Doctor Who: More ice?

Imagine ordering Empress of Mars, a colonialist, capitalist and slavery themed episode of Doctor Who that demonstrates 19th century military and mercantile values and not realising it was accomplished earlier, with more nuance and to a more satisfying degree in the episode Thin Ice? As if to make up for this, some fetching steam punk garb is added in, as are call backs to previous series. And I mean way back. Think not only to Tooth and Claw in 2006 but to 1974’s Monster of Peladon. And so, if we didn’t realise before now, these Who arcana indicate the authorship of Mark Gatiss.

Lounging Red Coat on Mars

As a war story, Red Coats of Mars would have been a better title, because it was mainly about these soldiers, what they wanted, and what they did to get it, and how they left the planet. The subplot about the Colonel was interesting and entirely in keeping, a little like Captain Quell of the Mummy on the Orient Express – a former soldier seeking a quiet life. At this point I feel like I’m outside the Matrix looking in, all I see are types and archetypes (the green code) where others see people. Ah, (pointing to the code) there’s the soldier about to die, because he mentioned returning to his fiance. Look, (again pointing to the code) the catalyst in the form of a soldier after the loot.

Action figure Red Coat on Mars

Perhaps the Red Coats, with their camp, military hierarchy, industry, and social mores, were the most convincing part of the entire shenanigans. Because, once off the ice, the titular character barely got time to apprehend what was going on, decide on a plan, and order an attack, before being taken hostage like she was a mere human queen beholden to a werewolf, and not actually the fabled Ice Warrior leader herself. Carapace instead of character development, methinks.

Yes, it was all old-fashioned jolly fun I suppose. As per usual Peter Capaldi did his best, with his Doctor placed, once more in a position to attempt to negotiate understanding between humans and ‘the other‘. Yet perhaps the stakes weren’t high enough, nor his arguments that convincing given the faith of the Reds and the zeal of the Ice Warriors. It took ‘Friday’ and the ‘Colonel’ – to actually get different outcome.

Again Michelle Gomez’s Missy was under used, given she would have been an interesting contrast in power to the Empress. Meanwhile Pearl Mackie’s Bill did things and said things when asked, or challenged to. I forget what they were, mainly, but she had one good joke.

Perhaps I’m being a little mean. This was not the worst Gatiss episode of Doctor Who (that award goes to Victory of the Daleks from 2010). Nor was it the best (The Crimson Horror, The Idiot’s Lantern, and The Unquiet Dead). It was middling, with interesting ideas, but no room to fully explore them, nor lead them to a hearty resolution. Don’t get me wrong. I just wanted more of consequence from this. More cross-examination of Catchlove, and more for Iraxxa to do, and yes, something more for Bill beyond offer an opinion as the literally the only other woman on an entire planet.

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Doctor Who: Here’s a thought

Themes in Doctor Who repeat because history repeats, and stories do too, as per The Lie of the Land.

I am endlessly interested in how stories are in and of their time but also universal, cosmic, mythical. How any story set today can refer to ‘fake news‘ but also be about the first story humans learn and repeat: the mother daughter plot.

There can be any amount of throw away lines like the one above to demonstrate The Doctor’s world being in touch with the zeitgeist but the bigger picture consists of long games: human history as a series of extremist and fascistic bumps in the road we forget, and repeat. But beyond the sociopolitical forces at work over time is the question of what it is to be human. One of the ways is how we invent stories and people, or reinvent those who are no longer here, that is Bill re-imagining her long dead mother.

So while The Doctor gave her the photos so Bill could see her, Bill did the work of reinventing her. This does skate close to the ‘love is the answer’ solution as per many episodes, but this is more like ‘imagination is the answer’, which is also, to be honest, quite the plot of late. Once more superior story telling and the love of a daughter for her (unreal) mother save the day. Why must so many mothers have to be dead to save the story?

An imagined mother daughter bond saves the world.

The Silence of the Lambs scenes with Missy in the vault gave the story the oomph it needed, even if she restrained her murdering tendencies long enough for Bill to become the Clarice stand in. And her truth bomb about The Doctor was apt too. It revealed the flaw of this episode. Which leads me to agreeing with the A.V. Club:imagine if The Doctor had actually sided with the Monks as influenced by their mind control? Imagine Bill, Nardole and Missy working together to save and rehabilitate The Doctor and then fight the invasion. That makes for a darker, riskier, and more interesting episode for such a big build up. By the conclusion Bill, Missy and The Doctor would have been facing their demons and guilt over murder and attempted murder, rather than just Missy.

