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.)

P2 - 1Poster

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.

P2 - 9UN
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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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 10 “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”

The season finale approaches and the Doctor again faces her first enemy with her new face.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) detects distress calls from planet Ranskoor Av Kolos (translated as “Disintegrator of the Soul”). The Planet contains a field which alters the perceptions of reality for any conscious being, but in practice appears to just cause amnesia. She and the TARDIS Trio head to the planet, with neurobalancers attached to counter the effects of the planet. When they arrive they find an amnesiac pilot named Paltraki (Mark “Robert Baratheon Flintstone” Addy) who threatens them until the Doctor puts a neurobalancer on him. He then receives a call from a woman named Andinio (Phyllis Logan) and Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley), the villain from the first episode of the season. He demands the return of an item that Paltraki had recovered from him in exchange for the rest of his crew.

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… He was also Bill Miller on Still Standing, which I also liked.

On the way to help find Paltraki’s crew, Graham (Bradley Walsh) informs the Doctor that he wants to kill Tzim-Sha as revenge for the murder of his wife. The Doctor tells him that if he does that, his adventures are over. He and Ryan (Tosin Cole) go to find the crew while the Doctor and Yaz (Mandip Gill) go to meet with Tzim-Sha and Andinio. Andinio is revealed to be part of a race called the Ux who are capable of manipulating reality, however, there are only ever 2 of them alive at a time. The other, Delph (Percelle Ascott), has been held captive by Tzim-Sha, who they obey because they mistake him for their creator god.

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They have cool eye effects. That’s how you know they’re powerful.

It’s revealed that the item from the ship is actually a miniaturized planet. Tzim-Sha has been using the Ux to shrink down and imprison planets that have defeated him, with Earth being his next target. However, the Doctor manages to convince the Ux that they’re being deceived before the shrunken planets start to cause breaches in reality from the impossibility of their size. Graham and Ryan find the crew and hold off an army of robots with the help of Paltraki. Graham stands off with Tzim-Sha, but declines to shoot him. Tzim-Sha tries to shoot Ryan, but Graham shoots Tzim-Sha in the foot to stun him and they lock Tzim-Sha in a prison chamber. As the group departs, the Ux ask Paltraki’s help in returning the planets they shrunk to the right places.

END SUMMARY

So, we had a really solid premise in parts of this episode, plus some great guest stars, but it just didn’t quite build up as well as it should. The planet that disintegrates the soul? Oh, it’s mostly just amnesia and migraines. The race that can bend reality? Oh, they’re tricked easily by a blue guy like they were the Aztecs and he was Cortes. The return of Tzim-Sha? He’s basically an asthmatic a-hole, like Darth Vader but without the powers or gravitas. His army of robots? Basically just cannon fodder for Robert Baratheon off-screen. This episode should have been explosive, but it ended up being more cap-gun than cannon.

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Ryan and Graham defeat them… by ducking slightly.

Graham’s refusal to kill Tzim-Sha was great, but much of the rest of the episode just didn’t connect with me enough and the stakes, despite being stated as being huge, never FELT huge. It’s like someone saying calmly “this bomb will explode and kill us.” Yeah, it gets the point across, but it doesn’t get the emotions across.

I also have to say, we kind of hit the point where I’m ready for the season to end. Fortunately, it’s the season finale, but this episode kind of exaggerated a few of the flaws of the past year.

First, we are not giving enough character development to Yaz. We have barely given enough to Graham and Ryan, but at least they had an arc that they finished with Ryan finally acknowledging him as a grandfather and Graham forgiving Grace’s killer. What was Yaz’s arc? What changes has she gone through? She’s so well portrayed by Mandip Gill that I almost forget that she is usually ancillary, including in this episode.

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She does stare at other people talking well, but dammit, give her lines.

A major theme of this season has been trying to condemn hatred and I can’t fault that. It’s an element of the Doctor’s character and it’s a big part of what makes the show amazing. The most famous villains in the series are a species that live solely to hate everything that isn’t them and, aside from their designs, that’s why they’re memorable. However, in this season, they’ve gone out of the way to try and show that hatred is much of what has made everyone miserable throughout history and that a lot of that anger comes out of not understanding the other side. We’ve also had the Doctor going out of her way to try and be more merciful than some of her previous incarnations, particularly against monsters acting on instinct.

