Blog

As part of our effort to expand Decorative Vegetable beyond just podcasts into a media empire we’ve started a blog. On this page you can find all of our blog posts, posted once a week on Fridays, and usually alternating author between Kiyan and Dylan with occasional guest posts.

Children of Earth and the “First Contact” Archetype

By Dylan • 22 January 2021

Allow me this week to take some time out of your day to actually write a blog post on something not only science-fiction related but also actually related to what we’re watching on the podcast. If you read my last post you know I talked in some unfortunate detail about Cars 2. This week I want to talk about Torchwood Series 3: Children of Earth (henceforth Children of Earth) and how it plays into tropes of the “first contact” archetype sub-genre of science-fiction.

Kiyan and I have talked at length about genre and specifically what science-fiction means as a genre term (you can find that discussion scattered throughout Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast) and I don’t think I have enough space here to continue that conversation. For the purposes moving forward I’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that I’ll be “analyzing” Children of Earth from a science fiction standpoint and specifically through the lens of a first contact story.

I’ve seen a lot of people refer to Children of Earth is pretty much a conspiracy thriller with some light sci-fi but I want to argue that its structure is actually pretty similar to two other first contact stories, specifically Contact (1997) and Arrival (2016) (which bizarrely both have single word titles). In fact I think the sort of “low sci-fi” angle of the story is a staple of this sub-genre and is not present in Children of Earth just because Russell T. wanted to write a conspiracy thriller. I should also note that as of writing I have yet to watch the final episode of Children of Earth, but I have watched the other four episodes. Moving forward there’s going to be spoilers for Contact and Arrival, obviously.

I believe that there are three distinct phases in a first contact story: the aliens arrive and are met with disbelief, humanity bands together to solve a common problem (either the aliens themselves or a problem the aliens present to them), and the aliens leave at the end having fulfilled their purpose. What makes a first contact story interesting is that the aliens exist as a plot element, but the main plot is driven by the character interactions and reactions to the aliens, as opposed to the aliens themselves like in most other sci-fi sub-genres.

The first and foremost staple of a first contact story is that when the aliens arrive, humanity will not believe them, or fail to understand their purpose here. For example, in Contact when the aliens “arrive” they send a coded message that is picked up by the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Jodie Foster’s character (Ellie Arroway) is the first to recognize it as an alien message, but the scientific community, nay, the world at large does not believe her. For a good part of the movie she’s ridiculed, disparaged, and quite frankly treated like shit. That is, until the aliens transmit a video of Hitler along with their initial message. This is the kind of “oh shit” moment where everyone realizes that this is actually serious.

In Arrival, too, when the aliens arrive, they are greeted with indifference and disbelief. Even though they arrive in giant pebble shaped spaceships that are kind of hard to ignore. Amy Adam’s character (Louise Banks) is called into help and translate the alien language since she already has security clearance and even she is incredulous until she’s actually inside the alien spaceship.

In Children of Earth this moment and plot point is represented by nobody in London really believing anything alien is necessarily happening when all the kids start talking in unison. They just think it’s pretty weird. It’s not until the kids start talking about “We Are Coming” that people really start to man up and go “hang on this could be something.” Even Frobisher doesn’t believe that this could be aliens and he’s encountered them before. He spends most of episode 1 and part of 2 decrying the return of these aliens.

This moment of disbelief is important for first contact stories because once it passes it serves as a catalyst for the human race to band together and work together to combat the alien threat (although in both the stories I have mentioned already the threat turns out to be quite benign). Let’s look back at Contact. In Contact the aliens transmit a set of blueprints that are encoded and encrypted. It takes first a huge collaborative effort (until John Hurt shows up anyway) to try and crack the encryption. From there the entire human race has to work together to build this giant structure even though they have no idea of its purpose. This mirrors aspects of Children of Earth, where London takes blueprints transmitted by the 456 and builds this chamber – Even though they have no idea what it does.

In Arrival, the different linguistical approaches taken by the US and China mean that they interpret an alien phrase differently. By the midpoint of the movie this tension in translation has lead to a breakdown of scientific collaboration, and Chinese and Russian teams have cut contact with the other countries teams. The aliens respond by providing linguists and scientists in each of the 12 crafts exactly 1/12th of a more complex message. It takes the entirety of the human race and scientific community to band together, tearing down these barriers to share what they know in order to translate the message and understand why the aliens have come to Earth.

Frobisher and Dekker look on at the chamber they've built for the 456

In Children of Earth this concept comes through when the 456 actually arrive in London, and Prime Minister Green (no relation) has to make the decision to share with the rest of the world that they have arrived in Thames House even though he would rather keep this fact a secret. He knows that anything that happens moving forward must be shared with the rest of the world. He’s going to need their help to fulfill the 456’s request for children. And once again the aliens force his hand by having the kids in each country recite the number of children they require from that country. It’s going to take a global effort to solve this problem.

Finally, at the end of the story the aliens must leave. This is quite obvious for Arrival, where the aliens leave having fulfilled their purpose. In Contact after Ellie makes, well, contact, with the aliens they reveal that they will have no further communication with humanity for the time being, as they’re not ready to join the galactic federation (or whatever it was, honestly the ending of Contact was a little unclear).

Which brings me to my prediction for Children of Earth. Torchwood, UNIT, Frobisher, someone ends up dealing with the 456, perhaps even killing the ambassador. And after that they leave to never be heard of again. Gone. Just as the sub-genre intends, just as the story requires. I don’t think the 456 will be killed off in their entirety. But I do think we’ll just never hear about them again. I do know that I’ll certainly find out in the next 24 hours, when I watch episode 5. But I’m pretty confident that I’m right here.

Based on the evidence presented, I think I’ve made my case that Children of Earth mirrors the first contact type story told in Contact and Arrival. And weirdly enough along the way we learned that Contact and Arrival are pretty similar movies, surprisingly.


