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Fictional Characters of the Year: Runners Up

The nice thing about this blog is it lets me pop in and out whenever I feel like writing something longer than an average facebook post (which for me, can be quite long). Today, I’m writing about my favorite fictional characters of 2014. Incredibly, none of them are from books I read, although I did read a handful of great books this year. But, mainly by chance, each of these characters comes from a television series or webcomic. This post contains five runners up, and I’ll follow it with a little more detail on a sixth character that I felt truly made the most difference in my life in the past year.

Leopold Fitz, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I’ve written briefly about Fitz’s character arc before, and I feel the same way after seeing him for half a season.  At the end of the show’s first season, Fitz suffers a brain injury after being deprived of oxygen for some time. What I loved then was that they made a bold choice by injuring Fitz, but not killing him.  We’re practically immune to characters being killed off, it happens so frequently, but to leave a character permanently injured was a storyline we rarely see.  In the next season, they doubled down – instead of having Fitz miss some time and return fully recovered, or simply writing him off as retired or reassigned, Fitz spent the bulk of the season dealing with new disabilities caused by his brain injury, and we as the viewers were exposed to a side of superhero stories that we rarely see, the fact that characters don’t always have neat endings to their stories.  What’s more, I loved how the rest of the team rallied around Fitz – other agents encouraged him to push himself and not lose hope, and they found ways to help him use his strongest skills to help the team, while also assisting him when he has trouble with certain things.  There’s still a half season left to go, and I can’t wait to see where Fitz’s story takes him and the team.

Ruth Lessick, Dumbing of Age
Ruth is a fascinating but tragic character, and she quickly became the one in whom I was most emotionally invested as she dealt with depression and a drinking problem in Dumbing of Age. Of course, sad characters dealing with drama is common webcomic material, but Ruth’s story is fairly brutal in its realism. Like many characters in the comic, Ruth is a vehicle for David Willis’s ability to write extremely believable characters wrestling with real problems, and for the most part growing in a positive ways  through each of their experiences. The past year saw the worst give way to the relative best, with Ruth first implied to be considering suicide, before finally (“finally” is relative, since a year of comics typically represents a week, or less, of in-universe time) entering into a romantic relationship with one of her floor-mates with whom she had some up-and-down history that seemed to help her begin to come to terms with her depression. It was heartwarming at times when we saw Ruth begin to see some positives in her life, but also troubling, since Ruth is a resident assistant, and new girlfriend Billie is one of her floormates, so readers frequently worry about what will happen if another shoe drops. But, for the moment, readers are enjoying some well-earned peace in Ruth’s life, and hoping this isn’t the calm before the storm.

Claire Augustus, Questionable Content
Claire and Marten made for the most adorable couple of 2014, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t root for Marten and Emily at least once. Claire’s decision to come out as trans to Marten several years ago was one of the high points of QC for many readers, and her budding relationship with Marten has been written with incredible care – but the real draw of Claire and Marten was how spectacularly normal they are. Outside a small flurry of commenters who demanded information on genitals, Claire and Marten are completely unremarkable except in their extreme level of cuteness, and that allows readers to just enjoy the banter and cute romances that have always made QC popular, and to appreciate Jeph’s talent for showing readers that nobody is abnormal. Claire beats out Hannelore for a spot on this list, because while Hannelore is a personal favorite of mine, Claire was the character who really shone this year.

Missy, Doctor Who
Missy was going to land a spot on this list no matter what she did in her pair of starring episodes, if only for the lone reason that I knew who she was.  Missy, of course, turned out to be the latest incarnation of the Master, a long running enemy of the Doctor.  It goes without saying that a previously male Time Lord regenerating as female caused a stir – it had previously only be mentioned as possible in a throwaway line in a Neil Gaiman-written episode.  But it was even more timely given the recent regeneration of the Doctor himself, when there was a ton of speculation that we might see a female Doctor someday soon.  The writers dropped some hints throughout the season, and while many fans quickly moved on to other theories, I never strayed from my conclusion that Missy had to be a new name for the Master.  Once her identity was confirmed, Missy did not disappoint – the Cybermen storyline was a little odd, but Missy herself was captivatingly unhinged and unpredictable, especially in her cryptic exchanges with the Doctor.  I’m sure I’m not the only fan hoping that she’ll return at some point.

