Culture on My Mind – Classic Christmas in Pac-Land

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Classic Christmas in Pac-Land
December 23, 2022

This week, I’m thinking about the holidays.

On December 16, 1982, the ABC television network in the United States aired an animated special that was a spin-off from the Pac-Man animated series. That series was conceived from the famous video game and was produced by Hanna-Barbera for Saturday morning cartoon blocks. This series was the first cartoon based on a video game and followed the ’80s trend of making holiday specials based on popular cartoons.

The series is a classic, and therefore is prime real estate for the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track. So, on December 19th, Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel were joined by ToniAnn Marini (@Jersey_Devil86 on Twitter), Chris Cummins (@scifiexplosion on Twitch and Twitter), Kevin Cafferty (Gleaming the Tube), and Kevin Eldridge (The FlopCast) for a dramatic reading of this holiday adventure.


These Classic Track Quarantine Panels are typically held once every two weeks (or every fortnight, if you will). If you want to play along at home, grab your internet-capable device of choice and navigate the world wide webs to the track’s YouTube channel and/or the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

Gary can also be found on A Podcask of Amontillado, a horror-themed podcast that he co-hosts with Erin McGourn.

If you want to connect with the track, Joe, and/or Gary on the socials, you can find them on Twitter (ClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and sneezythesquid) and Instagram (SciFiClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and Gary_Mitchel). And, of course, to celebrate more pop culture awesomeness, you can find Dragon Con all year round on the internet, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

You can find those discussions and more every other Thursday as the American Sci-Fi Classics Track explores the vast reaches of classic American science fiction.

The episode art each week is generously provided by the talented Sue Kisenwether. You can find her (among other places) on Women at Warp: A Star Trek Podcast.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Schedule Update: The Timestamps Project (December 2022)

Schedule Update: The Timestamps Project
December 2022

Timestamps Schedule Update Dec 2022

The Timestamps Project will return after a break for the holidays.

Starting in January, the plan is to review Class for eight weeks. This is an opportunity that hasn’t come up since reviewing The Sarah Jane Adventures since I haven’t seen a single episode of this short series. After that, I will return to Doctor Who with Series 10, Peter Capaldi’s last set, and the introduction of Bill Potts.

As always, the schedule is tentative. I hope you and yours have a happy, safe, and warm holiday season. See you next year.cc-break

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Stick the Landing 2022 with Tee Morris and No Kid Hungry

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Stick the Landing 2022 with Tee Morris and No Kid Hungry
December 16, 2022

This week, I’m thinking about friends, charity, and ending the year on a high note.

Over on Twitch, podcaster, storyteller, and “Twitch Dad” Tee Morris has pledged his channel to a month-long charity drive to help combat child hunger. No Kid Hungry is a campaign run by nonprofit organization Share Our Strength, a group dedicated to solving problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.

Tee started his campaign this month with the hope of ending a rough year with a major victory for children in need. He set a $1000 goal and his community obliterated it. He now has an unexpected stretch goal of $5000 and has asked his friends and followers to spread the word in the hope of helping as many kids as possible.

If you have the means, please consider donating to Tee’s campaign on Tiltify.

You can find more information about Tee and his work at linktr.ee/theteemonster.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Series Nine Summary

Doctor Who Series Nine Summary

Timestamp Logo Twelfth

Peter Capaldi’s sophomore set was a big step up.

After Series Eight‘s uneven performance, the Twelfth Doctor really started to shine with stories better aligned with science fiction’s mission to analyze the human condition. Series Nine tackled vengeance and regret, life and death, and war and peace before capping the run with a love story.

Along the way, we did get a straight time travel tale in Under the Lake & Before the Flood and a swing-and-a-miss regarding choice and consequences in the three stories orbiting Clara’s death, as well as an experiment that flopped with Sleep No More. Those last two were the big drawbacks in the series, but I’m more than pleased with the deep dive into the human condition that was amplified by Peter Capaldi getting more comfortable in the Twelfth Doctor’s skin.

Clara’s negative growth from the last series didn’t play out well in this series. She was a lot more stable in this set, but her arc didn’t pay off thanks to Steven Moffat’s inability to say goodbye. She faced the consequences of her actions but then had the choice reversed, thus reinforcing my position that Last Christmas should have been her last journey.

Overall, Series Nine comes in with a solid 4.1 score, putting it alongside the Fifth and Eighteenth classic seasons and the Second and Seventh revival era series. That collection is a tie for tenth among the thirty-seven seasons (so far) in the scope of the Timestamps Project. That’s a good place to be.

The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar – 4
Under the Lake & Before the Flood – 5
The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived – 4
The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion – 5
Sleep No More – 2
Face the Raven – 4
Heaven Sent & Hell Bent – 4
The Husbands of River Song – 5

Series Nine Average Rating: 4.1/5


Next up, the Timestamps Project takes a look at Class, which is the last big set of episodes that your humble reviewer hasn’t watched before. That will take about eight weeks and lead back to Doctor Who, which will take us through Series Ten and the final adventures of the Twelfth Doctor before embarking on the Thirteenth Doctor’s journey.

UP NEXT – Class: For Tonight We Might Diecc-break

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #271: The Husbands of River Song

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2015)

Timestamp 271 Husbands of River Song

Farewell, Professor.

Christmas Day, 5343, on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora brings a man named Nardole to the TARDIS. He was sent there with a handwritten note but is rebuffed by the Doctor wearing costume antlers. Nardole explains that there is a medical emergency and the Doctor decides to tag along despite already having had a long day. As they pass the real physician, they find themselves at the door to a flying saucer and a woman in a hooded cloak.

Hello, sweetie. The Doctor easily recognizes River Song, but she has no idea who this face belongs to. Also, she’s married. And her husband is dying.

River’s husband is King Hydroflax, a man in a giant suit of armor being watched by guards genetically engineered to have anger problems armed with sentient laser swords and (remotely) by four billion subjects. Posing as the physician, the Doctor studies the king while refusing to bow – bad back and all – and finds that the ruler has something jammed in his head. River takes him aside for a brief consultation while Nardole tries to calm his own frazzled nerves.

According to the holographic x-rays, the offending projectile is the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe.  It was shrapnel from a raid on the vaults where the diamond was kept. River wants to remove the entire head, admitting that she is actually contracted to retrieve the gem. The Doctor is shocked but their discussions are interrupted by the king and his guards. He has been listening in and offers to help his false wife by removing his own head, revealing that he is a cyborg.

A brief battle ensues. River fends off the cyborg body with a sonic trowel while the Doctor coerces the king’s head to order his body to stop. The king’s head ends up in a bag before River and the Doctor are transmatted outside. The Doctor finds the entire affair to be hilarious but he’s still put off that River can’t recognize him. He’s also upset that she’s married to her associate Ramone, a man that she’s tasked to find the Doctor and who has had his memory of the wedding wiped. River assumes that the Doctor can only have twelve faces but Ramone has been unable to find any of them. He has located the TARDIS, though.

Meanwhile, Nardole is assimilated into the cyborg body and sent in search of the fugitives.

River, Ramone, and the Doctor walk to the TARDIS. As River steals the TARDIS, the Doctor finally gets the opportunity to have a “bigger on the inside” moment. When this hilariously cheesy monologue is over, he’s shocked to find River sampling the store of Aldebaran brandy hidden behind a roundel. When the king’s head starts to beep, River tries to pilot the TARDIS away but the capsule refuses to move. After she argues with the Doctor over how to drive, they determine that the TARDIS won’t establish a proper space-time envelope since the king is technically split across the inside and the outside.

Outside, the cyborg finds Ramone and demands that he deliver a message. Nardole is (figuratively) beside himself during this process. Inside the TARDIS, the king’s head declares that his body contains a bomb that will burn the world. The cyborg body, now wearing Ramone’s head, soon breaks into the TARDIS and the capsule takes off. When it lands, the Doctor and River snag the head and scramble into a party on the starship Harmony and Redemption.

River is greeted by the Maître d’, Flemming, whom she convinces to lock the cargo hold. They then head to dinner with a quick wardrobe change courtesy of a perfume bottle. River admits that she’s had her lifespan altered – she’s now 200 years old – and that the ship is full of people who are far worse than she is. The ship is where genocide comes to relax.

The couple is seated and River reads from her TARDIS-shaped diary. She reminisces about the man who gave it to her, noting that there are a scant few blank pages left. As they wait, Flemming is summoned to the cargo hold by a distress call from Ramone. Meanwhile, River and the Doctor are soon joined by a man named Scratch who holds special cargo in his own head. After a brief squabble over the diamond, Scratch reveals that the room is full of his own people as a guarantee. This group worships Hydroflax and wants the diamond in his honor.

Despite attempts to hide the head in the bag, the couple is forced to reveal the truth and create a distraction. A bigger one wanders in when Flemming and the cyborg body crash the party. Unfortunately for the king, the cyborg doesn’t want the ruler’s head back since it will die in seven minutes. The cyborg vaporizes the king’s head and Flemming offers the diary as a lure for the perfect replacement: The head of the Doctor.

Flemming reads the diary, noting that River witnessed the Pandorica opening, has been to Asgard for a picnic, survived the crash of the Byzantium (which was turned into a movie), has met Jim the Fish (who is known by everyone), and has just been to Manhattan (which Flemming thinks is a planet). Nardole’s head confirms that River is the Doctor’s consort, but River refuses to admit to his whereabouts. She does, however, state the truth that the Doctor doesn’t love her back. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. She adds that he wouldn’t be sentimental enough to be at her side at this point.

She then takes an honest look at the man she’s been traveling with. “Hello, sweetie.”

They kill some time as the ship pilots into a meteor storm, then fall into the deck below. River catches the falling diamond in her dress and heads off to deal with the ship’s emergency while the Doctor faces the cyborg. He defeats the menace by tempting it with Scratch’s orb that accesses the universe’s banks then introducing the cyborg to the best firewalls in the universe.

The Doctor rushes to the bridge as River recognizes that they are approaching the planet Darillium. The Doctor teleports River to the TARDIS, which she then materializes around him as they argue over how to save the ship. At the last second, they both rush back into the TARDIS and ride out the collision as the ship enters the atmosphere and crashes.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the next morning and gazes upon the wreckage, meeting with a rescuer who hasn’t found any survivors. Once the Doctor recognizes where he is, he suggests that someone build a restaurant that would gaze upon the famous singing towers. He also gives the rescue worker the diamond as capital to build it.

He travels to the future, makes a reservation, and then travels to the reservation itself. When River awakens, she is escorted to the Doctor’s side where she finds Ramone and Nardole in the cyborg body, now working for the restaurant. The Doctor himself is in a suit and offers River her own sonic screwdriver.

The same sonic that she will have at the time of her death.

They gaze upon the Singing Towers of Darillium and River is speechless. The Doctor is sad but reassures her as she speaks of stories about them. That their last night together is spent at these towers. In his way, the Doctor offers a confirmation but consoles River with confirmation that he does indeed love her.

The nights on Darillium are twenty-four years long, and happily ever after just means time. As such, River and the Doctor lived happily ever after.

Rather, they lived happily… together.


Her first and last stories in the show’s chronology are my favorite River Song adventures. The mystery of her life with the Doctor in Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead makes for some great comedy and drama, and this story brings some hot chemistry between the two time-crossed lovers.

Holiday episodes are typically heavy with dumb fun and this one is no exception, but the love story here is carried by Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi all the way to the bank (pun intended). You feel the heart of their relationship in the wacky pulse-pounding adventure and the soul is the quiet moments punctuated by discussions of love.

It’s also the perfect place to end their story. Fans often ask when Alex Kingston will return to Doctor Who, and while I miss her superlative talent on the show, I don’t see how her return pushes the relationship forward. We’ve seen the beginning and the end with flights of fancy in the middle, and this story is the perfect period to close their last chapter together.

I adored the callbacks to the franchise, including the wallet photos of each of the Doctor’s faces. For your Doctor Who trivia nights, those photos were screencaps from The Smugglers, The Two Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, The Hand of Fear, Resurrection of the Daleks, Mindwarp, Survival, the TV movie, The Day of the Doctor, The Parting of the Ways, The Runaway Bride, and The Bells of Saint John. It is interesting that she knows about the Doctor’s prior regeneration limit – by default, that includes the vanity regeneration that she met – and the faces of his former lives (she admitted this in The Time of Angels), but she doesn’t know anything about the Twelfth Doctor.

Also, notably, the Twelfth is not her Doctor. From Forest of the Dead:

You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them. and it’s like they’re not quite finished. They’re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctor’s here. He came when I called, just like he always does. But not my Doctor. Now my Doctor, I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away. And he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop, everywhere.

The Tenth Doctor had no idea that someone could open the TARDIS with a snap of their fingers. River didn’t know the Twelfth Doctor until this adventure. River Song’s Doctor is the one that she married. Her Doctor is the Eleventh Doctor, whom she was just with as her own parents were lost in New York City’s past.

I love the subtle callback with the Twelfth Doctor scanning River with her new sonic screwdriver, thus enabling his former incarnation to save her as a data ghost. There’s also some degree of subtlety with the hidden brandy stash in the TARDIS, especially given the Doctor’s somewhat complicated history with alcohol. The First Doctor claimed to have never touched the stuff, the Fourth Doctor admitted to having a brandy stash onboard, the Third and Fourth Doctors drank regularly, the Ninth Doctor celebrated once with brandy and both he and the Tenth Doctor were rumored to be partiers, but the Eleventh Doctor routinely rejected drinks.

As I said, holiday episodes are often dumb fun, but the thin plot gave our leads plenty of room to shine. It’s a beautiful Christmas tale and a fitting end for a story arc that dominated the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Series Nine Summary

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #270: Heaven Sent & Hell Bent

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent
Doctor Who: Hell Bent
(2 episodes, s09e11-12, 2015)

Timestamp 270 Heaven Sent Hell Bent

The conflict runs strong with this pair.

Heaven Sent

Gears turn as a figure walks through a chamber. This figure flips a switch with bloody hands and collapses into dust as the Doctor materializes inside a teleporter chamber. He leaves the chamber with the weight of Clara’s death on his mind and analyzes the dusty remains. He vows to find those responsible and he won’t stop until he does.

He moves into a circular corridor and peers out of a window, realizing that he’s trapped in a castle tower. He’s only about a light-year from the trap street alley in London and he muses aloud about how he’ll determine his location by the stars. Further on, he finds a shovel and dirt. His anger continues to boil until he spots a couple of monitors with his image on them. From that, he determines that a hooded figure on the other side of the tower is watching him.

More than that, it is stalking him.

The Doctor runs but is trapped in a dead-end corridor by a locked door. He thinks that he’s met the creature before and uses a bit of telepathy to open the door. Unfortunately, a wall lies beyond and the creature reaches for the Doctor’s head. As the Doctor admits that he’s actually scared of dying, time stops and the castle shifts all around him. He slips past the creature and ends up in a bedroom where an aged portrait of Clara rests on the wall. The Doctor analyzes it with a loupe as the creature shambles into the room.

The Doctor finally recognizes the creature as a nightmare that he had about a dead, old woman he once met. She was covered in veils and flies swarmed around her body. He was haunted for years. Regardless, the Doctor deduces that this tower is a torture chamber tailor-made to his psyche, and he escapes the nightmare by diving out of a window. As he plunges into the mists, he admits again that he is scared of dying…

…and emerges into the TARDIS.

Okay, not exactly. It’s really a manifestation of his subconscious that he created to give himself more time to think. He’s also manifested an avatar of Clara that stands before the chalkboard with her back to him. The Doctor deduces that the tower is standing in the sea. He previously dropped his loupe to test the local gravity and broke the window to determine how far he would fall. He needed to know if he could survive. After all, “Rule One about being interrogated: you are the only irreplaceable person in the room. If they threaten you with death, show ’em who’s boss. Die faster.”

The Doctor plunges into the waters below. As he regains consciousness, the manifestation of the TARDIS comes back to life and the Clara avatar writes on the chalkboard:

  • “Question 1 – What is this place?”
  • “Question 2 – What did you say that made the creature stop?”
  • “Question 3 – How are you going to WIN?”

The Doctor peers into the water below him and spots a field of skulls on the seabed. He returns to the surface and enters the colossal tower, eventually finding a room with a lit fireplace. It even has a set of his own clothes ready for him. He dresses and leaves the room. Next is a small room with hand-drawn arrows pointing inward to an octagonal shape. He muses with his mental Clara and ponders the creature’s movements and purpose before heading to an outside garden. There he finds a rectangular mound of dirt and a shovel, so he decides to dig.

An hour later, he has a hole but not much else. He turns at the sound of flies and finds a monitor. It shows the creature staring at a smooth surface. In reality, it is right behind the door to the garden. The Doctor wrestles with the creature and the door before wedging the shovel beneath the doorknob. The creature shuffles into the octagon room so the Doctor continues to dig.

Night falls as the Doctor finally hits something. He notes that the stars are wrong before looking at his prize. It is the missing octagonal floor tile and it contains the words “I AM IN 12”. The Doctor’s analysis is interrupted as the creature emerges from the dirt, having dug into the garden from the octagon room.

The Doctor takes refuge in his mental TARDIS again, this time realizing that he must tell truths – perhaps, confessions? – to escape the creature. The problem is that there are truths that the Doctor can never tell.

In the real world, the Doctor confesses that he didn’t leave Gallifrey because he was bored. Instead, it was because he was scared. The creature backs off and the tower shifts again, this time revealing that the castle is standing alone in the midst of an endless sea.

As time marches on, the Doctor begins to measure the creature’s pace. From one end of the castle to the other, he has 82 minutes of solitude to eat, sleep, and work. He tries to find Room 12, which is a task in itself since the castle jumbles its internal geography. The castle tidies up after itself and resets rooms to the condition they were in before the Doctor arrived.

The Doctor muses about the nature of heaven and hell – “Hell is just Heaven for bad people” – and eventually returns to the teleporter room. There he finds the word “BIRD” scrawled on the sand of the fallen figure before the castle sweeps it away. He wonders what he’s missing as he wanders the halls, eventually finding Room 12. He decides that it is both a trap and a lure, also putting together that the stars are all wrong for the time zone. If he didn’t know better, he would say that he’s moved 7000 years into the future.

To stave off the creature, the Doctor talks about the Hybrid. Long before the Time War, the Time Lords knew the cataclysmic war was coming. There were many prophecies and stories concerning it, including one that mentioned a creature called the Hybrid, who was half Dalek and half Time Lord, the ultimate warrior. The Doctor confesses that he knows that the Hybrid is real, that he knows where it is, and what it is. He confesses that he is afraid of it.

The creature backs off as the castle moves again, opening the way through Room 12. At the far end lies a semi-transparent wall with the word “HOME” written on it. It is the final obstacle, one which the Doctor presumes will take him to the TARDIS if he can get through twenty feet of Azbantium. Of course, the mineral is four hundred times tougher than diamond.

The Doctor’s internal Clara asks the three questions again and the Doctor wonders why he can’t just lose. It would be easy to simply confess the secret details of the Hybrid. The Clara avatar responds with one handwritten word: “NO!”

The Doctor replies that he remembers everything, and no matter what he does she’ll still be gone. The Clara avatar responds by talking to him, explaining that he is not the only person to lose someone. It’s the story of everybody, and to get over it and beat it, he has to move on. It’s time to get up and win.

The Doctor faces the creature, apologizing for his lack of further confessions. He offers the truth as he punches the wall: The Hybrid is a very dangerous secret that cannot be let free, so the Doctor will break out of this prison and confront his captors. He offers a story from the Brothers Grimm until the creature grabs his head. The creature vanishes and a severely burned Doctor takes refuge in his safe space again.

Time Lords always take forever to die, even when they are too injured to regenerate and every cell in the body tries to use every last reserve to save them. He muses that it will take about a day and a half to reach the top of the tower. There he reveals everything that he remembered, including that the castle was created specifically for him. He’s been here for a very, very long time.

The teleporter chamber is a hard drive that contains the Doctor’s image from 7000 years before. The dying Doctor is the power source, burning the old Doctor to make a new one. The Doctor’s body fades into oblivion, leaving only a skull behind as a new copy emerges from the chamber and vows vengeance for Clara’s death.

The cycle continues for centuries. Each time, the Doctor gets a little further into the Azbantium chamber as he continues to tell the tale of The Shepherd Boy. Over four billion years later, the Doctor lands the final punch in the wall. A bright light floods around him as the creature falls apart into a pile of gears. The Doctor steps into the light and lands on a desert world. The Azbantium tunnel collapses into an image of the castle and sea on the face of the Doctor’s confession dial.

A boy runs up to the Doctor and the Time Lord tells him to find someone important in the city beyond and deliver a message: He’s back, he knows what they did, and he’s on his way. He came the long way around.

The desert world is Gallifrey, and the Doctor finally reveals the secret of the prophecy. A Dalek would never allow a half-Dalek being to exist, and the Hybrid – the being destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins – is the Doctor himself.

Hell Bent

In the Nevada desert, the Doctor walks into a diner with a guitar and is greeted by a waitress who looks remarkably like Clara Oswald. Oddly, the Doctor doesn’t recognize her. He has no money but offers to play for a drink. He also notes that the waitress is English and wonders how she got to the middle of nowhere Nevada. She tells him that it was magic.

The Doctor strums out a tune named Clara – itself the character’s theme by Murray Gold – and tells her the story of the woman behind the song.

On Gallifrey, the Doctor wanders the desert until he arrives at the barn where he nearly set off the Moment and discovered how to save his home. The same barn where he slept as a child. When he arrives, the Cloister bells sound in the Citadel. Rassilon advises a guard named Gastron to not approach the Cloister Wraiths contained within before speaking with Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn. She has heard that the Doctor has returned home and she came to see the fireworks.

The Doctor enters the barn and encounters a woman who recognizes him. Despite her warning that Rassilon will kill him, he settles in for a bowl of soup with the locals as a military craft arrives. Gastron, the ship’s pilot, demands that the Doctor accompany him to the Citadel. Instead, the Doctor walks up to the ship and draws a line in the sand, standing in defiance of the Rassilon’s order. The civilians applaud.

The General decides to talk to the Doctor – Words are the Doctor’s weapons, the General muses, but when did they stop being theirs? – and the Doctor rebuffs him. The same happens when the High Council bows before the Doctor. It isn’t until Rassilon himself comes before him that the Doctor acts. After all, the Doctor doesn’t blame the Time Lords for the horrors of the Last Great Time War. He only blames Rassilon.

The Doctor walks up to Rassilon and ignores an offered handshake. Instead, he drops the confession dial at Rassilon’s feet and demands that the president gets off his planet. Rassilon tries to defend his actions, both those of the Time War and the Doctor’s incarceration, but finally orders the Doctor’s execution.

The Doctor stops his story to ask the waitress for a drink. When he picks up again, every shot from the firing squad has gone wide. Each soldier drops his weapon as they express their respect for the war hero who saved Gallifrey. Rassilon raises his gauntlet and asks just how many regenerations they granted him back on Trenzalore. After all, he has all night to work through them. His vengeance is cut short as reinforcements arrive and the General joins his soldiers at the Doctor’s side.

Later, in the Citadel, the General explains to the Doctor that Gallifrey was returned to the universe at the extreme end of the time continuum. It was a safety measure for the Time Lords since the Doctor never confirmed that it was safe for Gallifrey to return to the moment in which it disappeared. Since the end of time is so near, anyone who is banished doesn’t have far to go before reaching the edge of the universe. Nevertheless, the Doctor exiles the entire High Council.

The Doctor visits the Cloister Chambers and chats with Ohila about the confession dial. It was meant to purify a dying Time Lord’s soul so that they could be uploaded to the Matrix without regrets. Instead, Rassilon configured the Doctor’s as a torture chamber. Returning to the High Council chambers, the Doctor discusses the prophecy of the Hybrid with Ohila and the General, exposing the information that Rassilon feared.

The Doctor asks for the use of an extraction chamber so he can visit an old friend. He uses it to remove Clara from the moment of her death. The Doctor and the General explain where they are and coach Clara through the last moment of her life. Her functions are a reflex but her heart no longer beats, a phenomenon that scares her. Despite the need to return her to her death, the Doctor punches the General and takes his sidearm. Clara is shocked but the Doctor asks how many regenerations the General has left.

The Doctor shoots the General and then asks for a human-compatible neural block before he and Clara run. The General, meanwhile, regenerates into a dark-skinned woman. Ohila arrives and presumes that the Doctor has run straight into the most dangerous place he could think of.

