Friday, November 28, 2014

The Deep Dark Woods of The Doctor


It was probably inevitable that after two brilliant Doctor Who episodes, there'd be a bit of a downturn.  However, even I, having encountered all sorts of negative reviews for In the Forest of the Night and even a tepid review from The Nerdist (which is their version of a negative review), was not prepared for the absolute disaster that awaited me.  Not since Love & Monsters have I been so naked appalled at what I saw, at a Doctor Who episode so hideously awful that it makes something like The Twin Dilemma look like Tomb of the Cybermen.  From beginning to end, the episode was hideous, and In the Forest of the Night will earn a place in history as perhaps the Worst Doctor Who Episode of All Time, something that this generally bad season simply cannot afford.  Even though showrunner Steven Moffat didn't write it, his fingerprints are all over it, as if credited screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce was given a template and told to string them together. 

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) opens the TARDIS to find two strange sights: an overgrowth of forest, and Maebh (Abigail Eames), a little girl who tells him either "Miss Oswald" or "voices" told her to find the Doctor.  The Doctor cannot believe he has landed in the middle of London, but both the TARDIS and Maebh tell him he has, and seeing the new forest overrun Trafalgar Square is proof.  Meanwhile, both Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) are getting the kids in their care from their field trip, which was a sleepover at the London Zoological Museum.

I digress to wonder how times have changed.  When I was in school, our field trips were a.) during the day, b.) a few hours long, and c.) never involved sleepovers, and certainly not at museums. 

Well, as Danny keeps getting his 'team' together to get them home or Coal Hill School, they too are astonished to find a forest, the adults more than the kids, who like all television kids, are not impressed by anything.  Eventually, they come to Maebh and the Doctor because Maebh is part of the field trip, a student they failed to notice was missing for a while. 

They face the mystery of how this forest came about, with Maebh insisting they communicated with each other to grow spontaneously.  Maebh's mother, despite some warning about staying indoors she obviously didn't hear, begins looking for her other daughter (since one daughter, Annabelle, disappeared a few months back).  Well, Maebh's been on meds to stop hearing 'the voices' but the Doctor insists Maebh doesn't have mental health issues.  Instead, she can hear the trees, or tree fairies, or whatever those things were. 

We're with Stupid

Well, they chase off a tiger with a flashlight, and the Doctor shows that a giant solar flare is coming Earth's way, which will destroy the planet.  Clara wants to save the children, but then has a change of heart, not wanting to be the last of her kind.  She urges the Doctor to leave them on Earth, to die. 

Teacher of the Year material there, letting the Gifted and Talented group be vaporized.

Well, as it stands, we find that the spontaneous forest is not the enemy.  The Trees Are Our Friends, having sprouted to absorb the solar flare, and once the storm passes it disappears, leaving everything as they found it.  We even see that Maebh gets a gift...her sister Annabelle, who has suddenly emerged from bushes.

It's a curious thing about Doctor Who.  No matter how often showrunner Steven Moffat flat-out lies to us (mistaking deliberate deception for 'misdirection'), his fans who hold him as some sort of genius believe him.  He stated that this season would not be a 'fairy tale' one, and yet with In the Forest of the Night he's given us a fairy tale...complete with fairies!  Granted, those little twinkling lights flowing about Maebh weren't BILLED as fairies, but they might just as well be given how ITFOTN used them. 

The fairies as it were, are the least of the episode's problems.  From the moment we begin, where Maebh is wandering the streets of London alone (which gives us THREE problems already: Clara and Danny's cluelessness about a child in their care missing, how Maebh was able to leave a building without setting off the alarm AND how she got out considering the doors were blocked by large pieces of wood that took the combined strength of Danny and the students to push open), ITFOTN was dead-set on making things as horrible and stupid for everyone concerned. 

Let's start with the kids, who are supposed to be the Gifted and Talented group.  Given how they didn't seem to understand anything other than selfies, if THEY were the G&T group Britain is about to be destroyed from within due to the population's basic stupidity.  It's a trope of television to have back-talking, sarcastic, annoying know-it-all kids, but my experience with children reflects a different manner regarding children. 

Most children I know are quite respectful of authority figures, are genuinely frightened of scary things, and generally work well together.  Children in real life would be scared to not know where their parents were (and while a line at virtually the very end suggested they actually MIGHT miss their parents, how these kids had time for selfies but no time to bother calling home again makes me wonder how they could be the G&T kids).  Oh, I forget: Clara told the Doctor that the whole "Gifted and Talented" thing was just a thing they told them.  In other words, they really WEREN'T G&T, just a bunch of idiots who were gullible enough to believe that.

For a child-centered story like ITFOTN, it's interesting that the children were unnecessary to the story itself.  Moreover, the situations they faced were quite horrifying.  Danny frightening the tiger with a flashlight (or torch)?  I would have thought the tiger would have grown enraged by the light, not run off by it.  With Maebh being chased by wolves, I was astonished the Doctor and Clara never suggested she climb up any of those trees to get away from them.

As a side note, the whole 'Hansel and Gretel' thing was again more stupidity. 

It isn't as if I don't know what ITFOTN was going for: a children's fairy tale in Doctor Who.  However, why oh why do they have to be so OVERT about it? 

On a more serious note, the whole 'don't medicate a child who hears voices' thing bothered me greatly.  Is Doctor Who encouraging people to not take medication for mental health issues?  This isn't the first time Doctor Who has played fast-and-loose with character's mental problems.  I don't know how much criticism the show has received about this, but to dismiss hearing voices as actually a positive, particularly on an episode aimed squarely at children, is to me shocking and irresponsible.

