Part IX – Time Travelers and Storytellers in the Best Episode of Doctor Who

Lost, Fringe, Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Flash, Harry Potter, Legends of Tomorrow, even Game of Thrones. Why do so many of the stories we love involve time travel?

The Doctor explains the nature of time better than I ever could.

If there was ever a time travel story that apotheosizes storytelling— as well as nearly every other time travel-centric theme I’ve discussed, such as romance, regret and wish-fulfillment— it’s the 2007 Doctor Who episode “Blink,” a Steven Moffat script and another one for the top of the “favorites” list (high praise for a show with 35 cumulative seasons worth of material, to be sure).

“Blink” sees the Doctor trapped in 1969 sans time machine, so he leaves clues for a young woman named Sally Sparrow (played by the as-of-yet unknown Carey Mulligan) to help him retrieve his TARDIS from the Weeping Angels. Why he chooses Sally does not become clear until the end, when she encounters the Doctor on the run towards one thing or from another (“Well, four things and a lizard”) and hands him a folder containing everything he needs to know to help her help him: a conversation transcript, a letter from her friend Kathy, and a picture of a Weeping Angel.

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Letters and photographs are oft-used time travel props. See also: The Back to the Future  saga, the Lost episode “The Constant,” the Fringe episode “White Tulip,” Terminator, etc…

Yes, the predestination paradox is strong with this one, but that heightens rather than diminishes the fun. Regardless of whether the original “author” of this story is Sally or the Doctor, the significance of the episode is that it utilizes time travel to construct a story that deconstructs storytelling— the characters themselves write the sequence of events, including the transcript of a dialogue that the Doctor uses to communicate with Sally across time, and the “Easter Eggs” the Doctor recorded and left for Sally to find on the 17 DVDs she owns.  

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The Doctor as DVD Easter Eggs, via BBC

The Weeping Angels, who are among Doctor Who’s most memorable and menacing villains, set in motion the overarching plot (stealing back the TARDIS) while facilitating the smaller plots that highlight the characters’ interactions with romance and regret. Weeping Angels are “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely,” the Doctor explains. “They just zap you into the past and let you live to death.” Infusing the Basilisk myth with a dose of quantum physics, Weeping Angels don’t exist when they’re being observed— hence the Doctor’s now famous imperative: Don’t. Blink.

The Angels are responsible for two romances in the episode, one triumphant and one tragic. Sally’s friend Kathy is zapped back to 1920, where she falls in love with the first person she meets, but Sally’s love interest is sent to 1969, negating the possibility of a relationship between them. Some of the most devastating romances are the ones that never happened; as the famous lament goes, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The Weeping Angels embody this notion, consuming the potential energy of all the days you might have lived, feasting on “all of your stolen moments.”

By the episode’s final scene, one major mystery remains: Where did the Doctor get all the information about how to find Sally? Sally’s companion, Larry, tells her: “Some things you never find out, and that’s okay.” But Sally is adamant that this story is not yet complete.

blink kathy letter text.gifJust then, the Doctor hurries past and Sally realizes that she was the one who provided him with the information all along. Larry’s line is a good life lesson, but this episode illustrates the conception of time travel as wish fulfillment, allowing for— in fact, necessitating— closing the loop in order to make sense of the narrative. For the temporally bound, time moves inexorably forward, but the time traveler— like the storyteller— is in a unique position to actually act on hindsight, thereby establishing a measure of control that the rest of us lack.

“Blink” is also responsible for a description of time that has become familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of time travel fiction. “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect,” says the Doctor, “but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”

Make sense? No, of course not. After all, this is time travel, a genre that celebrates logical, linguistic, and physical paradoxes, and a topic that boggles the brightest minds in startlingly disparate disciplines— from philosophy, to quantum physics, to ethics, to all genres of fiction, to storytelling itself. Time travel stories are endlessly captivating because they dramatize our deepest regrets and deepest desires, imprisoning us within the claustrophobic confines of fate or imbuing us with the power to alter destiny.

The possibilities are infinite, and all of time and space awaits.

That’s all, she wrote — for now. Thanks for coming along for the ride, and look out for some extra time travel posts in the future! (I’m sorry for all the time-related puns in this note.) (No I’m not.)

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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.

**

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…

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…

The Caretaker, The Carer, and the Soldier | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 6

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If I thought the Matt Smith impersonator was the best part of “The Caretaker,” just like I thought the real Matt Smith was the best part of the season 8 premiere “Deep Breath,” does that mean, six episodes into the reign of the new Doctor, that I still haven’t gotten over the loss of Eleven?

To reverse Twelve’s catchphrase: No question.

And, of course, after I watched this episode but before I began typing up my thoughts, I was in the car listening to the radio and a song called “Geronimo” started playing. As I alternated between singing along and smacking my head repeatedly against the steering wheel, I realized how ironic this choice of a catchphrase was for the Doctor, given its military origins and his very, very firm opposition to the military. Geronimo is historically recognized as a prominent Apache leader who fought against Mexican and Texan soldiers for decades in order to secure something something land rights blah blah borders etc. territory and whatnot.

Perhaps it would have been a more apt motto for Twelve, who is so staunchly against to the very idea of soldiers that his obsessive disinclination is bordering on kink. And as irritating as it was to see the Doctor consistently categorize Danny as a capital-S, quotation-mark-heavy soldier, maybe that was the point, because it all came to a head when Danny finally confronted the Doctor regarding his hypocritical bigotry.

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In this regard, “The Caretaker” offered a much-needed payoff, and I’m hoping that future episodes will build on, rather than harp on, the soldier-Time Lord conflict. Yet I would like to see the Doctor defend his position a bit more instead of sounding like a broken record. When Danny (quite rationally) suggests they evacuate the school in order to protect innocent children from the trigger-happy Skovox Blitzer, the Doctor should have delivered some sort of grand, rousing reminder as to why it’s so important that the military doesn’t get involved, ever, no matter what. And the answer better not be because some punk Gallifreyan army recruit nicked all of his Smurfs when the Doctor was a wee little Time Lord Academy student.

All in all, the scene where Danny informs Clara that the Doctor refuses to take orders because he’s the one who gives them is uncomfortably chilling. I cringed every time Danny barked out a “Sir!” to cap off each retort.

A related theme that was also heavily featured in this episode was the question of caring. As the newly hired Coal Hill caretaker, the Doctor takes care of dear old planet Earth while working undercover taking care of the school. It turns out, however, that cleaning up the “spillages” of others turns out to be a cover for the Doctor scrambling to clean up his own mess. As io9 reviewer Charlie Jane Andrews points out, the Doctor mentioned that the Skovox Blitzer was attracted to all of the “Artron energy” in London, and since the Doctor is the only source of Artron energy that we know of, the whole fiasco really was his fault after all. So much for Twelve taking more responsibility than Eleven, eh? This goes back to the whole soldier conflict as well: I don’t know whether the person lighting the fire should be considered more or less responsible than the one fanning the flames (to loosely adopt the metaphor this series seems partial to)…even just bringing it up makes me uncomfortable. But, again, I suppose that’s the point.

My only issue is that it all feels too obvious, the characters too self-aware. When Clara tried to pass off the whole Skovox encounter as an elaborately staged, surprise play, it was amusing to me because that’s what this whole season has felt like. Back in episode 2, “Into the Dalek,” Clara introduces herself as the Doctor’s “carer.” The Doctor approves of this moniker, adding: “she cares so I don’t have to.” In “The Caretaker” (real subtle, guys), Clara tells off the Doctor by noting that he needs her around, otherwise he’ll have to develop a conscience of his own.

While this is a generally an apt statement w/r/t: Doctor + Companion, I didn’t like it here for two reasons. 1) I absolutely detest Clara, from her stupid little bangs to her stupid little short skirts to her stupid little giggles to her stupid little superiority complex, so to accept the idea that the Doctor—the Doctor!—is better off with someone so (in my humble opinion) totally loathsome is anathema to me. 2) Come on, Moffat, give us viewers a little more credit here. You don’t need to literally spell everything out. You know the age-old storytelling maxim: show, don’t tell. It’s like thursdayj keeps saying, Clara is too much like a stand-in for Moffat himself. I’m suddenly seeing Mary Sues everywhere, hitting us over the head with Big Picture Stuff like it’s nobody’s business. For me, it’s always been the more subtle—and therefore more emotionally arresting—smaller scenes that make the biggest impact. We’re better than that, Moffat, and so are you.

DEAR BBC ONE, SINCERELY, THE ENTIRE SHERLOCK FANDOM

The “showing” part of this episode that really did work for me was the background theme of mirrors and shadows. We still don’t know exactly why the Doctor chose that face, but the persistent presence of reflective surfaces serves as a continuous reminder that it’s something we should be thinking about. It’s also an indication that maybe these characters aren’t as self-aware as I had initially thought—there’s a great scene where Clara and Danny are deconstructing what just went down at the school with the alien(s) encounter and whatnot, and the two of them are standing in front of a dark window, gazing at their reflections. At another point, after Clara storms out on the Doctor, he steps outside of his TARDIS and the background light casts a rather ominous shadow.

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Though “Time Heist” suffered from Moffat Recycling Syndrome, “The Caretaker” sparkled by revisiting familiar territory. Instead of “Ugh, we already saw the Doctor pose as an ordinary human in Season 5’s ‘The Lodger,’” it was “Ah, I love we see the Doctor pose as an ordinary human!” And while ‘The Lodger’ will always remain one of my all-time favorite Who episodes due to the sheer amount of belly laughs it elicited, ‘The Caretaker’ prompted a fair share of chuckles from me as well, and though Peter Capaldi is still no Matt Smith when it comes to comedic genius (an opinion that may be unpopular), both episodes were co-penned by Gareth Roberts, who is clearly a pro at this precise niche genre.

So the Doctor gets busy with his undercover cleaning, and he grumbles quite convincingly about “kids these days” as he wipes off a bit of “Ozzie loves the Squaddie” graffiti on a school window. I may have been half-asleep while watching this episode, so it took me until about the seventeenth repetition of this phrase to realize that the kids were gossiping about Miss Oswald and Mr. Pink, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Ah, young love. The Doctor, however, was incredibly thick for the majority of the episode as well, leading to some hilarious and also heartbreaking instances of misunderstanding and, finally, the most gif-able WTF reaction shot in all of television history.

Seriously.

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But before Clara sets the record straight about fellow teacher Adrian not being “her type,” the Doctor spends days thinking that Clara was romantically interested in the Shakespeare-spouting bow-tie enthusiast who looks like a spitting image of a certain “dashing young time traveler.” And while I’ve never even remotely shipped Clara/Eleven, mostly because I’ve been too busy shipping Clara/GTFO Of This Show, this little misunderstanding added a whole new ex post facto layer of sadness to Eleven’s storyline, since he clearly had (has?) some sort of feelings for her. Clara’s not the one who made a “boyfriend error,” Doctor…

As for the rest of this episode, I could essentially break it up into two categories: Hilarious Lines…

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(x, x)

…And lines that were funny the first time, when they were used on Sherlock.

