Review: Attachments

The premise of Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments is not, on the face of it, promising. Our Hero is Lincoln, an IT guy who’s hired by a tech-shy company to monitor their recently-introduced email system and make sure no-one’s having too much fun at work. Only, when he stumbles across an email chain between best friends Beth and Jennifer which definitely breaks most of the rules, he doesn’t report them.

Instead, he just keeps reading their private correspondence. And, you guessed it, starts to fall for Beth, who’s having a rough time with her boyfriend.

Will he ever win the heart of his One True Love?

I’ll talk more about how Rowell handles the inherent creepiness of this premise a bit later. Before that: I think there’s a couple of interesting things going on here that helped me, if not overlook it entirely, at least not fling the book across the room screaming.

For a start, Rowell’s choice to centre a male protagonist – and not an idealised one either – in a novel that’s squarely aimed at the chick-lit market. It’s true that Lincoln is a passive observer for at least a good half of Attachments: mainly what he does is read emails. That’s a clever decision on Rowell’s part: their discussions are full of scurrilous gossip and action, details of their emotional lives and their histories; as such, they keep the novel moving while allowing Lincoln the passivity he needs to make the story work. Because after the half-way point it becomes clear that Lincoln’s actually undergoing the kind of character arc usually given to female characters in romance/chick-lit. Having been unceremoniously dumped by his high-school sweetheart a few years ago, he’s become emotionally stuck, living with his mother and apparently not having much of a social life. Over the course of the novel, he – unfreezes: makes friends with his colleagues in the underbelly of corporate life (cleaners and other IT guys, it seems); finds an apartment of his own; moves on from his ex.

While on one level I like that all of this takes place seemingly independently of his romantic interest in Beth – as in, it’s not a ploy to win her heart or any of that Nice Guy bullshit – I think that’s also the central flaw of the novel. Rowell recognises that what Lincoln has been doing to Beth is really creepy: she has Lincoln quit his job and write an apology to her. And, later on, when he spots Beth in the cinema, he gets up to leave so she doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable in his presence, which I thought a really lovely touch and a great way of showing that Lincoln’s genuinely sorry for what he’s done.

But. The fact remains that the entire book hangs on Lincoln falling in love with Beth by reading her emails. And that he still ends up with her, via that old romantic chestnut, “I Shouldn’t Fancy You, But I Do”. As far as I remember, there’s no other function to those emails: this isn’t a novel that’s interested in the dangers of corporate surveillance, for example, or the compromises we make on privacy in order to enjoy the convenience of social media.

It’s not really that kind of novel, of course. Bu-ut, it seems disingenuous to call your meet-cute out as problematic without addressing it structurally.

That’s my general impression of Attachments: it doesn’t quite…hang together. There’s no causative link between Beth and Lincoln (apart from the fact that she fancies him without knowing who he is, for Narrative Tension), which makes me suspect that Rowell has nothing to say.

It’s her first novel, though, so I guess there are worse mistakes to make. And I still found Attachments both fluffily heartwarming and grounded in a way that’s unusual for me: I tend to react badly to het romances. It helps that both Lincoln and Beth have romantic histories that they need to move past, and that yet remain valid formative experiences: that’s something we don’t see enough of in fictional romances. It helps that this is a story in which people eventually make healthy romantic choices, which is, again, not something we see enough of in fiction. It wasn’t perfect, but Attachments was pretty much what I needed it to be: an easy, comfy read, and one that utterly failed to enrage me.

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Doctor Who Review: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Lots of fans apparently disliked it, but, you guys, I think The Tsuranga Conundrum might be my favourite Thirteenth Doctor episode yet.

The Doctor and her friends are metal detecting on a junk planet, for unspecified reasons, when they accidentally unearth a dangerous sonic mine. After the ensuing explosion, they wake up aboard a medical ship – one that’s under attack by a single-minded and indestructible creature called a Pting. (It is adorable.) The problem is, the ship’s automated, crewed only by two medical staff looking after two other patients and two hangers-on; and if the computer systems at their destination, a big hospital space station called Resus One, discover the Pting, they’ll blow the ship up to protect everyone else. The Doctor must draw on the skill and expertise of everyone on the ship to solve these puzzles, keep everyone safe and well, and bring the ship home.

