Saturday, December 5, 2015

Room Without a Window: An Overanalysis of "Heaven Sent"

The Simpsons used to have a rule that every season had to have one episode that pushed the boundaries of what a Simpsons episode should be.  Personally, I think every show should have a rule like this.  Not every episode should be an experiment, but once a season I think every show should push themselves and see if they can go somewhere very different creatively.  "Listen" was probably Steven Moffat's most obvious attempt at an experimental episode, as it really was, in every way, a complete deconstruction of a Doctor Who episode.  It took the most basic concept of a stereotypical Doctor Who plotline, broke it down to its basic components, and reassembled it in a very different way that challenged the very premise of what this show is and what it's about.  Perhaps it was Steven Moffat's confidence after three seasons as showrunner that gave him the confidence to push the boundaries of the show's structure.  I would argue that there are a number of moments when Moffat deconstructed traditional narratives that were not necessarily looked at as "experimental" episodes, such as "A Christmas Carol" and "The Day of the Doctor," but "Listen" is where he really stretched himself.  "Heaven Sent" is the work of a writer at the top of his game, confident in the abilities of his lead actor, sure of the BBC's confidence in him and his show, and confident in his audience's ability to grasp the complexity of the episode.  Sure, a work of genius like this will not silence Moffat's haters, but nothing ever does.  They will talk about how much they love the 11th Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory, River Song, Danny Pink, the 12th Doctor, "Listen," and now, certainly, "Heaven Sent," but will still insist that Moffat is ruining the show.  But while I'm still not entirely sure why Moffat chose to call the episode "Heaven Sent," I do know that it is a work of pure, unadulterated brilliance that will forever be remembered as one of the most important episodes in the show's history.

The show has been dangling out a few mysteries this season hinting at the plot of the finale, and I haven't entirely understood them all, or even cared to understand them all.  I've been more interested in figuring out who the Minister of War is or what Missy's "clever plan" was, but it now seems like those are setting up for farther down the road so let's focus on the mysteries that seem to be setting up for this finale.  The first was The Hybrid.  It's interesting, but incredibly vague, and leaves me with very little to chew on.  But, more importantly, it completely destroys the premise of the show.  We've always known the reason for the Doctor's departure from Gallifrey, and the story of The Hybrid throws that reason out entirely.  To be honest, the original explanation we've had all these years, that the Doctor was simply bored, makes complete sense to me.  It speaks to the true spirit of the character.  Regardless of which generation we're talking about, the Doctor is always insatiably curious.  So why throw out his original motivation when it fits so perfectly with the character?  Unlike Davros, I never once doubted that the Doctor was just bored.

But the revelation at the end of this episode that the Doctor is The Hybrid does give us an explanation that is more in keeping with the Doctor's character.  The Doctor running from a prophecy is silly.  The Doctor doesn't run from enemies, no matter how deadly they are, at least not for very long.  But running from responsibility?  Yeah, the Doctor has done that many times, and that is quite in keeping with his character.  The Doctor has been offered the position of Lord High President of Gallifrey on multiple occasions and turned it down because...well, because damn the man.  The Doctor doesn't want that kind of power over his own people.  But if he needs to set them straight about a few things, which would be necessary even if Clara hadn't been killed in the trap that they set for him, then he's willing to show up and accept his responsibility as the one destined to fix Gallifrey.

Remember that "Day of the Doctor," taken on its own, is a very happy episode, but when you remember the events of "The End of Time," "Day of the Doctor" seems to be glossing over a few things.  Great, the Doctor has saved his own planet, and the Time Lords have been restored to the Universe.  Except that he destroyed them because they were about to destroy the Universe and rise to a higher level of consciousness.  So when the Doctor did finally find Gallifrey, we knew one thing for sure:  The Doctor was going to need to lay a serious smack down on some people.  I'm guessing Timothy Dalton was not available for "Hell Bent," but there are still some people who are going to need to be dealt with.

But how is the Doctor a hybrid?  I was really, really hoping we weren't going to go here, but I think I know what Moffat is referencing, and I'm not the first Doctor Who fan to have noticed it.

There are a lot of things that are wrong with the 1996 movie.  Somehow it manages to be too simplistic and too complex at the same time.  The line about him being half-human on his mother's side was so despised by fans that it has pretty much been rejected.  Expanded universe materials have retconned the line and explained it as an elaborate ruse to fool the Master.  Russel T. Davies pretty much ignored the line when he wrote "The End of Time," and fully admitted that the mysterious Woman was supposed to be The Doctor's mother, but also insists that that shouldn't be considered canon as he never got around to actually putting it into dialogue.  You wouldn't think that Moffat would even want to touch such a controversial line, but I have a bad feeling that that's what it means. 

If this is where Moffat is going with the whole Hybrid plotline, then there are far reaching implications for it.  The Doctor may have been established as half-human almost 20 years ago, but the show has refused to acknowledge it as real, and fans refuse to accept the line.  A half-human Doctor means something very different.  It means the Doctor's tie to this world is not just a fondness for it, but a birth connection.  I always liked the idea that it isn't his planet, but his adopted second home.  I don't know if I like the idea of it being just where his mother was from.

 My co-host from Mile High Who Podcast, Shelley, pointed out the other possibility that he's not saying "Me" as in he himself is the Hybrid, but rather referring to Ashildr by the name that she insists on calling herself, "Me." It's not a terrible theory, but I don't understand why Ashildr would show up on Gallifrey, unless she now feels really bad about what she did to Clara.  I don't think that the Doctor is going to literally "stand in the ruins" of Gallifrey.  To do that to the planet would be to really spit on Clara's legacy.  She saved the Time Lords from him and, even if they're partially responsible for her death, he would never take that legacy away from his good friend.  I think "stand in the ruins" refers to the fact that he's going to completely dismantle their government and institute a new leader, and maybe he's going to decide that Ashildr is just who should do it.  Or maybe one of the Osgoods, another Hybrid the Doctor created.  But he won't do it himself.  The Doctor is the most fit to govern Gallifrey precisely because he doesn't want to do it.

I'm just going to leave this riiiiight here.
I was also surprised about the Confession Dial.  The Doctor kept referring to it as being similar to a human concept of a "Last Will and Testament," but that wasn't true at all.  It was an interrogation chamber to get him to admit his final secret.  There's one thing though:  even if he is the Hybrid, the Doctor went through a lot of trouble to keep from telling the Time Lords something that he knew about the prophecy of the Hybrid, which means that there's still something we don't know yet.  So I'm really excited to see what it is now.  Regardless, I'm really excited for "Hell Bent," but I'm also a little skeptical.  "Heaven Sent" only really stands up if "Hell Bent" answers a lot more of the questions that it brought up.  So here's hoping it does!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dead Friend: An Overanalysis of "Face the Raven"

Companions rarely die.  The Doctor talks about them like they do all the time, but they rarely ever do.  They wind up in parallel dimensions or get their memories of him erased (this has actually happened more than once) or they end up stuck in a specific time period that the Doctor can't get to. These things are like death to the Doctor because he can never get back to them again, but they aren't really deaths.  The companions go on to continue their lives without him.  More often than not in the classic series, they just went home, or met someone and fell in love (never, before the Moffat era, was a companion allowed to stay on the TARDIS after falling in love).  Only one other full time companion has ever died while traveling with the Doctor on the TV series without bring brought back from the dead later.  One off companions have died many times, and expanded universe sources have given us a few more companion deaths, but still not that many.  Really, Adric remains as the only regular companion to have really formed a connection with the Doctor before being tragically killed at a young age without being brought back later.  That is until "Face the Raven."

"I saw a whole planet rushing towards me.  I tried to surrender to it, but it did me no good.  That usually works!"

