The Woman Who Lived…and Lived…and Lived…

“The Woman Who Lived” was the second part of a rather unconventional two-part story. Its first part, “The Girl Who Died,” is basically a self-contained story.  The connection between these two stories is that “The Woman Who Lived” shows the consequences of the Doctor’s actions at the end of “The Girl Who Died.”  However, instead of picking up where the story left off and returning to the village, we follow Ashildr about 800 years after the Doctor saved her life.

Lady Me and Leandro, the space lion

Lady Me and Leandro, the space lion

While I did enjoy this episode, it was not perfect.  My biggest complaint is that the alien plot was not terribly well-defined. It was basically what Alfred Hitchcock referred to as a “MacGuffin,” a plot device that serves to provide motivation for the characters and move the action along.  In that case it served its purpose; the amulet brings the Doctor and Ashildr together and forces them to work together. Similarly, Leandro’s plan is what sparks the conflict between the Doctor and Ashildr and what brings about Ashildr’s change of heart. As you’ll learn in a moment, I didn’t really want more time devoted to the alien subplot, but I wish that it wasn’t so obviously just a plot device.  Similarly, Sam Swift was a rather one-dimensional character.  He served his narrative function, but that was pretty much it.  I didn’t wish him ill, but I didn’t feel like I knew him at all.

The reason however, that I still really enjoyed this episode was the interaction between the Doctor and Ashildr/Me.  Honestly, I could have done without the fire-breathing space lion invasion plot and had an episode that was solely conversations between the Doctor and Ashildr/Me (but, since Doctor Who is not made solely for my enjoyment it’s probably good that they didn’t do that).  Characters with extraordinarily long life-spans are not new to Doctor Who (in this episode alone we have the Doctor and a reference to Captain Jack), but I thought that Catherine Tregenna wrote well about the cost of living so long.  Of course, credit is also due to Maisie Williams for making Lady Me seem like a completely different person from Ashildr: much more self-confident, but also world-weary and emotionally detached.  That transformation, combined with the changes in costuming, make her seem a great deal older than when we last saw her, even though she hasn’t physically aged at all.

The Doctor and the Nightmare both have their masks on for their evening of burglary.

The Doctor and the Nightmare both have their masks on for their evening of burglary.

Returning, however to the writing, I loved every moment of the conversations between Ashildr/Me and the Doctor.  Touching on a few key incidents from Ashildr’s past was a great way to show what essentially being immortal had done to her.  Even the idea of calling herself Me, which could have been ridiculous, worked with the explanation that, “all the other names I chose died with whoever knew me. Me is who I am now. No-one’s mother, daughter, wife. My own companion. Singular. Unattached. Alone.” From her first losses of her father and all the villagers she grew up with to her own children dying of the plague, she has lost more people than a normal person would even meet. Regular humans disappear from her life so quickly she can’t even remember them all.

In order to survive, she has had to develop an attitude not dissimilar from the Doctor and Captain Jack.  She knows that human existence is transitory while she endures, so she, unlike the Doctor, has withdrawn from human contact.  This episode explains why the Doctor chooses to travel with mere mortals that he knows he will eventually lose: he needs them to remind him how precious life is and to keep him from becoming too detached.  The woman who the Doctor meets is, in many ways, what he was afraid of becoming.  When he encounters Me at the beginning of the story, she seems to have stopped caring about anyone.  Human life is cheap to her, having seen how quickly people die, so she thinks nothing of killing someone if it serves her purpose.  She is barely human anymore, since she has knowledge and experiences vaster than those of any human (except, of course, the aforementioned Jack).

It’s also interesting that Ashildr/Me never used immortality charge on any of the people she loved and cared about.  She says that she never found anyone good enough, but it’s clear that there is more to it than that.  She admits at the end of the episode that she doesn’t think immortality should be possessed by anyone.  As difficult as it is for her to continue through the centuries alone, she would rather not punish anyone else with her fate.  It’s in choices like this that some of the old Ashildr starts to show in Lady Me.  She was very selfless in her protection of the village, and a bit of that selflessness must have remained, even when she seemed to not care.

Of course, Ashildr is a hybrid of two warrior races (the Vikings and the Mire) just as in the prophecy that Davros mentioned.  I’d also be willing to bet that she is a better warrior than anyone from either race a this point in her life.  Could she be the hybrid of the prophecy or is she just another example of a hybrid on the way to something bigger?  Will she wind up helping the Doctor or will he come to find the enemy in the friend?