The Tsuranga Conundrum is an episode about imagination. Or, rather, re-imagination: its characters are repeatedly called upon to reimagine their relationship to the universe and their place in it. Graham and Ryan have to reimagine their notions of (their own) masculinity when they’re called upon to be birth partners to a pregnant man; timid medic Mabli is asked to reimagine herself as competent and brave; resentful brother Durkas learns by the end of the episode to reimagine his sister’s robot consort Ronan as a member of society in his own right.

But it’s not just the characters who are asked to engage in acts of reimagination. We are asked to do so, too, through the Doctor, who is the heart of this show. At the beginning of the episode, she engages in a frantic search for the ship’s navigation systems and a way back to her beloved TARDIS – her determination to take over and her focus on getting her ship back are both hallmarks of the Doctor’s behaviour in earlier incarnations. So when medic Astos forces her to see this behaviour as selfish – she’s jeopardising not only herself, as she’s still recovering from the effects of the sonic mine, but also the other patients on the ship, as she’s taking medical attention away from them – he’s also asking us to reassess our ideas of what Doctor Who should be, and who the Doctor should be. In fact, it runs deeper than that: he’s asking us to reassess who the Doctor actually is, or was. Have previous incarnations of the Doctor ever been as altruistic as the show wanted us to think they were, if they could behave regularly and unchallenged in a manner that we now see was selfish?

There’s a similar moment closer to the end of the episode, when the Doctor finally works out how to get rid of the Pting, and remove the threat of automated destruction, in one fell swoop. It’s a solution that requires an imaginative leap, a reframing of the problem: to see the Pting not as something to be captured or killed, but as a being with needs that can be fulfilled. This is, admittedly, less of a leap for the show as a whole: the Doctor has always asked aliens what they want, and tried to reach peaceful conclusions. It’s less usual after hostilities have apparently been opened, though; so once again we’re asked to reimagine the show’s assumptions about how its protagonist (and by extension we) should respond to aggression.

With The Tsuranga Conundrum, the series really hits its stride, I think. It’s a statement about what the new Doctor Who is: a show that cares about people and non-sentient beings; a show that will ask us to readjust our perspectives and reimagine the universe to include others; a show about hope, and kindness, and support. A show continually, productively reimagining it

Review: A Game of Thrones

A couple of years ago I watched the first season and a half of Game of Thrones, and stopped because it was too sexist. I had no plans to read G.R.R. Martin’s series of novels, but one day I found myself in the library and the first novel was there looking all shiny and new and…well.

I’ve never been a major fan of epic fantasy, but I enjoyed it. It scratched an itch, wallowing in this cod-medieval world for 800 pages. The tale of two warring houses, the honourable Starks in the frozen north and the morally defunct Lannisters in the south, in the fictional land of Westeros, it’s told in alternating chapters from the point of view of characters on both sides of the feud: nine of them, according to Wikipedia, which gives you an idea of the scale of this 800-page doorstopper.

It’s also, famously, grimdark. Martin has form for killing off major characters, describing death and ‘orrible injury in graphic detail, and generally having nasty things happen. (Content warning for rape and general gore.) Calling it a reaction to Tolkien is such an obvious reading that it’s practically a truism.

And yet: I’m interested in how meaning and story is working in this novel, and particularly working for its characters. Martin’s particularly at pains to undercut idealistic notions of battle and chivalry, not just through general grimdarkness but also, specifically, by having chivalric narratives fail for his characters. So we have a singer, Marillion (sadly not the 70s rock band), volunteering to accompany the noble Catelyn Stark on a journey so he can sing about the deeds of her party, and then hiding behind a rock as soon as they’re attacked. Or there’s 11-year-old Sansa Stark, whose naïve belief in the true love of a noble prince (just like in the songs) is shattered far, far too late for her to do anything about it. Or her sister, Arya, who loves the heroes of legend, but is prevented from following in their footsteps by her gender. (Although it is worth mentioning that there are female warriors in A Game of Thrones – not in major roles, and they are clearly out of the ordinary, but they exist, pretty much as they would have done in real life in the medieval period.) These are people failed by stories, who go out into the world with the wrong information because of them – and I think it’s fairly obvious that Martin wants us to draw an analogy between them and us. Tolkienian fantasy fails us by not preparing us for reality.

(Incidentally, I don’t agree with him: I’m re-reading Tolkien at the moment, as I do every year, and it seems to me to have a surprising amount of relevance to the current political situation. A naïve reading of The Lord of the Rings is not the only possible reading.)

