SciFi Weekend: Twice Upon A Time; Black Mirror Does Star Trek (And More) With USS Callister; Jonathan Frakes on Star Trek Discovery and The Orville; Top New Genre Shows Of 2017

Twice Upon A Time was the final episode of Doctor Who for both Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. The episode has far more references to previous episodes than I’d attempt to list and makes it clear that it is part of a tradition starting long before either Capaldi or Moffat were involved. It goes back to the first Doctor, starting with black and white footage and the caption “709 episodes ago,” ultimately leading to the words “to be continued.”

We knew it would be continued although both the first and the twelfth Doctor threatened  not to regenerate. Of course we knew that the first had to regenerate as we have seen subsequent Doctors. It was also no surprise that Twelve ultimately decided that, “One more lifetime won’t kill anyone…except me.” Of course each Doctor will give into yet one more lifetime.

The episode differed from a typical episode in that we learned that the Testimony was not really doing anything menacing. (“I don’t know what to do when it isn’t an evil plan.”) Rather than having the universe in danger this was a smaller scale story, only giving enough plot so that we didn’t have the two Doctors, along with the Captain and Bill’s memories, do nothing but talk to each other. This also enabled Moffat to return to his earliest stories. The planet Villengard was from his first Doctor Who story, The Doctor Dances, and Rusty the good Dalek returned from Into The Dalek. The idea of memories living on after death has been seen repeatedly in Moffat’s stories in some form or another.

The year of #MeToo turned out to be the perfect year for Doctor Who to explore sexism, contrasting the first Doctor’s 1960’s attitudes with the present. When the twelfth Doctor said, “You can’t say things like that,” he was not only lecturing someone from the 1960’s, but was also pointing out what he has learned over time. It was an even bigger shock for the first Doctor when he and the Captain mentioned that they have had “some experience of the fairer sex” and Bill responded that she has too. Ultimately the glass ceiling in the TARDIS was broken (along with the entire TARDIS blowing up).

Besides the appearances by David Bradley as William Hartnell’s first Doctor (after having played Hartnell in the An Adventure in Space And Time), and the return of some form of Bill, there were brief cameos by Clara Oswald and Nardole, with the Doctor regaining his memory of Clara. The two characters out of World War I were by Mark Gatiss and Toby Whitehouse, both writers with Doctor Who experience. The Captain also turned out to have yet another role in Doctor Who history as he was ultimately identified as Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart–the grandfather of General Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart,  the Brigadier. (His exact relationship was not mentioned in the episode but SciFi Wire reports that Gatiss referred to his character as the Brigadier’s grandfather in a press Q&A).

Being a time travel story, there was the obvious slip (“Spoilers”) of the Doctor referring to the “War To End All Wars” as “World War I.”  “What do you mean ‘one’?” Plus being a Christmas episode led to the perfect resolution of the Captain’s story with the Doctor returning him a few hours later so that instead of being shot he participated in the Christmas Armistice of 1914

Of course we all knew where this was going as Peter Capaldi gave his final speech on the TARDIS, with advice for his next self:

Oh there it is. Silly old universe. The more I save it, the more it needs saving. It’s a treadmill. Yes, Yes I know they’ll get it all wrong without me. Well I suppose one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except me. You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first. Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never ever ever eat pears. Remember, hate is always foolish and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. Oh, and you mustn’t tell anyone your name — no-one would understand it anyway. Except children, children can hear it, sometimes if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are, too, children can hear your name — but nobody else, nobody else, ever. Love hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go.

Screen Rant provided an explanation as to where the various portions of this speech came from.  Den of Geek also explained:

The twelfth Doctor’s final speech, which was worked on by both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi, contains several elements from dialogue past. “Never be cruel, never be cowardly” is a doff of the cap both to The Day Of The Doctor and to 70s script editor Terrance Dicks, who would often cite the Doctor’s lack of these two traits as one of his greatest virtues. “Never eat pears” is a reference to Paul Cornell’s novel Human Nature, in which the seventh Doctor expressed a dislike for pears before taking on human form. A similar line was cut from the 2007 tenth Doctor adaptation with the same name. In Hell Bent the Doctor told Clara never to eat pears, as “they’re too squishy and they always make your chin wet”.

