Resolution

Jan. 24th, 2019 08:36 pm
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I'm in two minds about Resolution. I thought it was an excellent Dalek story - strongly evoking Dalek from series 1, but to be honest I didn't think it was such a great Doctor Who story.

I'm in the camp of fans who think that Dalek stories generally work better the fewer Daleks you have. When you have an army of Daleks (given the Doctor has to defeat them), they often end up looking both weak and a bit stupid. Individually, you can emphasise their power, ruthlessness and cunning without making them impossible to contain. Lin's possession was excellently done, scary and a logical progression of what we've seen previously from the Daleks. The scene where the Dalek builds its own casing was great, and a nice echo of the Doctor building her own sonic screwdriver. The confrontation with the army was a great (if somewhat unnecessary) set piece. All in all it was a story that show-cased the Dalek nicely and even managed to do something a little different with it.

The rest of the story though I wasn't so keen on. There was a moment when the Doctor first started tracking the Dalek in the Tardis, that I was worried that we were in for 40 minutes of the Doctor watching events unfold on a Tardis monitor while the Dalek ran amok. Fortunately that isn't quite what happened, but after the strong opening the structure of the story is essentially an extended chase in which the Doctor mostly fails to find the Dalek in time and when she does find it, fails to effectively contain it.

The interplay between Graham and Ryan has been one of the strengths of the season but, to be honest, I felt it had reached its natural conclusion at the end of The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos and what we got here felt rather tacked on, seeming to stop the story instead of fitting naturally into the story. Other weaknesses were inherited from series 11: Yaz was underused (again) despite the fact that the Dalek steals a police car and murders two police officers which, you would have thought, would have provided an excellent route to showcase her and her background a bit more. Cute as Mitch and Lin were, and nice as it was that they weren't simply killed off once the script had no more use for them, the Tardis became even more crowded than usual. It was nice that Ryan's Dad and Chekov's microwave oven got to feature in the defeat of the Dalek but I was a little disappointed that it was Ryan's Dad's idea - once again we missed the chance for the Doctor to do something brilliant (apart from slide across the floor obviously - it depresses me that the most brilliant thing she did in Resolution was slide across the floor).

I was interested by the moment the Doctor asks for affirmation from the others that she has offered the Dalek a chance. It was a odd moment of anxiety. Previous Doctors, of course, have often offered their enemies false choices, effectively goading them into self-destruction. I wasn't quite sure if this was an implied criticism of that previous behaviour, or the first real sign we've had that this Doctor has a weakness - some anxiety about whether she is fair enough or kind enough or something.*

I thought Resolution was one of the better Chibnall scripts for this series. It was fast paced, exciting, with some nice bits in it. But I still fundamentally feel that the Doctor isn't getting enough to do in these stories, and it was the same here.

* While it would be nice for her to have a bit more character depth, I'll be disappointed we get some kind of storyline about a flaw so female coded as lack of self-confidence.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos is an odd episode. It manages to be both very like most of series 11 and something of an odd-one-out. Similarly it is both like a traditional NuWho finale and like a traditional classic Who season ender. The whole is not quite the sum of its parts.

As with much of series 11, most of the emotional heft of the episode is being carried by Ryan and Graham, particularly Graham's desire to kill Tim Shaw. As viewers, we pretty much know he's not going to do it - or at least I never for a moment considered there to be any possibility he would go through with it. It's a nice end to that emotional journey but doesn't really have quite the space it needs and it ends in a kind of bathetic humour, that ultimately doesn't work as well as some of the Graham and Ryan stuff elsewhere in the season. Meanwhile, since Graham and Ryan are dealing with Tim Shaw the Doctor is left somewhat on the sidelines not dealing directly with the major antagonist. We add to the flesh-eating water in The Ghost Monument, and the Doctor's limp from The Tsuranga Conundrum a reality bending psychic field around the planet which seems like it should have an obvious plot payoff and doesn't. In this case it seems mostly to be there so that Paltraki can only explain what is going on in fits and starts rather than providing an info-dump all at once. It also seems possible the psychic field is supposed to explain the behaviour of the Ux, but in lots of ways that explanation raises more questions than it answers, though the Ux are, in general under-explained and rather poorly motivated.

On the other hand, unlike much of series 11, there was a genuine bad guy. The Doctor got to stand up to him. We began to have a more nuanced explanation to her "no guns" attitudes of earlier in the series and there was a bit more story to get our teeth into (no pun intended) than we have had with many of the other Chibnall episodes. Sadly Tim Shaw is not that compelling a villain and his final incarceration is unsatisfactory. Maybe, because we never believe Graham will kill Tim Shaw, we are never really asked to confront the question of whether killing Tim Shaw (who has wiped out several planets since the Doctor last failed to kill him) might actually be a reasonable course of action. The Thirteenth Doctor's tendency to ignore the bigger problems and the bigger villains, to dodge complex moral questions by simply walking away, continues and it remains unclear if this is meant to be a virtue or a flaw or is just some weird coincidence arising from the way these stories have been constructed. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos not only has no conclusions about this it barely seems to recognise it as a point of discussion despite it being implicit in the return of Tim Shaw.

In classic Who the last story in a season was nearly always just another story. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos has much of this feel to it. Although we have the return of Tim Shaw, it's not something that has been building all season and, though the stakes are high, they are not presented in a particularly epic fashion.

