Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 1: Laws Of Nature

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s back! And it was a pretty darned good premiere too, introducing new characters, threats and what I assume will be the arc for Season 3.

I have to admit, I came close to giving up on this show in the less than stellar first season. I'm glad I stuck with it. It continues to improve with each season, now that the producers have finally figured out that the audience wants to see actual superheroes in a superhero show. Let's hope they keep up the good work.

Skye, er, I mean Daisy, has also improved greatly. I couldn't stand her in Season 1, but she's changed for the better and grew on me last season, and is now one of my favorite characters.

It looks like they're laying the groundwork for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie here. That's a good thing. In Season 1 the show had to spin its wheels while it waited for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to premiere, so it could tie into that film. Since the movie won't be out until next summer, I'm hoping that won't happen again.


The Plot:
As the episode opens, a man named Joey has just had his Inhuman powers activated by fish oil tablets (foreshadowed at the end of last season), causing him to melt any metal he touches. Members of the ATCU (the Advanced Threat Containment Unit) swoop in to capture him. They're a new government agency that specializes in subduing alien and superpowered threats. Before the ATCU can nab Joey, S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives, and Skye, now calling herself Daisy, tosses him in a Wonkavator-like escape pod.

The Wonkavator carries him high above the city and into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s brand new aircraft, Zephyr One (replacing the Bus, which was destroyed last season). Rosalind Price, the head of the ATCU, watches from afar and is unamused.

Inside Zephyr One, Daisy tells Joey he's an Inhuman and his life just got more... interesting. I guess that's one way to put it. He's a bit alarmed when he finds out he's a "permanent guest" of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that due to his powers, he can never return to his old life. Coulson (now sporting a spiffy new bionic hand) and S.H.I.E.L.D. are now focusing on rescuing and containing Inhumans before they become a threat, and before the ATCU can eliminate them.

Meanwhile, Fitz is in Morocco, hunting down clues that might lead him to Simmons, who was sucked into the Kree Monolith last season. He meets with an arms dealer named Yousef, and recovers a one thousand year old piece of parchment that, for reasons known only to Fitz, may contain info on the Monolith.

Coulson and Hunter confront Rosalind, and demand to know why she and her agency are killing Inhumans. She says they're not harming them, and thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was. They discover there's apparently a third party that's killing off newly-activated Inhumans.

Daisy isn't making any headway with Joey, and thinks Lincoln (who was her Inhuman "transitionist") may have better luck. She and Mack visit Lincoln, who's now somehow a doctor in a busy hospital. Lincoln says he's done with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans and wants to be left alone. Just then a new Inhuman called Lash attacks the hospital. He's the one who's been killing Inhumans. Daisy and Lincoln combine their powers against Lash, but barely escape with their lives.

Fitz returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. with the parchment. When he opens it, he sees it just contains the Hebrew word for "death." Coulson takes this opportunity to convince Fitz that Simmons is gone, and it's time he let her go. Fitz goes to the Monolith containment lab and pounds on it in frustration, hoping to get some sort of reaction out of it, even if it means swallowing him as well.

In the tag scene, we see Simmons is alive but not well, trying her best to survive on an alien planet.

• As I predicted, Coulson has a spiffy new bionic hand in this episode. I wonder where he got it? From his pal Tony Stark, perhaps?

This episode would have been an awesome opportunity for Robert Downey Jr. to have made a cameo appearance. He could have walked in, opened a briefcase and handed Coulson a new arm. Ah well.

• In last season's finale we saw a Quinjet full of Terrigen sink to the bottom of the ocean. It's now showing up in fish oil pills and turning various citizens (with Kree DNA) into Inhumans.

This all sounds a lot like The Incredible Hulk movie, in which a few drops of Bruce Banner's blood found its way into a soft drink bottle in Brazil, causing an elderly man (played by Stan Lee, of course) in Wisconsin to become ill.

So if the Terrigen in the tainted fish oil is activating people with alien DNA, does that mean it's turning normal people into stone? I'd certainly think so. But Coulson makes a big deal out of mentioning that the "dangerous" parts of the Terrigen sank to the ocean floor, while just the mist was absorbed by sea life, so it won't kill anyone.

