Doubting Ben Jackson

benCompanion Tropes 6

A doubting Thomas is somebody who won’t believe things without first hand experience.  The origin of the term is of course the Apostle Thomas in the bible, who would not believe in the resurrection of Jesus until he could see and feel his wounds from the cross himself.  Further down the road of disbelief is the arbitrary sceptic, who is somebody who has a tendency not to believe things, even when the weight of the evidence is pointing in the direction of it being true.  In genre television, the arbitrary sceptic will often have experience of fantastical things, but still will somehow disbelieve the next fantastical thing that comes along.  Sometimes that’s for comedic effect, sometimes it’s bad writing, sometimes it has another function altogether, as we will find out.

Somewhere between the tropes of doubting Thomas and arbitrary sceptic exists Doctor Who’s Ben Jackson.  In his first story, set in the contemporary London of 1966, he witnesses the construction of War Machines by people being brainwashed by a super computer.  It’s pretty out there for the 60s, and one might think it would give him an open mind when it comes to other strange things.  Despite that, he could probably be forgiven for disbelieving the abilities of the TARDIS, when he and Polly wander abroad and then get deposited in 17th Century Cornwall.

DOCTOR: Ah, yes. I think we’ve landed in some sort of caves.
BEN: Yeah, well, thanks for the home movies, Doctor. Now if you’d just open these doors.
DOCTOR: Wait, wait, wait, young man, we don’t know where we are. We don’t know if it’s safe or what period we’re in.
BEN: Well, I’ll take a little bet with you, ay? London, 1966, Fitzroy Square.

I mean, he is standing in the control room of what is clearly a spaceship that has somehow been squeezed inside a police box when this conversation takes place, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.  Less understandable, and this is a really common way of making companions look stupid in Doctor Who, is how he eventually gets his head around the fact that they have travelled in space, unable to deny the evidence of his own eyes, but still won’t entertain the idea of time travel.

BEN: You’d think there’d be a few houses or something. I bet it’s miles to a bus.
DOCTOR: Well, there doesn’t seem to appear any Victorian restoration. I think it could be any time after the 16th century.
BEN: Only it’s not. It’s good old 1966.

But so far this is nothing unusual.  Ian and Sarah Jane both spring to mind as companions who behave in similar ways.   In his next story, The Tenth Planet, he plays the role of sceptic again, but only in jest:

DOCTOR: Well, that pretty soon we shall be having visitors.
BEN: Visitors? What, here? Well, who do you think’s bringing ’em, Father Christmas on his sledge?
DOCTOR: Oh, quiet, boy, quiet!

And during that story he encounters the Cybermen for the first time.  It’s fair to say that his eyes should now be opened to the weird and wonderful possibilities that travel with the Doctor offers.  Then the Doctor regenerates.

POLLY: Well, that’s who came through the doors. There was no one else outside. Ben, do you remember what he said in the tracking room? Something about ‘This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.’
BEN: So he gets himself a new one?
POLLY: Well, yes.
BEN: Oh, do me a favour.
POLLY: Then whatever happened, happened in here.
BEN: But it’s impossible.
POLLY: Not so long ago we’d have been saying that about a lot of things.

So what is happening here is that the writer clearly identified that what was needed post-regeneration was somebody to represent the voice of scepticism for the viewers, and past history shows that Ben is the obvious choice.  And it’s taken further, into the realms of stupidity for Ben.  Remember that he has just seen the regeneration with his own eyes, but boy does he take some convincing, taking giant leaps of nonsensical logic in the process:

BEN: Now look, the Doctor always wore this. So if you’re him, it should fit now, shouldn’t it?

That’s the Doctor’s ring he’s talking about.  Should it fit him now, post-regeneration?  Of course not, and it clearly proves nothing.

DOCTOR: I’d like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after it’s spread its wings.

This is where Ben crosses over from merely a doubting Thomas into the realms of full-blown arbitrary scepticism.  It’s actually a work of genius, because Ben and Polly are positioned as the two conflicting voices in the mind of the viewer: the one that wants to accept the new Doctor and the one that isn’t sure, with the latter made to look like an idiot.  Who are the viewers going to side with?  Not the idiot, so it leaves them no choice but to accept Troughton’s Doctor as the same man.  Utterly brilliant, but it almost destroys the character of Ben in the process.

