Defending The Krotons

If you ask Fraser Hines which of his stories he likes the least, he will say “The Krotons” (or “The Croutons,” as he likes to call it).  In the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, “The Krotons” ranked 207th out of the then 241 episodes, just above “Daleks in Manhattan.”  When I first saw “The Krotons,” however, I knew nothing about fandom’s (or Fraser Hines’) opinion of it. The episode that I watched was enjoyable and entertaining.  That’s why, even though it’s not perfect, I’ve decided to focus on the postives of the story.  Hopefully, I will inspire someone to reevaluate this underappreciated story.


You have to admit they look cool from this angle…

I don’t understand the dislike of “The Krotons.”  Sometimes I wonder if part of the problem is that it is the first story written by Robert Holmes. Holmes went on to write some of Who‘s best stories; in the aforementioned Doctor Who Magazine poll, he has three stories in the top ten.  Perhaps that leads to higher expectations for “The Krotons?”  And, okay, maybe the design of the Krotons themselves is a bit of a let down.  True you can see the actors’ feet shuffling inside the costume when the Kroton has to walk, but its top half looks pretty cool.  While their arms seem rather useless, those spinning heads are quite something…

Basically, I find a lot to appreciate and enjoy in this story. One aspect that struck a chord with me was its emphasis on education.  Control of what the Gonds learned allowed the Krotons to control the entire population of Gonds on the planet.  While their goal was to create two more “high brains” so that they could pilot their ship and leave the planet, they didn’t want the Gonds getting too clever and thinking for themselves. The teaching machines presumably just taught the Gonds what they should know and didn’t encourage any curiosity or creativity (which seems as if it would be necessary in a high brain, so maybe that’s why the Krotons were still stuck after all those years). They were selective about what they taught the Gonds, in case any Gonds ever overcame their obedience conditioning and started breaking the laws the Krotons had given them.  The Krotons presumably taught them subjects such as mathematics and science, but omitted the areas that the Gonds could use against them, such as the study of chemistry.  This way they ensured that the Gonds would not have the necessary knowledge to defeat them if they ever tried to rise up against them. Control the education system and you can control the people.

While the focus on education is unique, the idea of the Doctor arriving on a planet to find one group dominating another is not.  While the previous story, “The Invasion” was a preview of the type of story to come, “The Krotons” is a new version of a classic format.  The second Doctor was in a similar situation (“The Macra Terror”) early in his tenure, but this plot is much more strongly associated with the Hartnell era.  The first Doctor has many stories in which the Doctor and his companions end up helping a group of rebels overthrow an oppressor (“The Space Museum,” “The Web Planet,” “The Savages”…). I didn’t feel that the second Doctor really fit into the format of “The Invasion,” but he is a perfect fit for the structure of “The Krotons.”

The first Doctor often begrudgingly helped others and was more of an authority figure. In his stories, circumstance or his companions generally push the Doctor into helping the rebels, or he ends up arguing with those in authority, trying to assert his own. While the situation is not unique, the completely different personality of the second Doctor makes a familiar format seem fresh. Unlike the first Doctor, the second Doctor actively wants to help people, but rarely wants to seem to be an authority figure.  Therefore, when the Doctor arrives on the scene, he doesn’t immediately take over; of course, that’s not to say that he doesn’t assert some influence over the Gonds. Remember, I said that the second Doctor doesn’t like to be seen as an authority figure; he still feels that he has to step in to deal with matters that others aren’t equipped to handle. In this case, he tries to show the Gonds that there is more to life than what the Krotons have taught them and to stop any further unnecessary deaths.  Continuing the theme of education, however, he acts more as a teacher, opening their eyes to new ideas and showing them that they can choose a different way of life.

Doctor, Jamie, Zoe-Krotons

The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive on a strange planet…and the Doctor remembers his umbrella because twin suns can make a place quite hot.

The final episode demonstrates the point at which the Doctor becomes “hands off.”  Throughout the preceding episodes, we have witnessed a power struggle between Selris, the older council leader, and Eelek, a younger man who clearly hopes to use the situation to seize power.  Selris sacrifices himself in the final episode, defying the Krotons to give the Doctor the sulfuric acid he needs, leaving the position of leader open.  Previously, the people have been following Eelek, but Selris’ son is clearly the better (and rightful) leader.  The Doctor, however, slips away before this conflict is resolved and offers no suggestion as to how this conflict should be resolved. He has helped the Gonds free themselves of their Kroton overloads, but he has no interest in sticking around to help them set up a society without the laws of the Krotons.  He has reason to believe that they are on the correct path, however. The Gonds figured out how to use sulfuric acid to dissolve the Krotons’ ship, showing that they are learning how to problem solve and think for themselves.  The ending is optimistic, even if we don’t see the ultimate resolution. The Gonds are free to learn, which will help them handle whatever problems may emerge.

This brings me to something else I like about this story: its use of science.  Unlike “The Invasion” in which all problems were handled with missiles, bombs, and guns, the Krotons are defeated with science.  The Doctor figures out that they are made of a crystalline substance which sulfuric acid dissolves.  Therefore, the Gonds and the Doctor use sulfuric acid to destroy the Krotons and their ships.  It’s quite satisfying to watch the Doctor outsmart the Krotons, who obviously have a high opinion of their own intelligence.

Another aspect of the story that Holmes gets right is that he makes good use of all the regular cast members.  Even though the Doctor and Zoe are more in the fore for this story, Holmes does a good job of finding ways to keep Jamie involved in the action.  For instance, when the Krotons are hunting down the Doctor and Zoe, much of the suspense comes from Jamie watching helplessly as the Krotons close in on his friends.