As a side note, we're told that Maebh flapping her arms is a tic that results from the voices.  I guess that means the Eleventh Doctor was hearing voices all the time then.

Nothing in this episode made sense.  The Doctor declared the spontaneous forest 'a natural event'.  Just as natural as the Moon being an Egg, I imagine.  Clara tells the Doctor the sonic screwdriver is not a magic wand.  Really?  That's what its been for eight seasons, why stop now?  The children coming up with a phone call that will contact EVERYONE on Earth.  Guess those without a mobile/cell phone are just out of well as those who don't speak English (OK, maybe the TARDIS will translate the message in other languages).  However, again the kids don't have to bother calling THEIR parents, parents who obey the government instruction to stay home...unless they don't happen to hear it like Maebh's mom, too busy arguing with someone on the phone to have either the television or radio on and whose friend obviously didn't either hear the message or look out the window to see a giant forest outside his/her own door.

Boy was this stupid.

I'll give credit in that yes, one shot was particularly beautiful (although obviously shot in a way that drew attention with itself).  I give credit to Capaldi, who did his best under the simply bonkers situation he was forced into.  "You need an appointment to see The Doctor," he tells Maebh when she first comes knocking at his door.  Later on, when disagreeing with Maebh about how the trees can talk to each other, he asks how they did it.  "Group message on Tree Facebook?" he comments.  At least if nothing else, Capaldi can't be blamed for the horror In the Forest of the Night was.

Just an observation.  Given how hot and heavy Danny and Clara are for each other, you think they did a little bump and grind next to the saber-tooth tigers at the museum?  At least she can get pregnant THAT way, given, well, that's in the future...

In the Forest of the Night was reminiscent of another child-centered episode where the girl (who gave a bad performance) was able to communicate with otherworldly figures, right down to drawing what she knew.  It's never a good thing when a Doctor Who episode reminds you of Fear Her.  However, I found Fear Her more tolerable than this barbarity.   I never thought I'd see something more loathsome than that, something I absolutely detested, something to rival Love & Monsters

Never Say Never Again... 


Next Episode: Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Mural Project of The Doctor


Flatline has done better than the previous Doctor Who story, which is an incredible feat given Mummy on the Orient Express (despite the loony title) was already the highlight of a dismal season.  Jamie Mathieson, who wrote both Mummy and Flatline, has apparently been given free rein to create genuine Doctor Who stories pretty much removed from Steven Moffat's fixations and arcs.  There was that, and they were obviously forced to where if they were removed Flatline would have been even better.  Given those limitation, to have TWO great stories from ONE author shows that Doctor Who, when it is good, can really give us a tense, exciting story where even the most bizarre situation can be made plausible.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is planning to take his Companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) back home, but ends up in Bristol.  That, however, isn't the problem.  It's the fact that something is draining the TARDIS' power, which is causing the TARDIS to shrink.  Clara ends up outside the TARDIS while the Doctor is basically trapped inside, unable to leave because while the interior remains the same size, the TARDIS has shrunk to where it fits inside Clara's purse.

Clara is basically put in the position to be 'the Doctor', and this goes to her head.  She introduces herself as "Doctor Clara" to the crew cleaning up graffiti in the estates (in America, the projects).  Among them is Rigsy (Joivan Wade) serving community service.  He becomes the de facto Companion as they investigate the curious disappearances of people, who are 'memorialized' in a mural in a tunnel.  Curiously, the murals of the missing people are all facing away from the viewer.  Soon the disappearance of Police Constable Forrest (Jessica Hayles) alerts them to the great danger they face.

Clara and Rigsy soon make the connection, with the Doctor's guidance, that the danger is in the form of two dimensions, with the Doctor theorizing that they want to be three dimensional.  That means that these beings are now going after them.  Clara, Rigsy, and the work crew now flee for their lives, with sarcastic crew head Fenton (Christopher Fairbank) asking if they really are hiding from killer graffiti.  Soon more of the crew begin being attacked by The Boneless (the name the Doctor has given them), though whether they are truly a menace or not is still debated. 

The crew finds that the Boneless can control three-dimensions to make them two-dimensions.  The TARDIS and the Doctor are still too small to help apart from advising, and in the confusion and chaos Fenton tries to steal the TARDIS only to cause it to fall onto a train track.  The TARDIS is in danger of being crushed.  The Doctor manages to barely put it out of danger but then the danger returns, forcing him to put the TARDIS in siege mode.

Clara, facing the life-and-death decisions the Doctor usually finds himself dealing with, has a brilliant idea on how to both help the Doctor and impede the Boneless.  She uses one of the Doctor's best tactics: use your enemy's power against them, and thanks to that the TARDIS is restored to where he can step in and wipe the Boneless to another dimension.

As I thought on Flatline, I had a rare moment of tension and suspense in Doctor Who.  This came when the Doctor, trapped in his shrunken TARDIS, is forced to use his hands to crawl the TARDIS out of the oncoming train.  In other hands I imagine the sight of an Addams Family Thing-type creature would almost be laughable.    However, credit has to be given where it is due: both Mathieson's script and Douglas Mackinnon take the situation seriously.  As a result, the moment, far from being silly, is filled with almost nerve-wracking tension as to whether the Doctor will manage to pull himself to safety.  Doubling down on the tension, once we think he's made it to safety we get thrown into more danger, causing the Doctor to put the TARDIS into siege mode.

