Sunday, October 26, 2014
STORY 252: MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
For far too long, I had despaired about the direction Doctor Who was going. This latest season showed some simply dreadful stories (at least two of which have already earned a place in my Worst Doctor Who stories of all time). That is not something to be proud of. Mummy on the Orient Express, based just on the title and premise, appeared to be yet another romp through idiocy. How fortunate then that MOTOE not only defied expectations, but gave us something we long-suffering viewers thought we'd never see.
A Doctor Who story that was a genuine Doctor Who story.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) board a spaceship that looks like the fabled Orient Express train, complete with steam. Aboard however, there is a great danger: a figure who looks like a mummy, visible only to the person who is about to die. Once this person sees the mummy-like figure, they have sixty-six seconds to live. The mummy appears to not discriminate: taking from the wealthy passengers and humble cooks with equal menace.
However, while Clara finds herself locked in with Maisie (Daisy Beaumont), niece of the first victim, and a sarcophagus, the Doctor finds himself working with Perkins (Frank Skinner), the O.E.'s Chief Engineer, who suspects there is something to this tale of murdering mummies. The Doctor appears to have fallen (perhaps willingly) into a trap. The Orient Express in space is really a laboratory, where a voice going by Gus (John Sessions) has gathered figures (including the Doctor) to solve the mystery of what the creature, called The Foretold, and find its weakness. They don't have much time, as The Foretold will be eliminating them one by one. When The Doctor takes a call from Clara and doesn't get off the phone fast enough to please Gus, Gus responds by killing off the kitchen crew and leave them floating in space.
Gus means business.
The Doctor has to overcome both any hesitancy about mourning for the death and put others in danger to solve the mystery (which he does: the Foretold is a soldier long-forgotten, and with the Doctor's 'surrender' the soldier disappears). Gus, having found what it was looking for, slowly removes the oxygen from the spaceship and is going to blow it up. The Doctor is able to rejig the Foretold's phase-shifting device to get the survivors into the TARDIS. Clara awakens to find herself on a planet, where at first she is displeased the Doctor both put others in danger and thought little to nothing of other people's death. The Doctor tells her that it had to be that way if he wanted to save them all.
Unlike all the other Season Eight stories (and quite a few NuWho stories overall), Mummy On The Orient Express felt like it was written for Peter Capaldi, not Matt Smith. There was little joking around in MOTOE, no silliness to try and make light what was meant to be a serious and dangerous situation. Instead, we got at long last that long-promised 'darker' Doctor, one where Capaldi was finally able to show what he could do with the part without having to placate the Smith fans who enjoyed his 'Idiot Doctor'.
Capaldi's performance in MOTOE was simply his best this whole season. It reminded me of what Sixth Doctor Colin Baker said about what kind of being the Doctor was. Baker said that the Doctor could casually walk over a dead body without expressing any emotion, then see a dying butterfly and be genuinely mournful. Baker observed that it wasn't because the Doctor didn't care about humans or was passionate about butterflies, but it was because the Doctor thought in different ways than his Companions. Similarly, we see Capaldi in MOTOE becoming an amalgamation of his predecessors: the manipulativeness of the Seventh, the casual intelligence/humor of the Fourth when he runs up to the Foretold and says, "I'm the Doctor. I will be your victim this evening," (the offering to the Professor of what appears to be a cigarette box but instead being jelly babies was a nice touch) and the costume of the First (which actually looks better than his official costume in my opinion).
Capaldi's Doctor is one who isn't going to waste time mourning, a cool, rational being who sees the big picture (he needs to work fast to save everyone) and the niceties of 'having a moment' for someone who isn't around to appreciate it have to be pushed aside. He does what HAS to be done, and Capaldi shows that the Doctor is a rational being, and despite Clara's protests to the contrary, does have a heart(s). Partially in order to see the Foretold for himself (and I suspect, partially to save Maisie, he quickly gets her memories to make the Foretold think he is Maisie).
