Monday, 28 September 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions- Episode 2 (The Witch's Familiar)

(Fair spoiler warning: there's spoilers within here for Doctor Who. Just so you know.)

I should have done this years ago. Guess I was too busy
wearing a vegetable to consider it.
Previously on Doctor Who: The Doctor blundered into a war zone while looking for a book shop and accidentally met a young child version of Davros, creator of the Daleks. He then immediately ran off because he hates that guy. Ages later, a scary snake man is searching for the Doctor because Davros is dying but nobody knows where the hell he is. Clara Oswald, bossy control freak and part-mirror of the Doctor, is roped into a scheme by renegade Time Lady Missy to find the Doctor. They find him in the Middle Ages wearing sunglasses and playing the guitar, but the scary snake man also finds them. The Doctor agrees to visit a dying Davros to atone for that time he abandoned the little kid Davros, and they go to some space station... except SURPRISE! It is actually Skaro, home planet of the Daleks, and there are a shitload of them! They even appear to exterminate Missy and Clara as the Doctor watches, and the episode ends with the Doctor going back to young child Davros with a ray gun! Oh no! What's going to happen next!

Well, anything but that, it seems. Moffat, trickster that he is, has hoodwinked us all again. The Witch's Familiar does all sorts of things in its opening minutes, but absolutely none of them are resolving that cliffhanger. This creates the odd effect of having it hang in your mind for the whole episode, wondering just when and how the Doctor is going to go back and hold up a Dalek ray gun. The cliffhanger resolution is actually the very end of the episode, which might be a first. What we get instead is Clara Oswald all tied up while Missy tells a story about the Doctor escaping from a bunch of androids by using technology. Pointedly, this is not framed as him just "being clever"; the Doctor gets out of his scrapes because he always assumes he will win. So says Missy, anyway. I like that idea, and I like Clara's echoing of it.(Mirror! Mirror!) This scene also serves to explain how Missy and Clara are, you know, alive. Something to do with using the energy of the lethal blasts to recharge teleporters at the exact moment of impact. It's also how she got out of Death In Heaven alive, and I must admit; I didn't expect them to actually explain that one, but that should make a lot of people very happy so good on them. Missy and Clara in the blighted wasteland of Skaro, outside a Dalek citadel, armed with only a stick. The Doctor, stuck in a room with Davros, having seen both of his friends die. What's going to happen now, I wonder? This is The Witch's Familiar.

This is another tough one for me to get down. We're out of the temporal grace that is "between part 1 and part 2" of the Magician's Apprentice/Witch's Familiar double header, but it's still a little too soon for me to be thinking of them as a complete 90 minute story. A series rewatch will solidify that, but right now I'm still in the mode of taking Witch's Familiar on its own. On its own, it has a lot of fantastic beats and amusing lines, but then just one or two things that I didn't care for all that much. The core of this episode, and what does end up making it, is the Doctor and Davros stuck in a room, just talking to each other as Davros is on his last day of life. There are a lot of great beats here; the Doctor flatly proclaiming that he's just an idiot in a blue box and he really has to properly try to be the man named "The Doctor" who fights the monsters and saves the day and whatnot. His reason for coming to see Davros wasn't out of shame, he claims; he came because the man was sick, and he asked. Later on, the two share a good laugh together. It feels like an honest laugh, two people genuinely amused at the situation... but let us not forget, both are excellent liars. The Doctor riding around in Davros's chair for a bit is a great visual image as well, and it leads to another moment of Steven Moffat being cheeky. We cut back, and the Doctor has a cup of tea suddenly. I audibly wondered aloud where the hell he got that, to which the Doctor then replied "Where'd I get the cup of tea? I'm the Doctor, just accept it.". So you can easily take that at Moffat snarking at all those people who yell at how there's a plot hole in my Doctor Who Steven Moffat how dare you. As you can no doubt tell, I keep being snarky at those kinds of people too so I was terribly amused by it.

Less amusing, in a sense, was the B plot of Missy and Clara making their way back into the Dalek city. I say in a sense because Michelle Gomez is still an absolute treasure and Missy is delightfully mad, but there is a price to be paid for watching an unhinged Mary Poppins running around a spooky Dalek sewer, and it comes in the form of Clara. There are few wrongs Moffat can pull with me at this point. I tolerate a lot of things that plenty of people have written off Moffat-era Doctor Who for. What I don't like, then, is the companion getting sidelined. Clara exists in this episode as the titular Witch's Familiar, I guess, but she's hardly a companion of Missy. About the closest thing I can think of to a companion to Missy would have been Sally Armstrong, from the 8th Doctor Dark Eyes audios. That or Lucy Saxon. Anyway, Missy does a fine job of being competent here, explaining what the Dalek sewers are, coming up with a plan to trap a Dalek to gain access back to the Dalek city. This comes at the cost of giving Clara... well, much of anything to do. She spends 45 minutes being tied up, handcuffed, pushed off of cliffs, shoved into mucky Dalek shells and hooked up to them... and then the climax has Missy trying to trick the Doctor into blasting the Dalek shell that she's in! I mean, what in the fuck? She did more in Time Heist and that's notable because she hardly did much of anything in Time Heist! This is the kind of shit someone like Peri would get saddled with. To see the wonderfully proactive and capable Clara resorted to Missy's punching bag for 45 minutes? Blegh. But hey, Michelle Gomez was really good in it. That southern accent, mang. Plus that line about having a daughter. Her fucking around, or Moffat playing with the lore? Who knows?

Thank goodness for that A plot, though! The Doctor and Davros, chatting it up about life and their old races and whatnot! And the only other chair on Skaro! Yeah, so Skaro. It's a new Skaro that the Daleks created to replace the old one which blew up (either by 7's intervention or the Time War, you decide). That's acceptable. There's a lot to like here. The talk about just why the Doctor ran from Gallifrey in the first place. Davros's belief that "a man should have a people". Davros is almost his own dark mirror of the Doctor; he is last of the Kaleds. Here's a guy who's lived for way too goddamned long, the last of his race, desperately clinging onto the last grasps of his life... and all he wants is to be on the same side as the Doctor. Well, not quite that. What he actually wants is to suck out the Doctor's regeneration energy and revitalize himself and his Daleks, and create some sort of gonzo Time Lord/Dalek hybrids. We'll get into that in just a second, but what's clever is how he does it. See, he's got Colony Sarff disguised as the cables to his life support, and all he needs is for the Doctor to touch the cables to fall into the trap. So at first he tempts the Doctor in the same way that he himself would tempt... himself. With genocide. He's bullshitting about how the cables have the power of life and death over the Daleks, and how if the Doctor just gives them a little tug he can kill all the Daleks go on Doctor do it do it do it. That doesn't work at all, of course, because the Doctor is a coward any day blah blah blah... so Davros switches tactics. He tempts the Doctor as he would... tempt the Doctor; with compassion. Is Davros just bullshitting when he congratulates the Doctor on finding Gallifrey? Is all this talk just fakery to get the Doctor to touch those cables... or is Davros going full in with the compassion and being sincere? Again, who knows? Hey, ambiguity! I like that, remember!

Regardless, the Doctor does touch those cables and then we get the grand scheme. Some shit about Time Lord legends and hybrid races. Now, this might be the series arc. It might not be. If it is, it's been introduced in a far better way than previous arcs. No cryptic arc word, no mysterious figure showing up in the last minute to cackle about how the plan has been set in motion and the Doctor is doomed. There's none of that for once! It's just a thing Davros heard about that may or may not become important later on! God, how refreshing! Mind, people are still theorizing over what the hybrid thing could be. My guess is, it involves Clara since that's the easiest guess and Moffat usually makes our first guess the correct one. At least one guy I saw theorized it had something to do with, of all people, Susan Foreman. Yeah, I doubt that. Alternatively, there's still the Doctor's confession dial. Now, pardon my French, but that thing never showed up in Time Of The Doctor when the Doctor actually was going to die. So, whatever's on there probably has something to do with something that the 12th did. Or it doesn't and Steven Moffat doesn't care about the fact that he didn't think that up for Time Of The Doctor, and neither should I. (But other people will care immensely that he didn't do that.) Okay then! Maybe it won't even amount to anything, like the Doctor's name. Well, here we have a McCoy-era sort of resolution. The Doctor fell into Davros's trap, but his own goddamn scheme is what ruins everything here. One could argue that Missy probably saved the Doctor from getting totally drained by those cables, sure... but Davros undoes his own scheme by forgetting about the Dalek sewers and then all the Daleks start bleeding slime and die. Then you've got that lovely scene where Missy addresses Davros and flicks his eye. Then you have the new sonic sunglasses. It took me a while to decide if I thought they were ridiculously awesome or fuckin' foolish. I have decided they're a little of both. Just before that though, you have the resolution of Clara in a Dalek which is saved because the Daleks know the word "mercy". Hilariously, I saw a Tumblr post arguing that a Dalek already did say "mercy" in The Pandorica Opens, and therefore the Doctor shouldn't be surprised and therefore there's a plot hole in Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is an imbecile. Except the Doctor wasn't there to hear the Dalek say that, it was River. That's not even me filling in the plot hole, the replies to the Tumblr post did that! Well, then the Doctor resolves that cliffhanger, and surprise! He does not shoot child Davros after all! Really, did anyone think he would? He might have, and then created a Wedding Of River Song-style fucked up timeline that he had to fix... but my money was on him not doing it.

And that is the Witch's Familiar! Its good points shored up its bad points for me. I really like Clara now, see. Not giving her a cool proactive role sours me on these shows now. Still, the Doctor and Davros stuff was great and it helped things considerably. Not a bad little two-parter. So, what do we have next?

Ghosts in a water base or something. Next week we go Under The Lake.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Unearthing the Spirit Of Pure Platforming (Shovel Knight)

(Hi! So, I know I've spent most of the last two weeks or so reposting archival specials of shit I wrote about Doctor Who. It's time to shift gears a little bit and post... an archival special of shit I wrote about computer games. This is a writeup for Shovel Knight, which gets theorized as a perfect simulacrum and expansion of the old video game scene that this blog was presumably started to praise and analyze. How it never ended up here until now, I dunno. Anyway, I waffled in my usual half-assed way about how this game is a perfect alchemical creation or whatever. That becomes kind of funny in a day or two when I post an all-new thing related to Shovel Knight. Until then, old words!)