Holmes also manages to be true to the characters as we’ve seen them up to this point.    We see Jamie as impulsive, but he’s brave and loyal and has a lot of heart.  He never thinks twice about his own safety; his only concern is making sure that his friends are okay.   Holmes emphasizes Zoe’s intelligence throughout, but we also see her cleverness and her bravery. And as for the Doctor, well, I’ve already discussed his characterization so I won’t repeat myself here.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the story are the interactions between the Doctor and Zoe. I don’t feel like most writers knew what to do with Zoe.  Her characterization in the series is a bit inconsistent; one minute she’s taking down the Karkus and out thinking computers, the next she’s hysterical and screaming.  Holmes’ Zoe, however, is my favorite, and I love the relationship he creates between her and the Doctor.  They are both so intelligent that the Doctor doesn’t even always need to explain his plan to Zoe; she just picks up on it and plays along, as she does in the final episode. Instead of the Doctor putting her down for her intelligence (as he, unfortunately, has done in the past), there is a good-natured competition between them.  Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton play the scene with the teaching machines perfectly, with Zoe not being able to resist trying the machine to show off her intelligence, the Doctor getting nervous and making mistakes when taking the test, and finally Zoe needing to point out that the Doctor only scored higher than she did because he answered more questions.  The two have rarely had the opportunity for a double act, and this story shows how good their chemistry could be.

On a more random note, this episode also introduces the H.A.D.S. or hostile action displacement system, which has popped up again from time to time in the new series, most recently in “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.”  As an extra bonus, Patrick Troughton uses the phrase “oh my giddy aunt” in the third episode, so what more could you want?

Kroton Teaching Machine

The Doctor uses the Krotons’ teaching machine, while Zoe despairs of him getting the answers right.

While “The Krotons” is not Robert Holmes’ best story, it’s much better than its reputation.  It’s a great fit for the Doctor and both of his companions.  I actually enjoy it more than the previous, much more highly regarded story, “The Invasion.”  The second Doctor is best when he’s playing the fool, not working with a military organization. I was quite surprised at Frazer Hines’ dislike of this story, since I think it’s a pretty good story for Jamie overall.  Perhaps one of the reasons that Frazer Hines doesn’t like this story is because the Krotons regularly insult Jamie’s intelligence.  They refer to him as a “low brain” while the Doctor and Zoe are “high brains.”  I’m actually not sure that there’s another story where Jamie is so regularly insulted.  Alternatively, maybe it really is just because of the rather unfortunately designed bottom half of the Krotons…



One Hell of a Story: Heaven Sent

To call “Heaven Sent” an unusual episode of Doctor Who is a bit of an understatement. It is not only completely unique in the 52 year history of the show, but it is also unusual for any major television show.  It is an episode with, essentially, a cast of one; it truly is the Doctor on his own. We’ve seen the Doctor without a companion before, but we’ve never spent an entire episode with just the Doctor. It was a risky episode, but one that succeeded exceptionally well.


I wouldn’t want to make him angry…

“Heaven Sent” is essentially the third part of a loose season ending trilogy, much like the “Utopia/Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords” trilogy that ended season three. Therefore, some of the ultimate success of the episode will depend on its conclusion. No matter what happens in the next episode, however, this was one of the most compelling episodes of Doctor Who in a long time.

When Steven Moffat is at his best, he creates intricately plotted scripts with an emotional core. I’m thinking in particular of “Blink,” which is a complex “timey-wimey” puzzle of a story, yet it manages to hit strong emotional beats as well, running the gamut from funny to moving, all without a false step.

“Heaven Sent” is another one of those scripts.  It is a puzzle box of a story, an intriguing mystery for the Doctor to solve. I can’t say that I completely understand everything at this point, but when you write stories as complex as Steven Moffat does, there tend to be a few things that you just have to accept without explanation. For instance, at this point, I can’t say that I understand exactly why the Doctor had to dig to find the “I am in room 12” message, and I may never know. But I’m willing to accept that as just part of the overall eccentricity of the clockwork castle (Moffat does love his clockwork, doesn’t he?).  I’ve heard several people asking why the “diamond” wall didn’t reset, which is a valid question that is never directly answered in the story. I just assumed that breaking through the wall was the whole point of the experience, so that is why it didn’t reset.  Overall, all the pieces are there to figure out what is going on, it just takes the audience (and the Doctor) a while to put it all together.

It’s also an interesting idea to have the Doctor tormented by his own nightmares. The only familiar object in the castle seems to be the portrait of Clara, which keeps her loss fresh in his mind. It’s a small detail, but one that would ensure that he doesn’t forget his grief. And would serve to keep him a bit on edge.

More important is the relentless creature, The Veil, which pursues him around the castle, ensuring that he can never rest. The flies that always announced its presence were a nice touch. It made The Veil even more synonymous with death in both the Doctor and the audience’s minds. The monitors showing you the creature’s point of view were a clever idea as well; constantly seeing it coming adds to the feeling of dread.

The Veil reminded me of the somewhat similar creature in the recent movie It Follows. Both involve “monsters” that you can easily outrun, but who never give up their pursuit. Both show that a creature doesn’t have to be fast to be deadly. In fact, both creatures exemplify the idea that slow and steady wins the race; thus, the relentlessness of the creature is a frightening concept. As the Doctor states in the opening of the episode, if you are being pursued by an entity that never stops, even if you can outrun it, it will eventually catch you. It forces an exhausting state of hyperawareness, and at some point your guard will drop and it will be there ready for you.


The Doctor sits with Clara…I love the shot composition here.

Rather than hell, which, the Doctor tells us, is just “heaven for bad people,” this episode made me think of Dante’s purgatory. The repetitiveness of events, the punishments, the very gradual progress, and the reference to the mountain in the fairy tale all made me feel like the Doctor was on Mount Purgatory, earning his way into heaven. Although “heaven” in this case would be Gallifrey, which might be a bit higher praise than it deserves…

However, this being a Steven Moffat script, the puzzle isn’t the only thing going on and the journey through purgatory is an emotional one as well. The episode begins as an emotionally grueling experience for the Doctor. He is trapped in a seemingly endless loop in which, even though millions of years have passed, the loss of Clara is still fresh. The reset of the loop also resets his grief each time. His recent loss has made him so weary that we see the Doctor flirt with the idea of just giving up and losing.  Once he decides to fight, however, he begins his captivity somewhat delighted by the challenge (much like Clara, the Doctor wants to keep busy in his grief), but as the time passes (we never know exactly how much time comprises the loop) he begins to wear down and lose hope. To escape, he must not only put the pieces together, but he also has to suffer tremendous physical pain as well.

