The Long Way Round: Hell Bent

“Nothing’s sad ’til it’s over, then everything is.”  While the Doctor delivers these lines to Clara early in “Hell Bent,” I can’t help but feel that these lines express Steven Moffat’s feelings (and I would assume RTD’s feelings) about endings as well.  Every parting in the new series of Doctor Who is an emotional, heart-wrenching goodbye.  Endings are filled with sadness.  However, this episode is a bit less bleak of an ending than some; it puts a bittersweet coda on the exit of Clara Oswald.  Don’t worry though, there was still plenty of sadness to go around.

The Doctor says his goodbye to Clara

The Doctor says his goodbye to Clara

Overall, I found the episode a bit uneven, but what I found really stuck with me was the dialogue.  Therefore, I’ve decided to approach this episode through a series of memorable and/or important quotes.

“I heard the Doctor had come home. One so loves fireworks!”

Honestly, except for the parts with the Doctor and Clara in the diner, which I’ll get to later, the first 20 or so minutes dragged for me.  Maybe that’s because I just kept wondering why the Doctor seemed to grow up in the Dust Bowl.  Who is the woman in the barn (which makes its third appearance on the show, after “Day of the Doctor” and “Listen”)?  If the Doctor is a high-born Gallifrean, than why does his childhood home feel like an orphanage?

I did enjoy the touch of the Doctor dropping his spoon when told to put down any weapons (nice callback to “Robot of Sherwood”). It was a bit amusing to see how the Doctor just utterly ignored everyone until the president himself came (and interesting to see him draw a literal line in the sand), but overall it felt like filler.  Why did the Doctor have to wait too long for everyone to turn on Rassilon?  Was it just to have that old west showdown kind of feel to their meeting? The powerful Rassilon comes across more like a petulant child, which doesn’t make him seem like the best leader.  How did he get everyone to listen to his idea to trap the Doctor in his confession dial?  The door is clearly left wide open for a possible return of Rassilon, but I won’t be waiting with bated breath.

I did however, enjoy the return of Ohila.  I’m not clear how she got there, but it was kind of amusing to see her and the Sisterhood just barge in on the Gallifrey high command and make snarky comments. Apparently  at the end of things one should expect immortals there to heckle you.  Of course, she is also there to let the Doctor know that he is going too far.  She accuses him of being cruel or cowardly by banishing Rassilon and the rest of the High Council, which is basically saying that he has stopped being the Doctor again.  I’d love to see the Sisterhood used in a more meaningful way again, but I enjoyed their appearance here.

Everyone finally turns on Rassilon

Everyone finally turns on Rassilon

“Stories are where memories go when they’re gone.”

As I mentioned previously, the part of the beginning that I did enjoy was the scenes in the diner between the Doctor and Clara.  I enjoyed the way that those scenes played with my expectations.  It began and I thought the Doctor was checking on Clara who no longer remembered their experiences.  However, right from the start Moffat put in clues that Clara knew more than she was letting on; the example that jumps to mind is when the Doctor’s guitar starts to play (a guitar version of Clara’s theme, no less) on the diner’s speakers.  Clara doesn’t even react, which immediately made me start to suspect that she knew exactly who the Doctor was.

“You like a cliffhanger, don’t you?”

Another quote from the scenes in the diner, but I just had to include it because it made me chuckle.   I do love the meta-commentary on the shows abundant use of cliffhangers.

“Back to normal, am I? Only time I’ve been a man, that last body.  Dear lord, how do you cope with all that ego”

At this point the story picks up a bit, although, let’s face it, this episode isn’t really a terribly plot-heavy episode.  The Doctor learns what the Time Lords know about the hybrid from the General before demanding the use of the extraction chamber to save Clara.  The scene between the Doctor, Clara, and the General was where the episode began to pick up for me.  Clara remains Clara, observant and clever even though she is terribly confused and I really enjoyed Peter Capaldi’s performance.  The look on his face as he let the General offer Clara explanations made it clear that he was about to do something that he knew he really shouldn’t.

I really enjoyed the General throughout the episode.  While Ken Bones played the General, he was almost the lone voice of reason among the Time Lords, proof that they were not all corrupted.  I was enjoying his performance so much that I was a bit disappointed when he started to regenerate (I did like that the Doctor checked to make sure that the General wasn’t out of regenerations before shooting.  I guess that’s Time Lord courtesy).  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the General regenerate into T’Nia Miller, a black woman.  First, I liked that the show was taking the traditionally male role of a general and suggesting that it was traditionally held by a woman.  Plus, let’s face it, most Time Lords that we see on screen are male.  I enjoyed the fact that Steven Moffat clearly wanted to depict on-screen that Time Lords can change their race and gender at any time.  The quote above even shows that he was specifically making the point that a Time Lord can be one gender for all of his or her regenerations and then suddenly be regenerated as the other gender.