Today we're going to talk about an alchemical force of video games and their assorted universes; the spirit of Pure Platforming. Lord knows just how many inanimate shells have been given life by the cosmic power of Pure Platforming. Let us glance at the arc of history, and take but a taste. 1985. A plumber and his brother save video games. 1986. All manner of monsters are commanded by an undead nightmare, and a man with a whip sets out to stop them. 1988. A blue robot goes on the offensive against eight bad robots, and everyone thinks that's as good as it can get for him. 1989. A sentient duck in a top hat with a cane searches for even more treasure, inspiring a generation. This is a simple glance at the once bountiful kingdom of the Grey Box. It is remembered fondly by its former subjects, many of whom have gone on to create their own kingdoms and provinces in the realm of the video game. Some have attempted to call back the spirit of Pure Platforming, with mixed results. There are terrible cases where a dread beast has emerged from the pod, filled with nightmarish difficulty and pledging allegiance to "nostalgia". Then there are the cases where magic has happened, and Pure Platforming has been returned to its original state. The microchip alchemists at Yacht Club Games have done neither of these things. Their achievement has somehow surpassed those. They have brought back the ancestral memories of Pure Platforming from the golden age of the Grey Box... and yet their new creation is more than a shambling homunculus fueled by nostalgia. It has its own identity whilst also utilizing the finest parts of its predecessors. Hail to the new finely crafted champion of Pure Platforming. All praises to the Shovel Knight.

It is important, then, to create a safe space within which we can define Shovel Knight. A happy little bubble containing phrases such as "Shovel Knight is an electronic video game available for download on Steam, the 3DS, and the Wii U." or "Shovel Knight is a retro-styled action platformer created by Yacht Club Games". That second one is important to understanding the magic here. Yacht Club Games is a newish development studio, and Shovel Knight is their flagship first title. This is far from their first rodeo, however; the company's founder is Sean Velasco, a Wayforward expatriot. That explains things. In this space, I make the bold claim that Wayforward and its band of alchemists have perfected their Philosopher's Stone. They understand the inner workings of Pure Platforming, and that it does not turn lead to gold. It turns things to pure mercury, ever shifting and changing. With their secret formula, new life was breathed into things. A halfling-genie whips her hair back and forth, perfecting what Konami failed to do in 1988. A rich duck collects gold and bounces everywhere, perfecting what Capcom appeared to have perfected in 1989 (contrary to what the games journalists will have you believe). These are impressive, but they are very focused feats devoted to polishing one thing at a time. Shovel Knight's beauty lies in how it takes elements of its inspirations, but remains its own thing. Coincidentally, Shovel Knight's beauty also lies in its presentation.

We have established that Yacht Club Games and its staff are alchemists. Alchemists who understand a great deal about old video games, and the soul of Pure Platforming. One such alchemist, David D'Angelo, has written several words about the design philosophy of Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight is not designed as a "retro throwback" to old video games, in the traditional sense. The alchemists have created a hypothetical; a "new" NES game. One that takes advantage of non-existent chips and memory mappers to create the final evolution of the NES game, unconstrained by the true limits of the grey box. In places, D'Angelo admits to breaking the rules of the NES. This is fine. The intent is there. The result is something altogether strange. The blog post mentions a Famicom game called Summer Carnival '92 Recca, which is an intense and frantic shooting game that uses trickery to create a fast-paced experience that impresses the player. "I can't believe the NES can do this!", one might say. It has to be seen to be believed. In our 60FPS 1080p world, it can be hard to remember when pixel graphics impressed. The alchemists did not forget. Shovel Knight brings those days back. As soon as I booted up the game and was hit with the art style, plus the music... my jaw was on the floor. Shovel Knight looks and sounds amazing. The sound's due to Jake Kaufman, and if you doubt his credentials then you have forgotten that he took the NES Ducktales moon theme and made it better. He is a musical wizard.

But how does she play, Captain? Hold on to your hats here. Shovel Knight is the ultimate NES game, and not just in its presentation as an inevitability of evolution. So many of these new-old games fall into that terrible trap of relying on nostalgia as a crutch (see: The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures) and using that to coast along instead of becoming its own unique entity. Shovel Knight gets to have its cake and eat it, too. It takes inspiration and obvious cues from other popular Nintendo games its audience may have played before, but presents them in a way that isn't a cheap reference designed to light up the player's neurons like a Christmas tree. These mechanics will remind the player of other NES games, but won't hit them over the head with it while screaming HEY SHOVEL KNIGHT HAS A POGO JUMP WITH HIS SHOVEL! JUST LIKE DUCKTALES! REMEMBER DUCKTALES? REMEMBER 1989? REMEMBER IT SO YOU THINK THE GAME'S BETTER THAN IT IS! No. Shovel Knight does have a pogo jump similar to Ducktales with his shovel. He also does collect an astounding amount of treasure and currency as the game goes on. Let us then define more things that Shovel Knight does well, inspired by the classics.

The "plot" involves the hero Shovel Knight going after the Order of No Quarter, eight themed bad knights who are causing trouble in the land. You run and jump through their themed stages and deal with various elemental hazards and unique stage gimmicks to test your action platform skills. Once all eight knights are bested, you go to the main villain's fortress and use all you've learned to beat the hardest combination of gimmicks and win the game. The very heart and soul of the Pure Platforming here is Mega Man, but there's so much more to Shovel Knight. Magical weapons that are used in a similar fashion to Castlevania's subweapons. Townspeople who give you clues and sell you things, a la Zelda II or Wonder Boy In Monster World. A world map not unlike Super Mario Brothers 3. Hell, even the mechanic where you have a chance to regain the money you've collected if you die by making it back to the same spot you died on the next life invokes a little Dark Souls. It's easy to just list out the inspirations, but they all fit in flawlessly and combine to give Shovel Knight its own identity.


It's a near-perfect game. My only reservations were with a few of the later bosses; they have a stable of attacks to use to try and kill you, and sometimes they rely on instant death hazards during the fight. One boss creates spikes, another is fought in an air stage and creates pitfalls. The final boss especially is devoted to destroying your footing, and that really doesn't sit right with me personally. These were the only parts of the game I felt were "unfair", but Shovel Knight doesn't run on a lives system. There's no game over; the only punishment for continued death is losing out on the treasure you've collected in a level. Which is fair! This is a fine mercurial product in the world of video games, and one well worth its price point. Yacht Club Games have discovered the secret to alchemy in video games; an experience that invokes the power of the past without letting the past come in and overwhelm the future. Go get Shovel Knight. Play it and love it, then wait with anticipation to see what equivalent exchange the alchemists cook up next.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 First Impressions: Episode 1 (The Magician's Apprentice)

(Yeah, so of course I'm gonna do this stuff. I don't need many disclaimers, other than the fact that I'm gonna shift my writing style a bit to talk to people who know what this Doctor Who shit actually is. Also, spoiler warning; there are spoilers to all sorts of things here so you should probably go watch this!)

FREE THE FISH PEOPLE! [rad guitar solo]
Well. Here we go again. 9 months of patient waiting, rewatching all of Series 8, diving headlong into Classic Who and the Big Finish audios. All of it to keep one entertained, and then one magical evening in late September, some television producers cast a spell upon the world. Just like that, Doctor Who is back. It's a kind of magic; whether you invoke it on your computer screen at home, or on a television far far away, the magic remains. These are exciting times, and in a way we are all the Apprentices; all us bloggers and vloggers and podcasters, and just plain old Doctor Who fans, sitting down for a lesson in the ways of magic from a madman in a blue box. Let us then take stock in what we have here. I know I ran the mirror thing into the ground in my revised Series 8 thoughts, but it bears mentioning; Series 8 ended with a two-part finale, and Series 9 is now opening with one. In between we had the hazy undefined zero point, in which we had bad dreams about facehuggers and The Thing and motherfucking Santa Claus was there for some reason. Point is, in the Dark Water writeup of old I made reference to being in a state of temporal grace. We're back again. History will remember this as a leadup to something, but for the next 4 days we have no goddamn idea what that is. So, then. This is The Magician's Apprentice. What do we got?

Motherfuckin' Davros, that's what. Boy howdy did my jaw drop, even though I should have pegged it. Blame a noisy room with a television far far away, but I didn't catch the line about clam drones. That would have pegged me, but then a guy shooting a bow and arrow at a plane kind of made me wonder if this was the Kaled/Thal war of old. Yep, we've got ourselves a lil Davros in the opening. Surprise! Having pored over the Davros documentary on my Remembrance Of The Daleks DVD, I gotta wonder how well this gels with those I, Davros audios that Big Finish puts out. Not so I can complain or nothing, just genuinely curious. After all of that we get a snake man. Here's where things appear to be interesting from our temporal grace. In the leadup to Series 9, we all assumed that the fucker in a hood with lines on his face was Important. We all had our theories on who it would be, as we often do. It's Moffat-era Doctor Who, this is how the game is played. We get teased for eleven weeks and then we check our answer at the end and it's usually our first guess because fandom is too goddamned good at this game. So, here I went into it expecting this fellow to do something and hiss about how everything is going just as planned and soon the Doctor will be no more and cue the 9 pages of thread arguing over whether or not he's the goddamn Meddling Monk (which, incidentally, was my guess when I was pressed on it.). Then something incredible happened. We didn't get that. The guy in the hood was just some asshole sent by Davros who also turns into snakes. Even if he dove into a shitty Doctor Who cantina, and hit up the Shadow Proclamation (itself last seen in the last Davros story!) and even Karn of all things, all the guy is? A messenger. Quite why Davros has a snake man in his employ is beyond me, or why the snake man didn't immediately go to Earth. Hell, Davros knows that's his pet planet. Snake man, or Colony Sarrf or whatever in fuck his name is got there in the end though so what's it matter? I suspect someone's going to seriously complain about that in the near future.

