Why I use Myers-Briggs

Some of my most popular posts on this blog have been my “Typing Doctor Who” posts, where I assign a Myers-Briggs (MBTI) type to a Doctor Who character and show my working. A couple of years ago I was completely absorbed in everything MBTI, and those posts were the product of my obsessive habit of typing everything that moved.

My MBTI mania has abated since then, probably for the better (it’s not wise to place too much stock in any personality theory). However, when you’ve been as immersed as I was in MBTI and its progressive levels of theoretical convolution, you can never really let go of it. MBTI is still very much a tool I use in my day-to-day life, to understand myself and the people around me, and how I relate to those around me.

It’s the kind of theoretical tool that helps you understand, for example, what’s going through your partner’s head when you’re locked in an argument and you’re both frustrated that the other can’t just see things the way you do. You would use MBTI to understand why the people in your office (or class, team, etc.), who annoy you and perplex you and who couldn’t be more different from you, are the way they are.

Personally I use MBTI partly as an amusing train-spotting exercise (“Jack’s an ENFJ, interesting.”, “Ooh, Amy’s an ISFP, haven’t met many of those.”), and partly as a genuine tool to understand what Jack’s being an ENFJ or Amy’s being an ISFP means for how I relate to them, how we can best get along, work together, and avoid misunderstanding and conflict. That is, I use MBTI to improve my relationships with other people. And, partly, I use MBTI to understand myself, my strengths and weaknesses, what it means for me in various facets of my life, and where I need to grow as a person.

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Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers

No one who uses MBTI, though, can ignore the charge that it is nonsense. A quick scan of the Wikipedia page for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will reveal that it has been criticised by some Very Serious People as “unscientific” and a “pseudoscience”, if not outright refuted. It also can’t be ignored that Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, who developed the theory in its modern form, were not qualified psychologists, but more like amateur hobbyists and Carl Jung devotees (who developed the theory in its rudimentary form). Real psychologists don’t take it seriously (I’m hesitant to mention my devotion to MBTI to my friends with psychology qualifications), and its adherents consist mostly of hobbyists on the internet – like me – and corporate HR departments.

The critiques are fair, and should be taken seriously by anyone who wants to place any reliance in the theory. They can be answered to some extent by pointing out that practically all scientific critiques of MBTI refer to the “official” Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test administered by the Myers & Briggs Foundation, which is considered by most adherents of MBTI theory (which would better be described as Jungian typology) who aren’t corporate HR departments as unreliable and based on a butchered and considerably watered-down version of the fuller, far more sophisticated theory. Moreover, scientific opinion even on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® is hardly uniform.

But it’s true enough that MBTI lacks the empirical scientific validation one would need to make use of it with confidence. I’m perfectly conscious of that. Why use it, then? To put it simply, I use it because it works. I find the categories and functions of MBTI to be accurate and useful for describing what I see in other people and making sense of others’ decisions and thought processes. I find that it is a system that helps me understand how people (and fictional characters, no less) work.

The idea of different personality types, variously called in different places “archetypes” or “temperaments”, is nothing new. Katherine Myers and Isabel Briggs-Myers (or Carl Jung, for that matter) didn’t invent the idea of personality types, which has a venerable intellectual pedigree going back to the ancient world. It’s this that makes me think, despite the lack of enthusiasm from the academic community, that there might just be something in the most sophisticated and enduringly popular attempt to explain and systematise personality types yet developed.

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I’m hardly a scientist – I dropped all science subjects after 10th grade (a mistake) – but it wouldn’t surprise me if MBTI is not something that can be tested emprically, and should be better placed in the realm of social science or philosophy than the natural sciences. It seems sensible: in typing people we’re simply putting a name on traits and patterns we observe in ourselves and others. We don’t require the aid of scientific testing to observe that some people are more outgoing than others, or that some people are highly in touch with how they feel about things but have poor powers of dispassionate logical judgment (and vice versa). Or that some people enjoy nothing more than spending hours discussing type theory while others find this unutterably boring and would prefer to go bike riding or photo shooting.

Those differences and those patterns are there. Postnominalled scientists don’t need to tell us that Jess is outgoing and free with her feelings, or that Josh is reserved and cerebral, or Noora an unfocussed free spirit, because our experience tells us that they are. We construct mental archetypes and character traits (“outgoing”, “scattered”, “analytical”, “principled”, etc.) to describe and make sense of personality differences in other people, which in turn inform how we think about and treat different people. Personality types exist because we make them exist, not because they’re biologically inherent in us. MBTI is no more than an attempt to systematise this very human process of assigning constructed archetypes and traits to other people.

There is therefore a fundamental difference between how MBTI and how scientific psychology would treat the subject matter of human personality differences. MBTI is about observing the personality traits and patterns that are there and putting names on them: the “what”. Psychology would explain “why” those traits and patterns are there, and “why” different people have different sets of traits and patterns, the “why” being what is actually going on at a biological level in the brain.

Ultimately, though, MBTI is just a tool. The utility of a tool should be judged by how effectively it helps you do what you’re using it to do. In other words, how well it works. For me, MBTI works for what I’m using it for. It gives me a frame of reference for understanding how the people in my life think and act differently. It helps me empathise with others and improve my relationships. And it helps me understand myself and my own brain. It helps me practise self-awareness and identify areas for growth. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether MBTI is, or is even capable of being, endorsed by peer-reviewed psychologists. I’m using it positively in my life, and that’s enough for me.

How I learned to stop worrying and love Brutalism

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like Brutalist buildings. I think they’re eyesores and blights upon the urban landscape. I would hate to work or learn in a Brutalist building, let alone live in one. I’m actually a frothing architectural reactionary who thinks nothing built after 1930 is worth the (cheap) material it was built from, and that the colonisation of our cities by Brutalist concrete monstrosities, and the accompanying destruction of priceless architectural heritage, was a heinous crime.

I don’t need to give a lecture on the ills of Brutalism, which are plain enough. Not only are Brutalist buildings ugly, they’re designed to be ugly. Or, rather, they’re designed to eschew any and all notions of beauty and aesthetic appeal in favour of pure functionality. Which, really, is the same thing as being designed to be ugly. Beauty is elitist and oppressive, you see, and by rejecting conventional norms of beauty we reject elitist, oppressive bourgeois society. By tearing down the spires and arches and ornate façades from the past and replacing them with featureless concrete blocks, we create a just new society atop the ashes of the oppressive old, where none are beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, gentle or common, great or small; where all are equal, and all the same.

