Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.9

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Critic’s log, supplemental.

We did it, spaceheads, we made it to mid-season break; a time for taking stock, packing away your spores, returning your Stamets (autocorrects to Schizoid) to its upright position, and trying not to worry you’ve damaged the delicate multi-universal honeycomb that compartmentalises realities, just so you could plot an algorithm to bust a cloaking device. In the TNG era they’d safely and simply link up with a few ships and employ a tachyon detection grid or similar – you know, some technobabble that didn’t risk the fabric of reality, but I suppose Discovery’s set in a less advanced era – the space faring equivalent of an old sawdust and ether surgical theatre in the days before anaesthetic.

Still, we made it, but before we can put our feet up and visit Tilly’s quarters with a large twig of mistletoe and a bottle of Chateau Picard 2252 (the ’49’s better but there’s no way this ditz is going to know that), some serious shit went down in this episode and it would be remiss not to discuss it.

”Into the Forest I Go” ended with a decisive, plot cauterizing victory for the Discovery. Kol and the ship of the dead became space dust, the threat to the Federation was tied off, and all it took was a one minute staff conference, 133 micro-jumps, and a data dump to the fleet, mapping the Klingon’s cloaking technology. Somehow.

This was an intriguing development as it shifted the villainous focus to L’Rell, now in the ship’s brig. Tyler’s unreliable memories inferred she’d done terrible things to him, including subjecting his fragile frame to Klingon intercourse (though it’s still likely he’s Voq, surgically altered and reprogrammed as a sleeper agent whom L’Rell can now “activate” for whatever purpose was intended). Having L’Rell on board sets this Hunt for Red October’s cook gambit in motion, while the return of a living (damn it) Admiral Cornwell, means there’s plenty of fresh blame heading Lorca’s way.

So the episode acted as a deck clearance, shifting from a broader (and not especially involving) war backdrop to something more personal and high-concept, namely a dysfunctional, perhaps duplicitous crew, beholden to Lorca’s new pet obsession, the multi-verse. And we all know what Lorca does to his pets.

The big question during “Chapter one” of Discovery’s inaugural season, has always been, what would the show be about once the war was over and the spore drive outed as an unethical and unsustainable technology? Unethical because it can only work if you can find a receptacle who’s prepared to be genetically altered and subjected to life-endangering neurological and physiological stress; unsustainable, because health risks aside, the tech has you dangerously skimming over alternate plains of reality. The peril’s obvious. You could be marooned in a matriarchal universe, or some such nightmare, or worse, bring something back you can’t control.

Lorca’s eyes narrowed when Stamets proclaimed he’d jumped his last. 133 slides in four minutes had drained both him and the effects budget. He was ready to quit and let the secrets of the multiverse, and their inherent dangers, remain the subject of a late night philosophical debate featuring a drunk hologram of Oliver Reed. But our chief engineer had forgotten that Lorca has been outlining the contours of the new territory with each jump and was talking about a new era of exploration, a signal he had no intension of leaving it there.

Lorca didn’t build a new car and hire a track just to see it rust in the hanger, and in the episode’s final moments it’s safe to assume he overrode the ship’s computer and flipped the chaos switch, sending his crew into the pan universal unknown. “I don’t know where we are” said a nervous Saru. Lorca didn’t know either but he couldn’t wait for find out.

It’s hard to blame him for this. The war is as good as won, the Discovery has shared its intel with an ungrateful command, and with Cornwell alive and on board, there’s little incentive to return to starbase and let the Admiral report on his conduct, so why not roll the dice and make a little history? It’s not a bad gambit for a Captain on the edge, who’s pressed his luck to breaking point. Not a bad gambit for a writer’s room that need a lot more road, either.

Expanding the show’s scope was what this mid-season finale’s secret mission. The crew may have landed in the Mirror universe on this occasion (we know such an episode’s coming down the pipe) but beyond that we have a situation where Lorca, reluctant to return home and face the music, sanctions a voyage into Trek variants on the pretext of fulfilling Starfleet’s ultimate remit, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Here it’s possible to see how the series could reconcile the CBS sanctioned single ship and crew directive with Bryan Fuller’s original anthology concept. If the game plan all along was that Discovery would start in one reality before exploring others, perhaps realms including established continuity and the future of said canon, then that’s a fresh and exciting spin on the formula that could, potentially, mark Discovery out from its predecessors in terms of conceptual complexity and human interest.

Previous Treks tested the characters’ moral chops using allegorical scenarios on alien worlds, designed to project and reinforce values. But perhaps after several decades of such adventures the only voyage left is one into the nascent self. Duality and hybridisation has been a strong theme in these first nine episodes, and if the future has the titular ship challenging the character’s assumptions in run-ins with alternate versions of themselves and universes governed by different assumptions and political scenarios, some of which inform a new attitude to the troubles back home, that’s not a bad premise for a series.

It would be hilarious if, after all the furore over canon deviations and aesthetic continuity, it transpired Discovery had been set in an alternate reality all along; funnier still if the familiar and reassuring Original Series universe is the ultimate destination. Where’s the Discovery? Maybe even the writers don’t know, but they’ve just painted an open door on their corner.

Anomalous Readings

  • The first two-thirds of the season have been uneven, the plague on all first seasons of Trek, but as Discovery’s gone on and the relationships between characters have started to bed down, it’s become more confident and coherent, suggesting that after a troubled birth, all concerned know where they’re going and why.
  • The multi-verse conceit is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to reversing decisions that have proved unpopular with viewers. Don’t like this version of Starfleet and its attendant aesthetic and level of technological sophistication? Have another. Fine. But a series has to be rooted somewhere, so hate it or really hate it, we’ll expect the good ship Discovery to return to her native-verse soon, preferably with a lot of psychological baggage picked up from elsewhere, not to mention some weird ideas about different coloured uniforms.
  • Discovery was telegraphed as a series about war – a specific incident with universe shaping consequences. Well, if the war was just the spur for the spore drive and an experimental ship’s unethical and dangerous voyage, I’m on board. But where does that leave L’Rell and her fanatical vision for the Klingon Empire?
  • As the characters grow and change, might we like some of them? At this stage I could happily get into a shuttlecraft with Lorca and Tilly, abandoning the rest, but I can see the potential in the likes of Stamets, Tyler and yes, even Mick.
  • Initially I thought this episode might have inadvertently closed Mick’s arc, but I expect and hope that her relationship with Tyler, and a weird, battle for his soul (and rationalism) with L’Rell, will become pivotal. Yes, all in all, despite the show’s stuttering momentum and the passive transition between episodes, I’m intrigued, maybe even a little excited ahead of January. I just hope Tilly likes champagne.
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Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 12:03  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.8

STDIS1.8

Critic’s log, supplemental.

As we career toward the mid-season break, like an out of control spore drive powered starship plugged into Paul Stamet’s mangland vein, Starfleet has a vision problem. No, not an identity crisis built on the compromises of war, but cloaking technology – that great strategic advantage wielded by both Klingons and Romulans, that inexplicably never translated into military dominance in the Alpha Quadrant.

In the opening of “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” (Latin for “Don’t leave me alone with him, I’ll explain later”), we saw the USS Gagarin atomised in an enemy attack, the decisive factor: the Klingon’s “invisibility screens”. Kol, the Empire’s chief bastard, had franchised out his house’s cloaking tech in return for their blind loyalty. We didn’t learn what competing houses had offered wavering warriors, but it’s hard to imagine they had anything worth peddling. A larger bat’leth? Hair? Smooth foreheads? Kol’s kit was the only game in town.

