Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

So many thinks to spoil but let’s launch into the episode a little way and then move into the realm of surprises.

Promotions of this season of Doctor Who had touted the return of the Judoon as characters even while filming was still going on. They aren’t a particularly loved species but they do have the advantage as antagonists of not being a big-bad. They are obnoxious space-cops and bring with them all the complications of obnoxious space-cops.

Given the title, it was clear from the first five minutes of the episode that we were going to get a story about an alien hiding from the law on Earth in a small (if scenic) town in England. The set-up was very nicely done. We got a convincing introduction to Ruth, the central character who was clearly going to get mixed up in Judoon-based law enforcement gone wrong, and her slightly shifty husband Lee. The latter, of course, looking like the most likely person to be secretly an alien on the run from the law. What I liked (on first viewing) was, while it was obvious were this was all going, it was all being done with a confident humanity.

Vinjay Patel who wrote this episode had also written last seasons Demons of the Punjab, which had also a strong emotional centring of the story on the ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. What I really liked was that Ruth was being sketched out very swiftly as a person in their own right, which was going to be important if the episode was going to focus on brutal policing.

A strong set-up for a predictable episode. Not that predictable is bad — following a well worn path can allow for more character development and personal drama. Chris Chibnall’s biggest TV success has been with detectives solving a murder mystery in a small British town, as predictable a genre as you can get on British TV but one that creates space for human drama.

So predictable was what I was expecting. I’m told there was some social media hype brewing around the episode but I missed that. So, I was genuinely surprised when Graham disappeared while looking at some cup-cakes.

And that was only the first surprise. This was going to be Doctor Who in the mode I like best, like their TARDIS, spinning wildly out of control and crashing into everything in the way…

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Watching Star Trek Nemesis so you didn’t have to

There is no need to watch the final pre-reboot Star Trek movies to enjoy or make sense of the new Star Trek: Picard series, I can say this with some confidence having now watched both Picard and Nemesis in reverse order. However, it is also true that at least the one episode that is available of Picard, follow on from Nemesis. The focus on Data and on the Romulnan directly echo the plot of Nemesis.

As a Star Trek film Nemesis has a bad reputation. There had been an intention to make one further Star Trek film with the same core cast, wrapping up the The Next Generation era of films but poor box-office and poor reviews for Nemesis led to the final film’s cancellation.

Yet, there is a lot of positives that could be said about the film. Unfortunately, there is one substantial negative that makes the film both unlikeable and hard to recommend. That point is yet another case of ‘psychic rape’ of Deanna Troi, the empathic ship’s Counselor. I’m not going to get into the details but it is particularly unpleasant and gratuitous. There is a very thin plot relevance (later Troi’s psychic connection is used to locate a cloaked ship) and the lurid scene makes little sense for any of the characters involved.

The broader theme of the film is twins. Picking up from the twee connection of the Romulans to Rome’s legendary twins, Romulus and Remus, we get two sets of twins. Firstly, Data encounters a prototype version of himself called B4. The introduction of B4 gives Brent Spiner even more scope for humour throughout.

The second ‘twin’, is Shinzon. A clone of Picard made by the Romulans originally as part of a plan to infiltrate the Federation but later abandoned on the slave planet Remus due to leadership changes. Played very adeptly by a young Tom Hardy, Shinzon is naturally not very like Picard at all. A point everyone tries to explain to Shinzon who is convinced that he is how Picard would be if Picard had lived his life: a point that is trivially true in one sense but otherwise vacuous.

From there, the film is a decent but unremarkable Star Trek story. There are shades of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country with the story leading to prospects of peace between the Romulans and the Federation. A closer comparison can be made with Wrath of Khan, the Star Trek film that was so good that it cast an awkward shadow on subsequent films. As the title suggests, Shinzon is set-up as a nemesis for Picard of a standing that Kahn is for Kirk. We also get a space ship battle within a nebula and cunning tactical moves by Picard to outwit Shinzon.

