Doctor Whosday – S12E10 “The Timeless Children”

The Doctor finds out that her entire past is predicated on a lie.

SUMMARY

The Master (Sacha Dhawan) brings the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to Gallifrey where he forces her into the Matrix, the computer that holds all of the knowledge of the Time Lords. He reveals that he was hacking it when he discovered a hidden cache of information. It turns out that Gallifrey was once home to the native Shobogans. Tecteun (Seylan Baxter), a Shobogan astronaut, discovered a child that was capable of regenerating infinitely. Tecteun figured out how to copy the child’s ability and applied it to all of the Shobogans, making them the Time Lords. Tecteun limited the Time Lord’s ability to regenerate, but the “timeless child” can regenerate forever. The Master reveals that the Doctor is actually the timeless child, but that the Time Lords kept erasing her memory. The Doctor, as the child, was inducted into a clandestine Time Lord organization called the Division, but even the Master doesn’t know what it did. 

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This somehow feels kind of Logan’s Run-y to me.

The Master shrinks Ashad (Patrick O’Kane), allowing him to steal the Cyberium and combine the Time Lord genes with the Cybermen, creating a race of immortal “Cyberlords.” The Master plans to use these to take over the universe. The Doctor manages to escape the Matrix by showing it all of her memories to overload it just as Ryan, Graham, and Yaz (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill) arrive with Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney), Ravio (Julie Graham), and Yedlarmi (Alex Austin). 

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The headpieces are really unnecessary, man.

The Doctor discovers that the shrunken Ashad was in possession of the “Death Particle,” a weapon that destroys all organic life on a planet, held as a weapon for the last Cybermen. The Doctor sends all of the survivors away so she can detonate the particle, but finds herself unable to do so. Ko Sharmus appears and detonates the particle as penance for his failings, while the Doctor escapes. She makes it back to her TARDIS on Earth, just in time for her to be imprisoned by the Judoon. 

END SUMMARY

So, the season comes to an end and, true to the promise, this episode delivered a revelation that changed the entire history of Doctor Who. It turns out that there aren’t just 13 Doctors, a War Doctor, and a Ruth, but that there are, in fact, probably an enormous number of incarnations of the Doctor throughout time and space. While this might seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, the episode actually makes reference to this being proposed in a much earlier episode. 44 years earlier, in fact. In the Fourth Doctor serial “The Brain of Morbius,” a machine hooked into the Doctor’s brain shows the past regenerations of the Doctor and then a host of other faces. The intention of the scene at the time had been to show a number of surprise previous incarnations of the Doctor. Later, when the twelve regeneration limit was imposed, the writers ignored the faces. In this episode, we see all of these faces again, revealing that they were, in fact, previous faces of the Doctor. So, this episode really just confirms something that the show was supposed to tell us years ago.

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Trippy, but… I mean, it was the 70s. 

I definitely enjoyed the idea of the Master once again trying to create and command an army of Cybermen, but it makes a lot of sense for him to try to use the Time Lords as the basis for them in order to make the Cybermen unbeatable. Sacha Dhawan’s version of the Master is interesting, because he represents a combination of the technology of the earlier incarnations of the master, the humor of the John Simm version of the Master, and the cruel insanity of Missy. I mean, he committed Time Lord genocide… somehow. However, I will say that this episode suffers from a pointless Deus Ex Machina in the form of the Death Particle. It’s literally the exact weapon needed at the exact time it’s needed. The Master leaves it for the Doctor as a test of her principles, but it’s insane that Ashad just had it in the first place but didn’t bring it up previously. It’s even more frustrating because he could just have mentioned it WHEN HE THREATENED TO DESTROY THE EARTH TWO EPISODES AGO. 

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And he was too good of a villain to go down that easily. One button push by the Master? That’s it?

Still, while there definitely have been better season finales and the showrunners still have trouble with sincere emotional moments, it was a pretty good cap to the season.

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Doctor Whosday – S12 E9 “Ascension of the Cybermen”

In the first part of this season’s finale, the Doctor is trying to save the last vestiges of humanity.

SUMMARY

In the future, humanity has been mostly wiped out in the Milky Way by the Cybermen. However, the Cybermen have taken massive losses as well. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) arrives in the future just as Ashad (Patrick O’Kane) brings his dwindling forces to attack the last humans. Some of the humans are killed by “cyberdrones” after the Doctor’s anti-Cyberman devices fail, but the Doctor orders the Tardis Trio [Graham, Yaz, and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole)] to save the remaining survivors. Ryan and a human named Ethan (Matt Carver) escape with the Doctor on a Cyberman ship while Yaz and Graham escape with the other humans, Yedlarmi, Ravio, and Bescot (Alex Austin, Julie Graham, Rhiannon Clements).

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Has time travel, still doesn’t have enough time to set up a trap.

Yaz’s and Graham’s group find themselves in a former Cyberman battlefield and board an abandoned Cyberman carrier ship. They try to take the ship to “Ko Sharmus,” a haven where humans can find a portal to a safe place where Cybermen can’t follow. Unfortunately, they also discover that the ship is filled with Cyberwarriors which are currently dormant. Ashad arrives and starts to activate the dormant Cybermen. 

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It’s been a rough couple of centuries.

The Doctor’s team arrives at Ko Sharmus, who is revealed to be a person (Ian McElhinney) who monitors the portal to the haven. Ashad and the Cybermen start to move towards the control deck. Yaz manages to warn the Doctor about the small army of Cybermen inbound just as the portal opens, revealing Gallifrey. The Master (Sacha Dhawan) leaps through, proclaiming that everything is about to change forever.

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He’s so happy.

Throughout the episode, we watch the life of Brendan (Evan McCabe), who was found abandoned in Ireland in the early 20th century. He grows up to be a police officer who seemingly can’t die. At his retirement, he is met by two men who say they’re going to wipe his memory.