Capaldi is excellent in MOTOE, and he is aided by a good script (by first-time Who writer Jamie Mathieson. As a side note, it's a bit sad that Mathieson was able to write a real Doctor Who/Twelfth Doctor story while Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat appears to have no ideas, period). Calculating, intense, but someone who does in the end live up to being a hero, we have in Peter Capaldi someone who appears to finally have come into his own.
Mathieson's script also benefits from giving a logic to the idea of a train in outer space and a genuine sense of danger if the Foretold is not stopped. He also manages to shunt Clara away for long stretches, which is nice because that big-eyed whiner wore out her welcome long ago. Instead, Mathieson gave us Skinner's Perkins, showing that the Doctor could do with a Companion who is a.) reasonably intelligent, b.) not in love/lust with him at every turn, and c.) able to actually contribute something to help solve the mystery. Doctor Who 2.0 has never really made an effort to have either a Companion from another time/planet or a full-time Male Companion (almost always opting for a 20-21st Century British girl between 19-30). Given how one of the best Companions of All Time was Frazer Hines' Jamie McCrimmon (who formed a great double-act with Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor) it is almost refreshing to see someone from the future, who is an older man, capable of being a great Companion. Perkins, while declining a chance to serve on the TARDIS, would nonetheless be welcome to return as a guest star (which is NOT the case with Moffat's Galatea, that monstrous River Song).
The script also allows Capaldi some great lines. When discussing whether the first victim, an elderly woman, died because of a monster or simple old age, the Doctor says, "Old ladies die all the time. It's practically their job description". It sounds harsher with Capaldi's Scottish accent, but nonetheless both genuine and even amusing. Perkins at one point says, "I can't tell if you're a genius or incredibly arrogant", to which the Doctor doesn't appear nonplussed by this apparent attempt at an insult.
For me, while Mathieson might have drawn from Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for inspiration, it appears that there is an homage to another Christie classic. In And Then There Were None, a self-appointed avenging angel struck down victims one by one based on the level of their 'crimes'. In MOTOE, the Foretold selects the victims based on the state of their health, striking at the weakest first until reaching the strongest and healthiest.
What few bits of humor do creep in (such as the Doctor's psychic paper revealing the thing the conductor fears the most is a 'mystery shopper' or the Doctor's use of "Are you my Mummy?") are not as groan-inducing as they would have been because they are drowned out by everyone taking the situation seriously. In short, the humor never overwhelmed or took center stage from what was meant to be a more serious, even scary story. "Grief counseling is available on request," Gus tells the survivors after the Foretold has struck again in his lab. In other people's hands, this would have come off as bad humor. In Mathieson and director Paul Wilmshurt's hands, it is almost Hal-9000 like in its coldness, even sarcasm.
If there were some things to pick at with MOTOE, it is the perhaps too-rushed ending with the Foretold, but that is generally minor. Gus, however, is another story. Unless he ties in to a future tale or is reintroduced as a potential recurring villain, the fact that no answer as to who Gus is or why he went through all this to get the Doctor aboard his train of death will be most frustrating. The tie-in with Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink seems like an afterthought or a way to get Anderson and Pink SOMEHOW into the story when they weren't needed.
However, with a top-notch performance from Capaldi, a blissful near-absence from Coleman's Clara (please go away), a genuine threat and logic to almost everything in the story, Mummy on the Orient Express is by far the best Twelfth Doctor story and one of the best NuWho stories in a long, long time.
The train-wreck that was Doctor Who might finally have found its groove again. However, is this a case of Doctor Who being on the right track or is it all 'too little, too late' and has that train already left the station?
Next Episode: Flatline
Saturday, October 11, 2014
STORY 251: KILL THE MOON
I finished Kill the Moon not with anger but with sadness and resignation. Quietly, like the acceptance that what I once loved was gone and probably never to come back, I figured that Doctor Who today is not the show I grew up loving. It isn't even the show I grew to hate. What Doctor Who is now is something unnatural, something self-absorbed, something that doesn't relate to anything other than showrunner Steven Moffat's own megalomaniac and rather short-term view. It's as if he and with few exceptions the production crew now know they can peddle all sorts of crap our direction and the sheep-fans Doctor Who has will accept it unquestioningly. I looked on Kill the Moon as again another divisive episode, only this time the divide is between fans and critics.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is being chastised by his part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), which seems to be a common theme this season. This time, he's been chastised for telling Courtney Woods (Ellis George), the student from The Caretaker who threw up in the TARDIS, that she wasn't special.
