Sunday, October 26, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x10)

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

--William Blake, The Tyger 

All things in balance, eh? Love and hate, war and peace, beauty and horror, death and life. The tyger (er...tiger) is a creature of immeasurable beauty and grace and poise and it will tear out your throat and suck the marrow from your bones if given the opportunity. What sort of God would create such a world in which there is an undeniable existence of evil and violence but still so much regal splendor? That's some heavy philosophizing there, Doctor Who. The idea of balance and the examination of good/evil and the God who inhabits both are central to this weeks episode, "In the Forest of the Night." It wasn't as good as last week, to be honest. There's a lot to unpack in such a heavy episode that is simultaneously trying to give playful winks to your old favorite fairy tales, casting The Doctor, once more, as the wizard with a magical wand who, this time, realizes that the earth is saving itself. The heavy philosophical treatise coupled with the gentle fairy tale nudges were ultimately a problem because I wasn't sure how seriously to take this episode--are we really speculating on the Doctor's God like nature viz a viz Life that Prevails or were we supposed to laugh at the girl in the red coat being chased by a wolf leaving breadcrumbs in the form of modern day paraphernalia? 

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy a meta-textual reference as much as the next girl but oh boy were the ones in this episode heavy handed. The entire title and the major theme of the episode is a riff on the aforementioned William Blake poem, but then they go a step further and actually inset a real tiger into the scene and have Danny scare it off with a light from heaven until you realize it's a flashlight (torch, if you're English). You've got Little Red Riding Hood running through a forest with wolves chasing her; a reference to Hansel and Gretel and a giant gingerbread house with a cannibalistic witch. And while all these reference points are playing out, the Doctor and Clara are inside what is--essentially--the primordial forest, something as classic as Dante and as beloved as Tolkien, which is to say a universal archetype/construct meant to convey our fear of the dark and unknown and that which goes bump in the night. As if all that weren't enough, the big reveal about the magical light beings (fairy folk, much?) known as Life that Prevails, were finally shown in a bright patch of sunlight that was shot to invoke an ethereal nature so that you're smack dab in the middle of a hierophany and I'll bet you anything I'm supposed to read those little circle of trees the girl was standing in as an axis mundi. I almost collapsed underneath all that symbolic weight. Oof. Pick only a few tricks in your bag, writers. You do not need all the universal symbols playing together here. I get that the writers like playing with mythic constructs (just look at the Doctor; he's a walking sometimes-subverted hero/savior archetype) but there is such a thing as too much, especially when it ends up defying logic. For example: wolves and tigers (and bears?) breaking free from a zoo because the trees that sprung up over night have mangled the fence is one thing, but not explaining how the good people of London now avoid becoming wolf and tiger (and bear?) food after the trees have vanished is quite another. Especially when you end the episode by telling me that all of humanity will forget the impending doom and the Savior, Life That Prevails. I'm fairly certain that the tiger is not going to care that the trees saved earth; it just wants to chow down on Mrs. Jones who is enjoying her spot of tea. And when you pull back, you realize that the wolves and tigers (seriously, no bears?) weren't necessary to anything except in trying to be symbolically heavy. The writer clearly felt that no one was going to get his meta textual Blake reference (to be fair, I only got it because I had to read him as a religious student) so he had to pile on the nods in order so people "got it." I do not need TV explained to me. The audience not fully understanding the poem doesn't take away from the theme of there being great danger in beauty, and great beauty in danger.

Ok, that was a bit of a rant. Sorry. Back on track now. The plot of this episode is loaded and heavy and frankly relies on me needing to just believe that the Doctor knows what he is talking about, which I can do pretty easily cause "Time Lord" trumps human any day. I really want to talk about two characters and moments in this episode because everything in between was plot plot plot. Let's start with the Doctor. Last week, he finally had his "I am the Doctor" moment and I think he got a bit of himself back. He may still not be comfortable with the idea that he's neither a good man nor a bad man but one that exists in a liminal space, forever fluctuating, but he's not actively trying to resist his savior and heroic tendencies. In this weeks episode, the Doctor doesn't try to force humanity into saving itself or try to act as though he is the clockmaker and we are ultimately responsible for our own failings and triumphs. Instead, when confronted with the Life that Prevails, he wants to know what he can do to save Earth. Why did they--these magical creatures who apparently have existed way before him and will exist after him--call the Doctor to London if not to save Earth, which he is now willing to do. When the Doctor learns that there is nothing he can do, his distraught is palpable. At Clara's suggestion, The Doctor makes plans to get the kids, Clara, and Danny off the planet and away from the deathly solar flare due to smack up on our globe at any moment. When Clara ends up and self-sacrificing, telling him that this time the human race is going to save HIM, the Doctor parrots Clara's words from "Kill the Moon" back at her: this is my planet too.  I walk its land, I breathe its air. The Doctor once again wants to save the planet; he accepted his role last week and now he's being denied the chance to do that which he has always done, and I think it hurts him a bit. When Clara tells the Doctor that she doesn't want to be the last of her kind, wandering about the universe forever, there is a heavy loneliness that settles over the Doctor.  It's a good moment for him, and I think it pushes the Doctor more toward the white-hat side of things and less out of this gray area he's been occupying. Of course, this could all go to Hell in a handbasket when Missy is finally revealed.

