Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x5)

Good news everyone! Arya Stark managed to get out of Braavos. Oh come on; did you really expect me to not open with a 'Game of Thrones' joke? It was absolutely necessary. But now that I've gotten it out of my system, this week's episode 'The Girl Who Died' was, hands down, one of the best episodes of Doctor Who I have seen in the past two years. I really want to dig in and examine the Doctor's savior and God complex--because it was all over this episode--but hot damn...I also want to rave and squeal like a fan girl about how amazing this hour of TV was. Was this really written by Moffat? Are we sure that he gets partial credit for this genius level writing? The joke were spot on; the story was through provoking and fresh; the acting was outstanding--Capaldi nailed the entire episode from yo-yo start to sad eye finish. I promise I'll analyze and unpack what I thought was going on cosmically and mythically, but know that I have a giant grin on my face and I can't stop gleefully clapping. Grab a Odin Yo-Yo and let's go!

If there is one thing you should know, it's that the "gods never actually show up!" This is, let's be frank, one of the most ironic lines the Doctor could ever utter. A Time Lord who manages, each and every single week, to land smack dab in the middle of a problem--no matter the time, place, or people--and fix it with a clever plan, a wink, and some grandstanding, declaring that the gods keep to themselves and don't concern themselves with the goings on of their little underlings? Hilarious. Doctor, I hate to break this to you, but you're the god in this cinematic universe...and you always show up. Even when your companion is floating in space, with some sort of creature about to eat through her space suit. This episode was rather laden with the entire notion of gods. We have the Doctor pretending to be one at the top of the hour in order to (unsuccessfully) baffle the Viking village; we have the false Odin in the sky who is really after the mashed up insides of strong warriors (because apparently they make quite a tasty amuse bouche?) and we have the Doctor fulfilling his god-lite role by bringing the dead back to life and declaring to the universe--the cold, indifferent universe where time just marches on ceaselessly--that he is the Doctor and he *saves* people. It's an interesting thought experiment to ponder out what exactly the writers are trying to say about gods, religion and reality in general. On the one hand, gods don't exactly shine in this episode. The Doctor is useless as a fake Odin; the Odin the in the sky is really an alien warrior who enjoys eating his subjects and, in the end, while the Doctor performs his deity duties admirably by saving the village (with lightening, the popular choice of gods everywhere) and by saving Ashildr, it's not without punishment. Did the Doctor do the right thing in causing those tidal waves in history? Something tells me Ashildr isn't going to be overly happy to see Mr. Blue Box when next they meet--and of course they will. Are the writers trying to say that gods might exist but their actions can be seen only in a negative light, even the ones that are done for positive and good reasons? Are the writers stressing that even when the gods do show up, it's better if they didn't. That's more of a negative slant and I don't believe that's what the writers are going for. The highlight of the episode is really the Doctor telling that cold and indifferent universe to go screw itself; he's going to play by his rules and do what he thinks is right because he's tired of losing people. The writers want us to celebrate this moment, to fist pump and jump out of chairs in joy (both of which, by the way, I did). The writers want us to love that this Doctor-as-God keeps showing up. I give Moffat a lot of (deserved) grief but there is one quote of his that I do so adore and it's absolutely appropriate to this episode: there will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor. Maybe his God actions are shoddy and maybe there are consequences, but we need him. We need him. The humans of the world--modern or Viking--need the flawed and imperfect god and madman who comes down and helps us fight our demons. That's the god we should celebrate, not the cold and unfeeling universe who looks away because of unforeseen consequences. There will never be a time when we don't need the Doctor.

Since I covered a lot of the more heavy analysis in the above, let's actually celebrate what made this episode such a rousing success. First off, hilarious, amirgiht? I lost track of the number of times I giggled and guffawed out loud. There are times when Doctor Who gets too bogged down in what it's trying to say, or gets too held up on the wibbly wobbly, timey wimeyness of it all and forgets that it's a highly pulpy and campy television show. I don't mind the higher analysis (obviously; I keep writing don't I?) but sometimes you really do just want to laugh and have a space romp. This episode was full of both cheeky and totally in your face hilarity. I may never stop laughing over the Doctor and his yo-yo. When he told Clara that he was reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, I actually burst into applause because YES Third Doctor reference! On top of all that, once again the Doctor does the so-called heavy lifting in the narrative. Do you notice how Clara's roll this season is just to help the Doctor along? She's not responsible for any big ideas nor for defeating the threat of the week. She's just there to remind the Doctor that he can come up with a solution and save the day. What I am about to say next is going to sound rather anti-feminine but it's not: she's in her place. While I've gone on to enjoy Clara more this season than I did last and much more than her first season, her role in the narrative should always be second fiddle to the Doctor. She's a helpmate, a friend, an ear he can bend. She shouldn't be the Impossible Girl who does Impossible things. Why should she? The Doctor is impossible in all ways; let him be out in the cosmos, the mad man and his box. Clara is the grounded one; the one who reminds the Doctor that he can win. Clara (and the companions in general) are absolutely necessary to the Doctor in order for him to be necessary to us, but her (and, again, all the companions) role should never be to take over the Doctor's mythical and divine nature. I've sung the praises of this episode long enough, needless to say it was a smashing good time. Now, if only they had found a way to incorporate Ragnar Lothbrok....

Miscellaneous Notes on The Girl Who Died

--There were far too many funny one liners for me to document them all, but I'm going to spitball a few of them.
"I'm not actually the police, it's just what it says on the box..."
"That's not really Odin, right?" "Of course not. He doesn't even have a yo-yo."

--"Immortality is everyone else dying."

--The Doctor quoted Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law! My sci-fi heart bursts with joy.

--Vikings and Benny Hill. It makes total sense.

--The Doctor continues to believe that he has a duty to care and is actively becoming worried over Clara's well being. Are the writers hinting at how Clara might leave the show?

--The Doctor will run and run in case the pain ever catches up.

--One more time, because I can't resist: "I am the Doctor! And I save people. And if anyone is listening and has a problem with hell with you!"

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