He Knocked Four Times

I just finished watching David Tenant’s last episode of Doctor Who.  Any fan will know there was a prophecy in The Dead Planet which said that something was returning from the dark and that “he will knock four times”. This stirred up much speculation on the intertubes about who could be knocking four times and what could be returning. A number of people figured that Gallifrey would be returning and, in fact, it was the Time Lords and Gallifrey. However, I do not recall reading anywhere that anyone thought that Wilfred Mott would be the one who knocked four times. Yes, that’s right. It was not The Master and his drums like so many thought.

I admit that it was a wonderful farewell episode for David Tenant and a great intro for Matt Smith at the end. While I liked the “last visit” scenes, the episode could have done without them. They do serve as character development and also highlight the impact he has had on various people during his adventures, from Sarah Jane Smith to Captain Jack Harkness to Rose Tyler to Micky Smith to Martha Jones and others.

I do have an issue with the showdown scene with the Time Lords, though. When The Doctor sends Gallifrey back, he calls the Lord President a significant name: Rassilon. Rassilon is a legendary figure and should not be living. Of course, it is entirely possible that he is merely a namesake or that Rassilon was brought back during the time war. Still, it is a bit of a discrepancy.

Also, who was the time lady that came to Wilfred? She clearly knew the Doctor and he clearly knew her.

For a “wrap up the loose ends and leave a clean slate for the new guy”, this episode sure left a lot of things unresolved. Maybe some of that was at the request of the new guy? Who knows.

All in all, I liked the episode. It is fun to look for all the back references like the wasp Donna sees or the Adiposian at the bar. And the actual regeneration sequence was great. Looks like the Tardis control room is going to get remodelled by the new regeneration.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the upcoming season unfolds.

Torchwood: Children of Earth

I just finished watching the latest installment of Torchwood. As MM put it in her comments for episode 4, intense!

One thing Torchwood has never done is shy away from difficult issues. One can say that it deliberately takes on the most difficult problems. "Children of Earth" takes this to a new high. As MM put it in her comments on her torrent for episode four, "Intense!".

In previous seasons, Torchwood has touched on the idea that there is no absolute good or absolute evil. Is it better for a mother to know nothing of the fate of her son if knowing the fate would destroy her emotionally? Is it better to know what goes bump in the night or continue in blissful ignorance? But this latest entry trumps everything to date.

Would you sacrifice a dozen children who would not be missed to save the world from a fatal pandemic? Is it right to cover up such an action? Would you kill to keep that dark a secret? Now what if it is not a dozen children who would be missed, but rather ten percent of the children of the Earth? What if failure to provide the children would signal the total destruction of humanity? Is it evil to agree to demands in such a circumstance, or is it unavoidable if survival is to be ensured?

Indeed, "Children of Earth" deals with the classic no-win scenario. Torchwood is persecuted (to the point of murder) by the powers that be to cover up a dark secret from the past, yet Torchwood is the only hope for the future. Even when the remnants of Torchwood play all their cards, they are still stymied, both by the invader and the powers that be. Indeed, right up to the last ten minutes of the final episode, it looks like the invaders will win.

Then, at the absolute last moment, a solution presents itself. But there is a catch. Jack Harkness will have to sacrifice one child to save the entire planet. Will he do it? That one child is his grandson! Can he do it? Can he do it with the child’s mother (his daughter) watching in terror? Does that make him an evil man or a good man caught with no options? In the end, he chooses to sacrifice his grandson to save the children of the Earth, though the emotional price is clear to see on his face.

Then, after the world is saved, we see the Prime Minister of the UK in conference. He agreed to the ten percent sacrifice. He agreed with the coverup. He agreed with the murder of Torchwood. But all through the events, he is constantly arranging events to cover his own ass. He is arranging, where possible, to take no responsibility for anything. To blame his underlings, or the Americans, or any other handy scapegoat. He shows no remorse at the end.

Throughout, there is the person of John Frobisher. Frobisher is a civil servant. A bureaucrat. But he is dedicated to his job. He is the one who suggests the cover-up. He serves as the representative to the invaders. But he makes a side deal to further the cover-up. He is horrified at the demands of the invaders but sees no alternative. In the end, to save his children from the fate he knows is coming, he murders them, their mother, and then commits suicide.

There are many other characters, major and minor, who come alive on screen during this emotional rollercoaster. Some act out of rational fear. Some act out of greed. Others act out of a desire for self-preservation. Some are baffled while others understand the full import of their actions. Some are clearly evil while others are clearly not. Most simply are.

Was John Frobisher an evil man for doing what he did? Or was he trapped by events that occured when he was a child? Unlike the Prime Minister, he does not mention that he could hardly be responsible for the events that were covered up. He merely does his job. He does not attempt to deflect responsibility. Indeed, his longtime assistant goes to great pains to convince a prisoner that John was a good man.

Was not the Prime Minister also trapped by events he could hardly be responsible for? Yet he is clearly intended as a villain, perhaps the true villain, of this story. His lack of remorse and consistent attempts to deflect responsibility show through. His character is the polar opposite of Frobisher’s. Frobisher’s assistant goes to great lengths to trap him, to make his true character show through. He is an evil man.

Both Frobisher and the Prime Minister agree that the demands of the invader must be met, the former with horror, the latter merely looking for someone else to be responsbile. The same action but at a different internal cost.