The psychic projection of the merino sheep doesn’t have the same ring.

But we’ve seen alternate militaristic hell-scapes before, through the eyes of both Donna and Martha. Bill’s particular version reminded me a little of the future fascist-vampire world under Hal in the second to last series of Being Human (UK), what with the decor and insignia. Being Human went (because it could) to one of the most taboo things a person (or ghost) could do to save the world, led by the hand by the person it needed to happen to. It was bleak. And while the vampire future folded in on itself, the sacrifice to stop it had consequences that continued to be felt in later episodes in the current world.

Maybe, as a function of its ‘family friendly’ status, I don’t feel this with Doctor Who. Bill attempted to murder The Doctor. This should have emotional and psychological consequences beyond a 3000 word essay on free will, although I can’t fault the performances of Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi.  But the episode leaves a lot of stuff swept under the carpet: like should there be consequences for The Doctor spouting Monk propaganda? And, how about the fact the Monks killed and imprisoned people, and didn’t unwind time as well as memories. Are victims forgotten, or are their deaths rewritten? Is everyone charged with a memory crime released?

Perhaps, the problem is that this episode sells the premise well enough, but we’ve been told over the two previous episodes not to trust the world. Thus, this rescue doesn’t seem quite as believable as it should. A part of me wishes this wasn’t so much the rescue as much as just another subroutine in the Monk model universe. Although with the impending return of the Ice Warriors and ye olde Cybermen maybe this isn’t the usual Who universe at all, just a repeating, looping, self referential one.

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Review: Much have I seen and known

Maybe at another time I will provide a more considered and thorough critique of the following film and its performances, but right now it is too much with me and all I’ve got are raw feelings.

Do you remember when you were young? When you rushed home from school full of energy, even after an hour on the bus, and watched Monkey Magic, then re-enacted all the martial arts moves with your younger brothers, because the days were long and the life in your very sinews couldn’t be contained for the thrill of it? And maybe the neighbours at the farm across the road five kilometres away called to ask what’s going on and all it was, was us, sounding our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world?

No? Just me then?

War and life lessons with Diana in Wonder Woman.

For a moment that’s how I felt watching Wonder Woman. And I could tell others felt the same, what with the tween girls doing cartwheels in front of the screen after the film ended. Yes, I wanted to say, that’s it exactly: because this film is about the earnestness and idealism of youth and how it energises everything and everyone, even in the very worst of circumstances.

I will drink
Life to the lees

 

But this film is also about how so quickly youth and idealism are sacrificed and how mostly there is no time to mourn their passing because we are too busy suffering, growing, and falling.

All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone

 

And so, while I remember when I was the girl who flew through the air and won (second) best on court in netball once when I was 12, I can’t be her again. Mostly, because time and how my knee (still) reminds of the netball injury when I was 21.

The lesson here for Diana, and me, is that time passes, but sometimes we still remember that which we were. So I recall how oh my god how I high I flew against much taller goal attack Jodie that Friday night, decades ago. I was something. Sometimes, I want to go back. When life was simpler and there was so much I didn’t understand. Before thousands of dollars worth of dental work, death and accidents, before broken hearts and failure. And that’s another thing Diana learns. Leaving childhood is permanent.

Look, me winning netball laurels for most improved one year.

Of course, Diana is supposedly changed through her experience, but unlike me, she gets to keep her skills and strength and vitality. Thus, once this odd cinematic joie de vivre goes, I’ll return to the daily battles against my physical limitations, cynicism, helplessness, and grief, railing always in my weariness against making:

…an end,
To rust unfurnished, not to shine in use!

 

That’s another part of this. Longing to be of use, for adventure and adrenalin. Even from me, whose most dare-devil risk taking has been bungee jumping and the kind of innocent youthful exploits I’m glad occurred before mobile phone footage. Or, if none of the above, to achieve something of significance.

