The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode Five

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode Five MindIf I had to name my favourite novel, I would probably have to say Wuthering Heights. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is the ingenuity with which we move deeper and deeper into the narrative, with a narrator eventually telling us what somebody said to somebody who told his tale to somebody who told her tale to somebody. I love the cleverness of a multi-layered narrative, and in this fifth episode of The Strange World of Gurney Slade we have at least four levels of reality. This being Gurney Slade, all the levels feature Gurney Slade.

The outermost layer of the story is the one we inhabit ourselves, as the viewers. Gurney Slade makes a habit of breaking through the fourth wall into our world, and this episode is no exception:

“Why didn’t you stop indoors and watch the television?”
“Nothing on. Just some bloke telling kids a story.”

Normally it is Gurney himself who breaks the fourth wall, but this week he is much more the passive victim of events that sweep him away and make him lose control of his own life, and that extends to the fourth wall break, which is perpetrated by a child. The moment where Gurney starts the theme music with a flourish of his fingers on an invisible piano is also taken from him this week, and is done by a child instead.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode Five Little GirlThe second layer is the one we are watching when the episode starts, with Gurney telling a story to a group of children. He talks about a magical tinker who can grant wishes, and just as he is explaining that his story is fiction and there is no such thing as the tinker, his imaginary creation makes an appearance. Gurney is losing control of what happens in his own reality. At the beginning of the series we saw him escape from reality into his own mind, and it seems this is no longer a safe haven for him.

Gurney has been telling the children how wonderful “Gurneyland” is, expecting them to understand that he means the fantasy world inside one’s own head:

“It’s where anything can happen. Gurneyland’s up here in your mind, your head. Like you know when you’re lying in bed asleep and you think you can play football better than Stanley Matthews, or when you’re running faster than anybody in the world, or you’ve dreamt that you’re a film star, that’s Gurneyland.”

But these are children, and they take a literal approach. If Gurneyland is that fun, they are going to go there, and instead of inhabiting their own fantasy worlds they disappear into Gurney’s own mind. That takes us into the third layer.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode Five WickedWe can clearly see why Gurney wanted to escape from reality into his own mind at the start of the series. It’s neatly divided into rooms, so unpleasant aspects of the mind like depression can be kept behind closed doors, although they do look rather flimsy. Things are now clearly going wrong in his mind. The children are going where they please, and his only means of getting rid of them is to take the advice of “the wicked side” of his nature, amusingly represented by a version of Gurney with his hair teased up into two horns. Before Gurney finally accepts the idea of focusing his mind on immorality to get shot of the interlopers, he makes a quick visit to the deepest level of the story, watching himself singing in his own mind. This is an interesting one, because Gurney is watching himself performing “Strawberry Fair”, which was a 1960 hit for Anthony Newley, so is this breaking the fourth wall in the opposite direction to the initial break, with the character observing the actor who plays him? The song is a parody of the old folk song, but it’s more than that because it was presumably created as a reaction to the rather dull Beverley Sisters version of the song that was released as a B side in 1959. Actor and character start to merge, both fighting the humdrum with surreal humour as the tool they use.

The episode left me with just one question: why does Newley’s ring move to his fifth finger when he performs the song? Any Anthony Newley fans out there who can explain that in the comments section? Give that some thought, and then come back to the Junkyard for the final part of our “binge watch” of The Strange World of Gurney Slade at 9pm GMT today. “I’ll just let my mind wander and then I’ll follow it.”   RP

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The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode Four

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode Four Courtroom“I did a television show recently and they didn’t think it was very funny. I’m being charged with having no sense of humour.”

You could swear that writers Sid Green and Dick Hills knew this show wasn’t going to be well received. If not, this is the most extraordinary coincidence, because it’s the most metatextual thing I’ve ever seen. Gurney is on trial for making a comedy show that isn’t funny. Now, the laughs in this series are sporadic at best, but that’s not the point of it at all. Let’s take this one step at a a time.

As his defence council, Gurney gets Archie, an old music-hall comedian. He looks quite creepy, almost clown-like, with heavy stage makeup and a fake nose (at least, I think it is – apologies to the poor chap if he was born like that!). Archie’s jokes really aren’t funny and Gurney gets rid of him as quickly as possible in favour of defending himself, and that makes the point that traditional comedy, with which Gurney could be compared, has had it’s day and wasn’t actually funny any more, even in 1960.

The jury is then shown a clip from Gurney’s television show. This can’t be the sitcom he was filming at the start of the series, because no show has ever been made like this before Gurney Slade. We are in his mind, hearing his thoughts, while the actor sits there and gives us reaction shots for ages, looking thoughtful. The humour in the scene revolves around the idea of a man devoting his life to the design and manufacture of a countersunk screw, and Gurney of course has a good point when he mentions the expression of the man in the advertising poster. Nobody has the right to be that excited about that kind of screwing. Oh, and by the way the slang meaning of the term dates back at least to the 18th Century, so when Gurney uses the word “screwing” and it sounds like he’s hinting at a vulgar euphemism, I’m certain that’s deliberate.

Along the way, we have therefore already taken a swipe at the advertising media, and the screw-maker and male model are brought on as witnesses to demonstrate the absurdity of the advertising campaign. Unfortunately for Gurney, the screw-maker is an insufferable bore who (very amusingly) really does think screws are the most interesting thing in the world, and the male model has immersed himself in the world of screw making in preparation to give a “sincere” smile.

By far the best and most interesting segment of this episode is when a “typical television audience” is called to the witness stand. The opinion of the children is not sought. The father didn’t find the sketch funny, but kind of gets the point when he says it was “clever, very clever”. But the eye-opener, and the moment that really indicates that Green and Hills (in collaboration with Newley) understood what the reaction was going to be to their series, is the opinion of the mother:

“I didn’t understand what it was all about. Besides that I don’t think it ought to be allowed. Bad for kids.”

So she didn’t understand it, but she still has a strong opinion, mainly based on her misunderstanding. This is so prescient, it could be Mary Whitehouse stood there, talking about Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin and completely failing to understand what she was watching, while treating everyone to her opinion of it anyway. Gurney is baffled:

“I don’t know how you can miss it. It was the theme of the whole thing.”

This really hits home: a writer goes to all the effort of doing something interesting, with thematic depth, and too many of the viewers don’t get it and switch off, only watching on a superficial level without engaging the brain.

The verdict is of course a guilty one, because the judge and jury all fail to understand the kind of show they have been watching. Just to make sure the writers take a swipe at everyone possible, the media is then shown in a bad light, trying to buy Gurney’s story and falling back on their plan B when he says no: a kiss and tell story from an old girlfriend. And of course the legal process is also shown in a bad light, with the jury making their decision for the entirely arbitrary reason of not liking Gurney’s nose.

