Some book reviews

I am also copying these over from days long past.

Johnny U by Tom Callahan — Very interesting read, a lot of anecdotes and information about the great Unitas. It gives a very strong sense of the sort of man he was, and a sense of many of his teammates, family, and other associates. Unfortunately, the prose suffers from weak transitions and jumbled ideas, so that it feels a bit incoherent at times. There were also many times I wanted to read deeper into a topic and was disappointed when the author moved on to something else. Still worth a check-out from the library. Recommended for those with an interest in the history of American football.

Litany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe — On another world, a not-priest receives a vision while playing not-basketball that urges him to save his worn-down not-monastery from being foreclosed. While on this quest, he uncovers unsettling truths about his world and the source of his faith, breaks into places, gets embroiled in political intrigue, and runs into a surprising number of naked women.

I enjoyed reading this book, or rather volume of two books put together. The prose is solid, the world-building is delivered in manageable amounts without stopping the flow (and the second half begins with a glossary of names in case you can’t keep the gods straight), and the characters are all likable to some extent. The plot moves at a good pace too. Wolfe refers to many things by their English Earth equivalents, while mixing in old words that look meaningful or alien enough (patera, azoth) and Spanish terms as well, all of which are explained sufficiently by context. The story itself is interesting and unpredictable, although never so fast-paced or melodramatic as to get you on the edge of your seat. Highly recommended.

Epiphany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe — Much the same strengths and weaknesses of the first volume, and quite a satisfactory end to what seems to be, in the grand scheme, currently the middle story of three. I don’t feel that reading this duology suffered from not having read the first story; in fact, I figure it was probably best for me to plunge in and be as in the dark as the protagonist.

Again, the prose is very even-keeled, even as it describes exciting or pivotal events. It works well. As in Litany, there is also a lot of time spent on people talking and figuring things out aloud. Again, it works well here, because the stuff being discussed is interesting enough and characterization is developed at the same time as plot and back story.

The one major criticism I have of this duology/two-part quadrilogy is that there are about five times where I was dropped back into a plotline that had advanced while the narrator was elsewhere, with distractingly unclear results. I like in media res well enough, but if the type is this small and I’m still floundering around for traction after two or three pages while the characters all understand it pretty well, that is not an ideal situation.

I will say that a certain person’s speech pattern could be decidedly annoying at times, but in the spirit of the narrative, he is only as Pas made him.

Anyway, this is also highly recommended.

Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks – Autobiography about growing up in a Jewish family, full of doctors and scientists and engineers, in England about the time of WWII. Which is misleading for me to say, because the main focus is on the author’s childhood obsession with all things chemistry (and a little physics and biology), but that’s the backdrop. Tales of childhood experiments, book readings, and visits to factories and museums are interlaced with the history of chemistry and atomic physics. It’s a straightforward read, with the science simply and vividly stated, and I liked it well enough. Recommended.

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nuWho 1×05: World War Three


I guess I forgot to mention last time that the aliens call themselves the Slitheen. One of them was polite enough to mention it at the end of the episode. That’s how aliens talk. “We are the Slitheen.” “I am Klingon!” “We are the Blarghy-blarg, and you are our prisoners.” Humans never introduce themselves like this. They’re always “I’m the guy from Roto Rooter,” or more likely, “Hi, I’m George.”

Anyway, unsurprisingly, the Doctor is the first to get out of his inescapable mortal peril. “Deadly to humans maybe,” he says as he rips off his badge. Then he sticks it on one of the aliens, which somehow causes all of the aliens to get caught up in their own little electrical superstorms, because who knows why. Rose must have managed to crit her Intelligence roll, as she realizes that not only can she run around the distracted alien and escape the room on her own, she can even drag Harriet Jones with her. Harriet runs back to get the emergency protocols, which turns out to just give up their head start on the alien who had them cornered. Let’s call that one Alien Lady. Mickey comes in, busts a chair over the head of the one tormenting Jackie to get it to step aside, and drags her out, getting a mugshot of the alien (Jackie Alien?) on his cell as he does so. This is never important to the plot, but style points for him.

The Doctor brings a bunch of troopers back to arrest the aliens, but they’re back in disguise now and order him to be arrested and killed. He escapes via lift. The two aliens in charge (Green and the high-ranking officer) order the building quarantined, the upper floors super-quarantined, and the Doctor shot on sight. Very sensible plan.

Now the Alien Lady starts hunting through the room where Rose and Harriet are hiding. Her brothers join her, and they start exulting in how humans smell when they’re scared. Harriet is flipping out a little over the gruesomeness, but when they “find” Rose, she jumps out to offer herself first. Then the Doctor comes in and distracts the two male aliens with a fire extinguisher, giving Rose a chance to clumsily bring a curtain down on Alien Lady. The chase is back on, with the Slitheen striking another nice action pose or two.

The Doctor manages to call a stalemate with deliciously flammable booze and gives the aliens a chance to explain themselves. Slitheen is actually their surname, so hey, they’re more like humans than I realized. His bluff is called, so the Doctor triggers safeguards that surround the room with three inches of steel. The Slitheen are content to have him contained, figuring that it’s now safe to call in their family and resume the plan.

Jackie and Mickey have slipped away and are now holed up in Mickey’s apartment. Mickey makes sure to mention where they are, because he’s learned the importance of setting the scene since last episode. He also mentions that Jackie can’t hold her liquor. Not surprised. He repeats that the Doctor seems to bring death wherever he goes, but adds that the Doctor is the only one who can deal with the alien threat. They make up a little.

The Doctor inquires as to the name of the secretary from the first part, whom Harriet brought coffee to and who is now dead. Harriet can’t say. The Doctor simply tells the secretary “Sorry” before moving on to business. No fuss. I don’t mean to harp, but this is much more palatable than when he got all high-and-mighty about Rose caring about Mickey in the pilot. He says that the neck thingy the aliens wear compresses them to fit within the human skins they inhabit. I had figured it was a vocal thing so they’d sound like their victims, but this does seem a more important function. Harriet rebukes Rose for trying for a bit of gallows humor in response (and it’s not very good anyway), the Doctor tries to remember where he’s heard her name before, and she announces that the emergency protocols are useless, since all the people they require are dead already. The protocols basically listed all the people who would be the biggest threats to the aliens, so the aliens rounded them up and electrocuted them. If you’re gifted the names of your enemies, you may as well take advantage.

Rose brings up the possibility of a nuclear strike. Harriet says that the necessary codes are all in the UN’s possession. This gets the Doctor thinking, because this could be a plot point, and he needs plot points. He still hasn’t figured out why these aliens would bother with a planet that they don’t seem interested in.

Rose’s superphone gets a ring from Mickey. Rather than say, “Hey! We’ve got a contact with the outside world, let’s make something happen!” the Doctor spits out, “Oh, tell your stupid boyfriend we’re busy.” I just . . . this is bordering on childish. Mickey and Jackie start venting about their terrible experience (amusingly, Rose warns Mickey not to let her mum get hold of the phone), but the Doctor grabs the phone, calls Mickey “Ricky” AGAAAIN, and then asks for his help while making it clear that he finds the idea of treating Mickey as a sentient being entirely repugnant. Seriously, ugh.

