Easter 2017

Easter this year finds me in the midst of a lot of real-life upheaval and change, notably with a baby learning to walk, but all hopefully for the eventual best. As such, even though I’m buckling down to recommit myself to this blog, it’s hard to say what will happen over the next twelve months.

I expect my continuing Doctor Who reviews will provide sort of a backbone of updates off of which to build, with the new MST3K also showing up every once in a while. There are also several other reviews of a more personal nature, ones that I’ve been meaning to do for many years, that I hope I will get to before the year is out. Some of those reflections referred to in the subtitle might start popping up, too.

I hope you had a blessed Easter, and here’s to a productive rest of the year!

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MST3K 11×02: Attack of the Clone

“At some point in your life, you might have to resort to YouTube to finish your film. This is okay.”

Caveat: I watched this episode in a noisy room late at night, so I missed some of what was going on.

Movie: Cry Wilderness, which is definitely not intended to ensnare DVD buyers looking for Cry, the Beloved Country

OK: The movie is dumb but does have some nice scenery, as someone remarks towards the end. Too bad most of it seems to be stock footage. There are some good zingers, and the rapid-fire riffing during one long string of stock footage animals is fun. The last host segment was good too.

It stinks: Several people have complained about the pace of the riffing being too much. I think this was an issue in this episode, with the riffers jamming in a lot of comments, one on top of the other, that weren’t all that funny. Sometimes you have to pick the best joke or two and then drop the rest.

Saaay . . .: Was this movie written by or for eight-year-olds? Even setting logic holes and simplistic plot aside, the adults get irrationally angry at the boy lead or otherwise change moods for no comprehensible reason.

I found the first in-movie host segment, where the bots decide being raccoons looks like fun, to be more cute than funny. Sometimes TRTB (the riffers that be) just decide they want to play out a bit from the movie themselves as a host segment. Another example of this is when Joel plays out the “You’re STUCK here!” scene from Fugitive Alien.

The cameo segment was a nice surprise.

I was also surprised to see Jonah bring out the cutouts again. I guess that’s going to be a thing for him? I’m game.

The bit where Jonah explains that Kinga wants him to play out his capture every single episode is more of the odd meta I’ve been noticing. We’ll see going forward how they exploit this angle for more entertainment.

Push the button: I would have to watch this again, awake and without distractions, to rate it confidently, but I felt like it was just an okay episode. It’s memorable for the laughing Indian and all the animals, and a few riffs, and the cameos, but that’s about it. Hopefully TRTB will cut the chaff out of their commentary more effectively in the future.

Next up: time travellers, apparently!

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MST3K 11×01: The Reptilicus Menace

We Kickstarter backers got to see the first episode on Sunday. I was quietly, warmly excited in the days leading up, confident that it would be something special. Sunday came, and KJ and I had lunch and sat down to watch the first fruits of our patronage.

We were not let down.

First off, the movie for the first episode was chosen well. It’s in color, the print and audio are good, the plot is basic and easy to follow, it’s got palpably bad effects and acting (that journalist, ugh) without being too painful to watch. All of this, I’d say, is good to keep the first-time viewer’s attention.

The intro exposition and new theme are mostly fun — I love how they went for a cinematic “showstopper” feel on the first part of the theme song. But the stop-action was jarring. Not bad, just jarring. The same when it occurred in the door sequence. That said, when I watched the second episode, it all looked fine, so no problem there. I do wish the “showstopper” part had been played up a bit more — one weakness of the show is it sometimes doesn’t press an idea all the way home — but all in all, two thumbs up.

I like Kinga’s “skeleton crew” and the opportunities it opens up. I liked they made sure to include musical and letters segments to let oldbies know those will continue and show new viewers what the show is capable of. My weird little brain also really likes the Circle Display Of Movie Torpedoes or whatever. Watching that fill up one slot at a time is going to be very satisfying. It also signals to the casual viewer, maybe someone who just sees a clip on Youtube, that hey, there are a lot more episodes to go looking for.

The new, “normal” voice of Gypsy is going to take some getting used to, especially if she follows her historical pattern of not saying much on average. I liked Jonah’s explanation that he hears music in the Midwestern woman’s voice, or whatever, although that tied in with another minor concern (see later).

