Friday, December 7, 2018

Food TV Friday: Top Chef Kentucky Season Premiere

I’m a big fan of “Top Chef.” A roommate (who just got engaged recently – congrats Brianne!) in law school introduced me to the show more than ten years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. In fact, now that I think about it, I think “Top Chef” was my entry point to becoming the foodie and avid home cook that I am now. In fact, “Top Chef” is even connected to the way I love to travel. Several years ago, I had to go to Atlanta for a work conference, and I decided that I was going to have a little fun the night before the conference was supposed to start. I was going to take a bus from the hotel and go to Flip Burger Boutique, a restaurant developed by Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite cheftestants, who had a presence in Atlanta at the time (he’s now based out of San Diego). I’ve also been to Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s sandwich shop Smoked and Stacked in DC. I’m going to be in New Orleans in about a week and a half, and restaurants by Isaac Toups and Nina Compton are on my itinerary. All that being said, I’m excited that the new season of “Top Chef” started last night, so I decided I would write about it.

Top Chef tends to feature a different location each year, and this year is Kentucky. This is exciting to me, because for the past few years, watching Damaris Phillips’ show “Southern at Heart” has been a Saturday or Sunday morning staple for me. Phillips was a winner of “Next Food Network Star” and is based out of Kentucky. Watching her show has been a great entry point into learning about Southern food (I’m a Philly girl who has lived in Maryland for twelve years, so I know soft pretzels and Old Bay, not biscuits and bourbon) and Kentucky ingredients in particular. Thanks to learning about the ingredient from “Southern at Heart,” I make a mean batch of sorghum cookies. I’ve even been requested to make them for Christmas this year. Anyway, I’m excited to see the Kentucky ingredients I’ve learned about showcased on this season.

There were a few cheftestants who stood out to me right from the get-go. Even before the season premiere, being a Marylander and a devoted reader of the Washington Post food section, I had heard of Eric Adjepong. He is a first generation Ghanian-American who works in Washington DC. He even cooked at Top Chef veteran Kwame Onwuachi’s restaurant Kith and Kin for a while. He runs a dinner party company with his wife (who is a designer), and he’s kinda hot. He’s very into showcasing West African food, which I think is cool. I look forward to the potential of him opening a West African restaurant in DC someday so I can try it for myself! While watching the episode, Natalie Maronski also stood out to me. She’s a Philadelphia-based consultant who took a bit of a break from the restaurant world while her mother was battling Parkinson’s Disease. Now she’s ready to get back into the kitchen, and she has a heck of a first episode. My grandfather had Parkinsons, and it was hell for our family for over a year, so I have immense sympathy for her. Plus, she can cook.

My least favorite cheftestant thus far is Brandon Rosen, a Bay Area private chef. He was mansplaining all over the place throughout the episode. He was super bossy to his team during the Quick Fire. Then he spent a good portion of the main challenge warning another chef that she wouldn’t possibly be able to finish her tortellini in time (more on that in a bit). As I’ve said before on this blog, I am fed up with mansplainers. I actually know things even though I have a vagina, people! Overall, though, the cast was really likeable. There were plenty of other chefs to root for even beyond the ones I mentioned above. For instance, there was also a fun little segment with two Southern chefs, Kelsey Barnard Clark of Alabama and Sara Bradley of Kentucky (the one Kentucky chef of the season, who used to be coworkers at a restaurant in New York. They’re psyched to be together on the show.

The two competitions of this episode were appropriately Kentucky Derby themed. The Quick Fire was based on the Kentucky Derby’s reputation for being the most exciting two minutes in sports. The cheftestants were divided into teams of three, with each team producing a dish. They would only have two minutes to do their mise en place, after which they could not use a knife for the rest of the challenge. They would then have twenty minutes to cook. One team, once into the second phase of the challenge, was well into searing a big steak before they realized they wouldn’t be able to slice the steak to serve. They 86’d the steak except for a bit of the fat and used poached eggs as the protein instead. And they won the Quick Fire for it! It was the first of what seemed like many mishaps in this episode, despite having what seems like a strong group of cheftestants. The other most notable mishap happened in the main challenge where one chef was convinced she would be able to make tortellini, but she ran out of time so she just made fettuccini instead and almost got sent home for it.

