'love', Rover Song.

That being the case, why shouldn't Moffat also take credit for bringing about the Cybermen?


There are some cringe-inducing moments in World Enough and Time that I think too many are willing to overlook.  The Mistress dabs. Nardole wants a selfie. The Master adopts a Slavic accent that borders on parody.

Leaving aside those naked appeals to Millennials that instantly date the episode (can you imagine the Third Doctor or The Master doing The Hustle?), I wonder about the logic of Gomez's interpretation of The Mistress.

This version apparently doesn't know or understand how The Doctor or his Companions work.  If we go back into his early days when interacting with the Third Doctor, you could see in Roger Delgado's work as The Master that he understood perfectly how people behaved.  In fact, part of the Master's appeal whenever hoodwinking others, apart from he used hypnosis, was that he used his charm.

Now, Moffat has made The Master/Mistress into this unhinged, irrational being.  I suppose because he went a little mad from childhood one could cut him some slack, but then we have to go back and wonder how as a child he went crazy, as an adult he became extremely rational, then at the Time War he went bonkers again.

Well, I won't beat this bit too much, but there are other elements that have me a bit nonplussed.

The Doctor at one point claims he doesn't remember if The Master or even himself was a man or a woman when they met at the Academy.  That strikes me as idiotic.  I'd like to know in what scenario the Doctor was ever a woman before Hartnell.  I'd also like to know how the Doctor claiming that The Mistress was "the only person I've ever meet whose even remotely like me?"

What does he mean by that?  In terms of being the only Time Lord?  I'm sure Romana would have something to say about that.  In terms of being involved in other worlds?  Again too, if we go back to The War Chief or The Meddling Monk, he can hardly make that kind of claim.



Finally, the whole 'Doctor Who' bit has been beaten by Moffat beyond death.  It's a fixation for him, and so illogical.  The Doctor has never, to my memory, called himself 'Doctor Who' as if 'Who' was his name.  Yes, there have been times in the past when he and the show had some fun with 'Doctor Who', but I don't think he's ever called himself 'Doctor Who', let alone introduced himself as 'Doctor Who'.  Others point out that in the credits he was billed as 'Doctor Who', but I think that's a rather tenuous claim that the credits equal the actual name, which has been kept stubbornly a mystery.

Part of it I think stems from Moffat's idea that his is the right one, and part of it stems from his ability to mock those who disagree with him.

In terms of the episode itself, I give credit that World Enough and Time echoed some horror film in the Cure for Wellness style: all the grays and dark looks of a world of terror.  It did have a very creepy feel to it.

Still, so much of it wasn't to my liking.  Simm coming back will have to open up questions of continuity, though in this case I'm hampered by the fact I haven't seen most of the Tennant Era do to the horror that was Love & Monsters.  I don't think he added much if anything other than 'oh, look, it's The Master'.

It was interesting that World Enough and Time went back and further back in the story, starting with the tease of the Doctor in the throes of regeneration, then to the arrival on the ship with Missy channeling her 'oh, I'm crazy and funny' shtick, then further back to getting Bill and Nardole to do this test-run.

As much as I may have thought it bad, there were good things in it.  There's the aforementioned cinematography, and Pearl Mackie's performance.  She has become one of NuWho's best Companions, and deserved a better fate than she got, especially when you compare it to Clara's eternal sendoff.  Her fears, her hopes, and her sadness all came shining through.

I watched World Enough and Time with very little interest and a strange puzzlement as to why so many praise it.  I look at this first part as nothing more than Steven Moffat deciding it was better for him to write his fanfic as Canon than in giving either Peter Capaldi or Pearl Mackie a proper finale.

