Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Boxing Day of The Doctor


Well, now that I've seen the second part of The Zygonic State (The Zygon Inversion), I can say at least one thing from the get-go.

The much-praised anti-war speech by The Doctor was a.) not very good, and b.) not well delivered.

Apart from Kyle Anderson (who'd praise Steven Moffat's farts as smelling like Chanel Number 5), I can't think who would think this was some brilliant masterwork.  Oh, there was fan-service, a plea for peace, and some pretty odd moments where one thinks, oh well, the show's about to go down in flames like that airplane Bonnie shot down, so why not?

Bonnie (Jenna Coleman in a dual role) has shot down the plane carrying the star of the show, Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) and her very special guest star The Doctor (Peter Capaldi).  Or so she thinks.  Trapped within her pod which looks like a dream, the regular star of the show, Clara Oswald (Coleman) is able, despite her dream-like state, to control Bonnie's actions, so Bonnie is not aware of what she's doing.  Their link however, is still strong enough for Bonnie to threaten Clara with her life unless she tells Bonnie about the Osgood Box.  Clara is able to tell enough without revealing all, and Bonnie is aware that Clara is not lying, so it's off to the Black Archives to retrieve the box.

The Osgood Box can end the cease-fire.  The Osgood Box can start a war.  The Osgood Box can wipe out all humankind.  The Osgood Box: it slices, it dices.

This box has the power to reveal all the Zygons living in anonymity in the world, all 20 million of them.  Bonnie wants to unmask all the Zygons to bring about mass chaos and a total war with the 7 billion humans, and she wants that box.

Back on Earth, we find the Doctor and Osgood are still alive, with the Doctor having apparently borrowed a parachute from James Bond (a Union Jack parachute because...well, camouflage according to The Doctor).  Osgood stubbornly refuses to answer whether she is the human or Zygon Osgood, merely that she's 'Osgood'.

Bonnie arrives at the Black Archives, Clara in her pod in tow. Bonnie is enraged to discover why it's called the Osgood Box: there are two of them, one red, one blue (does the U.K. have equivalent colors like the U.S. has red for Republican, blue for Democrat).  She needs to know which one to use, and for that she needs the Doctor (Clara truthfully not knowing which one is which).

Fortunately, in comes The Doctor, Osgood, and Kate "My Daddy's Better Than Your Daddy" Stewart (Jemma Redgrave).  At first, we think Kate "Don't Bring Up My Father the Brigadier Because Only I Can Do That" Stewart is a Zygon, but we find she isn't.  Back in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, she killed her Zygon attacker with "five rounds rapid".

I guess I'm suppose to squee at things like that.

Just as Bonnie is ready to use the blue box to unmask all the Zygons, we find the box has two buttons: Truth or Consequences.  One will unmask the Zygons, the other will keep them as humans forever.  Kate "You Know Who My Father Is" Stewart is ready to push her own buttons, one of which will release the Z67 chemical weapon, known as "Sullivan's Gas" after its creator, former Doctor Who Companion Harry Sullivan.  The other will detonate the nuclear warheads under the Tower of London, killing everyone.

Talk about Hobson's Choice...

Anyway, the Doctor gives a major address about war.  "We'll forgive.  We'll forget.  And the cease-fire will stand".  He urges negotiations so as to prevent total annihilation by both sides, and both back away from the boxes.  Bonnie has decided to adopt peace and tells her Zygonic State supporters to stand down, the cease-fire has returned.

As the Doctor and Clara leave, the former invites Osgood to be his Companion.  She shockingly declines, since she's got Earth to protect.  She also has a new sister: BONNIE, who now has become Osgood's double.  We still don't know if the original Osgood is human or Zygon, but there you are.

For all this talk about how 'powerful', how 'moving', the Doctor's big speech about the evils of war, I was not moved by it (Murray Gold always putting in music when silence would have made it more powerful, indicating to me that NuWhovians in particular have to have their thinking done for them.  They cannot be trusted to be moved by the words alone, they need sad music to remind them of the emotion in the scene).  On second listen, I think it was better than I remember, thanks to Capaldi giving it his all (in this case, knowing it is suppose to be a major address). 

However, I am not convinced that Zygella (as the Doctor nicknames Bonnie) would be moved by merely appealing to the 'better angels of her nature'.  If The Zygonic State Parts 1 & 2 is suppose to be an allegory about ISIS' war with the rest of civilization, then we can see both by the two-parter itself and the reaction to it that Europe might as well surrender to the Caliph and start beheading the few Christians left in Europe (and finding a tall enough building to toss its gays off of.  Might I suggest the Eiffel Tower?).  ISIS, for those not in the know (like perhaps cowriters Peter Harness and Steven Moffat), is a death cult, one that in its own words "loves death the way (the infidels) love life".  They WANT to die, they WANT to kill and subjugate all those different from them, even other Muslims who are not as 'orthodox' as they are (Heaven knows what would happen to the contemplative Sufis under ISIS). 

You cannot negotiate with ISIS.  You could not negotiate with their spiritual forefathers, the National Socialists of the Third Reich.  They both have a very clear-cut ideology: total destruction of 'the other' and either subjugation or extermination of anyone or anything that opposes them in any fashion.  The Doctor, whom I cannot imagine thinking he or the Time Lords could negotiate peace terms with the totalitarian Daleks (which were inspired by the Nazis), should above all else know this.  Yes, he is a pacifist who opposes violence (even when that violence saves his life, like when The Brigadier's Daughter used it for him and Osgood).  That is within keeping to his character, as is his determination to stop a menace with intellect rather than brute force.

However, for all the bizarre complaining Bonnie's Brigade does about how they don't want to live as humans (reminding me, for some reason, of the X-Men character Mystique, who made a more rational rationale for why she joined the war against the humans), to suggest that all she (and by extension, ISIS) needed was a big hug to see the error of her ways is more than absurd. 

It's insulting to the viewer's intelligence.  Then again, given how Doctor Who's audience has shrunk this season, that might be an accurate perception of the fanbase.

Leaving aside the lack of logic in how the Doctor just talked everyone into surrender, let's go over some other things I had a problem with.  In The Zygon Inversion, Clara in her pod is able to control Bonnie just enough to work with the Doctor.  In short, she is able to have some control over her. 

And the reason Kate "One Guess Whom I'm Related To" Stewart couldn't do the same in The Day of The Doctor is...

I simply cannot fathom why Doctor Who now has a fear of being truthful.  Look, if you want the Doctor and Osgood to escape via parachute, fine.  Why, however, do they insist on putting in little comedy bits like the Union Jack parachute.  This Zygon terrorism is a very serious matter (more serious given this episode aired a week after Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up by the real version of the Zygonic State.

Timing is everything, isn't it? 

Having this bit of comedy doesn't lighten the mood; it just makes things look more ridiculous.

As a side note, if most Zygons don't want war, why don't we see more Zygons working with UNIT rather than do nothing? 

I disliked the "Five Round Rapid" line.  It was there only to make a note of the Brigadier's iconic line from The Daemons (which many NuWhovians wouldn't know anyway, so its inclusion is a bit puzzling).  Redgrave's forced delivery of it didn't help matters, as if she were told to emphasize it specifically because it's a well-known line associated with her character's father.

Also, if one need only shoot a Zygon with a pistol, why was UNIT so terrified of them to begin with?

Oh, continuity...something Doctor Who isn't all that interested in.

Another thing I disliked intensely is again, "Sullivan's Gas". Why drag poor Ian Marter's corpse into this?  Again, was turning nice chap Dr. Harry Sullivan, Royal Navy into some sort of mad scientist meant as a tribute?  Can't wait to see Tegan Jovanka turned into an Australian heroin-addicted HIV-positive hooker as her homage.