Once he’s stuck in a rut, he stays in it, for the little time he has left and the few lines he has per story once Jamie is on the scene.  The Underwater Menace finds him on a mountainside which appears to be deserted, with Polly.  And if his eyes tell him it’s deserted he simply won’t listen to somebody whose eyes tell her something different:

POLLY: I’m beginning to see things.
BEN: Where?
POLLY: Down there, look. I’m sure I saw something moving.
BEN: Ah, you’re round the twist.
POLLY: Look, there it is again.

Then, in The Moonbase, the Doctor is suspicious about the apparent virus on the base.  But Ben sees evidence of a virus, so it must therefore be a virus.

DOCTOR: There’s something about this epidemic that I don’t quite understand. It’s not like a real disease at all. It’s almost as if…
BEN: Not real? What more do you want?

When the premise behind The Macra Terror calls for one of the companions to be brainwashed, it needs to be somebody who will be suggestible to towing the party line, accepting a forced status quo without questioning.  Can you guess who got chosen for that role?

JAMIE: I heard something.
BEN: Oh, you’re always hearing something.
JAMIE: I never heard a voice like this before. Ben?
BEN: I’m asleep.
JAMIE: It was evil, Ben. An evil voice. An evil that spoke so gently and yet I almost believed what it said.
BEN: Oh, look, mate, get some sleep. We’ve got a hard day’s work ahead of us tomorrow.
JAMIE: Why do you say that?
BEN: Well, we’ve got to do something to help in the Colony. We can’t just eat their nosh without helping out.
JAMIE: You sound just like that voice, Ben.
BEN: Oh, what are you on about? This Colony’s all right. It wouldn’t be too bad to work here.

Ultimately, Ben was doomed to be a failure of a companion from the start.  The minute he started to be established as the doubting Thomas, there was nowhere to go for him.  At times that made him a very useful character indeed for the writers (he’s absolutely integral to Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror), but it also made him much harder to warm to than either of his fellow travellers, Polly and Jamie.  As soon as his original contract was up, Michael Craze was informed that his services were no longer required.  Anneke Wills did not face the same fate.  She left of her own accord.  As likeable as some fans find the character of Ben, I can’t help but think he will always be remembered as the companion who saw the first ever regeneration with his own eyes, and then refused to accept it.   RP

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Top of the Docs: Season 21

My return to Doctor Who after a long hiatus, due to the US networks, was with Mawdryn Undead, so understand, this season was still very exciting to me, even though it started with that atrocity and a karate kick.  The problem was for all the odd wonderment I felt, it still ended with The Twin Dilemma.  Nothing good could come of that!  Ok, let’s see how Roger and I compare!

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Warriors of the Deep

RP: 1 – Take every aspect that goes into a television show: direction, acting, writing, design, etc.  All of those are awful.  Worst of all, unsurprisingly, is the script editing, which made things 100 times worse.

ML: 4 – It probably pays to reiterate my scoring.  This is at the low end of average with 4-6 being in the average range.  The karate kick is almost unwatchable and some of the characters have no depth. But I loved the underwater setting and the “return” of an old “friend” in Icthar, even if we never met him before.  Plus an unexpected ending where the Doctor fails on a grand scale to actually do any good… that’s novel.

The Awakening

RP: 9 – …and then suddenly everything goes right, especially the script editing.  A fast-paced Doctor vs Evil masterpiece, with school book history crashing into real history crashing into horror crashing into Doctor Who.

ML: 6 – High end of average, because it is an interesting story and I love the mix of horror with science fiction, but somehow could never buy into the animatronic face in the wall.  But I still say: there’s a tranquility to this episode that pushes it to the upper end of average.

Frontios

RP: 6 – Some fascinating ideas, including the Doctor traveling beyond the point he should ever go, and a proper Doctorish defeat of his (badly designed) enemy.  But a Bidmead script was always going to be big on ideas and small on realistic or emotionally meaningful dialogue.