4/10

Next Episode: The Doctor Falls

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Scottish Sojourn of The Doctor



STORY 274: THE EATERS OF LIGHT

The Eaters of Light brought back Rona Munro, whose last Doctor Who story was the last Doctor Who story of the Classic Era: the ironically-named Survival.  She now has the distinction of being the first and so far only writer to write for both the original and revived series.  As such, I think The Eaters of Light is a throwback to the original series, one that might have fit in perfectly within that time.  The Eaters of Light, in fact, is more proof that Series 10 has been better than what we've seen in the past.  While not perfect, The Eaters of Light has more pluses than minuses.

Bill (Pearl Mackie) is now an expert and enthusiast on Roman history, particularly of the Roman invasion of Britannia.  She gets the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to take her to Scotland, where she theorizes that the legendary lost Ninth Legion will be found.  They take Nardole (Matt Lucas) with them.  She knows that the Ninth are there, or at least their remains, but the Doctor is not convinced.

Soon, they are split up, and Bill literally falls in with the surviving members of the Ninth Legion, while the Doctor and Nardole are taken by the Pict children who defeated and slaughtered the rest of the Ninth.  They do share a common enemy: strange creatures that are devouring people, leaving them husks.

The Doctor investigates and finds that these are locust attracted to light, feeding off it.  What he thinks are mere seconds to him he finds have been days of him lost in the chamber where the Pict people go once a generation to be Gatekeepers.  Soon, the Doctor establishes that the current Gatekeeper, a girl named Kar (Rebecca Benson) allowed one of them to escape so as to defeat the invading Roman army, but now unless they get the locust back, he will start devouring everything with a light source, up to and including the Sun.


Bill, meanwhile, is still with the last of the Ninth, young boys who fled in terror and fear they are cowards.  Their leader, Lucius (Brian Vernel) appears to fancy Bill, but upon being told by her that she's a lesbian, he is none too fazed.  After all, he admits to being bisexual and that one of his soldiers is gay himself.  While fleeing the locust, they find the Pict, the Doctor, and the Noodle, I mean, Nardole.

They must put aside their differences to defeat this creature, but how will they defeat it?  First, with some music, they draw it into the cairn where the other creatures are attempting to enter.  Next, the Doctor opts to sacrifice himself so that he can continue fighting them, his regenerative abilities allowing for a longer lifetime to fight them.

This none of them want, particularly Bill.  Kar and Lucius join forces in overwhelming the Doctor, who is knocked down.  Bill tells him he's wrong, and Kar, Lucius, and the remaining members of the Ninth Legion enter the portal to do battle against the Eaters of Light for time and eternity.

There are things about The Eaters of Light I didn't care for, in particular how the transgender Master (Michelle Gomez) was fitted in there.  I figure Munro pretty much had to include her.  I also saw that Nardole continues to be unnecessary: he could have easily been removed from The Eaters of Light without impeding the story much, if at all. 

It is curious though that the main things I didn't like about The Eaters of Light are things that Rona Munro had nothing to do with.  Just about everything else I did enjoy tremendously.



Well, there was one thing that left me a bit puzzled: the sex talk between Bill, Lucius, and the other Ninth Legionnaires. I don't think Bill mentioning her lesbianism was forced or as part of a way to bring in some agenda into the show.  We forget that in Roman times, homosexuality was more open, where people could have all sorts of liaisons and few thought much of it.  Now, the Romans, despite their lack of shock over same-sex relationships, themselves did not have same-sex marriages and apart from people of dubious reputation, like Emperor Nero, confined marriage itself to opposite sex regardless of actual attraction.

Yet I digress.

It's not the homosexuality of Bill or bisexuality of Lucius that makes me question the inclusion of it in The Eaters of Light.  It's the idea that a man, even a bisexual one, automatically finds the first woman he's seen in a while as a sexual being.  If The Eaters of Light had been along the lines of a Classic Who story, I think they would have worked well together, but there wouldn't have been talk of romance or sex among them, even if homosexuality were more open then than it is now.  I favor having no sex talk at all, but as it stands, Bill mentioning that she prefers females for sexual activities, in the context of the episode, wasn't outrageous or irrational.