Speaking of ugh, let’s talk top-secret government security. Mickey accesses a UNIT website — you know, UNIT, super-secret squad for dealing with aliens that the government doubtless denies the existence of — which displays a reasonably informative-looking page while demanding a password. All you need is a URL to confirm the existence of this thing? Easiest conspiracy theory ever. The password turns out to be a common English word, “buffalo”. I won’t fault the Doctor for telling Mickey how to spell it, since they were potentially short on time, but maybe he should have specified capitalization as well? Unless case wasn’t important, which given the overall shoddiness of the security seems plausible enough. Mickey runs into more password requests, all of which are answered with buffalo. This isn’t even treated as a joke. I’d happily give it a pass if it were funny enough, but no.

While the others try to figure out what’s going on, Jackie takes the Doctor to task for all the chaos he’s brought into her life. Jackie is the embarrassing mother who you love and who loves you, but she does inappropriate social things and sometimes she sticks up for your safety when all you want to do is wail “Moooooom!” like a teenager. Which I guess Rose is. Jackie demands the Doctor answer her whether he can keep Rose safe, not just now, but always. The Doctor takes a long time thinking about his answer, with Rose looking at him intently, but is saved by Mickey, who has completed the arduous task of clicking on relevant-looking things and copy-pasting BUFFALO umpteen times. UNIT has picked up a message from the North Sea, and while the Doctor listens to it over the phone to try to decipher it, Jackie goes to answer the door.

Surprise, surprise, it’s the Jackie alien. The real surprise is that he lets her close the door in his face, but she doesn’t bother locking it so it doesn’t really matter. We know it could smash through the door like the others did in 10 Downing, yes, but the point is the Tylers are both kind of useless in the face of danger. Mickey prepares to defend home and Jackie with a baseball bat, and if the sound of him being noble doesn’t serve as a reason for the Doctor to stop treating him like dirt then I can’t conceive of what’s going through TPTB’s minds. Rose and Harriet rattle off attributes of the aliens, until the Doctor deduces that the aliens are living calcium (wut), specifically calcium phosphate, from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius. This means that acetic acid will be super-effective against them. Jackie puts pickled eggs and other stuff into a pitcher and tosses it in the alien’s face. There’s a moment of anticlimax and then the alien completely blows up with a flatulent noise, tossing green nastiness everywhere. It’s just like humans have a lot of hydrogen and oxygen in them, see, so if you toss a lit match at a human it’ll explode. Logic at its finest.

Pickled egg and phosphate
Pickled egg and phosphate
Pickled egg and phosphate with a baseball bat

Harriet Jones mentions Hannibal dissolving boulders with vinegar when he crossed the Alps, which one ancient historian claimed did happen but with fire also involved.

Military Alien tells Green Alien that Jackie Alien is no more. Green Alien claims he sensed it, which really doesn’t diminish the deus ex machina nature of the electrical superstorms at the start. Electricity does not travel via empathy. Green Alien then makes a televised announcement that murderous aliens are among us, and he needs the nuclear codes back from the UN before the planet gets genocided, or worse, thrust into ID4. Of course we know that this is all far from the truth, not least because the Slitheen alone are more intelligent than the entire cast of that movie combined. The Doctor says this explains everything: the Slitheen wanted humanity to get scared enough to lash out. Lashing out can be a useful survival mechanism, but often, as here, when you don’t understand the situation clearly, it’s a bad idea. You know, like when you lash out with insults against the guy you need help from if you’re going to save a planet. The Doctor rolls up the metal walls and, as he will do, talks the plan over with the baddies. They intend to reduce “this beautiful planet” (Harriet’s words) to “slag” and then sell it off, because radioactive slag is much more useful than non-radioactive slag that you can reduce to radioactive slag at your discretion. The means are intelligent, but the end sounds stupid. Stupider than getting rid of your last star player for cheap before putting the team on the market (that’s another Blues reference). But there’s a galaxy-wide recession and the slag is to be used as fuel, so I guess maybe the used planet market is non-existent right now. Or this was supposed to be a very subtle parable about Alaskan oil or the like.

The Doctor warns them to leave or he’ll stop them. “What, you? Trapped in your box?” Alien Lady giggles. “Yes. Me,” the Doctor says firmly, and he holds her gaze as he deliberately reaches back over and seals himself in again. That wipes the smirk off her face, and honestly, Eccleston’s Doctor is the best one I know of to have delivered this scene with such menace.

We get a shot of the not-crashed-honest spaceship emitting smoke, then back to another news report. It’s an interesting thing to occasionally have news media comment on the goings-on in a sci-fi universe. It can bring things down-to-earth, show how the “mundanes” react when given a peek into what the protagonists get up to every week or movie. At the same time, it can provide some insight into what’s going on in society at large. Here, the media have generally been practical, to the best of my memory (still not going back to watch that last one again). They have been asking: What happened? What will happen next? What is the government doing about this? At the media level, at least, there has been tension, making it that much easier for Green Alien to incite a panic. All the civilians, the reporter says, are at home, waiting to see what the UN does.

The UN, naturally, immediately demands to know how the UK noticed massive weaponry in space that no US or other installations have detected. Hmm, I bet this is about the Iraq war actually. Haha, no, there’s no such demands, that would make sense. There’s just an anchor telling us that the UK “has provided them with absolute proof that the massive weapons of destruction do exist.” GET IT?

I’m noticing the 10 Downing environmental palette again. Consistently warm. Even the red phone (which Alien Lady spazzes out over) has Reeses Pieces next to it, because blue or green M&Ms would wreck the scheme. Or you can pretend it’s an E.T. reference. . . . Oh, right. Aliens and a phone. Well played.

There’s a nice little scene between the protagonists, where the Doctor insists that there’s always a way out, but the one he’s found would put Rose in danger. But the alternative is that everybody on Earth dies. Jackie continues to insist that Rose stay safe, but Rose is willing to go along with it. Some nice character moments (unfortunately, Rose’s involves being bland) and the Doctor has a good line here. Harriet steps up and orders the Doctor’s plan to be carried out, taking the responsibility upon herself.

“Victoryyy . . . should be nakeeed . . . ” Green Alien now says, because there’s totally a way to deliver that line that won’t break the tension.

Meanwhile the Doctor explains to Mickey that “buffalo” will override everything and I’m sorry, I know world governments can be pretty stupid, but I think they’re better at guarding their precious weapons than that. Jackie informs Mickey that she’s thinking about being a complete tool but will refrain from it for the moment.

The Doctor has no such reservations. “Mickey the idiot, the world is in your hands,” he says without the slightest hint of apology or humor. Mickey meanwhile has some disgusting sweat lathering his face. It becomes apparent that the plan involves hitting 10 Downing Street with a non-nuclear missile.

The military evacuates the vicinity, and the guy in charge hurries up the stairs to warn the PM. He opens the door, finds himself facing a bunch of weird aliens, says “Sorry”, and leaves. I’m not saying it’s hilarious, but it’s sure funnier than all the flatulence “humor” combined.

Rose gets everyone into the closet to survive the missile strike. Harriet tells the military to tell the UN to calm down. The Doctor and Rose suggest she could be the new PM, which she brushes off as ridiculous — she only represents Flyspeck, after all — and then she strides off to get things organized. I already know she’s going to be PM, but this episode makes her leadership qualities clear. The Doctor says she’ll be known as the architect of Britain’s Golden Age, however that would be measured. I guess picking the time when Britain ruled the waves will be too un-PC to praise in the future because of all the colonialism involved. I don’t even think it’s possible to have a political Golden Age anymore. There’s always someone ready to pop up and point out fifty things they think are wrong with the country. Anyway, Harriet delivers a ridiculous little speech for some eager cameras in which she praises humanity. Because the aliens totally weren’t stopped by another alien at the last moment in their plan to exploit humanity’s weaknesses!

