Monday, May 30, 2016

Death in Heaven

Dear Gary—
I don’t even know where to start with this absurd mess called Death in Heaven.
I guess I’ll begin with Kate Stewart and UNIT coming along to legitimize 3W. Turns out, 3W is a thing; it’s not just a front for the Doctor. There really are a bunch of millionaire idiots who are spending billions for Missy to take their dead bodies and seat them on thrones in tanks of water to be put on display in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Except it is super hush-hush secret; only the elite and UNIT know about it; and Saint Paul’s isn’t really Saint Paul’s but a TARDIS in disguise.
Now let me see. Cybermen. We have Cybermen to contend with. Except these aren’t Cybermen. Other than in appearance, these metal men don’t resemble any Cybermen I know. These are nothing more than conjured cyber bodies that Missy has whipped up out of thin air to do her bidding. They can fly through the air with the greatest of ease and are quite the handy little army for Missy to command. She can grow them out of the ground, seeding graveyards with rainclouds of dead minds. I think that’s right, but it doesn’t really matter. It all looks and sounds impressive. Gives the people a good scare.
Except the masses aren’t scared by these shiny toy soldiers invading their cathedrals and squares. The milling citizenry stands around taking selfies with them. They don’t seem to have learned a lesson from Army of Ghosts. Not that these Cyber Bodies do much to inspire fear. Oh, they emerge from the ground, popping out of every grave and tomb and crypt and mausoleum and mortuary, which is rather creepy. But then they just stand about doing not much of anything. Even the ones that are out in society never open fire. These Cyber Bodies prefer to debate rather than inflict harm. It’s a war of words, not of weapons for them. And a severed Cyber Head sends shivers down their spines. I can only assume that Missy is calling the shots (there is no hint of a Cyber-Leader) and has her tin army on stand down for the moment.
Otherwise Clara would be dead. The scene of Clara trying to convince the Cyber Bodies that she is the Doctor is amusing, nothing more. There is no tension because we never once believe that these CB’s will shoot her down. Jenna Coleman is rapid fire good as usual, though. And in the end, the purpose of this sequence is to have Cyber PDP hang his Cyber head in sorrow and confirm that Clara Oswald is undeniably a liar.
Indeed, the entire reason for the season boils down to Cyber PDP and Clara. Everything has been carefully crafted to lead to the showdown in the graveyard. Continuity, logic, common sense, creativity—it has all been trampled under the Cyber Foot of the season arc. Adventure and artistic freedom has been under Steven Moffat’s Cyber Thumb for the duration.
All the rest of it—the Cyber Bodies, Missy, UNIT, the Nethersphere, 3W, Seb—it’s all just a show; a distraction; a house of cards created to provide an entertaining backdrop for the  Cyber PDP and Clara drama unfolding. And if I cared anything about the Cyber PDP and Clara melodrama I would be entertained. As it is I am slightly amused but mostly angered, annoyed, and bored in turns. Not helping is the unrelenting cloud of doom and gloom stagnating over the entire story. This is one episode that I won’t be sitting down to watch again and again. The few good bits are overshadowed.
Thus: “Bow ties are cool” is funny; Osgood’s death is maddening. “The President of Earth” is a nice set-up for the “vote for an idiot” gag; the Doctor as President of the Earth is irritating. (The practicality and logistics of it don’t stack up against the world’s political climate and isn’t consistent within the Doctor Who universe—is he erased from history or ubiquitous internet meme? The show just can’t make up its mind about the man of anonymity vs. the Super Hero of pop culture persona. It all depends on the whim of the moment and is exasperating beyond belief.) The Valiant/Cloudbase/Thunderbirds/Captain Scarlet exchange is diverting; the Doctor’s disdain of all things military is grating and has been done to death.  
Likewise, Michelle Gomez is hilarious; Missy is irredeemably despicable.
At the core of this rotten apple lurk Cyber PDP and Clara. This superficial and manufactured romance comes to a predictably thrilling conclusion as Cyber PDP utilizes the convenient hive mind of these Cyber Bodies to track down Clara, and he inexplicably takes her to a graveyard full of sluggish Cyber Bodies. Here he begs her to turn on his emotional inhibitor that for some unknown but expedient reason isn’t functional. Clara doesn’t know how the blasted thing works and so even though Cyber PDP could tell her exactly what to do, she instead calls the Doctor for direction leading to our final confrontation.
It’s all moving and touching, I’m sure, as Clara struggles with ‘killing’ her Cyber boyfriend. And of course we have Cyber PDP mocking the Doctor as “the blood-soaked old general” and this whole anti-soldier/soldier season-long build up culminating in Missy handing the Doctor his very own army. All neatly tied up, this seasonal package. Almost as though the Doctor’s life (not to mention Clara’s and PDP’s) has been scripted.
In the end it turns out that Missy Moffat engineered the entire scenario simply to get her “friend” the Doctor to admit that the two are “not so different.” She hands over control of the Cyber army to the Doctor expecting that he has no choice but to conquer the universe in some classic New Who faulty logic. Missy must have learned her math skills from PDP. It does not follow that saving the Earth leads to conquering the universe or that conquering the universe will save the Earth. Not one single dot connects to another to lead to this conclusion. But because she says it the audience is expected to hold its collective breath in despair waiting for the Doctor to pull his magic rabbit out of his magic sonic or some such thing.
Now we get the Doctor’s big revelation: “I am not a good man. I am not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. Do you know what I am? I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through; just helping out; learning. I don’t need an army. I never have; because I’ve got them; always them. Because love—it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise.”
And so the Doctor turns control over to one of “them;" to Cyber PDP, who no longer has any emotions in him, but because the Doctor has pronounced love a non-emotion he still has the promise of love enabling him to embrace Clara before flying off into the wild blue yonder to commit suicide (if a dead mind in a Cyber Body can technically commit suicide) and burn off the hovering clouds of dead minds along with his fellow Cyber Buddies. Neat and tidy. No more threat to Earth; no more Cyber Army.
No more Cybermen, either. Because these just are not Cybermen. Since their introduction in New Who the show has been flirting with this idea of individual Cybermen bucking the hive mind mentality and revealing emotions they shouldn’t have. Only when it is convenient to the plot; and only when it is a particular character we have gotten to know and who has been converted. The climax of Death in Heaven takes this to new heights. Cyber PDP is one thing. But Cyber Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart? Somehow the mind of the Brigadier has found a Cyber Body (and since he has been dead for a good many years I can’t imagine his dust and bones and rotting flesh was converted, but then again being New Who I guess we can accept that conjuring trick) and now Cyber Brig has made his way to the exact spot where the final showdown is happening at just the right time, and somehow Cyber Brig has resisted not only the Missy controlled hive mind but now the PDP hive mind instructions and hasn’t blown himself up with the rest of the Cyber Bodies, at least not until he has saved the Doctor and received his long overdue salute at which point he flies off to oblivion. How come no Cyber Jamie McCrimmon or Cyber Queen Elizabeth I or Cyber Shakespeare or Cyber Van Gogh or any number of dead humans who have a connection and affection for the Doctor? No, only Cyber Brig because he fits in so nicely with the UNIT story.
Just think, though. The Doctor could have all manner of Cyber companions clinking and clattering in the TARDIS with him. Before sending them all off to their Cyber deaths, PDP could have called out those who owe allegiance to the Doctor and we’d have a full TARDIS.
