SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Knock Knock; American Gods; Sense8; The Flash; Ranking The Rolling Stones Songs

Knock Knock had some good moments but did not really work. Possibly the problem was timing. It attempted to be a plot-driven episode of Doctor Who and depended less on the interplay between the Doctor and Bill, but in doing so partially lost the strongest aspect of the season so far, while still having a plot which was rushed to the point of making little sense.

The story jumped too quickly from students looking for an affordable place to live to the first death. While the general premise of housing being too expensive was realistic, why did Bill suddenly need to find somewhere new to live, and why with these six people she barely knew? I’m sure students don’t read their housing contracts that closely, but I wonder if even a cursory reading might have tipped them off to what they were agreeing to. It is less plausible that not a single student would have looked into cell or internet access before quickly moving in. While I did like how they went from one student joking around to really being killed, it all felt too rushed. The student who hit on Bill this quickly was also acting in too much of a rushed manner.

There were some good scenes, but overall the threat from the bugs and the wood made little sense. Why did they keep Eliza alive, eat some students, and incorporate others into the woodwork? Things just happened without any real answers, or anyone figuring out much. While they did figure out that the Landlord must Eliza’s son and not father, this was not all that tremendous, and had little bearing on the outcome. Suddenly Eliza intervened to help, was able to control the bugs, and opened the shutters in time for the fire works. I was waiting to hear When You Wish Upon A Star as if it was the Magic Kingdom. Everyone turned out to be alive, but why did the insects release them? Presumably those eaten in previous years were too far gone, but it might have been an amusing scene to have groups of students from the past suddenly appear if they were going to show any victims come back to life.

Perhaps more time on the plot could have solved some of these problems, but that would have taken away even more time from Bill and the Doctor. The Doctor did mention regeneration, foreshadowing what we know will come later this season. He also mentioned the Time Lords. It was amusing to see the Doctor use the TARDIS to help Bill move in, but I don’t understand why Bill seemed to be embarrassed to let the others know about her relationship with the Doctor. She did claim he was her Grandfather. Is this somehow related to the pictures of Susan on the Doctor’s desk?

I’m surprised that they did not bring up the inability of the sonic screwdriver to work on wood, or make more use of its sonic abilities considering the importance of sound in controlling the bugs. Of course I don’t blame the Doctor for not being clear as to how that worked as I’m not too clear on it either after watching the episode.

At least the show sort of gets the history right, including Harriet Jones among the Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

This season we have seen a reflection and failing to smile become things to fear, and I wonder if the intent was to do the same with knocking, considering the title. If so, it didn’t work. Of course the classic example of Doctor Who creating fear is Blink, and this episode was filmed on the same property, but in a different house, as where Blink was filmed.

The episode concluded with the Doctor going inside to visit the person in the vault. The interaction we did hear has strengthened suspicion that it is The Master (very likely as Missy) inside. For that matter, is the vault the Master’s TARDIS and how big will it be on the inside?

In other Doctor Who universe news, there is a new design for K-9. There will also be a series five of Torchwood, taking place after Miracle Day, but it will be released as an audio series.

American Gods premiered last week. I wonder if this is the right format. The show is apparently very faithful to the book, while expanding on situations and characters. One review said that the entire first season covers only the first one hundred pages of the book. The show is basically set up for at least the first four episodes, making me wonder if television viewers who aren’t familiar with the book will understand what is going on and stick it out. This could be a situation in which it might not be best to be so faithful to the book. Otherwise it might be better to release this Netflix style and have it available all at once, so people can go through it more like reading a book, as opposed to watching the first episode, being confused, and possibly not returning. At very least it might have been better to release the first few episodes at once, as Hulu did with The Handmaid’s Tale.

Whether or not they understand what is going on, fans of  Bryan Fuller’s work will feel right at home with the visual. The lynching scene at the end felt like something right out of Hannibal. Fuller discussed the scene with TV Guide.

Neil Gaiman explained what the book and series is all about in an interview with Recode:

Many of you who are listening to this know what “American Gods” is because it’s a very popular book. Some of you have not read the book, so Neil, tell us what the book and the show are about.