ML: 9 – A fascinating story with ambiance that was superbly captivating.  I loved the idea of something living beneath the sand and the TARDIS being destroyed is always an edge-of-the-seat thing.  I will never forget the first time I saw this story and, while it’s not perfect, it is one of those classics that stand out.

Resurrection of the Daleks

RP: 1 – Doctor Who made as nasty and gratuitously violent as possible.  Lots of ideas thrown into the mix, but mostly bad ones.  Like Warriors of the Deep, it steals an important moment from Doctor Who’s past, and then completely fails to understand the point of it all originally.

ML: 7 – Non-stop action, the return of Davros, and a silent explosion that I can recall and play back instantly, I always liked this story.  Why it sits at the low end of above average is that it was needlessly violent and the plot is one we’ve done before in one form or another.  Plus the title… oh my giddy aunt, can’t we come up with better titles?

Planet of Fire

RP: 7 – A valiant effort to put something together with an impossible shopping list of elements to include, and the payoff to storylines that were never developed before.  Miraculously, this all works pretty well, but we can’t ignore the fact that this is the moment fanservice in Doctor Who gets taken to another level.

ML: 5 – Oh, guess who?  The Master.  That was unexpected…. not.  What was unexpected was the miniature Master and the death of Kamelion.  Ok, right in the middle of below average.  But wait!  Turlough leaves, he’s not human, and we <ahem…> see Peri for the first time.   So I’ll throw in two extra points there!

The Caves of Androzani

RP: 1 – A nasty, nihilistic story that I detest.  When the most sympathetic character is a psychopath who objectifies the fan-service companion, that says something about the degree of moral bankruptcy being inflicted on the viewers here.  The story revels in virtually everyone dying.  I’ll repeat what I said in my article: “Doctor Who abandons its morality and hope, and becomes a nasty and violent action thriller that objectifies women and makes disability monstrous… just the once, and this is it.”  I give it a 1 through gritted teeth because it has Robert Glenister in it.

ML: 9 – I get Roger’s thoughts on this; it is violent.  But for me, this was the first regeneration I ever saw.  To say it left an indelible impression is an understatement.  This story single-handedly made me a life-long fan.  And it taught me to always pay attention to the elevator before stepping in … just in case!  This was the start of something magical!

The Twin Dilemma

RP: 0 – This doesn’t have Robert Glenister in it, so I don’t have to give it a 1.  So atrociously bad that I stopped watching Doctor Who at the time.

ML: 0 – And then this happened.  A Doctor that was utterly despicable and a story that no one could like, including having a cross-eyed slug as the main enemy.  WHAT???  His arms were shorter than any T-Rex too.  When the best thing you can say about an episode is that it had a lot of colors… you’ve got nothing!

Thankfully for me, The Twin Dilemma did not follow Caves during my first viewing.  No, NJN decided to totally confound me by putting Jon Pertwee on the week after Caves, so I REALLY had no idea what was happening.  Still, Davison brought the show back for me with some stunning moments and I will forever be indebted to this era.  Roger and I are usually in alignment on most stories, but with this season we diverge quite a bit.  At least we both agree the slug gets a ZERO!   ML

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

girl who leaptOver the last couple of months we’ve looked at every Studio Ghibli movie worth bothering with, but they never did have the monopoly on good animated films, and they certainly don’t now.  Since the early 2000s in particular, several new directors and studios have had considerable success, and developed artistic styles that are verging on the brilliance of Miyazaki.  Mamoru Hosoda is certainly a director whose success rate rivals Miyazaki.  After a couple of films in long-running franchises that I’ll probably never bother with, he directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, Summer Wars in 2009, Wolf Children in 2012 and The Boy and the Beast in 2015.  They are all brilliant, and I will be looking at them all on this site.  I am yet to watch Mirai, his latest movie, but reports of that one are positive as well.  So as a director he’s certainly reliable.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has a fascinating premise that will appeal to any sci-fi fan, but importantly there is enough human drama and real-life issues to keep the non-sf-fans interested.  Makoto Konno (voiced by Emily Hirst in the English dub) is a high school student who could be described as a little tomboyish, spending her spare time playing baseball with her two best friends, Chiaki (Andrew Francis in the dub) and Kousuke (Alex Zahara).  One day she is cycling down a steep hill when her brakes fail.  She crashes through the train gates at the bottom of the hill and gets hit by the train and dies.

