SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Arachnids In The UK; Penny Dreadful Returning; Marvel Television Crossover Hinted; Arrowverse Crossover and News on The Flash

Arachnids in the UK provided both a horror story before Halloween and political satire just over a week before the midterm elections in the United States. These two components were not entirely successful, but there was a third aspect of this episode of Doctor Who which was a success, redeeming the episode.

The main story line was fairly weak (as many episodes of Doctor Who tend to be), and its fairly minimal importance was seen in the way it was wrapped up quickly. Rather than being a true monster, the spiders were simply normal spiders who grew to be too big and lacked an ecosystem to exist in. The solution played into the anti-gun sentiments seen earlier this season, but is it really more humane to let them suffocate as opposed to shooting them quickly? I could see earlier seasons solving the problem more humanely by transporting the spiders to a new planet where they could live in peace. While the episode did provide a quick solution for the spiders in the hotel, it also seemed to forget that there were additional spiders around the apartments seen earlier in the episode.

Chris Noth added the political aspect for the episode and, like the spiders, fell short of being the outright villain of the episode. He played an American businessman who aspires to be president, builds luxury hotels around the world, loves to fire people (including Yaz’s mother), sees guns as the solution, uses words such as “fire and fury,” and hates that a woman (the Doctor) is the one in charge. He also hates Donald Trump, whom he is clearly modeled upon, and plans to run against him. I had expected to see Jack Robertson die a horrible death, being eaten by the spiders. Instead this only happened to his poor bodyguard. The episode ended with Jack Robertson seeing himself as the hero, and ready to go on to attempt to become the next president. This would have been the true horror of the story if not for the fact that we already have Donald Trump as president. This does leave open the possibility of Robertson becoming a recurring character, possibly with Chris Noth returning to play the next president sometime in the future.

As political satire, this was fairly weak considering it adds nothing to the vast work satirizing Trump, other than copying some of his obvious characteristics. I suspect that Chris Chibnall did not want to get overly specific so that the episode will still hold up over time. While many future viewers might forget many of the specifics of the Trump years, I doubt anyone will forget the basic outline of Trump as shown in the episode.

The episode works best if seen as the conclusion of a trilogy to establish the Doctor and her new companions, beginning with The Woman Who Fell To Earth and The Ghost Monument. These show the Doctor meeting her future companions, getting to the TARDIS, and ultimately getting home after a series of adventures–with Rosa showing only one of these as a side story to this trilogy. After this series of adventures, the TARDIS made it back to Sheffield.

The revival of Doctor Who has been stronger by showing the families of many of the companions, allowing the companions to be more complete people as opposed to simply people traveling with the Doctor. The episode concentrated on showing Yaz’s family, but also went back to Graham’s loss of Grace and building a relationship with Ryan.

Until they returned to Sheffield, the three were with the Doctor by accident, and the goal was to return them home safely. Now they had a choice, and the Doctor even warned them of the dangers of traveling with her. This especially makes sense considering the fates of many of her recent companions. I imagine that it is easier to write a companion out by having a tragic outcome than showing that someone would just decide that they no longer wish to travel on the TARDIS.

The episode also suggests further expansion of the Doctor’s backstory. Steven Moffat had set up the possibility of a Timelord changing gender, but now we are hearing suggestions that the Doctor has also been a woman, had a family, and had a life we do not know about. Peter Capaldi, speaking of the Master, has said, “I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.” This episode was more explicit. The Doctor said she used to have sisters, and that she herself was once a sister in an aqua hospital, which was a training camp for space assassins. As we know very little of the Doctor’s life before becoming a Timelord, there is no contradiction with the Doctor having had sisters. However, for the Doctor to have once been a woman, this would mean that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor. Older episodes did sometimes hint at previous regenerations before Hartnell, but for this to have been possible it would have been necessary for the Doctor to have been granted additional regenerations in the past. We did see this was possible with Matt Smith.