Much like Adric's death, Clara's isn't heroic, but more of a failed attempt at a heroic act.  Adric died trying to stop a Cybership from crashing into Earth, failing to understand that the ship he was on wasn't going to destroy humanity, but was rather the "asteroid" that crashed into Earth killing the dinosaurs, thus allowing humanity to spread and thrive.  Clara's death was something this whole season has been building up to, as we've seen the Doctor grow more and more concerned about her recklessness and thrill-seeking behavior.  In the end, it wasn't a heroic act that killed her, as Rigsy would have survived if Clara had never come up with her brilliant idea.  It was solely her recklessness that killed her.  In a weird way, it's a very disgraceful death, which is probably going to make the Doctor even angrier about it.

A few people have brought up the possibility that Clara's death isn't going to stick, and it wouldn't be unprecedented for Doctor Who to bring back a character we assumed was dead.  Moffat has insisted that Clara would not return once she left the show, but we all remember Rule 1.  One of the main reasons people are suspicious is the fact that Steven Moffat did not write the episode.  It is shockingly out of character for Moffat, who has yet to let another writer write even one word of dialogue for River Song (Big Finish's recent announcement not withstanding), to allow another writer to kill off a companion that he created.  If he were to hand that task over to another writer, you would think he'd give it to one of his close friends like his Sherlock co-writers Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson, not a first time Doctor Who writer like Sarah Dollard, an Australian writer whose writing credits are actually relatively sparse.  She has a lot of credits as a script editor for major BBC shows like Merlin and Primevil, but the number of episodes she's written by herself for TV shows is significantly smaller than what you'd find on most Doctor Who writers' resumes.  However, one of her writing credits is a 2013 episode she wrote of Being Human, a show that was created and run by Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse, so perhaps Moffat had a good recommendation for her.  Also, the show has been notably lacking in female writers since the revival, and perhaps Moffat felt it would be appropriate for a female writer to kill off Clara.

Another reason that the fandom has been a little skeptical about the permanence of Clara's death is that it came at a very odd point in the season.  We've never gone into a season finale without the companion before.  In fact, only once before in the entire series, modern or classic, has there been an episode with no companion, not even a one-off companion to fill in for the episode.  That was the 4th Doctor serial with the title that is now quite appropriately mocked for its redundancy, "The Deadly Assassin," and supposedly the reason for that was that Tom Baker was trying to convince the production staff that he could carry the show on his own without a co-star.  He failed in that, and a new companion was brought in for the very next serial.

"My oversized teeth can be my companion!"
I would like to take a moment, while discussing this episode, to talk about Clara's brief reference to her "love" of Jane Austen, which she followed up with "Take that how you like."  This was a pretty obvious callback to a line from "The Magician's Apprentice" where Clara commented on Jane Austen being an excellent kisser.  When asked about this at a recent con and if this meant that Clara is bisexual, Jenna Coleman responded by simply saying that Clara's sexuality is open to interpretation.  I think it's beyond interpretation at this point.  Doctor Who is a proudly LGBTQ friendly television show, and I think this is just the latest iteration of that.  Kudos as always to the writers of Doctor Who for always insisting that LGBTQ content is appropriate in a children's television show.

I still kept holding out a thought in the back of my mind that Danny was going to come back, that "Listen" was really going to turn out to be prophetic, and that somehow Clara and Danny would live happily ever after.  Moffat went on record as saying that there were plenty of other possible explanations for how everything went down in "Listen," and that Orson Pink could be a descendent of Danny's brother, who always heard the family story of the great Danny Pink and Clara Oswald and what they went through to save the world.  Still, I assumed that was just Moffat being Moffat and bullshitting us as usual.  I guess that, unless he intends to undo two deaths very abruptly (which probably wouldn't go over well with the fandom) this is how the Clara and Danny story ends.  If there is an afterlife, that's the only happy ending they get together.

I keep thinking of all the times that the Doctor saved Clara.  This is not to claim that she's been a damsel in distress, as she has saved the Doctor herself many times.  But I think of the Doctor's promise not to let her die again after letting two other Clara's die in other time periods.  I think of the Doctor jumping into his own timestream to rescue Clara after she saved him from the Great Intelligence.  I think of all those moments, and how futile they seem now that she died anyway.  It's a dark direction for the show to go, and I'm frankly surprised that they went there.  A shadow has now been cast over so much of Clara's era, and I can't watch any of her old episodes the same way again, knowing that all of this was just leading to her tragic death.

The Doctor's fury at Ashildr was certainly founded at this moment, but Clara's insistence that he promise not to take revenge was a very important moment.  Remember Donna's warning that the Doctor needs someone to stop him sometimes.  Clara knows this better than anyone.  She's the one who stopped him from destroying his own planet and his own people.  She's seen the worst of what he can be.  Clara knows that, without her, he's likely to go rogue, and that a promise to a dying friend might be enough to keep him from turning into the War Doctor all over again.  As I'm late writing this blog (sorry) we now know exactly who set this trap for the Doctor, and we know he's not entirely keeping his promise, but the promise is what's going to keep him from completely going off the deep end.

But it was a trap, quite maliciously set for the Doctor, and one of his companions got caught in it.  There will absolutely be hell to pay, and the Doctor is going to be, as the title of the final episode of the season suggests, hell bent on shutting down whoever and whatever is responsible for this trap, even if Clara's death was an unintended consequence.  This is time for the angriest, rashest, and unfriendliest regeneration of the Doctor that we've seen in a long time to set things right in the Universe and, before its all over, things are going to get ugly.  The only way I see this lightening up is if somehow Moffat is going to pull a rug out from under us and find some way to save Clara, or at least semi-save her (think River in "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead").  Perhaps something to do with the stupid machine from "Sleep No More"?  But more than likely, this is the end for Clara, and there will be hell to pay.

But for now, in honor of Jenna-Louise Coleman (RESPECT THE HYPHEN!) and her amazing performance as Clara Oswald, a companion named in honor of Elizabeth Clara Sladen, the actress who played Sarah Jane Smith, and a companion who died with more grace and dignity than anyone in the history of the show.  If you are gone for good, which I really think you are, we're going to miss you Clara Oswald, our dead friend:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Brain Stew: An Overanalysis of "Sleep No More"

Capaldi and Coleman's faces after reading the script for "Sleep No More"
Steven Moffat is very good friends with Mark Gatiss and, at least publicly, has nothing but positive things to say about his good friend and his writing.  I wonder if that is always the case in private?  I wonder if Moffat ever calls in Gatiss for a talk in his office and says anything like this:

"Are you kidding me with this?  I ask you for something really scary for episode nine, and this is what you bring me?  Eye booger monsters?  I defended you after the, quite frankly, ridiculous ending to 'Robot of Sherwood' with the bow and arrow.  But this is the best you can give me?  You took an already weak story idea from an old episode of Angel and fused it with the dumbest elements of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and The Ring?  It's too late to pull it now.  Trust me, I tried to see if Chris could shit out something better than this over the weekend, but he's too busy with Broadchurch.  This isn't Russel's house anymore.  No more farting aliens.  Toby gave me this crackerjack two parter in an underwater base.  Harness managed to squeeze some life out of the Zygons again.  And I'm pretty proud of the two parter I wrote.  Oh, and remember Catherine from Torchwood?  She and Jamie wrote this amazing two-parter about a little girl who becomes immortal.  We're thinking of getting Maisie Williams for it.  You remember her, I presume?  And in the middle of it all, I have your episode stinking up the joint.  You better step it up the next time I give you an episode to write.  It's too late to pull this stinker, but I'm not making anybody put their name on it.  We'll do some sort of stylized opening credits so we don't insult Peter and Jenna by giving them any sort of billing on this pile of shit."

In reality, that probably never happened.  They're writers and friends, and I know what it's like to work with poor writers who are friends or who are part of your "team" in one way or another.  You find reasons to like their writing.  You find reasons to believe that the person that you generally like is a better writer than you thought they were before you got to know them.  (And no, I'm not naming names for this.)  But yes, this was probably Gatiss's weakest and weirdest episode to date, probably even worse than "The Crimson Horror," which I previously called the worst episode of the new series, so I guess, by the transitive property or something, I now rank "Sleep No More" as the worst episode of the new series.

