So, we're halfway through Season 8 (well, at least in these reviews we are). How does it all look?
Well, I have to say, I think this is Doctor Who's most solid season in years, probably the best one since Season 5! We've got much less wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey and much more focus on character development, which was sorely needed, especially with Clara.
Peter Capaldi is an absolute dream as the Doctor; I seriously think they could give him any script and he could pull it off, which is especially great this season, considering how many crazy scripts we've had; the three I'm commenting on this week - "Kill the Moon," "Mummy," and "Flatline" - are probably the most inventive (and best) we've had in a long time!
I'm loving the development with Clara; she feels so much more real and relatable this season, I think I will be genuinely sad to see her go. While the stories aren't always great, I don't think we can say we've had a bad episode - even "Robot of Sherwood," which I put at the bottom of the list for Season 8, isn't necessarily bad. At its best, it's entertaining; at its worst, it's really just silly, harmless fun.
So, what do I have to say about these three episodes, from new Who writers Peter Harness and Jamie Mathieson? Let's find out! Allons-y!
Episode 7: Kill the Moon
I'm just going to come right out and say it: I love this episode. It is everything I want from an episode of Doctor Who, from the characters to the story, to the directing and cinematography.
The premise: I love the premise - I mean, "the moon is an egg"? I know a few fans may have thought the idea was stupid; I, for one, think it's brilliant.
Doctor Who is the best show to try out crazy ideas, and when a crazy idea is done well, it's just the best thing to see. Doctor Who has a penchant for taking ordinary things and making them extraordinary, with the companions, of course, and also with objects, such as angel statues and gas masks, as I've mentioned before. Here, it's the moon - no longer a giant space object floating in the sky, but an egg, containing a living being, the only one of its kind. I love this idea; I love the Doctor's face when he calls it beautiful. Now when Whovians look up at the sky at night, we won't just see the moon, but an object we now associate with priceless, unique, and beautiful life.
I love the ending, when the creature lays a new egg; it's a symbol that life triumphs, that mercy isn't a weakness, but a strength that looks beyond its own fear, that can end in triumph and bring about beauty. It's a message about the world: just because we're afraid doesn't mean we have to be selfish and lash out; as Clara said in "Listen," fear can make us kind. Clara was more afraid of what killing the creature would mean for the human race's identity as human than her own life; being human, doing what's right, is about trying to understand, not lashing out simply because you're too afraid of the unknown. Yes, it's dangerous; but, oh, the reward when you take that chance and see it unfold before your eyes! Like that creature unfolding its wings and flying from the remnants of the old moon, in the midst of creating a new one, it's absolutely beautiful.
The Doctor and Clara: We see the Doctor at arguably his most alien in this episode, when he decides in the middle of a crisis to just up and leave, because it's "not his problem."
Since when has anything not been the Doctor's problem? We wouldn't have a show if he took that attitude all the time!
Here is where we see a very interesting dynamic between the Doctor and Clara. Although Clara is unsure about trusting him, he is still her friend - that is, until he abandons her alone on a crumbling moon in 2049 to decide the fate of the rest of humanity as well as the future of a unique alien species. Apparently the Doctor had good intentions (his definition of "good," at least, which with Twelve is still vague), but Clara still feels betrayed, and rightfully so.
I have to admit, seeing three women, and strong, well-written ones at that (for the most part - I'll talk about Courtney later) decide the fate of humanity was actually refreshing and pretty awesome. Lundvik played the part of cold logic, while Clara displayed a wonderful sense of open-mindedness -I mean, the world is collapsing all around them, and she still wants to discuss the creature, to lay all their options out, to make sure they are doing exactly the right thing. I think if everyone thought things through like that, we'd have a lot less problems in the world.