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(x, x)

And, of course, the bit about the Doctor having “read the bio” at the back of Pride and Prejudice. How much do you wanna bet that he was actually cavorting with Jane Austen in 1796?

Oods and Ends

  • Missy Watch – Evil Mary Poppins returns! Only briefly, however, as it appears that she’s too “busy” to check in the Nethersphere’s latest tenant—the poor policeman who wandered into Sherlock’s crack den looking for those meddlesome kids and, alas, never returned. So, what was up with the Nethersphere secretary’s yellow pin? And what did the policeman see when he looked out the window? (Theory: An army of Cybermen?)
  • River Song Watch – Damn straight there’s now a “River Song Watch” section! And this week, it has two entries: 1) The Doctor actually mentions her by name, describing the time he “sulked” among otters for a month because “River and I, we had this huge fight—“ at which point Clara interrupts because she IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST, have I mentioned that before? Need. More. Info. 2) Clara insults the Doctor by alluding to his magician-y appearance, at which point he dismisses her by snapping open the TARDIS door. We all know who taught him that nifty trick back in season 4…
  • Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods was a pleasure to encounter, though the now-dirty TARDIS might think differently.
  • Speaking of the TARDIS, when Danny Pink first peeked into the TARDIS after the disastrous “surprise play” incident about halfway through the episode, the theme music playing in the background sounded awfully familiar, and after some intensive research, I’ve come to the conclusion that it sounds exactly like Amy Pond’s Theme. Huh.

‘Who’ Heist — Doctor or Architect? | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 5

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I had such high hopes for this episode, and maybe that was my fault. But after the near-perfection of last week’s “Listen,” the high-intensity promos for this newest installment, and the promise of a Steve Thompson/Steven Moffat script, I couldn’t help but expect “Time Heist” to be similarly both moving and spine-tingling. And yet, if “Listen” was guilty of recycling previously used themes, “Time Heist” was guilty of straight-up re-using actual plotlines from earlier episodes, seemingly expecting us not to notice. I’m starting to think that the people behind Moffat Bingo actually have a point.

We begin with a quick tour of Clara’s way-too-upscale apartment (on a teacher’s salary? If only), as the Doctor questions the functionality of high heels—“do you have to reach a high shelf?”—revealing, as usual, his social ineptitude. Incidentally, the banter-y reference to household furniture reminded me of that classic scene in “Day of the Moon,” when River Song comments on the Doctor’s choice of weaponry (his sonic screwdriver) by sarcastically advising him to “Go build a cabinet!” But before I can speculate on the flirtatious symbolism of common domestic fixtures, the TARDIS phone rings.

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Of course, the last time the TARDIS phone rang, it was Clara trying to reach IT services, using a number she got from “the woman in the shop.” Clara is nervous that “a thing” will happen if the Doctor answers the phone, but the Doctor, a big proponent of Things Happening, acts against her wishes, and suddenly the phone becomes a memory worm as our heroes are zapped to a creepy conference room, at which point it is revealed that they (and their two new companions) have agreed to a memory wipe of their own free will, and have been commissioned by “the Architect” to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.

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The Architect describes the Bank as a fortress for “the super-rich.” In his words: “If you can afford your own star system, this is where you keep it.” (I lol’d.) Speaking of uber-wealthy individuals, that emblazoned “K” looks awfully familiar…

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(from Citizen Kane)

“K” for Karabraxos or Kane? Could be both, since Charles Foster Kane’s estate—Xanadu—was named for Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan’s magnificent capital city, which itself became a metaphor for opulence and grandeur. But I digress.

Who is this Architect? We learn at the end of the episode that the Architect is the Doctor himself, a “twist” that would have been more surprising if, again, it hadn’t been done before. You can recycle themes, but recycling shock factors somehow doesn’t have the same effect. Throughout the episode, before regaining his memory, the Doctor consistently notes that he has no idea who this Architect is, but he knows that he “hates him.” Sound familiar?

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When I first watched “Amy’s Choice,” I was totally floored by the revelation that the Dream Lord had been the dark side of the Doctor all along. When the Doctor revealed this to Amy, and my mind flashed back to that line, I suddenly understood, deeply and completely, how truly damaged the Doctor is. Using the same gimmick in this episode felt hackneyed, and, what’s worse, nearly cheapened the original usage as well.

However, I was intrigued by the particular terminology, the name—or, rather, the other name—the Doctor chose for himself. “The Architect” sounds particularly sinister, doesn’t it? As it turns out, a quick Google search led me to two infamous Architects:

1. “The Architect” in The Matrix trilogy – Described by Wikipedia as a “cold, humorless, white-haired man in a… suit” (check, sort-of-check, check, check, aaaand check) the Architect is a computer program that created the Matrix.

2. “The Architect” in Dragon Age, a fantasy, role-playing video-game. According to the Dragon Age Wiki, the Architect is unique among his kind, having somehow developed free will, and with it, certain rebellious tendencies. As for its personality, the Architect

… shows a calm, polite personality. However, it is shown to be cold, decisive, and pragmatic, carrying out its plans even if that means sacrificing its allies. Although it is highly intelligent, the Architect has little understanding of other races.

It’s truly eerie how accurately these two characterizations (especially the second!) describe our Architect—even if, at this point in the episode, we may not know it yet. But, hey, might as well discuss it now, because I clearly only begin typing out these so-called “recaps” in order to dive right into a tangent about something I care about. Which, in this case, is…

…not the Doctor.

I’m not going to rehash arguments I made here and here about how important to me the Doctor is as a beacon of Good. In fact, I’ll let David Foster Wallace do the honors instead:

Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.

The Twelfth Doctor may have finally discovered his Responsibility gene, but I now believe it was at the cost of his inner beauty, those elements that are “human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” Perhaps it all boils down to that, and it’s simply a matter of which side you fall on regarding the cost/benefit divide. Is Responsibility worth the cost? In the real world, maybe so. In the fantasy world? Absolutely not. I will never write a post about the Doctor’s character in which I don’t refer to that gorgeous Moffat quote about how heroes are important not because they show us who we are, or who we were, but who we want to be—and I believe that it is again relevant here, albeit in a more pessimistic way. You see, I believe that the world is a god-awful place and will probably never improve. But that’s where fiction/fantasy comes into play—either you believe that imagination can actually improve the state of the world, even in tiny, incremental ways, or you believe that we’re all doomed, in which case the fantasy world becomes not only a much-needed escape, but the dream of a place in which things are better.

Super-hacker computer-human Psi said it best when he put a new spin on the name of “the Doctor”; after the latter tells Clara to, essentially, “get over it,” following the (alleged) death of mutant-human Saibra, Psi scoffs: “Oh, is that why you call yourself ‘the Doctor’? Professional detachment?” I had never thought of that angle before, but it hit me right where I used to have two hearts. When previous Doctors were mocked, we felt the hurt, because we could see how much their accusations hurt him. We knew how much Ten cared, and how acutely Eleven suffered, but I see nothing inside of Twelve—nothing beneath his “attack eyebrows.” (Again with the aggression!) “Listen” did such a spot-on job on injecting new life into the Doctor’s subconscious, but “Time Heist” seems to have taken place in an alternate universe, for all the lasting impact that “Listen” had.

I was also irritated by the BBC Sherlock-isms that crept into the Doctor’s speech (“Shut up!” when no one was talking, “I hate not knowing,” etc…I’ll leave the details to the gifmeta masters), but not only because I’ve clearly watched Sherlock too many times and therefore recognize lines from that show instantaneously. I was put off by these parallels because, for me, it only served to emphasize Twelve’s “cold” core even more. After discussing the connections between BBC’s Sherlock and characters in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (pluggity plug plug), don-gately mentioned to me that the writers of Sherlock (which include the two writers of this Doctor Who episode!) are actually harnessing “our fascination for cynical heroes and turning it upside down, showing us a sentimental hero.” That’s why Sherlock gives us so many capital-F-FEELS: Sherlock tries to act like a genius automaton, like, as it were, an “Architect,” but we clearly see that he has a very human, very sentimental core. I simply cannot see this sentimentalism in the Twelfth Doctor. There are spurts of emotion, yes, but at his core? The writers have themselves said that this is a “darker” Doctor.

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This is a Doctor who feels no need to mourn the dead, who allows—and even encourages—beings to embrace their own deaths. I was very uncomfortable when the Doctor gave both Saibra and Psi those “atomizer” devices in order to ensure them a painless death in lieu of suffering and then brain death. (I know, they turned out to be teleport devices, not cyanide capsules. But the Doctor didn’t know that, so it makes no difference in my mind. He might as well have killed them.) I was angry, even though in Real Life I am obviously more torn on the issue of assisted suicide, because these scenes represent a fundamental break from the Doctors we’ve known and loved– especially the Tenth Doctor, who would manically race to save or reason with every living being, from humans, to other Time Lords, to Vashta Nerada, and everything else in between; the man who cradled his enemy’s dead body and sobbed. I re-watched “Forest of the Dead” (with my father, who’s watching it for the first time…My River Song tears were so very real), and I realized how much I truly miss Ten. That episode ended with one of the show’s great voiceover monologues, delivered by the dearly departed River Song herself…

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(this is my new favorite Doctor Who graphic on the internet)

This is the Doctor I love—the Doctor who never, for one moment, accepts death. The Doctor—my Doctor—never stops running.

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…oh, you’ve changed.

Skipping to the end (because I’ll leave the fully-fleshed plot recaps to those who are actually paid to do it): we are treated to some more copy-and-pasted elements from earlier episodes. The Teller (which, I will admit, is a perfect example of a fascinatingly-grotesque-yet-oddly-magnificent alien-of-the-week character) is a creature that has lived a miserable life, submitting to a will that is not entirely its own, while in another way serving as a metaphor for the Doctor himself (see: the Minotaur in “The God Complex”). Both creatures also, as it turns out, have lady friends.

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(“Hide,” “Time Heist”)

Which is all…well…pretty heartwarming, I guess. Score one for Team Twelve after all.

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(x)

Oods and Ends:

  • Missy Watch: Overt reference to “the woman in the shop” at the beginning of the episode. Moving right along.
  • Speaking of deliciously evil villainesses with pointy black glasses, Madame Karabraxos & clones were perfect. “Your account will now be deleted. And, obviously, your mind.” That line seriously gave me the creeps.
  • This episode also lent a terrifyingly literal meaning to the term: “You’re fired.”
  • There were some intense lighting effects during the scene when Clara encounters the Teller and Psi swoops in to save her. When Clara is onscreen, the lighting is red—or pink. When Psi occupies the camera lens, the background is blue. And when Clara meets up with the Doctor after Psi sacrifices himself, the setting is decidedly green.     image image

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Given their conversation, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Clara was thinking of Danny—hence the pink background—while Psi could have been representing Journey Blue, from “Into the Dalek,” the soldier who had just lost her brother and was, ostensibly, now all alone. (Of course, this would only be a direct reference to her if she ends up coming back into the picture—which I’m resolutely hoping will happen!) As for the Doctor’s green tinge, well…did you catch the Doctor’s jeering jealousy as Clara finally went off on her date with Danny after they return to her flat? Hmmm.