Still, there has been worse prior to the modern era...

There are a few funny lines here and there, of course, because Gatiss is bad at plot, not dialogue.  I think the funniest part of the episode is that the Doctor's final line of the episode is him running away screaming "None of this makes any sense!" I literally shouted back at the screen "No, it doesn't!"

The episode's gimmick of the "found footage" concept ties the whole episode together so loosely, it tends to fall apart at places.  It barely even manages to follow its own bizarre logic. For example, at one point, the Doctor says "There's nothing here from Chopra's point of view because he refuses to use Morpheus. But everybody else is here."  Literally the next scene is from Chopra's point of view!  I don't understand how first time (and, I'm guessing, last time) Doctor Who director Justin Molotnikov missed that, but I guess I shouldn't expect much from the director who approved a design for the monsters in this episode that makes them look like walking piles of shit with vaginas in the middle of them.

When I tried to Google Image Search for "Walking Pile of Shit With a Vagina," this is all that came up.
I don't entirely understand the ending of the episode, but that's okay because I don't think that Gatiss understands it either.  It was some sort of weird Ringu style hook at the end where everyone who watched it is now in theory going to turn into a Sandman I guess?  It was kind of vague and confusing and, frankly, I didn't much care at that point.  I got the idea at the end that the entire thing was designed to be exciting to entice the viewer to watch this video, which was some sort of a trap.  But the episode wasn't exciting to watch in the least, so that much failed.

Thankfully, this was the first episode of the season to not be served up as a two-parter, but I heard rumors that there were early plans to turn this one into a two-parter as well.  Thankfully we were spared that.  And I really do think that the opening credits were less a stylistic choice, more of a refusal of certain people to put their name on this piece of shit.  But next up we have the return of Rigsy and Ashildr, followed by a very highly anticipated experimental episode to kick off a two-part finale.  So I'm ready to toss off "Sleep No More" as the one horrible episode in a otherwise brilliant season, and just hope that nothing that is to come hinges on the events of this terrible, terrible episode.

And now, this!

Hate and War: An Overanalysis of "The Zygon Inversion"

Lo and behold, once again, I am late writing my blog.  As I begin typing this, the new episode, "Sleep No More," is already airing in the UK, and I will be watching it later (#anyonebutgatiss).  I've been a little bit of a slacker this season, often putting these blogs off until the last minute, or even writing them later than the original deadline I made for myself, of always getting each blog out before the next episode airs.  But because I am so late in writing this blog, I end up writing, at least the beginning of it, the day after the savage terror attacks in Paris, and two days after the bombings in Beirut, and today "The Zygon Inversion" seems far more relevant than it did when it aired last week.  I was shocked at where they went for part two of this story, not following the route I assumed they would, where we found out that the Zygons had a legitimate grievance against the humans.  I assumed I would get to the end of this two-parter having had a good time, but never having really felt challenged by anything fresh or intelligent.  Instead, we got a pleasant surprise from Peter Harness as the Doctor went into a much longer than normal speech about the nature of war.  Today, the Doctor's words seem especially poignant, as radicals not entirely unlike Bonnie have taken up arms across the world to murder in the name of their firmly held beliefs, and I feel like I know exactly what the Doctor would have to say to them:

There was only one moment of the episode that bothered me.  As someone who is very far to the left of the mainstream political spectrum, one who is a very big supporter of social justice movements and activism, when Bonnie tried to tell the Doctor of the unfairness of the Zygons' situation, I was surprised and a little disappointed at the Doctor's dismissal of her grievances and refusal to hear her out.  Really, at the end of this two-parter, we don't really know what birthed Bonnie's radicalism, and I think the script wants us to stay in that place, lest we gain too much sympathy for her cause, thus ruining the simplicity of what Harness has set up here.  I use the word "simplicity" rather loosely here, because there's a great deal of complexity to what Harness is doing, but the morality of this episode is supposed to be somewhat unambiguous.  The Doctor has a problem with the humans' response to the Zygon terrorists as much as he has a problem with the terrorists themselves, but the Doctor is supposed to be the smartest and most compassionate man in all of time and space, and I would expect him to be able to hold a person's complaint about their situation as legitimate and their violent tendencies as condemnable at the same time.  "We've been treated like cattle" is a complaint that I don't expect the Doctor to shrug off with a "So what?" and not at the very least asking her to unpack that and explain what it means.  I think that the larger point that Harness is making about violence and war can be made without discounting that freedom fighters, even the misguided ones that should be condemned for their violent actions, often have legitimate grievances.  But I did like that, in the end, the Doctor was equally concerned with protecting both species, and would not think of the Zygons' actions as reason to condemn them to death, either.  His amazing moment of his speech when he told Bonnie that he forgave her almost had me tearing up.

I did have to wonder about the Doctor telling Kate Stewart that she had said the same thing about not being able to forget that the boxes were empty "the last 15 times."  At first I assumed he meant that they had all gone through this entire stand-off between the humans and the Zygons 15 times before.  That seems to stretch the imagination because, if true, it seems hard to believe that the rest of U.N.I.T. doesn't figure out that this keeps happening.  As for the Doctor and Clara, if it's been 16 times now that they've been through all this, then that has to make this pretty boring because, now, this is just what they do on the weekends.  After rewatching it, though, I decided that the Doctor doesn't necessarily have to be referring to this entire situation having happened 15 times before, just that there have been 15 times so far when she somehow found out the truth about the Osgood box and the Doctor had to erase her memory each time.

I do have to wonder about Steven Moffat giving himself a writing credit for this episode.  Moffat was not credited as a co-writer for the first part of this two-parter, but he was for the second part.  There's been something happening lately that I pointed out last season, and one that of my co-hosts from the Mile High Who Podcast, Shelley, brought up independent of me at a Mile High Who event the other day:  Moffat seems to be adding his name onto episodes as a co-writer if it involves something relating to the larger arc of the season.  Last season he seemed to throw his name onto anything that had Danny Pink in it, as Danny was an integral part of the Series 8 plot arc.  So what about this episode is going to turn out to be relevant to the larger plot of the season?  My best guess is that the re-establishment of the two Osgoods, with the ongoing ambiguity as to which, if either of them, is human.  How that's going to relate to the coming finale is beyond me, but then, there's very little that I've been able to decipher about the coming finale.

I think we might be seeing more of the Zygons going forward, as Harness did a very good job here making them interesting again.  In the end, I think this is going to go down as a favorite episode for talking about war, hate, and violence, as quotes and videos from this episode have been flying around the Internet in response to a lot of what's surrounding the recent terrorist attacks throughout the world.  I wish there were more people like the Doctor in the world.

And now, the only band that matters:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Suspect Device: An Overanalysis of "The Zygon Invasion"

You're all wondering about the sexual implications of what Osgood
did with her own twin in private as much as I am, aren't you?

The 50th Anniversary special was marvelous, but it did change the nature of the show significantly.  Anyone who heard the Mile High Who podcast's April Fools' Day episode where we discussed Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock knows that I firmly believe that a show can bring a character--or, in this case, an entire planet--back from the dead, but it has to be difficult.  There have to be significant obstacles, and there have to be consequences.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a perfect example of this, as their resurrection of a main character in the beginning of their 6th season triggered a series of consequences that the characters would be dealing with for the remainder of the series.  "The Day of the Doctor" rewrote canon in a very serious way, and there have to be serious consequences for that.  Besides the fact that it was so insanely difficult for the Doctor to pull off that he doesn't even know if he's actually successfully saved Gallifrey, it triggered some major repercussions.  First was the war on Trenzalore that he fought for hundreds and hundreds of years, eventually costing him a regeneration.  Second was the return of his most diabolical enemy, The Master (now Missy), who wrought chaos and destruction on the Doctor's favorite adopted planet.  Now the third terrible consequence of the events of "The Day of the Doctor" comes around:  The Zygon peace, which The Moment used to demonstrate to the Doctor the importance of finding a peaceful solution in desperate situations, is broken and threatening the human race.  I think, by this point, the show has done more than enough to earn the resurrection of Gallifrey.

