A SECOND LOOK AT THE NEW DR. WHO, A LOOK BACK AT AN OLD STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION AND THE PRO-LIFE MESSAGE

SHORT TAKE:

The recent Dr. Who shows have been FAR better than the pilot and rely on puzzles, history, and most importantly, in The Tsuranga Conundrum, features — a pro-life message.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Anyone.

LONG TAKE:

I was not wrong. The first of the new Doctor Who's was terrible. Click HERE to see why. However, the stories immediately began improving and I had already intended to write a revised blog. But episode 5, The Tsuranga Conundrum, put me over the top and inspired me to get it done.

Let me first say a little bit about the other improved episodes. Rosa, much like TOS Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever", where one person's decision changes the course of history, revolves around whether or not Rosa Parks will refuse to stand for a white person on a bus in the 60s. Her act of civil disobedience, striking a blow for the dignity of every human, sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The antagonist for the show was a fellow time traveler who wished to interrupt this key event. The Doctor and company were there to protect the time line. Rosa was a lovely story and the theme harkened back to Doctor Who's original 1963 intent of being a time-traveling historian and scientist.

The other shows highlighted the female Doctor Who's natural strengths of intellect and puzzle-solving. As a woman, she does not have the upper body strength to physically handle altercations. The other doctors, aside from Christopher Eccleston, though of  "academic" builds, were still far stronger physically than this one could be. So her strength lies in her being, as David Tennant put it often, "clever". And this comes off very well again in this story.

While her companions are still not especially noteworthy, you kind of get used to them, and they have the virtues of neither being bossy nor abrasive as previous companions have been. Neither is there some long game arc with them as the linchpin to the mysteries of the universe, which is pretty refreshing. So the shows have definitely improved.

But the most recent Dr. Who episode was the icing on the cake and deserves special commendation. Doctor Who has always been pretty pro-life, much like Star Trek was pro-life. The value of sentient life was recognized,  regardless of how they looked. And there was respect for life and Creation in general, (even though there was only rarely a reference to a Creator). And Doctor Who is very much in the same vein. Enemies' lives are respected, valued and protected with as much alacrity as friends' lives. Character arcs are often about redemption, and rarely does the concept of revenge in any form rear its head.

Acknowledgement of life's importance in all forms is an understood thread that weaves itself though both shows. But only once before this most recent Dr Who show have I seen the pro-life position so clearly and plainly stated as it was in "The Child," from Star Trek the Next Generation.  In "The Child" Deanna Troi finds herself pregnant from an unknown entity. The consensus from the rest of the command crew was extreme caution and Worf, the Klingon security officer, even recommended abortion of the "fetus". But Deanna, not even knowing how she got pregnant, not knowing what was the intent of the entity who, frankly, raped her, flatly stated to her captain: "Do whatever you feel is necesssary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this, I'm going to have this baby". Not fetus, not product of conception, but "baby".  The only issue to Deanna was protection of the child that she carried and an acknowledgement that it was indeed a baby.

DR WHO SPOILERS

I am so very pleased to commend this new Doctor Who, and obviously the writer, Chris Chibnall, for making the same clear pro-life statement. In episode 5, "The Tsuranga Conundrum", the premise is that The Doctor and her companions are trapped on a hospital ship without her TARDIS. Their literal deus ex machina is temporarily out of reach on a planet several days travel away. The main storyline revolves around an attack on the hospital ship by a new mysterious alien, the Pting. But that is not really relevant to the point of this blog, so I will let you enjoy that part on your own. 

Their subplot, partially intended for comedy, is really the most important part of the story. Yoss is a young unmarried man, in the last stages of pregnancy. Now bear with me. Though the young man looks human, he is a different species and this IS a science fiction show. When asked how he knows the child will be a boy, he responds matter-of-factly: "Boys give birth to boys and girls give birth to girls. That's how it is." So – yeah – alien. Somehow this struck me as especially funny, as I am sure the writer intended. When two of The Doctor's companions, understandably confused, ask him how this could have happened, meaning – how could he, a man, become pregnant?!!! the scared new dad misunderstands and explains that it was the result of an ill-thought out one night stand.

