Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x5)

A bit of up front honesty: I didn't much care for this episode of Doctor Who. I understand the overall philosophy that there are truly no new ideas, only the sames one being repeated over and over, but this weeks episode, "Time Heist," was a mix of previous Doctor Who episodes and I think I'm struggling to enjoy it because, thus far, every Doctor Who episode has been a variation on past themes. A monster that feeds on strong negative emotions, in this case guilt? Sounds a lot like The Minotaur from The God Complex in Season 6. A being that can be used to take memories that the Doctor willingly offers up? Sounds a lot like the Sun-Planet-Eater thing of The Rings of Akhaten of Season 7. And the entire episode is a riff on movies like Ocean Eleven where a team of elite experts are assembled to rob a place that is "impenetrable" and somehow succeed. Of course the denouement of the episode is what makes this episode different from other high stake bank robbing movies because it's not really a bank robbery at all, so I'll give credit where credit is due there. But on the whole, I thought the episode was rather obvious and relied heavily on Moffat-flavored effect leading to cause instead of the typical other way round. Moffat didn't even write this episode but it's easy to see that the writers on his staff have take their cues from him.

Is there a higher level analysis to be had with this one? I don't particularly think so. This episode, like I said above, is more an homage to classic bank robbing movies and the cliches are rife. There's a big bad sheriff that enters the scene in slow motion, people running in circles and getting split up, and a ticking clock. So instead of dwelling on the plot for too long, I want to talk about the Doctor and Clara. In the season premiere, the new Doctor who has finally managed to get himself sorted, tells Clara that he's not her boyfriend. And yet, he's acting like a wounded puppy who can't believe that Clara would rather go out on a date (which he doesn't understand the concept of) than go on an adventure with him. It's annoying because it feels like a retrograde, as if the Doctor has changed his mind about what is going on between him and Clara. That was my first impression; my second viewing gave me a different take. I think the Doctor is still very lonely but this time, his loneliness scares him. Last week's episode "Listen" opened with the Doctor almost maniacal, talking to himself having traveled alone for some time. This week, he's trying to convince Clara to go out with him, to do anything really, rather than attend her date with Danny. At the end of the episode, the Doctor is rather smug that his adventure with Clara--robbing a bank--must be more rewarding than the date she's going on with Danny. It's this self satisfaction that's the most troubling because this Doctor, the one who isn't a hugger and is more emotionally detached, shouldn't care if Clara has a boyfriend but this is the second episode in a row where he has expressed some sort of dismay over Clara's personal life. Thus, taking it all together, I think that the Doctor fears loosing Clara and being on his own once more. Silly Ol' Doctor. Don't you know that you always find a new one? I know. I know. In the end they break your hearts, but you're being a bit clingy. I think this season is setting up a choice for Clara: the normal life or the fantastical life. Problem is, of course, this is the choice Amy and Rory eventually had to make and we already know that in the Doctor Who universe, the companions will eventually choose the normal life. So this choice before Clara is already pre-determined which means I am less interested. Moffat could throw a curve ball and kill Clara because that keeps being hinted at, but I somehow doubt it. Never forget, at it's core, Doctor Who is a children's program. Killing a companion--actually killing them without any sort of wibbly wobbly timey wimey nonsense--is exceedingly rare. Adric is remembered for a reason, folks.

The overall plot of this episode is fairly straight forward and I would be amazed if people didn't guess it from the start. Raise your hand if you knew the Doctor was somehow the Architect from the beginning. A mysterious figure who has put into place a grand plan to rob a bank and manged to have everything perfectly aligned? Of course it was the Doctor. The memory worm should be the first big hint: why would you need to erase your memory before robbing a bank? Because this event has already been written and the future is guiding you. Well who is from the future? The Doctor with his time machine. The Bank of Karabraxos is impregnable and ruled by a Madame Karabraxos and her head of security Miss Delphox. Hats of to Keeley Haws for this role. She was probably my favorite part of the episode; sly and cunning and ruthless, like any good villain. The Head of Security employs "A Teller" who can sense guilt and once it is determined that the guilty party is in fact guilty, turns their brain into soup. Another clue that there is something different about this bank robbery is that the Teller is wearing a prison jumpsuit. It obviously isn't doing this because it enjoys its work. Was there another prisoner in this episode? Yup, Psi, the enhanced computer-human who was a former prisoner and erased all memories of his loved ones so that the interrogators couldn't locate his friends and family. Parallels, people. Parallels. So once you realize there is a linkage between the Teller and Psi, it's pretty easy to figure out that the Teller is only doing this job for Miss Delphox because it's protecting the ones it loves.

There are some twists along the way like self-sacrifice that turns out to not be self-sacrifice. The mate of the Teller is being kept in a vault to elicit cooperation from the Teller in the jumpsuit. And Miss Delphox is a clone; the only real one is Madam Karabraxos. The Doctor tells her that someday she'll have many regrets and give her his phone number because, "I'm a time traveler." So when the phone of the TARDIS rings in the early stages of the episode, it's Miss Karabraxos phoning the Doctor to ask for his help in fixing her gravest sin, locking up the Tellers. The bank robbery was all staged from there. I don't think the story is neatly put into place because I have several questions about logistics of the heist and the planning, but since, in the end, it's not really a bank robbery but a rescue mission, I guess I'm not supposed to ask those. I do like that the Doctor took a more central roll this episode; it was beginning to feel like the Clara Oswald show and while I find Clara an okay companion, it's the Doctor I tune in for. There is also something to be said here about the Doctor and heroism; he arranged all this hullabaloo in order to rescue a creature. Gruff, dark, emotionally detached and still trying to save everyone. That hero label doesn't go away so easily.

