SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; The Americans; American Gods

I looked at the regular season finale of Doctor Who, The Doctor Falls, last week. The episode ended with Peter Capaldi fighting his inevitable regeneration. Peter Capaldi discussed why he is leaving the show with Radio Times:

Why make this your final series?

I love this show, but I’ve never done anything where you turn up every day for ten months. I want to always be giving it my best and I don’t think if I stayed on I’d be able to do that. I can’t think of another way to say, “This could be the end of civilisation as we know it.”

With episodic television of any genre, the audience wants the same thing all the time – but the instinct that leads the actor is not about being in a groove…

What’s the hardest part of being the Doctor?

Doctor Who is a hugely challenging show to write and to act in. It has to turn on a dime from comedy to terror to tragedy. It’s a children’s show that developed into something more complex, a bit more adult-orientated, but we have a duty to play to the seven-year-old as well as the 42-year-old. Sometimes you have to be more comic than you’d normally be comfortable with, but it’s important.

How would you describe your Doctor?

The Doctor is deeply sad – I think he always has been. When you’re wise and you’ve lived a very long time, that’s how you’d be. Although you have to be careful with very human emotions and the Doctor because he’s an alien. It’s more straightforward to play the human elements, but then it might as well be a cop show…

What can you say about your regeneration?

I can’t go into the details. I know what happens, but I don’t know how it happens. Certainly it’s not straightforward. It’s more complicated than recent ones. That’s one of the appeals of being in the show – it has death at the heart of it. He’s the only hero on TV who dies again and again.

The article also includes interviews with Michelle Gomez and Steven Moffat. From the interview with Steven Moffat:

How would you describe your Doctors?

He is someone who’s running towards everything at once because he might miss it. He doesn’t understand why anyone would do the same thing every day or sit in the same room every day. He doesn’t understand why you would live a life in safety when you could be running from fires and explosions. He doesn’t understand why we volunteer to be dull – he needs to be out there and experiencing everything at once.

Along the way, of course, he helps people and people start to think of him as this great hero, but he doesn’t understand that – he’s just running past people and seeing that they need help, so he helps. Actors either have it or they don’t. The first time I saw Matt Smith – only the second person to audition for the role – you could instantly tell that he was Doctor Who. There was nothing clever about saying, “Well, obviously it’s him.”

In another interview, Moffat discussed possibly leaving a cliffhanger for Chris Chibnall, and the problem with gender pronouns when dealing with Missy and the Master:

After talking about the — incestuous? masturbatory? — vibes between Missy and The Master, something previous Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies wanted more of when Moffat told him about his plans to bring back Simm, Moffat revealed that he thought about ending his tenure as showrunner with a cliffhanger that incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall would have to resolve.

“We concocted this whole scheme that I’d cliffhanger out of my era of Doctor Whoand hand over to Chris with Missy telling the Master and the Doctor that she’s pregnant,” Moffat revealed. “I decided not to do that. Over to you, Chibs. Sort that one out, mate.”

While Moffat admitted that the idea was just “email lunacy,” he also called for a societal change as a result of his experience talking about the character’s gender.

“We have to ban gender pronouns. I can no longer talk about the character of the Master ‘slash’ Missy without having to go ‘slash.’ It’s exhausting,” Moffat complained. “Let’s just rid of them. It’s a stupid idea in the first place. What do we need them for?”

We still have the Christmas episode to look forward to. The Doctor has sometimes seen previous companions at the time of his regeneration, and it has been reported that Jenna Coleman will be appearing in the episode. There is no information as to whether this will show what has happened since she went off to explore the universe, or if this will be a visit with Clara Oswald from earlier in her life, or perhaps just something in the Doctor’s head. Jenna Coleman currently stars on Victoria.

Of course leaving Doctor Who won’t be the end for Steven Moffat. In a recent radio interview, he left open the possibility of Sherlock returning for another season. Variety reports that Steven Moffat and Marc Gatiss are working on an adaptation of Dracula. Like Sherlock, it will consist of short seasons of feature length episodes. No word as to where and when this will be set.

Besides last week’s finale of Doctor Who, other shows have had season finales worth noting. I have recently discussed iZombie here, and The Leftovers and Fargo here. Due to traveling and other distractions, I have fallen behind on other finales and will catch up on a couple more today–The Americans and American Gods. In the near future I also hope to look back at the finales of additional shows including The Handmaid’s Tale, Gotham, Veep, and Better Call Saul. Plus there should be a lot more news on next season’s shows as we get into Comic Con.