Do you think that Children of Earth is a first contact story? Or do you think it’s a conspiracy thriller with alien elements? Or even both? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

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Chris Chibnall, Yasmin Khan, and the Slow Burn

By Kiyan • 15 January 2021
 

It’s been almost two weeks since Revolution of the Daleks aired, and one of the biggest complaints about this latest Doctor Who special that I’ve seen online since is this:

“The Doctor should have spent more of the episode imprisoned.”

Well, maybe that’s a bit disingenuous.

It’s not that the Doctor should have spent more time in Judoon prison, people are saying.

It’s that the special’s marketing — its trailers, its pre-release screenshots, etc. — all seemed to indicate that she would spend more time imprisoned than she ended up spending.

I thought so too. But then again, look at this:
Revolution of the Daleks poster with the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz, Graham, and Jack
See what I mean?

No?

Look closely. See Yaz? There in the center-right? She’s smiling. And she looks super happy.

And Yaz smiling and looking happy was even less a part of the episode than the Doctor’s imprisonment was.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Yaz understandably didn’t have as big a role in this episode as Ryan or Graham did, but when it was her time in the sun, she was mopey, gloomy, and likely suffering from bouts of obsession, depression, or both.

But were people crying “misleading marketing” when it came to Yaz?

Oooooooooooof course not.

Look, I like my words like I like my meat: not minced. So I’ll say it:

Yaz is the unloved stepchild of the Chris Chibnall era of Who.

It’s sad but true. And also not surprising in the slightest. Back in Series 11, Yaz was a puzzle box of a character. Who was she? We didn’t know. Sure, we knew she was a cop. Sure, we knew a little about her family and how she got along (or failed to) with each of them. Sure, we knew a bit about her values — what she thought, what she believed in.

But compared to Ryan and Graham, we didn’t quite know as much about Yaz. Not at the time.

Flash forward to early 2020 (15 years ago at time of writing). Series 12 gave us more to dig into with Yaz, revealing a bit more of her backstory and delving into what makes her tick in episodes like Can You Hear Me?

But even still, her role and her character continued to fall by the wayside, backing off, it seemed, to make room for more screentime devoted to the Doctor and the Master and, indeed, Ryan and Graham.

On that front, this latest special is no different. Ryan and Graham (and cameo appearance/fan-favorite Jack Harkness) take center stage yet again in Revolution of the Daleks, leaving Yaz with a scant few minutes’ worth of the episode devoted to her.

It’s understandable. After all, Revolution of the Daleks is Ryan and Graham’s final episode. Of course it would be dedicated in the main to them.

The Doctor, Ryan, Yaz, and Graham huddling in Revolution of the Daleks

So despite my poking fun at people ignoring the discrepancy between the poster and the finished product, it ultimately makes sense that this small inconsistency would go unnoticed: Yaz’s emotional state understandably plays second fiddle to, well, pretty much anything else you might compare it to in the episode.

Still, even though Revolution of the Daleks has bigger fish to fry, the months Yaz’s spent obsessing over the Doctor and the unequivocally unhealthy lens through which the episode portrays her decision to stay with the Doctor are important.

They speak to the mode of storytelling we’ve been seeing on Doctor Who for the past two and a half-ish years, the mode of storytelling that sets this era of Doctor Who apart from what came before.

The Chris Chibnall era of Who has a very different feel from the RTD or Moffat eras. And that’s largely thanks to how we see characters like Yaz play out.

Once upon a time (2005-2017), Doctor Who was nothing short of a televised incendiary device. It liked to explode, putting its characters through bombastic, life-changing, outlook-shattering, horizon-broadening events each episode and packing everything it had into firecracker finales that left no grenade pin unpulled, all to the triumphant blare of Murray Gold’s unmistakable score.

In other words, Doctor Who liked to put all its chips on the table and, like a little kid too eager to tell a secret, giggle its way through the rest of the game until it got to show its hand. It kept nothing up its sleeve, played every card it had.

Plot beats, backstories, reveals: these came fast. Each episode sucker punched you and then took you on an emotional ambulance ride. Each season was synecdoche to the episodes themselves, propelling you through what felt like the entire range of human emotion, a months-long analogue to each week’s 45-minute slice. And it all culminated every year in gut-wrenching, heartrending finales the likes of which surely, you said, could never be topped.

And you were right. They couldn’t be topped. Which is why each season of New Who from 2005 to 2017 felt increasingly as if it had to outspeak, outperform, and outdo the last.

Along the way, there were a few soft resets that turned the “emotional” and “bombastic” dials back down to zero, or at least close to it. Matt Smith’s first episode for example. Capaldi’s third season.

But this was largely how things were, the modus operandi for 12 years.

No more.

New Who… New-er Who is different. When Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor fell to Earth, she brought Doctor Who right back down to Earth with her. Now, the characters are more grounded. The Bad Wolf and The Impossible Girl and The Girl Who Waited and The Last Centurion give way to a bus driver with cancer, a depressed cop, and a guy juggling dyspraxia with some serious family issues. The “greatest woman [Ryan] ever met,” Ryan explains at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, isn’t who the episode leads you to believe it is at first. It’s not the Doctor; it’s Grace. This is a show, says that first episode of 13’s era, not about how amazing someone like the Doctor is, but about how “special” — that’s the word Ryan uses — an ordinary person like Grace can be.

Now, things are slower and more contemplative. There’s time now. Time to breathe and time to let words, sights, and sounds all sink in. Steven Moffat may have given Doctor Who time travel, but Chris Chibnall gave it time. What would have happened all in one season back in the day takes multiple seasons — years — in this current incarnation of Doctor Who. As of Revolution of the Daleks, the 13th Doctor still hasn’t decided what she feels about the revelations in The Timeless Children yet even after discussing it with her companions a couple times. We’re still waiting on that.

