Doctor Who: Smile…or else?

Smile – there is new Doctor Who on a weekly basis right now.  Episode two of series ten was an off world, first trip to the future for Bill and the Doctor.  It included emoji speaking robots, snark, and Peter Capaldi smiling awkwardly.

Things I enjoyed about “Smile”:

  • Bill! (Okay, I think this might be a weekly thing that I’m happy about). But I specifically enjoyed her questioning nature in the early part of this episode – questions about the locations of the chairs in the TARDIS and question mundane things that as fans we probably have asked about at some point or another.
  • I like the equip about the English language having devolved into emojis and a number of the emoji jokes made me giggle.
  • The location of this episode and the scenery was gorgeous! *inset heart eyes emoji*
  • That  Frank Cottrell Boyce named the Vardy after Canadian scientist Andrew Vardy from Memorial University in Newfoundland who specializes in swam robotics.


Things I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The human reactions to the robots – the immediate desire to kill everything felt a bit off.
  • The ending of the episode and the giant reset button which fixed everything seemed like an easy way out.
  • This episode felt a bit unoriginal – it reminded me a lot of the vardy reminded me a lot of the vashta nerada and the plot reminded me of the nanogenes from “Doctor Dances” that simply misunderstand how the human race.  There were also a number of similarities between this episode and New Earth in terms of early Doctor/companion adventures.

New Doctor Who: The Pilot and a Whole Lot of Squee

So anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’m a Doctor Who fan.  And anyone who has spent any time with me in the last month probably knows I was mildly very excited about the fact that Doctor Who was coming back to television after a year long hiatus.  Andrew witnessed me jumping up and down in excitement over this fact more than once in the past week.

Last night “The Pilot”, the first episode of series ten aired.  I’m still on a bit of high from watching it – so much squee. So my initial reactions are definitely coloured by that, which I think is fine – it’s okay just to love something and not analyze it to death.

Things I loved about the episode:

  • Bill Potts! I am thoroughly enjoying her character so far and I love that they didn’t skirt around her sexuality but also that her queerness was presented as normal, as part of her, and in a conversational way.  It was obvious in the second line of her dialogue that she liked women however it was done tastefully.
  • The episode also reminded me a lot of Douglas Adam’s work — both in the never completed Doctor Who script “Shada” and in framing of his novel Dirk Gently.   Basically – both of those works open with a professor who has been teaching at a university for over fifty years, and no one quite knows what his actual job is – just like this episode opened. I’m all for more Adam’s references.
  • Bill reaction to the idea that the Doctor was going to wipe her mind was so spot on.  It linked back to Clara’s reaction and vocal discussion of her own free will.  It also reminded me a lot of Donna and the tenth Doctor’s decision to wipe her mind without her consent.  Bill has spark and she challenged the Doctor, stood her ground, and outright ignored him at times.  I hope the intensity, curiosity, and personality of her character continues.
  • I also loved that Bill made numerous sci-fi references early on the episode, she made her interest apparent even before she knew about the Tardis.
  • Nardole was given a back seat in this episode which I think was a really smart decision allowing for this episode to focus more on the relationship between Bill and the Doctor.

Things that fell a bit flat for me:

  • The “puddle monster” was a very typical of Moffat’s monster.  It’s an ordinary thing made scary.  And it was scary initially but by end of the episode the dripping girl chasing Bill around felt a bit like a bad horror movie.
  • I’m not a huge fan of the tutor/student relationship setup that was used to frame the episode.  The idea that Bill was bright enough to attend class but stuck in a job shoveling chips seems like a lazy plot device. I feel like this has the potential to bring in a very unbalanced power relationship into the mix.
  • The River Song and Susan photographs on the Doctor’s desk felt a bit forced/fan service to me – especially since they were referenced multiple times.

Overall I really liked enjoyed this episode and I’m super excited to see how Bill’s character develops over the season.  I also think that this episode would serve as a good introduction to anyone looking to watch Doctor Who for the first time.  The basics of how the TARDIS work are explained, it’s not tied directly to previous plot lines, and you get a fresh entry point to the series with Bill.

