Sunday, 29 November 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 11 (Heaven Sent)

(There's spoilers in these here parts. You hath been warned.)

Well, fuck. Now in four or five weeks, when I do my great big ranking of all the Series 9 episodes from best to worst, there's going to a great big fight for the top spot. Between this and last week's. Where was this quality of episode when we had the fucking Fisher King monster? Of course, this is an episode that vastly improves on a rewatch. On first watch, I had no idea what it was doing and just got floored by the ending. Which tends to happen a lot when I watch this show; I'm sitting there, not really feeling it, and then the ending comes and makes me go "oh goddamnit, well done, you're a masterpiece". Usually it's Peter Harness episodes that do that, though! Not stuff penned by Moffat himself! Still, holy shit. Heaven Sent is a goddamn masterpiece, for many reasons, but it's also really hard to unpack. I'm going to try.

This, more than anything, feels like Doctor Who that has blended together a bunch of my all-time favorite things into one neat little 55-minute package. For starters, the setting. We're in a gigantic castle where the walls are ever shifting, opening and closing passage to different rooms. That's House Of Leaves territory, and keep in mind that "bigger on the inside" was a source of abject terror in House Of Leaves, rather than the whimsy and wonder of Doctor Who. Doctor Who is being corrupted. More than that. Doctor Who is being stalked. In this labyrinth of life where the walls keep changing, the Doctor is being relentlessly pursed by "the Veil". Now, the Veil has one important rule to not getting killed by it, which is very Moffat-esque and all and we'll get to it, but... why is it a Veil? Because the Doctor once saw a dead old woman in death shrouds surrounded by flies, and was terrified of it ever since. The Veil is just the defense of this place, shifting its corporeal form into a fear of the Doctor's in order to unsettle him further. That's the titular monster of Stephen King's It! Except the Veil doesn't actually want to eat the Doctor, and has a higher purpose... but becoming a primal deep-seated childhood fear of his is totally Its modus operandi. Incidentally, House Of Leaves and Stephen King's It are my two favorite horror novels. So, I'm already grinning like an idiot but also greatly unsettled by this place... but there's so much more. Like we keep saying in the video reviews I take part of, though... we can't talk about that yet. 

So much of this episode is... well, a little slow. It's Peter Capaldi semi-talking to himself for 35 minutes until we come to the big revelation, and all the stakes and emotional cores contained within that elevate this thing to top of the class. Until then, we have an exploration of this place, and attempting to learn the rules of it in order to survive. The rules of the Veil are soon sussed out; it only stops trying to kill you when you confess some hidden truth to it. So. Truth, or consequences. The Doctor gives it the truth at least three times, and we learn more as we go. The Doctor is afraid of death. The Doctor left Gallifrey all those ages ago out of fear... and the Doctor knows what the Hybrid is. Ah. So that is our arc this time. I'm going to hold my tongue on Hybrid talk until next week, since we don't know where this is going to go yet. Stupid temporal grace. There are other mysteries and clues peppered in here that make sense at the end. The set of clothes waiting by the fire. The skulls in the sea. The stars being 7000 years out of alignment. The Doctor is inside a puzzlebox of death. Holy fuck. Moffat did it. You son of a bitch, this is the puzzlebox for Series 9 and you have trapped the Doctor inside. All alone. Well. Not alone.

Clara is here. Well, not here but also here. She sleeps inside the Doctor's mind, and he is who he appeals to with his explanations of how this place works. His ideal Clara, sitting in his mental mindscape TARDIS. Here's where I have to go back, way back, to my old Boss Dungeon writeups. In Into The Dalek, on Clara helping the Doctor get over himself and save the day to some degree, I wrote this:

Clara, the schoolteacher, teaching a centuries-old alien to let go of his own preconceptions and remember what he's learned from his interactions with the "broken" Dalek. The writing for Clara has generally improved with this new series; instead of the blank cipher "mystery girl" to be solved at the end of the series from last year, we have a proper equal to the Doctor. Someone who can learn from him, and help him learn. What a great team.

Eventually I went off on big tangents about Clara becoming the Doctor's dark mirror, falling into a downward spiral of becoming a chronic liar and risk-taker who nonetheless has agency over her stories and helps to save the day. As we saw last week, this killed her. She took a risk, a risk the Doctor would take if he was not as informed, and the risk got her killed. Now that she haunts this episode, there's no need for a dark mirror of the Doctor. Instead is this older version of Clara: Clara-as-teacher. Her influence in the Doctor's mind, as he remembers her, is a proxy for his own determination to stay alive by asking the right questions. In his grief and confusion, he needs the steady hand of his teacher to figure things out. The real Clara Oswald wouldn't let the Doctor slack or give up, and this ghostly Clara doesn't either. I like this a lot. Even in death, the Doctor's staying on the good path that Clara was keeping him on. Whether or not that will stick when he gets his hands on the people who put him in this situation next time is up for debate... but on to the main course.

Eventually, all that stands between the Doctor and freedom is one last confession; tell all about the Hybrid, and presumably he can escape. He wants to. He really wants to, because of the alternative. That leads him to an angry tirade berating his mental Clara, asking, no, demanding to know why he isn't allowed to lose this one. Why she keeps insisting he fight on. Because he's the Doctor, and there's always another way. He breaks the rules, and wins by other ways, even if the cost is high... and the cost is mighty high. The Doctor has all but given up because nothing he does will bring Clara back, but she brings him back from the brink and helps him gain the one victory he can... although, as I said, the cost is one hell of a cost. See, this isn't the first Doctor to be put in this situation. This entire thing is a time loop. The Doctor arrives, the episode happens, and when faced with a harder-than-diamond wall, and the Veil approaching? He punches the wall. As much as he can until the Veil touches him and leaves him mortally wounded. From that, he crawls his way back to the teleporter room, in his death throes, and hooks himself up to it, burning up his life force to create a new copy of himself that arrives newly minted in the castle. Everything resets in this castle, except the firmness of the diamond wall... and the skulls in the sea. Over two billion years, over an infinite number of Doctors, not a single one gives in to the temptation to tattle about the Hybrid. They choose the hope that their inner Clara Oswald inspires them to believe in, and in doing so an infinite number of Doctors die. They face their own ravens, and Clara Oswald is the one who lets them be brave. Over and over this shit happens, and the Doctor never gives up. For two billion years the Doctor chooses death, wearing down the harder-than-diamond wall with his bare fists over an infinity of cycles until one time, at long last, he breaks through. Which, as is Moffat's style, inspired by a fairy tale. The Doctor is the bird, sharpening his beak over two billion years and a single second of infinity, all because Clara Oswald inspired him to be brave. Holy shit. It's here I'd like to offer two other perspectives on this infinite Law of Cycles business, both cribbed from video game talk. EJR Tairne's brilliant summary that this is "Scherzo crossed with I Wanna Be The Guy, except set in the world of Myst" (which, given how much I've been bitching about masocore gameplay/difficulty replacing the actual difficulty of retro video games in indie retro-style platformers these days, particularly tickles me), and Brightcoat's observations about how this episode is similar to... Dark Souls. Which, another hard video game I now love. This episode was made for me.

Then the ending. The Doctor is free. The entire world was a confession dial. Makes sense, given the Veil was stopped by confessions. Where are we now? Gallifrey. The long way round. Just like the Doctor said he would, and he meant it. At long last, after the disasters of the late 80's, after the cancellation and the Wilderness Years, after the Time War and its Last Days and the Day Of The Doctor reaffirming that Doctor Who is a success again... we're back on Gallifrey. What will happen next, I don't know. What I do know is that the Doctor is very, very cross. To put it another way?

Next time: The Doctor is Hell Bent.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 10 (Face The Raven)

(Now, more than ever, the spoiler warning really applies. There are big spoilers from this episode, so for the love of everything if you watch this show and haven't seen this yet, go see it. Then come back here for my waffling.)

Might as well get this out of the way first. Ahem.

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

Now that we have that out of the way, we can begin. This one's really up in the air, because of goddamn temporal grace. As it stands it's heartwrenching but well-earned. Its big ending can and may be un-done by the end of Series 9, which has the potential to either please me or piss me off. There were many other things I liked about this episode, and that worked quite well, but like a quantum shade casting darkness over it all, that one big thing looms, and it just wouldn't feel right to not devote the majority of this writeup to it. Here, then, I have to switch gears. In my Series 8 reposts, I picked up on the mirror theme and ran wild with it, somehow becoming a third-rate Jane Campbell in the process. Now, I must pay my tributes to a wonderful companion, and become a third-rate Caitlin Smith. This, then, is a tribute to Clara Oswald. Like a second face, we must go back in time, and chart how our histories intertwine, and how I was influenced.

It's sometime in 2012, during the eternal wait after The Doctor, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. We already know that Amy and Rory Williams are on their way out sometime in September or so, but then casting news pops up. Doctor Who has cast the new companion actress, and her name is Jenna Coleman. This brings up an interesting revelation from my review partner in crime, Rainiac; apparently he and Jenna Coleman attended the same school, at the same period of time! It's not like they were best pals or anything, though; he just recognized her as the Head Girl from his time at school. Still, it is an interesting connection, a Six Degrees Of Jenna Coleman for us. A friend of mine from across the pond went to the same school as her this one time. What's that, like 2 1/2 degrees? Whatever. We're all looking forward to seeing this new companion in action.