END SUMMARY

I see a lot of people taking shots at this episode for ending with such a blatant cliffhanger line. To that I ask “Have you watched Doctor Who?” I mean, that’s literally a tradition from the very beginning. I acknowledge that the line “everything is about to change forever” is super cliche, but that’s really in line with Doctor Who.

Like the double fakeout with Amy Pond that season?

The Doctor really seems to kind of be at her breaking point throughout this episode, being much more direct, less expositional, and colder towards others. As much as I have appreciated the positivity of the current Doctor’s demeanor and her willingness to try to hold fast to hope, it was good to see her have to deal with a very dire situation and be serious. Part of what makes the Doctor such a great character is that he or she is always smiling through a deep pain and feeling of loss. This season the Doctor has lost a ton, but this episode finally gives us a real idea of how much it’s been eating at her. 

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She seems to not give a damn at this point and I like it.

It’s interesting to contemplate how the Cybermen benefit from eliminating the remainder of humanity. The Cybermen have, historically, only come into being from the bodies of dead humans and we haven’t seen them attempt to breed more humans. Would they just convert the last 4 and try to take over all of the alien species? Because most of the species aside from humans are usually technologically or physically superior and humans apparently managed to kill most of the Cybermen. It’s unlikely to work out well for them. Since the Cybermen were a metaphor for communism (everyone is forced to be exactly the same), I feel like there’s a message there, but I can’t figure it out.

Overall, much of this episode is really writing a lot of checks that the next episode needs to cash. 

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Doctor Whosday – S12 E8 “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”

The Doctor and The Tardis Trio encounter Mary Shelley on a significant night.

SUMMARY

It’s 1816 and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Lewis Rainer), Lord Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy), Mary Shelley (Lili Miller), her sister Claire Clairmont (Nadia Parkes), and Byron’s physician Dr. John Polidori (Maxim Baldry) are at Byron’s vacation rental, Villa Diodati. There have been a number of storms this year due to it being the year without a Summer. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) shows up during such a storm along with Ryan, Graham, and Yaz (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, and Mandip Gill). After they arrive, Percy Bysshe Shelley goes missing and his room is covered in gibberish and strange symbols. Strange figures then appear throughout the house, the walls start moving, and dead body parts start moving on their own. 

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It’s no Ozymandias.

The Doctor realizes that these events are caused by a high-tech security system. She manages to prove it just as a figure starts to appear within the house, revealed to be a half-complete Cyberman (Patrick O’Kane). This appears to be the Lone Cyberman that Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) warned the Doctor about in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” but the Doctor chooses to stay and confront it. The Cyberman is revealed to be named Ashad and that he is hunting for the Cyberium, the substance that the security system is protecting. Ashad time traveled to the villa, but his power was drained. He uses the electrical storm to recharge himself, setting out to find the “guardian,” revealed to be Shelley.

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Either the first Modern Prometheus or possibly Galactus’s offspring.

The Doctor and the rest of the house find Shelley, who had found the Cyberium previously. The Cyberium is apparently the accumulated knowledge of the Cybermen. His gibberish was apparently calculations. Ashad threatens to kill Shelley, so the Doctor absorbs the Cyberium from him. Ashad then threatens to destroy Earth, so the Doctor gives him the Cyberium, despite Jack’s warning not to “give it what it wants.” The Doctor and the Tardis Trio depart, using Percy’s scrawlings to follow Ashad. The experience inspires the writing of Frankenstein.

END SUMMARY

Okay, this was a solid build up to the last two episodes. It continued the plotline of the Lone Cyberman started in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” while also being a classic “historical celebrity” episode, and the ending is the perfect antepenultimate cliffhanger. So, right now, the finale could well involve Cybermen, the Master, Doctor Ruth, and Jack Harkness. I know it probably won’t have all of those resolve in this series, but dang, that would be a ride. 

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Please come back to me, Jack.

This episode did a lot of things right that others in this season didn’t pull off well. First, the pacing was great. It had a cold open to set the atmosphere, the Doctor and crew arrive, then we’re slowly given more and more clues that something is very wrong here. The reveals of the secrets are given the proper amount of weight and reactions by the cast, which is something they have sorely lacked at this point this year. 

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They later put on a production of A Christmas Carol, I think.

The moments revealing the essences of the various characters, too, were well done, focusing more on showing us who they are rather than telling us. I particularly love the moments of Lord Byron trying first to seduce the Doctor with his confidence, only to hide behind Claire when he thinks he’s in danger. While Lord Byron’s behavior (he was typically not considered a coward), as well as Claire’s response to it, don’t correspond with their historical personas (she was pregnant with his child at this point and didn’t seem to hate him until after she gave birth), the changes made the episode more interesting. 

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Also, the moment of the Doctor claiming the Cyberium was pretty awesome.

I also loved that, at the end of the episode, there were still more mysteries, including whether or not Graham saw an actual ghost. It really fit the Gothic theme. Overall, just a solid episode to set up for what I hope will be an explosive finale. 

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Doctor Whosday – S12E7 “Can You Hear Me?”

The Doctor deals with a rash of nightmares across time and space.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) drops her companions off at their homes so they can see their friends and family, but then receives a distress call from 1380 in Aleppo, Syria. A man (Ian Gelder) appears in the TARDIS and then disappears, unobserved by her. The Doctor arrives in Syria and meets a young woman named Tahira (Aruhan Galieva) who is being chased by a werewolf-like creature. The Doctor protects her and finds that the creature has taken everyone else in the mental hospital in the town. 

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Well, now I know when we had potted plants.

