Monday, May 13, 2019

The Woman Who Couldn't Cast A Spell: The Witchfinders Review

Image result for the witchfinders doctor who

STORY 284: THE WITCHFINDERS

Not since Witchiepoo chased after Freddy the Flute on H.R. Pufnstuf have witches been as both comical and bonkers as The Witchfinders. Ostensibly a historic episode, The Witchfinders seems more concerned with virtue-signaling than being entertaining, let alone good.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) and Her Companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) do not go to Queen Elizabeth I's coronation as intended. Instead, she comes to 1612 Lancashire and a witch-dunking.

Mistress Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran) has condemned Old Mother Twiston (Tricia Kelly) as a witch. If she drowns she's innocent, if she floats she is to be executed. A Jacobean "heads you lose tails I win" bit but the Doctress is there to stop the insanity. Mistress Savage, mistaking Her for the Witchfinder General, takes her to her estate of Bilehurst.

There is something going bump in the night, but the appearance of King James (Alan Cumming) is not helping matters. He too believes there is witchcraft afoot, more so when everyone encounters Old Mother Twiston has risen from the dead. Even her granddaughter Willa (Tilly Steele) seems shocked and wavers on The Doctress being perhaps a witch Herself.

Ultimately though, we find that there are otherworldly reasons for these acts of The Devil, ones involving Mistress Savage herself.

Image result for doctor who the witchfindersThe Witchfinders does not know where to find itself. I think there are many factors in this jumble of a story.

Director Sallie Aprahamian and screenwriter Joy Wilkinson seemed more interested in making commentary than on a good old-fashioned horror romp. That would be all right save for the fact that The Witchfinders makes it rather overt that sexism was very strong in 17th Century Britain.

Take this bit from Mistress Savage as she describes to Her the recent troubles that have led to the witch-trials. "I have tried to be a benevolent leader but it is very difficult in these times, especially for a woman". This line not only seems rather forced in but sounds odd given that Mistress Savage is probably old enough to remember the reign of Elizabeth I. It seems doubly strange given that as a woman she seems fine in drowning other women and having a royal appointment.

Perhaps it is not a royal appointment given how King James is so delightfully camp and sexist. He quickly assumes that The Doctress is Graham's assistant because 'no Witchfinder General could be a woman'. One is almost surprised His Majesty didn't literally thump the Doctress with his newly-created Bible.

Perhaps His Majesty is too distracted by the 'Nubian prince' Ryan to take much notice of how he doesn't think a woman can be in charge.

The most obvious bit of lecturing comes when King James and Mistress Savage both conclude She is a witch Herself. An exasperated Doctress comments "Honestly, if I were a bloke I could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending myself".

How soon She forgets...that the Third Doctor was accused of witchcraft in The Daemons. She also claims not being a big believer in Satan despite having met a Satan-like creature in The Satan Pit. The accusation of witchcraft, despite Her protests, has nothing to do with gender. Given the situation and script, a male Doctor would have been equally accused of being a witch.

All these bits suggest that The Witchfinders was leaning more towards messaging than storytelling.

Image result for doctor who the witchfindersPutting that aside, The Witchfinders also faces some other bad decisions. The shifts from deadly serious situations to comedy made things all the more jumbled. Whittaker for example could have played things straight but her inability to take things seriously hampered her. Granted not all that is her fault, but it seems so awful a thing to do with the character of The Doctress.

As she is being held back, with the dramatic music playing, She quickly goes for a comedy bit when asking to retrieve Her psychic paper. It's one thing to keep to the bad tradition of trying to make The Doctor 'quirky'. It's another to make it so deliberate. When talking about the Granny Zombie, She remarks that she has risen "Not to kill her, but to fill her". It's here where She pauses in self-delight. "Oh, check out my rhymes. Poetry under pressure".

Groan inducing.

The nadir is this bit. "I can buy this is the biggest-ever witch-hunt in England. Or I can buy it's an alien mud invasion. But both on the same day? I can't buy that!" Less than it's a woman delivering that line it is Whittaker delivering that line that makes it awful. She's trying too hard to make it comical, which is bad enough, but worse, she's trying to make it comical in what is meant as a serious moment.

It's a bad sign when you don't miss Her when she's off the screen. It's even worse when, even with goofy hat and all, you think Bradley Walsh would have made a better Doctor. Graham seemed to be the only sensible character around: investigating, realizing the dangers all about.

As for the guest cast, I think Cumming's overtly camp manner as King James was a mistake because again you cannot suspend disbelief long enough for him to make James the 'sad and hurt little boy' bit. Finneran was saddled with a weak character as Mistress Savage, and had some unintentional moments of comedy too.

Part of the reason things went witch-crazy involved Mistress Savage cutting down Old Mother Twiston's favorite tree (we discover that they were related). "It was spoiling my view of the hill," she said, giving the same answer Marvin the Martian gave for wanting to blow up the Earth.

I wish The Witchfinders had gone full The Wicker Woman on The Doctress.

1566-1625




1/10

Next Episode: It Takes You Away

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Woman Who Went on Amazon: Kerblam! Review

Image result for kerblam

STORY 283: KERBLAM!

