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Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Episode 0: The Return of Dr. Mysterio
Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 13:19 on Aug 17, 2017

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Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

I don't watch the trailers unless specifically instructed to, no.

In that case I will specifically instruct you right now DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILERS. A lot of stuff gets given away and I'll love to see how you react going in clean.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



This was the first new episode of Doctor Who I got to watch in a year.... :cripes:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



2house2fly posted:

And really, whatever criticisms you might have of it, you can't deny it was the best episode of Doctor Who to air in 2016.

I think they might have done an airing of Power of the Daleks on BBC America sometime during 2016? :haw:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



The_Doctor posted:

Nah, I was decidedly tipsy at Christmas and still hated this. Also, the Doctor just walks away and leaves a man to die, which I still have problems with.

That's one of the more bizarre bits. The guy's only real "crime" is that he is a bit of a jerk, it's pretty clearly shown he had no idea what was going on and wasn't in on the evil plan to conquer the planet. But the Doctor and Lucy just kind of casually wander away while he's getting his brain scooped out of his head.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



I'm so glad to see LtW acknowledge just how loving creepy Grant comes across as. Especially in the way he has the Ghost leave Lucy on the rooftop with the Winter Shoal despite easily being able to defeat them, just so he can return to save the day and impress her as Grant. The fact they grew up together and are ostensibly the same age makes him calling her Mrs. Lombard really creepy too.

Despite the focus on Grant's love of comics at the start, I think this episode is more trying to emulate/reflect Richard Donner's initial Superman movie. About all that manages to accomplish however is remind me that everything The Return of Dr. Mysterio gets wrong or even right is something that the movie did much, much better decades earlier.

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 00:20 on Jul 9, 2017

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



For over a year I waited for some new (televised) Doctor Who. Sure there was plenty of Big Finish to listen to in the meantime, and the briefest/barest teaser for season 10 that introduced us to the new companion, but the year long wait was still hard especially knowing it would be Moffat's last (and now we know also Capaldi's).

Then we got The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Reception was mixed, no surprise given the notorious inability SA's Doctor Who fans have to agree on anything related to Doctor Who. But for me this episode was a big miss, it fell flat in so many ways and had so many missteps that outweighed anything good it did. Even much of the good stuff it tried was simply aping/repeating something that had already been done better decades before. As a homage it was nice, but all it did was remind me just how good aspects of Richard Donner's first Superman movie really was, as opposed to how good Doctor Who can be.

The episode opens with a flashback, a young man - Grant - living in New York dreams of his childhood and his meeting with the Doctor. It is essentially an origin story, telegraphed by the discussions lil' Grant and the Doctor have on how Spider-Man gained his powers (as well as the notion of obvious secret identities and how intelligent people don't see what is right in front of everybody, such as Clark Kent and Superman being the same person). The Doctor has returned to New York to try and fix the massive distortions and fractions that have plagued the place since The Angels Take Manhattan. There's some broad physical comedy, sometimes good and sometimes bad (Matt Smith could pull this stuff off, with Peter Capaldi it feels more forced) that causes a rather straightforward mix-up where the Doctor accidentally gives lil' Grant superpowers.



Largely the most enjoyment I get out of this episode comes from the Doctor, though he does often feel like a secondary character in this the only new episode of the show in 2016. The Doctor almost feels like an interloper, not just in terms of Grant's super-heroics but Lucy's investigations. He's mostly along for the ride, and takes on a largely background role even when making his own independent investigations of Harmony Shoal, one in an endless series of mysterious corporations that are forever appearing in the Doctor Who Earth and collapsing just as quickly when the Doctor exposes their schemes for world domination. It's symptomatic of the larger problems with the episode - the Doctor flutters too much between comedic foil, sad but inspiring lonely hero, (absent) mentor to Grant and avenging guardian of the planet.

Compounding this is the return of Nardole from the previous Christmas Special, his head reattached to his body (poor Dorium Maldovar) and acting as a kind of valet/quasi-companion. The casting of Matt Lucas is interesting because he's largely a comedy figure and there is plenty of comedy (good and bad) from him, but also moments where he displays a competence and awareness that actually lends him some gravitas. The lack of a season is strongly felt here, because this Nardole is very different from the one we saw in his first appearance but we've seen none of the character growth that he's supposedly undergone between then and now. He can fly the TARDIS, he knows the Doctor and River's history, he calls him out when he needs grounding... none of these things would be expected from the pleasant but extremely stupid character from The Husbands of River Song and none of that growth feels earned.



The baddies of the episode are a corporation called Harmony Shoal, which is of course the aliens who featured in the previous Christmas Special - The Shoal of the Winter Harmony. Our initial exposure to them comes through their CEO Mr Brock, who is painted as an evil mastermind but ends up being just another pawn. Questioned by reporter Lucy Fletcher, Brock is also waylaid by top researcher Dr Sim who takes him into a research vault the purpose of which even Brock (the owner of the company?) doesn't have the clearance for. Brains inside jars sit in the vaults, just waiting for the proper "vehicle" to come along for them to commandeer. The notion is creepy but also kinda feels like it comes outta nowhere, because we know so little about The Shoal Moffat is free to basically add any kind of feature he wants to them, but that arguably diluted the Weeping Angels and the same risk is carried here. The Doctor later refers to them as a nervous system that takes over the body, so are the "brains" their natural state and then they permeate the entire body afterwards? Wasn't it enough that they were just the creepy guys with heads that split open? Especially since there was a year to get this episode written couldn't they have come up with a new villain/monster? Or explained the basic concept just a little better?

Brock is left to be murdered in the vault and replaced by The Shoal (the Doctor and Lucy just kinda wander away, apparently Brock being vaguely a jerk is enough to warrant not being fazed by his fate at all) while Sim discovers the intruders. The Shoal then proceed to be largely inept and useless despite the scale of their plot (which also makes no sense - they destroy New York but their building will survive, so all the world's leaders will go to their buildings instead of their own doomsday bunkers?) outside of a couple moments where via plot-armor they get to menace/threaten people who are well beyond their capability to deal with. The point is almost comedic at the very end of the episode where Brock pulls a gun on the Doctor who just casually disarms him and explains he's called UNIT and they've been utterly defeated. That makes the reveal that Sim has escaped in a UNIT soldier's body fall flat, because apart from his ability to jump between bodies he hardly comes across as a particularly dangerous threat. You could make the argument (I don't really agree with it) that the Doctor largely (and dangerously) strung Harmony Shoal along to help Grant achieve happiness, because otherwise the Doctor's plan of,"I'll just accelerate THEIR plan because they didn't want to do it till later!" just feels really stupid, reckless and shortsighted.

Still, we did get this moment out of it:



The episode is inspired by/a homage to comic books/comic book films, most particularly the original Richard Donner Superman. There was a lot of space to explore this/do some interesting things but everything largely feels patchwork. There is no real cohesiveness to the references/homages beyond just being references/homages - yes Lucy's inability to see the obvious Ghost/Grant identity is telegraphed by the earlier Clark Kent/Superman discussion, and plays off the Clark/Lois relationship in the first movie. But that's about all it does, and feels like a weak echo of something done much better decades earlier. Harmony Shoal's building is an obvious reference to the Daily Planet building, the names Siegel and Shuster pop up, and of course Lucy Fletcher's married name gives her the same LL initialing of the likes of Lois Lane and Lana Lang. The rooftop interview between Ghost/Lucy is obviously meant as a parallel to the Superman/Lois interview from the film.... but the film already did that and did it waaaay better. The reference here doesn't do anything particularly different or new, doesn't add any new twist or deviation, it almost feels like ticking off a list of things that happened in the movie.

During one scene a phone call is made that makes heavy use of comic book paneling in a neat little nod to the comic-book format. But it is the only place it appears in the episode, marking one of the few instances of really playing around with the medium-crossing of comic books/television/film (one of the few things Ang Lee's Hulk film did a really good job at). It stands out as an aberration in the episode, bringing attention to itself because it made me wonder just what could have been if they'd been a bit more creative with the editing.

The other issue is that a superhero usually works in a comic book but it's far harder to make it work in television/film without making some pretty drastic design choices. The Ghost unfortunately looks like a kid in a rather cheap costume, he isn't physically imposing in the slightest. Christopher Reeve changed his posture to make his Clark Kent look nervous, weak and pathetic, while his Superman was a charming, confident brick wall of muscle - Grant's attempts to be gravel-voiced and heroic feel like a poor cos-player. That might have been the point, but everybody else in the episode plays it off as the Ghost being imposing/inspiring - the only point where I got that sense comes, again perhaps deliberately, when he isn't wearing the costume.