So the Discovery was charged with finding a solution to the cloaking issue and somehow knew to visit the planet Pahvo, a musical world if you please, with a transmitter that, if tweaked, could conveniently become a cloak detecting sonar array. We missed the scene in Kirsten Beyer’s script, of the kind we all used to enjoy, when the crew put their heads together and worked out this was the right planet with the right natural resources – perhaps based on a chance encounter and some studious research. No, they just knew to go there, which made you wonder why they hadn’t done so earlier. Why wait for the Klingons to wise up to the benefits of a cloaking device before developing a deterrent? Instead, Mick, Tyler and Saru arrived and got straight to work, a narrative shortcut that employed on previous Treks, might have shortened the length of episodes by two thirds.

Beyer, it seems, thought the meat of the story, namely Saru turning into a maniac on a tranquil planet, was more important than the whys and wherefores – despite the latter being an intrinsic part of Trek’s appeal. The Kelpien, perma-fearful, found peace amongst Pahvo’s sonic wisps, who imbued him with the calm and internal harmony he’d craved all his life. Unfortunately, we instantly learned this mindful state of relaxation was contingent on the total absence of competing interests. The moment Mick suggested carrying on with the mission, work that would culminate in a return to Discovery and, yawn, the war, Saru turned into a madman, hand crushing communicators and galloping to the transmitter site to smash Mick’s uplink before Starfleet could get the signal (though they knew exactly where they were and could, presumably, just keep sending down more crew and kit until the mission was completed).

There was something distinctly Original Series about this story – lunacy in paradise, that combined with Discovery’s blunt storytelling approach (the show at present lacks a certain finesse) made for an oddball instalment. Saru’s madness seemed like a good proxy for an audience who’d surely have enjoyed the story’s planet-bound trappings but dreaded a return to the serialised conflict raging above.

“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” recovered at the close, when it transpired the Pahvans, having garnered the details of the war from Saru’s brain, had hailed the Klingons in a bid to force an entente. Perhaps they’d skipped over the part when Mick, who’d be part of the crew representing the Federation, had started the war, and couldn’t know that a crazed Kol, now warping to their location, had a vested interest in prosecuting the war to the bitter end. This made the two vessels selected perhaps the worst possible choices, but the Pahvans hearts were in the right place, not that they had hearts. Demanding space peace from an enlightened position (literally in their case) was a very Original Series alien thing to do. It’s just a pity the initiative is a) doomed and b) will result in the location of the Federation’s two great hopes – the Discovery and the Transmitter, being revealed to the enemy. Still.

Anomalous readings:

  • The episode’s B-story brought a sad end to the life of neglected Admiral Cornwell, whose blood is now on Lorca’s hands. L’Rell, we learned, regarded Kol as the bad kind of fanatic, one motivated by power and bloodlust, rather than racism and religion, so was inclined to save Cornwell and defect in order to topple him. Sadly, she was forced to murder the Admiral to keep up appearances, which turned out to be a waste of time when Kol revealed he’d been on to her in the first place. The days when an Admiral could sit behind a desk at Starfleet command and take it easy while starship crews took all the risks look long gone.
  • L’Rell brushed off talk of Voq, saying he’d run away, or something. The vagueness of it all suggests the Voq/Tyler thing may be real enough.
  • Stamets talked about the deleterious effect of the Spore Drive. Sometimes his plain of reality would shift, he said – he’d be somewhere else entirely. Kevin Spacey’s house?
  • Given the budget per episode is reported $8m, the production should take another look at that Saru running effect. When he’s heading toward you at 80kph you want to be inawed not wondering why he looks like a badly animated stop-motion figure.
Published in: on November 7, 2017 at 16:33  Comments (1)  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.7

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Call me picky, if you’re too lazy to use my real name, but isn’t momentum quite important in serialised storytelling? Watching “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” there was the faint suspicion the writers of Discovery didn’t have the impetus to push on. Last week we had an enticing cliffhanger, with some mirror universe audience-baiting chicanery and Lorca’s love interest imprisoned behind enemy lines (but in no danger of being rescued as she’d promise to terminate his command). What would a good follow up, designed to build on that tension, look like? An unexpected and wholly unwelcome rescue mission from Starfleet command? Lorca and Stamets acting with inexplicable menace, prompting Mick to suspect something’s amiss? Well fuck that, let’s have a Harry Mudd time-loop story instead.

“Magic…”, a poor man’s “Cause and Effect” (TNG, Season 5), felt initially like a superfluous bit of fan-placating conceptual masturbation – the kind of standalone high-concept Brannon Braga tribute that would have worked fine on episodic Trek, but here seemed like a course deviation. It didn’t help that the villain of the piece was Harry Mudd, a character who feels out of place in the prestige television landscape of psychological nuance and close character study.

Mudd’s a 1960’s stock character – fun but lacking the menace and storytelling potential of John De Lancie’s Q (whose bon mots he’s now appropriated), and weirdly defined by, what to modern eyes, is a curiously misogynist backstory – a man on the run from his nagging and overbearing wife. We didn’t blink when this was a feature of the 23rd century as imagined in the late ‘60s, but now? It’s a curious sort of nostalgia on a show determined to reinvent the space wheel.

Rainn Wilson’s clearly enjoying himself in what’s essentially a comic role, but would Discovery’s writers have benefited from creating an original character more in tune with the moral complexities they’re attempting to explore? If you were trying to tell a new story about attitudes to disability in this strange new world, you surely wouldn’t wheel out an immobile Christopher Pike in his bleep chair.

Mudd’s revenge on Lorca for leaving him in Space prison, meant invading Discovery on a loop, killing his nemesis many times over (it was admittedly fun to see Lorca beamed into outer space and choking), trying to find out what made the ship unique so he could sell it to the Klingons, then, when his time was up, destroying it. Was the destruction necessary to prompt the reset? He seemed to have an armband device that would do it anyway unless you opted for time to run on, but perhaps he just enjoyed the opportunity to mass murder the crew, consequence free. Also, in keeping with the character’s apparent lack of common sense, it was also a mystery why he didn’t just download a file on the Spore Drive and save himself 60 loops and multiple interrogations.

So the plot was hokey and the technobabble required to make it work, opaque, but “Magic…” gave the world what it wanted in a week when Anthony Rapp alleged he was molested by Kevin Spacey, namely an episode that put Paul Stamets front and centre. Okay, his opening line, “no need to apologise for close physical contact” was unfortunate under the circumstances, but his character’s ability to exist external to the loop and retain information, thanks to his Spore Drive interface, confirmed Stamet’s was now a meta-dimensional being – someone able to cross over space and time. The story might have been a hackneyed way to explore this, but at least now we know where we’re heading, beyond the confines of this world and maybe into one the fanfic community can’t complain about.

Still, credit to the scribes, they used the story to build a relationship between Mick and Klingon Spy Voq – I mean, Security Chief Tyler. Okay, it was heartbreaking to see them express their feelings at a party where musical tastes hadn’t moved on in 250 years, but at least Mick’s no longer just a sourpuss outsider and object of derision for her shipmates, many more of whom have now lost friends because of the war she started (death toll’s up to 10,000). Her relationship with Tyler feels organic and there’s real chemistry there, which I hope will make it all the more heartbreaking when she learns he’s nursing a deep hatred for everything she represents and is here to avenge the Klingon warlord he idolizes as a martyr.