So everyone involved in this seems to be doing their best to insult as many people as possible, but the insult of course does not extend to most of the viewers at this point. By episode four, “typical” viewers like the mother had already departed, so the audience is in on the joke. And the insult is delivered with great style. The court room is darkly cathedralesque and menacing, making the best possible use of the jarring switch to studio filming. The jury’s verdict is beautifully sung by the jury, who are actually made up of a male voice choir. And the punchline is simply sublime, with the executioner’s axe needing to be fixed with a countersunk screw, causing the judge to laugh at the irony of the situation and therefore tacitly acquit Gurney. It turns out screwing is funny, after all.

Our binge watch continues with episode five, at 6pm GMT today. “Would you repeat that?” That.   RP

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The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode Three

Gurney Slade Episode 3 SignpostThis is a very philosophical series. Sometimes you have to squint a bit to see the point that is being made, but there’s always an idea at the heart of each episode. This week it’s about the working life that Gurney has escaped, being a cog in the machine, the rat race, or the metaphor Gurney chooses: a worker ant.

Gurney recognises that he isn’t well suited to the life of hard work, as part of an organisation (“I’d be fired for idling”), but more troublingly he muses on what happens to the “idle ants” in life: “they eat them up, that’s it”. It’s not hard to see how this could be a reflection on the human condition, being eaten up by the societies and organisations we serve. Gurney has become a free spirit, and has walked away from all that. The point continues to be made throughout the episode, with a drama playing out in the background of the shot.

So Gurney goes to a farm and meets another talking dog. These are roles reversed, with the dog keeping three humans, two of which he “paired off”. In the topsy turvy world of Gurney Slade, the dog represents the farmer and the humans are the animals. The “pairing off” is clearly not going well, and shockingly ends up with two of the humans/animals plotting the death of the third, causing his car to crash. A worker ant has not performed to the satisfaction of the others, and has been dispensed with. It explores the concept in the cruellest way imaginable, and the contrast with the beauty of Gurney’s surroundings is stark. Life can be beautiful and harsh at the same time.

I found this the least engaging episode so far, and I think that’s because Gurney needs other people to interact with, even if they are products of his imagination. His world never quite springs to life if it’s only inhabited by talking animals and his endless internal monologue. That’s not to say there aren’t fun moments, but they are sporadic. Caroline the Cow, voiced by Fenella Fielding, is a highlight of the episode, as is John Bennett as Napleon, being defeated by a fly. The scarecrow singing Greensleeves is a bit creepy, although Gurney clearly doesn’t find it frightening, as he just sings along. It’s an impressive moment because it’s the first time we have seen an inanimate object interacting and moving in a visual way. For example, the statue head in the first episode was an unmoving object with a superimposed voice, so when the scarecrow starts to move it certainly gets our attention.

I haven’t spoken much about the humour in this series so far, but at times it is very funny indeed. In the first episode I loved the man living in the bin, who rejected Gurney’s vacuum cleaner (“no thank you, we already have one”). In this episode, I was amused by the huge effort Gurney went to, trying to close a gate, only for the camera to pan across and reveal an open field with no fence. There’s a lot of truth in that humour. The English countryside is peppered with old, rotting gates, no longer performing a useful function. I remember being quite fascinated by an old metal one when I was a child, which had gone completely red with rust and was so crumbly you could poke your finger through it. It had been replaced with a new gate, but still stood there, propped against a fence in the field it used to guard. It was surplus to requirements, left to quietly crumble away, no longer useful. I suppose we all end up like that, eventually.

“It’s not much fun being an ant, especially an English one.”

Join us in the Junkyard at 3pm GMT, when our binge watch will continue with the fourth episode of The Strange World of Gurney Slade.   RP

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The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode Two

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode 2 Anneke Wills“Took you long enough to get here, didn’t it?”

We start with Gurney talking directly to the camera, but the best fourth wall break is actually a repeat of something that happened in the first episode, and I neglected to mention before: Gurney initiating the opening theme music with the movement of his fingers on an invisible piano. There is also a similar moment later in the episode where Gurney changes the mood of the incidental music with the wave of a hand, like a conductor. These are not just fourth wall breaks, they are extremely clever ones. I don’t think anyone watching would have seen anything like this before. Even 60 years later it still feels brave and exciting, and quite unlike anything else on television.

The theme of this episode is the nature of love and attraction. Gurney bemoans the social situation at the time, which makes it inappropriate for him to approach an attractive woman unless he is introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance. The problem with that, as he points out, is that the ideal match for him could be unattainable, and too many people end up settling for the “girl next door”. This idea is explored through a variety of imaginary situations (in reality, Gurney is presumably doing nothing more than wandering around a disused airfield and talking to himself).

Firstly, Gurney gets the chance to meet his ideal woman, played by the young and beautiful Anneke Wills, six years before she would become a Doctor Who companion. She was just a teenager here, but behind the scenes she got into a relationship with Anthony Newley and he ended up fathering her first child, although he was already married (and soon to leave his first wife to marry Joan Collins). I wouldn’t normally consider it appropriate to mention the private lives of actors when writing about their work, but this is all too relevant and interesting to ignore. The scene where Gurney and his love match look at each other while we hear their thoughts positively crackles with the attraction between them, and yet she simply walks away, showing how a potentially ideal relationship can fail to get started because of the inability to find the right words to say. Wills’s character comes away from the encounter assuming that Gurney isn’t interested in her, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

But Newley’s real-life restlessness in his relationships is better reflected in what happens for the rest of the episode. First he marshals a line-up of women to see if any will step forward to express their interest in him. Only the nerdy girl with the glasses does so, and Newley escapes from his predicament by somehow conjuring up another, nerdier version of himself to take his place. It’s all gloriously surreal, but it does objectify women in a way that’s really tough to watch nowadays.

“A bird in the hand is another man’s poison.”

The Strange World of Gurney Slade Episode 2 rubbish dumpThe rest of the episode is about Gurney breaking up a family, only for it to reassemble at the end. He finds a typical family group: father, mother, daughter, son, baby. Then he challenges the father about whether he has made the right choice in life, or did he just settle for the girl next door instead of going after the girl he really wanted? That prompts the man to walk away from his family, and then the mother does the same, heading off to find her first love, and leaving Gurney to take care of the kids. It’s a shockingly cruel moment for all involved, although it is underplayed. Nobody appears to be heartbroken here, but we are in Gurney’s head, not in reality. After arguing with the baby about the existence of Santa Claus (!) and meeting Spock a fairy, he makes a wish to be transported into a place full of women, and ends up in a rubbish dump with a load of broken shop dummies. There is something deeply unsettling about this sequence, and the assembly of a dummy to recreate the missing mother reminds me of Jamie’s jigsaw puzzle face in Doctor Who’s The Mind Robber – just a bit disturbing. In the meantime, the father’s search for his ideal woman has proven fruitless and the family are reunited. Gurney has achieved nothing, in the end. It turns out that he can complain about the state of the world, but he just can’t change it.

