Doctor Who: “Orphan 55”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

After the strong two-part season opener, “Orphan 55” is your typical base-under-siege Doctor Who story — although this time the base is a resort, a setting that, alas, could have easily led to a lot more humorous or insightful moments than it did. Regardless, it plays out like a base under siege anyway, with security guards, military vehicles, laser rifles, people sacrificing themselves to hold off the monsters while everyone else escapes, etc. etc. etc. But even if the premise isn’t all that original, the episode does have some things going for it. The pace is quick, thanks to the story essentially being one big chase, and there’s a good amount of tension and suspense. The monsters, called Dregs, have an interesting design, although their motivations are never quite clear, which I’ll get back to later. There are a few funny bits at the beginning, such as when Ryan is suffering the aftereffects of the hopper virus, or when Graham reveals that his idea of a nice vacation is to just sit somewhere for three hours. Ryan gets a love interest, which sparked some weird feelings in me when I realized I had been subconsciously shipping Ryan and Yaz. Why do I want them to get together? I have no idea. Maybe because it would make them both more interesting? Anyway, the episode is enjoyable, and though you can tell it was made on a smidgen of a budget, it looks really good. It’s only a shame the ending is so terrible.

The finale relies a lot on coincidences and things happening solely for the sake of the plot. Once the Doctor and the other survivors get back to Tranquility Spa, they discover the monsters are coming for them and there’s no way out. Their only hope is to use a certain kind of fuel to power the one remaining teleportation device, but they don’t have that fuel, they only have a different fuel. Except the Doctor announces that the fuel they have can be transformed into the very fuel they so desperately need thanks to the hopper virus she just happens to have extracted from Ryan and is still carrying around in a potato chip bag. How lucky!

I have a lot of issues with the Dregs. Why do they keep Benni alive but kill everyone else immediately? Why are they attacking the resort in the first place? Why does that one bit of land matter to them? If they’ve existed for generations and exhale pure oxygen, why isn’t there more oxygen in the atmosphere by now, especially if there’s nothing else around that’s sucking it up? Why did the Alpha Dreg not only allow the Doctor and Bella to talk their way out of the room they were locked in with it, but also willingly walk into the cage and close the door? Well, that one I can answer: Because it was what the plot needed, not because it made any sense. How the hell did Kane, who was attacked by the Dregs, survive and make it all the way back to Tranquility Spa completely unharmed in order to help her estranged daughter fight off the monsters? Same answer. After an exciting base-under-siege setup, the finale’s writing was frustratingly lazy.

Oh, and also, the ruined and toxic planet Orphan 55, on which Tranquility Spa is built, is actually the far-future Earth and the Dregs are our mutated descendants. Is that necessary to the story? No, it exists pretty much just to be a big twist. Too bad we’ve seen it before in everything from The Planet of the Apes to the 1986 Sixth Doctor serial “The Mysterious Planet,” which just so happens to utilize the exact same method of revealing that the planet is Earth: they find a subway sign!

And then there’s the end. Hoo boy. So the Doctor and her companions are teleported safely back to the TARDIS, where they ask her if it was really Earth and how that could be, and then for a good couple of minutes the Doctor lectures her companions on how important it is for humans to listen to scientists’ warnings about global warming! Look, I’m as concerned about global warming and climate change as anyone else, but someone needs to tell Ed Hime, who wrote this episode, that at some point you have to trust your audience to get the message without the main character lecturing about it at the end. (Even Hitchcock knew that the scene tacked onto the end of Psycho, in which the psychologist explains everything that came before, was terrible and unnecessary, but the studio insisted.)

Ugh. Really, “Orphan 55” isn’t a bad story, but the finale left such a bad taste in my mouth, from the lazy writing to the lecturing, that it colors the whole episode for me.

And now for a bit of Doctor Who neepery! Aside from the (possibly intentional?) callback to “The Mysterious Planet” that I mentioned earlier, there are also similarities here to the monsters featured in the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial “The Curse of Fenric.” Those were the Haemovores, mutated, vampire-like humans from half a million years in the future who were the evolutionary result of humanity living with excessive pollution. At one point, the Doctor tells her companions, “When I say run, run,” which is something the Second Doctor said quite often.

Next week, the Doctor meets Nikola Tesla and what appear to be some giant alien scorpions!

Doctor Who: “Spyfall, Part 2”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

The second part of “Spyfall,” the two-part season 12 opener, is just as exciting as the first! In particular, there are two aspects of it I really enjoyed. The first is the Master chasing the Doctor through two separate time periods, 1834 and 1943, and the second is the introduction of the Doctor’s temporary companions, the real-life historical figures Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan. They make such a good, enjoyable team that when the three of them return to the present day, Graham asks what I was already wondering: “Are we being replaced?” (No disrespect to Graham, but I would have been a-okay with that!) Of course, the memories of their adventure with the Doctor have to be erased at the end so that time can take its proper course, but I seriously wouldn’t mind seeing them again at some point. There was instant chemistry between all three of them, and Sylvie Briggs and Aurora Marion managed to bring an enormous amount of life to characters who ultimately only have a few scenes.

