Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 11: What’s it all about?

by William Hohmeister

I’m trying to figure out what series 8 was about. Before “Dark Water” I had this list: Clara, trust, lies, understanding who you are, and the definition of goodness. Early into part one of the series 8 Doctor Who finale we see Clara betray the Doctor for Danny, and hear so many lies and partial truths that their difference almost doesn’t matter. It’s bizarre.

Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) dies while talking to Clara (Jenna Coleman) on the phone. We watch Clara drift through time in a way that doesn’t require the TARDIS: she goes from Danny’s death, to his memorial, to standing in her kitchen with her grandma. Grandma says what we expect when a loved one dies; Clara refutes the normal platitudes and says that Danny’s death was mundane, simple, and stupid, not tragic. She says she doesn’t deserve better, but she is owed.

Then she looks at her phone, which rings over and over as it tries to contact the TARDIS.

We’ve seen what Clara plans to do before, though not so deliberate. When the Doctor collects her, Clara asks for a volcano. While the Doctor argues with her, Clara collects all of the seven TARDIS keys, and a “sleep patch.” When the Doctor agrees to take her to a volcano, she slaps the patch on him.

I try not to write “good reviews” because the internet is full of those by smarter people. I want to write something you like, and that matters to me. My favorite moments of Doctor Who aren’t the over-the-top cool moments (though I do like them), but the personal in the middle of the grandiose. I love the Doctor when he promises Rose Tyler, “I’m coming to get you,” and for the look on his face after he loses her.

Clara’s personal moment, as the volcano… acts like a volcano around her, is my favorite personal moment in the past four series. It’s strong, it’s striking, and despite not being real I think it still holds power. After she destroys the last key, the Doctor reveals the patches actually induce hallucinations, and they don’t effect him. After Clara tried to knock him out, the Doctor put the patch on her and let the fantasy play out.

At first I thought this was terrible. I still dislike flashbacks, dreams, flash-forwards, and other forms of narrative “lying”, but I tried to see this moment as a concrete example of the new Doctor. It’s easy for him to turn his back on people like Journey Blue. But, although Clara betrayed him, although he knows she’d do it again, he says:

You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!… Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

Series 8 is about truth in the middle of lies, I think, and whether the distinction even matters. Is the Doctor good? I don’t know, but does it matter? He’s mean, rude, insulting, and kind of a jackass, but he saves the world every other day. And he forgives.

This idea becomes even more important when the Doctor and Clara meet Missy (Michelle Gomez). While Danny talks with Seb (Chris Addison) inside the Nethersphere, the Doctor and Clara explore 3w, a strange funeral home that houses skeletons in water tanks. Misi introduces Dr. Chang, who explains that the dead suffer horribly, and 3w is based on the three words: “Don’t cremate me!”

Clara and Danny connect via IPad, while the Doctor and Dr. Chang explore more of 3w. Clara promises to commit suicide if Danny proves he’s real, so of course Danny convinces her of the opposite. I had little use for Danny throughout series 8, but this moment felt real and sad. Again, I think it ties into the idea of lies used for truth: Danny wants Clara to live and move on, so he has to lie and pretend he’s a fake by telling Clara “I love you.” He lies by telling her the truth.

The Doctor and Dr. Chang find Missy. Earlier, she pretended to be a robot helper named MISI, and made out with the Doctor. There’s some strange stuff going on here, so I’ll explain how I thought through this. When she put the Doctor’s hand over her heart, I thought ‘Of course, she’s a Time Lord.’ This lead me to the Master, but I reasoned my way out of this. ‘She can’t be a Time Lord, and definitely can’t be the Master. They’re all trapped in the Time War, and I’m pretty sure the Master exploded from lightning magic anyway.’

Doctor_Who_-_The_End_of_Time_Master

She’s not the Master; she’s the Mistress! And as crazy as ever.

Maybe not that crazy.

Missy kills Dr. Chang and unleashes the Cybermen on London. The Nethersphere, the Promised Land, the afterlife are actually a piece of Time Lord technology that can capture or absorb dying minds and place them in a virtual reality. The minds inside remain connected to their newly-upgraded bodies. Each mind is also given the chance to purge their emotions, and then probably deposited back into their body to act as a Cyberman.

Where the other Time Lords are, Gallifrey’s fate, and how the Mistress is even still alive are all important, as-yet unanswered questions, and I have no real speculation. I didn’t see the Master coming. At all. But we can be sure the last episode will go off the rails. With the Mistress/Master involved it always does.

