Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions

Last year, the BBC announced two new additions to the cast and crew of their internationally popular sci-fi program, Doctor Who.  First off, showrunner Steven Moffat was to be replaced with master storyteller Chris Chibnall (of Broadchurch fame).  The second change was a little more earth-shattering: the Doctor’s thirteenth (well, fourteenth, technically) incarnation would be female, and played by Jodie Whittaker (also of Broadchurch fame – noticing a trend here).

Like many people with blogs last year, I offered my two cents on the matter.  On the one hand, having a female Doctor makes cosplaying her a heck of a lot easier, and on a very shallow level, it felt good to see my gender represented positively to this degree on a show I love.  On the other hand, I shared the concern of many that the Doctor’s gender change seemed politically-motivated, consistent with some other gratuitous antics I picked up on in Moffat’s final season.

I decided I’d wait until I’d seen Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor in action before forming my conclusions about her.  After all, shouldn’t we judge people based on the quality of their characters, not things beyond their control, like race or gender?  (Arguably the Doctor does have some control over these things, but let’s not get into that.)  Series 11 premiered this past Sunday, so there’s really no time like the present to make an informed conclusion.

Having seen the first episode with Jodie Whittaker, I am not disappointed.  Though the first episode of a new Doctor frequently shows the character struggling to settle into his or her new skin, it was clear to me that she was fitting right in.

Ms. Whittaker’s portrayal of the Doctor is endearingly witty and whimsical right off the bat.  Simply by being herself, which was practically the same as her old self save for the gender-change, she proved that this woman is just as capable of playing the Doctor as any of the previous actors. There was no obnoxious rhetoric, no lewd jokes about anatomy, or really any of the things I feared might come up with this gutsy move on the showrunner’s part.  The most on-the-nose moment was a brief, but powerful line about how it’s possible to respect the past while still moving forward, something it’s clear the Doctor is now setting out to do.

The episode itself is a mixed bag in terms of success.  To paraphrase Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, new showrunner, new rules.

Series 11 will contain ten hour-long, feature-length episodes, instead of twelve or so forty-five-minute segments.  This will take some getting used to for me – after forty-five minutes had passed, my attention span wanted to clock out.  That’s likely due to instinct more than anything else, because the story itself was quite gripping.

For a show all about time and space travel, I was initially quite confused about the passage of time and space in this first episode.  Timeskips, however brief, weren’t very obvious, and it seemed weird that two characters could be out in the middle of the woods at one moment, and suddenly appear standing in an apparently locked train car who knows how far away in the next.

Additionally, until now, Doctor Who’s contemporary scenes were often set in London.  The Doctor quite literally fell from the sky and landed in Sheffield, in the Yorkshire region.  After years of attuning my ears to Rose Tyler’s cockney and Clara’s Blackpoolian, I must retrain my ears to understand Yorkshire.  The Doctor’s new diction fits right in, too.

An interesting change, though more of a throwback to the Classic Who setup, is the near-ensemble cast of supporting characters.  It appears that the Doctor will once again be inviting more than one companion to travel with her this season: we’re introduced to Ryan Sinclair, a young man who struggles with hand-eye coordination issues; his step-grandfather, Graham, who used to be a bus driver; and Ryan’s old school chum, Yasmin (Yaz, for short), who’s a rookie officer at the Sheffield police department.

With New Who, the exclusivity of the Doctor-companion relationship until now has always struck me as a bit awkward.  The Doctor has traveled primarily with female companions; when the companions’ boyfriends were involved, the Doctor regarded them as third-wheels or worse, idiots.  Now, with Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, it seems like there’s potential for more of a family affair with Graham as the wise elder and the Doctor as kind of a parental figure to Yaz and Ryan.  Without spoiling much, Ryan especially could use a new maternal role model in his life right now.

The season seems also slightly darker in tone.  I’m uncertain if this will happen each week, but this week’s episode was essentially an intergalactic murder mystery with plenty of gripping moments.  What can I say?  That seems to be Chris Chibnall’s specialty!

While it’s likely the Doctor themself will remain an incorrigible pacifist, Chibnall does not shy away from depicting onscreen violence when plot-appropriate.  Plus, the creepout factor of this week’s monster (“Tim Shaw”) felt on par with the first time we saw the Cybermen in action during David Tennant’s tenure.  In that respect, my little Whovian hearts are singing.

All in all, it seems to me that Series 11 of Doctor Who is off to a compelling start.  My initial fear that the Doctor’s gender-change would be used as a sociopolitical soapbox has been assuaged for the moment.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this season goes.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The erudite detective Sherlock Holmes was first brought to life on film as a tall, serene, and hawkishly-featured British gentleman by actor Basil Rathbone in the 1940s.  His original onscreen adventure series was set in the late 1800s, culminating in a timeskip to the 1940s, when Holmes valiantly combated the Axis Powers during World War II.  As difficult as that is to imagine, Rathbone portrayed the character convincingly throughout all the eras – in my opinion, he was the spitting image of Sidney Paget’s illustrations in The Strand that accompanied the original Conan Doyle serialized stories.

original-sidney-pagetIf you go into Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie expecting a Rathbone-esque performance, you’re going to be disappointed.  I can’t tell you to lower your expectations; simply alter them.  Just as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation got to step inside the shoes (and cloak) of the famous detective, it is time for Tony Stark to do the same.

You heard me right.  Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes in this version, as a scruffy inventor and action hero who’s made up of both brawn and brain.  In all seriousness, it’s as if Tony Stark walked the earth during the Victorian era, and had deductive reasoning instead of a supersuit.

