SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Thin Ice; The Handmaid’s Tale; Catastrophe; American Gods

Thin Ice had the most complete story so far this season, but the highlight of the episode remained the relationship between Bill and The Doctor. The episode dealt serious matters including racism and class, but it was the meta discussion of time travel and the Doctor which was most interesting.

The Doctor and Bill continued in their rules of tutor and pupil with Bill asking questions throughout the episode, also providing an opportunity to give some comments on the show in Moffat’s final season. This was Bill’s first real trip into the past and, being well-aware of science fiction tropes, Bill asked what the “rules” are. “You travel into the past. There’s got to be rules. If I step on a butterfly it could send ripples through time that mean I’m not even born in the first place and I could just disappear.” Her concern was that, “Every choice I make in this moment here and now could change the whole future.” The Doctor replied with justification for the often careless manner in which he interacts with the past in pointing out that this is, “Exactly like every other day of your life. The only thing to do is to stop worrying about it.”

Except for poor Pete, written out of history, and even deleted from the memories of viewers and from recordings of the last two episodes. We haven’t seen anything like this since Cold Blood in which Rory was sucked into a crack in the universe and erased from history. Perhaps Pete will return, possibly as another Auton duplicate, as Rory later did.

There was also repetition of the Doctor being a bit of a thief, along with his his limited control over the TARDIS: “I told you, you don’t steer the TARDIS. You reason with it… and successfully most of the time… She’s a bad girl this one. Always looking for trouble.”

Bill had more serious questions and observations. She noted that “Regency England, a bit more black than they show in the movies.” The Doctor replied, “So was Jesus. History’s a whitewash.”

She realized that there was a lot more to the Doctor than a university professor after seeing his lack of a response to the death of a child. She asked him how many people he has seen die, and then how many he has killed. He had no specific answers. He did say, “I’m 2,000-years-old and I’ve never had the time for the luxury of outrage.” I wondered how long it would be until Bill saw through that lie, and it occurred later in the same episode.

The Doctor had fun with Bill beyond his reference to Pete. He allowed her to watch the lights because she was having fun, and then mentioned seeing lights as a side effect of time travel. Later he told her to let him do the talking because she has a temper. Moments later he slugged  Lord Sutcliffe (also showing his capacity for outrage).

Of course the Doctor wasn’t entirely cold about the death of the boy. He just has seen enough to know when he can and cannot do something. His overall view was more humane: “Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life, a life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.”

The episode took place in the Frost Fair of 1814, the last in a series of actual events when the the River Thames froze over. Being 2000 years old (or actually older if the events of past seasons are taken into consideration), and prone to hanging out on earth, it is no surprise that the Doctor was there before. A Good Man Goes to War reveals that he was there with River Song, with Stevie Wonder performing:

River: It’s my birthday. The Doctor took me ice skating on the River Thames in 1814, the last of the great Frost Fairs. He got Stevie Wonder to sing for me under London Bridge.
Rory: Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?
River: Yes, he did, but you must never tell him.

(As a totally irrelevant aside, Stevie Wonder was once dining at the same restaurant I was at while traveling to Washington, D.C.)

There was an old Companion Chronicle audio story in which the first Doctor, Vicki and Steven visited the Frost Fair of 1814. The Doctor also promised to take Clara to the Frost Fair in The Caretaker (and actually did in a novel) The Doctor’s lack of interest in rules of time travel in his discussion with Bill is consistent with his lack of concern for returning to the same place–which would be forbidden in other time travel stories. This includes the breaking of time in the Legends of Tomorrow season two finale.

Bill did verify that her trip did not brake time, and Doctor Who has already established that humans have an incredible tendency to forget the extraordinary events depicted on the show. Bill used Search-wise.net for her research–a site which actually exists for television purposes.

The Doctor and Bill returned to the Doctor’s office in time for tea, but Nardole figured out that they had been traveling in time when he saw their change of clothing. He did not appear to figure out out that he had no chance to win the coin toss. For the sake of continuity, he did make reference to how he was reassembled between The Husbands Of River Song when he was decapitated and The Return Of Doctor Mysterio. He returned to the vault where we learned that someone or something inside was knocking, perhaps the Master, except that he knocks four times. Knocking also foreshadowed a past regeneration.

