Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 1 Review

by William Hohmeister

Question: You take a broom. You replace the handle; and then later, you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer: No, of course it isn’t!

Doctor Who series 8 is here! Peter Capaldi plays the new Doctor*, and Jenna Louise-Coleman continues to travel with him as Clara Oswald. Clara is the first Companion since Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) to witness the Doctor’s regeneration. The first episode, “Deep Breath”, picks up directly after the end of series 7.

A dinosaur wanders in the Thames as Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) investigate. Vastra offers sonic lamps to corral the t-rex, just as it spits out the Tardis. The Doctor, who at the end of series 7 asked Clara if she knew how to fly the Tardis, is still having some trouble with it.

The Doctor seems almost senile at first. He does not remember anyone’s name at first, simply describing Strax (Dan Starkey) as Grumpy, one of the seven dwarves, and Vastra as “the green one.” He passes out, and Vastra takes him to her estate. He fights against going to sleep, but Vastra tricks him into it. She, Jenny, and Clara talk about the nature of regeneration.

Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are my favorite characters of the series. Strax is an eternally-concussed Sontaran nurse, and Vastra is a Silurian married to the human Jenny. They’re fanservice, but they are used so sparingly it works. And Jenny and Vastra have the most realistic, healthiest relationship on the show.

A Clockwork Droid, similar to those seen in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, steals organs from people and dinosaurs to keep himself functional, then burns the bodies to cover up the theft. The Doctor and the others race to the burning dinosaur in time to spot the Droid, and the Doctor escapes by jumping into the Thames.

The Doctor continues to struggle through his confusion, as he terrorizes and nearly mugs a hobo. Peter Capaldi first appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii” as Caecilius, and the Doctor seems aware of this. He thinks his prior incarnation (Matt Smith) sent a message by choosing this face, but he doesn’t understand the message.

The Doctor and Clara both answer an ad for the “Impossible Girl” at a restaurant. Each believes the other wrote it. The Doctor quickly realizes the restaurant is a trap, but too late to escape. He and Clara descend into a spaceship beneath the restaurant. The Doctor realizes what the Droids are, but as they wake up he abandons Clara. He comes back after the capture Clara, but he is a bit of a coward; he had no way to know they wouldn’t kill her outright, or that she would be able to hide.

Jenny, Strax, Vastra, and Clara fight off the robot flunkies as the control Droid escapes in a balloon made of skin. It looks like a giant testicle. Earlier, the Doctor wore a flesh mask he stole off a Droid. Either someone didn’t think this macabre turn of events through, or everyone on the set had a good laugh with this episode.

The Doctor develops a lot in this episode, and gives some interesting insights into the regeneration process and the continuing character of the Doctor. A massive blast of time energy, such as the time vortex of the Tardis (“The Parting of the Ways”) or receiving a new set of regenerations (“The Time of the Doctor”), knocks him out and confuses him. Compare this to Matt Smith, who got right back up after regenerating, possibly because it was his last one.

The Doctor confronts the control Droid in the Scrotulloon (scrotum+balloon). He tries to convince the Droid that its life is hollow and meaningless. He claims the “promised land” the Droid searches for is a superstition, a result of “cramming so much humanity in there.” He also says the quote at the top of this article:

“Question: You take a broom. You replace the handle; and then later, you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer: No, of course it isn’t!”

If this applies to the Droid, does it not also apply to the Doctor? He changes faces, bodies, even personalities; he has the knowledge and history of his past incarnations, but when Matt Smith leaves him a message, the new Doctor can’t decipher it. When Clara decides to leave, however, the previous Doctor calls her and asks her to stay and help him. The new Doctor echoes Matt Smith’s lines, so he must remember something. How much of the Doctor is just the character’s history mingled with the new person, and how much is a continuing consciousness?

I like this ending. The Doctor is unusually vulnerable and open, and has to trust Clara rather than the reverse. While Matt Smith asks Clara to help, the new Doctor begs Clara to: “Just see me.” His faith is rewarded when she changes her mind, and they continue to travel together.

The final scene is a bizarre epilogue, featuring the control Droid in “heaven”, with a woman named Missy (Michelle Gomez), who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend.