“Be kind” is what the Doctor begged of the Master and Missy back in The Doctor Falls, but it was also said by the tenth Doctor to the Vashta Nerada in Forest Of The Dead. “Don’t tell anyone your name” likely refers to the kerfuffle caused by the Doctor’s name in Matt Smith’s final year, when it was revealed that saying his name on Trenzalore would have reignited the Time War. However, the Doctor did seemingly tell River Song his real name on the occasion of their ‘nuptials’ in 2011’s The Wedding Of River Song – but then, as we’ve been told, ‘the Doctor lies’… The part about the stars and one’s heart being in the right place appears to be the invention of Peter Capaldi, who expressed a similar sentiment at a special screening earlier this year.

Then there was the regeneration energy, the Doctor’s ring fell off, and we had a new Doctor. Just as we first saw Peter Capaldi’s forehead and eyes, this is what we first saw of Jody Whittaker. Apparently us Americans will have to learn to understand Jody Whittaker’s Yorkshire accent. All we heard from her so far was, “Oh brilliant.” Then there was the ultimate cliff hanger as the TARDIS exploded and the thirteenth Doctor was falling towards the earth. Presumably this will enable her to have her own look for the TARDIS, or perhaps she will be without it for a while.

More on Twice Upon A Time, and the question of the Doctor’s real name, here.

Just as Doctor Who incorporated the Doctor from the 1960’s, Black Mirror began its fourth season with an homage to the other classic science fiction show of the 1960’s, Star Trek, with USS Callister. It first appeared as an over-the-top parody of a Star Trek episode, culminating with Captain Kirk kissing all the girls. It turned out to be something completely different. Major spoilers ahead.

While Star Trek type science fiction played a key role in the story, the story was more about artificial reality and about abuse of power. Jesse Plemons played the co-head of a tech firm who did not get much respect on the job, and took it out on sentient digital clones of others in the office. Most had accepted their roles and inability to fight back until a new employee played by Cristin Milioti was brought aboard. The final straw was finding that she had been robbed of her sexuality, and her vagina. She led a successful rebellion, which included blackmailing her real self into helping with revealing pictures hidden online. It all worked out well in the end with the digital clones becoming free of Jesse Plemons and free to explore the digital universe, now with a modern JJ Abrams Star Trek look (including lens flare). Perhaps if Plemons wasn’t so concerned with exercising power and abusing others he could have had far greater adventures in his digital world.

Den of Geek interviewed Charlie Brooker and Anabel Jones about the episode:

This is a brilliant ‘have your cake and eat it’ episode, in that you start with the spoof of the ship navigating the asteroid belt, then by the end I’m watching like this [mimes learning forward, tense] thinking ‘are they going to get through the asteroid belt?!’ How did the layers of that story evolve?

Charlie Brooker: We were on the set of Playtest from the previous season and we were saying ‘we haven’t done a space episode. What’s a Black Mirror space episode?’ and quite quickly we went ‘well, it couldn’t really be in space, it would have to be in a simulation’, then quite quickly again it was like ‘what if there are people who are copied in and they’re trapped in there and it’s like a prison?’

Like White Christmas?

CB: Yeah! And then the captain is the baddie, so it’s like Playtime Fontayne from Viz, who’s a grown man who makes everyone play games like a child. It’s like a nightmare, he’s a tyrant, he’s mad! So then we started calling it Toy Story or Adult Toy Story, we kept calling it…

Annabel Jones: …which then sounded wrong! [laughs]

CB: Relatively quickly those thoughts came together. Then the notion of it being a sort of vintage show that he was obsessed by kind of came in slightly later because we thought, what’s even more unexpected? A), because the world he has created is a throwback and a simplistic interpretation of shows like that. It’s his interpretation of that show, rather than what that show would have actually been, it’s his simplistic fable version of it and it’s quite reductive and out of date. We’re not saying that shows of that nature are reductive and out of date, because they were actually very progressive at the time. His warped version of it.

Partly it also came about because we wanted to have an opening where you go ‘what the fuck is this?’…

He starts as the underdog and I thought I was going to like him, he seemed like my kind of socially awkward guy. Then you see him behaving like a cruel tyrant, ignoring the irony of the speech he gives about the utopian ideals of Space Fleet. He’s like ‘actually, it’s about ethics in space exploration!’ Was that intended as a comment on online fandom and that sort of character?