Finally, I thought it was Susan Foreman, the Doctor's granddaughter, who made up the name TARDIS out of its initials.  Now, the Doctor claims to have come up with the acronym himself.  Fine way to screw over your own granddaughter, Doc.

Still, there are good things here.  Coleman balanced (mostly) the evil Bonnie and the weepy Clara well enough to make them both distinct individuals.  Capaldi's major address I think was better than I first remembered it.

Apart from that I think The Zygonic State Parts 1 & 2 are not good.  The Doctor, as far as I'm concerned, has boxed me into a corner.  The Truth?  I am 90% sure I will stop watching after Hell Bent.  The Consequences?  I hope a cancelled show.             


Overall Score: 0/10

Next Episode: Sleep No More

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Political Allegory of The Doctor

STORY 261.1

Doctor Who & The Silurians is a brilliant story because it works on two levels.  It can be seen as straight science-fiction about an alien invasion from a race that lives below us, or as an allegory about the Cold War, particularly the fear and paranoia on both sides.  The same brilliance can be applied to another Third Doctor story: Inferno.  One could see it as a brilliant story about parallel universes or as an environmental message story about the dangers of overuse of the Earth's resources.  At its best, science-fiction can deliver messages about the world while telling stories about other worlds, and Doctor Who has a long history of such brilliant allegories.

The Zygon Invasion, the first of a two-part Doctor Who story, is not among them. 

It has the return of a dead character (I'M SHOCKED!), one whom is beloved by people more stupid than the character herself (explaining why they identify with her) and a trashing of another character from the Classic Era (the actor being most conveniently dead and unable to object as to what was done to him).  The Zygon Invasion thinks itself highly intellectual and sophisticated in tackling a 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story, but it's a dangerous thing to try to be clever when being so patently overt with what you're handling, particularly when it involves something like ISIS.  Coming prior to the Paris attacks, what writer Peter Harness I imagine he thought he was doing was showing us how Western civilization shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater regarding Muslim-British relations.  Sadly, in retrospect he, and the whole Doctor Who team, now may come across as being naïve at best, useful idiots at worse.

Osgood is BACK!  Despite being killed by Missy in The Wrath of Missy Part 2 (Death in Heaven) (which I should point out was the only moment that caused me to cheer while watching said episode), we learn that there are TWO Osgoods (both played by Ingrid Oliver). Harking back to The Day of The Doctor, we learn that the Zygons have 'integrated' to Earth through Operation Double (I guess it makes the Israeli-Ethiopian Operation Solomon pale in comparison), where 20 million Zygons settled in Britain.  When Missy killed an Osgood, the other Osgood mourned at her grave, marked simply as "My Sister".

Let me stop at this juncture to openly wonder if Doctor Who is now targeted at people with extremely limited intelligences to go along with a black gravestone marked as "My Sister", just "My Sister".

Well, in any case we learn from the Osgoods that "The Zygons are a peaceful race.  Their shape-shifting abilities should not be considered a weapon,  It's a survival mechanism".  At this point, when we're barely less than ten minutes into this episode, my reaction was flat-out laughter.  Yet I digress.

We also learn of The Osgood Box, which is the treaty between humans and Zygons which might be coming apart with one of the Osgoods no more.  The Nightmare Scenario has broken out, with a minority of a minority, a tiny little group attempting to establish The Zygonic State.  They've kidnapped the surviving Osgood and now we need Clara (Jenna Coleman) to save the day.

Oh, and yes, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) can help out the star of the show too, once he gets off his electric guitar and calling himself "Doctor Disco", among other inanities.  After all, if you're a thousand-plus-year-old Time Lord who has battled with the Zygons before, you're going to need guidance from an elementary school teacher in her twenties.

As UNIT is involved, we need to get help from Kate "I'm Not My Father's Daughter But My Father WAS The Brigadier and Don't Forget That" Stewart (Jemma Redgrave).  She is for tracking down and exterminating every radical Islamic extremist...I mean, every renegade Zygon, but the Doctor insists we should negotiate with the Zygons, who are all peaceful save for this tiny, TINY splinter group.

The Zygonic State has as its motto "Truth or Consequences", which baffles everyone except our super-smart Companion, who instantly recognizes that this is the town in New Mexico, USA.  Kate goes  to the Land of Enchantment to investigate, while Clara stays in London to look after things, with her minion the Doctor going to Turmezistan where Osgood is being held prisoner by the Zygonic State.

In T or C (as those from the region call it), Kate discovers a virtually abandoned town, one where signs reading "No British, No Dogs" are all around.  Her encounter with the local sheriff (Gretchen Egolf), and things are not as they seem.  In Turmezistan, UNIT proves painfully inept at taking out the Zygonic State, taken in by duplicates of their families which they should know are really Zygons in disguise.  The Doctor does manage to get Osgood, who will not answer if she is the human or the Zygon version (but does ask why the Doctor doesn't do her cosplay anymore, in a manner of speaking).

We then get a shocking twist: all this time Clara has been really a Zygon!  The real Clara is held in statis, while "Bonnie", her duplicate, slaughters the UNIT troops sent by "Clara".  As the Doctor and Osgood are flying back to the U.K., he gets a final message from Bonnie, who fires a rocket at the President of the World's Plane (Super-Air Force One?): Truth or Consequences.

Again, given how so heavy-handed the Zygon/Muslim parallels were, one wonders why they didn't they just go whole-hog with the analogy (sorry, pork is not halal).  It isn't that one couldn't make a strong allegorical story about the failures of integration.  It is just that The Zygon Invasion goes about it in a thick-headed and obvious way that it runs the risk of being almost an apologia for ISIS rather than the intelligent story it fancies itself to be. 

The actions of the Zygonic State, we are told, are done by the young Zygons who want to return to some pure version of Zygonism and no longer walk around as humans.  If this is what the Doctor Who production staff really thinks is an accurate or even plausible reflection of the Islamic State, they are frankly delusional.  You look at the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Universe, who is 44 years old (hardly a 'young man').  This also isn't counting such Millennials as Ayman Al-Zawahiri (64) or Osama bin Laden (44 at the time of the September 11th attacks).  IF The Zygon Invasion had made it that the younger Zygons were being manipulated by the older members, THEN we could have had something.

It just struck me, as a casual viewer, to take the easy way out in a very complex situation.  This quote from the opening is so overt it would be almost laughable.  "The Zygons (Muslims) are a peaceful race.  Their shape-shifting abilities (their religion) should not be considered a weapon.  It's a survival mechanism".  In regards to Muslims, I agree: they are a generally peaceful people, particularly in Britain which has a larger percentage of the population than in the U.S., and their religion is not a sign they will behead us.

HOWEVER, when it comes to the Zygons themselves, that is flat-out nonsense.  They are NOT a peaceful race.  They certainly weren't in The Day of The Doctor, or Terror of the Zygons (a rather curious title in retrospect).  This whole 'shape-shifting abilities is not a weapon' is similarly nonsensical.  Here, again, we have a Doctor Who story that flat-out doesn't care about continuity.

If memory serves correct, the Zygons, in order to blend into human society, would need a 'host' to copy (they do this for example, with Clara/Bonnie, and as a side note, Bonnie isn't exactly a threatening name, is it?).  If there are 20 million of them, all located in one area of Britain (before a group headed out to New Mexico), where are the host beings for them to copy?  We learn from Osgood that such things are no longer necessary.  If that's the case, why did they need to take Clara (in a manner I think was cheating the audience)?  Why not go for Kate Stewart (even if the Black Archives do manage to erase the memories of all who enter).

Ah, why bother thinking about things.  It IS Doctor Who, after all.

Let me concentrate on things that I did think were good.  Jenna Coleman, whom I have never warmed up to in her tenure as a Companion (particularly as this 'unimpeachably brilliant' Companion that my bete noire Kyle Anderson holds her as, though I've always suspected his admiration for her is more based on what moves his head more than his mind) was excellent in the dual role.  I was surprised that she could manage such range as the typical Clara (know-it-all) but shift so coldly to Bonnie, ISIS...I mean, ZySis commander.  It's as if Coleman were unleashed, tapping into a fury, a coldness, an evil that now has an outlet. 

