Doctor Who: Sleep No More (2015) Review

Doctor Who Sleep No More That's Insane

“Sleep No More” is the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s ninth season, the usual calm before the storm of the season finale. In a season full of two-part stories (and even a three-part finale), “Sleep No More” stands out as the only forty-five minute standalone adventure of the bunch, which would otherwise be the norm in any other season of Doctor Who. It’s also probably the adventure with the smallest sense of scale in this season, being set entirely inside a haunted space station that’s orbiting Neptune, though the ending of this episode does have some pretty large and morbid ramifications for the future history of the Doctor Who universe, which will always be left up to the audience’s imaginations.

“Sleep No More” is written by Mark Gatiss, who has returned to the series as a guest writer on an almost regular basis since Doctor Who returned in 2005. Something I admire about Mark’s writing style is that he always tries to tackle a different film genre in each of his episodes, and he never writes the same kind of story twice. Some of his experiments are more successful than others, and “Sleep No More” is one of his most divisive outings that received a very mixed reception when it aired back in 2015 – some people admire it for its ambition, while other think it’s a boring slog. This episode does have a number of flaws: the found footage style of filming makes it hard to keep track of everything that’s happening onscreen, the villains of the week are not very threatening, and the ending doesn’t really have a strong enough pay-off to make up for all of its shortcomings. “Sleep No More” was supposed to have a follow-up story in Series 10 that was later scrapped in favor of “The Empress Of Mars”, a loose follow-up story to Series 7’s “Cold War“. And in my opinion, I don’t really think it needed a sequel: I think it functions well enough as a spooky one-off adventure with a rather dark twist ending.

Doctor Who Sleep No More 38th Century

In a large departure from most Doctor Who episodes, we spend the first five minutes of “Sleep No More” following the perspective of the guest characters, which allows us to see just how strange our two leads can seem from an outsider’s perspective, once they finally wander into the narrative. The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) are in a pretty laidback mood this week. They trade a lot of snark and banter freely about the Sandmen (including what they should actually call the creatures), and as tense as their situation can get sometimes, there’s very much a sense that this adventure is just a regular day at the office for them. However, it is nice to see the Doctor and Clara just spend some time together, bonding, in this episode, because they’ve been separated a lot this season, and “Sleep No More” is their last normal adventure together before the events of “Face The Raven”.

When the Doctor and Clara get drafted into the rescue mission of some solders, the Doctor is willing to play along and let the others think they’re in charge for a while, just so he can find out what their goal is. But he quickly puts his foot down and asserts his own authority when he learns what has caused so much death and destruction on the space base, and just what’s at stake if it manages to escape to other worlds – he’s determined to stop the Sandmen from infecting the rest of humanity at all costs. Clara tags along with him as usual, and she’s pretty at ease with their investigation, because after two and a half seasons, she can definitely be considered a veteran companion. Mark Gatiss gives her the traditional companion role of accidentally stumbling into the villain’s plan, giving us some early clues of what’s going on with the Sandmen when they discreetly hijack her vision.

The Doctor and Clara once again serve as this show’s moral center, as they call into question some of the more questionable things that have been normalized in the 38th century. Clara thinks the military’s practice of genetically breeding clones to be mentally stunted cannon fodder is disgusting, and she’s the only other person besides Chopra and the Doctor who’s repulsed by what Morpheus is. The Doctor is more at ease with some of the culture shock: he’s been a time traveler all his life, so he’s used to seeing a different brand of morality than that of a 21st century school teacher (to say nothing of all the shady stuff his own home-world took part in over the years). However, he’s just an indignant as Clara when he discovers what humans have been doing to themselves with Morpheus, and he makes his disapproval known by scolding them for it every chance that he gets.

Throughout the Moffat era, the show has occasionally raised the question of whether or not the Doctor sleeps, and what he actually does at night while his companions are resting. “Sleep No More” finally confirms that he does sleep, albeit nowhere near as much as humans do. As such, even he understands just how vital and precious the natural process is, and what sort of dangerous consequences might come about from messing with it, for no reason other than pure greed. The Doctor constantly suspects that there’s something not quite right about Rassmussen’s story, because he has good instincts. He almost but doesn’t quite manage to figure out what the villains’ true plan is in time, and since he fails to do so, “Sleep No More” is one of the rare times where the antagonists actually get what they wanted. This is an unexpected surprise but a very welcome one to me, since I always like to see the show demonstrate that the Doctor is not infallible by having him lose a battle for once.

Doctor Who Sleep No More The Warning

The side characters in this episode, a small platoon of soldiers on a rescue mission, are a pretty likable bunch, but they’re mostly here to be cannon fodder. Chopra is the hotheaded one of the group, who often starts arguments with his comrades about his disdain for the Morpheus technology, because he thinks it’s dangerous and exploitative. 474 is the muscle of the team. In the 38th century, armies like to breed super strong ‘grunts’ like her with limited intelligence, to be their obedient soldiers. 474 has a very childlike mindset, and she’s clearly infatuated with Chopra, which he finds to be creepy. In fact, he’s pretty hostile towards grunts in general. Chopra’s suspicions about the Morpheus technology are eventually validated when the Sandmen are unleashed, but he doesn’t get to enjoy the vindication for very long. 474 also gains the respect of her crush, after she saves his life, but she doesn’t get to enjoy it for very long either, since both of them are killed soon after.

Deep Ando is the practical jokester of the group, who tries to bring some levity to an otherwise tense unit. Since he’s one of the most affable and well-adjusted members of the team, he’s naturally the first one to die when he gets separated from the others and targeted by the Sandmen. Lastly, Nagata is the strict leader of the team, who often struggles with maintaining the chain of command with her troops, considering how young she still is. When her men start dying one by one on her watch, she clearly has a lot of regrets about not being able to do more for them, along with how she just followed the latest Morpheus craze and didn’t even consider the danger Chopra warned her about until it was too late. Surprisingly, she’s the only one of the soldiers who manages to survive the slaughter and escape the base with the Doctor and Clara at the end.

The entire plot of this episode is set inside a lonely, isolated space station that’s orbiting Neptune in the 38th century, and it’s shot just like a horror movie – specifically a found footage movie. As the first act unfolds, it slowly becomes apparent that the base is abandoned because all of the crew have been killed by monsters, creatures who have completely taken over the ship. The catalyst for this massacre turns out to be Morpheus: a revolutionary invention that allows humans to condense a whole month of sleep down into just five minutes, so they can stay awake for as long as they like. Professor Gagan Rassmussen, the creator of this project, claims that he just wanted to do his part to help humanity, but it’s pretty clear that everyone involved in the making of this contraption just wanted to turn a bigger profit for themselves.

You see, in the 38th century, people can work more and sleep less now. Is it any wonder why money-hungry businessman and opportunistic military leaders would want to fund that kind of research? The average Joes of the world treat Morpheus like it’s the latest fad – a cool new way for them to make the most of their day, and make their lives so much more convenient than they were before. No one seems to care about the potential risks of tampering with basic human nature – their own basic nature – until it’s too late. In true sci-fi fashion, their lack of foresight winds up creating a new breed of monsters that want to wipe out humanity and replace us as the dominant species in the galaxy. Since the Sandmen are a product of both hubris and mad science – future humans failing to consider the possible consequences of their actions, so long as they can make their lives easier and more cost-efficient – this episode reminds me a lot of “The Rebel Flesh” from Series 6, and the ganger uprising in that story.

Doctor Who Sleep No More Stress Assessors

While we spend a good amount of time with the Doctor, Clara and the supporting cast in “Sleep No More”, the villains are the true focal point of this episode, and how much you like them tends to be a major factor in how much you like this story as a whole. The Sandmen are sleep dust monsters (in the Doctor’s own words) who mutated from the corner of people’s eyes and gained sentience because of the Morpheus technology. From there, they grew to consume their hosts in their sleep pods and took on humanoid form. “Sleep No More” tends to strain a lot of people’s suspension of disbelief, in the same way “Kill The Moon” does, because a lot of people feel the backstory for these creatures sounds really ridiculous. Personally, I’m less bothered by their origin story and more bothered by their designs.

They’re obscured in the shadows of the base for a long time, and when we finally get a clear view of them, they look way more goofy than creepy – like giant lumps of clay, or oatmeal, or earwax. If you’re making a horror-themed episode, and your monsters wind up being more comical than menacing, then you’ve got a problem. Professor Rassmussen plays a big role in this story as well. He’s the narrator of this episode, and the one who compiles all the found footage together, even after he seemingly dies twice. To the Doctor and his friends, he portrays himself as a terrified victim of his own mad science, who’s helpless to stop his creations. In reality, the Sandmen converted him a long time ago, and he’s now in league with them. He orchestrated the plot of this entire episode to get them what they needed. In hindsight, we all should have seen the betrayal coming: the sole survivor of an offscreen massacre turning out to be a double agent is the exact same trick the Zygons pulled on Kate in “The Zygon Invasion“.

“Sleep No More” does some pretty neat things with the found footage genre of horror movies, by making the main gimmick of this episode a core part of the plot. “Sleep No More” leans on the fourth wall quite often: usually with Rassmussen’s narration, but also with the Doctor’s comments, that feel like they’re aimed at the audience as much as the characters around him. Most of this episode is shot from the first-person perspective of the cast, though we also get some black and white establishing shots whenever we cut away to surveillance footage throughout the base. Nagata eventually reveals that none of the soldiers have helmet cams on them, which was foreshadowed very early on. After Clara went inside a Morpheus pod for a few seconds, we started getting POV shots from her perspective as well, when she most certainly doesn’t have a camera on her.

Eventually, the Doctor realizes that the footage is being filmed by particles of dust floating around the base, watching the cast at all times, which was also foreshadowed early on by a comment 474 made. Rassmussen and the Sandmen staged most of this episode: they put everyone in danger so they could get some good footage of their demises and broadcast it to the whole solar system. They essentially weaponized the basic formula of Doctor Who and created a thrilling hour of television, so they could hook all their viewers at home. So long as people kept watching their horror film, they could infect them with the Morpheus signal and convert them. And despite the Doctor’s meddling in their plans, their scheme is actually successful in the end – this corner of the galaxy in the 38th century is going down. In true horror movie fashion, “Sleep No More” wraps up with a really bleak twist ending: giving the folks at home one last scare that will linger in their minds afterwards.

Doctor Who Sleep No More Sandmen 3

“Sleep No More” is directed by Justin Molotnikov, who does a solid and serviceable job of handling this episode. I’ve never been much of a fan of found footage movies, and whenever I rewatch “Sleep No More” I’m usually reminded why that’s the case. Shaky cam is used extensively throughout this story, to put us right in the middle of the action as the characters make their way down dark hallways, that are filled with shadows everywhere. The constant motion blur makes it very difficult to tell exactly what’s happening a lot of the time, especially during the chase scenes. The set designers do a commendable job of bringing the grey, grungy, space station setting to life, because the world of this story feels just as fully realized as the underwater base setting from “Under The Lake“, earlier this season.

I also have to give my props to the show’s editors, because this episode had to have been even more difficult to cut together than usual, with so many shaky cam shots from so many different angles that all had to line up with each other – and for the most part, the transitions between shots are always handled seamlessly. The CGI from the show’s visual effects department is on top form this week, because we get some very nice shots of not only Neptune from orbit, but also the Sandmen disintegrating into dust. I appreciate the fact that Murray Gold’s score is used very sparingly in “Sleep No More”, with the exception of a tense, electronic piece called “The Morpheus Song“. For the most part, the acting, directing and blocking are left to speak for themselves when it comes to building up tension. None of his usual themes for the Doctor and Clara are used in this episode either, which makes the soundtrack for this story stand out from most of the other Capaldi era episodes.

All in all, I wouldn’t say “Sleep No More” is a bad episode of Doctor Who, because in spite of its flaws, it does have a lot of good qualities to it as well. I would say that it’s a rather ambitious experiment that wound up being one of the more average episodes that Mark Gatiss wrote for Doctor Who, but it’s still better than “The Idiot’s Lantern“.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Sleep No More Hiding In A Freezer 8

* “So, what, you are a rescue mission? Of four?” “Cuts, pet”.

* “Eyes. Watch. Eyes in sky” I appreciate the implication that 474 is not quite as oblivious as she seems. She picks up on the fact that they’re being watched by someone long before anyone else does.

* “Morpheus? Named after the God of Dreams? Oh, yeah. Ooh, yeah. Not just ‘this'”.

* “That’s insane, that’s horrible!” “Finally, someone who sees it for what is is!”

* There are multiple instances of Peter Capaldi looking right into the camera in this episode. staring straight into your soul, and it makes me feel kind of uncomfortable.

* “Congratulations, Professor. You’ve revolutionized the labor market. You’ve conquered nature. You’ve also created an abomination”.

* “You can’t just throw accusations like that around! That’s slander!” You’ve got to give it to Professor Rassmussen: he’s a good actor and he’s really going all in with his façade.

* “What about us? We’ve all used the pods back on Triton?” “Not all of us” “This isn’t a good time to be smug, pet”.

* “It’s adaptable, it’s clever, and it’s coming for us”.

* Deep Ando being forced to jump through hoops because the ship’s crew apparently reprogrammed the computer systems feel very reminiscent of “42“. And of course, you have to feel bad for the guy on rewatch, once you know that Rassmussen and Sandmen set all this up to play sick mind games with him before killing him off.

* “Argh, this day couldn’t get any worse!” Clara, why on Earth would you say that? You know better than to say that.

* This episode is named after a line in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, and the playwright himself gets namedropped by the Doctor. As you’ll recall, the Doctor has actually met Shakespeare before, in Series 3’s “The Shakespeare Code“.

* I laugh every time 474 announces that she’s going to save Chopra, and then she promptly punches him in the face, knocking him out.

* “You don’t have a camera, Clara. But you will have by now, sleep in your eye”.

* Poor Chopra. He makes it back to the rescue ship just a few minutes too early, and he gets killed off by the Sandmen before the others arrive.

* “And that’s what you want? You’re helping them wipe out humanity!” “Things have been made very clear to me!

* I unironically love how Clara is outraged that Nagata would shoot Rassmussen like that. Meanwhile, the Doctor doesn’t give a single flying fuck about him, and instead focuses all of his attention on the ship’s computer. Yeah, that seems pretty on brand for Twelve.

* “It doesn’t make sense! None of this makes any sense!” I feel like that line could be used to describe so many episodes of Doctor Who over the years.

* “There’s nothing left of Rassmussen any more. Only us. Only us. You will show this film to your family, won’t you? And your friends. And everyone, really. Then we can all be together, dust to dust. Excuse me, you’ve got something there, just in the corner of your eye“.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Sleep No More Treachery 10

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Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion (2015) Review

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Regrouping 2

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is co-written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, and serves as a follow-up story to two previous episodes, “The Day Of The Doctor” and “Death In Heaven“. It explores the fallout of both Osgood’s death and the new Zygon / human peace treaty that the Doctor arranged during the 50th anniversary special. This two-parter feels very reminiscent of the sort of UNIT stories you’d get during the RTD era of Doctor Who (“Aliens Of London“, “The Sound Of Drums” and “The Sontaran Stratagem“): it’s a politically themed action-adventure thriller that makes the villains of the week an allegory for real-world issues. As a globe-trekking adventure, it’s certainly one of the more ambitious stories in Series 9, and it’s a nice step up from Peter Harness’ previous contribution, “Kill The Moon“, which was probably the most average episode of Series 8.

However, “The Zygon Invasion” is a decidedly weaker installment than “The Zygon Inversion”, because of how predictable the plot can be. Clara being kidnapped by the Zygons and replaced by an impostor is treated like a shocking twist at the end of the first episode, when it was actually pretty obvious from the start (there’s no way Clara would ignore a blatant red flag like a little kid being dragged away screaming by his ‘parents’, who are acting like sinister robots). The same can be said about Kate suspiciously finding a sole police officer in the middle of nowhere, amongst a destroyed Zygon settlement, who of course turns out to be a Zygon herself later. The men and women of UNIT also seem to be even thicker than usual in this episode: in one scene, a bunch of soldiers, who already know they’re dealing with manipulative shapeshifters, actually let the Zygons talk them into following them inside of their death trap to die – which is unintentionally hilarious to watch unfold.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Mutually Assured Destruction 5

Compared to the previous three stories (“The Magician’s Apprentice“, “Under The Lake“, “The Girl Who Died“), which have all portrayed our leading man in a very flawed but sympathetic light, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is given a more traditionally heroic role in this two-parter. With a full-blown species war about to break out between a bunch of Zygon terrorists and a bunch of trigger-happy humans over control of the planet, the Doctor tries to keep the peace between the two factions, and he often feels like the only sane man in the room besides Osgood. Throughout Series 9, the Twelfth Doctor has clearly matured a lot from his soldier-hating phase last season, since he no longer has any problems working with soldiers whenever the situation calls for it, and that’s especially apparent in this two-parter, where he teams up with UNIT to stop the Zygons (partly so he can keep the humans from doing anything stupid just as much as the Zygons).

The Doctor is forced to work without his usual wingman this time around, since Clara has been kidnapped by the Zygons. Luckily, Osgood does a phenomenal job of filling in her usual role, while also taking the Doctor to task for his own skewed priorities. Twelve is given a stark reminder of what’s at stake for both races, when he tries and fails to talk down a suicidal Zygon whose life Bonnie destroyed. And from there, the climax takes us back to Black Archive, to bring this conflict full circle and recreate the showdown from “The Day Of The Doctor”. With both sides locked into a mutually-assured destruction scenario, and both sides refusing to back down, we’re treated to another rare instance of the Doctor baring his soul to talk some sense into them. What follows is a ten minute long scene of Peter Capaldi giving 100% with his performance, which is easily the most iconic part of this two-parter.

Bonnie tries her best to guilt-trip him, to blame him for all of her atrocities, and she fails when he quite rightly dismisses all of her deflections. He proceeds to verbally eviscerate every bit of propaganda she spouts out, all of her self-righteous delusions of grandeur – exposing her grab for power for what it truly is – and it’s glorious. The Doctor understands the nature of warfare and the full consequences of wanton bloodshed a lot better than she does, so he implores her to break the cycle of violence and revenge, for both herself and her species. We’ve seen the Twelfth Doctor be sassy, short-tempered, and philosophical lots of times, but this scene really makes it apparent just how far he’s willing to go to honor his principles and make the world a kinder place whenever he can, just how passionate he is, and just how much he cares about the people he’s helping, even when it seems like he doesn’t.

Now that the Doctor has gained some closure for his role in the time war and started to make peace with his past, he’s decided to learn from his own failures and use the wisdom that he’s gained from them to keep others from going down the same path he did. And it feels right that Clara should be here to witness this, since she was also there on the last day of the time war, one of the most defining moments of the Doctor’s life. “The Zygon Inversion” winds up being one of the Doctor’s finest hours when it comes to him living up to the standards he set for himself when he chose his name a long time ago. He shows Bonnie mercy and forgiveness, even when most people wouldn’t, and through his empathy he manages to have a positive impact on her. After pestering Osgood all day about whether or not she’s human or Zygon, he also finally accepts that he’ll never know the answer to that question, and that’s alright – a little bit of mystery makes life more fun, after all.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Mutually Assured Destruction 6

Much like in the previous two-parter, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is sidelined this week, when she gets kidnapped by the Zygons and replaced by an impostor. She actually spends most of this story trapped as a prisoner inside her own mind, until she uses what she learned from “Last Christmas” to become aware of her surroundings and fight Bonnie for control over her body, so she can help the Doctor. She even manages to save the Doctor’s life at one point: because as it turns out, Bonnie isn’t the only one who can sabotage people from within. Once her Zygon captor becomes aware of her resistance, she decides to pay her a visit, so she can pump her for info about the Doctor’s plans. And from there, we’re treated to the truly surreal sight of Jenna Coleman interrogating herself.

Back in Series 8, Clara gained plenty of experience when it comes to handling interrogations (“Deep Breath“, “Robot Of Sherwood“, “Death In Heaven”), so she goes into this scene feeling pretty confident, calling Bonnie out on all of her bluffs. However, she’s quickly put on the backfoot when she realizes she can’t lie to her – which is basically her secret weapon – and just like that, this scene becomes a lot more tense. Clara is basically all alone with a killer, with no help coming her way any time soon. She puts up a good poker face, but Bonnie holds all the power here and Clara is completely at her mercy, and they both know it. The only thing Clara can do is stall her and buy some time for the Doctor to act against her. Clara doesn’t contribute much to the climax, as the Zygons hold her hostage, but the Doctor does give her some of the credit for their victory. He acknowledges that Clara has helped him to become a better person since they first met: the sort of person who could empathize with Bonnie and talk her down from a figurative ledge.

Petronella Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) made her debut during the original Zygon invasion in “The Day Of The Doctor”, where she gained an alien duplicate, and ever since that day, she and her new sister have been totally invested in helping their species by being the face of the Zygon / human peace treaty. Both of them were let in on the Doctor’s plan, his final fallback option should anything go wrong between the two factions, and now that her sister is dead, the remaining Osgood is determined to carry on their work alone. She plays a vital role in both the plot and the overall themes of this two-parter. She refuses to let anyone know whether she’s human or Zygon, because in her eyes it shouldn’t matter, and she maintains that level of secrecy even from the Doctor.

Osgood is still just as nerdy and eccentric as she’s always been, but she’s also very confident and courageous. She’s really come into her own because of her new purpose in life, which shows in the way she treats the Doctor now. She treats him less like an idol who she looks up to and more like a colleague: she’s more willing to challenge his beliefs and his biases, and she has inside knowledge of the way Zygon culture works that even he lacks. She also serves as a foil to Bonnie: someone who absolutely refuses to let hatred and bigotry give way to senseless bloodshed, even if she has to give her life for her cause. After the danger has passed, she turns down a chance to travel in the TARDIS, which was once her biggest dream, so she can continue to dedicate herself to her mission, as well as keep an eye on Bonnie during her rehabilitation – which signifies that her character growth since her debut is now complete. “The Zygon Invasion” was Osgood’s final appearance in the series to date, so I’m very satisfied to say that it was also the best showcase of her character to date as well.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Smug Bonnie 2

In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Zygons attempted an invasion of Earth which failed because of the Doctor. But because of the time lord’s efforts, the matter was resolved peacefully and the Zygons were allowed to settle on Earth, so long as they integrated into human society. Problems start to arise when a group of violent radicals try to bring about a Zygon uprising. They want the whole world to themselves – so they can live as their true selves, instead of having to constantly hide in fear of what the humans might do should they discover their true forms – so they wage a war against humanity. This conflict is very obviously an allegory for ISIS and the terrorist attacks that were ravaging the UK during the time this two-parter was written. A scene where the Zygons force Osgood to make a video reciting their propaganda, under threat of death, really drives home that parallel.

Bonnie’s splinter group is a threat to both human and Zygon races, because they’re only acting in their own best interests and not the greater good of their species. They have no problem killing other Zygons who they deem to be traitors for fraternizing with humans or conforming to human society. The pure selfishness of Bonnie’s cult is put on display when she destroys the life of an innocent Zygon just to make a point. She forcibly unmasks him and makes his whole body unstable, so he’ll become a danger to himself and everyone around him. This culminates in a tragic scene where he decides to commit suicide, because it’s better to die at his own hand than be killed by humans, or his so-called ‘saviors’. Bonnie and her gang also plan to do the same to every other Zygon on Earth. They want to radicalize their whole race by turning humanity against them, so they’ll have no choice but to join their revolution.

Jenna Coleman gets to play a double role this week as Bonnie, the leader of the Zygon rebels. Early on, she decides to go undercover, learn her enemies’ secrets and sabotage them from within by posing as a member of the Doctor’s entourage. She does a good job of pretending to be Clara, only slipping up once while the Doctor is around. Once he’s gone, she starts acting more and more out-of-character, being cold and ruthless, because she lacks Clara’s natural warmth. She sends Kate to a trap in New Mexico, and lures many of UNIT’s troops to another trap underground before she shows her true colors. She has a very smug and condescending personality, but she’s also prone to throwing tantrums and smashing things when she doesn’t get her way, which is hilarious.