It's a perfectly fine story, probably in the bottom half of those this series, but not terrible. I'm not fond of the overblown NuWho finale and I like this better than some of those, but it is a shame the series couldn't end on a stronger note.

Although, obviously, possibly it did, depending upon one's views about Resolution.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
It Takes you Away starts well, looking as good as series 11 often does, and with a set-up that's both novel and atmospheric. Then it all sort of falls apart a bit.

I don't object to the sudden turn to the left, while it would have been fun to have a monster story set in the Norwegian forest, the idea that actually its not that at all, and the reveal that the monster is entirely made up by Erik is both clever and, in an entirely different way, equally horrific.

I didn't particularly mind the frog on the chair, that's a gloriously bonkers Doctor Who kind of concept. I did think the frog on the chair was rather poorly done though. It looked like a fake frog on a chair which may, just, have been deliberate but I suspect was lack of budget. However this was one of those moments when I think the dialogue let the show down. I could not tell whether the Doctor was genuine about wanting to stay with the frog (the performance suggested she was, but she didn't really seem to have been there long enough for that to be earned) or whether the Doctor was bluffing the whole time and looking for a way out (which doesn't really seem in character for the thirteenth Doctor). In the end I just couldn't quite believe in that scene and undermined the whole frog on a chair concept.

I did think the antizone was kind of pointless. The flesh-eating moths seemed, in the end, to be a lot less dangerous than their publicity suggested. Certainly Ryan and Hanne didn't seem to have much trouble with them, and all the stuff about the Doctor needing a thread to find her way conveniently went away at the end. It was obviously there to inject some actual peril into the episode but it felt like the modern series equivalent of running down corridors.

All the stuff with Graham was great (arguably one of the problems with series 11 is that all the stuff with Graham is great) from his sandwich (the sandwich was the best bit, to be honest), to his interactions with "Grace", to Ryan finally calling him grandad (we all knew it was coming, but it was nice that the show got there). However almost everything else I could have quite happily lived without.

I know a lot of people liked the story, but frankly I thought it the weakest of series 11.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
In many ways, The Witchfinders was the most traditional of the Doctor Who stories in series 11. It had a beginning, a middle and, most importantly, an end. It had proper monsters and a proper villain who was proper defeated, albeit one who was not as interesting as the historical celebrity. I'm not surprised that lots of people really liked it. I thought it was a good strong story, but I preferred the other two historicals of the season. I suspect it was trying to tell a tale exploring misogyny, just as Rosa explored racism and The Demons of the Punjab explored religious intolerance. Its distance from the events allowed it a lot more freedom both to make stuff up, and to insert the Doctor and aliens more directly into the narrative, both of which gave it the feel of a much more traditional structure but, at the same time, rather watered down its messages.

Lots of people seem to have liked the moment where the Doctor complains that she would have been able to get on with things more quickly if she were male. I really disliked this bit. Part of the point of the Doctor is that 90% of the time he/she walks in and assumes authority just because, the other 10% of the time the story tends to revolve around the fact that no one in power will believe him/her. I wanted the first female Doctor to have this same ability just to walk into a room and 90% of the time just get away with bossing everyone around and the other 10% of the time I didn't want her ineffectiveness to be about her gender. I mean, yes, obviously 16th century England and all that, but Doctor Who has always been happy to hand-wave issues of the Tardis crew not obviously fitting in when not convenient to the plot and, again, I feel the thirteenth Doctor should be able to get away with this too. I suppose I don't want being a woman to be much of a thing from the point of view of the Doctor herself.

That aside, this was definitely one of the better stories of the season, again we get some stuff show-casing Yaz's skills and hinting at her police officer background of the kind we really needed more of earlier in the season to give her a more solid grounding as a character. The plot was solid. Alan Cummings was hugely watchable. Graham got to wear a hat.

Kerblam!

Jan. 12th, 2019 02:06 pm
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
This was another strong episode. The construction of the hunt for the villain, with its undermining of expectations was well done. The very on point parallels with Amazon also worked well. I'm not going to call it satire because I don't believe it was structured that way, but it isn't the first Doctor Who story to model its alien/future world on something existing in our world sufficiently closely that it can be treated as a critique and I doubt it will be the last. There was an actual villain, though not one who showed any real interest in chewing the scenery.

I had a lot of opinions about the whole depiction of Artificial Intelligence, specifically the system's decision to kill Kira in order to make a point to Charlie, but they would form a long essay on machine ethics and the likely legislation surrounding AIs. Suffice it to say on Thursday after the episode I pitched an article on the subject to The Conversation and actually got a response to the effect that they'd have published it if I'd thought of the idea on Monday. I won't bore everyone with it here. I think the AI behaviour works fine within the context of Doctor Who, but its highly unlikely it would work like that in the real world.

Lots has been written about the implicit politics of the episode. This is definitely a story I'd hold up as supporting my thesis that Chibnall (so by extension the Doctor Who he oversees) is interested in systems of oppression but recognises that the Doctor isn't really a suitable hero to tackle them. I think we see here something working towards the idea that you can change the system by engaging with it and influencing those with the power to enact change, and also the acknowledgment that change is show (despite the undertaking to employ more people* and to give the current workers a holiday, they only pay these people for half the time they are giving them off). All that said, on the assumption that that is the kind of discussion the episode is trying to have, I think the execution was a little clunky. Certainly many seem to have interpreted the story as ultimately in favour of Amazon Kerblam! and against people who agitate for better treatment of its workers. That's not my reading of it, but its a perfectly valid reading given what is on screen.