This episode was mostly Clara-less, which was a good thing.  As much as I like Clara, the focus needed to be on the Doctor and Ashildr/Me.  However, the scene with Clara was a nice touch at the end.  It was a nice coda on the story because we see Ashildr in the photo outside Coal Hill School; this reinforces the idea that she is still keeping an eye on those who interact with the Doctor.  I also have to admit that I just enjoy the rapport between the Doctor and Clara, which comes through, even in this brief scene.  And, of course, it continues to foreshadow Clara’s imminent departure. Not only does Lady Me mention the fact that eventually Clara will be gone, but it is even brought to mind again in the final scene.  Whenever the last lines of an episode are “don’t worry, daft old man. I’m not going anywhere,” you know trouble is just around the corner.

Clara and the Doctor share an affectionate moment at the end of the episode.

Clara and the Doctor share an affectionate moment at the end of the episode.

Overall, “The Woman Who Lived” is the rare example of the second half of a two-part episode being better than the first.  I liked “The Girl Who Died,” but I really enjoyed “The Woman Who Lived.”  Despite being written by two different writers,  the two parts of this unconventional two-parter fit together surprisingly well; they both mixed lighthearted plot elements with more serious themes.  While I think “The Woman Who Lived” did it a bit more successfully, I think I appreciate the first part more now that I’ve seen the second part.  It actually reminded me a bit of the first Doctor story “The Ark.”  That was the first story to really make the concept of time travel and its consequences the subject of the story.  At least this time the Doctor wasn’t responsible for giving Monoids the upper hand over the last of humanity.  Although Clara did sound a bit hoarse in “The Girl Who Died…”

Going with the Vikings: The Girl Who Died

When looking back on my favorite episodes of last season, I realized that they were almost all written by either Jamie Mathieson or Steven Moffat. Needless to say, I had high hopes for “The Girl Who Died,” a story written by both Mathieson and Moffat. While I enjoyed “The Girl Who Died,” it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I felt that I was slow to engage with the story and I missed the luxury of time that the two-part episodes provided for setting up the story. However, once I got into the story, I found many ideas to explore in an episode that could have been just a romp.

FacingtheMire

Clara faces off against the Mire while Ashidr watches.

The story contains the strengths of both Mathieson and Moffat. Mathieson has traditionally brought a great deal of humor to his episodes and this was no exception. From the Monty Python-esque Odin to the Doctor’s interactions with the Viking men, there were plenty of lighthearted moments. Moffat, I’m assuming, brought the emotional heft to the episode, i.e. the quieter moments between the Doctor and Clara or Ashildr’s death.

Doesn't everybody see the similarities?

Doesn’t everybody see the similarities?

The main aspect that kept me from ranking this episode among the best had to do with the pacing. After several two-parters in a row, the story felt rushed.  The beginning flew through things so quickly that I didn’t really fully engage with the episode until Clara was confronting the Mire.  Additionally, the beginning of the episode felt a bit disjointed as it shifted tones quickly.

However, this episode had a great deal to recommend it as well. It continued to develop the characters of the Doctor and Clara, as well as some of the themes of the season so far.

This episode catches the Doctor at an interesting moment. He discusses the idea of a time traveler making ripples, not tidal waves as how he judges what he can and can’t do. He has lost a great deal of the edge that he had last season without really changing his attitude. He still clearly thinks that humans are pudding brains, but now his approach is more blunt than cruel. Even so, he manages to find a very Doctor-ish solution to the problem of the small Viking town going against one of the greatest warrior races in the universe; instead of fighting them, he finds a way to outwit them without causing harm to anyone.

Apparently, the Doctor had some kind of sense that this incarnation would need a little help finding his way because we finally learn the reason that the Doctor chose this particular face for himself. He chose this face to remind himself that the Doctor saves people whenever he can.  Pompeii’s destruction was a fixed point that he could not change, but Donna reminded him that he could still save someone from the tragedy.  He rescued Caecilius and his family proving that even if he couldn’t change the event, he could still make a difference, no matter how small in the grand scheme of things.