Seriously, though, Gary. Think about that corner Doctor Who has painted itself into. No heaven and no hell; not in Doctor Who-verse. No soul. No afterlife. Yet every (or most every) human mind that has ever existed has been residing in the Nethersphere or in Cyber Bodies or in raindrops or in clouds—all just waiting to be brought back to life, Cyber life though it be. So now all of these minds are burned up in the Cyber suicide pact? But wait, no. PDP mind speaks to Clara two weeks after the big bang in the sky. So where exactly is the PDP mind now? Surely not heaven or hell; not in the Nethersphere; not in a Cyber Body or a cloud or a raindrop. Is there perhaps a version of limbo in the New Who-verse? And all those other minds—are they there with PDP? The little kid he killed is at least.
Oh, how poignant when PDP sends the little kid through the magic portal. Only enough energy for one trip. How is it that this kid, who has been dead for quite some time, has a whole and healthy flesh and blood body? His old body? Where did that come from? And now what? How does he know if his parents are even still alive? And if they are, how are they or others going to react to this resurrection? Everyone he knew will have aged several years yet he is the same age as when he died. And is he now expected to be returned to whatever war-torn country he came from just to more than likely live a short and sad life? Yes, that was a story well told.
But this is when the real tale should begin. Clara now knows that PDP’s mind is alive and well somewhere; he is merely trapped. Now is when she should plug herself into the TARDIS and find him. If Missy, using Time Lord technology, can snatch PDP’s mind and insert it into a Cyber Body, why can’t the Doctor snatch it up and insert it into, oh, I don’t know, a teddy bear? Or how about a toy soldier? Maybe that exact one that played so prominently in Listen. (Speaking of which—how was it that they met up with a supposed ancestor of the PDP/Clara Oswald bloodline in Listen when PDP is now dead with no possibility of the two of them ever procreating?)
But Clara gives up. She resigns herself to a life without PDP in which she maybe thinks about him occasionally, maybe turns on the TV and tries to distinguish his voice coming out of the white noise. She doesn’t even tell the Doctor that PDP is out there somewhere trapped and waiting for them to rescue him. Instead she lies to him (“the one man I would never, ever lie to” indeed) and tells him that PDP is alive and well. Meanwhile the Doctor lies to her and says that he has found Gallifrey and the two go on their not so merry and separate ways.
Enter Santa Claus.
Now, Gary, I’m just about fed up at this point. Thankfully I have recently bought the DVD for the next season, and while there are some rocky moments to start, I find that there is hope yet. So let’s say goodbye to PDP and the season that was and look forward . . .

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dark Water

Dear Gary—
“It was boring,” Clara says of Poor Danny Pink’s death. “It was ordinary,” she continues. “He was alive, and then he was dead and it was nothing.”
Except it was not nothing and hence my problem with season arcs. Poor Danny Pink was set up. He was set up from the beginning of the season for this oh so ordinary death. It was his whole reason for being. And we knew from the start that he was being set up for something. He was not introduced as another companion or as a person in his own right. He was a tool; a pawn; a sacrificial lamb. And so his death is boring and ordinary and I can’t get too worked up about it and I can’t buy into Clara’s grief because I can’t buy into Clara’s love. Their romance was never anything more than a matter of convenience to the narrative.
Dark Water is the first part of Poor Danny Pink’s swan song and starts with Clara choosing to declare her love for him in a most impersonal way, in keeping with the nature of their manufactured liaison. She begins her phone declaration by repeatedly telling him to “shut up.” I think this is meant to be cute and endearing; it’s not. What it is, however, is typical of the way in which she has always treated Poor Danny Pink, and I cannot imagine why he has continually put up with her deceit and condescension. Poor Danny Pink is Clara’s door mat and it is this loss that she mourns.
It is not so much grief as anger that she feels; anger at her lack of and loss of control. Danny’s death was boring; it was ordinary; it was out of keeping with her grand illusions. At least she is honest enough to realize she doesn’t deserve any better. “But I am owed better,” she declares. And so she embarks on her selfish quest.
Clara’s confrontation with the Doctor is a compelling scene; Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi are both outstanding as usual. Clara’s threat is completely convincing as she holds the last remaining TARDIS key over the lava (although she has undoubtedly forgotten about the Doctor’s magic finger snap entry). How wonderful that the Doctor calls her bluff. Clara believes that she is holding all of the TARDIS key cards, but she has backed herself into a corner.
“Either you do as you’re told or stop threatening me,” the Doctor tells her.
“Do you know what, Doctor,” Clara replies defiantly, “when it comes to taking control you really are out of your depth.”
When the Doctor refuses her request to bring Poor Danny Pink back to her she has no choice but to destroy her lifeline in the lava. She immediately collapses in tears. She had no choice. She backed herself into a corner and had no choice. Clara the control freak lost control yet again.
The Doctor emerges victorious. I love it. Even when seemingly ceding control back to her by caving in to her wishes, he does so on his own terms and thus retains command of the situation. He doesn’t take her where she wants to go because she demands it; he takes her there because he wants to; after he has broken her.
However this is where the show loses me.
“Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife,” the Doctor says. “I always meant to have a look around; see if I could find one.”
Now, I know that the Doctor doesn’t believe in the Devil and I’m certain he scoffs at the notion of God. So how does an afterlife fit in? Or the concept of a soul? Certainly, some atheists can maintain the existence of an afterlife and soul, but the Doctor? Hardly. He derides anything with a whiff of the supernatural. The show is careful to steer clear of the term ‘soul’ and instead throws about talk of the mind. Seb uses soul, but only in a “whatever you want to call it” way; and the Doctor talks of the “poor souls” in the tanks, but he makes it clear that “they’re just dead and they’re not coming back.”
Poor Danny Pink is dead. The Doctor knows he is dead and he is not coming back. Yet he plugs Clara into the TARDIS to find Poor Danny Pink. According to the Doctor’s logic the TARDIS should take them to the morgue. It doesn’t; and now things turn really ludicrous.
“Good point; tombs with windows. Who wants to watch their loved ones rot? Why would anyone go to so much trouble just to keep watch on the dead?” Good point. Welcome to 3W.
3W reminds me of Tranquil Repose from the Classic Who serial Revelation of the Daleks. Except Tranquil Repose has a logical reason for being. It houses the bodies of those in suspended animation awaiting a future cure. In the meantime, unbeknownst to anyone, Davros is harvesting these bodies to turn into Daleks. Fast forward to the 3W of Dark Water, which is cobbled together out of several half-baked ideas.
3W appears to be a mausoleum housing skeletons seated in some mysterious liquid, the dark water of our title. To what purpose? Who is the customer base for this apparent business venture? The rich and powerful presumably. But why? How is having your remains sitting in a tank of water any better than lying down in a soft coffin? What gullible suckers are falling for this? But hold on, this isn’t really a mausoleum; this is merely a front put on for the Doctor’s benefit.
So who the heck is Dr. Chang?
Dr. Chang sincerely believes in the product he is selling. I can only assume he is a stooge that Missy has somehow duped into believing this malarkey. It is through Dr. Chang that we learn the meaning of 3W. 3W stands for “the three words.” OK, that explains everything. (“Oh, I’ve got a lot of internalized anger.”) It is an excruciating exchange to pad the episode and provide cheap shock effect; dredging up the “white noise” theory (“so what”); and playing on the “most fundamental fear in the universe” of dying (“just answer our question”); and laying out a fabricated history of scientific discovery by one Doctor Skarosa (“so, an idiot then”); to finally come to those three words (none of which, much to my surprise, start with ‘W’): “Don’t cremate me!”