Here is where the pro-life begins. There was never any mention of Yoss considering abortion even though he makes clear that pregnancy was the LAST thng he wanted at this time in his life and that he feels woefully underprepared to be a parent. In addition, the writer, through Yoss, goes out of his way to show the companions what his unborn baby looks like in a series of 3D ultrasound images. There was no plot purpose to this slide show, but it made a brilliant point and, I thought was the highlight of the episode. His species' gestation takes only 5 days, therefore the pictures he shows are a succession of developmental shots only a few hours after conception, then after the first day, the second day, third, and fourth, all of which show dramatic gestation of a species that looks just like a normal human child. The last picture of his unborn baby, taken three hours earlier, shows a full-term, perfectly beautiful,  baby boy to the awe and delight of the attending companions.

I thought this masterfully done. Whether the writer intended to or not, he makes it clear, even to the most uninitiated, that it takes no time at all to get from "conception" to "baby".  And giving this species a five day gestation brings that thought home in a very condensed way.

There are some predictable but still funny moments of two squeamish human men in a delivery room assisting with the C-section birth of a baby. But all the concepts are treated tactfully, so not to worry. The rest of the subplot is cute as well and involves his decision whether or not to keep his baby or give him up for adoption.

And there's a bit of lagniappe. Usually Doctor Who, and even my own beloved Star Trek, avoid religion at best and take sly jabs at it at worst. But in this Doctor Who, during the funeral for one of the guest characters, prayers are requested from saints! While, unfortunately, no mention of God was there, reference to saints, a distinctly Catholic spiritual concept, was a delightful and blessed breath of fresh air.

As I have not been shy of doing in the past, I have re-evaluated the show. I hereby backtrack on my previous overall negative impression of the new female Doctor Who. While I continue to maintain that the first was poorly done, it did not put her best foot forward. The steep incline of improvement has been quite a pleasant surprise.

So, I recommend for all of you Doctor Who fans who have not tuned in yet, to give Miss Whitaker's Doctor Who a try. Based upon shows 2 through 5 she deserves another chance.

And bravo to our new MISS Doctor Who for her profoundly pro-life message. I will be tuning in again.

DR. WHO: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT…………….???

 

SHORT TAKE:

Disappointing, lackluster reboot of Dr. Who into the first female incarnation of the main character, in a plot that is a routine set up without any real payoff.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone CAN go see this DR. WHO, but…(to use a different interrogative pronoun)…WHY?

LONG TAKE:

I went with an open mind, I really did. After all, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that, contrary to my long held opinion, a good superhero could be made featuring a woman when Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot knocked the socks off me with her powerful but feminine portrait of a righteously heroic super woman.

So it was with high hopes that I went to go see the premiere of the very first show featuring the very first woman Dr Who – that is with the exception of The Curse of Fatal Death, the parody filmed for the charity Comic Relief with Rowen Atkinson who ultimately morphs into Joanne Lumley in 1999.

If you like the cheap waxy chocolate in your Easter basket; if you make your milkshakes out of fat free ice milk; if you prefer plain unsweetened rice cakes for breakfast; if your refreshment of choice is a clear sugar free diet soda (why don't you just drink water?); if your musical taste runs to the elevator music version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" — then this is the Dr Who for you. All promise and little delivery.

SPOILERS

To start with, the pronouns present a challenge, but let’s do this – if I’m referring to Jody Whittaker’s Dr Who it seems fair to use the feminine. BUT if I refer to any previous incarnation, then the masculine grammatical reference should apply.

For those of you NOT familiar with Dr Who, please refer to my previous blog on Dr Who: Twice Upon a Time, which gives a quick "cheat sheet" introduction to the Whovian Universe.

For those of you already familiar with Dr Who, the premise of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, is that the first female Doctor (literally) falls to Earth – and physically – through a train roof, just as the passengers are being terrorized by an energy ball of tentacles. Companions happen upon her and follow like dust motes in the wake of a guppy and they decide to figure out what it is and its connection to another alien with teeth imbedded in its face. Meanwhile, an entire more interesting and better acted subplot involving a missing girl and her murdered brother are brushed aside like so much flotsam and the story drags to a conclusion with manufactured tension and a lead who can not even smile convincingly.