The riffing is great. Just solid, old-school MST3K snark and alternate characterization and puns and references, although now the references are later to the point I get them fully. I enjoyed all the host segments as well, with the rap being a highlight. That’s what I come for first and foremost, riffs and movie and host segments, so don’t take my further concerns as anything major.

That said.

Kinga has two gears. Her lower gear, seen in that great little exchange with Max/TSoTF over what to call him, is good. Her higher gear will hopefully get toned down a little. I can kind of see what’s going on there — she acts overly dramatic because she thinks that’s what she’s supposed to do to be a proper Mad Scientist and get that sweet Disney deal. But I do hope it gets toned down. She’s got good chemistry with TV’s Son otherwise. And TV’s Son looks good in this episode. I think the cast is largely a winner.

It’s also a little odd to see the occasional flicker of self-awareness. Jonah explaining Gypsy’s radically altered voice was fine, and the Netflix namedrop was amusing. But one of the characters referring to the show by its title was, AFAIK, unprecedented and a little odd, as I said. I forget the other thing I wanted to bring up from this episode, but episode 2 has another, similar thing. It’s just odd to see the more aggressive direction of meta the show has opened up for itself.

Anyway, to sum up: Very funny, I like nearly all the changes, I like everything they kept the same, just a few corners to sand off. And this particular episode is going to be on my shortlist of favorites/bests.

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It’s the not-too-distant future!

It’s hard to pick out all the reasons I’ve been so much more excited for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival than for other, bigger things, like the Star Wars revival. It may be partly because they are bigger things, and I have the tendency to pass up bigger things because plenty of other people are already fanatically into them (see: Harry Potter). It’s undoubtedly partly because the other big things have been the Hobbit trilogy, when I wasn’t fond of the last two LotR movies to begin with, and the new Star Trek series, about which Paramount has yet to rise to the level of dull excitement and the first two reboot movies were not very good anyway.

But what about MST3K’s own qualities?

First off, it’s my kind of humor: looking around and making snarky, witty, or just goofy comments in reaction. Running gags. Just horsing around for the pleasure of it. That’s sort of the core of the show’s appeal for me.

Also, there’s the fantastic chemistry between the cast members. Everything clicks so well because everyone involved clicked with each other. After a while, it becomes a joy to watch them play off of each other even when the underlying idea isn’t all that amusing.

The show took its low budget and made it into an advantage; obviously your mileage will vary, but the props generally looked as charming as they did cheap, and there was enough showmanship on hand to allow everything to look professional. Basically, it looks like it’s cheap on purpose rather than through ineptitude.

It’s also a flexible format. A person and some puppet-robots make fun of a cheesy movie and do little skits, while one or more other people act mad-sciencey. Even if it might be difficult to recapture the feel of the original show, that’s not a hard format to follow. Whereas Star Wars has to continue a story that, for me, was pretty well wrapped up with the original trilogy. And both it and Star Trek have to conform to some basic rules to feel like part of their respective universes, and let’s face it, Trek hasn’t been doing so hot since First Contact at least.

And then there is the fanfiction, the MSTings. I was something of a MSTing junkie during the early aughts, despite knowing little about the show proper beyond a shareware episode guide, a few minutes of one episode (Invasion of the Giant Spiders or whatever, so I switched off pretty quickly), and vague cultural osmosis. That helped to encourage me to actually check out the real show on Hulu and elsewhere.

So I was interested to find a Kickstarter was going to happen to fund a new season, with Joel himself in the driver’s seat. Excited, even. We wound up contributing more than I care to admit. But why? With Star Wars, I looked at Pixar and Marvel and said, hey, Disney knows how to leave their creative sections alone to do their respective things. I bet the new Star Wars films will be just fine. With MST3K, well, I looked at the body of work and said: this is a guy I can trust to get it right. Joel ran a superb campaign. He got his message across, he (and certain committed backers) kept the excitement up, he parceled casting reveals out as the thirty days went along, and at the end he got not only a full season funded but two more episodes than he was aiming for. It was kind of a magical experience, especially at the end, with the big wrap stream with people performing and the look on Joel’s face when he heard the goal had been met and the connection cutting out to give that true low-budget experience.