For better or worse, Doctor Who Series 11 is dead-set on coming up with thoroughly idiotic titles. We've had Arachnids in the UK, The Tsuranga Conundrum and the upcoming The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. However, perhaps none of them are as stupidly titled as Kerblam!, complete with exclamation point. Kerblam! takes messaging to a strange and muddled level, deciding to take both sides and leaving the viewer with more than one eye-rolling moment.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) is thrilled to receive a package from Kerblam, essentially Amazon in Space. The packing slip however has a simple message: "Help Me". With that, She takes her 'fam': Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) to Kerblam's plant on a distant planet.

They soon split up and investigate on three different tracks. Yaz is on the main floor with Dan (Lee Mack), who has a daughter...so we know he'll soon bite the dust. Ryan and She are in the packing section where they meet eager and chipper Kira (Claudia Jessie). Graham, unceremoniously selected for 'Premium Maintenance' aka Janitorial, finds Charlie (Leo Flanagan).

It's clear that Kira and Charlie are quite fond of each other. It's also clear that there's nefarious business going on. Who sent for help and what are the roles of both Head of Humans Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh) and Mr. Slade (Callum Dixon)? The truth comes out with more deaths, deadly bubble wrap and the unmasking of the only person capable of such evil.

Here's a hint: it's a straight white male.

Image result for mr slate
Wrong Mr. Slate
Kerblam! has a very curious tone, simultaneously anti and pro-big business. Whether writer Pete McTighe intended it that way or not is unclear, but my guess is that he meant Kerblam! to bash the Amazon-type business model that is increasing profit at the expense of labor via automation. Kerblam! mentions that only 10% of the workforce is human and Charlie's motivation in his killing spree is to cause customers to blame the Delivery Bots so as to force more human workers.

Leaving aside the economic issues, Charlie's actual dastardly plot ends up making Kerblam! pro-big business rather than anti-big business. Charlie is probably a People Power Protest Movement member though that is not overtly stated as I remember it. Once word gets out that the Bots were framed, I don't think his group or ideology will get much support. Moreover, the fact that Charlie seems curiously undisturbed by the fact that he is going to kill humans and has been killing humans does not suggest he actually cares about humans.

I also should mention that the method of murder via popping bubble wrap is to me laughable. I know many Doctor Who fans express terror at the thought, but since I don't pop bubble wrap I would not be assassinated.

Kerblam! also deals in awful cliches and even makes a very odd suggestion about Her. The new group is told that climbing on the conveyors is grounds for immediate termination. What are the odds therefore that at some point they will climb on the conveyors?

Image result for kerblamWhen they do, Charlie falling off while attempting to high-five Ryan should go down as one of Doctor Who's most cringeworthy moments.

This setup in Kerblam! is one I found extremely curious. The company examines each humanoid and places him/her according to the machine's results for level of abilities. The Doctress uses Her sonic to switch places with Graham by changing their results. While She is sent to Packages, Graham is sent to Maintenance.

Therefore, if She had stayed where the machine had placed them, the machine found that She has the intellectual and dexterous level of a janitor. Again, leaving aside the rather snobbish suggestion that janitors/maintenance men are dumb the idea that She is somehow that low says more than perhaps Doctor Who wants to.

Personally, not only do I find it a pretty apt description but one that could have been played for laughs.

I actually thought well of the guest cast. Claudia Jessie reminded me a bit of Heather Burns' performance as "Miss Rhode Island" in Miss Congeniality, a generally sweet and upbeat person. It's a pity that Kerblam! decided to kerblam her. The scenes between Jessie and Flanagan were quite endearing even if we were not allowed a happy ending. Flanagan to be fair also managed to mostly switch between the sweet Charlie and the crazed human rights activist.

Kerblam! manages to do something I genuinely thought impossible: make Ryan more boring than Yaz. Following last week's Demons of the Punjab this is the second time Tosin Cole appeared so remote and almost incapable of acting. His line delivery is more robotic than the Delivery Bots.

Bradley Walsh is still the best thing about this series to where you wish he at least were the only Companion travelling with Her. Whittaker continues doing scrunchy-faces and bringing in the fez only reminds us that her portrayal of The Doctress is essentially a Matt Smith parody.

The fez does not suit Her and reminds us that protests to the contrary, She is not The Doctor.

Kerblam! has nothing going for it. It isn't clever or funny or witty or insightful.

I don't want it, so I won't Kerblam! it.

3/10

Next Episode: The Witchfinders

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Woman Who Faced Her Demons: Demons of the Punjab Review

Image result for demons of the punjab

STORY 282: DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB

Demons of the Punjab was meant as another historical story, this time teaching about the Partition of India. Its heart is in the right place. Its execution leaves a great deal to be desired.

Yazmin Khan (Mandip Gill), having attended her grandmother's birthday, wants to get a look at Nani as a young girl, in particular to find out the mystery of the broken watch she gifted Yaz. Albeit reluctantly, The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) takes her and the rest of her 'fam': Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) to 1947 India.