In short, I'm not up in arms about it, but wonder if I might be wrong and there might be an agenda behind it all.  After all, BBC America during the episode aired a promotional spot about 'Love' that featured only same-sex relationships from their shows: Doctor Who, Orphan Black and Class

No mention of heterosexual love, which is more prevalent.  Curious that.


In terms of story, while the actual Eaters of Light weren't a great menace, they were menacing enough.  Again, if this had been made back when Doctor Who ran thirty minute episodes, it probably would have been a three or four-part story. The story holds up logically and gives the performances a chance to really showcase their abilities.

I think Pearl Mackie has done a sensational job as the Companion Bill: her mix of smarts and sensitivity a welcome tonic from the egoism of Clara and weepiness of Rose.  Here, she finds the logic, on her own, on how she is able to understand what these disparate groups are saying.  She hears English, the Romans hear Latin, and the Picts hear Celtic, so it is wonderful to see her think this through.

Granted, one wonders why she didn't think of this before, but we're not going to go into hysterics about it.

Capaldi showcases too why he would have ranked as one of the great Doctors if not for the lousy stories he's had to do.  Here, his willingness to sacrifice himself, his ability to take charge, to be dismissive of a child threatening him all work to make him a heroic figure with intelligence.

I also liked Benson and Vernel as Kar and Lucius respectively.  They worked well together and separately, both in their way showing they were in many ways too young for the burdens they had to carry.  It almost makes one sad to see them go and fight forever, though as warriors it isn't a surprise.

Lucas is still the odd man out, and read 'odd' in whatever way you want.  He wasn't necessary to the story and it went well without him.

Sometimes the humor seemed really dumb (such as when the Doctor claimed to have been a Vestal Virgin Second Class, a bit like Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life).  Still, apart from a few things like weak humor and maybe a bit of a rushed ending, The Eaters of Light is another strong episode in a Series that has really been a marked improvement over the last few.

Lead, Kindly Light...



8/10

Next Story: World Enough and Time

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Martian Chronicles of The Doctor


STORY 273: EMPRESS OF MARS

Some people, it appears, are easy to please.  Empress of Mars has received glowing reviews.  Doctor Who fans that I know were completely enraptured by it, and hold it up as some great moment in DW history.  I'm not sure why since Empress of Mars is a retread of what we've seen before: structurally and story-wise.  Mark Gatiss, who believes himself a genius, basically took the same ideas of his last Ice Warriors story, Cold War, and opted to use them again, this time with even less positive results.

Empress of Mars is pretty standard plot-wise: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his Companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) go to NASA and see a message on the surface of Mars: God Save the Queen.

They go to Mars and find living underground a group of Victorian soldiers, led by Colonel Godsacre (Anthony Calf).  His second in command, Captain Catchlove (Ferdinand Kingsley) is hostile to a lot of what the Colonel wants, though both tell the Doctor and Bill that they came to Mars for a specific reason.  In South Africa, they found Friday (Richard Ashton), an Ice Warrior who is 'the last of his kind', and in return for helping him get back to Mars, Friday would get them Martian treasure.

There was none, and supplies and morale are low.  Fortunately, with the help of a giant laser named Gargantua, they uncover a tomb: that of Empress Iraxxa (Adele Lynch).  Despite the Doctor's warning against digging more into the tomb, rogue soldiers go in and try to steal treasure, awakening Iraxxa. 

Well, she goes on attack, the Doctor negotiates something of a truce but Catchlove wants to strike.  Godsacre doesn't and orders no action against the awakened Empress, but Catchlove leads a coup where he reveals Godsacre was hanged for desertion but survives.

Iraxxa awakens her Ice Warriors, they begin fighting, Godsacre locks up Bill and The Doctor.  Nardole is written out of the script via going to the TARDIS, which conveniently drives itself away and is sent to Earth.