“The dead remain conscious. The dead are fully aware of everything that is happening to them,” Dr. Chang proclaims. If that is the case, I would think the swift end of cremation is preferable to slowly rotting in the ground while worms and insects eat away my flesh. Maybe when I think of it, being pickled and preserved in water is a reasonable alternative, except those are skeletons we see sitting there so the flesh is still eaten away. Doesn’t matter, though; because as the Doctor rightly sees: “Fakery. All of it. It’s a con; it’s a racket.” They aren’t really skeletons at all. They’re Cybermen!
So please tell me what the whole 3W nonsense is about? Why the front? Why the need for Dr. Chang? This elaborate pretense took time and effort and money and loads of luck to pull off and keep secret. If it was done solely for the Doctor, how did Missy know the Doctor would end up there? How did she know Poor Danny Pink was going to die? Was she the one driving the car? Even so, how did she know the Doctor would indulge Clara’s selfish demands? Missy had some serious precognition
Let’s turn our attention to the Nethersphere.  Here we have a retread of the Great Intelligence’s plan. Upload minds to a hard drive. We also have some shoddy confirmation of the ridiculous claims being made at 3W. Poor Danny Pink is cold. Why is he cold? He’s dead. He exists as a mind only. Oh, I get it . . . the three words; “don’t cremate me;” a shivering Poor Danny Pink . . . “You’re still connected to your old body in the old world. You’re still going to feel what it feels.” How does that work exactly? Because Doctor Who says so. Rubbish.
This is where the show has painted itself into a corner. Doctor Who doesn’t believe in God. Doctor Who doesn’t believe in Heaven. Doctor Who doesn’t believe in the soul (in any religious sense of the word). But Doctor Who apparently believes that the mind can live on after death independent of the body, although telepathically connected to it somehow. Missy has taken advantage of this fact and has uploaded all of these minds to her Nethersphere. This is where I want to ask Doctor Who, if Missy had not happened along, where would all of these minds end up? (I guess in the telly making white noise.)
This is a fundamental difference between Classic and New Who. Classic Who has its share of unanswered questions, but it adamantly sticks to scientific principles underlying all of its remarkable and outlandish theories. I look to The Daemons as an example. The Doctor confronts superstition and magic and the devil head on. And while the explanation boils down to aliens and alien technology, it exists on a reasonable and logical plane within the context of a sci fi world.
New Who, on the other hand and as represented in our present story, shrouds its extraordinary and bizarre claims in a nebulous tissue of emotional bombshells.
The thing is, Gary, they have the means by which they could frame their arguments on a solid foundation: “That’s a matrix data-slice. A Gallifreyan hard drive. Time Lord Technology.” But it is thrown out as fragments of info and the only purpose is to elicit the fact that Missy is the Master. No attempt is made to ground the Nethersphere or 3W in the intriguing complexity of that idea. Instead the sham crypt and weird waiting room in limbo are only tenuously tethered to the notion while they are allowed to float freely about from one irrational assertion to another.
I might also mention the ghosting that is touched on in Silence in the Library, but since this isn’t even hinted at here I’ll pass over it and return to ghost PDP in the Nethersphere with Seb. PDP is dead and cold and Seb is ushering him through the red tape of the afterlife. There is no rational reason for Seb in Missy’s data-slice matrix other than to give exposition to the audience. And there is no sense to the Wi-Fi or iPads other than the humor they afford. (“IPads? We have Steve Jobs.”) Inside Time Lord technology and they need Steve Jobs to provide them with Wi-Fi; spotty Wi-Fi at that. Nor is there any possible reason for any of the trapped minds to interact, much less for Seb to facilitate a meeting between PDP and the young boy he killed years ago during his soldiering days. That is, no reason other than the emotional impact on the audience. (At this point we are supposed to applaud Steven Moffat’s cleverness for tying in that tear on PDP’s cheek way back at the beginning of the season when his class inexplicably questioned him on it.)
The real payoff for the PDP arc, however, is in the PDP/Clara relationship.  And so, through the magic of Steve Job’s spotty Wi-Fi, ghost PDP is able to communicate with Clara. Except Control Freak Clara won’t trust that PDP is who he says he is. CFC insists that PDP prove who he is. CFC will accept nothing he says as true unless he says something she can accept as true. The two talk in circles for a bit until CFC backs herself into a corner yet again.  “Stop saying that,” she commands when all PDP can think to say is, “I love you.” “Don’t say that,” she reiterates. “If you say that again, I swear I will switch this thing off.” She has laid down another ultimatum and for once PDP stops being CFC’s doormat.
PDP: “Clara?”
CFC: “Yes?”
PDP: “I love you.”
CFC has no other choice than to switch PDP off. PDP wins.
Now Seb gives Danny the choice to turn off his emotions; and again this is purely for the effect it elicits. Neither Missy nor the Cybermen have any motivation for allowing their victims to make that choice.
Missy and the Cybermen—we’re finally at our cliffhanger of an ending for this first of the two part season finale. The Cybermen emerge from their tanks. The Doctor runs outside only to discover that 3W has been secretly hidden inside of Saint Paul’s Cathedral of all places. The Doctor warns the milling citizenry to run but they remain remarkably calm even though Cybermen are marching through their midst. Missy gives some insight into her grand scheme. “All the graves of planet Earth are about to give birth,” she says. “You know the key strategic weakness of the human race? The dead outnumber the living.”
I should hold off until Part II right about now, but I have to at least mention this. What? The dead outnumber the living? So what? The majority of these dead are nothing but bones and dust. Now, if she were planning on reanimating those corpses that were still relatively intact I’d understand. But her allies are Cybermen. They make their own cyber bodies. They don’t need the dead bodies; only the minds, which Missy already has loaded in her matrix, and maybe some brains. And now I wonder where all the cyber bodies are going to come from. Is there some magic going on under the ground in all of those graves that is turning the bones and dust and rotting flesh into metal? I’ll reserve any further ranting for the nonce. I still have Part II to contend with after all.
Finally we get the big reveal. “Oh, you know who I am.” The Time Lady the Doctor abandoned. Missy. “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?” An effective cliffhanger. Yet this could have been so much more climatic if it had not been marred by the forced and manufactured arc. Scenes of Missy that were scattered about through the season are even more absurd in hindsight; scenes such as Missy welcoming an android into ‘Paradise’ (Deep Breath).  What need is there for Missy to personally welcome each and every victim? And OK, let’s say she only welcomes those that know the Doctor. Why? The droid never shows his half-face during the entirety of the finale. How did she even know Half-Face was going to die? Not to mention the fact that Half-Face is an android and not a human so what use is he to her matrix of minds? Or are we to believe that all intelligence, both human and artificial, is welcome in an open door policy of non-discrimination? And all of the hints that Missy has been engineering the relationship between Clara and the Doctor, that Missy hand-picked Clara as the Doctor’s companion and kept throwing them together—what crystal ball was telling her that this would all lead the two to 3W at just the right time?
The answer, Gary, is that Missy is not so much the Master (shock) but none other than Steven Moffat.

Friday, May 6, 2016

In the Forest of the Night

Dear Gary—
Tyger Tyger, burning bright . . . .
Unfortunately neither immortal hand nor eye is framing this fearful symmetry; there is only Steven Moffat guiding the season to conform to whatever master scheme he has in mind for the Doctor and the show. In the Forest of the Night suffers accordingly.
