The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


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

Moffat couldn't kill a character to save his own goddamn life.

He likes to pretend he's ruthless. He tugs heartstrings with near misses and kills off minor or supporting characters, but when it comes down to it, he's simply unable to commit, even when the narrative demands it.

I had to wonder whether he was trolling himself or just trying to cut off naysayers at the pass when he wrote Ashildr's words pointing out the way that the Doctor's actions earlier in the episode had completely undermined the emotional impact of the previous two episodes. "She died for who she was and for who she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad. And it was beautiful. And it is over. We have no right to change who she was." And yet that's exactly what Moffat does.

It has become something of an in-joke in fandom that you don't have to worry when a character seems to die, because they'll just come back at some point (I still haven't ruled out a Danny Pink return). I don't think anyone was completely destroyed by Clara's death in Face the Raven because (a) we've become inured to Companion death (hers, even! Versions of her have already died in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen!) and (b) we were all waiting for the end of the series for exactly this reason. There's no "just this once" to Moffat's "everybody lives!"


Divine Execution


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

Heaven Sent is what, back in the day, my Star Trek: The Next Generation-watching friends and I would've called a Mind F*** Episode. You watch the whole thing thinking you understand the basic problem the crew (or, in this case, the Doctor) is facing until the very end, when one new piece of information changes how you look at everything else.

It's a tricky stunt to pull off, especially given the nearly completely solo acting required of Capaldi. In the entire piece, there were only three other characters; only one of those ever spoke, and that was a single line to which the Doctor made no verbal response. In the hands of a lesser actor, it could have been disastrous.

Instead, it was suspenseful and engaging. That first time through, as is often the case with a Moffat script, you can see there are big hints being dropped, but you can't necessarily put together the puzzle (at least I couldn't—YMMV). Once you know the scoop, though, every little detail takes on new meaning, both just when thinking back on it and upon repeated viewing.

However, I found I enjoyed this episode more than almost any Moffat-penned script since he took over as showrunner. Usually Moffat's episodes start to unravel upon closer inspection. That's not the case for me this time. Only one thing bothers me, and it's something I can fan-theory away if I try. In my book, that makes this episode a huge win in the Moffat-as-writer category.

One of the really appealing aspects of this particular story, in my opinion, is how we are allowed inside the Doctor's head more than ever before. Right from the beginning, we see one of the Doctor's oldest fears, in the form of the Veil—a creature that could very easily have come across as melodramatic (or just plain pants), if not for the way Capaldi sold the Doctor's genuine terror.


Facing the Consequences


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

I am so glad Moffat finally got some women to write for Doctor Who. Both of those new writers this series have added strong episodes to the canon (however one defines that), and Face the Raven in particular uses character as its driving force to great effect.

I just wish I'd been able to experience the episode without expectations of where it was heading.

Over the last couple of years I've had bad luck with last-minute spoilers, and not just in Who. For example, in the first season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the mid-series cliffhanger revealed [um, couple-year-old spoiler] that one of the team members was secretly working for Hydra. A couple hours before I had the chance to see it myself (late, yes, but still... ~sigh~), I saw a tweet about it: "I still can't believe [So-and-so] is Hydra!" So much for that bit of dramatic tension. I spent the whole episode noticing the clues the other characters overlooked rather than overlooking them myself.

Similarly, the day before Face the Raven aired, a friend posted something on social media about how sad she was that this was going to be Jenna's last episode. Well. Foreknowledge like that certainly changes the way one views a story. I can only imagine now how other fans would have experienced it, because I didn't have the luxury of surprise.


Perchance a Dream


Review of Sleep No More
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Mark Gatiss scripts are always hit or miss for me. I have really enjoyed a couple of them, especially The Unquiet Dead, but others have fallen flat for me. This entire season has been really strong (in my opinion), though, so knowing Gatiss was the writer on this episode, I went in feeling cautiously optimistic.

I came out the other end of the story rather confused—not by the plot itself so much as by how I felt about it all. After my second viewing, though, I think I finally figured out where I stand: with opposing opinions depending on how I look at it. As a writer, I found the episode to be a fascinating experiment using a worthy storytelling conceit; as a fan, I didn't particularly like it.

Much of the online reaction I've seen centers on the "found footage" style. Some folks are touting it as a bold, new direction, while others feel it was a mistake of epic proportions. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere between the extremes. Given the nature of the story, the found footage format (say that twelve times fast) strikes me as a perfect fit. It adds to the creepiness and makes the camera POVs part of the narrative itself. However, I found it incredibly off-putting. I've simply never been a fan of that style of film, and found it difficult to look past.

The whole "sleep dust is going to consume you and turn you into a monster" thing is just another twist on Moffat's tried-and-true plan to find something ordinary and make it scary, done Gatiss style. That's brilliant. But it didn't work for me. I mean, I'm sure some viewers found it terrifying (there are undoubtedly plenty of newly traumatized children out there this week). As a concept it's great. I simply couldn't buy into it.


Continuity à la Carte


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

This is the episode that made me look back and admit I hadn't been entirely fair to Moffat.

Regular readers will know that I've long since tired of Moffat's regular tricks and quirks. It was easy for me, therefore, to jump to conclusions about previous stories that I now know to have been incomplete. In particular, I was really angry after Death in Heaven when Osgood died. It felt like an attack on the fandom for whom she was a cipher.

Now, though, it's obvious that Moffat had a larger character (and plot) arc in mind for Petronella Osgood (I kind of wish we still didn't have a given name for her...). He has even tied up the glaringly loose end of the Zygon peace agreement with humanity, left dangling for nearly two years since The Day of the Doctor. Many of us noted how that particular plot line had been abandoned unceremoniously at the end of the anniversary special; some felt the Zygons had been underutilized as a result. It's nice to see those threads being tied back into the ongoing narrative.

Speaking of call-backs to previous episodes, Clara's in-pod experiences during the pre-credits sequence was extremely reminiscent of both Last Christmas (with Clara's search for dream tells) and Asylum of the Daleks (in that Clara was physically trapped inside an enclosed space, but had made a different space in which to exist in her mind). Long-term continuity was well considered here (more on that later).

Despite having a different focus than the opening episode of the pair, this one continued several of the ideas we saw introduced last week. For example, the phrase Truth or Consequences was everywhere. In The Zygon Invasion, it was referenced as the name of a town in New Mexico. This time, it was alternately a death threat to Clara by Bonnie, the name of the Zygon splinter group (according to their outed Zygon victim), and the labeling scheme for the buttons inside the Osgood Box(es). It gives off another whiff of foreshadowing, as if the idea will come back to haunt us later in the series.



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