In terms of performances, The Zygon Invasion is Jenna Coleman's best on Doctor Who.

It's a pity that just about everything else about The Zygon Invasion is cringe-worthy.  Let's go over the things I hated about The Zygon Invasion.

I hated what New Doctor Who did to the character of Harry Sullivan, played by the late Ian Marter.  I imagine most if not all NuWho fans have no idea who Harry Sullivan was (and can't be bothered to watch any Fourth Doctor story with him to care).  I did see a few, and from all indications Harry was a nice chap, the embodiment of a proper English gentleman and serving Naval officer of Her Majesty's Navy.  He was well-liked, very honest, kind, if a bit bumbling.

Now, he's turned into #ChemicalHarry, mad scientist.  Doctor Who's second 'tribute' to a Companion from the Classic Era turned one who was an amiable chap into the Joseph Mengele of his generation, the creator of the Z-67 nerve gas that could unmask all the Zygons...and kill them in the process.  How a medical officer managed to turn into some chemical weapons expert is left unsaid, but no matter, NuWhovians will now see him, not as the decent, honorable guy he was on the show, but as the creator of this chemical weapon to kill the poor Zygons. 

Why Doctor Who opted to drag poor Harry Sullivan through the gutter is a mystery, and we won't go into how this idea of Doctor Sullivan contradicts The Sarah Jane Adventures claim that he saved millions with his vaccines.  However, it does help that Ian Marter is dead and has been for nearly thirty years, so who is going to object?

At this point, one wonders why they don't make Barbara Wright into a hooker.

I hated how New Mexico was imagined.  Granted, being from Texas I harbor no great love for our neighbor to the west, but it would be nice to see something beyond the stereotypical 'Wild West' that the British apparently think anything west of Austin is.  I've been to T or C (well, driven past it really), and it is, at least if memory serves correct, nowhere near the comically Old West idea this episode makes it out to be.  Also, the uniform of the Sheriff/Police (it isn't the same thing) is all wrong.  It looks like she's wearing the Mexican flag rather than the New Mexican flag.  Yes, I know I'm probably the only one focusing on that, but still...

I simply hated what The Zygon Invasion has done to the Doctor.  When once he was the highly intelligent and moral figure, he now is an electric guitar-playing nitwit who has to have Clara hold his hand because he can't figure things out himself and refers to himself by such nonsensical names as "Doctor Disco" and "Doctor Funkenstein". 

What would Hartnell, Troughton, or Pertwee think? 

I hate the focus on Osgood.  I simply detest this character, whom I've always seen more as a parody of a Doctor Who fan than an homage to them (because I think I pretty much am done with this show).   All her wardrobe is done to just focus on her fixation with the Doctor, and here's a newsflash to those who love her to death(s): the question marks were stupid then, and they're still stupid now.

And seriously: they're on his underwear?  Isn't Capaldi appalled he has to deliver such dribble?

Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Sheriff would be a Zygon? 
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Zygons would eliminate UNIT troops in Turmezistan (which didn't look Middle or Islamic at all, but a nice Eastern European village)?
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that Clara would be SO IMPORTANT and that both the Doctor and UNIT would turn to HER as their savior?

I remember writing "Rubbish, Rubbish, Rubbish" while watching The Zygon Invasion.  Its efforts to come across as topical ended up as heavy-handed and as subtle as a sledgehammer, the bastardization of a beloved Doctor Who character is obscene to its core, and the diminishing of The Doctor both in terms of character and focus is insane.  Granted, how we got Osbad back has at least a certain logic (even if people had speculated about the Zygon Osgood since we saw her in The Day of The Doctor, so it is a bit of a cheat) and Coleman gave a real performance (which she hadn't done since...since...), but those two things aren't going to lift it in my mind.

I really hated The Zygon Invasion.  I hated it so much I have delayed watching The Zygon Inversion, having no desire to see what happens next.  Thanks, Steven Moffat.  You've made me root for having the Doctor blown out of the sky.



Next Episode: The Zygon Inversion

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Highway Robbery of The Doctor


Well, it looks like things are back to normal on Doctor Who.  By that I mean we get another bad episode, though to be fair The Woman Who Lived is what I would call a noble failure: good ideas rattling within its rubbish.   It is a pretty frustrating thing to see potential in a story drowned out by some really bizarre choices.  The Woman Who Lived, which I consider more a sequel to The Girl Who Died than a continuation, is such an exercise in frustration.  Sheer total frustration.  There was so much good within The Woman Who Lived.  It however was sunk by bad decisions regarding story, tone, editing, and resolution.

It did have the benefit of not having Big Eyes Oswald as the Companion, so that might be worth a point in and of itself.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is in search of an alien amulet hiding on Earth as a jewel called the Eyes of Hades.  His journey takes him to 1651, where he inadvertently interrupts a coach robbery by the highwayman known as The Knightmare.  To his surprise, this highwayman is none other than Ashidl (Maisie Williams), the Viking girl from his last adventure.  Now going by the name of "Me" or in this incarnation, "Lady Me", she too is in search of the Eyes of Hades for reasons of her own. 

Me is not happy with the Doctor for giving her immortality, Me is more unhappy about the Doctor refusing her request to serve as a Companion, and Me is especially not happy to have outlived everyone and being granted immortality.  After losing her child/children in the Black Death, she has decided to remain childless (and on this I can see her point: why give birth when you know you are going to outlive your children, though it worked out in The Age of Adaline I'd like to point out).

Anyway, the reason she's searching for the Eyes of Hades is because of her collaboration with Leandro (Aryon Bakare) a lion-type alien who can breath fire.  He has crashed upon this puny planet (Earth is always a puny planet to aliens, isn't it.  Wouldn't it be nice if an alien were actually impressed by Tellurians and their civilizations) and in exchange for getting the Eyes of Hades, Leandro (which sounds surprisingly similar to "Leo") will do what the Doctor won't: take her travelling through time & space. 

Unfortunately, death is required to open the Eyes of Hades (boy, just writing that made me think writer Catherine Tregenna is being very simplistic, as if she's writing for children, which given Doctor Who's current audience, might not be far off-track).  Lady Me thinks the Doctor or a faithful old retainer would do the trick, but fortunately her highway stealing rival Sam Swift the Quick (Rufus Hound) has been captured and is about to get hung.  How convenient.  As Sam gives a comedy routine for his own gallows humor, Lady Me and Lenny the Lion rush to get the Eyes of Hades to work, the Doctor in hot pursuit after outwitting two witless guards.

As it turns out, Leo the Lion lied.  Color me SHOCKED!  The Eyes of Hades won't help her escape, but instead bring about an invasion!  Lady Me, by placing the Eyes of Hades on poor Sam Not-So-Swift (and killing him) has unleashed chaos and death on innocents, which she didn't want.  How to stop the invasion?  As it happens, Ashildr/Me has held on to the immortality device she had implanted by the Doctor, and she places it on Sam.  Portal closed, the Cowardly Lion is killed by the pride.  Me appoints herself watcher of all the Doctor's Companions, and we see her at the end, peering behind a fence when caught on a selfie by Clara (Jenna Coleman).

Ah, if only critics and Whovians bothered to examine some of what they declare brilliant?  Is it me, or is there something just a little cutesy with the name "Leandro" being that of a lion-type being?  I did honestly think at a certain point Williams and Bakare were going to break out into Beauty & The Beast given their outfits.  Was it strange that I burst out laughing when we saw the lion pop into this?

