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

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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!

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!

Who Review: Into the Dalek

As IntoTheDalekI said last week, it’s not fair to judge a new Doctor by his first story. “Deep Breath” gave us a good introduction to Number Twelve, but this past Saturday’s adventure was the one to watch. And what better test of a new regeneration than to pit the Time Lord against his oldest foe: The Daleks? Journey Blue’s space shuttle is under attack by Daleks, but the Doctor’s intervention saves her. The Doctor returns her to the command ship Aristotle where he is called upon to help with their latest patient: a battle-scarred Dalek that seems to have turned good. Meanwhile, at Coal Hill School, Clara meets a new colleague, Maths teacher Danny Pink, an ex-soldier who fought in Afghanistan. Not long after inviting him for a drink, Clara runs into the Doctor who asks for her help. He takes her back to the Aristotle with him where they are recruited for a dangerous mission: to go inside the Dalek and find out why it’s being so well-behaved. The Doctor, Clara, and a some of the Aristotle crew are miniaturized and sent down the Dalek eyepiece to figure out what’s going on…

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 the first “real” story for the Twelfth Doctor, this hit all the right notes. This is a Doctor who is confident in his abilities, even if he’s not so confident about his motives (“Am I a good man?”). There are elements of the story that rehash old Who ideas, the big one being the “Dalek-turned-good,” though in the past this has been due to some form of Dalek-human cross-contamination (see “Evil of the Daleks,” and “Dalek”). There were also elements of the story reminiscent of 1977’s “The Invisible Enemy,” where the Doctor and Leela are duplicated and miniaturized to go inside the Doctor and hunt out an evil infection. But there were also some good original elements, not least of which was the whole idea of traveling inside a Dalek.

This Doctor is certainly not the sympathetic Time Lord of last year. When Clara refers to herself as his “caretaker,” he interprets that to mean “she cares so I don’t have to.” On the lips of Doctor #10, that would have been delivered with a smile. With Doctor #12, you believe it. And then he sacrifices one of the crew, who was admittedly as good as dead, so they could track the Dalek’s antibodies that were attacking them. Again, not something that Doctors 10 and 11 would have done without much moral anguish. Indeed, there’s a lot of the 9th Doctor about Capaldi’s incarnation. Echoes of the way he played judge and jury with Cassandra (“The End of the World”), and is ready to destroy the last Dalek (“Dalek”). But the Ninth Doctor had just come from the Time War, and over the course of the season developed compassion (thanks largely to Rose Tyler). The Twelfth has lost a lot of those soft edges, and I don’t know we’ve been told why. I’m not complaining; I think it’s a good direction for the character and the show. But in terms of the Doctor’s story, other than unpredictable DNA, what’s driving this harder character? Maybe we’ll find out… unless we’re supposed to know, in which case if you have any hints for me…!

Also new to the show (at least from Season 7), is the fact that the companion is no longer a resident of the TARDIS. Clara has a life outside the big blue box, and the Doctor drops in on her from time to time to take her on adventures. I get that this is a fresh take on the Doctor-companion relationship… but I don’t like it. It makes no sense. Traveling companion means traveling companion. The companion has a room in the TARDIS. Occasionally they check in with the companion’s home, but never to stay long. With all of time and space at his disposal, under the current arrangement, the Doctor could dump Clara, pick up Jamie McCrimmon again, have a couple of seasons’ worth of adventures, and then drop back in on Clara, or Amy, or Adric, or anyone else. At least when the companions lived in the TARDIS, you knew why the Doctor kept traveling with them. Especially with this Doctor, if Clara annoyed him, he could take off and she’d never see him again.

I understand we’re going to see a lot more of Danny Pink in the future. Given his back story (ex-soldier with confidence issues), I’m sure we’re in for some juicy confrontations with the Doctor.

I enjoyed this episode. It was a good story (I believe the first co-writer credit of the New Series: Phil Ford (“The Waters of Mars”) and Steven Moffat*), without much to fault in terms of acting, effects, etc. This is shaping up to be a good season! Let’s hope the next episode, “Robot of Sherwood,” continues the trend.

What did you think? I’m sure there are tons of things about the episode I didn’t mention that deserve mentioning. Please add your voice to the comments!

* Though, as Russell T. Davies has admitted in his book THE WRITER’S TALE, many of the episodes written under his watch were at least polished, if not re-written by Davies. The only exception to this was Steven Moffat’s scripts which he thought were perfect as they were.

Who Review: Deep Breath

The Doctor and Clara land in Victorian London, bringing a dinosaur with them. Still suffering the after-effects of his recent regeneration, the Doctor seems harsher, more severe, and… Scottish. Clara is bewildered and wary of the Doctor’s new persona. Then the dinosaur spontaneously explodes, and it seems this is only the latest in a series of spontaneous combustions. People have been mysteriously exploding for a while, and an explanation eludes the local law enforcement. The Doctor and Clara, along with the Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax) take the case, but with an erratic and curmudgeonly Doctor on their hands, things are not going to go smoothly for his friends.