In Revolution of the Daleks, Yaz isn’t front and center. Her story, like the 13th Doctor’s, doesn’t culminate neatly in season finales or specials. Her life, like the 13th Doctor’s and like a real person’s in the real world, doesn’t change instantly thanks to single moments or simple platitudes or epic, emotional climaxes. Her story instead takes its time to grow. We’re still in the middle of it. It’ll show when it’s ready. If it’s anything like Ryan and Graham’s, it won’t end with the Doctor because (unlike how things sometimes felt with the companions of Doctor Who past) her story didn’t really start with the Doctor to begin with.

Yaz fades into the background in Revolution of the Daleks, just as she’s done since the very beginning of the 13th Doctor’s run. Who is she? Who is Yasmin Khan? We still don’t know. Not fully.
But I’m willing to bet we’ll find out.

So though New Who no longer adheres to its initial schema ― no longer winks and smiles and embarks on extravagant gambols and all-or-nothing gambles ― don’t fret and don’t despair.

And embrace the slow burn.


Two+ years in, what do you think of Yaz and the “slow burn” of current Who? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

Posted by Kiyan in Blog, 0 comments

Rewriting Cars 2: Solving the Mater Problem

By Dylan

Ok, let me confess right off the bat that I actually kind of like Cars 2. I have a weird softspot for it in my heart, and I think it’s because I saw it at the exact perfect age to like this movie. Looking back on it I can freely admit that if you’re not in this razor thin margin of ages that Cars 2 really has nothing for you. Unless you really like art design porn. Like, for example, photorealistic Italian hills.

So I decided that I, a complete and ordinary man with no film cred whatsoever except making a bunch of movies as kid that far exceed the quality of this movie and who has hosted a weekly podcast for 7 years, will try and fix this movie.

Before I get started I have to get a few things out of the way. In order to fix Cars 2 I decided it had to fit into the trilogy as best as possible, because really, it actually kind of doesn’t fit Cars 1 and 3 at all. Making this rather broad statement requires me to define what I think the “Cars Trilogy” is actually about. Cars (the first one) is about life being what you make of it, and in many ways, how to use the past and nostalgia to make advances in your life. Cars 3 is about reconciling the past and the future. In this framework I see Cars 1 as a “ghost of Christmas past” and Cars 3 as a “ghost of Christmas future”.

Cars 2 is about… uh. According to Vanity Fair, it’s about OPEC, but I disagree. Cars 2 is about nothing. Cars 2 has no meaningful tie in to this idea I’ve set up. Which is why I think it fails. Thematically and tonally it is completely disingenuous to what the Cars franchise is. Part of that, too, is because Cars 2 isn’t even really about Lightning McQueen. It’s about Mater.

So my proposed fixes to Cars 2 thus would take efforts to try and mold it into a movie that thematically links Cars 1 to Cars 3. For this exercise I will assume you know the plot of Cars 2. I have also set myself the task of trying to change as little as possible about the movie while still improving it. I will have to immediately violate this to indicate, well, Lightning has to be the main character. That’s a big change but I’m sure you agree. We need to do this because Lightning needs to have agency over the story. In the original Mater makes the decision for Lightning to race, instead of him, which given Lightning’s love of racing in the other two movies doesn’t really make sense.

We need this to be a sort of “ghost of christmas present” story. Lightning has learned to be a kinder person, less arrogant. In this movie he needs to learn how to accept his friends for who they are, he needs to learn that sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to “for the greater good.” Not that I really like that term much, but it pertains. For this he can still be reluctant to race, but he has a desire to. When the World Grand Prix comes around, he’s torn between wanting to race and not. To strengthen the ties between the trilogy, Lightning specifically doesn’t feel like he can race without Doc. Doc was his secret weapon Cars 1 is a movie about being mentored, Cars 3 about being a mentor, Cars 2 should be a movie about facing the world solo.

In my new Cars 2, the WGP is less about finding the best racer but rather about finding the best country at racing and so Jeff Gorvette eventually accepts the American mantle before Lightning is able to make a decision, thus making the decision for him. The plot to discredit alternative fuel is now, well, a subplot (and you’ll see how I change the ending shortly), and in the first race Jeff is the racer who gets injured and cannot race due to this plan. Lightning must eventually step up and take his place, as the only racer good enough to represent the American team. In fact lets double down, let’s kill off the American agent right now and have Lighting get confused for being him.

Lightning must then stumble and fail in his second race out. He doesn’t do poorly, he just doesn’t do great. Solidly middle of the pack. Just well enough to put him in the position that if he wins the final race, he can still win the World Grand Prix for the US. Not only that he’s a little distracted by having to be a super spy. Sucks right? This is the turning point, the inflection point between act 2 and act 3. Lightning is at his lowest, he doesn’t think he has anywhere to go but down. For now.

In act 3 Lightning realizes that the power to be a true racer was within him all along™. He wins the race and the WGP, and in the process derails the plot to undermine alternative fuels. By the way, in my version, this is just Prof. Z. trying to discredit alternative fuels because he’s a villain, instead of Sir Miles Axelrod trying to pull the Cars equivalent of Goldfinger. No twist villain. It’s all straightforward. It’s a subplot, no more, and for that it just needs to feel suitably linked to the main plot to be satisfying.

In my version of Cars 2 Mater barely even features. He’s just Lightning’s friend, that’s it. Lightning is the one who interacts with Finn McMissile, who teaches him the value of teamwork and trust. He serves a cross between a mentor and a friend. The movie serves as a stepping point for Lightning’s character, where he relearns faith in his own abilities that he lost after Doc dies. In fact, we can make this stronger by having Lightning delegate his task during the final race to Mater, establishing trust between the two, plus showing character growth from race 2, where Lightning tried to do everything at once and failed. He’s learning that he can’t do everything, that sometimes he has to ask for help, and that’s ok! Which we can then tie into Cars 3, where he learns how to be a mentor to Cruz and cedes not just part of his task, but the entire race, to Cruz. Character growth!

