Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 7, “Kill the Moon” Review

by William Hohmeister

Doctor Who series 8, episode 7, “Kill the Moon,” by Peter Harness, is tough to review. I’m convinced by now that I don’t like Clara (Jenna Coleman), and probably never will. The last two episodes are good, but focused on Clara especially. She can’t withstand such scrutiny.

Throughout this review I have included my interpretation of how Clara must have explained her adventure to Danny (Samuel Anderson). I hope this helps my thoughts about the end of the episode and her decision to leave the Doctor (Peter Capaldi).

The Doctor is great in this episode. I’ve said before that Capaldi’s Doctor is a jerk and at least a bit cowardly. I still think this, and it has made the character much more interesting.killthemoonclara

Clara: I cannot stand him! The Doctor has gone…just…too far!

Danny: What did he do? Tell me what happened, I can help.

Clara: He insulted Courtney, and when I tried to make him apologize and tell her she’s special, he took her to the moon instead.

Danny: I guess she feels special now.

Clara: And we get there, in 2049, and land with astronauts who are hauling nuclear bombs to blow it up. And there are giant spiders, and dead Mexicans-

Danny: That’s racist.

Clara: How is that racist?

Danny: It feels racist. What were there names?

Clara: Who remembers? And the astronauts died so fast I barely had time to shame them for the bombs!

This has been an issue throughout Doctor Who’s entire run: extras do not matter. All but one of the astronauts die early, and there is a team of pre-dead folks waiting on the moon. They don’t matter. The astronauts aren’t on the moon because of them. They’re just on the moon. Dead.

Danny: Sorry, there were spiders with human teeth, but they weren’t really spiders they were bacteria? And people wanted to blow it all up, because gravity?

Clara: Turns out the moon is an egg.

Danny: What.

Clara: And everyone wanted to blow it up. The Doctor said he didn’t know what happened next, and we had to decide without him. I didn’t know what to do, so I told the earth to vote. I could only see, like, Australia, but close enough. And they all voted to kill the creature hatching out of the moon.

Danny: This has some pretty heavy moral implications.

killthemoon_lundvikClara: Eh, I stopped Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris) at the last moment. The Doctor reappeared and patronized me-

Courtney Woods (Ellis George): At least he had something to say.

Clara: Get out of here!

Courtney: Seriously, the last ten minutes was just this one, crying her eyes out like a little kid who got lost in a shop.

Clara: So help me, I will take you on another “class trip” if you don’t shut it. You got lucky. The last kids I took didn’t get to hang out safely in the TARDIS. They almost got murdered by robots.nightmare_in_silver

Is there any lesson that endangers enough people that Clara might actually learn something from it? I’m referring to “Nightmare in Silver,” of series 7.

The Doctor refuses when Clara asks to leave. We know about fixed points in time as the limit of what the Doctor can achieve. However many lives he saves, he can’t save everyone. And we see that despite his knowledge of most of time and space, the Doctor often gets into trouble. The series’ tension is introduced when the Companion asks how they can die in the past or future. The Doctor says that time is in flux. He usually doesn’t say more, but in this episode he elaborated.

Danny: This immortal, time-traveling space alien can see all of reality. But he travels to times and places he’s actually vulnerable, seemingly at random. And he’s just arrogant enough to believe he can solve whatever problem he finds.

Clara: Yes.

Danny: Why did he leave you to make the call? Maybe what happened was important in a way we haven’t considered yet?

Clara: Of course! I fell out with the Doctor, and I don’t trust him now, even though he trusts me more than ever. Or did. I guess our argument probably changed his mind.

Danny: I meant something of actual emotional weight, that wasn’t forced in because of “The Caretaker.” Any resolution about Moon Child? Humanity deciding on some weird version of abortion/infanticide? The Doctor’s decision to leave our fate to ourselves and maybe force us to grow up a bit and acknowledge our wider universe? The bizarre reality of his life as a near-omniscient god who is, just sometimes, nearsighted?

