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.

Doctor Who: Sharing the planet

KT is all kinds of curious about the end of the season.

DOCTOR WHO:  5.09 “Cold Blood”

When they put the clip of Amy and Rory seeing their future selves waving at them into the previouslies, I figured that we’d find out those are actually Amy and Rory from part two waving at Amy and Rory from part one. I was way wrong — there’s something more ambitious going on here.  But that comes later.

The episode opens with some enigmatic narration about remembering the history of a thousand years ago, which won’t make sense until later, too, and kind of reminds me of the narration for “The End of Time” — never a good association.  Happily, we quickly flip to the Doctor and Nasreen, who have made it to the front door of the reptiles’ underground city and are quickly captured.  Meanwhile, Amy and Mo, who were captured, manage to get away and find Elliot as well.

On the surface, worry continues to bring out the worst in Ambrose, even as leadership is bringing out the best in Rory we’ve seen to date.  Tony’s poisoned shoulder is looking pretty bad, and Alaya prefers to gloat rather than bargain with him.

It quickly becomes clear that the Silurian leaders have some pretty major philosophical differences.  The military leader, Restac, is cut from the same cloth as Alaya, while the scientist and the political leader prove willing to aid, protect, and negotiate with the humans.  The characterizations aren’t terribly nuanced — once we figure out which Silurians are friends and which are enemies, there’s really no middle ground.

That doesn’t mean that friends don’t disagree, though.  There’s a lovely bit of calm in the middle in which it really seems almost possible that Nasreen, Amy, and Eldane might hit on a way to share the planet between the two species.  That bubble pops when the surface folks come down with Alaya’s body.

It’s hard to decide exactly what to think of Ambrose.  She doesn’t act out of malice, precisely, but when her attempt to bargain with Alaya fails, she reacts very badly — although Alaya firsts throws herself on Ambrose’s taser, Ambrose doesn’t hesitate to follow it up with a second hit and maybe a third.  Later, when she admits that she was the responsible party, you’d think it might be a good opportunity to apologize, but instead she’s defensive and even threatening.  Although the audience is pretty tired of her whining and foolish choices, the narrative is merciful towards her in the end — I think more for Elliot’s benefit than her own.

Like Ambrose, Restac is in no way ready for interspecies cooperation, and she calls out her troops, setting off the final countdown portion of the episode.  This week the sonic screwdriver can shock the Silurian guns, making the soldiers drop them, which is random, but handy.  Eventually it’s decided that the Silurians will hibernate for another thousand years, Tony will stay so that the poison can be cured, and Nasreen will stay with him.  Elliot and his parents make it to the TARDIS and then we have a scene that feels like it doesn’t quite belong here.  The countdown seems to pause at about four minutes until disaster when Amy, Rory, and the Doctor spot the mysterious crack again.

Everyone else seems to know something about this crack that he doesn’t, the Doctor points out, and this time the crack is big enough to pull shrapnel out of.  But then, here’s the dying Restac, and here’s Rory, dumb enough and brave enough to take this shot for the Doctor.  And there’s the light from the crack, the time energy that pulls a person out of history entirely.  And despite her frenzy, despite the Doctor’s coaxing, despite a gorgeous, horrible, waterworks-inducing scene in the TARDIS, a jolt breaks Amy’s concentration, wiping out all memory of Rory.  Whoa.

Moffat, I didn’t know we were playing for keeps.  I’m impressed.  But will we see him again in the finale, somehow?

Then Elliot and his parents appear and we’re suddenly back in this episode.  The Doctor has a quiet scene with Ambrose that manages to justify her survial, and we see future Amy waving from the opposite hillside — alone this time.  But most chillingly, we get a look at that shrapnel the Doctor pulled from the crack:  it’s a piece of the TARDIS.

Whoa.

Doctor Who: Lizards and apes

KT knows apes better than you know yourselves.

DOCTOR WHO:  5.08 “The Hungry Earth”

I have to admit, I didn’t realize this was a two-parter until the end.  Suppose I should have, considering the pacing, but maybe I’m getting too used to the sudden, panicky, clock-ticking conclusions of some New Who stories.

As it was, the pacing was really a bit saggy in the middle, wasn’t it?  All of the fiddling with surveillance equipment turned out to be completely useless, which makes me wish that section of the episode could have been put to some more interesting use – especially since the Doctor’s plan as he explained it to Elliot was already more implausible than usual.  You’re going to sonic the bad guys through the security cameras?  Seriously? I give this show a lot of leeway with implausible, but that was too much, even for the increasingly all-powerful sonic screwdriver.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  This week we find ourselves in Wales, as we do periodically in New Who, since that’s where the show is filmed.  And if you’re going to be in Wales, it makes good sense to do a story about mining.  Conveniently, it’s a very small, scientifically oriented drilling operation where we can meet everyone involved in a few scenes. The character who shows the most promise is Nasreen Chaudhry, who describes the drilling project as her life’s work and has a Sherlockian willingness to go along with the Doctor’s improbable version of events.  The others are a family group: mom, dad, grandpa, little boy.