I think my version of Cars 2 is stronger than the theatrical, by 100 fold. It ties into both Cars and Cars 3 by providing Lightning character development that clearly happened between the two. I also remove what I think is the biggest sin that Cars 2 commits: that of introducing a moral counter to that of Cars. At the end of Cars Lightning learns that being a dick is kind of not a good policy to get you what you want. At the end of Cars 2 Mater learns that being a fucking asshole is ok as long as you’re sort of funny to kids. That’s like, not ok man.

Do you agree with my assessment? Do you think that I’ve improved Cars 2? Reach out and let us know, either in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted by Dylan in Blog, 0 comments

Torchwood Children of Earth and the Steven Moffat Effect

By Kiyan

On Trust Your Doctor, we’re currently deep in the weeds of Children of Earth, the third season of Torchwood.

And what wonderful weeds they are.

Surprising and surprisingly grim, Children of Earth leaves fetid, gnarly gashes where the previous two seasons of Torchwood contented with surgical cuts. It’s brutal, at least compared to what came before, and that’s a good thing. And we’re only two episodes in.

It’s with this brutality that Children of Earth delimits itself from what came before. “If you expected the same old Torchwood, think heckin’ again,” says Children of Earth as it dedicates its first episode to the wholesale destruction of everything Torchwood had been up until that point — from the new mini-series format replacing the standard 13 pisodes to the seeming disinterest in fantasy alien tech (“The technical name is a gizmo,” Gwen tells Clement of a device she uses to deactivate a security camera, waving a remorseless goodbye to the detail with which previous Torchwood seasons would have tackled this moment). It all culminates in the literal, sudden, upsetting destruction of Torchwood (Torchwood itself, the hub), which gets blown to smithereens shortly before the first daily installment of five is through. It’s a bold refusal to stick to the surefire, to rest on laurels already drooping under the weight of a(n admittedly great) second season. Right off the bat, everything changes.

But what really strikes me the most about Children of Earth so far is the balancing act that the season plays. Every moment of edge-of-your-seat action gets its quieter, more meditative complement, every further fathom of mystery into which the story plunges you its vitalizing oxygen bubble to keep you going — backstories for, revelations about, and contemplations on characters you care about; concrete (😎) stakes that keep you on solid ground while a sea of larger puzzles steeps off to the side. It’s an adventure as lost as it is found, offering the tonally and narratively new up in equal measure alongside remeditations on stuff you already know (and maybe even care) about. Children of Earth takes you on a journey that tiptoes the line between the unprecedented and the familiar, remixing the show’s brief past into its own future vision.

This approach ring a bell? It should for any Doctor Who fan. Because it’s largely what Steven Moffat did over the course of his 10+ years of work on Doctor Who.

Steven Moffat didn’t work on Children of Earth. He didn’t work on any of Torchwood for that matter. But Children of Earth feels more Moffatesque than many actual Moffat stories, and it all comes down to the Steven Moffat Effect.

And that’s not too surprising. Because the explosion? Turns out it doesn’t work. The hub may be gone, but Gwen, Jack, and Ianto all survive.

The explosion doesn’t destroy torchwood. It lays it bare.

What is the Steven Moffat Effect?

But what is the “Steven Moffat Effect?” Well, other than “the term I came up with to give this blog post a clickbait-y title,” the best way to answer that question is with another question:

“Is Doctor Who about time travel?”

Someone who’s only ever watched Classic Who will probably tell you no, or otherwise explain that time travel is really just the show’s conceit, that Doctor Who never really thematizes or, to appropriate the linguistic term, topicalizes it.

Ask someone who’s only watched New Who though, and they’ll probably say that, yes, of course Doctor Who is about time travel. What else would it be about? Blink is great. Haven’t you ever seen Blink?

This is the prime example of the Steven Moffat Effect. The 2010-17 era of Doctor Who takes what was once just a conceit, a usually minor detail in the background that was never a main plot point or even really a big deal, and makes it important, primarizes it. Under Steven Moffat, Doctor Who became a show about time travel in a way that it never was before.

You can see the same thread in other Moffat works as well. Because believe it or not, the same is true of the 2011 Tintin movie that Moffat co-wrote… minus the time travel stuff. In the original Tintin comics, Captain Haddock’s drinking problem serves largely as comic relief. But the 2011 movie turns levity to gravity when it hinges its emotional climax (so its climax) on Tintin’s calling out the Captain’s alcoholism after it gets them stranded in the desert. (Though it’s been 15+ years since I last read a Tintin comic, and I saw the movie once in 2011, so some of this may be wrong(?), and if it is, feel free to correct me.)

Doctor Who and Tintin both have legacies that stretch back longer than most can remember (and the few who can probably don’t care to admit it), and when Moffat (and his co-writers) took the reigns, they ended up reevaluating what were once minor components in a much more comprehensive way and bringing them, in the process, to the forefront.

That’s the Steven Moffat Effect.

And to a large extent, it’s how Children of Earth approaches its being the third season of Torchwood: by taking what were once minor points or jokes and honing in on them with laser focus.

For example, take the…

Big Bad Bureaucracy

Children of Earth remixes a familiar facet of the Torchwood team — their close relationships with one another — and uses it to comment on something that extends far beyond either Torchwood (the team) or Torchwood (the series): bureaucracy.

If acquaintances agree where friends argue, Torchwood must have been really good friends. Because back when Owen and Tosh were alive, these MFers were at each other’s throats 25/8. So yeah, Torchwood is a close-knit team. And as both their somber moment together at the end of Exit Wounds and their adroit teamwork in Children of Earth indicate, Gwen, Jack, and Ianto remain closer than ever into their third season together.

In seasons one and two, this intimacy as a team usually serves as a source of either comedy or, well, basically strife.

