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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Walking on Eggshells: An Overanalysis of "Kill the Moon"

Certainly the coolest episode title since "Let's Kill Hitler"

I've read several times (although never from an official source) that Eric Saward, script editor in the 6th Doctor era, had a plan for Colin Baker's 6th Doctor that he never really got a chance to pull off.  The 6th Doctor was supposed to start off repulsive and unlikeable, but that was supposed to lead into an arc where, through a series of events including the death of his companion, the 6th Doctor was going to mellow and begin to remember the kind hearted person he used to be.  Unfortunately, before Saward was able to put this into action, the show came under attack from the BBC, whose controller criticized the show's low-budget cheesy special effects (he was sleeping with Colin Baker's ex-wife, at the time, so take that with a grain of salt), from the fans who didn't like the change to such a mean and pompous Doctor, and from conservative groups, who already thought the show was a little too violent, and now thought it was way too violent.  The production team was forced to pivot and rework the plan for the second season, switching from the arc they had planned to the horribly muddled "Trial of a Timelord" arc.  Had the 6th Doctor's arc been allowed to roll out the way it was supposed to, we might have seen a remarkable transformation in which the Doctor rediscovered his true self.  Approximately 30 years later, enter Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor, who is just as arrogant as the 6th Doctor ever was, but in very different ways.  His new persona hasn't endeared him to everyone around him, and has flat out alienated some people like Danny Pink.  Clara has been accused of making excuses for him, demonstrating a compassion for him that few others share.  Now, even Clara has been pushed past her breaking point, meaning the Doctor is going to have to re-evalutate how he's been acting.  Are we perhaps seeing, about 3 decades later, the introduction of Colin Baker's lost arc in Peter Capaldi's era?

As I watched this episode, 2 things slowly became abundantly clear to me. 1) This episode was not meant as some sort of allegory for abortion.  2) A lot of people are going to think that it is.  Peter Harness, who wrote this episode, is a first time Doctor Who writer, so I don't know his political leanings or anything like that.  I do, however, know that Doctor Who is a left-leaning show, even if Glenn Beck has recently come out as a fan.  Between the number of openly gay people who have worked as writers, show-runners, and actors on Doctor Who, the constant themes of racial equality that have pervaded the show since day one, and the Doctor's adamant dislike for all things military, I think that suggesting that anyone who writes Doctor Who has a conservative bone in their body is laughable.

The morning after the episode aired, I went online looking for the inevitable discussions about this episode and abortion and, wouldn't you know, I wasn't wrong that someone was going to think this.  But what I wasn't expecting was that, on more than one of these websites and message boards I've seen discussing this episode's "metaphor" for abortion, I found actual British people chiming in basically saying "Um, we weren't thinking that at all.  That sounds like it may just be an American interpretation.  Abortion may be a hot button topic, still, in the United States, but it's been legal in the UK for so long, we really don't argue about it anymore."  I looked up this claim and, while these Brits were a little off in that it hasn't been legal in England that much longer than the United States (the UK legalized it 6 years earlier than the US), I did notice that the British legalized it by a law passed through their legislature, unlike in the United States where it was legalized by a Supreme Court case.  I doubt it ever could have become a law in this country through Congress because we're still so evenly and bitterly divided about it here, which makes me think that the British had a little more public consensus on this issue than we did, which would support the idea that it's not really a hugely hot button topic over there.

However, not all Brits think that's just an American point of view, as the Telegraph came up with the same interpretation.  So let's put it this way:  I see the parallels here.  There are parts that are screaming out for this metaphor, but there are also problems.  First of all, if you want to try to look at this as an anti-choice argument, you've got the problem that the Doctor left the choice up to all the people for whom it was appropriate to make the choice, not just all the humans...but all the women.  Danny Pink is conspicuously absent from this episode (until the very end), and even the President of the United States, mentioned in passing as someone who should be making this decision, is a woman.  Nobody said that everyone supporting choice is a big fan of abortions, just that we all believe that having them legal is better in the long run than having them illegal, and that the choice should be there.  Furthermore, this is a creature in the last hour of a 100,000 year maturing process, which would make this pretty much just a baby at this point, so at best you could call this an argument against super-late-term abortions, if anything.  If there is any intent for the metaphor we're seeing, it's not, as the Telegraph's wishful thinking department contends, a "Christian Pro-Life" episode.