It's September 1st, 2012. Series 7 of Doctor Who has begun in earnest, aka the one month of Doctor Who we get this year, aka the Amy and Rory Farewell Tour. An episode called "Asylum Of The Daleks" airs, and as I'm watching it I get the sense that this "Oswin Oswald" girl looks vaguely familiar. I think I pegged that it was Jenna Coleman halfway in, much to my surprise. Then it was revealed that she was Already Dead, cannibalized by the Daleks and turned into a pepper pot tank herself. Well, shit. Still, we know in the larger scheme of things that she was cast as companion. One wonders what's up with that.

A month later, in a living room in Grand Bank, Newfoundland, I watch Amy Williams bid a tearful farewell to her Raggedy Man, and she and Rory leave our screens. It is a mournful occasion, and it has me wondering what will come next.

It's December 25th, 2012. A Happy Christmas to all of you at home! I got some nice things, have eaten chocolate and turkey dinner, and now await our holiday island of Doctor Who. An episode called "The Snowmen" airs, and that tavern girl sure does look a lot like Jenna Coleman! There's a new TARDIS set, high in the clouds, and there are killer snowmen and Jenna Coleman dies again. Also the villain was that Great Intelligence chap from those missing Patrick Troughton episodes? What an oddly specific callback to episodes that we'll probably never see again. Still, once was a fluke, Twice is odd, and the episode even ends with a modern-day Jenna Coleman visiting the Victorian era one's grave. Ugh. We could have had a Victorian companion to spice things up, but we're getting another 21st century twentysomething girl? Come on, Moffat!

It's May 18th, 2013. Series 7 is over, as an episode called "Name Of The Doctor" airs. The Impossible Girl mystery is wrapped up. It turns out Clara Oswald wasn't a big puzzle box to be solved after all, or secretly the Rani, or anything series-shattering. She was just a girl who wanted to save her friend by jumping into a timestream thingy, and she got fractured across space and time. Clara Oswald becomes the guardian angel of Doctor Who, only coming back to herself thanks to Matt Smith and a leaf. Oh, and John Hurt is the Doctor? What the hell's up with that?

It's November 8th, 2014. Series 8 of Doctor Who has finished. Holy shit. I love Clara Oswald so much now. Part of that has been the writing I've been doing for Boss Dungeon. I've picked up on Clara suddenly being written hyper-competently, even becoming an equal of the Doctor in certain episodes... but also darkening and lying to her boyfriend because of it. Then Danny Pink dies, and Clara and the Doctor go their separate ways. For now. They got back together at Christmas time, and more adventures were on the horizon.

It's September 19th, 2015. Doctor Who is back with The Magician's Apprentice. Clara does some cool stuff for UNIT, confronts Missy, and helps find the Doctor. Just before the episode airs, a news article comes out. Jenna Coleman is leaving Doctor Who after this series. The Magician's Apprentice later cliffhangers with Clara suddenly appearing to get zapped by a Dalek. How cruel. How goddamn cruel of you to tease us like that. As if Clara Oswald could die.

And now it's November 22nd, 2015. Well, shit. Clara Oswald's lust for adventure and risktaking has gone and gotten her killed. I'm very sad, but I'm also very happy that she went out in a dramatic and fulfilling way. I've been overall disappointed with the way Clara has been sort of sidelined for Series 9. There have really been only a few episodes where she's done much of note; Magician's Apprentice, Girl Who Died, Zygon Inversion, and this. In all the others she's either been mishandled, done little of consequence, or wasn't even really in them. Face The Raven has been the best use of her in a while. Let us, then, examine the crime scene, as dimly lit streetlamps illuminate the hidden street in the center of London that is Clara Oswald's grave. How did she die?

How else? By being a mirror of the Doctor. Specifically, the Doctor in a regeneration episode; and a very specific set, as well. Depending on your reference point, we're either mirroring The Caves Of Androzani or The End Of Time Part 2. In those specific two regeneration stories, the Doctor's companion was someone he hadn't been travelling with for very long; Peri had one (televised) story beforehand, and Wilf was a supporting character who accompanied the Doctor on this adventure. Both eventually found themselves in a situation where the Doctor could save their lives, at the cost of his own, and both times the Doctor selflessly saved the companion he barely knew, painfully regenerating into an unstable new persona at the end of the episode. Face The Raven bringing back Rigsy from Flatline is an absolutely inspired bit of casting in this regard. Recall Flatline for a moment. Clara was the most Doctor-like of Series 8 in that one, and Rigsy was basically her companion. Now her companion is back, and in mortal danger, and Clara does what the Doctor would do, in more ways than one. She puts herself in mortal peril in order to help Rigsy, yes, but it's not just selflessness at the last moment. It's all part of a clever Doctorish scheme on her part to trick the people trying to kill Rigsy, and buy them more time to solve the mystery. It's Clara's eagerness to put herself in harm's way that gets her killed at the end, when her clever plot backfires. Oh. You messed up. There actually isn't a way to bounce back from this. So, like the Doctor, she faces her death head-on, even taking a pose similar to the Doctor when he's regenerating in her last moments. More on her last moments in a bit, but let's just take stock of everything else happening here really quick.

Alien refugee camp hidden away by a misdirection filter in the middle of London. Okay, Doctor Who, that actually is a lot more creative than "found footage episode". Points for that. And hey, the boss of the whole thing is Ashildr/Lady Me! I don't know, the credits call her Ashildr but she's still clearly Me. Her motivations this time are... well, temporal grace. You'd think, though, that she'd know better than to make deals with aliens about things. Didn't she write down "DO NOT TRUST ALIENS, THEY WILL TRICK YOU" in her diary after that whole Leandro thing? Ah well. Maybe she had no choice, and though she doesn't kill Clara outright, she facilitated the mystery that led to Clara dying. That quantum shade must be a real dick if it can't be bargained with. Why's it need to kill someone so bad? What if it tried to kill Mayor Me? Would it be able to, or would she come back from it? What if it tried to hit the Doctor? Could he regenerate from it? Sad questions and pleading, to try and think of a way to save Clara Oswald. But there is no saving Clara Oswald. She's gone.

I've always praised the dramatic moments in this show, and Clara's final scenes are no exception. The Doctor, ready to rain fire and hell upon Me for this transgression... and Clara talks him down. No. Not in my name. Don't you dare compromise yourself and hurt people for that. This is not a fridging, this is not a revenge match. You grieve, and you hurt, but don't hurt others. Don't become John Hurt again. In her last acts, Clara mirrors the Doctor one more time, trying her best to... be the Doctor. To heal her friend's imminent pain and grief. The bossy control freak, when faced with death cawing and gliding towards her... takes control of that. She knows, in her last moments, that she can't be the Doctor. "Why can't I be like you?" she asks, knowing full well that this is it for her. A ginger Clara isn't going to get up from the cobblestones and start babbling about kidneys or custard. "Is this death?" Peter Davison asked in The Caves of Androzani. Yes, Clara. I'm afraid it is. Clara Oswald, the supposed Impossible Girl, the dark mirror of the Doctor, faces death head-on. She faces the raven, her final words being both a mantra and a plea to herself.

"Let me be brave."

You were brave, Clara Oswald. You were the most competent and interesting companion I can remember. You took charge and control of things, turning them to your advantage. You were kind and caring, ready to put yourself in danger for others both to help them and to excite yourself. Oh, Clara. My Clara. Our Clara.

We're going to miss you.

Next time: The Doctor will miss you, too.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 9 (Sleep No More)

(As always, there are Doctor Who spoilers in this Doctor Who first impressions writeup. You've been warned.)

Well, that's that. I've fallen through the looking glass. I am officially a dark mirror of the General Public's Doctor Who Opinions. Seriously, most of my opinions for Series 9 have been opposite to the masses. The masses loved Under The Lake/Before The Flood, whereas I thought the shit was trite and pointless and lacking in anticipation. The masses hated Zygon Invasion/Inversion, where I was fine with that brilliant speech at the end. Now we come to Sleep No More, a Mark Gatiss episode that mashes up found footage with Doctor Who, and people hate it. Whereas I, over here... well, I'm not about to call it the best episode of Series 9 or nothing, but it's certainly a very clever episode with some cute twists, neat metatextual toying, and one hell of an ending.

I can see why it wouldn't work for people. I really can. The rescue crew is your basic cannon fodder, even more so than the lake two-parter. You've got Leader Girl, Nervous Guy, Jokey Guy, and... 474. The monsters themselves are a pretty silly concept, even for Doctor Who. The plot, such as it is, probably commits that cardinal sin of Not Making Sense. I can see past that, and endure it and praise the brilliant bits. Such as they are. Like the idea of Morpheus. A machine that eliminates the need for sleep! That would probably be great and wonderful and give you more time to spend doing what you like, but there are two problems with that. The first being that the machine actually turns the rheum that builds up around your eyes when you sleep into a shambling mucus monster that kills you. So that's unfortunate, but it's the second problem that's more interesting; the intervention of capitalism! Morpheus's benefit is specifically billed in its holo-promo video as letting you work longer to get the edge to make more space bucks. The only people to object to this are Clara, the Doctor, and Chopra (Nervous Guy) on the grounds that space capitalism is literally taking away sleep in order to make people work longer to earn more money to make the rich richer. Of course, the Doctor's objection goes a little more into the "sleep is natural" thing and that leads into the sleep monsters.

