So who wants to see a Doctor Who movie written by Russell T. Davies?
Even though Davies has indicated reluctance to write another Doctor Who episode, in an interview with Graham Norton, Doctor Who‘s former showrunner and re-animator stated that if he were approached to write a Doctor Who movie, he would do it with enthusiasm. As a fan, I would choose one, or all of the following:
Fantastic! Allons-y! Geronimo!
Seriously, pick one. While Davies’ words are, at best, a nice TARDIS trip into the realms of speculative reality, just think of the possibilities considering all that we know about him and what he has created. Think of a grand operatic narrative of strangeness, weirdness, tragedy, comedy, and terror that star actual people: be they omnisexual time travellers, moving compost heaps, binary angels, or just plain human individuals.
Aside from some of my own issues with the latter part of his run, such as the Meta-Crisis Doctor and Doctor Donna, for the most part it would be refreshing to have Davies apply his ability to create epic pieces and memorable characters onto film. Again, it’s the fan-boy in me but if this ever somehow happened I could see something with Jack Harkness and River Song that, combined with some Murray Gold soundtracks, would be simply — in so many words — divine, infernal, and utterly goofy.
But I think the Doctor Who movie that I’d really like to see from Davies was something that he himself began: just what happened during the Last Great Time War. It’s true that we’ve had hints and excerpts from that War: ranging from “The End of Time,” to “The Night of The Doctor,” to “The Last Day,” “The Day of The Doctor” and even a novel by George Mann called The Engines of War, but I feel that there is so much more detail that can be added about what was perhaps the most devastating conflict in the multiverse’s history and The Doctor’s — particularly The War Doctor’s — role within it.
Imagine a fleshed out story that illustrates the events that led to the War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, or The War Doctor and the Lady President Romana dealing with the initial stages of the War before they have to resort to resurrecting The Master, and summoning Rassilon to the fore again. Or maybe we can see the aftermath of Gallifrey’s salvation and Missy’s regeneration and escape.
I don’t know: maybe what I want to see would be more like a series than a film (or at least a trilogy) but please, tell us what kind of Doctor Who movie you would like to see from Russell T. Davies: should he ever be asked to make one.
In terms of Doctor Who‘s “Last Christmas” episode, I’ll tell you later — I mean, it’s a long story.
Actually, the episode itself was very good. On the surface, you have The Doctor and Clara at the North Pole with a science team dealing with some creatures attached to people’s faces, and Santa Claus coming to the rescue. Of course, as with any Doctor Who episode of any kind, nothing is ever as it seems: especially if it is completely and utterly insane.
My introduction at the beginning of this recap is not a coincidence. The science team’s response to The Doctor of “It’s a long story” is very reminiscent of the line “I’ll tell you later” in Moffat’s Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death. The dream crabs were interesting creatures, though I’m not sure how they coincidentally found all of those people scattered across space and time: a detail I might have missed or something put aside for the emotional impact of the entire story.
Think of the dream crabs as beings that feed off of your mind and give you pleasant dreams of safety or reality until you grow weaker from an ice cream headache at the right side of your skull as they drill into it and feed off of your existence until you die. They also create a scenario where if you die in this state they placed you in, you will die in reality: or, if you’d like: if you die in the game, then you die in real life.
The rest of the episode was combination of Miracle on 34th Street, Aliens, and some Inception and The Matrix for good measure. Everything is basically a dream. As for Santa Claus … think of it like this: the dream crabs have a collective consciousness that networks all of their victims together in order to feed off of them properly. Santa Claus and his elves are, at least at this time of year, a large portion of humanity’s collective unconsciousness attempting to help these victims resist the feeding and potentially wake up and therefore kill the creatures.
Think of Santa as something of a meme that exists in a considerable number of humans: even those that don’t believe in him. He is an ultimate archetype, and has a great sense of humour to boot. And as The Doctor, Clara and the others wake up from dream to dream there is an excellent festive, almost transcendent moment where they are on Santa’s sleigh after he rescues them from the entities in the final dream and you actually see a rare occurrence: the Twelfth Doctor actually driving dream-Santa’s sleigh and, dare I say it …
Actually looking happy.
It all flowed almost seamlessly together and even the ending where the Twelfth Doctor finds … Clara.
Well, it’s no secret that I am really disappointed with how Clara has been portrayed for this past while. But seeing her old and frail, realizing The Doctor left her for sixty-two years, and pulling apart a Christmas cracker with her much in the way that she did with his elderly Eleventh incarnation on Trenzalore … I actually felt sorry for her. It was artfully done, this parallel between “Last Christmas” and “The Time of The Doctor” and I’d heard rumours of this scene happening but seeing it was actually emotional: especially when Clara flat-out states that there were actually two men in her life that no one could actually match.
I even liked the dream scene with Danny and the realization that Danny — whether he was a dream or not — was very real. Poor Danny. I would have really liked to see more with him but I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. And for the first time we see Clara even apologizing to him for the lies. It’s like even she knew that he was just too good for her. No so much The Doctor, as he lied to her too, but there you go.
So … readers and Doctor Who viewers. Did you see the real end coming?
Did you know what I was going to happen to Clara Oswin Oswald?
I know I did. Or at least I wasn’t surprised. The fact of the matter is “Last Christmas” was self-referential, with some funny and terrifying moments, but also pretty clever and relatively put together. But when you look at how it ended, and what was teased — both Clara’s apparent end and the degrees of separation between The Doctor’s and Clara’s faces — and Santa coming back one more time …
Honestly, we’ve seen Moffat’s writing and his responses to the press before.
Just what did you think was going to happen?
Honestly: a teaser towards the episode of an episode and even some tear-jerking manipulation with a “too bad everyone, I am writing what I want at the end and Clara Oswin Oswald stays” at the finale. She even got to look at her face, at one point, in a tiny mirror.
It was some well-played trolling on Moffat’s part.