But the thing that really bugs me about this episode, that largely detracts from anything good in it, is the quite frankly creepy relationship between Grant and Lucy. They've known each other for 20+ years, since they were kids... but Grant calls her "Mrs Lombard" and his double life as superhero AND nanny to Lucy's child actually feels kind of stalker-ish. The x-ray vision joke didn't really need to be in there, though Lil Grant at least is humiliated by this unknown invasion of privacy and does his best to avoid it - yet adult Grant is living in her house and flying around keeping his eye on her still acting like the lovestuck teenager. Meanwhile, Lucy's sudden realization of how much she loves Grant comes out of nowhere during her interview with the Ghost and it doesn't feel earned, although the comedy of slipping his mask off and then back on is nicely paced. There is actually a kind of vibe of Grant trying to take advantage of the situation to get into a relationship with her, when he escapes Brock's trap there was absolutely nothing stopping him taking out the thugs and Brock and saving Lucy.... except she had just told him how she liked Grant so he makes a point of escaping, changing back into Grant and then running up onto the roof so "Grant" can save the day this time. Much like most romantic comedies actually involve weird stalking and obsessive behavior, Grant's attempts to be the nice guy just make him seem like a creep.

Lucy herself is written schizophrenically, she goes from tough, no-nonsense and pro-active investigative reporter to unprofessionally pining over Grant in the middle of the biggest interview of her career (an interview largely undermined by the Ghost having already done a television interview the night before). She becomes the damsel in distress to provide the personal incentive for Grant to save the day, losing most of what made her interesting in the first half of the episode as she is reduced to just the love interest. Her strongest scene comes in the rather funny but competent and probing "interrogation" of the Doctor making use of a child's toy as an incentive to extract information from him. She is professional, single-minded and focused there and surely that's the character that Grant was in love with, not the lady who suddenly throws off her professional interest to pine over her old school friend. What is she? The "prize" for Grant or an actual person in her own right? Sadly I think the episode largely ends up coming down on the former rather than the latter.



In the end, The Return of Doctor Mysterio is an uneven story whose faults are exacerbated by being the first new televised thing in a year for Doctor Who. It's an attempt at a breezy, fun romp which is very fitting for a Christmas Special. I can usually forgive Xmas Specials a lot because they're their own very particular thing, but this year I just couldn't look past the problems. The Christmasy theme is very quickly abandoned in any sense, and it feels like the story can't quite decide what it's trying to do/be - a homage? A satire? The broad comedy sits alongside the serious moments in a manner that doesn't mix, and it repeats one of the great sins of the RTD era where a massive world-shaking change to the modern world is just dropped into our laps without acknowledgment. Doctor Who's version of the modern world now has it as established fact that superheroes actually exist, just like RTD's had aliens as just a thing everybody knew about, while still trying to maintain the idea that Doctor Who's modern London (or New York in this case) was exactly the same as our own. Plus Grant has retired... or maybe not.... plus the time distortions in New York remain? Still, the episode does end strongly with the Doctor's final goodbye to Grant and Lucy (ignoring Nardole's rather extraneous explanation about River Song) and the final shot seems to indicate the Doctor has moved on and season 10 should (and hopefully will) be it's own thing. This episode itself? It's not very good, but it's over now, and season 10 is finally on its way.

The Doctor posted:

Things end. That's all. Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's always happy. Be happy. I'll look after everything else.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Escobarbarian posted:

From a "criticising the review" standpoint I gotta say there's far too much discussion of Grant and superheroes in general and too little about the actual episode. Which I guess presents a point, while obviously the recaps are long gone, should the review still generally make sense to someone who hasn't seen the episode? I dunno what the answer is (obviously this thread is mainly for fans of the show, which is an argument against it) but I know as someone who hasn't seen the episode all this review tells me about it is "there's a guy called Grant who is a superhero and also parts of the episode revolve around the Doctor". Is there a villain? Were they good or bad? What was the Doctor doing in his half? Was it good or bad? Who is this guy Capaldi apparently leaves to die? etc

It's up to Lick! how he wants to structure his own reviews of course, he may go more into episode structure/plot in future reviews. But since we're going to be posting in conjunction I will say that most of my reviews will be laying out a basic structure of the plot as well. I think that is pretty handy in providing something a bit more plot focused for people who haven't seen the episodes, while Lick!'s will be able to go off on more of a tangent discussing particular themes he feels are relevant. I do think stuff like his breakdown of Marvel vs DC, Superman vs Spider-man etc work is really valuable, especially because it ties back in later to make the point that Moffat is trying to marry both approaches in this episode which is part of what causes the mess it becomes.

Escobarbarian posted:

Hickman's FF run really is so freaking good though

God yes, I hope everybody who hasn't read it, reads it.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Yeah, Superman isn't a hero because of his powers, he's a hero because of his upbringing. Part of the reason I dislike the Snyder Superman so much is that Ma and Pa Kent don't instill the values in Clark that lead to Superman commonly being called an overgrown boy scout in the comics - they actively encourage him to hide away, to fear exposure or to just not help people "if he doesn't feel like it".

Doctor Spaceman posted:

"Is the Doctor a superhero" is always a fun thing to consider.

One of my favorite jokes is in Last Christmas when the Doctor mistakes a description of himself as a description of Santa Claus :3:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Seriously, watch the below scene and compare it to the Grant/Lucy scene where he's torn between revealing his secret identity or not - it's wonderful they wanted to pay homage to the original film but they did such a poor job of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIaF0QKtY0c

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



2house2fly posted:

This is an uncharitable reading of the scene, but to be honest I'm not sure what the charitable reading would be. Why didn't the Ghost casually fry the baddies with his heat vision and continue the date? Why did he fly away and then reappear as Grant? He tells them to point the gun at him rather than Lucy, clearly knowing that he's not at risk from a bullet, but why do that? If they shoot him then Lucy will know he's the Ghost, and if they don't then him being there is pointless. Maybe he was just stalling for time to try and find out what was going on (same reason I think the Doctor walked away from the guy being killed earlier; it would be nice to save him but then he'd risk the aliens concealing their plan or enacting it right away with no chance to stop it) but honestly I don't think even Moffat knew what Grant was thinking, and the whole point of changing them over was so that it would be Grant and not the Ghost who stopped the spaceship crashing.

Probably the best way to have handled it would be for the Ghost to leave to change into Grant after learning that Lucy is impressed with him, Grant returns and THEN Harmony Shoal show up. That way Grant would be caught between wanting to save her and exposing his secret without the pretty hosed up step of abandoning her as the Ghost expressly to return as Grant to save the day. Then you could have him step up to the plate in the same way as before to stop the falling spaceship.

I think that's all systematic of the bigger issue of the only new Who that year mostly sidelining the Doctor in favor of two completely new characters, who also had the misfortune of not being particularly engaging/interesting.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?




It should be a law to like Bill :colbert:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



ThaGhettoJew posted:

There are probably plenty more easy references but those are the ones that kind of stuck out most to me.

Going back through the episode I picked out basically all of these too outside of The Caretaker, so I have to imagine it was deliberate. I do think it does a pretty good job of keeping these in as nods without being alienating to newer viewers though.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



I got so sick of RTD's "family cowering in a corner" thing, I'm always glad to see somebody bring it up in any regard because it's nice to know I'm not the only one who noticed it constantly coming up.

Like LtW I thought this episode is at its strongest in the first half when it's exploring Bill's life - her interactions with the Doctor, her flirting with Heather, who oddly hands-off relationship with her foster mother. The foster mother in particular fascinates me, because she clearly cares but there is this level of antagonism between the two of them that I think boils down to them being poor and kind of trapped living together even though Bill is a fully grown woman. It's also interesting how she doesn't quite seem to grasp who Bill is as a person, she gives her money for a present whereas the Doctor gives her that incredibly sweet, heartwarming gif (yes you're supposed to be touched by that scene, Lick :)), apparently hasn't grasped that Bill is gay even though it is clear that Bill isn't hiding that at all, and overall comes across as a distant figure despite being the person who should know Bill most intimately.

The jokes about Neville and the other ex-boyfriend feel like a misstep to her characterization, more like a pale imitation of Jackie Tyler's character which I guess goes back to those rather clear Rose parallels Lick talks about. I'm not sure exactly where they were planning on going with her character in this episode, she mostly acts as a point of contrast to the other people in Bill's like - The Doctor, Heather, hell even Nardole to a far lesser extent - but lacks any real character of her own.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



After a year of no new Doctor Who and then a pretty poor Christmas Special, I went into season 10 with high hopes but a few concerns. Was Moffat phoning it in for his last season? Would Capaldi still be giving it his all? Was Matt Lucas going to work in his valet/quasi-companion role? How would Pearl Mackie work out as the new Companion? On the latter at least I was less concerned since the brief intro video released on her had made her seem charming and interesting. Happily, on the strength of this first episode of season 10 most of my concerns were allayed for the time being, as Pilot marked a strong return to form for the show after the uneven and ultimately unsatisfying season 9. Serving both as a reinforcement of the show's "values" for regular viewers, it also served as a soft reboot for new viewers to come onboard without having to worry too much about the backstory beyond "The Doctor is an eccentric alien who travels through time and space". I often (and still) recommend The Eleventh Hour as a good jumping on point for the show, but The Pilot is a strong contender too.



