Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Frontier In Space - "Got a trouble maker, have we?" "That's what I'm in for."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Frontier In Space - Details

Season 10, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #67)

"Frontier In Space" is a six-parter that runs directly into "Planet of the Daleks," also a six-parter. I'm a little concerned about my ability to handle what is, effectively, a twelve part epic in a timely fashion with the way work-life balance is tipping back towards work and my desire to stay on top the Series 8 stories as they come out. Since I mushed "Kinda" and "Snakedance" into one post when they're not quite so closely tied together, at least not in sequence, I leaned towards taking on "Frontier," then putting its write-up on ice until I can get to "Planet of the Daleks" so they could go out together. Watching his right after "Listen" though, I wanted to strike while the iron was still hot, so "Planet" will get its re-watch later and its own post.

What struck me about "Frontier" was, while quite a different beast than "Listen," it is linked thematically, and by a few particulars, in a way that resonated powerfully with the investigation of fear that ran through "Genesis of the Daleks," back through "An Unearthly Child," and into "Listen."

On the surface, "Frontier" could hardly be less like "Listen." The former is a political space opera with Ogrons raiding Human and Draconian ships to drive a wedge between the two uncomfortable allies. The Ogrons, brutish mercenaries we last saw in "Day of the Daleks," are revealed to be in the employ of the Master, who expects to step into the galactic power vacuum he's hoping to create by turning the two empires against one another -- with a little help from his "employers". (The Ogrons are a giveaway, to us if not the Doctor, what force stands behind the Master.) Ogron raiding parties strike all over the galaxy, boarding ships and bursting into government offices. We meet the President of Earth, her belligerent general, the Draconian royal family, political prisoners plotting escape from a lunar penal colony, the colony's corrupt staff, and on and on. The latter is a claustrophobic character piece that tracks the Doctor, Clara, Danny Pink, Orson Pink, and a monster that may or may not even be real, through a handful of locations.

The Master reads "The War of the Worlds"
Image via I Am Not a Politician, I'm a Spy
What they have in common though is an injunction not let fear overrule our better natures. The Master has provided the Ogrons with a device that makes them look to their victims like that which they fear most, so humans think they are being attacked by Draconians, and vice versa. Both sides of the alliance want to keep the peace, but have political realities to manage, and those realities include fearful warmongers in positions of power. Fear is what allows the Master, and the Daleks, to manipulate the powerful empires they seek to displace. The Doctor recognizes this, and with Jo's help -- the Master can't get over on her! -- ultimately helps sustain the alliance and bring the more bellicose members of the two sides into common cause.

Watching "Frontier," there were two times I snapped my finger, pointed at the screen, and thought, 'Moffat had this in mind when writing "Listen"': the first was seeing the Doctor get knocked out and his forehead bloodied -- when it happened in "Listen," I thought, 'we almost never see him actually cut in a scuffle', so when it happened again in "Frontier" it felt like a deliberate repetition; but, I might not have even remembered the thought if the second thing hadn't happened, the Doctor using the TARDIS's telepathic interface on the center console, which Clara uses in "Listen."

Maybe I'm noticing coincidental similarities and it's just my pattern recognition heuristics running hot, but this is a perfect example of what I'd hoped would happen when I decided to do this complete series re-watch non-sequentially, that bouncing back and forth between classic and new series stories would spark recognition of similarities or differences around thematic elements that I might otherwise not recall if fully immersed in one era.

Here's a nifty bit of casting: the news anchor reporting on reaction to another presumed Draconian attack on an Earth cargo ship, he's played by the same actor, Louis Mahoney, who played the aged police officer Sally Sparrow spends a rainy afternoon with in "Blink"!

Image via Doctor Who Randomness

Image via Doctor Who Randomness
A few of the props used in the is production are decidedly unfuturistic looking. The sippy cups used by the prisoners of the lunar penal colony for one. The chairs outfitted with seatbelts for the various space ships look like they came right off the showroom floor of a local furniture gallery.