Brutalism, then, is not just ugly, but deliberately anti-beauty. It is designed to reduce the built environment to the lowest common denominator, levelling down the physical world we live in just as we level down the human world itself. Brutalist buildings are also depersonifying in the way egalitarian ideology is: their monumental proportions make the individual feel minute and insignificant, except as one tiny, indistinct cog among millions in an enormous, inhuman social machine. Brutalist buildings, therefore, are erected as physical symbols of the brave new world; visual egalitarianism.

Which is all very well, but such high-minded ideals don’t spare much sympathy for the people who actually have to live and work in these drab concrete eyesores. No one should be surprised by the revelation that the physical world around us affects our mood, our productivity, and even our mental health. Sunlight, warmth, greenery, pretty buildings and other people make us happy. Grey skies and cold, grey surroundings devoid of humanity make us anxious and downcast. Few people like living and working in cold, grey, concrete environments. The proliferation of Brutalist buildings in the 1960s and 1970s was an instance of building for ideology rather than for people.

So much for what’s wrong with Brutalism. And yet—and yet—there’s a small part of me which can’t help but admire Brutalist architecture, in all its cold, nihilistic ugliness. No, I will never think Brutalist buildings are pretty, but no one could deny they’re impressive. Brutalism isn’t supposed to be pretty, but it’s designed to impress and to awe, with its gigantic proportions, its stark, straight lines and geometric shapes, and its overpowering cold, barren greyness. When you approach a Brutalist building, you feel increasingly diminished as the sheer, bleak façade towers over you. When you are inside one, you are awed by the dimensions, which are exaggerated by the ostentatious lack of any feature or ornament whatsoever. Brutalism is an aesthetic experience designed to dominate the senses.

And this is by no means a characteristic unique to Brutalism. Many of the great buildings of the past were also constructed to create an awesome impression. What were the great European cathedrals but edifices and spaces designed to make the believer feel small and supine before the divine majesty of God? What was the feudal lord’s towering castle on the hill but the Brutalist eyesore of its day, designed, in part, to intimidate and awe the oppressed local peasantry? And we don’t think of the Tower of London or St Peter’s Basilica as anything other than priceless artefacts of our historical heritage.

And while Brutalist buildings may not be pretty (in the sense of Instagrammable), if you squint really hard and tilt your head a bit and look at them in just the right light, they do, I’ll admit, have a certain avant garde glamour to them, in a sci-fi, Ayn Randian sort of way. You could compare Brutalism, for example, to Vaporwave (or its forerunner, Surrealism), which is to art what Brutalism is to architecture. No one thinks Vaporwave art is pretty, but, with its faux-nostalgic imagery, hyper-saturated pastels and incongruous Roman busts, it has its own weird, evocative allure that has nothing to do with conventional notions of beauty.

In the same way, Brutalism’s stark shapes, hard lines and bare surfaces exercise the aesthetic sensors of the brain. Not in a pleasing, endorphin-producing way, but it exercises them nonetheless. If sufficiently open and receptive to aesthetic experiences other than the pretty, pleasing kind, people are drawn to the visual impression created by Brutalism in the same way they’re drawn to Vaporwave, or Black Metal music, or skydiving, or very spicy food, or whisky. Our senses and our bodies are not made to enjoy these things, but once we overcome our instinctive repulsion to them, we can enjoy the experience of exciting our senses with things they instinctively reject.

And for my part, at least, it’s also hard not to admire an architectural style propagated so boldly in the service of its guiding philosophy, whatever one might think of that philosophy, over other relevant concerns such as aesthetic appeal and fitness for human habitation. It’s hard not to admire buildings which were, in part, designed as physical symbols of such a bold and ambitious social philosophy. One can appreciate and admire the impressive intellectual edifices crafted by Nietzsche, Marx, Plato, Stirner and Rand despite being justifiably repulsed by those thinkers’ worldviews.

So, on balance, if I could, would I knock down all the Brutalist eyesores that blot our cities? If it meant replacing them with the kinds of beautiful buildings that were themselves invariably demolished to make space for the new concrete horrors in the 1960s and 1970s, then I would. Little satisfies more than putting right an old wrong.

But, let’s face it, they’re not going to be replaced by beautiful Victorian train stations and Georgian pubs, but, if possible, by even blander, less interesting buildings that blend seamlessly into the rest of the featureless, unexciting modern urban landscape. Brutalist buildings, at least, have the decency to be offensive and ugly, if they’re not going to be pretty. I think I would rather a building that is proudly, shamelessly ugly than one that, although it tries to avoid being ugly, still can’t bring itself to be pretty. The former is something to be looked at, to be reviled or admired, depending on your taste. The latter won’t even be looked at, or thought about at all. It’s just there. Brutalism, at least, is not that.

K-drama: my latest guilty pleasure

Hello, it’s been a while. There’s a very good reason for that: in February I started a full-time job. For the last five months I have been putting in forty-two and a half hours a week at a solicitors’ firm and earning an honest living (of sorts). That’s not to say I’ve had no time at all to blog. I just preferred to spend my drastically reduced leisure time variously relaxing with my good friend Netflix or numbing the trauma of becoming a “real adult” with copious volumes of alcohol. ’90s kids get it.

In any case, the other reason for my absence is that a new addiction has taken hold of me: Korean language TV dramas, a.k.a. “K-drama”. And addicting they are. Since I decided, in a fit of mixed boredom and curiosity, a little less than a year ago, to start watching something called Moorim School on Netflix about a K-pop idol who goes to a secret martial arts school, I’ve finished nine K-drama series and am set to soon finish my tenth. My after-work evenings, then, for the last five months, have mostly been spent curled up on my bed with Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo or What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? on my laptop.

I don’t know if watching K-drama is supposed to be a guilty pleasure or not. That’s coming from someone who has more guilty pleasures than is entirely decent. It seems like it should be–it’s lots of maudlin, tropey romance and not much else. I just don’t know if K-drama is sufficiently prominent on the radar of even the average pop culture savvy Western Millennial to warrant any embarrassment over watching it. Although, with the increased, not entirely favourable awareness of K-pop and in particular a certain K-pop idol group with a three-letter acronym for a name, K-drama’s reputation may be about to depreciate by association.

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I’m Not A Robot

No matter. Guilty pleasures are guilty pleasures for a reason. It’s not inaccurate to compare the guilty pleasure of K-drama to the guilty pleasure taken in watching trashy Hollywood chick flicks. The two genres are cut from the same stylistic cloth. There’s a fairytale, fantastical element in both that takes you out of the mundanity of ordinary life and transports you into a live-action fairytale. Not magic and witches (although K-drama is more comfortable with putting fantasy elements in love stories than Hollywood is), but not entirely realistic and over-dramatised love stories worthy of the screen. It’s trashy, sure, and most of it deserves the derision the Hollywood chick flick genre gets, but the best K-drama is well worth the 16-25 hours you’ll spend glued to your laptop screen.

