Monday, December 7, 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 - 2015

My silence does not mean I have not been watching. I have, but this season has been a little tough to review on an episode by episode posting. Now that the season is complete I feel I am ready to comment.

This series returned to giving us 6 stories, the common number for a great many years of the Classic Era. There are 4 two parters, a one parter, and a three parter. The stories have been amazing. After what Clara has been through, she is now the ideal companion for the Doctor. She is as daring as he is and isn't afraid to make some of the same tough choices he often makes. In that end that does her in, but it makes for some great story telling along the way.

The first story features Daleks. The Magician's Apprentice/The Witches Familiar sees the Doctor run off, leaving his last will and testament (the Galifreyan version) for Missy. The first episode ends with the audience thinking Clara is dead. But then it the second episodes goes on to tell us that the way she survived is the same as how Missy survived the Cyberman in last season's finale. It was nice seeing the old Daleks along side the newer ones. I believe the "classic" Daleks were from An Adventure in Space and Time, but there was also an appearance of the Special Weapons Dalek from back in the Classic Era.

The second story, Under the Lake/Before the Flood, is a spooky tale of ghosts. It also ends with death, this time the Doctor. But in the end that turns out to be a technological trick. The story telling in multiple times makes it a very fascinating story and the action and real seeming danger keeps you on edge to the end.

The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived is almost not a two parter but more of two companion stories. In the first, we meet Ashildr and her village, beset by aliens. They are defeated, but Ashildr is killed. But, the aliens have been so kind as to bring along some advanced medical technology that the Doctor uses. He ends up making Ashildr immortal. In the second episode we catch up with her in the 17th century where we find that she has had great sadness, but also great success. Her memory is not equal to the task of so many years so she has kept a journal. Clara isn't in the second episode so she doesn't get to see what Ashildr has become. She is now hard. The Doctor manages to break her shell, but not quite like he hoped. She takes it as her mission to protect the people of Earth from the Doctor, the self proclaimed protector of the Earth.

The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion finally, after a series and a half, picks up the story from the 50th anniversary. The Zygons are living among us in peace, but one faction of Zygons threatens that peace. The Doctor, Clara, Kate Stewart, and Osgood (which one we never know, but probably the Human one... the original) strive to quell the faction and restore peace. Much as in the previous story where the Doctor showed Ashildr her heart, he makes the leader of the Zygon oppositon see the reality. The leader finds a new purpose by taking on the role of the second Osgood, so again we will not know who is who and the peace will continue.

Sleep No More is an instant classic story of adventures in space and time. In the not so distant future they have found a way to compress our sleep into just a few minutes to make our lives more productive, A scientist has been working to push that even further with terrible consequences. The Doctor wins the day, but there is a very real danger left hanging that that might not be the end of it.

Like the third story, the last story is really three companion stories. Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent chronicles the Doctor losing Clara. In the first installment, we meet up again with a character from last season who has a unique issue - a tattoo that is counting down. They find a hidden street in London and that the young man is accused of murder. Because he is a new father, Clara cannot let him die so when she learns that if the person under sentence and someone else mutually agree, the "tattoo" can be transferred so Clara takes it. Ashildr is back and she is in charge on this hidden street. She has setup strict rules to hold the peace. But it turns out that this case was just a trap for the Doctor, but because Clara took the "tattoo", her fate is now out of Ashildr's hands. Clara is killed and the Doctor gets sent somewhere. In the second installment, the Doctor is alone, completely alone, in a strange castle that is designed to imprison him and extract knowledge from him. He finds a wall that is made of a substance several times harder than diamond and clues. In a nearly never ending cycle he steps out of the transmat, races through the castle, finds clues, only to every time end up at the wall, trying to break it down only to be found and killed by the wraith that hunts him. But Timelords don't die quickly. Each time he has enough life left to restart the process over again. Billions of years pass before he finally breaks through and finds himself on Galifrey. In the third installment, the Doctor returns to the barn we previously saw in Listen and The Day of the Doctor. On Galifrey, he has a reputation and after Lord President Rassilon (in a new regeneration - probably brought on by his defeat in The End of Time) tries to have him executed, it is obvious who holds the real power. The Doctor banishes the Lord President and the High Council and assumes the office of Lord President once more (referencing Doctors Four and Five). He then uses Timelord technology to pull Clara out of her time stream one heartbeat before her death. Then he tries to go on the run again, revealing how he managed to get in the position to steal a Tardis and learn a terrible secret that made him run from Galifrey. As he and Clara flee in another stolen Tardis (with the classic white interior and roundles from Hartnell's Tardis) we learn of the Hybrid, a being born of two races who will threaten to destroy Galifrey. The Doctor ran because he is the Hybrid - referencing that line from the 1996 movie where the Doctor claimed to be half human on his mother's side. There are several possible alternate explanations, but the Doctor does specifically say that he (implying alone) has become the Hybrid. His plan was to wipe Clara's mind and deposit her back in her old life, but Clara reverses the polarity with his sonic glasses. He doubts she can do it, but she did and his memory of Clara is wiped. She, with Ashildr, picks up the Doctor's Tardis and deposits the Doctor in Nevada where he meets her in the cafe we saw in The Impossible Astronaut. They talk but he has no memory of her. She leaves the room and enters a Tardis control room and the diner vanishes from around the Doctor and there is his own Tardis. Clara is off, bound to return to Galifrey to meet her end, but she will go the long way and Ashildr is along for the ride.

There is a lot packed in this finale and it really ties the entire series together. Death and various ways to cheat death are explored, culminating in the Timelords and a really unique way to do it that the Doctor and Clara abuse. Typical of his time with Clara, the she saved the Doctor again from himself. Once nice thing about Clara is that she could always turn up again. She went to Trenzalore and stepped into the Doctor's time stream and was splintered throughout time to help the doctor. I like the last advice she left him with - "Run you clever boy, Run. And be a Doctor."

What Kepler is Really Telling Us

A couple of days ago, NASA posted an interesting video on the APOD site. Science deals with direct discoveries and NASA's report of the Kepler exoplanet finds are just the straight finds without any link to the larger meaning. If you watch the video, it shows a bunch of the exoplanet system squeezed together with an overlay of our solar system and its planets with the distance of each planet to its star in scale. Give the nature of the Kepler observations and the length of time they have been doing it, there are a few conclusions to be drawn. First, it is only detecting exoplanets in systems where the planet passes in front of the star. That is going to be a fraction of the star systems out there. Second, few of the planets lie far from their parent star. The further planets will have orbits in many Earth years and Kepler hasn't been looking long enough to uncover any more distant planets, unless they just happen to pass in front of the star. Most of the planets detected so far have passed in front of their parent star multiple times, solidifying the results.

The end conclusion to draw from this is that Kepler isn't finding more than a fraction of the planets out there. This galaxy is teeming with planets yet awaiting discovery. Some of them in these very same systems. But even with the fraction so fare discovered, there have been plenty of discoveries to question our theories of planetary formation. Some break the rules. Who knows how many other oddities lie out there.

So for us writers, Kepler isn't limiting, it is freeing. We don't have to be limited to these "close to the star" finds or just to the star system Kepler has shown have planets. Ones that it can't see planets in just means the angle is wrong, not that there are no planets. Other methods of detecting planets will have to be discovered before we need to feel limitations from these discoveries.

The real wonder of Kepler is just how many planets that might support life it has found in such a small search area. And when extrapolate that to the Galaxy and the universe, it is astounding.