All of this is to say that while MST3K isn’t the greatest show ever, and I don’t know if I would even put it on my list of very favoritest shows, it’s still a very special thing, and a good thing, and I like it a lot, and I have confidence that Joel Hodgson is the man to catch riff lightning in a bottle again. So I’m going to do reviews for the new episodes as I see them. They won’t be as in-depth as my Doctor Who reviews, some of them may be barely a few lines for all I know, but they’ll be there. I’ve already seen the first two episodes, and I’ll write their reviews up to drop tomorrow once Netflix flips the switch on them. Spoiler alert: my confidence in Joel and the crew is unshaken: this is gonna be a real good season.

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nuWho 1×10: The Doctor Dances


Okay, so we left our heroes cornered by hive-mind zombies intent on infecting them with gas masks. Just your standard cliffhanger. The Doctor tries telling the hospital bunch that he’s angry with them and they should go to their rooms. All of them, plus the Child, adopt identical dejected body language and shuffle away. The Doctor is happy the threat is over: “Those would have been terrible last words.”

While Nancy sobs for her lost brother, Jack and the Doctor expand upon a few plot points from Part 1. Jack protests that his con game is fun for all ages and he’s not to blame for any of this virus stuff. As you can guess, the 9th Doctor is angry with him, possibly for trying to deflect blame (it’s become a theme this season) as much as for what his actions have led to.

Nancy suffers a jump scare as she’s leaving the house, as the Child steps out from around a corner! But it’s just the resident boy wearing a normal gas mask. His parents capture Nancy and bundle her back into the house, presumably so the mother can administer boiling-hot justice via her coffeepot.

The Doctor leads the way up the hospital’s stairs to look at Patient Zero. He lets Jack neutralize the lock on the door so he can get a good look at Jack’s sonic blaster (not a euphemism). Continuing this Doctor’s theme of being a walking disaster magnet, Jack mentions that the facility that made his gun was destroyed. The Doctor agrees: “Like I said, [I was there] once.” The fact that bananas are now grown there now is also implied to be his doing. One might further infer that he’s messing with Jack deliberately. The gun’s shooty visual effect is kind of cheesy but fun. Rose likes it too.

The room beyond is half lab, half bedroom, and all a mess. Jack surmises that something strong and angry escaped, but the walls are covered with childish drawings of stickmen. Playing back an interrogation recording yields what the viewer expects: One question after another is met with a childish voice repeating variations on “Are you my mummy? I want my mummy!” Grim, the Doctor sees that the stick figures all represent a woman. One thought permeating this child’s mind: to find his mother. As a new father, I’m reminded that a young child’s need for his or her parents is a primal desire, an instinct that can override all other emotions when the urge strikes. Not even proximity is enough sometimes.

As the recording provides an eerie backdrop, the Doctor demands to know why the monkeys around him can’t feel “it” emanating from the walls. “When he’s stressed he likes to insult species”, Rose tells Jack, which is as good an explanation as any. The Doctor reasons through what must have happened: children all over London, looking for food; the spaceship crashes; someone gets altered; then — what? “It’s afraid,” the Doctor says as the recording changes to “I’m he-ere!” “The power of a god, and I just sent it to its room”, he grins. But then it sets in that the tape ended and the voice is still talking. “And this is its room”, he concludes, and spins around — and the background music, respectfully absent for a while, now jumps in to punctuate the sight of the Child on the other side of the table, blocking their escape.

Jack pulls his gun to shoot the Child, but finds he’s holding a banana. The Doctor grins and uses Jack’s gun to remove part of the wall. They jump through, Jack reverse-guns the wall back into existence, the Child starts punching through the wall, and they flee, only to run into the other patients. Trapped, Jack starts enumerating the uses of his blaster. “What’ve you got?” he asks the Doctor. The Doctor proudly pulls out his screwdriver and announces, “I’ve got –” then realizes how lame it would sound and finishes with “– never mind. It’s sonic, okay, let’s leave it at that.” Finally, pressured further, he admits it’s a screwdriver. This is the best contender yet for Favorite Dialogue. We all know what will win, yes, but honorary mentions all around.

Anyway, Rose finally shoots the floor with Jack’s gun and they fall through to the next floor. (Spock raises an approving eyebrow at her three-dimensional thinking and Han mutters about maybe beginning to like her.) Jack asks, “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ooh, this could be a little more sonic?” and the Doctor says defensively, “What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night, never had a lot of cabinets to put up?” They find they’re in another room of the Living Gas Masks and, upon finding Jack’s gun is spent (not a euphemism), the Doctor just opens the door himself and sonics it locked behind them. Jack complains about the Doctor blowing up the gun factory, to which Rose responds, “The first day we met, he blew up my job. It’s practically how he communicates.”