This revelation, along with, perhaps, confronting the limitations of his abilities in the previous episode, leads the Doctor into a moment that feels a bit reminiscent of the “Time Lord victorious” arc during David Tennant’s tenure.  He brings Ashildr back from the dead and possibly grants her immortality.  It is entirely possible that he has once again overstepped his bounds as a Time Lord and created a ripple that turns into a tidal wave.

TheDoctor_Odin

The Doctor outwits the false Odin

The episode also continues to deepen the relationship between the Doctor and Clara.  Once again we see how distraught the Doctor is at the thought of losing Clara; he mentions his duty of care and tries to get her to leave before the battle so that nothing happens to her.  This is the most preoccupied I’ve ever seen the Doctor with the thought of losing a companion, which makes me wonder if he knows something that we have yet to find out.

Of course the episode also continues to focus on how traveling with the Doctor has changed Clara.  When the Mire brings her to “Valhalla,” she witnesses the death of all the Viking warriors without even batting an eye.  She tries to save them, but she has no trouble accepting their death when she can’t help them.  She has clearly taken on the Doctor’s morality here, in that she sees the bigger picture and is willing to accept some casualties along the way.  She also functions almost as a Time Lord in her own right as she negotiates with the Mire.  Furthermore, she shows that she has the utmost faith in the Doctor as she tells everyone that he will come up with a plan to save them and even tells him to “start winning, Doctor.  It’s what you’re good at.”  As opposed to previous seasons, where Clara tried to keep the Doctor as her “hobby” (a fact she mentions in this episode), it’s clear that he is much more than that to her. We see very little of her life outside the TARDIS anymore.

Aside from the theme of Clara in danger, we also touch on several other reoccurring themes of the season.  First, we have another episode centered around death and/or cheating death.  From “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” we had Missy returned from the dead, Davros cheating death and decaying Daleks regenerated.  In “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood” we had the ghosts who were another way of returning from the dead.  In this episode we have our most blatant resurrection: the Doctor uses alien technology to bring Ashildr back from the dead.  Rather than suffer a devastating loss in the middle of his triumph, the Doctor chooses to do what he can to save her, even if that might mean that she is now immortal. Maisie Williams does a great job of conveying, simply through the expression on her face in the final scene that this immortality might be more of a burden than a blessing; her expression changes from happy to sad to just cold and hard.  After all the Doctor was speaking from experience when he said, “immortality isn’t living forever…immortality is everyone else dying.”

Besides the resurrection theme, this episode brings back the idea of a hybrid, except this time it is Ashildr who has become a human-alien hybrid.  We last heard about a hybrid in relation to the “prophecy” of which Davros spoke: the Doctor’s role in the coming of the Time Lord-Dalek hybrid.  While Ashildr is not a Time Lord-Dalek hybrid, it doesn’t seem coincidental that she is the second hybrid we’ve encountered in the season so far.

I also noticed one of Moffat’s favorite themes at work in this story: the power of storytelling.  It’s not surprising that a writer would prize storytelling, but Moffat often makes use of themes in his episodes. From the eleventh Doctor’s famous quote about how we’re all stories in the end to all River’s detective novel in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” he loves to explore the power of storytelling.  Therefore, it seemed appropriate that the Doctor is able to defeat one of the most fearsome alien races by having a girl tell a story.  Once again the story is more powerful than the sword…or laser gun as the case may be.

Ashidr is no longer happy

Ashidr is no longer happy

Overall, I enjoyed the episode, it just fell a bit short of my expectations.  As I mentioned before, I found the beginning a bit choppy, but there’s something else.  This episode makes use of my least favorite of the Doctor’s skills: his ability to speak baby.  I can accept a lot of ridiculous things, but this is just too much.  It was okay as a throwaway gag, but it just keeps coming back.  In this episode, it’s not even played for laughs. Instead, the Doctor meets the most soulful and profound baby ever.  “Beyond the unfolding of your smile, is there other kindness?” Really? A baby said that? I think I preferred the Doctor speaking horse.

Going back Before the Flood

“Before the Flood” opens with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall and providing the viewer with a hypothetical example of the bootstrap paradox. The bootstrap paradox is a paradox of time travel that occurs when a future event is the cause of a past one.  This creates an endless loop that makes it impossible to determine the moment of creation of the event. From this, it’s pretty clear that as the episode unfolds, we will see another example of a bootstrap paradox and, of course, we do.  This isn’t the first time that Doctor Who has dealt with such a paradox.  In fact two fairly recent scripts by Steven Moffat spring to mind: “Time Crash” and “Blink.”  While both deal with the bootstrap paradox, this episode is the most in-depth exploration of it on the show to date.

