Saturday, November 15, 2014

Doctor Who Weekend: The Story So Far II - From the Moon to Heaven

I’m feeling blue.
How about you?
There’s no new Who.
What do we do?

Hi there! I'm Dave-El and welcome to Doctor Who Weekend
Until there is new Doctor Who once more (which isn’t too long of a wait for the Christmas special...but it's long enough!), we can look back over what we've experienced over the 12 weeks that made up Series 8 of Doctor Who.
Tomorrow’s post will provide a more comprehensive overview of Doctor Who Series 8 as a whole. 
But first, today’s post is a follow up to the one I did 6 weeks ago where I reviewed the first half of the episodes for Series 8 that had aired so far; today’s post will take a look at the 2nd half of Series 8.
Kill the Moon **

In the not too distant future when humans have given up looking to the stars, the moon demands Earth’s attention. The moon appears to have put on weight and Earth is not coping well with the gravity of the situation. It’s into this situation comes a mission from Earth pieced together with old astronauts and equipment culled from museums. Also arriving is the TARDIS with the Doctor, Clara and one of Clara’s students, Courtney, also known as “disruptive influence”.
There are a lot of good concepts at work here:

  • When a space mission is needed in a world no longer interested in space, it has to be pulled together from relics, both mechanical and human.
  • Courtney is portrayed as a normal teenager, posting pics of the TARDIS on Tumblr, being more than a little freaked out by fantastic events, yet pulling herself together to stand with her teacher in a time of crisis.
  • The ALIEN ATTACK SPIDERS are beyond creepy!
But Kill the Moon has to work against some really dodgy science.  Doctor Who has frequently played fast and loose with how the universe works but when its in service to an exciting and engaging story, it's easier to overlook such things.  The shaky science at the center of Kill the Moon is impossible to escape; the moon just doesn't work that way. 

But perhaps more iffy than the science is the morality. Clara makes a decision that super cedes the collective will of everyone on Earth. Yes, it is ultimately born out to be the right decision but Clara made this choice with nothing more than a leap of faith. There are parallels to Amy's actions in The Beast Below but Amy put the pieces of a puzzle together and realized the truth. In Kill the Moon, Clara is just hoping she's right. 

This does set up a very powerful scene at the end where Clara tells off the Doctor and appears to break off from further travels. It's an important scene that sets off the through line of Clara's development in the next 5 episodes; but the journey to get there is rocky at best. 
Mummy on the Orient Express ****

OK, talk about dodgy science: an early 20th century Earth passenger train hurtling through space? But the thing here is, it's just too cool a concept to ignore.  

Mummy on the Orient Express is a gripping adventure with lots of really good hide behind the sofa scares in the form of the titular mummy and the ticking stop clock that heralds the death of each victim. The Doctor is his usual brusque self but it's in this episode that we truly sense the drive of the Doctor's compassion towards those he is trying to save. 

The mystery of the murderous mummy is not just some idle secret for the Doctor to unravel to pass the time. No, lives are at stake and he's doing everything he can to stem the tide of death; but in doing so demands he rather coldly and harshly demand descriptive recounts from those about to die. As the Doctor later tells Clara, he was prepared to sacrifice each person for each scrap of information he could find until he could finally figure out how to stop the mummy and save whoever is left.  

For Clara, we see a light bulb turn on as to what motivates the Doctor and the hard choices he has to make. He might be fighting for a good cause but sometimes all the choices are bad ones and he has to figure out which one hurts least. 

Flatline ***

We have a very uniquely realized group of aliens in the form of the Boneless, beings from a 2-D universe looking to invade our 3-D universe. And we have a unique dynamic in which the companion (Clara) has to act in a very real sense in the role of the Doctor. Once more the evolution of Clara's understanding of the Doctor's role and her own adoption of it for herself comes into play. 

The concept of a shrunken TARDIS tends to border on slapstick comedy at times (the Doctor's hand waving frantically through the tiny TARDIS doors) but if the scenario puts the Doctor in a limited capacity, one hardly notices as Peter Capaldi captivates whenever he's own screen, even if all he has to do is pace around the TARDIS. 

In the Forest of the Night **

Once again, dodgy science is at the core of another Doctor Who story; trees just don't work like that. But this is story is less  about science fiction and one more steeped in fantasy, its roots in fairy tales and fables. As I noted at the time, I think its a great way to open up the concept of Doctor to even more story possibilities by including fantasy along with sci-fi and horror. But fantasy can sit uncomfortably when placed side by side with science fiction. 

Again, like Kill the Moon, the Doctor and Clara are caught up in a drama that is not affected by their actions. The decision to save day comes down nothing. Let events unfold. Not in and of itself a bad thing but 2 episodes out 4 and it tends to be a bit more off-putting. 

I like the continued evolution of the Doctor and Clara as we see the Doctor justify his defense of the Earth using the very "breathe the air, walk the Earth" speech that Clara gave him in Kill the Moon. And the Doctor's compassion for Clara as he's reduced to offering to save only her if he can't save anyone else is quite touching.  