*The Doctor’s numbering is off. Capaldi should be the Twelfth Doctor, but because John Hurt is also technically a Doctor, he’s actually the Thirteenth – making Eccleston the Tenth, Tennant the Eleventh, and Smith the Twelfth. I imagine this would be confusing, however, so unless it’s an issue in the story I’ll refer to the Doctor from now on by his actor’s name or just…

 

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Doctor Who: What’s up with the writing?

by William Hohmeister

I do not know what to think about Doctor Who.capaldieyes

I want to greet Peter Capaldi’s Thirteenth Doctor (yes, he’s Thirteen, not Twelve) with an open mind. And I think I can, because I have no special attachment to Matt Smith’s Twelfth Doctor. I am afraid of the new Doctor Who because of the writing; while I hope Capaldi brings a new and interesting take on the Doctor, I have little hope that the writers know or understand what they’re doing.

Many articles point out the decline in quality since Steven Moffatt took over Doctor Who, and lay blame accordingly. I do not agree. People, especially fans, like when there is a single point of failure – just look at how many cried out against Ben Affleck as the new Batman. Moffatt may be part of the problem, but a television show has too many moving parts to lay the blame on any one thing.

The writers do bear the brunt of blame, however. They wrote the show, after all. And while there are not so many terrible episodes, there are few genuinely great ones. Most are mediocre. I examined the writers of series 1-7 and found something interesting: there’s little difference between the two groups. Moffatt and Davies share 6 writers between their eras, not counting Moffatt himself. Davies and Moffatt each wrote about half of their own episodes. And both have close to the same number of two-part stories and single, one-shot episodes. Analyzing the writing from a meta view does not explain the quality of the stories.

Are the writers responsible then? Maybe it really is Moffatt’s fault. He okayed even the bad episodes after all; and he wrote much more after taking over the show. Under Davies he wrote some great episodes, like “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace.” “Blink” establishes the weirdness of a time loop, while “The Girl in the Fireplace” hands a heavy defeat to the Eleventh Doctor (David Tennant… yes, we have to get used to this. Blame Moffat and John Hurt). Compare “Fireplace” and Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles) with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and series 5-7. Both characters are women who wait their entire lives for the Doctor. Madame de Pompadour dies waiting for him, but Amy Pond is rewarded by traveling with him longer than any other companion.

I think this indicates a shift in attitude. The Tenth (Christopher Eccleston) and Eleventh Doctors were both serious, and their stories often involved heavy lessons and moral defeats. Series 5-7 and the Twelfth Doctor are much more lighthearted, but the subject matter is not. The Silence, the series villains, kidnap and brainwash Melody Pond into an assassin. The Doctor kills and doesn’t look back. In “The Day of the Doctor,” the Moment describes the Doctor as “The man who regrets [Eleven] and the man who forgets [Twelve].”

This attitude toward Twelve as “the man who forgets” might explain why sayings like “Rule one: the Doctor lies” came to be. It absolves both the characters and the writers from ever really explaining themselves. By not offering explanations, bizarre events like Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill in The Wedding of River Song can exist just to be cool. A fine line exists between style and fanservice, however, as “The Day of the Doctor”shows. All the Doctors gather together, to reverse the Doctor’s greatest failure. Of course, that failure never really existed because, if it had, the Silence would not have tried to kill the Doctor. Because the Silence try to kill Twelve before he saves Gallifrey, we know that he never actually destroyed it.

Using “timey-wimey” is just a symptom of the attitude the writers of Doctor Who hold. Steven Moffatt has said in interviews that a time-travel show doesn’t need an established continuity. But as we see from the confusing explanation I just gave of the consequences of “The Day of the Doctor,” and the overall quality of series 5-7, this attitude drags the show down. It allows the fanboy side of each writer to run wild; fanservice becomes normal instead of occasional. “The Day of the Doctor” is pure fanservice from beginning to end; therefore, it’s boring. The Doctor’s victory is never in doubt, and the audience goes along with it, because it is just so cool to see thirteen TARDISes (plural?) flying together.

I think that’s what needs to change. I wrote earlier drafts in which I pointed out everything the show did wrong during series 6 and 7. The drafts were several thousand words long. But each came back to the same thing: the attitudes of the writers, the showrunner, and the audience. We’re not innocent: the series 8 premier got the highest ratings since 2010. As long as style triumphs over substance, as long as “are bowties cool?” remains the most morally complex question the Doctor and his companions have to answer, the show remains mediocre.

There is also just some really awful writing.

