Goodbye to All That | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 12

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If I were being honest, I’d say that I put off writing up a reaction to the season 8 finale, “Death in Heaven,” because I found myself suddenly neck-deep in grad school applications. Instead, I’ll insist that I totally planned it this way so that we could all have an opportunity to stew in the shocking events of the season finale for a bit before approaching this year’s Christmas special. At the same time, we’d also need a refresher of what went down in the season finale given the month-and-a-half long gap. And lo, because you asked so nicely…here goes:

When it comes to serialized dramas, it’s difficult for recappers to present a perfectly coherent write-up of any given episode of a series because we, like any viewer, rarely know how it’ll all end. No one outside of the show itself knows how the plot will be resolved (or not) and how the characters will get through it all (or not). Tracking a character’s arc is much easier when you’re presented with a larger store of reference points. This has been especially true pertaining to the current season of Doctor Who, a season that was weak on overarching storylines and heavy on character development. So, in lieu of a scene-by-scene recap (the likes of which I tend to avoid anyway), I’m going to focus instead on several key characters.

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Let’s start with Miss Clara Oswald, since the upcoming episode is likely to be her last. “Death in Heaven” opened up with a bizarre sequence in which Clara pretends (once again) to be the Doctor. This time, she picks up the charade in order to save her own life, cunningly convincing the approaching Cyberman that she is “strategically valuable” because she’s “not human.” Clara drags out the act for quite a while, word-vomiting detailed facts about the Doctor’s lives so quickly that I had to pause repeatedly just to make sure I could absorb all the information.

Going back to review these scenes after we learn definitively that Clara was faking casts the whole thing in an even stranger light, since it just goes to show how shockingly well she knows the Doctor. She’s like…a Doctor Who Superfan, rattling off facts at the speed of light. And that’s where it gets interesting, because Clara is decidedly not like any of the Doctor’s past adoring companions. As Kyle Anderson over at Nerdist phrased it: “While other companions fall in love with traveling with the Doctor, or possibly fall in love with the Doctor himself, Clara had fallen in love with the idea of being the Doctor.”

Now that’s a compelling character arc.

If you’ve been reading these posts, you’re probably aware of how low my opinion is of Clara. But my dislike of the character is, far from being an indictment of her writers, actually a commentary on how well she’s written—I wouldn’t bother hating on someone who didn’t feel so damn real. Clara is an egotistical control-freak. But the Doctor is, too, so why don’t I feel such animosity towards him?

Well…I do. The Twelfth Doctor is definitely a more difficult Doctor to love. But Clara’s narcissism feels more egregious; she repeatedly shirks her earthly responsibilities (*cough* Danny) in order to go gallivanting around the universe because that is the only activity that appeals to her astronomically high sense of self-worth. The interesting thing about Clara, though, is that she is highly intelligent and extraordinarily capable, so her egoism is not pure bluster. Which brings us back to the Doctor. Every time the Doctor whips out his “I’m the Doctor” line, he is implicitly insisting that he is better.

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Otherwise, that sentence would have no power. He’s not just introducing himself– he’s laying down the law, with three simple words.

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And, let’s be honest: He really is better at everything. He’s THE DOCTOR!

At any rate, it’s pretty easy to imagine that if Clara had been born under different circumstances (say, on Gallifrey), she would be a near-exact replica of the Doctor. The fact that she, the Impossible Girl, actually was born under several different circumstances in several different eras only adds to her lone wolf aura—a maverick status that once again connects her to the Doctor. But it is both characters’ insistence that each one “knows better” that proves to be the most explosive aspect of their treacherous relationship. (In my last recap, I noted the symbolism of Clara and the Doctor ending up in a literal (though un-real) volcano at the beginning of “Dark Water.”) As Kyle Anderson put it: “Two Type A people in one TARDIS.” Which frequently plays out exactly as you would expect it to play out.

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That’s why this season felt a bit off-kilter—these two opposing forces were constantly butting heads, and Clara, not the Doctor, was often the one who came out on top. See: every scene in which Clara pretends to be or actually acts as the Doctor, which Moffat attributes to Clara “think[ing] the show is called Clara” instead of Doctor Who.

All of this infuses their goodbye scene in the diner at the end of “Death in Heaven” with an undercurrent of tragedy, because both Clara and the Doctor seamlessly fall back into their habit of blatantly lying to each other. The Doctor tells Clara he’s off to Gallifrey, despite the fact that Missy’s coordinates allegedly didn’t work, and despite the utter frustration he expresses while alone in the TARDIS. Clara, in turn, lies to him about Danny returning from the dead, despite the emotionally walloping scene beforehand in which Danny sends the boy he killed in war back in his place. After the final lies have been said and the final goodbyes are in place, Mr. “No Hugs!” allows Clara that one ceremonial formality, at long last explaining the reason for his mistrust of hugs: “It’s just a way to hide your face.” Clara agrees, gazing regretfully into nothingness, lying by omission, as the man on the other end of the hug does the same.

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**

Next up: Osgood! Ah, dearly departed Osgood. Was Osgood her first name or her last name? Now we’ll never know.

Osgood was a much-beloved fan-favorite, despite the fact that she only appeared in one other episode (“Day of the Doctor”), and for good reason: Osgood was, essentially, an on-screen representation of the collective Doctor Who fandom. She worshipped the Doctor (sometimes literally), not-so-subtly cosplayed the different Doctors’ idiosyncratic attire (Tom Baker’s scarf in “Day of the Doctor,” Matt Smith’s bowtie in “Death in Heaven”), and fostered a fervent desire to travel through time and space as the Doctor’s companion (“Something for your bucket list,” the Twelfth Doctor says, and a starry-eyed Osgood quickly takes a puff of her inhaler).

Given Osgood’s status as the fandom incarnate, it’s not surprising that the character found her way into real fans’ hearts. And given her status as a fan favorite, it’s not surprising that Steven Moffat would use her death for maximum shock effect.

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As Dr. Evil himself explained, vaporizing Osgood was all about helping us realize just how psychotically twisted Missy is: “The Master-stroke-Missy would have to kill somebody we liked in the most cruel, heartless, and terrible way to absolutely say that this person is shockingly evil.”

Thanks, Moff. We got it now.

There are two blatant problems with this: 1) It’s a classic case of fridging, so Moffat is not doing himself any favors in the ever-narrowing eyes of his feminist critics, and 2) He seems to be vindictively biting the hand that feeds him by offing the audience surrogate, and doing so “in the most cruel, heartless, and terrible way,” making her death into some sort of egotistical power trip—for Moffat, not for Missy, as was his iorigial intention.

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Danny Pink: Still dead and buried.

Well, still dead, at any rate. But he sure as hell wasn’t resting in peace.

“Danny’s a Cyberman. And he’s crying.”

Doctor Who is really killing it (no pun intended) with the three-word-sentence gut-punches, eh? You see, for the average 21st-century viewer, Daleks and Cybermen are about as scary as Dark Helmet. But Moffat injects the mythos of the Cyberman with a hefty dose of existential terror by creating the idea of a Cyberman that can feel. Gone is the inhuman automaton; enter the guilt-ridden, bone-weary, deadened but not dead Danny Pink. The Cyberman is crying. How on Earth are we supposed to approach that?

But first: The Doctor makes a house call. Or a graveyard call, as it were.

Often, characters on this show fall into the trap of spouting platitudes at each other, lessening the weight of their words by giving the impression that we’re being lectured at from all angles. But whenever Danny and the Doctor interact, their ideas crackle with genuine intensity—and truth. At the end of “The Caretaker,” Danny calls out the Doctor as being an officer—that is, a soldier who doesn’t get his hands dirty. He sees right through the Doctor’s hypocrisy.

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…or, perhaps “hypocrisy” is too strong a word—“hypocrisy” would be the term to use if the answer to the Doctor’s season-long query, “Am I a good man?” were “No.” But the Doctor is the hero of our Whoniverse, and so the answer to that question must be “Yes”—or at least, as Clara says, “You try to be, and I think that’s probably the point.” So, then, how to reconcile the Doctor’s values with the blood that he so meticulously wipes off of his hands? How to address Danny Pink’s very valid concerns? This is a question that the show has been dealing with all season, and perhaps all series as well. It’s a question that, like “Doctor Who?” is essentially unanswerable.