I don't think she's special either, just another obnoxious tween in a world full of them; Courtney is petty, smart-mouthed, and narcissistic about their own importance to the world. She isn't particularly bright, beautiful, or clever. She's not kind (actually quite unpleasant and whiny), not helpful, nothing in short out of the ordinary. However, because the Doctor dared to tell Courtney that she wasn't 'special', the high-minded, somewhat prissy Clara is apoplectic. The Doctor simply HAS to tell Courtney she is 'special' Never mind that this 'special' girl stole the Doctor's psychic paper (and apparently figures out what it is) and is using it to buy beer (at fourteen already drinking booze...certainly Prime Minister-material to me) Never mind that Courtney has been unpleasant towards the Doctor and certainly to both Clara and Danny (mocking their not-so-secret romance). She has to be told that she is SPECIAL.
No wonder kids nowadays have inflated opinions of themselves but can't figure out that fifteen is greater than thirteen.
In any case, the Doctor has been all but ordered to show Courtney how special Courtney is, so he offers her the chance to be the first woman on the Moon. With that, it's off to the Moon for the three of them, coming onto the satellite in 2049 (thirty-five years from now). However, there is something wildly wrong on the Moon. The Doctor is concerned that the Moon has gained weight, and that there are unused nuclear bombs all around him. We then plunge into the mystery when Captain Lundvik (Hermione Morris) and two others arrive there. Their mission: to destroy the Moon. That weight the Moon gained caused a great tide to kill thousands, and now the Moon must be exterminated, not an easy task given that space travel was abandoned years ago.
Well, once on the Moon they find that Mexicans are at the heart of all this (even in Britain, the anti-Hispanic attitude is unabated). The mining expedition has nothing to show except bodies and cobwebs. Soon, we find spider-like creatures are emerging from the Moon, killing the two other astronauts (they really weren't all that important anyway). Courtney is saved from one of them by her disinfecting spray (I kid you not). Her reward: shunted off to the TARDIS for her own safety, where she manages to get on Tumblr to post pictures on the Moon (amusing Lundvik, whose Granny did the same thing back in the day). Well, eventually we find out what's going on.
The Moon is an egg.
The Doctor declares that the Moon has ALWAYS been an egg, and now the egg is hatching. This creature now is, wait for it...THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN THE UNIVERSE! (This, I understand, is unique in the history of Doctor Who, for we've never come across a creature who was 'the last of its kind' in the show's entire run, both Classic and NuWho). Ludvik is for killing the creature before it hatches. Clara and Courtney are for letting it be born (even if it means potentially killing all humanity). Clara turns to the Doctor basically make up her mind, but the Doctor up and leaves, forcing the three of them to do the impossible: decide for themselves.
Thus enters democracy: Clara contacts the world to tell them they have a terrible decision to make: an innocent life versus the future of all mankind. If they want the moon blown up, turn the world's lights off. If they want the creature to live, keep the home fires burning. In the fortysome-odd minutes they have, the world's lights go off.
With the world having voted to blow the Moon up, in the words of James the Movie Reviewer, Clara is basically "a massive b*tch to democracy", deciding to not go with the will of the people and save the creature. The Doctor comes in, takes them all away, and we find that the creature hatches, and mercifully it immediately hatches another Moon-sized egg to keep the tides turning.
However, despite learning that Courtney Woods will rise to become President of the United States*, Clara is absolutely infuriated by the Doctor for leaving her and tells him off. She is angered by his abandonment at her hour of need and says she's pulling out from his life. Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) tells her she isn't finished with the Doctor just yet.
Well, so the Moon is a giant egg. It always has been. Isn't it great though, that it basically remained dormant all these billions of years until now to have this little tale of idiocy.