Sloan Sabbith, The Newsroom
Sloan is the only person on this list with a corresponding partner on the “Worst of 2014” list, slimy rape apologist boyfriend Don Keefer.  While I never quite puzzled out what Sloan sees in Don (other than Sorkin’s see-through plot to show us an average guy with “great” morals can get the girl), I thought her character was fascinating in the glimpses was saw of her on her own.  She went above the usual caricature of a borderline genius who has trouble with personal relationships, and was written with a range of funny and unique characteristics. Frankly, I thought Sloan deserved a lot more than what the show gave her – many of her scenes were full of subtly hilarious one liners, and recurring details that would pass by a less attentive viewer (I personally loved a repeated joke about Sloan only dating first round NFL draft picks … or high second round for skill positions). And when the show let her shine as a brilliant analyst and reporter, she more than held her own against the rest of the cast.  Unfortunately though, it’s hard to look past Sloan’s use as a hammer for the writers, as she was put in several positions where her bluntness on an issue, while admirable in a vacuum, was used to drive home a morally questionable point from the rest of the episode.  I would have given a lot to see Sloan in a different context, but it was never to be.

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Newsroom pre-finale review

I haven’t seen the finale yet, so this is as good a time as any to continue my tradition of reviewing entertainment items before finishing them. After a high profile disaster in last week’s episode, from what little commentary I’ve seen it sounds like the Newsroom finale was a fiasco too.  I liked the show a lot in the first season, but I felt that the second season went haywire a bit with the storyline where they report on illegal biological warfare – I thought the show was at its best when it was more of a commentary on real events and less when it was creating its own over-dramatic ‘current’ events.  I thought the best storyline of the new season was Neal as a sort of Barrett Brown figure, wrestling with the legality of accepting classified information, but that quickly went off the rails as well, and exploded into the ONLY storyline of the season.

On top of that, the execrable campus rape storyline prodded me into recognizing many of the sexist tendencies that the show contained from the beginning. Because of my enjoyment of the politics and banter aspects of the show, I didn’t recognize these problems well, but once I was pushed to pay attention I realized that it was always there, and not just a problem that cropped up in one bad storyline. In retrospect, all my favorite characters have either been written off as bad guys or paired off in nauseatingly insensible relationships to tie up loose ends:

Maggie started as a will-they-won’t-they pairing for Jim, but when that didn’t work out the writers forced her to go on a traumatizing reporting trip to Africa – the male reporter who went with her came back shaken, but fine, while Maggie dealt with PTSD and the entire crew questioned her ability to function for a season. Then, they gave Maggie a “heartwarming” moment where she proves herself again this season and everyone is happy, even though she had been back to doing great work for at least half a season (looked to be roughly six months or more in show-time).  Now, Maggie appears on track to get back together with Jim, completing the cycle of uselessness that the writers have place her in – she had the capacity to be a much more compelling character, but instead the writers rarely let her do anything that couldn’t be related to her relationship with Jim. Maggie was the ultimate failure of the Bechdel Test, perhaps not in rule, but in spirit.

Sloan, my longtime favorite, is the quirky genius who ends up paired off with the slimy news producer. That makes little enough sense right there.  I think the show tried to write it as a story of “it doesn’t matter who you are, you could end up falling for anybody,” but instead it reads more like “Our second tier male lead ends up with a super hot, way out of his league, lady because he deserves it for being a good guy [even though he isn’t].” Sloan dated NFL players and the financial elite before Don, and it doesn’t make much sense that she’d settle for him in real life unless he was actually a really great guy, and everything we’ve seen suggests he isn’t, he’s a slimy, misguided, misogynist jerk. Sloan with Don is the biggest disappointment of all, and in fact Sloan’s underuse in the entire series is a major downside for me. To me, Sloan had amazing potential, because despite the ease with which she could have been written as “the hot girl,” she was written as incredibly talented, super smart, and with a whole range of personality quirks – but despite all that, her character arc is largely dependent on Don’s, which is extremely unfortunate.

