On the Problem of Two-Parters: The Magician’s Apprentice

There’s a problem with writing about the first half of a two-parter.  It’s not a complete story; what happens in the second part will inevitably impact how I view what happened in the first part.  But it’s also an episode and can be judged on that basis.

This is, I suspect, part of the problem in writing a two-parter, as well: you have to balance the needs of the story as a whole with the needs to make the episode satisfying on its own.

(Spoilers, Sweetie) Continue reading

Crossing the WTF Horizon

Previously, Danny found out that Clara was lying to him.  The two-parter opens with Clara’s confession being interrupted by Danny’s death in a (seeming) accident.

Clara being Clara, she is not simply going to accept this.  She collects the TARDIS keys and destroys them, one by one, to blackmail the Doctor.  Who had set up the dreamscape to find out how far she would go.

Even though she betrayed him, he agrees to help her find Danny.  Who is in the Afterlife that we’ve seen all along with Missy.

The Doctor and Clara go to 3W, they see the creepy skeletons in water, Missy shows up and we get to see the Cyberman eyes.  It’s all fun and games until Danny BREAKS MY HEART FOREVER.

There were tears in my eyes at the last “I love you.”  Because he wanted her to be safe, because it was the truth, and for once, one of Moffat’s “big moments” dovetailed with the actual character arcs of both the characters.

Then we went back to the a-story and Cybermen and Missy is the Master and CLIFFHANGER.

And may I say, the whole “Clara never existed” line from the next episode is BRILLANTLY used in the trailer?  Well trolled!

Unfortunately, things went rapidly downhill in the second part.  Kate darts the Doctor so she can kidnap him so she can… force him to be the President of Earth.

Clara has most of the good stuff in this episode.  The Doctor has his moments, though, both of them to do with the Brigadier.  First, talking about his picture, and later, saluting the Cyber-Brig.

(And I have so many complicated thoughts and feelings about the Cyber-Brig.  They may be their own post, later.)

Osgood gets fridged.

The plane gets blown up.

In freefall, the Doctor manages to locate the TARDIS, and with the key in his hand, plunges directly toward it.  And I suppose that you could fanwank that there is some sort of emergency guidance system for exactly that situation, but in that moment, I crossed the WTF Event Horizon.

Sometimes, in a story, something happens that breaks your suspension of disbelief so seriously that it’s impossible to get it back.  This went one step further; I could not take the any of it seriously.  I was really glad that I was watching it home alone, because I was laughing like a loon at this utterly tragic story.

Rewatching the episode later, I could appreciate it.  “Love is a promise.”  The Doctor saluting the Brigadier.  The Doctor and Clara lying to each other.

And of course, anyone who knows the Master knew that Missy was coming back sooner or later.  (I, personally, was glad to hear that it was “sooner.”)

The best thing about the series-ending two-parter Michelle Gomez as “Missy.”  She’s brilliant, she’s funny, she’s scary.  Her interpretation of the Master reminds me of Anthony Ainley’s performance in a lot of ways, but is, ultimately, her own.

Her plan is ridiculous.  It’s contrived, it’s downright daft.  But it isn’t even the Master’s most ridiculous plan ever.  It’s actually less contrived and roundabout than his whole “prevent the Magna Carta from being written” plot.

Let’s face it, the Master’s had a whole lot of plans that only made sense if his real objective was to troll the Doctor.

At the moment of revelation, I was shocked.  Not because I hadn’t made the Missy>Mistress>Master connection,  but because I’d thought “Nah, too obvious.”  Also, because the thought of one Time Lord referring to another as her “boyfriend” just made my brain go “nope.”

I was also initially annoyed that the canonical acknowledgement of Master’s feeling for the Doctor came when the characters were, for the first time, and opposite-sex pair.  It felt like the ultimate “NO HOMO” from Moffat.

But on reflection, Moffat’s No Homo renders all of those previous interactions, in retrospect, Pretty Damn Homo.

Also, Missy is a big step forward toward the Doctor also regenerating as a woman.  Someday.  (In my dreams, as Dame Judi Dench.)  No longer was this just a throwaway line about the Corsair.  Certain members of the fandom reacted badly, some  asking “would we have to call him the Nurse, then?”