This is the point where it becomes an emotionally grueling experience for the audience as well. That montage of scenes towards the conclusion of the episode makes the viewer feel the weight of the Doctor’s seemingly endless suffering. The audience watches him die over and over again (another part of the resurrection theme this season) as he very slowly punches his way through the wall. The main sign of progress that we get is his ability to gradually get through more of the fairy tale as he breaks through the wall and is slightly further away from the creature (which I thought was a brilliant choice). That’s why, when the Doctor finally breaks through the wall and finds that he is on Gallifrey, it feels like an earned payoff. Both the Doctor and the audience have gone through a lot to finally return to Gallifrey.


The Doctor has a close call.

However, Steven Moffat does not deserve all the credit for the success of this episode. Rachel Talalay is an excellent director who sets the perfect tone for the episode (with help from all the behind the camera staff, of course). The colors are very dark and subdued and there is a general air of menace throughout. Visually, the castle is quite fascinating and the creature is always shrouded in enough shadow and filmed from angles that keep it mysterious and creepy. The idea that the TARDIS also exists in the Doctor’s head, as his storm room, is also well realized visually. The lighting in TARDIS, for instance, gives us information about the Doctor’s mental state that he himself cannot. I’d have to say the most striking image, however, were all of the skulls piling up on the ocean floor. Once the meaning of them became clear, each skull drives home just how many times the Doctor has died.

The primary reason, however, that this episode succeeds is Peter Capaldi’s amazing performance. I could probably write an entire post solely about that, but since this is already a long post, I’ll try to condense my enthusiasm into paragraph form. I don’t think any other Doctor could have pulled off this episode. Capaldi is utterly compelling at every turn, whether he is speaking out loud to himself, in voiceover, or to the Clara in his head. It would have been easy to play it safe and have him actually interact with the Clara in his head, allowing for some dialogue. Instead, the Clara in his head remains silent, with her back to him, except for that key moment at the end. This reminds the audience that he is using his memories of Clara to provide himself with an audience and that she is not actually speaking with him. It’s also a good way to see the Doctor dealing with his grief as he “talks” to Clara. I’m not sure any other Doctor could have pulled off the line “that’s what got you killed,” referring to Clara’s answer that she would do the same thing as the Doctor in this situation. Capaldi delivers it with a bit of humor, but yet he doesn’t play it for a laugh.

One of my favorite moments might be the way that Capaldi delivers his lines when he steps out of the transporter. Most actors would probably have more of a tendency to shout them or play them up, but Capaldi delivers them quietly, but with such resolve that you know at that point he would be incapable of holding back his rage against the person or persons responsible for the loss of Clara.


How many family shows would have the main character carry around his own skull?

Last week, I thought that “Face the Raven” was the best episode of the season. Well, it looks like I was wrong, because “Heaven Sent” is an utterly unique story that has quickly climbed to the top of my list. It’s a story that perfectly combines the talents of both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi. The script was unique and incredible, but it needed the right actor to pull it off. I do find myself wondering if Tom Baker is at all envious that not only does Peter Capaldi have no companion for this episode, he has no real supporting cast. He doesn’t even have a cabbage to talk to…

The Zygon Invasion

“The Zygon Invasion” is the first of yet another two-part episode.  It’s a much more traditional two-part episode than the previous pair, ending with every one of our protagonists either seemingly dead or on the verge of becoming so (I think there’s more to Kate’s situation than we saw. She couldn’t possibly have not known that policewoman was a Zygon, right?). While it didn’t  pull me in as quickly as “Magician’s Apprentice” or “Under the Lake,” it still sets up an interesting story that left me eager for next week.

The opening message from both Osgoods (which I'm sure will come into play in "The Zygon Inversion")

The opening message from both Osgoods (which I’m sure will come into play in “The Zygon Inversion”)

The last time Doctor Who used the Zygons, they were basically a subplot in “The Day of the Doctor.”  The real focus was on the three Doctors working together and the Time War. The last time the Zygons were the focus of an episode was in the fourth Doctor story, “The Terror of the Zygons.”  This episode is really the first time in the new series that the Zygons take center stage. Despite their rather cumbersome appearance, the episode does a good job of making them scary and interesting.

The Zygon’s abilities have changed a bit over the years. They no longer need to keep the person they are duplicating alive.  They only need them as long as they need information from them. Additionally, the Zygons have developed the ability to pluck people from your memory to turn into. While this makes them even more dangerous (it’s not hard to understand why the soldiers have so much trouble shooting the Zygons in the village when they look like their loved ones), it does raise some questions. How did the Zygon in the village know Johnny’s name? Walsh (played by Rebecca Front, so it’s another The Thick of It reunion on Doctor Who) seemed to think that the copy wouldn’t know any personal information, but just what are their mind-reading capabilities? They were even able to know who was controlling the drone in an earlier scene, so I’m curious to see if we get any further explanation in the second half.

Moreover, we learn the terms of the peace that the human and Zygons negotiated at the end of “The Day of the Doctor.” Twenty million Zygons have taken human form and now live on the earth. Most are happy with this arrangement, but there is a splinter group that is taking action against this agreement. They want the Zygons to live openly, not live in a disguise, and are willing to destroy all humans and Zygons who stand in their way.

Apparently all the Zygons took the form of British people, so the influx of Zygons meant an influx of "British" immigrants around the world.

Apparently all the Zygons took the form of British people, so the influx of Zygons meant an influx of “British” immigrants around the world.

Peter Harness wrote last year’s divisive “Kill the Moon,” which many saw as being about abortion. I had many issues with that episode, but I have to admit that the abortion aspect didn’t cross my mind until I heard others discussing it. The commentary on current political issues in “The Zygon Invasion,” however, is impossible to miss. One can draw all sorts of parallels between the attitudes towards the Zygons and current attitudes towards immigration (made even clearer by the anti-“British” graffiti and writing found in New Mexico). The focus is on Middle Eastern immigration in particular, with the Zygon splinter group having some parallels to Isis.