Hallie got the worst of it on the main cast, because she represented the internet, and ended up as one of the trifecta of ‘villains’ in the late season railing against “citizen-journalism” that just went down.  Hallie started as a producer with another network who ended up sacrificing her own job in order to give Jim a scoop, because she liked him. Strike one. She was then hired by ACN and begins dating Jim, but ended up getting fired from ACN after making a boneheaded mistake. She hooks on with a (fictional) internet newspaper similar to Gawker, Slate and that group, but this causes Jim to lash out at her because he believes that catering news to click traffic is a violation of integrity – to be fair, I agree with Jim a little, but he handles it awfully, and the whole thing is a mess.  Hallie is everything you’d want from a female character if you ignore how the writers treat her, she’s smart, independent, but beyond that she has her own personality instead of just being a cookie-cutter “strong female executive.” It seems like some writers didn’t like that, and forced her into a series of plots that cast her as a villain instead of a hero.

Outside of the main cast was the second of three internet ‘villains,’ Mary, the student who Don investigates because of her campus rape reporting website. Frankly, Mary’s scene was a travesty, and while it might have been easy to write of Don’s treatment of her as a failing of his own character, it became obvious that Sorkin and the writers intended to show a parallel between Hallie, Mary and the obviously incompetent tech worker that Sloan interviews about his creepy app. While the show plainly intends us to see Mary as a cautionary tale of vigilantism gone wrong, I came away from it with zero respect left for Don, and viewing Mary as one of the most heroic characters ever featured on the show.

It’s obvious in hindsight, but while I was watching the show, I often felt more like it was unfortunate circumstance that often forced my favorite characters into these problematic and questionable situations – and instead, its pretty clear that this was simply a feature, not a bug. These fascinating female characters were given enough personality for me to find them fascinating … but then those aspects of their personality were subverted or treated as flaws, instead of advantages. It’s frustrating to see any characters treated that way, but especially so when it happens to characters that had such potential to be three-dimensional stars.

I’ve seen others comment on a phenomenon that results when you realize that something you enjoyed is problematic to a point that you then feel guilty for having enjoyed it, and while I had often moved away from such shows or media more gradually, in this case it was a bit more of a shock.  I suppose it’s fortunate that the show is ending, since I won’t need to worry about what to think of it going forward – and frankly, it’s time for this show to end, since besides this systemic problem, it’s also been obvious that the episode quality has been suffering for a while now. Time to pick a new show.

Tom Has Recipes: Apple Cider Pork Marinade

Today I tried a new pork recipe and it came out great!  The main component of the dish was a marinade based on apple cider vinegar.

Ingredients:

Boneless pork ribs (I had some leftover from a set I bought on sale – pork chops would be great with this recipe too)

Marinade:
Apple cider vinegar
Oil (I used regular canola oil)
1 Onion
Garlic (I used pre-chopped garlic from a jar, but a couple cloves of fresh garlic, smashed or chopped, would work fine)
Brown sugar
Honey
Salt
Pepper
Other spices – I used cinnamon and red pepper

Breading:
Breadcrumbs
Spices: Salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, white sugar

Preparation:

The preparation is really easy!  First, mix up all the marinade ingredients in a shallow bowl or container that you can cover the pork in.  I used roughly four cups of the apple cider vinegar, a half cup of oil, and a spoonful of each of the dry spices and brown sugar.  After putting the pork in, I drizzled some honey over it, and added half of an onion, chopped into rings (any shape of your choosing would work just as well).  Cover it and let the whole thing sit overnight. I left mine for almost 24 hours.  I chose to make this marinade for some boneless pork ribs I had in the fridge, and it worked great for them because ribs are naturally one of the more fatty cuts, so the acid in the marinade complements them really well.

The next day, preheat the oven to 400°, then mix up some breadcrumbs.  I just eyeballed a bit of salt, pepper, and sugar into it, plus a little garlic and onion powder to help make sure the breading isn’t bland.  You should be able to pull the ribs (or chops, or whatever) right out of the marinade and put them into the breading, then pop them in the over for about 15 minutes.  I’m eating it right now with some plain white rice, and it would also go great with pork’s traditional partner of applesauce.