This was the very first episode of Doctor Who to air on Halloween since 1964's "Planet of the Giants" (spoiler alert:  the planet is Earth, the giants are humans, the TARDIS just shrank).  Sadly, my understanding is that, while they celebrate Halloween in England, it isn't as big of a holiday as it is over here in America.  It's a shame because I think that a Doctor Who Halloween Special might just be the most amazing thing we could ever hope for.  But still, we got what we could have hoped for this Halloween:  a big, campy, fun episode with a few cheap thrills and chills.  There was little about this episode that was very surprising or innovative, but it was a good, enjoyable romp.

Again, I can't stress this enough, a Doctor Who Halloween Special would be amazing!
The first and most obvious prediction I'm going to make about the second part of this episode, "The Zygon Inversion," is that it's going to reveal that the Zygons have a perfectly legitimate grievance against the human race.  More than likely, the humans broke the cease fire first.  I say this because anything else would be downright un-Whovian.  It's just a classic Doctor Who plot; the humans have always done something to provoke the enemy in situations like this.  There's no possible way that the Zygons just picked the name "Truth or Consequences" because it was the name of a town in New Mexico.  (Which it totally is, by the way, and Zygon-Clara was absolutely telling the truth.  The city was named after the game show of the same name because the host promised to do an episode of the show in the first town that legally changed its name to Truth or Consequences.  The town formerly known as Hot Springs, New Mexico won the contest and has never changed its name back to this day.)

The name also inspired this movie, which I now have to watch sometime when very drunk.
The slogan, "Truth or Consequences" is going to have a much deeper meaning.  I have no idea what the humans will be guilty of, but either they or the Zygon leadership--or, more likely, both working together--will be guilty of hiding the "truth" about something, which will be why this rebel cell chose to start fighting back.  This is probably going to cause a shift in the Doctor's approach to the situation, at which point I don't know what is going to happen, but I'm very excited to find out.

I also loved the very slight nods towards human xenophobia.  While I still think that we're going to find out that the humans are guilty of some pretty messed up shit, there was the very interesting, but very brief mention that the Zygons got the idea that they wouldn't be welcome on Earth after watching our media and seeing how poorly we treat other human beings who simply have different colored skin.  I think the Zygons, upon seeing that, have good reason to think that we'd be dicks to a whole new alien race that we found on our planet.

"They even think that the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' is controversial.  Zygon lives are just fucked."
The return of Osgood teaches us that, once again, Moffat lies, as we were promised over and over again that the return of Osgood would not be explained away by simply saying that Missy killed the Zygon version of her.  Okay, that wasn't entirely a lie, but only if you're going by the strictest interpretation of all the words in the previous sentence.  Moffat perhaps can be accused of cheating a little bit by having another writer bring back a character that he killed off largely for emotional effect, but the frustrating thing is that it actually works quite well.  I can buy that the two Osgoods were so dedicated to this peace that they stopped differentiating between the two versions of themselves and just started to think of themselves as both being Osgood.  (They also both seem to have adopted an obsession with the Doctor as, much like his real life fans, both of the Osgoods seem to enjoy Doctor cosplay, now adding some 7th Doctor accoutrements to the Osgood outfit.)  I'm pretty satisfied with the explanation as it stands now for why Osgood is back, so hopefully the writers can just let it stand like it is and not try to dig too much farther, where they might risk ruining the delicate balance and a vaguely plausible explanation for bringing back a populare dead character.  However, as the writer of this episode, Peter Harness, found himself unable to foresee that his last episode would become viewed as an anti-abortion metaphor, I wonder about his ability to judge what will and will not upset fans and what they will and will not accept.

However I will give Harness some credit.  The episode was largely a predictable, by-the-numbers action movie plot with silly-looking rubber suits, but Harness did throw in some really fun ideas in this episode.  Most notably he understands that the most important thing about making an old monster scary again in Doctor Who is to give them new abilities.  Now that the Zygons have the ability to take on the appearance of their enemy's loved ones, we now have a much more formidable mindfuck of an enemy to take on.  Additionally, they now require far less technology to maintain their shape shifting (although "The Day of the Doctor" was really inconsistent about the rules governing their technology anyway), which makes them more agile, making them a greater threat.  In "The Day of the Doctor," they were really a side plot, so "The Zygon Invasion" is really only the second time in the history of the show that we've seen the Zygons at center stage of their own story.  As much fun as the 4th Doctor story "Terror of the Zygons" was, I think the reason they were not brought back again for so long was because they were seen as a pretty one-note villain.  "The Zygon Invasion" does find a few more notes to play, even if it's not exactly enough to conduct a full symphony.

Funnily enough, that even looks vaguely like a Zygon.
I seriously doubt that whatever the larger arc is that we're getting into in this series--the Minister of War, The Hybrid, and whatever kind of circle-jerk that Missy is currently having with the Daleks--is going to have anything to do with this two-parter.  Despite how intimately linked this episode is with the 50th Anniversary Special, I don't think it's going to be linked very closely with any of the episodes that come after it.  Still, I look forward to part two.  It feels like classic series style campiness on a new series budget.  In fact, as this is now the fourth consecutive two-parter in this series, we're getting a bunch of stories that run about as long as the classic series stories, but with much more depth of character, much darker plots, and much, much better special effects.

And of course:

Diamonds and Guns: An Overanalysis of "The Woman Who Lived"

She looks like Zorro, if Zorro was a little girl.  Then again, so did Antonio Banderas.

Sorry about the lateness again.  I started a new job last week, and it requires a lot more mental energy than my last one.  On top of that, my new "companion" and I had the best Halloween weekend of our lives, so I was quite busy having fun.  But I'm here, and it's time to play catch up.  So, on with the show:

I've seen every episode of the classic series, and I love the classic series, but it never dove into the heart of the Doctor's character  the way that the new series does.  In fact, I would argue that the classic series's one and only real attempt to do a strong emotional character arc failed so spectacularly that it ultimately killed the show.  Well, okay, it wasn't the only reason the show was cancelled in 1989, but it was a big part of it.  (I could literally write an entire paper about the very complex confluence of factors that came together to cause the show's original cancellation, but its failed attempt at a Sixth Doctor character arc is certainly one of those factors.)  Some call it a sign that the classic series wasn't very good or that the writers didn't know how to write, but actually using very shallow characters to examine a fascinating scientific concept, thus putting the focus on the concept first and foremost, is kind of what science fiction has traditionally been all about.  Isaac Asimov is still considered one of the greatest science fiction authors of all times, and with very good reason (the Robot series notwithstanding), and his books featured virtually no depth of character whatsoever.  Getting deep into character like this is more of a characteristic of post-Star Trek science-fiction, a fusion of science-fiction with drama and melodrama.  Thankfully, Doctor Who's current writing staff are very good at what they do (yes, even Mark Gatiss, as mixed as my feelings are about him) and know how to blend that character depth and conceptual science fiction without sacrificing either side of it.  No, Doctor Who isn't hard science, as little real theory ever appears in the scripts, but it proposes some truly classic science fiction concepts, from 2-dimensional universes to the bootstrap paradox to the very concept of immortality.

"The Woman Who Lived" isn't the first time that the new series has shown us an immortal character.  As if conceding that, the episode even goes so far as to point it out in dialogue.  That Torchwood writer Catherine Tregenna penned this episode feels like another tip of the hat.  It's almost as if the show is specifically asking permission from its audience to do this again, which I appreciated.  However, the fact that they had done this before made me wonder about Ashildr's moments of forgetfulness.  The explanation given was that Ashildr has the Doctor's lifespan, but a human brain, making it difficult to retain all of her memories.  Yet, Captain Jack never had a similar problem.  Yes, it's true that Jack is about 1/8 the age of Ashildr at this point, but he can remember every detail in startling clarity, from his childhood on another planet through the entire 20th century until the present.  But Ashildr also has a child's mind, which might be a part of it.

