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Doctor Who has been around in one form or another since 1963. As a science-fiction series about a time-traveling alien and his blue police box that is bigger on the inside, one would expect the franchise to be swarming with creative and iconic alien races. Like many great sci-fi franchises, a lot of effort and detail tends to go into these creatures’ design, history, and motivations. Sadly, the newest alien menace in the show, The Monks, fails on all counts.

The latest three episodes of the current season have revolved around The Monks, a race of humanoid corpses who want to rule the world — insert an M. Bison “Of course!” meme here. The Monks’ first episode, “Extremis,” is compelling due to the plot twist in which the characters and world in the episode are nothing more than computer simulations, which drives home how powerful The Monks are. The second episode, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” is where things began to fall apart. The audience is left with many questions. Why do The Monks pilot a pyramid?  Is it actually space ship disguised as a pyramid, not unlike how The Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S. is a time/space ship disguised as a blue police box?  What do The Monks actually look like?  Well, the pyramid is just a pyramid, and we are given a veritable non-answer for why they look like rotting corpses. At least The Monks’ mentality of “we can only rule the world if you ask us to save it first” is novel, but all of my goodwill disappeared faster than a Weeping Angel’s victim in the final episode, “The Lie of the Land.” That episode quickly establishes that The Monks rule the world by brainwashing humans to believe The Monks have been humanity’s benevolent protectors since before humans evolved. In other words, The Monks rule through a fascist government that relies on alternative facts, alternative history, and fake news. And no, that’s not my own personal examination: The Doctor flat out states this in the episode. Never have I seen a more blatant and hyperbolic mocking of Donald Trump since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “Agents of HYDRA” arc.

The Monks are nothing but an unsubtle mockery of Donald Trump and his supporters. There is no substance to these creatures — The Monks (not Trump supporters). Audiences aren’t given any explanation for anything about The Monks. Why they look like corpses, why they fly a pyramid, why they shoot lightning from their hands — none of it is ever explained. Sometimes a lack of explanation can work (The Beast from the episodes “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” is a good example), but not so with The Monks, especially since their motivations are never explained. They want to rule the world. Ok, but why? The episode never touches on this crucial point. Think about the first Doctor Who alien/villain that pops into your head. What is its motivations? Odds are you can link motivations to most creatures seen in Doctor Who. Daleks? They want to kill humans because they view all non-Dalek life as a threat. Cybermen? They believe organic life is inferior and that forcibly assimilating humans does them a favor. Weeping Angels? Everyone needs to eat, and that includes eldritch statues. The Monks? Um…because they control a bunch of other worlds? But then why do The Monks control those worlds in the first place? This lack of any true motivation reveals The Monks as little more than an excuse to place someone’s political message in the show.

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Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate The Monks because they’re a political message but because they’re an unsubtle political message. Doctor Who has provided nuanced political messages in the past. The two-parter, “The Zygon Invasion/Inversion,” is an example of a well-done, or at least decent, political message. To quickly sum up, these episodes are a follow-up to “The Day of the Doctor,” wherein numerous Zygons (shapeshifting anthropomorphized octopus tentacles who entered Doctor Who canon in 1975) are left to live on Earth. In “The Zygon Invasion/Inversion,” most of these Zygons want to live peacefully on Earth, but a radicalized few decide to supplant humanity as the dominant species. These radicals forcefully recruit peaceful Zygons by turning humans against them and espousing an “us vs. them” mentality. I had to re-watch the episode twice to determine that the episodes were a message about the Muslim population in the UK. Much like the Zygons, most Muslims want to live peacefully side-by-side with other people, but a few Zygons/Muslims don’t want to give peace a chance and intentionally sabotage relationships so they can recruit others to their cause. These radical Zygons/Muslims do this by tricking non-Zygons/Muslims into believing that all Zygons/Muslims are untrustworthy and bloodthirsty monsters. What really dives the point of the episodes home is that Muslims look like the general population, much like how the shape-shifting Zygons can look like anyone. There is nothing subtle about The Monks, however, especially since The Doctor spells out their campaign of fake news for the audience. Finally, messages against racism are far more timeless (pardon the pun) than messages against Donald Trump.

I would not be surprised if The Monks aren’t the least effective villains in Doctor Who. However, they’re still nothing more than a barely-disguised political message and a reflection on the opinion of Trump in much of the population of the UK, or at the very least the opinion of the guy who wrote The Monks’ final episode.

All you have to do to get my attention is talk about video games, technology, anime, and/or Dungeons & Dragons - also people in spandex fighting rubber suited monsters.