Clara: He tried to make a point, but I was crying.

It doesn’t take a supervillain or an apocalypse to threaten people; the universe is dangerous. Sometimes the Doctor does not know the answer. Clara’s reaction shows a lot about the character, but it doesn’t feel Clara-specific. Courtney has almost the same reaction. It seems like anyone could have stood in Clara’s place and said her lines and the episode would have been the same. Clara may grow up, or learn, or become interesting. But with no plot device to tie her to after the end of series 7, and no real personality except her relationship to Danny and the Doctor, Clara’s just… there.

courtney_moon_meme

The rest of the episode is great, go watch it. If you ignore the personal drama, and pay close attention to the Moon Child, you’ll find a hell of a story.

Original Images © BBC Wordwide. Poster by Radio Times. Courtney meme via ComicMix.

– ed: Hannah Givens, I think you will appreciate Will’s take on this. Do give it a read when you have a sec. 🙂

Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 4: “Listen” Review

by William Hohmeister

In Doctor Who series 8, episode 4 , we learn the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is scared of the dark. “Listen” is a character episode that focuses on revealing more of the Doctor’s nature. It is less concerned with the plot, which is purposeful nonsense.

DannyPinkClara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) get a bit of character development as well, though I do not understand it well. They go on a date, but take turns offending each other. First, Clara storms out, then uses time travel to try to fix the evening. Danny becomes suspicious when Clara calls him “Rupert”, and storms out. Neither “offense” seems terrible enough to leave, but at the end we see them make out. There’s a creepy reason for this I’ll reveal later.

The premise of the episode’s plot is flawed, which is the point of the episode. Steven Moffat wrote the episode, and he has a history of revealing the “cause” of basic fears; think of the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada. In “Listen,” Moffat subverts his own plot to show us something very interesting about the Doctor, but he builds the suspense in such a way as to make us believe in the premise.

The Doctor claims there are creatures with the skills of perfect hunting and Listenboardperfect defense, and asks an empty TARDIS why there is no creature with perfect hiding. The Doctor’s premise is wrong; there are apex predators, but there is no perfect predator (not even that one: tell-tale shimmer). Assuming there is such a thing as perfect hiding is also wrong. However, when the Doctor puts down a piece of chalk, something picks it up and writes “listen” on his blackboard.

The Doctor picks up Clara after her date, and proposes a theory: at some point, every human has a dream in which the perfect hiders visit them. The dream is a hand from under the bed grabbing the dreamer’s leg. Clara asks if the Doctor has had this dream, but he turns the question back on her, and doesn’t answer.

Clara and the Doctor have a great moment when the Doctor turns control of the Tardis over to her. It means a lot to Clara, from the look on her face, but the Doctor does it with total trust. Clara tries to steer them to when she had the dream, but she’s distracted by thoughts of Danny. She takes them to the night when Danny had the dream.

The Doctor talks to the night watchman of Danny’s orphanage, while Clara talks listenbedto Danny. Here is the creeper part of the episode: Clara gets under Danny’s bed to show him there’s nothing there. Danny crawls under with her. He has never heard the term “stranger danger”. Someone sits on the bed. Clara and Danny crawl out from under, and see someone hiding beneath a blanket. This is almost certainly a metaphor for the unintentional erection Clara just gave young Danny, and also explains why he’s so into her as an adult (childhood formative experiences are powerful).

The Doctor breaks the tension, but brings it up again as he instructs everyone not to look at the creature until it disappears. This, to me, is where it became clear the “monsters” are not real. A perfect predator always kills, a perfect defense is impregnable, and a perfect hider does not randomly hang out on top of a bed, beneath a blanket but still in clear view.

Clara’s skepticism seemed odd to me, but at this point it seems like she is the Listenhandadult, while the Doctor has succumbed to a childhood fear. This is the purpose of the rest of the episode. The Doctor risks his life to find out if the perfect hiders exist. Clara pilots the TARDIS to safety, but inadvertently plants the idea in the young Doctor’s head. She lands on Gallifrey, is forced to hide under the young Doctor’s bed, and grabs his ankle when he stands up. When she reenters the TARDIS , she points out the obvious: there is nothing in the dark but the fears the Doctor projects.

