by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "The Angels Take Manhattan"

Posted 1457 days ago in by Catriona

Synopsis

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

What, you want a longer synopsis?

Well, all right, then.

We open with a noir prologue, in which private detective Sam Garner, hired by crime boss Mr Grayle, heads to Winter Quay to investigate rumours of “moving statues”. Instead, he finds his own aged, dying self, is chased onto the roof by weeping angels, and turns to find himself faced by the leering face of Lady Liberty.

Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are sitting around somewhere in present-day New York (somewhere grassy, let’s just say it’s Central Park), which seems like an odd place to go when you’ve got a machine that travels in space and time. I mean, you can get to New York by plane. (Which the Doctor and Ace did once in a piece of fan-fiction I read where the Doctor had to go up against the Joker, but that’s not really important right now, I suppose).

Either way, there they all in New York, with the Doctor reading a modern reprint of a ’30s pulp novel about ‘Melody Malone’, which he picked up because he liked the busty woman on the cover.

AMY: Where did you get this book?
DOCTOR: It was in my jacket.
AMY: How did it get there?
DOCTOR: How did anything get there? I’ve given up asking.

He’s reading bits of it out loud (after ripping out the last page, because he doesn’t like endings and watch out for that anvil!) and annoying Amy by saying, “Yowzah!” at the exciting bits. And Amy’s reading the newspaper and annoying the Doctor because she’s wearing reading glasses, which make her eyes look “liney.”

Nope, not the glasses: Amy’s just not quite as young as she used to be.

Rory manages to defuse this situation by being adorable, and heads off to get coffee, not realising that he’s going to be followed on his way back by creepy giggling noises. Amy asks the Doctor to read aloud from the book, omitting the yowzahs, and that’s how they discover Rory is now a character, confronting his daughter (no surprise who Melody Malone turns out to be) in 1938 New York.

River and Rory are snatched by Grayle’s men and taken to his ostentatious mansion, where Rory is thrown into the basement with a box of matches and a pile of baby weeping angels, while River is taken to Grayle’s study and asked about the weeping angels. Turns out, Grayle has one chained behind a curtain in his study, because he’s both a collector of rare objects and a total idiot. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Amy are trying to break through to 1938 in the TARDIS, but the whole area is temporally unstable. Luckily, Melody Malone’s book goes into detail about Grayle’s collection, so it’s a quick trip to China for a plot device ripped out of “City of Death”, and then River can set a signal for the Doctor to lock onto.

Which is fortunate, because Rory is running out of matches and River’s wrist is now held in an unbreakable grip by the weeping angel.

Realising that River wrote the Melody Malone book and that by looking at the table of contents, they can glean hints from it without actually fixing the future (and is that the first time paratextual material has been a significant plot device outside a Jasper Fforde novel?), Amy heads down to the cellar to rescue Rory, while the Doctor orders River to free herself without breaking her own wrist, even though Amy read that she would break her wrist.

But Rory is already gone and River has no choice but to break her own wrist, though she lies to the Doctor about it. Then he and River have a sad little chat about the difficulties of being in love with, as River says, “an ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve year old.” (The gender politics in that scene aren’t to my taste, by the way, but they’re plausible enough.)

River locates Rory at Winter Quay, which doesn’t sound promising. And, sure enough, Rory, when they find him, has wandered into a room where, just like Sam Garner before him, he finds his own aged, dying self. This, the Doctor says, is inevitable. There’s nothing they can do to avoid it—except Rory has a stroppy wife and a stroppy daughter, and neither of them are as convinced of inevitability as the Doctor is. If Rory can only get out of the hotel, he can cause a paradox that brings the whole edifice—the whole battery farm, as the Doctor calls it—down.

But, like Sam before him (or after him? Sometime in 1938, anyway), Rory is herded up to the roof where he finds the Statue of Liberty looming over him.

RORY: I always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty. I guess she got impatient.

With the Statue of Liberty behind them and the staircase choked with angels, there’s only one way to break the paradox: jump off the roof. Rory is convinced that he’ll come back to life (“When don’t I?”), but Amy isn’t willing to let him take the chance unless she takes it, too.

So they leap off the building, wrapped together, and they wake up in a graveyard. All’s well and good: Rory’s death has broken the paradox, and the angels have all been destroyed in the backlash.

Well, except for that one who was hiding behind Rory and who has just zapped him back into the past again.

I might let the dialogue speak for the next bit of the episode:

AMY: That gravestone, Rory’s, there’s room for one more name, isn’t there?
The Doctor: What are you talking about? Back away from the Angel. Come back to the TARDIS. We’ll figure something out.
AMY: The Angel – would it send me back to the same time, to him?
DOCTOR: I don’t know. Nobody knows.
AMY: But it’s my best shot, yeah?
DOCTOR: No!
RIVER: Doctor, shut up! Yes! Yes, it is!
DOCTOR: Amy…
AMY: Well, then. I just have to blink, right?
DOCTOR: No!
AMY: It’ll be fine. I know it will. I’ll- I’ll- I’ll be with him, like I should be. Me and Rory together. Melody?
DOCTOR: Stop it! Just- Just stop it!
AMY: You look after him, and you be a good girl, and you look after him.
DOCTOR: You are creating fixed time. I will never be able to see you again!
AMY: I’ll be fine. I’ll be with him.
DOCTOR: Amy, please, just come back into the TARDIS. Come along, Pond, please.
AMY: Raggedy man, goodbye!