This episode also sees the return of Osgood after her death in last year’s finale.  Once again we have a resurrected character, although we learn that there have been two Osgoods ever since the peace negotiations. We also have another hybrid, as we learn that Osgood and her Zygon duplicate have been working together to preserve the peace and no longer consider themselves either Zygon or human, but both.  It was good to see Osgood coming more into her own in this episode. She still wears a tribute to the Doctor, the question marks on her collar, but she is no longer almost solely defined by her admiration for him. The job of being the peace and the death of her sister had clearly made her grow as an individual.

One of the highlights of the episode was Jenna Coleman’s performance as Bonnie. I’m not sure how surprised people were to learn that the Clara we had seen for most of the episode was, in fact, her Zygon double. I thought Jenna Coleman did an excellent job of acting just a bit off. Just from the way she moved when she walked out of the apartment, it was clear that this was not Clara. Jenna Coleman also delivered lines slightly differently than she does as Clara, but not so different that Bonnie wouldn’t have fooled the others.

Even Jenna Coleman's body language and facial expression makes it clear that this is not Clara.

Even Jenna Coleman’s body language and facial expression makes it clear that this is not Clara.

In addition to the performance, Peter Harness wrote Clara’s dialogue well. It was generally what Clara would say, but a few things stuck out as slightly odd. Clara’s continued questions about the weapons against the Zygons, for instance, seemed a bit out of character. As a brief aside, I assume that Harry Sullivan developed the gas after his encounter with the Zygons in the “seventies or eighties” (nothing like catching a reference to the U.N.I.T. dating controversy to reaffirm just how deep your Doctor Who obsession is). Her comments to Jac about being middle-aged also seemed completely out of character for Clara.

I noticed many of these same traits in the Doctor during this episode, so I can’t help but think that he is a Zygon as well. He still seemed like himself when he met with the Zygon leaders on the playground. After that scene, however, we don’t see the TARDIS again and he just seems a bit…off.  He starts referring to himself in the third person and using inflections that he doesn’t usually use.  Why didn’t he use the TARDIS to get to Turmezistan? Why does he now seem to embrace being president of the world?  I suspect it’s because he’s not himself. If he is a Zygon copy, I wonder if this might all be part of his plan; he’s working with the peaceful Zygons and using a copy to make them think they know where he is and what he’s doing.

One of my favorite moments in the episode, the Doctor consulting with the Zygon leaders. Yes, those cute children are, in fact, big blobby things.

One of my favorite moments in the episode, the Doctor consulting with the Zygon leaders. Yes, those cute children are, in fact, big blobby things.

I don’t feel that I can comfortably state my opinion of this episode yet. The first half sets up some interesting conflicts, but much of it depends on the second half. Unlike the other two-part episodes, this one seems to require a second half that will be tonally similar and continue to develop the same ideas.  The title, “The Zygon Inversion” has me intrigued. Does it refer to the shift in power from the peaceful Zygons to the splinter group? Does it refer to a reversal we have yet to see? Or does it refer to the nerve gas that will physically invert the Zygons, turning them inside out? I guess I’ll have to wait for Saturday to find out.

Thoughts on The Magician’s Apprentice

Season 9 of Doctor Who opens with a love letter to the series, especially the classic episodes; it seems made to appeal to the long-time fans.  While there are some new inventions, there are more references, homages, and allusions to previous episodes than I could catch in a single viewing.

One of the creepiest additions to "The Magician's Apprentice," the handmine.

One of the creepiest additions to “The Magician’s Apprentice,” the handmine.

The opening of the episode seems as if we are learning about a new place.  We find ourselves jumping into the middle of a battle being fought with technology of different ages, and follow a soldier chasing after a little boy. The scene between the soldier and the boy is very tense, as the boy has stumbled upon a field of handmines, hands with eyeballs in their palms that will pull you underground. The handmines grab the soldier, but the boy remains. The Doctor is ready to help him survive until he learns that the helpless boy is Davros and that we are on Skaro, before it was the planet of the Daleks. Rather than make any kind of decision about what to do, the Doctor flees, leaving his sonic screwdriver behind with the young Davros.

After the opening credits, the episode starts to feel more like a classic Who episode in terms of pacing. Unlike a classic Who episode, however, the first half of the episode is very female dominated with Clara, Kate Stewart, Missy, and another female member of U.N.I.T.  We follow Clara and U.N.I.T. as they investigate why all the planes are suddenly frozen in the sky. (As an aside, Clara is once again teaching her students about Jane Austen, and the implication is that she has met Jane. I hope that’s not true because I still want to see the Doctor and Jane meet.) While I like the character of Kate Stewart, I was a bit disappointed that once again she fades into the background. Clara quickly takes charge, and then Missy shows up, leaving very little for Kate to do. Of course it was Missy who froze the planes in the sky to get their attention; the Master has never been one for understatement or subtlety.

I loved the return of Missy.  She offers no explanation for her survival, but is just as interesting a character as ever. I’m not as big a fan of the explicit discussion of Missy being the Doctor’s best friend (much like the Doctor’s relationship with Delgado’s Master, I think this is better left to the subtext), but the complex relationship between her and the Doctor is still fascinating, and it was enjoyable watching her and Clara each testing the other and attempting to gain the upper hand. Clara and Missy seem to realize that they need each other to find the Doctor, but they are still in competition for the title of the Doctor’s best friend.  The algorithm U.N.I.T. uses to track down the Doctor is another treasure trove of references to past episodes, as references are made to locations from various episodes, all the way from “The Mythmakers” and “The Underwater Menace” to “The Angels Take Manhattan.”


Missy and Clara face off in one of our “warmer countries” (probably still Cardiff).

The main new character introduced in this episode is Colony Sarff, a creepy-looking hooded figure who we discover is actually made up of a colony of snakes. Davros has dispatched Colony Sarff to find the Doctor; he visits locations familiar to fans of the show, such as the Shadow Proclamation, not seen or heard of since Davros’ last appearance. He is an interesting character, but he made me feel a bit like he had wandered in from a Harry Potter story. Still, I’ll refrain from judging the character until I see if Moffat had any plans for him in part two.

