nuWho 1×07: The Long Game

The Doctor has taken Rose to visit a large space station orbiting Earth in the year 200,000. Adam is technically present too. He’s a little overwhelmed. (I suspect nobody has bothered to explain anything about anything to him.) Rose teases him by expertly regurgitating everything the Doctor just told her, then they find a window to look down at Earth. It’s covered by a lot of squarish architecture that can definitely be seen from the Moon. Even the Borg would have to rate this as a “fair start”. The Doctor announces admiringly that the galaxy is at the height of the fourth human empire. Adam finally faints, which takes him out of the running for Rose’s affections.

The Doctor assures Adam that this is the era of humanity’s finest culture, at which point they slam into a street vendor in a Purina bandana selling “kronk” burgers. Apparently this is so very not-fine culture that the Doctor checks his watch to be sure he got the target era right. I guess some empires are just so awesome that even the lowest, scavengy-est street vendors deal in veal and caviar. Just think of it, a world where even the dumbest sitcoms don’t need laugh tracks to tell you when they’re trying to be funny. Adam wonders where all the aliens are, if this is an interstellar empire. The Doctor agrees that this bears investigating, which requires cuisine, which requires money. He hacks an ATM, then leaves Rose and Adam to fend for themselves despite Adam’s protests. My time as a companion would probably be like Adam’s thus far, except with less fainting and more “will there be time for a visit to the library please.”

The Doctor questions a couple of young women, Cathica and Suki, on his whereabouts, accepting their assumption that he’s a secret shopper sent by upper management to drill them on their PR skills. This is floor 139 of Satellite Five, and the two are hoping to advance to floor 500. They show no clear idea of what exactly is so great about that floor; presumably they can exit the dungeon with their loot and record a high score.

Cathica delivers a few news highlights, with yet another “Bad Wolf” thrown in randomly. There’s no sinister organization we know of that’s attached to the phrase, as there was with “the Silence”, so it’s just some bit of trivia at this point. Anyway, the pregnancy of the Face of Boe is either the most or least disturbing of the news of the day, with water riots and vicious sunspots disrupting things elsewhere. Cathica declares that Satellite Five is the news, which is arguably more disturbing than any of the news she mentioned. S5 broadcasts six hundred channels of news, and these two are among the journalists it employs.

A white-haired man in a monitoring room senses something off about the Doctor’s conversation and orders a deep security check. He says it’s something fictional, which, combined with the woman’s insistence that nothing happens without S5 knowing about it, says bad things about the ego of the people running six hundred channels of news media.

Rose has managed to find a beef-flavored slush puppy. Adam is still trying to cope with the sudden loss of everything he considered part of his reality, all vanished without a trace into his past. Rose offers him her supercellphone, frustrated that he wants instructions for it. You know, some people can just plunge into a strange situation, but others need a little handholding as they ramp up to “I’ve got a grip on this.” One approach is not intrinsically superior, it depends on the situation. And, keeping in mind his previous employer, maybe Adam has developed extra caution about breaking other people’s things he doesn’t fully understand. Anyway, his pet dog comes in and gets slightly whiny at the sound of his master’s voice on the machine, just to liven up the scene a bit. Adam leaves a message and the Doctor calls them over as “Mutt and Jeff” which I’m aware is a pop culture reference. (Turns out it’s a comic strip.) Adam makes a big show of keeping the supercell.

Grown-up Draco Malfoy continues to watch, insisting that he can “taste” that someone isn’t supposed to be there and calling for a second security check. I keep stopping short of saying he’s ordering people to do things; he’s very all-business, but personable in his demeanor and voice. Considering what it turns out he has hanging over him, that might be how he stays sane.

Cathica has collected an assortment of people in a sterile white room for a full inspection for the Doctor & co.’s benefit. Suki looks scared about the whole thing. Presumably she’s worked hard to get this high and doesn’t want to be sent back to Floor 57 where they’ve never been able to scrub the ketchupy odor from the air filters. Anyway, Cathica says that it’s company policy to be honest and unbiased in their news-gathering efforts, to which Suki adds that it’s the law. It’s subtle but apparent that internal policy is more important than legality, at least in Cathica’s mind. This gets better and better.

