Friday, September 15, 2017

Appendix: Spider-Man #24 Chronology

Day 1 (Pages 1 – 5)

Spider-Man takes delivery of Aunt May’s hat.

“Five minutes later” he is out looking for criminals.

He swings to Manhattan.

After stopping the burglary, he heads to the Bugle to see Betty.

He swings back to Forest Hills in order to be home “before Aunt May returns.”


Day 2 (Page 6, panels 1 – 2)

“The very next day” Jameson sends reporters out to collect anti-Spider-Man stories.


Day 3 (page 6-7)

Flash confronts the reporter, Liz asks Peter for a date, Flash confronts Peter

“Meanwhile” the first interview hits the streets; Rinehart goes to the Bugle offices and Jameson tells him to come back “tonight at 8”.

Stan’s “meanwhile” is a huge problem.

In panel 1 of page 6, we see a reporter asking a crowd for quotes; on panel 3 we see Flash Thompson berating the same photographer. The natural implication is that panel 3 follows on directly from panel 1. But Stan clearly says that while Liz, Flash and Peter are having their chat, the interview is published, and an interview obviously can’t go from tape to news-stand in a few seconds. So we have to assume that J.J.J. conducts several sets of vox pops over several days, and that Flash’s encounter with the reporter happens a day after the reporters conversation with the lady who “never said she did” hate Spider-Man.

I don’t think either Lee or Ditko have noticed this problem. Narratively Flash’s “I wanna talk to that crumb...” follows on from “...but I never said I do hate Spider-Man”. But realistically hours or days must have passed.

Day 4

Morning/afternoon: p 8-15

Panel 3 “The next day” Peter Parker reads the first interview with Rinehart.

Peter rushes out of the house “to find that Doc”.

Flash Thompson is waiting outside his house.

Peter distracts him and swings all the way to the Madison Avenue because because “I should learn where to find Rinehart at the Daily Bugle.”

Somewhere near the Bugle offices, he encounters the first hallucinations.

Decides the “can’t go to Jameson now” and swings all the way home again!

Realises how sick he is, rushes out of the house and heads to Rineharts house. His address was in the paper all along!

Panel 7 on page 9 is a huge problem. In between Peter Parker distracting Flash and Spider-Man seeing the hallucinations, there is a single picture of Betty speaking on the phone – telling J.J.J that Rinehart wants to arrange another interview. (Why?) Stan takes this to mean that pages 9-12 takes place somewhere near the Bugle offices, which creates the silly situation that Spider-Man swings all the way to Manhattan to find out where Rinehart lives, swings all the way back to Forest Hills because he isn’t feeling well, and then remembers that he knew the address all along. I submit that the whole thing would make much more sense if Betty were simply taking a call from her boyfriend “Yes, Peter, Dr Rinehart is staying at 221b Queen Boulevard, quite near your Aunt’s house”, and the whole of pages 9-24 take place on Peter’s home turf.

It makes more sense for Rinehart to have his spy-cats and his hologram projectors set up near his base than for them to be randomly on a rooftop by the Daily Bugle.

In the first Spider-Man Annual, Stan Lee states that Spider-Man can swing from Forest Hills to Manhattan in 3 minutes – about 200 miles per hour. Over the years, Spider-Man has been shown catching up with moving cars and even trains, so speed of 50 mile per hour seems a lot more believable. This would been that he could commute from home to the Bugle in about 15 minutes – a lot quicker than the subway!

Evening p16-29

?6PM Betty wonders how much overtime she will have to put in “tonight” – so it must already be passed her normal working hours – say 6 pm?

Foswell and Jameson leave, leaving Betty alone in the office.

?6.30 Foswell and Jameson get a taxi to Rinehart’s; Flash Thompson happens to be there. Rinehart’s offices must be in Forest Hills, somewhere near Peter and Flash’s school, which is maybe a 30 minute cab ride from the Bugle.

Again: it seems clear that Peter Parker leaves the house as soon as he reads the morning paper and, realizes Flash is tailing him pretty much as soon as he walks through the door, then Flash must have been aimlessly walking the streets for seven or eight hours. 

?7.30  It's hard to see how Spider-Man can have spent more than an hour in Rinehart's offices. After the big denouement, Peter bumps into Liz and Connie, and agrees to give Liz a jolly good science lesson.  Even though it can’t be earlier than 8pm, Aunt May says she will wait up for him.

The next issue follows on directly, with Peter leaving Liz's after their date. And Aunt May has waited up, watching a Joan Crawford movie on the TV. I am sure this won't create any continuity problems at all next time round...


A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
by
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.



Pledge £1 for each essay. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #24 - 29 (Overview)

The Long 1965

Maybe Spidey Strikes Back had provided such a satisfactory conclusion to the story of Peter Parker, that neither Lee nor Ditko could quite be bothered to think up new adventures for him. The first four stories of 1965 (#19-#23) are by no means dreadful; but they have a "so what?" quality to them. 

But then, without warning, Lee and Ditko get their mojo back. Six terrific issues -- with perhaps a single off-note -- followed by valedictory tetralogy which is generally regarded as the best Spider-Man comic book (and therefore the best comic book) of all time.

What happened?

The glib answer would be “Stan handed the book over to Ditko, so we got an undiluted final year of Spider-Man as Steve had always wanted him to be.” It is, almost inevitably, more complicated than that.

It is certainly the case that, during that final year, Steve’s input was at it’s zenith. The credits of issue #25 still attribute the, er, swingin’ script to Stan Lee, and the, er, dazzlin’ drawings to Steve Ditko. But the Stan persona immediately cedes the spotlight to Steve:


“Sturdy Steve Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale and it’s full of unexpected surprises! So turn the page and see if you can guess what’s coming next…”

“Tantalizing” is a strange word to choose: a cover could be tantalizing, or a splash page, or a clue to the Green Goblin's secret identity — but in what way does this story dangle a treat in front of us without letting us enjoy it? And the story isn’t particularly characterized unexpected twists. (Once Smythe has presented his robot in the Bugle offices, it is obvious how things have to develop.) The word's Lee uses to describe the comics -- "tantalizing", "unexpected", "puzzle" -- gives a big clue to how he felt about his working relationship with Steve Ditko. 

During the final months of their collaboration the two men weren't talking to each other at all. Stan wasn't even providing one line story ideas. Ditko sent penciled pages to Lee by courier; Lee sent lettered pages back for Ditko to ink. Any interaction between them had to go through production editor Sol Brodsky. So Stan was scripting “blind”: writing captions and dialogue for stories into the creation of which he had no input. You only have to look at the letter columns to see that Stan Lee had no idea what Ditko was going to present him with from one month to the next:

“Our next issue is so utterly stupendous that we won’t even attempt to describe it here.”

“And now not a single word about next ish. We want every dizzy surprise you’ll find there to be completely unexpected”

“Instead of giving you a big pitch for our next ish, we’ll merely say that it’s written by Stan, drawn by Steve and produced in the usual Marvel manner”

“Here’s you chance to prove you loyal you are to ol’ Spidey. Without us telling you anything about next ish, let’s see if you’ll all be sure to buy it.”

It was a strange way of working. Stan Lee wasn’t some hack in a studio, being called on to ghost-write for the major talent: he was the face and voice of Marvel Comics, Ditko’s de facto boss. There were obvious communication breakdowns. Some can be written off as trivial continuity glitches – events which happened “yesterday” in one panel took place “weeks ago” in another; Spider-beams remain on rooftops even though Spider-Man has already retrieved them; major characters' names change. This stuff doesn't matter that much, and I probably wouldn't spot it if I wasn't repeatedly re-reading what both writer and artist regarded as ephemera. But some of the misunderstandings are so catastrophic that they amount to Lee sabotaging Ditko's work. Infamously, when some of the Master Planner’s goons turn up in issue #30 (to foreshadow the events of #31 - #33) Stan assumes that they work for the Cat Burglar. which makes. No. Sense. At. All.

So when Stan Lee describes Captured by J. Jonah Jameson! as “tantalizing”, “unexpected” and “surprising” and challenges us to “guess what’s coming up next” I think we are hearing the editor’s reaction to a pile of finished artwork which he didn’t commission, or even discuss. “OMG! What has Steve given me now!” Indeed, the caption might be regarded, not as Stan giving credit where credit is due, but as his desperately distancing himself from the material. “Just Steve’s idea, I promise you. Stan had nothing to do with this one.” 

For Stan Lee, the words “dreaming up” denote the primary creative act. The whole of creation is contained in the original thought: everything else is legwork. So it must have been a hell of a thing for him to admit that Ditko dreamed up the plot of Spider-Man #25. He is not merely saying that Ditko decided that Spider-Man’s escape should take place “off stage” or that the high drama of Spider-Man's pursuit should be interrupted by the social comedy of Aunt May’s impromptu tea-party. He had always done that. That’s what being a Marvel comic book artist meant.  But Lee is going further and acknowledging that the whole idea of robo-Jameson is Ditko’s. He is the onlie begatter of the tale.

Which doesn’t, incidentally, sit particularly well with the theory that Ditko wanted Spider-Man to remain realistic and objected to Stan putting magic, aliens, space-rockets and South American mummies into his saga.

We have argued that there are two kinds of Spider-Man tale: the one where an eight page build up is followed by a ten page battle; and the one where a skein of plot threads come together into a tragic or ironic knot. We’ve speculated that the former is typically a Stan Lee plot and the latter is typically a Steve Ditko plot. And certainly issues #24 - #27 all follow the "Ditko" model. It has also been said that Ditko wanted to maintain the focus on Peter Parker's life, while Lee wanted continuous Spider-action. And indeed, Parker features heavily in the whole sequence from #24 - #33. Remarkably, his high school graduation runs for a full 6 pages without being gate-crashed by a single supervillain!

These issues start to feel much more like a soap opera than a situation comedy: for the first time the comic has an issue to issue continuity. Parker finds a letter from Ned to Betty in issue #23, and one from Betty to Ned in issue #24. Ned returns from Europe in #29 and asks Betty a fairly important question in #30. Spider-Man washes his costume in issue #23, loses it in #25, disastrously wears a shop-bought one in #26 and #27 and tries to get the missing one back in #28. The scientist who designed the Jameson robot in #25 accidentally creates the Molten Man #28.

Stan Lee doesn't seem to be completely comfortable with this approach. Several times, what Ditko clearly intends to be a specific reference to a previous event becomes a generic reference to an unspecified past. So Peter doesn’t say “This must be Betty’s reply to the letter from Ned I stumbled on two issues ago”, he just says “I didn’t know she was still writing to him.” He doesn’t say “I need a new costume because I couldn’t follow Foswell two issues ago because I had washed it and it was still damp”; he says “I remember that time my Spider-suit got dripping wet and I couldn’t wear it when I wanted to.” It’s almost like Lee sees the story of Spider-Man happening in an eternal present tense (more characteristic of Superman and the Distinguished Competition) and Ditko sees it as an arrow thrusting forward to a definite conclusion. Perhaps he doesn’t want to make the comics too impenetrable to new readers; perhaps he just doesn’t reread old issues and doesn't always remember what happened last month. The final caption of issue #24 feels a lot like Stan Lee apologizing to the reader for Steve Ditko's unwillingness to wind up any sub-plots -- or maybe like an editor throwing his hands up in despair. "Nothing conclusive has been settled between Peter and Betty..or indeed between anyone. And yet, isn't that just the way of life? We never know what surprises are around the corner..."  

So. It is tempting to see these classic stories — the bogus psychiatrist, the anti-Spider-Man robot, the two part gangster tale, and of course the Very Famous Master Planner Saga — as being great precisely because Lee as got out of the damn way and ceded the stage to Dikto. But Stan Lee’s voice is as loud and as emphatic — maybe louder — in this final year as it had been in the previous two. The dialogue is bigger, punchier and funnier than ever before. The Scorpion issue, in particular, is sustained almost entirely by the three-way sparring between Spider-Man, Jameson and Ned Leeds. Perhaps J. Jonah Jameson is increasingly reduced to a comic foil: but no comic foil was ever funnier or sharper. Perhaps, having admitted that Ditko dreamed up the stories, Lee feels the need to shout “Me, me, me!” on every page. Or maybe he merely raised his game. And, in fairness, there are a number of panels where he impresses us by knowing when to shut the hell up. When it turns out that Ned Leeds and an unspecified female friend are taking care of the sick Betty, the crestfallen Peter says nothing more than “Tell her I called.”

"The narrator" remains a very distinct voices in all these stories; almost an invisible presence, as much a character as J.J.J or Flash. He keeps reminding us that this is a story which someone made up -- there is not the slightest attempt to present it as pseudo-history. ("Do you think it's easy to think up titles like this?"). But he never engages in meta-fiction. There is no sense of the characters being puppets who's strings "the narrator" can yank. When Flash Thompson fortuitously bumps into J. Jonah Jameson  he assures us that it's the mysterious workings of Fate, not a clever twist by the Writer.  If anything, "the narrator" is the avatar for the reader — the archetypal Marvel fan — in the front row, as breathlessly awaiting the next plot twist as we are. Which makes perfect sense if Ditko really did create all these stories without input from Lee. "The narrator" talks as if he doesn't know what is going to happen next...because he really doesn't. He presents the identity of the Crime Master as an unfathomable mystery...because Steve really hasn't told Lee yet. No other Marvel comic ever achieved quite this level of ironic detachment; because no writer and artist were ever crazy enough to work in this way again.

