Who Review: Death in Heaven

DoctorWho_DeathInHeaven_smThe Master falls into UNIT hands, and the Doctor wants answers. Why are there Cybermen in the streets of every town in the world? And what’s the Nethersphere? Meanwhile in the Nethersphere, Danny discovers there’s more to the afterlife than he bargained. Indeed, he’s going back to Earth. Same software, but different hardware. An upgrade, you might say. Clara has a near run-in with the Cybermen but is rescued by one that seems to want to keep her alive. But as the Master’s plan unfolds, the Doctor realizes the threat is even greater than he imagined. The dead are rising, upgraded, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop them…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

I have mixed feelings about the finale. The Cybermen returning was interesting, but they’re not the menace they used to be. I don’t know what it is, but there’s not the same sense of dread with the new Cybermen as there was with the old. Maybe its the design? The voice? Or just the stories…? And in this episode, they were completely upstaged by the return of the Master. And the fact the Master chose to use Cybermen for his plan–why? He’s never used them before, and the closest thing he ever came to an alliance with the Cybermen was back in “The Five Doctors.” It all comes across to me as if Moffat wanted to bring back the Cybermen and the Master so he wrote a story for them.

I liked the nod to the Brigadier, though I’m not sure his memory is well-served by the fact he ended up a Cyberman (albeit with black “leader” bars on his helmet–did you notice that? I didn’t at first, but a sharp-eyed friend pointed that out to me).

And we say goodbye to Clara… or do we? I’ve read she’ll be in the Christmas episode. We’ll see, I suppose. As you can guess, with Danny gone I’d like for Clara to make up her mind: is she on the TARDIS crew, or is she going back to life as “normal”–whatever that could be for her?

We also appear to say goodbye to the Master. Or do we? We know the Doctor’s arch enemy has a canny knack of coming back from the dead. But I think Moffat gave him an “out” in this story–at least if my memory serves. As far as I can remember, we saw Danny, Seb, and all those who died in the Nethersphere. The Doctor and Clara never met Seb and never entered the Nethersphere. But the Master did. Assuming I’m not mis-remembering, how was the Master able to be in the Nethersphere? Was this some kind of mental trick that allowed him to be among the dead, or was it his physical existence that was an illusion of some kind? One question I keep hearing is, “How did the Master escape the events of ‘The End of Time’?” As Moff correctly observes, Classic Who was never big on trying to explain how the Master “escaped” each brush with death, so it’s a question that he doesn’t feel like he needs to answer. But maybe he built the answer into this story–he didn’t escape. He’s dead… but sustaining an existence via the Nethersphere. This would mean that Missy isn’t a regeneration, but a stolen body…

One final quibble I have with the story: the way the whole concept of an afterlife, as believed in by millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims (to name but some) is written off as simply part of the Master’s evil scheme to harvest the souls of the dead. My objection is not just because, as a Christian, I take exception to Moffat using the show to patronize my faith. Knowing where Moffat’s coming from philosophically, I can dismiss his musings as part of the Doctor Who fantasy. But there’s the rub: all of a sudden, the fantasy overtakes the drama, and some of the magic of Doctor Who goes with it. The Doctor’s concern with Americans coming in and “praying” also shows an antagonism toward religious faith (and Americans) that is very uncharacteristic of the show, and pulls me out of the story. And as every novelist knows, the last thing you want to do is to remind your audience that this is just a piece of fiction.

To end on a positive, this was a good season. Peter Capaldi demonstrated himself to be a worthy successor, and the performances from everyone were superb. Some stories were better than others, and some concepts were a bit head-scratchy, but on the whole the quality of the story-telling was high. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be back for Christmas, and Season Nine.

That’s enough of my thoughts. What did you think? Love it? Hate it? Meh? The end of Clara’s time? The end of the Master? Share your thoughts!

Who Review: Dark Water

DoctorWho_DarkWater_smA car accident claims the life of Danny Pink. Distraught, Clara first asks the Doctor to take her to visit a volcano, and then to take her back in time to save Danny. The Doctor refuses since this would create a paradox, but Clara doesn’t give up. She finds all seven of the TARDIS keys and threatens to throw them all into the volcano unless the Doctor saves Danny. The Doctor refuses, and Clara throws in the last key… only to find that the Doctor has tricked her. They are not at the edge of a volcano and the TARDIS keys are on the floor of the ship. She has been in a trance so the Doctor could observe how far she would go to get Danny. Despite her betrayal, the Doctor offers to take her to find Danny. He has always wondered if there is an afterlife, and this would be a great opportunity to find out. The Doctor plugs Clara into the TARDIS’ telepathic interface, tells her to think about Danny, and to the Doctor’s surprise, the TARDIS sets off. The place they end up is, however, not at all what either of them expected. Something’s not right in Paradise–something that threatens humanity. And the person in charge is not all she seems to be, either!