Speaking of which, wasn't Ashildr a child when she was made immortal?  This made for a few terrifying implications when you think about it.  She lost three children to the Plague, but the stork didn't bring those babies to her.  Someone clearly had sex with her at some point, and most likely those weren't triplets, so it happened at least three times.  Furthermore, everyone seems to be flirting with her current incarnation, Lady Me, in a way that seems very inappropriate considering that she's trapped in the body of a child.  I did some research, and it looks like Maisie Williams was 17 when these episodes were shot, and yes, as anyone who had to read any Victorian literature in school knows, in past centuries dirty old men married teenage girls and it was treated like it was completely normal.

"You're almost 14 years old, it's high time I sold you into a marriage to one of my 50 year old business partners!"
But Maisie Williams was chosen for this role because of the fact that she looks a lot younger than she really is.  I don't think the character she plays on Game of Thrones is supposed to be anywhere near adulthood.  And Ashildr was referred to as a young girl in "The Girl Who Died." Hell, look at the title of that episode!  "The Girl Who Died"!  The follow up episode became "The Woman Who Lived" because, after 800 years, she certainly is a woman mentally, but physically she still looks like a child.  So...ew.

Ashildr is an interesting character to throw into the Doctor's path, because she understands him on a level that no other companion ever really has, other than possibly Romana.  Some of my friends thought it was a tortured logic that the Doctor uses to explain why the Doctor can't take Ashildr with him as a companion.  To me, it made perfect sense, he was just phrasing it more delicately than he phrased it in his head.  Perhaps this was another one of Clara's cards about how to be polite.  What the Doctor really meant to say was "I don't want to bring you with me because, if you're as immortal as I am, you'll never be that impressed with me, so I have no use for you."  Again, the only companions that even approached the Doctor's longevity were Romana, who was forced upon him, and Jack Harkness and River Song, both of whom he has refused to ever take on as full time companions (although, in a moment of weakness, he did ask River).  He has little use for an equal in his TARDIS.  He needs someone very different from himself.

The Doctor prefers companions that are weak and can die.  Preferably ones that can die often.
Speaking of companions, this was a weirdly companion-lite episode, to the joy of millions of Clara haters around the world.  It's obvious that Clara is gearing up for a really sad exit from the show, as a lot of the discussion about Clara is mirroring the discussions about Amy and Rory from their final handful of episodes in Series 7.  The Doctor is worrying about how close he's getting to Clara, and how hard it will be to lose her.  Moffat has hinted in interviews that her departure is going to be very big, very heartbreaking, and very final.  Will she become the first full-time companion since Adric (not counting expanded Universe) to actually die while travelling with the Doctor?  Because, if so, that's going to send shockwaves through his character, and take us to a darker place than we've ever gone before with the Doctor.

"Sam Swift the Quick," also known as "Sam the Redundant Who Always Repeats Himself" is saved in much the same way that Ashildr is, but the Doctor implies in dialogue that Sam may or may not have the same immortality as Ashildr.  This leaves a lot of potentiality open, or perhaps this was just Tregenna trying to explain away why Sam Swift will never be coming back.  But there's one thing I'm sure of that I said in the last write-up:  this is not the last we will see of Ashildr.  No way.  I don't think that she's The Hybrid that we keep getting hints about, but as soon as we saw her become immortal at the end of "The Girl Who Died," I was sure we were going to see her again after "The Woman Who Lived," and her brief appearance in the 21st century at the end of this episode confirmed that for me.  In fact, much of this episode felt like the enemy and the crisis in it was perfunctory, just thrown into the background while we spend most of our time chatting with Ashildr to set up her presence and her immortality so that we can bring it back around and use it again later.  Mark my words, Ashildr will be back.

And now, this!:

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Resist Stance: An Overanalysis of "The Girl Who Died"

If on your journey should you encounter God, God will be cut.
I stand by my belief that an episode being "co-written" by Steven Moffat is just a sign that Moffat wanted to insert some of the season-long plot arc's narrative into the script and give himself credit for it.  There was absolutely nothing Moffat-esque about this episode.  The episode wasn't particularly creepy, there was nothing darkly fantastic about it, and nothing mundane was trying to kill people.  There wasn't even really anything that rung of the writing style of Jamie Mathieson, who gave us last season's "Mummy on the Orient Express" and "Flatline," two episodes so good that it led both myself and my podcast co-host Shelly to start calling for him to become the next in line to Moffat's throne when he's ready to leave the show, even though Mathieson had only given us two episodes so far.  Really, there was nothing about this episode that was exciting and super fun, but it felt like it was a huge build up for something.  I have no doubt anymore that "The Hybrid" is this season's plot arc.  Now it's a question of where is it going, what does "The Hybrid" refer to, and, the clue I forgot to speculate on last week:  Who the hell is the minister of War?

The episode, by and large, was setting up something, and I predicted that it was probably going to be the first part of a two-parter.  Moffat has told us that he's going to make it hard to tell whether something's a two-parter or not this season and, even though "The Girl Who Died" wasn't officially listed as a two-parter, I noticed that the episode following it was going to be called "The Woman Who Lived," and I assumed the titles were implying that they were connected.  Because now the Doctor has created something that has gone a step too far.  A young girl who can never die and, from the looks of what's coming up, will never even be able to age, suggesting that the chip the Doctor put in her head will interpret any sign of aging as damage and correct it, keeping her a child forever.

Trust me, Ashildr, it sucks!
Also, I was really excited when I heard that Moffat was putting into place Davies idea about why there are multiple Peter Capaldi's in the Doctor Who universe, and that Mathieson would be writing the first episode about it.  I even rewatched "Fires of Pompeii" that morning to get me prepared for "The Girl Who Died."  However, what came up could not have been the infamous plan that Davies thought up, and that Moffat asked him about when Davies called to compliment him about choosing Capaldi for the 12th Doctor.  Davies was thinking of writing this idea into the show at a time when there was no plan to make Capaldi the Doctor yet.  Davies's plan was supposed to be to explain why Caecilius and John Frobisher had the same face.  So either something's changed about the plan, or there's more to come about the connections between Pete, Pete, and Pete.

There have been reports out in the press questioning about whether Maisie Williams's character is going to be coming back after "The Woman Who Lived."  I feel like the idea of a girl who can never die is such an interesting idea that I can't see this just being an idea for a two-parter.  I feel like this has to come around to the larger season arc.

But how?  The dialogue hinted at there being some connection to The Hybrid, but a lot of dialogue in Doctor Who that hints at being connected to the larger plot arc turns out to be a complete red herring.  Remember the ending to "Vampires of Venice" where the Doctor pointed out that there was some strange silence in Venice?  Remember how that had absolutely nothing to do with what The Silence were (even though we flashed back to this moment anyway when The Silence were first identified by name)?  It could be a pretty simple mislead.  But The Hybrid is coming up a lot this season, which leaves me wondering, are the Daleks created in "The Witch's Familiar" The Hybrid, or is Ashildr?  Or were both mentions misleads and The Hybrid is something completely different?  If you think about it, a lot of things in the Doctor Who universe could be called hybrids.  Both Daleks and Cybermen are, by definition, hybrid creatures.  Donna Noble is a hybrid.  If you take the most hated line from the 1996 Doctor Who movie to be true, the Doctor himself is a hybrid.  So it could be anything.

It could even be...

I'm half attractive, half horrifying
I still stand by the fact that I think there's something more that's going to happen to explain the events of "Listen," so I do think it's possible that Danny is coming back some how.

Also, Davros was a little vague about this prophesy of The Hybrid.  What's supposed to be so terrible about it?  Why is the Doctor running from it?  What makes it so terrifying?

