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.


A Zygon Conclusion


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

This is one of those stories in which misdirection is the order of the day, and which on subsequent viewings doesn't necessarily become clearer. At least, not without the second half of the story, which is yet to come.

In other words, this is your fair warning that I have some oddball theories this week, so prepare to be inundated with my evidence. (Next week you can mock me mercilessly when I turn out to be completely wrong, but for now I'm going to pretend I've come up with the most brilliant fan theory of the series to date.)

Before I get into my speculative musings, though, let's start with the more relatable mystery of which Osgood is which. Before the credits even roll, we see the surviving Osgood (who now wears question marks, whether on her lapels like the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors each did, or on her replica of the Seventh Doctor's vest) scrambling to escape capture. Hiding under the sheriff's desk, she makes use of her inhaler. "Ah-ha!" we all crowed. "That's the human Osgood! Zygon Osgood was the one Missy vaporized!"

Even the Doctor backed up our assumption, trying to help this Osgood come to grips with her identity. "Zygons need to keep the human original alive to refresh the body print. If you were a Zygon, you'd have changed back within days of your sister's death." But we've already seen these Zygons do something others have never done before: they can use mental images to take on a human form. (I'm kind of getting tired of Moffat's finger in every goddamn pie, rearranging things to suit his own agenda. Yes, change is part of the show, and they have to keep things fresh. Still don't like it.)


It's a Big Plot Point's Life


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

Nominally, The Woman Who Lived was the second half of a two-parter that began with The Girl Who Died. In practice, it's a brand new story featuring the return of a previously seen character, like Craig in Closing Time, the Meddling Monk in The Daleks' Master Plan, or the Master in anything after Terror of the Autons.

There was even a completely different writer for this episode than the previous one; last week's episode was co-written by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, while this was written by Catherine Tregenna (halle-effin-lujah, finally a woman!). It's hardly surprising, then, that it had a completely different character and feel than its predecessor.

That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. For me, though, the trappings of the mid-seventeenth century, the highwayman known as the Knightmare, and the fine lady in cahoots with Leandro of Delta Leonis (whom I was very disappointed to learn wasn't actually a Tharil after all) were of little interest. They were merely the setting in which the real story took place.

Said real story, as I see it, is twofold. First, there is the fact of don't-call-me-Ashildr's effective immortality, stuck on "the slow path," as Reinette put it in The Girl in the Fireplace. This exploration of what it would mean to live for centuries, outliving everyone you got to know along the way—and not being able to fly off in a blue box after—is the human side of the equation, though a modified one. We are not meant to live so long, certainly not alone. The way Ashildr's perspective has changed, and her attitude toward the lives of others with it, is testament to the psychological effects of that isolation.


Not Dead Yet


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

One of the advantages of avoiding as much information about upcoming episodes as possible is going in without any particular expectations. All I had this week was the trailer, the title, and knowledge of the big name guest star (which was neutral information, since I don't watch Game of Thrones). I had no pre-conceived notions about The Girl Who Died, and figured we'd be getting an okay-but-not-fabulous story. I was, thus, not disappointed.

Conversely, I wasn't pleasantly surprised. It was, to my mind, merely average. Given how much I (a) love Capaldi and (b) disliked certain episodes in the last series, though, fair-to-middlin' is still perfectly acceptable. As long as Capaldi's on screen, it can't be all bad.

As far as I can tell, though, the main point of this episode was to introduce Ashildr, the eponymous character. Unless there's actually something subtle going on, rather than the anvil-to-the-head clues dropped here, we've just seen the seeds of a major piece of the series arc.

Back when Davros was crowing over the supposed success of his latest mad scheme, he justified it by claiming he was fulfilling a Gallifreyan prophecy. "It spoke of a hybrid creature," he cackled. "Two great warrior races forced together to create a warrior greater than either." Now we're meant to see how that prophecy really gets fulfilled. Take the Mire, "one of the deadliest warrior races in the entire galaxy," add their technology to a Viking, and voilà! Hybrid ahoy! The Doctor even says so, just in case we're not clever enough to get it ourselves.

I say that I had no expectations going into the episode, but I'll admit that as the opening credits rolled, I had a hot/cold moment when I noticed the writers were listed as Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat. Mathieson wrote the scripts for my two favorite episodes of Series Eight, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. Moffat, on the other hand, well... We all know Moffat's style and have our own opinions about whether it's good or bad.



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