E3 - 5Protest

E6 - 5Gunman
Lot about hatred…

The problem with this theme coming from the Doctor kind of comes to a head in this episode: The Doctor is a mass murderer. The Doctor has killed armies and planets and species. Sure, she’s usually only done it when confronted with an unrelenting force that won’t stop, but she still has done it. Yet, her response to Graham wanting to kill Tzim-Sha or King James wanting to kill the queen of the Morax is basically to call them out as being murderers. Now, I’m fine if she was saying something like “I’ve killed a lot of people and it weighs on me” or “you can kill to protect people, but not in vengeance,” but her statement to him basically is “no killing. Ever.” Now, if the Doctor wanted to explain why she’s adopted this position now, that’s great. But that’s going to be really, really hard to deal with if the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels return, species that LITERALLY NEVER STOP TRYING TO KILL YOU.

I get where they’re coming from with this and it’s a great message to try and combat hatred, but even the great pacifists: i.e. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy, Mr. Miyagi, all had to acknowledge that without some form of pragmatic violence, then pacifism is just claiming the high ground on a graveyard. Now, the Doctor, much like Batman, can often manage to defend herself non-lethally, which is optimal, but she has often had to cross that line in the past. This show is in one of the best positions to actually start addressing the ramifications of applications of violence, but this season kind of tried and failed in my opinion. Jodie Whittaker has the emotional range to pull that sort of episode off, and I want the show to take that chance.

Overall, this just wasn’t the climax the season needs. We have the universe at stake, but it felt like they were basically delivering a complicated pizza order. Still, it did have some good moments and it’s almost worth it to have Graham whine about only shooting Tzim-Sha in the foot.

I give it a B-.

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 9 “It Takes You Away”

The Doctor deals with a girl’s missing father, only to find out that he’s even more lost than she could have imagined.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and the TARDIS trio of Graham, Yaz, and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole) land in Norway in 2018. They find a cabin nearby that seems abandoned, until they find a blind girl hidden in the house named Hanne (Eleanor Wallwork) who has been terrified by a monster that she hears from the woods. They find out that Hanne’s father Erik (Christian Rubeck) has been missing for a few days. In the attic, they find a mirror that doesn’t reflect people, which the Doctor discovers is a portal to the Anti-zone, the buffer universal material that keeps universes separate. She goes into the portal with Graham and Yaz, while leaving Ryan to watch Hanne.

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Not that either of them is big on reflection… God, even I feel bad at that joke.

Inside the portal, they find a terrible alien called “Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs” (Kevin Eldon) who appears to be a scavenger. He tries to trade the Doctor information on Erik in exchange for the sonic, but attempts to backstab her on the way. He is eaten by one of the Anti-Zone’s resident creatures, the Flesh Moths (guess what they eat). Ryan discovers that the “monster” is actually just a speaker system that her father uses to scare her into staying home. He returns to tell Hanne, which she uses as an opportunity to knock him unconscious and follow the group. He wakes up shortly and follows her.

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Ribbons is a very happy sort of demonic alien.

The Doctor, Graham, and Yaz find a mirror copy of Hanne’s home and, inside, Erik. He reveals that he intended to come here because a copy of his deceased wife, Trine (Lisa Stokke), lives there. However, it’s revealed that it can’t be her, because she remembers dying. While the Doctor is still trying to figure out the situation, they run into Graham’s deceased wife Grace (Sharon D. Clarke). Similar to Trine, she remembers dying, insists she knows she isn’t real, but also says that she is real. Graham is tortured by seeing what he knows isn’t his real wife.

E9 - 3Trine.png
This is a father who abandons his blind daughter after tricking her into agoraphobia. For booty.

The Doctor finally realizes what’s happening: They’re in the Solitract, a sentient universe which was severed from the regular universe because the Solitract interferes with the normal universe’s operations. It set up this “heaven” mirror-world in order to convince people to come to it and stay because it’s lonely. Graham finally manages to accept it and leaves. Erik refuses to leave, but the Doctor tells the Solitract that she’ll stay in his place. Erik is ejected. The mirror universe collapses itself and becomes a white room with a talking frog, the chosen form of the Solitract. However, the Doctor is incompatible with the Solitract, so she leaves, promising to be its friend even if they’re separate. Back in the normal universe, Graham and Ryan finally start to bond over Grace.

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This is the face of the universe.

