Monday, October 27, 2014

Doctor Who: Season 8 So Far - Episodes 7, 8, and 9

Thoughts on Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express, and Flatline

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.

Other notables:

-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.)

Other notables:

"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!

Other notables:

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.

The banter:

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)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Doctor Who: Season 8 So Far - Episodes 4, 5, and 6

Thoughts on Listen, Time Heist, and The Caretaker

Episode 4: Listen

New Who, especially in episodes written by Steven Moffat, has a penchant for making us afraid of ordinary things. "Blink" is probably the most obvious example - I know I'll never be able to turn my back on an angel statue without feeling at least a little apprehensive about it - and "The Empty Child" made it impossible to see gas masks the same way ever again. Similarly, in "Listen" we are treated to one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who in quite a few years. What's scaring us? A creature under a blanket. It may be a fearsome beast, or a child playing a joke; we may never know which.

Which is where this episode sort of lets me down.

Don't get me wrong; I think this episode is the best writing Steven Moffat has done for Doctor Who in a long time. It's well-written, obviously carefully thought-out, well-acted, psychologically fascinating, plus that blanket scene was so creepy it actually had me considering turning a few lights on. Fantastic!

Let's start with the positives: the opening monologue is brilliant. Having the Doctor talk to himself as he delivers a speech about a creature who listens when you talk to yourself has got to be one of the best ideas for an opening Moffat has ever had. It's both amusing and thrilling, and extremely effective. 

This episode also has some killer one-liners, showcasing that razor-sharp wit Moffat's best scripts have to offer, and this one is no exception. Some delightful examples:

[Clara walks into her bedroom to find the Doctor sitting at her mirror]
Doctor: "Why do you have three mirrors? Why don't you just turn your head?"
Later - [Doctor, Clara, and Orson in the TARDIS]
Doctor: (to Orson, about Clara) "It's because her face is so wide. Do you know she needs three mirrors?"

[when Rupert explains that not every book is a Where's Wally book]
Doctor: (tossing the book aside) "Well, that's a few years of my life I'll be needing back!"

And, of course, one of my favorite scenes between the Doctor and Clara this season:
[Clara, smiling, hugs the Doctor as he tries to pull away]
Doctor: "No, not the hugging! I'm against the hugging!"
(Just my personal addition, Capaldi seems seconds away from cracking a smile during this scene. He and Coleman just seem to get on so well together; it must be hard sometimes to act like that towards someone you really do enjoy working with!)

The concept of a dream that everyone has having some kind of meaning behind it is an incredibly intriguing concept. I think I would be more convinced of it had I ever had that dream; unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I haven't. I know I can't be alone; perhaps Moffat is using this episode so that everyone who watches it will dream about it, thus having that dream, therefore making it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

...Yes, that sounds like the kind of thing Moffat would enjoy. 

What I'm saying about this episode is that, while each individual part of it is well done, when trying to pull them all together it doesn't always quite hold. There's Clara's date with Danny, the Doctor trying to find a hidden monster, Danny's past, Danny and Clara's grandchild at the end of the world (which kind of takes away any suspense of them getting together, but never mind), and then Clara ending up on Gallifrey in the Doctor's childhood, which ends up tying back in to the Doctor's search for the monster. It kind of makes sense (in the kind of nonsensical sense Doctor Who always makes), but in the process it tends to feel a bit unfocused. "Blink" worked because its story line was tightly written and very suspenseful; that's not to say "Listen" isn't a good episode, it's just not quite as tight.

I think my main disappointment lies in there not being a monster under the blanket after all. Wouldn't that have been the creepiest monster of Doctor Who yet! No need for the sight of an angel statue to give you the creeps; whenever you started talking out loud to yourself, you would get a shiver up your back! I wanted there to be something in the dark; instead, we get another examination of the Doctor's psyche, which in itself isn't a bad thing - I just wish there wasn't so much of it this season.