Of the series I’ve watched, I’m Not A Robot and What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? fall into the trashier category—although I’ve been trying to watch better-rated series, and both of these are nonetheless worth the binge. I’m Not A Robot is about a reclusive, socially awkward young corporate director with a severe allergy to human contact, who falls in love with his “female” robot assistant (who is actually a real woman pretending to be a robot to save the blushes of the robot’s creator over the actual robot’s faultiness).

This one is a good example of K-drama’s willingness to entertain weirder, unrealistic story concepts that require you to suspend a lot of disbelief for the story to take you with it. It’s all part of the charm and appeal of K-drama. It’s all part of what makes K-drama the addicting, heartstring-tugging escapism it is. And as I said, a lot of K-drama, unlike its Hollywood stylistic cousin, traverses into actual fantasy. W is about the daughter of a comic book artist who travels into the world of her father’s comics and falls in love with the main character (who is being hunted down by a mysterious, faceless serial killer).

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Reply 1997

That said, my favourite K-drama, Hello! My Twenties (or Age of Youth) is perhaps the realest, least fairytale of the series I’ve watched. It sports all the usual stylistic and aesthetic trappings of K-drama (romance, comedy, coming-of-age themes featuring unreasonably attractive Korean youths), but unlike a lot of K-drama, it doesn’t shy away from grittier, more “real-life” themes. It’s less a fairytale than a K-dramatisation of the lives of real people, with their real problems and concerns. Unlike most K-drama, or even Hollywood, it isn’t afraid to confront the reality that a lot of people don’t get happy endings. Hello! My Twenties is a K-drama that wants to be something more than entertaining but ephemeral fluff—a K-drama that has something to say and lessons to teach, which makes it the best that K-drama can be.

K-drama recommendations:

Hello! My Twenties — the loves and lives of five very different young women in a share house in Seoul.

Reply 1997 — follows the lives of Korean high school students in 1997, set against the backdrop of the advent of the K-pop craze

Reply 1994 — follows the lives of the young residents of a boarding house in Seoul as they fall in love, adjust to a new environment and grow into adults.

Uncontrollably Fond — love story between two separated childhood lovers, now reunited as adults, one a wildly famous K-pop idol, the other a struggling documentary journalist.

My First First Love — the quintessential K-drama. College students, new friends, new love.

Pinocchio — a young boy is adopted by a rural family after unscrupulous journalists destroy his own family. Years later, he becomes an intern at a television studio to vindicate his family.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo — coming-of-age story about young athletes at a sports university, featuring weightlifting “fairy” Kim Bok-joo, who looks far too slight and delicate to lift anything heavier than a shopping bag, but, hey, it’s K-drama.

I’m Not A Robot — top corporate director with severe allergy to human touch obtains a state-of-the-art robot assistant which looks suspiciously like a sexbot. Little does he know his actual robot malfunctioned and the creator’s ex-girlfriend has been posing as his robot assistant the whole time.

W: Two Worlds — love story between a comic book character and the daughter of the comic book’s creator, with serial killers.

What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? — an egotistic, socially awkward young corporate CEO tries to stop his indispensable (and attractive) secretary (who resents him) from quitting, ends up falling in love with her.

What I loved about Canterbury and Dover + travel photos

Some months ago I started a series of posts on my travels around Great Britain and Europe while I was studying as an exchange student in London. I started with Oxford, my first foray out of London—but have since neglected to continue the series. That changes today.

On my second jaunt out of London, I visited the White Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury on a one-day round trip. Again, I made the trip with the two of my new acquaintances who would become my fastest friends for the rest of my time in London. As someone who has done a great deal of both solo travel and travelling with others, I much prefer having company when I travel. I think the experience of travel is invariably made even better and more memorable by sharing it.

Our first stop was the White Cliffs of Dover. It was still early February, the depths of winter, and it was freezing. All the more so because the cliffs, being on the coast, bear the full brunt of the icy sea winds. Pity me, a poor Australian traveller who almost never has to endure temperatures lower than 10°C where I come from. I think my friends got sick of my incessant complaining about the cold after a while, and were sorely tempted to throw me off those cliffs.

The first challenge that faces visitors to the White Cliffs is actually getting down to them. This endeavour requires an arduous trek over mud-strewn country that will leave your shoes caked in wet earth, and the rest of you, too, if you’re unlucky enough to slip over in the very slippery mud. I didn’t slip, unlike some unfortunate members of our party (we came on a student coach trip), but I don’t think my poor Converses ever forgave me for what I put them through that day. It wouldn’t surprise me if many mud-soaked visitors to the cliffs don’t give up and turn back without ever catching a glimpse of them.

The second challenge is actually catching a glimpse of them. It’s not easy finding a good view of something you’re clambering around on top of, no matter how close to the edge you stand. Eventually we managed to find a good vantage point by performing some particularly daring feats of cross-country that, I think, deterred many of the others. Have a look:

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What cliffs, eh? What marvellous cliffs. To use any adjective less superlative than “majestic” in connection with the White Cliffs of Dover, I think, would be to do them an injustice. They really are a sight, once you actually get to see them.

And yes, in that photo above, I am sitting about one metre away from falling to my death. I did it for the ‘gram. Sorry, mum.

Was it worth it? Was it worth drenching every part of me from my knees down in muck and fighting my way through furlongs of hostile countryside? To see some cliffs? Oh yes. But I wonder if I hadn’t had friends to share the experience with, my answer would have been “no”. Wading through mud in the biting cold is certainly less irksome when you’re laughing with equally mud-soaked friends all the way. What might not have been a very enjoyable trip, apart from a glimpse at some—admittedly breathtaking—cliffs, was turned into one of my most memorable experiences from my 6 months’ abroad by the presence of great company.

Next we went to Canterbury, site of the eponymous Tales and charming medieval town par excellence. The rain had really set in by the time we arrived, and our experience of Canterbury was a wet and gloomy Canterbury. “Don’t worry,” a local told us cheerily, “it’s always like this!”

Gloomy and rain-sodden though it was, it was hard not to appreciate the charm of the studiously-preserved medieval town. Cobbled streets, beamed houses and Gothic spires abound in Canterbury. Maybe cobbled streets are a bit passé for Britons and Europeans whose countries have cobbles coming out of their ears—but, for this Australian, walking down Canterbury’s cute old lanes was like walking through Diagon Alley.