• Agent May's absence was keenly felt in this episode. Let's hope she gets back from vacation soon.

• S.H.I.E.L.D. has a brand new Bus! The Zephyr One! We didn't get to see much of it in this episode, but what we did see looked pretty interesting.

• So where's S.H.I.E.L.D. getting their funding? Weren't they shut down by the government last season when the "real" S.H.I.E.L.D. took over? I guess the two S.H.I.E.L.D.s merged after Gonzales was killed. But it looks like the ATCU has government funding as well. Is our government really paying for two separate programs that oppose one another?

• I was going to say something snarky about how super-spy Mockingbird somehow became a talented scientist in the past six months. But apparently she started out as a scientist in the comics as has a degree in biology, so it's not as far fetched as it seemed at first glance.

• Coulson has a Grumpy Cat mug. That's one fad that's surely just about run its course.

• Is that Mac's big red ax hanging on the wall of Coulson's office? Why would Coulson keep that particular memento, especially after it was used to chop off his hand? Now that I think about it, why is Coulson still keeping his severed, ossified hand in Mockingbird's lab? I guess he just can't see to let go of it (see what I did there?).

• When Fitz confronts Yousef, he tells him he recently lost a friend and is trying to get them back. Note that he doesn't say anything about the gender of his friend. Yousef then tells Fitz he's foolish to risk his life for a woman.

How'd Yousef know Fitz's friend was female? Maybe he just assumed. He had a fifty percent chance of being right.

• Daisy (I'm with Coulson, it's tough to not call her "Skye" anymore) visits Lincoln at a hospital, where he's apparently a doctor. How the hell did that happen? He never said anything about being a doctor last season. In fact I don't think he ever mentioned any profession at all, other than "New Inhuman Transitionist."

He had to have been a doctor before Jaiying brought him to Afterlife though, unless he completed four years of med school and another four of residency in the past six months.

• Lash, the powerful big blue Inhuman, looked pretty cool. Although I thought he was a bit similar to Beorn from The Hobbit movies.

• It was awesome to see Skye, er, I mean Daisy, so comfortable with unleashing her full power. Good thinking too, when her quake power wasn't fazing Not-Beorn and she collapsed the floor underneath him. Well done!

• Coulson's computer simulation says the Terrigen contamination will cover the entire earth in 17 months, 21 days.

• President Ellis holds a press conference on the Inhuman threat. If you thought Ellis looked familiar, you're not imagining it. He last appeared in Iron Man 3. Sadly, it looks like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not the same one as our own.

• Fitz finally opens the scroll he obtained from Yousef, and sees it contains just one word: "Death," written in Hebrew. Is Fitz Jewish? Or does he just happen to be fluent in Hebrew?

• As always, this episode featured quite a few shout outs to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Mockingbird says, "The world's been a little twitchy since Sokovia fell out of the sky," referencing The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

When Coulson discusses Simmons' disappearance, he mentions Pym particles, and the possibility that she was shrank and entered the Quantum Realm, both of which were mentioned in Ant-Man.

• At the very end of the episode we get a brief glimpse of Simmons, who's still alive on what is obviously an alien planet. But where is she exactly? Some fans have speculated she's on the Blue Area of the Moon, which is the home of the Inhumans in the comics.

I'd say that's a pretty good guess, considering the amount of blue in those color-graded scenes, but there's no way she's on the moon. At least not our moon, given the presence of several large planets in the sky.

Pacing-wise, I think they should have waited another episode or two before showing us that Simmons is still alive, but that's just me.

Writer's Block

If you're a regular reader of my blog (and frankly, who isn't), you know that I've been pretty hard on author George R.R.R.R. Martin the past few years. Why? Because he's seemingly done just about everything possible to avoid bellying up to the typewriter and finally finishing his goddamned Game Of Thrones books (aka A Song Of Ice And Fire).