At this point you might be realising that this is an unusual film, because that’s basically the beginning of the story rather than the end.  Makoto wakes up in the past, and gets to live that part of her life again.  She has leapt through time.  What’s more, she finds a way to do it again and again.  Achieving her leaps is uncomfortably close to suicide, and at one point Makoto’s sister assumes that is what she is doing.  It is played for laughs, but bubbling under the surface of this film are some troubling issues that affect teenagers.  That becomes even more evident when Makoto starts abusing her ability to change seemingly insignificant moments in her life, with unexpected consequences.  The more she tries to put things right, the worse they get.  When she has a clumsy accident in a cookery class, she leaps back and changes it so another student gets the blame.  As a consequence of that, he becomes the target of bullying, which eventually gets so extreme that he snaps and resorts to violence.  Perhaps the only major failing of the movie is that Makoto doesn’t seem to be particularly remorseful about that or desperate to fix it, focussing instead on problems in her own life.  It makes her a slightly difficult character to warm to in that moment, but it is good to see an anime film taking such an unflinching approach to bullying.

The problems in her own life amount to issues of the heart.  She wants to maintain her friendship with Chiaki and Kousuke but it’s starting to get complicated.  Her attempts to avoid the problem with one of them, and set the other up with another girl, threatens to lead to the most shocking tragedy.  Makoto might have escaped death by train on that day, but somebody else is destined to take her place.  What’s worse is that her abilities turn out to have an end point to them, when she finds mysterious numbers tattooed on her arm, counting down the number of leaps she has remaining, so if she can’t put things right soon she will reach a point where she can no longer change anything.  Her mistaken assumption that “06” is “90” strains credulity a little.  I’m all for those moments where the viewers are one step ahead of the characters in films, but it has to be done without making the lead character look too stupid.

There is another big twist in the tale, but I won’t spoil everything here, in case any readers haven’t seen this and are thinking of getting it.  If that applies to you, what are you waiting for?  It’s a great film, throught-provoking, dramatic, emotional, and the way the story is put together is a work of genius.  If you’re paying attention, at the end of the film you will realise that the final sunset is the same one as you’ve seen before, with Makoto’s discovery of her abilities, and two important emotional moments in her life including the climax to the film, all taking place against the backdrop of the sun setting on the same day.  It’s an intricate story.  You won’t want to watch this once.  You’ll want to enjoy it again and again.

Next time we’ll look at what could happen when technology goes wrong, in another fascinating film by Mamoru Hosoda, Summer Wars.   RP

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Alternate Realities: Hand of Fate

You know, some days you’re just in the mood for a light game.  Nothing too detailed or heavy.  So you ask a friend and they tell you, “ooh, you’ve got to try Hand of Fate“.  They’re all excited when they say this, like it’s the best kept secret since Nimh.  “It’s a mix of board and card game with RPG elements and some awesome fighting,” they tell you, conspiratorially.  Hmm, you think, sounds interesting.  “It doesn’t really look like my kind of game,” you say, after watching some footage.  “No, man, you don’t understand… this is next level stuff!”  They don’t say “stuff”.  You drop the money.

hof3

I’m Bat… I mean, I’m Mysterious!

Look, I am pretty easy to please but there are things I like and things I don’t like.  In some ways, I’m pretty locked into a certain style and don’t want to change that.  I know me, and should trust me more.  I’ve been living with me all of my life.  I like my action games but more than that, I need a story.  I’m like the human equivalent of Big Finish!    This game introduces you to a mysterious card reader who offers you to play his game.  He’s mysterious because his mouth is covered and his voice is like gravel on ice after hanging out with Batman.  But that’s it; that’s the story!  It’s like a day in the life of a carnival-goer.  You have a token to indicate where you are on a board which is setup not unlike a set of Tarot cards.  Just look at the picture – Captain Mystery is showing you the very thing I’m talking about.  You move and turn over the card you land on.  Some might be simple: gain a piece of armor, or a weapon.  Some lead to fights.  The fights take place in a mini-game.  I say mini-game, but that’s really the main element of the game!  The card flipping is really the mini part of the game.

