SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The Orville; Doctor Who

Overall I was very impressed with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. While there are some aspects I question, overall it did feel like Star Trek, both modernized by the improved special effect available and the more serialized story telling common on television today.

I do question both whether the Vulcan salute would have been effective in this situation against the Klingons and whether someone, after serving for seven years on a Federation Starship, would disobey the captain in this manner. For now I will accept the premise that an implausible but possible event did occur and give the writers the opportunity to see where they take this. From various interviews (such as here) it does appear that they have given this matter, and sticking with established Star Trek canon, considerable consideration.

Michael Burnham does follow in a long Star Trek tradition of characters with identity issues, including Spock, Data, Seven of Nine, and the Emergency Medical Hologram. Captain Georgiou’s quick recovery from the Vulcan nerve pinch was important to the plot, but also has me wondering what we will see in the future in terms of both Burnham acting as a Vulcan and the limitations of a human doing so. The first two episodes seemed to summarize what could have been another seven year series about the Shenzou, with Burnham showing considerable growth from how she appeared in the flashback at the start of the second episode.

There was a tendency to use special effects because they could, sometimes benefiting the episode, and sometimes being unnecessary. I did question seeing Burnham flying to the Klingon ship in only in her spacesuit. On the other hand, there is no question that they should modernize the look of the bridge from the 1960’s instrument panels of the original show. Despite the modernization of the ship, they had the old style sound effects down perfect. The changing look of Klingons over time has been around since The Next Generation moved beyond the simplistic look from The Original Show and it is best not to question this.

The use of holograms for communication seemed an unnecessary change from the on screen communications we are accustomed to. It is important that this does fit within Star Trek canon, but there are also limits to the degree fans should demand this be true of every detail. Once something is shown on Discovery, by definition it does become canon. As holograms are based upon science already existing this could be explained as Star Fleet experimenting with this, abandoning it for a while, and then trying again in the Deep Space 9 era when it was seen again. (My theory to make this all consistent is that Star Fleet admirals had taken up working with their pants off between the years of Discovery and The Original Show and therefore demanded communications based upon above-the waist view screens as opposed to full body holograms.)

I also had my doubts about the communication between Burnham and Sarek, and unless this becomes important for future episodes, the story could have easily been written without utilizing this.

Despite such nitpicks, the show looks very promising. While I have some doubts about the details of the issue, it is typical Star Trek to raise the question of whether the Federation would shoot first even if more expedient. Even if less extreme, there is also a long history of Star Trek heroes breaking the rules. While some of the scenes with Klingon subtitles did get a little long, I am glad they are showing the Klingons as more than a one dimensional villain.

They did an excellent job both with production values and in keeping the story interesting, including ending each of the first episodes with a cliff hanger which should make viewers want to keep watching. If this was on Netflix instead of CBS All Access and the full season was available, I would have kept watching longer.

Despite small elements which some might argue violate canon, at least they did not destroy Vulcan as J.J. Abrams did with the flimsy excuse that it was s different timeline. Even if we might question Michael’s existence in Sarek’s family, it appears this series will be well tied into other aspects of canon related to Vulcans. This includes the addition of Sarek’s wife Amanda to the series, with Mia Kirshner cast for the role.

I have been rooting for The Orville to succeed, but have also recognized it problems. The show has received considerable criticism, with there being no need to repeat that once again. The show also does have its fans. For balance I’ll link to this reviewSeth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ Is The ‘Star Trek’ Show Fans Have Been Waiting For. Some excerpts follow:

By not having a budget (or requirements) for wall-to-wall spectacle, the hour-long Fox show is forced to focus on character, chemistry, sci-fi plotting and moral debates that have partially defined Gene Roddenberry’s property for generations. Yes, to a certain extent it’s fan fiction, but then so is so much of our current pop culture entertainment. But by being a network television show, it is forced to be the kind of Star Trek that fans claim the recent movies have neglected in favor of four-quadrant blockbuster thrills. The Orville is not a spoof, but rather a straight-faced Trek show with characters who are funny and can laugh at funny events…

Sans the pressure to be bigger, bolder, faster, and free from the budget and expectations that demand big-scale action sequences and “the world is in peril” plotting, The Orville uses its adventure of the week format to explore modern-day social issues and tackle current moral dilemmas in a sci-fi venue. I like its characters, and I like that they are good at what they do and seem to like each other. The show is refreshingly progressive in its politics, and optimistic to its core. It is a Star Trek show for folks who want something a bit old-school.

Again, I haven’t seen the third episode of Star Trek Discovery, and I frankly don’t wish to make it a competition. The best-case scenario is that the CBS show, with a superb lead in Sonequa Martin-Green, offers high-quality, big-scale Star Trek while Fox’s “homage” offers a more traditional Trek which emphasizes cast chemistry and social issues of the day. For those fans who were turned off by the jokey previews and commercials, I’d suggest giving The Orville another shot, starting perhaps with the second episode which begins to spotlight the supporting cast.

The irony is that, by ripping off rather than revamping and by being hamstrung by network television production values and thus putting an emphasis on character and social parable over sci-fi action, The Orville has a pretty good shot at becoming the kind of Star Trek that fans claim to want so badly. I’m hoping this variation indeed lives long and prospers.

The review is rather generous, but I do want to give The Orville the chance to correct its flaws. I do agree with Screen Rant that, No, The Orville Is Not Better Than Star Trek: Discovery. Of course it does not have to be a competition and we can enjoy each series for the different things it tries to accomplish.

While we are now getting two versions of one of the great science fiction franchises which started in the 1960’s, we have to wait until December to see more of Doctor Who. I still plan to try to post Doctor Who news regularly while we wait. This week Pearl Mackie has told Radio Times that the Christmas episode will be an emotional farewell for Peter Capaldi:

The final farewell of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the departure of well-loved companion Bill Potts, the groundbreaking introduction of the first ever female Doctor – the signs were always there.

But just in case you were in any doubt, Pearl Mackie can confirm that, yes, this is indeed going to be an emotional Doctor Who Christmas special…

“I’d say have a box of tissues close at hand,” Mackie tells RadioTimes.com. “As to be expected: it’s Peter’s last episode as the Doctor and my last episode as well.”

But is it? Given that Mackie’s character Bill had supposedly made her last appearance at the end of series ten – only to be handed a comeback in the special immediately afterwards – should we even trust that this is the last we’ll see of her?

“One of the wonderful things about Doctor Who is that the world of possibilities is endless,” teases Mackie, “so I guess, never say never…”

We can also hope to see the return of others beyond Bill. Radio Times also reports that Alex Kingston would like to see a reunion with Captain Jack:

Both time-travelling lotharios who love conning their way around the galaxy with a vortex manipulator, we can’t help but feel they’d do well in their own Doctor Who spin-off, or even just an episode where they finally meet – and now it turns out that River Song actor Alex Kingston feels the exact same way.

“I think it’d be great if she met with Captain Jack Harkness,” Kingston said at Edmonton Expo in Canada. “It’s funny because John and I, we talk about, we imagine, fantasise about all the possibilities.”

She also said, “Not necessarily a spin-off show, but it kind of would be great if even the Doctor happened upon a bar in the universe where River and Captain Jack happened to be sitting, having a drink or something. I think it’d be cool!”

SciFi Weekend: Twin Peaks Finale; Star Trek Discovery Tackles The Trump Era; The Orville; Doctor Who News

As Damon Lindelof said during the Twin Peaks panel at Comic-Con, “Without Twin Peaks, there would be no Sopranos, no X-Files, no True Detective, no Fargo, no Lost…” continuing to list the shows which have changed television.  Twin Peaks: The Return went beyond these in being unusual and something we have never seen before on television. We saw exactly what David Lynch would do with eighteen hours in which he could do whatever he desired, unedited. Some who are huge fans of David Lynch had great reviews. Television reviewers, probably along with most viewers, were more negative, expecting something more like television, and seeing a need for at least some boundaries on the imagination of David Lynch.

It is difficult to truly recap what occurred in either the series or two-hour finale last week. The series was slow, and often confusing. It included fake versions of major characters, including three different versions of Dale Cooper (or at least those who looked like him), and time travel. We also saw Diane, the off screen secretary from the original series, but of course things were not as they seemed with her. Perhaps most disappointing was how little there was of Audrey Horne, and with major questions about her left unanswered. An earlier disappointment was that Madeline Zima’s character, who I initially thought might be the Audrey Horne of the revival, was killed shortly after she took her clothes off.  Many things throughout the series seemed to make no sense, but to criticize the show for this would miss the point in a David Lynch creation.

In the finale, Cooper went back in time to prevent the murder of Laura Palmer, and was as almost as confused as the viewers when the series ended with him asking, “What year is this?” This was followed by a scream from Laura Palmer, who perhaps was recalling her murder in another time. If the interpretation at IndieWire is correct, the better question for Cooper to ask might have been whether he was in an entirely new time line (perhaps created when he attempted to save Laura). The episode then ended, leaving many questions open. Kyle MacLachlan has said there have been no discussions related to another season, and I wonder how many of those of us who made it through eighteen episodes of this series would do so again.

We also might ask, as Dale Cooper, did, what year this is when watching television. Just as we recently returned to Twin Peaks, soon we will be watching Star Trek once again. In the original series, produced during the Cold War, the Klingons represented the Soviet Union. Entertainment Weekly reports that Star Trek Discovery will tackle the political divide in the Trump era:

Star Trek: Discovery will continue the venerated sci-fi tradition of using a fantastic setting to tackle real-world issues — only in a bigger way than any Trekseries has done before.

The upcoming CBS All Access drama tells the serialized story of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. The show is set a decade before 1966’s original series — which premiered 51 years ago today — during which the Federation and Klingons were in a Cold War standoff that reflected yesteryear’s U.S.-Soviet relations. In Discovery, war breaks out and the Klingons leading the charge have some ideological ideas inspired by the 2016 electoral divide.