Martin began the series way back in 1996, a full nineteen years ago. He's written five of the books in that time frame, and still has two to go. When the last one will be released, no one can say (including, I'm betting, Martin himself).

Believe it or not, Martin is far from being the King Of Pokey Writers. That title would have to go to author noted sci-fi author David Gerrold, who wrote the beloved Star Trek episode The Trouble With Tribbles.

Gerrold started a series of sci-fi books called The War Against The Chtorr back in 1983. It's the story of an Earth invasion, but instead of sending ships full of conquering armies, these aliens send plant an animal life to take over our planet and make it compatible with them.

Like Martin, David Gerold says there will be seven books in his Chtorr series. So far he's written four: A Matter For Men in 1983, A Day For Damnation in 1985, A Rage For Revenge in 1989 and A Season For Slaughter in 1993 (boy, somebody really likes alliterative titles).

The fifth book in the series, titled A Method For Madness, has been on hold since 1993. That's twenty two years! 22! Fans have been waiting over two decades now for the next book to come out! Man, talk about lead time!

Twenty two years! Jesus Christ! A couple could meet, fall in love, get married, have a kid, raise it and send it off to college in less time than that! George R.R. Martin wrote five books in his series in less time than that!

I read the first book way back in the 1980s and thought it was just OK. I'm very glad I never got hooked on the series.

In a recent interview, Gerrold said the reason it's taking so long to finish the book is because "he was stuck figuring out how to best write a couple of chapters."

Seriously? That's it? Two measly chapters are the big hold up? You've had TWENTY TWO Years to figure out how to write them! All writers get stuck from time to time, but twenty two years?

Fellow sci-fi author Isaac Asimov wrote 468 books in his lifetime. I'm sure they weren't all gems, but he got 'em done. He didn't sit around waiting twenty two years to figure out how to end a goddamned sentence. If part of your book is giving you that much trouble then you need to just cut it out, or write it the second best way you can and be done with it.

Gerrold recently stated that A Method For Madness is finally finished, and will be published "soon." I'm assuming that's Gerrold-speak for "sometime in the next ten to fifteen years."

At Gerrold's current rate, look for Book 6 of The War Against The Chtorr sometime around 2037, and Book 7 in 2059, when he's 115 years old.

You know, suddenly George R.R. Martin's glacial output doesn't seem so bad after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Mission: Impossible— Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.

McQuarrie previously wrote The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack The Giant Slayer and Edge Of Tomorrow. He wrote and directed The Way Of The Gun and Jack Reacher.

Valkyrie, Jack Reacher and Edge Of Tomorrow all starred Tom Cruise. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is the fourth Cruise/McQuarrie collaboration.

The film is of course based on the CBS TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973.

Believe it or not this marked the first time I've ever seen a Mission: Impossible film in the theater. It's not that I've been deliberately avoiding them or anything like that— it's just that something always seemed to come up and I never got around to seeing them until they came out on home video.

Can you believe it's been a whopping NINETEEN years since the first film premiered way back in 1996? Amazing!

So far each film in the series has had a different director. Mission: Impossible was directed by Brian DePalma, Mission: Impossible II was directed by John Woo (complete with flying doves), Mission: Impossible III was directed by JJ Abrams (oy) and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was directed by Brad Bird. Rather than harm the series, I think this revolving door policy has been good for the films. Constantly changing up the directors has helped give each film its own unique look and feel, preventing the series from stagnating.

Paramount wanted Brad Bird to direct this film as well, but he declined, choosing to helm the joyless flop Tomorrowland instead. Looks like he chose "unwisely."

Apart from the characters and the organization they work for, there's been little or no continuity between the various films. Again, I think that's actually a plus. They're not bogged down in decades of continuity and references to baffle newbies. Anyone can walk into one of these films without ever having seen the others and be up to speed in seconds. 

In the first few films, the Impossible Missions Force team had a rotating membership. With this film though it seems he's settled on a lineup, consisting of Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames. This permanent team is an all boy's club, as once again Cruise is paired with yet another seemingly disposable female spy. Is it part of his contract that he has to have a new woman in each outing?