I cannot recall when I have felt more tension while watching Doctor Who in the Revived Era, especially in a single episode versus a two-parter.   In a two-part story, we can have a cliffhanger that sometimes has been hit-and-miss.  This particular moment in Flatline brought to mind a cliffhanger in The Curse of Fenric (which I think was the last classic story from the Classic Era).  Watching that story, I got so caught up in the story that I found myself at one point shouting at the screen, "Doctor!  BEHIND YOU!"  I didn't shout at the screen watching Flatline, but the story moved so well and built the tension so well that there was genuinely fear and suspense as to everyone's fate.

Flatline allowed the characters to be real, from Clara's haughtiness on being "Doctor Clara" to Felton's selfishness and lack of compassion.  When contact was made to The Boneless, we found they call numbers. The number called was from the uniforms the crew was wearing, and it signaled that one of them was in mortal danger.  "Looks like your number's up, George," Felton says.  Fairbank's delivery made it both a bad joke and a genuine statement of fact. 

I figure Rigsy is evocative of the graffiti artist Banksy, and while I didn't think Wade was given much he certainly had the potential to be a good Companion.

What I really enjoyed was Capaldi's performance.  The Doctor is basically sidelined, but Capaldi never shrinks from being the main character.  Whether it is in being irritated by how Clara is behaving while he is unable to move or in showing an actual light side when he does a little dance when he thinks he's escaped being crushed, Capaldi is spot-on as The Doctor.  Once he's restored to full size, he compliments Clara when she insists she was a good Doctor.  However, while he tells her she was an exceptional Doctor, "goodness had nothing to do with it". 

The resolution was logical and even Coleman, who has nowhere near been my favorite Companion, is commanding and effective.  It shows how a great script and positive direction can do wonders.

About the only thing that didn't work was the intrusion of Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink via a phone call coming at the most inopportune time (cliché) and the closing moment with Michelle Gomez's Missy, declaring that with Clara, she had chosen well.  However, I figure Mathieson was required to insert them in by Moffat, which is a shame because if they had been cut altogether we could have had a Doctor Who story that pushes the series into what it COULD be: dark, dangerous, exciting, and removed from the burden of having to carry long story arcs that more often than not fail to pay off. 

Flatline is as close to a Classic Who episode that we are likely to have.  It was tense, exciting, logical, fast-paced but without being rushed or convoluted.  It is a sign that Doctor Who, when unburdened and unleashed, can be a brilliant science-fiction program.  It's enough to make a despairing Whovian break out in dance... 



Next Story: In the Forest of the Night

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Nerdist as Whore: An Introduction

With Doctor Who quietly slumbering, I thought I'd make the rounds to my favorite whorehouse.  I'm talking of course, about The Nerdist, my bete noire on almost all things Doctor Who.

I've written much on how I believe The Nerdist, in particular its Faux Fan Number One Chris Hardwick and his Number 2, Kyle Anderson, are basically shills for the BBC and Steven Moffat.  They are not objective reviewers.  They are virtually paid spokesmen, the Pravda of Nerddom.  If they had been around during John Nathan-Turner's reign, they would have given high marks to such stories like The Twin Dilemma and Timelash

Why?  Well, because they are paid not to give honest assessments of what they see, but to push the product no matter how abysmal.  I don't have anything against them for being lackeys.  I just wish they were upfront about it. 

When I think of The Nerdist, in particular in regards to Hardwick & Anderson, the term 'useful idiot' comes to mind.  However, they are not 'idiots'.  They are shrewd and calculating, fully aware that their job is to serve as promotion for not just Doctor Who but all things geek/nerd-related.  They make millions by passing themselves off as mere 'super-fans' or worse, experts, and the production companies are more than happy to pay for their services in exchange for free promotion by these guys.

In return, they get to be seen as these 'experts', which gains them a touch of prestige, notoriety, and more than enough cash for themselves.  Many genuine fans of what they cover will in turn look to them for guidance, unaware of how The Nerdist is really playing them for fools. 

Of COURSE I'm Objective.
Whatever made you think any different?

There is something insidious in what I dubbed The Moffat-Nerdist Complex, where the person who is suppose to be objective is simply too close to the subject he/she is reviewing.  I am reminded of the late, great Roger Ebert and his Little Rule Book.  It was pretty much an open secret that he was targeting Ben Lyons, mocking Cubby (as I lovingly called him) after Lyons Junior took over as a cohost on At the Movies.  However, I think we can look at Ebert's advise and apply them to Hardwick, Anderson, et. al. (especially Numbers 15 & 17, which The Nerdist demolishes with glee).

In the interest of full disclosure, I would pose with actors/writers/directors if given the opportunity, but those would be for my private collection, not to show how close I was to someone I had just met.

There is one that Ebert might not have anticipated, but that I think would make a good addition to his guide for film criticism: Do Not Review Something if Your Subject is Paying Your Bills.

In the After Who Special hosted by Hardwick following the premiere of Deep Breath, one of his guests was Doctor Who/Sherlock writer and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss.  What Hardwick did not disclose on air was that the executive producer of the After Who Special was...Mark Gatiss.  This tidbit came in a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' credit as Hardwick cheerily waves goodbye to his audience. 

Somehow, to my mind, there is something pernicious and deceitful about taking money from the person you are suppose to be covering.  This might explain why The Nerdist, in particular regarding Doctor Who, has never given a negative review to any episode.  Anderson may say an off thing once in a blue egg, but by the end of his reviews he finds that the worst Doctor Who episodes were merely "OK".   He can and will never say that something was 'awful' because he knows that any dissention will mean a severe reproach from either Hardwick or the BBC/Moffat.  The Nerdist cannot run the risk of displeasing its masters, so we will get endless praise or at best, weak recommendations.