Everyone around the table interfaces with it. Cathica climbs into a chair in the middle and clicks her fingers, whereupon her forehead pops open to reveal a metallic cavity. She orders a “spike” and blue energy flows into her cavity, the Doctor saying that she’s basically downloading all the news of the day. Her brain interacts with the other employees’ to process and broadcast the news on all 600 channels, but it won’t retain any of it after the link is cut.

The security computer, having determined that someone in the room shouldn’t be there, and having presumably listened to the foregoing question-and-answer exposition, now takes several long, dramatic seconds to consider the Doctor & co. One wonders why it hasn’t just run a database of authorized secret shoppers by now. The Doctor announces something is wrong about this technology (which gets him and Rose grinning), and the background music changes from quiet long notes to excited crackles. Now the security camera focuses in on Suki, much to Draco’s satisfaction. Sure enough, Suki jerks away from the interface in pain, breaking the link. The sound effects indicate she was fired upon by a psychic photon torpedo. Something snarls unintelligibly at Draco, who makes profuse apologies to the top of a wall and promises to detain Suki ASAP.

A screen on the wall of the sterile room announces an incoming promotion. It’s for . . . waaait for it, let’s let Cathica embarrass herself a little more . . . Suki! She drew the “go straight to Floor 500” card! It takes a moment for this to sink in, as Suki protests that she didn’t really expect them to choose her application. She’s really tickled pink about it. Cathica just fumes about being passed over yet again.

Suki hugs her “lucky charm”, the Doctor, who agreeably says that he’ll hug anyone. Adam was really freaked out by the forehead thing, and wants to find a quiet spot so he can decompress. He heads for an observation deck, with Rose giving him a TARDIS key and puffing and pouting the whole time. He comments as he leaves that it’ll take “a better man than me” to divert Rose’s attentions from the Doctor. Suki now exits the scene via elevator, with Cathica glad to see her go, explaining that nobody ever returns from Floor 500.

Suki is about two steps below spazzing out as the elevator rises. She steps out on a wintry wasteland of a room, complete with falling snow and one of those circular table interfaces. It’s got skeletons in the seats. She finds another room, which leads to the security room, where Draco waves at her.

Suki, still freaked out, approaches Draco, who introduces himself as The Editor. He replays the biography she submitted with her job application, calling her a liar meanwhile, then calls her by her true name and appends a resume of her as a terrorist. At the mention of her true name, Suki finally starts to drop her facade. She pulls out a gun, demands to see his superior, and insists she has proof that S5 is distorting the news. See, this is the kind of customer feedback that keeps the news media honest. He introduces Suki to her boss, who’s been her boss “since the day you were born.” Her boss descends upon Suki, who demonstrates that Energy Bullets Won’t Stop It before spending her last few seconds screaming into the camera.

Cathica complains about the Doctor’s continued questions, saying she’s only allotted 20 minutes for “maintenance” (because cogs in a machine don’t get “free time”). She decides the Doctor isn’t actually an S5 employee, at which the Doctor snarks, “At last, she’s clever!” Cathica now protests complete ignorance, but the Doctor gets her to drop little details, details that mean nothing to her but build a picture of an empire beginning to crack. The Doctor insists that everything’s wrong, that the current technology should be obsolete by now. Turns out, it’s as old as S5, which is good enough to indicate proximate cause in an hour drama.

Adam has taken my advice and accessed a library. Now he tries to transcribe advancements in the microprocessor onto his parents’ answering machine, but the system detects something’s fishy and displays “Floor 16” — the place where Cathica just said she got her forehead doohickeyed. Ruh-roh! He heads down of his own volition and winds up paying for a not–brain surgery with the hacked money the Doctor gave him. The not-surgeon cajoles him into taking the full info-spike doohickey.

The Doctor is messing around in what Cathica calls the mainframe, over Cathica’s objections. His trains of thought are baffling to her, in large part because she accepts everything she’s told without question, as she cannot conceive of anything being rotten in the state of S5. For example, Rose questions why the mainframe area is so hot, and Cathica dismisses it as just something to do with a turbine, she never inquired as to details.