Film Review: Gravity

Whew, that was quite the experience. I will note that the final scenes seemed the least realistic – I’m unsure how likely it is that the Chinese capsule would have righted itself while entering the atmosphere, rather than simply spinning itself to death and breaking up, but I’m not expert and it’s possible they’re designed to self-right somehow in order to avoid that scenario. I also though it was pretty good luck to land in a shallow bay, as opposed to open ocean, but that would obviously have made for a much worse story. I also thought the return of the debris for a third time added a touch of unbelievability – to me it’s buyable that Ryan survives the first two waves, but the third wave is shown impacting all around her, but her capsule surviving unscathed, even though that same debris is depicted shredding every other spacecraft it comes in contact with. I feel like that detail of the last scene was unnecessary, since it’s already suspenseful enough with her trying to gain control of the capsule with the station on the verge of entering the atmosphere. But, I won’t let that detract from the film as a whole, which I thought was incredible. The cinematography was off the charts, as I had read, but I also thought the writing was amazing – how many films can survive with essentially one character? This one gets as many thumbs up as I can give it. (And who says women can’t lead major movies? Between this and Hunger Games, maybe Hollywood will start thinking with their wallets and not with their outdated patterns of success)

Listen

This week’s episode Listen, continued what has been an excellent start to the Twelfth Doctor’s time, in my opinion.  So far, I thought his debut in Deep Breath, was solid, with a few spectacular moments; Into the Dalek, was a fantastic and exciting episode that really helped get things going and seemed to for the second item in a trend of looking towards the Doctor’s past; Robot of Sherwood, while not quite as intense, did well to set up more speculation about the Doctor’s history and character; and then Listen hammered the point home and established with little doubt the path that this season is on towards exploring the Doctor’s history and the origin of his character.

First things first, the silent “antagonist”: hard to form an opinion on. Excellent use of suspense – even though the camera came tantalizingly close to revealing some sort of monster or enemy, they always avoided actually showing something onscreen. One question I did have, though (and this was one of the few weak points I found in the episode) is that it was never really explained why these creatures, if they existed, would value secrecy so much but then go on to take such risks in almost revealing themselves.  Twelve’s instructions to young Rupert not to “look round” at the creature seemed like a modern tale of Lot, when he was was told not to look back at the burning cities, lest he and his family suffer punishment (his wife being turned to a pillar of salt, because she disobeyed this order). Twelve did not appear to have much understanding of why this creature would come so close to revealing itself when the theory is that it values secrecy above all else, but he seemed to be operating under the assumption that either the creature would strike due to it’s anger or fear at being discovered, or that it was setting a sort of trap for them – a trap where those who can’t contain their curiosity or fear become the creature’s prey.

I think it becomes obvious quickly, though, that the exact nature of this hidden antagonist is not important (not yet, at least). The episode becomes a vehicle for us to get a look into Danny Pink’s relationship with Clara and the Doctor, and as it goes on, we realize that it’s just as much showing us the Doctor’s own character as well – a running theme this season.

 

Once they set off on the main journey, I thought the Doctor was awfully cavalier about taking Clara to her childhood – or intending to, at least. I thought the writing did a good job of hinting at what events were going to happen, without giving them away before they happened. It was easy to pick up hints that they might be in Danny’s childhood (Clara’s ‘distraction’ being the primary clue), not Clara’s, but it was by no means a slam dunk deduction until it was confirmed. I also thought it was fairly evident at this point that the TARDIS had locked onto Danny’s timeline, because of Clara’s connection to him – a connection that’s confirmed because the TARDIS observed it. Sort of a Catch-22, but those can be expected in a time travel story. Because of this, I wasn’t surprised to see a trip to Danny’s future up next, although my first assumption was that we met Danny himself, not a descendant, Orson. I was surprised that the Doctor didn’t pick up on this, but his lack of interest/understanding of romantic relationships may have hindered him. Or, it’s possible that he did figure it out easily, and was prodding Clara intentionally. It seems pretty obvious that all this lingering on Danny Pink’s timeline has seriously implications for his inclusion going forward, and his future with Clara. I like that – Danny seems like a stand-up kind of guy, who would hold his own on an adventure with Twelve and Clara.  Orson VERY clearly implies Clara is a family member, which seems to answer the question of what exactly Danny will become to her, and I’m happy with that too. I think they make a cute couple so far, and I like that he stands up to Clara in a way the Eleven never would have (and a way that Twelve doesn’t need to).