With that, Gallifrey Exile offers a new series: The Nerdist as Whore.  When the mood strikes me (or time permits), I will 'translate' the usually ebullient Doctor Who reviews that Anderson gives.  It is my service to you, the real fans, who deserve better than the frauds that Chris Hardwick, Kyle Anderson, and The Nerdist in general are.

Is he happy to have found his intellectual equal, or someone who is actually shorter?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Ethan White Interview

Born 1982

This is an interview between Jimmy Porto, host of The Whovians Youtube Channel, and Ethan White or Sixstanger00 on YouTube, someone that I know through Facebook.

Ethan and I are not 'friends', but I have great respect for him in terms of his Doctor Who views (and not just because they are similar to mine).  Ethan and I are radically different in terms of social background and worldviews.  However, I find Ethan's reviews on his channel amusing and clever.  If nothing else, Ethan is always brutally honest in his assessments about anything Doctor Who-related.

Just the way I like it.  Even when I disagree with them.

Again, I don't always agree with Ethan on either Doctor Who or other issues, but I think both of us (if I may speak for him) are highly disturbed by the direction the show is going.  I think we both are watching Doctor Who, a show we both genuinely love, disintegrate before our eyes with dumb stories, unthinking fans who never question anything they see, and a megalomaniac producer who has decided HE is the greatest thing to happen to Doctor Who

In short, Ethan and I, at least on Doctor Who, are mostly of the same mindset.   This video, if it plays, is a great intro to a sharp and insightful mind on the subject of Doctor Who.  Be forewarned: Ethan uses 'colorful metaphors' freely on his own channel, so those who object to that kind of language might want to know that ahead of time.

However, I urge all to listen in to Ethan White/Sixstanger00 on his Doctor Who views.   You can find him here:    

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Mummy Dearest of The Doctor


For far too long, I had despaired about the direction Doctor Who was going.  This latest season showed some simply dreadful stories (at least two of which have already earned a place in my Worst Doctor Who stories of all time).  That is not something to be proud of.  Mummy on the Orient Express, based just on the title and premise, appeared to be yet another romp through idiocy.  How fortunate then that MOTOE not only defied expectations, but gave us something we long-suffering viewers thought we'd never see.

A Doctor Who story that was a genuine Doctor Who story. 

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) board a spaceship that looks like the fabled Orient Express train, complete with steam.  Aboard however, there is a great danger: a figure who looks like a mummy, visible only to the person who is about to die.  Once this person sees the mummy-like figure, they have sixty-six seconds to live.  The mummy appears to not discriminate: taking from the wealthy passengers and humble cooks with equal menace. 

However, while Clara finds herself locked in with Maisie (Daisy Beaumont), niece of the first victim, and a sarcophagus, the Doctor finds himself working with Perkins (Frank Skinner), the O.E.'s Chief Engineer, who suspects there is something to this tale of murdering mummies.  The Doctor appears to have fallen (perhaps willingly) into a trap.  The Orient Express in space is really a laboratory, where a voice going by Gus (John Sessions) has gathered figures (including the Doctor) to solve the mystery of what the creature, called The Foretold, and find its weakness.  They don't have much time, as The Foretold will be eliminating them one by one.   When The Doctor takes a call from Clara and doesn't get off the phone fast enough to please Gus, Gus responds by killing off the kitchen crew and leave them floating in space.

Gus means business. 

The Doctor has to overcome both any hesitancy about mourning for the death and put others in danger to solve the mystery (which he does: the Foretold is a soldier long-forgotten, and with the Doctor's 'surrender' the soldier disappears).  Gus, having found what it was looking for, slowly removes the oxygen from the spaceship and is going to blow it up.  The Doctor is able to rejig the Foretold's phase-shifting device to get the survivors into the TARDIS.  Clara awakens to find herself on a planet, where at first she is displeased the Doctor both put others in danger and thought little to nothing of other people's death.  The Doctor tells her that it had to be that way if he wanted to save them all. 

Unlike all the other Season Eight stories (and quite a few NuWho stories overall), Mummy On The Orient Express felt like it was written for Peter Capaldi, not Matt Smith.  There was little joking around in MOTOE, no silliness to try and make light what was meant to be a serious and dangerous situation.  Instead, we got at long last that long-promised 'darker' Doctor, one where Capaldi was finally able to show what he could do with the part without having to placate the Smith fans who enjoyed his 'Idiot Doctor'. 

Capaldi's performance in MOTOE was simply his best this whole season.  It reminded me of what Sixth Doctor Colin Baker said about what kind of being the Doctor was.  Baker said that the Doctor could casually walk over a dead body without expressing any emotion, then see a dying butterfly and be genuinely mournful.  Baker observed that it wasn't because the Doctor didn't care about humans or was passionate about butterflies, but it was because the Doctor thought in different ways than his Companions.  Similarly, we see Capaldi in MOTOE becoming an amalgamation of his predecessors: the manipulativeness of the Seventh, the casual intelligence/humor of the Fourth when he runs up to the Foretold and says, "I'm the Doctor.  I will be your victim this evening," (the offering to the Professor of what appears to be a cigarette box but instead being jelly babies was a nice touch) and the costume of the First (which actually looks better than his official costume in my opinion).

Capaldi's Doctor is one who isn't going to waste time mourning, a cool, rational being who sees the big picture (he needs to work fast to save everyone) and the niceties of 'having a moment' for someone who isn't around to appreciate it have to be pushed aside.  He does what HAS to be done, and Capaldi shows that the Doctor is a rational being, and despite Clara's protests to the contrary, does have a heart(s).  Partially in order to see the Foretold for himself (and I suspect, partially to save Maisie, he quickly gets her memories to make the Foretold think he is Maisie). 

