The Wardrobe Door Christianity, Culture, Craziness, & C.S. Lewis Sat, 08 Dec 2018 15:46:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 61517457 Discussing Doctor Who: It Takes You Away Sat, 08 Dec 2018 15:46:41 +0000 What happens when a British institution lands in Norway with some monsters in the woods, an interdimensional portal … and a frog? I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt). If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in […]

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It Takes You Away Doctor Who

BBC Studios | Photographer: Giles Kyte

What happens when a British institution lands in Norway with some monsters in the woods, an interdimensional portal … and a frog?

I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” “Demons of the Punjab,” “Kerblam,” and “The Witchfinders.”

This week, we all ask some of the wild questions brought up by this week’s episode.

Hannah: What a mind-boggling episode! I wrote last week that “I’d like a stronger central idea for this era.” Boy, did I get one. Various elements of it reminds me of Twin Peaks, The X-Files, noir-ish shows like Vera (no wonder, Jamie Childs also directed two episodes of that show), and odd alternate universe stories like Labyrinth or Mirrormask.  

I’m not sure this little bit of weirdness is going to set any precedents for the show going forward, but it was bolder and stranger than anything I’ve seen so far. At the same time, the harsh family drama and cool Scandi feel don’t feel at home in a cozy British institution like Doctor Who. Do you hope we see more episodes like this, or is it just too surreal and detached?

Jenna: It does feel bolder and stranger than any this series, but I will say this felt like such a reminder that we are in fantasy/sci-fi land. The weirdness of the frog, plus the cave and the monster there, really reminded me of something out of the Classic Who years I’ve seen.

I think it’s good to have that level of bizarre at least once a series to remind people this isn’t just a drama and to keep audiences aware anything could happen. I saw a lot of fans hoping it was a past companion she was blowing the kiss to, and then with the line about “your friend,” it seemed primed for that, but I’m so glad it wasn’t and Chibnall fulfilled his promise not to do that because a fake version of someone we are still mourning and a conscious universe and a disturbing frog are exactly the genre we’re in, not a soap opera.

Maybe it’s the elitism of the geeks, but I kind of enjoy that this sort of surreal element sets it apart from other more normal, realistic things on TV.

Aaron: It certainly had a “I didn’t see that coming” feel to it. One of the wonderful thing about Doctor Who is how genre-bending the show can be. It started off as a fairly standard horror story with a monster in the woods, adding a middle layer of an alien confrontation, then transitioning to fantasy realm of bringing the dead back to life, and then the absurd ending of the frog. That’s a lot to fit into a one-hour show.

But, you might be right Hannah, the strangest thing of the show may have been the TARDIS in Scandinavia. (Though I would like to see if the Doctor could assemble some IKEA furniture with the sonic screwdriver.) It seems, however, that it is part of taking the show to more earthly locales to expand (and connect with) the shows global fanbase.

Hannah: The Ryan-and-Graham storyline paid off in a big way in this episode. Interestingly, it tied in with Graham’s ongoing battle with grief, as he is forced to let go of his longing for Grace to commit to the present: saving Ryan.

After all of this goes down, Ryan finally accepts Graham as his granddad. How do you feel about how this storyline has developed throughout the season? Did you find its resolution satisfying?

Jenna: Yes! I’m so glad they went there with this episode, finally letting them come together for a sweet granddad and grandson moment there at the end, with the beautiful landscape. I think Graham got to say a lot of things he needed to to get closure with Grace, but I totally agree it was also necessary for him to commit to the present, and commit to Ryan, in a new way. I hope they can continue to grow together.

Aaron: This was a great episode to bring their relationship to somewhat of a conclusion. I hope they can build off of that going forward to the season finale. Still the fact that we are talking about Ryan and Graham again, but not Yaz illustrates the problems with this many companions.

She hasn’t grown or developed so far this season. She seemed to indicate she was trying to get away from her family, but we didn’t see any significant issues when she spent time with them. I hope they give us a real reason why Yaz is a companion before the season is over.

Jenna: The introduction of a new kind of parallel universe, in Norway, especially, was an interesting choice. The creation account also reveals more about the Doctor’s point of view.

I thought it was touching that it was taught to her as a folktale from a granny, not from a science textbook or some sort of unquestionable authority. Did the explanation make sense to you?

Hannah: I never really expect Doctor Who’s ancient mythology to all hang together. You have the Eleventh Doctor talking about the Big Bang in romantic but scientific terms. You have references to ancient evil beings from before creation in “The Curse of Fenric” and “The Satan Pit,” as we mentioned last week.

In the Fifth Doctor episode Terminus, they speculate that a specific spaceship travelled back in time and dumped fuel which caused an explosion and thus, the Big Bang (it was a dumb episode). You also have the Fourth and Eleventh Doctors say they saw it happen (respectively, 11 minutes into the mediocre “Destiny of the Daleks and in the “Rings of Akhaten” speech).

So does this new creation myth make sense in the context of the show’s mythology? Nope, but Who has always been inconsistent about this sort of thing. What’s most important, I think, is that this myth fits into the story of “It Takes You Away.” It’s scientific, but because it’s a folktale, it gains an eeriness and a strangeness that helps us buy the ultimate odd abstract explanation of the thing. The Solitract is by nature nonsensical, so it has to be understood on a gut rather than a mind level. Thus, explaining it through a fairy-tale makes sense.

Aaron: Like Hannah said, I don’t expect the Doctor’s story of creation to remain coherent across Doctors, seasons or even episodes. Use the one that best fits within the story and that’s all that matters. Having said that, I was a much bigger fan of the first part of the episode than the last.

I enjoy when the show dabbles in horror. It often helps maintain a sense of danger when that’s so frequently lacking. Rarely do we feel the Doctor or his/her companions are actually going to die or get hurt. This week, we got that tension for a bit before it was switched to the bizarre.

Her retelling of her granny’s (at least one of them) creation story was a nice touch, but the show has been relying on dialogue to convey information instead of emotion a lot this season. The speech was better than the science lesson we got in “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” but I still found myself pulled out of the emotional moment in the story.

Jenna: She describes the Solitract as a disease at first, but ends up calling it a friend and blowing it a kiss. Did you feel for the Solitract despite the (REALLY WEIRD) frog form?

Hannah: It took me a second to warm to the frog, but I ended up loving it. It’s sweet and whimsical and helps to establish a lot about the character of the Solitract, which before just seemed creepy and manipulative.

I half-expected the writer, Ed Hime, to put in a cameo appearance from an older companion that the Doctor desperately wanted to see again, but I’m glad he didn’t.

It would have taken up precious screen time to explain who the companion was for new viewers, it wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact for every viewer, people would still be debating about why it should have been Rose instead of River or vice versa, and it wouldn’t have established certain things about this new Doctor—namely, that she loves finding new remarkable things. So yeah, I’m glad we got the frog.

Aaron: A frog is probably better than a previous companion for all the reasons Hannah gave and as a connection to this season’s story, but that doesn’t negate just how bizarre that ending was. I think you compared it to Twin Peaks earlier and that seems about right.

As I said earlier, the last part of the episode was the weakest part for me. Not just that it was strange—I can appreciate that when done well—but it seemed so disjointed from the first part. This week almost seemed like three different stories all crammed into one episode. I don’t need the Doctor’s creation accounts to be cohesive, but I do want the episodes to be.

Because of that, I had no real emotional attachment to the Solitract. It’s hard to develop attachment to a conscious parallel universe in the form of a frog that I just learned existed 10 minutes ago.

Now, Graham and Ryan … that got me because the show invested time and story to their relationship.

Aaron: We got three potential monsters this week. One that was completely made up. One that was quite literally a cutthroat dealmaker. And one that really just wanted a friend. That doesn’t even count the flesh-eating moths(!). What did you think of the villain roster and fakeouts this week?

Jenna: I felt like surely the monster outside was connected to the point of the episode somehow, maybe something sneaking through the mirror or something, and it was heartbreaking that it was just made-up but really spoke to that dad’s character.

I thought the cave dude was alright as far as contributing to the weirdness and being a plot device. But it was definitely different than the Pete’s World style parallel universe where it was just them landing in London… but an identical parallel London.

Hannah: I didn’t actually mind the fakeout monsters, except for Ribbons. He didn’t serve any story purpose—he was scary, sure, but he didn’t have a real role to play. Ultimately, the fact that there was real, genuine menace in all the situations meant I didn’t mind so much that the Solitract was kind of sympathetic at the end.

The things that it wanted to do were still villainous—even if it wanted to do them for good reasons. That was, in fact, the point of the story—lying to our loved ones and refusing to let them go is the definition of poisonous love.

Aaron: Despite enjoying the show, as a father, I struggled with the central concept of the show—that Erik essentially terrifies his blind daughter into staying locked up in her house so he can go to an alternate universe where his wife is still alive.

Why would he not get Hanne and bring her with him instead of setting up an overly complicated plan to keep her in the house? Did that part seem off to you? What do you do when an episode’s concept in Doctor Who (or another show) doesn’t work for you?

Jenna: haha I almost mentioned above that as far as monsters go, I wouldn’t say the dad was one, but he certainly wasn’t on the “good guy” list for me. Yeah, very weird that he wasn’t even going back for her. It works in that I think Chibnall wants to write complicated characters and situations.

Much like how the company in Kerblam wasn’t the ultimate villain, but they were still much to blame for some of the systematic issues at the heart of the problem. Erik wasn’t a full-on villain here, but he also isn’t some angel of a dad. I think their future is going to be better back in the city but still complicated, like most families, especially those that have suffered.

To answer your question, though, when something doesn’t work for me, I just make up my own version in my head until I can see why the writers made that choice, which in some shows has really paid off later and some I still hate when I rewatch and have to pretend it didn’t happen. ha!

Hannah: It did seem odd that he wouldn’t simply bring her through the anti-zone. But I think his reasoning can be inferred by examining his behavior and by the themes of the episode—characters like Erik and Graham have a desire to live in an unreal world with dead lovers and ignore the very real needs of their dependents.

Another unspoken thing: Erik probably didn’t want to deal with his disabled daughter when he was in the dream. He’s a selfish person who’s dismissive of Hanne’s needs.

Next week:

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Discussing Doctor Who: The Witchfinders Sat, 01 Dec 2018 15:20:01 +0000 The Doctor and Team (fam?) TARDIS stumble upon a some witch trials, an alien prison and campy King James. I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt). If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK,” “The […]

The post Discussing Doctor Who: The Witchfinders appeared first on The Wardrobe Door.

Doctor Who The Witchfinders

The Doctor and Team (fam?) TARDIS stumble upon a some witch trials, an alien prison and campy King James.

I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” “Demons of the Punjab” and “Kerblam.”

This week, I ask the questions with Hannah and Jenna share their perspective on a wild ride of an episode.

Aaron: This may have been my favorite episode of the year, in part because it felt more connected to previous seasons. Other episodes this season had Doctor Who elements, but still felt like a show inspired by Doctor Who, rather than Doctor Who itself. The plot of Witchfinder seemed most like an episode that could’ve happened anytime during the New Who run.

What were your overall impressions of the episode this week and how do you think the show has done in trying to balance establishing something new, while staying connected to the overall Doctor Who arc?

Jenna: That’s an interesting perspective. I’d say this series has felt more Who-ish to me than it has in years because my standard of comparison is the RTD era. I think Chibnall is taking the larger budget and dark drama of the Moffat years, but putting it back in its proper place as a character-driven, domestic, justice-focused, and educational show.

Sometimes the education is physics or history and sometimes it’s more moral and sometimes it is the nature of hope or courage, but I think this series feels the most like “home” to me of any since series 4, and maybe even more so.

That said, I think the fez and Agatha Christie references last week were well-placed in helping us remember it’s the same show. She’s not just acknowledging she used to be a man, but actually reminding viewers that she’s the same Doctor as the previous ones we know and love.

That is important for any regeneration, regardless of gender. (For example, Ten reminding Rose in “New Earth” about their “first date” being a viewing party of the sun exploding while he was Nine.)

I think it was wise of Chibnall to lay off of the tired old Dalek-Cyberman-Angels-Master/Missy rotation and stop bringing back past companions, but perhaps more references like that in passing or consequences from previous series could help make the connection.

I do think they should consider at least a brief appearance from the Daleks or another recognizable villain next series, though. Or something similar to root it back in Doctor Who history so it doesn’t wander.

Right now, though, I think they are establishing a good entry point for all the new viewers and providing a refreshing change for those of us who were ready for a restart.

Hannah: Plot-wise, this did feel like a pretty basic historical episode of NuWho. The Doctor and companions arrive someplace, immediately run into trouble, and spend the rest of the story trying to figure out what’s going on alongside a flamboyant famous historical figure.

What’s different here is the inclusion of this season’s heavy focus on social justice issues and the dark, ponderous setting and subject matter. There’s little of the whimsical about this story (ignoring King James).

It barely feels like science fiction until the very end; I half-hoped it would be a proper fantasy horror story. I’m not sure that either of these innovations are particularly brilliant or consistent enough to constitute their own distinct aesthetic. In other words, I’d like a stronger central idea for this era.

Aaron: More than previous episodes, Witchfinder, with a female writer and director, seemed to lean into the cultural hindrances faced by woman, including now the Doctor. How do you think it addressed those problems? What solution did it present?

Jenna: I thought it was interesting and well done that the first person to really talk about gender is the villain, Becka Savage.

It wasn’t just a generic man in power being sexist, though King James certainly was reflective of his time’s view of women as primarily useful for gossip, not real investigating, and prone to be “witches.” But some of the sexism also comes from a self-hating woman in power, which is a dark side of sexism that we often don’t want to talk about.

I like that the thing that really gets through to King James is that the Doctor knows the human heart so well. I don’t think that would be out of character for other Doctors, but that is something that also set him apart when he was a man in the past.

But as a woman, it’s even more powerful because it shows that we don’t just have to flirt or be rescued or cry our way out of things as far too many stereotypes in stories throughout history have painted.

Emotional intelligence is real intelligence. Empathy is a strength, which is a key Doctor Who theme, but is also something that in a woman is often coded as weakness.