Nevertheless, she’s still a credible threat since she’s perfectly willing to kill anyone, human or Zygon, to accomplish her goals. She also takes a sadistic glee out of terrifying Clara and putting her in her place during her interrogation, since Clara kept talking back to her. By the climax, things have spiraled well out of Bonnie’s control, but she refuses to accept defeat because she’s come too far to turn back now, until the Doctor manages to do the impossible – he changes her mind. By the coda, there are now two Osgoods again. After her change of heart, Bonnie has decided to work closely with Osgood, so they can improve Zygon / human relations together, and I have some mixed feelings about this outcome. On the one hand, it’s a very appropriate and positive ending for both of their character arcs. But on the other hand, considering how deadset Bonnie was on carrying out a massacre for this entire two-parter, I’m not quite sure I buy her entire worldview changing so quickly after just one speech from the Doctor (albeit a very powerful one).

Doctor Who The Zygon Invasion Kate's Investigation

UNIT certainly have their hands full in this two-parter. They’ve always been a very paranoid organization that’s obsessed with secrecy, because they possess all sorts of dangerous knowledge that could easily bring about the end of the world. The Zygons are arguably more dangerous to them than most other alien races: anyone could be an impostor, and any one of UNIT’s soldiers could fall victim to the Zygons’ emotional manipulation, should they decide to weaponize the faces of their loved ones against them. Their fear of what the Zygons could do with their shape-changing abilities is proven to be completely justified when Bonnie manages to infiltrate their ranks disguised as Clara and gets a whole lot of troops killed before she drops her façade. As a result, the top brass at UNIT are starting to get pretty antsy by the time the Doctor is called in, and the other world leaders we encounter in this story are not much better.

The Zygon rebels are the main threat in this two-parter, but the human supporting characters are not portrayed in the best light either – and I really appreciate the fact that Peter Harness makes it clear this species war is not a one-sided problem. The military leaders (Kate included) are more than a bit bloodthirsty, and they all seem to want to take the easy way out of getting rid of their problems by simply vaporizing them. It’s even implied that humans fired the first shot against the Zygons that started this war. In a Zygon settlement in New Mexico, humans enacted violence upon some Zygons out of xenophobia, once they discovered their true identities. The Zygons decided to fight back, things want way too far way too quickly from there, and the violence and bloodshed eventually spread to other colonies.

Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and the Doctor are at odds with each other again in this story, because the Zygons really seem to bring out the worst in her. She refuses to entertain the idea of negotiating with terrorists, since she would rather wipe them all out instead, and the Doctor has to repeatedly push her into pursuing peaceful alternatives. When Kate makes the rather unwise decision to go on a mission to a different continent by herself, she’s quickly ambushed by a Zygon. Thankfully, she manages to escape, because she’s really quick on the draw. From there, she’s able to infiltrate the Zygons’ ranks, using the same trick Queen Elizabeth did two seasons ago, and it is very satisfying to see her turn the tables on them when their guard is down.

Throughout this story, Kate seems to get fed up with the Doctor’s stubborn, peacekeeping ways, and seems to regard him as a naïve, pacifistic fool when it comes to the Zygons. During a stand-off with Bonnie in the climax, she gets a much-needed reminder that he’s UNIT most trusted ally for a reason. The Doctor has been through hell all throughout his life, and he’s gained plenty of experience to back-up his philosophies. There’s a reason and purpose behind everything he does, and he makes a lot of hard decisions so other people won’t have to. After realizing the error of her ways, Kate feels more than a bit ashamed of herself. She learns an important lesson about not being stubborn and letting her prejudices get in the way of her better judgment – only for that lesson to be immediately undone when the Doctor decides to mindwipe her a few minutes later. I’ve never had a problem with resetting timelines, but resetting character development has always been a pet peeve of mine, and it is disappointing to see that this growing experience for Kate ultimately won’t stick.

Doctor Who The Zygon Invasion Departure

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is helmed by David Netthiem, who takes a very muted and downbeat approach to his direction for this two-parter. He often likes to utilize Dutch angles to give this story an uneasy, off-kilter look, signifying that something is very wrong to the audience long before the characters themselves pick up on it. This decision especially pays-off early on in “The Zygon Inversion”, when Clara is trapped inside of her own mindspace and is slowly becoming aware of her surroundings. He also uses steady cam extensively during combat scenes (and the sequence of Kate exploring an empty town alone in the desert), to place the viewers right in the middle of the action. Location shooting for this story was done in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands (for the scenes set in Truth or Consequences); the Sennybridge training area in Powys, Wales (for the scenes set in Turmezistan), and Llanedeyrn, Cardiff (for the scenes set in London).

“The Zygon Invasion” is one of those stories like “42“, “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Listen“, that has a very striking and distinctive color scheme to it. Red, blue, and green are all sharp colors that contrast each other frequently throughout this story, to elevate an already tense and uneasy mood amongst a hostile environment – especially during the scenes that are set inside the Zygons’ underground lair. Murray Gold’s score is as bold and brassy as usual this week, but it also has a sleek and slightly jazzy tinge to it, to match the main espionage vibes of this two-parter. Tracks like “Deep Cover“, “Just Come Inside“, “This Is Not A War“, and “Defending The Earth” provide plenty of new variations on the Twelfth Doctor’s theme, with the last one in particular being a remix of “Message From Missy” and “Finding The Doctor” from the season premiere.

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is a pretty solid two-parter that has its faults (like a predictable plot and a few character turns I don’t quite buy), but it makes up for those shortcomings by really letting the Twelfth Doctor shine as a character, and sending out a positive message about peace and unity that will always be timeless.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Desperation 2

* Osgood visiting the grave of her doppelganger is meant to be a somber moment, but I always chuckle at the close-up shot revealing that the only thing written on the gravestone (in big bold letters) is “my sister“, which is more than a bit bizarre.

* “Any race is capable of the best and the worst, every race is peaceful and warlike, good and evil. My race is no exception, and neither is mine”.

* From Series 7 to Series 9, Jenna Coleman has played Clara Oswald, Clara’s echoes, copies of Clara from different points in her own personal time-stream, and now a Zygon impersonating Clara. This show really likes giving us a whole bunch of Claras.

* “Did you just call yourself Doctor Disco?”

* “Are you enjoying that?” “I snogged a Zygon once. Old habits”.

* Fun fact: as fictional as it sounds, there really is a town called ‘Truth or Consequences’ in New Mexico, that was named after a radio show of the same title back in 1950.

* “The Doctor will go to Turmezistan. Negotiate peace, rescue Osgood, and prevent this war, cause that’s what he does”.

* “Clara, Jac, you stay here. This is your country, protect it from the scary monsters. And also from the Zygons”.

* “I thought you didn’t like being president of the world” “No, but I like poncing about in a big plane”.

* Say what you will about Bonnie’s immaturity, but you’ve got to appreciate how far she plans ahead. She plays Clara, she plays Jac, she plays Kate, and she even manages to play the Doctor for a while. That’s a scarily efficient villain, right there.

* “Any living thing in this world, including my family and friends, could turn into a Zygon and kill me, any second now. It’s not paranoia when it’s real”.

* I imagine the Zygons were surprised themselves that the UNIT troops were that easy to fool. I can buy that the Zygons would be able to emotionally manipulate them into not harming them, even if they already knew their true nature. The humans wouldn’t want to take the risk of shooting them, just in case their instincts were wrong. What I do not buy is that all of them would then decide to follow the Zygons into a really obvious trap, when they’ve been given no reason to trust them whatsoever. At that point, whatever happens next is just natural selection at work.

* “Doctor, what are you doing here?” “Rescuing you. In quite a dashing way, I might add”.

* “But I don’t see how these are duplicates, that’s not how Zygons work. They don’t grow duplicates, they kidnap the originals. So these… these are the humans” Top ten anime betrayals.

* “Oh, no, Miss Oswald, please, please!” “Kill the traitors“.

* “Well, you can’t have the United Kingdom. There’s already people living there. They’ll think you’re going to pinch their benefits”.

* “I’m sorry, but Clara’s dead. Kate Stewart is dead. The UNIT troops are all dead. Truth or consequences“.

* During her assassination attempt, Bonnie lies to Twelve that Clara is dead, and he spends the first ten minutes of “The Zygon Inversion” cycling through the seven stages of grief, before Osgood convinces him that his best friend is still alive. This is the fourth story in a row where the Doctor worries about Clara’s mortality. Series 9 is really laying the foreshadowing on thick that Clara’s going to drop dead soon, isn’t it?

* “You’re talking nonsense to distract me from being really scared. It’s one of your known character traits”.

* “Don’t look at my browser history” “Whoa!” “Yeah, I said don’t”.

* “Why didn’t that Zygon blow us up with her big bazooka?” “She did blow us up with her big bazooka. This is us being blown up with a big bazooka!”

* “The first thing I’d do if I wanted to invade the world would be to kill you. I wouldn’t even let you get talking, like you always do. Bullet between the eyes, first thing. Twelve times, if necessary” Oh wow, Osgood.

* “You’re dead” “Yes, well, I’m dead now, and I think I might be a bit more dead in a minute”.

* “Ah, the mind of Clara Oswald. She may never find her way out”.

* “You spend an awful lot of time here, considering it’s a dump” “I spend an awful lot of time being kidnapped, tortured, shot at and exterminated. Doesn’t mean I like it”.

* “You will answer me, Clara. Truth or consequences, lie and you die, where is it?!”

* I love the look on the Doctor’s face when Kate and the other Zygons show up out of nowhere to lure him into Bonnie’s trap. He’s clearly not buying what they’re selling for a single second.

* “How did you survive?” “Five rounds rapid” Savage.

* “You took it” “Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best”.

* “Because it’s not a game, Kate! This is a scale model of war! Every war ever fought, right there in front of you! Because it’s always the same! When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning! SIT DOWN AND TALK!!!

* “I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know! I did worse things than you could ever imagine! And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it?! You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this: no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

* “You have a disadvantage, Zygella. I know that face. Gotcha” That callback to Series 5 and the Eleventh Doctor’s era makes me so happy.

* “What happened?” “The same thing that happened to you. I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me, she doesn’t leave”. Yeah, Doctor, about that…

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Aftermath 2

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Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived (2015) Review

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Captives 4

With “The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived”, we’ve officially reached the halfway point of Doctor Who’s ninth season. In Doctor Who, the midway point of each season usually changes the trajectory the show is on and sets up the events of the season finale to come. Around this point in previous seasons, the Daleks were reintroduced to the series, the Cybermen were reintroduced to the series, we discovered Harold Saxon was manipulating Martha’s family from behind the scenes, we learned just how deadly the cracks in time were, River revealed she was Amy and Rory’s daughter, Amy and Rory left the series for good, and Danny discovered Clara’s secret double life with the Doctor. “The Girl Who Died” maintains that tradition by introducing Ashildr, a character who will play an important role in the Doctor and Clara’s final journey together.

“The Girl Who Died” (co-written by Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson) and “The Woman Who Lived” (penned by Catherine Tregenna) form a loose two-parter in the same way “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” does in Series 6. These two episodes have very different settings and supporting casts, but they explore the same overarching themes, and the second episode resolves the storyline that the first episode started. If I have any major criticism with this story, it’s that it can suffer from tonal whiplash. On the one hand, it wants to be a tragic tale about how the Doctor unwittingly ruins someone’s life in an attempt to save it; how Ashildr nearly loses her humanity and becomes so miserable that she’s willing to try to kill someone just to escape her life. But on the other hand, it also wants to indulge in plenty of wacky, slapstick shenanigans in the same vein as “Robot Of Sherwood“, and those two tones do not mesh together well. The transitions between those two moods can be pretty clunky, especially in “The Woman Who Lived”.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died New Plan 15

In “The Girl Who Died”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara get roped into a conundrum where a 9th century village of Vikings declares war on an alien race called the Mire, a war they cannot possibly win. “The Girl Who Died” builds upon the conflict the Doctor and Clara just dealt with in “Before The Flood“, where Clara wants the Doctor to break his own rules more often so he can save more people, while the Doctor insists they tread softly on history, since he knows what can kind of damage their meddling can cause (even unintentionally) a lot better than she does. He’s immensely frustrated that the Vikings insist on defending their homes and dying for their pride, no matter how much he tries to talk some sense into them. He wants to do more for these people himself, but he knows he shouldn’t, because of how much history could change for the worse if the Mire decide to bring their wrath down upon humanity.

Eventually, the Doctor comes up with a plan to beat the Mire without any blood being shed, but it comes at a price. A young woman named Ashildr, who plays a vital role in his scheme, loses her life in the chaos. But the Doctor, pushed to his limits, refuses to accept this outcome and brings her back from the dead, which also comes at a price – making her immortal. His inability to walk from injustice, from people in need, leads him to cross a line. The last time that happened, he nearly went mad with power in “The Waters Of Mars“, and ultimately he will let his god complex get out of control again soon in “Hell Bent”. The Doctor, being the Doctor, doesn’t stick around to deal with the consequences of his rash actions. He gets out of Dodge as soon as he realizes what he’s done: he’s cursed Ashildr to the same kind of ageless existence that he himself grows tired of frequently.

When he meets Ashildr again, eight hundred years later from her perspective, he can relate to her struggles with her incredibly long life-span, how hard it is to cope with the fact that she’ll always remain the same while everyone else around her withers and dies. He’s also forced to confront the fact that he made this woman’s life a living hell and is appropriately shamed for it, so he takes responsibility for her. When he discovers just how much Ashildr’s moral code has eroded over the years, he’s very disappointed in her for how far she’s fallen, and he helps her find her way back to the light like a stern but supportive parent. In the aftermath, he passes along some wisdom to her, from one immortal being to another. He refuses to bring her along with him in the TARDIS because he’s well aware that they would be a terrible influence on each other.

Their callousness and world-weariness would cause them to bring out each other’s worst traits, and lose sight of what’s truly important in life – which is exactly what happened to the time lords of Gallifrey, in their elite, insular society. Instead, he encourages her to treasure the connections she makes with regular people, however fleeting they may be, because they’ll truly help her to stay grounded. They part ways on good terms, but he’s still wary of her and what she might get up to, and he’s right to feel uneasy, because the full consequences of making Ashildr immortal have not come back to bite him in the backside yet. He’s also still concerned about Clara. By now, he’s grimly accepted that he hasn’t been a good influence on her, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens and he loses her, like he’s lost so many other companions. The events of this two-parter only remind him that their time together will come to an end eventually – and that separation will come even sooner than he thinks.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Odin's Chosen

Keeping with this season’s main theme of how the Doctor and Clara are not always the best influence on each other, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is still encouraging the Doctor to break his own rules more often, so he can save as many people as he can. Her heart’s in the right place and her desire to do good whenever she can is very commendable, but her perspective on what can go wrong if they meddle with history too much is also very limited compared to the Doctor’s. “The Girl Who Died” further displays how good she’s gotten at stepping into the Doctor’s shoes whenever she needs to, because she’s easily the second most capable person in the room in this adventure. She can size up her enemies in a matter of minutes by analyzing their actions; she can make up clever plans to save herself and her friends under pressure; and she nearly manages to talk down the leader of the Mire by being strategic and diplomatic, until Ashildr decides to get involved.

Throughout “The Girl Who Died”, Clara takes Ashildr under her wing and tries to keep her out of trouble, while also giving the Doctor some much-needed emotional support. Her scenes with Twelve are a highlight as always, as they argue over the right course of action. Clara still shows signs of becoming overly reckless, like how quickly she brushes off her close shave with death in the cold open, and she’s still completely convinced that the Doctor can solve any problem just by being clever enough or determined enough to find a solution for it. Eventually, her overconfidence will be her undoing. She’s almost completely absent in “The Woman Who Lived”, since it’s a companion-lite story. But in the coda, she seems to be perfectly content to let her travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor go on forever – in contrast to the Doctor’s weary acknowledgement that nothing good can last forever.

Arguably, the true star of this two-parter is Ashildr, played by Maisie Williams. Ashildr is a rather odd young woman who has a sharp mind and plenty of tomboyish traits, as a result of being raised by a village of Vikings. She’s been shunned all life by the outside world for not conforming to what people expect of her, and after a certain point, even she started to believe she brings bad luck. However, she loves her community dearly, because her friends and neighbors accept her when the rest of the world doesn’t. In particular, she and her father Einarr are very close. He’s usually a pretty gruff and stern man, but he has so much love for his daughter, and he’s so proud of her when she manages to find a good use for her gifts. Like a lot of Moffat era characters, Ashildr is a storyteller. She likes to make up tall tales to entertain herself, or keep her loved ones safe in her heart while they’re away.

Early on, about half of Ashildr’s village – people she’s known all her life – are slaughtered by the Mire, much to her horror. Angered by their deaths, Ashildr challenges the Mire to a fight she and her people cannot possibly win to avenge her fallen friends, and once she’s had some time to cool down, she’s just as horrified that she did something so foolish. She doesn’t waste any time blaming herself for dooming her home, and spends the rest of the episode trying to correct her mistake. Ashildr ultimately dies making amends for her actions (albeit unintentionally), when the Doctor’s plan to get rid of the Mire winds up killing her – crushing her father, her community, and the time lord. But thanks to the Doctor, she gets a second chance at life, which turns out to be just as much of a curse as it is a blessing. “The Girl Who Died’ spends a lot of time emphasizing her humanity, which makes her reappearance in “The Woman Who Lived” all the more shocking after she’s steadily begun to lose it.

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived Highway Robbery 12

After being a supporting character in “The Girl Who Died”, Ashildr takes center stage as the Doctor’s co-star in “The Woman Who Lived”. After eight hundred years have passed, Ashildr has grown a lot more jaded, bitter and wrathful. She’s emotionally closed herself off from the world, and she simply refuses to form attachments to people anymore after outliving everyone she’s ever loved, having her heart broken time and time again. As a result, she’s also starting to grow disturbingly indifferent to a loss of human life. While she’s a lot more cultured now (having found plenty of ways to pass the time, including robbing noblemen for sport), she’s lost touch with her roots and she’s forgotten nearly everything about her old life and her old home that she once loved so much. She even gives herself a new (and in my opinion goofy) name, to reflect her isolation and her self-reliance.

Maisie Williams really shows off her acting chops in “The Woman Who Lived”, because the icy, haughty and emotionally distant character she plays in this episode bares very little resemblance to the odd but sweet-natured girl we were introduced to in the previous installment, while still betraying brief glimmers of her old self from time to time in her performance, on the rare occasions Ashildr lets her guard down. In “The Woman Who Lived”, Ashildr serves as a darker mirror to the Doctor, providing a glimpse of who he could have become if he spurned all Earthly attachments and withdrew from society entirely. In fact, the Doctor has attempted to do such a thing in the past, as a way of coping with his grief, like when he gave up companions entirely in the Series 4 specials, or when he tried to retire to Victorian London in “The Snowmen“, until Clara pulled him out of his funk.

She also serves as a darker mirror to Captain Jack Harkness, another character who was made immortal without his consent by Rose, abandoned by the Doctor to deal with his eternal life all on his own, and grew colder over time from his isolation. Jack didn’t hold too much of a grudge against the Doctor and Rose for his hardships, because he still considered them to be his friends, while Ashildr has come to greatly resent the Doctor over eight hundred years and does not have any problems tossing him under the bus the next time she sees him. In her eyes, the Doctor selfishly abandoned her to drag herself through the centuries, taking the slow path, while he jaunts about time and space in his TARDIS, doing whatever he likes. She envies that, and she’s not interested in hearing his condescending compassion or his self-righteous judgment.

She teams up with an alien invader to get a ride off-world (knowing there’s a good chance he’ll betray her), and is even willing to kill someone to complete her plans. However, she has an attack of conscience when her actions nearly doom her world and bring death and destruction upon innocent people. After trying her best for so long to bury her better nature out of selfishness and bitterness, Ashildr ultimately has a change of heart, to once again fix what she broke. She uses the second Mire med-kit the Doctor gave her (should she ever want to make someone else immortal) to stop the invasion, therefore ensuring she’ll always be one of a kind in the universe. After accepting how wrong she was, she’s a lot more open to hearing the Doctor out, and she starts the long process of making peace with her existence by finding a new purpose in life. However, just because she no longer resents the Doctor doesn’t mean we might not see her return in an antagonistic role again in the future.

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived The Hanging 3

In “The Girl Who Died”, a little village in Scandinavia is regularly visited by ‘Odin”, a false god who’s really the leader of an alien race called the Mire, collecting humans to kill for resources – harvesting the best warriors that the Vikings have to offer. The Mire essentially serve as foils to the Vikings: they both have very militant cultures, they both value the same qualities in combat, and they both take a lot of pride in their respective conquests, except the alien warriors are significantly more cold-hearted and cruel than the human ones. The Vikings, for all of their many, many faults, are shown to genuinely care about each other and look out for each other as a group, and while they are extremely hostile and distrusting of outsiders, they are capable of swallowing their pride and learning from their mistakes when the situation calls for it – something that can not be said for the Mire.

One of the main themes of this episode is the power of mind over muscle. The Vikings are very stubborn, superstitious people who value bravery, strength and fighting prowess. When they’re confronted with the unknown and the threat of certain death, they cling to their pride and machismo that helped to get them into this mess in the first place. However, as time passes, even they have to admit the Doctor has a point. They can’t beat the Mire with just brute strength, when their enemies have vastly superior technology that can easily crush them. They’ll have to think outside the box to outwit them, and fittingly enough, the Doctor’s plan to defeat the Mire involves weaponizing their own pride against them, essentially blackmailing their leader with the threat of completely ruining their reputation throughout the cosmos if he doesn’t comply to the Doctor’s demands.

In “The Woman Who Lived”, it’s very obvious Leandro, Ashildr’s co-conspirator, is just using her, and the episode wisely doesn’t even try to hide that twist. Leandro is a pretty generic villain, with a stock motive about wanting to conquer the Earth with his people. But that’s perfectly fine, because much like the Mire in the previous episode, this story is not about him: he’s merely a catalyst for the conflict our main characters have to deal with. If Ashildr is a foil to the Doctor, then Leandro is one for her: he represents who she could become if she completely gives into her selfish impulses and goes through life tossing anyone and everyone aside for her own self-gain. Appropriately enough, Leandro is immediately killed off by his own brethren once he fails his mission, because they’re just as callous and merciless as he is.

Sam Swift, a scruffy local robber, is Ashildr’s biggest rival in “The Woman Who Lived”. Sam is clearly not that bright (during an encounter with the ‘Knightmare’, she completely forgets to do her man voice, and he doesn’t pick up on the discrepancy at all), but he’s still a fairly competent thief to those he harasses. Ironically, despite having a feud with the Knightmare, he’s infatuated with her other alter-ego, Lady Me. Sam is a boisterous womanizer who likes to use humor to mask his fears. It seems he became a robber because he wanted the glory and attention of being a criminal as much as he wanted the money, and he eventually gets in way over his head. He starts to have a lot of regrets about his life choices when he’s hauled off straight to the hangman’s noose, and after he’s been ‘pardoned’ (thanks to the Doctor), he gains a brand new leash on life. It’s actually surprisingly heartwarming to see this guy get a second chance to turn his life around, and the resolution to his subplot ties up a lot of this story’s main themes very effectively.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Changing Fate 7

“The Girl Who Died” is directed by Ed Bazalgette, who makes the tone of this two-parter feel like a cross between a whimsical period piece, and a wacky, rural sitcom. While there are plenty of light-hearted, comedic moments scattered throughout both episodes, the establishing shots can have an appropriately stunning sense of grandeur to them as well, like a full rotating shot of Ashildr watching the years fly by around her at the end of the first episode. This is probably one of the most visually beautiful stories of Series 9 when it comes to all the location shooting that was done for it in Margam Castle in Port Talbot, Castell Coch in Tongwynlais, and Llanharan House in Llanharan. Both “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” sport a lot of gorgeous countryside scenery, with lush green forests and wide open fields as far as the eyes can see.

