Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Cyber Attack of The Doctor



STORY 275.2: THE DOCTOR FALLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Next Episode: The Doctors

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Master Plans of The Doctor


STORY 275.1: WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Next Episode: The Doctor Falls

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Scottish Sojourn of The Doctor



STORY 274: THE EATERS OF LIGHT

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

Yet I digress.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead, Kindly Light...



8/10

Next Story: World Enough and Time

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Martian Chronicles of The Doctor


STORY 273: EMPRESS OF MARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Go figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




1/10

Next Story: The Eaters of Light

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Fake News of The Doctor



STORY 272 PART 3:
THE LIE OF THE LAND

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

That would be Bill.

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Next Story: The Empress of Mars

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Hysterical Blindness of The Doctor



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

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

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

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

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

Talk about far-fetched, but I digress.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Next Episode: The Lie of the Land

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Secret Archives of The Doctor


STORY 272 PART 1: EXTREMIS

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Next Episode: The Pyramids at the End of the World

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Communist Manifesto of The Doctor



STORY 271: OXYGEN

I'm really split on Oxygen.  On the one hand, I found it well-crafted, effectively filmed, with a logical conclusion.

On the other, I found it bordering on if not actual propaganda, something that might have been approved by Stalin, Mao, or the Kim Monarchy in North Korea. 

This split is causing me to look at Oxygen with two sets of eyes, those of a critic and those of someone who hates seeing overt messaging in film/television (even if I agree with them).  I am highly bothered by the messaging in Oxygen, both the way it is done and the message itself.  I detest it when programs are used for propaganda whatever the intent.  Maybe in the ensuing moments, I can find myself looking at Oxygen again with yet another set of eyes.

And none of that is meant to be a pun or commentary on the ending of the episode. 

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his Companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) respond to a distress signal in space over Nardole's objections.  He is adamant that they remain on Earth to guard The Vault, but the Doctor's wanderlust and Bill's desire to see more of the universe overrule him.  Once on the station, they find that the oxygen is not there for their use.  It is a commodity, one that they have to pay for.  As they are using unauthorized oxygen, it must be expelled.

The Doctor manages to stop them getting sucked out into space but now are beyond the reach of the TARDIS.  The only way to safety is to find the four survivors, but that means putting on spacesuits that are not in the best of conditions, and that have low oxygen.  Making things worse are the zombies in spacesuits who are following the suits directives to eliminate the organisms within them.

At first, the Doctor thinks there was a wild malfunction in the spacesuits, but as time goes on, after interacting with the survivors and trying to keep them all alive, he realizes that there was no malfunction.  The rescue ships that are coming are not actual rescue ships.  They are the crew's replacements.

Far from being a glitch, the spacesuits worked exactly as they were programmed to do.  In a universe where oxygen is sold at 'competitive prices', the unnamed Corporation decided the most cost-effective thing to do is literally kill its employees and bring in new ones.  The Doctor decides to rig the machine to make it cost-ineffective to kill the few survivors, no easy task given that in order to save Bill, he lost his sight.  Even harder when you think Bill has been killed by the zombies.

In the end, they all return.  Bill is thrilled, Nardole is angry and berates the Doctor over his actions and orders him to "LOOK AT ME!"  Sad that he can't...for he is still blind.

 
There is a great deal to admire with Oxygen.  Jamie Mathieson wrote two of the best Capaldi-Era Doctor Who episodes (Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline), and here again he delivers a pretty quality-level script.  The resolution to the crisis is remarkably logical, built on thought and reason versus other Doctor Who tropes (love saves the universe).  Chris Palmer's direction was equally effective: the flight from the zombies from an oxygen-deprived Bill is tense and almost nerve-wracking (aided by the fact that there is no music to make it dramatic, both trusting the moment is dramatic enough).

Oxygen is helped immensely by Mackie's performance.  She is really coming into her own as Bill, both the enthusiasm and the fear her character has.  The moment when the Doctor asks her if she trusts him and he seemingly leaves her to die is almost terrifying, and seeing her 'die' is almost shocking.