So it’s empowering to me to see the Doctor just being the Doctor like always but in a body so much more like mine, experiencing the world in a way much more similar to the way I and the women who have lived before me throughout history have experienced the world. (Her shock at experiencing this for the first time was humorous to me, though.) 🙂

Hannah: I, too, liked that Becka Savage was the first villain, upfront. After all, the witch trials were complicated. While most of the victims were women, there were male victims and some of the persecutors and accusers were women.

For me, King James’s sexism was all the more effective because it was really funny. The story didn’t need to beat you over the head with how wrong it was (we know that!) so it had some fun with it.

That scene between James and the Doctor was one of Thirteen’s finest moments so far. One of my consistent problems with the dialogue this season is that it was functional and bereft of subtext.

But this felt like Thirteen was a person with a lived-in experience and organic worldview, which I wasn’t getting before. She’s been inconsistent: she hates guns, except in Demons of the Punjab for some reason, and she says, “when people need help, I never refuse,” except when history might be altered. Why does she not want history tampered with? And why is she allowed to make exceptions? It is hard to understand her motivations.

With Eccleston, we knew right off that he was reacting to the Time War, which contextualized his worldview. He didn’t save certain people because “everything has its time and everything dies.” He was standing in for the Time Lords, keeping the balance of the universe.

Thirteen has no such contextualizing event, so talking to James feels like the first time we get a glimpse into her way of seeing the world, as grounded in her history observing people.

Aaron: There was a lot of religious and supernatural discussion this week. How do you think it handled the subject? How did it compare to previous episodes and how they dealt with Satan and the existence of the supernatural?

Jenna: I liked her comeback in response to the Old Testament quote that “the sequel” had a message of love. It’s a bit of a relief to me when secular media, especially from more progressive spaces, allows that there is good in the Bible and ultimately it lands on the side of love. I like to think the Doctor has read it too, and knows it well enough to understand the Christian cultures she lands in (aka historical Britain).

On the other hand, I know Christian culture enough myself to know that there are still Christians today who would agree more with the quote about Satan being all around us than Graham’s incredulous “you really believe that?” reaction. A recent Atlantic article even suggests that belief in the devil is rising.

I like the “it’s not really supernatural; it’s just science/alien” episodes because they reassure us the creaking of monsters in our closets is just the house settling. They are the ghosts that turn out to be plastic bags caught on fence posts, the tricks of the light that are revealed to be nothing more than that.

But I also think it’s important that the Doctor maintains a patience for people’s true beliefs. Instead of saying “There’s no such thing as Satan” (or any figure of belief), it’s important that she respects where people are and keeps it limited to “I really don’t think this thing you are scared of is what you think it is because I know a lot more about things you don’t understand.”

I think “Satan Pit” really messed up the Doctor’s sense of certainty in a lot of ways regarding what is scoffable about religion and what might hold some truth to it and challenge preconceptions.

Overall, I think the episode was FAR far less about religion and more about cult-like thinking,  especially falling into the excitement of battling an evil entity and being willing to kill to preserve the delusion.

I was most disturbed by how willing the nearly faceless, barely shown townspeople were to let this powerful woman, and eventually their king, preside over and execute these witch trials of their neighbors. It was disturbing, not just because it is historically accurate, but because this is often what it feels like every day to work in journalism.

You’re begging people to see the truth, or at least investigate further, but the comment-section pitchforks are out for blood and hate blinds. It was emotionally heavy to see this episode play out the metaphor so plainly.

So I’d hate for someone to come away from this episode angry at how a secular British show might have depicted Christianity or belief in Satan specifically, while missing the larger point of how fast beliefs can be manipulated into fear-fed hate that leads to murder in the name of “defeating evil.”

Hannah: I think the episode was addressing the witch trials on three different levels. First, there’s religion. The Doctor delivers a quick bit of Biblical exegesis rejecting the rules of the Old Testament for a New Testament verse: “Love thy neighbor.”

But this is quickly shuffled offstage as the story deals with the psychological underpinnings of the characters’ actions and finally, the third contributing factor to the massacre, which is, as Doctor Who usually finds, a material extraterrestrial cause.

So the moral of the story focuses, again, on the fact that there’s always a materialist explanation for things. Any sort of mysticism is going to be phased out in favor of a scientific worldview. Look how Graham quotes Ezekiel through the medium of Pulp Fiction. It’s a glimpse of a future, irreligious society. Scripture survives only through pop culture.

And “any sufficiently advanced technology,” the Doctor claims, cribbing Arthur C. Clarke’s line, “is indistinguishable from magic.” All things are explicable using material reason. (Fun fact: this line turned up earlier in Doctor Who in the Seventh Doctor episode, “Battlefield.”)

Of course, the mud zombies would never have gotten that far if not for human frailty, which seems to be the other major theme of the episode. Becka Savage’s snobbery about the woman who raised her and King James’ fear of plots exacerbate a bad situation. Those are decent morals to draw from a witch trial story, though unexpected ones. For a better Doctor Who story about hysteria and mobs, check out series 4’s “Midnight.”

And speaking of Satan, that brings up some earlier encounters with the occult on Doctor Who. Get ready for some insufferably detailed nerdery. You did ask for it!

A few episodes include witchcraft as a plot point, like “Image of the Fendahl,” “The Shakespeare Code,” and “The King’s Demons.” As Jenna mentioned, “The Satan Pit” is a major instance where the Doctor met a satanic figure, and it’s unusual because he was not able to explain away with science.

Far more common is the Arthur C. Clarke approach, as in “Pyramids of Mars,” where the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith face down Sutekh, an ancient evil being who the Doctor claims is the inspiration for the human myth of Satan. Sutekh is a fantastic villain, one of the scariest in all of Doctor Who. He looks cool, he sounds cool, his plot is super nihilistic, and above all, the instant he meets Tom Baker’s goofy, lovable Doctor, he crushes his mind like a bug. He is a serious villain. But he’s also an explicable alien from an ancient race.

The same thing happens in “The Daemons,” which concerns evil goings-on at the cursed hamlet of Devil’s End. The Master goes undercover as a priest and the Third Doctor and his UNIT fam (Three would never have used such a word, but “fam” is precisely what Jo Grant, Mike Yates, Benton and the Brigadier were to him) have conquer a demonic threat. Again, it turns out they’re aliens from the planet Daemos. It’s a great episode and now I want to rewatch it.

There are other demonic creatures (the Mara, the Black Guardian) but about the closest parallel in Classic Who to something like “The Witchfinders” is in “The Curse of Fenric,” when a bunch of evil zombies motivated by an evil from “the dawn of time” rise from the oceans to attack the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

The only thing that holds them back is faith. They’re not repelled by a vicar who lost his faith in WWII, but they wither before the Seventh Doctor’s faith in his companions. It’s interesting that this one, like “The Satan Pit,” embraces both the idea of inexplicable evil and that the Doctor’s only belief is in those that travel with him.

Aaron: Alan Cumming’s King James was a light point in an otherwise dark episode. In some ways he provided some needed levity, while in other ways he seemed out of place. I wasn’t convinced he was supposed to be portraying the actual King James until the end of the episode. I kept thinking he was a con-man pretending to be the king for some reason that would be revealed. What did you think of his performance and the character of King James?

Hannah: I thought Cumming’s campy performance was highly entertaining. But on the other hand, I’m not sure what role the character was supposed to fill in the story.

Logically, it made no sense for the king of England to turn up in Lancashire like a thrill-chasing nobleman with only a few courtiers. Stylistically, Cumming’s performance was totally at odds with the grim drama going on around him. And historically, James really was involved in witch trials, so he wasn’t a prissy naïf.

Therefore, including a jokey King James who just pops up in the face of logic and history doesn’t seem to fit with the mood of the story and the seriousness and internal logic of the history.

There is, however, one major reason to include him, which fits with the episode’s attempt to delve into the psychological issues of the hysterical Salem accusers. James’s religion seems to exist as a cloak for his fear—his fear of being assassinated (probably not paranoid—this is the guy who Guy Fawkes tried to blow up), his fear of abandonment, and his implied fear of his own sexuality.

At the same time, this episode was so dark and self-serious that I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it without him. He made the whole thing fun.

Jenna: Oh, that wouldn’t have occured to me that he would have been a con-man! I think that might have been a typical Who case of “Yay, we got a celebrity. Now let’s write in a role for him.” Haha.

I don’t know that that’s what happened, but it came off as too good of casting for the very queer King James as a delight for those who are Alan Cumming fans, but otherwise, it wasn’t very clear what he was doing there. Which would easily have been explained with a bit of dialogue, like Queen Victoria in “Tooth and Claw.” In fact, this royal appearance reminded me a bit of that in the end.

I second Hannah’s points as well about religion being a coping mechanism for his various fears. While it was a nice touch for humor and lightening things up, ultimately there were so many implied layers there with his “masks,” as the Doctor points out in her (quite powerful, imo) speech one-on-one with him.

I’d love to hear the writer and Cumming talk more about what they were going for and the depth of meaning behind his appearance and the dialogue they wrote.

Next week: “It Takes You Away”

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Discussing Doctor Who: Kerblam! Sat, 24 Nov 2018 20:11:24 +0000 The Doctor receives a package (a fez!) from galactic delivery service Kerblam! containing a request for help. Going undercover in the warehouse, the Doctor investigates with Team TARDIS. I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt). If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The […]

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Doctor Who Kerblam!

The Doctor receives a package (a fez!) from galactic delivery service Kerblam! containing a request for help. Going undercover in the warehouse, the Doctor investigates with Team TARDIS.

I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” and “Demons of the Punjab.”

This week, Hannah takes over all the questions.

Hannah: It was appropriate that this episode name-dropped Agatha Christie, because in a lot of ways, it was a simple mystery. One essential element in mysteries is clues. Do you think this episode did a good job dropping hints about the ultimate solution, or did the the big reveal come out of the blue?

Jenna: Okay, I think I have two answers to this. 1. Yes, I think they did a good job of dropping hints throughout about the dangers of Amazon-like mega-warehouse culture and the harm it does when we think of humans as “organics.”

2. No, I didn’t see the true enemy reveal coming! Which I thought was a good balance. It would have been boring if the expected baddie was the real one. By including the twist, the episode was able to go even deeper into the issue than the normal “corporations are bad, robots are scary, people in authority are evil” schtick, though those elements are true to a degree in this situation, but as the Doctor says, it’s the people who enabled and designed these systems that are to blame.

Aaron: I always appreciate links to previous episodes of Doctor Who, particularly in a season where so many things are different. I loved the quick nod to “The Unicorn and The Wasp” (and the fun gag with the fez).

And like, Jenna, I didn’t see the turn coming. They did a nice job of making the other possibilities—the robots, the managers—seem more nefarious. But in a way I think they did too good a job. As in, there didn’t seem to be any clues that Charlie, the innocuous janitor, was the actual bad guy. Having him say some things that could be taken in different ways would’ve provided some foreshadowing that gets overlooked because of the other options, but makes sense in the end. It needed an “I see dead people” moment.

There also seems to be some significant plot holes. If the “system” was aware enough that something was wrong with what Charlie was doing to send the Doctor a “help me” note, why didn’t it let the managers know? Why did it think the solution was to catch and kill other human workers? This is one of those episodes that is fun on a first viewing, but if you think about too long, it all falls apart.

Hannah: To me, this episode felt rather like Doctor Who by-the-numbers. Writer Pete McTighe (a life-long fan) was attempting the standard trick of reinventing a common item as deadly. Think of the Weeping Angels. Did any of us look at statues quite the same after Blink? And there’s that fantastic sequence where all the shop mannequins come alive in Spearhead from Space. Did you think the bubble wrap produce a similar effect? Why or why not?

Jenna: Oh yeah! I loved that bit. Making bubble wrap scary just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping rush? Very Doctor Who. But it also felt unique enough that it wasn’t like “sigh, another household item? Really, Doctor Who?”

I admit during Eleven’s era, I think I had that reaction by the time we got to the snow. But I felt like it’s been long enough since they have done the “ordinary object becomes a weapon” trope, so I’m cool with it.

Aaron: As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of my favorite Doctor Who concepts. I still don’t look at statues the same way and even mannequins are a bit creepier after seeing the Autons.

And while this didn’t quite do the same to bubble wrap, our family did have several fun moments of cautioning each other as we took out carefully wrapped Christmas ornaments this weekend. If you are going to have a throwaway, short-lived villain or concept, at least make it a fun, memorable one.

Hannah: Our TARDIS “fam” are growing in confidence, perhaps too much so. Graham finagles his way into stealing a map; Ryan faces his dyspraxia by jumping down a chute; Yaz outruns a pair of hilariously slow robots in an action sequence worthy of Classic Who. Meanwhile, the Doctor seemed like she was in charge from step one. Did the episode still manage to pit our heroes against genuine obstacles? Was there a real sense of menace or are things too easy?

Jenna: The conveyor belt scene was fun, and Yaz down in the 999 section validated my “warehouses are creepy” opinion, but it’s true that these guys are all getting confident.

It’s good to have it work out a few times to build them up as experienced in their minds before having an episode where it shockingly doesn’t go as planned, so I think making it a bit easy is a great setup for a more meaningful climax later on.

Aaron: I liked Ryan’s anxiousness and nervous talking before jumping down the chute, but that whole scene was laughable for me. The CGI was atrocious (glaringly so after so much high budget cinematography earlier in the season) and Charlie falling off after a weak high five just seemed dumb.

There didn’t seem to be too much danger to the Doctor and companions, but I didn’t mind that as much. The issue was the mystery and the danger to the people in the warehouse. It can be a nice change of pace to have some episodes where different people are in trouble.

Hannah: This episode borrows from stories like Planet of the Ood or The Sunmakers for its portrayal of crushing corporate life. But the direction it ends up going is unexpected—it’s not a simple anti-technology screed (though both the revelation that the robots are actually good and that it’s really a paranoid terrorist behind the killings sounds remarkably like last week’s plot). What messages about humanity’s relationship to technology can we glean from the episode’s resolution?

Jenna: We have to remember there are people behind our automated systems: the Kira’s and Dan’s of the world who may or may not have had a choice in their work for a giant corporation feeding the demand in more prosperous countries, especially when the unemployment rate is high and people are grateful just to have any job, no matter how poor the conditions or strict the requirements.

