Back on Track


Review of Mummy on the Orient Express
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I feel like I ought to be head-over-heels about this episode, yet I'm not. And I can't quite put my finger on why.

It was extremely atmospheric; both sets and costumes were phenomenal. It had an excellent monster; the mummy was hair-raisingly creepy, and made enough sense to remain satisfying once unveiled. The effects were good, the acting was (as always) good, the soundtrack was very good... So why aren't I simply giddy?

I think it's the continuing soap opera.

Although it sets the stage and introduces the mystery of the Foretold, the first ten minutes of the episode is spent on showing how the Doctor's relationship with Clara is suffering. They're out for their "last hurrah"—Clara's version of pity sex, in effect. "I was saying goodbye," she tells Maisie. "You can't end on a slammed door." (Of course, if one feels that way, it's not really over.)

I find it really interesting that the production team did everything in their power to make it seem like Clara had really cut her ties with the Doctor, and that he was on his own in this adventure until the opening scene. Check out the official site's page for this episode or the Radio Times poster. Neither one has Jenna Coleman listed as part of the cast. Clara isn't in any of the clips in the episode trailer. Why were they so dead set on keeping her appearance a secret (it seems to be about the only thing that hasn't leaked—maybe because no one cared)? It's not like anyone believed she was gone for good.

But as I was saying, much of the focus of the last few episodes has been on Clara and her frame of mind. Part of me is really frustrated by this obsession with the Companion's POV; another part finds the exploration through her eyes of who this Doctor is fascinating. Either way, though, when you peel away the heavy relationship subplot of the episode, you're left with some good shit.


Kill the Mood


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

Here's where my academic background betrays me.

I have (generally speaking) enjoyed Series Eight so much that I really wanted to like this one, too. But even before the problematic personal interactions surface late in the episode, I had checked out. The plethora of egregious scientific errors pulled me so far out of the narrative I may as well have been orbiting Earth right along with that egg the moon.

Doctor Who has always played fast and loose with the science in its stories, but science fiction (or even "science fantasy," if you feel that description more accurately fits Who) storytelling doesn't work if the writing isn't self-consistent. You can say, for instance, that the sonic screwdriver can unlock anything except a deadlock seal, and your audience will go with it—as long as you don't later use the sonic to unlock a deadlock seal. Similarly, if you're going to set your story on Earth (and its moon), and have the plot hinge on something as well understood as gravity, you'd better not fuck with the basic laws of physics as we all know they work on Earth.

I could roll with it at first. So the moon's got Earth-normal gravity now; somehow it's gained mass. Fine. The Doctor even provides a few science-fictiony explanations that are narratively plausible: "gravity bombs, axis alignment systems, planet shellers..." But when you turn around and say it's because the moon's really an egg, and the fetus's growth has added 1.3 billion tons to the moon's mass—thus completely throwing out conservation of mass, one of the most basic laws of physics—I'm done.


School Disunion


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

Although I'm confident that in retrospect, I'll be able to look back at The Caretaker and point out pieces that were key to the series arc, as far as I'm concerned, we could've just skipped it entirely.

Superficially, there were certainly some similarities between The Caretaker and School Reunion, the Series Two episode that saw the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. But while the latter had bittersweet tones of reminiscence and reconciliation, the former sank rapidly into the realm of romcom. While I enjoy a good romcom as much as the next hopeless romantic, that's not why I watch Doctor Who.

It's become more and more the norm, since the post-Hiatus era began back in 2005, for occasional stories to center on the Companions' domestic life. More recently (read: since Moffat took over as showrunner), the Companions don't even travel with the Doctor full time like they always used to do. That is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it most definitely yields a different experience for both Companion and viewer.

Think about it this way: the Companion is comparable to a student going off to university for the first time. Does she live in a residence hall or off campus, e.g., with her parents? Dorm life gives one a vastly different college experience than commuting to school every day does. So, then, does living in the TARDIS as one jumps from adventure to adventure instead of being picked up every now and again to go gadding about the universe between grocery shopping and parents' night.


The Memory Cheats


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

In retrospect, it seems inevitable that Doctor Who would eventually spoof a caper film. It's too bad they spoiled one of the major twists right in the title.

For the most part, it worked pretty well. The conceit that the whole team had to go in without any conscious knowledge of the plan (read: convenient amnesia) made for a nice twist on the "this is how it's going to go down" reveal as the heist unfolded. I even thought it made sense the first time around (though knowing how it all turned out brought up several questions on subsequent viewing).

And far be it from co-writer Moffat (one has to wonder how much of the script had to be manipulated to fit the series arc in order for him to get that billing) to leave well enough alone. Almost from the get-go, we get anvil-on-the-head reminders of loose plot threads when the TARDIS's phone rings. After all, few people (including Clara) have that number. "And some woman in a shop. We still don't know who that was." Oh really? Gosh, I'd completely forgotten that! [End sarcasm.]

At face value, though, it's another nice romp with no stakes (a common Moffat theme: no one actually dies). I liked the co-conspirators, and was nominally invested in them—enough so that I was initially pissed that Saibra, a young black woman, was almost immediately replaced with the image of and old white dude. Once I realized that was a temporary disguise and not a permanent cast change, I could forgive it, though it did ruin an otherwise awesome "walking into the bank to rob it" cast photo.


Blah Blah Blah


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

Clara F***ing Oswald

I had an even harder time than usual this week making myself go back to re-watch the episode before reviewing it. Once I did, I finally figured out why.

It's not that I didn't like Listen—quite the contrary. It's that I enjoyed it so much that my extreme disappointment with the last three minutes utterly ruined it in retrospect.

Knowing what was coming the second time around, I found I could isolate the ending from the rest, preventing it from tainting my appreciation. Perhaps, like the whole "half human on my mother's side" thing, I'll end up just putting my fingers in my ears and chanting "I can't hear you!" about this, too.

So let's go back to the beginning, and look at what Moffat's pulled out of his hat this time. Continuing in his usual vein of finding ordinary things to make extra scary, the Moff has decided this time to prey on the idea that the urge to talk to oneself when alone just means we're talking to an invisible companion.

It's full of ambience and a lovely creep factor—at least on first viewing. Unlike his previous memes (any statue could be an Angel; the Vashta Nerada aren't in every shadow, but could be in any shadow; you can't even remember you saw a Silent), the bogeymen of Listen—the breath on the back of your neck that makes you talk to not-yourself when you're not-alone—lose all their power once you realize it's the Doctor's imagination running away with him. From the get-go, everything now has a rational explanation, even the word scrawled on the chalkboard in the Doctor's own hand. "Well, I couldn't have written it and forgotten it, could I?" he insists. But when Clara counters, "Have you met you?" I can't help but nod and agree there's no reason he couldn't have.



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