For me, the most successful part of A Game of Thrones was the magic, which is in short but significant supply: a dream here, an incantation there. A motif of note is an unspecified threat from beyond the Wall, a colossal barrier of ice separating civilisation from the wilderness in the north. In Westeros, by (I assume) some quirk of astronomy, summers and winters are decades long, and the novel is set as the world runs down to winter again. There are whispers of the Long Night, the Others and the white walkers. It’s effective precisely because it’s undefined, because these things are mysteries. And because everyone in power is ignoring them.

I’ve been thinking recently about the link between magic and meaning: in modern fantasy, I think, magic is meaning made manifest. Magic is a way of making literal our place in the world, our agency and our significance. So, these characters’ lives may be nasty, brutish and short, but the presence of magic – by which I mean real magic, shadowy, suggestive, mystical, random, never glimpsed full-on – tells them that, nevertheless, they have a place in the world, that there is a purpose to things, rituals to be remembered and performed, that there is somehow a right thing to do.

That reassurance is, I think, something we’re increasingly lacking in the modern West, where rationality reigns and even our relationship to the seasons has been driven out by produce available on supermarket shelves all year round. Which is, perhaps, one reason why Martin’s work is so popular at the moment, despite (or even because of) its grimness and gore. Life is random and unfair, but it still matters what we do, what we choose. It means something.

Which feels, I guess, like Martin having his cake and eating it: ostensibly taking away the consolation of Tolkienian fantasy while leaving us with a premodern sense of significance and grandeur. I’m hoping to read at least the next book in the series, and I’d like to trace this idea further when I do.

Review: Going Postal

So Going Postal is obviously a re-read. Obviously. It’s my favourite of all Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve read it, what, at least five times?

Somehow I’ve never reviewed it here though.

This, the 33rd Discworld novel, is probably the peak of Pratchett’s technical powers as a novelist. Before this, the slow build-up from the light romp of The Colour of Magic through novels that become ever more serious in theme, ever angrier in their satire and ever more humane in their palpable love for their flawed-but-lovable protagonists; after this, the rapid stagnation and decline into inflexible dogma (check out, or rather don’t, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day).

Pratchett’s books have always been about character, with plot taking a back seat, and Going Postal is no exception. Our Hero is Moist von Lipwig, a conman who is hanged as the book opens for a long list of inventive and profitable crimes.

And then, as Pratchett puts it, an angel appears unto him.

Except the angel is Lord Vetinari, the despotic Patrician of London-adjacent fictional metropolis Ankh-Morpork, and the second chance he offers Moist is to reopen the city’s long-defunct Post Office, a job that’s already killed four of Vetinari’s most capable clerks.

If he fails, he’ll be hanged for the second time, and this time Vetinari will make sure it’s fatal. To succeed, he’ll have to compete with the vile Reacher Gilt, chairman of the Grand Trunk, a company that runs a semaphore system (“the clacks”) that can carry messages across the continent in a matter of hours – if you can afford the extortionate fees, and if the clacks is actually operational when you want to send your message.

It’s a novel about a lot of things: redemption, corporate greed, the power of words, the importance of community. The lynchpin holding these things together is the Post Office itself, a once-grand building that houses thousands upon thousands of dry, dead letters, undelivered because of a tragedy that remains unspecified until quite late in the book. One of Moist’s first adventures as Postmaster is to deliver some of those letters, causing a kind of joyous chaos that’s felt across the city: an elderly couple are married when a love letter arrives fifty years late; a ruckus is caused when a family realises the wrong sister got mum’s best jewellery.

That anarchic joy is the overriding mood of the novel, despite its occasional delvings into tragedy. As news of the reopening of the Post Office spreads, as Moist recruits new postmen and restores the building’s signage and invents stamps and reopens the mail coach route to other major cities, the people of Ankh-Morpork flock to participate. Because it’s fun; by gods, it’s fun, even when you’re not a citizen of Ankh-Morpork. It makes you want to get up and get things done and join in with the world.

The point is that Pratchett sees each letter that is delivered as a miniature social contract, an act of participation in a wider community. By extension, the Post Office is a social hub, a publicly-funded institution that exists to facilitate community and help people connect meaningfully; that brings joy. Moist saves the Post Office, but the Post Office also saves him: being able to see how these letters matter, the changes that such tiny things make in people’s lives, gives him the tools to comprehend why his past behaviour, which saw him parasitise communities instead of participating in them, was wrong. Moist prides himself on never having used force on his victims, and he thinks that renders him somehow guiltless; but: “When banks fail, it’s not bankers who starve,” as he’s told in no uncertain terms by his golem parole officer Mr Pump.

The social energy that the Post Office pumps into the city is contrasted with the toxicity of Reacher Gilt and the Grand Trunk, who bought the clacks off its original owners for a knockdown price in a highly questionable deal, and who have proceeded to run the system into the ground. The result is that people are paying a premium for a second-rate service. And the Grand Trunk assuredly does not care about people. We’re given reason to suspect right from the start of the novel that it has had a hand in murdering one of the clacks’ original owners. And it is ruthless about its newfound competition, hiring an arsonist to destroy the Post Office.

It would be easy to read the novel as anti-technology, but I think that would be a mistaken reading: it’s not the clacks themselves that are damaging to communities, but the Grand Trunk’s inability to comprehend that the messages it carries mean nothing without the people it exploits. I think we recognise that in the closing scenes of the novel, when Moist sends a message through the clacks that acknowledges the importance of community, of human lives, and in doing so effects real change.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning Adora Belle Dearheart, Moist’s romantic interest and one of the spikiest women in Pratchett’s oeuvre. She believes that the Grand Trunk murdered her brother John, one of the original founders of the clacks. It’s easy to see how she could have been just an emotional prop for Moist: a prize for him to win at the end, a way to up the emotional stakes of his deadly competition with the Grand Trunk, a source of information – and, indeed, that’s largely what Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle’s TV film of the novel does to her. But book!Adora is more than that. There’s a wonderful scene (which unfortunately I can’t quote, since my copy of Going Postal is currently buried somewhere at the bottom of a bag) in which she and Moist meet for a date in a notoriously rough pub (her choice) and she sticks her stiletto heel through the foot of a drunk man who accosts her.

“He was only a drunk,” Moist says, or words to that effect.

“Yes, men always say that,” she replies.

It’s only a small moment, easy to miss, but it’s precisely because it’s small that it’s important: it has no other purpose in the story other than to establish character. Here’s a woman who protects herself because men don’t see why she needs to. Here’s a woman who needs no man. But might quite like one, anyway.

That’s, in microcosm, why I think this is Pratchett’s best novel: it gives space and nuance to its characters; it’s wise about what those characters face in the world; and yet it’s hopeful about the possibility of connection in that world. I’m not claiming it reaches the dizzying heights of Great Literature – it uses satire to make its moral outlines less fuzzy, its Good and Bad clearer. But it is, exactly, a joy to read.

Doctor Who Review: Arachnids of the UK

This post contains spoilers.

TW: spiders.

Despite a feelgood ending in which the Doctor and her companions pledge to form #TeamTARDIS, Arachnids of the UK, the fourth episode in Doctor Who‘s current series, feels ultimately a bit despondent.

Surely written specially for Halloween weekend, it’s a tale of giant spiders and corporate greed. The spiders of Sheffield are doing odd things, and it all seems to be centred on a luxury hotel that’s due to open any time soon. If you didn’t drift off to sleep thinking vaguely worrying thoughts about eight-legged bugs after you watched this, I don’t believe you.

But the Big Bad of the episode isn’t actually the oversized arachnids, which are big and hairy and CGI enough to be almost cute, and which the Doctor encourages us to view with empathy and respect; it’s the hotel’s owner, Jack Robertson, a global gazillionaire businessman rumoured to be running for the White House. I’ve seen and heard a couple of people compare Jack to Donald Trump, partly because the episode itself names him as a rival to the 45th president, but I don’t think that comparison’s quite right: Jack is oilier and cleverer and savvier than Trump, a man who (I imagine) can charm as well as order. He’s an arch-capitalist, putting his employees’ bodies between him and danger – quite literally on one occasion. Perhaps Elon Musk would be a better comparison than Trump.

In any case, Jack’s all about the profit, and it’s this corner-cutting, blind-eye-turning approach that’s fucked up Sheffield’s spider ecosystem (which we can read, perhaps, as a microcosm of the Earth’s ecosystem, similarly fucked up by late capitalism’s drive for profit). And Jack likes guns. When it’s revealed that the giantest spider of them all is in fact dying because she’s too grown too big to breathe efficiently, it’s Jack who shoots her, ignoring the Doctor’s horrified protests. That’s, more or less, where the episode’s plot ends: with a beautifully composed shot, surely destined for a poster of some sort, of the Doctor looking down at a spider corpse nearly as big as she is. The question Arachnids in the UK poses is the same as the one Theoden asks in Tolkien’s The Two Towers:

“How shall any tower withstand…such reckless hate?”

