Friday, November 23, 2063


You might not want to read on unless you:
A)  Have seen the most recent episode of Doctor Who (as of its UK airdate!)
B) Want to know about rumors and theories of what's coming up in future episodes


Which you may find inappropriate for children, if you buy into the antiquated Victorian idea that vulgar language is harmful for children.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Nightmare Child: An Overanalysis of "Listen"

I was a very frightened child, which should not be surprising to anyone who has spent any amount of time with me.  I can't say that I ever had a dream of a hand reaching out from under the bed to grab my foot.  I had a lot of other weird ones, though.  One was that there was a duck that would walk into my room every night and do a lap around the room, and as unfrightening as that sounds, it scared the bejeesus out of me that somehow it got in there every single night.  The other involved the villain from the Care Bears showing up in my window every single night to scare the shit out of me.  I had a night light for so long, that it was eventually just determined that it would be easier to install a dimmer switch in my room.  I remember sometimes I would sit up in bed and think that I couldn't wait until, some day, when I was a grown up, I would completely lose that fear of the dark and not be scared even a little bit.  I'm 30 now, and I'm still waiting for that day to come.  Apparently, even 2,000 year old men are still waiting.

What this episode was was a radically new idea of how to tell a Doctor Who story.  This wasn't the story of the Doctor meeting a megalomaniacal foe and stopping them from destroying the Universe.  This felt something more like a horror film, but not a traditional horror film.  It brought to mind a more cerebral, artistic horror film in the vein of The Sixth Sense (honestly, I'm racking my brain for an example that doesn't give so much credit to M. Night Shaymalan, but we all do know his first film was actually very good).  Instead of following a linear story with a basic good-guy and bad-guy, the Doctor searches time and space in search of the literal boogeyman, as the episode waxes philosophic about the very nature of fear itself.

I've seen at least one person on Facebook complain about the typical Moffat theme of "something in the corner of your eye."  It's true that we have seen similar ideas before, but that's what writers do.  Some writers have favorite themes.  Ever seen a Tim Burton movie?  Then you've seen all of Tim Burton's shitty movies.  Have you ever read a John Irving novel?  I love John Irving, but I'll be the first to admit that he reuses the same themes, settings, and even the same characters obviously passed off under different names.  Moffat is pulling out some of his favorite themes that he touched on in "The Girl in the Fireplace" (the creature under the bed), "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" (fear of the dark), "Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" (fear makes you stronger), and perhaps my favorite episode of all time, "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon" (a creature always in the corner of your eye, responsible for the creakings that go on in your house at night).  Moffat is guilty as charged, and I admit that I criticized "Into the Dalek" for rehashing old themes, but when handled as expertly and intelligently as "Listen," I'm more than willing to forgive Moffat for reusing some themes.  Although, I have to admit, when I saw the opening scene with the Doctor going off about a creature with "perfect hiding" who can always be in a room without you realizing, I thought for a moment that we might see my favorite villain, the Silence, again, but alas it was not to be.

Or was it?

I heard a few people suggest that the monster, if there was one, was a Silent.  Both my girlfriend and a friend of mine from Mile High Who said that, when the monster took the blanket off of its head, it had a "bulbous" head that looked like a Silent.  I thought I remembered that scene having an actually quite clear shot of the monster's head, and I thought it looked more like a Sontaran than anything.  It was one of my favorite moments, because it felt so creepy to see that reveal happen so casually and in the background.  It made me think of that scene in the beginning of Signs (honestly, I'm not a Shaymalan fan) where we first saw the aliens walking by on grainy video.  Such a casual shot of something so unusual is just so shocking that, when I saw it in this episode, I remembered it being way more prominent than it really was.  So, I went back and looked for the shot of the monster, and it's far less clear than I remembered it being.  But, you will notice something:

I don't know what you think, but that looks to me like a Sontaran!  The head is more squished down than the elongated head of the Silence.  Also, it's somehow shorter than Clara, which means its either a Sontaran or a member of the lollipop guild.

We represent the creepy thing under your bed!  Under your bed!
In fact, I thought this was about to be given away when, in a later scene, the Doctor jumps awake from a dream saying "Sontarans perverting the course of human history!"  A moment later, the outburst is forgotten, chalked up to the Doctor thinking he was still in a dream.  But it does seem an odd coincidence.  I'm kind of hoping it stays a coincidence, because I don't want to know whether there was a monster or not.  Although the scene with the creature in the blanket did seem to show some sort of alien that might be a Silent or a Sontaran, there's still so much ambiguity in this, and that was clearly meant to be the point.  I'd like that to stay the point.

The Doctor and Clara's chemistry just keeps getting better and better.  I feel like I called that one, that the biggest problem with 11 and Clara was that the plot was set up for them to not be able to trust each other, which is a natural impediment to chemistry.  Capaldi has a much better rapport with her, and I think their first scene interacting together demonstrated that perfectly, where the Doctor rudely barges into Clara's room.  Clara shows her strength again, being able to tell the Doctor to shut up (not something many companions can do), but also being able to be the one who discovers the Doctor's secret fear.

The idea that Clara is the reason the Doctor has the fear of something grabbing him from under the bed in the first place is called a "bootstrap paradox," and I love bootstrap paradoxes because I love to say the phrase "bootstrap paradox."  A bootstrap paradox is when, in time travel fiction, something seems to create itself, or has no clear origin or creator.  The best example I can think of is in Back to the Future, where Marty plays "Johnny Be Good" because he heard Chuck Berry playing it when he was growing up, but somehow Chuck Berry learned it from hearing Marty play, which means that nobody really wrote the song.  Obviously, this would be impossible if time travel were real.  Moffat loves to use bootstrap paradoxes.  The Doctor was essentially rescued from the Pandorica by a bootstrap paradox, and "Blink" is almost entirely one giant bootstrap paradox.  But, while they are seemingly impossible, they're always fun and make for a really exciting reveal in the end.  So no, I'm not faulting Moffat for creating yet another bootstrap paradox.  I really just wrote this paragraph to say the words "bootstrap paradox" over and over again.

