Tagged: Peter Capaldi

John Ostrander: Woo Who!

This week fandom was set on its ear by the announcement of the newest person to play the Doctor on BBC’s venerable sci/fi TV show, Doctor Who. (If you don’t already know, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien with the ability to regenerate himself into an entirely new body and persona when his current body is on the point of dying.) There have been 12 such regenerations so far; Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th and the first woman to play the part. Joanna Lumley was a female Doctor for a sketch some years back – written by Steven Moffet, no less – but that is not considered canon.

Predictably, there has been some negative fan reaction, although the bulk that I have seen has been overwhelmingly positive. This kind of change often provokes this kind of reaction. When it was announced that the captain on the next Star Trek series coming out (Star Trek: Discovery) was going to be a woman, there was similar booing and hooing.

I can sort of understand. Fans can be conservative; they want what they like to be the same but different only not too different. There have been times when, as a fan, I was somewhat resistant to change. A prime complaint has been that young boys are losing a role model and there aren’t that many heroes who depend on their wits and smarts rather than their fists. Even one of the actors who played an earlier Doctor, Peter Davison, has voiced this objection. However, my feeling is that these young boys have 12 other incarnations to use as a role model. Young girls have been expected to use the male Doctor as a role model; giving them one who looks like them after fifty years of the show being broadcast doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable.

My late wife, Kim Yale, was a huge Doctor Who fan (as am I) and she used to dress as Tom Baker’s Doctor to cosplay at conventions before cosplay was a big thing. She would have been over the moon about this. My partner, Mary Mitchell, certainly is and has pointed out that having the 13th Doctor be a female is very appropriate since 13 is a “female number” as there are 13 moon cycles in a year.

To me, what ultimately matters is what character do they create and how good are the stories that they tell. When you’ve worked for a long time on a given project, as a writer you look for ways to shake things up and make them fresh. On my book GrimJack, I once killed off the main character and then brought him back and later on, replaced him with an entirely different incarnation (yes, I was a big Doctor Who fan at the time and, yes, that influenced the change a lot). I intended to keep doing that from time to time. And one of the later incarnations I had planned was a female GrimJack. That probably would have incited some comment as well. We just never got to it.

So I’m very pleased with the selection of the new Doctor and hopefully the stories that will come of it. I hope the new showrunner will explore the change and what it means.

One last interesting note: I read that Ms. Whittaker will be paid the same salary as the actor who preceded her, Peter Capaldi. No wage disparity in the time vortex.

Way to go, Beeb.

Mindy Newell: A Madman With A Box

I was going to get political again this week, but it’s too goddamn depressing. Here are some headlines just from yesterday, courtesy of that #FakeNews Enemy of the People publication, that “old Grey Lady,” the New York Times:

  • E.P.A. Chief Voids Obama-Era Rules In Blazing Start
  • Medicaid Plan Risks Changing Life For Millions
  • ‘I’m President And They’re Not’: Trump Attack Brings Crowd To Its Feet
  • Trump Administration Targets Parents In New Immigration Crackdown

And then there are the tweets. After Il Tweetci the Mad – formerly known as “Il Trumpci the Mad” – went on a rampage against Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough this past Thursday – what the fuck is with his obsession over women and blood? How the hell did Ivanka, Marla, and Melania ever get pregnant, much less get near enough to a “man” who is so phobic over natural functions to allow it to happen? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s one of those guys who has to obsessively shower the minute the act is over – he again went after what is apparently his favorite news media target yesterday morning with this from the Washington Post, another #FakeNews Enemy of the People” publication:

 “A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a ‘modern day’

president, President Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet.

“Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for ‘fraud news network.’”

What the hell is with that “man” and CNN? Did Jane Fonda once laugh in his face, and then went on to marry CNN’s founder, Ted Turner? Is it a secret beef with Ted Turner himself, some kind of schoolboy rivalry?

And then there’s this, again from the Washington Post:

This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked,” Brzezinski and Scarborough wrote in The Washington Post. “We ignored their desperate pleas.”

On their MSNBC show, Brzezinski and Scarborough elaborated.

Scarborough: They said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story. I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me. And the response was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I don’t know what they have. Run a story. I’m not going to do it.

“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like, “Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.”

Brzezinski: “And let me explain what they were threatening. They were calling my children. They were calling close friends of mine.”

