Thursday, December 10, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9 So Far: Episodes 10, 11, and 12

Thoughts on Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, and Hell Bent

Well, here we are at the end - and what a fantastic season it's been! I know I was pleased (for the most part) with Season 8, but this season just completely knocked it out of the park. Season 8 was the warm-up - this was the real thing, the Doctor Who that I've missed for awhile now. 

Season 4 still reigns supreme as my favorite season of New Who, but this season gave it a run for its money, with Davros, Missy, ghosts, the Fisher King, Vikings, an immortal, Zygons, Sandmen (...okay, maybe not that last one), a quantum shade, the Veil, and last but certainly not least, THE TIME LORDS AND GALLIFREY (I can't believe I called it, I was hoping we'd end up there, and then we frikkin' did!!). 

On top of it all, we had to say goodbye to a companion, Clara Oswald, who has been with us since Season 7. The last few episodes of a season are always emotional, and this was no exception. I actually cried at all three of them. Three episodes in a row; I don't know if I've ever done that for a show before. When you combine great writing and great acting and great directing, you can hit people right in the heart, and that's what these episodes did for me. No time to waste (although Eleven would beg to differ, since time is not the boss of you) - let's get right to them!

Episode 10: Face the Raven

Here we have our second episode this season from a female writer, Sarah Dollard. And my kudos to you, Ms. Dollard, because you nailed it. This episode is beautiful.

First of all, I love the idea of the trap street; if you've ever been in London, it does have all sorts of side streets that crop up everywhere, so it's even somewhat plausible that an alien camp could be hidden somewhere in London. The concept of a refugee camp is interesting, too, particularly with how much damage the Doctor and his various conflicts with alien species create - we're seeing the victims left behind, and ones not of this world at that. 

After spending a little too long looking for the trap street (that's my only real complaint about this episode), we finally find it - and who should be the head of the camp but Me, with a fresh new threat tattooed black around her neck: a chronolock, linked to a quantum shade in the form of a raven. This whole idea of a raven bringing death is very Gothic, and the atmosphere of this episode is saturated with that mix of darkness and thrill. The close streets feel claustrophobic, the threat of the raven looms, we have enemy aliens living in close quarters with only the light from the glowworms protecting their identity (another really clever idea, combining Gothic and sci fi elements wonderfully), and a murder mystery to solve before time runs out. Oh, heck yes.

And then, of course, the name of the episode comes into play in the most tragic way possible.

Clara has been set up since Season 8 to want to be the Doctor. Though Flatline was a major indication, or perhaps fanned the flame, of this desire, Season 9 is when it became most obvious in her character arc. She wants to be as smart, as capable, she wants control of every situation just like he has, and to be able to fix things like he does. Over time, as she's spent more time in the TARDIS, she's grown more confident, until she's giving orders to UNIT and standing up to the Mire. That's all fine and good - great, even - until that confidence turns to arrogance.

I think I can say that most of us didn't expect Clara's death to be like this. I mean, she's the Impossible Girl - shouldn't her death be the consequence of something earth-shattering, saving the universe or some such bombast? Most companions get a huge send-off, like the Battle of Canary Wharf for Rose, or the Master taking over the Earth for Martha. But here, it's on a much smaller scale. 

Maybe that's the point - I mean, you can't get much bigger than splintering yourself across the Doctor's entire timeline in order to save him. Maybe Steven Moffat realized that, and decided to go a bit more subtle, a bit more intimate. Whatever the thought process, I sincerely approve of it. This was not how I thought she would go, but it ended up being perfect.

Clara's Achilles' heel is her arrogance - she wants to be the Doctor, but she can't. Her trying to be the Doctor, to be clever and take control and try to be three steps ahead of everyone else, ends up being her doom, and that is why her end is perfect - because it feels inevitable. One way or another, we would have ended up here eventually.

The showstopper of this episode is, obviously, Clara's goodbye. I couldn't help feeling incredibly proud of her. She doesn't try to run, or deny anything; she accepts the situation, and does everything right - assuaging Rigsy's guilt, protecting Me, and consoling the Doctor, who for once feels completely powerless. This scene is so well written, and so well acted, by both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. Clara knows the rage the Doctor is capable of, and so she lets him know that she won't accept his grief as an excuse to hurt anyone: 

Clara: "You're going to be alone now. And you're very bad at that. You're going to be furious, and you're going to be sad. But listen to me: don't let this change you...You can't let this turn you into a monster. So I'm not asking you for a promise. I'm giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else here, or anywhere, will suffer."

And then the Doctor whispers, "Clara-", his voice cracking, and that is when I started crying.

You can feel the pain in this conversation; they never have to say it, but you know Clara and the Doctor love each other. The Doctor would tear the skies apart for Clara, and that is why she knows she needs to tell him not to when she dies. This lingering goodbye is one of the saddest scenes we've had in a long time, made even sadder by the fact that, even though she forbids him to, the Doctor watches as the raven claims Clara's life. Doctor, why do you do that to yourself?

Because he blames himself. And that is also one of the saddest parts of being the Doctor.

I can't say much else except, what a send-off. Last year's Christmas episode, Last Christmas, was supposed to be Clara's goodbye, and it was perfect - and then Coleman changed her mind to come back, so Moffat had to rewrite the episode at the last minute. I wasn't altogether sure if they would be able to match the quality of that beautifully sad departure, but I think they have with this. Again, my kudos to you, Sarah Dollard; I look forward to anything you write for Doctor Who in the future!

Notable Quotes:

[Clara and the Doctor meeting Rigsy's baby girl]
Doctor; (to Rigsy) "Did you make this human?"
Clara: "Oh, Rigsy, she's gorgeous."
Doctor: "She's better than that - she's brilliant!"

Doctor: "Bring the new human. No, don't bring the new human. I'll just get distracted." 
Who would have thought - even Twelve loves babies!

Clara: "Well, if Danny Pink can do it, so can I."
Doctor: "Do what?"
Clara: "Die right. Die like I mean it. Face the raven."
Doctor: "No, this is not- This can't be happening."
Clara: "Maybe this is what I wanted. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is why I kept running. Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks, kept pushing it."
An interesting look into Clara's psychology - a self-destructive urge, created by her grief over Danny and encouraged by her desire to be the Doctor. For all of Clara's bravado, she has been slowly, silently spinning out of control, and it kind of makes me sad that her friendship with the Doctor seemed to do her more harm than good. I think the problem was they were too much alike; two Doctors is always cause for trouble, and this was no exception.

Episode 11: Heaven Sent

Oh, my god. I have no other words. Just oh, my god.

This episode is spectacular. 