END SUMMARY

I will admit at the beginning of this episode, I thought we were going to hit the final point for me. I thought that this was finally going to be the episode that was just too serious to feel like Doctor Who. See, this entire season, while I have enjoyed it overall has definitely been closer to the original Doctor Who episodes with William Hartnell which, while they were amazing for the time, isn’t quite the feel the show’s had since the reboot. They’re a little more serious, a little less campy, and a little less funny. However, while that’s been refreshing so far (for me at least), it’s bound to hit the point where it just feels not fun enough. With a missing dad, a mysterious monster, and a blind girl, I was about 30 seconds away from going “okay, we’ve hit the wall.” But then the mirror happened and Ryan said what is definitely one of the most “companion” lines ever: “We’d know if we’re vampires, right?” The delivery was flawless and immediately brought me back up a little.

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I also want to hear more of the war between sheep and humans.

From there, the episode goes through Ribbons and the Anti-Zone, which, if not particularly interesting and probably unnecessary, is at least well-designed and creepy as hell. Next, we get to the Solitract, find out that Erik actually isn’t a great parent, and witness Graham interacting with Grace again, and the episode suddenly has left-turned into super emotional. Bradley Walsh once again gives one hell of a performance as a man who has recently lost the love of his life. Then, we get The Doctor giving one of the better humorous monologues in the season so far when she explains how one of her seven grandmothers told her a fairy tale about the Solitract. The final scenes of Graham and Erik having to give up on their dead wives is another solid emotional scene, which leads into… the Doctor talking to a frog. We end the episode with Ryan finally acknowledging Graham as his grandfather, which, after all the buildup, is a solid tearjerker. Honestly, this episode is all over the place in terms of tone, but the comic scenes are exactly the kind of thing that I felt were missing from the show.

Doctor Who doesn’t have to be comedy sci-fi, of course. Some of the best episodes have horror elements or action, for example, but it always managed to balance that with some solid comic relief. This episode doesn’t quite nail the ratio as well as past ones, but it comes close. In a season filled with much of the darkness in human history, this episode at least was somewhat lighter at points.

Overall, it’s not a bad episode, but it doesn’t have the gravitas of the good episodes of the season. The sequence in the Anti-Zone is basically just filler that amounts to nothing and should have been cut. However, aside from that, this was still pretty enjoyable.

I give it a B.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 8 “The Witchfinders”

The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio get involved in one of the English Witch Hunts in the early 1600s… WITH ALAN F*CKING CUMMING!!!!

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) lands the TARDIS in a small English village in the past that is having a festival. It turns out that they have a festival every Sunday… when they do the witch trial under the supervision of Lady Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran). An old grandmother (Tricia Kelly) is ducked into the lake as a witch and, despite the Doctor’s efforts to save her, drowns in front of her granddaughter, Willa (Tilly Steele). The Doctor pretends to be the Witchfinder General to stop the trials, but this ruse falls apart when King James VI and I (Alan “Burns when he’s” Cumming) appears and claims that he never would make a woman Witchfinder General, instead saying it must be Graham (Bradley Walsh). If you’re confused as to why there are two numbers, he was the Sixth James of Scotland but the First of England. If you’re not confused, good for you, have a gold star.

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Monty Python would have made this involve a duck.

Yaz (Mandip Gill) goes to check on Willa, revealed to be Lady Savage’s cousin, when Willa is suddenly attacked by an alien tendril. The Doctor saves them and discovers that all of the recent victims of the witch trials have been infected by alien mud and are now shambling zombie-esque figures. Seeing Savage’s fervor for hunting down witches, the Doctor believes that she is trying to cover up her own involvement in the alien events. Savage responds by accusing the Doctor of being a witch to King James who has the Doctor arrested. Savage has the Doctor ducked into a pond, but the Doctor reveals she’s mastered the art of holding her breath and escaping loose chains, so she survives.

E8 - 2KingJames.png
Hail to the King, baby.

Savage reveals that she was infected by alien life after cutting down a tree and that all of the witch trials were just to cover this up, believing that she was afflicted by a demonic possession. The victims of the trials all arrive and abduct Savage, who reveals that she is possessed by the queen of the Morax, an alien parasite race. The Doctor realizes that the tree that Savage cut down had actually been an alien prison for the parasites, who have kidnapped King James so that their king can possess him and they can conquer Earth. The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio use the prison tree to recapture the parasites while James kills the Morax queen, claiming he’s vanquishing Satan. King James declares that the events of the episode will be stricken from history while also hitting on Ryan (Tosin Cole). He and Willa then watch as the TARDIS disappears.