Conspiracy theory: Is there a 4-beat rhythm in the Doctor Who theme that matches the beat the Master hears in her head all the time? I’ve been listening to it… too much, but I can’t confirm it. Anyone else notice it?

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 10, “In the Forest of the Night:” ARGH!

by William Hohmeister

This episode… “In the Forest of the Night” is bad. So bad. It’s dull, the bad kind of ridiculous, and full of people who ought to know better. So, like the Doctor Who writer’s room, I guess?

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) explore London after trees grow across the entire city overnight. As they try to figure out what happened we find out the forest is not limited to London, or even England: it’s global. Cool mystery, right?

Forest_of_the_Night CoverThe Doctor finds a little girl early on named Maeve, because Doctor Who is still sometimes about fairy tales you guys, and the writers really want us to know that. In this episode alone we get: a little girl in a red hood running through the magic forest, “breadcrumbs” for clues, Little Red Riding Ciché confronted by SEVERAL big bad wolves, and the Doctor and Clara pointing out over and over that “this is like a fairy tale” or “this is not a fairy tale.” There are probably more, but my head hurts now.

Doctor Who is a science-fiction show, but it’s always played fast and loose with the science. Sometimes this means it gets burned. Every scientific oddity, from the trees growing overnight, to an unexplained solar flare that’s about to kill humanity, is mentioned but never explained. Each is so half-hearted that the episode feels like 45 minutes of pure filler.

The half-hearted story isn’t limited to bad science, either. Everyone gets a taste of the awful. Clara and Danny are back. Clara lies to Danny so much I honestly think she has an actual problem. And she’s not the only one! Danny is apparently willing to put up with it, so screw him too. And the kids, dear god the kids. Every child is so painfully terrible that I think they came from George Lucas’ Home for Wayward Waifs. The only upside is we get a few flashbacks that show how awful Danny and Clara are as teachers.

Maeve is by far the worst, but it’s not her fault. Her sister died, I think? I don’t know, the show never says, and anyone who has to deal with actual problems probably feels pretty insulted. Don’t take your meds, kids! The forest will grant you magic visions! Maeve sought out the Doctor to tell him about the flare, but runs away and leaves pieces of her school stuff as clues because… because. After the Doctor and Clara (and then Danny and the class) find her and chase off the wolves (and subsequent tiger), Maeve lays some heavy exposition on us.

I couldn’t understand a word she said, and I refuse to look it up. Suffice to say, by this point it’s incredibly obvious that the trees are there to stop the solar flare from destroying earth. The only people who don’t know are in the show because, again, you have to fill the time somehow. Seriously: the Doctor could literally not have shown up, and the episode would have ended exactly the same.

To top off this hate sundae, the story nearly made me like it toward the end. It missyappears as though the solar flare really will destroy the earth, and Clara convinces the Doctor to escape with the kids and their teachers. It’s a bluff! She really just wants him to leave so the humans can all burn together.  I . . .

. . . I am not the best person. I love the Doctor, but I also think he has a lot in common with Satan. So: as the Doctor prepared to leave the earth to die, I started cackling. Full-on witch cackle, too. I was so glad everyone was going to die. I mean, sure, they’d come back – that’s what the finale would be about, and maybe that would be Missy’s role! To preserve everyone until the Doctor saves the day!

I was so excited.

It doesn’t happen. The Doctor returns to reassure everyone that there was never, ever any reason to worry, or even watch this show, and then the end happens. Trees absorb sun-fire. Yay. The ending is so sparkling clean and happy that Maeve – whose only character traits are being weird, magic, and having a dead sister – somehow resurrects her freaking sister via a fern. I don’t know.

I DON’T KNOW.

Shot of Missy saying something ominous, cut to Danny being entirely too tolerant of Clara’s crap, roll credits. Then some stuff about the finale (presumably a two-parter) that . . .  does anyone care about it?

Can you tell me why? I need a reason!

Please?

Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Episode 9, “Flatline”

by William Hohmeister

I think I’m ready to love again. Jamie Mathieson, will you marry the Doctor and become showrunner? You wrote my favorite episodes of Doctor Who series 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express” and this week’s episode, “Flatline.” I actually like Clara (Jenna Coleman) again! Longtime readers know I generally see no good in Clara’s character. She’s used so… generically, like a stand-in for a real Companion. “Mummy on the Orient Express” kept her out of view, but “Flatline” gives her a chance to act in a uniquely Clara way.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tries to drop Clara off after their latest adventure, but lands in Bristol. As he tries to deduce a solution to the problem, Clara points out something more worrying: the TARDIS’ door has shrunk. The Doctor and Clara squeeze through and find a shrunken TARDIS outside.

tardis_flatline“Flatline” introduces cool ideas about dimensions of space that I think the writer stole from Flatland. The interior of the TARDIS is infinite; the exterior is the size of a police box. As Whovians know, this leads to many humans gushing “It’s bigger on the inside.” The Doctor guesses that something is leeching power from the Tardis, causing it to shrink. He goes back inside, while Clara explores.