Finally we get to the big reveal – They drop a huge bomb with Clara under the bed, that the crying child is a potential Time Lord. While it seems at first that she’s brought the TARDIS to a young ancestor of Danny, it’s quickly revealed that this is a young Doctor, before he entered the Time Lord Academy. This is the strongest evidence yet that Moffat intends to use this season (and perhaps more) to explore the history of the Doctor, and the development of his character.  It also makes for an interesting parallel: first they visit the “last planet,” and then they visit a beginning of sorts – although it’s the Doctor’s beginning, rather than the universe itself. Seeing a young Doctor fits in with last week’s clues about the Doctor’s past. That episode seemed to imply the Doctor was a child of privilege, but it’s unclear what the status of the young Doctor is, at least according to this glimpse (there are other stories that touch on this, and some accounts conflict with each other). In any case, it’s clear that Moffat intends to play a long game with reference to the Doctor’s origins in this season. This may directly relate to the ongoing “heaven” storyline, especially since the last time we saw a peek at young Time Lords, we saw the Master confronting the Untempered Schism, so it’s possible that these references to the Doctor’s childhood will lead to the reveal of the Master’s place in this storyline (it’s also relevant here that the Doctor and the Master, or Koschei, as he was known then, were friends in childhood – another reason that references to the young Doctor could be an avenue to the inclusion of the Master in a plot).

 

Some other issues this episode raised:

Twelve doesn’t seem to have much problem experimenting on strangers. It’s a a cruel trait that he shares with pre-Time War Doctors, many of whom were interested in exploring to the point that the often placed strangers in harm’s way because of their “need to know”.  Several times, Twelve mentioned that phrase, the “need to know,” which to me, sounded like a paraphrase of the first Doctor himself. The first Doctor’s first few stories revolved around this exact trait – he got stuck confronting the early Daleks because he was too curious about the city, for example.  Nine would have done everything in his power to avoid harming civilians or his companion, and Ten and Eleven act similarly, although the trait is clearly breaking down in Eleven, who acts much more recklessly than Ten or Nine.  This is another sign that while Nine, Ten and Eleven all represented a process of trauma and healing after the events of the Time War, Twelve has returned to a personality that has much in common with those of the pre-war Doctors.

Speaking of the Time War, I thought this episode made an interesting parallel between “Danny the soldier,” and the Doctor, whose lowest moments came when he chose to become a soldier. The scene in young Rupert’s room seems to imply that Danny became a soldier because of his admiration of soldiers’ bravery, but Danny as an adult clearly sees his past in a different light. The connection was even more striking as Clara described “A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun.”  I thought this line brought echoes of Ten, who explicitly refused to use a gun, and all the other Doctors who avoided violence or weapons, and it also references the Doctor’s comments on soldiers in Into the Dalek.  As this season explores the Doctor’s new (and old) personality, Moffat is leaning heavily on the identity of the soldier, and what it means to be, and not to be, one. This makes a lot of sense, since the Time War is, in a way, fresher for Twelve than it was for Eleven – and even then, the Time War loomed large in all of the post-war Doctors’ personalities. So it’s not surprising to see Twelve, a Doctor who is now galvanized by the truth about his part in ending the war, dwelling on these thoughts.

 

Smaller details:

I love the return of this editing style where a scene jumps from during an event to very shortly after it, and vice versa, explicating the event through takes of the actual action, and the characters’ later reactions to it. I hope this continues.

Speaking of that scene, I was entirely on Danny’s side in his and Clara’s mini-fight. I thought Clara was being quite insensitive. Luckily, she had the good wits to apologize.

This episode was full of references to Twelve’s new “no kissing” style. First, he hides in Clara’s bedroom because he wants to be somewhere he won’t intrude if her date is going well – he’s doesn’t think that the bedroom is a place that a good date might lead. He’s also not very sensitive about the fact that the date went poorly – not mean, but not very aware that Clara is upset. He also doesn’t appear to understand makeup, a quirk that he repeats several times.

Later, he again shows that he’s on a different plane from any thoughts of romantic or physical attraction as Clara notes that she thinks she looks from behind. First the Doctor assures her that she looks “OK,” then wonders “Really?” to himself after Clara clarifies that she was having a positive thought, not a negative one.

Orson/Rupert/Danny Pink’s big debut contains some thematic echoing of the multiple Clara’s from her debut. Although it’s seems clear that Orson is a descendant of Danny, so its not quite exactly the same, the feel is similar – the Doctor and Clara running into problems with different incarnations of Danny and his family line.