Soon we settled down for lunch. Skipping the tourist-infested pub on the high street, we found ourselves in a smaller, more out-of-the-way pub packed with cackling locals. As I watched them drinking and laughing I thought of Anglo-Saxons in their mead hall, and it struck me that, in some ways, not much had changed since Hengist and Horsa had arrived on the shores of Kent, not far from that pub, sixteen hundred years ago. Even my pub lunch of a steak and kidney pie and warm Kentish ale was probably not so different from what those pub-goers’ Saxon ancestors ate and drank all those centuries ago.

After lunch we swung ’round Canterbury Cathedral, seat of England’s top archbishop. Again, the Gothic cathedral and its grounds reminded me, an Australian Millennial whose only reference point is Harry Potter, strongly of Hogwarts. But, to be fair, all centuries-old Gothic cathedrals do. What made this one special was its historical significance as the site of one of the most famous murders in history, that of Thomas Becket. Here you can see me roleplaying the “turbulent priest”, about to be struck down by four of Henry II’s dagger-happy knights, at the very spot it happened:

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Yes, my friends gave me very strange looks when I told them I wanted a picture kneeling on the spot a medieval Archbishop of Canterbury was gruesomely murdered. But what matters is that I got a picture kneeling on the spot a medieval Archbishop of Canterbury was gruesomely murdered.

Don’t worry, I did my penance by buying two postcards sporting Justin Welby’s face—Thomas Becket’s current successor in the See of Canterbury—in the cathedral gift shop on my way out. I got strange looks for that, too.

Thoughts on: Demons of the Punjab

My history teacher in high school once recommended me a book called Montaillou, written by the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. In it, Ladurie examines the lives of the residents of a small Occitan village in the early 14th Century from the records of a local church register. Through examining the lives and beliefs of the villagers of Montaillou, who were broadly adherents of the medieval Christian heresy known as Catharism, Ladurie takes a microscopic look at the much larger historical episode of the Albigensian Crusade, the Catholic Church’s medieval inquisition against the Cathars which resulted in the movement’s all but complete annihilation. For its time it was a novel method of historical analysis, examining events and movements at the sweeping macro level by plunging down to the micro level and looking at what was happening “on the ground”, where the people were.

In what it was trying to do, Demons of the Punjab reminded me a bit of Montaillou. Demons of the Punjab was about what happened when Yas’s grandmother tried to marry a Hindu man at the frenzied height of the Partition of India. But it was also about the Partition of India itself. Prem, a Hindu living on the newly-created Indian-Pakistani border, got himself killed for marrying a Muslim woman. His Muslim widow, Umbreen, fled to England. There were many, many more Prems and Umbreens – up to 2 million people died in the Partition of India, and 14 million were displaced. The point is that the hate-fuelled violence that erupted along the new border wasn’t confined to Yas’s grandmother’s farm in the Punjab – what Partition did to Umbreen’s family is a microcosm of what was happening millions of times over all over that border.

There are surely many ways Doctor Who could tell a story about the Partition of India, including ways a lot less subtle and gentle than the approach taken in Demons of the Punjab. But I think the Montaillou approach to historical storytelling tends to work much more effectively than the sledgehammer approach of driving the Tardis straight into the thick of the action, given that Doctor Who is a show so focussed on individual human lives. And, as writer Vinay Patel told Radio Times, fifty minutes isn’t enough time to do justice to the full trauma and magnitude of Partition – but, for a look at the microscopic level of the effects of Partition on one family, Demons of the Punjab is a pretty solid effort.

The history teacher who recommended Montaillou to me also taught me about the Partition of India when I was 15. I was fortunate enough to have had a history teacher who thought such historical episodes were worth teaching to Australian schoolchildren – to whom the relevance of such episodes is tenuous at best – simply because they were interesting. I think I was one of the few outside the Indian Subcontinent who actually learned about the Partition of India in school – certainly in Australia, where most of us at school are nourished on a bland and uninteresting historical diet of Australian history, World War I, World War II, and, if we’re lucky, a bit of British history.

No Australian school student has ever enjoyed the experience of learning about Australian history – and the history teacher I’m talking about once told me he thought Australia was the country with the most boring history in the world. Being taught by this teacher about Ancient Rome, the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Albigensian Crusade and, yes, the Partition of India, made me a much keener student of history than did learning about Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Australia in 1966 (no offence, LBJ). Which is why I think it’s a good thing that Doctor Who is taking up the mantle of teaching the interesting and important history those in the audience who never had the fortune of being taught by Mr McRoberts never learned in school, but who instead had to endure soporific lessons about Australian foreign policy in the 1930s.

Anyway – could you tell that this episode was the first of Series 11 written by someone other than Chris Chibnall? It feels different to what we’ve been watching for the past few weeks, which, as I’ve been complaining, has felt, somewhat disappointingly, much like the same show Steven Moffat produced for the previous eight years. It seems like it took a debutant Doctor Who writer to do what the showrunner wouldn’t and make a Doctor Who that feels distinctly different. It’s not a radical shakeup, but the pacing, the plotting, the tone and even the dialogue makes this feel like a different kind of Doctor Who. It feels more earnest, and somehow more human than what we’ve been seeing so far. This, I’m sure, is due to how Vinay Patel sees this as a story about the Partition of India first and a Doctor Who episode second, and this is actually the closest Doctor Who has come to a pure historical since Black Orchid in Peter Davison’s first season: neither the Doctor nor the otherworldly intruders in this episode actually did anything other than passively observe historical events happening, which put those historical events themselves under the spotlight in this episode.

So, the “monsters” in this episode – spooky, terrifying, wraith-like beings called Thijarians – weren’t actually the monsters in this episode. The monsters in this episode were humans, prejudiced and radicalised into committing acts of evil. It’s not the hottest of takes, but there’s no doubt it’s always worth repeating. Because this was the angle the episode decided to take, I wondered if it wasn’t also partly a predictable dig at Brexit, given that it was all about how awful it is to divide people up along ethnic and religious lines and how silly all these divisions between people and imaginary lines on the map are anyway. But, no – perhaps Brexit was floating somewhere in Vinay Patel’s mind when he was writing this script, but it’s clear this is supposed to be a story about the Partition of India long before it’s anything else, by a writer who has clearly wanted to write this story for a long time. Even Remembrance Sunday got a more prominent look in before Brexit, in the form of those Thijarians whose sole mission and purpose in life is to honour the forgotten dead of the universe (which was a nice touch to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Europe, even if you could hardly call this a “Remembrance Day special”).