Miscellaneous Notes on Time Heist

--This episode didn't make me laugh as much as the previous ones. Not as many good one-liners. But a small sampling:
"Question one: robbing banks is easy with a TARDIS so why am I not using it." "Question two: where is the TARDIS?" "Yeah, that probably should have been question number one."
"Do you like the new look? I was going for minimalism but I think I came out with magician."

--Psi and Sabre are obvious graduates of Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted

--Anyone else getting tired of the Doctor insulting Clara's looks and clothing choices? It was cute at first but now it's starting to feel a bit misogynistic. 

--The various levels of the vaults and their colors were annoying. Yellow, red, green...was it supposed to mean something?

--"Shutitty up up up." Ok, writers we get it. Peter Capadli played Malcolm Tucker to the English world's delight. Stop that homage now, please.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In Which I Review Under the Dome (2x12)

Here's what I hate about this show: the last 10 minutes always leave me curious enough to tune in next week. The first 50 minutes of this weeks episode "Turn" was more of the same old, same old. Rebecca and Julia debate science vs faith; Norrie and Joey act like errant teenagers and no one ever calls them on it; Melanie mourns the loss of the precious; and Big Jim continues to do what he thinks is best for himself. And then the last ten minutes happened and they were interesting enough that now I need to tune in next week. It's a problem. Of course, this was also the penultimate episode of the second season which means next week is the finale. No word on the third season so far, but despite lower ratings, it will most likely be renewed. As usual, there was some sort of crisis that needed solving and while the solution was temporary, the bigger debate is whether it was faith that saved the day, or science (in the form of lima beans!) Actually the bigger debate is who I want dead more: Melanie or Rebecca. 

This weeks episode really centers around Melanie and her connection to the precious. Like the past few weeks, this review is going to be rather short and to the point, much like my own attention span and interest in Under the Dome at present. Melanie continues to deteriorate the longer she away from the precious. The precious is life, it is heaven and salvation and wonder and joy and---dear god. It's an egg, okay. It's a freaking egg that is somehow the power source of the Dome and if you just destroy it, I'm sure the Dome would fall and people could leave. Yes, I'm sure Melanie would die, but I'm really okay with that. Remember, she's out Christ figure. I expect her to die in sacrifice to free all the rest of the town. Which, actually, kind of happens this episode. But I may be jumping ahead of myself. Melanie's body is shutting down without the precious egg; her hair is falling out and her red blood cells are disintegrating, according to Science Teacher Pine. But don't worry! Rebecca and Julia both have ideas on how to save Melanie. Oh shock, one is science and one is faith based. Rebecca wants to use lima beans. Yes, I really just wrote lime beans. Because Rebecca and Sam don't know the blood type of Melanie, it's a risk to give her a transfusion. Actually, you morons, it's not. It's called O-negative and like 80% of the world's population can safely be transfused with it without risk. It's called the universal blood type for a reason. But, then if they did this, the show wouldn't be able to, once again, shove in your face that Rebeca is SCIENCE. Got that? She's a SCIENTIST. Rebecca is also informed that Melanie was once dead and now alive again which really rocks her world to the core. Poor Science Teacher Pine. Except, you annoy the living heck out of me, so I don't care about your crisis of faith (see what I did there?) Julia, on the other hand, believes in the Dome and that it has the power to save Melanie. Julia goes out to the border of the Dome to talk to it. See, Julia was chosen by the Dome. She's the Monarch. And as the Monarch, she can ask favors of the giant goldfish bowl. Julia asks that the Dome spare Melanie's life and take hers instead. Oh Julia, are you going to become our Christ figure? This show does not need two Christ figures! Now, Melanie does get a wee bit better but it's hard to tell why; is it because of the transfusion thanks to lima beans, or is it because promises were made?

 Meanwhile, back in the land of the Rennie's, Big Jim and Pauline continue to snark at each other because Pauline can no longer see her visions. Junior is desperate to heal Melanie (he's fall in love with the girl. This will end well. Junior's girlfriends are always totally happy to have his affections). Pauline promises to try and find a way to save Melanie, and thanks to Big Jim, she does. Lyle is also tagging along throughout this whole thing because Lyle is a freaking creep. He thinks he and Pauline are supposed to go to heaven together and he'll follow Pauline anywhere until he gets his wish. Yeah, we call this stalking. Pauline doesn't think she can paint any more visions, but with Jim guiding her, she's able to do some painting. It doesn't tell Jim how to get everyone out of Chester's Mill, but it does tell them how to "save" Melanie. Time for a trip into the woods!

And this is where it gets weirder. Pauline's painting suggests that in order to save Melanie they need all 8 hands, four from the past and four from now. Problem: Angie is dead. That's only seven hands. Don't worry, Science Teacher Pine has a solution: Melanie is two people! She existed in the past and now she exists in the present. Therefore she is two people. Erm, okay. Whatever you say. I guess I'll trust you since you are the science expert and your only purpose this entire season was to provide science exposition. So, all the hands--Pauline, Sam, Lyle, Junior, Joey, Norrie, and Melanie squared--touch each other (insert inappropriate joke here) and Melanie begins to glow just like the precious. Melanie feels better and gets to her feet....only for a giant ground tornado to appear out of nowhere and suck Melanie down into a giant black hole. What? What just happened? I have no idea. She just vanished into this giant hole in the ground while everyone freaked out. Is Melanie dead? If we take it metaphorically, she descended into hell (much like doctrines of Christ). Pauline in particular feels responsible since it was her painting that brought this about. Jim tries to comfort her and they kiss...only to have Lyle come up behind Pauline and stab her. Erm. Gross? He claims that they were supposed to go to Heaven together and he needs to make that happen. Big Jim, being Big Jim, handles this perfectly fine...by beating Lyle to a pulp and then stabbing him while Lyle says thank you over and over. O...kay.

RIP Pauline. RIP Lyle.

Miscellaneous Notes on Turn

--Why was this episode called Turn?

--The Dome continues to contract but it's based on the emotions of the Dome, or Melanie, or the egg. Or all three.

--"Maybe some questions have no answers." Does this mean I'll never know why the Dome fell?

--I skipped over everything to do with Papa-Q, but who orders the Men in Black around if not him? Sounds like there is still another layer to the conspiracy of the Dome.

--Joey and Norrie suck at spying. They kinda need to stop trying.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x4)

Well. This episode happened. At the writing of this blog, I've seen this episode twice and I still can't quite decide if it was brilliant or more of Moffat's ego on a rampage. "Listen," is definitely derivative of not only Moffat's greatest hits but of his predecessor's. There is the timey wimey of "Blink;" there are monsters under the bed like "The Girl in the Fireplace;" a creepy orphange like "Day of the Moon;" monsters in the dark from "Hide;" and all of this serves as a prequel of sorts to the 50th anniversary episode, "Day of the Doctor." And, of course, this episode is an entire riff on "Midnight" from season four when Russell T. Davies was still show runner. Now, I loved Midnight. It is hands down one of the creepiest, eeriest, most mesmerizing and most haunting episodes of the regenerated series. So when Moffat takes the monster from that episode--and make no mistake, this was the Midnight monster--and also take the central theme of that episode--fear of the dark and the unknown--and tries to do another take on it, I tend to react negatively because Moffat should be crafting his own stories. And yet. And yet...this episode does have a lot to recommend it. The production crew worked overtime on this episode; the music, the light, the little details in the sets were all wonderfully crafted. I had a deeper appreciation for the over all episode the second time around, but I must admit, the first 30 minutes or so drag and plod, though I think that might be the point. Like a nightmare, where the first little bit feels familiar and a bit random while you fall into a deeper sleep. And then, that's when the true horror begins. 


The episode is a series of postulates and conjectures. The Doctor has obviously been traveling alone for a long time. He shouldn't do that; it's bad for him. Living in the dark (seriously, how dark is the TARDIS this episode?), contemplating how alone he is, the Doctor begins to wonder: why do we talk out loud when we know we're alone? Maybe it's because we never are. From here, the Doctor wonders if there is a creature that evolution has given a perfect hiding ability. Is the Doctor depressed? I've been wondering this lately and his musings on the ability to hide in plain sight brought up this query again. This version of the Doctor is darker and refuses to acknowledge that he's a hero, but is this having a negative impact on his psyche overall? I had thought that he was more comfortable in his skin, that he's finally stopped regretting and stopped forgetting and realizes, for the first time in awhile, he's very gray and old and tired. Whether or not The Doctor is depressed, I'll have to keep an eye on, but the Doctor begins talking to this mysterious hiding creature. What would you do if you knew there was a creature with perfect hiding skills? Listen. The Doctor also begins to wonder if everyone in history has the exact same dream at some point in their lives: they hear something in their house, get up to inspect, and a hand grabs them from under the bed. And now the Doctor is curious. Is there something there? It's hard to say. By the end of episode, Clara makes her own hypothesis: there was never anything there. It's just that the Big Bad Time Lord is afraid of the dark. Because of Midnight, I do think there is a fear monster that lurks in the dark but it doesn't matter for this episode. The Doctor is afraid of the dark like so many scared boys.

The Doctor's fear of the dark makes him scary. He's almost quietly manic in this episode. Capaldi, as always, is totally on key. He stretches his grin too far; his voice is low pitched. Even his new duds, with the star spangled shirt, reflect that he is of the night. In other words, he is part of the nightmare. He is the horror in the dark and under your bed. Even when he's expounding the virtues of fear and how it's okay to be scared, he's almost like an intense drill sergeant telling you to "buck up!" Through it all, is Clara. She's the driving force of the episode. Whereas the Doctor keeps saying that we should be scared because there are things in the dark, Clara is making us see the light. She's calm and collected and trying to help instead of giving in totally to the fear. This is a nice change for her. One of the biggest criticisms of the Moffat era is that he doesn't know how to write strong females. These women in his show are always dependent on the Doctor for development and can't do anything without the Time Lord. Rose became a god; Martha crossed the world; Donna saved the universe. Even though Clara is the so-called Impossible Girl, it's all about the Doctor. But in "Listen," Clara gets to be the Doctor's hero in a very weird and unique way.

Speaking of Clara, quite a bit of this episode is devoted to her new relationship with Danny Pink. Their first date is quite rubbish until Clara travels back in time and meets the young Rupert Pink (who later changes him name to Dan). Now this was straight up Moffat. He often likes to play with predestination and in this case Clara is responsible for Danny's name and his career as a soldier and in that way, Clara solidifies her own history as Danny's girlfriend. The Young Rupert believes there is something under his bed; it's the dream the Doctor is investigating. There is a genuinely scary moment with a bed sheet rising from the bed and we are introduced to the idea that fear is a superpower. You can use fear; you can run faster with your fast beating heart and adrenaline. What is the blanket creature? I'm really not sure. It could be the Midnight Fear Monster or it could be a kid under a blanket. We'll never know, which adds to the overall dream like quality of the episode. Clara solves Young Rupert's fear by placing soldiers under his bed to guard him, and the special soldier is Dan the Soldier Man. Dan the Soldier Man is in charge and is so brave that he doesn't need a gun and he keeps the whole world safe. So there you go: Clara names Danny and gives him his path in life.

Because this is Steven Moffat, we need to jump around in time a bit (side note, but this obsession with time jumps is getting a bit old Moffat). And look! It's someone who looks exactly like Danny Pink. But his name is Orson Pink and he's Clara's future great-great grandson, or so we are lead to believe. Gee. I wonder how Clara will leave the show. Orson is lost at the end of the Universe and scared because even though everyone in the Universe is dead, there is something out there. Or there isn't. Everything that you hear and see has a rational and logical explanation OR there could be a giant fear monster just lurking out of the corner of you eye. The Orson bit drags on for a bit and I'm much more interested in what happens next because this is where I am both impressed and maybe frustrated. Welcome to Gallifrey.

I have no idea how this is possible. Gallifrey is supposed to be in hiding or vanished or time locked or something. Now, granted, we don't know this is Gallifrey until the big moment but it still doesn't explain how the TARDIS got to Gallifrey. The time machine lands in a barn, a very run down barn, and in this very run down barn is a bed with a crying boy. Clara, scared of being found, hides under the bed. The boy's parents...guardians...something come in and remind the boy that if he wants to come inside, he's allowed. You see, the boy is afraid of the dark, but he also doesn't want the other boys to see that he's afraid. Does this sound familiar? Cause if it doesn't, behold the big shock moment: "he'll never make a Time Lord." Hello Little Boy who became the Doctor. I don't know exactly how I feel about this because once again Clara is the Impossible Girl who pushes the Doctor in the right direction. She soothes his fears and tells him to Listen. As she lulls him to sleep, Clara tells the little Doctor that "this is just a dream...fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly... fear can make you kind and fear is like a companion...fear makes companions of us all." A lot of this should sound familiar and that's when it hits you, as the episode flashes back to a year go...the barn is the same barn the War Doctor (8.5) sat in while he waited to push the button and bring the moment that would end his people and his world. The Impossible Girl once again guides the destiny of the Doctor. Clara, of course, leaves behind a memento for the man who would be the Doctor: Dan the Soldier Man, who doesn't need a gun to save the world.

Miscellaneous Notes on Listen

--"Fear makes companions of us all" is a line from the first ever Doctor Who episode in 1963.

--Once again, some good quotes from this episode: "You said you had a date. Thought I'd hide in your bedroom in case you brought him home."
"Isn't it bad if I meet myself?" "It's potentially catastrophic"
"Do you have your own mood lighting because frankly the accent is enough"

--This is twice now that they've hinted at Clara's death. But they've also hinted that she'll marry Danny Pink and have a family. So...which is it?

--Clara looked very pretty this episode.

--Danny seems like a decent enough guy, but honestly outside of his own personal trauma and obvious romantic set up for Clara, I don't particularly find him interesting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Which I Review Under the Dome (2x11)

And now the Dome is shrinking. Did I really just write that? Yes, yes I did. This was yet another in a long line of useless episodes. I had hope when the season began because "Heads Will Roll" managed to be decent enough to recapture my interest. Sadly now, I am just muddling through, trying to pass each hour without too much complaint. Which never works, let's face it. This weeks episode, "Black Ice," wanted to create tension and drama but since the episode ended with the threat resolved--as is the running motif thus far this season--the danger never felt real in the first place. Of course Julia was never in any danger; of course the climate would fix itself; of course Melanie would be just fine. See? Moments like this only work if I believe the character is truly in danger, which none of them ever were. 

 Like last week, this is going to be a short one. The Dome is rotating. And as it does, explains Science Teacher Pine who has officially become number one on my "please die" list, it is pulling the atmosphere closer...or something. I don't know. It's cold, let's put it that way. So cold, in fact, that over the course of this one episode, people go from wearing light sweaters to heavy winter coats and being in danger of frostbite. The clinic was shut down, so everyone moves into the highs school for warmth. Julia and Barbie decide to make a pit run for something (honestly I can't recall what) and, as the title of this episode suggests, skid out on black ice. My interest level in the romance between these two is next to nothing. Julia has forgotten that Barbie killed her husband and that in reality she has only known him for maybe two weeks. But there they are, huddled together under blankets with a tiny candle professing their love for one another. When the ambulance hit that patch of black ice, Julia went flying and landed on a metal pole that went right through her leg. That's a shame. The walkie talkie is dead (of course) and if Barbie removes the pole, Julia could bleed out. That's a shame, Barbie. So they huddle and make jokes. Until Barbie remembers that by suffering hypothermia, he can pull out the pole and Julia's heart will have slowed enough to prevent bleeding out. Somehow he carries the red head all the way back to the restaurant and brings her back to life and blah blah blah. True love wins out or something like that. Seriously, if I can sum up the entire major plot point of this episode in one paragraph, it's a problem writers!

 This is a hilarious picture. It's like something out of the Exorcist, except much less intriguing and interesting. So while Barbie and Julia are freezing in a turned over car, Melanie is suffering from her loss of the precious. Whatever connection she has to the egg manifests in physical reactions. When someone does something to the egg, Melanie feels it. That's a shame. Melanie is getting weaker and sadder and weepier and more bloody annoying. She is number two on my "please die" list. Melanie and Pauline reconnect as only a previously dead teenager and a middle aged mother can. Sarcasm, it was in that sentence. Pauline, though, is committed to finishing what she, Mel, Lloyd, and Sam started. Whatever the bloody hell that means. Started? Did you start something? You found a thing, freaked out, killed a girl, and buried the body. You didn't start anything so much as have a series of unfortunate events. Pauline also has a kind moment with Big Jim in which you can see that maybe at one point she did love the former high school football star turned thug. That's a shame.

Of course, no one is in any danger whatsoever. The temps begin to rise at the end of the episode to the point where people in winter coats just 10 seconds before can walk freely to the edge of the Dome wearing plain old early Fall-wear. Really? Temps do not change that fast! Even inside a magically revolving gold fish bowl! Joey and Norrie realize that Hunter was working with the Men in Black (not the cool variety) and confront him about it, but Hunter explains that the Men in Black have leverage on him...which we already knew. This was explained to us, the audience, already. You are wasting my time, Under the Dome, with this pointless exposition! At the Dome wall, the magical goldfish bowl begins to scream, something it's never done before. Melanie's eyes open and says, "it's starting!" That's a shame. Then, suddenly, the Dome walls begin to contract in on its self because..yes...you guessed it...the Dome is shrinking. Oh save me from these ridiculous plot points.

Miscellaneous Notes on Black Ice

--RIP random nobody we've never heard of or cared about!

--Big Jim finds Lyle in the Lake. In 2 degree weather. Alive. Talking. And fine. Hint: NO! If Big Jim is in danger of getting severe frost bite from only being outside for a few minutes then by God, Lyle should be DEAD after treading water for who knows how long.

--"We'll all stuck here because of how much you love me!"

--Lyle is a freaky and creepy dude: "The whole world was on fire. And it was beautiful. The end is coming!!" Okay then.

--Big Jim saved Lyle for Pauline. That's a shame. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x3)

Don't over analyze this one too much, kiddies. This weeks episode of Doctor Who, "The Robot of Sherwood," is pure unadulterated fluff and nonsense. And it's glorious. I think sometimes the writers and the viewers get too caught up in the morality and philosophy behind Doctor Who and we forget that the show has never been hard core science fiction and often likes to poke fun at itself. This episode took every single cliche it could think of when it comes to the story of Robin Hood, put it in a blender, and gave itself to Mark Gatiss for final puns and touches. It's kitchy; it's a bit nonsensical, and it doesn't matter. Two heavy weeks in a row of moral relativity and Doctor Who stepped into the light (of 1190ish England) for sword play and legendary heroes. This is not to say that there wasn't some philosophical extemporizing--hero worship being at the forefront--but for once the episode did not feel weighted by all that metaphysical consideration. This is an episode that finds itself back in one the chambers of the Doctor Who heart--if you could meet anyone in history, time and space, where would you go? Clara's answer: to meet the legendary Robin Hood. 

Of course, the Doctor insists that Robin Hood isn't real; he's made up! The old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned stories, the kind that have fallen by the wayside long ago, replaced by anti-heroes and morally gray characters. It's a testament to Clara's naivte that when the Doctor expounds on this new quality of hero, she replied, "what about you?" In her eyes, The Doctor is still a hero, something that weighs on him greatly. So far there's the android in Victorian London and the two soldiers in the far future, all of whom have died because the Doctor could not or would not save them. He doesn't consider himself a hero anymore. Indeed, did that hero ever really exist? Well, if the arrow sticking out of the front of the TARDIS is any indication, then the answer is yes. Lo' and behold: Robin Hood really exists and Clara is having a sheer fangirl moment. And so was Mark Gatiss when he wrote this, you can tell. Everything you'd ever associate with Robin Hood is packaged into this week's guest star. He's cheeky, egotistical, clad in nothing but green and wearing a funny hat; he's plucky and and dashing, witty and considerate. He turns the charm on in a heartbeat and his sword play is impressive, though clearly not a match to his word play. The Doctor hates him. I find this hilarious. Past Doctors, like 10 and 11, would have been all in a happy dither to see Robin Hood; in fact, they would have made the association between themselves and the Prince of Thieves. This Doctor, this colder, darker, brooding man wearing almost all black, finds Robin Hood irritating because he laughs too much and it's too sunny in the forest. The Doctor doesn't like to be reminded of who he no longer is, or no longer considers himself to be. There's probably something to be said about the nature of the sword fight between the Doctor and Robin Hood; as if the Doctor was battling his own past self, the happier, more noble, cheerful selves that he is keeping carefully locked away behind his Scottish brogue and angry eyebrows. And I'm sure Gatiss had that in mind when he wrote this, but the scene in question--in which Robin Hood and the Doctor battle with a sword and spoon, respectively--is so damn fun that the higher analysis isn't strictly required. There are puns galore, including a clever nod to Errol Flynn.

 There are Merry Men as well, each one as cliched and unnuanced as Robin himself. They don't need to be something mold breaking; they exist as familiar stories come to life before our very eyes and we'd mourn the loss of any of their hallmark characteristics. Robin explains his lost titles and lands and lover, Maid Marian, again all well worn tropes of the Robin Hood storyline. And yes, there is a Sheriff of Nottingham, a right dark-hearted, black clad scoundrel who is plundering the nearby villages for laborers and gold. The Sheriff is just what you'd expect: corpulent, greedy, ambitious, and feels that his efforts of governing have gone unnoticed by King John (Richard, of course, being off on Crusade).  There is one big difference between the classic Sheriff of Nottingham and the one in this episode of Doctor Who: this one has robots. Oh come on, you didn't think there would NO science fiction, did you? It is still Doctor Who. Yes, there are robots dressed as knights who are forcing the peasants to do hard labor and killing them when they are too exhausted to carry on. We learn later that the robots crash landed here on Earth in their 29th century space craft and blended in to their surroundings by disguising the ship as a castle. They used the Sheriff to gather their peasants and their gold; the gold is used to fuel the ship. Honestly, it doesn't matter much. The story is not really about these robots and their ship; this is a Robin Hood story and the robots almost feel like an after thought. If they really wanted to focus on the robots they would not have spent several rib-tickling moments with the Doctor and Robin Hood arguing over who's in charge or who has the better plan or how Robin never stops laughing. I love that it's Clara who is viewed as the leader because the Doctor and Robin are obviously inferior at the moment. See, people who are not Moffat can write Clara as a strong independent non-weepy woman.

There is a really wonderful fight scene between Robin and the Sheriff, and it's exactly what a fight between those two should be: almost old Hollywood style with someone sliding down a flag with a knife, rope swinging, and someone falling to their death while screaming dramatically. There is also some quibbling over who will save the day, but all three--Clara, Robin and the Doctor--band together and blow up the spaceship. The Merry Men cheer and celebrate and there's even some singing! Because you have Alan a-Dale and he has a lute, so of course there's going to be a song. The end of episode is quite nice with Robin and the Doctor discussing heroism and whether or not they really are heroes. The Doctor bulks at the idea of being called a hero, and even gets quite upset. I think Robin understands this and tells him, "Neither am I. But maybe, if we keep pretending to be, others will be heroes in our name." Clara, of course, played her role this week as the true hero. While Robin and the Doctor argued, she actually found out the Sheriff's plans. Is she--the companion--the real hero of Doctor Who? Aren't all the companions the real heroes? The answer is yes; Rose Tyler became a god, Donna Noble became a Time Lord; and Clara Oswald became a Merry (wo)Man. Ok, not as illustrious, but it's a start. In the end, you walk away from this episode with some laughs, some smiles, and a little more knowledge into the Doctor's perceived sense of self. Not a hero, but he can pretend.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Robot of Sherwood

--"Stop laughing! Why are you always doing that? Are you simple or something?"
"When did you start believing in impossible heroes?" "Don't you know?"
"Everyone should have a hobby. Mine is annoying you."
"History is a burden. Stories can make us fly." 

--The space ship of the robots was headed to the Promised Land. So, while there was no Missy in this weeks episode, we did get a reference to her heaven. Is this like some sort of great exodus en masse? I had thought that the people in heaven were the Doctor's victims, but he didn't do anything to these Robots prior to this episode.

--The Doctor cheated at the archery contest. Because of course he did. 

--Did anyone else expect Worf to show up and declare, "I am not a Merry Man!" (if you don't get this reference, I don't want to know you)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In Which I Review Under the Dome (2x10)

I really hate when one of my crackpot jokes about this show turns out to be true. Normally, when a theory is proven true, I get excited. But Under the Dome is the exception to the rule because being right means some overly contrived nonsense. A few weeks ago I joked that Barbie and Melanie would turn out to be secret twins. Well, I was half right. They aren't twins but they are brother and sister. Because plot dictated it to be so. There is no reason for them to be related at all except that it manufactures drama for the sake of drama. In this weeks episode, "The Fall," everyone played a round of find the egg! And the egg got mad. 

I'm beginning to hope that this show doesn't get renewed for a third season. At this point, I don't think it's a very good idea. The cheesy factor of Under the Dome has really turned sour and it's becoming a bit unbearable. Why are Barbie and Melanie related? That doesn't add anything to the plot. Why did Angie return from the dead in a two second vision? The season continues to be clumsy and slogging through each episode is taking more and more mental focus than I want to spend, honestly. 

This is going to be a short one. Jim and Pauline are reunited and you can tell that Pauline is less than thrilled at seeing her husband again. Jim was a cold and distant spouse (shocking, I know) and it's obvious that Pauline just wants to get Junior and go. Jim on the other hand still wants to be a family and proposes that they take the egg and leave. This becomes complicated when Junior isn't happy to see mom either and when the two fight, the egg begins to scream. The egg is angry guys! You won't like it when it's angry! Is the egg connected to Junior or Pauline? Or to the emotional force around Chester's Mill? This screaming does wonders to Pauline who goes nuts and starts screaming about pain while simultaneously painting what will happen next. I'm not sure what to make of this drawing. It shows Jim and Junior and the giant cracked dome or egg and there is fire cause fire makes everything scarier. Of course Jim thinks that the egg is causing his wife to be crazy--which it probably is--so he takes it from its hiding place in the basement only for it to knock him out. This egg does not like Jim, guys. It really doesn't. The egg does stop screaming when Norrie picks it up (Momma?) but Jim pulls a gun on the gruesome twosome known as Jorrie and forces them to take him to the Cave of Death. Remember that.

Meanwhile, Barbie and Julia spend the episode looking longingly into each others eyes while I gag. Oh, NOW is the time to have a heart to heart about your future? Really? There is a screaming egg, men in black who apparently don't like you, a mysterious red door, a vortex of terror, and oh yeah, the seasons are changing rapidly, but NOW is a good time to talk about what happens to your relationship after the Dome? Barbie also realizes that Melanie is his sister with some very fast talked dialogue that basically comes down to: Barbie's father, Melanie's mother, old flames, sex, baby, Melanie and Barbie are brother and sister.  But this new kinship does mean that Mel decides to trust Barbie more and agrees to let him have the egg. This girl and her freaking egg. However, the egg has gone missing because Jim has it! Oh no! Quickly! To the Cave of Death!

And because this world is strange, Jim and Jorrie end up at the Cave of Death with the egg and Jim knocks it over the cliff. This is followed by a lot of shaking in which everyone thinks they are going to die! But only one person dies. Oh no! Who will it be?!

Do I care that Phil died? I do not. Do I even remember what purpose Phil had to this show? Nope. So whatever, RIP Phil, I guess. However, loosing the egg is not a good thing. For one, Pauline seems particularly distressed about it, though I suspect Pauline would be distressed if she broke a nail. Second, dropping the egg down the Cave of Death resulted in the portal between Chester's Mill and Zenith closing up so once more everyone is stuck Under the Dome (roll credits). So what the heck was the point of Zenith anyway? Why did we need to see it or go there? Are we ever going to get answers to anything? Probably not. Which is why Season Three is most likely going to happen.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Fall

--The episode annoyed me more than it probably should have.

--Yeah, yeah, yeah. Angie appeared and told Junior that he never loved her, only wanted to posses her. I've been saying that for awhile now.

--Junior beat up Sam. Both yay! and nay! Junior is still Little Crazypants

--Why are the seasons changing so fast? Science Teacher Pine gave some sort of science thing, but she voice is officially a buzzing sound in my head that I ignore.

--"Love me or hate me, I get things done." Yes Big Jim. You do.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x2)

The Fourth Doctor: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other, and it's it? The Daleks cease to exist? Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations, can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word "Dalek"? 
--Genesis of the Daleks, 1975
What would the Doctor be without his Daleks? And what would they, in turn, be without him? When I learned that the Daleks were coming to this weeks episode, "Into the Dalek," I was rather nervous. Under Moffat's tenure, the Daleks have gotten a bit of a rough shake. Moffat prefers the creatures of his design, the Silence or the Weeping Angels instead of the classic monsters of Doctor Who. For example, Moffat erased the entire history of the Doctor and the Daleks in one episode, something I was not too keen on. But I have to admit, that this episode was rather good. It returned to one cornerstone of the Doctor Who universe, the sheer unadulterated hatred of the Doctor and the Daleks and whether or not their hatred is moral. I like when Doctor Who explores morality. We tend to see the Doctor (and, let's be honest, it's how he sees himself) as a hero, a good man who swoops down and saves the day with a witty remarks and a smile. But one thing we forget is that behind that young veneer beats the heart(s) of a man who knows what it is to hate. The reason I quoted Genesis of the Daleks at the start is because this weeks episode felt very reminiscent of that: the moral quandary of whether or not Daleks can be anything besides pure evil and whether or not the Doctor can ever find it in him to have more than loathing for a Dalek. This episode did not reinvent the wheel, however. It takes a lot of cues from the 2005 episode "Dalek" and ties it in with the season 3 arc of "Daleks Take Manhattan" as well as the season 4 finale of the Dalek who betrays Davros because the Dalek saw the error of its ways. What this episode was, though, was a return to center. To that place that made Doctor Who more than just timey wimey science fiction mumbo jumbo. The morality of the Doctor. Is he a good man?  

I want to get this portion of the episode out of the way because, while I'm sure he'll be important later on, Danny is not at the moment. So, this is Danny Pink. He's a new teacher (math) at Clara's school. Clara seems to like Danny right away, though Danny is a bit shy and fumbles around her. He's cute in that "obviously traumatized' sort of way. Danny was a solider and based on his reaction to the question of it he's ever killed someone who wasn't a solider, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's a tragically troubled soul who will find comfort and peace in space travel and in Clara's arms. If the rumors that Jenna Louise Coleman is leaving Doctor Who at the end of Christmas are true, this might be her ticket out. Clara would not be the first companion to leave the TARDIS for a life of being settled down instead of being pulled through time and space. My overall impression to Danny at the moment is pretty neutral. He was cute but didn't really make a lasting impression; he's better than Rose's Mickey Smith but not as cool as Jack Harkness. Movin' on...

So, briefly, it has been about three weeks since the Doctor last saw Clara. In fact, he's literally holding the coffee he promised her in last weeks episode. The Doctor got distracted by a thing (which is totally Doctor of him. Please never change that.) The thing he got distracted by was saving the life of a fighter pilot while she was in mid-flight, fighting the Daleks. I want to talk a little about how the Doctor treats this poor fighter pilot. The 10th and 11th Doctors would have made sure she was okay as she is obviously confused and in emotional distress. The Doctor treats her as if she should simply be grateful that he saved her life. When she pulls a gun on him and demands to be taken to her ship, the Doctor refuses to do so until she is polite about it. He seems to expect gratitude, not hostility. When the pilot mentions her dead brother, the Doctor is pretty cold about it. That's a big difference between past Doctors and the 12th Doctor. I like it. The Doctor is very concerned with his own morality because I think he knows that he is a much darker, and as we will see shortly, pragmatic version of his past lives. When the Doctor learns that the humans have a Dalek on board that claims to be good and wishes to destroy all the Daleks for the humans, the Doctor can't help but be intrigued and reflect his own moral ambiguity on to the "sick" Dalek. Morality as a malfunction--perfect sum of the 12th Doctor thus far. Even Clara isn't quite sure what the Doctor is in terms of good and evil; when he asks if he's a good man her only response is, "I don't know." The Doctor has always walked a fine line but he's teetered more toward being good than straight up bad. The 9th Doctor was too damaged from the Time War to ponder morality, knowing that his own was gray. The 10th Doctor wasn't a man who offered second chances but the point was he offered first ones. And the 11th Doctor had rules to keep him regulated. 12? I don't think 12 has rules, or if he does, they aren't ones we're used to seeing. 

The Doctor, Clara, and a team of soldiers literally go inside the Doctor to see if they can't "heal" the good Dalek. It's the one place the Doctor has never been before when it comes to the Daleks and it's quite intriguing. When one of the soldiers makes the very dumb decision to shoot the inside of the Dalek, the team is attacked by antibodies. Now, here's where we get the single biggest change in the Doctor. One of the soldiers, Ross, is in danger of dying from the Dalek antibodies. The Doctor throws him a pill and tells Ross to trust him and take it. When Ross does, the Dalek antibodies instantly kill him. The Doctor's response "He was dead already, I was saving us." This is quite different. This is not to say that Doctors 9-11 didn't loose humans, of course they did. But, rather, they would have done everything humanly (of Time Lordy) possible to save the human first. And if the human had died, it would have greatly upset the Doctor. So for the Doctor to participate in the death of a human for the pragmatic reason of saving everyone else is a bit alarming, and yet fits with this darker Doctor. When the other soldiers get upset that the Doctor let Ross die, the Doctor gives it very little thought and even goes so far as to make light of it with a joke. 

So now we reach the heart of the Dalek and the Doctor sees that the repair for the creature is quite simple and does it gladly. And what happens? The Dalek reverts. His "goodness" was a malfunction and now the evil Dalek is back. And the Doctor is secretly pleased, or so Clara notes. It means that the Doctor was right: there are no good Daleks, there are only evil ones and by assuring the Dalek morality, he's assured his own. If the Daleks are evil then he, The Doctor, is ipso facto good. But Clara points out that this is not the case. This is not what the Doctor has learned today. The Doctor learned that it is possible for the Daleks to be good with the right stimulus and experiences. Of course, a lot of this episode wants us to examine the Doctor and Dalek as a unit. Is the Doctor inherently good or is he made good by his various stimuli and experiences? Can the Doctor be made to be good if there is a danger that he is not?

So what turned the Dalek good? A simple experience: it saw a star being born. Now, the Daleks have destroyed millions of stars but what changed the Dalek's mind was the knowledge that life wills out. Resistance to life is futile; its consciousness was expanded because it saw that its attempts to destroy all life was never going to succeed. How lovely. So while Clara is doing a clever thing, the Doctor gets inside the Dalek's head, merges with it, and says to look inside the Doctor's soul to re-understand beauty. It works, after a fashion. The Dalek sees beauty, divine perfection but one more thing that I don't think the Doctor was counting on: hatred. It sees the never ending hatred the Doctor has for the Daleks and it takes that hatred and makes it its own. It rewires it's agenda: instead of exterminating all the humans, it will exterminate all the Daleks because they are evil, just like the Doctor's soul believes. So did the Doctor make the Dalek objectively good? Nope. But he did make the Dalek like him and what is the Doctor--a good Dalek.

Miscellaneous Notes on Into the Dalek

--Yeah, Missy appeared again, along with her "heaven." I don't know what to do with her and this whole concept which is why I'm ignoring it for the moment. A few theories passing around the internet: she is the Master in a gender swap version of that Time Lord. It's very possible; Moffat has said he wouldn't bring back the Master unless he had a very unique vision for him. The other theory is that she is the Rani from the Classic Era, which I doubt because Moffat doesn't really stick his toes into the classic era all that much. 

--I think the success of this episode owes a lot of Phil Ford who wrote everything but the Danny/Clara and Missy scenes. Ford also wrote "The Water's of Mars" one of the best episodes of the 10th Doctor's time. 

--I adore that the Doctor openly insults Clara but in that "older brother" sort of way. 

--Lots of cute one-liners. A smattering of quotes:
"You're not my boss. You're my hobby."
"Don't be lasagna."
"Are you out of your mind?" "No, I'm inside the mind of a Dalek."
--When the 12th Doctor started talking about Skaro, I got chills.