On sad note, this is the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master. He died in a car crash a few months after this story aired while working on location in Turkey.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Listen - "Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly -- fear can make you kind."

Listen (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #249)


Image via TURoB

"Fear makes companions of us all," is something the Doctor will say later, as we saw earlier in "An Unearthly Child." But as a young boy, sleeping out in a barn -- a barn he'll come back to full of fear after years of soldiering -- he hears it for the first time from Clara. Yep, Moffat went there.

Listen, that's the sound of the canon opening a crack to admit tiny bit more of the Doctor's past. Moffat has more than dabbled in this arena already, of course, but when Clara showed up all through the Doctor's timeline earlier, we didn't see anything from before the time of the aged Hartnell Doctor, only that moment where he and Susan steal the TARDIS. The introduction of a whole 'nother Doctor between Eight and Nine was shocking, but this feels somewhat more transgressive, the reveal the child in the barn (who won't ever make a Time Lord, one of his caretakers worries) is the Doctor himself is something we've never seen, and never expected to see.

For all the early reviews forecasting freak outs, this one looks to be earning remarkably high approval on GB in the early returns:

As I watched twitter through one eye, squinting to avoid too much spoiler during the British broadcast -- a task I failed at so I won't do that again -- I started catching a lot of discussion about that barn, it's location ("Not on Gallifrey, fools" was the smug commentary I saw by know-it-alls about folks wondering how the TARDIS came back to Gallifrey if it was timelocked ... but I have to confess the know-it-alls are one up on me if they sussed out where besides Gallifrey that barn could be? I was pretty confident in my understanding that barn was on Gallifrey. Will have to scour the wikis and such to double check that ...), if the man and woman were his parents (they sounded more like guardians, as if running a foster home), and speculation about what was under the blanket in young Rupert ("Danny") Pink's bed in the facility he was in. Wish I'd avoided all that. 

Also wish my cable had been in better shape tonight. There were frequent freezes and choppiness in the sound that ruined parts of it. Most annoyingly, the moment in restaurant when Clara made a joke that Danny found not funny. It sounded like a revisit to the uncomfortable moment in "Into the the Dalek" when he was called a lady killer but whatever she said was so garbled I couldn't make it out. Hopefully it'll be running smoother for the replay later ... 

Want to circle back to the parallels between Danny and the Doctor, they're time soldiering, and the Doctor's attitudes towards soldiers, the questions about what, if any monsters there were in this story, and about the likelihood that Clara was Orson Pink's great-grandmother. That's all me speculating along with the crowd. The more important thing to get after though is the way this ties back to the line "Forest of Fear" (AKA, "An Unearthly Child" Episode 3) and reinforces one of the central themes of the series.

What does the episode tell us about fear? Or, more importantly, what does it tell us about what to do with fear? We visited how DW speaks to fear recently in the post about "Genesis of the Daleks," and this story picks that up and runs with, albeit from a different angle. Where "Genesis" was largely about how fear makes the cowardly lash out, "Listen" explores, through Clara, echoing/retro-actively foreshadowing the words of Hartnell's Doctor, the recognition that it's OK to be afraid, to experience fear -- it's what you do with it that matters.

Do you let it twist you into knots of hatred and cowardice (Davros), or do you accept the fear and embrace the fact that everyone "has the same nightmare"? (Even if it's not the exact same nightmare; being grabbed from under the bed is not one I've ever had.) Fear is always with us. Existence is precarious. When we recognize the fear in others, empathize with them, and translate that understanding into compassionate action, we perform the ultimate alchemy: we make progress. The universe is indifferent to us; some of us are cruel to others; but, if enough of us decide to be kind in the face of it all, consciousness wrings justice out of chaos.

This is why I love this show. For more that fifty years it has been arguing that we should face the world with a brave heart.

Now let's wrangle with a few of the questions raised by this story ...