Back in the present, Yaz (Mandip Gill) meets with her sister Sonya (Bhavnisha Parmar) while Ryan (Tosin Cole) visits his friend Tibo (Buom Tihngang) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) plays poker. Yaz and Tibo both find themselves plagued by nightmares and Graham starts having visions of a trapped woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and colliding planets. That night, Tibo is abducted by the Man from the TARDIS using his severed fingers. The three call the Doctor about their issues and she picks them up with Tahira. She takes them to the site of the colliding planets based on Graham’s visions and finds the Man’s severed fingers in the TARDIS. They discover that there is a prison between the two planets. The TARDIS lands on a ship nearby. 

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Tahira is somehow dressed appropriately for this. 

Tahira and the TARDIS Trio get off the ship and are captured by the Man, trapping them in nightmares, including Graham dreaming about his cancer coming back. The Doctor tries to find them and is confronted by the Man, who reveals himself to be Zellin, an immortal god. He manipulated the Doctor to release his partner, the Woman from Graham’s visions, a goddess named Rakaya. Zellin reveals that the pair thrived on chaos over the eons, but they tortured two planets so badly that the inhabitants sent their planets on a collision course and trapped Rakaya between them. Zellin has been using nightmares to send chaotic images to her head and keep her sane. Rakaya is released and the Doctor is trapped in her prison. She escapes while the pair start causing nightmares all over creation. The Doctor frees her companions and Tahira. 

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It’s discount Toad and Storm. 

The Doctor realizes she can control Zellin’s detached fingers and that Tahira can control the creature that attacked her, because it was born from her nightmares. They lure the gods to Aleppo and manage to trap the pair back in Rakaya’s prison along with Tahira’s monster. It’s revealed that Graham still worries about his cancer coming back, that Yaz was formerly suicidally depressed, and that Ryan is worried about losing touch with his friends. 

END SUMMARY

This episode came so darned close to getting it. It’s got a heavy theme of trying to address mental health issues, ranging from Graham’s stress about his cancer that never quite goes away (as a cancer survivor, that’s accurate) to Yaz’s suicidal history to Ryan’s dread about the world’s future. The episode starts at a mental health hospital in the 1300s and the Doctor starts to comment on how enlightened the Islamic physicians were in their treatment of people with mental health disorders even compared to the modern day, but then it kind of loses the thread by having a bunch of mental health issues being exacerbated by two immortals that thrive on chaos. They try to pull it back together at the end of the episode by talking about how the beauty of humanity being that they can take control of their fears, but that kind of shortcuts the reality that it takes a lot of hard work and sometimes external help to get past mental health issues. It just feels like a squandered opportunity.

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Though this image is pretty mind-screwy.

The main thing that the episode does get right is actually trying to explore the companions a bit. We find out stuff about them that we hadn’t really gotten to before, and all of it makes them a little more human and a little more relatable. Yaz has depression, Ryan’s friend Tibo has been struggling with it and Ryan feels guilty about not being there, and Graham has anxiety over his cancer. These are all great traits for characters in a show like this. 

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The backstory of Yaz and the cop is amazing.

Ultimately, this wasn’t a great episode of the show, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the recent ones. The fact that they have the Doctor call herself out about her random exposition does give me hope that they’ve realized that they can’t just have her spout educational facts to no one in particular. They also had the Doctor fall for a really obvious trick and had her trap the villains a bit too easily, but it still wasn’t too bad. 

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Doctor Whosdays – S12 E6 “Praxeus”

The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio deal with a global plague that is not related to coronavirus (this entry will be dated in August 2020). 

SUMMARY

In space, Adam Lang (Matthew McNulty), an astronaut, is thrown off course on reentry and deemed lost. In England, his husband Jake (Warren Brown), an ex-cop, receives a text from Adam with a location in Hong Kong. In Peru, vloggers Gabriela and Jamila (Joana Borja and Gabriela Toloi) discover a pile of garbage along a formerly pristine river and blackbirds swarming overhead. That night, Jamila is attacked and disappears. Ryan (Tosin Cole) appears, investigating the situation, and he and Gabriela find Jamila only to watch her turn into a bizarre crystalline husk and disintegrate. Ryan picks up the unusual corpse of one of the blackbirds. 

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Kudos to the physical performance blending with the effects here.

In Hong Kong, Jake runs into Graham and Yaz (Bradley Walsh and Mandip Gill), who help him find Adam hooked up to a strange machine. As they try to help Adam out, Yaz attempts to grab a panel nearby and the group is attacked by two masked figures. Jake kills both of them. In Madagascar, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) finds an American submarine officer, Zach (Tristan de Beer), along with two local biomedical researchers Suki and Amaru (Molly Harris and Thapelo Maropefela). Zach washes ashore and dies in the same way as Jamila. The Doctor picks up Ryan and Gabriela then meets up with Yaz, Graham, Adam, and Jake. Yaz and Gabriela go back into the alien facility to get the panel and end up following another teleporting humanoid, ending up on what appears to be an alien world. 

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England’s astronauts are notoriously hard to kill. 

In Madagascar, Adam has started turning into the same crystalline husk as the other victims. The Doctor finds out that the bacterium that is causing the condition attaches itself to plastics, including the microplastics that permeate most life on Earth. Evaluating Ryan’s blackbird, the Doctor finds that the bird’s enzymes are fighting the bacteria, allowing them to be carriers. The Doctor also realizes that Suki’s research is too advanced, revealing her as an alien. She reveals that her race was destroyed by the bacteria, called Praxeus, and that she brought it here to use Earth as a live testing facility to find an antidote. She steals the Doctor’s prototype antidote and flees just as birds kill Amaru and attack the lab. The survivors flee to Yaz’s location in the TARDIS. It turns out they’re not on an alien world, it’s only the bottom of the Indian Ocean, where the bacteria had made a building out of the trash gyre. Suki dies from the Doctor’s antidote (because it was designed for humans), while Adam is cured. The Doctor sets Suki’s ship to detonate in the atmosphere to distribute the antidote. 

END SUMMARY

So, last week was a high point, but they clearly decided not to continue along those plotlines in this episode. Moreover, while this episode did it less, they also fell back into the habit of having the Doctor do heavy exposition. For example, the Doctor literally expounds, mostly blandly, about what pathogens and the plastic gyres are. It also is starting to reflect poorly on the Fam that the show keeps having them not know terms like “Pathogen” or people like Tesla just so that the Doctor can do the explanation. In a show that frequently has unbelievable technobabble, almost always done by the Doctor himself/herself, you’d think they’d be better at making explanations of actual concepts or people less dull. Or maybe they are trying to qualify for a grant for educational shows, I dunno.

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British education is letting us down, I guess? 

The one thing that I did enjoy about this episode was Yaz going against the Doctor’s wishes yet again and trying to do the right thing in her own opinion. I’ve kind of been surprised that she’s been so passive in many of the episodes with regards to the Doctor because she A) was extremely assertive in her first appearance and B) was a fairly dedicated cop. While Ryan and Graham both are naturally prone to listening to others (mostly Ryan’s grandmother), Yaz always seemed like she was ready to take a position of power. I’m hoping that, in the future, maybe Yaz and the Doctor will actually start challenging each other for real, which would be a nice change of pace. 

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Remember Donna Noble, a character who challenged the Doctor and was awesome? 

While this episode was a little bit of a dip after the last one, I do still feel a bit encouraged. Also, can we acknowledge again that the production values are way up this year? The shots of the people being overtaken by the bacteria and exploding were horrifying and that’s impressive. 

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Doctor Whosday – S12 E5 “Fugitive of the Judoon”

The Doctor’s Fam meets an old friend and faces a targeted invasion.

SUMMARY

Gloucester is invaded by the Judoon, the space rhino cops-for-hire, who are searching for a fugitive. They attack Lee and Ruth Clayton (Neil Stuke and Jo Martin), but the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) saves them. At the same time, Graham (Bradley Walsh) is abducted by a teleport only to find himself face to face with Captain Jack Harkness (John “The Sexiest Man Ever” Barrowman). Jack reveals that he thought Graham was the Doctor in a new regeneration and abducted him by accident, trying to give the Doctor a message. The Doctor discovers a box in the Claytons’ home, but Lee denies knowing anything. As the Judoon come in, the Doctor, Ruth,  Ryan, and Yaz (Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill) all escape while Lee surrenders, only to be killed by a former associate, Gat (Ritu Arya). Ryan and Yaz are then transported to Jack’s ship, only for him to be attacked by the people he stole it from. 

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Yes, Jack, I missed you like the flower misses the sunshine.

The Doctor and Ruth go to Gloucester cathedral where they are attacked by the Judoon and Ruth proceeds to instinctively beat the crap out of them. A text leads the pair to a lighthouse, where Ruth smashes an alarm box and the Doctor finds a buried TARDIS. Ruth emerges from the lighthouse identifying herself as the Doctor and the owner of the TARDIS. It’s revealed that Ruth and the Doctor are, in fact, both the Doctor… but neither one remembers being the other. Ruth reveals that she was forced to work for Gat at one point and that Gat is chasing them. The TARDIS is abducted and Ruth faces off with Gat, only for Gat to reveal that she is a Time Lord and was ordered to bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey. Since Gallifrey was destroyed by the Master, the Doctor realizes that Gat and Ruth have to be in her past, but she doesn’t remember either of them. Ruth tricks Gat into killing herself, returns the Doctor to Earth and departs. She meets with the Fam who give her Jack’s message. The Doctor, not understanding what’s happening now, believes something is coming for her.

END SUMMARY

Well, dang, just when I was worried that the show was losing track of what made the show work, it puts out this episode and I’ve got to say that I am blown the hell away. Not only did they bring back one of my favorite characters in the history of the show for a very cute cameo (though no reunion… yet), they completely blew me away by having the reveal that there is yet another Doctor… from the past. You’d think that since they did that once with the “War Doctor” it might seem a little derivative, but I honestly felt that the surprise and the excitement were just as genuine as they were for that reveal. It’s even better in some ways because Doctor Ruth is a sassy and jaded counterpart that perfectly balanced the Doctor’s heavy optimism. Given how they set her up, this can’t possibly the only time she shows up, and I look forward to the return.

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Also, Jo Martin freaking brings it. 

This episode managed to do a ton mostly by keeping the audience on their toes and pacing it perfectly, literally the opposite of what the last two episodes did. Pacing and connection is especially important in this kind of episode, because it really is a number of misleads that could easily have come off as trite or cliche. The only reason they didn’t is because the episode focused on the Doctor and Ruth and revealed most of the twists to us and them at the same time, allowing us to watch their responses to the new information. That response makes it feel earned. Admittedly, it helped that most of the twists were completely unexpected and compelling, but if they hadn’t felt earned, they wouldn’t have worked. 

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I shouted multiple versions of “WHAT THE HECK??” when this happened.

I also thought that the dialogue stepped up quite a bit in this episode, feeling a lot more natural, particularly between Jack and the Fam.  

Overall, just a solid episode of Doctor Who that leaves me wanting more. This is basically  what I was hoping for after the explosive premiere.

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Doctor Whosday – S12 E4 “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”

The Doctor and Fam meet with the Man Who Invented the 20th Century.

SUMMARY

Nikola Tesla (Goran Višnjić) and his aide Dorothy Skerritt (Haley McGee) are attempting to gain funding for a new project, but is interrupted by reports of a problem at the Niagara plant. After finding out that parts are missing, Tesla finds a small glowing orb and sees a humanoid figure attack him. He, along with Ms. Skerritt, are rescued by the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), who reveals that the orb is an alien device. The Doctor, Tesla, Skerritt, and the Fam (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill), get attacked by the same figure, but they manage to escape. Following Tesla to his New York office, they find that Tesla is being protested by many people and spied upon by agents of Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister). 

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Hey, it’s image recognition on a Tesla that actually works!

The Doctor confronts Edison, only for the same mysterious figure to appear and kill everyone in Edison’s lab except the man himself. They manage to trap the figure, who is revealed to be a giant scorpion in a bodysuit. The Doctor tries to warn Yaz and Tesla of the threat, but they’re abducted. The scorpion creatures are revealed to be a race of interstellar thieves known as the Skithra, ruled over by a queen (Aniji Mohindra). They’ve been tracking Tesla to try and have him repair their ship, choosing him because he was the only scientist able to detect their signal. The Doctor pulls Tesla and Yaz back from the ship and uses Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower to shoot beams of electricity to drive off the Skithra’s ship. Yaz is saddened to learn that Tesla’s future is unchanged by the events of the episode, and that he still died penniless and mostly unappreciated. 

END SUMMARY

Much as how the last episode felt like a poorer version of “Voyage of the Damned,” this episode feels like a poorer version of one of the figure-centric episodes like “Vincent and the Doctor” or “The Girl in the Fireplace” and suffers from the exact same problem as the last one: Nothing ever makes the impact it should. The episode constantly feels like the team is running from place to place only for the Doctor to deliver a short exposition about its importance or the importance of the people in it. While the Doctor usually explains things to companions, this episode felt a lot like overkill in that department, mostly because she was talking AT the listeners like they were audience surrogates, rather than WITH them like they were characters in the same scene. 

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They literally run down all the stuff that exists in New York at this time period.

What may upset me the most is that I was seriously anticipating this episode. Nikola Tesla was an underappreciated genius who either did, or was rumored to have done, some of the craziest stuff in the history of science. There is so much you could work with in an episode like this that would be both interesting and potentially scientifically accurate, but this time they focused instead on his relationship with Thomas Edison. Now, it’s hard to talk about Tesla without bringing up Edison, due to the confirmed occasions in which Edison screwed Tesla over, the most famous of which was not giving him a promised $50,000 reward mentioned in this episode. But it would have been so much more interesting to just focus on the mind of a mad genius, rather than have to bring up and explain an already-existing conflict and try to show it and also the alien plotline. Instead, we basically just get a pair of half-portraits of the good parts of Tesla and the bad parts of Edison. Rather than seeing them as people in the episode, they’re both just the archetypes the writers wanted to associate with them.

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Even while Edison is trying to help, he has to slander Tesla.

Now, Thomas Edison, while a giant d*ck, was not a total villain. He got his start in technology by rescuing a small child from a runaway train, leading the boy’s father to give him a job at the telegraph office, which allowed him to fund independent experiments in chemistry and electricity. He invented a ton of devices and was one of the first people to encourage funding of science for the sake of science. Unlike Tesla, Edison vowed never to make weapons or sell them, believing that non-violence was the only correct way to resolve conflict (something this episode directly contradicts).  Tesla, while he did have much more noble goals in regards to helping the world through his research, also believed in some less-progressive ideas, like eugenics. They both are extremely interesting people because they were so complicated.

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Reminder: The guy on the right tried to make a Death Ray, not a Hug Ray.

This episode just feels like another missed opportunity. I like the message that the episode takes against people like the Skithra who just use the work of others rather than producing themselves, but it gets muddled when you have to exposit it, rather than let us feel it. Despite the fact that Tesla was, in many ways, a sympathetic character, I don’t think they ever do more than have him try to get “genius” or “impressed” moments. You know, some people who were important also had things they liked outside of those things, guys, or they talked about them with passion and dedication. This episode just felt flat on that account. 

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Doctor Whosday – S12E3 “Orphan 55”

The Doctor and the Fam take a relaxing vacation that of course goes off the rails because it’d be boring otherwise.

SUMMARY

Graham (Bradley Walsh) assembles six coupons he’s collected into a transport cube to an all-inclusive stay at Tranquility Spa. Graham, Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) all hope that this will lighten the Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) mood after the destruction of Gallifrey in “Spyfall.” Ryan quickly gets infected by a “Hopper” virus that the Doctor cures just as the Spa declares an emergency. The Doctor goes to investigate why people are carrying guns, leaving Ryan behind to meet another guest named Bella (Gia Ré) who goes with him to investigate on their own. Graham meets with the Spa’s mechanic Nevi (James Buckley) and his son Sylas (Lewin Lloyd) while Yaz joins them with elderly couple Vilma and Benni (Julia Foster and Col Farrel). 

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They’re very cute. 

The Doctor bluffs her way into a security room and finds out that there are a number of creatures invading the compound. Kane (Laura Fraser), the security chief, tries to kick the Doctor out, but the Doctor manages to build an “ionic membrane” which kicks the creatures out. They’re revealed to be Xenomorph-esque creatures called “Dregs.” It turns out that the Spa was built on a desolate planet, Orphan 55, which is populated by the monsters who view the Spa guests as intruders. The area outside of the spa is uninhabitable to most life. It turns out that Benni has been abducted, so most of the characters we’ve named so far all go out after him (despite the fact that many of them are civilians, because narrative gotta play out). The Dregs set a trap for the group, disabling their vehicle. It turns out that the monsters’ strength is their adaptability, allowing them to survive Nuclear Winter, lack of oxygen, and even gunfire. It’s revealed that the Dregs are using Benni as a hostage. The Dregs attack, killing Hyph3n and Kane kills Benni to spare him an agonizing death. 

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They are indeed creepy.