I think this was done to give The Woman Who Lived an alien/sci-fi element due to Doctor Who's stubborn refusal to do purely historic stories.  I think it would have been interesting to see Lady Me just be a highwayman and that she got caught, apparently executed, but either reviving (since she's immortal) or having the Doctor having to save her again.  Was Mufasa really necessary to this story?

I also really hated the editing, particularly when the Doctor and Lady Me (as idiotic and simplistic a name as can be created, again goading us to belt out The Sound of Music's Do-Re-Mi) were breaking into the house.  I also think Murray Gold can't control himself and thought the music at times was a bit too lighthearted for such things as the breaking-in of the mansion where the Eyes of Hades were.  You'd think there would be some more tense/dramatic music, but no, I thought it all a bit perky.

There were the usual leaps of logic (such as having a Wanted poster for The Doctor so soon after Sam Swift battled The Knightmare and her "father" in the Sam was going to tell the Keystone Kops of Merry Olde England, 'Oh yes, The Knightmare has her father "The Doctor" with her).

All that being said, The Woman Who Lived was at its best when it took things seriously.  It was wonderful seeing Williams bring a sadness and fury to her "Me", always living but living out what the Doctor said about immortality (it's not living forever, it's watching others die).  When Capaldi wasn't looking goofy with his sonic spectacles but appealing to the heart beneath the bitter woman or explaining why he opted not to bring her with him, again we see what good actors can do with their limited material. 

Again, it is just so unfortunate that what good there was in The Woman Who Lived (and there was good in it) was buried by such nonsense as the Space Lion King and his quick invasion.  Well, I know so many thought this one of the many Citizen Kanes of Doctor Who, because ALL of them are so brilliant.

For me, it's time Doctor Who took a page out of The Wizard of Oz and get itself a little...courage.

Leandro, meet your match...


Next Story: The Zygon Invasion

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: The Empire Strikes Back

Let's start with this statement.

This post and the analysis of Kyle Anderson's Doctor Who reviews is not motivated by any sense of animus or personal antagonism towards Anderson as a person.  He does not strike me as malevolent in any way.  He loves his brother and his friends, always a good sign.  I can't say that we would be friends, since I sense he and I have such diametrically opposite worldviews and interests that it would be difficult to be on the same wavelength.  I can be friends, close friends in fact, with people I don't see eye-to-eye with on subjects large and small.  However, it seems like Anderson and Aragon would find it so difficult to find any common ground that time together would be hard for both of us.

To use Andersonian terminology, I don't 'actively dislike' Kyle Anderson as a person.  My issue is not with him as an individual in any way.  My issue is with what I consider an inconsistency between his reviews and his ideas regarding his own impartiality and objectivity. It nothing person, it's strictly business.

Let us begin.

I still can't quite the hang of the Twitter.

I joined Twitter reluctantly, still seeing it as the Work of The Devil.  However, it looked like a good way to share my views, and I figures, 'what trouble could I possibly get into with it'? However, due to my lack of knowledge of Twitter, I have gotten into a few scrapes.

There was the time that Cory Dexter (as I lovingly call him) didn't take kindly to my suggestion that Gone With the Wind wasn't as he put it, "a KKK recruitment film".  Well, that was a tempest in a thimble, and neither of us are interest in each other, so we let sleeping dogs lie.  However, it wasn't long before I got into trouble again.

My newest romp through the merry world of the Twitter comes via one Kyle Anderson, better known as The Functional Nerd, resident Whovian for The Nerdist website where he reviews Doctor Who.  It all started with this Tweet

Hey everybody: I like #DoctorWho.  Like, a lot.  I write about it for my job. 
If you're looking for "Boo Moffat" support, try anywhere else.

Well, I retweeted this, with my own commentary.

Problem is, he rarely if ever criticizes anything re:#DoctorWho, let alone
anything Moffat has done to the show.

Well, did THAT set off our Dis-Functional Nerd.  The suggestion that he wasn't anything other than an objective, sober, serious critic sent him into quite a tizzy.  Boy was he mad.  Despite my near-total anonymity online versus his extensive social media reach with his thousands upon thousands of followers, he felt his honor stained.  As such, he struck back with great vengeance and furious anger.

Patently untrue. If you'd go and read some of my Series 6, 7, 8 reviews,
you'd know I'm very critical when warranted.

My first reaction was this...

Glad I managed to work the Vincent Price Laugh in there.

I had to laugh, primarily because Mr. Anderson doesn't know (and I'm sure doesn't care) that I HAVE been doing exactly that...and finding scant evidence of this idea that he's indeed 'very critical when warranted'.

As a side note, I do wonder what are the qualifications of when criticism is 'warranted'.

His sycophantic 'reviews' where he ends up almost always loving/liking a particular Doctor Who episode, no matter how abysmal, appears to be so incessant that sometimes I find it hard to parody or ridicule them because he does a pretty good job of it himself. 

Now, I'm sure Anderson doesn't see them as 'abysmal', and if it comes from a sincere heart I can't fault him for that.  However, the idea that he, Kyle Anderson, is objective and nonbiased when it comes to Doctor Who, particularly when it comes to the Moffat Era and/or any Moffat-penned script, is indeed Vincent Price laughable. 

Review after review after review shows Anderson to sometimes not just praise something Doctor Who related, but actually provide cover for the very subject he is supposed to be objectively reviewing.  I refer people to his A Scandal in Belgravia review from Series Two of Sherlock.  I've commented on this before, but I think it bears repeating.  This is taken verbatim from his review:

Now, let’s talk about Irene Adler. She is an incredibly smart, savvy, industrious, dangerous, and sexy woman, absolutely tailor-made for the Moffat treatment. Ever hear of a person named River Song? Moffat eats up women like this on a silver platter. It’s like he wants all women to be the screwball comedy version of Emma Peel. Within Sherlock Holmes, Adler is the closest thing he could possibly have to a girlfriend. He doesn’t exist in a physical or sexual world; he’s got no time for it. But he has the utmost respect for her intellect, which is the only thing that Sherlock Holmes values. She proves to be a match for him, a worthy mental sparring partner. Her allegiances lie only with herself, or to whoever pays her the most, and often, that isn’t Sherlock. Because Moffat is who he is, he’s made her a dominatrix and she wears very little throughout. Like all of his women, there will undoubtedly be allegations of sexism in the way he’s written the character, but I think he’s just writing women the way he wants them to be. It’s the same thing Howard Hawks did. They like sexy women who talk like men.  (Emphasis mine).

I've added emphasis because I consider these statements going beyond the bounds of traditional reviewing and slips into downright advocacy or worse, openly taking sides on behalf of the subject he's supposed to be objective on. Is it a critic's job to essentially defend the subject of his review from criticism?

Yes, Moffat's been accused of sexism.  These accusations are things that would warrant looking into.  However, again, it is any legitimate critic's job to defend the subject of their criticism?  I'd argue no.  A critic should state why he/she did/didn't like something.  If it involves perceptions of sexism, racism, homophobia, cisgender whatever, by that reviewer, then he/she should make their case. 

A critic, however, should not be acting as advocate or defense attorney for the subject of their review.

Time and time again, Anderson defends Moffat against his critics.  He has every right to.  However, when he does that, Anderson no longer is an 'analytical critic'.  He's an advocate, and as such he should state openly that he is a Defender of The Moff against all enemies foreign and domestic. 

However, back to the Twitter thing.

His response received one retweet and four likes.  He also got others to rally round to his side.  I wouldn't have known of any of this (or really cared) save for the fact that one of his defenders used the exact same phrase, "critical when warranted", which struck me as quite odd, almost chant-like, if you will, and replied to both of us.

Again, not big on the Twitter knowledge. 

From the reading of the replies (a fascinating one, at least from my perspective), Anderson and his ilk are under some very odd impressions.

