A big shift up from last week: a scary episode with some overt political commentary. The main recycled idea this week is dead people in shambling space-suits from Silence in the Library. This time no spooky aliens but rather autonomous space suits clunking away after their occupants have been killed. So all the aesthetics of space-zombies but without any actual space-zombies.
The main premise of the story is privatised air – I think some old 2000AD Future Shocks may have done that idea before. Like many SF short fiction ideas, it’s enough to build a story around but the wider mechanics of it probably don’t stand up to too much examination. Oxygen is possibly not the most expensive resource for a space economy but the episode shows how neatly it can be commoditised and then, under the guise of a simple economic exchange, used as means of authoritarian control.
What the episode did surprisingly well was the atmosphere (sorry) of real threat and predicament. Bill is placed repeatedly in danger that feels plausible and the Doctor suffers a substantial injury that is unresolved by the end of the episode. Will it all be fine in the end? Well obviously it will, but this episode felt threatening in a way that is inherently difficult for Doctor Who to do when the titular character is a living Deus Ex Machina.
The not-actually-space-zombies themselves became rapidly less creepy with familiarity. The clunk-clunk of the magnetic boots and their ruthless efforts meant that they quickly went from freaky to just another variant on Cybermen. I assume this was intentional.
Teaser for the next episode (apparently a 3 parter) involves the Pope, libraries and the return of Missy.
You can see all the pieces this episode is made of, Rose’s first outing to the past in the first season of NuWho in the Unquiet Dead, the gang of urchin children from The Empty Child, the imprisoned aquatic monster from The Beast Below, a hundred one greedy capitalists playing with forces they can’t control. Yet, this episode still felt fresh and fun.
Bill continues to impress as a companion and the use of familiar elements allowed the episode to build rapport with the Doctor. In particular, the script gave time for Bill to react to death and to a realisation that the Doctor is a more menacing person than she may have realised.
I’m enjoying this back to basics approach.
A cheeky title for the first episode of Steven Moffat’s last season as show-runner. Doctor Who has two kinds of required episodes: the new companion intro and the regeneration episode and keeping those episodes fresh can be a challenge. The Pilot does what it needs to do very well – it keeps the focus on Bill, a cafeteria worker at Bristol University, a without belabouring a backstory, gives a sense of a three-dimensional person grounded in the real world.
Without delving into the story, it has the nice balance of spooky, silly and running away that you might want out of a Doctor Who episode. No startlingly original ideas but rather a focus on a fresh take on the familiar.
Framed as both an introduction to a new companion and a re-introduction to the series, there are lots of nods to the past from the pictures of River Song and Susan on the Doctor’s desk to a Dalek cameo. Something for everybody.
So after teasing us with her departure from Doctor Who it has been announced (http://file770.com/?p=25009&cpage=1#comment-344783) that Jenna Coleman will be leaving the role of Clara Oswald during this new season of Doctor Who.
By way of summation and subject to arbitrary change, here is my listing of Nu-WHo companions:
- Donna: because she was a very effective foil for the Doctor. Turn Left is one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes and one of the few companion-centric episodes. Overall there was a good combination of Tate’s perfoamnce, effective scripts and a good dynamic between her and Tennant.
- 50% Clara: Coleman I think initially had the same problem that Freema Agyeman had – the writers didn’t know what to do with the character. The later Clara who is bossy to the point of obnoxiousness is a better character, although I should imagine opinions on that will be as varied as opinions on Capaldi’s first season.
- Rose: Apart from being the first of the NuWho, Rose worked well because of the depth of her own supporting cast. That same trick didn’t work for Martha Jones or even Donna but for Rose it did.
- Rory-Amy: Likeable and central to much of the Matt Smith story arc. It was good for Amy to be a double-act with Rory.
- Martha Jones: Some excellent acting but badly served by scripts and storylines. The worst role for the companion is to simply be tagging along after the Doctor and too often this was what Jones had to do. While that season had some of the best Who episodes (Blink, Human Nature/Family of Blood) Jones never got a really strong episode centered on her (the closest being the second part of the two part finale). Additionally that season was the worst one for Russell T Davies’s indulgent tendency to portray the Doctor as a quasi-divine savior.
I won’t rank River Song in that list as it was a different role from the ‘companion’ one. However, recently re-watched her introduction/finale in the Tennant era and it demonstrates how Moffat’s clever-tricksy tendencies worked well with Davies’s emotional sledgehammer tendencies to make very good television.
Anyway – sad to see Coleman go. I hope there is an episode in this new series set in Blackpool (Coleman’s and Clara’s home town) as it is natural setting for Who and a place that should be appreciated by anybody who loves weird.
This post started as a comment elsewhere but has changed a great deal to become this post. Additionally I felt I needed to write this post first, so that I could explain some of the analogies I might make.
In the light of recent controversy there are numerous proposals on voting strategies for the Hugo Awards, rules changes, ethical principles and debates on the nature of the awards themselves. This post is part of my thinking out loud on those issues.
The Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious awards within science fiction and fantasy. An award of comparable reputation are the Nebula Awards, which are organized by the Science Fiction Writers of America organization. There is significant overlap between the two but they do have different approaches.
- The Nebula Awards are decided by a jury – and can be seen as judgement of a work by peers of the author
- The Hugo Awards are decied by a popular vote – and can be seen as support from fans
However calling the process for the Hugo Awards a popular vote is misleading. Yes, it is open for effectively anybody to vote who is willing to buy a supporting membership but, in effect, it is a vote of a particular kind of community that we could call the WorldCon community. That community I have compared in a previous post to being not unlike the activists who might be involved in a political party. They are a narrower group than just people who generally support, read or like science fiction and fantasy. In so far as they like the activists within a political party they act partly in terms of how they see the genre as whole. That doesn’t make them particularly wiser or more insightful or even less prone to short term thinking and/or factionalism just as party political activists don’t necessarily always work for the best interests of the party they support.
In a discussion on File 770 I was rude about the physics of faster-than-light travel while defending some of the madness of Doctor Who’s Kill the Moon episode and commenter “ccm” replied:
FTL spaceships? Hah! What about a freakin Time Machine that can grow and jettison rooms as needed, produce pretty much anything you need, can travel anywhere and anywhen with no concerns about fuel, weight, etc….and seems to be some kind of living creature as well.
Well fair point.
But I still think that FTL drives are as bad and in someways the madness of whovian physics makes more sense. The absurdity of the Who reality is a kind of realistic realism.
Now that will require some justification. Continue reading