Saturday, October 4, 2014

Doctor Who Weekend: The Story So Far...

Hey, it's Doctor Who Weekend! Whazzup, Whovians?

So we're half-way through Series 8 of Doctor Who. I hope everyone is enjoying the show and the new Doctor. But I know the question on everyone's mind: "So how does Dave-El think the season shaping up so far?

Well, let's take a spin around my brain and find out. (Watch out for the cobwebs.) 

       Deep Breath ****
The premier episode got off to a very interesting start. The Paternoster Gang is on hand to witness a dinosaur in the Thames, a dinosaur that amazingly coughs up the TARDIS. And then out of the TARDIS comes the new Doctor. Peter Capaldi immediately ingratiates himself with a manic performance that helps bridge the gap between Matt Smith and...whatever Peter is going to do. Over the course of the episode, Peter's Doctor goes from this mad post regenerative state to his ending persona so seamlessly, I'm still hard pressed to realize exactly when the Doctor stopped acting crazy and became himself.

The alien menace this time are robot zombies, more or less, lead by a head robot zombie we come to know as the Half-Faced Man. These creatures connect to robotic beings we've met in seasons past but are now heading a new, even more horrific direction.

And we get a handle on Clara's new role with the Doctor. Because Peter Capaldi's Doctor is so much more alien than we've seen in recent Doctors, Jenna Coleman's Clara has to step up to be not just a companion but the voice of humanity itself. Because if there was ever a Doctor who needed someone to stop him (as Donna Noble once said), it's this Doctor.

         Into the Dalek ***
We were promised a darker Doctor and we see that in this episode. But if there were concerns that this Doctor would be all sinister and moody, those concerns are assuaged in the opening moments when the Doctor insists on politeness from the woman holding a gun on him. There are flashes of wit, maybe even compassion. But make no mistake, the Doctor is different, less impatient, more calculating.

If Clara's role is to represent humanity, it gets spelled out when the Doctor says of Clara, "Yeah, she's my carer. She cares so I don't have to." And more Clara-centric as we meet for the first time Danny Pink, a man with soldier-skills and math-skills but has no clue how to talk to women. 

         Robot of Sherwood ***
A light hearted frolic that did not take itself seriously at all. I mean, an arrow stops a space ship? Really? But that was just the cap off to a very amusing romp as we see that Peter Capaldi's Doctor can be very funny while being tetchy. His banter with Robin Hood (even as the Doctor proclaims his dislike of banter) is comic gold. And the Doctor can fight with a spoon! 

Clara looks alluring in her 12 century gown but is firmly in control of the Doctor, Robin Hood and even the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

                         Listen *****
After having to write big epic tales for the 50th Anniversary, the Christmas special and the 12 Doctor's debut, Steven Moffat writes a much quieter story here and it may well be among his best. The Doctor pursues a mystery not because of a threat but just to satisfy his own unquenchable curiosity. The Doctor and Clara's encounter with a young Danny Pink is filled with clever dialogue ("Fear is a superpower!") and almost unbearable suspense. In the present, Clara and Danny are on a very awkward first date. And in the future, Clara meets what may be her great grandson.

He's a time traveller ("It runs in the family," he says) who gets stuck at the end of time where the Doctor thinks he can finally satisfy his curiosity: proving the existence of a life form that is the perfect hider. The thing under your bed, the shadow briefly seen out of the corner of your eye. At the end of time, why would such a creature need to hide? Seeking the answer to that question almost costs the Doctor his life. Why is he so determined to prove the thing that frightens us but we can never see?

Clara meets what we presume to be the young Doctor as a child (a child?) and gives him the same reassuring speech about fear that the Doctor gives to young Danny. The minds of Whovians everywhere are blown. 

       Time Heist ***
This episode fully embraces the tropes of its inspiration, heist films with odd characters and a convoluted plot set against a backdrop of action and suspense. We revisit the concept of the Doctor hating himself (See Amy's Choice from Series 5).  We also get a couple of guest characters that I wouldn't mind seeing again, Psi and Saibre

It's basically "Ocean's 11 Meets Doctor Who" which is fine by me. If I can't say a lot more about this episode, it's simply because the story does what it sets out to do and does it very well. 

                   The Caretaker **
The first clunker (relatively speaking) of Series 8 so far. There are some really funny lines in this episode, the name of the alien robot is very cool ("Skovox Blitzer") and the premise is promising. Of all the Doctors to watch interacting with normal humans doing normal things, Capaldi's Doctor with his propensity for insults would make for a fine mess. 

Instead the episode is just a mess. Maybe the theme for this episode was "soap opera" because that's how it plays. It's all about relationship issues: Clara's with the Doctor, the Doctor's with Clara, Clara's with Danny, etc etc. I don't mind a focus on characters with the enemy of the week relegated to the B-plot; that occasionally makes for very interesting diversion. But what's going on here is just, as I said before, a mess. Lots of lies, half-truths, tense discussions and outright yelling. And this whole insulting thing the Doctor has about soldiers is really played up to a ridiculous extreme. 

At least Danny gets a couple of scenes (doing a mid air flip over the Blitzer; confronting the Doctor and quickly getting his number) that show that maybe this guy is worth our investment. 

Overall, I've enjoyed Series 8 so far with 5 out of 6 episodes being either a solid 3 or better. I'm good with that; I don't have to always be wowed, sometimes I just want to be entertained. 

And Peter Capaldi has been a very entertaining Doctor, a Doctor that fluidly moves from dark intensity to total weirdness and back again. I think Jenna Coleman has really come into her own as Clara with this series; I thought she was good in Series 7 but Jenna's approach to Clara is someone who is a bit more confident about herself and a stronger partner to the Doctor. 

I like the variety of episode types with Victorian steampunk horror, full on "Star Wars" space battles, Robin Hood, crime caper and, well, whatever Listen was. (Bergmanesque existentialism through a Spielbergian perspective maybe?).  

What I'd like to see going forward:

  • I've loved what Peter Capaldi has done with the Doctor but I'm wondering if maybe his performance needs to be dialed back just a bit. As one poster put it on Twitter, it's one thing to be jerk, it's another to be a raging a-hole. Particularly with this whole "I've got a problem with soldiers" bit in general and his attitude towards Danny in particular. 

  • I think Clara's expanded role has been wonderful but remember the show is called Doctor Who, not It's Clara! Unlike some fans, I don't think the show has tipped too much in that direction (with the exception of The Caretaker) but I hope producers remain mindful of that. 

  • I hope we get a few more clues about the Nethersphere and The Promised Land. So far it's just Missy gathering dead (well, maybe not completely dead? Sort of dead?) people. I want to see a hint of what kind of threat she poses to the Doctor. (I know better than to ask for more than a hint for Moffat.)  

  • Just keep being awesome as only Doctor Who can.


Sunday is when I post a review of the Saturday episode. The episode for October 4th is Kill the Moon and it's first episode of Series 8 to be written by someone who has not written for Doctor Who before. Keep your fingers crossed. (Unless you're typing or something.) 

There is a possible thing: as I write THIS post, I have no idea when I'll be seeing the new episode on Saturday. Or even it will be Saturday. So the Sunday post may be late or even (gasp!) postponed. I'll add an amendment to this post if that happens.


Be good to one another.

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