None of this is remotely quality Who.

Even the beginning flies in the face of the basic mechanics of the Who-verse. Everyone knows or suspects strongly that Dr. Who’s TARDIS gets him/her to where they are most needed. From the get go, as explained by Whittaker's Who, the TARDIS was wounded and dematerialized leaving the new Who to the tender ministrations of gravity. So Who's propitious appearance at the train to save the passengers seems more like coincidence than it should.

Next, while the Doctor has shown himself to be physically resilient, and crashing bodily into Earth like a thrown bowling ball is not necessarily the most injurious event he has ever survived, to fall to Earth from near outer space and crash THROUGH a train roof without so much as mussed hair is a bit much for even my considerable suspension of disbelief. 

Tennant, having burst through a skylight in The End of Time Part II looks like he's been on the wrong side of a blender.

And her adaptability to her new body misses SO much. Tennant noticed new teeth immediately before collapsing from the regeneration effort. Matt Smith examined his whole body in a humorous frenzy even as the TARDIS was exploding around him: "Legs! I've still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Oo! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears. Yes. Eyes two. Nose. I've had worse. Chin. [Noting its size]  Blimey. Hair. [presciently] I’m a girl. [feels Adam’s apple] No no. I’m not a girl. [Pulling a lock of hair forward to look at it, grumps] And still not ginger." When River Song morphed from young black teen to middle aged but shapely white woman we got more brilliant acting with Alex Kingston as she admires her own new hair then hollars from the bathroom: "Oh, that’s magnificent! I’m gonna wear lots of jodhpurs!" 

Jody Whittaker's Dr. Who's only comment is "Brilliant" and we're not even sure she's reacting to her new gender. Granted this is a flaw in the writing, but there's no indication from her acting or movements that she is: awed, amazed, dismayed, confused, curious, intrigued, or turned on by the fact that for the first time she is whole new GENDER! When in the past your previous selves have been surprised and dazzled by hair color and teeth size, and another Time Lord by the size of her own booty, you'd THINK a change in your entire sex would merit SOME attention. Even the spoof skit showed Lumley impressed with her new found…upgrades. In The Woman Who Fell to Earth her responses COULD have been tastefully done and REALLY funny. But it was like "Shave and a hair cut…………….." WHERE was the overwhelm? Where was the curiosity?

And her acting is – to put it kindly – bland. To NOT be so kind, she demonstrates all the emoting variations of an indulgent second grade school teacher.

Don't believe me? Let's take a trip down memory lane:

Tennant:

Smith:

Eccleston:  

Hurt:

Capaldi:

Now here's the new Dr Who: Her busy face,  her studious face  her surprised face. Is she afraid to move her eyebrows? Or show any genuine enthusiasm? Or risk looking silly?

Where is the humor? Where is the childlike enthusiasm to which we can all relate? And while, again, this is largely the fault of the script, it's not even that the show takes itself too seriously. I've often told our kids – it's not necessarily WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that makes all the difference. And I can't help but nostalgically wonder how a previous doctor (pick one – ANY one) would have done the reading on these same fairly uninspired lines and what desperately needed, resuscitating life they might have given them.

The writing is mundane and pedestrian. The trailer even features a good example: "I'm The Doctor. When people need help I never refuse." This is not only lazy writing but it is said with all the conviction of a PSA.

There's a scene where she jumps dramatically and dangerously (in Capaldi's slippery ill-fitting dress shoes) from one crane to another about 15 stories off the ground, then simply talks and tosses something to the bad guy to win the day. It would have been far more interesting if she had realized she did not have the upper body strength in the female body she now has, admitted that and worked around it. Realistically she could have done exactly what she ended up doing – talking and tossing – only without the death defying leap. This is just manufactured suspense.

Even the title is not particularly creative, merely a take on an old David Bowie sci fi vehicle The MAN Who Fell to Earth. There's no connection except the paraphrase.

