My First Friend – “World Enough and Time” Review

worldenoughandtimeWell here we are, dear friends: the antepenultimate episode of the Steven Moffat era, and the start of Moffat’s last ever Doctor Who season finale. As has been my wont this season, let’s start with a brief moment of reflection before trying to parse through the episode itself. For his first three seasons — coinciding, not surprisingly, with the Matt Smith tenure — Moffat eschewed RTD’s traditional “parting of the ways” finales and went instead for mostly unambiguously happy, eucatastrophic endings. “The Big Bang” and “The Wedding of River Song” both centered on actual weddings which signifies that we’re in the domain of comedy rather than tragedy. Though undeniably darker, ” Name of the Doctor” ended with both the Doctor and companion alive and together and lead directly into that most eucatastrophic and unifying of episodes, “Day of the Doctor.” Things shifted in the Capaldi era. Clara does survive both series 8 and 9 (sort of) but “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” and “Heaven Sent/Hell Bent” have felt less triumphant and more like narrow escapes contingent on terrible prices. The very titles signify the importance of that most universal experience of death. They have been dark meditations on disturbing themes: the afterlife, body horror and suffering, and grief. The presence of Missy and Rassilon nudges everything into the cosmic conflict of demigods and feels suitably mythic.

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Doors Between Worlds – “The Empress of Mars” & “The Eaters of Light” Reviews

Getting to the other side of those rather odd mid-season episodes to the traditional late-season standalone episodes before the two-part finale, it suddenly occurred to me that there is quite a strong and prevalent theme of imperialism running through series 10. “Smile” introduces a group of human colonists seeking a new home, bringing their culture and civilization with them, and their dangerous interactions with the “indigenous species” of robots. “Thin Ice” and “Empress of Mars” set their stories at the peak of British imperialism, critiquing the uglier aspects of that patriotic love of crown and country. “The Eaters of Light” of course extends this historical aspect further back to a time when native Britons and Celts themselves were invaded by the current imperialist titan — the Roman Empire. “Oxygen” plays upon the imperialist tendencies of soulless, Big Corporations (or the entire capitalist system, if you like). And of course the trilogy of episodes concerning the Monks show the gradual and insidious manipulation of humanity by the Monks, demonstrating how their cultural and systemic domination comes not through brute force and warfare but by creating a situation where their power is invited, then accepted, and eventually normalized by their subjects. This is perhaps the most modern face of imperialism: how human beings willingly give up their freedoms because the alternative is worse, or because there are no other options. The Monks’ assertion that “fear is not consent” is hooey — fear is the key ingredient in this form of empire. Fear is what motivates a bunch of very modern people who fancy themselves enlightened members of democratic society to play ball with dangerous and power-hungry autocrats. Whether Moffat intentionally crafted this season as a reaction to Brexit, Trump, and the wave of nationalist fervor we can currently see sweeping the Western world it is interesting to go into the two-part finale bearing this theme in mind. After all, the Cybermen only want what ever Empire wants — to assimilate its subjects, to make them “like us.”

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On Mythmoot IV and moments of wonder

A week ago I returned from Mythmoot IV (the semi-annual conference hosted by Signum University) exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed but totally inspired by my experience and motivated for the future. As the growing round-up of post-conference blog posts linked at the bottom of this post will testify, it seems that everyone else feels the same way. I’ve been to every Mythmoot so far but I keep hearing how there was something special about this particular weekend, and I can only concur.

Maybe it was the slightly extended time-frame, the adept organization, or the location at the National Conference Center which evoked something of a disorienting cross between a rabbit warren, the Overlook Hotel, and a painting by M.C. Escher (but did feature fantastic staff, a hobbit-like amount of food, and comfy fire pits). Maybe it was the trickle-down influence of our incomparable leaders and plenary speakers – Corey Olsen, Sørina Higgins, Verlyn Flieger, and Michael Drout especially. Maybe it was the fact that Signum held its first official graduation ceremony, complete with the assigning of a Quest (or aventure) and a ceremonial Elven spear (cold Aiglos, of course). Maybe it was that we’ve mostly all known each other for five years now and so that awkward ice had been well and truly broken long before. I’m sure it all of the above. In any case, when Mike Drout asserts that Mythmoot stands out among the many conferences I’m sure he has had the privilege to attend, I think we have to believe him.