Except, in Arachnids, it’s not even hate, simply pure and monstrous selfishness. How can the Doctor’s preaching of acceptance and kindness ever penetrate such profound indifference to the lives of others? How can tolerance stand against men with guns and institutional power? As with every single one of Thirteen’s episodes so far, Arachnids feels incredibly pointed and incredibly topical. But where the first three episodes felt like a challenge to the creep of far-right nationalism, Arachnids is a sigh of despair, a confession of exhaustion.

And yet. I think writer Chris Chibnall needlessly muddles the episode’s ethical standpoint of “don’t kill things just because they are in the way”. The very first question I asked when Arachnids finished (I texted it to the Bandersnatch) was “but what happened to the little spiders?” You see, the Doctor and her friends lure the smaller spiders into Jack’s panic room so they can tackle the biggest, van-sized spider on its own. Their plan once they’ve done this is…unclear, to say the least. The resident spider expert they’ve managed to pick up along the way mutters something about “a humane and dignified death”, but that’s it. We hear nothing more.

Jack says that a gun would be cleaner, and he’s probably right: as far as we know, the spiders are left locked in the panic room to eat each other and eventually starve. And if Jack hadn’t shot the huge spider, and if she hadn’t been dying anyway, what then? What would they have done with her that wouldn’t have meant killing her?

There are certainly possible answers to these questions; Chibnall has the whole of time and space to work with, after all. But not answering them leaves the episode feeling hollowed out and insufficient, with no coherent ethical standpoint.

That’s a shame, because I feel it would have taken so little to make it wonderful – encouraging people to love spiders, the most sustainable bug control solution there is, often misunderstood and killed by the needlessly frightened. What an elegant device! And even just a throwaway line about their eventual fate would have made the episode more…substantial.

As it is, Thirteen remains a joy to watch, and the chemistry between her three companions is beginning to warm up a little. (Yas is my fave so far by a country mile.) But it’s not an episode that quite works for me.

Doctor Who Review: Rosa

So my thoughts about Rosa are…complicated.

In the third episode of new Who‘s eleventh season, the Doctor and her friends end up in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, the day before a Black woman named Rosa Parks is due to be arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white person. They discover that a far-future white supremacist by the name of Krasko (“I don’t like it,” declares the Doctor) is trying to stop her protest, and thereby prevent the entire civil rights movement from happening, by nudging history so that the infamous bus driver James Blake is on holiday, the bus is broken, there aren’t enough people on the bus for Rosa to give up her seat…and so on.

The actual logistics of the episode get a bit tedious, as Krasko and Our Heroes try repeatedly to foil each other, with varying levels of hilarity. There’s also a tendency for things to happen in a way that makes an (important and interesting) narrative or structural point, that nevertheless don’t make sense in the Doctor Who universe as I think we’re supposed to understand it.

For instance: the Doctor’s apparent lack of awareness about how segregation worked in Montgomery, despite her being able to reel off encyclopedic facts about Rosa Parks’ life in the episode, and despite the fact that one of the Doctor’s main functions is to know stuff that keeps their companions safe. Twice she takes Yaz and Ryan into unsafe situations – a bar and a motel – and at least in the first instance is surprised at the hostility they receive from white staff, customers and police.

This is a way for writers Chris Chibnall and Malorie Blackman (whose novel Noughts and Crosses has been used to teach young adults about racism since forever) to demonstrate the Doctor’s white privilege in a way that sets up the episode’s denouement, in which she and Graham realise that as white people they have to become complicit in Rosa Parks’ arrest. We see the Doctor as clueless about how segregation actually affects people of colour, because it’s never affected her personally. She doesn’t fully appreciate the immediate physical danger her friends are in because she’s brought them into white-only spaces.

And I do think that’s a clever thing to do with the Doctor, with the concept of the Doctor as this all-knowing supreme being: show up their cultural specificity, their blind spots as a white person. But this is such a famous historical moment. And the Doctor apparently knows Rosa’s entire biography! I feel like those two things, the Doctor’s historical knowledge and her cluelessness when it comes to the spaces her friends can safely inhabit, sit uneasily together.

And Chibnall and Blackman’s view on how history works feels a little off-base. The episode very much takes up the Great Person theory of history: the idea that just one person! doing something extraordinary! can Change the World! The truth is more complicated than that: Rosa Parks’ protest did not come out of a vacuum. She’d already been involved with the NAACP for twelve years. Even if she hadn’t refused to move on 1st December 1955, she might well have done so another day. Or the NAACP would have found another symbol to rally behind. Rosa Parks is important because she was an ordinary person, and she did protest, at significant personal cost. But she is not the only person who could have done so.