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The candle adds to the mystery!

In some capacity it reminds me of a modern version of the classic, Archon.  In Archon, you played on a chessboard, and when a character landed on the same space as another, a battle ensued.  This is much the same with the levels getting progressively harder.  But my issue with games like this is that sooner or later, it comes down to button-mashing.  I made it to the penultimate boss!  Do you know what that means?  I nearly completed the game.  But that boss had one of those idiotic abilities: pull you close no matter where you are and do ultimate damage.  You don’t have a counter to that!  I don’t know what one could do against it.  It’s like fighting a tsunami.  I try too!  I’m not a one-shot kinda guy!  I go at it, and at it, and at it.  This was something I think I could have beaten with a few more attempts, but I can’t be certain.  I mean, call me old fashioned, but I like a fighting chance.  In the recently reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, you can get swarmed by far superior numbers and still win because you can think and retreat and basically be clever.  In Hand of Fate, there never appeared to be a way to get around that penultimate boss short of knowing some damned fast button-mashes.  But that’s the issue for a guy playing on a mouse and keyboard.  No, see, I want the ability to out-think this joker, not be pulled in like a teenager at a car dealership.

HoF1

In what way is that a Minotaur?

Conceptually, it’s a good game, and I think it would have been fun to defeat it.  Sadly, before I ever went back to it, the hand of fate played a part in my life causing my hard drive to crash and I’d have to start all over again. Alas, it’s not in the cards.  (Pay attention, these puns are good!)  Hand of Fate was released in 2015 by Defiant Development.  Typically it does get good reviews and maybe if I were playing with a controller, I’d feel differently.  Having said that, I did get 5 hours out of the game and it currently retails for $10, so it’s certainly not a terrible purchase.  I’d be interested to know what others think, especially other PC gamers.  In the meantime, I’m going back to more story-driven games.  And by the god of all video games, I have to learn to trust my initial instinct more!  ML

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Doctor Who Annual (1983)

Doctor_Who_1983The 1983 Doctor Who Annual might have the blurriest photographic cover ever, but there seems to be a genuine attempt to make it more appealing to fans of Doctor Who than previous annuals.  The big change is the effort that has been put into the “features”.  Gone are most of the lucky dips from the children’s encyclopedia of space (although there are still some) and instead there are several small articles looking at aspects of the production of Doctor Who, the Visual Effects Department, a look at the new Doctor’s costume, a set design article focussing on Castrovalva, and an article about John Nathan-Turner.  The latter is accompanied by a photograph of JNT looking at a wall of photos, with the caption “The dog in the bottom left photograph is Pepsi, John’s dog, who appeared in All Creatures Great and Small“. Unfortunately the photo is so dark and blurry it’s virtually impossible to make out even the shape of a dog at all.  But the thought is there, and that’s more than we can say about virtually all the previous annuals.

This year there are six stories and one comic strip.  First up is Danger Down Below, in which the writer has obviously decided two companions are too much to include, so Nyssa has been left in the Tardis, echoing the problems faced by the television series.  Also reflecting the television series, Tegan is dissatisfied with life.

Their long walk had been sheer drudgery, Tegan reflected, and monotonous.

They have landed on a hot, desert planet, Aronassus 49, because the Doctor has received “an urgent request for help from one of the few people in time and space that the Time Lord could actually call an old and dear friend, High Minister Threll of the Prime City Triumvirate.”  That should be a depressingly familiar set-up for anyone who has read the previous annuals: yet another old friend we’ve never heard of on a planet we’ve never heard of.  One of the “few”.   It turns out that someone or something (hint hint) has been intercepting food while in transit from the “gigantic food sythesisers” to the “consumer outlets”.  The Doctor and Tegan are warmly welcomed with a “nuero-paralysis dart” and the assumption that they are responsible.  How unusual.

