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.


Heavy Meta


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

I'm not sure I've ever seen a Doctor Who episode with such strong metatextual themes. From the moment the Doctor tells Clara that "old-fashioned heroes only exist in old-fashioned storybooks" and she asks, "What about you?" the ideas of story and reality overlap in ever thicker layers.

Nor is the episode afraid to call back to the pre-Hiatus era—and skillfully enough not to make new fans wonder WTF is going on, I'd wager. Twelve certainly channeled his inner Three, first with reference to a miniscope and then with a carefully timed "Hai!" to chop Robin's sword from his hand at the archery tournament.

Even without any of that context, though, Robot of Sherwood serves as an important milestone in the Twelfth Doctor's tenure: his first "romp."

Writer Mark Gatiss is on top form here. It's certainly my favorite from him since his inaugural outing in The Unquiet Dead. The fact that Clara an active role in sorting out what the Sheriff's plan is, having proved herself the ringleader through the simple act of keeping her yap shut, is refreshing (though I'm not sure that making the Doctor into a petulant twit set on one-upmanship is a great trade-off). Clara and Twelve are settling into a more comfortable relationship, and she's back to happily giving him what-for when he needs it ("Can you explain without using the word 'sonic screwdriver'?").


A Good Dalek (Episode)


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

If you'd told me a month ago that one of the episodes of this series would be The Invisible Enemy meets Dalek, I'd have been, shall we say, dubious at best. Yet that's what we got in Into the Dalek, and I have to say I think it worked.

The very fact that I'm willing to mention this episode in the same breath with Dalek, a personal favorite from the post-Hiatus era, tells you something about how much I enjoyed it. Granted, is was not completely flawless (though to be honest, I doubt such a beast exists), but it was, for me, certainly one of the best since Moffat took over as showrunner.

Yet while the main conceit of the episode—literally getting inside a Dalek's head—is new and therefore interesting, it was not, in fact, the driving force of the story. Instead, it's a character piece.

Most of the character development is for our new Doctor. We the audience are still getting to know him (as is Clara and, let's be honest, he is himself), so this is important stuff for us to see. And I was fascinated to realize both that I like Twelve less than I did in his debut, and that I find him an infinitely more interesting character than most of his predecessors. This distinction is important to me, so let me put it another way to be sure I'm making myself clear: this Doctor is not nice, but I adore him.



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