Anklebiters: Pixies Vs. Gremlins

Hello all. It has been a while since I’ve written here: something that I find I’ve been saying a lot. I have a few things going on, including some original creative work that I finally have formulating in my mind. And I can’t wait to see where I go with that.

It might be a while before I say anything about some of the other things I have planned. However, I would like to take the time to plug a card game in here. It’s not just any card game. Imagine a world, our world, where small creatures unnoticed by the rest of us dwell in the corners of the detritus we create everyday and wage wars for sacred leylines and land to summon a powerful being that will make them dominant over their fellows. Pixies use misdirection and magic to get their way, their whimsy just a mask for their adamant defense of Nature, while Gremlins cobble together siege weapons, and alternatively sabotage other machines, mechanisms, and places to secure power for themselves.

That is the setting for Pandora’s Fox’s Anklebiters – Pixies Vs. Gremlins: an urban fantasy card game where you play as either Pixies, or Gremlins in an attempt to seize areas of the land — including forests and junkyards — in order to get possession of sacred rune stones that will allow you to unleash the power of the Wolpertinger and gain you sovereignty over your small world.

The people at Pandora’s Fox, the company creating this card game, are my friends Noah Marton, the game designer of Pixies Vs. Gremlins, and Claire Beard, its graphic artist and video designer for the Kickstarter Campaign. For anyone of you that are interested in card games, or card games set with magic, and whimsy on the fringes of human society, I would recommend you look at the Kickstarter Campaign that I’ve linked into the title.

My friends at Pandora’s Fox will do great things with any support that you can give them. In fact, I suspect they already have. Please take a look at the Campaign link, Pandora’s Fox Incorporated website, and its Facebook page. Please buy a game if you are interested and/or Like and Share it on the social media of your choice. After all, we need more eyes on these small beings, and I for one would definitely like to know what they will be up to, and what they are already doing. You can’t let it, or them, out of your sight. ūüėČ

Nilthene and the Blue Dragon

I wrote this for The Hoard of the Dragon Queen Campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. As such, there be SPOILERS here. You have been warned.

This is the full speech that my Dragonborn sorceress Nilthene Silvermine delivered to the Blue Dragon Lenethon in¬†our last session in order to get him to leave the Governor’s Keep of Greenest alone.

It began when Nilthene utilized her Message Cantrip, and addressed the attacking Dragon in the Draconic Language. 

“Great Dragon, Draconic Elder. I am the Dragonborn Nilthene of the Clan of Silvermine. On behalf of the people of Greenest, and in accordance to the Ancient Ways, I wish to make parley with you. Please meet me on the parapet of this Tower, if you would be so inclined. Thank you.”

Then, surrounded by Greenest’s terrified archers, the Dragon rose up to meet with Nilthene, and her Druid companion who had been brave enough to risk instant vaporization from lightning breath.¬†

“May I ask whom it is that I have the honour of addressing, Great Dragon?”

At this point, he said “You may,” and he revealed himself to be the Blue Dragon Lenethon. The rest of my speech, which I delivered in part, and kept to the spirit thereof is the following.¬†

“Lenethon, I would like to thank you for your patience as I make my case, and request that you withhold your judgment until I say my peace. Is that acceptable?”

For the moment, it was. The rest is as follows.

“I am born of the Silver Dragon Alesandra’s line, and while I know that the Chromatic and Metallic Dragons clash in many ways, our blood does agree on one thing. Dignity.”

“The people of Greenest have little to offer you — and you personally. They have some baubles, a few minor trinkets, but most of their wealth comes through trade and agriculture. But I suspect you already know this or, if not, it is unimportant to you.

“The Cult of the Dragon has always trade to seduce Dragons of … lesser stature and hoards into becoming undead abominations: animated idols that they worship to fill their own empty lives. They have never truly respected the blood of a true Dragon.

“This … new Prophet of their, Severin Silrazrin, and his lieutenants Fulram Mondath and Langedrosasyrith seem no different. In fact, they’re even less worthy. You see, I think the ‘Prophet’ actually leads a breakaway sect of the group, worshiping Tiamat. Or he has not consolidated his power as much as he’d like others to believe. You’ve surely noticed how his Cult relies on the services of mercenaries, hungry only for gold instead of glory, and mindless kobold slaves.

“In fact, I am fairly certain that the only reason this fledgling order even took Greenest, and the other settlements in the area is because of your power. Your majesty.

“And they offer you … what? Small trinkets and farmland? It’s barely enough to fill a Dragonborn’s hoard, never mind a Great Dragon’s … or that of Tiamat herself! It is an insult! I’ve spent my whole life trying to learn about the progenitors of my line and race, to come towards the greatness of the true Dragons — of yourself — and I know that this is all petty and beneath us. Beneath you.

“You could have destroyed this town many times over. You could have killed myself and my group: whom Mondath wants dead. But that is also beneath you. You know your power, and I think that you know theirs.

“I know I’m also not a Dragon. I am not of Tiamat either. I have an attachment to these humanoids: as a parent to their hatchlings. But I know you do not.

“So, I beg your indulgence once again, and ask you: why do you serve a sect that can’t even raid small villages without your help? And is there a way that you may be persuaded to spare Greenest, or at the very least leave those who would worship grotesque undead mockeries of beauty, and pay lip service to Draconic powers that they will never understand?

What can the Cult of the Dragon do for you? And what can we do to change your mind?

We await your answer, Great Lenethon. Thank you.”