The second story, The God Machine, is much better, not because it has anything resembling a new idea, but because it includes some lovely descriptive prose:

Illuminated by a sky-splitting flash of lightning, the alien ruins opened up before exploring eyes. Having to squint against the driving rain, Nyssa and Tegan registered little before the flash faded and the fleeting image vanished back into the pitch blackness of the planet’s night, but what they did see was awe-inspiring. Stretched out below them were streets and avenues of grand buildings hewn from solid blocks of stone; an entire, deserted city that had a grace and majesty similar to that of an Incan city of ancient earth.

For some reason, Nyssa and Tegan have gone off exploring on their own, without the Doctor, who sets off to find them in the “giant, central pyramid that dominated the city”. No sooner has he arrived that he gets hit with a club and captured by a “primitive” tribe.

In The Armageddon Chrysalis, the Tardis is under attack, and the culprit has more than a hint of the Lovecraftian horror about it:

The thing had been given many names, but men called it Voorvolika. Those who had seen it had compared it with a vision of hell. Voorvolika meant evil. Those who had seen it and felt its touch had died. Voorvolika knew that some were feeling its touch now. A tiny thing called Tardis. Living beings whose names would come to it soon. Energy. Voorvolika was hungry. Voorvolika was feeding.

Throughout the entire story Nyssa doesn’t say a word, and seems to exist only to be captured and to scream.  Unfortunately the annual ignores her intelligence altogether, treating her throughout as little more than a damsel in distress.  If that’s not happening, she is instead oddly interchangeable with Tegan, most obviously in the comic strip On the Planet Isopterus, in which Tegan seems to merge into Nyssa when you turn the page.  The strip also features Adric, so it is a little companion-heavy for such a short story.  It’s an unambitious tale of giant termites.  One day I’ll finally get to an annual that doesn’t have some kind of a giant version of Earth insects.

The next offering is the fourth short story, The Haven.  The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan (Adric is only in the comic strip) arrive on Planet 435, supposed to be “a barren, infertile planet”.  Yes, it’s another whole-planet ecosystem.  In a stunningly surprising turn of events, exactly the same as the stunningly surprising turn of events that happens once or twice per annual, it turns out to be, as Nyssa puts it, “the embodiment of all the descriptions of paradise I’ve ever read”.  They find a building with the sign “Welcome to Haven”, and inside there are rows and rows of frozen bodies in glass caskets, watched over by a man called Carnak, who explains:

By the year 1990 we knew all the secrets of freezing human bodies. These people wait here in The Haven, in my care, until it is time for them to reawaken.

Maybe they should have picked a date a bit further in the future for our complete mastery of cryogenics.  The year of the Doctor’s visit is 2330, and there are 49,867 people there, waiting for a cure for whatever killed them.  While they have been waiting, Carnak has been up to no good:

I have made – what shall I say? – slight adjustments to their bodies so that for most of the time they are indeed frozen, but I can activate them at will.

In The Penalty, the Doctor is in his sick-bed with Ponassan fever.  The writers obviously assumed weakness and illness were going to be a feature of the Fifth Doctor; in The Armageddon Chrysalis, for example, he spends the story feeling dizzy and weak, when the companions seem to be coping just fine.

The Doctor is disturbed from his illness by the sound of laughter coming from the outside of the Tardis.  Activating the scanner screen…

There was no outside. The screen showed him faces, hundreds of laughing, hysterical faces. The Doctor covered his eyes with his arm, blocking them out. He knew the faces! Old friends and companions. Enemies. Time Lords. All of them people long dead or long gone.

What follows is a nightmare scenario. You can probably guess why that is.  The final story, Flight to Nowhere, is the most derivative of the television series, set at Heathrow Airport. Tegan finds an old friend, but “the girl’s mind was under the control of something outside her body!” She boards a flight chartered by “Rupert Masters of the Masters Corporation.”  The Master has assembled a plane full of android duplicates of people who “hold key roles in high places”, who will soon replace the real people, presumably taking a leaf out of his old friends the Autons’ book.

What a fiendish alias: Rupert Masters.  Nobody will guess who that might be.  Actually, perhaps that really is his name after all.  Tune in next year for more exciting adventures of Rupert Masters, Clive Doctors, angry Tegan, screaming Nyssa and dead Adric.  I can’t wait.   RP

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Fallout: Kerblam!