I really like this. It’s a twist on a typical story, and it reveals much about the Capaldi-Doctor. He is the oldest, most mature Doctor we’ve seen in the new series. He’s also afraid of the dark. The Doctor, despite all his glibness and bravado, has a child’s fear of the unknown. Every instance of the “creatures” is explained by something reasonable – rattling pipes, rushing air, the Doctor writing on his blackboard and forgetting it. It’s an anticlimax, but I dig it.

The episode ends with Danny and Clara together. Clara also meets Orson Pink, her (probable) great-grandson with Danny. I hope this is a setup. Danny and Clara are sweet and awkward, but I want something terrible to happen to that relationship and break up Clara’s (presumed) timeline. Orson Pink also hints that there is a family history of time travel, implying perhaps that Danny will travel through time. Or has he already?

What do you think of the monsters? Is there an obvious answer to their reality that I missed? Do you have a different theory? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Doctor Who Pandorica Opens/Big Bang Review

by William Hohmeister

I left out The Unicorn and the Wasp from the artist episode. Donna and Ten solve a mystery with Agatha Christie (zoinks). There is one artist episode per Companion, not per Doctor, and I suggest watching all of them, as they are great.

The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang form the series 5 two-part finale of Doctor Who. The Pandorica is the central plot device of both episodes. The Doctor (Matt Smith) called it a fairy tale in Flesh and Stone, and hasn’t changed his mind. River Song (Alex Kingston) calls him and Amy (Karen Gillan) to Rome-controlled Britain to show them a painting by Van Gogh. It’s called The Pandorica Opens, and it shows the Tardis exploding.

The Doctor, despite his skepticism, picks Stonehenge as the likeliest hiding place. River, Amy, and the Doctor ride out to it, and from there it’s a straight shot to the end of the universe and series 5. I’m going to review both the episodes and series 5 as I go along from this point. I think the themes, highlights, and problems of the series are all shown in this two-parter.

The Pandorica is a big creepy box buried beneath Stonehenge. It is supposedly the perfect prison, built to house the worst thing in the universe. Cryptic clues written on the box warn of a creature that would “…drop out of the sky and tear down your world.”

This actually refers to the Doctor. The Pandorica was built by an Alliance of all his old enemies, including the Nestene Consciousness, Daleks, Cybermen, Judoon, Slitheen, Silurians, Sycorax, Roboforms, Hoix, Sontarans, and more. As the Pandorica opens it emits a signal that calls all of them to Stonehenge to spring the trap. The Doctor emerges from beneath Stonehenge to find the sky full of alien ships.

The Alliance should have been the series 5 story arc. The Cracks only feature as a part of three episodes: The Eleventh Hour, Flesh and Stone, and Cold Blood. They are forced into the ending of other episodes, usually with a close-up. And the answer to why they exist isn’t interesting: the Tardis exploded. Straightforward, easy, boring. How did the Alliance form? What convinced all of the universe’s deadliest species to stage an elaborate setup?

River enlists Roman army volunteers to help hold off the Alliance, while the Doctor bluffs to gain more time. Matt Smith is at his best Doctor here:

This Doctor is the oldest chronologically but the youngest by his behavior. He often seems more like a teenager than a grown man; his morals, recklessness, and fashion choices display his immaturity. He never wonders if sacrificing the Romans is right, and unlike previous pacifist Doctors he admires their military. This is the Doctor series 5 needed; not a hypocritical hero (like Ten) or a damaged survivor (Nine), but a rock star who reminds us the power of time and space in the hands of a teenager is both incredibly dangerous and ridiculously cool.