  • It’s funny that Marvel franchises are legally prohibited from uttering the word “mutant,” and yet BBC can swoop in and literally create their own Mystique? …okay.
  • Speaking of Saibra, I was pissed (you may be sensing a theme here) when, two minutes after we meet her, the episode’s token side-character-of-color is transformed into an old, white male. Luckily, we got our POC back soon enough. Whew!
  • Yep, “Question!” is definitely the Twelfth Doctor’s catchphrase.
  • Okay, there were some hilarious Doctor lines. Notably: “Shut up. Shuttity up up UP!” followed by, “Okay, de-shut up.
  • Can someone do me a solid and hyperanalyze every single object in Madame K’s private vault? Thanks muchly. I noticed lots of lions. Lots and lots of lions. Have fun!

Fear Itself | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 4

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If you were playing “Steven Moffat Bingo” during the latest episode of Doctor Who, you most definitely went home with a prize (or two, or three…). End of the universe? Check; see also: “The Doctor’s Wife.” Something hidden in the corner of your eye? Check; see also: “Blink,” “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead.” Preying on fears? Check; see also: “Night Terrors,” “The God Complex.” And if you were hoping to pick up a few pithy one-liners pertaining to the well-trodden themes of “darkness” and/or “fear,” you hit the jackpot as well.

And yet…shall I let you in on a little secret? I absolutely adored this episode from start to finish.

“Listen” was Steven Moffat at his storytelling peak, and I say that knowing full well that he embraced timeworn (if you’ll excuse the pun) concepts and territories both metaphorical and literal. Because Moffat’s genius comes from tackling age-old notions such as a child’s fear of the dark and injecting it with new life, while also preserving the universal appeal of such a theme. “It’s been done before” is only an accusation if the tale and the characters fall flat; on the flipside, storytelling “novelty”—such as, say, a computer animated-science fiction-romantic comedy film with minimal dialogue—must have, at its core, a beating heart.…or hearts, as it were, when it comes to our eponymous hero.

By Episode 4, the Twelfth Doctor may have finally settled into his new, prickly personality, toting his committed anti-hugging manifesto and a languid lack of social skills that manifests particularly in older folks who simply Can’t Be Bothered. When the episode begins, we see the Doctor acting out a few instantly lovable quirks: doing research For Science and writing his findings on a chalkboard, jabbering to himself, meditating on the roof of the TARDIS…you know, just a day in the life. We also get another instance of Twelve’s didactic usage of the word “question” while verbally laying out a mystery to be solved, hearkening back to his “the question is…” in Episode 1. I don’t think Twelve is cutesy enough to have an actual catchphrase like his predecessors, but in terms of general word affinities, some sort of Socratic question-answer conversation with himself looks like it’s going to recur pretty often.

So, the Doctor gets busy lecturing thin air about eeevolution, focusing on an animal’s fight-or-flight response to danger. “Question,” drones the Doctor, “Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding?” I was about to point out (to the maybe-not-so-empty room) that, um, there is? when I became distracted by the Doctor casually placing his piece of chalk in the shadows of a book.

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I couldn’t help but think of another Moffat Monster that hides in the shadows: the Vashta Nerada from “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead.” While this allusion didn’t end up being relevant in the context of this episode, I wonder if it offers up some support for my theory that the Doctor will somehow be revisiting The Library by the end of the season as part of the overarching Missy plot. To my knowledge, there was no other insinuation toward Mary Poppin’s Evil Twin in this episode, so this brief moment could have been it.

Clara, meanwhile, might as well be a contestant on Dating Naked for all the awkwardness involved in her dinner with Danny Pink. Danny, in turn, is really not doing himself any favors by showing up in a pink shirt, but I digress. Zooming out for a moment: Clara suddenly feels a bit more relatable, since we’ve pretty much all been in that “date gone wrong” situation…multiple times. Unlike the rest of us, though, Clara has a time traveler waiting in her bedroom (“you said you had a date. I thought I’d better hide in the bedroom in case you brought him home”), and while Clara will get her (sort of) do-over date later in the episode, right now the Doctor has other ideas. “I need you for a thing,” he declares. I’m game!

After Clara grudging follows the Doctor into the TARDIS, the Doctor picks up his lecture right where he left off, proposing that everybody, at some point in his/her life, has experienced the same nightmare. Popping in to the West Country Children’s Home, he expands further on this “universal nightmare” to include mysteriously disappearing coffee cups and televisions suspiciously turning themselves off…at which point you, dear viewer, probably dove under the safety of the nearest blanket after coming to the realization that something very, very similar actually happened to you. That constant “banging in the pipes”—is it really just the air pressure changing? I’ve never had that particular nightmare about Clara Oswald something reaching out from under my bed (at least, not that I can remember), but I have woken up suddenly and found myself face-to-face with a monster-shaped shadow that only revealed itself as a chair or a lampshade minutes after the terrified pounding of my heart had resided. I have also—I kid you not—been startled in my completely empty, silent, breeze-less bedroom by a certain merry-go-round music box spontaneously beginning to play. It probably has something to do with the wind currents of my air conditioning unit, but…hmm, what was it this episode taught us about the word “probably”?

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Whew. Anyway, back to Twelve:

“What if no one is ever really alone? What if every single living being has a companion, a silent passenger, a shadow. What if the prickle on the back of your neck is the breath of something close behind you?”

This is the kind of monologue that takes on additional significance by the end of the episode, and if you’ve already completed “Listen,” you’ll immediately recognize why. “Fear” quickly becomes a motif that weaves its way throughout the episode, as it tightens its grip on two little boys at different points of the time/space continuum, both unable to sleep at night due to a fear of the dark.

First up: Rupert Pink, a West Country Children’s Home resident who hates his name—his first name, not his last, so get your head out of the heteronormative gutter, Clara—and strikes up a conversation with Clara after giving her the same adorably stiff-armed wave that his grown-up self sent her way on their date about an hour ago. Or twenty years in the future. Or whatever. #TimeyWimey At any rate, Clara discovers that Rupert can’t sleep because he’s afraid of something, so she makes her way up to Rupert’s room to comfort him. The nanny in her awakens, and she has a heartening discussion with Rupert, seeming to cure him once and for all of his irrational fear, until someone…something…sits down on the bed. Fortunately, the Doctor appears before the eerie music in the background can reach a crescendo. He flips through one of Rupert’s books and laments the fact that he can’t seem to find Wally (or “Waldo,” for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic). When Rupert informs the Doctor that the book is “not a Where’s Wally? one,” and, furthermore, Wally cannot be found in every single book, Twelve replies, “Well that’s a few years of my life I’ll be needing back.” Love it. As an aside, I will consider this entire series an abject failure if the Doctor doesn’t spend at least an entire episode sometime in the future in a desperate race to find a man named Wally/Waldo. Do I smell a spinoff?

Anyway, back to Gloucester: The Doctor takes up the mantle of comforting Rupert, meandering with a bit of evolutionary science-y babble before summing it all up with the mantra that it’s good to be scared because “scared is a superpower.” To demonstrate, the three of them turn their backs on the unknown, blanket-covered figure on Rupert’s bed, and the Doctor orders Clara and Rupert: “Don’t look round.” At this, I was immediately reminded of the Genesis tale of Lot’s wife, who was ordered not to turn and look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, from which she and her family were fleeing. But she did look back, and, as the story goes, was transformed into a pillar of salt. In its time, this story was told as a moralistic warning against disobeying God, but some of us have other ideas; Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five “loves” her for looking back because “it was so human.” Already, we see that this still-new incarnation of the Doctor is different from Eleven because he does look back, but not only (as with Ten) for the purpose of regret—he will look back on the destruction (…or disappearance) of Gallifrey, and unlike Eleven, will take responsibility and use his past to move forward.

As it turns out, we find ourselves back on Gallifrey sooner than we expected. At the end of the episode, Clara steps out of the TARDIS and into a vaguely familiar barn, where the sounds of a weeping child calls her to arms—much like it does the Doctor. But before Clara can do what she does best, the barn door opens and in walk two faceless adults. Clara darts underneath the bed, listening intently. “Why does he have to cry all the time?” says one. “You know why,” says the other. “They’ll be no crying in the army,” comes the reply. Then, an invitation to the boy who’s probably Danny Pink to come sleep in the house with the other boys, after which the conversation between the two adults resumes: “He can’t just run away crying all the time if he wants to join the army!” Whereupon we learn that the little boy doesn’t even want to join the army. “Well he’s not going to the Academy, is he, that boy?” the man continues. “He’ll never make a Time Lord.”

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The chills that raced up and down my spine after that sentence were felt, I’m sure, by every single Whovian who hadn’t already made the connection between the present barnhouse and the one the War Doctor inhabits in “The Day of the Doctor.” Good thing we were given an entire commercial break to pry our jaws off of the floor. Even Clara needed a solid three minutes of recovery time; her eyes bugged out in shock, and I could see exactly what the Doctor was talking about when he mentioned that her face becomes “all eyes.

When Clara regains her composure, she takes her place by the little boy’s bedside and gives him a pep talk that’ll stay with the boy—I mean, the Doctor—for, oh, a good 1,200 years or so. Though I was initially skeptical of Clara’s status as The Impossible Girl, I’ve come to like her Easter-Egg-like presence in the Doctor’s timeline (that is, if I don’t think about it too much), and this scene provided a perfect example of Clara prancing in like a guardian angel when the Doctor needs her most. “Listen,” she says,

This is just a dream. But very clever people can hear dreams – so please, just listen. I know you’re afraid. But being afraid is alright. Because didn’t anyone ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster, and cleverer, and stronger. And one day, you’re gonna come back to this barn. And on that day, you’re going to be very afraid indeed. And that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise, and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed, or in the dark, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. So, listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this. You’re always gonna be afraid. Even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like…a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay. Because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m gonna leave you something, just so you remember. Fear makes companions of us all.

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Any doubt that this is going to become one of the show’s all-time greatest speeches, a la “We’re all stories in the end?” Didn’t think so. (Excuse me for a moment, I seem to have transformed into Niagara Falls.) While the beauty of the message speaks for itself, there are a few particular passages I wanted to flesh out:

“Fear is a superpower” – Referring back (or…forward) to what the Doctor told young Rupert Pink.

“One day, you’re gonna come back to this barn”  – See: “Day of the Doctor,” where the War Doctor confronts the conscience of The Moment while deciding whether or not to obliterate Gallifrey.

“Fear can make you kind” Clearly referring to the Doctor(s) refusal to take the easy way out in “The Day of the Doctor,” but also alluding to another touching speech by a companion talking about the Doctor’s “kindness” emerging from trauma—in “The Beast Below,” Amelia Pond’s maiden adventure episode, we witness a Star Whale’s selfless sacrifice, and Amy reflects on the Star Whale’s nature while not-so-subtly reflecting on the Doctor’s as well: “Amazing, though, don’t you think? The Star Whale. All that pain and misery and loneliness, and it just made it kind.” Interestingly enough, “The Beast Below” is also the notable episode in which the Doctor teaches Amy (in a tongue-in-cheek tone, of course) that he “never get[s] involved in the affairs of other people or planets.” At the end of the episode, after a whole host of “not getting involved” shenanigans, Amy finishes the Doctor’s thought: “…unless there’s children crying.” Here, in “Listen,” we have a very particular child crying—the Doctor himself.  Later on, in Clara’s first full episode, “The Rings of Akhaten,” the Doctor puts forth a completely opposing edict: not, “we never get involved,” but “we never walk away.” If you ask me, Eleven learned a thing or two about responsibility over his years after all.