So far this series is the closest thing America has to the James Bond films. Can the series keep on going the way Bond has? Hard to say. The Bond films have lasted for 53 years because the main character is recast every few years, much the same way as the Doctor on Doctor Who. Tom Cruise is most definitely the big draw in the M:I films, and it's tough to say whether the series could survive without him. They'd certainly be very different films without his intense presence.

The film was originally scheduled for a Christmas 2015 release, but was bumped up to July to avoid competition from the upcoming juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I bet that's going to happen a lot come December.


The Plot:
Sit back, it's convoluted, and I'm going to do a lot of skimming. After intercepting a shipment of nerve gas, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) is convinced that the evil organization known as the Syndicate really exists. Ethan's captured by Syndicate agents, which would seem to confirm his suspicions. He's about to be tortured (giving Cruise an excuse to lose his shirt) when Syndicate agent Ilsa Faust (who's really working for MI6) helps him escape.

Meanwhile CIA Director Hunley (played by Alec Baldwin) shuts down the IMF, saying they're dangerous and irresponsible. He's not wrong. IMF Director Brandt (played by Jeremy Renner) objects to this. Hunley absorbs the IMF and its agents into the CIA. He plans to detain Ethan and make him answer for his actions. Ethan, now operating on his own, hunts down his only lead to the Syndicate-- a former MI6 agent named Solomon Lane.

Unable to find Lane on his own, Ethan recruits several former members of his IMF team, including Benji Dunn (played by Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (played by Ving Rhames). Ethan attends an opera in Vienna, suspecting Lane will be there. Syndicate operatives assassinate the Austrian Chancellor at the opera, and Ethan is blamed.

Now wanted by the CIA, Ethan and his group go to Morocco to infiltrate an impossible to enter (hence the title) computer server which contains a list of all known Syndicate agents. Faust steals the info and flees, now pursued by both Ethan's group and the Syndicate. Faust returns to London with the stolen list, hoping to finally end her undercover mission in the Syndicate, but her MI6 handler orders her to continue.

Lane's men abduct Benji, and Ethan vows to rescue him. Faust gives Ethan the Syndicate list. Ethan then infiltrates a London charity auction, attended by the British Prime Minster, as well as CIA Director Hunley. Ethan gets the Prime Minister to confirm the existence of the Syndicate to Hunley. Apparently the Syndicate was started as sort of British version of the Impossible Missions Force, but Solomon Lane hijacked the project and is using it to further his own agenda.

Ethan then meets with Lane's agents, including Faust, who have a bomb rigged to Benji's chest. He tells the Syndicate that he memorized the list (!) and then destroyed it. He tells them to release Benji or he'll order Faust to kill him, and then Lane will have nothing. Lane reluctantly orders his agents to release Benji.There's a big shootout/chase in the London streets between the Syndicate and Ethan's team. Ethan lures Lane into a transparent bulletproof box and gases him.

Hunley and Brandt meet with the Senate committee back in Washington. Hunley tells them he disbanded the IMF so that Ethan could go undercover, and now wants it reactivated. The Senators agree, and appoint Hunley as the new IMF Secretary.

• Say what you will about Tom Cruise's nutsy cuckoo personal life, but the guy definitely throws himself into his work. He practically kills himself to entertain us.

As the film opens, a huge Syndicate transport plane takes off, filled with nerve gas bombs. Ethan Hunt clings precariously to the side of the plane as it takes off, in an effort to stop it.

Amazingly that's not CGI that's really Tom Cruise hanging on the outside of the plane. He was wearing a safety harness that was digitally removed, but still... At times he was clinging to the plane at an altitude of 5000 feet. Cruise wore specially designed contact lenses to allow him to keep his eyes open in the strong winds. It took eight takes of the stunt to get the required footage.

Cruise also reportedly did all his driving stunts. And he trained with a diving specialist in order to hold his breath for three minutes so he could perform the "underwater computer chip switch" later in the film. The scene was filmed in one long take, but was unfortunately intercut with other scenes to make it appear longer.