In the end, after he nearly took offense to the first part of the speech, I shortened it to saying that the Cult was unworthy of him and had nothing to offer him. Then I asked what we could do to convince him to leave the Cult and Greenest. He gave us our quest. Now I hope to fulfill it … and not die for over a thousand years. And who said Level Two characters had boring adventures.¬†

My Fanfiction Origin Story

The title is more epic than it actually sounds, but when I think about it the entire thing had been a story long in the making.

Some writers believe that fanfiction is a waste of time. Certainly, you can’t really profit off of it unless you have the original writer or creator’s permission, and you do not want to run afoul of copyright infringement. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m partly here because it’s been a while since I’ve put anything on this Blog, my Writer’s Blog, that hasn’t been a repost from my Sequart work, or elsewhere.

I suppose I’d … always written fanfiction. In fact, I did it ever since I even learned how to write. Often I’d watch the 1990s Peter Pan cartoons and attempt to write the further stories of Captain Hook, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more. In the eighties and nineties though, as a young child, I was mostly interested in horror stories and mostly rehashing the old urban legends and Hammer film derivatives of horror classics more than anything else.

I don’t know if I remember it properly, but I think it really began in Fine Arts Camp. It was at the MacDonald House in Thornhill, once owned by the Canadian Group of Seven artist James Edward Harvey MacDonald. At the time, in the 1990s, I fancied myself something of a graphic artist. I was really passionate about drawing and creating cartoons. It made sense given my interests and my immersion into old DC and Marvel comics and a lot of the stuff coming out in the nineties. Certainly, I wasn’t all that interested in landscapes or other forms of graphic art. Just cartoons. Just comic books.

To be honest, Fine Arts Camp for all its fascinating old MacDonald House that was a good place to tell children urban legends and horror stories near a church and a community swimming pool, wasn’t always so ideal for me. For one, I had terrible allergies and being almost always in the middle of a woodland, surrounded by many trees, did not do me or my lungs that felt like they were getting kicked by horse hooves at night any favours. Also, well, when you are a child and generally an indoors one you have to understand that for all a camp will call itself a Fine Arts Camp, they will still force you go outside in various temperatures and play sports more than you will want. It was the same in the Computer Camp I went to, thinking I’d learn about animation and programming, and it was the same here before it.

Also, when you are extremely introverted like I was, you don’t tend to make a lot of friends: especially not from children your age or, worse, older. To make a long story short, aside from arts and crafts, and even some walks, I didn’t really always like being at Fine Arts Camp. But, I did discover something there that has sat in my head, with me, for the rest of my life.

I don’t remember his name. I’m not even sure he was the same person. But I knew a kid there, a few years older than me. He had in his hands, at the time, something I coveted the most. It was the Wizard Magazine: X-Men 30th Anniversary Special. In that magazine was all the information I’d been looking for about the X-Men and more, so much more than the Marvel cards and their lore that I had been collecting then.

For all the little squabbles we all had there, being kids, this guy was generous and he let me actually read parts of the Magazine. And, even though the other campers really thought I was weird for doing this and it probably gave them more fuel to push me around later, I was actually taking notes on all the information I could find. It wasn’t enough and eventually, after much pleading on my part and my grandmother’s reluctance to spend or let me spend all of twenty dollars, I got my own copy: which is still somewhere down in my basement somewhere.

But the important thing I want to note here is that this same guy, and may not necessarily be the same guy, liked to write. He told us that he would type up his stories on an old computer. Somehow, I remember him saying he had the Internet and frequented BBSes looking at stories based on franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. I might just be projecting that, as I had no idea what the Internet beyond school was or what a BBS even was at the time. But I remember him saying that he liked to write stories where Star Trek and Star Wars crossed over, and perhaps something about Locutus of Borg meeting the Empire.

It blew my mind.

I don’t remember all the details, but I recall the way he described his ideas and his stories. I think he even brought in some old computer paper with rings on the sides and clunky font. And I definitely remember wanting to write franchise stories.

I wanted to make those crossovers. I wanted to write Star Wars. I wanted to write comics and all the things.

That’s how it really started. There was an attempt at a Star Wars expanded universe story in my Seventh or Eighth Grade Writer’s Club anthology: where Luke Skywalker and the others meet a Dark Jedi fighting against the Empire and the Phantom Fleet. But you can imagine how well that was written at the time, and even more so how it aged since.

But I roleplayed out original Star Wars, X-Men, and Power Rangers episodes with my best friend Sean, and I kept writing. I still attempted to write my own works, but they were derivative of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street, along with some Christopher Pike, so you can imagine what those might have been like.

I think my writing skills started to be honed after high school, after reading more and writing an original short story in which I won a Senior Literary Award in 1999. I joined TheForce.Net again in 2005 and wrote what I thought were clearer iterations of Prequel stories. Unfortunately, despite all their assurances that everything would be saved, a lot of my works were lost when the Board attempted to transfer its data to a new server and most of my old works were heavily truncated. ¬†It’s something I never really got over, after all this time and, frankly, it’s kept me from really writing there as much anymore.

But I learned a lot out of writing in different pre-made worlds.. I learned about what writing I liked and what I didn’t. They gave me ideas and frameworks for them. And sometimes they gave me an outlet to tell stories I wasn’t prepared to tell when I didn’t have a voice for them. Yet I think, most of all, fanfiction keeps me writing when I don’t feel inspired to write my own work, or when I’m getting overly critical and analytical.

Recently, I’ve joined AO3 to give some of my fanfic pieces a broader audience. I didn’t really like the freeform administrative style of Fanfic.Net, and TheForce.Net’s administration can be … sporadic and highly dogmatic in terms of poster interaction at best. But AO3 has a lot of variety and also maturity at times with regards to their work. So far I am liking it. And I cross-post all the time. Right now, in-between writing critical and opinion pieces for Sequart and thinking of some of my own original pieces, I’ve been writing a Fate/Stay Night fanfic I’ve been pondering over for a while and a few other shorter vignettes as well.