“Frankly you’ve already done enough,” in response to the Doctor’s offer of checking out Danny’s prospects. Clara may not realize how prescient that line is, since we the viewers have everything short of a confirmation that she has some sort of future with Danny.

After the Doctor is knocked out, we hear the cloister bell ringing.  Did the TARDIS know they were about to visit a young Doctor? There doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger that would trigger the TARDIS’s highest level of emergency warning, but once we see where Clara takes them, I wondered if that’s what could have caused it.

The end of this episode very clearly quoted from Eleven’s adventure-y soundtrack, I wonder if that was intended as a direct reference to anything or if the music was just so good they decided not to let it die. It hasn’t been used in any other episode this season. I’ll be curious to see if it returns.

Robot of Sherwood: additional thoughts

A few extra thoughts after a day to think – first of all, while I think we can all assume that the robots from this episode were not the same droids seen in the premiere, it’s entirely possible that they are directly related in some way.  The could have similar origins (the same “model” robot, so to speak), or they could be different droid types that have been “called” to London for some reason.  I think this second point is reasonably likely, considering my theory that Missy/The Master is running some sort of plan based out of London.

Second, thinking about the Doctor and Robin’s comments at the end of the episode about what it means to be a hero, I wonder if that scene actually explains another questionable point about the episode.  Many reviewers commented that it was odd for the Doctor to be so combative towards Robin, thinking that this was more characteristic for Eleven, who would have been experiencing jealousy and trying to show off in front of Clara.  However, I wonder if these interactions actually trace back to Twelve’s feelings of inadequacy when faced with a “perfect” legend. He alternately (and repeatedly) tells Clara that Robin Hood isn’t real, or that she’ll be disappointed if she meets the real man, who would never measure up to his legend. The references to Robin as a legend and as too-good-to-be-true continue constantly, and of course at the end of the episode (and many times in previous episodes) the Doctor has wrestled with his own legacy; as a legend, a hero, and a monster. I wonder if that was what we really saw – the Doctor experiencing jealousy not for Clara’s attention, but in the presence of a hero who is remembered for the perfection of his moral character. We might have seen the Doctor react in a similar way if he was placed in a situation with the upstanding Captain America – or a different reaction if he was forced to confront his darker actions while working with a Frank Miller-y Batman, to use well known examples. During the bulk of the episode, I would not have been quite so sure about this analysis, but I think looking at the Doctor and Robin’s dialogue in the final scene provides compelling evidence for the theory in addition to what exists in the first scene with Clara and in the rest of the episode.

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (spoilers)

My first instinct was that this episode was going to be a fun adventure, and one that didn’t have quite as much to do with the season plot, but as it went on, I started to think that it was actually filled with hints that, when taken with the previous episodes, started to coalesce into a potential solution for what that season plot it.  Anybody I’m friends with knows that I was convinced that “Missy” was an incarnation of the Master when she appeared at the end of the season premiere, and I think several details in this episode provide evidence for that theory.

Disguises: When the Doctor first enters the ship, he notes that it was headed to “The promised land,” an obvious reference to Missy’s “heaven,” which she also refers to as “the promised land.”  In the same scene, the Doctor describes how the ship is disguised as a castle.  We already see one ship that’s designed to disguise itself every day, the Doctor’s TARDIS – and past episodes have portrayed the Master’s TARDIS, complete with its ability to disguise itself properly.  This also aligns nicely with speculation that the garden in “heaven” shared similarities with a disguised TARDIS.  I’m not sure that this ship itself was intended to be seen as a TARDIS, especially since it took off in a traditional fashion at the end of the episode, but this type of hint is exactly what I would expect from Moffat – repeated hints to disguised ships eventually leading to a reveal of the Master’s TARDIS in disguise.

London: It’s also mentioned that the “sky ship” from this episode was headed for London.  At first, I thought that this was setting up a storyline where the robots from this episode become stranded in London, eventually repairing themselves over and over and becoming the droids that the Doctor and Clara encountered in the first episode, about 600 years later.  This doesn’t quite add up though, firstly because the droids in London are supposed to have been on earth long enough to have experience with dinosaurs.  In addition, the ship goes on to explode pretty spectacularly at the end of the episode, making survival unlikely for any inhabitants (although, I’m still highly suspicious of anything we don’t see in explicit detail, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that someone or something survived that explosion – or at least one character, enough to appear in “heaven”). Just like the theme of disguise though, I suspect that this reference might be a way of setting up a running theme: ships is disguise, ships headed to London.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, we find out that the Master has some connection to London, either being trapped there, or running some plot based there.

