Saturday, November 21, 2015

Brain Stew: An Overanalysis of "Sleep No More"

Capaldi and Coleman's faces after reading the script for "Sleep No More"
Steven Moffat is very good friends with Mark Gatiss and, at least publicly, has nothing but positive things to say about his good friend and his writing.  I wonder if that is always the case in private?  I wonder if Moffat ever calls in Gatiss for a talk in his office and says anything like this:

"Are you kidding me with this?  I ask you for something really scary for episode nine, and this is what you bring me?  Eye booger monsters?  I defended you after the, quite frankly, ridiculous ending to 'Robot of Sherwood' with the bow and arrow.  But this is the best you can give me?  You took an already weak story idea from an old episode of Angel and fused it with the dumbest elements of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and The Ring?  It's too late to pull it now.  Trust me, I tried to see if Chris could shit out something better than this over the weekend, but he's too busy with Broadchurch.  This isn't Russel's house anymore.  No more farting aliens.  Toby gave me this crackerjack two parter in an underwater base.  Harness managed to squeeze some life out of the Zygons again.  And I'm pretty proud of the two parter I wrote.  Oh, and remember Catherine from Torchwood?  She and Jamie wrote this amazing two-parter about a little girl who becomes immortal.  We're thinking of getting Maisie Williams for it.  You remember her, I presume?  And in the middle of it all, I have your episode stinking up the joint.  You better step it up the next time I give you an episode to write.  It's too late to pull this stinker, but I'm not making anybody put their name on it.  We'll do some sort of stylized opening credits so we don't insult Peter and Jenna by giving them any sort of billing on this pile of shit."

In reality, that probably never happened.  They're writers and friends, and I know what it's like to work with poor writers who are friends or who are part of your "team" in one way or another.  You find reasons to like their writing.  You find reasons to believe that the person that you generally like is a better writer than you thought they were before you got to know them.  (And no, I'm not naming names for this.)  But yes, this was probably Gatiss's weakest and weirdest episode to date, probably even worse than "The Crimson Horror," which I previously called the worst episode of the new series, so I guess, by the transitive property or something, I now rank "Sleep No More" as the worst episode of the new series.

Still, there has been worse prior to the modern era...

There are a few funny lines here and there, of course, because Gatiss is bad at plot, not dialogue.  I think the funniest part of the episode is that the Doctor's final line of the episode is him running away screaming "None of this makes any sense!" I literally shouted back at the screen "No, it doesn't!"

The episode's gimmick of the "found footage" concept ties the whole episode together so loosely, it tends to fall apart at places.  It barely even manages to follow its own bizarre logic. For example, at one point, the Doctor says "There's nothing here from Chopra's point of view because he refuses to use Morpheus. But everybody else is here."  Literally the next scene is from Chopra's point of view!  I don't understand how first time (and, I'm guessing, last time) Doctor Who director Justin Molotnikov missed that, but I guess I shouldn't expect much from the director who approved a design for the monsters in this episode that makes them look like walking piles of shit with vaginas in the middle of them.

When I tried to Google Image Search for "Walking Pile of Shit With a Vagina," this is all that came up.
I don't entirely understand the ending of the episode, but that's okay because I don't think that Gatiss understands it either.  It was some sort of weird Ringu style hook at the end where everyone who watched it is now in theory going to turn into a Sandman I guess?  It was kind of vague and confusing and, frankly, I didn't much care at that point.  I got the idea at the end that the entire thing was designed to be exciting to entice the viewer to watch this video, which was some sort of a trap.  But the episode wasn't exciting to watch in the least, so that much failed.

Thankfully, this was the first episode of the season to not be served up as a two-parter, but I heard rumors that there were early plans to turn this one into a two-parter as well.  Thankfully we were spared that.  And I really do think that the opening credits were less a stylistic choice, more of a refusal of certain people to put their name on this piece of shit.  But next up we have the return of Rigsy and Ashildr, followed by a very highly anticipated experimental episode to kick off a two-part finale.  So I'm ready to toss off "Sleep No More" as the one horrible episode in a otherwise brilliant season, and just hope that nothing that is to come hinges on the events of this terrible, terrible episode.

And now, this!

