Zombies on a Spaceship

May
17

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

You can't get much better for an American fan of my ilk than starting a Doctor Who episode with Star Trek's opening words. Unless, of course, you follow up with a clarification that space is "final" because it wants to kill us.

Oxygen combines some classic body horror with a commentary on the dangers of capitalism in an episode that looks like its sole story note from Moffat was "zombies in space," much like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship or Mummy on the Orient Express. Despite that dubious origin, in writer Jamie Mathieson's capable hands, we end up with a relatively strong story.

Among the facets that made this episode notable is the first full inclusion of Nardole as part of the TARDIS team. I've previously been less than complimentary to the Doctor's latest robot Companion (see also: K-9, Kamelion), but taking a reader's comments to heart, I've tried to set aside my pre-conceived notions about him (something in Husbands really set my teeth on edge) and look at him afresh. Judging purely on his appearances in Series Ten, then, I have to say I almost like him.

As a matter of fact, seeing Nardole in action for real—and most especially at the end of the episode when he confronts the Doctor with some actual fire in him—I've come around to what might even be considered fondness for the character. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that he got to be the bearer of an Easter egg for fans of the pre-Hiatus era or that he got to deliver the "as you know, Bob" dialog explaining to the audience why our heroes couldn't reach the TARDIS anymore.

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This Old House

May
10

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

One of the hallmarks of the Moffat era is Companions who (try to) live their own lives outside the TARDIS, traveling with the Doctor at their pleasure. Having fully engaged in travel through time and space, Bill is now attempting to slip back into a sense of normalcy at home. Needless to say, she gets no relief from her new life, and nor do her five new roommates.

To be fair, they're not exactly careful about what they're getting into, so desperate are they for an affordable place to live. Even Bill only briefly questions the low price of the expansive building that almost literally finds them rather than the other way around. Still, it's something of a harsh lesson for Bill that there really is no "part of [her] life [the Doctor's] not in."

And while it's clear that the Doctor has mellowed since this regeneration began, and he "gets" humans much more readily than he did during his time with Clara, he still has serious trouble respecting others' boundaries. Sometimes it's merely idiosyncratic (like inviting himself to share the housemates' Chinese food), but at other times he still really oversteps (as with his co-option of Bill's phone to share her Spotify playlist with everyone without asking).

It is, however, early days yet for them, and Bill is still learning about the Doctor. He tells her his species is called the Time Lords, and drops the word "regenerated" with an expression (hidden from her) that makes me wonder what's going through his mind. Does he sense he is nearing the end of this incarnation, or is there something else troubling him?

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Solid Footing

May
03

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

While Bill thinks she may be "low-key in love with [the TARDIS]" (which I thought was both a beautifully subtle nod to Bill's sexual orientation and a lovely statement of sentiment), I'm definitely low-key in love with writer Sarah Dollard's work.

Dollard, who penned last series's Face the Raven, hit another one out of the park with Thin Ice, keeping Series Ten on solid footing. Bill is fast becoming my favorite post-Hiatus Companion, and the developments in her relationship with the Doctor under Dollard's guidance are my favorite yet.

Following the Series One formula of modern-day introduction followed by a future adventure and then a past one, the Doctor (or, more accurately, the TARDIS) takes Bill to Regency-era London. I knew I'd love this episode the instant I saw Bill's initial reaction to the time: reminding the Doctor that as a person with melanin-rich skin, she's likely to have a different experience out there than he is. Better yet, Twelve actually considers her words before acknowledging the (general) danger and sending her off to choose a frock (in stark contrast to Ten's complete dismissal of Martha's similar anxiety at the beginning of The Shakespeare Code).

Throughout the episode, the chemistry between these two continued to fill me with joy. (I'm so crushed at the thought that we'll have no more of Capaldi after this series, and likely no more of Mackie, either—which is nigh criminal, as she's so bloody brilliant.) The Doctor yanks Bill's chain at least twice about her interaction with time travel—the imaginary disappearance of "Pete" and seeing the lights under the ice—and proves himself both particularly admirable and particularly problematic in her eyes.

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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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