A good way to keep ourselves tuned into that reality is to check your “slavery footprint,” then support the work of ethically sourced companies and nonprofits doing justice work in collaboration with these global corporations to end the forced labor that enables our consumerism.

The planet’s culture in this episode has already had a revolutionary moment that resulted in the 10% organics rule. When we realize that pushing a button online isn’t just a vending machine spitting out our desired product, and that we need real people in the system, we have to ask what we mean by “human-powered workforces” and “meaningful work.”

We can also take away the message that when we talk about the dignity of work, we should know which work we mean, and not forget the reality that most of us in white-collar jobs aren’t really talking about the same thing as blue-collar workers, especially factory workers, when we talk about things like calling and vocation.

It was ironic to me that they shoved the people into repetitive tasks in the warehouse that, as the Doctor notes, easily could have been robot-driven, and the robot-driven tasks were the people-facing ones, the delivery men. It’s the humans having to imagine what it must be like for the recipients to be so excited to get their package and the robot actually bringing that joy.

I’m not saying delivery work is easy and maybe teleports aren’t the safest for humans, but just that it seems like the motivation Kira had that made her work fulfilling easily could have been realized had they flipped the roles of humans and tech in the system.

Aaron: Jena, I’m glad you brought up the recent Christianity Today story about factory work and the discussions of how theology of work discussions often leave out blue-collar jobs. For me, I saw the episode much more about work and human dignity than about technology.

I grew up on a turkey farm and spent five years working in a UPS warehouse, before spending my day writing at a desk. It was much more difficult for me to remember the work I was doing had significance and value when I was handling boxes in the middle of the night.

But I will say, that Kira’s advice about remembering the people who would be opening the packages does provide perspective and is part of the training I received.

To the episode itself—and the turn away from evil tech—we are left again with the “humans are the true villains.” In isolation or at least on occasion, it makes a good twist, but it has been the primary reveal recently.

Hannah: Again, we have a story with a strong focus on family, and more specifically, on family divided. Kira is an orphan. Dan’s daughter is orphaned in the course of the episode. We also see the way an obsessive love of tribe and people can lead to terrorism, much like Manish last week. And again, the Doctor fails to talk a radical out of self-destruction. Why do you think the season is dwelling on these themes?

Jenna: I think these are really relevant themes to our current climate, but it also forces the series into a more domestic focus, which is beloved by the Doctor Who community and takes New Who back to its roots, as we’ve discussed.

I think when you want to make a character, good or bad, more relevant to the audience or especially villainous or emotionally moving, you make it about something the average viewer can relate to or at least have empathy for: being betrayed by a sibling, having to work far away to support your family, losing a beloved parent figure, marrying into a family and trying to bond with a younger person who might resent you, dealing with an absent father, finding out your grandmother has a secret past … those things can connect us to characters in ways that spaceships and aliens don’t and are the heart behind the Who.

Aaron: Of all the death this seasons, I think I was most heartbroken by Kira’s. She just wanted a family—and a present to open more than once (or I guess twice) in her life. Even Dan’s was a gut punch as he was spending the time away from his daughter and for his daughter (which has obvious parallels to immigrant labor force in developed nations). They did a good job of making the characters connect emotionally this week.

It is interesting to see the Doctor fail to convince the radicalized person that violence isn’t the answer. I would love to see her wrestle with that and even wonder if it has something to do with her gender. With previous incarnations, they often avoided disaster by talking people out of their plans. (One can’t help but remember Twelve and his speech in “The Zygon Inversion.”)

Hannah: Bonus question: We’re well into the season at this point, far enough to have a pretty good idea of the characters. Out of the TARDIS team, who’s your favorite and why? (Mine is Graham. His character is the most fleshed-out, and he is so wonderfully empathetic and enthusiastic.)

Jenna: I love all of them! Oh man. Is it cheating to say the Doctor herself? I’m so in love with how Jodie is playing her and I hope she stays on for a long time to come.

Aaron: There were so many moments this week that solidified Ryan as my favorite. He’s a lovable goofball dealing with some significant emotional and physical issues. Like Nardole last season, I enjoy the companions who provide levity in the midst of seriousness.

And for some reason, Ryan strikes me as the most believable. The way he responds to situations and talks to others sounds less like a character on a show and more like an actual person.

Next week: “The Witchfinders”

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Discussing Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab Fri, 16 Nov 2018 04:30:06 +0000 The Doctor—against her better judgment—decides to take Yaz back in time to learn more about her grandmother. In “Demons of the Punjab,” the TARDIS Team confronts more of the darkside of humanity. I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt). If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman […]

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Doctor Who Demons of the Punjab

The Doctor—against her better judgment—decides to take Yaz back in time to learn more about her grandmother. In “Demons of the Punjab,” the TARDIS Team confronts more of the darkside of humanity.

I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK” and “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”

This week, Jenna, Hannah and I split the questions and answers.

Hannah: People often accused Steven Moffat of creating companions without home lives—Amy’s family had been swallowed up by a crack in time, of course, but Clara’s family were barely present and Bill lived with a one-dimensional foster parent. Meanwhile, Russell T. Davies gave his companions vivid families and backgrounds pre-TARDIS travel.

The Chibnall era has focused on family, but it also seems intent on giving companions glimpses into their own cultural histories. Did this episode help give Yaz some depth and context?

Aaron: If we have to choose between the two approaches, I much prefer Davies’ background and established homelife to Moffat’s perpetual orphans (though I think each can work for different characters.) So I’m constantly wanting to know more about how each of the companions made the decision to step on the TARDIS.

This is definitely the most we’ve gotten to see from Yaz and definitely gave depth to her character, but I’m not sure it still gave us any reasons for why she’s running away with the Doctor.

Usually a companion is driven by something to leave the security of their ordinary life behind for trips through time and space, even if it’s just my life is boring like Rose or the lack of familial connections like many during Moffat’s run.

Yaz has a loving family and a seemingly good life. What is she trying to escape? I hope we find the answer to that question.

Jenna: Agreed. I am still curious as to what Yaz meant when she sort of grumbled about her family in “The Ghost Monument” after seeing some happy domestic scenes in subsequent episodes. Just a young adult thinking her sister is typically obnoxious and her parents are dorky? Or something more?

On the whole, I love domestic Who. It connects the everyday person with this wild world. Some of the companions (even Moffat’s) best moments are when they are exploring family connections and their ordinary home setting. It helps them become more real, which is the point as the companions’ purpose is to be a sort of stand-in for the viewer.

When the Doctor explains things to them or introduces new worlds to them, she is really introducing those concepts and worlds to us. And likewise, the human companions shine with the beautiful messiness of humanity, teaching the Doctor and us about ourselves.

When companions are rooted with a sense of origin and home and a life outside of and before the Doctor, they are more relatable and fleshed out as characters.  

Hannah: This episode’s villains ended up being taken in a different direction than I was expecting.

First they appear to be random murderers, then seem intent on assassinating Prem, but as it turns out, they’re almost exactly like the Thirteenth Doctor: travellers, refusing to interfere in history, but bearing witness to history as it happens.

How do you feel about their role in this episode? Did you think they fulfilled any particular story or thematic purpose?

Aaron: There have been several episodes in recent seasons in which we learn the threatening alien is not the real villain after all. The repeated turn has been that humanity is the real enemy to ourselves. It can be an effective turn if not overused, as it was in Moffat’s last season.

In a sense, I thought they fit in the overall context of not judging others without understanding them first. We had the conflict between the Hindu and Muslims within one family and on a large scale with the separation of India and Pakistan. This gave us the monster version of not judging a book by its cover.

Jenna: Yes, I also think it is important in a story like this–where the damage from that moment in history is still very much a real thing and India’s divisions are as strong as ever–to acknowledge that people can change.

Groups that have a reputation for destruction and violence can become the compassionate and protecting guardians. I think if the Thijarians were just previously unknown to the Doctor and then revealed to be docile witnesses, it would still be an important lesson about prejudice, but not nearly as effective as having their backstory of being assassins in the past and now being the opposite.

Even those famed for their violence can choose to become peaceful memorializers instead.  

Aaron: This show borrowed an idea from previous Doctor Who episodes by taking a companion back to a pivotal point in their family timeline, including one of my favorite New Who episodes—“Father’s Day.” But that comparison brings out a point about how a time traveling show handles the past, tradition, and the like.

In Father’s Day, the church building offered a safe haven from the Reapers because it was the oldest building in the area. There was a sense that history and tradition were aids to the time travelers. Whereas this week, tradition seemed to be cast as a hindrance to the progress of love between the couple.

How did you think this compared to previous trips related to a companion’s history? And how do you feel the time traveling show handles the role of tradition in our lives?

Jenna: I know it was a very brief moment, but oh my heart when the aliens remind the Doctor that fixed events can’t be undone! She’s learned that lesson in such a heartbreaking way over and over, but for this Rose-lover, it was a meaningful callback.

As far as tradition goes, I thought there was an interesting and historically important point as we discuss global politics and such. It’s true that it was against tradition for an interfaith marriage, but these families had also been neighbors for generations!

I think we forget when we get so focused on the larger dynamics (Hindu vs. Muslim, race vs. race, language vs. language, whatever) that in rural areas, especially, people live together in harmony and aren’t as divided.

Thus, it’s there, where relationships aren’t between faceless strangers but generational neighbors, that the most personal hurt can be caused and damage done. These people know each other. They have starved together and fought together and labored together.

It is true to life, but so heartbreaking, when forces claim we should “keep to our kind” and “not lose who we are and what makes us different” at the expense of peace.

I think on the whole, Doctor Who can be respectful of tradition, particularly religion, but I also can’t get the Ninth Doctor’s “It’s a different morality. Get used to it or go home” out of my head from “The Unquiet Dead.”

The Doctor doesn’t try to (though inadvertently might, as we saw with the aliens this week) subvert people’s traditions and beliefs, but he/she also doesn’t always place human traditions at the top of the list and doesn’t hold tradition in a place of priority in comparison with other values.

Which is kind of central to the character to get him to leave Gallifrey and go out interfering (I mean, *ahem*, exploring), giving us a show.

Hannah: Like Jenna said, the show can be inconsistent in how it deals with tradition. On the one hand, the Doctor is a natural rebel, running away from home to break all the rules of his people. It’s never clearer than when the Second Doctor is on trial for his life for breaking the laws of non-interference.

At the same time, the Doctor remembers his training in the Academy. He knows there are laws of time and that generally, he mustn’t interfere. Different incarnations have been more or less conservative in how they treat tradition. The Ninth Doctor had a massive chip on his shoulder. The Thirteenth Doctor, on the other hand, seems more open to traditions like the prayer at the end of last week’s episode.

As for tradition in this episode, I think the circumstances were different than in Father’s Day. In that episode, the main conflict is about Rose saving her father. In this, the entire historical period pivots around conflict between religions. Inevitably, going against the traditional radicals is going to be anti-tradition. But I’m not sure that it’s tradition writ large that’s the enemy so much as a new, hyper-radicalized version of it.

Hannah: In the series’ second historical episode, it travels to an obscure moment in history—or at least, a less prominent moment for much of the show’s Western audience.

Doctor Who has swung between the extremes over the years—focusing on well-worn moments like Rosa Parks’ protest and the moon landing—as well as less familiar events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

What are the pros and cons of visiting obscure vs. notable moments in history from a story perspective?

Aaron: The benefit of visiting moments like Rosa Park’s protest is that it grants the viewer an immediate sense of connection. You know a lot about those people and that moment, so you can easily get drawn in emotionally. Everything has to be earned when you create fictional situations or use lesser known moments.

I appreciated the historical approach this week much more than “Rosa,” even though I felt much more emotional weight during the climax on that Birmingham bus. This made me want to learn more about those events, as opposed to feeling as if it cheapened them in any way.

Plus, this week took the large event and made it small. The national crisis became about one family and one couple, whereas Rosa took one person and made it national (even universal). I think both can work, but I’d prefer the way “Demons of the Punjab” had it.

Jenna: Yeah, I think a balance is good: making the famous moments more relatably domestic (to return to that theme for a moment) and making the more domestic moments from history more well-known.

It’s important to see both: making this huge, mythic figure central to history like Rosa Parks more human, with a job and facing daily prejudice and a sense of humor and friends, but also making this huge event like the partition, where millions and millions of people were affected, more understandable by focusing in on these two families out away from the main action of the event.

The two episodes actually weren’t that far apart in time, so doing it Viceroy’s House-style, in the room where it happens, could have been repetitive, but instead of one moment that changed everything, this was so much more personal.  

Jenna: We see Manish grow more and more radical throughout the episode. In in the end, his radicalism ends his brother’s life. We see radicalized youth even today, in India as well as here.

Not even Umbreen’s speech of honor and forgiveness can change him. Is there anything we can learn from this episode about when divisions end in deadly hatred?

Hannah: I’m not sure the episode offers any solutions to how to persuade a character like Manish. Prem, who Manesh obviously still cared for, probably represented his best shot at redemption, but in the end, he didn’t change.

It’s a surprisingly downbeat ending for Doctor Who, which in the Moffat years was far more indulgent of the Doctor’s ability to sweep into a situation and save the day, changing history or even bringing about resurrection on several occasions.

On a smaller scale, in ”The Zygon Inversion“ the Doctor manages to talk down Zygon terrorist Bonnie.

I still want there to be hope for characters like Bonnie and Manesh, but I like that the story recognizes there are some things that can’t be fixed by talking fast.

Sometimes there are problems the Doctor can’t solve; there are fault-lines through the human heart that are beyond human…or Timelord…fixing. Restoring this understanding brings back a sense of gravitas and tragedy that could often be missing in Moffat’s obsession with happy endings.

To quote the Doctor…actually, in a Moffat episode, “You need a good death. Without death there’d only be comedies. Death gives us size.”

Aaron: As Hannah said, it may not give us a solution, but it does provide some perspective—there is evil in this world and people are often persuaded by it.

I thought about “The Zygon Inversion” as well and the contrast this episode provided. While I loved the Doctor’s speech and ability to pull success out of a hat in that moment, I’m glad it doesn’t always work out that way on the show—since it doesn’t always do so in real life.

Jenna: If you could go back in your family’s history, when would you choose? (I’d want to meet my great-grandmother who was a poet and one of the first female journalists in New Mexico.)