Mackie also is allowed moments of humor, when she meets Dah-Ren (Peter Caulfield), a Blue Man group reject.  Her surprise at seeing a blue-skinned figure is undercut with his remark that they had to 'rescue a racist', surprising our biracial lesbian.  Her insistence that she not only isn't a racist but usually on the receiving end clearly puzzles Dahh-Ren, who wonders how that is possible.

However, a lot of Oxygen is undercut by Mathieson's anti-capitalist screed.  When the trio first arrive, they are hailed as being from "the Union", which one of the survivors insists is a myth.  In this part of the universe, the Union will save them from the murderous Capitalists, before they have a revolution and set up a collective.  The messaging behind Oxygen is blatant, in-your-face, and even if I held to the idea that capitalism is downright murderous (which, unchecked by morality, it can be), there is something in me that highly dislikes overt political messaging.

I find that the best type of science-fiction as allegory works when it can be read both ways: both as the surface story and as a commentary on the times.  The worst types are the ones that are overt and obvious, like Oxygen.

I think there would have been nothing wrong with the original supposition that the spacesuits malfunctioned.  You could even have it to where there was sabotage to benefit one of the survivors.  However, the fact it was this distant, remote Corporation does not make it a real threat, even if Mathieson holds capitalism to be the ultimate evil.  

I look on stories like the Third Doctor stories The Silurians and Inferno.  Both were political and had a firm left-wing viewpoint.  However, they could also be seen as mere adventure stories, one where the politics did not overshadow or overwhelm the basic story.  Oxygen is not on that level.  It could have been, but it chose to put its own political viewpoints ahead of the story.  That knocks it down, and even if I agreed with the point of view of Oxygen, I would still be bothered with it. 

Oxygen brings to mind two other episodes that covered similar grounds: the Fourth Doctor story The Sun Makers and the more recent Sleep No More.   The former was also about a group of oppressed workers and the evil Corporation that was taking advantage of them (though it was more through high taxation than through oxygen depravation).  In the latter, it was a group of zombie-like creatures on a spaceship.

Still, on the whole Oxygen was a remarkably strong episode, one that I would thought higher of if not for its overt propaganda.  I can imagine this coming out of Soviet Russia, and I figure the Chinese would hold Oxygen up as a reason to keep the Communist Party in charge.  Its blatant propaganda is something to give pause on.

In the end, I've decided to metaphorically split the baby.  The pluses of Oxygen (tight script, strong performances) balance out the minuses of Oxygen (a ham-fisted anti-capitalism message, a sense of deja vu with The Sun Makers).

5/10




Next Story: Extremis

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Wooden Figures of The Doctor


STORY 270: KNOCK KNOCK

Knock Knock, at its core, is about accepting death and change.  If it weren't for some odd bits of logic lapses, it would be among the best 12th Doctor stories.  As it is, it is still quite good, helped by a strong turn by David Suchet.

Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) finds that she wants to live a more independent life.  As such, she joins five other college-age people in search of suitable digs.  Nothing comes their way until a mysterious figure (Suchet) comes along, offering a large mansion, complete with tower, for a ridiculously low rent.

These kids, being kids, immediately sign and move in.  The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) comes along and immediately suspects something is amiss.  Bill insists there is nothing supernatural or otherworldly about finding a very large house to let with a very creepy Landlord for a very low price.  Not even the fact the house doesn't get Wi-Fi seem to be a bother.  As far as Bill's concerned, things couldn't be better.

Caveat Emptor, says I, for soon things begin to go bump in the night.  It looks like all the flatmates are disappearing into the house itself, and the house is devouring them one by one.  The Landlord essentially confirms this, as does the presence of alien bugs that live in the wood and eat them one by one.

The Doctor discovers that every twenty years starting from 1957, a group of six tenants comes along and disappear, and now it is 2017's turn to be sacrificed.  The Landlord insists this has to be done to keep his daughter alive.  The Doctor convinces the Landlord to let him look in on the patient.

The patient, Eliza (Mariah Gale), we find is actually not the Landlord's daughter.  It's actually his mother, whom he has kept alive since 1947, when as a child he brought the bugs, unaware of their power.  He soon found that they preserved his mother in wood, and thus he has been luring people to their doom.  The Doctor triggers Eliza's memories, and she and The Landlord soon are consumed by the bugs, for it is both wrong and their time to go.

