Watching – Class

On Saturday October 22, 2016 Class, a Doctor Who spinoff, premiered in the UK and Canada. Written by Patrick Ness and set in Coal Hill School (revamped as Coal Hill Academy for Class) this is a Young Adult series that has tangential links to the Doctor Who universe.  With so little actual Doctor Who right now Class is filling a huge gap in programming and is bound to be watched by so many fans looking for anything Who related.  Andrew can attest to my excitement – there was much clapping, some jumping up and down, and general squee.

To me the show felt somewhere in between Doctor Who and Torchwood.  It had adult themes, gore (a lot of gore at points), and sexuality all built into the first two episodes.  Though set tangentially in the DW universe Class has a distinct feel and vibe that is completely different than DW.  It feels more raw and like it has a completely different set of rules than the traditional Doctor Who episode.

For me the highlights of the first two episodes were the witty one liners and abundance of snark combined with a diverse set of characters.  Two of the lead actors are PoC and within the first episode we get an example of a queer relationship and see a person with a physical disability on screen.  I only hope that this representation continues in a meaningful way and that the characters are well developed beyond standard tropes.

Listening – Web of Queer

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  The android app I use called “podcast addict” might be an apt description for my recent consumption of them.  A lot Almost all of the podcasts I listen to are Doctor Who related.  I’ve been listening to new and back catalogue episodes of Verity!, Radio Free Skaro, the Memory Cheats, and the Tin Dog Podcast for months now.  Despite all this fan inspired podcast listening I hadn’t stumbled on Web of Queer until fairly recently.

I’ve been binge listening to Web of Queer ever since this discovery. Web of Queer is comprised of a group of queer folks from a wide range of geographic backgrounds, ages, with varying experiences with Doctor Who and podcasting. The podcast is a great mix of reviews and discussions, often looking at bits of Doctor Who or media from a queer perspective. Reviews range from New to Classic to Big Finish to Books and the occasionally tangentially related media.

Some of my favourite episodes are the ones where the group has an in-depth discussion about queer representation on Doctor Who or about the use of gender and sexuality labels in fandom.  A lot of these discussions are also a great starting point for anyone who is interested in learning more about the importance of language, representation, and the queer community.  These discussions are also often accompanied by links to other relevant background reading. The episodes also include time stamps to you can skip to the discussion if you would prefer not to listen to a review as well. Some highlights include:

Listening – Torchwood: Fall to Earth

26024075Ianto Jones! On a spaceship! Fall to Earth is the second release in the first batch of the Big Finish Torchwood audios. The basic premise of the story – Ianto is stuck on SkyPuncher, the first private spaceflight, and he is the last surviving passenger trying to navigate the spaceship back to safety.  And his only point of contact with Earth is via Zeynep an insurance call center agent. 

I loved this as a solo Ianto story it is packed with adventure and humour.  Gareth David-Lloyd does an excellent job of conveying Ianto’s personality in the audio medium.  He’s slightly awkward, funny and full of curiosity and creative solutions. The flirting between Ianto and Zeynep seemed more in line with Jack’s personality than Ianto’s but seemed to fit if you looked at it as Ianto trying to lighten the life threatening situation.

The plot and setup of the story revolving around a phone call is surprisingly simple but it the story still manages to have some twists and turns that make it edge of the seat listening experience.

If you like Torchwood, particularly the second season, or are a Ianto fan you will really enjoy this story.  Well worth a listen.

Watching: Doctor Who TV Movie

DW8This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Doctor Who TV movie.  I some how managed to convince Andrew to sit down and watch it with me – partially because it was shot in Vancouver and partially because he seems like to bad movies.  There was a lot of laughter, disbelief, and amusement as we watched the movie together.  Andrew also remarked on how American it felt, very unlike any of the other Doctor Who he had watched.  Though Andrew didn’t love the movie he didn’t hate it and I’m just glad I got him to watch it with me.

One thing I love about the TV movie and the eighth Doctor more broadly is the range of possibilities that were created by the movie.  Without the TV movie the new series as we know it probably wouldn’t have come to fruition.  I also enjoy the fact that the eighth Doctor’s adventures have been extended through Big Finish, books, and comics.  The TV movie was just one adventure leaving so much space for tangential writing and additional stories to be developed in other mediums.

If you’re looking for a way to dive back into the TV Movie both Radio Free Skaro and Verity! podcasts had great episodes around the time of the airing anniversary. RFS had an interview with Yee Jee Tso about Time and Spaces his photo book publication which compares the Vancouver 1996 movie shooting locations to the Vancouver landscape today.  The same episode of RFS also included a panel Long Island Who recorded panel featuring Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook, Matthew Jacobs, and Gary Russell.  Both the interview and panel are well worth a listen.  And if you’re looking for a slightly less serious way to rewatch the TV movie Verity! did a pretty amusing commentary of the movie.