Ultimately, Godsacre kills Catchlove to stop the war, Iraxxa accepts him as a noble warrior, the war is averted and the Ice Warriors are welcomed by Alpha Centauri (92-year-old Ysanne Churchman, returning to do a cameo as the character she voiced in the Third Doctor stories The Curse of Peladon and its sequel, The Monster of Peladon). The Doctor, Bill, and Godsacre are the ones who made the message.  As for Nardole, he manages to come back, thanks to Missy (Michelle Gomez), whom in desperation Nardole got to pilot the TARDIS to Mars.


If you see Cold War and then see Empress of Mars, you'll note several similarities between them to where if both weren't written by Mark Gatiss, you'd thought the latter plagiarized the former. 

In both, the TARDIS disappears by itself, leaving the Doctor and his female Companion stuck.

In both, the second-in-command is more aggressive in fighting the Ice Warriors than the actual commander, who advises caution.

In both, a soldier breaks into where the frozen Ice Warrior is and awakens it.

In both, the main Ice Warrior communicates to other Ice Warriors to come to his/her aid.

In both, the female Companion speaks directly to the main Ice Warrior to help him/her stop the fighting.

In both, the Ice Warriors and humans are mistrustful to the point of fighting.

In both, it is professional military people fighting the Ice Warriors (Soviet sailors in Cold War, Victorian soldiers in Empress of Mars).

In both, the humans have a doomsday-like device that can kill everyone (nuclear weapons in Cold War, the Gargantua laser in Empress of Mars).


Not only is Empress of Mars derivative of Cold War, but in terms of actual story it is so boring because we've seen it all before.

Nobody listens to The Doctor, who is locked up.
The Doctor quotes Star Wars (saying, "I have a bad feeling about this").
The Doctor is unaware of the movie The Terminator (just as he was unaware of the movie Alien in Last Christmas).

In what I think is an inconsistency, the Tenth Doctor was drenched in pop culture (he after all, cried reading the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), but the Twelfth has no idea what Alien or The Terminator are (though, oddly, he does know about Frozen).

Go figure.

Empress of Mars has nothing going for it apart from Churchman's cameo, which to be fair would excite only Classic Who fans, NuWho fans having no reference point as to what that one-eyed funny-sounding thing was. 

Gatiss could find no way of integrating the Nardole character into the story, so he was essentially written out of it in the clumsiest way.  Kingsley's villainous Captain Catchlove was a cartoonish villain who only needed to twirl his mustache to complete his Snidely Whiplash impersonation,

As a side note, giving the characters the names 'Catchlove' and 'Godsacre' has to be some sort of in-joke with Gatiss.

The entire opening of NASA and the TARDIS Three finding the message was unnecessary (they could have just landed on Mars and encountered the Victorians, then end it by leaving their patriotic message).

I'm sure Gatiss, who is convinced of his own genius, wanted to tell a story about colonialism/imperialism versus freedom fighters, whether the Doctor would sympathize with those invading or those being invaded.

It's all just too bad that he put in a standard story that looks almost as if it came from a template.

I don't think I've ever been as bored watching something as I was with Empress of Mars.  You knew were everything was going: you knew a soldier was going to break in and try to steal, just like you knew once that happened, the Ice Queen-Empress would awaken, you knew the Captain would overthrow the Colonel (the warmonger overtaking the pacifist).  You knew no one would listen to The Doctor.

Again, I don't understand why so many praise it (100% positive rating for it on Rotten Tomatoes).  Had no idea there were that many Alpha Centauri fans out there.




1/10

Next Story: The Eaters of Light

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Fake News of The Doctor



STORY 272 PART 3:
THE LIE OF THE LAND

Last time, we had a really great Doctor Who episode, the middle part of The Monks Trilogy.  With The Lie of the Land, we found an episode only Kyle Anderson at The Nerdist could love.