The group makes it to a maintenance tunnel where Bella steals a gun and reveals that she’s Kane’s daughter. Kane, it turns out, owns the Spa and is planning to terraform Orphan 55 so that she can own the planet. Bella, who was essentially abandoned by her mother, wants to destroy everything her mother owns as revenge. The Dregs attack and Ryan teleports with Bella back to the Spa, leaving the rest behind to run. The Doctor finds a sign in Russian, confirming that Orphan 55 is just Earth in the future. The Dregs are the people who got left behind when the elites abandoned the planet due to climate change, horribly mutated by the subsequent nuclear war. Vilma sacrifices herself to save the group, who make it back to the Spa. The Dregs surround the facility, but the Doctor captures the lead Dreg and appeals it to change. It buys the group enough time to fix the teleport and all of the survivors return to safety except for Kane and Bella, who remain on Orphan 55. The Fam is depressed by the fact that Earth is doomed, but the Doctor reminds them that all of them have the power to help change the world.

END SUMMARY

Last week, I said that I thought “Spyfall” allowed the show to finally find the balance between getting the message across and telling a complete story. This week that fell to sh*t. This story felt more rushed than almost any Doctor Who story I’ve seen in a long time and that should have been completely avoidable. Part of it is that they attempted to introduce a large number of characters so that there could be a larger bodycount in the episode. Unfortunately, that’s not how you properly raise stakes in this kind of series. We need strong emotional connections to the people that we’re losing if their deaths are to mean anything, and adding more characters inherently dilutes those connections. Now, you can pull off a large number of quick emotional connections to characters using strong visual storytelling or some very, very skilled dialogue combined with the proper framing, but that’s not this episode. 

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Hair color and some generic whining isn’t actual character development, guys.

Instead, the bulk of the work seemed to go into figuring out what cliche the characters were going to indulge in. We have the vengeful daughter, the greedy developer, the loving old couple, the repressive father and the brilliant son, and a bunch of other characters who were more likely to have weird names than any actual character traits. There are a ton of Doctor Who episodes that have pulled off similar structures better, but they always used the right balance of archetypal and more original characters to make sure that the deaths had more impact. “Voyage of the Damned” comes to mind, but even that episode had difficulties making all of the deaths feel meaningful. Here, many of them just feel empty.

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We could just have focused on her story and that would have been interesting.

The message that “Climate change is bad” is undercut a bit by the fact that it’s represented by the monsters from Feast blended with Pumpkinhead. We aren’t seeing the suffering, we’re just seeing the sci-fi remains. It so far removes the effect from the cause that it really doesn’t give us any kind of actual connection. Even though I believe the point of the episode is right, it’s still just a bad story to use for it.

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We’ve seen it done much better in less time.

The companions were pretty much scattered throughout the episode, much like everyone else. The dialogue wasn’t particularly notable. The monster designs were pretty good, but the CGI was shoddy in places. The performances were fine, but they didn’t have much to work with.

Overall, this feels less like Doctor Who and more like someone who doesn’t understand the nature of effective storytelling using the character. 

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Doctor Whosdays (Series 12) – Ep. 1&2 “Spyfall”

The Doctor returns, fam in tow, to deal with a global spy crisis and an old enemy.

SUMMARY

All around the globe spies are suddenly being killed. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) are summoned to MI-6 by C (Stephen Fry), the head of the clandestine organization. C is quickly killed, but after telling the Doctor and the Tardis Trio to find O (Sacha Dhawan), the spy tasked with monitoring aliens, and to look into Tech CEO Daniel Barton (Lenny Henry). Yaz and Ryan discover that Barton is partially alien while the Doctor and Graham find O. Yaz is pulled into another dimension by aliens called the Kasaavin, only to pop back out after exchanging places with another alien. The group, including O, follow Barton onto a plane, only for the Doctor to realize that O is not who he seems. It turns out that he is actually the latest incarnation of the Master. He abducts the Doctor via the Kasaavin and leaves the rest in a crashing plane.

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Walking out of a vineyard in a tux is very Bond.

The Doctor leaves a message from the past in the plane that saves the group and emerges from the Kasaavin’s dimension in 1834 along with Ada Lovelace (Sylvie Briggs), the first computer programmer. The Master attacks the Doctor at an inventor’s convention, only for Ada to shoot him. The Doctor and Ada meet with Charles Babbage (Mark Dexter), who inadvertently gives the Doctor a way to travel in time through the Kasaavin. Ada grabs her, throwing off the trip and bringing them to 1943 in Paris, where the Master is commanding the Nazis. The Doctor and Ada are saved by spy Noor Inayat Khan (Aurora Marion). 

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And he did make a “Master Race” joke in “The End of Time,” before you ask.

The Master reveals that he had the Kasaavin kill spies to draw out the Doctor. He also reveals that Gallifrey, the Time Lords’ home planet, was destroyed, before the Doctor reveals his non-Aryan nature to the Nazis and frames him as a spy. The Doctor, Ada, and Khan all return to the present using the Master’s own TARDIS. Barton reveals that he made a deal with the Kasaavin to rewrite humanity’s DNA to use as data drives. The Master, having lived through the 77 years since the Nazis, helps set the plan in motion until the Doctor arrives and reveals, in the nick of time, that she used his TARDIS to create a failsafe. The Kasaavin, now aware that the Master was planning on betraying them, abduct him. The Doctor returns Ada and Khan to their times and visits Gallifrey, finding that the Master destroyed it. He left a confession saying that all of Time Lord history is a lie, citing something called the “Timeless Child.”

END SUMMARY

Upside, this was a well-done episode that managed to feel a lot more like an old Doctor Who episode that still has the updated sensibilities and motivations of the more recent series. Downside, Gallifrey is dead again for reasons that are not yet revealed and the “does it, doesn’t it” nature of the planet is starting to get old for me. Still, this was the most I’ve just enjoyed the show in a while. 

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They nailed the badass entrance again.