The Doctor calls for a list of assets, to which Jack snarks about the lack of same, to which the Doctor asks Rose where she found this romantic interest. A bit of banter more, and Jack disappears with a teleporty sound.

Nancy has blackmailed her way out of her citizen’s arrest and picked up wirecutters, a torch, and food into the bargain. She finds her boys and scolds them for reusing a hideout. One of them, blissfully ignoring logic, is illiterately typing a letter to his father, whereabouts currently unknown. Nancy tells them they have to think for themselves in case she never comes back. She’s headed to the “bomb site” to try to solve the mystery herself. One of the boys protests that she keeps them safe, to which she responds that the Child keeps homing in on her, and as long as they are with her they will never be safe. As evidence, she points out that the typing SFX have continued even with nobody near the typewriter. Spooky!

Jack phones back to the Doctor and Rose by activating the hospital’s broken radio, using his fancy spaceship’s capabilities. The Doctor notes that the Child can do the same thing, to which the Child singsongs, “And I can hear you. Coming to find you”, which just makes it creepier.

The Doctor sets about the time-honored task of loosening the bars in the window of their effective prison cell. You know, just in case the self-centered con man from the future doesn’t come back for them. Rose says she trusts Jack because he’s like the Doctor except he also knows how to get a girl’s heart racing. The Doctor, rather than take umbrage at the implication that he too would run a con and then shrug off the collateral damage, protests he can totally dance. (The Doctor Who wiki says there is one instance of the Doctor dancing in the old show.) Rose calls his bluff, and he steps toward her with a very unfamiliar look of trepidation on his face, one of being at a loss as to what to do next. Were I a Doctor/Rose ‘shipper, I’d say he’s only now realizing the depths of Rose’s feelings for him *siiiigh*. Anyway, he catches sight of Rose’s healthy hands, and wants to know where the burns from that barrage balloon rope are. Rose explains about Captain Jack Harkness’s Patent Cure-All NanobotsTM. This works to get an important plot point reintroduced for this episode while seeming to just be a way to progress the, uh, interest triangle centered on Rose. As they start to dance, not impressing Rose in the least, Jack pipes in to inform them that he teleported them aboard unawares.

The Doctor recognizes this as a Chula ship too, only more functional than the derelict. Accordingly he snaps his fingers, causing a glowing swarm of nanobots/”nanogenes” to appear around his hand and fix a burn. He patters about them some more, but if you’re really super-detective you probably picked up on the “genes” part of their name, connected it with the re-writing DNA comment from the end of last episode, and went hmmm. He then, not at all euphemistically, tells Jack he needs to see Jack’s “space junk”. There’s also a bit of backstory for Jack, as he used to be a Time Agent, only to discover they’d removed two years’ worth of his memories.

Nancy has gotten herself captured at the crash site. She’s chained to a desk with a soldier sporting the hottest new injury everyone’s wearing this season. Nancy begs the commanding officer to detain her somewhere else, but being Nancy, she never tries to explain why. Even when the CO catches the soldier calling him “Mummy”. She then tries to tell the soldier to let her go, with no results.

Outside, Jack distracts “Algy”, the CO, while the Doctor cheerfully tells Rose about humanity going out into the galaxy and dancing with all the aliens they can find (this is a euphemism). Rose isn’t sure what to make of this. Jack isn’t sure what to make of Algy — his posh demeanor has degenerated into childish body language and a preoccupation with the word “mummy”. After the inevitable transformation, the Doctor announces that the whatever-it-is is airborne now (how would he know?), and there are only hours left to save the human race. An air raid siren sounds the alarm, and Rose remembers that a bomb is supposed to hit here soon.

Our heroes stop by to rescue Nancy, who sang her soldier to sleep, then look over the derelict ambulance. It looks like it could hold two, maybe four humans if they held their breaths. Jack tries to open it, but trips emergency crash protocols that involve a siren and a blinking red light. Probably not a good thing then? All the Gas Mask people wake up and head for the crash site. Not a good thing. The Doctor tosses Rose his screwdriver and tells her which setting will close up Nancy’s hole in the fence. It’s setting #2000-odd, which suggests an awful lot of long, bored nights.

“Be sure you don’t use setting 2,428E by mistake. That turns barbed wire into Mr. T action figures. I was on an ’80s kick at the time, all right?”