Let me start by saying that I liked Kerblam!  I want to open with that because the fallout from this episode is ugly, which will probably come off as sounding like a critique.  The fact is, I found it a layered story with a message.  The unfortunate side of that fact is that the message went wrong.

kerblam!

Martyrdom, at its ugliest…

As we know, the Doctor and team TARDIS arrive at Space Amazon headquarters after the robot population has managed to send a message to the TARDIS and used the one piece of bubble wrap that was not tainted with explosives.  It seems one of the maintenance guys has been spiking all the bubble wrap with the intention of killing customers because he wants to make a statement against robots, thereby creating more jobs for humans.  The Doctor manages to get to the bottom of the mystery later than she should have because she double guessed the machine, which leads to the lovely Kira being killed in the process, but the mystery is solved.  Our lead villain runs into the crowd of soon-to-detonated robots and dies in the explosion.  And then things go pear-shaped because his death causes the very changes he was aiming for.  There’s a big problem with that.

We all know the adage: never give in to terrorist demands.  The minute you do so, you give them power and every time they want something, the violent action is basically a proven way of getting what they want.  Even children who, if we’re honest, are miniature terrorist, when you give in to their demands, that just makes the kid do the negative action again, because they have received positive reinforcement.  “If I throw things, I get my way” or “if I cry, my needs are met.”  There’s no teaching negotiation or patience to a child when parents give in to their demands.  (Sure, real life is complicated and so is parenting, but the general idea is sound!)  This is exactly not the take-away you want our family terrorists to pick up on.  When dealing with a real terrorist situation, giving in just tells others “if we do this violent action, it gets the result we want”.  Again, not the right take-away!  But that is exactly what does happen in Kerblam!  Charlie says that robots have taken away human jobs, and sure, that’s a concern every generation has had to face since the industrial revolution (automation reduces jobs, but it often also create others, like maintaining that automation).  What he needs to do is come up with a non-violent rebellion.  What should have happened is that he brakes down all the machines.  By doing that, no one would have to be killed and it would have made him a more likable “villain”.  Instead, he dies, which creates the very reform he was pushing for, which makes him a martyr for his cause and instead of being remembered as a terrorist, it will probably have him remembered as the hero who brought back jobs to the human workforce.  If the Doctor really wants to do the right thing, she needs to prevent that from happening, not because the outcome is bad, but because the message that it conveys is.  “Do what the terrorist says; they win!”  The Doctor is supposed to be a moral compass.  In what way is this morally astute?  Then again, if we recall in Capaldi’s season 8 finale, the Doctor also makes the questionable choice of giving in to Clara after she throws the TARDIS keys into a (believed) volcano.  Sure, he does it under the guise of caring about her regardless, much like a parent to a child, but it’s still a very uncomfortable message.  (Especially since Clara is not the Doctor’s child!  Imagine if Susan did that?  She’d get a “jolly good smacked bottom!”)

When the system, in effect, teaches Charlie a lesson by killing his love interest, it’s a hard thing to stomach, because we all like Kira.  But the computer is the only one that sees the dangers of acquiescing to the terrorists’ demands and it tries to jar Charlie emotionally.  The Kerblam network turns itself into a bad guy when it kills Kira, but that does not take away from the choices Charlie has made.  Here again we have a woulda-coulda-shoulda moment.  Rather than kill Kira, the system could have used the same batch of bubble wrap used in the Doctor’s package.  Just as Kira is about to pop one of the bubbles, block out Charlie’s ability to see what happens.  Charlie would think she died.  In his grief he could come around and stop the evil actions he was committing, renounce his ways and turn himself in.  Kira would then be revealed to be alive.  The company would then decide that, though Charlie will be fired (and put on trial), they could now make the change the he was pushing for because ultimately he was right and did the right thing in the end.