I made this blog primarily to make predictions about the show based on clues, and I totally forgot to pick up on the huge, huge, huge clue that was dropped last week, when O'Donnell, who like Osgood seems to be a real life Doctor fan (and who, liked Osgood, is dead because of it), mentioned a whole bunch of stuff that happened to the Doctor between 1980 and 2119 and she brought up one phrase that the Doctor did not recognize yet:  "The Minister of War."  Sure, it could be a throw away line that has no bearing on anything, but I really feel like Whithouse was just shouting "Clue!" at us pretty loudly at that moment.  It's possible that it's not a clue for this season's finale, as we all know that, in the Moffat era, big twists can be set up many seasons in advance ("Silence Will Fall," "The Woman in the Shop"), but I have a feeling that Missy is the Minister of War, possibly the title she's assumed by staying behind on Skaro to join forces with the Daleks.

Moffat hasn't left us this vague of a mystery in a while, but it's an interesting one to start speculating on.  I'm really curious to see where this is going.  Missy has a plan, I'm sure of it, the Hybrid is a dubious evil lurking in the background, and Ashieldr is now a poor, cursed girl who can never die or even age.  So what's the connection?  How does this all lead us to a season finale two-parter called "Heaven Sent" and "Hell Bent," the former of which is supposed to have no other actors but Peter Capaldi in it for the whole thing?!  I'm so curious about what Moffat is building here.  But I'm ready for the ride, because so far, it's been fun.  While this wasn't my favorite episode, I get the feeling it's building so, so, so much more, and I'm really intrigued to see where we go from here.

Next week, I look forward to Torchwood writer Catherine Tregenna becoming the first woman to write an episode of Doctor Who since "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky."  Really, that writing staff has been far too much of a sausage party for several seasons now, and this season we have not one, but two different female writers for the first time in far too long.  Catherine Tregenna is the only writer to have been nominated for a Hugo award for working on Torchwood, so hopefully we're going to get something really special next week.  I really look forward to it!

And now, this!:

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Words and Guitar: An Overanalysis of "Before the Flood"

"I drink your milkshake!"
I've taken a lot of time to explain bootstrap paradoxes on this blog.  Mostly it's because I love the phrase bootstrap paradox.  It's my username on a couple websites, most notably, one of the larger Doctor Who message boards on the Internet, Gallifrey Base: 

I hope a lot of people tried to register with this name on Saturday!

So I was very happy to see the phrase show up in the beginning of "Before the Flood."  It's hardly the first bootstrap paradox we've seen in the show.  The Moffat era is riddled with them.  The Doctor getting himself out of the Pandorica is a bootstrap paradox.  The Doctor finding Craig's apartment in "The Lodger" was entirely thanks to a bootstrap paradox.  "Blink" is literally a bootstrap paradox from beginning to end.  So I'm glad someone finally gave an explanation of what it is so I don't have to explain it over again to every person I try to talk to about Doctor Who.

Part one of this story was a lot more exciting than part two, because part one was about building a very intricate mystery, and part two was about bringing that all back down to Earth and explaining everything.  But "Before the Flood," much like "Under the Lake," benefited from some really great work from multiple different departments.  Doctor Who doesn't particularly scare me much (with the delightful exception of The Silence) and almost nothing scares me in broad daylight, but this particular shot takes the cake for the only thing I've ever seen in any media that was still fucking terrifying despite being shot in broad daylight (or, well, cloudlight as the case may be):

Wow, the Fisher King was one of the most terrifying Doctor Who creatures I've ever seen.  This is not cheap prosthetics, this is a very well thought out and detailed construction of someone's worst fucking nightmare.

The Doctor's electric guitar is, thankfully, becoming a recurring part of the 12th Doctor's persona, with clips from next week's episode, "The Girl Who Died," showing brief flashes of it as well.  The 2nd Doctor was known for playing a recorder sometimes when he was trying to think, while the 12th seems to absently strum at an electric guitar with his special sonic sunglasses for much the same reason.  Regardless of how much cooler the guitar and sunglasses may seem to us than the recorder, its all ancient artifacts to the Doctor.  Yet, somehow it seems so appropriate that the man who is tied for the oldest actor to ever play the role would adopt such a "cool" look to him.  And why not, if it's Peter Capaldi.  He's a total punk rocker.  He was in that band in a punk band when he was younger with Craig Ferguson.

What's even more freaky is that the guy on the right is Geoff Peterson.
Peter Capaldi can pull it off because we know that that's who he is.  Have you ever known someone who had been a big punk rocker in their teens once they got older?  Because I know quite a few of them, and they all remind me of Peter Capaldi.  I'm glad he's building a persona for this particular Doctor, and I'm glad that it seems to reflect quite a bit of Capaldi's real personality.

Last week I was left confused as to why the ghosts had no interest whatsoever in Lunn.  This week, when Clara figured out it was because he was the only one who hadn't seen the writing yet, I literally had to smack myself in the head for never having figured that out.  I guess you are a smart one, Clara.  I felt an equal smack to my head at the reveal that the Doctor's ghost was a hologram, after we had already established that the Drum can create holograms.  Wow, I feel like a doofus now.  I had already figured out that the Doctor was in the stasis chamber, but admittedly only because I had seen someone else guess it on Facebook and said "Oh, yeah, of course, that's who's in there."  It was an interesting take on the concept of fixed points in time.  It's not the first time that the Doctor has found a way to change the future by simply tweaking and modifying events he knows are going to happen but creating a scenario in which he doesn't have to die.  He essentially found the same loophole out of his death at Lake Silencio.  History said that the Doctor had to be there on that beach, and that someone looking like the Doctor had been killed, but that was it.  As long as he found a way to keep all of that true, nothing negative happens if he still walks away from it.  I liked that trick in "The Wedding of River Song" (regardless of what anybody else thought about it), so I liked it again now.

I keep trying to figure out if there's any larger plotline that this episode is setting up for farther down the road.  Frankly, there isn't a very clear indication that there is an overarching plot.  I'm presuming that Missy staying behind on Skaro in "The Witch's Familiar" was probably part of a set-up for the season finale.  I'm also guessing that the prophesy of the hybrid from that same episode is part of a set-up as well.  But other than that, I've seen nothing else in this season that is very clearly constructing a mystery or a plot arc that is leading us towards something specific.  I haven't seen this from Moffat since his largely disappointing series 7, which I found to be his weakest season-long plot arc if for no other reason than very little was done to advance the larger plot arc as the season moved along.  Yet, this series, so far, has me mesmerized.  So I'm hoping that we're moving towards something a little larger, a little arc-ier.  Is that a thing?  No, it's probably not.

And the next episode will likely grant my wish.  As I write this, it has technically already finished airing in the UK (sorry, I'm late again), but I'd heard reports before that "The Girl Who Died" would finally explain to us the big mystery of why Peter Capaldi's face appears three different times in the Doctor Who universe.  I've just rewatched "The Fires of Pompeii" because I understand that "The Girl Who Died" is going to call back to it somehow.  How, I do not yet know, but I'm thrilled to see what it is!  An idea thought up by Russell T. Davies, executed by Moffat, with the assistance of my first choice to follow Moffat when he finally does leave, Jamie Mathieson.  All with Maisie Williams as a guest star.  I can't wait to see where we're going with this.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The World's a Mess; It's in My Kiss: An Overanalysis of "Under the Lake"

Day Mode.  Whoa-oh.  Fighter of the Night Mode.
Every time I try to think about why I love "Under the Lake," words and specifics fail me. I can't really give a good reason why it's special, why it's anything more than a middling, filler episode. There's not a huge, glaring reason to point to why this episode is significantly better than some of the other "Who cares?" boring episodes like "Curse of the Black Spot," or "Rings of Aka-Something or Other"--or, to pull from the same writer as this episode, an episode like "Vampires of Venice." And yet, every time I go back to rewatch "Under the Lake," I fall in love all over again. I don't know what it was I loved about this episode. Perhaps it's that the show's brilliant music producer, Murray Gold, has outdone himself yet again with this episode. Perhaps first-time Doctor Who director Daniel O'Hara is just the best director the show has ever seen and we've just never seen him before. Perhaps it's the stellar performances all around, including the most dignified characterization and portrayal of a deaf person I have ever seen seen in media (admittedly, I've never seen Children of a Lesser God). Perhaps it's that Toby Whithouse is a pretty amazing writer, albeit with a few duds here and there. Or maybe it's a combination of all of those things that results in an episode that fires on all cylinders.