In the main challenge, the cheftestants had to cook individual dishes for a big Kentucky Derby party. They were all judged against their teammates from the first round. Each group would have a “Win,” “Place,” and “Show.” The “Win” judges would have a chance at winning the challenge, and the “Show” judges would be considered for elimination. It definitely got competitive, although the cheftestants mostly seemed good natured about it. They did all their prep the first day, then they got to see where they will be living for the duration, and it’s a huge mansion. It reminds me of the kind of place they would put people up back on “The Real World” (I am so excited that show is coming back – I loved it as a teenager!). Day two was cooking and serving at the party. Natalie won with some ceviche, which was a little surprising only because I remember a past season where it felt like everyone made ceviche and it got played out. Caitlin Steininger was sent home for serving soggy biscuits over tomatoes. She did make me want to try salt and pepper biscuits, though!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Food TV Friday: "The Final Table"

It’s no secret that I haven’t been blogging that much this past year. I started a new demanding job and was commuting 60 miles round trip until I bought a house (!) this past August. It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Add to that the awful state of the world in general these days and the parade of horrors that is the news, and my head just hasn’t been in the right place to watch much scripted TV. I’ve taken to mostly just watching cooking competition or other food related shows because I find them comforting. I’m still going to (probably still too slowly) chip away at the shows Sarah and I have been co-blogging and maybe keep trying to work on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but I’m probably not going to blog any other series this year. As a way to get back into the habit of blogging more, though, I figured I’d turn some of my favorite TV comforts into blog posts! We’ll start with Netflix’s recently released, possibly too serious, cooking competition, “The Final Table.”

“The Final Table” actually has a pretty cool concept. Twelve teams of two chefs from around the world compete in country-themed challenges, with one team being eliminated each week. Each episode features two challenges, all themed around one particular country. The first challenge involves three “cultural ambassadors” from the country in question (one generally a food critic or writer) judging the teams’ take on their country’s signature dish. The lowest three teams from the first round then have to compete in a second round, where a superstar chef from the country of the episode sets an ingredient-related challenge. This whittles down the contestants to two teams. At that point, the four remaining chefs compete in an individual challenge, basically to cook the dish of their life, to earn a seat at the titular table with all the superstar chefs who have judged the second round in the previous episodes. There is no monetary reward – the winner literally just got to sit at a table with the other chefs (and get some publicity too, of course).

The thing I liked most about “The Final Table” was the international twist. I liked that the episodes were country themed, and I got to learn a little something about each country in its episode. I had never heard of feijoada, a Brazilian bean and pork dish, before, for instance. Some judging panels expected more adherence to the classic form of their national dish than others. The Spanish judges stood out to me as especially expecting all the teams to hit certain key aspects of the paella. There was a bit more variety in judging style from the second round judges. Several of the chefs have made their own careers reinventing classics, so they tended to appreciate it when the teams veered from the expected. The challenge that stood out to me as the most unfair was the kaiseki challenge in the Japan episode, since kaiseki is more a food philosophy that a specific dish.

My favorite team was Esdras Ochoa and Rafa Gill, Mexican and Brazilian chefs respectively who now both have restaurants in Hong Kong. Ochoa wasn’t classically trained, but he built up his reputation as a self-made “taco King.” He and Gill met when they both started their restaurants in Hong Kong. I think I was drawn to them because the first two episodes of the season highlighted each of their respective countries. They both took that distinction seriously and didn’t want to disappoint their countrymen. Ochoa especially took the taco challenge seriously, given that he makes his living with tacos. Both were rated favorably for their national dishes.

Other teams that I liked were Shane Osbourn and Mark Best, two Australians who, while I wouldn’t say they are old, were the oldest “experienced” chefs in the competition It was just nice to see two professionals do their thing excellently without drama. I also liked the only all-female team on the show, Monique Fiso (from New Zealand) and Amninder Sandhu (from India). It was necessary to have some girl power on the show (frankly, there could have been more). They had their ups and downs, keeping it real. Amninder especially put a lot of pressure on herself in the India episode, and I respected that. There was one team that I actively disliked it, and what the heck, I’m going to spoil a streaming cooking competition. They make it to the damn finale and one of them wins it all. Darren MacLean and Timothy Hollingsworth are the epitome of hipster chef bros. Hollingsworth worked for years at the French Laundry and is now super serious about telling a particular story with food at his Bay Area restaurant. MacLean, a white dude from prairie province Canada, is obsessed with Japanese food. He white mansplains Japanese food throughout the series, constantly invoking “memories of Tokyo.” He’s especially insufferable in the Japan episode (where he succeeds mightily, of course).