(Gentlemen, Rory would like a word.)

For all of the symbolic importance (and the humor value of Moffat’s lack of self-awareness) the best part of Michelle Gomez’s casting is Michelle Gomez’s performance.  She can be downright chilling, but also, a little sad.  (Though never pathetic; she’s not an object of pity.)  She’s crazy, but she makes it work for her.

We understand; she’s not killing Osgood because she’s “bananas,” it’s not a random act, but a deliberate one.  She’s doing it to hurt the Doctor.

(I should probably say something about the Christmas episode, too.  Well: it wasn’t the worst Christmas special Doctor Who has ever had, by a long shot.)

On the Proper Application of Handwavium: More Series 8 Blatheration

So, continuing on my hitting the high points (and in this case, especially the low points) of Series 8 of Doctor Who.  In the middle part of the series the arc began to evolve from its previous episodic stories (though linked by some thematic elements and motifs), toward the climax.

The evolution starts with “The Caretaker.”    Danny finally finds out about Clara’s other life, and that sets the stage for the conflicts that play out in the rest of the series.

There were a lot of good character moments, and some not-so-good ones, in the episode itself.  For instance, the Doctor’s keeping Clara completely out of the loop.  I get what it was about thematically; mirroring the Clara’s lying to Danny, and setting up for the next episode’s profound shaking of Clara’s trust in the Doctor.   But it didn’t make sense; Clara would have been much more helpful if she knew what was going on.

Danny’s assessment of the Doctor hit uncomfortably close to home.  The Doctor fought in the Time War, and given both his status as a member of the hereditary nobility, and his skills honed by lifetimes of survival, it’s almost certain that the Time Lords gave him some kind of leadership role in the defense of Gallifrey.

It wouldn’t be a proper series of Doctor Who if there wasn’t at least one cringeworthy episode.  This time, it’s “Kill the Moon,” which takes what should be an emotional turning point for the story and wraps it in facepalm-inducingly bad science.

This isn’t just ordinary, run-of-the-mill bad science.  This is “Evolution of the Daleks” infusing-Time-Lord-DNA-by-lightning-strike bad science.  Except that this is baked into the premise, like a collapsing soufflé of Science Fail.

Eggs do not get heavier.  I googled this.  They get lighter, actually, as liquid is pushed out through the shell while the fetus develops.  In order for the moon to get heavier, it would have to be getting more matter.  That matter would have to come from somewhere.  The logical source is solar energy, so I guess we could fanwank that.

But of course, just killing the alien wouldn’t make the weight go back to previous, so the tidal forces would still be in play.  Nothing would be solved, they’re just hoping things wouldn’t get worse…

The sad thing is, the great confrontation at the end didn’t have to be attached to such a scientifically inept story.  With just a little thought and a liberal application of Handwavium (a necessary element for a lot of Doctor Who stories) it could have been, okay not great, but less faily.

With a little thought, I came up with something that would leave the story mostly intact, but 95% less headdesk-inducing.

Instead of always being there, it’s new.  The creature’s mother replaced the moon only recently.  It chose the location because it needed the sun to provide energy for the growing “chick” to use as it grows (therefore making the source of the extra mass explicit) and it needs the gravity from the Earth to develop properly.  So the mother disguised its egg as the moon, and pushed the real moon “out of phase.”

Doctor: Like a cuckoo in the nest.

(Bonus points; he could mention how the Master did the same thing to his TARDIS, once.)

This could make killing it an actual, clear solution, rather than just a hope that things won’t get worse.

Clara: So if we kill it, the real Moon will just… pop back into place?  And everything will go back to normal?

It’s not 100% Hard SF, but at least it gives a nod to logic and physics in passing as it heads on its merry way.

Because the heart of the story, Doctor’s betrayal of Clara and her completely justified anger at him, deserved to be in a better story than the one it was in.

Though Clara one million percent done with the Doctor, in “The Mummy on the though, Clara is back with the Doctor, for one last trip.  Though by the end, she’s figured out that it’s an addiction.  She’s willing to lie to Danny about it (and I have to wonder why she thinks it’s necessary; Danny might not like the Doctor, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of controlling guy who would forbid her to go.)

“Hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like,” sounds like a description of the Doctor and the Master’s relationship.

“Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones” is a pretty good description of this series as a whole.

Clara has been acting more and more Doctorish as the series has gone on, and “Flatline” gave her a companion of her own.  Though she was still getting advice from the Doctor, she was the leader.  She had to make the decisions in the moment.  Clara has been growing more heroic, and in this episode, she was the Hero.

Like the Doctor, she was also lying.  To Danny, to the very people she was trying to save.

“In the Forest of the Night” was impressive, visually, even though it didn’t make all that much sense.  (How do the trees grow overnight?  We’re actually supposed to believe the Doctor is afraid of wolves?  The sister was just randomly hiding in the plants?)  It’s less obnoxiously bad than “Kill the Moon” because it’s clearly trying for a fairy tale feel, rather than SF.  But there are still plot holes you could drive the Dalek mothership through.

Clara, of course, got caught in her lies.  It was pretty much inevitable.  The Doctor is the only one who gets to lie and get away with it.

More Series 8 Blathering: Episodes Part One

While there is a lot to say about all the episodes, I suspect it’s already been said by other people.  I do want to point out what caught my attention.  Mostly, this is just going to be a quick tour of the high points.  And, inevitably, the low points.

I already talked at length about “Deep Breath.”  There is one additional note; I was complaining about the silliness of the whole “spontaneous combustion” thing as a method of body disposal.  My friend’s husband said that it was a common belief in the Victorian era.  It’s not something I’ve come across in my reading, but my research has been more of the “look for the answer to this particular question” so it might not have been something I’d come across

With all of the interesting stuff that went on in most of “Into the Dalek,” the scenes at the Coal Hill School were remarkably un-subtle.  Getting Danny Pink on stage, and introducing him to Clara, seemed like a rush job.

There’s a lot to chew on in this episode.  We’ve never been told exactly what Clara remembers from her “echoes,” and watching it, I had to wonder if she remembered being a mad, broken, “good” Dalek.  If she remembered sacrificing herself for the Doctor.

Does the Doctor know what she does or doesn’t remember?

In this one, the Doctor reminded me a lot of the Seventh Doctor.  (My Doctor.)  Manipulating people, talking them into sacrificing themselves for him.   He can be cold, he can be calculating, he can make the hard decisions in ways that his previous two incarnations couldn’t.

In retrospect, I wonder if Missy’s actions here were her trying to get the measure of this new Doctor.  To see what makes him tick.

After the intensity of “Into the Dalek,” “The Robots of Sherwood” was an entertaining bit of fluff.  Costumes, fencing with spoons, robots, an utterly daft plot, Clara taking charge, another mention of the Promised Land.  In retrospect, I wonder if having a villain bear a superficial resemblance to Ainley!Master was a deliberate choice.  The ship reminded me a little of the Jageroth ship.

“Listen” begins the whole “Clara is a lying liar” arc, among other things.  It’s also raises a bunch of questions that I have no actual confidence in Moffat giving a satisfactory answer to.  Though he has upped his showrunning game this series, so I suppose it is possible he won’t resort to an asspull the way he did with the Crack.

Or maybe we’re just not supposed to ask how, if Gallifrey is still in the Time Lock, how they can get there.

We might still get an answer on how the Pink genes get passed on, though.

Really, what I liked best about this episode was that it was Steven Moffat deconstructing himself.  Ordinary things turned scary is one of his trademarks, and in this episode, where the scariest things are the contents of our own heads, was a neat twist.

“Time Heist” was slick and stylish, with a neat twist and a feel-good ending, and it’s one of those stories that you shouldn’t actually examine too closely, lest you see the papered-over plot holes.

So far, the series had been a series of individual adventures.  But going forward, it would start to develop its theme and momentum…

Doctor Who Series 8: The Big Picture

Back when Series 8 started, I had ALL THE AMBITIONS. I was going to fully blog about every episode of Doctor Who as it came out and, well, maybe I was overly ambitious. *eyes blog, empty of all reviews except for the one of “Deep Breath”*

Now I’ve got less than a week, and I still want to do something. So…

My overall impression of Series 8 was, this is the best Doctor Who has been in Moffat’s tenure. It’s got a cohesive character arc for both the Doctor and for Clara.