The Doctor faces off against the Fisher King.

The Doctor faces off against the Fisher King.

My biggest disappointment of the episode was the Fisher King. While he looked impressive, he really didn’t make that big of an impression in the story.  I enjoyed the aspect of going back before the flood, but I found the Fisher King very forgettable.  We learn very little about him; he and his armies conquered the planet Tivoli before being ousted by the Arcateenians.  Prentis has brought him to earth to bury him, but he is clearly not dead.  Why did the Arcateenians think that he was dead?  Did he fake his death to be brought to a new planet, or was he in some sort of deep coma?

Furthermore, his plan is to create enough ghosts to have his signal be strong enough to call his armada to the planet, at which time he will “drain the oceans and put the humans in chains.”  How is he creating the ghosts?  I’m guessing we don’t get an answer to that question because Doctor Who doesn’t want to get too into the question of souls, but I wouldn’t have minded even a vague explanation.

Additionally, why does he want to drain the oceans?  Is his desire to drain the oceans the reason he’s named The Fisher King?  Did he drain the oceans on Tivoli? Because I’ve also puzzled over the meaning of his name.  I can see a slight parallel to the Arthurian Fisher King (it’s from this character that the Terry Gilliam film draws its name) in that he is an impotent king (being stranded leaves him powerless) who has to rely on others to save him.  However, that makes his name rather prescient, and it’s a weak connection at best.  One could, perhaps, make a slight parallel between the Doctor’s mission in going back before the flood and a grail quest, but that doesn’t really work for me either.  Maybe it doesn’t really have any deeper meaning and I’m over thinking this…

O'Donnell shares her excitement at being in the TARDIS with Bennett.

O’Donnell shares her excitement at being in the TARDIS with Bennett.

I wrote quite a bit about the crew of the drum in my post about “Under the Lake.”  In that post, I criticized the lack of development of O’Donnell.  Well, she did get more development in this episode, only to die as soon as I began to really become invested in her character.  I guess this shouldn’t surprise me; if you look back at Toby Whithouse’s previous episodes, he has not shied away from killing the characters with whom the audience connects.  The first person to jump to mind was Rita in “The God Complex,” but the sheriff in “A Town Called Mercy” is another example.  In the case of O’Donnell, I was very sorry to see her character go, but it was necessary to support the overall theme of grief and loss.     Without her death, the only characters who die are characters the audience doesn’t get time to know or who the audience doesn’t particularly like. The death of O’Donnell is the death that really counts in the episode.

I’ve also read some criticism of O’Donnell’s character after “Under the Lake” aired, saying that she was just like Osgood.  Certainly, the parallels continue in that both of the Doctor fan girls met with an untimely end (which means that I’m sure some will suggest that Steve Moffat is taking out his hostility by killing fan surrogates in the show) I, however, thought that she developed past basic fandom in this episode.  It’s revealed that she previously was military intelligence until she dangled a colleague out the window after a sexist remark.  She is clearly a strong-willed, determined individual who doesn’t like being told what to do.  It made perfect sense to me that she would adopt the Doctor as her hero, since he is someone who plays by his own rules.

Getting back to the theme of the episode, we see themes of grief and loss ultimately culminating in the idea of living in the moment (or carpe diem to reference another Robin Williams movie).  The idea of seizing the moment emerges through the relationship of Cass and Lunn.  Their relationship had a solid foundation built for it in the first part of the story, even though nothing overt was said or done.  At Bennett’s urging, they finally confess their feelings for each other.  This allows a story that is largely about loss to have something good come out of it.

The main focus, however, was on the idea of grief and loss and I loved the way that it contributed to Clara’s character development.  Again, the seeds for this development were laid in the first part of the story.  It seemed as if the name Danny Pink was on the tip of both Clara and the Doctor’s tongue during their exchange in the TARDIS, even though nothing specific was said about him.  His name is still not spoken in this episode, but his presence is felt even more.  Through Clara’s phone conversation with the Doctor, it is clear that she is still grieving for Danny.  He is the main reason she is not ready to lose someone else, and, it becomes clear, the reason for her lust for adventure; she wants to keep busy so she doesn’t have to think about Danny.  What better way to not think about something than to place yourself in peril that requires all of your attention to survive? She also mentions her loss a bit more explicitly with Bennett, when she realizes that he was in love with O’Donnell, telling him that he has to keep going, despite his loss.

