Sunday, December 13, 2015

Doctor Who: The Rest of the Story

  Hello, Whovians! Back on October 31st, I posted a review of Series 9 to date and ranked the first 6 episodes of the season.  Since Series 9 wrapped up last week, today I'm going to look at the second set  a half dozen episodes and rank them as well. As I've noted before, I review two parters separately as one episode may be significantly stronger than the other.  

Please be advised that I am not a professional reviewer nor do I have any formal training in reviews. I'm just a weird old man with a deep abiding love for all things Doctor Who

How has this latest season of Doctor Who wrapped up? Let's find out!

(For longer write ups, click the episode titles for links back to my previous reviews.)  

To say I had misgivings going into this episode was a bit of an understatement. Last year’s entry from writer Peter Harness was Kill the Moon. Dodgy science aside (although, really, the moon doesn’t work like that), when Clara actually can contact Earth but then proceeds to ignore the message (more dodgy science), the episode morphed from a passably OK suspense/adventure tale to a political polemic. And from what I was hearing, it sounded like Harness was wading into another political mine field. 

The Zygon Invasion is not subtle. The Zygons as stand ins for Middle Eastern refugees is not subtext, it’s just text. The questions of what to do with so many refugees and what to do when most of them just want a home but others, a minority in numbers but they have the guns, doesn’t want to accept quietly what is being offered. They want to let Zygons be Zygons. (Seriously, people: I will do that joke every single time). The parallels to the real world were a little too close to home.

There were some annoying lapses of logic (the Doctor, not known for being patient, would endure a several hours long flight just so he can ponce about in a big plane?) and the big reveal (Clara's not our Clara, she's a Zygon) was obviously coming. Gotta give props to Jenna Coleman who switches from sweet to sinister with only the slightest change in her expression. And cliffhanger ending with characters in various perils was very old school but it worked. 

#5 Sleep No More

The only true one off for Series 9, writer Mark Gattis spins together various tropes from alien sci-fi horror and found footage movies effectively. The found footage element gave the show a very unique feel and was actually integral to the plot. 

Still, much like a dream (so maybe this was intended), the episode was very disjointed and not always easy to follow. For any plot points that didn't make sense, Mark relied on the concept that its just a TV show, you should really just relax. I mean, literally, right there in the story. The big reveal was that Rasmussen was a sand creature and that everything we watched was designed to send out sandmen everywhere. It could've been right up there with Blink and the 10th Doctor's admonishing us to be on guard and don't blink, even as a montage of real statues in real places flashes by. Somehow, though, Rasmussen shifting to a form of sand does not pack the punch I would expect from...

Sorry, there's something in the corner of my eye. 

#4 The Zygon Inversion

After appearing to write himself into a corner with Part 1, Peter Harness pulls things together quite well with Part 2. As well as can be expected. No, Doctor Who cannot solve the Syrian refugee crisis but it can solve the Zygon problem by the Doctor entreating Zygon Clara to do the smart thing and not start a war. Oh that speech! Peter Capaldi tore the hell out of that thing and it was one of the most moving monologues I had ever heard on Doctor Who...or most other places too. It is the power of that speech that pushes this episode up a notch to #4. 

After we got some hints as to what an evil Clara would be like in the previous episode, the 2nd episode drives it home with a tour de force sequence where evil Clara and good Clara interrogate each other. Once again, Jenna Coleman is called upon one more time to play Clara but different. The shifts between the two Claras are a wonder to behold for the act of Jenna's craft as an actress, playing two versions of the same person with only modest differences between the two. 

And we get Osgood back. And we get Oswald back again. Always a pleasure to see our Whovian fan proxy on the screen once more. 

The finale for Series 9 was a spectacular conclusion to the story of the Doctor and Clara Oswald. It's also a bit of a mess with some rather important stuff just handwaved (Ahem! Time Lords are back? How? Why? Hello!) and a rather breakneck pace that barely gives anyone time to keep up with what's going on. 

The episode still packs a considerable punch. The framing sequence with the Doctor and the girl who looks like Clara in the Nevada diner is appropriately quirky and sweet and sad as we come to realize at the end what's really going here. And the beginning of the episode with the Doctor back on Gallifrey wordlessly defying each envoy from the Time Lords was a remarkable piece of acting from Peter Capaldi. After talking to himself through all of the previous episode (and for a few billion years), Capaldi's Doctor is just as powerful in silence. The requests for the Doctor to come to the capitol come from people of increasing in importance until the Lord President is forced to make an appearance. It is only then that the Doctor speaks. And it is a powerful statement that shifts the power of Time Lord leadership to the Doctor. 

Jenna Coleman is as strong as ever as Clara Oswald and goes out on a high note. The real final appearance of Clara Oswald is a more upbeat affair than what we saw 2 weeks earlier. And speaking of which...

#2 Face the Raven

For the first time since the death of Adric in Earthshock back in 1982, we get the on-screen death of a companion. There are a few holes in the plot (the whole "frame Rigsy to lure the Doctor into a trap" thing relies too much on coincidence) but the basic story is very well done. The Doctor again encounters Me and once again must deal with the consequences of making her immortal. The Doctor's desire to hold back death no matter what has produced a very complex variable in the form of Me who is both friend and enemy to the Doctor, sometimes at the same moment. And the Doctor's quest to save life is seriously challenged when Clara Oswald faces a deadly destiny that cannot be avoided. 

The death of Clara Oswald is a lesson in the danger of a companion trying to be like the Doctor. Clara takes Rigsy's death sentence for herself. It is for the noble act of saving a life but it is also reckless. Clara's recklessness concerned the Doctor this whole season. Now it's come to claim Clara's life. The scenes leading up to Clara's death are heartbreaking as the Doctor can't bear to lose Clara and Clara, near the end of her life, is most concerned for the Doctor and what will become of him. "Do not seek revenge," she says. "Be a Doctor!" 

I knew that Steven Moffat had some kind of twist up his sleeve and we were not quite done with the story of Clara Oswald. But the scene of Clara's last moment of life is still gut wrenching and heart breaking.  

#1 Heaven Sent

It may be indulgent to refer to Heaven Sent as "groundbreaking" (not to mention being a bit of a pun what with the Doctor digging in the pic above) but what was accomplished in this episode was a brilliant collaboration of writer, actor, director and composer. Peter Capaldi holds the screen all alone for the whole episode save for the appearance of three other roles and only one of those gets any lines. No, this one belongs only to the Doctor as he endures a prison of terror and torment, then he endures it again and again and again over the course of billions of years. The story powerfully pulls away at the layers as we and the Doctor learn more about this strange place he has been sent to. It's a powerful story backed up by strong direction and a really inventive soundtrack.

Yes, there are holes (if all the rooms reset, why doesn't room 12?) but really doesn't matter when everything else about this episode works so extremely well. 


So those are my rankings for episodes 7 through 12 of Doctor Who Series 9. Next week, I look at the entirety of Series 9 and the week after, I'll post my write up on the Doctor Who Christmas Special. 

Another post is coming up tomorrow on some thing or another. I'll be surprised to see what it is. In the meantime, remember to be good to one another.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

Counting Down To Infinity