Hannah: I would like to visit my great uncle Berlin in the 1930s. He was such a kind and vivid character, as I knew him, but a fire destroyed all records of his younger life.

He told wonderful stories about his childhood (which I wrote about here)—raised by a devout father who was born during the Civil War. But he was also raised alongside my granddad, who was a year younger.

My granddad had a difficult childhood. That experience echoed down the years into our family history, and I wish I could see more of it to better understand him.

Aaron: That is a fantastic question and one that makes me wish I knew more about my family’s history. I don’t know enough about my grandparents and older.

But I would love to see my parents when they were younger. They grew up in seperate, but nearby towns and met at a dance. My dad went away to fight in Vietnam, so it would be compelling to see him in that context and know some of the things he went through.

Next week:

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Discussing Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum Fri, 09 Nov 2018 14:00:19 +0000 Now that the Doctor has dispatched with spiders in “Arachnids in the UK” (… in the most humane way possible?), she and her companions are back in space for “The Tsuranga Conundrum.” I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt). If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who […]

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Now that the Doctor has dispatched with spiders in “Arachnids in the UK” (… in the most humane way possible?), she and her companions are back in space for “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”

I’m joined again this week by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa” and “Arachnids in the UK.”

This week, Jenna’s asking the questions again, while Hannah and I handle the answers.

Jenna: When the Doctor and her companions get picked up by an emergency medical ship, she gets so wrapped up in getting back to the planet where they left the TARDIS that one of the medical staff has to call her on her selfish focus.

There are other patients onboard who need to get to their destination and her resistance to going endangers them.

Were you glad to see the Doctor called out and having flaws or did it seem out of character to you that she wouldn’t think of others’ needs?

Hannah: I think it’s probably too early to say if it’s out of character. It was certainly one of the Doctor’s flaws in the past – charging in assuming he understood the situation perfectly. This Doctor has a lot of empathy and her people skills have improved dramatically (she may be socially awkward, but note she is self-aware enough to recognize her own awkwardness, a step up from the obliviousness of Eleven and Twelve.)

Because of her expertise in these areas, she’s usually more willing to be a team player. In fact, I’d say it’s a notable characteristic of this Doctor that she’s generous and selfless. So it does seem like an odd flaw to give her—but at least it is a flaw. It’s a welcome complication to Whittaker’s usually upbeat character.

Aaron: Right, it’s exactly in character for previous Doctors, but a bit odd for this Doctor based on what we’ve seen of her so far.

Perhaps it was more the strain of the experience. That’s not really the Doctor’s true character, but if you catch her in the wrong moment, like most of us, selfishness can pop up.

Still I’d love to see her be more complicated and alien—outside of the wonderful socially awkward moments.

There’s also the bit about her bragging about having an entire volume of history written about her, which is a change from when Eleven realized he was making too much noise in the universe and wanted to have a more lower profile.


Jenna: The medical officer, Astos, has solid leadership skills and keeps the Doctor’s independence in check for the few minutes we have him on screen. Like all too-good people, though, he’s quickly out of the picture thanks to a little monster.

The monster, the Pting, disables the sonic and is revealed by the ship’s system to be supposedly one of the worst creatures to have enclosed on a barely manned crew in space.

Was it just me or was the Pting a little too cute to be scary? (Or does this monster of the week make up for last week’s truly frightening episode?)

Hannah: Cute monsters aren’t necessarily a problem, but the story doesn’t seem to know how it wants us to feel about Pting: charmed or terrified. The story opens with Pting killing a competent, strong character in a powerful way.

But then, upon seeing Pting for the first time, the Doctor casually walks up and pokes him with her sonic, which seems stupidly risky. That she gets away with it has the added side effect of destroying whatever menace the cuddly creature had left. I like his weirdness, but he doesn’t quite work.

Aaron: It was like having Vashta Nerada from “The Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” posses an Adipose from “Partners in Crime.” Take a horrifying, unstoppable creature and cram it in a cute body. That can work if you either play it for laughs or for shock.

If you ratchet up the absurdity, you get something like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. Or you can have the cute creature be the shockingly deadly monster. But you can’t really do both and that seems to be what “The Tsuranga Conundrum” tried to do.

It failed to commit one way or the other and thus we a left with a monster that will quickly be forgotten.

Jenna: Thanks to a pregnant Gifftan alien man (yes, yes, alien biology is alien, but at least it’s given a logical explanation), Ryan’s inspired to share more of his backstory with Yaz.

His mum had a heart attack and was found by Ryan at 13, which led to Ryan’s dad running out when he couldn’t cope.

Did this make you more sympathetic toward his dad’s absence? (or less?) What does this tell you about Ryan and/or where his story might be going?

Hannah: I have mixed feelings about this subplot. I like what it does for Ryan and Graham, but I can’t get over the disruption of gender roles in this archetypally female story. Archetypally…who am I kidding? Childbirth is an exclusively female story.

This oddness—this complete divorce of gender from biology and the experience of women from the female body—kept distancing me from the laudable themes of the story, which promote protecting and loving unplanned children, taking responsibility as a parent, and recognizing the effect parental absence has on children.

These traditional messages might be why Chibnall chose to genderswap the character, as they’re very much at odds with an individualistic, pro-choice culture. Chibnall might have felt that a man explaining them to a woman—even a young man speaking as an abandoned son—would come off as patronizing.

But on the other hand, he handled such a situation beautifully in Broadchurch – with, actually, Jodie Whittaker as the mother and Arthur Darvill as the adviser – so I shouldn’t have thought that would have been a problem.

Again, though, I like that we’re starting to find out more about Ryan’s past, and that he takes the initiative and gets out of his comfort zone in this episode. He’s bonding with Graham, bit by bit.

Aaron: It brings us back to the this being the first (known?) instance of the Doctor being a woman and the issue of what exactly gender means. I kinda bought in to the alien explanation of men having boys and women having girls, but I’m worried now that overturning any and all gender norms will be an incessant theme of Whittaker and Cibnall’s run.

It’s one thing to challenge gender stereotypes. We need more of that (says the quiet, bookish guy who doesn’t like to hunt or go camping). But mistakes in applying stereotypes universally is not corrected by asserting there is no difference between men and women.

Still I do appreciate the moment for bringing us more background information on Ryan (who continues to be the companion at the center of the story being told).

And I loved the moment at the end where Graham tries to fistbump Ryan and gets rebuffed, but lovingly. As a dad to boys, I recognized myself so much in that moment.

Jenna: A highly decorated general is one of the few people on board, providing someone to exchange technobabble with. The “iPhone version of CERN” powers the ship, so the Doctor gives us a lightning-fast physics lesson.

I have no doubt more devoted scifi fans will memorize and understand it, but as someone who watches more for the character development and relationships, I will leave that explanation to the scientists in the fandom.

Anyone able to follow that? Is this more of that educational focus? Thoughts on bringing more science to the Doctor Who brand of fantasy sci-fi?

Hannah: You know, for all Moffat’s wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey prevarications, he was really good at visualizing complicated science concepts for an audience of laymen. Chibnall hasn’t quite reached that level of translative talent, but I appreciate that he’s trying to incorporate some hard science into the show.

And to answer your question: no, I wasn’t able to follow it at all.

Aaron: Incorporate away, but don’t make it a lecture in the midst of what is supposed to be a harrowing situation. For me, the exposition on the ship’s power supply brought the story to a screeching halt, taking away from the action and not giving us much in return.

While it may not survive the microscope of a scientists, I’d much prefer my science explanations be more concerned with sounding plausible to the layperson in the audience and getting quickly back to moving the story along.

Jenna: Tight shots are an attempt to make the episode seem more energized and heighten the drama because otherwise it’s just fewer than a dozen people walking around a plain white series of plastic-walled rooms.

Did the set seem underwhelming to you? Or appropriately stark for a hospital? Any thoughts on the setting and cinematography?

Hannah: I thought the set was fine, though it didn’t reinvent any wheels. The episode makes a mistake acting like “we’re in a spaceship hospital” is a big reveal.

It looks exactly like the interior of a spaceship so I assumed that’s what it was from the beginning. If there’d been some windows with a hologram view of some blissful garden, I’d have been fooled (and that, actually, would have been a really interesting design innovation). But not with windowless corridors.

Compare this with one of the best reveals in Classic Who. After spending some time below decks on a creaky Edwardian yacht, the Doctor and his companions finally break into the ship’s bridge to find a bank of windows looking out to a fleet of yachts racing through the stars. It’s a stunning moment in a terrific episode.

Aaron: Again, it’s almost like they tried to do two things at once and it didn’t really work.

You can try to have the claustrophobic setting of a spaceship enhance the terror and paranoia of those on board like “Midnight.” Almost the entire episode is set on a small shuttle and you never see the monster, but you feel the fear of those on board.

Or you can play off of how expansive the ship is with so much of it being unexplored, something horrifying could be waiting around any corner.

I’m not sure if they were trying to do either, neither of both of those things in “The Tsuranga Conundrum.” Whatever they were trying, it didn’t work.

If it was not obvious from previous answers, this was my least favorite episode of the season.

Jenna: The sacrifice trope is played out as the general uses up the last of her health piloting the ship. Meanwhile, the alien man’s baby is delivered. Life given in sacrifice so that life may be given anew. Then at the end, they say a benediction in memorial to the general in a liturgical moment:

“May the saints of all the stars and constellations bring you hope as they guide you out of the dark and into the light, on this voyage and the next and all the journeys still to come, for now and evermore.”  

Religious-inspired themes are nothing new to Doctor Who, with past episodes even including hymns, but the emphasis on hope is especially strong with this one and the rhythm of the benediction provides some familiarity in an episode with strong alien and futuristic themes that don’t fit our normal.

How you do you think sci-fi can use religious themes for good? Is there a negative side to cultural allusions like this?

Hannah: I like that the show isn’t shying away from explicit religious language. Doctor Who has contained bits of religious imagery and meaning from the very beginning. Anthony Coburn wrote “An Unearthly Child,” the very first episode of the show, and told his son he based the Doctor on the Apostle Paul. (No kidding!)

That fascinating Doctor Who history tidbit aside, we have to draw a distinction between cultural allusions and themes. I think allusions are usually good. Real religious cultural allusions make for interesting color in a script. Jumping from allusion to direct reference is a mistake.

Tennant’s cheeky oblique references to Christ are fine, but visiting the Nativity would be something I think the show isn’t qualified to handle (same with big events in other world religions).

The only negative I can think of from using allusions like these is that it could cross the line from indirect allusion to direct reference, which is a bad idea in sci-fi. The genre works best through allegory and myth—not straight preaching.

As for themes, religion can offer great opportunities for talking about ideas relevant to the show. There’s a wonderful conversation in the Sixth Doctor audio story The Marian Conspiracy where a 16th Century lady-in-waiting talks to the Doctor in religious terms about guilt and redemption.

Religion forms a perfect frame for the Sixth Doctor to express his apocalyptic guilt (this is, after all, the Doctor who was put on trial by the Time Lords for alleged genocide).

They discuss whether believing you’re doing the right thing justifies horrible deeds…at first they’re talking about Mary, Queen of Scots, but then the Doctor fully confesses his sins.

Doctor: What would you say if I were to tell you that I once destroyed an entire race, that I have led friends to their deaths and caused numerous wars. That my intervention has led to peaceful races taking up arms and good people having their faith or reason destroyed. Because I failed to act, millions upon millions of people have been enslaved or killed. What if I had done all of those things but had always, always believed I was doing to the right thing?

Sarah: If you were to tell me that, I would say, may God have mercy on your soul.

Doctor: Sarah…

Sarah: But I would also say, I trust and pray that he will.

It’s a lovely, thoughtful moment in a fascinating episode (that also, by the way, introduces one of the best companions of all time—Evelyn Smythe).

Aaron: As Hannah noted, religion and Doctor Who have been intertwined since the beginning of the show. Those themes have been explored in numerous books like Religion and Doctor Who: Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, and even small group Bible studies like The Salvation of Doctor Who: A Small Group Study Connecting Christ and Culture.

Those evaluations range from scholarly to … not so scholarly, but it’s obvious that the show has consistent religious themes.

I agree with Hannah that I appreciate the allusions to historical religious moments or ideas, but to directly explore those would be almost certainly a catastrophe.

And I don’t think there’s a need to because sci-fi or fantasy and, perhaps surprisingly to many, horror are the genres most able to explore deep religious themes without breaking the story and giving in to sermonizing or mockery.

One of my other favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, has heavy religious allusions, but they serve the story and make fascinating discussion pieces. They don’t take away from the narrative.

Jenna: Bonus question: With lines like “Whole worlds pivot on acts of imagination” and “Hope prevails” as easy catchphrases to turn into inspirational memes, the writers seem to be making a clear statement about what they want the end message to be of each episode.

I love how the Doctor (of medicine and various other things, but “mostly of hope”) has such relevant lines for our times—and all times—in between alien emergencies. Do you have a favorite Doctor quote (from any incarnation) that gives you hope?  

Hannah: I think mostly of hopeful moments. The eucatastrophe at the end of The Doctor Dances, where a war-weary Nine rejoices that “just this once, everybody lives!” He swings around a little boy miraculously cured from a terrible ailment.

River Song’s final speech in The Forest of the Dead, where she promises the beauty of a future life for the Doctor, “You and me. Time and space. You watch us run.” That the speech is delivered in the context of an act of sacrificial love makes it all the more powerful.

When Idris, finally, realizes the complicated, sad word she’s been looking for: “Alive.”

I usually need context to really make quotes my favorites (thus, while I love those Thirteen catchphrases in theory, they aren’t really backed up by the setting). But a few more hopeful lines just for good measure:

“There is, surprisingly, always hope.” – The Eleventh Doctor to Vincent van Gogh

“One good solid hope’s worth a cartload of certainties” – The Fourth Doctor

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace. We’ve got work to do.”The Seventh Doctor, speaking the final words of the Classic Series

Aaron: The Doctor is such an inherently hopeful character that it makes him, and now her, ever relevant. There’s a reason Scripture is so full of passages on hope. We are always in need of it.