The other thing that I found as a negative with the show overall was that it was a big overdramatic. I did appreciate that, unlike with shows like “Chopped” or “Guy’s Grocery Games,” these contestants just got to cook their hearts out. On the other hand, the production felt like “Iron Chef: America” without the camp and ability to poke fun at itself. I mean, the whole thing ends with the winner descending down to the table with all the judge chefs and a bright light shining on him. Self-serious, much?

Overall, “The Final Table” was an entertaining binge-watch over Thanksgiving week. I enjoyed getting some exposure to cuisines I don’t know much about (especially in the Brazil episode), and I enjoyed learning about a variety of chefs with whom I wasn’t already familiar. I appreciated that the overall focus was on cooking good food with an international flair. Future seasons, however, should be more aware of cultural appropriation, make a better effort at representing women, and be just a touch less serious.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

This Is Us 3.09: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”

“No, Nicky, the mission is to get home.”
- Jack

We have reached the mid-point of season 3 and that means our fall finale. Fear not, Pearson clan, we will resume with new episodes in mi-January and that gives you plenty of time to ponder the little tidbits of information we got throughout this episode. Before we dive into the biggest of the storylines, let’s check in with Kate and Toby. She’s now through the first trimester and their tests have come back normal for chromosome disorders (fun fact, that’s where I’m at in my own pregnancy). The doctor asks if they want to know the sex of the baby but Toby says no. Kate may also have to give up her job as a singing Adele telegram because of how much time she spends sitting (driving around). She almost lands a job as a chorus teacher but her lack of a college degree puts the kibosh on that. At home, after Toby puts his foot in his mouth about thinking Kate should just stay home while pregnant, Kate forces him to admit they are both terrified something could still go wrong with the pregnancy. So, in a bid to face their fears, Toby brings Kate to a local community college so she can get those last 8 credits to earn her degree and they end up finding out they are having a boy. The first Pearson grandson!

Across the country, Randall is getting ready for his big debate against Councilman Brown. Beth has left the campaign but she still wants to help him prepare. The Pearson girls each have their own thing going on, too. Annie is trying to ace her spelling bee; Tess is still struggling with coming out to her parents and Deja wants to reconnect with her mom. Rebecca brings Tess to the debate and admits Kate told her about what Tess said, so that Tess would have someone close by to talk to if she needs. She’s not happy that grandma knows the truth but after the debate, Rebecca confides that she kept secrets from her family and it physically manifested into pain she still carries. She doesn’t want that be her granddaughter’s fate.

Speaking of the debate, Randall is clearly struggling at first trying to hold his own in the usual debate format but once he steps off the stage and starts talking to the people on their level, he wins them over. Unfortunately, he’s too far behind in the polls that he can’t possibly win. That night, while Beth and Randall grapple with what to do about the campaign, Deja asks to go see her mom and then Tess comes out to her parents. It was a sweet moment and I’m glad she told them. They had the reaction you would expect from them to show their love and support. But, things take a turn when Beth flat out tells Randall she wants him to drop out of the campaign, citing a promise he made earlier to her that he would back out if she asked. Randall refuses and ends up sleeping on the couch. This may be the harbinger of horrible things to come because we make a surprise visit to the future and learn that the “her” they are going to see is Rebecca. And it appears Beth isn’t on speaking terms with Randall because Tess has to call her. Beth appears to have a new job overseeing a dance troupe or something. This now makes me wonder if Beth and Randall eventually split up. And I also have a theory that perhaps Rebecca has dementia or something.