The spy aspect of the episode, while ultimately mostly only the inciting incident, does provide an excuse for both a wardrobe change (which everyone rocks) and also a reason for Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to have high-tech gadgets independent of the Doctor. I also would be lying if I said I didn’t relish any opportunity for a few James Bond references. Stephen Fry’s appearance as C, though brief, was a nice throwback to the original M from the Bond series. It’s made only a little more meta if you know that M was a position named for Mycroft Holmes, the supposed original spymaster for England, who was portrayed in Sherlock Holmes by… Stephen Fry. 

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Also, the nature of the spy killing is like if Jason Bourne tried to fight the Chitauri. One-sided.

The main improvement in this episode was how seamlessly it worked in the themes that Chris Chibnail seems to be trying to put out there with the narrative. It celebrated the achievements of women while also never coming off as “preachy” or aggressive with it. The narrative was also paced much better than most of the previous series, where there often was a feeling of rushing to the conclusion. 

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They let the Master ham it up, and that’s always good.

The return of the Master was pretty much inevitable, but I admit that I thought he/she would stay dead longer this time, particularly since the Master was not present for either of the previous odd-numbered Doctors. This incarnation, though, appears to be able to blend together all of the best aspects of previous Masters/Mistress, with elements of humor, madness, and ruthlessness, but also adding an amount of seeming introspection that he only showed at the end of his last run as Missy. Having him destroy Gallifrey for apparently moral reasons is a good way to set up what I assume will be the central story of the season, because what could be so bad that the Master finds it morally reprehensible?

Overall, I thought this was a good return to the series. I look forward to seeing if the show has really now found a way to be different enough while also still the same.

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C is for Cannibalism and Captain America PART 2: Civil War – The one with Spider-Man, not Slavery

Read Part 1 Here.

Cinema

Before we start: I am only going by the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America and Iron Man so that you don’t have to read 70 years of comics to understand this article and I don’t have to deal with all the people pulling counter-examples from stupid crap writers have done to the characters, like building an extrajudicial prison which basically trapped people in a perpetual nightmare (Iron Man) or accidentally taking a ton of meth  and pretending to be a chicken (Captain America). I’m mostly going to be focused on the film Captain America: Civil War, but, I’m also going to have to address the Endgame in the room, meaning spoilers for the MCU through that. If you haven’t seen any of them, you’re okay, I’m gonna summarize the important parts.

Sometimes the movie poster says it all. (Insert poster image underneath. Remember to delete this reminder before posting. Remember this commentary is not funny no matter how meta.)

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Two heroes standing in conflict over their deeply-held ideals. A shield for protecting the innocent against a weapon for punishing the guilty. Two hours of fighting and the audience is left with both sides still believing that they’re doing the right thing. Both sides have points that support their opinions and both sides have disadvantages that they know they have to address. Ultimately, they never really determine what the right answer is, as the coming of Thanos renders the whole thing moot and bigger fish had to be fried. So, why did everyone pick the side they did? Well, let’s take a look through the lens and see what the movies tell us up to this point.

Concession

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the invincible Iron Man, spent three solo movies and one Avengers film proving that he is the absolute last person who should have the ability to act as an international agent of justice. In all three of his movies and Age of Ultron, he either A) creates the villain, B) gives the villain the technology they need to be effective, or C) there is no third option because he’s literally that bad at his job. And that’s completely in line with his character. Tony doesn’t have strong moral principles to shape his actions. Instead, he views everything in terms of solvable problems because, above all things, he’s an engineer. That works fine almost every time, particularly when you’re a super-genius but, like Oppenheimer and Nobel before him, sometimes he doesn’t really consider the possible consequences of his actions. So, after he almost lost the love of his life to a villain he’d empowered and his creation Ultron almost destroyed Earth, Tony was finally ready to accept that, maybe, he needed someone else to watch over his decisions.

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He literally gave a sociopath superpowers while drunk.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans and his muscles) learned the opposite lesson. In the first Captain America movie, he learned that the US was planning on abandoning probable POWs behind enemy lines (which is a thing that happens in war) so he risks his life to rescue them, believing that his way is right above the Army’s. In The Avengers, a shadowy group almost nukes Manhattan as a solution to an alien invasion that the group was, at that point, dealing with pretty successfully. In Winter Soldier, Cap learns that HYDRA, the secret Nazi cabal that he thought he beat in WWII, has actually infiltrated the American secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and all but taken them over. So, the one organization that he trusted to safeguard America and tell him where to go and who to fight was run by the last people who should have been doing that. So, Steve learned a valuable lesson about not giving too much of your own power up to groups.

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Yeah, when you realize you’re accidentally helping Nazis, it changes things.

They’d managed to deal with these differences up until the point where Captain America and his… mini-Avengers? I’m going with mini-Avengers… mini-Avengers went into a sovereign nation and accidentally blew up a building containing a number of humanitarian workers from another country. Was it all their fault? Oh, hell no. Did it save lives? Almost certainly. Was it the right thing to do? Well, that’s what the rest of the movie is about.

Clash

If you think what Cap did was absolutely correct, let’s flip the scenario around. Let’s suppose a paramilitary group from Lagos (country picked at random) comes into the United States, armed, and uses military force to stop a robbery but incurs collateral casualties. Was that okay? Well, if not, why not? Oh, right, because every country on Earth has a sovereign right over anything that happens within their borders. That’s literally what they’re there for. However, the Avengers (and S.H.I.E.L.D.) pretty much ignore that all the time because it’s inconvenient for the films…  and it would be inconvenient for them to deal with customs.

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People have suggested wars over DRONES being shot down.