And Amy vanishes, but her name appears below Rory’s on the tombstone next to the Doctor and River.

Back in the TARDIS, River tells the Doctor not to travel on his own, and the Doctor asks her to travel with him: she says she’ll go anywhere he likes whenever he likes, but not all the time (“One psychopath per TARDIS”). But when she sends the Melody Malone MS to Amy for publication, she’ll ask her to write an afterword.

That would be the page that the Doctor ripped out of the novel in the beginning, of course. Fortunately, it’s a low-wind day in New York, so it’s still resting in the abandoned picnic basket.

But you’ll have to re-watch the episode if you want a transcription of that, because I seem to have something in my eye …

What worked for me in this episode

I’m going to cheat here, because it’s been a long week and I’m trying to find time to make a dolly for my tiny baby niece for Christmas. So, in short, everything worked for me in this episode.

Okay, not everything. I’ve griped about a couple of things below. But, really: I’ve seen many and many leaving-companions stories, and this one satisfied me. And I’m quite tricky to satisfy when it comes to the new series of Doctor Who, especially now we’ve been so busily rewatching the old series. (Speaking of which, I have a treat for you all in that respect, come November.)

But I’ll pick out one thing: I loved the slow-motion fall from the top storey of Winter Quay, with Amy and Rory embracing desperately and Amy’s hair flying above them. It reminded me of both Amy floating outside the TARDIS in “The Beast Below” and Scooti’s body floating away into the black hole in “The Impossible Planet”—for me, it was a moment that recalled both beginnings and endings, as well as being beautiful to boot.

What didn’t work for me in this episode
I realise that the argument about whether the new series of Doctor Who works best through logical consistency or through emotional catharsis is a fraught one, and I’m not touching it. But if a strongly emotional focus for an episode doesn’t satisfy you as a viewer, then this episode isn’t going to work for you.

It worked for me. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, more than (though in much the same way) as I enjoyed “Asylum of the Daleks”—actually, in much the same way as I enjoyed “Vincent and the Doctor”. But this one had fewer logical fallacies to my eyes than “Asylum of the Daleks”: I didn’t have to worry about whether the nano-cloud actually made any sense and why they’d chosen the tired old route of breaking Amy and Rory up only to reconcile them at the end.

That said, we did have two questions. Neither was sufficient to ruin our enjoyment of the episode, but they were there.

Nick was wondering why Amy and Rory didn’t just leave New York in the 1930s (or earlier: wherever they ended up in the end) and travel to somewhere more temporally stable. Admittedly, the Doctor addressed this with his argument that Amy was creating a “fixed point in time”, but I don’t want “fixed point in time” to become this season’s perception filter.

My only real concern, though, was the Statue of Liberty. As soon as we first saw her, in the opening shots, I thought, “If she becomes a weeping angel, I will hate this episode for the rest of my life.” I wouldn’t say I ended up going that far, but I so wish she hadn’t been an angel: after all, is there really any way she could walk across to the building without someone in New York seeing her?

Oh, wait: I remembered one more thing that didn’t work for me about this episode: it’s the last episode until Christmas.

I mean, come one: we’re not made of stone here!

(See what I did there?)

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-Six

Posted 1457 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Stuffing dollies is so tricky. How do you know when it’s enough stuffing?
NICK: You ask the impossible, madam!
ME: Stop pretending to be Adam Adamant.
NICK: But it’s such fun.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-Five

Posted 1460 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: If you’d said you’d wanted dinner at 7pm, I’d have moved heaven and earth to make it happen.
ME: I’ve been saying I would like dinner at 7pm for the last twelve years.
NICK: But I thought you meant you wanted dinner at 7pm in the abstract.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-Four

Posted 1460 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Your desperate need to contradict me has rather gotten away from you this time. You don’t need to contradict me all the time.
NICK: (mumble)
ME: Pardon?
NICK: I was going to say ‘I don’t’, but that would be contradicting you.

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "The Power of Three"

Posted 1470 days ago in by Catriona

Disclaimer

I actually really like Chris Chibnall. I like his work on Life on Mars and Law and Order UK. I was devoted to Torchwood despite the fact that it broke my heart every single week and completely destroyed me when it came to “Children of Earth”. I was so delighted to add Camelot to our Serious Database of Australian Literature when I found his co-writer was Australian. I’m looking forward to Broadchurch (same Australian co-writer, actually). And I’ve enjoyed his previous Doctor Who stories: “The Hungry Earth”/“Cold Blood” were perhaps a little politically naive, but “42” was a cracker.

But I haven’t been thrilled with his two stories so far this season of Doctor Who. So I’m just putting that out there as a disclaimer. I really like Chris Chibnall. I do.

But …

Synopsis

Amy and Rory are adjusting to life without the Doctor, until mysterious black boxes just appear out of nowhere overnight: millions and millions of mysterious black boxes. Of course, the Doctor turns up shortly afterwards—because mystery!—and then we’re introduced to UNIT scientific adviser Kate Stewart, whom we don’t know yet is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter, but we do know that she’s Jemma Redgrave, she’s completely gorgeous, and she has one of my favourite lines in the episode, in “The dogs do love a run.”

Of course, that comes after another favourite line:

RORY: There are soldiers all over my house, and I’m in my pants.
AMY: My whole life I’ve dreamed of saying that, and I miss it by being someone else.