Really, just magnificent. Peter Capaldi holds us captivated for a solid 45 minutes, and it's one of the best things I've ever seen on television. This is Twelve's finest hour, hands down. This will go down in Who history as one of, if not the best episode Twelve has ever had. Because it's amazing. Writing by Steven Moffat, acting by Peter Capaldi, directing by Rachel Talalay - all just amazing.

The funny thing is, the story isn't even that original. It's been done before, with all its Gothic-y, mind-bending awesomeness. But the execution is that fantastic - you're confused for forty minutes and then completely blown away in the last five. I love television that makes me think, that makes my brain feel like electricity is scorching through it when I'm figuring something out (I am a Ravenclaw, after all), and - well, there's a reason we say "mind blown"; it literally felt like my brain was imploding when the twist was revealed. After an eternity of feeling confused, suddenly everything made sense, and IT. WAS. AWESOME.

Just like the Doctor, we're dropped into a place where we have no idea where we are, what's going on, or who the immediate threat is. Like the Doctor, we're still grieving over Clara, and want to find whoever's responsible for her death. And like the Doctor, we slowly figure out what's going on, piece by carefully laid piece.

Within that strange puzzlebox of madness, Twelve finally has a proper monster: the Veil.

Death personified, it hunts the Doctor from the get go, stalking him, accepting confessions as payment until it comes back around, until the Doctor must give up his life when he runs out of hidden truths to tell. This is a haunting presence, preceded by the sound of buzzing flies - a graphic combination of sound and imagery that makes this monster even creepier, if that was even possible.

What's really great about this set-up is that we see the clues from the start. At the very beginning, during that amazing monologue, we see the bloody footprints, someone pulling the lever, the hand burning to dust. But we don't know, we don't understand the weight of what we're seeing, until the very end, when it hits all at once, straight to the gut.

I won't tell you how much I cried during this episode. I won't, because I would probably be too embarrassed by it. It was during the montage at the very end, when everything comes to light, everything comes together, and you realize that the Doctor has been dying and, essentially, regenerating, over and over, for billions of years, to protect a secret he must keep. Looking at that diamond wall, he knows how excruciatingly long it will take him to break through it. And still he keeps going. Even when he knows he'll have to die, over and over. Even when he wants to give up, when he knows he could, he still keeps going. Because of Clara. Who gives him the will to do it. Living, dying, running, fighting, on and on, while the stars change position above and the skulls pile up in the sea.

The Doctor is so brave. And that's why I cried. He's braver than I ever thought possible. Because of Clara. Because of how much he cares.

The speech to go along with his fight is perfect, too:

Doctor: "There's this emperor, and he asks the shepherd's boy, 'How many seconds in eternity?' The shepherd's boy says, 'There's this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it. Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.' You must think that's a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that's a hell of a bird."

I cheered and clapped at that last line, as he finally smashes through the diamond wall. Something so triumphant at the end of what seemed like such a futile mission was the perfect ending.

And then, just to top it all off, we get another surprise: the enemies were the Time Lords. And the planet on the other side of the diamond was...Gallifrey!!

Episode 12: Hell Bent

And so we're here, at the season finale. I didn't think there was any possible way to top Heaven Sent; it was just too good. And I was right - but to the writers' credit, they did give us a solid episode to end on, and, after last year's so-so finale, I appreciate that.

This episode essentially has two storylines: past and present - the past with the Doctor and Clara on Gallifrey, and present, with the Doctor telling the story to Clara at the diner. Personally, I think both of these storylines have both their good and bad points, adding up to a satisfying conclusion plot-wise, but maybe not so much character-wise.

I will explain.

So, starting off, the Doctor doesn't say a word for the first ten minutes of this episode. That must be the longest the Doctor has ever gone without talking. Ten and Eleven could never have done that, no way; but Nine could have, and I think that's what I love about the Doctor we see in this episode. We see the war-weary soldier Nine personified so well, and to see the intimidation factor build and build as the Doctor's silence stretches is something awesome to see. He doesn't need words; he just uses silence, and the attack eyebrows, of course, until they bring him what he wants: President Rassilon, no longer Timothy Dalton, but an older, power-hungry tyrant. Nine's theme music even plays for a few seconds when the Doctor stands up to Rassilon, telling him to get off his planet.

What a way to come home!

Then we bring Clara back into the story, and here's where I feel the narrative starts to go wrong.

Clara's death was perfect. She died in the trap street, the Doctor grieved, and her memory helped him through all those years in the confession dial, keeping him strong and making him brave. That's how I wanted to remember Clara - brave, and compassionate, and strong, staring down death with no hint of fear.

And then the Doctor decides to take time into his own hands. Because that always ends well.

Stealing Clara from her death in the moment before her last heartbeat, the Doctor kills a Time Lord in their way before he and Clara escape to the depths of the capitol. 

Doctor, what the hell are you doing?! 

I mean, I don't care if on Gallifrey "death is just another word for man flu"; you just murdered someone!

The next few minutes reveal a big issue with this episode: pacing. We had a beginning that stretched out with the Doctor's silence, and now we have a middle that's being crammed full of Time Lord mythology, the matrix and cloister wraiths and time-frozen monsters and just too much stuff that doesn't matter all that much to the story we're trying to tell.

On the other hand, it is nice to see the Doctor and Clara together again. But Clara knows something is off; when the Doctor won't tell her what, she demands it of the newly-regenerated general (white man to a black woman - not that subtle, Moffat, but I do appreciate that now we have on-screen proof of Time Lords being able to switch genders!).

And then we find out: the Doctor was in the confession dial for four and a half billion years.

You can guess what I started doing at this moment. 

Clara's face just says it all: the shock and the pain and the anguished love for her friend, who used all his grief to fuel him through eons of psychological torture. He did it to keep the secret, but that was never the point after all; the point was to save her. 

He endured all that, all that time, just for her. And he wasn't even going to tell her.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive for my own good (and believe me, I know), but stuff like that hits me hard. I mean, that is a complete and total love that spanned billions of years, years filled with pain and grief where he could have given up so easily. But he didn't. All for her. 

In a world where it often feels like everyone's trying so hard to protect their own hearts, it's astounding to see someone willing to love so openly, and so much, with their whole heart, without fear of the consequences and in spite of the pain of loss. He could have turned bitter and given up; instead, he kept going, punching away at that diamond wall, all for the slimmest chance that he would break through and force the Time Lords to bring Clara back. 

The relationship between Twelve and Clara has never been a romantic one. There have been hints, but ultimately they are just best friends. But no matter what anyone says, this is a love story; there's no other context for it. Whether romantic or the deepest friendship the universe knows, the Doctor loved Clara so much he fought for four and a half billion years just to see her again. And if that doesn't break your heart, I don't know what will.