I am getting sick of complaining about this, but the adventure is yet again constrained to Earth when the story would have been so much better served if set on another planet.
“The forest is mankind’s nightmare,” the Doctor says of the overgrowth that has sprung up planet-wide overnight. He concludes the episode with, “You remembered the fear and you put it into fairy stories.”  And so I have come to realize that New Who is no longer science fiction or anything resembling it. New Who is nothing but a fairy tale for stunted adults.
Mind you, In the Forest of the Night is beautifully realized as a fairy tale. The sets, the direction, the focus—it all encompasses that childlike fear and awe and acceptance of the scary and weird and magical. The problem with it, or my problem with it, is that it doesn’t want to be perceived as a fairy tale. It wants us to look upon this as sophisticated storytelling exposing the grain of reality that spawns the fairy tales.
But there isn’t a grain of truth in the episode. It is all fairy tale and therefore I cannot accept that any of it really happened to the Doctor or Clara or Poor Danny Pink. It is a dream or a story concocted in their minds and nothing else.
This is Kill the Moon all over again, only not to such enraging effect.
To start, in what world, other than Who’s fantasy, would a math teacher and an English teacher take a group of unremarkable and underachieving school kids on an overnight to a history museum; much less a math teacher and an English teacher who are rumored to be an item? But that is only the start; a manipulative and unimaginative start. They needed to strand Clara, Poor Danny Pink, and a bunch of kids somewhere and a museum seemed a cool location, never mind that none of the action is going to take place there. It is random and calculated at the same time with no thought other than to make an impression on the audience. Given the presence of some wolves and a tiger, a zoo would have been a better fit; but then no attempt is made to give any logic or coherence to the proceedings. This is a fairy tale after all.
Our group finds themselves in the middle of London yet there are no Londoners about. No panicked citizens wondering what has happened to their fair city; no tourists armed with cameras to capture this strange new world; no emergency personnel attempting to keep order (other than the isolated band of flame throwers who pop up at an opportune moment); no scientists eager to study the overnight growth; no fanatics out to celebrate the miracle; no stranded travelers wending their way home; no curiosity seekers out to explore; no drunks stumbling about in awed stupor; not one single person who isn’t relevant to the plot (another Who skimping on the extras budget no doubt). No cars to speak of either. I guess the forest grew up at some magic witching hour when not a soul or vehicle was present to witness. In the heart of London.
This alone tells me that the action as presented cannot possibly be happening for real to the Doctor et al and can only be a dream or a vision. (I reiterate that simply setting the story on another planet would alleviate this, but then the author would be hard pressed to justify the presence of Poor Danny Pink and the kiddies, and so the story suffers as a result.)
Also suffering—the kids. Clara and Poor Danny Pink prove to be terrible teachers and indifferent chaperons. Through flashback we learn Clara is too absorbed to pay attention to the bullying going on under her nose and Poor Danny Pink is unable to relate simple mathematical concepts to his students. Neither of them notice that one of their charges (Maebh) is missing, and when the fact is pointed out to them neither seems to care much beyond their initial shock nor do they make any immediate or concerted effort to retrieve her. Ruby is labeled unimaginative and unteachable by her teachers, yet she consistently demonstrates her creativity and intelligence throughout the episode. Clara lumps all of these young, impressionable minds together as “furious, fearful, tongue-tied,” stating, “They’re all superpowers if you use them properly.” So how does she handle this group of potential superpowers? She tells them they are “gifted and talented” even though she doesn’t really believe this. “I just tell them that to make them feel good,” she explains. She makes no attempt to get to know or understand these kids and certainly does them no favors with the “feel good” line she medicates them with.
But it is all well-meaning and pleasant and laid back so I can’t get too worked up about it; on the other hand, I can’t get too worked up about it. It is a mildly enjoyable fairy story, nothing more. The Doctor is spinning this yarn for Clara as they sit in the TARDIS. Perhaps they are inventing it together as they sip some tea. (Thus the competing ‘have I got something to show you’ exchange they have on the phone.) They naturally set the action on Earth and Clara naturally wants to insert Poor Danny Pink. She probably picks the museum setting as something vaguely romantic. The fabrication grows from there with each contributing to the fable.
How else can you explain Poor Danny Pink fending off a ferocious tiger with a flashlight?
Clara expects gingerbread cottages and cannibal witches to emerge at any second from this conjured nightmare. Instead we get Maebh running willy nilly through the forest while waving imaginary figments away from her head and leaving bread crumbs in the form of school supplies for the Doctor and Clara to follow. No real attempt is made to explain why Maebh is the key to the plot other than references to medication and loss and listening and hoping. You’d think the woods would be full of such key figures, what with the flimsy criteria. She’s not much of a key actually; more of a distraction. Why is she running? Why are the lightening bugs chasing her? Then we have the mysterious Missy spying in. Is she whispering to Maebh? Was she the one to tell Maebh to find the Doctor? Is she masterminding any of this? Or is she merely a silent witness? All of these are questions that the Doctor and Clara leave unanswered as they weave their fabric of fiction.
Somehow Maebh is able to predict the solar flare when the Doctor, the TARDIS, all of Earth’s scientists, and every piece of technical equipment on the planet has failed to do so. And it is only by happenstance that the Doctor sees her prophetic drawings (due to Clara’s negligence in leaving her pupil’s homework on the TARDIS without realizing). The pesky fireflies Maebh constantly bats away never tell her to scream her warnings from the rooftops. The random “thoughts” that come to her she draws or mentions off-handedly with no sense of urgency.
The solar flare and the forest have nothing to do with Maebh. She is merely an adorable means by which the Doctor can piece together what is happening, even though none of it makes sense.
This is where the make-believe really ramps up. The lightening bugs conjured the forest to counter the solar flare. The children send a message to Earth to leave the trees alone, which naturally everyone heeds, and the trees magically absorb the solar flare and then disappear; their work being done. And of course the entire human race will wake up the next day with no memory of what has occurred. Mind you, I’m not sure how they are going to explain away all of the newscasts that had covered the story, or the millions of pictures that were surely taken of the forest, or the toppled statues littering numerous parks across the planet, or the multitude of cracked and mangled pavement, or the many shaken foundations that surely have been left behind in the forest’s wake, or the wolves and tigers that are suddenly loose and terrorizing cities. But oh well; all’s well that ends well.
What better way to end happily ever after than to have Maebh’s long lost sister suddenly appear? I’m not sure if she has been hiding in that bush all along or if it grew up around her overnight to trap her in its branches or if she was transformed into a bush or if the bush transported her home or some other equally outlandish explanation. Who cares as long as we have our happy ending to our pleasant little fairy tale?
Set on an alien world I could have more readily accepted it. As it is, it is simply a story made up to work in the Poor Danny Pink/Clara/Doctor dynamic with shades of Missy, all leading to the inevitable finale. And so we get Poor Danny Pink catching Clara in more lies concerning her life with the Doctor (and being OK with it because after all Clara has her hand in making this up); and we get Clara choosing to die with Poor Danny Pink rather than choosing to be the last of her kind; and we get the Doctor claiming, “This is my world too. I walk your earth; I breathe your air.” It is these doses of ‘reality’ that drag the story down and ironically don’t really ring true.