After a brief chat about how the cubes seem to be static, the Doctor decides he’s getting cabin fever, and legs it, leaving Brian (Rory’s lovely father) in charge of watching the cubes, which Brian does with a fervour that warms my cold academic heart.

Over the next year, Amy and Rory live a normal life that freaks them both out a little (Rory takes a full-time position and Amy becomes a bridesmaid), barring a seven-week span adventuring with the Doctor in the middle of their wedding anniversary, during which Amy manages to get married to Henry VIII, which confuses me because is this the adventure on which Rory left his phone charger in Henry’s en suite? Does that mean that “A Town Called Mercy” also takes place in this time period? But it can’t, because Amy would have mentioned their party. Not important right now, I suppose.

But then the cubes begin to activate, helped by a creepy child (there’s always a creepy child. Why is there always a creepy child? Children aren’t that creepy. Sticky, yes. But not creepy) and some orderlies with cubey mouths that are never adequately explained, and the party splits, even though they must know that you never split the party, unless you want to end up being glued to the floor and run over with a giant boulder, and don’t think I’m not still bitter about that.

What was I saying?

Oh yes.

Amy and the Doctor head to the Tower of London, to the UNIT base, and Rory heads (with Brian for no adequately explained reason) to the hospital. Here, Brian is kidnapped by the cubey orderlies, and Rory follows him through a portal (conveniently located in an elevator, so hey! Two modes of transportation for the price of one!) and into a spaceship.

Meanwhile, near the Tower of London, the Doctor and Amy have this lovely conversation:

DOCTOR: I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country on one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much, so much, to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I am running to them. Before they flare and fade forever. And it’s alright. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day, soon, maybe, you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while.
AMY: Then why do you keep coming back for us?
DOCTOR: Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you’re seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.

The “hearts” bit is significant, by the way, because that’s how the Doctor survives when the cubes decide to give a third of the world’s population a heart attack. For some reason, this only affects one of the Doctor’s hearts, though that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and then the Doctor manages to work out that the object controlling the cubes is accessible via Rory’s hospital. So … well, the rest of the episode might be best left for “What didn’t work for me”, I think.

What worked for me this episode

Actually, despite the long-winded complaining I’m about to get into below, quite a bit worked for me this episode. I liked the revelation that ten years has passed since—well, I’m not sure since when, actually. Since the ending of “The Eleventh Doctor”? Since the re-starting of everything at the end of “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang”? But it doesn’t matter. I do like the idea that this is a very long-term relationship he’s had with the Ponds, which gives depth to the idea that there might be a slow pulling away of Rory and Amy, and also to the idea that the Doctor has been on his own too long. I liked the creepy little cubes. I liked the adventurous interludes and the fact that the Doctor is as obsessed with the Wii as most of us have been at some point.

And I really liked Jemma Redgrave, who was fabulous.

Of course, saying a Redgrave acts well is a bit like saying, “Breathing: that’s useful.” But she was lovely. She wasn’t even in all that much of the episode, but she built this delightful, under-stated, calm, intelligent character who actually reminded me quite a bit of Liz Shaw before I twigged that she was a Lethbridge-Stewart. And then I spent the rest of the episode revelling in how much she looked like an amalgam of Nicholas Courtney and Doris as we saw her in “Battlefield.” I assume her mother was Doris. That was a pretty long-term relationship, if we consider it started pre-“Planet of the Spiders”.

But that’s not important right now.

Generally speaking, though, I liked this one. It had depth and complexity, it felt rich and full without feeling slow and ponderous, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Until …

What didn’t work for me in this episode

This episode was really best summed up, for me, by Richard (whom you might remember as a commenter) over on Twitter, when he described it as having “Lovely, lovely moments, completely disconnected from the bizarre, mythic threat and its technoresolution.”

I’m not going to talk about the technoresolution because … well, you know Clarke’s Law? “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”? Well, my level of scientific understanding is such that, for me, a refrigerator is indistinguishable from magic. So I tend to glaze over a bit at the science, whether it’s actual science or technobabble.

This actually makes me an ideal viewer of mainstream television science-fiction, but that’s an argument for another day.

By the bizarre mythic threat? That’s something I can talk about. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and I doubt it will be the last. And I have no doubt it will continue to annoy me. Because the problem here isn’t that the threat is mythic. The threat in “The Pandorica Opens” was mythic, too—but that worked. It worked because we heard the Doctor talk about the blood-drenched creature who dropped from the sky and turned your world upside down, and we thought, “That sounds like you.” And River said that she hates good wizards in fairy tales because they always turn out to be the Doctor, and we agreed. And then we realised that the Doctor actually was the mythic threat here, and it all turned on its head and was marvellous.

But here … we’ve never heard of the Shakri. They’re creatures from the Doctor’s mythos: we’ve never heard of them before and we’ll never hear of them again. So where’s the threat for us? Where? Add in the fact that they’re holograms anyway, and they felt a little … toothless.

And I still think all that even though I’ve only just realised that that was Steven Berkoff. He’s Steven Berkoff, but it’s still not a good threat.

However, that all pales into comparison beside the actual ending.

The ending. I was so terribly disappointed by the ending. I’d been really enjoying things up to that point: the episode felt rich and full and detailed without (for me) dragging at all … and then we had the ending.

So what bothered me about the ending? Let me count the ways.

