Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x11)

Benjamin Franklin once quipped that the only two sure things in this world were death and taxes. I sincerely doubt that the Doctor has ever paid taxes so, for him, the only sure thing in this universe is that someday, somewhere, somehow, he will die. The Doctor will shuffle off his mortal coil; his cells will be unable to regenerate and he will finally pass to that Great TARDIS in the sky. I know that's dramatic, but this week's episode, "Heaven Sent," was an exercise in art house indulgence, so I figured I could equally indulge in some wordplay. For an episode that is the long awaited return to Gallifrey, we (and the Doctor) spent most of the episode frustrated at the lack of moving anywhere, both intrigued and not over the mystery of the moving castle (the Doctor is now Howl) and, if you were me, a little bit bored and wondering when we'd get to the actual point of it all. I'm not trying to be overly harsh because the final shot of the Shinning City in the Bubble made my heart race (as well as the anticipation for the funny hats) but c'mon. Admit it. That episode was an hour long self indulgent ego trip for Steven Moffat. I shall, however, attempt to refrain from criticizing too much and simply talk about where I think we, and our trusty Time Lord, are going next. Grab your confession dial, revert to your previous copy, and let's go!

Every single one of you reading this blog will someday die. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's true. You're going to get old; you're going to get tired and run down and eventually the shadow that was born with you will catch up and will take you off to the next life (or just a dirt nap, whatever your beliefs may be). If you're very lucky, you can avoid this shadow friend for a good long while. And if you're very very lucky, you can avoid him forever, but in order to do that, you basically have to be a Time Lord with a TARDIS, and there can only be one of those. A lot of what fuels the Doctor's need to run is his fear; I think the fear of the ordinary un-examined life, if we get right down to it. I'm sure you can make the case that it's fear of his people, being the hybrid (erm, we'll get to that) and what that special status might entail, but for me personally I think the Doctor is driven by the fact that he wants to be extraordinary. He's always curious; no matter what face he is wearing, the Doctor wants life to be magical and full of wonder. He wants the odd and the amusing and the terrifying and the awe inspiring. I guess it's hard to find that on a planet full of self-righteous gods. So he stole and TARDIS and ran. And never looked back. However, it would be plain egotistical to assume that you can run from death forever (so naturally the Doctor thinks he can because no one is more egotistical than he is). Death will catch up to him in the end, even if it happens to be 2 billion years in the future. But before you die, you must confess your crimes and live out your eternal punishment. Have I mentioned (lately) how much I love a good katabasis? In a lot of ways, I think this is the Doctor's katabasis. It's not the Underworld, strictly speaking, but it's close enough to the idea of a repetitious underworld of punishment, fear, and nightmares that, in this case, it counts. The Doctor does compare it to hell, afterall (which, apparently, is only heaven for bad people). We all know that the Doctor embodies the hero archetype and his now 52 year show (or 2,000 year long life) has been one big heroes journey: he meets an obstacle that stands opposed to all that he--the Hero--holds dear, he vanquishes it, and moves on. He meets companions along the way who teach him lessons and to whom he imparts some cosmic wisdom; he's got his magical sword (okay, Screwdriver. We're ignoring the glasses); and he's even got a valiant steed---granted, it's a blue police box, but hey, in a pinch it'll do. My point is this: the Doctor has never not been the hero. Even when he's curmudgeonly and cross, he's still the hero operating in a universe where he is the Ultimate Good facing various evils. At some point, he was going to have to face death. It's the sign of true heroism: can you conquer death? The Doctor's done is]t 11 times before, so what's one more. Or, in this case, several thousands times over the course of 2 billion years? 

The Doctor's Underworld is about as one would expect; it's laced with a lot of Moffat-era hallmarks, like a big timey wimey reveal at the end, lots of clues that are simply odd things along the way that make no sense until the big moment when the writer pulls back the curtain. That used to make for really entertaining TV (like "Blink" back in season three) but it's becoming so complicated and overused that it's losing that emotional impact because Moffat doesn't know when to ease up off the throttle. He keeps going for longer sequences like this episode and forgets to simply tell a story. I hate to say this, but I grew quite bored about 20 minutes in. I had not figured out that the Doctor was living out this series of events over and over again over the course of several billion years, but that's because the clues didn't necessarily point us in that direction because the idea of living inside a confession dial and doing the same thing again and again is totally outside our frame of reference. It's not even a mystery; it's demanding that I sit through one man's ego trip in order to demonstrate just how smart and clever Moffat is. I more or less rolled my eyes when all was revealed because of course Moffat couldn't just deliver a straight, simple, linear storyline. He has to make it as complicated and self-indulgent as possible. It's not just in Doctor Who either; anyone else remember the overly long "Shelock just shot himself" moment in the season three finale of that show? That's essentially what this episode was, but it was lacking a lot of heart (though I admit that my breath caught in my throat at the very end, as time speeds up faster and faster.) But, for the Doctor to appear on Gallifrey after such a long time and having missed his home and people for so many years (especially thinking that he had killed them all) and to not have a single moment of joy but instead to go straight into the plot of the arc (the hybrid) with Wandering Gallifrey Boy #1, robs us and Peter Capaldi of a moment to really deliver the combined emotions of heartbreak and heartache that finally, at long last, the Doctor has come home. There needs to be a moment to breathe. You've just asked your audience to understand that the main character has been dying and rebooting himself for 2 billion (billion!!) years and instead of allowing us to catch our breath and put the pieces of our brain back together, you deliver another two whollops that the Doctor is back home and that he's the hybrid. It is okay to take a moment to digest. That's honestly what is missing from so much of Moffat's scripts lately. There's no room for us to breathe at the end. It's all blockbuster and big reveal after blockbuster and big reveal. I'm not trying to be overly harsh but this episode should have felt like a much bigger deal than it did. Gallifrey is back, afterall. Gallifrey! Time Lords! Funny hats! I have been waiting for this story for a long time and there's nothing wrong with letting your audience (and character) celebrate that victory. So, because Moffat didn't let us, let's end this review on happy note: the Time Lords are coming and that is very good news.

Miscellaneous Notes on Heaven Sent 

--Peter Capaldi nailed this episode. I might have some problems with Moffat's pacing and narrative, but Capaldi is wonderful.

--"I'm the Doctor. I am coming to find you and I will never stop."

--You cannot establish a telepathic link with a door because they are notoriously cross. Good to know.

--"I've run out of corridor. Now that's a life summed up." I laughed way too hard at this.

--So basically the Doctor landed at Hogwarts?

--The Doctor is the hybird. Okay, for what it's worth, that is part of Doctor Who canon from the movie with the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann. However, 99.5% of the fandom likes to ignore the half human/half Time Lord detail. I can't believe Moffat chose to run with that tidbit.

--Is the Doctor about to become the Valeyard? I might be okay with a lot of this self-indulgence if he was about to become the Valeyard.

--Only one episode to go!

No comments:

Post a Comment