Scarborough: “You’re talking about the National Enquirer, yeah.

Brzezinski: “And they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that, so I knew immediately it was a lie and that they had nothing. And these calls persisted for some time, and then Joe had the conversations he had with the White House, where they said, “Oh, this could go away.”

Do you understand what is going on here? Do I need to spell it out for you? Okay then. E-X-T-O-R-T-I-O-N.

But I’m not going to get political this week, because it’s too goddamn depressing. So let’s talk about fun stuff.

Fun stuff like “The Doctor Falls,” the finale of the 10th series of Doctor Who, which aired on Saturday night. Continuing my spoiler-free zone from last week:

It was thrilling. It was hilarious. It was heartbreaking. There were easter eggs and callbacks galore. It was regenerating rejuvenating. (Hint! Hint!)

I’m going to change my mind and just give out two little spoilers…

The most chilling moment(s) for me: Bill looking in the mirror and seeing the face of a Cyberman; seeing her shadow, and seeing that it was the shadow of a Cyberman; and catching sight of her hand, the hand of a Cyberman.

And the second spoiler belongs to both Steven Moffat, as he heads towards the exit with a giant fuck you!!! to that “man,” and to the magnificent Peter Capaldi (he just nudged Tennant out of my “Number One Favorite Doctor” spot), who upped the ante once again…

The Doctor is preparing to make his final stand against the Cybermen, and is trying, pleading, with Missy and The Master to stand with him:

“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone … or because I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live… maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

Tweet that.

 

Mike Gold: Malled By Wonder Woman!

Last week, we had one of those delightful father/daughter days when Adriane and I went diving for Funko. According to our drivers’ licenses, we are “adults” but, according to our predilections, we are “fans.” Personally, I’m only an adult when I’m on the clock, and then only when I’m in court. Hey, it’s a living.

Whereas we, like most of you out there in comics ethersphere, saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the week before, we weren’t really looking for GOTG stuff. Oh, sure, if they’ve got a Funko Pop with Baby Groot teething on Drax’s arm I’m buying it but, as you probably know better than me, the really good shit is grabbed well before the movie opens. Nope; we were spelunking for Wonder Woman chachkas, coming soon to a theater near you.

The trick is, there are certain Pops that are made exclusively for certain retailers. Target has theirs, Electronics Boutique and Game Stop have theirs, and so on down the drive past the malls and big box stores on the road formally known as “Main Street.” So doing the fanboy supermarket sweeps involves checking out a number of establishments.

Despite Adriane’s adulthood, she’s more familiar with the product than I am. It’s not like I don’t have a small shitload of Funko stuff, but Adriane’s collection could fill a warehouse. That’s fine by me, as long as I don’t have to schlep it the next time she moves. And Adriane doesn’t want to have to move my comic book collection. This is known as “21st-century quid pro quo.” So as we zot down the aisles, Adriane brings to my attention the more unusual stuff.

Which brought us to the Lego aisle. To be specific, it brings us to the Lego Lashina toy. Yes, your favorite Jack Kirby S&M character is now a Lego toy. This is pretty damn cool, unless the Department of Children and Family Services tends to frequent your home.

I realize Lashina is a card-carrying member of the DC Universe in all its forms. She’s been in the Suicide Squad. She’s been on Smallville. She’s been on sundry DC cartoons. And, honestly, I’m not opposed to S&M among consenting… um… Lego toys. Maybe she’ll get her own Lego movie.

But somebody’s gotta tell me what Krypto is doing there.

We didn’t get many Wonder Woman exclusives (remember when they were called “chase cards?”), but I did score a great Peter Capaldi as the guitar-playing Doctor; something to hold on to as they jerk us around with the “who is the new Doctor” bit… even though the BBC already filmed the regeneration scene.

I suspect Adriane will keep an eye on eBay, the best place on Earth to overpay for already overly expensive collectibles. The forthcoming Wonder Woman movie allows us to resurrect and adapt an old joke: Funko Pop! can market an invisible bi-plane in an empty box.

I wonder what that will go for on eBay.

Then Adriane showed me the Funko Pop! Vito Corleone.  Yep, The Godfather. Hey, they had to put something next to their Fredo vinyl. Why not a murdering drug dealer who refuses his Academy Award?

As weird as that seems to me, to be completely honest when (not if) Funko comes out with a line of Pops dedicated to Fritz Lang’s M… I am there!

