Hell Bent – Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 12

An interesting name is one of the first things that jumps out at you in this episode that follows the almost perfect Heaven Sent.  Personally, I didn’t like this one as much as the previous episode and perhaps surprisingly given how the previous Christmas episodes have panned out, didn’t like it nearly as much as The Husbands of River Song (review coming).  Now while most of my previous reviews have been more of a retelling of the story, I’m going to change tack a little bit from this point forward and focus more on my thoughts and feelings of the episode.  If you do still want and need a retelling there are lots of great sites that offer it (heck I read them too!) and you can check out some of these:

In Hell Bent we start with the Doctor entering a diner seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  With a guitar (a theme throughout this season) in hand, he strums a tune and while my initial thoughts were how exactly does this follow from him breaking through the Crystal matrix(?) when his waitress in the diner turns out to be Clara – well that definitely was a bit of a surprise as I thought we were done with her after Face the Raven.  I’ll be honest while I did initially enjoy Clara as a companion – I think she was better with Matt Smith.  I just didn’t like her as much with Capaldi and I didn’t think she should have stayed nearly as long as she did.

River Song (Doctor Who)
River Song (Doctor Who) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anywho!

When the Doctor speaks to the waitress, you’d expect that he’d be overjoyed to see Clara back – considering all of the pain and anguish that he’d gone through in Heaven Sent but he seems somewhat unmoved which is initially a bit surprising.  However as he starts to relate the story of how he got there, things start to make sense.  It seems that he actually had arrived in Gallifrey as initially expected at the end of Heaven Sent, and while I wouldn’t have expected it to look like a dust bowl and desert wilderness with a single futuristic city (my thoughts of Gallifrey were always of a technological marvel really … something along the lines of a Trantor or a global mega-city) this is what it turns out to be.

The Doctor has a confrontation with a bunch of Timelords and soldiers and in the end he wins & kicks the Lord President off the planet.  The soldiers all consider the Doctor to be a hero (which is actually quite nice I thought) and everyone consents to the Doctor being in charge.  In the end the Doctor uses some Time Lord technology to remove Clara in the seconds before her death thereby “saving” her.  Unfortunately however her death like so many things is a fixed point and is something the Doctor is unable to truly change.  While it turns out that the “Hybrid” is not Clara or Me (the last of the immortals), but is rather the Doctor and Clara together.  Each pushing the other to terrifying extremes.  The Doctor realizes that the only true solution is to use the neuro blocker to remove all memories of the Doctor from Clara so that she can be safe but Clara booby traps it and it ends up removing all memories of Clara from the Doctors mind instead.  This allows Clara to travel through time with Me on her own missions in their Tardis/Diner pending her eventual and inescapable death, while the Doctor searches anew for another companion.

Sorry ended up giving a bit of a recap afterall, but I think it went fairly quickly?

So what worked for me?

  • I really liked the fact that the Doctor was so well respected by the Soldiers and citizens of Gallifrey and while the Timelords might consider him somewhat of a troublemaker, they still fear and respect him too.
  • I liked the fact that when the General regenerated it was as a female and that was her previous sex also.  The fact that a white person becomes black was pretty cool too!
  • The Sonic Screwdriver is back!  Thank god they got rid of the stupid glasses!

What didn’t work?

  • I didn’t like the fact that the Timelord planet looked so backward … as mentioned earlier, this should have been an awesome and amazing place with technology run rampant – not a barn in the middle of a dustbowl.
  • I didn’t like the fact that the Doctor used a gun and killed the General – even though the regeneration was quite cool.
  • I didn’t like the whole archives and the way they were … it didn’t make any sense?
  • I didn’t like the fact that Me was the only other immortal to survive?  I still don’t understand how she is immortal as while I get that the chip implanted into her revived her from the dead, how does it not work similarly with the aliens that it was taken from in the first place?
  • Perhaps most importantly … I didn’t like the fact that Clara came back … the transition of a companion should be a traumatic effect, not just for the Doctor but also for us as an audience and while I stopped caring for her, her death in Face the Raven was complete.  This … it feels like cheating.  Saying goodbye to Rose hurt, saying farewell to Donna – well that was just tragic.  Amy and Rory … can you say ouch!!  With Clara … there is nothing.  She was gone but now she’s not.

Bang & Kaboom … a major shift in direction here and while it’s one we all saw coming, it’s still somewhat troubling in this excellent episode written by Sarah Dollard.  Clara played the Doctor a little too well, made a decision that was true to her character, and died as a result of that decision. This is both good — in the “if you have to die, die saving someone else” kind of way — and bad — in the “don’t stare at the details too much” kind of way — but on balance… it’s a pretty decent way for the Story of the Impossible Girl to end.

Also welcome back to both Maisie Williams’ Lady Me and Jovian Wade’s Rigsy. I actually quite liked the fact that in all three encounters the Doctor has had with Ashildr/Me, she has been a different version of the person that he and Clara met all those centuries before. That makes the character unpredictable, and that’s always welcome. That she kept her word and has spent the years “cleaning up” after the Doctor is good and its also good to see that some thought has gone into the idea of dealing with the refugees of the many invasions of Earth over the run of the show.  It’s also worth noting here that without his making an immortal out of Ashildr, the Doctor would not be facing Mayor Me and her terrible decision to betray him for the safety of the Street. The Moffat years have often made it clear that the actions of the Doctor have consequences. Me is a person who can, will, and does make her own decisions. The Doctor didn’t make her set up the Street, or bring the alien refugees together. The Doctor didn’t make her make a deal with the Quantum Shade or with whomever is behind the threat to the Street and its inhabitants that led her to betray the Doctor.

Blameless in all of this is Rigsy, and again, welcome back Mr. Wade. Some time has obviously passed for Rigsy and his life is seemingly a good one, and that’s very cool to see. Rigsy acts with honor and compassion himself throughout the story, and that post-credits scene where he has painted the TARDIS with a tribute to Clara is almost heartbreaking. I’ve enjoyed both of Wade’s appearances and hope he comes back, although I suspect that the Doctor would like to avoid him for a while.

It starts out with a brilliant mystery that sees The Doctor and Clara scouring the streets of London, both on foot and from the comfort of the TARDIS in flight mode above the city. They’re trying to find the truth behind a sinister countdown that has appeared as a tattoo on the back of Rigsy’s neck, who phones the TARDIS when he notices the weird marks and can’t remember what happened to him the day before.

When they eventually get to the bottom of it all they find themselves mixed up in another intricate web spun by the immortal, Ashildr, who had sentenced Rigsy to death for the murder of a woman within her refugee sanctuary. It’s a finely crafted story that keeps you hooked right the way through, building up to its devastating culmination and leaving you with no doubt that there was no reprieve this time.

So Clara takes the Chronolock (should have called it the Raven’s Mark… missed opportunity, people!) off of Rigsy, which breaks the contract with the Quantum Shade, and Me and the Doctor ignore the stasis chamber in the room, the teleporter in the room, and just act as if there really is nothing they can do. There may not be, and in the context of the story, that’s what is the case. The problem there is that we don’t have any information leading up to that moment where we know anything about the Chronolock aside from the warning that death cannot be outrun, and without that, the revelation of the still-vague rules of the deal between Me and the Quantum Shade comes pretty much out of nowhere.

Series 9 has been jostling the notion that it had become common knowledge that Clara would be getting written out of the show at some point during its twelve episode stint, and every episode saw her coming close to biting the dust. However, in Face The Raven it takes on the challenge of giving Gemma Coleman a fitting end with little uncertainty that the raven would signal her final adventure with the Doctor.