I'm also not sure what to think of Clara determining all of the Doctor's beliefs. It's a time travel paradox, so I suppose I shouldn't think too hard about it (or I'll probably end up hurting my brain); it just pulls her back into an Impossible Girl-esque arc of always having been there in the Doctor's life. I'm not sure a companion should hold that sort of influence over the Doctor; in a way it diminishes him and all the beliefs that make him who he is. Why should they be attributed to a single person? I'm thinking too hard about this, aren't I?

Whatever its flaws, this episode is still an excellent example of the kind of stories Doctor Who can do. The writing and psychology behind it are fascinating, and I think this is probably the first episode to have potential to become a classic within the Twelfth Doctor's era.

Other notables:

-The psychic paper is back!!

-If that was a kid under the blanket, I would have loved to have seen his face when the Doctor was yelling things like, "Go in peace!" His thoughts were probably something like: 'Um...okay...' 

Episode 5: Time Heist

"The Satanic Nebula...or, the Lagoon of Lost Stars...or, we could go to Brighton! I've got a whole day worked out!"

This is quite possibly my favorite opening line of Season 8, and definitely my favorite opening line in a long time. To the Doctor, Brighton holds just as much potential for adventure as a nebula or a lagoon. I suppose it does, at least when he's there!

Again, let's start with positives: this is not a story about the Doctor! Of course it involves the Doctor, and we learn more about him through the story, but ultimately the main focus is not him or his psyche or whether he is a good man or not, points which "Deep Breath," "Into the Dalek," and "Listen" were all constantly occupied with. No, here we've gotten back to basics; it's a survival story, a rescue mission. Like Ten saving the Ood in Season 4, Twelve saves the two Tellers, within the most ridiculous bank heist ever seen. Does the story have its flaws? Yes, of course. But at least here we've gotten back to what the show has as its best: a genuine care and appreciation for life in all its forms, and saving others when they can't save themselves. It's a beautiful thought, and it's the reason why I really love the reveal at the end of this episode.

Another positive is the characters. Psi and Sabra are a great addition to the cast, if only for one episode (we're assuming; there's always a chance they'll be back for the season finale). Unlike, say, Journey Blue in "Into the Dalek," each of them comes across as likable and well-written as characters; they both have intriguing back stories and add some human element to the bizarre Bank of Karabraxos. Miss Delphox, the head of security at the Bank, however, can come across as a bit campy. I can't tell if it's uneven acting on Keely Hawes' part or just lazy screenwriting (her odd monologues to herself seem to suggest the latter).

What's obviously the most interesting element of this episode is its narrative structure. Rather than tell the story in the correct order, Moffat and Steve Thompson choose to go all Memento on the audience and start in the middle, slowly working through what has led up to the current events throughout the episode. It's definitely a clever idea, especially with the added plot fixture of the memory worms and the amnesia they cause. Unfortunately, I feel like the episode length doesn't let the idea reach its full potential. While Memento has two hours to work its magic, "Time Heist" only has forty-five minutes; the unfortunate side effect is that the end 'reveal' feels very rushed, and sets the pacing a bit askew for the audience. Moffat and Thompson bit off a bit more than they could chew; still, I'll give them points for trying something different!

The only other thing that bothers me a bit is when Psi and Sabra are revealed to be not dead ("Team Not Dead" after all!). While I'm not saying I wanted them to die, I'm just a bit fed up with Moffat and his emotional cop-outs. If a character is dead, let them stay dead - if everyone can come back to life, the show loses its tension, and the audience checks out emotionally. Moffat is notorious for this - the three recurring characters of his own invention - Captain Jack Harkness, River Song, and Clara Oswald - have all avoided death in some way. While we did see Jack die as the Face of Boe, in the rest of the show he is still the man that won't die. While we saw River die in her first episode, her timeline is so messed up, she could come sailing in at any moment and it would make perfect sense because "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey." Clara Oswald is the Impossible Girl - no matter how many times she died, she always came right back in her next life, as Oswin, as the governess in "The Snowmen," as all the countless Claras who followed the Doctor through all his lives. What I'm trying to say is, Moffat seems to have an allergy to character death - the fans say he kills off his characters, but even if that's true, he always brings them back. This is starting to occur in 'Sherlock' as well! 