1. Apparently, no time passed at all between the people having the heart attacks and the Doctor bringing them back to life. So, the cubes activated, the Doctor is in the Tower of London, then they need to dash off to Rory’s hospital (and I’m not familiar enough with London—or indeed even slightly familiar with London—to know where abouts that was located, but it certainly wasn’t located in the grounds of the Tower of London), then get the Doctor’s other heart started, then find the wormhole, then have a long talk about Gallifreyan myths and legends, then blow up a space ship—and all the people who died of heart attacks are still just lying in the streets.

Still just lying there.

I could almost understand that, but there’s not one single bystander with them? Not one single emergency services personnel member? They’re all just lying in the same way as they were when they died at what must have been (at a conservative estimate) at least half an hour to an hour earlier?

2. That brings me to my second point. These people were dead. DEAD. They didn’t just fall asleep. They were dead, for at least a reasonable space of time. How can the Doctor just restart their hearts? Their bodies had begun to decay, albeit only slightly. More importantly, their brains had been starved of oxygen. So do we now have one-third of the world’s population with serious brain damage, no doubt needing round-the-clock medical care for the rest of their lives?

Well, that would certainly divert the funds that we might otherwise use to colonise the universe.

3. Finally, did they really just leave all those other kidnapped patients in the spaceship to be blown up? They rescued Rory’s father and then just left all the others to die? Now, that doesn’t sound like Rory at all, even if we accept that it sounds like the others. Rory’s always been marked by his compassion and by his dedication to his profession: why would he leave all those other people to be killed?

Oh, ending. You really spoilt what was was an otherwise terribly enjoyable episode for me.

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "A Town Called Mercy"

Posted 1471 days ago in by Catriona

Today’s live-blogging (I really must stop calling it that) is a slightly pained and tentative affair, because I’ve just managed to do something to my back that makes it impossible to take a deep breath. Here is my advice to you: don’t fall down half a flight of stairs. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Synopsis

We open with the mysterious Gunslinger executing some hapless alien. At least, I assume he’s hapless, because I don’t have enough information yet to know who is the evil one in this scenario. In my experience, mysterious gunmen in Westerns can be either good or evil on a pretty much 50-50 basis.

The important thing here is that the Gunslinger has one more target: the Doctor.

Heading for Mexico for the Day of the Dead festivities (though in what era, I’m not sure), the Doctor, Rory, and Amy land instead about 200 miles out of their way, in a small town called Mercy in the Wild West, a town isolated by a mysterious rock-and-wood boundary line. The Doctor seems to enjoy this visit more than his last visit to the Wild West, probably because he doesn’t have to have his tooth removed by a nineteenth-century dentist (and, as an added bonus, doesn’t have to look at Steven’s ridiculous gunslinger outfit).

Their slow wander through the town (and the score is lovely) leads to my favourite bit of dialogue for the entire episode:

DOCTOR: An electric street lamp about ten years too early.
RORY: It’s only a few years out.
DOCTOR: That’s what you said when you left your phone charger in Henry the 8th’s en suite.

In the pub (saloon, whatever you want to call it), the Doctor introduces himself as the Doctor, and is promptly flung over the rock-and-wood boundary line by a group of overly enthused townspeople, who hope that this is the Doctor that the Gunslinger is looking for. Fortunately, Ben Browder turns up (albeit claiming to be called Isaac) and points out that the people know this isn’t the right Doctor.

The Doctor deduces from this that Isaac knows who the Gunslinger is looking for—and, sure enough, there’s another alien doctor, whom I shall simply call the Other Doctor, in protective custody in Isaac’s jail. This doctor has been such a productive and helpful member of Mercy that Isaac refuses to hand him over to the Gunslinger, even though no one can leave the town or bring in supplies until the Gunslinger has what he wants. So the whole town is slowly starving to death, but Isaac is standing firm.

The Doctor offers to grab the TARDIS and evacuate the town, while Rory and Isaac distract the Gunslinger. But, being the Doctor, he takes a side trip to the Other Doctor’s allegedly badly damaged spaceship, only to find it in perfect working order and replete with easily accessible files revealing the extent of the Other Doctor’s crimes, in the form of turning citizens into cyborgs—like the Gunslinger.

Furious and disgusted, the Doctor returns to Mercy, forces the Other Doctor across the boundary line despite Amy’s insistence that the Doctor’s changed for the worse after months of travelling on his own, and holds him there until the Gunslinger arrives. When he changes his mind and tries to attract the Other Doctor back across the line, it’s too late: the Other Doctor is frozen and it takes Isaac pushing him out of the way to save him from the Gunslinger.

Isaac is killed, leaving the Doctor as marshall. And the Gunslinger, despite his programming against killing innocents, has lost all patience, and tells the Doctor that he will tear the entire town down the next day if the Other Doctor isn’t delivered to him. A lynch mob comes in the night to try and end the dilemma, but the Doctor talks them down (albeit with what seem to me to be rather ahistorical arguments), leaving room for the Doctor’s own elaborate plan of distracting the Gunslinger with cleverly applied alien make-up until the Other Doctor can get to his ship and escape.

But the Other Doctor has other ideas, and initiates the ship’s self-destruct program, blowing himself to pieces. And the Gunslinger, instead of walking into the desert and self-destructing as he planned, is talked into remaining as Mercy’s marshall—a marshall who is more fantasy than reality, even to the current population of Mercy.

What didn’t work for me in this episode

I really hate to start this discussion, but … Susan. Susan the horse.