Now we have the great escape - the Doctor and Clara steal a classic-design TARDIS (it's the round things!) and head for the stars, running from the Time Lords just like the Doctor did all those years ago. And for a moment, it feels like just another wild adventure, the Doctor and Clara back together again.

 But Clara's heartbeat doesn't restart. And suddenly the Doctor has a decision to make.

Here we get an echo of Donna's story. I didn't want Clara's memories erased, but I couldn't see how else the episode could end, with the Doctor standing with the neural block in hand.

Never would I have thought that it would be the Doctor who loses his memories.

It is a pretty nice twist, especially since we had assumed throughout the whole diner scene that it was Clara who had had forgotten, and the Doctor would leave quietly, like he did with Donna, leaving her to live out her life in peace.

But no - Clara, in the end, does, in fact, get to play the role of the Doctor, observing him without his memories of her and sending him on his way to live a life without her. 

I'm not sure this works so well in practice as it does in theme. Yes, it's poetic justice, but isn't it a little cruel for Clara to let him go without trying to tell him who she is? Does she think she's being kind, since she's seen the consequences of him losing her, and doesn't want that to happen again? Is she doing it for the good of the universe, to protect it from the Doctor's grief when he does inevitably lose her again? I'm not sure. I wish it had been made clearer what her main motivation was for leaving him behind.

Which brings me to my one true issue with this episode:

Every companion needs a character arc, with noticeable developments and a contrast to themselves at the start that needs to be fulfilled by the end of their time with the Doctor. For Rose it was ambition; for Martha it was self-worth; for Donna it was empathy.

Right now Clara's arc is less clear, but I think part of her development as a character is she's learned to accept responsibility for her own actions. In Season 7 she depended on the Doctor to fix everything; in Season 8 she was forced to fix problems on her own; in Season 9 her recklessness sometimes overshadowed her sense of responsibility, but in Face the Raven, instead of trying to run away or desperately fix a problem that couldn't be solved, or even blame someone else for it, she accepted her death with grace and faced it with courage. That is what I truly admired her for - her courage, and her compassion, even shown in her last moments by her comforting those around her.

For Clara's character arc to be complete, and for us as the audience to have closure on her as a character, she needs to go back to Gallifrey and back into her time stream and die on the trap street again. As she has been telling the Doctor over and over, "It's my time. Everyone faces the raven. I have to die." It's her chance to, for once, actually be better than the Doctor, to stop running and face the consequences.

So what does she do?


Don't get me wrong, I think it's a fun idea for her and Me to go flying around in a TARDIS. BUT NOT AS PART OF HER CHARACTER ARC.

It was so simple. All she had to do was die, and we would have had that closure that's so essential to a good story. But for some reason, Steven Moffat felt the need to keep her around, for a guest star appearance sometime in the future or something, I seriously don't know.

I dare you, Moffat, I double dog dare you, to KILL OFF A MAJOR CHARACTER AND KEEP THEM DEAD. Sure, in real life, a person might decide to avoid death no matter what they've said earlier. But that isn't good storytelling.

Okay. I've said my piece. Besides that MAJOR misstep in basic storytelling, I think it was a successful episode. The Doctor is the Doctor again, as shown by him putting on the Doctor-y velvet coat, and - BAM! - catching a new sonic screwdriver the TARDIS made for him. My fellow Whovians, THE SONIC SCREWDRIVER IS BACK!

Looking at it, it's kind of funny how themes change over time. In Season 8, when the Doctor was supposed to be all stern and minimalist, he never would have had a screwdriver like this. I mean, I was surprised at how flashy it is! The lights keep flashing around and around, and the light is actually really big this time, and what even kind of design is this? I think I saw someone describe it as "disco crayon steampunk," and that's a bizarrely accurate description. If the Doctor wants to be Doctor Disco, I guess this is the right sonic for him!

But anyway - Season 9 is over, but we have the Christmas episode to look forward to! Last year's was a delightfully bizarre mix of Alien and Inception; this year's looks like a fun little comedy, where Twelve meets River Song! I can hardly wait!


-I love the inclusion of Clara's theme being played on Twelve's guitar. It's such a subtle and beautiful touch.

-Rassilon: "Who the hell does he think he is?"
General: "The man who won the Time War, sir."

-Kind of random, but Me looks gorgeous in this episode. Just saying.

-So, does this mean we're going to run into Clara again when we inevitably run into Me somewhere down the line?

-I was kind of hoping that waitress Clara would be one of her echoes, a nice callback to her status as the Impossible Girl. Ah, well :)

-I love all the little tributes to the Doctor's past in this episode. The song from Mummy on the Orient Express playing in the diner, which happens to be the diner from The Impossible Astronaut, the mention of the Ice Warrior from Cold War - it's genuinely lovely, although I hope this doesn't mean we're going to be losing Capaldi anytime soon!

Series 9 Final Ranking:
1. Heaven Sent (Ep. 11)
2. The Zygon Inversion (Ep. 8)
3. Face the Raven (Ep. 10)
4. The Girl Who Died (Ep. 5)
5. The Witch's Familiar (Ep. 2)
6. Under the Lake (Ep. 3)
7. Hell Bent (Ep. 12)
8. The Woman Who Lived (Ep. 6)
9. Before the Flood (Ep. 4)
10. The Magician's Apprentice (Ep. 1)
11. The Zygon Invasion (Ep. 7)
12. Sleep No More (Ep. 9)

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

Thoughts on The Zygon Invasion, The Zygon Inversion, and Sleep No More

Well, this has been an interesting few weeks, hasn't it? I know for me it's been strange, since in the course of three weeks we've had an episode I felt almost no emotional connection with, an absolutely fantastic episode that had me feeling like we finally, FINALLY met the Twelfth Doctor, and an episode that amused, bored, and frustrated me all at the same time. 

What to do with Season 9, an incredibly solid season thus far, when we hit a bit of a rough patch? Well, let's waste no time before speculating and complaining and marveling about this crazy, amazing, wonderful show; allons-y!

Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion

I don't usually leave a Doctor Who episode feeling emotionally distant from it, but this one I did. Why? 

Well, as you all know by now, I loved the episode Kill the Moon from last season, and so was eagerly awaiting Peter Harness' contribution for this season. 

And...well, for Kill the Moon, I could kind of ignore the political subtext because the argument itself was based around the notion of the value of life, which has always been an intrinsic element of the show. The Doctor values life in any form, human or alien, and does everything he can to save those lives - hence why he called himself the Doctor. It's such an integral part of his character, so when the plot came down to whether to save humanity or a creature that's the only one of its kind, I could push the similarities to the abortion issue aside, because really, it was all about saving lives, no matter how relevant or irrelevant to current issues.

Not so here, in The Zygon Invasion.