After we watched the episode, a friend of mine noted the Christmas tangerine on the snowy windowsill in the final scene of “Last Christmas.” He hoped this was all a dream. But here is where I think that tangerine is fascinating. You’ll notice that it is neither Clara nor The Doctor that sees it. It’s the audience. It’s us. Just as the dream crabs facilitated an interactive dream between its victims, between its members of its captive audience, so too — in a generally less grim and cynical way — does Doctor Who exist as a communal dream which we all participate in: some of us as long as sixty-three years. That tangerine — representing hope, the human imagination, the promise of Spring, and a Midwinter Night’s Dream — was well shown: well said.
And that being said, I don’t think I’m having any icy pains on the right side of my skull. I don’t think anyway.
So you find yourself in a laboratory: faced down by creatures that have gotten off of tables with scaly skin and slimy mouths. They’re coming towards you. It’s dark and cold outside in the Arctic; you, a strange older man with a blue box, his Companion, and a scared looking science team with guns are all alone with this approaching unpleasantness when, suddenly …
There is an explosion as the Army of Misfit Toys — heralded by a tangerine, a rank of slinkies, and walking robots come into the grim fray! Then you get to see the majestic sight of a reindeer standing on his hind legs as Santa Claus climbs off his back surrounded by an elf with a rifle and another with an orange balloon animal. There is a music of wonder surrounding all of this as Saint Nicholas takes charge of the situation.
And all you can think about, even for Doctor Who, even for a Doctor Who Christmas Special is …
It’s as though Santa Claus is making up for the current Doctor’s grumpy and cynical nature, tinged with a latter bit of bitterness, by just being about everything the Eleventh Doctor was: albeit with a bit of gruffness and the ever-present threat of coal. I’m also pretty sure that tangerine-looking object was a dig at The Doctor who, in another trailer, said he hated Christmas tangerines.
I don’t know what those monsters are: who look like walking corpses with alien parasites attached to their faces. I don’t know why Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer has an alarm system on his nose: and quite possibly a GPS. But I will tell you thing: if those creatures have any self-awareness, and if they share any of that awareness with the expressions on the faces of The Doctor, Clara, and that team, I think it can all be summed up under one word.
Doctor Who: Last Christmas will be coming out this December 25 on Space Channel and as with any Doctor Who episode but especially this, your guess is as good as mine.
I really wanted to like Clara Oswin Oswald. And I suspect that a lot of Doctor Who fans did, while others still do.
Between her introduction in “Asylum of the Daleks” as Oswin the brilliant and somewhat snarky Soufflé Girl and her assertive, plucky, and empathetic incarnation in “The Snowmen” as Clara Oswald — governess by day, bar maid by night — we had the makings of not only a mystery, but a fascinating character in her own right.
Imagine: a person that can simultaneously exist in different areas of space and time. She has no time machine, or special powers, or any other kind of anomaly. What’s more is that, starting with “Asylum” she is a genius in a grim science-fiction story while, in another time of “Snowmen” she is a woman seeking a troubled Doctor seemingly out of no other impulse but sheer curiosity: a force that inspires her to ascend into the clouds to find a blue box in a fairytale.
Then consider the premise that Clara exists in many other timelines and that even if they are all echoes of one person throughout time, they are nevertheless part of an individual’s entire existence. Just imagine what each iteration of Clara has gone through: how many skills, experiences, and lifetimes she gathered. It would stand to reason, after all, that she did something in space and time beyond waiting for The Doctor to show up so that she could be with him: you know, beyond the overall plot arc assigned to her.
Perhaps we might have gotten a character who was a combination of Oswin:
So what did we get instead? We initially got a hapless Mary Sue stalked by the Eleventh Doctor and a mentality divided between skirting around the issue of what a strange conundrum Clara Oswald is, and yet more unconsummated romantic tension between The Doctor and another Companion. Because, you know, we haven’t seen that before. And for all there are even hints that Clara gets greater access knowledge from her time interfaced with the Great Intelligence’s “Spoonhead” network she is mainly a human female extension of The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
But there was evidence that Clara, and her dynamic with The Doctor was still salvageable. Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith managed to show some chemistry, or at least evidence of a strong emotional bond between these two characters. Perhaps if The Doctor had spent less time trying to unravel her mystery and realized that she was just Clara Oswald, and was more important because of that thought alone, they could have moved on.
Instead we finally discover how Clara can exist in other times and still be human, a realization come to at The Doctor’s personal time-stream when she states, in some of the most poorly thought out words ever:
For me, though I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, that was the beginning of the end of my hopes for Clara Oswin Oswald. Unfortunately, it pretty much summed up everything she had been after her previous incarnation’s death in “The Snowmen.” She is just a character that revolved around The Doctor, just a part of him: a woman dependent on a male character’s existence as opposed to also standing up in her own right. And while it is true that Companions are judged by their relation to The Doctor in any season, this was a moment that could have been written a lot better had there been more character-development on Clara’s part.
And never mind the fact that this wasn’t even followed up on: that there wasn’t an episode or a minisode dealing with the fall-out of Clara realizing what happened to her and coming to terms with it, or even addressing the fact that The Doctor had an incarnation she never saw before that point. For that matter, we don’t really even get to see the consequences of what happens when she falls through, scatters in, and survives The Doctor’s time-stream. I mean, you would think there would be some psychological effects of some kind. These are issues that could have been dealt with or at least touched upon at the beginning of “The Day of The Doctor”: to actually show some flow and continuity instead of a jarring situation where the characters seem to have moved on and found themselves in a different situation.
But now I’m digressing into plot as opposed to what I really wanted to see: character-writing. Perhaps, in the end, these two elements are not that far removed from one another.
So between “Day of The Doctor” and “Time of The Doctor” we, again, get little show of continuity save in a “tell, but don’t show” situation. Matt Smith, before his departure, has said that he could have done another year of Doctor Who. And I can’t help but wonder if another year of the Eleventh Doctor with Clara Oswald — in which he wasn’t trying to figure out what she was — and where they both figure who they are — might have made something of a difference in their character dynamic. Or not.
And then we have the regeneration.