In short, one that started out great only to see it degenerate starting right at the fake regeneration, never recovering and being as close to a shameless mess as we've seen in a while.  The Lie of the Land perhaps could never have gone up, which makes the end result all the more sad given its great potential.

Picking up from the last episode, The Monks appear to have taken over the world.  They take credit for advancing humanity for all time, which does bring to mind that The Monks might be a variation of The Silence, but I digress.  In truth, they have been on Earth for about six months, but very few remember.  Those who do find themselves arrested under the Memory Crimes Act of 1975.

One of those who do remember the world pre-Monk is Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), who is still searching for The Doctor (Peter Capaldi).  In a sense, it's easy to find him, for he appears to be broadcasting pro-Monk messages from some secret lair.  Bill refuses to believe that the Doctor has changed, and works to keep her own memories alive by thinking of her late mother, whom she's never met.

Fortunately, Nardole (Matt Lucas) has found her in this strange world, and now smuggles her to The Doctor.  The Doctor tells her he's given humanity enough chances, and now he has indeed joined the Monks.  She still refuses to believe it, and to show her desperation, she shoots the Doctor.


The Doctor appears to begin regenerating, and then it all falls apart.  It was all a big rouse to see if Bill was under the Monks control.  Now finding that she wasn't, and emotionally torturing her in the process, it's time for the Doctor to come out of hiding and bring an end to the Monks' tyranny.

In order to overthrow the Monks, we have to go down to The Vault and get Missy (Michelle Gomez), formerly known as The Master.  She tells them that they are able to control humanity via the vast monuments to themselves, which act as de facto telepathic broadcast signals.  The only way to break the signals and stop feeding humanity false information is to destroy the one who first gave consent for them to conquer Earth.

That would be Bill.

Bill and the Doctor don't want to go that route, so they decide to raid the Monks Central Control to broadcast an alternative message: that of Truth.  Some of the Doctor's troops do still struggle with what is true and what is not, and attempt to destroy the mission but fail.  Once in the Central Command, the Doctor attempts to link with the Main Monk, but the Main Monk is too strong.  Bill now sees she must sacrifice herself.

While linking herself out, images and thoughts of her mother come to her, and the Monks begin broadcasting that.  The Doctor sees that Bill's love for her Mum keep them from broadcasting lies, and soon all humanity realizes what is going on and begin to strike back at the Monks. The Monks race off in their giant pyramid, and later, humanity has no recollection of what had occurred.



Would that the rest of be so lucky.  It is almost a Doctor Who cliche to see that 'love saves the universe'.  Of all the ways to defeat the Monks, you would think that thinking about one's mother would do it.  How often are we going to endure another 'Companion cries and Universe is saved' story?

There were so many good ideas running in The Lie of the Land: free will vs. predestination, the power to control people through false history, the struggle between Truth and Deception.  There was also a good, strong sense of foreboding, with Murray Gold's music being subtle, the performances being sharp.  To see it all collapse under a lot of forced humor and terrible ideas makes it all the more hard to handle.

Since when can the Doctor fake a regeneration?  Even if it was possible, the fact the Doctor seems more pleased with his antics than even remotely sorry that he put Bill through all this is shocking. What if Bill had decided to shoot herself or Nardole instead of The Doctor?


The whole thing brought to mind the Michael Douglas film The Game, about a man who is put through an elaborate series of circumstances as a way of 'having a good time'.  I found the film so ludicrous and implausible, and I get the same sense with The Lie of the Land.

There are also other points that bring it all down. The Monks aren't that big of a threat, despite their grotesque appearance.  Soon as a few people start complaining, they run off in their pyramid.  Makes them rather weak and pathetic conquerors.

Don't The Monks control where the Doctor broadcasts his pro-Monks messages?  Isn't he in some sort of prison as he becomes the Time Lord Haw-Haw?  Don't they know he's gone rogue?

We also should ask how was it anyone vaguely remembered the Truth.  Bill yes, because she was the one who consented, but how do others still manage to break free, even temporarily, from the spell of The Monks?