To be fair, it's not bad to have a political subtext within a Doctor Who episode; with such a versatile premise, why not? But the problem with this episode for me is that it didn't really feel like a Doctor Who episode. Even with red rubbery Zygons running around, for the majority of the episode it just felt like a political drama that happened to include the Doctor and Clara.

Not to say that there weren't any good moments; I loved seeing Osgood again, no matter what species she may be now (well, isn't that a sentence only talking about Doctor Who could generate), and the line about the Doctor wearing question-mark underpants was frikkin' hilarious - and an image I'll never be able to erase from my brain!

Overall, though, I didn't really feel engrossed in the episode until the very end, when Clara is revealed to be Zygon Clara, or Bonnie, I guess is the name she's picked. (Dalek Clara, Zygon Clara - what's next, CyberClara?) 

But yes, the reveal actually had me excited. It was pretty clever (especially with the visual cue of Clara putting her hair up, so we know exactly when she became Bonnie) - and then the episode ended.

Cue anguished cry of impatience from me on the couch.

Even with some elements I enjoyed, I don't like leaving Doctor Who feeling like I spent an hour watching something I didn't care about...Thank goodness the next episode was amazing!! 

Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion

I don't think this episode needs much of an introduction; it's hard to forget. Everyone watching collectively sat transfixed as the Doctor delivered That Speech. You all know what one.

In this episode we see the Twelfth Doctor at his most vulnerable, most heartbreakingly open, within a tragically timely narrative, as not a week after this episode aired, ISIS set off terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon. Globally, we are witnessing attacks of war, and no one knows war better, or despises it more, than the Doctor.

After a fantastically atmospheric opening, a wonderful world-saving team-up between the Doctor and Osgood, and Clara and Bonnie engaging in a surreal game of lie detector, we get to the final showdown: the Osgood Box(es). What a completely ingenious visual; a "scale model of war," as the Doctor puts it. Kate on one side representing humanity, Bonnie on the other representing the Zygons, and the Doctor caught in the middle, as he always is, trying to dissuade each of them from destroying the other. We're back where we were in The Day of the Doctor, and this time the Doctor won't leave, not when he can try to fix it.

Twelve has felt a little cold, a little distant, especially last season, even going as far as abandoning Earth in its hour of need. In this season, he has warmed, become more compassionate underneath his signature bluntness, and nowhere is the transformation more complete than here, in this moment, in pleading with Bonnie, and even Kate, to spare the lives of their species:

Doctor: "When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who's going to die. You don't know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning - sit down and talk!...I mean, do you call this a war, this funny little thing? This is not a war. I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine, and when I close my eyes, I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count!"

This is the Doctor with any hostilities, any sarcasm, any pretenses stripped away. This is the essence of the Doctor - all that pain, all that heartbreak, all that loss. 

Do you see those eyes? They no longer pierce or ridicule; they're open, vulnerable. And tired. Tired from trying to save the universe from people who are making the same mistake he nearly did.

But what makes the Doctor isn't his darkness and despair; it's the compassion formed from that, and how he uses it to help others see past their own anger, see the people standing on the opposite side of the battle field, not as enemies, but as precious lives worth saving.

Doctor: "And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight, until it burns your hand. And you say this - no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!"

In a world where people are killing each other over beliefs or wealth or long-held resentment or any number of reasons, here in this family television show is the greatest message of compassion I know. Pain and tragedy doesn't have to make us bitter and hard-hearted; we can take that pain, and turn it into empathy for others' pain. 

Bloodshed and bombings claim lives, but they don't have to claim our regard for our fellow human beings, whether they stand beside us or live across the globe. Some people are full of hatred, and sometimes that won't change; don't let that make you forget the ones willing to serve others, to listen, to live with a compassionate heart and say, "No one else will ever have to feel the pain I felt. Not on my watch."

Notable moments, to end on a lighter note:

Osgood: "I've never seen you smile before."
Doctor: *smiles wider* "Dazzling, isn't it?"
(also, the Doctor drives!)

Doctor: "London!...What a dump!"

Osgood: "Why do you have a Union Jack parachute?"
Doctor: "Camouflage."
Osgood: "Camouflage?"
Doctor: "Yes; we're in Britain."

Doctor: "Are you flirting with me? You know I'm over 2,000 years old? I'm old enough to be your Messiah!"

Clara: "Take care of you."
Osgood: "You take care of him. Don't let him die or anything."
Clara; "What if he's really annoying?"
Osgood: "Then it's fine."

-Kudos to Jenna Coleman, who was excellent playing both Clara and Bonnie. I think we sometimes forget how good of an actress she is, since it's a rare episode that she gets to really be versatile. Bonnie and Clara have the same face, but I would never confuse the two!

-So, Osgood has joined the ranks of Captain Jack Harkness, Rory Williams, River Song, and Clara Oswald in characters who died and came back (what is Moffat's obsession with this?), and could potentially keep coming back, over and over. Osgood's around as long as there are Zygons left in the universe!

-The Doctor mentions Clara's absence felt more like a month rather than five minutes. Is this some kind of clue? Did we miss something in his and Clara's adventures? Did Clara actually die, and he's just gone back on her timeline so he could see her again? Is that even possible? I don't know, I'm just trying to prepare myself for what's inevitably going to be a terrible, stab-to-the-gut sad exit for Clara.

Episode 9: Sleep No More

Oh, dear. I...I don't even know what to do with this episode. Did this even happen, or was it a strange, strange nightmare?

It's the first found-footage episode for Doctor Who, but I wish a more worthy episode could have been awarded that benchmark because - wow, was this weird.

Things I liked: some of the Doctor and Clara's banter was amusing; the Mr. Sandman song was a fun detail; and the general premise had potential. Overall, though, it just feels like a bunch of random ideas that are just not coming together into a conglomerate whole.

Killer. Sleep dust. How is that scary?

This whole episode is trying to be scary, but it's just not working. Mostly because no matter how hard you try, sleep dust is not scary, and the monsters look like actors in morph suits with yellow papier-mache thrown on them. What the actual heck? I know Mark Gatiss likes his references to Classic Who, but did we really need a monster that looked like what they used in the 60's because they had no budget back then? Was it intentional? If it was, why, and if it wasn't, how did that ever get approved?

Also, the story just feels like a mess. I don't even know if I was following it all correctly. People go in the Morpheus machines and sleep, but because it's such an intense process the sleep dust builds up more than usual and becomes its own living entity, which in turn tries to eat people? And over time the people with sleep dust in their eyes eventually become the carnivorous sleep dust themselves? Why is "carnivorous sleep dust" even a phrase that exists?