We also get some answers (and some shocking surprises) over in Vietnam in both the past and the present. In the past, Jack’s time to get Nicky straightened out is coming to a close and Nicky is still isolating himself from everyone. Eventually, Jack convinces his brother to go with him to a quiet spot away from the village (it involves Nicky getting to take a swing at Jack) to try and give him perspective. Jack says their mission is to survive the war and go home but Nicky isn’t convinced he’s going to make it. That night, he gets high and Jack finds him the next morning sitting on the dock pretending to shoot the villagers. Nicky explains that he doesn’t want to be clean because he remembers all the horrible things he witnessed while in country. He storms off and a little later, Jack can’t find Nicky and then there’s an explosion by the dock. We see Jack jump into the water and that’s where we’re left.

In the present in Vietnam, Kevin and Zoe finally get to the village where Jack served. He talks to a man who was a boy during the war and for a minute I thought he would be the little boy that Jack helped treat. But, it turns out he wasn’t. He was just another child whose father was part of the Viet Cong. The man doesn’t know the woman in the photo and Kevin thinks he’s gotten nothing out of his trip. Sure, he and the man get to share a moment realizing both of their fathers pretended everything was okay after the war for the sake of their children but it’s clear that Kevin needed more closure. He may not have gotten that but we do get some interesting news about Nicky. Their guide who brought them to the village had wanted to give Kevin a memento to put on his uncle’s grave but when he looked at the rolls from the war, there was no record of Nicky dying during the war. The man posits that Nicky may have died but not during the war. As it turns out, we catch a blurry glimpse of a man whom I believe is Nicky at the very end and he’s got a stack of unanswered letters sitting on a counter. You can’t see who they are from but we now have more mystery to unravel.

Friday, November 23, 2018

This Is Us 3.08: “Six Thanksgivings”

“You need to take that fight and show your kids that you are still their father.”
- Jack

We have reached our Thanksgiving episode of season three. Based on the previews it looks like it’s going to be quite the emotional one! This year we got see Thanksgiving throughout the years with different members of the Pearson family (and some extended family), In Vietnam, Jack is still trying to sort out what has got Nicky in such a funk. Nick refuses to sit down with everyone for turkey and then he refuses a direct order from Jack when he goes to bandage the foot of the little boy whose mom currently has Kevin’s necklace. Jack ends up helping the little boy and the woman gives him the necklace as a thank you. When Jack confronts his brother, we get a little insight into Nicky’s time at war. His first commanding officer was too nice to the villagers and they betrayed him, ultimately getting the officer killed. Nicky also related a weird story of how the officer got the rest of the guys to stop giving Nicky crap. It involved a decapitated chicken. But at least Jack has some idea of what his baby brother has seen.

Not long before Jack dies, the Pearsons celebrate their last thanksgiving as a family. The Big Three have been at each other’s throats so Jack hopes this will help mellow them out a little. It turns out, Kevin and Kate or busy teasing Randall about his college essay topic. He has to write about the person who influenced his life the most. Everyone keeps telling him to use the easy answer of the fireman who found him. Miguel is joining them for dinner but he’s not having the best of times. He’s recently split from his wife and his kids don’t want to talk to him. As eh watches the Pearson clan enjoy each other’s company he kind of freaks out and needs a Jack pep talk to get his head on straight. Jack tells him that Miguel sacrificed a lot to provide for his family and he can still be in his kids’ lives. He just has to fight for them. By the end of dinner, Randall reads the essay he’s written that notes he’s met too many people to pick just one but if he absolutely had to, it would be the firefighter.

We then find William and Jesse as they are starting their romance. I am still always surprised when William pops up. I don’t know why and I know I shouldn’t be. There is still so much of his story left to tell and I’m always glad to see him. He finds Jesse at the liquor store on Thanksgiving and invites him over. Jesse admits that he loved cocaine and it did ruin his life and he’s not super happy about being clean. But, when William invites him to a jazz night, he does show up. At first William thinks Jesse isn’t interested or his misread signals but Jesse assures him the woman he shows up with is his cousin. I definitely want to see more of their story unfold!

