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.


Confession #68: I've Found "The" Doctor


There have been some wildly varying reactions to Series Eight both around "t3h Intarwebz" and here on the blog. (A big "thank you!", by the way, to everyone who's taken the time to vote in the reader polls or comment on a post. I love hearing from you!) I've heard pretty much everything from "Moffat must go!" to "Best. Series. Evar!", not to mention quite a few opinions in between.

This wild variation could be seen in microcosm for almost every episode, too. Next week, when I post the aggregate results of the reader polls for this series, I'll go into more detail, but suffice it to say, several stories with lots of 5-star votes also got a lot of 0-star votes. Anecdotal evidence from online conversations bears out this love-it-or-hate-it reaction to much of the series.

The one thing I haven't really seen, though, is Capaldi hate.

Of course, there's always someone; no Doctor—no person—has universal appeal. And perhaps it's just due to the particular corners of the Internet that I frequent (I'll admit that it's rather insular, by design) that I haven't seen angry fans frothing for Capaldi's immediate removal. But I've been pleased (though not surprised, thanks to personal bias) that even when people ranted about the hyper-stinkitude of this or that episode, and called for other heads (particularly Moffat's), there's been no sense that Capaldi's to blame for any perceived shortcomings in the series.


Fandom in Purgatory


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

I'm always wary going into a Moffat finale. His tendency toward emotional manipulation and complex story arcs concluded without full closure generally grate on me. Death in Heaven delivered as expected, with plot holes and saccharine scenes galore, and though it had enough enjoyable content to keep me from hating it entirely, I'm not in a rush to watch it again.

Having resolved one of the major questions of the series at the end of last week's episode ("who is Missy?"), the story's focus shifted to ferreting out her Master plan (sorry; couldn't help myself). I have to admit, it turns out less rubbish than her track record would suggest, but I have problems with the whole "Cyber-pollen" thing on several levels.

To begin, since when has "every tiny particle of a Cyberman contain[ed] the plans to make another Cyberman"? (I believe, Mr. Moffat, you're thinking of Borg nanoprobes...) Now granted, the idea that they can now assimilate convert dead bodies into new Cybermen is super creepy—kudos on that one—but I'm still scratching my head over some of the logistics.

I mean, we're told every dead person around the world is undergoing Cyber-conversion, but we've also heard that cremation is "pretty much the default these days," at least in the UK. [Content advisory: if you found Cyber-conversion of the dead personally troubling for any reason, you may want to skip the next four paragraphs.] At what point is there not enough identifiably once-sentient organic matter left? If, for example, someone was cremated and then their ashes scattered, would the Cyberpollen still activate any of that material? Would each speck become another Cyberman, or would the pollen somehow "know" only to activate a single Cyberman per former individual?



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