It was always going to be sad saying goodbye to such a significant part of the show for the last few series and that’s definitely the case here. The dialogue and tension are wound to perfection, pulling at your heartstrings as Clara and the good man say their final goodbyes. Jenna Coleman is on exceptional form, as she’s been throughout Series 9, and she delivers some very moving lines, confirming her place in the history of the show.  Because Clara makes the decision to save Rigsy that way because she believes the Doctor will find a way to save her, and we do, too. Even knowing that this is Clara’s final episode, even with all the clues the season has given us that Clara was likely to die, the idea that the Doctor would be helpless to save her, that he would have to watch her die… who saw that coming, really? It’s that last word that she ignores because she knows that people die on the way to those wins, and she’s even called him out on it, in episodes like “Mummy on the Orient Express”. Sure, she was still coming to terms with the new nature of this Incarnation, but still, she’s aware of the body count that follows the Doctor. She’s had that terrible calculus he makes thrown in her face when she applies it herself to the events of “Before the Flood”. She just can’t see that it would be her, and that is the logical culmination of the increased recklessness and thrill-seeking that we’ve seen grow in her over a season and a half.

The episode title screen of the very first epi...
The episode title screen of the very first episode of Doctor Who, broadcast 23 November 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Capaldi also does a very good job of giving Clara the sendoff she deserves, looking as sad as we’ve ever seen him when the reality of the situation hits home. His part is added to by an equally credible performance from Maisie Williams as the scheming Ashildr, whose duplicity is undone by Clara’s intended cunning, which seals both their fates. We’re clearly going to see more of the former Game Of Thrones star and with the Doctor’s newfound anger at her intervention it should be even more of a tumultuous relationship from now on. It was good to see Rigsy back in action and Joivan Wade does a very good job of bringing a fitting level of gravitas to the episode. He’s well poised and natural in the role and we’ll be surprised if he isn’t an early contender for the next companion for the Doctor.

The reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem The Raven also acts to bring more weight and deathly intent to the episode and the presentation of it as a spectral raven is genius. Both Sarah Dollard and director Justin Molotnikov should get a lot of praise for crafting such a special episode to see off the impossible girl.  And that leads to one of the two best moments in “Face the Raven”, where Clara extracts the promise from the Doctor that he will not become the Warrior again because she knows him and that’s exactly what he’ll want to do. She accepts what is about to happen to her and accepts that she made the decisions that led her there, and she demands that he does, too, and if she hadn’t… well. This Doctor likely would burn the Trap Street to the ground in revenge, and then hate himself more than he already does for doing it. Because the Doctor does hate himself for all the lives he couldn’t save, for the deaths he is responsible for, for turning his Companions into weapons against Evil… and for being so lonely that he lets someone like Clara become so close to him, so needed by him, that he lets her become too much like him. For that reason alone — his own self-hatred — Clara saves him, one last time.

And next week the Doctor will face the entity(s) behind the threat to the Street, and there his promise to Clara will be bent if not broken. Because not only did they kick off the events that led to Clara making that particular choice, but they wanted the Doctor himself, and his anger and self-hatred and burning desire to fight the evils of the Universe will have a target that he may not be able to resist. And not becoming the Warrior doesn’t mean the Doctor hasn’t made his anger into a weapon before…

Face The Raven is a truly brilliant episode and the remaining two stories in the series, along with the Christmas Special, will have their work cut out for them to live up to the high marker it has set down. While Series 9 has had its ups and downs, Episode 10 does a lot to confirm it as a classic series in the making, and we’re impressed that they managed to create such tension about the end of Clara, despite the fact that it had become common knowledge that she was leaving the show. It also sets things up for one hell of a finale to the series as the Doctor must face the people behind Ashildr’s deception.

Continuing on from the interesting / intriguing / excellent but dumb Zygon episodes (Zygon Invasion falls into the dumb camp and Inversion into the excellent one with one of the best monologues from a Doctor in a long time) we come to another one that’s just a bit weird really.   “Sleep No More” is not really part of the arc of the season, is it? And it’s only half a story, with Mark Gatiss talking about doing the second half of this odd tale in Series 10.

Now while I commented previously on the less than excellent costumes of the Zygons – we’ve seen them before and didn’t like them then either so no real change – the monsters this week are even worse in all reality.  They look somewhat cartoony and ridiculous and while they are obviously able to kill they are not really threatening (in appearance at least).   Gatiss’ work tends to divide fans, with “Victory of the Daleks”, “Night Terrors” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” being particularly disliked by many, while I personally really liked “Cold War” and “The Crimson Horror” and found “Robots of Sherwood” to be somewhat slight. Like his writing or not, no one can really accuse Gatiss of not being imaginative! 🙂

Sleep No More opened with found footage of hard-bitten space marines trading tough guy banter. They were en route to the Indo-Japanese Le Verrier space station ,with which all contact had been lost. In other words, the viewer was sitting through a valentine to the first 60 minutes of Cameron’s 1986 entry in the Aliens franchise. You half-expected someone to ask: “is this going to be a stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?” Derivative yes – but also satisfying. Humanity once again manages to make a mess of things.  Yeah, leave it to capitalists and scientists to get together for the oh-so-brilliant idea of cramming people’s need for eight hours of sleep into a mere five minutes, leaving us able to work non-stop for almost an entire day.  I’m sure that in the real world there are people actually attempting to find a way to do just this, all in the name of greater profits.  This might be the only thing I truly liked about the episode, the idea that in order to maximize efficiency, and to make people more like machines, it’s our need to rest that gets removed. People already work through meals (I do it all the time), but it’s hard to work while you’re asleep (though some people are good at it). Of course, since this is Doctor Who, things inevitably go pear-shaped.  The Doctor falls into his standard role of calling out humanity on its arrogance and short-sightedness.  Due to the format of this episode Peter Capaldi only has a couple of short monologues regarding the foolishness of the Morpheus program.  Nevertheless, in these few brief moments he invests them with both a genuine sense of outrage at humanity’s audacity and a philosophical contemplation of the value of sleep.

‘Congratulations, professor. You’ve revolutionised the labour market, you’ve conquered nature. You’ve also created an abomination’

Here’s where things got complicated. And slightly ridiculous. A new generation of Morpheus devices had spawned a race of shambling mound-men, constructed from the accumulated dust and grit that gathers in our eyes as we doze (who said supper-time science fiction had to be plausible?). But when they lumbered finally into view the beasties were revealed to be in fact made from random gobs of papier-mâché and the semi-decomposed contents of a recycling bin.  If the story had become “we’re taking away sleep so the monsters are our subconscious dream states becoming sentient” or “nobody sleeps so the nightmares come to life” or “if nobody sleeps, the sandman gets angry” or anything like that, I’d have bought it. But, no. Instead, it’s people’s eye-crusties coagulating and becoming ambulatory. EYE BOOGER MONSTERS. Not only does this not make sense, this is the dumbest version of the story possible. EYE. BOOGER. MONSTERS. I don’t think I’ll ever wrap my head around why that was considered a good idea. Oh, they’re blind? Is that it? They’re blind? Is it because they’re made of disgusting mucous? Oh, sure, I get it. Apparently they hear just fine, though.

And then things get even more confusing. The end of the episode comes, and I’m very unsure what Reese Shearsmith’s plan was supposed to be, and then the Doctor says he’s confused and that it doesn’t make sense. So I’m like “Wait, so if the Doctor’s confused also, then how am I supposed to react?” Well, we go back to Reese talking to the camera and find out that he made up (I guess?) the story to keep us watching—and put in the monsters and people to make it exciting. But really he just wanted people to watch the signal because that’s what the Morpheus really is—it’s a signal that infects our minds through the clearly after-effected static. Soo…then what is this episode?