The story is slow to start.  The first forty-five minutes are disjointed attempts at exposition, perhaps trying to prove how Holmes is distinctly different and yet the still same old Holmes readers have known and loved.  He plays his violin, he has a lab where he conducts occasionally catastrophic experiments, and he has an affinity for boxing.  Perhaps it is the highlighting of these seemingly minute aspects of the character, and the way they are presented, that sets this iteration of Holmes apart from others. All these elements were always there, but they present themselves abrasively in an impish way.

By his side (reluctantly, it seems,) is Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law. (Remember the days when Jude Law was in everything?)  His Watson is refreshingly serious, and in my opinion, very respectful of his on-page counterpart.  Watson’s more than a puppylike sidekick and he’s certainly not solely there to be comic relief. (Holmes does that by himself.)

It takes a lot for Watson to lose patience with Holmes, but in this film, he finally does.  His participation in Holmes’ adventures is grudging, and he learns to be both blunt with and accepting of his flatmate as his character moves on in life.  He’s certainly the most traditional Holmesian character in this film; I have no complaints about this take on Watson.

Irene Adler’s also here; she’s the Pepper Potts of this film, honestly.  Can’t have a movie without a romantic subplot of some kind, I suppose.  Things are dysfunctional as ever between Holmes and the American con-woman, but at least they’re relatively PG-rated compared to Moffat and Gatiss’s interpretation of the character.  Again, this is an aspect of authentic Holmesian lore that was always there, but they’re being far less subtle about it.

Finally, the foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the exposition starts coming together.  We meet our main antagonist, Blackwood, who looks far more Rathbonian than our Sherlock … and is practically a vampire. Or a zombie.  Or (in the possession of) a very good alchemist.  You’re left guessing until the very end, though I’ll admit I was on the side of science the whole time. 😀

Much like the original Tomb Raider films, the antagonist of this film appears to be part of an Illuminati-like cult. Adding to the ooh, scary factor is their penchant for decorating their artifacts with Hebrew letters that spell out total gibberish. (I don’t know if I should feel amused, offended, or really anything at all about this.)

Once the action picks up, the movie plays out quite a bit like a puzzle game, where you are left to watch Holmes work through it at whichever speed the director desires.  There’s plenty that they try to show you to keep you distracted from the game afoot, but honestly, I’d figured out the resolution a long time before; it was a matter of confirming the direction this already controversial take on Sherlock Holmes was going.

The most satisfying part of the resolution, for me, is the hero’s monologue. (See, the villain couldn’t deliver it himself, he was … indisposed. That’s all I’ll say.)  It’s always satisfying to read about Holmes do that; seeing it was even better.

The very note upon which the film ends is a satisfying one, despite an “Oh wait, there’s more,” moment alluding to a future antagonist’s identity.  But for such a disorganized beginning, the story ties itself up nicely.

I’m not mad about the film from a Sherlockian perspective.  It tries to mess with you by being different, but I found these differences refreshing.  From a storytelling perspective, however, the plot’s flow is quite aggravating.  Nevertheless, I cannot deny that to me, it’s a unique but ultimately faithful telling of a Sherlock Holmes adventure.

First Impressions: RWBY Volume 6: Adam Character Short

First Impressions: RWBY Volume 6: Adam Character Short

 

Meesa back!

With RWBY Volume 6 on the horizon, Rooster Teeth Animations just dropped the Adam Taurus character short.  Perhaps one of the more underutilized characters of the post-Beacon arc, I was especially excited to see where this video would take us in terms of his origin story, character development, and where things stand as of Volume 5’s end.

But first, a word from Kerry Shawcross and another gentleman I don’t recognize, who want you to know that there’s a new webseries called Nomad of Nowhere.  (Well, to anyone who’s seen it, is it any good?  On a scale of RWBY to Camp-Camp, how does it score in terms of family-friendliness?)

The ensuing character short seems to take us through several different timeframes, though the transitions become increasingly ambiguous as events progress.  Some of the highlights of this video, in my opinion, are Adam’s apparent aesthetic evolution and the prominent appearances of Sienna Khan, chieftain of the White Fang (after Ghira, then deposed most unceremoniously by Adam in Volume 5).

The combat situations highlight Sienna’s and Adam’s fighting styles splendidly.  (Adam’s Moonslice semblance move still gives me painful flashbacks from Volume 3!)  Ilia’s contributions to the offense, however, reflect the Volume 5 animators’ seemingly bad habit of letting characters who aren’t currently in the spotlight just stand there, frozen, like sitting duck-faunuses (see 4:29 in the YouTube video).

Towards the end of the video, the footage shown starts to feel like recycled footage or deleted scenes from Volume 5.  Some of it adds context, such as Sienna Khan’s promise to Adam that if he keeps fighting the good fight, he’ll get to stand beside her throne.  Clearly, she knew that despite Adam’s protestations and declarations of fealty to the Faunus cause, he is motivated most by his lust for power.  Her mistake was thinking being second to her was enough for Adam….

One very, very obvious point that the animators hint at, at the beginning and end of the short, is the fact that we have never actually seen Adam’s face.  Heck, I’m so used to seeing Adam masked that it’s practically part of his face!  As the short closes, we see a defeated Adam (defeated by the mere sight of Blake angrily waving her hands around, I guess) stumbling away, his mask discarded on the ground behind him.

…Which oh, so subtly behooves us to ask: what’s the deal with Adam’s face?  What’s he been hiding behind that mask?  My guess is a perfectly normal pair of SILVER eyes and, oh, maybe a nose.

Or this. (Image source: “Calwings” – Know Your Meme)

 

As painfully unsubtle as they are when it comes to this sort of thing, Rooster Teeth are still the unsung conductors of the Hype Train.  (They could also teach Rian Johnson of The Last Jedi infamy a thing or two about subverting expectations.)  So whether or not it actually happens (*cough* Jaune’s semblance *cough*), I can conclude that they really want us to expect to see Adam’s full face in the upcoming volume.