Finally, I am still not impressed by Missy's relevance in The Lie of the Land, or indeed in any of the Series.  Gomez wasn't bad as the Master attempting to change his/her ways, but I don't believe she/he can be good.  It all looks like crocodile tears to me.  

For the part up to where the Doctor fakes his regeneration, things are going well: the music is subtle and tense, the performances and story all adding to the sense of foreboding and danger.  Once the Doctor basically says "Surprise!  I was faking all along!", The Lie of the Land appears almost comic and zany.

And again, how does he manage to fake a regeneration?  It would have been nice if Bill had shot him again, and see how manages that trick.

It all seems like such a letdown after the strong The Pyramid at the End of the World, a rush to finish off The Monks with little fuss to where they were almost irrelevant.

The Monks Trilogy is ended, and I wish they wouldn't have been so meddlesome.

4/10

Next Story: The Empress of Mars

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Hysterical Blindness of The Doctor



STORY 272 PART 2:
THE PYRAMID AT THE
END OF THE WORLD

As this is the second part of The Monks Trilogy, the three will be judged with one grade.  However, I think The Pyramid at the End of the World is a surprisingly strong episode, packing in its hour running time a lot of thrills, chills, heart and leaving with an interesting cliffhanger.

Whether said cliffhanger will have a positive resolution is yet to be seen.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) despite all logic, is still able to disguise his blindness from everyone.  Only Nardole (Matt Lucas) is privy to his secret.  It again comes at the worst time since the United Nations is calling upon The President of Earth for help.  In far-off Turmezistan, an ancient pyramid has just popped out of nowhere, and is between three large armies (the Americans, the Chinese, and the Russians). This is an emergency, so much so that it requires Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) to have her real date with Penny (Ronke Adekoluejo) interrupted again!

Bill is whisked off with the Doctor and Nardole to Turmezistan, where he finds the Monks, those slow, whispering, skeletal beings from Extremis popping up again.  Unlike other would-be conquerors of Earth, they won't take over the world unless they are asked.  It won't be easy saying no, as The Monks are able to see the future, and they give everyone a glimpse of what is to come.  It's a frightening future, one with death and destruction all around.

Talk about far-fetched, but I digress.

Clocks worldwide are now in sync with the Doomsday Clock, pushing the world closer and closer to midnight.  The Doctor stubbornly tells them not to surrender, but soon they do.  The Monks can see their motives are impure, as they are not surrendering out of love but out of fear or strategy.  As a result, they get vaporized.


Meanwhile, back in the UK, two scientists: Erica (Rachel Denning) and Douglas (Tony Gardner) are going about their lives and work when something goes horribly wrong.  Douglas, slightly hung over or ill (I wasn't sure exactly which) causes an accident that releases a bacteria that kills all human life.  Douglas is disintegrated as he has no protective suit, while Erica does her best to get everyone out and contain the crisis.

The Monks continue asking for surrender, but nothing doing.  The Doctor soon hits upon the idea that they are watching something specific that will bring about Doomsday, and finds the lab about to release Enzyme EC31.  He takes Nardole with him there and attempts with Erica to stop it from being released.  He does this by setting up an explosion that will neutralize the bacteria, but there are a couple of hiccups.

First, Nardole is overcome by the bacteria which doesn't kill him but leaves him incapacitated.  Second, the lock the Doctor's in is a combination lock immune from the sonic screwdriver.  Unable to see the lock to release himself, the Doctor finally admits he's blind to Bill, who is still with the Monks.  Terrified of the whole situation, she surrenders on behalf of Earth on the condition they restore the Doctor's sight.

The accept the surrender as this consent comes from love (her love of The Doctor), but she calls out to him to 'get her planet back'.  Now the Monks have conquered Earth.