After their happy reunion, Jackie and Rose discuss things. Jackie thinks Rose should be knighted for saving the world . . . and the Doctor can get credit too, if Rose insists. Rose says the Doctor doesn’t bother with any fuss, he just moves on, which is accurate enough in that sense. But he does like impressing people, don’t try to deny that. This is a pretty okay conversation, as Jackie shows that she’s willing to bend and get to know this scary Doctor who seems to be so important in her daughter’s life. It’s a welcome depth to her character. Rose gets a call from the Doctor, however, who bluntly tells her he has better things to do than hang around for dinner with her mother. No fuss, just move on to the next adventure. Rude maybe, but not going out of his way to make me roll my eyes again. He wants to surf a plasma storm in the Horsehead Nebula and see where he ends up.

Jackie comes back to find Rose packing her backpack. She begs Rose not to go. Personally I would have blown off the storm, in Rose’s place, for Mum’s sake.

The Doctor has caught the boy who graffitied the TARDIS in part 1 and made him clean it off. Mickey is there, asking him how people can already be writing off the whole thing as a hoax. The Doctor tells him that humanity is still too thick to accept the reality of aliens if they don’t absolutely have to. He makes peace with Mickey in his practical way, hinting that Mickey maybe isn’t an idiot, admitting that Mickey is right that he is dangerous and, if Mickey is so afraid for Rose, he could come along maybe? Mickey doesn’t think he could stand the way of life, but he does accept a virus that will remove all mentions of the Doctor from the Internet. Meanwhile Jackie is promising (like a teenager, no less) to clean up her life if Rose will stay, but Rose tells her that travel with the Doctor is too wonderful to let the dangers keep her home. The Doctor does Mickey a favor by insisting that Mickey can’t come along, saving Mickey the embarrassment of looking like a scaredy-cat.

This is better than the first part, but there are still a few dumb parts in it. It’s a shame the two-parter isn’t up to the aliens’ standards, because they’re visually well-crafted and quite competent opponents. Another bright spot is that Jackie has become a somewhat likable, relatable character, rather than just a thing to pull out for plot complications or a laugh. When she calls the Doctor out, when she pleads with Rose, it’s as a human being, not a caricature, and I really feel for her. I still don’t particularly care for her, but at least she has some dignity now.

That wasn’t much of a world war.

Rating: 2 Cab’net walls of three-inch steel

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: [to the Slitheen] Who, exactly, are the Slitheen?
Harriet Jones: They’re aliens.
Doctor: I got that, thanks.
Alien: Who are you, if not human?
Harriet: Who’s not human?
Rose: He’s not human.
Harriet: But he’s got a Northern accent.
Rose: Lots of planets have a North. [repeating the Doctor’s retort from “Rose”]

Goofiest newspaper headline: “Don’t get the Colly wobbles” on the back of Mickey’s paper at the end, bold as brass. Oh, Britain.

This was originally published September 8, 2014.

nuWho 1×04: Aliens of London


I said:

Such are the deep questions that this episode invites, ultimately bringing us to examine the nature of our reactions to those who are different from ourselves yet claim to be similar. Whereas within the previous few years, need I remind you, Star Trek had been getting men pregnant, peeing on sacred trees

This episode replied:

dur hur, you said “peeing”

Yeah, this Doctor’s a showoff. He delivers Rose back to her own time and place and immediately leans against the TARDIS in a Joe Cool pose, anticipating her adulation. Maybe he took being off by nine years in the last episode personally. Rose jogs off to check in on her mum, in the process heading up a stairwell that has been insulated against foley. The Doctor, having nothing better to do, heads over to check on a Missing poster that the camera thinks is important. Turns out Rose has been reported missing for a year. When she gets home, her mum acts horrified, like she’s seen a vengeful ghost. Not shocked. That is a horrified expression on her face. Mickey never mentioned the disappearing blue box thing to anyone? I can understand why he wouldn’t mention it to the police, because super-fishy explanation is more suspicious than no explanation, but not even her mum? Maybe he did, and people assumed that the box’s owner was behind the killer mannequins because Occam’s Razor, and her mum gave her up for dead.

A little boy spray-paints BAD WOLF on the side of the TARDIS as if completing an errand. Meanwhile Jackie is scolding Rose for running off and vanishing. She’s convinced the Doctor spirited Rose away for pervy purposes, and slaps him. The relationship between Rose and Jackie is laid out here, as Jackie gets Rose alone and chastises her for never checking in with her. Jackie is most hurt that Rose refuses to tell her what she’s been up to. This is clearly a fundamental breach in their relationship. Both of them are in tears.

Rose and the Doctor are now on top of a building. Rose isn’t sure she wants to keep traveling if it will cause her mum this much grief. The Doctor asserts that Jackie is not coming along, and they both have a chuckle over that idea. In hindsight, one could try to tie in “I don’t do families” with Time War angst, but I’m pretty sure the Doctor is letting down Rose gently. The slap is only an excuse to avoid pointing out that Jackie is not suited to be a Companion. (And that he has no desire to put up with Tyler family friction.) An alien tractor trailer blows its horn to warn them off the road as it zooms by. The CGI in this sequence looks a bit model-y at times, notably with the bridge, but it’s fine. The ship smacks Big Ben in the face before crashing into the Thames. Rose, on being freed from the burden of thinking she’s the only human alive who knows about aliens, mutters, “Oh, that’s just not fair.” The Doctor laughs and takes off after the ship with her. I do like his eagerness for adventure, I just wish it didn’t resonate with his angsty darkness such that it resembles morbidity. People screaming for their lives? Sweet! Someone just crashed into a planet? Fantastic!

UNIT (I’m guessing, given their fatigues, caps, and Lethbridge-Stewart mustaches) has blocked off the crash site, to the extent that Rose expects all of London is gridlocked. The Doctor says that this is what he travels for: to see history happen. Rose suggests that, since they can’t get up close themselves, they could watch it on TV. The Doctor gives her a funny look. Two-dimensional audiovisual transmission? How quaint!

BBC coverage reports looting, unrest, and a national state of emergency. Also, apparently the UK uses eleven-digit phone numbers. Also, apparently the UK went digital before the US did. Also, unsurprisingly, Rose and her mum are both wearing pink.

I can’t imagine how these reviews run so long.

The Doctor fends off a little boy in time to learn that a body retrieved from the spaceship has been brought to a particular hospital. Inside that hospital, a military officer expresses shock at being shown the face region of the body by a doctor (Sato).

Inside 10 Downing Street, the guy in charge of overseeing the export of sugar finds out that he is acting Prime Minister and that the Cabinet is isolated from London. (We also meet Harriet Jones, currently a Member of Parliament representing Podunk.) Further conversation reveals that a car carrying the P.M. and his Cabinet has in fact disappeared entirely.

Clearly this is time for flatulence humor.

Anyway, he gets alone with another man and woman, and they grin smugly and cackle evilly at each other for like ten or fifteen seconds, because that is what villains do. I do hope gas isn’t going to be the clue to uncovering this conspiracy.