Cathica doesn’t come across as being brainwashed or indoctrinated, just a normal person who has chosen her life’s ambition and is going with the general flow of society on her way there. This makes the episode more effective. It’s easy to write a sci-fi story about a totalitarian regime that controls its populace through obedience devices or staring at a hypnotic screen or constant PSAs about Our Glorious God-Emperor. That’s a story about brainwashing, about those helpless people over there in that society that doesn’t resemble ours. This is more about normal people of free will, living with a corrupted source of news that proclaims transparency and a lack of bias even as it distorts galactic events as it sees fit. It’s about the Cathicas who accept the values of society, and the information that the press gives them, as implicitly true. It’s about the Sukis who fight for a press that will genuinely report honestly and with humility, because that is something that matters. It’s about deciding for yourself what matters, rather than accepting water riots as no big deal because the media treats it as just another news story. And it’s about questioning what you are told and thinking for yourself. All of that is something that has more to say to the viewer about the viewer’s own life than “don’t let the evil genocidal tyrant stick a dolled-up hair dryer on your head.”

Anyway, The Editor is still tracking the Doctor and Rose, and nibbles the scenery a bit about how the computer could possibly have no record of either of them. (Suki is now a zombie helping to run security checks.) He schedules them for a trip to Floor 500, sending the Doctor’s hacked interface the appropriate elevator code. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rose have worked out that the vents and pipes on the station are working very hard to draw heat out of the top of the satellite, so they both want to go up and see what the source is. Cathica repeats that she wants no part of this, and the Doctor cheerfully writes her and Adam off.

You know it’s a bad haircut when even your forehead looks ugly.

Adam has begun to cautiously explore the use of his info-spike, and as I write this sentence I realize why he’s named Adam, as he’s gone against his better judgement for the sake of gaining knowledge that he hopes will make him like unto a god. Anyway, he heaves and vomits (honestly, my stomach is turning a bit), only to find that Not-Surgeon Lady also gave him nanotermites that freeze any regurgitated food. A special package deal for such an excellent client as yourself, and would sir also like a 24k gold foie gras slushie for just five million more?

The Doctor steps out on Floor 500 and suggests Rose retreat while he looks around worriedly. She comes along, of course, and The Editor captures them so he can learn who they are. He introduces them to his boss, who appears to be just a slimy, ribbed blob of flesh with a head that has spiky teeth in it. Not very inspired, but it’s not a spider so I won’t argue. The Editor explains that the Jagrafess has controlled humanity’s ambitions and actions via control of their news, which answers the viewer’s question of “Why should we care what the news media does?” Because people distorting the news generally do it for reasons you may not agree with, selfish or ideological or otherwise, and by doing so they keep people from behaving in accordance with the truth of any given matter and eventually stunt the growth of society. This episode takes a positive view of humanity, incidentally, implying that people will advance properly when given the truth and encouraged to think for themselves, rather than needing the “right” person at the head to steer them this way or that. Which shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Doctor isn’t too fond of authority figures in general.

The Editor talks more about the Jagrafess’s manipulation of media, just in case viewers don’t get the point. He says that being able to see inside people’s brains allows him to squelch any dissent before it begins . . . at which point Cathica strides out of the elevator, having begun to doubt while The Editor was distracted with the Doctor. She overhears the exposition about the Jagrafess letting people have a herd mentality while it stays cool at the top of S5. Meanwhile Adam has found a chair and is transmitting data to his parents’ answering machine so hard that the blue stream somehow travels along the signal and envelops the machine. The Doctor, with himself and Rose under torture, admits who he and Rose are, but The Editor is now drawing information from Adam’s brain. You knew Adam’s info-spike would be a plot point sooner or later, right? Anyway, The Editor can levitate the TARDIS key from out of Adam’s pocket remotely. It’s more original than having thugs capture and search him, at least.

Cathica uses the abandoned chair to drop the safeties, cut Adam’s stream, and cancel the heat sink mechanism. The Doctor is pleased, being surprised at this awakening in her. The Editor tries to cut her stream, but she blows out the controls at his end. The Doctor and Rose escape before the alien explodes. The Editor tries to escape too, but there’s enough of Suki left that she grabs him and keeps him there.

The Doctor leaves Cathica in charge while he deals with Adam. He takes Adam, who is blubbering excuses throughout much as van Statten did in front of the Dalek, and plops him back in his home. The Doctor then destroys the answering machine, scolds Adam, plays with Adam’s spike to drive home his utter lack of sympathy for Adam’s plight, and leaves. Rose tries to play peacemaker but can’t resist triggering the spike herself, and when Adam asks her to let him come along, glares at him and leaves. Adam’s mother comes home, very surprised and tickled that he’s there. She happens to click her fingers, which Adam never changed from being the spike trigger, and makes a very “eccch” face as we go to the end credits. He’ll have fun explaining that one!