In other Doctor Who news, it appears that instead of a Christmas special there will be a special on New Year’s Day this year. This does help as they appear to have run out of ideas for a Christmas tie-in for the series. I imagine that for some viewers in the UK, this might not matter much, unless people really care about the tradition. Watching in the United States, I would prefer a special on Christmas Day, and lacking a connection with the holiday would be fine. There is very little new American television around the holidays, and I’ve gotten in the habit of downloading Christmas specials from the UK that day. However, New Year’s Day is taken up by football here.  At least the streaming channels will fill in for the lack of Doctor Who on Christmas Day if my wife and I wind up staying home and watching television.

The Hollywood Reporter has a story on a new version of Penny Dreadful, with new cast and new location:

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels opens in 1938 Los Angeles for a story that Showtime describes as “a time and place deeply infused with Mexican-American folklore and social tension.” Rooted in the conflict between characters connected to the deity Santa Muerte and others allied with the devil, City of Angels will explore a mix of the supernatural and the combustible reality of that period, creating new occult myths and moral dilemmas within a historical backdrop. The series will feature all new characters and storylines.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels will have a social consciousness and historical awareness that we chose not to explore in the Penny Dreadful London storylines,” Logan said Thursday in a statement. “We will now be grappling with specific historical and real-world political, religious, social and racial issues. In 1938, Los Angeles was facing some hard questions about its future and its soul. Our characters must do the same. There are no easy answers. There are only powerful questions and arresting moral challenges. As always in the world of Penny Dreadful, there are no heroes or villains in this world, only protagonists and antagonists; complicated and conflicted characters living on the fulcrum of moral choice.”

There have been hints about a cross-over between Marvel’s Runaways and Cloak & Dagger. Comicbook.com reports:

“It can reference the rest of the world, but it’s true to teenagers — they’re not interested in what Tony Stark is doing this week or what Matt Murdock is doing this week but they might be interested in a couple of kids who live down in New Orleans and what’s going on there.”

That’s fitting because both Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen have been members of the Runaways team at some point along in the Marvel comics mythos. Now that the characters are played by Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt, respectively, that’s a scenario that’s entirely plausible in live-action.

In fact, Cloak & Dagger showrunner and executive producer Joe Pokaski has previously said the powers that be have had conversations on how to make crossovers happen.

Chicago, as opposed to Vancouver, will provide the background for Gotham City on the Arrowverse Elseworlds crossover episodes this season. We will be seeing Ruby Rose as Batwoman, and seeing a Black Suit Superman, but it has been confirmed that Batman will not appear.

CBR.com reports that Flash’s most iconic villains might be returning for the 100th episode:

DC World writer Paul Edwards attended an autograph signing at MCM Comic Con London. While there, he talked with actor Tony Todd, who previously provided the voice for Flash villain Zoom. During a conversation about Todd’s acting, the former Candyman star explained that he had just finished filming episode 100 of Flash. When asked if he would be reprising his role as Zoom, Todd replied, “They are all returning, all the speedster villains, and they all want a piece of Barry.”

…Executive producer Todd Helbing teased a big twist for the series at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, so this might be what he was referring to. The eighth episode of Flash Season 5, which will premiere on Dec. 4, will be the series’ 100th episode. Tom Cavanagh, who plays various versions of Harrison Wells on the show, will direct.

You might have noticed that Joe West has not been doing much on The Flash this season, generally sitting in scenes. TVLine has the reason for this:

I’m hearing that Martin suffered a back injury over the hiatus. In fact, a studio rep confirms for TVLine that the actor will be taking a medical leave from the CW hit, adding: “We wish him a full and speedy recovery and look forward to his return as Detective Joe West.” (It’s unclear at this time exactly when and for how long Joe’s absence will be felt on screen, but sources tell me it will be addressed at some point.)