Capaldi is excellent in MOTOE, and he is aided by a good script (by first-time Who writer Jamie Mathieson.  As a side note, it's a bit sad that Mathieson was able to write a real Doctor Who/Twelfth Doctor story while Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat appears to have no ideas, period).  Calculating, intense, but someone who does in the end live up to being a hero, we have in Peter Capaldi someone who appears to finally have come into his own.

Mathieson's script also benefits from giving a logic to the idea of a train in outer space and a genuine sense of danger if the Foretold is not stopped.   He also manages to shunt Clara away for long stretches, which is nice because that big-eyed whiner wore out her welcome long ago.  Instead, Mathieson gave us Skinner's Perkins, showing that the Doctor could do with a Companion who is a.) reasonably intelligent, b.) not in love/lust with him at every turn, and c.) able to actually contribute something to help solve the mystery.  Doctor Who 2.0 has never really made an effort to have either a Companion from another time/planet or a full-time Male Companion (almost always opting for a 20-21st Century British girl between 19-30).  Given how one of the best Companions of All Time was Frazer Hines' Jamie McCrimmon (who formed a great double-act with Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor) it is almost refreshing to see someone from the future, who is an older man, capable of being a great Companion.  Perkins, while declining a chance to serve on the TARDIS, would nonetheless be welcome to return as a guest star (which is NOT the case with Moffat's Galatea, that monstrous River Song).

The script also allows Capaldi some great lines.  When discussing whether the first victim, an elderly woman, died because of a monster or simple old age, the Doctor says, "Old ladies die all the time.  It's practically their job description".  It sounds harsher with Capaldi's Scottish accent, but nonetheless both genuine and even amusing.  Perkins at one point says, "I can't tell if you're a genius or incredibly arrogant", to which the Doctor doesn't appear nonplussed by this apparent attempt at an insult.

For me, while Mathieson might have drawn from Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for inspiration, it appears that there is an homage to another Christie classic.  In And Then There Were None, a self-appointed avenging angel struck down victims one by one based on the level of their 'crimes'.  In MOTOE, the Foretold selects the victims based on the state of their health, striking at the weakest first until reaching the strongest and healthiest. 

What few bits of humor do creep in (such as the Doctor's psychic paper revealing the thing the conductor fears the most is a 'mystery shopper' or the Doctor's use of "Are you my Mummy?") are not as groan-inducing as they would have been because they are drowned out by everyone taking the situation seriously.  In short, the humor never overwhelmed or took center stage from what was meant to be a more serious, even scary story.  "Grief counseling is available on request," Gus tells the survivors after the Foretold has struck again in his lab.  In other people's hands, this would have come off as bad humor.  In Mathieson and director Paul Wilmshurt's hands, it is almost Hal-9000 like in its coldness, even sarcasm. 

If there were some things to pick at with MOTOE, it is the perhaps too-rushed ending with the Foretold, but that is generally minor.  Gus, however, is another story.  Unless he ties in to a future tale or is reintroduced as a potential recurring villain, the fact that no answer as to who Gus is or why he went through all this to get the Doctor aboard his train of death will be most frustrating.  The tie-in with Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink seems like an afterthought or a way to get Anderson and Pink SOMEHOW into the story when they weren't needed. 

However, with a top-notch performance from Capaldi, a blissful near-absence from Coleman's Clara (please go away), a genuine threat and logic to almost everything in the story, Mummy on the Orient Express is by far the best Twelfth Doctor story and one of the best NuWho stories in a long, long time.

The train-wreck that was Doctor Who might finally have found its groove again.  However, is this a case of Doctor Who being on the right track or is it all 'too little, too late' and has that train already left the station?             


Next Episode: Flatline

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Scrambled Eggs of The Doctor


I finished Kill the Moon not with anger but with sadness and resignation.  Quietly, like the acceptance that what I once loved was gone and probably never to come back, I figured that Doctor Who today is not the show I grew up loving.  It isn't even the show I grew to hate.  What Doctor Who is now is something unnatural, something self-absorbed, something that doesn't relate to anything other than showrunner Steven Moffat's own megalomaniac and rather short-term view.  It's as if he and with few exceptions the production crew now know they can peddle all sorts of crap our direction and the sheep-fans Doctor Who has will accept it unquestioningly.  I looked on Kill the Moon as again another divisive episode, only this time the divide is between fans and critics. 

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is being chastised by his part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), which seems to be a common theme this season.  This time, he's been chastised for telling Courtney Woods (Ellis George), the student from The Caretaker who threw up in the TARDIS, that she wasn't special.

I don't think she's special either, just another obnoxious tween in a world full of them; Courtney is petty, smart-mouthed, and narcissistic about their own importance to the world.  She isn't particularly bright, beautiful, or clever.  She's not kind (actually quite unpleasant and whiny), not helpful, nothing in short out of the ordinary.  However, because the Doctor dared to tell Courtney that she wasn't 'special', the high-minded, somewhat prissy Clara is apoplectic.  The Doctor simply HAS to tell Courtney she is 'special'  Never mind that this 'special' girl stole the Doctor's psychic paper (and apparently figures out what it is) and is using it to buy beer (at fourteen already drinking booze...certainly Prime Minister-material to me)  Never mind that Courtney has been unpleasant towards the Doctor and certainly to both Clara and Danny (mocking their not-so-secret romance).  She has to be told that she is SPECIAL.