When it comes to the show’s special effects, they’re a mixed bag this week. Some of them do their job well, like the Eyes of Hades creating a door to another dimension, while others are less than convincing, like the prologue of Clara drifting aimlessly through space or ‘Odin” manifesting above the Viking village as a giant, disembodied head. Murray Gold’s score has a distinctively Scandinavian flavor to it to match the medieval setting, and tracks like “Something In The Spacesuit“, “Two Days On A Longboat“, “I Am Ashildr“, “In A Way, She’s A Hybrid“, “I Call Myself Me” and “They Need Us” can range from being suspenseful, boisterous, militant, and mournful. “I Am Ashildr” in particular serves as the immortal Viking’s leitmotif across the two episodes. Notably, “The Last Thing We Need” is actually reused from “Robot Of Sherwood”, and it combines “A Good Man?” (the Twelfth Doctor’s theme) with “The Mad Man With A Box” (the Eleventh Doctor’s secondary theme) to beautiful effect during Twelve and Ashildr’s final talk together.

“The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived” is a pretty solid two-parter that focuses more on character drama than stopping the usual monster of the week, and gives us a deeper look at the Twelfth Doctor’s personality. It could definitely have benefitted from having a more consistent tone, or even just making the transitions between the lighter and darker moments smoother in part two, but overall I’ve grown to appreciate it more over the years.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Woman Who Lived Run-In 3

* When the titles for these two episodes were announced back in 2015, I actually thought they were referring to Clara, since she had that whole Impossible Girl arc in Series 7. Instead, it turns out they were about Maisie Williams.

* “Clara, we’re going with the Vikings”.

* “People talk about premonition as if it’s something strange. It’s not. It’s just remembering in the wrong direction”.

* I like how the chain of events that leads to Ashildr becoming immortal is caused by all three of our leads doing something foolish. Clara draws attention to herself and gets herself captured, despite the Doctor warning her not to. Ashildr challenges the Mire to a battle, despite Clara warning her not to. And the Doctor decides to bring Ashildr back from the dead, despite knowing it’s not a good idea.

* “Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right, I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what’s the one thing that gods never do? Gods never actually show up!

* “Nectar!” Gross, just gross.

* “I applaud your courage, but I deplore your stupidity. And I will mourn your deaths, which will be terrifying, painful, and without honor”.

* “Well, Heidi faints at the mention of blood, not just the sight any more. He’s actually upgraded his phobia”.

* “I pity you” “I will mourn for you. I know which I’d prefer”.

* “You think they’re all idiots, don’t you?” “What, you mean the rest of the universe? Basically, yes, I do”.

* “Why is Lofty stealing the baby?” Doctor, why is kidnapping the first place your mind went to?

* “That was hilarious. It’s just lucky that nobody recorded that. Oh, wait a minute, we did” The look on Twelve’s face during that line: that is the face of a man who can’t wait to start spilling some tea.

* “The Girl Who Died” also ties up a loose end from “Deep Breath“, by explaining why the Doctor chose his new face. And the flashback to “The Fires Of Pompeii” is very surreal. The David Tennant years and Peter Capaldi years of Doctor Who are so tonally different from each other that it almost feels like we’re flashing back to a different show.

* In addition to playing Caecilus and the Twelfth Doctor, Peter also portrayed John Frobisher in “Torchwood: Children Of Earth”. It’s kind of amusing to me that the Doctor Who universe has multiple Peter Capaldis in it.

* “I’m the Doctor, and I save people. And if anyone happens to be listening, and you’ve got any kind of a problem with that, to hell with you!

* “But Ashildr isn’t just human any more. There’s a little piece of alien inside her, so in a way, she’s… In a way, she’s a hybrid”.

* During the next-time trailer for “The Woman Who Lived”, the scream that’s used when a noblewoman spots Leandro in the bushes is far more shrill than the one in the actual episode. And to be honest, I kind of prefer it over the final version; it’s much funnier.

* “We’re cursed! The Knightmare is in league with the devil!” “Aye, Satan’s sidekick, me”.

* “This is my robbery!” “Well, can’t we share it? Isn’t that what robbery’s all about?”

* “I cured an entire village of scarlet fever once, almost got drowned as a witch for my troubles. Fortunately, I’m really good at holding my breath. Ungrateful peasants”.

* “No, who told you that?” “Maybe I just worked it out”.

* “Humans need shared experiences” “I’m regretting sharing this one”.

* “What’s wrong with my nose? It’s perfectly normal, innit?” “For an anteater maybe” Savage as fuck.

* “Shut up. You’re not my dad” That sounded pretty emo, Ashildr.

* “Oh, dear God. You’re just like every other man. I’m not looking for a husband, you oaf. I’m looking for a horse to get me out of town. You said no”.

* “Oh, Ashildr, daughter of Einarr, what happened to you?” “You did, Doctor. You happened”.

* “He’ll kill you…” “He’ll have to be fast. And if he does, perhaps it’s about time”.

* The best gag in this episode is when some local lawmen apprehend the Doctor. They seem to be very angry and appalled that he would consider robbing Lady Me of her fortune. But they start singing a different tune very quickly, when he tells them how they can get some of her money for themselves. Police corruption for the win.

* The most cringe-worthy scene in this episode has to be one where Sam Swift ropes the Doctor into his gallows humor routine, while he’s trying to prolong his execution. The Twelfth Doctor is a man with many talents, but stand-up comedy is not one of them, and the same thing can be said about Sam Swift.

* “We were meant to escape!” “You shall. In death“.

* I have to say, I do not feel very sympathetic towards the villagers when lions from space show up and start shooting at them. They all came to watch someone be publicly executed as a rather sick form of entertainment, and they were all too happy to hang the Doctor when they couldn’t have Sam – only to run like rats themselves when they were in danger of being bumped off. If you ask me, everyone got their just deserts in this climax.

* “People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other. We need the mayflies. See, the mayflies, they know more than we do. They know how beautiful and precious life is because it’s fleeting. Look how Sam Swift made every last moment count, right to the gallows. Look how glad he is to be alive”.

* Rather fittingly, Captain Jack Harkness gets name-dropped when the Doctor tells Ashildr that she might run into him someday. Based on what we know of Ashildr’s personality, she would almost certainly find his womanizing ways to be insufferable.

* “So are we enemies now?” “Of course not. Enemies are never a problem. It’s your friends you have to watch out for. And, my friend, I’ll be watching out for you”.

* “Ashildr, I think I’m very glad I saved you” “Oh, I think everyone will be” Yeah, honey, about that…

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died Clara In Peril 5

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Doctor Who: Under The Lake / Before The Flood (2015) Review

Doctor Who Under The Lake Ghostly Encounter 4

“Under The Lake / Before The Flood” is written by Toby Whithouse, who previously penned “School Reunion“, “The Vampires Of Venice“, “The God Complex” and “A Town Called Mercy” during the David Tennant and Matt Smith years of Doctor Who. For the show’s ninth season, he takes a stab at writing a base-under-siege story. The base-under-siege genre is a pretty classic formula for the series that has endured for decades, and how well it holds up usually depends on the guest cast. The audience needs to get to know them well and form an attachment to them, so that we actually care when they start to get picked off one-by-one. In that regard, Toby succeeds in creating a likable and charismatic group of characters across these two episodes, the same way Matt Jones did with “The Impossible Planet” and Matthew Graham with “The Rebel Flesh“.

For the main premise of this two-parter, Mr. Whithouse sticks with a topic he’s already very familiar with, and very fond of (if his time as “Being Human’s” showrunner is any indication): the world of the supernatural. “Under The Lake” feels very reminiscent of a Steven Moffat script: it tells a fairly complex, non-linear mystery that’s clearly had a lot of thought put into both the pacing and the structure of it. The audience is given plenty of clues about the ghostly mystery on early on – like the state of the flooded town, the specters being repelled by electro-magnetism, the TARDIS’s weird behavior, the missing power cell, and the suspended animation chamber – all of which are seemingly unconnected elements that coalesce together quite nicely in “Before The Flood”, when our heroes travel backwards in time. Lastly, while this adventure can easily be enjoyed as a standalone story, it also contains a lot of thematic foreshadowing for the events of the Series 9 finale, as we start to get a deeper look at what the Doctor and Clara’s character arcs will be about this season.

Doctor Who Under The Lake Ghostly Encounter 3

In “Under The Lake”, the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) TARDIS is pulled off course when it senses a temporal disturbance. He and Clara are deposited inside an underwater base in the 22nd century, that’s apparently being haunted by ghosts. As per usual for him, the Doctor is initially very skeptical when the base’s crew claim they’ve been visited by phantoms, even after seeing the transparent apparitions for himself. But when he’s unable to think of a rational explanation for the supernatural phenomenon, the Doctor is thrilled to realize that he might have discovered actual, real ghosts. From that point onwards, he’s completely spellbound and mystified by the spooky specters, and he tries to get everyone else just as excited as he is. When they balk at the potential danger, he entices them to stick around the haunted base so they can solve the mystery of a lifetime.

While the Doctor has a lot of fun trying to solve his latest puzzle, he also starts to grow concerned about Clara, who’s becoming a bit too stubborn, reckless, and addicted to thrill-seeking for her own good. What’s more, she refuses to listen to his warnings whenever he advises her to reign herself in. No matter how many clues he finds, the Doctor is completely stumped when it comes to the origin of the ghosts, and eventually he realizes it’s because the events of this two-parter are not happening in a linear order. The Doctor and his friends are caught in the middle of a bootstrap paradox, where the past and future influence each other. When our heroes are forcibly separated into two groups by a flood, the Doctor decides to go back in time with Bennett and O’Donnell to follow some new leads, while Clara holds down the fort with Cass and Lunn in his absence, and then things really start to get interesting.

While the Doctor is away in the past, Clara discovers he’s joined the ranks of the ghosts in the present day, which means he’s going to die soon. His ghost provides a cryptic list of people who are going to shuffle off the mortal coil soon as well, including the ones he’s currently with. He tries to stop O’Donnell from going to her doom without letting on what he knows, but it’s only a half-hearted attempt, and Bennett (lashing out in grief) later accuses him of letting her die to test his theory, which he neither confirms or denies. The Doctor grimly accepts his own fate, because he knows from experience that the laws of time are a dangerous, wrathful force that shouldn’t be tampered with. However, while he won’t break the rules to save himself, he will do it to try to save Clara when she’s next in line, since she’s incredibly important to him – which stealthily foreshadows what’s to come in the Series 9 finale. “Hell Bent”.

The Twelfth Doctor is pretty hypocritical twice over in this story. First, he scolds Bennett for trying to change the past and cut off tragedy at its root to heal his own heartbreak, giving him a stern warning that they have no right to play god like that. Then he calls out the Fisher King for messing with the natural order of things and robbing people of their deaths for his own selfish reasons. Both of these scenes are very righteous and powerful in insolation, but they’re also very ironic in hindsight, considering what the Doctor will put Clara and Ashildr through later this season, when he makes their deaths all about himself and his own issues. As it turns out, the Doctor is a major player in this story’s bootstrap paradox, so he defeats the Fisher King in the past and reverse-engineers everything his friends will need to survive in the present, saving the day once more with his ingenious mind.

Doctor Who Under The Lake Splitting Up 7

In “Under The Lake”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is officially starting to go native when it comes to her traveling in the TARDIS all the time. She’s pretty much an adrenaline junkie now, and even the Doctor is starting to grow worried about her. Clara’s addiction to time-traveling adventures has grown significantly over time. In the past, she did try to keep her roots planted in contemporary Earth, so she wouldn’t lose sight of her other priorities back home. But Danny’s gone now, and she’s lost the last thing that was keeping her grounded, since she’s grown apart from her friends and family and she doesn’t seem to have much of a life outside of her wanderlust anymore. She’s thrown herself into her travels with the Doctor with reckless abandon, enjoying every minute of it (even the nearly fatal parts), as a nice way to take her mind off her loss.

This really isn’t a healthy way for her to cope with her grief, and eventually it will catch up to her. Whenever the Doctor tries to voice his concern for her, she just gives him the brush-off and assures him that she’s perfectly fine, when she clearly isn’t. Throughout “Under The Lake”, Clara trusts the Doctor’s judgment when it comes to his mystery-solving technique, and she encourages the others to have a little faith in him too (though she also has to reign him in when he’s being insensitive). She even takes part in the Doctor’s plan to capture some ghosts, by acting as a decoy with Lunn and Bennett. While the Doctor goes back in time to find some more clues, Clara gets stuck at the base with Cass, Lunn and the ghosts. To her horror, she discovers the Doctor seemingly died in the past and became one of the ghosts, and just like that, this mission just became a lot less fun for her.

While Clara seems to be doing better these days compared to how miserable she was in “Death In Heaven” and “Last Christmas“, the scars of Danny’s death still linger underneath the surface. After it was previously hinted at in “The Magician’s Apprentice“, “Before The Flood” confirms that her relationship with the Doctor is becoming a lot more codependent now on both ends. When she’s faced with the possibility of losing the Doctor too, the way she lost Danny, Clara completely snaps, refuses to accept it, and demands he change the future at all costs. She has little to no respect for the laws of time the Doctor must defer to: which makes sense when you remember that her first major storyline was the war on Trenzalore, where she changed the future to save someone she loved and everything worked out fine then, so why shouldn’t they be able to pull off feats like that more often in her eyes?

When she loses her only way to stay in contact with Twelve, she sends Lunn to go get her phone back, potentially risking his life in the process. The Doctor and Clara have been mirroring each other a lot as of late, and we certainly see a more selfish side of their personalities this week, where they almost seem to be more concerned about saving each other than the people they’re supposed to be helping. Bennett and Cass both pick up on that, and quite rightly call them out on it hard – and to her credit, Clara quickly realizes that she needs to do the right thing and go after Lunn with Cass. Afterwards, I think it’s a nice touch that Clara understands Bennett’s pain and regret over losing O’Donnell and the future he might have had with her, if he had only acted on his true feelings sooner. Clara encourages him to mourn her, but to also move on with his life instead of drowning in his grief, the way she’s tried to do – which is a nice way of showing how she’s taken Danny’s advice to her from “Last Christmas” to heart.

Doctor Who Before The Flood Hunted Down

Each member of the base’s crew is fleshed out well across the two episodes, starting with Cass. Cass is the compound’s acting captain after the previous captain’s death, and she is notably deaf. Her disability is handled tactfully and respectfully in this story: it can certainly make communicating with people more challenging for her, but she’s still shown to be a very competent leader, and she won’t let that hurdle get in the way of doing her job. She runs a tight ship, and she has no problem calling out the Doctor when she thinks he’s not taking their predicament as seriously as he should. The safety and well-being of her crew is her top priority throughout this story, especially Lunn’s, since she and her interpreter have mutual feelings for each other.

In fact, her protective nature winds up bringing her into direct conflict with Clara in “Before The Flood”. When a ghost steals Clara’s phone, cutting off all communication between her and the Doctor, Clara insists that Lunn venture further into the base and go get it, because he’s the only member of the group who the ghosts can’t touch. Lunn is very afraid of the murderous specters, but he’s also very courageous, so he’s willing to take one for the team. Cass however is furious with Clara for putting his life in danger to sooth her own fears about the Doctor, and if she wasn’t mute, she’d have a lot of things to say to her that are not G-rated. Cass refuses to hide in the Faraday cage while the man she loves is out there risking his life, and she shames Clara for her selfishness until she comes with her. During the rescue mission, a ghost tries to take advantage of her hearing loss to ambush her from behind, but she still manages to get the better of him by being sharp and crafty, and both women manage to escape to safety with Lunn.

Cass and Lunn’s direct foils are Bennett and O’Donnell. O’Donnell is a brash, outspoken tomboy with a military background. She’s heard of the Doctor’s work with UNIT, and like Osgood she’s a bit of a fangirl. She tries to be cool about it, but she loves working with him on this case, which means she’s totally gonna die soon. Bennett by comparison is the reserved scholarly type with a dry, deadpan sense of humor. He keeps to himself a lot more often than his co-workers, and he’s usually the one who’s the most reluctant to take a rash, impulsive course of action, though he’ll still pitch in and help the rest of the team to the best of his abilities. Over time, it’s revealed that he likes O’Donnell, and she likes him back. Even though they try to maintain a professional working relationship, they do look out for each other whenever things get dangerous.

A nerdy guy and jockish girl being paired up is a pretty common dynamic in Doctor Who: Bennett and O’Donnell are another would-be couple that fit that mold, though they sadly never get a chance to really act on their feelings. When the Doctor takes them back into the past to investigate the mystery of the ghosts, O’Donnell falls victim to the Fisher King on a rampage – which means that her dream of traveling in the TARDIS tragically winds up getting her killed. A heartbroken Bennett doesn’t waste any time lashing out at the Doctor for not doing more to save her, and when he’s forced to relieve the events of the day all over again, he’s completely unable to do anything to change them. When they return to the present, Bennett is still haunted by what could have been if he’d acted sooner. But after he receives a pep talk from Clara, he encourages Cass and Lunn to be together, so they won’t make the same mistakes he and O’Donnell did, which is a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending to his character arc.

Doctor Who Under The Lake Ghosts On The Attack 3

The primary antagonists of this two-parter are unleashed upon an unsuspecting crew when the humans discover a spaceship that’s been buried underwater for over a century. Inside it, they find some cursed writing that imprints a certain set of words inside of their minds, and makes them the target of murderous phantoms. Whenever the ghosts kill them, they become ghosts themselves and immediately set out to create more ghosts, building up an army. The ghosts are fierce and relentless predators when they’re on the prowl, and even though they’re nothing more than a hollow shell of their former selves, they should not be underestimated. As time goes by, the ghosts start using the inner-workings of the base to set traps for the crew members. Even when the Doctor and his friends manage to outsmart them a few times, they learn from their mistakes and get craftier as well in return.

Interestingly enough, Lunn is the only member of the crew who isn’t on the ghosts’ personal hit list, and eventually it’s revealed they have no interest in him because he’s the only one of the group who didn’t get to read the cursed writing earlier, due to Cass’s overprotectiveness. The ghosts prove to be a very spooky and formidable force, since the first episode spends a lot of time building up the mystery of what these creatures are, what their motivations are, and what their limitations are – for the longest time, the only thing that’s really confirmed about them is that they’re aberrations. Eventually, the Doctor deduces that they’re not a natural phenomenon: someone engineered their torturous existence. The ghosts are repeating the same message, over and over again, and beaming out coordinates as transmitters: which means that someone has callously hijacked the souls of the dead and used them for their ends (Missy would totally approve).

In “Before The Flood”, the Doctor decides to venture into the past to find the mastermind of this nefarious plot, where he’s introduced to the Fisher King (Peter Serafinowicz), the other main antagonist of this two-parter. We never learn that much about the Fisher King’s background, though when it comes to his characterization and his social status back home, he seems to be a far less sympathetic counterpart to the minotaur from “The God Complex”, which is a fitting parallel since “Under The Lake / Before The Flood” feels like a spiritual successor to that episode. Toby Whithouse even brings back the Trivoli race, an alien species he created for “The God Complex”, when one of them accompanies the Fisher King to Earth, to honor his deceased tyrannical ruler.

The Fisher King is a beastly alien warlord who seemingly died a while ago, and was delivered to Earth in the 1980’s so he could be buried there – but there’s only one problem, he’s not actually dead yet. Once he’s on foreign soil, he decides to claim the Earth for his own and calls in his armada so he can conquer the planet. The Fisher King looks and acts likes a vicious, mindless brute, but he’s actually very intelligent and knowledgeable – he recognizes the Doctor as a time lord and a potential threat to his plans as soon as he sees him. He’s completely unrepentant about how he’s destroyed the lives of several people and defiled the peace and sanctity of their afterlives for his own gain, because he feels he’s well within his right to do so. The Doctor eventually defeats him by drowning him, and his death plays into the non-linear nature of this story. Even though the Fisher King died centuries back, the consequences of his actions still lingered into the present day and set off a chain reaction of events that eventually (and ironically) led to his downfall.

Doctor Who Under The Lake Looking Around 6

“Under The Lake” is directed by Daniel O’Hara, a newcomer to the series who films this story like a slow-burning horror movie. The overall mood of this two-parter is heightened greatly by the approach the lighting department took, as well as the color-grading that was done in post-production. Whether we’re inside the underwater base or exploring the old abandoned town, the lighting is visibly colder than usual, which creates a grey, wintry and unwelcoming atmosphere across both episodes. It always feels like the ghosts are never that far away, constantly waiting to strike out at our heroes from out of the shadows – to say nothing of the Fisher King himself, when he finally becomes an active player. Even inside the TARDIS’s console room set, the shadows are noticeably sharper and more pronounced than usual, which makes the Doctor and Clara’s scenes inside that environment feel very anxious and uncertain.

Some of the tenser moments from this adventure include Pritchard and O’Donnell’s death scenes; Lunn being cornered by a ghost and emotionally tortured by it for a few moments before it decides to spare him; Cass being stalked by a ghost with an axe through the darkened hallways of the base; and the final stand-off between the Doctor and the Fisher King underneath a church, where the pair are completely isolated. The design for the Fisher King is one of the most elaborate creations that the show’s costume and wardrobe department has cooked up since the minotaur in Series 6, and it’s suitably imposing. Murray Gold’s score creates a nice spooky atmosphere this week, blending electronic elements into a traditional orchestra, in tracks like “Some Kind Of Submarine“, “The Ghosts“, “The Bootstrap Paradox“, “Finding The Fisher King“, “Another Ghost Has Appeared“, “We Need To Get Back To The TARDIS” and “Directions From The Ghosts“.

“Under The Lake / Before The Flood” is probably my favorite two-parter from Series 9. It’s easily digestible as a standalone story, it’s a great character study for the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald when it comes to their respective personality flaws, and it foreshadows the events of the Series 9 finale remarkably well.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Before The Flood Bootstrap Paradox 4

* “Wait, you think the army would just lose a prototype weapon?” “You’re new to the military, aren’t you, son?”

* This two-parter takes a lot of inspiration from horror movies, and unfortunately for Moran, that includes the trend of black guys being the first ones to get the axe.

* “Oh, hey, can we go back to that place where the people with the long necks have been celebrating New Year for two centuries? I left my sunglasses there, and most of my dignity”.

* “Hello! Did you want to show us this? It’s very nice” Actually Doctor, they wanted to show you all the nice tools they’ve prepared for your demise.

* “The weird thing is, they’re not violent. They’re too cowardly. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They’re more likely to give the goose their car keys and bank details”.

* “What? If it all goes pear-shaped, it’s not them that lose their bonus!” “It’s okay, I understand. You’re an idiot”.

* Real talk though, Pritchard checks off every greedy businessman stereotype in the book in the short amount of screentime he has, to the point where he almost feels like a parody.

* When the Doctor is checking his cue cards for something to say, there’s a nice little Easter egg buried in there for Sarah Jane Smith fans. One of the cue cards is about giving someone an apology for stranding them in Aberdeen.

* “Calm, Doctor, calm! You were like this when you met Shirley Bassey”.

* “I’m beginning to think we should have let the ghosts in on the plan!”

* Clara and company being chased down hallways by the ghosts, as they try to lure them into a trap, reminds me a lot of “Time Heist” from last season, another high stakes adventure that was structured around a boostrap paradox.

* “Really? Come on. None of you? Surely just being around me makes you cleverer by osmosis?”

* “Well, at least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you all”.

* “Clara, why don’t I have a radio in the TARDIS?” “You took it apart and used the pieces to make a clockwork squirrel”.

* “And because whatever song I heard first thing in the morning, I was stuck with. Two weeks of ‘Mysterious Girl’ by Peter Andre. I was begging for the brush of Death’s merciful hand”.

* “Wait, you’re going to go back in time? How do you do that?” “Extremely well”.