Amy reveals the nature of the trap: the Romans were her favorite history subject, and Pandora’s Box was her favorite book. The Alliance used her memories to trick the Doctor into accepting the premise that the Pandorica already has a prisoner. River leaves to bring the Tardis to Stonehenge. A damaged Cybermen attacks Amy and the Doctor; and the best part of the trap appears:

Rory Williams returns in full Roman garb to save them! Sadly (actually awesome), he’s an Auton, a plastic duplicate created by the Nestene Consciousness. So is the entire Roman army.

Rory is my favorite part of series 5. Even back from the dead as a Roman soldier, he downplays it. He still loves Amy, and is broken up when he realizes the Crack erased him from her memory. River is great too, but Rory still wins my vote for best character.

When the Pandorica opens, the Alliance springs the trap. The Romans grab the Doctor and force him into the Pandorica while his enemies beam down and explain that the Doctor will destroy the universe. The Tardis then explodes with River still inside, which destroys the universe. Rory succeeds in reminding Amy of who he is, but the signal to the Autons forces him to kill Amy with his handgun. As the episode ends, the stars go out until the earth is alone in the sky.

This sets up a lot of interesting stuff for series 6. Before it exploded, a Crack appeared in the Tardis and a creepy voice said: “Silence will fall.” The Alliance is being played by someone with greater power and knowledge than even the Daleks, and they don’t mind destroying creation to get at the Doctor.

The Doctor escapes thanks to a paradox as The Big Bang begins. Despite the timey-wimeyness, the episode is straightforward: The Doctor tells Rory to free the Doctor and put Amy in the Pandorica so it will heal her. The freed Doctor travels to the night he first met Amelia Pond. Rory stays behind to guard Amy.

These episodes use fairy-tale aspects of the series well. Amy and Rory are lost children following the Doctor. The Doctor is part fairy godfather, part monster. This is clearest in Amy’s Choice: Rory tells Amy that they all have to grow up someday, and Amy replies, “Says who?” In the same episode, the Doctor’s subconscious (it’s weird) points out that the Doctor “likes them young.”

The Doctor likes Amy because she is still so much the little girl that she was when they first met; it’s easier for her to believe in the Doctor than it is for Rory, who met the Doctor as an adult. This stunts Amy’s character growth, while Rory goes from the simple village boy to “The Last Centurion.”

There’s also quite a bit of Changeling legend mixed in. Both Amy and Rory are at different points replaced by duplicates – Amy by Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour, and Rory by an Auton. I’m not sure what, if anything, it means, other than to hammer home the fairy-tale theme, but I thought it was interesting.

The Doctor, back in the present, leads Amelia Pond to the Pandorica so she can open it and free Amy. If you’re wondering how human history still happened with no sun (it went out with the other stars) it’s because the Tardis, exploding over and over in a time loop, serves as the earth’s source of heat and light.

The Pandorica also revives a stone Dalek that attacks on sight, but Rory stuns it. The group escapes, with the Doctor taking time to rescue River from the Tardis and instruct Roman Rory in the past, closing the paradox of how he escaped.

I’m not going to explain the Doctor’s plan to save the universe. I tried a few drafts and it made my brain hurt. Basically: Pandorica + Exploding Tardis = Big Bang Two. But the Doctor has to fly the Pandorica, which will trap him outside of the rebooted universe. The Doctor watches the series rewind, as now none of it ever happened. The Doctor leaves clues to let Amy remember him, however. This is the most subtle plot point in this series; if you’re not sure what I mean, watch Flesh and Stone again and observe the Doctor’s wrists.

Amy remembers the Doctor on her wedding day, and the Doctor reappears, thankfully dressed for the occasion in top-hat and tails. Rory and the other guests also remember the Doctor, though I’m not sure why.

In-universe, the Doctor never existed. This is actually a big problem with the finale, as the Doctor achieves amazing things and loses nothing. It takes away the danger that lurks behind the Doctor’s adventures. He’s a rock star, but don’t worry, he’s a nice, wholesome rock star. He’s a hero! And the hero always gets the girl. Series 5 had a great chance to tell a Doctor Who fairy tale, but the ending wastes it.