In the present, we have several threads going on simultaneously. Randall, Beth, Annie and Deja are heading out to serve dinner to the homeless while Tess stays home not feeling well with Kate and Toby who are in charge of making dinner. Rebecca and Miguel are going to his daughter’s for dinner and then to Randall’s for dessert. Miguel thinks he is a pity invite since his ex-wife is spending the holiday with her new husband’s family. It’s very easy to see why we haven’t seen his kids until now. They are downright awful to their dad. I wasn’t thrilled when Miguel and Rebecca got married but he’s slowly grown on me, especially since we now know he and Rebecca reconnected a decade after Jack’s passing. I suspect they’ve only been married a few years. It makes me feel a lot better about their relationship. But when Miguel’s son accuses Rebecca of stealing their dad away from their mom, Miguel’s had enough. He sets his kids straight that he tried to stay in contact and in their lives but they never responded so he gave up. And then his ex-wife got remarried and then he and Rebecca reconnected. He tells them to respect his wife. You go man!

Back at Randall’s, dinner isn’t going so well. Toby is trying so hard to make thing go right because he’s taking the small victories as he continues to adjust to his new medication. Kate tells him not to stress because they are going to be great. She also gets to have a motherly moment with Tess when Toby runs into Tess in the bathroom trying to figure out pads and tampons. She’s gotten her first period. So, Kate gets to share her embarrassing first time with Tess and then we learn some interesting news about the oldest Pearson grandkid: she might be gay or bisexual. She begs Kate not to say anything to Randall and Beth. This also makes me curious about the “her” in the future since it’s Tess who is going to with Randall and Toby.

Lastly, we see Randall and the rest of the family at the shelter. Randall’s campaign manager is happy that Beth moved locations and then she shoots down the idea of doing a photo op for Randall. She doesn’t think the people who showed up want to be seen getting handouts. Then it becomes clear that Randall has been siding with Beth because she’s his wife and he thinks she needs the wins. She’s not happy about that and he ends up sort of alienating his campaign manager, too. Oh Randall. We also see Deja flash back to get handouts when she was with her mom and she’s giving out more food than she was told to. She also ends up exchanging holiday messages with her mom. I like how she fits in with the other girls in the family. I would have loved to see Tess be able to go to her about period stuff. That would have been a fun sisterly bonding moment, too. I really did like this episode and was pleasantly surprised by the stories we got. It gets me in a good place for the fall finale next week.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving "Classic" Recap: "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"

“Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together.”
-Marcie

I’ve probably mentioned this before on MTVP, but growing up, I was a massive Peanuts fan. My mom always says that as a little kid, “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” was the first thing that would get me to sit still and pay attention for any length of time. In the mid and late 80’s, my parents dutifully recorded every Peanuts special that broadcast on TV on our VCR, and I would watch them all whenever I was sick. At one point, my parents special ordered “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” because I kept renting it so much from the corner video store (called Video Tyme…how 80’s is that!). So I couldn’t let another Thanksgiving pass by without talking about one of my favorite Peanuts specials, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I still appreciate Peanuts as an adult, and now I wonder if my rather misanthropic world view is partially due to being raised on Peanuts, or if I liked it so much because I could identify with Charlie Brown. A chicken or the egg situation, I suppose.

This particular special has plenty of the elements you would expect from any Peanuts special. It even opens with a classic Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown sequence. He’s convinced she wouldn’t pull the football away from him during such a festive time of year, but of course she does. Meanwhile, Sally is irritated that she hasn’t even finished her Halloween candy and it’s already time for another holiday. She’s especially not a fan of the fact that her teacher is making her write an essay on one of the Pilgrims, Miles Standish. In the middle of all this, Peppermint Patty calls Charlie Brown. Her parents are going out of town and said she could go to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving. The only problem is that Charlie Brown and his family are supposed to go to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving later in the afternoon. Charlie Brown being Charlie Brown, though, he can’t say “no,” and so Peppermint Patty invites herself over.

Linus suggest to Charlie Brown that he could have a “dinner” (of things the kids can cook like toast and popcorn) earlier in the day for friends, then he could have the real holiday dinner with his family in the evening. Charlie Brown agrees to this, but Peppermint Patty soon makes it even more difficult. She invites over Marcie and Franklin, too. As somebody who has not always been great at saying “no,” I can really empathize with Charlie Brown in this situation. Peppermint Patty just runs right over him and won’t let him explain that he actually already had Thanksgiving plans that didn’t include a bunch of extra guests. Luckily for Charlie Brown, Snoopy (with some assists from Woodstock) is prepared to do most of the prep for Friendsgiving.