And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought

 

Anywho…

There is much to think on and feel, about this film and the performances and plot and everything else. However, I got something from it I hadn’t expected, and don’t really know what to do with: a restless ardour that even now is fading. And, I mourn for it as it leaves since I don’t want to be weak, or fatigued, or cynical. But I suppose, if I can be at all like an ancient Greek hero or Tennyson’s Ulysses:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
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Review: Love in art

The usual blockbuster events gain all the attention for the National Gallery of Victoria, and like cosmic detritus around a black hole, all are pulled by way of its gravitational attraction. And this is no bad thing, so go see Vincent van Gogh and the Four Seasons if you can.

Reflecting on art

What these starry-eyed fans may miss out on though, is the low-key free to view exhibits, such as Love: Art of Emotion – 1400- 1800.  It closes in a couple of weeks, and having spent a while there, I do recommend it. And not just as an escape from the VvG cluster, although it does represent a welcome contrast.

Detail from my favourite painting of the exhibit.

For further details on some of the themes and works, download this handy PDF. I won’t repeat what the gallery itself says about its exhibit, because why?

We dance round in a ring & suppose, but the art sits in the middle & knows

It’s a truism that rearranging art creates the possibility for new perspectives. This is literal in a physical sense but it’s not just about grouping art differently across new rooms. It is also about the rooms themselves. The air of mystery around some pieces in this exhibit is certainly heightened by the black matt painted walls, making the pieces as context-less as possible. While the rooms and corridors seem to fold in on themselves, presenting unique views and angles around each corner.

What you see & what’s revealed.

Meanwhile, items in glass enclosed cases hold their own allure, reflecting, as they do the pictures around them, at the same time presenting the likes of mourning rings, and sculptures.

In need of snarky comment or context.

All this basks in yellow-gold lighting making for a warm, mellow contrast to the walls, so some pieces seem to glow and draw attention, while others wait to be discovered or stumbled across unexpectedly.

Ceiling of the great hall in the temple to art (NGV).

It almost doesn’t matter the theme for this exhibit. It offers a respite filled with ceramics, books, and instruments, paintings and glass. Amongst the rush of the city, or the crowds in busier galleries, this space offers a sea of tranquillity and repose. I suppose all galleries are looked upon this way in some measure. Perhaps, with its spacious main hall, with the magnificently vivid ceiling creating almost a cathedral space, the NGV is considered a refuge more than most.

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Doctor Who: Blind faith

The doom monks of the previous episode Extremis are back in Doctor Who‘s Pyramid at the End of the World. As the latest Big Bad, these aliens are eerily reminiscent of the crypts of actual mummified Capuchin friars that hang from walls and ceilings.  These aliens are even dressed the same (Capuchin indicates hooded). If you want to look at something really macabre and not just grimly fictional, Google search images for their crypts. I can testify that the search histories for writers are always intriguing, weird, and possibly troubling.

Doctor Who has a thing for bad/religious types in red, whether in Rome, Scotland or in Extremis. I’m getting ahead of the trend by suggesting this look.

Anyway, these Alien Pyramid Monks also recall the Silence, right down to the religious feel to them (and the name, obvs). The Silence hear confessions of course, and these monks demand something similar: a heartfelt call for help. Not a request for aid out of fear or political expediency, but one out of love. Then they can conquer the world. What we see from the preview for next episode is that these APMs can change history and memories, which is also Silence-y. With all this, and with the Vatican last episode and previous episodes featuring the Papal Mainframe and Anglican monk-soldiers of the Byzantium, I’m thinking Steven Moffat has done a lot of thinking about Christianity and Catholicism in particular, but with its history, death rituals, public displays of worship and adoration, including the ornate buildings and robes, plus obsessions with guilt and bodies, why not? Here is an interesting critique of how well (or not) this has been done.

It’s just not about Christianity though. These aliens have done their homework and settled on the pyramid to best represent their importance and open presence on Earth when they smack it down on the flash point Madeupistan. In terms of the Whoniverse, it had to be a pyramid. Those things are everywhere (like on Mars).

More rocket-like but less imposing than a pyramid for a landing in Madeupistan.

But for all their get up, these beings are less monks and more like the Fates; literally holding the (neon) skeins of the future. Or, if you like they are dead Time Lords in death robes, rather than their stupid(er) outfits. In offering to intervene to stop the Doomsday Clock from reaching mid night they are specifically cognate to The Doctor, who does intervene in stuff (unlike the others from Gallifrey who long made non-interference a policy). The Doctor doesn’t want power in return, although he is Earth’s President. However, when the humans, blind to their futures, acknowledge the foresight of these monks, they do offer them their power (but it is not so simple as that – as explained above).