Back to the graveyard: Danny asks Clara to turn on his emotion inhibitor, because the pain is too much for him. In doing so, Clara will effectively kill him; he will become a “complete” Cyberman and Danny Pink will be lost forever. She calls to the Doctor for help, and the Doctor, of course, opposes switching on the inhibitor because “Pain is a gift.” An old and somewhat wearying argument, but one that I think was most delicately handled in The Fault in Our Stars.

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I was wary of revisiting this maxim, since it so treacherously toes the line between profound and ludicrous. But what the Doctor says next intrigues me: “Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.” There’s truth to that, I believe. But for Danny, this makes what the Doctor does even worse: You can feel the pain you inflict, he effectively accuses the Doctor, yet you inflict the pain anyway? For Danny—and for us—it’s hard to accept that that’s what a good man would do.

But it is Danny who has the last word here, finally throwing in an argument for the silent, oft-demonized soldier: “You will sleep safe tonight,” he says to Clara, as he rises (to heaven, finally?) with his fellow Cybermen, sacrificing himself to protect all of humanity. No guns, no weapons, no violence, no soldiers, the Doctor always insists, implying quite clearly that soldiers are somehow inherently bad. But Danny demonstrates here the ideal role of a soldier: not to kill, but to protect. (In light of all that has happened across America since Ferguson, this whole theme is unfortunately very, very relevant nowadays.)

This sequence began with the Doctor’s rather cringe-worthy “Love is a promise” line, but Danny Pink, bless him, carries it out to an emotionally and thematically satisfying conclusion. “This is the promise of a soldier!” he says, and as has been the case all season, Murray Gold’s gorgeous score lends these words additional gravitas. Danny’s exchange with the Doctor in this episode mirrors scenes from “The Caretaker” in another way as well: he asks Clara to tell him if the Doctor ever pushes her too far, and when Clara tells him “it’s a deal,” he corrects her: “No, it’s a promise. And if you break that promise, Clara, we’re finished.”

Sorry, it just started raining on my face.

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**

Missy, Missy, Missy. By this point, everyone has already said all there is to say about the Doctor’s wackiest longtime foe. But I really can’t say enough about how deliriously, anarchically bonkers Missy was, and how delightfully well Michelle Gomez played her. Definite shades of the Joker and Moriarty in that performance, along with, of course, vintage Master craziness.

Picking a favorite Missy line or a standout scene would be impossible, because every word that emerged from her lips had me bubbling over with hysterical (in both senses of the word) laughter. And although her annihilation of Osgood was certainly upsetting, I was almost enjoying her performance too much to notice just how upset I really was.

This episode made me wish that we could have seen more of Michelle Gomez’s character throughout the season. But it also made me think (hope?) that we haven’t seen the last of Missy, because an actress like that is simply too perfect to waste on a single season finale.

Yet despite all of Missy’s loopiness, I noticed that everyone seamlessly took up the female gender pronoun when talking about her, even when referring to Masters of the past. Nice assurance that people in the Whoinverse will respect your life choices—even if you are a psychotic supervillain.

Oods and Ends:

  • Missy: “Cybermen don’t just blow themselves up for no good reason, dear. They’re not human.” Damn. Missy drops a literal truth bomb.
  • So now Moffat has facilitated a fear of rain as well. Add it to the list…
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The Day of the Dead | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 11

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Part I: The Rise of the Time Lady

Anyone else a bit shaken up by that very first scene of “Dark Water”? I should think so. Because Doctor Who tackled something we very rarely see on this show: mundane, inexplicable death. I imagine the average Who fan espouses some degree of BBC Sherlock’s wish for everything to be clever—but life is rarely like that, and Danny’s tragic accident gave us a brief glimpse into that reality. What comes after, however, is pure sci-fi romp.

Before diving into where Danny ends up, let’s focus on Clara. I haven’t really been a fan of Clara’s character or Jenna Coleman’s acting chops, but if her emotional performance in this episode appeared forced, it actually served to heighten the visceral reality of the situation, since no one really knows how they’re “supposed to” behave when tragedy strikes. So in a very meta way, Coleman’s detached performance actually helped me identify even more with her character. “It wasn’t terrible,” Clara says, referring to Danny’s death. “It was boring.” Boring being code for inexplicable, unglamorous, existentially nihilistic; take your pick.

I’m referring, in that last paragraph, to Clara’s cringe-worth conversation with her gran. Meanwhile, her conversation with the Doctor took on a whole different tinge, and Coleman plays the “emotional wreck” version of Clara heartbreakingly well. When she flounces into the TARDIS, all faux-cheerful, we immediately sense that in her grief, Clara has become unhinged. As she meanders purposefully around the belly of the TARDIS, I noticed (and koimizu pointed out with a helpful screenshot) that Clara grabs one of the TARDIS keys from the pages of The Time Traveler’s Wife. That book is known to be one of Moffat’s favorites, and he has cited it as the inspiration to his first Tennant-era episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

If The Time Traveler’s Wife is a reference to “The Girl in the Fireplace,” then it is also a reference to the season 8 premiere, “Deep Breath,” which re-introduced us to the Clockwork Droids and provided us with a silent meditation on the Twelfth Doctor’s new identity.

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The meaning behind the Doctor’s new face (as seen in a previous Doctor’s time in “The Fires of Pompeii”) has been hinted at and overtly referenced throughout the season. “Dark Water” chooses to take the (slightly) more subtle route by having the duo discuss and then end up in a rumbling, fiery volcano. Though Twelve professes his lack of interest in mere “leaky mountains,” I suspect he’ll be inclined to reassess his gut reaction sometime very soon.

In the dream-induced volcano, Clara loses it completely, threatening to throw away the keys to the Doctor’s one true soulmate unless he helps Clara revive hers. “Fix it,” she demands, sounding like a petulant child and looking for all the world like a woman undone. When she tosses away the final key and crumples in a pit of total despair, it’s impossible not to ache for her, and the setting of the volcano feels like the perfect metaphor for her inner emotional chaos spilling out into the open.

The volcano is also an apt symbol of the Doctor-Clara relationship, which has been bubbling with tension ever since his regeneration. I maintain that Twelve and Clara are a terrible pair—but perhaps their lack of chemistry is compelling in its own way, because it serves to emphasize each one’s snobbish irascibility even more. How many times per episode does one tell the other to “shut up” or “do as you’re told,” or threaten to physically assault the other? How often does one betray the other, and yet the other comes crawling back? Healthy relationship dynamics this is not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating to watch.

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Their dysfunctionality continues even after the dream-state is revealed as such, and the Doctor confesses that he was “curious” to see how far Clara would go to blackmail him. “Curious”? Like she’s a cute little science experiment? Ehhh. Rubbed me the wrong way. But after that, the Doctor morphed into an Inspirational One-Liner Machine:

  • In response to Clara’s “I love him,” the Doctor says: “Yeah, you’re quite the mess of chemicals, aren’t you?” Like cosmic soup, eh? Even though this could be interpreted as a cheeky nod to the scientific notion that the brain is only made up of chemicals (and not, say, “consciousness” of the mind), it sounded like the Doctor’s tone was gently appreciative.
  • “The darkest day, the blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back, let’s see what we’re made of. You, and I.” Damn straight!
  • And of course…the Doctor’s answer to Clara’s question of why he would help her if she just betrayed him. In that brief pause before the Doctor delivered his response, I expected him to say: “Because I’m the Doctor.” And that would have been just fine, don’t you think? Because that’s what the Doctor does. It would have been just the sort of self-righteous thing Ten would have said, or something that Eleven would have answered with blithe insouciance. But Twelve is different. “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Perhaps this demonstrates that despite his rudeness, this Doctor has less of an ego than his previous two incarnations—he can make the hard choice that no one else wants to make because he doesn’t view it as his choice, the way Ten or Eleven would. Twelve wouldn’t be so bold as to assume that the weight of the world, or the universe (or Gallifrey!) would fall on his shoulders alone. That’s why he doesn’t allow Clara’s betrayal to impact him too deeply, because it would imply that his feelings about her actions are of the utmost importance—and not her feelings.

Now, Danny. Danny, Danny, Danny.

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Before we descend to the Nethersphere, I’d like to point out: This weekend marked the Mexican holiday of The Day of the Dead, and if you’re wondering about the recently released movie on that very topic, then yes, you should go see it. Doctor Who certainly takes a more sinister view of the colloquially termed “afterlife”—I will never stop shuddering over the screaming man followed by Seb’s giddy “someone donated his body to science!”

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But in all honesty, the absolute most horrifying about the “afterlife” is that you apparently still have to deal with paperwork. Yep, sounds like hell to me.