I didn’t manage to work up the same level of rage as other viewers did over Oswin describing her crush on a girl as a “phase”. I don’t know if Oswin identified herself as gay, bi-sexual, straight with a past girlfriend, or simply an open-hearted girl, so I really didn’t become infuriated by that statement.

I didn’t like it, though. I thought it cheap and ill-thought-out.

Then we had “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and the Doctor kissing Rory. Which would have been fine, except Rory’s reaction left me a little uncomfortable. And this, mind you, was from one of the core writers on Torchwood, so we know he can write interesting gay characters. (Well, gay or omnisexual, depending on whose definition you prefer.) And this wasn’t a glaring moment and certainly not a homophobic moment, but still, there’s that moment of discomfort again. So that’s two episodes and two moments I’m a little uncomfortable about.

Then we’re on the third episode and there’s Susan the horse. Who asks that the preacher respects his life choices. And now we’re three for three, because I’m uncomfortable again.

I’m fully prepared to accept that I might be over-sensitive on this subject right now. I’m a straight girl myself, but I do live in Queensland, where it behoves us all to remember just how alienated, uncomfortable, or even outright frightened our government is making non-straight citizens feel right now. And Queensland is hardly unique in this matter.

So I’m not thrilled that this show, this show that I adore, is repeatedly adopting a rather boringly heternormative stance for its throwaway jokes. Because it is boring: there’s nothing original about these kinds of jokes, and the current climate makes them even less amusing. That’s as strongly as I’m prepared to phrase it right now, but I do hope this thread in the show disappears over the course of the season, because it’s not one that I find funny, let alone clever or necessary.

What worked for me in this episode

Spain. Spain worked for me.

Spain, it turns out, is really staggeringly beautiful. And I loved the flavour of the spaghetti Western that filming in Spain gave to this episode. I used to watch many Westerns with my father, years ago, when they were always on telly on a Friday night, and it was almost always a Sergio Leone film. Well, except that one time we watched Shenandoah and my father had to tell me when to cover my eyes, plus my mother wouldn’t stop laughing at Jimmy Stewart’s son limping into church at the end of the film.

But that’s a story for another day.

So I have a soft spot for spaghetti Westerns and the flavour of those came through strongly for me in this episode. Much more, for example, than the flavour of either C.S. Lewis or World War II came through in “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.”

You know what else worked for me? Ben Browder.

I have a complicated relationship with Farscape, because, let’s face it, it’s an incredibly abject show, and sometimes insanely difficult to actually watch (Nebari mind-cleansing, anyone?). It makes me giggle that Farscape is produced by Hallmark Entertainment, and Nick and I can amuse ourselves endlessly trying to come up with Hallmark cards for Farscape occasions. But the core of that relationship is a deep love for the show: I do think it’s marvellous, really. And that extends to everyone involved with it, especially Crichton and Aeryn.

So Ben Browder just became one of those actors whom I’m always happy to see. And I liked him here, channeling aspects of Crichton’s good ol’ boy persona and a bit of Clint Eastwood. Of course, I should have realised that meant he was going to die.

After all, Crichton died at least three times, and I might have forgotten about another couple.

Also, when they interviewed Ben Browder about this role for SFX magazine, he said:

“Well, you know, I mean honestly, when you look around and you go, okay, what shows would you wanna be on, you know? Other than being able to go back and being on the original Star Trek, you know, I mean, yeah, Doctor Who! How could you not wanna be in Doctor Who at least once in your career? They do a brilliant job with the show so, you know, it was kind of a no-brainer when I got the offer. It was in the middle of pilot season here, which is a busy time. I was like, ‘I really should be in town to look for a series of my own, but no, I’ve got an offer to do Doctor Who, I’ve gotta do that.’”

So now I love him even more.

(The whole interview is here.)

I also rather liked the element of alien world-building they added into the Other Doctor’s character: that idea that he’s a man of faith and he knows what his actions will do for his chances in the afterlife. I don’t know if it was the writing (I do love Toby Whithouse, and hope you all took my advice to watch Being Human) or the delivery, but I found that speech convincingly plausible and alien, which is what you want of your science fiction, isn’t it?

I asked Nick what worked for him:

Me: I already have dibs on Spain and Ben Browder.
NICK: Well, Ben Browder. And I thought it was interesting that they kept him fairly ambiguous, the medical character. They kept you guessing to some extent almost to the end. And I think that was an ambivalence in the character himself, that he was uncertain about his own role. I thought that worked well.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-Three

Posted 1476 days ago in by Catriona

ME: I need you to promise me something very important.
NICK: Okay.
ME: Next time we’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, and we’re crossing a chasm on some kind of built structure, I need you to say, “To the bridge, to the bridge now.”
NICK: I’ll put a reminder in my phone.

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"

Posted 1478 days ago in by Catriona

Synopsis

There were dinosaurs. And they were on a spaceship. That’s it.

Okay, it was a bit more complicated than that.

We open with the Doctor being sexually assaulted by Queen Nefertiti in Egypt in 1334BC. Fortunately for him, he’s interrupted by a call from the Indian Space Agency, who have detected a spaceship heading towards Earth and intend to blow it from the sky unless the Doctor can do something to divert it. Filled with the sudden, slightly inexplicable desire for a “gang”, the Doctor picks up John Riddell, an Edwardian big-game hunter, and then materialises around Rory and Amy in their living room, picking up Rory’s father Brian in the process.