Well, next up we've got Clara! Hooray, do I ever love Clara! She's moonlighting for UNIT now in the Doctor's absence, using all that power she gained from becoming his mirror last series, and susses out that the mystery of the frozen planes is a message. From who, though? None other than the most dreaded woman in the universe, Toni Basil  Missy. So it is that Missy, the original dark mirror of the Doctor (in at least four incarnations; guess which ones!) meets up with the substitute dark mirror she created last series for tea. Oh, and she pops open a compact mirror. I am never going to shut up about mirrors. There are a lot of concepts here I like; the way Missy refers to her "friendship" with the Doctor as older than human civilization. Clara taking charge of the situation after Missy vaporizes a few UNIT thugs, talking her down and making her focus on the problem at hand. That wonderful little classic Who joke about three Atlantises (and timely, too, as The Underwater Menace is coming to DVD next month!). Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez do great together, and if the title of the next episode is to be taken the way we think, we may get more of that. Let's wait before we decide that for sure, though.

And then Capaldi's playing a guitar, while riding a tank during the Renaissance, and wearing Patrick Troughton's pants. How gonzo. I love it, especially the riffs of Pretty Woman when he notices Missy and Clara. This segment is full of callbacks to Series 8; the Doctor makes an offhand reference to teaching maths. The line about hugs being a way to hide your face comes back. Even the revelation that the Doctor, upon realizing he was about to save little Davros from hand mines (which were creepy enough to spook my uncle, by the way!) took right the hell off again? An invocation of Into The Dalek. That is the hatred that Rusty saw in the Doctor's heart; the hatred of the Daleks that leads him to abandon a child in need, because of what that child would become... and even that gets a callback later, when Davros plays back part of Tom Baker's "Have I that right?" speech from Genesis Of The Daleks. Notably, the Doctor already decided he had the right to stop the Daleks; both as the 7th Doctor and as the War Doctor. But here the Doctor has truly reversed from the man he once was; he has become his own dark mirror, a twisted reflection of that guy with the teeth and curls and the long scarf. Even if he said he wore the scarf again in preparation for his last meeting with Davros, he cannot reclaim the past. He cannot lighten. As such, it all goes to hell. Skaro is back (how, exactly, I dunno. It hasn't been explained yet, so naturally people are probably furious at Moffat for that blunder) and the Daleks are in full force. Missy gets zapped into oblivion, and so does Clara. This is especially cruel, given the longer game. In the context of just the show, it's ambiguous. I'd bet money on Clara and Missy being just fine when the next episode airs... but then you add in that other wrinkle. The Magician's Apprentice aired on Saturday evening. On Friday morning, the news broke that Series 9 would be Jenna Coleman's last. The timing could not be more perfect to make us doubt Clara's survival. The public knows that she's out of here, but not how... and then it comes. Clara Oswald, the girl who survived fragmentation and could have left so many times before, be it in anger or via lying or old age... she goes back to adventures in time and space and gets zapped by a Dalek, her supposed last moments spent running in fear of them. It's a cruel move to play, and one that only our faith saves us from despairing over. Faith in the Doctor, our magician. So what does he do, after begging?

He holds a ray gun to a child's head and yells "Exterminate." The Doctor has fallen. He has become little more than a Dalek. What now?

Next time: The Witch's Familiar.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (2014 Christmas Special: Last Christmas)

(Hello again from the past! Still here, on Thursday for me. You should be here on Saturday. Anyway, this is the last of a set of Series 8 writeups I did for the website Boss Dungeon. I'm rehosting them here with added commentary as I rewatch in anticipation of Series 9... which airs the day this should be posted! Hooray! I hope it's good and I will write about it next week. For now we close out our archival special with Santa. And awaaaaay we go.)

Happy holidays! It's been a while since we've seen Doctor Who on our screens, so let's recap where we ended off Series 8. Missy, the newest incarnation of the Doctor's longtime nemesis the Master, made a zombie Cyberman army out of dead humans for the Doctor's birthday. He didn't take it so well. Missy ran off and Danny Pink, Clara's long-time boyfriend who had been hit by a car and turned into a zombie Cyberman, sacrificed himself to save the world. Clara lied to the Doctor about Danny coming back from the dead, and the Doctor lied about finding his home planet of Gallifrey. This continued the trend of dishonesty in Series 8, and the pair went their separate ways at the end of Death In Heaven.

That is, until Santa Claus showed up in the TARDIS, pulling some narrative dissonance out of his sack of toys and telling the Doctor to be happy because Christmas is coming soon! That leads us here, to Last Christmas. Doctor Who's Christmas special for 2014. There's been a special episode on TV for every Christmas since the show came back, and a lot of them aren't just holiday fluff! In Christmas specials past, we've had the first full episode of David Tennant, the introduction of a new companion, the semifinal appearance of David Tennant, furthering of Clara's Impossible Girl mystery, and Matt Smith's swan song as the Doctor. Last Christmas doesn't have a new companion or a Doctor regeneration, but it's far from fluff.

After a comedic cold open with Santa and two of his elves on Clara's roof, the Doctor shows up and whisks her away to the setting of the episode; a research station in the Arctic. There's some creepy stuff going on in its infirmary, and we get a tense scene where a technician has to walk past the monsters contained inside, while not thinking about them. At this point, most might groan. Here we go again, another Steven Moffat episode that has a monster that can't get you based on involuntary functions. Even this one is half-cribbed from the Teller in Time Heist. Don't let the episode fool you, though. This is definitely a case of something that gets better as it goes along, with Moffat adding more wrinkles and subversions while playing with deliberate iconography. Once the Doctor and Clara arrive, all hell breaks loose with everyone thinking of the monsters and having them rise from their beds, ready to strike. It's only thanks to Santa invading the base with Slinkies and toy robots that everyone appears to get away, but that's where the fun begins.

Doctor Who has always been a show about high concepts and mashing things together. Robot of Sherwood is Doctor Who meets Robin Hood. Time Heist is Doctor Who meets Ocean's Eleven. Last Christmas is a conscious meld of at least three movies, with Santa Claus thrown in for good measure because it's Christmas and Doctor Who hasn't met Santa Claus before. The monsters of this episode, called "dream crabs", are very consciously inspired by the facehuggers from Ridley Scott's Alien. Hell, one of the technicians even makes the observation in the episode! The Arctic base under siege from alien monsters has shades of the 1951 horror classic, The Thing From Another World (notable as the inspiration for John Carpenter's rad 1982 remake with Kurt Russell). Isolated in the frigid Arctic, with aliens ready to Make You Dead... if we're being honest, this is something that Doctor Who is familiar with. Classic Doctor Who fans will know it as a take on a "base under siege" plot, which was very popular in the Patrick Troughton era of the late 60's. Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Ice Warriors, The Abominable Snowmen... the list goes on. These are all the minor little callbacks, but the biggest movie Moffat takes inspiration from for Last Christmas comes in the name of the monster. Dream crabs.

The way that the dream crabs kill could be seen as a variation on Moffat's Weeping Angels. See, the facehuggers wrap themselves around your head, just like in Alien... but rather than implant a fetus into your stomach, they put you into a dream state. A dream so lifelike that you don't know you're dreaming, and the only thing that might feel off is the slight pain in your head; the sensation of the dream crab literally burrowing into your skull and drinking your brain, while you don't feel a thing in your happy little dream. If that weren't bad enough, the things create layers of dreams. You could seemingly wake up, see the dream crab die... but still be dreaming, and thus dying. Never quite sure if you're awake or asleep. The most prominent ingredient in this pop culture pot of soup Moffat has brewed us all for the holidays is a heap of inspiration from Inception. The episode even ends with its own version of the spinning top. This is why the episode only gets better as it goes along. What appears to be a creepy holiday-themed episode with more of Moffat's usual creepy tropes gets subverted and twisted as more and more "layers" of the dream crab state are revealed. The only reason they have rules are that it's a bad dream, and the people dreaming it are twisting the crabs to be generic monsters in that fashion. Things get even creepier as the dream deteriorates to full-on nightmare, with reality itself becoming strange and unreliable. Think a tamer version of Nightmare On Elm Street.

Of course, the thing that I personally keep coming back for are the character interactions. As far as the base technicians go, the one who's left a mark on people is Shona, the girl with the Northern English accent. Much comparison has been made between her and Lucie Miller, a character from Doctor Who audio dramas. Shona ain't no Lucie Miller, but she's alright. The real meat of it all comes from Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, as always. The Doctor, trying to distract Clara from thinking about dream crabs, brings up Danny Pink and she slaps him. Because Danny Pink is dead. (Well how would he know that, you lied, Clara!) Later, Clara falls into a dream where Danny actually shows up to spend Christmas with her. The Doctor lets himself get crabbed in order to go into her dream and pull her out before her brain gets sucked out, and it's Danny (or rather, Clara's ideal dream version of Danny) who somewhat backs him up. Danny Pink will do anything for Clara, especially Clara's memory of Danny Pink. That's how she chooses to remember him; the man who sacrificed himself to save Clara, and incidentally saved the world as well. Nick Frost as Santa Claus is also a brilliant bit of casting. Much of the episode is him and his elves making jokes about how Santa Claus could possibly work, and in a world with a space man in a magic box, is it really that farfetched? He works well in the role, providing more of that dissonance seen at the end of Death In Heaven. Santa Claus, jolly old elf who gives to children, in a horror movie with facehuggers and dreams you can't wake up from. Bizarre.

Well, then everything wraps up. The dream state is vanquished, the Doctor and friends get to ride above London in Santa's sleigh, and there's even an in-universe reason for all of the horror movie references mashed together. Then we get a scene where the Doctor meets a very old Clara, which contains a beautiful little callback to last year's Christmas special involving a Christmas cracker. It's a fakeout, though, and many have speculated that it was meant to be Jenna Coleman's departure as Clara, but it was changed at the last minute. The Doctor and Clara aren't lying to each other any more. They've both lost things important to them, be it their home planet or the man they love. All they have is each other, and a universe to explore together. So, hand in hand, they rush off to have adventures in a magic blue box. Perfect. I will say, though, that this is likely Jenna Coleman's last series. If you count the two episodes she appeared in for 2012, she'll have been on this show for four years in 2015. That's longer than some actors have lasted as the Doctor, and one of the longest-running companions for sure. One can only hope her actual swan song is as good as the fake-outs we've had throughout Series 8.