Clara meets Rigsy (Joivan Wade) and Fenton (Christopher Fairbanks) cleaning up Rigsy’s graffiti. Rigsy tells her of missing people, and shows her a mural that depicts each person from behind. She asks for his help, and goes back to get the Doctor.

Here’s where the show took a turn it really needed: the TARDIS has shrunk to the size of a paperweight and the Doctor is trapped inside. Clara picks it up, and we find out something really cool: the Doctor can adjust the TARDIS ’ weight. Since the Tardis is infinite, it would also be infinitely heavy if not for the weight adjustment. Usually it weighs as much as a police box, but now Clara can pick it up and stow it in her purse. It’s a great piece of world-building that I really liked.

Why is the TARDIS ’ size so important? The Doctor, just able to fit his hand throughclara_flatline the door, passes Clara his tools: sonic screwdriver, psychic paper, and an ear piece so he can communicate. Clara picks up Rigsy to investigate the homes of the vanished people, and introduces herself as: “The Doctor. Doctor Oswald.”

The episode unfolds as you expect from here: investigation, discovery, running, enlightenment, running, taking control of the situation, running, and a final plan. Clara drives each of these moments instead of the Doctor, however. The Doctor provides exposition, but he does not play a crucial role until the end. And the Doctor himself has admitted that sometimes he just talks until he hears a solution he likes, making him sort of an exposition-machine even to himself.

Clara plays the Doctor’s role in a way I think is unique to her. We’ve seen other Companions – Rose and Donna come to mind – play at being the Doctor. Rose was terrified (“The Christmas Invasion”) and Donna nearly died (“Journey’s End”).

Clara is a human Doctor, and she’s very efficient at it. She tells Rigsy the truth – or at least part of it – and when he tries to leave Clara shows him the Doctor and the Tardis. While investigating one home she pretends to be MI-5 to get PC Forrest’s (Jessica Hayles) help. The Doctor decides the vanished people must be in the walls of the house; in a moment worthy of the Looney Tunes, he passes Clara a sledgehammer through her purse. Clara explains simply: “Apparently they’re in the walls.”

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Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express

by William Hohmeister

Mummy on the Orient Express” replaces “Listen” as my favorite episode of series 8 Doctor Who. It does almost everything right, including a cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Foxes. It lasts only a few seconds in the episode, but thankfully BBC uploaded the full song to YouTube:

The song sums up the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his relationships with Companions over the years, including the problem with Clara (Jenna Coleman). He’s on a rocketship to Mars, and he’ll make a supersonic coolclaraman/woman outta you.Comparitive Geeks has a great article on Clara’s character, and the best I can do is repeat one of their points: Clara falls flat because she’s only traveling with the Doctor as a hobby. Someone – I suspect the new writer, Jaime Mathieson – realized Clara slows the story and does not connect with the audience. So as soon as possible, Clara accidentally locks herself in a train car far away from the Doctor and lets him get on with the episode, on board the Space Orient Express.

The lack of a real Companion has made the 12th Doctor one of the most human. Despite his brusque manner, Capaldi softens the Doctor just enough to be likeable, and since he can’t connect with Clara he has great moments with other characters on the train. The banter between the Doctor and Chief Engineer Perkins (Frank Skinner) is great. The stories told by Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) and Captain Quell (David Bambers) frame the overall story of the group trying to understand and stop the Mummy. Moorhouse travels to see amazing things, much like the Doctor. Quell is a soldier, recovering from PTSD on an easy assignment. The Mummy kills both.

Doctor_OrientI think the Doctor is forced to learn and change his attitude toward soldiers, as the two most sympathetic victims – Quell and the Mummy itself – are both soldiers. Though the Doctor liked Moorhouse, the professor tries to bargain with the Mummy and dies uselessly. Quell acts like the Doctor and tries to solve the problem even as the Mummy kills him. His last words indicate that he feels an obligation to try every solution he can think of, though he’s not as smart as the Doctor: “I wouldn’t be much of a soldier if I died with bullets in my gun.”
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