Bill is brought to an office by a whirring and clanking Nardole and left to sit alone and uncomfortable. Beautifully framed to show Bill's discomfort with the situation, we're also presented with a lot of important information that immediately gives us a read on the Doctor's own mindset. The TARDIS is tucked in the corner with an out-of-order sign on it, pictures of River Song and Susan Foreman on the desk marry the old and the new, as does the collection of classic/revival Sonic Screwdrivers. This feels like a retired Doctor, and the fact he has an office at all indicates a settling down, a decision for whatever reason to stay in place and reflect on the past rather than move forward into the future.

It's not just the Doctor we get a read on but Bill Potts as well. Via the dialogue, flashbacks and of course Pearl Mackie's acting we immediately get a sense of who and what Bill is. Like the Doctor she doesn't quite belong, she's not a student but she's not "staff", she's the girl who works in the kitchen.... BUT she also attends lectures and demonstrates a curiosity and fascination beyond what you might expect. She sees things differently from others, approaches things from another perspective. When directly questioned she obfuscates with charming stories like how she accidentally made a pretty girl fat because she felt guilty about perving at her (and thus we immediately learn without it being a big deal that Bill is gay). She's noticed that the Doctor has supposedly been a lecturer for close to 70 years but the length of time doesn't intrigue her, but rather that he doesn't seem to teach any one consistent subject. In short she is smart, savvy, self-aware but also different. Mackie brings all this across without for one moment making Bill feel like a Mary Sue or unrealistic, her charm and confusion make her feel like a real person. It IS a little on the nose that the Doctor stares directly at the picture of his granddaughter Susan when asked why he has taken an interest in her, but his line about how she smiles when she doesn't understand something while most people frown is very nicely put. So he offers to become her private tutor, a shift in the usual Doctor/Companion dynamic. The Doctor is still "retired", but Bill can serve as a companion to him without them having to run off in time and space and risk the devastation that was his loss of Clara.

A wonderful opening sequence following the credits parallels Bill's day with the Doctor's, as he presents a lecture attended not just by her but a pretty young girl with a star in her eye. We're given deeper insight into Bill's life inside and outside of the University - she has a foster mother, one who directly contrasts with the Doctor as "foster tutor" in that she clearly cares but also is ignorant of Bill as a person. The Doctor picked up on Bill's intelligence and perception immediately, but her foster mother isn't even aware that she's gay. Bill's sexuality is handled with surprising subtlety, while also making it about as clear as possible that yes, she is gay. Bill spends her nights at clubs drinking with friends, where she also meets that girl with the star in her eye, Heather. Heather was present at all the Doctor's lectures as well, and like Bill she's not only gay but perceives the world in a different way. But the parallels end there. Where Bill is happy, engaged and stimulated by University life, Heather is miserable, disconnected and just wants to be anywhere else. They contrast each other, but they are also attracted to each other, and the two keep connecting/meeting in a way that almost suggests fate but is really more down to the fact that they're both perceptive, intelligent young women.



While Bill notices and investigates the Doctor and Nardole up to something mysterious down on the basement level of one of the University buildings, Heather is investigating the seemingly mundane puddle of water sitting in a caged off section of construction. The two meet in the middle of their respective investigations, where Bill's empathy comes into play when she notices Heather is clearly upset. While things get a little clunky as the show resorts to flashbacks to remind us of their meeting which aired bare minutes earlier, the dialogue and interactions between the two presents us a neat little flirtatious (on Bill's part) adventure that almost feels like a couple of kids going off to explore something weird the other saw. More of the contrasting personalities/outlooks of the two are demonstrated in their conversation. Heather sees the star in her eye as a defect, something to be fixed. Bill sees it as a star, something fascinating and wonderful. Heather expresses her desire to just get away from the university, and despite Bill saying how much she loves the place she still asks if she could come along. Both women notice what others don't, and both look into it rather than just ignoring it.

But neither are credulous, they don't accept any old alternative explanation, they see what is wrong and they try to figure out a way to make it make sense. So Heather is trying to understand how the reflection of herself in the puddle of water could be wrong, and desperately wants somebody else to see it too because she probably suspects it is another sign of a defect within herself. Bill for her part senses something is wrong but has more of a sense of wonder about that, she's excited by the wrongness of it all while Heather is horrified.

Unfortunately, after all this nuance the show blunders off a cliff with a decidedly awkward and ultimately pointless red herring where we see things from the puddle's perspective and hear a sinister voice declaring that the pilot has been found. The intent is obvious, to make us think something sinister is up and there is some villain behind it all, and it doesn't fit at all with the ultimate resolution of the episode nor make any sense once we finally find out what is going on. It's a flaw that has sadly become more apparent with Moffat's writing since season 5 - the desire to pull out the rug from under the viewer by making them think something is important/big only to wave it off at the end and concentrate on the generally far more interesting personal dynamic between characters. The Silence, The Hybrid (ugh), even this mysterious Vault at the bottom of the University, now this sinister voice in the puddle - the trick has worn thin by this point.

Speaking of rugs, the Doctor gets one as a gift from Bill for Christmas that year, and comments that he got her nothing in return. Rather than a lesson they just spend some quality time together. We learn a little more about Bill, she can tell the Doctor is a traveller just by looking at him, even if he's supposedly spent the last 70 years working at the University. We learn that her mother died when she was a baby, and that she has largely created a fictional version of her mother to fill that gap in her life, since they have almost no pictures of her to act as memories. Bill comments that if somebody is gone, do pictures really help? This causes the Doctor to look to the pictures of River and Susan, and I'd argue that Clara is present by her absence too - the Doctor doesn't even remember her beyond the knowledge that there was somebody called Clara he once traveled with and valued: that is really important later on in the episode.

Bill's foster mother here acts as largely a point of contrast, she never really demonstrates much character in her own right outside of a couple of quips about her disastrous love life (there is a sense of a watered down Jackie Tyler to her, to be honest). She gifts Bill money for Christmas instead of a thoughtful present, but meanwhile a far more meaningful gift has been "found", a box full of pictures of Bill's mother. Bill sobs as she looks through them, a window into the life and personality of a woman she never really knew, and spots in amongst them a reflection of the photographer, and it looks for all the world like the Doctor, who has clearly gone back in time to make this possible for Bill. It's a genuinely touching moment.



Everything to this point has been a really lovely introduction both to the Doctor's status quo as well (more than anything else) as Bill as a person. This being Doctor Who though, the action has to kick in eventually and this marks the point where they get out of neutral and start moving forward again. This is both a good and a bad thing: good because there needs to be some catalyst to move things along, bad because the story of Bill, her new private tutor and the girl she likes was really, really loving good.

Bill spots Heather looking at the puddle again and is pleased to see that she seems more cheery than before. She offers to come around and take a look at the puddle herself, and Heather promises she won't go anywhere without her (!), so of course when Bill arrives Heather is nowhere to be seen. In order to up the tension/stakes, a lot of effort now goes into making things scary/unsettling suggesting there is danger involved. By the resolution of the episode, we see that there has been a misunderstanding, but in order to get to that point there are a lot of what felt to me like missteps. Heather is shown as a drowned corpse inside the puddle, the Water-Heather screams for no real reason and lunges at characters, and none of those things seem to have happened for any reason other than to make her look scary so we could later find out she wasn't really.

With Heather's disappearance, Bill returns to the Doctor's office and tells him the full story, admitting that maybe she is reading too much into it but... and he's gone. In a wonderful comedic moment, the Doctor has already jumped out of his chair and is racing across the campus, seen by Bill from his window as she is still in the middle of telling him everything. He picks up on the puddle's problem, Heather saw it straight away because of the star in her eye - they're not seeing a reflection but a mimicry. Their faces are turned around because they're seeing it the way everybody else does, rather than the reflection in a mirror. He sends Bill off home with a lame explanation that it is an optical trick, where she gets creeped out when she realizes her foster mother isn't home but something is in the bathroom. Rather than call the police, she investigates herself (not in a dumb horror movie way, but more in a "she's too curious for her own good" one) and discovers the genuinely terrifying image of Heather's eye inside of her drain. In a panic she rushes back to the University but hesitates when she sees the Doctor through the window in his office, and then discovers Heather is waiting for her. With shades of the Flood from The Waters of Mars and the creature from Midnight, Heather mimicks everything Bill says while water drips from every surface of her body, lending Bill's own words a sinister double-meaning.

Bill: You're dead.
Water Heather: You're dead.

I mean Jesus Christ, that's pretty terrifying.

Bill rushes to the Doctor's office and barricades it, which of course is no barrier to Heather's entry. Fascinated, the Doctor pulls Bill into the TARDIS (and notably takes the "out of order" sign from it) which leads to an absolutely amazing visual.



The Doctor posted:

Time And Relative Dimension In Space. TARDIS for short. You're safe in here. You're safe in here and you always will be.

Bill's reaction is wonderful, as she once again takes things in from a completely different POV: Is this a knockthrough? It looks like a posh kitchen etc. The Doctor is, understandably, rather put out that she's not blown away.

Doctor: What you are standing in is a technological marvel. It is science beyond magic. This is the gateway to everything that ever was, and ever can be.
Bill: Can I use the toilet?