The Fisher King faces the oncoming flood.

The Fisher King faces the oncoming flood.

Overall, I enjoyed the episode.  My disappointment with the Fisher King didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the episode as a whole.  I thought the second half remained scary, even if it wasn’t quite as scary as the first half, while turning the narrative in slightly new and interesting directions.  The second half developed subtle aspects of the first episode that lead to richer character development and a story that stuck with me long after the episode ended.  One aspect of the show that I’ve enjoyed under Moffat’s tenure is his tendency to want stories that deal explicitly with time, instead of using the time machine concept to simply place the Doctor in a new setting.  Exploring the bootstrap paradox places time right at the heart of the story. This two-parter has now become my favorite Toby Whithouse story.  Maybe one day I’ll even be able to get over my disappointment that he failed to make “A Town Called Mercy” truly a western.  Maybe.

The Doctor and Clara go Under the Lake

After the weight of the season premiere, it seemed that the series was due for a change in tone. Traditionally in the Moffat era, this means a lighter episode with more humor, like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” or “Robot of Sherwood.”  While it is true that this week’s episode, “Under the Lake,” had it’s fair share of humor, the episode is scarier than the aforementioned episodes. It’s still a change in tone from the previous two, but in a slightly different way.

The ghosts

Would you want to meet these two on an underwater base?

“Under the Lake” uses a familiar structure; it is essentially a base under siege story. The Doctor and Clara arrive about 100 years in the future at an underwater mining base (in a flooded town) to find that ghosts are picking the crew off one by one. The ghosts only started to appear after the crew salvaged an alien craft from the lake bed.  Since ghosts shouldn’t exist, this intrigues the Doctor who stays to investigate.

The story was very well paced and plotted; it kept me engaged from the opening moments. The story mixes moments of suspense with lots of humor without seeming disjointed because a lot of the humor comes from the responses of the characters to the bizarre situation in which they find themselves.  Moffat’s best episodes are scary while exploring a deeper fear and/or theme. This episode doesn’t reach for those lofty heights (so far the scares are just for suspense), it’s a welcome change of pace from the more serious opening episodes. It’s not profound, but it’s entertaining; it’s as much of a romp as a horror based episode can be. It’s full of interesting ideas, like people being turned into radio transmitters or the idea that the ghosts won’t kill you until you have read the message (which is also very strikingly depicted visually). The story keeps moving from one development to another; as the Doctor says, each answer just leads to more questions.

Watching Clara in this episode, I couldn’t help but wonder if we are seeing the seeds bring planted for her departure.  She can’t wait to rush into dangerous situations and seems even more gung-ho than the Doctor. The Doctor even expresses some concern about her lust for adventure and his “duty of care.” Obviously, this could lead to Clara’s demise in a dangerous situation. However, the line that caught my attention was the Doctor telling Clara that there is only room for one of him in the TARDIS. As Clara continues to become more independent of the Doctor, will it lead to conflict? It might be a throwaway line, or it might be a seed that will grow through the season.

As for the Doctor, he is thoroughly enjoying himself as well. In Clara’s words, he’s like “a kid who’s had too much sherbet.” This episode is another chance for Peter Capaldi to display his comedic skills, as the Doctor gets to have many funny lines. After all the questioning of his identity that the Doctor did last season, it’s nice to see him having fun.  Beings that shouldn’t exist excite and intrigue him, so even though the TARDIS wants to leave, he has to stay.

Of course all of the Doctor’s problems from last year haven’t disappeared; he still has trouble relating to people, and Clara apparently still functions a bit as his carer. While I didn’t see how the cards would be particularly helpful in reality, they were amusing and were an opportunity to pay tribute to Lis Sladen and Sarah Jane (I’m not sure in what situation that card would be useful again, but I really don’t care).

The Drum's Crew

The Doctor deciphers “the dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple,” which really seem like awfully vague coordinates to send out into space.

What really makes this episode work is the crew of “the drum.”  From their introduction, they captured my interest. They feel like a team that had been in an isolated situation; they care about each other and they seem to have a great deal of camaraderie.

