Sunday, October 25, 2015

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived

Last week I referred to “The Girl Who Died” as the first half of a two-parter. It was pretty obvious even then that, along with “The Woman Who Lived,” this pair wasn’t a two-parter in the same vein as the previous tales this season. Not only are they entirely different settings, but they’re not even by the same writer. Catherine Tregenna is new to Doctor Who, but not to the Whoniverse. Between 2006 and 2008 she wrote four episodes of Torchwood, the show about the immortal Captain Jack Harkness (who gets a name check here). Was that experience an ideal primer for this series of extended gut wrenching conversations between two immortals, traveling through time on very different paths?

Perhaps, but I’d argue that the best primer was her sex, which brought a refreshing, vital point of view to the ongoing story of Ashilder/Lady Me that surely would have been absent with a man at the keyboard. Mind-bogglingly, Tregenna’s script is the first written by a woman for the series since Helen Raynor’s “Sontaran Stratagem” two-parter back in season four. Season four… when David Tennant was still the Doctor! It is absurd that it’s taken this long to “find” another woman to write for the series, particularly since one can hardly accuse Doctor Who of being a series steeped in machismo. The even better news is we’re getting yet another female perspective later in the season.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died

“The Girl Who Died” was possibly the most anticipated episode of season nine, not as much for the material, but rather for a crucial piece of casting: Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame. (Typed as though you didn’t know who she was, right?) We’ve had a number of casting crossovers between the two shows already, and yet this is surely the most exciting one yet, because, well, who doesn’t love Maisie Williams? Even when the now multiple-Emmy-winning series occasionally becomes too much for some viewers, Maisie’s Arya Stark remains one of its few go-to comfort characters. So, yeah, let’s put her on Doctor Who and see what happens. Turns out quite a bit, and more, I imagine, than anyone ever expected or saw coming.

Yet for the hardcore fan who pays attention to credits, it wasn’t just Maisie that had us excited. “The Girl Who Died” is written by Jamie Mathieson, who last year gave us the brilliant one-two punch of “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline,” arguably the highlights of season eight. And from a freshman Who writer, no less. (Also, he’s a hell of a nice guy, as anyone who chatted with him at Gallifrey One earlier this year will attest.) As if those weren’t enough reasons to be stoked about this episode, it is helmed by first time Who director Ed Bazalgette, which may mean nothing to you, but to me that’s huge. Back in the early '80s, Bazalgette played lead guitar in the Brit new wave band The Vapors, best known for their hit “Turning Japanese,” though every single song in their whopping two album catalog is a gem. Yes, I’m a bit of a Vapors freak, and delighted that two of my treasured pop cults have merged.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Doctor Who: Before the Flood

“Before the Flood” is the fourth episode of season nine. “Listen” was the fourth episode of season eight. Both episodes begin with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall. Coincidence? Such a gimmick shouldn’t work once, let alone twice, and yet here I found myself jumping around in my chair, punching the air with even more enthusiasm than last year. Much of it had to do with the return of the electric guitar and Beethoven’s Fifth. It was the sort of moment that as a fan you swear you’ve dreamed about at some point. Oh yes, can we please keep that version of the opening theme!?

Beyond the obvious flash, the sequence does something even more on-point, which is loosely outline how the episode is about to play out — perhaps an even more inspired flourish than a Ludwig Van–grinding Capaldi. Because going back in time and finding that you’re influencing events you’re already aware of in the future is such a time-travel staple, that by choreographing it ahead of time, instead of moaning about it when it happens (which we all might well have done), we’re braced and expecting it. The episode knows we might balk at the sci-fi trope, so it tells us it’s around the corner, so we can concentrate on all the great character work the episode has to offer. Some might call foul; I call self-aware, and at this point in the show’s history, there’s nothing at all wrong with providing some context well ahead of time. It made me love this episode all the more.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Doctor Who: Under the Lake

The base-under-siege trope has been a Doctor Who chestnut since the Patrick Troughton years. It got a particularly heavy series of workouts in his second season, where the majority of the stories fit the paradigm. The problem with whipping out base-under-siege at this point — after exploiting it ad nauseam for decades — is that you really do need to find a way to do something a little different with it. That is unfortunately the failure of “Under the Lake,” which feels so rote in its execution, that on my initial viewing, at one point I nodded off. At this stage in its long history, running up and down and back and forth through corridors, to and fro after ghastly villains, does not a satisfying episode of Doctor Who make. And let’s be honest, that’s what the bulk of this episode was. This is the possible ugly side of any two-parter: Sometimes there isn’t enough story to fill 90 minutes; the flipside of cramming too much narrative into 45 minutes.

“Under the Lake” also dips into another familiar Who well, and that’s the ghost story. Of course, the thing with Doctor Who ghost stories is that they never, ever turn out to be actual ghosts; instead, typically aliens of some kind. To be fair to “Under the Lake” and its writer Toby Whithouse, there’s an effort here to make these projections actual ghosts, despite the knowledge early on that they’re products of alien technology. The Doctor in one scene asserts that they’re “unnatural — an aberration; you live and then you die.” Later on he accuses the unknown aliens of “hijacking souls,” which I’m unsure makes much sense (it certainly doesn’t to an atheist like me).

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.