Even Capaldi couldn't save this one. He's brilliant as usual, but at the end of his big Macbeth speech about the phrase "Sleep no more" and how sleeping makes us human, I still couldn't help busting out laughing. Even the Doctor can't pass these monsters off, or this episode, for that matter, as something to take seriously. (Actually I should be kind of mad, as this may have forever ruined my favorite Shakespeare play.)

Gatiss is a big Doctor Who fan, and he tries to have fun with his episodes, but this just fell flat. Let's just move on from this - and please, for the love of God, Gatiss, don't write a sequel!

This week's episode is Face the Raven (which I was kind of hoping was an Edgar Allan Poe episode, but watching the trailer, sadly I don't think it is) - is this Clara's exit, her time to face death? How will Moffat rip our hearts out this time? And most importantly, how will the Doctor deal with her loss?

Season 9 Ranking So Far:
1. The Girl Who Died (Ep. 5)
2. The Zygon Inversion (Ep. 8)
3. The Witch's Familiar (Ep. 2)
4. Under the Lake (Ep. 3)
5. The Woman Who Lived (Ep. 6)
6. Before the Flood (Ep. 4)
7. The Magician's Apprentice (Ep. 1)
8. The Zygon Invasion (Ep. 7)
9. Sleep No More (Ep. 9)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Doctor Who: Season 9 So Far - Episodes 4, 5, and 6

Thoughts on Before the Flood, The Girl Who Died, and The Woman Who Lived

Episode 4: Before the Flood

"So...who really wrote Beethoven's fifth?"

Framing - I loved the start of this episode! Having the Doctor address the camera is a bold move, but of course Peter Capaldi can pull it off, so why not? He then proceeds to describe a bootstrap paradox - "Google it," which I did, as many other Whovians did, I'm sure - using the creation of Beethoven's fifth as an example. The electric guitar making a return appearance, the Doctor then plays us out to a rock version of that musical piece as the opening credits roll. In a word, fantastic! 
(Can we keep this theme music? It matches this Doctor much better than the electronic trills!)

The story - Not as riveting as Under the Lake, but it's interesting seeing the Doctor dealing with the paradox of going back in his own timeline (which you should never, ever do, by the way, unless it's inconvenient, or you forget) and O'Donnell and Bennett becoming temporary companions. The ghost Doctor naming victims also adds some great suspense.

The Fisher King - To tell you the truth, I was expecting a little more from the Fisher King. I know he was supposed to be scary, but mainly I just ended up feeling sorry for the actor who was stuck inside that awkward, easily-overbalanced costume.

A couple times I was genuinely worried he was going to topple over.
The ending - It was really cool how they brought it all back to the bootstrap paradox, with the Doctor being inside the stasis chamber all along, etc. However, it also made the ending feel kind of rushed. It was like the writer realized he only had ten minutes left in the episode, so he just wrapped it all up, not bothering to show us how the ending was actually achieved. So, clever in illustrating the paradox, but also maybe a little lazy? In any case, I don't think this episode was as good as Under the Lake, but it still had its moments. Such as:


-O'Donnell: "It's bigger on the inside! It's bigger on the inside!" Oh, O'Donnell, why did you have to die? 
-The effect where Cass "hears" by putting her hand on the floor and feeling the vibrations from the ax being dragged by the ghost. The tension in that scene was awesome!
-Clara: "Doctor, if you love me in any way, you'll come back." BAM, right to the feels.
-Even though O'Donnell and Bennett didn't get a chance for their relationship, I'm glad Cass and Lunn got their happy ending!

Episode 5: The Girl Who Died

I'll admit it, I've watched this episode four times now. I love, love, love it. Never thought I'd say that about a story with Vikings!

Here we have a collaboration between Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson, the writer of Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, both fantastic episodes last year. After another winner with The Girl Who Died, I have to say, Jamie Mathieson would be my vote for next show runner! 

The Good:
Oh, my goodness, where to start? There's so much to love!
-RIP, sonic glasses - was I the only one who cheered when the sonic glasses were snapped? Not that I hate them, I'm just ready for the screwdriver to be back! Maybe Twelve can have his own when it eventually does return - I vote purple!
-Odin - first of all, the Doctor's fake Odin impression is hilarious; it's the very worst imitation of how you would think a god would sound, and funny in revealing just how stupid the Doctor thinks the Vikings are (and he is, of course, very wrong; nice try, anyway, Doctor). And then we have an Odin who looks like God from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

-Clara - Clara was frikkin' awesome standing up to the head of the Mire. This was her shining moment in this episode, and Jenna Coleman nailed it. She manages to intimidate Odin, break down his intention and his own analysis of her and Ashildr, and convinces him to leave Earth. Also, she gets points for this quote: "The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it's unbearable." 
-Ashildr - Ashildr is such an interesting character. She's a product of her time, so it makes sense she would challenge the Mire even if it ultimately wasn't a great idea. But she's out of her own time, too, telling stories and feeling a bit of a misfit. I love watching her and the Doctor connect - he's a misfit in his own society as well, so to see him listening to her and understanding her is what gives this episode such great heart. She's lost inside her own head, but at the same time she is so connected and compassionate towards the people around her; she's uncertain about herself and her own identity, but brave and passionate when it comes to defending her village. In short, I'm so glad the Doctor saved her, even if the consequences are yet to be seen.
-"I speak baby" - What started out as a line employed for comedic effect in the long-ago days of Craig and Stormaggedon is transformed in this episode into something oddly poetic, as the Doctor translates the crying of Lofty's baby. It's a strange scene, yet in Capaldi's capable hands it's turned into something that I'd say is even beautiful. 
-The Doctor's names for the Vikings, lol
-Slapstick comedy - In a surprising moment of hilarious slapstick, a training sequence abruptly cuts to its aftermath, where fires are burning, horses run wildly, and I think even a few buildings lie partially collapsed, lol
-Fire in the water - If you really care that electric eels can't be found anywhere near that particular geographic area, you need to lighten up a bit. It's a brilliant ending to a great story, making it possible for the Vikings to use the Mire's technology against them in a great example of bad karma!

The Bad:
-Warrior juice - The Mire's motivation for invading was a little odd (You really like the taste of mashed-up Viking adrenaline? Maybe there's some green Gatorade in there to give it flavor, who knows), but in any case, it doesn't really take away from the rest of the story.