This releases all of the 2017 flatmates and they escape.  We end with Nardole (Matt Lucas) leaving his shift at The Vault with the Doctor coming into it, offering 'whatever is inside' dinner while listening to the prisoner play a piano.


Alas, my enjoyment of Knock Knock gets knocked down if you take the time to think on the odd turns of logic within it. 

These disappearances, taking place every twenty years, were never investigated?  In 1957, or 1977, or 1997, no one ever checked on the six people devoured by the Landlord's mansion?

I figure they had families and friends, but apparently no one ever bothered with them, seeing that the police never connected the fact that all six were last seen having one thing in common: the Landlord's house.

Is it a little convenient that Eliza would forget that she was the Mother and not the Daughter?  Did she ever question why she was made of wood, or did she not notice? 

She had been dying since 1947, so what exactly did she do for 70 years?  Seems a rather dull life just being locked away all that time (not even a television set to entertain old Mother Wood).

What exactly did the Landlord expect to do when he died (which as far as I know, the bugs weren't about to preserve him, at least not in human form)?  As a side note, he pretty much seems to have wasted his life preserving dear old Mummy, though to be fair, Knock Knock brought to mind a friend of mine.

He'll be 56 this June and he still grieves his mother who died last year.  He lived with her his whole life, has never married or had children, and recently said that it might take him the rest of his life to overcome her death.  My view is that this is unhealthy for him, and that such postmortem devotion veers close to obsession.  My friend, like The Landlord, might have taken this bizarre step from ever seeing his mother die, but it seems almost cruel to keep her in this form. 

Yet I digress.

Between 1947 and 1957, when the first sacrifices were made, who raised him?  If he had a father or even another relative (aunts/uncles, siblings, cousins), that might have kept the grief down.  It's not as if he could be literally left an orphan without anyone noticing.

An excuse used to not notice the absence of one of the flatmates, Pavel (Bart Suavek) is that whenever he moves somewhere new, he locks himself in his room for days on end.  Aside from this being really weird (doesn't go for food or the restroom), the flatmates don't seem bothered or notice that his record player is stuck in a groove for hours.  That excuse is a pretty weak one to explain away his disappearance.

Yes, Knock Knock does leave a lot of questions that on examination, either need a great deal of explanation or don't hold up.  There is another aspect of Knock Knock that disturbed me greatly, more than any plot holes of leaps of logic.


I get that Knock Knock is meant to be creepy, even downright scary.  However, I wonder if it is too scary for children, too graphic in what we're presented.  Seeing Pavel caught up in the wooden wall is downright grotesque, an image that I found highly disturbing.  I imagine children might have been downright terrified at the image.  The sight of the bugs devouring the others was also perhaps a bit much. 

Those two images, I think, might have been pulled back or altered, as I found them more graphic than necessary, especially for children. 

Again, if one gets past the various points of logic or the somewhat gruesome aspects of Knock Knock, the episode can be seen as a positive.  At the very top of the list of positives is David Suchet's performance.  Suchet is one of the best actors of his generation, and to many (including myself), he's the definitive Hercule Poirot (sorry, Albert, Peter, and soon enough, Kenneth).   He makes the Landlord creepy but also sad whenever the plot requires him to be.

Mackie and Capaldi have proven to be a great fit as Companion and Doctor respectively.  More than smart-alecky Clara, who was at times insufferable, Mackie's Bill is fun, smart without being a know-it-all, and comfortable in her own skin.  Her gentle way of telling one of the guys who fancied her that she couldn't fancy him was handled well without making a big spectacle of her "I'm GAY!" reality.  Their interplay when she attempts to pass The Doctor off as her 'Grandfather' (to the irritation of the Doctor, who wouldn't have objected to "Father") is funny without being ridiculous.

Apart from certain points of logic, a more graphic set of visuals, and the tired 'everyone lives' trope, Knock Knock displays far more positives than negatives.  A great performance by David Suchet, great work by Mackie and Capaldi, a strong sense of the creepy old house: all worked together well.  It might have been better if Knock Knock had been a two part story to allow for a less rushed feel, but on the whole it is a step above what we've seen before.

