Saturday, December 27, 2014

Screw Dave: My Love Letter to Shona McCullough from "Last Christmas"

On Christmas night, I have to admit to falling in love.  No, not with a real woman (I'm visiting family, there wasn't much chance of me meeting someone here) but with the most awesome side character in Doctor Who's recent memory.  Played by Faye Marsay, Shona McCullough proved to be the most memorable character of the Christmas special, beating out the appearance of the son of a former Doctor, and possibly even outshining Santa Claus himself.  Early reviews told us to expect great things from this Fresh Meat actress, early articles speculated that she might be the next companion before reports and the plot of the episode confirmed that Clara was coming back for season 9, and Dan Butler over at What Culture already put together a list of 10 reasons why Shona should be a companion.  While the episode ended up with Clara rejoining the Doctor, while Shona simply awoke to her horror movie/Christmas movie marathon in her messy apartment (which somehow made me love her even more), that doesn't eliminate the possibility of Shona coming back someday.  Need I remind you:

DOCTOR: Well, you could always
DONNA: What?
DOCTOR: Come with me
DONNA: I can't.
DOCTOR: No, that's fine.
DONNA: No, but really. Everything we did today. Do you live your life like that?
DOCTOR: Not all the time.
DONNA: I think you do. And I couldn't.

Donna first showed up in a Christmas special, like Shona, and later returned to become a full time companion, despite turning down the position the first time it was offered to her.  Also, lest we forget:

Jenna-Louise Coleman's gap between her first appearance as one of the Claras and her second was probably a lot more intentional than the reappearance of Donna as a full time companion a year later, but it shows that Doctor Who is perfectly okay with leaving a character behind only to pick them up again later.

My crush on Shona was because of so many things.  First, she danced into our hearts in a wonderfully, quirky, ridiculous dance that Faye Marsay, on her own Twitter account, referred to as "The Shona Shuffle."  However, as a Google search for that phrase turns up a drag queen named "Shona Shuffles," some people are calling it "The Shona Shake" or simply "The Shona."

Then, despite not being an actual scientist, as the Doctor figured out early, she proved herself to be inquisitive enough to be one.  Her interrogation of Santa was rational and unrelenting, continuing to question everything around her, but not fully discounting the possibility of Santa being real.

And that she woke up in the midst of a filthy apartment with a good day of proper media binging ahead of her made her just my kind of girl!  I'd gladly cuddle up for a quiet Christmas with Shona and watch some horror movies.  Screw Dave.  Dave doesn't deserve to be forgiven.  Do you remember what Dave did to you Shona?  C'mon.  Give Trevor a call.

That got weird for a second, there.

But my point is, there's no good reason to go searching for a new companion at the end of season 9, which looks likely to be Clara's exiting point.  The next companion is already here, waiting for the Doctor to come whisk her away.  She has little difficulty dealing with the 12th Doctor's particular brand of crass rudeness, she is smart, quirky, funny, and clearly someone who is a lot of fun.

When it's time for Clara to go, I think it's time for Shona to step on board the TARDIS.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Back Door Santa: An Overanalysis of "Last Christmas"

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
The very next day, you gave me crabs...

Have you ever asked yourself the question "Hey, what if Inception was a Christmas movie?"  No, because you're a normal person.  Steven Moffat, not being a normal person, answered that question for us that nobody was asking.  A dream within a dream within a crab, all with Santa Claus thrown in.  Moffat did keep his promise when he told us this was the weirdest episode he had ever written, but I wasn't quite ready for just how bizarre it was going to be.  He promised us a story that combined "The Thing" or "Alien" (depending on which interview with Moffat that you read) with "Miracle on 34th Street," and he delivered on that.  Moffat clearly loves Alien, as evidenced by his brilliant references to it in the Coupling episode "9 1/2 Minutes," his choice of casting John Hurt as the War Doctor, and his both subtle and overt references to it in "Last Christmas."  That's really a better way to describe "Last Christmas":  Alien meets Inception with Santa Claus thrown in for good measure.

But he also promised us a few things that were outright lies, something I keep forgetting to expect from him, even though I made it a rule right at the top of my blog.  He told us that the Doctor and Santa were old friends, or rather old enemies.  Seeing as how Santa was actually a figment of everyone's collective imaginations, that particular Moffat statement was designated a lie.  Capaldi gave us a nice lie in an interview, too, promising Santa would remain "in tact" at the end of the episode and wouldn't be anything "sci-fi."  True, there's a hint at the end of the episode that Santa might still be real, but that's not the same as keeping him "in tact" and, overall, the explanation of him was particularly "sci-fi."

The Dream Crabs are continuing with a popular Moffat theme of a creature whose power is linked to your own perception of them, like the Weeping Angels and the Silence.  The continuation of this theme is so strong that I'm left almost tempted to say that he's gone too far with it, but the Dream Crabs are such a creepy variation on this theme that I'm willing to forgive it.  A creature who can only attack you when you are thinking of them?  Try not to think about pink elephants.  That's possibly the most terrifying idea yet, as at least the Silence and the Angels have a comparatively easy way to keep them at bay: simply keep an eye on them.  Trying not to think of something is nearly impossible.

The real solution to the Dream Crab problem!

By about halfway through the episode, I was left wondering why Santa was even there.  What purpose was he serving other than Steven Moffat's assertion that he wanted to see Santa and the Doctor standing side by side on screen together.  While Moffat proved to be lying about the Doctor and Santa knowing each other from way back, they did have an interaction like they did.  Santa and the Doctor had an instant chemistry, one that left me wanting to see more of it.  Nick Frost was a perfect Santa, and his appearance in the opening credits was well deserved.  He was very much a star of this episode.  Santa, the dream that tries to save you.  What better dream could you have?

I was wondering how Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) had been signed on to do the Christmas special so many months back, and then his character died off in "Death in Heaven."  Now we know.  That's the fun of killing off a character when the actor playing them is actually still alive:  you get to do fun things like bringing them back in a tempting dream sequence.  But I still don't think Danny is done yet.  Moffat recently gave an interview in which he explained how "Listen" could have made sense even if Danny Pink never comes back, but everything about his explanation just screamed "I don't mean to say that any of this is true."  He didn't even give us a lie, he gave us an explanation that we could tell even he didn't believe.  Somehow, he's coming back.  How?  I don't know.  It's going to be hard.  Rory's return from the dead seemed easier; his death always seemed tenuous.  Whether it was because he died saving the world, or because it was part of the end of a season, somehow Danny's death felt more permanent.  But something has to give to make "Listen" make sense.  And because of "Listen," it won't feel cheap, because we know it's been setup all along.

If you expect me to stop making this joke, you're going to get very...irritated.

A lot of the press around this episode left us wondering if Clara was going to be leaving after this special or not.  Rumors came out a while back that Jenna-Louise Coleman (I refuse to call her by her shortened name) was done after this season, then rumors came out contradicting the original rumors (which amounts to the same as there having never been rumors in the first place, which makes the whole thing bullshit), and then it was announced just today that Jenna-Louise Coleman is back for the whole of season 9, to the consternation of many.  While I'm interested to meet someone new at this point, because I think we know a lot about Clara already, I also fail to see how anyone else is going to be able to put up with the Doctor's shit at this point.  He's at his most difficult point in a long time--probably the most stubborn and obnoxious he's been since his 6th incarnation--and, while he's on a redemptive arc, he's far from being redeemed enough to really be able to get anyone else to come on board the TARDIS without scaring them away.  If Coleman leaves at the end of Season 9, Clara will tie with Amy for longest running companion of the new series, which I'm fine with.  If she breaks the record, I might not be as happy.  But the arc of the Doctor and Clara's relationship played out very nicely in this episode, as that was, in the end, the whole point of the episode:  Clara and the Doctor realizing how desperately they'd miss each other if they parted ways right now.

