Archive for February 2015
Finally, we meet Clara proper!
- ‘The Bells of St. John’ by Stephen Moffat
- ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ by Neil Cross
The bells refer to the Doctor’s phone-box phone. Prior to this point it has rung only once, when the Ninth Doctor took a call from the Empty Child. Eleven seems just as baffled. Clara got the number from a woman in a shop (presumably Missy) who told her it was the ‘best help-line.’ She then makes a mnemonic of her famous catch-phrase, and the Doctor is off.
This episode is okay. The opening setup with people trapped in the wi-fi is great. The post-climax scene of Miss Kizlet asking for her parents is heart-wrenching. The motorbike is cool, if pointless, and the Doctor’s turning his enemy’s weapon against them is classic. Mostly the details seem to hang together decently and make a certain amount of sense. The monastary scenes have some cringy moments, and the chaos on the plane feels overdone, but otherwise the episode works.
It’s not very exciting, but it works.
I still love the music of ‘The Rings of Akhaten.’ I have problems with the Doctor stalking Clara’s early life – is there anything not-creepy about the way he kneels down to talk to her after the soccer-ball incident? If I were her parents I’d be keeping a sharp eye out for him thereafter. I also wish he’d tell her the truth in the end, but that would blow Moffat’s whole (lame) season arc. The stuff in the middle I like, even if it’s a bit difficult to follow. I love the Doctor’s big speeches; I love his conversation with Merry about ‘star-stuff;’ I love Clara’s backstory, even if it doesn’t stick, even if her dad is way too young in that cemetery scene.
Once again I forgot that there’s a ‘prequel.’ The Doctor meets a girl in a playground and has a touching moment. He doesn’t realize it’s Clara. And once again, parents fail to be concerned about a grown man hanging around a playground. Some fans place Rose and Mickey in the scene – Clara’s mother is talking to a blonde woman, and there’s a blonde girl and a black boy playing among the children. However, since Rose and Mickey would be roughly five years older than Clara – assuming continuity has any value in this universe – it doesn’t seem likely. Nice idea, though.
It’s actually a very sweet scene. And that’s Amy Pond music playing in the background…
This episode was difficult to follow on the first viewing, and a lot of people had problems with it. Based on a re-watch and some thoughts of my own, here’s the basic idea:
The Doctor takes Clara to Akhaten, a system of seven worlds around a single star. People live in the rings that orbit a large red gas giant, rather star-like itself at times and apparently a source of confusion, but the Doctor does point at it and say ‘planet’ which should be pretty conclusive. Anyway, at the Festival of Years the people give their songs and stories to the god-planet, which feeds on them. At times the gifts are not enough, and the planet takes the youthful Queen of Years, repository of legend, as sacrifice.
This is one of those times. The god wakes, and takes Merry. The priests are unable to put the thing back to sleep. The Vigil, some kind of enforcer group, attempt to force Merry to be sacrificed. The Doctor and Clara save her, leaving the god-planet hungry. It reaches out to take what it needs, putting the people at risk. The Doctor offers himself. Somehow even he is not enough. Clara, returning, offers the thing her history – and more, the future her mother never had. An infinity of days unlived. The god-planet gorges, and presumably dies. The residents of the Rings are safe.
I am one of those people who places a great deal of sentimental value in things. I was hurt when the Doctor made Clara give up her mother’s ring. But at the same time, I’m quite certain I would do the same to save a child. It gives a new perspective on the notion of value: I wouldn’t give up such a thing for casual fun, but for life or death there is no question.
Clara will always have her mother. She doesn’t need things to remind her.
I recently finished watching S2 of ITV’s Broadchurch. Besides the murder mystery, family drama, and landscape cinematography, a major theme I’m noticing is responsibility: who takes the blame. As much of New Who shares this theme, I’d like to explore it here.
MASSIVE BROADCHURCH SPOILERS BELOW. STOP NOW IF YOU INTEND TO WATCH IT.
Stop right there, or the eyebrows will attack!
SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
All clear? Then carry on.
As we open on S2, Alec Hardy has taken responsibility for losing evidence that would have convicted a child murderer. Without it the trial collapsed, taking with it his career and reputation. Ellie Miller has been demoted and ostracized following her husband’s arrest. She blames herself for her failure as a detective; her son blames her for the loss of his father, and her best friend blames her for everything.
On the other side, Joe Miller refuses to take responsibility for his actions, pleading not guilty in court and compelling a trial.
As the series progresses, more blame is spread. The lawyer Bishop has a son in prison: she blames the system, society, and her old mentor, never taking any responsibility for herself or laying any on her son. Tess Henchard declines any share of the blame for the failure of the Sandbrook case. Suspects Claire and Lee pass blame back and forth between themselves and anyone else who comes within reach.
