Sunday, April 30, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x3)

It's inevitable. At some point during their time together, the companion must lose the rose tinted glasses they don when looking at the Doctor. Their favorite time traveling mad man with a box goes from quirky and amazing to terrifying. I touched on this in my opening seasonal review but it's worth mentioning here again in this week's episode, "Thin Ice." The Doctor is not all fuzzy feelings and warm; he can be (pardon the pun) ice cold, a god among mortals. He may serve at the pleasure of the human race but when it comes down to it, he's less manservant and more magical and powerful wizard who finds himself, more often than not, at a crossroads where hard decisions about life, death, and the universe must be made. And, sadly, there are times when those decisions mean lives are lost. Bill discovers this first hand this week when she's confronted with the Doctor's own godhood; but with every live lost, Bill also learns that the Doctor values human (and giant sea serpent) life. Grab your meat pie and let's go!

Of the three episodes aired so far, this week's installment is my favorite because of how timely it feels. Yes, this is a point of irony given that the entire episode takes place in 1814 but what's Doctor Who if not cheeky and winky in its irony. This episode is really about Bill discovering three different kinds of monsters: the one that is not really a monster at all, the one that tries his best to not be a monster, and the one who is the definitive monster in spite of (or perhaps because of) his privileged place in society. The first one, a giant fish that lives beneath the Thames, is no more a monster than a grizzly bear in the woods is. It's a predator and predators are going to eat their food source whether we want them to or not. Yes, it's eating children but it's also being held captive in chains and while the consuming of children is not a good thing, what else can the poor creature do to survive? The second monster is the Doctor, a god trying to not be godlike. There comes a moment when Bill realizes that the Doctor has seen people die; in fact when questioned the Doctor doesn't know how many people he has seen die; too many faces spread out over too many years. If that were not bad enough, the Doctor has also killed others, again too many to remember, too many to count and all he can do is move on. He does not have time to dwell on the outrage or the injustice because if he stops for one he can never do good elsewhere. It's a hard lesson for Bill to learn. In her mind, the Doctor is a wizard, complete with a magic wand and a flying carpet and thus in her fantasy the Doctor zips around time and space, saving innocent lives and brokering peace between warning factions. She never stops to consider that sometimes the Doctor is faced with an impossible choice and that his best possible solution is to let others die. We place heroes on pedestals but, as I said above, it's inevitable that they will fall down. What's matter more than the fall, however, is watching those heroes right the wrongs and rise in our eyes once more which brings us to the true monster of this week's episode, the rich and privileged Sutcliff.

A villain like Sutcliff on a TV show like Doctor Who is born from the outcomes of several key political movements of 2016. Make no mistake, Doctor Who and this episode join a long list of shows--both in America and abroad--which have found a way to cast a Trump-esque (or, I suppose, Farage-esque) villain at the center of their narrative to take a stand against what those two figures represent: white privilege. Like both the American president and the leader of the Brexit movement, Sutcliff is a white male who sees himself above all other manner of men and women. To him, Bill--a black woman--is not a person at all, but a lesser creature who does not deserve even a chair to sit upon. His status as a man, as rich, and as part of the upper class grant him leave to act as he sees fit, even if it means feeding children and other innocent souls to his great beast below. The idea of a character like Sutcliff isn't new in the TV landscape, especially lately, but what does feel fresh is who is standing in the cross-hairs and who fires back on all cylinders: Bill. She, unlike the companions who directly proceeded her, is set apart by gender, by race, and by sexual orientation. Bill is one of the "other;" if not exactly an outcast in 2017, for sure one in 1814 who is trampled upon by those who believe themselves to be her betters. The Londoners of 1814, like Sutcliff, might not know that Bill is gay but the color of her skin and gender are enough. Where the show really nails down this week's thesis is in the Doctor's wonderfully impassioned speech about how human progress is not measured by industry and the titans who control it, but by the importance placed on a seemingly unimportant life. In other words how those born into privilege treat those who are not. The speech itself is wonderful and of course Peter Capaldi gives it his all, but had this moving sentiment been given with any other companion--like Amy or Clara, two white, heterosexual women--it would have fallen short because how can a show like Doctor Who state such a position while it's still maintaining the status quo in companions. Having it be Bill--in all her queer and black glory--standing next to the Doctor, refusing to be kowtowed and treated as an inferior, makes it all the more special and poignant. This week's episode wants us to remember that monsters are real; they are not of the giant sea monster kind, but exist when we let titans of industry, the rich, and the privileged make themselves the standard bearers of what it means to be human.

Miscellaneous Notes on Thin Ice

--"You don't steer the TARDIS. You reason with it." "How?" "Unsuccessfully most of the time."

--I like how Bill vocalizes to the audience her own fears over entering London 1814 because of her black skin and the fact that, at this point, slavery is a very real factor. Often times, Doctor Who eschews those very real world issues.

--"It's not really wrestling unless it's in zero gravity. With tentacles."

--Whatever is behind the vault is alive and, at the very least, has the ability to knock. I suspect we all know where this is going (hint: knocking has been used to foreshadow someone before! Though I hesitate since the figure only knocked 3 times and not 4)

--I'm still very unsure what to make of Nardole and his role on the show. So far, he's gone on no adventures and only served as a scold. Hopefully the writers step up to the plate with him soon.

--R.I.P Pete and the Butterfly

--"He's got your magic wand." "Sonic screwdriver." "How is that a screwdriver?" "In a broad sense." "How is it sonic?" " makes noise."

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