Jodie Whittaker was amazing in Broadchurch. I’m extremely happy to see her as the new Doctor.
I didn’t intend to discuss these two episodes of Doctor Who together, but watching the first was delayed because I was in Scotland when the first one was on. And I didn’t realise they were a two-parter.
Except (spoilers) — oh, they’re not. They’re the first two of an n-parter, where n equals… who knows? At least three, and I’m sort of guessing from the titles and directors that it might be four.
Anyway, in them we have one really good episode, one not so good.
Episode 6, “Extremis,” was really very good indeed. Right up there with the best of this series so far. And good to get the mystery of the vault revealed early on, rather than letting it drag on to the end of the season and be an anticlimax.
Episode 7, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” despite the great title, was weaker, largely because of scientific irrationality and foolish plotting. To say nothing of incredibly lax biosecurity.
That said, I did enjoy it while watching it. It’s one of those ones where a little bit more care, a few easily-insertable words, and it would all have held together much better. The problem with bad science or plotting based on foolish mistakes is that they can dump you out of the story. Critical faculties should be engaged after you’ve watched a show, not unceremoniously force-invoked by something happening onscreen.
Never mind, though: the next one looks very interesting.
Back to form, then, with Doctor Who season 10 episode 4, “Oxygen.” Jamie Mathieson has written some good episodes before, and he keeps up the standard here. A tale of capitalism red in tooth and claw, it reminds us at times of “Silence in the Library,” and also of Duncan Jones’s Moon.1
It’s a “monster of the week” episode, but the monster is capitalism. This season so far has been surprisingly political. Well, maybe not surprisingly. These are politically-charged times, and science fiction is nothing if not of its time.
There are no particularly egregious pieces of nonsense here, either. Why the suit’s force-field helmets are OK inside the station but not enough outside isn’t really explained, but the real reason is so the actors don’t have to wear helmets for the whole episode, so that’s all right.
Oh, one thing: they’re on a space station: what are they mining? I mean, for copper, but in what? We have to assume it’s asteroids, but they could just have said.
The really interesting stuff is what we might call the “arc” material (if we are harking back to our Babylon 5 days). The shades are back, but only because The Doctor is blind now. Can he fix it by regenerating, maybe? Or by doing a partial regeneration, like Ten? And more about the vault and The Doctor’s oath. Nardole fears what would happen “if that door opens.” But we saw it open last week, so things are not quite as Nardole thinks, at least.
And the very last scene in the “Next Time…” Yes!
- Which is a great film that you should see at once if you haven’t already. [↩]
Well, I suppose they couldn’t sustain the excellence forever. I mean, there’s bound to be the odd weaker episode, right? “Knock Knock”, Doctor Who season 10 episode 3 is certainly that. I have to say it’s the weakest episode we’ve seen so far this season.
This is largely because it doesn’t make much sense. Alien bugs turning people to wood? And back again? Well, I guess it’s no more preposterous than many things we’ve seen, but you need to have some semblance of a rationale, and this had none.
Plus it had less of what has really been making this season great: the Doctor/Bill interaction.
Still, it had an interesting season-arc-related ending, with the Doctor taking Mexican food into the Mysterious Vault to share with whoever is in there. And we now it is a “who:” they were playing the piano. And they eat, presumably.
I think there are two possibilities:
- Since The Doctor mentioned regeneration, and we know he’s going to regenerate this season, it’s something to with that. Like a future version of himself, for reasons to be explained.
- As I said before, it’s The Master, or Missy, since we saw both the latter and the John Simm version of the former in the season trailer. That would be plausible but weird.
- Or, and this occurred to me just tonight: what if it’s Susan? His granddaughter from right back at the beginning? Her photograph was on his desk in the first episode… but that’s just fanciful, and why would he have her in a vault?
The Doctor is a burning sun of outrage, but claims never to have had time for it. Season 10, episode 3, “Thin Ice,” sends him and Bill into London’s past, to 1814, and the last great frost fair on the frozen Thames.
There is a beast below the ice1 There is a racist lord. There are cute dirty-faced urchins, and acrobats, and a fleeting glimpse of an elephant.
I loved almost everything about this episode. In fact the only negative point to me was the use of the old diving suits. You need someone onshore, operating an air pump, to use those, and there was no evidence of such a thing. It’s one of those things that Doctor Who is prone to. Not a big deal in this case, but it wouldn’t have hard to have included a few words about The Doctor modifying them with a compact air supply, or something.
No matter, as I say, it was an almost perfect episode. And we got back to The Doctor’s office at the end, where Nardole was making the tea (with added coffee for flavour).
And who or what is in the mysterious vault? The knocking of course echo’s “He will knock four times,” at the end of Tennant’s run, and that was The Master. And we know that The Master — or at least John Simm — as well as Missy, is gong to be in this season.
But it would be very strange if it were him in the vault.
- I’m sure you saw what I did there. [↩]
Episode 2 of Doctor Who Season 10, “Smile,” featured emoji-faced robots (or not strictly robots), as well as Bill’s first real trip in the Tardis and into (as is proper) the future.
It wasn’t a great story, but it was a good one, and I think it was a great opportunity for character interactions.
Complaints would be that The Doctor was too quick to leap to the “blow it up” solution (shades of Lethbridge-Stewart, maybe); and that the pacing dropped off badly in the last third, with The Doc taking ages to explain things long after it was obvious that he just needed to reprogram the robots.
Still, it was, as I say, great character work — Bill is shaping up to be an excellent companion — and an amazing location. I heard that the main building is in Valencia, and parts of it looked an awful lot like the Eden Project.
I also like that the episodes are continuing one into the next. Will they carry that on through the whole season? Could they? Should they?