Gaming

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 Sets Dates for the Next Multiplayer Beta

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 is getting closer and closer, and Activision has announced when players will be able to get their hands on the next game. This means that there will be several chances to try it out before it comes out. If you paid a lot, you might be able to play for more than a week at the end of August and beginning of September.

Call of Duty Early Access will run from Friday, August 30th, to Wednesday, September 4th, as announced on its blog. This is two days after the Call of Duty Next showcase, which is set for August 28th. To play, you must have already bought Black Ops 6.

The open beta is the following weekend, and anyone who wants to can join. The fun will start on Friday, September 6th, and end on Monday, September 9th. The full release is set for October 25th of next month on PS5 and PS4.

How excited are you for the next Call of Duty game? Are you going to play Black Ops 6 in either the Early Access or Open Beta versions? Leave a comment below and let us know.

 

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Gaming

Ten million people play The First Descendant in its first week

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The free-to-play shooter The First Descendant has gotten a lot of attention in its first week. The game’s publisher, Nexon, says that 10 million people have already tried it out.

Insider Gaming pointed out that since there is no cost up front, it’s still too early to tell how many of those players will stick around, but it’s still a big number for a new IP. On Steam alone, it peaked at 264,860 concurrents right after launch and has still managed to break 200,000 in the last 24 hours, so it looks like a lot of people are still really into the game.

It was a “mindless and repetitive grind,” and we gave The First Descendant a 3/10 in our review. Of course, that’s just one opinion; other experts have had different ones. Most people, though, say that the game’s annoying free-to-play model is the worst thing about it.

Are you one of the millions of people who played The First Descendant last week? Are you going to come back for more? Leave a comment below and let us know.

 

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Geek Culture

The trailer for Gladiator II looks great, but is any of it true? What Did The Experts Say?

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The trailer for Gladiator II by Ridley Scott is now out, and it looks like it will be the best movie ever. If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably love the new one, which has a lot of big names in it and shows epic duels, scary Colosseum battles, and hints of political intrigue. But, as with all Hollywood historical epics, you might wonder how much of what is shown is based on real events and how much is just made up for fun.

When we had questions, we asked the Bad Ancient team what they thought about the fun, the fantasy, and the facts.

What’s the movie about?
The new Gladiator movie picks up 25 years after the first one. Paul Mescal plays Lucius Verus II, the boy from the original story and Lucilla’s son. The trailer starts with him talking about the deadly duel between Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Maximus Decimus Meridius, a gladiator and fallen general.

It looks like Lucius is living in exile in Numidia, which is in northwest Africa. A few years after this incident, the Roman army captures him and forces him to compete as a gladiator. Lucius wants to overthrow the Roman government and end all forms of slavery, of course.

Later, Lucius fights the made-up General Marcus Acacius (Pedro Pascal), who also seems to have doubts about the Roman Empire’s needless killing. In the trailer, we learn more about characters like Macrinus (Denzel Washington), a power broker who likes gladiators, and Geta and Caracalla, two brother emperors who look cruel and spoiled and are played by Joseph Quinn and Fred Hechinger, respectively.

There are hints of exciting scenes in the trailer, like a gladiator riding a rhino and a fake naval battle in a flooded Colosseum with boats and sharks that eat people. There are also hints of politics and mystery.

A lot of it. It’s fun, but is it really true?

First, what did you think of the trailer?
Dr. Jo Ball (JB), an archaeologist who studies Roman war and conflict: I was really looking forward to seeing the trailer for the new Gladiator II movie, and it did not let me down. It looked like it would be a great visual feast, with hopefully some good history thrown in. I’m especially interested in seeing how Pedro Pascal’s character, Marcus Acacius, fits into the story. From the trailer, he seems to be coming to protest the endless conquests of Rome and the lives it took, and he seems to be getting in trouble for his views. I think this could be an interesting way to connect this to the main gladiator theme.

 

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Alex Sills (AS), a graduate student at the University of Leicester: The sheer spectacle of it looks like it will be even better than the first movie. I can’t wait to see what 24 years of CGI progress can do for a Roman arena. Also, I’m interested to see how the movie handles the fact that the Republic hasn’t been brought back. Maximus gave up his life for that reason in the first movie. Will Lucius finish the job? We know that emperors ruled for hundreds of years, so it’s not likely. However, it will be interesting to see if the political aspect is kept up or dropped in favor of a story about revenge between two people.

This is Dr. Owen Rees (OR), founder and chief editor of Bad Ancient: I love the first Gladiator movie so much that my first thought was, “Why?!?” Why is there a second part? But when I saw the cityscape of Rome on the screen, that reaction went away, and I became interested in what I was seeing. The glory of Rome, the desire for a quiet life away from the center of power, and the idea of “the Republic” are all themes that were introduced in the first movie. I can’t wait to see how they connect these to the second one.

Did anything stand out right away as being right or wrong or not making sense?
JB: Paul Mescal’s Lucius seems to have become a gladiator after being captured during a violent conquest of Numidia in northwest Africa. However, this area had been a part of the Roman world for hundreds of years by the time the movie takes place, and it’s hard to imagine scenes like the ones in the trailer happening during the time of the movie’s setting, when Severus reorganized the region’s government.

Some parts of the dress don’t seem right, like the wristbands that everyone with a sword seems to have to wear! The accents are an interesting mix, but I actually quite like this, as it is a useful reminder that the “Romans” were not a homogenous population but came from an empire that stretched from Britain across Europe, the Near East, and northern Africa—why people would be expected to have the same accents is beyond me (and even if they did, a modern American accent is no less accurate a representation than a classic British one!).

AS: No one is without a top! They didn’t wear anything to protect their torsos because that would have been too easy of a fight. Also, Pedro and Paul should have shields with them, since that’s what gladiators did instead of chest armor. It’s cool that the shield could be used offensively, almost like a second weapon. Having both arms in the fight makes it more interesting. Of course, movie stars shouldn’t have to wear helmets that cover their faces, but these guys should be able to show a lot of chest. I’m sure a lot of people in the theater would also not mind…

Is there something wrong with how the two emperors are portrayed?
Basically, Caracalla and Geta are portrayed in a rather odd way. They seem to fit the stereotypes of Nero and Caligula more than they do the real Severans. Also, they stand out because they are so pale. Both brothers were born in Syria and Libya.

In Roman times, there were a lot of people of color. It’s not fair to make emperors with darker skin look lighter. I’m happy to see Denzel Washington in the cast, though, because his character sounds really interesting.

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OR: They look like a cliché of many “bad emperors” rolled into one. It’s interesting that they chose to cast actors who are so pale these days. But we’ll see how their characters are developed when the movie comes out. You can’t judge it based on a few seconds in an ad!

When it was full of water, did the Colosseum ever host battles on the water?
JB: Yes, naumachiae were popular and spectacular shows put on to entertain the people of Rome on special occasions. They were very expensive and hard to set up. Early Roman emperors put on Naumachiae, but until Nero’s time, they didn’t happen in amphitheaters. Instead, they happened on lakes or in specially built basins. The Colosseum was a special place for naumachiae, and one was even held at its opening in 80 AD, during the reign of Titus the Great. But we don’t know how they filled the arena with water for the battle; it was probably done to the lowest level possible so the ships could float!

But Paul Mescal’s character wouldn’t have fought in Naumachiae. The Romans didn’t use trained (read: expensive) gladiators. Instead, they used prisoners of war and criminals who had been sentenced to death. This suggests that very few, if any, were expected to survive. It’s also important to note that the naumachia of Claudius on the Fucine Lake was the only time that people were heard saying, “We who are about to die salute you.” The gladiators didn’t need to say this.

What if gladiators had fought rhinos or sharks instead?
JB: Roman audiences liked new things in their beast shows, and there weren’t many animals that they wouldn’t put in the arena. In fact, it was a big business to get animals for these kinds of shows, and the more exotic the animals, the better. The animals didn’t even have to be very dangerous; as long as they were different, they were included. Giraffes were shown with “classic” wild animals like lions and bears.

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: Gladiators always fought other gladiators. On the other hand, there were people in the arena who fought animals or hunted them. These people were called devas and bestiarii.

Rhinos were shown off in Rome—that much we know. I think Pompey Magnus was the first person to bring one in. One was brought in so that the emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix in the first movie) could kill it himself in the Colosseum. He did this by shooting it with arrows from a platform, so he was never in any danger.

When it comes to sharks, we’re getting into fantasy land. The Romans got very good at catching and moving all kinds of wild animals, especially from Africa. But they couldn’t catch sharks, bring them to Rome, or put them somewhere safe before the Games. But if they had been able to, they would have thought it would have been awesome, so maybe this is dead guys’ movie wish fulfillment.

OR: There were animals in the arena, but the gladiators who fought were not the same ones. We use the word “gladiator” to describe too few of the people the Romans had in the arena.

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