Case in point: the children. Clara lures the Doctor back to the TARDIS by reasoning that he can save the children at least (as well as Clara and Poor Danny Pink) from the devastation to come. Once they arrive, however, she abruptly decides that the kids would rather die with their families than live. I don’t recall her ever asking them their opinion, and I never see any evidence that this would be true. Not a one of them ever calls their families during this extraordinary day, nor do their families call them. Not even Maebh’s mother thinks to call her daughter to ask where she is or if she is all right. She’d rather bumble along on her bike with no clue where to even begin looking for her daughter. (No wonder she can’t find Annabel in that bush right on her own doorstep.) Only belatedly, when the script spells it out for them, do the kids start pining for Mom. This segment is some clumsy attempt to reveal  some message about life or love or family or something—some message that the show wants to get across before the end of the season—but it isn’t done with much thought or heart.
The Doctor asks, “What use is clever against trees?” It turns out it is the clever workings of the Doctor and Clara that both creates and disposes of the trees in this fancy of theirs. It is amusing and entertaining and fun. In no way, however, is it an adventure that the Doctor and Clara ever actually experienced and the messages the show tries to tie in are annoying and unclear.
But oh Gary, I think I’d rather spend more time in this frothy fairyland than venture forth into the nightmare that is looming . . .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Flatline

Dear Gary—
Flatline is a decent enough adventure; a semi-entertaining way to spend some 45 minutes. But decent enough and semi-entertaining doesn’t cut it anymore. Doctor Who used to be able to carry the weight of mediocre and even bad episodes. Not anymore. There are just too many of them piling up. The strength of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman combined with amusing bits and witty dialogue can’t continue to cover for the preponderance of defects.
And it does not help that the Doctor stubbornly refuses to leave Earth. The landscape is beginning to get monotonous, and the dull surroundings of our current story do nothing to alleviate this. The guest cast also doesn’t do much in the way of adding any spark to the proceedings. Altogether these elements are as two dimensional as our villains of the hour. A little thing like placing the action on an alien planet would go a long way; but alas we continue in this rut of Doctor Who’s making.

As we also continue in Doctor Who’s rut of sacrificing adventure for arcs and agendas. This story is obviously set up to showcase Clara as a Doctor substitute. It has a promising enough start. The TARDIS is shrinking. There are all kinds of tensions and dangers and catastrophes that could be mined with such a development. Except it is treated simply as a joke.
The TARDIS has shrunk and the Doctor is curious. Not concerned, just curious. He finds it “impressive.” Clara merely finds it “annoying.” She’s home, after all. Not exactly where she would like to be, which would be in her London apartment. Instead she finds herself in Bristol. “Yes, I get it,” she tells the Doctor upon discovering the tiny TARDIS, “you’re excited.” But Clara isn’t even the least bit interested. “When can I go home,” she demands. She can take a train or a taxi or rent a car or call a friend for a ride. She isn’t anywhere close to being marooned yet she stamps her foot and insists on the TARDIS taking her exactly where she wants when she wants regardless of the serious flaw that this magical blue box has developed and with no regard to the Doctor’s predicament.
The Doctor sends Clara out to look for answers while he squeezes himself back into the TARDIS, apparently indifferent to any risks this might entail. Clara immediately gets distracted by an unknown memorial and a gang of guys doing community service cleaning up some peculiar graffiti. There is no urgency to any of this, and when Clara wanders back to find the TARDIS shrunk even more, rendering it impossible for the Doctor to escape, she laughs. “Oh my god, that is so adorable,” she proclaims. Any sense of tension the audience might feel upon discovering this startling state of affairs is deflated. The TARDIS is in no danger; the Doctor is in no danger. This is a whimsical turn for Clara’s and our amusement.
Clara picks the adorable toy TARDIS up and deposits it in her purse and rubs her hands in delight now that she is on her own to play the Doctor. Well, not alone since the Doctor is in her ear telling her what to do, but she can put up a good front. And she has the Doctor’s magic sonic which he can fit through the tiny door as well as his magical sledgehammer.
There is a fleeting moment of panic when the tiny TARDIS lands on a rail line with a train headed straight for it, but that too is played for laughs with the hilarious Adam’s Family escape plan.
Contrast the comedy with the gritty aspect of the setting and the horrific nature of the monsters. Learning that the murals in the victim’s apartments are actually residual elements of the victims—their skin and nervous systems to be exact—flattened for experimental purposes and left behind in some grim display is horrifying. And realizing that the memorial graffiti of lost loved ones on the tunnel wall are actually those same loved ones, again flattened and saved, is ghastly; and watching as they come to life is terrifying.
But all of this is terror for terror’s sake. The monsters are merely that. Monsters. No context; no explanation; no motivation. The Doctor comes right out and says this: “I don’t know whether you are here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us,” he says. And then he adds, “I don’t suppose it really matters now.” The script is acknowledging that it has no idea what these monsters are or what they want or even if they are good, bad, or indifferent; and it doesn’t really care. Why bother with the details, the script says; we have a cool monster with cool special effects, what else do you want?
Monsters, plot, adventure—none of it matters except insofar as they advance the season’s agenda.
And so we have the Doctor throwing up his hands and stating: “You are monsters. That is the role you seemed determined to play. So it seems I must play mine.” Sweep aside any attempt at understanding. The only purpose of these monsters is to define the Doctor: “The man that stops the monsters.” And to provide a sufficient menace so long as it is needed and then a quick exit when no longer required with no thought as to who these monsters were, what they wanted, where they came from, or if they will ever return.  (The Doctor’s veiled warning of “this plane is protected” doesn’t seem like it is much of a deterrence and brings to mind the Tenth Doctor’s, “it is defended” speech from The Christmas Invasion and the Eleventh’s “is this world protected” from The Eleventh Hour.)
They are a made up and throw away monster with not even any consistency within the span of this one story. Some victims are flattened in a lineup, some have only remnants flattened in their homes. Sometimes the monsters undulate through the floor to their victims, sometimes they unglue themselves from the wall and follow in cartoonish form, and sometimes they swoop down from the ceiling with lightening speed and giant hand to scoop up an unwary person.
It’s rather amusing, when I think of it, that they concentrate their efforts on this one band of community service workers. But then, there are no other people who seem to inhabit this city. Doctor Who apparently skimped on the extra budget for this episode. Even the train turns out to be empty save for the driver.
Then we have Clara. Still blatantly lying to both the Doctor and Danny. “Goodness had nothing to do with it,” the Doctor tells her when she pesters him for a compliment regarding her Doctor impersonation. Goodness hasn’t much to do with Clara at all, and I’m wondering even more why the Doctor wants her around. Full of self-importance, she barrels her way through the episode disregarding the people around her. She has some good instincts and great ideas that get them through (or those that survive at any rate), but the Doctor is correct, “goodness had nothing to do with it.”
There is one telling scene in particular that catches my notice. Rigsy, who has been following Clara around like a puppy-dog wagging his tail, points out a work of art in the tunnel. “It’s one of mine,” he proudly tells her. “Do you like it?” Without even glancing at it Clara dismisses him with, “Yeah, not bad,” before continuing on her one track course of action. To be fair, they are being chased by monsters; but poor Rigsy.
“A lot of people died and maybe the wrong people survived,” the Doctor says after his exchange with Fenton. (Brings to mind Mr. Copper’s comment regarding Rickston Slade in Voyage of the Damned.) Fenton’s comparison to a forest fire—“The objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood”—is remarkably similar to Clara’s “on balance” perspective.