In this episode, we get the third variation on the 12th Doctor's outfit in 4 episodes, basically confirming that there isn't really a "12th Doctor outfit" per-se.  That's fine with me.  Some Doctors have more distinct outfits than others.  Sometimes, trying to be too unique and outside the box in designing a Doctor's outfit can backfire:

Why do you always pick on me in this blog?!
The 12th Doctor's main defining costume piece seems to be a suit jacket, and I'm okay with that.  Peter Capaldi pulls off the casual-dress-with-a-suit-jacket look quite well!  I realize that, for a straight man, I'm abnormally preoccupied with the Doctor's appearance.  I think it's because the Doctor is a character I admire and sort of live vicariously through when I watch the show, and so I want that person to be attractive.  Peter Capaldi, when dressed correctly and given a good haircut that doesn't make him look like a frumpy doofus, is quite attractive.  That being said, I couldn't figure out what was going on with the Doctor's shirt.  Even with a 1080p resolution on my big screen TV, I couldn't figure out if the shirt had a pattern on it, or if the Doctor is just the world's messiest eater and just finished off a powdered donut.  It didn't help that the pattern seemed to change based on the lighting in the room.

Speaking of costumes, why do the Time Lords (who I'm presuming are the Doctor's parents) look like 17th century Puritans?  They're millions of years ahead of us in technology, but their fashion style is all Hester Prynne?  "Pray, Goody Clara, thoust dost need to become more learned in the ways of iPlayer."  (Okay, so I don't know how people talked in the 17th century.)

Another thing I have to address is something a friend of mine brought up on Facebook:  The Doctor, in this episode, seems to be picking on Clara's body a little bit.  There are two times the Doctor makes some jokes about her appearance, basically calling her fat--and at one point, very directly calling her fat.  I don't think it would have noticed this if someone hadn't pointed it out on Facebook before I saw the episode.  But it's a fair point.  I'm not saying it would be appropriate if it were more accurate, but I would like to point out that calling Clara fat is like calling me a dwarf.  I fail to understand why Moffat thought that was a good idea.  Not only was it a little offensive to some of the viewers, it was freaking bizarre and unnecessary.

The overarching plot of this season--The "Promised Land"--didn't appear in this episode, but another "arc" of sorts came back around:  Danny Pink.  Honestly, the one frustration I had in this episode was that Clara never explained to the Doctor why they were landing in Danny's timeline rather than hers.  It seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to bring up.  The scenes with Clara and Orson seemed to want to leave a touch of ambiguity as to whether or not Clara and Orson were related, but they failed because there was no ambiguity whatsoever.  Orson is clearly her great grandson, after she someday marries Danny, and there's no way that the plot is going anywhere else.  End of love story.

Some people have suggested that, like "Blink," this is going to be an episode we're going to be talking about for a very long time.  I think that's true.  Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor has more vulnerability than the Doctor has had in a long time, but never lets go of that Doctor swagger that David Tennant and Matt Smith's Doctors truly perfected.  Moffat pulled off another classic here, doing what he does best:  scaring the hell out of children, and many of us adults in the process.  But Moffat understands that his job isn't just to invoke fear, but also to keep us from letting that fear overpower and defeat us.  Usually, this means the Doctor defeating the bad guy.  This time, it was in reminding us that "fear is a superpower," an amazingly important lesson to learn.

I wouldn't want to be Stephen Thompson right now, as he wrote next week's episode, "Time Heist," and I don't think any episode will really be able to follow "Listen."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Occupy Nottingham: An Overanalysis of "Robot of Sherwood"

(Sorry, everyone, no excuse for the late blog this week.  I can't blame it on a bad episode.  It was actually a ton of fun and I loved it.  I've just been lazy this week.  I'll try to work on that for next week...)

I was a big fan of Robin Hood growing up.  I remember one year winning the award for best Halloween costume in my Cub Scout pack for my Robin Hood costume, primarily because everyone else had boring costumes like vampires and Frankenstein monsters.  I fell in love with that little toy bow and arrow that I had for the costume, with all the arrows that had the little red suction cups on the front.  At one point, the children's theater group I was a part of put on a performance of Robin Hood and, short on roles for everyone, I played a made up character, the Deputy of Nottingham, and got half of the Sherrif's lines, but I was still very happy to be in a production of that truly brilliant story.  I remember my mother reading me the Great Illustrated Classics version of Robin Hood and fell in love with a story about a hero who displayed the primary values that my parents taught me:  that people are always more important than money.  Robin Hood continues to permeate our culture, and Robin Hood has been depicted in film and television over 60 times between 1908 and today, including a 1953 TV miniseries with the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton, as the title character (an image of Troughton as Robin Hood appears on the space ship's computer screen in this episode).  The Wachowskis are currently in production to create a modern adaptation of Robin Hood, and if the Wachowskis are making it, it's bound to be another huge, blockbuster hit.  The myth seems to be incapable of dying, even in American culture where you would not expect it to be as popular as it is when you consider one simple fact:  When you stop and think about it, Robin Hood is more than a tale of medieval knights and a band of romantic outlaws, it's a deeply anti-capitalist story.  Robin Hood is, in the end, a socialist folk hero, who believes that human life and dignity should always come before petty gain.

Kind of like the Doctor.

We're men!  We're men in tights!

In a revelation that surprised even me, Gatiss managed to write my favorite Doctor Who episode so far this season, although perhaps because he did something that I might have criticized for being too obvious or easy had he not carried it off in such a charming way: drew attention to the striking and obvious similarities between the Doctor and Robin Hood.  He didn't draw the comparison in all the annoyingly obvious ways he could have, but rather showed how two people very similar would become natural competitors and antagonists towards each other.  Tom Riley put in an excellent performance as Robin Hood, whose swagger matches the Doctor's step for step.  Especially now that the Doctor has his swagger down.