There have been more kids this season than we’ve seen in New Who — I talked about this with a friend recently, and except for the abyssmal “Fear Her” and the prop-like kids in “The Next Doctor,” all the child characters we could think of come from Moffat-penned episodes.  (I wonder if we’re building a theme here.)  Moffat wasn’t the main writer on this one, though, and Chris Chibnall doesn’t manage to make Elliot as real and kid-like as Moffat has in his episodes.  Elliot’s sweet, but he’s precocious in a very TV kid kind of way.  I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that because he’s so very sweet and precocious — and because I don’t think this is a show that can kill off child characters — I think the Elliot’s safe, and I think his parents probably are, too (even though the mom hasn’t been made very likable).  Play along next week and see if I’m right.

Metaphorically speaking, Rory and Amy are still on shaky ground, it seems, which is a little bothersome after last week’s conclusion that Amy really is very much in love with Rory.  Why are they so surprised to see that they’re still together in ten years?  Speaking of shaky ground, though, Amy promptly gets pulled down through some very literal shaky ground.  While she’s out of the picture, Rory gets some time to shine, and he really does pretty well, which is fun.

After the saggy middle, the episode picks up a bit once the Doctor and company manage to trap one of the reptilian Silurians, whose underground refuge has been disturbed by the drill.  Alaya’s make-up is great and so is the conflict she presents.  Entirely hostile, she makes it quite clear that she considers her death a willing sacrifice for the good of her people, while the Doctor gathers the remaining humans and tries to impress upon them her individuality and personhood and inherent right to exist.  Leaving her in the hands of Rory, Mo, and Ambrose, he exhorts them to be their best selves.

The Doctor always does want to believe the best of humanity, but Alaya’s here to be a foil for him.  “One of you will kill me,” she says — which might make part two tense and mysterious.  I think Alaya is probably right, and I’m fairly positive about who it will be… but what do you think?

Doctor Who: Definitely a madman with a box

KT wants to see the library with the pool in it.

DOCTOR WHO:  5.01 “The Eleventh Hour”

The Doctor is in, and I’m entirely comfortable in saying that the new cast and crew are going to provide just as much fun as the old.  I already love the mannerisms Matt Smith is bringing to his incarnation of the Doctor; he manages to seem much older than he looks, which is spot on.

New head writer Steven Moffat has a well-earned reputation from his previous Who stories (like “Blink” and “The Empty Child”) for being good with things that many of us find creepy as children.   Early in the episode, he pulls a few good shivers out of a crack in the wall and things you can only see out of the corner of your eye.  They turn out to be incidental to the main plot, but they still work really well.

I love the beginning of this episode.  Little Amelia Pond’s nighttime adventure with the raggedy doctor flows back and forth between sweet, creepy, and broadly comedic.  I love the way seven-year-old Amelia is written, too:  bold and skeptical, and when things are really bad, she prays to Santa.  Initially, I was actually sorry to trade her in for her older self, and I don’t often feel that way about child characters on TV.

Not that we’re entirely sure, at first, that this woman in the police uniform really is the same person as the little girl.  I was fairly certain, given that it’s hardly unusual for the Doctor to be a little imprecise — and because I knew the new companion was called Amy Pond — but still, could have been a sister.  Cousin.  You never know.  Anyway, I enjoyed the ambiguity.

The grown-up Amy is still bold and skeptical, and perhaps a little bit damaged.  Orphaned at an early age, she’s grown up (with an aunt we haven’t met yet) as the Scottish girl in a small English village, insisting to one therapist after another that one night she met a raggedy doctor with a time machine.  But despite the sense of isolation that description suggests, she seems to know everyone in town.  She’s a bit of a puzzle, which I like, and her dreams and interests are still a total blank.  Beyond the kiss-o-gram gig, we hardly know anything about her grow-up self, which is an interesting contrast to Rose the shop girl, Martha the med student, and Donna the temp, whose occupations were integral to their first episodes.

Most of the plot is first episode fluff in a way that reminds me of “Rose,” the last episode to introduce both a new doctor and a new companion.  The hunt for Prisoner Zero is a pleasantly wild romp, and it introduces Amy’s village well enough that I imagine we’ll be back here sooner or later.

My one annoyance with this episode — and I suspect my American ears are really the problem — was that I could never understand one sentence that the Atraxi jailer kept repeating in his booming voice.  The internet tells me it was “Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence, or the human residence will be incinerated.”  Vacate was the work I just couldn’t catch at all, and I kept hearing residents instead of residence, so when the Doctor announced that he thought they were planning to burn the planet, not the house, I was pretty confused.

Happily, that did nothing to impair my enjoyment of the Doctor’s show-down, first with Prisoner Zero and later with the Atraxi.  The former I liked best in its disguise as the mother with two little girls — so seemingly innocent at first glance, but pay attention to which mouth is moving… and watch out for those teeth!

The scenes of choosing clothes and flipping through the Doctor’s past foes and past faces was pure fan service — and as a fan, I ate it up, fish custard style.  Good to recognize things for what they are, though.

But in the end, it’s Amy and the Doctor, sizing each other up with a fabulous new Murray Gold theme playing in the background. In the flesh, her raggedy doctor is weirder than ever:  he tells her he can fix growing up and says “thank you dear” to his time machine.  Does she actually want to run away on the adventure she’s waited fourteen years for?

Are you kidding me?