The Fates come with symbols such as spindles & shears. And are women. Would it have killed Moffat to have Alien Corpse Moirae?

This is where we get to the examination of blindness and its significance for The Doctor, (even if his conundrum in this instance would have been solvable with a phone camera and Bill’s help). Nardole keeps telling The Doctor he is hiding his blindness to avoid revealing it to his enemies. Sure, The Doctor agrees. But the Alien Monks themselves don’t care, as walking corpses they barely have eyes at all. Meanwhile, despite Nardole’s constant narration, no one twigs; the blind leading the blind, indeed.

Sonic Scope for the Blind.

No. The actual reason why The Doctor did not immediately reveal his continuing blindness to Bill is history. His Companions always end up making sacrifices due to his vulnerabilities, and failings, and their faith in him: see River Song, Adric, or Clara. He knows this and has been told this by the likes of Rory. The Doctor requires much of his fellow travellers, and their willingness to help him place them in positions that endanger themselves and others. Thus, they will save him, even if this condemns themselves and in this case, the rest of the world. Thus, as soon as Bill sees the light, she acts accordingly. She sacrifices the world to save The Doctor, because of her faith he can, with his eyesight restored, save them all in return. Ah me, once, more unto the Moffat Loop, dear Companions, once more.

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Review: A brush with Vincent

The National Gallery of Victoria winter masterpiece exhibition this year is Vincent van Gogh and the Four Seasons (on now). I finally got to visit on a particularly sombre, grey Melbourne Friday afternoon.

Vincent.

Last year the big exhibit was Degas. It was interesting. I recognised familiar paintings of the usual suspects, admired paintings I’d not met before and generally marvelled at his bronzes, particularly the horses. My response, to Degas’ art was neither deeply intellectual nor emotional, except for the back stories to some of the subjects – such as The Little Dancer. However, little about his practice got me wondering how he achieved it. Perhaps it was all too familiar, perhaps it something about my perception that meant his story and style didn’t exactly grab me. And then of course it became about his ‘male gaze’ penchant for nudes. Or, if you’re less arty, his overtly leery view of a very lot of various naked women going about their private business.

Degas, but not deja vu.

The above is a long-winded introduction to van Gogh, but pertinent, because my reaction this time to 2017’s ‘blockbuster’ exhibition was entirely opposite. It was visceral, emotional, and intellectual. Yes, this is due in part to his pop-cultural status as the definitive tortured artist. It is also due to the familiarity of his life and works and the interpretation of both, in song, and an upcoming film, and even in the likes of Doctor Who and the Simpsons. Even teen me wrote a poem to Vincent (don’t worry I won’t inflict it on you). All of which is to say, if ballerinas are Degas, then almost anything can be van Gogh, if the colours and brushwork are right.

Light and line, rendered solid.

Speaking of which, I can spend hours looking at a van Gogh painting. Particularly the ones where the oil paint glistens in the light so the lines and directions of his brushwork become just as vibrant as his yellows and golds and purply-blues.

Star bursts, vertices, and white stabs of paint.

Light reveals the movement in his work. It conveys the energy of his hand in motion to the viewer through the medium of colour, and direction, in small, quick, but deliberate strokes.

And it was all yellow.

It is art that feels immediate. Degas is history, a moment captured, completely of its time. Van Gogh’s seasons evoke places and eras too, but the electrifying brightness of his springs and nights, the hues of his autumns, the starkness of his winters, well, they’re immortal. The places are specific, but the movement of colours therein are universal. Or something.

 

While his places are of moments, so too his faceless individual forms evoke human experiences without being identifiable. They are ghosts, faces obscured, or with their backs to us, or bent over working. They are not for us, they do not peer out; busy in place, they are home. We are the interlopers.

Winter: a solitary figure of the same stuff as the cold earth.

Moving around a van Gogh reveals the details of his intentions. To to be up close is to see the horizontal and vertical contrasting shades. Stand back and admire the view, but lean in and realise the concentration it took to construct it.

Warp and weft.

A fellow attendee, also in awe, remarked at how the paintings were woven. She was right. Warp and weft of colours make the whole.

He was not all about colour, however.

