Kill the Moon

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I had heard stories that Steven Moffet actually hated science fiction but I hadn’t really realised how much until seeing this very silly story of our moon turning out to be an egg. He seems to be collecting writers with the same leanings since Kill the Moon would be an excellent premise for a fantasy universe of magical creatures. In this fantasy universe magic could fill in all those logic gaps like, why does a creature born in the vacuum of space have wings? A fantasy universe where giant eggs could orbit a planet this would have been an excellent idea, but we live in our universe in which certain ‘universal’ physical laws are meant to govern and Doctor Who is meant to exist in this one (excluding the odd exclusion to alternative universes)

The moon is our closet neighbour in space and we do know so much about it and why it is important the life on Earth, but none of that seems relevant in a story where it is claimed that the moon has been increasing in mass (i.e. becoming heavier) because an embryo has been growing! Mass is mass, if an embryo grows it is taking it from inside the egg, it can’t magically increase matter! But wait this magic, which can explain everything. The crew of the ancient orbital space shuttle converted to travel to the moon are Captain Lundvik and two other ageing astronauts. Apparently humanity has lost interest in space, so no new ones have been trained. They may as well have said, humanity has lost interest in science and now waves crystals in air and hums monotone tunes in yurts wearing kaftans whilst smoking incense as an alternative to studying science.

And long gone are the days when Doctor Who was intended to teach and inform about science and history, because people would rather learn about kittens that live in the asteroid belt and giant spiders the weave webs amongst the moons Jupiter, which is in fact a enormous bee hive for enormous bees. And by the way bacteria is bacteria, whatever the size of the thing it lives on, there’s just more of it.

Written by Peter Grehan

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath

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Written by Peter Grehan

We seem to live in a culture that worships youth and superficial good looks. A good indicator of this is the growing number of ‘pretty young things’ presenting science and nature programmes and the way they are centred in shot while looking at some specimen of fauna or flora in an exotic location. This is often after a prolonged sequence of them travelling along a road or track in an open 4×4, their hair blowing in the wind like some seventies TV shampoo advert. It seems that even in science, if you want to make it onto the small screen, you have to have the looks as well as the brains.
The producers of Doctor Who’s almost palpable nervousness, therefore, in introducing us to the oldest manifestations of the Doctor is understandable. (William Hartnell was 1 year younger than Peter Capaldi when he started playing the Doctor). Throughout the episode there are reassuring references to the continuity of Doctor Who, like mention of the robot head companion “Handles”, “Round things on the Wall” (of the TARDIS), “a big, long scarf” and of course the presence of the Paternoster Gang. To be fair the regeneration of a Doctor can be a traumatic time for a fan. I know several (mostly female) fans of David Tennant’s Doctor who now refuse to watch the series. Most fans will preserver and learn to love the new manifestation of the Time Lord, but an older Doctor is something of a culture shock. The writer Steven Moffat almost admits this through the Character of the Silurian madam Vastra, when she says,
“He looked young. Who do you think that was for? … Everyone. I wear a veil as he wore a face for the same reason. …To be accepted.”
A young (pretty) Doctor helped the regenerated series establish itself and allowed that smouldering sexual tension between the companion and the Doctor to heighten the interest for a new generation of fans. But here also Moffat adds clarification in the dialogue between companion Clara Oswald and the Doctor,
DOCTOR: …Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.
CLARA: I never thought you were.
DOCTOR: I never said it was your mistake.
It was perhaps the mistake of the new generation of Fans, those who wanted there to be “relationships” between the Doctor and his companion, a mistake that longing standing fans of Classic Doctor Who would never make. Moffat is putting the record straight, announcing a new era of the series that has deep roots to its past.
Making the Doctor old is brave, even with an actor of the class of Peter Capaldi, so the producers enact their concerns between Clara, representing the audience, and the Doctor; even bringing the “young” eleventh Doctor in to give his seal of approval and persuade the audience to allow him time for them to get to know him.
Deep Breath represents a huge change and the antagonists, the clockwork androids and the half-face man mirror this perfectly. The androids were original part of the complement of SS Marie Antoinette, a time travelling spaceship that had crashed in Earth’s pre-historic past and, presumably, the sister ship of the Madame De Pompadour from the tenth Doctor story The Girl in the Fireplace. Like the androids in that story the repair droids use human beings as a source of spare parts. The control node droid, the Half-Face Man, has had so many human part replacements it is now more Cyborg than android. It also seems to have acquired a human trait of believing in a promised land, which is its justification for all the killing it has done; a reference to religious ideological justified murder perhaps? In the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man the Doctor challenges the notion that they are the same androids that originally travelled on SS Marie Antoinette.
“You take a broom, you replace the handle, and then later you replace the brush, and you do that over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer? No, of course it isn’t. …You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again. There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.”
The Doctor then holds up a silver plate between himself and the Half-Face Man, but it reflects on both sides and the Doctor has just echoed himself discussing his face with Barney, the homeless man,
“You know, I never know where the faces come from.” But the Doctor is meant to regenerate and survive for a long time, the androids were not.
There are hints of a Moffat story arc with appearance of the intriguing Missy, the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, at the end of the story, referring to the Doctor as her boyfriend. Then there is the reference to a woman bringing the Doctor and Clara together in the first place and possibly placing the advertisement in the newspaper for their appointment at Mancini’s restaurant.
All in all a very promising start to a new era of Doctor Who.

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Review: The Machine

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The Machine has a tag line, They Rise, We Fall, that hints at a scenario we have seen before in films such as Terminator. To expect this though would be a mistake. This is more a film about evolution than it is about machine revolution. True, there is enough use of automatic weapons and explosions as the plot reaches its climax to satisfy anyone expecting such things from a science fiction film, but director and writer Caradog W. James  subtle touches takes us away from many of the modern clichés of the Robot film genre. In a sense it hints back to Mary Shelly’s Novel Frankenstein, but, unlike Frankenstein of the novel, the creator of this human artifice, Vincent (Toby Stephens), shows humanity towards his creation; something that is returned in spades.

Robots and Androids are often depicted in science fiction as cold and logical creations. Humans, with their emotions and conscience, are therefore depicted in contrast as superior to machines. The refreshing thing about this film is that it is the human science and government that is cold, logical and lacking emotion and conscious. In particular the character of Thomson (Denis Lawson), is the personification of a callous, coldly pragmatic and amoral establishment. The scientists and technicians in the film also appear to be able to sidestep any moral issues in effectively torturing a sentient being, albeit a manufactured one, simply by referring to her as ‘Machine.’ The viewer is left with little doubt who is the more evolved being.

Casting ‘The Machine’ as a young attractive female, played Caity Lotz has obvious advantages for attracting an audience of predominantly young male science fiction fans, but a female machine highlights her maternal and caring qualities. She carries the electronic mind map of a child within her as a human mother would carry her unborn child. She also understands the cybernetically augmented brain damaged casualties of a growing cold/hot war with China. There is a new order coming and we are left feeling it will be less like the Borg and far more like The Culture of Iain M. Banks than mere biological evolution would allow humans to become.

There are also biblical references within the text. Eva (also played by Caity Lotz), has a name that is the Latinate counterpart of English Eve. She is the A.I. programmer who developed the Machine’s mind map based on her own. Vincent also uses her physical features as a template for the Machine. In effect she is the mother of the android. The Machine is a new being and, unlike Adam and Eve and their descendants, untainted by original sin. She therefore feels no self consciousness, no need to cover herself in shame of her own body. She is a new creation that is worthy of recreating the Garden of Eden on Earth.

This film is an intelligent and entertaining exploration of the subject of artificial intelligence.

Written by Peter Grehan

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