Mindy Newell: Jumping In On Doctor Who

The Doctor: “Time is a structure relative to ourselves. Time is the space made by our lives, where we stand together forever. Time and relative dimension in space. It means life… This is the gateway to everything that ever was and ever can be.
Bill: …Can I use the toilet?

“The Pilot,” Doctor Who, Second Series 10, Episode 1

 My daughter Alixandra has wanted to watch Doctor Who but she’s been intimidated by the idea of catching up with 50 years of the show’s history. Hey, who wouldn’t be? I told her to start with “new Who,” with Christopher Eccleston’s as the 9th Doctor, which was “only” 12 years ago (is it really over a decade already?) and that “Rose,” the first episode, would do a great job of hooking her into the basics – although she already sorta knows them, as she remembers me watching the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who when the show aired on Saturday mornings on Channel 13, the New York City PBS station.

She was very young then, not much more than a toddler, so that was a surprise to me – as well as a lesson to grown-ups: be careful what you say around the young ‘uns. Apparently, little pitchers really do have big ears.

I also sent her a list of shows from a website I found, “Desperately Unrehearsed,” which lists every episode from the aforementioned “Rose” to Matt Smith’s dénouement, “The Time of The Doctor,” with a pretty good opinion – at least one I basically agreed with – of what was essential and what was not (along with YMMV).

But I also just sent her a text: “The 10th series premiered Saturday night. It’s called “The Pilot,and it might be a good place for you to start, as it introduces a new companion and reintroduces the basic ideas.”

She sent me back a “thumbs-up” emoji.

I texted her back a few minutes later, because I forgot to say in the first text: “Plus, Peter Capaldi.”

Fans of Outlander (me, included) are currently suffering from what is known as the “Droughtlander,” – the last episode of Season 2 aired on July 9, 2016, and the series is not returning to Showtime until September – but the wait for Series 10 of Doctor Who has been interminable. The last episode of Series 9 (“Hell Bent”) aired here in the States on December 5, 2015. We did get two Christmas specials, the first run three weeks later on December 25, 2016 (“The Husbands of River Song”) and the second (“The Return of Doctor Mysterio”) a year later.

Outlander is not even giving us that…

But was the wait worth it?

“The Pilot” was not only a singularly great show all by itself, it was also a fantastic kick-off, with past and future colliding – dialogue that was timey-winey-twisted; pictures of a lost wife and granddaughter; sonic screwdrivers from just about every regeneration collected in a jug; and a vault (reminiscent of the Pandorica box) that the Doctor is protecting.

The trailers featuring Pearl Mackie as new companion Bill Potts did not exactly excite me, nor did they do Mackie any justice. The “big” news that Bill is gay. However, and that’s a big however, I was completely charmed by Ms. Mackie and her character by the half-way mark of “The Pilot. That is way faster than I turned on to Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, Karen Gillian’s Amelia (Amy) Pond, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory Williams. The only companions that equal the speed with which I fell in love with Bill Potts were Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith (of course!) and Billy Piper’s Rose Tyler.

I wasn’t all that impressed with Matt Lucas’s Nardole previously, not in “The Husbands of River Song” nor in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.But in “The Pilot,Nardole came into his own; he is the bridge between the Doctor and Bill, and the bridge, I think, between the universe of Doctor Who and ours, the “Greek chorus” of the audience, of us.

Stephanie Hyman’s Heather, the girl with the star in her eye, was eerily beautiful, bewitching, chilling, and ultimately heartbreaking. And by the way, Ms. Hyman, kudos to you for playing 90% of your part soaking wet.

I also want to give a shout-out to “The Pilot’s” cinematography, editing, and special effects.

As for Peter Capaldi; well, im-not-so-ho, Mr. Capaldi will become, as he leaves the show behind and moves on with his life, one of those Doctors who will leave an indelible mark upon the character and the 50-year history of Doctor Who. If you must go, Mr. Capaldi, then you must…

But I wish you weren’t.

 

Martha Thomases: Hot Town, Winter In The City

I missed Cher.

This was Thursday night last week, at a rally in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle outside of a Trump hotel. I went, as I often do, to put my body on the line for something in which I believe. In this case, I wanted to stand with my fellow New Yorkers to express my horror about the Inauguration taking place the next day.