There’s a kind of weird musical sequence (set to the classic “Little Birdie” performed by Vince Guaraldi) where Snoopy and Woodstock try to set up the Friendsgiving (before it was cool) table and chairs using a ping pong table and lawn chairs, and Snoopy gets into a legit fight with a suddenly anthropomorphic lawn chair. There’s also a musical sequence (set to the even more classic “Linus and Lucy”) where Snoopy and Woodstock are cooking all the food and Snoopy accidentally burns his ear in a toaster. Snoopy really goes above and beyond the call of duty for the family dog in this one, which is something I didn’t realize when I watched it as a kid. Linus also gives a nice speech about the meaning of Thanksgiving, similar to his Bible reading in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

What I also didn’t realize when watching this as a kid is what a shitty person Peppermint Patty is. After inviting herself and two friends over to a Thanksgiving dinner that wasn’t even supposed to happen in the first place and causing Charlie Brown and Snoopy a lot of stress, she has the audacity to complain about the meal and how she expected a full Thanksgiving dinner with Turkey and all the trimmings. I just couldn’t believe she’d have the audacity to complain that strongly about a meal that she invited herself to. Marcie tries to explain that to her after Charlie Brown storms off, and eventually she gets it. But even after she gets it, she wants Marcie to be the one to deliver the apology. Marcie reluctantly agrees to, and Peppermint Patty does chime in herself at the end of the apology, but I feel like the damage has already been done. Charlie Brown also ends up talking to his grandmother because he and Sally are running late due to all of Peppermint Patty’s shenanigans, and Saint that she is, she says all the kids can come over to her condo.

Everybody loads up into the station wagon, but Snoopy and Woodstock are left behind. I thought that was pretty crappy considering all the work Snoopy did to prepare the meal and his fight with the lawn chair and everything. Snoopy gets the last word, though. As the kids are all singing “Over the River and Through the Woods” while traveling in the station wagon, Snoopy has cooked a full turkey dinner for himself and Woodstock. Apparently Woodstock eating the turkey and committing bird cannibalism was considered controversial at one point. Did the fact that my brain never even went there until I read about the controversy make me a bad person? And on that note, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Doctor Who 11.03: “Rosa”

“If she can live here her whole life, a couple of hours ain’t gonna kill me. It ain’t gonna kill me, right?”
= Ryan

I have to admit, I was very pleased with this episode of “Doctor Who”. Jodie is coming into her own as the Doctor. She’s sticking up for people and I really like her energy. I will admit there was a scene in the episode where she could have easily dropped a line referencing River Song. That’s really the main gripe about the new season: not enough overt references to prior iterations and companions. I understand the showrunner and writers want to make this season as accessible for non-Whovians as possible but come on, give us a little love!

Since their jaunt to the future to find the TARDIS, the Doctor has been trying to get Ryan, Yaz and Graham home. There’s a bit of arguing of whether when they land this time, it’s time nine or fourteen. Either way, they land in 1950s Alabama. Not a very friendly time for folks with Ryan and Yaz’s skin color (then again, if we’re being honest, is 2018 really much better?). As is often the case, the TARDIS has likely brought our gang to this place and time for a reason. That reason bumps into them not long after they arrive: Rosa Parks. She intervenes when Ryan tries to return a dropped article of clothing to w a white woman. He gets a smack across the face from the woman’s’ husband. Thankfully, Rosa is able to deescalate the situation to some extent before going on her way.

Before long, the Doctor and her companions run into a man from the future whose energy matches the TARDIS. He’s not going to be good news, we know that from the start. Not when he’s got fancy future weaponry. Naturally, the Doctor is intrigued and traces the energy to his hiding spot. After some rambling banter by the Doctor, we learn that the man, Krasko, was a prisoner in the future at Storm Cage. He’s a killer and he’s used a vortex manipulator to come back to the past to kill Rosa to affect the future. Goodie, racists exist at any point in the timeline. This is the spot where they could have dropped a little nod to River, even with just the Doctor mentioning “oh, my wife was in Storm Cage”.