Now, I know that I was told that Doctor Who isn't suppose to make sense (because, in the words of a NuWhovian who told me when I brought up points of logic, "It's British!"), but even by the low standards of Doctor Who, the Moon is an egg thing is dumb.
Kill the Egg (as I dub this episode) doesn't just ask us to suspend disbelief. It asks us to suspend thinking altogether. As when the newly-born creature can hatch an egg upon birth to basically take the place of itself (rather convenient, don't you think). The Mexicans could go to the Egg but apparently with space travel abandoned they pretty much were left there. What if some other Egg-related catastrophe required them to leave or have others come back? What then?
Oh, wait...they're Mexican (read, cheap/disposable labor whom no 'white' people really care about).
Courtney can wipe out a spider with what looks like Windex (taking notes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe).
Courtney uses Tumblr but Ludvik (who is from the future) never questions why such 'ancient' technology is still being used. To me, it would be like someone travelling to our time saying, "I'm sending a message by Morse Code" and me not looking at all puzzled as to how something so foreign is still being used casually by a teen. That didn't ring true.
Neither did the scenario itself. I can't feel that the Earth/Moon are in danger because there really is no set-up for it in Peter Harness' script. We start with a cold opening of Clara telling the world of their plight, but I didn't feel the tension because we can't feel for something we know nothing about). The stakes, I'm told, are high, but I never felt they were, merely that I was TOLD they were and so I had to worry.
Also, the idea that Clara is so outraged by the Doctor going off when she basically was ordering him to solve the problem for her. I again could never get excited or feel that this was real. So what that the Doctor left. Can't she figure something out for herself? She obviously could, given how she quickly dismissed the world's decision (which in itself seems rather strange in how half the planet could vote on something so quickly).
As a digression, the only part of the world where lights would be visible would be where it was night, but this part of the world is probably asleep and unaware of the serious vote they are asked to participate in (leaving aside the potential language barrier). The part of the world that is awake to listen to the broadcast would be in the light of the sun, and the need for electric lights when there is sunlight is pretty low. What did they do: wake up the dark side of the Earth and tell them, "turn off your lights because some big-eyed girl told us we need to save some creature that's about to hatch from the Moon?"
I also wonder what the point of Courtney was (apart from having another annoying child to contend with). She didn't play a major role in Kill the Egg, and spent the majority of the episode like the rest of us: bored out of our minds sitting there, waiting for something to happen. Either George is a bad actress or Doctor Who casting director(s) enjoy picking child performers whose only qualifications to be on the show is to look mopey and whine throughout.
I won't even get on the 'the only one of its kind' tripe that has been used to death on Doctor Who. Why can't they ever come up against creatures who have billions of beings?
Well, there was nothing in Kill the Egg that should please someone with some intelligence. You had bad acting (apart from Capaldi, who is turning into the Colin Baker of the Modern Who Era--a good actor trying his best with lousy scripts). You had a story seriously flawed in every aspect. You had no sense of tension or suspense. Kill the Egg for me had nothing to make it anything other than total lunacy...
Next Episode: Mummy on the Orient Express
*As Courtney is British, unless by 2049 the United States has changed its Constitution there is no way she could become President of the United States. The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that only natural-born citizens are eligible to become President (Article II, Section I, Clause 5). Courtney Woods was not born IN the United States and as far as we know neither of her parents ARE American citizens. As such, she is Constitutionally barred from being President of the United States.
A little knowledge goes a long way, mais oui?
As the original title for this review was The Moonraker of The Doctor...
Thursday, October 9, 2014
One of the places I go to for Doctor Who reviews that I genuinely trust and admire is Tea With Morbius, run by Matthew Celestis. For his review of The Caretaker, he made some very pointed comments about the issue of how soldiers are presented on Doctor Who, as well as on the issues of race and class involving both the newest character, Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) and other characters of color whom Celestis I think is saying are shown in a bad light.
I think this merits some examination.
I think the best thing to do is to look at Doctor Who pre-Moffat, and in particular pre-12th Doctor, to see that I agree with Celestis in how Doctor Who appears to have a bizarre pathological contempt for soldiers, and worse, which is completely contradictory to what Canon has established.