 

Doctor Who Character Review: Series 6 and 7

by William Hohmeister

This is a character review of Doctor Who series 6 and 7. The review of the story arcs, the writing, and my hopes and dreams are in tomorrow’s article. I hope you enjoy.doctor_who__matt_smith__by_iamherecozidraw-d5f5bd5

The Doctor

I do not like the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). This can be complicated, because everyone has “their” Doctor. Mine was Nine (Christopher Eccleston). Ten (David Tennant) is a close second. But I don’t like Eleven, and I think he was objectively bad. Smith was at his best when the Doctor was not portrayed as a hero.

Smith excelled as both the rock star Doctor and the fussy old man. When he’s the rock star, he challenges entire species and they back down. In “The Angels Take Manhattan”, River Song (Alex Kingston) describes him as “An ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve-year-old.” When he’s the old man, he lies and tricks his friends to protect them. In “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS”, the Doctor says “Secrets keep us safe.”

These dual personalities work well together. The Doctor saves the day and takes a bow most of the time, but when he is frustrated he turns mean and cynical. He lashes out at his friends in “The Impossible Astronaut”, and at first refuses to help because he doesn’t like that they are keeping a secret from him. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, he speaks with the TARDIS for the first time in his long life, and within hours he has to say goodbye. He has a rock star moment, drops the façade to say goodbye, then covers up again.

While the Doctor behaves brazenly and lies constantly, he lives free of consequences. I don’t like Eleven because he has no character arc. A slight setback – not a loss – causes him to pout and whine. Amy’s and Rory’s “deaths” come with the knowledge that they lived long lives after they left him. For his diva old man personality to work, it needs to have consequences. Instead, the Doctor is always right and always does just the right thing. Almost no one ever calls him on it.

The Companions

claramotorcycleI don’t like Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) either. I rarely cared about her character. She and the Doctor do have an interesting relationship. As I said in my series 5 review, the Doctor likes Amy because she was a little girl when they met, and remains infatuated (not necessarily romantically) with him for most of series 6. But the Doctor is equally dependent on her. In “The Impossible Astronaut”, Amy convinces the Doctor to help when no one else can convince him. In both “The Power of Three” and “The Time of the Doctor”, the Doctor claims Amy is special because “You were the first face this face [the Doctor’s] saw.” I think the Doctor imprinted on Amelia Pond, which explains why he cares about her to the exclusion of everyone else.

Amy and Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise-Coleman) are the same character. Both characters are defined by their relationship to the Doctor. Amy begins to develop an independent personality, but is killed off before it takes hold. Clara’s personality and her entire existence depend on the Doctor. I like Clara more, but the writers designed her to be liked, not to be a person.

Try to describe both characters without referring to their job, their role in the plot, or their relationship with the Doctor. Amy is a snarky, rude child growing up reluctantly. Clara is bouncy, bubbly, and cute. Clara does not have a personality. She’s a Care Bear.

Clara is interesting, however, in “The Asylum of the Daleks”. She’s a Dalek resisting her programming. She helps the Doctor. I wish this version had survived and traveled with the Doctor, instead of the usual “cute girl with a crush” Companion we got.

Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and River Song/Melody Pond are the best Companions. River has such a huge, bizarre backstory, but we see almost none of it. We see the beginning, when she is kidnapped by the Silence, and the end, when she “kills” the Doctor. I want to know how she went from psychopath raised by her childhood friends/parents, to the level-headed, time-traveling, TARDIS-flyinglady who married the Doctor. River’s kidnapping is also the only event with consequences. The Doctor fails to rescue her from the Silence, and River kills him. Amy convinces her to help, but River has to give up her regenerations to save him.

Rory acts as the adult and the moral center of the group. In “The Girl Who Waited,” Rory and the Doctor discuss quarantined patients with a fatal disease:

Rory: Are they happy?

The Doctor: Oh, Rory. Trust you to think of that.

Amy is trapped as well, but not in danger from the disease. This is my favorite episode of series 5-7, and I’ll talk about it more in the next article.

Rory also has a moment of awesome in “A Good Man Goes to War”, but I could not find a video of it. However, no list of Companions is complete without Craig so I found two videos of him. Ladies and gentlemen, Craig:

Doctor Who Series Five Review: Vincent and the Doctor

by William Hohmeister

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) meet Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) in Vincent and the Doctor. There’s a tradition to have one “artist” episode per Doctor, beginning with Nine and Rose running into Charles Dickens in The Unquiet Dead, and again when Ten and Martha helped William Shakespeare fight witches in The Shakespeare Code.