Our binge watch continues at midday today. Dance away into the distance… but come back soon.   RP

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The Strange World of Gurney Slade: Episode One

Welcome to Gurney Slade day in the Junkyard! We are going to do something we don’t normally do here: a binge watch. With just six episodes, of a little over half an hour each, this series lends itself to that approach. But what is The Strange World of Gurney Slade exactly? Most readers probably won’t have heard of it, and it is definitely an obscure moment in television history, but has gained a small cult following over the years. It was first shown in 1960, and the viewers at the time didn’t take to it, with the series moved to a graveyard slot after the first two episodes, although it did earn a repeat showing three years later.

We start with what appears to be a sitcom, except something isn’t quite right. The actor playing the dad looks shifty and grumpy, as if he doesn’t quite belong there. This is Gurney Slade, played by Anthony Newley, a big star at the time. When it’s his turn to deliver a line, he says nothing. Panic ensues, because of course in those days this kind of show was broadcast live, so we have the kinds of techniques that are used in theatres, with a prompter reminding the actor of the line, while the other actors nervously try to improvise. But it’s clear that Gurney hasn’t forgotten the line, and it doesn’t matter how many times that soft voice says “a boiled egg please, my love”. He’s not forgetful; he’s had enough with acting in this mediocre sitcom, so he walks straight through the “fourth wall”, off the set and out of the studio. Future household name Geoffrey Palmer makes a cameo appearance as the floor manager who confronts him on his way out, but to no avail.

What follows is a portrait of a man having a mental breakdown, but seeming to quite enjoy it. This series is often mentioned as a precursor to The Prisoner, and I can see why, although I would suggest it has more in common with The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. However, that series showed much more of the pain and frustrations of a breakdown, whereas this is more the fantasy world of Alice in Wonderland. In fact, one segment plays out like a silent movie, and is captioned Gurney in Wonderland.

Almost immediately a stone starts talking to Gurney, and then he has a conversation with a dog (again, this is pure Wonderland). The surrealism is Alice-like too, with the world Gurney inhabits moulding itself around his inner thoughts. For example, his twinge of guilt at stealing a newspaper is reflected in the headline “Can’t you afford twopence halfpenny?” The talking statue would have benefited from a bit of stop motion animation or something of that nature, but we can’t have everything. At least we are being treated to almost an entire episode of location filming, shot on film.

The weirdness is compounded by the dubbing of Gurney’s lines, which extend not just to his thoughts but also a few occasions when he is speaking, making everything feel a bit wrong, and then the Wonderland absurdities are present in reversals of normality, such as the “Please Keep on the Grass” sign. In fact, this reflects more strongly the Looking Glass world, where everything plays backwards to usual life.

With other people appearing to interact with Gurney and at times play along with his fantasies, we are left wondering how much of what we are seeing is actually happening, and we get our answer when the POV switches from that of Gurney to a bystander, and his fantasy companion (Una Stubbs!) and the vacuum cleaner he is taking for a walk both disappear from the shot. Presumably we are getting to the truth at this point: Gurney is simply going crazy, and seeing things nobody else can. He has started living in a fantasy world of his own creation… and then something happens to challenge that again, when he finds the sitcom family watching the television, and thinks he is still trapped inside a television show. Having walked through the fourth wall of his sitcom, Gurney realises there is another fourth wall, and heads through that as the episode ends:

“Leave me alone. Switch me off.”

… and we can’t watch him any more… for now. Have we been drawn into the narrative, only to be rejected with the shattering of another fourth wall? Maybe we’ll find out in episode two…

Our binge watch of The Strange World of Gurney Slade continues at 9am, GMT.

Leave me alone… leave the Junkyard… but come back soon for episode two… RP

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Elfen Lied Episode 12

Elfen Lied Kanae Episode 12“Taumeln (Quagmire)”

The view from Igirisu:

We pick up where we left off, with Number 35 attacking Nana, but she doesn’t want to kill her straight away. First she wants to play with her, to torture her, like a cat playing with a mouse, or a child “tearing the wings off an insect”. Number 35 is shocked that Nana has friends, and simply can’t understand how that could have happened, once again reminding us that she has been made the way she is by her isolation, not born like it. One of the friends who turns up is of course Kouta, who is placed squarely in the middle of a lethal situation for the first time since his childhood. Previously he has been kept on the sidelines while other people battle it out, blissfully unaware of the full extent of what has been going on, so this feels new and dangerous.

With Lucy/Nyu there as well he isn’t actually in much danger, and she has no problem wiping out an army in seconds. It makes you wonder why she runs from Bando at the end. We have just seen exactly what she is capable of, so it seems odd that she would fear one man, whatever weaponry he carries, but perhaps it is just a reminder that she is putting Kouta first and doesn’t want to risk his life.

Witnessing all the carnage triggers the return of Kouta’s memories, and we finally find out exactly what happened to his father and little sister. It was always pretty obvious that Lucy had killed them, but the manner of their deaths, torn apart in front of Kouta’s eyes, is horrendous. The fact that his final words to his sister are cruel ones, accusing her of lying and saying he will hate her forever, makes it all even worse, and serves as a reminder of the importance of kindness in life. Who knows what words might be the last somebody hears or the final thing spoken. It’s a theme I’ve seen explored in other anime series: the grief of being unable to make peace with a departed loved one. It’s always powerful and troubling to watch somebody suffering with that.

Before we get to that moment there is some repetition of the time Lucy and Kouta spent together as children. Some reiteration is helpful, but there is surely more than is necessary here, even replaying virtually all of the water splashing sequence. I don’t suppose many viewers will have ever watched this episode without seeing the previous ones, so it seems like a lot of unnecessary padding, as if there wasn’t quite enough story to stretch across the 25 minutes.

But what we do get is an important insight into Kouta’s character. Despite the most unimaginable trauma, just look how he deals with Lucy. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t try to attack her or get revenge. He just hugs her and begs her to stop. Then Mayu puts things into perspective about the way Kouta’s past has affected him:

“I don’t think he can turn his back on people who need help.”