It’s not until Clara and Missy track down the Doctor that he enters the story again. He believes that he is about to die and had been having a massively anachronistic party in the Middle Ages. Countless gifs will be made of the Doctor’s “axe” wielding entrance, but the arrival of Clara and Missy also brings Colony Sarff to the Doctor, meaning it’s time to face the dying Davros, now that Davros remembers his childhood encounter with the Doctor. I loved Missy’s obvious hurt feelings at the Doctor calling Davros his archenemy, since she thought that title belonged to her.

Soon, however, Colony Sarff takes the three of them to visit Davros in what seems like a floating hospital. The Doctor is taken off to see Davros while Clara and Missy are held captive.  I’ll get to the Doctor’s encounter with Davros, the heart of the episode, in a moment. What Clara and Missy discover is that the “hospital” is not free-floating and is, in fact, a building in the face of an invisible planet. The invisible planet is, of course, Skaro which was either not destroyed by the Seventh Doctor as we thought, or has somehow been rebuilt. The Daleks seize Clara and Missy and the cliffhanger is one in which the Daleks  (from all different eras, including the blue and silver 1960’s Daleks, the Special Weapons Dalek, and modern Daleks) appear to destroy both of them and the TARDIS.

Daleks from all over the Dalek timeline!

Daleks from all over the Dalek timeline!

The most important moments of the episode, however, all deal with the Doctor and Davros.  Why exactly Davros didn’t remember this childhood encounter until now, we are not told, but for the moment I’m willing to let that go.  Another point I’m willing to accept without questioning is the fact that Davros seems to have access to a library of clips of the Doctor; I can actually explain Davros having recordings of the Doctor’s interactions with him (who’s to say Davros doesn’t have the capacity to record what happens around him), but how he has access to that key moment from “Genesis of Daleks” I guess I just have to let slide because I enjoyed it too much.

And, ultimately, it is that moment from “Genesis of the Daleks” that is what this episode is really about.  In “Genesis of the Daleks” the fourth Doctor decided that he could not commit genocide.  Part of his reasoning was the moment featured in the clip, “if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?”  This episode forces the Doctor to once again have to decide what type of man he is.  In “Genesis,” he felt that to commit that genocide and wipe out the Daleks would make him no better than the Daleks themselves.  This continues the theme brought out in “Into the Dalek” of the Doctor’s similarity to the Daleks.

A lot has happened to the Doctor since “Genesis of the Daleks” took place.  The seventh Doctor had no problem tricking Davros into blowing up Skaro with the hand of Omega.  The eighth Doctor and the war Doctor watched the Time War rip the universe apart.  The tenth Doctor has seemingly wiped out the Daleks a few times during his time.  I’m not sure that the Doctor in his current state would come to the same conclusion he did when he was holding those wires on Skaro.

Murdering a still innocent child, however, is another story.  Given the parallels between the Daleks and the Nazis, Terry Nation meant for that line to make the viewer think of Hitler: could you murder a child knowing that he would grow up to be Adolph Hitler?  Would the Doctor actually murder a frightened child who has yet to commit or even think of any of his crimes?  He seems poised to do so at the end of this episode.  Is his hatred of the Daleks strong enough now?  I guess we’ll find out in “The Witch’s Familiar.”

Just Act Stupid: The Dominators

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland they had brotherly love-they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”  The preceding quote ran through my head as I watched “The Dominators” as I realized that this serial is essentially arguing the same point as Harry Lime in The Third Man, just far less successfully.  The second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe encounter a civilization that is living through an era of peace and has stagnated.  Which is unfortunate, because the pacifists are ill-prepared for their encounter with the aggressive Dominators.

The Doctor and Jamie play dumb with Rago.

The Doctor and Jamie play dumb with Rago.

The sixth season of Doctor Who starts out with an episode the familiar season five template; this is a planet under siege story, instead of a base under siege story.  Two Dominators land on the planet Dulkis, looking to find fuel for their ship.  Dulkis is a peaceful planet whose occupants, the Dulcians, have long ago given up any kind of fighting or war.  The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe arrive to find the planet in peril.  The Dominators want to use the planet to create the fuel they need and will ultimately kill or enslave the natives.  The problem is that the peaceful Dulcians cannot fight to save themselves and their planet.  The TARDIS crew, along with Cully, the troublemaking son of the Director of Dulkis, must find a way to save the planet before it’s too late.

I must confess that I had a review all written and ready to go about this episode and my overall opinion on this serial was that it was dull and difficult to watch.  However, I wrote it before I went back and watched all of the reconstructed episodes, so I decided to re-watch the episode.   Upon my re-watch, an unexpected thing happened; I found myself enjoying the episode. Don’t desert me yet, though, I’m not going to argue that this is a great serial, just not as bad as it’s reputation.  This new attitude was mainly due to a shift in my opinion about one aspect of the story, the Dominators themselves, but I’ll get to that later.

Looking at the way the different characters function in the story will help illustrate my point.   The main reason the story has a bad reputation is because of the Dulcians.  Dulcians are aptly named; except for Cully, they are incredibly dull.  Cully claims that they have no curiosity as a people, but they also seem to have very few emotions as well.  Even when confronted with a possible danger, the council does nothing but get into a debate about the issue on an intellectual level.  They are not a stupid people; in fact they seem to value intelligence.  They also have had to respond to natural disasters, like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, so they have not lead a completely sheltered existence. So why do they have to be so passive?  They are pacifists, but pacifists don’t have to be wimps.  There are ways of resisting that don’t require the people to take up arms.  The concept could have been an interesting one, it was just poorly executed.  There were times when the Ducians’ passIvity was so maddening that I wasn’t sure they really deserved the Doctor’s help.

Zoe and Cully show off the latest in Dulcian fashion.

Zoe and Cully show off the latest in Dulcian fashion: bathing suits with sheer skirts for the women and togas with mantles for the men.