“The allegory is that we really started working on the show in earnest around the time the election was happening,” showrunner Aaron Harberts says. “The Klingons are going to help us really look at certain sides of ourselves and our country. Isolationism is a big theme. Racial purity is a big theme. The Klingons are not the enemy, but they do have a different view on things. It raises big questions: Should we let people in? Do we want to change? There’s also the question of just because you reach your hand out to someone, do they have to take it? Sometimes, they don’t want to take it. It’s been interesting to see how the times have become more of a mirror than we even thought they were going to be.”

Of course we have already seen another genre show deal with a Trump presidency–Game of Thrones with King Joffrey.

Discovery only takes place ten years before the events of the original show, meaning that we already know what some of the characters were doing at the time. TrekMovie.com reviewed where the TOS characters were.

There will be another show paying homage to Star Trek premiering tonight, Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville. It was originally billed as a spoof, but many reviews are negative, along with saying it is neither a true drama or comedy. Vox compares it (negatively) to fan fiction. I had planned to summarize some of the other reviews, but now see that The Mary Sue has already posted excerpts from several.

Once I heard that Jodie Whittaker was to become the thirteenth Doctor, I had hoped that River Song would get a chance to meet her. Alex Kingston also expressed interest in returning to Doctor Who for such a meeting a Dragon Con:

…she also mentioned that she was going to “call the BBC and let them know River is ready to meet her second wife.” To which, of course, the audience exploded. “Why not?  She (River) said it!”

Billie Piper also says that Rose would be in love with the thirteenth doctor.

It was previously announced that the Doctor Who spinoff Class would not be renewed for a second season, but the possibility was left open that it might continue if it did well in the United States, where it did not air for several months after on in the UK. The cancellation is now official.

Sian Brooke, who played Eurus in season four of Sherlock, teases the possibility of a fifth season. Hopefully it really is made.

SciFi Weekend: Jodie Whittaker Cast As The 13th Doctor; Game of Thrones Returns; George A. Romero and Martin Landau Die

After fifty-four years there will be a female lead on Doctor WhoJodie Whittaker shows that glass ceilings can be broken, especially when you have the right woman. News came out earlier in the week  that the identity of the thirteenth doctor would be revealed with a video which featured the number 13:

We finally saw who held the key to the TARDIS in another video earlier today:

Jodie Whittaker was revealed to be the thirteenth Doctor, and Chris Chibnall said he had always wanted his first lead to be a woman:

“I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman, and we’re thrilled to have secured our No. 1 choice. Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role.”

In retrospect this is should not come as a surprise. While Jodie Whittaker has had more genre-oriented roles, the most important one leading to getting this role must have been playing Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, which Chibnall was show runner for. He showed that he thought Whittaker was important by giving her a new position in the third season to provide for significant on screen time even though the focus of the show had changed.

Her role on Broadchurch also enabled Whittaker to work with both a former Doctor (Peter Tennant) and a former companion (Arthur Darvill).

The BBC has posted an interview with Jodie Whittaker about taking this new role:

1) What does it feel like to be the Thirteenth Doctor?
It’s very nerve-racking, as it’s been so secret!

2) Why did you want the role?
To be asked to play the ultimate character, to get to play pretend in the truest form: this is why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. To be able to play someone who is literally reinvented on screen, with all the freedoms that brings: what an unbelievable opportunity. And added to that, to be the first woman in that role.

3) Has it been hard to keep the secret?
Yes. Very hard! I’ve told a lot of lies! I’ve embroiled myself in a whole world of lies which is going to come back at me when this is announced!

4) Who was the first person you told when you got the role?
My husband. Because I was allowed to!

5) Did you have a codename and if so what was it?
In my home, and with my agent, it was The Clooney. Because to me and my husband, George is an iconic guy. And we thought: what’s a really famous iconic name? It was just fitting.

6) What does it feel like to be the first woman Doctor?
It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible.

7) What do you want to tell the fans?
I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.

8) What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about becoming part of a family I didn’t even know existed. I was born in 1982, it’s been around longer than me, and it’s a family I couldn’t ever have dreamed I’d be part of.

9) How did Chris sell you the part?
We had a strange chat earlier this year where he tricked me into thinking we were talking about Broadchurch. And I started to quiz him about his new job in Wales, and asked him if I could be a baddie! And he quickly diverted the conversation to suggest I should consider auditioning to be the 13th Clooney.

It was the most incredible chat because I asked every question under the sun, and I said I’d take a few weeks to decide whether I was going to audition. He got a phone call within 24 hours. He would’ve got a phone call sooner, but my husband was away and there was a time difference!

10) Did he persuade you?
No. There was no persuasion needed. If you need to be persuaded to do this part, you’re not right for this part, and the part isn’t right for you. I also think, for anyone taking this on, you have to want to fight for it, which I certainly had to do. I know there will have been some phenomenal actors who threw their hats in the ring.

11) What are you going to wear?
Don’t know yet.

12) Is that your costume in the filmed sequence which introduced you as the new Doctor?
No.

13) Have any of the other Doctors given you advice?
Well they can’t because they haven’t known until now, but I’m certainly expecting a couple of calls – I’ve got a couple of mates in there. I’m mates with a companion [Arthur Darvill], I’m mates with a trio of Doctors. I know Matt Smith, Chris Eccleston and obviously David Tennant. Oh! And let’s throw in David Bradley! Four Doctors! So I’m hoping I get some calls of advice.

I first heard Whittaker’s name as a front runner yesterday, and was excited by the prospect of an actress of her ability taking on the role. Being an American who watches some, but limited, British television, this was only the second time (after Peter Capaldi) I was familiar with an incoming Doctor’s work at the time they were cast. I had previously gotten accustomed to the idea of a woman receiving the role when another British actress I’m familiar with, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was often being called the front runner.

In retrospect I suspect that Steven Moffat was helping Chris Chibnall set up for this transition. The first mention I can recall that a Time Lord can regenerate into a man or woman occurred in The Doctor’s Wife. There have been minor characters who changed gender as Time Lords, but the most significant was when The Master regenerated into Missy, played by Michelle Gomez. The possibility of the Doctor being a woman was further foreshadowed this season. The Doctor suggested that he might have been a woman in the past in World Enough And Time. In the season finale, The Doctor Falls, there was an exchange in which the Master asked, “Will the future be all girl?” and the Doctor answered, “We can only hope.”

There has been some negative reaction among fans, but reaction has generally been positive among reviewers (such as here) and those involved with the show. Peter Capaldi had this to say: “Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker’s work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm. She has above all the huge heart to play this most special part. She’s going to be a fantastic Doctor.”

The Guardian had additional comments:

Emily Cook, editorial assistant at Doctor Who magazine, said: “I am very excited about this. As soon as I saw Jodie Whittaker appear on the video in the BBC clip announcing her, it just felt right – she just felt like the Doctor. Having a female Doctor is really exciting and significant. I cannot wait to see what she does with the role and where she takes the show.

“She will bring a freshness. She is younger than Peter Capaldi and, being a woman, she will have a different approach to the role. It’s completely new territory for the show and that is very exciting. Whittaker has worked with David Tennant on Broadchurch and St Trinian’s so there is a strong Doctor Who connection there.”

Erica Lear, the social secretary at the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, said: “I think it’s very brave but she is a brilliant actress. I did not expect it but I think it’s brilliant. My only wish was that we have a good actor and that is what we have.”

But Lear noted that the appointment might divide opinion. “It will spark debate and split fandom; there will be lots of people not happy with the decision but it’s up to the new series to change their mind.”

It will be interesting to see what direction the show goes in beyond naming a woman Doctor. While they can take the show in multiple directions, I suspect that her portrayal of the Doctor might be more conventional beyond the gender change, while it would have probably been more off beat if they had gone with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In order to save time in getting to the action, it is commonplace for the Doctor to go to new surroundings and quickly take control. Will this stay the same or will they show a woman having more difficulty here? Will the Daleks recognize her as the Doctor? What will be her relationship with her companion or companions?

It could also be interesting to bring back some past characters. Doctor Who has had a female Time Ladies in the past, including two different regenerations of Romana. Maybe Romana can return, possibly regenerated into a male Roman. For that matter, will she be called a Time Lord or Time Lady?

The most interesting match up could be if they bring back River Song. There were two different situations in the Star Trek universe in which aliens changed sex in situations somewhat comparable to regeneration involving Beverley Crusher and Dax. In both of those situations, romances were not continued when the gender of both partners became female, although different reasons than being the same sex were given. Society has changed a lot since then. Today I think the best way to handle River Song meeting Thirteen would be for her to just say “hello sweetie” and totally ignore the gender change.

Game of Thrones has also returned tonight. In the spirit of today’s lead story I’ll direct your attention towards a story at Wired entitled, This Is How GAME OF THRONES Ends In Total Matriarchy.Of course there are some major characters who are male who are not likely to give up without a fight.  Incidentally, Sophie Turner does not think that Sansa Stark should sit on the Iron Throne. She sees Sansa as taking control of Winterfell while Jon Snow ultimately sits on the Iron Throne.

There was news of two deaths. George A. Romero, creator of  Night of the Living Dead, died at age 77. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, father of the modern movie zombie and creator of the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” franchise, has died at 77.

Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a statement to The Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.

Romero jump-started the zombie genre as the co-writer (with John A. Russo) and director of the 1968 movie “Night of the Living Dead,” which went to show future generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn’t require big budgets. “Living Dead” spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero’s sequels included 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” 2007’s “Diary of the Dead” and 2009’s “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.”

The original film, since colorized, has become a Halloween TV staple. Among other notable aspects of the cult classic was the casting of a black actor, Duane Jones, in the lead role, marking a milestone in the horror genre.

