Doctor Who: Goodbye Ponds

DOCTOR WHO:  7.05 “The Angels Take Manhattan”

KT always rips out the last page of a book. (No, that’s a lie, I’m sorry. That would be sacrilege.)

It’s been more than a week, and I’ve been remiss. I could tell you it was a busy week, but let’s be honest.  There may have been a bit of this going on, too:

 

So I’m going to cheat a bit, and point you to my favorite review of the episode, courtesy of Tor.com.  I particularly like Jusino’s breakdown of the episode’s strengths and weaknesses—because, although I liked it very much and thought that it was a fitting send-off for the Ponds, nothing’s perfect, right?

In particular, the handwaving over why we couldn’t just pop back and get Rory one more time simply has to be accepted as “because we can’t”—thinking about it too hard makes it fall apart.  And I’m on board with Jusino’s conclusions that Lady Liberty could hardly be an Angel in the first place, and even if she were, could certainly never get so far away from home without being noticed.  On the other hand, the statue’s appearance was nicely foreshadowed by the poster in the elevator at Winter Quay, which I appreciated.  I also appreciated the way the noir styling helped to keep the pace in check, at least until Amy and Rory got to the roof.

 

That, fortunately, is a fake-out.  It’s an emotional scene, regardless, because of the way we’ve seen Amy and Rory’s relationship grow and evolve, but writing them off by having them save the world through mutual suicide would have been horrible.  (The tendency in time travel stories to fix things through suicide is bad enough.)

Instead, it happened more or less like I thought it would—the only way the Doctor would ever stop returning to the Ponds is if they were beyond his reach, which is exactly where the Angels put them.  I loved that we got a brief afterword from Amy to reassure us, though I would have liked a glimpse in at their lives.  But this fan-written obituary for Amy fills in the gaps quite nicely.

Along the same lines, if you want a screencap:

Source: flickr.com via Ken on Pinterest

 

And after all…

Source: Uploaded by user via Ken on Pinterest

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Doctor Who: “The first face this face saw”

KT is ready for the mini season finale this weekend.

DOCTOR WHO: 7.04 “The Power of Three”

Lovely bits, lovely acting from our regulars, but accompanied with some major narrative problems.

Most of the episode is build-up, and most of the lovely bits are here.  We get a nice sense of what the Ponds’ life is like in between adventures and how they’ve arranged their lifestyle to accommodate sporadic disappearances.  Rory—as we’ve always known—constant, dependable Rory!—is a nurse, but working part-time, or perhaps on some kind of temporary basis.  Amy, having given up the modelling jobs we’ve seen a time or two, has become a travel writer, which I love.  That sounds like the perfect way to get her fill of adventure, even without having the Doctor around.

That’s partly because she’ll always have Rory to share her adventures.  Yes, there was a rough spot at the beginning of the season, but at this point, I think the important thing about that rough spot was not why it happened but that it showed that their relationship is strong enough to handle rough spots (albeit with some help from the Doctor, perhaps).  Here we see them frankly discussing the pros and cons of life without the Doctor, and whether they ought to stop traveling with him at all.   Perhaps their insistence this season on going home for a bit at the end of each episode is their version of being eager to go out on a Friday, but also choosing to call it a night before twelve.

On the other hand, we did get a brief, brief look at their surprise seven-month anniversary trip, which was brilliant.  I’d love to have seen more of that!  But didn’t the Doctor say something offhandedly about leaving a phone charger under Henry VII’s bed last week—which presumably happened during this trip.  I’m not convinced that we’re seeing things in the right order… at least from the Doctor’s point of view.

I’m not sure what to say about the lovely moment Amy has with the Doctor on the rooftop, but I can’t not mention it.  “I’m not running away from things, I’m running to them before they flare and fade forever”—I love that.  He knows they’re pulling away, of course.  Perhaps he even knows what’s coming in the next episode.

The only new character this week is UNIT scientist Kate Stewart, who I also loved.  She’s introduced as the daughter of the Third Doctor’s old pal, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and she’s allowed to be smart, calm, and in charge, which is a pretty powerful trifecta.  (And for personal reasons, I love that the character called Kate is strong and smart.)  I hope we see her again.