• Cruise was set to play Napoleon Solo in recent The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, but dropped out to star in this one. Good choice.

• The Syndicate, the villainous organization in this film, was regularly a foe of the IMF on the TV series.

• This time Ethan receives his secret orders via an LP in a vintage record shop. IMF agent Jim Phelps often received his orders the same way in the TV show.

• Kudos to actor Sean Harris as Syndicate leader Solomon Lane. His detached manner, high pitched, raspy voice and off-putting rodent-like looks make him one of the creepier screen villains in recent memory.

• The underwater terminal Ethan has to access is labeled 108. That number pops up quite a bit in every Bad Robot-produced film (like this one).

• This is the first Mission: Impossible film to not feature a "dangling from a cable" scene, which has become a trademark of the series. Ethan does jump into a vertical tunnel from a great height, though.

• At the end of the film, Ethan and his team capture Solomon Lane in a bullet-proof Plexiglass box and gas him into unconsciousness (or maybe to death, who knows?). A few things here.

First of all, the box is about the size of a phone booth (remember those?), so the capture depends on Lane standing in exactly the right spot. If he'd stopped even a couple feet short, or stood a bit to the side, the whole thing would have failed.

Second, when Ethan gives the signal, the walls of the box slide into place from somewhere, and assemble themselves into an airtight container in two or three seconds. How the hell did that happen? Where'd the walls of the box come from? How'd they slide into place so perfectly? Don't you need some kind of gaskets to form an airtight seal? I know, I know, it's a spy fantasy.

Lane doesn't take kindly to being trapped in th Plexiglass box, and fires at the bulletproof walls at point blank range. Luckily for him the bullets apparently disintegrate and don't ricochet back into his face.

• Lastly, I'd like to give a big thumbs down to the moth which invaded the theater at my showing. About half an hour into the film, a large black dot appeared dead center in the screen. At first I thought it was some flaw in the film, but everything's digital now. FIlm scratches and such are relics of the past. I finally realized it was a big ol' bug on the screen, most likely a moth. It was a big one— at least two inches long.

It sat in the middle of the screen for a few minutes, making Tom Cruise (and all the other characters) look like he had a beauty mark on his cheek. It was very distracting. I had a hard time concentrating on the plot because I kept staring at the moth.

Gradually the moth started crawling up the screen very, very slowly. It would crawl a few feet and then stop for a while before starting up again. It would seemingly disappear during the night scenes as it blended in. Then there'd be a daytime scene and it would show up again in all its glory. There was an alarming moment when it looked like it had turned around and was heading back down the screen again, but it righted itself and continued up again.

It took about forty five excruciating minutes before it finally, at long, long last, reached the top of the screen and disappeared. Whew! I felt like cheering when it finally made it.

I briefly thought about asking for a refund, but it would have been hard to prove. "Really, there was a big moth on the screen, and it was very distracting! It's not there now, but honest, it was there for an hour!"

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is an action packed spy adventure, and a worthy entry into a series that shows no signs of stopping. Assuming Tom Cruise doesn't kill himself trying to entertain us with his ever-escalating stunts, I see no reason why it can't keep on going. I give it a B.

    The E's Have It

    Last week my home town of Evansville was rocked to its core by a sordid scandal.

    After nine months, construction finally finished on the brand new cloverleaf intersection on the city's ironically named Lloyd "Expressway." That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's the Lloyd, the only expressway in the country that features numerous intersections and stop lights along its length. Both of which seem counter to the concept of an expressway to begin with.

    Anyway, the cloverleaf was capped off with a sign proudly proclaiming "CITY OF EVANSVILLE." This is a bit puzzling to me, since it seems like something you'd put at the city's entrance, not on a bridge smack dab in the center of town. But I digress.

    All was going well though until alert motorists noticed something about the sign was didn't seem quite right. Turns out the last "E" in "Evansville" on the multi-million dollar project was installed upside down! Typical.

    You can tell the "E" is upside down by the fact that the upper serif is longer than the lower one, instead of the other way around as seen in the first letter.