With the first two episodes of the season still showing Peter Capaldi's Doctor finding his new identity, "Robot of Sherwood" was the moment when Capaldi's Doctor confidently and powerfully grabbed the reigns of the role and steered it in a wonderfully fun direction.  Seeing the Doctor and Robin Hood challenge each other as two true equals--at least in their virtues, if not in their intellects--we saw Capaldi pull out some of the Doctor's vain and petty nature, which, far from making him unlikable, reminded us of the loveably and deeply flawed nature of this 2,000+ year old character.  Capaldi's Doctor, in the first two episodes, was brilliantly played, but this was the first time I was reminded of the reason that I love Doctor Who:  the pure confidence the Doctor has in his own intellectual abilities.  In this episode, Capaldi showed that confidence in abundance.

Like any Gatiss episode, it had its flaws, but the bulk of the episode was such a fun romp that, for once, I actually found myself able to overlook all of the flaws.  The ending, where they shoot the golden arrow to stop the ship, is absurdly dumb.  The joke about the guard deciding that Clara must be the leader of the group was worth a few chuckles, but I got the punchline long, long before it came.  And the biggest flaw in it is a logical one, as logic is something that Gatiss's episodes often struggle with:  I never understood why, if the Doctor truly believed that Robin Hood was a fictional character, he even bothered to go looking for him, and Clara didn't just take his word for it that Robin Hood isn't real.  It seems that, in the Doctor Who universe, it is confirmed beyond anyone's doubt that Robin Hood is a fictional story.  Even though that turns out to be untrue, I don't understand how any amount of enthusiasm from Clara would convince either of them to go looking for Robin Hood anyway.  Although, part of the reason that this logical flaw annoyed me so much is that there was a very simple way out of it, had Gatiss just acknowledged the reality of the situation:  that it is actually believed that Robin Hood might have been a real person!

According to Wikipedia (I'm not in grad school anymore, I can use Wikipedia as a source) there are actual many historians who think that the legend of Robin Hood is based on a real person.  There has been a great deal of difficulty in trying to track down who exactly he might have been because Robin Hood (or Robyn Hood, or Robyn Hoode, Robyn Hode, and so on) was actually a surprisingly common name in 13th century England.  Because of that, there are a number of people actually named Robin Hood who may have been the basis for the legend, and a few people who were not named Robin Hood, who may have been using the very common name as an alias, kind of like someone going around in modern times using the alias "John Smith."  (Sound familiar?)  It wouldn't have taken much for someone to point this out in the episode.  Clara is, after all, a teacher, and while I don't think anyone has said what subject she teaches on screen, it seems to be implied that its history due to her obsession with Marcus Arelius.  (On a related note, why do all Moffat-created companions have the hots for ancient Romans?)

Now, the main point of my blog really is not to simply write reviews of every episode, but rather to explain an episode's links to past episodes, and analyze the clues that an episode gives about what's to come.  This episode, actually, gave me little to work with on that front, though.  The only tie in we really have is that these robots, like the last ones we saw this season, were making their way towards "The Promised Land."  However, these robots actually seemed to have a better idea of where they were going.  "The Promised Land," to them, seemed to have been a specific planet.  That lends itself to a lot of other questions, now.  Where exactly is Missy?  Is her heaven just another planet?  If so, how did Gretchen and the Clockwork Droid end up there?  My friend Victor's theory that it's a sort of digital heaven could easily explain this, and even makes more sense in light of this week being about another artificial life form looking for it, but it still raises a lot of questions as to how Gretchen ended up there.

The less generous robots end up being serenaded by Dan Castellaneta
With such a charming performance of Tom Riley as Robin Hood, I'm really hoping that Moffat is gearing up to do something like what he did with "The Pandorica Opens" or "A Good Man Goes to War" where a number of the most interesting characters from past episodes will rejoin the Doctor to help him fight a larger battle.  Robin Hood showing up to help the Doctor again would make for a really fun time.  Robin Hood and the Doctor had such a grudging respect for each other that brought me such joy.  I'd love to see them reunited!

Next week is Moffat's second installment this season.  A lot of Moffat's episodes recently have been about introducing or saying goodbye to characters, or episodes that open or close out a larger plotline in the season.  We haven't seen a lot of regular old Moffat episodes lately, where his focus is just to tell a really interesting story, not to introduce a big turning point in the larger plot arc.  Admittedly, he's probably going to be introducing Danny Pink to the Doctor next week, but the preview still makes me think we might have a really interesting Moffat one-off story.  And, as much as I love his overarcing plots, I'd be happy to see a nice "Blink" or "Silence in the Library" style one-off again!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fantastic Voyage of the Daleks: An Overanalysis of "Into the Dalek"

What goes in after the coyote?
Sorry I'm so late with my overanalysis this week.  The truth is, much like the reason I had trouble keeping up with the blogs I tried to do for Torchwood: Miracle Day, the reason it took me so long to get this blog out was because, frankly, I really didn't like this episode.

Before we get started, I have to get my most Comic Book Guy-esque complaint out of the way.

Worst episode title ever!
Can we get some consistency in our naming of Dalek episodes?  From 1966 to 1988, all Dalek episodes were consistently named "________ of the Daleks" (with the notable exception of 1974's "Death to the Daleks," which is still close enough to be forgiven).  Davies threw out this naming convention (as well as many of the show's other rules) when he revived the show in 2005, with only one episode in the Davies era ("Evolution of the Daleks") maintaining the naming convention.  Moffat, when he took over, gave us the impression that he might permanently return to the convention, as both of the Dalek centric episodes during his tenure used the old title format.  But now we have "Into the Dalek" when there are so many "________ of the Daleks" titles they could have chosen from!  In fact, the phrase "Truth of the Daleks" is uttered a number of times!  Bad form, Moffat.

Okay, are you still with me?  Good, that was a pretty dumb complaint and a pretty good reason to stop reading, I understand, but I'm glad you're still with me.  Okay, moving on.