Small robots called Quarks help the Dominators in their domination.  These Quarks are another flaw in this story because they just aren’t scary.  They can kill people by shooting them with some kind of energy or laser, and they can temporarily paralyze people.  Despite this, they seem cute, not terrifying.  Their voices are far from intimidating, as their high-pitched voice makes them sound like children.  They trundle along when they walk and seem incapable of chasing anyone at a high-speed. Their “arms” also seem fairly useless in most situations and it’s quite ridiculous the way that they flap them to recharge their power (it seems like it would use up power).  They are also very easily fooled and destroyed; at times they even seemed confused or panicked by attempts to destroy them.  For the second serial in a row, Jamie disarms a robot by throwing a sheet over it; the result is that the Quarks seem quite helpless.

In terms of the Doctor’s companions, the episode is a mixed bag.  It’s a pretty good episode for Jamie.  He is very involved in the action, running around and destroying Quarks with a glee that we don’t often see from Jamie.  He feels like he is fighting the redcoats back at home, so he is really in his element and allowed to operate quite autonomously from the Doctor for much of the episode.  Zoe, unfortunately, doesn’t fare as well.  It doesn’t feel like the writers knew what to do with her yet.  She has moments when she shines, like when she comes up with the plan to take out the Quarks that are guarding them or when she shows her that her knowledge of robots and spacecraft can rival the Doctor’s.  However, for much of the story she is in the background.  Given that she is someone who believed that logic would provide the answer to any problem (until she met the Doctor, that is), it seems like a missed opportunity to not have her interact more with the Dulcians who are coming from a position that isn’t completely dissimilar from hers.

On point strongly in the favor of this episode is the fact Troughton’s Doctor acts more like himself in this serial. The Doctor is not sidelined in this story. He is coming up with plans on the fly and putting them into action.  He is also up to his old tricks, playing the fool so his enemy will underestimate him.  He very explicitly does this during the Dominators’ tests; despite the fact that the tests are causing pain to the Doctor and Jamie, Troughton’s performance keeps the scene funny.  Continuing this train of thought, this episode had a few other scenes in which Troughton got to show of his comedic skills.  The scene in which the Doctor needs to divert the travel capsule in mid-flight is classic second Doctor; te banter between him and Jamie shows of the great chemistry between the actors.

Now for the Dominators themselves; I must admit that they really aren’t much better developed than the Dulcians and have equally ridiculous costumes.  Nevertheless, it was amusing to watch the relationship between Navigator Rago and Probationer Toba.  I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s like watching a comedy duo performing a very subtle routine.  Ronald Allen’s Rago is the straight man; he simply wants to get the job done and move on.  Unfortunately for him, his colleague on this mission is Kenneth Ives’ Toba who just wants to blow things up and destroy people.  It’s hard to miss the glee with which he says “total destruction!” to the Quarks.  It’s almost as if Toba doesn’t really care about the mission at all.  For instance, he wants to send the Quarks after Jamie and Cully when they are blowing up the Quarks, but then he remembers his orders and can’t; the look of frustration and disappointment on his face says it all.

The ending left me with a few questions, which isn’t surprising in a story that was so rewritten that the actual writers (Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln) had their names taken off of it.  The Dominators get blown up with their own nuclear seed device at the end, but what about the other Dominators?  Rago and Toba are in constant contact with the rest of the Dominators.  Are we sure that Dulkis is really safe now?  And what about other planets?  I guess we’re just not supposed to dwell on that.

Toba and his Quarks

Toba and his Quarks

I’m not going to argue that “The Dominators” is a great story.  What I will say is that there are aspects of the story that are entertaining.  The entertainment value of the Dominators themselves was greatly increased after I read Bill Evanson’s clever “blog post” from Toba in the book Outside In.  If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do because he captures exactly what I imagine is going on in Toba’s mind. It makes the story far more amusing when you picture Toba thinking things like, “all Rago wants to do is drill, drill, drill.  What a bore.”  While some people, including me from the past, would say that about this story, I have had a slight change of heart.  While it doesn’t succeed in its goal of being an insightful examination of pacifism, it has entertaining aspects.  They are often unintentionally entertaining, but they are entertaining none the less.

Thoughts on The Wheel in Space

“The Wheel in Space” is a decent episode; it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either.  There’s quite a few things wrong with it, but it does a few things perfectly.   It was written by David Whitaker, who wrote some great episodes for both Hartnell and Troughton (and one for Pertwee, but we’re not there yet).  This, however, is Whitaker’s only story featuring the Cybermen (he adapted it from a story by their creator, Kit Pedler), and it’s not one of his best efforts.  Considering that Whitaker wrote two of my favorite Troughton stories, “The Power of the Daleks” and “The Enemy of the World” perhaps I was hoping for too much.

Zoe is hard at work as some Cybermen dance behind her...okay, that's really their menacing pose.

Zoe is hard at work as some Cybermen dance behind her…well, at least that’s what it looks like to me..

After the Doctor and Jamie say goodbye to Victoria, the TARDIS materializes on a rocket drifting through space.  The TARDIS’s fluid link is malfunctioning, and vaporizing mercury forces them to leave the TARDIS; the Doctor grabs a small rod, the vector generator, on his way out.  Much like in “The Daleks” the TARDIS need mercury before she can continue on her way.

Jamie and the Doctor carry the entire first episode, as it is just them and a non-speaking robot.  They do not interact with the crew of the wheel until they are rescued from the rocket in the second episode.  Well, the Doctor doesn’t interact with them in episode 2, since Patrick Troughton was on vacation, but Jamie does.  The commander of the wheel is Jarvis, a man who seems incredibly ill-suited to running a space station.  He can’t accept that there are unknown elements to life, things that might require him to go beyond his training.  He is exactly the wrong kind of man to run a space station, especially one that is part of an elaborate plan by the Cybermen to take over the earth and exploit its mineral wealth.  One of the most interesting parts of the story was watching how he slipped further and further into denial as the evidence for a Cyberman attack mounted.  He even seized on the idea of Jamie and the Doctor being saboteurs/terrorists early in the story since that was the only possibility he could understand; I wished more had been made of the storyline of Jamie essentially becoming a saboteur to stop the wheel crew from destroying the TARDIS.  Of course the story had to move on to focus on the Cybermen and their evil plot…

The story starts out well.  I enjoy the chemistry between the Doctor and Jamie, so I didn’t mind the first episode containing just the two of them, and it ends with a nice cliffhanger as the wheel crew are about to blow up the rocket.  The rest of the story basically held my interest, but it did drag on a bit too long for me; there was a lot of padding in the story that slowed it down.