This is also the first time since The Woman who Fell to Earth that we see Yaz act in ways that are clearly influenced by her police background. I wish this kind of thing had been in the scripts from earlier in the series. It feels like too little, too late at this point. The juggernaut that is the relationship between Ryan and Graham has irretrievably sucked the oxygen out of the other characters and their interactions and episode 7 out of 10 is too late for them to gain any momentum.

I don't think Kerblam! is as good as either of the historical episodes that preceded it. It's probably better than any of the Chibnall scripted SF episodes though. It has a clearer idea of what its trying to do and a more equitable use of its characters and I think the series as a whole would have benefitted if it had been appeared earlier.

* The AI expert in me worries about how this would work economically, but I'm already overlooking the ethics and legal issues with AI in the story so lets overlook the economic issues as well.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I saw this twice. Tame Layman missed it first time around but expressed an interest in viewing it when I said it had been good. We both thought it was the highlight of the season.

Personally I think Demons of the Punjab and Rosa were the stand out episodes of series 11. They both took Doctor Who to places it had never really been - shining lights on recent bits of history that are relevant and important to large numbers of British people but also often over-looked in school history. They looked stunning. The world's they presented had a genuine depth of detail missing from more futuristic episodes*. They managed to deal with big issues of human inhumanity without become overly didactic or overly simple. They had resolutions but steered clear of offering trite solutions. Where, for me, Demons of the Punjab wins out is that Rosa has deeply constrained by everything we know about Rosa Parks. The story the Doctor and her companions participated in had to be constructed around the edges of Rosa's own story. Demons of the Punjab in focusing on a family known only to us through the tales Yaz recalled being told by her grandmother had the freedom for the Doctor and friends to be more integral to events and the ending to be less pre-ordained - though it was pretty obvious from early on that things were not going to end well for Prem.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it would have been better without the aliens. In the end they are kind of superfluous to the story and seem to be there in part simply because the production team lacked the courage to go full on pure historical. On the other hand, the confusion they introduce into the story and the way they force involvement from the Doctor and interactions between the Tardis team and the family, helps drive the plot. Without them there is rather less to happen. Other incident would have to have been created. They also provided a natural way to bring in the themes of witness and remembrance which were obviously important given the story's air-date of Remembrance Sunday.

The Teenager agreed that it was good telly but was adamant that it was not Doctor Who. We muttered about William Hartnell to her but she took the line that what might have been Doctor Who forty years before she was born was entirely irrelevant to what counted as Doctor Who in 2018. I'm not sure she's right in its entirety, but I can see there is an argument that this is sufficiently different from the current status quo to feel like a different show altogether.

Where, in general, I've been rather `meh' about series 11. I am absolutely behind the re-introduction of the educational historical story. I wouldn't want an entire season of them, but I think they have proved they have a place in the Doctor Who mix and its a shame it has been so long without one.

* Yes, obviously, detail is difficult to do from scratch.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
The Tsuranga Conundrum turned out to be quite a divisive episode. It was presumably aiming to be light-hearted and a little cooky (in the way Doctor Who is normally light-hearted - so a light-heartedness that still involves people dying) and approached from that angle it at least succeeds in being rather less divisive than Love and Monsters.

Unlike Arachnids in the UK which I find I like less when looking back at it, I find I like The Tsuranga Conundrum more. It has more going on than The Ghost Monument, comes to a proper conclusion at a sensible pace, and the solution is even a little bit clever (albeit somewhat telegraphed in advance). The Pting is, in many ways, a genuinely original monster concept (managing to be both cute and very dangerous and never sacrificing the one in favour of the other). By this point in series 11, the lack of a good villain to conclusively defeat was beginning to grate with a large number of fans and the Pting is almost aggressively the opposite of that so one can see how it became a lightening rod for a certain strand of criticism, but taken out of that context unless you feel that Doctor Who monsters should always be serious in some sense, then there is nothing wrong with the Pting at all. I'd definitely take it over the Slitheen any day. While they felt like escapees from Children's TV, the Pting feels to me like a much more natural denizen of the Whoniverse. The story also features some decent, understated bits of world-building. I particularly like the "prayer" at the end and the way it emphasised that this future society has its own rituals which are sufficiently universal within the particular culture that the Doctor knows them as well, just as she can quote Shakespeare and could probably recite the Lord's Prayer if the situation so required.

That's not to say the story is without flaws. I didn't particularly care about either Eve Cicero or her brother. Her death was the most obvious resolution to that story strand and I wasn't moved by it. The pregnancy storyline was OK, fit in with the light-hearted and a little cooky vibe and allowed for some nice character stuff with Ryan and Graham, but was basically irrelevant to the rest of the plot. Like the flesh-eating water that turned out not to be Chekovian in The Ghost Monument, here the Doctor is injured and limping about all over the place and this turns out to have no bearing on anything whatsoever. The info-dump about the anti-matter engine, as with most of the attempts to do "science education" in the series, seems too info-dumpy and feels out of place.

All that said, this is much more its own thing than the other "sci-fi"-ish plots in series 11. All the elements may not have quite come together and its attempts at whimsey may be a little clumsy, but on the whole it was interesting and a little different and I find myself with considerable retroactive goodwill towards it. Someday I may even rewatch and see if the memory cheats.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
At the time of watching, I felt that Arachnids in the UK, while not in the same league as Rosa, was preserving a general upward trend in the quality of the stories in series 11. I now feel like I'd like to revist both it and The Woman who Fell to Earth since I'm not sure it would stand up terribly well back to back with the latter.