One aspect of The Pyramid at the End of the World was quite positive, and that was Denning.  She was pretty cool and collected as Erica, a whip-smart scientist who also cared about her coworker.  She would make a good Companion or at least returning guest star, her confidence and scientific professionalism mixed with rational fear but not panic at the growing crisis.

In fact, there was a lot of good acting all around in Pyramid.  Again, to my mind it stretches believability that no one noticed that the Doctor was blind but Capaldi overall gave a strong performance, particularly early on when he's in a meditative mood while playing his electric guitar.  Mackie continues to grow as one of the better if not best NuWho Companions, with Bill really being nothing more than an ordinary person caught up in these shocking situations.  She is caring and bright, and aware of all the risks surrounding her.


The great part of Pyramid is the tension about how to surrender.  They've thrown everything they can at the Monks, but nothing doing.  The episode keeps ratcheting up problems, and then comes up with plausible solutions, only to have a last-minute complication muck it all up. 

Another positive element was in how Murray Gold's score was subtle, working with the episode to be menacing without drawing attention to itself or being its usual bombastic music.

There were things I wasn't too keen on.  As much as Pyramid wanted to be menacing I wasn't feeling it, probably because the Monks are monsters we've seen in other versions (still can't shake the idea they are kin to The Silence).  The whole 'interrupted date' thing was a bit much, and I get the sense that this isn't the first time we've seen a Companion sacrifice something to save The Doctor.

Still, relatively minor points, as The Pyramid at the End of the World created a strong story that is built on logic, is well-acted, and creates a strong problem to overcome.

"Fear is temporary, love is slavery," the Doctor says when others consider surrendering.  I'm not sure I entirely agree, but I can see where one would think that.  The Pyramid at the End of the World shows that when Doctor Who works, it works remarkably well. 

8/10

Next Episode: The Lie of the Land

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Secret Archives of The Doctor


STORY 272 PART 1: EXTREMIS

With Extremis, Doctor Who is embarking on a rare three-episode story, generally dubbed The Monks Trilogy.  Extremis has many positives, and if it had aired a few seasons ago would have ranked higher.  It's unfortunate, however, that much of it is reminiscent of what has come before, which dilutes its positives.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is still blind from the effects of Oxygen, though only Nardole (Matt Lucas) knows this.  It's at perhaps the worst time possible for the Vatican of all places to ask for The Doctor's help.

Inside their Hereticum, the secret archives of the Vatican's Secret Archives where they hold the most blasphemous books, is one called Veritas.  The Veritas was written in an unknown language, just recently interpreted, but every person who has read it commits suicide within twenty-four hours of reading it.  Now, the Doctor, along with Nardole and Bill (Pearl Mackie) will go into the Hereticum to translate the Veritas and uncover what is its deadly secret.

This comes at a bad time for Bill, who is on a date with Penny (Ronke Adekoluejo), but it's not a real date since Bill, despite her "I'm a proud and open lesbian" manner, still hasn't told her foster mother Moira (Jennifer Hennessey) that she's a lesbian.

As a side note, does anyone else think it's a bit strange that a woman I believe in her twenties is still living with her foster mother?

In any case, it's a bad lesbian date when the Pope barges in from one's bedroom shouting in Italian (and again as a side note, the last three Popes have been Polish, German, and Spanish, none of whom spoke Italian as a first language, so why is the Pope speaking Italian when we haven't had an Italian Pope in almost forty years?).  Bill isn't happy about the intrusion, but she goes to the Vatican to help in the mystery.


It isn't long before the Doctor, rigging up a device that will give him temporary sight and who manages to keep everyone clueless about his blindness despite the sunglasses and having to have Nardole explain everything to him, finds the Veritas.  To their surprise, there is a light that guides all except the sightless Doctor away.  Nardole and Bill are surprised to find themselves first in the Pentagon, and then at CERN, a lab which has received the translated Veritas via e-mail.