Bill's slow realization of the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than the outside is beautifully handled, Nardole (who has just popped up from the loo himself) explains how it works in a neat callback to the 4th Doctor's explanation of it all way back in the 70s: it's just a simple matter of putting a larger box inside a smaller one! This seems to be Nardole's role in this episode, comic relief and a bit of a goofball. He clanks and whirrs in his first appearance and pieces are falling off of him, suggesting his body is largely a robot replacement for the one he lost in The Husbands of River Song. He runs in the wrong direction, eagerly follows the banter between the Doctor and Bill, and gets sent off to do the boring work later on so they can stick together for more dialogue. At this point, he's fun but feels largely extraneous as anything other than background dressing.

Water Heather bangs at the TARDIS trying to get inside, and so the Doctor decides to first figure out what it wants, and then to put it through its paces and see just what it is capable of. Shifting first to the basement (Bill assumes the TARDIS is a lift) to see if Heather has any interest in their mysterious vault (like most viewers, she does not), they then get in a neat little time travel joke by moving location and finding themselves in daylight. Have they time traveled? Of course not... they've just gone to Australia! When Heather follows them there (and screams at Bill for no apparent reason) he jumps them across to the other side of the universe (it looks like the planet from Utopia) where he cheekily notes that oh yes, it IS a time machine too. When Heather follows them even that far (still screaming for no apparent reason), suggesting even time travel capabilities or GREAT patience, he decides to see how strong it is by running it through a sterilization process.

In the midst of all this, even while terrified Bill can't help but ask questions and again demonstrate how she approaches things from a different POV. If the Doctor is an alien, then why is his ship called a TARDIS? That acronym only makes sense in English! Why disguise the TARDIS as something with a sign that entreats the reader to enter? For his part, the Doctor takes this as another excuse to educate and teach, as he queries whether the water being is actually evil or not, noting that hunger looks like evil to the eaten. He speculates that the water isn't a living being but some form of sentient liquid that made up a ship of some sort, imbued with some sort of intelligence or requiring one to guide it. There is again a sense of a callback here, the broken down time ship from The Lodger springs to mind - did it eat Heather for sustenance? Did it absorb her to act as a pilot? Is she still in there or is she gone etc?

Unfortunately for Bill, the Doctor's idea of sterilizing fire and "old friends" is to jump into the middle of a war between a race called the Movellans (old school Who fans were delighted to see these wigged idiots return) and, of course, the Daleks. It's a clever use of the Daleks, which seem to be contractually obligated to appear every year in Who (even during the 2016 year of nothing, the Daleks still appeared in the Pearl Mackie introduction video!), playing up their deadliness without having to make them the focus of the episode. As Nardole is sent horrified in to run interference using an old Sonic Screwdriver, the Doctor leads Bill through the corridors and away from the Daleks (Bill, of course, is full of questions) as Heather tracks them down and finds herself face to face with a pissed off Dalek... sorry for the redundancy. Nardole manages to quarantine the fighting but Heather has escaped, taking on the form of a Dalek herself and gurgling,"EXTERMINATE!" at them. But it doesn't, shifting back into Heather's form as the Doctor notes that it had the use of a gun and had it wanted to, it could have killed them... so why not? It killed Heather but it isn't aggressive, so why does it keep coming after them?



Bill talks about Heather's last words to her, promising not to go without her, and the Doctor finally figures out this hasn't been a chase but an invitation. The trouble is, he doesn't know if it is still Heather's mind inside there making that call, or just some last remnant of her memory that got jammed into the alien intelligence that ate her. Is Heather still Heather or just an approximation? Thankfully Bill has some experience here, and realizes the best way to handle this is as a crush rather than a threat. So she lets her down gently, mimicked by Heather who whether knowingly or unknowingly is agreeing to let Bill go. But then she finally does something that isn't just a copy of somebody else, as she slowly reaches a hand out towards Bill. Despite the Doctor's warning, Bill reciprocates and they touch hands, and Bill gets a glimpse of the universe laid out in front of her, hers for the taking should she want it. In her head she hears the Doctor warning her, whatever she is seeing is a trap, a lure to get her to give herself up. But once again Bill sees things from a different perspective: this isn't a chance for the alien ship to lure her, this is HER chance to get to the core of the matter and speak directly to Heather if she is still in there. And she is, Heather is truly the pilot, just reconstituted into the make-up of the alien ship. The two connect and Bill is able to say her goodbyes, to thank Heather for the offer but to turn her down. Heather lets her go and disappears, the "threat" has been dispersed, they are safe. Nardole is concerned but the Doctor insists Bill is fine, causing Nardole to comment that he never notices the tears. Bill hadn't either however, and notes quietly that she doesn't think the tears belong to her.

Returned to Earth, Bill and Doctor come down from the adventure in his office, where she comments that she saw a chance to explore the universe and turned it down. She turns a meaningful look at the TARDIS but the Doctor immediately shuts that down - it's unacceptable. Yes he took her onto the TARDIS, yes they traveled through Time and Space, but it was for a distinct purpose and now that is over, and things must return to the status quo. He really means it too, as he suddenly reaches out for Bill's face offering to "fix" things. She recoils, not because she thinks he's going to try and kiss her, but because she's seen enough sci-fi to know that he probably intends to wipe her memory somehow. Surprised at the accuracy of her guess (if not the source of it), he explains it is a necessity and she tries to bargain him down - let her remember, at least for a little while. Hell even a week... give her the night at least. But even as she bargains, she knows the futility of it all, and finally in weary acceptance she allows it to happen... but not without one final admonishment, how would he feel if it happened to him? In a truly sweet moment, Clara's theme chimes in and the Doctor considers how badly her loss affected him, and he acquiesces. He lets her go, and she rushes off, stopping only to take a moment to remember and be thrilled that everything is still there in her head. Back in the Doctor's office, he looks at the silent pictures of Susan and River and argues with "them" that he can't take on another companion, his duty to the vault means he must stay here. Even the TARDIS seems to speak up, but he is insistent. He must remain, he can't have another companion.

So we draw to the close of the first episode of season 10, a huge step-up from the Christmas Special and a great introductory episode of the show. Yes there are a ton of callbacks/references to earlier episodes (Classic and Revival) but I didn't get any sense that they would be alienating ones. At its core this is a great story about a young woman opening up to the world and getting a chance to live up to her potential. About an old man who has forced himself to settle down but can't help from getting involved and trying to make things better, to help others to grow and improve, to do right by them (that box full of photographs is one of the nicest things the Doctor has ever done). It's a story that doesn't need high stakes or a big alien monster. It has them, yes, but it doesn't need them. Had this been a one-off or a special, I would have been begging for Pearl Mackie to return as a regular companion. Happily I didn't have to, I really liked Clara but Bill is the 12th Doctor's first companion he can truly call his own, and it's a drat shame she didn't get to show up until his final season.

Bill walks out onto the campus at night, the universe a lot bigger than she ever thought, the endless possibilities thrilling. Not quite as thrilling as the sight that greets her though. After a tremendous introduction by Pearl Mackie, Bill has been established as an intelligent, thoughtful and empathic person who deserves more from her life. And the Doctor can't deny that. The TARDIS sits on the grass, the Doctor outside to welcome her in with the only explanation the show will ever need:



The Doctor posted:

Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It means "What the hell."

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 01:43 on Jul 16, 2017

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



2house2fly posted:

Speaking of, I wonder exactly how Nardole "ran interference". It looked like all he was doing was running around pointing the sonic screwdriver at things and making them blow up...

The Doctor mentions towards the end that Nardole was quarantining the actual battle, presumably blasting those panels was shutting down corridors/doors. The idea was to trap Heather in with the Daleks and the Movellans, but she killed the Dalek, occupied its shell and managed to keep up with them, maybe because Nardole got interrupted while working on frying that last panel. Hell the "Dalek" that interrupted him may have even been Heather, the Doctor noted that her gun would have worked but that she chose not to use it on them.

It's frustrating that sometimes the show will leave things up to the viewer to figure out, which doesn't always work out but at least isn't holding our hands. But then they'll also do these clumsy flashbacks complete with whooshing sound effect to remind us of things we saw a couple of minutes earlier.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



The Midnight creature had some pretty clear sinister intent. Despite the fakeout of the creepy voice rasping,"PILOT HAS BEEN FOUND!" Heather seemed to have had a cooperative relationship with the "ship" (I presume her happiness the last time she sees Bill before being "drowned" is because she has communed with it and agreed to go along with it), more along the lines of The Lodger only this time with the pilot being a willing participant.

Plus like you said, Midnight is better left as unexplained, some creepy loving thing out there in the universe beyond our comprehension, who even the Doctor couldn't get his head around.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

Congrats, dw, for listening to my review, I felt it was very good as well

That's why they spent so long with those Wimbledon commentators, Chibnall was talking down a sobbing Eddie Redmayne after already promising him the job :)

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Senor Tron posted:

Up to this point I had assumed Heather had been killed and her personality stolen, but I really like that interpretation that she knowingly joined with the ship and it fits her character better.