They keep me going, and I don’t think I realized how I missed it until I stopped. In addition, they also keep me writing new things and attempting stuff I hadn’t thought of or had the metaphorical balls to dare try. At the moment, this variance helps keep my mind fresh: and, who knows, I might have some of my own creative breakthroughs.

Some might even say that this how literature itself continues, minus all of these labels and copyright issues. Someone creates something and others want to emulate it: with perhaps reading and interacting with the materials that the original creator made to understand it better and eventually find their own voice.

Even so, fanfiction allows me to interact with the material that I love on a creative level without the pressure of feeling like I have do it professionally or for a need for money. I think there is a lot to be said about it, if you learn and grow from the experience, and even just have fun. I don’t know. I do know that I have come a long way from coveting wanting to write a Star Wars story, which I thought was beyond my ken at the time. With time, research, and will I can write almost anything now.

I guess that, in the end, I just need to remember that. After all, I think it is always useful to pursue inspiration: wherever you can find it.

Under the Shadow: A TADFF 2016 Review

It’s been said that the German film Nosferatu was created, at least in part, to exorcise the ghosts of World War I. If there is any truth in that, then Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow does something similar. Under the Shadow takes place during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. The Iranian Revolution that changed the country into a theocratic regime happened not even a few years ago and the people of Iran, particularly Tehran in Under the Shadow, suffer through constant missile attacks from Saddam Hussein.

Enter Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a former medical student and mother who can no longer continue her studies due to her involvement with “subversive political groups” before the Revolution. There is tension between her and her husband, a doctor named Iraj (Bobby Naderi): a combination of the usual couple arguments, combined with the anxiety of being bombed, and the strain of having a relationship and Shideh wanting a modicum of power and support under a patriarchal regime. In fact, there is tension throughout the entirety of the film: watching the fear of the family hiding in their apartment’s bomb shelter, waiting for the next bomb to drop, wondering if Iraj will die on the battlefront he’s stationed at, and even one heart-stopping moment when Shideh leaves with their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in a panic and accidentally forgets her¬†hajib: a moment where corporal punishment becomes a truly grim possibility.

And this doesn’t even cover the Jinn.

According to Middle-Eastern mythology Jinn are spirits made of air. In the Quran, they are like humans except while humans are, arguably, made of earth, jinn are made of air. They coexist alongside humanity in various ways, and they and angels were made with humanity. The Jinn in Under the Shadow are not kindly ones. They exist in, and feed off of fear and anxiety. They travel through the desert wind. They are creatures of air and as such affect oxygen, dreams, and the perceptions of the mind. If they gain an object special to a human being, they will haunt them until they possess and destroy them. However, in Under the Shadow possession has a whole other kind of connotation.

Under the Shadow in a lot of ways might as well be called Under the Veil. The Jinn are metaphorical for the gaslighting, insecurities perpetuated on women and the need for authority to control women and their bodies. They also represent the chaos of war and uncertainty of death. In the film they constantly prey on Shideh’s and Dorsa’s relationship made fraught by the patriarchy around them. It’s also no coincidence that one of the Jinn uses constant misogynist slurs against Shideh in the form and voice of her husband, and another takes on the form of an embroidered veil and shawl that threatens to consume both Shideh and Dorsa: symbolizing perhaps the internalized misogyny of a neighbour and a terrifying sense of superstition that institutionalized religion in Iran during this does nothing to alleviate, but only worsen. In fact, it becomes clear in a lot of ways that they are a part of it.

In addition patriarchy, oppressive regimes, and war have another thing in common with Anvari’s Jinn. They all take pieces of a person’s life away, meaningful objects like a medical text given by a wishful mother, or a child’s doll. They threaten to steal innocence and all the good in your life, tainting it with violence and trauma until nothing is left. The sudden, terrifying jump scares of the Jinn, the bomb alarms, and the bombings are somehow made a minor part of the horror that these Jinn represent in this film.

As a child of the 1980s myself, it is sobering to see the life that another family had in another place and culture at this time. The Jane Fonda exercise tapes that Shideh uses to lose herself on her illegal VCR really hits that home that a different life was happening in Iran than in other places. If Nosferatu was an attempt to exorcise the spirits of war from post-WWI Germany, then Under the Shadow is an attempt to reveal the supposedly invisible forces behind the Iran-Iraq War and life in Tehran at time, to give understanding to us instead of allowing the Jinn to take more away. This was an excellent international film and the Toronto After Dark chose it well.

They Lived Happily: The Husbands of River Song

I’m just going to say it right now: after watching “Hell Bent,” I really didn’t know what to expect from Doctor Who‘s Christmas Special “The Husbands of River Song.” This is especially true as it was Steven Moffat that wrote the episode.

I mean, it could have been an entire episode where River doesn’t even know who The Doctor is and after a fanciful waltz of not knowing who he is, dealing with science-fictional talking decapitated heads he doesn’t say anything and she never knows: and somehow we’d be expected to get something some moral lesson from the entire thing as The Doctor sails, alone, throughout the cosmos until the next Companion comes along. I strongly suspect that I’m not the only one who was thinking that it could have very easily gone in this direction: a timey-wimey circuit winding nowhere.