In any case, that's Last Christmas! It's sufficiently spooky and trippy, and plays with the things it's referencing to create something that only Doctor Who could create. Its character beats hit all the right notes, and it's the perfect Christmas present to us all from Steven Moffat. Now all we need to do is survive the eight months of nothing that await before Series 9. Hey, at least it's not like we have a split season this time. In 2012 we only got six episodes of Doctor Who. That's counting the Christmas special we had to wait three months for after The Angels Take Manhattan. Yeesh. With luck, we'll see you when Series 9 happens. Take care.

 AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

(Spoiler warning: there are spoilers.)

It's okay, and it ends with Clara looking into a mirror to make sure she's not old. The Christmas episodes are always a little hefty and extra-scrutinized because they're our island of new Doctor Who in otherwise desolate seas. They're the first new Doctor Who we get after a brief absence, and the last new Doctor Who we get before a long absence. It's been almost 9 months since this aired and it's pretty much the only new televised Doctor Who we've got. So, sometimes we can be harder on these things than usual. I'm still fine with this episode though. Let's see what stray observations we can make.

First, and this is a boldish sort of claim considering that I don't know shit about what is going to go down on the 19th of September, this feels like a transitional piece. We're tying up the Danny Pink arc and the consequences of these two people lying through their teeth at each other. The infinite reflections are broken, and now the Doctor and Clara both know the new status quo. While we're at it, mention keeps being made of the Doctor being a magician. So, you know, that stands out when you consider the title of the first episode of Series 9. I mean, for god's sakes, the sonic screwdriver basically is a magic wand at this point. Except it doesn't work on wood, which is what actual magic wands are made of. Hmm. Like a dream, I am all over the place with this one. The dream crabs are straight up facehuggers with Inception/Nightmare on Elm Street powers. Moffat is some sort of madcap alchemist, hucking shit into the cauldron to see what sticks. He even throws in some base under siege, and bothers to cast one of Patrick Troughton's sons in there. So, invocations! What fun!

I do love Danny, or rather, Clara's ideal Danny. Her mind is trying to save itself from becoming soup, and so Danny is recreated pretty much as he was. He saved the world before, and now he saves Clara. I'm also fond of the fact that, to distract herself from thinking about the dream crabs, Clara does basic math in her head. An interesting callback to Danny before he's called back proper. As for Santa, well he's fun. That bit with the toys invading the base to save the day is just wonderful. That and the sleigh ride. As well as old Clara not being able to pop the Christmas cracker, just like old Doctor one year ago. Perfect. I have very little else to add. It's a fine episode, it does interesting things, and it sets up (hopefully) the new status quo for Series 9. The Doctor is a magician, and Clara Oswald is no longer his dark mirror, ready to lie through her teeth to those she loves. Clara Oswald is an equal, and worthy of taking up the torch of the arcane and alchemical. Hand in hand, the two enter a magical box and warp off to the next adventure.

Next time: Clara Oswald is a Magician's Apprentice.

Friday, 18 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (Episode 12: Death In Heaven)

(Hello from the past! As always, these are writeups of Series 8 done last year for the website Boss Dungeon. They're being rehosted with added commentary as I do a rewatch in anticipation of Series 9... which is tomorrow as you're reading this! Oh boy! These words are being written on Thursday, though. I'm not here right now. Probably sitting on a boat, at least at the moment this is supposed to go live. Where I am when you're reading it, I'm not sure. But enough of that. Death In Heaven.)

Previously on Doctor Who: Danny Pink, ordinary maths teacher and boyfriend to Clara Oswald, dies a mundane and tragic death in a car accident. The Doctor, in a display of affection for his grieving best friend, takes Clara with him to search for Danny in the "afterlife". They find the 3W Institute, and also find the mysterious Missy and her boss, Doctor Chang. All of this turns out to be a misdirect, as Missy is the one in total control; not just of 3W, but of a growing army of Cybermen. With countless dead human minds, including Danny's, uploaded into a mass virtual storage drive, Missy intends to use the minds to power her Cyberman army. Oh, and she's a Time Lady. Not just any Time Lady, but the newest incarnation of the Doctor's childhood friend turned archnemesis, The Master. With her Cybermen stomping through London and Clara in danger inside 3W, things look grim... but they are about to get worse before they get better.

Welcome to the end of series 8. Welcome to Death In Heaven.

So. Finales in new Doctor Who. They're usually a big event with some universe-ending threat or an army of a million billion of a famous alien monster from series history. When it comes to Steven Moffat-penned finales, you also get the resolution to a dozen or more episodes of teased plot threads. The big reveal, granted, was Missy's identity as a regenerated Master. We had words to say about the validity of that reveal last week, sure, but like it or not we have Michelle Gomez as an incarnation of the Master. Without getting into it in-depth yet, this is a good thing... but Death In Heaven has so much more going on. It's about 60 minutes long, giving Moffat enough time to cram most of what he wants to happen in while still missing a few things that have people riled up. Let's get into the good before the bad.

UNIT is back! Led by Kate Stewart, daughter of longtime ally to the Doctor, the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, they fight off aliens who try and invade planet Earth and work with the Doctor on occasion. The Cybermen are no exception, having tried this more than once. UNIT is ready for them, and they cart off the Doctor and Missy to a private jet to try and deal with the Cyberman menace. Visually, Peter Capaldi's Doctor calls back memories of Jon Pertwee's Doctor from the early 70's, and that era of the show had the Doctor working with UNIT while dealing with the machinations of the Master. Having that same dynamic back after 40 years is interesting to see, as a fan of the classic series. Even though UNIT doesn't accomplish much to resolve the conflict of the episode, they have enough impact to move the story along and create some interesting plot beats and setpieces.

Clara gets a cute fakeout at the beginning of the episode. The trailer for the finale had her declare to a Cyberman that "Clara Oswald never existed". This raised all sorts of questions and speculations, but it's a red herring. It's Clara bluffing the Cybermen by pretending to be the Doctor, and even the opening titles of the show play with her bluff by putting her at top billing and showing her eyes during the opening sequence. It's a lovely trick, and one could see it as a reaction to the detractors claiming that this series has been "Clara Who". The titles shift to reflect that, but this isn't Flatline. This is all a bluff to save herself. It works for a time, until a mysterious Cyberman saves her from the laser beams of the others. We'll get to him, don't worry.

The highlight of the episode, by far, was Michelle Gomez as Missy. She really hasn't done much of anything in the series besides be cryptic and look menacing to tease the audience and make them wonder what the mystery is. Now the cat's out of the bag, and Michelle Gomez can turn in an A+ performance. The thing about the Master is that, like the Doctor, there have been many incarnations, each with their own tics and traits. Roger Delgado was a suave unethical plotter. Anthony Ainley was somewhat camp. Eric Roberts was a ham. John Simm was a manic dark mirror of David Tennant. Michelle Gomez adds a playful insanity to it, sort of a cross between Delgado and Simm. She's a maniac who isn't afraid to murder to get what she wants, and that leads into one of the more divisive scenes of the episode; the death of Osgood. Osgood was a supporting character and UNIT member who made her debut last year in the 50th anniversary special. In her second appearance she gets tricked by Missy and vaporized. This has upset a lot of people who liked the character and wanted to see more of her doing things. I liked Osgood and was sad that she died, but I suppose that's the point. This episode is draped in the grimness of death, after all, considering the Cybermen.

Ah yes, let's talk about them for a bit. As one of the longest-running alien antagonists of the show, they've been through a lot of changes. In their 1966 debut they came from another planet, looked and talked ridiculous, and were a sort of body horror; what happens when you replace more and more of yourself with machinery until there's nothing remotely human left. Over the years they shifted from that into evil robots who shouted DESTROY or DELETE, and sometimes turned people into evil robots. Death In Heaven takes it back to the body horror in a big way. Every Cyberman in the episode is a dead body revitalized into a robot body by "Cyber-pollen". It's Cybermen as zombies; hell, there's even a scene where they dig themselves out of their graves and rise up en masse. It may very well be the most horrific use of them since 1966. It also follows the "high stakes" trend of a new Who finale; every dead body on Earth is a Cyberman. Sure, we only see a large squad of them centralized in London, but it's that zombie mentality again; the idea of them rising from the grave everywhere on Earth is terrifying and sticks in the viewer's head if they think about it.

And then there's Danny. Dead and gone in Dark Water, but now back as a zombie Cyberman with a faulty emotion inhibitor. Danny's the toughest part of this episode to critique for me. He's back and it's horrific because being a zombie Cyberman who can still feel is a living hell few of us can quite comprehend. He asks Clara to fix the emotion inhibitor so he can stop feeling the pain, and ends up getting more jabs at the Doctor and his whole soldier thing. Still, the power of love prevails over emotional inhibitors, and it ends up being Danny Pink who saves the day and leads the Cybermen to self-destruct and stop Missy's plan. I'm going to miss him. There's a chance for him to come back, but he gives it up to save a small child he accidentally killed during his soldier days. One last chance to undo his guilt and move on in peace. You were an alright guy, Danny Pink.

Finally, the Doctor himself. Specifically, his relationship with Missy. It's been touched on that the Doctor and the Master were once friends in their youth, but the Master went bad thanks to some time vortex mumbo-jumbo or something of that nature. The point of Missy's grand scheming, a scheme that ended up with her causing Matt Smith's Doctor and Clara to meet each other in the first place... was to bring the Doctor down to her level. To give him an army of Cybermen to right all the wrongs in the universe, as a birthday present, so the good man could become a bad man. So she and him could be friends again. What she missed, what the Doctor missed, what we all missed this series... is that the Doctor isn't a good man or a bad man. He's what he always proclaimed to me; an idiot with a box. He's even ready to finally end Missy once and for all when intervention comes from the other divisive twist of the episode; Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as a Cyberman zombie shoots at her. Now, there've been a few complaints about this. The first being that Missy died and it was a waste of a character. I doubt that very much and hope against hope that Michelle Gomez is back because she's brilliant. The second is that bringing the Brigadier back, three years after the death of the actor who played him, as a Cyberman zombie, is a bit crass. Perhaps it is, but I can't deny I had a bit of a heartwarmed smile when the Doctor saluted him. Still, I think they did a better tribute to the memory of the Brigadier in the series 6 finale.