Like Wrath of Kahn we also get the departure of a signature cast member. In the final confrontation Commander Data sacrifices himself to destroy Shinzon’s doomsday weapon. Of course, the film leaves open a way for Data to return (B4) but unlike Spock, Data’s death proved to be more final with the cancellation of the film series.

Data’s death makes for a melancholy end to the TNG era. The start of the film had already established that Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were moving on from the Enterprise, so the film genuinely has a sense of it being an end. Inadvertently, this gives the film an odd, unintended depth to it. Rather, than a final encore for this Enterprise crew, their story ends with a messy final mission and people going their seperate ways after a tragic death. T

The film doesn’t tease a sequel except for B4 haltingly remembering the words to Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’. Data sings the song early in the film at Troi & Riker’s wedding and it’s minor-key optimism works nicely as a kind of lietmotif for Data. Nicely, this is picked up again early in the first episode of Picard.

Not every story ends well and Nemesis encapsulates that both in its own themes and as a box-office flop for a venerable film series.

Picard: Episode 1 – Rememberance

I thought this was a very strong start to the new series. The settings were all familiar (Picard’s vineyard, Star Fleet HQ in San Francisco) but cleverly the show avoids the familiar structure. It announces itself with a dream sequence as a sequel to The Next Generation and the movies that feature Picard but the episode firstly barely leaves Earth and is not about the crew of a starship.

I’ll touch on spoilers beyond here, so beware if you haven’t watched the episode yet.

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Review: Doctor Who – Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror

Doctor Who episodes set in historical periods fall into two approaches: meet a famous person or meet fictional people of the time period. Of the two, I prefer the second, for example, I preferred last seasons Demons of the Punjab to Rosa. The danger in the first kind if the episode ends up being very reverential and indulges in the great-man-of-history model of progress. That can be subverted, for example Alan Cumming’s OTT King James was very far from reverential and a plot point with Ada Lovelace in this season’s opening two-parter was to show her as part of a chain and network of influential people.

This episode goes both feet first into ‘wow ,wasn’t Nikola Tesla amazing’ but has the advantage of a convincing performance by Goran Višnjić as Tesla. The story itself is what would best be described as a ‘romp’. Ghastly goings on and an invasion of alien scorpion creatures leave little time for plot subtly but do add up for an enjoyably diverting 40 minutes.

This is not going to become a beloved classic episode but it is the kind of episode that keeps Doctor Who going and enjoyable. Yaz gets something to do and a bit more focus (but still not much character development) and Graham & Ryan get to do their comedy double act in the background.

Fewer of those rough-edges/script-laziness that I’ve been complaining about. The biggest one being the supposedly now pacifist Doctor building a super weapon that uses the power of a whole planet to blast an alien spaceship. Again, given the freedom of being able to make literally anything up, thinking up away that the same actual events could have fit more closely with the new parameters of the Doctor wouldn’t have been hard (e.g. the spaceship could have been in hyperspace pocket and the electric pulse would have closed the pocket, removing the aliens from Earth or whatever). There was a visual effect to imply the spaceship flew away but blink and you would have missed it. Perhaps, this was intended to be a character shift after the reveal of the destruction of Gallifrey in episode 2 of this season? If so that aspect was under-developed.

The reference to a Silurian gun as an alien weapon unreasonably annoyed me. I feel like the Doctor should have corrected somebody but that’s just me being pedantic. I’m also glad that the episode dumped the mind-wipe thing of historical characters and both Tesla and Edison go without a brain reset. Of course, that does make the brain resets of Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan even more out of place and has the unfortunate result that this season, the Doctor only mind wipes famous women from history and not famous men.

Silly in exactly the way I want Doctor Who to be silly and an episode with more internal confidence than last season.

Some responses to the Isabel Fall story

I’ve started and trashed some further posts on the Clarkesworld “Attack Helicopter” story. As you are aware, I use this blog as a dumping ground for thoughts and I still have many on this topic. However, a long ramble that adds nothing to what I said earlier probably isn’t helping. Instead, here are some links to reactions I have found interesting that have come either from people I follow on social media or were forwarded by people I follow on social media.