But then something happened. It’s very easy to do, when you think about it. Doctor Who is often seen to be the journey of one Time Lord and his Companions, but we often forget that there is another party. That’s right. Sexy the TARDIS takes The Doctor to wherever he needs to be. This is an established fact from Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”

So here is how I choose to see what happened in “The Husbands of River Song.” Sexy pretty much figured Clara to be a phase in The Doctor’s life. You know: the date that your parent knows isn’t necessarily good for you, and will probably not be around forever but decides after a while to not interfere and just let the phase run its course. So here Sexy is by the end of “Hell Bent,” getting rid of all that graffiti from her surface, and deciding that The Doctor should have a new screwdriver and give those glasses something of a rest.

Then, eventually, she probably gets tired of his moping and takes him into the future on another world where, coincidentally, his parallel-travelling wife also finds herself in the midst of another scheme. She’s even playful about it: putting antlers on The Doctor’s head when someone approaches them to ask for a doctor.

Doctor Antlers

And The Doctor, predictably, starts off as his usual grumpy old man self: perhaps even more so than usual as he knows his memory has been tampered with. But then he is reintroduced to River Song in the middle of another madcap scheme of hers, and she doesn’t even know who he is.

And then he meets her husbands: well, at least two of them in name. One is a tyrant who is a head on a robot body more malevolent than he is, who has a diamond stuck in his head that River is ultimately married to, and the other is a poor man who gets interrogated by the tyrant’s robot body and made into a talking head as well. At first, The Doctor is jealous: madly, quietly, seethingly jealous.

But then he takes that jealousy and decides to revert to his best feature from the beginning of his incarnations: being a troll. He goes along with River’s schemes, hams up a reaction to being in a ship that is “bigger on the inside” and generally asks snide questions and makes clever insights about River’s state of being. Finally, here, the tables have turned. When he first met River, he had no idea who she was and she had all the spoilers. Now, The Doctor is the one who has the keys to her Star Wars Episode VII so to speak, and begins to make the best of a bad situation: essentially having the time of his life.

It could continued something along these lines for a while: or even had their reunion trollishly teased and then subverted. Instead, they carried the tyrant’s head in a bag (The Doctor hilariously calling him a talking bag and in a rare of genuine mirth laughing hysterically at the situation) and they go to a luxury liner ship that is exclusively the domain of rich and powerful dictators and mass murderers to sell the diamond in the tyrant’s head.

As an aside, I would posit that The Doctor, having exterminated the Daleks and other evil races over and again, should have had a royal suite reserved exclusively for him on that ship. But anyway.

It turns out the buyers of the gem are all worshipers of the tyrant and it is when that revelation and all the mummery before it comes to a head, along with a poetic rendition of River Song’s love for The Doctor, that she finally realizes that her companion is her husband. Then they bicker like a married couple, outsmart all the baddies, complete with a line from River stating that she is an archaeologist from the future who has already seen their dead bodies four hundred years later, and they escape.

But it doesn’t end there. You see, The Doctor takes the diamond and finances the creation of a fine restaurant and hotel near the Singing Towers of a planet that he always promised to take River to, except he knew this would be their last night together ala “Silence in the Library.”

Doctor and River Christmas

Finally, he brings her to this place that he made long ago. And, for the first time ever, we actually see this Doctor do something that he had never done before. We’d seen the Twelfth Doctor laugh, rage, scream, detached, bitter, and sarcastic. But we had never seen him cry. It’s at this point that we see him say something to his wife. This is the woman to whom he told his true name, and the one person who knows all of his regenerations: including the one that he never talked about to anyone else from The Time War.

He says something to her that challenges if not outright blows all of the best one-liners of Casablanca right out of the water. And we find out on this planet, with their last night together, that nights on this planet last … twenty-four years. Suffice to say, as the episode ends, it is no coincidence that The Doctor has also brought her a sonic screwdriver.

Doctor New Sonic Screwdriver

It seems as though The Doctor’s other wife, Sexy, knows what’s best.

“The Husbands of River Song” almost make up for the events of “Hell Bent.” Almost. As I’ve stated before, I hope that River Song manages to find a way to re-evolve herself from the Library database and incarnate once again: so that we can definitely see her continue to interact with The Doctor. Or at the very least we know that she underwent life-extension treatments to add two hundred years to her own lifespan in lieu of the regenerations she seems to have lost. Anything could happen with those addition two centuries: if not more.

It was a good episode to end off the year with and one that was completely and utterly deserved by The Doctor and Doctor Who fans alike.

The Doctor Goes Through Hell In Heaven Sent

Back during “The Zygon Inversion,” I thought I finally saw Peter Capaldi’s Doctor shine through. It was also around that point, when he truly became poignant, that I worried about the character’s upcoming fate. After all, almost every time The Doctor has a particularly striking moment, it heralds the beginning of his next regeneration.

Well, perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it was an omen for something else entirely. Certainly, Clara as a Doctor substitute would suffice here: she died attempting to imitate him. But we see in “Heaven Sent” that there are many other ways you can die which do not necessitate regeneration.

Perhaps you were expecting the righteous wrath of a furious Doctor being unleashed on an opponent after “Facing the Raven.” Instead, after The Doctor appears in a teleport tube with his Time Lord threats quite clear in the air is a particularly vicious and cerebral form of torture: tailor-made specifically for this current incarnation. There is a lot that is excellent about “Heaven Sent.”

For instance, we get to see — intimately and in detail — precisely just how The Doctor’s mind actually works. It’s no mean feat. Steven Moffat truly brings out an advanced and alien mindset that is still affected by intense emotion. His mind is specifically assembled, probably through mnemonic training, like his TARDIS and he retreats and interacts with this fortress — his safe place and home — in his psyche even as he deals with death-dealing situations with a sharp and analytical mind.