CB: Not really. It’s interesting because that is a thing that a couple of people have said. That worries me slightly because I don’t want it to be seen that we’re attacking fans of classic sci-fi, that speech is more meant to be a bit of a joke really. He delivers this speech, which presumably he has lifted from an episode of Space Fleet, about the noble ideals of this progressive UN-in-space, and then he turns around and goes “…and you arseholes are fucking it all up!” It’s meant to illustrate the gulf between his fantasy heroics—he wants to be the hero in this make-believe world—and the stupidity and tyranny of what he’s actually doing…

Speaking of influences, there are echoes of that Twilight Zone great episode with Anthony Fremont, the little kid who controls his town and turns people into Jack-in-a-box. Was that an inspiration or just somewhere in the back of your head?

CB: I think at some point I thought ‘hang on, it’s not a million miles away’ because he’s a tyrant, that kid is a dictator that everybody has to be extremely mindful of, that lives in a fantasy world so probably unconsciously there was an element of that. Certainly you could draw a parallel there.

Are you a Star Trek fan? What’s your relationship with that franchise?

CB: I was probably more of a Doctor Who fan as a kid, or Twilight Zone or Tales Of The Unexpected but Star Trek was kind of an anthology show as well in a way. I never really watched the 90s Star Trek series. Will Bridges, who co-wrote the episode, is a big, big, big Star Trek fan, so he was delighted at the chance to do all that. He knew a lot of the lingo.

The episode has a lot of fun with early Star Trek…

CB: Tropes, yes. A lot of that came from Will, he was like ‘Oh, I know! This and that can happen’, so he was having a lot of fun in that respect. I watched The Original Series when I was a kid and would find it terrifying a lot of the time. I think we wanted it to feel, generally, with classic sci-fi, we wanted it to feel more like an homage than an attack.

An affectionate ribbing?

CB: Yeah. There’s a bit of piss-taking going on but really it’s aimed at Daly.

So incurring the wrath of Star Trek fans isn’t something you’re worried about?

CB: Well it’s worrying, because you don’t want to upset people unnecessarily. We’re not saying that is a rubbish show, or it’s a throwback, because again, it was wildly ahead of its time. He says at one point that it was visionary, and that’s true!

Of course this season we have had two different interpretations of Star Trek with new the new shows, Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Jonathan Frakes, who has past experience on Star Trek: The Next Generation, has directed episodes of both and discussed this with IndieWire:

Mimicking a variety of styles is something that the veteran director is quite used to doing. In just the last year, Jonathan Frakes directed five episodes of television, including both “The Orville” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” perhaps serving as the ultimate bridge between the two fall TV homages to the “Star Trek” franchise. And according to Frakes, there’s room for both.

“Stylistically, your responsibility as an episodic television director [is] when you do a show like ‘The Orville,’ you want that show to look like ‘Next Generation,’” he said. “And when you go to Canada to do ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ they want that show to have the feeling, and look, and vibe of the J.J. [Abrams]-era ‘Star Trek.’ Much more cinematic, a lot of crane work, and a lot of movement, a lot of dutch angles. On ‘Next Generation,’ the traditional framing, and the things we became accustomed to as fans of the show, we see in [‘The Orville’] because that’s the look.”

When it came to “The Orville,” Frakes said that “I was afraid that it was going to be like ‘Family Guy,’ and it’s not really, but it’s also not really as serious as ‘Next Generation.’ I think Seth [MacFarlane], and Brannon [Braga], and whoever else is involved in all this, they found a tone that clicks with this audience, either the millennial audience or the old school audience. Everyone is very pleasantly surprised at how well the show has been received. I’m happy to see the homage, and I’m happy to see success for whoever wants to steal good ideas.”

Added Frakes, “It was a very conscious, and I think quite successful, homage. ‘Orville’s’ coming back for a second season, so is ‘Discovery.’ There’s room, obviously, in the fans’ hearts for both types of ‘Star Trek.’”

Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville are just two of the great science fiction shows to premiere in the past year. See SciFi Weekend’s ranking of the Top Ten New Genre Shows Of 2017. (I’m linking to it again today as those who follow links to SciFi Weekend through Facebook groups did not get the link last week as I was back in Facebook Jail last Sunday, with Facebook increasingly interfering with posting links to groups).

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