Today is my birthday! As I’ve been contemplating how old and decrepit I am looking back, I realized there were some pretty great shows in my childhood that I’d love to see get a second chance.
I’m a child of the 80s, so that means a lot of shows with magic, mythology, and the supernatural. I wasn’t technically allowed to watch shows with magic, because certain folk in the 80s believed magic would lead to devil worship (see: raised in a conservative Christian household). It’s funny because mythology had orgies, incest, bestiality, and Zeus being an all around dickbag, but I was allowed to read it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I still watched shows with magic, just not where my parents would know. (Shhhh, don’t tell.)
Now, not all reboots are created equal. As powerful as nostalgia is, failure to update to modern culture and conventions can lead to disastrous attempts at rebuilding a franchise. Not everything ages well. Reboots must be cognizant of the fact that we live in 2016, not 1996. Gay jokes aren’t funny, women are people, and racial diversity ought to be required.
With that in mind, I will propose two different approaches for a reboot. The first is “Minimum Requirements”: the bar to pass, for me, to make a reboot work with modern, shifting cultural values. And also to be cool and worth the effort. The second treatment I’ll call “The Full SJW” since ‘social justice warrior’ is a term I fully embrace for myself. The Full SJW is my ideal reboot. I’d probably never, ever get it for lots of reasons (including lack of marketing, lack of funding, and Hollywood being a cesspool). But a girl can dream right? Besides, today is my birthday. I’m giving myself the gift of zero limitations.
The Original Premise: A trio of sisters are the heirs to a powerful magical lineage that makes them the most powerful witches in history. With the help of their whitelighter they protect innocents and battle evil beings both human and divine. They each have their own magical talents/skills that, when combined, become the ‘Power of Three’ and must learn how to balance their magical destiny with their normal, every day lives.
As only fitting in a show about trios, I have three requirements for a Charmed reboot (which, incidentally, might actually be in the works). First, all three protagonists are black. From a worldbuilding perspective, having women of color as the leads opens up more interesting avenues for the exploration of magical traditions. Instead of an ancestress burned in the Salem Witch trials, their ancestress practiced magic in New Orleans or the Caribbean. Instead of Celtic, Greco-Roman, or otherwise white coded/Eurocentric based symbols and myths, they have African ones. If done with care and sensitivity toward the perception of traditionally African mythology as demonic or evil, it could open up space for exploring and valuing traditions that have been devalued in Western society.
On a thematic level, the show would exist at the intersection of racism and misogyny, both currently and throughout history. It’s a way to explore the persecution and Othering/exotifcation of women of color as well. Have it pull a page from Book 1 Legend of Korra and make the Big Bad of the first season a champion of ‘anti-witch’ propaganda, which, because of them being women of color, stands in for white nationalism. Of course he’d be a warlock himself who intends on stealing all the witches’ powers for himself. Paige, the half sister, could be mixed race, which would bring up a whole other avenue to explore race, religion, and cultural identity.
My second requirement is that at least one of the sisters be LGBT. My preference would be to make Phoebe a lesbian, because then you could have Cole—her primary love interest from the original series, who is a morally grey demon—be a woman as well. The intersection of ‘forbidden romance’ and being LGBT is a perfectly coded way to discuss homophobia, especially if female!Cole is morally gray rather than evil. Having demonic forces more nuanced in general would be a great update for modern storytelling conventions where no one, not even divine beings, are wholly good or wholly evil.
My final requirement is that Leo, their whitelighter, have visible scars or disability from when he died. Let me backtrack to explain that in the Charmed universe, whitelighters are former (read: dead) human beings who are given a second chance to serve as guardian angels/guides for witches. The Halliwell sisters’ whitelighter Leo Wyatt served as a medic during World War II and died in the trenches. I would love to see him have a visible scar or injury even in his whitelighter form. He should be a visible veteran of war, and, if they really wanted to get nuanced, he could still have residual emotional scars or PTSD. He’s not an angel, so it could work and be a great way to discuss human trauma and healing.
I lied. I do actually have one more requirement. Rather than have Prue die, as she did in the third season, have her voluntarily give up her powers to save the world and her sisters. She could then retire to a ‘normal life’. She could even leave the show for a while to create space for Paige to come to her own. That way there’s space to bring her back later. Prue could even be the one to find Paige and send her back to Halliwell manor.
If I’m going all out, I’d make all three of the Halliwell sisters LGBT+. Give me Ace!Prue, bi/pan!Piper, and lesbian!Phoebe please. I’d also make Leo non-binary, which would be an interesting layer to their serving in the military during WWII, especially if they were unable to live as themselves until their death and subsequent role as a whitelighter.
What I like about putting both Piper (who marries Leo) and Phoebe in wlw and non-traditional relationships is that the relationship with a celestial being would function really well for homophobia/gender non-conforming relationships. Like how on Supergirl, General Lane’s conversation with James Olsen about “not being good enough for Lucy” is a cipher for racism.
While I’m at it, I’d make female!Cole an Asian woman and throw in the worldbuilding detail that all celestial beings are bi/pan. Queer divine beings for the win.
Finally, I’d love to see trans!Paige. I honestly thought about making this one of my requirements because I love the idea so much. As much as I hate unnecessarily gendered things (or gendered things in general), magical heritage linked to gender provides a built in avenue to talk about trans persons being their identified gender rather than ‘pretending’ or ‘faking it’. Picture Prue losing her powers and all the bad guys crowing about how there will never be a Power of Three among the Halliwell sisters again. Then, Prue finds trans!Paige and guess what, she has powers because she’s a woman and the TERFS bad guys can suck it.