But this episode is brutal. It didn’t take me long to realize who the person who activated the teleporter at the beginning truly was. There also was too much time to figure out whom each of those skulls in the bottom of the sea in the abandoned castle and its turning gears also belonged. In early stories pertaining to The Doctor, he dealt with the Eternals of Time and Death: which makes the shuffling monster surrounded by flies coming after him a bad pun and something eerie altogether. Even the music sometimes veers into strange eighties synthesized tones.

Moffat could have seriously ended “Heaven Sent” on a major down note. He was quite capable of having The Doctor get out of this in the upcoming “Hell Bent.” But that would be nonsense. Instead, through watching The Doctor fall over and again, you have a reminder of precisely how strong-willed and relentless he truly is. The way his prison works is that he would get a moment’s respite for every fear-based truth he told. But it was a losing proposition.

Think about it. If The Doctor told all of his truths, he would still die over and again. He would continually go insane. And his enemies, whomever they are, would know everything about him. If he just continued moving throughout the castle, he would still die and come back to life each time. A lesser mind would break either way.

But then The Doctor realizes something. He notices, each time after he brings himself back through the teleporter, that the stars are not in the right alignment as his innate Time Lords senses tell him. He also keeps punching a crystal in front of him: whittling it away through each incarnation, dying again, and crawling back to resurrect himself. The gears in the castle turn. It’s as though the entire prison is a puzzle calibrating precisely at certain temporal and spatial coordinates.

By the time The Doctor smashes through the crystal and finds himself in a desert, he doesn’t seem at all surprised by the revelation. First, we find that his prison was actually his confession dial. Second, he is back on Gallifrey.

The third truth is for us though. You know that Hybrid we’ve been hearing about from Davros onward this season? Well, apparently, it’s The Doctor. And from the way he looks at the end of the episode, there is going to be a reckoning.

For all the brilliance of this Doctor Who episode made by Sisyphus, there are still some issues. If The Doctor drowned in several incarnations — becoming those stacks of skulls underwater — how did he get to the teleporter to bring himself back those times? And, I’m sorry, but even in death Clara seems to be tagged on by the writer: a continuation of how important she actually is, while you just don’t really … feel it. Even her dialogue from the subconscious of The Doctor is contrived and outright callous. The episode keeps telling us we should care about Clara but it’s hard to when you already weren’t doing so. It just makes you aware that even though she’s gone, the badly written Clara Oswald is unfortunately going to linger on for a while.

All that said, however, here are some questions to consider. Who last held The Doctor’s confession dial? And is The Doctor lying for the benefit of whom might have done this to his dial? Are long time fan theories and certain lines from the 1996 Doctor Who movie about The Doctor’s origins true? Just how did Missy get out of Gallifrey exactly? Why did The Doctor leave Gallifrey to begin with? Who else did he leave with? And when he says “The Hybrid is me,” does he mean “Lady Me?” The same Lady who had a vast portion of pages torn out of one of her journals?

Perhaps we will find out next time on Doctor Who: “Hell Bent.”

Jessica Jones Gets Real

On November 20th, Season One of Marvel’s¬†Jessica Jones launched on Netflix. I admit I was fairly ignorant of the character and I didn’t know how the beginning of this series would play out. Even though it takes place in Hell’s Kitchen, and Daredevil on Netflix more than proved itself, I’d only known about Luke Cage in passing — and only realized he would be in the series by the second episode — and I knew a whole lot less about Jessica herself.

But there is an advantage in that. First, I had no preconceived notions about Jessica Jones as a character. I was allowed to see how her adventures would play out in a realistic, gritty cinematic version of the Marvel Universe. And, second, I find there is something creatively liberating about reinventing or reintroducing characters who aren’t necessarily “top-tier superheroes.” There are so many stories inherent in their struggles and in themselves that you can tell in a distinctly modern fashion: and this is definitely the case with Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones

And from the very beginning the series creator and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg recreates an uncomfortable reality for Jessica. Jessica Jones is a former superhero and current private investigator. She possesses superhuman strength and the ability to leap far distances. At the same time Jessica is an orphan, former abuse victim and survivor. She copes with this through copious amounts of alcohol, disillusionment, and biting sarcasm. Her dual rundown apartment and office’s constantly broken front door says a lot about her personality. Yet while Jessica’s persona is brittle and often unpleasant, underneath it she is a good and decent person that wants to save people’s lives.: who ultimately still wishes to do the right thing. It this combination of physical and emotional vulnerability and strength at play with one another that makes her so captivating. The fact is: Jessica doesn’t always have to be a likable person, but that just makes her more human.

Jessica Jones 2

In addition, Jessica Jones has symptoms of post-traumatic stress: from flashbacks to her abuser and interrupted childhood to having to constantly repeat street names to remind herself of something material and concrete to hold onto when her panic attacks set in. She is an abused woman in the process of coping with the events and trauma that led her to this point in her life. Krysten Ritter portrays this well in how these facts affect Jessica’s behaviour and relationships. And she isn’t the only one.

Jessica’s friend Patricia Walker, or Trish, is a radio talk show host who became Jessica’s adoptive sister. She was abused constantly by her mother, physically and emotionally, as a child star. This has led her to adopting a friendly public facade while letting few people into her private life: an existence made up of a high security apartment and intense Krav Maga martial arts training. Whereas Jessica protects herself with superficial abruptness, Trish does the same with a literal fortress. Jessica doesn’t want, or have to smile to please anyone. Trish wears her smile as another shield.

It is just one more thing the two women both have in common, but it’s not the main element that brings them together. Both of them protect one another as much as they can and, even with Jessica pushing Trish away, they are the closest people to each other that they have. Jessica herself tries to remain emotionally detached from the other people she knows, while Trish tends to call her lover by his last name. And even so, both try to do good with power they have: and cope with their surroundings.