Martin Landau died at age 89. Deadline reports:

Academy Award winning actor of Ed Wood, Martin Landau has died at the age of 89. Also known for his versatile roles in classic films like Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and for his role in the Mission: Impossible television series as master of disguise Rollin Hand , the actor died Saturday of “unexpected complications.”

…His career in television, film, and stage spanned over five decades.  “Martin Landau is living proof that Hollywood will find great roles for great actors at any stage of their careers,” said Guttman in a release.

He made his big screen debut the Gregory Peck war film Pork Chop Hill in 1959, but his first major film appearance was North by Northwest, a role he nabbed when Hitchcock after saw his stage performance with Edward G. Robinson in Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night. In addition to the classic film and TV’s Mission: Impossible, he starred opposite Jeff Bridges in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man His Dream in 1988, where he received his first Oscar nomination. The following year he earned his second Oscar nod for his role as Judah Rosenthal in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. In 1994, when he received a third nom and won for Best Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where he played Bela Lugosi.

His performance in Ed Wood also earned him a Golden Globe Award the Screen Actor Guild’s first annual award, The American Comedy Award, The New York Film Critics Award, The National Society of Film Critics Award, The Chicago Film Critics Award, The Los Angeles Film Critics Award, and every other award for Best Supporting Actor in 1994. He collaborated with Burton again as a voice actor for his animated features 9 and Frankenweenie.

Landau also stared in the science fiction television show, Space 1999 in 1975-6.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, World Enough and Time; Carrie Coon In Ambiguous Finales On The Leftovers & Fargo

World Enough and Time was an excellent way to move into the season finale of Doctor Who, and a near final chance for Steven Moffat to go meta. The episode began with a scene of the Doctor regenerating, which presumably will be continued next week. The actual story got underway with Missy exiting the TARDIS saying, “Hello. I’m Doctor Who.”  Moffat has often liked to play with the show’s title by setting up situations where people ask “Doctor Who?” as a question. Missy said she was “cutting to the chase,” saving time from having to go through the introduction and follow up question, but then went on to claim it is his real name.

Bill had struggled with this issue in Pilot arguing that, “The Doctor’s not a name. I can’t just call you Doctor. Doctor what?”

In recent years you could often tell that people talking about the show were not actual viewers when they made reference to the lead as Doctor Who as opposed to the Doctor. Now we have Bill questioning why Missy called herself Doctor Who. Missy claimed it was his real name and the Doctor did not deny this. DoctorWho TV says that Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, Eccleston, and Tennant were all credited as “Dr. Who” or “Doctor Who.”

Moffat also played with the role of the companion. Missy called them her assistants, which was more common in the classic shows. When Bill objected to being called Missy’s “plucky assistants,” she asked what he does call them, “companions, pets, snacks?” Neither the words “assistant” or “companion” are actually used very often on the show and Bill said that the Doctor called them friends. Missy claimed that only Time Lords can be friends to each other and “anything else is cradle snatching.” Missy also saw them as “disposable” with their names not mattering. Instead they had their roles, “exposition and comic relief.”

We learned via flashbacks that this was all a test for Missy. The Doctor not only wanted Missy to be good, he has unrealistically wanted her to be like him. While Bill objected that Missy is a murderer, the Doctor showed a different moral code, noting that Bill could similarly be seen as a murderer from the perspective of the pig who died for her bacon sandwich. The Doctor decided to graze for distress calls and look for a good one, like their usual Saturday. This might also refer to how the show airs on Saturdays. The Doctor explained how Missy is “the only person I’ve met who is only remotely like me.” This could refer to them not only being Time Lords, but also both being renegades in their own way. After all, the Doctor did steal the TARDIS and has often been at odds with the Timelords.

The Doctor spoke about Missy as having been his best friend from when they first met at the Academy. “She was my man-crush.” He further explained, “I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure I was one too. It was a long time ago, though.” He also told Bill, “We’re the most civilized civilization in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and associated stereotypes.” Bill noted that despite this, they still call themselves Time Lords She hasn’t had the experience with them to also question how advanced the Time Lords really are.”

This might be Moffat’s answer to the controversy over whether there will be a woman playing the Doctor. The actual decision is no longer in his hands but if the regeneration of the Master as Missy was not enough, this scene firmly sets in cannon that it is possible to have a woman Doctor. It is not actually possible that the Doctor could have been anything but a man at the Academy unless he had another regeneration which we are aware of, and has not been counted like the War Doctor. While there were questions in the past whether William Hartnell played the first Doctor, the count was established during the Matt Smith era (with the War Doctor creating some wiggle room). While it is unlikely the Doctor was ever a woman, we have seen other woman in a near-Doctor role. This includes Moffat having River Song, Clara Oswald, and Ashildr (the guest role played by Maisie Williams) all pilot a TARDIS.

Bill did not feel safe playing Missy’s companion, and asked the Doctor to “promise you won’t get me killed.” He could not do that, with this flashback scene played right Missy was shot.

The first sixteen minutes of this episode were a great opening sequence. Unfortunately the ending of the show suffered because the realities of the modern world. It would be impossible for them to have filmed scenes with the Cybermen without this news getting out and spreading rapidly on line. Therefore they made no attempts to keep this a secret, announcing that both the original Mondasian Cybermen and the John Simm Master would be present. Stephen Moffat had also warned that one of the trailers would give away a lot.

The episode certainly would have been even greater when watching if we were not aware that the Cybermen were present. The episode set up a fascinating scenario in which a four hundred mile colony ship caught by a black hole had time pass at a far greater speed at the far end than at the other.  Again going meta, this later allowed Bill to view the Doctor in slow motion on a monitor and explain his actions. It also led to a situation in which people trapped on the ship were driven to drastic measures, giving a new explanation for the genesis of the Cybermen.

There were many clues throughout the episode that Cybermen were involved. The hole in Bill’s chest was fixed, with the surgeon saying, “full conversion wasn’t necessary.” Words such as “conversion” and people being “upgraded” provided clues, along with people partially through the process with Mummy-like facial covering like the original Mondasian Cyberman. Later Missy found that the ship was not from earth but from Mondas. It became increasingly obvious when the rod-like headgear was shown to be added to those converted so they would not care about the pain. If someone had not known going into the episode that it was about Cybermen, I wonder how long it took to figure it out.

The other surprise which was tipped off was that Razor turned out to be the Master in disguise. In the past, the Master has used names which were anagrams. In this case, presumably the destructive nature of razors has some meaning in the choosing of the name.

On a personal level this could be one of the most evil acts by the Master–facilitating the conversion of Bill while the Doctor was on his way to save her. She had listened to him and waited, like a tragic variation of The Girl Who Waited. This betrayal seems even more evil  on the part of the Master considering that, due to the effects of the black hole, Bill had spent years with the Master before the Doctor could make it down the elevator to come after her.

The John Simm version of the Master was certainly playing a long game here, but I imagine that is no different than Matt Smith defending a planet before his regeneration or Peter Capaldi agreeing to guard the tomb (even if he didn’t follow through with that). The Master has a lot at stake: “I’m very worried about my future.” Missy does not recall being on the ship previously. While difficult to understand, there have been similar memory issues on episodes involving multiple versions of the Doctor.

We have a certain symmetry here. Steven Moffat has seen Peter Capaldi, an older actor, as being like William Hartnell. Harnell played the first Doctor, while Capaldi is the first of the new regenerations granted to Matt Smith. There have been references to the first Doctor, such as with the picture of Susan on the Doctor’s desk at the university. The Mondasian Cybermen were introduced in the 1966 episode, The Tenth Planet, in which the first doctor died and regenerated.

A big question here is whether the Doctor dies next week, or if this is to occur in the Christmas episode. In some interviews Moffat has suggested he is going to handle the regeneration differently, and questioned if Christmas is the best time for a death. We already know that the first Doctor will be appearing in the Christmas episode, to be played by David Bradley who played William Hartnell in the documentary An Adventure In Space In Time.

It is just a guess, but I’m speculating that the Doctor really does die and go into a regeneration cycle next week. This could have his meeting with the first Doctor as an adventure inside  his own head, comparable to one’s life passing before their eyes. It could be like a longer version of Peter Davison’s regeneration scene in which his companions appear in his head begging him not to die, while the Master encouraged him to do so. Alternatively it could be a final trip through time for the Doctor in his final moments, just as David Tennant visited his past.

We also do not know for certain if Bill will be returning, but it is believed that Chris Chibnall will be starting with a clean slate. Pearl Mackie stated in a radio show that she has met with Chris Chibnall and gave no indication that her status was final, but she might have just been avoiding spoiling the season finale. Her conversion to a Cyberman could very well be Bill’s fate, although this still would not prevent her from helping the Doctor next week. On the other hand, Steven Moffat has avoided killing companions who are leaving, and also might not want a fate like this for her. Amy Pond went into the past and Clara Oswald went on to explore the universe with Ashildr despite being on her last heartbeat. River Song not only escaped death, but appeared multiple times afterwards (at earlier times in her timeline). Perhaps the conversion isn’t final for Bill. Even if she cannot become human again, maybe she can go off and travel through space and time with her friend from Pilot.

There have been multiple season finales to discuss recently, including American Gods, Gotham, and Better Call Saul. I’m going to begin with two this week, The Leftovers and Fargo, as they both have something in common. Both end with Carrie Coon sitting at a table and telling a story to a male lead on the show, with the episode ending in ambiguity. Both are in the tradition of The Sopranos in having an ending which people might be talking about for a long time afterwards.

The finale of any show by Damon Lindelof is going to be compared to the conclusion of Lost. Lindelof handled matters much better with The Leftovers. Neither series could ever have a finale which tied things up. While The Leftovers did not have anywhere near as many episodes and mysteries to tie up, it is based upon a novel which specifically avoided giving any answer for its central event–the rapture-like disappearance of two percent of the world’s population. The episode actually gave more of an explanation than I ever expected, even if not clear if true, leaving me more satisfied than after Lost, while still leaving plenty to wonder about.