But Children of Earth takes things in a different direction. This time, Torchwood’s close bond isn’t just about the three members who are left. It’s also about the possible dangers and potential pointlessness of bureaucracy. Throughout the first two episodes of Children of Earth, the Torchwood trio makes it out of what would otherwise be fatal scrapes either because they’re a small team, because the people they’re up against are the opposite of a small team, or both. In the first episode of the season for example, the team learns about the bomb embedded in Jack’s stomach just in time to save themselves because they’re a team of three who can communicate face to face. And in the second episode, where the government organization out to kill Jack has to pass information through bureaucratic channels coded and riddled with secrecy, Torchwood is able to communicate with each other while evading detection thanks to the intimacy of their network, such as when Ianto tells his sister via postcard to meet him “where dad broke [his] leg,” or when Gwen tries to set up a rendezvous point with Ianto by meeting up where they last “had ice cream together.” Reevaluated and contrasted with the workings of an organization whose commitment to secrecy (even going so far as to namedrop the Official Secrets Act) and middlemen has, so far, been its undoing (Gwen and Rhys are saved because John Frobisher needs someone to answer his phone for him), the close relationships our Torchwood members have with one another and the intimacy of their small team don’t seem so bad. The memory of the downsides that seasons one and two presented still lingers, but there’s a value, says Children of Earth, to the proximity, an importance to not getting so caught up in the business of running a business or an agency or a government that you forget, like Prime Minister Green, to care about other people. It may just save your life.

Ianto and Jack

Children of Earth also explores the relationship between Ianto and Jack in far more detail than ever before, detailing its implications and the effects it has on Ianto more deftly than season two does. When Ianto visits his sister and her family in the first episode of the season, we learn that he has never been in a romantic relationship with another man before. Complicating matters further, Ianto tells his sister that “[i]t’s not men [… i]t’s only [Jack].” And complicating matters further, Ianto’s sister has probably told a bunch of people about it against Ianto’s wishes.

Thoroughly exploring its ins, outs, and implications, Children of Earth mirrors Ianto and Jack’s relationship with its outlook on Torchwood’s intimacy. The latter, Children of Earth claims, isn’t all bad. Likewise, the former, it says, isn’t all good either. The happy fun times of Ianto and Jack’s relationship are just one of its faces, one of its facets. For Ianto, this relationship poses an entire sea of hardship to navigate, and he’ll likely have to crest more than a few challenging waves before all is said and done. As Children of Earth hones in on these difficulties that season two never really concerns itself with, the Steven Moffat Effect is in full force.


All in all, I’m enjoying the direction Children of Earth is taking things. Using familiar points as the launch pad to explore new reaches is an exciting method and a revitalizing approach to creating a new season of an established show. The Steven Moffat Effect, in other words, is indeed, uh, in effect. I couldn’t be more excited to see where it takes us.

That’s it for now. What are your thoughts on Children of Earth and its approach to the Torchwood formula? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted by Kiyan in Blog, 0 comments

“The Feast of Steven” and Other First Doctor Christmases

By Steven Shinder

Hello, fellow Trustees, or Decorative Veggies, are whatever listeners call themselves. My Name is Steven (Editor’s note: Steven has been on many of our episodes. Most recently, he joined us to discuss the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain), so of course “The Feast of Steven” had to be in the blog title, given that this is Christmas themed and that was a Christmas episode. Now that I have explained the joke, I can hear you all rollicking with breathless laughter.

Anyway, Christmas is that time of year when you can watch, listen to, or read a piece of media that focuses on comfort and makes you believe, if only for a moment, that maybe your life doesn’t completely suck. And this blog post is no exception to the rule. So let’s get on with it already. Here are some thoughts on First Doctor Christmas stories. I am not sure if these are all of them, but these are all the ones that I have experienced.

The First Doctor looking into the camera

“The Feast of Steven”

Ah yes. This is where the Doctor Who Christmas specials really started, 55 years ago. “The Feast of Steven” was pretty much a filler episode within the larger serial The Daleks’ Master Plan. The seventh episode of the serial, it was broadcast on December 25, 1965, and it did not really have anything to further the overarching story since it seemed that audiences would probably not be watching this episode. And now, you really can’t watch this episode. That’s right. If you wanna feast your eyes on “The Feast of Steven,” then your only option is to watch a reconstruction.

Even with the still photographs and the audio, the episode seems pretty bizarre and chaotic. The episode takes The Doctor, Steven Taylor, and Sara Kingdom through some wacky events, from evading police officers in 1960s England to stumbling upon a film set in 1920s Hollywood. And Charlie Chaplin was in there somewhere, apparently. I don’t know. It was confusing. We even get a yikes-worthy quote from The Doctor when on the films set: “a madhouse, it’s all full of Arabs.” Never believe anyone who says Classic Who was perfect. So glad that the show has evolved past this.

And as if all of that was not enough, we end on a scene in the TARDIS where The Doctor pours drinks for his companions, and toasts a Merry Happy Christmas not just to them, but “to all of you at home.” That’s right. He looks right at the camera. I’m not even sure how much I even want this complete episode to be found. I’ve had issues with some of the NuWho Christmas specials, but I think it’s safe to say that this is the worst one in the televised history of Doctor Who.
 
 
cover of The Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy”

Thankfully, if you’ve endured that whole thing and need a palette cleanser, you can read or listen to the Short Trips short story “The Little Drummer Boy.” Released in prose and audio forms in March 2003 and September 2016 respectively, this picks up right from the end of “The Feast of Steven.” You thought The Doctor, Steven, and Sara went straight back to dealing with Daleks? Hell no! They actually traveled to several different Christmases, including the Christmas truce in 1914. Yes, that Christmas truce. I have more to say about that later, but what I will say is that The Doctor here does focus on how while there is peace for the day, the fighting will continue the next day.