They materialise on the spaceship, which they find is, just as the title promised, filled with dinosaurs.

BRIAN: A spaceship … driven by dinosaurs?
DOCTOR: Brian, please! That would be ridiculous. They’re probably just passengers.

The Doctor heads off with Rory and Brian to find the engines, which turn out to be on a beach, which is only slightly more surprising than the fact that they then get attacked by pterodactyls. Meanwhile, Amy (momentarily distracted by the more-than-slightly disturbing flirting between Nefertiti and Riddell) manages to get the computers to reveal that the vessel is a Silurian ark, looking for a new world. So what went wrong?

The answer to that is, roughly, Argus Filch. Or, more accurately, Solomon, an inter-galactic black-market trader, who has come aboard the ark with his two cut-price robots to gather the dinosaurs for sale. When the Silurians wouldn’t trade, the robots threw them out of the airlocks, a few at a time (see “What didn’t work for me”). But then Solomon was savaged by some raptors, in what isn’t really an example of contrapasso, but I really wanted to use that word for some reason, and now he can’t stand. Through a combination of threats and actually shooting people (namely, Brian), he convinces the Doctor to work on his legs sufficiently that he can stand (whereupon Nick and I said to each other, “Well, my title is purely honorary, and Harry here is only qualified to work on sailors”).

Among all these hijinks, which included riding a triceratops and the following dialogue:

DOCTOR: Have you got any vegetative material in your pants?
BRIAN: Just my balls.

which I’m a bit surprised they got away with in this time slot, the Doctor has run out of time to divert the ark, and the Indian Space Agency has targeted them with missiles. The Silurian ark needs to be piloted by two people of the same genetic line, which is a bit fortunate and a lovely bonding experience for the Williams men, so they can divert it from the Earth, but there’s still the question of the missiles.

So the Doctor manages to divert the missiles so that they blow up Solomon’s spaceship (rescuing Queen Nefertiti from his nefarious clutches at the same time), leaving us with a moral dilemma that we can discuss in the comments.

We end (almost, excluding Nefertiti running off with Riddell for completely inexplicable reasons) with a really quite lovely moment of Brian just sitting with a packed lunch, dangling his legs out of the open doors of the TARDIS, and watching the Earth below.

What didn’t work for me in this episode

Call it nit-picking, because it is, rather, but I’m not particularly convinced by the triceratops chasing a golf ball. I’m even less convinced by the fact that an animal that they keep emphasising is a herbivore would chase a ball in that fashion. Okay, they claimed he was interested in it because it was covered in plant matter, but let’s be honest: it was dog behaviour. And dogs chasing balls is much more the act of a predator than of a prey animal. I mean, have you ever tried to get a rabbit to fetch a ball? Exercise in futility, right there.

The triceratops also felt a bit like a Victorian orphan, to me. I mentioned this to Nick, and he said, “Huh?” But I mean that it felt as though they killed him just so we’d get a cheap emotional response, like an orphan in a Victorian novel. I don’t mean that it wasn’t a little sad, because it was. But compare that to, for example, Vincent Van Gogh seeing his own exhibition—there’s no comparison in terms of emotional impact, to me.

Maybe I just didn’t bond sufficiently with the triceratops?

I was also a wee bit unhappy with Nefertiti. I suppose that having her run off with a sexist big-game hunter is one way of explaining her disappearance from the historical record, though I don’t think it’s a theory to which many Egyptologists would subscribe. But it does seem a little rough on Akhenaten, who really doesn’t deserve to be called the human equivalent of a sleeping potion.

(I’m no Egyptologist, but if the Egypt sections take place in 1334BC, Nefettit’s husband would be Akhenaten by then, yes? And they’d be in Amarna, rather than Thebes, pursuing the ultimately ill-advised policy of worshipping the Aten in favour of all the other gods in Egypt’s pantheon? And would have some six daughters? This suggests to me that Nefertiti should also have been a little older than she was presented, especially given how she is presented in her bust (which definitely looks like a mature woman, to me). It also suggests that calling her husband Amenhotep IV was rather inconsistent. Again, though: not an Egyptologist.)

(Side note: in checking a question of spelling on IMDB, I noticed that someone’s entered Nefertiti’s naming of her husband as a goof, suggesting she gives herself as married to “Imhotep”, but I remain convinced she says “Amenhotep”, which isn’t wrong but is chronologically confusing.)

I always worry, too, when the Doctor’s actions seem unnecessarily brutal, and blowing up Argus Filch certainly falls into that category. Nick’s theory on this is that the moral code that Chris Chibnall posits in his Doctor Who episodes is rather at odds with the morality of Doctor Who generally, and I suppose that’s a fair reading. The ending did seem a little brutal, especially since, let’s face it, the Doctor’s flirted with genocide himself more than once.

Then again, never, ever press the Doctor’s buttons when it comes to the Silurians.

Finally, how long do you think it took them to chuck all those Silurians out of the airlocks? That’s a dedication to airlock deaths that even Robert Heinlein would envy.

What worked for me

I very much liked Rory’s relationship with his father. It felt grounded, normal, and plausible. I was slightly worried (especially after the seemingly unnecessary “We’re basically divorced!” sub-plot of last week) that this would be another moment of heightened and rather unnecessary emotional angst. But it wasn’t. Sure, there was some general child-to-father frustration (who hasn’t been there?), and I sensed an undertone of Rory’s family maybe thinking his choice of profession isn’t particularly manly, but all that just worked to deepen the relationship for me and keep it plausible.