The Doctor, of course, has it all in hand the whole time, but it really showed a coldness and lack of understanding that was a bit chilling, actually. I have no qualms with how Clara reamed him out at the end; he deserved it. In episodes like "The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood," even though the conflict was between humans and the Silurians, the Doctor stayed to help with the negotiations. Here, even if the conflict between the Earth and the moon isn't technically the Doctor's problem, he still should have stayed; he doesn't seem to understand that he's needed as a friend, not just as the Doctor, the saver of worlds. Behind every person making a huge decision are the people who give them support; without them, they couldn't make the decisions that they do. With little or no understanding of this, the Doctor leaves, abandoning Clara like he did in "Deep Breath," although this time it leaves an even bigger sting, since by this time he and Clara have become better friends and have a strong bond, which he breaks, seemingly without a second thought.
It's unfortunate that Clara's departure gives such a sober end to a breathtaking episode, but I think that emotional intensity hit the right chord, matching the tone of the last half of the episode.
Also, I'm a bit curious if it's possible for the Doctor to be slapped hard enough to regenerate. Forget the "sneeze" regeneration (Eleven to Twelve); a "slap" regeneration might be even more startling!
Courtney: I've heard a few people say that they found Courtney Woods annoying. I think I have to disagree; I actually liked how they wrote her, at least for the most part!
I think her anger at the Doctor at the beginning is well-justified. The Doctor took her up in the TARDIS; can you imagine going back to your normal life like nothing happened after an experience like that? I don't think so, especially for a fifteen-year-old who is just looking for adventure! She may get a little annoying once they're on the moon - the "I'm bored" dialogue seems a bit cliche - but I think her fear of the spider-germ things is understandable, as this is obviously way more than she signed up for, and then in the end she does come into her own, when she makes the choice to come back, and ends up being part of the dialogue on whether to save Earth.
Would I be extremely sad if she didn't come back? No, but I don't think she deserves the hate for being annoying when she actually shows a lot of potential.
Overall: Does the story take a while to pick up? Yes; we're about halfway through the episode before the plot really gets rolling. But isn't that second half THE BEST? Stellar directing on Paul Wilmshurst's part gives us some really creepy shots of the spiders, Alien-esque, and the visuals of the Earth's lights going out and the creature breaking out of the moon are gorgeous. Yes, there are some silly moments - the Doctor's yo-yo and "gravity test" spring to mind, as well as Courtney's spray that kills "99% of all germs" - but overall it is a very well-executed story. It may not be the best narrative-wise of Season 8, but it's definitely my favorite episode of the season so far.
-Danny does actually seem very wise at the end of this episode. Maybe I can go back to liking him a little, although he does still suffer from being kind of boring. Get on that, Moffat!
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
So, I've said that I love crazy ideas that are done well; nowhere is this more true than in episodes like "Mummy on the Orient Express." Is it as well done as "Kill the Moon"? I don't think so, but that doesn't mean it isn't still pretty awesome. I mean, where else in television can you find a show that can go from murder mystery to science fiction in the course of one episode, and (for the most part) make it work?
Combining genres: The first half of the episode is basically a classic murder mystery a la Agatha Christie (aside: if you haven't read Murder on the Orient Express, I highly recommend it; and/or watch the "Poirot" TV series episode...and then watch every other episode, because David Suchet as detective Hercule Poirot is perfect); in the second half, the train is revealed to be a lab created to study the mummy.
Only on Doctor Who, ladies and gentlemen.
While the murder mystery already has an element of science fiction at the start, with the train being in space, so as to make the transition between genres a little easier, I still found it a little jarring on the first watch. Just the way the whole inside of the train car just disappears and then reappears as a lab - that's a lot to take in all at once! And the holographic passengers - maybe that was a bit much for me. However, on the re-watch I found it a little easier to take in. As always, the show is asking a lot of its audience, but if you can wrap your head around the concept and keep up, it's a great time!
GUS: Who is GUS? I wish we'd gotten more of an answer for this question. Supposedly he's the one who called the Doctor back in "The Big Bang" at the end of Season 5. Is GUS just a super-intelligent computer, set up by the scientists who were the first to discover the mummy? Could he be working for Missy? If the Doctor didn't take up GUS's invitation to come on the Orient Express, was Missy's Plan B giving Clara the Doctor's phone number (I think we're supposed to assume at this point that Missy was the woman in the shop) and lure the Doctor to her that way? As is typical before the season finale, there are a lot of questions right now and not enough answers!