Until someone points me to solid on-screen evidence to indicate otherwise, I'm of the opinion the barn we saw the War Doctor trudge to and meet the Moment was on Gallifrey. Therefore, I think the TARDIS went to that barn on Gallifrey earlier in the Doctor's timeline, before Gallifrey was time locked, and we were seeing the Doctor staying with another family, or in a sort of foster home, as a child. I don't think the voices we heard were those of his parents, so it's not clear to me this story does anything to shed light one way or the other on whether or not the Doctor's canonical revelation in the TV movie that he's half-human remains that: canonical. If the TARDIS can bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey at a point before the Time War, does all his moping about being the Last of the Time Lords make much sense? Does the concept of a Time War make sense at all anyways?

Danny Pink's trauma (was he somehow involved in a war crime, or did his actions a conflict zone result in the death of civilians?) and Clara not wanting to be told about her death are both explicitly showcased again in this story. That is either significant or a red-herring. Or something else. Right?

No Missy, no Heaven this week, at least not that I caught on first watch.

I have no idea why Orson Pink would be wearing an SB6 space suit like Ten in "The Impossible Planet" or Eleven in "Hide"?

Is it a healthy habit for this show to show adults interfering in the lives of children they are going to interact with later, when those children are adults -- sometimes romantically?  Eleven meeting young Amelia Pond, becoming her Raggedy Doctor, then taking her away the night before her wedding is one. Clara comforting young Danny after her first date with older Danny (wibbly-wobbly) and perhaps cementing his soldierly ambitions is another. Clara then doing something similar for the young boy who would become the Doctor is another. As a parent, I'm in the Help Shape the Mind of the Youth business. I'm also in the Get Out of the Way and Let Them Figure Things Out For Themselves business. Criss-crossing timelines can be fun in a time travel story, but what does it say when the author has characters going back in time to influence the development of people instead of, I don't know, changing their minds through conversation?

Recommended reading:
"Fear Makes Companions of Us All (Listen)" at Eruditorum.
A.V. Club Review of Listen

On the difficulty of gaining perspective ...

454 W 23rd St New York, NY 10011—2157
Most forgeries ‘fall out’ after about fifty years or so; in other words, they conform to the popular image of the artist held at the time the fake was made ... Later generations, who see the artist quite differently, distinguish between the ‘true’ appearance of his work and the ideas held about him by an earlier generation of admirers and smugly wonder how their fathers could have been so easily deceived.
—Entry: fakes and forgeries
The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, p. 175, Peter and Linda Murray

By all means, let's single out the undocumented immigrants ...

Illegal aliens are much more of a threat than ISIS - National Immigration Reform |
There has been a great deal of rhetoric from the White House recently on President Obama's alleged commitment to "keeping Americans safe" from the Islamic terror organization known as ISIS. While it remains to be seen whether or not Obama will actually "degrade and defeat" ISIS, it is simply fact that he has sat by and allowed untold numbers of our children to be raped by illegal aliens.
If you're a regular reader, you may be expecting an eye roll and dismissive comment, which are certainly warranted here, but I want to focus on a point of agreement first: the small of undocumented immigrants who are also violent criminals and sexual predators are, as Mr. Gibson has noted, more of a threat to Americans in America minding their own business than ISIL.

Based on the number of Americans who were in America minding their own business when they were attacked, I would like to point out some other groups who pose more of threat to us than ISIL: the police, clergy (especially youth ministers), NFL players, the Palin family, and we could do this all day ...

Arm the teachers, they said, nothing could possibly go wrong, they said ...

This is the Second Week in a Row that an American Teacher Accidentally Shot Themselves at School | NationofChange

Image via (apparent wackadoodle) Pat Dollard
Sixth grade teacher Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery was injured Thursday morning when she accidentally fired her gun in her Utah elementary school bathroom. Authorities believe the bullet accidentally struck a toilet that exploded, causing fragments of the toilet and the bullet to strike her leg and injure her ... But she’s not the only teacher to accidentally fire her gun at school, just since this school year started.
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