Enough with all the resurrections! If you kill off a character, make them stay dead!! I can't feel emotional over someone whose died who I know is just going to show up again later; it's an emotional cop-out, and I'm getting a bit tired of it.

While "Time Heist" isn't the best episode, I definitely give it points for trying. It's got some great characters, snappy one-liners, and a unique plot structure that definitely keeps it interesting!

Other notables:

-After this episode, I feel the Doctor's new "catchphrase" might be "Shut up!"

-Doctor: "Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect."
Clara: "What? Are you kidding?"
Doctor: "Of course I'm kidding! It's a time machine, not a miracle worker!"
Best conversation about the TARDIS ever.

-"Robbing a bank. Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date!" Doctor, are you being...possessive over Clara? I can't tell if it's adorable, or kind of awkward. Adorably awkward? Awkwardly adorable?

Episode 6: The Caretaker

A big problem of Season 7 that a lot of fans commented on was the characterization (or lack thereof) of Clara. Because of the Impossible Girl arc, the writers had to hold back giving her whole back story, but a major backfire of that was the sense that we didn't know her, and her whole identity as a character just flatlined. She was cute, sassy, and kind, but beyond that, Clara just felt like a void of a character. For me personally, I could identify with companions like Rose, Donna, and Martha; with Clara, I felt like there was nothing there to identify with. 

Well, either Moffat listened to the fans or finally turned his brain on, because Clara is an actual person this season, with faults just like everyone else, and it isn't displayed any better than in "The Caretaker." 

In "Deep Breath," the Doctor remarks on Clara being a "control freak"; while I thought that was sort of odd, since Clara hasn't had enough agency before to be in control of anything, it's definitely something they're playing up this season. While I hadn't seen much evidence of it before Season 8 (besides convincing the Doctor to use the TARDIS to help her cook a Christmas turkey in "The Time of the Doctor" - come on, Clara, really? All the uses for the TARDIS and you're going to use it as a time-travel oven?), and I personally dislike it playing into the stereotype of the controlling shrew, it does help in giving her something that separates her from the perfect Impossible Girl of Season 7. 

Her "control freak" nature is captured very well in the first few minutes of the episode, in a montage of her going back and forth between her life as a teacher at Coal Hill and her life with the Doctor. Another criticism of last season was that Clara transitioned too easily between these two parts of her life. The whole point of showing the companion's life before the Doctor is that you can't have it both ways; your home life starts getting involved, which was Jackie for Rose, Wilf for Donna, and Rory for Amy. Eventually one life starts encroaching on the other, and you have to make a choice. Clara, while clearly seeing the signs that she can't keep up both lives, has yet to admit defeat, and tries to convince herself that she can handle it, even while it's perfectly obvious that she can't. Clara of Season 8 has flaws and blind spots just like anyone else; again, while I'm not a huge fan of the "control freak" stereotype, I definitely prefer this over the immaculate, impossibly perfect Impossible Girl.

Another key fixture of this episode is Danny. While the montage gives us a good idea of Clara's life, its downfall is that it doesn't give us a good idea of her and Danny's relationship. During the montage we apparently skip over a good part of a year, but even though we see Danny and Clara together, we don't see enough to understand their dynamic or to even get to know Danny very well. Even though he was introduced in the second episode, Danny still feels like a stranger, and that's not a good thing for someone who is the reason Clara might leave her life with the Doctor. How do we sympathize with her potentially choosing him over a life traveling all of time and space when we don't even know him?

It's actually a bit sad how Danny comes across in this episode; that is, he's actually kind of annoying. Danny's the reason the Doctor can't get rid of Skovox Blitzer, because Danny takes down one of the generators needed to send Blitzer into the future. When Clara and the Doctor show him the TARDIS, "It's bigger on the inside" and everything, Danny isn't in awe - he just looks at it with this irritated expression. I don't care how mad you are at your girlfriend, it's a frikkin' time machine! You should be standing in complete amazement right now! 