I stood there for about an hour. A woman sang, beautifully. Rosie Perez welcomed us. Alec Baldwin did his Trump impression. Steve Buscemi talked. New York City mayor Bill deBlasio spoke, followed by the mayor of Minneapolis. Michael Moore was very funny, but at this point, my back started to hurt, and I decided that I had been seen enough to make my statement.

Andy Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He did not explain why we should care.

I bring this up because so many people get upset or excited about celebrities expressing their political opinions. Some pundits speculate that one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election was that people were sick of her celebrity endorsers (including Katie Perry, Beyonce, Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen) campaigning for her.

We saw another flare-up of celebrity opinions, and the resulting backlash, this past week, at the Inauguration and the Women’s March. None of the so-called “A List” stars would perform for the Inauguration, which reportedly angered Trump and his followers. At the same time, a lot of celebrities spoke at the Women’s March, or simply marched with their friends, and without an entourage. Melissa Benoit (Supergirl), Peter Capaldi (the Doctor), Whoopi Goldberg (Star Trek, among many others), Ian McKellan (Magneto, with a Patrick Stewart sign), Gillian Anderson (X-Files) were among those at marches around the world, and I’m sure I’m leaving out bunches. There was even a march at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nick Offerman was a treasure.

There were plenty of celebrities who didn’t march, either because the issues didn’t matter to them, or they had other responsibilities that day, or because they were actively hostile to the cause. One of them, posting on Twitter, was Piers Morgan, who thought he was being clever when he said he was organizing a Men’s March.

As a result of people actually reading what Morgan wrote and taking him at his word, there were reactions. One was that Ewan McGregor canceled an interview on Morgan’s show to promote his new movie. In a snit, Morgan shot back, “Sorry that Ewan McGregor’s not here. He couldn’t bear the thought of being on the sofa with me because he doesn’t agree with me about the women’s march. I have to agree with what an actor thinks about a particular issue because they’re actors. And as we know actors’ views are more important than anybody else’s.”

To me, McGregor decided he didn’t want to waste his time talking to someone whose views he found to be disgusting. That’s his right. I don’t think McGregor was saying his views are “more important than anybody else’s.” I think he decided that life was too short.

(However, if I was the publicist for T2 Trainspotting 2, I might have been less sanguine.)

Celebrities are frequently American citizens, and, as such, have the same right to free speech as the rest of us. And, like the rest of us, when they use this right, they sometimes reveal themselves to be educated and insightful, and other times they reveal themselves to be superficial and ignorant. Their opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s.

Over the years, I’ve been at events (usually fundraisers for charities or politicians) where various celebrities have been in attendance. Sometimes they shut themselves off in a VIP area. Sometimes they mingle with the crowd. Sometimes they let you take selfies with them, and sometimes they even talk to you. In that, they are similar to the other people in attendance, except with bodyguards.

Our own little world of comics is part of this now, since, apparently, our new president is a Christopher Nolan fan. As many pointed out, Trump lifted some of his inaugural address from The Dark Knight Rises, which is even more amazing when one considers that the character he swiped from was Bane, the villain. Bane creators Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan were interviewed by several media outlets, and, in the process, described themselves as Trump supporters.

Good for them. I disagree, of course, but I was delighted that they presented their opinions in a sane, non-hysterical manner.

More typically comic-book people are the most fun to have this discussion, inspired by this event, about whether it’s okay to punch Nazis in the face. Warren Ellis weighed in, as did some other comics pros.

I must say, that, as a pacifist, I find the only thing more attractive than punching Nazis in the face would be punching Nazi vampires in the face. And I think that, for me, both are about as likely to happen.

Mike Gold: Up The River Without a TARDIS

If you were to ask me if I had a favorite character among all the heroic fantasy teevee shows and movies over the past five years, and damnit I wish you would, I would immediately respond “River Song.”

For those who came in late, here’s the mandatory Journalism 101 background:

River Song is an ongoing but breathtakingly occasional character in Doctor Who. A remarkably capable, strong and intelligent archaeologist/con artist/warrior-protector with a great sense of humor and about 92% of all the sexuality ever expressed in the 54-year history of the program, she has been, is, and/or will be married to the Doctor – it’s time travel, Mr. Gittes – and that poses all sorts of thrilling opportunities. It also begs the issue of “until regeneration do us part.” She’s kind of a partial Time Lord, having absorbed some of the Doctor’s DNA while being conceived in the TARDIS. Yes, she’s the daughter of two of the Doctor’s former companions.