For a while the series finale of The Leftovers  was very hard to figure out. After Kevin found Nora he acted as if most of what the two had gone through together on the series never occurred. Was this yet another reality, or perhaps she had gone over and there was another version of Kevin there. Were they in purgatory? Later it became clear that this was our earth when Nora spoke with Laurie on the phone. Ultimately this was explained as Kevin telling a story as a way for them to start over after being apart for several years.

The episode ended with Carrie Coon’s character, Nora, telling a remarkable story to Kevin, but not necessarily any stranger than what we have seen on the show. Two things make it hard to tell if the story is true. She went into a chamber which supposedly was going to send her to where the missing two percent were. At the final moment, as the chamber was filling up with a fluid, she opened her mouth. Was she gasping to hold her breath as instructed, or was she exercising the option of telling them to stop? Those controlling the device had made a point of saying they could hear her the whole time.

It is also not possible to determine if the story was true because we never saw any of the adventure described. All we know is what Nora said.

The description of the episode was “Nothing is answered. Everything is answered. And then it ends.” This is exactly what happened with an answer which felt good at the time but which actually left key matters unexplained, and which may or may not be true.

Nora told a story of going to another place which was exactly like our world, except that to the people there ninety-eight percent of the world had disappeared, instead of two percent like in our world. Naturally their world was changed far more.

If her story was true, we know nothing about how this happened, or about events such as the world Kevin seemed to go to in two episodes when he died and returned. However, we would know that there is a physical explanation for reality being divided in two, with a physicist even developing a way to travel between the two realities. Instead of a religious rapture, people were not divided into those taken and left behind. They just wound up in one of two possible places.

Damon Lindelof had even spoken in interviews of filming such a scene in the pilot showing everyone else disappearing from the perspective of one who disappeared from our earth, giving some plausibility to Nora’s story on a meta level. Within the episode, there are arguments both for believing and disbelieving Nora. She even seemed surprised that Kevin believed her. She said, “You do?” He responded,”Why wouldn’t I? You’re here.”

In various interviews Lindelof discussed how this was written to leave things open for interpretation, how those on set changed their minds about whether Nora was telling the truth, and also claims there was a clear intention as to whether she was telling the truth–which he will not reveal. From USA Today:

…Lindelof reveals the episode was designed in such a way that left the truth open to interpretation — one last mystery for fans to chew over. “We all came to the conclusion that Nora telling the story of where everybody went was going to be the best ending, as long as we didn’t show it. And then the audience would get to decide whether they believed her story. We have a clear intention as storytellers as to whether or not the story is true, and if you watch the episode or the season again, perhaps that intention becomes more clear.”

What matters at the end of the day? That Kevin is just glad to be in the same room again with a tearful Nora telling him, “I’m here.”

“Whether he actually believes her or he wants to believe her because this will allow them to be together, that’s the $64,000 question,” Lindelof says. “But what is very clear at the end of the series is that these two people are going to be together and they’ve suffered enough. I hope.”

However, Lindelof reveals the episode was designed in such a way that left the truth open to interpretation — one last mystery for fans to chew over. “We all came to the conclusion that Nora telling the story of where everybody went was going to be the best ending, as long as we didn’t show it. And then the audience would get to decide whether they believed her story. We have a clear intention as storytellers as to whether or not the story is true, and if you watch the episode or the season again, perhaps that intention becomes more clear.”

Watching the show I thought it is possible that Kevin only said he believed her because he wanted to be together and didn’t really care what had  happened. An interview with Lindelof at The Daily Beast  does confirm that Kevin does believe her:

They’re together, but Nora never actually reunited with her kids.

There’s a number of different ways of looking at that. One potential interpretation is that that didn’t happen at all. That she chickened out and got out of the voice and put herself in self-induced exile and made the story up because it was the story that she needed to tell herself and the story that Kevin needed to hear for them to be together. That’s a cynical interpretation, but it’s one that I’ve heard.

Yes, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who think she made it all up.

Another interpretation is that when she saw her children and they were happy that she suddenly realized, “Who am I to come jamming into their happiness after seven years. There’s not a place for me in this unit anymore.” Not to mention that her husband has been cheating on her and he’s with another woman and her children have learned to be without her. So she must learn, too.

But if you take her story at face value, there’s nobility in her gesture. I think Nora is an incredibly brave and stoic character, and the idea that she went all the way to the top of Everest and then just didn’t plant her flag there. She realized, “Oh. Why did I need to climb Everest again? I think it’s time for me to go back down to the mountain and reevaluate things.” I think there’s nobility in that, too.

Kevin says he believes her. Does he?

Yeah!

Should we believe her?

I can’t tell you what to believe and what not to believe in a show that is based on people telling insane stories. I think that Kevin does believe her and he is the audience’s proxy. Nora is surprised. She’s like, “You do?” Because the story is so incredible, if you really sit and listen to what she says happened to her and, more importantly, how she says she got back. But hopefully it becomes, over time, less and less important whether it is literally true and more and more important that it was emotionally true. I’ve learned the hard way not to tell the audience what to believe and what to think and what to feel.

Lindelof had this explanation in Esquire:

We don’t know if Nora’s story was true.

If we showed it, you would know that it was true. By not showing it, you have to believe that it’s true, if that makes any sense. I think that what’s important is Kevin says that he believes her, and she seems surprised by that. She says, “You do?” And he says, “Why wouldn’t I? You’re here.” That’s kind of everything we have to say about how relevant the truth is, because if a belief system works for you, if it brings you together with the people that you love, it’s actual veracity is secondary to what that belief system basically gets you. That’s not like self-help guru promise bullshit, that’s the way that I think things work. I think that this finale and this season and this series is packed with people who are telling stories. Part of the territory, the very rich territory that we wanted to explore was: Are any of these stories true? Or do these stories have an added veracity because they’re told in a world where this crazy supernatural event happened? Or are they all bullshit? We want the audience to be thinking and feeling and wrestling with all of those questions.

What our intention was in writing the scene is 100 percent clear. I would never be like, “Well, that’s up to you to decide. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.” No. The writers had a clear intention. I will bring with me to my dying day exactly what our intention was in whether or not Nora’s story is true by the metric of “did it actually happen.” That said, Carrie Coon and I never talked about that. She just read the script and then played it. Mimi Leder and I never talked about whether or not it was true. She just read the script and directed it. And so the more interesting question is: When the same scene is basically interpreted by multiple artists, what is the truth, even? I think it is sort of a fascinating Rorschach test in a sense that if you’re an agnostic or an atheist and you didn’t want an answer to where all the departed people went, you’re probably not going to believe Nora’s story. Even if you had been multiple times that you weren’t going to get the answer, but when Nora gave it to you and you felt relief, you’re probably going to want to believe her story. Again, all that matters to us is that Kevin really does believe it. There’s no ambiguity about that. And his belief in her story is going to allow them to be together, because now they’re both present, probably for the first time.

There are arguments both for and against believing Nora. She certainly had this story down and was ready to tell it when Kevin arrived. At one point during this episode Nora had even said, “I never lie.” She left Kevin at the wedding after she couldn’t handle the story Kevin was making up, appearing to be opposed to dishonesty. However we have seen her lie, such as in initially denying that she knew Kevin when she was told he was looking for her. Much of the series has been about the stories people tell themselves to explain events.

I wonder if Lindelof was giving away the answer when he said in the interview from The Daily Beast that, “the story is so incredible, if you really sit and listen to what she says happened to her and, more importantly, how she says she got back.” There were  points in the story when I did question it. It is a little hard to understand how she could arrive in the other place naked and with no money, but ultimately make it from Australia to the United States, but this felt more like the type of suspension of disbelief which is commonplace in genre stories. It was a realistic touch that, with only two percent of the world’s population left, it was not possible to support an airline industry.

I found it more surprising when Nora described returning to her old house. While it was no surprise that her husband and family had moved on and were involved with someone else, it is questionable that in such a world, with its infrastructure destroyed by the loss of so many people, her family would still be living in the same house. Most likely there would be a tendency for those remaining to join up into communities with others. It is also hard to believe that the physicist would, and could in this world, remake the machine just to send her back. If two-way travel had been developed, it is also hard to believe that there would not be others coming back here and word getting out.

Many arguments can be made for whether Nora was telling the truth, and my answer would probably be that there is no answer if Lindelof hadn’t messed with our heads by claiming there is an answer.

Fargo typically ends each season, which tell an independent story, with characters receiving punishment in some form. This was more ambiguous this season, and also ended with Carrie Coon sitting at a table saying something which may or may not be true. In this case her character believed what she was saying, but we were then given reason to question if she was right.

The beginning of the end occurred when Nikki confronted Emmit Stussy and it appeared that she was going to kill him to get revenge for Emmit having killed his brother (and Nikki’s boyfriend). Instead there was a freak shoot out between Nikki and a police officer who came along, with both killing the other. This is definitely believable in the world of Fargo. Emmitt appeared to have a happy ending, until years later when he was shot in the head

This left Varga, the real villain of the story, at large. In the jump forward, Carrie Coon had moved on to another job at the Department of Homeland Security. Varga was identified at an airport and pulled into a room by Coon’s character, Gloria Burgle. Her talk with him led up to her telling him what was going to happen next:

Let me tell you what’s going to happen next. Three agents from homeland security are going to put handcuffs on you and take you to Rikers and then we’re going to charge you with felony money laundering and six counts of conspiracy to commit murder. And then I’m going to go home to my son — it’s his birthday tomorrow. I promise I’d take him to the state fair.

It appeared that justice would prevail. Then Varga responded:

No. That’s not what’s going to happen next. What’s going to happen next is this. In five minutes that door is going to open and a man you can’t argue with will tell me I’m free to go. And I will stand from this chair and disappear into the world, so help me god. Trust me the future is certain. And when he comes you will know without question your place in the world.