I thought long and hard about my ultimate feeling for Knock Knock.  I was disturbed by the graphic nature of some of it, and question a lot of the logic behind it.  However, with some work this season of Doctor Who has proven so far to be a much better, much stronger one.

Knock on wood.


7/10

Next Story: Oxygen

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Aragon vs. Anderson: Robot of Sherwood


Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved. I don't mean liked. I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time. It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode. I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things. I mean give a bona-fide negative review. Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express). Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night.

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required. I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut. What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying. I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 33 of The Nerdist as Whore: Robot of Sherwood. My 'translations' are in red.




Comic adventures are not the most common kinds of stories in Doctor Who, and the ones that have existed in the new series have tended to go for zany rather than funny. It’s a difficult tone to strike, and really the show hasn’t done it super well since the 1960s.

"Deep Breath" had a lot to do, and that fact that it did that, plus added wackiness, cracking dialogue, and tense if not downright terrifying moments just solidified once again why this is my favorite show.

Is it me, or is there something just a bit, well, odd, about saying how Doctor Who hasn't done 'comedy' "super well since the 1960s" and also say that Deep Yawn, a mere two episodes ago, managed to do 'wackiness' so well?  Perhaps 'wacky' is his 'zany', and thus, not in the 'comedy' genre, so I think we can cut him some slack.

Still, most modern Who is funny despite the terror, but this week’s episode, “Robot of Sherwood”, is just funny all on it’s own.

Grammar Police Alert: "It's" is a contraction of 'it is', not the possessive form of 'it', which is written 'its' (without an apostrophe).  Unless of course he meant to say that "'Robot of Sherwood', is just funny all on it is own".

I don’t remember the last time I smiled that much throughout an episode.

My guess would be when you saw Into the Dalek, since you liked that one too (just like you like almost all of Moffat-Era Who: 28 out of 33 positive reviews so far for our 'analytical critic' who is 'quite critical' when necessary).

It was just so delightful with its dialogue and not-quite-over-the-top silliness,

Geez, if Anderson thought Robot of Sherwood was 'not-quite-over-the-top silliness', one can only wonder when he thinks something IS well over-the-top!

but it also tells a good message about not giving up on legends because any hero can be real so long as they inspire heroism in others.


There is a marked difference between believing in mythological heroes enough where they inspire heroism...and believe that they are actual, historical figures that existed in real life.  My heroes as a child were Underdog and Indiana Jones, but even as a child I knew they didn't actually exist.  Robot of Sherwood is making the claim that "Robin Hood" was a real as Richard I or Winston Churchill.  If the Millennials cannot make that distinction, then it is proof positive that Common Core is a disaster.

My gosh, what an ep!

 
 
My gosh, what rubbish!

Written by perennial writer Mark Gatiss and directed by newcomer to the series Paul Murphy, “Robot of Sherwood” does what few episodes have done before, which is to blend comedy and adventure in a way that isn’t dumb,



and to let the series for once be about a “fictional” character from the past.



The quotation marks around "fictional" are enough to inspire derision for anyone who claims to be 'analytical' on this topic.

Being the huge classic series fan that he is, surely Gatiss was channeling a bit from the First Doctor story “The Myth Makers”, in which the Doctor and companions go back to Ancient Greece in the middle of the Trojan War and inadvertently cause the events surrounding the Trojan Horse, which the Doctor claims would never work because it’s just an Epic Poem. Of course, this episode forsakes “The Myth Makers”‘ horribly tragic ending

...because we all know The Trojan War was a knee-slapping bit of comedic hijinks...

and just stays with the swashbuckling adventure theme.
Clara wants to go meet Robin Hood, one of her favorite historical figures, but the Doctor tells her he’s just a myth and she’d be disappointed, then trying to get her to want to see the Ice Warrior encampments on Mars (bo-ring).

Now, let me see if I have this straight.  Clara is a teacher, which suggests she has a basic knowledge of various subjects and is educated.  This "teacher" also believes Robin Hood is a real, historic figure, someone who actually existed in real life.  Is it me, or do these two ideas fail to be logical?  Oh, I forget...Doctor Who is never and has never been about 'logic', not even internal.  It's about how it makes you 'feel'. 

