Tyger Tyger, Fizzling Out

Oct
29

Review of In the Forest of the Night
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Based on comments I've seen around the Internet and results of this week's reader poll, In the Forest of the Night is the most universally reviled episode of Series Eight. I'd be lying if I said I thoroughly enjoyed it, but—though I can see a few similarities—I don't think it comes anywhere close to earning the "Fear Her 2" label some have given it.

Perhaps it's the heavy reliance on a fairy tale aesthetic that got in folks' craws here. While it was well publicized that Moffat's entire take on the Matt Smith era was based in the idea of Doctor Who as fairy tale, Series Eight has taken a sharp turn away from that conceit (much to its benefit, in my opinion). So a story that doesn't just hint at the fairy tale style (even so blatantly as A Christmas Carol's "Peter Pan" theme or The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe's riff on the C.S. Lewis classic did) but outright states the connection to one ("Hansel & Gretel") and makes only vaguely veiled reference to others ("Sleeping Beauty" and "Red Riding Hood") may be putting fans of the more recent style of storytelling off their feed.

There's also a similar problem with the plotting here as in Kill the Moon. Taking liberties with what we know of science is part and parcel of science fiction writing, but when things are set here on Earth, basic laws of physics still need to apply (or have a damn good explanation for why they are plausibly different from our daily experience), or the audience's willing suspension of disbelief will be broken. A few weeks ago, it was gravity and mass conservation. This time, it's the overnight appearance (and subsequent disappearance) of billions upon billions of trees across the entire planet (including areas that can't support such life, like, err... the oceans).

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Lie to Me

Oct
22

Review of Flatline
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Long since having tired of Moffat's "the Companion is the main character" mantra, I was doubly irritated that Clara got to "be the Doctor" in Flatline. But when I started deconstructing the episode a little, I decided there was enough going on beneath the action that my irritation soon turned to fascination.

Flatline has turned into a very think-y episode for me. So much of the character development is intertwined. Right off the bat, we get clues to resolve the question at the end of last week's episode about whether Clara's change of heart about traveling in the TARDIS really did have Danny's support (spoiler: nope).

The Doctor learns the truth of the matter by the end, and we can see threads of lies and identity woven all through this story. Clara lies to the Doctor. Clara lies to Danny. Clara "becomes" the Doctor. Clara lies to the people she's with to emulate the Doctor. Clara gets "welcome[d] to [the Doctor's] world" when she takes responsibility for solving the problem and trying to keep the bystanders alive.

The Doctor watches Clara play his role. The Doctor hears what he sounds like from the outside. The Doctor recognizes that what Clara did to save the day—the same things he would have done had he been able—had nothing to do with goodness.

Is the Doctor a good man?

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Back on Track

Oct
15

Review of Mummy on the Orient Express
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I feel like I ought to be head-over-heels about this episode, yet I'm not. And I can't quite put my finger on why.

It was extremely atmospheric; both sets and costumes were phenomenal. It had an excellent monster; the mummy was hair-raisingly creepy, and made enough sense to remain satisfying once unveiled. The effects were good, the acting was (as always) good, the soundtrack was very good... So why aren't I simply giddy?

I think it's the continuing soap opera.

Although it sets the stage and introduces the mystery of the Foretold, the first ten minutes of the episode is spent on showing how the Doctor's relationship with Clara is suffering. They're out for their "last hurrah"—Clara's version of pity sex, in effect. "I was saying goodbye," she tells Maisie. "You can't end on a slammed door." (Of course, if one feels that way, it's not really over.)

I find it really interesting that the production team did everything in their power to make it seem like Clara had really cut her ties with the Doctor, and that he was on his own in this adventure until the opening scene. Check out the official site's page for this episode or the Radio Times poster. Neither one has Jenna Coleman listed as part of the cast. Clara isn't in any of the clips in the episode trailer. Why were they so dead set on keeping her appearance a secret (it seems to be about the only thing that hasn't leaked—maybe because no one cared)? It's not like anyone believed she was gone for good.

But as I was saying, much of the focus of the last few episodes has been on Clara and her frame of mind. Part of me is really frustrated by this obsession with the Companion's POV; another part finds the exploration through her eyes of who this Doctor is fascinating. Either way, though, when you peel away the heavy relationship subplot of the episode, you're left with some good shit.

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Kill the Mood

Oct
08

Review of Kill the Moon
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Here's where my academic background betrays me.

I have (generally speaking) enjoyed Series Eight so much that I really wanted to like this one, too. But even before the problematic personal interactions surface late in the episode, I had checked out. The plethora of egregious scientific errors pulled me so far out of the narrative I may as well have been orbiting Earth right along with that egg the moon.

Doctor Who has always played fast and loose with the science in its stories, but science fiction (or even "science fantasy," if you feel that description more accurately fits Who) storytelling doesn't work if the writing isn't self-consistent. You can say, for instance, that the sonic screwdriver can unlock anything except a deadlock seal, and your audience will go with it—as long as you don't later use the sonic to unlock a deadlock seal. Similarly, if you're going to set your story on Earth (and its moon), and have the plot hinge on something as well understood as gravity, you'd better not fuck with the basic laws of physics as we all know they work on Earth.

I could roll with it at first. So the moon's got Earth-normal gravity now; somehow it's gained mass. Fine. The Doctor even provides a few science-fictiony explanations that are narratively plausible: "gravity bombs, axis alignment systems, planet shellers..." But when you turn around and say it's because the moon's really an egg, and the fetus's growth has added 1.3 billion tons to the moon's mass—thus completely throwing out conservation of mass, one of the most basic laws of physics—I'm done.

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School Disunion

Oct
01

Review of The Caretaker
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Although I'm confident that in retrospect, I'll be able to look back at The Caretaker and point out pieces that were key to the series arc, as far as I'm concerned, we could've just skipped it entirely.

Superficially, there were certainly some similarities between The Caretaker and School Reunion, the Series Two episode that saw the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. But while the latter had bittersweet tones of reminiscence and reconciliation, the former sank rapidly into the realm of romcom. While I enjoy a good romcom as much as the next hopeless romantic, that's not why I watch Doctor Who.

It's become more and more the norm, since the post-Hiatus era began back in 2005, for occasional stories to center on the Companions' domestic life. More recently (read: since Moffat took over as showrunner), the Companions don't even travel with the Doctor full time like they always used to do. That is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it most definitely yields a different experience for both Companion and viewer.

Think about it this way: the Companion is comparable to a student going off to university for the first time. Does she live in a residence hall or off campus, e.g., with her parents? Dorm life gives one a vastly different college experience than commuting to school every day does. So, then, does living in the TARDIS as one jumps from adventure to adventure instead of being picked up every now and again to go gadding about the universe between grocery shopping and parents' night.

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