Anderson thinks "It's like you can't even like things anymore and still keep your critical credibility. Bums me out".  Others think I'm a 'hater', but my favorite is Anderson's reply to a Graeme Burk to the idea that there's something wrong with enthusiasm for something (in this case, Doctor Who).

I've legitimately loved (or at least liked a lot) all 8 eps so far.
Guess I'm just a doe-eyed sycophant now.

I was so tempted to retweet that with my own query:  "What does he mean 'now'?"

Profiles in Courage

Well, a few things are so off that I think it bears closer inspection.

Anyone just has to look at my Librarians, The Americans, or Gotham reviews to see I can like what I review while keeping my 'critical credibility'.  I'm a fan of those shows, am upfront about that.  My disagreement isn't that Anderson likes Doctor Who.  He's free to like anything he likes.

My disagreement comes from my belief that he, again, rarely if ever criticizes Doctor Who, finds fault with it, pushes the narrative that virtually all Doctor Who episodes are somehow brilliant.  I like The Librarians, The Americans, Gotham, but I'm not going to say that almost every episode was good when I don't think an episode is.  I'm not going to criticize an episode only to say "...but despite that, I really liked it".  I find such statements silly and illogical. 

Our Functional Nerd does not. 

Just a cursory look at his Series 6, 7, and 8 reviews show a curious trend.  These are merely preliminary overviews of this positive to negative ratios regarding Doctor Who reviews, the ones that he argues he can be 'quite critical when warranted'.

Series 6: 11/13 positive reviews.
Series 7: 16/17 positive reviews (including specials).
Series 8: 12/13 positive reviews (still debating whether his Caretaker review can be considered negative).

It is possible for a show to produce a majority of good episodes.  However, how is such a record of positive reviews be considered "highly critical when warranted"?  If we go by his thinking, criticism of Doctor Who is rarely if ever 'warranted', because everything is so brilliant.

Here's the thing Kyle.  I HAVE read your reviews.  I have mocked them for their incessant cheerleading, their inability to find much fault in the episodes, their curious habit of coming close to being negative only to turn around and say a variation of "...despite all that griping I just did, I actually overall quite enjoyed the episode" (your exact quote regarding Let's Kill Hitler), and your sometimes bizarre determination to give cover to other people's legitimate criticisms of "The Moff" and his work.

As a side note, Anderson and I'm sure many others believe any criticism of "The Moff" is 'hating', as if criticizing Moffat on any level is irrational.  Even when asking perfectly logical questions on continuity, on plot holes, or even casting, the response from Anderson & his group isn't to actually address the issues presented, but to either defend them or criticize the critic with the dreaded 'hater' tag.  Asking about how Daleks can say they are human in one episode (Asylum of the Daleks) but not be able to say they are human in another (The Witch's Familiar) is not seen as asking a question about contradictions.  Instead, it's the questioner who has to defend him/herself, usually with the taunt that they are 'too stupid' to get it. 

The fact you refer to the subject you are 'highly critical of when warranted' by a cutesy nickname already denotes, to me at least, that you are not as objective as you insist you are.  Can you imagine if Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert referred to the directors of Vertigo and Goodfellas as "Hitch" and "Marty" respectively in a review of Vertigo or Goodfellas and adopted a chummy attitude towards them or suggested that criticizing their work was being a 'hater'?  Yet this is what you do, again and again.

Take your own review for The Wedding of River Song.  This so far is as close to genuinely angry I've seen you regarding something Doctor Who-related.  You go on for four paragraphs dumping on Moffat, and even end it with the hope that Moffat can hopefully 'pull his head out of his ass' by the time of the Christmas special.
Yes, you were quite critical here (probably more than I was). undercut your own hypothesis of being 'highly critical when warranted' with this line of thought buried in your "negative" review.

"I still love the series, I still love the era, and I even generally like this episode (though a second viewing was required).  Hell, I still really like Steven Moffat’s work as a whole. He’s incredibly innovative from a storytelling standpoint and continues to make compelling, thought-provoking television.  I’m glad he’s showrunning my favorite show".
You just tore a new one into this man, yet you're glad he's showrunning your favorite show?  The same man who you want to get his head out of his ass?  How can you express such anger at an episode, then turn around and say you liked it (especially after a second viewing)? 
I've seen Love & Monsters twice.  I've seen Closing Time twice.  I've seen Web Planet twice.  
I hated them both times. 
I didn't need a second viewing to get me to like something that angered me the way The Wedding of River Song angered you.  
You can explain to me how you can go on about how Moffat doesn't have a master plan...yet ended up liking the very episode that showed he had no master plan. 
Again and again, you do this: express dislike only to conclude with positive praise.  Must I give you examples?  If you insist:
Day of the Egg, The Curse of the Black Spot, The Almost People, Let's Kill Hitler, Closing Time, The Wedding of River Song, The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe, The Snowmen, The Rings of Akhaten, Cold War (and that's considering I haven't officially looked over Series 8).  Each has a variation of 'while there were problems, I liked it'.  
And that isn't even touching on what I consider the simply worst line you've ever written. It was in regards to A Good Man Goes to War.
"A Good Man Goes to War,” the mid-series finale of Doctor Who, was full of action and cool new characters, but there wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “plot.” Yet this isn’t necessarily a bad thing". 
Are you seriously suggesting that a television episode not having a plot isn't 'necessarily a bad thing'?  Is it a good thing?  It's a good thing when someone like Ernie Kovacs does it, but he was a comedic genius.  If a television program or film had no plot, then what is it?  Experimental cinema?  
How 'bout 'rubbish'?  Just plain rubbish.  
How is a lack of a plot on a television episode a good thing?  How?  HOW? 
Again, Kyle Anderson is free to believe anything he wishes to believe, praise anything he wishes to praise, criticize anything he wishes to criticize.  However, I too am free to do likewise.  In this case, I do criticize the Analytical Critic.  I have read his reviews and found them lacking in...actual criticism.  I'm not talking about being negative to be negative.  I'm talking about seriously taking any Doctor Who episode, particularly one written by Steven Moffat, to task for anything.

Yes, there was The Wedding of River Song...but you did say you did like it, which makes it a positive review despite how angry it made you.  Curious that...

No, I don't think one has to hate everything Doctor Who-related.  I certainly don't.  I've praised episodes when I thought they deserved praise (Flatline, Mummy on the Orient Express, Under the Lake). 
However, when I criticize, it's because I think something is bad, and I certainly don't try to suggest that it just has a few problems but that it was "another fantastic episode for the season" (as you did for Series 6's Closing Time, a series you called 'uneven'...despite your 11 out of 13 positive reviews). I'm also never going to state that "there aren't any...episodes I actively dislike" (from you Night Terrors review, also from the 'uneven' Series 6). 
And for the record, I liked Night Terrors.
I'll take up your challenge, Functional Nerd.  I'll complete my Nerdist Doctor Who reviews retrospective.  I might even be more serious and not as delightfully flippant as I have been all this time.  I've been mocking your reviews in my Aragon vs. Anderson series, where I quote your reviews verbatim and mockingly poke fun at it.  Now I might actually drop the humor altogether.

No, I'll keep the light-hearted tone.  Some things deserve to be mocked.