All that's left to take care of is the ending. Clara and the Doctor, after two series and two incarnations of adventures, appear to part ways, both lying to the other about what they're really feeling. It's sad to see Clara go, and it's even sadder to see her lying about going. She won't be settling down with Danny Pink. She'll be picking up the pieces of her life, moving on and returning to the ordinary. The Doctor won't be retiring to Gallifrey. He'll be zipping about time and space without his best friend by his side. Clara rose up from her puzzlebox of an existance in series 7 to become one of, if not my favorite, companions in the new series. She was hyper-competent and quick to call out the Doctor on his misdeeds, but also had a lot of trouble with being honest to the people that she loved. Despite those mistakes, I still think she was fantastic. Can it really end like this?

Apparantly not, because the end credits get interrupted by, and I'm not kidding, Nick Frost as Santa Claus. Our Christmas special just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Regardless, that was Series 8 of Doctor Who! We've sat through 12 weeks of adventure in time and space, and now we've earned ourselves a little break. What the future will bring, I don't know. Maybe an overview of Series 8 as a whole before the Christmas special. As for 2015, it'll be a long wait for Series 9, so no promises on what happens there.


We'll see you soon, before you know it. Next time, whenever that is: We find out what the Doctor wants for Christmas.

AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

(Spoiler warning: there are spoilers.)

Haha. Isn't this funny? This is the first time, aside from when I wrote this, that I'm really getting to defend Death In Heaven. Yeah. I had a bit of an anxiety-related episode during the video review thing that I do with friends. Clammed right up. Got all mopey. The thing basically devolved into people shouting about how Steven Moffat was a Bad Writer, and therefore it was a Bad Episode and Fuck Steven Moffat. And y'know, that properly got me down because I loved Death In Heaven. Thought it was a great capstone, and here are my friends, not even really debating it so much as shouting at it. Making me feel like a proper idiot for being suckered into this and actually liking Doctor Who. Well, it's time for me to plant a final flag, and become my very own mirror. One reflected by the Doctor himself.

I'm Frezno, and I am an idiot because I loved Death In Heaven. I still love it, and I don't care if I'm an idiot for doing so. I think it's fantastic. I am easily wowed by the sheer emotional wonders of Moffat-era Doctor Who, and that is just the fool I am. Sorry. Well, not really sorry but y'know what I mean. So! Let's talk about mirrors again because this is the culmination of it all! We have discussed the darkening of Clara, as she becomes a mirror of the Doctor and thus a chronic liar and Not A Good Person. Now we find that the actual dark mirror of the Doctor has been behind everything all along. Yes, Missy, crafted in 1971 as the Moriarity to the Doctor's Holmes, a true intellectual nemesis, every bit as clever but without any morals or ethics or anything. The one true dark mirror of the Doctor... and not just Mistress of the Cybermen, or the 3W Institute. No, she is Mistress of Mirrors, and the world she is creating is a twisted funhouse of dark mirrors. The human race looks inside, and sees mechanical zombies, literally rising from the grave like in a George A. Romero flick to terrorize the living; to make the living Like Them. The Doctor looks inside and sees his old childhood friend, the person he was one step away from becoming. Clara Oswald looks inside and sees Clara Who, master manipulator and fast talker. This mirror's power is such that it even reflects back on the meta-narrative; Jenna Coleman takes top billing and her eyes appear in the opening credits. The transformation is complete. Clara Oswald has become the Doctor, and the show has now become about her (much to the annoyance of those who don't like Clara!). Hell, we spread a wider net now. Missy was the "woman in the shop" who set Matt Smith and Clara up in the first place, a necessity on her part. Without Clara, there can be nobody to stop John Hurt from pushing the Big Red Button. There can be nobody to stop every victory of the Doctor's from being rewritten thanks to some oblique old 60's villain played by Richard E. Grant. There can be nobody to plead to the crack at Trenzalore, to set up the events needed to free Missy from her battle with Rassilon. Missy creates the means of her escape; she is her own mirror.

She wants more, though. The Doctor has rejected being a reflection of Missy, so she concocts the best scheme she can. She creates an army, an army that can be used for any purpose, good or bad... and then hands it to him. Her goal is to darken him, to let him take charge and be the Time Lord Victorious, or Valeyard, or another entity of War. She wants to be his reflection, and she knows that she cannot elevate herself to the "goodness" he exudes, so her plan is to bring him down to her level. She wants her friend back, plain and simple. A far more impassioned scheme than "I disguised myself as a racist cartoon Arabian sorcerer in prehistoria for no reason", to be sure. Still, as Mistress Of Mirrors, she has created a carnival. Watch how she pirouettes, a sadistic Mary Poppins. The whimsical music and movement that comes after she vaporizes that poor Doctor Who fangirl. That upset a lot of people and has been criticized as a bad move, but I think her Zygon double is coming back for Series 9 so let's see how that goes.

Now how about Danny Pink? He's been outside the funhouse of mirrors for most of the series, but now that he's dead, he's been sucked in. Dark Water ended with him and the child he killed reflected off of an Ipad screen. Death In Heaven has him come back to his new Cyberman body and look into a mirror, horrified at what he has become. Missy's Magical Mirrors have shown his reflection, and what he finds is regression. Since killing that innocent child in a war zone, he has rejected the life of a soldier. He quit the army, became a maths teacher, fell in love. Then he got hit by a car and died. (Something I forgot to mention in Kill The Moon; there's an offhand line from the Doctor about how everything's dangerous; eating chips, crossing the road. Mother of god.) Now he wakes up from his afterlife adventure to discover his regression; he is a soldier again, a walking automoton made to follow orders, and it hurts. His rejection of this new life is dark and severe; he begs for emotional death. If he is to be a soldier, he doesn't want to have to feel it. After much bantering, it is Clara who pulls the switch and ends it all, because though she wasn't that good at it, she loved him. Despite the lying, despite her own fall to darkness, that never stopped. She never stopped loving Danny Pink, and she swears she never will. She stops the Doctor from having to pull the switch, and the Doctor in turn stops her from having to pull the switch to kill Missy. Missy taunts this, mentioning the saving of souls, knowing full well that her scheme has already darkened both Clara and the Doctor; and the Doctor acknowledges this. Missy wins. She vanishes in a puff of blue, and did you really expect that to be the end of her? I mean, come on, guys. Really? That leads us into a misstep. Cyber-Brig. I understand how this happened, in a sense. Danny and the Brigadier are the only dead people we see who manage to resist the control of the Cybermen, because they are soldiers protecting the people they love. That's fine enough, but really... it is in poor taste. Sure, it warmed my heart to see the Doctor salute him, but I stand by what I said last year; he had his sendoff at the end of Series 6 when the actor died. That was the last we should have seen of him on screen.

Missy's plan is stopped and Danny has sacrificed his own chance at happiness to redeem himself for shooting an unarmed kid. All's well that ends well. Now the Doctor and Clara meet, and they are perfect mirrors for each other. Each can successfully lie to the other about settling down and not wanting to travel any more, and they'll buy it. Congratulations. Well done. The friends hug, and hide their faces from each other, and this is where the song of Clara Oswald should end. Could end. It's up there, but it could be another Amy and Rory style ending where they could have had a happy end, but instead it was full of tragedy because we kept them on too long. I hope that doesn't happen to Clara, but we'll see. First though, there's only one person who can sort out this infinite mirror lying business. Who's that?

Next time: MOTHER. FUCKING. SANTA!

(I'm sorry Kat. Don't kill me.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (Episode 11: Dark Water)

(As always, these are old Series 8 writeups from last year, done for the website Boss Dungeon. I'm rehosting them here with new commentary as I rewatch, in anticipation for Series 9. Isn't this exciting? While I'm here, I should mention that I'm probably going away tomorrow for the weekend. Never fear, because this is the future and all I have to do is actually watch Death In Heaven and Last Christmas today as well, write that stuff up, and then use the magic of Blogger scheduling so they actually post on Friday and Saturday. Then when we get back, we can talk about The Magician's Apprentice! Hooray! Okay, now here's Dark Water.)

This one's tricky. Yes, it's part of the finale. Yes, it does some amazing things and has more than its share of jaw-dropping and mind-blowing moments. It's also a puzzle with half its pieces missing. We haven't had an Doctor Who episode in two parts since The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People, all the way back in May 2011. In hindsight, critical attention will look at this as a 105-minute piece that closed out Series 8. For the next few days as of writing, though, we exist in... hell, let's play with what it is, considering. We exist in a state of temporal grace. Serious questions have been raised, and serious revelations and shocking things have popped up to send every Doctor Who fan into a frenzy of speculation... but there are also many things left to be unanswered, and a world in crisis. Until the puzzle is solved, let's take stock of what we know so far. This is Dark Water.

We begin with Danny and Clara, talking on the phone. Clara's got her post-it notes out, ready to tell Danny everything about her secret travels with the Doctor as he's out for a walk. Then he gets hit by a car and dies. That's it. Danny Pink. Soldier, maths teacher, love of Clara's life. Dead in a random accident. Oof. Steven Moffat just punched us all in the gut with a mortality boxing glove. For my part, I really liked Danny. He was a great supporting character in his own right, and his relationship with Clara gave both of them more depth. To see him just die is tragic. To see how Clara deals with it gives us even more insight.

Clara in these opening scenes is taking things surprisingly well. She remains calm and bubbly as she asks the Doctor to take her somewhere cool, like a volcano... but this is all ulterior motive. One of those scenes from the trailer, given context to reveal its red herring status. Clara, menacing the Doctor with all of his TARDIS keys, demanding he go back in time and save Danny. The Doctor refusing on the grounds that if Danny hadn't died, Clara would never threaten the Doctor and go back to fix it, thus creating a paradox. One by one, Clara throws the keys into the boiling lava, and when none are left she finally breaks down. Of course, the Doctor is in control. The whole thing was a dream sequence, brought on by his curiosity. What now, Clara asks? They go to hell. Even though Clara betrayed his trust and let the Doctor down, he's still willing to help his friend. As Capaldi puts it; "Do you think I care so little for you that betraying me would make a difference?". Beautiful. Hard to believe that 10 weeks ago I wasn't sure if this man was the Doctor. He is. He is, and he's here to help heal his friend's pain by finding the dead Danny Pink, wherever he moved on to.