In the years and decades which followed, Spider-Man the publishing phenomenon would go from strength to strength. Ditko began his celebrated half-century sulk, and Lee settled into being a full time celebrity. Roy Thomas and John Buscema — and John Byrne and Mark Waid — did a pretty good job at producing second and third rate Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pastiches for the Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor. But no-one ever recreated the magic of these issues of Spider-Man. No-one even tried. Lee without Ditko tended towards pure melodrama. And Ditko without Lee... Well, I am afraid we all know what Ditko without Lee tended towards. But somehow in these ten issues the barely disguised antagonism between Ditko the Dreamer-Upper and Stan Lee the Annotator gave us a year’s worth of the finest  comics the industry has ever seen.
A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
by
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.



Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip


Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 




Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything before the "but" is bollocks...

Yes, the Slave Trade was awful, an I am as much in agreement with that as any of the minority of people living in Bristol, who want the name of Colston Hall changed. However...

P. Collins

Who are these name changers? Are they Bristolians, born and bed here of Bristol families, educated in Bristol Schools, worked hard to buy their own houses, and pay council tax? How dare they come here from other cities and countries and tell us what to do?

also P. Collins

Friday, July 21, 2017

Eyes Down...

...removing any traces of the slave trade from Bristol might require half the city to be pulled down, and not just the plaques of signs with Colston's name on it....
Nigel Currie

Until recently, until a lot of publicity was given by the Bristol Post to a very small but vociferous minority of mainly non-Bristolians, the majority was not even aware of Colston's link to slavery...
C Stephens


All these do-gooders who want to change the name of the Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol an other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution and are usually under 18 years of age.
Wendy Fryer

If the name of Colston Hall has to change, the suggestion to change it to the "Corstan Hall" [after Jean Corstan MP] is a good one...It has absolutely no connection with the slave trade, so should not offend those minority groups who are trying to change it, whilst happily living here in this great city. These people should shut up or move somewhere else
P Collins

What a great idea...to suggest naming one of the new trains after Edward Colston. What a great way to remember a truly great Bristolian who, ok, was linked with the slave trade, but...
Mr G Briggs


Sunday, July 02, 2017

10:12 The Doctor Falls

Oh Steven Moffat.

Oh, Steven Moffat.

You were so nearly there. So nearly there.

I watched The Doctor Falls with my Doctor Who watching head on, I promise. Not with my “I have to make smart remarks about this on the blog” head on. But within ten minutes, the little voice inside my head was saying: "This. This is what New Who was meant to have been like. Always."

It was clear from the beginning that I was watching a piece of television that fundamentally took itself seriously. A bit of television in which the actors were were playing characters and no-one had got around to saying “but you can ham it up if you like because it’s only some shit about robots on a spaceship.” If you were one of those hypothetical people who didn’t know what Doctor Who was, you wouldn’t have definitely known your weren’t watching a new Scandinavian police drama, or Daphne Du Maurier adaptation. Not until the robots came on. It was just TV drama, like any other TV drama, telling a story, as well as it could. 

I spotted no smirk; no “don’t worry kids they are only silly robots” moment. 

The episode was fundamentally interested in Bill’s predicament at having been turned into a cyborg; and the Doctor’s need to do the right thing. If you had Never Watched Doctor Who Before then the horror of the human who has been turned into a robot was absolutely clear from context. And you could tell that the old, wise man had really loved the young woman who had been cyborgized, and was trying to let her down gently. 

But no-one has really never watched Doctor Who before; everyone in the world knows that the Doctor and the Cybermen are old enemies, almost as old as television itself. That's one of the bits of raw material that the story has to work with, just like, I don't know "rich people are moving into the lower class areas of London" is one of the bits of raw material that Eastenders has to work with. Jokes and in-references were there for those of who have watched the old episodes, but they were funny in themselves and not (I suppose) confusing or distracting to people who didn’t get them. When the Doctor shouts "Voga", you can tell that he is (like a soldier) shouting the name of a previous battle against the Cybermen. But I happen to know that it's a reference to Revenge of the Cybermen. That's as it should be. 

The resolution of 50 years of continuity angst about whether Cybermen come from Mondas, or Telos or a parallel earth and why the design keeps changing is genuinely clever. Wherever there are humans, they eventually evolve into Cybermen; parallel evolution. 

Of course, there is a problem with treating the Master as a serious character in a serious drama. Fairly obviously, he isn't. We first met him in the days of Adam West and John Steed. The Radio Times explicitly presented him as a comic book villain. Depth is one thing he can't ever have. He believes in a cruel God who made him in his own image: evil for the sake of being evil. John Simm plays it with camp self knowledge but never descends into camp absurdity. (The ludicrousness of Last of the Time Lords is entirely avoided.) I suppose, in a sense, he and Missy are the “comic relief”, the boo-hiss pantomime villain to be set against the existential horror of the Cybermen. But you can really feel the evil. The Evil Capitalist in the One With the Fish says that the Doctor’s speeches would inspire anyone with a shred of human decency. Here, the Doctor makes a genuinely inspirational speech and the Master casually says that he wasn’t listening. It’s the kind of moment where you actually want to punch him. 

I am not sure whether the handling of Bill’s transformation was very brave or very cowardly: I would like to have had more scenes embracing the absurdity of Bill’s lines coming from the Cybermouth. I suppose this was the whole reason that the Hartnell-era Cybermen were brought back: because we can believe that there is some of Bill left under the gauze mask better than we could believe there was some of Bill left under the silver CGI cyber-helmet. The conceit that we see BIll as herself, while everyone else sees her as a Cyberman is not entirely original. I kpet thinking of that episode of Frasier where the attractive young gym teacher he is dating turns into the abusive coach from his childhood. But it works. And it assumes that the audience is intelligent enough to discern what is going on.

Most of us probably thought that Missy had not reformed, but was pretending to be good to fool the Doctor. A few of us may have thought that she had genuinely stopped being evil, and that she was going to be the Doctor's friend or companion for a few seasons — at least until some future producer comes up with “What if Missy turned evil?” as an idea. The actual resolution — Missy kills her previous incarnation, to ensure that she comes into being, but he kills her, because she really has turned good — was not one I had predicted. Comic books have mostly stopped pretending that a this months story is the definitive, final, one-lives-one-dies confrontation between Batman and the Joker or Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. Readers know that however thoroughly the villain is killed, a few months down the line, the status quo will have to be restored. If Harold Saxon didn’t stay dead after the funeral pyre ending of Last of the Time Lords, she is not going to stay dead after being zapped by her past self. But for the minute I’ll pretend that I believe she's dead and enjoy the elegant finality of the scene. 

The Doctor’s last stand, farewell to Nardole, dozens of exploding Cybermen. I liked absolutely everything about the first fifty three minutes and seven seconds of the episode. 

And then, as exclusively predicted in this channel, someone activates the My Little Pony magic lilac love ray and makes Bill becoming a Cyberman didn’t happen. 

If at the very last moment the Water Nymph had popped up and held Bill’s cyberhand, just for a second, dropping a teeny weeny little hint that Billy Potts body is a rusting in the grave but maybe her soul is going to go dripping on  I wouldn’t have minded. Not that much. But Moffat doesn't know when to stop. He can't leave things alone. Never have one good bye seen if six will do. We had to go through definitely revivified ethereal Bill and a definitely physically present Heather physically moving the Doc back to the TARDIS and floating off round the universe with silly music playing much too loudly in the background and although it only lasted for a few minutes I. Just. Wanted. It. To. Stop. 

The puddle monster absorbed Heather’s physical body; Bill’s physical shape has somehow been extracted from the dead Cyberman and turned into magic lilac pony water — despite that fact that most of her remains have been long-since destroyed. What is the magic puddle meant to have done? (Moffat is a little vague about minds and bodies and hardware and software: we found out in Death and Heaven that it if you upload someone's mind to a computer it becomes possible to retrieve their physical form.) 

I hope that this is the last we see of Bill and that we won’t have to  see her corpse endlessly violated in the way that  Wonderful Clara's was — killed and unkilled on a weekly basis. Clara was never really a character, so it didn’t matter so much, but Bill was enough of a person that I’d like her to be allowed to rest in peace and not be reincarnated as an onion to make us cry over and over again. 

I didn’t properly get the coda about the Doctor. I understood that he was prepared to die to save the Mondasian colonists because it was the right thing to do, but I don’t know where the not wanting to regenerate idea suddenly came from. David Bradley was good enough at doing Hartnell’s lines in the docudrama but I could honestly have missed that fact that the person who shambles on at the end was meant to be the First Doctor. 

Maybe there’s a fabulous idea for a two-Doctor Christmas special with a light touch and witty repartee between the First and Last Doctors, just like there was between the Two Masters. Or maybe Moffat is going to bow out with a terribly ill-judged attempt to overwrite Doctor Who mythology from the ground up. 

“How did you find me?”

“I left you my tears, remember.”

Oh, Steven, Steven, Steven. What were you thinking of?











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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Controversial Appendix. (Please don't mail bomb me.)

A person on the internet says that it is typical of Stephen Moffat’s gender-politics that, quote, “the boy master has to come back to show the girl master how to master properly.”

Corollary #1: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, we all not be able to do any more multi-Doctor stories, because it will imply that the Thirteenth Doctrix needs a man to help her out. 

Corollary #2: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all subsequent Doctrices will have to be feminine, because a female-to-male regeneration will be a tacit admission that boys are better than girls.

Corollary #3: If the next Doctor is a feminine Doctor, all discussion about Doctor Who will have to be suspended: anyone who thinks that the Doctrix is a bit Peter Davison and not at all Matt Smith will be assumed to be saying that boys are better than girls and episodes will only be criticize-able in terms of what they reveal about the incoming producers gender politics.

The Doctor can change his physical form: this is a natural part of his life cycle. Each form is very different, but all the forms have irreducible characteristics in common. This wasn’t always the case; but it has been an established part of Doctor Who, and of the person-in-the-street’s perception of Doctor Who since at least 1981. In the new version of the show, the present form perceives regenerating as actual death, but all his memories and experiences are preserved in the new form. 

It doesn’t follow that the Doctor can turn into absolutely everything. There are lots of things he couldn’t be. He couldn’t be cruel or cowardly. He couldn’t be stupid. He couldn’t be a man of action who punches first and asks questions later. He couldn’t really be young. Matt Smith was young, but Matt Smith’s Doctor was very, very old. He can be Northern or Scottish and I assume Welsh, but he can’t cease to be British. This is not a matter of canon. There is no logical reason why a Time Lord should adopt a particular planet and then only be able to regenerate into a form which comes from a particular part of that planet. We’re talking about how the TV series works. 

I think that the Doctor is irreducibly a boffin. I think that being a boffin is slightly different from being a geek or a nerd or a techie. It carries an implication of being old; being unfashionable; and being the guy who can cobble together a computer which very nearly works, as opposed to the guy who makes the great scientific breakthrough. (The TARDIS is very much a boffin’s spaceship. It is fantastically advanced, but it seems a bit jerry-rigged and isn’t quite reliable.) 

Doctor Who can definitely evolve: Tom Baker said in 1977 that the Doctor simply can’t become interested in romance because he simply doesn’t have those kinds of emotions. The first time he flirted, with that heart surgeon in the American one, and with that French lady in the second season, we all freaked out. But then we stopped freaking out and it became the new normal. We also freaked out about the Doctor being half Time-Lord on his father’s side, but we ignored that and it went away.

If the Doctor ceased to be a boffin, would that break the show? Or would it interesting shake things up and become the new normal? Would it really cosmically speaking matter is the guy in the TARDIS was cool and stylish and brave but needed someone else to explain the science to him — provided the brave unscientific time traveler fetched up on interesting locations and had exciting adventures there? 

The question is: is “boffin” a male stereotype? And if boffin is a male stereotype, does it follow that the Doctor has to be male. 

It took me a while to come around to to Missy because I thought her characterization was way over the top. I think that what works about her is her ironical, tricksterish, playful evil — owing something to John Simm, but very little to Roger Delgado. This may surprise you, but I thought that the opening scene where she plays with the term “Doctor Who” worked really well. Not (yawn!) because it means there is some canonical grounds for saying that the main character really is called Doctor Who and that Frankenstein really was the name of the monster, but because it showed Missy transgressing the boundaries of the script, understanding the rules of the show and deliberately breaking them, talking about “assistants” and “companions” and understanding that Bill and Nardole are “exposition and comic relief”. She knows she’s in a TV show. And that’s a very interesting way of playing the Doctor’s ultimate foe. 

The point of Missy is not “what would the Master be like if she was a woman”. The point of Missy is that she’s a very interesting piece of utterly over-the-top characterization. I don’t know if her particular style of camp had to be played by a female, but it is now very hard to imagine it being played by anyone apart from Michelle Gomez.

So, my tentative conclusion is that a female Doctor would be a really, really bad idea, but might still be really, really good for the programme, and even if it was really, really bad for the programme it might still be the right thing to do.

It is not true to say that the Time Lords no longer care about gender and gender stereotypes. Tom Baker would have looked very odd indeed in one of Romana’s frocks.




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Thursday, June 29, 2017

10.11 World Enough and Time

During the wilderness years, the faithful would sometimes sit round their great log fires and wonder what a 21st century version of Doctor Who might look like. 

“Maybe not 25 minute episodes” we said “Maybe short seasons of 100 minute movies, like Inspector Morse.” 

I think this episode proves that we were right. Pacing has been the ruin of many a good story; this story is superior to pretty much everything else in the season because it gets the pacing right. I don’t think Eastern European Guy (”very fast bottom”) would have worked if we had been trying to gallop to the climax in 45 minutes. I don’t think the idea of the different sections of the ship running at different speeds would have nearly so interesting if we hadn’t had to wait around to find out what was going on. And obviously the cliffhanger ending had to be a cliffhanger ending; it would have been a bit ho-hum as a premise. If I had one thing to say to incoming producer Chris Chibnall, it would be “More two part stories.” 

Even that’s a bit retro, of course. We are now in the era of 10 hours boxed sets and binge watching. 

OK, we’ve seen most of it before. Moffat really does only have a very limited number of ideas, which he shakes up and assembles in different orders. The Doctor and his companion caught in different time streams - check; a spaceship comprising different time-zones - check; characters watching other characters on TV screens - check; giant spaceship with retro city in the hold - check; nasty surgeons turning people into [SPOILERS} Cybermen - check; companion turned into Cyberman - check; Cyberman weeping beneath the mask - check. I think we are beyond saying “We have seen some of this before.” It’s more a case of saying “This is what Doctor Who is now comprised of”. Some TV shows go on for decades with only one or two ideas, in fairness. 

I don’t know if a Black Hole would really behave like it does in the episode. I thought that the point of them was that nothing, not even really really really big spaceships — and this was Doctor Who outdoing Red Dwarf outdoing Star Wars outdoing 2001 big — could escape their gravity well? But it doesn’t matter — a Black Hole is allowed to do whatever the writer says it does, provided it carries on doing it consistently. (”For the present purposes, your honour, a Black Hole is that astronomical phenomenon that can trap, but not consume, a really, really, really big spaceship and which causes time to pass at a faster speed on the lower levels than on the bridge.) I will only start to complain if it turns out that the Black Hole’s gravity can be reversed by the power of love, or is caused my midichlorians, or something. 

I do not think that the Cybermen, in this context, were either fanwankery or pornographic. A person who has seen clunky new Who CGI Cyberman will be able to look at this one and immediately say “Ah — an old fashioned, primitive, retro Cyberman.” That the old fashioned, primitive, retro Cyberman happens to be what the Cybermen looked like in 1966 is a little nod of the hat to the fans, and why not. I don’t know how you reconcile the Cybermen who evolved on Mondas and flew the planet around the universe sucking other planets energy with the Cybermen who were created by the Master on a colony ship on its way to Mondas. I don’t particularly care. I expect there will be a sort of an answer next week. If it is a sufficiently good answer then no-one will ever have watch Attack of the Cybermen again. 

It is a pity that the story was spoiled by, well, spoilers. The episode released the information about what was going on on the colony ship and Razor’s true identity rather subtly: we didn’t definitely know that the patients were being turned into Cybermen until the surgeon shows Bill the headpiece, about 35 minutes into the story. This should have been a really good surprise. Unfortunately, the BBC had been circulating publicity pictures of Peter Capaldi facing off against Hartnell era Cybermen since last year. And John Simm had appeared in two different trailers. The appearance of Missy’s previous incarnation is obviously intended to fall like a bolt from the blue and obviously doesn’t. 

The question about how much to reveal in the trailer or the blurb or the Radio Times listing is not unique to Doctor Who. Some people think that it would not have mattered if a certain 90s suspense movie had gone out under the title of “The One In Which Bruce Willis Turns Out To Have Been Dead All Along”; other people objected to “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” because it gave away the ending. Somewhere in between is a sensible middle ground. I am happy not to trust the mysterious count in a movie called “Guest of the Vampire”; but I’d just as soon not know exactly who committed the “Murder at the Vicarage” until the detective works it out. 

It’s a particular problem for Doctor Who, because Doctor Who is so insistently non linear. We see Missy pretending to be the Doctor, and then we see the Doctor explaining to Bill and Nardole his plan to allow Missy to pretend to be him for a while. We see Bill getting killed, and then we see Bill making the Doctor promise not to get her killed. And the very first thing we see in the episode is the Doctor regenerating which we assume must be flashing forward to the end of the story. So Moffat wants us to watch World Enough and Time in the knowledge that it ends with a Regeneration just as much as Thomas Hardy wants use to read “The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge” with a pretty good idea about who won’t make it to the end of the final chapter. But then we get a post-cred trailer that (we assume) zooms forward to the end of the story, and again shows us the Doctor (apparently) regenerating. But the pre-cred is “part of the story” and the post-cred isn’t. And we’ve already once this season been “shown the Doctor regenerating”, only to have both the characters and the cast saying “Ha ha! We fooled you!” 

This can’t possibly be a proper review, because we only have the first half of the story to talk about. I liked nearly everything about it: the ship, the atmosphere, the pseudo-science, the relationship between Bill and Razor and Missy and everyone, the scenes of the dying city. The whole thing. And if these really are the Cybermen and that really is the Master and Bill really has been Cyberized and the Doctor really is going to regenerate — or if none of these things are true and the explanation is more exciting and brilliant and surprising than the set up — then I’ll call this the best story ever. The best Peter Capaldi story ever, at any rate. 

But if the Doctor turns Bill back into a human with magic love rays from his sonic screwdriver, and if these aren’t the real Cybermen at all but just trick Harold Saxon is playing, or if, perchance, none of this has happened and we’re all still in a simulation being run by the meddling Monks — then I reserve the right to call “foul” and give up watching Doctor Who. 

Until Christmas, at any rate.

*

Prediction: 

Moffat is going to pull another War Doctor stunt. The Doctor is indeed regenerating, but the person he is regenerating into isn’t the person who’ll be in the role in 2018, because that is for the incoming producer to decide. We’ll get a very short lived interim Doctor and the Christmas one will have both her and Capaldi in it. 

But there really will be a magical power of friendship reset button which will make Bill didn’t become a Cyberman at all. Because Moffat loves tears, but he really doesn’t like killing off characters, specially not pretty lady ones. 






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Saturday, June 24, 2017

10.10 Eaters of Light

Eaters of Light was an episode of Doctor Who. It passed the time amiably. There was nothing particularly wrong with it.


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10.9 The Empress of Mars

Some Victorians find a crashed flying saucer. In it is a little green man; who says that if they help him, he will fly them back to Mars and let them mine for infinite wealth. He will even build them a mining machine. But he is tricking them; he really wants to defrost the Little Green Queen who is in suspended animation. This leads to a shooting war between the Martians and the Victorians. When it looks like the two groups are going to wipe each other out, one of the soldiers, who was once sentenced to death for desertion, surrenders to the Queen and invites her to kill him. This proves that huh mans are honourable (or something) and she calls the war off and sets about rebuilding her civilization. Almost immediately she gets a message from a far-away star system, saying that a fleet of interstellar space ships are coming to help them.

I wish I had come in in the middle of Empress of Mars. In fact, I wish in fact that I was a Doctor Who fan from the 1980s, coming out of suspended animation at about the half way point. Ice Warriors and Red Coats in a cave, mutually besieging each other’s base; guns going off and indistinguishable men with pith hats and mustaches crying “I am assuming command” at each other, while an Ice Queen rants things like “Sleep no more!” and “Rise my ice warriors.” No idea at all what's going on, but this is what I always hoped Doctor Who would -- just like it was before but ever so much more so. I am sure if I watch the whole episode and catch up with the last 30 years of Ice Warrior continuity it will all make perfect sense. 

But I would be working on a false assumption. I would be assuming that Doctor Who was like other TV: that scenes make sense in context; that scenes, indeed, have a context to make sense in. 

*

Battlestar Galactica created a new thing out of the wreckage of its source material. Star Wars continues to lovingly illuminate the margins of its holy texts. Cinema Star Trek is currently desecrating the corpse of its TV predecessor, but at least it’s doing so consciously and deliberately, out of some perverse parricidal hatred. The Clangers — and I will fight to the death anyone who says that the Clangers isn’t as venerable and worthy of respect as any of the above-named Big Geek Franchises — simply resumed after a pause of 43 years as if nothing had happened. I suppose you could say that it was redundant: you can’t add to perfection. On the other hand, the characters can now blink. 

What, after ten years, is Doctor Who's relationship to the series which from 1963 to 1989? What is Doctor Who for? A dozen years in, I still have no answer. I suppose "Doctor Who is a series set in a magical universe where, each week, someone has to volunteer to commit suicide in order to generate the Peace Rays necessary to defeat the baddies" might do for a definition. But it still seems paralyzed by the anxiety of influence.

I have committed myself to writing something about every week’s episode of Doctor Who, and that means that I have to think of something interesting to say each week. No one would be very pleased if I said “It was another episode of Doctor Who. It passed the time amiably. There was nothing particularly wrong with it.” 

Empress of Mars is a very good piece of Saturday night television: light, fun, stupid, entertaining. If Doctor Who were like this every week, I would be pretty happy with it; although, if Doctor Who were like this, I would probably not bother to write about it, particularly. I was perfectly happy with, say, Merlin, but I didn’t dedicate a whole lot of thinking time to it. Perhaps I am just overthinking Doctor Who. But that raises the question: what is the correct amount of thought to apply to it. Or, put another: what is the right amount of stupor in which to watch it? 

*

Metro Magazine ran a headline “Doctor Who fans delighted by classic cameo in Empress of Mars.” Maybe some of them were. But I would have gone with: "Doctor Who fans bewildered by pointless cameo in Empress of Mars.” 

There are two Patrick Troughton stories, one set in the Very Far Future, in which human scientists accidentally defrost some Ice Warriors during an Ice Age; and another one set in the Much Nearer Future where some Ice Warriors try to turn the Earth’s atmosphere into Martian atmosphere using bubble bath. There is also a Jon Pertwee story in which a group of alien ambassadors have a conference to see if a retro-medieval planet can join the Galactic Free Trade Zone. The latter story pulls off a quite nice little trick: the Doctor assumes that the Ice Warriors are militaristic fascists who have come to the conference in order to disrupt it; in fact, they have long since renounced war and want the conference to succeed. Why they do not call themselves Ice Pacifists is not explored. One of the other alien ambassadors has claws and a single gigantic eye. (It came a close second in the Doctor Who Alien That Looks Most Like A Man's Willy awards.) It is this Alpha Centuri who appears on the communication screen at the end of Empress of Mars to say “welcome to the universe” to the Ice Warriors. The voice was provided by one Ysanne Churchman who provided the voice in the original story nearly 50 years ago. She was also the voice of Grace Archer who was famously burned at the stake as a punishment for inventing commercial television. (Check this - Ed.)  This makes her, at 92, the oldest person ever to appear in Doctor Who. Like you, I said "But what about the lady who had a non-speaking part as the frozen queen in the Pirate Planet but wouldn't take her false teeth out", but she was only 76.

But why? Surely the point of the story is that the nice cowardly guy with the pith helmet has volunteered to stay behind and help the Green Martians rebuild their civilization. If a fleet of highly advanced aliens are going to come along and do it all for them, doesn't that rather takes the point away from his sacrifice? That is to say, if the message had come from Just Some Alien it would have been at best pointless and at worst detrimental to the story. But if the message comes from yer actual Alpha Centuri from Curse of Peladon, then I feel entitled to ask what follows: that the Ice Warriors in Curse of Peladon were a newly defrosted race who had more or less always been pacifists, and whose civilization had been rebuilt by the Galactic Federation? That there was a civilization on Mars, in contact with interstellar races, all through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? That the Alpha Centuri of the Pertwee era is at least hundreds of years hold and has a special relationship with the Ice Warriors since their inception?

This is not a continuity gripe. I am quite happy with the invention of new continuity or the contradiction of old continuity. By all means, please, shake up the etch-a-sketch and give us a completely new Ice Warrior continuity. I am not one of those who takes personal offense when it turns out that some beloved old Star Wars comics are no longer “canon”. 

But I do want characters and scenes and alien races to have contexts. I don't think "we thought it would be cool to have three lines spoken by someone from the 1970s" is a good reason for a thing to happen in a story.

Of course, if you doing a reboot of a beloved old franchise, you are going to drop in little tips of the hat to revered previous iterations. Getting Kirk Alyn to do a cameo in the very first Superman movie, say, or wheeling on Leonard Nimoy in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Star Trek remake. We sometimes call them Easter Eggs, little shiny things you can look for if you want to. 

The whole of this episode feels like one long Easter Egg. 

But perhaps it only feels like that to me. Perhaps this story is intended for people who have never heard of the Ice Warriors or Peladon or Alpha Centuri, or, for that matter Queen Victoria. Perhaps Doctor Who is now entirely opaque to Doctor Who fans, because all we see are allusions and references; it's position within the now ludicrously entangled web of Doctor Who. Perhaps we are supposed to be looking at the story (the story of how the man who somehow survived being hanged volunteered to commit suicide and magically melted the evil Ice Queen's heart) and hardly even noticing the Ice Warriors. You see Green Martians, I see Ice Warriors. You see a random alien whose presence makes no sense, I see Alpha Centuri from a story which went out when I was seven years old. Mark Gatiss said to himself  “Let’s do a reverse alien invasion story — where humans invade Mars. Let’s make the invaders comedy Victorians who say ‘by gum’ and ‘top hole’. And let’s have the Doctor broker some kind of peace.” And then, very much as an after thought said “I wonder if there have ever been warlike Green Martians in Doctor Who before? There have? Well, we might as well re-use those. No point in inventing new monsters for the sake of it."

Because the alternative is much more distressing. The alternative is that everyone is a Doctor Who fan now; and everyone is just excited because there are Ice Warriors and that the lady who voice Alpha Centuri is still alive. Being a Doctor Who fan is not about feeling attached to a character, or a setting, or a style of story, but to a collection of contextless, free floating symbols. 

This is a story folded in on itself; a mobius story; a story made up of allusions to other stories (which were themselves made up of allusions to other stories.) It Tomb of the Cybermen and the Hungry Earth and the Silurians and the Curse of the Mummy and pages and page of Mark Gatiss's doubtless meticulous research into Victorian cockney rhyming slang ("what a load of gammon"). It feels to much like an exercise in lining up all your Green Martian soldiers on one side of the table, and your Victorian toy soldiers on the other side of the table and playing at war, until one of the toy soldiers zaps the queen of Martians with Peace Rays and everyone makes friends. 

I enjoyed it very much indeed. 


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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Irrelevant Return of -- Captain Non Sequitur

All those do-gooders who want to change the name of Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol and other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution. Come on do-gooders - get this sorted out and not think about something that happened years ago.
            Wendy Fryer


See also: 

All those do-gooders who want children to look both ways before crossing the road should be more concerned about what is happening in the Bering Sea regarding the near extinction of the pacific walrus.


I realize that this is  all completely meaningless to Americans and anyone under the age of 45.

Before we had DVDs, the BBC sometimes put out sound recordings of TV shows on "records" -- vinyl LPs. I owned a vinyl LP which contained the sound track of two episodes of "Camberwick Green". Peter the Postman (who was a very busy man) on the A side, and the Window Cleaner on the B side. I can't remember what the Window Cleaner's catch phrase was, or whether he had a song, because frankly I didn't like the B side. People climbing up ladders (and I think falling off) was way beyond my comfort zone for Mild Peril. But I played Peter the Postman (who gathers up all the letters as quickly as he can) incessantly. On one of those old-fashioned record players that were still referred to as "gramophones"; with a sort of brown leatherish case so it looked like a very small suitcase with a loudspeaker, and settings that ran to 33, 45 and 78.

My mother tells me that the midwife or district nurse who came to check up on her just after my baby sister had been born used to moan that whenever she came to the house, "Peter the Postman is a very busy man..." was always playing in the background. I am two years older than my sister, so I must have been two years old.

That's all I wanted to say. Literally my earliest memory is of Brian Cant's voice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

10.8 The Lie of the Land

There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex
You've probably heard about his odd complex
He got an entry in Freud's index
Cos he loved his mother....


I am a couple of weeks behind with my Who reviews. So I was very tempted to just write:

10:8 The Lie of the Land

Oh, for fucks sake!

…and go on and do the Space 1889 with Ice Warriors one.

But Lie of the Land deserves a little more attention than that. It is a truly terrible story. But never has such a terrible story been constructed of such promising components. The good bits were so good, and the bad bits so appalling that I find myself wondering if there is a very clever point which I am completely missing. 

The first eleven minutes are very good indeed. It seems that, as a result of Bill’s ill-judged capitulation, the Monks now rule the earth  and everyone believes that they have always done so. This is mostly achieved through Evil Alien Mind Control Rays; but there is also a daily propaganda broadcast, presented by the Doctor, reminding everyone that the Monks are their friends. Even Bill is starting to doubt the facts of history when Nardole turns up, and they go off together to find out what the Doctor’s real motivations are.

Earth-under-the-martians stories have acquired their own grammar in Doctor Who: London always seems to revert to some combination of the blitz and the Cold  War. Everyone starts wearing knitwear. There is a Cyberman ghost in every front room or a statue of a Monk on every street corner. The bits which are not Wellsian are Orwellian, right down to vans marked “memory police” and people being arrested for “memory crimes.” The Doctor himself, when he is doing his broadcasts, is obviously intended to evoke Big Brother. 

Its all very intense and dramatic and Pearl Mackie pretty much carries it by herself. Dark, fascist future versions of England, grim prison ships, military policemen demanding to see paper, the aliens mostly in the background working through their agents: this is what Doctor Who does best. Oh, it carries me back to that glorious morning in 1972 when the cricket got rained off and they showed Dalek Invasion Earth instead. 

The confrontation between Bill and the Doctor is astonishingly good. It seems like poor Bill is having every possible rug pulled out from under every one of her feet. She gave everything to save the Doctor and now he’s become a baddie. He honestly believes that the earth is in need of a jolly good conquering. Capaldi can act a bit and Whithouse can write a bit so he makes out a good case. We honestly believe that Bill honestly believes that the Doctor honestly believes what he's saying.

So she shoots him.

And he regenerates.

Wow.

This is a proper dramatic moment. This is what New Who was invented for. This feels so much like Doctor Who and is so clearly not the kind of thing that could have ever happened in the 70s. I forgive Moffat everything. 

What do you do if your friend turns against everything he believes in? Is it like “You may be a Jihadi, and I may hate that, but you are still my son” or is it more like “If you are now a communist you are no longer the person I fell in love with." It happens in smaller ways, too. “Football is what our friendship was about. If you no longer want to go come to matches with me, I don't know in what sense we can be friends." 

Bill concludes that a Doctor who doesn’t believe what the Doctor believes is not the Doctor and executes him, which is pretty high-handed but understandable. This moment has been trailed twice before. The regeneration scene was in the “next season” teaser after the Christmas Special; and the “Bill shooting the Doctor” scene was the last thing in the “Next Time” trailer after last week's episode. 

And the solution is...

There is an episode of my beloved Superman Radio Serial (brought to you by the makers of Kellogs Pep) in which a whole series of completely inexplicable events seem to occur. Clark Kent sees Lois Lane on the other side of Metropolis even though she's been at a her desk at the Planet all day;  Perry White gives Clark a thousand dollar cheque and then denies all knowledge of it. The solution, in the final episode, is that the whole thing was a prank that Lois and Perry and Jimmy and the police were in on from the beginning. They thought they'd drive Clark to the point of insanity to celebrate his second year working at the Daily Planet. The same kind of thing used to happen quite regularly in Legion of Superheroes: people would pretend to be dead or to have become super-villains in order to give their friend challenging puzzles to solve. It happens quite often in folk tales. "I am not really dead, and I didn't really murder our entire family: it was just a test to see if you truly loved me." "Oh, well, that's all right then." Sherlock Holmes famously allowed Watson to believe he was dead so that Watson would be able to report it convincingly in the Strand Magazine; but Holmes is supposed to be a nasty misanthropic bully. (Most of the time.) The Doctor is meant to be a good guy. Never cruel and never cowardly. 

The Doctor has been pretending to go over to the dark side specifically in order to find out if Bill is under the control of the Monks' evil alien mind control rays or not. (The fact that she shoots him proves pretty definitely that she isn't.) Nardole was in on it from the beginning. All the soldiers were in on it. I think even the scary patrol who demanded to see their papers were in on it. 

And the whole thing is treated, quite explicitly, as a joke. The Very Dramatic Music which plays when the regeneration nearly happens is replaced by plinky plonky “we’ve just told a joke” music. The Doctor laughs. Nardole laughs. When it turns out that one of the soldiers accidentally loaded his gun with real bullets, rather than blanks, the Doctor treats it as a funny joke at his own expense. 

Peter can read out any old shit and make it sound convincing. Pearl can look as if here heart is breaking more or less to order. That's what they teach you at acting school. I dare say either one of them could read out a recipe for scones as if it was a letter describing the death of a loved one. Nardole is completely convincing when he tells Bill that they are going to go looking for the Doctor together, even though he knows it is only a ruse. He says it just as if would have done if it had not been a ruse. Of course he does. Because in both cases, what we had was Matt Lucas, saying the words, as well as he could.

If the script calls on the actors to follow up a really, really dramatic scene with a "ha ha we were only fooling" scene, the actors are going to work just as hard on making us believe it was all a jape as they did on making us believe it was all deadly real.

But its still a horrible trick for a writer to play on an audience. It isn't just this big dramatic scene he's undercut for the sake of a cheap gag: it's every other big dramatic scene he ever writes.

*

Doctor Who always was a little bit too geeky. Science and boffinary saved the world just a little bit too regularly. Doctor Jon spent just slightly too many episodes locked away in his lab playing with his test tubes.  It is a good idea to have told the writers of New Who that it isn't only the power of science which can save the world. Sometimes it is the power of love which does the trick. 

But this can be done in two ways: a hard way, and an easy way. The hard way is to come up with a compelling sequence of events in which the characters’ loyalty and commitment to each other is instrumental in foiling the baddies master plan. Think of that episode of Sarah-Jane when Clyde had no idea what Luke was doing, but went along with it anyway because he trusted Luke and knew he would never turn against his mates. Think of every other episode of Sarah-Jane, actually. 

The easy way is to write whatever story you were going to write anyway, but have the hero zap the villain with a Love Ray (instead of a Gamma Ray or Kryptonite Ray) in the final scene. I believe that Jack Kirby was once commissioned to draw a soft-porn comic, and came up with a story in which alien women in only slightly more revealing than usual costumes rendered male superheroes helpless by zapping them with their Sex Rays.

I do not say that a story in which you zapped Torybots with Love Beams couldn’t be made to work. Anything could be made to work. Stories in which Noble Sir Jeremy slew the Mighty Brexit Slug with the magical sword of Coalition were once relatively popular. I do say that the winding up the Monk "trilogy" with Little Billy Potts zapping Wicked McWicked the Pyramid Fairy with the Charming Charm of Motherly Love feels more like My Little Pony than Doctor Who. 

I honestly wanted to chuck things at the television.

The Monks can only invade planets they have been wholeheartedly and sincerely invited to invade. Last week, Bill wholeheartedly and sincerely asked them to invade earth. It turns out that this set up a psychic link between Bill and the Monks turning her brain into the transmitter for the evil alien mind control rays that have made everybody in the whole wide world believe that the Monks are benevolent rulers. 

This crucial piece of information is imparted by Euros Holmes -- I am sorry, by Missy -- half way through the episode. This is an astonishingly slipshod piece of plotting. Surely "This is how you defeat the Monks" should have been the piece of information which Matrix-Doctor sacrificed his existence to transmit to Real-Doctor in In Extremis? 

On the other hand, the scenes with Missy are extremely well done. Michel Gomez gets better and better the less she acts; even the camp thing (”awk…ward”) which was so irritating in Death in Heaven is now convincing and disturbing. The philosophical sparring between her and the Doctor is genuinely impressive: the idea that a reformed, benevolent Missy would still not be "good" by the Doctor's standards is worth much exploring. But in a sense, these scene are not really part of the episode we are watching; they are just "seeding" the return of Missy in the season climax.

So: the first plan is to simply kill Bill (which would make a good title for a movie). This won’t work because all the mind controlled people will only gradually realize that the propaganda they heard through the mind control rays wasn’t true.

The second plan is to leave Bill alive but brain dead, because then she’d be transmitting nothing to the other humans, rather than Monkish propaganda. The Doctor is not crazy about this plan. Neither is Bill. 

This third Plan is for the Doctor to plug his own superior mind into the Monk’s transmitter, and replace the Ministry of Truth's made up history with his own, honest version. This doesn’t work because the transmitter is too powerful even for the Doctor’s brain.

So the final plan is that Bill plugs herself into the transmitter she is already plugged into in the expectation that it will free the world but render her brain dead except that, quite unexpectedly, her love for her mother gets transmitted to everyone in the entire universe and world, overwriting the Monks’ propaganda.

The on-screen explanation goes like this:

“Oh, you clever, brilliant, ridiculous girl.”

Impossible. You forgot to say impossible.

“Look at that! All the pictures I gave you. I thought I was just being kind, but I was saving the world.”

This is not the kind of blog which generally says things like “Even when the young gay black girl sacrifices her life to save the universe, the old straight white guy will always claim the credit.” It is not even the kind of blog which says “The Doctor always has to be represented as primary world-saver, even when it makes no sense for him to be so.” It’s more the kind of blog which wonders why Bill’s love is specially pure because she has only recently found a box of pictures — why “having a visual image of a dead parent” has world-saving potential, but “cherishing a memory of dead parent without knowing what they looked like” does not.

“Bill, if there's any of you left in there, listen. You have to keep thinking about your mum, the memory you created. Her voice. Her smile.”

It’s the fact that Bill's Mum is an imaginary person which saves the world? The smile being from the photos, the voice being something she only has very distant memories of? Would the voice without the smile not have worked as well? How about the smile without the voice? 

“The Monks can't get near it. Fill your mind with it! Push it into every corner. She's filling its mind with one pure, uncorrupted, irresistible image. And it's broadcasting it to the world, because it can't help it. All those years you kept her alive inside you, an isolated subroutine in a living mind.”

A “sub-routine” is one part of a computer program. I suppose an “isolated sub-routine” is part of a computer program which can function without the rest. I suppose the idea is that a mini-program can be copied from one computer to another and that Bill’s idea of her mother is being copied from her mind to everyone else’s mind. We are simultaneously dealing with extreme reductionism (a human mind is a complex computer program and nothing more) and extreme mystical essentialism (you can literally fill your mind/soul with love for just one object.) I also fear that there is a false analogy being drawn between "uncorrupted" (as in, a computer file) and "incorruptible" (as in "the dead shall be raised").

“Perfect, untouchable.”

Is the point here that because because Bill never knew her mother, she has made up a mother more perfect than any actual woman could ever be -- that it's "the idea of a perfect mother" that the Monks can't cope with? (A bit like Descartes saying that because I can imagine a perfect God, then the perfect God must exist:? Or possibly nothing like that?) 

“She's a window on the world without the Monks. Absolutely loved, absolutely trusted. And that window is opening everywhere. A glimpse of freedom. But a glimpse is all you need. The lie is breaking. Bill's mum just went viral.”

no but no but no but no but this has nothing to do with sub routines or computer or brains its just about how much billie loves her mother and billie presumably loves her mother just as much as practically almost if not everyone than nearly everyone loves their mothers and daddies and absolute best friend evers and puppy dogs and we have seen from the family at the beginning and the man whose son is in the prison camp that people still love their families in this world so how is billie loving her mummy a window into anything at all no no no


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