Flood of Expectations


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

I don't think I like it when the Doctor breaks the fourth wall.

Perhaps that's what got me off on the wrong foot such that I didn't enjoy this episode as much as I'd hoped. It was better for me the second time through (as is often the case when I don't immediately take to an episode), but after the strength of my positive reaction to the first half of the story, I guess I was just underwhelmed.

The fact that the tone of the second half of the story was—save for the scene when Moran was after Cass (brilliantly executed, by the way)—was completely different from that of the first certainly didn't help in terms of expectations. Even knowing going in, though, that it would not—could not—be another Base Under Siege episode, I just couldn't get a grip on this one at first.

By my second viewing, I approached it with a sense of reservation. With this dampened enthusiasm, I was able to see Before the Flood more favorably. Although the question of how the Doctor will cheat death and save Clara is clearly the main focus of the storyline, I found the "B story" centered on O'Donnell and Bennett more engaging. (Maybe once I knew the "trick" it wasn't as fun watching the illusionist's act?)

O'Donnell is another one of those audience stand-in characters like Osgood whom we love because we can relate to her. She's the fan we all wish we could be: cool and knowledgeable in the presence of  celebrity, but gleefully fangirly in private. This alone should have clued me in that she was living on borrowed time; it's a rare thing that someone who might make a good Companion survives their episode(s).


Base Under Water


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

Sometimes there's a really good reason that something becomes a trope. Take, for example, Doctor Who's well-known "base under siege" story archetype (seen most commonly in the Troughton era). While its frequent use tends to make certain elements easy for the audience to predict (unless actively subverted), the inherent tension of a situation in which a pre-determined, non-expandable set of individuals have to defend themselves against an unknown, mysterious, or seemingly unbeatable enemy can make for a gripping narrative.

Such is the case with Under the Lake. Writer Toby Whithouse (whose previous Who credits include School Reunion and three other episodes) uses the tried-and-true setup to great effect, keeping the crew both separated from outside help and in valid fear for their lives.

Upon first watch, I was so taken with the story, in fact, that I couldn't think of anything I didn't like about it. Further thought and a second viewing highlighted a few, but none were enough to dampen my general delight. I can't even express how refreshing it is to feel so unreservedly pleased with an episode.

The first of the relatively small down sides happened even before the opening credits rolled. While the Drum's crew was relatively diverse (two white women, three men of color, and one white man (who isn't technically even part of the crew)), it was still the black guy who was first to die. As a white woman myself, it took me a while to realize that sad truth, and I can't decide how much it ought to bother me.

Moran was the commanding officer, so in a way the Black Dude Dies First trope is balanced somewhat by the anti-trope of the black guy being in charge. I could also believe that it may simply be an accident of casting (they liked this actor for his reading of the few lines he had and for looming ominously as a ghost), but even if that's the case, it's unfortunate that it still fed into the trope (though at least the entire remaining cast wasn't white).


Something Familiar


Review of The Witch's Familiar
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Well, it wasn't godawful.

In fact, it may well be the best second half of a Moffat two-parter I've yet seen (though the bar isn't set very high, in my opinion). That's not to say it was anywhere near flawless, but I did find plenty to enjoy.

The episode begins by resolving the we-didn't-believe-it-anyway deaths of Missy and Clara and giving an actual explanation for the method of their escape (and Missy's in Death in Heaven). It struck me as odd that Missy would need Clara to suss out why the Doctor always survives. Does Missy already know the answer or not? If she does, why walk Clara through it just to ask the follow-up question ("What happens if the Doctor assumes he's going to die?")? The only reason to do so is to bring the audience along (which is not good storytelling).

If Missy doesn't know why the Doctor survives, then she was dead wrong when she told Clara "you're the dog" in the relationship. Despite knowing him for millennia, Missy still needs a human who's only traveled with him recently, on and off for a couple of years, to figure out the Doctor for her? Neither of those interpretations makes much sense, and the scene thus left me vaguely dissatisfied.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is being all Doctor-y, chucking Davros out of his chair and driving it around himself. Moffat, in turn, continues to address the audience indirectly through his characters. When the Doctor survives the onslaught of Dalek guns and comes out calmly sipping a cup of tea, he chides his adversaries, "Of course, the real question is, where did I get the cup of tea? Answer: I'm the Doctor. Just accept it."


Same Old Tricks


Review of The Magician's Apprentice
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I think most fans can agree by now that, like him or not, Moffat has a pretty distinctive style. When you go into a Moffat episode, you have certain expectations. No one should be surprised, then, to discover that in the Series Nine opener, he's up to his same old tricks.

The first, and perhaps most notable, of these tricks is giving us an (at least mostly) enjoyable Part One in a two-part story. Moffat excels at set-up, giving rich scenes and hints at things to come that get our fannish hearts pumping with that lifeblood of our breed, speculation. Time will tell how it all pans out, but experience suggests that the conclusion of the tale is unlikely to live up to the promise of its beginnings.

One thing we know Moffat can do well, though, is creating creepy "monsters" (at least the first time he uses them). The opening scene on the unknown battlefield provides that in spades with the "hand mines," even though I'm still trying to decide whether I think they're more or less frightening after finally seeing one tripped. The mix of this advanced weaponry with more archaic kinds (biplanes, bow and arrow) gives us—in retrospect—visual clues to go with the spoken ones about which war it is (especially for those viewers familiar with Tom Baker's run). Yet, it's still a bombshell when the boy's identity is revealed and the opening credits roll.

When we return to the story, we follow Colony Sarff (a creature that I found blasé, but was no doubt hide-behind-the-couch-worthy for those with even a touch of ophidophobia) into the Maldovarium (a hangout that evoked the cantina from Star Wars with its eclectic clientele), the Shadow Proclamation, and the planet Karn.

Given the previous roles of both the Shadow Proclamation and Karn in recent plot arcs (Series Four and the lead-up to the Anniversary Special, respectively), I'm fully expecting one or all of them to become important by the end of the series (though not until the finale). After all, it's one of Moffat's hallmarks to seed clues that only become apparent when a series is viewed in the aggregate. Regardless, we learn that Davros is now searching, so far fruitlessly, for the Doctor. But when Colony Sarff reports its failure, Davros is unconcerned; he knows he can get to the Doctor through the Doctor's friends.


Can Every Christmas Be "Last Christmas"?


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

Santa Claus has absolutely no place in Doctor Who. Except when he does.

I will freely admit that I was among those fans who cringed and gnashed teeth when Santa showed up in the TARDIS at the end of Death in Heaven. The whole idea that this mythical (if well-beloved) person should exist as an entity as real as the Doctor himself within the Whoniverse just gave me hives.

The comedy-rich pre-credits sequence was, thus, painful to watch (though I do love to see Dan Starkey wearing his own face for a change). And on first viewing, Clara's declaration that she does indeed believe in Santa Claus just adds the cherry to the top of the whole saccharine mess.

After one knows how it all pans out, though... Well, it all fits together nicely.



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