Yup. I really love time travel.

Ms. Song is played by Alex Kingston, and in addition to some crackerjack writing from Steven Moffat, Ms. Kingston is the reason why this complicated yet highly entertaining character works. She’s known in the States for her work on such teevee shows as Arrow (where she plays Dinah Lance I), Gilmore Girls, Macbeth (playing Lady Macbeth; duh), Upstairs Downstairs (the 2012 series), Law and Order SUV, and ER. My favorite of her work that I have seen came in the teevee movie The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, where she played the title character and shared the boards with such folks as Diana Rigg and Daniel Craig.

In other words, Alex Kingston’s career orbits the nexus of fan reality.

You might ask why I’m bringing River Song to your attention at this time, if I already hadn’t just done that. The people at Big Finish, arguably the world’s largest publisher of original full-cast audio stories, released their second box set of River Song adventures. The Diary of River Song Series 2 co-stars Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, both playing her husband The Doctor, and together the four adventures runs about four hours and change, not counting the bonus “behind the scenes” disc full of audio extras.

The downloadable version can be secured from Big Finish for a mere twenty bucks American, Amazon is charging a bit more for the physical five CD box set.

This isn’t a review because I have yet to hear the material. If it sucks, I’ll apologetically apologize anon… once the surprise wears off. I’m a big fan of Big Finish’s work, although I’ve only heard a fraction of their couple-thousand hours of original Doctor Who material starring all of the living Doctors from Tom Baker to John Hurt aside from Matt Smith (as of this writing). More to the point, I listened to The Diary of River Song Series 1 starring Alex Kingston and Paul McGann (the eighth doctor, if you were to count them in order of first appearance) during one of my infamous cross-country drives and it was absolutely great.

River Song last appeared in the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song.” It was her first meeting with her husband Peter Capaldi, and because of where it is set in time she does not recognize The Doctor. In fact, she’s married to someone else, for a while. It’s a great jumping on episode for those who haven’t seen River Song, Peter Capaldi’s doctor, and/or Doctor Who. It’s well-written, clever as hell, sensual to excess and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And we all know everything is better with a monkey.

Even better: this episode gave us the introduction of Nardole, played by British comedian Matt Lucas. He returned for this year’s Christmas special as the Doctor’s, umm, valet (the Doctor is companionless for the nonce) and Nardole will return for about a half-dozen episodes in the upcoming season. Americans might recognize him for his role in Community where, coincidentally, he played a fan of the ersatz teevee show Inspector Spacetime.

I hope to see River return sometime this season as it is Steven Moffat’s last as writer/showrunner. I hope to see River Song return anywhere at any time, if that latter phrase has any real meaning in a world where time travel exists.

But, hey, I’ll settle for Alex Kingston returning damn well anywhere.

Mindy Newell: Doctor… Who?

It’s Sunday night, 7:19 P.M. on my clock, which makes the premiere of the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas Special just an hour and 41 minutes away. The long drought is almost over.

I’ve been getting my Whovian fix this week by watching as much as I can of BBCAmerica’s marathon of episodes, which has been running since last Tuesday. It was interesting to watch the progression of Doctors, as it gave me a chance to really compare Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi’s characterizations of the Time Lord.

To be honest, I can’t really say all that much about Christopher Eccleston’s turn – it always seemed a little flat to me, as though the actor rather quickly regretted signing on to the role, and so was doing that – merely playing a role until the contract ran out. (I remind everyone that this is all imho, not, for a change, im-not-so-ho.) However, I do love that lone season because of the supporting characters – Rose Tyler, the shop girl who dares to dream of another life; Rose’s widowed mom Jackie, who drinks and sleeps around just a little too much to forget her own unfulfilled dreams and who is very much one possible template for Rose’s future; and Mickey Smith, Rose’s working-class boyfriend who is oh-so-ordinary.

David Tennant’s Doctor was the one that really caught the world’s attention. Sexy and cocky, he nonetheless truly regained his “humanity” in this incarnation, allowing his feelings to surface, especially in his relationship in Rose (call me a romantic, but I believe that he truly loved her) and with Donna Noble’s grandfather, Wifred Mott.

