Thursday, April 27, 2017

Doctor Who: Grin and Bear It

Week 2 of the new series brings us a proper sci-fi story: "Between here and my office, before the kettle boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will."

I like to play a little game when I'm watching Doctor Who. Any moment that you see the TARDIS take off without one of the companions, any number of adventures might be happening off-screen. This is one of those moments, only with Noodle Nardole being the one left behind. Thankfully, he's barely in this episode.

The story premise is amazingly simple: the first human colony is built, and something goes horribly wrong. It's similar to the recently-released Mass Effect: Andromeda, and yet it happens to tell a much more compelling story in 42 minutes than ME:A did in 42 hours.

It's always interesting when someone writes a story with a very cynical view of humanity's ability to program robots with Asimov's First Law. For those unfamiliar:
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
We're entering spoiler territory here. The robots, or "Vardi" (as if just calling them nanites wouldn't suffice.. must be a brand name), are programmed to keep humans happy at all costs. The only problem is that it's not at any cost to them, but at any cost to the humans.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode, but how stultifyingly incompetent is the human race that they can't manage to program robots not to recycle them into compost if they're unhappy? And did the adorable interface bots program the skull-face emoji themselves, or was there some form of malicious intent in the programming, and the smile-or-you-die effect part of the plan? 
Seriously. Who programmed this? 
I can't help but remember that Missy (and possibly the Master) is coming back this year. I'm not sure if it's relevant, or simply a plot hole, but it's something that would be very clever if they later explained it the way I'm thinking. I do have to say the I love the interface bot's "skeptical" face. 

Bill's continuing to do a good job of asking the right questions, coming to logical conclusions, and prompting the Doctor along when he's thinking aloud. And she's not the least bit annoying this episode! Again, her marketing really failed her, because she's turning out to be a good character so far and it's not the impression I got at all before seeing her in action. 
I need to know if this was a set, existing location, or just green-screen. It looks amazing.
I have to hand it to Future India, too. They've shown up several times recently, from the Indian Space Agency to Indo-Japan to the skeleton crew here. Future India seems quite an ambitious culture, although I'm not sure if the programming of the Vardi was any better or worse than Britain hijacking a giant space whale to power their floating colony.

Continuing that train of thought into the meta, I have to give credit to the series for subtly promoting a culture not their own without ham-handed preaching. It's showing, not telling - let alone preaching -and that's something I really have to respect. 

This episode, overall, was a mixed bag. There were some very, very good moments, and some very glaring plot holes. This season hasn't quite hit its stride yet, but it's still worth a watch. I didn't like it quite as much as I did The Pilot, but I'd still watch it again. 

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