What’s more, this whole notion of fear leading to kindness is loosely rooted in the most quotable English work of them all: William Shakepseare’s Hamlet. In his famous “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy, Hamlet declares that “conscience makes cowards of us all”; and while the context there is entirely different (Hamlet is bemoaning the fact that he is unwilling to take his own life) the message certainly resonates throughout the Whoniverse, as the Doctor reverses the polarity of the phrase to mean something very positive indeed. As the Ninth Doctor spelled out in no uncertain terms, he would choose to be a “coward” over a “killer” any day. And that’s what makes him who he is.

“Fear can bring us together” – Pretty self-explanatory, I just wanted to reiterate it as many times as possible because I love it so much. When I first heard this phrase, I pictured a group of people huddled together in a bomb shelter and, well, it’s a pretty emotional image, to say the least.

“Fear can bring you home” – …take us to Gallifrey, and step on it!

“Fear makes companions of us all” – Those six words should take their place among all the other great quotes pertaining to “fear,” of which there are a near-infinite amount. But I would like to bring up several of those adages because I believe that they can enhance the poignancy of this one, which is more than just a mere rewording of the aforementioned “fear can bring us together.”

First: the word “companion” is clearly significant given that it also serves as the rather antiquated soubriquet given to those who travel with the Doctor. Fear is as much of a “companion” to the Doctor as Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, et al, and that is both heartbreaking and heartening, because (as Clara and Amy both said), fear makes the Doctor kind. And it is, of course, a buzzword callback to the beginning of the episode, when the Doctor himself talks about a mysterious “companion” that accompanies every single living being.

Yet this phrase was uttered even earlier than the beginning of the episode; in fact, it was recited near-verbatim in the very first episode of Doctor Who: 1963’s “An Unearthly Child.” But in that initial scene, in that fateful first episode, there’s even more…

DOCTOR: Fear makes companions of all of us. That’s right.
BARBARA: I never thought once you were afraid.
DOCTOR: Fear is with all of us, and always will be. Just like that other sensation that lives with it.
BARBARA: What’s that?
DOCTOR: Your companion referred to it. Hope. Hope, that’s right.

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Hope. As much as “Listen” convinced us that the Doctor is always accompanied by fear, he always, always brings hope as well. In the novella that went on to become the critically acclaimed movie Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King wrote: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” And the moment Clara began her speech, the moment she said that fateful word: “Listen!” what sound do we hear? The wheezing and groaning of the TARDIS. Remember what Rose Tyler as The Moment said, in that very barn, to the War Doctor, about that sound? She said: “That sound brings hope wherever it goes.” Hope. The hope that someone is there to help. On that note, there was another beautiful line, one that probably flew under the radar amidst all the other shocks going on, that was stated by the woman who came to invite the crying little boy into the house. She said: “You don’t have to be alone.” It reminded me of the Face of Boe’s message to the Doctor in season 3’s “Gridlock,” which relayed the very same message: “You are not alone.” And they’re not just referring (metaphorically) to “fear” or (literally) to “another existing Time Lord,” but to the Doctor’s many friends and extended, loving family.

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Even though I’ve babbled for way too long about how gorgeous this whole theme is, I think there is also something to be said for the simple sight of the Doctor as a young boy, crying himself to sleep every night. We’ve all been there, eh? Maybe “the big bad Time Lord” really is “just afraid of the dark”—maybe it’s something a bit deeper than that. Maybe he’s just—for reasons unknown—so very sad. As Madame Vastra once said: “Heartbreak is a burden to us all. Pity the man who has two.”

<rant> And for those who criticize Moffat for dipping into his own work and riffing on others—I get it, but I don’t feel the same. To me, he’s not stealing, he’s paying homage; he’s not self-plagiarizing, he’s expanding upon well-established ideas without having to initiate a grand set-up, and by doing so, he’s chipping away at the Big Secrets of the Universe bit by bit. He may be recycling dialogue and concepts, but then again, isn’t recycling supposed to be good for us? </rant>

There were a bunch of memorable moments (…no Rose Tyler-shaped Moments, though) throughout the episode that held up the beginning and the end, and there were two in particular I’d like to touch upon. First: “The deep and lovely dark. You’d never see the stars without it.” Another well-worn axiom—case in point: a quick Goodreads quotes search will reveal the paraphrased source of this quote to be a whole host of personas ranging from Martin Luther King to Stephanie Meyer. But it never ceases to be comforting, and it was perfectly delivered in this episode—in classic Who fashion—with a mixture of wryness and sincerity.

The second quote I wanted to bring up is one that, if you’ve been following my recaps and analyses of the character of “the Doctor,” you’re probably shocked I haven’t already expounded for several dozen paragraphs. After the Doctor does his shtick with the Thing under Rupert’s blanket (not looking back, using fear as a superpower, etc.), Clara takes charge once more and brings out a box of toys (is that a Weeping Angel?) to keep the boy safe during the night. She chooses one toy soldier to be “the boss,” but Rupert points out that that one is broken—it doesn’t have a gun. This seems to be exactly what Clara was hoping he’d say. Because he’s “a soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun.” Camera focuses in on the Doctor. “He can keep the whole world safe.” That’s the Doctor I want to see. As Twelve, he can be colder, he can be more abrasive, he can be less goofy—but he can never be less kind. As was mentioned before: the Doctor would be a coward rather than a killer any day.

And—last but not least—the Doctor had his fair share of snort-giggle funny moments this week. From his special “dad skills” storytelling to his dragging Clara out of the TARDIS at the boarding school because he “was still talking and needed someone to nod,” Twelve shined as a grumpy grandfatheresque comedic force in his own right.

Oods and Ends

  • Missy Watch: I’m sticking with my Vashta Nerada/Library connection (see above).
  • The restaurant where Clara and Danny had their ill-fated date had red, round-shaped things on the ceiling. Was it an Evil TARDIS? A trap? Was anyone in that restaurant actually eating…or breathing?!
  • I know everyone is all up in arms about the Doctor’s constant commentary on Clara’s appearance, but…is it horrible that I think it’s funny? I mean, it’s hyperbole. And it slides right off of Clara. She has bigger things to worry about than her daft old friend’s petty and harmless insults. (Plus, he probably doesn’t even realize his comments are generally insulting.)
  • ”Why do you need three mirrors? Why don’t you just turn your head?” –The Doctor, pithily snarking on every cinematographer ever.
  • ”Is that really what I look like from the back?” Clara Oswald aka Hermione Granger, characters who go back in time to save something and glimpse the back of their own heads, because apparently neither one has ever heard of a triple mirror which can be used for the exact purpose of…Well, apparently the Doctor isn’t the only one who doesn’t undersand the function of three mirrors.
  • Next time my coffee cup disappears, I’m blaming the Doctor.
  • I cringed when, at the end of the universe, the Doctor told Clara to get back into the TARDIS, and when she didn’t listen, bellowed “DO AS YOU’RE TOLD!”, and I was even more chagrined when Clara actually obeyed. But all was forgiven (on my part, at least) when Clara through the command right back in the Doctor’s face later on, when she orders the Doctor to fly away from the barn and never look back. “I don’t take orders,” sniffs the Doctor, clearly ignorant of his hypocrisy. To whom Clara tells—but much more gently—to do as he’s told, and the Doctor recognizes his earlier misstep.
  • You may have noticed the ring of Twelve’s hand when he was holding on for dear life to avoid being sucked out into the end-of-the-universe void. Peter Capaldi explained the origin of that ring in an interview with TV Guide a little while ago, excerpted here.
  • “Did we go to the end of the universe just to investigate a nursery rhyme?” –> Sums up Steven Moffat in a nutshell.
  • All that “alone at the end of the universe” stuff was pretty awesome, as is this perfect little horror story which picks up on the same idea.
  • When Clara accuses “the big bad Time Lord” of “just [being] afraid of the dark,” there’s a bit more to the quote—she says that he’s “afraid of nothing.” Or perhaps, afraid of nothingness? We all fear oblivion, and the Doctor—who may have actually witnessed oblivion in all of his many travels across time and space—would be no exception.
  • Finally, the entire Who fandom is in a terrified uproar: If the “constant companion” was really just a metaphor…what was the thing under young Danny Pink’s blanket?? Either Moffat will jump back to this plot in order to explain, at a later date, what it was, or it will just be left a mystery forevermore, and we’ll be forced to ponder the wonders of the universe without the (un)satisfaction of definite answers. How very like J.J. Abrams and his coveted Mystery Box. There’s even a Red Robot—a possible (okay, unlikely, but still fun) reference to Abrams’ film production company, Bad Robot!

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In fact, the whole episode is very Lost-like…

So, next stop: The Island?

Gretchen Alison Carlisle (RIP) | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 2

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–Spoilers ahead!–

As per the late Gretchen Alison Carlisle’s request, I’m doing something good and naming it after her. At least, I hope it’s “good,” because who the hell knows about the difference between good and evil anymore?

That’s the eternally weighty moral conundrum taken up by “Into the Dalek,” the second episode of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the Twelfth Doctor, in which the Doctor, Clara, and a bunch of their new soldier friends are miniaturized and injected into a Dalek’s “bloodstream,” Magic School Bus-style. (As the resident teacher, does that make Clara Ms. Frizzle?? Headcanon: #APPROVED.)

“Into the Dalek” is a phenomenal piece of subversive storytelling. Everything is turned upside-down as the crew heads through the looking glass and into the Dalek, beginning with, at the simplest level, the very setting of the episode—while Doctor Who usually focuses on the Big, taking viewers to the far reaches of the outermost galaxies, “Into the Dalek” took us under the microscope while making our protagonists very, very small.

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Let’s start with the fun variation of the subversion theme:

Gender norms

From beginning to end, “Into the Dalek” represented a wonderful throwback to the Russel T. Davies era of exhilarating yet unsurprising diversity. Two people of color were introduced in this episode, and both immediately took on sincere, engaging, and fully-realized personalities. Interestingly, both are (or were) soldiers, and both have colors as last names. At first glance, the most fascinating aspect of their characters is that they are each complete inversions of typical gender tropes: Danny is the shy, awkward, sentimental one, and Journey is the brash, no-nonsense, steely version of the soldier. And, of course, Danny’s last name is Pink, while Journey’s is Blue. Nice little switcheroo there, Moff.

Before we go further, let’s go for a quick refresher on the specifics of the Bechdel Test, which measures the equality of gender portrayal in films/television. At its most basic level, it states that to pass the Test, a film must have (a) two women who (b) talk to each other (c) about something other than a man. In technical terms, “Into the Dalek” passes the Bechdel Test like it’s nobody’s business—there is plenty of interaction between female characters about the task at hand, which involves more wading through Dalek memory banks than coffee table match-making.