The ninth episode of the current season needed Capaldi at full capacity, as it veered from the survival horror genre (ask anyone who’s stayed up all night playing Silent Hill on Playstation) to a snappy buddy movie, with The Doctor and assistant Clara (Jenna Coleman) trading wry banter. Sleep No More was by no means a classic – but as a stand-alone 45 minutes of escapism it went down easily. But if there’s a problem with Sleep No More it’s that the scale of the concept can’t help but be undermined by necessities of its execution. Having Reece Shearsmith’s Professor Rassmussan hold your hand all the way through it with his commentary takes away something of the nervy uncertainty that made found footage staples such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield such classics. Unfortunately, it’s significantly out of sync with the rest of the season so far, so it feels jarring to have both an unusual format as well as a story that doesn’t have the intense character dynamics of the previous eight episodes. If there is any real complaint I could have with this season of great Capaldi and Coleman moments, and fantastic turns from Michelle Gomez as Missy and Julian Bleach, is that plot has taken a definite backseat to everything else, although I’m not complaining all that much.   It feels like what it seems to really be: a two-part episode without a second part. If we get the second part next series, and it’s not a “Kill the Moon” level of bad episode, that may give me a greater appreciation for this one. We’ll see.

The second part of the Zygon storyline was definitely better than the first.  Perhaps most importantly it had one of THE most epic monologues by Peter Capaldi!   Like so much this season, the strength of this two-parter is the performances. Ingrid Oliver, Jemma Redgrave’s Kate of course, but always Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Coleman gets to play both Clara and Bonnie, and while Bonnie gets more screen-time, Clara has some nicely strong moments. It is Bonnie and her conflicted and all-too-familiar revolutionary fervor, where Coleman gets to do some stretching in the acting department though, and she brings a chilling intensity to the Zygon terrorist.  It was a pretty good pair of episodes, not perfect, but entertaining and well-made.

I realize that these episodes were written & filmed months ago, and even aired prior to the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month.  But the parallels here are interesting.   From the terrorist angle and the refugee-assimilation allegory — stunningly appropriate, as it turns out — this story asks some tough questions. That it doesn’t quite answer them is both a good and a bad thing… good, because they aren’t questions that can be answered in just an hour and a half, and bad because, well, narratively, they can’t be answered in just an hour and a half. You want a real solution, but you also know we haven’t found one in the real world, so Bonnie coming to the realization that she can’t win — truly win — rings a touch hollow in the bigger picture, even as it satisfactorily brings her story to a close, and begins a new one.  Harness and Moffat pointedly avoid any mention of religious motivation among the Zygons.

Capaldi, of course, is the both the star of the show, and one of the finest actors to ever play the part of the Doctor, and he proves it here, once again. That nearly ten-minute sequence, almost all dialogue and most of it Capaldi’s, is magic. Every Doctor has his great speech — and while I hope Peter plays the part for a long time — if this is his, then it’s a hell of a one.

 

Bonnie: It’s not fair.

Doctor: Oh! It’s “not fair”. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was “not fair”. But you know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.

Bonnie: These things don’t equate.

Doctor: These things have happened, Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace, is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?

Bonnie: Why should we?

Doctor: What is it that you actually want?

Bonnie: War.

Doctor: Ah! And when this “war” is over, when you have a homeland, free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it, given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it gonna be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Tell people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Ooh, will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who’s gonna make the violins? Well? Oh, you don’t actually know, do you? Because like every other tantruming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want. So let me ask you a question about this “brave new world” of yours – When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, you’ll have got it exactly the way you want it, what’re you gonna do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How’re you gonna protect your glorious revolution, from the next one?

 

Doctor: And we’re off! Fingers on buzzers! Are you feeling lucky? Are you ready to play the game? Who’s gonna be quickest? Who’s gonna be luckiest?

 

Doctor: Because it’s not a game, Kate. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, how many hearts will be broken, how many lives shattered, how much blood will be spilled until everybody does what they were always gonna have to do from the very beginning: SIT! DOWN! AND TALK! Listen to me, listen, I just, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for “changing your mind”.

Bonnie: I will not change my mind.

Doctor: Then you will die stupid. Alternatively, you could step away from that box. You could walk right out of that door, and you could stand your revolution down.

Bonnie: No. I’m not stopping this, Doctor. I started it, I will not stop it. You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?

Doctor: You’re all the same, you stupid, screaming kids, you know that? “Look at me, I’m unforgiveable.” Well, here’s the unforeseeable: I forgive you, after all you’ve done. I forgive you.

Bonnie: You don’t understand. You will never understand.

Doctor: I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this:No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

Capaldi totally owns the episode at this moment.  I could not take my eyes off of him.  He was amazing.  Things that might sound daft coming from a lesser actor are quite witty and almost self-deprecating when Capaldi delivers them.

Despite having been murdered by Missy in “Death in Heaven,” Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) returns.  It transpires that since the events of “The Day of the Doctor,” there have been two Osgoods, one human and one Zygon, the living embodiment of the peace treaty.  We don’t find out until the end of “Inversion” which one this is, human or Zygon.  But since they both have the same memories and personality, in a way both of them were real.

When I first heard Osgood was returning, I did feel it cheapened her death.  However it’s made clear that the death of one Osgood very much affected the other, that they had become as close as twin sisters.  Osgood certainly seems a more serious, somber individual here than in the past, no longer a goofy teenage but an adult dealing with great responsibilities. Still, we have Osgood back! In stereo! With an actually quite clever explanation for “her” survival after dying at the hands of Missy. I have a theory as to which one survived, as I’m sure you do as well, but ultimately we are left with the Osgoods standing guard over the Earth, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Welcome back Ingrid Oliver! And for this old-school fan, it is nice to see the question marks.

Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) comes across much better than she did in her previous appearance in the Series Nine opener.  Yes, it’s obvious that Kate is still very much in over her head.  This time, however, we see that she nevertheless remains as rational and level-headed as one can under extremely difficult circumstances. Kate is obviously much less idealistic than the Doctor.  Like her father, she is willing to use violence as a first resort.  But these episodes do demonstrate that her approach is not all that unreasonable…

Kate: You left us with an impossible situation, Doctor.

The Doctor: Yes I know, it’s called peace.

As much as I appreciate the Doctor’s noble intentions, it’s easy for him to negotiate a peace treaty and then fly off in the TARDIS.  Kate was left with the difficult job of actually making it work, of ensuring that humans and Zygons peacefully co-existed.  Just as Ashildr pointed out in the previous episode, the Doctor is always interfering and then running away, leaving others to deal with the consequences of his action.  All things considered, Kate appears to be doing the best she can.

The Doctor eventually convinces Bonnie to give up her crusade.  He also forgives her for her crimes. I was left wondering if Bonnie got off easy.  After all, she and her followers killed a great many people, both human and Zygon.  Many would argue that she was deserving of some form of punishment.

Perhaps this can be seen as the lesser of evils.  If Bonnie had been killed, it likely would have turned her into a martyr, inspiring her followers to continue her fanatical path.  If she had been locked up, she could have remained an unrepentant enemy waiting for an opportunity to escape and resume her terrorist activities.

By convincing Bonnie to reconsider her views, the Doctor has diffused the threat she and her organization presented.  At the end we see her devoting herself to maintaining the peace treaty by permanently taking on the form of Osgood.  It can be argued that she is making amends for her crimes by working to heal the rift she created and prevent others from following in her footsteps.

This is an issue that continually plagues humanity.  What is more important, enacting retribution or ending the circle of violence?  Do you let crimes go unpunished if it will prevent future violence from occurring?  There definitely is no easy answer.

As I’ve observed before, a quality of science fiction which I appreciate is that thru its lens it enables us to gain different perspectives on contentious real world issues. Obviously these two episodes of Doctor Who gave me a great deal to consider.