The problem often comes when the hope is delivered without the danger threatening it. I love when Nine said, “Just this once, everybody lives!” Except that became the norm. It wasn’t just that once. It was virtually every time. Pain and loss were undermined and escaped, often in absurd ways.

Our stories, like Doctor Who, need death and tragedy. They need to reflect our current and real situation in a fallen world. Otherwise, it’s a false hope.

Hope is not saying that everything will always be OK. Because it’s not. We’ve seen that unfortunately again this week with another mass shooting.

We need hope to remind us that one day everything sad will become untrue, as Sam asked Gandalf, but in the meantime the hope can get us through those days when the sad remains true.

Next week: “Demons of the Punjab”

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Discussing Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK Sat, 03 Nov 2018 16:29:49 +0000 Following up an emotional trip to Alabama during the Civil Rights movement, the Doctor brings Team TARDIS back home and discovers something’s not quite right. There are spiders in this apartment complex … and the rest of the city! I’m joined this week to talk “Arachnids in the UK” by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt […]

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Doctor Who Arachnids in UK

Following up an emotional trip to Alabama during the Civil Rights movement, the Doctor brings Team TARDIS back home and discovers something’s not quite right. There are spiders in this apartment complex … and the rest of the city!

I’m joined this week to talk “Arachnids in the UK” by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, previously, we broke down “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument” and “Rosa.”

This week, Jenna’s asking the questions, while Hannah and I handle the answers.

Jenna: Doctor Who is often scary at least once a season, but oversized arachnids are timely for a proper Halloween episode. Did you find this episode sufficiently creepy?

HannahI did think it was creepy! The spiders weren’t quite up to the Shelob standard for creepiness, but there were several hiding-behind-the-couch moments. The legs coming out from under the door. And when Ryan and Graham forget to check the ceiling for spiders. Agh! The effects were certainly better than the laughably fake spiders in the Third Doctor regeneration story: Planet of the Spiders.

Aaron: As I said with the opening episode, I enjoy the creepy and horror bits of Doctor Who. This was definitely a fun, scary episode. It was made especially fun in our house because my wife is terrified of spiders, so she missed large chunks of the episode with her hands over her face.

Jenna: The action gets going when the Doctor and Ryan find Yaz’s neighbor the prey of a giant spider. I love that the Doctor is not only science-smart enough to improvise a way to keep the spider away, but when that doesn’t work, she gets down and has a conversation with it. Throughout, she maintains the dignity of living things, no matter how creepy-crawly. Thanks to handy zoologist-on-the-scene Jade, we find out this first big boy isn’t unique (nor is it the biggest). Her lab has been studying spiders just like these, so she helps take a bit of the know-it-all status off the Doctor as the token educator to move the plot along. But Jade and her lab might share in the blame for the mutant spiders in the first place. Did the science ethics and environmental impact in this episode seem too forced? Not emphatic enough given the recent panic over climate change? Just enough?

Hannah: I’ve already mentioned a Third Doctor story, but Arachnids in the U.K. really borrows very strongly from another seminal Pertwee tale: The Green Death. In that story, evil industrialists and a villainous computer dump waste down a mine—and instead of giant spiders, you get giant maggots. That episode’s themes were really obvious and explicit, which means this is well in the tradition of preachy Doctor Who. I didn’t think the episode was particularly insightful in its examination of corporate corruption. It relied really heavily on tropes and you could see the resolution coming miles away.

Actually, speaking of resolution, what happened to the rest of the spiders? What about the one in that apartment? What about all the webs keeping the Doctor and co. from leaving? What about the waste? This episode has a lot of loose ends that I was too entertained to think about.

One last thing about the Third Doctor: I know Thirteen might have implied she’d been a female before, but my preferred head-canon is that “I was a sister once” refers to Jon Pertwee’s Going-Undercover-In-Drag phase.

Aaron: Well, I don’t think I can get that sight out of my head. I feel like that is more terrifying than the spiders.

I’m glad you brought up the lesson the show was trying to teach in this episode about corporate greed and science ethics. Perhaps, it’s as you said last week, Jenna, they’re trying to bring Doctor Who more back to the kids’ show roots with more of an educational tone. I’m OK with that to a point—even if it’s a lesson I may disagree with—as long as the show and story are well done and the lesson isn’t overwhelming.

But I don’t want Doctor Who to turn into a form of cultural propaganda. Current shows like Supergirl started off as fun shows with some interesting points and have eventually turned into a thinly veiled sermon for modern progressive values with characters existing merely as stereotypes.

Even though Doctor Who mentioned Donald Trump and Supergirl has yet to do so (since it exists in a different universe where a female alien just resigned as president—don’t ask), Doctor Who handled the political issues with more tact. Even though Hannah and I were in a Twitter discussion where someone complained that the past two episodes have been attacks on America. I didn’t see that.

Underneath it all was a standard evil, greedy corporation that took one too many shortcuts, but as Hannah said, it was so entertaining and fun that I didn’t mind the less than creative turns or the gaping plot holes left unresolved.

Jenna: It has been noted so far this season that Yaz has been in the background compared to Ryan and Graham, so landing at her home and having insights into her family life is an attempt to make up for the missing backstory before. Yaz’s mother, Najia, is brave like her daughter, and her father is curious and observant, which to me provides context for Yaz being an ideal companion. What did you think about a more Yaz-centered episode and this take on the tradition of a domestic introduction to a companion’s family?

Hannah: Oddly, I feel like Yaz is still a bit of an enigma. We’ve not had an ah-ha moment about her character.  She wants to get away from her sister’s teasing and her parents’ curiosity about her romantic entanglements (“Are you two seeing each other?” “I don’t think so. Are we?”) But is that enough reason to want to leave the planet?

Maybe Yaz just needs someone to confide in. Ryan and Graham get some significant character development out of the way through their interactions about Ryan’s dad, but Yaz doesn’t have a way to convey her full reasons for travelling. She says she wants to spend more time with the Doctor—though this appears to be an out-of-the-blue comment unless she really is interested in the Doctor romantically like her mom guessed (and literally all of Tumblr will assume).

Aaron: Yet another reason for me to stay away from Tumblr, but the Daily Mail has already made it a thing.

But, as Hannah said, I was hopeful we would get more motivation for Yaz and a fuller developed character. In a meta sense, the character “Yaz” is in the same position as the Doctor—as the Doctor is being presented as a stand-in for all women and girls, Yaz, in a way, is the “Muslim character.” They want to do all they can to avoid playing into negative stereotypes.

I get that and don’t think they should make Yaz a secret terrorist or anything of the sort, but give her character some depth. Ryan has an absentee father, a stereotype of the black community, but it’s part of what makes him three dimensional. He has some defined direction as a character. I hope Yaz gets that soon.

Jenna: The aspiring Trump rival provides another foil for the Doctor’s nonviolence, setting up a moral choice between killing the spiders and locking them away safely in a panic room where they can live out their lives without hurting anyone. Did the Doctor make the right choice? Did you find it a believable and/or satisfying solution?

Hannah: Firstly, I want to talk about the villain himself, because I didn’t expect to like him, but I did. They avoid the all-too-common pitfall of making a villain bad in every way (he dislikes Trump, for one thing). Ryan and Graham are initially star-struck by him. He gets a lot of funny lines. He’s quite logical. Those virtues make his many vices interesting to watch.

Also, he’s too cartoonish to take very seriously. When Doctor Who did a parody of Margaret Thatcher in the ‘80’s episode The Happiness Patrol, the character was so mustache-twirly and caricatured that she became her own delightful, demented thing. With the exception of the “fire and fury” line (too on the nose, Chibs), Jack Robertson feels more like an entertaining but generic corrupt CEO than an actual exact Trump replica, which would have been dull.

As for the moral choice about the spiders, I thought the Doctor’s solution was both completely in character and … dumb as a box of rocks. I don’t want to be over-analytical about this rather silly episode’s poor ethics, but it did rub me the wrong way. It’s partly personal. I’ve had to help kill two mortally wounded animals this year which were struck by cars.

The Doctor’s stance flows from the show’s general inability to recognize human exceptionalism—that our awareness, imagination, and ultimately, our souls, make us unique in the universe. Animals and humans are not the same, and if we think they are, we end up conflating the value of space whales and moon dragons and spiders and human beings, which gets us into trouble. Letting an animal suffocate to death when you can use a gun to quickly draw its pain to a close is just cruel. Yeah. Jack Robertson is the hero of the episode. You heard it here first, folks.

Aaron: Can we start calling Hannah “Hot Take Hannah”? Hahaha. But yeah, it struck me as an odd climax to say, “Don’t quickly kill that insect trying to kill humans! Instead, let them suffocate with a long and painful death because … reasons.” It will be interesting to see if a future episode deals with assisted suicide in some way and then takes the exact opposite stance for humans.

To me, the spider issue is much worse than the space whales or other instances of conflict between human life and others. This is not some alien creature that we aren’t sure to the extent of their sentience. This is literally just big, mutant spiders. They’re confused and it’s not their fault, but they’re bugs that virtually no one thinks twice about killing when they see them in their house. Why would making them bigger and more dangerous assign them a deeper moral significance? Is this a reverse Horton Hears a Who: a person is more of a person if they are bigger? Maybe an Animal Farm: All spiders are equal, but bigger spiders are more equal than others?

Jenna: In the end, Graham has a lovely speech about grief and how being away from home helps him heal. Ryan isn’t eager to go back to his job, and Yaz is ready for adventure. The Doctor warns them to be sure they are ready for the danger ahead, the ghosts of dead companions practically haunting her right there in that tension. These three consent to be taken on a journey that will change them, and Thirteen adopts a fan-popular phrase for multi-companion groups: Team TARDIS. Now that we know Yaz a bit better and have continued to see more of Ryan and Graham, how are we feeling about our new Team TARDIS? What are your hopes for the team?

Hannah: Honestly, I think I enjoyed this episode more than any I’ve seen so far. It’s not as inventive or ambitious, but it was far more competent with pacing, dialogue, and character development. The scene in the hotel kitchen showed a vast improvement in using dialogue and conflict to demonstrate character. It gives me hope that we’ll get to see more Yaz development. The Doctor gets to be funnier than she’s been so far. I will be glad to see some other writers get a shot at writing the new Doctor, but this episode showed me Chibnall is slowly but surely starting to become comfortable with who these characters are.

Aaron: It’s interesting, Jenna, that you kind of crystalized what seemed to be each of their motivations for traveling with the Doctor. Having that significant, but different driving force for each one could provide for compelling stories and interactions in the future. Graham trying to move past his grief could raise issues with Yaz just chasing adventure or Ryan trying to find purpose beyond a factory worker.

Jenna: Bonus question: Any past scary episodes you’d recommend for Halloween-week viewing? Mine would be “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” with “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” in a close second!

Hannah: Oooh, fun question. I’d say “Midnight” is the episode which has scared me the most, and I second the recommendation for “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances.” If I had to choose a Classic Who episode, I’d say “Brain of Morbius” is a good Gothic story – just ignore the clunky design of The Monster.

Aaron: I will definitely third “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances.” That was the first episode my wife watched and she almost never watched Doctor Who again because she doesn’t do scary and “Are you my mummy?” almost did it for her.

My other would be Blink. As I said earlier this season, I love the monsters that take things you see in everyday life and make them terrifying. I haven’t looked at statues the same since.

Next week:

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Discussing Doctor Who: Rosa Thu, 25 Oct 2018 17:06:55 +0000 Fresh off getting her TARDIS back, the Doctor learns that she, like most of her other incarnations, doesn’t actually control her ship. Instead of taking them home, the TARDIS takes them where they need to go and this week it’s Alabama at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement with Rosa Parks. I’m joined this […]

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Doctor Who Rosa Parks

Fresh off getting her TARDIS back, the Doctor learns that she, like most of her other incarnations, doesn’t actually control her ship.

Instead of taking them home, the TARDIS takes them where they need to go and this week it’s Alabama at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement with Rosa Parks.

I’m joined this week to talk “Rosa” by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) and Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt).

If you need to catch up, we broke down the season premiere “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and “The Ghost Monument.

This week, I’m asking the questions (with my 2¢ throw in), while Hannah and Jenna push back some and provide the bulk of our conversation.

This episode has been heralded as one of the most important episodes in the history of Doctor Who. What are your initial thoughts?

Jenna: It’s a bit intimidating to write about this episode, which has been called one of the show’s best in its long history (which began a mere eight years after the events of this episode). Regardless of its ranking, it marks a significant moment in Doctor Who history as well—a return to the original vision of an educational show.  

Andra Day’s “Rise Up” was a fitting choice for the moment of Rosa’s arrest, hitting a pinnacle when she looks up at Ryan through the window just as Day sings “for you.” She did it not because she was tired from her work day as a seamstress. Not for herself. But because she knew things had to change for future generations.

Had this episode aired during the early years of the Obama presidency, the “look how far we’ve come” factor would have been sweet and victorious, but that’s about it. Now, just a few years later, it is wrapped in so much more power in a post-Ferguson, post-Charlottesville world.

One where the trolls of the comments section have taken to the streets with tiki torches. One where hashtags memorialize those who have died due to police brutality. One where affirming that black lives do, in fact, matter as much as any other has become a political statement. The US—and the world at large—is finding itself divided as ever and with all the tech tools to reveal and stoke the outrage, whether of hatred or of justice.

We need more stories like this, not just to remind us of our past, but to put ourselves in the place of Rosa and hear from a Ryan: “It will get better. Not perfect, but better.” The stands we take today for what’s right do matter. They have an impact. Maybe not immediately, maybe the fight is just getting started, but someday future generations won’t be able to recall the details of how bad things used to be.

That’s the promise we fight for when we engage in little rebellious acts against systemic evil. That one day, what’s right will come so naturally that we will have to be reminded of how much has changed and actively honor what it took.

Hannah: Rosa is the first episode of the series written by someone other than new showrunner, Chris Chibnall (though he co-wrote the story). I must say, it’s an improvement. There’s much more warmth and sense of place than either of Chibnall’s earlier episodes, and I never felt weighed down by exposition. It doesn’t quite work on a couple levels, but I’ll get to that later.