But the episode goes even further than this. Not content to merely pass the Bechdel Test, co-writers Steven Moffat and Phil Ford also specifically address the issue of gender bias as it is usually revealed via the Bechdel Test. Then, they actively subvert it. As Clara and Journey discuss the details of the upcoming mission, they  quickly devolve into a discussion of Clara’s Omg I’m So In Love aura. “Lucky fella,” Journey notes, “from the way you smile.” Clara inquires right back: “And who makes you smile? Or is nobody up to the job?” It’s a polite enough conversation tactic, until you realize that this is the very reason Alison Bechdel popularized the Test—see condition (c). Fortunately for  savvy viewers (though unfortunately for the character of Journey Blue), Journey turns the Girl Talk conversation on its head with her response: “My brother. But he burned to death a couple of hours ago, so he’s really letting me down today. Excuse me.”

Whoa. Keeping with the theme of subversion, it’s like an unhappy version of Frozen, in which the sibling is burned alive, not frozen alive, and true love doesn’t actually win out. But I digress.

Finally—though I’m 110% certain the internet has more to say on this particular subject—the name of Gretchen Alison Carlisle could be another allusion to the famed (Alison) Bechdel Test.

Into Greyness

The other big flip in this episode is, of course, the subversion of “Doctor vs. Dalek” as the prototypical battle of “good vs. evil.” And might I add: finally!

Every compelling hero-villain dynamic engages the notion of a fine line between good and evil, wrestling with the terrifying little voice that slyly points out that “hero” and “villain” are not so different after all. Think of BBC’s rendition of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty, in which the latter chillingly tells Sherlock: “You are me.” Many Sherlockians have pointed out that Moriarty is what Sherlock Holmes would have become if he had– by pure chance– befriended Moran instead of Watson. The Master was always a more compelling archenemy for the Doctor for this very reason: tip the scales just a bit, and the Doctor could have been the Master. At their cores, what really makes one different from the other? It’s not at all clear, and that’s what makes each personality so fascinating. In saying that they are two sides of the same coin, it’s vital to emphasize that they are two sides of the same coin. Separated by but a single sliver.

This is also the reason that I never really bought into the whole “terrifying” idea of the Daleks. I didn’t grow up on Who, so the fear of oversized vacuum cleaners never really ingrained itself into my childish subconscious. A toilet plunger and a whisk? Seriously? I’ve been attacked by an electric mixer before and it really wasn’t all that scarring.* And the Daleks’ trump card of all evil—their complete and utter lack of any emotion except hatred—actually lessens my fear of them rather than increases it. If confronted with a creature that is essentially evil wrapped up in kitchen supplies, what qualms should anyone ever have over destroying it? Someone so totally evil can never really be terrifying, because you are not even forced to confront your own humanity by getting rid of it. There are a grand total of zero downsides to destroying a Dalek, but a whole host of positive results, such as, off the top of my head, avoiding widespread death and destruction.

Blurring the line between Doctor and Dalek has been addressed before in the rebooted series, most notably in season 1, episode 6—succinctly titled “Dalek”—in which the Doctor rages at the (yawn) last Dalek in the universe to “just die!” and the Dalek responds coldly with: “You would make a good Dalek.” Hearkening back to this early episode while also ostensibly providing an answer to Twelve’s question of “Am I a good man?”, the Dalek at the end of “Into the Dalek” focuses its inscrutable blue eye at the Doctor and says, “You are a good Dalek.”

As jolting as this idea is, it’s not exactly a novel concept to consider that the Doctor has a dark side. At the very least, he constantly rustles the veil that separates darkness from light—whether the Doctor pushed the droid out of the spaceship at the end of the last episode or the droid killed itself, the result is the same: death.  

This troubling idea comes to the fore in the Russel T. Davies swan song storyline, “Journey’s End,” which is so overstuffed with high-stakes twists and high-profile cameos that it’s easy to miss one of the most probing lines in the entire series to date. As his friends are driven to extreme measures to stop the Dalek Emperor Davros from destroying all of existence (or something like that), the Doctor, as usual, attempts to figure another way out. Taking advantage of this moment of self-doubt, Davros addresses the Doctor’s inner darkness, expanding on Rusty’s “You are a good Dalek” line:

“The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people… And you fashion them into weapons. How many more? Just think. How many have died in your name? The Doctor. The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.”

River Song. The Doctor’s daughter. The hostess from “Midnight.” Luke Rattigan in “The Sontaran Stratagem.”The list is endless. And now, we have another name to tack on: Gretchen Alison Carlisle. The Doctor doesn’t kill, but his hands are far from bloodless. It’s almost irrelevant to consider whether or not the Doctor “killed” the droid in “Deep Breath”; he might as well have pushed him. 

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But, for selfish reasons, I’ll still hold out hope that the Doctor didn’t actually do the deed. I’ve always liked the Doctor’s “no weapons” creed. Actually, I more than just “like” it—it would be more honest of me to say that, despite all, I’ve clung onto this ideal with all of my puny little might. Because the Doctor, to me, is not Batman. He’s not the horribly twisted Man of Steel version of Superman. Rather than having the guts to commit violence when necessary, the Doctor has the courage not to commit violence when necessary. And I think that is the most important lesson to be learned in the whole entire world.

This is why I tend to shy away from the “Doctor as Dalek” can of worms. I much prefer to flip the issue on its head, like this episode did, and consider it from the other perspective: What if we consider a Dalek as the Doctor? Or as Clara put it: “What do we do with a moral Dalek?”

What indeed? Notions of good and evil are so often a matter of perspective. As the saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Or perhaps we should say, one man’s Dalek is another man’s Doctor.

What’s more, who (or what) should be at fault for evil actions or evil character? Neuroscientists and ethicists alike have been arguing for ages over what determines a being’s moral agency.  In “Into the Dalek,” the Dalek is altered merely because of “radiation affecting its brain chemistry,” and I can think of half a dozen analogs to human cases that fit this theme. Are we more than just brain chemistry, more than just matter? Psychologist Steven Pinkner thinks not.

On another track, Gary Watson discusses the case of a deplorable murderer who possessed not a single shred of mercy or morality, in a fantastic essay on responsibility and the limits of evil. Investigations into this man’s background revealed that he had a perfectly horrible childhood, and, as a result, the moral outcry over his actions softened. But should this really change our perspective on this murderer? Should we judge him less harshly if he was born evil, or if he had evil thrust open him?

With the Daleks, everything is black and white, and it’s up to us to consider how we want to deal with that type of worldview. And, of course, how we deal with a Dalek worldview that is flipped. Consider the Doctor’s diagnoses: “A Dalek so damaged it’s turned good. Morality as malfunction.” The inversion is beautifully written: damaged = good, morality = bad. Through the looking glass, indeed! (Aside: And might I say, glorious alliteration in those two lines as well. /aside.)  And, naturally, as soon as the Dalek is “fixed,” it attempts to destroy all non-Dalek creations in sight, so the Doctor and his cohorts attempt to, essentially, “re-break” the Dalek. If you really, truly think about it—how different is “good” brainwashing from “evil” brainwashing? In true libertarian fashion, I will allow you all to come to make your own deductions.

Yet of course, we want the Doctor to try—in answer to the Doctor’s earlier question about being a good man, Clara finally says that she thinks he tries to be, and that’s the point. After the Doctor mends the crack and the Dalek is “healed,” the Doctor appears relieved—and Clara immediately sets him straight. “We’re going to die in here, and there’s a little bit of you that’s pleased. The Daleks are evil after all, everything makes sense!”

Of course the Doctor is secretly pleased—how much easier life would be if it were all black and white! I can see this being the central struggle that inhabits Twelve’s personality, and while I clearly fall out on one side of the struggle, I definitely appreciate the drama. The Twelfth Doctor is already in danger of becoming too emotionless, too macroscopic. Twice in this episode, his “big picture” philosophy propelled him to focus on saving those left alive rather than mourning (and therefore respecting) those already dead—first, when he rescued Journey from her burning ship without sparing a thought for her brother, and second, when he used the dying soldier Ross to distract the rest of the crew from attacking Dalek antibodies. Practical, sure. More responsible, even, and this may be where he breaks from Ten and Eleven; while Ten “regrets” and Eleven “forgets,” Twelve selectively regrets and forgets, but uses these experience to take responsibility and move continually forward. A man defined by his regrets or lack of regrets is by necessity living in the past. Twelve is the Doctor who will finally move on into the future– even if it is, as he says, “into darkness.”

That’s not to say that the Doctor doesn’t have quite a few lessons to learn along the way. Most notably, he needs to learn to overcome his prejudices. The whole “All [ group] are [adjective]” thing? A bit not good. He doesn’t allow Journey to accompany him and Clara into the TARDIS at the end because she’s a soldier—but, you should know, Doctor, #NotAllSoldiers. In the very beginning, Rusty the Dalek insiss that “Daleks must die”—but now we and the Doctor know: #NotAllDaleks!

That last line specifically reminded me of another philosophical concept: the syllogism. A syllogism is a logical argument that traditionally takes the following form:

All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Syllogisms are ironclad logical arguments that leave no room for emotions, intuitions, etc. The discipline of logic is fundamentally dry, and while it can be intellectually stimulating in a mind-bending sort of way, it is a far cry from the more colorful affairs of the heart(s), which is something this more cold-hearted Doctor might need to explore. It is quite interesting, then, that the very first line of this episode—and the name of the Dalek Resistance’s ship—is “Aristotle”—often credited as the originator of the syllogism (among a bajillion other philosophical concepts, of course).

*This is a true story. And it may have been totally my fault.

Oods and Ends

  • “Hello, I’m Missy. Welcome to Heaven. Would you like some tea?”
  • Back to the [Journey] Blue and [Danny] Pink thing—what exactly are the writers trying to tell us with the colors thing? Other than gender bending, of course. Maybe they’re both destined to be companions? No complaints from me!
  • As I mentioned before, this episode reminded me a lot of “Journey’s End.” I wonder if the character named “Journey” is supposed to be another allusion to that storyline?
  • Bolt holes, missed metaphors, painful puns…gotta love the Doctor and his dad jokes.
  • The Dalek’s speech about seeing beauty in the birth of the star is in itself quite beautiful, and the whole subversion of the oft-terrifying mantra “resistance is futile” by changing the object is eye-opening, to say the least. It is not resistance to death that is useless, but resistance to life. Honestly, I don’t even know if that inverted viewpoint is optimistic or fatalistic. Or maybe even both. 

And finally, I leave you all with a question: “What difference would one good Dalek make?” Food for thought until next week, fellow Whovians!

A Case of Identity | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 1

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spoilers ahead!

“Deep Breath,” aaaaaand….release.

I started out this post as a sort of recap-analysis hybrid, but I kept coming back to a compelling theme that sums up a huge part of this episode and of Doctor Who as a whole: the idea of identity: physical and metaphysical; identity as perceived by the self and as perceived by others; and pretty much everything in between. But first, to get to the episode itself:

I vaguely remember hearing rumblings of skepticism over the new season of Doctor Who, but Saturday night’s season premiere seems to have cranked the enthusiasm of longtime Peter Capaldi fans up to eleven, while their Capaldi Express train immediately yanked the erstwhile cynics on board for the ride.