No wonder kids nowadays have inflated opinions of themselves but can't figure out that fifteen is greater than thirteen.

In any case, the Doctor has been all but ordered to show Courtney how special Courtney is, so he offers her the chance to be the first woman on the Moon.  With that, it's off to the Moon for the three of them, coming onto the satellite in 2049 (thirty-five years from now).  However, there is something wildly wrong on the Moon.  The Doctor is concerned that the Moon has gained weight, and that there are unused nuclear bombs all around him.  We then plunge into the mystery when Captain Lundvik (Hermione Morris) and two others arrive there.  Their mission: to destroy the Moon.  That weight the Moon gained caused a great tide to kill thousands, and now the Moon must be exterminated, not an easy task given that space travel was abandoned years ago.   

Well, once on the Moon they find that Mexicans are at the heart of all this (even in Britain, the anti-Hispanic attitude is unabated).  The mining expedition has nothing to show except bodies and cobwebs.  Soon, we find spider-like creatures are emerging from the Moon, killing the two other astronauts (they really weren't all that important anyway).  Courtney is saved from one of them by her disinfecting spray (I kid you not).  Her reward: shunted off to the TARDIS for her own safety, where she manages to get on Tumblr to post pictures on the Moon (amusing Lundvik, whose Granny did the same thing back in the day).  Well, eventually we find out what's going on.

The Moon is an egg. 

The Doctor declares that the Moon has ALWAYS been an egg, and now the egg is hatching.   This creature now is, wait for it...THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN THE UNIVERSE!  (This, I understand, is unique in the history of Doctor Who, for we've never come across a creature who was 'the last of its kind' in the show's entire run, both Classic and NuWho).  Ludvik is for killing the creature before it hatches.  Clara and Courtney are for letting it be born (even if it means potentially killing all humanity).  Clara turns to the Doctor basically make up her mind, but the Doctor up and leaves, forcing the three of them to do the impossible: decide for themselves.

Thus enters democracy: Clara contacts the world to tell them they have a terrible decision to make: an innocent life versus the future of all mankind.  If they want the moon blown up, turn the world's lights off.  If they want the creature to live, keep the home fires burning.  In the fortysome-odd minutes they have, the world's lights go off. 

With the world having voted to blow the Moon up, in the words of James the Movie Reviewer, Clara is basically "a massive b*tch to democracy", deciding to not go with the will of the people and save the creature.  The Doctor comes in, takes them all away, and we find that the creature hatches, and mercifully it immediately hatches another Moon-sized egg to keep the tides turning. 

However, despite learning that Courtney Woods will rise to become President of the United States*, Clara is absolutely infuriated by the Doctor for leaving her and tells him off.  She is angered by his abandonment at her hour of need and says she's pulling out from his life.  Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) tells her she isn't finished with the Doctor just yet.

Well, so the Moon is a giant egg.  It always has been.  Isn't it great though, that it basically remained dormant all these billions of years until now to have this little tale of idiocy.

Now, I know that I was told that Doctor Who isn't suppose to make sense (because, in the words of a NuWhovian who told me when I brought up points of logic, "It's British!"), but even by the low standards of Doctor Who, the Moon is an egg thing is dumb.

Kill the Egg (as I dub this episode) doesn't just ask us to suspend disbelief.  It asks us to suspend thinking altogether.  As when the newly-born creature can hatch an egg upon birth to basically take the place of itself (rather convenient, don't you think).   The Mexicans could go to the Egg but apparently with space travel abandoned they pretty much were left there.  What if some other Egg-related catastrophe required them to leave or have others come back?  What then?

Oh, wait...they're Mexican (read, cheap/disposable labor whom no 'white' people really care about).

Courtney can wipe out a spider with what looks like Windex (taking notes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe).

Courtney uses Tumblr but Ludvik (who is from the future) never questions why such 'ancient' technology is still being used.  To me, it would be like someone travelling to our time saying, "I'm sending a message by Morse Code" and me not looking at all puzzled as to how something so foreign is still being used casually by a teen.  That didn't ring true.

Neither did the scenario itself.  I can't feel that the Earth/Moon are in danger because there really is no set-up for it in Peter Harness' script.  We start with a cold opening of Clara telling the world of their plight, but I didn't feel the tension because we can't feel for something we know nothing about).  The stakes, I'm told, are high, but I never felt they were, merely that I was TOLD they were and so I had to worry.

Also, the idea that Clara is so outraged by the Doctor going off when she basically was ordering him to solve the problem for her.  I again could never get excited or feel that this was real.  So what that the Doctor left.  Can't she figure something out for herself?  She obviously could, given how she quickly dismissed the world's decision (which in itself seems rather strange in how half the planet could vote on something so quickly).

As a digression, the only part of the world where lights would be visible would be where it was night, but this part of the world is probably asleep and unaware of the serious vote they are asked to participate in (leaving aside the potential language barrier).  The part of the world that is awake to listen to the broadcast would be in the light of the sun, and the need for electric lights when there is sunlight is pretty low.  What did they do: wake up the dark side of the Earth and tell them, "turn off your lights because some big-eyed girl told us we need to save some creature that's about to hatch from the Moon?" 

I also wonder what the point of Courtney was (apart from having another annoying child to contend with).  She didn't play a major role in Kill the Egg, and spent the majority of the episode like the rest of us: bored out of our minds sitting there, waiting for something to happen.  Either George is a bad actress or Doctor Who casting director(s) enjoy picking child performers whose only qualifications to be on the show is to look mopey and whine throughout. 

