Having two hearts and a TARDIS makes him a Time Lord but what makes the Doctor who he is? What is at the core of this amazing being who does impossible things and makes impossible decisions?
And what happens when someone else has to take that role?
The question of the Doctor's character has been a recurring theme through out the series. Is he a good man? Is he a hero? Or is he just an arrogant, manipulative bastard?
As we saw in last week's episode, The Mummy on the Orient Express, the Doctor has to take whatever course of action he can to save as many lives as he can. Sometimes he just can't save everyone. Sometimes the choices are all bad ones.
What we see in this week's episode is the Doctor forced to the sidelines as Clara Oswald has to take the lead, make the hard decisions even as she can't save everyone. Can Clara acquit herself in the role of the Doctor? If she fails, a lot of people will die and the Earth itself will be in mortal danger. But if she succeeds, what will be the cost?
Let's take a look at this week's new installment of Doctor Who for the details but first...
the spoiler warning!
And let us away!
After a rather foreboding cold open with a hapless man getting flattened into his wall, we pick up with the Doctor bringing Clara back to Earth at the right time and right place...ish. OK, 120 miles off the mark but...
But something strange is befalling the TARDIS: it's become small. How small?
Yeah, that's kind of small. So the Doctor squeezes back into the TARDIS where the insides remain unaffected by what's going on with the outside while Clara checks out the surround area to see if there is anything else weird going to account for a change in the dimensions of the TARDIS' outer shell.
After encountering a community service group cleaning graffiti and finding a rather disturbingly creepy looking mural of people with their backs turned, Clara returns to the TARDIS on to find it has now shrunk to a size small enough to fit in her purse. The Doctor's hand can barely fit through the door to give Clara the sonic screwdriver, the psychic paper and a ear piece through which the Doctor talks to Clara and hacks into her optic nerve to see what she sees. Clara asks if this means she's the Doctor now. The Doctor says no.
So Clara encounters one of the community service people, a friendly young man named Rigsby who's forced to clean up his own graffiti. Rigsby asks if Clara is there to look into the people who have gone missing recently. Clara says she is and introduces herself as "the Doctor, Doctor Oswald". THE Doctor is not happy about that.
Clara and Rigsby check out an apartment of one of the missing people where Rigsby is starting to get a bit freaked out by Clara's rather insane babblings to apparently herself. So to keep Rigsby around, Clara produces the TARDIS from her purse and introduces him to the Doctor.
A second apartment is investigated with a local policewoman (the psychic paper revealing that Clara as an agent of MI5). Regrettably the policewoman is zapped by...something and she vanishes with a scream. In answer to the scream, Clara and Rigsby rush in to find the room empty but the Doctor notices a pattern on the wall: a human circulatory system.
Suddenly other stuff around the apartment starts to flatten out (and it is a creepy effect) and Clara and Rigsby are in mortal danger when....
Danny calls. Clara answers sweetly even as two dimensional death is coming ever closer. No, nothing is wrong, says a gasping Clara as she works out a way to get her and Rigsby out of the flattening apartment. A crash through a window later and Clara breezily says goodbye to Danny.
The Doctor, plugged in to Clara, is not happy. She's lying to Danny and worse, she's been lying to him. Danny is NOT okay with Clara travelling with the Doctor as Clara said at the end of last week's episode.
Clara and Rigsby meet up with the rest of the community service clean up crew headed up by a nasty piece of work named Fenton. Fenton is so blindingly lacking in imagination that psychic paper doesn't work on him. But things take a decidedly serious turn as the mural of people facing the wall very bizarrely comes to life and turn around. The flat people peel off the wall and Clara, Rigsby and the crew figure it's time to run.
Inside an empty industrial building, Clara takes steps to immediately put herself in charge while lying to the group to give them to hope because "people who have hope tend to run faster". Meanwhile, the Doctor has deduced that they are dealing with aliens from a 2 dimensional plane who are trying to force their way into our 3-D world. Not knowing if the deaths caused by these being are incidental or intentional, the Doctor working through Clara seeks to communicate with the beings. It does not go well and another member of the crew gets flattened. So Clara and the gang head into the tunnels.
The 2-D aliens take another victim and Fenton has had enough and knocks the TARDIS out of Clara's purse down to a lower level where it lands in front of an oncoming train. Here is a rather amusing bit, the Doctor sticks his hand out of the TARDIS and walks it out of the path of the train, a la Thing from Addams Family. But the TARDIS is completely without power now; in fact it no longer looks like a police box but is a small cube with Gallifreyan designs on it when Clara finds it later.