-When Clara puts her hand on the Doctor's face when he's listening to the baby cry. It's such an intimate gesture, so sweet and caring.
-When the Doctor covers Ashildr's hand with his when he puts the helmet on her. It's such a small gesture, and it only lasts a couple seconds, but I'm so glad they showed that. I'm sure it meant the world to her that he believed in her, and that one gesture said it all.
-The Doctor: (to Clara) "Look at you, with your eyes. Your never-giving-up. Your anger. Your kindness. And one day, the memory of that will hurt so much that I won't be able to breathe. And I'll do what I always do - I'll get in my box and I'll run and I'll run, in case all the pain ever catches up." This, this is what defines the Doctor. So much love and compassion, and because of that, so much heartbreak. If anyone ever says this is just a silly sci-fi show, I'll show them this scene, because it perfectly illustrates both the beauty and the tragedy of the Doctor's life.
-Flashback to Ten and Donna - what a perfect way to explain why Twelve chose that face. Thank you, Russell T. Davies!
-Doctor: "Immortality is everybody else dying. [Ashildr] might meet someone she can't bear to lose. That happens, I believe." *looking at Clara* As Tumblr would put it, I CAN'T EVEN

So now the Doctor has a predicament on his hands: what will happen to Ashildr? How will she cope with being immortal? Can she? I don't know, but that final shot (amazing cinematography, by the way) looks foreboding; those eyes will haunt you:


"They went willingly to Valhalla. As would we all." 
"I wouldn't. Well, I wouldn't! I'm not good with heights."

"What are you going to do, raise crops at them?"
"If necessary!"

"When I say jump, you say how high!...unless it's across a gap of some kind, which of course means you jump horizontally."

"He's actually upgraded his phobia."

"I'm the Doctor, and I save people! And if anyone happens to be listening, if you have any kind of problem with that, to hell with you!"

Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived

Here we have it: our first episode written by a female writer since Helen Raynor in Seasons 3 and 4! The Woman Who Lived is written by Catherine Tregenna, who's also written for Torchwood, and we'll have another female writer, Sarah Dollard, for episode ten, Face the Raven!

So, what did I think of this episode? Overall, it felt very...sad. This episode is preoccupied with Ashildr dealing with her immortality, which of course is mirrored by the Doctor's own brand of immortality. Even though she leads a thrilling double life as highway robber the Knightmare and noblewoman Lady Me, she feels empty; her heart has grown hard across years of tragedy and losing loved ones, leaving the Doctor to try to help her find her compassion again.

The most touching moment was when the Doctor read Me's diaries - it really showed how difficult her life had been, and emphasized the even greater tragedy of her not being able to remember it all. The parts she does remember have fueled this overwhelming anger, masking a deep and awful loneliness, much like the Doctor when he travels alone (Time Lord Victorious, anyone?). While the Doctor is able to run away from his problems with the TARDIS, Me is forced to live through it, and that has made her into someone very bitter and very desperate.

It's that desperation that makes her scheme with Leondr plausible. Although he wasn't fleshed out all that much, and consequently was probably the weakest part of the episode, we can see why she would go with him, even though she knows it may mean her death. At this point she's just tired of living, even suicidal, which is hard stuff for a kids' show. 

Ultimately, though, the Doctor manages to show her that she does care about other people. I love her face when she realizes it, like "Dammit, I do care!" Maisie Williams is amazing, in both this and The Girl Who Died; in this episode I can believe she's lived for 800 years. She makes us feel that weight, all that tragedy and loneliness carried around with her for so long. To see her character find the strength and compassion to save the townspeople was a grand transformation to witness, and it made me excited for what else her character can bring to the show in future.  I personally can't wait for Me to show up again, whatever episode or season that may be!


-I loved that they showed glimpses of Me's different lives. I wanted that segment to keep going, it was fascinating!
-I wonder if Sam Swift the Quick really is immortal now? Will he stay with Me? Would that even work?
-Are they bringing back Captain Jack Harkness?? Please do! :D

Season 9 Ranking So Far:

1. The Girl Who Died (Ep. 5)
2. The Witch's Familiar (Ep. 2)
3. Under the Lake (Ep. 3)
4. The Woman Who Lived (Ep. 6)
5. Before the Flood (Ep. 4)
6. The Magician's Apprentice (Ep. 1)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Doctor Who: Season 9 So Far - Episodes 1, 2, and 3

Thoughts on The Magician's Apprentice, The Witch's Familiar, and Under the Lake

So, Season 9 has begun! After seeing some of the trailers and watching the short prequel episodes, I was pretty excited to get going - and the first episode didn't disappoint! Who's ready for some new adventures in time and space? Allons-y!

Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice

First off, the picture above tells you all you need to know about the season opener: the Doctor, on a tank, wearing sunglasses, playing the bass line to his own theme song on an electric guitar. In other words, awesomeness personified.

I mean, wow! Last year we got a dinosaur spitting out the TARDIS, this year we got the Doctor riding in on a tank! I'll give Steven Moffat this, he knows how to create a spectacle!

This episode really was a lot of fun. It was thrilling, intriguing, entertaining - its only flaw was it didn't really have much of a plot, but for a season premiere, I think that can be forgiven, as long as all the set-up eventually pays off. So, without further ado:

The teaser - A great opening sequence! First of all, we got a new monster - the hand mines. Though they may be a rip-off of the monster from Pan's Labyrinth, they're definitely creepy-looking, and actually pretty effective for building tension early on in the episode.

And then the reveal! I had no idea! As soon as the boy said his name, I gasped and jumped out of my chair! This is an enemy we haven't seen since the end of the Tenth Doctor's era! It's been so long, I don't even remember what happened to Davros! But now he's back, and apparently the Doctor played a part in creating his genocidal tendencies, so...yeah, Doctor, not so good. But what a fantastic reveal to start off the episode!

The theme song - they kept the electronic trills, ugh. They changed the theme song each season for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, why can't they do it for Twelve?

The Whoniverse - You forget sometimes how big the Doctor Who universe really is, so it was kind of cool to watch Colony Sarff (another great monster; he doesn't look that scary until you find out what he actually is, and then he's really creepy) go from planet to planet looking for the Doctor, from the Shadow Proclamation (which I don't think we've seen since the Tenth Doctor's era, either!) to Karn. If we're visiting all these older locations, I wonder if we won't be back on Gallifrey by the season finale!

Clara - Clara still kicks ass, and even more so than usual, to tell the truth. When she's called into UNIT and takes charge right away, figuring out what's going on before Kate Lethbridge-Stewart or even the scientific team, it started to remind me of Rose and how confident she became while traveling with the Doctor. In The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Rose starts giving the spaceship crew orders and generally taking charge while the Doctor is down exploring the cavern. It was so great to see Rose's progression as a character in those scenes, and it's great to see Clara doing the same thing. I mean, in Season 7 she never did anything on her own or took initiative, and now she's bossing UNIT around! I kind of love it. As Missy says, "You go, girl."
Also, side note, I love her leather jacket.