On a side note, when I was double checking the names of the actors who played the General, I was very disappointed to see that the credits bill Ken Bones as the General and T’Nia Miller as the female General, as if normal is male and female is an exception.  I’m a bit disappointed that the show would label the characters in such a carelessly sexist way, especially after what seemed to be a move against sexism.

The General, Gastron, and Ohila try to figure out what is the Doctor's plan.

The General, Gastron, and Ohila try to figure out what is the Doctor’s plan.

“The Time Lords have a got a big computer made of ghosts in a crypt guarded by more ghosts.”

Trying to figure out exactly what was going on in the cloisters was enough to make my head spin.  I remember the matrix from the classic series, but it has clearly been majorly upgraded since then. I could have used a bit less of the slightly confusing cloisters in this episode as well. The random Dalek, Cyberman, and Weeping Angels didn’t really seem necessary, and I’m a bit fuzzy on what the Cloister Wraiths were protecting (since all we really saw were corridor-like rooms, but the Cloister Wraiths looked cool.  They were a striking visual as they glided around with their flickering screen, screaming faces.  As for the rest of it, I’m going with the Doctor’s handy cheat sheet for Clara and the audience before I develop a headache.

One of the creepy Cloister Wraiths.

One of the creepy Cloister Wraiths.

“My time is up, Doctor. Between one heartbeat and the last is all the time I’ve got.”

The heart of the episode was the relationship between the Doctor and Clara.  This being Jenna Coleman’s final episode, Clara does get her share of moments, even though her role in the beginning of the episode was limited to her scenes in the diner.  I was happy to see that this episode did not deminish Clara’s bravery in “Face the Raven.”  She continues to accept that it is her time to go, trying to convince the Doctor that her life wasn’t worth fracturing all of time.  And I loved seeing her face off against Ohila and the General, distracting them while the Doctor stole another TARDIS.  I also can’t let that pass without mentioning how excited I was to see the original console room.

The moment that really stuck with me however, was the conversation between Clara and the Doctor in the cloister.  It’s played perfectly by both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.  Without even saying a world, it’s clear how well these two characters know each other.  Clara sees a change in the Doctor and realizes that he has been through a lot since she last saw him.  He knows that if he looks at her she will read the pain in his eyes, so he tries to look away, to not let her see.  Once again they are both trying to look out for the other.  Clara’s reaction when she learns that the Doctor spent 4 1/2 billion years trapped in his confession dial solely to bring her back from the dead shows that she is both incredibly moved and angry at the same time.  And somewhere Adric just cried.

“Even the other immortals are gone, it’s just Me.”

It’s not until the final third of the story that Me enters the episode.  Once again Maisie Williams does a great job of giving Me a slightly different, almost wiser air as she can appreciate the beauty in sad events, something the Doctor seems incapable of doing.  She’s a bit underused in this episode, basically popping up to become Clara’s companion in the end, but she makes the most of her limited screen time, even if she does essentially disappear during the Doctor and Clara’s farewell in the TARDIS.

I’m also going to admit that Steven Moffat got me again when the Doctor said it was “me” knocking.  The Doctor has been to the end of the universe several times; it seems impossible that he wouldn’t run into himself there.  I held out hope for a moment that maybe, just maybe, it was Orson Pink and Moffat had found a way to explain his existence, but no such luck.

Clara and her companion head off to Gallifrey, the long way round

Clara and her companion head off to Gallifrey, the long way round

“By your own reasoning, why couldn’t the hybrid be half Time Lord, half human?”

The other reason Me seemed to exist in this episode was to troll the audience.  As she started this speech, I was thinking, he’s not actually going there, is he?  And of course, he didn’t, not really.  Moffat actually leaves the whole hybrid thing a bit unclear although it does seem that the prophecy must refer to the Doctor since he is the one willing to destroy a billion hearts to heal his own.  Still all three of the possibly hybrids are, at that moment, standing in the ruins of Gallifrey, so there really isn’t a definitive answer.

“Nobody’s ever safe.  I never asked you for that, ever…These have been the best years of my life and they are mine.  Tomorrow’s promised to no one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past.  I am entitled to that.”