The Doctor makes his excuses and leaves the apartment. He feels a little hemmed in with Jackie bragging about getting hit on, the boy wanting to watch a cooking show, and everyone else chatting about top-up cards, which sounds like petrol rationing but apparently is a cell phone thing. He’s chuffed that this could be The Big Day, when humanity grows up and goes interstellar. Rose is worried he’ll disappear on her, so he gives her a TARDIS key. Contrary to reports of looting and such, the other dwellers in this apartment seem receptive to the aliens. It’s a nice, quiet little bit.

Mickey leans over the railing and sees the Doctor heading toward his graffitied TARDIS. This alarms him. He runs after the Doctor, but can’t catch up before the TARDIS dematerializes. He runs into the corrugated wall behind where the TARDIS was and knocks himself flat.

I’d just like to point out that Mickey’s been slurped up by a garbage bin, he’s run himself at full speed into a metal wall, and furthermore he goes by Mickey, and he’s still being treated with more dignity than Peter Jackson allowed Gimli.

Harriet Jones is still trying to get in to see the Prime Minister. She seems a well-rounded character, being aware of the gravity of events but still wanting to get her work done. She besieges Sugar Man, whose name is Green, with a proposal involving hospital ratings, but he and his buddies brush her off. Left alone, she heads into the conference room to see if anyone’s there. There is a briefcase, which she starts to tuck the papers into, but then she notices the EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS and sticks around to read them.

Sato is alone in her workspace, it’s dark (and very blue), and the alien was very conspicuously tucked away into a particular death drawer that was then fastened shut. Naturally, now it starts to thump around. Fortunately, the Doctor has arrived, so she at least has a chance to survive this. Unfortunately, he walks straight into a room of soldiers who take him prisoner. The lighting on the death drawers is a little garish. #5 opens right in front of Sato, who screams. The Doctor takes charge, barking out orders, and the soldiers rush off in pursuit of the scream. The girl is alive but bloodied, and the alien has disappeared. Or has it? The Doctor actually waves in armed backup before going to check some rattling in the corner. Finally, the dreaded face of the scary, portentous alien comes into view around a corner, and it is . . . a pig. An oinking, pig-sized pig. No wonder the officer thought it might be a hoax. It runs away, straight into some soldiers, one of whom shoots it down. The Doctor scolds the shooter for firing upon a scared little pig.

Harriet Jones is still in the conference room when Green and friends come back. Desperately, she hides in a closet. A military official is upbraiding Green for not taking action in this crisis. Green starts to drop his guard, and all three start in with the gastrointestinal noises. Sigh. The official relieves Green of duty, at which Green and co-conspirators unzip their heads and do something horrible to the official.

The Doctor thinks he knows what’s going on: Someone juiced up a pig’s brain, put the pig in the spaceship, and let the spaceship crash into Earth. By the time Sato works through the details and turns to ask why someone would do that, he’s rushed back to the TARDIS.

Back at the party, everyone finally notices Mickey in the doorway, staring at Rose. Evidently he has not actually been at this party all along, which really raises too many questions for me. How did the Doctor come to park right outside his apartment? Why did Rose not recognize the surroundings and pop in to see him first, seeing as, from her POV, she had recently called her mum? Why did TPTB not bother to better differentiate one balcony from another? Perhaps by showing the actual building attached to each one? On the other hand, now BAD WOLF doesn’t have to mean anything special to Mickey, as he chased after the Doctor to ask about Rose. Evidently he didn’t tell Jackie about the Doctor because he figured Rose had run off romantically with the Doctor. Mickey has a big chip on his shoulder, and he enjoys Rose being upset over the Doctor “dumping” her.

This is something the modern show does much more than the old. There’s far more interest in how the Doctor disrupts his companions’ lives, and in them continuing to have “normal” lives that they sporadically return to, rather than just hanging out in the control room as the Doctor goes straight from one of his adventures to another.

Anyway, Rose insists that the Doctor is not her boyfriend, but then makes the mistake of saying he’s more important to her than that before the key begins to glow and the TARDIS returns. I guess that’s a handy feature if you aren’t sure where you left your spare key. She tries to shoo Jackie away, but Jackie is just as headstrong as her daughter.

The Doctor has just enough time to explain a bit to Rose before finding a couple of peeved humans have also entered his sanctuary. Mickey accuses the Doctor of ruining his life, and really harping on this theme could have sunk the show very quickly. Sucking the fun out of the premise and making everything dismal and gritty and negative to follow pop culture’s trend. But a little of it can provide new perspectives, as here. The Doctor tries to brush Mickey off by treating him like an idiot. I guess he’s in another of his “affairs of mere monkeys do not concern me” moods; when Mickey comments on the strangeness of starting an invasion by alerting your target, the Doctor quietly agrees with him.

Meanwhile, Jackie has rushed off because I guess it’s all too much for her, and Rose took off after her. A man on the TV requests that anyone with information about aliens call a helpline, and Jackie perks up. She phones in about the Doctor, making it clear in the process that she’s upset because Rose isn’t safe, and the word TARDIS sets off alarms on the other end.

Rose apologizes to Mickey, and he unloads to her about how he spent the previous year constantly looking for the TARDIS to come back. Just as they’re about to commence with serious domestics, however, the Doctor announces the results of his retro radar: the spaceship was actually launched from Earth.

One of the alien triad has put on the dead officer’s old body, and promptly . . . passes gas. Yes, this is going to still be a thing. Even the lady alien says it’s getting ridiculous. The previous person’s skin is tossed into Harriet’s closet (fun for her), and a flunky comes up to tell the triad that a certain word has been detected, “Doctor”, indicating a particular expert on aliens. The triad show no sign of recognition.

The Doctor is pleased to see UNIT on the case. Mickey mentions that he’s read up on the Doctor, and every time his name appears a list of dead people follows. One may suppose, then, that Mickey had a noble motive in not telling Jackie about the Doctor, so that she wouldn’t have cause to worry about Rose scooting around spacetime with a dangerous man. The Doctor retaliates by patronizingly calling him Ricky again. This is not the Doctor playing the buffoon, it’s not accidental in the slightest, it’s a deliberate attempt to build himself up by tearing Mickey down. For shame, Doctor.

The Doctor wants to stay away from UNIT, as he wouldn’t be recognized anyway (and could probably have a freer hand alone). So they step out of the TARDIS, ready to work incognito, and head right into a helicopter’s spotlight. Busted! Mickey gets the wind up and runs away from the attentions of the guns and tanks and police cars, and Jackie tries to run to her daughter, who not only is still with that scary alien but also has a lot of weapons pointed in her direction now.

The Doctor treats this as a lark, and Rose catches his attitude. He figures he’s being brought in as an expert on aliens. “Don’t you just love it,” Rose retorts. Yes, he does. In fact, he takes a moment to smile and wave for the cameras before he enters 10 Downing Street. The ego is probably my biggest surprise about this Doctor so far. Not that it’s a bad thing, or that other Doctors haven’t had egos just as big, I just wasn’t expecting it here. Meanwhile, Jackie is questioned about the Doctor by an alien who’s disguised as a human being.