Doctor Who is back! And at Easter, which still feels like the right time of the year.
Now, as you’ll know, I thought last season was the best season of New Who. I may have been being a tad hyperbolic there… but not entirely.
And now we’ve got “The Pilot,” the first episode of the new season. Introducing Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Among other things, I’ve got to say that this would be a great jumping-on point; a fine episode for someone new to the series to start.
The story was good, not great; there were unnecessary Daleks, but if that means they’re going to otherwise be given a rest for this season, I won’t complain; and we’ve got the mysterious vault that The Doctor and Nardole are investigating. I suspect it might be most of the season before we find out what’s going on with that.
Nice references to the past with the pictures of River and Susan; and the people who were fighting the Daleks were Movellans, apparently. I learned this on Jason Snell’s Doctor Who Flashcast podcast. I knew I recognised them, so I thought they must be Thals, and that we were right back at the start of it all. It’s a very long time since I saw either.
So, The Doctor has been lecturing at Bristol University for maybe fifty years? Intriguing. And the mini-trailer that we got as well as the usual “Next time…” is even more so. Both Missy and John Simm (presumably as The Master). The start of The Doctor’s regeneration sequence. We know he’s going to regenerate, but not, presumably till the last episode.
Though on that point, Capaldi said on The Graham Norton Show that he had already filmed his part of the regeneration scene, and the only thing they still had to film was the Christmas special. Not surprisingly he wouldn’t give an explanation of that paradox.
I have a theory, or suggestion for how things might develop. They won’t do this, and they shouldn’t; but bear with me.
In a reversal of the now-common trope of The Doctor’s companion falling for him, The Doctor falls for Bill. She, of course, is not interested. So The Doctor regenerates into a female form.
That would be to put Bill’s sexuality too much to the fore, and of course be wildly unlike The Doctor. But it amused me to consider for a few minutes.
Interrupting my Alan Moore reading to check on the short-fiction nominees for the BSFA Awards, reprinted as ever in an A4 booklet.
Good stuff, of course, but maybe not as good as last year (though I realised that I hadn’t read all of last year’s). Let’s go through them one by one.
Warning: spoilers follow.
“The End of Hope Street,” by Malcolm Devlin
This is a strange story, set in the present day, about houses becoming “unliveable.” This phenomenon is completely unexplained, but it is disastrous, and can even be fatal. And it accepted fatalistically by the large, and largely undifferentiated, cast of characters.
“Liberty Bird,” by `Jayne Fenn
The favoured son of a noble clan races the family yacht. In spaaaaaace. But he has a shameful secret that should be neither in highly advanced future society. On the other hand, a highly advanced future society shouldn’t have a nobility. I guess societies can go back as well as forward.
“Taking Flight,” by Una McCormack
Another rich person mooches around with no real aim in life, this time in a society that has genetically engineered slaves.
“Presence,” by Helen Oyeyemi
This is the most disjointed, disconnected of the stories. A heterosexual married couple avoid communicating with each other because she’s convinced he’s about to leave her. Until they do, and it turns out instead that he wants to postpone their holiday so they can try out some sort of therapy for grieving people that he has developed. They do, and things get strange. There’s potential here, but all the initial setup about them not communicating is just ignored after they get to the point, so it could have mostly been left out. It really feels like it wants to be two or more different stories.
“The Apologists,” by Tade Thompson
A super-advanced alien race have accidentally killed all by five people of the human race. The five are put to work helping the aliens reconstruct a simulacrum of Earth, while a daily apology is blasted at them out of a sound system (hence the title). They seem surprisingly untraumatised by this situation.
“The Arrival of Missives” (Extract), by Aliya Whiteley
Not sure why this is an extract. Probably the original work is too long to fit in the booklet. A during the First World War a sixteen-year-old girl is in love with her teacher. She decides she had to let him know. The extract ends just when something out of the ordinary is revealed.
Thoughts and Conclusions
Well, I haven’t made them sound very good, have I? I did actually enjoy reading them all, but reduced to capsule summaries, they aren’t going to win any awards. Oh, wait…
I’ve no idea which one I’ll vote for.
My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.
But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.
Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were
Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.
The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.
“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”
Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.
In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).
I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.
OK, But What is it Really?
The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.
Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.
Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past
But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.
And a live performance always happens in the present.
This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.
And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.
Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.
Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3
But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.
I hadn’t come across Garageland London before, though I approve of the name.1 They came across my radar the other day with a piece called Cease and Desist: An open letter to Brewdog from PUNK, which says:
It has recently been brought to our attention that you are claiming legal ownership of the word ‘punk’ and are sending threatening legal notices to those you feel are infringing on that ownership by using that word.
I hadn’t heard this about Brewdog. If it’s true, they’re being beyond ridiculous (or possibly winding people up). I’ve got a lot of time for a Scottish company making craft beer, even if it’s only OK (and too damn strong most of the time: I like a beer you can drink a few of without falling over). But like the Garageland people, I thought their “Equity for Punks investment portfolio did raise some eyebrows.”
The open letter ends:
Definitions of punk are varied and debates over those definitions have been going on since before you were born. However, one thing punk is not is a bully! That goes against everything punk stands for. If you continue in this vein your punk credentials will be revoked and you will be called upon to cease and desist.
Kind regards and a middle finger salute
and is then signed by hundreds of bands. So many that I can’t really believe the website got agreement from all of them. But I heartily endorse the message.
I also note that one of the novel nominees is the very Too Like the Lightning that I was writing about the other day. Hugo nominated, and you still can’t buy it in Britain. Come on publishers!
Also: WordPress tells me that this is my 600th post on here. Not that many for the time the site’s been going for, but a milestone — or at least a round number — nonetheless.
- It’s named after a Clash song, as if you didn’t know. [↩]