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

As I’ve mentioned before, I get a little nervous when Doctor Who appears to tackle topics that could be controversial. But thankfully, it turns out “Paradise” is not at all the afterlife, at least not as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others might conceive of it. Indeed, this is all a plot to harvest the souls of the dead and transplant them (minus emotions) into “new” bodies. Of course, these bodies are not new to us–they’re cybermen! That aspect of the story was a mild surprise. The promotional pictures (and last week’s trailer) already told us the cybermen would be in the finale, so we figured they’d play a part somewhere. The big surprise–at least to many–was the identity of Missy. Speculation has been rife for over two months as to who this woman is. All is now revealed: Missy is short for Mistress… or The Master, regenerated in female form!

I say this was a surprise to many, but I have to say, I kinda called this one. Not here, I don’t think, but on a Doctor Who blog back in August (see HERE–scroll down to see my comment). With all the fuss over whether the Doctor would regenerate into a woman, I could just imagine Steven Moffat thinking that no-0ne would suspect a female Master. It sounds so preposterous, few would entertain the idea. Which is why I thought that’s what Moff might do. As I mentioned last time, Michelle Gomez’ performance in the trailer did sound a little Rani-ish. But watching her last night, you could see the John-Simm-Master’s mania in the things she says and does: Telling her doctor to “Say something nice!” before killing him. Snogging the Doctor saying it’s part of the “welcome package.” All very 2008/2009 Master.

I’m not sure about other Whovians, but I’m totally on-board with this female Master. The fact that a Time Lord can regenerate into a different gender has often been talked about without objection, but this is the first on-screen evidence of the fact with a known Time Lord. And, as I said, Michelle Gomez did an excellent job conveying enough of the old Master so we’re on somewhat familiar ground, but also giving him her own “Missy” twist.

As for the rest of the episode, I enjoyed it. Clara’s reaction to Danny’s death was, I think, exactly what I would expect. Of course she would call the Doctor. Of course she would want to save the man she loves. The fact that he was on the phone with her at the time of the accident ramped up the heartbreak, too. I’m not sure what this does for my “something’s up with Danny” theory, but this was good storytelling. In the world of Doctor Who, what better, and more believable, way would there be to get us into “Paradise” than trying to find Clara’s dead boyfriend? (I don’t know if Moff intended it or not, but this seems to play a bit on the story of Aeneas visiting his dead father in the underworld; but I don’t think there were any cybermen in Virgil’s story.)

Once the Doctor and Clara arrived in “Paradise” the action slowed down and a lot of the time was spent exploring this world, finding out what’s going on. Some may complain about this, but we need to remember this is the first of a two-part story. One of the advantages of two-parters is you get to do a bit more world building and character development. I expect we’ll see much more action in the next part.

Again, great performances all around. The effects were good, and this was another good Steven Moffat story with lots of drama, tension, and humor (e.g., the Doctor not understanding why anyone would want to use “dark water” in a swimming pool).

I’ve just scratched the surface here and I’m sure there’s a lot more to talk about. What are your thoughts? What did you like? What did you not like? How do you feel about a female Master? Please comment!

Who Review: In the Forest of the Night

DoctorWho_InTheForestOfTheNight_smLondon has been taken over by a forest overnight. In the confusion, young Coal Hill student Maebh Arden has stumbled upon the TARDIS and asks the Doctor to help. Meanwhile, Danny and Clara have taken a class of students for an overnight stay at London’s Natural History Museum, so they are as surprised as everyone else to find the city turned into a jungle. They meet up with the Doctor at Trafalgar Square–or what they can find of it–where the TARDIS is parked, only to narrowly escape Nelson’s Column as it topples over from the growing foliage. But that’s not the least of their worries. Animals have escaped from London Zoo and are hiding amidst the trees. And it seems Maebh knows more about this than even she realizes. What are the voices she keeps hearing? And how is it she was able to predict the coming solar flare? Is the earth fighting back against the humans? With the Doctor running out of ideas, it seems the trees have won…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Remember this now, do you? I can quite understand if, after the “Next Week” preview, you’ve quite forgotten what this episode was about. More of that later…

Another interesting concept–a major metropolitan city becomes a forest. Trees everywhere. And then the whole world becomes forest land. As you might imagine, my main disappointment with the episode was… a non-baddie! Now, I admit, this was a nice idea–the trees are our friends, protecting us from the sun. It even has some scientific foundation, which is always a plus with Doctor Who (*ahem* Kill the Moon *ahem*). However, as you know, I find these benign threats tend to suck the potential drama out of the story. After a good juicy bad guy last week, this was a bit of a let-down. But not too much.