Fancast Ideas: Imagine Samira Wiley as Prue, Nicole Beharie as Piper, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw or Ambery Riley as Phoebe. If you want to go younger for Piper and Phoebe, there’s Keke Palmer for Piper, and Amandla Stenberg for Phoebe. In my full SJW version, I would love Bingbing Fan or Malese Jow as Cole and Kaitlyn Alexander as Leo.
2: Sabrina the Teenage Witch
The Original Premise: On her 16th birthday, Sabrina discovers that she is a witch and must learn how to use her powers while also navigating the complicated waters of being a teenager. Her 600 year old aunts guide and counsel her in magic and life. They live with Salem, a male witch turned into a snarky cat for trying to take over the world.
Make Sabrina a trans girl. It’s high time we have a trans hero in a youth/teen show. The January issue of National Geographic is a sign that as a society we’re more open to talking about these issues at younger ages (at least I hope so). Now seems the perfect time to fill this gap in youth programming in a fun, campy setting. Like Steven Universe, a rebooted Sabrina the Teenage Witch with a trans protagonist could straddle the line of fun/camp while also being willing to deal with harsh realities in a delicate way.
As with Charmed, magical heritage becomes a way to talk about being a minority, whether racial, LGBT, or disabled, under the guise of something else. Being a teen show, it would make this conversation accessible to younger people.
To further this theme, my second requirement is that either her love interest or her best friend be disabled. However, Sabrina never tries to ‘fix’ her friend/boyfriend with her magic, though she will sometimes use her magic to help get around situations where the disability is not being accommodated (turns stairs to a ramp, for example).
Lastly, I’d move it from Boston, Massachusetts to somewhere in the Southwest like Phoenix or Santa Fe. Her family could have moved from the East Coast because of persecution during the Salem Witch trials and then continued moving west until they found a place where they could practice their religion magic in peace. The Southwest is an underrepresented area of the US in visual media, and there’s space to explore both Latinx culture and that of Native Americans. Her high school better be diverse and at least one of her good friends/love interest ought to be non-white.
I’ll start with the obvious: her ‘aunts’ aren’t both her genetic aunts, they’re a lesbian couple. I mean, that’s not even a hard choice when you have two women who have lived together for centuries. It’s right there for the taking. Make them interracial for even more representation; how about one be Native American and the other Latinx? I’m here for that.
Speaking of Native American, I’d make Sabrina and her family Native American. As with Charmed, if you make the protagonists family non-white, you have a greater opportunity to explore different magical systems, histories, and cultures. I’d much rather not have Harry Potter or Wizards of Waverly Place 2.0. It would also be a way to talk about the persecution of Indigenous Peoples in the history of the US and how that has continued into the modern era.
Fancast Ideas: It would be better to get raw talent for the teenage characters; I’m sure there’s a young trans girl just waiting to be discovered. For the aunts, what about Julia Jones and Charisma Carpenter? As for Salem, if they could get David Tennant to be the voice actor, I might faint
3: Xena,Warrior Princess
The Original Premise: Xena, a powerful warrior, seeks redemption for her past sins by helping the innocent and defending the defenseless. She travels with her best friend Gabrielle, a farm girl turned bard and warrior, and the comic relief, Joxer the Magnificent, a pacifist from a family of warlords. She’s basically a female Hercules.
This is another show that’s in discussion to be rebooted next year, and I already know that my first requirement is going to be canon if it’s made. I follow one of the head writers on Tumblr, and he’s made it clear that Xena and Gabrielle’s romantic relationship will no longer be subtext. That’s right, we’re getting an explicit Xena/Gabrielle love story. The Ur femslash ship is becoming canon! I’m not even sure what else I want from this.
Actually, that’s a lie. There needs to be much more racial diversity, for starters. We need to own up to the fact that our (American) perception of the Mediterranean is very Anglo centric. We may not know the exact racial make up of Ancient Greece, but in ancient writings, they classify themselves as midway between Egypt (most of whom should be black or dark skinned) and the Germanic tribes.
Moreover, Xena travels a lot in her adventures, and there ought to be more consistency in the historicity of the various cultures. I’m fine with a bit of leeway due to it being a fantasy show, but I’d like the various cultures to exist in roughly the same historical period. Why not add more cultural contact outside Greece right from the beginning, too? Ancient Greeks were trading with Africa, Asia, the Levant, Europe, India, and Arabia, any or all of which would be great locations to explore.
In a modern reboot, there’s much more space to play up Xena’s role as a defender of the innocent and marginalized. The current political climate is ripe for a hero who stands up for those oppressed by tyrannical structures and systems. Make it about choices and resistance. Xena’s physical power would function as an analogy for social and economic power, with her using her privilege to help the disenfranchised. She was a feminist icon when she first came out, and there’s even more room for her to be an intersectional feminist icon now. As such, I’d like to see her played by a non-white woman, preferably someone of Middle Eastern or otherwise Mediterranean descent.
I’d like a straight up (heh) butch Xena. No boob cup armor or metal and leather bikini, but instead a culturally appropriate set of armor like you’d see on a male character. Make her muscular and thick bodied, too, while we’re at it.