But all is not lost as Clara has a plan and it involves Rigsby's talent for art. The 2-D aliens encounter a door with a flattened door knob. As the aliens are now in the 3-D, they need to un-flatten the door so they start zapping it with energy to restore it back to 3-D.
But it's a not a door but a painting of a door and on the other side of the door is a certain cube that is using this energy to restore itself. Whammo, zappo, the familiar form and size of the TARDIS is seen once more as the Doctor steps forward, names the aliens "the Boneless" and zaps them back to their 2-D world.
Clara is feeling pretty confident about now; she made a good Doctor. The Doctor concedes that she made a very fine Doctor; but being good had nothing to do with it. And as Clara ponders what THAT means, our view pulls back and we see Missy looking at Clara through a white i-Pad. Missy laughs and says of Clara, "I have chosen well."
OK then, what to make of all that?
First of all, Jamie Mathieson is two for two with a pair of back to back episodes that are most outstanding; I hope we see more scripts from this writer.
Other things of note:
- The TARDIS not quite landing where it's supposed to be. (Bristol, not London.)
- The Doctor being almost giddy over strange phenomenon that is shrinking the TARDIS; this is something new and he doesn't understand. Nothing like a new mystery to solve.
- The TARDIS being shrunk was kind of goofy but still charming with lots of funny bits involving the Doctor's face looming in the small doorway and his hand reaching out to hand Clara things, including at one point a sledgehammer. And this Doctor gets pop culture references as Clara suggests borrowing from the Addams Family to help the Doctor get the TARDIS out of danger.
- Rigsby (Joivan Wade) is a very affable companion to Clara-as-the-Doctor. His preparation to sacrifice himself was quite noble (even if Clara did replace him with a headband). And I liked how his graffiti skills actually came into play for the story's resolution.
- On the other hand, Fenton (Christopher Fairbank) is a nasty piece of work as the head of the clean up crew. A person so ignorant and small-minded, psychic paper doesn't work on him, Fenton's survival is a source of disappointment for all concerned, including the Doctor.
- Speaking of Fenton, we find another way to beat the psychic paper: be incredibly lacking in imagination.
- There's a call back to The Shakespeare Code as the Doctor banishes the 2-D aliens to their own dimension, he proclaims, "I name you the boneless!" And the Doctor's badass "I'm the Doctor so don't mess with this place" speech echoes similar proclamations made by the 10th Doctor (The Christmas Invasion) and the 11th (The Eleventh Hour).
- The Boneless as they summon up 3-D forms was a particularly scary special effect.
- We get to see Missy again but not in the context of another dead person coming to her Nethersphere but her nefarious attentions towards...Clara?
- The Doctor's question of "Am I good man?" comes back to haunt him as he sees Clara be the Doctor very well but fears her success in that role had nothing to do with goodness.
I suppose the complainers out there who continue to think Doctor Who is becoming too much Clara Who aren't going to be happy with this episode. But I liked this episode a lot because it does put the spotlight on Clara but in a very unique way with Clara forced to channel how the Doctor would do things. Jenna Coleman once again is simply wonderful as Clara finds herself on less than sure footing while trying to think, always thinking, what would the Doctor do. Then Clara saves the day when completely cut off from the Doctor, she thinks, "What would I do?"
And I would be remiss in not mentioning Peter Capaldi who still captivates as the Doctor even as the Doctor is forced to watch the action from inside the TARDIS. Capaldi invests his scenes with such intensity and energy, one almost forgets that most of the time, it's just him standing and running around in the TARDIS.
One more observation, if I may. The Doctor struggles to get his body out of the TARDIS and later, when the police box exterior shrinks further, he can barely wiggle his fingers through the small gap of the TARDIS door, the one that people usually enter and exit from. But both doors can open. So why not now? Did I miss something?
So we're heading down the homestretch and the final 3 episodes of Series 8. Next week's preview seems to suggest the presence of kids (never a good sign) and Danny (about time) caught up in an adventure with the Doctor. About Danny, he's made it very clear that the one thing that really bothers him most is lying. So what's he going to do in a relationship with a woman who can't seem to stop doing that? And Clara's propensity for doing that is not only placing her relationship with Danny in jeopardy but even the Doctor seems disturbed by this. (And rule #1: The Doctor lies.)
But even in a web of lies, a moment of truth must come. And that moment is drawing closer.
For the next Doctor Who Weekend...
Saturday: Part 2 of my review of male companions
Sunday: My review of the next new episode, In the Forest of the Night.
Until then, be good to one another.
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You