They end up in the Cloisters, and Clara is introduced to the Cloister Wraiths. The Wraiths are the firewall to keep foreign entities out of the Matrix by trapping them in the Cloisters, preventing them from ever leaving. The room is full of Cybermen, Daleks, and Weeping Angels, but the Doctor knows of a secret way out. He knows this path through a maintenance hatch because he heard of a boy who was lost there and told a secret by the Wraiths. The last anyone heard of the boy, he stole the moon and the president’s wife.

That boy, of course, was the Doctor.

As the General and Ohila search for the Doctor and Clara, the Doctor explains that Clara’s death was engineered by the Time Lords. The coup he staged on Gallifrey was in the service of finding the technology to resurrect her. He pretended to know about the Hybrid just for that. The General and Ohila arrive and demand that the Doctor and Clara surrender. Clara asks how long the Doctor was trapped in the confession dial, and while it was 4.5 billion years, the General reveals that the truth could have released him sooner.

The General and Ohila were part of the deception.

Clara demands to know why the Doctor would put himself through hell for her, then takes the time to say all the things that need to be said. She calls Ohila and the General monsters and refuses to divulge what she told the Doctor. While she engages them, the Doctor escapes and steals a TARDIS before materializing it around Clara. They run away, but the Doctor is stunned to realize that Clara hasn’t been freed of the quantum shade‘s chronolock or her death state. Ohila’s warning that saving Clara echoes in the console room, but the Doctor is sure that the damage to the universe will be minimal. The Doctor decides to take Clara to the very end of the universe, declaring that he’s answerable to no one.

Four knocks sound at the TARDIS door. The Doctor exits alone to find Me, the last being in existence in a small universe. She’s been staying alive by using a reality bubble on the Cloisters, watching the universe die around her. She explains that Clara’s death was her own doing, not the Doctor’s and not Me’s. She also asks to learn the secret of the Hybrid, which the Wraith told the Doctor as a boy. He speculates that she is the Hybrid, born of humanity and the Mire. She speculates that the Doctor could be half-human, but he laughs at her.

Me presents another theory: The Hybrid is not one person, but rather two true companions who will go to extremes for the sake of each other. A powerful and compassionate Time Lord and a human who serves as a guiding conscience. As Clara watches on the TARDIS monitor, the Doctor explains that he will wipe Clara’s memory of him to prevent the Time Lords from tracking her before dropping her off somewhere to live her life.

Clara throws a wrinkle in the plan by reversing the polarity of the neural blocker and taking charge of her own future. The Doctor wonders if she could do that as he realizes that their adventure has to end. They choose to activate the neural blocker together and let fate decide.

In the end, Clara succeeded. The Doctor’s memories of her are erased, and as he falls asleep he says that she needs to run like hell. She should never be cruel and never be cowardly, and if she ever is, she should always make amends. He asks for one last smile as he tells her that everything is okay – he broke every rule he had and became the Hybrid – before he finally loses consciousness.

The Doctor wakes up in Nevada where a man has been told by Clara to look after him. The story brings him to the diner where he admits that he remembers adventures with Clara and talking with her in the Cloisters, but he can’t remember what she looks like or what the very important message was. The Doctor does remember visiting the diner with Amy and Rory, however, he doesn’t know where his TARDIS is.

Clara suggests that lost memories become stories and songs when they’re forgotten, then walks into the back room as the Doctor continues playing his song. The diner is revealed to be the stolen TARDIS as it dematerializes around the Doctor. As Clara and Me travel the universe as a pair of adventuring immortals, returning to Gallifrey the long way around, the Doctor finds his TARDIS parked in the desert with Rigsy’s memorial painted upon it.

The Doctor admires the artwork and steps into the TARDIS. The ship welcomes him home. As he puts his guitar away, he sees a message from Clara on the blackboard – “Run you clever boy, and be a Doctor” – and receives a new sonic screwdriver from the TARDIS.

He dons his coat and sets a course. The memorial burns away, leaving no trace of Clara except a diner flying through space and time.


This pair, while designed as one cohesive story, is an exercise in the love it/hate it dichotomy. Let me explain.

First, I find Heaven Sent to be an amazing tour de force for Peter Capaldi. He explores this hour-long mystery on his own and carries the whole episode with aplomb. This is the prime example of his craft as an actor and artist. The story itself is also well-crafted, orbiting around the rather short tale that is featured as the Doctor punches through the crystal wall. The Shepherd Boy contains the key elements of inspiration for Steven Moffat’s script, from the drops in the sea and the stars in the sky to the little bird who sharpens his beak on the diamond mountain until the first second of eternity is over. It does so well to remind us of the story threads from this series of episodes and lay the path toward resolution.

But then we come to Hell Bent. The great parts are the return to Gallifrey, the circumstances of its return to our universe, and the sheer hubris of the Time Lords (and their associates) placed square in the spotlight. I love seeing the resolution of The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, I love the Doctor’s realization in the face of Gallifreyan ignobility that he can never truly go home again, and I love stories where the Doctor realizes that he can go too far on his own, but I absolutely despise this ending for Clara’s journey.

This is Steven Moffat’s inability to simply let characters go on full display. It was exercised before when Amy and Rory couldn’t just leave the show but instead had to be written into a semi-nonsensical temporal paradox. It was exercised again in Last Christmas where Clara’s story threads were tied off in a beautiful tearjerker of a farewell that ended in a terrible coda. And here we are again, after a series where Clara’s pride and arrogance play out in a classic action-reaction arc, presented with a series ender that completely neuters the finale by reversing the consequences. It leaves the resolution dangling by shunting a fan-favorite companion into a state where they (presumably) can never be seen again outside of quick cameos. It’s Donna Noble all over, like Steven Moffat learned the wrong lesson from Russell T Davies.

It’s a hard calculation because the stories this time around have been fun adventures with powerful messages, but the resolution feels hollow.

Or, in the case of the whole Hybrid thread, incomplete and half-hearted. I get the impression that Steven Moffat had no idea what to do with it outside of a clever spark of inspiration. It ends up here are a muddled mess with no solid resolution.

Some other interesting notes that I made include the newfound ability for the Doctor to telepathically commune with inanimate objects, the ability for Time Lords to change gender (previously noted in The Curse of Fatal Death, The Doctor’s Wife, The Night of the Doctor, and Dark Water) and skin color during regeneration, and the relative ease with which other Time Lords recover from regenerations (like Romana in Destiny of the Daleks), marking the Doctor’s traumatic regenerations as fairly unique in comparison. I was happy to see the return of the classic TARDIS console room and over the moon about Clara’s beautiful theme becoming actual in-universe diegetic music.