Adam can be seen as a warning against abusing special knowledge for one’s own ends, but we had that last episode. He’s more important as an example of why the Doctor doesn’t let just anyone come along.

Objectively this is probably another 3, but I believe I would think nothing of skipping over it in a binge-watch. And since these are subjective scores . . .

Rating: 2 beef-flavored slush puppy drinks

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook. You’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double, and wind up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?

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nuWho 1×06: Dalek

I like the Daleks. They look distinctive, they talk funny, and they serve well as a continuing menace for the Doctor. They are for him what the Borg are for Picard, minus the cyborgification trauma. Both the Doctor and Picard value life in all its myriad variations, both of them strongly prefer to talk than to kill. But neither the Borg nor the Daleks will ever be talked out of their sole driving purposes, purposes that go squarely against everything their protagonist rivals believe in. The Daleks are ideal recurring opponents for when you want to take negotiation off the table and write a story about desperate tactics and cunning and villainy. So they are one-dimensional, yes; they do look goofy on modern TV, yes; but they fit very well into the universe of Doctor Who, which likes a little cheese.

A signal for help has detoured the TARDIS to somewhere under 2012 Utah. Rose and the Doctor realize they’re in a museum of alien artifacts. The Doctor’s eyes are practically shimmering with nostalgia as he zeroes in on an old-school Cyberman head. “The stuff of nightmares,” he calls it, which calls to mind Neil Gaiman’s later “Nightmare in Silver”. An alarm goes off, and a bunch of men come in, very promptly, with full battle gear and big guns and surround the two.

We meet Henry van Statten, the guy who owns the place, and — speaking of cheese — he’s a Whimsical Big Meanie Who Controls Everything From Behind The Scenes. He tells his lackey to replace the President, who’s dropped ten points, presumably in his approval ratings, and when the lackey suggests that that isn’t the best idea he fires him too. His new lackey suggests the next President be a Democrat because, um, they’re funny? There’s a dramatic pause as she comes under the scrutiny of the W.B.M., but fortunately for her, his internal roulette wheel settles on the “I like you, kid” reaction. She adds that two intruders have been arrested, 53 floors below. Underground bunkers are well and good, but this is a bit much. van Statten suggests everybody laugh at a pun. They chuckle. I trust the power structure is clear to everyone by now. He schedules the intruders followed by a visit to his “pet”. The new lackey, Goddard, radios Simmons to see if he’s made any progress in getting the pet to be more amusing. Cut to a Dalek’s eye view while Simmons, who seems to be drilling into the thing, says he’s got it up to screaming.

The Doctor and Rose find van Statten admiring what looks like a pan flute made out of a scallop shell. The Doctor suggests he not hold the thing like that. Goddard tells him to shut up in a professional manner, while the guy showing Statten the thing asks if it’s dangerous. We have our Implacable Roadblock and Open-Minded Smart Person identified. “No, it just looks silly,” the Doctor answers, to finish off a nice little exchange. Everybody prepares to blow him to bits, but van Statten just hands him the flute, and he plays a few notes on it. van Statten takes it back and gets some pleasure out of playing the same quality of notes that the Doctor was producing.

Introductions are made, with Rose getting her back up at being treated as a mere pretty face. It turns out that van Statten secretly owns the Internet (this was after the dot-com bubble, remember), whatever that means. He’s probably to blame for the GoDaddy Super Bowl ads though. Then, uh, some sort of message is shoehorned into the dialogue out of nowhere, with the Doctor accusing van Statten of locking away everything he doesn’t understand and van Statten amusedly asking if the Doctor claims to know more than he does.

I don’t understand the purpose of the Doctor’s accusation here. The usual implication, for me, would be that van Statten tries to ignore or neutralize anything that he “doesn’t understand”. But when the Doctor meets him, van Statten is holding a thing he doesn’t understand. He cheerfully accepts the Doctor’s information about the thing. That isn’t locking it away in the literal or metaphorical sense. So, what’s the deal? The Doctor’s tone isn’t one of warning, just accusation, so it isn’t about meddling in things one doesn’t understand.