Watching: Torchwood, Small Worlds

Faeries, flashbacks, and Torchwood character development goodness. “Small Worlds” is the first Torchwood episode that begins to explore Captain Jack’s past in any detail.  I’m fascinated by the many lives and intricate personalities that make up Jack so this episode was right in my wheelhouse.  I love the idea of memory being something that rear’s its ugly head and that the longer you live the more memories there are to be triggered by both positive and negative events.  Memories of love, horror, and relationships permeate through this episode and play into overall character development and the storytelling of the episode.

This episode also had a completely different feel to it than it’s predecessors.  Season One of Torchwood is still testing the waters and at times there are drastic changes in style and feel between episodes.  “Small Worlds” revolves around the existence of faeries, an ancient supernatural force that have bled into reality repeatedly over Jack’s timeline.  It’s a far cry from “Cyberwoman”.

The faeries in this episode are definitely dark – they masquerade as cute mythical creatures and trap ‘chosen’ children for eternity in their world.  I loved the bending of traditional folk stories and myth with darker edges that happens in this episode.  The theme of youth and the temporary nature of human existence is also heavily played with on in relation to Jasmine (the chosen child) and in the discussion of Jack’s past.

Barrowman is also excellent in this episode.  His portrayal of Jack’s interaction with Estelle is spot on and we begin to see more depth to Jack’s character.  He can love.  And he can experience anguish and loss.  Jack is viscerally impacted by the choice to let Jasmine be taken and it shows.

 

Watching: Torchwood, Cyberwoman

So episode three in Torchwood had me extremely excited about the possibilities of the series and the potential depth of future episodes.  Episode four, “Cyberwomen”, kind of threw all of that under the bus.   The basic premise of the episode is the Ianto Jones is keeping his girlfriend, a half-converted Cyberman in the basement of the Hub.  Enter poor costuming choices and a bit of cheese and you get a cringe worthy episode.

I like idea of integrating bits of well known Doctor Who references into Torchwood and using the same villains/aliens is an easy way to do that.  This episode has many nods to Doctor Who and the broader SF/F genre.  These nods are ultimately taken too far and fall a bit flat.

I did like the emotional challenge Ianto is faced with – loving the person inside the Cyberman and realizing that the person he loves has become a mass murdering machine.  He seems to genuinely love Lisa and doesn’t want to believe she is gone, despite what Jack and the others tell him.  Four episodes into the series and this is our first real glimpse at Ianto below the surface.  And what we see isn’t that inspiring – he’s reckless, lying, and can’t make the hard decision he needs to. Jack gives a whole lot of tough love to Ianto this episode and we see Jack in the hardass leadership role that rears its head occasionally.  His line “If she’s alive, you execute her.  You execute her or I’ll execute you both!” sums up his position on the whole situation.

I didn’t hate this episode but it definitely wasn’t what I would call good.  It had  a bad tv movie feel to it and there were a lot of poor choices in terms of pacing and presentation of the ‘cyberwoman’.  I think different costuming choices and a less sexualized outfit would have gone a long way in making this far more watchable.  This is the only time Torchwood used an established monster from the Doctor Who universe.  It seems like they realized it didn’t work.  Torchwood is something different and it works best when it treats itself that way – one off references to the Doctor and bit of tech from the Doctor Who universe work but attempting to reinvent classics is hard and perhaps best left alone.

Watching: Torchwood, Ghost Machine

It’s a Torchwood episode! And it’s written by a woman! “Ghost Machine” written by Helen Raynor feels more like what I anticipated from Torchwood.  The first episode was all setup and the second sex-monster based story seemed very much like it was trying to prove how adult the show was.  “Ghost Machine” is a spooky, nuanced story filled with little gems.

The premise of the story is a machine that converts the energy and electrical signals into visuals.  Essentially the machine opens windows to the past in areas that are fraught with human emotion.  I love how this very simple device is used to show the power of the past, the fragility of human life, and how even the experienced Torchwood team can’t avoid being pulled into human tragedy.  Owen is deeply disturbed by what he sees in the past and drawn into a tragedy from years ago — this episode did a lot in terms of pulling on Owen’s human side and does a tremendous amount to recover Owen’s character from the poor decision in the first episode to show him using an alien artifact to seduce people.

Part way through the episode the team discover that they initially only found half of the alien object.  The other half allows the holder to see into the future.  Gwen has a vision and works desperately hard to stop it from coming true.  She changes the future but the result is still the same.  It’s heartbreaking and the narrative is incredibility well written.

GhostMachineOne of my favourite parts of this episode is a part that isn’t directly tied to the plot – I loved the part where Jack takes the time to show Gwen how to shoot a gun.  The segment is a bit over the top but it establishes Gwen as a quick learner and an essential member of the team.

It also highlights the fundamental differences between policing in North American and Britain.  There is no way a North American police officer wouldn’t know how to use a gun, but that’s the norm in Britain.  I love that they stayed true to this reality in Torchwood.  This scene also plays with the idea of Jack and Gwen as a pairing – it never develops past the flirtation stage but you can feel the tension between the two characters in these early episodes.

This is a great ghost story with layers of revenge and moral challenges on top.  It’s well written and an excellent example of blending bit of SF/F with other genres.  The tiny piece of alien tech is just a stepping stone for a much larger more human story told in this episode.