There’s a quiet moment when Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are resting while on the run from Daniel Barton and the police that I quite liked, too, especially because it’s the moment where it sinks in that none of them really know anything about the Doctor. It’s a scene that really should have happened last season, but I’m glad it’s finally here. I was also happy to see, at the end of the episode, that the companions confront the Doctor with their questions. Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been dying for this new Doctor to talk about herself in a way that isn’t just a throwaway joke, and it looks like we’re finally going to get that. (Maybe Chris Chibnall reads my blog? Okay, probably not, but a man can dream!)

There’s a funny moment where the Doctor once again forgets she’s a woman now and calls herself the “Marvelous Apparating Man” before correcting it to “Marvelous Apparating Lady,” followed by a mutter of, “Every time…”

I have no real gripes, but there are a couple of parts I thought fell flatter than the rest of the episode. There’s a little bit of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure at the end when the Doctor goes back in time to put several important things in place for when they will be needed, such as the sabotaging of the Silver Lady device that was helping the extradimensional Kasaavin come through, and setting up the way Graham, Ryan, and Yaz survive the crashing airplane. Also, the Master and Daniel Barton’s plan involving the Kasaavin didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Something about rewriting human DNA and turning people into supercomputers. It all felt rather handwavy, as though Chris Chibnall, who wrote both episodes, realized he needed a good reason for the alliance and threw together a “humanity is in danger” plot. I thought it was much scarier when the Kasaavin say they want to take our universe for themselves, perhaps creating some kind of interdimensional empire, although that’s thwarted, too, by some technobabble at the end. It’s not a very compelling climax to an otherwise exciting two-parter, but since the Doctor often resolves things with smarts instead of violence, or at least usually tries to, I’ve grown used to climaxes that rely on a lot of button-pressing and quickly delivered pseudoscience.

For all the excitement, this episode is 100% about the Master and the Doctor, and it’s in their scenes together that it really shines. Particularly their conversation atop the Eiffel Tower, which really did feel like two old friends talking, and that wallop of an ending, where the Master reveals he has razed Gallifrey in revenge after discovering everything he and the Doctor were taught about their civilization was a lie. It has something to do with the Timeless Child, which was first mentioned back in season 11’s “The Ghost Monument,” and which I was worried would be completely forgotten about. (I think I still have a little PTSD from the Steven Moffat era, in which plotlines were frequently raised and then dropped just as quickly. Remember when the Doctor was going around removing himself from databases all over the universe, usually between episodes, but it went nowhere and came to nothing? Or when the Doctor learned Gallifrey was saved after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” and vowed to go find it, but then spent the whole next season not bothering to? But I digress.) Anyway, I’m excited to see where this leads. Although Gallifrey is in ruins, I suspect this isn’t quite like the Time War and there will be Time Lords out there who still survived and whom we may run into down the road. (Bring back Leela and Andred, you cowards!)

And now for some Doctor Who neepery, and for a change this episode if chock full of it! There’s a lot of talk about regeneration, as Graham, Ryan, and Yaz discuss what they do and don’t know about the Doctor. When the Doctor wants to get the Master’s attention in 1943, she taps out a quick succession of four beats on the Morse code machine. She calls it the “heartbeat of a Time Lord,” which harkens all the way back to season 3’s “The Sound of Drums” and season 4’s “The End of Time.” The Doctor and the Master speak through telepathy, using the word “contact” just like the Doctors did with their other selves in 1973’s “The Three Doctors” and 1983’s “The Five Doctors.” (Time Lords are telepathic, mostly just with each other, which is how they’re able to recognize each other despite regenerating into new bodies. However, it seems the Master learned long ago to shield his mind from the Doctor, since the Doctor didn’t immediately recognize him as either Missy or O.) There’s a discussion between the Master and the Doctor while they’re on top of the Eiffel Tower that seems to be a callback to the events of “Logopolis,” where the Master caused the Fourth Doctor to fall off a radio telescope and regenerate. Except the Doctor accidentally calls the radio telescope “Jodrell Bank,” which is the telescope the miniatures for “Logopolis” were based on. The actual events of “Logopolis” took place at the fictional Pharos Project. A simple mistake, or a missing adventure? We may never know for sure, although the dialogue (“Did I ever apologize for that?” “No.” “Good.”) seems to point toward an erroneous reference to “Logopolis.” We get a mention of Gallifrey “hiding in its little bubble universe,” which is a reference to the end of 2013’s “The Day of the Doctor,” and of course the Doctor finally telling her companions that she’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, and that she stole the TARDIS and ran away. This era of Doctor Who finally doesn’t feel so separate from the rest anymore.

The next episode looks like a standalone rather than a continuation of this story arc, but something tells me we haven’t seen the last of the Master, which is good because 1) Sacha Dhawan is doing a great job in the role, and 2) I’d really like some answers. The implication seems to be that this is a post-Missy incarnation (his asking if he ever apologized for Jodrell Bank could be seen as a reference to when Missy wanted to make up for all the evil she caused), but it’s disturbing how quickly he seems to have undone all the hard work he did as Missy toward redemption in season 10. Also, Missy wasn’t supposed to be able to regenerate after she was stabbed, and if I recall her body was still on that Mondasian ship that the Cybermen were crawling all over. I want to know what happened!

