Sunday, November 9, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x12)

Rule of writing number one: ask a question to get the ball rolling. Question: Jacquelyn, did you enjoy this week's episode, "Death in Heaven?" Answer: I have no idea. I won't beat around the bush; there were issues. Quite a few. There are too many plot holes, too many unanswered questions and the entire premise might be too dark (might, I haven't made a decision either way.) I have watched this episode twice; I have several pages of notes that range from funny quotes, to plot outline, to themes, to potential references to archetypes and religious motifs; and yet, when it comes to the basic question "did you enjoy this episode?" I have a big ol' question mark. Several question marks in fact. I don't necessarily need to enjoy an episode to review or analyze it; some of my other TV show reviews are proof of that. But heaven knows (pun) it would be nice. If I had to sum up "Death in Heaven" in just a few sentences it would be thus: it combines the two major themes of the season--the Doctor's quest to understand if he's a good man or not and the lies we tell to those we love and to ourselves--in a fast paced, emotionally driven (for characters that I'm not wholly invested in) but incredibly disjointed, flash in the pan, sort of way.

Let's talk about the soldier or warrior archetype. I spend a lot of time discussing the Doctor as the savior, the white knight, and sometimes the sage, but this season, on top of all that, the Doctor has been fighting his soldier archetype. I made reference to my annoyance about the Doctor's anti-soldier stance this season a few reviews back in "The Caretaker." This reluctance to accept soldiers made sense in that the Doctor is trying to distance himself from that particular archetype (just like he's distancing himself from Savior and White Knight until "Flatline") but at the same time, his utter hostility toward soldiers in general felt as if he (read: Moffat) was forgetting that THE BRIG was once the Doctor's best friend, closest companion and ally. At the time, it seemed like a slap in the face to those of us who know and love the Brig. But, like the twelfth Doctor says when confronted with the Cyber-Brig, "where else would you be?" The soldier archetype exists alongside his savior and white knight ones, and the Doctor is fluid enough to move between them when it suits him; and, to be perfectly frank, there isn't a lot of difference in those three except in the way our minds cast them. What can we say about the soldier archetype? Strong, willful, looking for a just fight in a world that has incredible darkness and evil, mindful, minimalist, loyal, and often emotionally detached. Getting the job done, protecting the planet, the just war, these are what matter to the soldier. The Doctor has been seeing these qualities in all their negative light: the bloodshed, the loss of life, the aggression and forgetting the why: why soldiers fight; why he fights. Standing at the crossroads of good and evil, the Doctor is offered quite prize: his own Cyberman army to go out into the universe, a just and righteous man, and conqueror every corner of space. He could wipe out the Daleks; he could save those he lost. As The Mistress tells him, gleefully, "give a good man fire power and he'll never run out of people to kill." (side note: but I'm guessing Moffat read some "Dune" and "Dune Messiah" before this season began. Doctor, I name thee Paul Atreides!) It's a just fight. But at what cost? Every dead creature his army kills would rise again to make war on the living. Death, rebirth, over and over. Could The Doctor's two hearts take it? I don't know but I very much doubt it.  

Thankfully, the Doctor makes another decision. He gives the job to someone who has no problem with his own soldier label. Poor Danny Pink. I have some issues with this storyline but it's more from an entertainment standpoint. Frankly, at the end of the day, I don't care that much about Danny Pink. He was always set up to be a love interest but with very little to work on outside of being Clara's boyfriend and provoking the Doctor to jealousy. Danny, standing in a metal suit, asking to be released, didn't hit me emotionally. It didn't resonate because I thought it was, frankly, a little silly. His mind is there but he knows he's dead and it's hard to look past how weird that is. It's dark but it was also a little comedic--and maybe that's just me because I highly doubt that is what Moffat was going for. This dual serious and silliness is highlighted in the final Danny/Clara moment which was a terrible riff on "Doomsday" with Rose and the 10th Doctor except I cared (a lot) about Rose and 10. This moment was heavily cheesy and there is no way that little boy came back to life. That was ludercrious. But back in the graveyard Clara's dilemma of having to "turn on" her boyfriend in order to "turn him off" and believing wholeheartedly that he wouldn't hurt her, was stronger than the Danny storyline but I also thought it was another example of Clara's recklessness. Is she secretly hoping he will kill her? Last week she did say that she would be with Danny again no matter what. It rather flies in the face of the fact that I think Clara is also being set up as the soldier archetype--well, who wasn't in this episode. Everyone was a soldier. But Clara is also strong, willful, seeking a just fight, mindful, and extremely loyal given her rousing "the Doctor is my best friend" speech. She orders the Doctor about; she "kills" Danny because she knows it's what is best not only for his soul and mind but also for humanity. Is Clara a better soldier than the Doctor, who in the end, couldn't turn Danny "off" even though he knew he had to? One of the biggest themes for Clara this season has been her TARDIS addiction and how it's changing her--she almost literally became the Doctor in one episode. The episode opens with her lying to Cybermen and pretending to be the Doctor once more; the title sequence changed Peter and Jenna's name so that she was first and, in a sheer blasphemous moment, her face was what we saw instead of his as the credits rolled. Why, if not because she was the real hero. Well, I'm not sure that Clara is the real hero of this story but rather the love she and Danny share.