    Surprisingly there were no pileups from outraged motorists trying to take photos of the error as they flew down the expressway at 60 mph. Ah, who am I kidding, it's the Lloyd. Try 40 mph.

    Embarrassed work crews quickly flipped the errant vowel, braving taunts, mocking laughter and a barrage of rotten tomatoes thrown their way.

    Now if they could just do something about the horrendous kerning in the word "EV ANSVIL LE."

    Monday, September 28, 2015

    Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar

    This week we got the second half of the two part season opener. Since Part 1 seemed like it was all setup, how'd Part 2 do? Eh, pretty good, and better than I expected.

    To absolutely no one's surprise, Clara and Missy weren't actually killed by the Daleks last week. Nor was the TARDIS destroyed. And despite how it looked at the end of the episode, the Doctor did not go back in time and kill young Davros on the battlefield, which would have prevented the creation of the Daleks and wiped out fifty years of continuity.

    We did get a lot of good character moments. The stuff between the Doctor and Davros was great as always, even if it was reminiscent of Genesis Of The Daleks and The Return Of The Jedi. The Clara/Missy pairing was fun too. And we also got a bit of new insight into what makes the Daleks tick, which is tough to do for characters that have been around for fifty years.


    The Plot:

    Clara and Missy are still alive after being "exterminated" last week by the Daleks. When Clara asks what the hell happened, Missy says she used the Dalek death ray energy to power their vortex manipulators and teleport them outside the city. Or something. Does it even matter at this point? The two then head back toward the city (Dalekopolis?) to rescue the Doctor.

    Meanwhile the Doctor confronts Davros and rips him out of his life-support chair. He then rides into the Dalek chamber, protected by the chair's force field. He demands the Daleks find and return Clara, but they insist she's dead. Colony Sarff then appears and strangles the Doctor into unconsciousness.

    Clara and Missy sneak into the Dalek sewers. Missy says Daleks can truly never die, so the sewers are filled with the rotting and decayed remnants of millions their discarded bodies. I guess when one "dies" they flush it down the toilet, like a pet alligator? Missy "kills" a passing Dalek and forces Clara to get into its casing and hook herself up to its interface. Once inside, Clara finds that if she speaks her name, the interface translates it as "I am a Dalek." If she expresses any positive emotion, it comes out as "Exterminate!" The two then head for the upper levels of the city.

    The Doctor comes to in Davros' chamber. Davros reveals that the nest of life support cables surrounding him are connected to every Dalek on Skaro, and their life forces are sustaining him. Davros actually sheds a tear when the Doctor tells him Gallifrey still exists. Davros says he wishes that just once in their long lives they'd been on the same side, and they even share a joke. The Doctor then transfers a small amount of regeneration energy into Davros' life support cables to give him a little more time.

    Suddenly Colony Sarff grips the Doctor's hands, and the life support cables begin draining the regeneration energy from him at an alarming rate. This was Davros' plan all along— get the Doctor to lower his defenses and steal his life force. The regeneration energy is transferred into every Dalek on Skaro, creating Dalek/Time Lord hybrids. Just then Missy appears and kills Colony Sarff, saving the Doctor.

    The Doctor then reveals that he saw through Davros' plan, and allowed himself to be drained. The regeneration energy also leaked into the sewers, where it rejuvenated the "dead" Daleks. They bubble up to the surface and kill the still-mobile Daleks.

    As they flee the disintegrating city, the Doctor and Missy encounter Clara, still in the Dalek casing. Missy tries to get the Doctor to kill it. Clara desperately tries to tell the Doctor it's her, but her words translate into "I am a Dalek." She eventually manages to get it to say "Mercy," which the Doctor says is impossible for a Dalek (sending ripples of outrage through fandom). He releases her from the casing. He recalls the TARDIS, which was not destroyed last episode, and they depart Skaro. Missy is surrounded by a group of Daleks, and says, "I've just had a very clever idea."

    The Doctor then goes back in time and saves young Davros from the hand mines, thereby instilling the concept of mercy into him.