The camera then looked at the door and the episode ended, like The Sopranos ending by going to black without revealing what happened. We never saw whether three agents from homeland security came through next and put him in handcuffs, or if a lone man came through and ordered him to be released. Varga was right so many times during the season, and appeared to be in control. It is impossible to ignore the possibility that he could be right.

There is no correct answer here, and perhaps it does not matter. Whether or not Varga gets away with his crimes, there will always be those who do.

Deadline had this information on Noah Hawley and the finale:

Hawley said it was always his intention to leave the ending open-ended for us to decide. Typically the tragedies in Fargo have happy endings: Marge gets in bed with her husband in the movie, Molly (Allison Tolman) gets to be police chief at the end of Season 1, and Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson takes his daughter (the younger Molly) fishing. But for Hawley, the cliffhanger ending tonight stems from “Our living in a complicated moment in time,” he says, referring to the President Donald Trump era.

“If I present you with a choice, you have to decide how that door is going to open and if it’s going to end well. It still has a happy ending if you’re an optimist. It just becomes a more active process. It’s an allegory to the conversation we’re having at this moment. How will we treat each other? Is it American carnage?” adds the EP.

But poor Nikki. Did she really have to die? “There was a degree of playing that by ear,” explains Hawley. “I wanted to save her, but I also didn’t want it to feel like a movie twist. At the end of the day, Fargo is a tragedy.”

In regards to Emmit, he’s a standard Fargo archetype; the guy in the middle, a la Martin Freeman’s Lester or William H. Macy’s Jerry, who always has to choose between right and wrong. The accidental murder of Emmit’s criminal-like brother Ray (also portrayed by McGregor) early on urged viewers to have an ironic respect for Emmit. We only sympathize with him further as the underdog as he remains under Varga’s thumb. But with Nikki dead, Hawley relied on Mr. Wrench, a deaf henchman from Season 1, “as the final arbiter of justice. He’s not in their story, he’s an outsider, and he can dispense the cosmic justice that Nikki tried and failed.”

“There aren’t any real heroes and villains, especially if I can make you empathize with these people,” Hawley says of his storytelling technique. “It complicates the violence that’s going to come, and I don’t want people cheering for the violence.”

The article also reports that it is undetermined whether there will be a fourth season:

“I always agreed with FX that the only reason to do another Fargo is if the creative is there,” says Hawley, who at the moment is drawing a blank in regards to what Season 4 would center around.

“It took 15 months to get Season 2 off the ground, and 18 months to get Season 3 on the air. I have to turn my attention to the second season of Legion and a film potentially the winter after next. We’re looking at three years from now,” the EP about a rough timeline for a Fargo Season 4.

It  makes sense that any decision on a fourth season be based upon whether there is a story idea good enough to justify it. Many shows have been continued far longer than they should be. It  is also a good thing that there is no pressure on FX to make a decision by next season. It is better to wait until any future seasons can be done right.

The article also reveals that, in addition to his work on Legion, Hawley will be doing a limited series adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963  novel Cat’s Cradle.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Extremis; Agents of SHIELD Season Finale; Legends of Tomorrow; The Flash; Arrow; Star Trek Discovery; Seth MacFarlane’s Spoof, The Orville; Gotham; The Magicians; Twin Peaks

Extremis was the best episode of Doctor Who so far this season, and it is just the first part of a three part story. There was a lot of misdirection in the episode, which is part of what made it so interesting.

The episode appeared to have two different story lines, but the conclusion revealed there were actually three. There were the flashbacks to the execution and the scenes with the Doctor outside the vault. It wasn’t reveled until the end that all of the other events were actually taking place in the shadow world, their version of the Matrix.

Even the execution scene had misdirection, as it was unclear whether the Doctor was intended to be the victim or executioner. Once it finally became clear that it was Missy to be executed, things did not turn out as planned. This gave plenty of opportunity for Missy to be Missy: “Please, I’ll do anything. Let me live. Teach me how to be good. I’m your friend.” She also had some words for her captors: “Get off, I’ve just been executed. Show a little respect” and “Knock yourself out. Actually, do that. Knock yourself right out.”

I am glad that they didn’t drag out the reveal as to who is in the vault any longer as pretty much everyone probably realizes by now that it is one of the versions of the Master. The Doctor is keeping his word to watch over her body, even if he mislead Missy’s captors in not going through with executing her. His decision to spare her life is consistent with the relationship which as developed between the two.

Any episode in which the events are in some way not real is vulnerable to criticism, but I was willing to accept it here. Being only the first part of a three part story helps minimize the problem the events being in the shadow world. There is also a legitimate pay off to the situation in which the Doctor outsmarted the Monks and got out a warning by email to the “real” Doctor. Or as the Doctor in the shadow world put it, “I’m doing what everybody does when the world’s in danger. I’m calling the Doctor.”

This reveal also allowed for some other genre references. This included the second Star Trek reference in two weeks, this time with Nardole saying the shadow world is like “like the Holodeck on Star Trek, or a really posh VR without a headset.” I also liked the explanation of people seeming to commit suicide when they realized the truth: “it’s like Super Mario figuring out what’s going on, deleting himself from the game, because he’s sick of dying.” There was also a reference to Harry Potter and portions of the episode felt like they were out of a Dan Brown novel.

Besides the simulation leading to the Doctor getting the warning about the invasion, it also gave the Doctor reason to encourage Bill to ask Penny out, reassuring her that she is not out of her league, knowing how it worked in the shadow world. While it only happened in the shadow world, presumably this accurately reflected the real world with Bill’s foster mother not realizing she is a lesbian, and therefore not realizing what was going on between the two girls. This included the exchange with Bill’s foster mother telling her “I have very strict rules about men” and Bill replying, “Probably not as strict as mine.”

The shadow world also gave us scenes at the Vatican, briefly at the Pentagon, at CERN, and with a dead president. This led the Doctor to wonder, “Particle physicists and priests–What could scare them both?” Plus there was the Pope in Bill’s bedroom: “Doctor, here’s a tip. When I’m on a date, when that rare and special thing happens in my real life, do not, do not under any circumstances put the Pope in my bedroom.”

There is plenty of additional grounds to nitpick, such as questioning whether a simulation so complex could not come up with a better random number generator. I am far more willing to accept potential plot holes which come up with thinking about an episode as opposed to glaring ones which cause a distraction while watching, such as with Knock Knock.

Continuity was also handled fairly well in this episode. They might have initially had the Doctor regain his vision at the end of Oxygen, but it worked out better to extend his blindness into this episode. This could also play into the upcoming regeneration, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he encountered the Weeping Angels while unable to see.

The episode also showed how Nardole remained with the Doctor following the events of The Husbands of River Song, with him there at River’s request to prevent the Doctor from taking extreme actions following her death. Nardole even used a passage from her diary to influence the Doctor. While not seen on camera, Steven Moffat has said that one of the stories in his mind that he will not get a chance to tell is of the Doctor having Nardole going to the library after the events of The Forest of the Dead to recover River’s diary. There are also rumors that River will be returning this season. If so, this, along with her pictures on the Doctor’s desk, provides a good set up.

Agents of SHIELD also spent a lot of time in a version of the Matrix this season before the framework was destroyed in the season finale. IGN spoke with the producers about that space cliff hanger and that new role for Coulson:

IGN: Going back to the cliffhanger, that diner scene at first very much reminded me of the shawarma scene at the end of Avengers. Was there ever version of that sequence that didn’t have the cliffhanger, in case for whatever reason you didn’t get picked up?

Bell: It’s what it is. There was not a nice quiet shawarma version of it where they go, “Oh, it’s nice to be together.” It was always supposed to be, “Oh look, we’re finally together. Oh no, something bad happens.”

IGN: Which is sort of how it always goes for these guys, right?

Bell: It is!

Whedon: Man, SHIELD is not the coziest place to work, you know? I think they have a pretty good health plan, but other than that, it’s kind of up in the air all the time.

IGN: Well I hope so. They do keep coming back from the dead or near death at all points. I am excited we’re going back to space, though! Can you say how long it’s been in the show between when the team gets taken and when we pick back up with Coulson at the end?

Whedon: [silence] We can’t say.

Bell: We acknowledge there’s a time jump…

IGN: Going back a little bit, how long have you been planning for Coulson to be the Ghost Rider — and what was Clark Gregg’s reaction to finding out that news?

Bell: To say he was happy, it would be an understatement.

Whedon: I think what he said when we told him was, “I didn’t think I could geek out more,” but he was like, “It seems I can.”

Bell: Yeah, that was what he said.

IGN: Can you clarify: did Coulson make a deal with the devil to take on the Ghost Rider identity, or will we find out a bit more of the logistics of that deal that’s alluded to soon?

Whedon: We’ll find out more about it, but I think it’s safe to say he made a deal with the Ghost Rider, or the powers behind him. We’ll see what it all means, but it didn’t come for free. It wasn’t like, “Hey bro, can I borrow that? Can I just borrow that Ghost Rider thing for a second?”

Bell: Right, like borrowing a T-shirt.

IGN: Are you leaving the door open for more Ghost Rider?

Whedon: Well, first of all, he’s not dead — not that that means anything in our world. He also has shown that he has the ability to move in and out of realms and dimensions or planets or wherever he’s going. He’s a threat to pop up at any moment. Whether or not he will, I can’t say, but he’s out there…

IGN: I want to talk a bit about Fitz and Simmons. You’ve put them through the wringer over the past couple seasons, and my working theory is it’s because Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge always deliver such fantastic performances of those traumatizing events. Considering what they’ve gone through this year, are you considering them as a couple who will remain rocks for each other, or are you still planning to throw a bunch more terrible things at them?

