Sunday, November 29, 2015

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

When you’ve been plotting and writing Doctor Who for as long as Steven Moffat has, you inevitably must stumble across an idea that’s so mad you have no choice but to see it through to its finish. What will the people who so often chant for Moffat’s dismissal from the series – those who claim he has run out of ideas – make of this intimately epic hour that delves deep into the psyche of the show’s central figure? Perhaps they will say that it is nothing more than a rip-off of Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow or any of the myriad films or TV shows that have exploited the time loop gimmick in this manner. If it were done poorly, we may have cause to tear into it, but when it’s done to such aching perfection as this, we must stand back, catch our breath, and applaud. One of the most experimental episodes of Doctor Who ever, “Heaven Sent” is surely also one of the best, and certainly one of the most revealing.

The Doctor: “As you come into this world, something else is also born. You begin your life, and it begins a journey towards you. It moves slowly, but it never stops. Wherever you go, whatever path you take, it will follow – never faster, never slower, always coming. You will run, it will walk. You will rest, it will not. One day, you will linger in the same place too long - you will sit too still, or sleep too deep. And when, too late, you rise to go, you will notice a second shadow next to yours. Your life will then be over.”

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Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning

Monday, November 23, 2015

Doctor Who: Face the Raven

There’s no need to begin with talk of the first two acts here, when the last 10 minutes of “Face the Raven” are what most folks are currently concerned with, so let’s cut to the chase: Clara’s dead, which, unless you pay very close attention to internet scuttlebutt, no doubt came as a huge surprise. After all, in the modern era, companion exits tend to happen at the end of a season, accompanied by much fanfare (the Ponds were an exception, but even they departed at the close of a half-season). As a means of shocking the audience, what was done here was highly effective, but as a fitting finish to the near three-season run of Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald? Not so much. Her passing was little more than a slip-up of an accident, surrounded by strong dialogue and ripe emotion. Given the handling of the scene, the show certainly wants us to believe that this is the end of Clara’s story, but it feels unfinished — as though we’ve come to the end of a long sentence, but there’s no punctuation at the close.

Would Steven Moffat really pass off scripting duties for a companion exit to a freshman Who writer? The episode doesn’t even feature a “and Steven Moffat” writing credit which has become so prevalent over the past two seasons, when major character arcs are addressed within non-Moffat penned episodes. Doctor Who killing off Clara after killing off the love of her life last season is bleak. There must be a happier ending to this story. I’m on record (a few recaps ago) as disbelieving the show would kill her off. Now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I have to believe there’s more to the end of her story than this particular note of finality. Is it possible that we could yet see the return of the Nethersphere? Could Clara Oswald and Danny Pink yet have a happy ending in some sort of computer program afterlife? And if you follow behind-the-scenes talk in-between watching episodes, what of the publicity photos that grace the various covers of Doctor Who Magazine #493? This can’t have been “it” for Clara. There has to be more to this. Or am I just in a serious state of denial?

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Doctor Who: Sleep No More

Gagan Rassmussen: “You must not watch this! I’m warning you. You can never unsee it.”

Rassmussen could easily have been speaking about “Sleep No More” itself with that very first line of the episode. Well, the streak of perfection (or at least near perfection) had to end sooner or later, didn’t it? Season nine had been charging forward like some kind of long form narrative Roadrunner, and with “Sleep No More” it has smashed into one of Wile E. Coyote’s tunnel paintings. Proudly billed as Doctor Who’s first “found footage” episode, it seems as if the footage that would’ve made sense of the whole affair ended up on the cutting room floor (yes, a horribly outdated turn of phrase in the digital age).

To call it a mess, though, surely misses the point. The concept of a found footage anything is messy by design, isn’t it? Admittedly, my experience with such concepts pretty much begins and ends with The Blair Witch Project, a movie so insufferable that it put me off the gimmick ever since. Now I’m in a position where I have to write about it, so forgive me any trespasses.

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Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion

After the thrilling real world cliffhanger of “The Zygon Invasion,” picking up events in Clara’s hazy Zygon dream state was unexpected to say the least. But then this second half is much different in its aims than the far more action-packed first half. Whereas “The Zygon Invasion” was concerned with the outer, “Inversion” is appropriately concerned with the inner, and as such, perhaps there was no better place to begin than inside Clara’s mind. The episode backtracks a few beats, prior to the Zygon Zygella/Bonnie (what is the point of giving this character two names?) firing the rocket launcher, as we get the scenario from Clara’s perspective.

Trapped inside her little ZyPod, those events outside in the real world start creeping in. Her subconscious nags at her, dropping hints that her current perception of reality is bogus. After similar events experienced in “Last Christmas,” she quickly figures out what’s up, after hearing a familiar, gruff Scottish accent coming through the TV. Though the ensuing battle of wills doesn’t fix the outside situation (the bazooka still hits it target), it does show Clara that she’s able to exert some control over her Zygon counterpart, which comes in handy later on.

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Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion

The Doctor: “This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons — the vast majority — they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalize the lot. That’s exactly what the splinter group wants.”

And with that brief, impassioned speech, “The Zygon Invasion” arguably became the most important Doctor Who episode since “Vincent and the Doctor” tackled depression back in 2010. Doctor Who has a history of addressing real-world social and political issues through its fantastical lens, most notably back in the Barry Letts–produced Jon Pertwee era, which was famous for it. Indeed, one of my major gripes with the modern incarnation of the series is that it doesn’t do it often enough. It is the job of science fiction to show us the better part of ourselves, often by showcasing the downright ugly. If it wasn’t previously obvious that this story is a metaphor for the world’s dealings with certain factions operating out of the Middle East, then that speech from the Doctor sealed it.

Last year Peter Harness wrote surely the most divisive episode of the season, “Kill the Moon,” which I raved about, yet others were considerably less enthused by. Many claimed it was an anti-abortion commentary, which admittedly escaped me entirely at the time. (If we’re going to go down that road, I’d argue that it’s more about a woman’s right to choose.) If such an episode pissed off folks last year, what will they make of this story, which gives the bad guys some valid reasons for doing atrocious things? At a Doctor Who function earlier this week, I briefly ended up chatting politics with a fan whose feelings on the Middle East situation were, well, let’s just say much different than my own. He probably won’t much care for “The Zygon Invasion.”

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

Artwork courtesy Design by Stuart Manning.