The Handmaid’s Tale premiered on Hulu, with the first three episodes being released. The show displayed a very bleak future in which Christian fundamentalists have established a dictatorship. This would be more plausible in a Muslim country, especially considering recent events in Turkey. It seems more plausible here, and  especially timely, after the election of Donald Trump, with the lack of respect for reproductive right’s and a woman’s right to control her own body taken to even more horrifying extremes. (To be objective and nonpartisan, Democrats cannot totally place the blame on Donald Trump and Republicans for rightward movement in this country considering their lack of concern in nominating a candidate such as Hillary Clinton who has a terrible history on First Amendment issues, including separation of church and state. While obviously Clinton would never support the mistreatment of women in this manner, her work with The Fellowship while in the Senate did help facilitate the goals of the religious right in increasing the role of religion in public policy.)

Elisabeth Moss does an excellent job as Offred (presumably given this name as she belongs to Fred), who is forced to conform outwardly. The totalitarian society shows how those without power being under constant surveillance, appearing to have no chance to rebel, or even safely be themselves with others. Inwardly it is a different story: “My name is Offred, and I intend to survive.” Her internal thoughts provide necessary relief from the overall story. There are also breaks from the main narrative to see how America went in that direction. Martial law was initiated, supposedly on a temporary nature in response to a terrorist attack, and later women were prohibited from having money or holding jobs.

The supporting cast also does an excellent job, especially Alexis Bledel (renamed Ofglen, following the same pattern), who managed to portray with her eyes alone the horrors of what she was exposed to in the third episode. Yvonne Strahovski is also excellent. 

Showrunner Bruce Miller discussed changes in the television show from the novel, including what happened to Ofglen (with spoilers for the third episode):

You take the character of Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) in a different direction very early on in the series. Can you talk about the decision to have Ofglen forcibly undergo genital mutilation surgery and how that changes things for her character moving forward?
Miller:
In the book, Ofglen just disappears and we hear that she killed herself. There’s no real way to confirm that. This was just one of those cases where you just follow your curiosity and you say, well, what happened to her? And I was fascinated by the idea, personally, of seeing how some of the institutions were being reproduced in Gilead. And the institution of the criminal justice system seemed fascinating in a world with institutionalized sexism and misogyny and biblical laws that were being taken literally. So that kind of lead us down a path of, OK, if I want to see how all of those things go, it would be very interesting to follow those things to the end. And making the decision about the female genital mutilation was really just kind of a practical discussion. A world that happened by accident is different than a world people created on purpose and here, Gilead is a world they created on purpose. There’s motive behind it, human motive. So what we’re trying to do is say, OK, what would they do to someone like Ofglen? They don’t want to kill her or send her away. They want to maintain her fertility as part of their reproductive system and their focus on that. So how would they try to control her?

And also taking into account, Margaret Atwood has said many times and we’ve certainly took on this adage, that nothing should happen in the show that doesn’t happen in the world. We don’t want to make up cruelties just for the sake of doing it. Then it turns into pornography. It turns into violence. It’s commentary and it helps you understand the world if you take things that happened in the world. Female genital mutilation is certainly something that happens all over the world. The difference here is that it doesn’t usually happen to white girls, but it does happen all over the world. We spoke to the U.N. and we spoke to the councils they sent us to about how it happens and why it happens and what it’s used for and how it’s done. We took it really seriously. We didn’t want to do it for shock value, even though it’s very shocking. You want to do it because it seems like the thing that Gilead would do. It’s a difference in the book, but it’s also something that takes place out of Offred’s point of view, at least in the show and also in the book. So we felt like we weren’t straying so far because it was something that could have happened in the world of the book and could have happened to somebody else. But anything we did that was not in the book or anything we changed, we were incredibly serious in those discussions about why to change things.

He also discussed how timely the series is:

A lot has been said about how timely the series is. Do you feel any concern that, given the current state of our society, The Handmaid’s Tale might hit a little too close to home for many viewers who would rather avoid facing these ideas head-on?
Miller:
I’m not worried. I hope it hits a little too close to home for viewers who are feeling anxious, because I think there are some great lessons to be learned, which is that the world can change in big ways and we should be very mindful of keeping an eye on our freedoms. As in the show, we see in the flashbacks, how in big and small ways the world can change and the things that we say and the things people say, they’re going to end up mattering in people’s personal lives and that we live in a country where we enjoy lots of freedoms and that those freedoms are not to be taken for granted.

The other thing is that if it does hit close to home, it also offers some really good examples of what to do. Offred is in an incredibly difficult circumstance, and yet she finds ways to express herself, she keeps her sanity, she keeps her heart alive. She also pulls levers of power. She manipulates the people around her to both increase her chances of survival, but also to build some sort of life. She makes connections with people even when they’re scary. I think in a way that’s inspiring. If Offred can do that in that situation, maybe we can do something in this situation. I think Margaret said it in the book, which is, “just do something.” And hopefully you walk away with that. And the other part is that there is a part of doe-eyed optimism on my part, when you look in the flashbacks, the world is so jarringly different. Our messy, noisy world where people are kissing in public and on their iPhones and stuff, you learn to appreciate it, or at least I did. Spending so much time in the fictional world of Gilead, you learn to appreciate how nice it is to have a messy, noisy world and what a pleasure that is. So if you walk out of there going boy, we actually have a good thing going even though it annoys us sometimes, that’s the nerve you want to hit, which is people saying, “Oh, actually there are some good things. Let’s fight to preserve them.” As opposed to, “Things are sh–ty, let’s just throw up our hands and abandon them.