After The Doctor’s regeneration into Twelve, Clara can’t seem to get over the fact that he looks like an older man now. Remember: she just went through the Time Lord’s personal time-stream, met previous incarnations of him, saw him actually age on Trenzalore, and actually existed as different people with other experiences. The parallel was right there. Had there been some more organic character development, maybe Clara having always in some way been able to draw on the memories of her other selves — or echoes — or only been able to after “Name of The Doctor,” his transformation might have taken some getting used to, but she could have seen The Doctor she had always really known beyond appearances and mannerisms.
Unfortunately, again, in “Deep Breath” Madame Vastra seemed to all too correctly deduce that Clara pined for her lost young boyfriend.
Moffat might have you believe that this was never intended, and Peter Capaldi himself wanted to portray a character that wasn’t involved romantically with his Companion. But the groundwork had already been laid out. Between Clara’s previous “milady doth protest too much” claims that he wasn’t her boyfriend and The Doctor’s proclamations of “Clara, my Clara!” that romantic bond already existed. It was there: or at least portrayed as such by the actors. So this subtext was either retconned away, the Eleventh Doctor always thought of her as something of a fascinating object, or the Twelfth Doctor’s feelings had changed and this — again — wasn’t really explored.
In addition, I think the show writers began to realize that once they revealed the true nature of Clara’s existence and pretty much eliminated that mystique, they now had to do some actual character development beyond its suspension in the 50th Anniversary and Christmas Specials.
All right. So the dynamic changes. Moffat and his crew decide, at this point, to give Clara more of a life outside of The Doctor. They began it when they gave her a job as a schoolteacher in “Day of The Doctor”: which is a natural extension of her work with children as a nanny. And she even gets a love interest in the form of Danny Pink. None of these things negate her relationship with The Doctor either. She has her time-travelling interest in The Doctor and her romantic arrangement with Danny while also having her own career where she actually learns how to take responsibility for her own actions, and realize that her students depend on her.
But of course, because of all this, Clara suddenly develops a potent case of shallowness and insensitivity. When she isn’t taking pot-shots at Danny’s military past, or constantly brushing him off to go sailing into the stars, she never even bothered to tell The Doctor about Danny, or wondered if this might actually change something in their dynamic. She becomes abrasive and rude when she’s not being outright entitled or completely self-righteous about Danny calling her on her behaviour, or The Doctor not acting the way she wants him to act.
Because, you know, apparently it would taken too much time and effort to show Clara struggling between these relationships, thinking about others, and actually having some honesty occur: where she, Danny, and The Doctor actually talk about what is going on. Moffat could have worked with this tension and conflict. Remember “Kill the Moon” where Clara delivered what was probably hoped to be an epic verbal beat down on The Doctor’s behaviour complete with the threat of actual physical harm?
Remember how before that, when The Doctor left her to decide what happened to the creature in the moon and it just seemed as though, after all of Clara and the other characters’ arguing with him, that he just got fed up with it all?
They could have talked about that because, from what I saw, that conflict was partially due to the fact that Danny Pink was brought into their relationship without Clara really talking about it with The Doctor, or asking him how he felt about that. Instead, The Doctor is portrayed as genuinely not understanding why Clara is so upset: and not being affected by this one way or another. It just feels disingenuous: because there is what Moffat and his team want to happen, and then there are the places where the character dynamic wants to go, or at least adapt itself into going.
And that would have happened if we saw Clara and Danny actually befriending each other and get to know one another. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be conflict, but a sense of chemistry instead of that forced feeling of Danny being added onto Clara so that we, the audience, would know that she is “over” The Doctor.
Then we have Clara’s lies and hypocrisy. She lies to Danny about who The Doctor is, then she lies to The Doctor about Danny supposedly being all right with their travelling after she tells Danny that they are done. And even though The Doctor is “a part of the Earth” and Clara seems to think she has the power to tell him to leave it, when he quotes her words right back at her “In The Forest of The Night,” apparently this doesn’t take away from the fact that she still thinks he should leave to save himself: because those words only seem to work when Clara wants them to do so.
But, for me, I think the death-knell came with “Dark Water.” You know the sequence: where, instead of asking for The Doctor’s help, she decides to betray him and force him to help her by threatening his age-old home to get a man back, whom apparently she is love with and “is the only person she will ever love” …
Steven Moffat has stated that, in this iteration of The Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship — as journeying with a time-traveller, that there should be actual consequences in doing so. Yet what consequences did Clara suffer as a result of her actions: especially in “Dark Water?” The Doctor kicked people out of his TARDIS for less than what she did in that episode. And barring that: The Doctor is Clara’s friend. She was there in all parts of his life. In fact, the only episode that I truly respected her in this iteration was “Listen” where she was there at both Danny and The Doctor’s very beginnings and provided them insight, inspiration, and strength while, in turn, she gained a whole other understanding of them. You know: character-development … or so it seemed at the time.
So why, realistically speaking, could Clara fall in love with a man she clearly doesn’t respect and then suddenly betray her best friend and threaten everything that made him who he is?
And even here, there was promise. We saw that Clara was part of Missy’s plan: that Missy had brought her and The Doctor together from the very beginning. Hell, we even saw that nice snippet from “Death in Heaven” where Clara tells a a Cyberman that “Clara Oswald doesn’t exist.”
But nothing happened with that, aside from it going to an extremely obnoxious and derpy place that doesn’t even convince a basic Cyberman.
It’s just like Moffat teasing that Orson Pink, the time traveller in “Listen” was just from a branch of the Pink family and not necessarily Danny and Clara’s descendant. Both have tension built up and both end with equally disappointing conclusions.
All of this is just downright frustrating to watch and I have to admit that while I was losing patience with Clara after “Kill the Moon” I lost all respect for the character after “Dark Water”: and the fact that she seemed to have learned nothing from her actions and that even after that she continued to bully The Doctor into other decisions.
Clara and her character dynamic has become more convoluted than any “Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly stuff” and I can sympathize with just why some Classic Doctor Who fans cannot stand the romance written into the program. In fact, I think it’s no coincidence that Steven Moffat, the very writer that created the “Timey wimey” idea of time-travel to explain away all temporal inconsistencies, would apply this same philosophy to character creation and relationships in his own run.