The CGI and effects overall were great. If you saw the related episode of Doctor Who Extra (it’s on YouTube), you’ll know they used a forest near Newport, Wales for the forest scenes, planting replicas of phone boxes, Underground signs, traffic lights, etc. in strategic locations. Very cleverly done, and, I thought, quite convincing. As usual Capaldi and Coleman gave great performances, as did Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. Whatever the failings of this season, you can’t fault the acting. Everyone from the lead stars to the child actors has brought their A-game, which really helps lift even the dodgiest episode.

The fact that this episode featured children quite heavily made this more of a children’s episode than a broadly “family” episode. This is a story I could expect from The Sarah Jane Adventures. That’s not necessarily a criticism (I enjoyed The Sarah Jane Adventures… *sniff*), but it does make it stand out from the other stories this season–especially the previous two (“Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline”) which have been particularly dark and scary. The kids were superb (special shout-out to red-headed Ruby, played by Harley Bird, and Abigail Eames who played Maebh), but they rather dominated the episode. If I was still a kid, maybe I’d have appreciated that more.

With ten episodes of season eight behind us, we are left with two to go: the two-part season finale. And what a finale it looks to be! What’s up with Clara? “Clara Oswald has never existed!”?? Clara telling the Doctor he’ll never step inside the TARDIS again?? Perhaps I’ve been suspicious of Danny for too long and I’ve missed something with the Impossible Girl? Then we have Missy’s “that was a surprise” comment at the end of the episode. And, of course, Cybermen! What have they got to do with all this? Are you looking at me for answers? I’ve seen some of the theories (and there will be many more before Saturday), some suggesting Clara’s a TARDIS, or she’s an cyborg, or she’s one of the fragments of Clara that scattered throughout the Doctor’s time line in Name of the Doctor… and frankly, I’m suspicious of them all. Too complicated. Too convoluted. Perhaps Clara’s comment was taken out of context to get everyone to watch the episode. As if we wouldn’t anyway! Seriously, though, I’m still holding out for Danny being not all he appears. I’m not convinced there’s more to Clara than we already know (my goodness, how much more CAN she be after last season?!)… but let’s not put anything past Steven Moffat. I’m still trying to figure out Season 6!

So, share your thoughts! Did you like In the Forest of the Night? Any speculations you’d like to share about the finale? Remember–document it here, and if you’re right you have bragging rights for life!

Who Review: Flatline

DoctorWho_Flatline_smThe TARDIS goes a little off-course while taking Clara home after an adventure, landing in Bristol. Soon after landing, Clara notices the TARDIS door has shrunk. They go outside only to find that the entire TARDIS exterior has become smaller. The Doctor goes back inside to find out what’s tampering with the TARDIS dimensions, and sends Clara to scout around for clues in the area. She returns to find the TARDIS has shrunk even more. Stuck inside the miniature ship that’s slowly losing power, the Doctor gives Clara his sonic screwdriver and psychic paper, trusting her to be his eyes and ears as they investigate the source of the problem. It seems it’s not just the TARDIS that’s having dimensional issues. Something is traveling through the walls, sucking the third dimension from anyone or anything that gets too close. Can Clara help the Doctor stop these creatures, “The Boneless,” and their experiments on three-dimensional people, before they take over the whole of Bristol, England, the world…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This season is really coming up with the goods as far as top-notch scripts and dark, atmospheric story-telling goes. The idea behind “The Boneless,” 2-dimensional entities that flatten and experiment on 3-dimensional entities, is unique at least to Doctor Who, if not to sci-fi. And while we’ve had a shrunken TARDIS before (see “Logopolis”), we’ve not seen it small enough to be carried in a handbag (with the exception of “Planet of Giants” perhaps). Not only did this help to amplify the frustration, but it gave Clara an opportunity to take the lead and appreciate what it means to be the Doctor, making the impossible decisions, and trying to hold out hope when all seems hopeless.

It was interesting to see Clara put into the Doctor’s shoes and finding herself behaving just like the Doctor, trying to stop herself asking “what would the Doctor do?” but ending up saying and doing exactly what he would. And at the end, the Doctor bemoans the fact that one of the human survivors is not a particularly nice person. His view that this person didn’t deserve to make it out alive was, I thought, very harsh, but not inconsistent with Capaldi’s Doctor. When he tells Clara that “goodness” had nothing to do with her performance as the Doctor, I can understand what he meant. This, of course, continues one of the season’s themes: “Am I a good man?”

I’m not sure there’s anything I can really complain about this week. The story was good, the acting was excellent (as always–from Capaldi down to the supporting cast), Clara didn’t go rushing off home, it didn’t dive into highly controversial issues, the CGI was well done… and The Boneless were actually bad! If it wasn’t for the fact that this season of Doctor Who was written and filmed months ago, I might begin to suspect that Steven Moffat is reading my blog. At last! An evil monster, who is truly up to no good, and isn’t just misunderstood. The Doctor tried to reason with them but to no avail; he had to blast them back to their own dimension and hope some survived.