A Xena built like Serena Williams would be amazing. Give me my butch, lesbian, non-white, ass kicking hero please and thank you.
While we’re at it, make Gabrielle black or biracial. I love the idea of a canon interracial f/f ship on Xena, plus it would provide space to talk about slavery in the ancient world since Xena rescues Gabrielle before she can become a slave. An Asian Joxer (with a name change) would be interesting so long as he was less of an idiot than in the original. Ditch the unrequited love of Gabrielle angle, too, though I hope the reboot does that anyway since Xena/Gabrielle will be canon.
There’s so much room to undermine expectations with the Olympians. Make them all bi/pan of some kind (I love this idea, if you can’t tell), and make it absolutely clear Zeus is a pretty awful father/deity. Hera could be the woman behind the throne who makes Olympus run smoothly. The Wicked + The Divine has proven that changing expected genders of deities generates interesting characters and conversations, so I would lean into that hard. Instead of the typical blonde haired, pink clad female Aphrodite, make them genderqueer and black. Ares could be a woman; Eros, trans. Seriously, you can do anything with them.
Fancast Ideas: If we’re going the full SJW route, Nathalie Immanuel as Gabrielle. If not, I don’t care so much as long as she’s not blonde. I think having a blonde Gabrielle would be too much visual similarity for me with the original, plus I would like to subvert the blonde/brunette f/f ship if I can. For Xena herself? I’m not sure I can think of an existing actress off the top of my head that fits my butch, thick bodied, Mediterranean ideal, but I’m sure there’s someone out there. A new rather than established face might be better anyway.
4: Hercules, The Legendary Journeys
The Original Premise: Son of Zeus and a human woman, Hercules is a half human, half god who roams Ancient Greece saving people. When Hera—Zeus’ wife and queen of the gods—isn’t sending monsters and minions to attack him, Hercules is battling his half brother Ares, the god of war, and defeating other evils. Hercules spends most of his time with traveling companions Iolaus and Salmoneus.
For starters, flip the script from the original and make this the spin off of Xena. Introduce Hercules partway through Xena’s first season and have them part ways at the end. Pulling from the original Greek stories rather than the TV series for it’s plot could set up a really interesting subversion of the 90s male action hero drama. In the Greek myth, Hera drives Hercules mad and his kills his wife and family; as atonement, he must accomplish the 12 labors. Rather than have him actually kill his family, the first season could begin with Hercules waking up and being told he murdered his family in a fit of madness. He has no actual memory of the event, however, or they’re unclear/distorted.
Like the Greek myths, the labors are given to him by Hera as a chance to redeem himself from his crimes. Sounds like the perfect set up to a traditional toxically masculine action drama complete with fridged woman/children and a desire for revenge. Here’s where the subversion comes in. Instead of revenge, he chooses to atone out of his sorrow/grief.
Rather than brood, give him a healing arc like Book 4 Korra (The Legend of Korra), with the help of his friend and moral compass Iolaus. Another subversion occurs when we find out in the climax of season 1 that his family is alive. Hera and Hades had conspired together to hurt him because of Zeus’ infidelity, so Hades had taken his family to the underworld. Have Hercules’s wife work herself free, thereby subverting the fridged woman/damsel in distress trope.
Season 2 could then revolve around Hercules and his wife Megara teaming up together to save their children. Give Hera a redemption arc after she sees how devoted Hercules is to his family and healing and turn Hades into the primary antagonist. Give Hercules a stronger bond with his mother and her heritage throughout, rather than just dealing with daddy issues with Zeus, too. Basically, set it up to be a manpain angst arc but subvert it at every opportunity.
Like Xena, a reboot ought to include a more diverse cast. The two main heroes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys were white and the third, a grossly anti-Semitic caricature. The main antagonist, Ares, is the only vaguely Mediterranean looking main character. Let’s avoid that.
Cut the greedy wheeling-dealing companion entirely and cast someone less Nordic looking for Iolaus. Make Hercules mixed race, and you open up opportunities for conversations about having multiple ethnic and cultural heritages. Hercules’ character is set up for it: he’s half god, half human, so he’s bound to have conflicting emotions about his identity and heritage already. Making him mixed race adds layers to the surface text and gives voice to an underrepresented struggle.
Xena and Hercules exist in the same universe, so the same opportunities exist for diversity of gender presentation and sexual orientation among the Olympians. I’d go even further and make Hercules explicitly bi and Iolaus non-binary. If I were to give Hercules a second traveling companion, rather than the mess of a stereotype Salmoneus, I’d give him a female companion. Make her disabled, but still a great fighter. She’d bring the snark rather than be the emotional center (that’s Iolaus). Basically, I’d want an unabashed Toph Beifong rip-off (I’ve been watching ATLA and LOK a lot recently, if you can’t tell), only older than Heracles and Iolaus. Perhaps middle aged?
There should be zero sexual tension between Hercules and his older female traveling companion. If there must be a romance, I’d make it between Iolus and Hercules. Once he finds his wife, you could even make it a polyamorous relationship, or it could be that from the very beginning of the show.
Fancast Ideas: I don’t know Ricky Whittle’s full genetic heritage, but I would love to see him as Hercules. He has the physique and acting chops to pull it off. Plus, he’s damn gorgeous. Can you imagine Lucy Liu as the female companion? Heaven save me.
5: King Arthur and the Knights of Justice
The Original Premise: King Arthur and his knights have been trapped by Morgana, so Merlin searches the human timeline for replacement knights in order to free them. He finds Arthur King, quarterback of a football team called the Knights. He transports Arthur and his entire team back in time to find the 12 Keys of Truth to defeat Morgana and free King Arthur. It’s equal parts mecha, medieval, and magic, and 100% awesome.
First, instead of a football team, make the Knights a high school girls’ soccer team. It’s a great way to capitalize on the recent success and popularity of the US women’s soccer team. Character designs could even do homage to famous women’s soccer players like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Megan Rapinoe. Have the coach voiced by/designed around Mia Hamm while you’re at it.
A female driven fantasy cartoon show is a great way to showcase varied gender expression, too. The contrast between modern and medieval gender norms allows for the appreciation of characters who express their gender differently and who can all value each other’s differences. Gwenevere and the Knights might have different cultural norms, but they respect each other and learn from each other as the season goes on.
Second, more diversity (I hope you’re sensing a theme). With an ensemble animated show like this, there’s no excuse for having an all or mostly white cast of characters. Steven Universe has set the bar and a reboot of King Arthur and the Knights of Justice ought to waltz right over it. The female characters ought to have different body types and gender expression. The main protagonist could be mixed race or Asian, and at least half of the rest of the soccer team ought to be non-white. Even the historical characters like Merlin, Gwenevere, and Morgana ought to be diverse. We know people of color existed in Medieval Europe and are underrepresented in visual media. This is a fantasy show in any case; there’s literally zero excuse for lack of diversity.
Finally, I’d like to see an updated storyline. “Jealous woman wants to steal power from the men” isn’t going to cut it without some nuance these days. One option would be to make Arthur the real usurper with Morgana simply trying to reclaim her birthright. Another would be to make Merlin the true antagonist of the series. Perhaps Arthur was going to abdicate in favor of Morgana, and Merlin, unwilling to lose his position of power, trapped King Arthur and the knights himself and framed Morgana. The story then becomes that of a man threatened by female power who is willing to maintain his power on the backs of other women (the Knights).
One could bring in the character of Mordred for a second season after the truth about Merlin is discovered and Morgana cleared of all charges. King Arthur and Morgana could fall mysteriously ill after her coronation. Soon afterward, a young man claiming to be Morgana’s son (or daughter) Mordred comes to ‘cure’ her and enthralls all the original knights to their power. Suspicious, Gwenevere summons the Knights of Justice once again to help her defeat Mordred. (I’ve been thinking a lot about this one, okay?).
The captain of the woman’s soccer team who becomes the Arthur replacement is trans. Imagine having Merlin show up looking for an Arthur King (as in the original) and finds himself on the pitch of a girls soccer team. When he asks for Arthur King, a young woman steps up and says, “I go by Riana now.” (Get it? Riana? Like Arthuriana? Shut up. I make great jokes.) Merlin (and everyone else) is super chill about it and her being trans never becomes a ‘thing’ again.
Make at least one of the other characters on the team gender non-conforming or non-binary. With such a wide cast of female characters, I’d want at least one canon wlw couple on the team, as well.
There’s room for all kinds of wlw given how large an ensemble it would be, so go to town. In the original, Gwenevere believes Arthur King is her actual husband for a while, so it could be interesting to have her flirt with Riana a bit.
I’ve thought about having King Arthur die in the second season fighting Mordred, so in a full SJW version, I’d make Gwen bi and have her get together with Riana in the end. Or maybe even Morgana and Riana. Why not? Medieval wlw is clearly an untapped market right now.
Fancast Ideas: Voice appearances by current or retired women’s soccer players anyone? How about Katie McGrath as Morgana?
With all the changes, one could reasonably ask why I would bother pitching a reboot rather than a brand new show. As I mentioned, nostalgia has power. Sequels and reboots tend to do better at the box office (though not always), and two of the shows on my list are already being remade. Remakes tap into a pre-existing audience. If the show was successful first time around, like Xena, there’s likely a reason why, and that can be capitalized on. More than anything, I think all of these shows have meaningful themes and stories to tell that can be updated to be even more powerful for modern audiences even without a complete overhaul like my Full SJW section.
A lot depends on the writing and producing teams. A careful, sensitive team like the one writing Supergirl could handle a lot of these themes and conversations well, but not others who shall not be named. It all depends on who is involved and how good the leadership is at listening to and including diverse voices. At the end of the day, I may not get any of these reboots, or see what I’d like in the shows that are being rebooted. But there’s always fan fiction, right?
What do you think? Are there other supernatural or magical shows you’d like to see rebooted? Or, are there ways you’d do one of these reboots differently? Let me know in the comments! I could storyboard and worldbuild for hours.
Images Courtesy of The CW (formerly The WB), ABC, Universal Television, and Golden Films
Winter Hiatus Blues
Even in December with the broadcast networks hiatus for scripted series starting, and pilot season underway, there’s so much to discuss!
The continuing behind the scenes drama of Les Moonves’ ouster from CBS, ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey stepping down, NBC’s Greenblatt moving on, and FOX setting up for its new leadership once the merger goes through…every big 4 network has a lot to deal with between now and the TCAs in early February. The exec panels will sure be a time… Especially if ratings come up at all.
As of this Tuesday, and as always, I’m talking about scripted ratings: FOX is number 1 with a 1.13 average followed by NBC, ABC, and CBS. CW of course is last with .35. Last month, four of the five networks had six shows at or above their overall average.
Now, ABC has eight shows, the CW has five, and the rest have six.
Across the five networks, only a third of new shows are performing above the average on their network. The Connors (considered a new show), FBI, The Neighborhood, Last Man Standing, New Amsterdam, and Manifest. The highest rated new show on The CW, Legacies hovers right below the network’s average.
Interestingly, across the board, long running shows are still high rating performers (or what’s high now) for the networks. The exception to this is SVU at a tenth below the average.
Their “success” indicates that we probably won’t lose any of the longest running shows anytime soon. Still, the network with the largest average season length (including shows yet to premiere) is FOX at 5.3 followed by CBS at 4.5. Removing the shows already cancelled and predicted as canceled doesn’t make an impact because of The Simpsons‘ whopping thirty seasons! (Unrelated but with the announcement for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DCTV isn’t going anywhere either.)
Of course some of this will shift when the rest of the new slate premieres begin in January. I do not envy the folks in charge of scheduling spring shows, especially as more time slots are lost to winter reality or competition shows.
You can put whatever new show after strong shows and still have a dud in the ratings race.
On The CW, ableist In The Dark has had zero promotion beyond the scheduling announcement that it starts after Supernatural. Their other new show Roswell: New Mexico or Roswell: TVD received the coveted post Flash slot plus actual promo. Except for The 100, their other spring shows already received cancellations, so ratings definitely don’t matter.
FOX only has two newbies to premiere, with The Passage starting after The Resident and Proven Innocent taking the 9PM slot after Cool Kids. I don’t know that people watching an hour of comedy will stick around for a procedural, but anything can happen these days.
ABC on Wednesday revealed that in a vote of confidence (or in hopes to increase viewers or to get Whiskey Cavalier onto the schedule earlier) is moving the last bit of A Million Little Things behind Grey’s leaving current slot holder Station 19 off the schedule until March. Considering AMLT hit a .7 last week… The Fix is the only other newbie to get a spring slot, starting in March in The Good Doctor‘s place. Grand Hotel is now a summer show. ABC what are you doing?!
NBC and CBS have yet to fully unveil their new schedules so more on that in January! However, pilot development is in full swing and reboots (and spin-offs) continue to rule the pack.
Predicting what pilots will make it to series this early is silly, but I do think that a chunk of the reboots in development will definitely make it to air. If they’ll get renewed is another question. Even though this year, only Charmed received a back 9 order (Last Man Standing was ordered with 22 episodes). Last year, all the shows that received fewer than 9 episodes in the fall except for Good Doctor were cancelled. So now in May, that trend continues, or the new trend is that any back order indicates a renewal.
Which is why even though I think it’s silly to bank on so many reboots in development, I know that networks are still going to do it. I won’t list all of the shows in development because there are a lot and many will die by January. The CW has three alone! And NBC already has a series order for Law and Order: Hate Crimes or as my friend calls it, “SVU but grittier” making it the seventh L&O series.
By late January, early February, the big entertainment sites will have lists of all the pilots in contention and then we can really get into the details. Until then, what shows are y’all waiting to see for the first time (or again)?
‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ Cranks the Insanity up to Eleven
It’s that time year of again. The Arrowverse crossover, but the Legends misplaced their invites. While Kara, Barry, and Oliver were getting acquainted with Batwoman and dealing with body switching, the Legends were dealing with their own alternate reality issues. Or should I say the Custodians were dealing with their own issues. Or, should that be the Sirens? Or the Puppets?
Yep, this was one of those kinds of episodes. ‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ didn’t just surpass the insanity of every other episode this season. It multiplied it, as Charlie and Constantine broke the timeline more with each attempt to fix it.
At first, Charlie hits the town on her own, going to Las Vegas to stretch her newly returned powers. Going out as Marilyn Monroe, she runs into a prison buddy, a leprechaun. She barely has the chance to warn him about faulting his powers when Mick, Nate, and Ray strut in dressed like they just walked out of an 80’s action show. Which they did, apparently, as they introduce themselves as the Custodians of the Chronology and we get ‘A-Team’ style opening credits. They kill the leprechaun without hesitation, which is a big clue for Charlie that not everything is right.
She returns to the Waverider with cat-Zari to figure out why the team is suddenly so murder-happy. She transforms into Sara, planning on just ordering them to stop. But it doesn’t work because in this timeline, without help from Constantine, Sara was killed by the unicorn at Woodstock. The team attacks her, recognizing her as a shapeshifter. Charlie makes a quick retreat from the ship, taking cat-Zari along to find John.
He’s being kept imprisoned at the Time Bureau. Because he was the epicentre of the timeline shift, he has memories from both timelines and his brain isn’t keeping up very well. When they find him, John turns Zari back into a human. Only to turn her right back when she’s against his and Charlie’s idea to save Sara instead of fixing their alteration. Charlie breaks John out, with some help from Mona and a very emo Ava. Some of the Lege- Custodians die in their fight out, but everything will be fine once they save Sara. At least that’s what Charlie and John tell themselves.
They travel to Woodstock, blasting the unicorn into rainbow gloop before it can gore anyone. But this time, when they return to their time Nate, Ray, and Mick are the ones with the memorial plaques. Plus, without the guys around, Sara, Ava, and an android?Gideon have formed a Charlie’s Angels style team that assassinates fugitives. Charlie attempts to infiltrate the team as Amaya, but her cover is blown almost instantly. She does learn the boys were killed by the Fairy Godmother. The fairy is also the reason Zari’s a cat.