Ah, the Sandmen. Clara named them! Look, the idea of monsters made out of that crusty shit that gets in your eyes while you sleep is a bit silly. Counter-point; this is Doctor bloody Who. Monsters made of snot aren't quite as silly as "literal green men from Mars" or "farting aliens who wear people suits". To the episode's credit, you don't get all that good a look at them and they shamble about in the shadows a bunch. You do get some looks at them, though, and they're imposing big things. This being a found footage episode, all you really see is OH NO ONE OF THEM IS DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AAAAAAAAARGH. It might have worked better if you saw less of them, because less is more. Especially when your episode is a found footage thing, and this genre often likes to tease the monster or threat and never show it clearly. Still, I think the main objection is just "monsters literally made of eye mucus are silly, how did this shit even evolve to be a threat?", which... ehh.

The found footage aspect is used very well, I think... and quite cleverly, also! At the start of the thing, we have that professor fellow as our narrator, and then we cut to the cameras of the rescue crew. Okay, so it's assumed and taken for granted that these soldiers have helmet cameras on them for reasons. We can roll with that, and that combined with the wide shots (presumably from cameras on the space station) gives us our premise. An attentive viewer, however, will pick up on some inconsistencies. Maybe even complain about said inconsistencies. Well, then the shoe drops. These weren't plot holes. They were clues. There are no cameras, no helmet cams, no nothing. What we are viewing is the episode from the point of view of the Dust itself. It works. If you're going to play with found footage in Doctor Who, you might as well get clever with it... and the episode gets even more clever with it in its climax. Which, let's get to. Because wow.

Righto, so the professor was behind it all along! He wants to infect everyone with the Sandmen and make them spread and eat everyone because Reasons. Then he gets shot and the Doctor, Clara, and Leader Girl run off in the TARDIS... at which point the professor comes back on screen and reveals his plan. See, the whole episode was his creation, and he edited the Sandman memories to make it more exciting so more people would stay tuned to it and keep watching. How delightfully meta. The villain created the found footage episode to make... an exciting episode of Doctor Who that people wouldn't switch off. Oh, and he also embedded a signal in the footage to make anyone watching turn into a Sandman. (That explains the video glitches.). Oh, and then he rubs his eye away and starts talking in a demonic voice about how you should show the video to everyone you know before laughing and fading away. HOLY SHIT. Doctor Who hasn't properly unsettled and spooked me like this since like... Midnight. I can't hate an episode that manages to stick the landing so thoroughly on the sheer existential horror of "you're going to become a Sandman since you watched this". Once more, the streets of London ran yellow with the piss of frightened children. Christ almighty. Hell, I did need to rub my eyes a bit after first viewing! I didn't even sleep that well! Christ! I remain impressed that this show managed to spook me so, but here we are.

Oh yeah. Clara. She might die now, having accidentally stayed in one of those Morpheus pods. She might become a Sandgirl. She might die some other way, or leave the Doctor to cure her Sandgirl problem. I'm not sure. There is one thing I noticed, which is that the final shot of the TARDIS leaving appears to be from Clara's perspective inside it, and the Sand POV stays with the station and not the TARDIS. So there is hope. All in all, I liked this one. It's not the best but it's still good and it scared me.

Next time: Hey, that graffiti kid is back! In Diagon Alley!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Star Wars: The Saber Order

(There are going to be spoilers for the Star Wars movies ahead. Please be wary of that before you go reading my gushing.)

I could put any image here, so here's Max Rebo, the
most rad synth-playing blue elephant in the Outer Rim.
So, holy shit. There's a new Star Wars movie coming out next month. So that's something interesting. Not only that, but some of my tabletop RPG pals are planning to run a Star Wars campaign in the near future. That should be fun too! Before we talk about... what we're going to talk about, here's my history with Star Wars. My brother was there for the original scene, in the 80's. He had the toys, the books, the et cetera et cetera. I, being a good... gosh, 14 years younger, was not around for that scene. I was born 2 years after Return Of The Jedi. No, I got into Star Wars in 1995, at the absolute last time to get into it before Everything Was Ruined Forever according to fandom. I watched the originals, I loved the originals, and in September 1997 for my 12th birthday I got the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition on VHS. That set's still in my basement, and I've seen the Special Editions a bunch of times since then. They're fine, mostly. Emblematic of George Lucas's "endless tinkerer" and "all of the CGI, all of it" approach that would become synonymous with him soon, but fine all the same. Really, there's only one Special Edition change that I take great offense to, and it ain't Greedo shot bleedin' first. No, that change would be the addition of "Jedi Rocks" in Return Of The Jedi, and replacing a rad 80's sleazy alien synthpop song with... soul ballads from CGI cartoons. Or something. Hell, ROTJ manages to somehow break even with me because I like the new ending song better than Yub Nub or whatever the fuck. Anyway. A few years after that came the Star Wars trilogy that my generation got; the prequel films. Of which I only got to see one on the big screen. And that one was The Phantom Menace, even! Christ. I did like it when I was 14, and I did like the other movies at 17 and 20. I mean, well... they're okay I guess. I know a lot of people are re-analyzing The Phantom Menace specifically because of that fucking "Jar Jar is evil" theory that's floating around, but even a few years before that we had Red Letter Media's sublime and thorough takedown of the entire prequel trilogy.

Of course, there's more than one way to enjoy your Star Wars saga. Around the same time as the RLM reviews came a radical new way to watch the movies: The Machete Order. So named because it cuts an entire movie from the six-part saga, but also because it rearranges things. The short version of the Machete Order experience is as follows: You watch Episodes 4 and 5, just as you would if you were doing an original trilogy re-watch. At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, after Darth Vader's shocking reveal, you jump back in time to treat Episodes 2 and 3 of the prequel trilogy as an extended flashback, giving you the backstory to the fall of the Old Republic, the rise of the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. With the knowledge of how shit got bad, you jump to the conclusion of the series with Return Of The Jedi, and with Revenge Of The Sith fresh on your mind all of the added parallels become stronger and the emotional core of the finale is better served. The other reason for viewing the movies in this order is to preserve a bunch of the major twists... specifically that Darth Vader is Luke's father, and that Luke and Leia are siblings. Also that Chancellor Palpatine is actually Darth Sidious, the Emperor. It's a method suggested for first-time viewers, either people who never got into Star Wars before or kids discovering the series for the very first time. As for the reason why Episode 1 is cut from this order? Surprisingly, it isn't just "Episode 1 sucks" like you think it might be. Rather, the reason for skipping it is its irrelevance. According to the Machete Order, everyone introduced in Episode 1 is either killed/removed, not overly important to the plot, or gets established better in a later episode. The opening crawl of Episode 2, and indeed most of the opening moments, establish just about everything a first-time viewer needs to know, creating only a mild bit of confusion that the Machete Order guy admits to.

Now we come to my friend Joe. Joe likes Star Wars a lot. He came up with a modified version of the Machete Order recently, and dubbed it "The Saber Order". The Saber Order goes even further with its prequel trilogy surgery, and the "extended flashback" between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi is now just one movie; Revenge Of The Sith. With Star Wars on my mind, and a burning desire to rewatch the films anyway, I agreed to test Joe's Saber Order out for him. The question was such: Would Revenge Of The Sith work on its own as the story of how Anakin fell and the Empire rose to power? Would skipping Attack Of The Clones create any confusion in trying to watch Episode 3? So it was that I fired up the original 1977 film, and went to it. Well, there was nothing really different for the first two films. It's the same as just watching the original trilogy. Good movie experiences were had, FUNNNNNY JOKES were made, and I engaged in a little critical nitpicking, the kind you just do when you've seen something twenty times before. Finally, on Friday, it was time. I popped my Revenge Of The Sith DVD in, and was interested to see just how well this shit would actually work. There were one or two things I could think of that might throw off a first-time viewer, but I went with it. Spoilers: it works. By god, it works! If nothing else, Revenge Of The Sith is really good at establishing shit for you, and just about anything it doesn't establish can be written off as backstory fluff. Here are a few things that work really well in Saber Order, that either I or Joe noticed.

1) The opening crawl.

Well, shit, this helps explain a lot of what's going on. Just from this little bit of text at the intro, you get a sense of the story so far and its major players. From it alone, I took away the following:

-The "Republic" is at war with a bunch of separatists led by a Sith Lord named Count Dooku.
-The separatists also have a droid army, led by a General Grievous.
-General Grievous has kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine of the Republic and is trying to get away with him.
-Two Jedi Knights are on a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine.

That does give you a lot! From there, you get all out war in the opening space battle. Anakin and Obi-Wan show up (more on their relationship in a second) and you can pretty much visually tell who Obi-Wan is because you know what old Obi-Wan looks like from the other movies. Admittedly it does take a while before they call Anakin by name, but you do get his full name within 20 minutes. They face off against Count Dooku and General Grievous in this 30-minute opening bit, and reference is made to a previous encounter with Count Dooku. That might make him feel like he came out of nowhere, but if you watch all the movies in order, Grievous also comes out of nowhere unless you watched the 2D Clone Wars cartoon. Reference to clones is made fairly quick into the movie, so a savvy viewer will pick up on the mentions of the Clone Wars from Episode 4. There's one thing that might possibly confuse, but we'll get to that later on.


2) Anakin and Obi-Wan's friendship.