Again, this is not meant to show contempt for Kyle Anderson as a person.  It is to show that despite his protests, Kyle Anderson is extremely unwilling to criticize Doctor Who and serves less as analytical critic and more unabashed cheerleader.  He's free to be that, but can he be both?
I do ask for some time though.
Have to finish that Master's in Library Science, you know.
I don't mind a sycophant. 
I object to a cut-rate one.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Viking River Cruise of The Doctor


The problem with living forever is that eventually, you run out of things to do.  Eternal youth isn't all it's cracked up to be, and The Girl Who Died certainly learned that lesson, or is going to anyway.  The Girl Who Died (which keeps with this eternal fixation co-writer Steven Moffat has with Death...and How to Avoid It) has some simply awful moments that are sheer embarrassments to all concerned.  There are a few glimmers of good things in it.  However, the rapturous praise this episode and actually all of Season Nine has received is a far greater puzzle than that which is on the screen.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his Companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) find themselves captured by Vikings.  The Doctor attempts to convince them he is the Norse god Odin, but then the "real" Odin shows up in the sky.  He demands the village's greatest warriors in order to bring them to Valhalla, and not only does 'Odin' take them, but also grabs Clara and a mysterious girl, Ashildr (Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame, and for full disclosure I've never seen Game of Thrones or cared to watch, so Williams being a guest star causes absolutely no excitement for me).  Anyway, we quickly discover that 'Odin' (David Schofield) is no Norse god, but the leader of the Mire, an alien warrior group that extracts testosterone from the finest warriors in the universe.

No vitamins for these nutters.  Wonder why they haven't beamed up the Israeli Army, but that's for another time.

Well, Ashildr has managed to challenge the Mire to war, and now they have twenty-four hours to raise an army against them.  The Doctor and Clara now rally the disheartened Vikings to take on the Mire.  The fact that he can't be bothered to learn any of their names, referring to them as Lofty, Chuckles, and Heidi is not as important as his sense that he knows Ashildr.

Oh, and he still speaks Baby.  In fact, this language helps the Doctor in his plan to defeat the Mire when Lofty takes his baby to see the electric eels they have.  With a little puppetry from Ashildr, who has books apparently, they are ready to challenge the Mire.

When they Mire appear, they are surprised to see the Vikings in the middle of a hoe-down.  They demand a battle, and thanks to Ashildr's powerful mind projections they are able to defeat and fool the Mire.  Worse, Clara has captured them being defeated by a cheap puppet on video (complete with The Benny Hill Theme playing) and the Doctor threatens to upload this on the Intergalactic Version of YouTube unless they leave.  The Mire is angry at this turn and swears revenge.  However, in the midst of celebrations, we find that Ashildr has died, the force to project into the Mire's minds too much for her. 

It's at this point that The Doctor is highly upset about her death. As he contemplates what he can do, he starts to think where he's seen his face before, why he chose that particular face.  The Doctor now sees why he looks the way he does and who he looks like: Caelicius from The Fires of Pompeii, the man the Tenth Doctor saved (along with his family) from Vesuvius' wrath.  He chose that face, that particular face, to remind himself he saved people.  Rejigging the Mire's helmet, he installs a chip that not only brings Ashildr back to life but has inadvertently given her immortality.  To help her, he gives her a second chip that she can give to anyone she wants to share immortality with.

However, as the Doctor leaves and time flows on, we see Ashildr's face change from happy to dour, the burden of immortality weighing on her.     

I am reluctant to say that The Girl Who Died is really a two-part story insofar as whatever comes after will be more a sequel to it than a straight continuation.  One could bring Ashildr back any time really without affecting the flow of the season.  The fact that she is returning in The Woman Who Lived immediately following in reality has little to do with The Girl Who Died save it has the same character several centuries later.

Be that as it may, from what I saw The Girl Who Died is yet another bad Doctor Who episode, though not because the ideas in it are bad.  I blame the execution, where Moffat I figure now knows that he can put down anything and it will be hailed as brilliant.

Must be nice to be praised for cranking out crap constantly and get awards for it too.

Let's start with Odin's appearance.  I understand that it was meant to evoke memories of Monty Python & The Holy Grail, but my question is, 'why?' Monty Python & The Holy Grail was meant to be an all-out comedy, so was The Girl Who Died similarly aiming to not be taken seriously?  When the farmers declare, "We are VIKINGS!", I again burst out laughing.

It's clear that The Girl Who Died wasn't taking things seriously when it evokes The Benny Hill Theme...and plays it too.  (At this point, I wonder, where did they get the Wi-Fi to get the music to play alongside the video?  Just a thought).  Would the aliens get the joke?  Would Millennials?  There are some GenXers who wouldn't get the joke, but then again I've always gravitated to British television.  Still, why was that there?

This isn't even touching on the fact that electric eels weren't known in Scandinavia as they are native to South America (thus making their inclusion all the more bizarre) or on that pesky "Viking helmets DIDN'T have horns on them" business.  Personally, I don't care about the historical accuracy of Viking helmets because that wasn't part of the story.  Having animals that did not exist and making them a major part of the story does, and isn't it curious that few if any critics have mentioned this in their Girl Who Died reviews.  Certainly the whore of whores, The Nerdist's resident Whovian Kyle Anderson, makes no mention of this historical anachronism in his typically enthusiastic fanboying (to call them reviews, let alone critical analysis, would be as logical as Vikings having electric eels).

We have the usual Moffat tropes (people coming back to life, no explanation for how the girls got away, a villain with no identity or persona) and again with that damn "talking Baby" crap.  It wasn't funny the first time, nor the second, and it still isn't funny. 

What bothered me in retrospect about The Girl Who Died is the idea that a.) the Doctor 'picked his face' and b.) that he was so wrapped up in Ashildr.  On the first part, I know why it was done.  NuWho fans wanted an explanation as to why the Twelfth Doctor (but Fourteenth Form, to use Andersonian logic), looked like Caecilius.  HOW COULD THIS BE?  With this episode, we got a reason I'm sure even the Nerds on a Couch will mindlessly parrot as logical: he 'chose' that face to remind himself he saved people.

Oddly, no one has ever answered two or three points on that.  One: since when could the Doctor 'choose' anything regarding his physical regeneration?  When the Second Doctor was forced to regenerate, he was kind of given a choice, but he dithered so long the Time Lords essentially said, 'screw it, we're picking one out for you'.  In fact, the Doctor has never really chosen much if anything with regards to regeneration (and if he has, I can't remember it).  Two: why THAT face?  It isn't as if he had to select that Roman to remind himself of his Hippocratic oath.  I'm sure he saved many people (remember, "EVERYBODY LIVES!"), so why not select another face altogether?

Third and finally, no one, not even Kyle Anderson, has been able to answer, if the Doctor can choose a particular face, why he chose as his fifth regeneration to look like Commander Maxil, who shot the fourth regeneration in Arc of Infinity.  When I actually asked Anderson via Twitter, he did respond, and it was as follows:

"Arrogance? Maybe he was remembering people he hated and chose that face? Who knows?"

My answer is infinitely more logical: they hired the same actor to play two different parts at two different times. 

This isn't the first time Doctor Who has done this.  Nicholas Courtney played Bret Vyon in the epic First Doctor story The Daleks' Master Plan before he played one of the most iconic Doctor Who characters starting with the Second Doctor story The Web of Fear: Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (better known today as the father Kate Stewart constantly name drops and who was 'honored' by being turned into a Cyberman in Death in Heaven, which I'm sure would have thrilled both the Brig and the late Courtney).  Before he was First Doctor Companion Steven Taylor at the end of the story The Chase, Peter Purves played a hick tourist in New York City IN AN EARLIER EPISODE OF THE SAME EIGHT-PART STORY! Even NuWho has had the same actors playing different parts, with future Companion Amy (Karen Gillian) playing a soothsayer in Fires of Pompeii.

Yet in none of those instances, particular with regards to Colin Baker's double-duty as Maxil/The Sixth Doctor, was there ever an effort to attempt to explain why two people in distant times/places looked exactly alike.  I think it was because people had some logic to them and knew that the people were actors, capable of playing different parts even if it was on the same show. 

Watch The Golden Girls, for they cast Harold Gould as a love interest for Rose Nylund before they cast a love interest for Rose Nylund by name of Miles Webber.  Even when the Miles character was given a pretty outlandish plot to have him written out (he was part of the Witness Protection Program whose identity was discovered), when he was brought back, that particular episode addressed that part of the story but then things went back to normal and that storyline was never mentioned again; he returned to being Miles Webber, mild-mannered yet randy college professor. His criminal past was never brought up because we as the audience moved on.