The main reason that I felt the story was slow-moving was that I didn’t really care about the people on the wheel.  It felt like each crew member was assigned a trait or two and that was it.  Basically, until I learned their names this is how I thought of them: there was condescending, chauvinistic guy (Leo), alert but ignored Russian woman (Tanya), woman who clearly should be in charge of the wheel (Gemma), plant-loving guy (Bill), and feisty Irish guy (Flannigan).  Their characters weren’t developed beyond that.  I know this is true of other stories as well, but a good episode at least introduces some interesting dynamics or conflicts between the supporting cast.  Except for Jarvis’ mental collapse, there wasn’t much going on with the crew besides simply doing their jobs.  This was disappointing since Whitaker had done a great job at keeping the supporting cast interesting in stories like “The Crusades,” “The Power [and ‘The Evil’] of the Daleks,” and “The Enemy of the World.”

My biggest problem with an individual chaacter was with the character of Leo.  He was so chauvinistic and condescending that I kept hoping he would get killed by the Cybermen.  When the women were against blowing up the rocket FOR NO GOOD REASON, without making sure there was no one on board, he basically said they were being a stick-in-the-mud.  When Tanya cautioned him, he said, “if you get scared, I’ll let you hold my hand.”  How condescending is that?  And did his attitude towards them change when they were proved right time and time again? No.  I know “The Wheel in Space” was written in the 1960’s, but come on.

Leo probably making some condescending, sexist comment to Tanya.

Leo probably making some condescending, sexist comment to Tanya.

Of course Leo was not the only character having problems with women in this episode.  Jamie begins the story missing Victoria and spends the rest of it sparring with Zoe.  I did like the touch of having Jamie mention Victoria several times in the first episode, since they were very close.  He and Zoe, however, get off on the wrong foot when Zoe basically says that he is wearing female clothing.  He then threatens to spank her (really, Jamie, you should know better by now) and they spend the rest of the story trying to one-up the other.

Of course, Zoe’s introduction as a companion is what makes this episode notable and is the best thing about it.  I have to admit that watching this episode gave me a great deal more insight into and appreciation of Zoe’s character.  It was easy to see why she ended up trying to sneak aboard the Doctor’s TARDIS.  She is a “librarian” on the wheel.  She is a parapsychologist and essentially seems to be used as a walking computer; she provides information and does difficult calculations in her head.  She never seems to interact with the others in a human way.  Leo even calls her a robot and says she’s “all brain and no heart.”  After getting into a debate with the Doctor about pure logic being the best solution for everything (the Doctor argues for common sense and says, “logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority”), she begins to question her role on the wheel.  Her training has tried to eliminate emotional reactions, but Zoe realizes that she wants to experience emotions as well.  All this provides her with a clear motivation for wanting new experiences with the Doctor and Jamie.

What I haven’t spent much time on is the actual plot.  As usual, the plan of the Cybermen is rather convoluted.  Their speech was also still a bit difficult to understand; there were a few times I had to play a scene multiple times and I’m still not sure I understood everything that the cybermen said.

As far as I could tell, their plan was to use the rocket to get near the wheel and send the cybermats aboard (I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure how they got on the ship, but I’m not going to dwell on that).  The cybermats would then corrode the Bernalium needed to run the x-ray laser.  The cybermen had also managed to make a star go nova, ensuring that the wheel crew would need to use the laser to protect themselves from meteors; therefore, they would have to send crew members to the rocket to look for extra Bernalium.  This allowed the cybermen to control the mind of the men and sneak aboard in the box containing the Bernalium.  Once they were on board, they disabled the transmitting portion of the radio and let the crew protect the wheel from the meteors using the laser. After this they were going to kill the crew and use the radio signal transmitted to the wheel from earth to enter earth’s atmosphere and invade the planet.

It was nice of the Cybermen to politely wait for an invitation to enter the room and kill the Doctor.

It was nice of the Cybermen to politely wait for an invitation to enter the room and kill the Doctor.

Overall, however, “The Wheel in Space” is not a bad episode.  As I mentioned, it does a good job of introducing the viewer to Zoe, which is its main purpose.  My main complaint would be that Troughton’s Doctor just felt a bit off for me in this one.   Perhaps if I could actually see more of the episodes I would feel differently, but he just felt rather subdued in this one.  At times, I saw shades of the first Doctor in him; he seemed to spend most of the episode sitting on the sidelines, out of the main action.  I also wasn’t thrilled with how callously he seemed to send Jamie out into space to return to the rocket.  For all the people complaining about Capaldi’s Doctor’s unfeeling nature, all the Doctors have always been willing to make sacrifices.  The Doctor here states that it is worth risking the lives of Jamie and Zoe to save the lives of many.  In this case, unfortunately, the scene plays as if the Doctor is avoiding going himself which doesn’t match with the second Doctor’s personality.  The story felt a bit like it was leftover from Hartnell’s time on the show, which doesn’t make it a bad episode, just a poor fit for the Troughton era.

Thoughts on Last Christmas

“Last Christmas” was Doctor Who meets Alien and Inception with Santa thrown in for good measure.  Like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” this Steven Moffat penned Christmas episode references stories already familiar to the viewer.  It is also more in line with the aforementioned Christmas specials than with last year’s “The Time of the Doctor” in that Christmas plays a large role in the plot.  While I did have some issues with the special, it was an enjoyable, if not exceptional story.

Santa and the Doctor face off.

Santa and the Doctor face off.

The ultimate purpose of this episode was to bring the Doctor and Clara back together after their goodbye at the end of “Death in Heaven.”  The Christmas theme served that purpose well, since when else are you more likely to reunite with people (in a fictional story, at least) than Christmas?  The plot, in a nutshell, is that Dream Crabs have attached themselves to the Doctor, Clara, and a few other people; these Dream Crabs induce a dream state while they attack, so the challenge is to find a way to wake up…with Santa’s help, of course.