The book — which was written in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and published in June 2001 — and the show, which is coming up, are both about America. They’re both about a man named Shadow, who is in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit and has been looking forward to getting out and getting back together with his wife, Laura, who he loves very, very much. In a one-two sucker punch, he learns that he’s being let out a few days early, and he is being let out a few days early because his wife was killed in a car crash. He’s on his way back to his wife’s funeral when he meets a peculiar old grifter on a plane, who offers him a job.

The job, which he winds up taking, throws Shadow into the middle of a battle, an oncoming battle, between all of the old gods, all of the things that people who have come to America over the years have brought with them and abandoned, whether it’s leprechauns, or the Golem, or things that people have believed in, come to America, as all of the people who are in America are the descendants of people who came here, or are people who came here, and also the new gods. The new gods are the things that demand our attention, that we give our time and our love and our attention to, whether it be the gods of podcast, or of those small glass and metal and plastic objects that we all stare at in rapt devotion…

This is a book you started writing in the late ’90s. You started making the TV show a couple of years ago, it comes out now, and it is about immigration, in large part?

Yeah.

Race is forefront. There is a lynching scene at the end of the first episode. The beginning of the second episode, it starts off on a slave ship, so obviously there is some timely stuff going on here. Do you figure that would’ve been timely no matter what?

The weird thing for me is that when I wrote the book, I did not see any of this stuff as controversial. When I wrote the book, I thought, okay, this is an immigrant country. Some of the people came here, their ancestors came here 20,000 years ago from Siberia, crossing the Bering Straights and stuff. Some people came here 400 years ago, and some people wanted to come here, and some people were sent as prisoners, sent as slaves …

Right, there’s no question mark at the end of it, it’s a full stop.

That one’s a full stop. This is an immigrant country, and furthermore, I don’t think it’s contentious or controversial to be pro Statue of Liberty, and the poem thereon. You’re going, “I think that is part of the American psyche, the American dream,” nor did it think it was, in any way, controversial or laudable to go, “I am writing a novel about immigration in America, therefore I am going to have a lot of people in my book of different races because there are a lot of different races in America. I will make a mixed-race hero, A) for plot reasons and B) because he embodies America.” That all seemed to me to be very …

Table stakes.

Yeah. It’s not controversial, and I don’t think we thought it was controversial when we were writing the scripts, and I don’t think anybody thought it was really controversial when we were shooting it.

Cut to 2017.

Suddenly, I’m describing the show … There was a point where I was describing the show to … I was on the Empire Film Awards red carpet and somebody put a microphone in my face, and I told them a little bit about the show, and I said, “You know, things have changed. We did not think this stuff was controversial, but now we seem to be occupying political territory. We’re willing to take that, but we didn’t choose it to be.” The headline, when it was published was, “Neil Gaiman, author of ‘American Gods,’ slams Donald Trump.”

I thought, “I didn’t slam Donald Trump.” If I wanted to slam Donald Trump and talk about what a peculiar, narcissistic, ineffectual joke he is, I could’ve done, but I didn’t. I don’t even think I mentioned the poor man’s name.

Empire On Line discussed the making of the show with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green:

So, what’s the story here? Do you guys go out of your way to just get weird with this stuff? Bryan, you did Hannibal, obviously, and that had its own surreal quality to it. It almost seems like you sit there saying, “How can we fuck with the audience’s mind?”

Fuller: No, not really [laughs]. I think our imaginations are fairly vivid and when we’re reading something that is as inspiring as Neil’s novel, it’s hard not to grab the baton and run. If anything, we’ve checked each other a couple of times where it’s, like, “Uh, that may be too big and too weird,” and for us to say that to each other, you know it’s big and weird.

Is this just the way your minds work?

Green: It’s more where we live and we have the opportunity to do it, but it’s also why we were drawn to Neil’s writing and specifically this book is that it allowed us to bring imagination to life, even if it was going to be lavish, difficult, expensive.

Michael, is that something that you’re naturally drawn to, that type of storytelling?