Also, I’ll be honest: I can’t hate dinosaurs on a spaceship. I just can’t.

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "Asylum of the Daleks"

Posted 1485 days ago in by Catriona

So, here we are finally with the new series of Doctor Who. Has it felt like twelve and a half years to anyone else?

For this live-blogging, I’m going to follow the pattern I used for the Christmas special (right here if you didn’t read that one at the time), because people seemed happy with that, and it saves me a little stress on a Saturday night.

So, “Asylum of the Daleks”, anyone?

Synopsis

After the Oodness of the “Pond Life” prequel (see what I did there?), this episode begins with the Doctor, Amy, and Rory all being drawn into the parliament of the Daleks (along with the TARDIS, which turns out to be convenient). It seems that the Daleks have a secret asylum planet for Daleks who’ve gone insane. Which is something of a terrifying thought. But something’s gone wrong with the asylum planet, as evidenced by the bursts of Carmen that the Daleks have been intercepting. These turn out to come from the entertainment officer of a crashed ship, who has been trapped on the asylum planet for a year, whiling the time away making soufflés, playing opera, and wearing the kind of frock that isn’t really suitable day-time wear.

Since the Daleks are all too terrified to go down themselves (I guess they’re not keen on soufflés? Me neither), they’ve recruited the Doctor and his companions (because their records indicate the the Doctor needs companions) to head down and turn off the planet’s shielding, so the Daleks can destroy it.

They fit the three of them out with bracelets to protect them from the planet’s nanobots (which will otherwise turn them into Dalek slaves), throw them into a beam of light, and we’re down on an ice planet. Well, Amy and the Doctor are down on an ice planet. Rory has fallen straight down a shaft into the asylum itself. Fortunately, Amy and the Doctor are assisted by a nice astronaut. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a nice dead astronaut, as are all his crew. So Amy and the Doctor flee through a hatch, with Amy conveniently losing her protective bracelet, and into the asylum.

Thanks to the intervention of Oswin (the soufflé-obsessed entertainment officer from the crashed ship whose crew are now bracelet-stealing Dalek-zombies), both Rory and Amy and the Doctor are (separately) led through the maze of insane Daleks to a transport platform. Here, they can beam back to the Dalek ship, once Oswin drops the planet’s shields. Of course, as soon as the shields drop, the Daleks will blow the planet to smithereens, so Oswin doesn’t trust them to wait for her to come to them. She wants the Doctor to come to her.

Through Dalek intensive care.

Now there’s a scary phrase.

While the Doctor heads off, Rory and Amy have an emotional reconciliation over the fact that Amy’s going to become a Dalek soon. Except that she isn’t, because the Doctor’s slipped his bracelet onto her arm, apparently arresting the progression of the nanobots. I’ll complain about that below. (Hint: you’ll find it under “What didn’t work for me in this episode”). Still, Rory and Amy have a chance to argue about who loves whom more and why Amy kicked him out in the first place, and for more information on that, see “What didn’t work for me in this episode.”

The Doctor, having set up all this emotional dialogue because he can’t stop meddling, makes his way through Dalek intensive care, but his presence wakes up these insane Daleks, because these are the ones who’ve survived encounters with the Doctor. So we end with the Doctor pressed up against a steel door and screaming for Oswin to open the door because the Daleks are about two feet from him. But she doesn’t—instead, she hacks into the Dalek mainframe (the pathweb, it’s called, from memory) and wipes out all Dalek knowledge of the Doctor. And for my take on that, see “What I’m uncertain about.”

So now the Doctor can rescue Oswin and they can all beam happily back up to a ship full of homicidal pepperpots and then live happily ever after.

Right?

Wrong.

Because Oswin is a Dalek. All the soufflés, all the after-five dresses, all the cosy hammocks and keeping herself safe from the Daleks for a year? All delusions, brought about by her determination to remain human after being forced through a full Dalek transformation. She’s just a Dalek chained to a wall in the depths of the intensive care unit, because she’s one of the most insane Daleks of all.

So the Doctor can’t save her, but she can save him: she drops the shields, and as the Daleks begin to destroy the planet, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory beam right back into the TARDIS control room (is that possible? I guess it is for the Doctor) and away.

What didn’t work for me in this episode

Call me hard hearted, but Amy and Rory’s emotional turmoil didn’t work for me at all. It felt forced, since they’ve been nothing but mutually besotted through all sorts of long hard times, and yet here they are divorcing for … what? The ‘what’ was the least convincing part of this sub-plot, for me. Why, after all the various travails they’ve been through as a couple, why on earth would Amy just kick Rory out (sorry, “let him go”) rather than talk to him about the possibility of their not having any more children? I know they’re very, very young, but I don’t see her letting him go as a noble sacrifice: I’m afraid I see it as rather selfish (he gets no say in this?) and a bit dim (just talk to him!).

Then they get back together by the end of the episode anyway. Which always makes me cranky. Commit to your relationships, television writers! Commit! Breaking the characters up randomly is much more common than actually going whole-hearted after a relationship, so break the mould a little.

That said, I do actually like both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill very, very much, so they were both touching in the actual reconciliation scene—I just didn’t think there was much narrative reason for us to be there.