Anyway, van Statten turns a little less whimsical and a little more threatening as he asks what the Doctor was doing so close to his “one living specimen”. van Statten and the Doctor head down to see it, because why not show the burglars around. van Statten has won life already, the rest is just using the universe as his toy.

van Statten invites the Doctor to “impress” him. The Doctor is locked into the room with the “metaltron”. (van Statten is rather prouder of his creativity than he should be.)

It’s a dark and dingy room, with unpleasant tools and dramatic lighting, and also a small blue light at the far wall. It’s a Dalek! The Dalek announces its desire to exterminate, the Doctor announces his desire to get out of the room, and van Statten is just happy to finally have it talking. One can imagine him showing off for future guests by tossing a random henchman into the room and watching the results. The Doctor realizes with joy that the Dalek’s shooty bit doesn’t work . . . at which the Dalek looks down at it like an action hero who just found out that he emptied his gun’s clip.

*sad trombone*

And now it all comes out, as the Doctor taunts it with an earnest vigor that I can’t quite imagine coming from any of the classic Doctors I’ve seen. The Dalek wants orders, but the Doctor tells him with relish that he wiped out all the other Daleks. “You destroyed us!” the Dalek responds, and the Doctor is sobered by that thought, unable to look the Dalek in the eye now. Even though it was the Daleks, it was genocide and repugnant to him. Or maybe he’s imagining a Time Lord saying that to him, because it turns out that he destroyed them too. The Doctor protests he had no choice but to burn everyone. The Dalek calls him a coward, which unhinges the Doctor. He coos that he heard the distress signal, then taunts the Dalek again. The Dalek brings up a recurring point, that it and the Doctor are alike in that both are alone. This hits the Doctor where it hurts, and he basically says, fine, I’ll act like you then, and electrocutes the Dalek without any of the pity it begs for. Eccleston does a good job with this scene, swinging from one intense emotion to another without going overboard.

Naturally van Statten sends people in to stop his pet being destroyed. He rushes in himself to talk to his precious Dalek and get it to talk to him . . . but the Dalek remains silent, even when confronted with the owner of the world’s greatest repository of kitty pictures. van Statten tells Simmons to make it talk again, and Simmons puts on his best creepy serial killer grin in response. Sadistic Henchman, check.

Next scene is in a very brown room. Everything is brown and yellow except the floor. It’s the workshop of Adam, the guy who was showing van Statten the flute. He tells Rose that he believes the U.N. is hushing up the existence of alien visitors. Rose agrees politely. The dramatic irony is thick, with Rose suggesting attainable interstellar travel and alien abductions and Adam laughing it all off. He’s not that crazy. Adam shows her Simmons zapping the Dalek and Rose insists on doing something about it.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is telling the others about the Daleks. van Statten is particularly interested in the bit where a genius genetically engineered them. Goddard surmises that the one they have has gone insane. The Doctor declares that it must be the sole Dalek survivor of the Time War . . . sure. Exactly one Dalek survivor, and out of all the zillions of planets and suns in the universe, it happens to crash-land on the second-favorite planet of its greatest enemy. If you believe that, I’ve got a $1.6 billion Powerball ticket I’ll sell you for five bucks.

van Statten points out that the Doctor also survived the war, to which the Doctor responds simply, “Not by choice.” He then points out that the Doctor is just as valuable as the Dalek, to which the Doctor responds with a look of “I don’t like where this is going.”

van Statten forcibly scans the Doctor and announces that he will patent the Doctor’s dual-heart system. I guess you could patent a specific method of dealing with the neurological and hydrodynamic challenges. The Doctor’s “locking away” accusation from earlier now fits into place in the plot, as van Statten turns out to be collecting things so that he alone can profit from them. He used Roswell tech to make broadband, he used a holographic medical program he snatched from a bunch of yahoos from the future to replace short-order cooks everywhere, and he used bacteria from Tunguska to find a cure for the common cold, for which he will now sell “thousands” of non-curing treatments for cold symptoms.

CLEARLY HE IS TEH EVIL MASTERMIND. Except, there are only like, what, six cold symptoms? Are your treatments targeting individual nerve endings? And to be able to cure the cold, you’d have to be able to kill any of the hundreds of viruses that can cause the symptoms referred to as a cold. You could sell a few cures instead and still make money, and your brand will be regarded as an amazing industry leader into the bargain. Plus, with all the geniuses at your command, surely you’re extrapolating cures for other, more serious viral infections now, too. No mention of those?