Clara insists and the Doctor sets the TARDIS controls to Sherwood Forest, 1190AD-ish. He exits expecting to be 100% correct and is immediately met by Robin Hood (Tom Riley). That can’t happen, right?

Isn't it extraordinary that The Doctor managed to set the coordinates to where they would so easily stumble across a fictitious character just wandering about.  What Ever Are the Odds?  Is "1190 AD-ish" now the standard for accurate time-travel?

He’s just as brash and prone to fits of derisive laughter as his myth and Hollywood movies would lead you to believe.


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood with Russell Crowe didn't have a laughing, preening lead, Kyle.  Come to think of it, Errol Flynn's version in The Adventures of Robin Hood didn't have HIM laughing all the time either.  There were times in that film where Robin was quite serious and somber (let alone romantic with Maid Marion).  Maybe the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. version can have this 'brash and prone to fits of derisive laughter' style, but this interpretation, EVEN if I grant you was a 'real' person, is more based on a stereotype of Robin Hood than myth or even Hollywood movies.

The Doctor asks if laughing ever got him punched in the face (hilarious) and the Prince of Thieves says he’s going to still the bony man’s blue box,

He's going to 'still' the bony man's blue box?  Why?  Is it moving?  Why would The Prince of Thieves want to 'still' anything?  Now THAT makes ME laugh!

despite Clara and her period-appropriate attire and her undeniable glee that they’d found Robin Hood so quickly.

A detail we need not bother questioning.

Robin draws his sword and the Twelfth Doctor

...in 14th Form...

shows what he’s made of by drawing his own weapon… a spoon.

The Twelfth Doctor in 14th Form is going to fight off a fictional character...with a spoon.  Remind me again, Kyle, this Doctor is supposed to be a 'darker' Doctor, right?
After the duel ends, Robin takes both of our heroes to meet the rest of the Merry Men (what an apt name for them) and the Doctor still thinks something is wrong and that these people aren’t real. They can’t be!

BECAUSE THEY'RE BLOODLY WELL NOT REAL!

He thinks they might all be in a Miniscope (reference to Third Doctor story “Carnival of Monsters”).

A story most NuWhovians have never seen, probably never heard of, and have no interest in.

Clara asks when he stopped believing in legends, and he asks when she started believing in mythical heroes.


I usually put that around 8 to 12.  Next thing you'll know, Doctor Who will say Santa Claus is real...

“Don’t you know?” is her very heavy reply.



She then talks to Robin and he tells her everything she already knows about his own mythos and that it was Maid Marian who convinced him to stand up to Prince John’s tyranny.


If memory serves right, in the movie The Adventures of Robin Hood (which Robot of Sherwood is shamelessly drawing from), Maid Marion was firmly on the Norman side and against Robin of Locksley, until she saw both how cruel some Normans were against the Saxons and that the divisions between Saxon and Norman was wrong.  They were all English now.  However, we'll go with Clara's version.

She also knows she’s sad because, the Doctor’s right, he laughs too much.


This sentence is a little confusing.  "She also knows she's sad," makes it unclear whether 'she' refers to Clara or Maid Marion.  For the longest time, I read it as "She also knows he's sad," since Anderson refers to Robin Hood as the "he" in "he laughs too much".  I figure it's a typo, which is not a terrible thing.  We all make mistakes when expressing ourselves.  I know I have (and will in the future).  However, this is the second or third curious error so far in this brimming press release that passes itself off as an objective review. 
If this is Robin Hood, there must also be a Sheriff of Nottingham, in this case played by guest star Ben Miller. He’s pretty darn evil all right. He has set up the famous archery match as a trap to catch Robin Hood. Naturally, Robin does amazingly well and is about to be awarded the golden arrow when another arrow splits his own. It was fired by the Doctor who doesn’t want the arrow, he wants something else. What follows is an increasingly ridiculous show of skill between the Doctor and Robin until finally, Robin reveals he is indeed who he says and the Sheriff’s knights attack. One gets its arm cut off and then the Doctor knows he’s right. He allows himself, Clara, and Robin to be captured because capturing is the best way to find out what someone’s evil plan is.
What follows is one of the funniest and best scenes in the episode, which is already pretty amazing with Capaldi-awesomeness.