    • At the beginning of the episode, Missy has Clara tied to a tree and hanging upside down for some reason. So where'd she find a rope in the middle of the desolate Skaro landscape? Secret pocket under her skirt? Or did she find it in the same place the Doctor got his cup of tea?

    • Please, please, pleeeeeease tell me the Doctor didn't permanently dump his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses. What the hell is wrong with Steven Moffat? That's like trading in the TARDIS for a scooter.

    • Last week I said I wasn't clear who the episode's title (The Magician's Apprentice)  was referring to. Same goes for this week. A familiar is the magical pet of a witch. Was Clara supposed to be Missy's familiar?

    • As a graphic designer, I have to point out one of my (many) pet peeves. That isn't an apostrophe in the title. It's a so-called "dumb quote," a holdover from the days of typewriters. A true quotation mark is curved.

    Pedantic? Overly critical? Borderline insane? Possibly. But there's a right way to do things, and there's this way. Professionals use proper typography. If you want to look like a professional, learn to use the proper symbols and marks.

    • I really liked the design of the Dalek city. It had a cool, retro sci-fi look to it, and of course echoed the design of the Daleks themselves.

    • Missy's slowly starting to grow on me, but I still prefer the "Suave And Mannered Bond Villian" version of the Master, as originated by Roger Delgado.

    • We've seen the actual organic Daleks that live inside the mechanical shells before, and they're not much bigger than a basketball. So how in the name of sanity was there enough room for Clara to get inside one and sit comfortably? There must be a lot of empty space inside those things.

    • I did like the Dalek demonstration, in which any slightly positive phrase uttered by Clara was translated into "EXTERMINATE!" It must be really frustrating to be a Dalek. No wonder they're insane.

    • Once again they're doing their best to soften this Doctor. There's no way in hell the Twelfth Doctor from the beginning of last season would have ridden around in Davos' chair and asked the Daleks if they wanted to play "bumpers."

    • Davros once again tells the Doctor that he's dying. The Doctor says what was on the audiences' mind: "You keep saying that, and you keep not dying." Haw!

    • So apparently the Doctor just ripped Davros out of his life support chair and tossed him on the floor so he could steal his ride.

    That's pretty harsh on the Doctor's part. Davros doesn't even have a lower body, which is kind of unsettling. Shouldn't removing him from the chair have killed him? Yet shortly after this wanton act of violence, the Doctor tells Davros he came to see him because "he's sick and he asked," and even offers him some regeneration energy. Um... make up your mind, Doctor. Are you trying to kill Davros or save him? Because you can't do both.

    Also, what exactly is the Doctor sitting on when he's riding in Davros' chair? Wouldn't there be all kinds of tubes and pumps and life support equipment in there? I doubt there's a seat, since Davros apparently doesn't have an ass.

    • Davros offers the Doctor the only other chair on all of Skaro! Haw!

    • Davros tells the Doctor that he wishes he could see the sun rise over Skaro one last time, with his own eyes. He then turns off his blue cybernetic ocular device, and... simply opens his opens his own eyes. What the hell?

    For decades now it's been implied, if not outright stated as fact, that Davros is blind. Hence the need for the Dalek-like bionic eye. Is Moffat telling us that all these years Davros has just been sitting there with his eyes closed

    Besides being an incredibly stupid idea, this also makes Davros considerably less horrifying. A blind alien troll with an unblinking, glowing mechanical eye in the middle of his forehead is creepy and unsettling. A guy who can see but just refuses to open his eyes is baffling and ridiculous. Besides that, if all this time he's been able to open his eyes, why the hell did he go to all the trouble of having a bionic one implanted in the center of his goddamned forehead?

    One last thing— Davros yearning to see the sunrise sounded a LOT like Darth Vader wanting to "look upon Luke with his own eyes" at the end of The Return Of The Jedi.

    • Ever since Davros was introduced back in 1975, the show's writers have reveled in pitting him and the Doctor together in meaty, dialogue-heavy scenes. The same goes here, as Davros and the Doctor each try to out-speech the other. 