While Arachnids has better narrative drive, certainly than The Ghost Monument, like The Ghost Monument it just seems to stop at the end of its allotted 50 minutes. The situation is apparently contained and we can infer that something is done about the baby spiders in the panic room, but a little bit more would have been welcome. Allowing Chris Noth's Robertson to leave apparently scot free is another odd choice. While it could be argued this is a case of the Doctor choosing not to interfere with a more systemic problem, the man has clearly broken a number of laws (including waving a gun at a police officer - even if she hadn't identified herself as such) and, as many people have pointed out, would it really have hurt to have had a newspaper headline, or throwaway comment, that he was now being investigated by the authorities?

Where the series set up as a whole is reminiscent of the early Davison years, and its historical reminiscent of early Hartnell, Arachnids invokes late Pertwee with its giant spiders and environmentalist underpinnings. That said, it didn't feel much like a Pertwee story to me. Robertson wasn't a consistent enough antagonist and the spiders not really enough of a threat. As in The Ghost Monument the presentation here of the Doctor's anti-gun stance seems more hypocritical than usual - allowing creatures to die of suffocation or, we infer, starvation in preference to killing them directly.

Yaz and her family were fun, though even with their foregrounding here, she continues to feel oddly underdeveloped.

I enjoyed it at the time but in retrospect Arachnids in the UK feels like an oddly unsatisfactory tale.

Rosa

Dec. 30th, 2018 04:58 pm
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
When I first heard Doctor Who was going to do an episode about Rosa Parks I thought it was a brave choice in pretty much all senses of the word. You would think that either the plot "racism is caused by aliens" or "The Doctor inspired Rosa Parks" would have been obvious no-nos in 2018 but frankly you never know and this was possibly half-written by the man who gave us Cyberwoman*. So the early reveal that the SF-part of the episode would be about preventing someone from changing history came as something of a relief. Of course, Malorie Blackman, may well deserve much of the credit for the deft way Rosa handled its subject matter, and I'd certainly argue this was the best script of series 11 with Chibnall's name on it but, still, he's clearly come a long way since Torchwood series 1.

"This is more like it," B. remarked about 10 minutes in to the episode. Having been somewhat disappointed with the start of the series, there was already plenty here to get your teeth into and certainly more of a feeling of substance.

As the episode progressed I did begin to wonder a bit if we were getting The Ladybird History of Rosa Parks, this was partly the colour palette chosen for the episode that did remind me rather of the illustrations in Ladybird books, but also the way the episode was carefully presenting lots of Facts about Rosa, as people looked up bus time-tables, and recalled lessons from primary school. Of the many mistakes this episode could have made, erring on the side of being a bit over-didactic, was probably the one to go for. Moreover placed in the context of the rest of the first half of the season, there is a clear desire to go back to Doctor Who's educational routes which frankly works better in the historical stories than in the random science info-dumps some of the other episodes chose to give us. It's probably also fair to say that the most the average British person knows about Rosa Parks is that a lady who refused to give up her place on the bus had something to do with the American Civil Movement so a certain didacticism is probably fair enough. None of the online comment I've seen has felt the story was over-simplified, at least not in the way I feared, so my concerns there were probably needless.

Of course, the pitfall the episode didn't entirely avoid is espousing a kind of Great Man theory of history - the suggestion that only Rosa Parks and only on the 1st December 1955 could have started the Montgomery bus boycott. It clearly tries to mitigate this with its presentation of the meeting with Martin Luther King and the implied suggestion of the organisation behind the events, but I don't think that really succeeds.

Another problem the episode has, though one it shares with many in the series, is the lack of a good villain. I suspect this was a deliberate desire not to have a villain that over-shadowed the character of Rosa herself (who did not have the option, really, of chewing scenery in the time-honoured Doctor Who fashion) and it may also have been a meta-commentary on the nature of modern overt racism. While, in some ways, I think the episode might have worked better as a pure historical, it is difficult to see how the Doctor could have believably become involved without the villain's presence and actions and it would certainly have been impossible to have the very powerful scene of the Doctor and her companions on the bus as Rosa is arrested without the earlier set-up. It was also a moment where an episode which had, up until that point, been anxious to carefully spell everything out for the viewer, had the courage to let the actors and direction convey both the narrative and its underlying issues and themes.

Rosa was the first really excellent episode of series 11, in my opinion. I think it has flaws, many of which are inherent in trying to grapple with a subject as emotionally charged as the American Civil Rights movement in the context of a Doctor Who "celebrity" historical, but given the hot mess it could have been what we got was nothing short of a triumph.


* Yes, I know he claims the costume was not his doing and he only found about it too late to rectify but the costume isn't the only problem with the episode, and he was also well, status a bit unclear, but he was far from random jobbing writer on Torchwood so I'm dubious about this claim that the costume was completely outside his control.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I think I enjoyed The Ghost Monument least of the last season. This may be in part because it occurred so early before I was used to the new style (I'd have to rewatch to see if I would re-evaluate). I didn't actively dislike it, but I did feel it was sort of just there. The plot was not only extremely straightforward, but it kind of stopped. I've heard criticisms elsewhere that one of the problems with this season is that the dialogue fails to deliver and I think that may be the problem here. The resolution to the story is perfectly good, and you can see how it should follow from what comes before, but the dialogue (and by extension performances) has failed to really convince that Angstrom and Epzo have moved to a point where they could cooperate and the episode refuses to give us the actual discussion where they agree to do so. Hence... it just stops.