Missy - Still alive, still evil! I have to admit, Missy is starting to grow on me. Michelle Gomez gives this wonderfully insane performance, and it injects such life into every scene she's in. You never know what Missy's going to do, whether she's going to save you or kill you, and to be fair, I don't think she knows, either! It's also interesting to see her being jealous over the Doctor; we think of the Master and the Doctor as each other's greatest enemy, but at the same time, she gets jealous when Clara claims to be the Doctor's best friend, and the same with Davros claiming to be his archenemy: "I'll scratch his eye out." So Missy wants to be the Doctor's greatest frenemy? I think her problem is she just wants to be the Doctor's everything, period. Regardless, definitely looking forward to seeing more of Missy!

The Doctor - Oh, my goodness, the Doctor. This is exactly what I wanted from last season and I never got, and now it's here, and it's wonderful. The Doctor is emotional; he is emotionally invested in his actions and in the people around him and his relationship to them and it feels right, it feels like we have a chance to finally really get to know the Doctor again. Last season the writers spent all their time wanting us to worry about whether the Doctor is a good man, when what we really should have been concerned with is: does the Doctor care? And with this episode I can say yes, yes, he does.
The Doctor seems to think he is going to die - I guess he assumes Davros is coming to kill him? - and so we get a telling look into the Doctor's troubled psyche when he sends his last confession to Missy, throws a huge farewell party for himself, and hugs Clara. He hugged Clara! My heart melted and broke at the same time. How broken must he feel to hug Clara of his own accord? But it also shows how much he cares about her, and I'm so glad that finally comes through. 

But seriously, was that not the most adorable moment ever.
But, unfortunately, we can't forget that this episode is ultimately about the Doctor leaving a child to die. How are we supposed to feel about that? The Doctor made a poor choice, but could that one choice really have created the Davros he knows and hates? The moral gray area is interesting, but maybe a bit heavy for the fun tone the rest of the episode was setting. Ah, well; we'll see if the set-up pays off in the second part.

So the Doctor, Missy, and Clara get taken to Davros' infirmary. The Doctor meets Davros again, while Clara and Missy go exploring. And lo and behold, they discover they are on the planet...Skaro! 

For a millisecond I thought we had already found Gallifrey and subsequently lost my mind, but then it was Skaro and I was rendered sane again, lol. Even so, it actually was a pretty good reveal. 

And then of course the Daleks proceed to kill Missy and Clara.

Really? It's the season premiere and there was no heart-ripping, emotional moment beforehand, so they can't be dead. My money's on it will explain how Missy escaped death the last time.

In my opinion, a pretty great season opener! I'm excited for Season 9; it feels a lot more focused than Season 8, with the characterization of the Doctor and Clara finally fixed in place, and darker in tone, a bit like Season 6 (my favorite season of Eleven's run). Bring on The Witch's Familiar!

-No more sonic screwdriver? No; no, you wouldn't take that away, Moffat...would you?
-So if the Doctor has referred to himself as looking like a magician, is the magician's apprentice young Davros?
-Doctor: "You've got one chance in a thousand. Focus on the one." I love it, I really do, when the Doctor says things like this. Your Ten is showing, Doctor. :)
-Doctor: "Clara, my Clara." He called her "my Clara" in Dark Water, but this time it feels really heartfelt, and genuinely heartbreaking.
-What's on the confession dial? Will we see it eventually? Maybe as part of Clara's departure from the show?
-Doctor: "It's my party, and all of me is invited!"

Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar

I found the first two-thirds of this episode absolutely delightful. As for the last third - well, we'll get to that. For now:

Missy - This episode is really Gomez's time to shine, and she does; Missy is frikkin' hilarious. Just look at all the outrageous stuff she does in just one episode!
  • hangs Clara upside down and talks about eating her if she gets hungry 
  • makes a pointy stick to use as a weapon against the Daleks (Clara: "Can I have a stick, too?" Missy: "Make your own stick.")
  • nonchalantly pushes Clara down a hole to measure the distance ("...Twenty feet.")
  • pokes holes in a Dalek
  • pokes Davros in the eye!! I seriously wanted to high-five her when she did that, lol
She's just so crazy, and she's so obviously enjoying it!

It's also interesting seeing Missy and Clara team up, even if the pairing doesn't work as well as the Doctor and Clara. It's unfortunate that Clara comes across as a little bit dumb in this episode, as she trusts Missy when she really shouldn't. I suppose Missy is really the only one she can trust on an unknown and dangerous planet like Skaro, but even so...if Missy tells you to get inside a Dalek, don't do it. Just don't. 

Dalek Clara - This was an interesting callback to Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks; are we going to get more references to Clara's other selves throughout the season to lead up to her final farewell? Whatever the purpose, it was intriguing to see what these scenes added to the Dalek mythology. I'd never thought about emotion firing the Daleks' guns, but it does make a weird sort of sense.

The Doctor and Davros - Even with Missy's endless shenanigans, the scenes that really make this episode are between the Doctor and Davros. Their whole conversation is intense, philosophical, psychological warfare between enemies who have been fighting for centuries. 

For me, these scenes are what really made me love the Doctor again. I've always loved him, no matter what the face, for his compassion. Last season he felt so cold and distant; this season it's like he's finally found his heart, and it makes me love him all the more.

Doctor: "I didn't come because I'm ashamed. I came because you're sick and you asked."
Davros: "Compassion, then."
Doctor: "Always."...
Davros: "It will kill you in the end."
Doctor: "I wouldn't die of anything else."

Excuse me while my heart just melts. Twelve, again, your Ten is showing. :)

And it's that compassion that shapes these scenes. I love the moment where the Doctor and Davros actually start laughing together, at the absurdity of their whole relationship; it's in that moment that both of them actually feel human, and you feel their connection as they see each other, not just as an enemy, but as someone who was trying to do what was right, whether it was misguided or not.

I don't care who you are, the Doctor offering up his regeneration energy when Davros doesn't have enough strength to open his eyes to see one last sunrise, is one of the most heartrending moments of Doctor Who we've seen in a long time. I mean, my god; I could feel the tears misting up out of nowhere, taking me completely by surprise. The whole scene was just so touching and lovely...

Which is why I don't buy the end of the episode.

Call me a hopeless romantic (and I hate to admit it, but I am) but I don't believe the Doctor knew the whole time that Davros was lying. Peter Capaldi is an amazing actor, but I don't think the Doctor is. There was genuine feeling there; I think, despite the Doctor's denial, he used that super-powered brain of his that we saw build a new and improved vortex manipulator in four nanoseconds at the beginning of the episode in Missy's flashback/story, to figure out how he could still win. And he did, thank goodness, by the skin of his teeth, like always.

Which brings me to:

Dalek sewers - clever or stupid? It's a clever concept, the ultimate karma of the Daleks being destroyed by their own kind, but the actual execution looks kind of...well, gross, for starters. I mean, the climax of the episode is watching Dalek sewage drown other Daleks. Needless to say, it jarred me out of the viewing experience a little.