You can't just give a girl crabs and then leave her...
Also, Faye Marsay's character Shona, who Moffat promised us would be very interesting, was somewhat speculated to be the new companion.  While she obviously isn't (unless Moffat's pulling a Donna Noble), she did prove to be possibly the most entertaining part of the episode, particularly with her amazing dance to Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody," (which, as my co-host at Mile High Who Podcast has pointed out online, manages to appear in every BBC Christmas special).  While playing a more subdued role, I'd be remiss in not pointing out the appearance of Michael Troughton as the one victim of the Dream Crabs, Albert Smithe, as Michael Troughton is the son of the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton.  Also, as one of the elves, we had Dan Starkey, usually seen in different prosthetics as Strax.

The very cute throwback to "Time of the Doctor" was appreciated, when the Doctor and Clara pulled a Christmas cracker, with the Doctor helping Clara pull it in exactly the way that she helped him pull it when he was old and feeble in last year's special.  It reminded us that Jenna-Louise Coleman is now the only actress to play a major role as a companion in more than one Christmas special, having now been central to three of them.  But, overall, the ending left me with more questions than answers.  So, the Dream Crab somehow attacked the Doctor right after he said goodbye to Clara at the end of "Death in Heaven"?  Presumably, we don't know how much time passed between the moment the credits began to roll at the end of "Death in Heaven," and when they were cut short for Santa's arrival.  It would appear that more time passed than we thought.  So why did the Doctor seem to wake up right outside the volcano from "Dark Water"?  Maybe that's not what it was (the volcano from that episode was a dream, after all) but that's what it looked like to me, and it seemed a strange and confusing call-back.  I was really surprised because the episode kept seeming to be offering a nice, neat solution to clean up all the messy bits about "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven," including the deaths of two very beloved characters.  All it had to do was say that the Dream Crabs attacked them before the events of "Dark Water."  Instead, it chose not to offer us that out, and seemingly comes down in the end on the side of only this episode being a dream.  Furthermore, to get Danny and Osgood back in this way, we'd have to lose Michelle Gomez's brilliant performance as the first female Master.

Still, the Dream Crabs now leave Moffat with the option to just Dallas large chunks of the show, and yes I just used Dallas as a verb.  Naturally, I'm referring to the infamous time when the series Dallas deleted one entire season of their show, revealing the entire thing to be one of the characters' dreams.  While it certainly doesn't feel like Moffat's going to reveal that "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" was one big dream--as the appropriate moment to do that was really before the end of "Last Christmas"--the Dream Crabs now exist in the Doctor Who Universe.  They're out there, always capable of popping up and erasing large chunks of timeline without further warning.  It's the one and only way that someone could pull the it-was-all-a-dream ripcord and not be accused of a cheap deus ex machina, because the possibility for it was setup in this episode.  I simply hope that Moffat choses to use it wisely, if at all.  The Whoniverse now, officially, has crabs.  (Sorry, that joke is just too much fun.)
Seriously, the things I can find on a Google image search are way too much fun.

The ending credits promised us that the Doctor and Clara will return in "The Magician's Apprentice," a title that had actually been announced before this episode aired.  The second it was announced, I had to check Wikipedia to see if that was the name of one of the Narnia novels.  Turns out it isn't, and that what I was thinking of was The Magician's Nephew, although there is a fantasy novel called The Magician's Apprentice.  Still, I think the similarity between the name of this episode and this obscure fantasy novel are probably coincidence, while the vague similarity between it and the title of the Narnia novel is probably more likely intentional, given Moffat's affinity for Narnia that was displayed in The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe.  But we'll see, whenever the 9th gets going.

Who knows when that might be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Doctor is Seven: An Overanalysis of "Death in Heaven"

I don't know what to say about putting this out so late.  Other than to say, I did promise to, at least, get each blog out before the next episode airs, which means I've still technically got 36 days left to keep that promise.  But the truth is, as you've noticed, I've had trouble getting these blogs out on time.  Maybe I'm a little busy these days.  Maybe it's because I'm a bit depressed lately.  And, at least part of it is that, on some level, I've felt a little of what everyone else has felt about this season:  The episodes are great, and I can't find a lot of faults with it, but something did seem a little off.  It's probably the switch to such a more serious Doctor that makes the tone of the show a little less whimsical, and maybe I miss that.  But that's not a fault with the show.  But, maybe, it's why I had trouble getting these blogs out all season.  I promise to get the Christmas one out quick.  I mean, it's not like I'll have much to do.

So now, on with the show:

I'm a Rocket Man! Burning up his fuse up here alone!

Not too long ago, a friend of mine posted an article from The Onion AV Club called Fake deaths, cheap resurrections, and dealing with real grief.  The author of the article very recently lost his fiancee to a freak blood clot traveling to her chest.  The author goes on to talk about how Hollywood's treatment of death, since that incident, has bothered him.  He criticized movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek:  Into Darkness for their treatment of deaths.  He complains about death being used too often as a cheap motivator and, as a self described "death elitist," he feels this is insincere and insensitive.  While I feel sorry for his loss, and know where he's coming from--and I really do know where he's coming from--he's wrong.  I lost my mother when I was 23 to lung cancer.  It was the most traumatic experience of my life.  And I felt the way he felt for a while, but only about the really gratuitous movies, like Saw, that truly showed a disrespect for death.  But when death is used as a motivator for noble deeds, and fuels a powerful clash between good and evil, I do not fault it at all.  Death is the most powerful motivator in the human experience, and so colors so many parts of our lives, that I can understand the prominence of it in fiction.  So to those who call "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven" disrespectful to the dead, I say, as one of your fellow "death elitists," I understand your pain, but you're being a little oversensitive.  This is a beautiful story, and it wouldn't be half as good if it wasn't so heartbreaking.

The Master is my favorite villain in Doctor Who.  I was so excited to see the Master's return, and I was quite okay with her new appearance.  While I've said before on this blog that I'm okay with the idea of a female Doctor, I've often wondered if, when it happens, it will still make it feel like the same person.  Well, if there was any question, "Death in Heaven" answered it:  a female regeneration can absolutely feel like the same character as the previous, male regeneration.  Michelle Gomez plays a brilliant Master, with all the manic glee of John Simm's master, combined with the more condescending loftiness of the original Master, Roger Delgado.  The only complaint I have about her performance is that I didn't get to see enough of it.  John Simm's, after first being introduced in his own surprise reveal, got two full length episodes to show off his brilliant performance of the Master (even if the plot of those episodes was...flawed).  I wish Michelle Gomez could have gotten as much time, because her performance was so wonderfully unhinged, I wanted to get to know her better.

My girlfriend pointed out, when I first showed her the series and we got to "Last of the Time Lords," the obvious Christ metaphors of the Doctor in that episode.  The Doctor and the Master have a very obvious Jesus/Satan relationship, and this episode only further confirmed that.  If the scene in the graveyard where Missy offers the Doctor her army isn't The Temptation of Christ, then my Catholic high school should take back my diploma.  While it's not like that scene has never been done metaphorically in fiction before, this was one of the most compelling versions of it I've ever seen.

Although I don't remember this passage in the Bible.
I also liked that Moffat didn't feel the need to give us any explanation of why the Master has changed genders.  The Doctor Who Unbound audio series, which tells Doctor Who stories that are non-canon and which take place in an alternate Universe, claims the only way that Time Lords can change gender is when they commit suicide.  Some fans suggested that the Master technically committed suicide at the end of "The End of Time," and predicted that that would be the explanation.  I said I hated that explanation, and I hoped Moffat wouldn't do that.  I suggested maybe he had picked up a potion from the Sisterhood of Karn, who said in "Night of the Doctor" that they had perfected a potion that could cause a Time Lord to switch genders.  But, I said, I would settle for a simple explanation of "It's rare, but it happens."  Moffat didn't even give us that.  The implication here is that Time Lords can always change gender, we just haven't seen it happen.  Judging by the Doctor's 13 male incarnations (not to mention the Master's 6 male incarnations), I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point, we're told that cross-gender regeneration is rarer than same-gender regeneration, but it seems like nothing special is required to cause a cross-gender regeneration.  So, to all those out there who are asking why the Master regenerated into a woman and the Doctor never has, think of it as being the Time Lord equivalent of having twins:  it's not that common, but it's not that uncommon either.  Really, I think that explains it all.

"Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone, I have this overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin" - Rory Williams, in "The God Complex."  And with that quote, we say goodbye to Osgood.  I understand Moffat's explanation that Missy needed to kill someone we care about to remind us that she's still a stone cold psychopath and truly evil, but I also understand those who called it a Whedonesque gratuitous death.  It was sad, but I think we're going to see her again.  Remember that in "Day of the Doctor," Kate has met Clara, but Clara hasn't met Kate yet.  I think we're going to pop in and see Kate and Osgood again, but earlier in their timeline.

Speaking of Kate, she is quickly becoming one of my favorite recurring characters.  You see, Kate Stewart was first introduced in Downtime, a straight-to-video movie that was put out in 1995 when Doctor Who was off the air, and, to satiate the fans, and a company called Reeltime Pictures bought the rights to certain characters from Doctor Who but not the Doctor itself to create some spin-off movies.  In Downtime, Kate is a very down on her luck single mother, estranged from her father, and is living on a houseboat.  When Kate was introduced into proper canon (most extended universe materials in Doctor Who can be assumed to be canon, according to the BBC, but fans often only trust the TV show as certifiably canonical) in "Power of Three," I assumed they were rebooting the character.  This version of Kate seemed like she was too attached to her father and had herself too much together to be the same Kate from Downtime.  I was glad to see this episode seemed to confirm that this was the Kate from Downtime, or at least suggested it:  "Kate Stewart, divorcee, mother of two, keen gardener, outstanding bridge player, also chief scientific officer Unified Intelligence Task Force..."  Kate's been an awesome character, and more than playing stand-in for her father, she's become a very important part of Doctor Who, as the show finally has someone to represent Earth's official response to global emergencies.

Not that we've seen that many global emergencies in the Moffat era.  One of the things I've always liked about Moffat is that, unlike Davies, he doesn't feel like every finale has to be about someone attacking the Earth.  Davies defaulted on a big invasion of or attack on modern day Earth in every single season finale, as well as every Christmas special.  With so many attacks in such little time, the Davies era's running joke became that Earth is invaded so often, people are starting to get paranoid.  And rightfully so.  How are there still people on Earth who don't believe in aliens?  Why wouldn't everyone clear out of London every Christmas?  Why doesn't every planet just have nukes pointed at the sky at all times?  Moffat has been really creative in trying to find other ways to create really interesting climaxes in his season finales and Christmas specials that take place on other planets, in other times, or that involve very personal battles for the Doctor, rather than big Earth-wide emergencies.  In fact, this is the first time in the Moffat era where either a season finale or a Christmas special has featured a Davies-like attack on modern Earth.  Moffat, unlike Davies, understands how to use something sparingly, so he's allowed to do things like that.

And the Brigadier returns as a Cyberman!  I actually watched this episode, for the first time, with my co-bloggers from the now defunct (and God do I miss it) 900 Year Diary, Kevin and Melissa.  We don't often agree about things about Doctor Who (which is part of why we were so good on a blog together), and somehow all three of us loved this finale.  But when the Cyber-Brigadier showed up, my first thought was "I feel like that was disrespectful."  Melissa turned to me and said "Why?  No, I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm honestly asking and I'm open to being convinced:  why is that disrespectful?"  I found myself unable to think of a real reason.  Ultimately, it was a very strange, but very sweet tribute to the late, great Nicholas Courtney, who passed away 3 years ago.  It's particularly Doctor Who-ish for the tribute to involve him saving the day, and saving his daughter.  In death, the Brigadier is still a hero.

And the Doctor never salutes?  Really?

I think he's okay with it.

The Doctor and Clara have one of the most dysfunctional relationships between any Doctor and companion in the show's history, second only to, possibly, the 6th Doctor and Peri.

If you read my blog regularly, you'll remember this particular dead horse.
So it makes sense that they lie to each other at the end of the episode.  It's their attempt to be nice to each other, combined with the fact that both of them are severely damaged people.  Lying comes easily to both of them.  But, had I put this blog out on time, I wouldn't know for certain that Clara was coming back.  Yes, she was already confirmed for the Christmas special, but from what I had read, so had Samuel Anderson (who plays Danny Pink), which seems hard to believe right now (or maybe not, I'll get to that later).  I might have thought it a lie, except now we've seen a clip from the Christmas special that the BBC has released, which clearly shows Clara (and the Doctor's questionable choice of wearing a suit jacket with a hoodie).

But, as many have pointed out, Danny being dead, while a perfectly heartbreaking ending to the finale, leaves "Listen" completely unexplained.  Orson Pink was not directly confirmed as one of Clara's descendants, but the implication had all the subtle innuendo of a dim-witted frat boy asking a sorority girl "Can I put my penis in you?"  I don't think a lot was left to the imagination.  And, had "Listen" and "Death in Heaven" aired in different seasons, I'd chalk it up to poor planning (like the truth field in "Time of the Doctor), but clearly Moffat knew where he was going with the show when he wrote "Listen."  He has a plan for this, that's obvious.  A lot of people have suggested that Clara is somehow already pregnant with Danny's baby (the family value brigade that complained about Vastra and Jenny kissing back in "Deep Breath" would have a field day with an unmarried companion becoming pregnant on a kids show).  My co-host on the Mile High Who podcast, Somer, suggested that the Christmas special is going to involve Santa bringing Danny back to life somehow.  I want the events of "Listen" to be resolved, but I do hope it's in a way that leaves that sad ending of Danny's death without cheaply bringing him back from the dead comic-book style.

And Santa's appearance was so much fun to see, especially played by, amazingly, Nick Frost.  I wish Simon Pegg hadn't already appeared in Doctor Who, because he could have made a perfect elf next to his old friend and common co-star.  And the scene we've seen from the Christmas special shows us that the Doctor is suspicious of Santa (Father Christmas to the Brits), thinking he's secretly the villain of the piece.  Santa suggests that the Doctor is mistaken, and as much of this season has been about the Doctor actually being wrong, it's possible that Santa is telling the truth.  The special seems to combine the reality of the North Pole (a place where a small handful of scientists occasionally set up a little shack to study things) with the fantasy version of it (Santa!).  I'm looking forward to seeing where the special is going, despite most people's skepticism from the trailer and clip.

I'll probably post at least once or twice before Christmas.  I'm looking forward to where the Christmas special is going.  The Christmas specials, so far, have always featured one of the happy-go-lucky, life-is-wonderful type of Doctors (10 and 11) who can freely indulge in a child-like love of Christmas.  This will be our first Christmas special with a more grumpy, crotchety type of Doctor.  More Scrooge than Tiny Tim, I'll be interested to see how Moffat writes a Christmas special around a meaner Doctor.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Devil is Six: An Overanalysis of "Dark Water"

I wasn't able to say this on Facebook because I don't want to spoil things for people who haven't seen the episode, but since this blog has a spoiler warning on it:

I called it and, not only do I have this blog to prove it, but I also mentioned back in the last episode of my Podcast that I thought Missy was the Master.  Now that I've gotten that out of my system, moving on...

I call it the Unholy Trinity of Doctor Who villains.  The Daleks, The Cybermen, The Master.  If you threw out all of the other villains of the show--The Zygons, The Ice Warriors, The Silurians, The Weeping Angels--you'd have a far less interesting show, but you'd still have Doctor Who.  They are the main pillars that hold up the show and they will continue to come back no matter how many times they are seemingly destroyed.  In the history of the show, almost all possible combinations of any two of these three villains have been seen:  The Master and the Daleks teamed up (however briefly) in "Frontier in Space," while the Daleks and the Cybermen presented a dual front for the Doctor back in "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday."  However, up until "Dark Water," we had never seen the Master team up with the Cybermen.  It's a simple, cheap gimmick to bring together two of the most popular villains, but it's one that makes me positively giddy every time I see it.  And never has it been done in quite so imaginative a way as this.

Now, if only Radagast the Brown had kept his damn mouth shut, it would have been a much bigger surprise!

"Ain't I a stinker!"
Not that it was too hard to come up with the idea that Missy was short for Mistress, the female version of Master.  I may have brought it up in my last blog, but I wasn't the only person on the Internet who made the exact same guess.  Also, I can't believe that the BBC released what was essentially the last scene, revealing that the Cybermen were behind everything.  Not that that was the only way in which that information was let out early:  The trailer last week showed a Cyberman in a room with Clara (in a scene that it seems is from next week's episode).  On top of that, there was a photo that came out even before the season started that showed one of the final scenes of this episode with Missy, the Doctor, and some Cybermen.  It felt like those first two seasons of the revived series, where far too much was given away in the damn trailers at the end of episodes.  A lot of things were poorly kept secrets about this episode, to the point where I was pretty sure that Missy was the Master, but I still kept jumping up and down as I heard the slow reveal, so excited to see my favorite villain return.  Also, as she started describing herself ("two hearts, both of them yours") my mind started to go to the Valeyard, and I was beginning to be excited about that possibility as well.  But, ultimately, Missy being the Master is so much more exciting.

The Doctor and the Master have always had a weird respect for each other, on top of their hatred for each other.  The Third Doctor, back in "The Sea Devils," says that they were old friends from back in their school days.  And, as I mentioned in my last post, according to the expanded Universe, The Doctor and The Master were part of the same elite clique at the Time Lord Academy.  I've always wanted to know what made them turn against each other.  (But, no, I've never wanted to know so much that I wanted to see a spin-off about it.  Please don't make that spin-off!)  However, it seems that friendship ran a little deeper than I had thought.  Apparently all it takes for the two of them to jump on top of each other is for one of them to switch genders.  I suppose it's true what the Tenth Doctor said to the Fifth Doctor back in "Time Crash":  "No, no beard this time.  Well, a wife."

And Michelle Gomez (of the Scottish Gomezes, apparently), who we've only gotten to see tiny little glimpses of throughout the season, finally came out to shine in this episode as our first ever female Master, and boy did she shine in the role.  While John Simm will probably always hold a special place in my heart for his particularly manic Master, Michelle Gomez's Mistress is at least on par if not a little bit better.  Her evil is buried just ever so slightly below the surface.  Where Simm's Master unleashed his full fury at almost all times, Michelle Gomez's Mistress harkens back more to the restrained sadism of the original Master, Roger Delgado.  Only, you know, in a dress.

"What?  I look good in a dress, too!"
Funnily enough, while researching this, I discovered that Michelle Gomez is married to Jack Davenport.  For those of you who don't know the significance of that, Davenport was pretty much the star of what was probably Moffat's second most famous show, Coupling, where he more-or-less played a slightly fictionalized version of Steven Moffat himself.  Besides the fact that Davenport's character was named Steve, and his girlfriend's name was Susan (the name of Moffat's real life wife), I take the character of Steve to be based on Moffat himself due to Moffat's explanation about what happened to the characters after the show ended:

"Steve and Susan have two children now, and have recently completed work on a sitcom about their early lives together. They’re developing a new television project, but it keeps getting delayed as he insists on writing episodes of some old kids show they recently pulled out of mothballs."

So that's pretty cool, but enough about the real world.  

How the hell did "The Mistress" get here?  She tells the Doctor he left her (him? The pronouns are getting confusing here) for dead.  Well, yeah.  He had good reason to.  The Master was pretty far gone by the end of "The End of Time."  After Lucy ruined his resurrection, he was hemorrhaging energy, and even if the Doctor had just done nothing, it looked like the Master was ready to burn out anyway.  I knew he was never done for good, as he never is, no matter how dead he seems to be.  But I would appreciate an explanation next week, and perhaps one better than "His DNA was left on his ex-wife's lips years later" or "The Time Lords just brought him back from the dead for the hell of it."

Okay, enough about The Mistress, as there are other things that happened in this episode, after all.

Funny story, I've actually heard that metaphor about babies in the womb before.  I went to a Catholic school and, every morning, we had a morning prayer over the school's intercom system that usually involved the speaker telling some sort of story that turned into a moral fable.  One of them was about two babies in the womb and one of them insisting there was no such thing as life after birth, while the other one was a firm believer that there had to be something more than that.  The obvious point of the story was to teach us that non-belief is silly.  It may have sold me at the time, but as a 30 year old with a lot more world weariness, not so much.

"There is one, simple, horrible possibility that has never occurred to anyone throughout human history," says Chris Addison's character, with the strange name plate that just reads SEB.  Actually, Mr. Moffat, while I've never actually had a nightmare about anything grabbing me from under my bed, I have had horrifying thoughts about the possibility of the dead being fully conscious.  It's actually why I consider being cremated, because I always thought it might actually be better than the true horror of being forever conscious in a box that I can never get out of.  Thank you, Moffat, for a whole new set of unendurable nightmares.

For the love of God, no!!
Clara and Danny's fight finally did come to something, and boy was that painful.  She's finally ready to stop lying and be honest, and that's exactly when he dies.  But that did lead to probably my favorite line Peter Capaldi has delivered thus far:  "Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"  The Doctor has struggled so much this season in trying to remember how to be a good man, and I wasn't entirely sure that he was going to be that good to her after what she pulled.  In the moment where she tells the Doctor that Danny is dead, his underreaction is just so cold.  "And?"  The Eleventh Doctor wouldn't have been that cold.  Neither would the Tenth.  And I'm not entirely sure the Ninth would be so heartless, at least not by the end of his season.  The Doctor has lost his way, and that coldness felt like further proof of it.  But that one line where he tells Clara how much he cares about her, even after her betrayal, is a reminder that somewhere inside, the Doctor is still the Doctor.

It looks to me like Missy must have had something to do with Danny's death.  We never saw the actual accident (probably at least in part because the BBC wouldn't let them, it is a kid's show after all).  But Missy obviously wanted the Doctor to find her from the beginning.  All the people she's been targeting all season have all ben people the Doctor has come into contact with.  And she mentioned the Doctor when the half-faced man showed up in "heaven."  I mean, she is the Master, and the Master can hardly pull off a big scheme without making sure the Doctor is watching.  But is that all that's happening, or is there a specific reason she wanted the Doctor there?

I also can't figure out, for the life of me, what's supposed to happen when Danny presses that button on the iPad.  So, that just disconnects him from his body in the real world?  Why?  What would be the upside of that for The Mistress?  And I don't know how that kid is going to come into the plot later on, but he's going to have a pretty huge role pretty soon.  Possibly, he's going to save Danny, showing the kind of forgiveness only a small angel could show.

Oh, and also, you have Steve Jobs in the afterlife, so that's why you have iPads?  So, Steve Jobs talked some other inventor in the afterlife into creating them for everyone?  Because Steve Jbs never invented shit, he just marketed other people's shit.

In an interview with MTV, Michelle Gomez said, when asked what she could tease about the second half of this episode: "Oh, just watch it, it’s very good. You wont be disappointed – and nothing that you think is happening is happening… Nothing."  So now I have no idea, because I thought I had a really good idea of what was happening.  The Mistress (I'm not sure she insists on using "The," but I'm going to insist on using it for her) has teamed up with the Cybermen to use all of the dead people on Earth, turn them into Cybermen, and use that to battle the human race.  So what else is going on?  I'm not sure.  Davies probably would have left it at that, but it makes sense that Moffat would have another clever little twist up his sleeve.  And I can't wait to see what it is!  Like I said, I do think Moffat is eventually going to start catching some hell for giving us a female Master before he gave us a female Doctor, but I don't care.  He's given us this version of the Master who is truly creepy.  I'm just ecstatic to see my favorite villain in the Doctor Who universe back again!  Welcome, Michelle Gomez, to one of the most important roles in Doctor Who cannon.  I can't wait to see where this is going!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Little Miss Scary: Speculations on the Identity of "Missy"

The big question of the moment right now in Doctor Who is "Who is Missy?"  Even the trailer for the big two-part finale, which starts this Saturday, involves Missy asking if the Doctor knows who she is.  This reminds me of the very enjoyable mystery of who River Song was.  Some say that Moffat's payoffs aren't satisfying in the end.  Personally, the only one I found remotely unsatisfying was "The Name of the Doctor," so I feel confident that he has something really creative up his sleeve for this one.  But, of course, we have to remember Moffat's resistance to reusing classic series characters and species.  That's not to say that he refuses to use them altogether (Silurians, Sontarans, Daleks, Zygons, The Great Intelligence), but that he usually prefers to make up his own villains.  So there's the possibility, of course, that Missy is a completely new character that Moffat invented.  But the way that her identity is couched in mystery leaves us with the suggestion that she's someone important from the Doctor's past, so perhaps, as Moffat has now used some of the classic series characters and villains a little bit more in the past year or so, Missy might be a character returning from the classic series.  For a long time, we weren't sure if Missy was good or evil, as she seemed to primarily be concerned with looking over the dead.  Earlier today, the BBC released a scene from the upcoming finale which confirmed that Missy was, quite clearly, evil.  It showed that she was working with the Cybermen, and it pretty much revealed her entire plan:

So, here are a few possibilities about the identity of Missy, listed in, what I consider to be, the order of their likelihood:

Missy is a Female Regeneration of the Master:  I brought this up earlier this season that this could be a distinct possibility, and it remains, to me, the most likely possibility.  The first reason is the rumors that came out that the main villain of this season would be the Master.  I still think there's something strange about Sylvester McCoy having inside knowledge about the show after all these years, and I realize I was highly skeptical about it when the rumor first came out.  But believing this rumor is just so...tempting.  Also, Moffat has been slowly laying the groundwork for the past few years to introduce the idea of a regeneration across genders.  Add to that the fact that the Master has a penchant for choosing aliases that spell out "Master" if you rearrange the letters, translate it into English, etc.  Missy, as many pointed out, could easily be short for Mistress, the female version of "Master."  It wouldn't be the first time that the Master teamed up with another one of the Doctor's most famous foes, as the Master struck up an alliance with the Daleks back in "Frontier in Space."  Still, I do think that Moffat will catch hell (once again) if he gives us a female Master before we get a female Doctor.

Missy is The Rani:  Since Doctor Who returned to air in 2005, most of the key villains from the classic series have been reintroduced very slowly, allowing new viewers to get to know them slowly, so as not to overwhelm anyone.  First the Daleks, then the Cybermen, then the Master, then the Silurians, the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors, and the Zygons.  At this point, almost all of the really central ones from the classic series have made a reappearance in the new series.  However, there's still one villain that the fans continue to clamor for:  The Rani.  The fans' desires to see her return is way out of proportion to how important she actually was in the classic series, as the Rani only ever appeared in two classic series serials.  Part of the clamor for the Rani's return is probably the fact that she clearly has a long history with the Doctor that we still don't know about, and I think people would really like to see that explored further.  The Rani and the Doctor don't go into their history much on screen, but the expanded universe material says that the Rani, the Master, the Doctor, and an assortment of other Time Lords who have popped up in the classic series were part of a very exclusive clique of students at the Time Lord academy who were head and shoulders above the other students.  The fact that the Rani and the Doctor are old friends supports the theory that she is Missy, as Missy, back in "Deep Breath," refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend.  The Rani is a scientist, a bio-chemist to be exact, and her defining trait is her complete lack of scientific ethics, often using intelligent creatures as test subjects.  The fact that Missy seems to be able to bring people back from the dead lends some credibility to the theory of Missy being the Rani as well, as her background in bio-chemistry might explain how she's discovered how to do this.  However, while the Rani is a Time Lady (stop laughing, that's what they're called), and therefore can be played by anyone, the one downside to this theory is that Moffat might consider it a little insensitive to introduce a regeneration of the Rani only 7 months after Kate O'Mara, the actress who played the Rani in the classic series, passed away.

Missy is a female regeneration of the Valeyard:  The Valeyard was the main villain of Colin Baker's last season, a season-long arc known as "Trial of a Timelord."  He was said to be an evil version of the Doctor, made up of all the evil aspects of the Doctor's own personality, formed between his "twelfth and final incarnation."  This always seemed strange back when we thought there would only be 13 Doctors (to quote my friend Patrick, "integers don't work that way"), but now that we know that there will be more than 13 Doctors, anytime between now and the end of the series (which may never come) could be between his twelfth and final incarnation.  The season ended with a cliffhanger, as the Valeyard was revealed to still be alive and had infiltrated the Time Lord high council.  The cliffhanger was never followed-up on because the "Trial of a Timelord" plotline was so convoluted and unpopular that a memo was actually released to the writing staff instructing them to, under no circumstances, revisit the Valeyard or even try to explain the million plot holes in that story.  Still, much like Jason Todd in the Batman comics was far more popular after he was killed off than when he was actually in the comic, the Valeyard has found his largest fan base since his run on the show ended.  I would estimate that about 50% of the fan fictions written about Doctor Who are about the Valeyard.  People really do want to see the Valeyard again.  In fact, back in "The Name of the Doctor," the Great Intelligence mentioned that someday the Doctor would be known as the Valeyard.  As some of my co-hosts on my podcast mentioned, one of the main things that lends this theory credence is that, in "Deep Breath," Missy says of the Doctor " I do like his new accent, though. Think I might keep it."  She seems to be talking about the Doctor as if she both is and isn't somehow a part of him.  The fact that the Valeyard is, essentially, the darker side of the Doctor's own personality would make for an interesting explanation of why Missy called the Doctor her boyfriend, but this still remains a very outside possibility.  I don't think Moffat really wants to muddle into the murky waters of "Trial of a Timelord."

Missy is Mercy Hartigan:  I don't blame you if you're now asking "Who the hell is Mercy Hartigan?"  Her obscurity is the main reason I put her so far down on this list.  I actually had to look her up to remember her name myself.  Mercy Hartigan was the woman who worked for the Cybermen back in "The Next Doctor."  This theory came to me earlier today when I saw the scene that was released, and what I immediately thought of was the last woman who worked with the Cybermen.  We last saw Mercy as she was piloting a giant, steampunk Cyberman and, having been set loose of their influence over her, caused the Cyberman to slowly self-destruct as it fell into a parallel dimension.  She was presumed dead, but we never saw it actually happen, so who knows?  Also, "Mercy" and "Missy" sound pretty similar, don't they?  Still, the fact that she's pretty much the only person on this list that's not a Time Lord, making her change of appearance difficult to explain, and that she's a pretty obscure character makes her a pretty remote possibility.

Missy is Susan, the Doctor's Granddaughter:  On the most recent episode of my podcast, my co-host and co-worker, Scott, brought up this theory that he had read online and that he said had immediately been batted down.  Myself and my other co-hosts also batted this theory down pretty quickly, but now I don't know if it's the most absurd idea anymore.  While I still think this is only a remote possibility because there are so many holes in it (Susan is the Doctor's granddaughter, so calling him her "boyfriend" is, to say the least...icky), I still stand by the fact that I really feel like the show has been hinting for years that the Doctor's role as a father is coming back around in a big way sometime soon (that damned cot!).

Missy is Jenny, the Doctor's Daughter:  See above, re: Susan.

Missy is River Song:  Literally the only thing that keeps this theory alive is Missy calling the Doctor her boyfriend.  Now that we have confirmation that Missy is, indeed, evil, there's little hope left that she's going to turn out to be River, unless Moffat has decided he's tired of having fans anymore.


Other than that, I'm really intrigued to see what this who exactly Missy is.  The other interesting thing is that, from the trailer, it seems that we're going to see Kate Stewart and her trusty sidekick, Osgood, once again.  Judging from the scene in "Day of the Doctor" where Kate Stewart says that she's already given Clara security clearance because of her last visit to UNIT, I'm guessing that this episode is actually going to take place earlier in Kate and Osgood's timeline than "Day of the Doctor."  I also think that my friend Dawn's theory that Osgood is actually Clara's long lost sister is going to eventually turn out to be true.

But what I'm possibly most intrigued about, other than Missy's identity of course, is why Clara is acting so odd in the trailer, taunting the Doctor, and telling him that Clara Osborne never existed.  Clearly, Missy is the woman from the shop who brought the Doctor and Clara together, and the one who placed the ad in "Deep Breath" that brought them back together.  Does she have some sort of hold over Clara that's causing her to turn on the Doctor?  Or has she just become so infuriated with the Doctor's actions from this season that she's snapped and turned on him?  Frankly, I wouldn't blame her if she did.  And why does Missy so want Clara and the Doctor to be together?  Seeing as how she seems to be evil, and Clara saved the Doctor's life, putting the two of them together seems to be counterproductive.

I've been told that, in the UK, Halloween is celebrated, but that it's not as big of a holiday as in the US, hence why there are no Halloween specials or Halloween themed episodes of Doctor Who.  But, in a way, this feels like a nice Halloween-ish themed episode.  The Cybermen are back, they have a mysterious new leader, and they're harvesting the graves of the Earth.  Sounds like a big, fun, rollicking, scary Doctor Who adventure!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thy Fearful Symmetry; or A Series of Catastrophes: An Overanalysis of "In the Forest of the Night"

Into the woods, then out of the woods, and home before dark...
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

        -The Tyger by William Blake

This season has been one hell of a ride so far.  Last season was, by and large, a dreary, muddled mess of a season, and a seriously lackluster season with which to say goodbye to as brilliant of a Doctor as Matt Smith.  The injection of a new Doctor (despite being the one who replaced my all time favorite Doctor) has been just what this show needed.  A rip-roaring, fun, exciting season, this year we've been through one of the most imaginative years of the entire Doctor Who franchise.  This episode, though, felt much like a throw away.  It reminded me of what happens when I leave my blog to the last minute on Saturday morning and I want to make my self-imposed deadline of posting my blog before the new episode airs:  I don't really always get to put as much into it as I really wanted to.  This episode lacks any real peril.  Even the other episodes I criticized this season ("Into the Dalek," "Mummy on the Orient Express") were, at the very least, far more ambitious than this episode.  Trees taking over the Earth is hard to make scary unless the trees look like the Ents from Lord of the Rings or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, but even still, I feel like a little more effort could have been made to make this story more interesting.  Even the animals that had escaped from the zoo, apparently, and were now loose in the worldwide forest didn't make this "crisis" feel scary.  But, as someone else pointed out to me online, it's a testament to the quality of this season that the season's obvious lowest point was still pretty entertaining.  While the plot remains rather uninteresting, the episode is peppered with some truly brilliant dialogue and one-liners.  As we barrel ever faster towards the big 2-part finale, the high quality of the episodes from this season give me a lot of hope that we're heading into something really special.

This episode reminds me of an old episode of almost everyone's least favorite (but my favorite) Star Trek series, Voyager.  In the episode called "Twisterd" (one of the show's most notoriously ill-conceived episodes) a strange green gas overtakes the ship, and everything it passes over gets dimensionally distorted, causing the whole ship to be geographically rearranged into new patterns that the crew can't navigate.  At the end of the episode, one of the characters comes to the realization that it's possible that the phenomenon is not actually dangerous, and that the best action is for them to do nothing.  He turns out to be right, and the strange phenomenon leaves them without harming them, the lesson of the episode being that, sometimes, inaction is the best solution.  If you haven't seen the episode before, don't worry that I've just spoiled that for you, because it's one of the worst episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise.  Ultimately, "In the Forest of the Night" comes down with a somewhat similar lesson, that, in certain situations, inaction is the best course.  However, much as Star Trek: Voyager showed us, to teach that lesson in a compelling way in an action-adventure story is very difficult, and this episode does only a slightly better job than Voyager's "Twisted."  Even the solution of the episode is unexciting.  Seriously, that's all it took to stop the governments of the world from burning down the forests?  Think of all the things that we've tried to explain to governments and businesses over the years that they need to stop doing for the sake of the planet and the human race, and think of how many of those things they've actually stopped doing.  The ozone layer is going the way of Limp Bizkit's fan base, but all we had to do to stop that was to get a little girl to ask everyone nicely?

Danny and Clara's fight over her traveling with the Doctor is certainly interesting, but moving at an annoyingly slow pace.  Danny first found out about the Doctor and expressed his vague disapproval of him in "The Caretaker," and every week this conflict between them seems to threaten to come to a head and never does.  Two weeks ago, Clara claimed to be ending her travels with the Doctor, last week she was caught lying about ending her travels with him, and this week there seem to be no consequences to that lie.  Clara keeps lying, and Danny keeps failing to react.  What's more, Danny made it quite clear weeks ago that he doesn't care if she keeps traveling with the Doctor, as he told her in "Kill the Moon" that he thought it was obvious that she still cared about him and wasn't about to leave him forever, and in "Mummy on the Orient Express" he told her that leaving the Doctor forever sounded silly and she should keep the door open to spending some time with him again from time to time.  Even in this episode, Danny says point blank that he doesn't care what the truth is, he just wants to know what it is.  So why she's struggling so hard to cover up something from her boyfriend that he clearly doesn't care about remains...unclear.  My best guess is that she's mad at herself for not cutting ties with the Doctor like she said she was going to back in "Mummy on the Orient Express" and is projecting her own disapproval of her own actions onto Danny and imagining that he's the one who's upset about it, not her.

I had to ask some British friends online about this, but I wasn't aware that young children in London ever wore New York Yankees hats, as the kid in this episode clearly does.  It's not like I've seen anyone in the US wearing any sort of soccer gear unless it's World Cup season or they were clearly not born in this country.  I was told that Yankees caps can be seen in England sometimes, but that it's mostly a fashion thing, and most people who wear them don't follow the team or even baseball, for that matter.

That gruff, American, New York bravado gets...lost somehow
The very ending of this episode felt cheap to me.  This girl's motivation for most of the episode was her lost sister, in a back story that was never really convincingly or satisfyingly set-up, and the payoff for that poorly set-up story was even weaker, as she's magically found alive and well.  So, this girl was gone for a year?  Where'd she go?  Was she kidnapped?  Did she run away?  How did they find her again?  Did the trees help her find her way home as a thank you?  If so, does that mean the trees always had her?  If so, why, since they seemed to be the good guys in this episode?  Or was she just hiding behind that hydrangea bush the neighbors planted for the past year?  If you're not going to take the time to really set something up, just spare us the payoff.

"It's the trees!  The trees did it!"  Shut up, M. Night Moron!
Speaking of unsatisfying scenes, Missy's appearance here seemed entirely unnecessary.  She watches a video of the Earth not getting destroyed and says that that was surprising, and that she likes surprises.  It's possible that the finale is actually going to explain this reference a little bit and it will actually turn out to be a unique and highly relevant moment, but what's more likely is that, with the big finale coming next week, they just wanted to remind us that Missy is out there, waiting, biding her time.  It was bad enough back in Season 5 when the cracks in time showed up everywhere, whether it was really relevant or not, but at least that was a much faster little nod in each episode, and it didn't require bringing in a particular actor every time for no good reason.  I'd rather have no reference o Missy than one that's blatantly phoned in.

So now, going into the finale, we are left with Danny and Clara who have repeatedly avoided the fight we all know is coming, and Missy watching sinisterly at the Doctor and companion she was clearly responsible for bringing together.  I thought, in this blog, of speculating about what's to come in the finale, especially considering the excellent trailer we saw at the end of the episode, but I thought that maybe that might be something for its own blog later in the week.  Until then, feel free to come up with your own theories about the answer to the question we've been wondering about all season:  Who the hell is Missy?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Female Doctor: An Overanalysis of "Flatline"

First thing's first, you should make sure you're checking out my new Podcast, Mile High Who-cast, and our latest episode, "Do I Have the Ebolas?"  I might also have another new Doctor Who fan project coming in the near future, but no guarantees until everything's ready.  Now, to continue...

In a deleted moment from the latest episode of my new Podcast, I talked about one of the few things I was missing this season was one of those big, cocky speeches the Doctor gives to the villain about how he's going to defeat them.  My co-podcasters suggested that that might just have been a Matt Smith thing, but I argued that it's also a David Tennant thing ("You just killed someone I liked. That is not a safe place to stand. I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up!") and even a Christopher Eccleston thing:

The 12th Doctor hadn't had a nice speech like that until this episode.  (I don't count his banter with The Half-Faced Man in "Deep Breath," because that was less of a big cocky speech and more of the Doctor wrestling with his own conscience.)  I think part of the reason is that, since the new Doctor's tenure started, the show hasn't dealt with a lot of villains that were pure evil.  Most of the villains have been sympathetic in some way.  That's good, and that's an important part of Doctor Who.  There always should be a good number of episodes like "The Beast Below," "Hungry Earth," and "Listen" that don't have a true and clear "villain."  But those episodes, as wonderful and necessary as they are, need to be interspersed with some more purely fun episodes that are just good ol' fashioned good vs evil.  This episode even went so far as to make us think it might be going down that route, as the Doctor thought that possibly it was all a misunderstanding.  But, even given that out, new Who writer Jamie Mathieson decided not to take it, and gave us perhaps the first truly, purely evil villain we've had all season.  And boy was it satisfying!

This is the second episode to be written by Jamie Mathieson, his first episode being...well, last week's.  I thought that was a little strange.  It was only last year that we started getting more than one episode in the same season written by the same writer.  Before that, it had never happened in any season (not counting two-part episodes).  Mathieson, for some reason, got to do his first two episodes of the show back to back.  And, while I wasn't particularly thrilled by "Mummy on the Orient Express," I felt like this episode was just one of the best of the season.

The concept of a two-dimensional Universe is not something I expect out of popular science fiction.  I expect something like that to only come out of literary science fiction.  In fact, it has, as probably the most famous exploration of the topic is the novel Flatland, written by Edwin Abbott Abbott (the son of clearly unimaginative parents, judging by his name).  The only time I can think of it being mentioned in any sort of popular science-fiction before is when Futurama visited a 2-dimensional universe in the episode "2-D Blacktop."  While that was pretty adventurous of them, I feel like, as a comedy, going there is a little bit safer than it is on a more dramatic science fiction show.  It struck me as a bit of a risk for Doctor Who to cover this topic.  It's not necessarily easy to show visually, at least in a way that's actually compelling or scary.  It's also not necessarily the easiest concept for the imagination to grasp.  There was good reason to fear that an episode like this might--please forgive the pun--fall flat.  But Mathieson took the risk and it paid off, and somehow he managed to really make the 2-D monsters truly terrifying.

Although, in fairness, this is goddamn terrifying as well!
This has been somewhat referred to online as a Doctor-lite episode, but I feel like that's a bit of a misconception.  "Doctor-lite" episodes are those episodes where the Doctor just makes a few brief appearances, most notably the univerally despised "Love and Monsters," the really creative "Turn Left," and the universally acclaimed "Blink."  We haven't seen a Doctor-lite episode in a while, not since the 10th Doctor era, really.  But I didn't feel like Flatline felt like a Doctor-lite episode.  The Doctor is in the episode throughout everything, he's just stuck inside the TARDIS for the whole thing.  That's not "lite."  The Doctor-lite episodes were really introduced to save time and money, as you could shoot one while shooting another regular episode simultaneously.  I doubt that this saved as much time or money as the three episodes I mentioned earlier.

This is Clara's defining moment in this episode in many ways.  I think my favorite Clara moment in this is when she's staring at the TARDIS (which has now somehow been transformed into a Time Lord hypercube?) and says "Doctor, what would you do.  No, what will I do."  That was a great reminder that, when it comes down to it, what Clara brings to the table in this show is her own imagination, not simply the ability to replicate the Doctor's actions.  Her solution was perfect, with such a perfectly logical ending.  My favorite episodes of Doctor Who are ones where the solution comes from the internal logic of the episode in a way that--to quote an old screenwriting professor of mine about what makes for the best endings of any script--surprising, yet inevitable.  Moffat has a particular talent for this (sometimes, not always), in pulling out a solution that makes you say "I didn't think of that the entire time, but now I can't believe I never thought of it because it looks so obvious."  I don't feel like we've had a surprising-yet-inevitable ending as satisfying as this since back in my favorite episode ever, "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon."

The one downside is that the Doctor kind of swoops in and steals Clara's victory because, after Clara does all of the hard work, he comes in and saves the day with one wave of the sonic screwdriver (once again moving dangerously into the territory of the sonic being used as a weapon, which I don't think it should be used for).  It seemed, the first time I watched this, like that should have been an easy thing for Clara to do since she had the sonic anyway.  On my second viewing, I could the line just before Clara loses the TARDIS where he tells her he's figured out a way to send the creatures back to their own dimension, but only if the TARDIS gets recharged.  Presumably, then, whatever he does with the sonic was something that could only be done once the TARDIS was recharged and the sonic and the TARDIS could work together, which makes sense since the TARDIS did seem to create this version of the sonic screwdriver all on its own so it makes sense that they could work together in that way.  Still, I think it blunted the ending a little bit by taking a little of Clara's accomplishment away from her and handing it to the Doctor.  It's a metaphor for the history of the modern world:  white males always love to take credit for the things that were done by others.

Now, does that make me a hypocrite for loving the Doctor's big cocky speech, even though I still think he shouldn't have taken the credit away from Clara?  I prefer to think it makes me complex.

The last scene showed us, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Missy was the "woman in the shop" who first gave Clara the Doctor's phone number, uniting the two of them.  So why did she choose Clara?  We're still in this bizarre limbo where we're not actually sure if Missy is actually good or evil.  She seems sinister, but whatever her ultimate purpose, uniting Clara and the Doctor saved the Doctor's life...a million times over.

I think the next episode should give us a little bit of an idea of what's going to happen next with Clara and Danny's relationship.  She's lied to him, and now the cat's out of the bag, and into central London (wow, that one was bad).  He seems to be very present in this upcoming episode, and I am quite curious to see what's going to happen between them now.  I like Danny Pink, but I've been disappointed that he hasn't really been a "companion" like we were made to believe.  I'd like to see him more at the forefront of the show, and get a little more involved in the adventures.  I hope I won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Walk Like an Egyptian: An Overanalysis of "Mummy on the Orient Express"

"Hello? Oh, hello. I'm sorry, this is a very bad line. No, no, no, but that's not possible. She was sealed into the seventh Obelisk. I was at the prayer meeting. Well, no, I get that it's important. An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space" - The Eleventh Doctor receiving a phone call at the end of "The Big Bang"

"A long time ago the Doctor took a phone call asking for some help on the Orient Express and finally he's getting around to doing something about it" - Steven Moffat, being interviewed about this episode.

Well, Moffat, that doesn't quite explain this episode.  As we can see, in the original phone call the Doctor received, he was told that it was an Egyptian goddess, and that he had been in a prayer meeting to "seal" her anyway.  I've always wondered what exactly the Doctor was doing at a "prayer meeting," as he's always struck me as too much of a skeptic for that.  So no, Moffat, this wasn't you actually planning ahead, this is you reaching back to a one-off joke from an episode 3 seasons back and making an entire episode just out of that joke.  And, sadly, the episode bears all the hallmarks of an episode that began with a title, rather than an episode that began with a really interesting idea.  It has its moments, and I don't think anything about it was actively bad, I just didn't feel like anything about it was particularly great or really inspired.  However, what really intrigued me about this episode is that it clearly left a lot of loose ends open on purpose, and I think that this episode holds a lot more clues to the season finale than it would seem to on first glance.  And, perhaps even more importantly, this is the continuation of the very interesting arc about the toxic friendship between the Doctor and Clara, and it moves us one step closer to the resolution of something really difficult that's happening with them.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn't like this episode all that much is because I've never been fond of mummies.  They don't particularly scare me.  They're just zombies with some bandages on.  Sure, seeing an actual mummified body in a museum is kind of creepy (and amazingly cool), but I don't have any fears about it coming to life and hunting me down.  Furthermore, movies and TV shows that depict mummies usually show them int heir own fictionalized version of ancient Egypt, and to highlight how hot it is in Egypt, they usually depict scenes with a lot of sunlight to show the hot sun bearing down on the landscape.  Besides the fact that I find yellows and oranges to be generally drab colors, a scene awash in daylight is really anything but scary.  Darkness is scary, sunlight is comforting.  So, usually, when I hear that something is going to have a mummy in it, I'm likely to pass on it.

Also, it has the unfortunate tendency to remind me of Brendan Frasier's attempts at "acting"
BBC made a big deal about pop star Foxes appearing in this episode, covering Queen's classic "Don't Stop Me Now."  With this bit of information, and the Doctor's penchant for picking up pop stars as companions, even for a one-off (Billie Piper, Kylie Minogue), I assumed that Foxes would be a main cast member of this episode, a one-off companion to replace Clara while she was furious with the Doctor.  The fact that last week's trailer, and all promotional material excluded Clara (including the above poster, you can even check the fine print on the bottom, she's not there), seemed to confirm this.  Imagine my surprise when Foxes was a lounge singer merely in the background of this episode singing the song with surprising disinterest (and, considering the revelation later in the episode that most of the people on the train were holograms, she probably wasn't even a real person), and Clara was front and center again as the companion.  If Foxes was booked primarily as a mislead, that's a brilliant move on the part of the show's executive producers, if a bit of an insult to Foxes.  Still, that doesn't seem to have stopped Foxes's fans from going apeshit about her performance.

"Don't stop me know, I'm having such a boring time..."

If Frank Skinner's character, Perkins, was similarly placed in here to make us believe that he would be a replacement companion for Clara, that wasn't one I fell for.  For all the attention that was conspicuously placed on him--to the point where he might as well have just been wearing a sign that said "Look at me, I'm important"--he had one thing that disqualified him from ever becoming a permanent companion on the show to replace Clara, and that's a Y chromosome.  Men do not travel in the TARDIS unless there's a woman there.  It's an unfortunate rule, and one I'd be very happy to see changed, but it's not one I expect to see change at any point in the future.  Still, the fact that the Doctor practically invited him to join him in the TARDIS at the end signals that this is someone the Doctor respects (mainly because he's someone who's willing to criticize the Doctor), and I wouldn't be surprised if we see him again later on.  Much as the Doctor's friends reassembled to help him in "The Pandorica Opens" and "A Good Man Goes to War," I'm imagining a posse from across time and space this season finale that contains, at the very minimum, the Paternoster Gang, Robin Hood, and Perkins.

I felt like a lot of the loose ends here were left loose very much on purpose.  We still don't know exactly who or what "Gus," the computer, actually was, or why he felt the need to assemble all of these experts to study The Foretold.  All I could think of was that Gus reminded me of our mysterious villainess, Missy, in that both are running an operation that is somehow, at the same time, both benevolent and sinister.  Additionally, as Clara pointed out, if Gus knows what the TARDIS is, he knows who the Doctor is.  The Doctor then lets us know that Gus has been reaching out to him for a long time (again, referencing that damn phone call), and Missy seems to know the Doctor very well, too.  I get the impression that Gus has to be working for Missy in some way, and that this episode is largely setting us up for the season finale.  We also know very little, in the end, about how the Mummy was being controlled and who was controlling it.  It was trapped in this repeating cycle somehow, but someone had to have trapped it.  But notice that Gus seemed interested in stopping this thing that is trapping a dead person and not allowing him to fully die, showing that Gus, much like Missy, seems to be obsessed with death.  I'm starting to wonder if Missy's ultimate mission is to stop death in the Universe, in which case we could have a very interesting showdown in this season finale.

Additionally, something about the scene where the Doctor was talking about all the planets form this part of space that had been swallowed up struck me as some sort of foreshadowing, and possibly that's something that's going to come around again.  Of course, the whole plotline of a lot of planets going missing in the Universe has been done before, but it was done before poorly, so I wouldn't mind seeing it done again.

Some people have complained about the fact that Clara, in the end, decides to rejoin the Doctor, even though nothing has really changed.  The Doctor hasn't gotten nicer to her, and he hasn't apologized.  She even lies to Danny about it--seemingly unnecessarily as he has changed his tone and does see to be advocating her staying with the Doctor--to continue her journey's with the Doctor.  Here's the thing about that:  one of the things I like about Doctor Who, at least in the past few years, is that it's a show that seems to be comfortable with letting its characters learn the wrong lesson from time to time, at least temporarily.  I think of "The God Complex," an episode that I really feel was designed for the Doctor to learn the wrong lesson, and to come to the realization at the end of the episode that he needs to stop traveling with a companion, because it's too dangerous for them.  As he starts to learn, and has learned many times before, he should never be traveling alone.  Ever.  This feels like a similar situation.  I never got the feeling that, when Clara decided to travel with the Doctor again despite him not changing anything or apologizing, that the narrative of this show was really trying to tell me "Look at what a great decision Clara made!"  Rather, Clara's in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who used to be very good to her, and she's hoping for him to change back again and become a better person to her.  Unlike most times when this situation plays out in real life, I think there's a good chance that the Doctor might actually turn a corner and start to become a better friend to her.  But, right now, he's not in a good place, and he's not been treating her well, and she's choosing to go off with him again any way.  I get the feeling something's coming soon that's going to make her regret that decision.

It's recently been confirmed that Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) will at least be in the Christmas special this year, although nothing has been confirmed for next season, which suggests that the Clara, Danny, Doctor triangle of tension is going to keep going at least one episode past the end of this season.  I'm hoping, though, that all of this is leading up to a finale in which the big problems between these three characters are resolved, and the Christmas special is an opportunity to turn our attention towards other things.  That's the way my favorite season (Season 5) worked out.  Moffat seemed to have no interest in extending that love triangle with Amy, Rory, and the Doctor beyond one season, but wanted to keep the characters.  So they moved past that conflict and entered a new stage of their relationship, starting with the Christmas special.  I'm hoping the same thing is going to happen this season.