Clara Oswald is a lying liar from Liartown. Good Lord. How much has this girl been lying to Danny Pink and how much more is he going to take? Once again, I need to criticize the writers and their lack of follow through in emotional turmoil and upheaval. Last week, not only did we see how far Clara's addiction has gone--to the point of emulation of the Doctor--but that she's lying to both Danny and the Doctor. But this week, there's no follow through. The Doctor and Clara don't discuss her false stories, and apparently she's still lying to Danny. When he finds her work on the TARDIS from a week ago, he catches her in a lie, claiming that she hasn't seen the Doctor in months. But the worse part is, not only does Clara brush it off, but Danny tells her it's all okay, just tell him the truth. He doesn't care what the truth is, he just wants to hear it. It's a bit...unnerving. I know that Steven Moffat thinks Clara Oswald is the most special snowflake to ever flutter into the Doctor's existence, but she shouldn't get a pass on everything like this. And Danny is a really sweet, nice guy--if a bit boring, which is why Clara hasn't committed to him 100% yet. He can't provide that thrill she longs for and gets from the Doctor. If the Doctor is floating madly up in space, then Danny is grounded. While Clara is wondering about the enchanting forest that sprung up, Danny is worried about the kids and getting them home. When Clara wants to see the solar flare, Danny is perfectly fine where he is. In other words, Clara can't see the forest for the trees, and all Danny can see is the forest. And, I'm sorry writers, but it reeks of you re-hashing early day Amy Pond and Rory Williams. I really did appreciate Danny's speech to Clara about the wonders of Earth, though: "I don't want to see more. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly; there are wonders here." The problem is Clara's addiction. Danny's words are pretty and you can tell that they touch her, but he's not the TARDIS. He's not time and space and monsters and running. To Clara, Danny's not a wonder. We know that, supposedly, Clara and Danny will marry and have children because we met their future great-great grandson (or something) but we also keep hearing this season how futures can be erased. If Clara doesn't get out of her addiction tailspin, she's going to end up erasing her entire future with Danny, which is a nice moral lesson for the kiddies: addiction will lead you down bad paths and cause you to lose everything. And, to be honest, I'm choosing, right now, to read Clara's seemingly banal line, "there is no path" as metaphorical and foreshadowing. Clara can't see her path anymore because there are two wildly different ones: Danny and Earth, The Doctor and Space. The Girl who once traveled all along the Doctor's timeline can't see her own way anymore. Sad. And perhaps, in the end, tragic for Miss Clara Oswald.

Miscellaneous Notes on In The Forest Of The Night

--Aright. Let's talk Missy. There were a lot of hints that Clara = Missy or that Missy = Clara. I don't know which and frankly, I don't care. When the little girl said that the "thought" she had to go and get the Doctor were from Miss, we all though she meant Clara because that's what her students call her. But given that neither Clara nor The Life That Prevails sent the Little Girl to the Doctor, that leaves only the demented Mary Poppins, Missy. I don't like this storyline. Maybe I'll like it more in the next two weeks when we finally get out answers but if Missy and Clara are the same I might throw a fit. Stop making Clara Oswald the single most important person that has ever lived. Missy could have been a villain from the past and I'd have been perfectly content: The Master, The Rani, hell, even Davros in a new woman suit. But to make Clara and Missy somehow linked and connected just sets my teeth on edge.

--Not a lot of funnies this week: "That's a draw back of being the last of your species. No one to ask when your TARDIS won't start."

--Why is a British kid wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap?

--Most of the child actors were a bit over the top.

--No human is going to forget a vanishing forest. None. Especially in an age where we have mobile phones with cameras that record everything. That magical hand waving explanation greatly annoyed me. 

--The ending was honestly one of the worst cliche Doctor Who endings I have ever seen. The daughter comes home and the magical fairy folk uncover her to the delight of her mother and sister? Wow. That's bubblegum sickly sweet even for Doctor Who. Though, I did enjoy this extra meta reference; I honestly expected the lost little fairy girl to say, "you can visit my forest again." (If you don't get this Secret of Kells reference, I pity you).

--"I am Doctor Idiot!"

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