2016 in Fiction

BooksReading is my happy place.  In past years I haven’t really taken stock of my reading or reflected on how I felt about what I read.  Inspired by  Allana Mayer’s post, “My year in fiction” I’ve deiced to take a look back at some of what I’ve read in 2016.  According to my Goodreads account, which I try to keep updated with all of the books I read, I tackled 101 books in 2016.  That seems like a huge number – but some of that was non-fiction I read as professional development and that number also includes a handful of audio books.

Part way through 2016 I took a fairly serious look at my reading habits and tried to shift them a bit.  I love fantasy books but I realized I had fallen into a bit of a rut and many of the books I was reading were written by white males and contained very little character diversity.  As a result I decided to actively seek out queer lit and books written by women.  I was somewhat successful in that endeavor but it’s something I want to continue with in 2017.  I would also like to continue to read more books written by Indigenous folks and POC.

The Brandon Sanderson Obsession

Prior to making a decision to read more widely I began 2016 by rereading some of favourite fantasy books – namely the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.  This is hands down one of my favourite fantasy series and contains some of the best female fantasy main characters I’ve read.  In 2016 I also read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, a fun young adult romp that features librarians trying to take over the world.  I also read Sanderson’s Way of Kings and Words of Radiance which are part of The Stormlight Archive series.  These books are more traditional epic fantasy, but I love their magic systems – use of archives and the mixture of political and personal that permeates these books.  I also ventured into Sanderson’s Reckoner’s series by reading Steelheart, Mitosis, and Firefight.  This series is superhero fiction based around the idea of what if there were a bunch of people with super powers who were essentially evil and it was up to regular folks to fight back.  These were really quick reads for me – and fairly light, albeit with a fair bit of violence and action.  I concluded by 2016 Sanderson kick by reading The Alloy of Law which is the fourth book in the Mistborn world – though it’s set many years later and with a different cast of characters it was still pretty great. Much more of a steampunk Western feel than the other books.   Basically I’m still working my way through the immense amount of writing by Sanderson and still loving most of it.

Charlotte E. English and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

These two great female authors were hold overs from much of what I read in 2015.  Both English and Rusch write SFF and their work has been frequently featured in bundles on Storybundle.  In January I read Miss Landon & Aubranel by English which was a historical fiction with a bit of fantasy in the mix and felt a bit like Jane Eyre in it’s writing style.   I also read Traitors by Rusch which unlike most of the other books by Rusch that I’ve picked up this one was more fantasy than Sci-fi weighted.  I loved the world building in this one however I still think I prefer some of Rusch’s more traditional SF fare.

All the Torchwood

Torchwood novels, BBC audios, Big Finish audios – you name it and I’ve probably sampled it this year.  I went on a bit of a binge on this front that fell outside the idea of diverse reading.  I blame the fact that Doctor Who wasn’t on air this year and I was going through a bit of a withdrawal.   I also read John Barrowman’s two autobiographical style books and the Hallow Earth trilogy Barrow man wrote with Carole E. Barrowman.  I still have a few of the Big Finish Tochwood audios to finish but I’m saving them for the long drive to Southern Ontario at the end of this week.

Doctor Who Reading

Similar to my Torchwood binge I discovered the world of Doctor Who novels and audios.  There are substantially more of these than there are of the Torchwood variety so I’ve really only scratched the surface on this front so far.  I listened to Dark  Horizons a eleventh doctor novel by Jenny Colgan (yay female writer!) that is a delightful romp with Matt Smith’s Doctor involving Vikings and aliens. I also read The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter, The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner (yay another female writer!), Touched by An Angel by Jonathan Morris, Human Nature by Paul Cornell, and Shada by Gareth Roberts, based on the screenplays by Douglas Adams. Of that batch I particularly enjoyed the revamp of Adams’ original screenplays and Rayner’s eleventh Doctor story.

I also listened to a few Big Finish Doctor Who audios this year.  Namely, the Eleventh Doctor and Donna audios which I would highly recommend.  Catherine Tate and David Tennant do a wonderful job making these stories come alive. I also listened to the Destiny of the Doctor audio series which was also good.

Elizabeth Bear

So much love for her writing.  Strong female characters, subverted gender norms, queer relationships, and wonderful SFF storytelling.  I loved her book Karen Memory which has a steampunk feel to it and her Jacob’s Ladder series and the Jenny Casey series.  The Jenny Casey series in particular has a raw, gritty feel that I loved.  And one of the main characters is a Francophone Canadian which is downright rare in SFF.  I highly recommend any of Bear’s writing if you’re interested in reading challenging and diverse SFF.