But, ironically, with time and patience we could have seen a very different Clara Oswald. As I said before, the ingredients were all there. The Doctor could have met her in more timelines. He might have tracked her down to 2013 where she was in a mental institution after being overwhelmed by all of her other memories. Perhaps he takes her out of there and, together, they explore how she can integrate those memories and just how this was all possible. Maybe The Doctor could have actually been Clara’s boyfriend because heaven forfend that he have a different relationship with a new Companion. Imagine how the rest of those events could have played out: with River Song wanting her husband to actually be happy and live on, and the impact of Clara saving The Doctor — again — by using her own sense of agency to jump into his time-stream without those very unfortunate words.
Or maybe Missy created Clara. I mean: just how did Missy know about Clara to begin with? Perhaps Victorian Clara died and Missy took her essence in the Nethersphere and used her hypnotic powers, which are canon, to re-engineer her into a new personality that would be The Doctor’s worst enemy. After all, Missy seemed to like violating the human dead for her ends. I mean, imagine The Doctor travels with Clara for all that time and even thinks he’s figured out how she existed in other times, only for her to betray him and claim that she had been Missy’s agent the entire time? It might have explained why the TARDIS was so dead set against her being there.
And just think of one sequence, modelled after the minisode “Clara and The TARDIS” where the TARDIS forces Clara to see all the echoes of herself: her past selves at different emotional points, her molten undead selves from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and even her iterations in other timelines to seemingly hurt her and protect her Doctor, but also to snap her out of that malignant, treacherous self and get her to accept those parts of herself, and take control of her own life.
Perhaps Clara dies to save The Doctor and every time he goes to another timeline or world he has to be reminded of the fact that he will never see her again. But if you don’t want to go all potentially Women in Refrigerators on this, maybe she just leaves after finishing her own A Game of You: discovering her own sense of identity separate from The Doctor and both her and him realizing that he is not the person she fell in love with any more and she has to move on.
At the very least, when she betrayed the Twelfth Doctor he should have helped her get Danny back while telling her that there was a price for her actions: namely, never being allowed to travel with him again.
When I first started thinking about all this, I thought that Clara Oswald shouldn’t have been the Twelfth Doctor’s Companion. If anything, she felt like more a part of Eleven’s life and could have fit into that dynamic a lot more efficiently. But after a conversation with a friend of mine, I saw that she was just a reflection of both incarnations of The Doctor. Eleven’s Clara represented all of his wonder and his need for her. Twelve’s Clara is all the former in addition to his angst, conflict, and uncertainty magnified a thousand-fold: the ephemeral breath on Virginia Woolf’s mirror instead of the refracted crystal of herself that she could have been.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that Clara Oswald’s main problem is the fact that she just isn’t written well. There were so many storytelling and character-driven possibilities that just weren’t even explored. The attempts to develop her character have been awkward and jarring to say the least and just thinking about some of her more lucid moments and what could have been just makes the experience all the more painful.
I will admit: when I heard that “Last Christmas” might be Clara’s last show, I felt a tremendous sense of relief: even as I feel some dread that due to rumours about Jenna Coleman wanting to return, she will be back. Despite some particularly touching moments, the character of Clara has gone from being a sonic screwdriver supplement to an attempt at a haphazard marionette portrayal of an actual human being.
It’s just sad. Clara started off with a lot of potential but it became clear that no one really knew what to do with her. Clara Oswin Oswald deserved much better than what she got, and I hope that Steven Moffat gives her at least the dignity of “Last Christmas” being her final adventure and letting us, and The Doctor, remember what could have been and finally move on.
Writer and director Nick Szostakiwskyj plays the long game in his horror film Black Mountain Side.
It begins, and ends, in the northern most part of the Taiga Cordillera: a place situated on the border between the Yukon and the North West Territories. Only a few hundred people live in the area, its summers are short and cool, and its winters are quite long. In the film itself, there is a lot of wilderness, the considerable presence of forests, mountains, and silence. Certainly the trope of Canada being a large and wide open icy terrain is not lost in this film.
Black Mountain Side‘s story focuses on a team of archaeologists at a site in the Cordillera. The snow and wide expanse of their surroundings always seems to threaten swallowing them up along with their small outpost. Nature is not their friend. It is a patient Other: an enemy that slowly whittles away any warmth, or light that they can get. Even so, there are marks of human inhabitation that even the territory can’t completely erase.
This is the puzzle that Szostakiwskyj initially poses: how can an ancient and long established structure with what seem to be very southern Mesoamerican symbols exist buried in the earth and snow of the far north? How can architecture dating from the Ice Age even exist? These are academic questions that become tinged with anxiety, paranoia, then outright fear, and blood.
This structure, which the team never succeeds in unearthing completely, is far from home if it is Mesoamerican. Even the local workers that the team utilize seem to be the aboriginal Dogrib: from the Dene First Nations. Yet this is only a supposition, however, as one of the archaeologists points out that these workers, employed from an arrangement with their band council, speak the language of Dogrib. Certainly, it may be this people, or their ancestors, that created the marker stones around that area to keep it in memory: though the fact that it may indicate a hunting ground for deer speaks volumes later on in the film.
In fact, the ground is a space that screams isolation so loudly that there is almost absolute quiet. As the site’s communications with other outposts ceases, as sickness spreads, and tensions crystallize into infighting and fracture into a voice that isn’t there and murder there is no soundtrack. Black Mountain Side, for a film that coincidentally shares a title with an instrumental piece, has no music. Instead, it is a movie that eats chronology, the days and months that the archaeological team degenerates from playing cards together into fear and horror, and the sounds of their deaths and the ending of their selves.
There have been a few other reviews on this film. Some compare it to John Carpenter’s The Thing or even H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness. I would even say that the film is mildly reminiscent of a 2010 movie called The Corridor: where a group of friends go up to a cabin and become exposed to some force that changes them and drives them murderously insane. Certainly, the scenes in Black Mountain Side with one of the archaeologists have something squirming in his skin, the revelation of a structure that may have existed before human civilization, and even the team doctor’s diagnosis that some of the crew has been infected with a cephalopod-like organism definitely leans towards Carpenter and Lovecraft before him.