I won't even get on the 'the only one of its kind' tripe that has been used to death on Doctor Who.  Why can't they ever come up against creatures who have billions of beings?

Well, there was nothing in Kill the Egg that should please someone with some intelligence.  You had bad acting (apart from Capaldi, who is turning into the Colin Baker of the Modern Who Era--a good actor trying his best with lousy scripts).  You had a story seriously flawed in every aspect.  You had no sense of tension or suspense.  Kill the Egg for me had nothing to make it anything other than total lunacy...  


Next Episode: Mummy on the Orient Express

*As Courtney is British, unless by 2049 the United States has changed its Constitution there is no way she could become President of the United States.  The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that only natural-born citizens are eligible to become President (Article II, Section I, Clause 5).  Courtney Woods was not born IN the United States and as far as we know neither of her parents ARE American citizens.  As such, she is Constitutionally barred from being President of the United States. 

A little knowledge goes a long way, mais oui?      

As the original title for this review was The Moonraker of The Doctor...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Hypocrisy of The Doctor

One of the places I go to for Doctor Who reviews that I genuinely trust and admire is Tea With Morbius, run by Matthew Celestis.  For his review of The Caretaker, he made some very pointed comments about the issue of how soldiers are presented on Doctor Who, as well as on the issues of race and class involving both the newest character, Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) and other characters of color whom Celestis I think is saying are shown in a bad light.

I think this merits some examination. 

I think the best thing to do is to look at Doctor Who pre-Moffat, and in particular pre-12th Doctor, to see that I agree with Celestis in how Doctor Who appears to have a bizarre pathological contempt for soldiers, and worse, which is completely contradictory to what Canon has established. 

If we go back to the beginning, we see that the Doctor didn't have this lifetime hatred for soldiers.  In fact, while he was a pacifist he had a great deal of respect for the military.  We only need to go to the most obvious example: UNIT.

In a deleted scene, the Doctor
bitch-slapped the Brigadier.
UNIT debuted in The Invasion, where the Second Doctor joined forces with a certain Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart to battle the Cybermen.   The Doctor had worked with Lethbridge-Stewart before, when he was a Colonel in the recently-rediscovered The Web of Fear.  The Doctor seems quite delighted to see the now-Brigadier again and there was hardly any sense of antagonism one towards the other.  I have to ask, if The Doctor harbored a lifelong hatred of soldiers (no doubt due to his youth on Gallifrey if Listen is any clue), why then would the Doctor not bristle at the concept of working with UNIT?  One could say it was due to sharing a common enemy, but again the Doctor is a willing, almost eager partner with the military and the soldiers who are all around him.  From my memory of The Invasion, there is no hostility towards any soldier; in fact, there seems to be great affection for them.  

Get away from me, you evil baby killer.
UNIT really came into its own during the Third Doctor's era.  This isn't a big surprise given that Doctor Who was stranded on Earth, exiled by the Time Lords for his constant interference in other worlds.  With the Time Lords having disabled the TARDIS, the Doctor had little choice but to stay.  Here again, we have a character we've recently been told has a lifelong hatred for soldiers, and what does he do?  He becomes a virtual part of the military, joining UNIT as their 'scientific advisor'!  Very odd thing to do if you despise soldiers the way the Doctor is suppose to do.

Again, it could be said the reason the Doctor, who 'hates' soldiers, is with UNIT is because they provide him food, clothing, shelter, and scientific equipment.  It's clear the Doctor wants to escape, but it isn't because he has an antipathy towards either the Brigadier or people like Sergeant Benton or Captain Yates.  He just wants to travel again and it has nothing to do with the military.

Also, if he so wished the Doctor could easily find work somewhere outside the military.  He certainly wasn't beholden to UNIT for their largesse.   He also quarreled quite openly with UNIT and the Brigadier.  In Doctor Who & The Silurians, the Brigadier's act of wiping out the Silurian base infuriated the Doctor, who called it murder.  "Typical of the military mind," the Doctor sniffs.  "Present them with a new problem, and they start shooting at it".  The Doctor and the Brigadier didn't see eye-to-eye on everything (particularly conflict resolution), but underneath that there was a great deal of respect and even affection for the other.

Over the course of their time the Third Doctor and the Brigadier stood up for the other to those who verbally attacked the other.  The Brigadier begins trusting the Doctor more and more, even on occasion struggling as to whether his actions might be the right course.  The Doctor, for his part, now sees this 'soldier' (whom we are told, he hates the whole lot of them) as an ally and even a friend.  One of the best moments of The Daemons is when in Episode Three the Doctor's Companion, Jo Grant, makes some remark about how foolish the Brigadier was being.  An angered Doctor sharply addresses his Companion, telling her the Brigadier is under immense pressure with the lives of both the villagers and his men at stake, and reminding her that she is still a serving member of UNIT.

That hardly sounds like the act of someone with a lifelong hatred of soldiers brought about by childhood.

Didn't Steven Moffat tell you?
I hate you now, always have, always will.

With Pertwee's regeneration into Tom Baker, UNIT and soldiers in general were far from finished on Doctor Who, though they did diminish in importance.   As the Doctor was now more free to move about time and space again, he didn't need UNIT as much.  However, whenever the Brigadier needed him, the Doctor would come.  Isn't it curious that for someone who apparently had a soldier-phobia instilled in him since he was a wee child, the Doctor got on so well with this 'soldier' that he deliberately sought him out when reading about his retirement in 'tomorrow's Times' (The Five Doctors)?

I'm supposed to be happy you're dead.