When I watched Resolution and decided to look at the fallout from all of season 11’s episodes, I knew Kerblam! would be a big one; it would have to cover what was ultimately an episode that had all the worst kind of messages and left the most negative fallout.  And the more I think about it, the more I realize that the Doctor may have helped stop the criminal, but she’s partly responsible for the crime.  Her involvement caused Charlie’s death and contributed to making him a martyr.  This poses an incredibly big problem for the human population of the time.  Unfortunately, per Doctor Who’s standard, we’re not likely to ever see that era or the fallout from the event again, but if someone were to ever put together a comprehensive history of the series, one would wonder how Space Amazon impacts the rest of the Universe from this point on.  Alas we know there will never be any fallout and the message of the episode will be lost in a sea of other stories.  And that’s a shame, because Doctor Who could have a very vibrant life in a cohesive universe.  ML

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Manic Pixie Dream Clara

claraCompanion Tropes 5

When we are first introduced to Clara she is a mystery, a woman who the Doctor sees die, and then finds again, alive and well, somewhere else.  She also happens to be a young, female, cute mystery who gives the Doctor a focus after the loss of Amy.  She is a manic pixie dream girl.

We have to be very careful here with that definition of Clara, because she most definitely moves away from it during the Twelfth Doctor era (and becomes something far worse), but those are her origins.  Let’s take a look first at the meaning of the trope, and where it comes from.  It’s a relatively new one.

In 2007 a film critic named Nathan Rabin coined the term, writing that “a Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists to help the protagonist achieve happiness without ever seeking any independent goals herself.”  He was criticising what he saw as a popular movement in films, which he saw as being more about the writers living out their fantasies rather than developing characters who are realistically real people.  The manic pixie dream girl exists only to achieve something within the story arc of a male character, defined by his existence, devoid of her own goals.  Rabin eventually disowned the term, once it had been skewed and misunderstood by other writers and used to describe any quirky female character.  By accident the term became sexist.  A strong female character became automatically defined as a manic pixie dream girl, and bashing the portrayal of strong women was far removed from the original intentions of the term, which were all about critiquing male writers who used female characters as male fantasy fulfillment.

The term still has its uses if utilised carefully, and it applies strongly to Clara.  A manic pixie dream girl is often ultra-competent and can have magical origins.  There are elements of both these things with Clara.  She is certainly one of the most capable companions the Doctor has ever had, and her ability to pop up anywhere in time, despite being killed off already, appears initially to be some kind of a magical existence.  This aspect of Clara is presented to us clearly in The Snowmen, which is steeped in the iconography of fairy tales.

Clara exists as a mystery for the Doctor to solve, and he becomes obsessed with solving that mystery, giving him a focus in his post-Amy world.  The reason for his obsession, of course, is that she is the embodiment of his childhood hero.  She imprints herself on him during his childhood, and represents everything the Doctor wants to become: popping up throughout his life, she is an accidental adventurer in time and space, who dies and comes back to life, without even needing to use a magical box to achieve that, hence the magical overtones, the hint of the pixie.  The character trope is at times an awkward fit for Doctor Who.  The hero is always attracted to his pixie dream girl, and we get moments such as the Doctor perving over Clara’s tight skirt in Nightmare in Silver, which feels completely wrong for the character of the Doctor as it is just such a prosaic, human male reaction.  Then, in Time of the Doctor, Clara confesses her attraction to the Doctor, just before he changes and becomes an older man.

And that’s where we come to the development of the character beyond the pixie.  That doesn’t cancel out the trope.  In fact, manic pixie dream girls often fit within the character type only initially, before developing into something more than that.  It’s a fascinating deconstruction, because the Doctor regenerates and finally reaches a point where he will fit within the story of a manic pixie dream girl to perfection.  He becomes the miserable, brooding hero whom the dream girl needs to draw out of his own sad world by being all manic and wonderful and magical, and showing him that life is worth living.  That is what should happen, but instead Clara refuses to fit into the trope just as the Doctor becomes the perfect fit for it.  She starts to have her own motivations and goals beyond just being the Doctor’s mystery girl.  Unfortunately that ends up painting the Doctor in a very bad light, because instead he becomes the ex who won’t let go, while she becomes the mentally abused woman who keeps going back to her abuser.  So as I said, it’s fascinating, but nasty too, a shattering of the trope in the most brutal way possible.  The manic pixie is twisted, broken and finally destroyed.  RP

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