Uncanny Magazine

I have so much love for this publication.  Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas this magazine brings together diverse voices, moving stories, and just plain good quality fiction and prose.  Each issue contains challenging writing, inspiring fiction, and thoughtful essays. I’ve religiously downloaded each new issue in 2016 and devoured them with delight.  I also really enjoy the Uncanny Magazine podcast which includes creator interviews and fiction being read aloud.

Queer Voices

I’ve been actively trying to read books that are by queer and marginalized voices or contain well written queer characters.  I’ve also been struggling to find books that represent queer characters as part of a larger story, beyond just a coming out work.  That’s one of the reasons why I love so much of the writing done by Elizabeth Bear and so many of the stories in Uncanny Magazine.  In both cases queer characters are often written as matter of the fact, as part of life, and part of the fabric of the world.  That representation is so important to me and is something I’ve struggled to find.  This year I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvaduri, Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, In One Person by John Irving, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, City of Night by John Rechy, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, and The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham.  I probably enjoyed Middlesex and City of Night the best.  But I’ve also been really wanting to read a book with a strong bisxual, pansexual, 2spirit, asexual, or non-binary character.  And I have yet to come across a book that fits that bill.  The nearest I’ve come yet is Elizabeth Bear’s writing which subverts gender and relationship norms in a SFF setting.  If anyone has any recommendations in this category feel free to share.

Basically I read a lot and I’m really trying to change my reading habits to discover new authors and new ways of thinking.  There are bunch of other odds and ends I read in 2016 but didn’t cover in this post.  I also didn’t talk about any of the non-fiction I read this year as I hope to write a separate post covering that topic.  What’s on your fiction reading list for 2017?

Watching – Power of the Daleks

Animated Daleks

Animated Daleks

This year marked 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who story Power of the Daleks.  The original footage of this story has been lost and the hopes of finding it aren’t all the high.  Given the anniversary and the missing footage BBC opted to celebrate by creating an animated version of the story. It was aired on BBC stations, iplayer, and in theaters.  Since it wasn’t available on Canadian television I opted to attend the local Cineplex screening of the story.

I know it’s a bit of an obscure thing – an animation of a 50 year old TV program – but I was really surprised by the dismal turnout in the local theater.  There was a whole five us.  Despite that lack luster crowd I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This was the first time I was able to see any form of Doctor Who on the big screen and it was a neat experience.  The animation was interesting to watch and it did really bring to life a solid story.

That being said watching a six part story in theater is not at all how the original content was meant to be viewed.  It was produced as a weekly serial and the animation probably would have been viewed that way — which BBC America was airing it in six parts, which might have been a better watching experience.  One thing I wish the film version had of done was include quick fade to blacks or the episode titles in the longer version.  The sense that this was a six part story was completely lost in the film version and the cliffhangers that were built into the original story were greatly diminished in not giving the episodes space  – even if that space was seconds, I think it would have worked better.

In terms of the animation, the daleks were wonderful.  The TARDIS, Vulcan planet scenery, and the design of the regeneration sequence were solid.  The human characters were a bit less so.  The animation was done in a very realistic style but the physical movement of the people was a bit clunky.  It also seemed as though substantially more time was put into drawing and animating the Doctor with companions Polly and Ben feeling very one dimensional in their drawing and the other characters even more so. That being said it’s a solid story and the animation doesn’t hinder it in any way.  There was moment where a group of characters kind of side shuffle of screen that caused me to laugh out loud because of the awkward nature of the animated movement, but otherwise it mostly blended into the story.

I was also really impressed by the sound quality of the production.  The sound was remastered from a fan created audio recording from the original airing.  A recent Radio Free Skaro interview with Mark Ayres goes into detail about how this process took place and is a really fascinating look at how the audio for this project came together.

Overall I think this was a really interesting bit of the Doctor Who universe that’s been formatted in a new way and made more accessible to a wider audience. Plus seeing the classic Doctor Who opening and theme song on the big screen really made my day – it pretty much instantly put me a good mood.

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.

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