This was my favorite moment of the episode.  I loved seeing Clara stand up to the Doctor and tell him that he did not have the right to take away her memories.  It felt like a bit of a redemption for the horrible ending that RTD gave Donna (I really, really, really hated that memory wipe).  And considering that Clara was willing to face her death and put an end to all of this, it was clear that it was the Doctor who really needed the memory wipe.  I think he realized this as well.  I’m pretty sure that he knew that Clara had managed to reverse the polarity, and he accepted it as a consequence of his going too far this time.

He and Clara’s final moments were touching, as he basically told her how to be a Doctor, which seemed to indicate that he had some idea of what she might do.  I happen to love pears, so I’m disregarding that part of his advice, but the rest of it was sound.  I will admit that I love the idea of Clara and Me traveling around the universe, even though it once again allows a death to not really be a death on Doctor Who.

“When something goes missing, you can always recreate it by the hole it left.”

I’ve heard many interpretations of the final scene in the diner.  Personally, I think the Doctor really doesn’t know that it is Clara to whom he’s speaking.  At first I wasn’t sure why Clara wanted him to know that it was her, but I think I’ve figured out an explanation that works for me.  Time and time again we’ve seen Clara looking out for others; I think this was her final act of looking out for the Doctor.  One of the last things she asks him is if he’s going to look for Clara, and he seems to want to find her again.  I think Clara wanted to plug up the hole a bit, so that he wouldn’t waste time trying to find her or wondering about her.  By making her TARDIS dematerialize around him, she let him know that he had been talking to Clara and that she was okay.  This was so he wouldn’t feel the need to search for her.

Clara takes a final look back at the Doctor (as Elvis watches)

Clara takes a final look back at the Doctor (as Elvis watches)

Overall, while this episode didn’t quite live up to the promise of “Heaven Sent,” it had a lot of good points.  Despite this being a rather dark season, it ended on a positive note.  The Doctor puts on the maroon velvet coat and become “the Doctor” again. Clara still has to go back and “face the raven,” but she has all the time in the world for adventures until that moment.  What better ending could there be than to see their TARDISs pass each other in the vortex, each off on a new adventure.  While I was sad to see Clara go, I think she got a good exit.  For a while, at least, she gets to essentially be her own Doctor, which was no less than this strong character deserved.

 

Advertisements

In Need of Nepenthe: Face the Raven

After last week’s “Sleep No More” a Macbeth reference, this week’s episode title, “Face the Raven,” calls to mind “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. As I suspected, it is an appropriate poem for this episode. “The Raven” is about grief and loss; a nameless narrator grieves over his lost Lenore. After this episode (and possibly in the episodes before due that Doctor Who timey-wimey storytelling), the Doctor will grieve over the loss of Clara.  While I was not looking forward to Clara’s departure, I have to say that I loved this episode.

ClaraFacingtheRaven

Clara faces the raven, but not without the Doctor standing behind her.

This was Sarah Dollard’s first story for Doctor Who, but I certainly hope that it won’t be her last.  This story grabbed me from the beginning.  Rigsy’s return meant that we didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining how the Doctor gets involved in the situation or why Clara cares so much about him.  The focus gets to remain where it should be: on the Doctor and Clara in what seems to be their final adventure.  It was also a nice touch to bring back Clara’s “companion,” to remind us of how like the Doctor she has become.

The episode begins with a very light, humorous tone, a perfect beginning because it reminds us of why Clara enjoys traveling with the Doctor: it’s fun.  It all seems like business as usual as the Doctor decides that he will save Rigsy and it feels as though the episode is going in the direction of a fun romp.  As the episode progresses, however, it very subtly shifts its tone and Dollard very gradually raises the episode’s stakes until Clara’s death feels like the natural consequence of the events of the episode.

The plot sucked me in as well.  The countdown tattoo was an intriguing hook to get us to the trap street. Additionally, the refugee camp with a perception filter was a clever idea, and it’s an idea I almost wish could have been explored more.  I found myself wondering how some of the street’s denziens wound up there: what exactly does a Cyberman do to need to seek asylum?  The introduction of the Janus species was an intriguing one as well.  I know a lot of people felt the trap street was a rip-off of Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley, but I enjoyed it.  I also liked the idea of Ashildr/ Mayor Me running a refugee camp.  It showed how much she has learned over the years that she was able to set up the camp, while her use of the quantum shade shows that empathy is still not one of her dominant characteristics.

An episode like this really benefits from having Maisie Williams playing the role of Mayor Me. While it’s still a bit ambiguous just whose side she’s on, Maisie’s performance at the end made it clear, without saying much, that she was horrified that she couldn’t help Clara.  I don’t think she means to do the Doctor any harm, but she will do what she has to do to protect her refugees. We still don’t know who it is that wants the Doctor (the logical bet would be Missy, but that may be too obvious), and in this episode she says that she made a deal with “them.” I guess we’ll find out soon.