Harriet Jones comes downstairs. She tries to approach the Doctor, but has to settle for Rose. The Doctor is being treated like anyone else, suggesting that nobody there actually knows who he is, which is odd because I figured someone would be up on their UNIT history. Is UNIT just completely off doing their own thing elsewhere? This episode has some serious disconnects for me, and I don’t think it’s all on my own end.

Meanwhile, Harriet Jones has a bit of a breakdown in front of Rose in a yellow-and-pink shot, as the scene from the conference room hits her. She explains to Rose as best she can, and they find the Prime Minister dead in another closet in the same conference room. Not every planet provides convenient storage units to stuff incriminating evidence into!

The Doctor quickly takes control of the meeting as he pieces together the circumstances behind the spaceship launch. He realizes that this was a trap, to bring all the alien experts together. Because 2000-era Earthlings know so much about defeating aliens, after all!

The female from the triad finds that the P.M. has been discovered. Meanwhile the disguised alien prepares to do away with Jackie, and the two aliens in the expert meeting (I guess there are at least four total, not three) drop the pretense and prepare to make with the killing. That’s three out of four leads in mortal peril. We finally see the aliens, and they are very alien, although the child-like faces keep them from entirely falling into “scary alien” territory. It’s a fun design, really.

“I shall now demonstrate the hula dance of my people.”

The ID cards worn by the alien experts turn out to be electrocution devices. As the episode ends, the Doctor is being helplessly zapped, Jackie is cornered in her own kitchen, and Rose is cornered with only a pencil pusher and an aging politician as her allies, and not a vase in sight.

As you might have guessed, I’m not fond of the toilet humor. To be fair, it’s supported by a legitimate underlying idea, that not every alien is going to magically fit snugly into some random human being’s skin. Still, there were also several points where what seemed to be going on was not in fact what was going on, due to either a lack of clarity from the creators or a lack of competence from me. There’s also a lot of the human side of the story, with some important and worthwhile scenes involving Jackie and Mickey, but I’m not currently invested enough in them or their relationship to give that as much weight as maybe I should, within the scope of the episode.

Ultimately I feel like the actual action is crowded out somewhat by administrative work, with all the relationship development and Rose’s feelings and the graffiti and establishing the Doctor’s imprecise control and introducing Harriet and UNIT, and of course, the Doctor spends a significant fraction of the ep either watching TV or mucking about with the central console. And insulting Mickey for daring to stand up to him. All of which is good enough stuff individually, aside from the Ricky bits, but it does add up in runtime.

It has fun moments, the alien design is neat, and Harriet Jones shows promise, but I have no desire to watch this again.

Rating: 1 Harriet Jones cunning plan

Favorite Dialogue: Rose: Every conversation with you just goes mental. There’s no one else I can talk to. I’ve seen all that stuff up there, the size of it, and I can’t say a word. Aliens and spaceships and things, and I’m the only person on planet Earth who knows they exist.
[An out-of-control spaceship passes right overhead and flies all over London in broad daylight]
Rose: Oh, that’s just not fair.

Most likely to be pointed out, thirty years later, as an example of how badly this series will have aged: Jackie’s outfit. Or the whoopie cushion aliens, but I’m going with the outfit. I’m sure she just threw on whatever she had lying around, and it isn’t eye-gougingly ugly, but dark blue stripes above and faint pink below . . . you aren’t representing your decade well, Jackie.

This was originally posted August 20, 2014.

nuWho 1×03: The Unquiet Dead


Victorian England and Charles Dickens and streams of spectral light emanating from people’s mouths. This ought to be fun.

We open with an undertaker consoling a man over the loss of his grandmother. “She was so full of life,” the man says as he looks down at her. “I can’t believe she’s gone.” “Merely sleeping,” the undertaker soothes; then he leaves. Suddenly her face turns blue and wisps of light come out of it. Her eyes open wide, and she reaches up and strangles her grandson. The undertaker rushes in, rolls his eyes, yells “We’ve got another one!” and is overpowered. Grandmama busts her coffin open, rises in the approved stiff fashion, and walks into the camera, moaning and emitting blue spirits from her mouth, to finish the teaser.

Oh, how I love cheese done well.

The undertaker calls for his housekeeper, Gwyneth (sounds like Quinnah to me), to help him corral that old lady. Gwyneth tries to convince him to get the authorities involved. The undertaker assures her that he will get help, just as soon as he takes care of this little problem. I have my doubts about that. If rumors once get out that corpses you’re entrusted with come back to life, you’re sure to lose all the mother-in-law and rich uncle trade. It’s just not worth it.

Rose is tickled that they have landed in Christmastime. She muses on the impermanence of things: Christmas 1860 only happened once and then was gone forever, except for the Doctor. This pops up a few times during this episode, the flexibility of time and timelines.

The undertaker, Mr. Sneed (how’s that for a Dickensian name), urges his housekeeper to use the sight to detect Grandmama’s position, threatening to fire her if she doesn’t obey. The housekeeper says their quarry is lost and bewildered, but excited for tonight and expecting to see a great, great man all the way from London.

Now we meet Charles Dickens. He’s got curly, two-toned hair and a beard, the better for inept viewers like me to distinguish the important characters from the background. He is moody because he’s feeling alone on Christmas Eve, having apparently gotten himself into trouble with his family. (I see David Copperfield had been published by then, so I’ll believe it.)

Dickens feels old and wonders gloomily if ‘he’s thought everything he’ll ever think.’ Oh dear. Should I go ahead and check his bibliography to guess what the Doctor will inspire him to write?

The Doctor is futzing around under the control console when Rose steps out in the latest fashion. The Doctor demonstrates his alienness again by saying with surprised admiration that she looks beautiful . . . uh, for a human that is. Yeah, that’s the ticket. She does look better a few seconds later in what I guess is different light, but on first impression I’m not convinced that black and that color go together all that well in that proportion, much less on her. Maybe the black whatsit around her neck reminds him of his prom date. I wonder where Time Lords like to hold their proms.

Rose steps out into an alleyway of glistening clean, color-coordinated buildings. I’m not sure that’s how the 19th century worked, or how the 21st century works for more than a month or two.

Dickens steps out on stage to 99% warm applause and 1% sunken zombie eyes. Meanwhile, Rose manages to avoid running into horses but seems surprised when the attached cart passes in front of her. Not sure what she thought a pair of horses on a street would be doing that wouldn’t involve something behind them. The Doctor picks up a newspaper and finds that it is in fact 1869. The first of two burns on Cardiff occurs now, and they’re both good ones.

Dickens is performing A Christmas Carol from memory. He gets to the knocker suddenly having Jacob Marley’s face, at which point I guess Grandmama Redpath can’t hold her excitement in any longer and pulses blue in the face. She stands up, moans supernaturally, wisps start to come out of her mouth, and everyone screams and rushes for the exit. Hearing this perks the Doctor up, and he heads for the trouble. (Is the Ninth a thrill-seeker? Looking to make amends? Or eager to return to his old rhythm of life?)

The theatre has been mostly emptied by the time the Doctor and undertaker arrive. The blue wisp has also entirely left Grandmama, and she slumps over, a mere corpse again. Dickens thinks the Doctor caused this with some optical chicanery (which would be quite a trick with the wisp swirling all over the place), while Rose apparently thinks the undertaker and his housekeeper are picking on an old woman and hurries after them. How she thinks she has any understanding of the situation is beyond me. I would have guessed they were helping a fainted old woman out of danger.