More minor details: the Doctor's opposition to guns while not out of character looks even more hypocritical here (where moments later she zaps the robots with an EMP) than it normally does, and while we had Chekov's self-lighting cigar, we also get not-Chekov's flesh eating water.

So, yeah, from my perspective, The Ghost Monument just was.

More interestingly the Teenager bounced off it hard. She thought it was dull; Yaz was underused, Ryan was stupid, Graham was... (I've forgotten what Graham was); the cinematography was terrible (which surprised me a bit, since I had been sitting there thinking "well at least it's pretty", but apparently there were too many close-ups of people's eyes); and everyone was over-sharing their feelings.

So now you know!
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I'm not sure there has ever been quite so much riding on an episode of Doctor Who since Rose back in 2005. Choosing to cast a woman as the Doctor was a risky move that could, in and of itself, alienate a large chunk of the potential audience and The Woman Who Fell to Earth needed primarily to establish that the show could work with a woman in the lead role. Interestingly, the viewing figures for the episode rather suggest that a lot of people who would not otherwise have watched Doctor Who tuned in and I think it would be foolish to suggest that was for any other reason other than curiosity about what a female Doctor would be like. We will need to wait for the viewing figures for The Ghost Monument and Rosa to find out if this story succeeded in convincing them to watch again.

From my point of view, Whittaker was one of the most successful elements of the episode. I tend to take a while to warm to a new Doctor and I certainly liked her better on her first outing than either Eccleston or Capaldi (and Tennant hardly counts since he was unconscious for most of his first story) and was relieved that a female Doctor didn't come across as jarring in any way. The interactions between the new companionsfriends was well drawn as well. They felt very familiar as a unit and I couldn't quite work out if it was because they were fitting into a well-worn ensemble pattern (many have compared them to the Sarah Jane Adventures for instance) or whether it was just that much of the pre-publicity had done its job of pre-figuring their interactions. The only slight surprise for me was that I had expected Graham to have more of the role that Grace inhabited.

In our household, as in pretty much everywhere I think, Grace was the stand out hit of the little team and there was much debate about her death. You can argue the semantics of what was going on there, but it did feel somewhat tropey and largely unnecessary in terms either of motivating the other characters or demonstrating that the stakes can be high in Doctor Who. FWIW, given the comparative youth of the actress and her billing as a returning character our money is on a re-appearance of a younger Grace later in the season. Given the deliberate ambiguities, both of Ryan's framing narrative and the episodes title itself, I wonder if Grace does re-appear as a character, if we'll be expected to view her more as a proto-Doctor than as ideal companion material (which is how I think many people reacted to her here).

To be honest, I was kind of `meh' about the actual plot. It did what it needed to do but didn't grab me in any way. However I was kind of `meh' about the early Eccleston stories which were similarly foregrounding characters against a fairly straightforward story and they were wildly popular, so what do I know. Given how colourful much of the pre-publicity for this season has been, I was disappointed that this was mostly filmed at night with an aesthetic more reminiscent of Torchwood or a police drama. One review, by Jim Smith I think, described the episode as uniquely sadistic which seems a bit strong to me (I was a baby fan during the Colin Baker years) but there was definitely a grittier vibe here than I had been expecting.

The game, of course, is to rank this story in the context of other regeneration stories. I'm not great at linear rankings but it was clearly better than The Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani (not a high bar), The TV Movie is a bit of an oddity in some ways, though more directly comparable to this than a lot of Who, and I'd say this was better. I personally preferred it to both Deep Breath and Rose . It thus sits on a level for me with The Christmas Invasion and The Eleventh Hour (which I like less than many fans) in that it does what it needs to do without getting anything obviously wrong. I rate Castrovalva more highly because in spite of its many faults its about the Doctor getting stuck in an Escher painting. I'd personally rather see any of Power of the Daleks, Spearhead from Space and Robot but they are from an era where regeneration stories were constructed differently and my preference probably says more about my tastes as a classic Who fan than it does about the intrinsic quality of The Woman who fell to Earth.
purplecat: Twelfth Doctor and the number 12 (Who:Twelve)
I can't believe Twice Upon a Time has only just risen to the top of my "episodes to be blogged about" list. That's partly a reflection of just how horrifically busy I was in November and December but I feel vaguely that almost anything one might want to say about the story has been said and said recently. However, one might as well give it a go.

I am interested by [livejournal.com profile] daniel_saunders' and my very different interpretations of the presentation of the first Doctor here. I think we largely agree on the facts. The first Doctor was never as profoundly and straightforwardly prejudiced as portrayed here (and the line about the "spanked bottom" even though it would never be said in the show today, was not originally said in a context that was quite as outrageous as in Twice Upon a Time made it appear), however the show was a product of its time and baked in a lot of implicit assumptions from the time even when those assumptions are rarely made overt. Barbara Wright, for instance, is arguably one of the strongest female companions the show has ever portrayed. In the show, neither the Doctor nor Ian ever suggest she should clean the Tardis however, assuming the Tardis isn't magically self-cleaning (which is a distinct possibility) and given she is clearly a well-integrated 1960s woman, anyone who thinks she wasn't going around cleaning after them all is probably kidding themselves - part of the insidiousness of this kind of inequality is that no one will have needed ever to mention that she should do the cleaning because she would have already taken it upon herself to do it without being asked. Moreover the first Doctor (often together with the male companion) was often distinctly paternalistic and protective - there is quite a bit of not telling the women things that may alarm them in the 1960s show. So while the first Doctor's tenure is not outrageously prejudiced, and is even forward thinking in many ways, it is still a slice of 1960s television and it isn't unreasonable to point out that that includes a number of assumptions now considered prejudiced.