And then there was Matt Smith. What I think is interesting in Matt’s interpretation is that he was while he was young and joyful and adventurous, he could also very much be dangerous, dark, and duplicitous. (“The Doctor lies,” said River.)

What about John Hurt, you may ask, as the War Doctor? His was the source of the darkness within – but, at the same time, his was also the source of the Time Lord’s humanity. It was etched on his face – the sorrow, self-loathing, but also, the love that drove him to commit the ultimate destructive act.

And what of Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor? Im-not-so-ho, he was probably the most self-aware of the four, for in his decision to reject the very name of “the Doctor” – a word that means healer and saver of life – and to accept the guise of “the Warrior,” he allowed us to see the resignation to the fate that the Time Lord had been running from all those centuries.

It’s 35 minutes to the Christmas Special. As I told John in my reply to his column yesterday – and also on the phone to editor Mike – I’m feeling “a bit trepidatious” about what’s about to play out. I’m afraid that the suits at the BBC, dismayed at the drop in Doctor Who’s audience after the dashing Matt Smith left and Peter Capaldi took over – as my niece, a rabid Smith fan, said, “He’s old!!!” – told Moffat to write something that would bring back the youngsters, and hey, here’s an idea, let’s include a superhero, superheroes are hot right now. Not only does it seem to me to be a mercenary and crass directive, the mix of genres feels weird and just “not right.” Down on your knees begging, y’know?

Then again, as Mike Gold pointed out to me, Doctor Who has pushed the boundaries before and succeeded. (“The soufflé isn’t the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe.”)

Oh, yeah, I forgot.

Peter Capaldi. What about him? A scared little boy. A lost soul. A revengeful son-of-a-bitch. A work in progress.

And also…

Love that hair!

John Ostrander: Happy Christmas, Doctor Who

There are all kinds of traditions connected to Christmas. One tradition in our house is the Doctor Who Christmas Special playing here on BBC America. If you don’t know, Doctor Who is the looooong running BBC series about an alien time traveler and his (usually) human companion(s) who all travel through time and space having adventures. The Doctor regenerates into a new body – and a new actor – when his current body is at its end. If you don’t know the series and/or don’t care, you can probably skip this column.

There was a sort of Christmas Special as far back as the first incarnation over a half-century ago, but mostly it’s only been over the last ten years. The latest one will be tonight (if you’re reading this on Sunday). The first in this series began after the show returned from a sixteen-year hiatus and featured the Doctor’s tenth incarnation, played by David Tennant, and his companion, Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper, and Rose’s mother and her ex-boyfriend. The episode was also our introduction to this incarnation, the Doctor having just regenerated in the previous episode.

It’s a good, solid, interesting episode, establishing the new Doctor’s persona. The plot is about an alien invasion (the episode is called “The Christmas Invasion”) and written by showrunner Russell T. Davies; it’s sturdy enough and there are some nice Christmas touches like a Christmas tree that becomes a spinning instrument of death. The Doctor is recovering from his transformation and is in a coma for most of the show but when he finally snaps into action, it’s a treat.

By the following year, the Doctor has just parted with Rose Tyler and is feeling mopey when a woman in a wedding dress just materializes in his TARDIS. The woman is Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and she is “The Runaway Bride.” She’s outraged, abrasive, and very rude to the Doctor who she holds responsible for her abduction. Russell T. Davies again did the scripting and this one is a hoot. I’m a big fan of Donna and was very pleased when she eventually returned as a full-time companion.

The next year brought us “Voyage of the Damned,” again written by Davies. The Doctor, temporarily without a companion, finds himself on an alien, space faring replica of the Titanic during a Christmas party. Why would aliens have a Christmas party and a replica of the Titanic? Just go with it.

There is, of course, a disaster and the Doctor must lead a group of passengers in a “Poseidon Adventure” like attempt to get to safety. One of them is a waitress, Astrid (played by pop singer Kylie Minogue) who looks as if she will be the next companion. Alas, no. Too bad; I thought she had promise. It’s fairly somber for the season and really could have been set at any other time. It’s okay but only okay.

Christmas Special #5, again scripted by Davies, is “The Next Doctor.” Our Doctor travels to Dickensian London and encounters someone who could be his own next incarnation. Interesting concept. He also encounters an old foe, the Cybermen, including a gigantic robo version. That part is sort of weird but there’s some very nice touches in the episode including David Morrisey as the “Next Doctor” who showed he could have played that part very well. The ending is kind of goofy though and I found it far fetched… which is saying something for this show.