Also, Jackson, Nevada doesn’t exist. The closest this episode’s wide spot in the road comes to reality is the Jackson Mountain range in the state’s northwest region. I grew up in the western United States, so I had no choice but to look into that one.

Heaven Sent alone is an easy top score while Hell Bent falls well below average due to Clara’s departure. Together, they balance somewhere above the average. As is tradition around these parts, I round up for optimism’s sake, but it’s almost a stretch this time.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Cenandi – Sam’s Shepherd’s Pie

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Cenandi
Sam’s Shepherd’s Pie
November 25, 2022

Note: I know that everyone dislikes the wall of text preceding the actual recipe, but the United States Copyright Office requires “substantial literary expression” to accompany the ingredients and instructions. You can jump to the recipe by clicking here.

This recipe comes from Sam the Cooking Guy. Sam Zien is a Canadian chef and restauranteur who lives in the San Diego area. I came across his YouTube channel some years back and started finding inspiration in his creations.

This particular dish looked amazing so my wife and I decided to give it a try. This was before he published the recipes as he demonstrated them, so I watched the video multiple times to estimate the proportions. You see, Sam is the kind of chef that cooks by what looks and smells right, so his bottle shakes and weights are educated guesses based on experience. We have tweaked this recipe over time to fine-tune the details to our tastes.

Among those details are the proteins and the produce. We have tried ground beef, ground turkey, and ground bison, and the key to the protein is the fat content. The higher the fat, the more likely that the ground meat will stick together and stay substantial. We have also experimented with produce by adding bell peppers and mushrooms.

If you are not a meat-eater, I would love to hear how you adapt this recipe to your dietary needs. I don’t have enough experience with tofu or meat replacements but I want to learn as I grow and experiment.

Our red wine of choice for the dish is the famous “two-buck chuck” at Trader Joe’s. It’s a wine that cooks well and is enjoyable on its own. Note that the alcohol cooks off in the making of the dish, so the wine is providing an earthy and fruity body to the meal. We have also tried Yellow Tail. The key is getting an inexpensive bottle because you’re cooking with it. There’s no sense in using an expensive bottle of wine here.

This is one recipe that I recommend playing with. Even if it isn’t quite right for your palate, the results are still amazing. The leftovers are even better since the extra time allows the flavors to meld and enhance.

The original video by Sam the Cooking Guy can be found on YouTube (and is embedded below).


Sam’s Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

Meat

  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 lb ground meat or protein of choice

Produce

  • 3 to 4 Yukon Gold potatoes (or equivalent)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3-4 large carrots
  • 1-2 bell peppers (optional)
  • 2 mushrooms (optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
  • 2 cloves garlic (pressed/minced)
  • 1 handful of fresh spinach
  • Chives or parsley for garnish

Dairy

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Liquids

  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (or equivalent based on meat choice)
  • 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste

Spices and Staples

  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)

Miscellaneous

  • Aluminum foil
  • Cooking oil of choice

Instructions

These instructions are separated into four parts, however, Part 2 and Part 3 should be accomplished simultaneously if possible.

Part 1 – Bacon

  • Chop the bacon into bite-size pieces and cook in a frying pan
  • Reserve 2 Tbsp of the cooking grease
  • Place the bacon (and a small amount of grease as needed for moisture) in a warm space

Part 2 – Mashed Potatoes Topping

  • Wrap unpeeled garlic cloves in aluminum foil and roast at 300°F for 30-45 minutes
  • Chop the potatoes into similar-sized pieces
  • Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes and drain thoroughly
  • While the potatoes are boiling, combine butter and cream in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until melted
  • Mash/whip the potatoes while adding the butter-cream mixture
  • Add salt, pepper, paprika, and roasted garlic (discarding the paper skin)
  • Mix in parmesan cheese
  • Fold in bacon
  • Set aside and keep warm

Part 3 – The Insides

  • Finely chop the onion, carrots, (optional) bell peppers, and (optional) mushrooms
  • Using the reserved bacon grease, soften the onion, carrots, and bell peppers over medium heat
  • Add minced/pressed garlic and a splash of cooking oil, then cook until fragrant (30-60 sec)
  • Add meat of choice and cook thoroughly
  • If using mushrooms, mix them in and cook briefly
  • Mix in the flour and allow to thicken
  • Mix in wine and broth and allow to thicken
  • Mix in Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper
  • Add spinach and mix until wilted
  • Remove from heat

Part 4 – Finishing the Dish

  • Add Part 3 contents to an oven-safe dish
  • Top with mashed potatoes, ensuring complete coverage
  • Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes
  • Broil to crisp the top for 1-3 minutes
  • Top with garnish and allow to rest for a short time (approx 5 minutes)
  • Serve and enjoy

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Cenandi is a collection of recipes and culinary concoctions. Cooking is a dual expression of art and science, and I like making good meals and tasty treats for the people in my life.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #269: Face the Raven

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
(1 episode, s09e10, 2015)

Timestamp 269 Face the Raven

Doctor Clara has consequences.

The Doctor and Clara return from an amazing adventure when they get a phone call from Rigsy. He has found a mysterious tattoo on his neck and it’s counting down. The travelers arrive at his home and meet his fiancée and his newborn daughter. Rigsy doesn’t remember getting the tattoo and he’s lost the last day or so due to a dose of Retcon. When the Doctor scans him, he discovers that Rigsy has been in contact with aliens.

He’ll also die when the countdown reaches zero.

Rigsy demands that the Doctor do what he does best, so the Doctor decides to save the man. He takes the TARDIS to the heart of London and uses the Great British Library’s maps to find the alien enclave. When that doesn’t turn up anything, he takes the TARDIS into the sky to scan the city with the sonic sunglasses. The spots where Clara’s eyes couldn’t focus indicate a perception filter or misdirection circuit hiding the “trap street”.

The team works together to locate the enclave. When the TARDIS finishes the analysis of Rigsy’s phone, he remembers what happened the night before. He found a dead body and several alien witnesses. They discover the enclave’s entrance and go inside, but are soon trapped. They discover that this is a refugee camp headed by Lady Me. The former Ashildr is also in charge of the quantum shade that has infected Rigsy, effectively a death sentence for a crime that Rigsy supposedly committed.