Her companions are ginned up from what looks like the politically correct pool of the week: an elderly white man, married to a caricature of the pushy black woman, with a black teen grandson and a young woman whose last name is Khan who used to be a classmate of the grandson. They are all intimately related to each other yet we are to believe it is all coincidence. It was so unlikely a group of connections that I thought, surely the links must be part of the plot twist. But no, again just lazy writing to avoid having to introduce these characters to each other and endure the arduous task of creatively writing ways and events for them to get to know each other. Yet none of them has any real chemistry with either each other or the Doctor. And when one of them dies…..

SORRY – SPOILER – BUT HONESTLY, "WHO" CARES?

…….I wanted to feel badly about it but the show gave us little emotional investment to spend.

The direction was unremarkable but adequate – sort of like a high end shampoo commercial.

There is no vision. There was no rhyme or reason. Dr. Who started out over a half century ago as Britain's answer to Mr. Wizard – a science show which presented interesting facts in an entertaining way. It has – up to now – held to the tradition of teaching …. something: how to treat your fellow sentient creature, clever ways to solve puzzles, return evil with kindness, self sacrifice to protect the innocent, theories on effects of time travel, how other creatures from entirely different perspectives might react to the human culture, simply – thou shalt not kill. But I got the impression Mr. Chibnall, the show's new writer, has not yet gotten the memo on this one. He wrote a couple of the mini-shorts "The Power of Three" and "Pond Life" as well as some pretty decent other shows: 42, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Cold Blood/Hungry Earth. But being able to pick up a basket of pecans does not mean you have the strength to carry the entire TREE. And carrying a FOREST is what shouldering the work of creatively moving forward with this formerly imaginative show, with more than 50 years of history and backstory demands from WHOever thinks they can captain this ship. Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies, Chibnall is not.

There IS a lot of running, some red herring puzzles and a so-so denoument with forced tension and nothing to learn in the end. We don't even really find out what happens to the person she set out to save. And when the survivor moves in self-defense she chides him: "You shouldn't have done that." We go to an awkward visual cut to somewhere else on the soundstage and that's the last we ever see of him. Huh?

She preposterously builds a new sonic screwdriver out of dust, gizmos and a bag of metal coffee spoons lying around a cluttered human workshop. It might have been vaguely believable if she had used the tech that WAS potentially available from a discarded space "eggshell" but even that McGuffin wasn't utilized. If they are THAT easy to make why doesn't she make LOTS of them? Hand them out like party favors to her companions?

And to top everything else off they went out of their way to dis Christianity. Mostly, Dr Who, like Star Trek, leaves religion alone. But when one of their crew dies, the funeral is held in a church, but the cross beam of the cross behind the altar area is deliberately covered by carefully placed…balloons! Balloons? At a FUNERAL? And why HAVE the funeral in a Christian church if you are going to cover up the primary symbol of that institution unless you: A. Want to go out of your way to thumb your nose at the Christian faith, or B. You don't want to be bothered to think of any place else and you're too cheap to actually take the cross down. So disrespectful or indolent, take your pick.

And the death was stupid ANYway. The character threw themself into a dangerous situation unnecessarily then died clumsily. The death served no real purpose other than to cut the number of companions from four to three. "Thrift, Horatio, thrift." Fewer paychecks I suppose.

There are a zillion other dumb plot decisions: did she really wear that manky suit to the funeral? She doesn't even TRY to negotiate for the captured sister that one of the subplot characters died horribly trying to find. Since when does a Time Lord stick their finger up their nose to determine when they are going to faint? Did Chibnall think this was funny? Why on Earth would someone touch a glowing grid that appears out of nowhere? How DID he get his bike out of the tree? Did she not even CONSIDER her "friends" might be sucked into space with her using her jury rigged spit and bailing wire transporter? Why would she run on a wet crane in slippery dress shoes a couple sizes too big when she could have at least taken them off? What are the chances ALL the companions, randomly found, knew each other already without that fact being a plot point?

It all felt  – as though you were given Peter Davison's celery stalk with no dressing as your entire dinner or you were expected to warm yourself with only a bit of fringe off of Tom Baker's scarf – underdone, incomplete, ill-thought out, unfulfilling and unfinished (kind of like the way we all felt about the actor Christopher Eccleston's career as Dr. Who after he refused to be in the 50th Anniversary Special for no particularly good reason). So watching this Dr. Who I now know how Roger Rabbit felt when Judge Doom knocked on the wall and "inquired": "Shave and a hair cut," and he wasn't allowed to yell "TWO-BITS!"

