Twelve

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 #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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Confession #109: I'm Bummed Capaldi's Leaving

Feb
08

About a week ago, the news officially broke that Series Ten will be Peter Capaldi's last as the Doctor. Although I'm terribly disappointed, I cannot honestly say that the news surprises me. After all, three seasons is pretty much the standard tenure for a Doctor, and there will often be a casting change with the changing of the production team guard.

While I have enjoyed the vast majority of Capaldi's adventures—almost entirely due to the man himself, in some cases—I must also admit that there were scripts that left him high and dry. I suspect much of what I didn't care for boiled down to having Moffat's hand on the tiller (except for that one episode that was just plain dreadful IMO—now let us never speak of it again). After all, the things that troubled me most about Matt Smith's tenure as the Doctor were certain characterizations from Moffat's pen; I'd really hoped that Capaldi would escape his influence for at least a single series. Alas.

In contrast, some will be happy to see him go. Many of the objections to Capaldi's Doctor that I've seen over the last couple of years have centered on his prickly personality. I suppose I can see why some fans would find that archetype alienating. Perhaps that reaction to Capaldi is as natural for those who most adored Smith's Eleventh Doctor as the immediate, opposing reaction was for me. As my fandom was formed upon the fairly dour Ninth Doctor, I have found a somewhat more staid (though never completely sane) incarnation comfortable and refreshing.

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Just a Sprinkle of Humbug

Dec
31

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

Ah, the annual Christmas Special... That sixty-minute episode that tries to be all things to all people, but most especially to those who never watch Doctor Who except this once a year. No wonder Moffat chooses Christmas as the time to trot out his most gimmicky ideas.

Having already exploited Santa Claus/Father Christmas two years ago (and included a nod to Sherlock Holmes (and thus his own work on Sherlock) in 2012), Moffat needed a new cultural icon to shoehorn into his annual holiday offering. Since there would undoubtedly be copyright issues with something like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, it seems he decided it was instead time to cash in on the recent resurgent popularity of superheroes—thus we end up with "Doctor Who Does Superman" this year.

Not that a fluffy superhero "romp" is entirely unsuited to the situation. The trope is easily relatable to a casual viewer, who thereby doesn't have to know anything about the show at all to understand the premise of the episode. I'm not a huge fan of this type of genre crossover, but I thought the conceit by which young Grant gained his superpowers was sufficiently Doctor-y and believable in-universe. ("Take this," the Doctor tells 8-year-old Grant, handing him a gemstone to hold with what, in retrospect, turns out to have been a particularly unfortunate choice of words.)

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