The movie Civil War has General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) outline that, even between films, going into other countries without permission is exactly what the Avengers do and basically no one on Earth has any control over them. So, the United Nations proposes the Sokovia Accords, an international agreement which would create a branch of the UN to oversee the Avengers. Tony agrees with the Accords, because he believes that the Avengers need to be accountable and have oversight. Steve doesn’t agree with them because he believes that A) they would limit the effectiveness of the team, B) the people above them would also have agendas which would shape how the team is used, and C) that would put his personal actions at the disposal of others. So, we have a huge fight over this which blows up an airport and drags a teenager in as a soldier, with all of this supposedly orchestrated by a pissed-off soldier who lost his family to the Avengers’ actions in Age of Ultron.

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Admittedly, an awesome fight scene, but extremely forced.

Now, consider this for a second: what if all of this was completely f*cking stupid because they both know the other is also right and that there are practical solutions that would address both of their problems? Oh, right, that would have been a boring movie. It would also have been accurate, because the idea of a vigilante group with no accountability acting internationally and leaving huge amounts of collateral damage is not a thing we should debate. It’s fundamentally against the entire concept of national sovereignty, almost every international agreement in history, and, oh yeah, almost every anti-terrorist resolution. How do you think America would feel if a group of Chinese superheroes showed up and blew up a city block in the name of “stopping crime?” Or just one flew in wearing a suit of armor and just killed a bunch of citizens he deemed to be “terrorists.” Hell, how about just trying to bring the firepower equivalent of a small army into another country? Smaller things have started wars, not conversations. (Full credit to the Russo brothers, however, for having both main characters be in emotionally vulnerable states so that the ensuing plot is more justifiable.)

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Oh, and he flies into another country to murder people with a TANK-BUSTING MISSILE.

Imagine if everyone thought that it was okay for them to beat the hell out of cops for trying to arrest a suspected terrorist just because they believe their friend is innocent or that it was okay to steal a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet. Because that’s what Cap does in the film. Captain America is absolutely in the wrong not just for doing these things, but even for his assertion that it’s okay for him to do them… except for the part where he’s Captain America. Steve Rogers is a moral juggernaut. He will ALWAYS make the right decision, morally, when he is presented with it. He is accountable to himself, something that is a much higher standard than any law or nation. So, when he decides he has to intervene in a situation, it’s basically a certainty that it is a situation in which he is right to intervene. If everyone held themselves to his standards of personal responsibility and morality, laws would be unnecessary, because people would be answerable to a higher authority. The Doctor from Doctor Who said it in the catchiest way possible “Good men don’t need rules.”

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If you’re not one of these Misters Rogers, you probably need some form of rules to guide you.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world filled with Captain America-level saints. In fact, I’d say that people of his level of personal accountability are like a virgin prostitute. Hypothetically, one exists, but I’d be very surprised if you can find one and if you think you are one, you’ve more likely misunderstood at least one fundamental concept. So, because of that, we have to put rules and systems of enforcement in place to hold people accountable for actions which cannot be allowed in a social setting. These range from things like “you can’t take stuff that isn’t yours” to things like “necessity cannot be a defense for murder.” If you don’t agree with these rules, there are ways to change them within the system, but that doesn’t give you the right to ignore them.

However, sometimes situations aren’t going to fit into the mold that the creators of these rules conceived of, and they’re going to become a hindrance. For example, “don’t kill anyone” becomes a problem when someone else is going to kill your family and you don’t reasonably have the ability to non-lethally prevent them. Sometimes, we craft exceptions directly into the laws (more on that later this week), but sometimes we haven’t thought of those exceptions yet or even putting an exception in fundamentally conflicts with a bigger principle. On those occasions, people are faced with a choice: Break the rule to serve a higher good or follow the rule and allow the bad to happen.

Conscience

If the Sokovia Accords had been implemented, this would have been the choice Captain America is saying he’d have to make constantly: To hope the UN would allow him to intervene in situations or to ignore the UN and do it anyway and deal with the legal consequences. If only there were some kind of thing that the UN could put into the system which would allow them to deem certain actions worthy of foregoing punishment based on the context in when they were taken. If only some handsome bastard had put that thing in the title to a series whereby he relates it through pop-culture.

'Avengers: Infinity War' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 23 Apr 2018
No, not that handsome bastard, though he’ll come up later.

 

While the real UN doesn’t have any actual ability to pardon people (due to the nature of the organization), they also don’t do anything that’s like the Sokovia Accords (though, they could). Additionally, there is nothing preventing a commission or group being able to encourage or force clemency (which, while a little different, is the typical term for a pardon around the globe) within a nation as part of their signature on the Sokovia Accords. Countries routinely give up some of their sovereign authority in exchange for a benefit from the UN. We literally have clemency laws in place in almost every country on Earth already, because we know this is what can happen. So, countries might be giving up a little bit of their ability to enforce their own laws, but, in exchange, they get the benefits of having the Avengers be able to respond to threats. Seems like a reasonable trade in a world of alien gods and killer robots. So, Captain America could, if he disagreed with the UN, still act, with the understanding that, if they agree that it was justified afterwards, he would be able to avoid being punished and NOT have to be a fugitive.

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Admittedly, the UN doesn’t have a great track record on most peacekeeping matters.

Even simpler, you could just make conditions in which the Avengers could respond and the permission could be decided retroactively after the intervention, without any form of punishment if the action is in good faith. Hell, under certain circumstances, you can ask for a warrant up to 24 hours after you should need it, and that’s NOT dealing with supervillains. And yet, nobody in the movie points out this would be an easy way to both hold the Avengers accountable and also allow Captain America to act when he feels it’s appropriate. This wouldn’t even require extra clemency decisions, though that could also be incorporated into the system.

But all of this is in the world of fantasy, where the point becomes moot when Angry Grimace steals the rocks of plot convenience. When would you ever need to address concepts like this in the real world? Has anything ever actually been brought up like this? Does anyone have a guess about what the next entry is about? 

Don’t eat anybody, I’ll see you in two weeks.

If you want to check out some more by the Grouch on the Couch, check out his page. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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