It's why I think the red herring of the raspy evil voice was such a mistake - it would have been better to leave it as a silent watcher so we could make the assumption something horrible had been done to her, so the revelation that she's actually a willing participant and we the viewer (and the Doctor) had been biased unfairly. By having it rasp and snarl and scream and lunge it gives the whole thing a clear sinister vibe and makes the Doctor's mistake (and the viewer's interpretation) seem reasonable.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



I don't dislike the ending as much as you, but I was disappointed in it. They were so close to a great ending with the Doctor realizing that the Vardy are developing sentience, I was positive it was going to result in the Vardy grasping the concept of grief for the first time and coming to an understanding of the horror of what they'd done. Then the two sides would have been left forced to work together as equals after that with the enormous horror of that misunderstanding left hanging between them.

The biggest problem is the mindwipe, it follows immediately on from the previous episode establishing that a mindwipe is a bad thing, and to make it worse the Doctor only mindwipes the Vardy, not the humans. If you're going to reset everything, reset the humans too, even if that is just cribbing from Day of the Doctor.

But everything before the ending is so good, and the Doctor/Bill relationship is endlessly fascinating. I love the Doctor's desire to teach is also accompanied by his desire for adventure and he wants so desperately for Bill to fall back into the familiar old companion role so he can have his cake and eat it too. But she's her own person, and I really dig how she keeps approaching things from that different perspective/take on things.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



As the second episode of the season, Smile's job is to build on the new relationship between the Doctor and Bill, develop a bit more of Bill's character, AND stand alone as an episode in its own right. I think it mostly succeeds in all three categories, which is doubly impressive since it is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce who gave us the rather awful In the Forest of the Night in season 8.

Opening in the console of the TARDIS, the Doctor and Bill are at cross-purposes, and I think it says a lot about both. The Doctor is all about instilling a sense of wonder into Bill, he speaks with wide-eyed romanticism but is stymied at every turn by Bill's wonderful sideways perspective. As he waxes poetic about the potentialities, she speaks up to ask why he keeps the chairs so far from the actual console. It's an interesting take on the normal Doctor/Companion dynamic, and speaks to the Doctor's clear desire to branch out from his "retirement". He wants the vicarious excitement and thrill that a new companion brings, but as much as she loves the chance to explore, Bill is more than just a conduit for the Doctor's desires, she's a person in her own right.

Nardole acts as spoiler, showing up demanding to know what is going on, what they're planning etc. He reminds the Doctor of his vow to guard the vault, his duty and responsibility etc. The Doctor insists that he is just showing Bill around and will be taking the TARDIS back to his office momentarily, demanding Nardole prepare them a cup of tea. It's an interesting power dynamic between the two, the Doctor dismisses Nardole, but he also has to answer to him and justify his actions - I find the nature of their relationship far more interesting than the macguffin they've both vowed to guard. With Nardole gone, the Doctor reminds Bill once again he's a time traveler, he can uphold his oath easily enough and continue to guard the vault by simply returning immediately after leaving. So where does she want to go? The future. Why? Because like we learned last episode at heart she is an optimist, and she wants to see if the future is "happy". The answer, of course, is complicated.



The introduction to the colony planet is really strong, it could easily have been the cold open to the episode, and I imagine it probably was in the initial script. As is often the case in Doctor Who, it's the mundane made terrifying, the familiar turned fearful. It's a beautiful planet, a beautiful setting (they shot at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias but beneath the facade of that beauty is pure horror: the horror of "happiness". A woman walks in from the grain fields with her cute helper robot, exhausted but satisfied by her day's work only to be told by her desperately grinning sister (I think?) that their mother is dead, and in fact so is most everybody else in the city. When Kezzia gets upset at this "joke", the robots following them around become equally upset and take quick steps to "solve" that problem.

So the Doctor and Bill arrive to quiet bliss, a perfectly designed city that is preternatually quiet. Here the Doctor acts as tutor, a role he has unofficially held throughout the decades dating back to when the role of the companion was to ask questions as the audience stand-in. Times have changed though and the show has improved steadily in that regard over time, and Bill learns not just about the situation and the Doctor himself, but is given a chance to demonstrate her own character. Without feeling expositional, we learn that the "swarms" floating about are micro-machines called Vardy, designed to build and maintain the city for the human colonists. The little robots we've seen are merely conduits for the Vardy to more easily communicate with the humans, and even then in the simplest way possible - via basic emotional displays, or "emojis" if you prefer.

The Doctor posted:

We're in the utopia of vacuous teens

But even at this early stage before the horror becomes apparent, we learn a lot about the insidious creep of the Vardy's influence. Without warning or consent, they "upgrade" the Doctor and Bill's ears with communication devices that allow them speak to each other no matter where they go (Bill delights that she'll never need to worry about her phone battery again). We also see that the Vardy are simultaneous smart and stupid, restricted by their programming. They detect the Doctor has two hearts so they give him two cubes of food, against Bill's one (which leads to a neat joke about food sexism) - why? Because they recognize he is one person but two hearts means two people, so their solution is to give him two lots of food on one plate. This "logic" is a good way to set the precedent of the Vardy's well-meaning but terrifying solutions.

As they continue to explore, the Doctor's optimistic suggestion that the Vardy are merely preparing the city for the arrival of the colonists starts to feel more and more unlikely. As he examines an interior garden, he finds a bracelet which makes him look at everything in a new light and ask some basic questions that wouldn't otherwise occur - if this is a terraformed planet peopled only by robots, then where the hell does the fertilizer for the interior gardens come from? His realization sadly comes in contrast to Bill's utter relief and delight to have realized that things turn out okay. That in the future the human race is still around and heading out into space to find new homes, and even better they've stopped eating animals/appear to have taken on a more inclusive and progressive approach. The Doctor turns all that on its head with the reveal that there was a set-up crew whose job was to prepare the city for the colonists, and that they're all still present doing their part... as fertilizer.



I do have to say the impact of the reveal is somewhat blunted by yet another needless flashback to Kezzia's death.

Happily what would normally turn into a straight up horror episode takes a different approach. The Doctor and Bill cheese it out of there, but as they go they notice the robots aren't exactly hoofing it to keep up. Why not? Because they don't NEED to be fast to capture them, they are everywhere and can easily block them off. The Doctor considers the available information and works out that the mood indicators they were given by the first robot they met are the key to their survival, and the trigger for homicide. The Vardy are smart but stupid - they are programmed to keep the colonists happy for the benefit of the colony, but when they encountered something other than happiness their solution was logical within the framework of their programming - they removed the problem colonists until there were none left, and now everything is fine! So if he and Bill can smile and trick the robots into thinking they're happy, maybe they can escape?

Bill: How would massacring hundreds of people make me happy?
Doctor: How would massacring hundreds of people make me happy.... smiley face!

Escaping the city, the Vardy immediately loses all interest in them and goes back to just quietly running the city to make sure everything is working exactly as it needs to be for the colonists (that they already killed). Getting back to the TARDIS, the Doctor instructs Bill to remain here while he goes back to destroy the city, claiming he has to do it to protect the other colonists when they arrive. It's an interesting scene, because he's insistent she remain but seems simultaneously disappointed at her desire for them both to get out of there. He grunts at her to "go and watch some movies or something" and heads back, as Bill calls out asking why it has to be HIM that goes back, can't he bring in some future version of the police or something? I think it's a pretty cool scene in demonstrating the Doctor's conflicting desires to look after his companions but also for them to have that excitement and enthusiasm that gets them into trouble. By making Bill ask for them to leave, we get to see that she is still new to this and learning, that she isn't just copy/replace for Clara or Amy or Donna or Martha or Rose - this is all brand new for her, she doesn't know how it works, she doesn't know how HE works, and he's going to have to remember that the Tutor/Student relationship goes both ways. Plus, of course, leaving her alone means she gets that time alone to come to a conclusion herself rather than have it explained to her, as she looks at the sign on the TARDIS door and grasps the deeper meaning of the words.



Inside the city the Doctor is surprised and seemingly put out to discover she has followed him inside... but he quickly and enthusiastically goes back into explanation mode, clearly delighted that she has "proven herself". He explains the scale and scope of their problem: the city isn't made up of materials, it's made up of the Vardy. The robots they've been interacting with are merely a method for communicating/interacting with the colonists - this isn't a foe you can fight or wipe out without losing the city in the process. Again I think this is a great strength of the episode, we're not dealing with a typical monster, and even if we were the "monster" isn't actually aggressive or evil, it just understands things differently to humans. Much like the Pilot in The Pilot only appeared to be a killer, the Vardy are just trying their best to do what they were designed to do, because all they know is that the Colony is meant to be a happy place, and unhappy people mean it isn't. It would be fascist and authoritarian if they were human, but they're not human, they're "alien".