Fortunately it should be easy to have a reduced role for Joe, and write him out for a while, without causing serious problems for the stories.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Rosa Review And Spoiler-Free Comments On  Arachnids In The UK; Timeless Finale; Star Trek Jumps Ahead 1000 Years, And Other ST News; The Orville Season 2 Trailer; Two Series With David Tennant

I will avoid spoilers for today’s episode of Doctor Who, Arachnids In The UK, as it has not yet been seen by those in the United States who wait to view it legally. The episode, like many episodes of Doctor Who, has its faults, but was still thoroughly enjoyable. It is best viewed not as a stand-alone episode but as part three of a trilogy which establishes the new Doctor and companions, beginning with The Woman Who Fell To Earth and The Ghost Monument. During the events of this trilogy, the group underwent an unknown number of adventures as the TARDIS failed to return home until Arachnids In The UK. We only saw one of these adventures, but Rosa is certain to become a classic episode of Doctor Who.

Rosa is a return to historical episodes of Doctor Who. It could be seen as a children’s educational show, including a recap of the significance of the story at the end. Then, being Doctor Who, there was a trip to see the asteroid named after Rosa Parks. However, it does not tone down the issues for children, showing the horrors of racist socient. The episode realistically shows racism as not being something isolated to certain evil individuals, but as the atmosphere of the time and area.

The companions worked well with the story, starting with Ryan experiencing racism when he simply tried to give a woman her dropped glove. Racism was similarly seen in other situations including in a restaurant, a white-only hotel, and, obviously for this story, on the bus. Racism was shown to be different with Yasmin, with the locals not being as clear as to where she fits in, with Yasmin even being mistaken for a Mexican. Yasmin was not welcome in the restaurant, but could sit with the whites in the front of the bus. Racism was as illogical in the episode as in real life.

Strangely nobody seemed disturbed that a woman was dressed like the Doctor in pants and an unusual shirt in 1955 Alabama.  Rather than deal with this, the episode did include a joke about the Doctor being the street artist Bansky. Plus Graham identified himself as Steve Jobs.

As with many historical Doctor Who episodes, there is an outside villain, but Krasko really isn’t all that memorable. (Similarly, does anyone recall the monster from Vincent and the Doctor?) Krasko just served to set up the situation of forcing the Doctor and her friends to make sure history played out correctly. Krasko did also show that Chris Chibnall isn’t totally ignoring the Moffat years, even if he is avoiding his characters. Krasko was recently released from Stormcage, where River Song was also imprisoned. A neural restrictor in his brain prevented him from directly killing–even if he could still conspire to do evil. His weapon was a version of how the Weeping Angels dispose of people, sending them to another time. Theoretically Krasko could appear again, but it is questionable as to whether there is any point in it.

One challenge in a story such as this was that the Doctor could not be the hero as usual. Rosa Parks had to be the star, and Vinette Robinson handled this very well in a story written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall. In many ways this felt more like an episode of Timeless than Doctor Who, with the stars concentrating on thwarting the efforts of someone who was trying to change the course of history.

The episode required an unusual victory, with the arrest of Rosa Parks hardly being a positive outcome unless viewed in its historical context of sparking protests. Graham was upset with being a part of this, being one of the whites on the bus who led to Rosa Parks being put in a situation where she was ordered to give up her seat, crying “No, no, I don’t want to be a part of this!” Graham actually seemed to have less understanding of racism and the civil rights movement than might be expected after he was married to a black woman. The episode even began with Graham first thinking of Elvis as opposed to racism when he learned they were in the south in the 1950’s.

Yaz clearly understood the significance of the events they were involved in: “I can be a police officer now because people like Rosa Parks fought those battles for me. For us. And in fifty-three years, they’ll have a black president as leader. Who knows where they’ll be fifty years after that? That’s proper change.”