All of this means a print of a van Gogh seems dull and muddy by comparison. It’s two-dimensional rather than his three dimensions. That could be said of any print of an oil painting. However, the Fibonacci swirls in his clouds, the star burst lines of his shrubberies, and fields of sunny vertices make van Gogh’s work instantly recognisable, but also so much more energetic when confronted by the real thing, framed on the wall. Which I why I took few photos of entire paintings, but rather close-ups of sections.

Landscapes as vectors.

Maybe I am too enamoured of his technique, but then again, he had more than one. Autumnal and winter sketches and paintings show his political leanings through earlier, darker works featuring farmers.

Light gets through even in his darker works.

Meanwhile, a section of the exhibit demonstrated the influence of Japonism on his aesthetic, and forms a worthwhile exhibit of itself.

Something Japanese.

Van Gogh, a late-ish blooming outsider artist, found and pursued his calling. That’s relatable. Maybe it doesn’t just comes down to us being suckers for tragedy, even if the art and the sadness of his life can’t be separated.

There is so much more to say, but perhaps it is better to end by urging you, if your can, to visit Vincent, follow his lines, seek his light, and bask in his fields.

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Doctor Who: Use Your Words

‘ere be spoilers, me hearties, k?

In a Doctor Who story featuring two big reveals, the one regarding the vault was interesting, given the stuff about measurements of fatality, with an apt call back to River Song, but that was the curtain raiser. No, it was the other piece of news that kept me engaged amid increased tension and mystery.

Through technology, you can see what is not real: the original use your illusion.

Steven Moffat’s episode Extremis has all sorts of things going on, many of them my favourites. For starters: Latin tags, hidden libraries, shadows, and dangerous ancient texts, like River’s diary, and the other one. Or so it seems. Moffat’s great joke about this truth book is it not about words at all, it is a count. A word count if you like.

Bad corpses, bad corpses, whatcha gonna do when they come for you in a computer simulation?

The Doctor stealing from his future in order to see is an analogy for what happens in the episode and also what happens with writers and stories. Writers always take from their Big Bag of Ideas and spend them, some times all at once. The stuff about the Vatican and CERN was intriguing, but mainly marvellous and entertaining window dressing to get to the point of the text. And the fact it is a book is important, The Doctor and his Companions, in figuring out what they are doing, are interpreting the text they are within. And they succeed.

The new enemy runs a simulation within a framework in order to understand and overcome future real world outcomes, such as defeat in an attempt to conquer the earth. The hidden text is the verification process, which is the only indication to individuals that they are but characters encoded by their enemy, to be deleted, or rewritten at will. Like like any character. Nardole and Bill feel and see this, and their terror is real. However, this time Father Christmas doesn’t turn up to save them.

This is very much like The Doctor’s Confession Dial experience where he (alone) experienced many deaths over thousands of years to finally reach his destination. This time, Subroutine Doctor doesn’t go anywhere, but he does get the information out, and just like any ‘trapped in a dream’ episode, The Doctor outside of the framework wakes to the impending danger.

Why is this important? Well the danger will come anyway, so this is an introduction. But what the story really indicates is that The Doctor transcends any construct that contains him, even bespoke ones inside his own story. As a character within a world within a world, he speaks to the world beyond him. He is inter-textual, but what the argument really is, is that The Doctor is beyond texts. He is a cultural phenomenon, beyond the limits of a TV series, films, cartoons, books, and audio plays. The Doctor says he stands apart, which is really Moffat making The Doctor say, too damn right he does. As a character he is immortal in a way no one else can be.

The other theme of 2017: dead stalking the living. Wonder what it means? Cough, cough, ahem, um, regener-

But to get more meta, this is also a get out of jail free dress rehearsal or first draft for the real encounter of our heroes and this new big bad. If we don’t like what happened in this episode, the writer is saying it doesn’t matter, because it is one of many possibilities for the actual showdown. This was just one version we happened to catch. It will be rewritten differently next time.

So we can see Moffat is test driving ideas about identity, truth, sight and shadows to see what will fly with his readers (audience) when The Doctor faces these beings and barriers ahead of the next episode: ‘reality.’ But as I keep noting, this isn’t reality at all, merely another Borges-like-Escherscape of repeating Moffat Themes, dressed beautifully, and gloriously freighted with auteur significance. And it doesn’t matter a single jot if no one gets it, because we’re through the looking glass people, and it’s maze-like dangers and adventures are wondrous and beguiling.

 

 

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