If I had to deal with him in my own life, I’d probably punch a hole in the wall, but as a fictional exaggeration of simpering bureaucracy, this Seb character is an absolute delight. And of course, said simpering bureaucracy utilizes iPads. Danny, speaking for the fandom, scoffs: “So you’ve got iPads in the afterlife?” Seb grins and replies: “We have Steve Jobs.” Well…that’s legit. Meanwhile, his little office space provided our first connection to the Cybermen:

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Will Clara Pay A High Cost For Trying To Be The Doctor On Doctor Who?

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That shape of concentric circles crops up in several places throughout the episode, the other notable appearance being on the “Rest In Peace” (“We promise!”) gravestone that Clara and the Doctor encounter in the creepy skeleton mausoleum. And if you didn’t catch on by the end, the closing shot of this week’s episode makes the connotation very, very clear:

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(Aside: It also looks like a graphic representation of the idea of a bubble universe, like in “The Doctor’s Wife.”)

…But thankfully, Danny’s not there (yet), because he has a few inner demons to face; namely, the child he killed during his stint as a soldier. File this revelation under: Not Shocking, Still Impactful.  See also: this brilliant catch by taiey, who noticed that Danny’s reflection as he hovers over the “delete” button on the iPad is not his own face, but the face of the aforementioned child.

This kind of baggage is undoubtedly reminiscent of the Doctor’s. But while Moffat was able to magic away the Doctor’s guilt over wiping out nearly two entire species (jk he only displaced them in time!!1), I doubt Danny’s can be so easily erased. Unless…apparently, in hell, there’s an app for that. “These emotions, they’re terribly difficult,” says Seb. “But…we can help with all these difficult feelings.” By pressing the “Delete” button, Danny can make all of the pain go away—and ostensibly become a fully integrated Cyberman. And that, of course, is the key difference between a human and a Cyberman. If you’ll forgive the excessive Sherlock references, one of my favorite lines from the show discusses this very topic—a visibly distraught Sherlock asks his foil, Moriarty: “Why did you never feel pain?” and the latter responds: “You always feel pain, Sherlock…but you don’t have to fear it.” Emotional pain is an integral part of being human, whether we like it or not.

Jumping back to Clara and the Doctor, the blue-tinged mausoleum full of skeletons is the stuff of Halloweekend nightmares. We are shown the name of one “corpse” in particular, and the name is certainly peculiar enough to attract our attention: Xylo Jones. Jones, obviously, calls to mind Martha, or Harriet Jones, Prime Minister™, though it’s a common enough name that I’m not willing to put too much emphasis on it. Xylo, though…Who the hell is named Xylo? As it turns out, “xylo” is Ancient Greek for none other than “wood,” which for all intents and purposes is the sonic screwdriver’s kryptonite. And that certainly doesn’t bode well for the Doctor.

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Unless, of course, it’s referring to another Wood…

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The Keeper…of the Gryffindor Quidditch team Nethersphere? SIGN ME THE HELL UP.

Oods and Ends

  • The initial promo featured Clara asserting that “Clara Oswald has never existed.” I’m guessing this will play out in that she will be scattered along Danny’s timeline in an attempt to rescue him, like she did with the Doctor?
  • Books books books! Lots of little Easter eggs in this episode. First: The Time Traveler’s Wife reference, as discussed above. Second: major props to actualproperclara for tirelessly pouring over nearly every single book on Clara’s shelf (as well as the post-its!) while she’s on the phone with Danny. Definitely check that out.
  • I read somewhere that Clara could be pregnant. This would make sense, given all of the hints at maternity w/r/t Clara throughout the season (specifically in “Kill the Moon”), plus the line in this episode about all of the graves on Earth “giving birth.” Also….where does Orson Pink come from if Danny’s dead?
  • The Cyberman in the lab is named Dr. Skarosa, aka the guy who, according to Dr. Chang, started the whole institution. Skarosa…sounds like Skaro. As in, Cult of? I would not be surprised if Missy was scheming with Davros or the like.

The Rise of the Time Lady | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 11

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I completely fell for it.

When Missy stepped out from behind the text of the 3W infomercial, planted a wet one on the Doctor, and revealed that she is a multifunction, interactive welcome droid, I felt a twinge of disappointment, but found no reason to doubt that “MISSY” really did stand for “Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface.” Sounds like as much of a mouthful as “Time And Relative Dimension In Space,” which is the longhand for “TARDIS.” (Though I suppose that should have been my first clue.)

However, I was concerned when Missy announced that she is programmed for “self-repair” and maintained by her own heart—the latter of which brought me back to her chilling proclamation at the end of “Flatline”: “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” (The meaning of which has not yet become clear.) A droid that possesses freedom of choice? Now that’s alarming. The notion of self-repair raised a red flag as well: in the upcoming sci-fi flick Automata, AI beings are only kept in check by a law that expressly prevents robots from repairing themselves, the assumption being that only something with consciousness can be self-aware enough to engage in self-repair.

The ethics of robotics, kids. It’s a doozy.

Showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat is not one to shy away from breaking storytelling rules and conventions (we’ll get to that in a moment), so I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had created a droid with consciousness (do we have any Blade Runner/Phillip K. Dick fans in the house?). But like I said—red flag. This should have been my second clue.

The Doctor seems to have known deep down who Missy really was as soon as he felt her heart(s), but he played the role of Doctor Idiot flawlessly throughout the remainder of the episode in order to make Missy spell it out for us in the most dramatic way possible. Each beat between “You know who I am,” “Please try and keep up,” and “It’s short for Mistress” ratcheted up the tension even more, bit by bit, until: “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself The Master, now, could I?”

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Those who have remained blissfully ignorant of this Missy = Master theory throughout the season no doubt received the shock of a lifetime at this big reveal. But those of us who have spent the past eleven weeks scouring Doctor Who comment boards and the like have been well aware of the most popular explanation of Missy’s mysterious identity since episode one, so the “big reveal” was exhilarating on a whole different level: in which the fandom enjoys a collective whoop of validation.

5 Obamacare Wins For Women

(And if you listen closely while Missy talks, you’ll hear an ominous drumbeat in the background. Good catch by kpower90!)

Since I spent the whole season assuming that the Master has, in fact, regenerated into a woman, I wasn’t blown away by the implications when it was finally confirmed. And I embody the precarious opinion that it shouldn’t be a big deal, but that it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that after releasing 40 superhero movies starring white males, Marvel finally optioned a movie starring a black man (Black Panther) and another starring a woman (Captain Marvel)—but it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that a traditionally male character has been reimagined as a female character, like Joan Watson in Elementary, or that a traditionally white character has been reimagined as black, like Quvenzhané Wallis’s Annie—but it is. And it shouldn’t be a big deal that another traditionally male character who ostensibly has the ability to regenerate into a female body but for whatever reason never has, finally did—but it is. Gender norms still exist, and it’ll take a hell of a lot of time, effort, and complete cultural overhaul to cut out the implicitly patriarchal bias of the English language. We like to think we live in a post-racial and gender-neutral society, but the reality is still far from the ideal.

I am pointing this out in order to be realistic, not discouraging. In fact, I’m proud of our progress as a human race, and I tentatively believe in the continued ascendant progress of humanity. So while I envision a distant future in which a comic series about a Muslim woman of color won’t make headlines because it won’t be out of the ordinary, I accept the fact that at this point in time, it is a big deal, and I will honor and support it as such. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. And I will proudly celebrate every single one of humankind’s baby steps as we march forever upwards towards a land of rainbows and unicorns and Nutella and equality and acceptance for all.

One such baby step? Casting a regenerated Master as a woman. Full stop.

I’m seeing posts online of people viciously lambasting Steven Moffat for his particular choice of words in revealing Missy as a regenerated Master– “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself…The Master” (emphasis mine)– because it comes across as transphobic. I have two responses to that opinion: firstly, discrimination works both ways, and if Missy appears biologically female and identifies as female, who are we to judge? Plus, even if Moffat wrote the script, the character of Missy is the one who delivers the line; she is the subject of the sentence, not Steven Moffat. Maybe Missy is an anti-feminist megalomaniac like Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne…who knows.

