Chillingly Good


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

Hallelujah - finally, an episode I actually liked!

Though the pre-credits sequence didn't grab me quite as much as it did the poor sailor, it was not a bad way to start (and narratively necessary). Where the story really got rolling, though, was immediately after the credits as the ship was heading down. It had an extremely Das Boot feel, and was incredibly tense as a result. And I thought they largely managed to maintain that tension throughout.

I'm not sure how much of my love for this episode comes from the fact that I could utterly relate to the Doctor's declaration: "hair, shoulder pads, nukes - it's the '80s. Everything's bigger." It certainly didn't hurt that I remember the political climate of 1983 so clearly. The episode definitely gave me that rock-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling that "mutually-assured destruction" always did. It was something we lived with daily; the threat of nuclear war hung over the heads of even middle school kids like me. So suffice to say I thought they nailed the feel of the era.

The rest of the episode was also filled with fabulous moments of one flavor or another. There are the explanations of how the show works for those who are just coming on board with Clara ("Am I speaking Russian? How come I'm speaking Russian?" "Now? We have to do this now?" or "The world didn't end in 1983, or I wouldn't be here." "... History's in flux; it can be changed. Rewritten."). There are the nods to the pre-Hiatus years for the long-term fans ("All right, Captain, all right. You know what? Just this once, no dissembling, no psychic paper, no pretending to be an Earth ambassador."). And there are the uncomfortable character moments, especially for the Doctor ("Skaldak won't talk to you; you're an enemy soldier." "And how would he know that?" "A soldier knows another soldier. He'll smell it on you. Smell it on you a mile off." "And he wouldn't smell it on you, Doctor?").


A Tale of Two Reactions


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

This one's an odd one, and no doubt. The whole way through, I couldn't decide if I thought it was wondrous or horrible. (Also - can I just tell you all how much the name of the place messes me up? I seriously keep thinking there should be an n after the initial A.)

I still can't decide, and it looks like I'm not alone. There is no "fan consensus" about this episode, and I find that almost as weird as my own dual reactions. Complicating matters is the fact that I can't pinpoint what I don't like about it. All I can say is that somehow it rubs me the wrong way.

Let me begin, then, with a few niggling irritations. First, there's the leaf. I like the story of "the most important leaf in human history" (though the Doctor's being a bit stalker-y, which makes me vaguely uncomfortable); every happy couple should have some story about how they met that makes them smile years down the road. What bugs my detail-oriented self is that it's not the same leaf we saw in the previous episode. I'm not sure what kind this one is - it looks a bit too broad to be an aspen, though that's the closest I could come, with my limited knowledge of botany - but the one from The Bells of Saint John is most definitely a maple. This one's supposed to be a maple, too, based on the tree from which it fell, but it's not. And I'm completely unreasonably put off by it.

Then we get to the Doctor contemplating his latest puzzle: "She's not possible!" Like last time, I'm getting a sense from this episode that I've seen it all before, and this is where that starts. The TARDIS's information on Clara looks like the positive/negative pregnancy readings on Amy last season. And despite having charmingly put the Doctor off with a coy "next time I might say 'yes,'" there Clara is on the stairs, drumming her fingers against 101 Places to See, another "girl who waited."


London Calling


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

I really want to give Clara's "no, this time we mean it!" introduction story an enthusiastic thumbs-up, but I can't quite.

Like most Moffat-penned scripts, it zips along at such a fast pace that it's easy to get caught up in the moment and come out saying, "Wow! That was great!" But Bells (and what the hell sort of irrelevant title was that, anyway, based on an utterly toss-off portion of the story from 1207?) also suffers from the common problems that plague Moffat's stories.

To begin, we've got the usual casual misogyny, like when the young monk asks if the Doctor is speaking with an evil spirit and when he's told "it's a woman," he crosses himself. This one I'm willing to let slide because, OK, it's 1207 and the dude's a monk who's probably not supposed to have any contact with women. But it's still in rather poor taste.

More irritating to my mind is the way the Doctor insists that Clara repeat The Question to him three times. I never used to think of the Doctor as a pure narcissist - a bit overly proud of his intellect, perhaps, but not full of himself - but that's how that scene presented him. The Doctor seems to be exhibiting an ever-increasing number of troubling character traits these days (and I'm not just talking about some "fall into darkness" he might be experiencing), and I find myself watching with more trepidation all the time.

You may think after all this that I didn't really care for the episode, but that's not true. Both times I watched before sitting down to write this review, I came away with an upbeat, "that was fun" feeling. But by the very nature of blogging, I've learned to sit down and analyze the good and the bad, and I'm afraid there's always both in Doctor Who.


The Winter of Our Cautious Optimism


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

I'm not sure there's much more I could have asked for. (Oh, of course there is. A puppy is always nice, for example...)

Seriously, though, I think this is the best Christmas Special in a good long while (the best since Christmas Invasion, in my opinion). No episode is ever absolutely perfect, and I'll get to the parts that irked me later. Frankly, I wouldn't be much of a blogger if I couldn't find something both to love and to hate about any given story, but generally speaking, I have to say I quite enjoyed The Snowmen.

I think a great part of that is because it wasn't terribly Christmassy. That is, it felt like a "regular" episode (with a bit of extra time for plot development) that just happened to be set at Christmas, much like Nine's story The Unquiet Dead. Nothing except (here it comes - my first, biggest complaint) the über-sappy, saccharine explanation of "a whole family crying on Christmas Eve" relied on the specific time of year in order to make "sense."

And, to be honest, it just doesn't. It's not like no one else in London has ever - or even in that very year - lost a loved one right at Christmas. It happens to people the world over all the time. Why is this family's pain special? The simple answer is: it's not. (No more so than the loss of his most recent Companions is particularly special to the Doctor. But I'll get to that later.) That fact, combined with the overwrought emotional manipulation that plagues Moffat's episodes, make the denouement of this part of the story unsatisfactory.


A Farewell to Aims*


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

It all makes sense now. Well, I say "all"... Clearly, some of it is still utter nonsense, but at least one of the things that's been bugging me all series is finally obviously and satisfactorily resolved, at least in my head. But I'll get to that.

Let me start by talking about how this - this - is finally the kind of episode I've been looking for all series. At long last, here's one I can get behind wholeheartedly because there's so much right with it, I can ignore just about everything that isn't.

I really liked the gumshoe detective novel feel to the 1938 portion of the episode (aside from "bouncing off 1938" - wtf?), though I didn't cotton on till the second time through that Mr. Grayle was deliberately feeding the Angels, nor that it wasn't necessarily Mr. Garner himself typing up the chapter on "The Dying Detective."

Even better, though, the Angels have gone back to the basics and once again become the kill-you-by-letting-you-live-to-death monsters we fell in love with in Blink. Somehow, the insidious nature of this particular mechanism makes them creepier and more interesting to me than the sheer monster in the dark we saw back in The Time of Angels. It's made even more horrific by the way both Garner and Rory are confronted with their future selves (loved the age makeup, too!). It's good to have the "original" Weeping Angels back.

Speaking of returning characters, we're also treated to more River. This time she's post-Storm Cage, though obviously still pre-Library. It's nice to see River and the Doctor be a bit more knowledgeable of and comfortable with each other, rather than things being so completely one-sided all the time. He knows and trusts her enough to tell her to get out of a bad situation and walk away to let her be about her business. She, in turn, knows enough to be "loving the 'almost'" when he says poisoning the Angels with a paradox would be almost impossible. Again, it's a return (mostly) to the kind of River I enjoy watching.



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