I can’t tell if the show is deliberately undermining her character or not. The Doctor’s “goodness had nothing to do with it” is calculated, but to what purpose?
I’m finding much of the machinations of this season to be muddled. Clara played Doctor for a day and she was “exceptional.” Did she learn anything, however? Her main goal afterwards is to be praised for her performance. She wants the Doctor to give her an ‘A.’ The grade is the thing, not the lesson learned. If there is any lesson to be learned. The teacher doesn’t appear to be a very good student. So what are we as the audience to take away from this? All I take away is a growing dislike of Clara that the charm of Jenna Coleman can’t always overcome.
Finally we have Missy peering into her crystal ball and proclaiming, “Clara; my Clara. I have chosen well.” So perhaps the show is deliberately undermining the character. But I’m finding, Gary, that I don’t much care.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mummy on the Orient Express

Dear Gary—
I have officially lost all respect for Clara. She is like a woman who dumps her boyfriend but then decides to go on one last all-expenses paid, around the world trip with him, because, hey, it’s an all-expenses paid, around the world trip.
Mummy on the Orient Express would be a perfectly fine adventure except for this fact. It has all the elements—great setting, solid guest cast, creepy monster, wonderful wardrobe, and witty dialogue. It has just about everything to make me sit back and enjoy myself for an hour. And for the most part I do. However my enjoyment is something like Clara’s sad smile. “It’s like two emotions at once,” the Doctor tells her. “It’s like you’re malfunctioning.”  That sticks in my head as I watch, and I can’t help seeing the two layers throughout; peeling back the veneer to get at the dark underbelly. There is a literal level to this that is highly appropriate as the script plays with things not always being what they appear.
“Your train awaits, my lady,” the Doctor announces as he and Clara step out of the TARDIS and into the baggage car. (“But thanks for lying.”) Moving on into the train proper the Doctor explains that this is a perfect recreation of the Orient Express with the twist that it is a train in space. The Doctor has chosen this locale for his and Clara’s “last hurrah” together, and on the surface it seems an interesting and exciting choice. The passengers are donned in their best period costumes and acting exactly as though they have been transported back in time to a Victorian world. But what is the point of it all? Just an excuse to play dress up? Other than the clothes, these people are simply riding a train to some unknown or undisclosed destination, or perhaps are merely riding in circles through space. There is no other connection to the time period or the historical train. Not even a murder mystery party going on (other than the real one that pops up much to everyone’s horror). The Doctor and Clara step out of the TARDIS to sip a few drinks while looking out at the stars, something they could do just as well in the TARDIS, and then wander off to bed. What a thrill.
At this point I’m beginning to wonder why the Doctor even wants to continue travelling with Clara. They each seem more or less bored. The Doctor alone in his berth drives home that he is not having the time of his life and he soon gets up in search of fun on his own, pointedly passing up an opportunity to rouse his traveling companion. Clara in the meantime is distractedly talking to Poor Danny Pink, her supposed boyfriend, before deciding to search out the Doctor, her adrenaline dealer. Discovering that he has lit out on his own, Clara instead follows behind the obviously distraught Maisie whose grandmother has just died. The bulk of the remaining episode has the two separated, and given the awkward tension that exists between them in the opening minutes that’s a blessing in disguise.
The Doctor picks up a new companion for the run of the episode in Perkins, the mysterious Chief Engineer who seems to know far more than he should. He’s a pleasant enough person to play a pseudo companion, but I’m glad that he doesn’t take the Doctor’s implied offer up to make his position permanent. He’s too much of a blank slate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and in fact it could be quite interesting finding out what is behind those gaping eyes of his. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he is in league with Gus or Missy or that he is an escaped convict or any manner of bad things. Except I don’t sense any depth behind his one-off persona created for this one-off episode. He is a bit like some cardboard scenery that looks good provided you don’t get too close (apropos of my theme for the day).
Now let’s dig into this monster. A mummy of legend who appears only to its victims and allows them 66 seconds before killing them. It’s chilling and intriguing in concept and realized expertly. The mummy looks grotesquely authentic and the victims sufficiently terrified. The fact that this creature is out of phase, thus accounting for the 66 seconds (to phase-shift the victims) and its unseen nature, is plausible. But then we learn that this mummy is not a mummy (“Are you my mummy?”) but is actually a soldier. So why the mummy disguise? The soldier, “wounded in a forgotten war thousands of years ago,” has been kept alive, or at least mobile, using some sort of unexplained technology and has been bandaged head to foot. Was it a full body wound? Or is the swaddling to keep the tech inside? What exactly is under those bandages? Is there a body, brain, organs? Or is it all tech?
And OK, it’s a soldier from a forgotten war. But does this automatically make it a random killing machine? Excuse me, it turns out not to be random. But what kind of soldier goes around picking and choosing its victims based on whether they have physical or emotional scars? Was this a war against disease that has been long forgotten? Is this soldier an antibody? And how exactly does it drain the energy from a body? The tech that is piled inside of it I guess. Is that how it fought on that long ago battlefield? Two armies reaching out to grasp the heads of their enemies to drain energy? That was some war.
So this ancient soldier fights on with no real purpose. It simply goes wherever its magic banner appears and starts picking off strangers one by one based on their state of health, both mental and physical. There is the 66 second specificity to the length of time it takes to kill, but there seems to be no particular pattern in the time between attacks. It probably needs to figure out by whatever improbable tech that is crammed inside of it which person is the sickest before it acts. This guy should get together with the pirate siren from The Curse of the Black Spot.
And all it takes to stop the thing is the magic phrase, “We surrender.” Poof, it disappears in a pile of ash. No taking of prisoners; no going home to loved ones; no victory parades; just die. Soldiers are not wanted once the battle is over apparently.  
They’re not wanted by Gus anymore either. The mysterious Gus has arranged this whole improbable trip in order to harness the power of the mummy, but once the mummy goes poof Gus gives up and blows up the train. Wouldn’t he at least want to get his hands on that alien tech that was all wrapped up in the mummy’s bandages and that was the power behind the legend? No, he washes his hands of his elaborate and very likely expensive scheme with barely a whimper of complaint. Gus or whoever is behind Gus. We never get any answers about this (or these) shadowy villain(s). That speaks to the nature of this story. Like the holographic passengers, so much of it is window dressing. Blow at the wrong time, ask the wrong question, look in the wrong direction and it all goes poof.
In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the assorted experts are really nothing but holograms. This group of professionals and scientists and intellectuals stand around doing a whole lot of nothing. They never once speak, they never consult with each other or cooperate or discuss how exactly they are going to go about analyzing this creature they have been tasked with overpowering. They poke around at equipment and look at charts and never once ask what they are supposed to do with this equipment, who is supposed to do what, how the information they are looking at relates to anyone else’s. This has become a noticeable thing in New Who. From the aimless mobs in The Stolen Earth to the red track-suited Rattigan Academy minions of The Poison Sky/The Sontaran Strategem, New Who background extras have no direction.
These experts are extraneous anyway. The Doctor is the only one needed to unravel this mystery. I don’t know why he needs to actually see the mummy to come to his conclusions, though.  It is the scroll, the “tattered piece of cloth attached to a length of wood,” that provides the vital clue. Shame on the Doctor for not working that out long ago and telling one of the many victims to surrender.
But then we wouldn’t have much of a story. The Doctor taking on Maisie’s pain in order to trick the mummy soldier into attacking him makes for some tension filled yet hilarious moments. And like so much of New Who, everything is so action packed and fast paced that one barely has time to notice the defects.