So finally we are left with yet another interrogative pronoun and a burning question: WHERE is the real Dr. Who?! And will SOMEONE please say "TWO-BITS!"

A QUIET PLACE – BLESS YOU FOR THE REMINDER JOHN KRASINSKI

SHORT TAKE:

Brilliant and terrifying sci fi analogy to the terrors every parent faces in trying to protect their children from this dangerous world.

WHO SHOULD GO SEE IT:

Older teens and up ONLY, and then only ones who can manage Alien without having to use a nightlight for a month.

LONG TAKE:

Parent World – where everything can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong… (apologies to Michael Crichton), where a simple accident, a misjudgement or even a well-intentioned but ill advised act of kindness can rain unintended and unanticipated disaster upon your family.

Some movies are quite difficult to watch but they should be seen anyway. Some because they are history and we should be witness to the events even if it can only be done from a vicarious distance, such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. Some for the sheer artistry of the writer/director like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Others, and many of these are based on classic literature, because they teach us lessons – Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And some for the sheer roller coaster thrill of having the pants scared off of us – like Alien.

In a small way John Krasinski's A Quiet Place fits into all of those categories.

A Quiet Place is set. almost theatrically, within the confines of a small farm in an unnamed area, populated by a family of unnamed characters only identified in context by their relations to each other: Mom, Dad, Sister, Older brother, Younger brother. This is deliberate, I understand, in order that the message will apply to any family and every family. The members of this close knit family are survivors of a world wide cataclysm wrought by an invasion of creatures heretofore unknown on this planet. Where they came from – lab experiment gone awry like in Stranger Things, alien invasion, some critter from beneath the earth – is never explained. That too is on purpose, I think. These creatures are lightning fast, have skin of armour, razorsharp stilleto claws and multilayered teeth which would make your average Alien envious. As abandoned blowing newspapers declare they are impervious to bullets or bombs. But they are blind. They have astonishingly acute hearing and will only hunt you if they hear you. And the smallest noise – a cracked twig, a dropped glass, a clink of a belt buckle WILL be lethal, especially if you are out in the woods. So the family moves in total silence – walking on sand paths laid meticulously out, food served on lettuce and eaten with the hands, games of Moonpoly played lying on a floor with puff balls. No animals, little metal, no running machinery. The family communicates with sign language and code lighting strung around the farm.

John Krasinki and Emily Blunt, married to each other and parents to two daughters, usually known for their comedies – respectively entries likeThe Office and The Devil Wears Prada – have created a masterpiece of horror fiction which ranks up there with the classics. Bridging the gap between their comedy days and this have been some significant serious movies, almost as though in preparation for their roles in A Quiet Place, which have allowed them to portray bad-ass characters, such as, respectively 13 Hours and Live, Die, Repeat.  A Quiet Place tells not just a frightening story to scare the kiddies, it tells a story intended to reflect the terror that every parent feels about trying to protect their children from the vastness of horrors, evil, and dangers of this fallen world in which we live. I know this is deliberate because Krasinski has stated as such in interviews – it is a "love letter" to his and Blunt's two (and future) children – to show what lengths good and heroic parents must go to to protect their children.

Other authors have attempted similar stories. Stephen King, for example, wrote Pet Semetery (sic) as a cathartic exercise to help him deal with the possibility of losing a child. But in that story, the parents act selfishly in order to assuage their own guilt and grief, wrecking supernatural havoc in the process. They do not ever seem to think about what would be best for their children, or even each other. But in A Quiet Place, everything these parents do, everything they must suffer together, every choice they make, every precauition they take, every bit of research they do, every exercise they perform is geared to seeking ways to help their children survive in this cruel and lethal world – just as every good parent does even when not faced with superhuman horrors.