But the real center of this story is a mystery pertaining to a boy who keeps popping up as they keep traveling to these Christmases in different years. The boy looks the same no matter which year they end up. It is a tale that involves twins, illnesses, and a way of avoiding a paradox somehow. The ending is bittersweet. While I think it was well-crafted, I struggled deciding whether to rate the audio (narrated by Beth Chalmers) 4/5 stars or 5/5 stars. Ultimately, I landed on 4 since the resolution felt a bit unethical to me. But this is a story that is definitely worth experiencing.
 
 
cover of O Tannenbaum

“O Tannenbaum”

If you thought that was the only Short Trips Christmas story featuring the First Doctor and Steven Taylor, think again! They also experience a Christmas story in the form of “O Tannenbaum,” an audio released in December 2017 (a few days before “Twice Upon a Time” was broadcast, actually). Peter Purves provides the voices of both characters. While this story was not quite as good as “The Little Drummer Boy,” I still enjoyed it. The tale has to do with a father, his son, and…trees. The tree-angle kind of reminded me of a Christmas horror story I wrote five years ago.

To say more would potentially be spoilery, but I also hope I am not raising expectations too high. The story is pretty straightforward, and The Doctor makes an awesome branch manager pun. Weirdly, the story ends with Steven saying The Doctor’s line at the end of “The Feast of Steven,” wishing a happy Christmas “to all of you at home.” However, it is played off like he is saying it to his surroundings with nobody around listening, which is kind of sad. But anyway, this one was definitely 4/5 stars for me.
 
 
The Twelfth and First Doctors in Twice Upon a Time

“Twice Upon a Time”

Of course we had to talk about “Twice Upon a Time.” I mean, come on. Its acronym is TUAT. Isn’t that hilarious?

All joking aside, this is actually my favorite televised Doctor Who Christmas special. Seeing the flashback to a classic serial, in this instance The Tenth Planet, and then having the current story follow up from there is what I wanted for the series 7B episodes, given that they aired in the show’s 50th anniversary year. The recreations are done very well, and bringing in David Bradley, who depicted William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space (where I actually felt something when he said “I don’t want to go” after I felt nothing hearing David Tennant say it), was a brilliant decision. And I am glad that he has gone on to play the First Doctor again in The First Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.

Sure, the sexism of the First Doctor is made more overt here, and I understand how jarring that can be. But ultimately, the First and Twelfth Doctors going through this arc where they realize just how important their roles in making miracles happen is is what saves it for me. I remember tearing up when I first watched that scene toward the end where “Silent Night” is sung in the trenches of World War I, and the Christmas truce takes place. For this one day, two opposing sides of a terrible war were sharing a merry celebration. Twelve reminds One that being The Doctor means to keep even just a few people alive for a little bit longer, thus perpetuating the fairy tale that life, at times, fails to become on its own. Plus, this story enhances the story of the First Doctor’s regeneration into the Second Doctor.

As I alluded to earlier, though, this was not the first Doctor Who story to feature the Christmas truce. The Short Trips story “The Little Drummer Boy” featured it in March 2003. And then less than two years later, in December 2004, it was featured in “Never Seen Cairo,” a short story included in Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury. In this instance, the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown were present, and a soldier declines The Doctor’s offer to visit another place such as Cairo, given his duties, according to the TARDIS wiki. (I haven’t read this story.)

a page from The Forgotten

And then in December 2008, the multi-Doctor comic book story The Forgotten featured a flashback in which the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler arrive at the time of the Christmas truce. Captain Harkness is mentioned to have survived being shot in the head and sent to the hospital, but Nine and Rose are unfamiliar with the name, as they haven’t met Jack yet. There is also a Benton present, which is funny considering that “Twice Upon a Time” would feature the Brigadier’s father. Nine is the referee during the football game.

So at the Christmas truce, Twelve, Nine, Five, and two versions of One could have been present. I think it would’ve been rather funny had these other Doctors just been in the background during “Twice Upon a Time.”

It is kind of ironic that it took a Chris — Chris Chibby, in this case — to end the tradition of televised Doctor Who Christmas specials. But at least the tradition ended on a high note, and I couldn’t think of better final moments for the First Doctor right before his regeneration.

If you’ve experienced all of these stories, what did you think of them? How would you rank them? Do you agree? Disagree? Wanna throw tomatoes at me? (Editor’s note: throw ’em Steven’s way on twitter: @StevenShinder. Or throw ’em our way on our Twitter or Facebook.) A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!

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Revolution of the Daleks Predictions

Jack in the Revolution of the Daleks trailer
Welcome one, welcome all. And by that, I mean “welcome listeners and maybe some people who follow us on Facebook or Twitter.” Because let’s be real: who else is going to read this inaugural blog post of ours?

Yes, that’s right. We’ve started a blog. If you’re reading this right now, you’re on it. Ideas for how to get ourselves more invested in this site of ours (which we created for our podcasts) and make it feel less like it was created in 2008 (it wasn’t) have been brewing in the sewage pipeline of my mind for a while now, and this was the foremost of them, so it’s great to see that it’s all… completely backfired.

Cause we just started a blog.

In 2020.

Anyway, enough rambling. Blog posts have topics after all, and this one’s, in case you missed it, is “Revolution of the Daleks Predictions.”

Without further ado, let’s dive in to six extremely-likely-to-actually-happen predictions for the upcoming special.

Jack’s Back Comes Back

(Kiyan)

I’ll admit I don’t have much to back this one up, but sometimes you just gotta go with your gut: Jack’s back is coming back.

A Doctor Who staple since 2005, Jack’s bare back has made appearances in such episodes as:

  • Bad Wolf

With such an illustrious track record, there’s no way they’d bring back Jack without bringing back Jack’s back.

Graham Dies

(Dylan)

This is probably the only legitimate prediction in this blog post. Uh, I mean, all of these predictions are totally and 100% legitimate, right? But we all know that Chris Chibnall is a sucker for causing great emotional pain to all the characters we know and love. I mean, the first thing he did when he became showrunner was kill off the wife of one of the companions. I mean, ballsy move, but fair play Chris. And let’s not forget the at least 3 times that he was involved in Torchwood when they killed off loved ones of everyone’s favourite characters.