As I mentioned above, last week’s episode of Doctor Who was structured more like an episode of Timeless than a typical episode of Doctor Who. Unfortunately Timeless will only be around for a tiny fraction of the time Doctor Who has been on the air. At least NBC has agreed to a television movie to wrap up the series, and the air date was announced last week. From Entertainment Weekly:

Timeless will air one last, well, time, on Thursday, Dec. 20 from 8 to 10 p.m. on NBC.

We’re told the episode is “an epic, unforgettable thrill ride through the past, present and future, with a healthy dose of Christmas spirit. Spread across three centuries and two continents, the finale will test Lucy, Wyatt and the entire Time Team like never before as they try to #SaveRufus, preserve history and put a stop to Rittenhouse once and for all.”

The next Short Trek jumps to one thousand years after Discovery, placing it beyond anything we have seen so far in the Star Trek time line. The above trailer has been released with the episode to be released on CBS All Access on November 8.

Following is the synopsis for the episode, written by Michael Chabron: After waking up in an unfamiliar sickbay, Craft (Aldis Hodge) finds himself onboard a deserted ship, and his only companion and hope for survival is an A.I. computer interface.

Not all of the upcoming series will be as big as a new series staring Patrick Stewart. Another new series has been announced, this time an animated comedy. From TrekMovie.com:

For the first time since the 1970s, Star Trek is getting animated. This morning CBS announced they have given a two-season order for Star Trek: Lower Decks, which is being developed by Mike McMahan, who recently won an Emmy for his work on the popular animated series Rick and Morty.

Star Trek: Lower Decks will be the first animated series for CBS All Access, and will be a half-hour comedy focused on the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships. There are no details yet on what Star Trek era the show will be set in.

Mike McMahan also wrote the upcoming Harry Mudd-centric Star Trek: Short Treks. A longtime fan, back in 2015 he published the officially licensed Warped: An Engaging Guide to the Never-Aired 8th Season, which arose from @tng_s8 his popular parody Twitter account about an imagined eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

We have seen some of the technology from Star Trek become real, and now there is an effort to make a working holodeck. From TrekMovie.com:

Roddenberry Entertainment, owned by Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry, is teaming up with a number of technology companies working to make the Star Trek holodeck a reality. The partnership will leverage Light Field Lab’s revolutionary headgear-free holographic displays and OTOY’s ORBX Technology, the industry’s first open source and royalty-free format for rendering media and real-time graphics on Light Field Lab’s holographic display panels.

Original holographic content for the new system is in active development, spearheaded by Ari Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, and Rod Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment, and also an executive producer on Star Trek: Discovery.

“The concept of the Holodeck was extremely important to my father as well as the Star Trek Universe,” said Rod Roddenberry about his late father, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. “I want to see Star Trek’s technologies made real, and for the very first time, now believe that a real Holodeck is no longer limited to science fiction. Although it’s early days, my father would be beyond excited to know his vision is coming into reality thanks to OTOY’s trailblazing light field rendering, and the revolutionary holographic display systems created at Light Field Lab.”

The Orville was the last Star Trek related series billed as comedy before Lower Decks, but has turned out to be more. The above trailer for season two was released along with information on the release date. The season will premiere on December 30 after a football double header, and then return to Thursday nights.

ComicBook.com added:

The series is adding Jessica Szohr as a new series regular and Chris Johnson in a recurring role in its second season. A veteran Star Trekwriter was also brought on board as an additional executive producer, and multiple Star Trekactors will guest star.

Star Trek: The Next Generation star and director Jonathan Frakes will also contribute to the new season of The Orville. At a convention, Frakes spoke about the series in comparison to CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery.

“The Star Trek that we have has really found its voice, and Discovery has really found its voice,” Frakes explained earlier this year. “And The Orville has filled in a void. For a lot of people, The Orville is their new Star Trek because it does tell stories like [The Next Generation], and it’s got wild humor in it.