Love is not an emotion; it's a promise. Or so sayeth the Doctor. And this is where I am gong to bring up the Doctor's Savior archetype once more. The Doctor, in a very bizarre twist, has been named President of the World. And, because apparently the World follows American protocol for their elected leaders, this also makes him Commander in Chief for all the armed forces. Kate all but spells it out for us: he is in charge and responsible for every living soul on the planet. Yes, it's still militaristic but recall that the Savior and the Soldier aren't all that different when you get right down to it. In the end, the Doctor doesn't save the world through some science mumbo jumbo, but through the idea of love being a promise. I swear, I half expected a rainbow to appear in the sky after Danny blew up the clouds. The darkness was vanquished, the sun came out, and the Doctor realized that a single act of love is more powerful than death. You can fill in the blanks here. I do think there is a lot of Judeo-Christian religious motifs going on here. Is it conscience on Moffat's part? Possibly not, but it is the culture from which he's writing. He's British, writing for Brits (and Americans) and that necessitates writing something that is familiar. We're all victims of our culture and when you have the entire climax happening in a cemetery (a limbo that is for the dead and the living) with the Doctor and Missy staged like a Savior and Devil figure threatening to go to war over the souls of the entire universe, it's hard to not to go your own cultural reference which for Moffat, and me, is Judeo-Christian.

 I will be the first to admit I was wrong: the Mistress is phenomenal. I have been annoyed with Missy all season because she didn't feel real, and she was only ever seen briefly and with nothing for me to sink my teeth in. But this--sweet heaven--THIS is the Master. Simply bat guano crazy, but terribly clever, and psychologically terrifying. She was perfect. I hate that the writers ended up killing her off just as we saw what a terrifically entertaining dynamic the Mistress and the Doctor have. I'm puzzled as to why Moffat killed her in the end. This could have really been something--the Doctor chasing Missy around the Universe, playing some long game. This is why I called the episode flash-in-the-pan in the introduction. Moffat is not going to utilize this brilliance outside of the episode, but he wanted, I think, very much to take away Russell T. Davies' Master incarnation as the insane Prime Minister who was made wrong. So instead Moffat gave us the insane "god" who delights in her wrongness. But, while the performance was bananas (in a good way) there is still no explanation for how Missy came back to life. Another example of flash and no substance from Moffat. I really don't get how her regeneration happened. And how does Missy know where Gallifrey is? Or does she? And did she have a TARDIS or a time manipulator? Why do I have so many questions and one dead Mistress?

Liar liar, pants on fire. All of you! How many lies were there this episode? A lot, yes? Let's talk about the biggest ones, though. Clara, you're up first. She's made a habit of lying so what is one more, right? Both Clara and the Doctor are lying to protect the other--after so much pain and heartache, do you add to it or do you try to lessen it? Clara lies and tells the Doctor that Danny came home (he did not). They are going to have a life now and that means no more traveling with the Doctor. Seems perfectly reasonable. The Doctor is also lying. He found Gallifrey! He's going home to Time Lords in funny hats. He's going to help rebuild his planet and his people. Great day to be a Time Lord, eh? Yeah, no. Gallifrey isn't where the Mistress said it would be. I have to give a huge round of applause to Peter Capaldi for nailing the Doctor's hope and then anguish over not finding his planet. He has been looking for home for so long and he though he found it. The Doctor's box--in theory--is all he ever wanted or needed, but in reality...oh reality is messy and complicated and strange and, I think, revolves around one simple fact: we all want to go home. I really hope that season nine is about finding Gallifrey, really and truly looking for it. I was majorly disappointed that there was no time spent this season on this topic. Seriously, bring back the funny hats! Ah well. I guess I have Santa Clause to tide me over?! Perhaps an Evil Santa Clause? Bring it.

Miscellaneous Notes on Death In Heaven

--Was this episode too dark? I heard rumors that after last weeks, people actually called the BBC to complain. I don't mind dark TV, but I do wonder if some lines were crossed with resurrecting the dead.

--Speaking of the dead: Cyber-Brig. I think the sentiment behind it was nice, but the problem was the execution. I can't get past the fact that they turned the Brig (THE BRIG!) into a Cyberman before blowing him up.

--Chaplet Mortuary. As in...Dodo? And the Mistress said, "Oh my giddy aunt!" I've fallen into a parallel universe where the show remembers its history!

--"Look at me. I'm bananas."

--I guess Clara is gone for good. I won't really miss her. Too much time and energy was spent on her and not enough on the Doctor, where it should be. I've said this repeatedly, but the main issue this season was making Clara the main character and relegating the Doctor to a sidebar. Peter Capaldi deserves better because when you let him, he makes magic.

--"Permission to SQUEEEEEEEEEE"

"I am not a good man. I am not a bad man. I am not a hero...I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver, just passing through, helping out...learning."

Final Season Rating:  B-
Final Episode Rankings For Season 8.
12. In the Forest of the Night
11. Time Heist
10. Deep Breath
9. The Caretaker
8. Into the Dalek
7. Listen
6. Kill The Moon
5. Death in Heaven
4. Mummy on the Orient Express
3. Dark Water
2. Robot Of Sherwood
1. Flatline

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