Unfortunately, the epside goes a bit downhill from there.  As everything moves into crisis mode, the narrative issues start kicking in as well.  Despite having plenty of time to lay the groundwork, the climax is scattered and confusing, and we get about two Time Lord heartbeats’ worth of denoument.

Although this show will never be the sort of whodunnit where the audience is given enough pieces to make a hunch as the plot rolls along, dammit, I want to feel that the puzzle pieces I have been shown are falling into their logical places.  But instead, after hacking the cubes to be able to revive all the people who had cube-triggered heart attacks, Team TARDIS declares victory and the episode ends. The number of unanswered questions left standing is just silly:

  • What happened to all the cubes?  Were they collected and destroyed?  Are they still sitting in people’s cupboards and offices?  And if so, are we quite sure they have been totally neutralized?
  • Did the Shakri just shrug and toddle off?  As far as we know, isn’t that ship still out there?  What was it they wanted anyway, and why were they snatching people?
  • Was the little girl in the hospital the only android that the Shakri sent down, or are there others still lurking around the world?  And what were those orderlies with the big “O” shaped mouths?

It felt to me as though the mysterious cubes and their tricks and their danger was awkwardly stitched onto the subplot with the sinister orderlies, the android girl, and the Shakri.  None of these last three seemed integral to the story being told—and I think you could even have cut them all out—because the heart of the episode lies in the idea of bringing the Doctor into the Ponds’ everyday life and the slow burning mystery of the black cubes.

And last, a prediction:  My bet for the Ponds’ departure is that the Weeping Angels (who are clearly in the episode) are really going to get them this time.  The Ponds will live out their days as normal people—but in a different era…

Doctor Who: Seeing ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions

DOCTOR WHO: 7.03 “A Town Called Mercy”

KT is still behind.

After last year’s flirtation with using a stronger season-long arc, we are solidly back in the stand-alone adventure groove.  This week’s installment comes from Toby “School Reunion” Whithouse, and he’s here to school Chibnall in how to construct three dimensional supporting characters.

In recent seasons, it has often seemed that, wherever the Doctor went, he found someone who knew him, or had heard of him, or was waiting for him.  That made a good echo of Amy being (repeatedly) the Girl Who Waited, and there also was a certain logic—the Doctor has traveled so widely and been part of so many crises, naturally word would spread.  But it’s refreshing this season for him to be able to show up as just another stranger again. And where does the motif of a stranger coming to town fit better than a Western? When he, Amy, and Rory walk into a town called Mercy, nobody knows who they are, and past a certain point, nobody cares.

For a change, the town is caught up in a crisis brought on by ANOTHER alien doctor—a man with a dark past called Kahler-Jex. And in another classic Western theme, he’s being hunted by a man seeking vengence.

The exact nature of the wrongs done to Kahler-Mas by Kahler-Jex are both horrific (yet get some credit for helping to end a long and terrible war) and suggestive of things the Doctor has done in the course of trying to help others.  It’s not a terribly subtle comparison—keeping in mind that we are aiming to include a fairly young audience here—but it is apt, and it clearly bothers the Doctor a great deal.  As you might guess, there’s a thematic focus on mercy.  I think I would have liked even more discussion among the various characters of who has earned it and why, but I liked what was there.

I also liked that there was plenty of gray.  Like the Doctor, both Jex and Mas desperately need absolution and some kind of fresh start, and—short of perhaps the townsfolk—no one here is entirely innocent.  The notion of who the villain is, and according to whom, is very fluid.  I like that.

Like most Westerns, the character list skewed male this week, so I appreciated that they chose a woman to do the narration at the beginning and end—she and Amy may have been the only female speaking roles.  But we also had this, which was pretty awesome:

The Doctor: Can I borrow your horse, please? It’s official marshal business.
The Preacher: He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means ‘The Deliverer.’
The Doctor: No, he isn’t.
The Preacher: What?
The Doctor: I speak horse. His name is Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices.

Doctor Who: How do you start a triceratops?