His suffering has made him kind. That’s a theme Doctor Who has played with as well, and very effectively. Perhaps it’s easier said than done, but if everyone could take their moments of suffering and sadness in life and turn them into kindness then the world would be a much happier place.   RP

The view from Amerika:

It’s hard to express all the thoughts in my head with this episode.   It’s an incredibly powerful episode yet half of it is a flashback to events we’ve already seen.  That kind of writing should impress you, because if we are given 20 minutes per story and half of that is spent on stuff we’ve already seen… you’ve got to make what remains important.  And that’s just it: they do!  The writers give us a powerhouse for a penultimate episode, as we come into the final moments of the series.

It’s hard to watch the start of the episode as Nana is utterly brutalized.  Her naked body is beaten repeatedly into the ground until she is held up like a crucified messiah sans cross.  The order comes down to end the torture.  #35 says it’s boring anyway, to Shirakawa’s horror.  When 35 tries to kill Nana, though, she makes the mistake of getting too close and Nana reaches into her head.  She cries “my arms aren’t coming out!”  So this poses an interesting thought in my head: can the Diclonius stop each other without killing?  Can they do something to the brain that makes them less dangerous?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (more or less, literally), I was truly delighted by the conversation Mayu has with Yuka.  She compares the relationship they have to parents with children, putting Kouta and Yuka as the parents, Mayu, Nana and Nyu as children.  I felt absolutely justified for my feelings from the previous episode.  To further make me happy, Mayu says of Kouta that he “can’t turn his back on others when they need help.”  This may be a young man without any powers caught in a minefield beyond his understanding… but he is a hero.  And I think that’s a testament to the way the characters are written.

I also think it’s a testament to the writers and animators that they understand that we are dealing with heavy topics and action in this story so they combat that with little moments of humor, like having Nyu trip over the head of a dead guy or slip in blood landing on her face. Yes, morbid, but it adds a sense of humor to an otherwise bleak moment.  But when Shirakawa comes to talk to Kouta, who has ingratiated himself into the situation, the comedy ends.  As she dies, having been ripped in half by Lucy, we hear her internal, dying thoughts: “chief, please forgive me”.  The artwork here is particularly shocking/brilliant too, as we get the view from behind her, her upper body falling past her still-standing legs.  When Kouta witnesses this, we flash back to his youth.  All of the background we received in episodes 9 and 10 are relived (albeit in slightly truncated form) until we get to the last moments of his youth when he witnessed Lucy killing his sister and his father.  Earlier, Kouta told his friends (and by extension, the audience) that he had said something horrible to his sister before she died.  We discover all about it now.  In an utterly devastating sequence, we learn that his sister Kanae saw the entire massacre and knew it was done by Lucy.  When she tells Kouta, he smacks her in the face and tells her to apologize or “I’ll hate you forever”.  Immediately she is ripped in half and left for dead.  He never gets to say sorry or to tell her he loved her.  Heartbreaking.  Then their father walks over and, somehow having missed ANY of what was going on – good dad, that – gets his head ripped off too.  (Not sure it was much use to him anyway!)

The episode starts to wrap up with a face off and a beautiful image of Kouta standing face to face with his family’s killer.  He may still not fully understand why she did what she did any more than she understands why Kouta “lied”.

image002

In the last few minutes, our beachcomber friend, Bando shows up just as Kouta dives on Lucy. I had to watch the sequence more than once to see if I could identify: was this to hurt her or help her.  His eyes widen and he dives, and his arms are behind her, not trying to pin her or hurt her, leading me to believe this was to protect her, which is in keeping with the mantra about him: he can’t turn his back on others when they need help, even if they did kill his family.  Lucy pushes him to safety and as Bando chases her, shooting maniacally all the way. She gives Kouta a message: “wait for me at the stone steps!”  I’m as bewildered as Kouta, but guess where I’m going next…   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Elfen Lied Episode 13

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Babylon 5: In the Kingdom of the Blind

b5“In the valley of the blind, the one eyed man is king,” so the saying goes.  But which is the Kingdom of the Blind?  Byron’s people who are too blind to see that violence will not help their cause?  The general inhabitants of B5 who wander the station never noticing the people riding in elevators with them?  Garibaldi, who sits right next to Byron when Byron glares into his mind and he sees nothing!   Perhaps the Centauri who fail to see what’s going on all around their palace?  Or is the one eyed man, the single-eyed creature around the Regent’s neck?

Man does the Regent sell the terror of what is going on back on Centauri Prime, huh?  That guy absolutely nails the performance and I am certain it’s those mania-filled eyes that really get it.  Yeah, his highs and lows help but it’s the eyes, isn’t it?  Rather apt, for this episode, really.  I found every scene on Centauri Prime captivating.  The moment where Londo is almost killed was an unexpected one though.  I didn’t see that coming.  The creature that saves him does not claim who or what he is, but based on the appearance with those Sycorax-like helmets, I’m reasonably certain they are Drakh (although the Drakh moved in that weird slow motion so maybe not).  Whoever they are they have power and it will be very interesting to see where this story goes.  It’s not just that though!  Having G’Kar interacting with the Centauri is brilliant.  The scene where he is offered to whip the guard who whipped him is once again Katsulas at his best.  G’Kar has become such a source of inspiration in the series, that it’s hard to countenance that this was the “villain” at the start of the series.  And don’t you just love that he winks and blows a kiss at the nearby Centauri woman?   Besides that, I’m glad he’s there to help Londo.  (And the winner of best line of the episode goes to G’Kar: “Frightens you?  Well, I won’t be getting any sleep tonight!”)

By contrast, Byron’s story is tedious.  The continuity error due to the filming has Byron talking about what he learned “last night” about the Vorlons, which was actually two weeks ago episodically.  At the very least a full night went by during Day of the Dead so that just doesn’t tally but a production mistake could be overlooked if the rest of the story held my interest.  Byron doesn’t.  His people are idiots and he might as well be a rock, unwilling to actually do anything more than lurk in shadows.  (Come to think of it, it’s also apt that he lurks in shadows, considering the creatures on C. Prime are almost certainly Shadow allies!)   Did he really think stealing data and then announcing what he did was a good move?  Maybe it could have worked but telling them about it, threatening the council and then saying they would be helped, instead of asking, just added fuel to the fire.  Who wants to help that guy??  Sheridan isn’t wrong: ideally they do deserve to be looked after.   But the way Byron goes about it is wrong, then his people make poor choices and ruin the whole thing.  And some of it could have been avoided if they’d just listened and stayed put.  I never like watching things where I sit there yelling at the screen.  “Just stay in tonight… it’s one damned night!”  On top of that, when Byron’s associate is talking about how they are “free”, all I could think was: is that a freedom worth having?  The life they have is living in squalor and wearing the same clothes every day.  They are hunted and hated.  That’s “free”?  The only thing I did like about this part of the story was when Sheridan said that Byron did things the wrong way, “the inconvenient way”, to which Delenn reminded him that he was guilty of the same thing during his freedom fight.