“[Seth MacFarlane] clearly wanted [The Orville] to look like [The Next Generation].” Frakes added. “So, he hired the cinematographer [Marvin Rush] and the camera operator, and Brannon Braga, who wrote First Contact among other things that are fabulous. Robbie Duncan McNeill, one of our wonderful directors from Voyager, James Conway, who directed a bunch of great Next Gen episodes; he hired me. He filled the room with Next Gen people so that the show would look and feel like it. I think he did it.”

So far I’ve only watched the pilot for Camping, but the show looks like a terrible waste of the talents of Jennifer Garner and David Tennant. At least Garner’s role, while wasting her talents, was the dominant character in the pilot, while Tennant was totally wasted. Fortunately David Tennant will be appearing in other roles. This includes staring with Martin Sheen in an adaption of Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens. Amazon has released the following trailer:

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery And Continuity; Arrow Returns With Needed Changes; Luke Cage Cancelled; Doctor Who, Rosa

We continue to learn more about the upcoming season of Star Trek: Discovery, including receiving information on Spock and Christopher Pike when executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin spoke with IGN:

“Well, obviously we started Season 1 10 years before TOS [The Original Series], so it seemed like a very logical thing,” laughed Kurtzman. “We also established that Burnham is Spock’s half-sister, so we owe that story now. And this season is very much about siblings and their relationship. We learn what happened between them, we learn how they’re going to fix it, against the backdrop of this tremendous mystery that requires both of them to work out their issues with each other.”

Of course, we have seen Spock from this era before. Discovery’s time period basically lines up with the first pilot episode of Star Trek ever, “The Cage,” which featured Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Jeffrey Hunter as the captain of the Enterprise at that time, Christopher Pike. Now Ethan Peck and Anson Mount step into those roles, respectively, but fans know that the Spock seen in “The Cage” was fairly different from the calm, cool and collected Vulcan of the rest of TOS.

“What you have to remember is, this is not the Spock from TOS,” said Kurtzman. “He actually hasn’t gotten to the place where he’s more sanguine about his logic side. He’s really struggling through which — as a result of things that have happened, as a result of the visitation by the Red Angel, as a result of seeing these signals — his logic brain has been totally fried. And all of his logic training has failed him in many ways. And his emotional inner life has been suppressed in so many ways. So he really doesn’t know which way to turn. And that’s a big part of what he’s struggling through. In many ways, it’s the story of how Spock becomes the Spock we meet in TOS.”

The season will also, at least tangentially, touch upon Captain Pike’s past in “The Cage” — and, possibly, his tragic future as seen in TOS story “The Menagerie.”

“We do end up syncing with canon by the end of the season,” said Kurtzman. “So a lot of the things that everybody knows about these key characters will be touched on.”

Most likely the portrayal of Spock will make some fans angry. We will also see uniforms begin to sync up with what we have seen, with the Enterprise crew wearing uniforms closer to what was on The Cage, and later the original show, while the Discovery crew continues to wear uniforms like last season.

Digital Spy reports that Kurtzman acknowledged the difficulties in maintaining continuity, especially if the novels and graphic novels are considered:

“Everybody is always trying to maintain continuity,” Kurtzman told us. “But given the 50 plus years of Star Trek, it literally becomes impossible because people decide that they want to follow a character in a book series after the show has been cancelled, and so they’ll invent stories.

“And then 15 years later, a new show will come on that will take that character back and you can’t be consistent with everything. Our goal is always to try, always, always to try and never to negate what has existed in the novels and graphic novels but it is a literal impossibility.

“And part of what has kept Trek going for so long is everyone’s wonderful imagination to keep writing books and keep making graphic novels and keep making shows. And at a certain point, given the volume of things that are out there it’s just impossible for everything to sync up perfectly. So we give it our best effort.”