Secondly—and more in tune with my original argument—this is a baby step, and should be viewed—and celebrated!—as such. It would have been glorious to witness the debut of a Hispanic, Buddhist, transgendered Time Gallifreyan, but for whatever reason, Moffat chose not to. And I don’t think that reason has to be “BECAUSE HE’S A SEXIST BLOODY HACK.” A couple years ago, when the internet was aflame with who would replace Matt Smith as the next Doctor, some female names were thrown into the mix: Helen Mirren, Lara Pulver, et al. But Moffat said he only ever had one person, male or female or other, in mind (spoiler alert: it was Peter Capaldi), and that casting a woman “didn’t feel right to me, right now.” Fair enough—since he had just implied that if the one actor he had in mind had been a female version of Peter Capaldi, he would have cast her. He explained that it was an “aesthetic” decision rather than a “political” one—meaning, he was set on “Peter Capaldi,” not “Peter Capaldi The Heterosexual Male.”

Think about the whole concept of a species that can regenerate into different bodies—it positively screams gender fluidity, and tacitly supports the idea of the mosaic brain (fyi, clicking on link will play video), which teaches that human brains are made up of a composite of “male” and “female” traits. Moffat, Whovian fanboy that he is, is certainly aware of this idea.

But it’s what he said next that interests me: “I didn’t feel enough people wanted it [i.e., a female Time Lord].” And later, at the Edinburgh Television Festival: “Who knows, the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen someday.” In light of this, I’m curious to see if recasting the Master as the Mistress was Moffat’s way of testing the waters, to see how the fandom would react to a gender-bent Time Lord. So, instead of hurling unproductive vitriol his way, let’s show Moffat how psyched we are to see a Time Lady. Instead of finding fault with the Moff’s every creative decision, let’s rally behind this exciting new development and revel in the narrative possibilities.

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Only then will we get our Time Lady. And after that, Who knows?

Part II: The other 59.3 minutes of this episode…

Trees Are Friends, Not Furniture | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 10

Listen up, class…

It is one of the great tragedies of television that just when a season is beginning to pick up steam, it comes to a close. Or in the case of Doctor Who, it comes to a mind-bending, game-changing, emotion-wrenching close. But, alas, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself; I seem to have misplaced my TARDIS, so I’m not privy to what happens in this season finale.

I only bring up the end as an excuse to look back from the beginning, to attempt to address this season in retrospect. I’ve been throwing a bit of a season-long online temper tantrum regarding the new coldness of the Doctor, lamenting the fact that an argument that has been festering for years seems to have finally found new ground: that Doctor Who is no longer a show for kids. I don’t necessarily subscribe to this latter argument, but in light of my despondency over the former issue (i.e.: the Doctor’s explicit darkness), it makes sense that my favorite episodes of the season thus far all prominently feature children in main roles: “Listen,” “Kill the Moon,” and “In the Forest of the Night.”

Many times Coal Hill’s Gifted and Talented serve to function as pure comic relief, which is laugh-out-loud hilarious in itself. The “Find ‘x’” / “It’s right there” gag is nearly as old as time itself, but as someone who has always struggled with mathematics, it elicits a chuckle out of me every time. Each word that emerged from Maebh’s mouth is precious, ditto for Ruby and Bradley. And this scene, in which the Doctor pretty much turns into one of the kids? Priceless.

But aside from the belly-laughs, having kids play a role is a patent way of reintroducing that childish wonder and that clear-eyed goodness that is present in many children before the world has its way with them. Director Sheree Folkson (one of two female directors this season; Rachel Talalay directed the two-part finale written by Steven Moffat) artfully captures the theme of the child’s gaze by dropping the camera angle to reflect the view of the child in the scene, as in the beginning of the episode when Maebh meets the Doctor.

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In terms of “favorite” (reboot) Doctor Who episodes of all time, “In the Forest of the Night” may not crack the top 10, but I liked it a lot as a contrast to other episodes of season 8, which were, on the whole, a lot darker. This episode marked a return to a world of glass-half-full whimsy—trees are our friends! kids say the darndest things! the TARDIS has GPS!—while also hearkening back to the original intent of the show’s creators, in that the focus of the episode was a truly educational class trip.

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If Doctor Who was always supposed to be about exploring the wonders of the universe, and morphed into exploring the wonders of the universe as an allegory for the celebration of the wonders of humanity (we are, after all, “made of star-stuff”), then “In the Forest of the Night” has its cake and eats it too. This time, splendor and goodness can be found right here on Planet Earth. “There are wonders here,” Danny tells Clara, who in this episode fixates quite obviously on being the Doctor’s companion rather than the children’s teacher. How better to convey this message than through the eye (and the mind’s eye) of a child? I certainly wasn’t surprised to learn that the script was actually penned by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, a renowned and award-winning children’s book author. Cottrell-Boyce invokes a whole host of classic fairy tales in order to color the episode with this theme, including Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Sleeping Beauty. (The original versions of which were actually nauseatingly gory but, um, nothing to see here….) And the forest itself oozes Once Upon a Time—even Danny uses the word “enchanted” (albeit grudgingly) to describe his view of the situation.

Interestingly enough, those three favorite season 8 episodes of mine share another feature as well: each culminates with the enemy becoming the hero, and weakness morphing into strength. In this episode, the planet-wide infestation of photosynthetic is revealed to be not an invasion, but a defense, in order to protect all living beings on Earth from an otherwise devastating series of solar flares, while the dragon-thing in “Kill the Moon” ended up being inspirational, not harmful. And “Listen” preaches the most humble but perhaps most memorable lesson of the three, as fear becomes a superpower.

It’s fitting, then, that “Forest” contains several lines of dialogue and important themes that relate back to “Listen.” In addition to Clara asserting that “Furious, fearful, [and] tongue-tied” can all be superpowers “if you use them properly,” Maebh tells every human on Earth to “be less scared” and “be more trusting.” Looking back to “Listen,” I think this nugget puts a nice twist in the whole “fear is a superpower” speech. Rather than contradicting it, Maebh’s words actually connect the dots—fear can be a superpower, but only if it “makes companions of us all.” Fear must bring us together, not drive us apart.

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In fact, this episode served as a near-perfect lead-in to the finale in the sense that it has references to several other season 8 episodes sprinkled throughout, plus some key themes: fear, as mentioned above, and the mystery-that’s-not-really-such-a-mystery of “who frowned me this face?”, as pondered by the newly regenerated Doctor back in “Deep Breath.”

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Any questions?

Another notable quirk of this episode is the further (and continuously disturbing) development of the Doctor-Clara relationship. Although Clara may have overtly “played the role of the Doctor” in the previous episode, “Flatline,” she seems to actually become an element of the Doctor’s persona this time around. She tries to turn the tables on the Doctor by calling him up to show him “something amazing,” but the Doctor, buzzkill that he is, has obviously already discovered it (via Maebh). When discussing the appearance of the overgrown forest with the kids, Clara says, “The question is, how did we get here?” mimicking the Doctor’s phraseology and curiosity—while the more pragmatic-minded Danny corrects her: “No, the question is, how are we going to get these kids home?” And when the group finally meets up with the Doctor, Clara feels the need to provide color commentary on his every move. But the Doctor, in turn, seems to finally be learning something from Clara, by taking her caustic words from her powerful speech at the end of “Kill the Moon” and throwing them back at her. But his appropriation of her exact terminology– “You walk our Earth, Doctor, you breathe our air” in “Kill the Moon,” and “I walk your earth, I breathe your air” here—is apologetic and accepting rather than mocking. Perhaps the Doctor is at long last recognizing his responsibility to others. “This is my world, too,” he admits.

Oods and Ends

  • Maebh Arden…sound familiar? Shakespeare made use of the “Forest of Arden” in his play As You Like It. The tree connection is obvious, but there is also the fact that Shakespeare’s forest was no ordinary forest as well, but a magical, exotic, and often befuddling place.
  • Maebh’s sister’s name is Annabelle…also familiar? Edgar Allen Poe’s famous last poem was titled Annabel Lee. In it, he mourns the loss of a young woman who was taken from him because “the angels, not half so happy in Heaven / Went envying her and me.” Hmmm. Paging Missy…
  • Vocab lesson: The sunlight filtering through the trees is pretty gorgeous, right? There’s a word for it: komorebi.
  • River Song Watch: “People who have lost someone, they’re always looking, they’re always hoping, so they notice more, they hear more.” This is a beautiful line in itself, but it also made me think of Eleven’s line from “The Name of the Doctor,” when he tells River: “You’re always here to me.”
  • “The human superpower: forgetting. If you remembered how things felt, you’d have stopped having wars. And stopped having babies.” Wowza. Truth bombs and literal bombs.
  • Doctor: “Okay, who would like to witness a once in a billion years solar event at close quarters? Maebh: [looks at the scanner] “Mum! There’s my mum!” Awwww, I knew the kids would be the wise ones in this episode. And it suddenly got really dusty in here—maybe it’s all the pollen?