This brings me back to Clara. “You lied to me again,” Clara accuses the Doctor, and continues, “and you’ve made me lie.” Except Clara needs no help in that area. “He’s fine with it.” Poor Danny Pink. “Danny. He’s fine with the idea of me and you knocking about. It was his idea that we stop, but he’s decided he doesn’t mind and neither do I.” The Doctor has to know that this is a lie—he was there for her major melt-down when she slammed the door on their “knocking about” relationship. Poor Danny Pink had nothing to do with that. But now she invokes his name to cover her shame. And she flat out lies to the two people she cares about most (excluding herself).
I am beginning to despise the individual Clara even while the character (thanks in large part to the actress) remains highly watchable and entertaining. Come to think of it, Gary, that about sums up my growing feeling towards New Who.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kill the Moon

Dear Gary—

They’re kidding with this one, right? Kill the Moon is a joke; they just want to see if the audience is paying attention. Right? They cannot be serious with this one. Please tell me, Gary, that they are not serious with this one.
I mean, the science is crap; but that’s only the start. If it were only that. Who knew after all these years that we had the makings of one giant omelet in our night’s sky? It might not be cheese, but that’s a lot of egg that could be feeding the world if we only thought to crack it open. I could accept this more easily, crap science aside, if we were not talking about our moon. This is yet again an instance where Doctor Who would have been much better served if it did not insist on being Earth-centric. In this case familiarity is breeding much contempt. It’s not just the many telescopes trained on the moon or the many moon rocks and samples that have been studied or the myriad of scientists who have made the moon their life’s work; it is that the Doctor himself has been to the moon many times, and many of those times have been after the year 2049, and he never noticed? He never realized that the moon of 2070 in the serial The Moonbase (and let’s not forget that Polly was on the moon long before Courtney) was different than our traditional moon? He never detected that the Sea of Tranquility, for instance, was missing? Or are we to believe that the egg this mythical creature lays is identical to the old one down to the last crevice and crater? And if the Doctor did know about the events that take place in our current story all along, he never mentioned the fact? Crap science aside, the Earth’s moon actually being an egg that hatches in 2049 is one giant secret that the Doctor Who universe has been keeping.
More likely this is one time when the Doctor’s “grey areas” claim is a flat out lie. Whichever it is, a secret or a lie, the Doctor comes out badly. Either he is exceedingly dim or exceedingly cruel.
Clara doesn’t fare much better.  She has charge of a troubled, self described “destructive influence” teen in Courtney, and rather than getting her the help she needs Clara exposes her to the Doctor. “I have a duty of care, okay? You know what that is?” Clara asks this far too late and never considers its portent in relation to her own actions. To be fair, the Doctor whisks the two off without Clara’s consent or foreknowledge; but really, Clara should have known better than to harangue the Doctor about his treatment of Courtney while they stand in the TARDIS. Who let Courtney into the TARDIS to begin with? Much less left her there unattended.
 Instead of worrying that the Doctor bruised Courtney’s fragile ego by telling her she’s not special, Clara should be concerned with Courtney’s pattern of self deprecation, unruliness, and irreverence. Rather than forcing a statement of ‘specialness’ out of the Doctor Clara should be looking for the root causes of Courtney’s self-destructive bent and getting her the counseling she sorely needs.
I’m sorry, Gary. I should be able to look past all of these glaring defects. I have many times. However, when the show deliberately steers the story to suit its purposes, both long term and short, without consideration of consistency or decency or credibility, I have to complain.
Perhaps I could overlook, too, if the adventure itself was more compelling. I’m irritated from the start that a bratty teen yet again inveigles her way onto the TARDIS (flashbacks of Nightmare in Silver). Courtney is more palatable than Angie, though, so that’s a plus, even if she does get bored while on the moon in the year 2049 when there is a mystery afoot—maybe she isn’t so special after all but just a typical self-absorbed kid—but I won’t continue down that road Gary.  (Oh how I miss Susan and her sprained ankles right about now. At least she was interested in what was going on around her.)
The dark, drab moonscape doesn’t help, either. Oh, it’s refreshing that they are not on Earth for a change (even if only as far as Earth’s moon). And the second-hand astronauts they run across, the deadly spiders, and the mystifying increase in the moon’s gravity (kudos to the yo-yo test and great call-back to Doctor Four) do provide a decent framework for a potentially engrossing story. But it all falls apart with the jaw-dropping inanity of the conceit.
I’m not even sure what to call this. It could be a beautiful and poetic creation myth of ancient lore; except it is disguising itself as a hard-hitting drama and morality play of contemporary sci-fi. To loosely interpret my dad’s saying, it just doesn’t rhyme.
“In the mid twenty-first century humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy to the very edges of the universe. And it endures till the end of time.” This was much better told in The Waters of Mars with the inspirational story of Adelaide Brooke. That prior story takes place a mere 10 years after our present—not a lot of time for the shambles of a space program (if you are to believe our present story) to get its act together to construct a viable base on Mars. So there’s that. Not to mention that Adelaide Brooke is light years ahead in her inspiration, and since she represents one of those Doctor Who magical fixed points that even the Daleks respect, it really doesn’t matter what occurs in the narrative at hand.
Yet the Doctor continues in his Nostradamustry: “And it does all that because one day in the year 2049, when it had stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down.”
The “something occurred” is something that would occur regardless of the Doctor or of Clara or of Courtney. Because if the trio hadn’t arrived at that momentous moment Captain Lundvik would have most certainly died along with her hapless crew and the creature would have hatched and laid its egg and that is the end of that. The Doctor choosing that particular time to materialize only muddies the outcome. He creates a false drama simply to appease Clara (which by the way backfires but more on that later).
“It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful, that for once it didn’t want to destroy.” Per my previous point, humanity never would have wanted to destroy the “something beautiful, something wonderful” if the Doctor had not interfered. For the most part, humanity looks up into the stars with wonder and hope and awe. It does not gaze up into the Milky Way and dream up schemes of mass destruction. Only the Doctor imagines that. And it is only due to the Doctor’s interference that humanity was ever given the choice.
Ah—the choice. Because, you see, the “it didn’t want to destroy” statement is false. The entire planet (well, actually only the half that faced the moon at the time—and how hilarious that the verdict comes in sports stadium wave-like fashion, as though they coordinated amongst themselves who would shut their lights off first and next and so on; and obviously every individual on the planet—at least on the side facing the moon at the time—has heard Clara’s broadcast; and let’s not think about all of the unoccupied buildings and advertising and such that wouldn’t be as easy as a flick of the switch to turn off—and let’s hope that Las Vegas wasn’t pointing towards the moon at the time) voted for the creature’s destruction. And rightly so. Any sane person would come to the same conclusion given the limited amount of information provided. Presented as it is, in a black or white scenario, there is no choice. The Earth’s future hangs in the balance and the only viable option provided is to destroy the creature (never mind that killing the embryo is no guarantee and will most likely result in status quo—which isn’t any great shakes what with tidal waves and such occurring as it is) since Earth is never given full disclosure. That’s on the Doctor.