Owen Harper screaming underwater

And let’s be totally honest here, Ryan just enjoys traveling with the Doctor way too much to leave of his own volition right? We’ve seen him grow closer to Graham over the past two seasons but to what end? I suppose it is entirely possible that he’s now so close to Graham that if Graham decides “screw this I’m too old for this nonsense” and buggers off that he’ll decide to follow, even though as far as we’ve seen he actually has absolutely no life outside of traveling with the Doc. What’s he gonna do? Play basketball all day?

Which brings me to the obvious conclusion: Graham is gonna die, Ryan is going to be so pissed off/annoyed/frustrated/just generally mildly perturbed that the Doctor let this happen and won’t go back to change it with that time machine of her that he’ll leave. He’ll storm off Tegan Jovanka style, never to be seen or mentioned again. Yaz will be unaffected and will be fine with this course of events. You heard it here first.

Ryan and Graham Become Conspiracy Theorists

(Kiyan)

This one isn’t so much a prediction as it is sheer fact standing on common sense’s shoulders and wearing a trenchcoat.

In the trailer for Revolution, we see what looks like a TARDIS interior sheeted in a rainbow of sticky notes. Doctor Who is no stranger to conspiracy theorists (think Clive from Rose) and their infamous walls of interconnected figures and findings, so this is obviously an iteration of that.

That doesn’t mean much on its own. But remember: Ryan and Graham are leaving. What I’m guessing happens is that Ryan and Graham, having now accepted one another as stepgrandfather and stepgrandson, open a business brokering conspiracy theories out of Jo Martin’s TARDIS. Heck, maybe they even come up with their own every once in a while. This would be an excellent way to reaffirm Ryan and Graham’s relationship and really hammer home the heartwarming developments from It Takes You Away, an episode that touched so many people so intimately that I once mistook it for a Catholic priest.

Jack has Less than Five Minutes of Screentime

(Dylan)

John Barrowman is expensive. Doctor Who, in true Doctor Who fashion, is broke. I would like to posit a theory: that we’ve already seen the entirety (or bulk majority) of Jack’s screen time in the trailer. We were all (by which I mean, Kiyan and I were) excited to hear that he was back in Fugitive of the Judoon and then he was on screen for all of ten seconds.

Jack looking skeptical in the Revolution of the Daleks trailer

Chris Chibnall is no stranger to running Doctor Who, of course, so I trust that he has this well in hand. Besides, Jack has no space in his timeline for any of this, we know his timeline through the end of Torchwood, and then we know that he goes on to die as the Face of Boe. A more respectable person might predict that somehow this Jack appearance ties into his Face of Boe appearances, but I would rather predict that Jack will show up, help Yaz for like five minutes, and then leave. To go back to Torchwood. As far as I know he’s supposed to still be leading that, right? Torchwood Three doesn’t get destroyed at the end of season 4 right? Right?!

Jack Dies

(Kiyan)

Yes, you read that right. Think I’m crazy? Get with the program, folks. The writing’s on the wall, and it all adds up. That’s English and math on this prediction’s side.

All that’s to say the idea that Jack is going to die in Revolution makes sense if you think about it. There’s no point in bringing a fan-fave like Jack back if you’re not going to do something spectacular with him, and death has been the spectacle since antiquity.

Need more irrefutable proof? The trailer for Revolution may appear to perplex at first, but pay closer attention and you’ll notice that it shows its hand thrice. Each time it does is one of three final nails in Jack’s coffin.

First, the opening: Jack’s narration cements his role as personnage principal in Revolution. Then, the opining: Jack claims that when you’re a companion of the Doctor, “you don’t get to choose when” your adventures end. (I guess he never met Tegan Jovanka. What gives, Big Finish?) Last but most definitely not least, the trailer tops it all off by reminding us that Jack Harkness is “Jack Harkness, and [he’s] immortal.”

To sum up, we’ve got (1) Jack playing a major role, (2) Jack talking about never knowing when your adventures might end, and (3) Jack heavily playing up his immortality. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say all that doesn’t foreshadow Jack somehow losing his immortality and dying. But I do, so I won’t.

GCHQ Comes Back

(Dylan)

Doctor Who is about acronyms. Wouldn’t be Doctor Who without the TARDIS GCHQ. And as we all know, at the end of Resolution the Doctor just… kind of left the shell of a Dalek hanging out in a government building. That’s gotta be a problem right?

The Dalek from Resolution

We also know that Jack Robertson, everyone’s favourite character from Arachnids in the UK, is returning as part of this year’s special. We also also know, or at least it’s heavily implied from the trailer, that he’s part of this whole “Dalek as a government drone” scheme (ignoring the slightly uncomfortable Trump parallel that’s never really gone away). I don’t really think Robertson is ambitious enough to come up with the Dalek design alone, but I do think that he’s intrepid enough to find a way into the GCHQ to steal rusty. I know I for one am looking forward to once again seeing Doctor Who’s greatest government agency, UNIT the so aptly named Government Communications Headquarters.


And there you have it: our predictions for Revolution of the Daleks. What are yours? And are you excited for the special? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter. Or email. Or snail mail. Heck, fold your message into a paper airplane and glide it over our way. We’ll read it out on the podcast.

Anyway, we’re planning on doing one blog post per week, so we’ll see you here a week from now.

But until then, the end.

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Behind the Scenes: Editing the Matrix

I wasn’t intending for this to be my first blog post, but I think this is far more interesting than the review of The Force Awakens that I’ve been trying to frankenstein together for 4 weeks. I’d also like to apologize if you came here looking for information on editing the actual movie, The Matrix. Unfortunately I wasn’t involved with that, I was about 2.

So in the future there may be more of these “Behind the Scenes” posts, but for now you’ll have to be content with this. I mentioned on Twitter that editing this episode (The Matrix episode of Triple Play, also know as Episode 4) had me tearing my hair out, and now I’m going to tell you why.

This story actually beings back when we were recording the Matrix. This is a bit of a “break the magic” moment, so if you don’t like knowing when we recorded something, skip ahead. I can’t give you a precise date, but we watched the Matrix on a Saturday in September, and recorded the episode on the next Thursday. We would normally have recorded Sunday, but Kiyan’s voice started to give him trouble, so we delayed until he could speak at least mostly normally. The reason for mentioning this will make sense in a bit.