And then there is the antagonist of the first Season. Kilgrave.

Kilgrave

Imagine a man who has the power to mind control anyone he wants by simple verbal commands. Consider the fact that for his entire life he is used to being obeyed: that his every whim never goes unfulfilled. Consent doesn’t matter to a being like him. People are barely sentient beings in his eyes. For the most part, they are objects for his use and nothing more. Kilgrave casually violates the free will of his victims and leaves shattered lives in his wake. What makes his villainy even more terrifying is how David Tennant plays him. Consider the whimsy and man-child demeanour of the Tenth Doctor, with his gentle British accent, and his razor sharp intelligence except it’s warped by sociopathy, psychotic temper tantrums, and a tremendous sense of self-entitlement. He even goes as far as dressing in a purple uncomfortably close to the blue suits The Doctor used to wear. Kilgrave also wears pajamas.

Even if you disregard the dissonance between Tennant’s role as The Doctor and Kilgrave for the Whovian fans out there, there is this sliminess underneath all the flair and brilliance — this lack of personal responsibility and even the shunting the blame on his victims — that just makes you ardently wish for his imminent death.

Jessica Jones and Kilgrave

And he is the one who violated Jessica Jones. He is her abuser and he has come back into her life. Kilgrave claims that she and others actually wanted or “asked for it.”¬†And no one in law enforcement or society would believe her or his other victims. It becomes Jessica’s mission to save another victim, that of a young woman whose life Kilgrave ruined, prove what Kilgrave can do to the world at large, bring him to justice, protect her loved ones, and bring closure to her demons. It is no tall order for a woman, even with superpowers, to confront her abuser and the insidious systems that surround him, as well as the expectations around her to do what she must to survive and save the lives of others.

Jessica Jones is a series about a group of flawed characters, some completely selfish and others wanting to make a difference: even achieving the bare minimum goal of living another day and maintaining a broken and ramshackle apartment building in the worst side of New York. But, among other things, it is also a narrative arc about superpowers almost being secondary to the true nature of evil — of separating and silencing, of not being believed — and, most importantly, the strength decent people have when they are allowed to speak out and when they can stand together: if only for a time.

It is definitely a show that bears watching.

Doctor Who: Hail to the Zygon

Things looked pretty grim in the last episode of Doctor Who. UNIT was supposedly neutralized, at least in the United Kingdom, and a missile was headed towards The Doctor’s World Presidential plane from a Zygon assuming Clara Oswald’s form. I also mentioned, last time, that the plan of the Zygon radicals was worthy of HYDRA.

But perhaps “Hail Zygon!” was a little premature.

Take, for instance, what the Zygons did with Clara. They put her in a pod: her trapping her mind in a dreamscape to gather more information from her subconscious. And this is where the writers of “The Zygon Inversion” do something very … interesting. As it turns out, despite having a year to prepare and work itself into UNIT, the radical Zygon faction didn’t do their homework. They didn’t know about the events of “Last Christmas”: where Clara and The Doctor were held by dream crabs. Of course, that might not be entirely fair. I mean, they wouldn’t have had reason to know about “The Bells of Saint John” with the Great Intelligence or even “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Name of The Doctor.” UNIT, assuming the faction even went as far as getting all of its information, didn’t even know about many of those events.

Clara has had her mind influenced before. It has been split across space and time. The Great Intelligence tried to synchronize it. And there have been many times she has been trapped somewhere: at the fringe between the damsel and refrigerator tropes. But “Last Christmas” in particular made Clara painfully aware of dreamscapes and the flaws within them. The Zygons did a shoddy job of making a dreamscape that was believable: a contrast to Steven Moffat and Peter Harness who use “the Gimmie” — the suspension of disbelief — to make us believe that she has a strong enough mind to resist and even influence the Zygon trying to access and steal her memories.

As unbelievable as it might sound, the way that Clara faces off against her Zygon counterpart Bonnie is nothing short of bad ass. Somehow Moffat, Harness, and Jenna Coleman make the character have this about face moment: leading you to realize just how screwed Bonnie — Clara’s Zygon duplicate — is going to be. Clara’s “schooling” of Bonnie is a hint of what Clara should have been from the very beginning.

Clara Turns Off the TV

But the epic element does not stop there.

You see, it’s really a combination of things. For instance, the show hits home exactly what the problem is with the Zygon radical faction. In my last recap, I likened them to HYDRA but I fear I might have grossly overestimated them. Oh, they shared HYDRA’s hubris, but their planning is only similar on a superficial level. The fact is: the radicals could have done a lot of damage in the longer term if they had been smart about it. They had about a year to prepare for an invasion without war. They are shapeshifters and are aware of what they are. Especially after one of the Osgoods died, they could have infiltrated UNIT across the world or — better yet — taken out the Zygon High Command first and dealt with UNIT later.

They could have appealed to the rest of their kind’s need to be more open, or to gain more resources through hit and run means. Meanwhile, they might have expanded their plan to use revealed Zygons — preferably “traitors” to their cause — as lightning rods to distract the humans and make a show of stopping them. Over time, they could have taken over places of human government and slowly improved human technology to make them more dependent on their innovation. And if they had taken UNIT in particular, it wouldn’t have taken much to place a bomb on, say, a World Presidential plane while its crew might have been … distracted by events.

The Zygon radical faction could have become the new Zygon High Command if they had been smarter: rallying the others of their kind by their example and using human civilization as its slave that they could monitor from within itself.

What happened instead was that Bonnie, as the leader of the radicals, wanted to make a statement. She wanted to reveal twenty million prepared and unprepared Zygons to seven billion humans right away. She didn’t care that those Zygons would most likely get slaughtered over time. Zygons are shapeshifters. Their greatest strength is hiding who they are until they have the advantage. Getting the Osgood Box would have only taken this advantage away by outing all of them.