On a related note, I thought GUS was a pretty good villain. John Sessions' line delivery had some great, darkly humorous moments ("Isn't this exciting!" had me laughing and cringing at the same time). While I doubt we'll get any further explanation about how GUS was created and/or who he is, it was a good turn for a villain who was pretty much just a voice!
References: This episode was just chock-a-block with references to the classic show, and I loved it. While I haven't seen that much of Classic Who (yet), it's just so fantastic to see a show paying homage to itself from decades past. First with the Doctor's own costume, in get-up similar to the Third Doctor, I believe. Then there's Capaldi's spot-on Tom Baker impression when the Doctor's alone in his room talking to himself. There's freakin' bubble-wrap in the mummy's sarcophagus, a nod to the bygone days of Who, when bubble-wrap was new and considered really futuristic-looking and so the production team started using it in a lot of the sets,to the unfortunate detriment of its future audiences, who no longer consider bubble-wrap particularly sci-fi.
And, last but not least, the Jelly Babies in the Doctor's cigarette case - apparently Capaldi's own idea, and definitely one of the best parts of the episode!
The Doctor and Clara: While I do love all the running around saving planets and species that the show has to offer, my favorite moments are always the quiet ones, with just the Doctor and the companion, taking the time to enjoy a friendship that's unlike any other in the whole universe. This is why I love the first and final scenes between Clara and the Doctor in this episode.
It's rare that we get to see the Doctor and the companion just enjoying each other's company; while I know a lot of that wouldn't make for a particularly exciting show, I wish we had more moments like those. It's in those moments that we can see why the companion chooses to stay with the Doctor; when they're not in the middle of a life-or-death crisis, with other people's lives at stake and the universe fit to explode, just the two of them together, we get to see a really unique and beautiful friendship.
I love it when the Doctor calls Clara "my lady" when he helps her step out of the TARDIS onto the train; I love that the Doctor was worried about his selection for their last trip, and that Clara smiles and reassures him that it was a good choice. I love when Clara is pouring her heart out about her choice to leave, and the Doctor listens, before saying, after a pause, "Can I go back to talking about the planets now?" And Clara just smiles, shakes her head, and says, "Yeah, go on." Their friendship isn't perfect, but they understand each other; there's been so much growth since "Deep Breath."
The great thing about this episode is how much it complicates that relationship (not to say that it wasn't complicated before!). In the process of defeating the mummy, the Doctor makes Clara complicit in his lies of being able to save the passengers. He becomes unstoppable in his quest to discover the truth behind the mummy, which shows one of the defining traits of Twelve that's been a bit hard to swallow: while the Doctor does care, he cares more about finding the answer than about saving people's lives, even if he does manage to do that in the process. Though he does have compassion, it comes second on the list to finding out the truth, and I think that is what's caused the rift between the companion and the Doctor this season.
What I've always loved about Doctor Who is that, at its heart, it's not about traveling all of time and space; it's about doing that with the greatest friend you could ever have. It's not where you are; it's who you're with. Rose and Ten would probably have gone anywhere together, even taking on ordinary life, as was said in "The Impossible Planet"; if Rory hadn't been in the picture, Amy and Eleven probably would have traveled the universe together for as long as they could. What's different about Clara and Twelve is that Clara isn't traveling with the Doctor anymore because she wants to spend time with him; while she still loves the Doctor, he comes second to her need to, as she told Danny in "The Caretaker," "see wonders." Her desire to see the universe has become an unhealthy addiction, as is heavily implied at the end of "Mummy"; could that, as well as her growing penchant for lying - a bad habit she's picked up from the Doctor - spell an unpleasant end for her friendship with the Doctor, and her place as his companion, at the end of Season 8? Only time will tell (and definitely longer than 66 seconds worth)!
(So, in sum, my only complaints about this episode would be the slight jarring sensation when switching genres halfway through, and the lack of character development for the scientists and Perkins.)