The last third - So, yes, the last third of the episode is predictable, and actually feels a bit rushed. We get a moral tagged on - "Friends, enemies, none of that matters, as long as there's mercy" - which I don't think was strictly necessary. Unfortunately there are a few moments in this episode where the subtlety is not strong, and to have this message hammered home wasn't a great way to end an otherwise well written episode. Sometimes the moral can be written in and feel more organic, such as in Mummy on the Orient Express last year with "Sometimes all you have are bad choices, but you still have to choose," where it worked because it's a private moment between the Doctor and Clara, and not a vague moralistic message to a child who has no context for the Doctor's meaning.

Overall, even with a couple clunky moments, I thought this episode was thoroughly enjoyable. We've ended our first two-parter of Season 9; now on to something hopefully a little less convoluted: Under the Lake!

-The Doctor stealing Davros' chair!! "Admit it; you've all had this exact nightmare...Anyone for dodge-ems?"
-Davros has to find the only other chair on Skaro for the Doctor to sit on; that is actually hilarious.
-I'm just wondering, why does Davros keep his eyes closed? I'm not really up on my Classic Who lore, but is there a reason for it, or is it just to make him look scarier?
-Did Steven Moffat just forget that in The Big Bang a Dalek begged River Song for mercy?
-Sonic sunglasses - how long are these going to be around before we get the sonic screwdriver back?
-Are we really supposed to wonder why the Doctor left Gallifrey? He's so unlike the other Time Lords I just figured it was because he didn't fit in!

Episode 3: Under the Lake

Ghosts! I don't think the show's done that before. The closest thing I can think of are the "ghosts" in The Unquiet Dead back in Season 1, and those turned out to be an alien species called the Gelth. So what are these ghosts, and why are they haunting an underwater mining facility?

This episode is written by Toby Whithouse, who's also written the thoroughly entertaining School Reunion (Season 2), the "meh" episodes The Vampires of Venice (Season 5) and A Town Called Mercy (Season 7), and the brilliant The God Complex (Season 6). So how does this stand up in his Doctor Who CV? So-so, enjoyable, or amazing?

Characters - We meet most of our characters right off the bat, in the crew sent to investigate the mystery spacecraft. With so many characters, it's difficult to make each of them a distinct personality within such a short time limit, and unfortunately that's a small failing of this episode. Even so, it's good that we get to know them at least a little:

Cass: Oh, my goodness, I love Cass. Seriously, what a badass! When Moran is killed early on in the episode (which is a shame, considering how good an actor Colin McFarlane is), she steps up to lead, and you can tell the crew trusts her completely. She's tough, and incredibly smart - even the Doctor comments on it. My favorite part was when she stood up to the Doctor; it's not easy to stand your ground against the smartest person in the room, but she did, to protect her crew, and you could tell he respected her for it. Go, Cass!

O'Donnell: How refreshing is it that the two most defined members of the crew are women? I'm just saying, that hardly ever happens. But yeah, O'Donnell; how can you not love her? She's a huge fangirl of the Doctor, which I think most Whovians can relate to, but she's smart and focused when it comes to doing her job and saving the crew. I loved her blush when the Doctor compliments her. She's totally fangirling inside her head, but she doesn't let it distract her from the task at hand. More female characters like these two, please!

Pritchard: The corporate a-hole we all love to hate. I think the Doctor had the best response to him: "It's okay, I understand. You're an idiot."

Lunn: We didn't get to know too much about Lunn, but I loved seeing how close he and Cass are. You can tell from their interactions that he isn't just her translator, he's also her best friend. :)

Bennett: Bennett didn't get much characterization beyond science nerd and occasional coward, but there's also still time to get to know all of these characters in the second part. I thought O'Donnell punching him playfully in the arm after he got away from the ghosts was interesting - could there maybe be something there?

The monsters - Another creepy creature to add to the ever-growing roster, the ghosts with empty skulls is definitely a great scary image!

The Doctor and Clara - I think this episode really shows how solid the Doctor and Clara's friendship has become. It's an established partnership, it feels comfortable; they're constantly glancing at each other to share reactions, and they know what the other's thinking without having to say a word. Even better, they laugh at each other's jokes! It's great to finally be here, after a rocky start at the beginning of Season 8, and see how much they've grown as friends. When the Doctor says, "Trust me, don't you, Clara?" and puts his hand up on the glass, you feel that connection.

The explanation - So herein lies my main problem with the episode. When Cass is able to lip-read and figure out what the ghosts are saying (called it!), it unravels what feels like a vague explanation for the turn of events. The words the ghosts are mouthing are coordinates, directions to the base. The Doctor explains them, but I'm not sure I buy it: 

The dark: Space. So they're directing them to another planet, that makes sense.

The sword: Orion's sword. In the whole galaxy, there's only one constellation in the shape of sword? Okay, well, maybe it's the most well known or something.

The forsaken: This is where the explanation starts to feel a bit tenuous. How is Scotland the only forsaken place on the planet? Clearly there are others, unless the aliens have seen Skyfall and are using that as a reference.

The temple: The church. All right, that's fair.

Is it really possible for such vague directions to lead an alien race here? As for the four markings on the wall, I don't feel that worked as well as it could have. The audience can't experience the same sensation as the crew, so while the words felt strangely familiar to them, it still felt completely random to us. 

Overall, I'd say this episode is somewhere between School Reunion and The God Complex quality-wise for Mr. Whithouse. It has great atmosphere, creepy monsters, characters we like, and showcases the Doctor and Clara's bond; it just gets a little too unclear at the end with the explanation of what all's going on. In other words, great set-up, not a fantastic pay-off. Still, it's good enough to keep us intrigued for next week. I have three questions that I hope get answered:

1) Why can the ghosts only handle metal objects? 
2) Why didn't the ghost kill Lunn?
3) Why the heck is the Doctor a ghost?? (Great cliffhanger!)

-The cards! I think this was one of the best parts of the episode. I think my favorite was, "I didn't mean to imply that I don't care," lol
-After the cynical Doctor of last season, it's so great to see the Doctor getting excited about things again! And when he gets excited, he starts talking really fast, a bit like Ten once again - "Why can they only handle metal objects, ooh, I didn't know I noticed that"
-The Doctor's "don't go native" speech to Clara was sweet, but unnecessary. It's nice to see, though, that traveling with him isn't just her "hobby" anymore; it's her life, and she loves it, as would we all!

Next week: the second part of Whithouse's two-parter, Before the Flood!

Season 9 Ranking So Far:

1. The Witch's Familiar (Ep. 2)
2. Under the Lake (Ep. 3)
3. The Magician's Apprentice (Ep. 1)