Anomalous Readings:

  • Man alive, Tilly looked good at that party. Sure, she’d drive you mad with her scatty conversation and inability to focus, but when she flicked that hair at Mick I was ready to kill an endangered space whale to make the perfumed soap that I could present as a gift to secure a first date. I accept there would be the risk of a backlash.
  • I wonder what Admiral Cornwell was doing during the events of this episode? Probably wondering when the writers would pick up her story.
  • This episode had no teaser. Apparently the first since “Encounter at Farpoint” not to. Did they forget to write one? I think Mudd emerging from a whale, killing Lorca, failing to get what he wanted from Stamets then blowing up the ship, would have been a pretty fucking good opener, but maybe the editor got distracted by those Tilly party rushes and forgot to drop it into the right part of the timeline.

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.6

Critic’s log, supplemental.

The big question on Star Trek: Discovery this week, other than does anyone really buy into this sub-space katra concept, was, should everyone on this show have a beard? Last time, following his cavalier decision to become the spore drive’s biological core, Stamets looked into the mirror and an autonomous reflection stared back, opting to stay put as our version retired to examine Culber’s hypospray. It seems his experiment upset the delicate balance between space-based mycelium and surrounding matter, producing a schism. “Lethe” (penned by TNG staffer Joe Menosky) left us watching that existential threat bubble on the stove, while Captain Lorca pranced around with a gun.

Given he’s psychologically damaged and prone to the sexual abuse of alien species, it’s odd that Lorca managed to end up in command of Starfleet’s most important ship – the great experiment. On one hand we could surmise that the admiralty thought the Spore Drive akin to being strapped to TNT, so didn’t want to risk someone sane and decorated, a la Christopher Pike, in case their flesh was baked into a bulkhead. On the other, maybe Lorca, a man with a blood blotted copybook and a point to prove, was the only commander mad enough to volunteer. Regardless, it was hard to fathom why Admiral Cornwell, warping in to bollock Gabriel for making unauthorised jumps and wiping his cock on the rule book (foreword, K. Cornwell), suddenly had concerns.

Sure, there was talk of him being a changed man since the good ol’ days, more capricious, less deferent to authority, but things went from weird to inexplicable when we learned of the pair’s defunct relationship. Lorca tried to kill the elephant in the room by showing the admiral the elephant in the room. But if nostalgia sex designed to make Cornwell forget about 3,400 days of shore leave accrued from working 23 hour days was Lorca’s play, the game was up when the Admiral massaged his war wounds and got a phaser in her puss. Picard lost his rag a few times but he never threatened a superior’s life in bed. Consequently a promise to remove Lorca from command was inevitable.

Cornwell, however, had forgotten that she was a character in a serialised television series, so despite her inner monologue demanding she transmit her decision to Starfleet without delay, because the Discovery was too important a ship to leave in the hands of a sexually rejected temperamental madman, she instead chose to defer until she’d spearheaded a diplomatic mission – peace talks on neutral territory. She was replacing Sarek, who’d been wounded by a Vulcan terrorist and left adrift in a nebula; a portent of doom that paid off as expected.

The Klingons are to peacemaking what Cyril Smith was to child care, so it was no shock that the opportunistic bastards slaughtered their hosts and took Cornwell hostage. No problem, one thought, Lorca will simply wire up Stamets, make a jump and rescue his old flame, just as Saru did for him last week, but we learned that the Captain wasn’t kidding when he said Discovery was all he had left.

Suddenly, conveniently, he was as officious as Starfleet command, ruling out a rescue and putting his faith in certain to fail diplomatic back channels. This, of course, was self-interest as its most brazen – a very un-Starfleet thing to do, not to mention strategically unhinged given Cornwell’s tactical and intelligence caseload. Aghast, we asked if Lorca would really risk defeat for a few more months in the Captain’s chair.

Then that pot boiled over. In the episode’s final moments, Lorca looked out of his window only for his reflection to stare back from a different pane. The man we’d spent 45 minutes with signalled his unsavoury credentials with a phaser tucked into his space trousers. Could he, indeed the entire Discovery universe, be part of what Doc Brown used to call “a tangent”?

Barbra Streisand told us the Mirror had two faces, but given the continuity we know a few more seemed likely. This can’t be the Mirror universe, as that boasts a fully developed Terran Empire, so what in Tilly’s name is going on? Are the Discovery crew experiencing a bleed from beyond, souring the milk of human kindness? Are crew members being replaced by evil counterparts? Does the show exist in a part of the multi-verse than straddles the Mirror Universe’s theatre of perpetual war and our land of plenty? If so, could Discovery be bolder than we dared hope – a Star Trek series set in one universe that ends in another? I have no fucking idea.

Anomalous Readings:

  • Sarek’s rescue was the ostensive meat of this episode but didn’t make the main log entry on account of it hinging on this dubious “soul bridge” concept. Mind you, Star Kids, if this is another universe, it would explain both Burnham’s insertion into Spock’s backstory and this hitherto unknown mode of transuniversal telepathic communication. Mick’s backstory mirrors (geddit?) Spock’s in many ways. She is, dare we say it, a shadowy reflection of him – the same estranged father, a victim of the same Vulcan bigotry, and the episode ended with her elevation to Starfleet Science Officer. Ladies and gentleman, does anyone else feel like they’re being played?
  • The in-universe shortening of Discovery, according to Mick and Tilly’s tees, is “Disco”. Did the online retailer Very threaten to sue?
  • Lots of chatter across subspace this week that new Security Chief Tyler and Voq, the Klingon albino, are one in the same – a spy in the Discovery’s midst. Looking at the two side by side it certainly looks like two flavours of actor Shazad Lati, but your guess is as good as mine. Still, it’s reassuring to know the enemy may now be responsible for the safety of everyone on board as well as the ship’s weapons and tactical data. A slow hand clap for Lorca or an Evil Captain’s deliberate act of sabotage? History will decide.
Published in: on October 25, 2017 at 13:54  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.5

Critic’s log, supplemental.

The most memorable Star Trek episodes remind you of old girlfriends, and “Choose Your Pain”, though an unfocused cross pollination of plots like last week, just scraped into this category. I once had a dalliance with a girl, eager to affirm her erotic credentials, who’d read in More that men like the implied edginess that comes from a penchant for BDSM. When our sex finally arrived, the proverbial 3:10 to Yuma, with the opportunity for a little consensual torture, her heart didn’t seem to be in it. But having dropped the tease into conversation as a form of foreplay, she had little choice, trapped in the lie, but to make some masochistic noises – I mean, beyond that implied by her choice of fuckmate.

I was ordered to tug her teats, palm her arse-halves and spout porn star dialogue, all of which I’d planned to do anyway, and there was talk of gnawing on my warp core – the kind of suggestion someone only makes when they’re confident the answer will be a firm, “sorry, the antimatter leak will kill us both”.

This memory remnant was improbably triggered by association as Captain Lorca stood in a Klingon prison cell, flanked by new character Ash Tyler (Landry’s replacement?) and old character Harry Mudd (last seen in live action circa 1967), and was forced to watch as a fellow officer was beaten to death. The ridge-headed bastards had a system for intimidating and dividing POWs, we learned – forcing each to either choose a pounding (the preferred choice of my old flame) or nominate a fellow prisoner for punishment while the others looked on. I thought of she, her boasts calling from the past, and wondered how she’d have handled this impossible situation. Rationally, she’d have chosen someone else, as no one wants to have the shit kicked out of them, but to remain consistent with all that loose talk of being slapped, prodded and superficially burned, she’d have been forced to opt for a kicking, while faking squeals of orgasmic delight as the Empire’s brutish screws stamped on her head.

Would I have stepped in? I doubt it. I empathised with the aforementioned Mudd – a smiley, duplicitous con artist, with 1960s attitudes to women, who struck a bargain with his captors to spy on anyone thrown into his cell in exchange for preferential treatment. This seemed to me the logical play, as well as a suitable reintroduction for the original series character. He’s an odd choice, perhaps, a notably regressive presence in a conspicuously progressive series, but every ideology needs its enemy, every archetype its antithesis, and here was a readymade antidote to Starfleet virtues. We can expect to see him again falling victim to a disease that makes him secrete an adhesive plasm (Mudd Sticks) and an episode in which he’s miniaturised and injected into Lorca’s corneas, having conned an alien doctor out of the only treatment for the Captain’s ocular sensitivity (Mudd in your Eye).

If that was the meat of the episode, and sadly it was, it was soon apparent this was all pretext for advancing the Discovery’s handling of the Spore Drive. “Choose your Pain”, like last week’s instalment, toyed with double meanings (doubles and opposites seem to be the show’s primary theme) by having a parallel dilemma in which the crew had to choose either torturing Ripper the Tardigrade, whose body served as the Drive’s regulator, or freeing the beast and injecting an officer with its DNA, making them a biological proxy, with all the attendant risks, including stellar shattering agony.

This being Star Trek (no, really), Stamets opted to inject himself and follow Mick’s recommendation to let the engine of their success leave. This allowed them to save Lorca from captivity but more importantly, from a series point of view, appeared to open the door to the Mirror Universe. A pre-credits stinger revealed another Stamets staring back from the other side of our version’s speculum; a cliffhanger that bookended an episode that had begun with Mick dreaming about a doppelgänger lit up by spores. As Mick had already teleported using the chamber, we could infer this was some kind of aftereffect – the first definitive sign (though surely not the last) that the drive’s use is either harmful to the universe, to humans using it to transverse the mycelial network, or both.

This plot twist, the curtain raiser to the show’s forthcoming Mirror Universe episode, hinted at why the network isn’t a thing in the series to come, but also, from a Discovery discontents point of view, teased the intriguing possibility that the show may divert into many alternate realities, perhaps ending up marooned in one where Starfleet uniforms look like those in “The Cage” and Klingons enjoy long hair and facial twatling strings. Or maybe, channelling my squeeze of yore, it’s just a ploy to keep us interested.

Anomalous Readings

  • Sweet, awkward Tilly became the first Star Trek character to say “fuck” – maybe the first human to say it since the Third World War. A disbelieving Stamets joined in, ushering in a notable coarsening of 23rd century discourse – one we imagine will be viewed with great embarrassment from the perspective of less profane 24th century historians.
  • The folly of giving a Discovery character a name that’s very similar to that of an original series character was apparent when Saru was made acting captain and everyone called him “Sulu”. Well, that’s what I heard. C’mon team, there was a universe of names to choose from. Are we going to meet James T. Koch next week?
  • Mick gave Saru the unwanted telescope inherited last week, confirming just how indifferent she was to receiving it.
  • Robert April became fully-fledged canon, via Saru’s on screen display of celebrated Captains. He didn’t wonder why three of the five names were Captains of the Enterprise. It might have made me think that someone in the Admiralty had a thing for that line of ships and didn’t much care who was in command.
Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 17:46  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.4

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Four episodes in, and it’s become clear that the Star Trek: Discovery writers’ room is stocked with agitators. They know the rabid fanbase is watching, ready to eviscerate them for every wrongheaded choice. Bereft, they scanned social media during the series’ pre-production, watching helplessly as Trekkies tore into every cut of leaked information, labelling them everything under the Klingon sun, most notably a shower of bastards, a tureen of cunt soup, a fuck steak with moron wedges, a truckle of knob cheese.

So inevitably a siege mentality developed, plus a certain aggressive attitude towards fan baiting. It was much in evidence throughout “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” – not just an allusion to the interchangeable status of predators and victims in this particular show, and the shifting moral calculus that played out, but the writers’ motto when considering the pained and confused online community – the people Jason Issacs calls spacetards.

So we began with last week’s monster, now interned in Lorca’s zoo, where in time he’d subject it to unimaginable indignities under the cover of darkness he (and up to that point, it) so enjoys. We learned it was a giant Tardigrade – an interesting choice as it recast one of nature’s great survivors (they can flourish in almost any moist environment, including a Richard Curtis audience) as a killer; a rampaging grotesque that Lorca wanted exploited toot sweet. “Weaponise it!” he told Mick, not knowing what “it” was or what motivated it. Fortunately, our man – sorry, woman, is a lot less gung-ho than she used to be and made some fan pleasing noises about trying to understand it as Lorca left to sodomise a caged Horta.

To add to the impression this was going to be 50 torturous minutes of militaristic grandstanding, mocking Trek’s once treasured principles, for the creative team do enjoy their petty torments, security officer Landry, universally despised, grew bored of Burnham’s enlightened pitch about careful investigation and evaluation, and pulled a phaser on the beast to, er, better understand its responses – the 23rd century equivalent of kicking a bull’s low hanging fruit. Symptomatic of this cavalier approach to fortune, she’d named it “Ripper” (Mick preferred “Tard”), and it duly responded by brutally murdering her – a killing that instantly revealed the creature to be sympathetic as well as a great judge of character. Alas, poor Landry, we barely knew her and we didn’t want to.

So far, so awful – but the death of this gun toting dullard was the episode’s turning point – the moment the writers’ pulled back the confederate curtain and revealed it had all been good sport; they were on board with this Roddenberry thing after all. Stupidity would be punished not celebrated on this show. Sense and scientific reasoning could and would win out.

The upshot was that a little understood monster turned out, in the finest ”Devil in the Dark” tradition, to be a gentle giant that had no interest in ripping women, only nurturing its surroundings. It feasted not on flesh but the celestial magic fungal spores that powered the Discovery’s teleporter. Mick was finally enabled to utilise some of her expensive Vulcan education and deliver a result for the crew – namely the organic component that regulated the ecosystem on which the stability and accuracy of the spore drive depended. This allowed her to usurp on board fungi expert, Stamens (autocorrects to Stamets), who was weirdly sceptical of the entire endeavour, despite the relationship between forms of fungi and the natural world being his speciality, and save the besieged colonists on Corvan II at the expense of some worthless Klingon lives.

Thus, the depressing desecration of Trek’s hallowed high ground turned into something altogether more palatable and interesting. Speaking of palatable, the Klingon B-story revealed that T’Kuvma cultists L’Rell and Voq had eaten the remains of Georgiou. It was that or the last of the sarcophagus ship rations. There was no talk of flavours but one imagines Mick tasted bitterness when she learned she’d inherited the late Captain’s telescope. As her mind had been trained in the Vulcan way she wouldn’t attach sentiment to an inanimate object, and she was now on a ship that could, thanks to her, teleport to any star in the universe at will, rendering the scope useless. What a galaxy.

Anomalous readings

  • A power shift occurred at the back end of the dull Klingon B-story, with L’Rell and Voq exiled to the Shenzhou’s dead husk, with new swinging dick Kol now in charge of the war effort. This sets up the possibility of a change in the enemies’ objectives and the possibility that Discovery will pair up with the cultists to win the war using good old fashioned regime change – sorry, diplomacy.
  • So, Saru’s fear erection is attributable to his threat ganglia, huh? I suppose fear erection was unfriendly terminology.
  • Saru to Mick: “You will fit in perfectly with Captain Lorca.” Saucer of milk, table two.
  • It’s synthesis at this point in time, not replication. I wonder if Mick will be retconned as the one who coins the term we know and love, perhaps because she, like us, hates synthesis.
  • “They can blame whatever happens on my curiosity.” Writers, why not just show us Mick’s character, rather than composing clunkers like this? You don’t have to piss us off all the time…and please stop using the word “piss” when laying down Mick’s dialogue.

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.3

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Star Trek: Discovery is still bleak. In chapter three we finally met the titular starship and her largely cynical and downbeat crew. Sure, there was levity in the form of Cadet Tilly – a special needs crewman who’s free to serve on board an experimental vessel during a mission that may determine the future of the Federation, despite an unspecified personality disorder and an allergy to polyurethane. It was hard to believe such allergies won’t be cured by the 23rd century (after all you can take a pill that clears up kidney dialysis) but there were other signs here that Discovery was at least one remove from the utopian future we’ve enjoyed in previous Treks, and I’m not just referring to “Black Alert” which insensitively went off when Mick sat on Tilly’s non-allergenic sheets.

“Context is for Kings”, an approximation of a real pilot episode, featuring as it did the principle ensemble cast and veiled allusions to their mission, was, in some respects, boilerplate Trek – an investigation into a disaster befalling another ship, Discovery’s sister the Glenn. The mystery involved an alien monster and/or scientific experiment gone wrong, two old favourites.

The Discovery’s captain, Lorca, played hardboiled by Jason Issacs, with an in-show excuse to only be lit for mood, namely some kind of optical affliction, captured the prowling creature of unknown origin at the close, adding it to his secret collection of zoological specimens (a pet Tribble betrayed a weakness for collecting aliens), suggesting a certain moral flexibility. Those desperately searching the new ship’s corridors and crew quarters for the enlightened, optimistic Starfleet officers of old, started to sense a pattern. The crew of the Discovery, bar sullen Saru and silly Tilly, look like the kind of gang the Enterprise used to meet when investigating wrongdoing – the sort of officers that could, and you sense, will, fuck that Tribble.

There was the brooding and joyless Landry, chief of security, who with absolute certainty had beaten a prisoner or two before breakfast. Lieutenant Stamets (autocorrects to Stamens), who appeared to be an autistic genius who shed not a tear when his BFF on the Glenn had his body warped by organic space travelling fire flies. And then of course there was Mick the mutineer, hated by all who’d been forced to give up a career charting nebulae to kill Klingons, and brought to the Discovery by Lorca to employ the brain we’re told she possesses but have yet to see at optimal efficiency; a mind that doesn’t do wit or cutting putdowns.

Her job was to help turn the ship’s defining, er, discovery, into humanity’s greatest innovation – an organic propulsion system with the means to cross a quadrant of the galaxy in just 1.3 seconds. Had this taken off, Voyager would have been back in the Alpha quadrant in less time than it takes for Usain Bolt to run the 100m. And therein, cried all of Trek fandom, alert at long last, was the problem.

If Discovery is canon, and not a dimensional variant, we know Starfleet’s secret project must come to nothing. Not only is the idea a potential series killer, for the ability to travel anywhere, instantly (Lorca’s demo allowed Mick to see Andoria and Romulus in less time than it took him to explain the technology) takes the Trek out of Star Trek, but it’s also conspicuously absent from all the sequel series. This is tech to make warp travel redundant – something like the Iconian gateway seen in ST:TNG’s “Contagion” (that, perhaps not coincidentally also featured the destruction of the series’ sister ship), so where is it later in the 23rd or indeed the 24th century?

We’re left with a plot device that powers the ship’s mission and series future direction – a wheeze that allows Lorca to collect species and plant samples from distance worlds to satisfy his deviant desires – that ultimately can’t be developed. Our hope at this early stage, is that this newly found intergalactic ecosystem will spin the story in a cautionary direction, a la the Federation’s foolhardy flirtation with the Genesis project, with similar galactic threatening implications. That, or it transports them to a universe where everything looks right.

In these first three episodes, Discovery’s teased us with the kernels of fascinating ideas such as these, while undermining its potential with dislikable characters and a gloomy tone. There’s a curious lack of optimism on this ship, something even the DS9 crew found time for when facing the existential treat of the Dominion. That’s right, the deaths of billions didn’t stop Miles and Julian enjoying a game of darts but 8,000 casualties in six months (tiny by space standards) left the Discovery crew looking like they’d been issued with ration cards.

It left me hoping that Tilly’s dream to become Captain comes true quicker than she dared hope. That kooky redhead may have somehow got past the tutors at Starfleet Academy but at least she’s fun to be around. Remember fun, kids?

Anomalous readings:

  • I’m glad someone pointed out that a barely discernable difference in the colour of uniform stripes denotes department. I just wish I could tell a person’s rank. Alas, it was so much simpler once…and will be again, I’ve seen the future.
  • I think the world’s now pretty clear on why CBS sued Axanar Productions, and it wasn’t because of copyright infringement. Those mad canon loving fools had inadvertently stumbled on the exact period in Trek history this mob are determined to reimagine. No wonder they lawyered up. Can you imagine a feature length alternative pilot to the official series free to view online? CBS certainly could.
  • “Shit, that worked.” What a very Vulcan thing to say, Mick.
  • Burnham’s jumpsuit looked a little like the Cage-era uniforms this series doesn’t recreate. What a tease. Go on, Discovery writers’ room – tell us the colour’s adopted at series end in tribute to Mick’s successful contribution to saving the Federation, make our day.
  • Starfleet must be wary of Lorca – the bastards didn’t even put a chair in his ready room.
Published in: on October 2, 2017 at 21:40  Comments (1)  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 1.1/1.2

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Since the death of Gene Roddenberry from a rare venereal disease that originated on Betazed, I’ve never trusted Star Trek showrunners and I never will. I can never forgive them for seven insipid seasons of Voyager – particularly the episode where Seven of Nine fought The Rock, though it’s better than you remember it. I can never forgive them for firing Ron Jones, the John Williams of episodic television, because Rick Berman thought, in a foretaste of the madness that would eventually kill movies, that his grand orchestrations were too conspicuous – they gave episodes too much personality. I can never forgive them for “These are the Voyages…” until this week, Trek’s TV goodbye and Enterprise’s finale – the most Cronenberged hour of television ever made. Fuck, even Voyager’s turgid, weightless, technobabble ridden last hour didn’t turn out to be a lost episode from a different series.

Yes, since the Great Bird of the Galaxy was brought in by the cat, it’s been a rocky road for Trekkies. Half of them are so traumatised, they deny Deep Space Nine’s greatness, treating it like a black sheep, so they can rationalise not watching it back when, opting instead to ogle Jeri Ryan’s conspicuous Borg implants.

Now, 12 years after that Enterprise episode, 42 minutes of TV that left even die-hard fans saying, “maybe the show needs a rest”, we have Star Trek: Discovery. Debuting 30 years after The Next Generation, with considerable suspicion, given its aesthetic debt to J.J Abrams’ polished but hollow counterfactual Kirk flicks; the buzz pre-transmission that co-runner Alex Kurtzman (autocorrects to Colonel Kuntz), perhaps due to some unresolved rights issues, would contrive to diverge from the Holy Canon; it’s a show the internet declared stillborn without going through the rigmarole of watching it.

This wasn’t the journey into the franchise’s future many wanted but a return to its hallowed past, and there were ominous drum beats foretelling a Trek that had little ambition to provide the joyful escapism we associate with the show’s colourful future, rather serve as a heavy-handed allegory for today’s conflict between a less than benevolent, morally confused America, and its cack-handed war on religious extremism.

Fine, we said. But don’t make our new Trek bleak. In a world of Donald Trump and suicide attacks from medieval-minded miscreants looking for absolute moral certainty in a world of nuance, what would really pull back our foreskin was the old franchise’s winning brand of progressive, upbeat characters, trying to impose sanity on an otherwise irrational and sinister galaxy.

Well, pour me a large glass of Romulan ale, Discovery’s bleak. That’s not to say it’s bad – there’s plenty of interesting ideas crowning in these first two episodes, but “Please Stick with It, Parts I & II” might have been a better title than “The Vulcan Hello/Battle at the Binary Stars”. Because despite a great deal of production value and committed performances from the principle cast members it deigned to feature – bar Michelle Yeoh who’s stiff as a Klingon stand up comedian, but thankfully dispatched by pilot’s end – plot trumps character in this opener, which is just as well because said characters are not yet inspiring confidence.

This is a good moment to pause and emphasise that this was not a traditional Star Trek pilot. Back in the episodic, non-serialised days of yore, a Trek opener’s principle function was to introduce the ensemble, basic relationships and all, and establish both setting and set up. By episode’s end you knew who you were dealing with, where and why, and were ready for those first adventures.

But “Please Stick with It, Parts I & II” are the opening chapters in a TV novel, and consequently, emboldened by format and brazenly confident of holding onto a fickle audience for the duration of the remaining 13 hours, the inaugural ninety minutes bets the space house on setting up the show’s central pillar, excluding all else. This is a redemption arc for insubordinate hothead and diplomacy disaster area, Michael “genderfluid” Burnham (“Mick” to her friends). Her mission will be to help the crew of the Discovery (reserved for Chapter 3) tame the Klingon religious extremists – advocates of racial purity, who see the Federation as a mongrel imperialist cabal, that she inadvertently spurred on to war when carelessly martyring leader T’Kuvma, despite being the only Starfleet officer to recognise the cultural implications of doing so.

Critic’s log, this is an intriguing setup. The new, old Klingons have never looked and sounded so alien, or been so strongly drawn – not the snarling, head butting, blood wine swigging bores of old for this show, rather something altogether more grounded, malevolent, yet with motives well defined enough to illicit some small measure of sympathy (the idea of a religious Klingon sect, roaming the galaxy in isolation, blindly following scripture, is something co-creator Bryan Fuller has lifted from a Voyager episode called “Prophesy” which fortunately no one saw). But the initial misstep here is a failure to contrast this unfolding threat to the 23rd century with equally engaging Starfleet characters.

The trouble with Mick is that she’s, well, lacking dynamism. That doesn’t mean she won’t endear herself to us later, but for now Sonequa Martin-Green struggles to make her Klingon-hating, Vulcan trained xenoanthropologist, more than the sum of her narrative parts. I think I preferred the cold logician who arrived on the Shenzhou to the competitive, Saru-baiting showpony that faced the Klingon fleet seven years later. Of course, the fact she’s an impulsive know-it-all is what leads both her and the Federation to the edge of ruin by pilot’s end, but it’s a nigh on kamikaze gambit to tell this part of the story in near-linear fashion, risking the casual alienation of viewers who might have hoped to meet a character haunted by her flaws but driven by Federation principles to do better next time, rather than a cavalier fuckwit who declares herself the enemy at episode’s end.

Would a dedicated flashback structure have worked better here? Then at least the Discovery and her crew might have featured in their own fucking pilot episode. But if you’re feeling generous you can say it’s a bold and unapologetically serialised approach to telling the story, that says to viewers, “there’s upfront pain but payoff aplenty, trust us – and besides, if you want a Star Trek pilot where you meet all the characters and tour the new ship and everyone learns something at the end, you’ve got all the others. So, fuck you Trekkies. Fuck you and your Rick Berman-trained mind.”

So, Discovery’s a mixed bag on her first journey out of space dock. I was intrigued by Saru, the Kelpian scaredy-cat that Burham patronised and undermined for most of the first two episodes (one hopes setting up an antagonistic relationship to come). And I liked the cut of returning character Sarek’s jib, even if James Frain’s performance isn’t a patch on Mark Lenard’s (he’s very much Zachary Quinto’s father, rather than Leonard Nimoy’s). But the opening couplet’s central relationship, that between Burnham and Captain Georgiou was somewhat undermined by the latter character’s marked blandness.

Had the interplay between Martin-Green and Yeoh been electrifying, heartbreaking – then maybe it would have been possible to give a shit about their seven-year relationship and Burnham’s (apparently) uncharacteristic betrayal. But I felt nothing but relief when the would-be Vulcan neck pinched her, nothing by irritation when she came to, and nothing but adulation when T’Kuvma buried a blade in her chest. It was, apparently, a key moment in Federation and Klingon history but one didn’t feel it, such was the lack of human interest.

Beyond all that, and those early (and maybe still to be realised) fears that Discovery would diverge from canon, it was reassuring to hear the right stardate convention used, and little details that suggested shared DNA with the original series – a computer that prefixes operations with “working”, familiar sound FX on the bridge. But this is also a show that liberally borrows from the J.J Abrams’ movies – it straddles new and old, spreading its bets, suggesting, maybe threatening us, with the divergence to come.

That “we’re fucking with you” vibe is the real story of these opening episodes. Space, thanks to a bit of NASA-style mission control patter, feels dangerous and foreboding here (as it is). The show, from its prestige titles to the moral ambiguity hotwired into its plot twists, seems styled to agitate rather than entertain. We’re a long way from Q’s simple test of virtue and adrift without heroes. If they emerge over the next 13 weeks we’ll say it was a worthwhile experiment. If not, Star Trek Discovery will be added to Donald Trump’s long list of crimes against liberals. First he killed our politics, then our utopia.

Dear Chris Chibnall: On the matter of casting Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor

Dear Chris,

Now we’ve had the first peek into your showrunner’s brain and met the actor you’ve chosen to be the Doctor, I think it’s time we talked about how it all portends for your era as chief cock.

Jodie Whittaker then. Jodie Whittaker. I admit, Chris, I sighed, much as I did when I found out Star Trek: Discovery was going to be a prequel. Most of the chatter will now focus on her Gallifreyan growler, but know this is a distraction. Identity politics are turgid at the best of times but irrelevant on a show about a character from a race that can and does change appearance and sex. Besides, Steven (remember him?) foreshadowed the change so heavily, going so far as to make it an underlying theme of Peter Capaldi’s last story (pre-announcement) that he may as well have had the Twelfth fix the TARDIS chameleon circuit and change the exterior to resemble a giant bottle of rosé.

We’ve all felt it coming, the acrid smell in the air that lingered after the Ghostbusters remake. Hopefully, you won’t make the mistake they made and imagine the casting’s enough. There’s still a job of writing to be done. You sensed the groundswell of pressure, manifest in social media chatter, signaling an expectation, you embraced the call for equal representation, but did you understand that Twitter and its newspaper affiliates have the luxury of focusing on the superficial because they don’t have to script 13 hours of drama a year? Their imaginations can remain safely in neutral while yours, as Doctor Who überscribe, has to shift from second (Broadchurch/Torchwood) to fifth.

Still, you’ve gone for it, forgetting that not a single member of the target audience was represented by William Hartnell’s original casting, because then the thinking centred on the Doctor’s relationship with his audience, not this notion he should reflect them and their gender politics, but no matter – we have Jodie Whittaker and we must embrace her, for if we don’t the show’s brown bread.

Naturally, I foresaw some problems with the Doctor’s sex change ahead of the announcement. I think of these as practical considerations and I list them now so you can consider them ahead of that first writers room meeting.

  • The Doctor could be impregnated by a Zygon, thereby hugely complicating her relationship with the species.
  • While the Doctor’s pregnant and on leave, her enemies would have the space to mobilise, collaborate and take over the universe.
  • The Daleks will no longer take the Doctor seriously, thanks to Davros’s rampant misogyny, inevitably eroding her confidence.
  • The Doctor will get her dress caught in the TARDIS door, ripping it clean off – awkward scenes ensuing at UNIT HQ.
  • The Doc will be vulnerable to the predatory sexual advances of a young & sexually retarded male companion who doesn’t understand boundaries.
  • The Doctor will suffer castration anxiety and related issues, like body dysmorphia, plunging her into a deep depression.
  • The Doctor could catch her reflection and fall in love with herself, thereby losing focus when working on solving life or death problems.
  • The Doctor’s breasts could accidentally depress a button on the TARDIS console, sending her and her companion hurtling into a black hole.

But no doubt you’ve anticipated these and already have workarounds.

But seriously, Chris, for me, the issue is not the Doctor’s sex but their character and what your casting signals in that regard. Before Whittaker was revealed, those who’d studied your work wondered if you had it in you to make something that wasn’t broad and middle-of-the-road. We know you can plot a story, because we’ve seen Broadchurch (if not exactly watched it attentively as you designed it to be looked at while having conversations with others), but we also know, from the same inexplicably popular series, that you don’t do psychological depth and tend to use “everyman” actors that can play your one dimensional archetypes with a certain degree of rough and ready conviction. We’ve seen Jodie Whittaker in your old show for example, and may have respected her performance, but did it register with anyone? Er, the grieving mother, wasn’t it? Well, that’s super but it’s not quite Cracker’s Eddie Fitzgerald. The Doctor is many things but not, you’d surely agree, the man or woman from your local pub.

We were wrong, Chris. We suspected you’d pick someone from the company of actors you’re familiar with, but having failed to register anything in Jodie’s Broadchurch turn or previous body of work that announced her as a strong character actor with the ability to impress their personality on a role and leave an audience salivating, we naturally assumed you’d ask Olivia Coleman. No one wanted her as the Doctor, you understand, but at least she’d cut through on screen. Whittaker’s go-to roles to date seem grounded in the mundane. And whereas that suggests she’s relatable to a mainstream audience, it doesn’t automatically make her a shoe-in for one of television’s most dynamic oddballs.

This matters Chris, because it tells us that your Doctor Who is not aiming to break out, rather hug a general audience close. It suggests that the thirteenth Doctor will be a more grounded creation – a relatable figure (the sheer fucking horror of it) with stories calibrated for mass appeal rather than daring to manifest an edge and reach befitting a show with the world’s most flexible format. After all, this is a series in need of a dramatic regeneration following Russell T. Davis’s risk averse take and Steven’s encore centred on rootless conceptual masturbation.

What really sandpapers the cock is that far from being seen as the inhibited surrender to blandification it is, Whittaker’s casting alone will allow over excited TV critics and social media pundits alike to claim that the show’s innovated, when the only innovation that matters from a dramatic point of view, is the quality of the scripts, the boldness of the stories, and the daring of the writing. Everything else is cosmetic and if fans don’t know this now, I fear they soon will.

If Whittaker’s characterisation is successful (perhaps despite your scripts) then it will not be because she’s a feminoid. It’ll be because, unlike that other import from drama’s school of meat and potatoes, Christopher Eccleston, she understands the Doctor’s nature – the inherent irreverent streak, the mischief, the wisdom, the compassion, the guile – and can play it, balancing these elements in a manner that doesn’t appear forced. That’s right, Chris, we need another square peg in a round hole like a disruptor blast through the guts.

You, in turn, will understand the character better than Steven, stripping out the grandstanding and sexuality that often blighted his efforts, and that’s before he set about rewriting the Doctor’s backstory, fascistically elevating himself from custodian of the show to co-creator without so much as a vote.

If Whittaker’s Doctor is a dud it too will not be anything to do with her estrogen levels. It will be because she didn’t get a handle on the Time Lord’s underlying characteristics, the aforementioned bread and butter elements that tell us, the sad drooling fanboys and girls, that we’re in the presence of someone we know and aspire to be, despite a change of appearance.

Whittaker’s apparent lack of eccentricity or magnetism need not be a handicap of course. Peter Davison made an effective transition by virtue of being nice and earnest, and perhaps that’s what you’re going for – fresh faced and kind, rather than a force of nature. But I tell you, Chris – the risk is that you create a version of the show so inoffensive and mainstream that it loses the interest of the very bastards required to keep it healthy and talked about, the people Steven despised, the loners – the outsiders – the dispossessed. If Jodie’s too much like the dullards we meet every day, she won’t be the only one regenerating, knowhattamean?

You’ve done the easy part, Chris. You’ve cast a woman. Now earn your money and make us care about your version of the show.

Sincerely,

Ed

Published in: on July 16, 2017 at 17:44  Comments (4)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Doctor Falls

Dear Steven,

Your last regular episode of Doctor Who will be remembered for many things, but I suggest two factors above all others. One, your brazen, conspicuous and, psychologists might argue, needy compulsion to leave stains on the series that no amount of retconning can remove, and two, your trademark snafus, plot cheats and audience-baiting irritants – known alternatively as your style. Some will cite it as the reason you won’t be missed. But I’ll miss you, Steven. In my own way.

As with many of your episodes, “The Doctor Falls” didn’t have a story per se, just pay offs to set ups in the previous episode. One might say your approach can be summed up as scenario-driven. You’ve never really been interested in developing a story robust enough to work sans gimmicks and the knowledge we, as an audience, bring to the characters. In that respect your mind works just like a fan fiction author’s, generating riffs on other people’s original storytelling, which you know will resonate with other fans; the kind bloated from all the lore they’ve retained over the years. Lucky we live in a post-modern society, else what the fuck would we do with it all, eh?

‘Fuck you, Ed,’ you’ll say, “The Doctor Falls” was a test of the Doctor’s values as he once again brushed up against his own mortality. Forced to take sanctuary on a solar farm about half way up the colony ship, which agonisingly for those who toiled daily was just one floor below the level of plenty, with its brothels and M & Ms world – he had to wrestle with Bill’s transformation into a Cyberman, two Masters and his failing health. All this, while the Mondasian murder droids, or rather the evolved versions that mystifyingly had skipped the intermediate stage of development between the 1960’s versions and 2000’s versions, worked to ascend to the same floor, en route to those brothels, and attack the colonists. I suppose the scenario needed to be simple, because if it wasn’t there wouldn’t have been time for every character to get a goodbye and/or work their way through an existential crisis.

Sure, the Doctor had only got this far because disorientated from Missy’s blow to the head he still had the nous and time to reprogramme, having been fortunate enough to fall onto a keyboard, the Cyberarmy to chase Time Lords not humans, thus forcing the Masters to break off murdering him and collaborate on an escape, but let’s not think too hard about that. You didn’t.

The least controversial of the introspections from characters who seemed to sense they were in a series finale, at least until the epilogue, was CyberBill, who understandably took the news she’d lost her humanity rather badly. You employed a smart conceit, that her mind’s eye still saw the flesh and blood original, a sort of mental rear guard action against the takeover, and thus, in grabs, with the aid of some good editing, so did we. This allowed Pearl Mackie to fulfil her contractual commitment to be in the 12th episode, while avoiding the inevitable guffaws that would result from watching the Doctor have several heart to hearts with a man in a suit outfitted with household appliances, who spoke like Stephen Hawking.

“We’re not going to get out of this one, are we?” said CyberBill at one point, but as this episode had your name on it, we knew some awful cop out was coming. Everybody lives, right? They’ve been cheating death since “The Empty Child” and they weren’t going to stop now. Unless they’re someone inconsequential like Danny Pink, of course. But who knew your big reset idea would be a variation on the exact same one used this time last year when saving Clara from oblivion.