Yes, I love dichotomy in stories.  I love the fact that what Byron wants isn’t wrong because I do agree that they should get a homeworld, but he handled the whole thing badly, exacerbated by his own people.  That was where Sheridan succeeded: he kept the team together.  Byron could not and things fell apart; the center did not hold.  And I love the dichotomy of the episode structure that goes between a good story and a weak one. The biggest question I have is: is it really that big a deal to give these dudes a place to live?  Surely there’s a moon or something?  Barring that the only other thing that I can see now is that the scene we had in the flash forward from The Deconstruction of Falling Stars might be forming right in front of us.  That makes for some interesting viewing.  I just hope we get more on Centauri Prime because that’s where my interest lies!  ML

The view from across the pond:

Maybe I was spoilt by the Neil Gaiman / Penn and Teller combo last week, but this is the first episode this season that felt like a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, but… well, stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and this was very much stuck in the middle, particularly the ongoing storyline with Byron. I get the impression that we are pushing towards some kind of a conclusion now, but we are getting there slowly.

At least the cards are on the table now. The telepaths have been trailing around after the diplomats, learning their deepest, darkest secrets, and Byron uses that as a threat to get what he wants:

“We now have all your secrets. Give us a homeworld of our own and you will never hear from us again.”

His methods may be unethical, but what he is asking for is surely perfectly fair? He wants one insignificant world on the edge of somebody’s territory. Now, I realise things are never quite that simple, but even so “perhaps they are right”. That’s what Delenn says, the only one to look at the issue impassionately. I found Sheridan’s response a little out of character and actually quite baffling.

“They did it the wrong way, the inconvenient way.”

Inconvenient? We are talking about a race of people who have been persecuted and forced to flee across the galaxy to escape oppression and have recently saved the lives of their oppressors, asking for a place to call home. JMS has built his storylines around WW2 themes to such an extent, I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing here, and Sheridan’s response paints him in a very bad light.

Inevitably things escalate, and once again I was disappointed to see things escalate in such a simplistic manner, with the telepaths taking up arms against their Drazi attackers. It has already been established that they can attack people with their minds, so it seems odd that JMS is ignoring that. He’s missing a trick there, and diminishing Byron’s people from the dangerous force they should be to just a generic small group of revolutionaries.

The scenes set on Centauri Prime were much better, thanks in part to the brilliant chemistry between G’Kar and Londo, but also some fabulous guest appearances. Ian Ogilvy, best known for not being Roger Moore, was magnificent as the plummy voiced Lord Jano, but my favourite was Damian London as the Regent. He played insanity so well, mainly by managing somehow to stop blinking almost altogether. But the best moment of the episode belonged to G’Kar, offered his revenge on the guard who whipped him and turning it down with another classic G’Kar speech about holding the heart not the hand responsible. It’s at odds with what JMS normally does, railing against the “just following orders” excuse, but it’s still a great moment, and shows what an amazing character G’Kar has become… or perhaps has always been.

As the icing on the cake of the Centauri Prime storyline, we have a new monster hiding in the shadows, very frightening and effective. It does feel like we are starting to replay the Shadow War story, with the same old tactics: a race of ultra-powerful aliens hiding in the shadows; random military strikes to seed conflict among different races; making use of the Centauri to do their dirty work. It’s all the same old stuff… so far. Let’s hope JMS has a few more tricks up his sleeve.   RP

Posted in Babylon 5, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television | Tagged | 1 Comment

Violence in Video Games: Thief

In September of 2019, Roger started a series looking at the “rights and wrongs” of Fanservice in anime.  I found the series informative as I was often one of the biggest critics of fanservice.  Recently it’s come to my attention that people who are looking at video games want to know how acceptable they are for a younger audience.  Video games are often cited as a reason people commit violent acts.  Rather than video game reviews every Thursday, I thought we should take a look at Violence in Video Games.  Today’s focus… Thief.

What’s the deal?

In 1998, Looking Glass Studios released the first in a series of games taking place in a dark fantasy world.  You played master thief Garrett for these first person perspective games.  The first game was revolutionary and utterly engrossing and I played it through more times than I can count.  It was one of the first stealth games I’d ever played.  Armed with a blackjack, lockpicks, sword, and a bow and arrow (with different attachments), Garrett plundered the locals of their hard earned gold, leading him to castles, underground caverns, churches and even some otherworldly locales.

Now, it might sound like an arbitrary choice to start Violence in Video Games with Thief and there hasn’t been a new Thief game since 2014.  The thing is, you’re playing as a “bad guy” so it offers us a way to look at the issues of violence in gaming a little differently.  Sometimes it helps that you play as a bad guy.  I’ll explain more of that in the coming weeks.

Why it’s not ok

We don’t want our kids brought up to think violence is ever acceptable.  The fact is, you can kill in this game and even in the first game, there is one mission where the objective is to kill someone.  To compound matters, you could opt to knock someone out, then throw the unconscious fellow into a pool and he’d drown.  Then there’s the obvious criminal aspect of being a thief; typically not something we want around for the house.  There’s also the alluring Viktoria who might push the envelope into fanservice, if not for the fact that she’s not quite what she appears.  From game one, there are some darker themes and you learn pretty early on that you are up against a creature, not a man.  And some of the places you travel to might be a bit unsettling.  Slicing, walloping, harpooning and stealing… all unfortunate elements of the game that is probably not a selling point for those young players.

The third game, Deadly Shadows, which came out in 2004, had a sequence in an asylum which was terrifying.  The inmates wander around twitching with cages on their heads in the most unnerving way.   By game 4, the 2014 release, there is even a segment that really earned it an M rating and should be avoided by younger audiences!  The worst part was, this didn’t add to the story; it’s there merely to make the world more “authentic” but it was hardly necessary.

Why it’s ok

Thief did a lot right.  The first game made it where, barring the one mentioned above, every mission could be won without even knocking a person out.  It challenged the player to think up new ways to achieve Garrett’s goals.  The arrow heads included a water arrow to put out torches, an arrow with knockout gas to…well, leave the people alive but out of the way, and a rope arrow to make those dangerous ascents into castle windows.  Thinking through a problem was the only way to solve the puzzles but that was only half the battle.  Patience was required to decide when to make a move.  A convenient noisemaker arrow could be used to send a guard down a wrong path allowing you just the right amount of time to get into a room and make off with the loot.  I made it a point never to kill and even tried to limit the use of the blackjack.  This was not a game to be rushed.  It needed finesse!