Yas gets a lot of screentime this week, which I’m hardly going to complain about. And it’s about time, too – she’s been most likeable companion of the bunch (I can see Graham becoming irritating) but also the least developed. What we learn about her isn’t especially staggering – nothing on the level of a broken home or a dead wife: she loves her family and admires her grandmother, which is boring, but it’s also refreshingly wholesome. It’s refreshing to have a companion who’s just normal and healthy and happy and boring, for once. Because even Steven Moffat’s attempt at introducing a boring, “normal” companion somehow still left the fandom asking whether Bill Potts was a regenerated Susan Foreman. Yas is properly boring (which, again, is a good thing), as we learned in this episode. And this is, really, all we needed to see to tick Yas’s “development” box, at least for now.

I think this is the strongest episode of the series yet, overtaking the previous favourite of The Ghost Monument. Like that episode, Demons of the Punjab thrusts in the direction of a very original interpretation of Doctor Who, and a very fresh vision of what this show can be. None of the six episodes we’ve seen of Series 11 so far have been weak, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the scripts that have been the strongest, in my opinion, have been the ones that have done something ambitious and different. Strong but otherwise unambitious scripts like Arachnids in the UK and Rosa, which might have topped the series ratings as late as Series 8, just don’t do it anymore. I’m sorry to keep repeating this point every week (frankly, it’s getting boring on my end, too), but Doctor Who has to do things differently if it wants to survive. Demons of the Punjab, therefore, is an assured step in the right direction.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Tsuranga Conundrum

I haven’t seen Alien. I don’t know what happens in it, either. But lots of people are comparing The Tsuranga Conundrum to Alien, and because I haven’t seen it I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a good thing. From the fact that the comparison is being made, though, I can gather that Alien is probably about an alien that boards a human spacecraft in the 67th or maybe the 42nd or the 93rd Century and wreaks havoc, probably dramatically killing numerous people, while the human crew and passengers frantically try to steer the ship to safety. How did I go? I just looked up the plot on Wikipedia and I’m delighted to report that I’ve got it right – although it was the 22nd Century, not the 93rd.

I could guess the plot of the film everyone is comparing this episode to because it’s not exactly the most complex of storylines – nor particularly the most original. The base-under-siege-by-a-berserk-killer-alien-that’s-going-to-eat-us-all is a staple of the sci-fi genre. Doctor Who has done it a number of times before, in one form or another: there was 42 and The Impossible Planet and Flesh and Stone and Under the Lake and even Midnight. This is nothing new. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. There’s a Doctor Who reviewer I like reading whose benchmark for a good Doctor Who story is basically “something I’ve never seen before”. I’m with this reviewer insofar as I’d prefer to see Doctor Who do new, original things rather than persistently rehashing old ideas, but originality doth not by itself a good Doctor Who make (as Love and Monsters is testament), and unoriginality doth not by itself make bad Doctor Who.

And that’s more or less how I feel about The Tsuranga Conundrum. Not great, but not bad, either. It’s fun. It holds the attention for its 50 minutes’ running time. It’s another worthy addition to the Doctor Who canon. But, no, it doesn’t do anything especially interesting or important. No one’s going to remember The Tsuranga Conundrum or put it in a Top 10 list of anything (or Bottom 10, for that matter). And that’s okay. Not every Doctor Who story has to be Heaven Sent. It’s okay to be The Tsuranga Conundrum. There’s a place for the Tsuranga Conundrums and the Dinosaurs on a Spaceships and the Gridlocks of the Doctor Who canon. I love Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, by the way – I think it’s the best episode of Series 7 (which, to be fair, isn’t really saying much).

As the latest iteration on the base-under-siege genre, it was fine. It wasn’t a stellar exemplar of the genre, but it wasn’t a poor effort, either. I thought the episode was about to dip into an unrelenting downward trajectory when I saw that the alien from which the base was under siege was not the great, carnivorous, many-toothed beastie I thought we were about to see, but a rather cute, squeezable beastlet measuring about 1 foot high called a Pting. He reminded me of a mix between a toad and a Niffler from Harry Potter. Not particularly intimidating, and the sight of the Doctor edging cautiously towards what looked like a cute Japanese plush toy come alive was a bit comical, a bit killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“That’s no ordinary rabbit, that’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!”). Maybe the intern was given the task of designing this one.

But no matter — it did its job. It caused enough havoc and drama (mostly off-screen, it must be said) to make the characters’ impending doom pretty convincing. The best moments of this episode, though, weren’t the mayhem and the action, but the quieter character moments: there was Ryan reflecting, glassy-eyed, about his parents and his childhood to a captivated Yas. There was the Doctor fawning reverently over the antimatter generator, in the most Doctorish little passage I’ve seen from Whittaker yet. There was the Doctor suddenly being hit by Astos’s rebuke that she was being selfish and belligerent and not like the Doctor at all. There was Durkas and Ronan touchingly making up after losing the woman they both loved (insofar as a robot can love…) The character writing has consistently been the best aspect of this series, which should come as no surprise given that Chris Chibnall has already proven his chops as a master character writer (for a citation on this, I will never stop recommending Born and Bred – watch it!). Even the supporting characters have been consistently good, which is still the case this week – even the “synth robot” Ronan, General Eve Cicero’s partner (I guess, kind of like a 67th Century sexbot).

All I’ll say about Jodie Whittaker this week is that she’s getting better and better. She had more good moments in this episode than any yet – it’s just a shame the scripts are getting more and more ordinary. What I’m enjoying seeing from Whittaker, even if her Doctor isn’t dazzling me yet, is that she’s clearly having fun. The first few sequences of the Doctor staggering around on the ship after awakening from being blown to smithereens were great because Whittaker was clearly enjoying herself. It still feels strange to hear other characters address Whittaker as “Doctor”, but there’s no doubt she’s having fun, and when Whittaker is having fun, we’re having fun. And if Whittaker is having fun being the Doctor, she can only get better as time goes on.

Finally, while this episode was by no means bad, something I will take issue with is that we’re now halfway through Series 11 and we’re still being served up average to good-but-not-great scripts. My attitude towards The Tsuranga Conundrum is a good metaphor for the quality of the series so far: not great, but not bad; just fine. We’ve seen nothing so far that has made Series 11 worthwhile or that would make me look back on Series 11 with anything other than indifference. The Ghost Monument looked promising, but it did nothing more than whet the appetite. Series 11 so far hasn’t delivered the promised main course. If anything, it’s actually gone backwards – the last two episodes have been fine in themselves, but have felt the most like the Doctor Who this series is supposed to be getting away from so far. It’s not a great start to what was supposed to be a brave, exciting new era. This series isn’t generating excitement or reeling in couchloads of new viewers. And it matters because we’ve now reached the halfway point for this series. From next week we’re on the home stretch – Series 11 has five more episodes to get its act together.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Arachnids in the UK

Who remembers Kill the Moon? Cast your minds back to the heady days of Series 8, when much of the Doctor Who fanbase was still in shock from Peter Capaldi thundering down the camera as a raw, roughly-hewn Twelfth Doctor. The most memorable thing about that highly polarising episode, plonked right in the middle of Series 8, was that it was billed as an arachnid-riddled tribute to Philip Hinchcliffe, but ended up being more a live-action abortion debate in space which culminated in the Doctor and Clara dramatically breaking up. Although it was hated by many, I actually didn’t mind Kill the Moon, but what I was disappointed about was being cheated out of the nightmarish, Hinchcliffe-esque horror story we were promised. The spiders weren’t even that good.

That’s not something that can be said about Arachnids in the UK, although this one, too, indulges in what now appears to be the obligatory share of political commentary. These spiders were horrifying, a fitting tribute to the legacy of Philip Hinchcliffe. I don’t have insider knowledge about how the BBC spends its money, but it’s increasingly clear that the Beeb has flicked a bit more dosh Doctor Who’s way this year, because Series 11 has looked visibly more stunning than the Who we’re used to. Testament to this is how much more realistic and skin-crawlingly horrifying the CGI spiders in this episode were than the last time Doctor Who tried to scare us with eight-legged beasties. Frankly, it says something that the thing I found more unconvincing wasn’t gigantic spiders but the fact that the Doctor, Yasmin and the rest of them didn’t spend the entire episode alternately rooted, petrified, to the spot or running in the opposite direction screaming their heads off.

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It does seem like Chibnall has taken a conscious decision to dial up the creepiness this year. Even more gruesome than the spiders, actually, I thought, was Yas’s neighbour cocooned like an Egyptian mummy in cobwebs in her bed. Super freaky, and straight out of the horror writer’s playbook. In The Woman Who Fell to Earth we had a villain, looking like one of those disgusting characters out the front of ghost rides at funfairs, who plucked teeth from his victims and stuck them into his face as trophies.

This is something I’m totally on board with. Delighting in being scared and horrified is something that unites all ages of Doctor Who viewers, children and grown-ups alike. Adults really just want to be scared like children are. And Mary Whitehouse may have complained sanctimoniously in the seventies that Doctor Who’s monsters would traumatise children, but children love nothing more than being traumatised, as I learned from my encounters with several of them on Hallowe’en this year. I’m still traumatised by The Empty Child, and to this day I can’t look a gas mask in the face without coming over with a bad case of goose bumps, but watching The Empty Child as a frightened 10-year old started off in me an enduring love of Doctor Who and its scary monsters.

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Donald Trump was there, too, in the form of an obnoxious business magnate with high political ambitions called Robertson. Well, he wasn’t really a Donald Trump analogue, even though he was clearly supposed to be. At least, he wasn’t an analogue of the version of Trump we’re told to hate by the people on the telly. Trump is dim, blustering, erratic and bravado-driven, while Robertson was cunning, calculating, cold and ambitious. In other words, Trump is a Gryffindor while Robertson was a Slytherin. I actually think that Donald Trump is much shrewder than people give him credit for, but that’s a discussion for another day. Robertson, played by Chris Noth, was an entertaining presence in the episode nonetheless, even if his role in the episode as a stick to jab at stupid Americans with their guns and their capitalism and their misogyny and their Donald Trump was a bit – and this is the second week in a row I’m using this word – preachy.

By the way, what exactly was the point of the standoff between the Doctor and the American over shooting the spiders? I’m just a little confused about where the Doctor is at now with her opposition to using guns, because in this episode she wouldn’t countenance using guns to kill gigantic spiders that were about to go on a murderous rampage around Sheffield, and in The Ghost Monument she refused to use guns against killer robots. Robots. Has the Doctor’s opposition to using guns turned from something moral to something theological? Are guns now unclean to the Doctor, like pigs are to Jews and Muslims? Because that’s what it looks like.

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And it was never really explained to us when, and why, the Doctor added spiders, and presumably cockroaches and vermin, too, to her list of Living Creatures With Dignity Whose Lives Must Be Protected At All Costs. When it came to the Doctor staring down Robertson over shooting all the spiders, I was kind of on Robertson’s side. So, I suspect, was much of the audience. They’re spiders. I hate them. When I see them in my house I stamp on them – or, rather, spray them with bug spray because I’m too scared to go near them. But, really, I want an answer to this: how far does the Doctor’s principle of protecting life extend, and why?

I was surprised to learn that this was actually the first episode of the series that was filmed, because Whittaker looks more comfortable and fluent in the role than I’ve seen her yet – certainly much more so than in the series opener. It could just be that I’ve got used to watching Whittaker as the Doctor – or maybe I’m slowly coming round to this whole female Doctor business. The sequences in Yas’s apartment, with the Doctor acting endearingly awkward and weird in a normal social situation – very Matt Smith, in other words – were very good. I’m also coming round to the Scooby Gang arrangement this year – no doubt it’s hard writing for four main characters along with a handful of supporting characters each week, but, so far, miraculously, they’re pulling it off.

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On a final note, something that I will mention, but not necessarily criticise, is that this feels more like the Doctor Who of Steven Moffat than the brave new, mature, grown-up Who it briefly looked like we were getting in The Ghost Monument, which still remains, I think, the best episode of this series so far. The latest two episodes have conspicuously retreated back into familiar, comfortable Moffat territory. I say I’m not going to criticise this because they’ve been good episodes – this is a good episode (well, it was fine) – and comparing something to Steven Moffat’s work is by no means itself a criticism, coming from me (one of the few Moffat partisans who looks upon his era with undiluted approval), but weren’t we supposed to be doing something new from now on? Weren’t we supposed to be moving on from Moffat and radically reimagining Doctor Who? I’ve written at length about this theme so I won’t repeat myself yet again here, but I will simply point out that so far my warnings have been vindicated: from the 10.96 million who watched The Woman Who Fell to Earth, viewing figures have fallen to 6.43 million this week, only about a million or so above the average of Series 10. Changing the Doctor’s gender, by itself, is not enough to win back viewers.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Rosa

Last week I criticised The Ghost Monument – otherwise a good episode – for being, at times, patronising. I said, “I’m not opposed to Doctor Who pushing ethical or philosophical lessons, or even trying to appeal to children, but I don’t like feeling like I’m being patronised. Neither, for that matter, do children.” If Doctor Who last week was patronising, this week it was positively unctuous. If last week Doctor Who spoke rather transparently to the kids in the audience, this week it was basically a live-action adaptation of one of those edifying, good-citizen-making children’s storybooks about Inspirational Women Who Changed The World.

And, as they would say in Sheffield, there’s nowt wrong with that. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with Doctor Who pitching itself at children – it is a children’s show, even if I would prefer it to pitch itself at me – but there’s a right and a wrong way of doing it. There’s appealing to children and there’s being patronising. There’s speaking to children in language they understand and that’s meaningful to them, and there’s treating them like idiots. Children aren’t idiots, and they know when they’re being patronised. In entertainment terms, the elementary rule of “show, don’t tell” surely applies even more emphatically when making TV for children.

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This episode, thankfully, gets it right. I’ll admit – I think I would only be able to stomach one of these kinds of scripts per series. Because I’m a grown-up with grown-up tastes in television and I already know very well that racism ain’t it chief – I don’t need it to be preached at me every week. But for this series’ sole allowance of preachy, moralistic, right-on, “being-racist-is-bad” stories, it’s not a bad one. It certainly tackled the subject of racism much more powerfully than Doctor Who, or at least the modern series, has before. Taking us back to 1955 Alabama and showing us the full, incensing ugliness of racist attitudes in the era of segregation is a lot more confronting than the show’s previous limp efforts at showing us that racism is bad. Ryan getting biffed across the face by a pink-faced Southerner for having the temerity to speak to a white woman makes the point a great deal more forcefully than pantomime bad-guy Lord Sutcliffe calling Bill “this creature” in Thin Ice.

This and the other overt, confronting displays of racism in this episode will have the intended effect on the children who watched it, the way “you filthy little Mudblood” did on me when I was at that impressionable young age. And it says something that this episode made me genuinely fear for the safety of the diverse members of the Tardis team in a way I didn’t when it was Martha in Elizabethan England or Bill in Georgian London. And it’s worth pointing out that the way the Doctor and Graham seemed reluctant throughout the episode to directly confront the people’s racist attitudes shows how brave it was for Rosa Parks to do what she did. But it was also clever, if cynical writing: if the Doctor had, as the Doctor normally does, put the racists in their place, the power of what Rosa did at the end of the episode would have been diminished.

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The bad guy of this episode, too, was a thoughtful addition to the theme. I was a little disappointed when I realised that this wasn’t going to be the first pure historical since the Davison era, but Krasko being a time travelling white supremacist from the distant future who’s trying to avert the historical defeat of white supremacism by stopping Rosa Parks from protesting bus segregation is the only sci-fi intrusion that I will accept into what would otherwise be a long-awaited pure historical. Krasko was creepy for how familiar, how normal he was, how this villainous white supremacist could easily be your mate from work. He was creepy for how, it seems, the kind of skin-crawling racial supremacism we thought we left behind in 1955 is still festering in the minds of some in the distant future – and if it’s alive in the distant future, it’s alive today.

If it’s all just a bit on the preachy side, it’s still a great episode. It’s intriguing, there’s lots happening, lots of good dialogue, and the right characters get respectively blasted back to the distant past or honoured with Congressional Medals. I’m still trying to get used to the slower pace of Doctor Who now. I don’t know if it’s that I’m just used to the quicker pace that both Moffat and Davies liked to take things at, or that “slow-burn Doctor Who” is something that takes more practice to get right than Chibnall and his writers have had. Most likely it’s both. But it does feel like the script is struggling, at times, to fill in its running time, given the amount of calm talking and sneaking around they all do that we don’t usually get to see.

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If nothing else, though, the increased running time and the slower pace of episodes gives us more time to spend with the characters, and more time for the characters to spend talking to each other. That’s not a terrible trade-off. I think these companions are already better developed – and better written – than almost any of the modern series companions. Gareth Roberts (who wrote The Lodger, The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp) tweeted something I thought worth repeating: “Oh, and another thing. They all speak like normal people, not in smart-ass sassy writers room-ese.” It’s so true: I love Amy and Clara and Rose, but they look and sound like comic book characters next to Ryan and Graham. I don’t say next to Yasmin, too, because, even though Yasmin seems like a lovely person and a great addition to the Tardis team, unfortunately she hasn’t had very much to say or do yet. I hope that changes in the next few weeks, because she really does look like a promising character.

So my verdict on this one is basically that it’s a very good episode, but it’s the kind of thing I only want in moderation, by which I mean no more than one of these per series. Any more than that and I think I’d go off the whole thing. Let’s get back to some hard sci-fi adventuring next week, please. Oh, and you’ll notice that I didn’t do my weekly update on how the Female Doctor Project is going – that’s because there wasn’t really much to say this week. Jodie Whittaker continues to perform well, and she did some strong work this week, especially when she was facing off against Krasko, but she’s not dazzling me. I haven’t become enraptured by her yet. We’re still in “watch-this-space” territory.

Oh, and it’s brilliant, isn’t it, that we’re back to a misbehaving, capricious Tardis that spits out the Doctor and her companions at completely random places in space and time. This does actually feel very Hartnell era, and the show is all the better for it. Down with obedient Tardises and part-time companions, I say.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: The Ghost Monument

Now this is more like it. I was worried, for a moment, that The Woman Who Fell to Earth was going to set the tone for the rest of the series. It’s not that that episode was rubbish – it was okay, as far as openers go – it’s just that it didn’t do anything especially interesting. It didn’t do anything that made me excited about the direction Doctor Who was being taken. But I needn’t have worried. I’m pleased to say that this week’s episode, The Ghost Monument, has roundly dispelled my fears. This is much, much closer to the Doctor Who I wanted to see this year – which means that it put a lot of clear blue water between itself and the Doctor Who of Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies and steered into exciting and heretofore uncharted expanses.

This is, really, a very different Doctor Who. I’m really happy to be typing those words, because a “really, very different Doctor Who” is what I wanted from Chris Chibnall’s new regime this year, and what Doctor Who itself desperately needed. It’s difficult for long-time fans to appreciate how far the show has come, because although it’s a visible shift from what the show was doing in Series 9 and 10, it isn’t a huge one. But I’d recommend watching something from Series 1 – say, Aliens of London – and The Ghost Monument back-to-back. You can discern how much the show has changed not only by how different it looks, but especially by how different it feels. This is a much more mature and grown-up Doctor Who. The characters are less cartoonish and more layered, the dialogue is more mature, the plotting is more thoughtful; most visibly, everything just looks so much more sumptuous, although budget has a lot to do with that. This feels closer to a show like Firefly than it does to early New Who – there’s a strong grounding in characters and relationships, but the sci-fi is gritty and serious. In a word, this Doctor Who is real to a greater extent than any version of the show has been yet.