I think the best example of the idiocy of 'the Doctor hates soldiers' is in Battlefield, the Seventh Doctor story which would mark the last time Nicholas Courtney and The Brigadier would appear in Doctor Who itself.  When the Doctor believes the Brigadier to be dead (which I think is what Courtney wanted: a glorious end to the iconic character), the Doctor was visibly devastated.  Cradling his friend, he complained to what he thought was his corpse that this was not how he was suppose to die, that the Brigadier was meant to die peacefully in bed.

IF there was again, this total hatred for soldiers, why would he mourn so strongly for someone whose whole identity was wrapped around being a soldier?  This isn't like Danny Pink's situation, where he has retired from the Army and is now a civilian (making him an ex-soldier).  Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was in the Douglas Macarthur mode: a soldier to his dying day.  Yet here the Doctor was, visibly upset at seeing his old friend, the soldier, apparently dead.

The fact that then-Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner couldn't bring himself to actually kill off the Brigadier PRECISELY because the character was so beloved showed then (and now) that far from 'hating soldiers', the Doctor (and Doctor Who fans) LOVE soldiers.  I've heard many complaints from Whovians about various Doctors, various Companions, various stories.  I've never heard ONE Classic Who fan EVER say anything negative about The Brigadier.

This was a long way of saying that Steven Moffat's rewriting of Canon to show that the Doctor has some hatred for soldiers is rewriting history, and he is blessed in having so many sheep-fans who parrot anything he wishes to go along with this.  The Doctor never hated soldiers...up till now, but the question is, 'Why?' and 'Why now?'

Having established that the Doctor has never hated soldiers (though he is at times highly displeased at militarism and the military's quick way with the trigger) I wonder if all this 'The Doctor hates soldiers' business is fair in terms of Danny Pink himself.  Given what little we know of him, I think the Doctor's attitude towards Danny is unfair to the point of bigotry. 

He's basically an orphan with few if any prospects.  If the set-up in the UK is the same as in the States, the military provides a way for lower-to-lower-middle-class men and women to advance in society and get an education.  Certainly in the U.S. joining the armed services provides structure in people's lives, a chance to go outside their hometowns, and after their tour, a way to get an education and other benefits.  The military, therefore, appears to be a way for Danny to get away from the boys home and get the tools to be a math teacher. 

Moreover, as Danny frequently points out, he didn't just 'kill people'.  He dug wells.  That suggests that his role in the Army was positive.  Soldiers, contrary to what Doctor Who writers may think, are not dim-witted killing machines who have no sophistication, education, or souls.  We forget that many times the military does positive work.   Why would the President send the military to Liberia to fight Ebola (apart from the fact that fighting a contagious disease is a greater threat to the world than something like ISIS)? 

The idea that Danny is in some way 'polluted' because of his former military service is beyond unfair.  Let's remember, he is a retired soldier.  He's not active duty.  Why then is the Doctor so obsessed with dismissing him as a 'soldier'?  Technically, he even isn't a soldier.  This whole 'the Doctor hates soldiers' bit is irrational and unfair to the fans and the character of Danny. However, I realize WHY it is here. 

The Doctor hates soldiers now.

Danny Pink, the Doctor's Companion's paramour, is a soldier.

Enter conflict.

This is bad screenwriting and plotting.  It's setting up a conflict that is forced and that won't yield any real results. 

Certainly Doctor Who could come up with better ways of bringing conflict in this 'bizarre love triangle'.  Why pick on someone for what he did, something that is both perfectly legal and even admirable? 

My personal theory is that the Doctor Who writers, all white males and probably from upper-class to upper-middle class backgrounds, have probably never served and know few if any people who have.  It's a bit like what film critic Pauline Kael allegedly said after Richard Nixon won a landslide victory.  "I don't know how he won.  No one I know voted for him".  In a similar vein, all these Who writers may be puzzled as to what these foreign creatures called 'soldiers' might do or be like.

All writers bring their life experiences to their work, their worldviews, their biases, fears, and beliefs.  Therefore, I can't quite dismiss the idea that some part of either Steven Moffat or those he hired are expressing their ideas about soldiers through the Doctor;  this Doctor, going against all his predecessors, believes soldiers couldn't possibly be math teachers and are suited only for Physical Education because soldiers/ex-soldiers don't have the intellect to figure out cosines and the Pythagorean theorem and are only interested in bodybuilding and fitness. 

This elitism and snobbery about those who served in the armed services is so out-of-character for the Doctor and really insulting in so many ways.  Why does the Doctor think soldiers are so dim-witted, given his long history with them?  Why does the Doctor dismiss so brazenly the idea that an ex-soldier could teach at all, let alone teach something as complex as math?

As for the idea that The Caretaker is somehow racist or Doctor Who itself has a race problem, that one is a little trickier.  There has been an unfortunate run of black actors who are asked to play characters not particularly bright or annoying or criminal. 

Mickey Smith. 
Mels in River's Secret Part II (Let's Kill Hitler).
The Maitland siblings in Nightmare in Silver
Courtney from Kill the Egg.
The Van Baalen brothers in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.    

Here, I don't think the casting of black actors in these roles reflects some latent racism on Doctor Who.  However, I would think that perhaps the casting director(s) would in future, try to cast people of color in more positive roles, more Martha Jones than Angie Maitland. 

The idea that the Doctor hates soldiers should be rejected as nonsense.  It exists only to force some drama where it is not needed.  The idea that Doctor Who has a race problem is not without some merit but on the whole, I think it's just casting bad actors (particularly bad child actors) than any real racism. 

Oh, yes, one more thing.  So The Doctor hates soldiers, does he?