She finds the old lady being loaded into a hearse and naturally assumes that those two have killed her, whereupon Mr. Sneed chloroforms her because, well, plot reasons. Either he’s a decisive, unscrupulous person, or this was the easiest way to tie up this scene quick and drag the protagonists to the mortuary. It feels like both to me. The Doctor comes out, deduces that that strange woman just put Rose in the hearse, and commandeers the Dickens coach for a chase. He goes fanboy on Dickens, causing Dickens to warm up to him. The conversation’s transition back to focusing on Rose feels a bit clunky to me.

The Doctor listens to a wall and determines that something is living in the mortuary’s gas pipes. Meanwhile Rose tries to fight off a couple of possessed bodies. Good to see she’s learned something since the pilot. Unfortunately that just means she hurls a vase at one of them and then hammers and shouts at the door until one grabs her. This is why RPGs are important. They teach you how important, and how easy, it is to not get cornered by shambling corpses. With the layout of that room, she should expect to keep them away indefinitely. The Doctor walks in, pulls an arm off of her face, then asks what they want. The possessors say they want help surviving, then flee the bodies for the safety of the wall candles. That’s the ghosts over and done with, then. It’s aliens now.

Obviously this is time for tea, and time for Rose to berate Sneed. You tell him what-for, Rose. The Doctor thinks the blue wisps showing up are a sign that a rift between here and elsewhere is getting bigger. Sneed relates the house’s “haunted” history, in appropriately muted lighting. The camera angles and the room itself seem to be going for a crowded, enclosed feeling. The Doctor’s amusement counteracts the effect a little, though.

Actually, between this room and Rose’s skirt and other shots, I wonder if they were going for a muted warm and neutral color scheme throughout, to contrast with the bright blue wisps. They certainly aren’t shirking on the candlelight.

Dickens wanders off, poking at lights and corpses to try to discover the “mechanism” behind what’s happening. The Doctor apologizes for telling him to shut up. Dickens gets existential. I don’t see how the reality of ghosts trivializes starving orphans, but he’s badly rattled and he’s been melancholic about his life lately, so I’m sure it’s all tangled together in his brain right now.

Rose is too astonished at 19th-century economics to notice that anti Vashti Nerada are now inhabiting her shadow, causing it to be much lighter than it was just a few seconds ago.

In a kitchen-like room, Gwyneth lights a powerful wall candle so the gas people can visit if they want to, then scolds Rose for trying to help her do her job. Rose has no idea how this works, apparently, because she accuses Sneed of working Gwyneth to death. I’ve watched the whole episode and I don’t have that impression. All Rose knows is that Sneed had her help carry the old lady off, probably help carry Rose around (and Rose isn’t exactly Donna Noble-sized), and make tea. Gwyneth looks to be in good health too. Now, Sneed is certainly domineering in his own way, but if Rose thinks Gwyneth has a bad life, well, she obviously hasn’t read Dickens. Anyway, they bond over daring deeds of school truancy. Gwyneth is taken aback at Rose’s blunt mode of speech, but Rose is trying to get her to open her life up to more than being Sneed’s housekeeper. This part may not seem entirely relevant to the main story, but it’s a chance to give Rose more of a character, so I’ll take it. That is one powerful candle that Gwyneth lit. Maybe there are more at the other end of the room, out of sight. Anyway, Gwyneth lets slip that she knows Rose’s dad is dead and a couple of other things that can’t be explained away by her thinking too much. Then she gets all future-see-y and Rose-brain-read-y and weirds Rose out, ending with a reference to the big, bad wolf.

The Doctor explains that since Gwyneth grew up on top of the rift, she’s part of it. In fact, she’s “the key.” For Gwyneth, the sight has been a curse more than a blessing. She hears voices in the night, goes to spiritualists for help, feels that what she has is not a right thing. But she’s here, and the Doctor intends to use her in a seance. Dickens wants nothing to do with this — apparently spiritual quackery is part of what he’s worked so hard against.

The seance works, and the aliens (the Gelth) tell their story. They’re nearly extinct, their planet and physical forms having been ravaged by war. The Doctor is not paying attention to his own story arc, as he doesn’t know right away that it was the Time War. They want Gwyneth brought to the rift to serve as a bridge. Ultimately, they want to use dead humans as new bodies on a more permanent basis. Rose is aghast at the idea, but the Doctor rebukes her: “Why not? Not decent, not polite? It could save their lives.” With a final cry for pity, the Gelth leave. Rose tends to Gwyneth while Dickens gives up on his disbelief.

The Doctor is clearly for trying the Gelth’s plan. But Gwyneth is exhausted, and Rose divides her time between mothering her and trying to shoot down the plan. The Doctor finally tells her, “It’s a different morality. Get used to it or go home.” This Doctor is not much for diplomacy or hashing out arguments. Gwyneth gently tells Rose that she’s ready to help “the angels”, whom she regards as being sent by her mother in childhood to sing to her. Conveniently, the weakest spot is the morgue itself, so down there they go.

Rose wants to know why there weren’t any corpses walking around England in 1869. The Doctor tells her that history is easily changed. He then offers the Gelth transport to somewhere else where they can build new bodies and let the old ones once again lie in peace. Quite a reasonable solution all around. He could have mentioned this to Rose, but it would have gotten in the way of the points he was trying to make.

The main spirit turns red and fiery — it’s a devil, not an angel! There are a lot of them, and they aren’t interested in the Doctor’s deal when there are so many people on Earth they can use. Corpses begin to animate and attack the living characters as more Gelth come out of Gwyneth’s mouth. Sneed is possessed. Rose and the Doctor take refuge behind a gate and reconcile themselves to dying. The Doctor mentions three big historical events he’s been witness to, and unsurprisingly they’re all violent. Dickens comes up with a clumsily explained idea: let gas fill the house and draw the Gelth out of the bodies. Ignoring the fact that air itself is a gas, they’re perfectly capable of swimming around in open air already, and why would they come out of the bodies if they want to be in the bodies?

Anyway, it apparently works. Gwyneth can’t send them back, but she can control them enough to keep them present while she ignites the gas. Rose screams at her not to do it, but the Doctor sends her away with a promise to keep Gwyneth safe. The Doctor offers to do it himself, but she’s too dead to listen, so he leaves her to her brave end. Outside after the explosion, he has to meet Rose’s accusing eyes. He suggests that Gwyneth had been dead from the moment she got into position. Rose protests as to how that could be, but Dickens exercises his new open-mindedness. (The unspoken answer is that Gwyneth retained “scraps” of herself.) Dickens, in fact, has a new lease on life. Now that he has unlearned what he has learned, he’s freed to go home and make peace with his family, and maybe write an ending to his murder mystery that will be met with cries of foul play. And yes, that’s an actual novel that was unfinished at the time of his death.

I’m not used to this level of dissension between the Doctor and his companions. You’d think it would happen more often, realistically, so I’m glad to see it getting some play here. I wouldn’t want it all the time, but yeah. Rose’s attitude is entirely understandable. The idea of aliens surviving by using the bodies of dead humans may seem tame in a sci-fi context, and certainly the Doctor will approve of saving lives, but it’s really a very strange-to-contemporary-humans idea that goes against everyday Western ways of thinking. Possibly she would have come around to it with more time and less pressure. But how upsetting would it be to lose a loved one, bury him or her out of sight, try to move on with your life, and then suddenly the person is walking around town again — except it’s completely something else in that body, and all it does for you is constantly remind you of that person you’ll never have back again?