In fact, the gruesome apparition of the deer god that the latter survivors of the team keep seeing and hearing — what with his comments on the cosmos and actually looking at reality — definitely harken back to a kind of Lovecraftian cosmicism: in which the universe is inherently meaningless and filled only with malignant and indifferent entities of considerable power in which human beings are but small insects by comparison.
But it’s also possible that Black Mountain Side is another kind of story: and it is in what it doesn’t say, or say entirely, that might determine just what kind of horror film this really is. For example, the viewer never really knows if anything the archaeological crew is seeing is actually empirically true. Perhaps the structure they are excavating released an ancient disease. Maybe it is a larger and more complex version of the stone markers warning others in the area of malevolent spirits or forces. The structure might even be a tomb containing a vast evil. Or maybe there are technological problems and the crew are truly mass-hallucinating from a possible lack of sustenance and extreme isolation.
Yet there are other elements at play here that is hard to put a finger on. It’s notable that everyone in the archaeological team is male. It kind of makes me, as a viewer, wonder just why that is the case. Certainly older films and stories often had an all-male cast (such as At The Mountains Of Madness), though sometimes this works against the characters in this movie: as they are a little harder to relate to beyond basic empathy and it’s easy to lose track of who they are. It’s also notable that there is only one non-Caucasian member of the crew as well — a Black man — who ends up going on a shooting spree towards the end of the film (though, granted, two other team members go berserk long before he does). As paranoia takes him, he doesn’t trust the leader of the group and says he has seen his “sociopathic kind” before. This could be seen as him distrusting a certain personality-type under duress, but it is worth further thought. And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that the team makes a point of stating that their aboriginal workers are “superstitious” and immediately come to the conclusion that they ran away from the site due to those beliefs.
There is something really compelling about looking at what happens to the protagonists of Black Mountain Side as a distorted view of their own innate, or unconscious, cultural assumptions: from a possible post-colonial perspective. Certainly, it’s no new idea that the niceties of social morality and behaviour fall away from isolation and a real fear of starvation, a lack of shelter and safety, and imminent sickness to reveal the unspoken human ugliness underneath. And this is where the blatantly Lovecraftian branches out into something deeper in the darkness of the human psyche.
It’s the figure of the deer god that really gets me. When I first saw it, I had to know if there was some kind of basis for it in aboriginal, or First Nations, mythology. I looked into any Dogrib and Dene stories on hand but there was nothing on a deer god. However, deer do have some mythological significances that span beyond North America. For instance, some deer are seen as guardians of the earth while others represent learning and wisdom. Certainly with regards to a Native American connotation, the way that the film’s protagonists encounter the deer god –with its voice sounding like a Nazgul or Sauron himself — is reminiscent of a waking vision or spirit quest gone horribly wrong.
The deer god seems to offer wisdom, but only encourages maiming and murder: senseless trauma without enlightenment. It derides its victims’ expectations of it offering them knowledge or understanding. It seems to hint upon the fact that it is older than humankind and everywhere. It challenges and ruthlessly takes apart what they think they know about other cultures, their empirical subject matter and, indeed, their own perceptions of the world. It’s a subversion of what others might think a spirit animal or totem should be, or indeed the idea of some Great Spirit that is inherently benevolent. If anything, the deer god seems to be a human understanding of the land and how it is killing the protagonists. This deer hunts humans.
And even then, the film follows the tradition of not completely revealing or explaining the nature of the monster in that it is ambiguous as to whether or not this entity really exists, if it’s being hallucinated, or if — indeed — it is the real horror of this situation. Certainly, you could argue that the real terror is Black Mountain Side‘s possible critique of Western cultural values, concepts of race, science, and even a sense of reality.
In any case, when the last survivor gets caught by a 1930s bear-trap while fleeing for help, the atmosphere comes full circle. The environment, which is slowly eroding away their senses of self, wins as the last man realizes he’s trapped and lies in the snow, in silence, giving into oblivion. The lack of music, when the credits start rolling, is poignant. At the beginning of this review, I said that this film was a long game, but perhaps it is more of a slow burn or the slow encroachment of frost bite: of a terror and pain that ultimately turns into numbness and falls off into the darkness. Sometimes that is a limb, or piece of one’s sanity, or even one’s own soul. Snow covers all traces of human traps and tracks.
And in Black Mountain Side, only the silence is left to claim anything.
It’s been a few months since My So-Called Secret Identity‘s Kickstarter got funded and while the shipping of the physical Volume One has been delayed, backers have already received their digital copy. Now having my own copy and finally getting to read Issue #5 that resolves the story arc’s cliffhanger, I am going to review My So-Called Secret Identity.
My So-Called Secret Identity, a comic written by Will Brooker and drawn by Sarah Zaidan and Susan Shore, is a story that requires some attention to detail. It utilizes the aesthetics and tropes of the superhero genre and even possesses some characters that, on the surface, appear to be DC comics analogues.
The comic’s storyline takes place in Gloria City, perhaps an alternate version of New York City, where the Major and the seemingly super-powered Fleet fight to maintain order and security, while the black-garbed Urbanite and his side-kick Misper combat the twisted designs of Carnival. Meanwhile the feline Sekhmet steals items and Doll’s Eyes preys upon the hapless citizens of Gloria: leaving her signature flora calling cards.
But, as the protagonist Cat Abigail Daniels observes, it is all a front: all part of “the theater.”
The Major, who is also the Mayor of Gloria City — seemingly a combination of Superman and Captain America — maintains his power by fighting against the chaos of villainy with empty political slogans and promises. Urbanite is more extreme in some ways. As a parody of Batman’s vigilante justice, he terrorizes both citizens and criminals alike with contradictory rhetoric and ham-fisted violence: never understanding or never wanting to understand that he is just a tool in maintaining the political status quo set in Gloria between the Major and Carnival: the latter of whom seeming to be a wannabe worn-down Joker game show host. Kyla Flyte is a stereotypical blonde, beautiful, and sparkling superhero who seems to spend more time preening, conducting family business, and signing photographs than doing anything to help anyone.