I think the main reason Joe was eager to trim Episode 2 from the Machete Order was how it handled Anakin and his relation to other major characters. This is ground well-walked by Red Letter Media, but there's a dissonance between Obi-Wan's reminiscence of Anakin as a great pilot and a good friend with their relationship in Episode 2. Obi-Wan seems to see Anakin in that movie as more of a bratty teenager he has to babysit, who's constantly back-talking him and getting himself into trouble. Anakin, on the other hand, sees Obi-Wan as limiting and controlling his Jedi powers, and he's constantly shit-talking Obi-Wan behind the guy's back. He's a seething ball of teenage hormones and rage, and he's honestly not the most relatable character. Come the opening of Episode 3, and most of that is gone. On casual viewing, Anakin and Obi-Wan seem like good friends, with Anakin being just a little impulsive but not an ass about it. We see that he's a good pilot, and he's clearly good friends with Obi-Wan. Hell, in their last real conversation as friends, Obi-Wan admits that Anakin is better than he is at Jedi stuff. Anakin does get upset at how the Jedi treat him in this movie, but he never really gets upset at Obi-Wan; it feels more like him venting his frustrations to an old and trusted friend. Which makes what is to come all the more sad, of course.

3) Anakin and Padme's romance.

Look, I'm sorry. Episode 2's romance plot with Anakin and Padme was garbage. Joe's right to cut it out. Granted, that doesn't really save much since there's still cringeworthy romance dialogue in Revenge Of The Sith, but not as much. More to the point, by skipping that awkward romance and moving straight to "oh they're married", it makes things work better... in a sense. There's still momentary confusion in Padme's first scene, because someone unfamiliar with Episode 2's "Jedi aren't allowed to love" edict will be wondering why in the world Anakin has a secret senator lover. This is patched over with dialogue from Padme worrying about getting kicked out of the senate/Anakin getting kicked out of the Jedi if they find out they're having a baby, but there's still that bit of confusion from not having seen Episode 2. Otherwise, as normal.

4) Chancellor Palpatine.

Ah, Sheev. What a guy. Well, first off, Joe's Saber Order removes the inconsistency of the Jedi suddenly not trusting Palpatine as far as they can throw him; now it just always seemed that way. Anakin and Palpatine's relationship is served better; Palpatine seems like another friendly mentor character to Anakin, kind of like Obi-Wan is. It gives this strange sort of tension, and it's only added when Palpatine starts behaving awfully a lot like a Sith Lord. We don't really know the Emperor is named Palpatine in the original trilogy, but someone would catch on pretty damn quick; the opera scene at the latest. Either way, he suckers Anakin in with his little "save people from dying" thing (which, Anakin's premonitions parallel quite nicely with Luke's about Cloud City, and both of them do foolish and impetuous things in order to save the people they care about) and the kid goes bad and gets put in a robot suit.

Things that don't make sense

There are a few. Just about everything brought up in Revenge Of The Sith is explained... but one has to keep in mind all of the different versions of Star Wars out there. I did this with the original original trilogy, sans changes, because I've seen the Special Editions a shitload of times and I like the variety. There are two changes I can think of that would confuse, and the first is Boba Fett. The prequels have the Clone Army all being clones of Boba Fett's dad, so for the Special Edition DVDs George bothered to redub all of Boba Fett's lines in The Empire Strikes Back with that guy. (If I was the dude who originally did Boba's voice I'd be pissed off.) That's fine if you saw Attack Of The Clones, but I could see a new viewer watching the official DVDs/Blu-Rays wondering why in the everloving fuck the clones had Boba Fett's voice. Similarly, they might wonder why the hell R2D2 and C3PO are here... though in the prequels we got no explanation for R2 being there all along, and 3PO's introduction is cut out of the Machete Order anyway.

The other very minor thing is the celebration scene. There's a shot of Naboo added for the DVDs. Saber Order never shows the planet Naboo, so one might wonder where the hell this is... though at that point the movie's basically over so it doesn't really matter, I guess. Other than that, Saber Order works. It really and honestly works, and it leaves a certain level of ambiguity to the prequel trilogy that makes one think it was sort of redundant, really. We didn't need to see the clones being made, or the Trade Federation scheme, or podracing or any of that. Turns out all you need is Episode 3 and an attentive ear for dialogue. Huh. Thanks, Joe.

Give Saber Order a shot for yourself. See how it works. As for me, I'm going to build a Star Wars tabletop character. Maybe a small alien blue elephant Jedi...

Monday, 9 November 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 8 (The Zygon Inversion)

(As always, there are spoilers to follow. You know better than to read this before seeing the episode for yourself. Unless you don't care about spoilers and somehow just like to read me yelling about Doctor Who you haven't seen, which... well, I'm flattered but I also would really rather you watched it as well. If you're out there. Well, let's talk about Zygons some more.)

Press the right button and all the Zygons are revealed.
Press the wrong one and they all permanently become Colin Baker. With coat.
It was, through and through, a Peter Harness episode. The reaction to this one, both from myself and others, is just about the same as it was over a year ago when Kill The Moon happened. Lots and lots of people were thoroughly disappointed by the political implications of the episode, and have taken to the Internet to voice their concerns about it. This time it is immigration and xenophobia, and last year it was pro-choice debates. I here, on the other hand, am both dumb enough to not know much about political climates and yet smart enough to know that I shouldn't be writing about them. You'll note that I took The Zygon Invasion to task not for the implication that many took from it, that all foreign immigrants are pissed off radicals who will kill everyone in the way of their ambiguous revolutionary goals, but rather the fact that, for all the talk about the Zygon radicals in the episode being the minority, we never actually saw any Zygons who weren't murder-happy revolutionaries who kill both humans and Zygons alike on sight for Reasons. My issue was that the subtext was there for a "both sides" thing but it utterly failed to show both sides. The second reason this episode is a repeat of Kill The Moon for me is that Peter Harness is unable to hit "okay". He either hits extreme disappointment (see: political themes, giant space dragons, moon eggs) or "jaw-droppingly phenomenal" (see: Clara's outrage at the Doctor and storming off). Now, I like my Doctor Who with lots of emotional meatiness and whatnot, so the fact that Peter Harness can write really really incredible and passionate speeches for people like Jenna Coleman or Peter Capaldi to knock out of the park allows me to forgive him for all the political bits that don't work. Many will disagree, and in fact there are even political bits in the jaw-droppingly phenomenal speech in this episode that many have taken it to task for! I'm not one of them.

Part 1 may have faltered, but Christ almighty did Part 2 do its damned best to elevate the material. This is The Zygon Inversion, and here is why it's very good and I loved it so much.

Let's start with Jenna Coleman/Clara Oswald/Bonnie Zygella. You know, since the episode did. I didn't call the cliffhanger resolution. I talked about this in Before The Flood, but the guessing game isn't the if but the how. I pegged the how as being the Doctor looking at the rocket incoming, and staring at it with his sunglasses to make it blow up early. A plausible cliffhanger resolution, but not one a lot of people would have liked because half of fandom already hates the godforsaken sunglasses. What we got instead was far more clever and preferable to me and... oh, people still complained about it kind of. Well. Shit. Okay, so. Clara, our Clara, the one who was actually comatose in a Zygon pod for 85% of the last episode? She's still stuck in it, but pointedly she's in her own little mental landscape; her apartment. (Which ties in nicely to Last Christmas, incidentally!) She sees the cliffhanger playing out on her TV, from Bonnie's perspective... and manages to influence Bonnie's hands to veer the shot away a bit. Bonnie still hits in the end, but yes! Even in a Zygon pod Clara can be proactive and take charge! This is a better cliffhanger resolution because Clara got to do stuff. This is the most stuff Clara has gotten to do since Magician's Apprentice, arguably. The bit where she calmly faces down Bonnie when Bonnie goes looking for information is rad. Of course, Bonnie being a mirror of Clara (and there's lots of mirroring in this one, with Clara's clock and her bathroom mirror and the mere act of Clara looking at "herself" [aka Bonnie] in the TV and vice versa makes the budding third-rate Jane Campbell in me very happy) means that Bonnie is able to turn the tables on Clara and be just as proactive and clever in getting what she wants. It's a great scene, and though there isn't much for Clara to do beyond stand around for the big bit of the episode, we're not done with Bonnie Zygella by a long shot. But more on that when we get to the big bit.

Osgood is temporary companion here, and she works fine. I could have done without them pressing the question of "but which one are you?" over and over again, but Osgood keeps dismissing it with a smile. Hilariously, her actress had an AMA on Twitter yesterday, and one of the questions I saw from a viewer was actually, legitimately, whether or not Osgood was human or Zygon. For fuck's sakes, Harry, ambiguity. Petronella Osgood is Petronella Osgood. There might be one human and one Zygon at the end of this. Or two Zygons. I don't know. It doesn't seem to particularly matter. She absolutely is who she says she is, and that's all I need to know. As for everyone else... well, geez, Kate's going to need to conduct a hell of a lot of job interviews because all of UNIT is kind of dead. We don't see a single UNIT person besides Kate and Osgood; there's some soldiers but they're revolutionary Zygons in disguise. Kate, on the other hand, is not. I called that one because of simple televisual literacy; we never actually saw Kate get zapped in last week's cliffhanger. We pointedly cut away from the moment of zapping, and only had the assumption that the Kate saying UNIT was neutralized was a revolutionary Zygon. Even the reveal of how Kate got out of it is a smug Classic Who reference, and those are all over the place here. The aforementioned "five rounds rapid" line. The portrait of William Hartnell. The Z67 gas referred to as "the imbecile's gas". Lots of toying, and-- ah shit, I forgot to talk about why people got mad at Clara this week. She fought back against Zygon control and made little subtle body moments happen in Bonnie. Winking, finger gestures, whatnot. I've seen complaints about how this makes no sense because nobody else who got put in a Zygon pod ever fought back. Well, it can be justified by Osgood's line about them making a live link to her head to get information. The Zygons made a two-way connection, and Clara quickly gets how to use it as well. Also, she's the companion. She got to do shit in this episode. I'm not about to complain and really neither should you because I don't think anyone honestly gives a shit about Zygon rules. If they did, they'd be complaining that the Skarasen isn't involved with this lot at all. They don't even have a throwaway line explaining that, so get mad at that. Get mad for them not explaining why the Zygons don't drink from the teat of a cyborg alien dinosaur any more.