Unbeknownst to Team TARDIS, they have come upon Umbreem (Amita Suman) and her fiancee Prem (Shane Zaza) at the best and worst time. The best because they are a day away from getting married. The worst because India is to be separated into two separate states: Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Yaz is in for a few surprises: Prem is not her grandfather, and he is Hindu about to marry the Muslim Umbreem.

If that all weren't enough, Prem's brother Manish (Hazma Jeetooa) is a fervent Hindu nationalist vehemently opposed to Muslims and India. We also have strange figures the very isolated group thinks of as demons, blamed for deaths. A little investigating reveals that these figures are Thijarians, an alien race who were once master assassins but now serve as witnesses to those who die alone.

They inform Her that Prem is fated to die.

The Doctress then performs the wedding, allowing Umbreem the boast of being the first woman married in Pakistan on Partition Day itself. It, however, is not meant to be, as Manish brings men to kill his own brother rather than have this 'satanic' union. Umbreem and her mother manage to escape and eventually go to Sheffield, which Nani Umbreem (Leena Dhingra) finds is not as exotic as she first thought but which has given her refuge and more importantly her family.

Image result for demons of the punjabVinay Patel's script as mentioned has good intentions and an actual plot rattling around it. However, I could not help thinking that it was in some ways a lost opportunity and in other ways a bit of a whitewashing of history.

Partition was a pretty brutal and horrific situation. The exact number of deaths will never be known but they range from 200,000 to 2,000,000. While it might have seemed like a good idea to boil down Partition to this small group, the fact that it was so small is a major detriment. It makes Partition a very quiet situation, with no real tension.

Perhaps worse, it suggests, however opaquely, that Partition was a once-sided matter. Manish was motivated by anti-Muslim feelings, but there is never a suggestion in Demons of the Punjab that Muslims were just as capable of brutality and killing as Hindus. Partition was a free-for-all, and by making only Manish and his Hindu partisans the villains it may lead some to think Muslims were the sole victims.

Moreover, as Demons of the Punjab puts it, the actual plot makes little sense. Prem and Umbreem had known each other since childhood. This suggests that Manish as Prem's little brother must have also known Umbreem. His radicalism is just there. As he was the only person in walking distance who opposed the intermarriage, the stakes feel very low.

I could not help think it might have been better if there had been a whole community of Hindus and Muslims where we see the growing fear, paranoia and hatred between certain members grow. That would have made the increasing dangers for our subcontinental Romeo and Juliet more palpable. I imagined a scenario where both sides blamed the other for the 'demons' until the Doctress convinced them that the Thijarians were a common threat that had to be met with a united front.

Image result for demons of the punjabGoing into the Thijarians, it is now par for the course on Doctor Who to A) have the aliens be 'the last of their kind' and B) not be actual villains. They seemed superfluous to the story, essentially added to give Demons of the Punjab a sci-fi veneer. They could easily have been removed from the story without it affecting anything.

Again, a wasted opportunity.

As a side note, I was surprised that the Thijarians weren't Armenian.

The performances could have been better. The guest cast save for both Umbreems seemed rather quiet and uninteresting. Of particular bad note were Jeetooa and Zaza as the feuding brothers. They seemed to have no real emotions, though both were rather fond of making speeches. The conflict between them seemed as intense as that of people arguing over how cold a bowl of porridge is.

The main cast was also pretty bad save for Walsh who is the only Companion worth anything. His character at least realizes and understands the situations they face be it danger or loss and behaves like an actual human. It was an interesting decision to have a more Yaz-focused story given that she is a pretty dull, lifeless and useless character. Gill did better here than she has done before but not enough to make me care about her character.

Cole was so detached the Thijarians had more emotion to everything. Congratulations to making Ryan more boring than Yaz.

As for Whittaker, she does have a nasty habit of making a scrunchy-face whenever she appears to be thinking. She also has a very idiotic manner of thrusting her arm whenever using the sonic screwdriver, like a wand, as if She's afraid that She may be electrocuted while using it. Whittaker is just not that good of an actress to get past her manic Tennant/Smith mashup of a performance.

Finally, I love how their wardrobe never causes anyone in 1947 rural Pakistan/India to question why these people are dressed as they are. Then again, they don't question what two whites and one black person are doing running around in 1947 rural Pakistan/India. I would have thought Graham was in greater danger from Manish than Umbreem, but there it is.

The Indian-inspired score was nice.

Demons of the Punjab is a bad history lesson because it is incomplete. It gives almost no context to how Partition came about, how it affected the population and suggests that it was one-sided. Again, there's a story, a good story, rattling about it somewhere. Pity they could not find it.

"We can't a universe with no Yaz," She states, which a statement that has no sense to it. Why She has a fixation on Yaz we can only guess at, but I am perfectly fine living in a universe with no Yaz.

5/10

Next Episode: KERBLAM!

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Woman Who Met a Pregnant Man: The Tsuranga Conundrum Review


STORY 281: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM

I have returned to finish Her first series/season and the first episode is just so awful as to make one despair how things got to where they are. The Tsuranga Conundrum makes me think that Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall is rather fond of oddball names. We've had Arachnids in the UK, this and future episodes titled Kerblam! (complete with exclamation point) and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, which oddly does not take place in Greece. The Tsuranga Conundrum really plays like a Doctor Who spoof, leaping on one bad decision after another to where you genuinely wonder if Chibnall is really working to get this series cancelled.