Hate and War: An Overanalysis of "The Zygon Inversion"

Lo and behold, once again, I am late writing my blog.  As I begin typing this, the new episode, "Sleep No More," is already airing in the UK, and I will be watching it later (#anyonebutgatiss).  I've been a little bit of a slacker this season, often putting these blogs off until the last minute, or even writing them later than the original deadline I made for myself, of always getting each blog out before the next episode airs.  But because I am so late in writing this blog, I end up writing, at least the beginning of it, the day after the savage terror attacks in Paris, and two days after the bombings in Beirut, and today "The Zygon Inversion" seems far more relevant than it did when it aired last week.  I was shocked at where they went for part two of this story, not following the route I assumed they would, where we found out that the Zygons had a legitimate grievance against the humans.  I assumed I would get to the end of this two-parter having had a good time, but never having really felt challenged by anything fresh or intelligent.  Instead, we got a pleasant surprise from Peter Harness as the Doctor went into a much longer than normal speech about the nature of war.  Today, the Doctor's words seem especially poignant, as radicals not entirely unlike Bonnie have taken up arms across the world to murder in the name of their firmly held beliefs, and I feel like I know exactly what the Doctor would have to say to them:

There was only one moment of the episode that bothered me.  As someone who is very far to the left of the mainstream political spectrum, one who is a very big supporter of social justice movements and activism, when Bonnie tried to tell the Doctor of the unfairness of the Zygons' situation, I was surprised and a little disappointed at the Doctor's dismissal of her grievances and refusal to hear her out.  Really, at the end of this two-parter, we don't really know what birthed Bonnie's radicalism, and I think the script wants us to stay in that place, lest we gain too much sympathy for her cause, thus ruining the simplicity of what Harness has set up here.  I use the word "simplicity" rather loosely here, because there's a great deal of complexity to what Harness is doing, but the morality of this episode is supposed to be somewhat unambiguous.  The Doctor has a problem with the humans' response to the Zygon terrorists as much as he has a problem with the terrorists themselves, but the Doctor is supposed to be the smartest and most compassionate man in all of time and space, and I would expect him to be able to hold a person's complaint about their situation as legitimate and their violent tendencies as condemnable at the same time.  "We've been treated like cattle" is a complaint that I don't expect the Doctor to shrug off with a "So what?" and not at the very least asking her to unpack that and explain what it means.  I think that the larger point that Harness is making about violence and war can be made without discounting that freedom fighters, even the misguided ones that should be condemned for their violent actions, often have legitimate grievances.  But I did like that, in the end, the Doctor was equally concerned with protecting both species, and would not think of the Zygons' actions as reason to condemn them to death, either.  His amazing moment of his speech when he told Bonnie that he forgave her almost had me tearing up.

I did have to wonder about the Doctor telling Kate Stewart that she had said the same thing about not being able to forget that the boxes were empty "the last 15 times."  At first I assumed he meant that they had all gone through this entire stand-off between the humans and the Zygons 15 times before.  That seems to stretch the imagination because, if true, it seems hard to believe that the rest of U.N.I.T. doesn't figure out that this keeps happening.  As for the Doctor and Clara, if it's been 16 times now that they've been through all this, then that has to make this pretty boring because, now, this is just what they do on the weekends.  After rewatching it, though, I decided that the Doctor doesn't necessarily have to be referring to this entire situation having happened 15 times before, just that there have been 15 times so far when she somehow found out the truth about the Osgood box and the Doctor had to erase her memory each time.

I do have to wonder about Steven Moffat giving himself a writing credit for this episode.  Moffat was not credited as a co-writer for the first part of this two-parter, but he was for the second part.  There's been something happening lately that I pointed out last season, and one that of my co-hosts from the Mile High Who Podcast, Shelley, brought up independent of me at a Mile High Who event the other day:  Moffat seems to be adding his name onto episodes as a co-writer if it involves something relating to the larger arc of the season.  Last season he seemed to throw his name onto anything that had Danny Pink in it, as Danny was an integral part of the Series 8 plot arc.  So what about this episode is going to turn out to be relevant to the larger plot of the season?  My best guess is that the re-establishment of the two Osgoods, with the ongoing ambiguity as to which, if either of them, is human.  How that's going to relate to the coming finale is beyond me, but then, there's very little that I've been able to decipher about the coming finale.

I think we might be seeing more of the Zygons going forward, as Harness did a very good job here making them interesting again.  In the end, I think this is going to go down as a favorite episode for talking about war, hate, and violence, as quotes and videos from this episode have been flying around the Internet in response to a lot of what's surrounding the recent terrorist attacks throughout the world.  I wish there were more people like the Doctor in the world.