Harkness’s choice is both easier and harder. On the one hand, there is no choice if the sacrifice of one will save all. On the other hand, it is his own descendent he must sacrifice. For the Prime Minister, and Frobisher until near the end, the price is abstract, someone else’s children. Harkness makes the very hard choice and pays a crippling price for it. But he pays it where Frobisher bows out. Is it evil for Jack to make that sacrifice? Is he stronger than Frobisher for having done it? Braver? Colder?

"Children of Earth" examines these dilemmas and many more less weighty ones on many levels over the course of five hours. Like an onion, every layer examined reveals layers beneath. All the key players and many of the minor ones have layers which show upon close scrutiny, as do their choices.

All told, this latest entry in the Torchwood saga feels real, and its effect is all the more chilling for that.

Doctor Who Reconstructions

I got hooked on Doctor Who years ago. Since then I’ve seen every episode that still exists and reconstructions of various quality for others. It is disappointing that so many episodes from the early years of the program have been lost.

Most reconstructions are of very low quality, being VHS dubs of VHS dubs. Even the very good quality reconstructions are of dubious watchability, consisting as the do of various bits of surviving footage mixed with stills combined with scrolling descriptions of action that is not apparent from the dialogue. (Fortunately, the sound tracks for all episodes do still exist.) Some sound tracks have been adapted for radio broadcast. While these are easier to watch/listen to than some of the reconstructions, they are not ideal.

I recently acquired a copy of a serial called "The Invasion" featuring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. The first and fourth episodes of this serial are among the ones that are lost. However, they have recreated those episodes using animation and the original sound tracks. Having watched the first of the animated episodes, I can honestly say that I hope more of the missing episodes are recreated in this manner.

Because I am used to seeing Doctor Who as live action, the animation felt a bit odd. However, it was definitely easier watching than telesnap reconstructions. In fairness, the animation was well done. The cost that would have been involved in making it look more realistic would not have been worth it. To be brutally honest, the animation is smoother than much of the extant footage. And they did keep the animation black and white to match the rest of the serial.

All in all, I’d say that in the absence of the original episodes, animated reconstructions of equal or better calliber are probably the best solution.

Doctor Who

I watched the season finale of Doctor Who this weekend. Spoilers abound so be wary.

There seems to be a great deal of criticism about the season finale of Doctor Who. Much of it, however, seems to be based on a prejudgement because of the writer of the episode. That is, the reviewers looked for every possible thing that was wrong with it just to back up their preconceived dislike. In episodes which where written by others, the same reviewers overlook or handwave past exactly the same type of inconsistencies or what they perceive to be lame storytelling.

As a followup to last week’s episode, this episode is quite good. The earth is doomed, Martha is out on her own, Jack is captive, the Doctor is aged and captive. THe bleakness of the world is well done. They get points for not showing the intervening year while Martha travels the world. They also get points for the four part toxin gun thing being a hoax.

Essentially, the story goes that Martha travelled the world arranging for the remains of humanity to pass on as much psychic energy as they could on to the Doctor who had, in the mean time, hacked the Master’s psychic network. The Doctor then used the psychic energy to reverse the aging process inflicted by the Master and then proceeded to defeat him. Sure, Jack’s presence felt a bit grafted on, but it seems he did do something useful. He distracted the Master by attempting escape at least once.

Now on to a few points. The ultra-aged Doctor. I suppose it’s possible that timelord physiology would reduce in order to keep functioning in cases where regeneration is not possible. We know that timelord physiology can handle a great many things. Witness the Master back in the original series before he managed to regenerate. Besides, if regeneration is possible, why not the small creature?

The psychic energy thing is also a sticking point for a lot of people. Why? Energy is energy and can be transformed into other forms. The Master had already set up a network that could route such energy and the Doctor had a year to figure out how to tap into that network. Why is a psychic energy rejuvenation so unbelievable in the face of regeneration in the first place?

The apparent revelation about Jack being the Face of Bo was a bit of a head turner. Contrary to what folks are complaining about, it did not feel tacked on. A connection that the discussions I have read have not made is between the ultra-aged Doctor and the Face of Bo. Perhaps it is the same effect? We also don’t know how long Jack wanders space (and time; after all, if humans had temporal technology in his time, he will obviously have to travel through that time again and will be able to travel into the past). Indeed, there are all manner of possibilities with Jack including that the Face of Bo connection is merely coincidence. If you squint at it right, it could be that Jack ends up going back in time and becoming the first time lord. Or causing the time lords to evolve. Certainly, Jack is responsible for the Torchwood references through the ages just as Rose is responsible for any bad wolf references through the ages.

This story also fits in with the Lonely God story line. The Doctor takes what essentially amounts to prayers and uses them to regain his strength and defeat the Master. Also, his obvious grief at the apparent death of the Master is particularly poignant. Whether he truly is the last time lord or not, he believes he is and that is what matters from a loneliness perspective.

The scene with the Master’s ring being picked up is a classic ending for an episode with the Master. We are led to believe he is still alive. Perhaps he is truly gone and the one picking up the ring is someone else, someone not even time lord. It could, for all we know, be a setup for the next season of Torchwood. Time will tell.

All in all, I found the episode quite enjoyable. Then again, I’ve found the revival of Doctor Who quite enjoyable. I think many reviewers simply forget that the original series had just as many goofy or “lame” stories. It’s Doctor Who. I don’t expect scientific realism or prefect timelines or what have you. I expect entertainment. And, pan it as they might, the reviewers continue watching. That’s got to say something on its own.