Throughout our podcasting adventure we’ve had some mishaps with Audition, and sometimes we lose an episode to the ether. Sometimes Audition will randomly stop recording while we’re speaking. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to when it does this, and it’s probably something as mundane as the moon passing in front of Venus. This actually occurred while we were recording The Matrix episode, and since The Matrix episode we’ve actually kept a constant eye on Audition rather than letting it run in the background unwatched. It lost our trust.

The previous two sentences may have given away what happened. We sat down to record our episode at 6 PM. This was solely due to it being a Thursday, I might add, we normally record rather early in the morning. We got through the first version and looked at Audition and… It had stopped recording at what we thought was 1 minute and 9 seconds. We had just talked for an hour and none of it was recorded! This made us rather upset and angry. Our second recording (at roughly 7 PM) was noticeably more aggravated. After finishing Kiyan turned to me and said “pity we lost the first recording, it was way better.” I nodded in agreement.

Usually I edit the episodes relatively soon after we’ve recorded them, but for the Matrix I put it aside for a while. It wasn’t going out till January, I figured, so I may as well wait. So imagine my surprise when I opened up Audition in the final week of December to discover that both recordings had survived. We had misread the time stamp, and the recording had actually stopped at 1 hour and 9 minutes. What fools we are. So the position I faced, after all this exposition, was what to do with two separate versions of the same episode?

I consulted briefly with Kiyan and was left with 3 options: Use 1) Version 1 as is, clipping in the very end where it had cut out from Version 2. 2) Use Version 2 as is. 3) Splice together the best parts of both to create the greatest frankenstein episode in all existence. Clearly I’m pretty lazy, so I chose option 3.

And so began the multi-day editing process. I thought I knew how long it would take, but I was terribly wrong on that count. But hey, it came out to be a pretty good episode. So let’s look at what I did.

Before I begin, however, I want to note. This is not how I normally have to edit episodes. I’ll show you a comparison shot at the end, but usually I’ll only need to cut out some things and I’m good. For this edit I split it into three phases.

Phase 1

Phase 1 was arguably the easiest. I began by listening to both full recordings, without any additional music/edits. Since I figured I was going to have to splice together these two different recordings, I made meticulous notes about what we talked about in each episode. So I opened up my trusty word processor, Text Edit, changed the color of the font, and came up with a nice comprehensive notes document.

Matrix Cut 1

Matrix Cut 2

Alright, maybe not so comprehensive. But I needed it to be accurate, and apparently verbosity helps with that. Mentally I was making notes during version 2, comparing it to version 1 and deciding which was better.  Kiyan’s original assessment of the first recording was, on the whole, accurate. It was better. I did, however, find some minor discussion that we either a) did not have in the first recording or b) were superior in the second that I wanted to cut into the first recording to make the final cut. And so began phase 2.

 Phase 2

This was the most difficult of my self assigned phases, since this was the part where I had to cut everything together without making any of it sound weird. I had to take the intro to a section from here, to lead into a section from there. Things like that.

I started with what I wanted to keep from version 1, and put that in. Whenever I reached a section I wanted from version 2, I cut to there, clipped it out, and put it into version 1. Then I would re-listen to the cut multiple times, making slight edits until it sounded natural. I’d bet you didn’t hear a single cut in the final version of the episode. If you did, it was probably from when I cut out Kiyan yelling at the neighbors, which got cut in phase 3. I spent multiple days on this phase, I was quite tired of listening to us talking about The Matrix after the first two listen throughs, to be honest. Of course you can never escape a half edited episode, it digs into your subconscious and constantly bugs you and I often I  would fall asleep to the soothing thoughts of  The Matrix . I even wrote a story while editing about a woman in a red dress, because I heard the phrase “the woman in the red dress” so many goddamn times. Quite honestly that was the most difficult cut to get right.

I’m sure you’re curious as to what elements I took from each version in the final cut. Here’s the last bit of my notes document, where I laid out my assembly of the final version as I did it.

Matrix Final Cut

Phase 3

After I finished phase 2, I exported the episode, with my newly cut in intro, outro, and endslate (our little email us / find us here blurb) music, and sent it off to Kiyan. I don’t normally do this, but I needed a fresh set of ears to listen for 1) a title and 2) any cuts I missed. Turns out I had intended to cut out us looking up things (and Kiyan yelling at the neighbors, but that never made it to the final cut because it was in version 2) and then promptly forgot to do so. He sent me the time stamps of that, and a few repeated conversations and I got to work. Cut those bits out, exported the whole thing, uploaded it, and it released the next day. I did cut that a bit fine, I’ll be honest, but it came out all good in the end. So what does Audition look like now that I finished editing? Well. You can just barely see the intro music there in the third track on the left. Look how cute it is!

Matrix Audition

Don’t be deceived. Most of those cuts are just topic divisions that I made in accordance with my notes document. A few of them are version 2 splices, and even fewer still are cuts that I mentioned above, like us searching something in the middle of the episode. But it does summarize nicely the amount of effort we put into making it a good episode. I said I’d provide a comparison, so here it is. This is the Audition timeline for Trust Your Doctor Episode 104, the latest thing I’ve edited. This is generally the level of editing that needs to be done, a line or two here, maybe one there, maybe save a funny outtake in a lower track. Those kind of things.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 9.28.31 PM

So what did you think? Was this interesting? Do you want to know more? Let me know. Leave a comment. Email us. Tweet me. The second most editing I ever had to do was when Trust Your Doctor reached The Three Doctors (in Episode 68), and if there’s enough interest I can talk about the conception of that episode and the behind the scenes. What really went through our head when we thought “hey let’s have us from the future appear on the show?” Otherwise, I’ve a few other Behind the Scenes ideas stewing in my mind. But until then….

 

Posted by Dylan in Behind the Scenes, Blog, 0 comments