Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Liveblog of Impossible Things: Doctor Who, season eight, episodes 1-3

Oh my stars and round things, have I never made a Doctor Who post on this site before?  That is amazing.  Let's fix it really hard this week.

My abiding love of Doctor Who was once so strong that I watched The Impossible Astronaut (episode 6.01) and said aloud to my mother "If it were anyone else writing this show, I would be worried that the plot twist for this season was going to be terrible, but I know that Moffat has something great planned."  Doctor Who was as close to religious ritual as I got: new episodes were like holy days, brief periods of time in which we imagined what could be and what was and what we would do in the worst possible moments of our lives.  Rose becomes a god.  Martha laughs in the face of armageddon.  Donna shines brighter than anyone in the universe.  Jack lives.

My adoration of the show even let me look past the varied weak points of the fifth season and brush off (as rough edges to be soon fixed) the perennial flaws of Moffat's writing.  To this day, while I won't argue with anyone who says the Eleventh Doctor is a terrible person, I personally like to maintain that he was a great man and his actions were unfortunately misrepresented by inept writers who meddled with the truth.  (This applies triply to the 50th Anniversary episode.)

The show has since devolved into a case study in Special Smart White Guy Privilege about a man who travels the universe being rude to everyone and getting away with it because he's good at his job, also known as 'that plot you've seen a million times before', but now with more rayguns and women who literally tear apart the universe over their infatuation with Our Hero.

So while I downloaded Deep Breath (the first episode with the Twelfth Doctor) and watched it immediately when it was released, I then set about a strict regimen of completely forgetting about the show for the rest of the year.  I am told I didn't miss much, but it's the holidays and a friend has lent me the boxed set that she just got for Christmas, so let's just marathon the lot of them and get it over with, shall we?

Episode 8.01: Deep Breath

I'm skipping rewatching this one.  Summary: the Twelfth Doctor is rude in that way that's supposed to make white male heroes charming, his human companion Clara is a spunky young lass who puts up with his antics out of loyalty to his previous self, the Doctor definitely would/wouldn't voluntarily kill someone, and he has a new hidden nemesis who is a vaguely posh pretty thin middle-aged governess-type woman, also known as 'the only kind of female villain Moffat knows how to write', and the word 'knows' in there is generous.  Come with us on a journey of discovery to find out why the Doctor's new face has previously been seen on a patriarch in Pompeii and a government monster in modern London.

Final score: Creepy, striking, weird, pointlessly adoring of the cranky old white man, Vastra and Jenny's kiss didn't need an overlay of 'we must share oxygen' to justify it.

8.02: Into the Dalek

The episode opens with the crew of a not-X-Wing ship trying and failing to escape a Dalek mothership in space.  The surviving pilot awakens on the TARDIS, where the Doctor is Charmingly Rude to her about saving her life and how she can't kill him and claim his ship because "you'd starve to death trying to find the lightswitch".  I'm trying to imagine the Ninth Doctor acting like this around someone whose brother just died beside them, victim of Dalek cannons, and I take a moment to shake my fist at the uncaring gods who let Moffat do this to us.

He returns her to her warship, where they intend to kill him for security purposes but decide instead to zap him with a shrink ray and jam him inside a captured Dalek.

The new intro graphics look intentionally low-budget, like they're trying to find the most expensive way of simulating a papier-mache model dangling from a string in front of the camera.

We then cut to a dude pretending to be a drill sergeant but proving to actually be a gym teacher at the same school where Clara works.  He's also an ex-soldier, and tears up when a student asks if he's ever killed someone who wasn't a soldier.  He's running a cadet program at the school, which he insists includes a moral element beyond shooting people, which Clara summarises as "Ah, you shoot people and then cry about it afterwards", which puts me much more on Clara's side than his so far.  He is all awkward in ways that clearly are supposed to be adorable, but luckily for him they are in mutual boners for each other.

Clara gets whisked off to join the Doctor on his new journey, because the captured Dalek has declared its intention to destroy all Daleks, which has the Doctor thinking about saving it.  (He asks Clara if he's a good man, she says she doesn't know.  I'm not sure he's an anything man anymore, myself.)  He guesses that it's so damaged its hatred toggle flipped around in the wrong direction  The lot of them get shrunk down and injected through its eyestalk.  They're not actually that small; maybe five-ten millimetres tall?  I'm pretty sure this is all in the realm of normal slicey-slicey surgery, not even futuristic robot surgery.