It was so exciting that, at the point of the episode where the Doctor looks at the ghosts and says "What are you?" I caught myself literally saying the same thing as the Doctor at the exact same time. He owes me a coke.
I only accept Mexican Coke, Doctor.  Fuck corn syrup.
Toby Whithouse has been rumored more than once to be the successor to Steven Moffat for when he's ready to leave the show.  Moffat has not really given any indication that he's quitting anytime soon, but Whithouse has been thought of as a natural successor.  As I've been mostly saying I just want #anyonebutgatiss, I'd be happy to see Whithouse take over.  If we think back on his few episodes he's written, there are some pretty good ones.  He brought us the fun romp of "School Reunion" where he triumphantly brought back the most popular companion(s) of the classic series.  "The God Complex" is one of the smartest episodes of its or any other season.  The worst episodes he's written, "Vampires in Venice" and "A Town Called Mercy" are really only guilty of being dull, never of being silly or stupid.  Perhaps "Vampires in Venice" was always as riveting as "Under the Lake" in Whithouse's head, and the director and cast could never fully pull off his vision.  Whithouse is, of course, also responsible for the show "Being Human," which I still need to go back and finish, but which I do highly recommend (what I've seen of it, anyway) and I've even heard positive comments about the American adaptation of it.  So, overall, I wouldn't hate it if he took over for Moffat eventually.  Him or Jamie Mathieson.  Or Neil Gaiman, but that's a pipe dream and we all know it.

Whithouse is already building his own trademarks, though, as this episode actually sees the return of a species he created for one of his previous episodes.  Remember the Tivolian from "The God Complex"?  The most invaded race in the galaxy?  The one who surrenders so easily that their planet's anthem is called "Glory to <Insert Name Here>"?  

It's like having an entire planet full of Adrics!
Yeah, in case you didn't catch it because he was speaking so fast, the Doctor did identify the first ghost in this episode as another Tivolian, and points out how odd it is for them to become violent like that, because they're known for surrendering so easily.  The Tivolian is named "Prentis," something we only know so far from press releases and credits, because he didn't speak a single time in this episode, but he's clearly meant to be a much larger character in the next episode.  Creating your own recurring species?  That sounds like someone is setting up the Doctor Who universe for some plans he has down the road when he becomes showrunner.  However, where Steven Moffat did that in the Davies era with some of his creepier monsters like the Weeping Angles, Whithouse's creation of the Tivolians seems less terrifying, and more Terry Pratchett-esque in nature.  (The girl I'm dating has me reading the Night Watch books.  I'm hooked.)

I keep trying to think up some way that this episode is going to link into larger plot arcs in the greater series, and I keep coming up with nothing.  I get the feeling this two parter is probably going to be self-contained, but then again, you never know.  Remember how much "The Rebel Flesh"/"The Almost People" felt like a self contained episode until about 30 seconds before the ending?  I keep wanting the coordinates that the ghosts are shouting out to be the coordinates to Gallifrey, but try as I might, I can't quite get that scenario to make sense in my head, and I don't think we're going there in the next episode.

In the next episode, the Doctor blindly follows the coordinates like an idiot following a GPS.
Also, I have to take a moment to acknowledge the brilliance of the Doctor's cards.  Not just a great one-off joke, but also something that really taps into who the Doctor is right now as a character.  Plus, one of them, if you freeze frame the episode, is a joke about the Fourth Doctor dropping Sarah Jane Smith off in the wrong town, something that Toby Whithouse also referenced when he brought Sarah Jane back in "School Reunion."

I also have to give Whithouse some real credit for his diversity of characters.  In "The God Complex," I was very impressed not only that he included a Muslim woman as a character, but that in an episode about religion, Islam was the only major, real-life religion actually referenced.  Whithouse gave a lot of dignity to a religious and ethnic minority that is often maligned in media, and I thought it was very refreshing.  He does that again, this time for the hearing impaired, as Cass is not only a strong and capable deaf woman, but one that the Doctor refers to as the smartest person in the room.  She's a powerful leader, and a loyal one to her people, too.  I think Whithouse should be applauded for that characterization.

I'm really curious to see what these ghosts are.  They aren't just going to be ghosts.  As the Doctor already figured out, these are not a naturally occurring phenomenon.  Someone has created this situation, and trapped these souls somehow to be used as communication tools.  The Doctor is tremendously curious right now, and his curiosity is infectious.  But, in the end, they're not going to be significantly different than other types of "ghosts" we've seen in Doctor Who, from the digitally saved consciousnesses in "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" or even in "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven," to the psychic impressions left behind in Amy's house in "The Pandorica Opens," to the woman trapped in time in "Hide."  The Doctor is thrilled about finally having found real "ghosts, but ultimately, these souls are somehow trapped in something that's specifically linked to this ship, and that's going to turn out to be very technological, not otherworldly.  In Doctor Who, the explanations are almost always scientific and never otherworldly (with the ambiguous exception of "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit"), although, as we were reminded back in "The Shakespeare Code," there's a thin line between science and fantasy in the Doctor Who universe.

A theme that Whithouse is playing with here, and one that I don't think is seized on enough, is the idea of the Doctor as an adrenaline junkie.  Clara's catching it, too, and it's starting to scare the Doctor, as witnessed by his little speech in the TARDIS.  But clearly, there's a sense that the Doctor is too invested in his own thrill seeking right now, and the ghost of his future self that appears at the very end of the episode suggests a Doctor that inevitably lets his addiction to adventure take him down a dark and dangerous path.  In a way, he lost his last set of companions, and I don't think he's going to take it very well if he and Clara are separated, not by choice, but by force.  The Doctor might be learning by the end of part two that he needs to slow down a little.  But while he may have to, the pace of this two-part episode doesn't have to slow down at all, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here.

When I first heard the "I want to kiss it to death" line in the trailer, it really bugged me, but I like it in context.  So in honor, here's a little X!:

Mercy Me: An Overanalysis of "The Witch's Familiar"

Maybe if I stand in the most effeminate position possible, they won't see me...

I guess I have some apologies to make.  I've got some catching up to do, which is partially due to some slight ambivalence about this blog, but also partially due to being somewhat busy with a new relationship starting up.  And I've been trying to get her caught up on Doctor Who as well so we can watch it together but, ironically, she kept falling asleep during "Last Christmas."  I spend the whole of my weekends with her, so I won't really be able to watch the new episodes on the day they come out until she's caught up, which she will be soon.  Until then, I'm going to play a little catch-up.  So sorry that this blog is about a week late.  I'll work on that.  For now, on with the show:

The Daleks have always been a moral quandary for the Doctor.  The Doctor is the ultimate pacifist, at least in his philosophy if not always in his actions. His goal is always to prevent as many deaths as possible, including the deaths of his enemies.  The Daleks have shown up to throw a wrench in this philosophy more than once, because if your enemy serves absolutely no purpose in the Universe other than destruction, should your pacifism extend to them? He's been fighting the Daleks for almost 2,000 years now, and he has still failed to come up with a definitive answer to this moral dilemma.  Each regeneration seems to attack the problem again and each regeneration comes up with a slightly different answer.  That can be expected, as there isn't an easy solution to the quandary that the Doctor faces.  But when the option comes up in the shape of the opportunity to murder a young boy who hasn't done anything yet, the Doctor finds the question even more troubling than usual.