The last straw came when he asked Clara "Why do you fly off in the box with him?" Danny is the kind of person the Doctor, and we as the audience, don't like and don't identify with, because this shouldn't have to be explained! The companions stay with the Doctor because they have a sense of adventure, this ultimate need to live beyond their own average, everyday lives. Danny's astonishing lack of adventure, shown by his question, has me questioning whether he's really a character I can like, or even respect. Obviously Clara sees something she likes in him; unfortunately we as the audience don't know what that is. All we really have to go off of is this episode, and it doesn't show Danny in a particularly good light.

The Doctor and Danny's rivalry over Clara's life doesn't really shine a good light on anyone. We knew it was going to be potentially awkward, but the end result is almost cringe-worthy. Surprisingly, the Doctor seems to come out the best of the lot; while he seems to be angry at Danny just for the sake of being difficult, in the end it's Danny who figures out what the real problem is: "I need to be good enough for you. That's why he's angry. Just in case I'm not." Perhaps Danny's comment on the Doctor being Clara's "space dad" is one of the more accurate descriptions of the relationship, although it's obviously more complicated than that. It's clear from Clara's relief when the Doctor gives his approval (although actually he's approving her dating Adrian, the teacher with the bowtie - seriously, Doctor, how vain can you get?) that it means the world to her. How unfortunate, then, that her actual boyfriend ends up being a person who mocks the Doctor and chastises him about acting like a commanding officer, bringing up a military past that the Doctor would rather forget. This moment showed Danny at his worst, and frankly it's going to take one hell of a good character arc to make me like him again.

Even Clara doesn't come out unscathed in this terrible confrontation. When asked by Danny what's going on, in a desperate attempt to keep up the illusion of her control over her life, Clara finally bursts out with, "It's a play!"

No, Clara, no.

Then it just gets worse. When Danny asks who the Doctor is, Clara dithers, not really sure, as most Whovians are when explaining the Doctor to novices of the show, how to explain him in a way people who don't know him will understand. As the person the Doctor is closest to, the one who has been with him through everything, loss and heartbreak and death, and even regeneration, you expect her to say something like "He's my friend!", just something simple that explains the essence of this intricate, complicated, amazing friendship. 

Instead, what does she say? "The Doctor alien!"

No, Clara. No. NO.

The Doctor deserves so much more than that! Even he looks disappointed, and maybe even a bit hurt, at her words. How can that be all that you think of him? I was disappointed in Clara; we'd come so far with her character development, only to have her drop something as awful as that. Hopefully we can just chalk this up to bad writing, and hope that that kind of treatment towards the Doctor never happens again between him and his companion. 

It's still making me cringe just thinking about that scene.

The episode on the whole isn't bad; Danny at least redeems himself slightly at the end by saving the world via a fancy flip (Is he a gymnast now? Is that what we're supposed to like about him?). I wish there was more of a focus on the actual plot; Skovox Blizer is, after all, one of the deadliest killing machines ever. You'd think there'd be more of him with just that qualification. Still, it does do a good job developing the characters (even if that development isn't always where we want them to go), and it actually has quite a lot of amusing moments. It may not be my favorite episode, but it's good enough to deserve a re-watch or two, although I may just skip over the whole Danny-Doctor-Clara confrontation.

Other notables:

-"I'm a caretaker now. Look, I've got a brush" - I guess Eleven never truly leaves.

-Courtney: "It says 'Go Away Humans.'"
Doctor: "Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign!"

-After hearing her name in "Listen," we finally get an introduction to the next companion of the series, Courtney Woods. So far we don't know much except she's a "disruptive influence," which I guess is as apt a description for the Doctor as any as well. I was a little surprised that the Doctor ended up taking her into space; I guess he's feeling like he may need to know his options if he ends up companion-less? Although you probably shouldn't make a habit of taking away random schoolchildren in your big blue box, Doctor; it could potentially look a bit sketchy...

-Another appearance of the Promised Land. I wonder what has Missy looking so troubled?

Season 8 Ranking So Far:

1. Listen (Episode 4)
2. Into the Dalek (Episode 2)
3. Deep Breath (Episode 1)
4. The Caretaker (Episode 6)
5. Time Heist (Episode 5)
6. Robot of Sherwood (Episode 3)