But besides functioning as a group, they have distinguishable personalities as individuals. I know a great deal has been made of it already, but it’s refreshing to see Cass, a deaf character who is a leader who happens to be deaf, not a character who is deaf because it’s a plot point. She’s a strong, engaging character. She is a good leader who takes on the responsibility for events, while still trying to protect her crew.  She’s also intelligent; even the Doctor has faith in her instincts. The bond between Cass and her interpreter/translator Lunn is also clearly depicted. Lunn actually serves as more of a plot point than Cass, since he is the only one who hasn’t been inside the spaceship which helps the Doctor solve one of the puzzles of the ghosts.

Bennett, the scientist, is another supporting character that I enjoyed. He approaches their situation with a sense of humor. For instance, when he decides to stay and help solve the mystery he warns his fellow crew members, “At least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you all.”

Of course with this many characters, some of the characters are not as well-defined.  Pritchard was basically the greedy company man, who was willing to put the crew at risk. He reminds me a bit of Paul Reiser’s character in Aliens, but not as evil.  When the ghosts killed him you felt a little bad, but really, he was the one you would have chosen to get killed next. Although his ghost did get a great reveal.  O’Donnall is probably the least developed personality of the crew.  Making her a fan of the Doctor is a bit reminiscent of Osgood, and so far that is her main characteristic. Of course, this may change with the second half of the story.

The only other characters we meet in this story are the ghosts themselves. I have to say that I love the look of them. The alien from the planet Tivoli is the perfect first ghost; human looking, yet just different enough to up the creepiness factor. The eyeless faces keep the murdered crew members clearly recognizable, but that just makes them more disturbing. And the silent yet constant speech just added to their mysteriousness for most of the episode.

This being the first half of a two-parter, it did, of course, end in a cliffhanger. Seeing the Doctor’s ghost coming through the water was the perfect place to end it and leave the audience wanting more. While the audience knows that the Doctor is not actually dead (or else the show is going in a radically different direction), it does leave you wondering how on earth he is going to get out of this one.

I have to admit that I'm getting used to the Doctor's sonic sunglasses faster than I thought I would.

I have to admit that I’m getting used to the Doctor’s sonic sunglasses faster than I thought I would.

Overall, I found “Under the Lake” tremendously entertaining, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the second half. I’m intrigued to know how the Doctor became a ghost, but more than that I’m curious to see how telling the story backwards (meeting the ghosts first and then going back to see how the trouble started) works. The reason I’m a bit cautious is that I must admit that I haven’t really loved any of Toby Whithouse’s stories. In several instances, it was the ending in particular that disappointed me.  Even “The God Complex,” which many people love, ultimately didn’t quite work for me. I’m hoping that this story will deliver on the promise of its first half.

Thoughts on The Witch’s Familiar

Once upon a time, Steven Moffat wrote self-contained episodes of Doctor Who, and they were often among my favorite episodes of the season. One episode could flow effortlessly between being scary, humorous, and moving, all the while telling a story that left the viewer satisfied at its conclusion. Since he became the showrunner, however, Moffat is usually writing series openers and finales, episodes that need to set up season arcs and have implications far beyond the conclusion of the episode itself. The stakes are usually so high and far-reaching that it is almost impossible for the episodes to reach a satisfying conclusion. This is what happens in “The Witch’s Familiar,” an episode that I enjoyed, but it ultimately left me a bit unsatisfied.

Doctor_Davros

The basic plot of this episode is fairly simple. Clara and Missy have to work their way back to the Doctor after teleporting away at the end of “The Magician’s Apprentice.”  The Doctor, of course, must continue his confrontation with Davros.

One problem I had was that I didn’t feel that the two halves of this two-part episode fit together well.  The previous episode was framed by the question of what you would do if confronted with a child who you knew was going to grow up to do horrible things.  That question isn’t really a question anymore in this episode.  I always knew that the Doctor would not end up murdering the young Davros, but that whole moral dilemma is pretty much ignored. The whole Missy-as-the-Doctor’s-best-friend idea is pretty much scrapped as well, replaced with a more general idea the difference between friends and enemies. 