Clara, in particular, grew a character. In the back half of S7 she was a plot device, a mystery for the Doctor to solve, and the writers gave her whatever traits would be useful in any given episode. Things happened to her, but they didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her. A big part of the problem was, she didn’t seem to want anything. She was drifting through life with no clearly defined goals. Which was similar to Rose before she met the Doctor, but unlike Rose, Clara didn’t seem dissatisfied with her lot. Rather, she seemed to be waiting patiently for her real life to begin.

This year, though, Clara wants something. Even better, she wants two things that are, during a good chunk of the series, incompatible. How she deals with wanting both to keep travelling with the Doctor and a relationship with Danny Pink at home shows her character. It’s not the best character, but the fact that she fucks it up makes her more like a real person and less like a plot device.

As good as it was in a lot of way, there were some missed opportunities. In particular, to do with U.N.I.T. It’s obvious that Moffat wanted to echo Season 8 of the classic series, and on a superficial level, he did. The Master is a presence, U.N.I.T. makes an appearance, and in some ways, the way the Doctor’s grumpiness plays off Clara’s enthusiasm echoes the Third Doctor’s interaction with Jo.

But in a bigger way, he failed. Because Season 8 was about building the U.N.I.T. family. It wasn’t just the Doctor and Jo with occasional encounters with the Brig, it was about the Doctor interacting with these people on a daily basis. It was about forming relationships, so that when Benton or Yates went into harm’s way, we were worried about them, too.

Contrast that with Series 8. U.N.I.T. shows up for the last two-parter. A character we’ve never met before gets killed off within a few minutes of our acquaintance, and it means nothing. How much more impact would that have had if this was a character we knew and cared about?
Also, having the 3W plot appear only when it becomes relevant to the Doctor and Clara is a major missed opportunity, both to build intrigue and to integrate the U.N.I.T. characters into the story throughout the series.

Contrast Series 8 with the Master’s previous outing as series villain. References to “Mr. Saxon” were seeded into the episodes, starting as far back as the previous series, but more frequently as Series 3 progressed.

There could have been a lot of ways to integrate 3W in a similar way. Clara could have a conversation with her gran about end-of-life planning, or with her dad about something he read in the paper. It could have appeared in a headline or an ad in the paper. On a bigger scale, Clara and/or the Doctor could have an encounter with the U.N.I.T. team that’s investigating it, or Clara is called in for an inexplicable interview with Kate Stewart, or any of a lot of different things to make it obvious that something big is going on.

Because the premise of the two-parter is big. It’s so big that for Clara, and by extension the viewers, should have seen signs of it in the world around her. Not only that, but the story could have brought the U.N.I.T. team in as a part of the series as a whole, not only its last story.

(Also, they should have totally brought Katy Manning in for a cameo.)

Doctor Who and the Triumph of Hope over Experience

In about an hour, I’ll be watching the newest episode of Doctor Who.  I’ll finally get to see Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor in action.

I wish I could say that I was counting the minutes, at the same time I wish I could say I was over it.  Instead, I’m (very) cautiously optimistic.  And, yes, a little excited.

Just because the last few episodes have been more plot hole than actual plot doesn’t mean that this episode will leave me eyerolling so hard that I have to chase down my eyeballs.

And hey, the fact that Clara’s characterization has been inconsistent is a good thing, because it means that it’s impossible to get her out of character!  Right?

Sarcasm aside, I actually am hopeful.  Mostly because of Peter Capaldi.  If there’s one thing Steven Moffat is good at, it’s choosing actors.  I would have gotten sick of the Eleventh Doctor’s goofball from space routine a lot sooner if it weren’t for Matt Smith’s ability to infuse the character with a genuine sense of alienness, Karen Gillan kept Amy Pond watchable despite a story “arc” that led her over the same ground again and again, and Jenna Louise Coleman manages to make Clara into something resembling an actual character, rather than a collection of whatever traits were grafted on to serve that episode’s plot.

So, as the hour approaches, I can only cling to hope.  Maybe Peter Capaldi can really regenerate the show, as he has the Doctor.  Maybe the show I still love will return to being a show I actually enjoy.  Maybe Steven Moffat will learn how to create a logical story arc and craft consistent characters.

(Okay, that last one might be a little far-fetched, even for Doctor Who.)