It goes without saying…
SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
‘The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived’
Even more than the previous stories this season, this pair needs to be watched together. We were by what turns out to be good fortune prevented from watching Part 1 for an entire week, and were therefore able/forced to watch them one after the other. A good thing, as ‘Girl’ doesn’t really stand up well on its own.
It’s not a bad story, but silly in the vein of ‘Robot of Sherwood’ without being quite as much fun. The Vikings are entertaining, though I am baffled by a village which loses all of its soldiers and still manages to be about 80% male. The monsters look great but don’t do much. The threat of viral humiliation is timely, but I don’t feel quite a big enough threat for such a supposedly terrifying bad guy.
On the plus side, the thing I’ve dreaded and denied all season turned out great. Moffat hinted early on that he would explain the Doctor’s face; I desperately hoped he wouldn’t, as he’s terrible at explaining things and generally not as clever as he thinks he is. However, in this case the reveal was wonderful. It helps of course to invoke Ten and Donna; you don’t get a much better pair than that. And the relevant scene from ‘Deep Breath’ is one of the best that story has to offer. Having felt originally that it didn’t need doing, I ended up glad that it was done.
(Later commentary [DW: The Fan Show] mentioned Capaldi’s other Whoniverse appearance, as doomed civil servant Frobisher, pointing out the parallels between that family – killed by murder/suicide when the Doctor fails to help – and Caecilius’s family, saved at the last minute by the Doctor’s intervention.)
Also, Maisie Williams is a wonder and a delight. Even when her character makes stupid choices.
‘The Woman Who Lived’ stands much better on its own. Of course it requires part 1 to set it up, but other than that it’s a whole and complete story, with an intriguing mystery, great character stuff, comedy and drama in a healthy balance, and a startlingly refreshing absence of Clara. Again, Maisie Williams is spectacular, and she and Capaldi are wonderful together whether as teammates or opponents. Rufus Hound’s gallows humor is much more humorous than I expected. Williams’ character arc – from the girl who cared to the girl who didn’t and back again – is beautifully realized. I’m thrilled by Treganna’s first foray into the world of Doctor Who and I hope she’ll be back soon.
Williams, too, will be welcome when she returns in Episode 10, ‘Face the Raven’ by Sarah Dollard. (Thanks, imdb!)
Next week: the return of Osgood, Kate Stewart, and the Zygons!
“What are you looking at?”
With reference to ‘Girl’ above, it’s a common fault of Doctor Who to feature one strong female character against an entirely male background. Nancy (‘The Empty Child’) manages a tribe of mostly male children in an entirely male world; soldier De Maggio and executive Goddard (‘Dalek’) are token females in a masculine sea; Ashildr alone gets a name and more than two seconds of screen time in an entire village of Vikings that should have been at least sixty percent women. It gives them a kind of “magical girl” status – this one is worthwhile, and in being so is unusual among her kind – which ultimately works against women in the Doctor Who universe. The show has come a long way lately adding women behind the scenes, reducing the sexualization of companions, and working hard to give Clara some character beyond “impossible girl,” but as long as women remain invisible in the background, their stories aren’t quite being told in the way we’re being led to believe, regardless of what we see up front.
Bring on Kate and Osgood and the fantastic Jac.
Space.com on the longevity of Doctor Who: Why DW Still Rules
The writer of ‘Lake’ and ‘Flood’ on his most popular character, among other things: Toby Whithouse for EW
I expect I’ll have some comments shortly. Stay tuned.
After that last, somewhat critical, post, I feel compelled to add:
There is so much to love about this episode.
SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
The conversation between the Doctor and Clara about his death – about the necessity for his death – is heart-wrenching. Capaldi and Coleman are magic in this scene. The questions raised about the bootstrap paradox – the original source of the looped ideas – are essential and compelling. O’Donnell’s fangirling! Clara’s determination! Lunn’s courage! Bennett’s grief! The SOUND DESIGN as Moran stalks Cass through the corridors! So chilling and beautiful!
The diverse cast too is a wonderful thing to have. Fans have spent the last ten years demanding better of the show, and the show is beginning to deliver.
It’s a great episode and I love it.
As always, be warned:
SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!
‘Before the Flood’ is a delightfully creepy episode. Like the prior episodes this season, it kept us on the edge of our chairs. However, unlike those other episodes, it also hit a couple of storytelling snags.
Side characters in Doctor Who are frequently wonderful, and these are no exception. Cass is if anything even more fabulous in this episode, with her skills developed as a deaf person coming to the fore. But the love stories among these characters felt contrived. It’s as if the writers feel that deep brotherly love and commitment among shipmates is not enough to heighten the interpersonal tension, and that only romantic love, especially unrequited or unspoken, can do that. I did enjoy the moment where Bennett told Lunn to declare his love and that he wish someone had advised him to do so. But I found it implausible that both male-female pairs should have the same experience, and I didn’t see Cass’ love for Lunn as romantic. I think I’d have appreciated it more if it wasn’t. Not everything in the world has to be about romance, after all.
Or maybe that’s just me.
The monster too was something of a weakness in this episode. While its introduction – the shifting and then empty shroud – was creepy in a good way, the rest felt rushed and formulaic. I never got why it was called the Fisher King – I’m not much of an Arthurian, so I had to look it up, and I don’t see the parallel. I wasn’t compelled by its motivation. The scene of running through the fake buildings to hide seemed like it was there just so we could have a running-through-corridors scene; I think a chase or stalking scene could have been done better. As monsters go, this wasn’t a particularly interesting one.