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Admittedly, this does play into the “demonic possession” claim.

END SUMMARY

First of all, Alan f*cking Cumming. I love him. I will always love him. He’s got the voice of an angel, the acting talent of a Shakespearean thespian, and the name of a successful adult film star. In this episode, he plays King James in the campiest, and most bisexual, way possible. No, those things are not the same, although there is a bit of overlap. His performance is a refreshing element of levity in what would otherwise be a tremendously dark episode, which literally features a character being drowned as part of a historically accurate form of torturous murder. His constant claims of demonic intervention and satanic possession are played for humor, despite the fact that they were used to justify tens of thousands of murders under his rule. However, when confronted over WHY he believes that the devil is everywhere, he starts to recount all of the trauma and loss contained within King James’s life, which quickly turns him from humorous madman to tragic figure. It’s a testament to Cumming’s performance that his delivery of the lines is almost identical in both circumstances.

E8 - 4SassyJames.png
He’s flirting while talking about his body part collection. It was a golden age.

Second, seriously, this is a dark episode. The premise is that Lady Savage has been murdering women so frequently that there is a weekly festival for it. It’s the middle of a time of mass killing of women that focused mostly on women who dared to study science or speak up in public. Like, say, a woman who often takes the lead, speaks out against injustice no matter who she has to yell at, and has an education beyond that of any other mortal… you get it, I’m talking about the Doctor. Yeah, this is the first episode that really stresses how much different the Doctor’s position is now that she’s a woman. Most of the time, so far, she’s just bluffed her way through any situation, but when the King simply states that a woman can’t be Witchfinder General, that’s the end of it. No amount of cunning, even by the Doctor, can overcome that barrier. The comparison of our main character to the first victim we see is a well-placed analogue to remind us of how bad the world has been to women.

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Reminder: This is a real thing that happened to real people.

This continues a theme of this season: Discrimination is bad. We’ve had an episode based on America’s racial discrimination, an episode on the religious violence in the partition of India, and now an episode based around that time England killed tens of thousands of people, mostly women, based on false pretenses. It’s probably not a coincidence that this is the first season to come after a wave of nationalism has been sweeping across the world, since nationalism typically involves at least one kind of discrimination against a group. This might date the season later, but… well, actually, let’s just hope this issue isn’t timeless.

The weak point of the episode is the villains, which kind of are secondary. That’s also been a bit of a theme in this season: The alien/time-travel villains haven’t been particularly necessary. The design on the ones in this episode was definitely better than some of the others, but, for the most part, the historical episodes have only included sci-fi villains because it’s still Doctor Who, not because they drive the episode well. Hell, I respected “Demons of the Punjab” for not actually making the aliens the villains.

Overall, this is a pretty solid episode. It’s got a little bit of the camp that’s been missing from the season, some decent commentary, and the villains are fairly creative.

I give it an A-.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 7 “Kerblam!”

The Doctor investigates a definitely-not-owned-by-Jeff-Bezos property.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) receives a package containing a familiar fez from Kerblam!, the galaxy’s largest supplier of consumer goods. Which galaxy, I don’t know, but one of them. Inside the package is a note requesting help, so the Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (I will never stop fighting for this) head to the main distribution center for Kerblam! and sneak in claiming to be new employees. It’s revealed that 90% of Kerblam! is automated, but, by law, 10% of the workers are organic life. It’s also revealed that Kerblam! wasn’t exactly happy about having to hire 10% human workers, because, as the largest employer in the galaxy, they’d rather just use robots. Graham, Ryan, and Yaz (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill) meet three of the workers in the facility: Dan (Lee Mack), a stock man and literal poster boy for the company who works for his kids; Kira (Claudia Jessie), a member of dispatch noted for her clumsiness; and Charlie (Leo Flanagan), a maintenance worker in love with Kira.

E7 - 1Dan.png
Admittedly, it’s not the best poster.