The radicals are shown to be short-sighted and fueled by rage and a tremendous sense of self-entitlement. As The Doctor himself explains, they are more like rebellious children than anything else: rebels that are willing to destroy themselves and everyone else to be right rather than build anything lasting.

Bonnie is Mad

And this is where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor shines. He presents the radicals, through Bonnie, with a challenge. It seems as though The Moment affected him greatly as both humans and Zygons don’t merely have one box that could reveal or destroy them: but two. And it is almost a sick joke that both boxes have the radical motto on them: truth or consequences.

It is revealed that many threats to the Human-Zygon ceasefire have happened before. This is why The Doctor knows so much about Bonnie: because others had tried this before and he had erased their memories. But it goes further than that. He derails both Kate Lethbridge Stewart’s violence and Bonnie the Zygon’s fanaticism by showing them just how terrifying war is essentialized into two boxes with push buttons. He tells them about what real war is all about. And then he gives an excellent lesson to Bonnie. He teaches a shapeshifter that “thinking is a fancy way of changing your mind.” Of course. The Doctor himself is a much longer lived shapeshifter that did horrific things in the Time War so he would know all about it. The way he calls her out on the futility of revolutions and rebellion as a cycle and his own experiences in War made for a compelling and poignant moment in his own portrayal worthy of his other incarnations.

Doctor and Bonnie

But even when you put Clara and The Doctor aside, there is Osgood to consider. When asked if she is either a Zygon or a human, Osgood basically says, “Yes.” She holds her own to The Doctor, still respecting him, but recognizing his strengths and flaws. And she stands by her convictions. Many fans believe Osgood to be the Companion that he should have had, but now it’s clear that she has her own destiny as an agency in her own right. And it’s not everyday that someone discovers they have a new sister after the loss of their other sibling.

Osgood the Bad Ass

I do think that Bonnie got off very lightly for what she and the others had done to human and Zygon lives. If this was a learning experience for her, it was a costly one. One can only hope that she will continue to improve herself as the next Osgood. She has great shoes to fill.

“The Zygon Inversion” took the concept of a Zygon infiltration, and a wasteful revolution of radicals and turned it into something else entirely: an examination of the futility of war and the working towards something greater. Almost every character in this story had their bad ass moment and even The Doctor’s manipulation of the situation — in an almost terrifying manner — hits home one fact that may not have always been clear in the last season. Because in those lines, and in those words there was The Doctor. There he is.

Doctor Who and Lady Me

Imagine you are immortal.

It is a common enough theme in fantasy and science fiction: especially when you consider Highlander¬†or most modern vampire stories. You die unexpectedly and then get resurrected. And after a time you realize that you just can’t die. Perhaps you can be killed, but your instinct of self-preservation is still strong enough that you really don’t want to test that theory. Now imagine watching everyone else: everyone living and dying all around you. Then consider that for all you may live forever, you still have a human mind with human memory and feelings. You begin to forget things, either through time or trauma. But then it gets worse. The person that made you thought they were granting you a mercy. You see, they thought that by granting you the ability to make another immortal, like you, you’d have at least the potential to never be lonely.

But it’s too late. You already know what it’s like. You know what it would cost someone. Long ago, in a small Viking village, you told the man that made you that leaving your home would be like death. Well, you haven’t been home now for about eight hundred years. Could you do that to someone else? And worse: he only gave one opportunity to make someone immortal. Out of all the friends, lovers, and spouses you’ve had — the children you made — how can you pick just one?

Doctor Who Lady Me and Books

That had been the conundrum of the woman once known as Ashildr by the time of Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived.” You have to wonder, when you see the person who now calls herself Lady Me — as she is the only one who generally remembers who she is throughout time — if a longer life is always a better one, and just how many times she’s gotten tired throughout the years and centuries of her existence.

And The Doctor did this to her. In my last recap of “The Girl Who Died,” I was disappointed that Ashildr didn’t turn out to be another Time Lady. But perhaps it’s just as well. Instead the writer¬†Catherine Tregenna did something else entirely with the character that Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson wrote. She took a hapless, but defiant girl from “The Girl Who Died” and made a complex character in “The Woman Who Lived.”

Lady Me, played by Maisie Williams, has reached a point where she realized that making another like herself or suffering from loneliness was no choice at all. So she decided to be alone. She distanced her feelings, wrote out the memories her brain couldn’t contain in a vast library in a mansion she bought with her riches, and tore out the pages of the most painful recollections of all. She robs people purely for the entertainment of it, even as she sometimes helps them.

Doctor Who Knightmare

And she wants out. She wants to get away from a world where she would have to watch her children and lovers die: having reached a point where she no longer wants the former. Everyone just seems like shades to her: mayflies already marked for the grave. She wants to go into space and travel with The Doctor. And the thing is: she would make an excellent Companion. Lady Me is realistic, somewhat jaded, but vastly knowledgeable, intelligent, and she knows how to adapt and survive.

But The Doctor will have none of it. And this is where Catherine Tregenna takes The Doctor. She shows us a man who cannot exist with others like himself, long-lived beings, for extended periods of time. He just doesn’t get that sense of … what, youth or vitality that he would from a shorter-lived Companion. His logic is that those with shorter lives value life more. And it’s a damning realization of the character. It shows us that his original aversion to Jack Harkness wasn’t just the strange way he felt in space and time. It illustrates why he left Gallifrey and how he generally avoided spending a lot of time with others of his own kind.