By the end of the season, however, the tables have turned. Tess doesn’t get to close her most famous case, the honor falling instead to former DS Miller. Joe, found not guilty in court, is driven from town by a wall of determined citizens. Ellie Miller solves the Sandbrook case, gets free of her husband, and is restored to her community. Alec Hardy is healed from his illness and from his guilt. Responsibility sits where it belongs, and the blameless are finally free to go on with their lives.
New Who in particular enjoys playing the blame game. Both modern showrunners have portrayed the Doctor as being at fault for the chaos that surrounds him. In the very first remount episode, Russell T. Davies writes (in the words of Clive): “When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion… Death.” (‘Rose’)
No one in the series so far has bothered to point out that the Doctor comes in fact in the wake of the storm, to prevent as many deaths as possible. Even when Martha states openly that “it wasn’t the Doctor’s fault,” (‘The Sontaran Stratagem’) it’s clear by her phrasing that she actually means the opposite. She says he’s like fire, but he isn’t the fire; he’s the first responder, the man self-tasked with the most dangerous work for the greatest possible good. Even when someone like the Master comes along, sowing destruction for the Doctor’s attention, the writers prefer to blame the Doctor than the Master.
I don’t know why this is. I don’t know why people are obsessed with laying blame on any handy target rather than where it actually belongs. I don’t know why people enjoy the angst of misplaced guilt. The Doctor, like Alec Hardy, takes responsibilty for things that are not his fault and that he could not possibly have prevented. Like Ellie Miller, he tries to help, and ends up receiving the blame due someone else. But unlike Broadchurch, Doctor Who continually fails to place responsibility where it belongs.
Frak everything, Leonard Nimoy is dead.
Okay, he’s an actor, not a family member, not a friend. Still he manages somehow to be important. Terribly important. Even for casual fans and non-fans, he embodied the character he was best known for: logical, peaceable, thoughtful. He was old, he was sick, and now he’s gone, and it’s not ok.
I think a lot about death. Losing my mother at 19 gave me a morbid streak. Now, at 40, I spend too much time wondering how many years I have left with my father, my siblings, my husband. Whether I have years or only months to see my grandmother again. (She is 8 years older than Nimoy.) And yes, I think about the deaths of actors I admire.
Many have died young, and too many still do. Back in the day we had John Belushi and Janis Joplin. More lately we had Heath Ledger and Cory Montieth. Youth is no guarantee of safety. And our idols age alongside us. I’ve caught myself wondering how, hopefully in some long-distant future, I will cope with the death of David Tennant. Olivia Colman. Billie Piper and Benedict Cumberbatch and Hayley Atwell. Leonard Nimoy was young once; even if we survive the perils of youth, time comes for us all in the end. How much time does Peter Capaldi have? Ian McKellan and Patrick Stuart? Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith and Judi Dench?
It is illogical to protest the inevitable. Yet once again, Doctor Who has the perfect response, in the words of River Song:
Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all of the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it.
Live Long and Prosper.
Sometimes it’s so hard to choose. Sometimes it’s easy.
I was thinking of this, I think, because of all the ‘Tooth and Claw’ imagery that pops up on Tumblr from time to time. This episode is really the beginning of the end for Rose. It’s a romp, pure fun in a lot of ways; the two are never more adorable or more obnoxious together than they are here. But you can see the strikes against them begin to accumulate. People have died, and they’re busy taking bets and pranking the Queen. They giggle to each other over their knighthoods while Lady Isobel looks on in agony. Her husband is dead, her household traumatized; while I’m sure she’s aware that Rose and the Doctor prevented a much worse outcome, I doubt she appreciates their levity.
But the episode IS a fun one. The pair’s banter is entertaining to follow. Rose is at her most resourceful, the Doctor at his most brilliant. They play off each other beautifully. It’s exciting and scary and smart.
And in the end there is Torchwood, and their destiny is fixed.
I think this makes ‘Tooth and Claw’ my favorite of S2. It’s got all the good stuff, and a touch of weight that keeps it from ‘Robot of Sherwood’ territory. It’s the heroes’ moment in the sun before darkness falls again. It’s all downhill from here.
S2 is not the easiest to choose from, but it’s not the hardest either. S1 gets that honor. The season as a whole is an easy favorite, and in my opinion hits no wrong notes. There are no major turkeys; maybe a flawed moment here or there, but overall every episode is strong, every character whole and complete. Choosing a favorite from among them is hard. ‘Father’s Day’ comes to mind, with Pete’s heroism and the Doctor’s silent sacrifice. ‘Dalek’ showcases Rose’s compassion and humor. ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ is a gem of a story. How do I pick just one?