While my guess is that we did not see a TARDIS of any sort in this episode, and that these robots were not the droids we saw in the first episode (although perhaps they’re related in some way) there’s also the possibility that we did, on either count- and if that’s true, it would means they’re playing with time travel in a non-linear way (having the Doctor encounter the droids in the future, before seeing them in an earlier state), something that hadn’t been done much with Nine and Ten, but took hold in Eleven’s later seasons and with the specials. It’s possible this means that we’ll see the Master in one form at some point in the season, as well as in the “Missy” form, potentially with a big reveal or twist involving Missy.

In any case, my money is settled on the theory that Missy is, in fact, an incarnation of the Master, with a connection to London, and I’m going to be keeping a close eye on clues in later episodes in case the connection between these robots and the androids becomes something more.

Other details I liked:

Twelve and Robin’s fight:  It was a fun twist on Robin Hood’s classic fight and friendship with Little John, portrayed in almost every telling of the Robin Hood legend. This led to another fun moment when Robin copies Twelve’s move to knock the sheriff into the boiling gold at the end of the episode.

Clara pointing out that the Doctor relies the sonic screwdriver too much: This seemed like a cheeky reference to critics of the new show and the Doctor’s ubiquitous use of the sonic. It also ran parallel to a story in which they did force the Doctor to solve problem in non-sonic ways, by having it taken from him upon his capture.  The only real use of the sonic in the episode was as a side gag – the Doctor scanning the merry men, and then blowing up the archery target, both of which were played for laughs and did not constitute serious plot development.

I found it interesting when the girl (revealed to be Marion) kisses the Doctor during his rescue, and he pauses oddly, as if he is uncomfortable.  I thought this was a possible nod to the new relationship between the Doctor and Clara – “no more flirting.” Just for the record, I totally called that that girl was Marion when she first appeared. On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly a difficult guess, so I’m not looking for much credit there.

Finally, there was one detail that I think may go extremely underrated/unnoticed. At the end of the episode, Robin implies that Clara told him that the Doctor was “a man born into wealth and privilege.”  Knowing Moffat, this might be another clue into the Doctor’s personality and history to be expanded upon in future episodes, disguised as a simple twist intended to add a little sentimental angle to the Doctor’s goodbyes with Robin. It meshes neatly when paired with the Doctor’s line “I’m not a hero,” immediately after, and Robin’s musing about how ordinary people can be inspired to heroism by and in the name of a legendary figure.  Again, this is Moffat’s style, to hide important plot points in moments that appear to have a different purpose (Ten’s fake regeneration was one such point – it appeared to simply be a shocking scene for the audience to add suspense, but Moffat repurposed it years later and added significance to the moment).  And, it plays into another running theme of this season, the Doctor’s concern over his legacy, his moral character, and the related mystery of what his new face signifies.

I really like Twelve’s personality the more I see of him, he’s a great mix of being outwardly curmudgeonly but still having a fun streak in him despite his serious sense of purpose. Overall, I thought this episode was pretty solid, if unspectacular – Into The Dalek remains by far my favorite episode of the new season so far. There were a few weak spots, namely the unbelievability of even the Doctor successfully battling Robin Hood with only a spoon, but those moments were fun, so I feel like they ought to get a pass. The only thing that didn’t make a great deal of sense, as others have mentioned, was the offering of a gold arrow as a prize when gold was so precious a resource for the “sky ship,” but one possible (and simple) explanation was that the sheriff never meant to let Robin Hood keep the prize, but intended to use the contest as a ruse to capture him and take back possession of the gold arrow. I think this episode’s place in the season will be ultimately determined by whether any of these clues turn out to hold water – if they do, it’s a bit of genius setup – if they don’t, it’s still fun, but perhaps not my favorite, since I’m a definite fan of Moffat’s style of elaborate clues and twists, and there wasn’t a lot in this episode to elevate it after you get past the playful nature of the Doctor and Robin’s interactions, especially in light of some weaker areas of the plot. On to next week!