The Doctor-Clara-Danny situation gets more interesting as Clara lies to Danny about where she is, and the Doctor knows that Clara lied to both Danny and the Doctor so she could keep traveling in the TARDIS. With only three episodes to go, things are going to come to a head soon, and I expect we’ll see Danny for who he really is… or not, if I’m wrong about him. And then we have the “Promised Land” mystery, and Missy saying that she did a good job choosing Clara. What’s that about? And did you notice that when the TARDIS is in “siege mode” it looks like the Pandorica from Season 5? Do you suppose there’s any significance to that?

Talk to me fellow Whovians! What did you think of “Flatline”? Any thoughts on Danny, Missy, or the Pandorica TARDIS?

Who Review: Mummy on the Orient Express

DoctorWho_MummyOnTheOrientExpressIt seems Clara has calmed down since the end of the last episode and has told the Doctor she’s done traveling with him. But she doesn’t want to end their time together on a sour note, so she agrees to “one last hurrah.” For her final TARDIS journey, the Doctor takes Clara for a trip on the Orient Express–not the original, but an exact replica that flies passengers through space. Clara’s hopes for a peaceful ride are dashed when people start dropping dead. There’s talk of an ancient superstition: a mummy who can only be seen by the person he’s about to kill, and once they see him, they only have sixty-six seconds to live. The Doctor’s interest is piqued, and then made mandatory by the train-ship’s computer, Gus. He has assembled the best minds around to work out how to capture this creature, and they need to hurry up before it kills them all…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Despite some minor quibbles, this was another excellent Who episode. The BBC always does a great job with period drama, so recreating the 1920s vibe was a no-brainer that they pulled off with style. There’s so much in this episode to call out for praise: the performances by all the main characters (Frank Skinner is relatively unknown here the US–okay, I’ve been here over 20 years and I’d never heard of him–but he was a great side-kick to the Doctor), the design of the train-ship, showing the 66-second count-down on screen to amp-up the drama, and the mummy himself, which was another triumph of design and execution. I loved that the Doctor used the period cigarette case to hold jelly babies. And I really hoped someone (preferably the Doctor) would say “are you my mummy?”–and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s the third time the line’s been used (see “The Empty Child” and “The Poison Sky” for the previous two), and it never gets old!

While I’ve liked Capaldi’s tougher-gruffer Doctor, I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was going too far. The First Doctor was a crotchety old man, but he had a heart and he wasn’t above showing how much he really cared for his companions. In this episode, the Doctor seemed to show his compassion in taking a risk that could have cost him his life at the expense of someone else. We need to see that even from this dark Doctor, just to remind us that the other Doctors are all in there too.

The minor quibbles? First, yet again, we have a monster that’s not really a monster–he’s just an ancient soldier trapped into thinking he’s still fighting a war, waiting for the enemy to declare surrender. When the Doctor figures this out, he cries “I surrender” at the last minute, and the mummy salutes and dies. All very nice and heart-warming, but a bit anticlimactic. This “misunderstood bad-guy” theme seems to be popular this season, and it’s all a bit too postmodern for my taste. Even the Dalek in the second story was a “good” Dalek! Maybe it’s a symptom of the culture, but what happened to the classic “good vs. evil” confrontations? I’m reminded of the Second Doctor’s speech in “The Moonbase”: ” There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.” I think we’re losing sight of that with these stories. Right now, the Twelfth Doctor would say: ” There are some corners of the universe which contain beings that have very different values than us. Beings which appear to act against our preconceptions of what’s right and wrong. They must be understood.” That might go down well in certain parts of modern society, but, frankly, it doesn’t make for consistently good drama.

Other quibbles? Clara’s domestics, and the part-time TARDIS traveling… still happening… say no more…

So what’s up with Danny and Clara now? That call at the end was an interesting development. Danny was checking in to make sure Clara was okay and “that was it.” She gets off the phone and tells the Doctor Danny’s okay with them traveling together, and she doesn’t really want to end her time with him. So, after lying to Danny about the Doctor, she finally told him the truth, and, last week, kept her word by telling Danny when the Doctor pushed her too far. Now, she has lied to Danny about being done with the Doctor, and lied to the Doctor that Danny’s okay with things. Further, since when was her traveling with the Doctor up to Danny? It was Clara who wanted to call it quits, so why does she say it’s okay to carry on because Danny said so? As I’ve said before, I think something’s up with Danny–he’s not all that he appears to be. He’s been passive-aggressively trying to drive a wedge between Clara and the Doctor. Maybe Clara’s becoming wise to that and is choosing sides? And the Doctor seems blissfully ignorant of this whole situation, but is he really?