I think it would have been interesting — not better, but an idea for another story — to play up the candle connection with the menace more. Later monsters, the Vashta Nerada and the Weeping Angels, will play into light’s significance as a giver of life and knowledge. How creepy would it have been to invert that here, if they had had to extinguish all the lights in the house so the spooks couldn’t reach them, rather than as part of a quick finishing tactic? To sit there in pitch black, silent and blind, afraid every moment that this was a fatal mistake and any moment a flash of blue would appear in the darkness and there would be nowhere to run?

I actually looked at the wiki entry for this episode, and apparently somebody blasted this episode when it came out for having a nasty anti-immigration message. That never occurred to me while watching it. The wiki also mentions several previous incidents where the Doctor referenced Dickens, so his fanaticism here is not out of the blue.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode, but there are several little bits here and there that I feel really needed some more polishing, so I’m going to do something I don’t mean to do terribly often and give a half rating.

Rating: 2.5 chloroforming Mister Sneeds

Favorite dialogue: Dickens: “Can it be that I have the world entirely wrong?”
Doctor: “Not wrong. There’s just more to learn.”

Number of Dickens literary references I noticed: 3
Number of Shakespeare literary references I noticed: 2

This was originally posted August 15, 2014.

nuWho 1×02: The End of the World


Jokes about morbidity aside, TPTB are methodically establishing benchmarks of this show for newcomers. We had creepy “science” in contemporary society last episode, we’ll have supernatural with a Historical Guest Star in the past in the next one, and right now is an off-the-cuff answer to “How far in the future can we go?” and “How many aliens can we pack into an episode?”

The Doctor asks what time period Rose wants to visit, and she decides she wants to see the future. Now, when I say that I wish I could see the future, I typically mean I want to see amazing positive developments that will come to pass after my natural lifespan has passed. I want to see hypermegaultrasupercomputers. I want to see flying cars. I want to see common people living long, healthy, happyish lives. I want to see world peace and generalized prosperity. I want to see humanity populating the galaxy faster than light and finding fascinating planets and aliens as it goes. I want to see the Blues win the Cup, dagnabbit.

The Doctor finally decides that what will really blow Rose’s socks off is watching her world die. Fantastic. So he takes her to the year five-point-five-plural-Z-alpha or whatever and grins as he motions her out of the TARDIS. He talks about being too obsessed with death to allow for life’s possibilities, the Sun explodes, the intro sequence rolls.

Our heroes are on an observation deck orbiting the Earth. The Earth has been kept in some arbitrary, historical state by a Trust for some time, with the Sun being held back by gravity magic, but now the money’s run out and there’s a convenient wrecking ball aching to be used, so it’s time to let the old girl go. The psychic paper comes out for the first time this series to convince a confusing alien that the Doctor is an invited guest. The way the steward acts at first, “Maximum Hospitality Zone” comes across as a euphemism worthy of the drones in “Let’s Kill Hitler”.

Rose gets a moment to deal with the existence of very blue people (I suspect the short ones evolved from Oompa-Loompas), then we get a parade of aliens, including the Face of Boe. Jabe, a cross between a ceratops and a tree, gives the Doctor a sapling as a peace offering, claiming it was cut from her grandfather. (Someone has plastered some flowers to the back of her head, presumably as a prank.) The Doctor did not come prepared for a gift exchange, so he breathes on her. That probably is a greeting of some alien race or another. In fact, the next high-falutin’ VIP spits in Rose’s eye. The Adherents of the Repeated Meme hand off the episode’s Plot Device, again very innocuously.

Then the main antagonist appears, Lady Cassandra O’Brien O whatever, who doesn’t look a day over 2,000. She should be the Lady of the Single Veil. Get it? Because she’s just a patch of skin with eyes and mouth on a frame? Uh, anyway, it’s a pretty icky concept. Rose stares in shock, while the Doctor does everything but guffaw and slap his thigh. The CGI of Cassandra is convincing for me, but I find King Kong swatting down aeroplanes an impressive achievement so what do I know. Lady Cassandra is chatty and self-absorbed and very much proud of being the last human in existence. This opens up the main philosophical discussion provoked by this episode, which runs for me about like this:

  1. What is human? What do we mean when we say human?
  2. If we insist that Cassandra is not human, is that being unfairly restrictive? Is it because she lacks most of the body parts that we are used to seeing in a human? Because she has made choices that would horrify us? Because her points of pride — being born on Earth in particular — are already points that science fiction fans would consider moot?
  3. If we insist that Cassandra is human, of what worth is that distinction? She may be genetically human, she may well represent the end of our species as a thing unfiltered through alien biologies, but how much should that matter? Does that matter for purposes of interaction, seeing as how she now lacks so many of the things we consider to be typically common ground of the human experience? Might Rose not, in fact, have more practical common ground with the blue blobby guy who spits in her eye?
  4. If we insist that Cassandra does not count as a human, is it because we simply don’t want to be associated with her? Are there not worse people today who are undeniably human through and through? Does she not in fact express very human emotions and characteristics?
  5. Where is her brain located, anyway?

The other point of interest is the idea of when to let go, when to move on, when to decide that something has served its purpose and is now more hindrance than help. As beautiful as we know this planet to be, as full of history as it is by the year five zillion, humanity has totally abandoned Earth (the Sun trying to go nova probably had something to do with it) and its existence serves no more purpose than does a historical building. Now, I’m all for having a few historical buildings around. But a historical building has to be seen to serve any further purpose, and there is no sense of that occurring here. There is no sense in this episode of the common people caring about the Earth, no sense of any media coverage of this event. That is how incredibly far in the future this is. When does the burden of maintaining a beautiful thing for its own sake become too much? Is there not a parallel intended here between keeping the Earth alive and Lady Cassandra’s willingness to go to extremes in an attempt to keep the human race alive and pure in herself, without contributing anything further to her environment?

Such are the deep questions that this episode invites, ultimately bringing us to examine the nature of our reactions to those who are different from ourselves yet claim to be similar. . . . Whereas within the previous few years, need I remind you, Star Trek had been getting men pregnant, peeing on sacred trees, and continuing to let entire species die out of a vague fear that Something Bad Might Happen If We Try To Do Something Good.

Rose is going to insist that Cassandra is not human, and our form of humanity is so far in Cassandra’s past — and Cassandra’s ego rides so much on being The Very Last One — that Cassandra rejects Rose as human too. To Cassandra, Rose doesn’t count. Rose mustn’t count. Rose is fake, she’s a time traveler, she hasn’t turned up in Cassandra’s daily obsessive scrutiny of galactic headlines, whatever. We are certainly supposed to see the absurdity in Cassandra’s rejection, the result of having wandered so far from the source, and being lost in one’s pride, to the extent that one is unable to accept the real thing when it comes along (and one can doubtless invoke any number of examples here, from the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day to contemporary people twisting a political philosophy to mean whatever they want to do). But I also feel we are supposed to sympathize much more with Rose’s rejection of Cassandra, and yet we should be aware that she is perhaps being closed-minded as well. She is applying the label of Not-Human in a pejorative way when she should be applying the label of, for example, Snotty Sociopath.