But then: I am white, and I am inevitably reading Rosa through a white lens. There’s a sense in which Rosa is not necessarily for me; in which it prioritises viewers who aren’t white; which is not, of course, a bad thing. One of the episode’s most powerful moments has Ryan in the same room as both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King: there’s this palpable sense of wonder, of Ryan’s delight and amazement at being part of a history that is his in a way that, say, Mary Wollstonecraft or Emmeline Pankhurst might be part of mine. It’s a history tied to his own family – to Grace, his dead grandmother, for whom Parks and King were personal heroes – and so, fundamentally, to his identity. In that context, we can perhaps read Rosa Parks’ specific actions that specific day as, in fact, vitally important to the narrative of the Black people who came after her; in trying to take that away, Krasko is perhaps destroying a foundational myth, an identity.

Generally, then, Rosa centres people of colour, relegating its white characters to positions of cluelessness, discomfort or complicity (hence, perhaps, my own discomfort at seeing the Doctor powerless to protect her friends from discrimination). I’m not sure, but that feels like something the show has never done before. In Rosa, Chibnall and Blackman position the civil rights movement as part of a long arc of justice and progress, of things slowly getting better for everyone. That might not be where the world is going right now, but it is at least where the show is going. And that’s a really lovely and really exciting thing.

Doctor Who Review: The Ghost Monument

It’s the Second Episode of Doctor Who! The season’s settling into its stride, telling us what kind of thing it’s going to be, bedding down and making itself comfortable. I’m very happy with that.

This week, the Doctor and her new companions get caught up in a massive galaxy-wide trial of strength and endurance. The final challenge for competitors Angstrom and Epzo – one of them fighting for her family, the other for himself – is to cross a planet simply and ominously called Desolation, to find the ethereally-named Ghost Monument; which turns out to be, of course, the Doctor’s own lost TARDIS.

Our Heroes have little choice but to go with Angstrom and Epzo, however much Epzo resents their presence. They all quickly find, in delightfully unsubtle fashion, that they are Stronger Together; that the only way to survive the horrors of Desolation is to pool their various skills and resources, and to learn about the planet and its secrets rather than simply enduring it.

Is it totally on the nose? Yes. Is it also a thing of wonder? Yes, yes, yes.

I’m intrigued by how the galactic obstacle course imagined by this episode recalls Tim Shaw’s ritual hunt in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Matthew Kilburn makes the link to Ryan’s ill-advised assumption that because he’s an expert at Call of Duty he can deal with several deadly robot snipers simply by shooting at them: competitions that reward individuals acting in isolation are, in Chris Chibnall’s view, toxic and counter-productive. It’s tempting to read in this a response to a prevailing political climate in which isolationism and competition is becoming the norm. It’s also tempting to see it as a corrective to Steven Moffat’s habit of making every single character who is not the Doctor into a puzzle to be solved, another game level to be unlocked.

People are not puzzles. A zero sum game is not a good model for a functioning society.

Unfortunately for an episode that’s so invested in the idea of community and humanity, though, the companions were easily the least interesting people on screen. That’s a shame: these characters and their dynamics are pretty unusual for New Who, and I want to love them, but I’m finding them strangely affectless and flattened, far outshone by the two strong female leads in this episode – Thirteen, of course, who remains a joy to watch, and Angstrom, a queer woman battling incredible odds to reunite her persecuted family (be still my beating heart).

Thirteen and Angstrom made this episode personal, godsdammit. In particular, the scenes in which Thirteen finds her TARDIS again make up for the unconvincing companions approximately ten times over. The Doctor’s relief and love for her ship are palpable, but there’s also a sense that these scenes are for every woman who grew up wanting to fly the TARDIS. All the Trumps and Kavanaughs and idle Twitterers in the world cannot stop us, harhar. Which is in some ways a fantasy, but it’s a delightful one, one which we can curl up in for 45 minutes every Sunday, and, as the late great Terry Pratchett said of fantasy:

You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?

For all its flaws and blind spots, this iteration of Doctor Who is shaping up to be a fantasy that’s worth believing in: one in which everyone has something to contribute and everyone is valued and tyrants can be defeated with a snap of the fingers.

Because: how else can these things become?