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!

Show-runner Steven Moffat promised us an explosive start to the Twelfth Doctor’s era, and he certainly delivered on that. By Mr. Moffat’s standards the story was a bit light-weight, and he even re-used monsters from one of his previous stories (see “The Girl in the Fireplace” from Season 2). But the main purpose of this episode was to introduce the new Doctor, so I think we can overlook shortcomings in the plot. Capaldi was magnificent and totally owned the role from the first moment he stuck his head out of the TARDIS and told Strax to “Shush!” And I like the direction we’re going with him. He is not Clara’s boyfriend, and, indeed, seemed to have difficulty distinguishing her from a Sontaran. They are about the same height, after all! This new Doctor walks with confidence and treats the “pudding brained” inhabitants of Earth with a bit of aloofness. It’s as if he suddenly remembered he’s from Gallifrey, and while he walks among us, he’s not one of us. Some fans might be a little uncomfortable with that, but I think it’s about time the Doctor operated on his own agenda instead of being manipulated by his companions.

The only down-side to the story (IMO) was that it overplayed the “he may look old on the outside but he’s still the same inside” line. The scene with Vastra and Clara that ends with Clara asking when Vastra removed the veil was probably the best encapsulation of the idea. And that’s where they should have left it. But no. We have to have a call from the Eleventh Doctor to reassure Clara everything’s okay and he’s still the same person. Please! If the reaction from the recent World Tour is anything to go by, Whovians the world over have accepted Capaldi as the new Doctor despite his grey hair. Yes, this was a major shock for Clara, but fandom moved on from Matt Smith six months ago. Half an hour into the story, Clara should have moved on too.

To sum up, a good episode and a promising start to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The first episode post-regeneration is not always the best to gauge what a Doctor’s going to be like (e.g., “Castrovalva,” “The Twin Dilemma,” “Time and the Rani”…). This coming Saturday we’ll see Twelve face his arch-enemies the Daleks for the first time. That’ll be worth watching for sure!

What did you think of the episode? The new Doctor? Do you agree they over-did it with the whole “he’s still the same inside even if he’s wrinkly on the outside” bit? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Doctor Who Returns…

Less than a week to go until Season 8 of Doctor Who (that’s Season 34 if you count from the very beginning)! This coming Saturday we’ll see Peter Capaldi make his debut as the Twelfth Doctor. Of course, those who have attended World Premier events have already seen the episode. My brother, for example, was at the premier in Cardiff a few weeks ago, and he assures me the story is awesome and Capaldi is even awesomer. It seems the TARDIS is in safe hands. Should my brother be reading, feel free to elaborate on this assessment in the comments!

Rumors are circulating that this will be Jenna Coleman’s last season (she plays Clara, the Doctor’s companion). Tabloid stories suggest she will be bowing out at Christmas. Naturally, we take such rumors with a pinch of salt until confirmed, but to be honest, a lot of these kinds of stories tend to lean toward truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenna wants to move on to other things. Doctor Who is such an international phenomenon, it can only promote the careers of its leading actors. Part of Matt Smith’s reasons for moving on was the huge attention he was getting as a result of Who. And I’m sure we’ll soon see current show-runner Steven Moffat step down as bigger opportunities tempt him away. We’ll see about that.

Here’s the list of episode titles for this season, as reported in Doctor Who Magazine:

  • Deep Breath by Steven Moffat
  • Into the Dalek by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
  • Robot of Sherwood by Mark Gatiss
  • Listen by Steven Moffat
  • Time Heist by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
  • The Caretaker by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
  • Kill the Moon by Peter Harness
  • Mummy on the Orient Express by Jamie Mathieson
  • Flatline by Jaime Mathieson
  • The Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Dark Water  by Steven Moffat
  • Death in Heaven by Steven Moffat

This will be a full 13-episode season, so it’s possible one of these is the title to a two-parter. We know the finale is a two-parter, so maybe it’ll be “Death in Heaven Part 1″ and “Death in Heaven Part 2,” or perhaps the title for episode 13 has yet to be revealed…?

UPDATE: The BBC Blog released the above list, and they indicate that “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” are episodes 11 and 12, the two-part finale. This means there are only 12 episodes this season, one shorter than usual. What’s up with that? I don’t know. Perhaps things will become clearer as the year progresses…

“Deep Breath” will be broadcast on Saturday, August 23rd at 7:50 pm on BBC1 (simulcast in Australia on ABC1 on Sunday, August 24th), and at 8:15 pm (ET) on BBC America.

Finally, there will be a new title sequence for the new Doctor. It seems Steven Moffat came across a fan-made sequence on YouTube and liked it so much, he contacted the creator and asked him to collaborate with BBC Wales on the official sequence. Here’s Billy Hanshaw’s original version:

We’ll see the final official version on Saturday.

Are you looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who?

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