Dark Water ****

This is an episode that is one punch to the gut after another. 

  • The unexpected and unexpectedly mundane death of Danny Pink. 
  • The depths that Clara Oswald is prepared to go to force the Doctor to save Danny. 
  • The revelation of the Nethersphere and its dark and morbid purpose. 

And Missy. After so many episodes of teasing with a lit bit here and there, we get to meet this wickedly insane woman who has employed death itself in her mad cause. 

But what has got to be the most moving scene for me and a crucial moment in their development was the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS after her scheme to force the Doctor to save Danny has been revealed and shattered. She thinks they are done. She has gone too far. The Doctor is puzzled by this viewpoint, however. 

I thought I might cry. 

But it's not just about the mushy feels. No, we get some "oh crap" moments when the Cybermen begin pouring out of St. Paul's Cathedral and when Missy reveals who she really is. 

The Master?! Oh boy, we're in for it now! 

Death In Heaven  **** 

With all the pieces in place, this episode does something that is inherently tricky for the 2nd half of two-part episodes: it delivers. 

If Dark Water was a series of gut punches, Death In Heaven doesn't let up a bit. 

  • The way cool moment when Kate Stewart & UNIT totally pwns the Cybermen and Missy. 
  • Oh look! The Cyberman can fly! 
  • Missy is crazy!
  • Oh, that's what that whole "Clara Oswald doesn't exist" stuff was all about! 
  • And look whose name is first in the credits. And whose eyes those are...
  • The Doctor = President of Earth? He even has his own President plane!
  • But remember: Cybermen can fly. And are very strong. Stronger than planes. Yikes!
  • Oh no! Not Osgood?! (Yes, alas, poor Osgood.) 
  • Missy is very, very crazy! 
  • Oh no! Danny Pink's a Cyberman?! (Yes, alas, but Danny's not done yet.) 
  • Oh no! Not Kate Stewart?! (Well, it does look that way.  Alas.)  
  • Oh look! The Doctor can fly! (Well, kind of. But it's still pretty cool!)  
  • Oh look! Missy can fly! (Well, she can float down in style. And she's crazy!) 

And it all culminates in a graveyard, the dead converted to Cybermen including Clara's beloved Danny. And Missy is holding all the cards. 

Which she then gives to the Doctor. Because she is crazy.  

And everything that we've been building towards since Deep Breath comes to a head. 

  • Clara makes a decision that only the Doctor could make, then takes an action that only Clara could take. Her evolution as a character has brought her to a moment that only this Clara Oswald could begin to cope with.
  • The Doctor realizes he's not a good man. Or a bad man. Just an idiot with a screwdriver and a box, helping where he can. 
  • And Danny Pink dies again, this time as the soldier he tried to leave behind in his past but also as the man of compassion he became as a teacher.

Only the Master, our cruel and insane Missy, is unrepentant as she gets destroyed by a single Cyberman who had saved Kate Stewart. 

  • Oh wow! Was that the Brigadier?!?!

Back in the overview of the first six episodes, there were some things I had hoped to see in the next six. How did that pan out?

From the Mummy on the Orient Express onward, we saw the Doctor become a bit more empathetic towards Clara. Perhaps Clara's blow up at the end of Kill the Moon was a wake up call for the Doctor. As I've posted before, this Doctor perhaps needs a companion more than any other yet he's the one most likely to drive one away. And he almost did just that with Clara. But his concern for her well-being is more in evidence. We still have a harder edged Doctor as we were promised but there's still some softness around some of those edges. 

The whole "this show is becoming all about Clara" theme actually was met head on. We see Clara becoming more like the Doctor and in Flatline, takes on the role with a sense of joy and confidence. This is something that worries the Doctor. While a companion can remind the Doctor of his humanity and his sense of wonder, what happens if the companion begins to take on the Doctor's characteristics. Clara's propensity for lying and make hard choices is evidence of this development. But as we see at the start of Dark Water, Clara cannot out-Doctor the Doctor. And in Death In Heaven, Clara can make the hard choice to make Danny completely a Cyberman but it's Clara Oswald's love that makes the difference. 

So that's my rundown on the last 6 episodes of Series 8. 

Coming up next? 

Tomorrow, a look at Series 8 as a whole, the development of themes and the evolution of character we saw in both the Doctor and Clara Oswald. Was Series 8 a success? What I think about that....will be on tap tomorrow. 

Next weekend....

I go back to a once a weekend post for Doctor Who Weekend as I begin a new fan fiction. 
In the wake of my previous fan fiction, Time of the Dominion and the return of the Master in female form in Dark Water/Death In Heaven, the question remains: What is the head of the former incarnation of the Master doing in a jar? And what is the mysterious agenda of the man who has it now, the man who calls the Master "father"? 

Next week, part one of...

The Son of the Master

Until then, be good to one another. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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