Your turn! What did you love and/or hate about this episode? Were you heart-warmed or disappointed by the resolution? Do you want more evil baddies or are you happy with the misunderstood foes? And what do you think’s going on with Danny? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Who Review: Kill the Moon

Courtney Woods, the Coal Hill student who threw up in the TARDIS last episode, needs to feel special. Rather than comply with Clara’s demand that the Doctor tell her she’s special, the Doctor wants to make her special: the first woman on the moon. As one might expect, things don’t go exactly to plan. They arrive in a Space Shuttle about to crash land on the moon in the year 2049. The TARDIS crew survive the crash only to find they’ve inadvertently joined a suicide mission from Earth to destroy the moon. Captain Lundvik, leader of the mission, explains that the future of mankind is under threat from freak tides. Something’s wrong with the moon, and they believe the only way to solve it is to blow it up. But as they investigate, they find the problem is a lot bigger than they expected, and the decision to kill the moon might carry very grave consequences…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

It seems Steven Moffat told episode writer Peter Harness to “Hinchcliffe the s*** out of it for the first half.” Philip Hinchcliffe produced Doctor Who from 1974-1977, a period commonly considered a golden era of the classic series, when episodes pushed the limit on how far they could scare children during Saturday tea-time. Harness certainly took Moffat’s words to heart. The first half of the story had all the creeps and suspense of those classic stories, with the added benefit of better effects and moodier lighting. And the effects were particularly impressive. From turning an already moon-like Lanzarote into a convincing lunar landscape, to the spider-germs that were a combination of CGI and rubber models. Spiders are notoriously hard to recreate, and the effects team out-did themselves with these.

I must also commend the acting on this episode. Capaldi and Coleman put in some of their best Who performances to date, and even young Ellis George who played 15-year-old Courtney did a spectacular job, holding her own among an intimidating list of co-stars. She has a very bright acting future, I’m sure.

And perhaps… perhaps perhaps perhaps the ending to this episode will draw the domestics to a close. I’ve said enough about that over the past couple of reviews, so I’ll leave it there.

The one thing I wasn’t comfortable with was actually quite a major plot point: i.e., that the moon is in fact a giant egg. In terms of the story it worked, and it provided a nice, if unexpected (which isn’t a bad thing), explanation for everything that was happening (as well as a very interesting moral dilemma). I think what caused me discomfort is the fact that Doctor Who usually doesn’t mess with conventional science. Gravity is gravity, the sun is a star, and the Earth is everything we’ve known it to be. Sure, they’ve introduced a twin planet for Earth, which the First Doctor allowed to melt trying to stop a Cyberman invasion. I guess what troubles me is that it goes against one of the show’s original concepts: use the space-time adventure to teach science and history. “The moon is really a giant egg” sort of flies in the face of that. But like Clara’s soap opera non-TARDIS life, it’s not a show-stopper, and certainly didn’t stop me enjoying the episode.

A final thought: Is Moffat messing with our heads? He seemed to be setting us up for Danny to join the TARDIS team, but now the Doctor’s taking Courtney along with Clara. Maybe that’s only for one episode… or maybe not. Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and first companion was also 15 when we met her. And is Clara leaving, or was she just speaking in anger (as Danny said) and we’ll be seeing her again? I wouldn’t be surprised if Moff’s doing everything he can to put out misinformation and misguide “the Internet” as much as possible. I can understand this. As many leaks and spoilers that have appeared online, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s waging war with the web. So who knows what’s really going on. I guess we’ll just have to keep watching…

What did you think? Were you behind the sofa watching this one? How do you feel about the egg moon? Was this Clara’s last TARDIS trip, or will she and Danny be joining the Doctor again soon? Or would you prefer to see the Doctor and Courtney traveling together instead? I’ve told you my thoughts, now it’s your turn…

Who Review: The Caretaker

DoctorWho-TheCaretakerAs the Doctor prepares for his next adventure, he informs Clara that she can’t come with him as he needs to go “deep undercover.” Clara takes this opportunity to get some time in with Danny, especially since Danny’s becoming suspicious about her activities away from school. But Clara’s two worlds are about to collide: the Doctor is posing as a caretaker at Coal Hill School, the school where Clara and Danny are both teachers. How long can Clara keep her time-traveling life from Danny, especially when an alien robot is loose in the school threatening the destruction of everyone on Earth…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The last time the Doctor went “undercover” he was a sales assistant in a department store (see Season 6’s “Closing Time”). This time around, he’s a caretaker (or “janitor” in the American parlance) and to look the part he has donned the traditional brown coat and he’s carrying a broom. This episode does make much of the comedic situation, especially given the Twelfth Doctor’s inability to act human without looking like an alien trying to act human, and his complete disregard of social skills. It’s hard to pitch comedy correctly for Doctor Who; a certain amount of levity is not inappropriate (and sometimes downright irresistible), but there’s always the danger it can be pushed too far. I think they got it right in this episode. There was enough danger, tension, and drama throughout that the laughs provided some needed relief. I especially liked the Doctor’s reaction when he thought Clara’s boyfriend was the teacher who looked a lot like the Eleventh Doctor.