While there were changes from the book, he also discussed how he consulted Margaret Atwood in an interview with Time:

The show definitely expands on what’s happened in the book. You get more backstory. You get to see what happens from the perspective of other characters. How did you decide what to expand and why, and did you discuss those decisions with Margaret Atwood at all?

Everything’s been a conversation with Margaret. It’s very unusual with something this iconic that you would have the author still living. Margaret is an expert in her own way of seeing this particular piece of work adapted: It’s been a play, opera, movie. So she had a lot of experience with what things need to change for different forms for this story. Where I might have had trepidation changing things because of my affection for the book, she certainly did not.

If we changed something, we did it thoughtfully and for a reason. We discussed the repercussions of each change with Margaret. It’s been a very active conversation back and forth. And I’ve been through the story a lot. We’ve picked it apart in the writers’ room. Elisabeth, in particular, has been through the book and educated herself to the nth degree. She’s memorized whole sections of it. So we took great care, and most of the changes we’ve made were actually extrapolations: Taking a thing that was a sentence in the book and turning it into a whole episode.

While Handmaid’s Tale is a must-see show this season, it is disturbing and bleak. My wife and I found that comic relief was necessary after watching three episodes. Fortunately Amazon has released the third season of Catastrophe. If  you haven’t seen this, I recommend going back to the start. Each season takes under three hours to watch. It is sort of like doing You’re The Worst with older, but still highly flawed people, and setting it in the U.K.

For the benefit of those who watched the second season, the events at the end of the final episode have considerable impact as the third season began. A similar formula was used, with an event at the tend of the final episode of the third season likely to have further ramifications in the fourth. Fortunately the series was renewed for both a third and fourth season at the same time, so we will see where this goes.

Sadly, the series has become of significance for science fiction. Carrie Fisher reprised her role as Rob’s mother in an episode which ironically dealt with death and loss. This was the role she was filming before flying from London to Los Angeles the day she had her fatal heart attack. A tribute to Carrie Fisher was attacked to the episode.

The highly anticipated premiere of American Gods is on tonight. (Gillian Anderson in the above picture.) Bryan Fuller and Michael Green discussed the show with Uproxx:

The novel tackles just about every Big Theme there is: politics, religion, modernity, sexuality. Do you two think about America in these grand terms as well?

Fuller: It’s hard not to think of America in grand terms in the current political climate because the country has shit the bad. We’re facing a violent time of great crisis, and that calls into question what we believe in, where we’ve placed our faith, how we navigate the secular and the search for something more meaningful. Then there are those who are not searching, because they’ve made up their minds that they’ve experienced the extent of the world that they need to, and have no cause to look further. That’s so limited and narrow of an approach to living, so you’ve got to challenge people on what they believe. Challenge the conservative Christians who don’t understand the concept of Christianity, or else they’d never pair those two words together.

Green: The book is sexual, and that’s nothing we’d ever shy away from, but we wanted to make sure our depiction of sexuality would be relevant to the show. Where nudity becomes dicy for me, as a viewer, is when it’s cuttable. That’s the definition of ‘gratuitous,’ when it doesn’t need to be there to enhance enjoyment of the show. And that’s not the show we set out to make. We wanted all the sexuality to be grounded in character, so you can’t tell Bilquis’ story without the scene. We wanted to do the scene between Salim and the djinn with fidelity to the book, but also give a graphic depiction of gay sex that no one could say wasn’t beautiful. We wanted to show the majesty of this religious experience mediated by sex, and put it beyond judgement from those viewers who usually feel uncomfortable with same-sex depiction.

American Gods is a finite work, but the nature of TV is that when something’s going well, people want more of it. What do you think about the future of this project? American Gods has an end; does the show have one as well?

Fuller: I think the show should have an end, but that does not mean the show cannot spawn other shows that live on beyond the scope of American Gods. If we were to secure the rights to Anansi Boys, that would be our first choice for a spinoff. We love Orlando Jones and what he brings to the mythology of this series, and we love the story of that book. We’d love to get our hooks into that and branch that off if this show ends up being successful.

