Archive for the ‘Season 7’ Category
‘The Time of the Doctor’ could have been so many things.
Instead, it’s mostly terrible. I spent most of the first half resisting the off button. I hate the nudity gag; the sexual banter with Tasha Lem; the voiceover. I don’t like the fatality of the Trenzalore storyline. I don’t get stealth Daleks. I don’t buy a single character’s motivation: why would Clara consider Christmas dinner an emergency? why would all the Doctor’s enemies be called to battle by a message? why would the Time Lords ask the Doctor’s name? None of it makes any sense.
I get that Moffat’s trying to tie up all his little strings. A whole series late he finally justifies his S6 arc – silence will fall. He offers motivation for Madame Kevorian, and a purpose for the Silence – one that contradicts their original storyline, but never mind. He even brings Amy’s crack – sorry, can’t help it – all the way back from Eleven’s very first story. Such a self-referential mess might be justified if the showrunner were on his way out; instead, he’s still here a year and a half later, no end in sight.
The episode has a single saving grace: Amelia Pond.
There were plenty of episodes in her run I didn’t like, and there were even times I didn’t like her all that much. But when little Amelia runs through the TARDIS, all that fades away, leaving behind the Doctor’s eternal affection. Amy gives her friend a perfect sendoff, the perfect bookend to his era. The first face this face saw, and his last goodbye. Never mind that they’re both wearing wigs: it’s a gorgeous moment, full of the best this show can be.
As in the Ponds’ final episode, the last minute nearly salvages the rest – but not quite.
Fortunately, we now have S8.
I don’t pretend to understand what makes good writing. I don’t know why I’m captivated at some times, left cold others. I can’t point to a feature of this or that and say, “This is why.” But I can show you something that doesn’t work, as I did in my last post, and then something that does.
This brief episode is almost perfect.
It came out of nowhere, a surprise gift, and it delivered on some of the wildest expectations of the anniversary. The Doctor, the mad man with a box, arrives somewhere there is trouble – but this time the object of his intended rescue rejects him most forcefully. He has tried to stay out of the war, but the war drags him in, as it has dragged in every living thing in the universe. Fight or die are the only choices. The Doctor would prefer to die, but only by fighting can he save anyone at all.
I knew Paul McGann slightly, having just listened to ‘Storm Front,’ the first of his audio series with Big Finish. The voice was known to me, and the face was a wonderful, delightful surprise. “Not the one you were expecting,” he says, and he could not be more right. From that moment we have everything that makes Doctor Who great: humor and drama, tragedy, magic, and a hero who will go on to save the day. We have Cass, who wanted to see the universe, and whose courage saved her shipmates. We have Karn, a world the Doctor has visited before. We have the range of regeneration possibilities laid out before us. (Yes, he’s still a white male, but we’ll get there. The ground is laid.) We have real drama, real heart. I felt Cass’s frustration with her ship, her delight turned to rage at the Doctor. I saw him make his final choice. I felt, heart-wrenchingly, his love for his companions – Charlie, C’rizz, Lucy, Tamsin, Molly, all of Big Finish. I watched the final scenes through tears.
It’s only a tiny piece of the DW universe, but it shines among the brightest of them all.
I could watch it again and again. I probably will.
‘The Name of the Doctor’ does not improve with repeated viewings.
I’ve said before, no one retcons Neil Gaiman. Clara was not there when the Doctor stole the TARDIS. In my headcanon, in fact, neither was Susan. I imagine the young Doctor had been tinkering with her for some time, dreaming rebel Time Lord dreams. Maybe he’d even gotten her going, taken a trip or two. It wasn’t until he recognized himself in his troubled young granddaughter that he decided to invite her to run away. Maybe she was the only thing binding him to Gallifrey in the first place. When she agreed to go, then they got in the TARDIS and went. And there was no impossible girl to help them along.
But that’s all beside the point.
I like the classic series references, including the Valeyard name-drop. I like Clara’s past-era looks. (She does especially well in the eighties I think.) But that’s really it for this episode. The major plot point is the impossible girl: “I was born to save the Doctor,” Clara tells us, “and now my story is done.” But every companion saves the Doctor. And every companion – and every human – has their own story independent of him. Moffat’s choice to entwine them all together irritates me to no end.
In the same vein, the emotional arc comes from River, the long-dead, finally-confirmed wife he never visits. Why should River pine for him from beyond the grave? Where did this love they speak of come from? I liked the dropped hints in ‘Library;’ at that time even the Doctor had no sense of who she was or what she would mean to him. But this Doctor is supposed to know, and yet we’ve seen nothing. We are expected to accept this grand love story taking place behind the scenes. As I’ve said before, it’s a choice, but not one I agree with or even respect.
What else? Where did the Great Intelligence get its acrimony? Simeon is almost Master-like in his bent for revenge. What’s up with the Doctor being “blood-soaked?” The latter series keep trying to sell the idea of the Doctor as a great warrior, and I don’t buy it. I never have, and from Pandorica on this idea has annoyed me. Never mind the danger of visiting one’s own grave or the plausibility of the whole timeline situation. (We never do find out how they got out. Shades of Sherlock?) It’s a mess of an episode, and at no point was I engaged or enticed to suspend my substantial disbelief.