Peter Capaldi turns in yet another great performance in this episode.  He obviously takes a bit of a backseat to Clara, but he is fascinating to watch.  He never upstages Clara during her death scene, but he is always reacting to what she is saying. He manages to hold his emotions in (as this Doctor would), but his face shows all the various emotions he is feeling. He shifts from rage to sorrow to love all without needing to say a word. Unlike the Doctor, I was moved to tears by his and Clara’s parting moments, and no small part of it was because of the heartbreak the Doctor was experiencing.

 

FACE THE RAVEN (By Sarah Dollard)

The Doctor attempts to threaten Me into saving Clara from the quantum shade.

All this leads me to the reason this episode worked so well: Jenna Coleman. Clara experiences almost every possible emotion in this episode and Jenna Coleman is fantastic at portraying them all. I can’t be the only one who’d love to see those encounters between Clara and Jane Austen, right? The opening of the episode showed Clara’s love of excitement (my one bone to pick would be that the scene of her dangling out of the TARDIS was a bit unnecessary and over-the-top since the opening moments already made that clear) and the consequences in this episode flowed quite naturally from her established personality traits and the choices she made.

This episode played almost as a Greek tragedy. Clara’s hamartia was what brought her down in the end. She was full of hubris, but also compassion. She wanted to help Rigsy so much that she did something foolish, without having all of the information. This is not unlike the Doctor, always putting himself in danger for the sake of others, sometimes without really knowing all the facts yet. Unfortunately, as he points out, he is less breakable that Clara, a point that she lost sight of in her overconfidence.  In this episode, Clara’s transformation into the Doctor seems complete. Ultimately though, what brought about Clara’s death in this episode was her belief not in her own cleverness, but in the Doctor’s. She believed that there was no problem that he couldn’t solve, which is why she could be reckless.

At first I wasn’t sure I would be satisfied by this episode’s conclusion because it was looking like Clara would die because of her recklessness and I wanted Clara to have a heroic death. However, she faces death as only Clara Oswald could, bravely and still thinking of others. She uses her final moments to first ease Rigsy’s guilt and then to help the Doctor.  She accepts that she is the one responsible for her predicament and does not want anyone else to share in any part of the blame.  Clara doesn’t waste any time bemoaning her upcoming death or feeling sorry for herself; instead, she takes charge of the situation and uses her final moments as best she can.  She knows the Doctor so well that she knows what he needs to hear. She takes on a very maternal role at the end, comforting the Doctor and ordering him to not seek revenge for her death.  She knows that losing her will hurt him deeply, and she doesn’t want her ultimate legacy with the Doctor to be a negative one. The last we see of Clara, she bravely faces the raven, not running away from it as others do.

 

RigsyTARDISGraffitti

Rigsy paints the TARDIS in tribute to Clara.

Still, I find it hard to believe that this will truly be the last we see of Clara. I will be very surprised if she doesn’t turn up in some way in the finale. Generally, the showrunner writes the exit for the companion, and I can’t imagine that Moffat would let somebody give Clara her final words. Whether it will be in a dream, a flashback, a point earlier in her timeline, or one of the Clara splinters I have no idea.  Even if she does get resurrected (as it seems to be one of the recurring themes), I don’t think it can diminish the power of her exit here. Currently, this episode is my pick for the best of the season.  Clara’s departure was very moving and a fitting exit for one of my favorite companions. Now I just need this Raven to take thy beak from out my heart…

Enter the Sandmen: Sleep No More

I  generally enjoy Mark Gatiss’ episodes of Doctor Who.  I’m not arguing that they are always great episodes (yes, I’m looking at you “Victory of the Daleks”), but I think most of his episodes have interesting characters and situations.  Therefore, I was looking forward to “Sleep No More,” his episode for this season.  After viewing it, I admire the attempt to try something new, but I don’t think it succeeded.

Doctor_ClaraSleepNoMore

The Doctor and Clara, recorded by some dust.

There was much ado about the lack of opening credits in this episode (the first time in the history of Doctor Who).  This is because the entire episode plays as found footage, put together by Professor Rassmussen.  While I am not a huge fan of the found footage horror genre, I didn’t mind it so much in this case.  At least we didn’t get that shaky, hand-held effect that sometimes makes me feel nauseated.