The Doctress (Jodie Whittaker) along with Her 'Fam' Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) are on a junk asteroid when they encounter a sonic mine. Before you can say 'PTing' they find themselves on a hospital ship, the Tsuranga. Aboard the Tsuranga are two patients. There's Yoss (Jack Shalloo), a pregnant man. There's General Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer), who is accompanied by her brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith) and robot partner Ronan (David Shields).

Image result for the tsuranga conundrumBefore you can say 'PTing' the Tsuranga is under attack from a PTing, a tiny creature with a big appetite putting everyone in danger. Despite Her own pains The Doctress has to put things right. There are deaths and births until the PTing is discharged and the Tsuranga arrives to the main hospital in space.

The Tsuranga Conundrum is a whole mess of a mess, simultaneously packed and empty. Chibnall, who wrote this, decided it would be easier to leap about logic with wild abandon rather than think his way out of predicaments.

Take the opening for example. We start on this junk asteroid looking for...something. When we come across something that in theory should get them killed they then appear on the floating hospital because...reasons. To top that off, the TARDIS, left on that junk asteroid is quickly mentioned as the motivation for the Doctress to get off the Tsuranga but then the TARDIS is all but forgotten by the end.

In other words, unless specific mention is made in the next episode, how exactly She recovered the TARDIS will forever be left unexplained.

I figure that the PTing was created to sell toys. Either that or Chibnall is delusional if he thinks he can make something simultaneously cute and threatening. I burst out laughing the first time I saw it. I burst out laughing the last time I saw it. It was just so hilariously awful. It's here where I say 'bless the actors' for trying so hard, so terribly hard, to convince me that the PTing was some kind of dangerous threat.

Related imageIt's a sad thing when you feel sorry for these actors having to work with such rubbish. It's sadder still when they have to work with director Jennifer Perrott. She seemed unable to settle on a tone: goofy one moment, 'deadly' serious the next, sometimes in the same scene. While part of the fault here lies in the script, other elements clearly under her control showed her as shockingly inept.

Take for example what is meant as The Doctress' climatic speech about antimatter, itself an odd choice for such dramatic moments but whatever. For some reason known to no one Perrott opted to have a shot of Her hands waving about.

Why she opted to have a shot of Her hands...

Throughout The Tsuranga Conundrum Perrott opted to have lots of spinning camera work and a lot of cinematic flashes that end up nowhere and make things more confusing.

Everything in The Tsuranga Conundrum was stunningly bad. The Pregnant Man was superfluous to the plot save perhaps as the gateway to introduce Ryan's parent issues. At least there is logic to The Pregnant Man: his species is one where males give birth to males and females to females. I'm not sure exactly how that would work among the Gifftans (do males impregnate males and females to females), but there it is.

However, Yoss naming his child "Avocado Pear" in tribute to Ryan and Graham, meant for laughs, comes off as idiotic even insulting. I can see why Graham and Ryan worked with him: having Yaz and Yoss together would have been too confusing.

The performances were equally bad. Whittaker seems clumsy, clunky and inept as The Doctress, all jumbling and frenetic. Man or woman this version of The Doctor is so unbearably dumb and inspires nothing but fear that She is in charge. To be fair at least Gill improved to where she had something to do but it's sad that Walsh was relegated to sitting with The Pregnant Man.

I cannot feel for the guest cast because they were not on-screen long enough to have them do anything to make me feel anything for them. Lois Chimimba as Mabli the rookie nurse was good in her fear and slowly growing self-confidence in this crisis. However, whether Eve Cicero had 'Corton Fever' or 'Pilot's Heart' does not make me care.

I did like the score, which had a very Music From the Hearts of Space feel.

The Tsuranga Conundrum is rushed and hollow, with a laughable antagonist, bad efforts at jokes (the Hamilton comment was not funny, though hearing Durkas say "I'm a Cicero" reminded me of Chicago's Cell Block Tango).

It's not a Conundrum. It's a Fiasco.

0/10

Next Episode: Demons of the Punjab

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Woman Who Has A Spider's Touch: Arachnids in the UK Review


Image result for arachnids in the uk
STORY 280: ARACHNIDS IN THE UK

There is no going back.

Doctor Who is dead to me.

Arachnids in the UK is something that many NuWhovians will love. They would also love seeing toast dry if Doctor Who made a whole episode about it, probably adding something about how seeing the toast dry made them cry. Arachnids in the UK is heavy-handed and worse, boring, with a lead who has decided to do an impersonation rather than a performance.

It's more cringe-inducing than the actual spiders.

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) has managed to get the TARDIS back to present-day Sheffield, where to all concerned, She and her 'Friends' Graham (Bradley Walsh), his step-grandson Ryan (Tosin Cole) and random bystander Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) have been gone for a mere half-hour. The Doctor signals She is rather lonely, so when Yaz invites Her over to tea, She eagerly jumps at the chance.