Whedon: First of all, it’s the nature of the world. I think even this year with the flashbacks of May and Coulson and the rules we’ve stated through many seasons, that there are rules about agents not getting together for this very reason. Your love will be tested. That’s sort of the nature of the business. I think it’s safe to say from these past two episodes that they love each other and won’t love anyone else, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to repair their relationship and all that pain in between. One would hope that they could because everybody roots for FitzSimmons and the fans do and we do. We love the two actors, and so I think that seeing them together is a reward that the audience deserves, but how that happens, we’ll have to wait and see if it does.

Bell: I think the thing is people can have the forever love, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get to end up together. They might, but you don’t know.

Whedon: But theirs is a forever love.

The CW Network has released a synopsis for the third season of Legends of Tomorrow, including the return of Rip Hunter and establishment of the Time Bureau, after they fractured time in the season finale:

After the defeat of Eobard Thawne and his equally nefarious Legion of Doom, the Legends face a new threat created by their actions at the end of last season. In revisiting a moment in time that they had already participated in, they have essentially fractured the timeline and created anachronisms – a scattering of people, animals, and objects all across time! Our team must find a way to return all the anachronisms to their original timelines before the time stream falls apart. But before our Legends can jump back into action, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) and his newly established Time Bureau call their methods into question. With the Time Bureau effectively the new sheriffs in town, the Legends disband – until Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell) discovers one of them in the middle of his well-deserved vacation in Aruba. Seeing this as an opportunity to continue their time traveling heroics, Sara (Caity Lotz) wastes no time in getting the Legends back together.  We reunite with billionaire inventor Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), the unconventional historian-turned-superhero [Nate] Heywood (Nick Zano), and Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), who together form the meta-human Firestorm. Once reunited, the Legends will challenge the Time Bureau’s authority over the timeline and insist that however messy their methods may be, some problems are beyond the Bureau’s capabilities. Some problems can only be fixed by Legends.

Last week’s episode of The Flash appeared to show that Iris did die in the scene we’ve been seeing all season. It might have been premature for The CW Network to release this synopsis of season four, which appears to have a major spoiler as to  how the season ends (not that I’m all that surprised considering how this show has involved changing timelines, not to mention the imaging tool used):

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) lived a normal life as a perpetually tardy C.S.I. in the Central City Police Department.  Barry’s life changed forever when the S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator exploded, creating a dark-matter lightning storm that struck Barry, bestowing him with super-speed and making him the fastest man alive — The Flash.  But when Barry used his extraordinary abilities to travel back in time and save his mother’s life, he inadvertently created an alternate timeline known as Flashpoint; a phenomenon that gave birth to the villainous speed god known as Savitar, and changed the lives of Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Wally West (Keiyan Lonsdale) forever.  With the help of his adoptive father, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), his lifelong best friend and love interest Iris West (Candice Patton), and his friends at S.T.A.R. Labs — Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), C.S.I Julian Albert (Tom Felton), and an Earth-19 novelist named H.R. Wells (Tom Cavanaugh) — Barry continues to protect the people of Central City from the meta-humans that threaten it.  Based on the characters from DC, THE FLASH is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “Supergirl”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Arrow,” “The Flash”), Sarah Schechter (“Arrow,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”) and Todd Helbing (“Black Sails”).

They have also released the synopsis of Arrow season six:

After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the North China Sea.  He returned home to Star City, bent on righting the wrongs done by his family and fighting injustice.  As the Green Arrow, he protects his city with the help of former soldier John Diggle (David Ramsey), computer-science expert Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), his vigilante-trained sister Thea Queen (Willa Holland), Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), brilliant inventor Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), and his new recruits, street-savvy Rene Ramirez (Rick Gonzalez) and meta-human Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy).  Oliver has finally solidified and strengthened his crime-fighting team only to have it threatened when unexpected enemies from his past return to Star City, forcing Oliver to rethink his relationship with each member of his “family”.  Based on the characters from DC, ARROW is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“The Flash,” “Supergirl”), Marc Guggenheim (“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Eli Stone”), Wendy Mericle (“Desperate Housewives,” “Eli Stone”), Andrew Kreisberg (“The Flash,” “Eli Stone,” “Warehouse 13”) and Sarah Schechter (“The Flash,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”).

CBS has released the above trailer for Star Trek Discovery, which is to premiere this fall. Breakdown at TrekMovie. com and at Cult Movie News. Producer Ted Sullivan has reassured fans that it is definitely a prequel to TOS, and not a reboot or re-imagining.

The trailer for Seth MacFarlane’s spoof of Star Trek for Fox The Orville, is far more amusing.

Bruce Wayne’s transition to become Batman finally starts in season four of Gotham.

Trevor Einhorn (Josh) and Brittany Curran (Fen) have been promoted to regulars for the third season of The Magicians.

Twin Peaks returns tonight. The New York Times has a guide to where everyone was left after the original series. There’s another guide at Vulture.

Netflix has confirmed a fifth season of Arrested Development.

A revival of How I Met Your Mother in some form also continues to look possible.

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: 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.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who–The Return Of Doctor Mysterio; Carrie Fisher; Will & Grace; Gilmore Girls; Matt Smith On The Crown; Sherlock; Hollyweed

A Doctor Who Christmas Special is different from a regular episode. While there have been some exceptions, generally they are lighter and disconnected from the story lines of a particular season, making them something the entire family might watch even if they do not watch Doctor Who regularly. Keeping this in mind will answer some of the criticism I’ve seen of The Return of Doctor Mysterio, which worked fine as a Christmas story, even if light. It was not, and was not intended to be, a major story with profound ramifications for the mythology of the show. The show broke ratings records for BBC America.

The episode got its name because Peter Capaldi loved to refer to his character as he is referred to in Mexico, and it fit as it did include two times in which the Doctor returned to see Grant after he accidentally turned him into a superhero. Having the Doctor be responsible allowed for Steven Moffat to play with many troupes of superhero comics and movies without fully including superheroes as part of the Doctor Who universe. Instead it is superhero comics, and generally not superheroes, which are a part.

This was the first appearance of the Doctor (other than his brief cameo in Class) since last year’s Christmas special, The Husbands of River Song. While it was not necessary to have seen it, this episode is a direct continuation. Both episodes included a key situation involving not recognizing someone else. They also both involved  aliens exchanging heads or brains, and has the return of Matt Lucas as Nardole. Fortunately the Doctor’s many skills include the ability to reassemble Nardole’s head on his body, allowing him to become a valuable assistant after the twenty-four year night he spent with River Song before she met her fate in the library. Matt Lucas will remain a semi-regular in the upcoming season.

Moffat took advantage of his experience in writing the romantic sit-com Coupling. This was seen when he had the entire body of the adolescent superhero who couldn’t control his x-ray vision levitate, obviously representing the rise of something else. It was seen again in scenes with Grant and Lucy, especially when they had dinner on the roof, while Grant had to be in two places at once.

The roof-top dinner was a clear homage to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman films. There were even panels from a Superman comic displayed early in the episode. How many collectors felt ill to see the Doctor deface what would now be a rare old comic by drawing glasses on Superman to show off how he figured out that Clark Kent is Superman, oblivious to the fact that everyone else already knows this (except for Lois Lane). It is just something we accept that wearing glasses keeps most people from figuring out his secret identity, but to the Doctor, “there are some situations which are too stupid to be allowed to continue.”

There were other ways in which this was a homage to Superman, including the double-L name of Lucy Lombard to match the names in DC comics. Moffat worked in the names of Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman, as names of employees at Harmony Shoals. There is a globe on top of the  building reminiscent of The Daily Planet.

Moffat didn’t limit himself to Superman comics. There are items from multiple DC and Marvel comics all over young Grant’s bedroom. The Ghost had aspects also comparable to Batman, including the look of the Ghost, his voice, and a reference to the bat signal. The advice, “With great power comes great responsibility,” comes from Uncle Ben’s advice to Peter Parker in Spider-Man. The Doctor reacted to Spider-Man’s origin in being bitten by a radioactive spider by expecting the signs of radiation poisoning. He considered himself to be the inspiration for superheroes with Doctor in their name.

There were other great moments in the episode, such as Lucy interrogating the Doctor by squeezing Mr. Huffle. I bet the BBC will be selling those toys in the future. I also liked the earlier scene when the Doctor came across Lucy, also spying on the aliens: “It’s okay. I’m an intruder too. Yeah, I brought snacks – mark of a pro. Keep listening.”  Plus there was the Doctor’s comment on the situation: “Brains with minds of their own? No-one will believe that – this is America.”

Yes, there was also an alien invasion, but this was a trivial aspect of the show, present to provide a backdrop for Grant’s story. This did make the episode seem a little disjointed at times, but the pleasure of seeing the classic superhero triangle of Grant, The Ghost, and Lucy made up for  this.

The episode ended with a teaser of the next season, and the new companion, Bill, played by Pearl Mackie.

Bill met the Doctor at a University and, contrary to previous rumors, is from the present. The trailer above does give some clues as to her personality and relationship with the Doctor. At this time we don’t know yet whether she will encounter the strangest aspect of being a companion to the Doctor, witnessing a regeneration.

The biggest genre related news of the week was the death of Carrie Fisher, followed the day later by her mother, Debbie Reynolds, dying, presumably of a broken heart. Carrie Fisher’s death was too big a story to wait for SciFi Weekend, and I posted about this story in greater detail here: Carrie Fisher Dies At 60, May The Force Be With Her Always.

Also this week, William Christopher, best known as Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H died.

It looks like NBC will be bringing back a ten episode revival of Will and Grace next fall.

Netflix dropped a hint raising speculation that there will be more of Gilmore Girls after the cliff hanger ending of A Year In The Life.

Bot Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman played British royalty in The Crown and Victoria in 2016. While Matt Smith’s role was not as big as Jenna Coleman’s, his portrayal of Prince Phillip was an entertaining aspect of The Crown. Radio Times reports that Matt Smith will continue to have a major role in season two of The Crown:

You might think you know what’s coming next in Netflix’s The Crown: after all, the life of the most famous family in the country is not exactly untold history and requires no spoiler alerts.