Bill takes this all onboard with a genuine smile, because she's impressed by the Doctor not just as a tutor but as a good person, somebody who is there to help and to fix things. He continues to educate, explaining that Vikings used to turn their longboats into homes when they arrived on foreign shores, and maybe the set-up crew did the same? Indeed they did, they find rust and rivets where the walls of the city blend otherwise seamlessly into the "walls" of the Vardy. The door is unlocked, the crew came with open minds and hearts, the very best of humanity. Inside the industrial space of the ship stands in contrast to the smooth walls of the city, and the Doctor sets up Bill to guide him from a ship's map as he makes his way to the engines to overload them. Bill's different perspective comes into play again when she notices the blank spaces around the engine and questions why a colony ship would have large empty space in it? But it takes her longer to realize she could have just taken a photo of the map and come with the Doctor, and that he didn't need her help at all but was once again trying to keep her safe. She explores, finding a corpse laid out in state as well as a video history of both Earth and the colony. It's well designed, well shot, well costumed and then they go and blow it all by having an :X smiley badge on the dead woman's forehead.

There's a little bit of show continuity, but nothing that doesn't make sense in context. Looking through a history book that is from her future, she sees signs of terrible things and questions if the colonists coming for this planet were the last people on Earth. The Doctor explains about the deadly solar flares that caused humanity to temporarily abandon the planet but notes there were more than just this ship (which somewhat undermines the stakes later when he claims the death of these colonists would mark the end of the human race). But as he tries to overwhelm the safety measures in place to keep the engines from overheating, Bill is shocked to discover a little boy wandering about the interior of the ship, which leads them to discover that the other colonists aren't coming, they're already here, in those "empty" spots on the map. The Doctor and Bill entering the ship triggered the end of their cryo-sleep, they'd been waiting for the set-up crew to get things ready for their awakening. Using the dead woman's history book the Doctor pieces everything together - the Vardy mistook grief for a type of virus, the enemy of the happiness they were programmed to provide. Once the woken crew discovers what has happened it'll kick the whole thing off again, and they can't possibly fight the city itself, and even if they did that would leave them on an alien planet with no habitation.

Everything up to this point has been a very solid episode, one about the Doctor and Bill's tutor/student relationship, the Doctor's desire to teach but also to do, and Bill's shift from excited tourist/passenger to active participant in saving the day/fixing the situation. It's here that the episode fumbles the landing. For me it isn't a bad ending (and nothing on In the Forest of the Night's dogshit) but it just doesn't quite hit the right notes. If anything, it's just disappointing, they were so close to getting it right.

The Doctor lectures the colonists in the hopes of preventing violence between both sides, but of course in spite of the optimism/hope of their mission they react with anger and a desire for revenge: the human race isn't so different after all. The Doctor tries to explain the ludicrousness of their situation, how do they fight a city? What makes things worse is that the colonists seem utterly unaware of the nature of the Vardy even though they're human creations and an integral part of their colonization plans. They seem bewildered and confused when the walls, floor and ceiling start coming apart to fight them. In the melee, the little boy (who Bill and the Doctor only belatedly remembered) is put in danger and one of the Vardy robots is destroyed, and the Doctor notices something curious - a range of mixed emojis cross the face of another robot, an attempt to combine several basic emotions into a more complex one.



Here is the where the episode makes it biggest "mistake", because THIS was the moment where they could have absolutely nailed the idea of the Vardy as beings in their own rights. Here is where the Vardy could have experienced a new emotion outside of their programming, could have realized what grief was, could have learned something, grown and changed and reached a belated understanding with the colonists about their own mistakes. Instead, the Doctor grasps that the Vardy are demonstrating some level of development and so.... chooses to wipe their memories?

After last week's episode made such a good point about how lovely it is to wipe somebody's memory "for their own good", this episode tells us it's actually the right and proper thing to do. It's well-intentioned but gives the wrong message (like In the Forest of the Night did in a far more dangerous way), as the Doctor decides to wipe the slate clean. After frequently bringing up "the magic haddock" throughout the episode he finally tells the story - the magic haddock gave a man three wishes, two backfired spectacularly and so the man "reset" things by wishing he'd never made those wishes. The Doctor resets the board, wiping the Vardy's memories of the events or their own origins as robots built by humans, and the introduces both sides to each other with the claim that the Vardy are the indigenous lifeform of this planet, and he is willing to negotiate their co-habitation as equals on this planet.

It probably would have been better to wipe the human's minds too if that was the case, even if that was just a rehash of the human/Zygon solution in Day of the Doctor. Plus wouldn't it have worked better for Bill to be the one to make the connection that the Vardy were experiencing more complex emotions (and not just reflecting human ones for that matter), ala Amy Pond in The Beast Below? On the other hand, there is a delightfully anti-colonialist bent to the ending that I utterly approve of, with the Doctor forcing the humans to accept the other "lifeform" as equals and to work out a deal that if anything favors this "indigenous" race. But on the other other hand, this also gets punchlined by awful $ signs appearing in the Vardy robot's eyes when the Doctor mentions charging the humans rent - it's far too lighthearted and goofy considering the context it appears in.

Ultimately Smile made me smile, it was a thoroughly enjoyable episode that was far better than I was expecting from Frank Cottrell-Boyce. The Doctor and Bill's relationship is strengthened and they both gain a familiarity with each other while we as viewers get a better understanding of Bill as a person/character. Bill makes the shift into fully-formed companion, and the Doctor seems just as delighted to have things back to the way they used to be before his "retirement". Yes the resolution is disappointing, but when I consider how much worse it could have been (and has been in the past) I can't feel too let down.

The Doctor feels assured now, everything is back on an even keel, he gets to have his cake and eat it too. So seeing that complete confidence blow up in his face in perfect Doctor Who fashion when his triumphant return to his office in 2017 actually finds them on the frozen Thames in 1814, with an elephant striding out of the fog.... well I felt pretty drat happy that Doctor Who was back on track too.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Interesting stuff idonotlikepeas! Just a couple of thoughts I got coming out of that:

Due to the time constraints, plus how late the idea of the Vardy developing an emotional depth/sense of self comes in, I get the sense that we're meant to think of the Vardy as robots run amok at first. By that I mean I always thought the idea was that the Vardy becoming murderous was meant to be seen as a result of a (very human) blindspot in their programming as opposed to any malicious intent, and it's only at the end that we get the sense that they started killing people because they were starting to develop consciousness, albeit an "alien" one that doesn't grasp why killing people is a bad thing.

The Doctor's mindwipe is meant to be seen as a good thing, I think the idea is that their core programming was restricting their growth as a species in its own right. Once they no longer had conflicting "make sure the humans are happy" "keep the colony operating smoothly" imperatives to deal with, they're free to develop as their own thing, with the humans just another race for them to figure out how to live peacefully with (and come to a better understanding of what humans actually are). The problem, as we've all noted, is that most of this information comes quite late and is poorly conveyed, AND has to sit directly next to an episode where "mindwipe = bad", following the previous season where the mindwipe caused the Doctor great distress, within a revival where Donna's mindwipe was shown to be a fate almost worse than death. You can make an argument that it was necessary, but then I think it suffers somewhat from the same issue as The Zygon Inversion had (amongst many, many other problems) where it's a very lopsided situation - it's the Vardy who get mindwiped, not the humans, so even with the Vardy coming at the situation from a blank slate the humans are going to be bringing a shitload of baggage with them.

Had they nailed the ending this could have been an all time classic episode. As it is, it's still good, just things kinda fall apart at the end.

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 00:08 on Jul 24, 2017

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Yeah, if we'd had no clue that the planet had already had a crew on it, and only grasped at the same time as the Doctor and Bill that the crew had been there and gotten murdered, it would have worked a lot better. The reveal of the bones in the fertilizer tank is still good, but it would have hit a lot harder if we hadn't seen right at the start of the episode the Vardy murdering the colonists.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Stabbatical posted:

It's probably covered by the phrase "poorly conveyed" but I did not get that part out of it at all. It came across to me as if the humans that made the Vardy just accidentally solved the hard problem of consciousness without realising it, programmed themselves up some robots that were Actually Conscious & Worthy of Moral/Political Rights, and (at least in The Doctor's eyes) re-invented slavery. I never got anything about the Vardy needing, wanting, or being able to grow at all.

I think the idea (and again, this is all my interpretation, based on that very brief bit of info we get so incredibly late in the episode) is that they built these things and then basically left them to run while the ship traveled through space with the crew in suspended animation. Once they landed on the planet and pulled a few support crew out, the Vardy had been running so long that they'd started to develop at least the basic germ of consciousness - complicated learning machines running in concert together in isolation/being exposed to stimuli for long enough that something started happening. But then the support crew are there and the Vardy don't quite grasp how to reconcile their core programming/how to understand how humans work differently to themselves. Which, again, is why I think it would make more sense for the Vardy to have grasped the concept of grief and realized for themselves the mistake they'd made, as opposed to the Doctor seeing them demonstrating emotions outside of their limited reflection of the humans around them and then wiping their memories to reset the field.

Stabbatical posted:

I still don't get how exactly they are going to live with the humans. The end gag makes it seem like the Vardy were an oppressed slave class which now happily gets to be rentiers of the planet. What could they possibly do? Sit around being a city all the time and driving the human-interface robots? What could they possibly want? Maintenance that they can't provide for themselves? What stops them from thinking 'let's just strip these humans and their ship down to elements just in case we need the parts'?