On top of that, the story builds much like Robin Hood placing you firmly against a lot of  really bad people.  The developers must have realized that there was a fine line between making the player a loveable rogue and a villain.  Garrett is a member of the Keepers, a secret society that is trying to make the world a better place.  Like the Doctor in Doctor Who, he is often a reluctant agent but does work for the greater good.

Finally, the graphics are dated but his might help make it less frightening and realistic to younger audiences.  The 2014 game was miles ahead of the early ones in terms of visuals, but it probably pays to start with game one.  (Thief Gold, which is the original game with a couple of extra missions, is available for $7 allowing a player to try the game without a huge financial loss if the game isn’t well received in the household.)

Verdict:

I never felt video games were the source of violence and have often stated that it’s up to parents to teach kids right from wrong, but I do think that there is a time for growing up and a time for holding onto innocence.  I would be remiss to say that a pre-teen should try their hands at Thief.  That said, I do think the game allows for a good balance for a player to think through problems and exercise restraint.  This is not a game where one runs into battle.  The story is fantastic, the setting even more so.  I would advise that the third game needs a degree of bravery, so a younger child should probably avoid even watching the asylum segment.  I think the last game is worth playing only to finish the series, but that one should wait for an 18th birthday.

I will always love that first Thief game.  I also put it in my top 10 chart of my all time favorites, but like I said, there’s a time and a place.  Thief might just have to wait until the player is old enough to truly appreciate the experience.  ML

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The Outer Limits: The Man Who Was Never Born

Outer Limits The Man Who Was Never Born AndroThe horribly named “Starship 1” is traveling through space with a lone astronaut when it encounters a space warp.  Captain Gullible might have a ship with a desperately lame name, but it does have a feature that I was super impressed with: the ability to keep the seats always upright.  Horizontal flight?  Face forward, looking out the window.  Landing by turning and lowering straight down?  Still face forward, looking out the window.  Feb of 1963 was a special time indeed if they built space ships that could do this!  And the space warp shows us just how amazing things will be in 2148.  Buildings will stand with the narrowest part at the bottom, looking not unlike a giant exclamation mark.  And rows of bookshelves can be kept hidden behind a wall… all but the first set, just so people who invade have something to read.

Captain Gullible meets Andro, a dude with some bad skin problems and worse hair.  He takes everything Andro says at face value and then decides to take him back in time.  I think it was that Andro validated him.  Gullible: “I seemed to collapse inside as if I were going into a convulsion.”  Andro: “A time convulsion!” (Gullible’s internal monologue: “well, if he says I’m right, he must be ok!”)   Andro tells Captain Gullible that the bringer of all this destruction was Bertram Cabot Jr and he has memorized every aspect of his life.  How convenient.  “A microbe destroyed humanity?,” Captain Gullible asks, and I got chills.   Dear God!  Sadly Captain Gullible dies randomly for no readily apparent reason leaving Andro the unenviable task of landing the space ship… which he does both perfectly and right on the spot where the mother of Bertram Cabot Jr is having a picnic with a local rigor mortis frog.  (No?  You don’t know those frogs?  They are so still when held by humans, they act like they have rigor mortis so you throw them in the water, and then they morph into a bullfrog!)

Now you might think I dislike this episode and I do find that the episode drags a bit toward the end, but I actually think Anthony Lawrence wrote a brilliant piece of Science Fiction here.  Some wonderful lines pop up, even if some are borrowed.  “Hope proves a man deathless!”  Very nice.  I also liked, “beauty is always on the verge of being lost.”  And there’s a lot to that.  Andro looks like a monster but he can’t bring himself to commit a monstrous act.  He knows the future of all mankind is at stake and I don’t know if that makes him a hero or not.  To save billions, should one person die?  Could you pull the trigger?  Could I?  Yet, if he had committed murder, wouldn’t that make him a monster?  Martin Landau is perfectly cast as Andro.  When he is manic, his eyes go utterly stark raving mad.  There are moments where I found his human self far more frightening than this mutated self.  While there may be reason for it in cinematic terms, the fact that he stands so close to Noelle  all the time is a little off-putting.  I mean, he knows a microbe wiped out mankind right?  Social distancing, man!!  The whole illusion of Andro is well depicted too and there is a dreaminess to the whole episode. His interactions with Noelle seem to be blurred often giving us a sense of living in a dream.

Noelle is a lovely woman too, probably.  Upon seeing Andro pull a gun and get beaten down, she says she saw his moment of violence pass.  Here again I’m torn.  Is this a good thing; a woman who saw a man struggle with something horrible and moved past it?  Or is this a mentally troubled woman who immediately sides with her strong man, no matter who he is?  (Her would-be husband is a military man, and his first thought to get his fiancé back is to shoot at Andro… while his fiancé is next to the target.)  I also wondered if Andro’s hypnotic suggestion was controlling Noelle.  It controls what she sees… why not what she feels too?  Perhaps that plays a part in her decision making?

I also wondered about the fickle nature of Andro.  Once Noelle is willing to leave her husband-to-be, she’s throwing herself at him and basically giving him the answer he wants; love and a future free of plague.  But he debates it and pushes her away.  Until it dawns on him: he can take here away.  But his love blinds him to another important fact: the future they just created is one in which he never existed. But Andro is a tragic character.  We meet him in a future devoid of hope and we see him fade out after finding love and saving mankind.  He fades away leaving her alone on a spaceship she is bound to die in.  As the camera pans back, we see her alone in her seat with the empty one next to her.  It’s a bleak and amazing moment, a visual treat in a desperately sad moment.   On the surface, the story is dark with a heartbreaking ending but if you look beneath the surface, it’s a love story and quite beautifully told.  Love can change the future, and it does for the inheritors of that future.  Earth is now free for mankind and love saved humanity.   ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

…although it is showing me a very unconvincing, wobbly model of a spaceship, which looks like something that has been cobbled together with toilet roll tubes and sticky back plastic on Blue Peter. The wobbly spaceship has managed quite an impressive feat. It has taken an astronaut from 1963 through a “time convulsion” to the year 2148. I like that term. It’s not too far away from “time shiver” or even “time belch”. It makes a change from magic invisible waves. The time burp has taken the astronaut to a very bleak future, where disease has all but wiped out the human race. This being The Outer Limits, the disease was “developed and corrupted” by a scientist. The key message this series has been shouting about from the start is that scientists and going to go too far one day and destroy us all. This hails from a time when they had almost just done that very recently, with the development of the atomic bomb. It remains a very valid message.