It’s probably easy to explain our slight ambivalence to Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion with the knowledge that the Zygons are our least favourite of the Doctor’s intergalactic enemies. Not only do they look a bit rubbish, but they’re also a million miles away from having the same momentous impact as other big hitting baddies like the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels or the Silence (not to mention the Master!).  Episodes with them included are generally less about the action and more about talking and alliteration, however, these were definitely not as bad as some of the others we’ve seen in recent years.

The dangling subplot of the Zygons from “The Day of the Doctor” was picked up here.  We learn that humanity and the Zygons did manage to reach an agreement that enabled 20 million Zygons to secretly settle on Earth in human form.  Unfortunately, a splinter group of militants has formed made up of Zygons who do not want to live as humans, who wish to embrace their alien heritage.  They regard humans as the enemy and assimilated Zygons as traitors.   The revolutionaries, led by a Zygon known as “Bonnie,” are motivated by the dream of a society that is totally free from both the presence and ideology of anything that is not Zygon.  They are willing to commit horrible acts of violence to achieve this “perfect” world.

They’re joke references from the Doctor about them stealing our jobs and rational debates about atrocities and the impact of perceptions and propaganda on the way people behave, which all feels very relevant to modern day socio-political problems. However, there are a couple of instances when this becomes a little too stretched to make a point, which wasn’t really needed. When the soldiers are going after the Zygons, about to shoot them down, they end up giving up because they adopt the faces of their family and loved ones. This would have been fine if they hadn’t then also been lured to their, as a result, which seems way too far fetched to fill well into the series. It just ends up with a mixed message, which starts with the premise of what would you do if they were your family and ends with a heap of scorched mounds where once there were soldiers.

However, they’re sort of not meant to be out-and-out villains, acting more like mirrors on humanity, so perhaps we’re being a little harsh on the big blobby-headed face robbers. Our biggest issue is that they look a bit naff, more like a dude in a costume than an advanced and complex alien race with their own fight for survival to work on. On a more positive note, writer, Peter Harness, has put a lot of effort into building in some of the complexity behind race relations that have got very clear parallels in real life. Bonnie intends to cause the Zygons who have assimilated to return to their original forms, realizing this will create massive panic among humanity.  This will force the assimilated Zygons to join her group solely to survive the inevitable human violence.  Bonnie even recognizes that realistically 20 million Zygons do not stand a chance against six million humans, but she would rather die on her feet in pursuit of her goals, taking as many humans with her as possible, than live on her knees.

Etoine: I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?

The Doctor: We are on your side.

Etoine: I’m not on anyone’s side! This is my home!

Seeing no way out, Etoine commits suicide in front of the Doctor.  It’s a heartbreaking scene, with a sad, moving performance by Asbury.  It really demonstrates the suffering that ordinary people endure because self-important revolutionaries prize ideals more than they do actual lives, when fanatics espouse the belief that the ends justify any means.

UNIT, in turn, faced with millions of shape-shifting aliens who have the ability to infiltrate all levels of government, to assume to guises of friends and loved ones before they strike, are ready to wipe out all of the Zygons, guilty and innocent, in order to prevent more violence.

There’s also a flippancy to the episode, which is a little to be expected from the character direction in the series, but doesn’t feel quite right this time around with such weighty topics underlying the episodes story. This is all the more at odds in The Zygon Invasion when you also take into account (SPOILERS ALERT!!!) that Clara bites the dust towards the end of the episode. It’s not impossible that this could be a clever decoy death and that somehow she’ll be restored to life in next week’s episode, The Zygon Inversion, but it’s also possible that Clara is no more and all we’ll have of her for the rest of her stay is the Zygon shadow of her former self.  I know that at this point a number of viewers, myself included, are experiencing a bit of Clara fatigue.  The character has been around for a while now and, as with other companions, the quality of writing given to her has been somewhat inconsistent.  Given that, I think it can become easy to overlook Coleman.  But she actually is a great actor. This is ably demonstrated when Bonnie takes on Clara’s form for the majority of these two episodes.  Bonnie is a completely different character from Clara, and Coleman plays the part perfectly.  It definitely demonstrates her versatility.

It’s genuinely a shame that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show as she had built up a very strong on-screen relationship with Peter Capaldi, but it’ll be more of a shame if she has been written out inEpisode 7, because it lacks the momentous delivery to give her passing the credit it deserves. The episode doesn’t stack up as well as the previous two entries in Series 9, but with the second of the two-part story going out next week there’s at least some scope for a reprisal.

Some negative thoughts

Peter Capldi and Jenna Coleman put in some amazing performances, but there are some mind-boggling daft moments, like pretty much anything involving UNIT. First we have Kate Stewart being a little too bloodthirsty (“Science leads, Kate”, remember?), then Colonel Walsh being pretty much in charge of nothing, based on how many of her troops just ignore her orders. Then we have those troops, who one would, considering the job they should be used to doing, assume that situations involving aliens might be more than they first appear. Yet they roll over for what is a pretty obvious trick by the Zygons without much fuss, which makes them pretty ineffectual, something they’ve struggled with since the show returned in 2005.  In addition the Director of ultra black ops top secret agency goes to investigate enemy stronghold, in her best ass-kicking pantsuit. Alone. Armed with a sidearm and incomprehensible gullibility, she’ll surely get the job done! I mean, you just happened to stumble into the sole survivor of a massacre done by aliens that can look like anyone. What luck! Definitely didn’t need that backup now that you’ve got Officer Alien… I mean Officer I-Survived-Somehow watching your back! Great reaction time with that sidearm by the way while she slowly “killed” you, wink wink. Though I’m quite sure we’re going to be subjected to the easiest to see “twist” ever written in the next episode.

Really sorry for being so far behind in my Doctor Who reviews but will do my best to catch up quickly!  A continuation to the Girl Who Died, we find out quickly that Ashildr is no longer the innocent girl we left in the Viking village.  Much like that episode, though, the story here plays second fiddle to the characters and their interaction.

While we’ve obviously seen the effect traveling with the Time Lord has on Clara, this is more about the unforeseen effects of his actions, however, good intentioned they may be, specifically on Ashildr, or as she prefers to be called here, “Me”.  We also explore here the question of immortality as Ashildr is unable to maintain the memories from all of her time on Earth except by means of a massive library which contains all of her diaries.

While the Doctor with his Timelord physiology is able to retain and remember everything, Ashildr as a simple human, does not have this same gift and her journals take the Doctor through the moments in her life that systematically stripped her of her empathy and emotional connections with those around her, by watching those she loved die of old age, sickness and more.

We don’t often see what happens after the Doctor leaves, and what he leaves behind when he goes. A few stories have given us glimpses that it isn’t always the happy ending at the end of the stories, but only a few.  This episode definitely falls into that group  however and lets us see – perhaps somewhat painfully – how much the Doctor really needs the “Mayflies” in his life.  Without the Amy’s, Donna’s & Clara’s he loses his objectivity and becomes a bit too arbitrary without any consideration for humanity.  Ashildr too has this same failing &, in fact, becomes somewhat of a thrill seeker herself as the bandit Nightmare.

That, of course, matters because of what Clara seems to be becoming. As the Doctor watches his friend become far too much like the person he likes the least – himself – he is also always aware of how fast human lives go by in comparison to his own. To see that awareness echoed back at him in the almost inhuman Lady Me, and to see what he had hoped would be a gift become a prison hits all to close to home. Ashildr’s smacking the Doctor in the face with the fact that Clara – no matter what she may or may not be becoming – is one of the Mayflies, just adds to the Doctor’s growing horror over what that “gift” has wrought.