It's part of why the ending is so disappointing to me (and tanks the episode for Lick, I guess), because it doesn't flow naturally out of the setup and ends up raising a lot more questions than it answers.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Hey guys, there's a general Who discussion thread for this type of stuff, please.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



2house2fly posted:

It's weird because the Doctor's realisation that they're sentient is caused by their reaction to one of them being destroyed. I wonder if there was an earlier draft where they tried to have that result in the Vardy realising what they'd done and had to cut it down for whatever reason

It makes me wonder if there was initially something deeper planned for the boy beyond,"BOY IN DANGER SO HUMANS ATTACK ROBOTS" - he feels so oddly detached from everything going on around him.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



I don't know anything about it beyond the people who made Bastion and Transistor made it, and I really enjoyed both those games so I'd probably enjoy this one too.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

It's probably their best game although I have Some Issues with the ending.

I have so many games to play :cripes:

Still I just finished Wolfenstein: The New Order which was fun - it's always extremely cathartic to kill Nazis.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



I saw that trailer before I played New Order and it looked awesome but made no goddamn sense. Rewatching it after playing the game I was surprised at just how much sense it actually makes!

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Lick! The! Whisk! posted:

Review will be up today, this I promise.

Just in time to start watching the next episode! :)

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



It's tough, because I absolutely agree that a soft reboot feels like it wasn't really required AND it's going to be followed by another reboot of sorts next year when Chibnal and Whittaker arrive on the scene. But on the other hand, I can't really complain when even an "average" episode like this just feels like it gets most everything about it right. This episode, as mentioned, retreads a ton of ground already gone over by RTD and Moffat but at no point did I feel like "I've seen this all before, get on with it", I was just enjoying seeing it be done so well. Part of the appeal is that Capaldi and Mackie just work so well together, plus just like last episode there is a wonderful bit of what feels like pointedly left wing pleasure in saying,"Yo, gently caress racism." I mean, that's not (or shouldn't be) a contentious POV but it was kind of awesome to see the Doctor, a character of words and reason, who when confronted with flat out racism and the insulting of his friend reacts by punching the rear end in a top hat right in the face :hellyeah:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



The introduction of a new companion in the revival-era Doctor Who usually unfolds in a fairly straightforward way. The Doctor meets a new Companion in the present day, and they share an adventure before the Doctor invites them to join him (Rose, Smith & Jones, Partners in Crime, The Eleventh Hour, The Bells of Saint John etc). Then over the following couple of episodes, the Doctor takes his new companion to the future and the past. Sometimes it is the past first, then the future. But the general idea is to introduce the companion (and any new viewers) to the possibilities of the TARDIS - past, present & future - in those first three episodes.

Thin Ice continues this tradition, as well as the continued parallels between season 10 and season 1. The Doctor saved his new companion from an odd, human-looking enemy, then took her to a far-flung future to prove that in spite of even the loss of their planet humanity survives, and then back they go to the 19th century. For Rose it was Autons, the year 5 billion and the Victorian era, for Bill it was the Pilot, a human colony following earth's evacuation, and the Georgian period.

But while the similarities are obvious, there's a little more going on to this story, which on the surface is an enjoyable if ultimately standard episode of Who. A little deeper however, it's a rather welcome refutation of some of the critiques that have faced both the show itself as well as other media depictions of the age, and even the recording of history itself.

Having failed to land back in his university office in the 21st Century, the Doctor has brought Bill to London in 1814 and the last Frost Fair. He reminds her that his piloting of the TARDIS is more of a negotiation, and admits that he's not a very good negotiator - they've been brought here for a reason so he's going to enjoy it. Here we get an interesting inversion of the conversation between the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones in The Shakespeare Code. Martha was concerned about fitting in as a black woman in the Elizabethan era, and the Doctor rather blithely told her to just act like she belonged because that always worked for him. A fine notion, but coming from a character that has traditionally been a white male it felt a little tone-deaf. Here, the 12th Doctor rather nicely puts a different spin on it, having fun with Bill's concerns about changing the future (he makes up "Pete" who stood on a butterfly and ceased to exist). But then when she notices that that there are more black people about than history/media has lead her to believe, the Doctor makes a neat comment about Jesus being black too, and that history is a whitewash. It's a good line, a welcome one, but it still runs the risk of ignoring the ugliness of the past with a minor platitude. Happily, this isn't the last we get on this subject in this episode.



The Frost Fair, beautifully recreated, masks darker things going on beneath the surface, figuratively and literally. Children living rough try to steal from the Doctor, and pilot fish beneath the ice attract stragglers to feed to a (really) giant creature beneath the surface. There is an initial air of frivolity as the Doctor takes Bill through the attractions and argues amicably with a pie salesman, but things get dark quickly after a small boy gets hold of the Doctor's sonic and runs off onto the ice. They give chase as the pilot fish follow the isolated boy, and when the Doctor fails to get to him in time his reaction of grabbing his sonic from the corpse of a child (!) horrifies Bill, and with good reason!

The death of a child is a surprising thing in Who, it's often suggested but then walked back from. That it just happens in this episode and they're left to actually deal with the fallout is a nice change. Bill, who has just watched a child die in front of her, can't believe it or accept it. In her shock she demands the Doctor deal with it, as she considers with disgust that his first thought when he saw the death was to grab his sonic. It leads to a great scene where she demands to know how much death the Doctor has seen, as well as coming to the realization that this funny, quirky, eccentric old man has also killed people - a lot of people. His attempts to justify why he "moves on" works, both because it is delivered excellently by Capaldi and also because, while at first it sounds pragmatic and sensible, we know that it's a line basically set up for the Doctor to overturn himself at some later point in the episode.

The Doctor posted:

You know what happens if I don't move on? More people die. There are kids living rough near here. They may well be next on the menu. Do you want to help me? Do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something. I'm two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage.

The kids living rough are designed to contrast with the spectacle of the Frost Fair, the darker truth underlying the sparkly facade. Of course they're all adorable and sweet because this is television, and ironically they create a larger issue with my suspension of disbelief than the giant fish-creature living beneath the Thames. But their purpose is to drive the story forward as well as help bring Bill and the Doctor back onto the same page. Seeing the poverty they live in, learning they're involved with the person heavily promoting the fair and suspecting he may have something to do with the creatures killing people, Bill comes to the conclusion she needs to help, and that means she also needs to "move on".

This leads to a sequence that doesn't quite work, as the Doctor and Bill put on old school diving suits and head out onto the ice at night to draw the attention of the pilot fish. When Bill is pulled under, the Doctor follows, and they come eye-to-eye with the creature. Why it doesn't eat them like it ate everybody else the fish pulled under is a mystery, that's the entire reason the pilot fish pull people under in the first place - perhaps because they were still alive and it only eats the drowned. In any case, it's not like "the Beast Below" from the episode of the same name, it has no compunction with eating children, as the discovery of the little boy's hat under the water demonstrates. The CGI isn't particularly good, though I've seen far worse in other shows AND in prior episodes of Doctor Who, but it's where the episode is at its weakest. Happily, much like the previous two episodes the idea quickly gets established that the "monster" is anything but. Yes it eats people, but it's not a predator that has come to hunt humans - somebody has chained it down beneath the Thames. Somebody is drawing people to the Thames to be eaten by it. The question is no longer "What is the creature?" but "Who put the creature there? And why?" The running theme of the season so far seems to be that things are never quite as they first appear, that what we consider a "monster" may just be misunderstood.

An encounter with the pie-man from earlier (he is catching pilot fish and putting them into his pies, much to Bill's horror), in conjunction with info they got from the urchins, gives them the lead they need. They travel to a workhouse where dredgers are collecting what looks like mud. Rather than sneaking around, the Doctor just uses the psychic paper to convince the overseer they're people in authority. Bill joins in with the Doctor as they convince the overseer they know everything that is going on, using the information he inadvertently provides to bolster their bluff. It's a fun bit of back and forth, as the Doctor plays on the overseer's desire for recognition/respect and we learn that somebody called Lord Sutcliffe has them dredge up the "mud", turn it into bricks and send it to the steel mill where it burns "a thousand times longer than cold, hotter than they can measure" and even burns underwater. Bill, whose reaction to learning the "mud" is excrement is hilarious, even manages to get in a,"No sh-" joke before the cut to Sutcliffe House.

Everything up to this point has been perfectly enjoyable but also just your basic, standard episode of Who. There have been a few character and dialogue moments that have been very good, but the basic plot hasn't demanded much. The following scene is probably largely what I'll remember most about this episode, and reminds me a bit of the brief anti-colonialism message from the previous episode. The Doctor, who doesn't have the luxury of outrage, sternly reminds Bill that they're on a mission here, that they have to play a part and they can't afford to be outraged, to lose their tempers - he effectively tells her to shut her mouth and let him do the talking, because he is the one who can be pragmatic and not let his emotions get the best of him.