The Americans has been one of the best dramas on television the last several years. Much of this season was to set up the final season next year, and the ending this year felt somewhat like a tease. It looked like Philip and Elizabeth might return home, but obviously that could not happen until the end of next season, if it ever does happen. Instead they were given a reason to remain at the last minute. Stan also suggested he might leave his position at the FBI, but Renee quickly argued that he should not. That is also a tease for the viewers who have been wondering (along with Elizabeth and Philip) if Renee is a Russian spy who wanted Stan to remain where he is for her own reasons. Of course Stan had no such thoughts. TV Line interviewed the producers and asked about this scene:

TVLINE | In the finale, we also saw Renee try to talk Stan into staying with the FBI. Is he starting to get suspicious of her? And will Laurie Holden be back next season?
WEISBERG | [Laughs] No comment on the latter. Nice try! But on the former, we don’t particularly think so. Stan would have no more reason to be suspicious of the woman he’s dating than he does the neighbors across the street.

Deadline also discussed the finale with Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields. Topics included where the show will be going in the final season, whether it will lead into the collapse of the Soviet Union, and whether Donald Trump will appear. Here are some excepts:

DEADLINE: So, after all that anticipation this season, a big CIA catch means Philip and Elizabeth are not heading home to the Soviet Union. So what’s next?

WEISBERG: Still not going home. They still can’t get home. It was so close though, so close. They’re not only not going home, but it sure sounds like Philip is quitting his job — at least his spy job. It sounds like he’s going to work at the travel agency full time.

DEADLINE: Well, I doubt you mean that, but it did seem like you had Keri’s character looking for a reason not to return home, which, of course, is a real turn for her from her contempt for the West that has fueled much of the series.

WEISBERG: We think that she was being sincere in what she told Philip about why she couldn’t go back. Whether she was dying to go back, having second thoughts about going back, whatever it was, it felt to us like that was classical Elizabeth Jennings that when duty calls she had to answer the call. It was certain she couldn’t go home when she and Philip now have their hooks in the new head of the Soviet division at the CIA.

DEADLINE: Which brings us to the sixth and final season for next year. With history catching up to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, will we see Season 6 pick up from the Season 5 events of 1984 or move ahead in time toward a real resolution?

FIELDS: Dominic, you know we don’t like to give away really anything, but probably one thing we’re willing to say is that there’s going to be a resolution. Sometimes people will ask about The Americans. Is it moving slowly? Is anything happening? I think we are all willing to give away that there is something that most people who speak the English language would be willing to call a real ending…

DEADLINE: For a show so authentically drenched in the 1980s, there is one real-life character I’ve always been sure we would see one day on The Americans, a certain Art Of The Deal author who really became known back in the Reagan Era. So why hasn’t Donald Trump appeared on The Americans, even in the background or as an aside?

FIELDS: You know, it’s a funny thing. Had Donald Trump not become such a prominent part of our lives today, he certainly could have appeared in the background of the show (both laugh). Joking aside, that’s exactly the sort of reference we feel we could never make in the show, because it would have a self-conscious link. We feel would take the audience out of the experience of being immersed in the show and yank them back into today, and really isn’t the whole point of watching TV today to not have to think about today?

DEADLINE: So, going into Season 6, we’ll never see Donald Trump on The Americans?

FIELDS: I think as much as we try to prevent spoilers I am confident in saying we won’t. Joe, are you OK with that spoiler?

WEISBERG: I think we can say he’s not going to be in the show. Although, if you print that, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a call from him asking to be in the show.

The Hollywood Reporter looked at the final minutes of the finale of American Gods and how they are likely to lead into the second season:

While Wednesday’s true identity is certainly an important revelation for the series, it’s not the stopping point most fans of the Gaiman novel would have expected for the season. Instead, those fans were likely expecting to see Wednesday, Shadow and some of the other deities — including Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy and Peter Stormare as Czernobog — arriving at the The House on the Rock, the site of what’s easily the single most iconic moment from the source material.

Based on the real-life Wisconsin tourist attraction of the same name, the House on the Rock is an architectural anomaly designed by Alex Jordan Jr. and originally opened in 1959. For those unfamiliar, the YouTube channel Atlas Obscura has an excellent breakdown of the “mind-tripping brain warp” nature of this extremely unusual location, which you can watch below.

In the fifth chapter of Gaiman’s book, Wednesday takes Shadow to the House on the Rock, and he explains it as “a place of power,” due to its nature as a roadside attraction. He says: “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples, or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

…Shadow finally speaks Odin’s true name, and once he does, the whisper becomes louder and louder until it’s an undeniable echo, bellowing within a great hall in which Wednesday conducts his meeting with the other gods. From this point forward, Shadow knows that the oddities he’s experienced during his travels with Wednesday are more real than he could have ever imagined.