While the Trio is meeting the rest of the staff, the Doctor meets with Judy and Jarva (Julie Hesmondhaigh and Callum Dixon), the HR managers, who deny any involvement in the recent string of workplace disappearances. The Doctor suspects that it may be the plant’s artificial intelligence trying to get rid of all of the human workers or a malfunction. Dan disappears in the middle of an order, leaving behind only the unbreakable necklace he received from his kid. When Kira goes missing, the Doctor tracks her to the main delivery floor, where she finds evidence of numerous murders and an army of delivery robots, called TeamMates, holding packages. The Doctor speaks directly to the Kerblam! AI, which reveals that it was actually the one that called for help, suspecting that someone was trying to kill off the workers and sabotage the workforce.

E7 - 2Twirly.png
She talks to the AI through “Twirly” and it’s adorable.

Yaz, Ryan, and Charlie find Kira just in time to watch her blow up after playing with the bubble wrap, something Charlie clearly knew would happen, even if he didn’t want it. The Doctor realizes that the army of TeamMates is delivering weaponized bubble wrap which will kill millions of people. Charlie reveals that he’s the one behind the plan, believing that if he causes a massive death from the automated workers that people will demand more human oversight and involvement in the company. The Doctor realizes that this was what the AI was trying to prevent and uses the AI to cause all of the TeamMates to pop their own bubble wrap, destroying the facility and killing Charlie who refuses to leave. After the incident, Judy and Jarva resolve to try to rebuild the company with more human workers.

E7 - 3Army.png
Unsurprisingly, half of those boxes contain drunk purchases.

END SUMMARY

So, it’s the Doctor in a dystopia, which we’ve seen used to varying levels of success in the past. This one is definitely in the upper half in terms of quality, but not the best.

First, the pros:

The fact that this is a clear parody of Amazon comes through immediately, but the truth is that Amazon becoming a mostly-automated monopoly and wrecking any number of industries is a completely understandable concern as of this writing (if you’re reading this in the future, Hail Emperor Bezos). So, the fact that they’re basically just showing us a slightly-sci-fi version of a real and imminent problem makes the dystopia feel much more grounded and relevant. The episode even hints at the idea that the corporation is evil or that the technology is evil or that the HR people are secretly evil, then rejects all of the expected answers. They don’t give us the easy message of “big company bad,” but instead they have the Doctor explicitly point out that the system itself isn’t bad, it’s how people use it that needs to change. I give them credit for acknowledging that the service that Amaz-sorry Kerblam!- provides is actually useful and efficient, even if it can be misused in the name of profits.

E7 - 4Kerblam.png
Yes. This totally doesn’t resemble any other company. Lawsuit averted.

The supporting characters in this episode are all great. Charlie is a complex antagonist, both because he has real emotions that are unrelated to his plan and because his plan isn’t born out of malice but out of desperation and concern for the future of his people. Is he a terrorist? Absolutely, by definition, but he also is shown to at least have some logical reason to believe what he does, which makes him more than just a mustache-twirling bad guy. Kira and Dan, too, are both likeable and portrayed realistically, both being people who are just trying to do the best that they can for themselves and their families. That’s what makes it so much more devastating when both of them die horribly to Charlie’s plan.

And btw, that’s a pro in my book. This episode was willing to make us like two characters, kill them both off, then got us to kind of understand why the guy who killed them was willing to do it even if he regretted it a lot. And yeah, this is brutal, she’s literally torn apart.

Each of the companions and the Doctor herself each got nice scenes exploring their histories or personalities while they interacted with the new characters, with Ryan being able to talk about his past work in a similar position and Graham being able to talk to Charlie about his past experience with love. They’re all solid elements of the episode.

Also, booby-trapped bubble wrap is hilarious and messed up at the same time and just… brilliant.

E7 - 7Bubblewrap.png
WHO COULD RESIST????

Now for the cons:

Kira’s death gets mostly overlooked, emotionally. I can get that Charlie is used to making compromise, but he pretty much gets over killing her quickly because the episode is running out of time. I mean, we spent much longer on establishing that he’s in love with her than we spend on him even reacting to his accidentally murdering her.

The designs of the TeamMates joins the “too creepy for the job you gave it” category in Doctor Who robots. These things look creepier than the generation 1 drone that used to deliver everything and I think if one of them showed up at my door I would empty at least 2 rounds into it just out of an abundance of precaution. It helps when they end up doing some creepy-esque things, but since they aren’t the ultimate bad guys and, honestly, are trying to help, it seems like no one would ever have made them look this way.

E7 - 8Teammate.png
KILL IT WITH FIRE AND BULLETS!!!!