Arrow was starting to look stale in recent seasons but new showrunner Beth Schwartz is attempting to revive the show with changes, including Oliver spending a good portion of the season in prison, a new Green Arrow on the loose, and flash-forwards replacing the flashbacks. Beth Schwartz spoke with The Hollywood Reporter:

Viewers were left reeling when the end of the Arrow season seven premiere revealed that those island “flashback” scenes throughout the episode were actually flash forwards. Taking place 20 years in the future, Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) now grown son William (Ben Lewis) journeyed to Lian Yu to link up with a now middle-aged Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) for a mysterious reason that will be explored throughout the entire season (and future seasons as well).

“I’ve been on the show since the beginning and we had always in the room discussed the possibility when the flashbacks ended that we would do the flash forwards,” executive producer Beth Schwartz tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Especially since we knew about William and we thought that would be really cool to see how he’s been affected by his childhood and his father. We always wanted to do something like that and then this season I pitched it to Greg [Berlanti] and he was like, ‘Yes!’ We knew we wanted something fresh and new for season seven and my favorite part of the show was always the flashbacks and the mystery of how Oliver became the Green Arrow and his origin story.”

While Schwartz doesn’t remember which writer or producer originally came up with the flash forward idea in the early days of Arrow, it was set in the core mythology of the series years ago. “It was when we realized this show might go on beyond five seasons and I know that Marc [Guggenheim] had always said the flashbacks were five years,” she adds. “What do we do after five seasons? It just made sense to go forward into the future instead of continuing flashbacks. We’re kind of breaking two shows. We have a whole separate mythology for the flash forwards and we have a lot of new characters and that’s why it feels so fresh; we’re doing two shows in one.”

Not surprisingly, we will eventually learn who the new Green Arrow is. Schwartz told Entertainment Weekly:

“I can’t really tell you which way the new Green Arrow [lands], but Dinah and Rene will be arguing that point for a little bit. They’ll be on different sides for a little bit,” said Schwartz, adding this isn’t a Vigilante situation and it won’t take a full season and change for him to be unmasked. “We’ll definitely unveil and explore before the end of the season, for sure.”

Just a week after we received news that Iron First was cancelled, there was more surprising news with Netflix cancelling Luke Cage. It is presumably a consequence of a combination of cost of the show, reported creative differences, and the deteriorating relationship between Netflix and Disney as Disney prepares to start its own streaming service.

Due to travel plans, this is being posted on Saturday instead of Sunday and does not include my usual weekly review of this week’s episode of Doctor Who. Review of The Ghost Monument here and The Woman Who Fell To Earth here. Most likely my review of Rosa will be posted next weekend (and I am looking forward to getting away from the same-day reviews). Doctor Who TV does have an advanced, spoiler-free, review of Rosa here. An excerpt:

Compared to some episodes where Doctor Who has only subtly touched on racism in period settings, “Rosa” does not shy away or sugarcoat its portrayal of the divide in 1955, with abhorrent acts on full display almost as soon as the gang steps out of the TARDIS. Ryan and Yaz are subjected to verbal and even physical abuse, that some may find tough to stomach.

Although the episode deals with weighty issues, there is still time for a little levity and pleasant character moments. The Doctor and Graham’s hotel room charade leads to one great gag. Meanwhile, Ryan and Yaz are able to intensify their bond in the face of adversity. This allows for some of their best material so far.

Of course we have Rosa Parks herself leading the guest cast, portrayed by UK star Vinette Robinson (The A Word, Sherlock). Some may remember it’s also not her first Whoniverse appearance, having starred in Chibnall’s pre-showrunner Doctor Who episode “42”. Robinson does well here to play what must have been tough boots to fill, though perhaps an African-American actor would have been a better pick to allow for a more natural accent?

There are no monsters in the episode, that’s to say there’s no traditional costumed/CGI threat of the week. Whilst there are plenty of horrifying people on display, Joshua Bowman steps forward as the main villain, Krasko. A character you could crudely sum up as a “racist Captain Jack”, just lacking the charisma (though he does have a [redacted]). For all his posturing though, he doesn’t quite demonstrate enough of a threat.

Trailer below: