Monday, 17 July 2017

Star Trek Planetary Classification Guide

The following is based on the planetary classification system used in Gregory Mandell's Star Trek Star Charts and Chris Adamek's variant found at The Final Frontier, themselves based on the planetary classes so far named in televised Star Trek (classes D, H, J, K, L, M, N, T and Y). I've tweaked it considerably, though, to hopefully make it more closely match both what we've seen on screen and the types of planets found in reality. It has also incorporated David Sudarsky's gas giant classification scheme.

The classification scheme used on Trek is based around class-M being an Earth-type planet. In the original series we saw numerous class-M planets that ranged from being virtually identical to the Earth to all manner of oddly hued worlds, but all with a breathable atmosphere (except for Arret, which was described as class-M in spite of having lost its atmosphere). Other than the one class-K planet (Mudd), we hear very little about other classes, but the simple rule remained M = habitable.

From the movies and TNG onwards, more classes were introduced, such as the barely habitable class-H, the gas giant class-J and the barren class-D. The latter has been used very inconsistently, applying to a ringed gas planet in Voyager "Emanations" and the arid but habitable planet in Voyager "Gravity." TNG introduced class-L as a planet with a breathable atmosphere but otherwise unsuited to animal life (at least long-term), but Voyager gave us several class-L planets with humanoid civilisations (in the episodes "Muse" and "The 37s," notably). Over the years, the idea that only class-M planets are habitable has been lost, with Mandell's scheme including various classes that would have been included under M in the original Trek. I've tried to centre the scheme back on class-M here.

Enterprise revealed that M stands for "Minshara," a Vulcan term. TNG "The Royale" featured an obscure "Transjovian" class-K with a thick cold atmosphere, that I've tried to incorporate into the below scheme. The hellish Class Y was created for Voyager "Demon" and appeared a couple of times since, and the Class T ultragiant was featured in Voyager "Good Shepherd." Other classes mentioned over the years, such as Theta-class planetoids, class-9 gas giant and the Klingon Q'tahl class don't fit into this scheme. Anything new that is revealed in Star Trek: Discovery or the next movie will be incorporated later.

(Images taken from various sources. Classes F, G, H, L, T, V, X and Y rendered by Chris Adamek at The Final Frontier. Classes A and O nicked from Wookiepedia. Classes B, D, E, I, J, K, M, N1, N2, P and Q are all photgraphs of real planetary bodies. Kudos if you can identify them all. )

Class A

Hot zone/lunar orbit

E.g. Gothos
Class A planets are young, rocky planetoids, the surface of which is kept at least 50% molten due to the proximity of the parent star or planet, via direct heating or gravitational effects. The atmosphere is thin, boiled away by the intense heat but replaced by volcanic outgassing. Due to the tenuous nature of the atmosphere, the heat released by the volcanic activity quickly dissipates into space.
Life forms: none

Class B
Ferrous/iron planet

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Mercury, Kepler-10b
Small, mostly metallic rocky planetoids. Class B worlds exhibit a highly iron-rich crust, with a magnetic core and no mantle. Atmosphere thin to negligible, with little to no heat retention. The surface varies from extremely hot to cold dependent on position near star, and can exhibit molten surface areas. The night side of the planetoid will fail to retain the heat exhibited on the day side, left a frigid wasteland. These planetoids are inimical to life.
Life forms: none

Class C
Carbon planet

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g Janssen (55 Cancri e)
Predominantly carbon-based planet, appearing blackened from orbit due to large deposits of graphite. The pressure within the mantle and outer core produces diamond deposits. The atmosphere is composed primarily of carbon dioxide, rich in hydrocarbons and monoxide smogs. Little to no surface water is to be expected on the surface of a carbon planet.
Life forms: anaerobic carbon-based life may be possible

Class D 

Hot zone/ecosphere/cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Luna, Ceres, Regula, Paan Mokar
Rocky bodies varying in size from the tiniest planetessimal to planet-sized moons. Common around larger planetary bodies and in asteroid belts. Atmosphere tenuous, although water ice can manifest at the poles. Although naturally lifeless, Class D worlds may be adapted through use of pressure domes or oxygen caverns.
Life forms: none.

Class E
Ice dwarf

Cold zone/outer cloud
E.g. Pluto, Eris, Psi 2000
Small, sub-planetary bodies common in the outer star system, in the orbit of Class I planets, through the scattered disc and out into the Oort Belt. With a rocky crust covered in nitrogen ice, and an atmosphere tenuous in the extreme, Class E worlds are incapable of retaining the limited heat they receive from their distant parent star. There may, however, be subsurface water, heated by mantle activity, which can provide the basis for colonisation through pressure domes.
Life forms: rare, microbial.

Class F

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Excalbia
Young planets that are still developing, Class F planets represent the earliest stage of the formation of a habitable world. With partially molten surfaces, atmospheres rich in reactive gases and heavy vulcanism, Class F planets are inimical to life like ours, but have, on rare occasions, developed inorganic life, when present in the hot zone and continued in their plastic state for long enough. Those further out will cool over billions of years to become Class G, the next step in their evolution.
Life forms: metal-carbon complex (e.g Excalbian)

Class G

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Janus VI
With a primarily silicate-based crust, these planets have cooled and solidified from Class F to form a more stable surface, although vulcanism is still rife. Water has begun to condense to form oceans, amid centuries of constant rainfall. The atmosphere and the life that may develop on the surface are intertwined; as the rich carbon dioxide atmosphere allows early photosynthetic life to flourish, these organisms flood the atmosphere with oxygen, pushing towards the next stage in its evolution. Over many millions of years further, these Cambrian-stage planets cool further to become classes H, K, L, M, N, O and P, dependent on various factors.
Life forms: primitive organic or silicon-based life, more rarely advanced silicon-based life (e.g Horta)

Class H
Extreme desert

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Tau Cygna III, Shelia, Delta Vega, Nimbus III
Rocky planets with primarily silicate crusts, Class H planets are true desert worlds. With very limited surface and atmospheric water, and high levels of surface radiation, Class H planets are not conducive to complex ecosystems, although hardy life may develop and flourish. Milder Class H environments may be colonised by humanoids with some adaptation. Class M planets can be reduced to Class H through environmental damage.
Life forms: radiation-resistant carbon-based organisms (e.g Sheliak). Not naturally conducive to humanoid life.

Class I
Ice giant/neptunian

Cold zone
E.g. Uranus, Neptune, Marijne VII
Cold worlds with thick atmospheres of hydrogen, water, methane and ammonia, commonly found in the outer reaches of a solar system. The hydrogen envelope is considerably thinner than on a Class J world, but this is still the dominant element of the planet. Such planets commonly attract a number of moons and impressive ring systems. In spite of the name, ice giants have little solid material and are mostly fluid.
Life forms: unknown

Class J
Gas giant/jovian

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. Jupiter, Saturn, Cherela
Huge planets with thick hydrogen and helium-based atmospheres, rich in hydrocarbons. Beneath the gaseous layers lies liquid hydrogen above a metallic hydrogen core. Class J planets commonly support many moons and ring systems, and these moons may themselves be habitable worlds in their own right. Class-J planets dominate a star system in the inner region of the cold zone. With sufficient engineering prowess, habitable Class M environments can be constructed between the cloud layers of a gas giant.
Class J planets correspond to classes I to III on the Sudarsky scale. The coolest are Class I jovians, Jupiter-type planets with ammonia clouds, often with complex and powerful weather systems. Warmer are the Class II jovians, which feature water vapour clouds. Class III jovians have no chemical components that form clouds and appear as featureless blue-white orbs.Those straying closer to the star are captured and are heated to Class-S.
Life forms: Jovian-type, hydrocarbon-based (e.g Lothra)

Class K

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. Mars, Mudd
Class K planets are essentially dead terrestrial planets, with a primarily silicate crust, rich mineral deposits and no magnetic field. The atmosphere is thin, predominantly carbon dioxide, and retains little heat, leading to a frigid desert landscape. Nonetheless, there can be some weather systems in a Class K atmosphere, and vulcanism can occur. Water and/or carbon dioxide ice may be found at the poles. Class-K environments can develop from the evolution of Class G, or through the long deterioration of classes G, L or M. Rich in mineral deposits. Although fundamentally lifeless except for the most basic of organisms, Class K planets are readily adaptable through use of pressure domes or oxygen caverns, and are prime targets for terraforming.
Life forms: microbial carbon or silicon-based life.

Class K/T

Cold zone
E.g. Theta-116-VIII
This subclass represents frozen class-K planets that have drifted or been expelled into the outer system, commonly by gravitational perturbation by a larger body. A thick atmosphere of nitrogen, neon and methane accretes and can develop turbulent weather systems. Transjovian-class planets are highly inhospitable and experience phenomenally low surface temperatures.
Life forms: none

Class L

E.g. Phylos, Indri VIII, Briori outpost
Similar to Class M planets, Class L are on the borderline of life-bearing environements. Typically rocky, silicate-crust planets, Class L worlds are commonly arid, but in some cases display oceans or tundra. Surface temperature varies considerably, and the atmosphere is thinner than on a Class M world, with high levels of argon, carbon dioxide, and often other toxic gases. Radiation levels are potentially dangerous. Class L environments may feature basic ecosystems, normally only with plant life. They may, however, be colonised by humanoid life, and are excellent targets for terraforming. (Planets assimilated by the Borg, where the atmosphere has been altered by pollution with carbon monoxide, methane and fluorine, may be considered a variant of Class L).
Life forms: Most have no native animal life. Plant life often abundant on more temperate examples.

Class M

Ecosphere/lunar orbit
Also referred to as "Earth-type," S3 or Minshara-class, Class M planets are the cradles of life. With silicate crusts, those with rotating iron cores can display strong magnetic fields. Rich nitrogen-oxygen atmospheres with some carbon dioxide, water vapour and trace gases are ideal for the development of varied, complex biospheres. Class M planets feature high surface and atmospheric water content, essential for organic life. Surface conditions can vary considerably across the globe, from tundra, to temperate, to desert environments. Class M worlds are found in orbit of stars or larger Class-I, J and U planets, and can vary widely in visual appearance. Class M is divided into subtypes dependent on surface water levels and other features, and these can vary over the course of a planet's lifespan (for instance, Earth was a Type-4 ice-world during one period of its early history, and Exo-III was once a more hospitable Type-2).
Life forms: abundant carbon-based life, including humanoids
M Type-1 Arid. E.g. Vulcan, Cardassia Prime, Deneb IV
Surface water 25-50%
M Type-2 Temperate/varied. E.g. Earth, Bajor, Altamid
Surface water 50-80%
M Type-3 Pelagic. E.g. Argo, Azati Prime, Antede III
Surface water 80-95%
M Type-4 Glacial. E.g. Andoria, Exo-III, Rigel X
Surface ice 50-95%
M Irregular E.g. Ba'ku planet, Gaia, Planet Hell
Class M but with unusual features, such a radiation belts and ring systems.

Class N1

Hot zone
E.g. Venus
Although similar to Class M planets in size and geological make-up, Class N planets are rendered as hugely different environments due to their atmospheric conditions. A thick carbon dioxide atmosphere causes a runaway greenhouse effect leading to extremely high surface temperature and pressure, utterly inimical to humanoid life. Some nitrogen, water and sulphur dioxide exist in the atmosphere, which is dominated by clouds of sulphuric acid, leading to corrosive rainfall. A Class N world may potentially be adapted to class-M by long-term terraforming, but this is a significant undertaking and such planets are usally overlooked in favor of more hospitable worlds.
Life forms: rare; microbial organisms may exist in cloud layer.

Class N2

Hot zone/lunar orbit
E.g Tholia, Io
A variation of the Class N planet in which a considerably thinner atmosphere, composed mainly of sulphur dioxide and monoxide, sodium chloride vapours and molecular oxygen. Large deposits of sulphur exist on the surface giving a yellow-green colour from orbit. Temperature is lower than N1 conditions, but still high in comparison to Class M, with significant vulcanism caused by graviational effects from the host planet or star, or by an unstable core. Unlike on N1 worlds, N2 enviroments may develop complex organic life, although such organisms will rely of sulphur respiration and use hydrogen sulphide as a biological solvent in place of water. This life form type is far rarer than the more common oxygen/water type organisms.
Life forms: sulphurphilic organisms (e.g Tholian)

Class O

E.g. The Waters, Megara, Kepler-22 b
True ocean worlds with no surface land area. Oceans on Class O planets are typically thousands of kilometres deep, with phenomenal pressures at the depths. Turbulant atmospheres of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour and carbon dioxide envelop the planet. On hotter variants of the Class O, the ocean surface may vapourise, giving a continuous fluid surface, rather than a delineated ocean and atmosphere, on the edge of becoming a Class U world.. Cooler Class O worlds can potentially be colonised with artificial habitats, and have considerable scope for food cultivation in the form of plankton and algae.
Life forms: abundant, marine carbon-based organisms.

Class P

Cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Titan, Breen
Similar in size and structure to Class M planets, but in far colder regions, Class P planetoids display enivronments that are like frigid shadows of  terrestrial worlds. With a dense nitrogen-methane atmospheres, and surface rich in hydrocarbons, the seas and oceans on Class P worlds are comprised from short-chain hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. In place of rock, mountains and landmasses form from water ice; cryovolcanism is apparent. These planetoids display a subzero ecosystem. In the later stages of a star's evolution, Class P worlds may be heated to another evolutionary stage, dooming existing ecosystems and pushing the planetoid towards classes K, L or M.
Life forms: hydrocarbon and ammonia-based

Class Q

Cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus
Ocean worlds in colder regions, these are smaller planetoids enclosed in thick water ice crusts. Atmosphere is tenuous, beneath the ice layer exists an extremely deep ocean. Undersea heating from the planetary core, or gravitational effects from a host planet, can lead to non-photsynthetic ecosystems. Commonly form as moons around planets of classes I, J and U. Can potentially be colonised with artificial habitats, although care must be taken not to damage the existing, submarine environment.
Life forms: marine carbon-based organisms

Class R
Rogue/orphan planet

E.g. Dakala, Omarion
A varied class, containing those bodies that are planet-sized but not tied to a star's gravity. Such bodies, sometimes called planemos, can range from terrestrial to Jovian size; the largest are on the borderline with the brown dwarf class. Rogue planets form in the interstellar void from accreted material, while orphan planets are ejected from star systems by gravitational effects. Thick, carbon-rich atmospheres can lead to retained surface heat and non-photosynthetic ecosystems, sometimes displaying very unusual adaptations to their harsh environment.
Life forms: varies, from none to complex; carbon or silicon-based

Class S
Hot jovian/pegasid

Hot zone
E.g. Galileo (55 Cancri b), Osiris, 51 Pegasi b
Gas giants, similar to classes I and J but in short, close stellar orbit, maintaining an extremely high temperature. Carbon monoxide is the dominant carbon-carrying molecule. Class S planets correspond to classes IV and V on the Sudarsky scale, with Class IV being the cooler of the two, displaying alkali metal vapour clouds. The hottest planets are Class V, with silicates and even iron forming clouds. These planets glow red due to the high thermal output.
Life forms: none known

Class T
Gas supergiant/ultragiant

Cold zone
E.g. Kappa Andromedae b
Gigantic gaseous planets with thick hydrogen atmospheres and enormous gravitational pull, these planets are on the verge of becoming stars. Supergiants accrue complex systems of moons ranging from planetesimal to planetary size, effectively becoming miniature star systems in themselves. Any such bodies that exceed 13.6 Jupiter masses would begin deuterium fusion and become a brown dwarf or "substar."
Life forms: unknown

Class U

Hot zone/ecosphere/cold zone
E.g, Dulcinea (Mu Arae c), Kepler-10c
Existing in size between the Class I ice giants and the Class V superterrestrials, Class U planets are large enough and with strong enough gravity to retain a thick atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and hydrocarbons. The atmosphere transitions to oceans of semisolid compressed water above a rocky core. Sometimes known as gas dwarfs - something of a misnomer for such large planets.
Life forms: Jovian-type, hydrocarbon-based.

Class V

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. COROT-7 b, Gliese 163 c, Persephone
The so-called "super-Earths," large rocky/metallic planets intermediate in size between terrestrial and ice giants. Their higher gravity allows them to retain dense, hydrogen-rich atmospheres. Surface temperature and pressure high and unsuitable for humanoid habitation, but complex high-temperature life can evolve, and they are potentially viable for colonisation using pressure domes.
Life forms: silicon or carbon-based, adapted for higher pressures

Class W

Hot zone/ecosphere/lunar orbit
E.g. Daled IV, Klavdia III, Remus
Rocky planets kept tidally locked to the parent star or sister planet by the intense gravitational interaction of other bodies in their system. One side is overlit and heated, displaying molten areas and a burnt, desert-like surface. The far side is kept in perpetual darkness and cold, sometimes with a more temperate dividing line if the atmosphere is dense enough to mediate the heat. Such planets may be colonised, and some display native life that has adapted to the extreme environment, often in unusual ways.
Life forms: microbes and plants, some display higher organisms.

Class X

Hot zone
E.g. COROT-7b
The dead core of a Class-S or T planet, stripped of its atmosphere by millennia of stellar activity. Dense and metal-rich, these planetoids are rare and valuable. Uninhabitable and ultimately doomed to absorption by their parent star.
Life forms: none

Class Y

Hot zone
E.g. Ha'dara
Exceedingly unfriendly, these planets display thick atmospheres rich in toxic gases, high radiation levels, extreme surface pressure and corrosive conditions, even harsher than Class-N planets.
Life forms: rare, but mimetic life has been discovered.

Class Z
Pulsar planet
E.g. Draugr, Poltergeist, Phobetor
Planets found in orbit of pulsars (rapidly rotating neutron stars), bathed in intense magnetic radiation and inimical to all known life. Subdivided by origin, pulsar planets may form from the remains or cores of destroyed companion stars, or may be more ordinary planetoids captured by the pulsar's gravity.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


And so, the thirteenth Doctor has been announced, and she is going to be played by 35-year-old Jodie Whittaker.

I'm not especially familiar with her, although I have seen her in Black Mirror and she was excellent in Attack the Block. I still haven't gotten round to Broadchurch, but I was half-expecting Chibnall to cast someone from his biggest hit. I've generally heard good things about her, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing her in action. Exciting times.

Of course, there are plenty of fans kicking off about the BBC casting a woman in the role, but this is something I've been vocally in favour of for some time. I think that a character who can turn into anyone is long past the point where he should become a she. I honestly think that this is a good move for the a show that, in spite of some sublime moments over the last couple of years, needs a strong kick up the arse. I'm surprised by some of the people I know who are against the idea, but I think any fan needs to give Whittaker a chance. I mean, I'm giving Chris Chibnall a chance as showrunner, and he's so far been pretty dreadful for much of his Who and Torchwood contributions.

My hopes? I hope Chibnall and any writers he hires write her not as "the female Doctor," but just as the Doctor. I hope she's well-served with scripts and material. I hope people give her, and the series, a chance.

There's no point saying that the Doctor changing sex doesn't make sense, or that no explanation can logically work when he's been male for so long. Regeneration is made-up nonsense, ludicrous magical pseudoscience that works only because the writers say it does. Anything the writers want to do, it can do, and that can include changing sex, race or number of legs. And frankly, I haven't much time for people who think that changing gender is one step too fantastical for a series about someone who travels in time in a magic cupboard, fighting monsters. I know actual people in real life who have changed their physical sex, so is it really that hard to imagine someone who has changed their form thirteen times already doing the same?

I am concerned that, if series eleven does turn out to be rubbish, then this casting will be what gets the blame. The more people get angry about the casting, the more I want it to succeed. I'm going to miss Capaldi terribly, but it's always hard to see the Doctor change.

And frankly, I'm just relieved that the Doctor is still older than me.

WHO REVIEW: 10.11 & 10.12



“World Enough and Time” kicks off what is Doctor Who's best series finale since Matt Smith's inaugral run, perhaps even since the heady days of the Eccleston, Tennant and Piper. There is, however, a big flaw in the episode's presentation that comes about, not because of the episode itself, but because of the media surrounding its broadcast. Which is why I'm hiding the review after a page break, because I still know fans who haven't seen it and it really is best seen without spoilers.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

WHO REVIEW: 10-10 "The Eaters of Light"

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Rona Munro. Not too sorry for her - she's an award-winning, critically lauded playwright enjoying huge success in theatre, after all. Her Doctor Who credits, though, seem cursed to suffer ignominious fates. Her first story, Survival, was fated to be the last Doctor Who story of the original run. It wasn't meant to be - it was recorded third to last - but it was broadcast at the end of the 1989 season and as such has been tarred by the reputation of the story that ended the series. Twenty-eight years later, Monro becomes the first classic series writer to return to write for the new series, and her episode gets the lowest overnight ratings in the series' history. I think that people are making a bit too much about the ratings of the show - they have gone downhill, but then, BBC ratings have been dropping across the board. The new singsong show, Pitch Battle, which followed right afterwards got even less. Still, it's a kick in the teeth for Munro, which is a great shame, because both of her Doctor Who scripts are rather excellent.

The Eaters of Light is quite an old-fashioned script, which isn't too surprising. A historical mystery that turns out to be down to an alien life form, the Doctor and his companions getting split up, some heroic sacrifice and there you are. A nice, straightforward adventure. It also features some nice, strong characterisation and a potent anti-imperial. anti-war message. It's arguable that following Empress of Mars with this story was poor scheduling, but it also follows through on a strong thematic storyline that explores cowardice, readiness for war, and imperialism. The surviving members of the Spanish Ninth Legion are the ones who ran away in fear; the courageous soldiers all died. Of course, they all come good in the end, sacrificing themselves to protect the Earth. On the other side, we have Kar, whose fear provoked her to unleash the Beast against the Legion.

The characterisation of the regulars is a little off. Not Nardole - he's spot on, ingratiating himself with the proto-Picts and looking happy enough to settle down and learn "Scotch." Bill, on the other hand, has caught the same weird obsession with the Romans that both Amy and Clara had, something that seems to exist purely to give some reason to explore the mystery of the Ninth Legion. It's hardly like they need a reason to be there, beyond the Doctor fancying this period of history today. It's also a slightly odd moment when Bill realises that the TARDIS is translating for her. Both Rose and Donna had that scene, but at their first opportunity, not ten episodes in. It's very in character, though, that she immediately then realises it's a telepathic field, sci-fi savvy as usual. (The lip-sync line is great as well.) The Doctor seems to have regressed to his season eight persona, all Tucker-ish aggression and criticism. He's viciously dismissive of "brave people£ and is apparently "against charm." (It'd be fun to see Twelve opposite Ten someday - his earlier self would wind him the hell up.)

There's some intriguing characterisation for the Doctor, who seems thoroughly besotted with the Roman Empire. Only recently he was expounding the value of their imperial rule, and here he glibly raves about the indoor toilets to a young woman whose people were almost exterminated by the Romans. I do love his quiet acknowledgment that everyone in the universe looks like children.

The science of the episode is pretty flimsy, but then, this isn't a scientific episode. This is pure fairy tale, with the Beast's dimension being very clearly fairyland, right down to the differences in the passage of time on each side. The fate of the soldiers, reduced to bog bodies by the creature sucking the light out of them, is grim, but makes no sense scientifically. People's bones don't stay strong because they contain sunlight, they stay strong because the UV part of sunlight provides the activation energy for a chemical reaction within the skin that produces the needed vitamin D. As a storytelling device, though, it makes perfect sense; it just needs to be approached with a sort of child-like logic. Oddly enough, most viewers seem to have more of a problem with the use of light to hurt the Beast, but this makes more sense. The Doctor suggests the devices have optical cancellation properties, and the Picts say it poisons the light. Presumably, they remove the wavelengths of light that the creature needs to survive (UV, frequencies, I'm guessing), leaving only wavelengths toxic to it, rather like filtering out all the oxygen from air, leaving only nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

It's a sign of how far television has come that Munro can now have a casual discussion of homosexuality, instead of making sly references to lesbianism like she had to with Survival. I love the frank Roman acceptance of bisexuality, and Bill's surprise at the ease at which it is accepted. It's a timely reminder that cultural attitudes can vary wildly over time and location.