Could you kill baby Hitler!?  Look at him!  He's adorable!
My new go-to question whenever I have the honor of meeting one of the actors that has played the Doctor is to ask them what they think is consistent across all the very, very different incarnations.  I didn't think of this question until after meeting Colin Baker, so I never got to ask him, and when I asked Peter Davidson and Sylvester McCoy the question McCoy copped out and avoided the question with a "Well, that's the writers' job."  (You do Shakespeare, McCoy, I know you give more thought than that to your characters!)  However, Davidson gave a very interesting and insightful answer about the Doctor's recklessness.  If you ask me, the two traits that are consistent to all of the Doctors are curiosity and compassion.  That second one is big, even with regenerations like 6, 9, and now 12 who are notorious for how rude and pompous they can be to other people.  Their compassion may not be the first thing you notice about them, and they may not be the kind of person to stick around and put a blanket around you after they've saved you, but it's still very important to them to rescue all living creatures and ensure their survival.  Even when the Doctor's not particularly nice, he's still full of love and compassion, even for someone as terrible as Davros.

I've said before that I think the 12th Doctor is embarking on the redemptive arc that the writers originally planned for the 6th Doctor, the one that was never carried out due to Colin Baker's era nearly getting the show cancelled.  The low ratings, combined with the fact that the average fans were starting to agree with the conservative fanatics who thought Doctor Who was too dark and violent, led the production team to quickly cancel their plans and scramble to find solutions to save the show.  Their first solution was the bizarrely nonsensical "Trial of a Timelord" story arc, which only made things worse.  The abrupt firing of Colin Baker and hiring of Sylvester McCoy bought the show a few years of mercy from the BBC, but not much, and the show only lasted a few more years.  In the meantime, the long redemptive arc that was planned for the 6th Doctor never got carried out.  At the same time, though, I wonder if Jonathan Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward had the talent to carry off such a delicate arc.  Steven Moffat, on the other hand, does, and "The Witch's Familiar" is the episode that really makes it clear that we've set off on that path.  The Doctor is really trying to figure himself out, what his morals are now, if he is a good man, and if he's stronger than the darkness in his heart.  Never is that put to the test quite as much as it is in this 2-parter, and thankfully, the Doctor passes with flying colors.

Missy is having a big ball of fun in this episode, and we finally get to see how she managed to survive the end of "Death in Heaven."  Considering her quick return, I can only assume that Steven Moffat has been planning this for quite a long time.  The only real complaint that anybody (anybody with taste, anyway) had about Missy in "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" is that there wasn't nearly enough of her, especially considering that we got a chance to get to know John Simm's Saxon Master over a 3-part episode.  Granted, he only showed up at the very end of the first part of that episode, but it still means we got much more of him, as the reveal that Missy was the Master didn't even come until the end of the first part of her two-part introduction.  Finally, "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" gives us some time to get to know Missy.

Doesn't she just look so inviting?  Don't you want to get to know her better?
As delightfully warped as Michelle Gomez's performance of Missy is, she also proves herself to be incredibly intelligent.  She has a very different moral compass from the Doctor, but that's about the only difference between them, as Missy demonstrates that she has as much intelligence and ingenuity as the Doctor.  Clara, in this episode, serves more as a companion to Missy than the Doctor, hence the title of the episode, making it the first time since the 1996 movie that the Master has truly had his own companion.  Missy's explanations of the Dalek homeworld and how it functions sound quite like the Doctor's explanations, but with the added danger of being willing to murder anyone without a moment's hesitation.

Michelle Gomez brings out a very interesting aspect of the Master that we've never really seen before.  We've known since back in the 3rd Doctor serial, "The Sea Devils," that the Doctor and the Master had been friends once at school, and we've seen glimmers of that friendship before.  There's been a begrudging respect between them, and a few temporary truces so that the two former friends can put their heads together to defeat a common foe, but Missy is the first version of the Master to make it absolutely clear how much the Doctor means to her, and is adamant that her multiple attempts to murder him over the years do not change how she feels about him.  Perhaps it's that her last regeneration (presumably) met his end trying to protect the Doctor (a long lost 3rd Doctor era plotline that Davies finally brought to fulfillment), but Missy genuinely cares about the Doctor.  In "The Magician's Apprentice" she expresses her friendship with the Doctor and explains why it isn't a contradiction to two people as ancient as herself and the Doctor, but it's only in "The Witch's Familiar" that she puts her money where her mouth is and mounts a rescue mission to save the Doctor.  In a way, she almost becomes a second companion in this episode, which is extremely refreshing.

Now, some people may have had a moment of hesitation that the Doctor is surprised at Clara's ability to get the Dalek tank to say the word "mercy."  Most notably because of this famous scene, which was also written by Steven Moffat:

This made me do a double take as well, because clearly, River gets the Dalek to say the word "mercy" a long time ago.  However, it occurred to me, the Doctor wasn't present for this scene, as he was busy wiring his vortex manipulator into the Pandorica.  (That might be the nerdiest sentence I've ever written.)  River is a brilliant woman, who knows a lot about the Universe, and certainly more than the average companion, but in many ways she is still a companion.  It makes sense that she wouldn't know as much about Daleks as the Doctor does, and that she would not notice that it was strange for a Dalek to know this word.  There's a good chance that she never got around to telling the Doctor about the time she made a Dalek beg for mercy, as whether or not he approves of this will largely depend on what mood he's in.  Even if she did tell him, it seems likely that he wouldn't have believed her.

The bigger discrepancy is this, which is also Steven Moffat's writing:

We don't actually see a shot of the Dalek from the outside saying the name "Oswin Oswald," but we do get it saying "I am not a Dalek" and a few other things which it seems, from Missy's demonstration, would be impossible.  Similarly, "Into the Dalek" features a Dalek saying a lot of things that "The Witch's Familiar" implies would be impossible for a Dalek casing to be able to interpret.  It's worth noting that Moffat is also credited as a co-writer on "Into the Dalek," although I do believe that's largely because Moffat gave himself partial credit for every episode in Series 8 where he threw in a little bit of story for the overall plot arc.

So yes, Moffat has created a bit of a plot hole here.  There are ways to rationalize this away.  We could say that this is a trait particular to the newly revived Daleks from after "Victory of the Daleks," but more likely than not it's just because Moffat decided that it was convenient to the plot, so fuck all those scripts he wrote in the past.  Personally, I think Moffat and Davies together have patched up almost every major plot hole leftover from the classic series, including the bizarre prophecy that the Valeyard would appear between the Doctor's "12th and final incarnations," and because of that I think Moffat can be forgiven for leaving a few very small holes of his own.

I got the distinct feeling that this episode was setting up the season-long plot arc for Series 9.  It would be very unlike Moffat to leave the series without a larger, overarching plot, and the stuff about the prophecy of the "Hybrid" sounded far too foreboding and interesting to leave it where it stands right now, especially considering that Missy continued to reference the prophecy after the Doctor had already defeated Davros.  At first, I thought the prophecy sounded too mystical for as scientific a race as the Time Lords, much like their "Visionary" from "The End of Time," but I decided that a time travelling race could have many non-magical or mystical ways to predict the future and see a "prophecy."  The fact that Missy said that she had just come up with a very clever idea once she was cornered by the Daleks seemed like it was also pretty clearly Moffat setting up a larger plot arc, with a return for a Dalek attack led by Missy later this season.  Remember, the Master has teamed up with the Daleks before, and last time the plotline was cut short due to the untimely death of the actor, Roger Delgado, so we never really got to see what comes of a Master/Dalek team-up.  Perhaps this is another lost plotline that Moffat intends to finally bring to fruition.

I've decided to do a little thing that's fun for me.  This series, I'm naming every Overanalysis after a punk song I like (that I think is appropriate) then putting the song at the end.  So, enjoy!