The opening montage of Clara meeting up with Danny after various escapades in the TARDIS really underscores for me what I don’t like about this setup. I understand what’s happening story-wise, and it’s part of Clara’s arc that she’s living this dual existence that’s going to come to a head in this episode. My issue is that it makes her seem more like the Doctor’s playmate than his companion. They go off on an adventure but he always drops her home in time for tea, or for school, or a date with Danny. You lose the sense of continuity, of a deep friendship forged over years spent traveling together (as with Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith, or Rose Tyler).

As for the Skovox Blitzer, the alien robot bent on destruction, I have to say it felt like a plot device. It was there to provide a threat to the school that would force the Doctor to meet Danny, and give Danny an opportunity to prove himself to the Doctor. The story wasn’t about the Skovox Blitzer. It was about Clara, Danny, and the Doctor. And I suppose that’s okay, but it meant that the majority of the story was about Clara’s near-soap-opera life bouncing between the Doctor and her boyfriend. Again, I suppose that’s okay, but not the stuff of classic Doctor Who.

Finally, the plot thickens with the introduction of “Seb” in the “Afterlife” or “Paradise” or whatever we’re to call it. Despite the names, I’m convinced this isn’t some kind of life-after-death in the traditional sense. Yes, there’s the long white corridor and the light at the end of the tunnel. But I’m sure something else is going on here where these people are being led to believe this is heaven when it’s something very sinister. A cyberman trap still sounds like a good possibility.

Overall, it was an enjoyable episode, but I hope we’ve resolved Clara’s domestic issues and can get back to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and his companion traveling through space and time–the original premise of the show.

What do you think? Did you love the episode or hate it or somewhere in between? Do you like the Clara/Danny/Doctor soap opera, or do you want less of the domestics? And have you revised your theories on “Paradise” after this episode? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Who Review: Time Heist

DoctorWho_TimeHeistWhile Clara gets ready for her second date with Danny, the Doctor tries to persuade her to join him on another trip in the TARDIS. Both plans are scuppered by a telephone call to the Doctor. We skip to the Doctor and Clara sitting at a table with two other people, all holding memory worms. Neither the Doctor nor Clara remember anything from the time the Doctor picked up the phone until that moment. Their two new friends, Psy and Saibra, are similarly oblivious to why they are there. There’s a metal briefcase on the table containing a message from “The Architect”: they are to rob the most secure bank in the universe. And they need to hurry up because they’re in a room in the bank, the guards know they’re there, and they are coming for them…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The Doctor robbing a bank? We know the Doctor has always lived on the edge, but he always operates with the best of intentions. The only way the Doctor would agree to a bank heist would be if there was some really good reason. And throughout the entirety of the episode, we are kept wondering what that reason could possibly be. Perhaps the Doctor isn’t a good man after all..?

In the course of their safe-cracking adventure, the Doctor discovers the two newcomers have ulterior reasons for being there. Psy, a professional bank robber and hacker,  is an augmented human with a computerized brain. He had been in prison where, to protect his loved ones during interrogation, he erased all his memories of them. Memories he would love to get back. Saibra is a mutant human who transforms into an identical copy of everyone she touches–or who touches her. She would love to be cured of this mutation so people wouldn’t be afraid to hold her.

We also meet the newest Doctor Who monster: The Teller. This is a large bulk of a biped with a huge gaping mouth and eyes on the ends of tentacles. The one we encounter is introduced as “the last of its kind.” Ms. Delphox, the head of security, uses this creature’s ability to scan brains and turn them to soup as a means of punishing would-be criminals. Once Ms. Delphox locates the Doctor and his gang, she lets The Teller loose to deal with them.

But, of course, the Doctor is a good man. In a clever piece of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness, it turns out the Architect is the Doctor, and he’s sending himself and his three companions on a return trip to the bank in his past, but not to rob it. Rather, their mission is a rescue mission. The Teller isn’t the last of his kind. A female of his species is being kept in a vault as a way of ensuring the creature does the bidding of Ms. Delphox and her superior, Director Karabraxos. This elaborate scheme was the only way to get the creature to the vault and to rescue them both. The memory worms were necessary since the creature detects guilty thoughts. The fact they didn’t know why they were robbing the bank helped keep them alive.

I thought it was a clever story. It’s not easy writing time-twisty tales like this without overlooking some detail or leaving a gaping plot hole. As far as I can tell, the story seems to work well. I’m still not comfortable with all the domestic stuff with Clara, but I griped about Clara’s life outside the TARDIS last time. Suffice to stay, my complaint stands.