What did disturb me about the found footage idea was that the dust was recording the events.  This fact was just thrown in there, but it made no sense (like many ideas in this episode).  Let me see if I’ve got this straight, the sleep dust from our eyes has not only achieved sentience (I’ll get to that in a moment), but it has developed the capability to record?  It is rather a stretch.  I think I would have preferred it if the base had had cameras and the team had helmet cams. And why was the Sandmen’s eyesight hijacked? Only some dust had the ability to see and record?

I found the message of this episode interesting and I wish it could have been developed further. It’s an intriguing idea that society split into two types of people: the ambitious people who are willing use Morpheus to trade their sleep for the opportunity to work more and those who see Morpheus as an assault on one of the last areas that belongs completely to the individual. This episode could have been a satire on our culture’s value of productivity above all else, as Mark Gatiss has mentioned he wants it to be. Unfortunately, the story veers from this idea pretty quickly.  Even the idea about the cloned grunts is casually tossed aside, when it feels like the Doctor should maybe have a bit more of a opinion about something like that.

Reflecting on the episode, I’ve come to realize that logic is…not this story’s strong point.  Rassmussen is another in a long tradition of Doctor Who villains with a rather complicated plan. After seeing the episode twice, I’m still not completely sure why he did everything that he did. What was up with “patient zero?” Did that actually mean anything at all? What on earth would cause dust to become sentient?  Does all dust have this capability, or is it just eye dust? What exactly did Morpheus have to do with the sentient dust?  Why did the machine pull Clara in?  The episode left me with a whole lot more questions than answers.

Rassmussen

Rassmussen, perhaps as he’s about to explain his crazy plan.

I know this episode was supposed to be scary, but I just didn’t think it was. Aside from the completely bonkers origin of the monsters, I wasn’t invested in any of the characters.  None of the characters really made an impression; I can’t even remember any of their names. I even had to look up Rassmussen’s name for this post, and he was the most memorable new character we meet. One of the strengths of a Matk Gatiss episode is usually the memorable characters; unfortunately, the crew of the mission felt completely disposable to me, and that takes away from the scariness of the episode. You need to care about a character to be concerned for her or his safety.  All we really learned about the new characters we were told in the beginning (by an unreliable narrator, no less).

The “twist” ending was a clever way to end the story, it just, like much of this episode, ended up confusing me.  It wasn’t shocking to learn that Russmussen was, in fact, working with the Sandmen (if anything, this season has taught that you should never trust anyone who claims to be the sole survivor of an alien attack).  It was surprising to learn that Rassmussen was one of the Sandmen.  And it was just kind of cool to watch his head dissolve.  That part of the ending worked for me, although I’ve seen many different opinions about it online.  I think the varying opinions largely revolves around the fact that when you have a narrator as unreliable as Rassmussen, how do you know what’s real and what isn’t?  Personally, I think it’s clear that everything that we saw actually did happen, we just didn’t see everything that happened because Rassmussen had the power to edit.

What did confuse me was the idea that this was a film with a signal hidden in it that would “infect” whoever watched it.  This episode had an ending much like the horror movies it’s referencing, and that didn’t bother me. Much like The Ring, where the video is still circulating, the Doctor does not appear to have actually stopped the spread of the Sandmen. I was okay with that ambiguous, slightly disturbing ending; this is the second time in a Gatiss episode that the Doctor hasn’t really won (The Daleks really come out on top in “Victory of the Daleks”) and it can be an interesting change of pace.  What bothered me was the fact that the signal transmission idea came out of nowhere. So Morpheus had nothing to do with the spread of the Sandmen?  It made the entire story feel like a waste of time. Ultimately the ending undermines the story that precedes it, when it should cause you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew.

That being said, I did enjoy the humor in the episode. As usual, the Doctor/Clara banter was a high point; it even addresses more of those nitpicky fan things like how the Silurians got their name. The “space” discussion in their first scene was one of my favorite parts of the episode (and I couldn’t help but think of Troughton at the mention of space pirates). I would have liked to have seen a bit more of it in this story.

MorpheusClara

Clara after she has been seized by the Morpheus machine. Maybe she’s ready to join Tron 2?

Overall, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this episode, but I can’t say that I have a strong feeling one way or another about it. It doesn’t really tie into any of the reoccurring themes of the season and I’m curious to see how it relates to “Face the Raven,” but as of right now, it doesn’t feel connected to the rest of the season so far. Despite all its flaws, it doesn’t really stir up much dislike in me, but it feels like the forgettable episode of the season. I have a feeling that when I look back on season 9, this will be the episode that I have the hardest time remembering. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking, because just trying to make sense of it for this post is giving me a headache. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Doctor Who should need to be taken with an aspirin.

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.

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.