Den of Geek also has an interview with Bryan Fuller which tied it into contemporary politics:

Thinking about Mr Wednesday, the figure of the con man has scarcely felt more relevant to US politics.

[Laughs. Loudly]

And to the US Media.

Well, you have a con man who is saying ‘let’s make the gods great again’.  There is a certain angle of that story that is much more resonant and relevant now than it was prior to the election in November. Being in post and watching those episodes as we’re cutting and putting them together was an interesting experience – to be watching the show before the election and then watching the show after the election and realising just how resonant it has the potential to be in that climate. Particularly as an immigration story, since both the Trump election and Brexit were platforms of anti-immigration and fear of the other and exploiting that fear in citizens, it feels like we are inadvertently tapping into a conversation that we need to have and continue to have as we figure out a way to celebrate differences and not condemn them.

This story is a ripe opportunity for social comment.

Absolutely.

In particular the idea of people being whipped up into a war whose only purpose is to further the power of a couple of individuals…

It’s tragic on one level and then on another level it’s an opportunity to take a look at where we are. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to move forwards. It feels like with both Brexit and the Trump election, we’re two nations taking a step backwards. As disappointing as it was to see hatred and fear rule the day for both of us, it was a great disappointment to say the least, it makes it even more vital and important for us to encourage conversations and also to encourage the fundamentals of listening to somebody. That’s the biggest issue, certainly what’s happening in America, is the unwillingness to listen to somebody else’s point of view.

That’s something that I love to do, even if I violently disagree with somebody, I’m fascinated with how they’ve come to their decisions. Talking to people in the States who voted for Trump, and not wanting to shut them down, like, oh my gosh, you are supporting somebody who has bragged about sexual assaults and has a clear disdain for many groups of people, but instead wanting to find a common ground because what I think all of us found in both of our situations was that everybody made up their mind and there was nothing that was going to change them regardless.

SciFi Weekend: The Big Reveal on Game of Thrones; Orphan Back; Person of Interest; DC & Marvel News; Star Trek; The Handmaid’s Tale

Game of Thrones Jon Snow

While technically a spoiler for those who have not seen lase week’s episode of Game of Thrones, there was little doubt that Jon Snow would return in some form. While he has returned to life, so far all we have seen is his eyes open and beyond that he might not be entirely the same. Vulture looks at some of the possibilities, including that his wounds might never heal or that he might not have his memories. They also speculate that his death might have terminated his vow to to the Night’s Watch which “shall not end until my death.” If so, this would allow him to take other roles, such as leading the North and/or returning to aide the surviving  Starks.

Regardless of what happens to him, Kit Harrington is happy that he no longer has to lie to everyone.

Orphan Black Donnie

Orphan Black started out the season with a bit of a reboot and simplification of all the various conspiracies. The show is always at its best in dealing with the characters as opposed to overly complex conspiracies. While Tatiana Maslany is generally the show, supporting characters do have a lot to add, such as seeing Donny and Felix posing as a gay couple as part of the investigation of one of those conspiracies. It got even better when Donnie called Alison to help him provide a sperm specimen with phone sex in yet another classic scene in this series.

Person of Interest returned for its final season on CBS. A sneak peak from Comic-Con is above. The AV Club spoke with executive produces Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman. Here is a portion:

The A.V. Club:Since the beginning, this show that’s ostensibly been about artificial intelligence is really about human connection. What’s it like to thread that needle and how has it evolved over time?

Jonathan Nolan: It’s a great question. And it’s a big challenge. I remember Greg and I talking from the beginning about the collision between the more esoteric ideas in the pilot and how we were going to draw emotions and humanism and a recurring interest from the audience out of all those ideas. There are a lot of ideas in the show, and it’s something I’m very proud of. It’s funny, it’s not a normal show for CBS, but people kind of found it, which is exciting.

That link between the big ideas of the show and the characters—we’ve concentrated on it so hard from the beginning, because we wanted to explore all these crazy ideas about the surveillance state, big data, and AI—and the collision of all of that on a personal level. And from the beginning, I’ve felt like there was a great connection there between big data and the kind of “normal” violent crimes that you find in a major city like New York. I’m just kind of fascinated by the idea of the collision of all of those things. But the thing that people keep tuning in for is the characters. Week in, week out, you’re looking not for ideas, necessarily, although it’s great when your shows have ideas in them, but for the characters to become extended family. Especially in broadcast TV, that’s what happens on that level: When you’re on weekly, your characters come back and you connect with them every week. So, as you said, threading that needle becomes the challenge throughout all five seasons.

AVC:One of the great things is how you were able to connect to The Machine, even on a very personal level. The Machine was gendered female, whereas Samaritan has stayed relatively genderless. Can you expand on that?