While I may be pro-choice, I still find the thought of abortions squiggy, so to clean the mental palate, here's an adorable picture:

Just don't think about puppy abortions!

Moving on...

That being said, I would not have made the same choice Clara did.  An entire planet of people, my people, are about to be destroyed, and all I have to do is kill one creature that I'm not even entirely sure is intelligent?  Yeah, I probably would have hit detonate a long time before they decided to in this episode.  And, the more I think about it, that's why I feel like I can relate to Clara's anger so much here.  There was no 3rd option of hiding Earth in its own little pocket of space time.  It's a terrifying predicament, and knowing that I would have hit the button when I didn't need to, that makes me all the more furious at the Doctor for not giving Clara that information and forcing her to make that decision on her own.

I thought it was interesting that the episode talked about Earth having lost interest in space travel, as we all know we have right now.  As much as we will always love our sci-fi, we aren't so big on sending anyone into space anymore.  Here's the thing:  Why are there so many British astronauts in the future on Doctor Who?  To date, England has produced 6 astronauts ever, and they all went up on other country's ships.  What, they suddenly start becoming the dominant country in the space program in the future, along with, according to this episode, Mexico?  The Mexican Space Agency, in case you're wondering, was, in the real world, formed in 2010.  They don't have a rocket yet.

In a deleted scene, the Doctor removes the whale they left on the moon.

I still haven't seen enough of Courtney Woods yet to really form a strong opinion on her one way or the other.  Mostly, it felt like, in this episode, Courtney's main role was to be the victim of the Doctor's abuse.  One of the 11th Doctor's defining traits was that he was really good with children, but Courtney's not really a child, she's a teenager.  And this isn't the 11th Doctor, it's the 12th.  Admittedly, the 12th Doctor showed some of 11's magic with children when he met young Danny Pink back in "Listen," but he's shown a distinct lack of common decency, let alone charm, when dealing with pour Courtney.  He tried to give a little bit of comfort to Courtney by dropping little compliments about how "special" she is, but the truly revealing moment is the one that comes when he proves he doesn't understand how old Courtney actually is.  I think this is another one of the symptoms of the Doctor being a lost, angry, scared man who is taking it out on those around him.  If this is the story of the Doctor's redemption, I can't wait to see where it's going.

My girlfriend would like me to let you know that she figured out what Danny's "bad day" was at the end of the episode.  I figured it out before she pointed it out to me, but she'd still like me to let you know.  His statement, when comforting Clara, that he had had a bad day was clearly foreshadowing.  There's no way that someone would put that line in there unless it was setting something up.  More than likely, he's been on his own adventure with the Doctor, and the Doctor just managed to drop both Clara and Danny off from separate adventures at the same point in time.  It might also explain why Danny doesn't really seem as inclined to try to get Clara to leave the Doctor as he might have been last week.  He understands her frustration, but he also understands that she still cares about the Doctor, and he won't let her forget that.

The preview of next week's episode interestingly avoided showing us who the companion would be.  I could probably look up the cast list for next week (I've seen it before, but it was a long time ago so I don't remember) and then reveal it here, but that's a spoiler I'd rather not give you.  My guess is it'll be a one-off companion, or else it'll be Danny Pink's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day that he referenced at the end of this episode.

Missy is absent from this episode entirely, leaving us with only one arc to look at:  the arc of the Doctor's relationship with Clara.  She's angry at him, with good reason, and I'm wondering what happens next in their relationship.  I'm hoping we do see a slow progression of the Doctor finding himself again.  My biggest question is, what has made this Doctor so much more unfriendly and abrasive?  It's something that's been bugging me since Moffat announced that the 12th Doctor would be a little rougher, a little meaner:  Why?  He just saved Gallifrey, even if it's still hidden away somewhere.  This should be the lightest his soul has felt since the Time War, and instead he's gotten bitter and petty.  Perhaps old age is really getting to him.  Perhaps moving beyond the number of regenerations he's supposed to have is making him sour and cranky.  Peter Capaldi's performance is brilliant, and because it's brilliant, I can see something in the Doctor that is really scared and really crying for help.  It's the most vulnerable we've ever seen him.  I want to walk into the screen and get the poor guy some help.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pride and Prejudice: An Overanalysis of "The Caretaker"

(Another one that's just barely going to make it to print before the airing of the next episode in the US, and possibly later than the UK broadcast.  I think we need to just learn to start expecting this from me.)