The Doctor can’t die, if the series is to continue, but I think he should have lost Amy. If she remembers him, the Doctor can return to reality. Why should he be able to see her again? Why should her memory last more than a moment? The theme of series 5 is fairy-tales, and the payoff, I think, should have been how people grow out of – even forget – them.

The series ends as Rory and Amy continue to travel with the Doctor.

Series 8 is coming up fast, so my next two reviews will be of series 6 and series 7 as a whole. I also have a preview of series 8, what I hope and fear it will be, as well as a review of Moffat himself, and the writing of series 5-7.

Doctor Who Review: Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone

By William Hohmeister

I’m reviewing two Doctor Who episodes again this week, the two-parter: The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, in which the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) run into several old faces.

River Song (Alex Kingston) reappears in The Time of Angels. We last saw her in Forest of the Dead, when she died to save the Tenth Doctor’s life (David Tennant). River and the Doctor meet in the wrong order: River’s past is the Doctor’s future, and vice-versa. River doesn’t know she’s going to die when she meets Ten, and this is only the second time the Doctor has met her at all.

Dr. Song  image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

Dr. Song
image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

He does know that River is important to his future, however. River leaves a message requesting a rescue on the black box of a space ship, which the Doctor finds 12,000 years later while browsing a museum. He and Amy steal the box and escape to rescue River, who tells them to “follow that ship” as it blasts off.

River and the Doctor fly the Tardis in pursuit until the space ship crashes on a planet. The Doctor asks where River learned to fly, but she only says she was taught by the best – “Shame you [the Doctor] were busy that day”. She lands the Tardis without the traditional braying noise, which she says only occurs because the Doctor “drives with the brakes on”.

River is a nice contrast to the Doctor. She challenges him. She drives the Tardis better than he does, knows more about him than he does about her, and takes absolutely zero crap from him. When the Doctor shows off, she only says to Amy: “He thinks he’s so hot when he does that”.

Father Octavian

Father Octavian
image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

The ship crashes on a human-colonized planet, where River introduces the Doctor to a group of Clerics, soldiers for the Space Catholic Church, and reveals why they’re here: a Weeping Angel was onboard the crashed ship. The Cleric leader, Father Octavian (Iain Glen), tells River she promised him an army. She replies she promised the equivalent of an army, and turns to the Doctor. I love this, because it shows right away that at least one character understands Eleven well enough to realize that he’s dangerous, deadly, and incredibly useful if pointed in the right direction. River seems just manipulative enough to get the Doctor involved in an interesting story.

River apparently has an interesting future/past as well. Father Octavian warns River not to reveal too much about herself to the Doctor. He claims that the Doctor won’t help them if he finds out what crimes River has committed. I’m more interested in River than any other character we’ve met so far, including the Doctor.

The Clerics, Amy, River, and the Doctor enter a small shuttle to watch a video loop of the Angel trapped in the crashed ship. Later, while the Doctor and River read through a book about the Angels written by a lunatic, the image of the Angel on the screen moves through the screen and threatens Amy. They discover that “whatever holds the image of an Angel, is an Angel”. Amy calls for help, and the Doctor tells her to watch the Angel, but not to look it in the eyes. Amy rescues herself by pausing the video, which freezes the Angel.

The group deduces that the Angel must have descended from the ship into the Maze of the Dead, a necropolis built by the Aplans, the planet’s former native inhabitants. They descend to search for it and kick up a gravity globe to provide light.

Amy Pond doesn’t do anything without the Doctor, and that continues to be her problem. Throughout these episodes the Doctor has to act as her babysitter. When he’s not around, she has no real personality. River brings out a bit of character in her, however. Amy figures out that River and the Doctor must have a romantic past, possibly marriage. River grudgingly admits that Amy is good, but does not confirm or deny it. She and Amy also joke that River knew how to contact the Doctor because he always ends up in museums eventually – it’s how he keeps score. It still centers her character on the Doctor, but it’s better than having no role or point other than being rescued.

image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

image © BBC Worldwide. Fair use applies.