That "wherever" turns out to be the Nethersphere, the place we've seen in those little teases and sneak peeks over the past 10 weeks. Chris Addison even comes back, playing his Nethersphere office worker character who showed up at the end of The Caretaker. This time, he's assigned to Danny's case, explaining the nature of his death and the new afterlife of the Nethersphere, which is a rather visually stunning place. Not what I expected it to look like at all, but it's cool to see. While this is happening, the Doctor and Clara arrive at the 3W Institute, in search of a lead on Danny. What they do find are skeletons in submerged tanks. Hundreds of them. The dead on full display for the living. They also find Missy, who calls herself an android working for the institute and sends them off to have things explained by an institute doctor.

It's here that things take a grim turn. Moffat's great at planting little idea seeds with horrible implications, and letting the imaginations of the audience water them. In this case, the 3W Institute turns out to be founded on the basis that the dead remain conscious after they die. 3W stands for 3 Words, and presumably the three words shouted by the dead people in a panic are "Don't cremate me!". If you think on that in any detail, you're going to give yourself goosebumps. There's some talk about the water in the tanks being "dark water" that works like x-ray vision, and more than a few shots of Missy playing around with the skeletons in the tank... who are now moving. In case you haven't figured it out yet, there's a brilliant shot of a door that creates a connection in the audience's mind.

So yeah. The skeletons in the tank are actually Cybermen, and Missy has some sort of sphere that lets her upload the dead people's minds. First to the sphere, and then into the brains of the Cybermen. One could spout lots of words about the Cybermen, but we'll save that for next week. They don't play much of a role here aside from their menace being the cliffhanger. For now, just know that they're very bad news. The real secret, the one that was clutched close to Moffat's chest, is Missy's true identity. After 10 weeks of speculation and teasing on the part of the show, we at long last know who she is.

And she's The Master.

Capaldi does his part here, of course, looking shocked and horrified at the revelation. The Master should be locked on Gallifrey with the Time Lords, following the climax of The End Of Time Part 2! Yet here she is, having not just changed bodies but gender! So it's now canon that Time Lords can become Time Ladies upon regeneration, I guess. The Master being behind it all should be shocking, and it should be a game-changing reveal that calls to question what she's planning with the Cybermen. For many, I'm sure that's the case. For me? I read Doctor Who discussion threads, I write about the episodes here, I talk about them on video in quasi-podcast form. I'm privy to speculation. Missy being the Master was one of the earliest guesses, simply by leaps of language. Missy, short for Mistress. Mistress, feminine form of Master. It was the obvious horse to bet on for the big reveal, and it's the one Moffat went with. I find myself a bit disappointed that 10 weeks of yet another big mystery plot and teasing the audience just led to the most obvious guess. Then again... it's about the journey, not the destination. We're not even halfway done. Like it or not, Missy was the Master and she's planning something terrible with the Cybermen. Clara's in danger of being attacked, and Danny's mind is inside the Nethersphere, in danger of being wiped by emotion and uploaded into a mindless automaton body. Will the Doctor be able to stop her evil plot and save Earth yet again?


We'll find out next week. Next time: The finale.

AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

(Spoiler warning; there are spoilers)

Yeah, the finale sticks the landing. No surprise there. Unlike the week when I wrote the above piece, we're in the future now. Dark Water and Death In Heaven are out. You can watch one right after the other, and because of that stuff I said I had to do this weekend, I am going to go and watch Death In Heaven immediately after this goes live. It's here I get to play with mirror symbolism again. The final shot, sure, is that little kid Danny shot being reflected on the Ipad screen. There's also the fact that the titular Dark Water deals with refraction. That's not the same thing as reflection, to be sure, but it deals with light being intercepted from a surface. No, more to the point, this episode has the Cybermen. Having turned Clara into a dark mirror of the Doctor (which she embraces full-on in this episode, but more on that in a second), the show now holds the dark mirror up to humanity. We are the Cybermen, and the Cybermen are us. I'd talk about the Qlippoth or whatever that is, but I ain't Phil Sandifer. What I do know is that the Cybermen are a bunch of emotionless stomping zombies, and we also know that the mirror symbolism is rampant. So the dark mirror of the emotionless Cybermen is reflected, and we get Clara and Danny. The light mirror, the emotional core of the whole thing. Clara's grief over Danny's sudden, ordinary, out of nowhere death causes her to falter, and she darkens. It is she who looms over the blighted volcano, attempting to threaten the very man she reflects into doing as she demands. Clara Oswald, in her anguish, has become her very own Oncoming Storm, and in her grief she exiles them both to a lava landscape, weeping while professing that she would do it again. Of course, a mirror cannot be as powerful as the original. This alchemy is diluted. The Doctor was in charge all along. He wanted to see how far she would go, and he has. Now he's going to help his friend, because that's what you do. That goddamn line about her betraying him not making a difference. That is Doctor Who, and it is wonderful and beautiful and a sweeping statement about the man the Doctor is. Say what you will about Stevie Moffat and his plot holes or slip-ups, but sometimes he just gets it, y'know?

He also gets how to scare people. The entire concept of being sentient when you're dead, and being able to feel what happens to your body? That's absolutely pants-shittingly horrifying. There's enough ambiguity here that you're not sure how much of this entire 3W stuff is all a ruse that Missy just made up. Certainly her magic hard drive is able to pull people's minds from their bodies when they're dead, and there has to be some liminal connection between those minds and their original bodies. Then those bodies get turned into Cybermen, or they like... shove the minds into other spare bodies? Like, if Missy is running around stealing people like the Half-Faced Man or Gretchen, she has to have spares. I went through this song and dance before. The plan is kinda gonzo, but Missy is kinda gonzo too so... there you go.

Let's talk about her and close out for now because you can't talk much about this one without also talking about Death In Heaven. I was upset when the reveal happened. 10 weeks of teasing and poking at us, all but begging us to go onto Something Awful/Twitter/Tumblr/GallifreyBase and theorize left and right, only for it to be the easiest and most obvious answer? Wow. How dare you not surprise me and shock me intellectually, Steven Moff Hat. :V
Of course, as I'll go into later, I ate my goddamn words when it turned out that Michelle Gomez was actually phenomenal and knocked it out the park. Hey, here's something to talk about. The old writeup had mention of being in a state of temporal grace. Here's another briefer one I was in while watching. Between the time Missy admits she's a Time Lady, and her outright saying she couldn't keep calling herself the Master... I thought it was Romana. Maybe shit went wrong in the CVE and she resented him for it. Then again, in the audios Romana did get out and become President of Gallifrey during the 8th Doctor era so... I shoulda realized that. Oops. Still, that woulda been a shocker, huh? Romana gone bad.

Alright, that's all I got. Next time: Everyone dies but comes back as a Cyberman.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (Episode 10: In The Forest Of The Night)

(As always, these are old writeups of Series 8 done as it aired for the website Boss Dungeon. I'm rehosting them here along with new commentary as I rewatch in anticipation of Series 9. Not long now. First let's deal with this thing.)

Alright, let's talk about Doctor Who again. This one was hard to get a proper hold of, and it's been a polarizing one for various reasons. Let's take it one thing at a time. This was episode 10, and it's our last "business as usual" episode. Our series 8 finale is confirmed to be a two-parter, so there's an immense sense of gravity rushing at us next week. For now, we'll take this as our calm before the storm. Instead of massive game-changing business, here's a story about a magical forest. This was In The Forest Of The Night, and it was... okay.

The premise sees massive amounts of trees growing in the middle of London. Not just London, but all over the world. In one night, roads and city streets are overtaken by dense foilage. If you believe the view of the entire planet, there's even trees growing out of the ocean. Imagine a giant tree growing out of the Marianas Trench. That'd be one big tree. We have Clara and Danny discover the forest after a school field trip to a museum in London, and they meet up with the Doctor because one of the kids got separated from the others and ended up in the TARDIS. This little girl, Maebh, will prove important to the resolution of the episode.

I really liked Capaldi in this one. I find myself taking stock of everything that's come before with Capaldi, now that we're on the cusp of the finale. Deep Breath left me with less than good feelings about him, but he's grown on me. The way he interacts with the children in this episode made me smile. Explaining the dimensional transcendence of the TARDIS as "a Coke is this big, but has this much sugar" to Maebh, for instance... or later, panicking right along with the kids when Maebh wanders off. For most of the episode, he spends it pondering the whole tree thing. He comes up with a lot of possible theories, but none of them are really correct. More on that in a bit, but one other thing I liked was near the end, where we had a callback and response to Clara's angry rant from Kill The Moon. The Doctor admits he walks humanity's earth, and breathes their air, and that Earth is his world. What a great thematic tie-in.

Clara and Danny get a lot of time together, and there's more of the lying again. This time, Danny is on the cusp of finding out about Clara's deceit. For the episode, they deal with keeping the kids they're in charge of safe from any dangers that might crop up. Eventually the lie comes out... and Danny doesn't launch into an angry tirade! All he wants to know is the truth. He's supportive and kind of understanding. He just cares about Clara and wants her to be safe. I really like Danny as an "answer" to Clara's wanderlust and need to explore. While she's looking around trying to figure out where the trees came from, all he's concerned with is his job; keeping the kids out of trouble. I have to wonder if Clara's explanation will occur on camera or not; there might not be "time" for it in the finale, but we'll see.

The best aspect of this episode, though, is the forest. There's a definite fairy tale vibe here, as well as reference to famed English poet, William Blake. The title is lifted from his poem The Tyger, and what gets loose from the zoo in the episode but an actual tiger? That and some wolves. Maebh runs from a wolf while wearing a red jacket. She drops her things in the forest to leave a trail for the Doctor and Clara to follow. The mood here reminds me of the Matt Smith era, with childlike wonder. There's implication that these forests have grown out of nowhere before, and these events are the secret history behind our love of fairy tales. We forget the truth behind them, but the ideas they leave behind creates the fiction that sparks our imaginations. Beautiful.

Yet there's something holding it back. There are great character moments and the concept is imaginative, but things don't go anywhere. There are a few unfortunate implications and boneheaded decisions that have other critics condemning this episode. Me, personally? I thought it was okay, but it might be the weakest episode we've had in a while. Despite that, "weakest episode of series 8 of Doctor Who" is still a mighty high bar to set. This has been one of the best seasons of the show yet, looking back on it. One hopes the finale will live up to that. Time to do what we did back at the end of August. Time to take a deep breath and dive into the execution of all things.