All the supporting cast put in great performances, with a special shout-out to Keeley Hawes who played Ms. Delphox. The air of arrogance and sociopathic indifference she gave off suited the character very well. And, again, another great turn by Capaldi. We’re really getting more of a sense of this Doctor, and he is such a contrast to Matt Smith–which is a good thing. Not that I didn’t enjoy Matt’s Doctor, but I like to see a discernible contrast between Doctors (e.g., the First and Second, or the Ninth and Tenth).

Of all the effects in this episode, I thought The Teller was particularly well-realized. Rubber-suit monsters have come a loooong way since I watched Doctor Who as a child. The attention to detail the effects team put into that creature is amazing. In fact, I would say this was even light years ahead of the Slitheen from New Series 1. Though that was nearly ten years ago…!

In all, a good and original piece of Who with moderate scares, but a lot of entertainment value.

What did you think? Did you keep up with the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness? And what about The Teller? Share your thoughts below…

Who Review: Listen

Alone in the TARDIS, the Doctor muses on the possibility that we are never alone. Even when we think we’re the only one in the room, there is an unseen presence that we can sometimes detect if we listen. From his research of recorded dreams he thinks he has identified one dream that everyone has: there’s someone under the bed, and when they put their feet to the floor, they feel someone grab their ankle. Even the Doctor has had that dream. His curiosity gets the better of him and he sets out to discover whether there really is something hiding in the shadows. Meanwhile, Clara is trying to have a date with Danny Pink, but an already disastrous evening gets even worse when the Doctor ropes her into his experiment…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This was an unusual story in that the Doctor’s adversary was unseen, and perhaps even non-existent. Indeed, this was not a danger the Doctor walked into, but one the Doctor sought. The only tangible appearance of the “monster in the shadows” was the figure on Rupert Pink’s bed covered in his blanket. Whether or not the figure was a child playing a prank, or something more sinister, is never answered. And as for the Doctor’s own experience of the entity under the bed, it turns out that was actually Clara! So in terms of traditional Doctor Who “good versus evil” stories, this was an oddity, and I think that explains why the audience appreciation index for the episode was lower than usual. Most people like definable threats and definite victories; here the threat was questionable, and there was no victory as such. Many of the questions asked at the beginning remained unanswered. This episode seemed to leave a lot of people feeling wrong-footed, and I completely understand that.

Yet, on the other hand, I also completely understand the almost unanimous praise the episode scored with the critics. Some even went so far as to call it the best episode of Doctor Who ever, though most were a little more reserved (“best since ‘The Eleventh Hour'” or “best Steven Moffat story”). It was a clever script, full of thought-provoking ideas and imaginative concepts. There was also some good character development for both Clara and Danny, moving their story arc along in a way that was both entertaining and surprising. And Capaldi’s Doctor continues to draw from the darker aspects of the Time Lord’s psyche. His fascination with fear and the way he uses Clara to further his study shows his disconnect with humanity, though the way he talks to young Rupert reminds us that the gentler aspects are still there.

Of course, the unanswered questions about monsters under the bed are nothing compared to the unanswered questions about the Doctor and Danny Pink! One of this episode’s objectives was to shed a bit more light onto Danny. I believe he is scheduled to join the TARDIS crew in a few episodes, so it’s as well we get to know him. When Clara discovers the toy soldier among Orson Pink’s possessions, we think we understand how Danny and Orson fit into Clara’s story: Orson’s a descendent of Danny and Clara. But then Clara gives the soldier to the child Doctor hiding under his bedcovers in the barn on Gallifrey. How does that work? How did the soldier get from the Doctor to the children’s home? If it weren’t for that toy soldier, the Danny/Orson Pink story would be simple: Danny and Clara get together, Danny becomes a TARDIS companion, and that legacy of time travel continues down to his future offspring. But that toy soldier forges a link between the Doctor and Danny. It could be as straight-forward as the Doctor visiting the home sometime in the past and leaving the soldier in the box for Danny to find. But if it has any significance at all, you know it won’t be that simple. Some are suggesting Danny is the Master, and given that the Doctor and the Master were childhood friends, there’s a link that could explain how the soldier got from the Doctor to Danny–though I’m not 100% convinced of it yet.

To sum up, this was an excellent story, though very non-traditional which perhaps leaves the Whovian viewer feeling a little disconcerted. I don’t consider it to be Moffat’s best ever, but it’s certainly the first since he took over from RTD to achieve anywhere near the genius of his earlier episodes.