There remain a host of questions but on most of them I think it is a matter of waiting.

Some responses to the attack helicopter story.

Phoebe North

Laura Lam on death of the author

Alex Acks:

Rachel Swirsky:

Bogi Takács:

M L Clark:

Edited to add a couple more that arrived later.

Carmen Maria Machado

Alexandra Erin doesn’t mention the story by name

Doctor Who – Orphan 55

Not unlike the opening two-parter there is a lot going right with this episode compared with last season and some things going wrong. What is going right is the episode manages to create tension, has some relevant twists and risks. There is a surprisingly high body count, not that people dying is necessary for a good episode but sometimes a story calls for it.

What is going wrong is that once again, I felt like the script was just a bit half-baked and had rough edges that stood out. It felt to me like there were a few instances where just a bit more thought would have made for a better episode all round. Some spoilers after the fold.

Continue reading “Doctor Who – Orphan 55”

Review: The Witcher – Season 1 (Netflix)

I have neither read any of the Witcher books (see here) or played any of the video games, so I came to this show with very little background other than:

  • The main character is a gruff, sexy, outcast magic guy
  • He has baths

The Netflix series is something very close to an unholy mess: a mish mash of fantasy tropes, corny dialogue, cliches, and sudden tonal shifts. It veers from quippy modern-speak to faux grandiosity mid dialogue and has the inevitable quota of blood and boobs that defines post-Game of Thrones TV fantasy.

In short this show should be a disaster. Somehow it isn’t. I’m not saying it is great (and episodes 1 to 3 were very mixed) but it repeatedly somehow pulls itself together. The biggest flaw and strength is the very odd narrative structure that it adopts for most of the show. Not knowing what to expect it wasn’t initially clear in episode 1 and 2 that what you see is essentially three quite different fantasy TV shows that (at least initially) are unconnected other than being set in the same world.

Show 1, is literally “The Witcher”. Hunky Henry Cavill plays the white haird Geralt of Rivia — a ‘mutant’ (their choice of word) with supernatural powers who is a professional monster hunter. Show 1 works as a monster-of-the-week fantasy show crossed with a Western. The gruff loner walks into town, the locals beg him for help, things get complicated, he kills the complication, the locals resent him and he leaves. The status quo of Geralt as a monster hunter is established with some extra levity from his unwanted sidekick, the bard Jaskier.

Show 2, is quite different. Aiming more for the epic battle and downfall of kingdoms style of story line, we follow Cirilla the crown princess of the kingdom of Cintra as her fearsome grandmother fights (and loses) a war against the empire building Nilfgaardians.

Show 3 runs off on a different fantasy plot altogether, the bildungsroman tale of a poor girl who discovers she has magical powers, goes off to a mage-training school and must suffer to learn. Yennefer of Vengerberg is mistreated by her family because she has a severe curvature of the spine and finds herself recruited by a mysterious woman to train in the art of magic.

It’s only in episode 3 that there is a clearer sense that the each of these stories take place at different times and along different time scales. This narrative approach is surprisingly effective. Yennefer and Cirilla are not side characters but drive their own narratives. When the narratives start colliding, we already have met various characters at different times in their lives.

It’s a corny, cobbled together fantasy world with random monsters and costumes that wander from the Dark Ages to the Regency but the three-track story does lend the world a feeling of depth and complexity without huge amounts of exposition.

I know many fans of the show would already be familiar with the core characters but I found it refreshing that after episode 3, I really had no idea where Yennefer’s story was heading. Less good was the whole element of her being transformed from her physical disabilities. I assume this was a plot element from the books.

Episodes 4 to 8, where plot lines and backstories tangle together, were each quite compelling. Episode 4, “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”, essentially begins the main story arc that we’ve already been watching setting a whole series of events in motion with a story about a banquet that has a very satisfying feel of a fairy tale.

So by the end of season 1 I learned that:

  • The main character is a gruff, sexy, outcast magic guy
  • He has baths
  • His best friend is his horse and not the bard
  • There are a whole bunch of far more interesting characters