The Doctor posted:

You're about to meet a man, alien or otherwise, for whom human beings are raw material. Who grinds up children for profit. What we are here for is one thing. Information. We get that with diplomacy and tact. Charm, if necessary.

So in walks Lord Sutcliffe, a self-important little poo poo who is unctuous towards the Doctor because he believes he represents a Gentlemen's Club, then turns nasty the moment he sees Bill present and seated. A woman, a BLACK woman at that, inside of his house sitting in his furniture!?! He berates the bewildered woman for her impertinence, calling her a creature. The Doctor, a man of words and reason who despises the notion of violence, a man who understands the importance of their mission as well as the prejudices of the time, responds completely appropriately:



Hell yes.

Yeah history is blacker than we're told, but the problem with an episode like The Shakespeare Code is that it introduces the very real concern a black character has about being in the past and then handwaves it away and it never has relevance to the episode again. In this episode, the Doctor notes Bill won't be out of place because history is white-washed and most of the people they're going to meet are used to black people being about/aren't particularly fussed. But it doesn't shy away from the fact that there was a shitload of very ugly, very entrenched and very accepted racism in that society. Especially in a class-based society where the elite already believe they're naturally better/superior to the lower classes even BEFORE race comes into the equation.

Taken prisoner by Sutcliffe's men, the Doctor still takes advantage of the situation to get a little more information from Sutcliffe. He suspected alien involvement, but Sutcliffe is very human, and he doesn't know anything more about the origin of the creature than they do. It's the source of his family's wealth, it's been present in the Thames for centuries and the secret is passed down from Lord to heir. The creature causes the frosts periodically, they use that excuse to hold frost fairs and get people to feed it, then collect its excrement and use that to fire the mills that produce the steel that generates their wealth. With utter disdain he rejects Bill's accusation that he is killing people, justifying his actions by saying more would die working in the coal mines he'd operate if the creature wasn't there. The Doctor knows he's paying lip service to this concern though, and makes an impassioned speech (to which Sutcliffe has a wonderfully slimy retort) about marking human progress by empathy.

For all that I've praised the above scene, Sutcliffe is by no means what I'd call a particularly deep character. In fact he's really quite shallow, almost a parody of the sneering, contemptuous upper class rear end in a top hat who doesn't value human life. But I also think given the length of the episode and the message it was going for, spending any more time on trying to give him a sense of depth would have just muddied the waters. In a day and age where some particularly nasty stuff that just barely skirts under the line of outright racism/fascism is being blurted out into the world constantly, and the people blaring it out are insisting on the unfairness of people not giving equal weight to their lovely views... well it's nice to have an episode where the rear end in a top hat who claims black people are "creatures" and that feeding inferior people to fish monsters is necessary for the furtherance of the Empire is shown to be exactly what he is, a lovely person with lovely opinions. His ultimate fate is perhaps a bit too cartoony, but given what a relentless rear end in a top hat he is, the poetic justice of his death is nicely cathartic - he fed people to the creature to stay rich, and his greed saw him suffer the same fate. Black, white, upper or lower class, anybody who gets eaten by a giant fish-monster is gonna end up coming out the other end as the same old poo poo.



Caught in a tent as Sutcliffe prepares to crack the ice and cause the death of dozens to feed his captive, the Doctor and Bill try to use the Sonic to escape. This draw's Sutcliffe's henchman in and we get a parallel scene to the little boy's death at the start of the episode. Here somebody's theft of the screwdriver proves their undoing, and once again the Doctor's priority once he sees death is certain is to get his sonic back. The context has shifted of course, not least of all because it's a full grown man rather than a little boy, but also because both Bill and the Doctor have no choice but to move on - there are lives to be saved.

They successfully warn people off the ice with the help of the urchins, while the Doctor concerns himself with saving another life that Bill herself hadn't considered. As she gets humans off the surface, the Doctor dons the diving suit once more and moves the explosives to the chains holding the creature. When Sutcliffe blows them, he releases his captive and ensures his own demise, while Bill - who came looking for the Doctor - is saved by him and they watch the creature disappear down the Thames, having learned after centuries of captivity to stay the gently caress away from humans.

That last part feels more like "gently caress it, we're running out of time" though, and another indicator that the actual "monster" was incidental to a story primarily about the victims of a society that assigns different values to human life based on class and race.

Bill brings the urchins to Sutcliffe House, where the Doctor is doing some careful adjustments to Lord Sutcliffe's will - and they even get a jab in about male dominated society - in order to make the surviving boy urchin into Sutcliffe's long lost heir. They return to the present and the Doctor's office, where an excited Bill tries to find any information she can on a giant fish during the last ever frost fair, but discovers nothing in any historical records. Happily there are records on the Sutcliffes, as they learn that young Peregrine "Sutcliffe" was found in a court of law to be the dead Lord's legitimate heir and the revised will was accepted. Those particular urchins at least ended up with a place to stay - though who the hell knows how the Sutcliffe businesses fared.

Nardole appears with some tea, mere minutes having passed since he last saw them, and discovers them in their 19th Century clothing and quickly grasps what has happened. He is (comically) outraged with the Doctor - "this is beyond unacceptable.... this is naughty!" - but the Doctor dismisses his concerns and his reminders about his mysterious oath.

So Thin Ice ends - a perfectly fine episode that is probably going to end up largely forgettable. It does everything fine apart from some ropey CGI, has gorgeous set design, and continues the same theme we've seen in the last two episodes where the "monster" was misunderstood. It follows a fine tradition established in the revival to introduce a companion (and new audience) to the show's range, and by the time it has ended it feels like Pearl Mackie has really, truly arrived. She knows the Doctor now, good and bad, and she's slotted herself into a place in his life just as he has to her. Where it'll remain memorable for me is the scene where the Doctor socks Lord Sutcliffe. It's simultaneously funny and cathartic, a rejection of Sutcliffe's outdated and nasty mindset as well as a reminder that these nasty, outdated ideas exist. Just like the Doctor mentions history being whitewashed, often on television (including Doctor Who) they gloss over these nastier aspects of a historic setting with barely anything more than lip service. It's to this episode's credit that it actually addressed these, and firmly planted the Doctor in opposition to them.

Jerusalem fucked around with this message at 10:59 on Aug 2, 2017

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Escobarbarian posted:

This whole "Jerusalem reviews the actual episode, while Occ reviews a concept" thing is working out pretty good

Thanks I really dig it :)

It's always good fun to read Lick expounding on a concept/theme he has picked up on during his watch, and if my covering most of the finer details of the plot frees him up to do more of that I'm more than pleased to do so.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Dabir posted:

Capaldi just perfectly sells that sadness and above all, disappointment with humanity. That stuck with me just as much as punching a racist in the face.

Yeah it's really drat good. I don't mean any disrespect to Tenant at all, but the glib dismissal of his Doctor to Martha's concerns was a real shame and it was nice to see it openly addressed here.

To be fair, later in season 3 they did have Martha facing some of the nasty inherent racism of the time in the Family of Blood 2-parter and I was very pleased that they didn't make "John Smith" immune from it.

2house2fly posted:

Relevant quote from the episode, and possibly the line that ties it most closely to Beast Below outside of the premise:

Which reminds me of another thing I meant to note - while Bill is active in trying to save lives, I don't think it ever occurred to her that they should also be using the explosives to free the creature. That it was the Doctor who came up with that solution does feel like a slight missed opportunity, in the same way it would have been nice if Bill had been the one to catch the Vardy were experiencing more complex emotions in Smile.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



While I agree, she has also shown a (really fun) predilection for approaching things from a slightly different perspective to most people, which is part of what attracted the Doctor to her.

It's not a dealbreaker or anything, I just think it would have been neat if she had been the one to see things that weren't quite what they seemed, and help bring that perspective to the Doctor as well.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Which, as much as I'm looking forward to the new Doctor, is one of the reasons I wish he was sticking around. He finally seems to have settled firmly into the role in this season and I can only imagine his confidence/ease in the performance increasing with each new season he would have had afterwards.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Yvonmukluk posted:

Big Finish is probably already waiting in the wings for him.

They should look behind them, he's been waiting :stare:

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



In retrospect this was one of my favorite episodes of the season, and I'm really glad I watched it again. David Suchet is a treasure.

Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



Yeah the ending kinda feels like a bit of a cheat, but I think it would have been a misstep to leave them all dead and expect Bill to just carry on like nothing had changed.

I especially love Suchet's acting when the truth is revealed and he basically reverts back to a child's mentality. His "I don't want to!" is so good.

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Jerusalem
May 20, 2004

Would you be my new best friends?



This was a fantastic write-up, Lick, and even if I think Knock Knock is a little stronger about building up to the Landlord/Eliza revelation than you give it credit for, I really can't argue at all against your interpretation that it suffers somewhat from the cramped characters and the necessity of focusing so much on the Doctor and Bill.

I'll leave my review for a little bit to give people time to digest and comment on yours. People sometimes say you focus too much on a tangentially related subject and don't really connect it up with the episode, but you absolutely pulled it off here and the running comparison/connections between the two shows works really well, especially considering the darker tone of a show like Black Mirror.

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