Green: Bryan and I share a lot of taste and style, but I will say as a fan of Hannibal and of Bryan’s in the intervening years when we weren’t working together, I would often get together with him and just ask him, “How do you accomplish these things?” Bryan as a producer has an incredible and enviable track record of taking the ideas in his mind and being able to share them with other people by actualizing them. That is as good a definition of producing as I can muster, where it’s one thing as a writer to take an idea in your head and get it on the page clearly so other people can experience that idea. It’s another thing to be able to do that with visual images.

There were images on the show, sequences on the show, that Bryan described to me when we were in the writing phases and I could imagine very vividly, but the process of being able to actually put that on the screen takes an incredible amount of work, dedication, clarity of purpose. Every idea can continue to get better as more time goes on. I’ve been very much enjoying working with Bryan and learning how he manages to extract from his own mind the best idea and extract from the talented artists we work with the visual representation of those ideas.

Fuller: One of the things that we’ve learned on the show is we needed a long runway, because a lot of these ideas that we’re working on required a certain amount of experimentation to get right, and there were alleys that we went down regarding some visual effects. When we got to the end, we’re, like, “This doesn’t work. We need to back up and try something else, because it’s not holding up to the standards that we have.” Or it was an ambitious idea that we thought we could pull off, but we couldn’t quite, so we had to do something that we could achieve. A lot of our conversations with the visual effects team are about, “What can we pull off? What’s too big for us to achieve in our time and budget?”

The interview went on to discuss several of the characters.

Netflix released season two of Sense8. (Technically the Christmas episode was the first episode of the season). I have a few episodes to go, which might affect my opinion, and I don’t want to say very much to avoid spoilers as this has only been available for a couple of days. Now that the first season established the back story, the plot so far does seem more coherent than in the first season, but that doesn’t matter all that much. I’d enjoy the show even if there was no real plot and we were just seeing that world for several hours. My suspicion is that the Wachowskis come up with great scenes and then J. Michael Straczynski figures out how they can be fit together into a fairly coherent plot. (Maybe the Wachowskis should have brought someone like JMS in to give a better storyline for the Matrix sequels). Like with American Gods and Hannibal, the imagery is important–with a totally different type of imagery here.

Again, avoiding spoilers, the conspiracy element reminds me a bit of Orphan Black. There is the return of Mr. Whispers, and the BPO (Biologic Preservation Organization), with more layers than in the first season, similar to how the conspiracy expanded on Orphan Black. There is more of a biological background given, and there are other clusters. While new characters are introduced, the story does continue to concentrate on the cluster seen in the first season, with their individual stories, both alone and when connected with others, continuing to be the strength of the show.

In other entertainment news, it was announced that both The Handmaid’s Tale and 13 Reasons Why have both been renewed for a second season.

Comicbook.com explains how the reveal of Savatar’s identity on last week’s episode of The Flash plays into the 2056 warning from the Flash previously played on Legends of Tomorrow. They are going to have to do a lot more to convince me that it is plausible to have a future Barry come back in time and kill Iris.

In a really ambitious project, Vulture ranked all 373 songs by the Rolling Stones. Number one is You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Lawyers, Guns & Money wants to argue over it. Vulture did point out some areas of potential controversy beyond the ranking of the songs:

The Rolling Stones have multiple songs that are lyrically reprehensible to women and people of color — often both at the same time. If I were questioned about this topic at the Pearly Gates, I’d suggest that the Stones’ offensive attitudes had more to do with a craven desire to be provocative than any fundamental malignant worldview, but maybe I’m a fool. Whatever the true motivation behind them, a handful of the band’s songs have been tarred by Jagger and Richards’s sex and race insensitivity. There’s no getting around it. Then there’s the matter of appropriation. Excepting perhaps Elvis, there is no rock act that benefited more from drawing on black music than the Rolling Stones, who have repeatedly talked with respect and deference about how much they’ve taken from their musical idols. I do think that once the band took flight, its music represents a synthesis of their influences, rather than mere mimicry or theft. That said, I don’t know what you do with all these issues other than acknowledge that they’re a problem.

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