See ya’ll in the Nethersphere!

Killer Graffiti: Which characters are more three-dimensional? | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 9

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In a season replete with peaks and valleys, “Flatline” was a perfectly enjoyable peak. Perhaps the annual “Doctor-lite” episode was so engaging because it was a “Doctor-lite” episode, following in the footsteps of one-off greats such as “Blink” and “Turn Left” rather than, of course, The Episode That Must Not Be Named. But for a Doctor-lite episode to shine, the plot and/or companion(s) need to step up. Fortunately, writer Jamie Mathieson (also responsible for last week’s “Mummy on the Orient Express”) ensured that both the episode’s Big Bad and Doctor Clara & Co. were up to the task.

The pre-credits opening scene  added fuel to the argument that new Who is becoming too scary for kids—the classic show’s intended audience—as a terrified, bearded man in a dark room whispers ominously into a telephone until he disappears, screaming, into the night. Or, well, the wall. Aside from the fear factor, there’s also the detail that kids under 14 would be too hopelessly baffled by the concept of a phone with a cord attached to understand what’s going on anyway.

Clara and the Doctor have presumably just returned from a Unsanctioned-by-Danny Adventure when they notice that the TARDIS door has shrunk. Which leads to the discovery that the entire outward manifestation of the TARDIS has shrunk. Which leads to an episode-long slew of wink-wink “bigger on the inside” jokes that—like the “Are you my mummy?” line in last week’s episode—are somehow predictable and yet hilarious, possibly because both hearken back to familiar and beloved Doctor Who tropes.

The Doctor proceeds to bounce around the diminished circumference of the TARDIS like a tireless puppy, but Grumpy!Clara complains about the “ishness” of the Doctor’s landing coordinates. “Could you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something?” says the Doctor. “I mean it happens so rarely…” After this line, I knocked off my Whimsy hat and drew on some Attack Eyebrows. Because…really? How many times in recent episodes has the Doctor explicitly stated that he “hates not knowing”? Is this lazy writing or bipolar characterization or intended dissonance or what? Perhaps I’ve been seesawing so violently with regards to my opinion on this season because the season itself has been seesawing with regards to how it wants us to view the characters. Is this Doctor the type who hates not knowing or delights in not knowing? Is this Doctor the type who gives alien creatures the benefit of the doubt or assumes that they’re all “pudding brains”? Is this Doctor the type who is perfectly comfortable jabbering aloud to himself in the TARDIS, or does he need Clara’s companionship? Already I’m cringing at my use of the word “type,” because I hate putting people into boxes. We all contain multitudes; we are complex and multilayered and hella paradoxical. One-dimensional characters (if you’ll forgive the relevant pun) are not compelling because people don’t exist like that. But on the flip side, there are basic standards for characterization that suggest that characters must at least be recognizable. Even if their most identifiable trait is their fickleness.

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But to have characters that contain blatantly contradicting traits makes no sense. It turns them into two-dimensional characters equal only to the sum of their parts, rather than three-dimensional characters  who grow and develop.

And then we have, of course, the overarching character-based question that was established back in “Deep Breath”: Is the Doctor a “good” man?

The reason this question fails as a season-long tension-builder is because it should be rhetorical. In my mind, there is absolutely  no doubt about the Doctor being “good.” He may even be Goodness Incarnate. That’s how much I believe in the ideal that is The Doctor. He is not a jaded, quasi-ludicrous, post-9/11 anti-hero. He is a hero. Plain and simple. The only mystery is in the details—what kind of a good man is he? Will he perform a goofy victory dance in front of other sentient beings, or only while alone?

capalxii:    fuckyespetercapaldi:    IMPORTANT    I can’t believe how much darker they’ve made the Doctor

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With the Doctor cooped up in his quickly shrinking TARDIS, Clara is obliged to run point on the investigation for this episode. A quick jaunt to a local underpass leads her cross paths with Rigsy, a local street artist whose character tips  a baseball cap to the real-life Bristol-born graffiti artist called Banksy. Joivan Wade is no Carey Mulligan,  but his Rigsy certainly comes close to achieving Sally Sparrow status as a Doctor-lite episode character who steals the show. Over a span of a mere 45 minutes, both characters blossomed more than  certain characters who have been around for ages. Cough cough.

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Rigsy is charmingly coy with Clara during their first interactions, while he also provides some necessary Background Exposition. People have been disappearing. No one knows how or why. Look at these portraits of the missing people lined up along the cement walls of the underpass which will totally be used a plot device later on.

Clara hurries off to inform the Doctor of her findings, only to discover that the TARDIS has miniaturized even more. She giggles and says, “That is so adorable!”, echoing me and thousands of other fans word-for word, as Doctor Who retailers offer up effusive prayers of thanks for what’s bound to be a sudden influx of orders for TARDIS paperweights and whatnot, as their merchandise officially becomes canon. Putting the mini-TARDIS in her purse for safekeeping, Clara steps into the role of the Doctor, sonic screwdriver in one hand, psychic paper in the other, and a definite spring in her step.

When she runs into Rigsy again and he asks her name, she smugly introduces herself as “the Doctor.” “Doctor of what?” he asks. “Of lies!” a grumpy voice in her ear pouts. Ain’t that the truth. Poor Danny doesn’t deserve this gal.

Eager to impress his new Doctor/Spy friend, Rigsy brings Clara to the literal scene of the crime. “Ooooh, I love a good locked room mystery!” gushes Sherlock the Doctor. Rigsy praises Clara and her earpiece for getting involved in the investigation because the authorities weren’t doing anything to help, and “people were thinking that no one was listening, that no one cared.” Though this causes the Doctor to immediately enter into “Exasperated by Pudding-Brains” mode, I was deeply touched by his words. And though this incarnation of the Doctor eschews sentimentality (something I don’t think I will ever fully accept), the larger character of The Doctor represents that merciful, sympathetic ear. This is what drove the Doctor to save the family from Pompeii (*cough* “who frowned me this face?” *cough*), and this is why the wheezing and groaning sound of the TARDIS brings hope everywhere it goes. So quit your eye-rolling, Twelve, and embrace your inner goo.

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Clara and Rigsy continue deducing, as Clara and the Doctor continue bantering, and at some point, Clara gets fed up with the Doctor’s nagging and turns off his video feed—the companion equivalent of a petulant teen slamming her bedroom door in her parent’s face. Speaking of faces, Clara gazes back at her reflection just before using the sonic on the Doctor, enacting a trippy scenario in which she is looking herself in the eye, but discoursing with the Doctor, who is looking at Clara through her eyes. Meanwhile, the Doctor is telling Clara not to scare off “Local Knowledge,” passing it off as his own idea, even though just a moment ago he was telling Clara that Rigsy is utterly useless, while Clara was advocating that Rigsy should stick around. And all of this meta-communication reminds us that the Doctor and Clara have been lying to and at each other so much that they barely interact normally anymore. Also: metaphorical mirrors!

Doctor Clara and Companion Rigsy move on to the next crime scene, as the Doctor  comes to the conclusion that the perpetrators may have been absorbed into the walls. Clara removes a hammer from her Mary Poppins/Hermione Purse and begins hacking at the walls, which IMO seems like a pretty pointless plan, coming from two alleged geniuses. Anyway, it gives  PC Forrest an opportunity to leave the room and promptly be sucked into the floor and splayed out onto the wall. Which is pretty terrifying and gross, but I’ll admit that the “mural” on the wall that turns out to be PC Forrest’s actual  nervous system looked like an aesthetically pleasing bucolic sketch at first glance.

And that’s when the inventive CG team really goes to town, with the Doctor’s voiceover explaining that these creatures are “experimenting, testing, dissecting…trying to understand…three dimensions.” Suddenly, the doorknob flattens, and the pastel-colored couch literally melts into the floor. Clara and Rigsy are surrounded by invisible 2D monsters, and their only option is to scramble onto a suspending chair and swing through the window Like a Wrecking Ball.

Hey, come to think of it…image

(Adrian Rodgers, BBC)

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and so but wait also…

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…Nope, no way I’m pursuing this further. Moving on.

Back to the underpass, where Rigsy’s community service cohorts are about to paint over the murals of the missing people. A brief argument ensues, but the Grouchy Old White Man tells the one named Stan to just “do his job.” Poor Stan approaches the wall and then takes a page from the book of his literary namesake, as he’s flattened into a mural himself. Everyone’s all, WTF, but Clara—channeling the Doctor impeccably—tells them to 1) “forget Stan” and 2) run.