Of course, this now means that the Doctor and her gang are going to have to keep Rosa from getting killed and make sure she’s on the bus to refuse to give up her seat and get arrested. Trying to plan this whole thing in an era where white people and people of color couldn’t dine together is difficult. They first try to grab some food but the waitress refuses to serve them because they don’t’ serve “Negroes and Mexicans”. Yaz is rather offended at being called Mexican but there’s not much she can do about it. She does learn that there are different definitions of race in the South at this time. She may not be white but she also doesn’t count as “colored” so she can sit with the whites on the bus. The Doctor devises a plan to get Rosa onto the bus. They are going to ensure they fill up the bus so she will have to be asked to move. And it’s on Graham to make sure the bus driver is one doing the driving. That’s going to be a little hard since he’s called out to go on vacation. So, the Doctor uses her connections in the past (a sneakily distributed cell phone) to get the man who was going to cover for the driver on a trip to Las Vegas.

The other problem is going to be keeping Krasko away from Rosa (and making sure Rosa leaves on time to catch the bus). Ryan is put on Rosa’s tail but he’s not very good at it because she catches him like two seconds after he starts following her. He’s kind of in awe of her, but more so when he gets to meet Martin Luther King Jr. (whom he knows a lot more about). Ryan also thinks he’s done a good thing when he uses Krasko’s vortex manipulator to send him as far back as the device will go. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of him. In the end though, the gang manages to get the bus filled and the driver to tell Rosa to move. She refuses, gets arrested and history is safe. The Doctor isn’t super happy about Ryan sending Krasko to the past though. Still, he was only trying to help and he was a bit jazzed up by seeing the beginning of the Civil Rights movement taking shape. I really appreciated how they addressed the issues of racism especially between Ryan and Yaz.

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. I thought it touched on important issues that are still relevant today (sadly) and it showcased the Thirteenth Doctor’s skills and personality. She’s very caring and I like that. Not to say prior regenerations weren’t, but I’m not sure this story would have worked with her predecessors. I also appreciated that there were writers of color and women involved in writing this script. My hats off to Chibnall for trying to diversify the staff and tell more stories like this. I also have to say, I missed the adventure of the week format we had in the early days of modern Who. Don’t get me wrong, I like a season long arc too, but when giving us a new Doctor and companions, I think just sending them on wild adventures in the past and the future is a good idea. I also have to admit, I like how the companions are fitting together. I like that they sort of knew each other before the Doctor so they’ve got history that binds them together. If the season continues in this vein, I will be a happy camper.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doctor Who 11.02: "The Ghost Monument"

If we stick together, if you trust me, we can get out of this.”

-The Doctor

The second episode of the latest “Doctor Who” reboot was a proper adventure story, which I appreciated. I enjoyed Doctor Who the most when Russell T. Davies was writing adventures of the week that loosely tied together into a cohesive season arc. It might make me unsophisticated, but the Moffat era got too twisty for me. I like to have a good time when watching “Doctor Who,” not keep spreadsheets worth of plot points in my head. Plus, a classic adventure story provides a great training ground for the Doctor’s new friends to get used to the idea of traveling with an alien who can go anywhere in space and time. The Doctor even helpfully points out that this must be Yaz, Ryan, and Graham’s first alien planet visit (she also warns them not to touch anything).

This was my first opportunity to really take in the new version of the theme song. There’s a completely new creative team behind this season, and that includes the composer. For the first time in modern Who history, Murray Gold isn’t behind the music. The new composer is named Segun Akinola, and his take on the classic tune was sufficiently eerie and mysterious. Anyway, the episode picked up right where the last one left off. The Doctor and her new crew are all floating in space after her failed (sort of) attempt to find the TARDIS. They are each picked up by passing-by ships. Ryan and Graham find themselves with a woman named Angstrom, and the Doctor and Yaz are picked up by a man named Epzo. Both pilots were looking for the “final planet” (which we later learned is called Desolation), but it has been knocked out of orbit. Eventually, both ships crash land on Desolation, and our crew are reunited.

The reunited group, along with their pilots, make their way to a big tent, where they are greeted by a hologram. Angstrom and Epzo are the final two contestants in an “Amazing Race” style competition called the Rally of the Twelve Galaxies. Several thousand other participants have died. The hologram tells the group that they have reached the final challenge. They must brave the extremely inhospitable planet (don’t drink the water, among other things) to reach the “Ghost Monument.” It turns out that the Ghost Monument is none other than the TARDIS, phasing in and out of time and space, so of course the Doctor is all in. She’s pretty confident she can get the group through the ordeal safely, and then they’ll have the TARDIS to make their escape, which is very important considering the hologram said that the loser would be stranded on the planet.