And now, the only band that matters:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Suspect Device: An Overanalysis of "The Zygon Invasion"

You're all wondering about the sexual implications of what Osgood
did with her own twin in private as much as I am, aren't you?

The 50th Anniversary special was marvelous, but it did change the nature of the show significantly.  Anyone who heard the Mile High Who podcast's April Fools' Day episode where we discussed Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock knows that I firmly believe that a show can bring a character--or, in this case, an entire planet--back from the dead, but it has to be difficult.  There have to be significant obstacles, and there have to be consequences.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a perfect example of this, as their resurrection of a main character in the beginning of their 6th season triggered a series of consequences that the characters would be dealing with for the remainder of the series.  "The Day of the Doctor" rewrote canon in a very serious way, and there have to be serious consequences for that.  Besides the fact that it was so insanely difficult for the Doctor to pull off that he doesn't even know if he's actually successfully saved Gallifrey, it triggered some major repercussions.  First was the war on Trenzalore that he fought for hundreds and hundreds of years, eventually costing him a regeneration.  Second was the return of his most diabolical enemy, The Master (now Missy), who wrought chaos and destruction on the Doctor's favorite adopted planet.  Now the third terrible consequence of the events of "The Day of the Doctor" comes around:  The Zygon peace, which The Moment used to demonstrate to the Doctor the importance of finding a peaceful solution in desperate situations, is broken and threatening the human race.  I think, by this point, the show has done more than enough to earn the resurrection of Gallifrey.

This was the very first episode of Doctor Who to air on Halloween since 1964's "Planet of the Giants" (spoiler alert:  the planet is Earth, the giants are humans, the TARDIS just shrank).  Sadly, my understanding is that, while they celebrate Halloween in England, it isn't as big of a holiday as it is over here in America.  It's a shame because I think that a Doctor Who Halloween Special might just be the most amazing thing we could ever hope for.  But still, we got what we could have hoped for this Halloween:  a big, campy, fun episode with a few cheap thrills and chills.  There was little about this episode that was very surprising or innovative, but it was a good, enjoyable romp.

Again, I can't stress this enough, a Doctor Who Halloween Special would be amazing!
The first and most obvious prediction I'm going to make about the second part of this episode, "The Zygon Inversion," is that it's going to reveal that the Zygons have a perfectly legitimate grievance against the human race.  More than likely, the humans broke the cease fire first.  I say this because anything else would be downright un-Whovian.  It's just a classic Doctor Who plot; the humans have always done something to provoke the enemy in situations like this.  There's no possible way that the Zygons just picked the name "Truth or Consequences" because it was the name of a town in New Mexico.  (Which it totally is, by the way, and Zygon-Clara was absolutely telling the truth.  The city was named after the game show of the same name because the host promised to do an episode of the show in the first town that legally changed its name to Truth or Consequences.  The town formerly known as Hot Springs, New Mexico won the contest and has never changed its name back to this day.)

The name also inspired this movie, which I now have to watch sometime when very drunk.
The slogan, "Truth or Consequences" is going to have a much deeper meaning.  I have no idea what the humans will be guilty of, but either they or the Zygon leadership--or, more likely, both working together--will be guilty of hiding the "truth" about something, which will be why this rebel cell chose to start fighting back.  This is probably going to cause a shift in the Doctor's approach to the situation, at which point I don't know what is going to happen, but I'm very excited to find out.

I also loved the very slight nods towards human xenophobia.  While I still think that we're going to find out that the humans are guilty of some pretty messed up shit, there was the very interesting, but very brief mention that the Zygons got the idea that they wouldn't be welcome on Earth after watching our media and seeing how poorly we treat other human beings who simply have different colored skin.  I think the Zygons, upon seeing that, have good reason to think that we'd be dicks to a whole new alien race that we found on our planet.