Everything that’s slightly over-reaching about the company itself, including making employees wear GPS monitors, doesn’t really get followed up on much. I guess because, as the show points out, companies now do that in real life and no one seems to care much.

The finale implies that Charlie’s act of terrorism works and convinces two people to change Kerblam!’s business practices and now people will have jobs and puppies and unicorn wands, etc. This is somewhat unsatisfying in an episode that prior to now had been fairly realistic in how the company had worked. Now, I’m not saying that Judy and Jarva hadn’t learned something, but I am saying that the company is much bigger than them and, if they decided that 90:10 was the best ratio of workers before, the company’s overseers will likely want that ratio back, but with more security. Hell, arguably, they should lobby to get rid of the humans because the AI tried to SAVE people while the human tried to commit MASS MURDER. It just didn’t sit right with me.

Overall, this was a pretty solid episode. There are some great images, some great concepts, solid guest characters, and I admit that I love the company name “Kerblam!”

I give it an A-.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 6 “Demons of the Punjab”

This season of Doctor Who continues to try to push some boundaries. It’d probably get uncomfortable, or even boring, if they weren’t doing the episodes so well.

SUMMARY

Yaz (Mandip Gill) receives a gift from her grandmother, Umbreen (Leena Dhingra): a broken watch that must never be fixed, but refuses to speak any more about it. Yaz asks the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to take her back to when the watch was broken, but Yaz doesn’t actually know when that is. The Doctor uses the psychic circuitry of the TARDIS to take Yaz, Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) back to India in 1947, where they immediately meet a young Hindu man named Prem (Shane Zaza) and a Hindu holy man named Bhakti. Prem takes them to meet a young Umbreen (Amita Suman), who shocks Yaz by revealing that she’s going to be married to Prem, a man who A) is Hindu, B) is not Yaz’s grandfather, and C) is wearing the watch that brought them there.

E6 - 1Prem.png
He’s a sassy one for a man in 1947, too.

The Doctor finds out the date, which, unfortunately, is August 14, 1947, the day before the Partition of India (if you don’t know what that is, I will explain after the summary. I was only kinda familiar with it). The Doctor is beset by painful psychic images of demons. They find the holy man murdered and the wedding is delayed until August 15. The Doctor sees two nearby alien figures and assumes they committed the murder. She and the TARDIS trio try to track down the aliens, before she ends up being transported onto their ship. She discovers that the two aliens are Thijarian, a race of near-perfect assassins. The Doctor escapes and uses their technology to keep them away from Prem’s house, hoping that will allow the wedding to occur.

E6 - 2Thijarians.png
The Thijarians might also be Orcs.

Yaz works on trying to figure out what’s happening with her grandmother while the Doctor tries to create a repellant for the aliens. However, after studying some of the material found in the alien’s ship, she is teleported back onboard. The Thijarians reveal that they are actually the last two of their race. The assassin planet, unsurprisingly, made a lot of enemies and was destroyed. Unable to mourn their dead properly, these two Thijarians vowed to become witnesses to all those who die alone throughout time and space. They were present at the death of the holy man, who they reveal was killed by Prem’s brother, Manish (Hamza Jeetooa). It’s revealed that they’re staying in order to observe the millions of deaths that will follow the Partition, including Prem.

E6 - 3Prem2.png
Could have used a better picture, guys.

The Doctor informs the TARDIS trio that they cannot interfere with Prem’s death, because otherwise Yaz won’t exist. The next morning, Ryan and Graham help Prem prepare for his wedding. Prem, a veteran of World War II, speaks sadly that so many Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus are fighting now over the Partition, something he feels flies in the face of what he learned from the war. The Doctor officiates the wedding on the border of India and the new country of Pakistan, making Umbreen the first woman married in Pakistan. After the wedding, Prem offers Umbreen his watch as a gift, but drops it, making it the broken watch from the beginning.

E6 - 4Watch.png
This is a beautiful scene, honestly.

Manish leaves the wedding angry at his Hindu brother marrying a Muslim. The Doctor confronts him over the murder of the Holy Man, but Manish reveals he’s part of a Hindu Nationalist group that is coming to kill the Muslims. Prem tries to distract the group so that Umbreen and her family can escape, resulting in his death at the hands of a man he fought beside during the war. The Thijarians witness his death and honor him, as the Doctor and the TARDIS trio depart back to the present. Yaz meets with her grandmother again and asks if she was happy with how her life turned out. Umbreen says that she is, even with the bad times.