Gareth Roberts knew what he was doing when he inserted Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, although if he was looking for thematic resonance this episode actually bears a much stronger resemblance to the plot of Jane Austen's Persuasion.  (Yes, I know a thing or two about classic British literature.  What?  I can be a nerd about multiple things.)  While Gareth Roberts' first two episodes for Doctor Who were about aliens attacking famous literary figures ("The Shakespeare Code" and "The Unicorn and the Wasp"), since the beginning of the Moffat era, Roberts's forte has really been episodes that bring Doctor Who down to a very human level.  In "The Lodger" and its sequel "Closing Time," Roberts brought us very human stories about love, friendship, career, and family, not entirely unlike Jane Austen.  So when you have a season arc that includes a love story, and you need someone to really dig out the human element of that love story--particularly when you need to demonstrate the conflicting pride and prejudices of two very proud men--you call for Gareth Roberts.

While this episode does bear a lot of resemblance to Gareth Roberts's last two episodes--although it's not a second sequel to "The Lodger" as many on social media annoyingly worried about--it also brings to mind Chris Chibnall's "The Power of Three" from last season.  It was last season, Amy and Rory's last season, that Moffat introduced the concept of a companion who doesn't necessarily travel with the Doctor, but more of a part time companion who can return to their life at will, but will, at random times, go off for adventures with the Doctor.  This episode, and "The Power of Three," are the ones that really take a look at how difficult that life can be.  Balancing a normal life with the extraordinary life of a TARDIS passenger would have to make for a truly bizarre dichotomy.  It's an interesting idea, and it's surprising, once you think about it, that nobody has thought of it before.  The closest we come to anything like this in the classic series is the brief time in the 3rd Doctor era when the Doctor was stranded on Earth without the use of his TARDIS, meaning that his companions had to stay on Earth and live their lives, because the Doctor had nowhere to take them.  As soon as the TARDIS got up and running on a regular basis, though, the Doctor and his new companion, Sarah Jane Smith, started traveling together again, and no other companion was allowed to live a regular life on Earth while traveling with the Doctor until Amy and Rory settled down in quiet suburbia.  Perhaps the reason that nobody came up with the idea of a part-time companion in the classic series is because the first two Doctors didn't actually know how to steer the TARDIS.  The Doctor just pressed some buttons and it took him somewhere in time and space.  He could never predict where.  This didn't really allow for part time companions, as he couldn't figure out how to bring them home.  By the time the Doctor gained the ability to steer the TARDIS--which, again, came in the 3rd Doctor era when he finally regained use of his TARDIS--the idea of a full time companion was so orthodox that nobody thought of trying anything else.

Considering his inability to steer the TARDIS, the 1st Doctor's kidnapping of his original companions seems extra-dickish.
But where Amy and Rory had each other to share their secret with, Clara has been living a double life while trying to date.  That's a little more difficult.  Back in "Listen," I kept getting so annoyed with Clara for never mentioning to the Doctor that the little boy whose timeline they keep ending up in was the guy she was on a date with.  I realize the Doctor's prejudice against soldiers was set up back in "Into the Dalek," but I thought that she could easily mention that she had a date without bringing up that he was a soldier.  But this episode made things a little clearer:  the fear of the Doctor rejecting Danny is a crippling fear.  The Doctor plays a very strange role in her life--taking up the unlikely position that lies somewhere between father figure and ex-boyfriend--and the Doctor rejecting someone she loves, so much so that she may have to choose between them, is so terrifying, it kept her from really being able to take even the simplest of actions.

Moffat has said that, as much as he loves Rory and Mickey, he felt like they were never really competitors with the Doctor for their various girlfriends' affections, and he wanted to make Danny someone who actually could compete with the Doctor.  Well, I don't know if I agree with him about Rory, but I can see what he's doing.  Danny isn't a passive man in any way.  Danny is someone who has the Doctor's number from the beginning, and that's the worst thing the Doctor can imagine.  Much has been made in the new series about the Doctor being a "soldier" from the Time War, but Danny had a different interpretation of it.  He's not a soldier, he's an officer.  That's an interesting twist, and not one I've never thought of before:  the Doctor as an officer, his companions as his willing soldiers.  I think in his short time meeting with the Doctor, Danny has a better idea of who the Doctor really is than Clara, who has now travelled with him for over a year and also managed to, in one form or another, visit every incarnation of the Doctor.