My favorite part of the episode was unquestionably Vinette Robinson’s performance as Rosa Parks. She’s superb—steely and certain of her own mind, but not in a reckless or rash way. You can tell she’s been living a life of appeasement, but she doesn’t like it. Her restraint makes it all the more powerful when she is defiant.

That said, I don’t think the episode is any more or less important than any of the countless other episodes about racism we’ve seen on the show before. That’s not to say the story doesn’t have important messages. But the talk about its unparalleled importance in all of Doctor Who history is a bit overhyped.

It was hard not to get emotional watching this episode. Vividly portraying (as much as possible on an ostensibly kids’ show) the racism and human degradation present in America during Rosa Parks’ life was gut-wrenching and powerful, yet I can’t help but think the show simply rode the historical weight of that moment in time and failed to create any real tension exclusive to the show. How did you feel the show balanced the importance of the real moment with the development of a television episode?

Jenna: I think that it would have been a mistake to try to make it sci-fi beyond what they did. The point was to portray a real person’s defining moment and to have some sort of monster like in the Van Gogh episode or droids from the Madame du Pompadour episode or a giant bee like in the Agatha Christie episode would have been borderline offensive and at worst, white-savior-y. I think they did the best they could keeping the cheese out while also giving the Doctor a reason to be there.

Hannah: The sheer bravery of Parks’ stand really does buoy up an episode that doesn’t have much of a plot otherwise. I agree with Aaron: I’m not sure it’s fair to credit the episode for any particular innovation in storytelling, since it largely follows history to the letter. What unique changes it does make feel iffy—particularly putting the Doctor and friends on the bus with Rosa. Jodie Whittaker sitting there with her Mork-from-Ork costume can’t help but somewhat trivialize the situation.

My question is this: What storytelling purpose does it serve for the characters to actually be on the bus? Is it emphasizing that the Doctor and her friends aren’t allowed to meddle with time? Could be, but they never had that discussion—the Doctor hasn’t explicitly evoked the rules of time before. So the audience is left in the dark and the opportunity to establish a key component of the show’s mythology and drama is left untouched.

The experience on the bus doesn’t yield any significant later character development, either. If I’d let Rosa Parks be abused on the bus when I could have stopped it, I’d be profoundly disturbed. Ryan, Graham, and Yaz look upset in the moment, but it doesn’t change them.

How could Graham not be heartbroken that he’s the white man who caused Rosa Parks to be arrested? How could he not be angry at the Doctor—irrationally perhaps, but understandably—for making him fill that role? This is what earlier historical episodes have done to companions (Barbara in “The Aztecs,” Donna in “The Fires of Pompeii”) to teach them that history must not be changed and to create a dramatic conflict between the Doctor and companion. It just feels like a wasted opportunity.

I hate to say it, but the show lost me during the historical recap of Rosa Park’s legacy. It felt tacked on, like an afterschool special. In trying to make her more real, it seemed to place her back in a static piece of history. Why not actually go to another seminal moment in Park’s life and allow the story to show us her lasting significance instead of telling us with the Doctor essentially reciting an encyclopedia entry about Parks? What did you take away from the episode’s conclusion?

Jenna: I would say the point was to be educational, so I didn’t have too much of an issue with the biography aspect, but I agree that I wouldn’t want every episode to tie up with an “and that’s our lesson for the day” neat little bow. It’s also good to note that the writer, Malorie Blackman is a well-known British children’s author, so it makes sense it would have a more afterschool-special feel than a Moffat dark revisionist history fairytale vibe.

“In fact, she changed the universe,” the Doctor says back on the TARDIS, showing the gang an asteroid named after the civil rights icon in the closing moments of the episode. But perhaps more meaningful is the clip of the real Rosa Parks receiving her medal of honor from President Clinton in her lifetime.

That to me was the real lasting significance moment: getting to see the actual person being celebrated and not just an actor portray her finding out about the impact she made through some time travel or museum stop or showing her a book with her name in it, though those have been powerful in the past.

Hannah: I actually wish that the entire episode had been about Rosa during a different period of her life. It’s not that it’s not important for kids to know about Rosa Parks’ bus protest, but it’s a story which has been told over so often that it needs some new angle or aspect of the story to justify its inclusion as a dramatic story-line.

Covering a more obscure moment in history would also have given the show more leeway to tell an original story and play with some of the details. Notice how, in “Vincent and the Doctor,” it’s set a year before he kills himself. It would be tacky to set it the week before, or right after he lops off his ear. There needs to be some distance to treat tragic and triumphant historical events with some artistic license and creativity without being disrespectful.

I’m torn on the villain this week. If we never encounter Krasko again, he will have been a complete waste and nothing more than a plot device for this episode. It would also seem to contradict the supposed pacifist lesson the Doctor wanted Ryan to learn last week—you can’t solve things by shooting. But if we encounter him again, I’m not sure the show will allow him to be anything more than an avatar for racism and not a fully-developed character. In that case, it avoids actually cutting to the real issue of racism and the like—that it’s in our own hearts. That real, normal people harbor these feelings and we must fight against them not only in others, but ourselves. What did you think about Krasko this week?

Jenna: The sci-fi baddie this episode was, thankfully, minimal and in the background to let the larger evil of racism take the center stage. Doctor recognizes the prison tattoo of Stormcage (the highest security prison in space) on a white-supremacist greaser criminal from the future. The TARDIS senses Krasko’s Artron energy, leading the Doctor and gang to follow him and make sure history is preserved.

It is odd to me that Krasko is so fixed on one moment, though I fully agree it was a significant one. If Rosa Parks’s plan to protest by refusing to give up her seat had failed that night, she would have done it another night. Was he planning on just thwarting bus routes for the rest of her life?

Hannah: Krasko was pretty forgettable. His subplot should have let the episode expand some ideas about racism or oppression in general—instead he’s just basically a racist jerk who happens to be an alien. And like Jenna said, his plan had some obvious plot holes that should have been called out.

There were some definite moments of character exploration among the companions this week—Graham still dealing with Grace’s death, Ryan and Yaz talking about the racism they encounter and hints at a future relationship—but the episode still seemed overly crowded—particularly when the show is (rightly) giving as much space and agency as possible to the historical character of Rosa Parks. What were the highlights of the episode in terms of the companions?

Jenna: This was an emotional episode to watch given the very personal subject matter for the younger companions and our current moment. When tempted to fight back, they have to hold in their anger. “Never give them the excuse,” Ryan and Yasmin recall being taught from their childhood. Even in their own time period, they face racism and religious discrimination, lest the (let’s be honest, majority white) viewers are taught such hate ended with a paragraph in a history book.

I love how the spirit of Grace was such a large influence here (much in the way the “spirit of Rosa” influenced her). It was sad seeing Ryan discriminated against with no way to defend himself and have to get in the back of the bus. Graham and the Doctor are appropriately regretful, but Yasmin not knowing where she fits in a world of black and white is a poignant reminder that racism isn’t as simple as Southern US 1950s life. She is mistaken for Mexican, and sometimes faces the same racism as Ryan but also is allowed to sit in the white section of the bus.

It is fitting that the main characters of the show, the Doctor and her friends, are actually somewhat background characters to the main narrative, which can’t be solved by blasting an alien to another place and time or talking sense to two warring sides of a conflict or flashing the sonic screwdriver about.

They just kept any sci-fi forces from interfering and let the true heroine of the story make her choice. Graham in particular has a look of powerlessness at the crucial moment on the Montgomery bus, formerly able to use his white middle-age male privilege to advocate for and defend his black grandson. Here, he can do nothing but ensure Rosa has the choice to make her stand—or, in this case—sit. 

Hannah: Funnily enough, I thought this episode had some of the best character moments we’ve seen so far in this season. I’m talking moments, mainly – like Graham’s stricken face during the bus scene, or Ryan’s geeking out about meeting Martin Luther King, or Yaz joking about being Mexican.

Unfortunately, the moments don’t really amount to much in the way of development or change. The TARDIS team visit significant events but do not learn anything from them that they didn’t know already (that racism is bad is not only clear to our heroes, but has been clear to the show ever since it invented its most iconic villains, the Daleks, eugenicist space Nazis, in 1963).

With such a serious episode, it needed some light moments to still be a Doctor Who episode and I think this week delivered a few great ones. When did you laugh during “Rosa”?

Jenna: Ryan being so in awe of meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and serving coffee in Rosa Parks’s house took the cake. He wasn’t quite sure what she had done at first, but then as he is immersed in the time period, I think his grandmother’s influence came back to him and he is properly astonished to be in the presence of these civil rights heroes.

Hannah: Yeah, that was a highlight for me, too. That was one of my favorite Ryan moments so far – as well as the fact that he didn’t even correctly remember what Rosa Parks did. I loved the running joke about Elvis as well.

I’m curious if Chibnall is leaving tiny breadcrumbs in these seemingly standalone episodes that reveal themselves as significant later on in the season. A few that stood out this week were the Doctor never giving her name to Krasko, when in the past she (or he) takes great relish in making a grand pronouncement about the earth being under the protection of the Doctor. There’s also the fact that Krasko broke out of the same prison as River Song and used the same means of time transport. Do any of those seem significant to you or did you notice any others?

Jenna: It’s a treasured Doctor Who pastime to look for mysterious connections and hidden meanings, but with no double episodes and no long-term arcs, I hesitate to ascribe any meaning to him than a convenient reason for them to stay in the wrong place and time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets reused, but I don’t think he’ll have a significant impact on the series in the vein of the Silence or the Master or anything.

I’d like to think the reason for the lack of a “I am the Doctor” grand pronouncement is more due to the character and showrunner change. It isn’t all about her being the only one who can save the day and the ruler of the universe. She’s just there to make sure the timeline is preserved and stay out of the way of the true hero of the story.

Hannah: They feel more like easter eggs for fans than anything else. It’s kind of disappointing that Chibnall isn’t inventing new pieces of mythology himself, though. Kind of lazy and weird for him to crib Moffat’s “cheap and nasty time travel” line.

Next week on Doctor Who: “Arachnids in the UK.”

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Discussing Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument Fri, 19 Oct 2018 16:55:52 +0000 This week, the Doctor travels to a new planet, finds her TARDIS and gets a potential story arc for the rest of the reason in “The Ghost Monument.” I’m joined again this week to talk all things Doctor Who by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong), Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt), and Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart). If you missed last week, we broke down […]

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Doctor Who Ghost Monument

This week, the Doctor travels to a new planet, finds her TARDIS and gets a potential story arc for the rest of the reason in “The Ghost Monument.”

I’m joined again this week to talk all things Doctor Who by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong), Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt), and Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart).

If you missed last week, we broke down the season premiere “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”

If you need a refresher on where we’ve been with the Doctor, read my previous Discussing Doctor Who posts on the “Twice Upon a Time” Christmas special, full season 10 review and see links to discussions after each episode and you can read thoughts on the reveal of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

The Ghost Monument seemed to re-establish the Doctor Who formula with a few twists. What did you think?

Aaron: This felt much more like a standard Doctor Who episode this week—aside from the gorgeous cinematic feel. (It seems the show got a new budget to go along with the new Doctor.) Things are in a mess and the Doctor steps in with a resolution that tries to please everyone with as little violence as possible.

Two parts of these types of Doctor Who episodes that I enjoy—the small scale threat and the haunted house feel where everything around you is dangerous. Those sound like they could be contradictory, but here’s what I mean.

This wasn’t a “the entire galaxy and all of time and space is going to explode” story, it was mainly concerned with what happened on this one planet and how that’s going to affect the handful of people on it now.

While the scenery on the surface was expansive, the constant, ever-present threats made it feel claustrophobic. You couldn’t turn anywhere because everything about the planet was hostile to them. That gives the show real stakes for the people involved (that we as viewers can sense), but it also doesn’t make it all seem so contrived.

(As an aside that’s part of what makes movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp work so well in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They take the stakes down a few notches, making them more personal instead of galactic.)

Jennifer: This week’s episode was much more exciting and enjoyable for me than last week’s. It’s basically the Amazing Race in space! And I love the cinematic feel of these episodes so far.

The opening of this episode reminded me a bit of Firefly with the lived-in feel of the spaceships.⁠

Hannah: The series does see an abrupt shift in format, back towards something more familiar. We abandon the murky crime drama lighting of Sheffield (thank goodness!) for the stark and sun-scoured landscape of an alien planet. It looks fantastic.

From a design point of view, this new universe is very different from the goofy bright colors and whimsical locales of the Russell T. Davies era and the mysterious fairy tale vibe of the Moffat years.

In tone, it does borrow a bit of edge from some of the later Capaldi episodes—we’re clearly in a dangerous universe where everything wants to kill you. But between the dirty space aesthetic—as Jennifer says—and the sense of—as Aaron puts it—claustrophobic danger, this feels like a fresh approach for NuWho—something like Mad Max meets Firefly.

The closest comparison in Classic Who is the gritty dystopias of the 1980s episodes. Sylvester McCoy’s episodes often took place in barren lands with odd characters, a pervading sense of violence, and heavy social commentary.

Jenna: Entertainment Weekly called this week’s episode “Doctor Who in its purest form.” I have to agree.

I loved the opener. Right into the action. The Doctor is full-on shouting orders and showing her knowledge. Then wandering an alien planet while name dropping historical figures!

We’re taken on a survival race for riches on desert planet, but it doesn’t give in to an “inspirational sports movie” feel (seconding Aaron’s comment about the haunted house vibe!).

The Doctor’s commitment to anti-violence is as strong as ever, but she also isn’t defenseless. She even uses Venusian Aikido, a martial arts technique that was a favorite of the Third Doctor.

Meeting an old category of henchman—robot guards with guns—she stands by her anti-gun convictions. It’s tempting to side with Ryan’s “Call of Duty” moment of victory, but the Doctor is proven right when it backfires. I can relate to his desire to fight fire with fire, to take the most obvious way out.

But the Doctor has been around long enough to not just have principles. She also has wisdom and experience. She does use an EMP with the saying “brains beat bullets,” which raises the question of what counts as a weapon when you’re fighting robots.

Speaking of the new Doctor, what did we see from her this week?

Aaron: In addition to her emotional intelligence, a potential character trait of Thirteen is her empathy, but not in just recognizing the way others are feeling, but in how she develops her solutions.