E6 - 5Gunman.png
Literally shooting a comrade dead for loving someone. F*ck you, guy.

END SUMMARY

This season of Doctor Who is not afraid to take on social issues, obviously, and this episode is a continuation of that, but with a few interesting added elements.

First, let’s go ahead and address the Partition of India. So, this doesn’t get covered in American Schools much, but in 1945-47, the British Empire was set to allow India to be independent. At the time, there were large populations of Muslims in India’s Western half, while most of the rest of India was Hindu until you get to the Buddhists on the Eastern border. So, Britain decided to instead create two states, Pakistan and India. Pakistan for the Muslims, India for the Hindus (and everyone else). Unfortunately, a lot of people near the border of these countries weren’t happy about suddenly having their property or family living in other countries. Others weren’t happy that there were Hindus in Pakistan or Muslims in India. These tensions quickly came to a head in a series of violent riots that killed at least a few hundred thousand, but likely millions. It also created a massive refugee crisis, with over 14 million people crossing borders over the following 5 years.

E6 - 6Maps.png
If your response to this is “there were Muslims in India?” there are still 172 Million there. 

Basically, this was a really shitty time in world history for a lot of people, with a lot of people working hard to make it worse. I think it’s pretty bold of the show to remind us that this happened and that much of the problems were caused by people who chose to make everyone different than them miserable or dead for reasons that were best described as “unreasonable.”

Second, I think subverting the villain in the episode was great. We’re introduced to a race of assassins, aliens who have spent their entire existence killing, only for them to have renounced it because, as violence begets violence, their race was inevitably destroyed. The beauty of this working with the theme of the episode so well overshadows my disappointment at the Doctor not having to deal with a race of super-assassins. It helps that the ultimate bad guy, Manish, is portrayed disturbingly realistically. He loves his brother, but, ultimately, he believes that killing all of the people against him is the only solution. He won’t pull the trigger, but he lets someone else do it.

E6 - 7Manish.png
Some mild discomfort around Thanksgiving is not a worst-case-scenario.

Third, the fact that the episode is focused around a wedding, and an inter-religious marriage at that, gives it an upbeat air that serves to make it more devastating when it’s revealed to be doomed. Since we know WHEN it’s doomed, it adds a ticking clock until the Doctor finally accepts that there’s nothing to be done. Then, we have to see the Doctor going through the motions of helping Prem and Umbreen, fully aware of what’s going to be their fate. It makes her speech at the ceremony in which she calls them “the strongest people on the planet, possibly the universe,” through the power of their love, all the sadder.

E6 - 8Wedding.png
It was a lovely ceremony, too.

Fourth, this was a great exploration of Yaz. I didn’t think she’d gotten her dues yet within the season, so this was a good way of expanding on her. You can even see that she’s conflicted about not saving Prem, even though it would result in her never being born. At the end, when she’s asking her grandmother if she had a good life, she’s basically asking if she did the right thing, which makes it all the better that her grandmother says that having Yaz made everything worthwhile. 

I loved this episode. It’s not traditional Doctor Who (and, admittedly, I’m antsy to get some again), but when combined with “Rosa,” it’s becoming apparent that the show is getting better at doing episodes from history that still have relevance in the modern day. This one isn’t quite as powerful as the ending of “Rosa,” but it’s a better overall episode.

I give it a solid A.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 5 “The Tsuranga Conundrum”

Never mind the Spiders, here’s a space ship!

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Cole) get hit by a sonic mine while on a junk planet. They awaken on Tsuranga, an automated spaceship heading to a medical space-station with a load of patients it picks up on the way: Yoss (Jack Shalloo), a pregnant man (no, it wasn’t planned, but don’t judge); Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer), a famous general; Eve’s brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith); and Ronan (David Shields), Eve’s android partner. The Doctor tries to leave but finds she isn’t able to get off the ship until they reach their destination.

E5 - 1Tsuranga.png
Also, she has an injury to her Squiddly-spooge. 