The Doctor's prejudice against soldiers isn't entirely a new one, but its ferocity is very particular to this new, 12th incarnation.  The 3rd Doctor was stranded on Earth, forced to work with the military operation U.N.I.T., and his best friend, really, became Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, an officer in his own right.  The Doctor got along with the rank and file of U.N.I.T. pretty well, too.  He didn't hate them, but he quite often clashed with them about whether military solutions were appropriate or not.  The 4th, 5th, and 7th Doctors found their paths crossing with the Brigadier yet again, and the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctors each found themselves working for U.N.I.T. again at least once.  The 10th Doctor said, in "The Sontaran Stratagem," upon running in to U.N.I.T. again, that he'd prefer if the Brigadier were there.  And the 11th Doctor, upon learning the ever sad news that the Brigadier had died (reflecting the real life death of the actor who played him, Nicholas Courtney), it was what finally brought him back down to Earth to realize he couldn't run from the Silence anymore.  So really, this particular prejudice, at least in this particular form, is very much the 12th Doctor's, not the Doctor's in general.  The others had no problem with soldiers until they started pointing guns around without very good reason, at which point they always incurred the Doctor's wrath.

Also, he seems to get along with this guy pretty well.
Maybe it's because the Doctor thinks of him less as a soldier, more as a potato with a gun.

I'd like to say, for the record, that the Doctor's continuous use of the name "John Smith" as an alias has always tickled me, as that's my dad's name.  Although, none of them have tickled me quite as much as "Midnight," which has the great line:  "No one's called John Smith. Come off it. "

On a side note, as a fan of classic British literature, when Clara went on her tirade about her imagined adventures of the Doctor and Jane Austen fighting aliens and meeting Buddy Holly, all I could think was:  "I want to see that episode!"  As an upcoming episode from this season, "Mummy on the Orient Express," is clearly based on an adventure-that-never-was that was brought up at the end of "The Big Bang" but never actually happened on screen, I'd like to think that this little Jane Austen adventure was a set-up for an episode that someone will someday pick up and run with and actually produce!

Courtney (no doubt named after the aforementioned Nicholas Courtney, much as Clara is named for Elizabeth Clara Sladen) is an interesting character, and certainly being set up for a return, bringing us to the often rumored return of the original TARDIS residency of 1963:  a student from Coal Hill School, 2 of her teachers, and a 55 year old actor who plays the Doctor.  Her running joke where she says (or writes on the window) a number of variations on the phrase "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" struck me as a clue at first, something that an alien presence had somehow placed in her mind to repeat around the Doctor to give him some sort of clue.  I was disappointed to find on discussion boards around the Internet that it was just a bit of slang I didn't understand:  "squaddie" is British slang for a soldier, and the kids have apparently turned the name "Ms. Oswald" into the nickname "Ozzie."  Thus, "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" is just a joke for the kids to let on that they know their teachers are hooking up.

In the end, we see another moment in paradise, when the police officer ends up at the reception desk for heaven.  Missy's newest assistant, seen in this scene, is played by Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi's co-star from The Thick of It and In the Loop.  At first, I didn't recognize Addison, as he seems to have lost weight since The Thick of It, and ditched his glasses for this role.  As long as we're reuniting cast members from The Thick of It, how about just a full cast reunion?

The five people we'll meet in "heaven"?

We don't learn much about "the afterlife," despite this being our longest scene about it since back in "Deep Breath."  But one thing we learn is that it does seem to be a strangely bloated bureaucracy.  For a place that's supposed to be heaven itself, it seems to be filled with stuffy pencil pushers and anal-retentive control freaks.  Heaven as the DMV.  I think we can be pretty sure, to begin with, that this isn't the real "heaven," but the sterile, bureaucratic nature of this "promised land" should prove to us, beyond a doubt, that this is an artificial heaven.

What Danny's place is going to be for the rest of the season remains unclear.  He wasn't asked to join the Doctor and Clara as companions in the TARDIS yet, but I think we have to assume he will be, sooner or later, unless Moffat is somehow setting him up to just be someone we see on Earth and never someone we see traveling with the Doctor.  Such a set-up would be odd, and a truly missed opportunity, so I look forward to Danny's first full excursion in the TARDIS, whenever it may come!