It is now that Bill and Nardole make a shocking discovery.  What they thought was a portal created by aliens is really a simulation.  Nardole disintegrates, leaving Bill to try and find The Doctor.  The Doctor, for his part, encounters The Monks: skeletal beings who whisper their menace and take hold of the Veritas, as part of their plan for world conquest.  Bill goes through another portal and finds herself in the Oval Office, where the President has committed suicide and the Doctor is waiting.

Here, Bill learns the truth of the Veritas: this Test of Shadows details the plans for a demon to simulate realities, and those within those simulations, discovering that they are not real, decide to kill themselves.  That explains why at CERN, every time Bill and Nardole were asked for a 'random' number, they would say the same number: their world, indeed every world, was not real.

Bill herself disintegrates, asking for the Doctor's help.  The Doctor confronts a Monk, and tells him that he knows this is all a simulation, but he's e-mailed himself all the information, and is ready to fight them.  To fight them, of course, means he needs the help of The Mistress (formerly known as The Master), and he goes to Missy (Michelle Gomez), whom he has locked up in The Vault for a thousand years, as throughout Extremis we saw what should have been his/her execution, but the Doctor instead has managed to spare her/his life.

Extremis is a mix of The Matrix (this world is not real but computer-generated), The Ring or Ringu (a person will die after seeing something), and The Silence from Series 5 (shadowy figures who speak softly, walk menacingly, and are our newest threats for world conquest).  Perhaps this mishmash of things we've seen before both on and outside Doctor Who is what makes me less enthusiastic.

To a point, it comes down to timing.  Had The Monks been the Series 5 villains, we still would have or should have had comparisons to The Matrix/The Ring, but we wouldn't have yet another 'religious order' bent on world domination.  It's all gotten a bit boring and repetitive, down to making the fictitious Pope Benedict IX very clearly a woman. 



I'm not exactly sure why writer Steven Moffat opted to choose Benedict IX, who if Wikipedia is to be believed was one of the most scandalous figures to ever be Bishop of Rome, even for his time, or why he decided not to hit upon the more legendary but better-known 'Pope Joan'.  It is easy to speculate, but it does seem a strange choice when he could have created a wholly fictional pontiff on which to bestow the title Popess. 

In any case, the entire storyline of the Vatican and the Veritas in retrospect seems almost funny: female Popes that the Vatican knew about and even had portraits of, buried within the grounds of Vatican City, with an Italian-speaking Pope.  What is more amusing is that no one was none the wiser of the blindness of The Doctor, or that anyone even asked or questioned it.  That does seem a bit too farfetched.

Be that as it may, Extremis wasn't a horrible episode if I go along with the idea that all this was a simulation.  I wasn't sold on the idea of The Doctor saving The Mistress or Nardole popping up to try and stop the execution.  I certainly wasn't buying Gomez's performance of a 'repentant' Master, and wondered whether it might have been better to have built a whole episode around that instead of intercutting it with the Vatican storyline.

I actually wanted The Master/Mistress dead, so I wasn't cheering her on to be spared.  It also does make one wonder why so much mystery about what was in The Vault when there was speculation it was The Mistress all along.

There was a lot of good in Extremis.  Mackie continues to make Bill a strong Companion: loyal, determined to live life, intelligent, and even amusing (her comparing the Hereticum, also known as The Library of Blasphemy, with Harry Potter was a nice touch, albeit one that will date the series).   Capaldi was equally strong as The Doctor: his attempts to keep going despite his blindness made the Doctor both vulnerable and a bit stubborn.  Murray Gold kept the score subtle and noninvasive, and we got some good twists and turns (albeit again, ones that weren't that big of a shock).

I didn't dislike Extremis.  I actually liked it a bit.  If it weren't for the fact we've seen a lot of this before (and dragging The Mistress into it) it might have ranked higher.  Still, Extremis was not bad, and given that Series 10 has been stronger than in the past, that is saying quite a bit.

6/10

Next Episode: The Pyramids at the End of the World