And this all in the character moments. Like so much of this season so far, the magic has been in the dialogue and the interaction, often very quiet, between two people. The Doctor and Davros, Missy and Clara, and here between the Doctor and Ashildr. In all these cases, while enmities may remain, an odd kind of understanding has resulted, and we’ve seen deeper into the heroes and villains ofDoctor Who, in a way we haven’t before.

With the return of Ashildr, the story on the screen perhaps takes second fiddle to the story about her.  Her growth and changes and eventual salvation by Rufus Hound’s – Sam Swift.  The second best highwayman behind Ashildr’s Nightmare. The – literal – gallows humor bit was actually funny.

Sam Swift, ribald though he be, is meant to show the lust for life of the Mayflies to Ashildr, and one suspects that at least for a time, Lady Me may have a companion of her own. Maybe longer, given the Doctor’s track record with guessing the effects of the medical chips.

The discussion in the pub, and “Are we enemies now?”: The Doctor has pulled back the mask and shown his sadness before, and the sometimes crushing loneliness of outliving everyone you care about, but here he explains why a TARDIS full of Immortals could be a bad thing indeed.  That someone who lives – functionally – forever has a duty to try and save those lives… when he, or she, can. And isn’t that what makes the Doctor the Doctor?

Of course we’re left with an interesting, and fairly ominous to be honest, image at the end of the episode, contrasted with one of friendship tinged with sadness. Ashildr, in the background of Clara’s life, on a mission to “clean up” after the Time Lord. Someone who is aware enough, somehow, to know that the Doctor will see the photo and her place in it.

It is, of course, that final look on the Doctor’s face that we go out on, both here and in the episode. The Man Who Runs Away, watching the Impossible Girl with the pain of knowing their time is coming to an end, no matter what happens or what he does. Peter Capaldi, in one look, laying bare the lonely man within the Lonely God.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are well and truly up to speed again in Doctor Who Series 9, and with the sheer fun and portentous finale of Episode 5: The Girl Who Died, they’ve only added to the brilliance of the series. This time around they find themselves in the company of Maisie Williams off of Game Of Thrones, playing a valiant Viking girl, and she makes a welcome addition to the storyline, causing more than a few ripples in the space-time continuum before the episode is done.

“The Girl Who Died” is a deeply peculiar episode in this most eccentric of seasons. On the surface it recalls last year’s divisive “Robot Of Sherwood” – a daft historical “romp” (oh how loaded that word has become forWho fans) with little regard for historical accuracy. On the other, it’s clearly meant as a major turning point in the life of the Twelfth Doctor.

Before all that, however, we’re treated to a gently funny adventure with shades of Monty Python and Horrible Histories. The Vikings here are a broadly-sketched lot – Maisie Williams’ Ashildr aside – but it doesn’t matter. This is no more a serious Norse saga than Who‘s original comedy historical, “The Romans”, was an accurate portrait of life in the Empire. Crucially, it is genuinely funny and packed with sharp lines and neat ideas.

Way back in “Deep Breath,” Doctor Who made us a promise about this new incarnation: This was the Doctor with the veil lifted, with the disguises removed. Last season went to some lengths to sketch out just what that might mean, kicking around ideas of whether the Doctor was really a good man and presenting a more remote version of the Time Lord. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but the whole thing had a slightly didactic quality, as though the show were straining to construct an argument about the nature of the Doctor it never quite managed to work out. “Death In Heaven” largely resolved this as the Doctor proudly asserted his identity, and the episodes since have hit upon a much simpler, more pleasing way of presenting a Doctor without artifice. With the Doctor of “The Girl Who Died,” there’s almost nothing beneath the surface, and what you see is pretty much what you get. The Doctor isn’t playing the happy wanderer or the whimsical madman as a way to deflect attention from his true feelings, but he also hasn’t swung all the way back to wondering what emotions are in the first place.

4284The Doctor and Clara start the episode in a whole lot of trouble, throwing us right into the action before the credits have even run, which is always a good sign. When the Doctor gets his act together just in the nick of time to save his TARDIS companion, who’d been stranded in outer space with a killer spider crawling around in her space suit, they teleport back in time and land themselves in even more bother at the hands of a Viking village and their God overlord, Odin.  Starting an episode at the end of an untold adventure always makes for a good intro to a story as it feels like they go out of the frying pan and into the fire week after week, which is sort of what it feels like throughout the majority of the many generations of Doctor Who. Just when they think they’re out of the woods they manage to find another darkly forested situation to get embroiled in and this time around it’s a band of marauding Vikings, their merciless godling impostor and a brave Viking girl that are in the thick of it with them.

“That’s not the real Odin.” “Of course not, he doesn’t even have a yoyo.”

The opening destruction of the sonic sunglasses sets the tone, as the Doctor immediately accepts that, yeah, he and Clara are going with the Vikings. The scene with Odin and the yoyo is brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi, as he finds room for deeper emotions and more impressive moments—when he first sees Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, when he tells Clara that he got out of his handcuffs by magic—amid all the bickering with his companion about his lack of plan and his deeply unconvincing Odin impression. The Doctor’s voice as Odin a wonderful choice, as it’s the kind of half-assed imitation that someone would only undertake if he really, really thought the locals were dumb enough to believe anything. But then, he was going to bluff his way out with a yoyo, so that really goes without saying. Although one might at least have figured the Doctor was, you know,good with a yoyo, an assumption of which the episode most hilariously disabuses us.

There’s a good amount of comedy to the episode, ranging from the hilarious vision of Ofin’s face in the sky and some great quips from the doctor to the dim-witted comic style of Tom Stourton who plays a Viking blacksmith whom the Doctor names Lofty. It makes it a fun and light-weight adventure for the most part, but just when you think it’s all just a jaunty jape in the past it suddenly gets a wee bitty serious on you, giving it much more gravitas and series impact than you’d bargained for.  Once “The Girl Who Died” establishes that dilemma for the Doctor, of how to defeat the false Odin without putting humanity at greater risk, it answers the question in two distinct ways, one speaking to the head and the other to the heart. The first is in seeing how the Doctor does eventually work out a plan that will deliver victory for the Vikings. His strategy is pleasing on multiple levels, as it effectively takes the silliness on display in so much of the episode and weaponizes it against the more serious threat of the Mire. The solution lies not in making the Norse more fearsome but rather in getting the aliens to admit they are every bit as ridiculous as anything else going on here, with the Doctor showing off some clever psychology about the importance of reputations to boot. The preceding sequence, in which the Doctor realizes the electric eels are the solution as the townspeople gawp at him, is one of the best-realized examples of the Doctor appearing only dimly aware that there is anyone else in the room with him. Again, “The Girl Who Died” is very smart in when it makes the Doctor alien and comedic and when it makes him human and emotionally vulnerable.

Make no mistake: The Doctor of this episode is as alien as ever, but “The Girl Who Died” allows him to feel and then articulate recognizable emotions. When he feels rage and heartbreak after Ashildir’s death, he doesn’t hold back in his reactions or—and this is crucial, given how circumspect the Doctor can be—explaining just why he feels so strongly. In pretty much all phases of the episode, the Doctor is honest in ways we so rarely see him be. When Clara points out that he never actually tells her the rules of what they can and can’t do, he gradually admits that there really aren’t any hard-and-fast laws, just lots of unintended consequences. This isn’t an episode where the Doctor pretends to not have a plan right up to the opportune moment. He genuinely has no idea how he, Clara, and a bunch of Norse farmers and fishermen are going to defeat one of the galaxy’s most fearsome warrior races, and that melancholy hopelessness informs both his joy when he does come up with a plan and his heartbreak when he realizes he once again couldn’t save everyone.