"They even think that the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' is controversial.  Zygon lives are just fucked."
The return of Osgood teaches us that, once again, Moffat lies, as we were promised over and over again that the return of Osgood would not be explained away by simply saying that Missy killed the Zygon version of her.  Okay, that wasn't entirely a lie, but only if you're going by the strictest interpretation of all the words in the previous sentence.  Moffat perhaps can be accused of cheating a little bit by having another writer bring back a character that he killed off largely for emotional effect, but the frustrating thing is that it actually works quite well.  I can buy that the two Osgoods were so dedicated to this peace that they stopped differentiating between the two versions of themselves and just started to think of themselves as both being Osgood.  (They also both seem to have adopted an obsession with the Doctor as, much like his real life fans, both of the Osgoods seem to enjoy Doctor cosplay, now adding some 7th Doctor accoutrements to the Osgood outfit.)  I'm pretty satisfied with the explanation as it stands now for why Osgood is back, so hopefully the writers can just let it stand like it is and not try to dig too much farther, where they might risk ruining the delicate balance and a vaguely plausible explanation for bringing back a populare dead character.  However, as the writer of this episode, Peter Harness, found himself unable to foresee that his last episode would become viewed as an anti-abortion metaphor, I wonder about his ability to judge what will and will not upset fans and what they will and will not accept.

However I will give Harness some credit.  The episode was largely a predictable, by-the-numbers action movie plot with silly-looking rubber suits, but Harness did throw in some really fun ideas in this episode.  Most notably he understands that the most important thing about making an old monster scary again in Doctor Who is to give them new abilities.  Now that the Zygons have the ability to take on the appearance of their enemy's loved ones, we now have a much more formidable mindfuck of an enemy to take on.  Additionally, they now require far less technology to maintain their shape shifting (although "The Day of the Doctor" was really inconsistent about the rules governing their technology anyway), which makes them more agile, making them a greater threat.  In "The Day of the Doctor," they were really a side plot, so "The Zygon Invasion" is really only the second time in the history of the show that we've seen the Zygons at center stage of their own story.  As much fun as the 4th Doctor story "Terror of the Zygons" was, I think the reason they were not brought back again for so long was because they were seen as a pretty one-note villain.  "The Zygon Invasion" does find a few more notes to play, even if it's not exactly enough to conduct a full symphony.

Funnily enough, that even looks vaguely like a Zygon.
I seriously doubt that whatever the larger arc is that we're getting into in this series--the Minister of War, The Hybrid, and whatever kind of circle-jerk that Missy is currently having with the Daleks--is going to have anything to do with this two-parter.  Despite how intimately linked this episode is with the 50th Anniversary Special, I don't think it's going to be linked very closely with any of the episodes that come after it.  Still, I look forward to part two.  It feels like classic series style campiness on a new series budget.  In fact, as this is now the fourth consecutive two-parter in this series, we're getting a bunch of stories that run about as long as the classic series stories, but with much more depth of character, much darker plots, and much, much better special effects.

And of course:

Diamonds and Guns: An Overanalysis of "The Woman Who Lived"

She looks like Zorro, if Zorro was a little girl.  Then again, so did Antonio Banderas.

Sorry about the lateness again.  I started a new job last week, and it requires a lot more mental energy than my last one.  On top of that, my new "companion" and I had the best Halloween weekend of our lives, so I was quite busy having fun.  But I'm here, and it's time to play catch up.  So, on with the show:

I've seen every episode of the classic series, and I love the classic series, but it never dove into the heart of the Doctor's character  the way that the new series does.  In fact, I would argue that the classic series's one and only real attempt to do a strong emotional character arc failed so spectacularly that it ultimately killed the show.  Well, okay, it wasn't the only reason the show was cancelled in 1989, but it was a big part of it.  (I could literally write an entire paper about the very complex confluence of factors that came together to cause the show's original cancellation, but its failed attempt at a Sixth Doctor character arc is certainly one of those factors.)  Some call it a sign that the classic series wasn't very good or that the writers didn't know how to write, but actually using very shallow characters to examine a fascinating scientific concept, thus putting the focus on the concept first and foremost, is kind of what science fiction has traditionally been all about.  Isaac Asimov is still considered one of the greatest science fiction authors of all times, and with very good reason (the Robot series notwithstanding), and his books featured virtually no depth of character whatsoever.  Getting deep into character like this is more of a characteristic of post-Star Trek science-fiction, a fusion of science-fiction with drama and melodrama.  Thankfully, Doctor Who's current writing staff are very good at what they do (yes, even Mark Gatiss, as mixed as my feelings are about him) and know how to blend that character depth and conceptual science fiction without sacrificing either side of it.  No, Doctor Who isn't hard science, as little real theory ever appears in the scripts, but it proposes some truly classic science fiction concepts, from 2-dimensional universes to the bootstrap paradox to the very concept of immortality.

