Sunday, June 25, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x11)

Had we but world enough and time, 
This coyness, lady, were no crime. 
We would sit down, and think which way 
To walk, and pass our long love’s day. 
--Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress."

The relationship between the Master/Mistress and the Doctor has always occupied a rather complicated sphere. They are antagonists, to be sure; the megalomania of the Master matching the Doctor's heroic streak point by point. Over the course of this very long series, they've engaged in more fights and battles than I could possibly detail here, but what makes the Master/Doctor relationship so meaty is that it does not just occupy the enemies space. There is a delicate push and pull of regret and longing that we don't find in, say, the Doctor's relationship with the Daleks or, as is more appropriate for this week's episode "World Enough and Time," the Cybermen. Behind the Doctor's unrelenting need to stop whatever plans the Master has concocted this time around to burn planets and destroy anything and anyone the Doctor loves, is a hope that our hero in a blue box can save his oldest friend. Nostalgia; it gets us all in the end. Trusting Missy, believing that she can be redeemed and be good, is possibly a very stupid move on the Doctor's part, especially by episode's end when we--and our Time Lord--are confronted by one of the most dangerous versions of his foe to date--but he wouldn't be the Doctor if he wasn't constantly trying to save everyone. It's a heartbreaking episode that also ramps up the stakes for the finale next week. Grab your ever present IV and let's go!

In a segment at the top of the hour, during a rib tickling hilarious bit where Missy pretends to be the Doctor (sorry, pretends to be Doctor Who), the devious Time Lord tells Bill Potts that the Doctor doesn't have friends. Only another Time Lord can serve as a friend to a Time Lord; everything else is just "cradle robbing." This point is emphasized over and over as Missy finds new and laugh out loud ways to characterize Bill and Nardole as anything but friends to the Doctor. This upsets Bill and with good reason; the Doctor is many things to our girl, friend being among them. This season has had a lot of nice focus on the various facets of relationship the Doctor can have with one human; he's served as a professor and mentor, a father and grandfather, a god and savior, and--for Bill who has enjoyed all of these different variations on a theme--a friend, as well. Moments like the Doctor chatting to Bill while she works in the cafeteria or the two of them enjoying fish and chips on the rooftop show how the Doctor has become the perfect companion for Bill. He doesn't put pressure on her to be something she's not, like her foster mother who doesn't grasp Bill's sexuality, but he is also there to bolster her, encourage her, and help her transcend whatever mundane and normal human life she was living before she met him. But for Missy, this lovely human/Time Lord relationship is a farce because it cannot possibly be real. As close as Bill and the Doctor might be, our plucky assistant (or pet or snack) isn't a Time Lord and therefore cannot possibly be as close to the Doctor as someone like Missy could. It's a point that the Doctor actually emphasizes as well, revealing to Bill that Missy is the only other person who's like him and his first memories of him/her are as a child at the academy; they aren't terrifying memories of a lad who wanted to watch worlds burn, but of a clever, smart, funny kid who made a pact with his dearest friend to go and see all the stars someday. Two drifters off to see the stars. Is it any wonder the Doctor has been trying to fill that void ever since the Master turned? When the Master went mad and began plotting to burn worlds instead of visiting them, the Doctor didn't just gain an enemy, he lost a friend and it's this quiet but hopeful desperation that the Doctor can get that friend back that causes him to lose his other companion. Poor Bill. Poor, poor, poor Bill.

It's hard to watch a companion go out in this manner, if indeed this is Bill's end. After almost an 11 full episodes, Bill has become the surprise all-star of the season. Her quick wit, her compassion, and her wonder at the universe have made her (and yes, I'm about to use certain words again) a refreshing delight to a series that can often fall into the formulaic. Bill has an interesting relationship with the Doctor because of all those aforementioned layers that ultimately comes down to a deep level of trust between the two; so when the Doctor plants an order in her subconscious of "wait for me," Bill has no problem believing that the Doctor will come for her and, in turn, I have no problem believing that Bill would make the best of being tied to one location for years on end, with only a fairly crazy janitor for company, waiting for the Doctor's time stream to catch up. In a lot of ways, the ending for this episode would have been pretty easy to write if there weren't so many twists and turns. The Doctor arrives on site, manages to get the metal heart out of Bill, realizes he's about to encounter the Mondasian Cybermen, reveal the Master as behind the whole plot (complete with the Scooby Doo face mask peel off--damn those meddling kids!) and then find a way to save the day with Bill and Nardole as he has done before. Where the episode becomes one of the best of the season, is in the way it upends your expectations. Suddenly, it's to the Mistress that the Master is revealed, with Missy perhaps taking his side. It's not Bill the Doctor runs into but a Bill-turned-Cyberman, the Doctor appearing to be too late to save her; in a lot of ways this brings us back around to the point I, Missy, and the Doctor, were making in the above paragraph. Can the Doctor have friends who are not Time Lords or are Time Lords his true friends? For the former, the answer has always been yes, be it Classic or New Who. We've never doubted that the Doctor doesn't just look at those who live in the TARDIS with him as pets or lesser creatures upon whom he can bestow his godlike wisdom and grace; they are his companions in the truest sense of the world. Allies, partners, friends. The stumbling block comes where it always comes: in the Master/Mistress. The writers this year have been pushing the narrative that Missy is changing but it's hard to accept that as true when she is standing next to the Master, with a Cyberman Bill in between them, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Missy is great at playing long games but would the Doctor's true friend play such a game when the Doctor is in anguish over the loss of someone, especially when it's her former self who is responsible for said loss? The question circling the end of this season is can Missy be good? Or have the Doctor's hopes once again been misplaced.

 Miscellaneous Notes on World Enough and Time

--If the flashforward at the top of the episode is any indication, the Doctor will regenerate alone, in the cold snow, in anguish. I'm not ready for this.

--The music this episode--particularly the motif where we are examining the space ship and the Black Hole--were stunning.

--I wish I could quote the whole Missy speech in the beginning but a smattering of funny lines will have to suffice: "Hello, I'm Doctor Who. These are my plucky assistants, Thing One and the Other One."

--"What does he call you? Companions? Pets? ....Snacks?"

--"These are my disposables...exposition and comic relief."

--"Are you human?" "Oh, don't be a bitch."

--Missy (and the writers) casually trolling the fandom by insisting that the Doctor's name is really Doctor Who was possibly the most meta piece of exposition this show has ever done. I was laughing a bit too hard at "I've known him since a child and his real name is Doctor Who! He dropped the 'Who' later because it was a bit too on the nose"

--The Doctor addresses one of the peskier elephants in the room for the show as a whole when he insists that the Time Lords are the most advanced civilization in the universe and are beyond human obsession with gender and stereotypes...only to be called out by Bill that they still call themselves "Time Lords." Well done, show. Well done.

--I am troubled by the image that the show's first full time LGBT companion is killed off by a character we've never met before and to serve as a narrative point for a white man but there is something deeply political about that same LGBT character's story being a horrifying look at "conversion" to become "just like everyone else."

--John Simm, it has been too long. Welcome back to your classic role. I really look forward to seeing what goes down between the Doctor, CyberBill, Nardole, Missy and the Master next week! One to go....

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