Given the scenario in full disclosure, what the Earth should have done is to wait for the egg to hatch and for the new being to lay its egg, and then send every nuclear missile in Earth's arsenal to kill the living creature. Because a being as large as a moon is a menace to the entire universe.  Even if a vegetarian, the vegetation of the entire Earth would be but a day’s repast. How long would it take for this thing to lay waste to the galaxy? And that is only in its infancy. Who knows how big it will become as it reaches maturity? And then imagine if by some miracle that this entity doesn’t need any sustenance, what effect it would have on the gravitational fields of any planet or solar system it happens upon? This is not some miracle of life; this is a devastation of life.
“And in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.” See points above re: The Waters of Mars, not to mention that if this thing has really flown off to wreak untold harm there will be no more history to either change or stagnate (again see points above).
“Not bad for a girl from Coal Hill School and her teacher.” Really, Doctor? You did all of this just to make a point with Clara?
Lunkvik is the only one to get it right: “Look, when you’ve grown up a bit you’ll realize that everything doesn’t have to be nice. Some things are just bad.” Doctor Who, however, refuses to grow up. Doctor Who wants to make everything conveniently nice, despite the crap science. And so we get the serenity on the beach in the aftermath. No tidal waves. No monsoons. No storms. Not even a breeze. Nothing to indicate that anything has occurred in the sky as massive as what has gone down. (Tell me, has Disney taken stock in the BBC?)
Clara gets it right to tell the Doctor to “clear off.”  But you know, Gary, that Clara can’t commit to anything. Her moment of anger is for effect only.
It seems this whole exercise in giant butterfly science is simply to bring us to, “get back in your lonely, your lonely bloody TARDIS and you don’t come back.” For whatever reason that the season arc wants to bring us here.
Kill the Moon—Gary, in this one—and I have to say it—Doctor Who has laid an egg.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Caretaker

Dear Gary—
This is it; this is the beginning of the end. That’s a lot to put on one episode, especially an episode that isn’t all that bad; in fact an episode that I really rather enjoy. Yet The Caretaker epitomizes what is wrong with New Who. Doctor Who is no longer Doctor Who; it is Doctor Who’s Companions and How the TARDIS Affects Everyday Life. This has been a primary focus since Rose with most every companion excepting Donna. Variations on the same theme, as if the show is trying to get it right, and with each new companion it declares a do-over. As such it has become a little show; insular and small; circling back over and over, forever in on itself until its inevitable point of collapse.
The Caretaker is about Clara; it is about Clara’s TARDIS life interfering with her earthly life; it is about her torn loyalties between the Doctor and Danny. Clara has always been an ill-conceived character with little definition or consistency. The Caretaker attempts to legitimize and clarify Clara. In the process, however, it takes one huge magnifying glass to Clara’s flaws. It is the weakness of Clara combined with the tedium of New Who’s repetitious focal point that has finally driven Doctor Who to this epicenter of doom.
 Clara is trying to establish herself on Earth. She has an actual job in an actual school, the Coal Hill School no less, although she is no Barbara Wright. And she is taking a stab at an actual romance. However she is no good at either. She is an indifferent teacher and a duplicitous girlfriend. The fix she finds herself in is of her own making in this ‘I Love Clara’ episode. (I can almost hear the Doctor exclaiming, ‘Clara, you have some splainin to do!’)
Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi play their sitcom roles beautifully, and if this were a standalone, one-off episode it would be fine. But it’s not. It is crafted wholly and solely in service to the season arc. And unfortunately the secrets and lies that are played to comic effect here are firmly entrenched in Clara’s persona and will only lead to death and destruction as this Poor Danny Pink season unfolds.
Poor Danny Pink is where everything goes wrong in this story. He is treated unfairly from start to finish by both the Doctor and Clara, and it is all in service to his sacrificial lamb raison d’etre. As a result both the Doctor and Clara come off badly and I have a hard time liking either despite the deft comedy.
Since his twelfth incarnation the Doctor has exhibited a blind and unreasoning hatred of soldiers. New Who has taken an inconsistent and hypocritical stance towards guns and the military from the beginning, but this entrenched prejudice is still somewhat out of the blue (not to mention his inexplicable bias against PE teachers). Concentrated on Poor Danny Pink, it turns downright ugly. Oh it’s funny enough, the Doctor’s thick-headed insistence that the former soldier can’t be a maths teacher, even if it is done to death. And the Doctor’s mistaken and egotistical assumption that the Eleventh Doctor look-alike Adrian is Clara’s beau is mildly entertaining while at the same time off-putting. And then it totally derails with, “You’ve made a boyfriend error,” followed by, “You haven’t explained him to me.” What business is it of the Doctor who Clara’s boyfriend is? What right has he to interfere in her personal life? And since when has he become so controlling? These are some classic warning signs and Clara should head for the hills.
However it is Danny who should really be packing his bags. He knows it too. “It’s funny,” he tells her, “you only really know what someone thinks of you when you know what lies they’ve told you.”  And then his question, “So what do you think of me, Clara?” He knows the answer: very little. She lies and lies again; even when caught in her lies she continues to deceive. “It’s a play” indeed. Quite hilarious for the audience; quite insulting to Poor Danny Pink. Yet he sticks around. He says he wants to know her—to know what she is like with the Doctor. So what does she do? She gives him the Doctor’s invisibility ring so they can go and fool the Doctor for a change. She just is not capable of playing it straight with anyone.
As the two of them stand facing the window while they try to hold a meaningful conversation I get bored and distracted. It is a powerful scene, well acted and well directed. It delves into significant issues about relationships and explores the innermost workings of Clara and Danny. But I don’t care about these two as a couple. I know they are wrong for each other and that there is no true understanding or respect between them. This serious tone is jarring against the rom-com first half of the tale and my thoughts drift to the foreseeable Poor Danny Pink arc and away from the story at hand.
The story at hand, by the way, includes a striking but expendable new alien, the Skovox Blitzer. Its purpose and presence only tenuously explained, it provides the necessary action and drama for our three principals to work through their various relationship problems. In the end it is left to float ineffectually through space with no mention of its home planet or the rest of its deadly kin. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with seasonal arcs. Everything is sacrificed for the overreaching storyline. Aliens and planets and characters and personality traits are created by the author for the sole purpose of advancing the arc with little or no effort put into explaining or exploring them.
Thus, The Caretaker starts with several vignettes of adventures that the Doctor and Clara experience. They are all rather wonderful and enjoyable and would make great episodes if fleshed out. But they aren’t important to the program. Their only reason for being is to highlight the hectic and harried life that Clara is leading.
Clara is the embodiment of this approach. She was created to carry one arc and has stuck around and now a new arc is being constructed around her. There is no true core to Clara’s makeup—she is being made up as the series progresses to fit the arc and has no clarity or consistency. The show and the Doctor are both dangerously flirting with this predicament as well.
Tacked on to the story is the introduction of ‘disruptive influence’ Courtney. In stark contrast to the preposterous lengths Clara goes to in order to keep the truth from Poor Danny Pink is the laissez faire attitude the Doctor takes towards allowing Courtney into the TARDIS. It is annoying and simply an excuse to set up the following episode.
Also tacked on is the Missy/Paradise arc with the throw-away character of CSO Matthew dying and finding himself in white corridor limbo with newly concocted Seb. I’m not even going to go into that one.
I’m going to do some tacking on myself, Gary, and ponder on Clara’s mention of Boggons and can only wonder if these are somehow related to Blorgons.
Overall I enjoy this episode if viewed simply in and of itself. But it can’t be viewed simply in and of itself and that is its main problem. I hope, Gary, that somewhere out there you are having your own adventures with Boggons and Buddy Holly and have no time for these increasingly inane and forced plot arcs.