"Are you my mummy?" - We first heard it in "The Empty Child," Ten got to say it in "The Poison Sky," Eleven unfortunately never got the chance to say it, and I thought we would never hear this line again. But no, Twelve got to say it, and, frankly, what better episode than this one? When Twelve said it, I had to pause the show so I could laugh for a good five minutes!
The effects - The mummy itself is actually very well done; Doctor Who's come a long way from episodes like "Father's Day" and "Love and Monsters" where the special effects for the creatures were iffy at best. The shot where the mummy goes through the Doctor is especially impressive and really creepy! Without an awesome-looking mummy, I don't think this episode could have worked as well as it did. Well done, CGI team!
Clara's costume - I don't normally comment on clothes, but, oh, my goodness, Clara's dress - and her hair. Just adorable. I bet Coleman loved wearing those - although it's probably good she didn't have to do much running in this episode!
Episode 9: Flatline
Clara Oswald, you got to do what no other companion has ever done before: you got to be the Doctor. ...And it was awesome!!
Becoming the Doctor:
1) Obtain psychic paper and sonic screwdriver. I bet the Doctor himself could hardly believe it when he handed over his sonic screwdriver and psychic paper to Clara. Companions before her have had either the sonic or the paper, but never together (I don't think, at least not in New Who), and not with full intentions of replacing the Doctor for a day! Clara has gone from a paper-thin character in Season 7 to (nearly) becoming the Doctor; I love it!
2) Obtain companion. I really like Clara's dynamic with Rigsy; while he's not the most fleshed-out character, he definitely has a good heart, and the writing doesn't stoop to making him into a stereotype. Just like the Doctor does for his companions, Clara helps Rigsy be the best he can be, and to see that he does have something worthwhile, namely his artistic talent.
What's great about the Doctor/companion relationship here is the respect the writers have for a female Doctor. When Rigsy tries to show off a bit, showing Clara his art, and she glances at it with a "Yeah, not bad" before returning to the task at hand, you can see the disappointment on Rigsy's face, but I love that the writers included that. A female Doctor's not stuffy, but she doesn't have to get distracted by flirting, either; basically, "there's a time and a place," as Ten would say, and Clara knows when it's all right to have a little fun, such as when she smiles a bit flirtatiously (her expression actually reminds me a little of Ten, funnily enough; I don't know if Coleman made that intentional or not) at Rigsy when she's first recruiting him, but she also knows when it's time to get down to business and focus.
I also really liked when Clara starts to scare Rigsy a little when she's testing out theories about how the monsters might still be in the room; his expression when she drops to look under the sofa is just priceless. I think we forget sometimes how odd the Doctor's actions and way of thinking look to outsiders; the companions always catch the Doctor doing something odd - I mean, Rose met Nine when he was setting a bomb to destroy the Autons; Amy met Eleven when he landed in the TARDIS in her backyard! The companions are the ones that are curious enough and brave enough to get past the odd behavior and go along for the ride; Rigsy nearly fails that test, but fortunately he stays, and even joins in on Clara's seemingly crazy schemes later (painting the door for the Boneless to find) when everyone else thinks she's mad, proving himself to be a good choice for companion material.
3) Emerge as the leader. Clara did manage to hold her own as the leader of the group, and it was wonderful to see. She gained their trust, she did try her best to keep everyone alive, and she managed to keep doubters like Fenton in line. I don't think I'll ever forget both the thrill and chill of her whispered words in answer to his complaints: "I'm the one chance you've got of getting out of this alive." The Doctor is plainly both impressed and disturbed by her statement. He's obviously seeing himself through Clara, and he doesn't like what he sees.
I think Twelve has been the Doctor with the most self-hatred since Nine. Even with Nine, he had Rose to soften him and help him forgive his past; Twelve and Clara aren't close enough for Clara to lift that burden from his shoulders. Twelve's self-loathing has been a key issue this season, with the continuing question of whether he is a good man or not, and his telling words in "Time Heist," of how he hates the Architect, how the Architect is manipulative, arrogant, and likes to think he's clever, when he knows that he himself is the Architect. Twelve doesn't like to see Clara becoming what he hates about himself, and so that's why he's hesitant to give her credit where credit is due: he wants her to keep her "goodness," and have all the guilt and responsibility put on himself, so that no one else has to bear it. It's a complicated thought process, but I think it proves that he is ultimately a good man with a huge weight on his shoulders.