And what’s truly awful is that in the midst of all the combat these heroes, villains, and anti-heroes it’s innocent civilians and properties that truly get caught in the crossfire. In the world that Will Brooker sets up for us, it seems as though both super-heroism and villainy are past times that belong to the rich and popular while very few ever care about the lives of those who they ruin in their play.
Of course, even this layer of “the theater” is not what it seems. Certainly it would be all too easy for Brooker to follow the examples of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Garth Ennis’ The Boys: in showing us how superheroes would realistically not work.
Through Cat, a young literature and philosophy student who is tired of watching her city suffer, we see the fulfilment and promise of a different perspective. This is a woman who values her friendships, who calls people on their bullshit but who is perfectly capable of seeing the good and forgiving the bad. She isn’t particularly athletic, or rich, or possess any superhuman capabilities. But as Brooker and his team like to state:
Smart is a superpower.
It isn’t so much that Cat even has an eidetic memory. She actually does have to use memory aids to help her piece together names, events, backgrounds, and places in order to attempt to solve a crime. Even though it’s derived from the profiling that her policeman father might have passed on, along with the art of scrap-booking, Cat creates mnemonic devices known as MindMaps: collages that help her process information and reflect how her mind makes connections. Did I also mention that Cat is an excellent multitasker and can solve some problems as she is processing others?
Cat has also faced discrimination because she is a young woman and she is, in her own words, “Goddamned smart.” She has been mistaken for being a secretary, an academic cheater, and “just a young girl.” Just a girl. It’s at this point that she decides to enter “the theater” and definitely shake some things up.
Book One of My So-Called Secret Identity is divided into five parts. The first part, or issue, sets the scene of present-day Gloria City and Cat attempting to navigate through it. We get introduced to her friends and some of the main heroes. In Issue #2 “Love Lives!” Cat examines the “open secrets” of secret identities, gets a costume made for her by her friends Kit and Kat, encounters the brutality and cluelessness of Urbanite and infiltrates the latter’s mansion while in Issue #3 “Nine Lives!” Cat tries to talk to Sekhmet and by Issue #4 she, unfortunately, encounters the “Big Bad” Carnival. Finally, in Issue #5 “Second Life!” Cat deals with the aftermath of her decisions and sees a multitude of possibilities.
There were so many ways that Brooker could have taken this story: so many tropes into which it might have accidentally fallen. The setting keeps you on your toes. It makes you read and observe closely. If you are good enough, you can actually find “Easter eggs” and predict some revelations in the story. Also, if you are a veteran comics reader you might recognize not only the obvious heroes and villains, but also some of the influences behind Cat and her friends. The fact is, like Alan Moore and what he did with his Charlton Comics analogues in Watchmen, Brooker has some DC analogues as well: and like Moore’s, his become their own people while — unlike Moore — they deal with issues in an entirely different way.
For instance, just as Cat was a Barbara Gordon analogue she confronts her own casual mistreatment as a woman in a patriarchal society over-focusing on class by entering into “the theater” on her terms: to actually create change as opposed to feeding into the system. Her entrance into “the theater” is a dangerous one: and not just because of the very real threat of physical harm. Certainly, the hearkening back to Gail Simone’s Women In Refrigerators trope — of the death and crippling of female characters as targeted loved ones triggering the plot in general — is all too present: and it is more of a danger that Brooker himself, as the writer of this series, luckily manages to avoid on at least two counts. He does mention it being a very real possibility in the comics universe of Gloria City.
Also, it’s usually unfortunate to be a side-kick in this world as well.
But there are two other factors to consider as well. First, the trope of gaslighting. On at least one occasion Urbanite threatens to “silence” Cat and Enrique even warns her that Urbanite would put her in Bedlam, that world’s Arkham Asylum, just to be rid of her. Not only does Brooker deal with the concept of women’s freedom being curtailed by the symbol of an authoritarian regime, but in putting Cat in a mental institution he is labelling her behaviour — her need as a woman and as human being to help others — as “crazy” and it has the potential to make her question herself. Certainly, much to my disappointment with regards to good villainy and relief on Cat’s behalf, it is a good thing that Carnival didn’t see the uses of gaslighting: as that may be Cat’s few potential weaknesses.
Hopefully we will not see a villain named Gaslight in the near-future: though hopefully Cat should have a good support base at this point to deal with that and keep her from going at this alone.
Of course, there is the other problem: of perpetuating the system. Cat is attempting to play in the same “theater” as all those other heroes. Certainly her falling into the Refrigerator could be part of maintaining this flawed system of control and death, but celebrity status — the bane of all the heroes and villains involved — could be the subversive force that might undermine Cat’s own resolve in a different way. Just look at Kyla Flyte for instance, or even Connie Carmichael — Sekhmet — to a somewhat lesser extent. In a way this is also Brooker’s challenge as well as Cat’s: to make sure she doesn’t become merely a symbol, a rebellious force co-opted into another old guard, or a seemingly “exoticized” element that only props up the system.
However, at the moment Cat seems to bring something else into all of this: namely the Do It Yourself indie attitudes, with some influence of geek cosplaying love, of creating your own costumes and trading favours — interacting through a gift economy associated by some scholars with female fandom — with friends to support herself. Perhaps this will catch on in later Books and, certainly, even Issue #5 mentions that there are already lower income heroes. Maybe this will be an impetus for change.
This same subversive mentality is used to examine other issues in My So-Called Secret Identity as well. For instance, we see that even Cat cannot speak for all experiences: and she is honest about this. Her look at the racism that Connie Carmichael has to deal with as a person of colour in addition to being a woman potentially in contention with other women — that motivated her in a large to become Sekhmet — is very intersectional and it shows that even though she might be aware of it, she even knows it is outside of her personal experience.