I love the artist episodes. Vincent and the Doctor is second only to The Eleventh Hour as my favorite episode of series 5 Doctor Who. It begins with a transition from Vincent Van Gogh painting Wheatfield with Crows to the finished painting hanging in the Musee d’Orsay. Dr. Black (Bill Nighy) lectures a tour group about the artist and the paintings, drawing a connection between Vincent’s madness and his work right away.

Wheatfield with Crows -- oil on canvas 101x50 ...

Wheatfield with Crows — oil on canvas 101×50 cm Auvers june 1890 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amy says the Doctor is behaving too nicely and the Doctor overreacts, which makes Amy suspicious; she says she was joking, and asks why the Doctor isn’t. The Doctor still feels guilty over Rory Williams’ death in Cold Blood. I think he’d be more comfortable if Amy blamed him, but she doesn’t remember Rory at all; he was eaten by one of the Cracks in reality.

The Doctor spies a strange creature painted into The Church at Auvers. He says, “I know evil when I see it, and I see it in that window.” I can only remember a few times the Doctor declared something to be “evil”, and never without speaking to it first. I’m not sure if this is part of Eleven’s reckless personality, or a chance to distract himself from his guilt over Rory. Either way, it has repercussions for the Doctor, and leads to a defining moment at the end of the episode.

Amy and the Doctor travel to 1890. They find Vincent at a café from his paintings, begging for booze. He and the Doctor squabble, but Amy buys wine to share. She and Vincent flirt, which is weird because syphilis – a point Vincent himself brings up when he hears the name “the Doctor.” The Doctor tries to get Vincent talking, but a scream interrupts them. A dead woman in an alley is the first “look” we have of the creature from the painting. The Doctor invites himself and Amy to Vincent’s home.

Vincent describes how he hears colors to the Doctor. The Doctor realizes Amy has left the house and we hear her scream. Vincent seems to attack the Doctor with a pitchfork, but Vincent turns out be attacking an invisible creature which only he can see. Vincent sketches it over a completed painting (cringe) and the Doctor leaves for the Tardis. Amy stays with Vincent, but wakes up early to buy him sunflowers as a thank-you.

The Doctor gets a species-identifier – a papoose with a car mirror on the side – from the Tardis and shows it Vincent’s sketch. The creature shows up in the mirror, which identifies it as a Krafayis just before it attacks. The Doctor escapes and finds Amy as she returns to Vincent. Vincent delivers some great lines back at his house; like Dickens and Shakespeare, Vincent steals the episode.

The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise

The Doctor convinces Vincent to paint the church so the Krafayis will show up. Vincent agrees, but a remark by the Doctor about leaving afterward sends him crying to his bed. When the Doctor finds him Vincent screams at him to leave. The Doctor prepares to go to the church anyway, but Vincent reappears wearing the best hat/coat combo ever.

The trio confront the Krafayis at the church and discover, as it rambles aimlessly, that it is blind. Vincent is forced to kill it, however, as the Doctor’s plan to subdue it fails. Vincent eulogizes the creature, claiming it was scared and lashed out, like the villagers that attack him. The Doctor states that “Sometimes winning… winning is no fun at all.”

I think this sums up the Doctor’s character by contrasting his reaction with Vincent’s. Only Vincent shows real sympathy and understanding of the Krafayis, which while a brutal and murderous species, was abandoned on an alien planet, scared and confused. The Doctor seems annoyed that his grand victory – over what he imagined at the beginning to be “evil” – has been stolen from him.

Winning is no fun at all for him this time, because winning was all he cared about. With the comment from River and Amy about how the Doctor “keeps score,” I think Eleven views his travels as a competition. The Doctor loses something in this episode, even if it is only the victory he longs for.

There are two negatives to this episode: the dialogue from Amy and the Doctor (see above: “I’m sorry you’re so sad”) is bad, and the song at the end, “Chances” by Athlete. Call me old-fashioned, but if you need a moody song to set some heavy stuff to, you use “How to save a life” by The Fray.

We also get some hints that Amy does remember Rory, when she tells Vincent that she’s “sorry you’re so sad” and Vincent responds that he sees the same sadness in her. Amy starts crying without realizing it; at the end of the next episode, The Lodger, she finds her engagement ring, which the Doctor had hidden. This leads into the two-part season finale, and my next review, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.