The Doctor tells him he’s worse than the Dalek, then tells him to do as the Doctor says so that the Dalek doesn’t kill everyone in the base. But van Statten is confident that the Dalek cannot escape its confinement. Meanwhile, Rose heads down to tell the Dalek the Doctor can help it escape its confinement. She tells it she isn’t afraid of it, which is just rubbing salt in the wound when you’re a Dalek. The Dalek is very droopy and depressed and other words one doesn’t associate with Daleks. Rose gives it a pat, and it turns out that that plain metal casing can take in cellular material that rejuvenates a Dalek in no time flat.

How much of the despondency was an act, and how much was genuine? I think there was some honesty there. The Dalek motivation is “We rock”, and if there’s nothing in the universe that rocks, what’s the point of existence? I also believe that the Dalek recognized an unwitting pawn in Rose, and calculated the best way of getting a human ignorant of its nature to free it. Humans are big ol’ softies, with their mercy and empathy and yecch.

The Dalek destroys its chains, then accepts Simmons’s invitation to sucker him to death. The Doctor hears the red alert and tells van Statten, again very simply and without heat, “Release me if you want to live.” He does, apparently without argument.

Rose and company get out of the Dalek’s cell and lock it. The Doctor says that the Dalek can calculate the lock combination quickly because it’s a “genius”, which is taking the word into “inconceivable” territory. Geniuses are creative. Being able to spam ten billion numbers a second doesn’t make you a genius, it makes you a supercomputer. I question whether the electronics could distinguish such brief inputs anyway. Anyway, the Dalek gets out, and Rose still shows no fear, merely flinching away as the guards demonstrate that Bullets Won’t Stop It. The Doctor watches on a screen with muted horror: It’s all beginning again. The Dalek smashes its screen and takes in sweet, sweet electrical power to smooth its knobs, shine its coat, and recharge its shooty thing. Somehow it taps into power plants and Internet too. The Doctor claims it “absorbed the entire Internet.” Genius or no, that many viruses and popup ads ought to crash its brain permanently.

Anyway, the Dalek takes a few practice shots, then zaps a fleeing guard straight to the bone, then casually picks the assault team off one by one. Oh, it also now has an energy shield that shifts projectiles out of reality or something. The Doctor says it melts bullets, but I guess the FX budget wasn’t up to that. While van Statten is still ranting about keeping his toy unharmed, the Doctor tells Goddard to arm everyone with whatever guns can be found, and Goddard, who seems to have switched allegiances (very surprising to me), rushes off to do his bidding.

A guard tries to talk peace with the Dalek from atop a flight of stairs, but the Dalek has mastered special effects enough to float around now. The Doctor makes it clear to van Statten that negotiation is impossible — all the Dalek wants is slaughter.

It gets a slaughter when the next assault team attacks. The Dalek casually lifts into the air, sets off the sprinklers, then electrocutes everybody with two shots. One wonders if it feels a special need to flaunt the Dalek superiority, being the last one. The Doctor takes this hard, but quietly. Rose, who by now is really frightened, has noticed that it seems to be following her around.

As the Doctor, van Statten, and Goddard discuss sealing off the Dalek, the Dalek patches through to their room. It announces that it has confirmed that the Daleks are gone, but will continue to EXTERMINATE. The Doctor tells it there’s no point to that anymore, and the sad little Dalek in the rain gets all forlorn. He viciously tells it to kill itself, in fact. His body language and tone of voice have been fairly low-energy since the first confrontation, but now Eccleston dials it up again. This suggestion is clearly born of the Doctor’s hatred overcoming any compassion or hope he might otherwise have for the Dalek. The Dalek tells him, in fact, “You would make a good Dalek.” That deeply shocks the Doctor, as he realizes the truth behind the statement.

With the Dalek close behind Rose and her guard, the Doctor has to consider sealing the vault before Rose has made it out. He decides it must be done. Adam makes it out, but Rose is stuck with the Dalek. They hear EXTERMINATE and a zap, and that’s the end of Rose. The Doctor is deeply hurt by his failure to keep Rose safe, and takes it all out on van Statten, who is actually showing a bit of empathy by now, being a mere human again and not Lord Of All He Surveys.

