Sunday, October 4, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x3)

Hands up, who expected that? I'm being a touch sarcastic because the truth is that a lot of this was "expected." This week's episode, "Under the Lake," is absolutely in the wheelhouse of Doctor Who; this is as close to a haunted house and ghost story as the show is likely to get. There's a lot of science mumbo jumbo (but, then again, there always is) and the set up of a group of scientists stranded somewhere remote being plagued by some sort of alien and mythical creature is Doctor Who writing 101 (maybe 102 if 101 is general time and space travel). This episode fits comfortably in with season two's "The Impossible Planet" and season five's "The Rebel Flesh." The premise is as Doctor Who does: drama, horror, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, and suspense. There's nothing wrong with fitting inside the wheelhouse but it doesn't make for a stellar and memorable hour either. Even if the episode does end with a cliffhanger, the tension barely registers because the cliffhanger is also in the wheelhouse of these two part episodes where the Doctor is usually in some sort of mortal danger and it's resolved in the next episode (the Doctor falls into the pit; the Doctor's flesh avatar is revealed, ect). In any case, this week is a normal episode that has little to discuss or analyze (though that won't stop me!) so grab a dead man and let's go!

Because this episode fits so well into the typical storytelling of Doctor Who, there is little to discuss as being abnormal or original or, really, even thought provoking. Again, this isn't a bad thing necessarily. Doctor Who is an old (very old) program and it knows what sort of stories it is expected to tell. The Doctor and his Companion stumbling (accidentally, of course, because the TARDIS knows where the Doctor needs to be even if he doesn't) into a bizarre situation that only they can solve is actually the entire set up of the show. It's the deviation from this rote setup that typically lends to more exciting television (say, the 'Midnight's or 'Turn Left's of the Whoverse). The guest stars of the week--the intrepid scientists of the underwater mining station, the Drum--are both bland and not. I don't remember any of their names, but I can talk about them in terms of traits or characteristics because they each have one to help the audience remember and identify them. There's "The Scientist" (cute guy in glasses); "The Computer Girl" (girl who looks suspiciously like Torain Bellisario); "The Leader" (deaf girl) and "The Other" (the translator). By the same token, I can't really remember any of the names of the scientists from 'Impossible Planet' or 'Rebel Flesh' but I feel safe in saying that they likely fit into these same categories. What is perhaps more interesting to talk about, because I won't do a straight up plot review (ick!), is the question of the two-part episode season Moffat and company are going for. According to all the episode titles, this entire season is split into two part episodes. It's not something Doctor Who has ever attempted before (at least not to my knowledge) and I'm questioning whether or not it actually works. Had the intention not been to have this be a two-parter, this episode could have easily wrapped up in one episode. Cut some of the cast, cut some of the running, and have the Doctor get to his "ah ha!" moment (coordinates that imprint themselves on your mind even after death) sooner, and Clara and the Doctor could have been home in time for tea and biscuits. Two part episodes are meant to be grand sweeping epics of TV that feel like you're watching a movie; of course, the issue here, is that Moffat likes to go for blockbuster every single week which is why in the past few seasons Doctor Who haven't felt as deep as it once was. Flash over substance, in other words. I'm split on the two part episode approach. On the one hand, I obviously need next week to explain what happened to the Doctor and what the ghosts want, but on the other hand, I don't think this story is strong enough to warrant a second helping.

One more topic of interest and that's Miss Clara Oswald. Did anyone else think that a lot of this episode was meant to invoke Danny Pink and what happened at the end of season eight? Certainly the Doctor is feeling that way because he brings it up (sort of) in his discussion of Clara's emotions and when he stumbles into the truth that the souls of the dead are being hijacked and used as a transmitter, he looks directly at Clara as if expecting her to break into sobs. It's hard to tell how much time has passed since the end of season eight. A year? A month? A week? Less? More? Who knows (that's not an intentional meta joke)! But because Clara doesn't react in the way a traumatized woman who lost the man she loved because his soul was hijacked (see, parallel), I do have to wonder if she's having some emotional avoidance issues. The thesis with Clara, last year at least, was her abusive and addictive relationship with the TARDIS, the Doctor and the whole "all of time and space" concept. Clara became the cautionary tale for what happens when people stay too long with the Doctor. The cravings, the recklessness, the lying were all part and parcel of the Clara Oswald character last year. My big concern with Clara sticking around for another go was a fear that the thesis would be tossed or forgotten. I don't think it has been either of those things, but maybe carefully changed. Instead of focusing on her addiction (though she does put up a fuss about wanting--no, needing--to be off on an adventure) it's focusing on how she's shutting down certain parts of her that hurt in order to keep going. This whole adventure should call to mind Danny Pink, but nowhere is Danny mentioned. He looms over the episode quite large, but no one dares to speak his name. The scene between the Doctor and Clara about said emotional trauma and Clara's shrug and "I'm fine" attitude was the best of the episode and I'm hoping that gets explored more next week. It likely will given that the Doctor apparently died in the past and his now a hollow eyed ghost? Yeah, I don't know either. Go with it, folks.

Miscellaneous Notes on Under the Lake    

--"You're from UNIT?" "If that's what it says..." Bless physic paper.

--The Doctor apparently deleted sign language for semaphore. Cause that will come in handy someday.

--Clara's handwritten cards for the Doctor about how to express human emotion in tough situations had me laughing hysterically.

--Does the Doctor seem a bit death obsessed this episode? He's almost too jovial about the ghosts and his list of questions he wants to ask the ghosts (what's it like to die? do you miss living?) felt like someone who's been thinking a bit too much about what it might be like to die. 

--Of course there was a massive flood on base. It was only a matter of time.

--Was I too negative in this review? I wasn't trying to be because nothing about this episode is offensive in any way. I did enjoy swaths of this episode, particularly the way The Doctor and Clara worked together, but Clara was in her proper place and the Doctor got to do all the showing off. 

--"You're going to go back in time? How do you do that?!" "Extremely well."

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