If we go back to the beginning, we see that the Doctor didn't have this lifetime hatred for soldiers. In fact, while he was a pacifist he had a great deal of respect for the military. We only need to go to the most obvious example: UNIT.
|In a deleted scene, the Doctor |
bitch-slapped the Brigadier.
|Get away from me, you evil baby killer.|
I HATE YOU!
Again, it could be said the reason the Doctor, who 'hates' soldiers, is with UNIT is because they provide him food, clothing, shelter, and scientific equipment. It's clear the Doctor wants to escape, but it isn't because he has an antipathy towards either the Brigadier or people like Sergeant Benton or Captain Yates. He just wants to travel again and it has nothing to do with the military.
Also, if he so wished the Doctor could easily find work somewhere outside the military. He certainly wasn't beholden to UNIT for their largesse. He also quarreled quite openly with UNIT and the Brigadier. In Doctor Who & The Silurians, the Brigadier's act of wiping out the Silurian base infuriated the Doctor, who called it murder. "Typical of the military mind," the Doctor sniffs. "Present them with a new problem, and they start shooting at it". The Doctor and the Brigadier didn't see eye-to-eye on everything (particularly conflict resolution), but underneath that there was a great deal of respect and even affection for the other.
Over the course of their time the Third Doctor and the Brigadier stood up for the other to those who verbally attacked the other. The Brigadier begins trusting the Doctor more and more, even on occasion struggling as to whether his actions might be the right course. The Doctor, for his part, now sees this 'soldier' (whom we are told, he hates the whole lot of them) as an ally and even a friend. One of the best moments of The Daemons is when in Episode Three the Doctor's Companion, Jo Grant, makes some remark about how foolish the Brigadier was being. An angered Doctor sharply addresses his Companion, telling her the Brigadier is under immense pressure with the lives of both the villagers and his men at stake, and reminding her that she is still a serving member of UNIT.
That hardly sounds like the act of someone with a lifelong hatred of soldiers brought about by childhood.
|Didn't Steven Moffat tell you?|
I hate you now, always have, always will.
With Pertwee's regeneration into Tom Baker, UNIT and soldiers in general were far from finished on Doctor Who, though they did diminish in importance. As the Doctor was now more free to move about time and space again, he didn't need UNIT as much. However, whenever the Brigadier needed him, the Doctor would come. Isn't it curious that for someone who apparently had a soldier-phobia instilled in him since he was a wee child, the Doctor got on so well with this 'soldier' that he deliberately sought him out when reading about his retirement in 'tomorrow's Times' (The Five Doctors)?
|I'm supposed to be happy you're dead.|
I think the best example of the idiocy of 'the Doctor hates soldiers' is in Battlefield, the Seventh Doctor story which would mark the last time Nicholas Courtney and The Brigadier would appear in Doctor Who itself. When the Doctor believes the Brigadier to be dead (which I think is what Courtney wanted: a glorious end to the iconic character), the Doctor was visibly devastated. Cradling his friend, he complained to what he thought was his corpse that this was not how he was suppose to die, that the Brigadier was meant to die peacefully in bed.
IF there was again, this total hatred for soldiers, why would he mourn so strongly for someone whose whole identity was wrapped around being a soldier? This isn't like Danny Pink's situation, where he has retired from the Army and is now a civilian (making him an ex-soldier). Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was in the Douglas Macarthur mode: a soldier to his dying day. Yet here the Doctor was, visibly upset at seeing his old friend, the soldier, apparently dead.
The fact that then-Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner couldn't bring himself to actually kill off the Brigadier PRECISELY because the character was so beloved showed then (and now) that far from 'hating soldiers', the Doctor (and Doctor Who fans) LOVE soldiers. I've heard many complaints from Whovians about various Doctors, various Companions, various stories. I've never heard ONE Classic Who fan EVER say anything negative about The Brigadier.
This was a long way of saying that Steven Moffat's rewriting of Canon to show that the Doctor has some hatred for soldiers is rewriting history, and he is blessed in having so many sheep-fans who parrot anything he wishes to go along with this. The Doctor never hated soldiers...up till now, but the question is, 'Why?' and 'Why now?'
Having established that the Doctor has never hated soldiers (though he is at times highly displeased at militarism and the military's quick way with the trigger) I wonder if all this 'The Doctor hates soldiers' business is fair in terms of Danny Pink himself. Given what little we know of him, I think the Doctor's attitude towards Danny is unfair to the point of bigotry.
He's basically an orphan with few if any prospects. If the set-up in the UK is the same as in the States, the military provides a way for lower-to-lower-middle-class men and women to advance in society and get an education. Certainly in the U.S. joining the armed services provides structure in people's lives, a chance to go outside their hometowns, and after their tour, a way to get an education and other benefits. The military, therefore, appears to be a way for Danny to get away from the boys home and get the tools to be a math teacher.
Moreover, as Danny frequently points out, he didn't just 'kill people'. He dug wells. That suggests that his role in the Army was positive. Soldiers, contrary to what Doctor Who writers may think, are not dim-witted killing machines who have no sophistication, education, or souls. We forget that many times the military does positive work. Why would the President send the military to Liberia to fight Ebola (apart from the fact that fighting a contagious disease is a greater threat to the world than something like ISIS)?
The idea that Danny is in some way 'polluted' because of his former military service is beyond unfair. Let's remember, he is a retired soldier. He's not active duty. Why then is the Doctor so obsessed with dismissing him as a 'soldier'? Technically, he even isn't a soldier. This whole 'the Doctor hates soldiers' bit is irrational and unfair to the fans and the character of Danny. However, I realize WHY it is here.
The Doctor hates soldiers now.
Danny Pink, the Doctor's Companion's paramour, is a soldier.
This is bad screenwriting and plotting. It's setting up a conflict that is forced and that won't yield any real results.
Certainly Doctor Who could come up with better ways of bringing conflict in this 'bizarre love triangle'. Why pick on someone for what he did, something that is both perfectly legal and even admirable?
My personal theory is that the Doctor Who writers, all white males and probably from upper-class to upper-middle class backgrounds, have probably never served and know few if any people who have. It's a bit like what film critic Pauline Kael allegedly said after Richard Nixon won a landslide victory. "I don't know how he won. No one I know voted for him". In a similar vein, all these Who writers may be puzzled as to what these foreign creatures called 'soldiers' might do or be like.
All writers bring their life experiences to their work, their worldviews, their biases, fears, and beliefs. Therefore, I can't quite dismiss the idea that some part of either Steven Moffat or those he hired are expressing their ideas about soldiers through the Doctor; this Doctor, going against all his predecessors, believes soldiers couldn't possibly be math teachers and are suited only for Physical Education because soldiers/ex-soldiers don't have the intellect to figure out cosines and the Pythagorean theorem and are only interested in bodybuilding and fitness.
This elitism and snobbery about those who served in the armed services is so out-of-character for the Doctor and really insulting in so many ways. Why does the Doctor think soldiers are so dim-witted, given his long history with them? Why does the Doctor dismiss so brazenly the idea that an ex-soldier could teach at all, let alone teach something as complex as math?
As for the idea that The Caretaker is somehow racist or Doctor Who itself has a race problem, that one is a little trickier. There has been an unfortunate run of black actors who are asked to play characters not particularly bright or annoying or criminal.
Mels in River's Secret Part II (Let's Kill Hitler).
The Maitland siblings in Nightmare in Silver.
Courtney from Kill the Egg.
The Van Baalen brothers in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.
Here, I don't think the casting of black actors in these roles reflects some latent racism on Doctor Who. However, I would think that perhaps the casting director(s) would in future, try to cast people of color in more positive roles, more Martha Jones than Angie Maitland.
The idea that the Doctor hates soldiers should be rejected as nonsense. It exists only to force some drama where it is not needed. The idea that Doctor Who has a race problem is not without some merit but on the whole, I think it's just casting bad actors (particularly bad child actors) than any real racism.
Oh, yes, one more thing. So The Doctor hates soldiers, does he?
