Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

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

So now, on with the show:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Doctor never salutes?  Really?

I think he's okay with it.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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