Right, here we go. The big bit. Once again, in a Peter Harness episode, we have women standing over a control box with two options; no mercy kill kill kill, or pacifism that may spell the end of everything anyway. The tricky trick of the Osgood Box is revealed, and everyone is in place in the Black Archive where all this shit started two years ago... and then Peter Capaldi does it. He doesn't just knock this out of the park. He knocks this performance into orbit around Mars. Holy fuck. The monologue about the meaning of war, the consequences of causing untold death and destruction to right perceived injustice, and the often lack of plotting out what to do after the war... mixed in with the most moving and passionate "Time War guilt" acting yet seen, is genius. The Doctor, ever the pacifist who one day went to war and has regretted it ever since, is all but begging and pleading Kate and Bonnie to make peace and call off this ridiculous fearmongering. In particular, I want to focus on his critique of Kate. We did see exactly one non-murdery sympathetic Zygon in this episode, a poor man who Bonnie forced back into Zygon form who now can't maintain his disguise. I suppose he's meant to represent the majority Zygons who are perfectly fine with living out their lives among human beings. It does help give the conflict depth, and it makes sense why they wouldn't be helping so much; they want to live in peace, and they don't think it's their fight. I disagree a little, but I understand. Then you have Bonnie and the other radicals, whose grand plan is to unmask every Zygon on Earth, stoking the prejudices of humanity to incite fear and violence and make all the Zygons go to war against the humans. When Clara, in her confrontation with Bonnie, points out that 20 million Zygons against 7 billion humans isn't a battle they can possibly win even with their technology, Bonnie's reply is a simple "Better to die by fire than live in chains.". Well, fuck you. You don't get to make that choice for the majority of your species. What I love about the later bits with Capaldi talking down Bonnie are how they address my concerns about the Zygon conflict. All the "mustache-twirling" I talked about with every radical Zygon killing left and right is revealed to be nothing more than an ill-thought out revolution. Bonnie doesn't even know what she wants, other than to see Zygons and humans go at it. In her ideal scenario, when Zygonkind stands among the ashes of humanity, and the Earth is theirs... then what? What do they do then? Bonnie has no plan, no strategy, no motivation beyond "But I don't like being disguised as a human!". The leader of the Zygon revolt is revealed to be little more than a child having a temper tantrum... and it's worth noting that at two points in the episode, Bonnie is visibly throwing temper tantrums when she isn't getting her way. Watch how, when Osgood's laptop reveals that she lied during her interrogation, Bonnie snarls and smashes the laptop. Or how, when the Doctor refuses to tell the secret of the Osgood Box, she hurls her phone at the wall. This isn't a military leader. This is a pissed-off teenager, and the Doctor talks both her and Kate down by making them think. Truth or consequences? Neither of them know the truth, or the consequences, of war.

So the Doctor talks Bonnie down. He forgives her, because he's the Doctor and he can. The Zygon revolution ends with peace talks and a few memory wipes just to make sure the status quo remains. Bonnie becomes an Osgood, and will work with the other Osgood to maintain the secret peace between humanity and Zygonity. The ill-thought out revolution ends. Some have said this is infantilizing of Bonnie, just treating her as a spoiled child. Others may say that the Doctor's dismissal of revolutions as being run by spoiled brats who don't think the status quo is "fair" is tonally wrong. It's not for me to judge. I loved the speech, I loved the peaceful way everything resolved, and I loved how it addressed all my concerns with the Zygon's motivations by ideologically tearing them down as a impassioned but flawed ideal. God damn. This might be my favorite episode of series 9 so far. It'll be interesting on rewatch to see how The Zygon Invasion holds up, but for now I'm all for this. It's been a rocky road, and not quite as good a road as Series 8, but it's had its moments.

Also, please god don't let that "longest month of my life" thing be a confirmation of the Clara Is Already Dead theory. Fuck's sakes.

Next time: Doctor Who does found footage. I dig found footage. I might dig this.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Exorcism Of James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures And Me: The Final Chapter)

In the end, it all comes back to the numbers.

This, much like my Metroid Other M post from a few months ago, is nothing more than elaborate exorcism. Both Other M and this are games that, though I completed and tossed aside years ago, I can still find myself ranting and raving about at a moment's notice. This is a volcanic eruption of necessity, I'm afraid. If I don't get this out there in one gigantic burst of third-rate alchemical waffling, I'm going to drive everyone I care about batty by never shutting up about this game. Much like the Other M rant, this is happening because I discovered a point about the game that I want to make. Unlike Other M, however, this game isn't wildly criticized and it has a different history beyond "it was a really bad entry in a franchise I loved". So, before we make our points and since I have never really properly touched on the history between me and this here game before, let's slip into a TARDIS and check out the Web Of Time.

The story so far...

In the fall of 2006, a very good friend and I discovered the Angry Video Game Nerd. We were amused by him and continued to watch his updates for several years. In 2013 it was announced that Screwattack Games and Freakzone Games were working together to create a retro-themed jump and shoot game based on the Nerd. Hey, I was on board! I can't find the exact trailer now, but the image that stuck with me was a simple one. The Nerd, in a futuristic level, encountering the famous Mega Man blocks which appear and vanish at timed intervals. His text box popped up and said something along the lines of "OH NO, NOT THIS SHIT AGAIN!". I was okay with this! A retro-themed game which looks back on the tropes of hard games, pokes a little fun at them, and has a good challenge? I was ready. The game came out, and that friend of mine bought me a copy. I loaded it up, ready to give it a shot, and... I hated it. I beat it once on Easy mode, and then again on Normal. I still hated it. So, in order to vent my disappointment, I wrote about the game over on that cool website, Socks Make People Sexy. Here is what I wrote. I checked the word count just now, and my original screed is just under 2900 words. A fair chunk of text, but no more than two days' work at NaNoWriMo. Here, then, were my main two objections.

1) The humor.

I set myself up for disappointment here, by assuming the game would play with the tropes of 8 and 16-bit platformers from the 80's and 90's. Instead, the game seemed more preoccupied with making in-jokes based on things from AVGN videos. Which, I really took to task because that's a major pet peeve of mine. It stems out to other places as well, like the Channel Awesome "movies" which are naught more than an excuse to string all of the in-jokes, characters, and running gags of that website's critics into a narrative about having pretend fights with people to save the world. I took this to task hard, for being far too insular and alienating to anyone who had a casual interest in retro-themed games. You know, rather than "this is only for AVGN fans and nobody else is allowed to get the humor!". In hindsight, I took the wrong approach here and let my own personal biases in. Which, well, it's my review and my opinion so my personal biases are allowed, but it didn't help. What I should have done, and the position I take now, is a far more simpler and objective statement. References aren't jokes. I am an AVGN fan. I'm ostensibly part of the target audience. Reminding me that the rock weapon from Friday The 13th was bad isn't a joke. Am I supposed to be impressed at remembering a thing from another thing? Because I really wasn't. Video reviewer ProJared said it best, and succinctly: "[the game] doesn't offer any humor of its own; it's all references which are fleeting, which will have you acknowledging that you get the reference, but no laughs will leave your lungs." Couldn't have said it better myself. That's a minor point though, and one I'd concede to taste. The second objection, however, is far more severe.

2) The difficulty.

AVGN Adventures is not a game based on the hard games of old. I say this, being a bit of a hard game fanatic. AVGN Adventures is a masocore game, more akin to I Wanna Be The Guy or Eryl's Action than anything like Mega Man or Castlevania. It doesn't work. It didn't work for me, but it worked for many. The many called it a "rewarding" hard game experience, and that just begs the question of what in the everloving fuck "rewarding" means in hard game lingo. Does it mean that you feel like you outsmarted the game and were clever and inventive enough to surpass a challenge? If so, I applaud the many for feeling that good feeling. I, however, would classify its difficulty as "relieving." As in, relief that I'm finally done with that particular godforsaken section and can move on. No, there's only one way to beat AVGN Adventures, and it's the way where you memorize where every cheeky gotcha trap is and beat a boss who flies in a figure 8 pattern and gets faster the more you hit it. That's how all the levels go, and on Normal or higher, you have lives to deal with. On even higher difficulties, continues. You don't make a limited life masocore game. You just... don't. It goes totally against the flow of the thing! On that note, every time you die in the game (which is often) you get a procedurally-generated Nerd quote about how he'd rather stick his head up a blah blah blah. These are unskippable. They ruin the flow of the thing and interrupt the masocore experience to make more references to things you like. I hated it.