The other aspect of the program that really didn’t work for me was the nanobots. I admit to something of general scepticism about nanobots anyway, but in this case, they seemed to be inconsistently applied. I understand that the Doctor was meddling, and wanted to provoke a reconciliation with Amy and Rory, so I see why he’d think it was a good idea not to mention that he’d given his own bracelet to Amy. But, then, if the nanobots were such a risk, why would he wait that long? Why wouldn’t he give his bracelet to Amy as soon as they saw the creepy dead astronauts waving her bracelet around in front of the hatchway? Why the big emotional scenes about Amy’s transformation, if he could have stopped it almost immediately? Why the fretting about the bracelets if it turned out that the Doctor didn’t need one anyway?

So many whys.

And, to add to the whys, a “how” and and “are”. How many times can “well, he’s a Time Lord” be used to patch over a slight hole in the plausibility of a narrative? And are there going to be any pay-offs down the road for the fact that Amy was exposed to the Dalek nanobots for what seemed like an unnecessarily long time? I mean, the satisfaction of Rory and Amy reconciling might be undercut if she grows a Dalek eye stalk out of her forehead. Not to mention what that will do to her modelling career.

I’m also moderately uncertain as to how Oswin was playing section of Carmen, under the circumstances, but I’m willing to accept that it might have something to do with being able to hack into the iTunes account of the crashed spaceship. Or the future equivalent of iTunes. Which is probably iTunes.

What worked for me

Maybe this is me being naive, but I did not see the fake-out with Oswin actually being a Dalek coming. Perhaps I should have, but I didn’t. And they even hinted at it by having the rudiments of Dalek props in her utility belt, and I still didn’t see it coming! My reward for being narratologically naive is that all the emotional pay-off of the episode rested in that one section, for me. That was far more satisfying than Amy and Rory’s reconciliation, as I mentioned above. I’m sure much of my shock at this moment was because I knew Jenna-Louise Coleman is to be the new companion, so when she turned out to be, you know, dead, it did come as something of a surprise.

Jenna-Louise Coleman was also completely adorable, which set my mind at ease about the change in crew. Nick and I are currently arguing about whether the forthcoming companion will be Oswin or not, and about whether this counts as unique in the history of introducing new companions.

(We know, before you start commenting, that it’s not quite unique: we’re just not sure whether they’re going to follow the River Song pattern of character introduction or the Princess Astra/Romana II pattern.)

I also found the Daleks in the actual asylum quite terrifying.

What I’m uncertain about

I had to add a whole new section to the live-blogging for this bit, but here’s my concern: I’m really not sure that the Doctor would be happy that the Daleks can’t remember him. I just … I’ve been watching many years, and I’ve seen many, many Dalek stories come and go, and I just … I’m uncertain. I’m distinctly uncertain that this would be something the Doctor would treat with glee.

I could be wrong, of course. It’s been known. On occasion. Not often.

Wondering About The Live-blogging?

Posted 1491 days ago in by Catriona

Of course you are! No amount of neglect on my part could possible dampen your ardour for my Doctor Who live-blogging.

She says, modestly.

I shall be live-blogging season seven of Doctor Who, but despite the move to iView and in accordance with the spoiler policy on this blog, I’ll be posting the live-blogging immediately after the episode airs on free-to-air television. I’ll be using the new model of live-blogging that I tested for last year’s Christmas special, so if you really, really hated that, now’s your chance to let me know.

So watch this space next weekend, and you can add all your uncertainties and doubts right here.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-Two

Posted 1498 days ago in by Catriona

ME: We all have our flaws.
NICK: Mine, for example, is my devotion to the Pope. Fanatical. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
(Pause)
ME: Darling, would you like me to list some of your actual, genuine flaws?
NICK: No!

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy-One

Posted 1499 days ago in by Catriona

ME: If I taught you to knit, we would have a shared hobby, and also you could do the long, boring purl rows on the lace shawl while I do the interesting pattern rows.
NICK: Um …
ME: But mostly shared hobby!
NICK: It’s an idea, anyway.
ME: Yeah, it’s probably as good as that idea you had for teaching me to play Diablo 2 so I could act as a packhorse for all your extra loot.
NICK: That wasn’t the only reason! It was just a nice bonus.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Seventy

Posted 1500 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: You are the simple best.
ME: Simple?
NICK: That didn’t come out right. I meant ‘simply the best.’
ME: Because I’m not simple by any definition. I’m actually quite complicated and demanding.
NICK: For advanced users only.
ME: Users?
NICK: That didn’t come out right.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Sixty-Nine

Posted 1503 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: If you’ve ever trusted me before …
ME: Not likely. You remember that time I was being silly, and you let me slip, and I hit my head on the verandah?
(Pause)
NICK: You’ve never trusted me before, but you can trust me now.

Strange Conversations: Part Four Hundred and Sixty-Eight

Posted 1519 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: We can try that new cocoa!
ME: It’s not cocoa. It’s drinking chocolate.
NICK: Well, if there’s a scientifically quantifiable difference between the two of them that will hold up in court, I haven’t heard it.
ME: Are you a cocoa/drinking chocolate expert?
NICK: Yes.
ME: Are you a cocoa/drinking chocolate expert?
NICK: No.

(Five minutes later.)

NICK: I’m going to Google the difference!

(Five minutes after that.)

ME: So, since I didn’t hear anything, I take it there is a difference?
NICK: It’s very minor.

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