Rose and Nancy talk about the future as they repair the fence. (Rose makes it easier for the VFX people by making the screwdriver glow extra-bright as the wire repairs.) Nancy finds it hard to believe that any future exists beyond this war that doesn’t involve Germans goose-stepping all over Britain.

Jack has gotten the ambulance open and declares it empty. The Doctor counters that it contains enough nanogenes to “rebuild a species.” The nanogenes found a dead child wearing a gas mask, healed and brought it back to life as best they could guess, then used the result as a template to “fix” all the rest of the humans they found. Which will be everyone in the world. Since the derelict is designed for the battlefield, it added on standard Chula warrior features, which covers all the supernatural things we’ve seen the victims do. Such as them now converging on the ambulance to defend it.

As the bombs get closer, Jack kinda-sorta-doesn’t really apologize for having to leave them in the lurch, actually apologizes with his eyes, and then teleports out. Meanwhile the Doctor has looked up Nancy on IMDB and realizes that she’s old enough to in fact be the Child’s mother. As the Child marches forward with his army, the Doctor urges Nancy to tell him the truth. Tragically, there isn’t enough Jamie left to understand Nancy’s answer, so she finally tells him she’s sorry and gives him the physical contact she’s been afraid of the whole story, embracing him as the son she’s been afraid to admit to his whole life. And then the nanogenes kick in and create a cloud of glowy love around them. It’s touches like these that win Hugos.

As the Doctor looks on in hope, the nanogenes recognize Nancy’s DNA as similar to Jamie’s, then reconstruct him properly based on the new information.

Jack flies by and tractors the bomb before it drops on the happy reunion. The, uh, “special” effects strike again here. I’m guessing the FX people were at a loss as to how to stage this bit, so they had someone’s five-year-old come in and show them how to do it with toys. And . . . uh . . . Jack is riding the bomb now. Huh. The Doctor tells him the bomb isn’t necessary — he must have told Jack to let the bomb drop and wipe out the infection, back while the barbed wire was being repaired — and Jack says goodbye before teleporting himself and the stasis’ed bomb into the ship and flying away.

That, uh, that happened.

Then the Doctor calls down the nanogenes onto his hands, apparently reprograms them with a twiddling of his fingers, and, beaming, flings them at the Gas Mask Army. “Everybody lives!” he shouts, and sure enough, everyone gets up with their proper faces on. He compliments Dr. Constantine, who may not remember the whole freaky zombie thing, and leaves him to deal with a lady whose leg has grown back. “There is a war on, is it possible you miscounted?” Dr. C. asks her.

The ambulance is set to self-destruct once nobody is nearby, the nanogenes are set to deactivate once everyone is cured, and the Doctor is ecstatic. “Ask me anything!” he declares, so Rose wants to know why Jack said goodbye. Well, that’s a downer.

We find Jack in deep space, trying to figure out how to get rid of a bomb before it eats through stasis. Finding no way out, he sips booze to remain upbeat and reflects on previous times he was doomed to die. It seems we’re about to witness a brave man meeting his end . . . but then the TARDIS appears in the back of the ship, with Rose urging him into the control room as she instructs the Doctor in dancing. Rose invites Jack to cut in, but the Doctor suddenly remembers his dance moves and the episode ends with Jack watching with approval as the Doctor and Rose strut their stuff.

Honestly, I could have done a “top ten dialogues” list for this story and have had plenty of material left over.

Rating: 4 square-shaped sonic blaster bolts

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: Come on. Give me a day like this. Give me this one.
[He removes the mask from Jamie, then laughs.]
The Doctor: Twenty years to pop music, you’re gonna love it.
[…]
The Doctor: Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once! Everybody lives!

Things from this episode also appearing in the Matt Smith run: I dunno, four at least?
Things even more pointless than a sonic screwdriver: sonic carpenter’s level, sonic lockpick, sonic eyebrows

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nuWho 1×09: The Empty Child

Great title, huh? The teaser isn’t much on plot, though, as we find the TARDIS chasing a mysterious distress signal–emitting cylinder that is headed for London by way of a mess of time tracks (the space equivalent of the Underground). Rose is wearing a Union Jack shirt for no apparent reason other than this being a very British episode.

Having landed in nighttime London, the Doctor re-introduces the psychic paper, again as a device to let him go around asking people about the weird thing of the week. Structurally, this introduces the idea for when Jack pulls his own paper out later on. But between that and Rose’s dramatic outfit and a few other details, I wonder if TPTB sensed this two-parter would be something special, and made certain it would do the job as a First Episode. As the Doctor breaks into a building to see who’s playing music in it, Rose is distracted by an eerie, childish voice calling for its mother. She then sees an eerie, childish figure in the distance and decides that’s more interesting than asking somebody about big metal cylinders by way of Stravinsky. This is all good dialogue, by the way.

The Doctor finds himself in a nightclub, with a lady in big furs singing “It Had To Be You, Wonderful You”. He waits out the song appreciatively before commandeering the microphone to ask “Has anything fallen from the sky recently?” The audience finally decides this is a funny question, not a stupid one, then shuffles out of the room as sirens sound. It becomes clear that the TARDIS has taken them to WWII London, during the Nazi air raids.

Meanwhile, Rose has tracked the figure down. It’s a child in a suit who’s decided to accessorize with a gas mask. It’s currently looking about from atop a scary-tall building. Rose catches hold of a rope that a stagehand is enthusiastically waving about and begins to climb up to him. Unfortunately, the rope is attached to a blimp of some variety, which lifts Rose off into the thick of an air battle before she’s pulled herself more than a few feet off the ground. The compositing in these wide shots is . . . not impressive. The rest of the effects — and there are many — are good, especially for the time and on a TV budget, but you’d think they could spare a few last dollars for a merely passable composite shot of Rose drifting across the screen.

The Doctor mentions to a cat that after nine hundred years in the TARDIS, the one thing that could still surprise him would be a travelling companion who doesn’t wander off. Then the fake phone on his fake phone booth rings, which understandably confounds him. A girl with a hard expression appears out of nowhere just long enough to warn him not to answer his TARDIS phone, that the call is not for him. Very spooky! Nancy looks . . . fifteen at the oldest, let’s say, but the actress playing her was about twenty-one at the time the episode aired.

The girl having vanished, the Doctor looks the most indecisive we’ve yet seen him, but finally picks up the phone gingerly. The eerie child’s voice, asking for its mummy, turns the Doctor immediately serious. (As comes up later in the series, the Doctor is friend to all children.) He can’t get anything more out of it, however, and the phone goes dead. He follows a clatter to find a family headed into their bomb shelter, the father less scared than he is frustrated that he can’t finish a proper supper these days. The Doctor catches sight of the mysterious girl slipping into the freshly abandoned house. He finds her inside, feeding homeless boys on the family’s dinner.

Meanwhile, a British officer named Jack uses Luke Skywalker binoculars to investigate an object dangling from a blimp. It’s Rose, still trying to avoid the spectacular battle CGIing around her. He compliments her rump, then when another officer suggests he make himself useful, compliments his rump too. When Rose finally loses her grip on the rope, Jack catches her in a tractor beam and pulls her to safety.

The Doctor ingratiates himself with the home crashers and asks why they haven’t been all evacuated from London. Some were, but landed in abusive situations (a sad historical fact) and headed back to the city they knew. He then gets serious with Nancy, who is defensive. He asks about the phone, Rose, and the cylinder from the teaser, with no results.

When nine hundred years you reach, sketch as well you will not, hmm?

Hearing a tapping and the voice asking after its mummy, he finds the eerie child on the other side of a window, looking in, its hand pressed against the pane. It saw several of the boys and followed them here. Nancy hurries around and bolts the door before it can get inside. A wounded hand comes through the mail slot. Under stress, Nancy tells the Doctor that “it isn’t exactly a child.” As she evacuates the house from a child who is evidently worse than a bombing run, Nancy warns the Doctor not to let it touch him, or he will become like it: “empty”.

And then the phone by the Doctor rings. When Nancy takes it from him and puts it back on the cradle, other things start being triggered. The radio starts playing, and a wind-up monkey clashes its cymbals in time with the child’s “Mummy, mummy” chant. It’s basically a twisted inversion of the “toys” plot thread in Close Encounters, with the child still the focal point, but now being the source of the wrongness. (In fact, there’s an ape-with-cymbals toy here, too.)

The Doctor talks to the Child (it’s capitalized now), telling it its mummy isn’t around, but can get no further information except that it’s afraid of the bombs. He tells it he’ll let it in, but when the door is opened, the Child has vanished.