Pointedly, I was in the minority here. The only people I am aware of who didn't like it are ProJared and Something Awful Let's Player, Psychedelic Eyeball. He did a big two hour stream of the game and was baffled at all the non-sequiturs, to which his cohosts would tell him that whatever he was looking at was something from a Nerd video. So. The rest of the world loved it. I'm going to use numbers here, and that will become important later for my own opinions, but here I'll use them to the benefit of the fans of this game. It has a 77 Metacritic score.  The word "rewarding" is bandied around like a buzzword, but we'll ignore that for now! People loved it! People loved it a lot and I didn't. So, here I was, fall of 2013, with a 2900 word review that took down the game for not being all that good. It's here where our story gets good, as I happened to notice that GameFAQs had no user reviews of the game. So, I took the words I had written, cleaned up some of the swears and other things, and submitted it on a whim. They accepted. Well, people were none too pleased about it. Not long after, a thread popped up on the forum for the game. "Already a user review on this game?!", it asks. What followed was two days of nothing short of total amusement for me as people tore into me for my opinion; but not in the way you'd think. Not quite. Rather than really raise any of my points, or get into some sort of debate about expectations of hard games or how masocore games mixed with humor should work, or anything like that... I got ad hominem attacks. Total fallacies intended to dismiss my opinion in what felt like a strange attempt to protect the dignity of their game they loved so much. I critiqued it for AVGN references, so therefore I must hate the AVGN! I must even be an Irate Gamer fanboy attempting to ding the number scores! I wrote a 32,000 word wall of text about how it was bad, and therefore my opinion is invalid because it's too long! He thought the difficulty was unfair? He's probably just terrible at video games! Oh, and that number score. That fucking number score. I gave it a 3 out of 10 because the description for a 3/10 on there was "bad". Which is what I thought of it. Unfortunately I forgot that people really give a shit about number scores, and half the objection was that I unfairly gave it a 3. I'll let you in on a secret. When it comes to number scores in games, I don't give a shit. I let the words speak for themselves. Too bad I threw my words into a space where numbers do matter. Oops. To be fair, a couple of the user comments I got on the review were a little more well-worded in their disagreement.


Those most recent two really make me giggle. Now, I'm not saying my review is good or anything. I know what I'm about. The level of hate I got for it simply baffles me. Everyone else liked it. I didn't. The game got good reviews, it has a sequel coming in December, and everyone else who played it appears to have had a good time and were amused at the jokes and thought it was fun. To you out there: You won. You won by the simple virtue of getting to have more fun than me. There was, and is, absolutely no need to dogpile on me with ad hominem attacks about how I probably am a troll who is terrible at retro games (which is particularly hilarious if you know about my "Hard Game Beater" exploits) in order to... what? Protect the integrity of this game? Win an argument online? As I just said, you won when you had fun and I didn't. I am not trying to antagonize anyone, not really. Notably, both camps on this game have their gonzo loudmouths. I looked at the comments on that ProJared video. I saw a whole bunch of shit about how "Oh, these defenders are just dumb AVGN fanboys, they'd buy a bag of shit with his name on it for 15 bucks!" I'm not going to do that. I respect you enough not to do that, and I only ask you respect me enough not to as well. I'm just an idiot with an opinion. There have been good critiques of this game and my viewpoints on it. I made a video on it in March, for reasons. A lot of what I've been typing out here, I said there. I still felt the need to explode about it. I got a very good comment from one "Shot97", which I'm going to put here because it's the kind of debate I was looking for. Respectfully bringing up their own opinion in regards to mine.

Very interesting thoughts on the game. I can't see how anyone could find fault in your arguments against the game. Anyone that can't respect the way you put forth your opinion is only showing what little respect they deserve. The best review for the game put head on against yours would only show a difference of opinion. You would certainly win against the less articulate good reviews, given that the majority do seem to enjoy the game. 

I'm more in the middle on this one. I can see exactly where you're coming from on designing a game intentionally to be difficult... and delving a little into the psychology of it, given that you (and I would put myself in this category as well) have found enjoyment in beating games that many others find terribly difficult, you're more frustrated than your average person would be with this game. Given your opinions on games like Castlevania, Battletoads, Ghosts and Goblins, and Mega Man, which are all games that others find difficult; They are all still games that can be beaten if you're persistent enough. If you're smart enough to recognize the patterns and if you're patient enough to go through all the deaths necessary to get good, you will come to a point where that game will cease to be difficult for you. Say what you will about many of those old school hard games, once you figured it out, you're golden. There is a great satisfaction that is unmatched in modern gaming for when you master an old school hard game. Contrast that with this game, which is designed to piss you off and I completely understand why a person of your skill would hate this game. No matter how much time you invest in this one, you're still going to find far too many cheap deaths and areas that you will never truly master. If you're looking for that old school satisfaction of mastering a hard game, you will get none of that with this game.

But I can also understand the side that says it's a good game. The controls are there, the settings are nice for 8-bit inspiration, there's humor in abundance, and regardless of the difficulty you should be able to see a nice chunk of the game. Not being able to master a game will not be an issue to people who have never really mastered hard games.

Where you have issues with the AVGN references, for a game that's called AVGN Adventures you're making your target audience very clear. It could be easily said that a game (or movie for that matter) that tries to appeal to a general audience, when it made all of its money to that point on fans, will end up being extremely disappointing. Are there ways you can go about getting both the casual person and the hardcore fan into it? I guess... But you will never really make both camps happy. If you make the general people happy, you could have seriously fucked up everything you've ever done. That could be career ending if you throw away the fans for money.

I kind of feel the X-Files did this with the 2nd movie, trying to appeal to casual thriller fans and coming dangerously close to kicking their fans in the teeth. There were supposed to be many more films after that one... Nothing... It is because they went for the general audience and forgot about the fans. They did the best they could with the first movie to make it accessible but it leaned more toward the fan that knew what they were getting into. And that's the best you can ever do. Most people that went to see The Adams Family knew what they were getting into, but they were also strange enough characters to get people that hadn't seen it to fall in love with them too. It's hard to balance it, but the ones that are successful usually lean more toward the fan than the general audience. If you're going to do one or the other, i'd rather it be an experience completely for the fan. The X-Files game would be an example where the casual adventure game fan will find no substance there, but any X-Files fan will fall in love with it based simply on the references. I love that game because of it, regardless of how easy it is in terms of adventure games. But I do recognize it's not really good on its own... But what's the use of having the license if you're going to make it stand on its own? In that case make up new characters and take away the expense of the license and make some more money. 

An adequate game with enough references to make me smile makes it a good game. You could do better certainly, but it's not hard to do good. Which makes it much more of a shame considering how badly licensed game have been over the years. It should be so easy to make a "good" game out of it, because it only has to be okay to make the fan think it's good. 

Getting back to AVGN, I think it accomplished exactly what he wanted it to. He told them what he wanted and they delivered. It's playable, it's hard like he wanted, and his fans should enjoy it. That's a lot more than can be said for that now discontinued IG game. Could it have been better? Yeah... But it's not bad. The Irate Gamer game is bad... This is not bad. Reminds me of ET and some of the more famous "bad" games. Is ET bad? If you look at it from a certain perspective yes, but it's very easy to change perspective and look at it in a positive light. I think that's where this game lies. I've seen all of his stuff, I like the AVGN. I can find enjoyment in this game because of the references. I wouldn't recommend it to a non fan, but who are we kidding? Nobody else is going to buy that game... and thus... he probably made the right decision. I think it pisses me off just like it does you, but I can let it be. I can say fuck it and put in a different game yet appreciate what the AVGN game does offer. 

Anyway... So I'm sure you've heard the stupid fanboy defenses of the game, and I'm sure you've seen some eloquent defenses saying it was great, but hopefully this "it is what it is" down the middle review is something you've yet to see.

Very well said, and it even gave more insight into why I personally might not like the game; because of my own hard game experience! It does control well, if nothing else. Looking back on it now, there's one phrase that jumps out: "Regardless of the difficulty, you should be able to see a nice chunk of the game.". I'm going to compare AVGNA to Shovel Knight now. That doesn't sound very fair, I know, but for once I'm not trying to harp on AVGNA. I very well could, because Shovel Knight feels like it was made with the opposite approach in mind. It is inspired by retro video games, but then it goes and does its own thing with them, feeling like a natural evolution of the design philosophy that actually was present back in the day. No, I'm going to compare them in a different way, and a way that will eventually use numbers. Let's talk about lives. AVGNA, as stated, uses lives... but only on Normal difficulty or higher. Its Easy setting gives you twice the hit points and infinite lives and continues. I could make this a point about how Freakzone Games' difficulty selection is basically just tweaking the X and Y values of lives/hit points/continues to your detriment but we won't go there. Yet. Shovel Knight, pointedly, does away with the lives system, instead opting for a Dark Souls-esque approach in which death is penalized by the loss of some currency, but making it back to the spot you died at without suffering another death will allow you to regain it. Lives... are an archaic thing. They're hard to make work in 2015. They existed because of factors we used to discuss on the Nintendo Project. The Arcade Mentality, the Dread Beast GREED. The idea that the game needed to kill you to get more quarters out of you. Games have evolved from that, and games like Shovel Knight acknowledge that evolution and go for something different. AVGNA on Easy mode, I'll concede, goes for the same sort of approach. It will kill you over and over and over, but with infinite lives you can power through and possibly enjoy the game. The content isn't shuttered to you for being terrible at the masocore experience. Okay, AVGNA. That's good. I think, then, this is the major difference I had with this game's fans... and the reason I know that is numbers.

Finally, after god knows how many words in, we get to the part that inspired this writeup. Well, part of it; the other half was just wanting to exorcise, in print, once and for all my frustrations and feelings and amusement at this game and the fiasco it's caused me these past two years. Everyone, I give you... the global achievement stats for AVGN Adventures. At first glance it doesn't seem like much, but on closer analysis I noticed some... really odd things. Things that might actually explain a lot about the shared experience of the game and how it was better than mine. Frankly, this is just me adapting to the rules of the game. If people get to claim that a 77 Metacritic score means it's good, or ProJared's 5/10 is not justified because he said "above average" and should have given it a 6 or 7, or that my 3 is totally unfair because of this and that... well, I get to weaponize the achievement stats to back up my points, too. See, I have a theory. I'll do my best not to ad hominem the players of this game as I do so, and I also note that this data is only for the PC version; the game also came out on 3DS and Wii U, but those came out much much later. Still, perhaps the fanbase gravitated to those versions over the Steam release so this may not be entirely accurate. Well, enough waffling. Let's get into my theory.