Good thing too, as Yaz's family faces unknown dangers. Things are already bad for "Yaz's Mom", also known as Najia (Shobna Gulati). She has just been fired from her first day on the job managing a swanky new hotel run by billionaire Jack Robertson (Chris Noth). Robertson is alarmed about 'something' in the hotel, and this 'something' is unbeknownst to everyone, affecting the Khans too.

Yaz's father believes there is some kind of conspiracy involving the Sheffield rubbish, and this leads them eventually to Robertson. Everyone but She recognizes him, with Her asking, "Is he Ed Sheeran?"

Related imageRobertson is EVIL with all caps. How do we know he's EVIL with all caps? Well, he's white, he's male, he's a capitalist, he's American, he let his poor assistant Kevin (William Meredith) get taken by the spiders and he likes to shoot guns. He may also be homophobic, for in the opening scene, he does not realize who Frankie (Jaleh Alp) is.

"I'm your niece's wife," she remarks, before getting bumped off. Yet I digress.

Anyway, She has tracked down the connection between the EVIL Robertson and the spiders. One of his myriad of companies is supposed to dispose of dead spiders which have been experiment on, but always cutting corners the company just dumps them in a rubbish heap, which happens to be right over the luxury hotel he's built.

I leave it to you to answer why there's a luxury hotel in Sheffield, but there it is.

The Doctress will not allow "Ed Sheeran" to kill the spiders. She also isn't keen on the idea that the EVIL Robertson fires "Yaz's Mum". "You can't fire Yaz's Mum and be President,", She declares. It takes a while for Her to realize "Yaz's Mum" has a name.

So She won't let the EVIL Robertson shoot the spiders. So how to solve the problem? Why, by leading the spider's to the EVIL Robertson's panic room and apparently letting them starve to death there.  It's a more humane way of doing it.

There is one last problem: the giant mother spider in the ballroom. She would rather gas it unconscious I think, but the EVIL Robertson has a simpler solution: just shoot it. She is angry, but in the end, the three 'Friends' go off with Her.

#TeamTARDIS

Image result for arachnids in the ukI gave Her and Doctor Who a chance. I sat through some simply frightful episodes like Sleep No More and Closing Time. I have endured the unendurable. I have suffered the insufferable.

I just cannot and will not do it anymore.

Arachnids in the UK is getting the typical glowing reviews and the squees from its group of sycophants, but for the life of me I do not understand how anyone could say this was actually good.

Whittaker has had four episodes to make The Doctor her own. Four episodes to put her own stamp on the character, controversially changed from male to female "because it's time we had a Female Doctor". At this point, we've pretty much gone from beyond whether it was right or wrong to do so. Instead, we have moved to 'what kind of Doctor is she?'

What Whittaker's Doctor is, is a pale impersonation of David Tennant and Matt Smith's version, a mere copycat to what we've seen before.

The "Is he Ed Sheeran?" bit. The referring to Najia as "Yaz's Mum". That is something the Smith Doctor would do.  Actually, that's something the Smith Doctor has done: in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the Doctor would consistently refer to Rory's dad Brian as "Mr. Pond", even after Mr. Williams shouted "I AM NOT A POND!" at him. Oblivious and clueless, Eleven blithely carried on.

Here, we have exactly the same 'wacky' Doctor we've seen before. Her inability to 'have small talk', her unsure if She and Yaz "are seeing each other" (which I hope they don't do only because it would be more "Companion in love with Doctor" nonsense), Her at times needy, at times irrational manner, it all smacks of someone doing very bad Smith or Tennant cosplay.

Whittaker has had enough time to make the Doctor her own, and it seems now so deranged to think that after they went through all that trouble to give 'little girls a heroine of their own', they end up keeping the character exactly as he was. She is a nonentity, no unique personality. It's just sad to see them waste so much potential for nothing.

Image result for arachnids in the uk
Whittaker makes The Doctor look thoroughly stupid, and not just in the deliberately "wacky" moments. Her big plan was to stick the spiders in a small room and what: let them starve to death or have them eat each other? What about the spiders in Graham's house and near the Khans' flat?

Chris Chibnall's script manages to make the worst of Mark Gatiss or Steven Moffat look like Caves of Androzani by comparison. The story is so daft it borders on comical. 

Perhaps this is why Noth decided to play his "I'm not Donald Trump but I really am Donald Trump" Jack Robertson with such a wild, over-the-top manner. His performance made look like he thought he was in a comedy, a spoof of science fiction/fantasy.

Even that I could forgive, if not for the blatant politicking done here. Robertson is supposed to be plotting to run for President against Trump in 2020, as Robertson hates the 45th President. Yet he essentially is Trump, a wild caricature. From his "You're fired" line to running up to the giant spider waving his gun shouting, "I'm the future President of the United States. How's THIS for fire and fury?" this golden piece of dialogue, "What is wrong with you people?! What is wrong with this country?! Why don't you do what normal people do: get a gun, shoot things like a civilized person?!", Robertson is so blatant a caricature that even those of us who oppose Trump would say, "Dude, a bit much".

As a side note, that "What is WRONG with you people?" bit is Chibnall's take on how "Americans" are so much more inferior to the British because Americans all have guns.  There's a condescending, arrogant air to it all, and I say this as one who dislikes guns. Add to that, why would anyone vote for Robertson?