There is also the fact that The Major and Urbanite, as well as Carnival are two sides of the same coin. The Major and Urbanite police the citizens of Gloria City into accepting their patriarchal rule, even if they do have good intentions. Urbanite himself violates Cat’s personal space, rough-handles her and threatens her even while downplaying her concerns and actions: making her vulnerable to the violent misogyny of Carnival. And somehow, it’s even worse that someone like Urbanite believes — or wants to believe — that he is doing the right thing. You have here an authoritative system that punishes but also perpetuates with violence. When what happens to Cat seems to become public, this might force the citizens of Gloria to truly look at this issue and I wonder if this will indeed play a role in the next Book.
My So-Called Secret Identity attempts to place homosexuality as part of a norm in this world — through perhaps Kit and Kay’s relationship — and even seems to have an alternate version of Cat who is transgender. Dahlia Forrester, who is actually a superhero in hiding named Ultra Violet and an analogue of Black Orchid, even tells Cat that she tried to “pass” and it only perpetuated the system. I like that there is a Black Orchid analogue: as Neil Gaiman’s iteration of her deconstructed superhero expectations of violence in a very clever and meaningful way.
And Will Brooker manages to combine all of these elements with the premise of a world that had superheroes since 1945: not unlike the superhero comics history timeline of our world. I do wonder, though, if it might not have happened as early as 1938.
Quips aside, I do think that some sequences were fast-forwarded a little too quickly. I would have liked to see the evolution of Cat’s relationship with her friends and perhaps more about the world. Certainly, I would have liked to see an actual conversation between Connie and Cat take place during Issue # 5: because obviously they came to some kind of agreement after Cat’s horrific experience. But this one criticism is minor considering how all five issues of Book One fit incredibly well together.
I especially like how Will Brooker presented the alternate timelines in Issue #5, how he so casually introduces real superpower into the world without being as blatant as making a Superman or a Doctor Manhattan (the Deleted Scene included in the Book, however, would have revealed this aspect earlier on through more than just talk and it’s just as well it got excised), and how, despite the fact that I strongly suspect Carnival did more to Cat than leave that scar on her face, he didn’t give into the spectacle of violence or turn her into another Oracle while, at the same time, Brooker narrowly escapes making Cat a Mary Sue for which little bad can occur: exposing her to the realities of her world and its physical and emotional consequences. He lets her play out the role she sought and, upon risk of making light of went through which is not my intention, Cat wears her scar and her newer costume well.
There are some questions I’m left with however. Is Cat’s father still alive at the end or was it just part of a mess of truths and hallucinations? What happened between them seven years ago? How did Enrique initially join Urbanite? And is there importance to the Wallace Twins newspaper clipping in this entire story?
I really want to find out what happens next and, perhaps if I further train my superpower, I might be able to get more details from the comics issues that I have. Be on the look out for My So-Called Secret Identity, my friends. It is clever, poignant, it has some subtle social commentary intermixed with a fascinating plot, and it’s like looking at old friends in an entirely new way. Some of them might be a little more uncomfortable to be around, or more pitiable, in other cases a whole lot more bad-ass.
And some, in another persona, another guise, may well finally get to be themselves.
What is a preview to a seasoned time traveller, or Whovian, but an eye-blink in the future before a Weeping Angel temporarily sends you on your way? In this case, Christmas came early yesterday as BBC One made good on its promise and delivered a preview of the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special.
For someone who once knew Father Christmas to the point of calling him Jeff (whether or not this was a Time Lord joke or not is another matter entirely), The Doctor does not seem pleased to meet Santa Claus this time around. In fact, Clara herself doesn’t really look like a regular old bouncing ball of wonder when Santa and his elves are meeting her on a rooftop: for some reason.
I like how the story gets turned around: how parents giving their gifts to their children in lieu of Santa is the real story while Santa — whoever or whatever he is — seems to be the reality. It’s a pretty clever twist: especially when you consider how eerie it must feel for Clara when the elves are detailing elements of her childhood that only she would know, and Santa in particular asks an uncomfortable question.
I have to say that right now in this preview they look anything but friendly: sort of like a mask of innocence worn by a hint of menace. And there is one more thing to remember: Santa may generally be considered a benevolent figure, but does keep a list — which he checks twice — of who is naughty, and who is nice.
And, of course, there is the Krampus part of the Santa story that generally gets left out nowadays: much in the way that most fairytales — most ancient folktales — have become sanitized.
I’ll just leave you with that thought. Think of it as an early Christmas present.
Not me and probably not countless other Whovians either. According to Michelle Gomez, Missy will be returning to Doctor Who. Note: Missy won’t be returning in another incarnation or as The Master or another Mistress or in some of the weird forms that her previous incarnations in which her previous selves were forced to return.
It will be this Missy.
So, out of curiosity, how do you think she did it? Do you think that her brooch had something to do with her life being saved? Or perhaps one of the rings on her fingers? We know that this is how The Master survived after “Last of the Time Lords” and that one of The Master’s aliases back on Gallifrey, at least in some of the books, was Koschei: taken from the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless: a being who can’t die because his soul is held in an object somewhere else.
Or perhaps Missy sent an actual tactile hologram, or an android? Maybe it has something to do with the Nethersphere, which is supposedly running out of power and fading out of existence? Maybe Missy can convert herself into digital information. And let’s not forget that the Brigadier was using Cyberman technology that she, dare I say, upgraded herself. And we do know one thing about The Master: that when he was male, he certainly looked out for his own skin (and even looked for new skin in his failed regeneration) and if that well developed sense of self-preservation transferred over to Missy as it had so many other regenerations, she definitely has contingencies in place.
There are so many possibilities and, let’s face it, we’ve only just met Missy. There is so much that she can still do and having her as an ongoing nemesis, like she was back in the day, will only make Doctor Who stronger for it. I like the idea of Missy constantly hounding The Doctor. After all, there are still a few loose threads from the latter part of this series and the beginning of Doctor Twelve’s run.
The Doctor suspects that Missy has a TARDIS somewhere. But where or, chameleon-circuit withstanding, what is it? And who got The Doctor to go to the Oriental Express? Who created that politely malicious AI Gus? And did she write that classified ad for Clara and The Doctor back in “Deep Breath?” Were these part of Missy’s plans?
