Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x10)

Sometimes I wonder which is more difficult, losing a Doctor or losing a companion. There is no denying that losing a Doctor is gut-wrenching. For myself, even as someone who is familiar with and loves both Classic and New Who, I almost stopped watching the show altogether when David Tennant hunt up his trench coat and red shoes. But I soldiered on, loving Matt Smith and now being enamored of Peter Capaldi. While losing a Doctor is hard, I think we recover more quickly because, as Steven Moffat once said, "he's the same man. Always." It's true that the Doctor's face, wardrobe, and certain personality traits change from regeneration to regeneration, but he's still the Doctor. He doesn't stop being that. In all his mythical glory, the Doctor remains the idiot with the box, traveling around, helping out, learning as he goes. But losing a companion can be quite hard because, unlike the Doctor, they do not simply morph into another version of themselves. Martha was not Rose; Donna was neither Martha nor Rose and Amy and Clara are not the same woman. When the show changes companions, it changes companions. I had a wide array of issues concerning Clara over the years, from her weepy, wide-eyed, quasi-romantic interest in the Doctor in her earliest days, to the show tending to make her the star of the show instead of our favorite Time Lord; but there is no denying that in this week's episode, "Face the Raven," it was hard--very much so--to say goodbye to Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl. Check yourself for tattoos and are counting down and let's go!

"I know where I'm going. Where I've always been going: home. The long way 'round." Remember those words? Remember when the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who aired and showrunner Steven Moffat promised us that, eventually, someday, we'd go home to Gallifrey? Well, I criticize the man a lot, but he keeps his promises. If I had a bank account full of money, I'd go ahead and lay odds that the Doctor was just wooshed home to a certain planet in the constellation of Kasterborous with certain not-so-dead-Time Lords. It's about time (pun not intended!) Now, if only the cost of going home wasn't so steep. I have talked quite a bit, over the last two seasons, about Clara's thesis being one of addiction and abuse. Ms. Oswald is addicted to the high the TARDIS, the adventures, the running, and the Doctor can give her. The more of those things she gets, the more she craves, and the more reckless she becomes in order to secure that wonderful drug-like high of running around all of time and space with a mad man and his box. Clara's thesis very much continues this week when her attempt to play Doctor leads to her own death. Clara's plan isn't exactly a bad one; in fact, it's one the Doctor probably would have thought up in a moment of magical cleverness had he not been concerned with sussing out the mystery that Ashildr had laid before him. The Doctor loves the mystery and Clara wants to save her friend; it's the same endgame but working in a different manner, which is probably why the Doctor doesn't think about transferring the tattoo; he has another agenda. The Doctor can be as equally reckless as Clara, something she knows and voices back to him when she demands to know why she can't be like him in her final moments. Clara is simply following in the Doctor's footsteps this week. Why bring back Risgy (from season 8's wonderful 'Flatline')--an episode where Clara first took on the moniker Doctor and pretended to see through his eyes--if not to remind us all that the more addicted Clara becomes, the more like the Doctor she is. The Doctor has several thesis' and archetypes that he operates under--the savior and his savior complex, the warrior, the judge and jury of the universe, the healer, the sage, the wounded man--but one of those is his strong addiction to the TARDIS, the adventures, the running, and his companions. In other words, the exact same things Clara is addicted to. The Doctor cannot give all those things up at any time; he'd be bored silly and his wanderlust would get the better of him. This is, of, course to say nothing of the pain he would feel if he stopped for a moment and let the weight of all the souls he's changed--for better and for ill--really settle on him. From the monsters he's fought to the children he has rescued, the Doctor was born to save the universe but in doing so he's become addicted to all of it. The Doctor and Clara are one and the same; one is just less breakable.

So, who is responsible for Clara's death? Clara herself for a certainty. She was reckless in taking on Rigsy's tattoo that counted down to the moment of the wearer's death, never thinking through all the ramifications of what the refugees were telling her. Ashildr, for sure, as well. Peace the streets means a lot of back door dealings with shadowy organizations and entrapment of a certain Time Lord who is both friend and enemy. Those sorts of machinations always have unforeseen consequences and collateral damage. But the Doctor is also to blame. There is one more thesis for the Doctor that I'd like to touch on: the enabler. The Doctor is livid by the end of this episode. As he remarks to Mayor Me in the coldest and lowest voice I think I've ever heard from Capaldi in the past two years, "I was lost a long time's a very small universe when I am angry with you." But why is the Doctor so upset, we might wonder? Clara died with dignity, with honor, and with bravery. The Doctor has also lost companions before, be it because they chose to walk away (Martha) or because they moved on (Amy) or because they got lost in a parallel universe (Rose). And yes, because they died (RIP Adric). So why was the Doctor threatening to reign down Hell on Ashildr/Mayor Me over this particular companion's death? Because of the overwhelming guilt he is feeling.

The Doctor was Clara's enabler, her drug supplier. The Doctor never once stopped picking Clara up for adventures; he never voiced overt concern concerning her reckless nature to the person in question, only ever as asides to the audience or other people. He never stopped letting her come along. The Doctor never wants to be alone (it’s his greatest fear) so he enabled the addict. He saw what was happening to Clara and he never put the kibosh on it because, in a lot of ways, the Doctor is selfish. He didn’t want to be alone; he wants to experience the joys and wonders of the universe with someone who’s never seen it (the mayflies of the world, like he and Ashildr said back in “The Woman Who Lived”). The Doctor watches his closest friend die and knows, without a doubt, he is partly to blame. Think back to Amy's decision at the end of 'Angels Take Manhattan.' Yes, we should mourn the loss of Amy but it was her choice to go live with Rory, to settle in the mundane world and be with the man she loved. There was no other life for Amy if Rory wasn't with her. And while we know that Amy died eventually, it was after a good long life with her beloved husband. Clara never got that. She didn't choose to go die; she chose to die bravely at the end of all things, but until that final moment, Clara believed she (and the Doctor) could subvert the death that her new tattoo was ticking down toward. Clara believed that she could dance around death by acting how the Doctor has always acted. Even up until the last few minutes, Clara believes "we always fix it." How could Clara not become reckless and addicted when the Doctor proves time and time again that there are few consequences to traveling with him? The day is always saved, the wrongs are mostly righted, and very seldom do people die. Even losing Danny wasn't enough to end Clara's belief that the Doctor can save people--remember how she dragged him to "heaven" to save her boyfriend? For Clara, it's okay to be reckless and to move through these adventures like the proverbial bull in the china shop because the Doctor is a magical, wonderful and fairy tale-like being who can fix said shattered pottery. When the Doctor gets a new companion (because of course he will. Clara is right; he can't be alone) he has to remember that the life he chooses to show these mayflies has consequences and often times they are dire ones. It does not do to be a God if you cannot protect those who follow you.

Miscellaneous Notes on Face the Raven

--Another incredible performance from Peter Capaldi this week. He does icy demeanor as well as he does passionate and as well as he does loony. Jenna Coleman also deserves a round of applause for her final moments in the show.

--I do fear that somehow Moffat will bring Clara back, thus reversing her brave death. He's done it before. I hope this does not turn out to be the case. Death has meaning in narrative if the writers let it. You can have the hero(ine) remain dead so long as the weight of their loss carries into the new storyline. Don't erase her final moments, Moff!

--Some truly spectacular music this episode, in particular Clara's death scene. 

--"Don't bring the new human; I'll just get distracted."

--There was a very strong whiff of Neverwhere in this episode, right? I'm not the only one who thought of Neil Gaiman's wonderful novel?

--"Our rules keep us safe." More political overtones in this episode, though I prefer when it's subtle like this as opposed to in your face, ie: the Zygon two-parter.

--"Did you ever read about anyone who ever stopped me?" Sometimes we, the audience, see the warm and fuzzy Doctor--the man who saves the universe with his charming quirks and characteristics--and forget that he's essentially an immortal God with unimaginable power over time, space, and life and who could destroy us just as easily as he saves us. Lines like this remind us of that.

--"Don't be a warrior. Be a doctor..."

No comments:

Post a Comment