DOCTOR WHO: 7.02 “Dinosaurs in Space”

KT is a week behind, but bear with me.

As you can see, it has taken me a while to figure out what to say about this one.  I found it a fun romp (In space!  With dinosaurs!), but it wasn’t what I would call a critical success.

For one thing, there was just too much going on—by which I don’t mean that it was fast-paced or full of plot twists.  There were just more unrelated elements crammed into the episode than a one-hour story could even begin to explore.  Lemme show you what I mean. This episode includes:

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. On a spaceship
  3. That turns out to be a Silurian ark
  4. Stolen by a hateful old man called Solomon
  5. And his two bickering robots (“I hate funny robots,” the Doctor said in “The Waters of Mars.” I’m inclined to agree.)

We also brought along:

  1.  Rory’s dad
  2. A big game hunter from 1903
  3. Queen Nefertiti

All this is not to say that every episode should have the tight focus of the Van Gogh episode. But this feels like it could have used a few more drafts.

For example, with so much going on, the new characters are more rough around the edges than usual.  I liked the idea of bringing in Nefertiti as a companion (and in general, I like it when we have a companions from different times and places). Since she’s more famous for what she looked like than for anything she did historically, the writers had plenty of room to invent her personality. Only, they didn’t bother to do much of that.  She comes across as strong, but generic.

The real dud, though was the game hunter. It really seemed that no one thought through his character any further than “He likes to shoot stuff and being from 1903 makes him massively sexist.”  Which, (a) is terrifically sloppy writing and (b, and this is key) does nothing to show us why the Doctor would want him around.  On top of which, the notion that Neffi decides at the end to go hang out with him is puzzling at best, forcing us to assume that he must have redeemed himself off-screen—the alternatives being that she’s so hungry for adventure, she’s willing to put up with him or that she’s so unbelievably bored by her husband, even this lout is preferable.

Rory’s dad is played mostly for laughs, sitcom-dad style, which seems a bit of a waste, though father and son get some nice moments, like Rory getting to show off his nursing skills and bragging self-deprecatingly about the way he picks up nursing supplies wherever they go.

Amy gets some nice moments, too.  Despite having to put up with Game Hunter Dud Guy, she clearly establishes herself as the surrogate Doctor when the group splits up.  I loved the way she showed off her prowess at button pushing.  I also loved the way she doesn’t became the damsel in distress, as she has so often in the past.

The moment I wasn’t sure what to make of was her whispered conversation with the Doctor about having to wait longer and longer for the Doctor to the point where she quits jobs and feels unable to move on.  I’m sure that’s meant to build somehow to the Ponds’ departure, but it isn’t clear how.  She and Rory spend most of the episode bickering, too, which doesn’t seem like a good sign.

On the villain side of things, I imagine that Chibnall wrote Solomon by continually asking himself “What is the most horrific or offensive thing I can make this man do?” Threaten our protagonists with every other breath? Check.  Kill an adorable triceratops to show how serious/dangerous he is? Yep.  Airlock a shipful of helpless Silurians in order to steal their dinosaurs? Got it.  Treat Nefertiti as an object, abduct her, and threaten her with bodily harm in the creepiest manner possible?  Oh yeah.

In the end, the Doctor uses Solomon as missile bait—highly deserved, if also a bit uncharactaristic for the gun hating, last-chance offering Doctor. I understand that some fans were upset by the Doctor’s callousness in the face of Solomon’s doom, but I disagree.  For one, Solomon blew any chance of getting another chance when he abducted Nefertiti.  Plus, in a Chibnall episode, everyone has their clearly delineated purpose from which they are not permitted to stray, and Solomon’s purpose is to be nasty for half an hour, then eat those missiles.  And to make us all uncomfortable when we notice that a character defined by his greed has been given an historically Jewish name. This could have been called Stereotypes in Space.

Doctor Who: Come and meet the girl who can.

DOCTOR WHO:  7.01 “Asylum of the Daleks”

KT is pleased to have her returning favorite back.