What did you think of the episode? How do you think the toy soldier got from the Doctor to Danny? And what about the story’s ambiguous resolution? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Who Review: Robot of Sherwood

The Doctor invites Clara to pick a time and place to visit. To his surprise, she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor laughs off her suggestion saying that Robin Hood is just a legend; he doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, Clara insists and the Doctor relents. Arriving in Sherwood Forest c. 1190 AD, the Doctor is greeted by an arrow shot by a man in green claiming to be Robin Hood. This Robin then introduces the Doctor and Clara to his band of outlaws: Friar Tuck, Little John, and so on. The Doctor is determined to demonstrate they can’t actually be Robin and his Merry Men, but the strange machinations of the Sheriff of Nottingham take priority. It seems he has an army of robots, and his designs stretch a little beyond controlling this little patch of medieval England…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Mark Gatiss, veteran New Series writer and Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock” partner-in-crime, wrote this fun romp that is, he admits, a bit of an homage to the Mel Brooks movie “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” So, yes, there’s a healthy dose of humor, but the story isn’t without its darker side. The Sheriff is ruthless and merciless, as is evident from the way he treats the villagers. There are some good fight sequences, starting with Robin and the Doctor (armed only with a spoon), but progressing on to the battles with the robots, and finally Robin’s high-wire encounter with the Sheriff. These were well directed and in the vain of classic sword fights where the opponents heckle each other in the midst of combat. The Doctor’s snarky skepticism is, I think, a change from 10 and 11, and harkens back a little more to the First Doctor. We’ve come to know a Doctor who is open-minded and willing to stand corrected if things aren’t quite what he thought them to be at first. Twelve remains a Hood-denier almost until the end of the episode, when he leaves Robin a gift that appears to show a concession. However, I must admit to feeling some of the Doctor’s reluctance to believe this is really Robin Hood–but more on that in a moment.

I thought it interesting Gatiss and Moffat would take on a Who-meets-Hood story. Usually, the Doctor’s encounters with historical figures have been rooted in solid fact. There really was a Marco Polo, a Richard I, an H. G. Wells, a Queen Victoria, a Winston Churchill, and so on. I can only think of two other occasions where a Who story has involved the legendary, or near-mythical. The first was a First Doctor story called “The Myth Makers” where the Doctor, Stephen, and Vicki land in Ancient Greece and get embroiled in the Trojan War, helping the Greeks to construct the infamous Trojan Horse. The second was the Seventh Doctor story “Battlefield,” where Morgaine comes to visit, and the Doctor and Ace encounter Excalibur, and find Arthur’s body. I must say, though, I came away from this Robin Hood story still uncertain of how much of the Hood legend was introduced by the Doctor and Clara… or, indeed, if the Doctor may have been right to be skeptical all along…

Which brings me to curious plot points. There’s something about this story that felt to me like it was setting us up for something later. The fact that all the Robin Hood story elements just happened to be there as expected, including the traditional attire, and even Robin pining for his Maid Marian–it just all seemed too on-point, like it was a set-up. Maybe Clara’s memories of the Robin Hood legend were being used by someone to draw them into a bigger plan. Then there’s the ship fueled by gold. Whenever gold is a plot point in Doctor Who, I think Cybermen. In the classic series, Cybermen had a strong aversion to gold. The Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver” received an upgrade patch to overcome this, but maybe we’re dealing with Cybermen who don’t have that patch? This wouldn’t be the first time the Cybermen have used humans to handle gold for them (see “Revenge of the Cybermen”). And the fact of the Sheriff being a cyborg…? The last curious and subtle point is the Doctor’s doodlings on the blackboard during the pre-title sequence. I have no idea what that’s about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s significant. Maybe the Doctor knows something’s afoot and he’s playing along…?

Shortly before the episode was broadcast, the BBC announced that a portion of the episode involving the beheading of “a character” had been cut in light of the recent terrorist executions of American journalists. Subsequent to the episode airing, a couple of websites published the missing portion as it was in the script, and others summarized what happened. In short, during Robin and the Sheriff’s climactic fight, the Sheriff knocks Robin to the ground and puts his sword to Robin’s neck. The Doctor throws a tapestry over the Sheriff and Robin decapitates him. Just as they begin to celebrate, the Sheriff’s head rolls out from the tapestry and begins to talk, explaining that the robots’ spaceship had landed on him, and they saved his life by making him into a cyborg. The Sheriff’s body grabs Clara, Robin throws the Sheriff’s head back to his body, they reunite, and the fight continues as broadcast. I can understand the reasoning behind the cut, but, as others have pointed out, this scene helps makes sense of the rest of the story: the Sheriff’s reference to being the first of a new “half-man half-machine” race, the fact his hand could grab the edge of the vat of molten gold despite his body being dead, and, of course, the title of the story–“Robot of Sherwood,” not “Robots of Sherwood.” As you might expect, Whovians are split as to whether the cut really mattered, and some even feel the story was better without this scene. As yet, no-one has said which version will make it to DVD/Blu-Ray.

What did you think? Do you agree with my plot-point theories? Do you have any to add? Did you notice the edit? Are you glad, indifferent, or annoyed that the BBC cut that sequence? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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