The remaining half of “Flatline” is spent, essentially, running from and then fighting “the Boneless,” which are the absolute coolest Doctor Who villains in quite some time. They’re like an evil combination of two beloved children’s books, Flat Stanley and Harold and the Purple Crayon, much like the Tennant-era episode “Fear Her,” in which a hideously clichéd ending and a subpar plot diminished the excitement over an otherwise fascinating monster-of-the-week premise. I’m glad that episode finally got the makeover it deserved, in terms of creativity and innovation.

So Clara takes charge of her little crew, explaining to the Doctor how she’s going to continue to channel him in order to get the job done. How is she going to save them? First: “Lie to them. Give them hope. Tell them they’re all going to be fine. That’s what you do, isn’t it?” Geez, Moffat, getting a little heavy-handed with the white lie theme, dontcha think?

Interestingly enough, the Doctor softens as Clara hardens, suggesting that despite all of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, perhaps the shapeless monsters are merely trying to communicate with the humans, and are only incidentally murdering them. Not so, as we’ll find out later. Some monsters just wanna be monsters.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; first, there is a lot of running across Underground tracks to be done. The Doctor needs to channel the Addam’s Family’s disembodied hand in order to evade an oncoming train clearly labeled A113, an Easter Egg allusion to the California Institute of the Arts classroom that spawned many animation greats. He then provides Clara with the newly invented “Toodis,” a device that is meant to restore flattened objects to 3D.

For a Doctor-lite episode, the Doctor seems to be pretty involved. But it is Clara who takes center stage, playing the hero and ensuring the safety of her companions using her stubborn resolve and ingenuity. Her plan to use a painting by Rigsy to trick the Boneless into powering up the TARDIS was Clara at her “Oswin Oswald” best, and though her arrogance often makes me want to hurl, her confidence is exhilarating; Clara’s character is most admirable when, in her moments of extreme doubt, she effectively gives herself a pep talk. “Doctor: what would you do now?” she ponders, when the Doctor is nowhere near and in no condition to assist. Abruptly, her demeanor changes. “No,” she corrects herself. “What will I do now?”  This line reminded me of another similar situation from the beginning of “The Caretaker,” when Clara is attempting to juggle her old life with the Doctor and her new life with Danny, and she sits in front of the mirror and despairs: “I can’t keep doing this. I can’t do it.” Then, strengthening her resolve: “Yes, I can do it, of course I can do it.” This is why I never really liked her as a companion—she always struck me as the kind of person who is so fiercely independent that it feels incongruous to coop her up with someone else, let alone have her tag along as his assistant. And so when Clara flounces after the Doctor like a loyal worshipper, it’s not only insulting, it seems out of character. I couldn’t stand her nauseating need for the Doctor’s approval at the end of this episode, because Clara Oswald isn’t supposed to be like that, and her thirst for praise almost serves to retroactively cancel out her previous instances of self-propelled confidence.

In contemplating this particular scene, I was reminded of Martha Jones’ “You know what? I am good” line right before she walks out on the Tenth Doctor. I’ll save my thoughts on why Martha Jones is my favorite companion for another time, but suffice it to say that this parting line was so gut-wrenchingly effective because it was such a long time in coming—as she herself states, she spent a long time traveling with the Doctor and thinking she was “second-best.” Martha is one of the few companions who truly develops as a character, and her achievement of self-confidence does not come easy. Despite—or because of—her unrequited romantic feelings for the Doctor, she develops into a strong, confident young woman, and the Doctor, too, is better for having known her. Cut to Twelve’s relationship with Clara, and you’ve just got a whole mess of idolization and disgust and too many egos for one TARDIS, while each seems to be worse off in the company of the other.

But aside from that blip at the end, Clara pretty much owned this episode, and her chemistry with Rigsy made each scene they shared that much more enjoyable. Especially in the scene where Rigsy nobly resolves to sacrifice himself by ramming the train carriage into the Boneless in an attempt to get rid of them Once and For All. Clara’s part in this scene is notable for several reasons: 1) The Fourth Wall is certainly dented, if not broken entirely, when Clara points out the ridiculousness of the unnecessary and overdramatic sacrifice. “Ok, fine, yeah,” she says drily. “And I’ll always remember you.” Clara: 1, TV Tropes: 0. 2) This is why I always carry around a hair band. Hair bands >>> Duct tape. My hair band may one day save the world. 3) The Doctor has been accused of turning people into weapons, of letting others die “in his name,” and of “making them want to impress him.” Rigsy’s name was about be added to that ever-growing list. But Clara, as hard as she tries throughout this episode, is not the Doctor, and she doesn’t let Rigsy sacrifice himself.

After Clara’s nifty trick restores the TARDIS to its regular dimensions, the Doctor emerges to deliver his version of Eleven’s “Hello, I’m the Doctor, and this planet is protected” speech from “The Eleventh Hour.” And the day is saved!

But the jubilation doesn’t last long—for Clara at least—when the Doctor refuses to tell her that she was “good.” Instead, he says: “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara.” But? “Goodness had nothing to do with it.” Clara is appropriately shocked into silence. (Though technically speaking, the Doctor did call Clara “good” as well as “a mighty fine Doctor” earlier in the episode, when he thought she couldn’t hear him.) As I mentioned earlier, I refuse to believe that this pontification over “goodness” is more than just a smokescreen, because the Doctor’s goodness must be a given at the outset. Fingers crossed.

Oods and Ends

  • Missy Watch – !!!!!!!!!! The episode ends with Missy cradling Clara’s face on an iPad, crooning, “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” What does it all mean??? Do they have phablets in heaven??
  • Why did Clara answer Danny’s call when she was otherwise distracted by a carnivorous swarm of invisible aliens? Seriously, why?
  • “What up, bitch?” is Danny’s greeting of choice to Clara? ….is that necessary?
  • I just had a thought. Can you imagine a Wholock universe in which Sherlock encounters Clara? Everyone in the room would suffocate from the overbearing smugness within seconds.
  • I found the discussions about dimensional space as it relates to the TARDIS fascinating. “If the TARDIS were to land with its true weight, it would fracture the surface of the Earth.”

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Till next week, Whovians!

Mum[my]’s the Word | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 8

This week’s “recap” will consist of only a collection of Oods and Ends, given that I’m away on vacation and, totally coincidentally, also have nothing whatsoever to say about this episode because it bored me to tears. Over the past few weeks of recapping Doctor Who I’ve beaten several topics to death already—so much so that they’re in danger of becoming undead vampire mummies themselves—and I don’t see that there is much to be gained by harping on them further. So, some quick thoughts:

Oods and Ends:

  •  Obvious best line of this episode: “Are you my mummy?” Somewhere, Christopher Eccleston is furiously burning a pile of gas masks in effigy.
  •  Theme: The Twelfth Doctor’s “potency” w/r/t time, as evident by the emphasis on exactly 66 seconds.
  •  I’ve had it up to here with Clara’s wigs. I feel like she’s cosplaying herself. It’s weird.
  • She looks like a showgirl.
  • I hate her.
  • What happened to them being in a fight and Clara never stepping foot in the TARDIS ever again? Was that just my own Mirror of Erised speaking?
  •  I’m so glad Clara peeled away that one promising layer of righteous humanity in order to slip back into a doe-eyed, gooey caricature of smitten nubility. Character development!
  •  I’m also really glad that the writers managed to include two female scientists in that train car with the Doctor, only to have them melt passively into the background with the Albert Einstein lookalike while the white men had all the fun.
  •  The Doctor is an asshole.
  •  Like a really big asshole.
  •  …But wait! He’s not that big of an asshole, because really he was just pretending to be an asshole, so that he could be in a better position to save the day and impress Clara with his impressive and totally not hyperaware “heroism.”
  •  Here’s my issue. I’m simply not okay with the fact that the central mystery of this season—and on a smaller scale, each individual episode—seems to be: how big of a dickhead is the Doctor really? Obnoxious mannerisms and a total disregard for the safety of others in the name of #science can be deceiving!!!11! Really he just tries to Do The Right Thing! Oh, Doctor. Get in line.

“It’s Your Moon, Womankind” | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 7

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Who needs a full recap when we can sum up this episode with five words from a Beyonce song?

Guess my work here is done. Laterz.