Next time: Words can't do it justice. Here's the trailer. This is gonna be so cool.

AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

Oh good god. What we've got here is a thing. The least liked episode of Series 8. One of the most criticized episodes of the new series. Quite Possibly One Of The Worst Doctor Who Episodes In The Program's 52 Year History. That's fan consensus, mind. I'm kind of indifferent on it. I found things I liked about it in the old writeup, and there was even a line that Danny said at the end that I loved. Embarrassingly I forgot how it exactly goes, so I have to go back to the episode and check. One second. Ah. "Fear a little bit less, trust a bit more." Well, I guess that was Maebh. Or the Forest Fireflies. Or something like that, but holy shit does that resonate with me in regards to some of my less than happy moments. Which is kind of ironic because that sort of thing is the biggest criticism people have with this episode; the mental illness reading of it. Look, I'll level with you all. I get a little anxious sometimes and that gets me down, but as far as I know I do not have any sort of mental illness. I don't take any sort of medication in order to grapple with anything in my brain that would prevent me from being a functional member of society. I didn't take any mental illness reading from the episode on first transmission, but hearing other people talk about how shitty it is... it makes sense, in a fashion. Here we have the show giving us a terrible sort of message about how hearing voices isn't a mental illness symptom, but rather magical fairy tale forest fireflies trying to communicate with us. That's a really shitty message, I'll concede that. If you took that away from the episode, and hate it for it, I can understand it. I'm not about to raise it up on a pillar with Listen and Flatline or nothing, but I don't think it's the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. At the very least it's not one of the ones that outright killed the show for a long period of time, like Warriors Of The Deep or The Twin Dilemma or the TV movie. That's faint praise, I know, but if a possible anxiety-ridden buffoon like myself can take a positive reading from a line at the end about trusting people, then it can't be all bad.

No mirror symbolism again, not that I saw... apart from an advance with Clara. Here, she turns down the Doctor's offer to save her. He protests by showing what he learned from the Kill The Moon debacle (the other Worst Series 8 Episode Ever) and saying that the Earth is his planet now as well. Clara still refuses. She doesn't want to be the last human being alive. She doesn't want to be like the Doctor. She has courted with darkness, and here and now there is still an attempt to break through that darkness. This is a clear rejection of becoming in full the mirror of the Doctor. Clara Oswald, Last Of The Humans, The Impossible Girl. She refuses. The darkness will creep back next time, out of desperation and grief, as it often does. Clara will darken, and lie about even being good in the first place to survive. The lying will never end, but here and now, she tried to fight it. Good on her.

This whole thing feels like a fairy tale, and that might be key to understanding it. This is Kill The Moon without the space spiders and excellent performances. If the mental illness angle didn't get you, being faithful to science in your Doctor Who probably did. Still, this is a fairy tale through and through. Even the trailers emphasized a girl in red running from wolves. We have a magical forest, a wise old wizard with a magic wand, some Hansel and Gretel-esque tracking, a Blakean Tyger, Forest Fireflies older than man themselves... the magic forest is the Secret History of All Fairy Tales. This is the Genesis Of The Daleks for fairy-stories. Interesting reading, that. Interesting episode, this. Not really my favorite or anything, but trust me when I say I've seen worse Doctor Who. Hell, I love bad Doctor Who in its own special way. Barring The Twin Dilemma, bad Doctor Who is a spectacle, a gawdry exorcism of quality done in an attempt to entertain. Even stuff like Love and Monsters has a redemptive reading for it, and I guess "the secret history of all fairy tales, plus Clara becoming good again, plus a nice message about anxiety and trusting people" is mine. It's not much, but it's what I took from it. What you take from it is your own.

...Shit, I forgot to talk about the ending with Anabelle. It almost doesn't make sense, but I guess the intent is Maebh and her Forest Fireflies brought back the idea of Anabelle and made her real? Like they made the idea of the forest real to protect the Earth? I... guess? Look, I dunno.

Next time: Death is but a doorway. Time is but a window. I'll be back.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (Episode 9: Flatline)

(As always, these are old writeups of Series 8 from last year, written for the website Boss Dungeon. I'm rehosting them here and adding new thoughts in as I rewatch in anticipation of Series 9. Okay, this one was good. Let's go see the past.)

Let's talk about "companion-lite" and "Doctor-lite" a little, in the sense of Doctor Who. Throughout multiple series of the new show, we've had this dichotomy of episodes near the tail end of it all. Two back-to-back episodes; one in which the companion takes a backseat role (or hardly appears at all) and one in which the Doctor does the same. Sometimes both companion and Doctor bow out of the narrative, like in Love And Monsters or Blink. Other times, the companion's left behind and the Doctor does his own thing, as seen in episodes such as Midnight. For my money, the most interesting of these are the Doctor-lites. Episodes where the focus is on the companion, without the help of a magic spaceman. You get really interesting stuff, like Turn Left from the fourth season of the new series. Flatline is a Doctor-lite, and it might just be the best of the Doctor-lites.

We're in Bristol this week, and the TARDIS has a problem. Something's sucking dimensional power from it, causing the outside police box portion of the ship to shrink. The show's been no stranger to mucking around with the dimensional transcendence of the TARDIS, and this occurance has the Doctor stumped. He stays behind while Clara goes to investigate the local area to find the disturbance, and while she's gone the TARDIS shrinks even more, becoming handheld. The Doctor can't get out, so he hands Clara his psychic paper and sonic screwdriver and sends her to it. The show has just become Clara Who. Sure, there's still the Doctor in her ear giving her advice and thinking out loud and all that... but Clara is out there, taking charge and being the Doctor. What foul monster from the depths of space will Clara Who face this week? Daleks? Sontarans? Cybermen? No. Something far scarier.

This week's scary monster is damn well one of the scariest we've had on the show, just from the sheer concept and how they play out. Whatever they are, they exist outside our universe somehow in 2 dimensions. What we see are their attempts to get in, via us. They study humanity by pulling them into their world. This kills the people, leaving only crude drawings on the wall of whatever they were examining. A pattern of human skin. The central nervous system. Again, they play by rules that you can't avoid; don't touch the walls or floor, or they get you. What sells them are two important things, though. First and foremost, the imagery is terrifying. People getting sucked down into the floor and becoming drawings, for one... but then the things learn enough to exist in three-dimensional space, leading to some truly effective visual effects. (One of which made my jaw drop from how spooky it was!) The second? We never really learn much about them. Oh, sure, we have the Doctor technobabbling about them learning and how their powers work and all that, but we don't know anything beyond his theorizing. We're in Listen territory again, with intense ambiguity as to what these things want. Good. We need more of that in Doctor Who. These monsters are a cosmic horror, and I like it like that.

The monsters are great, and Clara Who is a wonderful show to be watching for a week. Capaldi is on the sidelines this time, locked inside his own TARDIS and forced to figure out the plot as Clara lives it in real time. He does a good job at it, and even gets a defining moment at the end; one of those moments that screams "I am the Doctor". Oddly enough, the only real objection to this one is Clara. Not the Clara Who stuff, that's brilliant... but the other side of her character. Last week we saw her flip-flop on that whole "one last hurrah" thing and go back to travelling with the Doctor again. Without telling Danny about it, mind. Enough time has passed that she has her old haircut back, and here she is. Lying again. Directly lying to Danny on the phone, lying to the Doctor about lying to Danny. Just straight-up lying. It's unfortunate to see my new favorite companion behaving in such a flawed way. Even the Doctor, the abrasive new Doctor, manages to get in a line or two about how this is Not Good. Adding to that, we've got another Missy appearance in this episode. More cackling about mysteries that will be endlessly speculated about online until the finale in two weeks. Lovely. Well, lying aside this is still a fantastic episode. Definitely in the top three for this season. It's terrifying, gives the companion agency and makes her super-competent, and has some great Doctor moments. Amazing, considering that the writer of this one wrote last week's episode as well... and those scripts were his first two contributions to the show! You get a gold star, Jamie Mathieson. Spot-on.


Next week: Forests! Wolves! Tigers! Danny! Schoolchildren! I don't know what this is but we'll see!

AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

(Spoiler warning for the later episodes and whatnot below. You've been warned.)

Oh, Flatline is marvelous. Simply marvelous. Absolutely in my top three of S8 episodes, right there with Listen and Mummy. Wouldn't you know it, we even get a clear shot of Clara looking into a mirror in this one. For longer than half a second! Great, the theme is back for reals! More to it is that Clara transcends here. She becomes the mirror of the Doctor, for all it's worth. She says that Rule One of being the Doctor is using the monsters against themselves, but that's a lie. Just like so many of the other things she says and does in this episode. Rule One has always been "The Doctor lies." Doctor Who lies, and since Clara Who has transcended and become his mirror over 8 episodes, she lies as well. That was my objection in the past writeup, but it was less an objection and more of a lament. I adore Clara, and S8 Clara is a fantastic companion. To see her darkening as a result of her becoming a mirror of the Doctor disheartened me greatly. At least I know that gets resolved sort of when we get to dream crabs and Santa Claus, but right here and now it broke my heart.

Now let's plant another flag and probably make someone very angry. Clara Who is a great thing, and I kinda think people getting mad at it are a little silly? I mean, it's not 1972 anymore, guys. We can have a companion who does things besides ask the Doctor questions so he can exposit the plot, and scream real loud at the monster of the month. Even the classic series had a handful of rad lady companions who kicked ass and took no shit from nobody. (See: Leela, Ace.) There ain't nothin wrong with Clara taking charge and sitting in for the Doctor in this episode, and in three episodes' time Steven Moffat actually trolls these people. No wonder people don't like him. Besides, the whole point of this one is that there's a cost to this, a collapse. Not of narrative, but of character. Clara becoming the mirror of the Doctor is a bad thing because she's becoming a chronic liar to the people she cares about; both Danny and the Doctor. It's a guilty pleasure of an episode; it's great to see a proactive Clara taking charge and figuring out how to save the day, just like the Doctor would, but it comes at the cost of her morality. Note the sly callback at the end to Into The Dalek. Clara was a good Doctor, but she's not a good Doctor. As if we needed it cemented further, we get a Missy teaser that adds nothing other than her cackling about how Clara was a good choice on her part. The villain of the piece is applauding Clara for falling into darkness, as well she should. Well, actually, I pulled a Clara Who and lied as well. It adds something to the series mystery, although I didn't notice it at the time. Check it out.