Me places Clara under her personal protection as she takes the team deeper into the street. The camp is teeming with aliens who believe Rigsy is a murderer. Me tells the Doctor that many of his enemies are also on the street, making it the most dangerous place in the universe. The misdirection circuit is driven by glowing worm-like creatures in the streetlamps. Me has also ordered the street to be a violence-free sanctuary.

Rigsy has been convicted of the murder of Anah, a two-faced Janus woman. While the community believes Rigsy to be guilty, the Doctor and Clara know that he was lured to the scene. Their discussion is interrupted by a man who stole medical rations, and even though his actions were noble, Me still considers him to be guilty. The man’s timer expires and he is executed by the quantum shade which takes the form of a raven and can find its target at any place and time.

Me does have the power to rescind the sentence. She tells the Doctor that he needs to convince the refugees that Rigsy is innocent. Clara also discovers that the victim can give the sentence to someone else as long as they consent. Since Clara is under Me’s personal protection, she assumes that she can avoid the raven, so she offers to take Rigsy’s burden.

Clara and the Doctor canvas the street and discover that Rigsy tried to call the Doctor when he realized that he was in the enclave. The Doctor believes that Me was trying to lure him to the trap street. Clara interviews Anahson, the daughter of Anah who has been posing as a boy to shield her ability to see the past and future in someone. Using her ability, she tells them that Me concocted a mystery to bring the Doctor to the enclave.

The Doctor notes that Anah’s body is being kept in a stasis chamber. Even more important, Anah is still alive. The stasis chamber is locked by the TARDIS key, but when the Doctor attempts to unlock the chamber, his wrist is ensnared by a teleportation bracelet. Me enters the room and confesses that her task was to deliver the Doctor and keep the key so that he couldn’t be tracked. She’s also supposed to take his confession dial.

Things get really complicated when Me tries to remove the quantum shade from Rigsy. Since it was transferred to Clara, the terms of the contract between Me and the quantum shade were changed. Clara’s fate cannot be altered by the Doctor, but he threatens to destroy the refugee camp if Me doesn’t fix it.

Clara begs him to stop and takes responsibility for her decision. She wants their last moment to be a kind one. She realizes that she’s been taking reckless risks since Danny Pink died, and while the Doctor expresses guilt over her fate, Clara tells him that she needs to face her own fate. She makes the Doctor promise that he’ll face what comes next as a doctor instead of a warrior. He needs to heal himself, not insult her memory, and not take revenge for her death.

With a hug and a goodbye, she walks into the street and faces the raven. After Clara’s body collapses to the ground, the Doctor is teleported away to points unknown as Me expresses her sorrow and apologizes to the Time Lord.

Later on, Rigsy puts the final touches on his latest work. The abandoned TARDIS now stands as a memorial to Clara Oswald.


The Doctor lost. These types of stories don’t happen often, but they do make up a significant chunk of the franchise’s history and often have a strong emotional message behind them. This time around, Clara saved Rigsy but the Doctor lost Clara because his companion tried to become him. Her recklessness has been building since Danny Pink was killed, and while I’m glad that her behavior has had consequences, it further cements my opinion that she should have permanently left the TARDIS in Last Christmas.

The Doctor has some consequences as well. He didn’t see Clara’s descent into risky behavior because he relied on her to show a human face to those around him. He also was responsible for the birth of Me from the resurrection of Ashildr. He has as much blame as anyone for Clara’s death.

All of that said, the concepts of a trap street and the actual trapping of the Doctor were pretty neat to see. The conflict with the Doctor not being the smartest person in the room was tense and driving. I enjoyed seeing all the pieces come together even if it meant watching everyone lose in the end.

On the design side, that burgundy Crombie coat looks amazing. I’m also a huge fan of the Back to the Future/Star Wars Easter egg where a flux capacitor poster contains the word “Delorean” in the Aurebesh script. Someone really had fun with that.

I also got a nice kick out of the “Remember 82” moment. What does it mean? Well, Clara is the first ongoing, long-term companion to permanently die on screen since Adric’s planet quaking demise in Earthshock, which was first broadcast in 1982. And, yes, I hear you saying already that the Ponds died in their final appearance, but they died off-screen and in the relative past. Adric was the last companion before now to die on screen while traveling with the Doctor.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Heaven Sent and Doctor Who: Hell Bent

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Theater Nerds

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Theater Nerds
November 21, 2022

Now, for something completely different, let’s talk about the performing arts. This week, I’m thinking about the Venn diagram between theater and pop culture, courtesy of the Theater and Musical Lovers YouTube Channel.

The channel and its associated Facebook group were established as an unofficial gathering of Dragon Con attendees who love theater, musicals, and the performing arts. Their goal is to create a community of fellow thespians and fans at the convention.

On November 18th, the community’s leaders Gary Mitchel and Sarah Rose were joined by Sue Kisenwether (@spaltor on Twitter, Women at Warp), Kelly (@broadwaykelly on Twitter), and Courtney Bliss (website) to chat about why theater is definitely a part of nerd and pop culture.

Note: Depending on security settings, you may have to click through below to see the video directly on YouTube. You should definitely subscribe to their channel for more updates.


The Theater and Musical Lovers Group will be hosting more of these panels. If you’re interested in participating or have some topic ideas in mind, head over to the group on Facebook and drop them a line

You can find Gary and Sarah on the socials: On Twitter, they are Gary_Mitchel, SarahRose_KPK, and Daisuki_Suu; on Instagram, they are Gary_Mitchel and Daisuki_Suu; and Gary’s horror-themed podcast that he hosts with Erin McGourn is A Podcask of Amontillado. Of course, the Theater & Musical Lovers channel can be found on YouTube.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #268: Sleep No More

Doctor Who: Sleep No More
(1 episode, s09e09, 2015)

Timestamp 268 Sleep No More

“You must not watch this.”

Professor Gagan Rassmussen introduces a video that he has assembled that details strange goings-on aboard the Le Verrier space station. What follows is a found footage-style episode with a unique title sequence.

We first meet Chopra, a soldier who is upset at deadly killing machine-cum-lovesick puppy Grunt 474. Next are commander  Nagata and soldier Deep-Ando, both of whom mock Chopra for abstaining from the sleep aid Morpheus. They are the rescue crew who came to find Rassmussen. The professor warns that they will all die horribly. Don’t get too attached.