Image result for arachnids in the ukMaybe Chibnall does not understand American politics, but Robertson is in no position to challenge Trump. He can't run as a Republican because he is too much like Trump. He can't run as a Democrat because he is too much like Trump. No independent has ever come close to winning, so how is Robertson going to do it?

Gill's Yaz came across as surprisingly wimpy for someone who is supposed to be a police officer, and Tosin to be fair was better but not by much. Ryan's 'shadow puppet' bit was amusing, but his bringing in 'grime' music to lead the spiders?

Out of all the cast, only Bradley Walsh had anything good. He is given something to do: explore Graham's grief over his late wife, and apart from seeing Grace's ghost it is the most rational moment in the whole sorry episode.

I thought out of all the 'Team TARDIS', Graham had the most logical reason for leaving. I wish it were he and The Doctor who would be a team.

There just was nothing in Arachnids in the UK that I thought was good. The plot drops things at convenience: what happened to the spiders in Graham's house and near the Khans' flat? what happened to semi-mad scientist Jade (Tanya Fear) or Robertson himself? The Doctor is unoriginal, a Smith clone one episode, a Tennant clone the next.

The spiders were good.



0/10

Next Episode: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Monday, October 22, 2018

The (Other) Woman Who Ended Segregation: Rosa Review

 
Image result for rosa doctor who

STORY 279: ROSA

Rosa Parks was an icon. She deserves better than Rosa, a story that while mercifully does not trivialize Mrs. Parks' defining moment of courage, does make her almost a side character.

As if the others weren't already bad enough.

13 (Jodie Whittaker) is attempting to take Her 'friends' Graham (Bradley Walsh), his step-grandson Ryan (Tosin Cole) and random person Yasmin Khan or Yaz (Mandip Gill) back to their time and place in Sheffield, but the TARDIS has a mind of its own. It insists on materializing in 1955 Alabama; here She detects traces of artron energy, the type of energy that the TARDIS or any time-travelling device emits.

Why here, why now, and why does it center around a middle-aged black seamstress named Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson)? Obviously, almost all of them know who Rosa Parks is, though Ryan is a bit confused.

"First black female bus driver?", he suggests.

Alabama is no place for Ryan or Yaz. Ryan is instantly slapped for touching a white woman when offering to return her glove, and Yaz is constantly called a 'Mexican'. This sparks them having to receive as much overt racism as they do in Sheffield, where later in Rosa they reflect that he gets stopped repeatedly by police more than his white mates and she is called a 'Paki' and a terrorist when she goes to mosque.

As a side note, I am of Mexican descent, and Yaz would not convince me she was Mexican. Just saying...

Image result for rosa doctor whoAnyway, Graham and Her use their own 'white privilege' to make sure Mrs. Parks' moment in history is assured. That won't be easy because of Krasko (Josh Bowman), a time-traveler from the future who looks like a Grease cosplayer.

Costco is determined to stop Rosa Parks from getting on that bus, which in turn would stop her from refusing to give up her seat and thus, stop the American Civil Rights Movement.

Crisco cannot kill her outright, as She learns that after being released from Stormcage Prison he had a neural restrictor that prevents him from doing harm.

Why this alien from the 51st Century would be fixated on stopping Rosa Parks is unclear. Krispy Kreme does tell Ryan later on something about stopping "your kind" from getting above themselves, but Costco's overt racism is left unexplained. We don't know anything about his motivations but we need moral lessons, logic be damned.

13 gives them tasks to do in order to make sure Mrs. Parks completes her moment in history. It involves stopping Krispy Kreme (which Ryan does by using Crisco's own device against him), Yaz sticking by Mrs. Parks and poor Graham ultimately doing what I expected him to do: be that 'white passenger' for whom Mrs. Parks refused to stand for.

Everyone essentially congratulates themselves on making sure history stayed the course and She takes them, after giving them a rundown on Mrs. Parks' life post-bus, to Asteroid 284996, also known as 'Rosaparks'.

Image result for rosa doctor whoAfter finishing Rosa, I genuinely could see cowriters Chris Chibnall and Malorie Blackman congratulating themselves for their episode. I know many people reported crying at it, though to be fair most NuWhovians cry after every episode, so that's not a big thing.

These same NuWhovians also reported on how 'brave' and 'important' Rosa was. They are free to think that. 

My own take on it was that Doctor Who was doing a very weird take on Back to the Future or Quantum Leap, because this is not Doctor Who. It isn't even a good Quantum Leap.

For those not old enough to remember, Quantum Leap was a show about a scientist who could travel in time within his own lifetime, almost always to help someone and/or keep a moment in history from altering. Along the way, he meets people who would become famous later in life. Dr. Sam Beckett, the main character on Quantum Leap, accidentally saved Dr. Heimlich by using the procedure he himself created and offered financial tips to a young Donald Trump.

Rosa has that same feel, only it was both unoriginal and predictable, two things Quantum Leap was not.  I know Chibnall, who is also Doctor Who's current showrunner, wants the show to be more 'educational', and many online tout Rosa as being something to be shown in history classes.