On the other hand, the later seasons are far easier. S3 has its moments, but ‘Blink’ easily blows all the others away. S4 is weaker overall, and so ‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ really stands out. If you count the specials of 2009 as a unit, ‘The Next Doctor’ takes the prize. S5 has ‘Vincent and the Doctor;’ S6 ‘The Doctor’s Wife.’
S7 is hard again, but for a different reason. There are no really strong episodes in this season. Personally I put ‘Rings of Akhaten’ above the others, because I love the music so much. The storytelling is really not very good. But no other episode has much to recommend it either.
S8 is harder than 5 or 6, but not really hard. ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ stands head and shoulders above the rest, though ‘Flatline’ and ‘Time Heist’ show strongly, as do the opening and closing stories. There’s much more good stuff in here than the last few seasons, though there’s a fair amount of not-great as well.
Forget about the classic series; there’s still too much I haven’t seen. However, ‘The Daemons’ (Third Doctor) and ‘City of Death’ (Fourth Doctor) are two that we love so far. ‘City of Death’ is a pretty universal favorite. Four and Romana lark about in Paris, much as Rose and the Doctor do at Torchwood Estate. Humor is paramount. John Cleese makes a guest appearance. But as in much of the classic era, there is no dark cloud to overshadow the fun. The recipients of the Doctor’s and Romana’s digs deserve it, and the pair walk away unscathed and unthreatened at the end.
I love the fun ones, but in the modern era at least, I enjoy a touch of the serious too.
Like these silly, wondrous, beautiful things:
These are Alice XZ’s Doctor Who comic book covers. As much as I would love to buy and read Doctor Who comics regularly, it’s an impractical medium. 5 minutes of story once a month at $4 a pop adds up too fast. But Alice XZ covers I can justify collecting.
So far she’s done two of each Doctor, 10-12, and she has two issues of the 9th Doctor coming up as well. If you’re not familiar with her work, check her out. Her TARDIS – titled ‘All of Time and Space’ – is one of my all-time favorite pieces of fan art. I have it on a tee shirt, a print on my wall, and on a tote bag. Admire its glorious color and light. All of her work is generally wonderful, though some of her likenesses aren’t as good as others. Here are a few more of my favorites:
‘Virtuoso,’ now officially licensed by the BBC.
‘The Girl who Waited‘
And gone from Society 6 but still up on deviantart, one of the most heart-wrenching pieces I’ve ever seen: ‘Obliviate‘
There are of course many more.
On the comics front, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read. The Eleventh Doctor’s stories in particular capture the character well. His companion is an excellent one. (Nothing against Clara or Gabby Gonzales, but Alice is special.) The interior art leaves something to be desired; likenesses are iffy. I don’t mind limiting myself to the Alice XZ covers. However, I will be collecting the Ninth Doctor. His run is only 5 issues long and includes Rose and Jack. How can I pass it up?
Official page here.
I think I just figured something out.
A friend and I were talking on the bus a while back, and I said a lot of the trouble with the writing in S8 was a failed attempt to make the Doctor seem more alien. He didn’t really understand what I meant. Then he mentioned Twelve’s comments about Clara’s appearance as being a step too far, which I agreed with in part but couldn’t quite articulate the other part.
Those comments are part of the attempt, and they fail. They don’t make the Doctor seem alien; they make him seem like a jerk. I was thinking about this today, and thinking that some of what I liked about S1 was the alien-ness, the jarring moments where the Doctor said or did something unexpected, something no ordinary person would. And I saw, these weird little jabs of Twelve’s are Moffat’s failed attempt to capture that alien-ness that RTD expressed (to me) so effectively.
The particular example that occurred to me is from ‘The Unquiet Dead.’ The Doctor wants to let the Gelth use human bodies. He says it’s like recycling. Rose thinks it’s wrong. “You can’t,” she insists. The episode does not choose sides; the audience is left to do it for themselves. Would it be okay to allow benevolent aliens (which admittedly the Gelth turned out not to be) to use corpses which we are only going to bury or burn? Particularly if the Doctor could then find somewhere else for them to live, somewhere they wouldn’t make the family and friends of the dead uncomfortable, somewhere they wouldn’t increase the pressure on an already overpopulated world?
That conversation was one of many that stuck in my mind as demonstrating the Doctor’s alien-ness. Not good, not bad, just alien.
Twelve’s jabs at Clara are different in that they are not ambiguous. They are mean (if not mean-spirited) and unfounded. Even if an alien were inclined to say such things, it is unlikely he would restrict his target to one person. It’s a poor writing choice – not just for plausibility, but for singling out the one ongoing female character – in several episodes, the only major female character – for deprecation. It’s really not okay.
Maybe RTD really IS the better writer, overall…