What I don't get is why NuWho fans got so hung up on Peter Capaldi possibly playing two distinct parts and having to have that explained in some way.  Aren't people capable of understanding that actors can play a variety of parts?  Aren't people capable of a little suspension of disbelief?  I guess NuWho fans aren't, because we had to have a whole storyline built up to explain why an actor could appear as two separate characters in one show...rather than just accept things and move on. 

No one ever asked why Dill from The Chase looked like Steven Taylor, or why the Brigadier looked like Bret Vyon (as if there were some cosmic connection between the two), so why do we need to ask why Caelicius looked like the Twelfth Doctor?  Again, the question has to be asked, 'why THAT face?'  Hasn't the Doctor saved or failed to save others?  Why not choose their faces?!

Oh right, NuWho fans need everything spelled out for them.

Also, one wonders if he has such power over his regenerative appearance, why hasn't he gotten the ginger part right?

For when The Doctor gets the 'ginger' part right...

Second, why is the Doctor so devastated with Ashidlr's death when he didn't seem all that broken up with O'Donnell's death in Before the Flood? What made our Scandinavian tween so special?  She had visions, but so what?  I didn't find Ashidlr so important as to bring about this desire to make the Doctor reenact Christ with Lazarus.

In short, I didn't care to see her get immortality, so that was not something that thrilled me or made my fist pump...except perhaps in a desire to punch Steven Moffat and/or Kyle Anderson.

This isn't to say The Girl Who Died was all bad.  The final moments with the Doctor contemplating the idea of immortality was well-played. "Immortality isn't living forever.  Immortality is everyone else dying".  The Doctor should know.  This was so well-played by Capaldi, who could be a truly great Doctor if only his material weren't almost all rubbish. The final scene with Williams' shifting face was also well-executed.

In retrospect, the love The Girl Who Died puzzles me.  Have I finally lost interest in Doctor Who?  Perhaps we should take the Doctor's advise and realize that nothing was meant to be forever.  Not even Doctor Who.      


Next Episode: The Woman Who Lived

The Ghost Hunters of The Doctor


Well, there went THAT idea. 

Last time, I had said that Toby Whithouse had drawn inspiration from Alien/Aliens for Under the Lake.  To conclude his two-part story, which I'm calling Ghosts in the Water, he seems to have drawn inspiration from both Predator and Alien vs. Predator.  Now, I love PredatorAlien vs. Predator...ah, that was pretty bad.  The sequel was even worse.  Therefore, what could have been a great ending became a merely OK one.  I didn't hate Before the Flood.  After the fantastic opening to Ghosts in the Water Part I, one would have to really be bonkers to flop Part II.

Toby Whithouse might be bonkers.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), along with two of the scientists from the underwater base, O'Connell (Morven Christie) and Bennett (Arsher Ali) have gone back in time to before the city they are investigating was flooded, specifically 1980.  They find the first victim, the Tivolian known as Prentiss (Paul Kaye), still alive and well who tells them the ship is a hearse carrying the remains of one of Tivoli's many conquerors, the Fisher King.  What Prentiss doesn't know is that the Fisher King too is alive and well, and the King kills Prentiss.

In the future, Clara (Jenna Coleman) and the other members of the underwater base, Cass (Sophie Stone) and Lunn (Zaqi Ismail) are still shocked to find the ghost of the Doctor before them.  Cass, reading the Ghost Doctor's lips, realizes he is listing off a series of names in a specific order.  The first is O'Donnell.  The second is Clara.  They conclude this is the order of people killed.  When the Doctor learns of his ghost, he realizes he cannot change history and is destined to die at the hands of the Fisher King.

Tragically, O'Donnell is killed by the Fisher King, making Bennett highly upset that the Doctor didn't save her.  Now the Doctor has to save Clara, the next person on the list.  The O'Donnell ghost now appears on the base, taking Clara's phone.  In order to retrieve it, Clara pushes Cass to let Lunn go get their only means of communicating with the Doctor since they won't hurt Lunn.  Cass hates the idea but Lunn agrees with Clara.  Lunn gets trapped in the main room, and Cass and Clara have to go out of their safe room to get him.

The Doctor faces the Fisher King alone, and tricks him into going back to his ship where he finds that the dam wall has burst open, drowning the down.  Bennett is sent back to the future but we have no idea where the Doctor is.  We discover that he is inside the hearse!  The ghosts, responding to the roar of the Fisher King, are doubly tricked: the Fisher King is not there, and the Ghost Doctor is really a hologram.  Trapped in the Faraday cage, the Doctor tells them UNIT will come to spirit the ghosts away.  Bennett, heartbroken over his lost-love O'Donnell's death, tells Lunn to confess that he loves Cass before it's too late, and after doing so, they kiss.

When they leave, The Doctor reveals to Clara that the names he listed were random, but that he was motivated to act by placing Clara's name second.  As for who really wrote Beethoven's Fifth (the question and scenario the Doctor gave at the beginning), well, since the Doctor stated Beethoven himself didn't write anything but had someone give him the music already written, that mystery still remains.

Right off the bat I should say that the whole Beethoven thing really bothered me to no end for two reasons.  One, it denies the true genius of Ludwig with a cheap joke (and smacks of that whole "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare" nonsense snobs like Sir Derek Jacobi push.  Second, it just wasn't funny or clever.  Worse, the Doctor breaking the fourth wall to talk to us and tell us about this bootstrap paradox I guess to explain how he saved the crew by changing the future.

Still, I think our first clue that the Doctor's Ghost wasn't real should have been when we heard the names listed.  "O'Donnell, Clara, Doctor, Bennett, Cass", the Ghost Doctor repeats.  My question would be, 'how could the Doctor give the names of people killed after he was supposedly killed'?  Being a ghost, he would be dead already, so how could he know that Bennett and Cass were killed after him?

Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I can't help be bothered by what I feel is a bit of a logical fallacy. As if the whole "The Doctor wrote the Ninth Symphony and every bit of Beethoven's catalog" thing wasn't a bother already.

I also wondered what exactly the Doctor was doing in that statis chamber all those hundreds of years: sleeping it off, waiting patiently until the base staff opened it up.  Oh well.

It does seem a pity that once again, Doctor Who kills off better Companion material than the Companions we have now.  Back in the day, Companions were introduced during the story to be brought on board. From Vicky, the first Companion outside the original cast, to Ace, the last Companion before the show went on 'hiatus', almost all Companions were brought aboard after their first encounter with the Doctor.  Now, just like before, we see good characters killed off.  I would have liked to have seen Bennett and O'Donnell serve as Companions over Big Eyes Clara, especially since Christie and Ali were so good in the roles.  They would have balanced each other well: O'Donnell's fangirl with actual intelligence and courage and Bennett's intelligence with a reluctance to fight. 

I especially liked Ali in Before the Flood.  He could be funny (as when he says upon meeting Prentiss, "My first proper alien...and he's an idiot") and he could be full-on straight dramatic (as when he chastised the Doctor for O'Donnell's death).  I didn't believe the whole "Bennett was in love with O'Donnell" bit because I though he had eyes for Big Eyes, but Ali did try to convince me of such. 

In fact, Before the Flood was remarkably well-acted by everyone, so that was a plus.

What I didn't care for was the Fisher King himself, who proved a bit of a bust.  As a side note, I understand Slipknot 'singer' Corey Taylor provided the roar of the Fisher King, and while it's made out to be some sort of acting coup equal to having Dame Judy Dench appear as the Rani, I can only yawn since I don't know Slipknot and don't care one whit.

Anyway, the Fisher King himself wasn't that great of an antagonist, more in the growling to be menacing style than an actual antagonist. 

It also doesn't help when you find yourself shouting, "Slap her!" when you see Cass scowling at Clara. 