Juuuuuuust kidding! “Kill the Moon” was beyond epic, in my humble opinion, and that means I’m going to spend hours explicating its many merits, including but not limited to the skyrocketing success of wombynkind. Which is totally unconnected to the fact that the Doctor—the only male who was present in more than two scenes and made it out alive by the end of this episode—demonstrated that he can be an utter celestial douchebag.

The episodes opens up back at Coal Hill, with Clara talking to her “space dad” about Miss Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods. These days, Courtney is lashing out because the Doctor allegedly told her she wasn’t special. “You say something like that to somebody and it hurts,” Clara insists. “Especially if you’re somebody of her age, and especially if you’re you.”

Thirty seconds into the post-credits part of the episode, and we’ve already hit on two specific points of interest for me. Clara’s job as a teacher is, on one level, to relay pertinent information to students about a particular subject. But on another (less clearly delineated but certainly more important) level, her job is to inspire each student to reach his or her highest potential—in other words, to convince each student that they are special. And what is the figure of the Doctor if not the ultimate teacher? Doctor Who was originally established, back in 1963, as an educational television program that uses time travel to explore historical and scientific facts and figures, and the Doctor has always been at the helm of this journey. But here—and at the end of this episode—we have Clara teaching the Doctor what’s what, exposing the fact that Twelve may know many of the secrets of the universe, but he’s woefully ignorant when it comes to the many secrets of human nature.

Clara’s insistence that the Doctor tell Courtney that she’s “special” makes me wonder if the BBC has been reading my emails to thursdayj, because this is exactly what has been bothering me so much about the Twelfth Doctor versus Doctors Nine through Eleven. Inspiring, oft-quoted lines such as Ten’s “It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person” and Eleven’s “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important” preach a Seussian ideal of individual uniqueness, a message that we can all benefit from on a daily basis. And yet Twelve has consistently defied this uplifting motto. Nine, Ten, and Eleven made me feel special, when it’s so easy to be lost and alone in this massive universe. But if I were to ever encounter Twelve, he’d probably crush my spirit by informing me that I am an absolute speck of nothingness. Which is something I’d really rather not think about, tbh. And neither, apparently, would Courtney Woods.

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The second idea focuses on the paradoxically fragile-yet-admirably strong mind of a teenage girl, a topic that Pixar deemed notable enough to turn into the plot of the upcoming movie Inside Out. As Amy Poehler put it, “The brain of a young girl is a funny, complex, and miraculous thing.” We’ve all been there—even if you’re not, or never have been, a teenage girl—and this is another lesson the Doctor needs to internalize. Good thing we’ve got Miss Oswald channeling her inner Amy Poehler (among several other feminist goddesses) to sort him out!

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The Doctor, as per his wont, deflects Clara’s outright demand for insincere encouragement and instead asks Courtney how she would like to be the first woman on the moon, in order to lend actual, empirical support to her claim of “specialness.” For a moment I thought the BBC had made a massive gaffe, because there must have already been a woman on the moon, right? Wrong! replied Google. We’re apparently still living in the Neolithic Age. Not so in the Whoniverse, where Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods leapfrogs ahead of the other women on board the space shuttle in order to claim the title and triumphantly proclaim: “One small thing for a thing! One enormous thing for a thingie thing!” If you weren’t in love with this kid beforehand, her eloquent adaptation of Neil Armstrong’s immortal first words on the moon probably sealed the deal. (In fairness, Courtney, I also tend to mix up the words “step” and “leap” as well as “man” and “mankind.” Also: Sooooo gendered.) As of now, no creepy aliens have hijacked Courtney’s momentous speech. Those Tumblr photos, though…I foresee a seriously terrifying force of destruction emerging from Courtney’s Tumblr account…

When Clara, Courtney, and the Doctor exit the TARDIS, they realize that the Doctor has undershot their moon landing a bit—they land on a shuttle en route  to the moon, rather than on the moon itself. No matter: time to make some new frenemies while tossing out (…sometimes literally) a couple fun throwbacks to the Fourth Doctor’s era: Twelve ascertains that the date is 2049 judging by “the prototype version of the Bennett Oscillator,” which was mentioned by the Fourth Doctor in 1975’s “The Ark in Space,” which itself was a nod to the episode’s director, Rodney Bennett. So, yes, Doctor Who did, in fact, just get all meta-self-referential on us.

But wait, there’s more! The Twelfth Doctor’s yo-yo usage was undoubtedly a callback to the entire Tom Baker era, but more specifically to that very same episode, in which the Fourth Doctor also uses his yo-yo to measure gravity readings. In fact, it seems like the set-up of “Kill the Moon” bears a striking resemblance to the critically acclaimed “Ark in Space.” Here’s the brief synopsis of the latter episode from the Doctor Who Wiki:

The TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting Earth in the distant future. It’s seemingly deserted, but the Doctor, Sarah and Harry soon discover that they are not alone. …  A parasitic insect race – the Wirrn – have taken control and threaten the very future of mankind…

Well, showrunner Steven Moffat has mentioned that “Ark” is his favorite episode from the Baker era. Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser. However, this episode quickly takes on a life of its own (no pun intended, as we’ll see soon enough), helped along in no small part by Murray Gold’s ever-fabulous musical score. Though Eleven’s “I Am the Doctor” will forever be a fandom favorite, Twelve’s theme music—most noticeable when the Doctor first takes off for the moon and when he makes his rousing speech on the beach—is quickly growing on me, and has certainly morphed into one of the highlights of this season.

So: Having established  that something fishy is going on, the three amigos team up with a couple of astronauts in order to figure out what to do about the moon situation, which according to the locals from 2049, is causing Really Bad Stuff to happen down on Earth. It turns out that Really Bad Stuff is happening on the moon as well, because two of the lead astronaut’s companions are promptly devoured by ginormous arachnids. The remaining astronaut, a hardened woman by the name of Lundvik, laments the loss of the one called Duke—he had recently had a granddaughter; he was Lundvik’s teacher, taught her how to fly, etc. Much sad. Very tragedy. The Doctor is having none of it.

The Doctor leads the remaining crew out to investigate an abandoned moon base, at which they discover the desiccated skeletons of a Mexican group that had landed on the moon ten years previously. Why hadn’t a rescue attempt been organized sooner? Because the only space shuttle available was currently on display in a museum, and the the global space program was effectively kaput. “We’d stopped going into space,” Lundvik explains, because “nobody cared.” Over in the good ol’ U.S.A, this prognostication is frighteningly realistic.

It’s around this point in time that Clara realizes that she’s probably going to get her miniskirts pants sued off if anything happens to Courtney, a situation that is a distinct possibility given that they are currently wandering around a future, carnivorous moon 238,900 miles from England. So she petitions the Doctor to take Courtney home, but the Doctor is just starting to have fun, and he once again balks at Clara’s request. “She’s fine!” he insists. “What are you, 35?” (Even though Clara has simply had it up to here with the Doctor’s lack of age discrimination, I personally think it’s one of this season’s most hilarious running gags.) They compromise by locking Courtney in the TARDIS until everything is safe and sound, at which point she flounces into a chair and promptly beings uploading pictures to Tumblr, which, let’s be real, is definitely what would happen if any one of us actually ended up riding along in the TARDIS. Courtney Woods, you are us. Love you too, BBC.

Soon afterwards, the Doctor pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and then promptly geronimos into a pit of amniotic fluid, leaving Clara and Lundvik to engage in an exasperated session of eye-rolling over the Doctor’s behav…

…wait, amniotic fluid? That’s right: as the Doctor reveals upon his return to the shuttle, the moon is breaking apart because it’s an egg—and it’s hatching. “Is it a chicken?” Courtney asks, “Because for a chicken to have laid an egg—“ and though the Doctor immediately cuts her off, I wondered at the significance of this chicken-and-egg comparison, especially given the brief mention of chicken at the beginning of the episode as well. As the well-worn question goes: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Though often considered quite literally, this question also calls to mind the matter of how/when life begins, as well as the issue of the causality of time, both of which are featured heavily in this week’s episode.

Let’s begin with the latter: The Doctor pontificates on the fluxity (a word I just made up and will now be working into daily conversation as much as possible) of time throughout this episode, explaining to Clara that just because she’s been to the future and has seen the moon in the sky, it doesn’t mean that the future she has seen is set in stone. As the Doctors and River Song explain and then retract every other episode: “Time can be rewritten.”