JN: I think the gender question, you know, they’re obviously connected. If you want to understand the impact that any SI, or super intelligence, will have—and it’s pat, but it’s accurate—but it’s as if there were no gods and we made them, right? God has often been gendered in the West in a masculine light, which is absurd, but it evolved sort of organically, talking about The Machine as a person. Finch always referred to The Machine as “it” or a thing, but for Root there’s always been more of a personal connection there, a belief in The Machine as a being. So her personification of it—sadly, in the West, we have to gender things to personify them—it seemed most apt that she would think of it in those terms. There’s also something else we’re doing with that: If you’ve paid close attention to the show and where we’re going, there’s a little bit of foreshadowing there as well.

AVC:It seems as though The Machine went through a rebellion phase when it really started to only speak through Root. Will this season be about The Machine becoming more mature in that sense and answering to everybody?

JN: I’m picturing a hormonal artificial super intelligence.

Greg, what are you thinking?

Greg Plageman: I think the interesting relationship for me is Harold Finch and his creation. And there’s always been a troubling conundrum for Finch, building this thing that’s so powerful yet that could overtake us. He’s never been quite comfortable with the idea of an ASI—building something that’s more intelligent than us and us expecting that we could still actually control it. So he’s always had that dilemma that he’s been grappling with, and that caused him to put a limiter on The Machine. What Root has always implored Harold Finch to do is take the gloves off the thing because we’re losing—we’re losing to a much more diabolical creation.

So I think the evolution of that relationship of Harold Finch and his machine this season, in terms of reconstituting it, and how it’s going to be different this time, it’s almost like, what’s the point? What’s the point, Harold, if you’re going to put a limiter on this thing all over again, as Root has always told him in terms of her wanting to let this thing go and to see what it can do. It becomes an exploration of Harold Finch’s character that I think the audience is going to find very fascinating.

AVC:Do you think that if we had been watching the team behind Samaritan from the beginning, rather than the team behind The Machine, that we would be pro-Samaritan?

JN: I think that’s one of the delicious things about what we’ve been doing with this storyline and where we’ve gone with it in this last season. I’m always most excited about and drawn to villains who have a point of view and have a plan. One of the most exciting things about The Joker in The Dark Knight is, he may be a villain in your eyes, but he’s the only person who hasn’t broken his own rules. Everyone else has, everyone else has corrupted themselves, but he’s in many ways one of the most ethical people in the film in terms of their own ideas. He had an idea, and it drives the story forward. We applied a similar approach here, but even more rationally. A lot of things that Samaritan espouses are believed by the people who work for Samaritan, the same way that I’m sure people who work for Facebook don’t believe that they’re working for the company that will destroy the world. But, you know, they are. And everyone gets through the day rationalizing their own existence.

GP: It’s sort of fascinating right now what’s happening in Russia with Putin’s control of the media and the way the everyday Russian views the West now or the United States. It just depends on who’s telling the story. There was a moment where Root met Greer and he sort of said these things to her: “You and I are not all that unalike.”

Supergirl

CBS has not decided yet about renewing Supergirl, with cost being an issue. Ideas being considered include moving the show to Vancouver and airing fewer episodes. It might also move to CW with the other Berlantiverse shows. (If necessary to make room for all the superhero shows, I’d suggest cancelling Legends of Tomorrow and airing Supergirl instead).

At ABC, it has not been decided whether to return Agent Carter or go ahead with Marvel’s Most Wanted. If they don’t air the second, I wonder if they would write Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood back into Agents of SHIELD. With the way they were written out, it wouldn’t be hard for Coulson to decide he doesn’t care what the Russians think and bring them back–especially as they are operating secretly. We should have news on May 17 from ABC.

Needless to say, there has been a lot out in the past week on the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the release of Captain America: Civil War. To avoid spoilers I will postpone discussing this until a later date. Here is one link of interest–the backstory from the comics of the history of fights between Captain American and Iron-Man.

CBS All Access remains on track to begin the new Star Trek series in January, 2017. They will be releasing one episode per week.

Hulu will be showing a ten-episode miniseries based upon Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale  in 2017. It will star Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) had will be written by Bruce Miller of The 100. Miller will c0-executive produce the series along with Daniel Wilson (who worked on the movie version of the book), Fran Sears (The Sophisticated Gents) and Warren Littlefield (Fargo). I suspect they will also be releasing an episode a week as they did with the adaptation of 11.22.63.

Speaking of Mad Men, here’s a chance to explore Don Draper’s apartment in 3-D. It would be even more fun to have an apartment like this to spend some time at in Manhattan.