"The Woman Who Lived" isn't the first time that the new series has shown us an immortal character.  As if conceding that, the episode even goes so far as to point it out in dialogue.  That Torchwood writer Catherine Tregenna penned this episode feels like another tip of the hat.  It's almost as if the show is specifically asking permission from its audience to do this again, which I appreciated.  However, the fact that they had done this before made me wonder about Ashildr's moments of forgetfulness.  The explanation given was that Ashildr has the Doctor's lifespan, but a human brain, making it difficult to retain all of her memories.  Yet, Captain Jack never had a similar problem.  Yes, it's true that Jack is about 1/8 the age of Ashildr at this point, but he can remember every detail in startling clarity, from his childhood on another planet through the entire 20th century until the present.  But Ashildr also has a child's mind, which might be a part of it.

Speaking of which, wasn't Ashildr a child when she was made immortal?  This made for a few terrifying implications when you think about it.  She lost three children to the Plague, but the stork didn't bring those babies to her.  Someone clearly had sex with her at some point, and most likely those weren't triplets, so it happened at least three times.  Furthermore, everyone seems to be flirting with her current incarnation, Lady Me, in a way that seems very inappropriate considering that she's trapped in the body of a child.  I did some research, and it looks like Maisie Williams was 17 when these episodes were shot, and yes, as anyone who had to read any Victorian literature in school knows, in past centuries dirty old men married teenage girls and it was treated like it was completely normal.

"You're almost 14 years old, it's high time I sold you into a marriage to one of my 50 year old business partners!"
But Maisie Williams was chosen for this role because of the fact that she looks a lot younger than she really is.  I don't think the character she plays on Game of Thrones is supposed to be anywhere near adulthood.  And Ashildr was referred to as a young girl in "The Girl Who Died." Hell, look at the title of that episode!  "The Girl Who Died"!  The follow up episode became "The Woman Who Lived" because, after 800 years, she certainly is a woman mentally, but physically she still looks like a child.  So...ew.

Ashildr is an interesting character to throw into the Doctor's path, because she understands him on a level that no other companion ever really has, other than possibly Romana.  Some of my friends thought it was a tortured logic that the Doctor uses to explain why the Doctor can't take Ashildr with him as a companion.  To me, it made perfect sense, he was just phrasing it more delicately than he phrased it in his head.  Perhaps this was another one of Clara's cards about how to be polite.  What the Doctor really meant to say was "I don't want to bring you with me because, if you're as immortal as I am, you'll never be that impressed with me, so I have no use for you."  Again, the only companions that even approached the Doctor's longevity were Romana, who was forced upon him, and Jack Harkness and River Song, both of whom he has refused to ever take on as full time companions (although, in a moment of weakness, he did ask River).  He has little use for an equal in his TARDIS.  He needs someone very different from himself.

The Doctor prefers companions that are weak and can die.  Preferably ones that can die often.
Speaking of companions, this was a weirdly companion-lite episode, to the joy of millions of Clara haters around the world.  It's obvious that Clara is gearing up for a really sad exit from the show, as a lot of the discussion about Clara is mirroring the discussions about Amy and Rory from their final handful of episodes in Series 7.  The Doctor is worrying about how close he's getting to Clara, and how hard it will be to lose her.  Moffat has hinted in interviews that her departure is going to be very big, very heartbreaking, and very final.  Will she become the first full-time companion since Adric (not counting expanded Universe) to actually die while travelling with the Doctor?  Because, if so, that's going to send shockwaves through his character, and take us to a darker place than we've ever gone before with the Doctor.

"Sam Swift the Quick," also known as "Sam the Redundant Who Always Repeats Himself" is saved in much the same way that Ashildr is, but the Doctor implies in dialogue that Sam may or may not have the same immortality as Ashildr.  This leaves a lot of potentiality open, or perhaps this was just Tregenna trying to explain away why Sam Swift will never be coming back.  But there's one thing I'm sure of that I said in the last write-up:  this is not the last we will see of Ashildr.  No way.  I don't think that she's The Hybrid that we keep getting hints about, but as soon as we saw her become immortal at the end of "The Girl Who Died," I was sure we were going to see her again after "The Woman Who Lived," and her brief appearance in the 21st century at the end of this episode confirmed that for me.  In fact, much of this episode felt like the enemy and the crisis in it was perfunctory, just thrown into the background while we spend most of our time chatting with Ashildr to set up her presence and her immortality so that we can bring it back around and use it again later.  Mark my words, Ashildr will be back.

And now, this!: