SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Pilot & Smile; Broadchurch Series Finale; The Magicians Season Finale; The Expanse Season Finale

It was a huge week with several shows returning or ending for the season. Scheduling forced me to break from the usual pattern of reviewing the week’s episode of Doctor Who last week, so I will look at both Pilot and Smile today.

Pilot was not only a show centered around the the introduction of a new companion, but was a partial reboot. The episode did have references to past characters and events, but it would be possible to follow the show without understanding those and watch Doctor Who for the first time. This was perhaps an unusual time to do this considering that next season there will be a new show runner, new Doctor, and probably a new companion, making an even bigger break.

Instead of traveling around time and space, the Doctor is working as a university professor, where he meets his new companion Bill Potts, a worker at the university, who sits in on the Doctor’s lectures. The Doctor was intrigued by her for doing this. Plus he noticed that while most people frown when exposed to something they do not understand, Bill would smile. Although the Doctor was not yet, at least consciously, looking for a new traveling companion, this would be a necessary characteristic of a companion who is constantly exposed to new situations. Teaching was also a position which seems to go along with the various episodes in which Peter Capaldi used a chalk board to write on.

The Doctor supposedly has been lecturing for fifty years, with the TARDIS sitting in the corner of his office with an “out of order” sign. His desk also contains pictures of Susan and of River Song. Between items in his lectures, and conversations with Bill, viewers received an overview of what the Doctor, the TARDIS, and time travel are all about. Of course don’t get too concerned about the details, including details which only Bill has asked such as why an acronym in a language from another planet would still spell out TARDIS. In the end the Doctor gave the essential meaning: “Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It means what the hell.”

The episode was primarily about establishing the relationship between Bill and the Doctor, and was entertaining by having Bill ask questions, and not necessarily react as other companions do. They dragged out Bill giving the inevitable “It’s bigger on the inside” line. As for how it works: “First you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box. Then you have to make one … it’s the second part people normally get stuck on.”

They played on the “Doctor Who?” question with a new variation when Bill asked, “The Doctor’s not a name. I can’t just call you Doctor. Doctor what?”

Of course there were two other elements to this story. There is the vault which the Doctor is protecting, which provides the reason for why he is teaching at the university for fifty  years. There is no clue as to when this happens.  Perhaps the Doctor went back in time fifty years  and began his job at the university, overlapping with his existence on earth which we have seen. More likely, we are not supposed to question this.

There was also a story, but the story of the sentient oil would not have been enough to carry an episode by itself. It did give an excuse for the Doctor to take Bill on a trip in the TARDIS, going both to other places and times under the excuse of seeing if they could be followed.

The Doctor did not intend to travel with Bill and threatened to wipe her mind. Bill is aware of science fiction tropes, and realized that was his intent. She talked him out of it by questioning how he would feel if it happened to him This brought to mind both how the Doctor wiped Donna’s mind in Journey’s End, and how his own mind was wiped of memories of Clara in Hell Bent.

The second episode, Smile, had more of a story than Pilot, but it was still fairly weak in terms of plot. Again it was the relationship between the Doctor and Bill which made the episode worthwhile. There were more questions, such as “Why have you got two hearts? Does that mean you’ve got really high blood pressure?” The continuing story line of the vault was brought up again with this rather vague explanation: “A long time ago a thing happened. As a result of the thing, I made a promise. As a result of the promise, I have to stay on Earth.”

Nardole reminded the Doctor that he had promised to remain on earth, but the Doctor pointed out to Bill that they could still leave and, due to time travel, return to just after they left. “Between here and my office before the kettle boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will. Make your choice.”It was a perfect plan–if you ignored the consequences if the Doctor didn’t make it back. Perhaps we will see those consequences later this season. Bill chose to go to the future. I believe that in the new series, the second episode for every new companion other than Donna was a trip to the future.

Having the Doctor sneak out on Nardole gave a good reason to leave him out and concentrate on developing the relationship between Bill and the Doctor. Bill continued to have her questions and observations about the TARDIS. She questioned the lack of seats at a proper height to operate the TARDIS: “Oh, that’s a mistake. You can’t reach the controls from the seats. What’s the point in that? Or do you have stretchy arms like Mr. Fantastic?”

The Doctor explained how the TARDIS works: “Well, you don’t steer the TARDIS. You negotiate with her. The still point between where you want to go and where you need to be, that’s where she takes you.” This referred to what we learned in The Doctor’s Wife, and really is what occurs in most episodes. They weren’t entirely consistent. The Doctor also told Bill that he had stolen the TARDIS. However, we learned in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS sees it more as if she stole the Doctor.

The story was a fairly basic science fiction story about robots both messing up their programming and developing sentience. The “skeleton crew” were turned into skeletons due to poor logic on the part of the robots, and used for fertilizer. I could easily see Captain Kirk beaming down to the same planet and solving the problem in a similar manner. I was disappointed in how easily they threw in a solution at the end, stealing from The IT Crowd in turning it off and turning it on again.

The episode, filming at the Cultural Complex in Valencia, Spain did look far better than most futuristic episodes of Doctor Who, which often take place in a cramped space ship or a quarry. It does fit into the future as established in previous episodes such as The Arc In Space and The Beast Below in which humans have left earth due to solar flares.

Besides such references to previous episodes of Doctor Who, the episode included other references. The earth ship was named Erehwon, which both spells “nowhere” backwards and is very similar to Erewhon, Samual Butler’s novel about an imperfect Utopia, also including sentient machines. The Vardy were named after Andrew Vardy, who has studies swarm robotics. Even the planet where the story occurs, Gliese 581d, is a real  potential destination for humans leaving earth in search of a habitable planet.

Although only Pilot was written by Steven Moffat, the two episodes did have some things in common. Moffat is famous for making a simple act such as blinking something to be terrified of. In Pilot, you could not look at your reflection, and in Smile you dare not frown. In both cases, the “monster” of the episode turned out to not really be evil. As the Doctor said, “Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think your bacon sandwich loves you back?”

The episode ended going right into the next episode, as was done in the older shows. I liked this, but I imagine it might frustrate novelists and fan fiction writers who wish to place a story in between television episodes.

Neither of the two episodes had great stories, but they served the function of introducing us to both Bill and the presumably season long story involving the vault. I don’t know if this will extend into the Christmas episode, which will feature the Doctor’s regeneration, but we did learn a little about the episode. Perhaps this will tie into the picture of Susan on the Doctor’s desk in Pilot. Reportedly the Christmas episode will include the first Doctor, originally played by William Hartnell. David Bradley will reprise this role from An Adventure In Space In Time.

Broadchurch concluded on Monday night in the U.K. but has not been shown in the United States yet. Those planning to watch should skip to the next section as this contains major spoilers regarding both the second and third seasons.

The finale revealed the Trish had not one but two rapists (and there were many other suspects before this was revealed).  Leo bullied Michael into raping Trish while he filmed it. Leo was by far the bigger villain of the two, displaying a total lack of morals when he justified his actions. He saw it as “just sex” which didn’t matter as Trish (and the girls he raped in the past) had all previously had sex. He showed no understanding of the violence in raping them, or even of the violence in hitting Trish over the head. As Miller had said earlier in the season, “Rape is about power and control, not sex.”

Chris Chibnall will be moving on to do Doctor Who and has stated there will not be a fourth season of Broadchurch. While this was a satisfactory conclusion, if they were going to do a season about trials, I would prefer to see a trial of Leo and Michael as opposed to the second season, in which  Joe Miller was found not guilty. Michael certainly deserves punishment for his role in raping Trish, but a defense based upon claims of being coerced to rape her could have created some interesting scenes. Although Leo technically did not rape Trish himself, the show made it very easy to convict Leo, between how he knocked Trish unconscious and the revelations of his previous rapes. It could have made a more interesting trial if these events had not occurred, and he was being tried purely on psychologically influencing Michael to commit the act.

From the start, Broadchurch has been more than a show about solving a crime. It is about the people who live in Broadchurch. This included more on Mark and Beth Latimer, whose son’s murder was the main story line of the first season. Incidentally, a deleted scene revealed more about another event of the third season–how Alec Hardy’s Tinder date ended.

The Magicians had an excellent season finale, which provided more backstory from Ember’s perspective. The finale also totally changed things going into the third season after magic was turned off by the plumber–a consequence of killing gods and not realizing that gods have parents. After Julia started out the series being rejected by Brakebills, she is now the only human with magic. Perhaps this ties into what we learned earlier in the season about how she did in another life where she had been admitted.

TV Line interviewed executive producers John McNamara and Sera Gamble:

TVLINE | In a season where you had Reynard the Fox and The Beast, was Ember the alpha Big Bad?
JOHN MCNAMARA | I would say yes. While The Beast had a large effect on the misery of Martin Chatwin, Quentin and his friends, and Fillory, and Reynard really affected Julia and her circle of friends in a miserable, violent way, Ember — through whimsical, kind of careless, narcissistic boredom — was going to destroy an entire world. He’s going to commit genocide. So I don’t think badness gets bigger than genocide. [But] I could be wrong. There could be something else.
SERA GAMBLE | Tune in for Season 3! [Laughs] Just the fact that you’re asking this question at all highlights the fact that the structure of Season 2 is a little different than Season 1. When you meet The Beast in the pilot of The Magicians, it’s clear that there’s a classic Big Bad arc to that season that we followed and commented on in our meta, Magicians way. Coming into Season 2, it was very important to us to switch that up a little bit and not give you that same linear Big Bad structure. We didn’t want you to know who the endgame was when you came in for the first episode of the season…

TVLINE | Going back to Reynard, is he still a threat? Will we see him next season?
MCNAMARA | He’s alive. You never know.
GAMBLE | I think it’s fair to take Our Lady Underground at her word that she intends to deal with him. She’s certainly powerful enough to do so.

TVLINE | The guiding principle of the show is magic, so what excites you about exploring a world without magic?
MCNAMARA | The same thing that excites me in a James Bond movie where he gets into so much trouble with M that they take away his license to kill and he has to go rogue. Or the same thing that excites me when you write a love story and, suddenly, in the middle of Red Square in 1917, the two lovers are separated. The essence of drama. You give the audience what they want, you make them love it, and then you take it away. … Magic was, more or less, taken for granted [in the first two seasons]. When they get magic back — because let’s not kid ourselves, it’s called The Magicians — they’re all going to have a very different relationship to magic, informed by having lived with its absence and the quest to reinstate it.

TVLINE | Julia is the only one who still has some magical ability. After everything she’s been through these last two seasons, was it important for you to give her a little bit of happiness and hope?
MCNAMARA | I don’t really care if she’s happy, myself. I do think life is a balance of light and dark, and she’s certainly had a lot of darkness. So it makes sense that she would acquire abilities that perhaps are based on how much she’s suffered. Suffering at the hands of a god may have had something to do with it. We haven’t decided yet.
GAMBLE | I felt like after a season of seeking out Reynard at great, great personal cost and great cost to those around her who were helping her, it was important to see her turn a page. But whether or not that is one and the same with this strange ability to do a little bit of magic, that remains to be seen. At the very beginning of that scene, when Julia embraces Quentin, and they’re happy to see each other, and they have a certain dry resignation about their shared hand in what has happened to magic, it’s much more, in that moment, about the fact that you’re looking at a Julia who feels a little bit more whole than she has been throughout this season. Her shade is back, she clearly has found some coping mechanism. She doesn’t look like death warmed over in that scene. Some of that might be about her secret and about the magic she can do. To me, a lot of it is about Julia and just what she’s been through that season. So long story short, I wouldn’t hinge everybody’s happiness on that little piece of magic, because if there’s one thing you should know about Magicians, it’s that having magic doesn’t make you happy.

TVLINE | Am I correct in sensing that there’s some tension between Quentin and Alice after the time jump?
GAMBLE | Yes. Alice has a lot of secrets.

Gizmodo has interviews with the stars. Entertainment Weekly has a longer interview with Stella Maeve  (Julia).

The week also included the series finale of Girls and season finale of 24 Legacy, neither of which I was very impressed with. I am still far behind and have not seen the season two finale of The Expanse, but I hear it was excellent. I have not read this yet, but have book marked an interview with executive producer Naren Shankar on the finale. I do expect to watch next season as it airs and will be able to discuss it in future posts.

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