Onward. The following year presents up with “The End of Time” and it is both David Tennant’s and Russell Davies’ respective swan songs. It’s a two-parter with the first half shown on Christmas and the second half on New Year’s Day. Put simply – this one is a mess. I won’t pretend to explain it because I’m not sure I fully understand it. David Tennant’s Doctor gets a “farewell tour” at the end when he should simply be dead. It is interesting to note that Tennant’s tenure began in one Christmas Special and ended in this one.

Stephen Moffat became showrunner the following season and Matt Smith replaced David Tennant as the Doctor. I run hot and cold on Moffat; sometimes he is simply brilliant and other times he’s too clever by half. He got into taking other Christmas stories as the inspiration for what he’s writing in his Specials. This year it was A Christmas Carol and the episode was also titled “A Christmas Carol.” It takes place on an alien planet and, among other things, features sharks that swim in the atmosphere. Over all, more than a little odd and, for me, it doesn’t really work.

On the other hand, the following year brought us the “good” Stephen Moffat. This episode. “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” takes its cue from C. S. Lewis’s classic Narnia story “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” This one is really good; simple straight ahead plot, touches of comedy, and deeply felt emotion with a nice bit at the end that makes me tear up.

The following year’s offering, “The Snowmen,” introduces the young woman Clara (played by Jenna Coleman) who, in slightly different form, will be the Doctor’s next companion. The Doctor has suffered a devastating personal loss and has retreated to Victorian London and is in seclusion. He wants no part of the world. That, however, wouldn’t make for very interesting TV and Clara, through her spunk, draws him out. I’m not as crazy about Clara as Moffat seems to be but this episode works all right. The setting is fun ans the supporting characters are great, especially the alien butler, Strax. I love me some Strax.

Which bring us to the ninth Christmas Special, “The Time of the Doctor.” This is Matt Smith’s swan song as the Doctor and it’s too bad because the episode is wretched. There is a planet called Trenzalore that has a town called Christmas filled with humans. Why? Who knows? Moffat tries to reconcile every offhand prophecy and prediction he made along the way about how this Doctor would end and its labored and beyond incredulity.

Next Christmas is better… but not by much. It’s called “Last Christmas” and it starts with Clara, on the outs with this Doctor (now played by Peter Capaldi), encountering Santa Claus on her roof on Christmas Eve. The Doctor shows up and he and Clara go off to the North Pole, not to Santa’s workshop but a research station that’s having the crabs. Well, crab like aliens. Things happen within dreams and there are dreams within dreams. Somebody else sort it out; my brain hurts.

Last year we had “The Husbands of River Song” and this may be my favorite of the Christmas Specials. It features the inestimable River Song, played by the inestimable Alex Kingston. River is the time-tossed daughter of the Doctor’s former companions Amy and Rory and, by the way, she’s also the Doctor’s wife. She has a way of traveling through time and she and the Doctor keep meeting in a non time linear fashion so they always have to check where they are in their own time lines in the diaries they keep for this purpose. (“Spoilers!”) At this point, she has not yet met this incarnation of the Doctor and therefore doesn’t recognize him. The adventure is fun and outrageous (with River, things often get outrageous) and ends perfectly – romantic and sadly sweet.

This year is titled “The Return of Captain Mysterio” and, from the previews, it appears to have a masked and caped superhero (supervillain?) which definitely is not usual for Doctor Who.

Over all, I’d have to say that while some of the Specials were indeed Specials, some tried too hard to be “special” and as a result were not. The good ones, however, were really good. We’ll see what Santa Moffat has left under the tree for us this year. Naughty or nice?

So – while I’m here – let it be said before I fade out of sight,

a Merry Christmas to all…

… and to all a good night!

New “Doctor Who” companion to be revealed during Match of the Day

PanicMoonThe BBC have announced that the identity of the newest Companion for the record-breaking science fiction series Doctor Who will be announced Saturday, April 23rd, live on BBC One’s Match of the Day. During half-time of the FA Cup semi-final between Everton and Manchester United, the BBC will announce the name of the new actor to join Peter Capaldi on the TARDIS.