One of the remaining survivors of the human race, Andro, makes it back to 1963, and his luck seems to have changed because he arrives in just the right place to do something about the scientist who destroyed humanity, of all the places he could have landed in his borrowed toilet roll spaceship. Handy, that. As luck would have it, the human race has taken an evolutionary leap over the course of 185 years, and Andro can influence what other people see, hiding his true appearance. That comes in useful when he’s paying for his lodgings, although I’m not sure what will happen when the woman tries to use the money. Either she’s going to think she has suddenly got careless about losing things, or she’s going to have an awkward conversation when she tries to pay some invisible money into the bank. Then again, there must be no limits to Andro’s mental powers, or else his kiss with Noelle would feel oddly bumpy.

Speaking of Noelle, she’s an odd one, isn’t she. I can understand this bit:

“There isn’t going to be a wedding. I don’t love him.”

I mean, that can happen. A woman’s feelings for a man can fade between proposal and marriage, and she can end up almost sleepwalking into a loveless marriage. But I’m not so sure I understand this bit:

“It’s you I love. I don’t know how it happened, or why.”

That makes two of us. I get that love at first sight can happen, and love can conquer all, even a bumpy complexion, but she has literally just met him and he has forced himself on her for one bumpy kiss. I guess matters of the heart really are mysterious. You’ve got to feel sorry for Joseph though. The guy has all the personality of a block of wood, but he doesn’t really do anything to deserve being left at the aisle in favour of a bumpy-faced illusionist.

This came so close to being a fascinating episode. I was quite sure Andro was going to be presented with the sight of baby Bertram, who would go on to become the scientist who wipes out the human race, and then Andro would have a horrendous choice to make. There would have been some fascinating drama in that situation. Instead an awful lot of time is wasted with running around, and then we don’t really get a conclusion. After Andro fades away, because he was never born, what happens to Noelle? Can she figure out how to land the wobbly spaceship in the future? What will the future look like? Will another scientist have taken Bertram’s place, or will the future be a happy one instead? It was all a bit frustrating. The episode didn’t really conclude. It just ended.

It doesn’t pay to think too much about the paradox either. Andro changed his past so he faded out of existence, but if he never existed how did Noelle get on board the cardboard spaceship? I’m no expert in this kind of thing, but it seems to me that if his actions are not negated by the paradox then he shouldn’t fade out of existence either. But let’s try once again to get into the mind of a contemporary viewer. Nowadays this episode probably seems like nothing special, but at the time it must have seemed like an exciting and revolutionary idea. What examples of somebody creating a time paradox on a television show existed in 1963? Not many. Across the pond it would be years before even Doctor Who got round to exploring these kinds of ideas. This must have seemed very new and very exciting.

I think I figured out why Andro faded away though. In his anger he broke a mirror. That’s 185 years of bad luck, right?

We now return control of your computer, until the next time we visit the outer limits of the Junkyard…   RP

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Outer Limits | Tagged | 1 Comment

Revolution of the Daleks

I have a question. Let’s suppose you own a company which has invented the most amazing 3D printers. These things are basically magical, capable of mass producing complex robots with a level of interaction that puts any other AI system to shame. Do you (a) market the magic printers, or (b) use the printers to make some pepper-pot shaped talking tanks to replace a few security personnel?

Let’s give that some thought while we wait four minutes for the TARDIS to travel between two points on a globe.

OK, let’s check our brains at the door, because this is a Chris Chibnall script, at his most clumsy. We’re used to those by now. The Doctor destroying one of the last surviving TARDISes, without a twinge of regret for killing one of the most incredible sentient beings in the universe? No problem. Who needs consistency between episodes anyway. Give the fans a few old monsters in a prison – that’ll do. They’ll be delighted to see the Pting again…

Speaking of prison, one would imagine after all this time that the Doctor is quite a difficult person to keep locked up. So if you’re going to have a story that starts with the Doctor in a prison, presumably you’ll want to think of a fiendishly clever way for her to escape? Nope, we’ll just have her sit there for years waiting for an old friend to break her out. Literally, years. But I guess that’s fine, because it’s a necessary plot point, so that the Doctor can get angst-ridden about letting her “fam” down, and they can all look mopey despite just getting their best friend back. Never mind about the years she’s spent in prison. She has just mildly inconvenienced some friends, so of course Doctor Wimp has to spend the rest of the episode feeling bad about that.

I hate how Chibnall’s episodes so often make me sound like Victor Meldrew, but really it was obvious a long time ago that he’s simply one of the weakest writers Doctor Who has ever had, let alone possessing the necessary talents to be a showrunner. Just look at the balls-up he makes of the departure of three companions here. He spends nearly 10 minutes on Ryan, who is frankly completely blank-faced and lacking in any hint of emotion, just like he’s been for the last two seasons. Jack has already been dispensed with in seconds, and Graham, who has been the only member of the regular team of four worth watching for the last couple of years, is written out virtually as an afterthought. Imagine that heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Ryan, rewritten as a scene between the Doctor and Graham. Now that would have had an emotional kick to it. I haven’t been so unmoved by a companion leaving since Liz Shaw went back to Cambridge between seasons.

As is often the case for a Chibnall script, all the good things about this episode are not his. Thankfully, he’s mining the past here quite extensively, so that means a lot of good things. Jack is as watchable and funny as ever, although it’s a bit like watching a Shakespearean actor turn up on Sesame Street, such is the inequality between acting abilities on display, with this great companion from the past crashing Jodie Whittaker’s miserable party. The new design of the Daleks is fun, fully earning the nickname “Darth Dalek” that almost immediately started doing the rounds on social media. There is little attempt to disguise the fact that much of the story is a rewrite of Remembrance of the Daleks, with two Dalek factions at war, and in light of that fact I did enjoy how Nick Briggs modulated the voices towards the oddly-sounded Remembrance ones.

Despite the usual clumsy writing and hollow emotions we expect from most Chibnall stories, I found plenty to enjoy here. In fact, I think we actually almost reached the dizzy heights of an average Doctor Who story, which is a much greater achievement than it sounds in light of what we’ve had to suffer during this era of the show. Despite the lack of anything you could describe as “acting” from Tosin Cole, I did like the discussion of the Doctor’s new past, which came across as a good attempt to calm rabid fans who are still foaming at the mouth about the big change he just wrote into the series:

“If I’m not who I thought I was, then who am I?”
“You’re the Doctor, same as before, same as always.”

There were moments where this felt like Chibnall defending his position and talking directly to fans, and I have to say I agree with his sentiments wholeheartedly:

“Things change all the time, and they should, because they have to.”

I’m itching for his big master plan for the show to continue, because I think it’s just about the only useful thing he has ever contributed to Doctor Who, so I’m taking Ryan’s suggestion for the Doctor to “find out about your own life” as a hint of what’s to come next year.