Mom and Dad homeschool their children. There is one almost whimsical scene in which Blunt's character as Mom is teaching her oldest son to divide. All communication is done through sign language. Dad wants the boy, rightly frightened to go outside the confines of his familiar home, to go out fishing with him so he can learn to feed himself and his siblings, as the Mom explains when she is aged and pitiful, miming being old and toothless. The underlying bittersweet message is that, as things stand, it is unlikely any of them will live to die of old age. It's a gentle scene but the point is made. Mom and Dad tell their Older Son in as light a way as possible: If and when we must die for you the legacy we leave is to have taught you how to provide and protect yourselves as best we can.

In an act of incredible bravery the Mom gets pregnant and they decide, as a matter of course without question, to bear the child. All provisions and plans are made to perform this extremely dangerous activity – child birth and caring for a newborn – in silence. If you have ever given birth, just imagine trying to do it without making a sound and you will have an appreciation of to what heroic lengths these parents will go to bring forth and protect their children's lives.

The acting is terrific. Almost ALL of the conveyance of emotion and communication are done with body language and expression. While they do have sign language subtitles you really don't need them to get the drift of what they are saying. The fourteen year old daughter (Millicent Simmonds) really is deaf and her performance is stunning. Noah Jupe plays the older brother and Cade Woodward plays the youngest child. All the kids have a natural affinity and chemistry with Blunt and Krasinski – so much so that I had to check to see if any of them really are their kids – they aren't.

This is a brilliant parable embodying in the form of a sci fi the dangers parents MUST try to protect their children from. I could imagine this being the fevered nightmare of a worried new parent – where, no matter how careful you are or what preparations you make, the slightest mistep can bring down calamity and catastrophy. A neighbor who makes an unwise decision, poisons in the medicine cabinet of a friend's house, predatory humans who masquerade as care givers, car accidents, wild animals, burst appendix, an unforeseen accident, a fall down a stairs. Then there is the concern of, even if you do everything right and protect them from all of the external terrors, what can you do to teach them the right things, educate them, guide them to being able to care for themselves spiritually and physically after you are gone. And blessedly there is at least SOME acknowledgment of God. The family joins hands in a palpably sincere and faith filled plea of thanksgiving and bequest for safety – without a word being spoken or even mouthed. 

The aliens represent everything and anything that can endanger your child and how quickly and unexpectedly tragedy can swoop down undeservedly upon them, until the only thing you can do is stand between them and catastrophe to the best of your ability, no matter how hopeless it sometimes seems. And that the only guarantee you can give them is your unconditional love.

This is a brilliantly artful movie Krasinski has written and directed  – gorgeous outdoor scenes which still remind you of the sword of Damocles over their heads by the silence with which they move in it, minimalizing the communication down to only that which is most essential and it works incredibly well to draw you into their family. Krasinski's thoughtful effectiveness in his use of sound and silence is occasionally breathtaking – taking advantage of the deaf daughter's vantage point where she hears nothing, playing counterpoint to the sounds and potential sound around her as she tries to navigate in a tremendously sound lethal world. As though she is blind in a darkened room but does not see the flashes of lights around her which can make her a target for the predators nearby.

Despite some plot holes in the premise, within the Universe Kransinski has created the story is airtight and skillfully crafted to maximum effect. The slightest sound is incredibly significant, a heartbeat has the impact of a drumroll in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and a single human scream has vastly more effect than even a Godzilla's roar in a "normal" movie. These noises, so casually easy to ignore, take on monumental importance, just as the intimacy of parent to child is magnified here in the visible incarnation of the intense constant danger which surrounds us in the real world. Careless driving drunks, rabid wild animals, cancer, lightning strikes on a sunny day, all coalesce into the nightmare vision of this one hideous monster, who can whisk your child away from you, before you can adequately react to protect them, and even as you look on in horror. It is as suspenseful as Hitchcock, as roller coaster of scares as you might ever want in a movie, and has all the earmarks of a classic – an endorsement of understanding to parents who are already watchful and alert, a slap of cold water reality of the terrible consequences which are possible to parents who may not be so attentive.

If this review alone has put you on edge and if the movie makes you just that much more concerned and wary for your children's safety, and a single child is rescued by a parent prodded even subliminally into a more wary watchfulness, then I think Krasinski has done the job he set out to do and is owed a grateful thank you. A small price to pay for the demonstration of watchful anxiety for his children to us, which mayhap makes us more watchful over our own. Thanks John.