Watching: Torchwood, Day One

“Day One” the second episode of Torchwood picks up right where the pilot left off – Gwen Cooper has joined the Torchwood team and this episode revolves around her first day.  Of particular interest to current Doctor Who fans this episode was written by future show-runner Chris Chibnall.

To be frank this isn’t the best introduction to Chibnall’s work.  The entire episodes revolves around a gas based sex monster, which given that context the episode can only be expected to do so much.  At times the episode really felt like it was trying to prove how ‘adult’ Torchwood was in comparison to Doctor Who and what better way to do that then focus an entire episode around sex.

Though I do love some of the very sex positive lines given to Captain Jack in this episode.  His line “you people and your quaint little categories” is by far one of my favoruite of the entire Torchwood series.  This is one of the many examples of Jack’s refusal to conform to  (gender or sexuality based binaries.

The episode also positions Gwen as having an amazing snog with the female character possessed by the sex monster – drawing attention to the existence of bisexual people and the range of sexual orientations beyond straight and gay. Plus Gwen actually uses the word snog to describe her actions — which is adorably British and I had a minor squee moment when she talked about it.  The Verity! Podcast episode looking at this episode does a good job of diving into some of the specifics around this and find hints of redemption in the sex monster story.

On a whole I think watching Chibnall’s contributions to Doctor Who proper are a bit more inspiring than this in terms of faith in a showrunner. It’s a sex monster story.  “Day One” is not a bad story – but it is what is.  The Radio Free Skaro Miniscope on Chibnall’s Doctor Who contributions does a great job of looking critically at Chibnall’s contributions but the general assessment of his DW work is positive and highlight the huge range of genres, themes, and ideas Chibnall is capable of carrying. And I think watching Broadchurch is probably a better example of the possibilities of what can happen under Chibnall than this slightly over the top sex monster  and I absolutely loved Broadchurch.

Watching: Torchwood, Everything Changes

The past few weeks I have been working my way through Torchwood.  Given my love of Doctor Who and Captain Jack Harkness as  a character this is probably not surprising.  Despite this love and the fact that Torchwood originally aired starting in 2006 what is probably most surprising is that this is the first time I’ve watched the spin-off.  I saw some of the Torchwood: Miracle Day series when it aired originally and I’ve listened to a number of the Torchwood audiobooks but somehow missed watching the series proper.

Everything Changes” is the first episode of the Torchwood series.  It serves the standard pilot role of introducing all of the main characters, the general premise and setting up the show itself.  The episode is setup from the perspective of Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles) who is a police officer who stumbles upon a Torchwood investigation, finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the alien filled world that is Torchwood, with the episode ultimately ending with Gwen joining the Torchwood team.

The placement of Gwen as an outsider in this episode works well.  It provides an identification character for the audience and allows for the introduction of Torchwood to be done in a logical and easy to comprehend way.  Plus you get to see Gwen’s police work and snooping skills in action.  She is immediately established as someone who cares, who is inquisitive, and as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer.  Gwen is presented as strong female character in this episode and that’s something that carries on throughout the series.

The tone of Torchwood was also beginning to be established in this episode – it’s witty, dark, and is being established as firmly ‘adult’ television – a marked step away from the family oriented Doctor Who.

One of the things I’ve grown to love about Torchwood as I’ve made my way through the series is the open challenging of sexual boundaries and identities.  That being said, this opening episode had an uncomfortable segment in which Owen uses an alien perfume/glamour to make himself irresistible to the nearest person — removing free will and decision making powers of the impacted person.  Some have likened this instance to date rape and heavily criticized the interaction. It made me uncomfortable. But it also did an excellent job of setting Owen up as a character with a huge range of sexual relationship related challenges and as someone who is that stereotypical ‘player’ archetype. It served it’s purpose but perhaps could have been frame with more sensitivity.

A solid introduction to the series. With more goodness to come.

New Doctor Who Companion

doc who mainOn Saturday Pearl Mackie was officially revealed as the new Doctor Who companion.  Given that 2016 is the year of no new Doctor Who you can imagine the excitement, glee, and anticipation that surrounded this announcement.  I also think it was a pretty brilliant move by BCC to make the announcement during half time of the FA Cup semi-final match between Everton and Manchester United.

I’m willing to bet that typically the overlap between football (soccer) and Doctor Who audiences isn’t normally that great.  But slotting the announcement in at half time exposes different audiences to Doctor Who and potentially ups the viewership of the match itself.  Granted, there were a ton of people who I’m sure just turned in briefly to see the announcement then turned the tv off.  But I still think it was a great marketing move.  Similarly, the using a trailer to introduce Mackie as ‘Bill’ was brilliant and provided so much more fodder than the standard publicity photos.  Seeing Mackie in costume, in character, and engaging with Capaldi on screen was way more than I thought we were going to get with this announcement.  Well played BBC.

That being said, it’s still very early days and who knows what Bill’s character will bring to the show.  I’m definitely looking forward to finding out…even if it is still months and months away.

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