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I hoped I wasn’t getting ahead of myself with my excitement over this episode, but my impressions not only stood up but were reinforced by a rewatch. If this is any harbinger of the series ahead, then we’re surely in for an exciting eleventh series, and hopefully a twelfth and thirteenth after that. No doubt, there’s the possibility that this episode isn’t any indication of what lies ahead, but the series goes back to doing whatever it was doing in last week’s underwhelming opener. I really hope that isn’t the case.

The other thing that’s better in this episode is Jodie Whittaker and her Doctor. Last week I wasn’t convinced by a first look at a Thirteenth Doctor that came off as a somewhat cringey David Tennant tribute act. There are still bits of that left here, and it’s still jarring and cringey when she shifts into that mode. But the whole performance has been toned down, and she’s much the better for it. I noticed that Jodie Whittaker seems to be at her best in the role when she’s not trying too hard to play “the Doctor”, but just playing her lines the way she feels they ought to be played. She’s much, much more Doctorly when she’s just playing her natural game rather than trying to ape David Tennant or any other Doctor. She plays “feisty Yorkshirewoman” (which, I’m sure, is how Jodie Whittaker would describe herself) much better than she plays “manic and quirky”, or “David Tennant”.

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That’s the other thing about Whittaker’s Doctor: that she’s the first female Doctor, so there are no precedents she can easily riff off. A female Doctor can’t not be played materially differently from a male Doctor – Whittaker has to forge her own path in this respect. I think she’s going about it the right way: rather than apologising for being a female Doctor and trying to be a male Doctor in women’s clothes, she’s embracing her femininity and making it part of her character. Sure, Whittaker’s Doctor is strong and assertive in the way that the male Doctors have always been, but she’s more emotionally present and open, especially in the way she interacts with her companions, in a way that none of the male Doctors have ever been, but in a way that women generally are but men aren’t. Unless you’re looking for it you might not notice it because Jodie Whittaker is a woman, but this is something very new and different, and very interesting, for the Doctor.

Finally, can we say a word about Chibnall’s superb character writing? I was sceptical when it was first revealed that the Doctor would have an entire Scooby Gang tagging along after her this season, but Chibnall really has excelled himself with the companions so far. Testament to this is that – although I haven’t visited Gallifrey Base yet – I can’t see how any fans could actively dislike any of these companions the way virtually every companion since Rose (bar Wilf) has had their own sizeable contingent of haters. And what’s interesting about at least two of these three companions is that they’re carrying around the emotion of Grace’s death last episode, emotion that, as we’ve seen, is clearly infecting their relationship and is bound to boil over at some point later in the series. That’s a bit more interesting than the Ten-Rose-Mickey love triangle in Series 2. Even the grizzled, battle-hardened side characters in this episode were highly memorable and thoughtfully put together, which should come as no surprise: character writing has always been what Chibnall excels at, as anyone who’s seen Broadchurch and Born and Bred would know.

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If there’s a criticism I’d make of this episode, it’s that the Moral Lesson of the Week (“we’re stronger together”) is laid on just a bit too thick. I think maybe the Doctor scolded Epzo pointedly for his Randian outlook just one too many times, and delivered just one too many syrupy soliloquies about working together. It all felt a bit patronising. Maybe this is Chibnall’s feeble gesture towards the idea that Doctor Who is still for children, in arguably the most grown-up version of Doctor Who yet. I’m not opposed to Doctor Who pushing ethical or philosophical lessons, or even trying to appeal to children, but I don’t like feeling like I’m being patronised. Neither, for that matter, do children.

Oh, and the Tardis looks nice. Not at all what I was expecting, but I suppose I was expecting something a bit more like the Eleventh Doctor’s or the Twelfth Doctor’s Tardis, and I suppose it’s a bit difficult to do that without looking like you’re just riffing off Moffat’s Tardises. I suppose it fits what looks like it’s going to be the tone of this series though: it’s grittier and grungier and more alien. Bring it on.

Rating: 8/10.

I’ve been taking photos with a disposable camera

About three months ago I walked into a stationery store and bought a disposable camera for AUD $17. I’ve been slowly filling up its roll of film over the past three months and, finally, last week, brought it into one of the only film camera stores left in my city for developing. I got the developed photos back yesterday.

It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, led me to want to do this. Apart from the cost ($17 for the camera and another $12 — at the cheapest tariff — for developing), the long delay between pressing the shutter button and seeing the photo I took when I have a much better camera on my smartphone that processes my images instantly, makes it difficult to justify using a disposable film camera in 2018, like it’s still 1996 or something.

I’m not a photographer — I don’t even own a proper camera — but this year I’ve been growing more and more interested in photography. In July I came back from my exchange in London, during which I travelled extensively and took hundreds upon hundreds of photos (with my smartphone). Along the way, I started to become interested not just in capturing beautiful places, but in composing great, shareable images for their own sake, too.

My eye got better. And as my eye got better, my photos got better. And as my eye and my photos got better, I came to appreciate other people’s photography even more. I increasingly filled up my Instagram feed with the photos of talented Insta-photographers — especially talented 35mm film photographers.

Why film, then? It was a particular aesthetic and style of photography that I was drawn to. I like candidness and authenticity in photography. I like looking at images that look like they’ve simply captured a singular moment in time — images that put seemingly mundane, everyday moments in the spotlight and make them extraordinary. I’m less interested in images that look confected and artificial and visibly processed.

I’m speaking as a complete photography noob, but 35mm film just seems to be exquisitely suited to the aesthetic I’m drawn to. To my eyes, at least, it makes images look that much more raw and candid. It might have more to do with the old-timey, nostalgic connotations of the appearance of 35mm film photos than anything inherent in that appearance itself, but there’s no doubt it’s a different aesthetic and creates a different impression. It’s a bit difficult to explain if you’ve never visually compared images taken on film to images taken with a digital camera, but it’s comparable to the difference between an oil painting and a watercolour painting — you can make beautiful art with both, but each will give you a visibly different result.

So, having caught the photography bug from my travel photo-snapping, and having increasingly filled up my Instagram feed with the totally like-worthy shots of amateur film photographers, I decided I wanted to try it out for myself. I wasn’t about to go out and buy an expensive film camera straight away, so I decided I’d dip my toes in with a cheap disposable camera.

Overall, I quite like the results. For the most part the film did its magic and captured the photo I was visualising when I was looking through the tiny plastic viewfinder, although I underestimated how terrible a disposable camera was at taking photos at night — about half my photos were unusable because they’re so dark.

So here, then, are the best of them:

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