And let’s not forget another question. How did Missy survive? Yes, Gallifrey was saved but The Master’s DNA was destabilizing in a terrific way at “The End of Time.” Was there still enough of him and enough energy, which he had been expending much of, to regenerate properly? And how did Missy escape Gallifrey? Did she piggy-back transmat herself out when the Time Lords sent The Doctor a new regeneration cycle? Or go through the Gallifrey Falls No More painting?
Perhaps some of these answers will be revealed in the November 13th edition of Doctor Who Magazine but certainly, and in time, we will see what happens in the next season and just how Missy can outdo her own villainy this time around. I know I look forward to it.
There has been a lot of darkness, awkwardness, lies, uncertainty, and mayhem at the end of this season of Doctor Who. We’ve seen robots and balloons made of dead flesh, the insides of a Dalek, the monsters of the mind, a bank robbery, a rampaging weaponized alien robot, spider creatures and a creature hatching from the moon, an invisible mummy that attacks people in sixty-six seconds, and two-dimensional invaders manipulating our universe.
We’ve seen the loss of Danny Pink, who loved his young students, and Clara’s betrayal of The Doctor, and Missy. Just Missy.
So, you have to understand, after an arc with positively magical episodes that are few and far between (at least three of them), that when “Death In Heaven” ends on such a downer, that when Santa Claus decides to make an appearance (played by one Nick Frost and no, that is not a joke: that is really his name): who even says it shouldn’t end on this note and asks what The Doctor wants, you have to wonder where this is going.
This is not the first time Santa Claus has appeared in the Whoniverse. He has been in comics and stories and even got mentioned by the Eleventh Doctor as being called Jeff in “A Christmas Carol.”
And now: here he seems to be in an actual episode.
There seem to be some pretty unfriendly and grotesque-looking creatures in the North Pole. If those are how elves are born, I don’t think I really wanted to know. Or maybe they are of Krampus’ species. But I wonder if, like Robin Hood, this really is Santa. Maybe he is an Eternal or some other immortal being. Verity Lambert once compared The Doctor to Father Christmas.
Perhaps, now, he needs someone to bring him the joy more than ever.
The Doctor and Santa Claus will be appearing this December for the Doctor Who Christmas Special.
Please, don’t read past this point if you haven’t seen this season’s finale of Doctor Who. It’d be something of an understatement to say that there will be spoilers.
I have to say that I think Missy, aside from this incarnation of The Doctor, has been my favourite character in this latest iteration so far. In fact, she is an excellent villain. Don’t misunderstand: I like the sinister, urbane, and hammy tones of Roger Delgado’s Master and the sheer bat-shit zany madness of John Simm’s Master but Michelle Gomez’s Missy manages to take those elements and make them understated and subtle with moments of vicious crazy as punctuation while conveying the Time Lady’s insanity in an overarching and truly horrifying scope.
I mean: what could be worse than decimating one-tenth of the human population and playing pop culture songs while making the survivors suffer in labour camps? Or duplicating one’s self to overwrite the DNA of an entire sentient species? How could anyone top that?
Well, try manipulating the fears of the rich and powerful into giving you their bodies, converting them into new forms of Cybermen, then going back in time and creating a concept of an afterlife (or manipulating existing ones) for an entire species so that you can store all of their consciousnesses onto a Gallifreyan hard-drive and then make a cloud substance — presumably composed of nano-technology — and resurrect all of that species’ dead as Cybermen.
And why? Why would you violate an entire species’ lives and even their deaths? Why would you manipulate your enemy into having a Companion that you can exploit as a weakness on a purely psychological level — to play on his compassion — kill some of his friends, and then turn over the army you made to him?
It’s very simple why Missy did all of that. She wanted to show The Doctor that they weren’t that dissimilar. She wanted his validation, his friendship, and even his love. This warped way of showing that love is to unleash as much pain on The Doctor as possible and even after Missy’s supposed “death” (and we have yet to see concrete evidence that she’s actually dead: meaning that given who she is, she probably isn’t) and that hearts-wrenching moment where The Doctor realizes she lied about Gallifrey being at those coordinates is all a part of that.
And I hope Missy isn’t dead because of the wasted opportunity that would be. After all, The Doctor did mention that she must have a TARDIS somewhere.
I like this character, this new incarnation of the being that used to be The Master, because she actually makes The Doctor more human again: bring him out of his cold and detached, even grumpy exterior and seeing him display the emotion of empathy more blatantly again. And the interplay of love, hate, and fear between them just really adds something to the show that has been lacking for a while.
I have to say: I’m still not very impressed with Clara. Her attempt to pretend to be The Doctor was rather underwhelming in itself: although it’s a nice teaser of The Doctor one day becoming a woman … as if Missy weren’t enough on her own for that. Seriously, I like the idea of Time Lords — or Gallifreyans — being able to change sex. There are just so many storytelling possibilities in that if handled right.
But that aside, Clara is just lacklustre and, if anything, it’s Danny’s transformation into a Cyberman that really hits home: and how he takes that and transforms what could have been a psychological mercy killing into something of salvation and personal redemption.
And, at the end, when you see The Brigadier … well, I would just love to see him become a Cyberman vigilante: protecting the Earth when The Doctor is away. After all, after saving his daughter and seemingly killing Missy, we never saw him self-destruct like the others. And oh man: he waited ages to shoot the being who was once The Master.
The episode almost ends much the way that Clara has been acting for most of this latter season: and The Doctor, arguably, has most of his life. Clara pretends that Danny has returned and The Doctor pretends that he found Gallifrey so that she can stay on Earth. To be honest: as a character I saw so much potential with, I was almost relieved that he didn’t want Clara to come with him. I think it’s time that this — whatever it is that Moffat has been trying to make — with Clara and The Doctor is over. Maybe he can actually go and search for Gallifrey now.
But I guess we’ll see what Santa Claus has to say about that. And so ends this recap of Doctor Who until Christmas. It’s been fun writing these up and I look forward to the next one. Travel well, fellow Whovians.