 

The Doctor and head nurse Astos (Brett Goldstein) discover that something has gotten through the shields. They begin searching for whatever entered, but Astos gets tricked by an alien creature into being jettisoned out on an escape pod which then explodes. The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (I don’t care if they’re Team TARDIS, I’m keeping my name) find the creature, which is revealed to be a tiny monster that can devour things many times its size and eat almost anything. The computer identifies this monster as a P’Ting, but warns that the spaceship will be blown up if the P’Ting is onboard when it gets near the destination due to the fact that the creature is known to eat entire fleets.

E5 - 2PTing.png
It’s truly a sight to behold…

Yoss goes into labor and brings Ryan, Graham, and the remaining nurse Mabli (Lois Chimimba) with him to monitor the birth. The Doctor leaves Ronan and Yaz to guard the ship’s power source while she goes with Eve and Durkas to disable the signal that will lead to the destruction of the ship. In the process, they find out that they need to pilot the ship manually, so Eve is put in the pilot rig, but it’s revealed that due to her years of piloting spaceships, her heart is in danger of failure. She decides to sacrifice herself anyway and dies piloting them to safety. The Doctor realizes that there is a self-destruct bomb onboard the ship and uses it to overload the P’Ting’s appetite before blowing it out into space. As the episode ends, Ronan prepares to kill himself (his service over), but Durkas asks him to help eulogize Eve… with everyone having forgot about Astos, apparently.

END SUMMARY

Well, there are some positives and some negatives in this episode.

I like the P’Ting. It’s small and unassuming and it isn’t particularly threatening directly since it only eats non-organic matter. However, it’s also one of the most dangerous monsters out there, since it is A) apparently invulnerable, B) toxic to any organic life to touch, C) mostly immune to stunning, and D) able to consume entire spaceships without being sated. It doesn’t do anything out of a hatred of the people on the ships, it’s just hungry and acting on instinct. It doesn’t even appear to really “trick” Astos into going into the pod, it just eats the life support system while he’s in there. In a season of relatively unimaginative antagonists, this is the first one that I really might remember.

E5 - 3GlowWorm.png
And it looks like a Glow Worm when happy.

Yoss’s pregnancy is… interesting… as a side plot. I don’t know if I consider it good or bad, because it’s just very unusual. Yoss’s species requires both genders to get pregnant in order to survive, because males birth males and females birth females, but the pregnancy also only lasts a week. Yoss apparently got pregnant from anonymous sex, something that the show wisely doesn’t comment on, but he also originally planned on giving the baby up until Ryan convinces him otherwise, apparently seeing his own father’s abandonment in Yoss’s decision. That part I didn’t like. I agree that it was wrong for Ryan’s father to abandon him, but it’s also okay to give children up for adoption. There are a lot of couples out there who want kids, at least in America, and it is painfully difficult to adopt despite the huge number of children in the system. I’m not saying whether the show did it right or wrong, I just felt like Ryan kind of took the position automatically that giving a child up for adoption is wrong and, well, I’ve worked with too many families to believe that forcing a parent to raise a child they don’t want is a good idea. Maybe this one is just me.

E5 - 4Yoss.png
Use condoms, kids. 

Eve’s sacrifice is a pretty good sequence. It’s foreshadowed early on that she probably wouldn’t survive when Malbi warns her against using the last of the life-saving drug she needs before she is in trouble. Ronan basically threatens Malbi into handing it over because he doesn’t want Eve to be in pain, but ultimately this kills her. I can only assume this is part of the reason why he decides to stop living after she dies, because he feels that he’s partially responsible. When the actual sacrifice comes, it’s her telling her brother that she loves him, something that apparently their family doesn’t do much. It’s not perfect because it feels a little chaotic, but it still works.

E5 - 5Eve.png

They are having some issues with finding stuff for all of the TARDIS trio to do during the episode, since there are just so many of them and this season also tries to introduce some dynamic side-characters in every episode. Yaz still needs some more room to shine, having basically been a punter of alien in this episode. Admittedly, it was fun to watch her punt, but still, she needs more.

I still love Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, and I think the opening sequence where she’s desperate to find a way off of the ship while in agonizing pain is pretty solid. It’s basically the Doctor being desperate and a little overwhelmed, something we don’t often get to see. She still powers through it, but watching the Doctor being distracted by pain to the point of irrationality makes it all the more powerful when we see her finally realize that it’s happening after Astos confronts her with it. The look on her face is brilliant.

E5 - 6Face.png
She even apologizes. Progress!

Overall, the episode feels like it was a little slow, but not to the point of really letting my attention wander. I give it a B.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.