* It’s funny, I just criticized “The Magician’s Apprentice” for having a cliffhanger that was built around something that obviously wouldn’t happen. You could say the exact same thing about “Under The Lake’s” cliffhanger, and yet I would say I enjoyed it a good deal more. The terrified look on Clara’s face as she lays eyes on the Doctor’s ghost does a great job of building up tension, as she realizes just how screwed they all are.

* “My question is this: who put those notes and phrases together? Who really composed ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’?”

* Every once in a blue moon, the Doctor will break the fourth wall and start talking to the audience at home. He did a few times in the classic series, and the teaser for “Before The Flood” is the first time he does it in the revived show. This scene could easily have been cheesy or goofy, but Peter Capaldi’s performance is very charming and earnest during the Doctor’s witty lecture. The fact that it ends with a rock version of the Doctor Who theme song, performed by Peter himself, just makes it even better.

* On that note, the fact that the rock version of the show’s theme song was never given an official release is very disappointing, in my opinion.

* “I was demoted for dangling a colleague out of a window” “In anger?” “Is there another way to dangle someone out a window?”

* “My first proper alien, and he’s an idiot”.

* “Although, at the risk of starting a bidding war, you could enslave me. In the ship I have directions to my planet and a selection of items that you can oppress me with” How kinky.

* “Oh, there’s a problem” “Problem? What problem? Oh, really? Because everything else is going so smoothly”.

* “Someone needs to stay here and mind the shop. What if Clara calls?” “The last bloke that said something like that to me got dangled out of a window”.

* Much like in “The Age Of Steel“, I’m not sure why our heroes thought splitting up while the Fisher King was on their heels was a good idea. It doesn’t look like it accomplished anything except getting O’Donnell killed.

* “This isn’t about saving me, I’m a dead man walking. I’m changing history to save Clara”.

* “You can’t cheat time, I just tried. You can’t just go back and cut off tragedy at the root. Because you find yourself talking to someone you just saw dead on a slab. Because then you really do see ghosts”.

* “Okay, didn’t need anyone to translate that” I think we can all make some good guesses about what that hand gesture from Cass meant.

* “You robbed those people of their deaths, made them nothing more than a message in a bottle. You violated something more important than Time. You bent the rules of life and death. So I am putting things straight. Here, now, this is where your story ends!”

* “The time lord lied!” Rule one, sweetie.

* “Lunn, will you translate something to Cass for me? Tell her that you’re in love with her and that you always have been. Tell her there is no point wasting time because things happen and then it’s too late. Tell her I wish someone had given me that advice”.

* The big damn kiss that Cass and Lunn share at the end, with Murray Gold’s music swelling in the background, always puts a big smile on my face. At least someone got a happy ending out of this experience.

* The Doctor and Clara’s final scene together is a bit odd. Clara seems to have trouble wrapping her head around a boostrap paradox, even though she’s been involved in several of those by now (“The Name Of The Doctor“, ‘The Time Of The Doctor“, “Listen“, “Time Heist”). In fact, her very first storyline – the Impossible Girl arc of Series 7 – was one great big bootstrap paradox.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Under The Lake Shelter 3

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Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar (2015) Review

Doctor Who The Magician's Apprentice Ax Fight

For its ninth season, Doctor Who once again decides to shake up its usual formula. In Series 7, the show produced a whole season of standalone episodes that were meant to be forty-five minute blockbusters. And for Series 9, the show produced a whole season of two-part stories as a throwback to the classic series, which was comprised entirely of multi-part serials. 2015 was another anniversary year for the franchise – the revived series had been on the air for ten years at that point – so Series 9 is filmed to the brim with continuity nods for long-time fans to catch. In the first ten minutes of “The Magician’s Apprentice” alone, we get quick trips to the Maldovarium (from Series 5 and 6), the Shadow Proclamation (from Series 4), and the planet Karn (from the Series 7 specials).

“The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar” is the annual Dalek episode that’s traditional in most seasons of Doctor Who (positioned once again at the beginning of the year, like “Victory Of The Daleks“, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “Into The Dalek“), and it’s noteworthy for being the last proper Dalek story of the Moffat era. They’ll still make a few cameos after this, in episodes like “The Pilot” and “Twice Upon A Time”, but this is their last major appearance during the Steven Moffat years, and it’s probably the best one of the bunch. It’s also the most ambitious season premiere we’ve had since “The Impossible Astronaut / Day Of The Moon” in Series 6. Like “The Impossible Astronaut”, “The Magician’s Apprentice” has a well-established cast and it doesn’t need to introduce any new characters, so it can just focus on sending our leads on a grand adventure to open the season and establish a new status quo.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” asks the question of whether or not it’s ethical to let a tyrant perish while they’re still young, before they can cause the deaths of millions – a topic that was previously explored in “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler“. In this case, “The Magician’s Apprentice” serves as a follow-up story to “Genesis Of The Daleks”, one of the most iconic serials from the classic series that revealed the origin story of the Daleks and their history with Davros, their mad creator. For the most part, this is a pretty entertaining two-parter, though I do have to say it has one of the most fangless cliffhangers in the entirety of NuWho. This cliffhanger lacks a good amount of bite, because it’s built entirely around things the audience knows would never happen – like the Daleks successfully killing off Clara, Missy and the TARDIS, or the Doctor seemingly trying to shoot Davros as a child (which would be way too out-of-character for him).

Doctor Who The Magician's Apprentice Battlefield Rescue

In “The Magician’s Apprentice”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) meets a young Davros on a battlefield, a long long time ago, surrounded by certain death. And once he discovers who he is, he promptly swans off and leaves him there to die. He feels immensely guilty about it afterwards, because not only was that a pretty awful thing to do in general, it also goes against his personal credo. And as it turns out, getting mixed up in Davros’ personal timeline like that has consequences: since present day Davros remembers him and decides to seek him out so they can have a nice little chat. The Doctor knows it’s only a matter of time before Davros comes for him, and he knows he won’t put up much of a fight when he does, so he decides to throw himself a three week going-away party with a bunch of 12th century villagers.

We soon discover the Doctor has taken up playing the guitar now, because he’s a man who’s always full of surprises. Much like Matt Smith’s talent with a soccer ball, shredding a guitar is a skill that Peter Capaldi actually possesses which was later worked into his character. Twelve was already a philosopher from space, and now he’s a rocker grandpa too. He also decided to teach a bunch of medieval villagers how to say the word ‘dude’, and I’m not gonna lie, that’s one of the most cringe-worthy things that the Doctor has done in a while. When Davros’ servant, Colony Sarff, forces him to go with him to Skaro, the Doctor surrenders himself to his trap very easily, because he still feels ashamed of himself and he knows he needs to face up to the consequences of his actions. A part of him worries that his betrayal might have helped to shape the person Davros grew up to be, and played a part in all the evil he and the Daleks would go on to commit.

During his time as Davros’ prisoner, the mad scientist tries his best to break him and crush his spirit so he can tempt him to betray his core principles, and Twelve is tempted a few times, but he ultimately sticks to his guns and refuses to stray from his path in life. As the two men start to lower their defenses, Twelve starts to see a different side of Davros, now that he’s reaching the end of his life, and he starts to take pity on him. He feels a need to help him fulfil his dying wish, even if he is his arch-enemy, and his kindness proves to be his undoing. Except that’s not actually what happens. The Doctor is many things, but he’s not a fool: in fact, he’s a master manipulator, just like Davros is. He saw his obvious betrayal coming from a mile away, and he let it play out so Davros could reap the rewards of his scheming – which is always delicious to see.

Afterwards, the Doctor decides to go back in time and save the younger Davros. He shows a little kindness and mercy to someone would grow up to be one of the worst men in history, and Davros unwittingly passes along the concept to the Daleks many many years later, which eventually saves Clara’s life in a stable time loop. The Doctor worried he might have played a part in making Davros a monster, but he actually had a positive impact on him, even if it was only a tiny, miniscule one. Additionally, the Doctor and Clara also start to show signs of growing a bit too attached to each other in this episode. Clara at one point tries to guilt-trip him into returning to her, safe and unharmed, in a manner that seems a bit unhinged, while the Doctor threatens to go supernova on a bunch of Daleks when he thinks Clara might have died. These are small signs of something that will become a much bigger deal later this year, along with the Doctor’s confession dial and a prophecy about a certain hybrid that Davros brings up.

Doctor Who The Magician's Apprentice UNIT Headquarters 2

When a crisis arises on Earth, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is called in to work with UNIT in the Doctor’s absence, giving Kate Stewart and her men some helpful advice. By this point, Clara’s confidence as an adventurer has grown to the point where this kind of leadership role comes naturally to her, putting her razor-sharp deductive reasoning skills to good use. When they discover Missy is the cause of it all, Clara has to try to negotiate with her. As you’ll recall, the last time they met, Missy tortured Clara’s boyfriend by turning him into a Cyberman, which eventually led to his demise, and Clara in return tried to have her executed for revenge – so there’s a lot of bad blood between them. “Last Christmas” gave Clara some much-needed closure for Danny’s death, so her rage has died down by now, but she still doesn’t enjoy reaching out to Missy in the slightest.

As charming as she may seem, Missy is an unstable, murderous psychopath, so someone would have to have nerves of steel to try to work with her – and after several years of traveling in the TARDIS, Clara does indeed possess those nerves. She quickly finds they have a common interest: the Doctor is in some kind of grave danger and he needs the help of his friends right now, even if he might not want it, so they set out together to find him. Along the way, Clara learns a lot more about Missy’s history with the Doctor on Gallifrey and repeatedly tries to understand her, so they can find some more common ground in their tentative alliance. From Missy, she learns things about the Doctor that she never knew and she starts to see him in a different light as well, which reminds me a lot of Series 7B, when Clara was still fairly green as a companion and was always eager to learn more about her new friend’s background.

After her character development in Series 8, Clara continues to follow in the Doctor’s footsteps and is getting better at what she does – honing her skills as a leader and an escape artist. However, the lesson she receives from Missy plants an idea in her head that the Doctor always wins and he always manages to survive, by being clever enough to find a way out of every tight spot that he finds himself in. That is really not true – the Doctor has lost many battles over the years, and sometimes he loses so badly that he basically dies and needs to regenerate – and Clara thinking that it is true really lands her in some hot water later in “Face The Raven”, when her luck finally runs out.

The title of this two-parter refers to Clara: how she’s usually the Doctor’s companion, but she’s riding with Missy today. In “The Witch’s Familiar”, Clara keeps trusting Missy and following her lead, and she keeps getting betrayed for her troubles. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if the Master had a sidekick, this episode makes it clear there would be a whole lot of bullying, abuse and betrayal as Missy enjoys finding new ways to push Clara around. Eventually, Missy convinces her to hide inside an empty Dalek shell (a sly little callback for the viewers to Jenna’s first episode, “Asylum Of The Daleks”) and then tries to trick the Doctor into shooting her. The confrontation that follows is extremely messed-up, and a very close shave, but if only one good thing came out of it, it’s that the Doctor and Clara’s bond is once again reaffirmed after two whole episodes of Missy looking down on it. Missy might call herself the Doctor’s best friend, but it’s pretty clear by the end of this two-parter that Clara is his true friend.

Doctor Who The Magician's Apprentice Negotiation 2

At the end of “Death In Heaven“, Missy (Michelle Gomez) supposedly died when the Brigadier shot her. Of course, nobody in the audience believed it for a second. The Master is a notorious escape artist who has cheated death many, many times before in this franchise (a bit like the Joker, someone who the Master’s characterization takes a lot of inspiration from in NuWho). We all knew she’d be back again next season, and sure enough, she was only gone for two episodes. Having received word from the Doctor that he’s nearing the end of his life, Missy gets Clara and UNIT’s attention, because she needs their help to find the Doctor. Heroes and villains being forced to team up to work towards a common goal is one of my favorite tropes, so I’m completely onboard with this turn of events, and as you would imagine, it proves to be a very, very uneasy alliance.

Missy is a very charismatic and fun-loving character, but she’s also completely mad and unrepentantly evil – which is made abundantly clear when she decides to start slaughtering some government agents, just to prove a point to Clara. She has all of the Doctor’s intelligence and none of his values: so if she needs to kill someone to achieve her goals, or toss one of her allies under the bus to save herself or gain an advantage over her foes, she’ll do it in an instant. She’s a notoriously two-faced character who’s really only loyal to herself and maybe the Doctor, on a very, very, very good day, so she’s an unpredictable wild card throughout this entire story. She plays every side at once and backstabs everyone (friend and foe alike) at some point, to try to get what she wants. Honestly, she would fit in incredibly well in a pirate movie, where everyone is out for themselves at all costs.

Missy likes to think of herself as being the Doctor’s oldest and truest friend, in spite of their differences and the fact that they’ve tried to bump each other off numerous times (what’s a little attempted murder between friends, after all?). The Doctor sending her his confession dial, as a rite of passage between two time lords who share a very close bond, only confirms that to her. By comparison, she looks down on his human friends as mere pets that he adopts from time to time to amuse himself, because that’s the way she’s always seen humanity. As a result, Missy has a very warped dynamic with Clara. In some aspects, she takes her under her wing and tries to pass along some wisdom to her, from one time traveler to another, and in other aspects, she really enjoys pushing Clara around and toying with her head, indulging her sadistic streak with her.

She goes on a killing spree in front of Clara, drops her down a twenty-foot hole without a care as to whether or not she would survive, uses her as live bait to catch a Dalek, tries to use her as a bargaining chip to control the Doctor, and eventually tries to have the Doctor shoot her in a fit of rage. As you’ll recall from her last appearance, Missy wants to drag the Doctor down to her level and convince him they’re the same at their core. It would seem she decided that tricking him into killing his favorite human pet would be a good way to break his spirit. Plus, the last time they met, Clara tried her best to have her executed, so Missy was more than happy to return the favor. Ultimately, the only thing her constant backstabbing succeeds in doing is turning everyone against her. Once she’s broken their alliance, she’s left behind on Skaro to fend for herself, so she’ll have try again to reconnect with the Doctor on another day.

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I really appreciate the fact that, unlike his children, Davros (Julian Bleach) is a villain who’s used sparingly in this series. He’s only turned up twice in the revived series so far (with his previous antagonistic role being in “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End“), which makes both of those appearances feel more special. Davros was born in wartime on his home world. His childhood was a living hell and survival was his first and only priority during the formative years of his life. He eventually took that mentality with him into adulthood, and it (along with his arrogance and his lust for power) led him to create the Daleks – his super soldiers, his children, and his masterpiece – to try to help his race achieve total supremacy over the rest of the universe.

The way the Daleks treat Davros can vary a lot from story to story. In some episodes, they respect him as their creator, and in other ones, they look down on him as a decrepit relic of their past and would kill him in an instant once he was no longer of any use to him. But even when they resented him, Davros always felt proud of his children. In “The Magician’s Apprentice”, the Daleks remain loyal to him. They help him try to survive his illness, and in return, he helps them try to grow stronger – they scratch his back and he scratches theirs. Davros is currently dying of old age, and he decides he would like to have a word with the Doctor, once he realizes he’s encountered the time lord’s newest face before, a long long time ago in his past. He sends his serpent servant Colony Sarff to find the Doctor, and when his disciple fails to bring back any results, the two of them decide to follow the Doctor’s friends straight to him.

Once the Doctor is imprisoned on Skaro, Davros tries to kill his friends and emotionally break him, so he can prove to him that his principles are wrong – as always, a war of clashing ideologies lies at the heart of their feud, with Davros’ pride on the line. He tries to tempt him to betray his morals, in a multitude of ways, and fails every time. Eventually, the two men seem to decide upon a ceasefire. They’ve been enemies all their lives, but for once, they decide to pay their respects to each other. Part of the reason why Davros wants to prove the Doctor’s life choices wrong so badly is because he’s starting to have doubts himself about whether or not his worldview that he’s stubbornly clung to for centuries is correct, or if he’s wasted his life like a fool. It would seem that old age is finally starting to give him a bit of clarity and self-awareness.

Of course, his self-doubt is a complete and total charade. He’s trying to take advantage of the Doctor’s kindness and compassion by playing up the dying old man routine to tug on his heartstrings. In reality, he’s trying to steal the Doctor’s regeneration energy so he can unlock the secrets of the time lords and make himself and his children even stronger – but the Doctor outsmarts him. You see, the Daleks are so callous and so heartless that they leave their own kind to rot, fully conscious, underneath Skaro when they’re too old to be of any use anymore – and their lack of empathy comes back to bite them in the backsides when Davros unwittingly makes all the dying Daleks strong enough to take their revenge. “The Witch’s Familiar” is filled with characters trying to analyze the Doctor, because they think they’ve got a good read on him, but in truth, none of them understand the time lord as well as they think they do – not Clara, not Missy, and especially not Davros.

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar Hijacking 4

“The Magician’s Apprentice” is directed by Hettie MacDonald, who previously worked on “Blink” in Series 3. “Blink” was one of the more visually distinctive episodes of that season, despite also being one of the more low budget productions of that year: a testament to how Hettie could make a lot with a little. In “The Magician’s Apprentice”, she’s given a lot more resources to work with, and the end results are quite beautiful. She gives us a lot of truly engrossing establishing shots throughout these two episodes – like the opening scenes of the thousand year war, Clara and Missy stepping out onto an invisible planet in space, or thousands of Daleks flying around their metal city, like an angry swarm of bees. Location shooting for the desert surface of Skaro was done in the Canary Islands in Spain, a region of the world that Doctor Who had previously filmed in last season, in “Kill The Moon“.

Like Series 7, Series 9 has some consistently high production values when it comes to the show’s set design, so the scenes set inside the Daleks’ capital city are quite visually appealing while also being appropriately minimalistic. As you would expect from a season premiere, Murray Gold’s score is very big and grandiose this week, to set the tone for Series 9. He puts the brass instruments in his orchestra to good use with some truly beautiful, triumphant renditions of “A Good Man” in pieces like “The One In A Thousand“, “A Message From Missy” and “Finding The Doctor“, while other tracks like “Davros Remembers“, “Meeting In The Square“, “What Have You Done” and “Davros Approaches” lean more on tense strings and ominous vocals. He also brings back “The Dark Endless Dalek Night” from the Series 4 finale, one of his most iconic Dalek themes, as well as music from the Series 7 premiere like “They Are Everywhere” and “The Terrible Truth“.

With “The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar”, Series 9 gets off to a promising start by making it clear the show will be doing a lot of different things with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor this year (now that he’s grown from his character arc last season), while also planting a few Chekov’s guns that will be quite important down the line.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Your chances of survival are about one in a thousand. So here’s what you do. You forget the thousand, and you concentrate on the one!”

* Like the Headless Monks from “A Good Man Goes To War”, Colony Sarff is another Doctor Who villain who gives off some major Sith Lord vibes to me. I think it’s the robes.

* “Kate, we can’t just phone the Doctor and bleat, he’ll go Scottish”.

* “How come you’re still alive?” “Death is for other people, dear”.

* “You see that couple over there? You’re the puppy” Hot damn.

* “Oi, you, sweaty one, on your knees. Let’s have a goodbye selfie for your kids!”

* Steven Moffat always did enjoy writing dark humor, so it’s no surprise that a lot of Missy’s dialogue is right up his alley.

* “There he is. Do not go gentle into that good night” “You go, girl!

* “You want to know how dangerous I am? Davros sent you. You know how stupid you are? You came!”

* “No, wait, hang on a minute. Davros is your arch-enemy now? I’ll scratch his eye out”.

* “What are you doing now?” “Voting. We are a democracy”.

* “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?”

* The comedic highlight of this episode is Missy’s incredibly tone-deaf singing on the way to Skaro, and the look on Clara’s face when she has to listen to it.

* “I approve of your new face, Doctor. So much more like mine” Oof, not even Davros is above making catty comments about the Doctor’s new wrinkles.

* “You flatter me” “A pity. I intended to accuse”.

* “This is the planet of the Daleks” “Correct!” And it was then that Clara and Missy both knew they were screwed.

* “Did the Doctor tell you that? Because you should never believe a man about a vehicle”.

* At one point, Missy tries to sell everyone out by offering up the TARDIS to the Daleks, so they can conquer the universe. It’s left ambiguous whether this was a genuine offer to save her own skin, or if she was just trying to goad the Daleks into shooting her so she could make her escape. Knowing Missy, it really could have been either one.

* “See how they play with her. See how they toy. They want her to run. They need her to run. Do you feel their need, Doctor? Their blood is screaming kill, kill, kill! Hunter and prey, held in the ecstasy of crisis. Is this not life at its purest?”

* “So the androids think he’s dead and the Doctor escapes” “No, he’s the Doctor. He fell into a nest of vampire monkeys. But that’s another story!”

* “Why does the Doctor always survive?” “Because he’s clever” “Yes, but there’s lots of clever dead people. I love killing clever clogs, they make the best faces”.

* “He’s trapped at the heart of the Dalek empire. He’s a prisoner of the creatures who hate him most in the universe. Between us and him is everything the deadliest race in all of history can throw at us. We, on the other hand, have a pointy stick”.

* “Can I have a stick too?” “Make your own stick”.

* I feel like if you hate Clara, you would probably really enjoy this two-parter. Because she spends most of her screentime in this story getting bullied around by Missy, which eventually culminates in Missy trying to have her shot.

* “Admit it, you’ve all had this exact nightmare!”

* The Doctor riding around in Davros’ chair looks so cursed, in all the best ways.

* “Of course, the real question is, where did I get the cup of tea? Answer? I’m the Doctor. Just accept it”.

* “What are you doing?!” “Murdering a Dalek. I’m a Time Lady, it’s our golf”.

* I love the way the Doctor’s face drops as soon as he wakes up from his ‘nap’ and sees Davros. There’s so much scorn and disgust packed into a single expression from Peter Capaldi.

* “I hope you are grateful. It wasn’t easy to procure, and very nearly unique, of course. You should feel privileged. The only other chair on Skaro”.

* “I am dying, Doctor” “You keep saying that, and you keep not dying. Can you give it some welly?”

* “Genocide in a moment. Such slaughter, not in self-defense. Not as a simple act of war. Genocide as a choice. Are you ready, Doctor? So many backs with a single knife. Are you ready to be a god?”

* During his talk with Davros, the Doctor states that he’s fine with his compassion getting him killed someday, because he wouldn’t die of anything else. Having seen “The Doctor Falls” from Series 10, I can safely say that Twelve got his wish.

* “Is it still the same old Supreme Dalek these days? I fought him once on the slopes of the Never Vault. Tell him the bitch is back”.

* This episode is apparently the first time Davros and the Master have met each other onscreen, and Missy quickly makes good on her promise to stab him in the eye.

* “Clara’s dead, Doctor. This is the one that killed her” Top ten anime betrayals.

* “Oh, yeah, I’m over screwdrivers. They spoil the lining of your jacket. These days, I’m all about wearable technology” Twelve looks so, so proud of those glasses.

* “What is happening?” “Oh, same old, same old. Just the Doctor and Clara Oswald in the TARDIS!”

* After all that backstabbing that Missy did in this episode, it’s so very satisfying to see that the Doctor and Clara left her on Skaro to die.

* “I’m not sure that any of that matters. Friends, enemies. So long as there’s mercy. Always mercy”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar Questioning 12

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Doctor Who: Last Christmas (2014) Review

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreams Within Dreams Sleigh Ride 22

“Last Christmas” is the first holiday special of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, penned by Doctor Who’s showrunner Steven Moffat. And like many of Moffat’s holiday specials, it sets out to explore the true meaning of Christmas spirit, while also delivering a few frights along the way. “Last Christmas” is, in many ways, a spiritual sequel to both “Amy’s Choice” and “Robot Of Sherwood” when it comes to the two main storylines of this episode: giving us a bit of much-needed levity after how bleak the previous episode was, while also having a darker undercurrent running through it as well. It initially seems like your typical base-under-siege story (“The Impossible Planet“, “The Rebel Flesh“, “Under The Lake“), with all the usual tropes and trappings of that genre, before it gradually turns into a much more trippy and surreal experience than that. It also gives our two main characters, the Doctor and Clara, a chance to properly deal with the fallout of the Series 8 finale, as they’re paired up again on another case.

