Something to Smile About

Apr
26

Review of Smile
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

[Note: It should be "Something to smiley About," but my site doesn't cope well with emoji. Clearly.]


For Bill's first "proper" trip in the TARDIS, she chooses to go to the future, "to see if it's happy." I would have chosen similarly myself (though my reasoning would've been more along the lines of, "to see how long it takes for things to become relatively 'happy' again"), and it's always a pleasure to see another writer's vision of how human history will progress.

This is one of those visions in which the future is smooth and shiny, things neatly ordered and designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Of course, even when everything is shiny on the surface (as it certainly is in "one of Earth's [carefully unnamed] first colonies"), nothing is ever completely happy. Similarly, although there is plenty to love about Smile, there are a few problems, too.

At first glance, the episode is full of lovely things. There's Bill's refreshing perspective, seeing the Doctor and his way of life through unjaundiced eyes. There's the Doctor being a bit on the naughty side, shirking a duty of unknown-to-us magnitude. There's the perfect amount of Nardole (read: hardly any). There's Bill's glorious joy in all the weird ("You're an awesome tutor"). There's the fact that the advance team appears to have been primarily (if not exclusively) of Asian Indian descent (we don't see our first white-person-who-isn't-the-Doctor until more than 2/3 of the way through the episode). There's Bill calling out the possibility of "food sexism" still existing ("Is this bloke utopia?"), and then immediately wondering—upon learning the Doctor has two hearts (why would they read him as two people but put both portions on one plate?)—if he has really high blood pressure. Then there's Bill. And more Bill...

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Time And Relative Ease Of Entry

Apr
19

Review of The Pilot
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

The opening episode of Series Ten is aptly named. The Pilot nominally takes its name from the role a particular character plays, but it could just as easily refer to the introductory nature of the episode. It is, in effect, a "pilot episode" for a new era (the Twelve/Bill era) of the show.

As such, The Pilot is designed as one of those ideal "jumping on" points. While I firmly believe (as I've stated on panels at conventions before) that a good place to start watching Doctor Who is "whichever episode you happen to see," there are a few spots in the show that are designed as easy entry points for new viewers. This is certainly one of them, and I find that to be a feature rather than a flaw.

In particular, I've already seen a few complaints that the episode was boring or simplistic—not at all the whizz-bang kind of opener (or closer) we're used to seeing, especially from Moffat. Terms like "character heavy" appear in these comments as if it were a Bad Thing™ to have stories driven by who people are instead of by what happens to or because of them. I couldn't disagree more with those assessments. Writers know that readers/viewers will follow characters they care about (even if they're antagonists or anti-heroes, as long as we are engaged with them) through hell and back because we want to know what happens to them. All sorts of goofy shit can go on in a plot (even if it makes little/imperfect sense) and retain the audience, as long as the audience cares. (I believe this phenomenon explains both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Moffat era...)

Those commenters aren't wrong about the plot being more straightforward than usual, though. On its surface, anyway, there's just a mystery of a "sci-fi" nature that involves some creepy imagery and a set piece to shoehorn in some Daleks that gets resolved with minimal brain-bending. It introduces the new Companion, sets up her relationship with the Doctor, and finishes with the call to adventure as she steps into the TARDIS for realsies.

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Confession #111: I Want More Globetrotting

Apr
12

One of—perhaps even The—most sought-after missing serial in Doctor Who is the early Hartnell adventure Marco Polo. It's the fourth-ever story, the earliest missing serial, and—with the exception of two of the six episodes of The Reign of Terror—the only gap in the first season of the show. It is also believed to have been a truly beautiful piece of television.

Although the audio still exists, the only visual record we have of Marco Polo is set photos. These images give us a tempting glimpse at the opulent sets and costumes that no doubt fuel the fan ardor for the serial. But is there something besides its status as the Who-footage version of a unicorn or the Fountain of Youth—or perhaps more accurately, a Tasmanian tiger—that gets fans worked up every time a rumor of its discovery resurfaces?

I would argue that one of the reasons Marco Polo ranks so highly in the minds of those pining for the return of lost episodes is its setting. Even nearly eight hundred years after the travels of the real Marco Polo, China continues to be considered fairly exotic by the standards of Eurocentric cultures like the UK and US. While setting a story in a location unfamiliar to a broad swath of your fanbase has the potential to further exoticize that location, it also has the potential both to pique audience interest and to familiarize that audience with different cultural perspectives.

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Stomachturn

Mar
22

Review of Mindwarp (#143b)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Oct 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Mysterious Planet (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)

I will admit, dear readers, that I cringed at the thought of needing to rewatch Mindwarp for this review. Parts Five through Eight of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL) have always ranked high in my personal list of regrettable Doctor Who stories, and I'm afraid nothing changed this time around.

There are a few things that stand out in my memory about Mindwarp, no matter how long it's been since my last viewing: the way Peri gets so thoroughly screwed over; Brian Blessed's sheer, scenery-chewing volume; and the return of Sil, perhaps my most hated antagonist ever. None of these key traits serve to recommend the adventure, nor are they improved on repeated viewing.

While I've never particularly cared for Peri, no one deserves the shitty treatment—especially in a farewell appearance—that she gets here*. Even before the Doctor goes off the deep end (and he does, though neither we nor the Doctor himself, as evidenced by his reactions back in the courtroom on Gallifrey, really know why), he is truly horrible to his Companion. The prime example ties into another of my dislikes about Mindwarp: Sil.

Given the way Sil made my skin crawl (and not in a "love to hate" way) in his first appearance, I—like poor Peri—have no desire to be anywhere near him, even narratively. When she discovers Sil is on Thoros Beta with them, and that it is in fact his home planet (a detail the Doctor neglected to mention), she tells the Doctor outright that she wants to leave. Sil tortured her the last time they met, and she has been understandably traumatized by the experience.

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Confession #110: I'm Past Ready for New Episodes

Mar
08

I'm going to let my Fan Entitlement flag fly for a moment—something of which I don't generally approve—and say that it's about bloody time there were some new episodes of Doctor Who on the air. The first episode of Series 10 is finally going out on 15 Apr 2017 (mere days after my next Confession, incidentally), and I couldn't be more ready.

It's selfish and rude of me to be so antsy—after all, other shows have even longer waits—but going a full year between episodes in 2016 was like torture, especially given all the other Scheiße that went down last year. Since the show's return in 2005, we've generally not had to wait more than about six months for new material—even during the Year of Specials—though there have been a few larger gaps. The span between the 2011 Christmas special and the start of Series 7, for example, was just over eight months.

During Capaldi's era, however, extended wait times have become both increasingly long and increasingly standard. Right from the get-go, we had to wait eight months between Smith's departure in the 2013 Christmas special and Capaldi's debut in Series 8. The following year, there were nine months between the 2014 Christmas special and Series 9.

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