On Blade Runner 2049

Spoilers ahead, obviously. Although I don’t go into much detail.

We saw it in the Rio in Dalston, because all the Hackney Picturehouse showings were full (or at least just had a couple of separated seats left). Which makes me surprised to read these stories about it not doing very well on opening weekend. And weirdly, from the balcony. I don’t know when I was last in a cinema with a balcony. I mean, the Rio, obviously, though probably not since Harry Potter 8; but I hadn’t been in the balcony before, and I don’t think I even realised that it had one.

But to the film of the moment. I tried to lower my expectations, I really did. But I’d read that Guardian review, which was so unbelievably glowing. I listened to Mitch Benn hoping they wouldn’t fuck it up and believed that they hadn’t.

But…

OK, they haven’t fucked it up. But I’m going to have to break ranks with all the legions of of newspaper reviewers who love it to death & back (honestly, I can hardly find a bad, or even a mixed, review), and nearly everyone else.

Because I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I spent a lot of the time (of which there is a lot) saying, “What the fuck is going on here? Why did they do that?” The former is fine, as long as it becomes clear over time, which it generally did. The latter less so: understanding characters’ motivations is fundamental to understanding and enjoying a work of fiction.

But much worse than those: I spent some of the time bored.

The main reason for that is that it’s paced like an 80s movie. Which is to say, much more slowly than we are used to today.

I should have expected that, I suppose. The original Blade Runner moves slowly even by 80s standards. That’s part of its visual and storytelling style. So it’s reasonable that a sequel, even one thirty years later, should follow suit. But they could have picked the pace up a bit.

The reviews all describe it as “thought-provoking” or similar and it’s true that the questions of what it means to be human or to be artificial are in there. But to my mind there’s not enough of that. Which in a way is linked to another problem: world-building.

It’s paced like an 80s movie

As before the world is very visually striking. What we have is the world of Blade Runner with thirty years of technological advancements. Like the film, the pace of advancement has been slow, but I suppose that’s not surprising, given how damaged the world is.

But slowly or quickly, technology advances in parallel with a conversation about that technology. What’s missing here is any in-world debate about the legal and ethical status of replicants. Certainly there’s a nod to the idea that the casual use of “skin-job” is insulting and shouldn’t be used. But it never seemed that insulting anyway — indeed I think it’s only the voiceover version of the original that tells us it is an insult. Deckard likens it to the n-word. (He does so using that word, which, rightly, would not happen today.)

In a more realistic world there would be a debate about replicants. There would be rights groups campaigning against using them as slaves, and even for them to be given full citizenship status. And from others there would be discrimination against them, abuse of them. That could all be going on in the background of this society — and the debate is not what the film is about — but I think a small acknowledgement that the debate existed would at least hint at a richer society.

Technology advances in parallel with
a conversation about that technology.

That all applies to the original too, of course, but now it’s much more common for the replicants to be living among humans on Earth, so the conversation would be that much more active.

And speaking of that commonality of the replicants on Earth, one question you might ask is, are there any humans actually left on Earth? Because only two characters appear to be unambiguously human.

One is K’s boss in the LAPD, Lt Joshi, who could unknowingly be a replicant, though nothing suggests that. The other, Ana Stelline, who creates the memories that are implanted in replicants. She lives in isolation because of sensitivity to the environment, and the implication is that only a human can provide the memories. But since not all of the memories are actually hers, all that needs is gift for imaginative imagery. And, now that we know that replicants are fully-biological beings who can reproduce (whether only with each other or also with humans is unknown), then anything is possible.

The situation appears to be that anyone with the money and without any disqualifying problem has left Earth. “A new life awaits you in the offworld colonies,” after all. I always suspected that the colonies would consist of grinding hardship based on subsistence farming, but I suppose the idea is you have replicant slaves to do the work.

There are no robots in these films.

The Earth that we see is incredibly empty. The original’s LA streets were packed with people, but now it seems sparsely populated at best. Empty highways — because of course nobody’s driving cars anymore. But the air is empty too. Mostly there’s only ever one car flying at a time. All those giant buildings might be filled with people, but you don’t get any sense of them being there.

San Diego is a literal dump, and Las Vegas a nuclear wasteland. Apart from the still-standing casino hotel, of course. A million bottles of whisky and you choose Johnnie Walker Black Label? Come on. (That brand is owned by Diageo, though, which is the first of the big neon advertising signs you see.)

I don’t know, I wonder if it was just my expectation of something more striking, more startling. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it. I was just disappointed by it. Yet I think I want to see it again.

I loved the music, by the way, though it was perhaps a bit overwhelming in places.

I think I want to see it again.

And as a last thought: I still see people talking about the replicants being ‘robots’ or ‘androids.’ If it wasn’t clear from the first film, where they bled what seemed to be blood, it is powerfully obvious now: there are no robots in these films. The replicants are fully biological. They are probably more like clones, genetically engineered for enhanced strength and stamina.

The original book had androids (the clue was in the title); but not these films.

Star Trek: Discovery, episode 3, ‘Context is for Kings,’ keeps up the good work, in case you were expecting otherwise. And I forgot to say the other day that, although the IMDB people were negative, there is a very positive review on Tor.com. Much positivity in the comments there. too.

Trekking

Past

I can remember when I first saw Star Trek.

That’s not so unusual, but if my memory is right — and I’ve just more or less confirmed that it is — then when I first saw it was the absolute first time anyone could see it, in this country, at least.

Here’s the memory (and it’s tied up, as many good things are, with Doctor Who).

It’s 1969. It’s the summer holidays, and we’re in a holiday home with a TV. That in itself makes me doubt the memory, because back then holiday houses just didn’t have TVs. A lot of houses in general didn’t. But this memory has always told me that we were on a family holiday. And it’s Saturday, late afternoon. I’m settling down at the TV, and somebody says — I think it’s my sister — ‘Martin, Doctor Who finished, remember?’ Because it was Doctor Who time.

And I said, ‘But this is like Doctor Who!’

And as the new programme started someone else — my Dad, I think — said, with a tone of surprise, ‘He knows all about it!’ And then the Enterprise swooshed towards me out of the screen.

I’ve long wondered how true this memory was. It was 1969; I’d have been five. But I just checked:

Which exactly matches my memory: summer, Saturday, Doctor Who slot. And the calendar confirms that the 12th of July 1969 was a Saturday.

I wouldn’t be five for another month plus. Not a bad bit of early-memory retention. I wouldn’t have remembered it at all, if it wasn’t for one thing: trauma caused by fear that my parents would turn the TV off just as this exciting new programme was starting burned it into my brain.

My Dad always liked Star Trek too, so I guess I was partly responsible for that.

Present

Yesterday I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which are on Netflix (in the UK and Europe, at least; in the US they’re on CBS’s own new streaming service). And I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it felt like being that nearly-five-year-old again, but it did feel like they’re trying something new and potentially very exciting.

Today I was looking at its entry on IMDB. It turns out there are user-written reviews there, which I don’t think I’d been aware of before.

Sadly they are almost universally negative. ‘It’s not Star Trek,’ is a common theme. But there’s a strong whiff of racism and misogyny coming through. Two non-white women as leads means ‘social justice warriors’ are running the show, it seems. Well from what I’ve read of Gene Roddenbery, I think he’d have been happy to be called a social justice warrior. Star Trek was always about diversity and tolerance.

Future

I don’t know how many episodes of this new series they have lined up, but I know I’m looking forward to watching them. So is my inner five-year-old. So would my Dad have been. And so would Gene.

Extreme Pyramid Scheme

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.

Space Suits You

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!


  1. Which is a great film that you should see at once if you haven’t already. []

Wood and Puzzles

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Luxury of Outrage

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.


  1. I’m sure you saw what I did there. []

Smile, You’re on Emoji Camera

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?

Everything Rhymes

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.