Fucks, cunts and many other synonyms for you and your writer’s room could be heard across the nation as CyberBill, looming over the Doctor’s body following a climatic sonic shower (the Doc hates guns but is happy to use his screwdriver like one), saw the water girl from “The Pilot” reappear to conveniently reconstitute her into a space travelling biofluid entity like herself, who could return to human form at will, but more importantly, airlift the Doctor’s failing husk to the relative safety of the TARDIS. It wasn’t clear why Bill’s belle didn’t turn up to help earlier in the series, as she can cross space and time in an instant, perhaps before her body was destroyed, but fuck it, why not? Maybe you saw the phrase deus ex machina written down somewhere and thought that translated it was a great idea, rather a hackneyed storytelling device.

Still, you’re defiant to the end. Not for you any shame at repeating the cheap trick from the last series – ending with the Doctor’s companion being endowed with effective immortality and travelling the universe with a companion in tow (perhaps she can tag Clara’s TARDIS as she hurtles by). But as you’ve been around a bit too long and have no new ideas, I suppose you’d have been buggered whatever you did. The only alternative was to keep Bill as a Cyberman and have her die, which would have plagiarised the aforementioned Danny Pink’s fate in the series finale three years ago. So you opted to repeat your happy ending instead. In doing so, you’ve probably made it hard for me to enjoy a happy ending for some time.

Your worst hits continued with your treatment of the Master. Here, we had two versions of one of the series’ most iconic characters – a villain that’s managed to survive 54 years of adventures in various formats but was no match for your legacy imperative. Having re-written the Doctor’s backstory, that of the Cybermen and even that of the Time Lords, you completed your retcon project by having John Simm’s Master become his own character’s killer.

Yes, we’d barely got over Missy knifing the Master, thereby signalling that at long last her conscience had crowned, when an apoplectic Simm, outraged that his future self would ultimately abandon a lifetime’s battle and choose to stand with his oldest nemesis, shot his female incarnation with enough force to ensure she couldn’t regenerate. Suddenly, as the fading old Master descended to his TARDIS, manically cackling, holding the dematerialisation circuit that he only possessed because he’d reminded his older self to give it to him, making this your last use of the hated ontological paradox, we realised why you’d made such a big deal of establishing how bad a Time Lord’s memory could be.

Last week we were asked to accept that the Master, perhaps because of the intervening centuries, could forget he’d met himself on the colony ship. This was a stretch but we suspended disbelief, confident you’d dare not ask more of us. But this week you broke the audience. The nation was asked to believe that the Master would kill himself – actually bring a permanent end to his existence, because of a pang of conscience, but not remember it subsequently. Steven, you’re fucking kidding aren’t you?

One would think that even if Simm didn’t regenerate into Missy right away (we don’t know, we didn’t see it – perhaps to allow for a middle incarnation to surface in future episodes), his freshly minted self would make a serious mental note. Time Lords, we understand, have memory problems post-regeneration, but the mind usually settles, and when it does, wouldn’t the Master recall how he died, but more importantly, how he was going to die? I mean, really die?

Missy, if she is the next in line, would still be coming off the high of being Simm. “I loved being you,” she told him. And she’d be evil at this point. So perhaps it would have been prudent to whip out the old 5,000 year diary and make a capitalised entry warning against ANY RETURN TO THE MONDASIAN COLONY SHIP. After all, if she didn’t get involved with the Doctor when the time came – perhaps elected to stay in the vault, or took precautions to avoid being imprisoned in the first place, she could save herself from destruction at her own hand. But then if she didn’t visit the colony ship, she couldn’t give herself that dematerialisation circuit which she had on her, despite not initially remembering the encounter with her younger self – but, oh hang on, then she couldn’t escape and would probably die there as Simm, and then you’d have a paradox and – ah, why can’t you tell a linear story with proper cause and effect, you lazy fuck?

So you took it upon yourself to kill one of the series’ longest standing characters. A pity, as your predecessor presumed to murder all the Time Lords, leaving precisely none for Chris Chibnall to play with. And don’t talk to me about Gallifrey being safely tucked away in a pocket universe, I really can’t think about that right now. All I know is, the Rani, the Corsair – I’m never going to see them. Thanks a bastard.

Look, you had the right to murder the Master, but permanently? The get out clause of an intermediate incarnation aside, this seemed to me like Hitler issuing the order to blow up Paris. Didn’t you get the e-mail from Chibnall begging you not to tie his hands? The one that said, leave everything as you found it? Previous producers understood the Master was too good a character to end forever, so left the door open. You’ve presumed to write the final chapter of the character’s story. Still, you presumed to re-write the Doctor’s…and that of Davros…and the Cybermen…so why not the Master too? For the same reason that German general binned Hitler’s order. Let the future have something, will you?

This was all exasperating stuff, but we weren’t skinny dipping in this shit to learn the fate of Bill and the Master, rather what would happen to the Doctor? Last week you opened by teasing the regeneration of this version, but knowing you as we do, we cried bollocks, conscious that he couldn’t go until the Christmas Special. It said so in his contract.

Sure enough the Doctor did not regenerate, though both his body and the TARDIS desperately hoped he would. Apparently, he’s sick to the back bloody teeth of losing his identity and having to adjust to being a slightly different person, and with the imagined failure to redeem Missy fresh in his mind, one can understand why he’d come to the conclusion that renewal held no discernible purpose. It was just window dressing, right?

He wanted to carry on as he was for a bit, and why shouldn’t he? Well, biology that’s why, and the risk that if he kept holding back those bodily ejaculations of energy, he’d risk doing irreversible damage. When you have to go you have to go, so no wonder the cloister bell rang out as Capaldi’s stubborn Doctor stumbled out onto the ice, a location chosen by the TARDIS, only to be confronted by, holy living fuck, the First Doctor?!

This may not have been the regeneration story we wanted, Steven – you know, one brimming with intrigue, intricate plotting and a story that made sense, but it was undoubtedly the one the childhood Peter Capaldi would have liked to have been in. Capaldi, we realised, was the luckiest manchild who ever lived. He became his childhood hero, got to face his favourite childhood foe and, in these closing moments, meet his Doctor. Well, David Bradley’s version, sort of reprising his role from that anniversary special about the making of “An Unearthly Child”, but who gives a shit. It’s the First Doctor! For the first time since 1983! And the last Capaldi story will be a multi-Doctor story effectively spanning the show’s history. Talk about any requests!

The idea of the First Doctor reminding the Twelfth of regeneration’s benefits, though he hasn’t yet experienced it of course, unless your final fuck you, as discussed last week, is to establish otherwise, is a pretty exciting prospect. Not so much a hand over, but a hand up and hand off, with the new Doctor crowning following a considered reflection on his life to date and more importantly, what he’s yet to do. The nature of such a story amounts to more retconning of course, albeit in the best traditions of the series this time. If you can resist some of the shit we experienced in “The Doctor Falls” – cop outs, cock ups and cultural vandalism – it may yet be a swansong to be proud of. If not, I’ll try and make the response a swansong I can be proud of.

Until we lock bodies and plunge into the proverbial Reichenbach Falls.

Ed

P.S: No offence, but I hope the future isn’t female. I have a wang you see. Oh, I see, you were dropping another hint about the next Doctor. It better be Miriam Margolyes, Steven. I’m not kidding.

P.P.S: So goodbye, Nardole. You left him with a bunch of kids. I wouldn’t have.

P.P.P.S: “Without hope, without witness, without reward.” Sounds a lot like my experience of critiquing this show. I wonder if I’ll miss it.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time: