Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fun Lovin' Criminals: An Overanalysis of "Time Heist"

"Running around robbing banks all whacked off the [memory worms]..."

Sorry about the late post this week, just barely getting this one out before the new episode airs.  I have fewer excuses than usual.  I actually had this week off.  But give me too much free time, and I'll surely waste it.  So here we go:

The Doctor has always been the guy you go to when you need somebody to save lives.  But even in his days where he was forced to live on Earth and work for UNIT, nobody was ever dumb enough to ask him to help them recover stolen goods, unless those stolen goods included a weapon that could be used to hurt others.  I always wanted to see someone try, because I imagine his response would be amazing.  "Do you know who I am?  I'm the Doctor.  I'm hundreds of years old.  I've saved all of existence more times than I can count.  Everything.  All of it.  All that is now, ever was, or ever will be, exists only because of me.  So I'll leave you humans to deal with the little strips of paper that you think mean something."  My girlfriend recently introduced me to the concept of alignments from Dungeons and Dragons (believe it or not, I'm not the one in this relationship with any experience in RPGs), and we had a slight disagreement over the Doctor's alignment.  My argument is that in any regeneration, in any era, the Doctor is chaotic good:  someone who is always looking to do good, with absolutely no regard for laws.  Laws can be useful if the Doctor deems them to be morally correct, but if he does not, he never shows any hesitation in breaking them.

So, yeah, the Doctor's okay with robbing a bank.

I said I felt bad for Stephen Thompson having to write the unfortunate episode that has to follow "Listen."  But what makes this episode work after watching an episode like "Listen"--which will probably go down as one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time--is that Moffat was smart enough to schedule an episode that follows "Listen" that is completely unlike "Listen" in any way.  What this is is a genre episode, to borrow a phrase that Cultbox invented earlier this week in regards to Doctor Who episodes like this:  an episode that borrows a popular film genre, because in Doctor Who, it's actually perfectly acceptable--and, at this point, even expected--for the show to jump from one genre to another from one week to the next.  "Time Heist" is the Doctor Who rendition of a classic heist film, the most popular of which, in our generation, is the trilogy that sprang from the George Clooney/Matt Damon remake of Ocean's Eleven.  This has all the trappings of a classic heist movie, and plays them up in the most fun way possible.

I'd watch it!

Stephen Thompson, who is the main writer of this episode (although Moffat is co-billed on it, which I'll get to later), is an odd-duck.  Of the three writers of Sherlock, he was the only one who had not written for Doctor Who when he started with Sherlock, only after he had started.  He was brought in for the first season of Doctor Who after Sherlock started, and he wrote the biggest stinker of Season 6, "Curse of the Black Spot," which proves that the genre episode can go terribly wrong.  However, the season after that, he wrote an excellent episode in a really bad season, "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS."  If there's one thing Thompson proved when writing for Sherlock, it's that he can create a very complex storyline and handle it very well.  There are actually a lot of ways that "Time Heist" resembles a Sherlock episode:  there's a very complex narrative, with clues to solving it hidden throughout, and we learn the answer through the deductive powers of a brilliant, yet arrogant and often abrasive, man.

I've watched over the episode several times and I'm still trying to figure out if the logic all makes sense.  For the most part, I think it did, with one exception being that I don't think the question of why the Doctor didn't just use the TARDIS was ever perfectly answered.  This episode pulls the same trick that Steven Moffat pulled back in "Asylum of the Daleks":  if you have the characters mention what the plot holes are in your story, people will give you credit for filling in the plot holes even if you haven't.  The Doctor does state that the reason they couldn't use the TARDIS was because the storm, which is what made the bank vulnerable enough to be breached, would also have made it impossible to navigate into the bank.  Couldn't he have just taken it directly into the private vault where the female Teller was being held, grab her, and go?  Unlike in "Asylum of the Daleks," there are at least a number of plausible explanations here, even if none of them are explicitly spelled out in the script.  This is a bank in the distant future.  There's good reason to suspect they have some sort of security system to keep anything from materializing inside the most secure parts of the bank.  It seems to me that a bank in this era would be expected to have some sort of security against that.  But then why could he get the TARDIS in to give himself the necessary materials for the heist that he would need later on?  Perhaps the materialization protections are only employed deeper in the bank, closer to the valuables.

But the biggest problem with the logic of this episode is that, to follow it, you need to be able to understand everything that Peter Capaldi says, and that's not too easy for many Americans, and even some Brits, as it turns out.  A lot of people have complained, particularly in the US, that Capaldi's thick Scottish accent is hard to understand, and I have to admit having to rewind the show myself sometimes.  A screenwriting professor I had in college always said that major plot points should be displayed visually instead of just putting them in dialogue because it's easier to miss dialogue.  Well, that's all well and good, but when you get into very abstract science fiction concepts like mind-reading, you do really need to put the information in the dialogue.  Perhaps that's why some of the key information was given by Peter Capaldi's voice being run through a voice changer that, inexplicably, gives him an American accent.  (And, yes, they did that in England, not just in the American broadcasts.)

It's kind of like being yelled at by the garbage disposal.

Moffat, again, takes a co-writing credit in this episode.  I'm still trying to figure out why.  I don't really get an impression that he was a full 50% contributor to three episodes this season on top of the four episodes he wrote solo.  I still think it's possible that my original theory was correct:  that Moffat is being very particular about who writes for his new character, Danny Pink.  So far the only episode that Moffat has not taken at least a co-writing credit on this season was "Robot of Sherwood," which doesn't feature Danny at all.  However, if my theory is correct, and Moffat is taking a co-writing credit just because he's writing all the scenes for Danny, then he took credit for writing very, very little in this episode.  Considering he went uncredited for his writing in "The End of Time (Part 2)" and "Closing Time"--I find it hard to believe he would insist on being credited for writing the brief Danny Pink scene in this episode.

My favorite part of this episode is that it reminds us that the Doctor is always compassionate, even if that's not what is apparent on the surface.  I always say the only two defining traits that are constant throughout all of the Doctor's lives are compassion and curiosity.  There are some Doctors that are meaner and harsher than others, notably 1, 6, 9, and now 12.  They have little regard for social niceties and ensuring that nobody's feelings get hurt.  Their compassion is on a more macro level.  They may not be nice, but they are kind at their cores.  The Twelfth Doctor proves this in this episode when we figure out what he was "robbing" the bank for in the first place.  For all his blustering around, his seemingly insensitive comments, the Doctor's real mission this entire time was one of true kindness and generosity.  Say what you will, this is the same Doctor he always was.

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."