Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Woman Who Went on Amazon: Kerblam! Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Next Episode: The Witchfinders

Saturday, April 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

They inform Her that Prem is fated to die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, a wasted opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indian-inspired score was nice.

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

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


Next Episode: KERBLAM!

Monday, April 22, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Next Episode: Demons of the Punjab