To make myself feel better, I will now go watch ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ with the inimitable Paul McGann.
- ‘Journey to the Center of the TARDIS’ by Stephen Thompson
- ‘The Crimson Horror’ by Mark Gatiss
- ‘Nightmare in Silver’ by Neil Gaiman
Typical of Eleven’s run, these are all mediocre episodes with some great stuff and some really not great stuff. None of the stories is especially effective. We have a salvage crew causing implausible levels of damage to the TARDIS, three brothers with an uncomfortable relationship, and secrets. We have the unflinchingly evil Mrs. Gillyflower and her plot to wipe clean the Earth and begin her own Eden. We have a planet infested with rapid-upgrade Cybermen. None is particularly compelling.
In the plus column, first place goes to Matt Smith’s performance against himself as the Cyber-planner. Gaiman wrote the episode specifically to showcase his skill, and it works beautifully. The man is a terror and a wonder, and his face has been the absolute highlight of the season.
Also ranking at the top are guest stars Diana Rigg and Warwick Davis. Villainous Mrs. Gillyflower is a cartoon, but Rigg makes her beautifully real. “Do you know what these are, Doctor? The wrong hands.” She is shameless and hell-bent and a joy to watch. Davis’ reluctant emperor is likewise a delightful character, and I even almost hoped that Clara would accept his proposal in the end. (That would be an exit worthy of Clara and Jenna Coleman!)
The continuing ‘impossible girl’ arc remains a problem, and the Doctor’s obsession with secrets. “Secrets keep you safe,” he says, except that they don’t, and while Clara wisely observes this, she still goes along cheerfully with his plan to erase her memory. I would expect her at least to extract a promise to be honest with her – not that I would then expect him to keep it, but it would be nice if people faced consequences for treating each other poorly.
Smaller issues include Clara’s ongoing conflict with the TARDIS; Angie’s rather implausible announcement of her boredom to a roomful of armed strangers; and the Doctor’s comment about Clara’s tight skirt – though on rewatch, Smith makes it look like a vestige of Cyber-planner and not the Doctor himself. I don’t like the blackmail scene at the end of ‘Crimson,’ mostly because I wonder why anyone would fall for that; I’m reminded of Morgan Freeman’s line from one of the recent Batman movies:
Let me get this straight: You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands; and your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck.
I do really enjoy the interior TARDIS shots, the Cybermites, and the Paternoster Gang. I appreciate the parallel between Ada and her monster. I wish we could get more than a second or two of Action Jenny.
The end of S7 is in sight, with only the four-part ‘Noun of the Doctor’ remaining…
- ‘Cold War’ by Mark Gatiss
- ‘Hide’ by Neil Cross
I had forgotten that ‘Hide’ was so much fun.
We start with a classic haunted house ghost story, full of thrills and chills, tempestuous weather, and terrifying smeary old photographs. Jessica Raine (best known for Call the Midwife and ‘An Adventure in Space and Time,’ in which she plays the otherwise inimitable Verity Lambert) and Dougray Scott make a gorgeous Doctor-companion parallel. Clara gets some excellent character stuff; Matt Smith’s face is a work of art; and the rescue of Hila Tukurian and the unnamed monster make a pair of grand adventures. Down sides include cattiness between the TARDIS and Clara – completely out of character for the Doctor’s oldest friend, in my opinion – and service to the ‘impossible girl’ arc. I’d be perfectly happy with the Doctor and Clara deciding to play ghost hunter for a bit – there’s a lovely ‘Tooth and Claw’ feel to some of their scenes together – without any need for the Doctor to go tracking down an empathic psychic to spy on Clara for him. But both are minor in the end; the love-story wrapup, complete with semi-subtle 10th Doctor/Rose nod, is very sweet, if a bit wanky.
Still. A ton of fun, which I did not recall at all.
‘Cold War,’ on the other hand, I found a bit of a snoozefest. A heap of discombobulated ideas mashed into something resembling a story. The pair of nods to the Second Doctor era – the Ice Warriors and HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System – are fun, and I appreciate the attempt to recreate a little ‘Hunt for Red October’ 80’s cold war feel – not to mention ‘Alien’ – but altogether I don’t think it was very successful. No character gets a reasonable throughline. Nothing at any point makes any sense. It all just feels like a mess. A fine idea, but ultimately a failure.
Sorry, Mr. Gatiss. Better luck next time.
With this pair of episodes, I observe that I prefer to watch the Doctor deal with something he doesn’t know than something he supposedly does. In ‘Hide,’ he has no prior experience of either Tukurian or the mysterious creature trapped with her in the pocket universe; he figures them out as he goes. In ‘Cold War,’ however, he knows the Ice Warriors from prior televised adventures – fine – but also professes to know something of Skaldak personally, knowledge of which fans have no experience. There’s nothing wrong with the Doctor knowing things we don’t know he knows, of course; but pulling things like Skaldak out of thin air, when there’s so much actual relevant show history to work with, annoys me. It would be much more interesting, for example, to learn about Skaldak by talking to him; then we and the Doctor could learn together, and the adventure would feel more like sharing something than being pulled around by the nose.
In theory anyway.
Coming up next: ‘Journey to the Center of the TARDIS’ and ‘The Crimson Horror.’
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.