It’s a massive turning point in Gaiman’s novel, and given that the climactic scene occurs little more than 100 pages into the book, many fans expected to see the House on the Rock sequence in the season one finale. Instead, what they saw was Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) driving on a bus past a sign for the House on the Rock in the final scene of the season — a promise that the sequence is very much still ahead, albeit a bit further down the line than expected.

While the House on the Rock’s veritable absence from the finale is certainly disappointing for the book-reading faithful, it wasn’t without some warning. Fuller told THR before the season’s launch that due to some episode restructuring, budget that would have gone toward the House on the Rock sequence was instead repurposed to streamline the show’s narrative. What’s more, given that the first season of American Gods didn’t quite crack the first 100 pages of the book (with a total count of 541 pages in the updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition, including forewords and afterwards), fans can rest assured that the show will adapt almost every granular detail of the novel — eventually, anyway.

Deadline interviewed Michael Green and Bryan Fuller about the finale. Here are some excerpts, beginning with a question about House on the Rock:

DEADLINE: Where does the end of this season leave us, going into Season 2 and going into the rest of Neil’s book?

GREEN: Precariously. We always knew we wanted to end the season with our weight tilted towards House on the Rock. We talked a lot, early on about wanting to get there and even starting that story, then advancing the narrative that far. But we enjoyed our time with our characters so much and were doing so many things that took so much time and resources that we realized that we had a very interesting and satisfying ending with Wednesday taking his first real aggressive stance against the new gods. With him saying, ‘You were very, very unwise to count me out and to speak in those tones to me.’ So Wednesday has the upper hand in two ways, he is taking a shot across the bow that’s going to hurt the new gods and he has a believer in Shadow Moon. Those are two things that are not without significance.

DEADLINE: With where we are in terms of Neil’s book, will that play a big part in the consequences of Season 2?

FULLER: I think the bigger interpersonal dramas that are waiting for us in Season two that excites us greatly is the notion of Laura Moon versus Mr. Wednesday. We see, by the end of the season, that Laura understands that Wednesday had her assassinated, specifically, to put Shadow in this situation. We always talked about Laura becoming that metaphor for the last Catholic who can, you know, shake her fist at the sky, and say, “Fuck you, God.” But now she actually gets to say it to a real god and she’s a god that she can get her hands on so what is she going to do next?

DEADLINE: You strode into some sprawling themes in Season 1–faith, obviously, but also immigration, gun violence, race, sexism. From the reaction online and elsewhere, it felt like the audience was very receptive to those conversations and those discussions. Did that surprise you?

GREEN: I feel like the people who wouldn’t be receptive to those conversations aren’t watching the show…

DEADLINE: Speaking of anger, one of the new characters invented for the series was Corbin Bernsen’s god Vulcan. He appeared to meet a fiery end but are we going to see more newly created characters for Season 2?

FULLER: Yes but you know, there’s lots of new characters to come into this world that were part of this story in the book as well as some that weren’t that we want to include. We’re excited about Mama-Ji and we’re excited about Sam Black Crow. There were a lot of characters that we want to start weaving into the mythology of the television series, and we’re really excited about seeing characters from the first season, again, that you may not expect to see again.

DEADLINE: Obviously, a character we fully expect to see more of is Shadow Moon. Over Season 1, we’ve seen him go from a very closed, almost one-dimensional character, who is trying to find his way to someone or something, who now at the finale, has literally and figuratively seen the world open up in front of him and maybe some sense of who he really is becoming close to home now. How is that arc moving forward in Season 2?

FULLER: Well, it has to move forward in a proactive way for his character. So much of what we had in the first season was Shadow as passenger to the narrative He was in a situation where he had everything removed from him, so he didn’t know what he wanted as a character. He just knew that he had to fill his days. Now that he understands a little bit more about the world and the world of gods, we get to witness him as an apostle of sorts – and see what kind of apostle he could be.

The Wrap has more with Bryan Fuller. The Los Angeles Times has an interview with Neil Gaiman.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Joseph Auclair says:

    “We have to ban gender pronouns. I can no longer talk about the character of the Master ‘slash’ Missy without having to go ‘slash.’ It’s exhausting,” Moffat complained. “Let’s just rid of them. It’s a stupid idea in the first place. What do we need them for?”

    Seriously?

    These guys claim to be reality-based?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Moffat is a television writer and not someone to turn to for advise on universal use of language. Obviously it is not realistic to just get rid of gender pronouns, but his frustration in this unique (and fictional) case makes sense. I noted others having difficulty with pronouns in discussing the characters on podcasts.

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