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
STORY 250: THE CARETAKER
When Series Eight was set to broadcast, we were promised a 'dark' Doctor, where the show was not going to be a 'fairy tale' and the Doctor would be a far more menacing and dangerous figure than his two immediate predecessors. Judging by The Caretaker, I think that idea is pretty much out the window, for this episode played as if Matt Smith's bumbling idiot Doctor is still around, right down to a look-alike that really makes no sense.
Of course, even before Day of The Doctor (where a NuWho fan explained to me that the show isn't suppose to make sense because, as he put it, 'It's British'), things like logic were never the revived Doctor Who's strong point. The new version of Doctor Who appears to almost delight in contradicting itself, let alone fifty-plus years of Canon. The Caretaker had the potential of bringing things full circle by in essence returning the Doctor to where it all began, but instead we got so much that we've already seen.
Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is finding it harder and harder to balance her home life with life as a time traveler with The Doctor (Peter Capaldi). This problem is unique to Clara, as she is the first Companion to basically serve on a part-time basis. No other Companion, at least that I can think of off the bat, has ever been returned home at the end of almost every story, and certainly not in the original run of the show. From Ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright right down to Ace in the Classic Era, the Companion travelled with the Doctor will little to no mention of their home lives. Even though the revived Who has made the Companion's domestic life more important than it was before (and in my opinion, than it ought to be), from Rose Tyler to Amy Pond the Companion usually lived in the TARDIS for most of the time. Clara, however, doesn't, and therein lies the dilemma. Clara cannot keep up the pace between bouncing from some planet where she and the Doctor are facing certain death to a simple date with fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), where she and the Doctor have indeed escaped certain death (but we are never going to learn how because, well, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey).
In any case, Clara can't keep it up for long, but rather than leave the Doctor or leave Danny, the Doctor comes to her! He is going to do what he's never in any of his regenerations attempted. He'll try to pass himself off as human. It's all part of his 'deep cover' work at Coal Hill School, where his granddaughter attended. Is he looking for mementos from that past? No. Is he looking up old Companions like Barbara Wright or Ian Chesterton, who is apparently still working in some capacity at the school? Of course not: referencing pre-Rose Who is almost verboten on this show.
He is here, trying to pass himself off as a school caretaker (taking the place of Ativ), going by the name of John Smith. As he continues to look for the Skovok Blitzer, one of the most dangerous killing machines in the world, he also happens to finally meet Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The Doctor/Caretaker automatically assumes Danny is a P.E. teacher. Why? Because he's a soldier, of course. The Caretaker makes it very clear that he can't put 'soldier' and 'maths teacher' together. We also know that the Doctor hates soldiers. This of course makes it hard for Clara, who has not only been seeing Danny when she's not with the Doctor but has been keeping Danny's military status secret because the Doctor hates soldiers.
As the Doctor obviously sees that a 'soldier' does not have the intelligence to be a maths teacher, he makes the obvious conclusion: Clara's boyfriend is Adrian (Edward Harrison), a fellow English teacher who is young, wears bow ties and has a distinguished chin. Obviously, THIS FELLOW must be her boyfriend. He is still on the chase of the Skovok Blitzer and has a new weapon: an invisibility watch which will make him invisible to the Blitzer. Clara is highly concerned that the kids are in danger, and thanks to Danny's interference the Blitzer is not destroyed. The Doctor also finds that it's DANNY (whom he keeps calling "P.E.") that Clara's involved with. He's a SOLDIER, the Doctor fumes.
Danny is finding all this very difficult to believe. The Doctor finds that the Blitzer arrives earlier than planned, and right on Parent Night too! The Doctor, with help from Danny (who does a leaping summersault that would make Gabby Douglas and Paul Hamm jealous), defeat the Blitzer. We then get a quick glimpse of Heaven, where Seb (Chris Addison), an interviewer for Missy (Michelle Gomez), informs a cop that had been vaporized by the Blitzer that he is perhaps not in the best place in this Promised Land.