More grating was the return of the Doctor’s ability to speak baby. It’s deployed here to more serious effect, but that doesn’t really work… The gravitas of the Doctor asking “do babies die with honour” is hard to swallow when it’s been spurred on by him translated an infant’s gurgling.   The Doctor has been getting pretty serious for a while now, in particular with his concern for Clara’s well being and it’s beginning to feel a bit too much like a warning than well meaning care.The Girl Who Died only adds to this sense of rising foreboding and the more serious, mortality-framed ending acts as a significant reminder of Clara’s relative frailty, despite her evident action adventure skills. The fact that we also know that Jenna Coleman will be calling it a day on Doctor Who some time during Series 9 only adds to the tension every time she finds herself in a pickle.

Where the episode really works, however, is in the scenes between the Doctor and Ashildr (Maisie Williams).  Capaldi’s performance has been funnier and more obviously “Doctory” this season, but it’s also been increasingly clear that his is a selfish hero. As his testing of the theory that ambiguously led to O’Donnell’s death in “Before The Flood” showed, this Doctor is concerned primarily with protecting the lives of the people he knows. “I lost someone who matters to me,” he says at one point here, and he later predicts Clara’s potential demise and it’s all about how he will feel when it happens.

But then he meets Ashildr, and there’s a connection and her death shakes him to his core. It sparks the memory of saving Caecilius at Pompeii and reminds him that he can do pretty much anything he likes. There will be consequences (more on that next week…) but it gives him a purpose again. “I’m the Doctor, and I save people” feels like a moment of real triumph and realisation. Shame that it was plastered all over the trailers.  I haven’t yet talked much about the episode’s big guest star, as Game Of Thrones favorite Maisie Williams plays the title character, an individual who is quite rudelynot Susan or the Rani or River or Jenny or a Clara fragment or whoever else. Rather, she’s just a brave, kindhearted girl that neither the Doctor nor the town could bear to lose. Williams is very good here, although I suspect it’s next week’s “The Woman Who Lived” that will really see her show off her acting chops and challenge the Doctor, so I’ll save most of my discussion of her work for that next week. Her best quality here is one that likely won’t surprise those familiar with Arya Stark, as she has a presence here that feels both authentically medieval and eminently relatable. When she undoes Clara’s very smart work talking the Mire into leaving and declares war on them, she reveals herself the product of a culture nearly as alien to us as the Mire, yet it also feels completely logical for her to defend her town’s honor in this way. Much as this season’s episodes have seen Peter Capaldi move from playing the Doctor to, at least to the extent it’s possible, being the Doctor, so too does Maisie Williams show the difference between pretending to be a Viking girl and really inhabiting the role.

“She might meet someone she can’t bear to lose. That happens. I’m told.”

When Peter Capaldi said, pre-series launch, that “the Doctor is about to make a mistake that has cataclysmic repercussions,” most of us assumed he was talking about leaving the young Davros to die (or not). But on the evidence of this week, not a bit of it. Three stories in, we’ve had the blockbuster one, we’ve had the creepy, old-fashioned one, and now it seems, we’ve reached the fulcrum of the series. In saving Ashildr (Maisie Williams) just a week after calling out the Fisher King for bending the rules of life and death, the Doctor has done exactly the same, and he realises straight away that he’s on dodgy ground. Davros’s warnings about “the hybrid”, and that “compassion is wrong” are surely going to hang heavy over the coming weeks, that final lingering shot of Ashildr darkening as she watches everything around her die, trapped in her own, endless life, is surely going to have consequences.

Sorry for the delay on these – been a busy time!

Right lets get started, shall we?  I’m not too sure what it is with the Doctor and monsters related to water – I mean it’s almost like he’s TRYING to scare us isn’t it! 🙂  Let’s be honest – this episode and its partner while not as frightening as the David Tennant helmed Waters of Mars was still enough to send my kids scurrying upstairs leaving me all alone in the dark.  However the ghosts were not what they seemed so without further ado – lets get into the recap.

When the Doctor and Clara bland on yet another seemingly deserted station they don’t really realize that they are trapped underwater. Exploring they come across a derelict and seemingly far advanced spaceship which has some strange writing on the inside that the TARDIS translation engine is unable to read. After the Doctor and Clara both look at it – and it seemingly gets imprinted on their eyes – they continue their investigations of the station. Almost immediately they come across a ghost – something that the Doctor does not believe should exist. When they find the remainder of the crew they explain that the ghost is actually their old commander who was killed, seemingly randomly by the derelict spaceship while they were investigating it.

The Doctor – as mentioned previously – refuses to believe in the existence of the ghost stating that in all of his travels he has never yet come across such entities however as more and more facts seemingly lineup he is forced to agree with this despite his earlier arguments to the contrary. Realizing that the only way they can stay alive is by trapping the ghosts they come up with a plan to get them into a faraday cage where they will be unable to escape.

Managing to trap the ghosts the Doctor and Clara get separated when the emergency protocols activate on the station flooding the hallways with seawater to shutdown an overheating reactor. The Doctor realizes the only way he can figure out what is really going on, is to travel back in time to when the ship itself was discovered Before the Flood (see what I did there?)

Telling Clara that he will come back for her, the Doctor departs in the TARDIS however shortly thereafter Clara sees a new ghost floating outside the window – this time it’s the Doctor.

Thoughts

Not one of the best episodes I’ll be honest.  There were some elements that were interesting but the ship itself was just too cardboard and didn’t have any realism. While I know that Doctor Who is not necessarily about the special-effects they generally seem to at least make an effort and in this case I felt that they hadn’t bothered.

Clara herself however seems to really be making an effort perhaps too large of a one has she seems to be setting herself up for failure. While I know that Clara is leaving the way she’s been acting almost makes me wish she was gone already as more and more it seems that the Doctor is her companion versus the other way around. While Clara has never been my favorite companion, I’ve not actively disliked one and unfortunately that is very much the way I’m starting to feel about her now.  I know – I’m probably just setting myself up here as I’m sure that they’re writing her this way for a specific reason and she’ll turn out to be some god or something that has to sacrifice herself to save the universe, but right now … I don’t like her!

The ghost themselves are interesting I guess, and having them able to manipulate physical objects was a nice twist and something that I was not initially expecting. The timing of this episode was extra good in terms of real life events of course as it was only recently reported that water had been discovered on Mars which tied back to the excellent Waters of Mars episode and had a good correlation to this one.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!  Many girlish squeals of joy also! 🙂  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets get down to it shall we?  There was just so much to enjoy and love in this episode I know that I’m going to miss something however I’ll try to cover the high points and would appreciate any reminders for things I might have missed in the comments below.

The first thing that struck me right from the start is that this episode is definitely being shown in a “Star Wars year” as one of the earliest scenes is of an alien wandering through a bar that reminds me of nothing else but the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine.  Literally snaking through the crowd (this reference will be made clear later) we see the Oood and other familiar characters from Dr. Who lore, however most important perhaps is the search that this mysterious hooded figure is on.

Colony Sarff (looking very much like a Sith Master – another reference to Star Wars) is on the hunt for the Doctor and when he’s unable to find him in all of his regular jaunts, he returns to his master … Davros.  Davros it seems has remembered something, something important and something about the Doctor.  What you may ask?  Well that was actually answered in one of the coolest prologues I’ve ever seen!

In the prologue, the Doctor comes across a little boy on a war torn land.  Similar to other rescues that we’ve seen him make countless times before, this looks like just another run of the mill encounter.  The boy however is stuck in a field with “hand mines” that are one of the more interesting and gruesome weapons provided by Doctor Who.  Able to literally suck a person into the ground to their doom, they are able to see people to attack and while the Doctor is good at saving people, you really need to wonder how he’s going to make this miracle happen?

The answer in this case however, is that he isn’t! The boy it turns out is someone we all know and hate – Davros the creator of the Daleks himself is the one trapped in the field of hands and the Doctor surmises that by leaving him to die, he can possibly change the path of the future and save trillions from extermination.

Silly Doctor … this time he forgot that Davros himself must be a fixed point in time … the creator of the Daleks cannot be killed by non-action.  The Doctor really only has two choices here … either kill Davros or save him.  Unfortunately neither option guarantees that the Dalek’s still won’t be built.

However, Davros himself is not the only villain in this episode … perhaps the one that we all loved and hated the most … the Master in his female incarnation Missy is back! If you recall from the episode Death in Heaven (the Season 8 finale) – Missy was seemingly disintegrated by one of the Cybermen – somehow the Doctor’s finest foe resurrected herself (“Ok,” she deadpans. “Cutting to the chase. Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind.”), and now she really wants to be considered more of friend. At least a frenemy.

The Master/Missy has always been a character right on the edge of sanity – while the Dalek’s are simply evil incarnate, the Master has always been someone that could have been on the side of light if things had just gone just a little bit differently.  With the return of Missy in The Magician’s Apprentice, we see a capricious foe, one that while still an enemy of the Doctor is also perhaps his oldest and truest friend and from what we’ve seen over the previous seasons – this is actually somewhat true!  I’d be the first to acknowledge that the Master was always one of the Doctor’s greatest foes, however was he not in some ways made this way due to the meddling of the Time Lords?

 

When she (Missy) stops all the planes in the world to get Clara’s attention & likens her to a dog that is being walked by a nearby couple, it’s supremely classic and in some ways give you the best indication of how the Time Lords (perhaps including the Doctor himself) see us.  Pets to be cared for and nurtured, but ones that they are infinitely superior to – not only in knowledge, but also in ability and determination.  With Clara’s help, Missy is able to track the Doctor down who has been hiding in the renaissance era, this is probably the weakest part of the episode as while it’s fun to watch, its nothing more than a rip-off of Back to the Future & while some of the aforementioned scenes also rip-off other movies/shows, they are done in a way that is subtle, whereas this is definitely not!

Missy however is nothing more than brilliant in this scene and it’s probably one of her strongest ones on screen.  While she was excellent in her conversation with Clara, her she is sublime.  She plays the perfect foil to the Doctor and his over the top ego & acts as the villain to his hero in his ramblings to the crowd.  She’s just amazing and I can’t wait to see what else she brings to the screen this season!

Sarff arrives while Missy and the Doctor are interacting and while Missy is trying to get the Doctor to answer the question of why he sent her his will and why he thinks he’s dying, Sarff tells him that Davros has remembered & the Doctor immediately goes white.  As both Clara and Missy point out, its a new look for him – one of shame.

Taken to a citadel seemingly hovering in space, the Doctor meets up with Davros and while the scenes and conversations of all of Davros’ previous encounters with various incarnations of the Doctor play on the screen – including the brilliant Genesis of the Daleks with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor – Peter Capaldi seems up to the challenge of replacing this memory in all of our minds.  When Clara and Missy discover the the citadel is not actually hovering in space, but is in fact on the surface of Skaros – the home planet of the Daleks themselves, well that’s where the plot really thickens!

While Missy tries to persuade the Daleks that she should be their new leader & help them take over all of space and time with the aid of the TARDIS, they are less than interested and proceed to EXTERMINATE her, followed by Clara and the TARDIS while the Doctor looks on in horror.  While you might think that was a suitable cliff hanger to leave us on till next week, its not over yet – the Doctor appears back on that war torn battlefield with the little boy … this time however it seems he’s made a decision and its not to save the boy but rather to kill him & perhaps end the reign of the Daleks before they even begin!

Ohhh, boy … this was definitely a good one and if the rest of the season matches this episode in terms of story and production values, we’re in for a very exciting journey.  This episode has the potential already to be one of my favorite ones, possibly second to the Doctors Wife.  Can’t wait till next week!

I’m a bit behind the 8ball with regards to my Doctor Who reviews (and blog updates in general to be honest) so many apologies for that, but unfortunately – life as they say, “got in the way”!

I should be able to start catching up soon though and I thought a good place to start would be with the newest season of Doctor Who and Peter Capaldi.

I guess to start with, after watching the first episode, I have to state, that I don’t have the same trepidation for this Doctor as I did for Matt Smith.  Matt Smith seemed to find his way over the course of several episodes and eventually grew to become the quirky Doctor that we all fell in love with … Peter Capaldi on the other hand … well he’s more of a return to yesteryear and his Doctor is not someone that you would consider as a possible romantic interest – at least I wouldn’t if I was of the female persuasion!

 

Doctor Who in his newest incarnation really is a return to type and seems to be a lot angrier (those eyebrows!) than any of the previous three Doctors (not counting the “War Doctor” of course) we’ve seen recently.  While he’s a bit confused in this episode (due to his regeneration) as discussed later – his extremely strong Scottish brogue gets the point that he is no longer simply our friend, but is now perhaps comfortable in the role of our teacher and even perhaps our mentor as he tries to ensure that humanity makes it into the future.

PLOT

Late Victorian London. A Tyrannosaurus is rampaging in the River Thames, much to the shock of onlookers.

When Madame Vastra and her team arrive, Jenny notices that the dinosaur has something stuck in its throat … it coughs up the TARDIS, which lands upright on the banks of the river.

Using some high tech tools, Madame Vastra manages to contain the dinosaur while she, Jenny and Strax (always love the potato!) descend to the TARDIS.  Strax knocks on the door of the TARDIS and the newly regenerated Doctor appears.

He and a dishevelled Clara leave the TARDIS, and the Doctor refamiliarises himself with the Gang – albeit poorly, due to his post-regenerative confusion. After failing to identify his companions and complaining that Vastra’s sonic shields are giving his “lady friend” (the dinosaur) a headache, the Doctor suggests that everyone “take five” and immediately falls unconscious. When Clara confirms that this is indeed the Doctor, Vastra comments:

Here we go again….

Awakening in Vastra’s home, the Doctor has a few more rampages about the room he’s in and Vastra also quizzes Clara on her relationship with the Doctor and what he really means to her as well as his appearance.

As an aside – This episode does a really good job of addressing the fact that this Doctor looks different to his predecessors and also looks like a character from a previous episode of the Doctor.  I’ll discuss this in more depth later, but it should be mentioned.

Outside on the street, people are still looking at the giant dinosaur. A man called Alf guesses the Tyrannosaurus is part of a government plan and then says to a mysterious man there is something wrong with the dinosaur’s neck, that makes it look unreal.

The man replies that Alf has good eyes, and he needs them as a gift to replace his bad eyes. He reveals the other side of his face – it looks like a clockwork robot & in fact looks very much like the robots from the episode a Girl in the Fireplace (with David Tennant) – and then proceeds to remove Alf’s eyes.

The Doctor proceeds to escape from Vastra’s home in an effort to save his Dinosaur, but is too late as the creature is burning in the Thames.  It is at this point that the Doctor starts to question the number of spontaneous combustion’s in the city & comes to the realization that something nefarious is happening (isn’t it always!).

When Clara finds an ad in a newspaper for the “impossible girl” she realizes that the Doctor is trying to communicate with her and she proceeds to a rendezvous with him in a local restaurant.  Once there however it comes to light that the Doctor did not in fact invite Clara so a big early question is who sent the message?

Realizing that they are in fact in a body factory for spare parts, the Doctor and Clara attempt to escape but are captured and taken into the heart of the factory itself.  Here they see the clockwork man that had taken Alf’s eyes recharging.  The Doctor is forced to abandon Clara in the factory leaving her to fend for herself and while this is a terrifying and frightening episode, it shows that Clara is actually someone in her own right that deserves to stand with the Doctor.  Clara recalls the Doctor’s earlier suggestion and attempts to escape the buried spaceship in a single breath which is a terryfing and tense sequence, but unfortunately Clara is unable to escape and ends up being captured.

Taken to Half-Face Man for interrogation, Clara is actually able to utilize her “teaching skills” and outbluffs him before the Doctor arrives in the nick of time.

Clara’s obvious terror is so crucial here. The one major way that the past season distinguished Clara from Amy is that the former is not a naturally brave person; both “Cold War” and “Hide” demonstrated that Clara could feel overwhelmed by the danger of the situation—understandable enough, really—but could find the strength to struggle through it.

For the first time, teaching isn’t just a random thing she does when not traveling through the universe; it’s something that offers its own life experiences, and she disarms the robot just as readily as those unruly students did her on her first day at Coal Hill School.

While the Doctor and the Half-Face Man fight above London, Clara and Madame Vastra combat the robots inside the restaurant.  A very different Doctor to any we’ve known in a good long while admits that he might have to kill the Half-Face Man and cannot let him continue his rampage throughout the streets of London.  When the robot talks about the “Promised Land” the Doctor tells him there is no such place and he should know.  Realizing that the only way the robots in the restaurant will stop is by killing the robot, the Doctor and the Half-Face Man struggle at the doorway of his “escape pod”.  When the robots fighting Madame Vastra all fall silent, we know that the Doctor was successful (or was he?  did the Half-Face Man realize he needed to die and completed the act himself?).

The Gang return to Vastra’s home to find that the Doctor and the TARDIS have both vanished. Later, Clara (back in her modern clothing) asks Vastra if she’s got a vacancy since it looks like she’s stuck in Victorian times, but Vastra assures her he’ll be back. She’s proven true as the TARDIS returns, telling Clara “Give him hell; he’ll always need it.”

Clara finds the interior changed, with a lighter shade of mood lighting in the time rotor and some furniture about. The Doctor admits he’s not sure about the new look himself after Clara says she doesn’t like it.

As Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor—or, as he really ought to be called from now on, the Doctor—observes toward the end of his debut outing,

“I’m the Doctor, I’ve lived for over 2,000 years, and not all of them were good; I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.”

Clara, still having mixed feelings at this new incarnation of the Doctor, is unsure if she wants to stay his companion, convincing herself she doesn’t think she knows him anymore. Clara walks out of the TARDIS in modern times to answer the call, and hears the voice of the Eleventh Doctor. He explains he’s calling through time from Trenzalore just minutes before his regeneration. Clara, remembering how she found the TARDIS telephone dangling off the hook from the call box, is shocked to the point of tears from hearing from him again as he says that the man before her is still him – just changed.

Holding back her tears, Clara asks him why he would do this. The Eleventh Doctor explains that he’s phoning her because he thinks this regeneration “is gonna be a whopper”, and that if she’s afraid, the new Doctor will be even more so and needs her help to handle all this. She should not be afraid, for his sake. The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors respond to each other, both asking if it’s the Doctor on the line. When he hears the voice of his future self, the previous Doctor groans over “turning old”, which makes Clara laugh, as she also indirectly confirms his hair will be gray as well.

He’s not at all impressed at the discovery that he’ll have gray hair, knowing how young he was in his soon-to-change appearance, but braces for the change with an endearing smile as he looks forward toward more adventures with his “impossible girl”. The Eleventh Doctor says a final goodbye to Clara before he hangs up and meets up with his Clara to regenerate.

As Clara realises the Doctor had planned this to help her cope with him regenerating, the current Doctor comes to her and says he remembers the call – after all, he made it – and that what he (as the Eleventh Doctor) had said is still true, and asks her in person if she will help him.

Upset that she’s looking right through him but doesn’t view him as the same person, the Doctor begs, “Just see me.” Clara walks up to the Doctor and gives him a good look over, and when she concentrates on his eyes, she recognises him as the Doctor – her Doctor – and beams, thanking him for phoning from the past. Clara hugs him, which the Doctor says that in his current incarnation isn’t his thing, looking a bit confused and wondering where he should put his hands, but she’s unsure he’s entitled to a vote. The pair stroll off together in search of coffee, the Doctor still hesitant.

The Droid awakens in a beautiful garden, replaces his top hat on his head, and meets Missy, a mysterious woman who claims the Doctor is her boyfriend and that she likes his new accent. Helping it up she asks whether he fell from the balloon or was pushed out. The Droid then asks where he is. She tells him that he has reached the “Promised Land” at last. The woman grandly introduces his new home, “Welcome… to Heaven”.

Review

OK I know this was a doozie of an episode and it seemed like a lot happened, but as an introduction it was really good … I have to be honest I wasn’t too keen on the whole Dinosaur in London thing, but overall it turned out really well and not only did Peter Capaldi do a really good job, it introduced our new mystery too.

So much of the substance of “Deep Breath” deals with identifying and explaining the nature of the Doctor’s mistakes, particularly in his treatment of his companion Clara. Basically, the 11th Doctor—and perhaps the show in general—had forgotten that his youthful appearance was only a façade. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of reminding everyone of that fact than by turning Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi, and “Deep Breath” is at its most compelling and distinctive whenever it tackles head-on the long-ignored question of the Doctor’s true nature.

 

As promised, this new Doctor is a darker, more dangerous figure. Consider what he says to the Half-Face Man: “I have the horrible feeling that I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would.” Now, I can imagine the other new series Doctors delivering that line, albeit in very different ways. But this Doctor? It’s just a statement of fact. This isn’t who he must be because the situation forces it upon him, but more simply who he is. Perhaps it’s who he has always been, even if he only now is willing to admit it: “Those people down there. They’re never small to me. Don’t make assumptions about how far I will go to protect them, because I’ve already come a very long way. And unlike you, I do not expect to reach the Promised Land.” It’s left ambiguous whether the Doctor actually killed the Half-Face Man, or whether he simply convinced him to end his miserable existence, and the rest of this season will likely explore the deeper implications of that uncertainty.

The Doctor spent at least two lifetimes running away from his true self, and now the time for running is over. The 11th Doctor was, like all his other selves, a great and good man, but he was also selfish and capricious, unable to see how he was inherently compromised by his own contradictions, by his attempts to be both boyish goofball and ancient wanderer. And, on some level, those irreconcilable traits began to engulf Doctor Who as a whole.

Both the Doctor and Doctor Who needed clarity, and that’s what this new incarnation represents. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is the minimalist, back-to-basics take on the character; I mean, just look at his costume. We’re about to see not what the Doctor hopes to be, but who he really is. If “Deep Breath” is any indication, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun finding out who this strange new person—the one we’ve known all along—actually, properly is.

  • There are a bunch of references to Moffat’s “The Girl In The Fireplace” here, although it doesn’t really take us anywhere beyond just sort of generally justifying the reuse of some rather effective monsters.
  • “Deep Breath” also makes some cheeky references to the fact that the Doctor has seen his face before, specifically on the Roman Caecilius in “The Fires Of Pompeii.” The story seems to quickly move from the mystery of a familiar face to the related but distinct mystery of an older face, with the Doctor wondering what his subconscious is trying to tell him with this particular selection. But file away the face as one of the season’s little mysteries.
  • As for the big mysteries, we get introduced to this season’s presumptive main foe in the closing scene, as Michele Gomez shows up as the strange, faintly animalistic Missy. I’ll not even speculate on what’s going on with her, but I will point out it’s probably wise to not take everything she says at face value.