Doctor Who: “Spyfall, Part 1”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

After an interminable wait of more than a year since the end of season 11 (and exactly one year since the New Year’s special “Resolution”), Doctor Who‘s twelfth season is finally here. I was excited for it, but also trepidatious. Season 11 was a mixed bag, more so than usual for this show. There were a few great episodes like “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab,” but far more of them were mediocre or outright unsatisfying like “Arachnids in the U.K.,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” and “It Takes You Away.” Also, until a Dalek showed up in “Resolution,” season 11 felt strangely separate from the 50+ years of continuity that had come before. So I wondered, nervously, what season 12 would bring us.

Well, if “Spyfall, Part 1” is any indication, season 12 will be a big, big step up. The episode is an enjoyable, fast-paced adventure full of action, scares, mysterious aliens, humor, and multiple setups for what will presumably follow. I loved seeing Stephen Fry as C, the head of MI6, and the James Bond spoofs were a delight, from the music as the Doctor and her companions approach Daniel Barton’s mansion to sneak into his casino party, to the Doctor not knowing how to play cards. (On a side note, I hope the Doctor continues to wear that tuxedo for the rest of the season, because she looked incredible. I don’t mean to be reductive, but it definitely added fuel to the fire of my inappropriate celebrity crush on Jodie Whitaker!)

Of the companions, Graham continues to amuse me (“Worst Uber ever!”). I was pleased to see Yaz show a little more emotional depth in this episode, particularly the way she reacts to almost dying, and I think I might be starting to ship Yaz and Ryan (even though Yaz’s sister keeps asking for his phone number). Ryan’s freakout about not looking enough like Hugh Jackman to give himself the fake name Logan was hilarious and helped remind me why he’s more than just Graham’s grandson. Unfortunately, the Doctor herself remains a sketch of Doctorish behavior and humor. I’m desperate for a scene where she opens up about herself in a way that’s meant to be serious instead of funny. As much as I love Jodie Whitaker, I need more from her Doctor than we’ve been getting.

Sascha Dhawan’s O, a former MI6 agent and friend of the Doctor’s, is an incredible character. I liked him from the start, which meant I assumed he was going to die by the end of the episode. I was wrong about that, because the episode ends with a big, unexpected reveal. O is actually the Master in disguise! I reacted simultaneously with “Cool!” and “What? How is that possible?” We’ll have to wait and see how this incarnation of the Master came into being, whether he is pre- or post-Missy, though either explanation will come with its share of wrinkles that’ll need to be ironed out.

After the big reveal and the excellent cliffhanger, I’m more excited for the next episode of Doctor Who than I have been in a while. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long for “Spyfall, Part 2,” which as of this writing airs tomorrow!

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! Let me get my disappointment out of the way first. There was a big missed opportunity for a serious continuity deep-dive at O’s remote Outback house, which is supposed to be stocked with remnants and artifacts from previous alien invasions of Earth. Would it have killed them to show a few things, like maybe a Cyberman helmet, or a Sontaran wand gun, or the plastic gun hand of an Auton? It felt like such a wasted opportunity. Same with O’s files on the Doctor. How great would it have been to see Graham flip through some photographs with mounting surprise as he sees pictures of Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, etc.? I know it would be fan service, but I’m a fan and sometimes I want to be serviced! (Okay, that came out weird, but hopefully you know what I mean.)

But it’s not all missed opportunities. The Master has his Tissue Compression Eliminator again, the weird weapon that doesn’t just kill his victims but shrinks their bodies down to doll size! I don’t think he has used his TCE at all in the revival series, but it was his weapon of choice during the classic series and I was happy to see it again. The Master also calls himself the Doctor’s “best enemy,” which are the words the Third Doctor used to describe him in the 1983 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” There’s a brief mention of UNIT and Torchwood, both of which are apparently gone now due to the budget cuts mentioned last season. And of course, the episode was dedicated to the memory of the “masterful Terrance Dicks,” longtime writer and script editor of classic Doctor Who, who, along with Robert Holmes, helped create the Master back in 1971.

The Naming of the Books 2019

Presenting a list of all the books I read in 2019! This year the number totals 24. I used the same rules for this list that I always do: I count collections and anthologies, but not individual stories; I count graphic novels and trade comics collections, but not individual comic book issues; and I don’t count magazines, only books. So here are the books I read this year, presented in the order in which I read them:

The Isle by John Foster
Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Rat Queens, Vol. 4: High Fantasies by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Rat Queens, Vol. 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Nothing is Everything by Simon Strantzas
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories by I.N.J. Culbard
The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
The Migration by Helen Marshall
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories by Karen Heuler
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
X’s For Eyes by Laird Barron
Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington
Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
The Glittering World by Robert Levy
A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben
The Stand by Stephen King
Home for the Holidays by Randee Dawn

There you have it, the books I read in 2019! Here’s looking forward to another book-filled year in 2020!

 

 

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