Sunday, October 12, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x8)

If I wasn't wholly convinced that the Doctor and Clara have an addictive and abusive relationship then after this weeks episode, "Mummy on the Orient Express," I surely am. Without a doubt, their relationship is one that is akin to drug abuse and addiction. The two are definitely not mutually exclusive; you abuse a drug because you're addicted, and you're addicted because you abuse the substance. Doesn't matter what it is, anything can turn into this kind of horrible cycle. Do you know why people do drugs? Because it makes them feel something. It makes them feel alive--and all you want is that feeling. So you'll do whatever it takes to get it--beg, borrow, steal, lie, cheat, kill. Doesn't matter. All you want it another hit, another taste, another rush of feeling. And that's what Clara and the Doctor are after. The adventure is a high. The TARDIS is a high. The Doctor himself is a high. Clara wants to be next to him when the walls come down, and the Doctor has never once tried to not be the Doctor willingly. So, yes, this episode is about addiction and abuse and that tiny voice in the back of your head wishing it could end; wishing that the war would end, and you could finally be free. Surrender to it. It's a dark and scary path. 

Does anyone else think that there should have been a scene before this one? Some sort of emotional resolution after last week? I get that it has been weeks since the Doctor and Clara saw each other, but that's not unheard of in this new Moffat era. This is a problem with Moffat's era in general; he sets up really interesting emotional conflicts and then never sees them out, preferring to take an easy approach that ends in tears and hugging and declarations of love and fealty. Clara was pissed at the end of last week; she was incredibly angry. After weeks of stewing, we're not quite sure how they came back together, but they did. And Clara has decided that, because this is the last hurrah, she doesn't need to hate the Doctor for lying and patronizing her last week. "I really thought I hated you...but hatred is too strong of an emotion to waste on someone you don't like. I just can't do this the way you do it anymore." This sentiment is confusion in sentence form. So, she doesn't hate the Doctor because it's too strong an emotion to give to someone she doesn't even like. Clara doesn't like the Doctor anymore because of the way he conducts their adventures nowadays, but she needed one last hurrah, one final trip, one final mission, to say goodbye, to end it. What does this sound like? It sounds like someone with a drug problem; it sounds like someone who is trying to convince themselves that one final hit, one last rush, and they'll be able to walk away for good because they know this is the end and therefore they can savor it and enjoy. You know what the problem is? By the end of that last hit, you remember how good this addiction feels and you keep telling yourself "just one more. I can take it."

I think it's very possible that the Doctor is manipulating Clara during all this. By the end of the episode, we learn that he did not bring her to this train in space for a nice quiet evening but because he has been invited by a mysterious force who wants the Doctor to solve a puzzle. When Clara learns about the mummy monster and becomes curious and excited, the Doctor keeps leaning on her, "I thought you didn't want this to be a thing. I thought you wanted to end it." When Clara acknowledges that of course she doesn't want this to be a thing, the Doctor basically insinuates, without saying the words, that this means she'll never see him again. He doesn't do dinners, folks. He doesn't pop round for a roast and a glass of red wine. That's not how he operates. If you leave the TARDIS, then chances are you'll never see him again. Just ask Sarah Jane Smith after the Fourth Doctor left her. It's quiet the impressive emotional manipulation. The Doctor is her drug dealer; he'll say he's fine with her quitting and living her own life, but he'll slyly put her in a position where she is unable to say no. Long gone is the Tenth Doctor who let Martha walk out of the TARDIS, head held high, knowing that she had saved the planet Earth and that she could now get on with her life.

So the plot of the episode is both entertaining and not. I really enjoyed the ambiance and atmosphere of the roaring 1920s space train, complete with flapper gowns and lounge singers. But when all that was stripped away and we were left in a sterile, cold, inhospitable lab, devoid of all the color and warmth of the "curtain" I was disappointed. I really just wanted a fun 1920s-esque old Hollywood style murder mystery. It was set up as such. There was sultry jazz music, a murder that was unsolvable, an icy blonde who might steadily be going mad, an authoritarian figure who has resentment issues, and here comes the Doctor just like Poriot and his plucky young assistant who helps him out. It's totally Agatha Christie (whom the Doctor has met, by the way). But then it was reduced down to some scientific mumbo jumbo in order to get at one of the overarching themes of this season: soldiers and why the Doctor doesn't like them. In case you missed it, the Mummy is a Doctor doppelganger. It wasn't very subtle. Every time someone would see the Mummy and try to describe it, the Doctor's face would always be in the vision as well, blurring the lines between what was Mummy and what was Time Lord. The Mummy, who kills you in 66 seconds after you look at it, is a soldier of a war long since forgotten, thousands of years old, wounded but still feeling like it has a mission to carry out. Sound familiar? As the Doctor is trying to race against the clock, he gives some very tell telltale lines in which he takes out "the Mummy" as the noun and uses "you" which could be the Mummy or it could be the Doctor talking to himself, something he did in this episode, having a full on conversation back and forth with nobody. "It won't just let you die; it won't let the war end." When does the Doctor get to die? When does he get to surrender to that dark abyss? In theory, it's after this regeneration, but Moffat can work around that easily enough. The fact is, this Doctor is the wounded soldier who can't quit, who can't die, because he's addicted to it all. This is the life he chose and he'll live it until the bitter end--even if he may not want to anymore, even if it makes him heartless.