Why is he shooting a gun at his own ship?  I think he's going to need that.
The episode is an obvious homage to the classic 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage, in which, to save the life of a scientist who could tip the scales of the Cold War, a group of people shrink down to miniature size in a submarine and enter into the scientist's body to try to remove a blood clot from his brain.  I never saw the movie, but in high school (or maybe junior high?) we read the novel by Isaac Asimov.  All these years, I assumed the movie was based on Asimov's novel, but in researching for this blog, I discovered that Asimov's novel was actually that lowest form of all literature:  the novelization of a film.  As distasteful as I find it that the author of the brilliant Foundation series (and the infinitely inferior Robot series) allowed himself to be lowered to the level of creating a film novelization, I was tickled to find that Asimov was very vocal about the gaping scientific inaccuracies int he film, and insisted on correcting them in his novelization.  Due to Asimov being a fast writer, and the film being delayed so much, his novel was actually put out before the movie it was based on.  He wrote a sequel, too, specifically to allow himself to be allowed to take the concept and write something original for it.  So my respect for Asimov remains.

Anyway, again, nerdy aside.  Nevermind.

Fantastic Voyage has been parodied by everything from Futurama, to South Park, to Tiny Toons, and even another Doctor Who story, the 4th Doctor's "The Invisible Enemy" in 1977.  That the show has even done Fantastic Voyage before speaks to what I disliked about this episode:  it's completely well worn territory.  Everything about this episode wants us to believe that it's treading into something that the show has never explored before, and it's not true at all.

The Doctor claims to "learn" in this episode that a good Dalek is possible.  If that's so, he has a very short memory.  The first time Daleks started to develop some sort of positive emotions was in the 1967 Second Doctor story, "The Evil of the Daleks," where the Daleks asked the Doctor to help them develop a "human factor," the set of human characteristics that have been leading to so many Dalek defeats.  He helps them do so, and they begin to question their orders from their Dalek commanders, and begin to be somewhat good, although, being brand new to having emotions causes them to act like children, which I always thought seemed realistic.  And don't forget, the 10th Doctor's "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks" saw Dalek Sec merging with human DNA to become a Dalek with a conscience.  Want an example of a Dalek that didn't merge with human DNA?  How about Dalek Caan in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" who came to realize the evil of he Daleks and manipulated the timelines to bring their downfall.  Or even the Dalek in "Dalek," who started to realize that, now that he was alone in the universe, there was no reason to cause so much death and destruction.  A good Dalek is hardly a new concept. testicles....
Someone suggested to me that it must have been "devastating" when the Dalek said to the Doctor "You are a good Dalek."  Yes, it must have been devastating, almost as devastating as the last time a Dalek said almost the exact same thing to him in "Dalek":  "You would make a good Dalek."  Davros, in "Journey's End" drew a similar comparison between the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks and the Daleks' hatred of every other living thing in the Universe.  It's a comparison that the Daleks love to make to the Doctor, and it never fails to make the Doctor feel bad because he hates himself enough to believe it's true.  It's something the fans love to buy into, too, because it makes the Doctor sound deep, dark, and twisted.  He's all three of those things, but he's not like a Dalek.

The Daleks are a species that has nothing but blind hatred for every other creature in the Universe, and believe that they are justified in destroying them all.  The Doctor is a man who believes that all life is sacred, and spends all of his lives trying to save every creature he can.  His feelings towards the Daleks are the closest he comes to hate, but only because the Daleks stand in the way of his mission to save all life throughout the Universe.  But even long before this episode, he has always hoped to some day find a way to save the Daleks' souls so that he wouldn't need to destroy them, and always struggles with trying to figure out if his trademark pacifism and commitment to peace makes it justified for him to kill a creature that has no goal in life other than to kill.  It's a profound dilemma for a pacifist, and one he has wavered back and forth on.  When the Fourth Doctor was given the chance to wipe out all of the Daleks before they were even created, he couldn't bring himself to do it, much like the old ethical riddle of whether or not it would be okay to go back in time and kill Hitler when he was a baby.  While the Fourth Doctor couldn't bring himself to do it, the Fifth Doctor says he regrets the decision.  This indecision hardly makes him Dalek-like.  In fact, it makes him the opposite.  If you ask me, the much more devastating thing to say to the Doctor is what Oswin pointed out to the Doctor in "Asylum of the Daleks": that the Daleks have become infinitely stronger in fear of him.

In this episode, we finally get our first few moments with the new companion, Danny Pink.  I noticed that the credits of this episode list it as being co-written by Steven Moffat and Phil Ford, whose only previous Doctor Who credit had been co-writing "The Waters of Mars" with Russell T. Davies.  At first, I thought maybe Moffat didn't trust Ford and helped him write the episode for that reason, but then I noticed that a few other episodes this season are listed as co-written by Steven Moffat.  I have a feeling that, the reason is, Moffat is being a little overprotective about this new character, Danny Pink, and writing some of the more important scenes in Danny's arc by himself, enough that he needs to be given credit in the episodes.  Moffat has a tendency to be very protective of some of his characters.  Only once has River Song ever appeared in an episode not written by Moffat, so he wrote that one scene of "Closing Time" himself, not trusting Gareth Roberts with it.  Only once did he ever let another writer write for the Paternoster Gang, and that's mainly because Moffat seems to have a deep trust in Mark Gatiss that I don't share.

Danny, thus far, doesn't seem like a character I can get to know yet.  We know little about him other than that he's a soldier.  The Doctor's refusal to take the similarly color-themed-named Jordan Blue with him in the TARDIS was an annoyingly heavy handed foreshadowing of the battle the Doctor is going to put up when Danny asks to join the TARDIS crew--a battle, from which, the Doctor will, ultimately, back down.  I assume that Jordan Blue's name being similar is going to lead to some sort of Pond/River style connection, especially since Clara went out of her way to point it out in this episode.

My friend Victor responded to me on Facebook last week with the suggestion that Missy is guarding some sort of digital Heaven, as it would make sense that the Clockwork Droid had died and gone to a digital Heaven.  This, he suggested, could explain the possibility of Missy being River Song, as it's possible that, at a future time, River, now digitally saved in the library, changed her form.  While an excellent idea, I think that Gretchen's appearance in "Heaven" after her very non-digital death seems to question that idea.  Although, since she was essentially killed by robots (the antibodies, not the Daleks, I know the Daleks aren't robots), I suppose her consciousness could have been "uploaded" somehow.

This monkey's gone to heaven!

While we're on the subject, since I assume Missy is a villain, I wonder about Moffat's tendency to associate his villains with religion and religious iconography.  That could be a fun blog some day.

I realize now that there was a major plot thread I forgot to bring up in last week's blog.  In the scene in "Deep Breath" where the Doctor talks with the homeless man (played, in a special cameo, by Brian Miller, widower of the great Doctor Who actress, Elizabeth Sladen) about his new face, he brings up something I brought up before and have been very excited about.

"Do you ever look in the mirror and think 'I've seen that face before?'...Why this one?  Why did I choose this face?  It's like I'm trying to tell myself something.  Like I'm trying to make a point.  But what is so important that I can't just tell myself what I'm thinking?"

I was wondering if Moffat was going to actually follow up on his promise to touch on this.  To explain this exciting new plot idea, I'll use the direct quote from Moffat:

“I remember Russell [T Davies] told me that he had a big old plan as to why there were two Peter Capaldi’s in the Who universe: one in Pompeii and one in Torchwood. When I cast Peter and Russell got in touch to say how pleased he was, I said, ‘Okay, what was your theory and does it still work?' and he said, ‘Yes it does. Here it is…’"

A plot thread thought up by Davies and executed by Moffat promises to be satisfying, and it's something I've always wondered about:  Where do Time Lord's faces come from?

Next week is an episode I'm very excited about, and very worried about.  I make no attempt to hide my...ambivalence about Mark Gatiss.  I don't generally like his episodes, but respect how much he has done for the show, especially in the wilderness years, and feel like we would hardly have a show now if it weren't for people like Gatiss.  I don't hate all of his episodes, but certainly most of them.  Last season was the first season Gatiss submitted two episodes in the same season, and I think he managed to write the first episode of his I truly loved ("Cold War"), and the episode I think might just be the worst episode of the entire revived series ("The Crimson Horror").  Now, he's written the episode about Robin Hood, who was one of my favorite characters when I was growing up.  I'm very excited to see the Doctor meet Robin Hood, and hope that Gatiss pulls more of a "Cold War" on this than a "Crimson Horror."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Doctor is Not Your Boyfriend: An Overanalysis of "Deep Breath"

It was much easier last year when each episode had its own unique movie poster.

It's been a long time.  I've been a little lax in the Doctor Who off-season the past few months.  Sorry about that.  But the season's started back up, and much like the Doctor, I'm not quite dead yet.  So let's kick off another season!

First and foremost, I have to bring you my new Doctor Who podcast that I'm a part of.  Ever since the collapse of The 900 Year Diary (RIP), I've been hoping to find a good place to be able to discuss Doctor Who in a group setting with really funny people.  I finally found that place when I got the chance to start a new podcast with members of the Mile High Who Meetup Group in Denver.  Check out the Mile High Who Podcast with my friends Shelly, Scott, and Somer.  "Shit, Trevor, your name doesn't even fit the alliteration scheme!"

Now, onto the blog...

There is only one unwritten, yet highly important, rule when it comes to the first episode for a new Doctor:  this is no time to get fancy.  A debut episode of a new regeneration is not a time to come up with some sort of overly complicated plot.  In the new series, Davies started out by using the Autons to introduce the new Doctor, much the way they were used to introduce the 3rd Doctor (and the first Master, for that matter).  The Autons are always a great villain to use to introduce a new Doctor, because they don't have the most complicated powers or agenda.  Davies's choice to keep the 10th Doctor in bed for most of his premiere episode is still one I strongly disagree with, but the Sycorax were still not that complex of a villain with a fairly simple plan.  And Moffat knew the rule very well with his first episode as show runner, where he had to introduce both a new Doctor and a new companion, and he used a pretty simple plot when the Atraxi simply wanted to blow up the Earth to stop Prisoner Zero.  The reason for this rule is that the first episode is about establishing the character of the new Doctor, not showing off what you can pull with your imaginative, complex science-fiction twists.  This isn't to say that the rule is never broken, simply that you're off to a pretty bad start when you do break it, as was learned with the stillborn relaunch of the series in 1996 in a plot that was somehow dumbed down yet too complicated to allow a proper introduction of the Eighth Doctor to a new generation of fans.

"Deep Breath" isn't the most simple plot that Doctor Who ever produced, but it's simplified somewhat by bringing back an old enemy, albeit one that only appeared once before.  In fact, in both episodes that Moffat wrote to introduce a new Doctor, he seems to have stolen a part of the plot of "The Girl in the Fireplace."  Allowing the episode to rest on a villain that has already been explained six seasons ago gives the script plenty of time to focus on the introduction of a new regeneration of the Doctor--and his relationship with his companion.

While I'm not a Clara hater like many of the fans, I know I've yet to really bond with her and I know that many others have been even more disappointed than me.  A few months ago, my girlfriend pointed me towards an article called We're Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome that she thought I could learn something from.  The article has apparently even caught on enough that I saw it mentioned in the New York Times review of Guardians of the Galaxy so that the author of the article could try to hold up Gamora as an example of a great female character (proving that the author of the review clearly misunderstood the point of the article). The tl;dr of this article is that it's not enough to create a strong female character if she ultimately doesn't do anything to advance the plot (like Trinity in The Matrix) or if her ultimate point in the plot is to be rescued by the male character or to simply make the male character look better as he surpasses her.  There are ways in which the basic structure of Doctor Who unfortunately resists the recommendations this article makes, the same way Doctor Who, by virtue of being about a man traveling around with a woman, can almost never pass the famous Bechdel Test (despite an article of questionable accuracy that recently came out claiming otherwise).  That being said, that doesn't mean that you can't do something to improve the strength of the female characters on Doctor Who, and Clara, while admittedly not following all of the recommendations this article makes, certainly becomes a much stronger character.

When Clara is seemingly abandoned by the Doctor, she's not crazy to despair.  Regeneration is a lottery.  While the core of the Doctor's character is always good, there's no guarantee that every regeneration will come out as kind or as moral as previous regenerations (The Valeyard) or that a newly regenerated Doctor is necessarily to be relied on to protect you (The Sixth Doctor).

You look tense, Peri.  How about a nice throat massage?

This is the first time when Clara really does have reason to despair that the Doctor might not be coming back to save her this time.  And that is when she shines the most!  While the flashback to her first day as a teacher certainly seemed like a bizarre non-sequitor at first blush, it tied into the plot quite nicely, and led her to a tactic that no companion has ever really thought of before:  daring the villain to kill her.  Her logic is sound through and through, and she overcomes a superior physical force with nothing but wits and sheer force of will.  And then the Doctor comes to save her and yadda yadda, but the point is, she kept herself alive long enough for that to happen.  While maybe not a shining moment for feminism, it was certainly a strong moment for Clara.

And Clara's other main role in this episode--the stand-in for all of the shallow fans who have complained about the new Doctor being too old--didn't make me dislike her either, even if it reminded me how much I hate the fans she's representing.  Her flaws in judging the Doctor's new face reminded me that she's not perfect, but never made me feel like she was a bad companion or a bad person.  Just a flawed person, like anyone else.  At first, I wondered why she was so confused as to why the Doctor had changed.  Her insistence that he change back to the Eleventh Doctor seemed bizarre in light of "Time of the Doctor," where she met literally every regeneration of the Doctor.  But it soon became clear that her insistence wasn't based on a misunderstanding, but sheer denial.  She was always aware that the Doctor had past faces that looked older, but she never cared as long as his current face was young and attractive.  The Doctor, as he reminded her and the fans, is not your boyfriend!

I didn't even mind the Eleventh Doctor's not-so-surprise cameo to remind her to stand by the Twelfth Doctor.  Like it or not it was just the kick int he pants that Clara--and the fair-weather fans--needed.  My favorite moment was when Clara accused the Twelfth Doctor of listening in on her phone call, and he had to remind her that he wasn't listening in...he made the call himself!

As for the Doctor himself?  While Peter Capaldi was brilliant in this episode, I still feel like I've yet to meet the new Doctor.  The first episode of a regeneration is always incomplete.  The Doctor is confused and still developing his new personality.  It's usually not until his second episode that he's truly stable mentally, and even then he's still figuring his new personality out a bit.  Ten and Eleven showed this instability a little bit, but not as much as some of the classic series Doctors.  The Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors each suffered a severe case of amnesia, while the Sixth Doctor attempted to strangle his own companion.

I'm sorry, I just have to post this again because I think it's ridiculous that this ever happened.

By comparison, spending a whole episode in bed is pretty mild.  Twelve really showed the most serious regeneration confusion of the revived series, which is part of why so many fans were confused by Capaldi's first moments at the end of "Time of the Doctor" when he seemed to forget how to fly the TARDIS.  Capaldi played this regeneration effect with true brilliance, particularly his first scene where he seemed confused by basic things like trying to tell people apart by color, gender, or even species.

Yet, the defining moment of the episode for Twelve seems to be when he threw the clockwork droid out of the hot air balloon, killing him.  The Doctor said that killing went against his "programming," and his retreat on that statement may look like the Doctor is going into much darker territory.  The Doctor has always been a strong a point.  True, the Doctor's famous pacifism has developed over time, and has moments of lapsing.  I don't only refer to the Time War--although that was perhaps the most significant lapse--but the Sixth and Seventh Doctors both had their violent streaks.  The Sixth Doctor had moments where he seemingly abandoned pacifism altogether, even shooting a gun at Cybermen, something that would seem to go against his "programming."

Also, this!

Seven was known for being the master manipulator and, while he did not like to kill people, he seemed to find a moral loophole in that he was fine with tricking others into taking their own lives.  Even Nine, Ten, and Eleven, who are supposed to be the true pacifists of the Doctor's regenerations, have lost their tempers against such villains as Cassandra, The Family of Blood, and Solomon the Trader, respectively.

Yet, at the same time, we have to remember that the person he killed was not a person...entirely.  While the clockwork droids had adopted a lot of human parts, they weren't really human.  They weren't really humanoid for that matter.  Whether they constituted true "life" is a question up for debate, and they had reached a point where their death could almost be considered a mercy.  Still, that doesn't seem to negate the fact that the act of killing the clockwork droid was...dark.  The look Peter Capaldi shot directly into the camera right afterwards was proof enough of that.  The Doctor is venturing into darker territory, but don't imagine yet that he's that far removed from his past incarnations.  Yes, it was hinting at a potentially darker Doctor--something Moffat has made very clear that we should be ready for--but we haven't really seen him stray too far from his "programming" yet.

I watched this episode with my friends from the Mile High Who group, and one of the members told me he read that this season wouldn't be as "arc-y" as the last few seasons; this season was to be a return to the one-off style of the Davies era episodes.  While he was delighted by this news, it disappointed me.  Everyone who knows me knows that I love a good, long plot arc.  But thankfully, the episode itself proved that either my friend there misunderstood what he read, or Moffat was simply being Moffat again.  Rule 1.  If there was any question as to whether or not this was going to be an arc-y season, that was answered swiftly at the end of this episode.  And that gives me plenty to theorize about.

First, there's the mystery woman, who IMDB seems to refer to as "Missy."  Her insistence that the Doctor was her boyfriend rang of River Song, but there are too many problems with that--the sheer lack of a place for her in River's timeline, not to mention the fact that this woman seems to be evil.  Another friend of mine suggested she may be the Rani, a classic series villain that many fans have been clamoring to see return, despite the fact that she only ever appeared in two serials of the classic series.  While this is an interesting theory that I refuse to rule out, this barely seems to fit the Rani's modus operandi.  The Rani was, first and foremost, a scientist (a neurochemist to be exact) and, in her first appearance, she showed no signs of wanting to conquer or kill other creatures, but simply to perform experiments, with no regard whatsoever for the intelligent humanoid test subjects she tortured and killed to carry on her experiments.  It wasn't until her second appearance that she took on the normal universe-dominating attitude of a Doctor Who villain.  Furthermore, I can't see why the Rani would refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend.