The premiere did a good job of appealing to those of us who are more stubbornly indecisive as well, employing the fan-favorite Paternoster Gang to open up the episode and propel it ever forward, while the surprise cameo of Matt Smith’s dearly departed Eleventh Doctor at the episode’s conclusion had me in tears before I could even yell, “Geronimo!” …But I’m getting ahead of myself already, aren’t I? #TimeyWimey

So: The scene is set in Victorian London, where the populace is alarmed (but apparently none too shocked) by the sudden appearance of an anguished dinosaur. Jokes about Madame Vastra’s age ensue, the dinosaur projectile vomits the saliva-drenched TARDIS, and off we are to the races.

The first appearance of the newly regenerated Doctor sets up the traditional “introduction of a new Doctor” conflict nicely. Clara emerges from the TARDIS in a disheveled and slightly panicky huff, while Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax appear at first bemused, and then amused, by the Doctor’s new persona. Regenerations are always scarring, and the first episode featuring the new Doctor (in which it is impossible to deny that there is a new Doctor any longer) is often doubly so. Right off the bat, Clara and the Paternoster gang represent the two reactions to a regenerated Doctor, with Clara understandably  embodying an obstinate resistance to the older, grimmer Twelve and the Paternoster gang embracing him with almost giddy alacrity. Imbuing familiar characters with familiar emotions serves as a winning formula to helping fans from both camps—those who are not yet 110% on board with the idea of a new Doctor (me) as well as those who have been tooting Capaldi’s horn since the get-go—jump right in to the adventure.

The Doctor’s new ladyfriend—that is, the dinosaur—barely lasts pasts the episode’s 20-minute mark. His promise to keep her safe is suddenly rendered moot as “Big Woman” bursts into flames, prompting the Doctor to go all Socratic Method on his “pudding-brain” friends in order to figure out whowhatwhenwherewhy.( The odd little exchange prompted some fans to wonder if “the question is…” may become Twelve’s signature catchphrase….Too early to tell, but if so, I approve. Fits his didactic personality nicely.) As it turns out, the Doctor has encountered this particular baddie before—way back in season 2 of the rebooted series, in the critically acclaimed and fan-beloved episode “The Girl in the Fireplace,” also, unsurprisingly, written by Steven Moffat. (The Moff loves stroking his ego by hearkening back to episodes of his own creation; as one reviewer pointed out, this episode’s “don’t breathe” is almost certainly a take on “don’t blink,” from season 4’s “Blink.”) First seen in “The Girl in the Fireplace” attempting to assemble spare human parts over the centuries as a means of repairing their ship, the creepily patient Clockwork Droids are doing very much the same thing in “Deep Breath.”

For me, the scariest aspect of this episode was not the idea of harvesting humans as much as the particular scene in the droid’s “restaurant” when Clara and the Doctor attempt to “casually stroll out of here” and are met step for step by the clicking and whirring zyborg (that’s zombie/cyborg, duh) people. The patchwork-people plotline has been utilized so often that it has almost lost its visceral effect on me; just off the top of my head, I’m reminded of, obviously, the original Frankenstein, as well as the “Organ Grinder” episode of Grimm and Fringe’s surprisingly poignant “The Marionette.” But this episode, of course, wasn’t really about the antagonists or the plot.

There were several running themes throughout this episode, all trickling down to ideas about identity. Continuing along the Clara/Paternoster split, Clara at first refuses to accept the Doctor as The Doctor because he looks different (and acts differently, too, lest we accuse Clara unfairly for being unequivocally shallow), while Madame Vastra champions an ethereal image of The Doctor that is not dependent on his physical appearance. This idea comes to the fore in the fabulous conversation between Vastra and Clara early on in the episode. Vastra dons her veil in order to convey the message that Clara is seeing only with her eyes, not her soul, then draws a fitting comparison between her veil and the Eleventh  Doctor’s young visage. “I wear a veil as he wore a face,” she tells Clara. “To be accepted.” After a fiery tirade by Clara that compels Jenny to applause, the conversation ends with a final note about the veil—or, rather, its absence. “When did you stop wearing your veil?” Clara asks, as Vastra answers with a succinctly compelling argument explaining prejudice: “When you stopped seeing it.”

Later on, the Doctor himself addresses this seeing/not seeing motif while himself confronting Clara about her less-than-thrilled reaction to his regeneration, in his single moment of true vulnerability in this episode. “You look at me, and you can’t see me. Do you have any idea what that’s like? …I’m right here, standing right in front of you. Please, just…see me!” Twelve’s entreaty reveals the bits of the previous Doctor(s) that are still poking through his toughened outer shell, which brings us to….

The Call. No no no, not that call. This one:

I’m learning via the interwebz that many people already knew about The Call and about Matt Smith’s cameo. I didn’t do much internet probing regarding the upcoming season because I only completed season 7 recently, so I wasn’t starving for details just yet. Because of this, I remained ignorant of the Eleventh Doctor’s appearance in “Deep Breath,” and if I wouldn’t be wishing myself out of a job, I would advocate for totally spoiler-free lives, because my organic reaction was approximately 97% shock. When Clara steps outside the TARDIS in the closing minutes of the episode to answer a phone call and, suddenly, Matt Smith’s Doctor appears onscreen, my hand actually flew to my mouth to prevent myself from shrieking. I actually did that. It’s not (only) a figure of speech.

For those of us who were still, even after Madame Vastra’s remonstrations, straddling the selfsame fence as Clara regarding the new Doctor, a plea for acceptance from Eleven himself—complemented by Twelve’s parallel plea to accept him as himself—was enough to fully merge these two personalities in my mind and reassert the overarching identity of The Doctor.

Now, for the tangent: what does it even mean to talk about the Doctor’s “identity”?  I’ve long been interested in philosophical notions of identity, so the very idea of a being that changes nearly every single aspect of itself (“Everything I am dies,” according to Ten) and yet still somehow retains its identity as The Doctor is a fascinating if utterly illogical concept. If you want to get a PhD in the subject any time soon, I’d strongly advise redirecting your attention here, but for the Sparknotes crowd, the concept of temporal parts is utilized by metaphysicians to explain the continued existence of an object over time. For instance, right now I am sitting on my couch, typing up some thoughts on “Deep Breath.”  This is Me. I have the properties of being named Allyson, having dark, curly  hair, and sitting on the couch typing up some thoughts on “Deep Breath.” Tomorrow morning, I will still be named Allyson, still have dark, curly hair, but I will have already posted my thoughts on “Deep Breath.” How can I still be Me if I suddenly have different properties? Enter the idea of temporal parts, which explains how I can exist at different times (Me-Today vs. Me-Tomorrow) and how I can exist with different properties.

To bring up a more radical example: Is Twenty-Three-Hour-Old-Me really the same Identity-wise as Twenty-Three-Year-Old-Me? Many of us would like to say: no, but as a means of explaining how those two beings are still the same person, we can say that they’re temporal parts of Me-The-Person. Incidentally, Eleven alluded to this concept in his final speech, insisting that “we are all different people all throughout our lives.” Though the speech hits home on so many additional, emotional levels, it also strikes a mighty metaphysical chord as well.

Shifting for a moment to the idea of physical parts rather than temporal parts, we also have the concept of the ship of Theseus, a thought experiment that asks: if the parts of the ship are replaced, piece by piece, until the ship is eventually composed of entirely new parts, is it still the same ship? And what if those old parts are pieced together to form another ship—which ship is the ship of Theseus?

Too complicated? Allow me to hand it over to the Doctor, who brought up this very concept in “Deep Breath” while discussing ideas of identity with his zyborg antagonist, who provides such a complicated case of identity (droid? human? which human? parts of humans?!!?!) that I won’t even attempt to touch that right now. Expansion post TBD. Anyway, here’s Twelve:

“You are a broom. You take a broom, you replace the handle. And then, you replace the brush. And you do that over and over again.  Is it still the same broom?”

The Doctor, somewhat surprisingly, provides a pretty emphatic answer to the identity problem of the broom of Theseus: “Answer: No, of course it isn’t!” This from the guy who, moments later, stands in front of Clara and pleads for her to “see him” as The Doctor despite the fact that he literally just changed all of his parts! According to his own logic, he’s not “The Doctor.” But perhaps we can resolve this issue by taking a look at the Doctor’s next line…

“…But you can still sweep the floor, which is not strictly relevant. Skip that last part.”

Rule One: The Doctor lies. That last part is relevant. It could be the one defining facet of The Doctor; his raison d’etre, his motivation for Going Forward. “But you can still sweep the floor.” What is the function of a broom? To sweep the floor. What is the function of the Doctor? ….Debate. Though I would make a strong case for “save the universe while doing cool stuff.”

Initial Assessment of Twelve

Disclaimer: I didn’t know Peter Capaldi from Adam before he was announced as the Twelfth Doctor. I’ve since read up on his background and discovered a bit about his potty-mouthed character from another series and his childhood as a bona fide Whovian fanboy. But I played the word association game and you through the word “Capaldi” at me, my first thought would undoubtedly be: “Twelfth Doctor.”

Having said that—and given the fact that I only said goodbye to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor about a week ago—I think Peter Capaldi did a wonderful job of asserting his familiar-yet-different new Doctor. He managed a whole host of snarky jokes (“Sorry, I’m going to have to relieve you of your pet” / “Shut up, I was talking to the horse!”) and made it clear that he’s very content with being Scottish. A lot of emphasis is also put on the fact that the new Doctor is Scottish, much to comic effect (“You all sound all…English! Now you’ve all developed a fault!”). But amid all the belly-laughs, there’s another more poignant reason for the Doctor’s change in nationality.

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It’s also interesting to note the Twelfth Doctor’s more “potent” (to use Capaldi’s own term) relationship to time. From the brand-new opening credits that feature the turning gears of a clock (which was actually created by a fan and picked up by Moffat as the official intro) to the return of the Clockwork Droids to the Twelfth Doctor’s theme music, which is overlaid with the distinct ticking of a clock, it’s clear that Twelve is more of a Time Lord than a Time Lord. I’m excited to see how this will play out over the course of Capaldi’s tenure!

Since I started watching Doctor Who, I’ve been fascinated by the subtle meaning behind each regeneration, and the transformation from Eleven to Twelve is pretty radical, to the extent that it is actually directly discussed within the new Doctor’s first episode. If, as Madame Vastra points out, the previous Doctor wore a young face as a veil in order to be “accepted” by others, he now wears an older face because he doesn’t give a crap about what everyone else thinks; his physical maturity represents his emotional maturity and more established sense of identity, as well as his willingness to take on responsibility both for himself and for others.

Wholock!