But I’ll leave the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to other Whovians, because I want to focus on the significance of a life. As an elated Doctor enlightens Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik on the nature of the being growing inside the eggshell of the moon: “I think that it’s unique. I think that it’s the only one of its kind in the universe. I think that that…is…utterly beautiful.”

Though the “last of its kind” trope has been overused ad nauseum as it relates to the Doctor, I can’t get enough of the “only one of its kind” theme; as I mentioned earlier, that’s what I loved about Doctors Ten and Eleven: they truly made everyone feel special. Though this Doctor is a bit more terse in expressing this idea—and certainly engages in a roundabout method of demonstrating this to Courtney, as per Clara’s request—I was ecstatic to see him finally subscribing to the “wide-eyed wonder” character trait of the Doctors before him. Its core message is certainly reminiscent of the Eleventh Doctor’s words of encouragement to young Merry Gallel in “The Rings of Akhaten”:

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Whether the Doctor meant that whatever is about to hatch from the moon-egg is unique as an individual or unique as a species, the consensus is clear: It’s “utterly beautiful.”

Without missing a beat, a steely-eyed Lundvik whispers: “How do we kill it?” The contrast is jarring. And the ensuing conversation is so reminiscent of the abortion debate, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least recap the buzzwords used to describe the situation at hand:

On the anti-abortion side, we have…

…the Doctor:

A living, vulnerable creature

It’ll never feel the sun on its back

[Something] trying to force its way out

Little, dead baby

It wouldn’t be very pretty—you’d have an enormous corpse floating in the sky.

…Courtney:

It’s just a little baby!

It’s not even been born!

 

…and Clara:

This is a life

You can’t blame a baby for kicking

 

With the pro-abortion stance, we have Lundvik:

It is killing people!

I don’t want to get into the politics of this extremely traumatizing and very real issue, but I do think the topic was strongly  alluded to (or, well, blatantly referenced) as a means of lending additional gravity* to the situation at hand. Because the way Clara put it at the opening of the episode– “An innocent life versus the future of all mankind”—made the decision seem pretty easy, albeit painful for the ones actually pushing the button. One life versus an untold infinity? Even the staunchest deontologist would have trouble debating the moral logic of deciding to knock off that single life. But putting the debate in these terms certainly makes it feel more personal and more daunting. The conversation took an even more significant turn when the topic of children comes up: “You might have some very difficult conversations to have with your kids,” the Doctor says, condescendingly, regarding the dead fetus hanging in the sky. “I don’t have any kids,” Lundvik replies. Later, as the debate rages on, Clara agonizes over “killing a baby” and Lundvik shoots back, “Oh you want to talk about babies? You’ve probably go babies down there! Do you want to have babies?” At which a tearful Clara responds—with an expression that has got to be one of the finest dramatic moments of Jenna Coleman’s career—“Yeah.” The two women discuss the fate of the human race in the context of a very female-centric issue, and they do so with sensitivity, clarity, and a very appropriate dose of anguish.

All because, of course, the Doctor PEACED THE HELL OUT the instant he realized an impossible decision was to be made, or because he knew it would all work out in the end, or whatever—all under the guise of helping the puny little humans “take the stabilizers off” of their bikes. “It’s your moon, womankind,” he all but sneers. “It’s your choice.”

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At which point I said, GOOD RIDDANCE, BRO.

I noticed early on that this episode was (pleasantly) very female-centric—the moon itself is an age-old symbol of femininity, the discussions about birth; and when the only two human males in “Kill the Moon” make their way to the Nethersphere (maybe), we’re left with the Doctor and three leading ladies to carry the plot to its finish, a gender imbalance that feels way too refreshing in light of the reversed ratio in most other sci-fi series. (The rebooted Doctor Who series has always been very attentive to this imbalance, and Russel T. Davies in particular was careful to put forth a diverse cast. In season 8, “Into the Dalek” has been by far the most progressive episode to date in this regard—until, perhaps, “Kill the Moon.”) And when the Doctor vacates the premises halfway through the episode, only Clara, Lundvik, and Courtney remain, and they’ve got the (fate of the) whole world in their hands. (Because apparently the female president of the United States is too busy running the world from down below at the moment.) The abortion debate could all boil down to the fact that what happens to a woman’s body should be her choice and her choice only; in this episode, what happens to the entire planet is the choice of three very different, very important, and very strong—in all variations of that term—women.

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Ever the democrats, the adults in the room decide to put it to a vote on Earth, devising a totally impractical scheme so that all of Earth can signal its decision w/r/t to the unborn alien fetus inhabiting the moon-egg. The white smoke goes up—or, rather, doesn’t, as all of Earth’s lights are extinguished in order to signal mankind’s decision: kill it. #Scumbag earthlings.

Fortunately, Clara’s compassion kicks in and compels her to halt the detonation at the last possible second. Like clockwork, the Doctor reappears and pats them all on the back for a job well done.

Like Lundvik said: “What a prat.”

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Because Clara’s rant to the Doctor at the end of the episode was absolutely, 1000% spot-on. She felt insulted, she felt disrespected, she felt patronized, and she let. him. have it. And though as a viewer, I was thrilled by the moral dilemmas and psychological finagling that went on over the course of this episode, the Doctor did act irresponsibly, and he deserved  to be, as Clara colorfully put it, slapped so hard that he’d regenerate. Because this new regeneration will have been all for naught if he doesn’t learn a little something about taking responsibility.

Clara’s tirade was also exhilarating because it served as the climax of Jenna Coleman’s unparalleled performance in this episode. I have made no secret of my pervasive loathing for Clara, so know that I speak genuinely when I say that I was floored by Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of the character in “Kill the Moon.” I’ve heard it said that Clara is at her most sympathetic when interacting with children—it’s why she made such a great governess and such a great nanny in the many incarnations of her character—and, here, she has a wonderful dynamic with 15-year-old Courtney Woods. This relationship heightened her likability in my eyes by a millionfold, as she sticks up for her student (one she doesn’t even particularly like, by the way!) in front of the Doctor and strives to protect her physically and emotionally every step of the way. There was also this rather odd little exchange between the duo in which Clara tells Courtney to call her by her first name, and a bemused Courtney says something along the lines of, “I think I’ll stick to ‘Miss,’ Miss.” It’s almost as if Courtney was speaking on behalf of a dozen other voices by telling Clara to own her position of authority, and to hold firm in the face of (male) opposition. And at the end, Clara does so, sticking up for herself  in front of the over-pompous Doctor.

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Like Danny Pink predicted, the Doctor finally pushed her too far. And Clara, after months of meekly and rather blindly letting the Doctor tell her what to do, says: Enough.

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On a positive note, however, I did absolutely adore the scene on the beach. The setting, the echoing sound of the seagulls and then the swell of the musical score that accompanies the Doctor’s words, Peter Capaldi’s emotionally resonant presentation…To echo the Doctor earlier in the episode: Utterly beautiful.

In the mid-21st-century,  humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy, to the very edges of the universe, and it…endures till the end of time.  And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down. It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful. that for once it didn’t want to destroy, and in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.

That, to me, is Doctor Who in a nutshell. Well, an eggshell. The show is only technically the story of a Time Lord; at its core, it is the story of humanity, in all of its glorious multitudes, and of the profound power and influence of the beauty of the imagination. And of course, there’s the metaphor of the moon-creature laying an egg as it departs, just as each Doctor, even when he leaves, regenerates into a new Doctor. And so Doctor Who will continue its cycle of life and death and life again, forever and ever, amen.

And if this episode was any indication, it’s high time we had a Time Lady take the reins as well. Amiright or amiright?

Oods and Ends:

  • Missy Watch – So, um, people died in this episode?
  • River Song Watch – Astronaut suits! Kickass female characters! Hanky-panky in the TARDIS! #Bring Back River Song
  • Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield was on the board in Clara’s classroom at the end. Any thoughts?
  • “Goodnight Earth” when Earth turned all of its lights out—I love the eerie parallel to the classic children’s tale Goodnight Moon.
  • Arguably the best line of the episode came up in the first few seconds: Clara complains that Courtney Woods is completely uncontrollable, and that she stole the Doctor’s psychic paper and is using it as a fake I.D. The Doctor: “To get into museums?” Bless your hearts, Doctor.
  • “I am a super-intelligent alien being who flies in time and space,” he says, as he jumps up and down like a total doofus and does a little wiggle dance in order to “test gravity.” Seems like he retained a tiny bit of Eleven’s quirkiness after all.
  • COURTNEY WOODS FOR PRESIDENT 2048

* In the immortal words of the Tenth Doctor: I am so, so sorry.