It’s all about the Doctor and Robin Hood trying to out-hero each other with regard to coming up with the better escape plan. Neither of them have anything, and Clara knows it. The sheer amount of bickering is enough to driver mad;

"The sheer amount of bickering is enough to driver mad".  Is this the fourth error in an increasingly badly-written review?  Was it written with some type of Auto-Correct system that made erroneous choices?  I figure he meant to write "driver her mad", but the growing number of odd sentences is making this more and more hilarious than Robot of Sherwood itself. 

luckily, she is taken to see the Sheriff pretty quickly, and the Doctor and Robin are left to come up with something.
Clara is a genius!



Ah, yes.  I'm old enough to remember when The Doctor was the genius, the Companion less so, but Times Have Changed.

She manages to trick the Sheriff into telling her what happened with lights in the sky and the robots and everything. He wants to use them to overthrow Prince John and become king not only of England, but of the whole world, after Lincoln of course.

Villain wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  Now that's new.

The Doctor and Robin do manage to escape and, after removing their shackles (the Doctor makes a joke and regrets it when Robin laughs), they find the control room. Seems the castle itself is a spaceship and its engines need repairing, in the form of gold.

One thing is certain: no Cybermen were involved in the making of Robot of Sherwood.

They were looking for the Promised Land too. Weird, eh?


A fellow reviewer made an interesting point about this season-long thread: since when do robots have a concept of "The Promised Land" or "Heaven"?  Details, details...

The robots databanks have a history of Robin Hood (including a picture of Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood from which this episode gets its name) and he thinks this is definitive proof that Robin isn’t real, but when the Sheriff bursts in and the robots begin firing on Robin, the knave takes Clara and jumps out the window into the moat below. The Doctor is then captured.

So let's see if I have this straight (again).  Doctor Who is going to make a story out of the fact that the 14th Form of The Doctor looks like a Roman from a previous Doctor Who episode, but the fact that the Second Doctor looks like Robin Hood (who ostensibly is a fictional figure) is going to be totally ignored?

The Doctor determines the robots plan to blast off soon, but they still don’t have enough gold and the ship will likely explode, destroying half of the country, if they do.



After a bit more hullabaloo, Robin is in a duel with the Sheriff and it’s learned that the Sheriff has been turned into a robot as well, so the only thing left for him to do is the Doctor’s sword fighting trick and knock the blaggard into the molten gold. But the robots still want to take off, so the Doctor, Clara, and Robin work together to fire the golden arrow into the ship to allow it to enter orbit, but then it explodes anyway. The Doctor and Clara leave Robin, and Mr. Hood

Shouldn't it be "Sir Robin of Locksley?"

tells the Doctor they’re both legends and that he doesn’t mind not being remembered as a real man so long as people take up the good fight in his name. Maybe people will do the same for the Doctor.

As I said before, this episode is just a delight. I loved everything about it.
SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!

Even some of the sillier moments like the archery tournament worked for me because the overall tone of the episode made it work. The constant rivalry between the Doctor and Robin, not to mention the Doctor’s constant irritation at the very idea of the Merry Men, made for a lot of laughs.



He’s grumpy and older-looking but decidedly childlike and petulant about things.

Just like Donald Trump, or "Donald Tramp" as my mother keeps calling him in her delightful malapropism.

Both Tom Riley and Ben Miller were brilliant and gave very funny but not mawkish performances as their respective characters. Robin Hood’s incessant laughter was constantly hilarious to me.

Robin Hood's incessant laugh was constantly irritating to me. Anderson is a fool unto himself. 

This has to rank as one of my favorite Mark Gatiss-penned adventures, up there with “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Crimson Horror.” I can’t wait to see what he does for Series 9.



Next week, it’s a very intriguing-looking episode: “Listen” written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat and directed by the exceptional Douglas Mackinnon and will see the return of Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. The Doctor doing a bottle episode? Can’t wait!
These Doctor Who episodes are enough to have anyone start hitting the bottle. Second time he cannot wait for a Doctor Who episode.  If I see this one more time...