Steven Moffat sure knows how to stoke the coals, eh? It’s not as if he conjured up Sherlock Holmes references out of thin air, since it was revealed back in “The Snowmen” that Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of Holmes is (in the Who universe) directly based on Madame Vastra’s own exploits. As a puckish, deerstalker-hat tip to Sherlockians, “Deep Breath” included a bunch of references to the famous consulting detective:

  • Madame Vastra proclaims that “The game is afoot!” a sentence that originally appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry V, but also one that became a particular catchphrase of Sherlock Holme’s.
  • “We’ve got the Paternoster Irregulars out there…” – and allusion to Holmes’s “Baker Street Irregulars,” or the BBC Sherlock’s “homeless network.”
  • Jenny tells Clara that Vastra is investigating the Conk-Singleton forgery case, a case referenced by Holmes in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” but never fleshed out. Possible Paternoster Gang webisode? Easter egg for season 4 of Sherlock?!

Wibbly Wobbly Odds and Ends

  • Though the episode was written and shot before the death of Robin Williams, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had some feels when Twelve uttered, “O Captain, My Captain.”
  • It’s pretty cool that the very first episode addressed the issue of Peter Capaldi’s appearance earlier in the Whoniverse (playing the character of Caecilius in season 4’s “The Fires of Pompeii”), though obviously no answers were given just yet. I’m hoping for something a little more creative than just “the Doctor regenerates into bodies he’s seen before because he can’t like actually create life, I mean he’s not literally a god.” However, this whole idea also implies that somewhere out in the Whoniverse there is another Matt Smith and David Tennant wandering around somewhere, a concept with which I am 100% A-OK exploring in more detail, pleasepleasepleaseplease.
  • Murder or suicide? Did the Doctor push the droid out of the spaceship, or did the droid jump? I can’t say I love either option. I know that this Doctor is supposed to have a steelier side, but to me, the Doctor is fundamentally non-violent, so while I’m okay with the idea of the Doctor messing up once in a while, I will turn positively monstrous (to quote Mummy Holmes) if this ends up being a trend.
  • Oops, 2,500 words later, I neglected to even once mention The Kiss. Probably because it’s irrelevant, aside from the fact that it was glorious, and was written about in an insightful way that needs no addendum, here.
  • …Although I will, actually, add this: JENNY X VASTRA FTW!

Until next week, fellow Whovians!

A Look Back on Some Favorite Doctor Who Episodes

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It took months of convincing on the part of my friends and several more weeks for me to actually do the deed, but I’m finally (finally!) up to date with Doctor Who. Though I started out skeptical, somewhere along the middle of season 2 saw me become a bona fide, fanatical Whovian– and lo, here I am today. In celebration of my completion of seasons 1 through 7 and in anticipation of the upcoming premiere of season 8, I’d like to look back on the selection of episodes that impacted me the most.

But first, a caveat: I’m always wary of wading into the ever-contentious territory of Top [Insert Arbitrary Number Between 1 and Infinity] Rankings, because the act of ranking is itself a highly subjective enterprise, both within the realm of television and within the territory of one television show in particular. Doctor Who is unendingly popular because it appeals to so many different people in so many different ways; therefore, naturally, everyone and their K-9 companion will have a divergent opinion on the scale of “best” to “worst.” My own particular list is a the result of a combination of factors, including but not limited to: thematic impact, amount of dramatic monologues/quotable quotes, emotional resonance aka the amount of times I laughed and/or cried (…at the same time #Moffat), and the Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Factor, aka the mind-bending ingenuity of the setting and/or plot. Now, picture each of these categories on a spectrum of Awful to Awesome and toss in a whole bunch of intangibles that characterize my own personal preferences for entertainment. Any episode that scored high in the Awesome zone of each of these categories made it onto my list, with some episodes making the cut purely due to an off-the-charts rating in even one or two of these categories.

This may seem like an unnecessarily technical way to compile a list of my favorite episodes, but, on a personal note, pinpointing exactly what I loved so much about each episode actually heightened my ex post facto enjoyment of those episodes and strengthened my overall obsession with this glorious show—and I hope it does a little bit of the same for you.

As long as you’ve already watched every episode, of course. Otherwise, stay away.

And now, without further ado…in no particular order…

Blink (Season 3: Episode 3)

Objectively the best episode in the entire series. Right then, allons-y!

…Ah, yes. I did just undermine my entire convoluted introduction. Score one for the away team. But this episode is, in simple terms, a truly phenomenal feat of storytelling; it ranks high on every single one of my scales and then goes on to decimate pretty much everyone else’s personal ranking systems as well.

Quotable Quotes: For starters, this episode is the source of the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” quote, which is almost definitely the most oft-quoted quotable quote of them all. The Tenth Doctor’s quirky description of time travel functions as more than a mere plot reveal; it also perfectly encapsulates the whimsical nature of the entire show.

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Emotional Resonance: The cast of this episode—beginning and ending with the up-and-coming young actress named Carey Mulligan—was fantastic, making us care deeply about their characters over a mere 44-minute timespan. Plus, I have this odd sensitivity for the particular dramatic category entitled “Letters From Dead People,” and “Blink” uses this trope highly effectively.

Wibbly-Wobbly: For a show ostensibly about a Time Lord who travels through space and time, the art and science of time travel is rarely the central element of a Doctor Who episode. In “Blink,” time travel drives the plot, provides a platform for emotional resonance, and takes a weaponous turn as the coup de grace for the show’s most terrifying villains to date—the Weeping Angels. Just remember, don’t watch this episode right before bed. And, whatever you do: Don’t. Blink.

Steven Moffat’s spooky story whetted the imaginative appetites (and tweaked the heartstrings) of Whovians in preparation for his upcoming position of showrunner. And the most impressive part about this episode? The Doctor himself is barely in it. Doctor Who? You can say that again.

Gridlock (Season 3: Episode 10)

From an episode that appears on every “best” list to an episode that appears on none, I give you: my favorite underrated episode of Doctor Who. Much like “Blink,” “Gridlock” rates very high—albeit in a more subtle way—in every one of my categories.

Thematic Impact: To start by skipping to the end, we finally get a stirring glimpse at the Doctor’s mysterious home planet of Gallifrey.

Emotional Resonance: Back in season 2, we were told that the sagacious Face of Boe would reveal his dying message to a wanderer without a home. Though mysteries are often far more compelling than their resolutions, this is one case in which the revelation of the message itself blew me away. Here’s an example of why my episode ranking is so personal, since my mentality at that particular time in my life was such that I felt as if the FoB’s final four words were directed as much to me as to the Doctor. And while the double-meaning of “You are not alone” becomes clear only later on in the Tenth Doctor’s saga, the thematic implications of this message as it relates to Ten’s existential angst and longing for companionship will always be the primary meaning in my view. (And, of course, it takes on an even larger significance when the real identity of the Face of Boe is finally revealed.)

Wibbly-Wobbly: The odd villain-of-the-week creation– soul-crushing traffic that is also, quite literally, bone-crushing—probably left a sour taste in the mouths of many viewers, but for someone who has spent agonizing hours inching forward in New York City traffic jams, the notion of a future NYC in which traffic jams last decades instead of mere hours certainly strikes a chord—and serves as Exhibit A of the way this show takes mundane elements of everyday, Earthbound life and turns it up to eleventy. Even more memorable than the episode’s set-up are its colorful supporting characters—as the Doctor drops into an assortment of vehicles in his search for his missing companion, Martha, he encounters interspecies newlyweds, a “Bertie Wooster-like business man,” nudists, and an old lesbian couple. The diversity of characters in this episode sets yet another precedent for the Russel T. Davies era of Doctor Who—and for a show that purports to span across all of time and space, a diverse array of beings from all walks of life is nothing if not expected.

Midnight (Season 4: Episode 10) and The Beast Below (Season 5: Episode 2)

These two episodes may seem unrelated at first glance, but I’m cheating the Listing system by pairing the two together for Thematic Impact reasons. Namely:

Thematic Impact: Both episodes force the Doctor to confront his glaring blind spot: humanity’s potential for horrifying evil. In “Midnight,” a group of shuttle passengers opt to sacrifice the Doctor to save themselves when it appears that he’s being possessed by a faceless alien, and in “The Beast Below,” the futuristic British populace tacitly allows an innocent Star Whale to be tortured in order to preserve the lives on board their ship. Given the Doctor’s traditionally unshakable affection for humankind and his implicit belief in the spark of goodness in everyone, these two episodes pit the Doctor against an enemy more bone-chilling than any extraterrestrial he could possibly encounter.

Emotional Resonance: And yet…hope is never lost. Because the Doctor is saved from being killed (“Midnight”) or having to kill (“The Beast Below”) by a laudable act of self-sacrifice on the part of someone else. The mob mentality can be a dangerous and venomous beast, but sometimes, all it takes is one act of heroism to make all the difference.

Quotable Quotes: 

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Wibbly-Wobbly: As far as set pieces go,  “The Beast Below” is as elaborately ostentatious as “Midnight” is sparse and minimalist. But while the former is undoubtedly visually arresting, the latter earns filmographic points for telling a gripping, fast-paced story inside the bland cabin of a (space) shuttle, with an invisible, unnamed villain-of-the-week and “action” that is 95% dialogue.

The End of Time (Two-Part Season 4 Finale)

“Favorite” episode? “Best” episode? Hardly. Merely the one that shattered all emotional scales ever and ripped up every fiber of feeling in my body beyond possible repair. They say you never forget your first Doctor, and for all intents and purposes, that’s what David Tennant was for me. Saying goodbye to him was nothing short of traumatic—especially considering his gut-wrenching, all-cards-on-the-table final performance.

Thematic Impact: Each Doctor presents his own unique persona. Ten typified polarizing extremes; he was a swashbuckling r/Romantic who experienced ecstatic highs, yet was also existentially shackled by the weight of his past actions. As Ten’s hubris reached its zenith, his inevitable fall proved to be fatally humbling, and his final speech hit upon every point of this character arc with staggering poignancy. His final sacrifice to save the life of one measly human marks epitome of his chastening, while at the same time restoring faith in what the Doctor is all about.

Dramatic Monologue:

 

 

 

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…and for EVEN MORE FEELS

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Emotional Resonance: The fact that a significant fraction of my soul shrivels up and dies at even the briefest consideration of this episode.

Wibbly-Wobbly: I’m sorry, are you talking? I can’t hear you through the wracking sound of my #FEELS.

Amy’s Choice (Season 5: Episode 7)

Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy? Think: The Matrix, but with Dobby (aka actor Toby Jones) in the position of a taunting Mephistopheles,  as the Doctor and the Ponds seek to differentiate between dream and reality.

Wibbly-Wobbly: Though the dream-versus-reality plot is well-established, the characters navigate it with sincerity and humor that makes the trope feel refreshing. The Ponds’ domestic life in sleepy Leadworth is as heartwarming as it is dull, and the whole aliens-spewing-from-the-mouths-of-the-elderly thing is both disgusting and amusing.

Thematic Impact: The episode’s Big Reveal took a fun yet familiar fantasy trope, switched things up a bit by bringing in a less-familiar resolution (they’re both dreams!) and then adding an extra gut-punch of a plot twist—the Dream Lord was an element of the Doctor all along, revealing that under the Eleventh Doctor’s meticulously constructed gregariousness flows a darkness that was all-too-prevalent in Ten.

Emotional Resonance: The episode is colored with even greater significance when reconsidering the Doctor’s earlier line to the Dream Lord, “only one person in the universe hates me as much as you do,” in light of the revelation about the Dream Lord’s true identity. The heartstrings…they burn!