If it were shown to mine, I imagine most of us would be bored.

The primary issue with why Rosa is not good is that we know Mrs. Parks will end up on that bus. As such, there really is no suspense. Whatever roadblocks Crisco sets up are quickly dispensed, as is he. To its credit, Rosa at least did not have Her or the others 'inspire' Mrs. Parks, but as I predicted it did thrust them into being the cause with Graham.

There is just so much wrong with Rosa. Whittaker has struggled with the part of The First Female Doctor, primarily because she cannot find herself able to get away from doing a David Tennant/Matt Smith impersonation.

At one point She draws on the wall. Graham tells Her She can't do that. "You're not Bansky," he says. With a comical look She says, "Or am I?". This is something Tennant's Doctor would say, delivered in the same way Tennant would. Whittaker's Doctor is fast becoming annoying and grating. She's had three episodes to give us her own take on The Doctor, but she keeps slipping into 'forced wackiness'.

Image result for rosa doctor who
Cole's Ryan is so dim and colorless, where even his 'enthusiasm' at meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or zapping Krispy Kreme into who-knows-when comes across as emotionalless.  At least here Gill's Yaz had something to do and didn't seem just like the third wheel.

Bowman's Krasko was so undefined he will rank as one of the worst villains on Doctor Who--revived or original series. Robinson's Parks was slightly better but she had the worst Southern accent I've heard on Doctor Who since The Gunfighters. Her Rosa Parks was almost incidental to Rosa, and I found her flat and uninteresting too.

Granted, I was not alive at the time, but there felt something almost cartoonish about how everyone in Montgomery was so overtly racist. It had the subtlety of a sledgehammer, suggesting all white people were racists slapping random black men and stalking 'foreigners' left-right-and-center.

The only good performance was Walsh, which is a surprise given that he is known mostly as a game show host (his show, The Chase, curiously airs opposite Doctor Who, making him the rare person to have two shows compete against each other). When interacting with the locals or dealing with 'Doc' to his sadness at being the 'white man who forced Mrs. Parks into history', Walsh manages to create moments of humor and pathos.

Rosa also has a terrible disservice when it comes to the score. In the past, Segun Akinola's music was subtle and effective. Here, it looks like he was ordered to do his version of a Murray Gold score. Whenever we saw Rosa Parks, we heard "noble" music, all lofty trumpets. Whenever we saw Krasko, we heard "evil" music, a two-note number created by cellos or bass.

Even worse, we were treated to Rise Up from Andra Day as Mrs. Parks made her fateful decision. I don't think it's a bad song, but it does lay on the 'inspirational' bit far too thick. I also thin something more contemporary would have worked better, such as Move On Up A Little Higher by Mahalia Jackson.

Rosa is a disservice to Mrs. Parks. That everyone involved thought it was a tribute to her seems worse. Uninteresting villain, no tension or suspense, a bad cosplayer as The Doctor, flat Companions save the old guy, a bit heavy-handed and ultimately dull.

Noble intentions do not make a good episode.

1/10

Next Episode: Arachnids in the UK

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Woman Who Found A TARDIS: The Ghost Monument Review

Image result for the ghost monument
STORY 278 : THE GHOST MONUMENT

First, I have decided to try and put "The Woman Who..." in the title for every 13th Doctor story. Before you or anyone else start going on about 'sexism', I note that I did something similar with the 12th Doctor. 

Back then, after getting an alleged trilogy with (Blank) of The Doctor (Name/Day/Time of The Doctor), I decided to spoof them by titling every Capaldi story as (Blank) of the Doctor. Robot of Sherwood became The Medieval Times of The Doctor, Kill the Moon became The Scrambled Eggs of The Doctor, The Return of Doctor Mysterio became The Cinematic Universe of The Doctor and so forth.

Given how She has been built up, I decided I could have some fun with Her too and thus, The Woman Who Found a TARDIS or The Ghost Monument.

Now, as for the episode itself, I see we still have one problem: the Doctor Herself. It is not that She is a Woman. Rather, it's that She isn't very original. For all the hue & cry about The First Female Doctor, I simply cannot imagine why they want her to be a Tennant/Smith clone.  The Ghost Monument, for all its virtues (and it does have them) is still struggling to find itself.

Oh, and the new TARDIS is damn ugly!

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Her 'friends' Graham (Bradley Walsh), his step-grandson Ryan (Tosin Cole) and random person Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) survive being caught in deep space by two convenient spaceships that happen to be competing in the "Last-Ever Rally of the Twelve Galaxies".

No, this isn't a variation on the Fifth Doctor story Enlightenment, thank you very much.

Image result for the ghost monumentThey are separated, with Her and Yaz ending up with Epzo (Shaun Dooley), a Russell Crowe-type with a bad attitude and a rickety spaceship. "This thing should be on Antiques Roadshow", She at one point hollers.  Graham and Ryan are on another ship captained by Angstrom (Susan Lynch), who thinks they are 'bonuses' in this race none of the others are aware of.

They all finally land on the planet Desolation, where eventually they reunite. Epzo and Angstrom receive their final instructions from Ilin (Art Malik), the game-master who is not reminiscent of The Celestial Toymaker.

