Twelve

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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A Song of Comfort

Dec
30

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

Christmas episodes are unusual creatures, trying to be all things to all viewers. There is the expectation that a large number of families, including those who don't regularly watch the show, will be tuning in. Thus, the episode should be easy to follow for those with little or no knowledge of the characters and ongoing storyline(s), and fun and cheerful for those making it part of their holiday celebrations.

At the same time, it has to be satisfying for those of us who follow the show regularly. If it's a complete toss-off, the production team risks alienating its core audience, which is also bad. Thus a Christmas special is a weird hybrid (see what I did there?) of fluff and substance that can be very difficult to execute.

As one might expect, then, there were parts of The Husbands of River Song (THORS—Ha! What an acronym!) that made me really happy and others that made me cringe a little. It's difficult even to generalize which was which. Most of the interpersonal bits were good, though some were not; most of the guest artist bits were pants, though some were not; most of the plot points were eyeroll-y, though some were not. You get the idea: par for the course.

On first viewing, though, I found the good bits outweighed the bad. Moffat's dialog was mostly rich in quotable one-liners, with the occasional battle-of-the-sexes comments that he seems to think are funny (but as far as I'm concerned almost never are). I took the lighthearted feel of a "romp" at face value that first time through, too, which meant that the guest cast (Greg Davies as King Hydroflax, Matt Lucas as Nardole (whom I kept mentally calling Unstoffe at first), and Phillip Rhys as Ramone) were all played at a just-right-for-the-occasion "panto" level of off-the-wall.

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Series Nine Retrospective

Dec
16

All through Series Nine, it felt like we were missing key elements of the overall story and wouldn't understand until it all wrapped up in the final episode. That often happens under Moffat's leadership, but this year—to me, anyway—felt particularly arc-heavy. Now that we've got that broader perspective, I wanted to go back and look more carefully at how it might influence our reading of earlier episodes.

The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar

We began on Skaro, bringing Davros, Daleks, and Missy all back on board. As the opening gambit, the first two-parter of the series had to introduce all sorts of ideas without letting on how many of them would come back later. In some cases the recurring elements were glaringly obvious (e.g., the Hybrid); in others it was more subtle (the way the Doctor can come up with a way to "win" and make complex calculations in a tiny fraction of a second). In still others, we got the sense that something might come back, but didn't get hammered over the head with it (the Confession Dial).

Already, too, we got the sense that Clara was nearly ready to fly solo. She's truly "taken the stabilizers off her bike" and acts like a Doctor substitute at UNIT. Rather than the beginning, this is the middle of her arc. Though she will continue to get ever more reckless, she's already short some reck here. Clara is more mature and self-sufficient even than last series, and the fact that her boyfriend is "still dead" (thanks for that, Missy) further reduces her need to give any fucks for her own safety.

Then there's Missy. We've been trained by her previous incarnations to think she would show up again later in any series she crops up in once. Yet after this, she scarpers and only returns in passing mention as the perpetrator of the Doctor/Clara pairing in the first place. (It's so very the Master/Missy's style to try to bring about an apocalypse just to get the Doctor to be her bestie again.) I'm counting that as a pleasant trope subversion.

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