But with the making of season two, creator Peter Morgan has revealed how he plans to continue the story of Elizabeth’s reign – and the focus will shift away from the Queen herself as other royals take centre stage.

“We start to focus on Charles as a young boy and his education, and on Philip and his back story,” Morgan told People magazine.

Matt Smith’s Prince Philip was one of the most engaging characters in the first season as he struggled to adjust to his wife (played by Claire Foy) becoming Queen. The production team has recently been in South Africa, filming part of Philip’s Commonwealth tour which took him away from his wife and young family for months.

Executive producer Suzanne Mackie teased: “We glance backward to Philip’s childhood and his upbringing, and how that might have impacted him as a man, a father and as Prince Consort – which is fascinating.”

Diana won’t be appearing until season three.

Sherlock season four premieres tonight. Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis warn that it had people sobbing in an interview with The Sun:

We’ve watched the first episode and we really felt as though something bad was going to happen…
Mark: It’s prefigured. You start with the sharks and then you go into lots of light-hearted fun. But it’s important to think: ‘This is not going to end well.’ I was listening to people sobbing in our first press screening – that’s a very good reaction.

Are you two still moved to tears, despite knowing what’s coming up?
Mark: Oh, I cry every time with episode one. That one shows what fun the duo have, but that events have consequences… It’s about the past coming to get you. And there are at least two scenes in episode two that make me cry. And I always cry at a certain point in episode three…
Steven: Episode three is the finale of finales…

You have said that this is not the last series. Have you got the next one mapped out?
Steven: It’s slightly early to be talking about season five when season four hasn’t been on yet. But no one can really end the story of Sherlock Holmes, can they?
Mark: We’d like to carry on. We just don’t know.

Finally in show business, including Hollywood, news, someone changed the famous Hollywood sign to read “Hollyweed” last night. This happened once before in 1976 following the passage of a California marijuana law.

SciFi Weekend: Steven Moffat Leaving Doctor Who; Jessica Jones; Legends of Tomorrow; Charlotte Rampling On The Academy Awards

Moffat TARDIS

Steven Moffat is stepping down as show runner of Doctor Who after the upcoming tenth season (since the show’s revival) and Chris Chinball, best known for Broadchurch, will be taking over. Chinball is a long time fan of Doctor Who and also wrote these episodes: 42, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three. He was also a producer and writer on Torchwood.

The tenth season of Doctor Who will not air until the spring of 2017, and the only episode to air in 2016 will be the annual Christmas special. I wonder if Moffat will introduce the next companion in the special or wait until the show returns on a regular schedule in 2017.

After Broadchurch, I also cannot help but wonder if, should David Tennant return for an episode of the show, if Chinball will have him talk in an often incomprehensible accent.

Following is the BBC press release:

BBC announces Steven Moffat’s next series of Doctor Who will be his last and confirms Chris Chibnall as new Head Writer and Executive Producer.

After six incredible series at the helm, the multi-award winning Steven Moffat has decided to step down as the lead writer and executive producer of Doctor Who.

Steven took over the reins on Series 5 in 2010 and during his tenure the show has become a truly global success. He has been responsible for introducing the Eleventh and the Twelfth Doctors in Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi; as well as two companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and iconic characters and monsters including River Song (Alex Kingston), Missy (Michelle Gomez), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and the terrifying Weeping Angels. Plus, the smash hit 50th Anniversary special in 2013 which saw fans around the world celebrate the world’s longest running sci-fi series with the Doctors, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt battling the deadly Daleks in a feature length episode. Steven’s final series will air on BBC One in Spring 2017 and there will be a Christmas Special in 2016.

Steven Moffat says: “Feels odd to be talking about leaving when I’m just starting work on the scripts for season 10, but the fact is my timey-wimey is running out. While Chris is doing his last run of Broadchurch, I’ll be finishing up on the best job in the universe and keeping the TARDIS warm for him. It took a lot of gin and tonic to talk him into this, but I am beyond delighted that one of the true stars of British Television drama will be taking the Time Lord even further into the future. At the start of season 11, Chris Chibnall will become the new showrunner of Doctor Who. And I will be thrown in a skip.”

Like Steven, Chris Chibnall is also a lifelong Doctor Who fan and a multi-award winning writer and executive producer. He has most recently achieved huge success with the triple BAFTA winning hit ITV series Broadchurch. His other credits include BAFTA nominated The Great Train Robbery, United, Law & Order: UK, Life on Mars and Torchwood. Chris Chibnall’s debut series will launch in 2018.

Chris Chibnall, new Head Writer and Executive Producer : “Doctor Who is the ultimate BBC programme: bold, unique, vastly entertaining, and adored all around the world. So it’s a privilege and a joy to be the next curator of this funny, scary and emotional family drama. I’ve loved Doctor Who since I was four years old, and I’m relishing the thought of working with the exceptional team at BBC Wales to create new characters, creatures and worlds for the Doctor to explore. Steven’s achieved the impossible by continually expanding Doctor Who’s creative ambition, while growing its global popularity. He’s been a dazzling and daring showrunner, and hearing his plans and stories for 2017, it’s clear he’ll be going out with a bang. Just to make my life difficult.”

Charlotte Moore, Controller, BBC One says : “I want to thank Steven Moffat for everything he has given Doctor Who – I’ve loved working with him, he is an absolute genius and has brought fans all over the world such joy. I will be very sad to see him leave the show but I can’t wait to see what he will deliver in his last ever series next year with a brand new companion. I have decided to schedule Steven’s big finale series in Spring 2017 to bring the nation together for what will be a huge event on the channel. 2016 is spoilt with national moments including the Euros and Olympics and I want to hold something big back for 2017 – I promise it will be worth the wait! I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome Chris Chibnall, a wonderfully talented writer who I know will bring something very special to the hit series.”

Polly Hill, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning says : “Like Charlotte I would like to thank Steven for his brilliance, which has made Doctor Who a global hit under his tenure. Chris Chibnall is the perfect successor to take over the reins of this incredible show, so I am delighted that his love for Doctor Who has made it impossible for him to resist! Chris is an incredible writer and his vision and passion for Doctor Who gives it an exciting future and promises to be a real treat for Doctor Who fans across the world.”

AKA Jessica Jones

Variety discussed plans for season two of Jessica Jones with show runner Melissa Rosenberg and star Krysten Ritter:

Rosenberg shared that she doesn’t know when work on the new season will start, or whether she’ll be collaborating with writers from any of the other Marvel-Netflix series (“Daredevil,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist”) leading up to “The Defenders” crossover, but said that she intends to continue utilizing story ideas from Brian Michael Bendis’ series of “Alias” comics, where Jessica Jones debuted.

“I will always use as much as I possibly can from the comic book,” Rosenberg said, noting that they’ll have to allow for deviations given the differences in the mythology between the Marvel comics and ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The MCU is very different in terms of its mythology. In the books, everyone knows superheroes are walking around, there’s a lot of things building toward Secret Wars. We’re probably not going to be able to do a totally parallel storylines. But I take every little piece I can because it’s so good.”

While Rosenberg admitted that it was both intimidating and exciting to think of having to come up with a villain to follow Kilgrave, she didn’t consider keeping him around past season one, since “the show is about Jessica Jones; the story is about Jessica’s arc,” and thus everything had to be in service to her journey.

When asked about Jessica’s mental state at the end of the season, given her final defeat of Kilgrave, star Krysten Ritter said, “For Jessica, that final moment, that victorious triumphant moment, I found that very conflicting in terms of her headspace. He’s the reason why she got up every day. He’s the reason why she went out in the world… it really gave her a purpose, and the past trauma doesn’t go away with his death.”

Arthur Darvill Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow premiered this week and we found that there was some misdirection in both what the characters were told when recruited and in the trailers for the show. This might be for the better. If they really were already known to become legends, it would imply that they were successful and this was future history. The outcome of their mission would already be known. Of course with time travel a lot of questions can come up. For example, why not go after Vandal Savage when he was reduced to dust at the end of the Arrow/Flash episode and prevent him from being revived?

I suspect that this will turn out to be the sort of show which can be a lot of fun to watch as long as you don’t think too much about the time travel implications. It even has Rory (Arthur Darvill) as sort of a renegade Time Lord. Screen Rant has a list of additional Easter eggs.

KUDOS FILM AND TELEVISION PRESENTS BROADCHURCH SERIES 2 Images are under strict Embargo not to be used before the 18th December. PICTURED : CHARLOTTE RAMPLING as Jocelyn Knight. Copyright ITV/Kudos.

Charlote Rampling, who appeared with David Tennant and Arthur Darvill in Broadchurch, has addressed the controversy over lack of diversity in the Academy Award nominees. Rampling had initially spoken about boycotting the awards, but has backed away from this:

In an interview with Europe 1 Radio earlier this week, Rampling said calls for a boycott of the Academy Awards because all of the nominees were white “was racist to white people.”

Today Rampling told CBS News’ “Sunday Morning”:

“I regret that my comments could have been misinterpreted this week in my interview with Europe 1 Radio. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration. I am very honored to be included in this year’s wonderful group of nominated actors and actresses.”

Rampling also said:

“Diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I am highly encouraged by the changes announced today by the Academy to diversify its membership.”

SciFi Weekend: Star Wars, The Force Awakens; Doctor Who, The Husbands of River Song

Star Wars Force Awkens Rey BB-8

The Force Awakens was the sequel to Star Wars we were looking for after the original trilogy. While J.J. Abrams has never understood Star Trek, he is a perfect fit for a franchise such as Star Wars which centers more on action and mythology than the type of ideas which characterize Star Trek when done well.  Rather than rejecting parts of of the original as with Star Trek, J.J. Abrams made a sequel to Star Wars which was a true homage to Star Wars: A New Hope. The movie has many parallels to the original, but does introduce a new generation of characters and mix things up enough to keep it fresh.  It avoided the mistakes of the second trilogy. There was no Jar Jar Banks, and it presented a cuter version of R2-D2 for a new generation. This review contains major spoilers, along with looking at some of the questions left unanswered in the movie.