John and Charlie go to Salem for their next patch job. Charlie transforms into the Fairy Godmother to trick Prudence into releasing the fairy before she can kill the boys. It seems to go off without a hitch until she returns to the jumpship. Good news, Zari is no longer a cat. Bad news, she’s now a puppet.
So is the entire team, as John learns when he boards the Waverider. They aren’t just puppets. They’re puppets that sing their own intro and have a historical figure of the day. Since the Fairy Godmother didn’t kill Mick, he became her new charge. She turned the team into puppets before Mick took her along on a crime spree.
Charlie and John keep trying to Band-Aid the timeline, but each fix ends with someone else dead in the new timeline. Yet, even when they get to a point where no one has died, John’s mind has so many timelines clashing in his mind he collapses from the strain.
He finally agrees with Zari that they need to fix the timeline properly and stop Dez from leaving. When Charlie refuses to help they leave her behind, but she’s not giving up without a fight. She transforms into Ava, heading to the Waverider to clue the team in on the magical ongoings in New Orleans. But there’s something still wrong with this timeline. All the Legends are alive. No one is made of cloth. But they still have a ‘shoot first ask questions never’ policy when it comes the fugitives. Gideon picks up on the three Constantines at that point in time. The team assumes the extras are shapeshifters, sending Mick and Ray to blast them.
Charlie finally realizes it wasn’t just John’s absence from the team that caused the changes. It was her absence. Without her, the Legends don’t learn fugitives aren’t all unicorns with a taste for hearts or Fairy Godmothers that sing about murder.
In New Orleans, this-episode’s-John stops Desmond after last-episode’s-Constantine broke up with him. He tells him he’s sorry for all the pain he’s going to cause him and wipes his memory just before still-in-a-relationship John can return. As Mick and Ray fire on this-episode-John, past-John and Desmond share a kiss which becomes the point from which the timeline fixes itself. Reality is right once again, where the only puppet person is the possessed Professor Stein and the Legends aren’t mythical creature murders. Ava and Mick even heal their rift from the last episode, finding some common ground.
John comes clean to Sara about their misadventure. He even tells her about Neron. Sara promises to help him take down his demon. So all’s well that ends well. Except, there’s no word on what happens to Mona after she met the business of the Kaupe’s claws. Nor is Hank happy the Kaupe escaped, which he learns about in the middle of a golf game with someone… something wearing Desmond’s face.
Was this the strongest’s episode of Legends? Probably not. It sacrificed some substance for the sake of 80’s spoofs and sing-alongs. But that’s not to say this episode wasn’t good. Far from it. The alternate timelines were laugh out loud funny and the Puppets of Tomorrow song is going to be stuck in my head. They were so good I’m willing to overlook characters like Ray, Nate, Sara, and Ava feeling so drastically different in their respective spoof realities. I’ll chalk up to the discrepancies in their characterizations to time being so broken.
It could have easily become frustrating watching John and Charlie patch broke timeline after broken timeline while they ignored the obvious answer. But it never got to that point because every step of the way you knew John was doing this to keep Desmond alive. John Constantine, always the tortured soul, willing to let his mind be torn apart by multiple timelines before he gives up on his love again. It’s a tragedy the timeline being fixed has to come at the cost of Dez’s soul. But maybe it isn’t lost forever.
The scene between John and Desmond pulled at the heartstrings. As did the moment when Charlie finally realized she was the missing the link for the Legends. It’s always a good moment when a Legend finds their place on this mismatched, rag-tag team. It’s hard not to compare this episode to ‘Here I Go Again’, when Zari found her place on the team. Which is a glowing compliment when that episode is one of the best of Legends entire run.
The brief callbacks to the earlier episodes was a nice way to tie off the first half of the season as well. The Unicorn was only eight episodes ago. Yet, monsters, magic, and pure insanity feel like they’re always been a part of Legends of Tomorrow. Well, pure insanity has been a fundamental part of Legends since season two.
It just shows how this series isn’t afraid to shake up its own formula. Thus far it’s worked every time, with each season being better than the last. It’s still early to call season’s four place for certain. Season’s three back half had some heavy ringers, but so far this season is on the right tracks to be the most memorable one yet. They’re sure to come back strong when they return in April.
Only Legends Could
- “You missed calls from Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Kara Zor-El,”
“Sounds like the annual crossover,”
“Yeah, that’s going to be a hard pass,”
This whole exchange is amazing. Easily wins favorite lines of the episode.
- You can tick off Sara Lance’s annual dalliance with death. Sara dying, almost dying, or faking dying should be a running gag at this point, but for some reason, I can never find it funny.
- Everyone just understands cat-Zari. No explanation needed. Much like when Nate understood pig-Ray.
- The CW tradition of bad wigs continues with emo Ava. (Kate Kane, by some miracle, avoided the curse.)
- In the Siren’s reality, Sara’s wielding Mick’s gun and Gideon has Rip’s.
- I want more of DC’s Puppets of Tomorrow.
- There’s a timeline where Nate and Hank die from a Garden Gnome.
- Why yes, Legends did give us the true love’s kiss fixes everything. And yes, it was a kiss for a mlm couple. Legends never ceases to amaze.
- I got a flirty vibe from Charlie and Zari at the end. Time will tell where that goes.
Images courtesy of the CW
The Underwhelming End For Series 11
Series 11 comes to an end with “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”. The title would suggest that this finale is an epic conclusion to a season that—for the most part—has been a breath of fresh air. “Epic” is bad word to describe this episode, though. It’s exciting in its own way, at least the concept is. As just another episode, “The Battle” (as I’ll call it from now on) is fine, perhaps even good at times. As a season finale? Underwhelming, to say the least.
We respond to urgent calls
Let’s look at what the episode was actually about. The Doctor and team receive nine different distress calls, all coming from the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos. What follows is the restoration of Paltraki’s (Mark Addy) memories, the realization that Tim Shaw’s (Samuel Oatley) back, genocide on five counts, some Graham angst, and ultimately the TARDIS saving the day. The big thing here is Tim Shaw, of course, more so than any of the plot points. Series 11 has been very secretive in general and Oatley’s return was meant to be this huge thing the BBC didn’t want to spoil. The irony here is that Tim Shaw’s return was probably the most predictable thing about any series finale in the history of Doctor Who.
But before diving into what Tim Shaw contributed to the finale, let’s talk a bit more about the setup. So we have the nine distress calls, Paltraki mysteriously not remembering anything, the whole thing about the planet messing with people’s heads. This is a suspenseful beginning and it looked like it would set up a real threat, something worthy of a final episode. And then… it falls flat. When Tim Shaw appears, the episode wants you to feel like as if the stakes have been raised. What happened to him since the Doctor defeated him 3,407 years ago? What has he been up to? All kinds of questions that we could think of as the Doctor herself tries to figure it all out. The problem is? I don’t particularly care.
The “revelation” of Tim Shaw comes eight minutes into the episode. Those first eight minutes were setting up something big and then Tim Shaw appears and the tension is gone from that point. It’s not like Chibnall doesn’t try to make you care: Graham’s storyline, if nothing else, should make you feel invested in whatever will happen. If you’re like me, though, then that’s not enough to turn the episode around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Tim Shaw is the only aspect of “The Battle” or that I’m saying he ruined it all. It’s that the episode itself puts so much emphasis on this him without putting the work in to build him up as a real threat.
Tim Shaw? Is that you?
Okay, fine, let’s talk about Tim Shaw himself then. Most of the episode’s tension comes from his return. Graham’s desire for revenge, the Ux’s faith being twisted, Paltraki’s crew, everything. “The Battle” takes it for granted that you fear Tim Shaw as much as everyone else and that you care about tension because of him. Essentially, Chibnall counts on his own episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” as having established this villain as a real threat. Unfortunately for him, that episode didn’t do an amazing job at setting up Tim Shaw, either. Back then, he was an alright monster of the week who caused the fridging of Grace and brought Team TARDIS together. Now that he’s back, the most significant aspect of him is still how he relates to the main characters.
Suppose that he was more impressive in that first episode, that we as an audience actually cared about him being back. “The Battle’s” handling of him would still be disappointing. For all his talk about the greatness of the Stenza and even despite his five goes at genocide (with Earth being the sixth attempt), Tim Shaw doesn’t feel threatening. The camera certainly tries to convey the message, there’s nothing wrong Oatley’s acting, either. You don’t even have time to process the weight of his threat, really. I’d need to rewatch both that first episode and this one, but right now I feel like the problem is with the pacing and how the Doctor views him.
Remember, Tim Shaw’s relevance lies in how he relates to Team TARDIS. He’s a villain because he killed people in Sheffield, most importantly causing the death of Grace, and he’s the catalyst for the team coming together. Yaz and Ryan barely react to him, with the exception of Ryan helping Graham take him down. That leaves the Doctor and Graham, it’s up to them to make us care about Tim Shaw being back. I’ll get back to Graham, but how does the Doctor react? She’s annoyed by him. Even when she realizes the genocide and the massive scale of his actions, she’s more annoyed than anything.
Part of it is just how the Thirteenth Doctor is as a character. She doesn’t go full Oncoming Storm on him or gives an epic speech as other Doctor’s might have done. She refuses to take him seriously and therefore takes away his power. And this is a refreshing and good trait for the Doctor to have in general, but maybe, in this case, we could have used something else. The Doctor is still appalled by Tim Shaw’s actions and sure, there is at least some weight to the possibility of Earth being miniaturised and kept as a trophy. But the Doctor’s mostly annoyed with Tim Shaw and frankly, so am I.
“Every action has consequences.”
“And these are yours, Doctor.”
So, Tim Shaw failed to make me invested in what was happening. Even Earth being targeted feels empty. Okay, Yaz is understandably worried about her planet and as is the Doctor. But do we really care about the Earth of the 55th century? And Yaz sacrificing her neural balancer if that means saving Earth is all nice and good, but nothing bar a mild headache happens to her and the Doctor as a result. Hard to get a sense of the stakes, despite the Doctor’s rambling, if nothing really happens to anyone. Okay, okay, the five planets that Tim Shaw already got to. The battlefield on the planet. Paltraki’s crew member dying. “The Battle” sure does want me to care about all this but it doesn’t do an awful lot to achieve that.
Tim Shaw wants the Doctor to face the consequences of her actions and so he targets Earth. It’s a good concept on paper, and the above exchange between the Doctor and Tim Shaw could have gone done as one of the more interesting ones in Doctor Who history. I don’t want to blame Tim Shaw’s character for everything so here’s another way in which this falls flat: it’s empty words, no matter who says it. There are no consequences for the Doctor’s actions, and arguably that’s because Tim Shaw barely had anything to blame on the Doctor.
The Doctor’s action, in this case, was to send Tim Shaw back. He ended up on Ranskoor Av Kolos instead and there’s an argument to be made that, as a consequence, the five genocides and atrocities committed are all her fault. In this case, the Doctor’s real mistake was to let Tim Shaw live. This is never discussed, it’s just taken for granted that the Doctor stopped him once and has to do so again. In the end, it’s Graham and Ryan who seal him away and the Doctor herself doesn’t seem too worried that Tim Shaw might rise and kill again.
What’s the consequence here? The Doctor doesn’t let Tim Shaw get to her head and doesn’t take on the guilt of all those deaths. That in itself is actually a brilliant way of showing how far the Doctor has come since the Time War and how Thirteen is willing to let that all go. Or could have been, if even the possibility of the Doctor internalizing this was brought up.
It’s not that genocide and war can’t be bad without it having a direct effect on the main cast. Yes, Tim Shaw is undoubtedly bad and what happened with the Ux and the planet is sad. The problem is that there could have been a personal side to the story, but without the Doctor’s reflections or any other consequences regarding the companions, we just have this. Yes, it’s bad and sad but it lacks any nuance or complexity beyond that. And even the fact that it’s bad and sad doesn’t have time to sink in because the episode is desperate to get to the conclusion by the time we find out about this.
The better man
But wait, there is one main character who reacts to Tim Shaw beyond the initial shock or annoyance. Graham, fresh off seeing Grace again in “It Takes You Away”, is out to avenge the death of his wife. The Doctor’s immediate reaction is to send Graham back to the TARDIS but he ignores her. The way the dialogue plays out is strange in itself but let’s not get hung up on that. So Graham’s out for blood and the Doctor makes it clear that she won’t stand for that. It’s ultimately not her but Ryan who convinces Graham that Tim Shaw is not worth it, that Grace wouldn’t have wanted that.
This Graham side of “The Battle” is the one I appreciate the most and have the least problems with. Okay, so his change of heart was quite sudden and as was his bloodlust, to be honest, but it works with development that he has with Ryan. I especially appreciated Ryan saying “I love you” and looking like he regretted it immediately. They are allowed to have heartfelt moments but it’s never “cheesy” or cheap. The two take down Tim Shaw together and make him think about Grace and the consequences of his actions.
The lack of a battle on Ranskoor Av Kolos
The thing with Graham’s desire for revenge is that even this storyline would have been so much better if it had more time to progress. That is ultimately the main problem with “The Battle”: time. This is typically a story that would have been a two-parter in any other season and not just because it’s a finale episode. Chibnall’s pacing and his resolutions, in particular, have had problems but in “The Battle” it makes the whole story not work.
Or rather, it still works, it just misses almost every chance it gets to become something more, something spectacular. There isn’t even a battle, as such, even though it’s in the title of the episode. There have probably been many battles on this planet, just not any that Team TARDIS participated in. So what do we have instead? The stopping of Tim Shaw in an underwhelming finale. At the very least, “The Battle” is underwhelming when viewed as a season finale, far more low-key than any other from the 11 series of New Who so far. But that poses an interesting question: do we need season finales to be epic?
This topic warrants its own article but in case we had a short “no” answer, where would that leave us with “The Battle”? Is it a better episode when it’s freed from the pressure of having to be a grandiose conclusion to a whole season filled with various themes and storylines? Well, my short answer would be “slightly”. Yes, it’s slightly better when you take that expectation out of the picture. But it doesn’t change the fact that the episode still thinks too highly of itself and fails to be remarkable in almost every way. At the end of the day, it would still need to be a two-parter to be a better version of itself. Or maybe it would need a different writer altogether, depending on how you view Chibnall.
I’m aware that I’m being harsh with “The Battle”, possibly because of its season finale status. And though I stand by my criticism, let’s point out some of the better parts of this episode. Despite everything I just said I don’t hate this episode or even dislike it too much. It has way too many flaws for me to think it’s “good”, but there are still some highlights.
I haven’t mentioned the Ux much but I think their concept was interesting. Perhaps in another context, the Doctor could have spent more time getting to know them and being amazed by their powers and culture. As I said, the Graham and Ryan scenes were a worthy end for their relationship in series 11 and they are both loveable dorks. Mark Addy’s Paltraki was underused but he was still a welcome addition to the list of guest stars. Yaz had a disappointingly small role but she still managed to have her moments, especially when paired with the Doctor. And I’ll say it one last time this year: Jodie Whittaker is still amazing and does the best she can with the script she’s given.
“And it has to be us, does it?” Graham asks the Doctor at the beginning of “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”. And the answer is no, it didn’t have to be them to answer those distress calls, we would have been fine without this episode. But it’s still more Doctor Who with Thirteen and I still got some joy out of watching the episode, so underwhelming or not, here we have the end of series 11.
Fortunately, there is going to be one more episode before the hiatus until series 12 in 2020. The holiday special will air on New Year’s Day this year and perhaps it will do a better job of concluding this first part of Thirteen’s run. “Resolution” is rumoured to feature an old monster so this could be Chibnall’s first attempt at writing a returning foe (during his own era, anyway). It could be anyone or anything… oh, who are we kidding, it’s gonna be the Daleks.