The last ten minutes are probably the highlight of the entire episode. The Doctor saves everybody to Clara's shock and awe. Even though Clara thought the Doctor was being heartless, and making her heartless in the process, it turns out that he made the choice that her previous Doctor would have made. I'm going to be cynical here; I think this was a well choreographed dance on the part of the Doctor. Here's his companion thinking that he is letting people die left and right without remorse and in order to feed into her better nature, to get her to see that he's not that way, he gives her what she wants: a hero. An impossible hero. On the beach, Clara asks the Doctor, "so you were only pretending to be heartless?" His very telling answer: "Would that make it easier?" Oh, the lies we tell. Now Clara can tell herself that the Doctor was only pretending to be heartless but he's not in reality. It's just that, "sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose." What are Clara's choices? She can live a life without the Doctor, without the TARDIS, and without the adventures. Or she can live a life that is fueled by these drugs, a life that she may never be able to get out of, and one that might turn her heartless. There's a line Sarah Jane Smith says to the 10th Doctor when they meet again that I think works really well here, "You were my life. You know what the most difficult thing was? Coping with what happens next. No, with what doesn't happen next. You took me to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, you showed me supernovas, intergalactic battles and then you just dropped me back on Earth. How could anything compare to that?" 

Do you know what one of the hallmarks of addiction is? Lying to the people you love. Do you know what one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationships is? Apologizing for things that aren't your fault. Clara does both of these things in about five seconds flat. So, here they are: the Doctor and Clara. One is about to leave the TARDIS for good, and one never will. You can tell that Clara is waffling. She doesn't want to go (bad choice of words...). But before she does, she wants to know if the Doctor feels like his life is an addiction. His response, "it's hard to call it an addiction if you've never tried to give it up." Nope. It's an addiction whether or not you try to give it up. But look at him trying to make Clara's decision without appearing to make Clara's decision, which was his mistake last week: she felt patronized that the Doctor "let" her make a choice that she wasn't really making. Now he's being careful and cagey. He'll let her walk out that door but when she asks if he loves being the man who makes impossible choices, he simply responds with, "it's my life." It could be her life too. And then, like fate, there is her real life calling. Danny wants to know if it's done, if she's coming home and they can begin their life. Clara lies to the man she loves and says "mission accomplished" and then proceeds to run to the Doctor and tell him that this whole "ending it" was Danny's idea, but she's only had a wobble and now she's ready. She tells the Doctor how sorry she is and that she wants planets and adventure. Addiction. Meet Abuse. It's not pretty. And together, the Doctor and Clara grab hold of the consoles and plunge into darkness.

Miscellaneous Notes on Mummy on the Orient Express

--Given that addiction was actually brought up this episode, I'm willing to give Moffat the benefit of the doubt that this addictive/abusive relationship is intentional and that Clara's addiction will be paramount in how she gets off the show.

--$50 says that "Gus" has something to do with Missy and that we'll be seeing those victims of the Mummy again. And did anyone else think that the beach was Heaven?

--"Oh. I'm so happy to finally see you. Hello, I'm the Doctor and I'll be your victim tonight. Are you my Mummy?"

--The Doctor offered a man a jelly baby from a cigarette case. Bless.

--On the whole the emotional and thematic moments of this episode were solid, but it was the "science" bit of the plot that was lackluster.


  1. Amazing, impressively deep review, really!

  2. I'm ashamed to say that I did not even notice the addiction/abuse aspect of the episode and I am working in a substance abuse counseling center. *Hangs head in shame*
    I really am failing to see the logic behind lying to Danny. Why not just tell him that she and the Doctor made up? And since when can Clara fly the TARDIS or snap the doors open/closed. When did the impossible girl and the TARDIS make up?

    1. Re Danny: I think it's because Danny clearly wants Clara out of that life. He was overjoyed when she said "mission accomplished." It's the idea of them finally starting a life together, without the Doctor. So telling him that she and the Doctor made up is problematic for their romance.

      Re Clara/TARDIS: Not a clue.