I think it is fair to say that you can chose to read the First Doctor either as someone who largely agrees with the prejudices of 1960s Britain or who is oblivious to/chooses to ignore most of them and thus enables them without necessarily supporting them.

The baked in assumptions of the era seem, I suspect, more obvious to modern eyes and make it easy for the casual viewer to confuse implicit prejudice with more explicit expression of it - and I think it does behoove fans to remember that while this kind of nostalgia fest is made with us in mind, the production team's focus will be on the wider folk memory of 1960s Doctor Who rather than an accurate depiction of the era. In Twice Upon a Time Moffat chose to make the implicit very explicit. I think where Daniel and I diverge is that Daniel reads this depicition of explicit prejudice as a damming (and thus deeply unfair) indictment of the character of First Doctor and everyone involved in the production of Doctor Who at the time. In contrast, I read it as an attempt to depict how someone (particularly someone steeped in the mores of fifty years ago) can still be a fundamentally good person while epousing these sorts of views. Now I'm sure that reading is in part influenced by Tame Layperson's reaction - he identified this depiction of the First Doctor very strongly with his father and I think identified the Twelfth Doctor's reactions very much with his own. So it seems to me to be a useful examination and re-framing of call-out culture, the modern tendency to damn someone for a single ill-considered opinion, and I thought it trod the line well between condemning the opinion, making it clear that such opinions should not be ignored but at the same time acknowledging that the person expressing the opinion is not only not evil, but may in fact be a hero. In fact the First Doctor's obvious doubts about the path he might be upon and about the extent to which he could make a difference, which in many ways were far more substantive than some unfortunate assumptions about whose job it was to do the dusting helped, I thought, to balance out the critique - we may condemn the opinions of previous decades but they may in turn condemn the road we are treading and do so in a way that looks at a bigger picture than a single line of dialogue. Mileage may vary. There was a lot of weeping in our household and not all of it was directly related to events on screen.

Apart from all that though...

I was disappointed it wasn't really Bill, despite the character's arguments to the contrary. I can see why in a story that was so much about nostalgia, memory and our relationship to the past it made sense to have the memory of Bill but I still wanted it to really be her and to reassure the Doctor that she was fine and off having awesome adventures somewhere.

I'd have liked to see more Ben and Polly and maybe a bit less Dalek city, and probably a lot less of the Doctor's final monologue (which is a shame, Capaldi is generally excellent when given speeches but this one felt like it went on a bit too long). DWM did a whole thing beforehand about the new Ben and Polly which meant I expected to see a lot more than about 5 seconds of them. Mind you, if I'd seen more of them I'd have been annoyed that Ben's hairstyle was wrong, despite the much hyped veracity of the costumes.

I am frankly amazed they managed to present the Christmas Truce of 1914 in a way that was neither insulting to those involved nor overly mawkish. Again I suspect mileage may vary strongly here (especially over how mawkish it was or wasn't).

I thought Jodie Whittaker was brilliant, or at least as brilliant as one can be when one only has one line of dialogue to be brilliant in.
purplecat: Twelfth Doctor and the number 12 (Who:Twelve)
World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls must form one of the best season finales in NuWho. In general I've been pretty unimpressed by these finales, feeling they had a tendency to over-emphasize spectacle at the expense of any real coherence. I thought Heaven Sent/Hell Bent were a marked improvement on previous attempts but thought this was even better - possibly because I was never that invested in Clara as a companion where I really did like this Tardis team and am genuninely sorry to see it to an end. Actually, just as I feel I couldn't really critically view The Eater of Light because it was such a nostalgia fest for me, I suspect I can't view this as critically as it might deserve given how invested I was in this Tardis team by this point.

More under the Cut )

So yes I liked this. I liked this mostly for the Cybermen in World Enough and Time and Bill's story throughout. Despite the fact there were a number of flaws (particularly in the logic of the situation) I thought it stood up pretty well in general, especially in comparison to other season finales.
purplecat: Twelfth Doctor and the number 12 (Who:Twelve)
Three formative things from my childhood/teenage years: The books of Rosemary Sutcliff, the folk-music inspired output of Clannad, holidays spent in Scotland.

To be honest, I also rate Survival pretty highly, so The Eater of Light would have had to try pretty hard for me not to love it. I'm not sure I can even remotely claim to be looking over this story with an unbiased eye. I loved it a lot. It does reassure me that The Teenager also loved it however, despite considerable sceptism about Rosemary Sutcliff (occasionally I give her the books, she tactfully ignores the gesture), and no memories of Scotland (or Survival).

She does like Clannad though, but I'd argue that the music here, while definitely folk-inspired, is not particularly Clannad-ish.