With the return of the series in 2005, each new face to join the series has been met with an increasing sense of occasion.  Peter Capaldi’s announcement, for example, was announced in a global simulcast. Each castmember has been shrouded in secrecy previous to their introduction.  When Karen Gillan was auditioning for her role, she was told to use the code name “Panic Moon”, an anagram of “Companion”. Jenna Coleman had to tell people she was auditioning for “Men on Waves”, an anagram for “Woman Seven”.

Things have changed greatly for Who-lumni in the modern era — typecasting is largely a thing of the past. Like the role of The Doctor, a spot as Companion can have an amazing effect on an actor’s cache. Karen Gillan has landed roles in numerous series on both sides of the proverbial (forgive me) Pond, including Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jenna Coleman will soon be playing Queen Victoria, and Noel Clarke (Morty Mickey Smith in series one) has become an established director with films like Kidulthood.

With Match of the Day‘s kickoff scheduled for 5:15, half-time is expected at about 6PM. The BBC will also share the news on their various social media sites, followed immediately by a worldwide flurry of Googling and IMDBing the new actor for their resume, to see how long ago they showed up on Eastenders.

Doctor Who will be making only one dramatic appearance this year, the Christmas special, followed by a proper season 10 in 2017, which has already been announced to be showrunner Steven Moffat’s last.  Rumors still abound as to Peter Capaldi’s future with the series after said season.

John Ostrander: Think Of The Children!

Peter-Capaldi

Doctor Who, the long-running BBC TV series about a humanoid alien transversing through time and space with his companions, has wound up its current season, its tenth since it’s return following a long hiatus. The current actor playing the part, Peter Capaldi, is the fourth actor (or the fifth depending how you number it) since the show returned or the twelfth or thirteenth since the show’s inception. The numbering differential is a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing.

The show has sparked a discussion among the fans lately because, well, that’s what fans do, especially of a cult science-fiction show such as this one. There’s great passion and great heat as usual with these things along with the absolute conviction of one side that they are right and that those on the other side are wrong. It doesn’t matter which side of a debate you’re on, the other guy is wrong. There’s a lot of passion and maybe some thought and that’s what happens with a fan disagreement.

The current issue under debate is that Doctor Who began as a children’s show back in 1963 and it should always be a children’s show. The position of some is that the current monsters are often too scary for children, the continuity has become too complex for children, the relationships are inappropriate for children.

There’s some truth to all this, and there’s a lot of bullshit as well. The current show-runner, Stephen Moffat, also writes a number of the episodes and his fingerprints are usually all over the ones he doesn’t write. I started out as a big fan of Moffat, especially in the seasons before he became the show’s producer. At his best, Moffat writes very clever episodes with great heart. At his worst, Moffat is just being clever. I’m less impressed with those episodes than he seems to be.

Are the Doctor Who monsters too scary for children? The show has always scared children. Part of its initial burst of popularity, indeed its initial survival, rested on the Daleks, a group of alien cyborgs. They’ve been described as deranged pepper shakers, bent on conquest and the death of any species inferior to themselves which they consider all other races to be. They’re catch phrase is “Exterminate!” They scared the bejabbers out of British tykes since their first appearance. I’ve read reminiscences of Brits saying they watched the show from behind the couch or through their fingers. The world can be a scary place and all children know this. Being afraid and then seeing the monsters defeated is, I think, very healthy. Many of the classic fairy tales do this. Scaring the little bastards is a good idea. It’s part of growing up.

Should Doctor Who have remained a children’s show? I’ve worked for a long time in a medium (comics) that was considered the bastard child of children’s lit. It was off in a ghetto of its own despite the fact that elsewhere in the world, the comics medium wasn’t considered to be only for children. I’ve never considered my work to be primarily for children and, in fact, have several times steered a parent away from my work. We’ve since broken out of that artistic straightjacket with works of art such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus showing what the medium is capable of being.

That said – there haven’t been enough comics for children any more. The medium has catered to the fan and the cult without paying attention to where the next generation of readers are going to come from. That’s short-sighted. Given the multiple versions of the characters that exist, the two major publishers – DC and Marvel – should publish versions of their main characters to attract the young reader. As the kids grow into adults, you could introduce them to the more grown-up editions of the characters. That’s investing in their own characters and the future of the medium.

The question for the comics – and Doctor Who – is not just what they are but what they can be.