I theorize that the majority of the AVGNA players have only played the game once or twice, and only on the Easy difficulty setting.

I want to make it very clear that this is not an attempt at hard game shaming. Yes, I did beat it on Normal as well as Easy. Yes, I beat a lot of hard games. This is more of me trying to understand the opinions of those who liked the game a lot, and playing it exclusively on Easy without the worry of running out of lives/continues and having to start the level/game all over again would definitely help. It didn't help me, granted, but I can understand the perspective. So. What can we use to back this up? Let's start with the death achievements. 51.4% of people have the "ASS!" achievement for dying 100 times. Not a hard thing to accomplish in a masocore game, believe me. I have this achievement as well. If it doesn't happen in your first playthrough, it for sure will happen if you bump up to Normal difficulty and start playing with three hit points instead of six. Not that health matters overly because aside from the bosses most of the obstacles are instant death, a la Battletoads, but anyway. Just under half the player base didn't die 100 times during their play of this game. Only 4.9% have the "ASSSS!!" achievement for dying 1000 times. I do not have this one. I'm not sure if that second one is a good metric to judge, because by a playthrough or two you'll have memorized all the death traps and likely be good enough to avoid most of them. I speak from experience; I did two playthroughs, and in the March video I managed to clear a stage in the game without dying. It's entirely possible that a lot of the people who have this achievement did so by deliberately dying 1000 times in order to get it. Hey, achievement culture. Still, only 51% have died more than 100 times. So, either they stopped playing for some reason, or only did one playthrough. Or were skilled enough to avoid a lot of the death traps. There are many possibilities, but this is only the beginning. Two achievements exist for scenes from certain levels; one for riding the fire shark in the hell level (which I'll admit is a brief but enjoyable moment of over the top awesomeness), and one for riding Santa Claus's corpse down a snowy incline while jumping spikes. (One of the few moments where the game pulls its own crude humor rather than an in-joke.) These are not optional parts of the stages; they are required to complete each of those levels. As beating the game requires you to complete every level, it stands to reason that anyone who beat the game at least once would have them. The numbers? Just over 40% for each. Of course, many players could very well have beaten one or both of those levels and then stopped playing... but even so. You would have them if you've beaten the game, so they should by rights be much higher than that.

There is no achievement for completing the game on Easy mode. That's unfortunate, as it forces me to make assumptions. Knowing what percentage of people cleared the thing on any mode would really have helped. We know it can't be any more than 40.2% because of the Santa achievement... but luckily for us, the other difficulties have achievements. The numbers are grim. Just 5.1% for "You call that normal?!". Let that sink in. Only 5% of people beat the thing on the Normal difficulty, and the numbers shrink from there. 1.6% for "Old School" mode. 0.6% for "Hard As Balls" mode. 0.4% each for "Impossible" and "YOLO" modes. Past Old School mode, of course, you reach challenge levels that are positively ludicrous. YOLO mode in particular gives you one single life to beat the game with, and mad props to anyone who's done that legit. Still, the latter modes are probably meant more as jokes than anything; making the game next to impossible, just like the Nintendo era was supposed to be. It's the myth of what Battletoads, Ghosts n Goblins, or Silver Surfer are; mythical impossible games that no human being could ever beat. (Hi! Hello! How are you?) No, for now let's zero in on that Normal mode achievement. 5% is low. 5% is really low. Again, many factors could be in play beyond "It was too difficult for most players.". It sure feels that way, though, doesn't it? I again don't mean that as a "heh heh get good at hard games" sort of mentality. I've had that mud hurled at me. I'm not about to become a hypocrite and hurl it right back. No, the line of thinking I can envision in regards to this is "Gee, this game is a lot better with infinite lives. I'd much rather play it like that!". Which, paired with Shovel Knight and its rejection of the lives system, says an awful lot about the tastes of people playing retro-style games in the 2010s. No matter what factors were involved in each individual decision, it all boils down to one simple fact; 95% of the players of this game were not inclined to beat it on the Normal difficulty mode.

As for multiple playthroughs? A half-hearted bit of evidence, but telling in its own ways. The game is full of hidden secrets, here and there. Three playable characters exist to be found in certain levels. There are cameos from other famous Internet personalities in each stage, like Pat The NES Punk or Egoraptor or Jim Sterling (What most of these have to do with the AVGN, or indeed anything beyond "I recognize that person!" is beyond me but shhhhh). Each level also has a hidden Shit Pickle in it (another reference, shhhhh) to be found. Well, far be it from me to judge anyone's satisfaction with a game, but I know that on a replay I'd like to try and find all that hidden shit. I did manage to get all the playable characters, but I only found a couple of hidden cameos and Shit Pickles and I didn't care to replay to find more. Once you beat a level, that's it. You can't go back to it. That may be a factor in the low achievement scores for the secrets. 15.8% have found all the playable characters, myself included. Two of the cameos have their own separate achievements; 7.1% have found Matthew Lentz (who won a pre-order contest to have himself put into the game), and 6.5% have found Craig from Screwattack. Only 2.3% have found every cameo, and just 2.1% found every hidden Shit Pickle. Rather low numbers. Again, for whatever reason, not many people seemed to really care about finding everything in the game. That doesn't exactly say much about the objective number of replays, but it sure does say that the majority didn't bother to scour the tricky levels for everything. Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins, the original release, fell into this same trap. You can't have sprawling levels that beg for thorough exploration to find secrets and powerups, but then also have those levels be merciless exercises in precision. You just can't do both of those and make it work.

So. Let's recap our numbers. Of the Steam players of AVGN Adventures:

51% of players died 100 times during their play time of the game.
At most, 40% have beaten the game at least once on any difficulty.
5.1% have beaten it on at the Normal difficulty.
2% have found every hidden cameo or Shit Pickle in the game.

I mean, when I was preparing this I knew that only 5% had beaten it on Normal, but the Fire Shark/Santa achievement really surprised me. Even assuming that everyone who got the Santa achievement then went on to beat the game, that still means that the majority of people who booted it up never even went on to beat the thing. I put myself in the minority when I said I hated the thing, but the people who beat it and loved it are technically in the minority as well! I mean, holy shit! Even if we assume that everyone who got the Santa achievement then went on to beat the game and was on Normal mode (and that friend who got me the game falls into this category; his one and only playthrough was on Normal mode), that's still only 45% and we're counting everyone in that, not just the people who got halfway in and quit for whatever reason. So the number's definitely lower than 45%, we just don't know for sure how low. I mean, Jesus! How can it be difficult yet rewarding when the majority tapped out before being rewarded? Where in the hell are the reviews and blog posts from the 55% or so of people who quit it? In short, how did 45% become the minority for which the game was heaped praise? I don't understand it. I really don't. What I do understand, though, is this. Of the people who did complete this game, the majority of them were perfectly happy to do it on Easy mode with infinite lives. I took the game to task for being too difficult in all the wrong ways, and my basis was mostly on Normal mode. That would have been the mode most fresh in my mind in September 2013 when I wrote about the game. I was criticizing a level of difficulty and frustration that, mathematically, only very few people had also experienced. Maybe that explains why people thought I was gonzo. The game was fine on Easy, what's this idiot talking about? Hell, the thing appears to have fallen into obscurity now. No forum posts. No user reviews on GameFAQs for the 3DS and Wii U ports. The game had a Halloween achievement, both last year and this year. Beat the game on Normal or higher over Halloween weekend, and you earn it. 1.1% completion rate. Mother of God.

Finally, before we close this massive exorcism and I open myself up to critique (and good critique, I hope!) from all of you... that sequel game is coming. From the trailer it looks to be taking influence from Mega Man X. It also has a Mr. Bucket boss called "Mr. Fuckit", itself a reference to the James Rolfe spinoff series Board James. So, nothing much has changed on the "Look, remember that?" front. Not that I expected it to! 77 Metacritic Score. Rewarding, rewarding, rewarding. Why would Freakzone Games change a thing when they did so well the last time they did it? I'm in the minority in hating almost every conceptual aspect of what that game was. Granted, as we've proven, the people who liked and beat it are also in the minority, but well oh well. I don't have high hopes on that front, but what about the difficulty? Surely they'll tone that down a bit, make it a little more fair, a little less reliant on the same instant death block sprite over and over again? Well... I'm sorry to say it, but Freakzone Games hasn't learned a thing in regards to getting past the "myth" of what hard Nintendo games were. Case in point; Manos The Hands Of Fate. They made a little retro jump and shoot based on that terrible movie, before the AVGN game. I got it for a dollar from a Humble Bundle, and... I really enjoyed it! Here, look at me enjoying it! It was, granted, a bit of a reference fiesta in regards to cheesy B-movies of the type that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on... but it somehow worked for me. The difficulty was more in line with a typical jump and shoot, and in the one segment with instant death hazards, there were 1-Ups that respawned every time you died! Essential infinite tries! Granted, "retro style jump-and-shoot that references something from pop culture" appears to be the one note Freakzone can play so far, but this was fine! Then came the news that they were remastering the game for a Steam release. Well, out it came, and... oh dear. You had more cutscenes based on the bad movie the game was an homage to, difficulty selection that again amounted to "if Normal gives you X health, Hard gives you 1/2X health" rather than changing up enemy patterns or platforming sections or anything like that, and Torgo as a playable character. There was even an all-new level that riffed on Plan 9 From Outer Space. Then the slow, sudden realization of what they had done crept in as I watched a live stream of the new game. See, one of my most hated levels of the AVGN game was "Boo! Haunted House.". In that one, the game went into this low visibility gimmick where you could only see so far in front of you, and instant death skull blocks would appear suddenly and kill you if you didn't know they were there. Even with infinite lives, that shit's just plain annoying. This low visibility hazard was added to the remastered Manos. Specifically, to the entire back half of the game. Granted, I haven't played the remastered Manos, but conceptually this sounds like the worst most unneeded horseshit. It adds arbitrary challenge to a game that was just fine the way it is, for seemingly no reason. Other than possibly "the game needs to be hard. How can we make it harder?". At this point, Freakzone Games have become the George Lucas of hard games. They tinkered with something that was just fine, only to break it in the name of "making it difficult". They also got rather belligerent with someone on Twitter over their dislike of the game... and were actively tweetsearching themselves on the matter. Not cool. Not cool. Particularly for a developer who said this. Practice what you preach, mate.