Spoilers under the Cut )

I loved this. It hit me in all my nostalgia weak points and handled this particular TARDIS team, which I already liked, perfectly enough to convert me from well-disposed to a fan. The Teenager said she thought it might be her favourite Doctor Who story. I'm not sure I'd necessarily go that far (this is no Blink!) and I'm almost frightened to see how it would stand up to a rewatch because I'm very aware that external factors were effecting my ability to think critically about this. But on a single viewing, I'd say it was my favourite Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole story.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
People compare Mark Gatiss who stories to the Pertwee era surprisingly often to my mind. I think he's on record as saying it's his favourite era of the show and it's true his stories tend to have a straight up monster or villain but the Pertwee era is typified, I would say, by the presence of overtly political themes (absent from Gatiss') work and a fairly sparse and functional approach to setting where Gatiss' (possibly because of his interest in Victoriana) tends towards the Gothic. In fact, apart from the fact Gatiss doesn't borrow from Horror tropes, I would have said that the Hinchcliffe era was a better point of comparison.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, no matter what the rest of the Internet might think, I can't really imagine Empress of Mars in the Pertwee era.

More under the cut )

This is, I get the impression, the episode that Gatiss has always wanted to write and I think it shows. It is having a lot of fun, telling a ripping yarn, and manages to feel both like a Doctor Who story and like a Scientific Romance.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Hmmm... The Lie of the Land was better than The Pyramid at the End of the World. In fact given endings are so much harder than beginnings, I'd say it did a pretty good job of tying up the "Monk Trilogy". Ultimately though, I think it had the same problem that The Pyramid at the End of the World had, namely that the Monks are not really a Science Fictiony baddy at all but more a Fairytale baddy and the meshing of the Fairytale baddy with the pretty straight-up SF presentation doesn't really work.

I call the Monks a "fairytale" baddy mostly because, as I observed of The Pyramid at the End of the World, before they can take over the planet they require an explicit though ill-defined bargain to be struck, but also because here they are ultimately defeated by the magic of love. Both of these are more about symbolism than physical reality. I will note that the resolution in The Lie of the Land has a better explanation than the initial bargain - the idea that they are defeated by a concept that is both about love but also as fictional as their own narrative - and that the whole thing works considerably better than the Tenth Doctor's much-maligned Tinkerbell-Jesus moment at the end of Last of the Time Lords of which it was very reminiscent. However this still feels a lot more like fairytale logic than SF logic. I don't think it helps that the Monk's nature, motivation and powers are all exceptionally hazy. In The Pyramid at the End of the World they can pluck fighter planes from the sky and nuclear submarines from the sea and yet here, once the false memories are removed, they are fairly easily defeated (or at least scared off) by a few soldiers. If the Monk Trilogy had been trying to evoke an atmosphere similar, say, to Sapphire and Steel then this might have worked but its trappings are all modern-day (SF) mystery/thriller (Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World) and near future dystopia (The Lie of the Land) and I don't think the story quite earned breaking the mould of those genres with its underlying explanations.

I really like this Tardis crew, and their interactions. Once again, I liked what we saw here of Bill and Nardole working together. I wasn't so keen on the Doctor testing Bill, but the fact that she more or less accepted his explanation of his behaviour as justified sort of brought me round. However, I couldn't quite escape the feeling that the story had just wasted 10-15 minutes on trolling the viewers about when the regeneration was going to happen. I thought the scene with Missy in the vault, and the different ways the Doctor and Bill reacted to her solution were great. I thought Bill hand-cuffing the Doctor up at the end and getting on with what needed to be done was also great, but a lot of this is about the characters and the actors and not really about the story construction.

On a story level, The Lie of the Land works better than Pyramid (though I did wonder why everyone was wearing dark colours all of a sudden), but I think it would ultimately have been stronger if we hadn't had a fake regeneration half-way through, a fake reset at the end (I know it's a Doctor Who handwave that humanity tends to forget invasions but it was treated particularly dismissively here and one of the things I wholeheartedly preferred about RTD's version of Doctor Who was he was absolutely prepared to run with the population of Earth remembering alien invasions) and if someone had put a bit more thought into what the Monks actually are (and why they are called Monks once taken out of the context of the Vatican in Extremis) and how they work.

I want to like series 10 more than I am, because I think they have finally got the characterisation of the Twelfth Doctor right and I think the combination of Bill and Nardole as companions works really well, but so far I've found it hard to get completely behind any of the stories. This trilogy in the middle feels particularly weak. I suspect some of this is simply because it is attempting to be a trilogy. Ultimately, I think having three linked episodes in the middle of a season is an interesting idea, but it hasn't really worked. I'm not sure if that is because of its placement in the season, or just because coordinating three different writers across three different stories introduces a new level of complexity into maintaining a consistent plot logic and presentation of your monster/villain.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I have to agree with [personal profile] londonkds' assessment of this episode. It was clearly required to get events from point A to point B and it did so competently enough, but the scaffolding is a little too visible (particularly the somewhat bizarre set-up and protocols of the bio-hazard lab).

I'm in two minds about whether the overall structure, in which the audience is aware almost from the get-go that events in Turmezistan are a red herring. It is very rare that the viewer is significantly ahead of the Doctor in understanding a situation. On the one hand, it ups the tension as we wait for the Doctor to figure it out but on the other it drains the tension out of the suggestion that world war three might be looming.

