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Doctor Who: Orphan 55 (Review)

“He’s moving at thirty-seven klicks an hour.”

“That doesn’t sound like my Benni.”

Like It Takes You Away in the previous season, Orphan 55 provides a something close to a workable model for the Chibnall era as a whole. Unfortunately, Orphan 55 doesn’t quite get there.

One of the strange paradoxes of the Chibnall era is that it often seems like the guest writers have a stronger grasp on its core themes than the showrunner. After all, Demons of the Punjab was perhaps the best single argument for Chibnall’s passive and observational characterisation of the Thirteenth Doctor, a far stronger argument than that articulated in Rosa or Arachnids in the U.K. or any of the episodes with Chibnall’s name on the credits.

“Game over, Doc.”

Orphan 55 draws from an impressive array of influences across the history of Doctor Who, providing a fascinating intersection between “holiday camp gone wrong” episodes like The Macra Terror and Delta and the Bannermen and “future of Earth” episodes like The Ark in Space or The End of the World. Indeed, the positioning of Orphan 55 as the first standalone episode after the premiere is quite canny; it fills what would be the “New Earth” slot on a Russell T. Davies season. However, it offers a much grimmer prognosis. This is appropriate for a much grimmer age.

Like so much of the Chibnall era, Orphan 55 is built around the general impotence of the Doctor. The Doctor is a fictional character, and so cannot save the world. The Moffat era dealt with this question in a more abstract and metaphorical sense in episodes like Extremis, demonstrating the importance of Doctor Who as a story and the Doctor as an idea. The Chibnall era tends to respond to this challenge with dull literalism. The Thirteenth Doctor spends an inordinate amount of her run confronting systemic or societal problems with which she refuses to engage.

A green message.

The Thirteenth Doctor’s passiveness when confronted with monstrosity is one of the more horrifying aspects of the Chibnall era as a whole. In The Ghost Monument, the Doctor refused to hold Ilan to account for the horrors he inflicted on the participants in his race. In Arachnids in the U.K., Jack Robertson just walked away from liability for mass murder in his hotel. In Rosa, the Doctor stage managed the oppression of Rosa Parks, even forcing her companion to be actively complicit in systemic racism.

While the Chibnall era is clearly trying to make a larger point about how the Doctor cannot save the world because she doesn’t exist, this often becomes a bleak and depressing study of how the public imagination can no longer conjure better worlds into being. Demons of the Punjab managed to make the best argument for this approach through careful construction, tying its historical injustices to Yaz’s personal history. Orphan 55 pulls off something similar, primarily by setting the action long after the world has failed to be saved.

Shattering expectations.

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77. Avengers: Infinity War – This Just In (#10)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this time with Tony Black, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 2 (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The second season of Star Trek: Enterprise is a strange beast, breaking down into roughly three sections.

The first section runs from Shockwave, Part II through to A Night in Sickbay. There is a nice energy to these episodes, with the first appearance of the Romulans in Minefield and nice internal continuity between otherwise stand-alone adventures like Minefield and Dead Stop. Carbon Creek is a fun diversion and A Night in Sickbay at least tries to do something novel and exciting – even if the show can’t quite pull it off. This stretch of the season feels like an organic development from the first season, a collection of episodes of variable quality; balancing the desire to try new things with nods to the franchise’s strengths.

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The final stretch runs from Judgment to The Expanse. The third season looms large over these episodes, with a sense of impending change in the air. These episodes seem to bid farewell to a version of Star Trek that has existed since the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Judgment gives the Klingons one last epic story, Regeneration checks in on the Borg. The Breach offers a traditional Star Trek morality play, while Cogenitor brutally subverts it. Even episodes like Horizon and First Flight call back to the earliest episodes of Enterprise, as if to offer one last reflection on what might have been.

However, the second season is dominated by a long middle stretch – episodes running from Marauders through to The Crossing. While episodes like Future Tense provide an occasional reprieve, this middle stretch of the season is workmanlike and functional. This is the first two seasons of Enterprise as they are often dismissed: a lite version of Star Trek: Voyager in the same way that Star Trek: Voyager is a lite version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that long and dull middle stretch, it feels like the writing staff might as well be blowing dust off of scripts written for the seventh season of The Next Generation.

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Unfortunately, while the first and third sections of the season have a lot to recommend them, it is the middle stretch that sets the mood for the season. The second season of Enterprise has more than a couple genuine stinkers – Precious Cargo, The Crossing and Bounty come to mind – but the season never hits the sustained lows of the third season of Star Trek, the first and second seasons of The Next Generation or the second season of Voyager. However, there is long string of episodes that are just dull and uninspired; formulaic and familiar.

In that extended run in the middle of the season, there are episodes that can be easily reduced to “[earlier episode or pop culture reference] by way of [earlier episode or pop culture reference]” without missing anything much. Marauders is The Magnificent Seven by way of Star Trek”, The Communicator is A Piece of the Action by way of First Contact”, Singularity is “Bliss by the way of The Game”, Vanishing Point is “Realm of Fear by way of Remember Me”, Precious Cargo is “Elaan of Troyius by way of The Perfect Mate”, Dawn is The Enemy by way of Darmok.” And so on.

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The result is a second season that is exhausting and draining. Watching it on original broadcast was a disheartening experience; each week seemed to bring more of the same. The long stretch from the end of October to the start of April was unforgiving; each week seemed to offer more evidence that Star Trek was tired and played out, a franchise disengaged from not only the world around it but also from the changing rules of its own medium. Coupled with the spectacular (but entirely foreseeable) failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, the second season of Enterprise seemed to seal the franchise’s fate.

There is a very real tragedy to all this. For all that the tail end of the second season sees a massive up-swing in quality and energy, it is perhaps too little and too late. By the time that Judgment had begun a late-season revitalisation, Rick Berman had already announced a bold new direction for the third season. That last stretch is a lame duck. In a way, the second season of Enterprise plays like a microcosm of the series itself; a dramatic upswing in quality and ambition at a point where fate has already made its decision.

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The X-Files – End Game (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Towards the end of End Game, Mulder stumbles across a nuclear submarine that was attacked in the episode’s teaser. The craft was disabled by a strange craft it picked up in the ocean. Now, following a mysterious alien figure across the world in a quest to find his sister, Mulder approaches the location of the lost American submarine. As he does, he notices the submarine’s coning tower, bursting through the ice.

It’s one of those beautifully iconic television moments. It’s an image that is audacious and stunning and beautiful and breathtaking. It immediately gives End Game (and Colony) a sense of scale. All of a sudden, this isn’t just a bunch of stuff happening under the radar in some small town somewhere. This is the hijacking of a nuclear submarine by a hostile entity. This is Mulder going to the ends of the Earth to get his sister back.

Not so green any longer...

Not so green any longer…

It’s also worth noting that the symbolism is beautiful. Even looking at a picture of Mulder on the ice conjures up all manner of associations. Coupled with the non-linear storytelling employed by Colony and End Game, it calls Frankenstein to mind – Frankenstein serving as a massively influential text on Chris Carter. However, the idea of Mulder finding important existential answers on an Arctic soundstage also evokes Clark Kent’s self-discovery in Richard Donner’s Superman films, playing into the sense that this is an episode framed in cinematic terms.

The rest of the episode could just be dead air, and End Game would still work impressively well. However, End Game remains a fantastic piece of work in its own right, effectively codifying how a two-parter is meant to work.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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