In spite of the slight old-fashionedness of the story, it kicks along at a fair pace, and is all wrapped up by about thirty-five minutes in. After this, there's the final scene, which exists as a set-up for the grand finale (which is just about to begin as I write this). I don't know if the scene was written by Munro, Moffat or both, but it's a far stronger characterisation of Missy than we've seen so far this season, and for once, I can believe that she might actually be able to change. As this is my last chance to speculate, I can't help but think of the Alastair Reynolds novel Harvest of Time, which posited that the Master's own existence through time was bearing down on him. Separated from the influence of his other selves, the Master was capable of acting out of goodness. I wonder if we are going to see something similar to this when John Simm's Master returns. Finally, the Doctor says that Missy needs to learn to hear the music. I think that the music have been the problem in the first place.

Stray thoughts: 

Nardole tells the Picts the true story of what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. Apparently they were eaten by the Enzomodans, who communicate by digesting people. We probably shouldn't believe everything Nardole says though - 1965's The Chase told us the real story: the Daleks did it.

Kar is the Gatekeeper. I am not clear on who the Keymaster is. The Easter of Light is clearly the Terror Dog though.

So, the Doctor was a vestal virgin, second class? Was he not able to become first class because he's a man, or because he's not a virgin? Or is there something we don't know about the Doctor's past? Is this another hint that he was once female?

As far as I know, crows can't talk, but ravens sure can.

Best line:

"Complete and total absence of any kind of sunlight."

"Death by Scotland."

Monday, 19 June 2017


I caught Wonder Woman on its opening weekend, but it's taken me this long to get round to reviewing it. Primarily this is because picking holes is often the most enjoyable part of reviewing a film, and Wonder Woman has very little wrong with it. I think we can all agree that it's by far the best of the DC Expanded Universe movies that have come so far, standing head-and-shoulders above Man of Steel (which I enjoyed more than most), Batman vs. Superman (which had its moments but was dreadfully flawed) and Suicide Squad (which started reasonably well but went rapidly downhill). Wonder Woman had, very unfairly,two things to prove: that a female-centred superhero movie could work, and that the DC movieverse wasn't doomed to collapse. Both of these it managed with aplomb, by being a brilliantly fun movie and showing just how fantastic Wonder Woman is when done right.

If you haven't seen it yet, I suggest you go out and watch it forthwith. And then come back and read this, because there will be SPOILERS.

So, the last time anyone attempted a movie focused on a female superhero was, what, Catwoman? That was thirteen years ago, and thanks to a complete misunderstanding of the character combined with cheap production and an almost offensively poor script, essentially killed off superheroine movies before they started. Sure, we've had plenty of superpowered and costumed women in comicbook movies over the last few years, but none have been allowed to headline. Even so, it's hard to lay the blame at the feet of DC and Warner Bros. because of Catwoman, however much of an easy target it is. There has been a huge reluctance to give superheroines their own films. This is apparent from the fact that, in her 76-year history, no one has made a live action Wonder Woman movie before (excepting a rather dismal 1974 TV movie). She's one third of DC's top tier trio, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Batman and Superman. They've had, respectively, eight and six live action films, more if you count their recent crossover and the old monochrome serials. Batman got his first big screen outing in 1943; Wonder Woman had to wait till 2017.

So, yes, there was a lot riding on this release, and much of that was squarely on the shoulders of Gal Gadot. Fortunately, not many people were worried that she might not carry the film; she was by far the best thing about Batman vs. Superman, outdoing the big boys in charm, style and bad-assery. In terms of physicality, she is perfect for the role, having been both a model and a soldier in her already storied career, but it's her performance that carries the film. Gadot's Diana is strong-willed, intelligent, noble, idealistic and naive, traits that are portrayed through confident writing and a powerful and believable performance. It would be easy for the film to fall into cheesiness as Diana strides into cabinet meetings and demands to know why she can't be heard along with the old white men, but both Allan Heinberg's script and Gadot's performance sell it perfectly.