Twelve made everyone feel inferior in the midst of a crisis, letting them know he already had a plan; their job was to figure out what he was thinking. Thirteen is much more collaborative and highlighting the strengths of her companions. She involved Yaz in the first crisis (the crashing spaceship) and encouraged Ryan and Graham in their attempts to fix the boat.

Hannah: As for the Doctor, her confidence remains unshaken. She’s a bit of a superhero, too, taking the Venusian Aikido (a running joke of a skill ever since the Third Doctor) up a step. We’re reintroduced to her credentials as an inconsistent pacifist, railing about guns only moments before she electrocutes a ton of robots. (Ryan’s Call of Duty moment was one of the only moments of pure comedy in the episode – and it was terrific).

Jenna: The Doctor is good at encouraging Ryan in his strengths and helping him use his knowledge from NVQ (the UK’s national vocational qualifying exams to enter a trade). She’s no longer insulting humans as “apes” with “tiny human brains” as past incarnations have done, but rather encouraging people to use what they already know.

Overall, the dialogue and pacing are so similar to RTD Who, even in technobabble, that it feels like coming home. Speaking of home, more on that later. 😉

Jennifer: This week the Doctor had some great lines. Here are some of my favorites:

The Doctor: (regarding her new companions) These are my new best friends.

The Doctor: I’m really good in a tight spot! At least I have been historically!

The Doctor: Your mom was wrong. We’re stronger together.
(There’s definitely a theological point to be made here about being made for community…)

The Doctor: Brains beat bullets.

The Doctor: Did I not mention? I am really smart.

The Doctor: Big locked door. I love a big locked door. Ominous.

The Doctor: (talking to the TARDIS) “Come to Daddy…I mean Mummy”

Yasmin: You can’t engineer dimensions.
The Doctor: Maybe YOU can’t!

The Doctor always needs companions and foils. What about those this week?

Aaron: So far, Yasmin has been the casualty of the crowded TARDIS. This episode gave us more on Graham and Ryan, their personalities and their strained relationship, but we still don’t have a lot from Yaz. Perhaps she’ll be in the spotlight more next week.

With the size of the group and the newness of everyone, this season will really have to work to give each character  some time at the foreground for viewers to develop an attachment to them.

Maybe we haven’t seen the last of our psycho tooth fairy Tim Shaw. It seems the Stenza have been busy terrorizing people across the universe and building some horrific weapons to unleash on others.

While the Remnant, as the credits dubbed the homicidal cloths, don’t rival the Weeping Angels, they do provide the type of new villains I enjoy—ones that take common place things—statues, shadows, toys—and turns them into something to fear.

Hannah: Again, as we’ve seen before from Chibnall, this episode is very plot-heavy, which means the characters receive short shrift. It tells but rarely shows. Most of the dialogue for the companions is interchangeable bits of exposition.

Graham gets the worst of it—constantly pointing out the obvious aspects of the situation so the audience gets what’s going on. I like, though, that he’s willing to challenge Ryan’s surly rejection at the end of their tête-à-tête. It’s the first steel he’s shown.

Normally, the second episode of the season is the chance to see the companion and Doctor revealing their character to each other and the audience. Rose faced The End of the World; the Doctor revealed that his world was dead. The Doctor’s companion was confronted with a moral dilemma in The Beast Below and Fires of Pompeii. Clara got to show off her skills in The Rings of Akhaten. Bill showed her spunk in Smile.

But The Ghost Monument really doesn’t do much in the way of revealing things about the characters. We know Ryan is frustrated about his dyspraxia, but we still don’t know what that means for him as a person. How has it affected his life? Does he feel incompetent? Stupid? Unappreciated? And what about Graham? He says he is excited about being on a new planet, but he doesn’t seem to be. Meanwhile, Yaz is finally on an adventure but she doesn’t make a peep about being glad to be there.

It is nice to see a thematic arc to the story, though it hammers it home a bit too heavily. Giving Epzo such a horrific backstory makes it hard to buy the swiftness of his ultimate redemption. And I love Susan Lynch guest starring. She’s utterly unrecognizable with the short blonde hair.

Chibnall attempts to substitute team-building for individual character development. But since the Doctor’s companions – I mean, friends – already function as a group, why do they need to grow anyway? Supposedly, they need to learn it’s important that we be “stronger together” (uuuuuggh at using political slogans as dialogue, please don’t do this, people), but they already defeated Tim Shaw as a team.

Jenna: I agree that character development is happening in chunks so far. I love Graham and Ryan bonding over Grace’s loss, but it’s short-lived. Ryan’s hesitancy is understandable while Graham’s efforts to communicate with a closed-off member of a younger generation are probably relatable for the parents watching.

Ryan still feels like the focus character, though Yasmin hints that her family life is no picnic either, so I’m taking that as a promise that we’ll get more from her later.

There are only three side characters, Illyn, who runs the competition, and the two competitors. Angstrom is doing it to save her family, to protect them. Her rival, Epzo, speaks of how he’s been trained from a young age to never trust anyone. The only things he shows affection for are his ship and his cigar.

A classic set-up to root for a winner, and yet, we aren’t left morally smug about a “pure” self-sacrificing victor over a sinful villain as they cross the finish line together.   

The voices of the planet’s enslaved scientists reveal that we haven’t seen the last of the Stenza and their teeth trophies. Angstrom even says they have laid waste to her planet, which is why she needs the prize money from the race.  

But that wasn’t the only use for the scientists. They were forced to create deathly tech, which is where we are left to assume the “Remnant” ominous bits of cloth come from. These little buggers taunt the Doctor with a teaser for someone called “The Timeless Child,” introducing perhaps a season arc or just a mystery for a future episode.

Is it one of the Doctor’s children or grandchildren, or the Doctor’s long-lost machine-generated daughter, Jenny, whom the Doctor assumes is long dead? Is it the Doctor herself? Is it a new element or character, or is it perhaps a reference to someone else from the Doctor’s past?

Jennifer: Graham’s sunglasses (borrowed from the Doctor) were amazing! 😀

And speaking of Graham, I am finding that I want to get to know these new companions better, so that is a good sign. I’m not tremendously invested in them yet, but I’m curious.

“Who is ‘The Timeless Child’?” is the biggest question from this week. The alien read the Doctor’s mind and said: “Afraid of your own newness. We see deep though. Further back. The timeless child. […] We see what’s hidden – even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and unknown.”

I’m glad there is going to be some kind of story arc. I was disappointed when I first heard that this season there would be no two parters, and they would all be stand alone episodes, because I tend to enjoy the longer story arcs the most.

We got the reveal of the new TARDIS (with Chibnall refusing to have someone, anyone say the line). What did the you think of the new-old girl?

Aaron: The TARDIS remodel reminded me of Nine’s very dark one. Parts of it had a steampunk kinda vibe to me, which brought to mind the Doctor wearing the welding goggles last week. In general, I enjoy the new look. Who wouldn’t love a cookie dispenser in their space and time ship?

But, seriously, Chibnall, we Doctor Who fans don’t ask for man thing—okay, we probably ask for a lot of things—but you have to give us someone saying, “It’s bigger on the inside” or at least hinting at it or subverting it somehow. You can just ignore it like we aren’t all there waiting on it.

Hannah: I do like the new TARDIS. I enjoy how Thirteen bustles around revealing new features. Above all, I love the obvious affection on her face when she sees the TARDIS appear—first as a hologram “Ghost Monument,” and then as the real thing. You can tell these two ladies go back thousands of years.

Jenna: The highlight of the episode for me was the new TARDIS. I adore how the Doctor talks to her and pets her when they are reunited.

Though mostly communicating through sound effects, the TARDIS is one of my favorite characters on Who. And she’s gotten a makeover, as is common with a regeneration. The Doctor even says, “You’ve redecorated … and I really like it” (which is the opposite of the usual response, for those unfamiliar with the in-joke).

The usual “round things” are still there in the design of the metal, but different, as are the struts, the console, the dome shape. It’s beautiful, in my opinion. Grand and alien and ethereal, and yet still familiar and simple. The hour glass, the police-box-shaped crystal, the little snack pedal for dispensing custard cream cookies… it’s so cute and so very her.

“You know that sound the TARDIS makes, that wheezing, groaning? That sound brings hope wherever it goes. … To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost. Even you.” – The Moment

The TARDIS is a symbol of hope to all of us who watch. Because in the end, Doctor Who isn’t about monsters and alien planets. It’s about hope. And I have faith that the series is going to be just as full of hope as any before and more.

Next week, we get to experience time travel for the first time this season as the Doctor goes back to the 1950s in America with “Rosa.”

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Discussing Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth Fri, 12 Oct 2018 14:49:29 +0000 Well, the Doctor is back with a completely new look, so it’s only natural that this post does the same. Since my previous co-blogger Kevin was not able to continue (you should still buy his excellent book All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture), I have some new contributors. Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) […]

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Doctor Who The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Sophie Mutevelian photo | BBC Studios

Well, the Doctor is back with a completely new look, so it’s only natural that this post does the same.

Since my previous co-blogger Kevin was not able to continue (you should still buy his excellent book All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture), I have some new contributors.

Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong) is a freelance writer based in Appalachia. She has written for The Weekly Standard and American Consequences. Her favorite Doctor is Tom Baker.

Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt) is the copy editor of Christianity Today magazine. She has a journalism degree from Baylor University and is a lifelong Anglophile. She loves David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and, as a hopeless nerd herself, will forever be grateful to him for making “geek chic” a thing.

Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart) is an aspiring scholar and theologian. She has a Master’s in English and should be graduating with a Master’s in Theological Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary in May 2019. She loves most all things sci-fi and fantasy, books, and C. S. Lewis. Her favorite Doctor is David Tennant, with Matt Smith as a close second. Read more from her at

I enjoy the coincidence of these reviews adding three female contributors with a new female Doctor and three new companions.

If you need a refresher on where we’ve been with the Doctor, read my previous Discussing Doctor Who posts on the “Twice Upon a Time” Christmas special, our full season 10 review and see links to our discussions after each episode and you can see our thoughts on the reveal of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

It’s early days yet, but what do we think of the new Doctor?

JenniferI already absolutely love Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor! She seems to be a fun mix of 10 (David Tennant) and 11 (Matt Smith), with her own spin of course.

And I do think it is important that we are able to see those connections to previous Doctors in order to believe that we are still watching the same character in a new body.

And I’ve always enjoyed watching the newly regenerated Doctor trying to acclimate to his (and now her!) new body! It really is a clever little writing convention! As the audience is trying to adjust to this new version of this character, so is the Doctor!

And when she finally remembered who she was and announced it I got goosebumps: “Bit of adrenaline, dash of outrage, and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together. I know exactly who I am … I’m the Doctor.”

HannahMy first impression is good, but qualified. Jodie is charming and charismatic. Unlike Peter Capaldi during his opening minimalist phase, she effortlessly takes charge of the room when she’s in it and the screen when she’s on it.

That said, I’m struggling to suss out what differentiates her character from earlier NuWho Doctors. She incorporates many common mannerisms—intensity and energy, a rapid rat-a-tat talking speed, the tendency to interrupt herself mid-sentence to correct what she’s saying—but Doctors like Tennant, Smith, and Tom Baker had other qualities which they established quickly.

Tennant was a sort of swashbuckling, vengeful god – a man who gives no second chances. Smith was the boy who wouldn’t grow up, a Peter Pan figure who, in J.M. Barrie’s words, was “gay and innocent and heartless.” Tom Baker was something like a bohemian hobo.

Whittaker doesn’t automatically fit into an archetype (this was always going to be difficult with a female Doctor), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but means we end our first episode slightly uncertain about the new Doctor. Chris Chibnall’s writing—heavy on plot, light on character—is largely to blame for this.

I have identified a few characteristics which may be distinctive: She’s constantly talking about fixing things, a tendency underlined by her love of building and tinkering with bits of this and that. Her regional accent, empathy, and eagerness really serve to make her accessible and human—perhaps a bit too much so for a 2000-year-old Gallifreyan.

It remains to be seen whether she’ll be allowed to be anything less than perfect. With an admiring feminist fan-base looking for a paragon and a general public that doesn’t tend to like imperfect female characters (unfair, but true), that makes it a risk the BBC might not take.

JennaI adore her already. Jodie Whittaker is a phenomenal actress and her upbeat but strong and quirky yet confident attitude from the get-go seems spot-on Doctorish. While so much changed, it was key to me that this still felt like Doctor Who, and Jodie’s performance is that needed bridge.

One thing that does seem to have changed is how much more aware of her leadership the Doctor seems to be. She immediately embraces the group as friends (or fam?) and feels responsible for them. She consciously changes her phrasing from “this is exciting” to “worrying” when chasing a lead on the baddie and apologizes that she doesn’t have all the answers and that these innocent people are exposed to such darkness and horror.

This shift is quite a change from Twelve, and even from the Tenth Doctor’s episode “Midnight,” in which bystanders accuse the Doctor of enjoying the mystery a bit too much while they are frightened to death.

But speaking as a woman, Thirteen’s apology didn’t feel like our tendency to over-apologize for things. Nor did it feel like Ten’s numerous apologies out of guilt when he couldn’t save someone. It felt like the Doctor finally has some emotional awareness of her authority.

She carries it with her regardless of external form or choice of costume, but she usually uses it to force enemies into fleeing (see: Eleven’s many speeches) or getting annoying people to cooperate (too many examples to list).

However, the Doctor isn’t always aware of it when solving the mystery, but others are. They see how he or she takes control of the situation, but the ol’ Doc has been doing it for so long that it’s just all part of a day’s work.

Work which is, thankfully, finally defined as ensuring “fair play” throughout the universe instead of solely being Earth’s/humanity’s defender, which always seemed a bit limiting and human-centric for someone who is obviously aware of all the potential damage humans can do.

Not knowing what the (finally more diverse!) writers have in store, I dare say this more neutral tone is a potential jumping off point for the Doctor’s character development as she learns not everyone can be trusted to be buddies and experiences some pendulum swing back to moderate healthy cynicism (again, something Chibnall has experience in showing through a character’s arc and emotionally devastating plot points).

