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.

BBC Close Their Store Without Explaining Why

I got an email from the BBC today, telling me that the BBC Store is closing in November. Oddly, they don’t explain why. This Engadget article says it’s because “people prefer streaming.”

At least, that’s what the headline says. The article actually says the decision comes “following poor sales and tough competition from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video.”

Which is plausible enough, I suppose. Though I doubt that most people could explain the difference between a streaming service and one in which you have to download the file first. And in any case, Netflix and I think Amazon also allow you to download now.

In fact my guess would be more that people prefer subscriptions. Amazon and Netflix are compelling because once your monthly fee is paid you can always watch anything they have. With the Store you had to buy specific titles, and there’s always that hesitation about paying before you watch something.

I only ever used it to watch a couple of episodes of something I had left too late to see on iPlayer. specifically, one episode of Undercover. Apparently I spent £1.89, and I’ll be getting a £2.50 Amazon voucher to make up for it. Whee, an investment.

So I guess I was part of the poor sales.

On the other hand, there is the opinion of some — and it would be of many in Britain, I imagine — that BBC programmes should just be available. We shouldn’t have to pay for them again. “We’re not just listeners and viewers, it belongs to us,” as a great man once sang.

Maybe that’s the solution to the arguments over funding: treat the licence fee as a subscription charge. Increase it, make it optional, but include access to the BBC’s entire back catalogue.

But the Engadget article goes on to say:

If the rumours are true, BritBox — the BBC- and ITV-owned streaming service that launched in the US earlier this year — could be expanded to host more of the BBC’s back catalogue and eventually launch in the UK.

BBC and ITV? Together? Well I never.

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. []

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was on fire tonight. Still managed to be hilarious while treating a very serious subject with respect.

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?