In many ways, The Force Awakens was a retelling of the original story for a new generation. Both The Force Awakens and A New Hope have much of the early action on a desert planet with a droid carrying important information playing a major part. Therefore it did not came as a surprise that the escape was on The Millennium Falcon. Having it sitting there unused for years but all fueled up and ready to fly is just one of many plot holes which are easily ignored. Nor was it a surprise that Han Solo showed up. Many of the scenes on The Millennium Falcon felt quite familiar. Rather than repeating one classic scene, Harrison Ford did provide another reference to the original when asking about a garage chute.

The biggest surprise of the movie was that Rey turned out to be the character with the Force. We saw this when Rey found Luke’s lightsaber at Maz’s watering hole (reminiscent of the Cantina scene), with no explanation of why it was there. The producers did an excellent job of keeping this secret, such as showing the rare scenes in which Finn held the lightsaber in previews and posters.The experience would have been quite different if the previews showed the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren, or showed Rey holding out the lightsaber for Luke at the end.

Once we learned that Rey was really the main character with the Force, her path in the movie became clear. She would fight the movie’s villain, be tempted by and resist the dark side, and ultimately find Luke–after this movie’s version of the Death Star was destroyed (including flights through the trenches).

Once we saw the bridge in this part of the universe where hand rails have never been invented, it was also obvious that Han Solo would reprise Obi Wan Kenobe’s death scene. J.J. Abrams explained that this was also done to establish how evil  Kylo Ren was so that he could be at the level of a Darth Vader. Of course moments later in the movie R2-D2 woke up, so that viewers wouldn’t be sad for too long.

star-wars-force-awakens-images-poe-dameron-oscar-isaac

The movie introduced other characters. One of the new characters, Poe, was intended to die but instead he turned up later in the movie. This isn’t the first time that Abrams planned to kill a character who seemed like a major character and later changed his mind. The original plan was to for Jack to be killed on Lost. While it might have been a surprise to see him later in the movie, most genre fans know that if you don’t see the body, the character most likely isn’t dead. I would have preferred it if there were brief scenes of Poe surviving but getting separated, and showing how he escaped from the planet.

Abrams also repeated an error he made in Star Trek in ignoring how big space is. The Enterprise seemed to travel from Vulcan to Earth in minutes, and in the alternate universe it is possible to beam by transwarp onto a starship traveling at many times the speed of light. The hyperlight weapon in The Force Awakens seems implausible, undoubtedly as a result of a desire to have a weapon even more powerful that the Death Star. The weapon was capable of destroying four distant planets as if they were nearby, with the four planets also appearing to be very close to each other.

The politics of the movie was also puzzling. It looked like we had a civil war between the Republic and the First Order. If that was the case, why weren’t the forces under Leia’s command the military for the Republic, as opposed to a rebel group? While I’ve seen explanations on line such as a peace treaty between the Republic and the First Order which made it necessary for the Republic to hide their actions against the First Order, the meta reason is most likely to be reminiscent of the rebel forces in the original trilogy. I suspect that having had its capital and a few other planets destroyed, we won’t see much more of the Republic, except possibly at the conclusion.

If a big moment in the second movie of the first trilogy was Darth Vader telling Luke that he was his father, I wonder if the second movie of this trilogy will be Luke saying the same to Rey. While I think that this is the most likely reason for Rey having the force, there are other possibilities. Maybe Leia is her mother, making Ren her brother, but this would require an explanation for Leia giving no indication of knowing about a daughter. Possibly Rey is descended from Obi Wan Kenobe. This could also explain the connection with the lightsabre as Luke’s lightsaber previously belonged to Obi Wan.

Another theory is that Ren’s parents are not from the characters we know. In The Empire Strikes Back, after Luke completed his training under Yoda, Obi Wan said , “This boy is our last hope.” Yoda replied, “No, there is another.” It was assumed he was referring to Leia, but she was never trained in the Force. Perhaps Yoda was referring to someone else that we do not yet know about.

star-wars-force-awakens_fire

There are many other questions raised, some of which will probably be answered in subsequent movies. Others might be plot holes which there is no good reason for, but the movie was so much fun that most viewers won’t care. Some elements of the movie were taken from plot points in the expanded universe which was invented after the movies, which should give fans a lot to speculate on. The novelization for The Force Awakens also fills in some points.

The Daily Dot listed ten things learned from the novelization. Among the most interesting are the description of Kylo Ren’s feelings about killing his father:

In the movie, it isn’t clear what’s going through Kylo’s mind after he stabs his father through the chest with his lightsaber. The scene quickly shifts gears, and Kylo, wounded by a shot from an enraged Chewbacca, snarls up at Finn and Rey from a crouched position before the two heroes flee.

In the novelization, Kylo feels “stunned by his own action.”

“Following through on the act,” the narration says, “ought to have made him stronger, a part of him believed. Instead, he found himself weakened.”

Foster wrote the novelization based on a version of the script that later underwent significant revisions. It’s possible that the discrepancy between page and screen here is not a casual inconsistency but a deliberate choice—that J.J. Abrams and company didn’t want to suggest that Kylo felt conflicted after the fact. Of course, given how difficult it is to visually convey an internal monologue, it’s also possible that this moment wasn’t so much deliberate struck as overlooked for simplicity’s sake.

Rey’s battle with the dark side was more obvious in the novelization than the movie:

Rey’s triumph over Kylo in their lightsaber duel is widely considered one of the film’s greatest moments. But what you don’t fully see on-screen is that, standing over a defeated Kylo, Rey faces a final challenge. The novelization portrays it thusly:

Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick.
Instead of killing Kylo, Rey “recoil[s]” from the feeling, which the narration describes as the pull of the dark side.

This is a very significant moment. Every Force-strong Star Wars hero faces this kind of challenge. When the narration refers to “pure vengeful emotion,” it’s important to remember that part of what drove Rey was seeing Kylo brutally defeat her new friend Finn. She had just seen Kylo deal Finn what might have been a killing blow. She was no doubt furious in that moment—the perfect target for the lure of the dark side.

This is, in essence, the dark side’s modus operandi. It’s how Anakin Skywalker began his fall in Attack of the Clones, when he slaughtered a village full of Tusken Raiders after they kidnapped his mother, who died in his arms.

But Rey, like Luke, is stronger than Anakin. She resists the urge to deliver her own killing blow. In the movie, a chasm quickly opens up between her and her vanquished foe, appearing to foreclose the possibility of her killing him. In the novelization, she makes her choice before that happens. She runs to Finn, to her friend, instead of yielding to her rage. In refusing the dark side, she has just taken the biggest step of her life.

I will be looking forward to seeing where they go with the next installment. It might be difficult to top the Starkiller base, and I hope they are not tempted to come up with a more implausible threat.  The answer might be to concentrate more on the characters now that The Force Awakens has made them important to the viewers. Will Luke have a more significant role? Presumably we will learn more about Ren’s back story, and possibly more about Snoke, assuming he remains a factor.

Doctor Who Husbands of River Song

Christmas also meant the annual specials from British television. This year’s specials included Doctor Who, Call the Midwife, and Downton Abbey. The Downton Abbey special was also the series finale, and therefore I will not give any spoilers for those who are waiting for the US showing of the final season. I wills say that they ended the series quite well.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special, the Husbands of River Song, was a very fun episode. The actual story hardly mattered. What was important was that it set up the situation where the Doctor met River Song with a different face that she knew, with River not recognizing the Doctor at first. This provided the Doctor a chance to act like those who see the inside of the TARDIS for the first time, and Peter Capaldi really hammed it up:

River: Oh, before you come in, you’d better prepare yourself for a shock. It’s not as… snug as it looks.
The Doctor:Finally… It’s my go. Oh… my… God! It’s bigger!

River: Well, yes.

The Doctor: On the inside!
River: We need to concentrate.
The Doctor: Than it is!
River: I know where you’re going with this, but I need you to calm down.
The Doctor: On the outside!
River: You’ve certainly grasped the essentials.
The Doctor: My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed! Three-dimensional Euclidean geometry has been torn up, thrown in the air and snogged to death! My grasp of the universal constants of physical reality has been changed… forever. Sorry. I’ve always wanted to see that done properly.
River: Would you like a drink? Aldebaran brandy. Help yourself, but don’t tell Dad.
This also allowed River to describe her relationship with the Doctor, more than once. First, someone looking for the Doctor questioned River, having identified her as “the woman who loves the Doctor.”
River: Yes, I am. I’ve never denied it. But whoever said he loved me back? He’s the Doctor, he doesn’t go around falling in love with people. And if you think he’s anything that small or that ordinary, then you haven’t the first idea of what you’re dealing with.
Doctor Who Husbands of River Song2
River discussed their relationship once again, when they were in danger, just before the Doctor revealed his identity:
River: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!
The Doctor: Hello, sweetie.
Another of my favorite exchanges between the two when in danger:
River: Does sarcasm help?
The Doctor: Wouldn’t it be a great universe if it did?
The dangers in this episode were handled, but we know there are other dangers ahead for River Song. She had a feeling for this when she saw how little room was left in her diary and noted, “The man who gave me this was the sort of man who would know exactly how long a diary you were going to need.”

The Singing Towers of Darillium was established as the location for their last night together when in 2008 in Forest of the Dead. However things were not as bad as they looked, even if this is truly their last night together before River met a younger Doctor in the library:

River: So… assuming tonight is all we have left…
The Doctor: I didn’t say that.
River: .. how long… is a night on Darillium?
The Doctor: 24 years.
River: ( gasps ) I hate you.
The Doctor: No, you don’t.

Doctor Who Extra videos can be seen here.