That door behind her. It's the 3W logo, and shaped like the eyes of a Cyberman. There's an explicit reveal of this in Dark Water that finally clued me in to what was going on, but here we have the exact same thing, not spelled out for us, sitting in the background and I missed it. Not only that, but I was surprised at the Cybermen being involved in the finale, as I recall. (Watch the original Next Time preview prove me wrong with past me going "OOH CYBERMEN".) This would imply that nobody else I know or read about caught this one and yelled about it. Or I didn't see it. 'Cause the Internet had to have twigged on this during the broadcast, or at the worst, on first rewatch. How did this escape me? I don't know, but well done. And well done with this episode, as well. It gives us Clara taking charge and being Doctorlike, with all the downfalls and bad things associated with it. Its monsters are goddamn terrifying, and like I said, it's Listen with less ambiguity about the things being real. They're real, and we don't know what they are but they want us dead. Incredible. As is that shot of the guy being dragged off by the monster hand, which, like the 3W door there, you can see in the background but don't notice until it grabs the guy and jumpscares you. Goddamn. Amazing.

Next time: Oof. This is going to be a rough one.

Monday, 14 September 2015

From The Boss Dungeon Vaults: Doctor Who Series 8 First Impressions (Episode 8: Mummy On The Orient Express)

(As always, these are Series 8 impressions that were written as they aired for the website Boss Dungeon. They're being rehosted as I rewatch Series 8 in anticipation for Series 9. So here's a good one with a mummy in it.)

Mummy On The Orient Express. What a title. It's so succinct in summarizing the episode. There is indeed a mummy. It does indeed attack people on a train called the Orient Express. Of course, this being Doctor Who, this isn't the Orient Express. Just a Orient Express. Which also happens to be in space. Because it's Doctor Who, see. Regardless of playing with tropes, this one is a real winner. You've got one hell of a monster concept, some of the best Doctor moments Peter Capaldi's ever had, and a surprise or two.

The first big surprise being... Clara Oswald! I was wondering who the short-haired lady travelling around with the Doctor at the start was. Clearly it couldn't be Clara. Not after that explosive condemnation at the end of Kill The Moon. No, the Doctor must have picked up some other young lady to ease his mind after Clara left. That wasn't the case. Jenna Coleman got a haircut and Clara is still on the TARDIS. While this is quickly explained as "one last hurrah" and Clara's final trip on the TARDIS, I've got mixed feelings. Mainly because I loved last week's blowup so much. It was a companion depature the likes of which we hadn't seen since Tegan left, and that was 30 years ago. Sure, this is set weeks after Kill The Moon and all... but it feels like the consequences of Clara's anger were sort of glossed over in a few lines. It's not nearly enough to sink the episode, but with how through the roof I've been about Clara this season it leaves a funny taste in my mouth.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is in perfect form. Capaldi plays up the more "alien" aspects of the character, particularly early on when Clara is pouring her heart out about her anger from the last episode... and all he wants to do is tell her about old planets he was on. He talks to himself, and replies in the voices of previous incarnations. Despite all of that, Capaldi defines himself on getting the job done. The events of the episode leave a rather high body count, and with each death the Doctor remains detached and devoted to solving the mystery of the mummy. Whereas David Tennant would trot out the old "I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry" (a line that Clara actually takes up near the end), Capaldi's Doctor just sort of shrugs about it and moves on. In his mind, there's nothing he could have done... and every death gives him more clues on stopping the thing threatening to kill them all.

That thing being the mummy, or as the episode calls it, the Foretold. Like so many other Doctor Who monsters (and so many monsters in general), the Foretold runs on a set of rules. Only those unlucky enough to be targeted by the Foretold can see it. Once they do see it, they have 66 seconds before it gets them and kills them. No weapons can stop it, and it can teleport in order to shamble towards you. Already there's a difference between the Foretold and other Doctor Who monsters; there's no way to stop it. Well, there's exactly one way to stop it, but the point of the entire episode is figuring it out. Before that, just about everyone who sees the Foretold ends up getting killed by it. The episode goes the extra mile by adding a timer onscreen every time the Foretold appears, frantically counting down the seconds until the unlucky sap gets it. Really builds the tension and adds some flair to the episode. I love it.

Then we have the whole twist with "Gus", as is customary for this season. We spend half the episode establishing things and then everything is turned around with some sort of twist. The twist in this case being that the entire train is some sort of lab, and the passengers are tasked to figure out how to stop the Foretold. We never find out who is in charge of the train experiment in the episode, but Gus is an amoral villain all his own. Not bad for a computer AI. When the Doctor won't listen to Gus's requests for him to stop talking on the phone with Clara and get back to puzzling out the Foretold, he decompresses the kitchen and vents the cooking staff into space. Despite the fact that Clara was on the phone telling the Doctor things about the Foretold, giving him clues that could help him solve the mystery. One could argue that Gus is the villain of the episode; the Foretold merely kills on instinct. Gus kills to prove points and tidy up loose ends after he gets what he wants. My money's on him being connected to Missy and the Nethersphere, but if this was just a one-off then that is that.

A lot of this one is spent dealing with Clara's emotional state after Kill The Moon. She's calmed down and doesn't outright hate the Doctor, but she's adamant that this be their last trip. There are some great scenes with her and Capaldi, like the one where she realizes that parting ways with the Doctor means he won't pop in for dinner once in a while, and that this really is the last hurrah. Then we've got the ending. Clara, after lying to get a potential Foretold victim into the same car as the Doctor, and hearing his rationalizations and detached nature... decides to not give it up. In a way that makes it seem like she will be lying to Danny about it. Having Clara back is one thing. Having her lie to her boyfriend about it is something else entirely. There's talk about the Doctor's travelling through time and space as an addiction, and maybe Clara's addicted to it now too. Addiction is a terrible thing, and as great as Jenna Coleman is on the show now... I've got a bad feeling about what's to come. Regardless, what a standout episode. It was a bit too grim with its high body count to properly call it a "romp", but it's taking the characters to interesting places and it's been universally praised.

Let's just hope the cost of their choices isn't a heartbreaking one.


Next time: Fear in two dimensions? Graffiti coming to life? I have no idea what's coming next week, but I look forward to it as always.

AND NOW WHAT I THINK... NOW

(Spoiler warning: there are probably spoilers below.)

This is still fantastic. It's even more fantastic knowing that there's a second fantastic episode coming up from the same writer. Holy shit. I kept an eye out, though, and I totally didn't see any mirror/reflection symbolism this time so boo. Feel free to correct me again, though. I just wanted it to run through every episode... but then again, this is what we were leading up to, wasn't it? Six episodes teasing the reflection angle, then we had Kill The Moon with Clara's impassioned rejection of the Doctor... and now she's back, with a new haircut. Lying her face off. Clara is slowly becoming a flawed reflection of the Doctor, and this is definitely something that gets followed up on in the next episode. And the finale, come to think of it. It doesn't feel like it, but we are only two episodes away from the beginning of the end. Here, then, is what Clara Oswald has become. Her secret was always a subversion; she was no Impossible Girl, but an Ordinary Girl who delved into the Extraordinary, shattering the mirror and fragmenting herself into oh so many shards. Now she has reassembled, and is becoming a mirror of the Doctor. She has adopted Rule One, and the consequences will be dire. So it has been Foretold.

Gee, it's been a while since I went all proto-mythological in one of these things, huh? Feels good. Look, this episode sings. And I don't mean the cool cover of Don't Stop Me Now, either! This is a great episode of the show, and lots of people love it! Which is interesting. I think it's a great episode, yes, but I also love all of the other episodes that have come so far. Even Kill The Moon got a passing grade because it did one or two amazing things. This one, though, is second only to Listen at this point in the series for my favorite. Why's that? This is where Peter Capaldi finally, without question, became The Doctor for me. We had a rocky road over September 2014. Deep Breath didn't sell me, and I spent the rest of the time sort of on the fence. Listen really helped, and the other episodes contributed in their own little way, but this is where the 12th Doctor finally arrived for me. As if to cement this, next episode he will get his own Matt Smith style speech full of bluster to threaten the monsters... but here he is in his default mode. The man who gets the job done. I said it in the writeup, but it's all in how this Doctor plays it. Tennant or Smith would be fiercely apologetic to the victims, and probably enraged at Gus. Capaldi just wants to get the job done, save the people, stop the killing, and do it with efficiency. He hasn't got the time to care, because his carer is locked in a supply room with a sarcophagus. He just works it out, is grouchy and grumpy about it, but gets the job done and saves as many as he can because that's what he does now. All he wants to do is get things done so he can go back to talking about planets. Perhaps he's even extra grumpy because this is supposed to be Clara's last hurrah. I could see that, but he's not really "extra grumpy" in this one.

As for Gus? Good villain. Notably, I was totally wrong about him being connected to Missy and the Nethersphere... but hey, a shambling undead soldier? I wasn't that far off the mark. This is a plot thread that people want a little tugging on for Series 9, and unlike "they should show what was underneath the bedsheet in Listen" which, as I said, completely misses the point of that episode, this is a thread I theoretically don't mind being expanded upon. Popular theory says that Gus is probably an agent of the Rani, an amoral scientist Time Lady from the classic era. Well, I mean, the show did make the other big Time Lord antagonist a Time Lady, so... it could be. I don't know, though. One, it's too obvious and I would rather it be something original and fresh that's a surprise, rather than this speculation game where the answer is the easiest choice. Two, the Rani is fucking rubbish. She hasn't been in a good television story at all. Poor Kate O'Mara, rip in peace. Well, we'll see with Series 9, now won't we? Just know that Mummy On The Orient Express is very good, and many people's pick for Best Episode Of Series 8. It cracks my top three for sure, but Listen and Flatline are awfully competitive for Top Spot.

Next time: It's Flatline and it's very very good.