However, the issue that rises to the forefront in this episode is another interesting idea: what separates the Doctor from his archenemies?  In this episode we have not only Davros, but Missy for comparison as well.  The episode does a good job of bringing out some of their similarities.  They’re all clever, intelligent individuals.  Missy is just about as good as the Doctor at thinking on her feet and anticipating her opponents’ moves.  The parallels with Davros are a bit more direct, as Davros seems to be trying to convince the Doctor that they are not that different; they’re both individuals trying to save their own race by any means necessary.

The key difference, it becomes apparent, is compassion and/or mercy.  Missy is willing to help the Doctor (mainly for her own selfish reasons), but both parts of the episode make it clear that she has no compassion for others.  Humans are nothing more than inanimate objects (she even humorously uses Clara as a rock at one point in the episode, making her feelings about humans completely clear).

The Doctor being clever

The Doctor being clever

For Davros, the Doctor’s compassion is his biggest weakness.  After all, the Doctor has now had more than one chance to wipe out the Daleks, but hasn’t.  He even seems to have compassion for Davros; the Doctor is still able to see the boy/man who was so frightened he placed his entire race in tanks. 

 I loved the heart to heart that Davros and the Doctor had for the bulk of this episode, even though I did suspect a trap.  Both Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach give powerful performances.  This is also probably the best use of Davros since “Genesis of the Daleks.” This episode really adds depth and a bit of pathos to his character.  It also makes him feel like a worthy advisory again, instead of a cartoonish villian.

 I was still, however, disappointed to learn that both the Doctor and Davros were playing each other the entire time, with Davros hoping to use the Doctor’s compassion against him.  I wondered if perhaps a bit of truth had inadvertantly slipped out between them, but basically, it made their entire conversation meaningless.  Still, it served to drive home the point that compassion is what separates them, and that the Doctor’s compassion is not his weakness, but his strength.

I had worried that this confrontation with Davros was going to reveal that the Doctor has been more instrumental in the creation of the Daleks than we thought, so I was relieved that Moffat took the story in a different direction.  The Doctor’s journey to discover what kind of a man he was last season has left him with no doubts on that score this season.  Last year’s Doctor would have been stuck in the moral dilemma that this Doctor manages to rise above.  After running away the first time, he goes back and saves Darvos, planting a seed of mercy in him.  This mercy seeps from their creator into the Daleks themselves, making the Doctor’s influence on Davros and the Daleks a positive one.

While the theme was interesting, I was a bit disappointed in the execution of it.  I enjoyed Missy and Clara’s interactions, but at times they felt like they were a distraction from the Doctor/Davros confrontation that was really at the heart of the episode.  Clara really did not have much to do except be Missy’s canary/rock/Dalek.  I did like the fact that Missy tried to have the Doctor kill Dalek Clara (also clearly a reference back to the time that we first met her in “Asylum”), as it reinforces the idea that Missy is dangerous and not really to be trusted.  It also allowed the Doctor to demonstrate his mercy again as he gives Missy a chance to escape rather than face his wrath.

It was the whole part with the Dalek/Time Lord hybrids that gave me the most trouble.  What exactly was the Doctor’s plan?  The Dalek sludge couldn’t possibly destroy all of the Daleks.  Many of them were in the air.  How would the dying Daleks get to all of the Daleks?  So, are there going to be Dalek/Time Lord hybrids out there?  This whole aspect of the plot felt rather underdeveloped to me.  Plus, some of the revelations about how Daleks worked left me scratching my head, although I may be able to figure out some points if I give them more thought. Why would the Dalek not be able to say what Clara did? Wasn’t her brain controlling it?  I would assume a Dalek wouldn’t need a filter because Daleks presumably wouldn’t be having thoughts that were unbecoming to a Dalek.  Plus, we’ve seen dead Daleks in the past.  Can they just not die a natural death?  And, of course, why is their a perfect space for a human inside a Dalek (but this could be asked on several occasions in the classic series as well)? Some of my questions may be loose ends that are picked up in a later episode. After all, we left Missy with a clever idea, surrounded by Daleks, so we might not have seen the last of this story.

Missy and her "canary."

Missy and her “canary.”

Overall, I enjoyed the episode, I just felt that it could have been executed a bit better.  Once again, a two-parter that started out with great promise fell a bit flat for me in the second half. There were many great parts to this story, I just didn’t feel like they added up to a cohesive whole. I’m hoping the next two-parter manages to deliver on both ends.