I also enjoyed the creepy moments. Somewhere along the line, somebody realised that what’s inside a Dalek is the most frightening bit, and scenes of those tentacles wrapping themselves around people are scary and exciting. I love all that stuff. And although I generally dislike the enforced emotion of everyone going all mopey with the Doctor, who is herself being all mopey, I did think the theme of coping without the Doctor was done well, used as an allegory for the wider topic of love and loss, something we can all relate to in some way.

“Enjoy the journey while you’re on it, because the joy, it’s worth the pain.”

Two long-standing companions gone in one episode, and the fans will just have to suffer the pain of that. Sniff. So farewell to… er… what were their names again?   RP

The view from across the pond:

Chris Chibnall has done nothing if not created controversy around Doctor Who fandom.  His introduction of the Timeless Child has changed the way many of us look at Doctor Who.  And I get it!  I am reminded of the movie franchise Halloween.  In one movie, Michael Myers’s sister is dead and he’s chasing his last living relative, his niece, then three movies later, he’s chasing his sister who is alive.  Then he’s rebooted as a kid with problems before it’s rebooted as the original run again but with more issues.  His doctor understood the time of year he hunted, but later that plays no part… or does it… maybe?  He’s a clone?  Who, how, what now?!?!?  The point is, I want better for Doctor Who.  I want a cohesive universe and what was done with The Timeless Children changed what we know about the series.  So when New Year’s Day came around, I had all but forgotten Doctor Who did too.  This would never have happened pre-Chibnall.  It was a blow to my psyche.  Had I just outgrown the show, or has it changed unrecognizably?   I put on the latest episode to see and was alarmed right off the bat.  Chibnall does something immediately that bore the hallmarks of a writer without purpose.  On screen appears the words: “367 minutes later”.  It’s that level of arbitrary stupidity that puts me off.  Why not say “6 hours later”?   Then, still pre-credit, a guy stops for tea (at a Tea and Burger stand as I can only imagine in Britain) and he’s killed – but how did the bad guys know when he would need to stop for more tea???  It’s so thoughtless!  And yet, right after the credits I was surprised at what I realized: I was captivated.

Whether it’s due to his writing being better than before or the caliber of the actors, I can’t say but Revolution of the Daleks does some things very effectively.  For one, it makes the Daleks scary.  (If I am completely honest, that’s been a Chibnall success even with last year’s holiday special.  Daleks never struck me as scary until then.)  The story has heart, talking about friendship, bonds, and loss.  And it has humor.  Good timelord, there are some fantastic lines in this episode.  For long time fans, there are a metric ton of references and cameos.  Among the cameos are a Weeping Angel, a Pting, a Silence, one of those scorpion creatures from the Tesla episode, a Sycorax and an Ood.  Jack Robertson is back from last year’s Arachnids in the UK, sporting his Trump-red tie and attitude.  Jack Harkness is back to his old shenanigans, with references to Rose trapped in her alternate universe and reminiscing over his first death at the plunger of the Daleks.  “You never forget your first death!”  He even references Gwen Cooper and her son.

I watched this episode twice already and mentally break it down into a few segments.  There’s the emotional stuff with Yaz and Jack where they discuss what it is to be with the Doctor.  The connection they develop is lovely.  He tells her about his time period of the 51st century and identifies that Yaz really cares about the Doctor from a shove!  The humor escalated here as well with Yaz observing that Jack needs a lot of praise, but then promptly praises him for shooting a Dalek off her back!  Ryan gets some emotional time with the Doctor discussing how people change and not letting her off the hook when she tries to dodge a question.  References abound to last season with the Master and the Death Particle, but the moment is captured by the sorrow hanging over Ryan; he won’t be staying with them after this adventure.  This segment also gives the Doctor a chance to address the audience, and unlike last year’s Orphan 55, I did feel this was the Doctor speaking, not the writer.  She says she’s angry about not knowing who she is anymore.  Ryan tells her to address it and all will be right.  The message is that things change and new can be scary!  A smart message for the future!

And speaking of scary:  The Daleks are frightening.  I love the look of the octopoid creatures more than ever.  They can exist outside their shells and no one is safe.  The scenes of the octo-Dalek jumping down on Jack and Yaz are fantastic.  The SAS Daleks add a level of threat that is equally frightening because they are ruthless even to their own kind, though I do question the logic of the Doctor bringing more to Earth!  The prison escape may be ridiculous, but it sure is fun!  I loved watching the crew tease Jack Robertson by not telling him what was going on.  “What’s happening here?!?!”  (Although equally, I do like that he tells the Doctor that she is getting worked up over 3-D printed shapes!)

There are also areas that I question.  Would the Doctor really ever be locked up for “decades”?  And upon escape, what’s to stop the Judoon coming back after her?  I mean, they tracked her down once.  And how did Jack identify her since he never actually made contact in last season’s Fugitive of the Judoon?  Also, CEO Leo was able to clone Daleks – how?  I don’t mean I need a scientific explanation but if I wanted to clone something, is there like a pharmacy I can go to with the cells of that which I want cloned?  And why did Leo have to be shown to have a wife and children if he was just being written off?  (Or is that a long game Chibnall has planned?)  Also, how did Leo not know what the Dalek was up to in Japan?  Isn’t he attached to the creature?  And who built all those towering tanks? (Oh but it has got to be said, that I loved hearing the Daleks incubating, which we haven’t heard since Genesis of the Daleks!)  And speaking of the Daleks, the water cannon in the man-made Dalek – how much water is that going to be able to hold?  Finally, I’d say this isn’t the world of Doomsday because no one seems to know what a Dalek is.  Seems with all the references to the past, continuity is very fluid when needed.  (Maybe just enough continuity to fit into a water tank…)

Amazingly none of that really impacted my enjoyment of the story.  The biggest issue I really had was when the Doctor lures her “pet Daleks” into the TARDIS.  It’s pretty clear it’s her TARDIS and there was no reason to show us that if it was meant to trick the Daleks – it’s not like they know what inside will look like.  The scene is little more than a stunt to trick the viewer and that’s unfair and treats the audience like children.  I might have been knocked out of the story at that point if not for the deeply moving goodbye at the end.  Graham doesn’t want to stop his travels but made a commitment to Grace to take care of Ryan and he honors that commitment.  The payoff comes with a brief glimpse of Grace as Graham again tries to help Ryan learn to ride a bike, bringing their story full circle.  I think this part sealed the deal for me.  The emotional departure was as strong as so many departures of the past.  Graham’s parting words to the Doctor was a lovely tribute to the day the fam came together: “I was wrong.  We do get aliens in Sheffield.”

I won’t tell you this is the best Doctor Who holiday special; there are better, but I won’t deny, I am excited for the future of Doctor Who again and that’s a win in my book.   ML

Posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, Thirteenth Doctor | Tagged | 11 Comments