The isolated location does provide a good opportunity to try and do some character work in the middle third of the episode. On the more fun side of things, at one point, Angstrom and Epzo are fighting, and Epzo has a blaster, so the Doctor disables Epzo with some Venusian Akido. Even though I’ve never actually seen a classic Third Doctor episode, I appreciated the little nod to a previous regeneration. The team needs to get a solar powered ship up and running to make it further towards the TARDIS, and Ryan and Graham end up taking on the task. This leads them to start hashing out their mutual issues. I think Ryan has resented Graham intruding on his family ever since Graham married Ryan’s grandmother, but now that Ryan’s grandmother has died, all they’ve got is each other. Ryan doesn’t like that Graham keeps treating him like a kid, but Graham starts to make some headway with Ryan by talking about looking out for each other. Eventually, they both are able to make progress figuring out what is wrong with the ship, and the team is able to continue on.

We also learn that Angstrom and Epzo are both coming from rather rough home situations. It makes sense, considering they’ve both essentially entered an “Amazing Race” to the death. Somebody probably needs to be really desperate (or really foolish) to do that. At one point, Angstrom alludes to Yaz that something very bad happened on her own planet, but she checks herself and stops opening up. Later we learn that her whole family has been trying to flee the planet. We also learn that Epzo’s mother was physically abusive and caused him serious injuries. He still appreciates the strength that his upbringing gave him, though.

The team eventually finds themselves at some interesting looking ruins. The Doctor is preoccupied with the fact that they have encountered no living beings on this planet, and the ruins especially seem to quiet. Still determined to win the race, however, Angtrom and Epzo charge ahead anyway. Epzo accidentally trips something, and a bunch of robot guards start to appear. The Doctor and friends notice them once they make their way inside the ruins, which look like a target practice site. They are sniper bot guards, and they get triggered and start shooting. The team has to run in crazy patters to avoid them. Once they’re immediately out of danger, they go back to exploring, because the Doctor thinks that whatever happened to this planet is very important. They continue the journey by heading down a ladder.

The ladder leads to an intricate network of tunnels, and the group decides that they can get to the Ghost Monument more safely (and more quickly) using the tunnels instead of traveling on the surface. The safety is short lived, though. Epzo is attacked by a killer cloth thing that tries to suffocate him. The Doctor also discovers a room where she finally learns what happened to the planet. Scrawled on the floor is the story of how scientists were brought there and made to develop all sorts of deadly weapons while their families were tortured. The Stenza, who we met in the last episode, were behind it, lending a bit of continuity to the season thus far. The sniperbots soon join the party too, making the tunnels no longer safe for the group.

Everyone has to climb a ladder to get back to the surface, where they pop up in the middle of an acetylene field. As soon as they make it to the surface the sentient cloth things surround them and become very threatening. They have a cigar with them, though, which when lit ignites the acetylene and the deadly cloths. Somehow, by lying on the ground, the group manages to avoid being burnt to a crisp. Eventually, they get to the end of their journey, but the TARDIS isn’t there. A tent is there, though, and after some cajoling, Epzo and Angstrom go inside the tent and demand a joint victory to the competition. They get what they want and are whisked away, but everyone else is left behind. The TARDIS is still a no-show, and the Doctor is devastated, convinced she has let everybody down (I guess the Doctor now truly understands what it is to be a woman – any of the male incarnations of the Doctor would not have lost confidence so quickly).

The TARDIS does eventually appear, though, and the Doctor coaxes her to stick around. The also gets to do the classic “bigger on the inside” reveal with her new friends. As you would expect given that we’ve got an entirely new creative team behind this series, the TARDIS has also redecorated. I think I like this version. With some crystal elements, it combines the more organic look of the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS with the steampunk elements favored in the Moffat era. It’s a nice merger, I think. Ryan is especially impressed that he gets to hang out in a space and time ship now. The Doctor gleefully starts pushing buttons and pulling levers, ready to take her new friends on more adventures.