I very rarely opt for head-canon when explaining a story, but I'm headcanoning here that whatever the Monks mean by "pure consent" is untranslatable into English. While Bill's motivation for giving consent is clearly different to that of the U.N. Secretary General or the three generals, it is not given out of any kind of pure love for the Monks and is clearly given in the expectation that if the Doctor remains alive he can somehow fix the situation. I actually think the nature of the Monks both here and in The Lie of the Land owes more to the fairytale tropes that Moffat was trying to evoke in his early years as show-runner than more recent monsters. The Monks require you to make a symbolic bargain with them the terms of which are unclear. I may write more on this when I get around to reviewing The Lie of the Land.

I also wasn't entirely convinced by the speed and readiness with which everyone took the Monks' assertion that the end of the world was nigh at face value.

There are some great visuals in this story and some great ideas, but I was left feeling that not quite enough thought had gone into actually linking everything together into a coherent whole. It's construction was workmanlike rather than actually good. I'd say it was the weakest story so far this season.

Extremis

Jun. 4th, 2017 09:16 am
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I really liked Extremis even though I think, as a story, it is a lot less well constructed than either Knock! Knock! or Oxygen.

Is it too late to worry about spoilers? I don't know. )

After two episodes I felt were well-constructed but ultimately a little unambitious, I liked an episode which might have been rather messier but had a lot of interesting ideas baked into it and which executed what is, let's face it, a fairly standard SF trope without falling into some of the pitfalls of that trope.

Oxygen

May. 26th, 2017 10:01 pm
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Oxygen struck me as, structurally, being very similar to Knock! Knock! and, like Knock! Knock!, I feel I like it less than it deserves to be liked.

Both Oxygen and Knock! Knock! tell neatly self-contained stories. These are well-produced and acted with scripts that are thoughtful while fitting recognisably within the mould of a Doctor Who story. Fond as I am of the Sylvester McCoy era, it would have struggled to produce two stories of this high quality in close succession. In fact if these had appeared during a Sylvester McCoy season, I suspect I would have rated them as highly as stories like Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric.

This isn't a Sylvester McCoy season though, my expectations are different, and somehow neither managed to really grab me.

I don't really want to nit-pick at Oxygen, but among other things I'm dubious about the economics on display. I've mentioned a couple of times when discussing this season, about how you identify that point in a fantastical show, where it's breaking its own unstated rules of consistency. The problem Oxygen had for me specifically as someone who has hung around space scientists a bit, is that its very emphasis on the realities of surviving in a vacuum made me expect more realism from the rest of the Space Science. The reality of space is it is really, really expensive to put people up there (in weight terms, even if you're not factoring in the expense of training someone and are, apparently, discounting any value in human life) so you probably don't want them randomly suffocating even if they are not being as productive as you might like. This then, of course, made me think of the practices of Victorian factory owners and making your workers indebted to you for their use of oxygen (and thereby imposing a form of slavery) and that somehow seemed more plausible though not, obviously as likely to produce space zombies. Like the "how does agriculture work on Christmas?" problem I had with Matt Smith's final story, this distracted me far more than it should have done.

I'm not really qualified to comment on the depiction of disability. [personal profile] hollymath has written eloquently about how hurtful she found it though I've seen other commentary that was cautiously optimistic or at least "jury still out" on the subject.

I was disappointed that the blue alien had no function in the story beyond making a simplistic point about racism and then dying.

Did I like anything about the story? Yes, actually. I really liked the interactions between Bill, Nardole and the Doctor. This is the first time we've seen them operating as a team and I liked the way the dynamic of two companions (who aren't romantically linked in any way) worked, particularly the way that the two of them can jointly put different perspectives to the Doctor. In fact I really like this softer version of the twelfth Doctor and both his new companions.

I did think the story was well-paced, well-acted and I liked that it was allowed to be about something and that its resolution tied back to its themes and the set up of the problem. I'm far from convinced it is really Oxygen's fault that I got distracted by picking holes.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I feel curiously underwhelmed by Knock, Knock since its an extremely well-crafted story, that holds together nicely, keeps it's pacing and even manages to be about something in a quiet sort of way ((grand)parents and children, growing up and independence). I'm not sure if this is because it is so clearly stand alone and designed to be such, or because a lot of the story is basically running up and down corridors or, I don't know, something else.

Doctor Who classically, is at its best when presenting horror-lite in this fashion but this didn't feel to me quite like a Doctor Who story. Mysterious tower, notwithstanding, it isn't quite as full-blown gothic in its horror as a lot of the Hinchcliffe era since it clearly has more DNA in the teen slasher movies of the 1980s than it does in Hammer Horror. Similarly Doctor Who has only really had the option of telling stories in which the Doctor impinges upon his companion's lives in this way since the advent of the "part time" companion with the Ponds and has, perhaps wisely, used this device relatively sparingly. Both The Power of Three and The Caretaker were successful in their own ways, but they are definitely also clearly something left of field in a way this isn't.

All that said, I watched this with my mother (not a regular watcher of NuWho) and she clearly felt she had been shown something pleasantly familiar - all the better for the inclusion of David Suchet as the Landlord.

It is also hard to feel particularly churlish about the re-use of the "wooden person" effect since it looked so good. The curled wooden hair, in particular, looked stunning. However one does have a feeling that a lot of effects are being reused this season and while, as a cost saving exercise, I would prefer they re-used good effects that work than attempt to create new effects on the cheap that don't, they do seem to be re-using a lot of effects.

There's nothing wrong with this episode and a lot to like, particularly the central performances from Capaldi, Mackie and Suchet but somehow there wasn't anything here that actually made me excited.

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