4) Try to understand the monster. I love that, even with the lack of communication and the Boneless' seemingly malicious acts, Clara and the Doctor still try to figure out their motives and give them a chance. It's really too bad that, in the end, they had to be defeated without us ever really knowing their true intentions. I guess it's true what the Doctor said in "Mummy on the Orient Express": "Sometimes all you have are bad choices."
5) Save the day. The TARDIS is recharged and back to its full size, the Doctor is back, sonic screwdriver in hand, declaring, "I am the Doctor, the man who stops the monsters! I name you the Boneless, and this plane is protected!" The Doctor is the hero we all know he always has been, and three dimensions is once again safe from monsters beyond its borders.
Though I love that the Doctor gets the final say-so against the Boneless, having been out of commission for the majority of the episode, I have to say I also love the expressions on the faces of Rigsy and the others when they emerge from the TARDIS before they return home - they look at the Doctor, confused. And who can blame them? The Doctor's just been a man in a box who magically appeared in the last few seconds; what does he have to do with anything? No, who they trust is Clara, and they hug her and bid her farewell as the other hero of the day.
Heroism is an interesting topic in this episode. The Doctor is a hero, but more of an unseen one, as he's forced to work behind the scenes; Clara is the face of the operation, and with the Doctor's help and her own ingenuity, she becomes a hero as well. Rigsy tries to be a hero when he volunteers to give his life in order to ram the train into the monsters; Clara, however, in a moment that both shocked and delighted me, gave him crap for it, mocking him for wanting to play the hero when there's clearly an easier way out, as she demonstrates when she uses her hairband to tie the lever down. I suppose Clara's point is, don't play the martyr when there's still more that you can do. I suppose she can't pull the same thing with the Doctor, though; the difference with him is that oftentimes he is the only one who can fix things.
Overall, this episode is the closest we've ever been to seeing what it would be like to have a female Doctor. I don't know about you, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Thirteen, although I definitely don't mind Capaldi staying on for a few more seasons!
"Kill the Moon," "Mummy on the Orient Express," and "Flatline" are three solid episodes, a streak of quality that we haven't seen since Season 5. I personally can't wait to see Peter Harness' and Jamie Mathieson's contributions to Season 9; these past three weeks have been everything I love about the show and everything I want from its episodes!
The 2Dis - Oh, my goodness, this pun.
From Nine's spin around the TARDIS console with Rose, to Ten sashaying around the TARDIS after a crazy night out in "The Girl in the Fireplace," to Eleven's infamous "drunk giraffe," it's nice to know that, however different and dark he may be, the Doctor still dances!
"Addams Family!" - The Doctor pulling the TARDIS like Thing has got to be my favorite sight gag on Doctor Who ever.
Doctor: [looking at shrinking TARDIS] "This is incredible!"
Clara: "It's not incredible; it's annoying."
Doctor: [pointing at TARDIS] "This is amazing!" [pointing at Clara] "This is annoying!"
Clara: "I'm the Doctor, Dr. Clara Oswald. But you can call me Clara."
Rigsy: "What are you a doctor of?"
Doctor: "Of lies!"
Clara: "I think I picked the name mostly because it makes me sound important."
Doctor: "You, Doctor Oswald, are hilarious."
"Love you!" - I don't know about anyone else, but just the way Clara says this line to Danny made me crack up laughing. At this point I really don't care if Clara stays with Danny or not; I'm just so happy that I actually like her!
Season 8 Ranking So Far:
1. Listen (Episode 4)
2. Kill the Moon (Episode 7)
3. Flatline (Episode 9)
4. Mummy on the Orient Express (Episode 8)
5. Into the Dalek (Episode 2)
6. Deep Breath (Episode 1)
7. The Caretaker (Episode 6)
8. Time Heist (Episode 5)
9. Robot of Sherwood (Episode 3)