It’s also important to recognize that sometimes humans are the ones the universe might need defending from. As C. S. Lewis put it in a 1958 issue of Christianity Today, “I  … fear the practical, not the theoretical, problems which will arise if ever we meet rational creatures which are not human. Against them we shall, if we can, commit all the crimes we have already committed against creatures certainly human but differing from us in features and pigmentation; and the starry heavens will become an object to which good men can look up only with feelings of intolerable guilt, agonized pity and burning shame.”

That’s a level of awareness a main character (who has been a white man for a thousand years) needs, especially traveling with companions of color. Martha Jones and Bill Potts opened the Doctor’s eyes a bit to this, but I can only imagine that experiencing sexism firsthand and continuing to travel with non-white companions will increase the Doctor’s awareness of social dynamics and just who the creatures in need of defending are.

AaronWhile it was definitely a new version of the Doctor (and the show), there were also some key similarities as you both point out. She needs to be her own Doctor, but she still needs to be the Doctor.

Like you said, Hannah, there’s a lot of the previous lighthearted versions of the Doctor in Thirteen’s first episode. It’s also interesting how much “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” echoes major plot notes of Ten’s debut in “The Christmas Invasion.”

The Doctor regenerates, but collapses and is taken the the home of a new companion. Throughout the episode, the Doctor struggles to remember who they are, but eventually comes around and saves the day. Whittaker even seemed to carry some of Tennant’s mannerisms.

There is a definite playfulness that provides a return to NuWho form after Capaldi highlighted the sternness of the Doctor, which brings up how different Thirteen was from Twelve.

The previous Doctor began his run trying to answer the question, “Am I a good man?” Thirteen doesn’t know much, but she says she knows that when people are in danger, she always helps—which would be a definite change, but also a reflection of how much Twelve changed from the beginning of his time to the end.

I do hope Whittaker is allowed to play a fully formed person with flaws and a character arc. She definitely showed she could play a compelling, but complicated character in Broadchurch. I hope Chibnall can bring that type of nuance to her run as the Doctor.

I am excited to see a female Doctor. I think it opens a lot of interesting possibilities and I recognize the importance of representation on screen. When my oldest daughter was two, she could tell you that a cow says “moo” and a dalek says “exterminate.” I’m glad she will get to see the Doctor as a woman, but Chibnall and the other writers should not let that fact that the Doctor is a woman now become a crutch that keeps them from stretching the character and developing exciting stories.

This is the largest cast of characters the new show has thrown at us as a regular TARDIS team – how does that change the dynamics we’ve seen before?

JenniferThis was a concern I had when I saw the teaser that showed us they would be introducing that many new characters. Some of us are predisposed to root for this new Doctor, we want to like her, but she’s still new.

Obviously we need a new companion, maybe even two, but three? That seems like it might be pushing it. It was a little hard for me to get into the first episode, despite my enthusiasm for this new Doctor, and part of that was the pacing.

It just seemed like it was moving too slowly at first and taking too long to see the Doctor on the screen. And I’m sure the writers were trying to build suspense, but they also needed to tell us something about four brand new characters, which slowed things down.

That said, I really loved the dynamic between Amy Pond and Rory and the Doctor in seasons 5-7, so if this series can give us something like that again, I could definitely get on board!

HannahDoctor Who has struggled to handle large casts in the past. The show began in 1963 with four characters, but it was hard to find something for everyone to do in each episode. Characters like the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman, suffered for it, ending up underwritten and shallow.

This story faces the same problem. I hate to say it, but “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” would have been much better served by eliminating the character of Grace. She’s lovely and sweet, but her stabilizing force kept us from getting to know Graham in a crisis, or from fully understanding his relationship with Ryan. Both of those things are ultimately more important to establishing the personalities and arcs of our regular companions than getting to know Grace.

JennaI’m excited to see the companions are connected and have a bit of tension between them already instead of being three random strangers. New showrunner Chris Chibnall didn’t spend all that time writing an intricately connected town of well-developed characters in his previous hit show (detective drama Broadchurch) for “born to save the Doctor” and “born to kill the Doctor” nonsense.

The characters already have histories and home lives from this (dare I say pilot?) episode set in their backyard and I’m positive there will be much more on that, going off of Graham’s story of meeting Grace. (Rest in peace, most appropriately named character.)

I liked, as Chibnall referenced in a panel at New York Comic Con this week, that this is a return to the original companion trio dynamic. I loved Nine and Ten’s romance with Rose Tyler, and all the various companion dynamics from the sibling vibe with Donna Noble to Clara Oswald’s teasing that the Doctor was her “hobby,” but I’m grateful that we have a group now with no risk of a love triangle or forced sexual tension (lookin’ at you, Amy and Rory’s awkwardness with Eleven), at least for the first season.

AaronYes, Jenna, I’m glad this season will be devoid of soap opera storylines between the Doctor and a companion, but I’m not sure we need three companions to achieve that. I’m in a wait and see position. Despite the TARDIS’ immense size on the inside, it does often seem cramped when it carries more than two or three passengers for an extended period of time.

And I hope each of them are able to show who they are and why they are on the TARDIS. I need them to be developed beyond stock characters on a sitcom or a college catalogue photo showing just the right amount of diversity.

Yet, I like each of the characters (as much as I can with such limited information) and think their previous relationships can add something to their time with the Doctor as her “fam.”

We’ve had a death in the first episode. (Spoilers, sweetie) How do you feel like the change of showrunners impacted how this plot twist was handled?

Jenna:  I loved how Thirteen is able to talk about the loss of her family as a long ago sad event remembered neither with rebellion nor guilt and didn’t just change the subject. I feel like that shows such healthy character development already from past incarnations.

Showing Grace’s funeral seems like departure from what we’ve seen in the past. I am not shocked when people die on Who, even good people, but Grace really owned the episode in some ways and seemed like the most promising companion in terms of wits.

Does Who have a track record of killing people only to bring them back later? Obsessively. Does it also use death as a way to emotionally manipulate its viewers into caring? Unquestionably. DOES KNOWING THIS KEEP US FROM HAVING ALL THE FEELS? Of course not.  

For now, however, the Doctor and her new friends are taking on outerspace a little too literally. It will be interesting to see how she gets them all to, well, any life-sustaining environment after where the episode ends! Gotta love a good cliffhanger, and with Chibnall in charge, we know we’re in for some intense ones to come.

JenniferI was very upset that they killed Grace! She was the one I liked best! I can see how her death will make Graham and Ryan feel more free to travel with the Doctor, but I’m still not happy about it! Honestly, I’d be okay if they decide to bring her back later somehow. I know some people don’t like it when the writers do that, but if I like the character enough, I don’t mind.

HannahWell, first of all, Grace hasn’t turned into a Data Ghost or an immortal bisexual heartthrob, so we know this isn’t Steven Moffat’s Who anymore! All the same, I felt oddly distant throughout the whole thing.

Everything was so hurried in the episode that I didn’t invest in her relationship with Graham (he mostly hung around in the background looking worried) or with Ryan (she encourages him to ride his bike, but their implied closer relationship is left up to the imagination and thus feels weak).

One thing I noticed: Graham’s eulogy, as he spoke in front of a partially-obscured cross, would seem without context to be talking about grace in a religious context. Am I imagining this? He calls her, “The Grace I met when I didn’t have much time left.” I suppose he’s just playing off the double meaning of the word—grace can be used in a secular meaning of “an extended period granted as a special favor.” But spoken in the church setting the word “grace” seemed to hold special weight.

The Thirteenth Doctor’s frank discussion of her lost family is very reminiscent of the Second Doctor’s speech about memory—like Eleven, Two chose to suppress his loss and flee into adventures. It seems like the happy-go-lucky Thirteen isn’t going to be weighed down by her past, but as Jenna said, she’s also able to talk about it in a healthy, open way.

AaronHaving the first female Doctor be the first emotionally healthy Doctor, may be a little on the nose, but it can provide a nice change of pace. Listen, I love Tennent, but I’ve seen enough of a Doctor with sad puppy dog eyes staring off camera. And while Capaldi’s cue card to help him respond to people’s feelings were a fun gag, it could be fun to have a Doctor that can understand emotions and empathize with companions.

Oh, Grace, we barely knew thee. She was obviously the best person among the humans, so of course that means she has to die to provide us with some emotional force in the first episode.

I do agree with Hannah and that it felt a little rushed. That episode had to accomplish a lot—introduce a new Doctor, new companions, start a new season story arc, and have an actual self contained story with a villain and victims. It’s hard to do all that and develop deep personal attachment to characters and their relationships.

Part of what makes Doctor Who are the villains and monsters. What did you make of the Stenza warrior dubbed “Tim Shaw” by the Doctor?

HannahHe’s fine, I guess? There’s a definite element of body horror with his design, which is very effective, but his motivation and method are hardly compelling. The best villains have interesting plans or ideas. He’s just a galactic serial killer cheating in his job interview.

That said, I think my favorite character in this whole episode was Carl the crane operator. His self-worth mantra was the most endearing thing any character did in the whole episode. I want Carl as a companion!

JenniferEww! No! Gross! I never like the episodes that lean towards creepy/scary. Basically, if it borders on horror at times, I don’t like those parts, and like Hannah mentioned, there was a definite horror element here. Beyond that, I don’t find this guy very interesting.

Jenna: I too liked Carl, because they subverted the usual trope of the Doctor being the one to convince someone of their value. But Carl is already working on that himself before he ever meets the Doctor.

Back to the question. I am not big into the body horror, so I admit I had to look away, but the “Tim Shaw” joke was hilarious, in the great tradition on the show of roasting the filming location while also supporting Sheffield itself as an industrial, working class town (which is a WHOLE other essay).

I also greatly enjoyed the Doctor having a chance to reduce a baddie’s motives to petty self-interest right from the very first episode. Mocking an arrogant villain’s monologuing is always a highlight.

Even if I couldn’t stand to watch, I appreciated the gross factor for showing that it wasn’t going to become all sunshine and rainbows just because the eponymous character is a woman now and it still holds that middle-grade-boy demographic appeal while expanding its audience. But personally, could have done without the visual of the teeth trophies. Yikes.

AaronSpeaking for the middle-school-boy demographic, I enjoyed the visuals of the Stenza and the nice added detail of the teeth being conquest trophies. Again, with so much happening in this episode, the villain is going to be a throwaway almost by necessity, so they could do a lot worse than a murderous alien tooth fairy.

I also have to admit that if I’m going to be killed by a Doctor Who villain, I’d want my last line to be “Eat my salad, Halloween.” Drunk salad guy may have been my favorite character from this week. Can we save him and let him stumble around the TARDIS throwing food and insults at however crosses his path?

Poor Carl, little did he know that yes, someone out there did want him … just not in the way his self-help books were telling him. Also the look the Doctor gave him when he said he, a crane operator, was afraid of heights? Priceless.

If you are new to Who and want to get caught up, I wrote a piece about 30 must-watch Doctor Who episodes to watch before series 9.

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Abortion, Gun Control And the Inconsistency of the Personal Choice Narrative Tue, 24 Jul 2018 12:52:32 +0000 When we discuss abortion, the conversation often moves toward the idea of “choice.” It’s easy to see why. Our culture prizes choice. Companies use our desire for personal choice as part of their slogans and commercials. Those who support legalized abortion recognize the power of the choice narrative. There’s a reason why they favor “pro-choice” […]

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gun control abortion

When we discuss abortion, the conversation often moves toward the idea of “choice.” It’s easy to see why.

Our culture prizes choice. Companies use our desire for personal choice as part of their slogans and commercials.

Those who support legalized abortion recognize the power of the choice narrative. There’s a reason why they favor “pro-choice” as their label.

For those of us who oppose abortion, we are swimming against a powerful cultural current. How do we convince people that the issue surrounding abortion is more than one of mere personal choice?

In many cases, we can point to gun control.

Recently, I got into a discussion about abortion on Twitter. Yes, I realize this can be fraught with danger, but I often find these conversations insightful and sometimes even helpful.

In this instance, the other person casually said that since I was so concerned about life, I should be opposed to guns.

He had made a larger point prior to that, so I didn’t respond to his gun aside but knowing his position helped me demonstrate the inconsistency in what he was arguing.

After he grew frustrated at my pointing him to statistics and research that undermined his argument, he brought out an oft-repeated pro-choice line: “Well, if you don’t want one, just don’t have one.”

In his mind, the issue of choice was paramount for abortion. If I was personally opposed to abortion, I should simply avoid having one myself and leave other people to make their own decision.

So I asked him if his maxim, “if you don’t want one, don’t have one,” applied to guns as well. I could just as easily ask if that idea would work for slavery or murder. But since he brought up guns, I used that. He refused to answer the question.

The reality is he was comfortable legislating morality; he just wanted to make sure it was his morality being enforced.

If he wanted to respond, he could say that guns can potentially harm other people. We see thousands of gun deaths each year, so that issue has broader cultural implications that make it more than merely a personal choice. But that also conflicts with his position on abortion, just in more subtle way.

In essence, it’s the same argument pro-life people make about abortion. It’s not simply about the choice of the individual if that choice impacts the lives of other humans. Every year, abortions end the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings in America.

The pro-choice individual may respond that the life in the womb is not actually a person or is only a potential person.

For starters, however, I would say our nation has frequently been at its most immoral when it decides when a human being is not worthy of being recognized as a person.

Secondly, it brings us back to our gun control discussion. Passing new laws on guns or even confiscating every gun is not bringing back anyone who has lost their life to gun violence. It is potentially saving lives in the future.

The argument for increased gun control says we must act because lives can potentially be saved.

OK, but the argument in favor of abortion says we should not act because lives that would be saved are only potential.

Which is it? Am I supposed to value potential lives or not?

Should life, even potential life, trump unfettered rights? Gun control advocates already seem to accept that reasoning. Why then would it not extend to abortion?

I believe there is room for a discussion on certain regulations and restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.

But if you only value the potential lives saved through gun control and not through abortion restrictions, it doesn’t seem your issue is about protecting lives, but rather protecting the issues you value most.

If we argue, in light of mass shootings, the potential lives of one group of people should allow for the curtailing of the rights of another group, then why would the same argument not hold for the right to an abortion?

Choice is a compelling cultural narrative, but it should not be all-consuming. We can’t make whatever choice we want, especially when that choice harms others.

Abortion is about much more than an individual choice and gun control demonstrates why.

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