Sunday, April 23, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x2)

It's a bit of a tradition on Doctor Who that one of the new companions of a Doctor will, not only go into the future for their first real adventure, but will somehow encounter the human race in a transitory point in time. This serves two purposes; first it's a way to let the companion in on the secret of what happens to humanity in the far flung future and, secondly, it gives the show a chance to telegraph what kind of man (erm, Time Lord) this current incarnation of the Doctor is. For example, the Ninth Doctor took Rose to the end of the planet and she watched it blow up. It was thoroughly depressing for Rose but given the state of the Ninth's Doctor's psyche--war damaged and in pain--it made sense. The Tenth Doctor, newly reborn and having been healed by his time and experience with Rose took her to the city of New New (New New New New New New New New, ect) York on New New Earth where actual hugs and physical contact save the day. The Eleventh Doctor, who had lost so much and wanted to keep running so the pain wouldn't touch him, took Amy to a spaceship full of humans still on the move, but using the heart and soul of an ancient and alone beast to do so. Subtly has never been Doctor Who's strong point. In this week's episode, "Smile," Bill gets her first official journey out into the future and we land smack dab in the middle of how the Twelfth Doctor would like to be seen: The Peacemaker. Grab your favorite poop emoji and let's go! 

Let's not over analyze this one too much. At its heart, "Smile" a good old fashioned space romp with robots and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. The episode does good work in presenting humanity's current problems in broad strokes (the book Bill finds shows war and conflict on a massive scale) and it's really no surprise that, like all good science fiction, those problems call back to the current situations we, the 21st century audience, are experiencing presently. To wit: a bunch of humans fleeing from an evacuated Earth awake to find that they are in danger of being massacred by a hostile force that, at the end of the day, isn't evil but rather just thinks differently than they do. These erstwhile humans have two choices: war or smile and let the the Peacemaker go to work. The current human race might not be fleeing into outer space but there is something to be said about awaking from a deep slumber (read: complacency) to find an enemy combatant that you truly do no understand. This episode used emojis quite effectively but those emojis should have been used in tandem with slang or some common parlance. For example, in this day and age people talk about being "woke" to problems; they stay "woke." I don't think it's a stretch to say the writers of this episode had that lingering in the back of their minds given the socio-political climates of both the UK and America. This fictional human race is decidedly not woke, both literally but also metaphorically when they cannot heed the Doctor's good sense that the robots are not evil but simply understand emotions differently; they are not out to kill humans senselessly but honestly believe they are serving human kind by destroying the enemy of happiness--grief. The Doctor, here, plays the roll of peacemaker he also played last season between two rival factions; obviously the Doctor has always been a peacemaker, able to bring different sides to a table and make them talk but this the second time in two years that the Twelfth Doctor has taken on that roll so obviously. It's a remarkable change from his first season out when he constantly questioned if he was a good man and even Clara wasn't able to answer truthfully. The Twelfth Doctor has settled into who he is: he may not be a good man all the time, but he tries and that's what matters. This week finds him as our archetypal hero who is smart enough to figure out the problem and the solution before any more serious and permanent damage can befall his ward or the innocents that live on the ship. It's equally nice that this is the version Bill sees. Her wonder at the universe is only matched by her relentless need to understand it all on a practical level. Her first questions inside the TARDIS are about steering wheels and the seats! Bill is flabbergasted at the idea that the Doctor has two hearts--a time machine and an ability to chase down monsters almost unfaze her at this stage, at least more so than the idea that the Doctor has two hearts or never installed seat belts into the TARDIS. Bill is a charming individual who manages to bring an extra sparkle to the Doctor's journey because of how...ordinary she is. She is not a puzzle to solve--in fact the Doctor becomes the puzzle once more with his mysterious oath not to travel--and her desire to normalize her experience while loving the abnormality of it all makes her wonderfully, perfectly, and altogether human and a fantastic way to cast her as the audience's surrogate. After several years of "special" companions, it really is a delightful change of pace.

Miscellaneous Notes on Smile 

--"You never thought to bring the seats closer?"

--So what is going on with the Doctor, Nardole and this suspicious oath not to travel? We have virtually no information outside of that so it's really anyone's guess.

--Is it a bit depressing that of all the languages on planet Earth it's emoji that survives? Or do we take it like a universal language, meaning that particular barrier is gone?

--"Don't sentimentalize me. I don't just fly by helping people out."

--The Doctor is really just a "scary, handsome, genius from outer space."

--So there's an elephant on the Thames. Cool.

--"Between here and my office, before the kettle even boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will."

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