Now, I don't think Before the Flood is a disaster.  Instead, it is a terrible let-down after the brilliance of Under the Lake.  It failed to match the first part, and too many wrong things (weak villain, the Beethoven bit, a desire to bitch-slap Big Eyes) took away from the good parts. 

That being said, on the whole Ghosts in the Water is an OK story overall. 



Overall Score for Ghosts in the Water: 6/10

Next Story: The Girl Who Died

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Underwater Menace of The Doctor


I don't have to read Kyle Anderson's review for The Nerdist regarding Under The Lake, the first of a new two-part Doctor Who story, to know that he raved about it (as he does with just about every Doctor Who story).  In fact, I think the last really negative Doctor Who review Anderson gave was for A Town Called Mercy, two seasons ago.  It's gotten to where spoofing Anderson's ebullient Doctor Who reviews has turned into a hobby for me, seeing how his self-proclaimed 'analytical critic's mind' melts at the merest mention of "The Moff" and his 'genius'.  Yet I digress.

Well, two things on that.  First, Under the Lake was written by Toby Whithouse, who wrote A Town Called Mercy.  Second, I find myself agreeing with Anderson about Under the Lake (and for the record, on A Town Called Mercy too).  Under the Lake felt and played like a Classic Doctor Who story, from its setting to the central role the Doctor played to the mix of science-fiction and horror, Under the Lake might just be the Flatline of Season Nine: an episode that is really unimpeachable. 

However, since it's a two-parter, it remains to be seen whether its companion piece, Before the Flood, can keep up its good potential.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his Companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) arrive at an underwater base three days after the crew discovered a strange spaceship.  It's even stranger because they are in what was once a city above water where no spaceship should have been in.  The crew has suffered the loss of their captain, Moran (Colin McFarlane) and has to hide out in the base's Faraday Cage to protect themselves from the 'ghosts' that come at night after them, Moran being one of them.  There are essentially two leaders: the deaf Cass (Sophie Stone), aided by her interpreter Lunn (Zaqi Ismael) and the head of Vector Industries, Pritchard (Steven Robertson), who is the company man.  The other, scientists O'Donnell (Morven Christie) and Bennett (Arsher Ali) are pretty much there to keep things going.

The ghosts are about, but what makes it strange is that the original ghost is from a very meek race, so the attacks on the crew are so out-of-character.  Prichard is killed by the ghosts and becomes one himself. The Doctor now comes to realize that they are really ghosts, and that they as ghosts are transmitting a signal through themselves.  Thanks to their capture, Cass is able to lip-read what they are saying, "The Dark, The Sword, The Forsaken, The Temple", and at first it seems so strange.  The Doctor then deduces it is a set of coordinates, leading to the church within the sunken city.  He also dissuades Cass from calling for a rescue ship (despite one being on its way without being sent for) because the ghosts want to kill the crew to strengthen their signal.

The ghosts strike back, unleashing a flood within the base.  As the group attempts to flee, the Doctor says the only way to fix this is to go back in time to find the source of the signal in the church before it was flooded.  The doors lock between two groups: The Doctor, Bennett, and O'Donnell in one, Cass, Lunn, and Clara in the other.  The Doctor's group goes into the TARDIS, and the Clara group waits it out...until they see in horror outside the window into the water, to find a new ghost...THE DOCTOR!

Under the Lake is practically pitch-perfect in a way Doctor Who has not been in a really long time.  Again, we have to go back to the double-punch of Mummy on the Orient Express/Flatine to find a Doctor Who story that works just as well on every level.   The 'base under siege' plot has been used before, certainly a mainstay of the Second Doctor's tenure, but here, it never feels forced or contrived. 

It actually has a very strong Alien/Aliens feel, from the claustrophobia to the evil businessman getting in the way of things to the scene where Lunn is about to be killed by the ghosts but is spared.  Curiously, when we get the ghosts to pull back from killing, we find that Whithouse provides a logical reason for it.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Under the Lake is such a good story: it gives us a logic to everything, even if the Doctor's explanation for the cryptic message is a bit offbeat.  In every step of the story, from the ghost's capture to how the ghosts came to be to working out why the day mode on the base (which is when the ghosts hide) was switched to night and O'Donnell managing to work it back all blends to give the viewer credit in being smart enough to figure things out.

I can digress to wonder why someone wasn't tasked to put the base on permanent daylight time to keep the ghosts at bay, but I'm not going to split hairs.

Another brilliant aspect in Under the Lake is the acting.  There isn't a bad performance in the lot.  I'll grant that O'Donnell plays like a 2119 version of Osgood and I could ask why she was such a big fan of The Doctor, but give Christie credit that this was a small part of her character.  For most of the time, she was the intelligent officer she was meant to be. 

When I learned that a deaf character was going to be in the story, I was concerned that this was done to show us that actors with physical limitations weren't being given a chance.  How wrong I was, and glad to see how Cass was not a token character to placate some misguided notion of equality.  Instead, thanks to Stone's performance, she was the excellent leader that her character demanded she be.  Soon, we forgot that she was deaf, and while it is important to acknowledge that she is deaf, the fact that it soon became a non-issue is a credit to Stone, Whithouse, and director Daniel O'Hara.

In fact, Under the Lake goes out of its way to cast a wide range of actors who show us what British and American television could do if they opted to cast actors, not ethnicities.  We forget that Lunn and Bennett are being played by actors of Arab and Pakistani heritage.  This is good, because both Ismail and Ali are excellent in their roles: Ismail as the interpreter who is frustrated by Cass' actions in keeping him out of things, and Ali as the somewhat nerdy and cowardly Bennett who appears to take a shine to Clara.  Truth be told, Ali's Bennett was my favorite character: his fear but rising to do what was needed being both comic and heroic in equal turn.

I hope, however, he isn't the newest romantic interest on Doctor Who, despite his good work.

Apart from the positive step in casting non-Anglo actors in what would appear to be Anglo parts, we get perhaps the best performances out of our leads.  Capaldi is in his element as The Doctor, toning down the goofy mannerisms bestowed to him by Matt Smith's interpretation and making The Doctor into a mostly rational, intelligent, authority figure.  Sometimes the comedy is forced and dumb (he needs cue cards to express emotion), but sometimes the comedy actually flows well ("You weren't like this when you met Shirley Bassey", he mutters to himself when thinking out the problem).  Coleman was excellent merely because she for once wasn't the main character.  She behaved like what a traditional Companion should be: the one who asks the questions and helps move the plot along.

It's almost a shame to think how so much time has been wasted making Clara the focus, because Coleman flounders when she has to carry the load with some exceptions (Flatline).  Here, Clara was good, but oddly, we see how well The Doctor can work with better characters as Companions. 

While people seemed eager to have Cass and Lunn be the new Companions (because NuWho fans ALWAYS want guest characters to be the new Companions rather than have a completely new character pop up), I'd like O'Donnell and Bennett to fill that role.  

What elevated Under the Lake is also the brilliant visual look to it, giving it the creepy look that pushes the fear factor.  Even Murray Gold for once tones things down, making the music effectively minimal and tense.  We even got a logical use for those damn stupid Sonic Sunglasses, which deserves a point in itself.

If I were to fault Under the Lake for something, it is in little things, like the clichéd 'evil businessman' of the Pritchard character (one half-expects Robertson to a.) twirl a mustache and b.) not live out the episode since he's obviously evil and stupid).  Another thing is when it made the O'Donnell character another Osgood.  One wonders WHY she is such a fan, and the story doesn't answer it.

Apart from that, Under the Lake is probably the best episode we've had in a long, long time.  It's a strange thing to find my bete noire Kyle Anderson and myself being enthusiastic about the same thing, I'm an honest critic.

Let's see whether Before the Flood manages to pull things together...or tear it down.



Next Episode: Before the Flood