I look at The Caretaker and think that the 'dark' Doctor promised me is not dark at all. In many ways, The Caretaker played like a script for a Matt Smith Doctor story, right down to Adrian, the obvious Matt Smith double. As a side note, what I don't get is that Clara, given how obsessed she was with the Smith version and wasn't too keen on the Capaldi version, never noticed that Adrian looked so much like the Eleventh Doctor.
I find that the introduction of Adrian is either a deliberate play on Smith fans (and feel for Harrison who was hired to be a substitute) or just so much nonsense. Why is he there? What purpose does he play? He's like the boyfriend to the female lead character in a Nicholas Sparks book: someone who is disposable once the male lead character pops in. Adrian's raison d'etre is nonexistent. He won't provide conflict. He doesn't exist as an independent person for he is nothing more than a figure for the Doctor to flatter himself with. That is itself idiotic, as if Sylvester McCoy would think Ace fancies someone who looked like Peter Davison.
The same thing goes for this 'I hate soldiers' bit. There is nothing in the Doctor's history that shows this antipathy towards soldiers. This little bit, introduced in Into the Dalek and hinted at in Listen, is here only to provide 'conflict' between Danny and the Doctor. Conflict should arise naturally, as it did whenever the Doctor and the Brigadier's worldview clashed. The Doctor may have hated militarism and the military habit of storming in without trying dialogue first, but he had a great respect for soldiers like the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, or any member of UNIT.
There is, however, an aspect of The Caretaker that I found highly disturbing. It is the Doctor's attitude towards Danny. The Doctor makes it very clear that he thinks Danny is basically too stupid to be a math teacher for the simple reason that he was a soldier. Danny Pink is not an active soldier, that is worth remembering. He is an ex-soldier, now a civilian. However, the Doctor's arrogance and condescending manner towards Danny that is not 'dark'. It's just vicious.
Why date Danny, soldier, the Doctor insists. "Why not get a dog or a big plant? Why would you go out with a SOLDIER?" The Doctor just compared a man he doesn't know, whom he's barely met, to a dog or a plant. That just bothered me to no end, this contempt and snobbishness the Doctor has for Danny in particular and soldiers in general.
WHY can't an ex-soldier teach math? Why does the Doctor have such contempt for this person's intelligence merely because he chose to spend a few years in military service? His stubborn insistence that Danny was fit only for Physical Education because he held a gun is so at odds with how the Doctor in all his incarnations has been.
If that isn't all bad enough, it is The Caretaker's insistence on making the Doctor more muddled and incapable of behaving like a human. He's always been eccentric, but always capable of functioning with people. Why he suddenly thinks "Go Away Humans" would keep people out, or him genuinely thinking he and Clara looked the same age, or not comprehending human interaction is somehow 'real' is beyond me.
I feel for Capaldi in that he can do better but he can't make this work. Injecting manic pacing doesn't make for an interesting performance. I think Capaldi is doing his best with what he was given. Same goes for Anderson, who attempts to ground Danny as a highly intelligent man (he's the one who suspects the caretaker to be something other than what he is and follows the clues to their conclusion). If anything is off, it is Coleman. This I think has been commented on before, but this is the first time I noticed just how BIG her eyes are (or at least get). There are PAINFUL scenes between her and Capaldi when he first comes as the caretaker and when she is trying to convince Danny that the alien they all witnessed was just a big theatrical production.
Not only does this make HER look incredibly stupid, but Coleman's performance was such that even she could not convince herself to make like any of this was remotely plausible.
The 'threat' of the Blitzer was a non-starter, and the addition of Missy is just awful, a way of tying stories together that might just as well work better as separate stories.
Now, The Caretaker did have a few good moments. Danny thinking Clara was a space alien with the Doctor as her 'space dad' was funny. The Doctor humming a few bits of Pink Floyd's The Wall to Clara when she reprimands some students was funny.
On the whole The Caretaker looks like something that was created for the Eleventh Doctor and handed over to the Twelfth as a cost-cutting measure. I note no enthusiasm for these scripts and just think Doctor Who is dull and at points stupid.
I think of all the education that I missed, and am so grateful for it now...
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Next Episode: Kill the Moon