Turns out Rose is still alive! The Dalek just wants to complain about how her biomass corrupted it with fear and cooties and a love for pink and Skaro knows what else. Oh, and hold her hostage. The Doctor can’t bring himself to let Rose die again, and nobody stops him lifting the seal. Adam mentions that there are uncatalogued weapons outside the vault — and by the way, there’s seriously only one staircase connecting upstairs with all the good stuff below? — so they head to his workshop, where the Doctor finds something sufficiently big and powerful-looking.

“I feel pret-ty, oh so pret-ty, I feel pret-ty and wit-ty and — WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME”

Rose endures one of the more awkward lift elevator rides in history. Forty-five stories, and all the other person wants to talk about is genocide and how violated it feels by your touch. They get up top and the Dalek corners van Statten, who blubbers excuses for all the torture, then blurts out that he just wanted it to talk, which is close enough. Rose stops the Dalek from killing him, and the Dalek decides what it really wants is freedom. It blows a hole in the ceiling, and when Rose expresses appreciation for the sunlight, it opens its chassis so the tentacled blob inside can experience it for itself.

Rose talks the Doctor down from destroying the Dalek, insisting that it’s changing its ways and demanding he consider what he’s turning into, lugging around a huge gun from a testosterone-loaded action movie. This gets through to the Doctor, who has never been fond of guns AFAIK, and he backs down, thanking Rose for stopping him and saying that Rose’s DNA has made the Dalek something new, evidently something that the Doctor now wants to see keep living. Unfortunately, the Dalek can’t cope with this, telling Rose to order it to commit suicide, because DAH-LEKS ARE SU-PREME AND MUST BE KEPT PURE and honestly it just can’t handle this fear thing. Finally Rose gives in, possibly feeling pity for someone who’s got the Internet rattling around in its brain, and the knobs come off and envelop the Dalek in a sphere of vaporizing energy. TPTB have gotten their money out of the tentacled blob effects in this scene. It looks pretty okay to me.

Goddard, upset because of all the deaths, has van Statten taken away, memory-wiped, and dumped by the road in the same manner that van Statten got rid of her predecessor. This is one time it’s nice to see a Standard Role turn out to be a normal human. Really, everyone in this organization seemed to be “normal” people, aside from Simmons and van Statten. There was no sense of Armed Guards #1-100 being “Durr, I am guns for brains,” but rather just people doing their job. They had very few lines, so this was all down to nonverbal language, costuming, and directing. In fact, the characterization overall turned out to be more nuanced than I had expected after the first few scenes.

In the face of Rose’s hopeful suggestion, the Doctor insists he’s the last survivor of the Time War, at least until TPTB get another idea for a Dalek story. He acknowledges that he needs Rose’s companionship as well. He doesn’t want to give Adam a lift, being miffed that Adam left Rose alone with the Dalek, but lets him slip in behind his back when Rose intervenes. And off to the next adventure we go!

For all the darkness in these first few episodes, this one makes it clear that the Doctor has some sort of moral compass that restrains him. The Doctor told the Dalek that everything the Dalek’s race represented is gone, but the same isn’t true for the Doctor. That’s because he made his own path, decided for himself that he stood for something more than standing around watching the universe fall apart, and he’s continued along that path even after the Time Lords are gone. Electrocuting the Dalek is done with a ferocity we haven’t seen from him, and the Dalek and Rose shock him several times when they point out how he’s letting his hatred control him. Clearly this is less about the Doctor having an unpleasant side and more about how much the Time War has affected him.

Rating: 3 stories below Utah State

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: I’m the Doctor. And who are you?
van Statten: Like you don’t know. We’re hidden away with the most valuable collection of extraterrestrial artifacts in the world, and you just stumbled in by mistake.
Doctor: Pretty much sums me up, yeah.

Game that futuristic computers are most likely to be based off of: Battleship

Top hat sourced from nicubunu.

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#4 Will Shock You

Several weeks late, it’s . . .

The Seven Weirdest Things About Star Wars VII

7. The baby Sarlacc dancers for the big musical number. You may think I should have listed C-3PO’s dreamy ballad instead, but this list is about weird, not creepy.

6. Maximilian challenging BB-8 to an arm-wrestling contest. It’s a funny scene, don’t get me wrong, and Disney certainly isn’t above plugging other movies in their movies. I’m just surprised that someone remembered that The Black Hole exists.