Quotable Quotes:

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The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Season 5: Episode 12, Season 5: Episode 13)

In typical Steven Moffat fashion, this two-part finale opens up at 75 mph without passing Go. Unlike many other Moffat creations, however, the story does not drop down to 60 by the end, scrambling to claw its way back up to its impossibly high starting point, but ties itself up in a neat little bow while getting in quite a few emotional punches along the way.

Thematic Impact: The Doctor, Amy, and Rory finally become a true team, setting the stage for the rollicking adventures that are to follow featuring the show’s (arguably) best Doctor-companion(s) dynamic yet.

Emotional Resonance: The relationships between characters provide the meat of the emotional resonance in these episodes, as each one is tested and, ultimately, strengthened.

Wibbly-Wobbly: The Pandorica itself was an implausible plot device and the gathering of all the Doctor’s enemies served no discernible purpose other than Moffat’s Ego. But everything else in the episode worked—from the Doctor “dying” in his own arms to “the boy who waited” to everything that River Song ever does to the return of the Raggedy Doctor at the Ponds’ wedding, these episodes delivered compelling plots and performances alike.

Dramatic Monologue:

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I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay: we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know, it was the best: a daft old man, who stole a magic box and ran away. Did I ever tell you I stole it? Well, I borrowed it; I was always going to take it back. Oh, that box, Amy, you’ll dream about that box. It’ll never leave you. Big and little at the same time, brand-new and ancient, and the bluest blue, ever. And the times we had, eh? Would’ve had. Never had. In your dreams, they’ll still be there. The Doctor and Amy Pond… and the days that never came.

A Christmas Carol (Season 6: Episode 0)

This was the episode that convinced me to snap out of my period of mourning for the Tenth Doctor and fully embrace the lovable idiosyncrasies of Eleven. Every line of dialogue sparkles with wisdom and/or humor; in fact, it took me about double the actual running time of the episode to finish watching it because I continuously had to pause it in order to get my laughter under control.

Thematic Impact: This episode propagates the endless debate over whether the Doctor is an old man in a kid’s body…or the other way around. The answer is, of course: both.

Quotable Quotes:

hellostarryeyed:</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <p>Favorite quote or one liner from Doctor Who?<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> I know this is kind of an obscure one, but I just love this line. “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” To me it just really sums up the Doctor. He’s this amazing force, that could easily start thinking he was better than others, given that he flies around saving the Universe over and over again. Instead, he still cares about everyone, even the (to risk sounding cliche) ‘little people’. The Doctor realizes that every single person is important, and that everyone has a story to tell.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Anyway, for me, that’s the best thing about him.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

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Emotional Resonance: As the cherry on top, the take on Dickens’ seminal classic provided for a convincing and cathartic character redemption tale, despite the unavoidably predictable ending.

Wibbly-Wobbly: Steven Moffat & co. came up with the idea of flying sharks well before Sharknado. But whereas the latter is all camp, Moffat’s version is whimsical. While Ian Ziering reacts with a chainsaw, the Doctor, characteristically, reacts with gentleness and wonder.

Extra points for A+ cameos:

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The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (Season 6: Episode 1, Season 6: Episode 2)

This season-opening two-parter caps off quite a run of consecutive episodes of pure awesomeness. Think “The Pandorica Opens” / “The Big Bang” in terms of adrenaline-pumping action, plot-twists, and character arcs. Plus—’MURRICA!

Thematic Impact: The main conflict and the Big Bad of the upcoming season is established right at the get-go. Brain-bending awaits!

Quotable Quotes:

 

 

 

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Wibbly-Wobbly: The Shininess factor of these episodes provides for the bulk of the excitement. The action picks up in media res and gallops on indefinitely, unraveling a whole host of mysteries along the way. And the Silence—gooey-faced, suit-wearing aliens whose presence you forget the moment you look away—dredge up delightfully creepy memories of the Weeping Angels.

The Doctor’s Wife (Season 6: Episode 4)

When one of your favorite authors pens the script for one of your favorite television shows, your expectations are bound to be through the roof. I had been looking forward to this Neil Gaiman-scripted episode since I first began watching the show, and, incredibly, my expectations were met. In “The Doctor’s Wife,” the Doctor’s longest-running companion—his trustworthy TARDIS—finally (albeit briefly) gets a human form, as all measures of hilarity and poignancy ensue.

Thematic Impact: It’s almost as if the entire series was leading up to a single line from the TARDIS. She takes the Doctor’s classic jab about the police box-shaped TARDIS being “bigger on the inside” and infuses it with elegant significance by wonderingly applying it to humans.

Quotable Quote:

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Emotional Resonance: A better love story than Her, tbh.

Wibbly-Wobbly: Gaiman is at his best when he combines carnivalesque whimsy with Deep Metaphysical Truths, and this episode accomplished that tricky feat flawlessly.

Let’s Kill Hitler (Season 6: Episode 8)

I was wary of this episode because I felt that Hitler was the one subject this show should never attempt to tackle. Yet my fears proved baseless, as Hitler is unceremoniously locked in a cupboard within the opening minutes of the episode. What happens next is history—so to speak—as River Song gets her long-awaited origin story, Amy and Rory chase down their wayward daughter, and the Doctor delivers yet another epic faux-death scene. Plus, uproarious one-liners for everyone!

Thematic Impact: River Song, a Brief Biography: Child of the TARDIS, guardian of Spoilers, BAMF with a heart of gold, sassy archaeologist, protector of the Doctor, vulnerable but steel-willed, terrifying and terrified, loving, caring, ass-kicking, curly-haired hero of yours truly.

Quotable Quotes:

 

 

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Emotional Resonance: Imma let you finish but have I mentioned how much I love River Song? Her regenerative kiss not only functions as a gleefully gender-bent take on the trope of “true love’s kiss,” but also sets the stage for just how far she will go to rescue the Doctor.

Wibbly-Wobbly: The notion of a robot powered by a miniaturized crew that seeks to deliver justice to history’s worst war criminals may be overly simplistic, but the contrast to River Song’s morally colorful personality makes its presence in this episode highly effective, and, in its own way, genuinely interesting.

The God Complex (Season 6: Episode 11)

Like “Amy’s Choice,” “The God Complex” sets up a familiar fantasy trope: in this case, the haunted hotel containing rooms with every guest’s biggest fear. But also like “Amy’s Choice,” this episode has the Doctor confront his greatest enemy—himself. “The God Complex” takes on additionally compelling theme by speculating on the helpful/harmful power of belief, as it relates to secular and religious matters alike.

Thematic Impact: Again hearkening back to the hamartia of Ten, “The God Complex” not-so-subtly alludes to the Doctor’s tendency to “play god” when it comes to the affairs of other beings.

Emotional Resonance: The Doctor’s attempt to break Amy’s faith in him rings hollow only because we know it can never last. All the more reason that his real goodbye to her at the end of the episode hurts so much.

Wibbly-Wobbly: Creepy clowns! Euphorically possessed humans! Hairy minotaurs! “Dwalls”! Aka all of the special ingredients for a memorable, metaphysical horror-show.

Quotable Quotes:

The meme-y…

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And the touching…

  

 

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The Rings of Akhaten (Season 7: Episode 7)

I’m not a typical music junkie—I don’t even own a (functional) (post-neolithic) iPod. But the soundtrack of a television show can often make or break my experience of that show—it adds layers of emotional depth that can heighten a scene’s excitement or plunge it into a dark melancholy.  The music from Lost, for example, has the incredible power to make absolutely anything depressing. The Eleventh Doctor’s theme music makes me want to jump up and run a marathon. And so on. So, it’s no surprise that the prayer/anthem sung by the angelic Merry Galel in “The Rings of Akhaten”’s climax affected me so deeply—especially as its sung in the background of the Eleventh Doctor’s most dramatic monologue. (And if you listen closely during Eleven’s regeneration speech—as he utters his very last words—the “Long Song” from “Rings of Akhaten” swells majestically in the background.) Which brings us to…

Dramatic Monologue: …the performance of Matt Smith’s entire career. This speech would be a superb feat of acting even without the euphoric music accompanying it. Add that to the layers of anguish that are etched onto Eleven’s face and the stunning cinematography of the Doctor’s hunched silhouette against the raging ball of fire, and you get something truly, truly special.

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But let’s talk about that tear…

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# A. C. T. I. N. G.

Thematic Impact: There are many parallels between the Doctor and the Old God, but I prefer to focus on their major differences: the Old God represents a passive yet vengeful god, while the Doctor personifies an actively engaged, merciful deity. He tells Clara that the one thing she ought to know about traveling with him is that “we never walk away.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the type of god I want to believe in.

Emotional Resonance:  Not to be discounted is what immediately follows the Doctor’s speech: Clara’s presentation of “the most important leaf in human history”—the leaf that, in true Butterfly Effect fashion, drove her parents together. In a rare moment of sincerity, Clara offers the leaf as the infinity of “unlived days” that her late mother never got to experience. Pass over the tissue box, Souffle Girl.

Wibbly-Wobbly: The cantina-esque setting allowed for (Luther creator) Neil Cross’s imagination to run wild while constructing alien life forms of all shapes and sizes. The detail that stood out the most, however, was the transference of goods not via monetary exchange, but by an exchange of objects of personal value—a literal interpretation of the term “value” that toys a fascinating metaphysical line.

—-

Hono(u)rary mentions: “The Lodger” (season 5: episode 11), for the pure, belly-laugh comedy of having the Doctor attempt to impersonate a socially competent human as well as the totally credible revelation that the Doctor “speaks Baby,” and “The Shakespeare Code” (series 3: episode 2) because Shakespeare, and Harry Potter, and oh good lord, Britain, you are just so wonderful.

And a couple of A+ scenes couched in otherwise underwhelming episodes:

* In “The Last of the Time Lords” (season 3: episode 13) Martha extols the power of a story: “I told a story, that’s all. No weapons, just words. I did just what The Doctor said. I went across the continents, all on my own. And everywhere I went I found the people and I told them my story. I told them about the Doctor.” And then it gets all kooky with the metaphysical stuff, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but totally worked for me because, like another wise Doctor once said, “We’re all stories in the end.”

* “The Next Doctor” is the beginning of the end for Ten, and his conversation with  David Morrissey’s “Doctor” in the episode’s closing scene never fails to get the tears flowing. Why is the Doctor traveling alone, sans his traditional companions? “I suppose, in the end,” the Doctor says matter-of-factly, “they break my heart.”

* “Vincent and the Doctor” got a lot of hype, but I wasn’t thrilled with the overall episode. However, guest actor Tony Curran shines as the tortured and (during his time) underappreciated Vincent Van Gogh. When the Doctor breaks every sacred rule of time travel by taking Van Gogh to a modern-day museum to see how beloved his paintings become, there’s not a dry eye in the art house.

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But it gets even better: The Doctor and Amy travel back to the future without Van Gogh in order to see if they altered the famous artist’s suicidal fate—but to no avail. Amy, heartbroken, laments their ability to “make a difference” in Van Gogh’s life, to which the Doctor responds: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Here’s to many more good times– and bad– thanks to the madman with the blue box.