Meanwhile Rose is overtly attracted to her rescuer (and vice versa), who introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness. He’s got a fancy spaceship with a tractor beam and a cloaking device and psychic paper and healing nanobots and probably even a stash of Oreos somewhere. As we learn later, he also has an infinite lives cheat, and he’s omnisexual and so are his pheromones. Much like Mickey before I started this rewatch, I’ve seen little of him, and like Mickey before this rewatch I can take or leave him. We’ll see if Jack can similarly elevate himself. So far his dialogue delivery has chafed, although it improves once he decides Rose is a Time Agent.

They go out on top of the spaceship and have a drink, right in front of Big Ben, in the middle of an air raid. As they dance, Jack offers her a Chula warship for sale — if she’s authorized. Rose isn’t sure she likes pretending to be an Agent, but she likes the whole flirting thing. Deciding that he won’t get any money from her, Jack searches for her companion, by doing “a scan for alien tech” — which is what Rose wanted to see the Doctor do earlier. “Finally, a professional,” she declares, beaming.

The Doctor catches up with Nancy, and amid the commentary on his protuberant facial features finally gets the location of the cylinder out of her. The armed forces have it quarantined. Nancy, ever reluctant to give any direct information herself, urges the Doctor to talk to a doctor in a nearby hospital first. The Doctor reflects on the bravery of Great Britain in stopping the Nazis, then sends Nancy on her way to “save the world”.

Inside the hospital, the Doctor finds rooms lined with patients in their beds. All of them wear a gas mask. The doctor, Constantine, is not in the best of health. Constantine tells him there are hundreds of such patients. At his invitation, the Doctor examines a patient and finds head trauma, a collapsed chest cavity, and a hand wound. (Remember, the Child had a prominent gash in its hand as well.) Also the gas mask has inexplicably become fused to the face. The Doctor checks other patients, and all of them have those same features.

Over the Doctor’s protests that this is all impossible, Constantine relates that the cylinder killed only one person initially, but his injuries spread rapidly throughout the hospital like a plague. Stranger still, despite the absence of life signs, none of these patients are dead. To demonstrate, he raps a refuse can, and the patients all sit to attention. This is all slowly paced, with dialogue leading the viewer along, to draw out the suspense and horror. Constantine says he expects that the hospital will be exploded to eliminate the plague, but adds that it has spread around London.

As his coughing worsens, Constantine tells the Doctor where to find Patient Zero, then says it’s Nancy’s brother and that Nancy knows more than she lets on. (The latter is obvious to anyone, especially given that Nancy let on that her brother died from a more normal bomb.) As the Doctor watches in horror, Constantine strains to say “Mummy . . .” and a gas mask grows out of his mouth to cover his face. Gross. Imagine something that size forcing itself out between your jaws.

At this point Jack and Rose arrive to join in the fun. The Doctor takes the news that he’s a Time Agent without the slightest twitch, but being called Mr. Spock, after Rose got on his case for not “Spocking it up” earlier, annoys him. The Doctor demands to know what kind of Chula warship Jack has, at which point Jack drops the rakish air and admits that there’s no such thing, the cylinder is just a space ambulance with nothing useful in it, and he was hoping to sell it to the Agency and then destroy it before they could find out they’d been had. Also, the fabled Oreo stash is just store-brand oatmeal raisin. Also, he threw the cylinder in their way in the first place, in order to get their attention, and you people aren’t actually Time Agents are you?

The Doctor explains the mechanism behind the plague: the victims’ DNA are being rewritten. But the results seem pointless. It isn’t killing them, it isn’t healing them, it isn’t enhancing them, it isn’t mind-controlling them to any useful purpose. Why would anyone invent such a virus?

Meanwhile, Nancy has gone back to the banquet house for more food, but is trapped in the dining room by the Child. She makes a break for the door, but the Child uses its Force powers to slam the door shut. As it advances on her, ignoring her attempts to identify herself as its sister, the patients around our other heroes come to life and entrap them with the same haunting question.

“Mummy?”

The dark, often creepy atmosphere lifts this episode immensely. Cramped alleyways, the small nightclub, muted colors, and the bewildering turns of events combine for a story that encloses our heroes tightly even though the action, in principle, ranges across London. Even when Rose is first lifted into the sky, her view is blocked by walls of balloons and aeroplanes. It goes without saying that the use of gas masks to remove the main humanizing feature, the face, while making the enemy/victim instantly recognizable as such was a smart move. And the soundtrack has been on-point as well. The odd thumping when the Doctor is deciding to let the Child in, after Nancy and the children have fled, or the “finally reaching the source” music when the Doctor unlocks the hospital gates and heads inside, for example.