5. The “murder in the cantina” sequence. (“Cantina” is Star Wars for “bar” just like “lightsaber” is Star Wars for “We are gonna make so much money off of merchandising this thing.”) Some nerdy-looking aliens in a corner of the room all stand up and fire their blasters at a man who has just entered. Then they go over and spit and stomp on him. The man’s death is prolonged and gruesome and entirely disconnected from the surrounding movie. Who was he? Why did they kill him? Was it because he was wearing flannel? Was that supposed to signify something?

4. Speaking of lightsabers, it might be that too much exposure to their radiation turns your hair funny colors. That’s the only reason I can think of for Luke’s hair being purple in this movie. The white facepaint, maniacal laugh, and obsession with destroying Batman are anyone’s guess.

3. Chris Hemsworth drunkenly wandering around in the background of Kylo Ren and Darth Teriordesign’s first meeting, complaining about how nobody cares about Thor. I get why Chris would do that, but it’s puzzling that the production team didn’t use a different, Chris-less take. At the very least, they could have cut away before he started sobbing.

2. At the very end, as the protagonists are celebrating their victory over the squid invasion, R2-D2 bites Jar-Jar, and Jar-Jar sprouts a transistor and howls at the moon. Weredroids are a thing now?

1. The total absence of lens flares.

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On Kroenke not getting it

So Stan Kroenke has, as part of his machinations to get the Rams back in Los Angeles, made some acerbic remarks about the fan support here in St. Louis. And I can believe we’ve had shoddy attendance since 2010, fair enough. But then he basically said that any other team who moved to St. Louis would be doomed to failure.

Now, I don’t know when he took over the Rams, but the reason that fan support has been declining — and make no mistake, there are a lot of Rams rooters still around — has been not that St. Louis just isn’t a “football city”, or that we’re so obsessed with the Cardinals that we aren’t aware that other sports exist (what a stupid thing to say). It’s that, approximately since losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Rams teams have been consistently boring and bad. And maybe, just maybe, St. Louis has enough self-worth and intelligence to not just blindly follow anything with N-F-L stamped on it.

We’ve had a few good individual players since the Greatest Show on Turf disbanded — and I’m sure there are still people sore about the team letting Warner go, justified or not — but mostly it’s been continuous, unexciting submediocrity since then. And here’s the thing: this is St. Louis. We like flashy superstars just like everyone else, but what we value is effort. We love the scrappy guys, the David Ecksteins and Tony Twists and others, who come in and give it all their heart and play above their level, because they’re excited to be here, because they’re fighting to keep their spot in the major leagues, because they want that championship bad. If the ownership is clearly trying their best to win, if the players are giving it their all on the field every single week, we might disagree with the moves, there might be little hope for a winning season, but we’ll probably stay engaged.

Well, from my point of view, the damage was done during the ’00s. The Lawrence Phillips draft pick and others suggested the ownership was just flailing around, hoping to guess brilliantly and win the lottery rather than build a solid team. The offense was always unexciting and inconsistent at best. And oh, the defense. I’m sure there were a few individuals I’m forgetting, but it was like nobody wanted to actually tackle anybody. The greatest moment in Rams history was Mike Jones in the Super Bowl, one-on-one with the Titans receiver, grabbing on tight and hauling him down short of the goal line as time expired. If Jones had played for the Rams about five or ten years later, he wouldn’t have bothered to close his fingers. He could have been squarely in front of the receiver, and he would have just stuck his arms out and hoped the guy would be nice enough to fall over and then nobody would have to get hurt. I am not exaggerating. I watched the Rams often, back when I still watched sports with any frequency, and I saw the same thing from the defense again and again, down after down, series after series, game after game.

That is not how you win my affection, and that is not how you win the hearts of . . . well, any city, really.

No effort. No heart, no excitement, no desire to be there from half of the team. And if the players, who are paid millions to show up, don’t want to be there, why should the fans pay to show up, or even bother to tune in?

Oh, but we had a punter and field goal kicker who was pretty good. That’s gotta count for something, right?

I want to see the Rams stick around. I’d like to see the team improve, find a way to win games. I still root for them to win, I probably will even if they leave town. But fandom is a two-way street. If you want me to be a fan, to the point that I’m paying you money or tuning in so that networks and advertisers will pay you money, then you have to show me something to be a fan of. That goes for any city, any audience with the slightest bit of discernment. If you just keep phoning it in, eventually people will tune you out.

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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.

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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.

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