Steve Trevor is understandably bowled over by Diana's physical beauty, but it's her courage and conviction that make her someone that he will follow into a warzone, along with his mismatched gang of sidekicks. I really enjoyed Chris Pine's performance as Steve, with great charisma, wit and heroism, but never overbearing or too arrogant - bravery, not bravado. The times when he stands against Diana are when he is genuinely right, borne out by his greater experience in "Man's world" and a real modern war. Diana and Steve's relationship illustrates the core theme of the movie, the dichotomy between humanity's compassion and beauty, and its capacity for destruction and cruelty. Diana is overly enamoured with humanity, unable to believe that their warring is anything other than the influence of Ares, while Steve has grown cynical and war-weary. They both affect each other, coming closer to each other's worldview for a more rounded perspective.

The choice of a World War One setting is inspired, miring the narrative in the very worst of humanity's warmongering. It's not surprising that Diana is convinced that it is Ares who is responsible for this horror. Patty Jenkins's direction is excellent throughout, but it's in the battle scenes that it's exceptional, in the valiant defense of Themyscira on horseback, the real-world horror of the trenches, and the liberation of the besieged village. In all these, Diana is the most remarkable element, quite rightly the centre of events, particularly once she has accepted her destiny and left for the wider world. This is the big difference between Wonder Woman and the other DCEU films. While they're set in the same grimdark world of cruel tyrants and the worst of humankind, in Wonder Woman there's a true ray of hope in the form of Diana. She strides through the battlefield on the front, a golden figure cutting through the dismal greys of No Man's Land. She represents something better than humanity, a warrior for honour rather than a fighter for war's sake, and that's refreshing after the stolid brutality of the recent versions of Batman and Superman.

It would be very easy to focus solely on Diana and Steve, but the supporting cast are also excellently cast. A special shout out to Lilly Aspel and Emily Carey as the younger versions of Diana, with young Lilly being especially adorably spunky. Connie Nielson is powerful and intimidating as Queen Hippolyta. Perhaps the character who most needed more screentime is Etta, played by Lucy Davis, exactly the sort of actor you wouldn't expect to see in a film like this and yet somehow absolutely perfect when placed opposite Gadot's Diana.

On the villainous side, both Danny Huston as General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Dr. Poison are suitably monstrous in their roles, although they are unquestionably second-tier villains throughout. I particularly like the use of Dr. Poison in the story, although it might have been interesting to have her, as in the early comics, disguised herself as a man in order to further her advancement in her nefarious choice of career. What I really love, however, is the casting of David Thewlis as the Big Bad of the movie. It was inevitable that Ares would eventually turn up to battle Diana, although it might have thematically worked better if it really had just been humanity's evil alone that was dooming the world. Still, it's made very clear that Ares' hatred of humanity is down to their inherently flawed nature, and that they are casually monstrous even without his influence. Thewlis is one of those actors I love to watch in anything, and his initial role as Sir Patrick is exactly the sort of role an aging British actor can walk through. It's his true identity as the God of War that's inspired. Underneath his ridiculously overblown armour he's still a thin Englishman, not the hulking brute that you'd imagine Ares to be. It's extremely appropriate; the real warmongers of our history, from Hitler to Assad to the blindly cruel generals of WWI have always been scared little men rather than mighty warriors.

And that's the crux of the movie: that heroism, and the cowardice of evil, can be present in anyone, in any guise, from any origin. While it's another film that trots out the Germans as a villainous force, there's a more balanced portrayal than most, with the young German soldiers portrayed as terrified and relieved when the carnage of the finale is averted, and their commanders are desperate to stop yet more of them being killed. Human beings can be cruel or compassionate, just like the gods of Greek myth. It's a noble sentiment for a popcorn movie about a warrior woman with a magic lasso. You'll leave feeling that Diana represents the best of us, or at the very least, a little in love with Gal Gadot.