Meanwhile, the Doctor seems to be enjoying Cassandra’s speeches, probably more than they merit. Is he trying to make a point in front of Rose? No, passive aggression doesn’t seem to fit with this Doctor’s personality (although TPTB were doubtless going for this angle with the audience). Is he laughing at Rose’s reaction?

Most likely, the director simply overshot his mark, but that’s not as fun.

Back to the plot. Cassandra confuses ostriches with dragons, calls a jukebox an iPod, and lumps ’80s music together with Debussy, right under Rose’s nose. (The first notes sounded like “SOS” by Rihanna, which would also have been appropriate.) Rose finally can’t take this madness anymore and heads out of the room as the Memesters hand out more Plot Devices. The devices start to hatch wiry robots, and the plot continues to . . . heat up.

Rose chats with a blue plumber about normal things like suites and hot water. That brings her down to earth (heh) and she second-guesses rushing off with a total stranger. She wanders away and the plumber gets pulled into the air duct by the robots in a rather cheesy manner. When there’s trouble afoot, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a horror movie or Doctor Who — hanging around tubes is a bad idea.

The Doctor catches up with Rose and she decompresses a little in a nicely staged scene. The Doctor’s arc is touched on, with the Doctor flaring up when Rose presses him for the name of his planet. As a way of mending fences, the Doctor enables her cell phone to transmit across time. First thing she does is to call Mum. Wouldn’t you?

Then the structure rumbles a bit, presumably because the robots have been messing with systems. One crawls around the chief steward’s office as he tries to sort things out. It’s squeaky and yet he never looks up. This happens so often in TV and movies that I guess this is a sort of social version of things making noise in space; the audience just has to accept that the sound is thrown in for our amusement. The robot is stage-whispering squeaks at us. A robot strolls over and taps a single button, much like Bugs Bunny pressing the plunger while Elmer Fudd is setting up the dynamite. This causes the office’s sun shield to lower, and of course raising it is much too hard somehow, and the steward is incinerated.

The Doctor heads off with Jabe to see the engine while Rose goes to talk to Cassandra. I think the Doctor actually tells Rose “Don’t start the fight.” The, not a. He knows there’s going to be trouble, he accepts it, but it’s fine as long as Rose isn’t the instigator.

Jabe explains that the facility is fully automated and that “nothing can go wrong.” If only human culture had survived the race itself, the people of the galaxy would know better than to doom themselves like this. So there’s nobody to help if things go wrong? the Doctor asks. I guess not, Jabe replies. “Fantastic,” the Doctor says, and grins.

Cassandra reminisces about her boyhood spent in the Los Angeles region. She shows disdain for all the “mongrel” humans out there in the rest of the galaxy, then tells Rose she has a little bit of a chin sticking out. Cassandra had hers removed in her latest operation, you see, so she’s already convinced that chins are universally bad news despite having lived several thousand years with one without adverse effects. Rose says she would rather die than be a “bitchy trampoline” like Cassandra. She calls herself the true last human, then storms off.

Jabe tries to get the Doctor to open up about his past, finally as good as telling him that she knows him to be a Time Lord and that she feels terrible for the loss of Gallifrey. The Doctor solemnly accepts her condolences. They catch on to the sabotage. The Doctor finds that a shield has been dropped and rushes off to save anyone in there. Naturally, it would be Rose in there, she having been kidnapped by the Memememememe and trapped in the room. The shield is raised, but Rose is stuck for now.

Cassandra has been enjoying being the life of the party, but the Doctor and Jabe bust in with news that the Steward is dead and the “spider devices” are everywhere. The blue blobby guy immediately jumps to the conclusion that someone killed him. Hmm. Cassandra tries to pin blame on the Face of Boe. The Doctor looses a robot with instructions to report to its master. The robot looks at Cassandra before heading to the Meme adherents. The Doctor exposes the Memes as merely cover for someone else, an idea given physical form, and this time the robot heads to Cassandra and stays there.

Cassandra explains that she was trying to get the station taken hostage for the sake of a huge ransom. Failing that, she’ll leave them all to die and watch her stocks soar as their companies plummet. She teleports away. Jabe and the Doctor rush off to find a System Restore switch with two minutes to go. It’s on the other side of that walkway from earlier, you know, the one with no guard rails and huge fan blades sweeping across fast? And now it’ll be really hot if the fans are shut off. Jabe stays behind to keep the power to the fans turned off and burns alive, but not before calling the Doctor “Time Lord”. The Doctor has to use his mad Alien Skillz to get through the last fan, but makes it and the shields go up zippety-zap during the last second. Then all the cracks in the station repair themselves within seconds. Guess that was a pretty good automated system after all. It was the maintenance system that was idiotic.

Rose and the Doctor return to the main stage, where whimpering and sad warbling abounds. Some of the aliens, notably the blue blobby guy, didn’t make it. Rose is distraught and the Doctor is grim, having just walked away from Jabe’s smoking remains. He finds a teleportation booster in the ostrich egg and manages to call just Cassandra back. He then stands there and watches her dry out. Rose asks for mercy, but the Doctor has decided this is her time to die. There’s your parallel. Cassandra moans, tightens, reddens, and . . . uh, whoa, was that where her brain was kept? Ew.

This is a dark thing for the Doctor to do. Emotions were high, yes, and Cassandra was just bragging about how she would get away with it, but the Doctor does not typically seek to bring about someone’s death unless it’s to save other lives or they’re droning about extermination or assimilation. I guess his patience just snapped.

Everyone else has left, and Rose is left all alone, watching chunks of her planet drift by, unidentifiable, unmourned, and destroyed by the very star that had been its source of life for billions of years. I tell ya, it takes a special person to be a Companion at the best of times, but right now . . . .

The Doctor takes her back home, and she looks at the everyday life around her with new eyes. The Doctor talks about the impermanence of things (there’s a third philosophical idea for you, if you like, which is echoed in the human race blending with other species, which actually loops back into Cassandra being too obsessed with death to notice life’s possibilities) and finally brings himself to confide in her: his planet is already dead, the rest of his people gone. Rose finally decides she needs some chips before another trip through time, and the episode ends. This is probably where the Rose/Doctor ‘shipping started to kick into high gear, right here, with the baring of the man’s soul and the hurt/comfort overtones.

Again, the music is pretty good and, as far as I know, specific to this episode. (Compare to, say, Matt Smith’s first season, where, for better or worse, the same music was mostly used throughout.) The font used is a fun take on the Latin alphabet, with extra lines and “Greek” E’s that still allow one to read most of the words. The episode itself is undoubtedly put together more cohesively than the first. It still gets a simple rating of “Good” from me.

The preview contains an early contender for favorite dialogue in the next episode: “What happens in 1860?” “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

Rating: 3 saplings cut from dear Granddad

Favorite dialogue: Jabe: “The gift of peace. I bring you a cutting of my grandfather.”
Doctor: “Thank you. Yes. Gifts. Umm . . . I give you in return, air from my lungs.”
Jabe: “How . . . intimate.”
Doctor: “There’s more where that came from.”
Jabe: “I bet there is.”

Most uninspired word: Meme. What’s the point of spelling it like that if you don’t want to pronounce it mee-mee? Why wouldn’t you want to pronounce it mee-mee? If you’re going to pronounce it meem, wouldn’t it be more fun to write it that way?

This was originally posted July 31, 2014.