The best parts of the episode were the parts with Santa and his bickering elves. If I were brainstorming a list of people who I thought should play Santa, Nick Frost might not have been the first person to jump into my mind.  That being said, however, I really enjoyed his Santa.  His Santa provided some nice comic relief and kept the episode from ever getting too dark.  He played all the different dream versions of Santa well, from the awkward, slightly bumbling Santa on Clara’s rooftop to the John Wayne-ish western hero when he rescues everyone in the infirmary.  Additionally, although the contrast was less dramatic, I enjoyed the dynamics between the Doctor and a hero with a much sunnier personality, just like I did in this season’s “Robot of Sherwood.”  I also found the scenes with Santa’s two bickering elves very funny.  It seemed appropriate that this version of Santa would travel with sarcastic sidekicks.  Plus, Dan Starkey finally got to show his face on camera and proved that he has good comedic timing, even without being covered in latex.

Santa's "comedy elves" before they arm themselves with  toy and balloon guns respectively.

Santa’s “comedy elves” before they arm themselves with toy and balloon guns respectively.

Another strong aspect of the story was the time at the base.  The characters were developed enough to keep my interest, but I found myself wishing that they could have been on-screen together a bit more.  Once you know that they are all dreaming that they are at the base, it could have been interesting to go back and see more clues to that in their interactions.  This is an interesting episode to view a second time because there are a few clues that something strange is going on (like the random turkey (?) leg that the Professor suddenly starts eating), but there could have been a few more.

In terms of the characters as individuals, Shona was definitely the most developed and memorable character; her dance through the infirmary alone would probably guarantee that.   The other two female characters, Ashley and Fiona, had enough development to keep them interesting, even if they didn’t get as much screen time as Shona.  The only character that I felt wasn’t really developed much was the Professor, which was a bit disappointing.  I loved the appropriateness of having Michael Troughton, Patrick Troughton’s son, involved in a base under siege plot. Unfortunately, he never has much to do, and I can’t say his death bothered me all that much.  In fact, I didn’t even remember that anyone had died the first time I watched this story.

Another strength of this episode was that it was successful in its ultimate purpose, that of reuniting the Doctor and Clara.  The episode featured the usual strong performances from both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman (do I even have to mention that anymore?).  In particular, I enjoyed Jenna’s performance in her dream Christmas with Danny; she had just the right mix of happiness, confusion, and melancholy.  Also, I have to admit that I liked her dream Danny far more than I liked the real Danny.  The scene between the Doctor and the 90-year-old Clara was also touching, as you saw how much Capaldi’s Doctor really does care for Clara; the way that he was so tender with her was a nice way to expose this prickly Doctor’s soft underbelly once again.

The Doctor and Clara celebrate Christmas.

In a reversal of roles from the previous Christmas special, the Doctor helps the elderly Clara pull the Christmas cracker.

The parts that didn’t work as well for me were the “borrowed” aspects, the first of which was the Inception-like second half.  I know Inception isn’t the only movie to deal with dreams versus reality (even Doctor Who has dealt with the topic before in episodes like “Amy’s Choice”), but the dreams within dreams within dreams really had a similar feel to the movie without really adding anything new to it.  Instead of the spinning top to test dream versus reality, we had Santa and the manual test, but other than that I would have liked to have seen Steven Moffat make the idea a bit more his own.

I had less of a problem with the facehugger-like Dream Crabs.  I enjoyed the Professor’s reference to Alien (which is, of course, also Steven Moffat acknowledging the visual similarity between the two creatures), as well as the Doctor’s response, “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.”  The idea that they would create a dream-like state to keep you passive while they killed you was definitely a new twist on them (I amuse myself by picturing this story with the War Doctor, instead of Capaldi’s Doctor).  They also were suitably disturbing, especially when attached to people’s faces and opening up (what exactly they were opening up, I’m not sure, but it sure looked creepy, and it was all in a dream anyway).  It just didn’t help a story that already felt a bit derivative to me to have another component that so blatantly referenced to another popular film.

Meet the North Pole base crew.

Meet the North Pole base crew.

Ultimately, I felt that the end, when everybody returned to reality, left more loose ends than it should have.  What happened to the Dream Crab that was on the Professor’s face?  Since he died, is it going to move on to someone else now?  How did the Dream Crabs get to those specific people? The Doctor’s explanation of collateral damage just doesn’t work for me.   Even if it was for a very short time, how had nobody in Fiona’s family noticed that she has a huge scary thing attached to her face?  Why did everybody that woke up react fairly calmly to a thing with wriggling legs that dissolves into a pile of ash in front of them?

On the other hand, the fact that most of the episode is a dream cleared up any questions I had earlier in the episode.  I was wondering why exactly Shona had to go through the infirmary in the first place, other than to do her dance, but then I realized that there was no explanation and there didn’t have to be one.  After all, how many times in dreams do you do something that make no sense at all?  I am not a Moffat hater, as some people I know are, but I have to admit that I was left thinking that dream states might be the perfect forum for Steven Moffat to tell a story; he does have a tendency to leave a lot of loose ends, and loose ends don’t matter in a dream.

The people with "facehuggers" get ready to attack.

The people with “facehuggers” get ready to attack.

Overall, I enjoyed the episode, but I’d file it with many of the other Christmas specials: entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.  However, when I saw that the first thing on Shona’s to-do list was to watch Alien, I wondered if more of that could have been a dream than we were led to believe. Were the Dream Crabs so much like the facehuggers because they were part of the dream as well, a part that Shona contributed?  The fact that they exist when everyone appears to have woken up for real makes this unlikely, but maybe there’s more to this dream state than we know. She also has The Thing from Another World on her list, so that would account for the base in the shared dream.  The tangerine that we see when Clara gets back into the TARDIS at the end could indicate a dream state too, but, logically, I know that’s just there to suggest that maybe Santa is real after all (a nod to Miracle on 34th Street, which was also on Shona’s list).  Maybe that’s how Moffat is going to resolve the Orson Pink dilemma: Danny’s death was all a dream (in which case he’s now borrowing his ideas from Dallas).  Don’t worry, I haven’t actually become lost in elaborate and ridiculous theories; I’m just pushing my random idea as far as I can.  Still, it does leave you with something to think about…