By this point in the series, Jenna Coleman had reached the end of her contract and “Last Christmas” was originally intended to be her final episode, where her character would part ways with the Doctor for good at the end. However, Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi both encouraged her to stick around for another year, and after some consideration, she decided to do the same as well, changing her mind fairly late in the game, which resulted in the final act of this episode being re-written. Had she gone through with the original plans, Shona (one of the side-characters) would have been Clara’s replacement in Series 9, which is certainly an interesting alternate universe to think about. A lot of the ideas Moffat had in mind for Shona were later re-worked into the character of Bill Potts, Clara’s actual successor in Series 10.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreams Within Dreams 2

In “Last Christmas”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is alerted to a crisis at the North Pole, by Santa Claus of all people, which should be impossible. The Doctor is the only man on Earth who understands all the intricacies of how the dream crabs operate and why they’re so dangerous, so he’s a very large part of the reason why most of the human characters survive this episode. Twelve has always been characterized as a rather grouchy curmudgeon, so naturally he’s very suspicious of old St. Nick, and he keeps trying to poke holes in the man’s outrageous story. He also starts to grow rather competitive with the Christmas icon, because Santa knows just how to wind him up, and he gets on the Doctor’s bad side when he actually tries to steal his job of delivering scientific technobabble.

In general, this episode repeatedly pushes the Twelfth Doctor outside of his usual comfort zone: Clara keeps on hugging him, he’s dragged into a group huddle he wants no part of, Santa and his elves keep teasing him, and it’s all very funny. However, when the gang is making their escape from the dream crabs in the climax, he does enjoy getting a chance to fly Santa’s sleigh when the jolly fat man with a beard offers it to him. He indulges his own sense of whimsy and the childlike joy that’s always been a part of the Doctor’s character (even in his stricter incarnations), because an opportunity like this only comes around only once in a lifetime – and it’s easily the happiest we’ve seen him be all season. Over the course of his tenure, the Twelfth Doctor grows from being a very stern and aloof character into a more laidback time lord. Now that he’s resolved his identity crisis in the previous episode, “Last Christmas” marks a turning point where Twelve’s personality starts to mellow out a lot more.

“Last Christmas” also continues to develop the Doctor’s relationship with Clara, as he takes her along with him on his trip to the North Pole. Their mutual lies to each other from the end of “Death In Heaven” are exposed pretty quickly, when the Doctor unwittingly insults Danny’s memory. After getting a real update on how they’re faring, both of them are pretty bummed to discover they’ve been wallowing in their own sadness and loneliness for months for nothing. When Clara gets attacked by the dream crabs and trapped inside her own mind, the Doctor decides to risk getting his brain eaten as well so he can go in after her, once again showing the lengths he will go to to help his best friend – something that’s about to become very significant to the overall story arc of Series 9.

During the last act, the Doctor discovers Clara has aged into an old woman while he was away. Not only is he sixty years too late to have some more adventures with her, he’s also skipped over most of her life. He still loves her, just as much as he’s always done, but he’s heartbroken that he’s missed out on all that time he could have shared with her (this scene also serves as a callback to “The Time Of The Doctor“, bringing their relationship full circle since then). Thankfully, it turns out they were just in the final layer of the dream and Clara is still fine in the real world. After that incredibly harrowing close shave, they both decide not to waste the second chance they’ve been given. Life is too short for them to keep denying themselves what they both know they want, so they decide to make the absolute most of their time together and set out to see the universe again with renewed vigor. Much like the ending of “The Power Of Three“, this is portrayed as a joyous and uplifting moment for the Doctor and Clara, that might not have been the best decision to make in retrospect, now that we know what it ultimately leads to.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Clara's Dream 9

At the start of “Last Christmas”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is still mourning her recently deceased boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), when the Doctor and Santa Claus turn up on her doorstep, whisking her away to the North Pole for another adventure. It’s been quite a while now since she’s seen the Doctor, and they don’t immediately get back into the groove of their usual partnership. Clara clearly still feels guilty and regretful about Danny’s demise, and she’s still haunted by her thoughts of what could have been. So when she’s attacked by a dream crab and put into a coma, of course the first thing she dreams about is sharing Christmas Eve with Danny, as a regular, happy couple.

One of the big dangers of the dream crabs is that their victims can be seduced by the illusions they create: they can feel tempted to stay inside a fantasy to try to fill a void in their real lives. That’s what happens to Clara: she knows she’s in a dream and she knows she’s going to die, but she still tries to stay anyway, because it’s the only way she’ll ever see Danny again. True to his character though, once dream Danny learns what’s at stake from the Doctor, he puts Clara before himself and convinces her to return to the real world because it’s still not her time to die yet. He also gives her the closure that she needs to move on with her life, which doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a dream construct would do. It’s left ambiguous whether or not this scene is a physical representation of Clara talking some sense into herself in her head, or if this actually is Danny’s spirit somehow, giving her one last piece of advice through her dream so she can move on from him – either way, it’s a really heartwarming moment that puts Clara and Danny’s short-lived relationship to rest in a satisfying way.

As “Last Christmas” progresses, Clara’s wintery escapade feels a lot like a modern day fairy tale. The incredible feats and wisdom of both Santa Claus and the Doctor awakens her inner child again, which is exactly what she needs to start to emerge from her depressed state. She gradually starts to reconnect with the Doctor again, as she embraces just how much she’s missed all the magical things about her life in the TARDIS (with their ride in Santa’s sleigh being a particular highlight). Despite that however, she continues to display some troubling behavior. She once again tries to stay in another layer of the dream, despite the Doctor repeatedly warning her what the consequences would be. And eventually, Clara’s reckless, borderline suicidal behavior starts to make a lot more sense, once we discover that she’s seemingly an old woman now back home.

Her adventure in the dream gave her a chance to be young again, fight monsters, and see the two men she loved again for the first time in decades – it was the best night she had had in years and she didn’t want it to end. Everything about the final act is tragic, as Clara once again mourns the loss of what could have been, had she made different choices, until Santa Claus turns up with a Christmas miracle and reveals that they’re still in the final layer of the dream. Once they’re back in the real world, Clara no longer has any doubts about the things she’s been struggling with throughout the latter half of Series 8. She knows she loves everything about her fairy tale life in the TARDIS with the man she cares for, and she doesn’t want to have any regrets about chances she didn’t take with the Doctor, like she does with Danny. So at the Doctor’s request, she’s happily drawn back into her travels throughout the universe once more with renewed spirit, setting the stage for the final leg of her journey in Series 9.

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Nick Frost’s Santa Claus proves to be a very snarky take on the folklore hero, with a certain cocky swagger and impish charisma to him. But that’s almost to be expected, since his dialogue is written by Steven Moffat: there seems to be an unspoken rule that almost every major Moffat character needs to be sassy and quick-witted. His patience is constantly tested by his helpers – a pair of gobby, overly talkative elves and some really unruly reindeer – and he also partakes in a lot of (good-natured) verbal jousting with the Doctor. The North Pole is Santa’s jurisdiction, so he acts as a guide of sorts for the Doctor and friends: he saves their lives several times, he offers them advice when they need it, and he even gives them some tough love.

Even though this version of Santa has got a bit of an attitude, he still has the heart of gold you would expect from him. He shows plenty of concern for everyone’s welfare, and he takes a certain shine to Clara in particular, helping her and the Doctor rediscover their inner children the longer they’re in his company. Like Robin Hood from “Robot Of Sherwood”, Santa Claus is a myth, a fairy tale. But since he and the Doctor are both fictional characters, “Last Christmas” asks the question of why can’t he be real – why can’t he also exist in the Doctor’s world? It’s later revealed that this version of Santa is apparently a figment of our heroes’ imaginations, a character they conjured up to help them escape from the dream crabs. However, much like with dream Danny, that explanation is eventually thrown into doubt. The final shot of the episode implies that Santa Claus does indeed exist, he got involved with the dream crab problem, and he did his part to give the Doctor and Clara a really good Christmas.

Compared to most episodes of Doctor Who, the side-characters in this adventure – Shona, Ashley, Bellows and Albert – are pretty one-dimensional, since Steven Moffat clearly gave most of his best material to the Doctor, Clara and Santa Claus. Shona is easily the standout member of the group when it comes to her characterization, which makes sense, since Moffat initially considered making her a companion. She’s an aggressive, quirky, lippy tomboy who doesn’t mince words with people who disrespect her and clearly covers up a lot of insecurities. The other three characters tend to be more professional about their line of work: they’re straight-laced, reserved, analytical scientists who are now being put under a lot of stress (though it’s implied that Albert might be a bit of pervert).

The final scenes with these characters, as they wake up from the dream and return to their old lives, one-by-one, fleshes them out a bit more, once we can see the contrast between their real world selves and the way they presented themselves in their fantasy. Shona is a very lonely woman who’s all on her own on Christmas Eve, and clearly craves some friends. She’s the only other person besides Clara who wishes she could stay in the dream a little while longer, so she can spend some more time with the people she bonded with. Meanwhile, Bellows is handicapped back home, and her sci-fi adventure gave her a chance to walk again for the first time in years. Most of the humans manage to escape the dream alive, thanks to our heroes, except for Albert, who fell victims to the dream crabs because he grew a bit too curious about them for his own good. Ironically, the rest of his peers proceed to have a fun sleigh ride with Santa, having the time of their lives, only five minutes after he just got murdered.

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The one-off villains for this episode are the Kantrofarri, more commonly known as the dream crabs. They’re not evil or malicious antagonists: they’re simply creatures of pure instinct, looking for their next meal, and unfortunately for humanity, we happen to be on the menu. With the dream crabs, Steven Moffat recycles and repurposes several elements from previous antagonists in his era. They can trap people inside of their nightmares, like the Dream Lord from “Amy’s Choice”, and they can read people’s minds, like the Teller from “Time Heist“. If they sense themselves inside someone’s head, they’ll go on the attack, which means the only way to evade them is to try to avoid thinking about them – something that’s basically impossible. The Kantrofarri can layer dreams within dreams, as the perfect way to ensnare their prey and make sure they can never escape them while they devour their minds in the real world.

The Doctor and his friends are forced to constantly question what is or what isn’t real. There are numerous fake-outs scattered throughout the episode, to constantly keep the audience guessing, and there are also quite a few dream-tells that are foreshadowed to the viewers, long before the Doctor and Clara start to pick up on them – like vague backstories, decisions that are made for seemingly no reason, jump cuts, implausible rescues, the existence of Santa Claus, and alien attackers who are actually possessed doppelgangers of the main cast. A common problem you can run into with dream stories is a lack of tension: if none of it is real, then none of the leads are really in any danger. That isn’t the case here. If you die in the dream, you die in reality – which is the fate that befalls poor Albert – so the dream crabs are still a formidable threat that forces our heroes to race against a ticking clock before their brains get eaten.

“Last Christmas” is helmed by Paul Wilmshurt, who previously directed “Kill The Moon” and “Mummy On The Orient Express“, and of the three, “Last Christmas” is easily his most impressive showing, because this is a very visually beautiful episode. The extreme close-ups that are chosen during Clara’s heart-to-heart talks with the Doctor and Danny heighten the emotional intimacy of these moments, and are all the more effective because they’re used sparingly. The show’s lighting department provides some really sharp shadows during the scenes that are set in the Arctic base, creating a tense, foreboding and isolated atmosphere that’s later contrasted nicely with the soft lighting of Clara and Danny’s fireside fantasy – a warm and cozy world that looks and feels exactly like what you’d imagine an idealized Christmas Eve to be.

Considering the scale of this holiday special, a lot of green-screen effects are used throughout the hour, and most of them hold up well – like the establishing shots of the frigid Arctic landscape, or the climatic ride on Santa’s sleigh through London at night. Murray Gold, the show’s composer, always steps up his game a bit more than usual during the holiday specials, because he has a lighter workload to deal with and a different style he’s aiming for, and “Last Christmas” is no exception to that. His music for this episode can range from sweet-natured and wintery, to ominous and sinister, to bold and audacious in tracks like “Three Perfectly Ordinary Roof People“, “Ghosts“, “What Seems To Be The Problem?“, “We Don’t Know What’s Real“, “Clara’s Dream Christmas“, “The Doctor’s Dream Christmas“, “Dreams Within Dreams“, “Believe In Santa“, “Sleigh Ride“, “A Reunion” and “Every Christmas Is Last Christmas“.

“Last Christmas” could very easily have been a hot mess of clashing tones and ideas, if it was handled with less love and care. As it stands, it ranks alongside “A Christmas Carol” and “The Snowmen” as one of the better Christmas specials from the Moffat era of Doctor Who, and it makes for a very heartwarming epilogue to Series 8.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “You’re a fairy tale. I grew out of fairy tales” “Did you, Clara? Did you really?”

* The comedic highlight of this episode is easily Shona’s sweet, sweet dance moves in the infirmary.

* Speaking of which, Doctor Who has been reusing the same song, “Merry X-Mas Everybody” by Slade, in many of its holiday specials since the RTD era, as a running gag for long-time fans of the show.

* “Stop being so good at arithmetic!” “I can’t help it!”

* “He’s probably flirting with your neighbor or texting women of low moral character!” Clara always kept her pimp hands strong, for moments just like this one.

* “I’ve got three words for you, Shona. Don’t make me use them. My Little Pony”.

* “Shut up, you” “Yeah? I’ve got lots more, babe” “I will mark you, Santa“.

* “That is elfist! And a bit hypocritical, from someone of your height” Oh snap.

* “Beardy-weardy, how do you get all the presents in the sleigh?” “It’s bigger on the inside”.

* “There’s a horror movie called ‘Alien’? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you”.

* Ian, one of Santa’s elves, is played by Dan Starkey, Strax’s actor. And Albert is portrayed by Michael Troughton, the son of Patrick Troughton who played the Second Doctor, back in the 1960’s.

* “How do you make you being clever into me being clever?” “I always protect your ego from the truth”.

* “I didn’t die saving the world, Doctor, I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky”.

* “Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do, it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas, and this is ours”.

* “Chocolate. Why did I get chocolate? What’s that about?”

* “You see how none of this makes any sense?” “Shut up, Santa”.

* “Look, we don’t need all this touchy-feely stuff” “Shut up, Doctor”.

* “No, no, no. Line in the sand. Santa Claus does not do the scientific explanation!”

* “I’m scared” “Congratulations, that means you’re not an idiot”.

* “Come on, it’s Christmas, the North Pole. Who you gonna call?”

* “Just focus on this. Do you believe in Santa Claus?” “I’ve always believed in Santa Claus, but he looks a little different to me”.

* “I work in a shop. I thought I was a scientist. That’s rubbish” “Finally, something that makes sense” “You’re horrible, you”.

* “There was one other man, but it would never have worked out. He was impossible” I see what you did there, Clara.

* Steven Moffat confirmed that Santa Claus did his part to keep the Doctor and Clara together in this episode. Suffice to say, Missy approves. In fact, if it turned out Santa Claus of all people was evil and was in league with Missy all along to create the Hybrid, that would have been beautiful.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreams Within Dreams Sleigh Ride 6

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Doctor Who: Dark Water / Death In Heaven (2014) Review

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With “Dark Water / Death In Heaven”, we’ve reached the end of another season of Doctor Who, and as usual Steven Moffat does a commendable job of wrapping up all the themes and ideas this season has been exploring about self-discovery and the nature of warfare. Since Series 8 has been focusing a lot more on character development for our leads over the traditional story arc surrounding the Promised Land, the events of this finale dive deep into the Doctor, Clara and Danny’s personality flaws and push all three of them past their breaking points as they’re forced to endure a whole lot of trauma. When it comes to how the events of this finale effect the show’s status quo as a whole, an old foe of the Doctor returns, for the first time since the RTD era, and they become a recurring character for the rest of the Twelfth Doctor’s era, playing a vital role in his character arc.

While the Twelfth Doctor’s seasons have plenty of silliness and whimsy in them to appeal to both kids and adults alike (“Robot Of Sherwood“, “The Caretaker“, “In The Forest Of The Night“), his tenure tends to be a lot more dour and brooding across the board compared to Tennant and Smith’s, and that’s reflected in his season finales. All three of his finales tend to be very bleak and tragic affairs that psychologically break the Doctor and his companions, and “Dark Water” officially starts that trend: because despite all their efforts to overcome impossible odds, no one really gets what they wanted in this story. “Dark Water” also marks the return of your traditional multi-part stories in Doctor Who. We haven’t had one since “A Good Man Goes To War“, halfway through Series 6 (unless you consider “The Name Of The Doctor“, “The Day Of The Doctor” and “The Time Of The Doctor” to be a really loose three-part serial), and it’s a welcome return in my eyes, because I’ve really missed a good two-parter over the last two seasons.

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In “Dark Water”, a seemingly ordinary day for the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes a grim turn when Clara tries to drug him, so she can blackmail him with access to his own ship. However, her chosen method is ineffectual on him, so he promptly flips her blackmail scheme around on her like a boss. Her boyfriend Danny has just died and she’s hell bent on finding a way to save him – including forcing her time-traveling friend to try to change his fate. Clara was never really a threat to the time lord and his ship, but he’s still pretty pissed afterwards about what she was willing to do. Betrayal always stings the most when it comes from those you love, and the Doctor does love his Impossible Girl, either as a friend or something more than that. But he’s well aware that he’s betrayed her trust as well this season – if anything, this little incident makes them even.

So he decides to try to help her anyway. He can’t change Danny’s death, but he can do the next best thing and try to find him in the afterlife – if an afterlife even exists. Their reconciliation is a rather touching moment between the two. The Doctor and Clara’s relationship has been strained and rocky for a lot of this season, so it’s great to see the strength of their bond be reaffirmed here (along with Twelve showing a warmer side of his personality). They set out on a quest, using the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits from “Listen“, to bring Danny home. The Doctor repeatedly warns Clara to get her unstable, grief-driven emotions under control, because he needs her to be at the top of her game. Even before he knows there’s evil afoot, he already suspects they’re walking into a trap when they pick up Danny’s trail. He feels a lot less certain about teaching Clara his methods now after what he saw in “Flatline“, but he knows she’s really going to need them.

When they arrive at an institute that claims it can communicate with the dead, the Doctor thinks it’s total nonsense, because he isn’t remotely superstitious and he doesn’t believe in the concept of an afterlife: he’s only humoring it today to try to help Clara. As it turns out, the Doctor is right to be skeptical, because the woman in charge of the 3W institute, Missy, is converting the dead into her own army of Cybermen. The personal stakes of this finale are raised significantly for the Doctor when he realizes Missy is actually his old “friend” the Master, newly regenerated into a female form. Once he discovers that she concocted her scheme as some sort of sick, twisted attempt to get to him, he feels personally responsible for it and becomes even more driven to stop it, despite things rapidly spiraling out of his control as Missy’s legion rises.

UNIT gets wind of the crisis as well and turns to him for guidance. Since he has all the knowledge and experience they need to fight back against Missy, they make him their leader for the time being, with all their manpower at his disposal. The Doctor doesn’t feel comfortable with people thrusting armies onto him, even if the situation calls for it: because not only does it fly in the face of who he likes to consider himself to be as a person, but it also dredges up some bad memories of both the time war and the war on Trenzalore he fought in recently. Things only continue to grow worse as Missy starts killing his friends, Clara’s grief for Danny causes her to become borderline suicidal, and the Cybermen seem to be unstoppable. As Twelve enters his darkest hour so far, we get to see a far more fearful and desperate side of his personality than we usually do, and Peter Capaldi’s performance as a man who’s gradually becoming undone is captivating to watch.

Twelve is saddened and mortified by what became of poor Danny Pink: the two men might have had their differences, but he wouldn’t wish the horrific fate of becoming a Cyberman onto his worst enemy. Danny also calls him out on his hypocrisy one last time. He might talk a big game and make a lot of flowery speeches about what it means to be human, but at the end of the day, he’ll compromise his principles and let Clara switch off Danny’s emotional inhibitor to win the war against Missy. Missy reveals that she went to the trouble of a creating a cyber army as a gift to him, to bond with him, because she figured he couldn’t resist the temptation of having one. And she’s not entirely wrong, the Doctor doesn’t trust himself with that kind of power. He’s been tempted by his own god complex in the past, and he will be again in the future.

When she asks him to decide what kind of man he is, he reaches the same conclusion Clara and Robin Hood did. It doesn’t matter if he’s a good man or a bad man, what matters is that he always tries his best to be a force for good and set an example for others, to inspire heroism in them. He manages to do that for Danny, and after Mr. Pink dies a hero, saving the planet, the Twelfth Doctor’s soldier-hating phase is officially put to rest. “Death In Heaven” wraps up on a bittersweet note. Missy lied to him about the whereabouts of Gallifrey, to hurt him one last time, and he doesn’t take it well. The Doctor and Clara both decide to lie each other afterwards, to hide how broken they both are and to try to make each other happy, so they can part ways on good terms. They sacrifice their own peace of mind for each other’s sake, as one last example of how much the two friends have in common this season.

Doctor Who Death In Heaven Bittersweet Parting 3

After promising herself she would be more honest with the man she loved in the previous episode, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) tries to confess all of her deepest, innermost feelings to Danny at the start of “Dark Water”. She promises him her heart, and it seems she’s all set to choose building a life with him on Earth over her travels with the Doctor. However, she never gets the chance to, since her confession over the phone tragically distracts him while he’s crossing the street and he gets hit by a car as a result. Clara naturally blames herself for his death and is consumed by grief for weeks. She goes numb to the world and slips into a depression, until she finally snaps. She decides to blackmail the Doctor into changing Danny’s fate, by threatening to destroy all his keys to the TARDIS until he complies.

It’s very disturbing how callous and ruthless Clara is being, as she goes about executing her plan, but in a way, it also makes sense with what we know of her. Clara has always encouraged the Doctor to break his own rules and refuse to settle for a tragic outcome when she feels he can do more to help people. Here we see a really dark and twisted version of that same personality trait, as she does it for entirely selfish reasons. The whole thing turns out to be a ruse on the Doctor’s part, and Clara quite rightly feels ashamed of herself when the reality of what she almost did sinks in. She’s all set to walk away from the time lord and his big blue box forever, because she feels she doesn’t deserve to be his friend anymore. But he still decides to help her anyway, out of the kindness of his heart and his loyalty to his best friend, which blows her away (and certainly removes any remaining doubts she might have had about how much their bond means to him).

As they set out following Danny’s trail to the 3W institute, Clara tries to be logical, shrewd and skeptical, just like the Doctor advises. But even though she’s calmed down significantly, she’s still not thinking straight. She’s so desperate to get Danny back that she’ll do anything to make it happen, whatever the costs, and at times she shows signs of becoming suicidal (signs that are outright confirmed in “Last Christmas“). Clara and Danny are briefly reunited when she’s able to call him in the Nethersphere, and the conversation that follows is beautifully tragic. Whatever joy or relief they might have gotten from hearing each other’s voices again is short-lived, as suspicion and mistrust comes between them – the same things that have always doomed their relationship – and both of them walk away from this encounter feeling more upset than they already were.

At the end of “Dark Water”, Clara finds herself separated from the Doctor and cornered by the Cybermen, so she decides to put the new confidence she gained from “Flatline” and the poker face she’s been honing since “Deep Breath” to good use. She pretends to be the Doctor to buy herself some time to escape (the opening titles for “Death In Heaven” even swap Jenna Coleman’s name around with Peter Capaldi’s as a fun little gag). Since the Cybermen are emotionless creatures of pure logic, she figures she has a good chance of outsmarting them if she can just keep up her bluff for long enough. However, we’ll never know how long she would have been able to keep up the charade until her luck ran out, because Cyber Danny eventually steps in and destroys the other Cybermen. He also decides to whisk an unconscious Clara away to a graveyard where they can be alone and he can reveal himself to her – a scene that would feel right at home in an old school monster movie.

Clara is devastated to discover Danny has been converted into a Cyberman – a fate worse than death in this show’s universe – and is in agony. He asks her to help him end the pain by switching off his emotional inhibitor, which would essentially kill him. The Doctor warns her that doing so could lead to Cyber Danny turning on her and killing her, but that’s a risk that she’s willing to take to make amends. Clara feels responsible for this whole mess happening, for playing a part in his death and not being a better lover to him, and she feels immensely guilty about it. Jenna Coleman really shows off her range as an actress in this finale, as she does a phenomenal job of portraying Clara’s anguish – the graveyard scenes she shares with Danny are actually quite hard to watch.

Clara loses Danny four times over the course of this story: when he’s killed in traffic, when she has to spiritually kill him by switching off his emotions, when he sacrifices himself to stop Missy’s apocalypse, and finally when he chooses to give up his last chance to return to the world of the living by restoring the boy he killed instead. Afterwards, Clara tries to bump off Missy to avenge Danny, and she makes it quite clear that if the Doctor won’t kill his bff from hell then she will. I should probably be disturbed by the return of Clara’s cold-blooded streak, but honestly, I don’t blame her in the slightest bit for demanding Missy’s execution. By the coda, both of Clara’s boys are gone (once the Doctor has flown away again in his ship) and she’s left completely alone. Everything that happened in this finale was incredibly traumatic for her, and it completely emotionally wrecks her. Even after she manages to bounce back from some of her depression, Clara is never really the same person again afterwards, which is made very apparent by her reckless behavior in Series 9.

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Out of the various boyfriend characters Doctor Who has had over the years, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) certainly got the rawest deal. Rose and Mickey broke up and eventually went their separate ways when they realized their relationship wasn’t working. Amy and Rory worked through their differences and built an incredibly fulfilling life together over time. Danny, by comparison, straight up dies – though his death has less to do with the love triangle between himself, Clara and the Doctor, and more to do with a redemption arc for the former soldier. After he’s killed by a car accident unexpectedly, Danny wakes up in the Netherspehre. Throughout Series 8, Missy has been collecting the souls of the dead and greeting them in what she claims to be the afterlife, and now our heroes are finally becoming aware of her actions.

Danny has to come to terms with the fact that his mortal life is over, just when he was beginning to like it again. He’s lost everything he’s grown fond of over the last few years, including Clara. Missy’s assistant, Seb, talks him through it all, and he seems like a harmless, comical character at first, but his real game plan slowly becomes clear. He fishes around for any secrets or regrets Danny might have about his background, anything he can use to manipulate him into switching off his emotions. He arranges to have Danny meet the person he killed while he was deployed and relive his greatest trauma. Then he sets up a torturous phone call with Clara, to break his heart even further. Seb does a good job of never tipping his hand during it all: he’s had a lot of practice with pulling off his con with everyone else residing inside the Nethersphere. I also appreciate how the lighting during his scenes slowly grows colder and creepier, as he starts to show his true colors.

Danny has always been pretty forgiving when it comes to Clara’s various lies and indiscretions, and “Dark Water” explains why that’s the case. After all, Mr. Pink has not been entirely truthful himself when it comes to his past. Ever since “Into The Dalek“, the show has been hinting that he did something terrible while he was deployed, something that scarred him for life and led him to quit the army. As it turns out, that shameful secret was shooting an innocent child civilian in the line of fire, before he realized who or what he was. Danny never forgave himself for that, and to this day, the guilt is soul-crushing. When he’s confronted with the terrified boy he slaughtered in the Nethesphere, he has to face up to the pain he caused all over again.

During his phone call with Clara, Danny is alarmed to discover how desperate she is to reunite with him. He doesn’t want her doing anything reckless or stupid, and he doesn’t want her to throw her life away for him, because it isn’t her time yet. So he puts the woman he loves before himself and decides to sacrifice his chance to see her again, by convincing her to shun him. After having his heart crushed like that one more time, he’s incredibly tempted to accept Seb’s offer to switch off his emotions and numb himself to the pain. But the boy from his past saves him from that fate, which is an unexpected turn of events and more than a bit touching. Danny’s decision not to complete his conversion comes at a steep cost, when he’s subjected to the horror of discovering he’s been stripped of his humanity and turned into a cyborg against his will – a traumatic experience that’s been shown to drive people insane in previous episodes. Underneath his armor, he’s now a reanimated, decomposing corpse who’s a pale imitation of the man he used to be in life.

When he seeks out Clara, he gets yet another knife to his gut when she seems to confirm that her bond with the Doctor will always be much stronger and more meaningful than with anyone else in her life. Eventually, he decides to go through with his decision to switch off his emotional inhibitor. He asks Clara to help him end the pain, because he’s basically hit rock bottom and he’s got nothing left to lose anymore. But he’s wrong about that. He still has his attachment to Clara. As the Doctor points out to him, Danny’s love for Clara helps him to stay grounded, even beyond death. It helps him to stay sane and gives him the freedom to make his own decisions instead of just being another one of Missy’s mindless weapons. In that regard, it’s definitely better to have a broken heart than no heart at all.

Ultimately, it’s Danny who helps to tip the scales in our heroes’ favor, when no one else can. After he’s been inspired by the Doctor, Danny takes control of the Cyberman army and decides to save the world (and Clara) at the cost of his life. In the aftermath, he’s given one last chance to return to the world of the living, with Missy’s time lord technology. But he chooses to send the kid from Afghanistan back in his place, because he knows he deserves it far more than he does. Danny fades away and he’s cut off from Clara again, permenately this time. But unlike before, he can die in peace this time. He’s got his affairs in order, he’s made amends, and he’s redeemed himself to the best of his abilities. It’s a tragic end to Clara and Danny’s time together (Steven Moffat likes to have every major relationship in this show end in some form of tragedy), but it’s a fitting and dignified conclusion to Danny’s storyline that helped to give him some more dimensions beyond being Clara’s love interest.

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When we last saw the Master in “The End Of Time“, he was on his way back to Gallifrey, attacking Rassilon with his new Sith lord lightning. Now she’s back, newly regenerated into a female body, with a brand new scheme up her sleeves. I’m really happy to see Missy (Michelle Gomez) make her comeback in this finale, because the Master is pure gleeful chaos personified, and he’s always been one of my favorite members of the Doctor’s rogues gallery. Missy, being the shameless troll that she is, pretends to be an android for a while, so she can keep an eye on the Doctor and mess with his head. But she also can’t resist tipping him off early on that she’s more than what she seems, because she wants him to notice her, and she’s ready to play a game with her old friend.

Much like in “The Sound Of Drums“, Missy has been setting up her trap for the Doctor behind the scenes for a long time now, and it’s actually kind of scary just how efficient she is – she’s seemingly thought of everything he might do to counteract her, and she’s always one step ahead of everyone else. As always, she’s portrayed as a rather sadistic predator. She likes to toy with her prey and enjoys making them beg and plead for their lives, before she kills them anyway. She has a very dry and deadpan sense of humor. She’ll stab you in the back in an instant, but this incarnation of the Master is a bit more restrained and a bit less manic than John Simm’s version, since she’s meant to be a mirror to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor instead of David Tennant’s. She has little patience for fools or people who she thinks are just plain thick and boring. Her attitude is still just as haughty and superior as ever, and the only person she even remotely takes seriously in this two-parter is the Doctor, the only other time lord around.

I like my villainesses to be confident, cunning and ambitious, so I really enjoy Missy’s style: she’s a total diva about everything while also being sly as a fox (and Michelle Gomez is clearly having a blast chewing every last inch of scenery). After she gets captured by UNIT, Missy plays along for a while and lets them think they’re in control while she bides her time to escape. She decides to kill Osgood, purely to spite the Doctor, and she makes sure to play plenty of cruel mind games with her before her demise. Steven Moffat felt this was an important moment for him to include: to make it clear that just because the Master is played by a woman now doesn’t mean she’s any less evil or any less of a threat.

Eventually, Missy reveals that the reason why she did all of this was because she wanted to reconnect with the Doctor again. Missy is one of the more sentimental Masters in the line-up, so she wants the old bond she used to have with her friend back. She figured dragging him down to her level and convincing him they were the same would be the best way to do it. She also arranged for him to meet Clara, his Impossible Girl, in Series 7, as part of her long game. She gives him an army of Cybermen so they can rule the universe together, but he rejects her offer. When Clara tries to execute her and the Doctor insists on taking on that burden himself, Missy, being the twisted time lady she is, is willing to play along, because she gets to claim some sort of victory over him after all – robbing him of the moral high ground he so desperately clings to. However, she’s denied even that, thanks to an unexpected interloper. By the end of this story, we have a much clearer understanding of Missy’s motivations, and she plays a really vital role throughout the entire Capaldi era, as she keeps trying to reconcile with the Doctor in her own twisted way.

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Throughout Series 8, Missy has been experimenting on the dead by uploading their souls to a Gallifreyan matrix, the same technology the time lords use to give their recently deceased a peaceful afterlife, now corrupted for nefarious purposes. This is the kind of clever sci-fi idea I like to see in Doctor Who, and it’s gradually used to give us some classic Steven Moffat nightmare fuel. The souls of these people are still connected to their old bodies, even if they no longer inhabit them, so if someone decides to cremate them, they’re subjected to unimaginable agony. We can only hope that this gruesome fate is the end result of Missy meddling with the natural order of things, and not the usual outcome of what happens whenever someone dies in the Doctor Who universe (though we’re never given confirmation one way or another).

With her own breed of Cybermen, Missy takes the already nightmarish fusion of flesh and technology and makes it even more obscene. The Cybermen are always at their best when the show leans into the body horror that lies at the heart of their core concept – that these poor souls used to be ordinary people who had their humanity stripped away from them against their will – and “Death In Heaven” certainly does that as Missy weaponizes the dead. Now more than ever, the Cybermen are essentially metallic zombies, as they emerge from morgues and rise from their graves to join Missy’s ranks. Every time they kill someone, they only bring in new recruits for their army, which provides a terrifying reason as to why they need to be stopped as soon as possible. They can also fly now, which is probably the least effective new addition to their designs, because the CGI shots of the flying Cybermen can look quite goofy half the time.

About halfway through this two-parter, Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood show up to help the Doctor, two other characters who we haven’t seen in a while. As you would expect from the head of a military organization, Kate isn’t afraid to make decisions that are morally questionable from time to time. She’s completely dedicated to UNIT’s cause, and she’ll do whatever she has to to protect Britain, even if that puts her at odds with the Doctor sometimes. Osgood, meanwhile, continues to be sharp as a tack and super resourceful. She’s the living embodiment of every Doctor Who fangirl out there, and she’s unapologetically nerdy. The Doctor has retained his fondness for her from his last life, and after she manages to impress him once again, he offers her a spot in the TARDIS if she’s ever interested in flying away with him.

The Doctor offering someone a gig as a companion when they’re not a series regular has proven to practically be a death sentence in this show for a guest character (as we’ve seen with Lynda, Astrid, Jenny, Rita and Victorian Clara) and that fatal tradition holds true for poor Osgood. Osgood lets her guard down at the worst possible time, and Missy takes advantage of her desire to prove herself to peers to lure her into a trap. Missy doesn’t waste any time killing her off, and she also tries to kill Kate by making her fall out of a plane. But thankfully Kate is saved by her late father, the Brigadier, who was drafted into Missy’s undead Cyberman army. Before he departs, the former military man gives Missy the Old Yeller treatment in the climax, so the Doctor won’t have to. And since this is the last time either of them will be seeing each other, the Doctor finally has an opportunity to give his old friend a proper goodbye, the way he couldn’t do back in “The Wedding Of River Song” – paying him his respects with a salute.

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“Dark Water” is helmed by Rachel Talalay, who ranks alongside Toby Haynes, Nick Hurran and Saul Metzstein as one of the best directors from the Moffat era. In every season, she was given the task of bringing the Twelfth Doctor’s finales to life, because she always did an impeccable job of giving these episodes a stylish cinematic flair – from the Doctor and Clara’s tense stand-off by the volcano, to the scenes of the Cybermen emerging from their watery tombs, revealing their true forms to the audience, to the entire climax in the graveyard. The final shots for the cliffhanger of the Cybermen emerging from St. Paul’s Cathedral, all set to attack London, were meant to be a deliberate callback to the 1968 serial, “The Invasion”, which featured shots of the Cybermen that were nearly identical.

For the season finale, Murray Gold naturally ties together a lot of the main themes of this season. The Twelfth Doctor’s leitmotif, “A Good Man“, receives a lot of new variations in this story, including the funky electronic piece “Throw Away The Key“, the menacing “They Walk Among Us“, the underplayed “A Good Man, An Incredible Liar“, the bold and brassy “Freefall“, the heartwrenching strings of “I Need To Know“, and the strident beat of “(The Majestic Tale Of) An Idiot In A Box“, a triumphant mash-up of the Eleventh and the Twelfth Doctor’s themes. The Cybermen’s iconic, sinister motif is reprised a few times in “They Walk Among Us” and “There Is No Clara Oswald“, while the music devoted to Missy traverses a pretty wild variety of moods and styles in “Browsing“, “Missy And Her Boys“, “Missy’s Theme“, “Missy’s Theme Extended“, and “Missy’s Gift“. Reused music from previous episodes includes “Cyber Army“, “Upgrade In Progress“, “I Won’t Change My Mind“, “Beginning Of The End“, “Pain Everlasting“, “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart” and “Fear“.

“Dark Water / Death In Heaven” does a stellar job of sending off Series 8 with a bang, while also ending the year on a bittersweet note for the Doctor and Clara. And since it has the benefit of being a two-parter, it’s also probably the most fleshed out season finale we’ve had since “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang” in Series 5.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Dark Water The Nethersphere

* “Dark Water” kicks off a really strange trend for Doctor Who, where the Master frequently teams up with the Cybermen in season finales. In addition to this story, it also happens in “World Enough And Time” and “The Timeless Children”.

* “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I need to talk to you” Like I said before, Moffat really likes having his characters tell each other to shut up.

* The circumstances of Danny’s death are rather suspicious. Quite a few people have wondered if Missy arranged to have him killed, to lure Clara and the Doctor into her trap, and I really wouldn’t put it past her. She planned for everything else in this two-parter, after all.

* “Save Danny. Bring him back or I swear you will never step inside your TARDIS again” Top ten anime betrayals.

* “Doctor, what happens now?” “Go to hell” “Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough”.

* “Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Awww.

* “I don’t deserve a friend like you” “Clara, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m exactly what you deserve” Oof, there are a lot of different ways to interpret that line, and some of them are more savage than others.

* “At 3W, afterlife means aftercare” How kinky.

* “You also have not received the official welcome package” “Oh, I’m good, thanks. No worries”.

* “Please indicate if you’d like me to adjust my intimacy setting” “Oh, yes, please. Please do that. Do that now right now”.

* “You have iPads in the afterlife?” “iPads? We have Steve Jobs”.

* “Why is there all this swearing?” “Oh, I’ve got a lot of internalized anger”.

* When an extremely guilt-ridden Danny is talking to the boy from his past, trying to find a way to break the ice, he actually asks him “Are you okay?”. My dude, he’s dead and in the “afterlife” right now because you shot him full of holes. Of course he’s not okay.

* “He believed it was a telepathic communication from the dead” “Why? Was he an idiot?”

* “You know, I might have been guilty of a just teensy little fibette”.

* “Now, come on. Let’s not dwell on horrid things. This is going to be our last conversation, and I’m the one who’s going to have to live with that”.

* “Oh, Clara, Clara, Clara! You know I should shoot you in a jealous rage. Now, wouldn’t that be sexy?”

* “I presume you have stairs?” “Well, I’m not a Dalek”.

* “You know the key strategic weakness of the human race? The dead outnumber the living”

* “I’m Missy, short for Mistress. Well, I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?”

* “New York, Paris, Rome, Marrakesh, Brisbane, Glasgow. Everywhere, anywhere! Me and my boys, we’re going viral!”

* “Welcome to the only planet in the universe where we get to say this: he’s on the payroll”.

* “Oh, don’t do that. You look like you’re self-concussing, which would explain all of military history, now I think about it”.

* “Hang on a second. The President? We don’t want Americans bobbing around the place. They’ll only start praying”.

* It’s a nice touch Clara brings up Jenny from “The Doctor’s Daughter” when she’s listing off facts about the Doctor’s life. The fact that he told her about that rather sad story (from his perspective) shows how much Twelve and Clara have grown closer over time.

* “There’s always collateral damage with you and me, Doctor. It’s our Paris”.

* “We do have files on all our ex-prime ministers. She wasn’t even the worst one” Savage. I imagine Missy had extra incentive to kill Osgood after that comment.

* “I’m going to kill you in a minute. I’m not even kidding. You’re going to be as dead as a fish on a slab any second now, all floppy and making smells. But don’t tell the boys. This is our secret girl plan”.

* “Oh, silly. Why does one pop a balloon? Because you’re pretty, and you should have a bit more confidence in yourself”.

* That flashback to “The Bells Of Saint John” is really surreal. Clara’s introductory episode was only just last season, but it feels like a lifetime ago.

* “The phone’s ringing, Doctor. Can you hear that? Now that is the sound of your chain being yanked. Heel, Doctor!

* “Why did you do that?! You didn’t have to do that!” “Oh, don’t be so selfish! I’m going to miss her, too!”

* “Boys, blow up this plane and, I don’t know, Belgium, yeah? Kill some Belgians! Might as well, they’re not even French! Byeeee!” I love her so much.

* “Oh! Permission to squeeeee!” Please no.

* “I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning. I don’t need an army. I never have, because I’ve got them. Always them. Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. And he will never hurt her”.

* “This is not the order of a general, nor the whim of a lunatic-” “Excuse me?

* “Old friend, is she? If you have ever let this creature live, everything that happened today, is on you. All of it, on you. And you’re not going to let her live again” Clara is out for blood, man.

* “Why don’t you like hugging, Doctor?” “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face”.

* “Doctor? Travelling with you made me feel really special. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me feel special” Oh Clara, you have no idea how many haters you have for precisely that reason.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Dark Water Blackmail 8

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Doctor Who: In The Forest Of The Night (2014) Review

Doctor Who In The Forest Of The Night Deep In The Woods 2

“In The Forest Of The Night” (penned by Frank Cottrell Boyce) is the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s eight season, and the very last breather episode we get before the two-part finale, “Dark Water / Death In Heaven“, where things get pretty bleak – the calm before the storm, if you will. When you ask people what their least favorite episode of Series 8 is, the ones they usually tend to pick are either “Kill The Moon” or “In The Forest Of The Night”, since both of them have really bizarre premises (even by Doctor Who’s usual standards). It doesn’t help that this episode also tends to remind people of “Fear Her“, a standalone story from the RTD era that was also very unpopular with the fanbase, when it comes to how much of the plot is carried by child actors.

This story generally aims for a whimsical tone and a dark fairy tale aesthetic that wouldn’t feel out of place during the Matt Smith era (it actually reminds me a lot of “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” another episode centered around trees that mostly runs on fairy tale logic). It’s clearly aimed towards the younger members of Doctor Who’s family audience, since it tries to send an environmental message to kids to respect nature and do their part to save trees from excessive deforestation. Basically, this story is forty-five minutes of fluff compared to Doctor Who’s usual fare, and if nothing else, it makes for a very cute outing. But while “In The Forest Of The Night” is not a very plot-heavy episode compared to many of the others in Series 8, it’s still a pretty essential one to watch when it comes to the character dynamics between the Doctor, Clara and Danny – which make up the true heart of this season – and how they continue to evolve as we head into the season finale.

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In “In The Forest Of The Night”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is stunned to discover that a whole forest of trees has sprouted up overnight – covering not only London, but the entire world. He immediately wants to look into it, but he gets stuck watching Mabeh – one of the kids from Clara’s school who wandered off from a field trip – and later the rest of her classmates as well. Twelve is a man with many talents, but he generally has a harder time working with children than his predecessor did: he’s not as patient or as attentive with them as he was in his last life. The kids keep distracting him, asking him weird questions, and touching everything in the TARDIS, much to his annoyance.

As we all know by now, Twelve tends to gain a serious case of tunnel vision when he’s in the zone, and he tends to be pretty dismissive towards people who bore him. In this episode, that personality trait comes back to bite him in the backside when he overlooks a helpful hint from Mabeh about an oncoming apocalypse, until after she’s already wandered off from the group. Once he’s been served a slice of humble pie, he’s determined to correct that mistake by following her into the woods and finding out what she knows. He has a very strong suspicion that the trees are malicious alien invaders, who want to conquer the planet or bring doom upon humanity. Eventually, he discovers a solar flare is heading towards the Earth (presumably summoned by the trees) that will wipe out all life on the planet, and he’s devastated when he realizes he can’t stop it in time. Clara suggests that he evacuate the few people he can save with the TARDIS, but that turns out to be a ruse for the Doctor’s benefit, like the ones he played on Rose in “The Parting Of The Ways” or on Clara herself in “The Time Of The Doctor“.

Clara insists that he should leave everyone to their fates, because it’s better for the kids to die on Earth with their families and their home, than to spend the rest of their lives wandering the universe as the last of their kind. Because she knows, from years of traveling with the Doctor, how heavily that weights on a heart. She advises him to leave in his TARDIS and admit defeat for once. But the distraught Doctor refuses, because the Earth is home too, just as much as Gallifrey is (if not more so). It’s been his stomping grounds for years, and he’s devoted so much of his life to helping it. He’s adopted humanity, and they’ve adopted him. It’s a surprisingly touching exchange in an otherwise lighthearted episode, and it’s also a nice role reversal of the Doctor and Clara’s fight at the end of “Kill The Moon”, showing how Twelve took her words to him to heart after that experience.

Luckily, the Earth is saved, because the trees have already got it covered. As it turns out, the Doctor misjudged them. As soon as they appeared, he assumed that they must have had bad intentions for doing what they were doing, for the same reason he potentially made an error in judgment in “Listen” earlier this season: the Doctor and Clara have both grown so accustomed to seeing horrific, evil things happen every week that they’ve come to expect it. The Doctor essentially gets what he wanted from the Boneless in the last episode (“Flatline“): a benevolent invasion, where no one dies and humanity is saved by the kindness of strangers. Even though the Doctor acknowledges that humanity will probably forget about their unsung heroes again eventually, after a few decades have passed, he’s gained some brand new respect himself for the power of trees –  and he’s learned not to be so quick to overlook the wisdom of children again in the future.

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Throughout Series 8, we’ve been spending a lot of time at Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) workplace, Coal Hill School, to contrast the exciting adventures she shares with the Doctor with her ordinary work life back home – much like how Series 1 kept returning to the Powell Estate every few episodes, to highlight Rose Tyler’s character development. In “The Caretaker“, we got to see what kind of dynamic Clara and Danny have with their co-workers (who are none the wiser about their secret escapades), and in this episode, we get to see the kind of dynamic they have with their rambunctious students. Ms. Oswald and Mr. Pink have been assigned to chaperone a school field trip, keeping a bunch of mischievous, unruly kids in line for two days. However, when one of the kids wanders off from the group, they’re all forced to try to brave the newly created forest, so they can find her and bring her back to safety.

While Clara is certainly very concerned for Mabeh (especially since she’s a kid with special needs), her attention is also more divided than it should be right now. By this point in Series 8, Clara’s wanderlust and her thrill-seeking tendencies have caused her to get completely swept up in the mystery and excitement of extraterrestrial adventures. As soon as the forest appears, she springs into action and wants to start figuring out what it is and where it might have came from. Danny has to remind her a few times that they should mainly be focusing on shepherding the kids to safety. This is notably a really big shift in Clara’s priorities from where they were in Series 7, where her super nanny skills were one of her defining personality traits, or even just earlier in this season, where protecting her students from being harmed was always her number one goal. It’s another sign of how her time in the TARDIS is slowly changing her, in good ways and bad ways.

Since the Doctor is the one watching Mabeh, the one with the TARDIS, and the one with plenty of alien knowledge, Clara makes the sensible decision to have the Coal Hill group team-up with him for the day. By now, Clara works perfectly in sync with how he operates, so she talks Danny and the kids through his whole thought process, step by step (the way River Song used to do for Amy and Rory). She tries to be cool about it, but it’s pretty clear to everyone around her that she loves what she does. When it briefly seems like the Earth may be doomed and there’s nothing the Doctor can do about it for once, we get to see how Twelve and Clara have both been changed by the last few episodes. Clara insists that he fly away and leave them all to their fates, while he insists on sticking around and getting involved further, because he has both a moral imperative and a personal desire to help humanity – which is a nice way of bringing their conflict from “Kill The Moon” full circle.

The web of lies that Clara has been spinning with Danny since the end of “Mummy On The Orient Express” also collapses completely in this episode, after he manages to piece together everything – because Danny is many things, but he’s not stupid – though he isn’t really that sore about it. After seeing how well he worked with the kids, dealt with the crisis, and gave her a helpful bit of wisdom along the way, Clara is given a reminder of why she fell in love with him in the first place and starts to feel pretty bad about taking him for granted, so by the end she’s determined to make things right. She promises to have a full, honest talk with him and sort out what she really wants for the future of their relationship, because she feels he deserves full disclosure. Sadly, this decision will only lead to disaster, since the end of this episode leads directly into the tragic events of “Dark Water”.

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The interactions between our three leads are easily the best part of this episode, in my opinion. “In The Forest Of The Night” makes for a strong follow-up episode to “The Caretaker” (the last story to really focus on the Doctor, Clara and Danny as a trio), exploring how their dynamic has evolved now that they’ve all had some time to mellow out. As we’ve seen before in previous episodes, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) leads the kids he teaches like a military unit when their class is not in session. He can be strict when the situation calls for it, but also caring and approachable with them. He tries to keep an eye on them and keep them safe like a responsible adult, and he uses everything he learned about order and discipline during his time in the military to do so, while still being playful about it. And, as someone who enjoys working with kids herself, Clara admires a lot of those traits about him.

When one of their kids sneaks off from under their radar, Danny and Clara decide to team-up with the Doctor to get her back. Danny and the Doctor’s character development from “The Caretaker” has clearly stuck. The two men still don’t particularly like each other, but they’re willing to put aside their differences and work together if they have to to help the kids, and they’re willing to swallow their pride and admit one of them makes a good point about something. Danny has always been portrayed as a fairly perceptive guy, so he quickly picks up on the fact that Clara and the Doctor don’t act like two people who haven’t seen each other for months, and they still click just as well as a team as they’ve always done. While the Doctor and Clara set about solving the mystery of the trees, Danny keeps a watchful eye over the Coal Hill troupe, which is the environment he thrives in the best anyway. But he also gets his own small moment of heroism, when he saves the Doctor, Clara and Mabeh from being mauled by a CGI tiger.

Now that Danny officially knows that aliens exist, we get to learn more about how he would feel about potentially traveling in the TARDIS with Clara himself someday. He can certainly appreciate the wonder and the beauty of it all, and he gets why she likes it, but he doesn’t really see the appeal of it himself. He’s had his share of action and excitement in his life, and he’s had to deal with the aftermath of it (all the guilt and PTSD he gained). So he’s pretty content with the quiet, ordinary life he’s got now that’s filled with small but meaningful victories – the kind of life most soldiers long to have after they’ve done their duty. Like Mickey and Rory before him, Danny serves as an anchor to Clara’s personal life back home, and he provides a contrast between the real world and the fantastical world the Doctor inhabits.

Clara and Danny clearly want very different things out of life – the only question now is are they fundamentally incompatible as a couple, or can they still make this relationship work long-term? Danny is pretty hurt and disappointed to find that Clara’s already broken her promise to be more honest with him, once her recent deception comes to light, but he’s not really angry about it. If they’re going to be together, he doesn’t want her to feel like she has to constantly lie to him about who she is or what she wants out of life, and he doesn’t want to come between what she has with the Doctor either, since he knows she gets a sense of fulfilment out of it. He lets her know he just wants the whole truth from her for once, while also giving her some time to think about it so that whatever she says will really be from her heart. Danny is a very flawed man himself in a lot of ways, but he can also be quite emotionally mature at times when it comes to handling relationships, and I’m really going to miss the kind of stability he brings to Clara’s life as we move into Series 9.

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If the character drama between the Doctor, Clara and Danny is easily the strongest part of this episode, then the weakest part would probably be Mabeh’s subplot. Mabeh is an eccentric child who’s pretty reclusive among her peers, but also quite nice when you get to know her, and I honestly feel bad for this girl. She apparently blends into the background of whatever group she’s in so often that her teachers, her classmates, and even the Doctor take much longer to notice that she’s missing than they should when she’s not around. Ouch. Mabeh is a young empath who can read people’s thoughts, and she spends most of this episode picking up the thoughts of invisible tree spirits. She’s apparently been dealing with depression since her sister went missing a year ago, and she was put on medication to stop her from hearing voices, which the Doctor scornfully describes as adults trying to shut her up.

This is one of the most criticized aspects of the episode, since it apparently implies that mentally ill kids shouldn’t take their medication. That message was completely unintentional on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s part, since he admittedly didn’t think the implications of this plot point through fully. Mabeh blames herself for the forest appearing overnight, until she discovers, to her delight, that the trees are working in humanity’s best interests (which means that this is one of those episodes like “Planet Of The Ood” where the main conflict would have resolved itself over time, regardless of whether or not our main characters got involved in it). The trees also help her find her sister in the coda. It’s meant to be a heartwarming moment, but really it’s just sort of confusing. We never find out why Mabeh’s sister went missing, where she was, what her whole deal was, or how the trees returned her to her family. The fact that this is the final scene of the episode really drives home just how bizarre this whole storyline was.

“In The Forest Of The Night” is helmed by Sheree Folkson. This is the first and only time she’s directed an episode of Doctor Who, which explains why this story has a completely different visual style than any other one we’ve seen in Series 8 – one that successfully creates an uneasy, dreamlike feeling with plenty of low-angle shots and disorienting close-ups. Like “Robot Of Sherwood“, this is easily one of the most visually striking episodes of Series 8, because of the lush, gorgeous scenery on display throughout the hour. Maebh’s red clothing is often contrasted with the never-ending greenery that surrounds her and her peers, as a deliberate nod to Little Red Riding Hood, something the show has previously done with Amy Pond’s wardrobe in “Flesh And Stone“. Location shooting for this episode was done in the Cardiff National Museum, the Fforest Fawr woods, and Heythrop Zoological Gardens in Chipping Norton.

In contrast to the previous episode, which had a lot of phenomenal special effects for the Boneless as they came along, “In The Forest Of The Night” has some really wonky visual effects from the time. The script for this episode is a bit too ambitious for its own good: it requires CGI trees, CGI landmarks, CGI fire, CGI animals, and a CGI solar flare, all in the same story. All of that is a bit too far above Doctor Who’s usual paygrade as a show with a television budget for all of these shots to hit the mark (in particular, one shot of a state almost falling on the Doctor is less than convincing). Murray Gold’s score is very beautiful and whimsical this week: it’s filled with lush strings and ethereal vocals, and has several new variations of Twelve’s theme woven into it in tracks like “In The Woods“, “We Weren’t Asleep That Long“, “Forgetting“, and “The Song Of Clara and Danny“.

All in all, “In The Forest Of The Night” is a pretty solid breather episode for the penultimate adventure of Series 8. While the plot certainly isn’t the strongest, the character work for the Doctor, Clara and Danny is easily this episode’s most redeeming quality – and in hindsight, the strength of our core trio has been the most consistently positive aspect of Series 8 as a whole.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Ms. Oswald? Dark hair? Highly unpredictable? Surprisingly round face?”

* “I’m allowed a torch, sir. I’ve got a note. I’m darkness-phobic”.

* “Yes, well, there are some things I’ve never seen, but that’s usually because I’ve chosen not to see them. Even my incredibly long life is too short for Les Miserables”.

* “So, what, do you think that’s how spring begins? With a group message on Tree Facebook? Do you think they send texts to each other?”

* “Not everything can be solved with a screwdriver, it’s not a magic wand” Oh honey, there are a lot of Doctor Who fans out there who hate the sonic screwdriver who would disagree with you on that.

* “Oh, my God, Maebh’s gone! Maebh’s lost in the forest! Maebh’s going to die!” “Argh!

* “Hey! Do not touch anything! Anything! Okay?!” Is it just me, or did Peter Capaldi’s Scottish accent get even thicker than usual on that line?

* “I’m not just going to stand here and let her die!” “Who?” “Miss! You just let her go off with some randomer into the forest!”

* “Ruby, you’re letting your imagination run away with you” “I’m not, though, am I, because I haven’t got an imagination. You can ask Ms. Oswald”.

* For real though, out of all the kid characters in this episode, Ruby is my favorite, because this girl is just incredibly frank and morbid all the time.

* “I’ve just informed you that a solar flare is going to wipe out your planet, and you’re worried about a row with your boyfriend”.

* “Okay, you know they’re not really gifted and talented, don’t you? I just tell them that to make them feel good” Wow, Clara. Just wow.

* Clara’s face when Mabeh says she got the idea of seeking out the Doctor from her is priceless. She looks exactly like she’s thinking “Thanks for throwing me under the bus, Maebh”.

* “Why would trees want to kill us? We love trees” “You’ve been chopping them down for furniture for centuries. If that’s love, no wonder they’re calling down fire from the heavens”.

* “This is my world, too. I walk your earth, I breathe your air” “And on behalf of this world, you’re very welcome. Now, go, and save the next one”.

* “I am Doctor Idiot!” Pretty much.

* “I assumed your teachers have mentioned this?” “I thought it would spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk”.

* Can we take a moment to appreciate just how miserable Danny looks when he’s listening to the Doctor ramble on about the awesome powers of trees in the TARDIS?

* “I don’t want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly. There are wonders here, Clara Oswald. Bradley saying please, that’s a wonder. One person is more amazing, harder to understand, but more amazing than universes”.

* A running gag throughout Series 8 has been the Coal Hill kids gossiping about Clara and Danny, because they are surprisingly invested in their teachers’ love lives. At the end of this episode, they’re quite happy to finally have proof that their ship has set sail – completely unaware that it’s also going to be sinking soon.

* As always, the next-time trailer for the finale is filled with spoilers: it doesn’t even try to hide the fact that the Cybermen are coming back or that they’re working with Missy now.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who In The Forest Of The Night Lifeboat 12

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Doctor Who: Flatline (2014) Review

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“Flatline” is the second episode penned by Jamie Mathieson for Doctor Who’s eight season, though it was actually the first one he was hired to write (much like Neil Cross’s two contributions in Series 7, “The Rings Of Akhaten” and “Hide“). He originally pitched the idea to Steven Moffat two years earlier, but the Moff turned it down. When the Capaldi era began, Moffat decided to give him another chance to bring his big idea to life, under the condition that it would become the traditional Doctor-lite episode of Series 8 (a story where the Doctor is given a significantly smaller role than usual, so the show’s lead actor can get a much needed break in their filming schedule). In the past, these sorts of episodes have given us some truly unique gems like “Turn Left” and “The Girl Who Waited“, where the companions are given their time to shine, and “Flatline” is no exception to that.

While “Mummy On The Orient Express” served as a spotlight episode for the Twelfth Doctor, “Flatline” fulfils the same role for Clara, letting her come into her as a heroine as we grow closer and closer to the season finale. Furthermore, the two episodes compliment each other well as a double bill: the latter builds off the way the former developed Clara and the Doctor’s relationship, by putting Clara in a similar position to the Doctor in the previous adventure and contrasting the way she handles her very own trial by fire. “Flatline” has more of a slow-burning pace than “Mummy On The Orient Express” did (which really starts to pick up around the halfway point), and it has a much more mundane setting – trading in a spacefaring train soaring through the cosmos for the domestics suburbs of contemporary Earth – but one thing they both have in common is devoting a lot of time to exploring a simple, high concept idea for a Doctor Who monster and using that idea to its full potential for some quality scares.

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When “Flatline” begins, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is still lying to both of her boys about her decision to keep traveling in the TARDIS, and she’s not doing a particularly convincing job of it, since she tends to jabber on too much when she’s feeling guilty about something. Her tendency to constantly lie to people so she can avoid any and all uncomfortable conversations has officially become a really bad habit that she keeps slipping into, even though she already knows from experience that nothing good will come of it down the line. Still, Clara has much greater concerns to worry about at the moment. When the TARDIS lands in Bristol, the outer shell of the ship starts to shrink rapidly, trapping the Doctor inside the console room. So now, Clara has to set out into the city and find the source of the problem, or else her friend might be trapped inside his own ship forever.

“Flatline” is the culmination of a direction Clara’s character has been heading in ever since she was introduced. Clara loves to tease the Doctor about some of the dumb decisions he makes, and she’ll call him out in an instant if he crosses some kind of line. However, she does respect him a lot for what he does, and she generally tries to take the life lessons he teaches her to heart, following in his footsteps. Ever since Eleven’s regeneration into Twelve, the Doctor has adopted a trial-by-fire approach as her mentor, which has pushed her to do all sorts of things she didn’t think she was capable of before. Now she gets to put everything she’s learned to the test, when she flies solo and tries to fill in for him for a day. In that regard, “Flatline” feels like a very appropriate follow-up episode to “Mummy On The Orient Express”. Clara just got some brand new insight into how the Doctor thinks and why he makes some of the difficult judgment calls that he does on a case, and now she gets to step into his shoes.

Clara quickly strikes up a rapport with one of the locals, a man named Rigsy, who can tell her everything she needs to know about the people who have been disappearing recently in Bristol, and as a result, she makes him her temporary companion. While they’re on the case, it becomes apparent that Clara has grown so accustomed to seeing surreal alien things all the time that she’s starting to lose sight of basic human social norms: at one point, she just casually starts talking about shrink rays and alien conspiracies, like that’s a perfectly normal thing for someone to do, and she nearly scares Rigsy off when he thinks she’s crazy. The first act is very entertaining, especially when she decides to poke fun at just how pompous the Doctor can be about his title, but eventually things start to get serious, when Clara finds the answers she’s searching for.

As it turns out, creatures from another universe are killing people in town and leeching energy from the TARDIS, so they can try to understand a world with three-dimensions. Those very same creatures quickly decide to start hunting down Rigsy’s co-workers as their next victims, which forces Clara to take action to protect the humans and save Bristol. Clara has had to step into a leadership role and make all sorts of difficult decisions under pressure before in episodes like “Nightmare In Silver“, “Deep Breath“, “Robot Of Sherwood” and “Kill The Moon“, and her self-confidence has only grown in strength since then – so in theory, she should be able to handle leading Rigsy’s crew. However, despite her best efforts to keep them one step ahead of the ghouls, the Boneless pick the poor men off, one by one, taunting her and the Doctor about how powerless they are to stop them all the while.

Like in “Nightmare In Silver” and “Kill The Moon”, Clara also has to deal with plenty of pushback and a potential mutiny from Fenton, Rigsy’s boss who’s skeptical of every single action she takes as their self-appointed leader (because he would rather be in charge himself), and often goes out of his way to antagonize her and Rigsy. When things start to get bleak, Clara stops Rigsy from pulling off an entirely unnecessary self-sacrifice in an attempt to slow down the Boneless, managing to get the same results herself (without any lives lost) simply by using her head. But the true test of her character comes when the TARDIS goes into lockdown and she’s no longer able to communicate with the Doctor, leaving her alone to make the decision that will either save Bristol or doom it.

Clara has done her best to emulate the Doctor and make the kind of choices he would make in her shoes, but that will only get her so far. She decides to dig deep and rely upon her own gut instincts, resourcefulness and ingenuity – the things that make her who she is – and that’s how she earns her win. She uses Rigsy’s sick painting skills to trick the Boneless into restoring the energy they stole from the TARDIS, saving the Doctor’s life and sealing their own doom in the process. “Flatline” is one of those episodes like “The Rings Of Akhaten” or “The Name Of The Doctor” that causes you to gain a lot more respect for Clara, because if you give her a challenge, she will rise to it and do whatever she needs to to get the job done. This experience has given her a bit of an ego boost though, which she probably doesn’t need, since Clara already has a bit of a prideful streak in her. And the final coda reveals that Missy, the woman in the shop from “The Bells Of Saint John“, is still watching her, feeling quite happy that she paired her and the Doctor up because of what it will bring down the line, which is really not a good sign.

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As the Doctor-lite episode of Series 8, the Doctor spends most of “Flatline” trapped in one location, allowing Peter Capaldi to film all his scenes quickly and efficiently inside the TARDIS console room set. The main justification for this predicament is pretty reminiscent of the initial set-up for “The Girl Who Waited”, and it works just as efficiently here as it did in that episode; because even though he has less screentime than usual, the Doctor remains an integral part of the plot. When the Doctor and Clara land in Bristol, they quickly discover the outer shell of the TARDIS is rapidly shrinking, which the Doctor is initially thrilled about, because it’s something cool and mysterious that he’s never seen before. However, he quickly realizes this phenomenon is serious business, when he discovers power is being leeched from his ship and he gets trapped inside it when it shrinks down to the size of a toy model.

For most of this episode, Clara carries around a miniature TARDIS in her hands, stuffing it inside her bag for safe keeping, and it’s an adorable sight. Whenever the Doctor sticks his hands or even his face out of the doors to talk to her, it’s always hilariously weird (and the visual gag is at its best during a nod to “The Addams Family”, where the Doc has to use his hands to move the TARDIS off of some railroad tracks before it gets hit by a train). The Doctor sends Clara into town to look into the problem, though he isn’t nearly as thrilled about the idea of her pretending to be him as she is. And while she’s on the case, her little white lie from the end of the last episode comes to light. He calls her out on tricking him, again, but he just as quickly gets over it, because they have more important things to worry about and he really couldn’t care less about what sort of relationship drama might go down between her and Danny when he finds out about it.

Once it becomes apparent that our heroes have discovered a brand new form of life, the Doctor tries to remain hopeful that the Boneless might have good intentions and that they simply don’t understand the damage they’re causing to human beings – because it would be nice, for once, to meet a group of alien invaders who are actually benevolent. However, they quickly prove to be every bit as callous and malicious as they seem, and by the episode’s end, he officially writes them off as a lost cause. Throughout the hour, the Doctor gets to watch his student in action, providing her with some helpful advice and technical support. But he’s rather fittingly cut off from her in the final leg of her mission. He can no longer offer her any guidance, so she has to stand on her own in the eleventh hour. The TARDIS goes into lockdown mode, and he nearly suffocates inside it: so Clara’s quick-thinking not only saves Bristol, it also saves his life.

By the coda, Clara has made him proud, but she’s also starting to worry him. He gets a nice, good look at some of his more unsavory personality traits from an outside perspective in this adventure, and it’s very disturbing to see Clara mirroring them so well – including the advice he’s been repeatedly giving her, about prioritizing the greater good of the many over the natural desire to mourn causalities. The Doctor is finally starting to notice what Danny immediately picked up on in “The Caretaker“. The crash course he’s been giving her about his way of his life and his way of fighting monsters all season has worked a bit too well, and now he’s worried that he’s been unwittingly molding Clara into a carbon copy of himself. Considering how the Doctor feels about himself (even on a good day), that is not something that he would ever purposefully want for someone he loves, someone he looks up to himself. But, for better or for worse, there’s no turning back on Clara’s transformation now.

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Unlike the last episode, where most of the supporting cast were given distinct, charismatic personalities, most of the guest characters in “Flatline” are one-dimensional redshirts who basically exist to be cannon fodder – and that’s perfectly fine, since Clara, the Doctor and the Boneless are the three main focal points of this episode. However, there are two exceptions to this trend. The first of which is Rigsy, a young street artist who apparently got busted for graffiti not too long ago and was sentenced to do community service, cleaning up the council estate in his hometown. Rigsy hits it off incredibly well with Clara, seeing her as a bit of a kindred spirit who lives an exciting and mysterious life, and the two of them become fast friends as she lets him tag along with her on her case.

Throughout the hour, Rigsy is shown to be a personable and good-natured young man. He’s very passionate about his art, and he has plenty of respect for the dead: he’s outraged that Fenton would have him paint over a memorial that people have created to honor the loved ones they just lost. Despite being a delinquent in the eyes of the law, it’s pretty apparent that Rigsy has far more compassion and concern for others than his high and mighty boss. When the crisis with the Boneless ramps up, Rigsy butts heads with Fenton several times and is perfectly willing to stand up to him, despite all the trouble the man could cause for him, because he trusts Clara’s judgment and he’s ready to back her up if he has to. When things get really ugly, Rigsy is noble enough to try to sacrifice himself so that everyone else in the group can live, even if it would have been an entirely unnecessary decision, and his expert painting skills wind up playing a vital role in stopping the Boneless. By the episode’s end, Rigsy can feel proud of what he helped take part in, and he walks away from this story with a brand new leash on life.

Standing in direct contrast to Rigsy, you have Fenton, a law-abiding man who’s in charge of watching over the community service workers as they pay off their debt to society. While Fenton isn’t an antagonist, he is one of those characters who’s designed to be a completely unlikable, and as such, he presents another challenge for Clara to deal with besides the monsters that are trying to kill her. Fenton clearly enjoys lording power over the people who are in his command. He makes it no secret that he thinks he’s better than them, and after they die, he shrugs off their horrible fates because their lives were already worthless in his eyes anyway. He constantly sees the worst in everyone, friend or foe, presumably because his line of work has caused him to become very cynical over the years, and the Doctor’s psychic paper fails to work on him, which the Doc attributes to a dull lack of imagination.

He immediately resents Clara bossing him around, because he hates having to answer to anyone else. But despite constantly criticizing her leadership (and trying to undermine her several times), he contributes nothing of value himself during the crisis except constantly complaining about everything, antagonizing Clara and Rigsy every chance he gets, and at one point, making everything worse than it already was when he nearly gets the Doctor killed. At the end of the day, Fenton is one of the few people who makes it out of this episode alive, and he fully believes that the community service workers deserved to die (despite only being low-level offenders) because they were the dregs of society, which is disgusting. Like Rickston Slade in “Voyage Of The Damned“, Fenton’s character drives home the message that some people are just awful, they’ll never see the error of their ways, and they’ll never receive any real comeuppance for the way they treats others – and that’s just an unfortunate fact of life.

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The villains of this episode are the Boneless, creatures from another world that only has two-dimensions, and they’re easily some of the most memorable one-off villains from Series 8. Once they’re on Earth, they starting killing people in Bristol and dissecting their bodies, so can they learn how to take their forms and learn more about a three-dimensional world. After they’ve built their strength up, the end results are pretty chilling and gruesome. As far as Doctor Who villains go, the Boneless are completely ruthless and merciless creatures. Just one touch from them will kill you in an instant (like the Vashta Nerada from “Forest Of The Dead“, or the Flood from “The Waters Of Mars“), and it’s pretty difficult to stay away from nearly invisible predators who can crawl along the floor and the walls.

Once they start to wear the skin of their victims, they stumble along after our heroes like zombies, since they’re not used to walking on two legs. They can’t maintain the illusion of flesh bodies for long, so they flicker in and out of their natural forms like television static, giving off the unsettling impression that they’re flickering in and out of existence every other minute. After a while, they’re able to bend and contort their limbs to incredible lengths as well, to the point where they don’t even need to get close to their prey to kill them anymore. Because of the nature of these monsters, they’re quickly drawn towards the TARDIS for the same reason as the Weeping Angels: it’s an incredible source of untapped power for any creature that can feast on it. They nearly drain it dry, which ultimately proves to be their undoing, since their lust for power puts the Doctor and Clara on their trail and eventually gets them banished from our universe entirely when the Doctor has had enough of their cruelty.

“Flatline” is helmed by Douglas MacKinnon, who previously directed “The Sontaran Stratagem“, “The Power Of Three“, “Cold War“, “Listen“, and “Time Heist“, and his work on the show has only improved every time he’s stepped into the director’s chair. With “Flatline”, he does a great job of giving the pace of this episode plenty of vibrancy and energy, while also creating a tense, spooky atmosphere around the Boneless, by choosing his shots well to enhance their unnatural body horror. In particular, there’s one surprisingly effective jump scare in the underground tunnels that’s shot from a low angle, when one of the Boneless kills one of Rigsy’s co-workers. Clara, Rigsy, Fenton and Al are all standing in the foreground of the shot, arguing with each other, so your typical audience member won’t notice a giant hand creeping down from the ceiling behind them until after it’s struck one of them.

You can tell a good chunk of the budget for this season was devoted to this episode, despite the rather mundane modern day setting it has, because the special effects work for “Flatline” is a pretty large step up from Doctor Who’s usual fare. Some of the illusions don’t quite hit the mark, like the green-screen shots of the Doctor’s face inside the shrunken TARDIS (which are never quite scaled properly), but many of them are surprisingly phenomenal. Like the scenes of the Boneless rapidly flattening people and furniture who fall victim to their touch, causing them to melt away into the floor in the blink of an eye, or the shots of the Boneless trailing after our heroes in the darkened underground tunnels, like a small army of silent zombies. Since “Flatline” is a small-scale story, Murray Gold’s score is scaled back as well this week, and it alternates between being jovial and creepy in tracks like “Not Knowing” and “Siege Mode“.

In conclusion, Jamie Mathieson manages to write two standout stories in a row with “Flatline”. This episode shows off all of Clara’s best and worst qualities as a heroine, develops her relationship with the Doctor substantially (even while the latter has a smaller role than usual), and gives us some quality one-off villains with the Boneless.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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* The pre-titles sequence leaves me with some questions. How did that guy find out about the Boneless and what they were up to? And if he knew they were in the area and that they’d want to keep him quiet, then why didn’t he get the hell out of Dodge before he tried to call the cops?

* “Could you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something? I mean, it happens so rarely”.

* “It’s roughly northwest, that way!” “Please don’t do that. That’s just wrong”.

* “I’m the Doctor” “Don’t you dare-” “Dr. Oswald!”

* “So what are you Doctor of?” “Of lies!” “Well, I’m usually quite vague about that. I think I just picked the title because it makes me sound important”.

* At one point, Clara and Rigsy climb on top of a tiny chair hanging from the ceiling, to avoid touching the floor where the Boneless will get them. There’s no way a chair that size would hold them both up long enough for them to escape out the window.

* “Excellent lying, Dr. Oswald” “Yeah? Well, thought it was pretty weak myself”.

* “Fine, I’ll tell you who I am. I am the one chance you’ve got of staying alive. That’s who I am!”

* “You think everyone’s out to get you, don’t you?” “Well, in this case, they kind of are”.

* “Clara, do you want the good news or the bad news?” “We’re in the bad news! I’m living the bad news!

* “Apparently these things can pump it out as fast as they can steal it” “Maybe if I ask them really nicely, they’ll fill you up again”.

* “Can we ram the blockage?” “Yeah. Is this official? Because I’ve always wanted to ram something” My good man, I like the way you think.

* “Fine, great, cause I was just going to do this: no driver required. And I really like that hairband, but I suppose I’ll just take it, will I? And every time I look at it, I’ll remember the hero who died to save it”.

* “I quite liked that hairband”.

* That scene where Clara stops Rigsy from throwing his life away with a completely unnecessary self-sacrifice (while making sassy remarks about her hairband) hits differently upon rewatch. Because the next time they see each other in “Face The Raven”, their positions are reversed, with a much less pleasant outcome for Clara.

* “I don’t know if you’ll ever hear this, Clara. I don’t even know if you’re still alive out there. But you were good! And you made a mighty fine Doctor”.

* “You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine. The man that stops the monsters!”

* Real talk though, Clara did half of the work stopping the Boneless in this episode – perhaps even more than that – and the Doctor swoops in at the last second to take all of the credit for himself. That’s just rude.

* “Your last painting was so good it saved the world. I can’t wait to see what you do next” “It’s not going to be easy. I’ve got a hairband to live up to”.

* “Come on, why can’t you say it? I was the Doctor and I was good” “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it” Oof.

* “Oh Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well” Clara fans when you ask them who their favorite companion is.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Mummy On The Orient Express (2014) Review

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In every era of Doctor Who, there’s always a guest writer who stands out from the rest of the line-up and becomes a fan favorite, because of the high-quality scripts they produce. During the Russell T. Davies era, it was Steven Moffat (which later landed him his gig as the series’ second showrunner). During the Chris Chibnall era, it was Maxine Alderton. And during the Steven Moffat era, it was Jamie Mathieson. Much like Mr. Moffat during his early days, Jamie’s episodes always leave a lasting impression on people because he’s a guy with a lot of creative vision. He consistently concocts some very ambitious and imaginative premises for his episodes, while also giving the Doctor, his companions, and even a few members of the guest cast razor-sharp characterization within the forty-five minute time frame he has to work with. It’s quite an impressive feat.

The main premise of this episode revisits a fun little hook from the end of “The Big Bang” and feels like a cross between “Aliens Of London” and “Voyage Of The Damned“: the Doctor and Clara spend a night on the Orient Express in space – a nostalgia tour for future humans that secretly turns out to be a trap for everyone onboard it. Since it’s a murder mystery, a classic whodunnit with an outer space setting, this episode draws a lot of influence from the works of Agatha Christie, which means it also has more than a few similarities with “The Unicorn And The Wasp” as well. Now that we’re officially in the back half of Series 8, things are really starting to get good as the Doctor and Clara’s character development kicks into high gear. We’ve spent the last seven episodes exploring different aspects of the Twelfth Doctor’s personality, getting to know more about what makes him tick, and “Mummy On The Orient Express” marks the point where Twelve officially becomes a fully-formed protagonist.

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When “Mummy On The Orient Express” starts, the Twelfth Doctor is reluctantly dealing with the consequences of his actions in “Kill The Moon“: namely that he’s severely damaged his friendship with Clara and she now wants to give up traveling in the TARDIS. He’s willing to accept her decision if she’s willing to stick to it, but he tries to avoid talking about how much the nature of their relationship has changed over the last season whenever she brings it up. Because, as always, the Doctor feels very uncomfortable getting sentimental with the ones he cares for. He still clearly has feelings for Clara, but he doesn’t want to scrutinize those feelings again any time soon when he knows there would be no point in doing so. He promises to give her one last fun trip for their ‘final hurrah’, which he already suspects will be quite eventful, because he’s secretly hoping he can entice her into staying.

The Doctor loves a good scientific discovery, even a really morbid one, so once he discovers there’s an invisible mummy haunting the ship, killing off the passengers one by one, the murder mystery is right up his alley and the game is officially afoot. Peter Capaldi’s natural charisma is on full display throughout the hour, as the Doctor uses every trick up his sleeve to try to solve the case by fraternizing with the other passengers, questioning the crew, and hunting down every lead he find with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He clearly enjoys figuring out what makes the mummy tick, to a level that isn’t always appropriate considering how many people die before the creature is finally dealt with. As we’ve seen before during the David Tennant years, the Doctor can gain a serious case of tunnel vision when he’s working on a case, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in particular will not let anything else distract him from accomplishing his goals when he’s got his mind set on them.

Once he begins to understand how the mummy’s method of killing people works, he decides to take full advantage of it. Whenever he knows someone is about to be targeted by the specter, he sees it as a rare opportunity to study the creature and gain some more information about it – probing the victim for questions when they’re seconds away from death. He’s already accepted that he can’t do anything to save the poor soul who’s currently on the chopping block, but hopefully he can use what he’s learned from their deaths to stop the creature down the line – which is disturbing to both the victims and the audience. He tries to be cold, logical and efficient, because he firmly believes that he and the other passengers don’t have time to mourn the people they’ve lost when time is of the essence (especially after a malicious artificial intelligence hijacks the ship and threatens to kill everyone onboard it if they don’t comply with his demands).

Much like how the show handled Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor in Series 1, Series 8 has really driven home the fact that the Doctor isn’t human, and the decisions he makes to neutralize a threat or take control of a crisis are not always going to be comfortable by human standards. However, even with that justification in mind, he’s still very much capable of crossing a line. This episode really is tailor-made for the Twelfth Doctor’s personality: it’s a perfect opportunity to scrutinize one of his core beliefs, and the culmination of the path that “Into The Dalek” and “Time Heist” set his character on earlier this season. As the stakes grow higher and the Doctor becomes more driven to beat both Gus and the Foretold, there’s an unspoken question of how far will he go to get the answers he seeks? How long it will be before his morally ambiguous approach to catching a killer becomes straight-up immoral?

A major turning point comes when the Doctor demands that Clara lie to one of the passengers who’s next on the mummy’s hit list, give her false hope, and potentially lead her to death – because he wants to present when the mummy comes for her. Clara quite rightly tears into him for that, and her righteous anger is immensely satisfying to watch. However, this decision turns out to be a ruse that he concocted once he worked out a way to gain the upper hand over the mummy, and he had to make it look convincing for everyone who was watching. He makes himself a target of the mummy so he can stop it himself, and he manages to pull off his scheme with only a second left to spare. Just like in “Time Heist”, after we’ve spent a whole episode questioning the Doctor’s actions, it’s very reassuring to see that for all his faults, Twelve wouldn’t ask the other passengers to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself.

In a rare and fascinating moment of emotional openess from Twelve, he later explains to Clara that he tries to make a difference wherever he goes, but he can’t always afford to be nice about it. It saddens him that he can never manage to save everyone, but he buries those feelings deep down to do what needs to be done. He doesn’t seem to like being the one who always has to make those kind of judgment calls, but he’s made peace with the consequences of his lifestyle by now. As the episode wraps up, we see that he’s warmed up to the idea of there being more company in the TARDIS besides Clara, since he offers Perkins a spot in his crew, though the man politely declines. He’s also learned his lesson from “The Caretaker” and gained some more respect for Clara and Danny’s relationship: he might entice her to stick around on his ship, but he won’t get in the way of what she has with Danny. Both of Clara’s men will accept whatever she chooses, whichever one of them she chooses, and he’s delighted when she decides not to make a decision at all.

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After the really ugly fight they had in “Kill The Moon”, the emotional wounds of Twelve and Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) friendship are still pretty raw, but they’re beginning to heal. Clara has a lot of complicated feelings about the Doctor at the moment. He’s been pushing her past her limits for a good chunk of Series 8, and her travels with him have been taking a toll on her personal life back home. So she’s decided that their arrangement isn’t healthy for her anymore, and she wants to call it quits. She’s agreed to take one last trip with him, as their final hurrah, and it proves to be a very bittersweet affair. Because no matter how much they try to emotionally prepare themselves for it and convince themselves that it’s for the best, they would hate to give each other up. And it’s not just the Doctor Clara is attached to: she’s also grown very fond of the exciting and adventurous lifestyle in the TARDIS that she’s enjoyed for the last two seasons.

Much like the Doctor, Clara can’t resist a good mystery. She leaps at the first sign of one, no matter how much she claims she just wants a nice, quiet voyage through space, and she’s clearly grown addicted to the experience of solving one. Throughout Series 8, it’s been repeatedly hinted that Clara and the Doctor still pine for each other as more than just friends, despite their insistence otherwise, and here that implication is starting to become more overt, since they share a number of bonding moments throughout this adventure that are very affectionate. Now that she’s had some time to cool off, Clara has come to realize that by leaving the TARDIS, not only will she never see the Doctor again (she knows he never looks back after he says goodbye to a friend, which means he won’t be visiting her in the future), but she’ll also have to settle back into an ordinary life on Earth again, and after everything she’s seen and done since Series 7, she knows she would never be satisfied with that anymore.

Clara spends a good chunk of this episode consoling Maisie, one of her fellow passengers, and the brief friendship they share reminds me a lot of the one Martha and Tallulah had in “Dalek In Manhattan“. Clara consoles Maisie about her fears and her guilt, and in return Maisie hears her out when she vents about her own troubles. Maisie points out that it shouldn’t be this hard for Clara to move on from the Doctor if he frustrates her as much as he does, and he’s only just a friend to her. Something’s still holding her back and if she wants to get to the root of it, then she’ll need to look inside herself and really examine what she wants for her future – however, she’s not sure if she really wants to. Like the audience, Maisie believes that Clara is in some pretty deep denial about what her heart really wants.

When the Doctor tells Clara to lie to Maisie and lead her to her death, she naturally feels disgusted by how callous and underhanded he’s being, but also not particularly surprised by it. Since Clara has always been perfectly willing to defy the Doctor’s wishes to do what she thinks is right, she tries to help Maisie to get to the TARDIS, only to find that they’re blocked off from it, so she reluctantly complies with his plan, becoming complicit in his betrayal. When she discovers he lied to her again – that he knew they were probably walking into a trap, but he figured she would enjoy the experience –  she’s finally pushed over the edge and gives him another chewing out to rival the one at the end of “Kill The Moon”. She’s about to ready to write him off entirely as a terrible person and a terrible influence on her (when she thought the world of him just last season), but he throws her for a loop with his last-ditch gambit to save Maisie – a plan so sneaky and so reckless that it managed to fool even her.

Afterwards, Clara feels more than a bit ashamed of herself for being so quick to think the worst of her friend, despite knowing the world-saving time lord for several years now. Ever since “The Rings Of Akhaten“, she’s always looked up to him and tried to follow in his footsteps to make a difference in the world. But ever since Eleven regenerated into Twelve and his outward personality changed, he’s dropped a lot in her estimation lately, to the point where she wasn’t sure she really knew who he was anymore. After their harrowing encounter with the Foretold, she’s finally gained a greater understanding of how Twelve sees the world and why he makes the difficult and unpleasant judgement calls that he does. So by the episode’s end, she finds it in her heart to forgive him.

Despite everything that happened in this adventure, and all the red flags the last three episodes have been giving off that her relationship with the Doctor is starting to become really unhealthy really quickly, Clara ultimately decides to stay onboard the TARDIS – because she can’t give up the Doctor, and she can’t give up the lifestyle she loves that gives her a sense of fulfilment. She also seems to realize on some level that Maisie was right: she does still have feelings for the Doctor as more than just a friend, but she also loves Danny as well and treasures him just as much as her boyfriend. The love triangle between Clara, Danny and the Doctor has now officially kicked in, with Clara’s heart feeling torn between the two men she’s closest to. To smooth things over with her boys, she even decides to start lying to them both again about the choice that she’s made – because she’s apparently learned nothing from how well that worked out for her in “The Caretaker” – but thankfully her relapse into old bad habits is addressed pretty quickly over the next two episodes.

Doctor Who Mummy On The Orient Express The Beach

Most, if not all, of the side characters in this episode are pretty likable and endearing, considering the limited amount of screentime that they have. Captain Quell is a proud, straight-laced, retired soldier who’s been put in charge of running the Orient Express. When people start dying, he tries to cover it up to keep the peace and avoid the uncomfortable idea of the ship being haunted, but the Doctor won’t stand for his cowardice and calls him out on his lack of action. He can’t afford to pretend that nothing bad is happening when he’s supposed to be a leader that everyone is counting on. So after he realizes the truth in the Doctor’s words, he steps up to try to protect his passengers. He ultimately becomes a target of the mummy, because of the depression and PTSD he gained from his wartime trauma, and he tries to face his death with as much dignity and bravery as he can muster (the way a soldier ought to), having found redemption for his failures before the end.

Professor Emil Moorhouse is a genial, scholarly type who studies myths and legends for a living because they fascinate him. He would love to meet a real monster for a change, but he learns to be careful what you wish for a bit too late when the mummy drags him off to an early grave. Arguably, the most sympathetic member of the guest cast is Maisie Pitt. She was raised by an abusive grandmother, who later became one of the mummy’s first victims, and she’s not handling the woman’s death well. Maisie was traumatized by the horrible upbringing she had and she wished ill on her grandmother for years, so when she actually dies, she feels incredibly guilty about it. She’s having a hard time coming to terms with it, so Clara does her a kindness and tries to help her find some closure. To add on to the miserable time she’s having, Maisie’s depression nearly gets her killed by the mummy, and she’s only saved at the last second by a crazy plan from the Doctor, which could have easily failed.

Perkins is the ship’s chief engineer and the Doctor’s assistant detective while Clara is preoccupied. He’s an inquisitive and eccentric man who loves a good mystery. Like the Doctor, he’s immediately drawn to the strange deaths that the Foretold is causing, and as someone who knows a lot about the ship’s layout and the ship’s crew, he’s very well-prepared to start looking into the problem. He and the Doctor get along exceptionally well, and for a while, he seems to treat their space voyage as an opportunity to live out an old Agatha Christie novel. However, as more and more people start to die and the stakes start to rise to a level that’s well out of their control, Perkins is given a wake-up call that the position they’re in isn’t spooky or mystifying in a fun way: it’s tragic and horrifying.

A lot of good people die senselessly, including people that Perkins knew for years, because Gus will stop at nothing to solve the mystery of the Foretold. He also starts to get fed up with Twelve over time. The Doctor’s methods when it comes to getting answers pushes everyone past their limits, and like Clara, Perkins briefly starts to wonder if he’s really driven to neutralize the threat by any means necessary, or if he’s just a terrible person who couldn’t care less about other people’s deaths so long as he can satisfy his own curiosity. Thankfully, he proves to be the former. At the end of the day, Twelve offers him a spot on the TARDIS, because he’d like to have him around as another companion. And before today, Perkins probably would have leapt at the chance, but now he decides to turn him down – because he can’t go through an experience like that again and he’s not sure who could. Not everyone is cut out to be a companion: in a lot of ways, you have to be almost as mad as the Doctor himself to stick around, like Ms. Oswald – and you can decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing or both.

Doctor Who Mummy On The Orient Express New Plan 14

The monster of the week in this episode is the Foretold, a cursed mummy who’s invisible to everyone else onboard the ship except the people it intends to kill. It appears before its victims when they least expect it and hunts them down, giving them sixty-six seconds before they die. It lumbers along slowly like a zombie, because it really doesn’t have to rush when it comes to hunting down its prey. They can run as much as they like, but it always gets them in the end, since it can teleport and walk through walls with ease. In that regard, the Foretold is a very unsettling foe, because much like death itself, it’s implacable and inevitable. Steven Moffat will create a similar brand of nightmare fuel himself with the Veil in next season’s “Heaven Sent”: another creature who’s basically the living embodiment of the Grim Reaper and will never stop coming for you wherever you are.

The Foretold ultimately turns out to be an old alien super-soldier who was ‘cursed’ to kill enemy combatants who were sick or injured, until their side conceded defeat to his – which not only gives the Doctor the means to stop it in the climax, but also advances the main wartime theme of Series 8. Since the mummy is being forced to kill people against its will, the true malicious villain of this episode is Gus, an artificial intelligence who orchestrated the whole trap on the Orient Express and lured a bunch of alien experts to it, to learn the truth behind the myth. He’s even willing to start killing the ship’s crew in cold blood himself, to force the Doctor to cooperate with his demands. We never learn much about who programmed Gus, and they’re never brought to justice either, since Gus manages to escape with all the information he gained, scot free. This episode’s ending gives off the impression it’s setting up another return for him down the line, but if that kind of storyline was ever in the cards for the Capaldi era, it was very quickly dropped.

“Mummy On The Orient Express” is directed by Paul Wilmshurt, and the personal touch he brings this episode is a lot more intimate and subdued than it was in “Kill The Moon”, since this story has a much smaller scale and a more confined setting. Whenever the Foretold makes its move to kill someone, we’re treated to a lot of hazy, out-of-focus POV shots (in the same vein as “Hide” or “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“): which really makes these creepy sequences stand out from the rest of the episode, and provides a subtle bit of foreshadowing for the way the mummy turns out to be killing people later. Since the vast majority of this episode is set onboard a train, most of it was filmed inside a studio, though there was a bit of location shooting done during the beachside scene at the end, where was filmed in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales.

The costume and wardrobe department get to show off again in this episode, when they’re given the challenge of recreating period clothes from the 1920’s, and I’d say they did an excellent job of it: Clara and the Doctor are both looking quite dapper and dashing in this installment, all decked out in their finest evening wear. This episode doesn’t require a lot of CGI, outside of the establishing shots of the Orient Express soaring through space, and as a result the special effects shots that we do receive all have a lot of effort put into them and are rendered pretty convincingly by Millenium FX. Murray Gold’s score is equal parts jazzy and sinister through tracks like “Start The Clock“, “There’s That Smile“, “The Sarcophagus Opens“, “The Artifact” and “Study Our Own Demise“. Lastly, Foxes performs her own rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now” (by Queen) for this episode, which appears early on when the Doctor and Clara board the Orient Express.

All in all, “Mummy On The Orient Express” is a fantastic character study for the Twelfth Doctor, and an impressive step-up from “The Unicorn And The Wasp” when it comes to the show putting its own spin on an old school murder mystery genre. It easily ranks alongside “Flatline” and “Dark Water / Death In Heaven” as one of the best episodes from the latter half of Series 8.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Mummy On The Orient Express An Addiction 2

* “I really thought I hated you, you know?” “Well, thank God you kept that to yourself”.

* “I went to a concert once. Can’t remember who it was. But do you know what the singer said?” “Frankly, that would be an absolutely astonishing guess if I did know”.

* In all seriousness though, I love how sassy Twelve can be, and Peter Capaldi always does a great job of selling his dry sense of humor – including now, when he’s clearly trying to use his wit to get out of this conversation.

* “It’s nothing. Nothing. Definitely. Sure. 99% sure. Really? 99%? That’s quite high. Is that the figure you’re sticking with? Okay, okay. 75. Well, that’s jumped quite a bit. You’ve just lost 24%”.

* “Perkins, chief Engineer” “The Doctor, nosy Parker”.

* “Okay, I have a friend who’s really good with locks. Do you want to come with me, see if we can find him?” “Ugh!” “Or you could just do that… because that works, too”.

* “Do you know what you’re doing?” “Nope. But I do need to be slightly more skilled than a high-heeled shoe”.

* “Do you ever wish bad things on people?” “Oh, yeah, all the time. Like whoever designed this door, for a start”.

* “Seriously? We’re stuck in this carriage, probably all night, and all we can talk about is some man?” It looks like Clara’s worried that they’re going to fail the Bechedel test.

* “This is a, I don’t know, goodbye to the good times?” “Were the good times all like this?” “Yeah, now that you mention it”.

* “Life would be so much simpler if you liked the right people. People you’re supposed to like. But then, I guess there’d be no fairy tales”.

* “Fifty seconds-” “Will someone please shut that man up?!” Oof.

* “You know, Doctor, I can’t tell if you’re a genius or just incredibly arrogant!” “Well, on a good day, I’m both”.

* I’ve given Peter Capaldi plenty of praise, but the climax features some pretty impressive acting from Jenna Coleman as well, who conveys most of Clara’s conflicted thought process nonverbally when she agrees to the Doctor’s underhanded ruse. When she meets up with Twelve, she has “Doctor, you lying bitch” written all over her face, and when Twelve admits he knew the trip was probably a trap ahead of time, you can practically see the fire ignite in Clara’s eyes as she pounces.

* “You knew. You knew this was no relaxing break. You knew this was dangerous!” “I didn’t know. I certainly hoped”.

* “Hello, I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?” Cute, Doctor, cute.

* “Oh, you really didn’t like your gran, did you? By the way, you weren’t being paranoid. She really did poison your pony. Oh, and your father. Sorry” Hot damn, that woman was evil.

* “Thank you so much for your efforts. They are greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, survivors of this exercise are not required” “Ah, well, there’s a shocker”.

* “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose” Sad but true, and no one understands that better than the Doc.

* “Is it like an addiction?” “You can’t really tell if something’s an addiction till you try and give it up” “And you never have” “Let me know how it goes”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Mummy On The Orient Express Research 4

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