The inside of the Dalek body turns out to be a 'perfect analog' of a living body, and therefore firing a grappling hook into the metal plating summons antibody drones.  The Doctor tells their unfortunate redshirt to eat a pill before the drones vaporise him, which lets him track the residue to some waste tube.  Trying again to imagine Nine's response to an about-to-die man being "Hey, chew this and you can still be useful to me" rather than any kind of apology or sorrow.  Who the fuck is this man?  (Also, what kind of internal sensors react hostilely to a tiny puncture in a metal plate but ignore complex radio communications beaming in and out of their robo-intestines?)

A radiation leak is killing the Dalek, but also caused it to reach a reversal of the normal conclusion: it saw a star born as concluded that 'resistance is futile', but not resistance to the Daleks, resistance to life, which keeps coming back and keeps fighting.  Ten seconds later, the Doctor seals the radiation leak and the Dalek immediately sets about slaughtering everyone on the ship in dramatic slow-motion.  Clara slaps the Doctor for being pleased that he was right that all Daleks are evil, but they have the dramatic realisation that good Daleks are possible and set about mucking with its robo-brain and its memory banks.

Sidenote as I watch the actiony climax: this episode is rubbish on any kind of mental health-relevant philosophy.  The Daleks "are" evil, but the Doctor points out that they have mental suppressor tech that quashes any hint of empathy, but then the mentally-damaged Dalek "is" good, and when fixed it proves that it always "was" evil.  It's not clear to me either that the Dalek ever "was" any of these things, given that we have no idea what it would be without its suppressor working.  (Why did no one think of breaking the suppressor to start with?  Why was anyone surprised that it would start murdering people as soon as the leak was repaired while its suppressor was still running?)  The conclusion appears to be that if someone has any kind of factor impairing their ability to be kind or polite or generous, this reflects on their innermost morality and nature.

The climax seems to lean pretty hard on this as well, when the Doctor mind-melds with the Dalek to show it the beauty of the universe and it instead latches onto his hatred of the Daleks and goes on a rampage to rescue the remaining redshirts.  So, even a Good Dalek is fundamentally evil and destructive after all.  The Doctor says this isn't victory, "victory would have been a good Dalek", and it responds "You are a good Dalek", referencing episode 5.06, 'Dalek', a vastly better episode that covered basically all the same plot and philosophical notions, on a lower budget, with a more family-friendly script and kinder Doctor.  Moffat fucking loves referencing old episodes in a way that he has not narratively earned.

The soldier girl from the beginning, Journey Blue, asks to leave with the Doctor, and he sadly lists all her good qualities before saying he wishes she hadn't been a soldier, and turns away.  Apparently forgetting that his own daughter Jenny was literally born a soldier, Dalek-style, and in the space of a day grew to be much more heroic.  (Clara should know this, Clara knows the Doctor's whole life, or maybe she doesn't, I don't even know anymore.)  The important part of course is supposed to be that the Doctor doesn't like soldiers and Clara's new boyfriend is a soldier, oh noes, what tension shall this create.

Final score: Doctor Who is always supposed to be accessible to children, no matter how grim it gets; who was this episode for?

8.03: Robot of Sherwood

Clara reveals that she's always wanted to meet Robin Hood and the Doctor informs her that he doesn't exist, so I just want to take a moment to note that the legends are very liked inspired by the locals who became guerrilla insurgents to resist the Norman invasion of England.  These people, the ones who left behind their families to live in the wilderness and fight the conquerors, were the first Wildmen, and I am their descendant, so fuck you very much, Mr I-Know-Everything, Robin Hood was my nth-great-grandfather.  Naturally, the TARDIS lands in Sherwood Forest and immediately gets an arrow in the door from Robin Hood, who is realistically scraggly for a man who lives in the woods but oddly well-bathed.  Robin Hood declares his intention to take the TARDIS, as "all property is theft", so apparently he got to that line about 650 years before Proudhon.

The Doctor fences with Robin Hood, but using a spoon, which is at once incredibly stupid and charmingly weird.  It's the type of thing I would let go without a blink from the Ninth or Eleventh Doctors; weird for Ten or Twelve.

There is also a Sheriff of Nottingham pillaging the locals villages, stealing daughters and shanking old dudes.  Straightforward enough.  We meet the Merry Men and the Doctor goes around stealing hair and blood and such to try to prove they're not real.  There is the traditional archery competition to capture Robin Hood and the Doctor steps in, also a master archer in addition to master fencer.  When did the Doctor suddenly start studying all the weapon arts?  They do the 'split the arrow' trick about five times total, so I guess this is supposed to be a funny episode?  I should not have taken this long to realise that.  The Sheriff's soldiers are revealed as robots, everyone gets captured, Robin Hood and the Doctor squabble in their cells, and Clara is identified as the ringleader and taken away to be interrogated.

This is the kind of episode that sets out to be all 'women are the truly competent people and very badass' and comes out 'men are infants and need women to mother them forever'.

Down in the dungeons, the slaves are seen running forges, and one of the robo-guards pours the metal into an enormous circuit-board-looking mould.  Uh... that's not how circuit boards work.

Clara has dinner with the Sheriff in traditional villain manner, where he demands to have the screwdriver explained to him.  Clara instead bluffs him into revealing what deal he made with robots from the sky.  They crashed, offered him power, and he now intends to conquer the world.  The Doctor and Robin somehow break free (no explanation how, after a long scene of them utterly failing) and find the hidden ship at the core of the castle.  The robot needed gold to fix their engines, but the Doctor declares they're too far gone and all he can do is blow up half of England.  Et cetera et cetera action scenes, banter.  There's a moment after the Doctor has helped the slaves free themselves by reflecting their laser back at them with gold plates, and the last girl to escape gives the Doctor a kiss on his cheek.  He looks startled, reflected, and I begin to hope that this Doctor is supposed to be seen as a cantankerous jackass who needs to remember that he loves people and they are the purpose for his whole journey, as opposed to self-aggrandisement.

When the world is saved with improbable archery, Robin (who is real after all, not a robot) and the Doctor have a last chat about people and legends and pretending to be a hero and inspiring others, it looks like a pretty good show for a moment, and then the TARDIS leaves and Marian appears behind it for her one line, "Robin!", so that Our Hero gets his Love Object Reward.

Final score: A roundabout, slapdash mess that destroys any shot Twelve has had so far at character consistency, but also less conceptually offensive than the first two episodes.  Terrible, yet charmingly so.  Quoth Rosa Diaz, "And the night gets even worse-better!"

Probably come back tomorrow for the next episodes!  Happy imminent New Year!


  1. So delighted to see some new material, and yay for someone else who prefers Nine to Ten (and Eleven -- haven't watched Twelve yet). Nine was my first Doctor, and the reason I kept watching the series, though the writing went downhill, for the most part, after his season.

  2. I grew up with Dr Who (well, starting with Pertwee) and anything I missed along the way I have since seen on U Tube. Haven't seen the latest season yet though. Over the past few seasons the show has devolved from scifi to fantasy and I think it has suffered for that. Too many times the Doctor routinely solves any problem whatsoever by pointing his sonic screwdriver like it is Harry Potter's wand.It used to have limited application, but now it generally does anything you could think of from unlocking doors, sending people to sleep, completely reprogramming a computer, all with one bleep. And the villains implode at the end because the good guys make a wish, or the power of love was too strong for the Big Bad, or fantasy nonsense like that. Worst of all, the Daleks stopped being scary. In the old days they were something the Doctor would hide from, nowadays he walks out in front of whole gangs of them and shouts "Come on if you're hard enough" and none of them ever just effing shoot him.
    *takes a deep breath*

  3. Huh. I've liked Moffat's seasons much more than any of RTD's except the first one and yet I can't entirely disagree with most of this (although some of the problems you found in Into The Dalek are, if not solved, at least addressed later on - the Doctor's apparent ruthlessness is characterised as a form of triage and the "good Dalek" line is part of the navel-gazing over whether the Doctor can narratively function as a traditional sort of hero or not, so there is at least a kind of pay-off there).

  4. Only Some StardustJanuary 7, 2015 at 6:36 PM

    " what kind of internal sensors react hostilely to a tiny puncture in a
    metal plate but ignore complex radio communications beaming in and out
    of their robo-intestines?"

    My intestines don't detect radio waves either. I'm very ashamed of them.

  5. Where are you?
    :( Please come back. I'm a huge fan of somethingshortandsnappy and I really miss it this year.

  6. No fear, regular posting starts again today!