And then you consider the following. It would have been child’s play for The Doctor to get medical healing devices from beings like the Mira. The horrible fact of the matter is: The Doctor could have made any of his Companions immortal. He could have even made Rose Tyler an immortal and made the age-differences between them irrelevant. But he never did. You could argue that he didn’t do this because mortality was what made his Companions so plucky, so … human. Yet Tregenna seems to hint on the fact, at least through Lady Me, that there is a very selfish element underneath even the best of The Doctor’s intentions: something not unlike the stereotype of an older person dating only younger individuals to feel young again themselves. In The Doctor’s case, it has some very masculine connotations: even if he is not sexually attracted to his generally female Companions, or to Lady Me when she’s flirting with him, there is just this moment of realization — from Lady Me’s perspective and the audience’s — where you just know that she’s just not “his type.”

When you consider that The Doctor made Lady Me and that he is essentially rejecting her for being “too old for him,” and that you find out he had actually been watching her for a very long time without so much as helping her or offering to take her on the TARDIS, it comes across as a rather gross character flaw and connotation. Even Lady Me’s darkest actions and thoughts make a lot more sense in this vein: her impetus of loss and desperation giving you this strong inclination to sympathize a lot more with her than The Doctor.

Doctor Who Angry Lady Me

However, it is only when Lady Me almost repeats what was done to her village on another settlement in her desperate attempt to escape the Earth that she remembers the defiant courage of her ancient youth. And after that, he reconciles herself to The Doctor. There is even a hint of a possibility that she might meet Captain Jack one day. But even as The Doctor tells her to keep an eye out for another possible immortal, Lady Me makes her own intentions clear. She will watch the other immortal, but she will also observe The Doctor as well: and protect others from his “good intentions.”

I have to say that this was an excellent episode because it was less about The Doctor and more about Lady Me. The fact that Clara was hardly in it was only a bonus. Indeed, there was one point where — when Lady Me confronted The Doctor about just how many Claras he had lost — I was just waiting for him to state something along the lines of “Three or four, that I know of.”

And what is also excellent is that Lady Me is going to come back at some point. I think that a spin-off with Captain Jack, River Song, and a whole lot of “loose-end characters” like The Doctor’s Daughter Jenny and Susan would be an awesome idea. This episode of Doctor Who was a good one: a worthy follow-up to the story that came before it. Also, the word “Hybrid” came up again during this arc. Missy and Davros had been rather fixated on that word in “The Witch’s Familiar.” You have to wonder just how this might come into play in future episodes of Doctor Who.

A Doctor Who Prologue

Before the return of Doctor Who, BBC One has already given us a hint of what is to come. This is a Prologue to the first episode of this season. And so: what do we have here?

Karn. The planet of Karn is the home to the Sisterhood of Karn. More recently, it was the site of the minisode “Night of the Doctor,” where we got to see the transformation of the Eighth Doctor into the War Doctor and the beginning of his entry into the Last Great Time War. However, Karn and The Doctor have an older shared history: from his time combating the renegade Time Lord Morbius as the Fourth Doctor and the introduction of the Sacred Flame and the Elixir of Life.

What is also interesting to note is that the Sisterhood of Karn are biologically Gallifreyan. In fact, not only do they possess the Elixir of Life that can at least temporarily restore life, but they create potions and processes that aid in helping a Time Lord regenerate. According to the New Adventures novel Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible they are a remnant of the Pythia’s power: the original prophetic leader of an ancient matriarchal Gallifrey.

It could have been assumed, at least in how they were only portrayed in “Night of the Doctor” in the new Doctor Whos series, that Karn had perished with Gallifrey in the Time War but it also makes sense that they did not. The fact is, when The Doctor mentioned he had been the last of the Time Lords, he could have only been referring to Gallifrey and its ruling class. He never actually said he was the last of the Gallifreyans. Gallifreyans become Time Lords, but not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords and the Sisters of Karn are something else entirely: even if they are related in a biological sense.

Of course, this could be a moot point as due to the actions of The Doctor and all his past incarnations, Gallifrey was seemingly saved. Perhaps this could be applied to its erstwhile allies such as the Sisterhood of Karn as well. In any case, here in this Prologue we have an interesting situation.

Who is this person who has a history with The Doctor, and is attempting to use his servants to find him? Who is this “creature” that The Doctor owes nothing to? Well, it most likely isn’t Missy as Missy identifies with the female gender pronoun and the only minions she has are those she subverts or creates for twisted and zany purposes.

However, there might be another clue.

Who is The Doctor’s other arch-nemesis? Who has had, and still yet may retain, servants to seek him out? Who had a very long and storied association with him? Who could, at this point in his existence, be classified as “a creature?” And who is this person that he can identify with: someone who creates agents through circumstance almost as much as he has?

There had been leaks and rumours that Davros will be returning to Doctor Who. I mean, many believed that he had died before, so what is stopping him from coming back now. But there is more. One particular rumour states that The Doctor will be meeting Davros before his injuries, perhaps as a younger man … or a child. It always seems to return to that idea from “Genesis of The Daleks”: to that quandary of destroying an evil before it at least overtly becomes evil. And, as The Doctor proclaims in “The Prologue” sometimes “an enemy is a friend that you don’t know yet.”

I mean, if it is Davros he is pretty well beyond any form of redemption and some things are very much fixed points in time. Davros will create the Daleks. He will be one of The Doctor’s greatest and most ingenious enemies. But, then again, this might not be about Davros at all. This could be someone else entirely: someone we know or someone that we are about to meet.

As for the object The Doctor gave the Sister¬†Ohila … who knows? Your guess is as good as mine. Doctor Who and its protagonist Mr. Cantankerous returns this September 19.