The Rani attempted to take over the Universe by creating a giant brain,
and it still wasn't the silliest plot of the 7th Doctor era.
I realize there's a good chance that she's a completely original villain, and there's good reason to believe that as Moffat usually prefers to create his own villains rather than pull them from the classic series.  That being said, he has been more warm to the idea of reusing classic series as of last season, where he not only wrote a Dalek episode, but used an obscure 2nd Doctor villain as the season's primary villain.  So I submit my own theory:  with all the rumors that the Master is returning this season, I submit the possibility that Missy is the first on-screen example of a Time Lord regenerating between genders.  I think she could be a female incarnation of the Master.  While this may seem strange considering how seemingly hostile Moffat has been to the idea of a female Doctor, remember Rule 1.  His seeming hostility could be a mislead, and let's not forget that Moffat, for all his professed resistance to the idea of a female Doctor, is actually the first person to really lay the groundwork for the possibility of Time Lord's regenerating between genders.  In the Eleventh Doctor's first scene--which Moffat wrote without accepting a credit in the episode--he fears that he has regenerated into a woman, suggesting that it is possible.

Only on a family show would someone check their Adam's Apple first
when trying to determine if they've changed genders.
Neil Gaiman may have written "The Doctor's Wife," in which the Doctor talks about an old friend of his who regenerated between genders, but it was written on Moffat's watch.  And, most importantly, "The Night of the Doctor" establishes without a doubt that, at least with artificial technology, Time Lords can regenerate between genders.  Also, let's not forget that Moffat's 1999 official Doctor Who parody sketch, "Curse of the Fatal Death," actually shows the Doctor regenerating into a woman.  Is it possible that the Master has taken The Sisterhood of Karn's potion that could have allowed the Doctor to regenerate into a woman?  If so, Moffat is treading on shaky ground.  After all the accusations of sexism, he's not likely to win a lot of fans for creating a female Master before creating a female Doctor...even if he handles it very carefully.

The last question we have before us concerns who is trying to keep the Doctor and Clara together.  At the end of the episode, the Doctor references that--between the woman who gave Clara the TARDIS number in "The Bells of Saint John" and the person who placed the newspaper ad in this episode that brought the Doctor and Clara back together--someone clearly wants to keep them together.  I always operated under the assumption that the woman who gave Clara the phone number was either River Song (God I hope she comes back) or a future version of Clara, or a less likely possibility of it being a surprisingly well disguised Madam Vastra.  We now also face the possibility of it being "Missy."  The interesting thing is that, whoever it is, both allowed Clara to enter the Doctor's life, allowing her to save him from The Great Intelligence, but also led them to the restaurant that was the headquarters of the clockwork droids.  This leaves us in an unusual situation of not only not knowing who is trying to keep them together, but also not even knowing for certain if this mysterious party is friend or foe!

The performance of Peter Capaldi in his first outing as the Doctor, like I said, is truly brilliant, but also doesn't feel like the definitive Twelfth Doctor yet.  In the coming weeks, I hope to learn more about who the Twelfth Doctor is, and what sets him apart from his predecessors.  But one thing is for sure:  despite all the memes and jokes about Peter Capaldi's playing the Doctor like his most iconic role of Malcolm Tucker in In the Loop, Capaldi didn't feel like he was playing Malcolm Tucker.  He felt like he was playing a new regeneration of the Doctor, one that is very different but still tethered to the basic tenets of the Doctor's character and philosophy, and one that I'm looking forward to getting to know better!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Master Baiting: Some Thoughts About the New Rumors Regarding the Master's Return

Okay, I don't actually have anything to say about the new rumors about the Master, I just wanted to use that title.

Just kidding, I have things to say.

So, some of you may have heard that, a few days ago, the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, pictured here dressed like a hobo...

Wait a minute, that's not hair gel!
...said at a Newcastle Film and Comic Book Convention that the Master was coming back this season and that he knew exactly who was cast in the role.  Since, as we all know, the executive producers of Doctor Who always share casting information with former cast members who haven't been involved in the show in any way for 18 years, this was deemed to be very credible information when it was then tweeted by reliable sources who heard him say it.

Some people then put 2 and 2 together and came up with 7.  Since this rumor emerged right around the time that news came out about Samuel Anderson joining the show as a recurring character named Danny Pink, clearly this meant that this Danny Pink character was the latest regeneration of the Master.  As someone pointed out on Twitter, "Daniel Pink" is an anagram of "Pain Linked," which somehow clearly means he's the Master.  I figured out that "Daniel Pink" is also an anagram of "Deli Napkin," which I think means that Danny Pink killed Laura Palmer.

I'm making no claims that Danny Pink is definitely not the Master, just that this is circumstantial evidence at best.  Furthermore, McCoy said that the actor was very scary, and as Samuel Anderson is known primarily for a soap opera and a drama about a private school in the early 80's, I don't see how he could be characterized as "scary."  Other rumors are throwing around the name of Charles Dance, which is a little more feasible, as he is scary, and they tend to try to cast an actor to play the Master who is the same age as the actor playing the Doctor.

But, let's pretend for a minute that I believe McCoy is actually telling the truth and knows that the Master is coming back and who it is.  It's not likely that he learned this from anyone on the Doctor Who production staff.  It's more likely that someone he knows outside of Doctor Who got the role and called him up to tell him about it.  Think about it:  If you got cast in Doctor Who, and you knew a former Doctor, wouldn't you want to call them up and talk to them about how excited you are?

This makes Charles Dance more likely than Samuel Anderson, as McCoy is more likely to be friends with Dance than Anderson as they're closer to the same age.  Still, McCoy has never appeared in anything (at least on screen) with either Dance or Anderson.

But, what if, say, McCoy was working with someone on a major, big-budget motion picture?  What if that person already knew Steven Moffat because they worked together before?  What if Moffat cast this person as the Master, and then that person called Sylvester McCoy to tell the one Doctor Who actor he knew how excited he was?  What if this was that person?:

If I'm right, please, please, please let him grow back the porn stache!
Now, I'm not claiming to know anything.  I'm guessing as much as any other idiot on the Internet.  But, c'mon, doesn't my idea at least make more sense?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Everybody Hates Clara: Why The Impossible Girl is Really The Impossible Girl to Like

I'm noticing a large trend amongst Doctor Who fans that I know:  Everybody hates Clara.  My girlfriend calls her weak.  Others call her uninteresting.  Some say that she still needs something to do.  And yet...why?

In her short span of time on the show so far, she has:

-Saved the Doctor, Rory, and Amy from the Daleks
-Forced her way into the TARDIS and the Doctor's heart when the Doctor didn't want any friends
-Figured out how to locate Miss Kizlet's headquarters
-Defeated Akhaten
-Talked an Ice Warrior warlord into showing mercy on the Earth
-Saved the Doctor from the Great Intelligence, assuming she would die in the process
-Talked the Doctor into saving Gallifrey
-Got the Time Lords to give the Doctor a whole new set of regenerations, keeping him from dying permanently

And that's not counting the 4 episodes in the middle there that I honestly don't care enough about to remember.  She's incredibly strong companion.  And yet, yeah, I kind of feel what you all feel too.  I haven't bonded with her yet.

Part of this, I think, is because she's following Amy Pond.  At two and a half seasons, Amy has clocked in as, not only the longest running companion of the revived series, but the longest continuous companion in the series since Tegan Jovanka travelled with the Doctor from the 4th Doctor's last episode in 1981 until one of the last 5th Doctor episodes in 1984.  I was fucking born in 1984.  That means it's been nearly 30 years since anyone's stuck around as long as Amy Pond.  And even in the revived series, Rose, the next longest running companion, managed to wedge herself so firmly into viewers' hearts, that it took someone as strong and amazing as Martha Jones to convince fans that anyone else could take the companion role.  Still, none of the companions since Rose have made people forget her.

But then Amy wasn't travelling alone with the Doctor.  Rory was the first full-time male companion to travel with the Doctor since Turlough, who literally left the TARDIS one episode after Tegan did back in 1984, those few months before I was born.  1984 was also the last time there was more than one companion travelling with the Doctor full time.  And don't give me any shit about Captain Jack or Mickey.  I mean full-time.  The Ponds created a unique dynamic that we haven't seen in the TARDIS in 30 years.  And 30 years ago, the male and female team travelling in the TARDIS together weren't popping out babies, either.  Amy, Rory, River, and the Doctor were literally a family.  Mother, Father, Daughter, Son-in-Law.  The TARDIS has never been a home to something like that before, ever!  Moffat created the most tight knit team to ever grace the screens of Doctor Who before:  a girl who literally grew up with the Doctor's memory, the boy she grew up with, and their daughter, who they also grew up with.

Then they leave and are replaced with one girl.

Seriously, how is any one person supposed to live up to everything that Amy, Rory, and (to a certain extent) River built in this show for the past few years.  How were we possibly supposed to go back to the old formula of Doctor and companion?

Well, I give Moffat credit, because he tried to create a companion with as much of a tie to the Doctor as Amy ever had.  A companion who has literally known the Doctor for all his lives, she just didn't know it yet.  And neither did he.  And therein lies the problem.

What I think people have been mistaking for weakness of character this past year is actually a lack of chemistry.  Jenna-Louise Coleman is an excellent actress playing an excellent companion who has absolutely no chemistry whatsoever with the Doctor.  And that was on purpose.  It wasn't really until "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" that the Doctor fully came to realize that, whatever was happening with Clara, she had no hostile intentions towards him.

DOCTOR: Well, there's no point now. We're about to die. Just tell me who you are.
CLARA: You know who I am.
DOCTOR: No, I don't. I look at you every single day and I don't understand a thing about you. Why do I keep running into you?
CLARA: Doctor, you invited me. You said
DOCTOR: Before that. I met you in the Dalek Asylum. There was a girl in a shipwreck and she died saving my life, and she was you.
CLARA: She really wasn't.
DOCTOR: Victorian London. There was a governess who was really a barmaid, and we fought the Great Intelligence together. She died and it was my fault, and she was you.
CLARA: You're scaring me.
DOCTOR: What are you, eh? Are you a trick, a trap?
CLARA: I don't know what you're talking about!
DOCTOR: You really don't, do you?
CLARA: I think I'm more scared of you right now than anything else on that Tardis.
DOCTOR: You're just Clara, aren't you?
This is the whole problem!  Up until then, he literally thought she might be a trap.  He had to keep her at arm's length because, for all he knew, she was just a really pretty Dalek.  So he avoided really bonding with her.

We're only about 5 episodes in to Clara and the Doctor starting to trust each other.  What's their excuse for those 5 episodes?  I don't know.  The first two sucked ("The Crimson Horror" and "Nightmare in Silver") and then the next three had a lot of plot to get through.  There wasn't a ton of time to really start to delve into Clara's character.  Clara's first scene in "The Day of the Doctor" was the most chemistry I've seen between those two at all.  When she first arrives in the TARDIS in that episode, and a little bit in their walk through the museum, I finally started to see two people who knew each other and cared about each other.  And just as they're finally starting to click, guess what?  It's time for a whole new Doctor.

Luckily, what that means is that Coleman has a whole new Doctor to create some chemistry with.  Great!  I hope she does it, and I hope she does it fast.  But I hope that Whovians everywhere can give her a little bit of a chance.  She's doing the best she can but, up until just a few episodes ago, she had to play a girl who was a plot device first and a character second.  She needs some time to slow down and really show us who Clara is and how she relates to the Doctor.  So far, she hasn't had much of a chance.