Despite Epzo and Angstrom really wanting to work against each other to win the ultimate prize: bountiful wealth and security on a safe planet, She gets them to work together. They come upon an abandoned city and She is puzzled not just as to why Her TARDIS was not in the same place Her calculations placed it at. She also wants to know why this formerly lush world is now dead.

She also wants to get to 'the ghost monument', which is really the TARDIS. Her "Friends" go along, as they really don't have an option, but if they reach the TARDIS, that should get them all home.

In this desolated city, they face many dangers: killer robots and killer floating cloths. She also discovers why Desolation is as it is: their scientists were forced to work to engineer new methods of death. "We gave them our minds and they made us Creators of Death", She reads, forced to by the Stenza, one of whom we met last time.

As a side note, am I the only one who thinks 'Creators of Death' would make for a great title?

She manages to show that indeed 'brains beat bullets', but the floating killer cloths also tell Her about 'The Timeless Child', something apparently connected with Her that even She does not know.

As they reach the finish, Epzo and Angstrom seem on the cusp of fighting it out to win, until She comes up with a compromise.

Before Ilin, they declare themselves joint winners. Ilin is aghast at such an idea, but they bully him into declaring for the first time ever dual champions. He then promptly spirits them away, leaving the others stranded. She feels like a failure, until the TARDIS materializes. "Come to Daddy...I mean Mommy...I mean..." She says, and soon She enters Her newly-redecorated TARDIS, and it's off for another adventure.

Image result for the ghost monument tardis
Perhaps my dislike of The Ghost Monument has to do with the TARDIS itself. I thought it was the ugliest thing I have seen, well, apart from both the Sixth and Thirteenth Doctor's costumes. It's all dark and remarkably empty, with little light.

Of greater concern is Whittaker.  Here, let me see if I can explain this well. 

It is not that she is a woman that causes me concern. Contrary to popular belief, I have never objected to a Female Doctor if it could be shown it was done for story purposes. That, however, was not the primary reason we were given a Female Doctor. The primary reason was that 'it was about time we had a Female Doctor...for representation, equality, little girls to have heroines of their own'. I never thought this was a good reason to have a Female Doctor, and to be honest those who supported this reasoning have been overtly hostile to any objections.

Be that as it may I wish Whittaker or writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall would stop her from playing The Doctor as 'quirky'. She needs to make The Doctor Her own, not do a variation of David Tennant or Matt Smith's version. Whittaker's Doctor seems terribly frenetic, spouting lines in a rapid-fire manner and worse, saying the dumbest things.

Take this exchange between Her and Graham after She offers to lend him some shades. "I can't remember whether I borrowed them from Audrey Hepburn or Pythagoras". Graham, sensibly, says that Pythagoras didn't have shades, to which She replies more to Herself than to him, "Obviously never saw Pythagoras with a hangover".

That line, apart from being too jokey for things, is something I could hear Smith's Doctor saying. Part of me understands wanting to move away from the crotchety old man Capaldi was going into, but at least he was markedly different than the childlike Smith or swoon-worthy Tennant.

Image result for the ghost monumentI think Whittaker can be a great Doctor. There, I've said it. I think she has the capacity to not only make the role her own but convince me that she IS The Doctor. She, however, isn't going to do it by merely imitating the popular Doctors from days gone by.

There is nothing wrong with being a bit 'quirky'. There is something wrong when all you give is 'quirky'.

Whittaker has moments of this, such as when she berates Ryan for trying to use weapons to win or when coming to conclusions about what happened on Desolation.  There is potential for her to own the part and be The Doctor. She just needs to get away from doing impersonations, otherwise the gender change would have been for nothing.

Malik was underused and Dooley was doing some kind of Russell Crowe gravelly, angry man. Chibnall's script gave us a touch of backstory with a tale of what would be child abuse, which was good in terms of acting and story. Lynch's Angstrom was better to where you wanted her to win, but only because she seemed to have a more fleshed out character.

Of the Companions, I'm liking Walsh's Graham, who seems the most sensible of the lot. He does what good Companions do: he asks questions and actually questions The Doctor, not willing to defer so quickly. Gill's Yaz might just as well been taken hostage for all she did. She was wildly underused to where she was superfluous to The Ghost Monument, though that should be expected when you have three Companions. Cole's Ryan is somewhere in the middle: coming across as somewhat dumb but at least willing to take action.

As I reflect on The Ghost Monument, I think I like it more than I first thought. The story went by fast and Segun Akinola's score is quite good: subtle and effective. There is some good word-play in it. When asked if anyone's confused, Yaz says "Pretty confused", Ryan says "Proper confused" and Graham says "Way beyond confused". 

There are issues that concern me. The 'Timeless Child' and Stenza bits suggest a story arc despite the insistence that there would be none and that each would be a stand-alone story. The lack of screentime for both Gill and Malik. Whittaker's take on the Doctor as more an impersonation of Smith and Tennant than her own creation.

It is still early and there is room for improvement, but I hope they do up the game, otherwise we're going to get the same thing we've seen before.

5/10

Next Episode: Rosa