We seem to have dropped any vestiges of RTD-era surprise at finding yet more Daleks after supposedly wiping them out on multiple occasions.  That’s a relief, since there are plenty of other things that need explaining, such as why the Dalek race (motto: EXTERMINATE) has set up a whole planet for individuals who pose a danger to society.  Take a moment to think about what the Dalek standard for that would have to be.

And who better to deal with the possibility of a mass escape of insane Daleks than the “predator” who keeps (all but) exterminating the exterminators? Being fairly genre savvy little pepperpots, they’ve even done him the service of providing his companions as well.

As we saw in the BBC’s Pond Life vignettes, the Ponds seem to be in trouble.  Not just the usual run-for-your-life, threatened-by-evil-aliens kind of trouble—although, that too—as the episode opens, they’re actually filing for divorce.  Fortunately, though, the papers Amy signs at the beginning don’t seem to make it through the episode.  Even legal documents can’t stand up to a visit to the Dalek own insane asylum.

What can hold up is the cheeky humor of one junior entertainment manager.  Oswin Oswald may be the best part of the episode, though she dances on the verge of being just a little too perfect.  Maybe that’s what makes her such obvious monster bait—we all so desperately want her not to be because she is made of win.  But in the meantime, she’s brave, she’s funny, she has a stunning red dress, and she’s terribly handy with Dalek technology…

Perhaps the most interesting twist that comes out of the episode is that, in order to get the Doctor out of a tight corner, Oswin manages to wipe all reference to the Doctor out of the shared Dalek consciousness.  Clearly, they won’t be hauling him over to come fix their problems for a while.  I wonder if this is also Moffat’s way of telling us that he’s going to put the Daleks away for a while.  Props for that, if so.

That said, this was probably my favorite Dalek outing since season one’s “Dalek”—which also featured a fairly atypical Dalek in a prison-like setting.  The usual Dalek personality (shouty and over-confident) doesn’t have much range, but when a story pushes them out of their usual limits, the storytelling possibilities open up.

The other thing that helps this episode is that the Daleks are mostly used as window dressing around the more human characters while the Doctor engineers a situation in which Amy and Rory will start really talking again and Oswin tries to engineer an escape for them all.

There’s also an unusual graying of the line between human and Dalek, starting with the messenger puppet who meets with the Doctor at the beginning of the episode.  For once it’s impossible to tell who’s really a Dalek, while it is possible to turn into one.  Amy’s hallucination—the well-dressed people in the dingy room who all turn out to be Daleks, even the little the little dancer doing pirouettes—is fascinating and heartbreaking.  And of course it’s all a clue to what’s really happened to Oswin.

Sharp-eyed viewers noticed that, of course, Oswin is played by Jenna-Louise Colman, who has been announced as the next companion, starting in this year’s Christmas special.  My bet is that the companion will be a different, though possibly related, character (along the lines of of Martha’s identical cousin, Adeola, and of course she’s not the only one).   Of course there’s also the possibility of meeting up with Oswin prior to her crash on the Asylum, but I think one River Song scenario is really enough for one show.

One last note for a clever bit of writing—and for once I don’t mean a good joke or a snappy bit of dialogue.  Notice that there were an awful lot of eggs in this episode?  I really liked the way that Rory’s confusion with  the rustily awakening Dalek (“Eggs? Uh, is this your egg?”) was echoed in the question that the Doctor latched onto (“Where did you get the milk and eggs for the souffle?”).  And, of course, there are no eggs, because that’s only the first syllable…

Doctor Who: The only water in the forest is the river

KT isn’t holding back on the big reveals in this episode, so watch out if you haven’t seen it yet.

DOCTOR WHO:  6.07 “A Good Man Goes to War”

SPOILERS.  Oh, so many spoilers, sweetie.

And oh my, is there ever a lot going on in this episode.  If anything, the whole episode feels like it’s the middle of something.  The middle of an action movie, maybe, that started with the season’s two-part opener and will continue when the show comes back in the autumn.  (And as for that: !!!!??!)

Like “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon,” the events of this episode depend heavily on the viewer to piece things together.  While it’s normal for this show to assemble a new supporting cast for each episode, this one features a larger and more varied group of characters than usual.  The setting is a puzzle in itself, and we get most of the way through the episode before we meet anything like an explanation.

That sounds like complaining—and it’s true that I wouldn’t list this as a strength of the episode—but asking the viewer to do that much of the work does make the episode more engaging to watch.

For example, one of my favorite elements in the episode is the Silurian and her human companion.  Bold, understated, and unexpected, I’d love to see more of them, either at home in Victorian London or abroad elsewhere in time and space.  Total spin-off material right there.

All right, then.   Let’s talk about the Pond family, shall we?

Rory gets several chances to be awesome this episode, including a very impressive moment before we cut to the title sequence.  He even seems to steal the alpha-male role away from the Doctor once or twice.  Puzzlingly, though, Rory spends the episode dressed as the Last Centurion, apparently just so Amy can fake us out for a moment in the teaser.

Amy still doesn’t get a whole lot to do, though that tends to happen when you’re the one who needs rescuing—and especially when you’re toting an infant around.  Karen Gillan isn’t entirely convincing as a mother, but she give it her best shot, and Rory’s reunion with his little family is still very sweet.  (Meanwhile, the Doctor’s aversion to these emotions and general squeamishness at being forced to contemplate procreation is ridiculously adorable.)

But it’s Melody who’s really at the center of all this—and that’s Melody Pond, future super hero, not Melody Williams, potential social studies teacher.  The name is clarified as a joke at Rory’s expense, but it becomes vitally important later.  Cleverly written, Mr. Moffat.

The big question is why Melody is worth stealing and what Madame Kovarian is trying to do to her.  Speaking of whom, it’s also unclear why Kovarian is so dead-set on destroying the Doctor.

What we do learn, though, is that Melody, either through Kovarian’s tinkering or because she was conceived in the time vortex, is a little bit Time Lord.  That seems to settle it:  the mysterious child who killed the Doctor in a space suit and then regenerated must be Melody.  (Called it.)

Where Melody goes from here, I can’t quite figure.  Presumably, Kovarian has taken her back to 1960s Earth, where she’ll grow up in the derelict orphanage that Amy explored with Badger Canton Delaware.  But now that the Doctor is after her, will he be able to prevent all that?

Either way, we know where Melody ends up.  In a HUGE reveal, River Song asks Amy and Rory to take a closer look at the prayer leaf stitched with Melody’s name by a well-wisher from the Gamma Forest.  Only, the people there have no word for “pond,” as “the only water in the forest is the river”—something the human TARDIS told Rory three episodes ago. Melody Pond grows up to be River Song.

Whoa.

Gleeful with the news, the Doctor sends everyone away and races off in the TARDIS to rescue the baby, entrusting the young parents to their adult daughter’s care.  The rest of us are left to piece River’s life together. Keeping track of her may become harder than ever.  As it is, I’m never quite suer where we are in her personal timeline, and now we’ve got two of her to keep track of.  At least Mr. Moffat is clever enough to give us different versions of the name for the child and the adult, just as he did with Amy/Amelia.

Just as River told us in “Flesh and Stone,” she once killed a very great man—as a young girl dressed in a space suit, with her older self watching.  (Now I want to go back and take a second look at River’s reaction to the whole thing.)  That’s a little distressing because that was the reason she gave for her incarceration in the Storm Cage in the 51st century.  Surely she hasn’t been locked up there since she was so little!  (Though I grant you, that should be “locked up” in her case, since she seems to come and go pretty much at will.)

I also wonder if part of the reason River told Rory that she couldn’t come to help until the very end was because she didn’t want to be in the same place as her infant self—even though the baby did turn out to be a ganger.  Certainly the Doctor was very firm in “Father’s Day” that adult Rose was absolutely not allowed to touch baby Rose.

Overall, I have to say that I think I like this identity for River.  It makes her closeness with the Doctor make a little more sense—he’s the most amazing uncle ever.  But it’s also terribly sad.  Here’s Amy and Rory’s daughter… and short of undoing the ending of “Forest of the Dead,” we already know how she dies.

Doctor Who: Cloning is so 1996

KT feels that no sci-fi show is complete without the occaisional doppelgänger episode.

DOCTOR WHO:  6.05 “The Rebel Flesh”
DOCTOR WHO:  6.06 “The Almost People”

As a kid, sometimes I thought it would really neat to have a twin—you know, as kids do.  An episode like this one might have cured that in a flash.

As the first episode opens, the Doctor offers to drop Rory and Amy off somewhere to grab a bite while he checks in on something.  I’m pretty sure this is a first in the history of ever, but the Ponds smell a rat.  Perhaps they’re afraid of missing out on adventure, perhaps still concerned about what they witnessed in the season premiere, and perhaps just worried about getting left behind, but they insist on coming with.  You know, as you do.  It’s an easy detail to forget, but it’s worth remembering that even though the story bears a certain resemblance to “The Hungry Earth” or “The Impossible Planet” (people just trying to do their jobs interrupted by something strange and amazing), this time he came to this place on purpose.  You know, for a change.

“This place” turns out to be an ancient monastery that, in the twenty-third century, houses a factory that essentially uses Calvin’s Duplicator in order to mine acid more safely.  The duplicates are treated very cavilierly by the humans, which makes for a pretty striking teaser.

To the distress of his companions and the five factory workers, the Doctor is fascinated by the vat of living flesh, but the visit is interrupted by a solar tsunami.  The storm disrupts the mental link between the workers and their gangers (as in doppelgängers), leaving the gangers autonomous and everyone trapped in an acid factory.

Like any newly sentient lifeforms in the history of science fiction, the gangers are seen as a threat even before they decide whether they want to be one.  The Frankensteinian question of who the real monsters are is thrown about a bit, as you’d expect.

Among the humans, foreman Miranda Cleaves is  the most threatened, while among the gangers it’s the innocent-looking Jennifer who drums up rebellion—between them, they almost make up for Amy not getting much of anything to do—and despite the Doctor’s best efforts, they manage to stir up animosity that lasts until Jennifer’s leadership melts away at the end of the second episode.

Both parts are full of chases and skirmishes, but they story also maintains a certain amount of confusion in order to keep things interetsing.  We quickly lose track of which Jennifer is the original, and even how many Jennifers there are.  Rory bonds with a Jennifer ganger when she describes the horror of expecting to die at any moment (“Welcome to my life,” he deadpans), and becomes her protector.  Amy’s not thrilled, but it’s nice to see Rory getting an active role.

At the end of part one, our hook into part two is the appearance of one more ganger:  somehow, the Doctor’s earlier perusal of the living flesh has created a ganger of him.  Seemingly unperturbed, the two Doctors put on a double act despite the mistrust of Amy and the workers.

As Amy realizes, however, suddenly having two Doctors may be the key to the beginning of the season premiere:  Is it possible that the death they witnessed was not the original Doctor, but his duplicate?

The end of the episode is designed to make that seem less likely:  the Doctor’s ganger sacrifices himself to allow the survivors to get away.   Everything gets tidied up and that’s when Amy starts to have contractions.

They’re completely impossible contractions—Amy couldn’t possibly look less pregnant—but of course we also know that the Doctor’s been worrying over the readings that show her both pregnant and not pregnant for several episodes now.  And then he begins to babble about the flesh again, and how he’d wanted to get a look at its early days.  How he’d needed to find a way to disrupt the signal—to Amy.  And then she melts.

The real Amy, we find, is very pregnant.  She’s dressed in a white hospital gown, and here again is the woman in the eyepatch who keeps appearing behind walls, who tells her to push.  I’d scream too, wouldn’t you?

Three last notes:

  • Ten bucks says that the mysterious little girl from the premiere is indeed Amy’s daughter.
  • Are we going to have an instant-eight-year-old joining us in the TARDIS for the second half of the season?
  • Halway through part one, I turned to my husband and said, “Before the end of this, we’re going to have a duplicate of Amy, Rory, or the Doctor.”  He said that it would be the Doctor, of course, since he had already touched the flesh.  But Amy’s duplicate was a complete surprise.  Well done, Mr. Moffatt.