This episode shows the inhabitants of London finding ways to maintain a sense of order in their lives. People visit nightclubs; the father’s irritation reflects the loss of horror at being bombed; Nancy insists on good manners from her boys. Jack feels out of place in this regard, at least until it turns out he started the whole plot. He’s an intrusion, like the Doctor and Rose, but in mood as well as time. All this stuff about time agencies and used warship salesmen and ropey spaceship innards works well enough, but it feels thematically at odds with the Doctor’s half of the story, and I think that is what ultimately rubs me wrong about Jack’s part of the episode. It’s not nearly enough of a blemish to lower the rating, though.

Rating: 4 creepy children in gas masks

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: So that’s what you do is it Nancy? Soon as the sirens go, you find a big fat family meal still warm on the table, with everyone down in the air raid shelter, and bingo! Feeding frenzy for the homeless kids of London Town. Puddings for all, as long as the bombs don’t get you.
Nancy: Something wrong with that?
Doctor: Wrong with that? It’s brilliant. I’m not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical.

I’m not heading straight on to “The Doctor Dances” because: I got Close Encounters for Christmas and I’m gonna watch it.

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2016 reading list

Not as many as I expected to read, since I went on one of my periodic Agatha Christie kicks, but the new books I read in 2016 were:

The Only Pirate At The Party — Lindsey Stirling and her sister

This autobiography is a quick read, taking just a few hundred pages of large type to cover her childhood antics and growth pains, career path, missionary work, battle with an eating disorder, and the joys and trials of her mini-celebrity life. There are pictures too. One of the purposes in writing the book is clearly to encourage others who suffer from disorders of their own. There are also passages aimed at those who want to achieve some daunting career path of their own, as Stirling takes several opportunities to talk about moments when she had to endure the scorn of others and come out stronger for it. If none of this sounds interesting to you, it’s probably not a book for you, but I enjoyed it.
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“Live From Cape Canaveral”: Covering the Space Race, From Sputnik to Today — Jay Barbree

What it says in the title — Barbree was an NBC correspondent from the very first NASA missions up through at least 2007 or so, when this book was published. The highlights include the personalities of the early astronauts and the mischief they got into, a short jaunt with Jimmy Carter, and a look behind the scenes of the Challenger disaster coverage. Unfortunately, with only about 300 pages, unmanned missions scarcely get mentioned at all. Maybe the worst part is when the author confidently predicts that we’d be well on our way back to the Moon by now. Worth a read.
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A Separate Peace — John Knowles

Short novel about boys at a boarding school on the cusp of becoming eligible for the WWII draft. One of them gives in to a moment’s spite and consequences follow. Introspective without being plodding or navel-gazing, the novel delves into the adolescent male psyche very realistically. I enjoyed it.
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The Small Bachelor — P.G. Wodehouse

Not one of his Jeeves books, this is about a lovestricken introvert and his antics with his beloved’s family, a policeman, and a man with very strict ideas about living. The absurdity of the frequency with which all these people run into each other is part of the fun. Quite funny in narration, plot, and characters, and I hope to read more of his novels in the future.
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Ring for Jeeves — P.G. Wodehouse

Shockingly, this one has Jeeves in it (but not Wooster). It also has horse racing and ghosts and is just about as enjoyable as the other one I read. There’s the same pattern of new plot threads appearing and immediately entangling with others to comedic effect, which helps to keep things moving quickly.
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Thirteen Detectives — G.K. Chesterton

A collection of detective stories by Chesterton. The preface makes it clear that Chesterton had Ideas about what makes a proper detective story, and in that context, some of these stories felt more like demonstrations or exercises than yarns. Quite a different feel from, say, Agatha Christie or Doyle. But they are inventive, amusing, and very readable. I think my favorite was “The Hole in the Wall” for its atmosphere, but special mention to “The Donnington Affair”, where Chesterton provides the solution to another author’s setup so thoroughly that the reader is left without any doubt that this must have been what the original author meant all along. It was also interesting to come across a story that possibly was the source material for one of Christie’s books.

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