    There's some good stuff here, especially when it appears that these two ancient enemies actually have a strange sort of bond and affection for one another. Davros says he wishes just once they'd been on the same side, and actually sheds a tear of joy when he hears that Gallifrey survived. Unfortunately all that's negated when it's revealed that everything they've said has all been part of some intricate deception on both their parts.

    Davros reveals his master plan to the Doctor, cackling with glee at how easy it was to manipulate him. The Doctor counters this by saying he knew he was being tricked, and went along with it so he could spring his devious trap.

    This all sounds very much like the 1999 Comic Relief Doctor Who episode The Curse Of The Fatal Death. In that parody sketch, the Doctor (played by Rowan Atkinson!) and the Master take one upsmanship to an absurd comedic level. They both face off against one another, saying things like, "I saw through your trap, Master!" and "I knew you'd see through my trap, Doctor, which is why I constructed an even more lethal trap," and "I knew you'd know I knew about your trap, so I..." and on and on.

    Would it surprise you to find out that our old friend Steven Moffat wrote The Curse Of The Fatal Death? At times he comes dangerously close to channeling his own parody in this episode.

    • The Doctor and Davros even share a laugh near the end of their exchange. That scene seemed very reminiscent  to the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. In that story, Batman and his arch enemy the Joker both chuckled over a shared joke.

    Personally I'm not a fan of such scenes. Davros is responsible for the slaughter of millions throughout the galaxy. Would the Doctor really be laughing it up with him? Imagine it this way— if you could somehow meet Hitler, would you put your arm around him and guffaw at one of his jokes?

    • Apparently the Doctor's regeneration energy somehow (briefly) created Dalek/Time Lord hybrids. You know, for a race that prides itself on its genetic purity and hates all other life forms, the Dalek bloodline sure gets polluted a lot. There was a hybrid Dalek/Human back in Daleks in Manhattan, Davros himself replenished the race with cells from his own body in Journey's End, and now they've got Time Lord regeneration energy coursing through their veins.

    • So the Doctor can take a little bit of his regeneration energy and inject it into non Time Lords, extending their lives a bit. Interesting. I wonder why he's never offered to do that before for any of the many people who've died in his care?

    I also wonder how much regeneration energy was leeched from him by Davros and the Daleks? Several lives' worth? He just got a brand new set of twelve regenerations a couple years ago. Did he just blow two or three of them already?

    • At first glance, Missy's statement that Daleks can never die seems patently ridiculous. But it actually makes a lot of sense. Their entire race has been wiped out numerous times over the years, and they always manage to come back somehow. It's because they can never truly die!

    I wonder how this Dalek/Time Lord hybrid business will affect them? Or will it be conveniently swept under the rug like so many other past events and revalations?

    • The Doctor's about to shoot the Dalek that Clara's hiding in, until she manages to get it to say, "Mercy." The Doctor freezes and says no real Dalek would be capable of saying such a thing, and realizes it's Clara.

    Whoops! Back in the Season 5 episode The Pandorica Opens, River Song pointed her gun at a Dalek and it shrieked, "Have mercy!" before she shot it. Maybe Moffat ought to watch some of his predecessor's episodes before he sits down at the writing desk. This wasn't some obscure event that happened forty years ago or in some lost episode, it happened in 2010.

    Some fans have tried to explain this discrepancy by saying the Doctor wasn't present for the River Song confrontation, and so didn't know about the whole mercy thing. Nice try. That's a pretty weak explanation.

    I suppose you could invoke some time travel bullsh*t here and say Daleks weren't capable of the concept of mercy until the Doctor went back in time to Young Davros and introduced the concept to him. I suppose you could say that, but again, it's pretty weak.

    • At the end of the episode the Doctor reveals the TARDIS wasn't destroyed, but rendered invisible with the Hostile Action Displacement System. We first saw the HADS function used in Cold War, but then it was called the Hostile Action Dispersal System.

    Speaking of Cold War, which took place on a submarine, next week the Doctor faces watery ghosts in another sub (or possibly an underwater base).
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