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Fake News Central – “The Pyramid at the End of the World” & “The Lie of the Land”

billpyramidAlas, due to busyness in my personal and professional life these reviews are going to be doubled-up again this week. Perhaps the timing is fortuitous, though. In a way “Oxygen,” “Extremis,” “The Pyramid at the End of the World” and “The Lie of the Land” all serve as, if not a true four-part story in the strictest sense, at least four stories connected by common narrative threads, motifs, and themes: the Doctor’s blindness, the Monks, and the notion of constructed realities and “fake news.” Indeed, Chrissie — who runs the invaluable transcript website chakoteya.net — posted her latest transcript with the hope that “this concludes this weird fake news trilogy”. If we’re more liberal and include “Oxygen,” making this into a quartet, then these four middle stories account for a third of the entire season. Whereas Davies maintained a fairly consistent and even formulaic structure each year of his tenure, you have to give Moffat some brownie points for continuing to experiment with the pacing and structure of his seasons and narrative arcs.

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I Need to Know What’s Real – “Oxygen” & “Extremis Review”

oxygenMuch like the Doctor, I have a confession to make. Due to good but distracting life circumstances, such as my recently completed M.A. thesis chat (which you can watch here) and my impending trip to Signum University’s Mythmoot conference I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reviews, and consequently we’re going to have to double up this week in order to get back on track. While this isn’t ideal, the two episodes do actually have a fair bit of continuity with the Doctor’s [spoiler alert] blindness constituting a kind of mid-season mini-arc, so hopefully this will flow nicely enough. To be perfectly honest, these are two rather dense and difficult episodes and so part of my tardiness may also result from the fact that I’m still processing them. It may not be until the end of this arc or even the end of the season that I’m able to fully appreciate what Moffat & co. are doing here. But like the virtue brought about by extreme conditions, so blog posts must sometimes be written under a tight schedule. Proceed we must.

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The One Who Brought You Into This World – “Knock Knock” Review

knockknockmovingAn interesting fact about series 10 of Doctor Who is that there is only one new writer. This isn’t entirely unprecedented. Naturally the first series of New Who featured an entirely new stable of writers (although all had written for DW in other mediums and were experienced television writers). Several other seasons of New Who feature only two or three writers making their Who introductions. Series 7 is actually the only other one to only introduce one new writer (Neil Cross, who wrote two scripts that year) but series 7 is in many ways an odd duck: Split up into two halves across 2012-2013 and bearing the thankless burden of allowing Moffat to gear up for the 50th Anniversary Special, write out Matt Smith and the Ponds, and introduce a new companion in Clara. His distraction that year shows in the largely mediocre episodes. If we take series 1 and 7 aside then as atypical examples of what a season should do, that leaves this current season 10, although to be sure this is no ordinary year either. Steven Moffat is exiting, leaving the show to its hazy future. Moffat can be forgiven, I think, for leaning on what is by this point a very established and strong team of writers: Mark Gatiss, Peter Harness, Jamie Mathieson, Toby Whithouse, and Sarah Dollard. Even the other notable “guest star” — Rona Munro — makes her return to the series after a nearly thirty year break (she wrote the final story of the Classic television series, the Seventh Doctor’s “Survival”).

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I Moved On – “Thin Ice” Review

dw-thinice5Before recording our latest episode, my podcasting co-host Curtis and I chatted a bit about this new series of Doctor Who. I confessed (or rather, whined) that while I understand all of the reasons and logic I wished they would just give the show to Sarah Dollard already. Sure, she’s young and still gaining experience, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that her two stories are better than all of Chibnall’s, for all his credits.  It’s probably best to save Chibnall for some other separate blog post, after series 10 finishes, perhaps. I do have hope for his tenure, even if it’s not based entirely on the merits of his existing Doctor Who episodes. Nevertheless, our focus today is on Dollard and her sophomore outing, “Thin Ice,” and it’s enough to set one pining for what might have been (or what might still one day come to be, if we’re lucky).

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