I won't be buying AVGN Adventures 2 for myself. I suspect, however, that someone might hurl it at me. If that happens, I will play it, and I will write about it. Either Freakzone pulls off a miracle and the game's new elements really appeal to me and I write some praise about it... or it's the same old, same old, and I write critique about it and likely upset a bunch of people and get them to say I'm terrible at games in an effort to win the argument. Either way, I win. Just like the minority won with the first game, somehow. I think I got out everything I needed to say, other than dispelling the "myth" about hard Nintendo games that Freakzone and others seem to take as gospel. Then again, we can probably save that for another day. Maybe when AVGNA2 comes out, if it falls into the same traps. For now... I think I have exorcised enough of my thoughts. Another 32,000 wall of text from some angry Irate Gamer fanboy who is terrible at video games has been completed. What's next? Hell if I know. But what I do know is this.

I'd rather eat raw moose meat coated in hot shit sauce than play this fucking game again.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 7 (The Zygon Invasion)

(As always, there is a spoiler warning: There are spoilers. So, you know. Go watch the show and don't be spoiled.)


"Clara, you're breaking up, what did you say?
Something about a rocket and a lawn chair?"
If there ever was a moment to pull the "temporal grace"card in relation to two-parters, it's here. Really, we haven't been in this sort of pickle since Under The Lake. That one, if you'll recall, was basically one half of a tale. The Girl Who Died/Woman Who Lived duo was also like this, but each half of that was its own coherent thing, with the link between them being Ashildr/Lady Me. Under The Lake, I at least managed to judge on the basis of it setting up a bunch of rules along with a neat premise. I had no idea at the time that Before The Flood would bone it, but I still managed to be confident about what I liked and where I figured things were going. The Zygon Invasion, on the other hand, is a slippery wet tentacle. Two viewings later, and I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about it, where it's going, or if it will be good. Still, in the post-Halloween world before I have to go and churn out 1667 words of creative fiction because I do NaNoWriMo every year and actively court the vomiting out of words, let me try and fire off some thoughts about this thing.

So. Zygons. What's the deal with Zygons? They must be the most popular one-off Doctor Who monster ever... and yes, they were a one-off. Terror Of The Zygons in 1975 was their sole Classic Series outing. I do intend to give that a rewatch some time soon, for perspective... but not just yet. I remember it being quite good, with lots of creepy imagery and bad CSO and the Brig in a kilt. Sure, the audios and the books had some Zygon stuff (I'm especially fond of the "Auntie Pat" stuff from the 8th Doctor Adventures) but they seemed like an obscure but good creature from the Classic show, right alongside the Axons or the... uh... er... Robots of Death? I'm reaching here but you get the point. Then, bam. The 50th happened and the Zygons came back. 'Cause David Tennant really liked them or something. That was fine, and they worked as a solid B-plot to Day Of The Doctor... but now they have their very own two-parter and it feels like we all went Zygon-happy in a short amount of time. This was one of the ones people were hyped about, and even I, who avoided the episode titles, somehow knew we were getting a Zygon two-parter this series. Now here we are, halfway into it, and I don't even know what the fuck. Part of it is that... the Zygons have a hell of a lot more nuance than they were ever given before. The show was content to make them mustache twirlers who wanted to conquer Earth because they didn't have any planet and they were going to take over this one just because. Day Of The Doctor had a nice resolution to that, with the mindwipe thing that made them sit down and hash out an agreement. This is the fallout of that, and now ostensibly there should be good and bad Zygons... except we don't know if we've seen any good Zygons yet. Every Zygon we've seen, aside from the little girls (and possibly maybe Osgood but more on her in a second), has been in full "kill everyone" mode. I'm hoping part 2 has some Zygons who are decidedly not on board with the "start a war and take over Earth because we can" thing, because so far it's very strange. The script wants us to think it's a Silurians sort of situation, where everyone save for the radical extremists is all for the whole "peaceful coexistence" thing and it's those bad apples who are fucking everything up by killing human and Zygon alike... but we've not seen any of that! Unless we really have, and we're being tricked and some of the people killed on our side were Zygons. This is some Red Scare level shit going down here, I'm not sure who's a person and who's a Zygon any more!

Which brings us nicely to Osgood, I guess. We always knew the possibility of an out involving Osgood and her death in Death In Heaven, due to her Zygon double. I really like Osgood in this one, for a number of reasons. One, she rocks McCoy's question mark jumper in the opening. Two, that wonderful bit where she refuses to answer the question of if she's the human or the Zygon Osgood. 'Cause it doesn't matter, both narratively and metatextually. It's right up there with "what's the Doctor's name?" in questions that will never be answered and don't mean all that much anyway. Osgood is Osgood, and her sister was also Osgood and then she died. They probably know who's who because of the inhaler swap from Day Of The Doctor, but it doesn't matter. Osgood is human, and Osgood is Zygon; a hybrid. (I shed a tear for having the arc shoved into my face again.) Third, the delightful way in which Osgood just straight up says "yeah okay we're changing the rules of Zygons now". Because it's more interesting this way. There are lots of interesting theories to be had, considering that Osgood is the only person in this episode to mention the new Zygon rules. I won't delve into it here 'cause it's not my theory, but still. You got a shoutout. It'll be real interesting if you're right.

What of Clara? Oh. Oh dear. This is almost just teasing now. Clara gets her own B-plot of the episode, teaming up with UNIT minus the Doctor and Kate Stewart to investigate shit going on in the UK. Yeah, she's Doctorish but also Claraish. Yeah, she does a good job of holding down the fort while the bosses are gone and taking charge. It was great. It really was. And then it's revealed that she was actually a Zygon for most of the running time. Shit. After sidelining Clara for so long, the episode gives us a proactive Clara... only to reveal that it wasn't, not really, and our Clara has been stuck in a pod for 40 minutes? FUCK! No disrespect to Jenna Coleman, her "evil Clara", aka Clara-gon, aka Bonnie, is great. Especially once she does her heel turn, the look on her face... mmm. She sells it. This is Clara as a mirror of... the darkened Clara. And she gets to fire a rocket launcher! Hot goddamn is Jenna Coleman good in this... but she's not Clara. I do so hope that Clara busts out of that pod somehow, early enough in the episode that she gets to do some good shit. While we're talking Clara... that bit with the UNIT soldiers at the church, where the guy's mom comes up to him... that shit was pretty chilling, huh? "I love you and I forgive you.". Jesus. When Clara (Bonnie) and the UNIT kids were walking into the Zygon lair, before she turned bad... I was expecting a Danny Pink Zygon to walk out. How much of a gut punch would that have been? I really want that shit to happen now in the next one. Not to give Clara grief, but to show her overcoming that grief in order to save the world. I want to see how much Clara Oswald has grown since Death In Heaven and Last Christmas. I want her to overcome the Zygon tricks and save the day from the extremists. I swear to God, this shit had better happen somehow or I'll be cross.

I'm gonna do stray observations and then wrap up here, I think:

-So Harry Sullivan made a Zygon-killing gas. They don't say his name, but we can put the dots together. Also, "70's or 80's." UNIT dating is an absolute joke and the show knows it. If you don't know what UNIT dating is, be thankful.

-Kate Stewart's American adventure reminded me way too much of Parasite Eve 2, in which a monster-hunting agent runs around an abandoned Southern US town to hunt monsters.

-Question mark underwear. Christ.

-My money's on Kate not really being a Zygon and having avoided getting zapped, and the Doctor blowing up the rocket mid-flight with his sunglasses. Please don't have him talk to the camera about Bach and the time the Doctor told him about the end of the Zygon gambit at the beginning of the next one. Please god.

So, here we are. On writing it out, I'm mad at it. I'm mad at it for promising things that sound really interesting and not delivering them... yet. The Zygon splinter group thing could lead to groups of ideologically-opposed Zygons fighting amongst each other to keep the planet from getting totalled, but it amounts to every Zygon on screen being evil and wanting to kill everyone they see because. Clara got characterization, but it was all a trick and the twist is that she was stuck in a pod for 85% of the episode. I can tentatively hold my breath here, because this is part 1 of 2. There's a chance that this is all for something, and it will all work out when the other shoe drops in six days. There's a chance of that, and I anticipate it. Until then, I don't think I'm entirely happy with the state of temporal grace we're in.

What we need is for this shit to be turned on its head. Inverted, if you will.

Next time: The Zygons do that, probably maybe.