The Aplan Maze of the Dead is full of statues, which makes looking for the Angel both impossible and deadly. The Angel slowly picks off several Clerics as the group explores. One Cleric, Bob (it’s a holy name), panics and fires randomly. Octavian chastises him for it, but the Doctor steps in. I think we’re supposed to side with the Doctor, as he confronts mean-old-Mister-Octavian and reassures Bob, but I don’t. The Doctor comes off as needlessly hostile and wastes time in a dangerous situation.

It ends up not mattering anyway. While the Doctor tells Bob that “scared makes you fast” and that “anyone not scared is a moron”, the Angel kills Bob just as the Doctor and River realize their mistake. The Aplans were a two-headed species. The statues have only one head. The statues are all Weeping Angels, starving to death. The ship is a rescue ark for these Angels. I am a bit confused and annoyed. How did the Angels – who look human – infiltrate the Aplan (who don’t look human)? The Angels supposedly exist all throughout the universe, but how can they when they look only like one distinct species?

I empathized with the Angels in Blink. Ten called them the “lonely assassins”. They fed off energy produced by sending people back in time, and could never be seen except as statues. This was awful, but understandable because it was how they had to survive. Rather than feeding on the Clerics, though, the Angels snap their necks, feed off the radiation from the engines of the crashed ship, and taunt the Doctor using Bob’s voice. They turn from necessary predators into cliche villains. 

The Doctor shoots the gravity globe, which propels the remaining group onto the crashed ship in the cavern ceiling. They manage to escape into the ship, pursued by the Angels. Eventually they reach a control room, with a door leading to a borg forest. Cyborg trees on board the ship provide air during long spaceflights, and make an awesome setting. The Doctor opens up one to expose the wires and circuits. Another control room lies at the opposite end of the forest.

Amy slows the group down here. She looked into the eyes of the Angel earlier, and is slowly turning into an Angel. She counts down to it without realizing, and the countdown is effective and creepy. The only way to stop the process is to close her eyes. The Angels surround the group in the forest and the Doctor is forced to leave Amy to reach the control room. He takes only River and Octavian with him, and tells the other Clerics to keep Amy safe, or they will answer to him.

What happened to the Doctor between sticking up for Bob and threatening the Clerics if anything happens to Amy? He went very quickly from supporting one Cleric to stating that the other Clerics don’t matter as long as Amy lives. Everyone other than Amy is just a casualty. I think it points to the Doctor’s self-righteousness and self-serving morality. This character can work if it includes repercussions for the Doctor, which I hope to see as the series goes on. So far, the Doctor still gets treated like a regular hero.

The Doctor and River make it through the forest, but Octavian is caught and killed by an Angel. Before he dies, however, he warns the Doctor not to trust River, claiming that she killed “a good man”. The Doctor and River find a new control room and search it for a way to escape, but find only a broken teleporter.

Meanwhile, a new Crack in reality has appeared near Amy and the Clerics. The Angels initially attempt to feed off it, but flee when it consumes some of them. The Crack eats the Clerics one by one, and we learn that the Cracks erase people from existence. This is quite a change from The Eleventh Hour, when a Crack allowed Prisoner Zero to escape through it, and I’m curious about what caused the change.

Amy calls the Doctor, who helps her walk through the forest to him with her eyes still closed. She has to walk through a group of Angels by pretending she can see them, but trips. The Angels slowly turn to look at her. This ruins the remaining mystery of the Angels, as we now know they always look like statues and actually see them move. The Doctor manages to get the teleporter working and saves Amy.

The Angels demand that the Doctor sacrifice himself to close the Crack, which can apparently only be closed by a huge space-time event (though the sonic screwdriver managed it in The Eleventh Hour). Instead, the Doctor turns off the gravity and the Angels fall into and seal the Crack.

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