The station is empty with the exception of the Doctor and Clara. The soldiers confront the travelers, who pose as stress engineers, then brief them on the mission. Nagata takes them under her command as they continue to investigate. The Doctor assesses that they are in the thirty-eighth century, a time after India and Japan were merged during a great catastrophe.

Chopra and Grunt 474 have an altercation and Clara learns that the grunts are disposable clones. The team encounters hostile creatures that dissolve into piles of sand when they are dispatched. The Doctor, Clara, Nagata, and Chopra take refuge in a lab while Deep-Ando runs down a different hallway. Clara analyzes the Morpheus pods and ends up trapped inside one of them. When the pod opens, Clara emerges with wires connected to her. The Doctor demands an explanation and investigates a different pod with his sonic sunglasses and the team is soon introduced to Rassmussen.

Morpheus was designed to give people the effects of a full night’s sleep in a five-minute burst, primarily motivated by the drive to work all day long. The Doctor and Chopra are not convinced. In fact, the Doctor calls the technology an abomination. He concludes that the monsters are created from sleep dust, the crusty mucus that forms in the corners of your eyes during slumber, which has evolved from the Morpheus technology which Rassmussen has upgraded on the station.

The team continues to investigate the station as they look for Deep-Ando. Meanwhile, Deep-Ando tries to take refuge in a storage room. The computer demands that he sing Mr. Sandman – the 1954 song by The Chordettes used as the Morpheus jingle – and he is killed by the sand creatures. The rest of the team hears him die, but they are soon forced to deal with a different problem as they run from the creatures and fight against failing systems as the station falls toward Neptune. Rassmussen is consumed by a creature as the team escapes. Clara, Nagata, and the Doctor hide in a freezer while Chopra and 474 hide elsewhere.

While a Morpheus pod floats down the passageway with a message that hazardous materials are in transit, Chopra tells 474 that they’ll have to destroy the station to prevent the monsters from escaping. When trapped by a fire, 474 sucker punches Chopra and takes him to safety. The grunt likes Chopra but has sustained fatal injuries from the fire. 474 sacrifices herself to save Chopra.

The Doctor reviews helmet cam footage – Nagata notes that her team doesn’t have such cams – and wonders why Rassmussen was killed by direct assault. When the creatures (which Clara has named Sandmen) knock at the freezer door, they let them inside. Since the Sandmen are blind, they assume that they can quietly sneak by and escape. They head to the engine room next.

Along the way, the Doctor notes that someone is collecting the footage. He also notes that the images are being collected by the dust itself and being fed into the Sandmen. Since Clara was inside a pod, she has been infected and is now transmitting video from her own eyes. The Doctor promises to save her and destroy Morpheus forever.

Chopra assumes that everyone else is dead and returns to the rescue ship. He’s soon consumed by the Sandmen.

In the engine room, the Doctor realizes that the system failures were deliberate. He takes Clara and Nagata to the rescue ship where he finds Rassmussen not dead and willing to let the Sandmen spread amongst humanity. The creatures speak to him but have the mentality of babies. While he enacts his plan, he unleashes a King Sandman against them from the Morpheus pod.

The Doctor plays Mr. Sandman as a distraction so they can escape. Nagata shoots Rassmussen to stop him – an act that annoys Clara – and the Doctor decides that they need alternative transport to Triton so they can destroy the Morpheus project. Unfortunately, the Sandmen are guarding the TARDIS, so the Doctor destroys the grav-shields so the station and the Sandmen will be destroyed as the station crashes.

As the TARDIS dematerializes, we learn that Rassmussen has embedded the secrets of Morpheus in the video. By watching it, we are all infected. Joy.


As far as I’m concerned, the elephant in the room for this story is the format. The found footage genre evolved from the epistolary novel format, which typically tells stories via diary entries or correspondence. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (1928) are prime examples. In cinema, the genre rose from 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust and The Other Side of the Wind by Orson Welles (shot in the early 1970s and released in 2018) but really took off with The Blair Witch Project in 1999. With the Paranormal Activity series (2007-2015, 2021-present), •REC series (2007-2014), Cloverfield (2008), District 9 (2009), Apollo 18 (2011), Chronicle (2012), Europa Report (2013), and so on, the first two decades of the 2000s became immersed in the format. These films are inexpensive to produce and rake in money, making them a huge return on investment for studios. In fact, a reviewer in 2012 noted that the genre had defined the era for horror and science fiction like slasher movies did in the 1980s.

In general, I dislike these types of films. They do the job, and I give them credit for footing the bill for projects that I do like, but they feel shallow and don’t appeal to me for deeper storytelling purposes. From the previous list, Cloverfield and District 9 stand out as two that captured my attention, but I don’t revisit those titles often. It follows that this cinematic genre in Doctor Who presents a huge stumbling block for an otherwise Twilight Zone/Outer Limits kind of story.

It’s obvious that this story pulls from The Ring (2002) – itself a remake of the Japanese film Ring (1998), which was based on the Koji Suzuki novel from 1991 that spawned a ton of similar projects worldwide – which is a story that I really like since it highlights the depravity of humanity, something that the Doctor Who universe does in spades while showing us that there are ways to overcome it.

In fact, this calls back to the classic era stories where the Doctor does not defeat the villain. Victory in this case (and many of the classic serials) was simply to escape and survive.

I don’t have a problem with the monster being the “sleep bugs” in the corner of the eye any more than I have a problem with the mites that perpetually live on human flesh. I have had a healthy appreciation for the microscopic world since the Martian invasion was stopped by the common cold in The War of the Worlds. Granted, mucus monsters are an odd choice, but developing a squickiness for a universal something that we cannot control is a tried-and-true hallmark of horror sci-fi.

So is the depravity of man, especially when one person is willing to sell out the entire human race over a belief. Even if Rassmussen was nothing special in the villain department. He reminded me of the slasher villains that stalked in the shadows and refused to die, but he lacked menace. He just existed as a bad man, mediocre at best.

All of that said, I do have a problem focusing through the found footage film genre. That distraction pulls this experience down for me. I applaud the attempt and experimentation, but it’s not for me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wash my face.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Face the Raven

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.