The fake people hanging around were pretty creepy though.
I’m also not a huge fan of circular plotting. Moffat used the device most notably in ‘Time Crash’ and the ‘Space/Time’ pair, more for comic effect than actual storytelling value. Here the “bootstrap paradox” carries most of the plot – but I don’t think it works any better. Watching the episode I thought Whithouse was commenting on the ridiculousness of the device, but looking back it looks more like he was reaffirming its value.
On the other hand, the story made use of the time loaf theory – in which everything has already happened – which is my personal favorite, and I appreciated it.
The big item of course is O’Donnell’s death. The character’s fangirl outbursts endeared her to me greatly, so of course I was quite saddened to lose her. (I knew Bennett’s feels, as it were.) My second reaction – as a reader of feminist media criticism – was that she’d been needlessly fridged to serve Bennett’s man-pain. (Google those if you need them.) However, she is the only woman killed in the episode, and Bennett’s grief is required for the unspoken-love theme of the episode. Bennett is much more plausible in this role than O’Donnell would have been; joining UNIT in spite of his admitted cowardice presumably just to be near her, while she seems fearless enough to speak any feelings she might have – assuming she took the time to notice she had them. Ultimately, I appreciate the choice Whithouse made with these characters, even if I don’t entirely like it. 😥
Finally, I was left a bit baffled by the Doctor and Clara’s non-reaction to the death. Though this Doctor has shown himself to be callous, in the past he has at least acknowledged other characters’ pain (‘Into the Dalek’). And Clara seems uncharacteristically unaffected. In spite of her new careless nature, I would have expected at least a moment of sadness for O’Donnell. I did appreciate her words to Bennett but I felt that she would plausibly show at least a little feeling herself before shutting down. I know she’s on her way to becoming even more Doctor-like, but I don’t think this was sufficiently addressed in the episode.
All this for an episode I really liked very, very much. The Doctor’s breaking of the fourth wall was captivating, his guitar-playing a delight. (Particularly when it merged into the title music.) The story and the characters are all great; just maybe not as great as they could have been. I guess that’s what happens when a season starts so strong.
I look forward to Maisie Williams and ‘The Girl who Died.’
A few words from instigator Patrick Ness…
A poll went up earlier from one of the official DW social media outlets, asking whether fans think the new spinoff is a good idea. I decided that I do. More weird TV is always good, in my opinion, and smart creative shows aimed at teens and young adults are even better. SJA was a big deal for a reason: as long as Class doesn’t discard that show’s better attributes, it’s all to the good.
I also like what Ness has to say on the topic. I like his focus on teens, but also his intent that YA reach a wider audience. I look forward to finding out who his collaborators are, and what range of voices they’ll bring.
A number of the Doctor’s past companions are alive and well in modern-day London, any of whom could make a surprise appearance – or become regular characters – on the BBC’s new spinoff, Class.
- Ian Chesterton taught at Coal Hill School, the series’ setting, in the 1960s. In ‘Day of the Doctor,’ his name appeared under “Chairman of the Governors” on the school’s sign. I don’t know what sort of role that is, but I’d love to see William Russell turn up to play it. He’s 90 years old, so we probably shouldn’t expect much, but he did turn in a charming performance in ‘An Adventure in Space and Time.’
- Dodo Chaplet left the Doctor in 1965. While Jackie Lane left acting to become an agent (representing Tom Baker and Janet Fielding, among others) she might still be persuaded to appear briefly, perhaps as some student’s grandmother.
- Polly Wright returned home in 1966 with Ben Jackson, whom she married in the minds of many fans. While Michael Craze passed away in 1998, Anneke Wills appeared recently in both ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ and ‘The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot,’ and could easily crop up as a teacher or grandmother.
- Victoria Waterfield stayed behind with the Harris family in 1968. Deborah Watling appeared in ‘The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot’ and might be convinced to appear here too.
- Jo Grant is alive and kicking all over the world. Katy Manning, busy as ever, appeared on the Sarah Jane Adventures in 2010; it would be a treat to have her back as a regular. While Jo’s passel of children and grandchildren have for the most part been unconventionally educated, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or two might finish up at Coal Hill School.
- Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates, though retired, could easily turn up anywhere UNIT might be called.
- Tegan Jovanka left the Doctor in 1984. Janet Fielding has reprised her role for Big Finish. A flight attendant in her youth, Tegan is capable of anything, leaving the field wide open for her return.
- Ace McShane’s fate is a mystery, in canon anyway: she went off the air with her Doctor in 1989 and never returned to television. While researching the Doctor’s other past companions, Sarah Jane came across a “Dorothy something” heading up a charity known as A Charitable Earth, or ACE. Sophie Aldred remains active, and as with Tegan, with Ace anything is possible.
- Martha Jones and Mickey Smith, freelance alien hunters, could turn up anywhere.
- Wilfred Mott too is likely to appear anywhere there’s a chance of a glimpse of the Doctor.
- Courtney Woods, a current student at Coal Hill School, could play a major role. Ellis George’s internet presence offers no hints.
Any of these would help persuade me to watch the show – if not on the air (wrong country) then maybe later, on DVD as we did with Sarah Jane. Jo’s and the Brig’s appearances were powerful draws there. I look forward to what Class has to offer.